THE WARWICK WOODLANDS; or Things as They Were Twenty Years Ago
By Frank Forester
MY FIRST VISIT, DAY THE FIRST
It was a fine October evening when I was sitting on the back stoop of his cheerful little bachelor's establishment in Mercer street, with my old friend and comrade, Henry Archer. Many a frown of fortune had we two weathered out together; in many of her brightest smiles had we two reveled—never was there a stauncher friend, a merrier companion, a keener sportsman, or a better fellow, than this said Harry; and here had we two met, three thousand miles from home, after almost ten years of separation, just the same careless, happy, dare-all do-no-goods that we were when we parted in St. James's street,—he for the West, I for the Eastern World—he to fell trees, and build log huts in the backwoods of Canada,—I to shoot tigers and drink arrack punch in the Carnatic. The world had wagged with us as with most others: now up, now down, and laid us to, at last, far enough from the goal for which we started—so that, as I have said already, on landing in New York, having heard nothing of him for ten years, whom the deuce should I tumble on but that same worthy, snugly housed, with a neat bachelor's menage, and every thing ship-shape about him?—So, in the natural course of things, we were at once inseparables.
Well—as I said before, it was a bright October evening, with the clear sky, rich sunshine, and brisk breezy freshness, which indicate that loveliest of the American months,—dinner was over, and with a pitcher of the liquid ruby of Latour, a brace of half-pint beakers, and a score —my contribution—of those most exquisite of smokables, the true old Manila cheroots, we were consoling the inward man in a way that would have opened the eyes, with abhorrent admiration, of any advocate of that coldest of comforts—cold water—who should have got a chance peep at our snuggery.
Suddenly, after a long pause, during which he had been stimulating his ideas by assiduous fumigation, blowing off his steam in a long vapory cloud that curled a minute afterward about his temples,—"What say you, Frank, to a start tomorrow?" exclaimed Harry,—"and a week's right good shooting?"
"Why, as for that," said I, "I wish for nothing better—but where the deuce would you go to get shooting?"
"Never fash your beard, man," he replied, "I'll find the ground and the game too, so you'll find share of the shooting!—Holloa! there—Tim, Tim Matlock."
And in brief space that worthy minister of mine host's pleasures made his appearance, smoothing down his short black hair, clipped in the orthodox bowl fashion, over his bluff good-natured visage with one hand, while he employed its fellow in hitching up a pair of most voluminous unmentionables, of thick Yorkshire cord.
A character was Tim—and now I think of it, worthy of brief description. Born, I believe—bred, certainly, in a hunting stable, far more of his life passed in the saddle than elsewhere, it was not a little characteristic of my friend Harry to have selected this piece of Yorkshire oddity as his especial body servant; but if the choice were queer, it was at least successful, for an honester, more faithful, hard-working, and withal, better hearted, and more humorous varlet never drew curry-comb over horse-hide, or clothes-brush over broad-cloth.
His visage was, as I have said already, bluff and good-natured, with a pair of hazel eyes, of the smallest—but, at the same time, of the very merriest—twinkling from under the thick black eyebrows, which were the only hairs suffered to grace his clean-shaved countenance. An indescribable pug nose, and a good clean cut mouth, with a continual dimple at the left corner, made up his phiz. For the rest, four feet ten inches did Tim stand in his stockings, about two-ten of which were monopolized by his back, the shoulders of which would have done honor to a six foot pugilist,—his legs, though short and bowed a little outward, by continual horse exercise, were right tough serviceable members, and I have seen them bearing their owner on through mud and mire, when straighter, longer, and more fair proportioned limbs were at an awful discount.
Depositing his hat then on the floor, smoothing his hair, and hitching up his smalls, and striving most laboriously not to grin till he should have cause, stood Tim, like "Giafar awaiting his master's award!"
"Tim!" said Harry Archer.
"Sur!" said Tim.
"Tim! Mr. Forester and I are talking of going up to-morrow—what do you say to it?"
"Oop yonner?" queried Tim, in the most extraordinary West-Riding Yorkshire, indicating the direction, by pointing his right thumb over his left shoulder—"Weel, Ay'se nought to say aboot it—not Ay!"
"Soh! the cattle are all right, and the wagon in good trim, and the dogs in exercise, are they?"
"Ay'se warrant um!"
"Well, then, have all ready for a start at six to-morrow,—put Mr. Forester's Manton alongside my Joe Spurling in the top tray of the case, my single gun and my double rifle in the lower, and see the magazine well filled—the Diamond gunpowder, you know, from Mr. Brough's. You'll put up what Mr. Forester will want, for a week, you know—he does not know the country yet, Tim;—and, hark you, what wine have I at Tom Draw's?"
"No but a case of claret."
"I thought so, then away with you! down to the Baron's and get two baskets of the Star, and stop at Fulton Market, and get the best half hundred round of spiced beef you can find—and then go up to Starke's at the Octagon, and get a gallon of his old Ferintosh—that's all, Tim—off with you!—No! stop a minute!" and he filled up a beaker and handed it to the original, who, shutting both his eyes, suffered the fragrant claret to roll down his gullet in the most scientific fashion, and then, with what he called a bow, turned right about, and exit.
The sun rose bright on the next morning, and half an hour before the appointed time, Tim entered my bed-chamber, with a cup of mocha, and the intelligence that "Measter had been oop this hour and better, and did na like to be kept waiting!"—so up I jumped, and scarcely had got through the business of rigging myself, before the rattle of wheels announced the arrival of the wagon.
And a model was that shooting wagon—a long, light-bodied box, with a low rail—a high seat and dash in front, and a low servant's seat behind, with lots of room for four men and as many dogs, with guns and luggage, and all appliances to boot, enough to last a month, stowed away out of sight, and out of reach of weather. The nags, both nearly thorough-bred, fifteen two inches high, stout, clean-limbed, active animals—the off-side horse a gray, almost snow-white—the near, a dark chestnut, nearly black—with square docks setting admirably off their beautiful round quarters, high crests, small blood-like heads, and long thin manes—spoke volumes for Tim's stable science; for though their ribs were slightly visible, their muscles were well filled, and hard as granite. Their coats glanced in the sunshine—the white's like statuary marble; the chestnut's like high polished copper—in short the whole turn-out was perfect.
The neat black harness, relieved merely by a crest, with every strap that could be needed, in its place, and not one buckle or one thong superfluous; the bright steel curbs, with the chains jingling as the horses tossed and pawed impatient for a start; the tapering holly whip; the bear-skins covering the seats; the top-coats spread above them— every thing, in a word, without bordering on the slang, was perfectly correct and gnostic.
Four dogs—a brace of setters of the light active breed, one of which will out-work a brace of the large, lumpy, heavy-headed dogs,—one red, the other white and liver, both with black noses, their legs and sterns beautifully feathered, and their hair, glossy and smooth as silk, showing their excellent condition—and a brace of short-legged, bony, liver-colored spaniels—with their heads thrust one above the other, over or through the railings, and their tails waving with impatient joy —occupied the after portion of the wagon.
Tim, rigged in plain gray frock, with leathers and white tops, stood, in true tiger fashion, at the horses' heads, with the forefinger of his right hand resting upon the curb of the gray horse, as with his left he rubbed the nose of the chestnut; while Harry, cigar in mouth, was standing at the wheel, reviewing with a steady and experienced eye the gear, which seemed to give him perfect satisfaction. The moment I appeared on the steps,
"In with you, Frank—in with you," he exclaimed, disengaging the hand-reins from the terrets into which they had been thrust, "I have been waiting here these five minutes. Jump up, Tim!"
And, gathering the reins up firmly, he mounted by the wheel, tucked the top-coat about his legs, shook out the long lash of his tandem whip, and lapped it up in good style.
"I always drive with one of these"—he said, half apologetically, as I thought—"they are so handy on the road for the cur dogs, when you have setters with you—they plague your life out else. Have you the pistol-case in, Tim, for I don't see it?"
"All raight, sur," answered he, not over well pleased, as it seemed, that it should even be suspected that he could have forgotten any thing —"All raight!"
"Go along, then," cried Harry, and at the word the high bred nags went off; and though my friend was too good and too old a hand to worry his cattle at the beginning of a long day's journey—many minutes had not passed before we found ourselves on board the ferry-boat, steaming it merrily towards the Jersey shore.
"A quarter past six to the minute," said Harry, as we landed at Hoboken.
"Let Shot and Chase run, Tim, but keep the spaniels in till we pass Hackensack."
"Awa wi ye, ye rascals," exclaimed Tim, and out went the high blooded dogs upon the instant, yelling and jumping in delight about the horses— and off we went, through the long sandy street of Hoboken, leaving the private race-course of that stanch sportsman, Mr. Stevens, on the left, with several powerful horses taking their walking exercise in their neat body clothes.
"That puts me in mind, Frank," said Harry, as he called my attention to the thorough-breds, "we must be back next Tuesday for the Beacon Races— the new course up there on the hill; you can see the steps that lead to it—and now is not this lovely?" he continued, as we mounted the first ridge of Weehawken, and looked back over the beautiful broad Hudson, gemmed with a thousand snowy sails of craft or shipping—"Is not this lovely, Frank? and, by the by, you will say, when we get to our journey's end, you never drove through prettier scenery in your life. Get away, Bob, you villain—nibbling, nibbling at your curb! get away, lads!"
And away we went at a right rattling pace over the hills, and through the cedar swamp; and, passing through a toll-gate, stopped with a sudden jerk at a long low tavern on the left-hand side.
"We must stop here, Frank. My old friend, Ingliss, a brother trigger, too, would think the world was coming to an end if I drove by— twenty-nine minutes these six miles," he added, looking at his watch, "that will do! Now, Tim, look sharp—just a sup of water! Good day—good day to you, Mr. Ingliss; now for a glass of your milk punch"—and mine host disappeared, and in a moment came forth with two rummers of the delicious compound, a big bright lump of ice bobbing about in each among the nutmeg.
"What, off again for Orange county, Mr. Archer? I was telling the old woman yesterday that we should have you by before long; well, you'll find cock pretty plenty, I expect; there was a chap by here from Ulster —let me see, what day was it—Friday, I guess—with produce, and he was telling, they have had no cold snap yet up there! Thank you, sir, good luck to you!"
And off we went again, along a level road, crossing the broad, slow river from whence it takes its name, into the town of Hackensack.
"We breakfast here, Frank"—as he pulled up beneath the low Dutch shed projecting over half the road in front of the neat tavern—"How are you, Mr. Vanderbeck—we want a beefsteak, and a cup of tea, as quick as you can give it us; we'll make the tea ourselves; bring in the black tea, Tim—the nags as usual."
