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About the Fox and the Fox-hunters

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The fox at last felt the necessity of a run for his life, for he mounted the bluff, stopped a moment to breathe the fresh air, and chose his course across the country. The dogs had now gathered in a solid group, and were running with the precision of machinery. In a few moments they crossed the old field, and lost themselves in the blue distance. One or two hunters now came to where we were stationed, and suggested that we should cross the course taken by the fox; and with this idea we started off, a fine horseman in the lead. On we dashed, on pleasantly and swiftly, our fair lady companion gracefully flying over the obstructions in the way of her horse’s feet, her face flushed with the excitement of health, and her eyes glowing with unusual beauty and intelligence. It was no trifling matter for me, unaccustomed to such associations and pursuits, to be assured, as we sped along, that we were not to meet with a fox-hunter’s death; for at times we fairly flew through the air; but ahead, calm and joyous, rode our fair companion.

We soon came in hearing distance of the dogs, and reining up, the pack, in full cry, passed a little to the left of our course, and in a moment more they dashed by with lightning speed. As they descended from the high ground to where we had stationed ourselves to see them pass, we looked at them in full front, and their wide-extended mouths, their long pendent tongues, misty breath, and strangely flashing eyes suggested that they had, by the magic of the chase, been changed from their natural character into flaming fiends. Fearful and courageous as they looked, poor Reynard, whose brush was somewhat lowered, seemed more distressed than he really was by contrast.

My fair companion now gave me many hints which were valuable to my inexperience, and with particular animation informed me that “Fanny” and “Rashly” were still in the van, and that she knew they would be first to seize the fox. The struggle that followed was short. The fox once more left the open ground, but the dense forest only served to impede his progress, not to protect him. Our party of observation now galloped toward the point which was destined to witness the termination of the hunt, and ere we reached it Reynard had yielded up his life.

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The dogs and horses, a few moments before so active, were now standing with nostrils widely opened for breath, their sides heaving, and their bodies covered with foam. The hunters, however, were, if possible, gayer than ever, all talking together, and all relating some extraordinary incident connected with the chase. Our fair Diana was gallantly awarded the brush, the end of which she playfully rubbed across the eyes of her favorite steed, and then handed it to a young gallant who had distinguished himself by his fearless riding. A few words of acknowledgment passed, and the two, accompanied by an old servant, bade us adieu and started homeward, leaving the hunters to the enjoyment of the more boisterous humors of the day.

Dinner was finally announced, and reposing Oriental fashion on the soft carpet of grass, or by arranging a first-rate seat with a propped-up saddle, we partook of the various viands, prominent among which were cold chicken and dainty ham sandwiches, most artistically tempered by exquisite claret and sparkling champagne. Commend us, indeed, to a rural feast with the fox-hunters, particularly if we desire a reminiscence from which to date common events of passing life.

From “About the Fox and Fox-Hunters,” which appeared in the November 1861 issue of Harper’s Magazine. The complete essay — along with the magazine’s entire 165-year archive — is available online at harpers.org/fromthearchive.

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