The man who hunts and does like it is an object of keen envy to the man who hunts and doesn’t; but he, too, has his own miseries, and I am not prepared to say that they are always less aggravating than those endured by his less ambitious brother in the field. He, too, when he comes to make up his account, when he brings his hunting to book and inquires whether his whistle has been worth its price, is driven to declare that vanity and vexation of spirit have been the prevailing characteristics of his hunting life. On how many evenings has he returned contented with his sport? How many days has he declared to have been utterly wasted? How often have frost and snow, drought and rain, wind and sunshine, impeded his plans? for to a hunting man frost, snow, drought, rain, wind and sunshine, will all come amiss. Then, when the one run of the season comes, he is not there! He has been idle and has taken a liberty with the day; or he has followed other gods and gone with strange hounds. With sore ears and bitter heart he hears the exaggerated boastings of his comrades, and almost swears that he will have no more of it. At the end of the season he tells himself that the season’s amusement has cost him five hundred pounds; that he has had one good day, three days that were not bad, and that all the rest have been vanity and vexation of spirit. After all, it may be a question whether the man who hunts and doesn’t like it does not have the best of it.
When we consider what is endured by the hunting man the wonder is that any man should like it. In the old days of Squire Western, and in the old days too since the time of Squire Western, the old days of thirty years since, the hunting man had his hunting near to him. He was a country gentleman who considered himself to be energetic if he went out twice a week, and in doing this he rarely left his house earlier for that purpose than he would leave it for others. At certain periods of the year he would, perhaps, be out before dawn; but then the general habits of his life conduced to early rising; and his distances were short. If he kept a couple of horses for the purpose he was well mounted, and these horses were available for other uses. He rode out and home, jogging slowly along the roads, and was a martyr to no ambition. All that has been changed now. The man who hunts and likes it, either takes a small hunting seat away from the comforts of his own home, or he locates himself miserably at an inn, or he undergoes the purgatory of daily journeys up and down from London, doing that for his hunting which no consideration of money-making would induce him to do for his business. His hunting requires from him everything, his time, his money, his social hours, his rest, his sweet morning sleep; nay, his very dinners have to be sacrificed to this Moloch!
Let us follow him on an ordinary day. His groom comes to his bed-chamber at seven o’clock, and tells him that it has frozen during the night. If he be a London man, using the train for his hunting, he knows nothing of the frost, and does not learn whether the day be practicable or not till he finds himself down in the country. But we will suppose our friend to be located in some hunting district, and accordingly his groom visits him with tidings. “Is it freezing now?” he asks from under the bedclothes. And even the man who does like it at such moments almost wishes that the answer should be plainly in the affirmative. Then swiftly again to the arms of Morpheus he might take himself, and ruffle his temper no further on that morning! He desires, at any rate, a decisive answer. To be or not to be as regards that day’s hurting is what he now wants to know. But that is exactly what the groom cannot tell him. “It’s just a thin crust of frost, sir, and the s’mometer is a standing at the pint.” That is the answer which the man makes, and on that he has to come to a decision! For half an hour he lies doubting while his water is getting cold, and then sends for his man again. The thermometer is still standing at the point, but the man has tried the crust with his heel and found it to be very thin. The man who hunts and likes it scorns his ease, and resolves that he will at any rate persevere. He tumbles into his tub, and a little before nine comes out to his breakfast, still doubting sorely whether or no the day “will do.” There he, perhaps, meets one or two others like himself, and learns that the men who hunt and don’t like it are still warm in their beds. On such mornings as these, and such mornings are very many, the men who hunt and do not like it certainly have the best of it. The man who hunts and does like it takes himself out to some kitchen-garden or neighbouring paddock, and kicks at the ground himself. Certainly there is a crust, a very manifest crust. Though he puts up in the country, he has to go sixteen miles to the meet, and has no means of knowing whether or no the hounds will go out. “Jorrocks always goes if there’s a chance,” says one fellow, speaking of the master. “I don’t know,” says our friend; “he’s a deal slower at it than he used to be. For my part, I wish Jorrocks would go; he’s getting too old.” Then he bolts a mutton chop and a couple of eggs hurriedly, and submits himself to be carried off in the trap.
Though he is half an hour late at the meet, no hounds have as yet come, and he begins to curse his luck. A non-hunting day, a day that turns out to be no day for hunting purposes, begun in this way, is of all days the most melancholy. What is a man to do with himself who has put himself into his boots and breeches, and who then finds himself, by one o’clock, landed back at his starting-point without employment? Who under such circumstances can apply himself to any salutary employment? Cigars and stable-talk are all that remain to him; and it is well for him if he can refrain from the additional excitement of brandy and water.
