It is common practise to blame any fault a dog has, intractability, nervousness, ill temper, cowardice, on the most nebulous of organisation. The Kennel Club. True modern breeds have suffered greatly through the exaggeration of show points, and there is little doubt that the breeders who keeps dogs only for showing does little to maintain the working instinct of a breed.
It is by no means uncommon to find show terriers who are afraid of rats, and who would become positively hysterical if asked to creep into the rocky fastness of a Lake District earth to face a fox. Similarly we find pointers, elegant as porcelain statues, but of little use in the hunting field, and non-retrieving spaniels are all too common.
The modern rough collie, a veritable Adonis of an animal, has an elegant dolichocephalic head that houses little in the way of brain.
Perhaps The Kennel club has much to answer for, reducing these useful dogs to useless, if beautiful, pets. It is a criticism that is frequently levied when a trainer fails to train an animal for a particular task, but in the case of Emir it was not true. My failure with Emir was probably my own fault though; I hasten to add in defence of my somewhat bruised pride, that he would have been a problem to any dog trainer.
About ten years ago, one of my few friends who can boast independent means, brought two Salukis, a large dog and a medium-sized bitch, into the country and, immediately the quarantine period was over, he mated the dog to the bitch.
The result of the litter were five puppies, as variable a litter as was ever born. Emir was one of these, Michael was quite adamant that the strain was to be kept purely for coursing and subsequently he did not advertise the fact that he had brought in a stud male. In fact, to my knowledge, he did not register either of the parents or the puppies from the union. One evening, while he was watching my lurchers fruitlessly attempting to oust a rabbit from an enormous field of kale, he casually mentioned that he had imported two Salukis and had a litter of puppies.
It was enough, I could not resist at least a look at the litter and see them was to have a burning desire to own one. I have never liked straight sight hounds, those dogs who hunt exclusively by sight, and have very little ability to “hunt up” their quarry.
Furthermore, the sight hound are acknowledged by all cynologists as the least intelligent of breeds, for their tiny dolichocephalic heads have little room for anything as commonplace as brain. Add to these failings a soup son of that quality known as intractability, the ability to almost actively resist any form of training, and it is all too obvious why such a dog is out of place in the kennels of a man who is not ashamed to admit that his dogs have stolen a great many meals off the nearby keepered estate.
True, my own strain of lurcher boasts a liberal amount of greyhound blood, such blood is necessary to maintain the speed that separates a lurcher from a downright mongrel, but today’s craze of crossing useful hunting, poaching, cunning lurchers with sight hounds to produce top grade coursing dogs for hare hunting, is not to my liking. My strain of lurcher is quite simply pot licker, the type of dog that, should food be scarce, will forage and keep, itself in meat, the type of dog who finds anything edible and thrives on viands that would render a vulture dead through ptomaine poisoning.
Thus a sight hound, a somewhat delicate sight hound at that, was hardly the type of dog that was at home on my premises. Still I went to see the litter.
There are few of us who cannot but admit to an interest in the exotic, and as a rural, rustically orientated sort of person, I was instantly enraptured by the beauty of the two hounds. Even in the concrete kennels of my friend, they resembled something out of a tale of Haroun al Rashid, the props for a setting of Scheharizade, or aids to an authentic production of Sadko.
Either would have been more at home behind the swaying howdah of some Bedouin chieftain than in the antiseptic kennels in Essex. They looked horridly out of place in the English countryside anyway.
I gazed enraptured at the pair. Solomon had written about such hounds. Such beasts had wandered the camps where Omar the Tentmaker had gazed at the stars and formulated the aweful nihilism of his Rubuyeit. These were the hounds that had been the pampered pets of pharaohs, the dogs who had hunted marsh birds and gazelles, sharing courses with leopards and cheetahs.
Abraham had probably seen such beasts as he had left the ancient city of Ur of the Chaldees, and Jephthah, the most cursed of judges, must have seen Ishmaelite bands hunt these dogs as he pined away in exile in the parched desert called ironically,Tob, the land of goodness.Saludin had kept such beasts in his tents, sharing with them his frugal diet of the “black ones”, the water and the date.
