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0100_005E Hunting Sketches Anthony Trollope

How to Ride to Hounds

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But now we will go back to the covert, and into the covert if it be a large one. I will speak of three kinds of coverts, the gorse, the wood, and the forest. There are others, but none other so distinct as to require reference. As regards the gorse covert, which of all is the most delightful, you, my disciple, need only be careful to keep in the crowd when it is being drawn. You must understand that if the plantation which you see before you, and which is the fox's home and homestead, be surrounded, the owner of it will never leave it. A fox will run back from a child among a pack of hounds, so much more terrible is to him the human race even than the canine. The object of all men of course is that the fox shall go, and from a gorse covert of five acres he must go very quickly or die among the hounds. It will not be long before he starts if there be space left for him to creep out, as he will hope, unobserved. Unobserved he will not be, for the accustomed eye of some whip or servant will have seen him from a corner. But if stray horsemen roaming round the gorse give him no room for such hope, he will not go. All which is so plainly intelligible, that you, my friend, will not fail to understand why you are required to remain with the crowd. And with simple gorse coverts there is no strong temptation to move about. They are drawn quickly, and though there be a scramble for places when the fox has broken, the whole thing is in so small a compass that there is no difficulty in getting away with the hounds. In finding your right place, and keeping it when it is found, you may have difficulty; but in going away from a gorse the field will be open for you, and when the hounds are well out and upon the scent, then remember your Latin; Occupet extremum scabies.

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But for one fox found in a gorse you will, in ordinary countries, see five found in woods; and as to the place and conduct of a hunting man while woods are being drawn, there is room for much doubt. I presume that you intend to ride one horse throughout the day, and that you wish to see all the hunting that may come in your way. This being so, it will be your study to economize your animal's power, and to keep him fresh for the run when it comes. You will hardly assist your object in this respect by seeing the wood drawn, and galloping up and down the rides as the fox crosses and recrosses from one side of it to another. Such rides are deep with mud, and become deeper as the work goes on; and foxes are very obstinate, running, if the covert be thick, often for an hour together without an attempt at breaking, and being driven back when they do attempt by the horsemen whom they see on all sides of them. It is very possible to continue at this work, seeing the hounds hunt, with your ears rather than your eyes, till your nag has nearly done his day's work. He will still carry you perhaps throughout a good run, but he will not do so with that elasticity which you will love; and then, after that, the journey home is, it is occasionally something almost too frightful to be contemplated. You can, therefore, if it so please you, station yourself with other patient long-suffering, mindful men at some corner, or at some central point amidst the rides, biding your time, consoling yourself with cigars, and not swearing at the vile perfidious, unfoxlike fox more frequently than you can help. For the fox on such occasions will be abused with all the calumnious epithets which the ingenuity of angry men can devise, because he is exercising that ingenuity the possession of which on his part is the foundation of fox-hunting. There you will remain, nursing your horse, listening to chaff, and hoping. But even when the fox does go, your difficulties may be but beginning.

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Hunting Sketches
Anthony Trollope

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