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“ There's a thrifle of mist, yer honour, still hanging about us," observed our apologetic Patlander.
“ I suppose, sir," rejoined Canning, “ you mean that the shower is not over yet.”
Whether Canning's wit was bright enough to dispel the clouds, or whether he returned once more without accomplishing his object, I know not: I only know that Ireland then must have been uncommonly like England now.
The weather partakes strongly of the English characteristics of perseverance and determination. And, by the way, talking of an Englishman's characteristics, there's a vast deal to be said on the subject, if one had but time to say it.
A calm, cool, deliberate assurance, which hardly ever forsakes him ; a principle of determination, than which nothing can be more dignified. Insult him, injure him, upset him in a buggy, run away with his wife, put him into what position or difficulty or danger you please, he ever preserves his imperturbable gravity. Look at a Frenchman in like circumstances : by Jove, sir, he rivals a parched pea in activity, and is really about as much at home, for the moment, as a cat in walnut-shells. And there is one place where an Englishman rivals himself in this superlative quality (a quality, by the way, which, strange to say, has won for the Emperor of France the admiration of the few who share that sentiment), I mean in his capacity as a fox-hunter in a rainy season. There seems to be a spell upon him which “drives sense and discretion out of doors,” whither he follows it, I suppose. His happiness in all other miseries is lost in contemplation of his warmth in the midst of a cold drizzle, or a pitiless storm. Only tell him there's a fox to be hunted-only let him remember that he has a horse fit to goand spoilt hats, damp boots, soaked leathers, are all disregarded. Go he will, and does in spite of a deluge. And what annoys me is that he expects you to go too—to be as much delighted as himself-or else he snubs you for three weeks, as an old woman of the first water. Throughout all, he never gives vent to his spleen on account of the weather. He listens to vulgar-minded persons, like ourselves, condemning this continuous shower, and its consequences to boots, hats, coats, and breeches ; but being in a fast country to hunt, hunt he will until his horses can go no longer, and then he sends for some more. To the thorough-going sportsman-Englishman that is, for there are no others -the weather, as long as it is open, makes no more difference than if we hunted in the inside of an omnibus.
" What sort of a morning is it, Jem ?”
“Oh! beautiful morning, sir : mild, and fine over head, and quite sun enough for the time of year.”
“ Is it? bring me my breeches and shaving water.” “ What sort of a morning is it, Jem?" “ Very wet sir : rained almost all night, and now it's coming down
• Does it look like lasting ?”
In fact, an Englishman's breeches and his shaving water during the month of November is about the earliest idea that enters his head, irrespectively of any inconvenience, save of a hard frost.
Now watch him—the day is lovely; he eats a hurried breakfast, liglats a cigar perhaps, and gets on his hack. His hack is perfectly cognizant of the improved brightness of the atmosphere, and gives a plunge or two little in accordance with the gravity (not the centre of that ilk) of the rider. He sits by the cover side, warm, sunshiny, and comfortable, and thinks it rather garish for hunting. The gallop he gets is delightful. No wind blows off his hat, no water runs down his boots (unless he gets into the brook), and he can see very well out of one field into another. Does it warm him ? (mentally I mean, because of course it does physically). Not one atom. He knows only that he is following a pack of fox-hounds, and the intense satisfaction absorbs every other feeling.
And you imagine that you see that man in his glory. Only look at him now.
There's a morning. All the labourers under the hedge-rows, and have left their dogs at home. Most of the country under water, and likely to become more so. In some places the high grounds mistaken for islands by the native geographers from the day-school. The rain has not ceased for many days, and it bids fair to float the cellars within a week. During breakfast he has once looked out of window, and enquired the way of the wind. He, too, lights a cigar and gets on his hack, whose tail is curiously careful of his stern, and away he goes. The first five minutes settle his gloves ; and within a quarter of an hour the Lincoln and Bennett distills a liquor the colour of coffee, not becoming to the nose on which it drops. The cover side would be to any unprejudiced person rather a melancholy picture. What think you of about two hundred pairs of leather breeches looking like tripe boiled in ditch water ? Pit, pat, rattle, rattle, goes the rain amongst the last leaves of autumn; twang, twang, goes the horn ; whilst a perfect regiment of scarlet coats, with their collars up and their backs to the wind, sit waiting, like cock Niobes, till the fox breaks. It's
seldom one can get a fox to break directly up wind when you want it ; upon these occasions he generally does, and the consequence is that you can neither hold your horse nor your hat on, and cannot see twenty yards before your nose. Presently, after a vain endeavour to find your way out of your difficulties, you see the hounds slopping their way down to what you
call the “reservoir ;' but which is in reality the “brook.” At present, with its tributaries, it occupies a third of the country. How far you may have to swim, or where you will have to begin, is to you a matter of some importance, but utter mystery; and you are therefore compelled to pound away, in an imaginary parallel with the pack, until you come to a turnpike road. Here you ought to go home; and perhaps you would if you knew the right way; but a horn some miles off awakens your slumbering pluck, and away you go again in the direction of the hounds. I suppose you know that if you catch them it will not be much use to you. Utterly drenched; your horse dead beat; the country not wet, but rotten ; ignorant since the three first fences of anything beyond the most general notion of the run ; still you are a sight for a distinguished foreigner to look upon. A man in such a position as this, an Englishman I mean, is in his glory-he bears it all with the same patient imperturbability, with a sang froid unknown to any other people on earth (save perhaps an Indian savage)-he has been
hunting the fox, having a day's sport, and he is going out on the same errand to-morrow, probably with the same result. There is but one drawback that he ever feels : his pocket-handkerchief is too wet to blow his nose.
