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Hound and Horn in Jedforrest
Chapter III. A morning’s Exercise


“Then on the sunny bank they roll and stretch
Their dripping limbs, or else in wanton rings
Coursing around pursuers and pursued;
The merry multitudes disporting play."
—SOMERVILE.

THE grey mare was turning out fairly well, but she had much to learn. She was being schooled to stand the whip, and was also being regularly ridden on the moor to train her to avoid putting her feet in sheep drains, of which she knew nothing when she first came. She had one very bad fault, which was to run back directly she felt the toe in the stirrup. Billy was very patient with her, and gentled her up to a certain point, and if this failed he adopted a stronger method. His endearing epithets were numerous. He would begin by “Gently then, my little lady;” “Gently now, my bonnie sweetheart;” “Woe ho, my pet beauty, woe ho.” Then, as the mare moved backwards, he would tap her behind the fore-legs and say, “Stand still, will you;” “Stand still, you wild wench;” “Stand still, you lanky jade;” “Stand still, you long-legged besom.” Being a man of resource, he tied up a forefoot, and used to spend hours swinging his own long leg up and down, and practising mounting from the off side, at which he soon became an adept. Lastly, he formed a sort of crush—a narrow pen of two palings ended by a stiff prickly holly bush—inside of which enclosure he pushed her, and swung confidently into the saddle. This first experiment was more than successful, for the mare backed against the bush and then shot forward so suddenly and with such force, that she jerked her rider behind the saddle, and then getting a slight chuck in the mouth she got up on end and slid the astonished horseman not ungracefully over her tail, to the unconcealed delight of the few privileged onlookers. The “jade” got clear, and after cutting up the tennis lawn, was only captured at the stable door. The gentling method was taken up again, and proved successful, for she was soon pronounced “whip quiet,” and “steady to mount.”

It was about this time that Billy made a halfhearted approach to pass on the “Clinker” to the Hunt stable, at a profit of course.

“Are you sure you have plenty horses to start with, old man?” he began. “These hill fellows are terrible keen, and even two days a week, with an occasional five days a fortnight, will take some doin’ in that country. I hear they are accustomed to hounds drawing on till dark, whatever they may have done in the mornin’. it would never do to start with too few.”

I explained that I was in the enviable position of only being required to horse myself, that my first whip found his own horses, and that the second whip really did second horseman’s work only, as there was never any trouble with hounds not coming on or being left out; that five horses keeping sound would easily do the work, and reminded him that I had five, not counting the little mare that old Batters called the “Powney,” and which had never been known to tire or fall. Then came a feeler.

“My mare is going awfully nicely with Jack (second horseman) just now; she’ll make a clinking hunter.”

“I thought she was that already,” said I.

Then after a pause, as if speaking to himself: “I’ve a mind to do a swop with Jack Elliot; he’s half a stone lighter than I am, and his mare, though not so fast as mine, is up to a stone more weight;” and continued, “I think you’d like her if you once rode her, and I'm only asking a tenner more than I paid for her.”

To which I answered, “No, no, Bill, I don’t buy unmade ones, and never one made or unmade from a pal. Swop with Jack Elliot if you like, but don’t try to shunt her on to me.”

Next morning he said, after our return from exercise, “I say, old man, I’m awfully glad you didn’t buy my mare off me last night,” than which nothing had been more remote from my intention.

This abortive deal partly but not wholly prepared me for Jack Elliot’s question a few days later.

“Are you really trying to buy Bill Kerr’s mare?” I looked encouragingly at him, and he went on. “For if you are, I’ll stand out till the deal is done or off. He says you are awfully sweet on her.”

I was petrified to hear this, though I managed to conceal my amazement, and more than amused when it came round to me later that the young ruffian had added, “She takes a little bit of riding, and between ourselves, I don’t think that she is exactly his mare.”