At the sight of their restless pacing behind those chained linked fences, ten thousand years of slave and sultan unfurled like a gigantic painted fan. It would have been a man totally devoid of a sense of anything aesthetic who would not have fallen in love with these wondrous elegant dogs.
The Male was a hugh, silky fawn dog that had been the property of the Howietat, the self same tribe that had ridden into Aquaba with Lawrence, spreading death and destruction. He had hunted the last of the gazelle along the edge of the fiery hell of the Rub al Khali, pursuing them across the jagged rocks of the screes, across the fine sands of the driest lands of earth.
Slaves had been taught to recite his illustrious pedigree, and his ancestors had pursued the wild asses that had stamped upon the tomb of Bahran, the mightiest of hunters since Nimrod. A hundred years ago his pedigree was rich with dogs who had worked with falcons, sakers nesting in Syria, hawks trained to bind to the horns of gazelles, to batter, beat and confound the bewildered beasts so that the dogs could pull down the so beset gazelle, but times were changing.
The land was becoming more and more parched and the fearsome Sun’s Anvil was encroaching upon the grazing. Too many sheep and goats, so much wealth, had overgrazed the land, and the grasses had refused to come, even after the sharp, spring rains.
Part 2 below
Hunters with rifles, “ scoped “ and accurate had come into the land of the Howeitat and slain the shy gazelle from a distance, and the once common gazelle became a rarity.
Hares too, the small desert hare, more wily than even our own brown hare, were becoming rare, and there was little work for the dogs of the wandering desert tribes, the same people who had harried the Israelites their way out of Goshen.
So the tribes no longer boasted the huge teams of dogs who had accompanied British Officers on leave from Allenby’s was .Things were changing, and not for the best. Arab singers had sung sadly of the coming of the European and his weapons. “ They came to our land and they knew not our ways”
Now there was wealth and prosperity among the Howietat, and Mercedes and Landrovers were parked beneath the palm trees to which racing camels were once tethered.
The Dam had been a gift from the Mutair, one of the most easterly of the Bedouin tribes, and her coat, devoid of feathering, was like the hide of an Arab horse, she was smooth and nearly black, and her pedigree had inspired poets to song.
“Dark they were, with amber eyes “some long forgotten bard had sung of this family. She had fed in the tents of the bedu, eaten from the floors of Sheiks, an honour, for the Muslim tribesmen consider all other dogs to be Naqus or unclean.
Of her family the poets had eulogised, calling them El Hor. The noble ones and they had sung the praises of her ancestor’s skill and stamina. Her dam too, had been famous, a noted catcher of desert hare, a slayer of jackals who prowled the outskirts of the villages along the settled land. Now she paced restlessly in her kennels in Wiltshire, like Moses people in Egypt, “a stranger in a strange land”.
Both beasts were creatures of perfection, the result of breeding only from the most fleet, the most able, and in that hostile, dry land, only the fittest had survived, the weak going to the wall, for there was no place for the useless hound in the frugal lives of the desert dwellers.
Both sire and dam had been bred to hunt, bred to endure agonising courses across the blistering hot sands, bred to run long after a normal hound would have collapsed and died.
There could be no excuse for failing with a beast of this breeding; no excuse the kennel Club had ruined the breed. Emir had been bred in the purple, bred from the best, bred from the most able. It was curious that I failed with him.
My cottage was sparsely furnished and my living frugal, and to bring such an aristocrat to my hovel seemed almost a blasphemy, but such dogs had shared almost stoical poverty since time began.
Omar, the successor of Mohammed, had owned such hounds and he had ridden to Jerusalem clad in the attire of poverty to accept the surrender of the City Patriarchs.
Emir’s kind too had known poverty often living for months on only the curdled milk of sheep or camels. My lot would not be foreign to him, yet I was ill at ease in accepting such an aloof, dignified animal to train. Why I did offer to train him is still something of a mystery, but as I have said, “It is a strange man who is not dazzled by the exotic”.
