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Hound and Horn in Jedforrest
Chapter V. First blood


“With silence lead thy many-coloured hounds
In all their beauty's pride. See how they range
Dispersed, how busily this way and that
They cross, examining with curious nose
Each likely haunt.”—Somervile.

OUR next venture was more successful. There | had been a week of warm dewy nights and sunny days; just the sort of weather to make foxes lie out; and we were at work at daybreak with eighteen and a half couple drawing the open. We had tried through some bracken beds and dry mosses before going on to run hounds through the peat hags on higher ground, when Jack pointed upwards with his whip. Old Peter Amos stood on a hilltop, one arm swinging like a flail in full action, his cap held high on the point of his stick with the other, but quite silent—he knew more than to shout. We climbed up towards him, and seemingly before we were within hailing distance he shouted down the hillside with a voice that would have pierced a snowdrift: “Auld Tweed cam til a deid sett at a heather buss and begood t’ girn, an’ whan A gaed forrit a muckle foax lap up an’ made for the heichts by the Blue Cairn. That was off an’ on toonty meenits sin’,” he bellowed. We took hounds round to the other side of the Blue Cairn height, and they spread out nicely through some rushy ground feeling for the line, then touching it they darted away and ran heel up wind back over the height.

“Dod, man, that’s the back fit they’re rinnin’,” roared old Peter, who had strode round in surprisingly quick time as the hounds ran right back to the kennel in his “heather buss,” then threw up their heads, wheeling round and round. Then he continued in an agony of distress: “ Get awa yont, ye rash-heided, donnert deevils ; auld Tweed wad made better wark,” he added, as I slithered past him blowing the horn, Jack cantering round them to turn them back. In a few minutes we had them put right, and were riding down an easy slope, hounds running along the edge of a long dry moss which ended in a deep watercourse. Crossing this, we had about two miles of rough benty ground, where hounds made away from us, but we got to them again very busy in a large fir plantation. After two or three turns round it, when we cracked our whips and showed ourselves as much as possible, the chorus growing louder and louder, there was a sudden lull, and then Jack’s whoop came from the other side. I found him standing by a rabbit burrow, at the mouth of which hounds were baying and tearing the turf and digging like demons.

“Shall we give him any law, sir?” asked Jack.

“Not a bit, sir,” replied a perspiring young farmer for me. “There’s fer owre mony o’ them here-away; they’ve taen the maist feck o’ ma wife’s chickens, an’ noo they’ve yokit on the auld dockers.”

“Very well; get a paling stob, and we’ll soon have him out.”

A few minutes’ digging disclosed our cub.

“Whoop — whoo-oop — whoo-oo-oop!” screamed Billy.

“Worry—worry—worry— too-too-too —too-too-too —too-too-too-too-oo!” went the horn.

“Must have a pad in memory of first blood.”

“Dead, dead, dead; leave it, hounds!’ said my amateur first whip.

“Very good; but don’t lay your whip about you so; don’t frighten young hounds; let them break him up outside the cover and eat him.”

Jack whipped off the brush and one pad, and holding the carcase up high before tossing it to the hounds, we screamed to our hearts’ content.

“All up, sir,” said Jack, as Lawless, a rather timid puppy, came in.

We saved a few scraps, pads and tit-bits, for the young hounds, and were coaxing them to taste them, when the boy riding my second horse came with the information that he had seen a fox leave the lower end of the plantation two minutes ago. So, before hounds had recovered their wind, we were cantering round, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing them dash away and settle down to run as if they meant business. A nice wide ring over sound lea heather ground brought us in a quarter of an hour, with one slight check where sheep had crossed the line, to a fair-sized stream, down the bed of which hounds hunted very closely, and where I saw two of the puppies very keen, as they were led to cross and recross the stream. Half a mile lower down were the buildings of a hill farm, a dwelling-house with outhouses behind, standing in an angle formed by the junction of a smaller stream with this one. A woman and two girls were at the kitchen door gesticulating excitedly.

Billy popped over a fair-sized rail into a sheep-yard, only to pop out again the same way, for the other side was an impossible wall—a most unnecessary performance; but he was always bold with a gallery.

“Please don’t scream, Missus,” said Billy, as hounds cast all round the outhouses, and the good lady’s apron waved, and her stout arm pointed.

"The foax cam by the end o’ the hen-hoose an’ gaed up the burn.”

“Thank you, Missus.”

“Pilgrim has it; hark to Pilgrim; huic together, huic!” as the old hound ran up the bed of the burn baying like a bloodhound, the others hastening to him. Up they hunted very prettily to a deep ravine, above which they paused a minute on bare ground, and struck off across the open moor again. They were now running very fast, only a tail hound or two speaking, the leading hounds almost silent, and one or two drawing out from the others.

“There he goes, the poor beggar, he’s doomed.”

Walking up a bank sparsely covered with hazelnut bushes was our luckless cub—doubtless brother to the one that met his fate earlier in the morning. He lay down behind a bush, then made a spurt to reach the stream again; but Dexter and Regent getting a view of him, raced up and turned him to Warrior, Pilgrim, and Trojan, who simultaneously grabbed him as he faced round at them with wide-open jaws.

“Here’s the brush of a good stout cub for you, Mr. Grieve,” said I to our hen-raising farmer, as that gentleman came panting up.

“Thank ye, sir; that was not his first veesit to my hen-hoose, but it will be his last, the thief. Come roond my way an’ Til gie ye a taste o’ butter-milk an’ whuskey—a graund drink for a hot mornin'”

"Many thanks, but it’s a little out of our way,” replied I, glancing at my second whip, who would fain have gone back. Good morning.”

“A satisfactory morning, Master,” said Billy, as we sauntered homewards.