That morning’s exercise had been productive of several small incidents. Billy had returned to the slumbering house, under the pretext of getting his pipe, after we started, and had taken off his hat to a lightly draped figure at an upper window, which he did with so much action as to make the mare shy off, and he dropped his pipe on the gravel. He got down to pick it up, and found that the lesson of the holly bush had been, temporarily at least, forgotten, for directly he put his foot into the stirrup, and before he could swing up, the "Clinker” began her old trick of running backwards and spinning round. No man looks his best in the difficult and humiliating position of hopping on a straightened leg after a gyrating horse, the other foot being wedged firmly home in the stirrup three feet or more from the ground. Bill was aware of this, but kept his head admirably, though a chuckle of laughter came from behind the curtain of the open window. He was mindful of his experience of the slide over the tail, and let the reins lie perfectly loose, and waiting his chance till the moment of a slight lull in the top-like movement, he took a big handful of mane and swung into the saddle. The mare darted off like a released bird, and before he caught his stirrup she had done a good half-mile at racing speed.

Not long after leaving kennels we came across the stale drag of a night-wandering fox, for some of the old hounds, after feeling about with noses on the ground, darted out, and stooping to it, would soon have carried it on. But the vigilant Jack was round them in an instant, and swinging his whip with “Warrior, leave it there; get over and leave it, Pilgrim,” while Billy chimed in, the two soon had the pack clustering round the old mare’s heels. So on we went for a couple of hours, now walking, now jogging, till we came to a knoll covered with short heather. There we got down and spent half-an-hour letting hounds roll and push and draw themselves along on their backs and sides to their full content, and tossing bits of biscuit to the puppies.

“Let's have a practice at the horn, Master," said Billy. Whereupon he blew a blast with more vehemence than harmony. Old “Safety” ran backward with fright, the Irish mare wheeled round with the whip, the old hounds raised their ears and looked puzzled, and the young hounds dropped their sterns and prepared for flight; in fact, Playmate made off, dragging old Marmion, to whom he was coupled, for some distance before he stopped. The sheep on the opposite hillside drew together in alarm, and I now knew what old Peter the shepherd meant this morning. He had told me: “A couldna' jaloose what had gliffed the sheep off the hicht yestreen. A faund the hill-end cut a’ hotted thigether in a batt when A cam' roun’ the hill.” My volunteer whip had stolen out to the hilltop to have a “practice on the horn.”

And some of the morning’s incidents were of an amusing nature. A little way beyond our halting place we suddenly came upon a most patriarchal-looking billy-goat tethered by a long rope to a stout stake. Some of the young hounds were scared, and seemed inclined to bolt, but most of them appeared to wish a closer inspection. Two or three had fallen behind. Jack went back to put them on, cracking his whip as I called encouragingly to them. This had the effect of starting the goat off at a fast canter, which he kept up round and round in ever-lessening circles till he had wound himself up close to his post, where, stamping and butting, he looked most formidable, with Ruffian, Pilgrim, and Pirate baying at him. It took several smart cuts with the whip to drive them oft, and my laughter did not diminish when Billy said, "By Jove, I do believe they would not have been long in breaking up old Nebuchadnezzar. Tell ye what, if we don’t find a fox first day out we might enlarge the patriarch on the top of Blue Cairn; believe they’d run the high old boy with half a day’s start.”

These exercising “trails,” as Batters called them, were a great delight at the time, and a most pleasant recollection to recall—the whole surroundings were so attractive and picturesque, and it was all so satisfying. At the same time we looked forward with an eagerness that almost amounted to impatience to the rapidly approaching time when we should start work.

“When do you intend to begin business, Master?” was the question frequently put by my supernumerary whip, and repeated this morning as we turned our horses’ heads homewards. It was explained to him that the hill country would only stand three or four days’ hunting at most, that though cubs had been seen we could not be sure they had not moved on, and that in our own country proper, where we proposed to move shortly, corn would not be cut for two or three weeks yet.

On one of the first days of September the usual question was put, supplemented by the observation, “Look at the muscles on hounds’ backs and thighs, and see how fit horses are.”

“Yes; but we must have a few more days on the roads to harden hounds’ feet, and one or two more of these long trails on the hill tracks will be of great benefit to horses’ legs.”

