“All hunting stories are the same,” said Clovis; “just as all Turf stories are the same, and all—”
“My hunting story isn’t a bit like any you’ve ever
heard,” said the Baroness. “It happened quite a while
ago, when I was about twenty-three. I wasn’t living apart
from my husband then; you see, neither of us could afford to
make the other a separate allowance. In spite of everything
that proverbs may say, poverty keeps together more homes
than it breaks up. But we always hunted with different
- All this has nothing to do with the story.”
“We haven’t arrived at the meet yet. I suppose there was
a meet,” said Clovis.
“Of course there was a meet,” said the Baroness; “all
the usual crowd were there, especially Constance Broddle.
Constance is one of those strapping florid girls that go so
well with autumn scenery or Christmas decorations in church.
`I feel a presentiment that something dreadful is going to
happen,’ she said to me; `am I looking pale?’
“She was looking about as pale as a beetroot that has
suddenly heard bad news.
“ `You’re looking nicer than usual,’ I said, `but that’s
so easy for you.’ Before she had got the right bearings of
this remark we had settled down to business; hounds had
found a fox lying out in some gorse-bushes.”
“I knew it,” said Clovis; “in every fox-hunting story
that I’ve ever heard there’s been a fox and some
“Constance and I were well mounted,” continued the
Baroness serenely, “and we had no difficulty in keeping
ourselves in the first flight, though it was a fairly stiff
- Towards the finish, however, we must have held rather
too independent a line, for we lost the hounds, and found
ourselves plodding aimlessly along miles away from anywhere.
It was fairly exasperating, and my temper was beginning to
let itself go by inches, when on pushing our way through an
accommodating hedge we were gladdened by the sight of hounds
in full cry in a hollow just beneath us.
“ `There they go,’ cried Constance, and then added in a
gasp, ‘In Heaven’s name, what are they hunting?’
“It was certainly no mortal fox. It stood more than
twice as high, had a short, ugly head, and an enormous thick
“ `It’s a hyaena,’ I cried; `it must have escaped from
Lord Pabham’s Park.’
“At that moment the hunted beast turned and faced its
pursuers, and the hounds (there were only about six couple
of them) stood round in a half-circle and looked foolish.
Evidently they had broken away from the rest of the pack on
the trail of this alien scent, and were not quite sure how
to treat their quarry now they had got him.
“The hyaena hailed our approach with unmistakable
relief and demonstrations of friendliness. It had probably
been accustomed to uniform kindness from humans, while its
first experience of a pack of hounds had left a bad
- The hounds looked more than ever embarrassed as
their quarry paraded its sudden intimacy with us, and the
faint toot of a horn in the distance was seized on as a
welcome signal for unobtrusive departure. Constance and I
and the hyaena were left alone in the gathering twilight.
“ `What are we to do?’ asked Constance.
“ `What a person you are for questions,’ I said.
“ `Well, we can’t stay here all night with a hyaena,’
“ `I don’t know what your ideas of comfort are,’ I said;
`but I shouldn’t think of staying here all night even
without a hyaena. My home may be an unhappy one, but at
least it has hot and cold water laid on, and domestic
service, and other conveniences which we shouldn’t find
- We had better make for that ridge of trees to the
right; I imagine the Crowley road is just beyond.’
“We trotted off slowly along a faintly marked cart-track,
with the beast following cheerfully at our heels.
“ `What on earth are we to do with the hyaena?’ came
the inevitable question.
“ `What does one generally do with hyaenas?’ I asked
“ `I’ve never had anything to do with one before,’ said
“ `Well, neither have I. If we even knew its sex we might
give it a name. Perhaps we might call it Esmé. That
would do in either case.
“There was still sufficient daylight for us to
distinguish wayside objects, and our listless spirits gave
an upward perk as we came upon a small half-naked gipsy brat
picking blackberries from a low-growing bush. The sudden
apparition of two horsewomen and a hyaena set it off
crying, and in any case we should scarcely have gleaned any
useful geographical information from that source; but there
was a probability that we might strike a gipsy encampment
somewhere along our route. We rode on hopefully but
uneventfully for another mile or so.
“ `I wonder what the child was doing there,’ said
“ `Picking blackberries. Obviously.’
“ `I don’t like the way it cried,’ pursued Constance;
`somehow its wail keeps ringing in my ears.’
