Something Fairly Ludicrous

In the purpling afternoon, every simple bush and each plucked
tree seemed to have its patch of grayish-orange underneath it
like a stain spreading on the snow. Starkey stared at the hills,
wondering if these shadows got their color merely from the
tiredness of his eyes. The sun’s rays did not yet slant although
it was nearly time for the orb to begin its descent; instead, the
light – hidden by a thick cap of clouds — had no determinable
source and revealed the slight houses and farms in a diffuse,
anemic fashion, as if perhaps there sat a camping lantern hidden
somewhere up there, not the star that lights the earth.

Tomorrow morning would see the first fox-and-hound hunt of the
year, the Kentucky snow having been forced by rising temperatures
to retreat from the long hills and main roads, and the
Pritchards’ house had been filling with guests arriving all day.
The fox-and-hound hunt tradition in the neighborhood had
originally been merely a run of hounds, there had been no horses
or actual hunting involved, and had had far more gin than gentry
to it. There was a clutch of gin- and whiskey-drinking,
tobacco-chewing, thin old men in worn clothes who walked out on
the hills nightly, who sat on tree stumps and loosed their dogs
to chase a lone and unlucky fox, while they sat and waited,
listening, all night, letting the dogs run until daybreak before
calling them in. The men could follow the progress of the hounds
by the sound of their barks. They had done this for many years on
the hills, keeping warm with various bottled spirits they shared
around. The pedigrees of the dogs were considerably better than
the men’s. Several, including Starkey and his friend Pryor Harris,
had not worked many days of the week even when they were young
and in their prime. Now most were well past the age of seventy, living
on the edge of poverty, and some quite firmly within it.

It is surprising, if a man has some sort of roof over his head,
how little money is strictly necessary to maintain him, if he
lives far enough away from the city. There are individuals who
need a little food, water and even heat now and then but no new
clothing, no fancy grooming aids beyond a comb, no magazine
subscriptions, no newspaper, no greeting cards, no
address-and-telephone books, no deluxe finepoint pens, no white
goosedown pillows, no designer comforters, no colored bakeware
dishes for the kitchen, no New York art exhibition framed posters
for the walls. The old men who met on the hill to run their dogs
were of this category, and had limited, pared and peeled their
lives down to what they could manage. Certainly none of these men
owned horses and did not know why anyone would try to hunt a fox,
anyway. It had puzzled, then amused them fifteen or twenty years
earlier when some young men, newly moved into the region, eagerly
acquired some of their hounds’ pups and then went and purchased
some overpriced horses as well, and hired a man to work them
together. Now several families, the wealthy Pritchards being one,
carried out the pleasing custom of having large house parties and
the hunt was the feature the parties were built around.

Seale Starkey, the old man who owned Lucy and Splinter, observed
numerous cars going past his place toward the Pritchards.’ He
knew of the fox hunt. He and his nearest neighbor, Pryor Harris,
had anticipated it, but considered Tom Pritchard an idiot for
holding one so early. It was too early spring. The weather was no
good, too cold. The temperature affected the hounds’ ability to
smell, and the amount of water from the recently departed snow
cover that the ground and grass still held, Starkey believed,
made poor conditions for tracking a scent correctly. He stood
inside the wooden gate at the front of his own yard and snorted.
His two dogs meandered about the soggy yard. Soon he turned, went
inside to take a nap. The one dog, Splinter, tried to follow, but
he shut him outside.

Each of these fox hunts was like a debutante ball. Only Pritchard
and a few of his friends had dogs who would be involved. Starkey
used to have more dogs, himself, in his better days. The two
remaining were of even better stock, possibly, than the eight Tom
Pritchard owned, but they were less well fed and in poorer
condition. Lucy, a beautiful long-legged beagle, was five years
old and Starkey made some income by selling her puppies, but
Splinter, a male, was now thirteen and was not even used for
breeding any longer. The dogs slept in his kitchen next to the
stove. One night, stumbling toward his ancient, rusting
refrigerator for some milk for his heartburn, as usual, he woke
both dogs, who lifted their heads simultaneously. Starkey saw
Lucy’s brown eyes and then Splinter’s eyes…and there was a
phosphorescent green flash off the retinas, a result of
thickening of the lenses. The start of cataracts.