Even as a puppy this great golden coloured hound had a quality that I am anthropomorphic enough to call dignity. He was built like an athlete, fragile and dainty as a Pavlova, nervous and cautious as a virgin, yet his eyes had that strange lack lustre look, a far away look my friend called it.
Greyhounds, close cousins of Salukis, are simply powerhouses of knotted muscle, built simply to explode into flight or pursuit, but Emir was slender as a whiplash, his frame spare, even when clad with the fat of puppyhood.
This was no dog designed to race at top speed around a circular track, mindlessly pursuing a clockwork hare. Emir had been bred to run live quarry and to run them over the roughest terrain on earth. He was ill- equipped for the lightening burst of speed, beloved by owners of greyhounds.
His prowess would manifest itself in the lengthy course, when agony seized the limbs of the quarry and its pursuer, when the lungs were raw with the fire of exertion, when the heart and muscles screamed “Stop”. This was when Emir would come into his own.
I resolved to condition my mind to accept that he was not a greyhound and would not pursue his quarry in the same manner as a greyhound.
Emir was not my first encounter with a Saluki, though I had avoided the shows where hosts of competitors, dogs on slips, recited spurious tales of their hounds’ ability, each tale foolish enough to make Shah Jehan turn in his grave.
I had first seen Salukis on the edge of Jordon when a small band of Howietat had passed through the borderland, driving with them lean sheep and cattle and even leaner children and dogs.
The boys of the tribe, slow eyed, precocious children, quite distinct from the aloof, hawk-nosed adults, had run the puppies on jerboas, jumping rats of the desert, curious diminutive kangaroo-like creatures.
The puppies had then been entered to hare and would eventually course jackal and the, now rare gazelle. It was a training process that had stood the test of time, an aeon of the time, a process that had been used by Yazid II, the mightiest of hunters whose praises had been sung at the court of Haroun.
“The cities make a man cultured Yazid had said, “But it is the desert that makes a person a man.” Thus I would try to emulate the entering process of the Bedu, testing my puppy on rat and rabbit, running him much later on hare.
If he was brave and showed sprit, he would be coursed on fox and then when the time was ripe, I would secretly run him on deer, the real quarry of such a hound. Such a test for a dog, and so many dangers for the man who tried his dog on such forbidden quarry.
I would never rush him, never overtax this tiny creamy puppy and, at the end of my training session, I would materialise with my trained and entered hound, returning him to his owner like some tribesman offering tribute to the Sheik.
In the light of how events were to go, what a fool I was to dream of such things. Even as a babe he looked fragile, a tiny gazelle-like babe, Ill-equipped, so it appeared to weather the hazards of the chase across the English countryside, a land full of pitfalls, barbed wire and posts.
A lurcher puppy of the same age, a dog more greyhoundy than the others I had bred, appeared positively robust when compared to the hound puppy. It ate little, thriving on viands that would have been scarcely enough to keep an Italian Greyhound, and if it ate little it drank even less.
Perhaps the desert hounds have a metabolism that is different from other dogs. Perhaps they have the ability to extract every morsel of nourishment from food, wasting nothing, voiding only that which is completely devoid of nutrients, and totally indigestible.
Still as the summer progressed, he grew from puppyhood to lean, scrawny adolescence, and by the time he had seen his first leaf fall, he was as tall as a large collie.
The time of entering had come, and now I would walk up rabbits with him, conies, who could no longer hide in the grasses of the now bare cornfield.
I had been dissatisfied with his early training, his generally remote attitude and his disregard for obedience; I would call him, deliberately developing an imperative note in my voice, the sort of note that would ensure a terrier or a lurcher would come running to investigate the cause of my excitement, but Emir was indifferent to my cries, and he would casually sniff at a patch of grass and then, in his own good time, amble back to me.
At first I thought that he was deaf and his indifference to my commands was due to his hearing problem, but a bird had but to move in the undergrowth to find his ears raised and his body as taut as a bowstring.
