The Hare and Many Foes

THE horse, the bull, the sheep, and the calf, as we are told by Gay, in his instructive fable of The Hare and many Friends, all presented the cold shoulder to the poor hare who appealed to them for protection against a pack of hounds that came racing over the fallows upon her highly pungent footprints. They wished her well, each and all of them. Nothing could be more polite than the manner in which they expressed their regard for her ; but as for rendering her any assistance, under the circumstances, none of them was in a position to do it. Each of the beasts had the goodness to refer her to the next one ; meanwhile the hounds “viewed” her, and we are left to infer the tragical result.

The license of the fabulist is, of course, unlimited, else one might find cause to be dissatisfied with Gay for supposing that the hare could have any friends whatever, unless, indeed, when she becomes a domesticated and fireside companion. The life of the hare is one of perpetual worry and vigilance. The hand of every man is against her, the claw of every fierce beast and bird. The jaws of big lizards, the coils of constricting snakes, are ready for her in meadow and morass. She is, indeed, The Hare and many Foes, and as such let us give her some brief, but serious, consideration.

Lately, while inspecting the contents of a print-shop window, I saw a French colored lithograph entitled La Chasse au Lièvre, the stirring incident and energetic action of which presented with considerable vividness the ordinary relations between man and hare. The scene is a pleasant rural one, in such cultivated districts, one might suppose, as may lie in the vicinity of some great city. A hare, followed at a distance by a couple of hounds of some undescribed variety, is flashing along near the foreground, like a brown meteor with a silver tail. From a commanding position near by, a young man of fashionable appearance, in a tight red coat and red hunting-cap, is firing at the hare ; while another gentlemanly chasseur, attired in bright blue, and looking as if he had accidentally fallen out of a fashion-plate, kneels in front of him, ready to open fire upon the game should the other miss his mark. To preclude any possibility of the hare saving herself by stratagem or flight, a lackey, all in red, with an enormous French horn coiled around his body, is running up with some reserve dogs in a leash, ready to be slipped at the game when all other means of bringing it to bay have failed. There are several figures of the agricultural sort in the background of the picture. Most of these are provided with pitchforks or other bucolic implements, so that it is easy to guess at the fate of poor puss should she take refuge among them. What may be lurking for her outside the picture it is, of course, impossible to say; but one can easily imagine several farm-dogs joining in the chase, a gendarme with drawn sabre, a portly priest on horseback with a loaded whip, and a vast number of other figures proper to French rural districts, all in full yell after one small, frightened beast, with long ears, exaggerated hind-legs, no tail to speak of, and an effluvium that guides infallibly on her footsteps all such animals as follow the chase by nose.

“ English hares just received; jugged hare to-day,” is an announcement often to be seen, in winter time, placarded in the windows of certain restaurants in New York, and sometimes, even, inserted by enterprising caterers as an advertisement in the daily papers. Some of these imported creatures are usually hung up by the heels on the door-posts of the tavern, to catch the eyes of the gourmets. Far from their native copses and the gorse-tufted moorlands on which, when leverets, they kicked their little heels in leporine glee, there they hang by the door, dead as the proverbial nails in it, to be gazed at by city men of large alimentary developments, who inspect them with hungry eyes, and even poke them with critical fingers to test their condition. Nearly all of these hares bear marks of wounds and worry upon their fur-clad bodies. Some are lacerated as by the teeth of dogs ; others have evidently been raked with patent wire cartridges projected from what the correspondents of sporting papers call the “deadly tube” ; while on the necks of some of them, evidences are to be seen of the deceptive snares with which lurking poachers entrap these persecuted animals.