He felt a stir of anger at the physical evidence of the dog’s
aging. He had hoped these dogs would be the last he owned. And
he’d somehow hoped they would last as long as he did.

The anger stayed with him, and substituted for other feelings.
Splinter, he noted, did not grow gray at the muzzle as some dogs
did, his eyes did not become rheumy, he did not get arthritis,
and his strength was still fairly good, but his temperament
changed. He became milder, stopped barking suspiciously at noises
outside at night, and he began needing Starkey’s company now as
neither dog had before. They had never been coddled, or even
petted much. Still, one night Splinter crept silently and shyly
into Starkey’s bedroom and slunk under the bed, where he could
sleep to the accompaniment of his master’s loud snores. Starkey
heard the dog enter, but pretended he did not notice. Splinter
began coming in to sleep there every night.

Before dawn, Starkey woke and went to the stove and began cooking
a panful of cornmeal mush. The meal thickened slowly in the
water, and he added dried scraps from the pork bone that had been
his dinner yesterday. A can of cold, hardened white bacon grease
was in the refrigerator, and he stirred a couple of spoonfuls of
this into the mush, then moved it off the flame to cool. This was
the dogs’ breakfast. They sat beside the stove expectantly,
knowing what the result would be if they made noise or attempted
to jump for the bowls too soon. Finally he signaled they could
eat, and they thrust their muzzles into the mush, gulping
hungrily, then licked the bowls clean of drippings. Starkey
started over, cooking the same meal for himself, only boiling the
mush thicker so what he did not eat now would cool into a loaf he
could slice into slabs and fry up later. After eating, he took a
cup of black coffee and stood outside at his gate again to watch
the preparations on the hill almost a quarter-mile east of his
yard, where sleek horses for the hunt and their well-dressed
riders assembled. As the light grew, they increased to about
thirty riders; a couple of men in caps came up, with the dogs on
leads. They were all very English-looking. It was an attractive
picture, and in fact a photographer arrived and began preserving
the moment, possibly for a local magazine.

“Seale,” a voice hailed him. Starkey opened the gatelatch for his
neighbor Pryor Harris, who entered the yard and stood with him.
Harris, a skinny, rather yellow-faced man whose felt hat was
shoved tightly over a nearly bald head, shivered a little. His
red and black plaid jacket was thin, more of a windbreaker than
real coat. The only well covered parts of him were his feet: Some
years back he’d found a pair of Timberline icebreaker boots that
fit him perfectly. They were now turning slightly green from damp
around the eyelets and tongue. The two elderly men regarded the
hill. Harris jerked his head at the assemblage. “Dogs been ready
two hours,” he said. “The people aren’t. They’ll take another
hour snappin pictures.”

“Funny how the horses can wait,” Starkey said. “They’re real
patient, like.”

“Horses don’t care about chasing foxes. The dogs want to,
though.” Harris looked hungrily at Starkey’s steaming cup. “Got
any more coffee, there?”

They went inside the house and Starkey poured him a cup, giving
him a dry roll too which he warmed a little on the burner. Harris
never bought coffee; he never seemed to have sufficient food
either, since he drank quite a bit, and drink was expensive.
Relatively speaking, Starkey was rolling in wealth, since in
addition to his social security payments he got a few dollars
from dog-breeding. He occasionally sipped from Harris’ whiskey,
so he didn’t begrudge Harris breakfast now and then.

Harris left, after a little while, and Starkey saw the hunt
begin; Lucy and Splinter heard the horns and the dogs of the pack
answering, too, from inside the house. They howled. Starkey
opened the door, let them run out into the yard. They could not
jump the fence, however, and Starkey let Lucy out at the gate but
blocked Splinter, throwing his knee up and shoving him back. Lucy
sped off up the hill and toward the woods. He had not permitted
Splinter to run along with the hunts for two years now. Lucy, he
knew, was fast and fresh and could easily blend into the pack
without many people noticing, but Splinter would have trouble
keeping up and might start getting in the way, tripping other
dogs or even a horse. That could cause trouble for him with his
wealthy neighbors. Splinter whined and yipped, jumping up at the
fence while his master stood, unmoved by the dog’s entreaties.
The dog lay down on the rough flagstones of the walk, whining for
a few minutes, then became completely quiet. He sat up. Starkey
was still motionless, but staring thoughtfully at the dog. The
dog became taut with attention, his gaze fixed on Starkey. He
seemed to realize the man was thinking it over. Then the man
raised his arm, and lifted the u-shaped loop that fastened the
gate closed. The dog still did not move; then Starkey kicked the
gate open. Splinter was through it and gone like vanished smoke.

