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   Chapter 25 A CRUEL FINISH.

Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 15958

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


EVERY hound having at length sniffed and snuffed, and sniffed and snuffed, to satiety, Solomon now essays to assist them by casting round the flat of smoke-infected ground. He makes the 'head good first, which manouvre hitting off the seent, he is hailed and applauded as a conqueror. Never was such a huntsman as Solomon! First harrier huntsman in England! Worth any money is a huntsman! The again clamorous pack bustle up the sheep-path, at such a pace as sends the leaders hurrying far beyond the scent. Then the rear rush to the front, and a general spread of bewildered, benighted, confusion ensues.

"Where has she got to?" is the question.

"Doubled!" mutters the disappointed Major, reining in his steed.

"Squatted!" exclaims Mr. Rintoul, who always sported an opinion.

"Hold hard!" cries Mr. Trail, though they were all at a standstill; but then he wished to let them know he was there.

The leading hounds retrace their steps, and again essay to carry the scent forward. The second effort is attended with the same result as the first. They cannot get it beyond the double.

"Cunning animal!" mutters the Major, eyeing their endeavours.

"Far more hunt with a hare nor a fox," now observes Mr. Bonnet, raising his white hat to cool his bald head.

"Far!" replies Mr. Faulder, thinking he must be off.

"If it weren't for the red coats there wouldn't be so many fox-hunters," chuckles old Duffield, who dearly loves roast hare.

Solomon is puzzled; but as he doesn't profess to be wiser than the hounds, he just lets them try to make it out for themselves. If they can't wind her, he can't: so the old sage sits like a statue.

At length the majority give her up.

And now Springer and Pitfall, and two or three other pedestrians who have been attracted from their work by the music of the hounds, and have been enjoying the panorama of the chase with their pipes from the summit of an inside hill, descend to see if they can either prick her or pole her.

Down go their heads as if they were looking for a pin.-The hounds, however, have obliterated all traces of her, and they soon have recourse to their staves.

Bang, bang, bang, they beat the gorse and broom and juniper bushes with vigorous sincerity. Crack, flop, crack, go the field in aid of their endeavours. Solomon leans with his hounds to the left, which is lucky for puss, for though she withstood the downward blow of Springer's pole on her bush, a well-directed side thrust sends her flying out in a state of the greatest excitement. What an outburst of joy the sight of her occasioned! Hounds, horses, riders, all seemed to participate in the common enthusiasm! How they whooped, and halloo'd and shouted! enough to frighten the poor thing out of her wits. Billy and the field have a grand view of her, for she darts first to the right, then to the left, then off the right and again to the left, ere she tucks her long legs under her and strides up Kleeope hill at a pace that looks quite unapproachable. Faulder alone remains where he is, muttering "fresh har" as she goes.

The Major and all the rest of the field hug their horses and tear along in a state of joyous excitement, for they see her life is theirs. They keep the low ground and jump with the hounds at the bridlegate between Greenlaw sheep-walks and Hindhope cairn just as Lovely hits the scent off over the boundary wall, and the rest of the pack endorse her note. They are now on fresh ground, which greatly aids the efforts of the hounds, who push on with a head that the Major thinks ought to procure them a compliment from Billy. Our friend, however, keeps all his compliments for the ladies, not being aware that there is anything remarkable in the performance, which he now begins to wish at an end. He has ridden as long as he likes, quite as much as Mr. Spavin, or any of the London livery stable-keepers, would let him have for half-a-guinea. Indeed he wishes he mayn't have got more than is good for him.

The Major meanwhile, all energy and enthusiasm, rides gallantly forward, for though he is no great hand among the enclosures, he makes a good fight in the hills, especially when, as now, he knows every yard of the country. Many's the towl he's had over it, though to look at his excited face one would think this was his first hunt. He'll now "bet half-a-crown they kill her!" He'll "bet a guinea they kill her!" He'll "bet a fi-pun note they kill her!" He'll "bet half the national debt they kill her!" as Dainty, and Lovely, and Bustler, after dwelling and hesitating over some rushy ground, at length proclaim the scent beyond.

Away they all sweep like the careering wind. On follow the field in glorious excitement. A flock of black-faced sheep next foil the ground-sheep as wild, if not wilder, than the animal the hounds are pursuing. We often think, when we see these strong-scented animals scouring the country, that a good beast of chase has been overlooked for the stag. Why shouldn't an old wiry black-faced tup, with his wild sparkling eyes and spiral horns, afford as good a run as a home-fed deer? Start the tup in his own rough region, and we will be bound to say he will give the hounds and their followers a scramble. The Major now denounces the flying flock-"Oh, those nasty muttons!" exclaims he, "bags of bone rather, for they won't be meat these five years. Wonder how any sane people can cultivate such animals."

