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Hortus Inclusus - Chapter 18 Post by :indianahoosiers Category :Nonfictions Author :John Ruskin Date :May 2012 Read :1193

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Hortus Inclusus - Chapter 18


Preparations for a Hunt--Ride to Cover--Account of an Insurrection of Peasants--Game breaks Cover--Fred and Harry lose their Way--Chase a Stag--Desperate Encounter with a She-wolf--Harry's Bravery--Saved by Saveleff the Molokani--The Count promises to assist Saveleff--Return to Moscow.

A fine bright morning, which ushered in the day appointed for the hunt, gave promise of much amusement. Breakfast being over at an early hour, the Count and his guests mounted the horses, which were led forth in front of the house by high-booted, long pink-shirted, wide-trousered peasants, looking as unlike English grooms as a polar bear does to an opera-dancer. Cousin Giles was not a bad horseman for a sailor, and the lads were delighted with the steeds provided for them; but Mr Evergreen had great doubts whether he should risk his neck on the back of an animal with which he was unacquainted. The Count, however, assured him that the horse selected for him bore a very good character for quietness, so at last he persuaded himself to mount. People of all ranks came from far and near to join the hunt. They were dressed in all sorts of costumes, partaking much of a military character, and the steeds which they rode were as varied in character as their masters. Some were more like chargers and cart-horses than hunters of the English stamp; the greater number were little Cossack horses not bigger than ponies, with long tails and shaggy coats.

"Don't laugh, my friend," said the Count to Cousin Giles, as five or six tall picqueurs, in splendid green-and-gold liveries, rode forth on the above-described style of little steeds, driving before them a number of dogs of a most mongrel appearance, at whom a pack of aristocratic English hounds would most certainly have turned up their noses. "You see, my predecessor was of the old school, and I do not wish to make any sudden changes in matters of small importance, lest I should be considered to hold his memory in slight esteem. By degrees I hope to make improvements, but sudden changes do not suit this country."

A large number of persons, very picturesque in appearance, had now collected in front of the mansion. The huntsmen blew their horns and cracked their whips, the dogs barked and yelped and gave tongue in a variety of ways, the horses pranced and kicked, the peasants shouted, and the whole party set off towards the spot appointed for the meet. A ride of three or four versts brought them in front of a dilapidated building on the borders of a wood.

"That house was erected as a hunting-box by one of my predecessors many years ago," observed the Count. Many hundreds of people used to assemble here in the olden days, to hunt in a style of magnificence which has now become obsolete. Open house was kept, and all comers were welcome. Intimates of the family, or those of rank, were accommodated inside, some in beds and some on the floor, while others bivouacked outside as best they could under arbours of boughs or beneath the vault of heaven. They used to hunt all day and feast all night for a whole week or longer, without intermission. From the secluded position of the place, it was for many months of the year totally unvisited. There existed at that time three or four landlords, owners of large numbers of serfs, whom they treated with great harshness, if I may not, indeed, say with much barbarity. For long the unhappy people groaned helplessly under their tyranny, which was made yet more severe by the cruel and grasping dispositions of their overseers. The laws existing for the protection of the serfs were in every way evaded, and every kopeck which could be wrung from them was exacted without mercy. A worm will turn on the foot which treads on it. The man who had charge of this house was educated above his fellows. He had read in history of peasants, poor and simple men, revolting against their rulers when tyrannised over to excess, and thought and meditated on what he had read. At length he persuaded himself that he could emancipate his fellow-serfs from tharldom, and enable them to avenge themselves on their tyrants. He opened his plans at first to a few, and by degrees to others. They used to assemble at this house, where there was no fear of their being disturbed. Often they met, and much they planned, till they believed, their plans were ripe for execution. At first they drew up a remonstrance, which in the humblest manner they presented to their masters. It was treated with the bitterest scorn. They resolved on wreaking a dreadful vengeance on their oppressors; they supplied themselves with fire-arms--how procured the authorities could not discover--others armed themselves with scythes, reaping-hooks, hatchets, pikes, and weapons of every description. With these in their hands they rushed through the district, calling their fellow-serfs to arms. The call was answered by many; others hung back, dreading the consequences should the outbreak prove unsuccessful, as the more sagacious knew it must be. Still many hundreds, I might say thousands, rose to wreak a fearful vengeance on the heads of their lords; but they had no one capable of commanding them. They murdered all the inmates of the first house they attacked, and burned it to the ground. They rushed from house to house, burning, murdering, and destroying all that came in their way. For many days they set all authority at defiance, and there appeared no power capable of stemming the torrent of their fury.