"Aye! aye! sur"—"tak them out—leave t' harness on, all but their bridles"—to an old gray-headed hostler. "Whisp off their legs a bit; Ay will be oot enoo!"
After as good a breakfast as fresh eggs, good country bread—worth ten times the poor trash of city bakers—prime butter, cream, and a fat steak could furnish, at a cheap rate, and with a civil and obliging landlord, away we went again over the red-hills—an infernal ugly road, sandy, and rough, and stony—for ten miles farther to New Prospect.
"Now you shall see some scenery worth looking at," said Harry, as we started again, after watering the horses, and taking in a bag with a peck of oats—"to feed at three o'clock, Frank, when we stop to grub, which must do al fresco—" my friend explained—"for the landlord, who kept the only tavern on the road, went West this summer, bit by the land mania, and there is now no stopping place 'twixt this and Warwick," naming the village for which we were bound. "You got that beef boiled, Tim?"
"Ay'd been a fouil else, and aye so often oop t' road too," answered he with a grin, "and t' moostard is mixed, and t' pilot biscuit in, and a good bit o' Cheshire cheese! wee's doo, Ay reckon. Ha! ha! ha!"
And now my friend's boast was indeed fulfilled; for when we had driven a few miles farther, the country became undulating, with many and bright streams of water; the hill sides clothed with luxuriant woodlands, now in their many-colored garb of autumn beauty; the meadow-land rich in unchanged fresh greenery—for the summer had been mild and rainy—with here and there a buckwheat stubble showing its ruddy face, replete with promise of quail in the present, and of hot cakes in future; and the bold chain of mountains, which, under many names, but always beautiful and wild, sweeps from the Highlands of the Hudson, west and southwardly, quite through New Jersey, forming a link between the White and Green Mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, and the more famous Alleghenies of the South.
A few miles farther yet, the road wheeled round the base of the Tourne Mountain, a magnificent bold hill, with a bare craggy head, its sides and skirts thick set with cedars and hickory—entering a defile through which the Ramapo, one of the loveliest streams eye ever looked upon, comes rippling with its crystal waters over bright pebbles, on its way to join the two kindred rivulets which form the fair Passaic. Throughout the whole of that defile, nothing can possibly surpass the loveliness of nature; the road hard, and smooth, and level, winding and wheeling parallel to the gurgling river, crossing it two or three times in each mile, now on one side, and now on the other—the valley now barely broad enough to permit the highway and the stream to pass between the abrupt masses of rock and forest, and now expanding into rich basins of green meadow-land, the deepest and most fertile possible—the hills of every shape and size—here bold, and bare, and rocky—there swelling up in grand round masses, pile above pile of verdure, to the blue firmament of autumn. By and by we drove through a thriving little village, nestling in a hollow of the hills, beside a broad bright pond, whose waters keep a dozen manufactories of cotton and of iron—with which mineral these hills abound—in constant operation; and passing by the tavern, the departure of whose owner Harry had so pathetically mourned, we wheeled again round a projecting spur of hill into a narrower defile, and reached another hamlet, far different in its aspect from the busy bustling place we had left some five miles behind.
There were some twenty houses, with two large mills of solid masonry; but of these not one building was now tenanted; the roof-trees broken, the doors and shutters either torn from their hinges, or flapping wildly to and fro; the mill wheels cumbering the stream with masses of decaying timber, and the whole presenting a most desolate and mournful aspect.
"Its story is soon told," Harry said, catching my inquiring glance—"a speculating, clever New York merchant—a waterpower—a failure—and a consequent desertion of the project; but we must find a birth among the ruins!"
And as he spoke, turning a little off the road, he pulled up on the green sward; "there's an old stable here that has a manger in it yet! Now, Tim, look sharp!" And in a twinkling the horses were loosed from the wagon, the harness taken off and hanging on the corners of the ruined hovels, and Tim hissing and rubbing away at the gray horse, while Harry did like duty on the chestnut, in a style that would have done no shame to Melton Mowbray!
"Come, Frank, make yourself useful! Get out the round of beef, and all the rest of the provant—it's on the rack behind; you'll find all right there. Spread our table-cloth on that flat stone by the waterfall, under the willow; clap a couple of bottles of the Baron's champagne into the pool there underneath the fall; let's see whether your Indian campaigning has taught you anything worth knowing!"
To work I went at once, and by the time I had got through—"Come, Tim," I heard him say, "I've got the rough dirt off this fellow, you must polish him, while I take a wash, and get a bit of dinner. Holloa! Frank, are you ready!"
And he came bounding down to the water's edge, with his Newmarket coat in hand, and sleeves rolled up to the elbows, plunged his face into the cool stream, and took a good wash of his soiled hands in the same natural basin. Five minutes afterward we were employed most pleasantly with the spiced beef, white biscuit, and good wine, which came out of the waterfall as cool as Gunter could have made it with all his icing. When we had pretty well got through, and were engaged with our cheroots, up came Tim Matlock.
"T' horses have got through wi' t' corn—they have fed rarely so I harnessed them, sur, all to the bridles—we can start when you will."
"Sit down, and get your dinner then, sir—there's a heel tap in that bottle we have left for you—and when you have done, put up the things, and we'll be off. I say, Frank, let us try a shot with the pistols—I'll get the case—stick up that fellow-commoner upon the fence there, and mark off a twenty paces."
The marking irons were produced, and loaded—"Fire—one—two—three"— bang! and the shivering of the glass announced that never more would that chap hold the generous liquor; the ball had struck it plump in the centre, and broken off the whole above the shoulder, for it was fixed neck downward on the stake.
"It is my turn now," said I; and more by luck, I fancy, than by skill, I took the neck off, leaving nothing but the thick ring of the mouth still sticking on the summit of the fence.
"I'll hold you a dozen of my best Regalias against as many of Manillas, that I break the ring."
Again the pistol cracked, and the unerring ball drove the small fragment into a thousand splinters.
"That fotched 'um!" exclaimed Tim, who had come up to announce all ready. "Ecod, measter Frank, you munna wager i' that gate* [*Gate— Yorkshire; Anglice, way.] wi' master, or my name beant Tim, but thou'lt be clean bamboozled."
Well, not to make a short story long, we got under way again, and, with speed unabated, spanked along at full twelve miles an hour for five miles farther. There, down a wild looking glen, on the left hand, comes brawling, over stump and stone, a tributary streamlet, by the side of which a rough track, made by the charcoal burners and the iron miners, intersects the main road; and up this miserable looking path, for it was little more, Harry wheeled at full trot. "Now for twelve miles of mountain, the roughest road and wildest country you ever saw crossed in a phaeton, good master Frank."
And wild it was, indeed, and rough enough in all conscience; narrow, unfenced in many places, winding along the brow of precipices without rail or breast-work, encumbered with huge blocks of stone, and broken by the summer rains! An English stage coachman would have stared aghast at the steep zigzags up the hills, the awkward turns on the descents, the sudden pitches, with now an unsafe bridge, and now a stony ford at the bottom; but through all this, the delicate quick finger, keen eye, and cool head of Harry, assisted by the rare mouths of his exquisitely bitted cattle, piloted us at the rate of full ten miles the hour; the scenery, through which the wild track ran, being entirely of the most wild and savage character of woodland; the bottom filled with gigantic timber trees, cedar, and pine, and hemlock, with a dense undergrowth of rhododendron, calmia, and azalia, which, as my friend informed me, made the whole mountains in the summer season one rich bed of bloom. About six miles from the point where we had entered them we scaled the highest ridge of the hills, by three almost precipitous zigzags, the topmost ledge paved by a stratum of broken shaley limestone; and, passing at once from the forest into well cultivated fields, came on a new and lovelier prospect—a narrow deep vale scarce a mile in breadth—scooped, as it were, out of the mighty mountains which embosomed it on every side—in the highest state of culture, with rich orchards, and deep meadows, and brown stubbles, whereon the shocks of maize stood fair and frequent; and westward of the road, which, diving down obliquely to the bottom, loses itself in the woods of the opposite hill-side, and only becomes visible again when it emerges to cross over the next summit—the loveliest sheet of water my eyes has ever seen, varying from half a mile to a mile in breadth, and about five miles long, with shores indented deeply with the capes and promontories of the wood-clothed hills, which sink abruptly to its very margin.
"That is the Greenwood Lake, Frank, called by the monsters here Long Pond!—'the fiends receive their souls therefor,' as Walter Scott says— in my mind prettier than Lake George by far, though known to few except chance sportsmen like myself! Full of fish, perch of a pound in weight, and yellow bass in the deep waters, and a good sprinkling of trout, towards this end! Ellis Ketchum killed a five-pounder there this spring! and heaps of summer-duck, the loveliest in plumage of the genus, and the best too, me judice, excepting only the inimitable canvass-back. There are a few deer, too, in the hills, though they are getting scarce of late years. There, from that headland, I killed one, three summers since; I was placed at a stand by the lake's edge, and the dogs drove him right down to me; but I got too eager, and he heard or saw me, and so fetched a turn; but they were close upon him, and the day was hot, and he was forced to soil. I never saw him till he was in the act of leaping from a bluff of ten or twelve feet into the deep lake, but I pitched up my rifle at him, a snap shot! as I would my gun at a cock in a summer brake, and by good luck sent my ball through his heart. There is a finer view yet when we cross this hill, the Bellevale mountain; look out, for we are just upon it; there! Now admire!"
And on the summit he pulled up, and never did I see a landscape more extensively magnificent. Ridge after ridge the mountain sloped down from our feet into a vast rich basin ten miles at least in breadth, by thirty, if not more, in length, girdled on every side by mountains—the whole diversified with wood and water, meadow, and pasture-land, and corn-field—studded with small white villages—with more than one bright lakelet glittering like beaten gold in the declining sun, and several isolated hills standing up boldly from the vale!
"Glorious indeed! Most glorious!" I exclaimed.
"Right, Frank," he said; "a man may travel many a day, and not see any thing to beat the vale of Sugar-loaf—so named from that cone-like hill, over the pond there—that peak is eight hundred feet above tide water. Those blue hills, to the far right, are the Hudson Highlands; that bold bluff is the far-famed Anthony's Nose; that ridge across the vale, the second ridge I mean, is the Shawangunks; and those three rounded summits, farther yet—those are the Kaatskills! But now a truce with the romantic, for there lies Warwick, and this keen mountain air has found me a fresh appetite!"
