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I was being introduced by Albert to the mount upon which I was to pursue foxes for the reminder of the day.
"This is Molly," he said with Jefersonian simplicity. "Your horse."
It had to be my horse because most certainly no one else would have taken Molly as a gift. As I studied this disillusioned featuresof this venerable wreck I feared that she was going to take advantage of her sex and weep on my shoulder. Nevertheless, I mounted to her back and awited with closed eyes the inevitable crash. Molly braced herself, quivered along her keel, but managed to remain erect.
The lawn now became the scene of fresh activity. The colonel, still dazed, with the help of three strong men was being elevated to the top of his horse, an operation in which neither the colonel nor the horse seemed to be the least bit interested. Presently the sweating huntsmen were safely if not securely installed in their saddles while the women stood about and made unhelpful but irritating suggestions, as women always do and always will when men are striving to maintain their dignity in the face of overwheling odds.
Once more the pack appeared. Its mood had now shifted from one of famished activity to satiated greed. Leisurely the hounds ambled across the lawn and slipped past us with many a futive backward glance, as if expecting a sudden kick. Their respective rumps were guiltily shrunken. Once safely out of reach they broke into a run and speedily absorbed themselves into the landscape, severalsecretly amused negroes pretending to pursue them.
"Are you all ready?" cried Albert, holding up his hand. "If you are, let's go."
"Just a minute now," came the querulous voice of the stranger. "Go where, Mr. Green? I've gotten me up on the top of this dumb beast like you said but damned if I enjoy the prospect of jouncing all over the countryside on it without any idea where I'm going or when I'm coming back."
In the face of this reasonable question the hunting party fell into a depressed silence. Obviously many of its members were asking themselves the same thing. Albert rushed gamely into the breach.
"We go wherever the fox goes," he explained.
"What fox?" demanded the man.
"I don't know what fox," said Albert. "Just any fox - the fox we're after."
"What's this fox gone and done, Albert" another unknown inquired mildly.
"He hasn't done anything," said my host.
"Then why are we after him?" continued the voice.
"Well, you can't very well have a fox hunt without some sort of fox, can you?" asked Albert bitterly. "It's all very simple. We just sit on our horses and go where the fox goes."
"If you think it's so simple sitting on this animated file,"someone indignantly observed, "I'd like you to change places with me and let him chafe you for awhile. I'm tow-thirds ruined already and we haven't even started yet."
"Let's hope this old fox goes to bed, then we can all do likewise," the weary stranger offered hopefully.
As the company straggled through the gate, a sudden cry of warning brought us to a stop. It seems that our colonel with the aid of a low-hanging limb had somehow managed to unhorse himself. Turning quickly, I caught a momentary glimpse of that stout gentleman decending earthward with terrific speed where he landed in a sitting position and remained as if atrophied. Horses and riders alike gazed down at him with concentrated attention as if wondering why their colonel had taken it into his head to act in such a peculiar manner.
"What's the meaning of all this?" asked Albert pushing his horse through the circle.
The colonel regarded him balefully.
What the hell do you think it means?" he demaned in a high, thin voice. "That I'm playing mud pies?" Young man, it means foul play. I was struck from behind."
"Well," said Albert at last, "we can't very well leave him sitting there like that all day. Get him back on his horse and we'll make a fresh start."
The colonel accepted a drink and once more allowed himself to be heaved into the saddle, where he sat in stunned silence.
"I say, Mr. Green," a third stranger to Albert cried out, "What are we supposed to do with this fox once we catch him?"
"Which is very doubtful," the first one added.
Albert laughed with false heartiness. "Have your little joke," he called back.
"It's no joke," said the other earnestly. "Swear to God I wouldn't know how to act with a real live fox."
"Cut off his brush," grated Albert.
"His what?" came the startled rejoiner in a shocked voice. "Oh, Mr. Green."
"You know as well as I do," replied Albert.
"Oh," exclaimed the other. "You don't like to talk about it. I think I know know."
Albert flushed furiously.
"Say, Mr. Green," asked a rider rather plaintively. "Why are you so mean to foxes, anyway? You must certainly hate 'em to do a thing to'em - you know - like you said."
At this moment I reminded Albert that unless we looked for the dogs we might lose them forever, not that I greatly cared. A startled expression added to the unhappiness of his features. He held up a hand and listened.
"Now where do you rekon those dogs could have gotten themselves to?" he asked at last.
"Let's make it a dog hunt instead of a fox hunt," a bright young man suggested.
Albert wineed, then suddenly his face cleared. From far down the road came an awful sound. I had begun to doubt the existance of Henry, but now I changed my mind.
"Yonder's Henry!" exclaimed the delighted Albert with as much pride as if he were emitting all those terrible sounds himself." "Hear him!"
We did. Henry had a shocking voice.
"Glad I'm not a fox," someone piously observed. "I'm scared even to hunt with that dog lose."
"Henry's giving tounge," exclaimed Albert.
"Giving!" exclaimed the accurate rider. "Henry's doing heaps more than that. He's fairly tossing tongue away - lavishing tongue on the countryside."
When finally we found the dogs they were in various reposeful attitudes while they idly watched one of their members trying to get at a negro clinging to the topmost limb. This dog was beyond description. Canine obscenities gushed from its throat. Its fangs were bared and foam flecked its lips. Henry, without a doubt. Upon seeing Albert, the negro in the tree let out a yell.
"Fo' Gawd's sake, Mr. Albert, take dat dawk away or I'sa gone nigger."
