" What on earth made you come up so close with me?" asked Mowbray. "You very nearly came to grief.
" Very nearly! Only just look at my nose," was the reply, as the individual addressed tenderly stroked that prominent feature and endeavoured with his handkerchief to stanch the blood. " I am sure it must be three times the size nature ever made it. I feel as if I had a large thing like a red-hot pumpkin attached to my face. The colt was half wild with excitement, and had a good deal to say to the matter himself. See, he is pretty frantic still."
And, indeed, the young one could hardly be induced to remain quiet, though Norman dismounted and endeavoured to soothe and pacify him with caresses. The struggle, spurring, and subsequent engagement had completely roused and maddened the game Arab blood; and it was long before the horse became quieted.
The other party had followed the first, but did not arrive in time to take part in the chase or fight, and only reached the spot when it was over.
The boar was a fine one; not an old, grey patriarch, but a large, black animal of mature age, and with a tusk of about seven inches ; just the one to run fairly, and, with an activity and courage as yet undiminished by age, to supplement a good run by a good fight; such a boar, in fact, as affords the greatest amount of sport to the spearman.
After a brief examination of the slain and description of the engagement by those concerned, the whole party returned towards the jungle.
They found that the beaters had assembled at the end of the cover, and were ready to beat back through it when required to do so. After a slight refreshment the hunters proceeded to do this; a party being at the same time dispatched to convey the dead boar to camp.
This time all the sportsmen together established themselves behind some hillocks, about half way towards the other extremity, and at about the same distance as formerly from the cover itself.
After a while pig were telegraphed as having broken on the other side; and when, with difficulty, the horsemen had threaded their way and forced a passage through some of the more scanty portions of the jungle, they were halloed away towards the principal stony hill, which served as an excellent marking point near the extremity of the cover.
To that they rode, and received conflicting accounts from the markers, some of whom were established here, and some in trees nearer the jungle. One asserted that the pig had indeed faced the open, but returned. Another declared that they had gone clean away over the plain. It was very possible that both were right; so the hunters rode to the top of the hill to ascertain for themselves if any were yet in sight, but without their being able to see anything.
While yet engaged in examining the country, however, a hyaena broke away at the end of the jungle, and lumbered along up the nullah. One or two proposed riding in pursuit, and there was some brief controversy on the subject, eventually, however, carried by the noes. As if to verify the correctness of this decision, a sounder of pig very shortly afterwards presented themselves at a considerable distance off in the plain, across which they commenced cantering at a cautious pace.
When they had made a fair offing, the word was given, and the hunters crashed down the side of the hill and rattled away in pursuit. But whether they saw the horsemen, or whether something in front had made them change their intentions, or from any other cause, the pig suddenly seemed to become distrustful of the plain, and wheeling round, made again for the jungle, far in rear of the beaters. It was tantalising, but there was yet a chance of intercepting them, and in that endeavour the hunters rode.
The pig had a tremendous start, but the course of their pursuers formed a prolonged base to the hypo-thenuse and other side of the triangle described by the pig. As the latter bore down towards the jungle, the advance of the horsemen near to it obliged them to edge off, and it seemed very possible that they might be intercepted.
Dan vers, Stewart, and Melton were in the van, and made every effort to cut in between the pig and the jungle. When within about a hundred yards of it, the pig found that their line would just meet that of their assailants. But, as the horsemen closed, instead of edging further away, they slackened their pace, turned sharp, and scattering in every direction among the horsemen, made direct for the cover, into which they plunged, closely pursued, but scathless. All that now remained for the discomfited sportsmen to do was to retrace their steps, which they did at a pace far slower than that at which they had come.
Old Natta appeared before them as they were plodding quietly along, and intimated his opinion that one or two good pig, which had been viewed in front of the beaters, would very probably break away among the nullahs at the end of the jungle, but on the side they had originally occupied, and opposite to that on which the stony hill was situated. Accordingly, they again forced their way through the cover and took up a position, screened as usual by jungle-crowned hillocks.
They had not been long established there, when a nice boar was seen to steal away towards the extremity of the cover, and, after crossing a piece of open, disappear in one of the many nullahs which intersected the ground at that end. Again he was viewed; and fearful of losing sight of him altogether, the hunters rode towards the spot where, a second time, he had sought the protecting screen of a gully. But they were premature in their movement. The boar trotted out a little way in advance of them when they reached the scene of his recent disappearance, and at once seeing his clanger, immediately made backward tracks for the cover he had so lately quitted.
Several of the gullies were well wooded, and in and about these he led his pursuers a fine scrambling run, but was at last forced across a nice piece of open ground, which extended to the very borders of the large jungle.
Three or four of the hunters were together, and a very pretty racing set-to ensued. But the pig was an extremely active one. As the hunters closed with him, one after the other got a chance and made a rush; but in each instance the boar dodged and jinked with remarkable quickness, and avoided the various thrusts made at him. Sometimes he stopped dead and darted behind his assailant's horse ; sometimes threw him off by a rapid twist. At length Normanó who, having given the colt his initiatory lesson, and exchanged him for his old horse, had been outpaced and was lying two or three lengths behind seized a favourable opportunity, let Talisman go, and after one jink, which the old horse met with a corresponding movement as quick as a dog, lunged forward and succeeded in reaching the boar. So light was the touch, however, that some doubted if the spear were won till a few drops of blood were seen to trickle down the animal's stern. It was an exceedingly shifty boar, and with the jungle so close, it made strenuous efforts to reach it. In this it was successful. With Norman close at its tail, it entered a thick mass of thorns, and as the rider gave it another and deeper dig, dashed bodily in. In, too, went horse and man, and the latter essayed, by dint of hard spurring, once more to reach and strike the boar; but it was too late. The impetus of their advance carried them through some portion of the cover, but its thickness soon brought them up, and, scratched and torn, they had to scramble out as best they could.
The beaters had arrived close to the extremity, and a series of surly grunts and a chorus of shouts proclaimed where the boar had forced his passage through the line and made good his retreat.
This was followed by a little desultory beatingó for the men had become much scattered, and might be seen in groups in various parts of the jungle and a small sounder was turned out, but those who pursued, finding it contained no boar, pulled up.
This was the last spurt, and the party returned to camp.