Crash the boar charged into a strip of jungle, and bore through it with almost undiminished speed. He might perhaps have taken a turn up or down it, had not his cover been at hand. Into it went the horsemen also as hard as they could, and out on the other side all emerged, though now Mowbray and Melton were most conspicuously in front. The boar had gained a slight advantage by this, but was evidently getting blown, and over the next field, with spurs going at every stride, the hunters were rapidly closing. A slight hedge was taken some four lengths behind the boar, and across the next piece of fallow the set-to and final tussle commenced, and the boar became closely pressed. With spears extended, the two leaders made every effort, the one to head the other, or get the first touch, however slight, of the boar. Danvers, a length in the rear, was also urging his horse at top-speed with his eye on the hog, and ready to take advantage of any turn.
Within half a spear s length, the blades gleamed behind the pig, which at this moment seemed to redouble its efforts, and good reason it had to do so. The last remaining obstacle, a stiffish-looking strip of thorny jungle, was close in front, and but a narrow piece of open ground intervened between that and the desired haven.
With a bound, the boar, yet untouched, seemed to fling himself into the cover, and crashed through the underwood. Had a precipice been in front, down the riders must have gone. Indeed, with eye and attention wrapt and fixed on the flying game, they would probably have been unaware of it. No, wonder, then, that the jungle had been barely observed as being excessively thick. Drawing up their spears, they charged in, and tried to force their way through by the weight and impetus of their onset. But boars have generally the best of such work. From their pachydermatous hides thorns glance off, and they bore their way underneath the hanging branches and through the dense cover, which thwarts the horse and rider, and greatly impedes, if not altogether stops, his progress. With the boar,
" The thorny brambles and embracing bushes, As fearful of him part, through which he rushes."
Unacquainted with the waters of Styx, however, no Achillean invulnerability compensates for the want of a tough exterior, and protects his pursuers from the dragging wait-a-bit or piercing baubel thorn.
The boar drove his way through unhurt. But the horsemen, though they also battled through and emerged, did so with loss of their relative proximity of position, and with puggrees flying wide behind, rent coats, and hands and faces scratched and torn. The fine skins of the horses, streaked about the neck, chest, and legs with blood, showed that they, too, had not passed through unscathed.
Mowbray was the first to emerge, and urged his horse in instant pursuit of the boar, now a third of the way across the field. Its pace had greatly diminished ; and, with foam flying from its mouth, was pounding along towards the canes, with that peculiar action so indicative of a tired hog. Mowbray rapidly approached, and ran almost within reach. A stride or two more and the spear would be secured. Within twenty yards of the canes he made an effort to spear, but was not yet quite within reach. Inspirited by the closeness of the cover, the boar made a sharp half-turn, then another in zig-zag fashion, for a moment threw off his pursuer, and in the next, the small mud wall which surrounded them was cleared, and the canes closed behind as it dashed in with a surly grunt of satisfaction at its narrow escape. The discomfited horseman almost crashed in also, but just managed to wheel his horse round and pull up, contemplating the spot at which the pig had disapppeared with mingled feelings of regret and disappointment.
" Another stride or two and it was mine !" he exclaimed, as the others joined him. " How exactly the old brute hit it. He has got a rattling pair of tushes." '
" I thought you had it," replied Melton, who was next to arrive. " It was as near a squeak as could be. But nowhere more than in hog-hunting is the ' slip between the cup and the lip ' experienced. Another hundred yards of open and we might all have had a chance, and in that distance he would probably have died. However, we mustn't lose him by jawing here. Let us guard all points till the men come up."
With this they all trotted off, and held guard at different points round the field, not expecting the boar to leave it, but still to prevent his doing so undetected.
Natta and the men were not long; in arriving, and the hunters being relieved by some of them placed as look-outs, rejoined under the shade of a tree, and consulted for a brief space as to their further proceedings.
A slight rest was desirable for the horses, with whom the course had been a perfect race from start to finish, and the riders were glad of an opportunity to repair petty damages.
Natta shook his head, and expressed his opinion that there would be some difficulty in ejecting the probably savage old boar from his present resting-place. However, he admitted an effort to do so must be made, and that quickly ; so they were not long in getting again to work.
After such a rattle as he had had, it was feared that the boar would turn sulky, and pertinaciously object to be driven from his asylum ; possibly resent the unrelaxed attention bestowed on him, and show his dissatisfaction at being so rudely disturbed at a time he was wont to enjoy in dignified ease, by charging the beaters.
The beaters were directed, therefore, not to advance, as before, in one extended line, but to penetrate the canes in bodies, and endeavour, by hustling the boar from place to place, to induce him once more to break.
The beaters had been considerably exhilarated by the sight of the run ; but, when Natta jauntily observed that there could be no danger if they kept together, and they must try and dislodge the beast a second time, they appeared to regard the matter less sanguinely, and made several references to the " butchas " (children) at home. Several, however, of a bolder spirit led the way, and the others followed en masse.