Albert looked up at the negro, then transferred his attention to the frantic beast.
"Josh," he said at last, "that dog isn't Henry. Where do you suppose he came from?"
"I don't care who the hell he is," one of our little group complained, "if he doesn't stop making those awful noises I'll climb one of those trees myself.
"No, suh," responded Josh. "Dat dog sho ain't no Henry. Dat dog's Fanny. Mr. Albert, Fanny's by the way of being a bloodhound. We sort of invited her over last night just to fancy up the pack a bit."
"A charming piece of garnishing, Fanny," remarked a gentleman on my left.
"Well, Josh," said Albert wearily, "I reckon you'd better get Fanny home or she'll be treeing every damn nigger in the countryside and then we'l never get any foxes.
"Foxes," I quietly inquired.
"Certainly," shot back Albert. "I said foxes. Henry must be looking for some now."
The subject was changed by a sudden groan from our colonel.
"Gentlemen," he announced, "I can stand it no longer. I fear I'm bleeding to death."
"Where?" demanded Albert, turning to cope with this new disaster.
The colonel seemed reluctant to take us into his confidence concerning the exact location of his mortal wound.
"I must have sat on my flask," he replied after some hesitation. "When I fell, you know. I've been sitting on the pieces ever since."
"My God," breathed Albert. "What next? Help the colonel down, some of you, and I'll see what I can do about it."
Our colonel asked Albert, now assuming the role of glass picker, retired among the bushes with old fashioned southern modesty. Presently Albert reappeared.
"I am happy to announce," he said, "that the colonel's injuries were more demeaning to a gentleman of his high spirit than serious to his person. He has decided to continue with us. Let us hope and pray that this will be the last interruption. We must now find Henry, leader of the pack."
An ironical cheer greeted this fine speech. The colonel was placed delicately on his horse. The negro attendants beat the dogs into a reluctant state of activity. Once more the hunt was in motion. For an hour or more we cantered along the roads pleasantly enough, stopping occasionally to let the pack catch up with us. The dogs were friendly, courteous and even playful. They seemed to nourish no grudge against us, but it was plain to see that no one had taken the trouble to tell them what it was all about. To the pack it was an outing - a casually informal affair.
"Just wait till they catch up with Henry," Albert kept assuring us. "then just watch 'em go."
We did. From somewhere far down the road the ravings of a mad dog were bourne to us. Albert's face became radiant.
"Yonder's Henry!" he shouted. "Hear him!"
The dogs, exerting their last ounce of energy, broke into a run and sped down the road. Fresh hope returned to our hearts as we thundered after. Perhaps there might be something to this fox-hunting business after all. The pack was now in full cry. We rounded a curve and saw the dogs streaming across an open field in the direction of some woods. A large and elated rabbit was cutting insulting capers in their faces. Albert's own face looked a trifle dismayed.
"Shucks," he said, "that fool rabbit just crossed the fox's trail, but he won't put Henry off. Follow on."
Follow on we did, and in short time crashed into the woods. Then consternation reigned. Close to my ear a shotgun suddenly exploded. It exploded very close to my ear.
"Moonshiners!" someone shouted, and the effect was electrifying.
From behind the most innocent looking trees bearded faces appeared. In a methodical manner the owners of these faces began to discharge lead into the ranks of the disorganized hunt. In an instant, dogs, horses and men were fighting democratically together for mere survival. There was a great thrashing of branches and a complicated entangling of man and beast. The moonshiners seemingly had an inexhaustable supply of ammunition and a passionate desire to use it. I now saw the reasonalbeness of our clubs and guns, although our party used neither.
Personally, I sustained no loss other than Molly and a large quantity of breath. From the safety of a slight elevation I observed the component parts of the hunt break from the woods and dash across the field. Men who had known each other for years passed without the slightest recognition, so occupied were they with their own thoughts. the field was dotted with horses, dogs and men, some of the men in their impatience even pushing horses out of their way. I felt that I was look at an old English hunting print suddenly thrown into reverse. Some of those dogs, I dare say, are still running.
The last to withdraw from the woods were our colonel, Albert and my Molly. The colonel was leaning on Albert's arm. Molly appeared to be trying to hold his other hand. I was joined by this little group and with Albert's help put our colonel on to Molly. He sat well forward and practiced soul stirring groans. Foxes would have little to fear from our colonel for many days to come. Very little was said. There was hardly anything either fit or safe to be said unless we talked about the weather. Albert steadily refused to meet my eyes.
After an interminable walk we at last approached the smooth green lawn of my host's home. Several members of the hunt were grouped round the rumpled tablecloth. They were looking down sadly on a large inert body. Mrs. Albert was saying things. We listened.
"Would you believe it?" she was saying. "Ever since you all got out of sight he's been sleeping there just like a lamb. Must have eaten too much hunt breakfast. Isn't he sweet?"
We, too, gazed down at the slumbering figure. The expression in Albert's eyes was too terrible for man to behold. I felt inclined to withdraw quietly to leave him alone with his sorrow. The figure, as if feeling our eyes upon it, feebly attempted to raise its head. Slumber overcame it. A gnawed chicken bone slipped from its mouth as it drifted off to sleep. A tail moved with propitiatory intentions. A gentle sigh fell upon the evening air.
The our colonel lifted up his voice.
"Yonder's Henry!" he howled, and then there was a touch of maddness in his eyes. "Hear him!" He paused, squared his shoulders, then confronted Albert.
The rest is silence...
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