He made for the woods, dragged there primarily by Lucy’s scent;
she had gotten so far ahead the dog did not see any flicker of
her white, red, and brown coat, which today would have been
luminous against the backdrop of the olive-brown of the deadwood
and last year’s brush. It was so early spring the plants and
trees would have to be closely examined to see the new buds.
Leaping over heaps of brittle ferns and shrubs, Splinter followed
the familiar household smell of the other dog, and his spirits
leapt too: so far he merely followed a companion, but the chase
outdoors was sufficiently unfamiliar to wake another excitement
which he could not yet identify. In another few moments he would
connect it to the hunt, however, and the whole carnival wheel of
sensation of the chase would take him by the head and throat, and
almost topple him with ecstasy. The sudden sight of the crowd of
dogs, small moving mounds of gleaming white and brown, pouring
together over the hillside, would have struck a human like the
sight of a herd of buffalo; for the horses following the dogpack
would provide the thunder of something like a stampede. The
baying of the dogs themselves as they ran added a discordant but
penetrating symphony written only for brass. In other years, when
catching up to the pack, Splinter was so excited he leapt into
the pack by leaping fully over the backs of several dogs at a
time. Then he became a piece of the herd too, and it swarmed
where the fox-scent led, but to the human riders coming after it
may have appeared like a mob of long-haired, screaming Bacchae.

Splinter could not seem to catch Lucy, or locate the other
participants of the hunt, which he could occasionally hear rather
clearly. At one turn in the wood, there was a definite
Lucy-trace, which he tore after; then it faded, or at least his
nose couldn’t detect it. Then he caught the sound of the baying
of the hounds, which in the normal course of the hunt would slow
or accelerate according to the pace and the seeming nearness of
the prey. But it wheeled farther away again, and he paused,
unable to triangulate with his hearing in what direction the
sound had now moved. So he trotted along deeper in the trees,
following an easy path, mostly clear, and the ground began
sloping downward gradually until it met a narrow creek. He ran
lightly beside it for a short stretch, then stopped and drank
from it. The water was coppery. There was no movement, no animal
anywhere along the creek bed, so he turned and jumped up the
slope again, and trotted amongst the taller trees here, his ears
lifting again and again, but noticing only his own noises. In
this section the light was dimmer, blocked from reaching the
ground by the denseness of the forest even while the trees
remained denuded. Splinter turned, sniffing as if for more light,
and headed in the direction that seemed to have a stronger
blooming of the light. It led finally out of the woods. The tiny
clearing in which he found himself was grassed with velvety
green, the tiny, new spires of plant that crush terribly easily
underfoot, but feel softest. Minuscule blue and white flowers,
tiny as pinpricks, rested here and there within the grass. On
three sides the land swelled up around like an embrace; it also
cut off much of the wind that blew across the hills and the sound
carried by that wind, so when the six or eight horses thundered
by not fifteen feet from him Splinter was knocked over by the
astonishment of it, not having any warning.

He’d not been in danger of being ridden over; the horses had
passed by on the other side of the tiny green rise that hugged
the clearing. He regained his feet and went after them. The
horses were in good form; they dipped and rose easily, adroitly
with every vagary of the earth, and the athletic riders bent and
swerved as if they were another, articulating piece of the horse.
Black patent leathers flashed in the sun at the boot, cuff, and
hat. Splinter remained on slightly higher terrain so he could
keep them in sight. Their speed increased. Splinter sped up too.

