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Later in the afternoon they return?the huntsman, the hounds and what is left of the field. Some of the hounds are limping, bramble-scratched and lame, exhausted, filthy but triumphant. Like the novice rider in the field, they have been blooded to their first fox. They've made mistakes, been whipped at, scolded and praised, but in their noses still lingers a scent they will never forget. A mud-spattered and tired Mrs. Hannum jogs them back to the kennels, knowing now for sure that the coming season will have a pack as good as ever. Only when her hounds are settled and her horse stabled does she call it a day.
A horsewoman from the time she was 5 years old, Nancy Hannum has grown up to the sound of hounds and horn and running in her veins is blood rich in the hunt tradition. Her courage and tenacity in the saddle is inbred, for her father, mother and grandfathers were all Masters of Hounds.
From her home, Brooklawn, she runs the Cheshire true to tradition, with the care, planning and strategy of a general at war. Mrs. Hannum knows every inch of the Brandywine country she hunts, from Trimble's Hollow to Doe Run?every wood, every tree, every post and rail. To her, hunting is a way of life, and it always will be. From the time she gets up?often before sunrise?she is out working in kennel or stable, conferring with her hunt-staff, inspecting a lame or injured hound or taking the pack out for training. With her whippers-in, James Regan and Gordon Roberts, who double as kennelmen, she can be seen any day, a white-coated figure with whip in hand, walking her hounds through the fields of Brooklawn Farms. They trot and cluster about her while she whistles trilling commands to them: "C'mon Dasher boy, Roguish?here, Artful?Stranger?-Rosebud; c'mon girl."
The preparation for the hunt is always going on. Barbed wire is taken down from fences; dangerous, leg-breaking washes are filled in; and the fixture cards, 400 of them, are sent out to the riders who are invited to hunt with this private pack. Gamekeepers, grooms, kennelmen?all work the year round with Mrs. Hannum, welding scientific and sporting knowledge into the finest chase in the field today. It's a year-round business costing $30,000.
GOOD HOUNDS MAKE GOOD HUNTS
"Fox hunting is like a heady wine and anybody can drink it. It's the most exciting sport in the world," says Mrs. Hannum, who has broken her collarbone five times while hunting, but who is still not deterred.
Part of the preparation for the hunt is a study of the habits and whereabouts of the fox. Mrs. Hannum's gamekeeper, Ray Hayes, is the hunt's fox watcher and earth stopper. A squint-eyed, leathery-skinned woodsman, Ray is a legend around Chester County, and such is his knowledge of the comings and goings of the fox in this area that half the local inhabitants are convinced he is part fox himself.
Ray doesn't deny this. He'll smile and get down to business. "There's a fox round here; a thing of beauty. I see him often in the field, layin' flat as your hand, tail movin', like a cat does"?and then Ray will tell Mrs. Hannum what foxes are in which coverts, where the cubs are and which ones should be drawn. Ray Hayes has been fox-watching since he was 10 years old and this is his 21st year with the Cheshire. Driving about the Brandywine, studying tracks, stopping earths, killing off mangy foxes and protecting the others for the hunt, Ray Hayes leaves a trail of stories about his prowess which defies corroboration. He is another reason why the Cheshire is a great hunt.
But good hunts are made by their hounds, without which the best huntsmen could provide nothing but poor sport. The real reason the Cheshire gives the best sport in the land is the Cheshire foxhounds. These are Mrs. Hannum's pride, and her greatest responsibility rests in the breeding and continuation of this pack. She was brought up to know that "the fox is killed in the kennel," and that is where she spends most of her time.
ENGLISH HOUNDS FOR STRENGTH