While out for my morning walk, I broke out of my path in the woods onto the roadside and paused beneath the big oak. I sat down to stretch for a minute in the warm golden sunlight starting to break through the trees. Our winter hadn’t been too brutal, but the weather in recent weeks had enough mood swings and violent highs and lows to make your head spin. But this morning, there seemed to finally be some promise that maybe, just maybe, spring was coming after all.
I stretched my legs across a lush patch of grass, closed my eyes for a moment, and listened to the breeze work its way through the treetops. I could hear a few cars rush along a nearby road and somebody beyond the patch of woods started up a lawnmower. The sunlight warmed me up after my jog in the woods, but the cold breeze still cut through my coat. Recent rains had made the earth springy to the touch and invited me to lie down for a nap, but just as I started to doze off, I was startled by the echo of voices coming from the woods I had just left.
I jumped up, shook the dust off my bright red coat and listened for the voices again. It was just what I thought; the Shakerag hounds were out again!
“Come on Margaret! Last one to the big oak is a cur dog!” I heard a young hound call out.
“I don’t know Magpie,” Margaret seemed hesitant.
“Magpie! Hold up!” Shakerag’s huntsman, John Eaton, hollered to the excited hound.
“Aww man,” Magpie moaned and returned to the pack.
I could start to see the pack heading my direction through the trees and decided to make my move. I gave one last stretch to wake up from my snooze and grinned as I got ready to give them another good game. Those hounds had yet to outwit me and it’s oh so much fun to watch them fall for my endless supply of tricks! They’re smart, spry things, and game for anything, I’ll give them that, but Lord knows they’re still not as smart as I.
I leapt up from the grass and trotted up the shoulder and onto the paved road where I picked up a little lope. The hounds were moving at a pretty leisurely pace, so I decided to take my time just to tease them a little more before taking off full speed ahead. I slowed down and hooked to the right to cross the pavement and head right down the center of Kennel Road. The beautifully shaded road would provide enough coolness to keep my scent around for a while, and the woods on either side were laced with trails of all types for me to give them a good go. This was going to be perfect.
After about a minute of walking down Kennel Road, my paws scraping against the gravel and tossing rocks, I could hear nearly every word the hounds and humans were saying, so I decided I better make my move before they got too much closer. I don’t want to get them excited early on and raise up the old “Tally-ho.” It’s much better to make them work for it for a bit!
I made a sharp turn to my right, ran on for a few yards, and hunkered down in a hollow tree a ways off from the road so I could see whether or not they’d pick it up and work it out. I had my getaway planned; I would wait for them to all honor the line, and then I would lead them on a grand chase through the woods back behind the huntsman’s house, and maybe if I was feeling up to it, I’d really get it going and cross Sam Swindle and head towards the chicken houses.
“So I ran up to him and grabbed the end of the big branch he had and said, ‘Just because you’re bigger than me doesn’t mean you’re the boss! We’re still siblings!’ and he just gave me a big old growl!” Mandolin, a young tricolor, chatted with Munchkin, a more experienced hound, easily spotted by her gleaming black coat.
“Oh no he didn’t!” Munchkin replied.
“He did!” Mandolin exclaimed. “I just don’t know what to do. Marksman’s just gotten bigger than all of us, but we all used to get along!”
“Oh honey, he’s just starting to realize he’s not a pup any more,” added Sailor. “It happens to all of them. Apparently humans are even notorious for the same behavior.”
“Aye, I just give ‘em a good nip in the rump! Shuts ‘em up every time!” the surrounding hounds broke into laughter as an older tricolor named Able jumped into the conversation.
“Wait a second, wait a second! Is that what I think it is?” Mandolin’s brother, Major, paused in his step and took a deep breath. “I think…a…a fox? We get to run a fox today?” I was surprised such a young hound was actually the first one to pick up my line, but good on him.
“Lemme see! Lemme see!” Magpie bounded forward to see what her brother had found.
“Yep, sure is,” confirmed Nipper. “Old Rupert must be nearby somewhere.” How strange…the experienced tricolor took a whiff, and then just continued walking along his way. They were all so relaxed!
That’s when I saw John—on foot. Duh! How could I have forgotten? Closing hunt had already passed; now they were just out for exercise.
“Alright you mangy hounds, move it! I want to see some spring in that step!” shouted Ben, an older, personal dog belonging to John and his wife, Kelly. His tricolor coat made him blend in a bit with the rest of the pack, and he was famous for following the pack on exercise, constantly ordering them about.
“Calm down old Ben, we’re not doing anything wrong!” Temple retorted. “C’mon pups, we leave that line for another day. That tricky Rupert’s just messing with us again.” Disappointed at not getting to go for a run, the “M” puppies continued on their way.
“Ow! Darn sweet gums!” poor old Ben hopped on three legs after stepping on a sweet gum ball.
“Oh not another one Ben!” Kelly said as she brought up the rear of the pack. “Those sweet gums are just nasty, huh?”
“Serves him right,” growled Ranger.
“I heard that!” Ben hollered. “Now get a move on! We’ve still got a good bit of ground to cover! The season may be over for now, but I still want to see you all hustling!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ranger chuckled and moved on as the rest of the pack followed in suit.
“Oh man, smell that?” Kelly stopped for a moment. “Fox! He’s probably sitting out there looking at us right now.”
I snickered as I watched them hook to the left and follow a path into the woods opposite me. I shook my head and trotted back towards my den once I was sure they were gone. I couldn’t believe I had completely forgotten hunt season was over for the year! Oh well. They’ll have to put up with me teasing them for a few months before they’ll be able to chase me again. That’ll just give me more time to practice my slick moves and scout out who’ll be the “hounds-to-watch” in the coming season. They haven’t outsmarted me yet!