There was sound up ahead. The group of horses emerged from the
valley onto a long meadow edged by the woods on one side.
Splinter ran and caught up with them, but the murderous hooves,
and the unpredictable movements of the horses, who might suddenly
move to left or right, convinced him to give them a wide berth
and keep pace by running closer to the wooded side of the meadow.
The riders had fanned out, expanding as the field allowed. But
then the dogs, which had been audible for several minutes, now
appeared like white and dark specks ahead, and everyone galloped
to get closer, and the dogs seemed to zoom faster as well, the
pitch of their yelps rising too. They were nearing the fox.

Splinter opened his throat and barked, his voice rusty but
loosening. He barked in cadence with the other dogs, and ran. He
turned from the wooded side of the meadow and aimed himself like
a bullet at the end of the group of the dogs, which was just
ahead of the horses and beginning to mix with them, a close,
dangerous situation requiring the utmost agility on the part of
the dogs, to avoid being stepped on, and the greatest steadiness
and skill of the horses, who needed not to panic at the small
creatures rushing around their feet. The odor of the hot horses
flowed up the hill toward Splinter, mingled with the muddy, wet
dogs, the smell of their bodies and their breath; Splinter could
not detect the fox at all but it didn’t matter, since the fever
of the rest was enough and he launched himself forward to become
part of it.

And he tripped. There was a dip in the ground in front of him
because here the stream came out of the woods on his left and
etched the meadow edge before turning aside again for the lower
levels. Looking only far forward, he failed to see it at all.
There was a slight fog all around the perimeter of his vision due
to his aging eyes. His small, neat body shot out for a few feet
over the dip, flung into space for a very minor bit of an
instant, then tumbled and slammed awkwardly into the stream.
Pebbles, water were sent high; the dog’s jaw, chest and one
shoulder took the force of the fall. Bones in the shoulder broke
cleanly and without question; his jaw, too, had hit with a crunch
and his lower mouth moved to one side wrongly. Dogs seldom bite
their tongues, and somehow Splinter’s tongue escaped being bitten
through by the still-sharp teeth that clamped together, only the
side of his mouth had been cut a little so blood made a tiny flow
into the water. The water touched his face without filling his
nostrils. His breath came and went. But the force with which he’d
struck the ground made all sight and sound surge up like water
and submerge him in it, and he slept.

Everything warmed. The air entering his nostrils seemed much
warmer, and soothed the stinging there; the soft relief of the
sun heating his fur, too, relaxed and eased his muscles, which
had been hard strained from running after the horses for so long.
It was unaccustomed exercise for him these days. He opened his
eyes; there was something thick and sticky there and he blinked
it away, then the hot light of the sun blared through, making him
squint, but it felt good. The trees on the left seemed to be
bending over, looking at him. Before he tried to lift his head,
he wondered where the stream was. The left side of his face and
body felt dry and even warm. He stirred his front paws. They
scrabbled a little in sand and dirt. This may have been the
stream bed, but there was so little water it couldn’t reach him.

He was aware of a distant pain, in his back and shoulders, and
instinct informed him it would hamper his getting to his feet, so
he lay still a little longer while the sun warmed and
strengthened the length of him. But dogs cannot wait very long;
he jerked, trying to lift his head and roll to one side, and it
didn’t work. It was confusing. He jerked up again, and the
movement sent such a spear of pain through sinew, meat and bone
in the area of his neck he flopped back and cried one long howl,
a sound of his very unknowing. There was no explanation and no
sense. He lay stunned until the pain subsided. Then he could not
prevent himself trying again to sit up by making the same
movement, a jerk and toss toward the side. The spear went through
once again, and this time seemed to lodge itself in between his
bones and catch there. He was caught half sitting up, and
couldn’t move. He simply lay halfway turned, and panted. Each
breath now pulled that spear back and forth through his chest. He
needed to move again. When he tried, he lost the precarious
balance his foreleg and shoulder had, and he slipped back onto
his side.

Even Splinter’s master had been largely unaware of the extent of
the dog’s failing senses. Now, with one ear against the ground,
the dog became completely disoriented as sound reflected through
the earth to him, and it seemed that all those horses were
running up nearer and nearer, then circling around him and
thundering away. The sound returned again: a wave of hooves, then
they wheeled, and left. The dogs, which preceded each wave,
lifted his heart since a bark, to another dog, is an emotive
noise, but they wheeled with the faithless horses and left too.
Now the whole procession returned, left; and now, another single
traveler running on far lighter feet. He was hearing, finally,
the fox. A stink followed, which may have been only suggested by
his brain, but there it was, a deep, red, rank musk that
electrified him and focused his awareness. He wanted to get it.