Away we went again, rattling down the hills, nothing daunted at their steep pitches, with the nags just as fresh as when they started, champing and snapping at their curbs, till on a table-land above the brook, with the tin steeple of its church peering from out the massy foliage of sycamore and locust, the haven of our journey lay before us.
"Hilloa, hill-oa ho! whoop! who-whoop!" and with a cheery shout, as we clattered across the wooden bridge, he roused out half the population of the village.
"Ya ha ha!—ya yah!" yelled a great woolly-headed coal-black negro. "Here 'm massa Archer back again—massa ben well, I spect—"
"Well—to be sure I have, Sam," cried Harry. "How's old Poll? Bid her come up to Draw's to-morrow night—I've got a red and yellow frock for her—a deuce of a concern!"
"Ya ha! yah ha ha yaah!" and amid a most discordant chorus of African merriment, we passed by a neat farm-house shaded by two glorious locusts on the right, and a new red brick mansion, the pride of the village, with a flourishing store on the left—and wheeled up to the famous Tom Draw's tavern—a long white house with a piazza six feet wide, at the top of eight steep steps, and a one-story kitchen at the end of it; a pump with a gilt pineapple at the top of it, and horse-trough, a wagon shed and stable sixty feet long; a sign-post with an indescribable female figure swinging upon it, and an ice house over the way!
Such was the house, before which we pulled up just as the sun was setting, amid a gabbling of ducks, a barking of terriers, mixed with the deep bay of two or three large heavy fox-hounds which had been lounging about in the shade, and a peal of joyous welcome from all beings, quadruped or biped, within hearing.
"Hulloa! boys!" cried a deep hearty voice from within the barroom. "Hulloa! boys! Walk in! walk in! What the eternal h-ll are you about there?"
Well, we did walk into a large neat bar-room, with a bright hickory log crackling upon the hearth-stone, a large round table in one corner, covered with draught-boards, and old newspapers, among which showed preeminent the "Spirit of the Times;" a range of pegs well stored with great-coats, fishing-rods, whips, game-bags, spurs, and every other stray appurtenance of sporting, gracing one end; while the other was more gaily decorated by the well furnished bar, in the right-hand angle of which my eye detected in an instant a handsome nine pound double barrel, an old six foot Queen Ann's tower-musket, and a long smooth-bored rifle; and last, not least, outstretched at easy length upon the counter of his bar, to the left-hand of the gang-way—the right side being more suitably decorated with tumblers, and decanters of strange compounds—supine, with fair round belly towering upward, and head voluptuously pillowed on a heap of wagon cushions—lay in his glory—but no! hold!—the end of a chapter is no place to introduce—Tom Draw!* [*It is almost a painful task to read over and revise this chapter. The "twenty years ago" is too keenly visible to the mind's eye in every line. Of the persons mentioned in its pages, more than one have passed away from our world forever; and even the natural features of rock, wood, and river, in other countries so vastly more enduring than their perishable owners, have been so much altered by the march of improvement, Heaven save the mark! that the traveler up the Erie railroad, will certainly not recognize in the description of the vale of Ramapo, the hill-sides all denuded of their leafy honors, the bright streams dammed by unsightly mounds and changed into foul stagnant pools, the snug country tavern deserted for a huge hideous barn-like depot, and all the lovely sights and sweet harmonies of nature defaced and drowned by the deformities consequent on a railroad, by the disgusting roar and screech of the steam-engine. One word to the wise! Let no man be deluded by the following pages, into the setting forth for Warwick now in search of sporting. These things are strictly as they were twenty years ago! Mr. Seward, in his zeal for the improvement of Chatauque and Cattaraugus, has certainly destroyed the cock-shooting of Orange county. A sportsman's benison to him therefor.]
DAY THE THE SECOND
Much as I had heard of Tom Draw, I was I must confess, taken altogether aback when I, for the first time, set eyes upon him. I had heard Harry Archer talk of him fifty times as a crack shot; as a top sawyer at a long day's fag; as the man of all others he would choose as his mate, if he were to shoot a match, two against two—what then was my astonishment at beholding this worthy, as he reared himself slowly from his recumbent position? It is true, I had heard his sobriquet, "Fat Tom," but, Heaven and Earth! such a mass of beef and brandy as stood before me, I had never even dreamt of. About five feet six inches at the very utmost in the perpendicular, by six or—"by'r lady"—nearer seven in circumference, weighing, at the least computation, two hundred and fifty pounds, with a broad jolly face, its every feature—well-formed and handsome, rather than otherwise—mantling with an expression of the most perfect excellence of heart and temper, and overshadowed by a vast mass of brown hair, sprinkled pretty well with gray!—Down he plumped from the counter with a thud that made the whole floor shake, and with a hand outstretched, that might have done for a Goliah, out he strode to meet us.
"Why, hulloa! hulloa! Mr. Archer," shaking his hand till I thought he would have dragged the arm clean out of the socket—"How be you, boy? How be you?" "Right well, Tom, can't you see? Why confound you, you've grown twenty pound heavier since July!—but here, I'm losing all my manners!—this is Frank Forester, whom you have heard me talk about so often! He dropped down here out of the moon, Tom, I believe! at least I thought about as much of seeing the man in the moon, as of meeting him in this wooden country—but here he is, as you see, come all the way to take a look at the natives. And so, you see, as you're about the greatest curiosity I know of in these parts, I brought him straight up here to take a peep! Look at him, Frank—look at him well! Now, did you ever see, in all your life, so extraordinary an old devil?—and yet, Frank, which no man could possibly believe, the old fat animal has some good points about him—he can walk some! shoot, as he says, first best! and drink—good Lord, how he can drink!"
"And that reminds me," exclaimed Tom, who with a ludicrous mixture of pleasure, bashfulness, and mock anger, had been listening to what he evidently deemed a high encomium; "that we hav'nt drinked yet; have you quit drink, Archer, since I was to York? What'll you take, Mr. Forester? Gin? yes, I have got some prime gin! You never sent me up them groceries though, Archer; well, then, here's luck! What, Yorkshire, is that you? I should ha' thought now, Archer, you'd have cleared that lazy Injun out afore this time!"
"Whoy, measter Draa—what 'na loike's that kind o' talk? coom coom now, where'll Ay tak t' things tull?"
"Put Mr. Forester's box in the bed-room off the parlor—mine up stairs, as usual," cried Archer. "Look sharp and get the traps out. Now, Tom, I suppose you have got no supper for us?"
"Cooper, Cooper! you snooping little devil," yelled Tom, addressing his second hope, a fine dark-eyed, bright-looking lad of ten or twelve years; "Don't you see Mr. Archer's come?—away with you and light the parlor fire, look smart now, or I'll cure you! Supper—you're always eat! eat! eat! or, drink! drink!—drunk! Yes! supper; we've got pork! and chickens..."
"Oh! d—n your pork," said I, "salt as the ocean I suppose!"
"And double d—n your chickens," chimed in Harry, "old superannuated cocks which must be caught now, and then beheaded, and then soused into hot water to fetch off the feathers; and save you lazy devils the trouble of picking them. No, no, Tom! get us some fresh meat for to-morrow; and for to-night let us have some hot potatoes, and some bread and butter, and we'll find beef; eh, Frank? and now look sharp, for we must be up in good time tomorrow, and, to be so, we must to bed betimes. And now, Tom, are there any cock?"
"Cock! yes, I guess there be, and quail, too, pretty plenty! quite a smart chance of them, and not a shot fired among them this fall, any how!"
"Well, which way must we beat to-morrow? I calculate to shoot three days with you here; and, on Wednesday night, when we get in, to hitch up and drive into Sullivan, and see if we can't get a deer or two! You'll go, Tom?"
"Well, well, we'll see any how; but for to-morrow, why, I guess we must beat the 'Squire's swamp-hole first; there's ten or twelve cock there, I know; I see them there myself last Sunday; and then acrost them buck-wheat stubbles, and the big bog meadow, there's a drove of quail there; two or three bevys got in one, I reckon; leastwise I counted thirty-three last Friday was a week; and through Seer's big swamp, over to the great spring!"
"How is Seer's swamp? too wet, I fancy," Archer interposed, "at least I noticed, from the mountain, that all the leaves were changed in it, and that the maples were quite bare."
"Pretty fair, pretty fair, I guess," replied stout Tom, "I harnt been there myself though, but Jem was down with the hounds arter an old fox t'other day, and sure enough he said the cock kept flopping up quite thick afore him; but then the critter will lie, Harry; he will lie like thunder, you know; but somehow I concaits there be cock there too; and then, as I was saying, we'll stop at the great spring and get a bite of summat, and then beat Hellhole; you'll have sport there for sartin! What dogs have you got with you, Harry?"
"Your old friends, Shot and Chase, and a couple of spaniels for thick covert!"
"Now, gentlemen, your suppers are all ready."
"Come, Tom," cried Archer; "you must take a bite with us—Tim, bring us in three bottles of champagne, and lots of ice, do you hear?"
And the next moment we found ourselves installed in a snug parlor, decorated with a dozen sporting prints, a blazing hickory fire snapping and spluttering and roaring in a huge Franklin stove; our luggage safely stowed in various corners, and Archer's double gun-case propped on two chairs below the window.
An old-fashioned round table, covered with clean white linen of domestic manufacture, displayed the noble round of beef which we had brought up with us, flanked by a platter of magnificent potatoes, pouring forth volumes of dense steam through the cracks in their dusky skins; a lordly dish of butter, that might have pleased the appetite of Sisera; while eggs and ham, and pies of apple, mince-meat, cranberry, and custard, occupied every vacant space, save where two ponderous pitchers, mantling with ale and cider, and two respectable square bottles, labelled "Old Rum" and "Brandy-1817," relieved the prospect. Before we had sat down, Timothy entered, bearing a horse bucket filled to the brim with ice, from whence protruded the long necks and split corks of three champagne bottles.
"Now, Tim," said Archer, "get your own supper, when you've finished with the cattle; feed the dogs well to-night; and then to bed. And hark you, call me at five in the morning; we shall want you to carry the game-bag and the drinkables; take care of yourself, Tim, and good night!"
"No need to tell him that," cried Tom, "he's something like yourself; I tell you, Archer, if Tim ever dies of thirst, it must be where there is nothing wet, but water!"
"Now hark to the old scoundrel, Frank," said Archer, "hark to him pray, and if he doesn't out-eat both of us, and out-drink anything you ever saw, may I miss my first bird to-morrow—that's all! Give me a slice of beef, Frank; that old Goth would cut it an inch thick, if I let him touch it; out with a cork, Tom! Here's to our sport to-morrow!"