Coursing the hare with greyhounds, which is a sport quite different from that of hunting it with harriers, is much practised in England and some other European countries, and is often conducted in a very scientific manner, and according to a code of rules. In some respects it may be compared with racing, as the dogs are pitted against each other for speed. These finely bred dogs are said to be of Asiatic origin, and the original stock from which they are derived is yet maintained in Persia and other countries of the East. I saw, not long since, in a menagerie, a brace of dogs called tiger-hounds from the East Indies, which were very much of the greyhound build, and seemed fitter for the chase of hares than for coping with savage beasts of prey. In England, high-bred greyhounds fetch very large prices ; and their breeding is attended to with as much care as that of high-bred horses. Their training has been reduced to a science, and they take their dailyexercise in body-clothes, just like racers. At the regular coursing meetings, — such as the Ashdown, for instance, — the sport is conducted with great formality and detail. The functionary in charge of the dogs is called a “slipper,” and his duty is to let the dogs loose at the hare, from a leash. These slippers are regular professionals, and their advertisements that they are open for engagements are to be seen in the sporting papers. As carried on in the country at large, by private individuals and small clubs, coursing is a very inexpensive sport. Anybody who can afford to keep a brace of greyhounds, and pay for a game license, can enjoy it. Horses are by no means necessary to this kind of chase, which can be followed on foot, a course generally taking place within a limited area. When the hare-finder announces that he has marked a hare lying in a hedge, or in a furrow of some open field, the person in charge of the dogs — a brace being usually slipped at a time — walks up to the place indicated, the eager hounds straining upon the leash, with their eyes almost starting from the sockets, knowing well that the hare is near by in close ambush, and may start up at any moment. Puss does not generally start until the dogs are close upon her, and I have more than once seen a slipper touch the hare with a stick before she would move. Then she is off like a streak of lightning ; the dogs are slipped, and, bounding with serpentine grace, away they go after her, each doing his best to give her the first turn, these turns being credited to the score of the dogs, respectively. She does not usually run far before she is forced to double, the dogs being often so close upon her as almost to touch her with their noses. Doubling is the hare’s game, for she can turn almost on her own length, while the dogs frequently lose several strides before they can get well round, thus giving her a fresh chance. In this way a course is often decided without leaving the field in which the hare was found. A strong hare, though, with a good start, will make her way straight across country for a considerable distance, taking all the ditches, brooks, and walls in her course in gallant style. On this account, the judge at regular coursing-matches on which money is laid must always be well mounted, so as to keep near the course and watch all its turns and incidents. I have seen a hare pop between the rails of a five-barred gate and then double suddenly back, while the greyhounds went sailing clear over gate, and hare and all dashing furiously on for some distance before they discovered that they had been outwitted. On such occasions as this, — which is called “ unsighting,” or “ blinking,” — the dogs stand still and gaze about them with a very sheepish, puzzled air. Greyhounds have no sense of smell, never putting their noses to the ground to recover the trail of a lost hare. Hence it is that the most destructive offshoot of the breed is that having a cross of the terrier, or other keen-scented dog. It is called a “ lurcher,” and is the favorite companion and aid of English poachers, seldom allowing a hare to escape. There are greyhounds that can run down a hare “ single-handed ” ; but this mode of coursing is not looked upon with much favor, the tact of the dogs in aiding each other to turn the hare being the very essence of the sport. When a greyhound catches a hare, he often pitches it up to a distance of several feet, and will sometimes catch it in his mouth as it comes down again. I have seen a hare so exhausted after a long course as to squat down just as the dogs were upon her, the dogs also dropping from sheer want of wind, and the breath from their nostrils blowing up the fur of poor puss, as she lay panting just at the tips of their sharp noses.

For centuries the greyhound has been an accessory of English fieldsports. In the thirteenth century greyhounds were accepted by King John instead of money, in payment of fines and forfeitures due to the crown, and for renewal of grants. One fine, paid to this monarch in 1203, specifies “five hundred marks, ten horses, and ten leashes of greyhounds.”

Greyhounds are often snappish with strangers, and can be very savage when roused. There is record of one that had killed a hare, and then lay down exhausted. Two men came by and tried to steal the hare, but the dog took it up, and ran until he met his master, at whose feet he laid it. Then he attacked the men with great fury, but was so weak that he fell down, and was recovered only by bleeding and assiduous care.

In the year 1794, at Finchingfield, in Essex, a brace of greyhounds dashed at a hare from opposite directions, ran against one another, and were killed upon the spot.

Near Dover, some time about the beginning of the present century, a greyhound was slipped at a hare having some local celebrity as a good one to run. The hare, being closely pressed, made for the cliff, just on the brink of which she was caught by the dog. Both of them went over, and were dashed to pieces.

Gervase Markham, a quaint old writer about field-sports, gives the following versified description of a perfect greyhound : —

“ If you wish to have a good tike,
Of which there are few like,
He must be headed like a Snake,
Neckt like a Drake,
Backt like a Beame,
Sided like a Breame,
Tailed like a Batt,
And footed like a Cat.”

The wretched, shivering, little fancy dog called an Italian greyhound is but a degenerate offshoot from the original stock, if, indeed, it is to be traced to the genuine greyhound at all. The hare has nothing to fear from this drawing-room pet. A dog of this kind was seen to turn and run from a hare, which was coming along a lane full tilt, and which he took for some ferocious animal bearing down upon him with hostile intent.

