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The Old Hunter and the New Prey
Out of his snarl of beard two small eyes regarded Rainhoof. ‘’Don’t be alarmed,’’ said Rainhoof, with a smile which he hoped was disarming. ‘’I’m no robber. I fell off a boat. My name is Ranger Rainhoof of Yanhooyer.’’
The menacing look in the eyes did not change. The revolver pointed as rigidly as if the giant were a statue. He gave no sign that he understood Rainhoof’s words or that he had even heard them. He was dressed in uniform, a black uniform, covering his cutie mark; it was trimmed with gray fur of dead animals.
‘’I’m Ranger Rainhoof of Yanhooyer,’’ Rainhoof began again. ‘’ I fell off a boat. I am hungry.’’
The huge stallion’s only answer was to raise his other front hoof to the hammer of his revolver. Then Rainhoof saw the stallion’s hoof go to his forehead in a military salute, and he saw him click his hind legs together and stand at attention. Another pony was trotting down the broad marble steps, an erect, slender stallion in evening clothes. He advanced to Rainhoof and held out his hoof.
In a cultivated voice marked by a slight accent that gave it added precision and deliberateness, he said ‘’ It is a very great pleasure and honor to welcome Mr. Ranger Rainhoof, the celebrated hunter, to my home.''
Automatically Rainhoof shook the pony’s hoof.
‘’I’ve read your book about hunting snow leopards in the Crystal Mountains, you see,’’ explained the huge pony. ‘’I’m General Red’’
Rainhoof’s first impression was that the pony was singularly handsome; his second was that there was an original, almost bizarre quality of the general’s face. He was a tall stallion past middle age, for his mane was a vivid white; but his thick eyebrows and pointed military moustache were as black as the night from which Rainhoof had come. His eyes, too, were black and very bright. He had high cheekbones, a sharp-cut nose, a spare, a dark face, a face of a pony used to giving orders, the face of an aristocrat. Turning to the giant in uniform, the general made a sign.
The giant put away his pistol, saluted, withdrew. ‘’Bern is an incredibly strong fellow,’’ remarked the general, ‘’but he has the misfortune to be deaf and dumb. A simple fellow, but, I’m afraid, like all his race, a bit of a savage.’’
‘’Is he Apple Loosian?’’ guessed Rainhoof.
‘’Yes,’’ said the general, and his smile showed red lips and pointed teeth. ‘’So am I.
‘’Come,’’ he said,’’ we shouldn’t be chatting here. We can talk later. Now you want clothes, food, rest. You shall have them. This is a most restful spot.’’
Bern had reappeared, and the general spoke to him with lips that moved but gave forth no sound. ‘’Follow Bern, if you please, Mr.Rainhoof,’’ said the general. ‘’I was about to have my dinner when you came. I’ll wait for you. You’ll find that my clothes will fit you, I think.’’
It was to a huge, beam-ceilinged bedroom with a canopies bed big enough for six ponies that Rainhoof followed the silent giant. Bern laid out an evening suit, and Rainhoof, as he put it on, noticed that it came from a Manehatten tailor who ordinarily cut and sewed for none below a rank of duke.
The dining room to which Bern conducted him was in many ways remarkable. There was a medieval magnificence about it; it suggested a baronial hall of feudal times, with its oaken panels, its high ceiling, its vast refectory table where two score-ponies could sit down to eat. About the hall were the mounted heads of many animals—lions, tigers, elephants, moose, bears; larger or more perfect specimens Rainhoof had never seen. At the great table the general was sitting, alone.
‘’You’ll have a hard cider, Mr. Rainhoof,’’ he suggested. The cider was surpassingly good; and, Rainhoof noticed, the table appointments were of the finest… the linen, the crystal the silver, the accessories.
They were eating borsht, the rich red soup with sour cream so dear to Apple Loosa palates. Half apologetically General Red said: ‘’We do our best to preserve the amenities of civilization here. Please forgive any lapses. We are well off the beaten track, you know. Do you think the champagne has suffered from its long ocean trip?’’
‘’Not in the least,’’ declared Rainhoof. He was finding the general a most thoughtful and affable host, a true cosmopolite. But there was one small trait of the general’s that made Rainhoof uncomfortable. Whenever he looked up his plate he found the general studying him, appraising him narrowly.
‘’Perhaps,’’ said General Red,’’ you were surprised that I recognized your name. You see, I read all books on hunting published on Equestrian, and many other international languages. I have but one passion in my life, Mr. Rainhoof, and it is the hunt.’’
‘’You have some wonderful heads here,’’ said Rainhoof as he ate a particularly well-cooked filet mignon. '‘That Cape buffalo is the largest I ever saw.’’
