Page images
[ocr errors]


of Speedycut, riding a dashing thoroughbred chestnut, evidently very young and very raw.

. “Mornin, gen'lemen,” exclaimed the dealer, “nicish day, good scent. Strike's me the Viscount's like to get a good run for his money."

This having been interpreted to the Vicomte, he said “ Ah' Indeed!” but to himself he expressed a devout hope that he might get nothing of the sort.”

Now Viscount,” Speedycut continued, coming alongside of him, “Excuse my tellin of ye, but you'll 'ave to keep your mare well in 'and. She's apt for to be a bit lazy till’er bloods up, and may go a little careless. Hullo! Bless my soul, why you've got no spurs! That'll never do in the raspin' country we're like to get into, Better take mine, I'll get a pair from one o'my men. Here! Jim!”—to the man who had ridden the mare to covert,—“ Just pull off these 'ere spurs o'mine, and buckle 'em on to the Viscount's boots.”

Protestation being out of the question, the Vicomte was, to his secret dismay, and to the suppresed amusement of sundry lookers on, invested with those incentives to equine ardour which, to tell the truth, he had purposely avoided, viewing them in the light of a complication of his difficulties, and an actual tempting of providence.

By this time sundry members of the E.M.H. outsiders in and out of scarlet, farmers large and small, and a few lady riders have arrived. The Vicomte asks his friend whether the field is not almost au grand complet? Miles says it is so, and points to Sir Harry just cantering up, followed by the Lentworth party.

“ Ah! ah” cries the Vicomte, “la belle Juliana, avec son preux!”

Here follow numerous greetings, and an introduction of the well mounted Frenchman to the popular master; after which the signal is given,and the hounds are trotted off to the covert.

Leadstone had come out this morning in wonderfully high spirits. Owing to his having risen earlier even than common, to look after some draining work on à distant farm, he had escaped any damping conversation with his wife touching Juliana and Frank; he was pleased to note the satisfactory progress of the match on which, without much reflection, he had set his heart, and in the boyish spirit that sometimes animated his simple nature, he was expecting “no end of fun,” out of the Vicomte's hunting début. Bidding Frank look to Juliana, and keep him and his famous blue-roan cob in view, he cantered alongside of the Vicomte, and entered into conversation with him, as he told Miles Berrington, to take a rise out of his foreign guest.

“My dear Monsieur le Vicomte," he began, “its my dooty as a friend to tell you how the eyes o' the field's upon you, and as you've got a reputation to make, you must mind your P's. and Q’s,[for you've committed a mistake to begin. Your costoome, allowin'¡for its shinyness, is quite the right thing, all exceptıhavin' a cap instead of a hat. Nobody's supposed to wear a cap but the man that ’unts the 'ounds. There's Sir ’Arry—Master—you know, got his 'at, because Will’unts 'em to-day. When he ’unts 'em 'imself ’e'll wear a cap. So, you see 'avin' a cap, you'll be took by outsiders for the 'untsman. What you've got to do, then, is to ride as forrard as if you was the ’untsman, and that's what you can do on Brown Duchess if, ahem ! if your 'eart's in the right place."

Formidable phrase—"If your heart's in the right place”-as the Vicomte had gathered from the use made of it in “Bell's Life” and other English sporting journals! However he thanked Mr. Leadstone for the hint, promising to do his best to cover the error, irretrievable for this day at least, into which, acting under the counsels of a too zealous Anglo-Parisian tailor, he had fallen.

Lentworth great gorse is, as all the (sporting) world knows, a covert of considerable extent, and a stranger to the country may easily become isolated from the field, when the hounds are thrown into it. This happened to our Vicomte, and was not altogether regretted by him. In the first place he felt that he required time to establish himself comfortably and confidently in his saddle, and to become, as it were, personally acquainted with the Duchess; in the second, the fact of his being alone, or nearly so, seemed to intimate that no very strong work was expected to be cut out on that particular side of the covert. The spot on which he found himself was at an angle of the large expanse of gorse commanding two lanes,

his only companions being a couple of young lads mounted on smart fiery little ponies, and a rough-looking farmer on a wall-eyed, flat-sided, under-bred three year old, about sixteen one in height. These four had remained stationary and silent for some five minutes, when the farmer said to the Vicomte energetically but in a suppressed voice, "There ! did ye hear that, sir?"

“ Hear what?"
“There again!" And the farmer winked.

The Vicomte marvelled within himself what “ That," and “ There” meant, and felt much curiosity as to the meaning of the farmer's wink.

Again the farmer uttered a suppressed exclamation indicative of mingled joy and surprise,as he pointed to the covert with his whip; Brown Duchess also appeared to have heard something out of the common, for she pricked her ears, and moved restlessly in the sticky mud.

Darned if that beant a find !” from the farmer.