To say a dog yearns for something is to pretend he can extend his
mind forward and anticipate something in the future time, to form
an image of the desired thing when it is not present. This is
fairly ludicrous. But to say he yearns toward an end, which is
associated with all his life’s training and rewarding, as well as
the associated instincts born into his particular breed, the
success of his biological form to connect fully with those
instincts, well, then it may not be so very unbelievable to say,
and mean, that this dog did wish for one thing – to chase and see
the end of this fox. It was, after all, the thing he was born
for. What his owner caused him to be born for.

His nose lifted and he waved it very slightly through that smell
that hardened his mind, it was like taking a long good drink when
you must pick up and tramp out into the desert once again; it was
also like the priming of a gun. He was putting the maddening
smell in his own nose.

He lowered his head and twitched all over. His left hip clicked,
as if it had been slightly out of joint, and a brief burn there
told him it was now better. There was still the spear-thing, that
feeling of a spear, stabbing through his chest. But it was now.
Not now or never, only now. He blew dust out of his nose, and
pulled himself to all fours.

It was a complicated movement, and he moved like a suit of armor,
turning here and bending there in completely awkward and
unexpected motion. Every joint screamed and yanked back at him,
refusing to go in the urged direction, and although unbelievably
he got up, he as soon almost went down again. But the dog spread
all four feet wider apart, and he stayed upright, swaying
slightly. But in his fear of pain as much as the pain itself he
made one high howl more like a scraping metal hinge than the
sound of a living animal. The meadow all around him, now that he
could see it, had taken on jewel-like gleams; that fog remained
all around the edge of his sight and did not clear with repeated
blinking so he left it; he must have lain very long since the
ground seemed dry now. He could hear himself breathing. He took a
few steps in one direction, and his gait was satisfactory. No
pain screamed at him just now. He took experimental sniffs in all
directions, trying to catch the horses, the men, the dogs, the
fox. He kept sniffing, and waited. Trotted forward in the
direction he’d last seen the horses go, and stopped to test the
air currents again.

There was a change. Not only the light had changed, which it
definitely had, being now so beautifully bright with sun and
yellow sky casting warm golden gleams on the trees and ground,
but the density of the air had changed. Now all sound seemed to
be surfing through tiny jetstreams of warmer winds and took
longer to bounce, echo, and reach his ears than before, and it
was softened, as it is when partially absorbed by a thick layer
of snow on the ground. There being no snow, it was unaccountable,
and it seemed that good weather made conditions for tracking a
fox less favorable rather than the reverse. The dog began to feel
sluggish, as his senses fought this thicker air, brighter light.
A grayness injected itself into the fogginess of the circle
around his visual field. He flapped his head and shook his ears,
which brought on an incredible ache in his skull. His head hung
lower as he circled the meadow, searching the hunters. And he
heard something. The dogs.

The tiny, faint barking was somewhere long past this edge of the
woods. He loped, following it, and stopped every few dozen yards
or so to listen again and adjust his course. His heart rose. He
had a direction at last. The echoes of the barks had to be
distinguished from the actual barks, and as he ran between the
small hills and rises this caused him to turn and retrace again
and again. As the sound led him away from the hilliness and onto
more level ground it got easier, and now he could hear the horses
too, and even the clash of the riding equipment. He hurried more,
and found his limbs began to lock at the joints sometimes. His
energy was already depleted and he’d been running on inspiration,
and the concentration he had to now exert to force the stiff
knees to propel him on put him at a dead walk; his muzzle was
almost on his chest and he had to look up to see forward. His
head felt as weighty as if it were three heads, and he trod a
sentry duty between this field, this world, and the next. As the
small dog peglegged along, although the sight of some of the
trailing horses and riders came into view, he stayed at the same
slow speed, he could not do more. The pain suddenly increased; a
sickness spread through him and he halted. The sick burned his
throat. He went on.