“Horses’ legs are hard and clean, and old 'Safety' is getting quite conceited” (referring to an unexpected wallop the old mare had given some mornings ago, and which had put me on to her neck).

I took no notice of Bill’s last remark, and replied, “Yes, legs are good; that’s the cool wet grass knee-high acting as a cold-water bandage, and the absence of concussion in these soft hill tracks. They must have some more of it, and get on to faster work and have a pipe opener or two before they are fit to begin business, as you put it; but perhaps the week after next, if it comes rain.”

I saw Billy's suction get a little stronger, and great volumes of smoke came from his half-extinguished pipe, and he vented his feelings by putting his heels into his mare’s sides, which caused her to jump forward almost on the top of some coupled hounds.

At late breakfast he said, through a mouthful of cold grouse pie, “I don’t know which part of it I like best, it’s all so splendid and wholesome.”

Joanna and I exchanged glances, for this was the exact description given of Billy himself lately, and it fitted him precisely.

“I think I know,” said the lady, as she drew the oatcakes and honey from his reach; “but really, you must put on the muzzle if you wish to get anywhere near the hounds when they run by-and-by.”

“A man can't work for nothing; you surely don’t grudge me two light meals a day, with a snack between times?”

“It’s the snacks I do grudge,” replied the housekeeper, wistfully eyeing about half a pound of honeycomb being transferred to his plate.

As I was looking through my letters, Billy, who had been down to the stables to see how much of her oats the grey mare had left, for amongst other faults she was a shy feeder, reported, "There’s a character in the saddle-room; you’d better go down and see him.”

“Who is he, Bill?”

“Oh, go and see for yourself; I think he’ll amuse you.”

After finishing my correspondence, I went down, and was surprised to see a figure which I took to be Batters, in an unimpeachable Sunday suit of clothes, sitting on a stool silently smoking. He never moved, and scarcely appeared to breathe, so somewhat mystified, I said in a half whisper, “Batters.”

“Coming, sir,” said that worthy from the adjoining stable, and when he appeared the resemblance to the motionless figure was still more apparent. “A was stertin’ to rasp that grey mare’s teeth; that’s ma faither, sir.”

Batters looked any age between thirty and sixty, but was much nearer the latter age, and the figure on the stool looked considerably younger as it sat; but on being spoken to it solemnly dropped from the stool on to the shortest and bandiest pair of legs that ever curled round a saddle flap, removed the pipe from its mouth, and sticking it behind its ear, stood at attention.

“He’s just ridden a colt over from Sir William Miller’s to see the Irish mare,” went on Batters, junior, “and he’ll be starting back directly.”

“You’ve had a long ride,” I said.

“Parteeklar, sir,” was the reply.

“How do you like the mare?”

“Parteeklar, parteeklar, sir.”

“Come up to the house before you go.”

“Parteeklar, parteeklar, parteeklar, sir.”

The old fellow soon after appeared, part and parcel of his horse, at the door. Billy had offered him cherry brandy, saying to me, “Perhaps it may make him diversify his dialogue,” and the old chap with a brightening eye assented, believing he was being offered brandy. He eyed the ruby liquid very suspiciously, and would have smelled it had he been unobserved. Then taking a very small sip, he said, “Parteeklar;” another sip—“No bad;” sip—“Gey guid;” sip—“Dode, that’s better nor whusky;” a large sip— “A body wad never sta’ onna that;” a final gulp— “Yin could juist drink that till yin fell aneth the table.”

“True,” laughed Billy, “that will set you up for the ride home. How far is it.”

“Parteeklar, sir, thirty mile,” the old boy responded, as he started at a hound’s jog pace down the avenue.