"Uh; that goes good!" replied Tom, with an oath, which, by the apparent gusto of the speaker, seemed to betoken that the wine had tickled his palate—"that goes good! that's different from the darned red trash you left up here last time."
"And of which you have left none, I'll be bound," answered Archer, laughing; "my best Latour, Frank, which the old infidel calls trash."
"It's all below, every bottle of it," answered Tom: "I wouldn't use such rot-gut stuff, no, not for vinegar. 'Taint half so good as that red sherry you had up here oncet; that was poor weak stuff, too, but it did well to make milk punch of; it did well instead of milk."
"Now, Frank," said Archer, "you won't believe me, that I know; but it's true, all the same. A year ago, this autumn, I brought up five gallons of exceedingly stout, rather fiery, young brown sherry—draught wine, you know!—and what did Tom do here, but mix it, half and half, with brandy, nutmeg, and sugar, and drink it for milk punch!"
"I did so, by the eternal," replied Tom, bolting a huge lump of beef, in order to enable himself to answer—"I did so, and good milk punch it made, too, but it was too weak! Come, Mr. Forester, we harn't drinked yet, and I'm kind o' gittin dry!"
And now the mirth waxed fast and furious—the champagne speedily was finished, the supper things cleared off, hot water and Starke's Ferintosh succeeded, cheroots were lighted, we drew closer in about the fire, and, during the circulation of two tumblers—for to this did Harry limit us, having the prospect of unsteady hands and aching heads before him for the morrow—never did I hear more genuine and real humor, than went round our merry trio.
Tom Draw, especially, though all his jokes were not such altogether as I can venture to insert in my chaste paragraphs, and though at times his oaths were too extravagantly rich to brook repetition, shone forth resplendent. No longer did I wonder at what I had before deemed Harry Archer's strange hallucination; Tom Draw is a decided genius—rough as a pine knot in his native woods—but full of mirth, of shrewdness, of keen mother wit, of hard horse sense, and last, not least, of the most genuine milk of human kindness. He is a rough block; but, as Harry says, there is solid timber under the uncouth bark enough to make five hundred men, as men go now-a-days in cities!
At ten o'clock, thanks to the excellent precautions of my friend Harry, we were all snugly berthed, before the whiskey, which had well justified the high praise I had heard lavished on it, had made any serious inroads on our understanding, but not before we had laid in a quantum to ensure a good night's rest.
Bright and early was I on foot the next day, but before I had half dressed myself I was assured, by the clatter of the breakfast things, that Archer had again stolen a march upon me; and the next moment my bed-room door, driven open by the thick boot of that worthy, gave me a full view of his person—arrayed in a stout fustian jacket—with half a dozen pockets in full view, and Heaven only knows how many more lying perdu in the broad skirts. Knee-breeches of the same material, with laced half-boots and leather leggins, set off his stout calf and well turned ankle.
"Up! up! Frank," he exclaimed, "it is a morning of ten thousand; there has been quite a heavy dew, and by the time we are afoot it will be well evaporated; and then the scent will lie, I promise you! make haste, I tell you, breakfast is ready!"
Stimulated by his hurrying voice, I soon completed my toilet, and entering the parlor found Harry busily employed in stirring to and fro a pound of powder on one heated dinner plate, while a second was undergoing the process of preparation on the hearthstone under a glowing pile of hickory ashes.
At the side-table, covered with guns, dog-whips, nipple-wrenches, and the like, Tim, rigged like his master, in half boots and leggins, but with a short roundabout of velveteen, in place of the full-skirted jacket, was filling our shot-pouches by aid of a capacious funnel, more used, as its odor betokened, to facilitate the passage of gin or Jamaica spirits than of so sober a material as cold lead.
At the same moment entered mine host, togged for the field in a huge pair of cow-hide boots, reaching almost to the knee, into the tops of which were tucked the lower ends of a pair of trowsers, containing yards enough of buffalo-cloth to have eked out the main-sail of a North River sloop; a waistcoat and single-breasted jacket of the same material, with a fur cap, completed his attire; but in his hand he bore a large decanter filled with a pale yellowish liquor, embalming a dense mass of fine and worm-like threads, not very different in appearance from the best vermicelli.
"Come, boys, come—here's your bitters," he exclaimed; and, as if to set the example, filled a big tumbler to the brim, gulped it down as if it had been water, smacked his lips, and incontinently tendered it to Archer, who, to my great amazement, filled himself likewise a more moderate draught, and quaffed it without hesitation.
"That's good, Tom," he said, pausing after the first sip; "that's the best I ever tasted here; how old's that?"
"Five years!" Tom replied: "five years last fall! Daddy Tom made it out my own best apples—take a horn, Mr. Forester," he added, turning to me —"it's first best cider sperrits—better a darned sight than that Scotch stuff you make such an etarnal fuss about, toting it up here every time, as if we'd nothing fit to drink in the country!"
And to my sorrow I did taste it—old apple whiskey, with Lord knows how much snake-root soaked in it for five years! They may talk about gall being bitter; but, by all that's wonderful, there was enough of the amari aliquid in this fonte, to me by no means of leporum, to have given an extra touch of bitterness to all the gall beneath the canopy; and with my mouth puckered up, till it was like anything on earth but a mouth, I set the glass down on the table; and for the next five minutes could do nothing but shake my head to and fro like a Chinese mandarin, amidst the loud and prolonged roars of laughter that burst like thunder claps from the huge jaws of Thomas Draw, and the subdued and half respectful cachinnations of Tim Matlock.
By the time I had got a little better, the black tea was ready, and with thick cream, hot buckwheat cakes, beautiful honey, and—as a stand by— the still venerable round, we made out a very tolerable meal.
This done, with due deliberation Archer supplied his several pockets with their accustomed load—the clean-punched wads in this—in that the Westley Richards' caps—here a pound horn of powder—there a shot-pouch on Syke's lever principle, with double mouth-piece—in another, screw-driver, nipple-wrench, and the spare cones; and, to make up the tale, dog-whip, dram-bottle, and silk handkerchief in the sixth and last.
"Nothing like method in this world," said Harry, clapping his low-crowned broad-brimmed mohair cap upon his head; "take my word for it. Now, Tim, what have you got in the bag?"
"A bottle of champagne, sur," answered Tim, who was now employed slinging a huge fustian game-bag, with a net-work front, over his right shoulder, to counterbalance two full shot-belts which were already thrown across the other—"a bottle of champagne, sur—a cold roast chicken—t' Cheshire cheese—and t' pilot biscuits. Is your dram-bottle filled wi' t' whiskey, please sur?"
"Aye, aye, Tim. Now let loose the dogs—carry a pair of couples and a leash along with you; and mind you, gentlemen, Tim carries shot for all hands; and luncheon—but each one finds his own powder, caps, &c.; and any one who wants a dram, carries his own—the devil a-one of you gets a sup out of my bottle, or a charge out of my flask! That's right, old Trojan, isn't it?" with a good slap on Tom's broad shoulder.
"Shot! Shot—why Shot! don't you know me, old dog?" cried Tom, as the two setters bounded into the room, joyful at their release—"good dog! good Chase!" feeding them with great lumps of beef.
"Avast! there Tom—have done with that," cried Harry; "you'll have the dogs so full that they can't run."
"Why, how'd you like to hunt all day without your breakfast—hey?"
"Here, lads! here, lads! wh-e-ew!" and followed by his setters, with his gun under his arm, away went Harry; and catching up our pieces likewise, we followed, nothing loth, Tim bringing up the rear with the two spaniels fretting in their couples, and a huge black thorn cudgel, which he had brought, as he informed me, "all t' way from bonny Cawoods."
It was as beautiful a morning as ever lighted sportsmen to their labors. The dew, exhaled already from the long grass, still glittered here and there upon the shrubs and trees, though a soft fresh south-western breeze was shaking it thence momently in bright and rustling showers; the sun, but newly risen, and as yet partially enveloped in the thin gauze-like mists so frequent at that season, was casting shadows, seemingly endless, from every object that intercepted his low rays, and chequering the whole landscape with that play of light and shade, which is the loveliest accessory to a lovely scene; and lovely was the scene, indeed, as e'er was looked upon by painter's or by poet's eye—how then should humble prose do justice to it?
Seated upon the first slope of a gentle hill, midway of the great valley heretofore described, the village looked due south, toward the chains of mountains, which we had crossed on the preceding evening, and which in that direction bounded the landscape. These ridges, cultivated half-way up their swelling sides, which lay mapped out before our eyes in all the various beauty of orchards, yellow stubbles, and rich pastures dotted with sleek and comely cattle, were rendered yet more lovely and romantic, by here and there a woody gorge, or rocky chasm, channeling their smooth flanks, and carrying down their tributary rills, to swell the main stream at their base. Toward these we took our way by the same road which we had followed in an opposite direction on the previous night—but for a short space only—for having crossed the stream, by the same bridge which we had passed on entering the village, Tom Draw pulled down a set of bars to the left, and strode out manfully into the stubble.
"Hold up, good lads!—whe-ew—whewt!" and away went the setters through the moist stubble, heads up and sterns down, like fox-hounds on a breast-high scent, yet under the most perfect discipline; for at the very first note of Harry's whistle, even when racing at the top of their pace, they would turn simultaneously, alter their course, cross each other at right angles, and quarter the whole field, leaving no foot of ground unbeaten.
No game, however, in this instance, rewarded their exertions; and on we went across a meadow, and two other stubbles, with the like result. But now we crossed a gentle hill, and, at its base, came on a level tract, containing at the most ten acres of marsh land, overgrown with high coarse grass and flags. Beyond this, on the right, was a steep rocky hillock, covered with tall and thrifty timber of some thirty years' growth, but wholly free from under-wood. Along the left-hand fence ran a thick belt of underwood, sumac and birch, with a few young oak trees interspersed; but in the middle of the swampy level, covering at most some five or six acres, was a dense circular thicket composed of every sort of thorny bush and shrub, matted with cat-briers and wild vines, and overshadowed by a clump of tall and leafy ashes, which had not as yet lost one atom of their foliage, although the underwood beneath them was quite sere and leafless.
"Now then," cried Harry, "this is the 'Squire's swamp-hole!' Now for a dozen cock! hey, Tom? Here, couple up the setters, Tim; and let the spaniels loose. Now Flash! now Dan! down charge, you little villains!" and the well broke brutes dropped on the instant. "How must we beat this cursed hole?"
"You must go through the very thick of it, consarn you!" exclaimed Tom; "at your old work already, hey? trying to shirk at first!"