He was certainly not deaf, yet he was not responding to commands. He found retrieving even more baffling, at first, in spite of much teasing and play sessions, he found little interest in a ball or dummy, and when I threw the object, he simply watched it fall or, if he was so inclined, he would walk to the fallen dummy, sniffed it, and the returned with just a faint look of distaste for the whole activity.
He was, I reasoned, simply a sighthound and not a lurcher, so I needed to adopt different methods if I was to succeed in his training. One evening I caught a rabbit in the long grass of the big meadow, a pathetic myxamotosised rabbit, emaciated and blind as the result of infection.
This I tied to a length of twine, and dragged the cadaver in front of the tethered hound. He became ecstatic, rearing and uttering a weak, un-masculine falsetto squeak that passed for a bark. I through the carcass and he raced after it, mouthing the fallen rabbit and then standing over it while all the time quivering with excitement.
I tried all manner of inducements to make him bring the rabbit back to me, throwing the rabbit in the air, rolling on the grass with the loathsome creature, and I almost considered mouthing the beastly object myself, but all inducements were to no avail.
When he became excited enough to want to pursue the fallen rabbit, he simply stood over the body and waited for me to pick up the creature. If I was correct that he was not a greyhound in temperament, I was equally correct in thinking that he was certainly not a lurcher, and as numerous pseudo sporting books described the breed as potfellers for the Bedouin, (the lurcher is kept primarily for the purpose of catching game) I wondered whether my approach to the training of the dog had been wrong, but if his training within the confines of my paddock was unsuccessful, my training in the restriction-free countryside was more so.
In spite of the praises of sighthound breeders who can see little fault in their dolicaphalic charges, the greyhound-type dog, the borzoi, the saluki, the afghan hound and the sloughi, are renowned stock worries, a thought that must weigh heavily on the mind of any hunter whose sight hound courses its quarry out of sight of the owner.
True, such beasts can be broken to stock, but the sight of livestock, particularly panic-stricken or noisy livestock fleeing in front of them, often triggers off appalling reactions in some sight hound.
So difficult are the sight hounds to get stock steady, that insurance companies, particularly those companies who specialise in third party damage caused by dogs, stipulate that their insurance does not cover damage done by salukis, afghans and borzois.
With such thoughts in mind, I set out to break Emir to stock as soon as possible. Even before inoculation he was taken amongst poultry and sheep so that the hens and sheep terrified the tiny puppy, and for a while this early stock breaking worked well.
So fearful was he of sheep and hens that he would skirt the creatures and cower, tail between his elegant legs, when one approached him. At first that is, things were to change.
The lurcher puppy in training alongside Emir, improved in leaps and bounds. At eight weeks old it was retrieving a dummy or dead rabbit, at five months of age it fetched fur and feather, sat, stayed and was totally stock broken. Emir regarded the antics of the puppy with his usual blank, almost mindless stare.
In no way could he emulate such feats, in no way did he intend to try. Training wise it was simply not a race, Emir was moronic compared to my fast and racey lurcher puppy, yet curiously it was emir who caught the first rabbit.
I had taken both babes for their dawn walk along the lanes that skirt the island of land on which I live. The walk around the island is about three miles, ideal for the still developing puppy; and the absence of vehicles at dawn allows the dogs to be able to run free.
Emir and the lurcher puppy were seven months old at the time, a very early age to expect sense of hunting instinct in a puppy, yet when a rabbit decided unwisely to make the short, sharp dash across the road, Emir killed it in a trice, giving the fleeing rabbit a short, sharp bite, and then standing over the deceased bunny, staring almost blindly at his handwork.
I was delighted and surprised, but once the rabbit was dead, Emir lost interest in it, even allowing the lurcher puppy to retrieve the carcase from under his very nose.
