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Chapter 5

A SPORTSMAN AND A SPANIEL


On the day following the events just narrated, a young man about twenty-five years of age arrived in Brunswick by the eleven o'clock train from Berlin. Leaving his luggage, which was labelled "Hanover," in the station, he took a small knapsack on which were strapped a sketch-book and camp-stool, buckled on a cartridge belt, flung a baldric supporting a double-barrelled gun over his shoulder, and completed his toilet with a large grey felt hat. Altogether he appeared a sort of cross between sportsman and tourist. Accompanied by a beautiful jet-black spaniel he left the station and hailed an open carriage, whereupon the dog instantly justified his name of "Frisk" by springing joyously in, and installing himself on the front seat, while his master reclined on the back after the manner of one accustomed to do things comfortably. Courteously addressing the driver in excellent German:

"Coachman," said he, "kindly take me to the best hotel the town affords, or at any rate, to the one which provides the best lunch!"

The coachman nodded as if to say he required no further instructions, and the carriage rattled and bumped over the cobble stones to the Hôtel d'Angleterre. The dog, who had hardly been able to retain his position, instantly sprang out, and showing his relief by active gambols, besought his master to follow. The latter alighted, but left his knapsack and gun in the carriage. Turning to the driver:

"You may wait," he said, "and keep an eye on my things."

Hackney coachmen, all the world over, have a keen eye for good customers. This honest fellow was no exception.

"Excellency may be quite satisfied," he answered with a wink. "I will keep careful guard over them."

The traveller entered the inn, and passing straight through it arrived at a pleasant court shaded by lime-trees. Here he selected a small table with chairs for two, one of which was promptly occupied by Frisk; his master took possession of the other and the two proceeded to lunch. This occupied an hour, and no lady could have received more attention than the young man bestowed on Frisk. The dog ate whatever his master ate, only politely protesting when a hare, accompanied by currant jelly, appeared on the scene, that as a sporting dog he ought not to touch game, and personally had a serious objection to sweets. Meanwhile, the driver remaining on his box refreshed himself with bread, cheese, and a half bottle of wine. Consequently, when master and dog re-occupied the carriage the trio presented an appearance of general satisfaction.

"Where to, Excellency?" enquired the driver, wiping his mouth on his sleeve, with the air of a man ready to drive to the world's end if you wished.

"I don't quite know," was the answer, "it depends a little on you."

"How so?"

"Well, if I find you a good fellow, I might wish to keep you on for some time."

"Oh, a year if you like!

"No, that is too long."

"Well, a month then."

"Neither a year nor a month, but a day or two."

"Oh, that's not enough. I really thought you meant to take me on lease."

"To begin with, what will you charge for going to Hanover?"

"It is six leagues, you know."

"Four and a half, you mean."

"But it is up and down hill the whole way."

"Nonsense! it is as flat as a billiard-table."

"One can't get round you," said the grinning driver.

"In one way you can."

"And which is that?"

"Simply by being honest."

"Ah, indeed! That is a new idea."

"It is one which has not before occurred to you, I think."

"Well, name your own price, then."

"Four florins."

"But you are not counting the drive from the station and the time for lunch."

"You are right, I will allow for that."

"And the pourboire."

"That is as I may choose."

"Agreed. I don't know why, but I trust you."

"Only, if I keep you more than a week it will then be three and a half florins per day, and no pourboire."

"I couldn't agree to that."

"Why not?"

"Because I see no reason for depriving you of the pleasure of doing the handsome thing when I have the misfortune of leaving you."

"The dickens! One would take you for a wit!"

"I've wit enough to look like a fool when I want to."

"Well done! Where do you come from?"

"From Sachsenhausen."

"And where may that be?"

"It is a suburb of Frankfort."

"Ah! yes, it is a Saxon colony from the days of Charlemagne."

"That is so. So you know that, do you?"

"I also know that you are a fine race, something like the Auvergnats of France. We will settle up when we part."

"That's suits me down to the ground."

"What's your name?

"Lenhart."

"Very well, Lenhart, let us get on then."