“Yes, Bill; all but for one thing. I would have liked it better had hounds found these two foxes entirely by themselves. They hunted them well enough, but they had none of the fun or trouble of hunting for them; and if they always have them found for them like this, they may become impatient and careless in drawing.”

On that homeward ride, as on many subsequent occasions, we went over minutely every small incident of the morning, discussing the individual performances of each hound; how the old hounds ran in turn at head without jealousy; how one or two of the young ones would dart forward as if to snatch it away from their elders, but when they were in difficulties, how they had to fall back and allow the more experienced to show them how to keep to the line; how this hound was best on the sheep tracks and that across the burnt heather: agreeing that there was a great deal of delight to be had from watching all this, even though the riding part of it was not up to what it is in enclosed country over fences.

Billy devoted a good deal of soliloquy as to what he would have done had he been the fox, and why.

“Now that first beggar, if he had only gone on past Huntly wood, he might have run us out of scent with his twenty minutes’ start, instead of trying to push his brother up ” (we had decided they were brothers) “and then going and trying to hide. Silly ass! I’d rather have gone till I dropped than stuff my head into a rabbit hole and be half dead with suffocation first, before being dragged out like a condemned criminal. These two cubs showed all the difference between how to die like a soldier, face to the foe, and how to die like a convict.”

“Why convict, Bill?”

"Because, don’t you see, in his last moments, all his past evil life would come up before him, and he felt so jolly mean-spirited that he didn’t care, and convicted himself and hid for very shame.”

“After all, I suppose that both the two of them did what they thought to be their duty; and anyhow, they served a purpose. Well, at least, they only obeyed the first instinct of all animals, which is that of self-preservation; and whether their actions were directed by any other motive or not, we cannot tell.” After a pause, the talk took a more serious turn. Our philosopher remarked: “I suppose we run a certain amount of risk ourselves in galloping over these rough moors; though I take it, and we all take it, as only part of the fun, and we would not ask for less of it.”

“Do you know that the Arabs have a proverb— ‘The horseman’s grave is always open’?”

“No; but I rather like it. I don’t call myself a horseman, but when my time comes I’d like—well, what I do funk, really would funk, is a long slow ending, a real bad trouble, or worse still being crippled—ugh ! No ; anything but that—I’d like it to be short; just the sudden topple into the grave of the Arab.”

For many a day did the recollection of that ride home remain in my mind; and, indeed, I rarely think of our “first blood” without recalling every word of our talk as we drank in the delight of that splendid autumn morning.

“I wish we could stop and hunt in these grand hills for all time, eh?”

At first this seemed a strange announcement coming from Billy, whose appreciation of a hunt was in proportion to the number and nature of the fences he met and crossed; who rarely noticed natural scenery; who generally devoted less attention to hounds and hound work than to his own horse’s performance, and to that of his friends and rivals; and who hitherto had often spoken slightingly of hunting in the hills.

We had risen gently to the top of some high ground, and were riding through a nick between two hills—a “swire” as it is locally called, with the ground falling away before us—and we looked down upon and across a wide upland valley lit up by an early September sun.

We saw a sea of round-topped hills rolling on every side, the prevailing colour green, but that of an infinite variety of shades, the brown bent grass in the foreground relieved in patches by the gold of the frost-tinted bracken, and in larger stretches

by the dull purple of the slow-fading heather; the colouring now contrasting sharply, and now blending harmoniously, as a shaft of the sun rested on it, or a shadow from a drifting cloud dimmed it for a moment. Here and there a spot of grey indicated an out-by shepherd’s cottage, with byre and potato ground attached, sometimes poorly protected by a stell of battered Scotch firs, looking in the distance like a bunch of broom bushes, but more often placed in a howe of natural shelter. Black dots were the peats fresh cut and loose stacked, to dry, but not yet led in.

Stone cairns stood silent sentinels on the tops of the more prominent heights; while away to the west blue-grey mists rolled slowly up to the summits and clung to them before joining the clouds floating, like masses of newly-shorn fleece wool, above them.

On either side of the valley, the foot of each long limb stretching down from the higher ground was clothed with a fringe of birk and hazel; the bosoms of the hills were divided by hanging hopes ; their shoulders were cleft by sike and cleuch; and their heads were fitted with caps of light veil-like vapour which, from time to time, passed from one to the other.

“Isn’t this perfectly heavenly, Billy?”

We gazed spellbound, then glanced at each other, and Billy, in a half whisper, said, “Man, don't speak. O God! these grand green hills!” which was, perhaps, the best expressed prayer he had breathed for years.

We rode in silence for some time, till my companion said, “You don’t want me to help you home with the hounds, do you? For I think, if you don’t mind, old chap, I'll go round by the Ford.” And as I made no reply, he continued, “It’s not so far out of the way” (it was a trifle of nine miles or so), “and the day’s young yet; and besides, John Elliot has a colt I rather want to see. He’s been handling him, and was to back him this week,” he continued, talking hurriedly, and looking earnestly across to the other side of the valley.

It was such an unusual custom for Billy to give so many and so minute reasons for his contemplated movements that my curiosity was roused; but without displaying it, I gazed hard into space and waited for more. It came.

“Do you think that bird-skinning, fox-stuffing barber at Midhope Village could give me a decent shave, for I feel rather a nigger?”

“Yes, I think he could; but that's two miles more out of the way.”

“Is it so much as that? Then I must saunter on. By-the-by, John said he'd perhaps ride out by the swire on the chance of picking me up.”

As soon as he had forced the unwilling grey mare to turn off down the bridle-path and proceed a little way, the saunter was quickened to an easy canter, and before he passed out of sight I saw, not the stout form of John Elliot, but a slim figure in a skirt, on a white pony, appearing from the opposite direction. The two converged, met, and then rode away together through the shining hills.


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