It was the beginning of a career of killing that was to end in tragedy. At a year old, when the lurcher puppy caught and retrieved his first rabbit, bringing it to hand as gently as a field trail spaniel, Emir had an impressive haul of catches to his credit, leverets, rabbits, moorhens and pheasants had all bitten the dust during those five months of early morning walks.
They would also have remained in that self same dust for Emir did not attempt to return his catches to hand, though as he became older, he became reluctant to leave his prey and tended to stand over them omitting a low ominous growl as the lurcher puppy timidly approached to examine the kill.
Furthermore, Emir slewed his victims easily and quickly, crushing the life out of his prey with one dextrous, well aimed bite. Not once did I hear a victim even squeak as it expired. Twice he coursed a leveret out of sight and slew it, leaving me to seek him as he stood motionless over the dead hare.
He would course, lose his prey, refusing to return, in spite of my frantic shouts, and if the mood was with him, he would cast about for further quarry, heedless of my angry bellow for him to return.
Somehow I was simply failing to make contact with him. Of his education concerning stock breaking, it is best to say that it was not successful. The surfeit of cats that surrounded my cottage, as wild and unkempt as I was, convinced the puppy of the true nature of all things feline and, providing the cat stood stock still and refused to flee, he ignored it, or appeared to, merely glancing at it with those aloof, oriental eyes.
Immediately it took flight, however, it became prey, not to be merely chased, but quarry to be ripped, torn and shaken to death, butchered with absolute savagery and total disregard for the terrible rips he was receiving from the claws.
Wounds and lacerations only served to make him more ferocious and hell bent on the cat’s destruction. A cat in the house, a cat at rest, was a thing to be ignored, but the same cat racing past the house sent him into paroxysms or rage, leaving him foaming with fury, untouchable for minutes afterwards.
Fowl were treated in the same manner. Providing they stood their ground, they were ignored. If they fled they were quickly reduced to a feathery, macerated pulp.
Furthermore, Emir was totally unpredictable. Sometimes he would launch himself at a fleeing rabbit like a fury, bursting his heart in the effort of turning the creature off its homeward path. At other times he displayed an almost cool, indifferent apathy at the sight of the self same rabbit.
One could never gauge or predict exactly what his response would be. His weight rarely varied. He was nearly always near skeleton in weight, his ribs clearly visible after any exertion caused his fragile rib cage to throb, so a weight difference could not account for his almost schizoid attitude.
Hawks behave very differently at different weights. Goshawks I have trained flew well at 2.5 lbs and were sluggish at two ounces above this weight, and for a while I thought a slight variation in Emir’s weight accounted for his fickle temperament.
I took to weighing him regularly, recording which types of which type of day produced the best results. One day he ran a dazzling course when he accidently cast his lead and pursued a hare through a blinding thundershower, a fitting setting for a film by Eisenstein.
Another day he refused to pursue a rabbit that sprung a mere yard or so in front of him during a fall of drizzle. Perhaps the Arav temperament, enigmatic, as all Orientals are said to be, could understand such a beast, perhaps they had the key to his curious ways and knew how to get the best out of such an animal.
Perhaps, however, their constant contact with such a breed, a contact that lasted over five thousand years, has made the Arab accept the Salukis idiosyncrasies. I confess I was totally baffled by Emir’s fickle nature.
One day while walking Emir with one of his brothers, near the town of Salisbury, a large jack hare exploded out of the morning about thirty yards in front of us.
Emir was running loose at the time and saw the hare as soon as I did. He took after it immediately it moved. His body seemed to flow effortlessly after the, hare gaining on it by the second, overshooting the jerking and bobbing of the beast and striking at it as he passed, all with an effortless grace, a grace that allowed the great golden dog to glide silently across the grassland. The course had an almost lunar atmosphere, almost as if one was watching a hunt in a dream sequence with each and every movement of the dog slowed down just enough for the viewer to see every flowing line of the Saluki.
