The sun shone brightly where Sheila slept comfortably curled up, her bushy tail cushioning her head. She blinked awake and smiled. The smell of horses and leather drifted on the morning breeze. It was the perfect morning for a chase.
She stretched her forelegs out long in front of her and padded towards the river basin where the water gathered to warm the rocky shallows. Sitting down near the edge the curve of Sheila’s back showed off her reddish gold coat in the extravagant sunlight. As she lapped up the refreshing water Sheila anticipated the chase to come and reminisced about her first time.The first had been a surprise. The horses and men and dogs caught her off guard as they came bounding through bushes and clamoring for prey. The way they pushed past the undergrowth, breaking branches and tearing grass, so loud and nearly desperate alarmed her. She didn’t expect to enjoy it.
Sheila splashed her face and back with water. The water, she knew, would make her coat gleam in the sunlight, an allusive flash in the distance.
The horn was yet unblown. So, having time to waste, Sheila decided to saunter over to the kennels and tease the pack. As she neared the field Sheila could hear the dogs baying at her scent on the breeze.
She had lately become more daring, going so far as to stage an appearance before the fervent hounds to wind them up. Sheila would slink under bushes, an unconsciously coy smile at the corner of her mouth, then confidently dart out and pause in front of the fenced in dogs as if surprised at having happened upon them. Sheila sometimes stared for moment before running, just long enough to let them glimpse her shape. As she dashed back into the undergrowth she hoped they were watching and yearning to follow.
She had to pause. A part of her thought perhaps one of these days a bold hound might leap o’er the enclosure to finally catch her, the elusive fox. Yet none ever did. If one had she wondered; would she be so surprised as to let the hound reach her, or would instinct drive her away?
Today as she edged closer to the kennels a sudden excitement worked its way through her. Sheila found herself bounding forward, heedlessly. She pounced out of the bushes expecting to land in front of the fences with a graceful poof of dust.
But tumbling over her too quick paws she tripped forward, unable to stop herself and landed nose first into the fence links. Stuck struggling against the boundary Sheila’s panicked eyes spun before they met the gaze of a pair of warm brown eyes. They stared, holding the moment like a twanging thread between their noses. The hound barked once, tongue lolling. With a violent twist she slipped free, backing away hesitantly then tumbling backwards. She looked back to see the lucky dog before tripping once more head shaking at her silliness. She took off into the underbrush before his bark could expose her.
She hadn’t expected to feel so rattled by her trip to the kennels. Never before had Sheila fallen so forcefully or so close. Her breathing felt ragged even as she padded away. Those eyes and the bark’s reverberation pounced on her and seemed to ring inside her still. The excitement of her first hunt seemed mute in comparison
Looking back, Sheila could feel excitement bubbling in her stomach once again. The littlest tick of a smile remained at the corner of her mouth as she wandered round the field outside the camp. She swished her tail back and forth, scattering a few soft hairs for the hounds to find her scent.
All that was left to do was wait for the hunt to begin.
Sheila paced, the pads of her paws lightly crackling the bark of a fallen tree. Her ears shot forward, once, twice, at even the slightest distant sounds, hoping to hear the long low call of the hunting horn.
Sheila slipped unexpectedly of the tree trunk nearly stumbling before righting herself. Laughing she ran back towards the smell of horses.
Leaping over the fences, zipping around rocks and branches she provocatively flashed her bushy red tail across the field in front of camp.
Then, sneaking through the grass, head low between her paws, Sheila moved in on them. She peeked up through a bush. Her head popped up swiftly but not before the hound spotted her in the distance.
The baritone of his bark had a soft tonal quality she hadn’t caught before she thought as he turned sharply towards her and had to run for it.
As she ran fox tail spurs whipped behind her, waiting to catch their rough edges in the dogs that would come along after. The grasping barbs could not hold Sheila. She was too slick for them to stick. She gave a little hiccup of excitement.
When she reached half way up the hill Sheila paused. At the base of the hill was the sniffing pack searching her out but confused by the tricky scent she had left as she ran crisscross over the hillside.
But there, just in front, Sheila spotted the golden-brown eyed hound. Sheila held her breath transfixed as he hallooed up at the brown-red spot that he knew was her. Sheila scrambled down from the rock. Not having reached the top of the hill, she realized they were too close. Not wanting the chase to be over so quickly she rushed around the small meadow and finding a pond she waded in. Hopefully the water would confuse and tantalize the hounds by concealing her scent.
Once on the other side of the pond however, Sheila felt herself hanging back. She didn’t want the hound to lose her completely.
It wasn’t long before the pounding of feet, hound and horse, thundered up the hill, warning her of their progress. Still within eyesight, Sheila crouched down, waiting.
There past the fir tree and the little holly bushes sped the light brown and white coat of a young hound. After a quick survey of the area the hound stopped at the edge of the pond.
She remained crouched, barely visible but just as he turned away her tail betrayed an involuntary twitch. The hounds dangling ears responded immediately and lifting up his nose to sniff he saw her. He froze. This time instead of hallooing to the pack he leaped soundlessly before making a triumphant belly-dive to the center of the pond. He was going to catch her, his buoyant paddling seemed to say.
Nearly panicking Sheila’s nerves vibrated with tension. Then a rush of fear swept through her and her wily nature overtook her. Cleverness returning, she swung a left and flew back towards the pond, clearing her scent once more and turning the hound around completely.
Pleased with herself Sheila padded along the soft bank mud until spotting a pile of rocks she found a comfy nook and hid. Not wanting to miss the dog’s confusion turned her face to pond and waited to see the golden eyed hound circle in confusion.
Sheila lay down on her paws looking out for the hound, listening for the snuffle of his keen nose, the thump of his paws pounding across the hard ground or the click of his paws on rock. Imagining how she would surprise him by pouncing out at the last second.
She grew bored, but she waited.
All she could hear was the birds. The wind rustled the fir tree needles, but it was too weak and it left her scent where it was, nestled between the rocks. Still she waited.
Where were the other dogs, she wondered. The horses smell no longer seemed to carry over the wind. She padded out of her safe hiding spot. Sheila looked left then quickly to the right and left again. He was nowhere to be seen. So she padded out into the open and sat down, waiting to be found.
She grew bored, but still she waited.