The hounds hunt well through the difficulty, or the Major would have been more savage still. On they go, yapping and towling, and howling as before, the Major's confidence in a kill increasing at every stride.

The terror-striking shouts that greeted poor puss's exit from the bush, have had the effect as well of driving her out of her country as of pressing her beyond her strength; and she has no sooner succeeded in placing what she hopes is a comfortable distance between herself and her pursuers, than she again has recourse to those tricks with which nature has so plentifully endowed her. Sinking the hill she makes for the little enclosed allotments below, and electing a bare fallow-bare, except in the matter of whicken grass-she steals quietly in, and commences her performances on the least verdant part of it.

First she described a small circle, then she sprung into the middle of it and squatted. Next she jumped up and bounded out in a different direction to the one by which she had entered. She then ran about twenty yards up a furrow, retracing her steps backwards, and giving a roll near where she started from. Then she took three bounding springs to the left, which landed her on the hard headland, and creeping along the side of the wall she finally popped through the water-hole, and squeezed into an incredibly small space between the kerbstone and the gate-post. There she lay with her head to the air, panting and heaving, and listening for her dread pursuers coming. O what agony was hers!

Presently the gallant band came howling and towling over the hill, in all the gay delirium of a hunt without leaps-the Major with difficulty restraining their ardour as he pointed out the brilliance of the performance to Billy-"Most splendid running! most capital hunting! most superb pack!" with a sly "pish" and "shaw" at foxhounds in general, and Sir Mosey's in particular. The Major hadn't got over the Bo-peep business, and never would.

The pack now reached the scene of Puss's frolics, and the music very soon descended from a towering tenour to an insignificant whimper, which at length died out altogether. Soloman and Bulldog were again fixtures, Solomon as usual with his hand up beckoning silence. He knew how weak the scent must be, and how important it was to keep quiet at such a critical period; and let the hounds hit her off if they could.

Puss had certainly given them a Gordian knot to unravel, and not all the hallooing and encouragement in the world could drive them much beyond the magic circ

le she had described. Whenever the hunt seemed likely to be re-established, it invariably resulted in a return to the place from whence they started. They couldn't get forward with it at all, and poked about, and tested the same ground over and over again.

It was a regular period or full stop.

"Very rum," observed Caleb Rennison, looking first at his three-year-old, then at his watch, thinking that it was about pudding-time.

"She's surely a witch," said Mr. Wotherspoon, taking a prolonged pinch of snuff.

"'We'll roast her for one at all events," laughed Mr. Trail, the auctioneer, still hoping to get her.

"First catch your hare, says Mrs. Somebody," responded Captain Nabley, eyeing the sorely puzzled pack.

"O ketch her! we're sure to ketch her," observed Mr. Nettlefold, chucking up his chin and dismounting.

"Not so clear about that," muttered Mr. Rintoul, as Lovely, and Bustler, and Lilter, again returned to repeat the search.

"If those hounds can't own her, there are no hounds in England can," asserted the Major, anxious to save the credit of his pack before the-he feared-too critical stranger.

At this depressing moment, again come the infantry, and commence the same system of peering and poking that marked their descent on the former occasion.

And now poor puss being again a little recruited, steals out of her hiding-place, and crosses quietly along the outside of the wall to where a flock of those best friends to a hunted hare, some newly-smeared, white-faeed sheep, were quietly nibbling at the halfgrass, half-heather, of the little moor-edge farm of Mossheugh-law, whose stone-roofed buildings, washed by a clear mountain stream, and sheltered by a clump of venerable Scotch firs, stand on a bright green patch, a sort of oasis in the desert. The sheep hardly deign to notice the hare, far different to the consternation bold Reynard carries into their camp, when they go circling round like a squadron of dragoons, drawing boldly up to charge when the danger's past. So poor, weary, foot sore, fur-matted puss, goes hobbling and limping up to the farm-buildings as if to seek protection from man against his brother man.

Now it so happened that Mrs. Kidwell, the half-farmer, halfshepherd's pretty wife, was in the fold-yard, washing her churn, along with her little chubby-faced Jessey, who was equally busy with her Mamma munching away at a very long slice of plentifully-buttered and sugar'd bread; and Mamma chancing to look up from the churn to see how her darling progressed, saw puss halting at the threshold, as if waiting to be asked in.