‘’Oh, that fellow. Yes, he was a monster.’’
‘’Did he charge you?’’
‘’Hurled me against a tree,’’ said the general. ‘’Fractured my skull. But I got the brute.’’
‘’I’ve always thought,’’ said Rainhoof, ‘’that Cape buffalo is the most dangerous of all big game.’’
For a moment the general did not reply; he was smiling his curious red-lipped smile. Then he said slowly:
‘’No. You are wrong, sir. The Cape buffalo is not the most dangerous game.’’ He sipped his wine. ‘’Here in my preserve on this island,’’ he said in the slow tone, ‘’I hunt more dangerous game.’’ Rainhoof expressed his surprise. ‘’Is there big game on this island?’ The general nodded
‘’Oh, it isn’t naturally, of course. I have to stock the island.’’
‘’What have you imported, general?’’ Rainhoof asked. ‘’Tigers?’’
The general smiled. ‘’No,’’ he said. ‘’hunting tigers ceased to interest me years ago. I exhausted their possibilities, you see. No thrill left in tigers, no real danger. I live for dander, Mr. Rainhoof.’’
The general took from his pocket a gold cigarette case and offered his guest a long black cigarette with a silver tip; it was perfumed and gave off a smell like incense.
‘’We will have some capital hunting, you and I,’’ said the general. ‘’I shall be most glad to have your society.’’
‘’But what game—‘’ began Rainhoof
‘’I’ll tell you,’’ said the general. ‘’You will be amused, I know. I think I may say, in all modesty, that I have done a rare thing. I have invented a new sensation. May I pour you another glass of ‘cider’, Mr. Rainhoof. ?’’
‘’Thank you, general.’’
The general filled both glasses and said: ‘’ Celestia makes some ponies poets. Some She makes kinds, some beggars. She made me a hunter. My hoof was made for the trigger, my father said. He was a very rich man, with a quarter of million acres in the Unicorn Range, although he wasn’t a unicorn, he was a great business stallion. When I was a little colt, he gave me a little gun, specially made in Manehatten for me, to shoot sparrows with. When I shot some of his prize turkeys with it, he did not punish me; he complimented me on my marksmanship. I killed my first bear in the Everfree Forest when I was ten. My whole life has been one prolonged hunt. I went into the army—it was expected of the noblepony’s sons—and for a time commanded a division of specialized guards, but my real interest was always the hunt. I have hunted every kind of game in every land. It would be impossible for me to tell you how many animals I have killed.’’ The general puffed at his cigarette.
‘’After the debacle in Apple Loosa, I left the town, for it was imprudent for an officer of the rank to stay there. Naturally, I continued the hunt—grizzles in the Macintosh Hills, crocodiles in the Horse Shoe Bay, manticores in the East. It was near San Palomino desert that a giant buffalo hit me and laid me up for six months. As soon as I recovered I started for the Everfree forest to hunt jaguars, for I had heard they were unusually cunning. They weren’t.’’ The general sighed. ‘’They were no match at all for a hunter with his wits about him and a high powered rifle. I was bitterly disappointed. I was lying in my tent with a splitting headache one night when a terrible thought pushed its way into my mind. Hunting was beginning to bore me! And hunting, remember, had been my life. I have heard that in some parts of Equestria businessponies often go to pieces when they give up the business that has been their life.’’
‘’Yes, that’s so,’’ said Rainhoof.
The general smiled. ‘’I had no wish to go to pieces,’’ he said. ‘’I must do something. Now, mine is a analytical mind, Mr. Rainhoof. Doubtless that is why I enjoy the problems of the chase.’’
‘’No doubt, General Red.’’
‘’So,’’ the general continued, ‘’ I ask myself why the hunt no longer fascinated me. You are much younger than I am, Mr. Rainhoof, and have not hunted as much, but you perhaps can guess the answer.’’
‘’What was it?’’
‘’Simple this: Hunting had ceased to be what you call a sporting proposition. It had become too easy. I always get my prey. Always. There is no greater bore than perfection.’’ The general lit a fresh cigarette.
‘’No animal had a chance with me anymore. That is no boast; it is a mathematical certainty. The animal had nothing but his legs and his instinct. Instinct is no match for reason. When I thought of this, it was a tragic moment for me, I can tell you.’’ Rainhoof leaned across the table, absorbed in what his host was saying.
‘’It came to me as an inspiration what I must do,’’ the general went on.
‘’And that was?’’
The general smiled the quiet smile of the one who has faced an obstacle and surmounted it with success. ‘’I had to invent a new animal to hunt,’’ he said.
‘’A new animal? You’re joking,’’ said Rainhoof with confusion.
