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Reminiscences of the Lews
Chapter XX - My First Wild Boar

WHEN I was a cheery boy of some seventeen or eighteen—and that is a long time ago—I was passing a long vacation in that, alas ! now no longer, most charming of all places, Paris. My old and dear friend, General, afterwards Due, de St. Simon, was ordered into Brittany, to inspect some cavalry regiments. I was wild to go with him, for he was a keen and good sportsman, a fine rider, a good shot, a gallant soldier, and a thorough French gentleman of the old regime. Brittany was then famed for its sports, and I knew how my friend would employ his non-inspecting days. He was willing to take me; but how? was the question. His travelling caleche only held himself and his aide-de-camp, and he laughingly said that the only way would be to ride with his faithful servant and courier, Aimee; but that was too much for me, particularly at that time of the year. This put me upon my mettle, and I swore go I would, if I dropped.

Accordingly, one fine evening in August, 1818, we started. I have lived to see leathers in and out twice. At that time they were just going out, and were worn bright yellow. I had brought a pair with me from Cambridge, and top-boots. I had a good English saddle, but foolishly did not take my English bridle, or rather reins. I had a good pair of spurs, and a French postilion’s whip, out of which, however, I never could extract the true invigorating “clack-clack.” Merrily did we clatter up the Champs Elysees. Every one knew St. Simon, and having lived a good deal as a boy in Paris, I had no small acquaintance, and many were the kindly greetings we had from happy faces that were enjoying the evening air. It was very well for the first twenty-five leagues (and we had eighty-eight to do), as the horses were good, and the French bidet de poste was then, as he still is, very pleasant in his ambling canter. But as you got further, things changed for the worse. There was nothing but the common posters to ride, and my friend Aimee, an old soldier, managed to get the best always. The nags wanted a little hand now, and I felt the want of my English reins. I remember thinking the post-reins iron, not leather, and towards six or seven in the morning it was positive pain to hold them. For all that, during the whole eighty-eight leagues I got but two falls—one as I pulled up on a lovely evening to look at the fair town of Alengon, when my horse gently paid his devotions to mother earth (in admiration of the scene also, I suppose), rising quickly again; the other, in passing through a small town, when my horse blundered on to his head from being driven into the gutter by a market cart. Now, I do not think one could have ridden the same distance on English posters with the same result.

My hands hurt me then a good deal, but that was the only damage I felt; but I cannot say that about ten o’clock in the morning—the last post we were to ride before breakfast—I did not contemplate with some disgust a very sorry-looking, raw-boned stallion that was brought out to me, with heavy shoulders, groggy legs, and unmistakable knees. I could not help uttering my complaints to a merry eyed Norman lass that was standing by, and who turned out to be the postmaster’s daughter. Whether she pitied the horse or me I don’t know, but she told me that if I promised to take great care of him she would lend me an uncommonly nice grey pony, with capital action, who went his two posts rather faster than papa’s usual pace; and then the luxury of the toilet at the end of that post, and after that the delicious dejeuner a lafourchette and a good rest.

I started again as fresh as a fly, forgetting my hands ; and with the exception of the halt for supper, rode merrily through the night. By this time I was up to my friend Aimee, and I managed also in passing through some, town to buy a bridle, a l’Anglaise, with enormous buckles, and though it was not the sort of thing I should have liked to have turned out with his Grace of Beaufort’s hounds at Stanton Park, it was a wonderful relief after the posting bridles. Then I learnt the courier’s trick of getting a good start of the carriage, clattering along two or three posts quick, taking a rest. Reader, if you want to know luxury, ride courier for a night or two, get a good start of an hour of your carriage, and then, when you reach the end of the post, give orders to have your horse all ready to start the moment the carriage comes up, and throw yourself into the masses of straw that fill some of the stalls. If you don’t enjoy that snooze, you have never tasted true rest.