Hares are said to give the best runs in the month of March, when they are in first-rate wind and condition. Hence the old saying, “ Mad as a March hare.”

The “pomp and circumstance” of the numerous packs of harriers maintained in the British Islands for the pursuit, exclusively, of hares are only second to those of fox-hunting establishments. That there is a great degree of importance attached to these hunts is evidenced by the fact that, lately, Windsor and its environs were thrown into a state of ferment by the announcement that the Prince of Wales had “intimated his intention of discontinuing to keep the splendid pack of royal harriers which have, for years, afforded sport to the residents and agriculturists of the Windsor district, as well as to the illustrious visitors who have from time to time been the guests of her Majesty at Windsor Castle.” A public meeting was thereupon convened at Windsor, to take steps for continuing the pack of harriers “by hook or by crook.”

Hounds of what kind soever, though, are the least of the foes against which the ever-vigilant hare has to be on her guard. She may blink the greyhounds in the course, may beat the harriers in the long run ; but still she has to scud the gauntlet of the fierce carnivorous creatures that prowl along the hedges or hover overhead.

Mr. Thompson, a keen observer of the habits and actions of wild animals, relates the following incident in the Magazine of Zoölogy and Botany.

“ A golden eagle was seen by Mr. Adams, lately gamekeeper at Glencairn, in pursuit of a hare. The poor animal took refuge under every bush that presented itself, and as often as she did, the eagle approached the bush so near as apparently to beat the top of it with its wings, and thereby forced the hare to leave her place of refuge. In this way she was eventually driven to open ground, which did not long avail, as the eagle soon came up with her and bore her off.”

In Thomas Shadwell’s play of The True Widow, Prigg sings,

“ Then have at the hare,
Let old puss beware,” —

a snatch of song that reminds one how the hare has always been a by-word for something to be tossed and tortured and worried out of shape by all whose path it may happen to cross. The lyrical effusions in celebration of the victories of dogs and horsemen over hares are very numerous. Sweet rural scenes are usually conjured up by the writers of these hunting ditties, but they never seem to give a thought to the protracted agonies of the small, harmless creature by whose wretched fate their theme is inspired. Says one of them, out of a thousand: —

“ Each hill and each valley is lovely to view,
While puss flies the covert, and dogs quick pursue,
Behold where she flies o’er the wide-spreading plain,
While the loud op’ning pack pursues her amain.
“ At length puss is caught, and lies panting for breath,
And the shout of the huntsman’s the signal for dearth;
No joys can delight like the sports of the field,
To hunting, all pleasure and pastime must yield.”

Of all the savage animals that prey upon the hare, none can compare in cruel voracity with the ordinary wildcat of European mountains and forests ; and in this country the lynx is one of the most relentless and sanguinary persecutors of the American hare in all its varieties. In the winter time, when the snow lies heavy in the swamps, bending down the cedar saplings until they look, in the mystic twilight of the morass, like crouching ghosts shrouded in white cerements, the track of the lynx is often to be seen where the snow is beaten by the coming and going of the numerous hares that frequent these gloomy retreats. Oftentimes the hunter comes upon a spot where the trampling in the snow, the blood-marks upon it, and the tufts of clotted fur lying about, indicate that the lynx has been there, and has been glutting himself upon the small venison of the place.

When pressed by hounds, the common European hare will frequently take the water, and swim boldly across rivers of considerable width. More nearly approaching the water rodentia, however, is the marsh-hare found in the maritime districts of the Southern States. This hare is common in the marshy grounds near the “reserves,” or large ponds which, in the Carolinas and elsewhere, are dammed up for the irrigation of the rice-fields. Here they paddle and flounder about in the mud, much after the fashion of muskrats, frequently falling a prey to the large snakes, alligators, and other voracious reptiles with which such localities abound. The marsh-hare is less fleet of foot than most of its congeners. Indeed, it is so unable to save itself by running, that the negroes catch it by setting fire to the weeds, and knocking it on the head when it tries to escape. It has the power of spreading its toes, which are nearly destitute of hair, and this enables it to swim with great facility, so that it may often be seen sporting about in the ponds for recreation, like the beaver or any other water animal. When danger threatens, it eludes pursuit by plunging up to its neck among the water-lilies and rank marsh weeds. Audubon kept one of these hares, which was caught when full grown. It soon became familiar, and would take food from the hand. Succulent vegetables, such as turnip and cabbage leaves, were very acceptable to it, but to these it preferred bread. It used to take frequent baths in water provided for it, and would show great uneasiness when the trough was removed. A species much resembling this one is the swamp-hare, also occurring in the Southern States, and which, when hunted, takes to the water. The footfalls of this kind of hare are very heavy, so that they have often been taken for those of a deer or other large animal.