But on the present occasion we will not presume that our friend has fallen into so deep a bathos of misfortune. At twelve o’clock Tom appears, with the hounds following slowly at his heels; and a dozen men, angry with impatience, fly at him with assurances that there has been no sign of frost since ten o’clock. “Ain’t there?” says Tom; “you look at the north sides of the banks, and see how you’d like it.” Some one makes an uncivil remark as to the north sides of the banks, and wants to know when old Jorrocks is coming. “The squire’ll be here time enough,” says Tom. And then there takes place that slow walking up and down of the hounds, which on such mornings always continues for half an hour. Let him who envies the condition of the man who hunts and likes it, remember that a cold thaw is going on, that our friend is already sulky with waiting, that to ride up and down for an hour and a half at a walking pace on such a morning is not an exhilarating pastime, and he will understand that the hunting man himself may have doubts as to the wisdom of his course of action.
But at last Jorrocks is there, and the hounds trot off to cover. So dull has been everything on this morning that even that is something, and men begin to make themselves happier in the warmth of the movement. The hounds go into covert, and a period of excitement is commenced. Our friend who likes hunting remarks to his neighbour that the ground is rideable. His neighbour who doesn’t like it quite so well says that he doesn’t know. They remain standing close together on a forest ride for twenty minutes, but conversation doesn’t go beyond that. The man who doesn’t like it has lit a cigar, but the man who does like it never lights a cigar when hounds are drawing.
And now the welcome music is heard, and a fox has been found. Mr. Jorrocks, gallopping along the ride with many oaths, implores those around him to hold their tongues and remain quiet. Why he should trouble himself to do this, as he knows that no one will obey his orders, it is difficult to surmise. Or why men should stand still in the middle of a large wood when they expect a fox to break, because Mr. Jorrocks swears at them, is also not to be understood. Our friend pays no attention to Mr. Jorrocks, but makes for the end of the ride, going with ears erect, and listening to the distant hounds as they turn upon the turning fox. As they turn, he returns; and, splashing through the mud of the now softened ground, through narrow tracks, with the boughs in his face, listening always, now hoping, now despairing, speaking to no one, but following and followed, he makes his way backwards and forwards through the wood, till at last, weary with wishing and working, he rests himself in some open spot, and begins to eat his luncheon. It is now past two, and it would puzzle him to say what pleasure he has as yet had out of his day’s amusement.
But now, while the flask is yet at his mouth, he hears from some distant corner a sound that tells him that the fox is away. He ought to have persevered, and then he would have been near them. As it is, all that labour of riding has been in vain, and he has before him the double task of finding the line of the hounds and of catching them when he has found it. He has a crowd of men around him; but he knows enough of hunting to be aware that the men who are wrong at such moments are always more numerous than they who are right. He has to choose for himself, and chooses quickly, dashing down a ride to the right, while a host of those who know that he is one of them who like it, follow closely at his heels, too closely, as he finds at the first fence out of the woods, when one of his young admirers almost jumps on the top of him. “Do you want to get into my pocket, sir?” he says, angrily. The young admirer is snubbed, and, turning away, attempts to make a line for himself.
But though he has been followed, he has great doubt as to his own course. To hesitate is to be lost, so he goes on, on rapidly, looking as he clears every fence for the spot at which he is to clear the next; but he is by no means certain of his course. Though he has admirers at his heels who credit him implicitly, his mind is racked by an agony of ignorance. He has got badly away, and the hounds are running well, and it is going to be a good thing; and he will not see it. He has not been in for anything good this year, and now this is his luck! His eye travels round over the horizon as he is gallopping, and though he sees men here and there, he can catch no sign of a hound; nor can he catch the form of any man who would probably be with them. But he perseveres, choosing his points as he goes, till the tail of his followers becomes thinner and thinner. He comes out upon a road, and makes the pace as good as he can along the soft edge of it. He sniffs at the wind, knowing that the fox, going at such a pace as this, must run with it. He tells himself from outward signs where he is, and uses his dead knowledge to direct him. He scorns to ask a question as he passes countrymen in his course, but he would give five guineas to know exactly where the hounds are at that moment. He has been at it now forty minutes, and is in despair. His gallant nag rolls a little under him, and he knows that he has been going too fast. And for what; for what? What good has it all done him? What good will it do him, though he should kill the beast? He curses between his teeth, and everything is vanity and vexation of spirit.
“They’ve just run into him at Boxall Springs, Mr. Jones,” says a farmer whom he passes on the road. Boxall Springs is only a quarter of a mile before him, but he wonders how the farmer has come to know all about it. But on reaching Boxall Springs he finds that the farmer was right, and that Tom is already breaking up the fox. “Very good thing, Mr. Jones,” says the squire in good humour. Our friend mutters something between his teeth and rides away in dudgeon from the triumphant master. On his road home he hears all about it from everybody. It seems to him that he alone of all those who are anybody has missed the run, the run of the season! “And killed him in the open as you may say,” says Smith, who has already twice boasted in Jones’s hearing that he had seen every turn the hounds had made. “It wasn’t in the open,” says Jones, reduced in his anger to diminish as far as may be the triumph of his rival.
Such is the fate, the too frequent fate of the man who hunts and does like it.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01