And tlins we cantered on through the second night. I don’t tell you that towards the second morning I should not have enjoyed the carriage more than the saddle; but I had said I would do it, and was determined to stick to it. Besides, it is wonderful how one learns to doze on horseback. The good French breakfast—and such coffee !—set me quite up, and right merrily did I ride into Rennes (our first place of inspection) that afternoon. How I enjoyed my warm bath and bed after that long, hot ride, which still I look back to as one of the pleasantest in my life, save and except a canter to the Rock to meet the dear old Kilkenny hounds in the olden time, when that prince of huntsmen and riders, Johnnie Power, hunted them; and poor Richard Cox, and the two Baileys, and the Stannards, and the Quins, and the Montgomerys, and that hardest of pill-boxes, Dr. O’Reilly, rode to them.

How I found it out I don’t know, but I did that evening—that there was some good shooting in the neighbourhood of Rennes. I knew that everything would be open to the General; but as he must first look after his cavalry, I was determined not to lose a day. The shooting had not been opened by the prefet of the department, I had no joorte d’armes, I had no permission from any one, and I did not know one field from another; but I had my gun and poor Die —old Tom’s ancestress, then about nine or ten months old—and off I started early the next morning, violating every law, human and divine, for it was Sunday. But this, I fear, I calculated on ; for the Breton peasants were then, as they are now, very devout, and were sure to be at church most of the day, and I was more afraid of them than anything else. I cannot say I did much execution; for I could hardly hit a haystack flying. The day was intensely hot. It was nearly Die’s first essay, and though the corn was cut, the buckwheat was not; and into that I dared not (except when the coast was quite clear) intrude, for fear of a drubbing from the peasants, which I should have assuredly got, as 1 deserved. I got three or four partridges, and about as many quails. But, oh, what stubbles ! I have never seen such, before or since. High and dirty! would that the world abounded in such, and that I could live and shoot where the worst farming existed! Towards the afternoon I met a French chasseur, marauding like myself. At first we were inclined to fly each other; but we fraternized, and, thanks to him, I got safe back to Rennes without encountering any gardes champetres or reminiscences of the lews. gendarmes, which otherwise I probably might have done. He had a very decent, queer-looking dog, who trotted not faster than we walked, but with a capital nose, and a dead hand at catching a hare on her form; and we had, during the time I spent at Rennes, some little private poaches of our own on bye-days, when we always got something.

When I got home I caught it from the General for my exploits, but my not returning quite empty-handed mollified him a little; for he was an uncommon poacher himself. Also, he had not much time to scold, as there was a grand dinner and ball at the Prefecture, for which there was barely time to dress. Don’t cry out, gentle reader. This was forty-five years ago, and I was barely eighteen, and dinners and balls on Sundays were then the rule, not the exception, abroad. Moreover, I think the world was not a bit more wicked then than now. As the English friend of the General, I was nearly as much a lion as himself that night. My ride from Paris and shooting exploit of the morning — which every one assured me ought to have sent me to prison— made the good people of Rennes think me madder than Englishmen in general. I could speak French perfectly, and sing and dance

well then: so I sang duets with Madame la Prefete, who screamed most discordantly; danced with the daughters, who were not beauties; and, with the help of the General, so ingratiated myself with the Prefet, that he promised me a porte d'armes, and all his interest in procuring shooting as soon as it was opened, which it was to be in a day or two. I thus soon found myself in clover. I shot where I had leave, and poached where I had none. I missed a great many partridges, red and grey quails, and hares, and snipes; but then I was young, and had time to learn. In the dragoon regiment the General was inspecting there were some very nice young fellows; and between shooting and balls and dinners and plays, merrily went the time.

At last the neck of the inspection was broken, and a grande partie de chasse was arranged to come off in a royal forest some eight or nine leagues from Rennes. We started one fine morning in such a carriage, with four such long-tailed horses, and such a coachman with such a cocked hat, and such a pigtail! I thought I should have choked. We ambled gracefully along, a little slower than we could have walked, and arrived about eleven in the centre of the forest—a place something like the Horse-guards in the Cirencester Woods, only nothing near so fine. Here were assembled a motley crew of chasseurs, dogs, and piqueurs. There was one of the sportsmen particularly attracted my attention, and who attached himself to me at once. He examined all my accoutrements, and found a singular fault with my gun—viz., that the locks were bad, because the cocks did not go far back enough, and consequently had not sufficient play, or force, to strike the hammers hard enough to give good fire. No reasoning I possessed could make my friend understand that the goodness of a lock depended on the proper balancing of the springs. These were flint-and-steel days, remember. But don’t laugh at my friend—whom I shall call Carabine; he was a thorough and enthusiastic sportsman, and such a walker I never saw in my life! I think his legs could not have been flesh and bone and muscles and sinews; they surely were catgut and wire. He seemed hardly to touch the ground. He had walked that morning from Rennes; he walked the forest all day at the heels of the hounds; and what he did shall be seen at its close.