A dozen times the inexperienced Emir turned the hare until he vanished from sight, still pursuing the fleeing jack. We waited. It is almost possible to gauge time when one waits anxiously in a state of anxiety. All manner of gruesome, horrible visions flashed through my worried mind, and I saw Emir, tired of his chase, slaughtering poultry by the hundred, creating red and woolly ruin in flocks of sheep; but after what seemed an eternity, the hare turned back towards us and Emir struck at it, overbalancing, but never the less killing his hare a dozen yards from us.
It was a course that would have killed a first rate coursing greyhound, a course that would have daunted any lurcher, but Emir seemed hardly exhausted by his efforts, and I had the sneaking feeling that not once during that heartbreaking course, had he really exerted himself.
I described his pace as effortless without effort, and that probably describes his way of running. He ran casually, loping instead of flashing after his foe. It was at Atherstone, not a dozen miles from my home, that his most dazzling course took place.
Throughout his time with me, Emir had never really understood that small dogs were not for killing, and when exercising him with my terriers was always a war of nerves. Thus, when I found a hunt follower coming across the fields towards us one morning, her Lakeland terriers running loose, I hurried by, put Emir back on his slip lead and held him while the terriers circled him, menacing but realising the latent damage pent up in the silent hound.
It took ten minutes to stop the quivering excitement that raced up the slip lead into my arms, and I knew that Emir saw the impertinent terriers as so much smashed and ripped blood and bone. After a few minutes however, he calmed somewhat and even allowed the dog to sniff at him, but I knew it was an uneasy truce, an armed neutrality at the best.
I walked back to the farm with the lady. Emir still leashed. We turned at the gateway, and her terriers plunged headlong into a patch of gorse, flushing a pale red vixen. It was hunt country, and my hostess was a respected figure among the hunt followers, but if hell had me, and fight as I might, I just could not resist slipping Emir.
There is little or no natural enmity twixt dog and fox, and most dogs need to be shown foxes are quarry, but the sight of any small beast fleeing before him was enough to convince Emir that it was prey begging to be taken.
He was on it in a trice, and in spite of the fact he had not encountered foxes before, he bowled it rapidly, shoulder charging it in the manner his illustrious desert ancestors had bowled jackals in the empty lands of Syria.
The vixen rolled and regained her balance, striking at him with an incongruous, cat-like fury, yet he rolled her again, mindless of teeth that were raking furrows of flesh from his muzzle.
Again she attempted to get away from him, and again he brought her down, gripping her across the back and shaking her like a terrier shakes a rat, while she gripped his muzzle, biting through to the bone of his jaw.
When I arrived at the scene, Emir had transferred his grip to the vixen’s throat, and was remorselessly throttling the creature to death. His lips were a mass of punctures and contused flesh, yet he seemed unworried by the damage the vixen had wrought.
It was during the following spring, when his mettle was really to be tested. I was visiting a friend down south, who had been hunting deer from a babe, blessed by being born into a society formed for common purpose. However, during a freezing day that suggested that winter was reluctant to release its hold upon the land. The earth had frozen hard and the night previous, a fine dusting of snow had fallen. I had spent the night at his bungalow, in the sleepy and historical village of Rochford where Anne Boleyn once resided; in the morning the pale freezing dawn saw us walking the fields, dogs on slip, more for exercise than in the hope of seeing a course, for the frozen ground with its castor sugar covering, was treacherous to man and beast.
A powdery dust of fine, icy snow fell, the short of snow that adhered to my tangled hair and refused to melt. We turned for home past a stand of trees, conifers planted in ugly rows by the forestry commission, absurdly out of place in the land where they were growing. We had reached the top of the rise when my friend placed his hand on my shoulder turning my clumsy body, a roebuck strolled almost casually out of the stand of alien trees, sniffing the air, suspiciously shaking his head to cast off the layer of fine snow that had settled on his calf-like cherubic face.
Again I felt that hand on my shoulder; this time however, there was weight to it, gesturing me to the ground, we dropped slow to our knees, as I knelt transfixed by the sight of the brown deer against the background of snow, a scene from an Athurian legend, a picture from the antique pages of the Mabinogion, and suddenly I was no longer the shabby, unsuccessful schoolteacher.