"Don't swear so! you old reprobate! I know my place, depend on it," cried Archer; "but what to do with the rest of you!—there's the rub!"
"Not a bit of it," cried Tom—"here, Yorkshire—Ducklegs—here, what's your name—get away you with those big dogs—atwixt the swamp-hole, and the brush there by the fence, and look out that you mark every bird to an inch! You, Mr. Forester, go in there, under that butter-nut; you'll find a blind track there, right through the brush—keep that 'twixt Tim and Mr. Archer; and keep your eyes skinned, do! there'll be a cock up before you're ten yards in. Archer, you'll go right through, and I'll..."
"You'll keep well forward on the right—and mind that no bird crosses to the hill; we never get them, if they once get over. All right! In with you now! Steady, Flash! steady! hie up, Dan!" and in a moment Harry was out of sight among the brush-wood, though his progress might be traced by the continual crackling of the thick underwood.
Scarce had I passed the butter-nut, when, even as Torn had said, up flapped a woodcock scarcely ten yards before me, in the open path, and rising heavily to clear the branches of a tall thorn bush, showed me his full black eye, and tawny breast, as fair a shot as could be fancied.
"Mark!" holloaed Harry to my right, his quick ear having caught the flap of the bird's wing, as he rose. "Mark cock—Frank!"
Well—steadily enough, as I thought, I pitched my gun up! covered my bird fairly! pulled!—the trigger gave not to my finger. I tried the other. Devil's in it, I had forgot to cock my gun! and ere I could retrieve my error, the bird had topped the bush, and dodged out of sight, and off—"Mark! mark!—Tim!" I shouted.
"Ey! ey! sur—Ay see's urn!"
"Why, how's that, Frank?" cried Harry. "Couldn't you get a shot?"
"Forgot to cock my gun!" I cried; but at the self-same moment the quick sharp yelping of the spaniels came on my ear. "Steady, Flash! steady, sir! Mark!" But close upon the word came the full round report of Harry's gun. "Mark! again!" shouted Harry, and again his own piece sent its loud ringing voice abroad. "Mark! now a third! mark, Frank!"
And as he spoke I caught the quick rush of his wing, and saw him dart across a space, a few yards to my right. I felt my hand shake; I had not pulled a trigger in ten months, but in a second's space I rallied. There was an opening just before me between a stumpy thick thorn-bush which had saved the last bird, and a dwarf cedar; it was not two yards over; he glanced across it; he was gone, just as my barrel sent its charge into the splintered branches.
"Beautiful!" shouted Harry, who, looking through a cross glade, saw the bird fall, which I could not. "Beautiful shot, Frank! Do all your work like that, and we'll get twenty couple before night!"
"Have I killed him!" answered I, half doubting if he were not quizzing me.
"Killed him? of course you have; doubled him up completely! But look sharp! there are more birds before me! I can hardly keep the dogs down, now! There! there goes one—clean out of shot of me, though! Mark! mark, Tom! Gad, how the fat dog's running!" he continued. "He sees him! Ten to one he gets him! There he goes—bang! A long shot, and killed clean!"
"Ready!" cried I. "I'm ready, Archer!"
"Bag your bird, then. He lies under that dock leaf, at the foot of yon red maple! That's it; you've got him. Steady now, till Tom gets loaded!"
"What did you do?" asked I. "You fired twice, I think!"
"Killed two!" he answered. "Ready, now!" and on he went, smashing away the boughs before him, while ever and anon I heard his cheery voice, calling or whistling to his dogs, or rousing up the tenants of some thickets into which even he could not force his way; and I, creeping, as best I might, among the tangled brush, now plunging half thigh deep in holes full of tenacious mire, now blundering over the moss-covered stubs, pressed forward, fancying every instant that the rustling of the briers against my jacket was the flip-flap of a rising woodcock. Suddenly, after bursting through a mass of thorns and wild-vine, which was in truth almost impassable, I came upon a little grassy spot quite clear of trees, and covered with the tenderest verdure, through which a narrow rill stole silently; and as I set my first foot on it, up jumped, with his beautiful variegated back all reddened by the sunbeams, a fine and full-fed woodcock, with the peculiar twitter which he utters when surprised. He had not gone ten yards, however, before my gun was at my shoulder and the trigger drawn; before I heard the crack I saw him cringe; and, as the white smoke drifted off to leeward, he fell heavily, completely riddled by the shot, into the brake before me; while at the same moment, whir-r-r! up sprung a bevy of twenty quail, at least, startling me for the moment by the thick whirring of their wings, and skirring over the underwood right toward Archer. "Mark, quail!" I shouted, and, recovering instantly my nerves, fired my one remaining barrel after the last bird! It was a long shot, yet I struck him fairly, and he rose instantly right upward, towering high! high! into the clear blue sky, and soaring still, till his life left him in the air, and he fell like a stone, plump downward!
"Mark him! Tim!"
"Ey! ey! sur. He's a de-ad un, that's a sure thing!"
At my shot all the bevy rose a little, yet altered not their course the least, wheeling across the thicket directly round the front of Archer, whose whereabout I knew, though I could neither see nor hear him. So high did they fly that I could observe them clearly, every bird well defined against the sunny heavens. I watched them eagerly. Suddenly one turned over; a cloud of feathers streamed off down the wind; and then, before the sound of the first shot had reached my ears, a second pitched a few yards upward, and, after a heavy flutter, followed its hapless comrade.
Turned by the fall of the two leading birds, the bevy again wheeled, still rising higher, and now flying very fast; so that, as I saw by the direction which they took, they would probably give Draw a chance of getting in both barrels. And so indeed it was; for, as before, long ere I caught the booming echoes of his heavy gun, I saw two birds keeled over, and, almost at the same instant, the cheery shout of Tim announced to me that he had bagged my towered bird! After a little pause, again we started, and, hailing one another now and then, gradually forced our way through brake and brier toward the outward verge of the dense covert. Before we met again, however, I had the luck to pick up a third woodcock, and as I heard another double shot from Archer, and two single bangs from Draw, I judged that my companions had not been less successful than myself. At last, emerging from the thicket, we all converged, as to a common point, toward Tim; who, with his game-bag on the ground, with its capacious mouth wide open to receive our game, sat on a stump with the two setters at a charge beside him.
"What do we score?" cried I, as we drew near; "what do we score?"
"I have four woodcocks, and a brace of quail," said Harry.
"And I, two cock and a brace," cried Tom, "and missed another cock; but he's down in the meadow here, behind that 'ere stump alder!"
"And I, three woodcock and one quail!" I chimed in, naught abashed.
"And Ay'se marked doon three woodcock—two more beside yon big un, that measter Draa made siccan a bungle of—and all t' quail—every feather on um—doon t' bog meadow yonner—ooh! but we'se mak grand sport o't!" interposed Tim, now busily employed stringing bird after bird up by the head, with loops and buttons in the game-bag!
"Well done then, all!" said Harry. "Nine timber-doodles and five quail, and only one shot missed! That's not bad shooting, considering what a hole it is to shoot in. Gentlemen, here's your health," and filling himself out a fair sized wine-glassfull of Ferintosh, into the silver cup of his dram-bottle, he tossed it off; and then poured out a similar libation for Tim Matlock. Tom and myself, nothing loth, obeyed the hint, and sipped our modicums of distilled waters out of our private flasks.
"Now, then," cried Archer, "let us pick up these scattering birds. Tom Draw, you can get yours without a dog! And now, Tim, where are yours?"
"T' first lies oop yonner in yon boonch of brachens, ahint t' big scarlet maple; and t' other—"
"Well! I'll go to the first. You take Mr. Forester to the other, and when we have bagged all three, we'll meet at the bog meadow fence, and then hie at the bevy!"
This job was soon done, for Draw and Harry bagged their birds cleverly at the first rise; and although mine got off at first without a shot, by dodging round a birch tree straight in Tim's face, and flew back slap toward the thicket, yet he pitched in its outer skirt, and as he jumped up wild I cut him down with a broken pinion and a shot through his bill at fifty yards, and Chase retrieved him well.
"Cleverly stopped, indeed!" Frank halloaed; "and by no means an easy shot! and so our work's clean done for this place, at the least!"
"The boy can shoot some," observed Tom Draw, who loved to bother Timothy; "the boy can shoot some, though he does come from Yorkshire!"
"Gad! and Ay wush Ay'd no but gotten thee i' Yorkshire, measter Draa!" responded Tim.
"Why! what if you had got me there?"
"What? Whoy, Ay'd clap thee iv a cage, and hug thee round t' feasts and fairs loike; and shew thee to t' folks at so mooch a head. Ay'se sure Ay'd mak a fortune o' t!"
"He has you there, Tom! Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Archer. "Tim's down upon you there, by George! Now, Frank, do fancy Tom Draw in a cage at Borough-bridge or Catterick fair! Lord! how the folks would pay to look at him! Fancy the sign board too! The Great American Man-Mammoth! Ha! ha! ha! But come, we must not stay here talking nonsense, or we shall do no good. Show me, Tim, where are the quail!"
"Doon t' bog meadow yonner! joost t' slack,* [*Slack—Yorkshire. Anglice, Moist hollow] see thee, there!" pointing with the stout black-thorn; "amang yon bits o' bushes!"
"Very well—that's it; now let go the setters; take Flash and Dan along with you, and cut across the country as straight as you can go to the spring head, where we lunched last year; that day, you know, Tom, when McTavish frightened the bull out of the meadow, under the pin-oak tree. Well! put the champagne into the spring to cool, and rest yourself there till we come; we shan't be long behind you."
Away went Tim, stopping from time to time to mark our progress, and over the fence into the bog meadow we proceeded; a rascally piece of broken tussockky ground, with black mud knee-deep between the hags, all covered with long grass. The third step I took, over I went upon my nose, but luckily avoided shoving my gun-barrels into the filthy mire.
"Steady, Frank, steady! I'm ashamed of you!" said Harry; "so hot and so impetuous; and your gun too at the full cock; that's the reason, man, why you missed firing at your first bird, this morning. I never cock either barrel till I see my bird; and, if a bevy rises, only one at a time. The birds will lie like stones here; and we cannot walk too slow. Steady, Shot, have a care, sir!"
Never, in all my life, did I see any thing more perfect than the style in which the setters drew those bogs. There was no more of racing, no more of impetuous dash; it seemed as if they knew the birds were close before them. At a slow trot, their sterns whipping their flanks at every step, they threaded the high tussockks. See! the red dog straightens his neck, and snuffs the air.