A hundred yards more and he found he was ahead of much of the
pack, because at that instant the spoor of fox engulfed him and
he trembled all over. He was so close it almost overwhelmed him;
this was what he was made for and it would have been a shame if
he could not endure it. His system seemed to answer the need, and
he began to run. To the east of the field, under the elm trees,
just disappearing now under the bushiness of some ferns at the
base of the trees, was a thin fluffy gray fox with a black-tipped
tail. Splinter was the only other creature in the entire field

He ran for the trees, snuffing the ferns but not stopping there,
dipping his snout into tufts of bracken that sprouted here and
there intermittently in these woods, but the fox was fast. His
feet, which now hurt and felt like he was running on bones, beat
the bare, smooth, hard dirt of the path, then took on the
difficult uncleared ways through the trees. He thought he spied a
flicker of gray tail, and followed. The woods brought up to an
end again, and Splinter, barking as he emerged onto the open
field again, looked around for the surely visible fox, who’d
stick out like a canary in a coal mine here… but it could not be
seen. He circled the field, barking. Nothing.

He was alone in the field, climbing the upswing it made to a
tableland that silhouetted the north end. He ran uphill, barking.
Somehow he was able to keep going as fast as before even though
it was uphill. It was getting easier, in fact. And there, at the
top of the tableland, would be the fox. Where else could it be?
This certainty gelled in his thought, and kept him running. His
legs now lengthened their stride, fully stretching out and
contracting like they ever could, there was a pain in his ribs,
it was true, but his breath came in deep and blew out like it was
the wind itself and blowing him up the hill. The joy of feeling
it seized him, and in the middle of his gallop uphill he turned
in a circle and bounced, a sort of dance done sometimes by
rabbits and birds also, a sort of animal laugh, which would be a
form of worship if they were capable of such a thing; then he
scrambled toward the plateau again. If there was any promise made
to this animal in his life, it was to see the end of the chase.
At the instigation of every fox-hunt he had behaved the same
required way: he chased unstintingly. He had not doubted that he
would see the end, someday; in fact he was incapable of doubting
a thing that he knew, it was a physical knowing, expressed in the
line of his body and shape of his head, his foot, his eye. It
could be ventured that he had tremendous faith, for a dog. If a
human may say to express something he is convinced of, I feel it
in my bones, then it may have been true that Splinter — who
climbed the rise with only a sort of yellow glowing heat in his
head to pull him onward, this sunny thing in the distance —
could have been acting on something more than we generally
attribute to animals. If not, does it matter? Can’t we put aside
deciding this and assume for a moment that there was a promise
made? Then, what of it, if this dog reached the top and there is
nothing there at all? I will be disappointed. By all that is
right there should be a fox; by everything I desire, hope and
live by, there had better be a fox. If God is true, that is. And
what about that? As we get nearer the top with this dog the
stakes get higher, because he is nearly out of strength. What
will happen if there is nothing at the end is a thing that
balances on the tip of a very sharp stick in my hand, and my hand
trembles; because who is it who will accuse God if He lies? Is it
there, on the plateau? Is it there? The very picture dissolves
before us because we cannot look at it. The dog’s vision fades.

Splinter awoke to great, wracking pain, and what was worse, to
the fact that he had not moved anywhere at all since he fell. He
still lay sprawled across the stream. The cold, very cold water
seemed to be burning his back and side. The stream-smoothed
pebbles were equally mixed with sharp, broken flakes of rock
underneath him. His jaw was still snapped; the waters of the
stream flowed into the bottom of his mouth, so chilling that it
mostly anesthetized it and he did not try to close his jaw.
Several ribs were crushed, and his shoulder and leg were
fractured. He had not gotten up from this streambed this day, or
run after a pack of dogs and horses, or chased a fox up a hill.
He had merely dreamed. He lay still and blinked his eyes. One eye
was in the water.

No alarm or other reaction took hold of him, he only drifted. The
pain was so extreme he could not tighten against it, so his
muscles remained relaxed. It located inside him like an old woe
and if he had had breath to howl or whimper, would have. The
breath of the woods, marshy and cool, wafted to him, and he
noticed dimly the smell of other animals mixed in it, without
emotion. They grew stronger, and the sound of three riders,
following the lead dogs still, pounded by at a short distance.
Then it grew faint.