At that moment I was a Gowain, a Gareth. A Gaheris on a quest to bring down the magical hart, to lay low some forest sprit that walked abroad in the guise of a deer. Emir had seen him and watched intently, eagerly, cruelly like a cat watches a mouse. “Only the desert greyhound and the cat can actually look cruel”, a Saudi friend of mine had said, and as I glanced at Emir, his ears slightly raised, his eyes glassy with concentration, I realised that such a statement was true.
I moved my hand slightly to release the great, golden hound, but was gestured to wait, scarcely daring to speak while the deer, aware that something was amiss, sniffed the air ready for flight. Emir had not moved a muscle, but simply stood there awaiting the first movement of the roe.
I reached along to the slip, and removed it; my friend now holding Emir by the butt of his tail, like one would hold a docked terrier, delving into my mind for a quote from Mallory, to hasten the slipped hound, but none came.
There in the frozen world, nothing moved, and man, dog and deer seemed petrified, motionless in a fable time. The deer turned his head and saw my tiny, clumsy movement, and for a moment it seemed to stare almost in disbelief as if unwilling to believe that man could intrude in his timeless world. Then he realised the danger abroad and took flight.
At that moment, all I could see was my friends hand slowly opening, and Emir’s tail running out, across his palm, cast out, like Moses would cast his net, and the ultimate duel was about to be enacted. What conceit to try to describe a situation that would have daunted a Tolstoy or Turgenev to relate, a huge, golden desert dog pursuing a wild eyed deer across a frozen landscape. Nothing on earth could have stopped me raising to my feet, I glanced at my friend, who winked at me, and smiled, his dog Tobias was to sit this one out, this was Emir’s time, my time.
Emir closed with him and struck, not the hamstringing bite of a lurcher, but the throat hold that somehow, some deep instinctive reasoning had told him was correct. Twice he stuck, and twice he missed, I glanced at my friend, pleading for reassurance, then the collision with the deer came, spinning Emir into the air like a bulldog flung off by an enraged bull. On the third strike he found the throat of the deer, and the pair crashed earthwards in a flurry of fine snow, Emir gripping the throat of the bulging eyed deer, his own eyes glazed with ecstasy.
It was the one great hunt, on land that perhaps was once hunted in the same way by Lord Rochford, brother of Anne Boleyn, the mother to the great Queen Elizabeth 1 (1558-1603 AD) A Queen With The Heart Of A King, perhaps even the greatest King; Henry VIII had hunted these fields, with old type enormous talented deerhounds, I felt like a King at least for that moment, for a few brief minutes, frozen in time.
We headed for home, stopping every time I complained of the weight of this brute, my friend had lashed the animal, with skill that I will never possess, a skill passed down, something this young-man, had been taught as a boy by his grandfather, a font, a truly great man, whom I tried so desperately to interview some years early, he reminded me a little of Cyril Breay, a likewise enigmatic character, who also declined a request of an interview.
That evening as we sat deep in conversation, protected against cold, in front of an equally radiant log fire, eating our spoils, and drinking cheap red wine, again I felt like that great king.
I left Rochford the next morning, taking with me, my friend’s last words? This should be the turning point of Emir’s life; however, it was not the turning point his indications had intended?
A few weeks later he chanced upon a flock of sheep that panicked and took flight. Suddenly they became the same prey he had coursed across the frozen landscape of Essex.
There was little I could do to stop him, and in seconds he had pulled over, mangling its throat with the self same bite that had brought low the deer. The bellowing and bleating still rung in my ears days after the event. My home is in sheep breeding country, Emir now had no place in such a land, The next day I returned him to his breeder, and as I left, I saw him pacing, restless as a cat, in the chain linked compound.
There was little I could say as I was driven back to the train station and, try as I might to find some suitable Arab quote to suit the situation, words did not seem to come. As I waited for the train to take me home, I looked at my reflection in the buffet window, and wished I was back in Rochford, a month ago.
Copyright G D Nicholson ©