"Look to! look to, Frank! they are close before old Chase!"
Now he draws on again, crouching close to the earth. "Toho! Shot!" Now he stands! no! no! not yet—at least he is not certain! He turns his head to catch his master's eye! Now his stern moves a little; he draws on again.
There! he is sure now! what a picture—his black full eye intently glaring, though he cannot see any thing in that thick mass of herbage; his nostril wide expanded, his lips slavering from intense excitement; his whole form motionless, and sharply drawn, and rigid, even to the straight stern and lifted foot, as a block wrought to mimic life by some skilful sculptor's chisel; and, scarce ten yards behind, his liver-colored comrade backs him—as firm, as stationary, as immovable, but in his attitude, how different! Chase feels the hot scent steaming up under his very nostril; feels it in every nerve, and quivers with anxiety to dash on his prey, even while perfectly restrained and steady. Shot, on the contrary, though a few minutes since he too was drawing, knows nothing of himself, perceives no indication of the game's near presence, although improved by discipline, his instinct tells him that his mate has found them. Hence the same rigid form, stiff tail, and constrained attitude, but in his face—for dogs have faces—there is none of that tense energy, that evident anxiety; there is no frown upon his brow, no glare in his mild open eye, no slaver on his lip!
"Come up, Tom; come up, Frank, they are all here; we must get in six barrels; they will not move: come up, I say!"
And on we came, deliberately prompt, and ready. Now we were all in line: Harry the centre man, I on the right, and Tom on the left hand. The attitude of Archer was superb; his legs, set a little way apart, as firm as if they had been rooted in the soil; his form drawn back a little, and his head erect, with his eye fixed upon the dogs; his gun held in both hands, across his person, the muzzle slightly elevated, his left grasping the trigger guard; the thumb of the right resting upon the hammer, and the fore-finger on the trigger of the left hand barrel; but, as he had said, neither cocked. "Fall back, Tom, if you please, five yards or so," he said, as coolly as if he were unconcerned, "and you come forward, Frank, as many; I want to drive them to the left, into those low red bushes; that will do: now then, I'll flush them; never mind me, boys, I'll reserve my fire."
And, as he spoke, he moved a yard or two in front of us, and under his very feet, positively startling me by their noisy flutter, up sprang the gallant bevy: fifteen or sixteen well grown birds, crowding and jostling one against the other. Tom Draw's gun, as I well believe, was at his shoulder when they rose; at least his first shot was discharged before they had flown half a rood, and of course harmlessly: the charge must have been driven through them like a single ball; his second barrel instantly succeeded, and down came two birds, caught in the act of crossing. I am myself a quick shot, too quick if anything, yet my first barrel was exploded a moment after Tom Draw's second; the other followed, and I had the satisfaction of bringing both my birds down handsomely; then up went Harry's piece—the bevy being now twenty or twenty-five yards distant—cocking it as it rose, he pulled the trigger almost before it touched his shoulder, so rapid was the movement; and, though he lowered the stock a little to cock the second barrel, a moment scarcely passed between the two reports, and almost on the instant two quail were fluttering out their lives among the bog grass.
Dropping his butt, without a word, or even a glance to the dogs, he quietly went on to load; nor indeed was it needed: at the first shot they dropped into the grass, and there they lay as motionless as if they had been dead, with their heads crouched between their paws; nor did they stir thence till the tick of the gun-locks announced that we again were ready. Then lifting up their heads, and rising on their fore-feet, they sat half erect, eagerly waiting for the signal.
"Hold up, good lads!" and on they drew, and in an instant pointed on two several birds. "Fetch!" and each brought his burthen to our feet; six birds were bagged at that rise, and thus before eleven o'clock we had picked up a dozen cock, and within one of the same number of fine quail, with only two shots missed. The poor remainder of the bevy had dropped, singly, and scattered, in the red bushes, whither we instantly pursued them, and where we got six more, making a total of seventeen birds bagged out of a bevy, twenty strong at first.
One towered bird of Harry's, certainly killed dead, we could not with all our efforts bring to bag; one bird Tom Draw missed clean, and the remaining one we could not find again; another dram of whiskey, and into Seer's great swamp we started: a large piece of woodland, with every kind of lying. At one end it was open, with soft black loamy soil, covered with docks and colts-foot leaves under the shade of large but leafless willows, and here we picked up a good many scattered woodcock; afterward we got into the heavy thicket with much tangled grass, wherein we flushed a bevy, but they all took to tree, and we made very little of them; and here Tom Draw began to blow and labor; the covert was too thick, the bottom too deep and unsteady for him.
Archer perceiving this, sent him at once to the outside; and three times, as we went along, ourselves moving nothing, we heard the round reports of his large calibre. "A bird at every shot, I'd stake my life," said Harry, "he never misses cross shots in the open;" at the same instant, a tremendous rush of wings burst from the heaviest thicket: "Mark! partridge! partridge!" and as I caught a glimpse of a dozen large birds fluttering up, one close upon the other, and darting away as straight and nearly as fast as bullets, through the dense branches of a cedar brake, I saw the flashes of both Harry's barrels, almost simultaneously discharged, and at the same time over went the objects of his aim; but ere I could get up my gun the rest were out of sight. "You must shoot, Frank, like lightning, to kill these beggars; they are the ruffed grouse, though they call them partridge here: see! are they not fine fellows?"
Another hour's beating, in which we still kept picking up, from time to time, some scattering birds, brought us to the spring head, where we found Tim with luncheon ready, and our fat friend reposing at his side, with two more grouse, and a rabbit which he had bagged along the covert's edge. Cool was the Star champagne; and capital was the cold fowl and Cheshire cheese; and most delicious was the repose that followed, enlivened with gay wit and free good humor, soothed by the fragrance of the exquisite cheroots, moistened by the last drops of the Ferintosh qualified by the crystal waters of the spring. After an hour's rest, we counted up our spoil; four ruffed grouse, nineteen woodcocks, with ten brace and a half of quail beside the bunny, made up our score— done comfortably in four hours.
"Now we have finished for to-day with quail," said Archer, "but we'll get full ten couple more of woodcock; come, let us be stirring; hang up your game-bag in the tree, and tie the setters to the fence; I want you in with me to beat, Tim; you two chaps must both keep the outside—you all the time, Tom; you, Frank, till you get to that tall thunder-shivered ash tree; turn in there, and follow up the margin of a wide slank you will see; but be careful, the mud is very deep, and dangerous in places; now then, here goes!"
And in he went, jumping a narrow streamlet into a point of thicket, through which he drove by main force. Scarce had he got six yards into the brake, before both spaniels quested; and, to my no small wonder, the jungle seemed alive with woodcock; eight or nine, at the least, flapped up at once, and skimmed along the tongue of coppice toward the high wood, which ran along the valley, as I learned afterward, for full three miles in length—while four or five more wheeled off to the sides, giving myself and Draw fair shots, by which we did not fail to profit; but I confess it was with absolute astonishment that I saw two of those turned over, which flew inward, killed by the marvelously quick and unerring aim of Archer, where a less thorough sportsman would have been quite unable to discharge a gun at all, so dense was the tangled jungle. Throughout the whole length of that skirt of coppice, a hundred and fifty yards, I should suppose at the utmost, the birds kept rising as it were incessantly—thirty-five, or, I think, nearly forty, being flushed in less than twenty minutes, although comparatively few were killed, partly from the difficulty of the ground, and partly from their getting up by fours and fives at once. Into the high wood, however, at the last we drove them; and there, till daylight failed us, we did our work like men. By the cold light of the full moon we wended homeward, rejoicing in the possession of twenty-six couple and a half of cock, twelve brace of quail—we found another bevy on our way home and bagged three birds almost by moonlight—five ruffed grouse, and a rabbit. Before our wet clothes were well changed, supper was ready, and a good blow-out was followed by sound slumbers and sweet dreams, fairly earned by nine hours of incessant walking.
DAY THE THIRD
So thoroughly was I tired out by the effects of the first day's fagging I had undergone in many months, and so sound was the slumber into which I sank the moment my head touched the pillow, that it scarcely seemed as if five minutes had elapsed between my falling into sweet forgetfulness, and my starting bolt upright in bed, aroused by the vociferous shout, and ponderous tramping, equal to nothing less than that of a full-grown rhinoceros, with which Tom Draw rushed, long before the sun was up, into my chamber.
"What's this, what's this now?" he exclaimed; "why the plague arn't you up and ready?—why here's the bitters mixed, and Archer in the stable this half hour past, and Jem's here with the hounds—and you, you lazy snorting Injun, wasting the morning here in bed!"
My only reply to this most characteristic salutation, was to hurl my pillow slap in his face, and—threatening to follow up the missile with the contents of the water pitcher, which stood temptingly within my reach, if he did not get out incontinently—to jump up and array myself with all due speed; for, when I had collected my bewildered thoughts, I well remembered that we had settled on a fox-hunt before breakfast, as a preliminary to a fresh skirmish with the quail.
In a few minutes I was on foot and in the parlor, where I found a bright crackling fire, a mighty pitcher of milk punch, and a plate of biscuit, an apt substitute for breakfast before starting; while, however, I was discussing these, Archer arrived, dressed just as I have described him on the preceding day, with the addition of a pair of heavy hunting spurs, buckled on over his half-boots, and a large iron-hammered whip in his right hand.
"That's right, Frank," he exclaimed, after the ordinary salutations of the morning.
"Why that old porpoise told me you would not be ready these two hours; he's grumbling out yonder by the stable door, like a hog stuck in a farm-yard gate. But come, we may as well be moving, for the hounds are all uncoupled, and the nags saddled—put on a pair of straps to your fustian trowsers and take these racing spurs, though Peacock does not want them—and now, hurrah!"
This was soon done, and going out upon the stoop, a scene—it is true, widely different from the kennel door at Melton, or the covert side at Billesdon Coplow, yet not by any means devoid of interest or animation— presented itself to my eyes. About six couple of large heavy hounds, with deep and pendant ears, heavy well-feathered sterns, broad chests, and muscular strong limbs, were gathered round their feeder, the renowned Jem Lyn; on whom it may not be impertinent to waste a word or two, before proceeding to the mountain, which, as I learned, to my no little wonder, was destined to be our hunting ground.
