Youth of the Great Elector - George Upton

The Stag Hunt

The Prince received his instruction in the so-called hunting room of the castle. It was a handsome, lofty apartment, decorated with stag antlers, deer heads, and paintings. Many of the latter represented hunting-scenes and some were pictures of wild animals. Among them were a herd of stags in the forest, a deer family, a mountain cock with its young, a wild boar, a hare in its bed under the firs, a canny fox leaving its hole, a striped badger, an otter leaping into the water after a fish, a wild cat making a spring after a flying bird, besides various kinds of small birds—nuthatches, rollers, wood-doves, ousels, starlings, thrushes, woodpeckers, and robins. The most of these pictures were of the Netherlands School and very valuable. "Is there not a picture in this room painted by a Brandenburger?" the Prince asked of his preceptor. He answered in the negative.

"Have we no famous painters in our country?" Muller silently shrugged his shoulders.

After this the Prince became deeply interested in the country which had accomplished such artistic achievements, and Leuchtmar, who had made many visits to the most famous cities of Holland, told him much about the life of its people. One day the Prince asked: "How is it that everything prospers in that country so much better than in ours?"

Much might be said about it, thought Leuchtmar, but he contented himself with this brief reply: "My Prince, the development of a nation is accomplished by individuals of gifted minds and souls. Their culture extends gradually to the whole people. The history of every nation confirms this. It is essentially the history of individuals. They bear the torch of knowledge aloft and lead the people out of darkness into the light. That nation may consider itself happy and fortunate when such persons exercise authority in the State, for they combine in themselves all the qualities necessary to the uplifting of the people. My Prince, some day you will be first in authority among your people. God grant you may be first also in the spiritual empire of our fatherland!"

The Prince in common with the pages received instruction in Latin also. One day while they were industriously engaged in translation, there was a knock at the door, and the forester entered the room. "Pardon me for interrupting you, gracious sir," said he, "but as you told me the Prince's noble parents wished him to participate in the hunt for the development of his strength and courage, I have come to tell you I have wounded a stag worth the hunting."

The Prince and pages at once gathered about him eagerly inquiring, "Where? What kind of an animal? A stag or a hind?"

"In the vicinity of the Ullensee," replied the forester. "He is a splendid animal—a stag of sixteen antlers."

Leuchtmar hesitated, for he doubted whether it was right for him to stop the lesson. Thereupon the forester said: "It will be a long time before such an opportunity for a stag hunt offers itself again."

That decided it. "Prepare everything that you need," said Leuchtmar, "and we will come immediately." The green hunting coats and plumed hats were quickly donned and the deer lances and horns were collected. They found the forester in the courtyard with a horse for the Prince. Baron Leuchtmar and three huntsmen also joined them, and they set off at once. The Prince, Leuchtmar, and the forester were mounted; the others were on foot. The hounds, which were in leash, could hardly be kept from breaking loose. In about half an hour they reached the vicinity of the Ullensee. In the forester's opinion they would find the stag upon a hillside thickly covered with bushes. He cautioned all to be quiet, and designated a spot at the base of the hill where the Prince, Leuchtmar, and the pages should station themselves. Thereupon he went around the hill to start the stag from its cover, the hunters following with the hounds.

The Prince and Leuchtmar stopped at the foot of an oak and watched the thicket closely. Suddenly there was a crackling of bushes and at the same time a stamping, as if a horse were dashing through them. An instant after a splendid stag rushed out of the thicket and passed within ten paces of the Prince, with the swiftness of a bird. Silently and at full speed, hardly seeming to touch the ground, the hounds followed him,—Nimrod, Ajax, and Diana. Another thicket concealed both stag and hounds from his view. The hunter's "Holla-ho-ho!" sounded; the horn blasts rang through the greenwood, and the chase began, the forester and hunters having come up with them. The wounded stag bled and every ten or twelve paces there was a drop of blood upon the moss, or grass blades, or leaves of plants. The practised huntsmen's eyes can see such traces thirty or forty paces off, and such was the case now. The forester led the hunt. It took them up hill and down dale with many twistings and turnings. At the top of one of these hills they stopped and listened. They could not hear any barking—a sign that the stag was not yet exhausted. And so the chase was resumed. It was not an easy matter for the horses to keep to the rough course, nor was it easy for the riders, brushing back branches with one hand and using the horn with the other, to keep firmly in their saddles. The Prince's stout, active horse flew over the course with so little difficulty that the Prince was generally either' a little behind the forester or riding by his side. The latter, though reluctant to lose track of the stag, kept his eye upon him from time to time. What jewels, he thought to himself, ever flashed so brightly as those eyes? Where was there ever a face so fresh, so full of youthful ardor, or swept by such beautiful flowing hair? Leuchtmar also closely scanned his pupil, and his heart beat, not with anxiety, but with joy. The hunters now reached another hill and hesitated an instant. At that point they overlooked a part of the Ullensee. Suddenly they heard the barking of the hounds.

