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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPomona's Travels - Letter Number Twelve
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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Twelve Post by :best4you Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :1166

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Pomona's Travels - Letter Number Twelve

CHEDCOMBE

As I said in my last letter, we started out for Chedcombe, not abreast, as we had been before, but strung along the road, and me and Mr. Poplington pretty doleful, being disappointed and not wanting to talk. But as for Jone, he seemed livelier than ever, and whistled a lot of tunes he didn't know. I think it always makes him lively to get rid of seeing sights. The sun was shining brightly, and there was no reason to expect rain for two or three hours anyway, and the country we passed through was so fine, with hardly any houses, and with great hills and woods, and sometimes valleys far below the road, with streams rushing and bubbling, that after a while I began to feel better, and I pricked up my tricycle, and, of course, being followed by Jone, we left Mr. Poplington, whose melancholy seemed to have gotten into his legs, a good way behind.

We must have travelled two or three hours when all of a sudden I heard a noise afar, and I drew up and listened. The noise was the barking of dogs, and it seemed to come from a piece of woods on the other side of the field which lay to the right of the road. The next instant something shot out from under the trees and began going over the field in ten-foot hops. I sat staring without understanding, but when I saw a lot of brown and white spots bounce out of the wood, and saw, a long way back in the open field, two red-coated men on horseback, the truth flashed upon me that this was the hunt. The creature in front was the stag, who had chosen to come this way, and the dogs and the horses was after him, and I was here to see it all.

Almost before I got this all straight in my mind the deer was nearly opposite me on the other side of the field, going the same way that we were. In a second I clapped spurs into my tricycle and was off. In front of me was a long stretch of down grade, and over this I went as fast as I could work my pedals; no brakes or holding back for me. My blood was up, for I was actually in a deer hunt, and to my amazement and wild delight I found I was keeping up with the deer. I was going faster than the men on horseback.

"Hi! Hi!" I shouted, and down I went with one eye on the deer and the other on the road, every atom of my body tingling with fiery excitement. When I began to go up the little slope ahead I heard Jone puffing behind me.

"You will break your neck," he shouted, "if you go down hill that way," and getting close up to me he fastened his cord to my tricycle. But I paid no attention to him or his advice.

"The stag! The stag!" I cried. "As long as he keeps near the road we can follow him! Hi!" And having got up to the top of the next hill I made ready to go down as fast as I had gone before, for we had fallen back a little, and the stag was now getting ahead of us; but it made me gnash my teeth to find that I could not go fast, for Jone held back with all his force (and both feet on the ground, I expect), and I could not get on at all.

"Let go of me," I cried, "we shall lose the stag. Stop holding back." But it wasn't any use; Jone's heels must have been nearly rubbed off, but he held back like a good fellow, and I seemed to be moving along no faster than a worm. I could not stand this; my blood boiled and bubbled; the deer was getting away from me; and if it had been Porlock Hill in front of me I would have dashed on, not caring whether the road was steep or level.

A thought flashed across my mind, and I clapped my hand into my pocket and jerked out a pair of scissors. In an instant I was free. The world and the stag was before me, and I was flying along with a tornado-like swiftness that soon brought me abreast of the deer. This perfectly splendid, bounding creature was not far away from me on the other side of the hedge, and as the field was higher than the road I could see him perfectly. His legs worked so regular and springy, except when he came to a cross hedge, which he went over with a single clip, and came down like India rubber on the other side, that one might have thought he was measuring the grass, and keeping an account of his jumps in his head.

(Illustration: "In an instant I was free.")

For one instant I looked around for the hounds, and I saw there was not more than half a dozen following him, and I could only see the two hunters I had seen before, and these was still a good way back. As for Jone, I couldn't hear him at all, and he must have been left far behind. There was still the woods on the other side, and the deer seemed to run to keep away from that and to cross the road, and he came nearer and nearer until I fancied he kept an eye on me as if he was wondering if I was of any consequence, and if I could hinder him from crossing the road and getting away into the valley below where there was a regular wilderness of woods and underbrush.

If he does that, I thought, he will be gone in a minute and I shall lose him, and the hunt will be over. And for fear he would make for the hedge and jump over it, not minding me, I jerked out my handkerchief and shook it at him. You can't imagine how this frightened him. He turned sharp to the right, dashed up the hill, cleared a hedge and was gone. I gave a gasp and a scream as I saw him disappear. I believe I cried, but I didn't stop, and glad I was that I didn't; for in less than a minute I had come to a cross lane which led in the very direction the deer had taken. I turned into this lane and went on as fast as I could, and I soon found that it led through a thick wood. Down in the hollow, which I could not see into, I heard a barking and shouting, and I kept on just as fast as I could make that tricycle go. Where the lane led to, or what I should ever come to, I didn't think about. I was hunting a stag, and all I cared for was to feel my tricycle bounding beneath me.

