Hunting, and Habits of a Hunting Lady

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VII (10) | Start of Chapter

From this university I went to a hunting-lodge kept by Mr. Wilson, accompanied by the kind teacher, who insisted that a watch-dog, kept by the gentleman for the purpose of guarding the premises, would "ate me" if I went alone. Assuring him that the dogs in Ireland had always treated me with great urbanity, and that I feared no harm, he would not allow it; the "blackguard," he added, "will rend ye;" and he kindly conducted me to the door. The dog growled; speaking kindly to him, he led me through the hall, and when I was seated, doglike, he put his amicable nose upon my lap. The master approvingly said, "That dog, madam, is very cross and even dangerous to any ragged person or beggar that approaches the premises; but when one decently clothed enters, he welcomes them as he has done you." So much for the training of clogs, and their aptness in acquiring the spirit of their masters.

Never before, in Ireland, had so good an opportunity been presented me of becoming acquainted with the trade of a real sportsman, its merits and demerits, as now; and knowing that the occupation had been in the country quite a celebrated one, I hoped here to learn its real advantages.

Mr. Wilson was keeping the lodge for Mr. Vernon, of Clontarf Castle, near Dublin, to hunt and fowl as he best could. "I am dying," he said, "with rheumatic pains, brought on by wading through the bogs in pursuit of the hare and wild fowl." He had a noble company of dogs, terriers and pointers, and was surrounded with all the respectable insignia of a hunter of olden time. "It is a frivolous employment," he observed, "and I have long been sick of gaming." The room was hung round with all sorts of game which is taken by these gentry; and his little daughter of four years of age brought me a book containing pictures of hares, foxes, fowls and dogs, and quite scientifically explained the manner of taking them, the tact of the scenters, and the duty of the pointers, so that I was initiated into the first principles of this fashionable trade; she could read intelligibly, and when I committed an error in the pronunciation or understanding of the maneuvers of leaping ditches and following dogs, she set me right, wondering at my dullness, and sometimes rebuking it. This child had superior talents, and had the mother who cultivated them the spirit of Timothy's mother and grandmother, she might and would be capable of much use in her age. Her father said she had a great taste for the tactics of hunting and fowling, and had acquired her knowledge of reading so young by the fondness of studying the pictures and spelling out the names of the games. Perverted knowledge! and when carried to the extent that some who call themselves ladies in Ireland have done, and practiced with that zest that many have manifested, it becomes a romantic mania, quite in keeping with the mountain squaw of the American forest, whose undaunted prowess and athletic exercises give her a manliness of look and manner which would not disgrace a Spartan.

An opportunity of improving upon the lessons my young teacher had given me, afterward offered itself in the person of a lady, whose talents at this pursuit had been cultivated to a high extent. She would on a cold morning jump upon her favorite hunting-horse, caparisoned in true hunter's style, her ready attendants, hounds, pointers and terriers in advance or pursuit, and gallop at full speed, till some scenter should get upon the track; then hedge and ditch, valley and hill, were scarcely heeded. The sure-footed horse knew his duty, and no circuitous route was taken; if a hedge intervened, it was leaped or broken through; if bog or slough sunk him mid-deep, her cap and feather were soon seen tossing "high and dry" above all mire and danger, pursuing still faster as excitement grew warmer, till the lucky dogs gave signal that the object was secured; then the delight, the ecstasy, of seeing the palpitating victim in its agonies, in the power of her faithful pets; and thus the live-long day the sport continued. At night she returned, with the dogs, game, and companion of her chase, who was sometimes her father, who had delighted from her childhood to cultivate this fondness in his daughter; sometimes it might be a brother, and sometimes a generous party would compose the company. But the coming home, the sit-down for the recital of the pleasures of the day, if the victim were a hare, this was a valuable equivalent; the manner of its flight, its narrow escapes, its terror, was so delightful to witness, when the dogs were close upon it, and then the dying, all would be minutely described, the dogs would be gathered and caressed, each by his pet name. A good dinner around the family table was served to each, and two or three of the largest always slept in a bed with some members of the family. The most exquisite tenderness was manifested lest the dear creatures should suffer cold or hunger. Yet this tender-hearted Miss, who could not suffer an unkind word to fall upon the ear of her favorite pointer, would go into raptures of delight at the agonies of the timid hare. Her features seemed to have acquired a sharpness, her expression a wildness, her skin a brownness, and her whole appearance was like a true hunter, living and enjoying the constant pursuit.

There is a kind of enchantment, a witchery, hung round an open air exercise like this, which the more it is practiced the more it is loved, till all that tends to elevate the mind, and cultivate the best principles of the heart are effaced; and it is quite doubtful whether the subject of this false pursuit can ever become truly and substantially a valuable member of society.