But in about fifteen minutes, the fox had made a complete circuit
and was returning.

Splinter heard it coming closer, this small, panting fox who’d
kept ahead of a crowd of creatures for a good part of the day. A
single dog he heard, too, after it: the fox led it zigzagging
across and across the meadow, which showed it was at the end of
its resources. It had no place close enough to get to ground in
this area. It had grown too tired, and therefore foolish. So it
tried pitting its agility against the dog’s. Splinter listened as
the dog came nearer. This was the dog who deserved to get to the
end of a fox chase. His voice was clearer than all the others; he
invariably led the rest, he always forgot his own exhaustion for
as long as the chase took, then afterwards might drop like a
stone. Splinter’s hearing became the one sense in which all his
being was located, and he listened as the fox feinted, the dog
darted across instead of following that feint, and the dog jumped
and thumped on the prey, flipping over and rolling on the ground,
the fox’s neck in his teeth. Splinter listened to the end, then
blinked, and the water was leaking into his throat, drowning him,
since he was unable to cough. It is astonishing he was still
alive to that point.

At the very end, Lucy — who had joined the hunt early and merged
invisibly with the Pritchard dogs – was seen to run off
immediately once the humans began to handle the fox. She sped up
the field, and Starkey, who had wandered outside often that
afternoon, saw her and opened the fence and peered up the hill
for his other dog. It did not come, so he went inside to brew
some coffee while he waited.  The hunt ended not fifty yards from
the spot where Splinter lay, but the blood of the fox and its
meaty, rich, winning odor could not affect him. After the lively
horsemen and horsewomen had congratulated one another on the
catch, the exertion, and the experience, other friends from the
Pritchard house found their way out to them and found the body of
the dog in the stream. They went away quickly, some from the
house resolving to take care of the matter shortly so it would
not attract unwanted animals. They liked it much less than the
body of the fox. Finally all the adults had entered the house and
some went to bathe and change, while others gathered downstairs
for the party. Outside, some neighborhood people had drifted over
in curiosity, if only to admire the horses which were usually not
all out in the yards at the same time. A well-dressed boy of
about eighteen and a girl around the same age stood among them,
unwilling to go inside and subject themselves to the adults yet.

The two young people stood near the stream. The teenage boy
watched the girl cautiously, practicing gestures and words to
say, in his head. He liked her but out of the numerous pretty
girls there he could not have said why; she seemed overly proud
and liable to be offended by anything said to her.

“Disgusting,” said the girl, whose name was Fiona. She was a
friend of Susan Pritchard, the niece of Tom Pritchard. Her lips
pulled up in a tight expression of distaste, and as long as she
could see the dog’s body she couldn’t get rid of the expression.
It didn’t make her feel sick to her stomach, exactly, but it was
like tasting something terribly bitter, she thought; your mouth
screws up and you can’t help it.

The boy, Darryl Pritchard, son of the grand house, smiled
ruefully. “Yeah… It must have run in from somewhere. There’s
always a couple of stray dogs that join in somehow.”

“A stray? It looks like one of your dad’s pack.”

“It’s the same breed. Lots and lots of people living around here
have the same kind of dog, I guess they were just popular here,”
the boy explained, not recognizing the very progenitor of some of
his own family’s dogs. “Then these dogs hear the others barking,
and the horns and the chase, and they get excited and run right
in too. This one must have had an accident, maybe even got
trampled by a horse.”

Fiona, who had managed to wrench her eyes away from the dog and
was looking upstream, wondered — but did not ask — why the
riders might have ignored someone’s dog they’d trampled, let it
lie there and die. Maybe because it wasn’t a dog of the right
class, she thought wryly. Her own class was deeply in question,
she believed. She had just recently been informed that she could
not join the riding school her friend Susan attended; her parents
regretfully said they had no funds to spare for this. Their star
apparently was fading fast. How important does a dog have to be?
she wondered. Aloud she said, with enough anger that Darryl
looked at her in surprise, “Well, it’s all very sad, I must say.”

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  1. I think it was William Saroyan who started out using only animals as characters. He was advised not to if he wanted to be published.

    1. Hey, I don’t need to use animals to get rejected by publishers; they reject me for everything else I do already. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment!

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