A FEBRUARY FOX HUNT
When the Yeomanry left the hunting field for South Africa, and "registered" horses were commandeered by Government, fox hunting in counties where it is not the main business of life might be supposed to languish. As a matter of fact, it did not; and if the fields were smaller than usual, and a good many familiar faces missing, the master very properly felt that as he had his pack and there were plenty of foxes, he might as well employ the one and hunt the other, and keep up the spirits of the county by good, sound sport and plenty of it. Masters who take this view, and there are very few who do not, are public benefactors and shining examples; for it is not only the men who hunt who benefit vastly by the change and exhilaration which hunting brings in its train. The whole countryside enjoys a wholesome tonic by the frequent visits of the hounds, and the well-equipped company with them. Nothing cheers up the village, or cures the influenza, or brings oblivion of war news, or puts every one into conceit with themselves, so quickly, or leaves such a glow of sound satisfaction behind it. It would be odd if it did not, considering the amount of time, money, and trouble spent before the pack trots up to the green before the old grey church at eleven on a February morning. Wittenham Wood lies on the very edge of the Old Berkshire country, and as the river blocks all one side of it is naturally not one of the favourite meets. But at the time of writing, early in February a meet was duly advertised, and punctually to time the hounds were there. Some people seem to think that modern fox-hunting is not so thorough as it was in the past. We know better, and without imitating Mr. Jack Spraggon, or reminding every one present of that "two thousand five hundred - twenty-five 'undred - pounds a year" which Lord Scamperdale did or did not spend on his pack, are very well aware of what our master and the servants and the hounds had done that morning. The meet is on the edge of his country, sixteen miles from his house, and he has ridden over all the way, rising before the sun has got through more than the outside layer of the mists. There is no special honour and glory awaiting him in return. The cover to be drawn is surrounded for miles by deep and holding land now soaked with rain. A run of any distinction is most improbable. On the other hand, there will be plenty of hunting of a certain kind, and the chance of seeing it, for the wood is overlooked by lofty hills. Therefore, though the meet is small, the neighbourhood as a body expect to see plenty of the hounds, and turn up expectant, the farmers on their cobs, the young ladies on ponies and in dog-carts, and all the village who can be spared for an hour on foot, while the small boys regard each other with rapturous grins, and practise "holloaing" to improve their lung-power when the fox breaks. When the hounds appear - they have come nearly as far from the kennels as the master has from home - they are covered with road mud from foot to head. The gritty splashes have changed all the white and tan to grey, and made the black badger-pied. While some roll on the grass and push themselves along sideways to get clean, and others attempt the impossible task of licking the mud off their legs and feet, the older hounds, who are less self-conscious, poke their heads into the hands and against the chests of their ready-made friends, the village children, who rush in while the master and the field and lookers-on are exchanging courtesies, and embrace all the pack whom they can reach. Meantime the "assets" for the day's sport, the material complement on which this present assembly must rely for its day's hunting, lie in the cover and its contents. A hundred acres of wood, in all stages of growth, from the high thickets which the woodmen were felling yesterday, to the teazle and stump-studded slope which they cut last year, with the deep river below and the swelling hills above, is the cover.