They have chased him to water," said the forester. On they dashed again. As they emerged from the woods they saw the stag about two hundred paces away, standing under some alders in the sedges, evidently bent upon giving battle to the hounds. The dogs sprang at him but he kept them at bay with his horns. The Prince was for keeping on, but the forester cried "Halt! he will take to the water and then we shall have to ride clear round the lake to reach him again." The instant the hounds saw the hunters they renewed the attack. They barked furiously and rushed at the stag. He struck at them with his horns, but they evaded his thrusts. There was a remarkable echo at this spot which magnified their barking tenfold. The Prince's little horse shared the enthusiasm of its rider, tugged at the reins and circled about, its white foam spotting the ground. The Prince, growing impatient, exclaimed: "Let us go on, Herr Forester. What have we brought our spears for?"

"Just a moment, gracious Prince," replied the forester, "and we will decide when to give the horn signal."

It was given sooner than he wished. The stag was standing knee deep in the water. The signal increased the excitement of the hounds. Nimrod rushed directly at the stag, the other two dogs attacking on the left side, and sprang at his neck. Had the dog been on shore he could have moved about more effectively, but the water, which reached to his middle, impeded him. The stag impaled him on his horns and threw him to the beach, where he lay upon his back howling, his blood crimsoning the white sand.

Notwithstanding his respect for the Prince, the forester gave vent to an oath, for he took the wounding of Nimrod sadly to heart; but hardly more than the Prince himself, with whom the hound was a great favorite. The latter could be restrained no longer. Putting spurs to his horse he dashed forward with levelled spear and bending forward loudly shouted the hunting call. The courageous young pages followed him. Leuchtmar also spurred up his horse and sounded the call; but as he came up with the Prince he seized his horse's bridle and said: "Prince, you must not do it."

The stag had been standing motionless, but when Leuchtmar stopped the Prince, the animal retreated a little distance and then sprang ashore and began his flight anew. He ran more feebly than before and the hunters soon overtook him. Their lances whizzed past him amid the blasts of horns and shouts of the hunters, and the Prince also hurled his lances, but with no more success than had attended the efforts of his companions. On they went, while the two hunters picked up the lances. Suddenly the stag ran against an oak which, although it was as large round as a man's body, trembled to its very top. The impact was so strong that the stag's neck was broken and it fell to the ground dead.

After they had examined and admired the body, one of the hunters was ordered to ride back and look after the wounded Nimrod. He soon returned with the good news that the hound was not dangerously wounded, but he thought it would be well to let him lie there until evening and bathe his wound. The forester commissioned one of his helpers to ride to the hunting-castle, harness up a team, and go to the spot; and the Baron ordered breakfast and wine to be brought. While they were waiting, the Prince and pages enjoyed a swim in the lake. After they had been in the water about half an hour, the wagon came bringing the breakfast in baskets, and Preceptor Muller, who was warmly welcomed. After a little the bathers came back with lusty appetites. A snow-white cloth was spread upon the ground and covered with good things to eat and drink. The time was spent in pleasant conversation, and it may be imagined the forester did not lose the opportunity to tell some of his most interesting hunting stories. At the sound of the horn, the homeward journey was begun, a wagon, decorated with fir branches and carrying the stag, bringing up the rear of the procession.