“I did not chide Constance for her morbid fancies; as a
matter of fact the same sensation, of being pursued by a
persistent fretful wail, had been forcing itself on my
rather over-tired nerves. For company’s sake I hulloed to
Esmé, who had lagged somewhat behind. With a few springy
bounds he drew up level, and then shot past us.
“The wailing accompaniment was explained. The gipsy
child was firmly, and I expect painfully, held in his jaws.
“ `Merciful Heaven!’ screamed Constance, `what on earth
shall we do? What are we to do?’
“I am perfectly certain that at the Last Judgment
Constance will ask more questions than any of the examining
“ `Can’t we do something?’ she persisted tearfully, as
Esmé cantered easily along in front of our tired horses.
“Personally I was doing everything that occurred to me at
the moment. I stormed and scolded and coaxed in English and
French and gamekeeper language; I made absurd, ineffectual
cuts in the air with my thongless hunting-crop; I hurled my
sandwich case at the brute; in fact, I really don’t know
what more I could have done. And still we lumbered on
through the deepening dusk, with that dark uncouth shape
lumbering ahead of us, and a drone of lugubrious music
floating in our ears. Suddenly Esmé bounded aside into
some thick bushes, where we could not follow; the wail rose
to a shriek and then stopped altogether. This part of the
story I always hurry over, because it is really rather
- When the beast joined us again, after an absence
of a few minutes, there was an air of patient understanding
about him, as though he knew that he had done something of
which we disapproved, but which he felt to be thoroughly
“ `How can you let that ravening beast trot by your
side?’ asked Constance. She was looking more than ever like
an albino beetroot.
“ `In the first place, I can’t prevent it,’ I said; `and
in the second place, whatever else he may be, I doubt if
he’s ravening at the present moment.’
“Constance shuddered. `Do you think the poor little
thing suffered much?’ came another of her futile questions.
“ `The indications were all that way,’ I said; `on the
other hand, of course, it may have been crying from sheer
- Children sometimes do.’
“It was nearly pitch-dark when we emerged suddenly into
the high road. A flash of lights and the whir of a motor
went past us at the same moment at uncomfortably close
- A thud and a sharp screeching yell followed a
second later. The car drew up, and when I had ridden back
to the spot I found a young man bending over a dark
motionless mass lying by the roadside.
“ `You have killed my Esmé,’ I exclaimed bitterly.
“ `I’m so awfully sorry,’ said the young man; `I keep
dogs myself, so I know what you must feel about it. I’ll do
anything I can in reparation.’
“ `Please bury him at once,’ I said; `that much I think I
may ask of you.
“ `Bring the spade, William,’ he called to the chauffeur.
Evidently hasty roadside interments were contingencies that
had been provided against.
“The digging of a sufficiently large grave took some
little time. `I say, what a magnificent fellow,’ said the
motorist as the corpse was rolled over into the trench.
`I’m afraid he must have been rather a valuable animal.’
“ `He took second in the puppy class at Birmingham last
year,’ I said resolutely.
Constance snorted loudly.
“ `Don’t cry, dear,’ I said brokenly; `it was all over in
a moment. He couldn’t have suffered much.’
“ `Look here,’ said the young fellow desperately, `you
simply must let me do something by way of reparation.’
“I refused sweetly, but as he persisted I let him have my
“Of course, we kept our own counsel as to the earlier
episodes of the evening. Lord Pabham never advertised the
loss of his hyaena; when a strictly fruit-eating animal
strayed from his park a year or two previously he was called
upon to give compensation in eleven cases of sheep-worrying
and practically to re-stock his neighbours’ poultry-yards,
and an escaped hyaena would have mounted up to something
on the scale of a Government grant. The gipsies were
equally unobtrusive over their missing offspring; I don’t
suppose in large encampments they really know to a child or
two how many they’ve got.”
The Baroness paused reflectively, and then continued:
“There was a sequel to the adventure, though. I got
through the post a charming little diamond broach, with the
name Esmé set in a sprig of rosemary. Incidentally, too,
I lost the friendship of Constance Broddle. You see, when I
sold the brooch I quite properly refused to give her any
share of the proceeds. I pointed out that the Esmé part
of the affair was my own invention, and the hyaena part of
it belonged to Lord Pabham, if it really was his hyaena,
of which, of course, I’ve no proof.”