That, I grant, is a real discomfort. Here we are on the ninth of December, and what a season we have had !—what curbs and spavins must have come out !-what hind legs must have got in! To speak of sport, as upon ordinary occasions, is out of the question-you must take it as you can get it. One thing must be perfectly clear : whenever hounds have run very fast they have run away from horses after the first ten minutes. Whether that may be called good sport, which a good man upon a good hunter cannot see, admits of dispute. I am against the notion that everything fast must be first-rate. * I think it requires the country to be fair and practicable, and certainly not under water ; with other circumstances irrelevant to our present subject. I look upon this season (with more than a fair average of good runs in the abstract) to be the most miserable, uncomfortable, and unsatisfactory season I ever spent in Northamptonshire ; and the only counterbalance to the wet and dirt of the present time, is a pretty accurate calculation of severe frost at no very distant period.
I said before that men, however, would hunt ; and whilst that is the case Northamptonshire and Leicestershire are sure to be full. The first meet at Crick this season was looked forward to as a speculation. The odds were not much on our finding at the gorse-last season we were singularly unfortunate at this beautiful cover. The day before the funeral of probably the greatest man that ever lived, we met in not so inconveniently thick a body as on most occasions. Those that were there were of the right sort, and not likely to spoil their own sport by ignorance-a thing much too common at this cover, and indeed generally at small gorses. We soon found, and went away with one of the best and boldest foxes I ever saw. His line was for Cracks Hill, and into the splendid country beyond Winwick ; but we were fortunate enough to lose him : I say fortunate, for
" He that fights, and runs away,
Will live to fight another day.” If we can get hold of that gentleman on a soft south-westerly morning, when the ground permits of riding, we shall have a good run. If it happens to blow east, with a moderately heavy atmosphere, look out for squalls ; few of us will see the end of it. I never saw so many empty saddles in ten minutes in my life, and the scent by no means good. There are four down at the third fence—though I am bound to say that it was caused by a rather corpulent gentleman blocking up the only gap, the rest of the fence being considerately squire-trapped with cut-down trees, into which all but the very clever, or the very funky, jumped. The day finished by four couples and a half of hounds running into a fox in the open, somewhere between Hemplow and Stanford Hall, attended only by Mr. Knightley, Captain Shaw, and one or two more, with Brown, of Harboro', who brought back the fox to have him broken up at Yelvertoft by the body of the hounds. It is somewhat singular that the four couples that killed him would not break him up.
As you probably feel interested in hearing of the sport you do not see, you will find in the beginning of this letter a fanciful description of a
little wet, which may almost stand for a Braunston day, on Saturday the 20th of last month. Indeed, I hardly know what day it will not stand for. Having selected the only dry hat and coat in the wardrobe, we trotted off
' to Braunston. The morning was very foggy, and was cleared off before the nds were put into cover, by a thoroughly soaking rain. It was not long before we found ; but the gorse having grown exceedingly thick, Charley gave us plenty of time to contemplate the erect collars, dropping noses, and imperturbable pluck of a fine regiment of irregular cavalry. At last, wet through and through - macintoshes, double-stitched waterproof pinks, and oilskin capes—the horn sounded to charge, which we did, and took possession of a ploughed field at once, in which it seemed not impossible that the long-legged ones were likely to pass their days. Up the finest valley in the world to Shuckborough he went ; and with the best intentions we went after him. The brook was an early obstacle, and it was palpably evident that most of us had had water enough. When I got home, it certainly occurred to me that I could have been no wetter by tumbling into it. But all fellows jump water so well in the dining-room, especially after dinner. Charles Payne got over it early with a scramble' ; but almost every one else went much further along the meadows, till an easy place presented itself, or else along the road which leads through Flecknoe to Shuckborough, where it was evident we must finish, and by the pace at no distant date of time. I have heard no man quite hardy enough to say that he saw this magnificent thirty minutes, though three or four have delicately hinted at their whereabouts, not a hundred miles from the hounds. But I know the country in the very best of weather, and I know the men ; and there are very few could have managed it at the pace under the most favourable circumstances. Those fields under water nearly, want extraordinary bottom, condition, and power of jumping-to say nothing of hands- a wonderful essential when a horse comes tired to his fences ; for if you do not get him very near to the ditches on the off-side, you are very likely to be on the off-side yourself. This was allowed, by every one who did not see it, to have been magnificent in point of pace and country. The hounds must have enjoyed it exceedingly-a treat they don't always get here.