The Vicomte, though not quite comprehending the full purport of this expression, ventured to give it the assent of “ All right!”

A few moments more, and the distant whimper of a hound in the covert was borne on the wind towards them.

“I believe ye it be all right too!” whispered the farmer hoarsely. “Why, that's old Harlequin! And there ! t'others is a takin' it up!"

This was indeed the case, and another minute had not elapsed before the entire pack chorussed out the joyful intelligence of a find. The Vicomte, decidedly morc alarmed than elated, was marvelling within himself what was to be done next, when the farmer touched him on the shoulder, and said, "Now sir, you'd better pull your mare a bit over this way, along 'o me. I'm blest if Charley beant inclined for a break o'this side. Back there, you boys! Quick !”

The Vicomte and the boys, at once recognising the farmer's authority, respectively followed these instructions. Presently there was a slight rustling in the low copse that fringed the gorse.

“Look out !” the farmer whispered. “Darn they boys ! Will you keep your whips still, you two ?”


[ocr errors]

un left

Something now moved in the copse not twenty yards off, and again Harlequin's note, as rapidly approaching, was heard, followed again by the cheery chorus of the pack nearing the edge of the covert. Hardly had the farmer laid his hand on the Vicomte's shoulder, as if to restrain him from making a premature demonstration, when a magnificent dog fox popped over the bank and ditch close to them, and bowled away down one of the two lanes of which they commanded the view.

Hold hard!" whispered the farmer, as the exci' d Vicomte, by an irresistible impulse, raised his hand- he's not clean away yet. If he gets back, he'll .

: again, and they'll chop 'im up in covert !”

Reynard thus, by the farmer's judicious to himself, broke for good into the open.

Now then, its all right!” cried the farmer, and forthwith he gave a ringing View-Holloa !

On came the hounds, dash, crash, out of the gorse, and through the copse. “Tally ho!” again and again from the farmer and the boys—the Vicomte doing his best to imitate then:.

“We've got rare places,” quoth the farmer, as the hounds scrambled over or struggled through the ditch enclosing the covert, right in the fox's track; “Don't be in a hurry, you boys ! Steady's the word—There's time enough-Let the dogs do their work. I promise yer, sir,” to the Vicomte“we're a goin' to see a deal more nor a good many o' the cracks. You see they've all pushed for t’up side o' t'woods, never expectin' he'd break this side, as he have done. I aint quite clear but we'll’ave to’unt the’ounds for Will-Oh! no! 'ere comes Will! Gone away! Gone away!”

In truth Will now appeared shoving his horse through the thick, and to ordinary riders impenetrable, gorse, presently made his way through the fringing copse,topped the bank and ditch, into the road, and following in the direction indicated by the farmer, was quickly up with his hounds. The farmer told the Vicomte they might now "go"; and thus these four with the huntsman, not only had a clear start of the entire field, but literally seemed about to have the thing entirely to themselves. The country being open, the pace at once became severe. Charley was, in fact, making straight for that “raspin'” country intimated by Speedycut to the Vicomte.

But the fortunate five were not destined to have a permanent hold on their monopoly. For a good ten or twelve minutes they had it and kept it, the hounds going at a racing pace, and without a check, or, to the Vicomte's unspeakable satisfaction, any fencing worthy of the name. To be sure the Duchess topped a couple of hurdles, and went through two others which had been knocked down between the farmers' raw young 'un and the boys' ponies—the latter already pretty nearly pumped out. At the expiration of these ten or eleven minutes, there was a check at a spinny, which by the time the hounds had bustled their fox through it, and had got him again well into the open, enabled the hitherto mistaken ones from the upper side of the gorse to make up all their lost ground.

“You got a undeniable good start, Vicomte," quoth Speedy• cut-speaking slowly and precisely, as he galloped up to his furrin' customer, "and now just look out for the fences ! keep your mare well together—don't spare the steel at the right time—I'm blest if this arnt a straight fox and no mistake!one as, if he don't take the turn short up to Ringwood Chase —for the devil a point can he make but that-must take us right on end to Denbury High Woods—a good nine mile as the crow flies!” And the old horse-dealer was right-at least to a certain extent. The fox did get his head straight for Denbury High Woods, with the intention-as far as possible vulpine intentions were readable—of seeking shelter in that distant but safe harbour. The country was for the most part grass, with some really terrible fencing-places whereat grief might be confidently anticipated, even for older hands than our Vicomte. His fencing début was at a big post-andrails in a mucky bottom, and-harden his heart as he might -he felt as if his last moments were come when he became aware that his mare was swinging down towards this formidable impediment at a pace which, while in it lay the only chance for horse and rider, of itself almost made him giddy. Any attempt to stop the Duchess was-even to his perception-far more dangerous than to trust blindly to her tried powers, so, resigning himself to his fate he clapped his hand-(I grieve

« PreviousContinue »