Tale of the Black Brush — Conclusion

To read Part One, click here.

The Highwayman’s granddaughter was buried in the local village. She had no family and no headstone, but shortly after the funeral villagers began to see a large fox with a black brush sitting on her grave. As everyone living on Dartmoor knows, foxes with black brushes are not ordinary and must be treated with special respect, and so the villagers saluted the fox when they saw him, and hurried home and closed their doors.

At about the same time, the fox was seen at the new kennels. On several occasions it appeared in daylight, and one night the hounds began to bay furiously. The huntsman got out of bed and went to the window, and when he looked out he saw the fox, walking up and down in front of the runs, staring at the hounds almost as if it was taunting them. He started to go down and chase it away, but then the fox looked up at him. And when the huntsman met its eyes, he was suddenly afraid, and so instead he crept back to bed and lay listening to the hounds howling in the moonlight.

Two days later, the weather turned cold and crisp. A frost lay on the ground, and the hunting season had begun. That morning the local gentry mounted their fine hunters, and drank their stirrup cups, and cheered their host, the lord of the manor, heartily when the hounds came out of the kennel, sure that they were in for a good day’s sport.

The hounds drew almost at once, and a handsome dog fox led them for three miles over open country before it went to ground. The huntsman cast the hounds again, and they found again, and again the field raced across farmland at the edge of the moor before the fox slipped away and the hounds were left milling in a wood. Twice more they found, and were led, baying, across the fields, but each time the fox vanished, and they were denied a kill.

The hunt had reached the far edge of the estate when the weather began to change. Clouds gathered, and a fine mist turned to rain. By this time it was late afternoon, and the field, mindful of their fireplaces, began to turn for home. But the lord wanted a kill, and finally he took the horn himself and sent the hounds into a copse. At once they gave voice, and the huntsman saw a great fox with a black brush break cover and race towards the open moor. “Call them off!” he shouted, but the lord laughed at him and spurred his horse on.

The huntsman had no choice but to follow, and he urged his horse through the now driving rain. From time to time he glimpsed the lord ahead, or heard the hounds, but as they galloped uphill past the burned ruins of a cottage, he lost them. Now the sky blackened, and as the huntsman rode up towards a high ridge, thunder cracked. There was a flash of lightening, and in that second the huntsman saw the fox silhouetted on the ridge. He swore that then the fox rose up on its hind feet, and appeared, for all the world, more like the figure of a woman than an animal. Then his horse stumbled and he fell, and as his eyes closed he heard a scream, and the baying of hounds.

They found the huntsman just alive, but the lord and his hounds were never seen again. Some said they were lost in one of the moor’s fearsome bogs. But soon people began to hear baying, and sometimes to see a pack racing across the moor at night. And then they began to notice how much the great Tor that rose above the ruined cottage looked like a horseman and a pack of hounds, caught leaping off of the ridge, and struck to stone.

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