Picture to yourself, then, gentle reader, a small but actively formed man, with a face of most unusual and portentous ugliness, an uncouth grin doing the part of a smile; a pair of eyes so small that they would have been invisible, but for the serpent-like vivacity and brightness with which they sparkled from their deep sockets, and a profusion of long hair, coal-black, but lank and uncurled as an Indian's, combed smoothly down with a degree of care entirely out of keeping with the other details, whether of dress or countenance, on either cheek. Above these sleek and cherished tresses he wore a thing which might have passed for either cap or castor, at the wearer's pleasure; for it was wholly destitute of brim except for a space some three or four inches wide over the eye-rows; and the crown had been so pertinaciously and completely eaten in, that the sides sloped inward at the top, as if to personate a bishop's mitre; a fishing line was wound about this graceful and, if its appearance belied it not most foully, odoriferous headdress; and into the fishing line was stuck the bowl and some two inches of the shank of a well-sooted pipe. An old red handkerchief was twisted rope-wise about his lean and scraggy neck, but it by no means sufficed to hide the scar of what had evidently been a most appalling gash, extending right across his throat, almost from ear to ear, the great cicatrix clearly visible like a white line through the thick stubble of some ten days' standing that graced his chin and neck.
An old green coat, the skirts of which had long since been docked by the encroachment of thorn-bushes and cat-briers, with the mouth-piece of a powder-horn peeping from its breast pocket, and a full shot-belt crossing his right shoulder; a pair of fustian trowsers, patched at the knees with corduroy, and heavy cowhide boots completed his attire. This, as it seemed, was to be our huntsman; and Booth to say, although he did not look the character, he played the part, when he got to work, right handsomely. At a more fitting season, Harry in a few words let me into this worthy's history and disposition. "He is," he said, "the most incorrigible rascal I ever met with—an unredeemed and utter vagabond; he started life as a stallion-leader, a business which he understands— as in fact he does almost every thing else within his scope—thoroughly well. He got on prodigiously!—was employed by the first breeders in the country!—took to drinking, and then, in due rotation, to gambling, pilfering, lying, every vice, in short, which is compatible with utter want of any thing like moral sense, deep shrewdness, and uncommon cowardice.
"He cut his throat once—you may see the scar now—in a fit of delirium tremens, and Tom Draw, who, though he is perpetually cursing him for the most lying critter under heaven, has, I believe, a sort of fellow feeling for him—nursed him and got him well; and ever since he has hung about here, getting at times a country stallion to look after, at others hunting, or fishing, or doing little jobs about the stable, for which Tom gives him plenty of abuse, plenty to eat, and as little rum as possible, for if he gets a second glass it is all up with Jem Lyn for a week at least.
"He came to see me once in New York, when I was down upon my back with a broken leg—I was lying in the parlor, about three weeks after the accident had happened. Tim Matlock had gone out for something, and the cook let him in; and, after he had sat there about half an hour, telling me all the news of the races, and making me laugh more than was good for my broken leg, he gave me such a hint, that I was compelled to direct him to the cupboard, wherein I kept the liquor-stand; and unluckily enough, as I had not for some time been in drinking tune, all three of the bottles were brimful; and, as I am a Christian man, he drank in spite of all I could say—I could not leave the couch to get at him—two of them to the dregs; and, after frightening me almost to death, fell flat upon the floor, and lay there fast asleep when Tim came in again. He dragged him instantly, by my directions, under the pump in the garden, and soused him for about two hours, but without producing the least effect, except eliciting a grunt or two from this most seasoned cask.
"Such is Jem Lyn, and yet, absurd to say, I have tried the fellow, and believe him perfectly trustworthy—at least to me!
"He is a coward, yet I have seen him fight like a hero more than once, and against heavy odds, to save me from a threshing, which I got after all, though not without some damage to our foes, whose name might have been legion.
"He is the greatest liar I ever met with; and yet I never caught him in a falsehood, for he believes it is no use to tell me one.
"He is most utterly dishonest, yet I have trusted him with sums that would, in his opinion, have made him a rich man for life, and he accounted to the utmost shilling; but I advise you not try the same, for if you do he most assuredly will cheat you!"
Among the heavy looking hounds, which clustered round this hopeful gentleman, I quickly singled out two couple of widely different breed and character from the rest; your thorough high-bred racing fox-hounds, with ears rounded, thin shining coats, clean limbs, and all the marks of the best class of English hounds.
"Aye! Frank," said Archer, as he caught my eye fixed on them, "you have found out my favorites. Why, Bonny Belle, good lass, why Bonny Belle!— here Blossom, Blossom, come up and show your pretty figures to your countryman! Poor Hanbury—do you remember, Frank, how many a merry day we've had with him by Thorley Church, and Takely forest?—poor Hanbury sent them to me with such a letter, only the year before he died; and those, Dauntless and Dangerous, I had from Will, Lord Harewood's huntsman, the same season!"
"There never was sich dogs—there never was afore in Orange," said Tom. "I will say that, though they be English; and though they be too fast for fox, entirely, there never was sich dogs for deer"
"But how the deuce," I interrupted, "can hounds be too fast, if they have bone and stanchness!"
"Stanchness be darned; they holes them!"
"No earthstoppers in these parts, Frank," cried Harry; "and as the object of these gentlemen is not to hunt solely for the fun of the thing, but to destroy a noxious varmint, they prefer a slow, sure, deep-mouthed dog, that does not press too closely on Pug, but lets him take his time about the coverts, till he comes into fair gunshot of these hunters, who are lying perdu as he runs to get a crack at him."
"And pray," said I, "is this your method of proceeding?"
"You shall see, you shall see; come get to horse, or it will be late before we get our breakfast, and I assure you I don't wish to lose either that, or my day's quail-shooting. This hunt is merely for a change, and to get something of an appetite for breakfast. Now, Tim, be sure that every thing is ready by eight o'clock at the latest—we shall be in by that time with a furious appetite."
Thus saying he mounted, without more delay, his favorite, the gray; while I backed, nothing loth, the chestnut horse; and at the same time to my vast astonishment, from under the long shed out rode the mighty Tom, bestriding a tall powerful brown mare, showing a monstrous deal of blood combined with no slight bone—equipped with a cavalry bridle, and strange to say, without the universal martingal; he was rigged just as usual, with the exception of a broad-brimmed hat in place of his fur cap, and grasped in his right hand a heavy smooth-bored rifle, while with the left he wheeled his mare, with a degree of active skill, which I should certainly have looked for any where rather than in so vast a mass of flesh as that which was exhibited by our worthy host.
Two other sportsmen, grave, sober-looking farmers, whom Harry greeted cheerily by name, and to whom in all due form I was next introduced, well-mounted, and armed with long single-barreled guns, completed our party; and away we went at a rattling trot, the hounds following at Archer's heels, as steadily as though he hunted them three times a week.
"Now arn't it a strange thing," said Tom, "arn't it a strange thing, Mr. Forester, that every critter under Heaven takes somehow nat'rally to that are Archer—the very hounds—old Whino there! that I have had these eight years, and fed with my own hands, and hunted steady every winter, quits me the very moment he claps sight on him; by the eternal, I believe he is half dog himself."
"You hunted them indeed," interrupted Harry, "you old rhinoceros, why hang your hide, you never so much as heard a good view-holloa till I came up here—you hunted them—a man talk of hunting, that carries a cannon about with him on horseback; but come, where are we to try first, on Rocky Hill, or in the Spring Swamps?"
"Why now I reckon, Archer, we'd best stop down to Sam Blain's—by the blacksmith's—he was telling t'other morning of an eternal sight of them he'd seen down hereaway—and we'll be there to rights!—Jem, cus you, out of my way, you dumb nigger—out of my way, or I'll ride over you"— for, traveling along at a strange shambling run, that worthy had contrived to keep up with us, though we were going fully at the rate of eight or nine miles in the hour.
"Hurrah!" cried Tom, suddenly pulling up at the door of a neat farm-house on the brow of a hill, with a clear streamlet sweeping round its base, and a fine piece of woodland at the farther side. "Hurrah! Sam Blain, we've come to make them foxes, you were telling of a Sunday, smell h-ll right straight away. Here's Archer, and another Yorker with him—leastwise an Englisher I should say—and Squire Conklin, and Bill Speers, and that white nigger Jem! Look sharp, I say! Look sharp, cuss you, else we'll pull off the ruff of the old humstead."
In a few minutes Sam made his appearance, armed, like the rest, with a Queen Ann's tower-musket.
"Well! well!" he said, "I'm ready. Quit making such a clatter! Lend me a load of powder, one of you; my horn's leaked dry, I reckon!"
Tom forthwith handed him his own, and the next thing I heard was Blain exclaiming that it was "desperate pretty powder," and wondered if it shot strong.
"Shoot strong? I guess you'll find it strong enough to sew you up, if you go charging your old musket that ways!" answered Tom. "By the Lord, Archer, he's put in three full charges!"
"Well, it will kill him, that's all!" answered Harry, very coolly; "and there'll be one less of you. But come! come! let's be bustling; the sun's going to get up already. You'll leave your horses here, I suppose, gentlemen, and get to the old stands. Tom Draw, put Mr. Forester at my old post down by the big pin-oak at the creek side; and you stand there, Frank, still as a church-mouse. It's ten to one, if some of those fellows don't shoot him first, that he'll break covert close by you, and run the meadows for a mile or two, up to the turnpike road, and over it to Rocky hill—that black knob yonder, covered with pine and hemlock. There are some queer snake fences in the flat, and a big brook or two, but Peacock has been over every inch of it before, and you may trust in him implicitly. Good bye! I'm going up the road with Jem to drive it from the upper end."
And off he went at a merry trot, with the hounds gamboling about his stirrups, and Jem Lyn running at his best pace to keep up with him. In a few minutes they were lost behind a swell of woodland, round which the road wheeled suddenly. At the same moment Tom and his companions reappeared from the stables where they had been securing their four-footed friends; and, after a few seconds, spent in running ramrods down the barrels to see that all was right, inspecting primings, knapping flints, or putting on fresh copper caps, it was announced that all was ready; and passing through the farm-yard, we entered, through a set of bars, a broad bright buckwheat stubble. Scarcely an hundred yards had we proceeded, before we sprung the finest bevy of the largest quail I had yet seen, and flying high and wild crossed half-a-dozen fields in the direction of the village, whence we had started, and pitched at length into an alder brake beside the stream.
