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with a small patch of gorse on the hill, in which the butler sees a fox every morning, and which as a matter of course is invariably drawn blank, I may find time to describe the assemblage of sportsmen who now met my view, and who, I am given to understand, comprise tho élite of the Pippingdon Hunt.
To begin with the Squire and his stud. The equestrian was probably as unlike the famous squire of Leicestershire notoriety, as “Blunderbuss was to “ Ashton,” which, if the description I have had from eyewitnesses of the latter clipper may be relied on, was a difference sufficiently obvious to the most careless observer. But yet Jack Topthorne, as his familiars called him, was a varmint-looking fellow enough : despite his stained coat with its abominable collar, despite his drab cords, cloth tops, huge hunting cap, uncouth gestures, and ungainly seat, there was a game flash in his eye that looked like “ killing," and I fancy that it was indeed bad scenting weather when the Pippingdon hounds were short of blood.” Though unmistakeably “rough,” the Squire looked "ready," and appeared what he was-a thorough practical sportsman. As for “Blunderbuss, a greater brute I never wish to see : with a large ugly head, lop ears, a sleepy eye, and a white face, he had not one single beauty to make amends for his '
mealy bay coat-of all colours, to my fancy the most unsightly; and yet, though a cross-made horse, he had some good working points about him ; but even these were disfigured by the shortest tail I ever saw upon a hunter. This was a crotchet of his master's, for which I was quite prepared by a conversation I chanced to overhear in the Squire's dressing-room, a few weeks previously. A new purchase had lately come home, and contrary to his usual practice, “master” had bought him from “character, without a personal inspection. Accordingly, no sooner had the animal entered its future quarters than the groom hurried to “master” with a report of the fresh arrival. The Squire was dressing for dinner, with his door locked; but I plainly heard the following colloquy carried on from either side of the unopened barrier :
Squire : “Well, Ike” (for that functionary united the office of studgroom to his other avocations), “ what sort of a looking horse is he?"
Ike : Loikely, Zur ; but uncommon low in flesh he be.”
Squire : “Mash him to-morrow, and physic the next day—and Ike, what sort of a tail has he ?"
Ike : “Shortest dock I ever see anywheres—longest hair I ever see here."
Squire : “Very well ; cut his tail off square with the dock—that'll do, Ike. After this, my surprise was greater to behold Blunderbuss with any vertebral termination at all, than with the short four inches that spasmodically answered every application of his master's spurs.
As was the Squire so were his field, modified certainly in particular instances, but still one and all of the “ drab and ditch-water" schoolheavy-thonged hunting-whips (a “cut-and-thrust "
punisher is an abomination unknown here), short tails, and spaffile-bridles, with a general family resemblance in their jolly complexions which I could only attribute to their getting their port from the same wine-merchant, and drinking it in equally liberal quantities. They seemed to know one another well, and the country if possible better, and were chiefly men.
of a certain age, on which, as on their old jokes and time-honoured anecdotes, they rather seemed to pride themselves.
Why is it that at every fixture in every country, not excepting the so-called fast "shires," for one man under thirty you shall find a dozen above forty amongst those who comprise the field ? It is as unaccountable as the accompanying fact, that hunting-far from being on the wane, as those who bewail the absence of "young ones coming on,” would fain lead us tó suppose--is becoming, year by year, a more popular amusement; somewhat, it must be confessed, to the detriment of sport, and greatly to the danger of “forward riders" and "tail hounds,” but still a satisfactory reflection to the true lovers of the glorious pursuit. It may be that the young ones now-a-days are rather pinched for money - it may be that the old ones undoubtedly last longer than was the case with the preceding generation, and when the governor and the heir of entail each keeps a stud, it is rather a case of burning the candle at both ends ;” but whatever may be the cause, the Pippingdon Hunt was by no means singular in the proportion it showed of the prime of life" versus the glorious spring-time of delicious twenty-one. Besides these veterans in their scarlets and collars, there was a parson of course ; and although unassuming, quiet, and gentlemanlike in his appearance, as is invariably the case with his profession, he was obviously the fastest of the lot. As I took my hat off to return the bow with which Mr. Rockly honoured my introduction to him, and ran my eye over his lathy figure, graceful seat, and long, low, well-bred chesnut horse, I could not help thinking If there is any truth in appearances, you are a first-flight man anywhere and everywhere, be it in a steeplechasing "scrimmage" from Shankton Holt or the Coplow, be it in a sobbing fifty minutes over the Vale of Belvoir after a thaw, or be it in a long wild foxhunting run, over moor and mountain, " bank and brae,” rugged copse and brawling river, from such a rough, straggling, pictures que woodland as we are even now about to draw.
