He dropped more walnuts into his wine, wistfully recalling a mighty hero of Leicestershire fame, that had given him many a magnificent day out, and had been the idol of his stables, till in his twelfth year the noble old sorrel had been killed by a groom’s recklessness; recklessness that met with such chastisement as told how and why the hill-tribes’ sobriquet had been given to the hand that would lie so long in indolent rest, to strike with such fearful force when once raised.
“Well,” he went on once more, “we were all of us scattered; scarcely two kept together anywhere; where the pack was, where the boar was, where the huntsmen were, nobody knew. Now and then I heard the hounds giving tongue at the distance, and I rode after that to the best of my science; and uncommonly bad was the best. That forest work perplexes one, after the grass-country. You can’t view the beauties two minutes together; and as for sinning by overriding ’em, you’re very safe not to do that! At last I heard a crashing sound, loud and furious; I thought they had got him to bay at last. There was a great oak thicket as hard as iron, and as close as a net, between me and the place; the boughs were all twisted together, God knows how, and grew so low down that the naked branches had to be broken though at every step by the horse’s fore hoofs, before he could force a step. We did force it somehow at last, and came into a green, open space, where there were fewer trees, and the moon was shining in; there, without a hound near, true enough was the boar rolling on the ground, and somebody rolling under him. They were locked in so close they looked just like one huge beast, pitching here and there, as you’ve seen the rhinos wallow in Indian jheels. Of course, I leveled my rifle, but I waited to get a clear aim; for which was man and which was boar, the deuce a bit could I tell; just as I had pointed, Beauty’s voice called out to me; ’Keep your fire, Ker! I want to have him myself.’ It was he that was under the brute. Just as he spoke they rolled toward me, the boar foaming and spouting blood, and plunging his tusks into Cecil; he got his right arm out from under the beast, and crushed under there as he was, drew it free, with the knife well gripped; then down he dashed it three times into the veteran’s hide, just beneath the ribs; it was the coup de grace; the boar lay dead, and Beauty lay half dead too; the blood rushing out of him where the tusks had dived. Two minutes, though, and a draught of my brandy brought him all round; and the first words he spoke were, ’Thanks Ker; you did as you would be done by—a shot would have spoilt it all.’ The brute had crossed his path far away from the pack, and he had flung himself out of saddle and had a neck-and-neck struggle. And that night we played baccarat by his bedside to amuse him; and he played just as well as ever. Now this is why I don’t think he’s dead; a fellow who served a wild boar like that won’t have let a train knock him over. And I don’t believe he forged that stiff, though all the evidence says so; Beauty hadn’t a touch of the blackguard in him.”