The hare most frequently to be met with in this country is that called by naturalists the Northern hare, which, like the lepus variabilis, or Alpine hare of Europe, turns white gradually as winter approaches, resuming its brownish-gray coat at the return of spring. Like all the rest of its persecuted family, It has foes innumerable. The jer-falcon, the red-tailed hawk, and other such rapacious pirates of the air, swoop down upon it by day, while at night it is the favorite quarry of the great horned owls and other evil birds of darkness, that sail silently through the witching glades of the swamp on their downy wings. The lynx pounces upon it from its ambush in the low-branched hemlock. By day and by night the wily fox is ever on the watch for it. All the marten-cats are its foes; and even that little, sooty, serpentine water-weasel, the mink, is not wholly clear from the suspicion of proclivity for the blood and vitals of the hare. The habit of drumming upon the ground with its feet—a process by which the common rabbit gives warning to its companions when any sudden alarm has driven it to seek its burrow — is very conspicuous with this hare, whose rubadub can often be heard in the stillness of the woods. There lately appeared in the streets of New York a wandering Italian minstrel, who availed himself of this well-known habit of the hare tribes by affixing to the top of his barrel-organ a sort of drum or tambourine, which was beaten by a stuffed hare, or rabbit, having drumsticks attached to its fore-paws, which were put in motion by an automatic arrangement inside the machine. Among the foes of this and other kinds of hare is the dreaded rattlesnake. Bosc, the traveller, mentions that he took a common American hare from the stomach of a rattlesnake killed by him; and bloated snakes of various other kinds have frequently been killed by hunters, who, on examination, found full-grown hares within them. But man, after all, is the worst foe against which these hares have to pit their accurate senses. During the winter season tons of them are sent up by rail to the great cities, from all quarters. About Christmas-time the beams and door-posts of the city markets are festooned with them. Most of them are caught by netting, and in traps and snares. In Canada, when the snow lies deep on the ground, vast numbers of them are captured by the latter device. In the wooded hills to the north of Quebec, I have often followed paths that grew narrower and narrower as I went on. Little brush fences were built along the sides of these for some distance, and at the end of each of these wedge-shaped decoys a snare was always set, which not unfrequently contained a dead hare.

One of the finest of the leporidæ is the rekalek, or polar hare, which is about twenty-six inches in length, and sometimes weighs as much as eleven or twelve pounds. This hare, which, like the one last mentioned, turns white in winter, is common in the wild, inhospitable ravines of Labrador, finding its subsistence among the mosscovered granite rocks, and in the scrubby thickets of juniper, pine, and poplar that clothe the flanks of the Wotchish Mountains of that region. As this fine hare lies stretched under the lee of some lichen-covered rock, sheltered from the wreaths of driving snow, it is often pounced upon by the golden eagle or the swift jer-falcon, while at night it becomes the prey of the great snowy owl common to these savage wilds. Several years ago the districts lying along the southern bank of the St. Lawrence, far away below Quebec, were visited one hard winter by vast numbers of ptarmigans, or white grouse, supposed to have been driven thither from Labrador by the severity of the season. They were followed by numbers of snowy owls, which not only killed quantities of them, but made great havoc among the hares of the country, which the habitans look upon as their own proper game. The berries of the Alpine arbutus, the bark of dwarf willows, and the various mosses that abound mostly in sterile regions, enable the polar hare to sustain life during the long, dreary winters of Labrador and Newfoundland. Among its other foes is that malignant pest the moose-fly, from which this species of hare is said to suffer greatly during the summer.

At Walla-Walla, in Oregon, the Indians make much sport with the hares proper to that region, especially the species known as Townsend’s Rocky Mountain hare, and a small kind called the wormwood hare. Sometimes crowds of the Indians assemble and beat the thickets in pursuit of these hares, driving them towards spaces enclosed with nets fastened to the ground with stakes, where they are caught and knocked on the head with clubs. They are also killed with bows and arrows. The wormwood hare, on account of the celerity with which it bounds from one bush of wormwood to another, presents a mark very difficult to hit, and the young Indians are very proud of their skill in piercing it with their arrows while it is on the jump.