“Well, that beats anything I ever heard in the Forest country last week,” roared Bill; and after dinner that night he related some of his experiences on that occasion. He had repaired thither with his mare, partly on his own business, and partly on that of the Hunt. I had deputed him to see how the work at the new kennels was progressing, to call on prospective puppy walkers, to see some of the farmers and learn when harvest was likely to be over, and to carry out many such, to him, congenial errands. His projected two nights away had been extended to a week. He had had two days’ grouse-shooting, two days’ trout-fishing, one lazy day (Sunday of course), and two days at business, staying most of the time with the Elliots, and he came home wearing one of Jack Elliot’s shirts and carrying one of Miss Flo’s pocket-handkerchiefs. He had deferred meeting some of the hunting men till his last day (market day), and had a heavy time, and on his return complained of headache.

“Look here, Master,” he said, “if you want to drink even with some of those old Johnnies over in the Forest country, you’ll have to begin to harden a bit. I was boxed up yesterday with three or four old topers; one a coursing man, one a famous curler, and one a gamekeeper, and all keen fox-hunters. The last was hale and hearty, and took his liquor straight, while the others were gulping and shirking and spilling it, while I was sitting tight scarcely daring to move. Old Cherry-trees asked McAlister the keeper, seventy-five if a day, ‘George, how have ye kept yer health so well? What kind of rule did ye make about drink?’ ‘Weel, Jims,’ old M'Alister returned, "made this rule early in life, an’ I follit it a’ thro’: I drank whusky and naething but whusky every day up ti’ sunset; then ’(sinking his voice to a whisper) efter sunset—brandy.’”

Old Dykes the coursing farmer told that so far as he knew only one of the young hounds at walk had come to grief, and that by being run over by a loaded cart, about which the guid-wife was heartbroken, and had that very day written me a letter imploring me to send her another whelp. Dykes also told, through many hiccups, how his own puppy, in fighting with a young greyhound bitch for the coveted honour of sleeping across the foot of his cook’s bed, had bitten her (“the sapling, not the wummin,” Dykes interjected) through the eye to the loss of its sight. When sympathised with, and asked by Billy if he would not like to send the puppy in, the old fellow replied, “Oh, never heed, I wadna like to want the whulp or lambing comes in, an’ he’ll mebbe no dae’t again.”

All these quaint characters he had met, and the evidences of the sportsmanlike tendencies of the people had made a great impression on Billy, who kept going over his experiences again and again, and deploring the fact that he had not made earlier acquaintance with them. He had seen Tom Telfer, our official first whip, itching for the appearance of the pack in the field, and had met for the first time Sandy Oliver, master of a south side of the Border Hunt, a man for whom cleuchs and sykes and bogs, and mosses, and well-eyes, and hidden sheep drains, and swollen burns, and treacherous fords had no terrors, and who was at home amongst the hills on the blackest night and in the wildest snow-drift.

He also came across a daft soul, Will Phaup o’ the Wisp. In a rough prolonged hill chase this individual, a great breeder of rams and of a few horses as well, was undefeated. He had pulled out a wellshaped but rather backward three-year-old for inspection, and was told it looked short of condition.

“I never like them rolling fat to start the season,” he stated.

“But you’re never going to hunt that beast; I was going to ask if he was broken to lead,” Billy had said.

“Broken to lead,” shrieked Will Phaup; “man, I hunted him last season three days in the same week in the foremost flight.”

“But, Will, that’s no way to treat a young one.”

“I ken, lad, but the auld mare was lame, and when the hoonds come whoopin’ and hollerin' round yer verra door, what’s a man to dae?”

We smoked and talked, and talked and smoked again till far past midnight, and Billy was knocking the ashes from his pipe preparatory to telling of Andrew Waugh, “the very finest old boy of the lot,” when a summons from the bed-room overhead was rapped out through the ceiling with such precision and vigour as to leave no doubt of its meaning, and the sitting was adjourned.

When I retired, a voice from the pillows asked, “Have you fixed upon a name for the grey mare yet?” “Well, no, we didn’t touch on the subject at all. Why?”

“Because he’s been at me to suggest a name for his mare, and I’ve given him some most suitable ones —'Quicksilver,’ 'Grey Nun,’ and others; and I’m determined not to propose the one he wants, and you must not do so either.”

“What does he want, and how do you know?” “Why, stupid, 'Lady Florence’ of course.”

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