In September of 1777 at Brandy-wine Creek in the southeasternmost corner of Pennsylvania, a British force under Sir William Howe won a notable victory over General Washington that led to the occupation of the city of Philadelphia. The British held the capital for less than a year, but vestiges of British domination are still evident in the Brandywine country: a pack of English foxhounds in Chester County is still making monkeys of American foxes. They are Mr. Stewart's Cheshire Fox Hounds, of Brook-lawn Farms in Unionville?founded by a Philadelphia broker, the late W. Plunket Stewart, in 1912, and probably the best hunt in America today. Behind the Cheshire's planning and execution is one of the most accomplished foxhunters in the field, Mr. Stewart's stepdaughter, 34-year-old Mrs. John B. Hannum III, master-owner and huntsman of the pack.
Now it's cub-hunting time, those precious fall months before the formal opening of the fox hunting season, when the huntsman takes his new entry hounds into covert and works them into the pack.
Out by McConnell Farm, before eight o'clock on a brisk morning, the field stands waiting, anxious for the day's sport to begin. Someone cries, "Here they come," and 25 couples of massive black and white and tan beauties flock into the meeting place, sterns waving with eagerness and impatience.
A groom calls out, "Morning, Mrs. Hannum," and the velvet-capped Master of Foxhounds raises her whip in salute and smiles a greeting as she takes a center position, hounds at her feet and stern-faced professional whippers-in at her side. The hounds sit or walk about her horse, the young ones, not having yet learned to husband their strength, busy with their noses.
The copper horn announces time to move off. "On to him, woo-up," the whipper-in encourages and hounds spring up willingly as the huntsman moves off. Slowly the cavalcade approaches the covert?first the huntsman and hounds, with whippers-in posted at either side, and then the field.
COUNTRYSIDE AND COMMUNITY
They cross the road, go through a gate, and there stretched out before them is the Brandywine country, ablaze in its multicolored fall foliage, mysterious now in its early-morning shroud of mist. This is the Cheshire's hunting country; gentle valleys carpeted with hazel and oak copse, mile after mile of undulating, open-galloping farm and grazing land, a covert-filled fox hunters' paradise.
For a brief moment one can reflect on the beauties of nature and rationalize the perfection of the moment with the part this pack of hounds plays in the community. The hunt provides not only healthy and wholesome sport for everyone interested, but its members also support local ventures such as fire companies, hospitals, Red Cross bloodmobiles, churches and varied civic projects. The farmers' land becomes more valuable with its proximity to the center of the hunting country.
A whip cracks, and a too-boisterous hound rejoins the pack swinging its way to covert. From her horse, Mrs. Hannum watches the young hounds all the way. This is their day. For a year now their kennel training has been the groundwork for this moment?their first day to hunt a fox. On this final ability depends their future?whether they will be "entered" to stay with the famous pack or will be "drafted" elsewhere. Built and bred into each of these barrel-chested aristocrats loping their way to the hunt is the nose of a bloodhound, the speed of a greyhound and as bloodcurdling a cry as can be heard today.
THE SEVEREST TEST