"Them chaps has gone the right way," Tom exclaimed, with a deep sigh, who had with wondrous difficulty refrained from firing into them, though he was loaded with buckshot; "right in the course we count to take this forenoon. Now, Squire, keep to the left here, take your station by the old earths there away, under the tall dead pine; and you, Bill, make tracks there, straight through the middle cart-way, down to the other meadow, and sit you down right where the two streams fork; there'll be an old red snooping down that side afore long, I reckon. We'll go on, Mr. Forester; here's a big rail fence now; I'll throw off the top rail, for be darned if I climb any day when I can creep—there, that'll do, I reckon; leastwise if you can ride like Archer—he d—ns me always if I so much as shakes a fence afore he jumps it—you've got the best horse, too, for lepping. Now let's see! Well done! well done!" he continued, with a most boisterous burst of laughter—"well done, horse, any how!"— as Peacock, who had been chafing ever since he parted from his comrade Bob, went at the fence as though he were about to take it in his stroke —stopped short when within a yard of it, and then bucked over it, without touching a splinter, although it was at least five feet, and shaking me so much, that, greatly to Tom's joy, I showed no little glimpse of day-light.
"I reckon if they run the meadows, you'll hardly ride them, Forester," he grinned; "but now away with you. You see the tall dark pin oak, it hasn't lost one leaf yet; right in the nook there of the bars you'll find a quiet shady spot, where you can see clear up the rail fence to this knob, where I'll be. Off with you, boy—and mind you now, you keep as dumb as the old woman when her husband cut her tongue out, 'cause she had too much jaw."
Finishing his discourse, he squatted himself down on the stool of a large hemlock, which, being recently cut down, cumbered the woodside with its giant stem, and secured him, with its evergreen top now lowly laid and withering, from the most narrow scrutiny; while I, giving the gallant horse his head, went at a brisk hand-gallop across the firm short turf of the fair sloping hill-side, taking a moderate fence in my stroke, which Peacock cleared in a style that satisfied me Harry had by no means exaggerated his capacity to act as hunter, in lieu of the less glorious occupation, to which in general he was doomed.
In half a minute more I reached my post, and though an hour passed before I heard the slightest sound betokening the chase, never did I more thoroughly enjoy an hour.
The loveliness of the whole scene before me—the broad rich sweep of meadowland lying, all bathed in dew, under the pale gray light of an autumnal morning, with groups of cattle couched still between the trees where they had passed the night; the distant hills, veiled partially in mist, partially rearing their round leafy heads toward the brightening sky; and then the various changes of the landscape, as slowly the day broke behind the eastern hill; and all the various sounds of bird, and beast, and insect, which each succeeding variation of the morning served to call into life as if by magic. First a faint rosy flush stole up the eastern sky, and nearly at the self-same moment, two or three vagrant crows came flapping heavily along, at a height so immeasurable that their harsh voices were by distance modified into a pleasing murmur. And now a little fish jumped in the streamlet; and the splash, trifling as it was, with which he fell back on the quiet surface, half startled me.
A moment afterward an acorn plumped down on my head, and as I looked up, there sat, on a limb not ten feet above me, an impudent rogue of a gray squirrel, half as big as a rabbit, erect upon his haunches, working away at the twin brother of the acorn he had dropped upon my hat to break my reverie, rasping it audibly with his chisel-shaped teeth, and grinning at me just as coolly as though I were a harmless scare-crow.
When I grew tired of observing him, and looked toward the sky again, behold the western ridge, which is far higher than the eastern hills, had caught upon its summits the first bright rays of the yet unseen day-god; while the rosy flush of the east had brightened into a blaze of living gold, exceeded only by the glorious hues with which a few bright specks of misty cloud glowed out against the azure firmament, like coals of actual fire. Again a louder splash aroused me; and, as I turned, there floated on a glassy basin, into which the ripples of a tiny fall subsided, three wood-ducks, with a noble drake, that loveliest in plumage of all aquatic fowl, perfectly undisturbed and fearless, although within ten yards of their most dreaded enemy.
How beautiful are all their motions! There! one has reared herself half way out of the water; another stretches forth a delicate web foot to scratch her ear, as handily as a dog on dry land; and now the drake reflects his purple neck to preen his ruffled wing, and now—bad luck to you, Peacock, why did you snort and stamp?—they are off like a bullet, and out of sight in an instant.
And now out comes the sun himself, and with him the accursed hum of a musquitoe—and hark! hush!—what was that?—was it? By Heavens! it was the deep note of a fox-hound! Aye! there comes Harry's cheer, faintly heard, swelling up the breeze.
"Have at him, there! Ha-a-ve at him, good lads!"
Again! again! those are the musical deep voices of the slow hounds! They have a dash in them of the old Southern breed! And now! there goes the yell! the quick sharp yelping rally of those two high-bred bitches. By heaven! they must be viewing him! How the woods ring and crash!
"Together hark! Together hark! Together! For-ra-ard, good lads, get for-a-ard! Hya-a-araway!"
Well halloaed, Harry! I could swear to that last screech, out of ten thousand, though it is near ten years since I last heard it! But heavens! how they press him! Hang it! there goes a shot—the squire has fired at him, as he tried the earths! Now, if he have but missed him, and Pan, the god of hunters, send it so, he has no chance but to try the open.
By Jove he has! he must have missed! for Bonny Belle and Blossom are raving half a mile this side of him already. And now Tom sees him—how quietly he steals up to the fence. There! he has fired! and all our sport is up! No! no! he waves his hat and points this way! Can he have missed? No! he has got a fox!—he lifts it out by the brush—there must have been two, then, on foot together. He has done it well to get that he has killed away, or they would have stopped on him!
Hush! the leaves rustle here beside me, with a quick patter—the twigs crackle—it is he! Move not! not for your life, Peacock! There! he has broken cover fairly! Now he is half across the field! he stops to listen! Ah! he will head again. No! no! that crash, when they came upon the warm blood, has decided him—away he goes, with his brush high, and its white tag brandished in the sunshine—now I may halloa him away.
"Whoop! gone awa-ay! whoop!"
I was answered on the instant by Harry's quick—"Hark holloa! get awa-ay! to him hark! to him hark! hark holloa!"
Most glorious Artemis, what heaven-stirring music! And yet there are but poor six couple; the scent must be as hot as fire, for every hound seems to have twenty tongues, and every leaf an hundred echoes! How the boughs crash again! Lo! they are here! Bonny Belle leading—head and stern up, with a quick panting yelp! Blossom, and Dangerous, and Dauntless scarcely a length behind her, striving together, neck and neck; and, by St. Hubert, it must be a scent of twenty thousand, for here these heavy Southrons are scarcely two rods behind them.
But fidget not, good Peacock! fret not, most excellent Pythagoras! one moment more, and I am not the boy to baulk you. And here comes Harry on the gray; by George! he makes the brushwood crackle! Now for a nasty leap out of the tangled swamp! a high six-barred fence of rough trees, leaning toward him, and up hill! surely he will not try it!
Will he not though?
See!—his rein is tight yet easy! his seat, how beautiful, how firm, yet how relaxed and graceful! Well done, indeed! He slacks his rein one instant as the gray rises! the rugged rails are cleared, and the firm pull supports him! but Harry moves not in the saddle—no! not one hair's breadth! A five foot fence to him is nothing! You shall not see the slightest variation between his attitude in that strong effort, and in the easy gallop. If Tom Draw saw him now, he could have some excuse for calling him "half horse"—and he does see him! hark to that most unearthly knell! like unto nothing, either heavenly or human! He waves his hat and hurries back as fast as he is able to the horses, well knowing that for pedestrians at least, the morning's sport is ended.
Harry and I were now almost abreast, riding in parallel lines, down the rich valley, very nearly at the top speed of our horses; taking fence after fence in our stroke, and keeping well up with the hounds, which were running almost mute, such was the furious speed to which the blazing scent excited them.
We had already passed above two-thirds of the whole distance that divides the range of woods, wherein we found him, and the pretty village which we had constituted our head quarters, a distance of at least three miles; and now a very difficult and awkward obstacle presented itself to our farther progress, in the shape of a wide yawning brook between sheer banks of several feet in height, broken, with rough and pointed stones, the whole being at least five yards across. The gallant hounds dashed over it; and, when we reached it, were half way across the grass field next beyond it.
"Hold him hard, Frank," Harry shouted; "hold him hard, man, and cram him at it!"
And so I did, though I had little hope of clearing it. I lifted him a little on the snaffle, gave him the spur just as he reached the brink, and with a long and swinging leap, so easy that its motion was in truth scarce perceptible, he swept across it; before I had the time to think, we were again going at our best pace almost among the hounds.
Over myself, I cast a quick glance back toward Harry, who, by a short turn of the chase had been thrown a few yards behind me. He charged it gallantly; but on the very verge, cowed by the brightness of the rippling water, the gray made a half stop, but leaped immediately, beneath the application of the galling spur; he made a noble effort, but it was scarce a thing to be effected by a standing leap, and it was with far less pleasure than surprise, that I saw him drop his hind legs down the steep bank, having just landed with fore-feet in the meadow.
I was afraid, indeed, he must have had an ugly fall, but, picked up quickly by the delicate and steady finger of his rider, the good horse found some slight projection of the bank, whereby to make a second spring. After a heavy flounder, however, which must have dismounted any less perfect horseman, he recovered himself well, and before many minutes was again abreast of me.
Thus far the course of the hunted fox had lain directly homeward, down the valley; but now the turnpike road making a sudden turn crossed his line at right angles, while another narrower road coming in at a tangent, went off to the south-westward in the direction of the bold projection, which I had learned to recognize as Rocky Hill; over the high fence into the road; well performed, gallant horses! And now they check for a moment, puzzling about on the dry sandy turnpike.
"Dangerous feathers on it now! Speak to it! speak to it, good hound!"
How beautiful that flourish of the stern with which he darts away on the recovered scent; with what a yell they open it once again! Harry was right, he makes for Rocky Hill, but up this plaguey lane, where the scent lies but faintly. Now! now! the road turns off again far westward of his point! He may, by Jove! And he has left it!
"Have at him then, lads; he is ours!"
And lo! the pace increases. Ha! what a sudden turn, and in the middle too of a clear pasture.
"Has he been headed, Harry?"
"No, no; his strength is failing."
And see! he makes his point again toward the hill; it is within a quarter of a mile, and if he gain it we can do nothing with him, for it is full of earths. But he will never reach it. See! he turns once again; how exquisitely well those bitches run it; three times he has doubled, now almost as short as a hare, and they, running breast-high, have turned with him each time, not over-running it a yard.
See how the sheep have drawn together into phalanx yonder, in that bare pasture to the eastward; he has crossed that field for a thousand! Yes, I am right. See! they turn once again. What a delicious rally! An outspread towel would cover those four leading hounds—now Dauntless has it; has it by half a neck.
"He always goes up when a fox is sinking," Harry exclaimed, pointing toward him with his hunting whip.