As a comparison for cowardice, the hare has, from all time, been made use of by the poets. In this way Shakespeare often refers to it. " A very dishonest paltry boy, and more coward than the hare,” says Sir Toby Belch in the play. Again, we have " the fearful, flying hare,” “ coward hares,” and “ hare hearts.” Lepus timidus is the name given by naturalists to the English hare, although the adjective appears to apply equally well to all the known species. Albertus Magnus says of the hare, that, although a timid creature, it has a large heart, but that its blood and heart are both cold, on which account it goes forth to feed at night only. And so Goldsmith illustrates the approach of nightfall with,

“ What time the timid hare limps forth to feed.”

That a hare will sometimes act in self-defence, when its liberty is in danger, or its life, I can aver from experience. When I was a very small boy, an honest fellow presented me with a leveret caught by him while following his legitimate occupation as a hedger and ditcher. Delighted with the soft, big-eyed little creature, I was bearing it in triumph away, when it bit one of my thumbs nearly through, — the diversion thus created being so much more in its favor than in mine that it made its escape into some unexplored jungle of garden vegetables, and got clear away.

As for the flesh of the hare, it has long held a high place among the delicacies prepared by gastronomic artists for the gratification of the human palate. By the ancient Romans it was held in high favor. Horace makes frequent mention of it. He knew the best bits of a bare as well, as ever did Brillat-Savarin, or Soyer of the magic soup-ladle, or Blot of the knife-andfork crusade against the barbarism of pork-and-beans. Describing the menu of a niggardly Roman snob, he tells us, among other things, of hares’ shoulders, which are tough, served up without the loins, which are tender :

“ Et leporum avulsos, ut multo suavius, armos,
Quam si cum Jumbis quis edit . . . . ”

just as a shoddy Crœsus of our own time might put off his guests with a blade-bone of mutton, when a saddle could be had in the nearest market.

Regarding jugged hare, already adverted to in this paper, it suggests to thoughtful minds the question, Why, of all creatures that run, fly, crawl, or swim, should the hare be the only one subjected to the mysterious process of the jug ? Of jugged sucking-pig nobody ever yet heard. Terrapin does not naturally waddle to jug, neither does canvas-back duck ; so that one is forced to the conclusion that the dainty jug was reserved for the hare as one more incentive to the capture of that harassed creature, whether by the snare of the poacher or the greyhounds of the man of sport.

In olden times the hare must have been much sought after, owing to the many strange influences and medicinal virtues that were attributed to its flesh and other portions of its anatomy. Recurring once more to Albertus Magnus, that worthy old person tells us that though the use of hare’s flesh as an article of diet causes the blood to thicken and is promotive of atrabilious secretions, yet that the head of the animal, calcined, and reduced to powder, is a specific for various maladies.

The tooth of a hare, says the same writer, is a cure for toothache, if laid upon the part affected. He also instructs us that the dried liver of a hare is good for epilepsy; and that its gall, mingled with white honey, is an excellent remedy for albugo, or defluxion of the eyes. Even the lungs of a hare, he says, laid upon aching eyes, will alleviate pain; while pounded and converted into an unguent, they are sovereign for anointing the feet.

In our own times the foot of the hare, from its velvety texture, is used by hatters for imparting a gloss to their choicest productions, and by theatrical performers for conveying to their cheeks the auroral touches considered indispensable to a brilliant appearance before the foot-lights.

Cowper may be mentioned as one of the few human beings on record who have ever evinced a practical and sincere friendship for the hare. When in ill health, he amused himself by taming three of these creatures, a very interesting account of which he contributed to the Gentleman’s Magazine. His hares displayed a curious sense of perception ; on one occasion, for instance, detecting a new patch that had been sewn upon a carpet. Whenever a cat insulted one of them, he would retaliate by drumming violently upon its back with his fore-feet. Each of them manifested distinct individuality of character, which was developed and fostered, probably, by domestication and familiarity with the social arrangements of man.

The following memorandum was found among Cowper’s papers, after his death : —

“This day died poor Puss, aged eleven years eleven months. He died between twelve and one at noon, of mere old age, and apparently without pain.”

Puss was the last of Cowper’s three hares ; and marvellous, indeed, is his record, and forever enshrined be his memory, as" the exceptional hare that lived happily all his years, and met his death without violence at last.

Charles Dawson Shanley.