This section is from the book "Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain", by Alfred W. Rees. Also available from Amazon: Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain.
As the morning advanced, signs of unusual stir and bustle were apparent in the neighbourhood of the lodge. Messengers came and went between the cottage and the mansion at the bend of the river, or between the mansion and the distant village. The keeper appeared at his door, and, after satisfying himself that the lane seemed clean and well-kept, walked off briskly in the direction of the " big house." Scarlet-coated horsemen, and high-born maids and matrons, with all the medley of the Hunt in their train, cantered along the winding road— a mirthful, laughter-loving company. There were the General, stout and inelegant, wont to take his fences carefully, who changed his weight-carrying mount thrice during the day, and liked a gateway better than a thorny hedge, and for the last fifteen years had never been in at the death; and his wife, the leader of fashion, but not yet the leader of the Hunt; the Major, an old shekarry from India, who still could ride as straight and fast as any man in the west; and his niece, the belle of the countryside, whose mettlesome hunter occasionally showed a sudden fondness for taking the bit between his teeth, and carrying his mistress, with reckless abandon, over furrow and five-barred gate and through the thickest hedgerow—anywhere, so long as he had breath and the music of the hounds allured him onward in his impetuous career. The sun glanced between the trees as they passed the cottage door. Then came the Magistrate's Clerk, faultlessly attired, with florid face and glittering eyeglass, who, in an ambitious youth, finding his name too suggestive of plebeian blood, changed a vowel in it, and thereby gave an aristocratic flavour to the title of his partnership, and who acquired, with this new dignity, the taste for a monocle, a horse, and a good cigar. Following were the members of the medley—the big butcher on his sturdy pony, the "dealer" on his black, raw-boned half-bred, the publican on his stolid old mare, farmers, drovers, after-riders, on cropped and uncropped mounts more accustomed to the slow drudgery of labour than to the rollicking, hard-going hunt; and after them the crowd on foot—village children, farm labourers, and apprentices from forge and counter. Riding side by side, and earnestly conversing, were the "vet," whose horse at the last hunt bolted and left him clinging to a bough, and the shopkeeper, whose grave attire and sober mien seemed strangely out of keeping with the bright, hilarious throng. These were soon met by the main party from the meet, and hounds and hunters sped away in the direction of the hillside covert, while the onlookers adjourned to the uplands, whence an almost uninterrupted view of the valleys for miles around might be enjoyed, and the movements of the fox and his enemies followed more closely than from the hollows beneath the woods.
Reynard, abundantly satisfied with his supper of eggs and early breakfast of rabbit, was lying asleep in a tuft of grass at the top of the thicket when the huntsman passed down the dingle after the meet. Awakened by the noise that reached him from below, he arose, stretched his limbs, and listened anxiously—the clatter of hoofs seemed to fill the valley. Suddenly, from the outskirts of the wood, came the deep, sonorous note of a hound, followed by the sharp rebuke of the whipper-in; Jollity, the keen-nosed puppy, was "rioting" on the cold scent near the stream. Peering between the bushes, the fox could as yet see nothing moving in the covert, but a few minutes afterwards his sharp eye caught a glimpse of a hound leaping over the bank above the gorse, followed by another, and another, and yet another, till the place seemed alive with his foes.
Whither should he flee? The dingle was occupied; men and horses were everywhere in the lane; and the hounds were closing in above the gorse. The far side of the covert offered the only chance of escape, and thither he must hie, else the hounds, now pouring down the slope, would cut off his retreat. Quickly he threaded his way through the gorse, by paths familiar only to himself and the rabbits, till he reached the bank by the willows; but, even while he ran, the full chorus of the hounds echoed from hillside to hillside, as, having "struck the line," they tore madly in pursuit. He reached the edge of the covert at a point furthest from his foes—then, as he crossed the meadow, a single red-coated horseman, standing sentinel far up the hillside, gave the "view-halloo," and over the brow of the slope streamed the main body of the Hunt.
It was at once evident to Reynard that by skirting the margin of the covert he could not for the present escape, so he headed down-wind towards the opposite hill, hoping to find refuge in a well-known " earth " amid the thickets. To his surprise he found the entrance "stopped" with clods and prickly branches of gorse, and had perforce to continue his flight. Having well out-distanced his pursuers, he stayed to rest for a while near the stream that trickled by the hedgerow; then, with the horrid music of the hounds again in his ears, he turned, by a long backward cast, in the direction of his home.
But he was wholly unable to shake off his pursuers. For four long hours he was hustled from covert to covert, and hillside to hillside, finding no respite, no mercy, no sanctuary. Breathless, mud-stained, footsore, and sick with fright, his draggling " brush" and lolling tongue betraying his distress, he sought at last the place he had long avoided, and, entering the mouth of the den where the vixen and her cubs were hiding, lay there, almost utterly exhausted. Some minutes elapsed, during which no sound but that of his laboured breathing, and of the tiny sucklings busy by the side of the dam, disturbed the stillness.
Suddenly, a deep-voiced hound broke through the bushes and bayed loudly before the entrance. His fellow joined him, and their foreboding clamour reverberated in the chamber. Terrified, the fox crawled slowly into the recess of the den. Presently a shaggy terrier came down the tunnel, and bit him sorely on the flank. He scarcely had the courage to turn on the aggressor; but the enraged vixen, thrusting her mate aside, quickly routed the daring intruder, and followed his retreat to the very mouth of the " earth," where she turned back, threatened by the great hounds that stood without. But even the reckless courage of maternity was unavailing. Soon the noise of blows and of falling earth was heard, as the passage was gradually opened by brawny farm labourers, working with spade and pick, and assisted in their task by the eager huntsman, who ever and anon thrust a long bramble-spray into the tunnel and thus ascertained the direction of its devious course.
At last the tip of the fox's "brush" was seen amid the soil and pebbles that had fallen into the chamber. The huntsman had cut two stout hazel rods ; these he now thrust into the hollow, one along either flank of the fox ; then, grasping their ends firmly about the exposed tail, he drew poor Reynard from his hiding place, and thrust him, defiant to the last, and with his teeth close-locked on one of the hazel rods, into an old sack requisitioned at the nearest farm. The vixen met a similar fate, while the sleek, furry little cubs, treated with the utmost gentleness, were wrapped together in the Master's handkerchief and given to the care of an attendant.
Reynard's life was nearing its close. In the meadow behind the keeper's cottage the hounds were summoned by the huntsman's horn, and the bag was opened. The scene that followed marred, for some of us at least, the beauty of the bright March morning. The vixen and her cubs were carried away, and found a new home in an artificial "earth" prepared for their reception near a distant mansion.