Home  »  Guy Mannering, or the Astrologer  »  Chapter XXV

Sir Walter Scott. (1771–1832). Guy Mannering.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Chapter XXV

  • ———Give, ye Britons, then,
  • Your sportive fury, pitiless, to pour
  • Loose on the nightly robber of the fold.
  • Him, from his craggy winding haunts unearthed,
  • Let all the thunder of the chase pursue.
  • THOMSON’S Seasons.

  • BROWN rose early in the morning, and walked out to look at the establishment of his new friend. All was rough and neglected in the neighbourhood of the house;— a paltry garden, no pains taken to make the vicinity dry or comfortable, and a total absence of all those little neatnesses which give the eye so much pleasure in looking at an English farm-house. There were, notwithstanding, evident signs that this arose only from want of taste, or ignorance, not from poverty or the negligence which attends it. On the contrary, a noble cow-house, well filled with good milk-cows, a feeding-house, with ten bullocks of the most approved breed, a stable, with two good teams of horses, the appearance of domestics, active, industrious, and apparently contented with their lot; in a word, an air of liberal though sluttish plenty indicated the wealthy farmer. The situation of the house above the river formed a gentle declivity, which relieved the inhabitants of the nuisances that might otherwise have stagnated around it. At a little distance was the whole band of children, playing and building houses with peats around a huge doddered oak-tree, which was called Charlie’s-Bush, from some tradition respecting an old freebooter who had once inhabited the spot. Between the farmhouse and the hill-pasture was a deep morass, termed in that country a slack: it had once been the defence of a fortalice, of which no vestiges now remained, but which was said to have been inhabited by the same doughty hero we have now alluded to. Brown endeavoured to make acquaintance with the children; but ‘the rogues fled from him like quicksilver,’ though the two eldest stood peeping when they had got to some distance. The traveller then turned his course towards the hill, crossing the foresaid swamp by a range of stepping-stones, neither the broadest nor steadiest that could be imagined. He had not climbed far up the hill when he met a man descending.

    He soon recognized his worthy host, though a maud as it is called, or a grey shepherd’s-plaid, supplied his travelling jockey-coat, and a cap, faced with wild-cat’s fur, more commodiously covered his bandaged head than a hat would have done. As he appeared through the morning mist, Brown, accustomed to judge of men by their thews and sinews, could not help admiring his height, the breadth of his shoulders, and the steady firmness of his step. Dinmont internally paid the same compliment to Brown, whose athletic form he now perused somewhat more at leisure than he had done formerly. After the usual greetings of the morning, the guest inquired whether his host found any inconvenient consequences from the last night’s affray.

    ‘I had maist forgotten’t,’ said the hardy Borderer; ‘but I think this morning, now that I am fresh and sober, if you and I were at the Withershins’ Latch, wi’ ilka ane a gude oak souple in his hand, we wadna turn back, no for half a dizzen o’ yon scaff-raff.’

    ‘But are you prudent, my good sir,’ said Brown, ‘not to take an hour or two’s repose after receiving such severe contusions?’

    ‘Confusions!’ replied the farmer, laughing in derision;—‘Lord, Captain, naething confuses my head.—I ance jumped up and laid the dogs on the fox after I had tumbled from the tap o’ Christenbury Craig, and that might have confused me to purpose. Na—naething confuses me, unless it be a screed o’ drink at an orra time. Besides, I behooved to be round the hirsel this morning, and see how the herds were coming on—they’re apt to be negligent wi’ their footballs, and fairs, and trysts, when ane’s away. And there I met wi’ Tam o’ Todshaw, and a wheen o’ the rest o’ the billies on the waterside; they’re a’ for a foxhunt this morning—ye’ll gang? I’ll gie ye Dumple, and take the brood mare mysell.’

    ‘But I fear I must leave you this morning, Mr. Dinmont,’ replied Brown.

    ‘The fient a bit o’ that,’ exclaimed the Borderer,—‘I’ll no part wi’ ye at ony rate for a fortnight mair.—Na, na; we dinna meet sic friends as you on a Bewcastle moss every night.’

    Brown had not designed his journey should be a speedy one; he therefore readily compounded with this hearty invitation, by agreeing to pass a week at Charlies-hope.

    On their return to the house, where the good-wife presided over an ample breakfast, she heard news of the proposed fox-hunt, not indeed with approbation, but without alarm or surprise. ‘Dand! ye’re the auld man yet; naething will make ye take warning till ye’re brought hame some day wi’ your feet foremost.’

    ‘Tut, lass!’ answered Dandie,’ ‘ye ken yoursell I am never a prin the waur o’ my rambles.’

    So saying, he exhorted Brown to be hasty in dispatching his breakfast, as, ‘the frost having given way, the scent would lie this morning primely.’