“Yooi in, Bellman and Bonnylass !-stand still, Blunderbuss !” says the Squire in a breath, as he forces the bay horse to take up his position on the side of a bank, and, standing erect in his stirrups, contemplates his hounds, bustling through the still leafy underwood.“ Ike,” on a five-year-old, has already clapped on to a certain corner, without thinking it necessary to wait to be told to do his duty; and there he sits like a statue, looking all ways at once, and eagerly watching for a view : not that he will holloa if he gets one, as long as there is a hound able to speak to the scent-no, the Squire stands no holloaing, and woe be to the man servant or gentleman, that gets those square sagacious heads up from their proper occupation.
The hounds are drawing the covert well, and with a certain busy keenness that betokens a scent. The Squire gets into a ride, terminating in the only hand-gate in the country, and fumbles hurriedly for his watch, as old Bustler, snuffling eagerly under his horse's nose, throws up his enormous head, and with a deep prolonged note, like that of some triple-tongued Cerberus, proclaims a find! There is no swell, hard-riding, first whip, to rouse the echoes and scare the woodnymphs with his loud-cracking thong and unnecessary injunction to
get together," addressed to a pack who are straining every nerve in their efforts to score to the cry." Ike" is at the further end of the
covert, at least half a mile off, and the Squire's horn is left undistarbed in its case.
The hounds have every advantage, for the field are close packed in the lane, like so many herrings in a barrel, and the fastest horse out would scarce get round the wood in time to head the fox. Now they are running gloriously, throwing a chorus around them that beats the keys of a piano-forte for variety, and what musicians call “expression." We gallop up the lane, parallel with the line, squelching through the puddles, and flinging the dirt in one another's faces, like so many maniacs. See, “ Ike” is in view, with his cap in the air; but the welltrained scout is as mute as a mouse.
It is evident our fox is away! and the lessening chorus of the deepmouthed pack announces that they too must have reached the open. The squires wax frantic : standing in their stirrups and grinning with excitement, they make superhuman efforts to “get forward,” and the “ breadth of beam " cased in its drab-cord covering, and revealed by many a pair of fluttering crimson tails, shows how right are these ponderous equestrians in holding their nags hard by the head. Mr. Rockly and the chesnut turn short out of the “ruck," and disappear over an awkward stile to the left ; but although this is undoubtedly the most direct way to hounds, I can neither pull up in time to follow him, nor have I sufficient confidence in the grey to charge such an ugly impediment. I gallop on accordingly with the tide. We turn the corner of the wood, dash over a solitary cottage-garden, skirt an orchard, squeeze through a gap in a high bank of hazels beyond, and emerge upon the open moor.
What a line! what a country! not a fence in the whole of it! and such galloping ground- a soft elastic sward of tufted grass and heather, that carries a scent totally unknown to less favoured localities, and with room enough to “ blow an Eclipse at the rate we are going. Far ahead of us, rising the opposite hill, stream the lengthening pack, actually tailing from pace, but one and all owning the scent. “ Ike” is shaking his reins alongside of them, and Parson Rockly, leaning well forward over the wiry chesnut's shoulders, is creeping gradually up to his place. We shall never catch them like this, in fact they are perceptibly gaining upon us even now, but in hunting every day proves the converse of the old coaching aphorism “what the big 'uns do by strength, the little 'uns do by cunning”-in the field, where the light weights get by speed the heavy weights get by sagacityand just as the hounds disappear over the crest of the hill, the heaviest and rosiest of my companions shoots off at a tangent down a halfobliterated cart-track to the right. Like sheep after the bell-wether, we follow his hoof-marks, and for a considerable period, during which we never slacken our speed, we might, as far as hunting goes, as well be galloping up Rotten Row for all we see of the chase. Once our pilot pulls up short, takes off his hat, wipes his beaded brow, and listens for an instant. I catch the distant melody on the breeze-down goes the hat with a cram, up he gets in his stirrups, and away again faster than before. We round the shoulder of a hill, and come upon a picturesque and copse-clothed dingle, where we find the hounds at fault, and strenuously endeavouring to recover the scent. “ Ike” is sitting quietly on the five-year-old (who looks a good deal blown), waiting with praiseworthy patience till they shall have made their own cast. Parson Rockly has leaped off the chesnut, and is turning his horse's head towards the breeze witi an expression of intense enjoyment on his countenance, and the hounds spreading like a fan, are feathering and snufiling for the scent, conscious that they will be undisturbed till they have quite done with it. I look round for the Squire, and behold him nearly a mile further down the dell, ready to come to his hounds should they require his assistance. How he got there no one can tell, but with a sort of instinctive knowledge of the line of a fox, he had arrived at the very spot where his hounds on recovering the scent, afterwards crossed the brawling streamlet that divided the ravine. “ Ike” was preparing to lift them, when “Rantipole" proclaimed that they required no such assistance, and stooping together to their work they hunted merrily on, down the banks of the stream into a more inclosed and habitable-looking country,