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"It's that mad old Major and his dogs!" exclaimed Mrs. Kidwell, catching up the child lest its red petticoat might scare away the visitor, and popping into the dairy, she saw the hare, after a little demur, hobble into the cow-house. Having seen her well in, Mrs. Kidwell emerged from her hiding-place, and locking the door, she put the key in her pocket, and resumed her occupation with her churn. Presently the familiar melody-the yow, yow, yap, yap, yow, yow of the hounds broke upon her ear, increasing in strength as she listened, making her feel glad she was at hand to befriend the poor hare.

The hunt was indeed revived. The hounds, one and all, having declared their inability to make any thing more of it.

Solomon had set off on one of his cruises, which resulted in the yeomen prickers and he meeting at the gate, where the hare had squatted, when Lovely gave tongue, just as Springer, with his eyes well down, exclaimed, "here she's!" Bustler, and Bracelet, and Twister, and Chaunter, confirmed Lovely's opinion, and away they went with the feeble scent peculiar to the sinking animal. Their difficulties are further increased by the sheep, it requiring Solomon's oft-raised hand to prevent the hounds being hurried over the line-as it is, the hunt was conducted on the silent system for some little distance. The pace rather improved after they got clear of the smear and foil of the muttons, and the Major pulled up his gills, felt his tie, and cocked his hat jauntily, as the hounds pointed for the pretty farm-house, the Major thinking to show off to advantage before Mrs. Kidwell. They presently carried the scent up to the still open gates of the fold-yard. Lovely now proclaims where puss has paused. Things look very critical.

"Good mornin', Mrs. Kidwell," exclaimed the gallant Major, addressing her; "pray how long have you been at the churn?"

"O, this twenty minutes or more, Major," replied Mrs. Kidwell, gaily.

"You haven't got the hare in it, have you?" asked he.

"Not that I know of; but you can look if you like," replied Mrs. Kidwell, colouring slightly.

"Why, no; we'll take your word for it," rejoined the Major gallantly. "Must be on, Solomon; must be on," said he-nodding his huntsman to proceed.

Solomon is doubtful, but "master being master," Solomon holds his hounds on past the stable, round the lambing-sheds and stackyard, to the front of the little three windows and a doored farm-house, without eliciting a whimper, no, not even from a babbler.

Just at this moment a passing cloud discharged a gentle shower over the scene, and when Solomon returned to pursue his inquiries in the fold-yard, the last vestige of scent had been effectually obliterated.

Mrs. Kidwell now stood watching the inquisitive proceedings if the party, searching now the hen-house, now the pigstye, now the ash-hole; and when Solomon tried the cow-house door, she observed carelessly: "Ah, that's locked;" and he passed on to examine the straw-shed adjoining. All places were overhauled and scrutinized. At length, even Captain Nabley's detective genius failed in suggesting where puss could be.

"Where did you see her last?" asked Mrs. Kidwell, with well-feigned ignorance.

"Why, we've not seen her for some time; but the hounds hunted her up to your very gate," replied the Major.

"Deary me, how strange! and you've made nothin' of her since?" observed she.

"Nothin'," assented the Major, reluctantly.

"Very odd," observed Mr. Catcheside, who was anxious for a kill.

"Never saw nothin' like it," asserted Mr. Rintoul, looking again into the pigstye.

"She must have doubled back," suggested Mr. Nettlefold.

"Should have met her if she had," observed old Duffield.

"She must be somewhere hereabouts," observes Mr. Trail, dismounting, and stamping about on foot among the half-trodden straw of the fold-yard.

No puss there.

"Hard upon the hounds," observes Mr. Wotherspoon, replenishing his nose with a good charge of snuff.

"Cruel, indeed," assented the Major, who never gave them more than entrails.

"Never saw a hare better hunted!" exclaimed Captain Nabley, lighting a cigar.

"Nor I," assented fat Mr. Nettleford, mopping his brow.

"How long was it?" asked Mr. Rintoul.

"An hour and five minutes," replied the Major, looking at his watch (five-and-forty minutes in reality).

"V-a-a-ry good running," elaborates old dandy Wortherspoon. "I see by the Post, that--"

"Well, I s'pose we must give her up," interrupted the Major, who didn't want to have the contents of his own second-hand copy forestalled.

"Pity to leave her," observes Mr. Trail, returning to his horse.

"What can you do?" asked the Major, adding, "it's no use sitting here."

"None," assents Captain Nabley, blowing a cloud.

At a nod from the Major, Solomon now collects his hounds, and passing through the scattered group, observes with a sort of Wellingtonian touch of his cap, in reply to their condolence, "Yes, sir, but it takes a slee chap, sir, to kill a moor-edge hare, sir!"

So the poor Major was foiled of his fur, and when the cows came lowing down from the fell to be milked, kind Mrs. Kidwell opened the door and out popped puss, as fresh and lively as ever; making for her old haunts, where she was again to be found at the end of a week.

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