"In the meantime, Government, having notice of what was taking place, was sending down troops at once to crush the insurrection. The largest body of the insurgents were met by the troops, and quickly breaking, were driven before them like a flock of sheep, the greater number being slaughtered without mercy; the remainder threw themselves into this house, resolving to defend themselves to the last. It is said they made a brave resistance, but the building was stormed, and not one of its defenders was left alive to tell the tale. The house has ever since remained in ruins, and shunned by all the peasants in the neighbourhood. Several similar outbreaks have occurred at different times among the serfs, with similar consequences. The people of Russia are not fit to govern themselves. They may at some time become so, but at present, were they to attempt it, they would bring certain destruction on themselves and the country at large. I speak to you as a friend, and perhaps in an unpatriotic way tell you of occurrences which ought to be kept secret; but I trust that you have seen many things in Russia to admire, and will not judge us over harshly when you hear of some of our weak points. But, tally ho! The huntsmen's horns give notice that the pack have found some game. It will soon break cover, and then away after it!"

Besides the gaily-coated picqueurs on horseback, a number of peasants habited in the usual pink shirt, wide green breeches, and willow-woven sandals, were engaged with long sticks in beating the bushes and underwood which grew in thick clumps in the forest. The green-and-gold coated huntsmen galloped about outside, sounding their horns, shouting to the peasants, and watching eagerly the movements of the dogs. On a sudden the huntsmen sounded their horns more gaily than before, the people shouted, and a large fox broke from the cover, and darted away along the skirts of the wood. Away went the hounds, and away went the horsemen after him, the Count and his English friends shouting "Tally ho! Tally ho!" in right honest British fashion, while the peasants gave utterance to the wildest cries, which sounded wonderfully strange in the travellers' ears.

It was not very hard riding, although Mr Evergreen seemed to think it so; but as he was mounted on a fast horse, he, in spite of himself, kept well ahead of most of the field. Cousin Giles and the Count rode alongside each other, and the two Markhams kept together.

They had not gone far when another fox showed his nose out of the wood, apparently to learn what was going forward, and a few of the dogs instantly made chase after him, while the huntsmen followed the main body.

"Tally ho!" shouted Fred Markham. "Harry, let us have a hunt of our own. It will be fine fun to bring home a brush which we have got all by ourselves."

"Capital fun," answered Harry; and boy-like, thought less of the consequences, away they galloped after the four or five dogs which had separated themselves from the chase. No one followed. The fox led them directly into the wood. He was a knowing old fellow, and was aware that they would thus have the greatest difficulty in overtaking him. Deeper and deeper they got into the forest, but the dogs had still the scent of the old fox.

"I wish that we could kill a deer now," exclaimed Harry. "That would be something to boast of."

"Or a wolf, rather," cried Fred. "That is nobler game, for he shows more fight."

"Yes, I should like to fall in with a wolf," responded his brother. "But I say, Fred, how are we to kill him if we find him?"

"Knock him on the head with the butt end of our whip! That is what he deserves, at all events."

"Easier said than done," observed Harry. "However, I'll stick by you, don't fear, if we should find one of the rascals. I shall ever hate a wolf after the story we heard the other night."

Thus talking, the lads galloped on. Suddenly a deer started up from an open glade which lay before them. They looked round for the old fox--he was nowhere to be seen, and the dogs appeared to have lost the scent. However, as soon as the deer began to run they followed, evidently not at all particular as to what they had to pursue.

"Rare fun this is," shouted Fred and Harry, as they galloped after the deer. But the dogs, already tired, had not the slightest chance of overtaking the nimble-footed animal, though, had the young hunters been provided with rifles, they could quickly have brought her to the ground.

"Hallo! Where is she?" exclaimed Fred, as the deer darted among a thick clump of trees.

"I am sure I saw her but a moment ago," answered Harry. "Let us get round to the other side of the clump, she will have gone through it."

If she had gone through the clump, she had gone a long way beyond it, for she was nowhere to be seen on the other side. The dogs also were equally at fault, and began to stray about, as if each one was resolved to have a hunt by himself. Where our friends had got to by this time, they could not tell. They proposed returning to the ruined house where the hunt had met, but in what direction to find it was the puzzle.

"This is worse than losing ourselves in the streets of Saint Petersburg," cried Harry, who was in no ways daunted. "The fox and the deer have brought us all this way--I wish we could find a wolf or a bear to show us the road home again."

"Not much chance of that," answered Fred, as they rode on in the direction they fancied would lead them whence they had come. "But, I say, hallo, what is that shaggy-looking brute showing his head out of the hollow stump of that old tree there?" As he spoke, a loud snarling growl saluted their ears.

