A slight turn the pig now made to the right increased this chance, and some of those, the nearest on that side, who had been looking out for such an opportunity, now sent their horses along. Norman was yet the most advanced, but his horse was slow, and one or two of the others were fast coining abreast with him, though at some little distance on his right flank. Ever and anon as he glanced to the right rear, he became aware that he was being overhauled, till at last two actually drew level, and in point of nearness to the pig were almost on an equality with himself.
" Get along, old horse !" he muttered, as he urged the slow but staunch beast to greater efforts. ." Wish I had brought Talisman instead of slow old Gamecock."
The pig were yet a considerable distance in front, and it was anybody's spear. Just then, however, as luck would have it, moved by some unaccountable impulse, the pig made another slight change in the direction of their flight, but this time it was to the left. Again Norman, as he made a corresponding move, was in front. Ah! could he only now close with them !
They were few in number, and he fixed his eyes on the biggest, which he made out to be an active, lanky, young boar, and evidently in fine condition, and full of running. He now touched the gallant old grey, the hero of many a hard-fought field, with his spurs, and the game beast strained every nerve to close. He was quite aware that rivals, now directly in his rear, were coming up hand over hand, and needed little persuasion to put forth his whole powers.
Bravely he struggled. To every pressure of the calf, or shake of the bridle, he answered nobly; but the old horse, rather short as he was, and admirably adapted for the stiff hunting country among hills, and stones, and nullahs, or one full of enclosures, had not pace enough for the flat.
But his good start had given him such an advantage that he still led, as Norman got close enough to separate the boar and lay into him.
The others, all sows, dashed off to the right, and were allowed to go away unpursued. The boar, however, still hung to the left, and, for a few strides, it almost appeared as if it were going to run clean away.
With sharp, rapid strokes it dashed ahead, and momentarily increased the space separating hunter and hunted. But Norman soon saw it could not last; it was but a great effort made at the close approach of the pursuer. Soon its pace declined, and it began to drop back, till Norman, lifting his horse, brought him almost within reach. With a slight jink, however, it eluded the spear thrust; but the wary old horse was not to be thrown off by anything short of a thorough double, and he turned almost with the pig. Twice again did the active boar manage just to avoid being reached as Norman closed; and the spear was yet undimmed with blood, when Melton, to whom each turn had been an advantage, raced up alongside. For a moment he seemed to hang there, as he got into the wake of the pig, but in the next few strides shot rapidly a-head and ran up within reach. Once more, however, the pig threw off his assailant, and Melton just missed. Game-Cock was pulled to the left, to take advantage of the boar's last double, and, coming round quicker than a couple more who were now his companions, gave his master one more chance. Beaching out to the fullest extent as the pig crossed, Norman made a lunge forward. An inch or two more of distance, and the pig had been yet untouched ; but that inch or two made all the difference, and the spear was withdrawn from a gentle prick which drew the first blood. Satisfied with having obtained the spear.
Norman re-settled himself in his seat, and ran up to the now exhausted boar, before any other could cut in. Again he speared, and this time with more effect; and soon the boar was the centre of a charging host. Spears were lowered and lifted, sometimes in dangerous proximity to men and horses; but when the sailor came up, and rushed wildly and madly about with his spear in rest, quite incautious as to where it might be buried, the group around the now fighting boar was rapidly thinned.
Before long, however, the sailor managed, to the great relief of the rest, to break his spear in the ground; and the boar was soon disposed of, fortunately without accident to man or horse.
" Good old horse ! * said Norman, as he stood beside Game-Cock, and patted him affectionately. " The pace was too good for you, but the quickness in turning did it after all."
" I thought I should have had it," remarked Melton, as he loosened the girths of his panting animal; " but I couldn't get round so quickly as you, Norman, though I had much the speed of you."
" I had such a start of you all," was the reply. " It was quite a racing young boar; had it been a heavy old fellow I should in all probability have speared him before you could reach me. It is about a thirty-inch boar," he continued, as he measured the height from shoulder to foot on his spear.
Old Natta now came up tooling his tattoo along, with arms and legs going like the shafts of a windmill. Altogether, his own spare form, and the very attenuated specimen of pony flesh which he bestrode, presented an appearance so unsubstantial, that he might well have been taken for the spectral rider of the desert.
The pony pulled up with a movement so sudden as almost to jerk old Natta over his head. With an anathema, however, he managed to scramble on to his legs, and approached the group of hunters who, mounted and dismounted, were assembled round the dead boar, discussing the chances of the chace.
"A three-year-old, sahibs," he observed, in a tone partly authoritative, partly inquiring, addressing the company generally. He was interested in the pig's age, from the fact that on it, to some extent, depended the amount of his reward.
" Hardly, Natta, I should think," said Norman. " The tusks don't look like the growth of three years."