The guns lined one of the alleys down-wind, and the forest, or different quarters of it, were beaten up to them by the hounds and piqueurs. I was committed to Carabine’s care, to be posted in a remote corner, in case anything went back, with directions to move on towards the posted guns as the hunt (as we used to say in Ireland) came on. I trotted at Carabine’s heels till he left me, nearly blown, by a tree, which he charged me not to leave till I heard his double Chouan whistle. Did you ever hear one? The railway is a joke to it. He then plunged into the wood. All was still for a long time. At last I heard the cry of hounds. It approached, and I really thought I was in for a shot; but, whether from over-keenness I showed, or did something I ought not to have done, the hounds turned, and I soon heard an unearthly something, twice repeated, that made me jump, and down my cross-ride I went, best pace, for the great alley, parallel to which, apparently, the hounds were running. As I came in sight of the first gun, I recognised Aimee, who was chasseur as well as courier and valet. I halted, for the hounds, having turned, were running towards us, and I felt sure that the beast afoot, whatever it was, would break between Aimee and myself. Just then, what should spring into the alley—evidently only disturbed, not hunted —but a little, miserable roe-deer calf. Immediately I looked down Aimee’s barrels, loaded, one with, buck-shot, the other with two balls ! Grimaldi never threw a back somersault quicker than I did into the wood, as I felt a most uncomfortable whistling of all sorts of things just over the spot I had so hastily left. Though I heard the hounds coming very close, I did not move for a second or two, expecting Aimee’s second barrel, both of which, however, had gone at once. I jumped up in time, not to see, but to hear, something disappear in the thick wood on the opposite side of the alley, after which I fired. Presently the hounds appeared, and crossed, and, immediately after them, Carabine. I was interrogated, but could give no account of what had passed. It might have been the Wild Huntsman, for aught I know. The rest of the party congregated immediately. Aimee was blown up for firing at the poor little calf, which, of course, he had missed, and nearly bagged me. But, oh, dear ! how they pitched into and laughed at me! Le Anglais! l'Anglais! to have left his place just as the beast was breaking, and not to know even what it was !95 Carabine scowled at me, the General was ashamed of me, the young dragoons chaffed me till I felt inclined to fight them all round.

In jumps Carabine into the wood, and returns at once with the intelligence that the animal is a wolf, that the hounds would follow him all day, or for a month, as they never like running up to one of those animals, who, therefore, never troubles himself with going too fast. But the worst was that our sport was spoilt for the day, as the only chance of recovering the hounds was for Carabine to head them some three leagues off by making a short cut through the forest. Disconsolately, therefore, did we wend our way back to the place where the carriage was to meet us, I with my tail very much between my legs.

We had barely time for a little luncheon, when, just as the horses were putting to, up comes Carabine with the hounds, having recovered them just where he intended to do. Having taken a small glass of brandy and a morsel of bread, he was about to return on foot to Rennes, when I insisted he should have my place in the carriage. I fear there was little real charity in my offer. I wanted to get away from my companions, who were driving me half wild. Not a bit of it. I could not stand the walk, &c., &c. At last he said he would sit on a sort of bar that was at the back of the undercarriage of our conveyance. We declared he would be shaken to death in a quarter of a league, which he would have been. At last he spied my saddle, which Aimee had smuggled into the carriage, thinking he might have to ride in the course of the day. How Carabine managed I don’t know to this day; but he put my saddle on the aforesaid bar, mounted, stuck his feet in the stirrups, and thus rode, as he said, most comfortably into Rennes. There was a dinner with the colonel of the regiment that day, and a ball; but I did not dare face it, and slunk to bed.

