"No, sir. And he won't take it, not today. He was on the runway, all right; but the crows mobbed him, and he turned back into the pines where they can't see him. The hounds must have jumped him in— —"
"I know where they jumped him, for I was there," blustered the Squire. "In the Moses Blackington woods, on the Watery Hill road. Where is he now?"
"He's heading for the bar crossing, this side the Tucker farm. But he'll go 'way round the pond before he shows himself in the open again. The hounds are hot on his trail. That dog Trump you bought from Wally Franklin is in the lead. The others are alone behind and bunched. Hark to 'em, Squire. They're running with heads up, whooping glory hallelujah."
Over the Squire's face, reddened by pelting full tilt into a cold wind, swept a change, a softening, a look of vast surprise tinged with wonder, "Praise the Lord for a coming fox hunter," he breathed. "Jump in here, boy, quick. Never mind the tilts. I'll buy you a barrelful if you show me that crossing before the fox gets to it."
In a half minute I was beside him and we were flying down the pike. Hoof-driven clods of snow whizzed by our heads like flushed quail. Around a corner we slowed on one runner, and charged up a mile-long road at a hard gallop. All the while, an hour it seemed, the clamor of hounds drew nearer, grew louder, until even the Squire could hear it. "Pull up, pull up," I yelled in his ear. "There's the crossing, just ahead."
WHUMP WENT THE GUN
While the Squire was getting his gouty foot from under the buffalo robe and reaching for his gun at the same time, I had a blanket on the steaming horse and was holding him by the bridle with plenty of trouble on my hand. Any horse, even an old plug, gets excited by the hunt and wants to join the clamoring hounds. This blooded brute was on fire, jerking at the bridle, until suddenly he stood as if carved from stone, head high, ears cocked, eyes lit by an inner flame. In a pasture lot to our right a fox had blossomed out on the snow like a gorgeous flower unfolding its petals. On he came at an easy lope, straight through the bar-way into the road. Two jumps would have carried him into the brush on the other side; but he made only one. Whump bellowed the gun, four drams of black powder, and whump the second barrel. Through a cloud of smoke the Squire was hobbling forward, as fast as one good and one gouty foot could carry him, when the enormity of his offense swept over me. Forgetting all respect for age I yelled at his back, "Hey, you, stop it! You're breaking the rules."
Well he knew the unwritten law, that a dead fox must not be touched until the hounds have had their turn, but now had for the moment completely forgotten it. Like a man caught chicken stealing he turned with a grin that seemed to widen from ear to ear. "Thanks, boy, for reminding me," was all he said. At his shot the hounds had instantly ceased to clamor. Leaving the trail they came straight to the kill, every tongue silent. The older hounds thrust a nose into the reek that for hours had held them in a spell as of ecstasy; when the younger had "mussed" or worried or shook the fox, each to his heart's content, they all lay down to roll on their backs in the snow.
And then the old Squire came limping back to hold up for my admiration his first fox of the season—no pale-colored vixen but a big dog fox in the splendor of winter pelage. "Boy, you are now and forever a fox hunter," said the chief of the clan, with solemnity, it seemed to me, as if it were a ritual. At the words "now" and "forever" he tapped my left and right cheek with the fluffy brush of the fox. So in olden times did royalty confer knighthood by the tap of a sword. In the Squire's face, from which age lines had vanished as if by magic, I saw with wonder what could not then be put in words—the eternal boyishness that sportsmen find in their hearts when they drop work and worry to go afield with rod or gun on their precious day off.