The dog-folk are not greatly given to discussion. It was obvious that Desdemona had some purpose earnestly in view. (As a fact, she herself did not as yet know what that purpose was.) And that was enough for Finn. The bloodhound’s pace was slow, and Finn could have kept up this sort of traveling for a dozen hours on end without really exerting himself.
But this was not to be a long trail as the event proved, though it was mostly up-hill. Before a mile and a half had been covered Desdemona began to show excitement and emitted a single deep bay, mellow as the note of an organ. Finn remarked her fine voice with sincere approval. Like all hounds, he detested a sharp, high, or yapping cry. A few seconds later Desdemona came to a standstill beside the stem of a starveling yew-tree, and just below the crest of the Down. Her muzzle was thrust into an opening in the steep side of the Down, over which there hung a thatch of furze. But though her head entered the opening, her shoulders could not pass it and there was wrath and excitement in the belling note she struck as she drew back.
This was Finn’s opportunity and, stepping forward, he attacked the overhanging furze and stony chalky earth with both his powerful fore feet. He had winded now a scent that roused him; and what is more, he remembered precisely what that twangy, acrid scent betokened. The chalky earth flew from under his great paws faster than two men could have shifted it with mattocks; and, as the shelving crust was thin, it took him no more than one or two minutes to make an opening through which even his great bulk could pass with a little stooping.
Another moment and Desdemona had forced her way past Finn, baying hoarsely, and was inside the cave. There followed a yowling, snarling cry, a scuffling sound, and a big red fox emerged, low to the ground like a cat, his brush between his legs, fight in his bared jaws, and flight in his red rolling eyes. But fate had knocked at Reynard’s door, and would not be denied. His running did not carry him far. It is probably somewhat disturbing to be rooted out of one’s own particular sanctuary by a baying bloodhound. But it is worse to find at one’s front door a vision of vengeance and destruction in the shape of a giant Irish wolfhound whose kill one has purloined.
In Finn’s salad days it might have meant a fight. As things were, it was rather an execution; and though the fox died snapping, his neck was broken before he had decided upon his line of action. As Finn flung the furry corpse aside, Desdemona appeared in the mouth of the cave with most of the stolen rabbit between her jaws. It was noteworthy that she gave no heed at all to the fox. Her business as a tracker had been with her mate’s stolen kill. In the absence of Finn, Reynard would have paid no other penalty for his theft than the loss of the rabbit. As it was, the incident cost him his life; and he was a master fox, too, who had ranged that countryside with considerable insolence for some years; a terribly familiar foe in a number of neighboring farm-yards.