"A big she-wolf and her cubs," shouted Harry. "Let's knock her over, the brute."

"For mercy's sake, don't attempt anything so rash," cried Fred. "She will prove an ugly customer to deal with, depend on it."

The white, grinning teeth and ferocious aspect of the wolf fully corroborated Fred's assertion. Still the lads did not like to decline the combat, but without fire-arms or spears they were hard pressed to know what to do. They rode round and round the tree at a respectful distance, the wolf following them with her eyes, though she would not leave her cubs either to escape or to attack them. Still the lads, thoughtless of the risk they ran, could not bring themselves to leave the beast alone.

"Hang it, I must give her a lick over the chops, just to remind her that she must not eat up little children in future," cried Harry, riding up towards the beast. The wolf looked at Harry, as much as to say, "You had better not, master, for if you do, I'll give you a taste of my fangs." Harry rode on. The wolf stood up, and advanced a step or two beyond her lair, grinning horribly.

"Stay, stay, Harry!" shouted Fred, dashing on before him. "The wolf will fly at you."

The wolf took the movement as the signal of attack, and with a terrible snarl, which sounded far more ferocious than the bark or growl of a dog, flew at Fred's horse, evidently intending to pull the rider to the ground. Never had Fred been in peril so terrific. A cry of horror escaped him; he could not restrain it, but, speedily recovering his presence of mind, he began to belabour the head of the wolf. Harry, true to his promise, nothing daunted, came to his assistance, but their blows, though given with a hearty good-will, had not the slightest effect on the head of the wolf. On the contrary, they only seemed to increase her fury. She let go, but it was only to spring again with surer aim. The poor horse, torn by her fangs, reared with pain and fright, as the savage brute again sprang towards him. In another moment its fangs would have been fixed in Fred's thigh. Alas! Poor fellow! His life was in dreadful jeopardy.

"Oh! What can I do? What can I do?" cried poor Harry.

The wolf and her cubs seemed to say, "Gallop away while you can, or we will eat you up as well as your brother."

At that critical moment a rifle-shot was heard, and the wolf, with a yelp of pain and rage, let go her hold. Directly afterwards a man was seen, with a rifle in his hand, running through the forest towards them.

"Oh, you are saved!--you are saved, my brother," cried Harry, giving way to his feelings of affection.

"In mercy I am," answered Fred, looking down at the wounded wolf, whom he seemed inclined to strike with his whip.

The stranger shouted to them as he advanced. They could not understand what he said, but they thought it was probably telling them not to meddle with the wolf. As soon as he came up to the spot he drew a long knife from a sheath at his side, and in the most deliberate way, evidently the result of long practice, approaching the brute from behind, plunged it into her neck.

"Bravo! Bravo!" shouted Fred and Harry. "Thanks--thanks! Oh, how we wish we could thank you in your own language."

The stranger looked up with a smile on his countenance, and the lads then recognised him as their new attendant, the Molokani, Steffanoff Saveleff. They put out their hands to shake his. He smiled again, and pointed westward through the forest.

"Oh, but we want the skin of the beast," said Fred; "I'll keep it as a memorial of what you have done for me."

"And we may as well kill the cubs, or they will be growing up, and will soon become as unamiable as their mother," added Harry, pointing to the tree.

Steffanoff understood the action which accompanied the remark, and very soon put an end to the young wolves. Thus, in hunter guise, they took their way through the forest. The lads chatted freely to their guide, and though he could not understand a word they said, he looked up every now and then with one of those pleasant smiles which showed that he would gladly have talked to them if he could. His step was so elastic and rapid, that he kept their horses at a short trot the whole way.

The Count and his friends got home soon after they arrived, and Cousin Giles expressed no small satisfaction at seeing them. This was very much increased when he heard the risk they had run; and Steffanoff came in most deservedly for his share of praise for the way in which he had rescued the lads.

"Tell him," said Cousin Giles to Mr Allwick, "that I was inclined to serve him before, but that now I am doubly anxious to be of use to him. Had any accident happened to the two lads, I should never have forgiven myself."

Cousin Giles being certain that he could depend on the Count, gave him a sketch of Saveleff's life, for the purpose of gaining his advice and assistance.

The Count shook his head. "I am afraid that he has very little chance of success," said he; "still I will gladly assist and protect him to the utmost of my power."

When Saveleff heard, through Mr Allwick, the promise which had been made him, he also shook his head. "I am deeply grateful to the Count," said he; "but I have no faith in what my countrymen can do for me."

A few days after this occurrence the whole party set off for Moscow, to be present at the coronation of the Emperor.

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