Next day, Carabine came to see the General, and, to console me, he said he had arranged an extraordinarily fine jpartie de chasse in another and a better forest, famous for its wild boars, which were reckoned the largest and most savage in Brittany. At first the General threatened to leave me at home, in punishment of my doings the day before, which, on reconsideration, turned out not so bad. On the contrary, up to the somersault, Carabine declared I had displayed a most innate knowledge of the noble science; and, moreover, as but for throwing myself into the wood, Aimee must have bagged me, he was for the future to be left at home, or, at any rate, not trusted with a gun.

At last the day was settled, and came off. We started, in a contrary direction to the day before, to another forest, some of the scenery of which was very beautiful. The ground was wild and undulating, with some very pretty streams running through it. It was a lovely day, and as we were now well into September, the excessive heat of a French August of those days had passed. Carabine still patronized me, and kept me to himself. He placed me by a pollard oak, on a bank that overhung a pretty, wild, rocky stream, where the trout were rising very fast. On the other side of the valley, partly wooded, partly open, through which the stream ran, was hilly ground, covered with brushwood, rock fern, and broom, very fair to look at. I could enjoy the landscape thoroughly, though my thoughts ran much on the boar, which Carabine assured me would be found; that if it was the celebrated, well-known one, he would be sure to run the hill and take the stream ; that I must be sure not to miss him, or, at any rate, not to wound him, as if I did I might as well consider myself dead, as this very animal had killed a piqueur last year, and upset himself, fortunately without any injury. I inquired why I, an unfledged greenhorn, was selected, of all people, to face such a monster, and not the General, who was a real good shot and accustomed to such game. Carabine declared he was bent on giving me a chance of redeeming my character; that there I should stand, and nowhere elseand that if I missed !—he looked unutterable things—and away with him to the piqueurs and the hounds.

And here was I left, an unprotected babe in the woods, a long way from any one, to encounter the furious animal. I loaded my gun carefully, putting two balls, screwed together, in each barrel. I laid my gun against the tree, and sat me down to rest and gaze. After a long time, I heard a distant noise and cries. Gradually the note of hounds came nearer—nearer—nearer, till it seemed to reach the copse-hill before me. Once or twice I caught a glimpse of something coming through it, and at last saw it clearly—a beast of some sort. It broke, and lo ! and behold! it was a kind of a bluish, brownish, slate-coloured animal, decidedly of the pig kind. It was not going very fast; it looked very hot, very fat, very sulky. It wended its way across the flat towards the stream, and, merciful powers! as if it was taking aim at the very tree under which I stood. I was very keen, but I was troubled in my mind. At last my gentleman, as he neared the water, diverged a little, took the stream, which he waded and swam across, giving two or three grunts, as if he found it refreshing. I then saw it was a boar—Meleager’s own Calydonian never looked so savage. I felt his tusks already in my groin. I could have run away, but I didn’t; so I clutched my gun, cocked both barrels, and awaited my foe with grim determination. Then, as he mounted the bank on which I stood, just as he was topping it, and his head and shoulders were over it, I blazed both barrels at once at him, dropped my gun, and hopped like a squirrel into my tree, thinking that, being a boar and not a bear, he could not climb after me.

All was still—as one of the songs of the day said,—

“Every leaf was at rest, and I heard not a sound.”

Thinks I to myself, "If he meant mischief he would have turned by this time". I dropped out of my tree, crept cautiously on, expecting I don’t know what. When, about fifteen yards off, lo ! there lay the beast dead, all but the quivering of the limbs, with a large hole drilled in his body, as the four balls had gone in behind the shoulder and through him.

Don’t think meanly of me, ye glorious Indians! I was but a boy, and never had an opportunity of riding to hog, which even now I would give half a life were it to come over again to do. But I was very proud of my boar.

The hounds, who seemed to have no wish to come very near him, were now reaching the verge of the copse, with Carabine close at them. I caught glimpses of some of the guns moving, and set up the French "who—whoop"—hal-lali! hallali!—if my recollection of their terms of chase be right. The hounds quickened their pace, and with Carabine took the stream gallantly. St. Simon and the rest appeared. I was no longer a muffin, but the slayer of the famed boar of the forest. My luck was envied, my prowess and coolness extolled. I kept my own counsel.

And so fell my first wild boar; and though I have killed others, they never equalled that first.

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