The Pytchley were again fortunate from Brockhall on Monday 22nd : twenty or twenty-five minutes, quite fast enough for a glutton in the dirt, plenty of slow hunting, but a quick finish, and the result satisfactory. Empty saddles in abundance, and only surpassed by the dirty coats of the following Wednesday, between Lilburne and Churchover. It begins to get expensive in the way of costume.
I do not often gratify my curiosity by travelling out of my beat for strange packs of hounds. It is an extremely bad practice, for you are very likely to lose the good runs of both. However, I have been looking at a neighbouring county lately, and it has been very useful to me in confirming my previously conceived notions of riding to halloos ; and that foxhunting, like other things, has no rule without various exceptions.
Huntsmen in fast countries are being constantly censured for riding too much to the hat or the hallo, whichever may be the fashionable mode among the skirters. To defend the system would be ridiculous ; but I will defend the men, because I think they are not so much to
blame as the crowd of would-be sportsmen and forward riders that make it necessary. What do half you fellows care about disturbing hounds, when they would put their noses down, as long as there's a jump in the way
Smith, look at that old bitch feathering up the hedgerow! Come, it's this way! there--they've hit it off again--you're going the wrong road.”
• Hang the old bitch!” says Smith, “ look at those jolly posts-andrails !"
Out of the way of such murderous villains I contend a huntsman must get. If he's at fault, you are all in the way : the hounds can't cast themselves, nor will you give the huntsman room to cast them. He dare not wait for a whimper : the wag of a stern is a signal for a general rush ; the poor devil of a hound gets terrified to death, and looks round for Charles Payne, or some such active fellow, to get him out of the mess. What can he do? He sees a hat, or he hears a ser
creech, and it's his only chance (not only of killing his fox, but) of absolute safety. You never will have fashionable huntsmen and fashionable hounds as good as they might be, and wish to be, until you cease to override them.
It so happens that the huntsman of a pack of hounds belonging to a neighbouring county, and as good a servant and fine a horseman as there is in England, is laid up with a fall, or at least was so about the end of November. A fox had gone away, and having marked his line, and seen him pretty clear of the crowd, I took a commanding position in a fine grass field through which he passed, with a very safe-looking white gate on my line out of it, and then I screechied “ Gone away!” till I was red in the face. Out came the substitute for the huntsman (hors de combat); and though it was clearly evident that the day was a very bad scenting day, he allowed his hounds to hunt their fox down two hedgerows, and across a couple of grass fields, on no terms whatever with their fox, until they brought themselves up to me. I need hardly add that the fox was then too far ahead to do any good with at all. The same thing happened in the afternoon, when the scent had slightly improved : not one atom of assistance was rendered to the hounds; and though three or four couple were hunting merrily forward, the body of the pack was never moved up to them at all.
How they ever manage to kill, unless with a scent breast-high, or whether they ever have since their huntsman's accident, I do not know. I know that he would have made a run with the last fox a very good one, on Thursday the 25th. It may be a fault on the right side, and I think it is, for I am very fond of hunting, but I like a little science too.
There is hardly any better sportsman in England than Lord Southampton : he possesses that degree of perseverance and patience after his fox, with a perfect knowledge of hounds, and the liberties that may be taken with them with impunity. It is a very great treat to get a run with his bitch pack, especially if not too fast in the present state of the country. They combine the qualifications of a true hunting hound with the most high-couraged dash and pace ; and they are so even and handsome that it would be a difficult matter to draft with good result. One attaches a notion of heaviness and southern blood to your working hound, which it does not necessarily poseess; and you have only to see