The carriage started, scattering the usual crowd of idle spectators. A few minutes brought it to the end of the street leading to the open country. The day was magnificent. The trees had just burst into leaf, and earth had assumed a mantle of green, the soft spring breeze seemed laden with the perfume of flowers. Overhead the birds were already seeking food for their little ones, and awakening Nature appeared to listen to their songs. From time to time a lark arose from among the corn, and ascending high in the air seemed as if floating above the summit of a pyramid of song.

Beholding this magnificent country the traveller exclaimed: "But there must be splendid shooting here, is there not?"

"Yes, but it is strictly preserved," replied the coachman.

"So much the better," said our friend, "there will be all the more game."

In fact, before they had gone quite a mile from the town, Frisk, who had given various signs of impatience, sprang out of the carriage, rushed into a field of clover, and pointed.

"Shall I go on or wait," enquired the driver, seeing the young man loading his gun.

"Go on a yard, or two," was the answer. "There, that will do; now, draw up as near to the field as you can."

The carriage, with the sportsman standing up in it, gun in hand, halted within thirty yards of the dog. The driver looked on with all the interest of his class, an interest which is always on the side of the sportsman and hostile to the landlord and the gamekeeper. "That is a clever dog," he remarked. "What is he pointing at?"

"It is a hare."

"How do you know?"

"Had it been a bird he would have wagged his tail. See."

A big leveret showed itself among the clover and fell a victim to the gun. It was promptly brought in by Frisk. Further on a covey of partridges was seen, but the dog was called off, and the young brood left in peace. They were already approaching Hanover when a startled hare was seen some sixty yards from the carriage.

"Ah!" said Lenhart, "this one wisely keeps his distance."

"It does not follow," replied the sportsman.

"You don't expect to hit at that distance, do you?"

"Have you still to learn, my friend, you who profess to be able to shoot, that to a good shot and a good gun distance is of small importance? Now, watch!"

Then, having altered the charges in his gun the young man enquired:

"Do you know all about the manners and customs of hares, Lenhart?"

"Why, yes, I think I know all any one can know who can't speak their language."

"Well, I can tell you this. A startled hare, if not pursued, will run about fifty paces and will then sit down to have a look round and perform his toilet. Look!"

And in fact, the hare, which had run towards the carriage, instead of away from it, suddenly stopped, sat down, and began to wash its face with its forepaws. This predicted toilet cost the poor animal its life. A prompt shot and the hare bounded upwards and fell back dead.

"Beg pardon, Excellency," said Lenhart, "but if we are going to war as it is said we are, on which side will you be?"

"As I am neither Austrian nor Prussian, but happen to be a Frenchman, you will probably find me fighting for France."

"So long as you do not fight for these Prussian beggars I am quite satisfied. If you will fight against them, however—donnerwetter—but I have something to say."

"Well? at is it?"

"I offer you the free use of my carriage to fight from."

"Thanks! my friend, 'tis an offer not to be despised. I always thought that if I had to fight, I should like to make the campaign in a carriage."

"Well, then, here is the very thing you want. I can't tell you how old my horse is, he wasn't young when I bought him ten years ago, but I know if I took him to a Thirty Years' War he would see me through it. As for the carriage, you can see it is as good as new. Those shafts were put on only three years ago, and last year it had new wheels and a new axle, and it is only six months since I provided it with a new body."

"You remind me of an anecdote we have in France," replied the other. "It is that of Simple Simon's knife, which had first a new blade and then a new handle, but was still the same knife."

"Ah, sir," said Lenhart, with the air of a philosopher, "every country has its Simple Simon's knife."

"And also its simpletons, my good friend."

"Well, if you put new barrels on your gun you might give me the old ones. Here comes your dog with the hare," lifting it by the ears. "You can join the other, you fool," he said. "See what comes of too much vanity! Ah, sir! don't fight against the Prussians if you don't want to, but, good heaven, don't fight for them!"

"Oh, as to that you may be quite easy. If I do fight, it will be against them, and perhaps I shall not wait for war to be declared."

"Bravo! Down with the Prussians!" cried Lenhart, touching up his horse with a sharp cut. The animal, as if to justify his praises, and excited by his master's voice and cracking whip, broke into a gallop, bolted through the suburban streets and only stopped at the Hôtel Royal.

Alexandre Dumas pere