I may have gone a half a mile or two miles--I have not an idea how far it was--when suddenly I came to a place where there was green grass and rocks in an opening in the woods, and what a sight I saw! There was that beautiful, grand, red deer half down on his knees and perfectly quiet, and there was one of the men in red coats coming toward him with a great knife in his hand, and a little farther back was three or four dogs with another man, still on horseback, whipping them to keep them back, though they seemed willing enough to lie there with their tongues out, panting. As the man with the knife came up to the deer, the poor creature raised its eyes to him, and didn't seem to mind whether he came or not. It was trembling all over and fairly tired to death. When the man got near enough he took hold of one of the deer's horns and lifted up the hand with the knife in it, but he didn't bring it down on that deer's throat, I can tell you, madam, for I was there and had him by the arm.

He turned on me as if he had been struck by lightning.

"What do you mean?" he shouted. "Let go my arm."

"Don't you touch that deer," said I--my voice was so husky I could hardly speak--"don't you see it's surrendered? Can you have the heart to cut that beautiful throat when he is pleading for mercy?" The man's eyes looked as if they would burst out of his head. He gave me a pull and a push as if he would stick the knife into me, and he actually swore at me, but I didn't mind that.

(Illustration: "IF YOU WAS A MAN I'D BREAK YOUR HEAD")

"You have got that poor creature now," said I, "and that's enough. Keep it and tame it and bring it up with your children." I didn't have time to say anything more, and he didn't have time to answer, for two of the dogs who had got a little of their wind back sprang up and made a jump at the stag; and he, having got a little of his wind back, jerked his horn out of the hand of the man, and giving a sort of side spring backward among the bushes and rocks, away he went, the dogs after him.

The man with the knife rushed out into the lane, and so did I, and so did the man on horseback, almost on top of me. On the other side of the lane was a little gorge with rocks and trees and water at the bottom of it, and I was just in time to see the stag spring over the lane and drop out of sight among the rocks and the moss and the vines.

The man stood and swore at me regardless of my sex, so violent was his rage.

"If you was a man I'd break your head," he yelled.

"I'm glad I'm not," said I, "for I wouldn't want my head broken. But what troubles me is, that I'm afraid that deer has broken his legs or hurt himself some way, for I never saw anything drop on rocks in such a reckless manner, and the poor thing so tired."

The man swore again, and said something about wishing somebody else's legs had been broken; and then he shouted to the man on horseback to call off the dogs, which was of no use, for he was doing it already. Then he turned on me again.

"You are an American," he shouted. "I might have known that. No English woman would ever have done such a beastly thing as that."

"You're mistaken there," I said; "there isn't a true English woman that lives who would not have done the same thing. Your mother--"

"Confound my mother!" yelled the man.

"All right," said I; "that's all in your family and none of my business." Then he went off raging to where he had left his horse by a gatepost.

The other man, who was a good deal younger and more friendly, came up to me and said he wouldn't like to be in my boots, for I had spoiled a pretty piece of sport; and then he went on and told me that it had been a bad hunt, for instead of starting only one stag, three or four of them had been started, and they had had a bad time, for the hounds and the hunters had been mixed up in a nasty way. And at last, when the master of the hounds and most every one else had gone off over Dunkery Hill, and he didn't know whether they was after two stags or one, he and his mate, who was both whippers-in, had gone to turn part of the pack that had broken away, and had found that these dogs was after another stag, and so before they knew it they was in a hunt of their own, and they would have killed that stag if it had not been for me; and he said it was hard on his mate, for he knew he had it in mind that he was going to kill the only stag of the day.

He went on to say, that as for himself he wasn't so sorry, for this was Sir Skiddery Henchball's land, and when a stag was killed it belonged to the man whose land it died on. He told me that the master of the hunt gets the head and the antlers, and the huntsman some other part, which I forget, but the owner of the land, no matter whether he's in the hunt or not, gets the body of the stag. "There's a cottage not a mile down this lane," said he, "with its thatch torn off, and my sister and her children live there, and Sir Skiddery turned them out on account of the rent, and so I'm glad the old skinflint didn't get the venison." And then he went off, being called by the other man.

I didn't know what time it was, but it seemed as if it must be getting on into the afternoon; and feeling that my deer hunt was over, I thought I had better lose no time in hunting up Jone, so I followed on after the men and the dogs, who was going to the main road, but keeping a little back of them, though, for I didn't know what the older one might do if he happened to turn and see me.

I was sure that Jone had passed the little lane without seeing it, so I kept on the way we had been going, and got up all the speed I could, though I must say I was dreadfully tired, and even trembling a little, for while I had been stag hunting I was so excited I didn't know how much work I was doing. There was sign-posts enough to tell me the way to Chedcombe, and so I kept straight on, up hill and down hill, until at last I saw a man ahead on a bicycle, which I soon knew to be Mr. Poplington. He was surprised enough at seeing me, and told me my husband had gone ahead. I didn't explain anything, and it wasn't until we got nearly to Chedcombe that we met Jone. He had been to Chedcombe, and was coming back.

Jone is a good fellow, but he's got a will of his own, and he said that this would be the end of my tricycle riding, and that the next time we went out together on wheels he'd drive. I didn't tell him anything about the stag hunt then, for he seemed to be in favor of doing all the talking himself; but after dinner, when we was all settled down quiet and comfortable, I told him and Mr. Poplington the story of the chase, and they both laughed, Mr. Poplington the most.

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