    Out they sailed accordingly for Otterscopescaurs, the farmer leading the way. They soon quitted the little valley, and involved themselves among hills as steep as they could be without being precipitous. The sides often presented gullies, down which, in the winter season or after heavy rain, the torrents descended with great fury. Some dappled mists still floated along the peaks of the hills, the remains of the morning clouds, for the frost had broken up with a smart shower. Through these fleecy screens were seen a hundred little temporary streamlets or rills, descending the sides of the mountains like silver threads. By small sheep-tracks along these steeps, over which Dinmont trotted with the most fearless confidence, they at length drew near the scene of sport, and began to see other men, both on horse and foot, making toward the place of rendezvous. Brown was puzzling himself to conceive how a fox-chase could take place among hills where it was barely possible for a pony, accustomed to the ground, to trot along, but where, quitting the track for half a yard’s breadth, the rider might be either bogged, or precipitated down the bank. This wonder was not diminished when he came to the place of action.

    They had gradually ascended very high, and now found themselves on a mountain-ridge overhanging a glen of great depth, but extremely narrow. Here the sportsmen had collected, with an apparatus which would have shocked a member of the Pyschely Hunt; for, the object being the removal of a noxious and destructive animal, as well as the pleasures of the chase, poor Reynard was allowed much less fair play than when pursued in form through an open country. The strength of his habitation, however, and the nature of the ground by which it was surrounded on all sides, supplied what was wanting in the courtesy of his pursuers. The sides of the glen were broken banks of earth, and rocks of rotten stone, which sunk sheer down to the little winding stream below, affording here and there a tuft of scathed brushwood or a patch of furze. Along the edges of this ravine, which as we have said was very narrow, but of profound depth, the hunters on horse and foot ranged themselves; almost every farmer had with him at least a brace of large and fierce greyhounds, of the race of those deer-dogs which were formerly used in that country, but greatly lessened in size from being crossed with the common breed. The huntsman, a sort of provincial officer of the district, who receives a certain supply of meal, and a reward for every fox he destroys, was already at the bottom of the dell, whose echoes thundered to the chiding of two or three brace of foxhounds. Terriers, including the whole generation of Pepper and Mustard, were also in attendance, having been sent forward under the care of a shepherd. Mongrel, whelp, and cur of low degree, filled up the burden of the chorus. The spectators on the brink of the ravine, or glen, held their greyhounds in leash in readiness to slip them at the fox, as soon as the activity of the party below should force him to abandon his cover.

    The scene, though uncouth to the eye of a professed sportsman, had something in it wildly captivating. The shifting figures on the mountain ridge, having the sky for their background, appeared to move in the air. The dogs, impatient of their restraint, and maddened with the baying beneath, sprung here and there, and strained at the slips which prevented them from joining their companions. Looking down the view was equally striking. The thin mists were not totally dispersed in the glen, so that it was often through their gauzy medium that the eye strove to discover the motions of the hunters below. Sometimes a breath of wind made the scene visible, the blue rill glittering as it twined itself through its rude and solitary dell. They then could see the shepherds springing with fearless activity from one dangerous point to another, and cheering the dogs on the scent—the whole so diminished by depth and distance, that they looked like pigmies. Again the mists close over them, and the only signs of their continued exertions are the halloos of the men, and the clamours of the hounds, ascending as it were out of the bowels of the earth. When the fox, thus persecuted from one stronghold to another, was at length obliged to abandon his valley, and to break away for a more distant retreat, those who watched his motions from the top slipped their greyhounds, which, excelling the fox in swiftness, and equalling him in ferocity and spirit, soon brought the plunderer to his life’s end.

    In this way, without any attention to the ordinary rules and decorums of sport, but apparently as much to the gratification both of bipeds and quadrupeds as if all due ritual had been followed, four foxes were killed on this active morning; and even Brown himself, though he had seen the princely sports of India, and ridden a tiger-hunting upon an elephant with the Nabob of Arcot, professed to have received an excellent morning’s amusement. When the sport was given up for the day, most of the sportsmen, according to the established hospitality of the country, went to dine at Charlies-hope.

    During their return homeward, Brown rode for a short time beside the huntsman, and asked him some questions concerning the mode in which he exercised his profession. The man showed an unwillingness to meet his eye, and a disposition to be rid of his company and conversation, for which Brown could not easily account. He was a thin, dark, active fellow, well framed for the hardy profession which he exercised. But his face had not the frankness of the jolly hunter; he was downlooked, embarrassed, and avoided the eyes of those who looked hard at him. After some unimportant observations on the success of the day, Brown gave him a trifling gratuity, and rode on with his landlord. They found the gudewife prepared for their reception; the fold and the poultry-yard furnished the entertainment, and the kind and hearty welcome made amends for all deficiencies in elegance and fashion.