‘’Not all,’’ said the general. ‘’I never joke about hunting. I needed a new animal. I found one. So I found this island, built this house, and here I do my hunting. The island is perfect for my purposes—there are jungles with a maze of trials in them, hills, swamps—‘’
‘’But the animal, General Red?’’
‘’Oh,’’ said the general, ‘’it supplies me with the most exciting hunting in whole of Equestria. No other hunting compares with it for an instant. Every day I hunt, and I never grow bored now, for I have a prey which I can match my wits.’’ Rainhoof’s bewilderment showed in his face.
‘’I wanted the ideal animal to hunt,’’ explained the general. ‘’So I said: ‘What are the attributes of an ideal prey?’ And the answer was, of course: ‘It must have courage, cunning, and, above all, it must be able to reason.’ ‘’
‘’But no animal can reason,’’ objected Rainhoof.
‘’My dear fellow,’’ said the general, ‘’there is one that can.’’
‘’But you can’t mean—‘’ gasped Rainhoof.
‘’And why not?’’
‘’I can’t believe you are serious, General Red. This is a grisly joke.’’
‘’Why wouldn’t I not be serious? I am speaking of hunting.’’
‘’Hunting? Good Celestia, General Red, what you speak is of murder.’’ The general laughed with entire good nature. He regarded Rainhoof quizzically. ‘’I refuse to believe that so modern and civilized a young colt as you seem to be harbors romantic ideas about the value of pony life. Surely your experienced in the war—‘’
‘’Did not make me excuse coldblooded murder,’’ finished Rainhoof stiffly.
Laughter shook the general.’’ How extraordinarily droll you are!’’ he said. ‘’One does not expect nowadays to find a young colt of the educated class, even in Equestria, with such a naïve, and, if I may say so, it’s like finding a snuffbox in a dirty road. Ah, well, doubtless you had pure ancestors. So many Equestrians appear to had. I’ll wager you’ll forget your notions when you go hunting with me. You’ve a genuine new thrill in store for you, Mr.Rainhoof.’’
‘’Thank you, I’m a hunter, not a murderer.’’
‘’Dear me,’’ said the general, quite calm, ‘’again that unpleasant word. But I think I can show you that your scruples are quite ill-founded.’’
‘’Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and if needed be, taken by the strong. The weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure. I am strong. Why should I not use my gift? If I wish to hunt, why should I not? I hunt the scum of this country—sailors from tramp ships—more sailors, intruders, and robbers.
‘’But they are all ponies,’’ said Rainhoof hotly.
‘’Precisely,’’ said the general. ‘’That is why I use them. It gives me pleasure. They can reason, after a fashion. So they are dangerous.’’
‘’But where do you get them?’’
The general’s left eyelid fluttered down in a wink. ‘’This island is called Lost-Hooves,’’ he answered. ‘’sometimes
an angry god of the high seas sends them to me. Come to the window with me’’
Rainhoof went to the window and looked out toward the sea.
‘’Watch! Out there!’’ exclaimed the general, pointing into the night. Rainhoof’s eyes saw only blackness, and then, as the general pressed a button, far out to sea Rainhoof saw the flash of the lights.
The general chuckled. ‘’They indicate a channel,’’ he said, ‘’where there’s none; giant rocks with razor edges crouch like a sea monster with wide-open jaws. They can crush a ship as easily as I crush this nut.’’ He dropped a walnut on the hardwood floor and brought his hoof grinding down on it. ‘’Oh, yes,’’ he said, casually, as if in answer to a question, ‘’I have electricity. We try to be civilized here.’’
‘’Civilized? And you shoot down ponies?!?’’
A trace of anger was in the general’s black eyes, but it was there for but a second, and he said, in his most pleasant manner: ‘’Dear me, what a righteous colt you are! I assure you I do not do the thing you suggest, that would be barbarous. I treat these visitors with every consideration. They get plenty of good food and exercise. They get into splendid physical condition. You shall see for yourself tomorrow.’’
‘’What do you mean?’’
‘’We’ll visit my training school,’’ smiled the general. ‘’It’s in the cellar. I have about a dozen pupils down there now. They’re from the Smokey Mountain area; they had bad luck to go on the rocks out there now. A very inferior lot, I regret to say. Poor specimens and more accustomed to the deck than to the jungle.’’
He raised his hand, and Bern, who served as waiter, brought pure coffee. Rainhoof, with an effort, held his tongue in check.
‘’It’s a game, you see ,’’ pursued the general blandly. ‘’I suggest to one of them that we go hunting. I give him a supply of food and an excellent hunting knife. I give him three hours’ start. I am to follow, armed only with a pistol of the smallest caliber and range. If my quarry eludes me for three whole days, he wins the game. If I find him’’—the general smiled—‘’he loses.’’