And now began the humours of the chase. Hitherto it had been all plain sailing, the fastest galloper and the best-winded horse had the advantage ; but the ground upon which we now entered was a deep holding plough, with only an occasional grass field, enclosed by high rotten banks and "pleached ” fences, while the lanes were few and far between, and the gates occasionally locked. Of all breaches of confidence, that of locking a gate is the most unpardonable ; and, if anything can add to the heinousness of such duplicity, it is the further outrage of tarning downwards the upper staple on which it revolves, thereby rendering it impossible to obtain a commodious egress by lifting the gate off its hinges. Alas! that such “ a dodge" should have reached the unsophisticated West. Under these circumstances, ride we must; but it takes a considerable time for a string of cautious gentlemen to follow each other, in due and well-timed rotation, over a series of double fences; and, although the hounds are only hunting, not running, I soon find that my view of the sport becomes again limited to the cords and coat-tails aforesaid. Every now and then I catch a glimpse of the parson "doubling” a high, awkward fence, in masterly style, two or three fields a-head of me; whilst, occasionally, I can see “ Ike," shaking his elbows and running in his spurs, as he hustles the young one at soine large and uncertain impediment; but there is plenty of occupation nearer home. Our corpulent pilot, warmed by the work and excited by his hitherto unparalleled success, rides boldly at the weakest place in a straggling treacherous sort of hedge, and comes upon his head in an artfully-concealed ditch. After this he discreetly abandons the post of honour, and at each succeeding obstacle there is a ludicrous politeness displayed by the field in their unwillingness to go first. Then what “come ups are heard, as a stout gentleman, perched on the summit of a bank, to which he has arrived by a series of cautious advances, is startled by the unwelcome discovery of a second yawning ditch as a trap for the unwary, into the abyss of which he is convinced nothing saves him from being precipitated but the fast hold he has of his horse's head and the unmerciful “job” he inflicts on the docile animal. At last it gets to “ leading over,” when luckily, just as the chance of again seeing hounds is becoming more hopeless than ever, a level green lane, running straight as a line for miles, greets our delighted eyes. It is a continuation of Watling-street, or Leeming-lane, or Amencorner, for aught I know ; but never before did I feel so thoroughly
grateful to the conquerors of the world as when that old Roman road hove in sight. There is an ugly fence between us and the wished for highway, which, as “a gent from Leicestershire," I find I am generally expected to negotiate first; and, with a vivid idea of a fall, I harden my heart and go straight at the obstacle. The grey does it so well, and lands so cleverly in the lane, that I feel quite ashamed of not having ridden him more forward ; but am consoled by the consciousness of having been surrounded throughout by the élite of the Pippingdon men. I see a red coat clattering along on the same friendly road a few hundred yards in front of me, and, as I gradually overhaul the owner, I discover it is the Squire, whose hounds are running through a farmyard a couple of fields to the right. As I near him he pulls out his watch, and giving old Blunderbuss a "refresher” with both spurs, he exclaims, “An hour and ten minutes, Nogo! he is running for his life.” Sure enough the conclusion seems near at hand : the liounds are dashing up one hedge-row and down another, with bristles up and sterns down, as though they were maddening for his blood. All at once up go their heads, and, after a vain effort to recover the line, they stand looking about them in helpless bewilderment. There is a woodland, a field to our right, and the earths are open at Mellerton, two miles further on. The Squire's mind is made up in an instant; thrusting his tired horse through a gap in the fence, which I should never have perceived, with one blast of his horn he gets his hounds round him, and casts them back. Probably he thinks his fox much too hot to seek the woodland, and that had he persevered in making his point for Mellerton we should not have checked. The event proves the Squire was right. He had lain down in the ditch behind us, and the hounds had overrun the scent for a field and a-half. How they take it up in that orchard ; ha! yonder he steals, below the fence, towards the gate ; they view him as he crawls under its bars, and, tumbling over one-another with the rush of a cataract, they precipitate their two-and-twenty couple of bodies on that gallant little morsel of draggled fur. Who-whoop! who-whoop! resounds in every key_Ike tumbles from his horse amongst his darlings; Topthorne's face beams with delight ; Parson Rockly wishes the Master joy of " so gallant a fox and fine a run;" and ihe rest of the field who, thanks to the Roman road, are mostly forthcoming, burst out into a Babel-like chorus of congratulation and applause. The pilot, heated up to boiling pitch, makes it an hour and twenty-five minutes by his watch ; but as he did not come up till some little time after the conclusion, it is probable that althongh his run may have been of that duration, ours was not quite so long : the Squire's description of it in the following words is most likely to be correct"Not a bad run for the provinces I think you must allow, Mr. Nogo; eleven miles from point to point, over a fine wild country, with but two trifling checks, and done in an hour and seventeen minutes."