“Pleasure that the most enchants us
Seems the soonest done;
What is life, with all it grants us,
But a hunting runI”—Whyte-Melville.
IT had been arranged that we should take
a day with the Duke's hounds, and a special effort was being made by
every one of the house party to put in a creditable appearance, both
as to horse and kit. I was unable to go, having business to attend
to at home; but. was mounting Captain Richards, an old friend and
fine horseman, on my best; and our numbers were increased by a lady,
Miss Anstruther, and a gallant soldier, Major Thurston, who had come
to hunt and stay, bringing their own horses. Both were very good in
their own way, but a little jealous. Billy, Florence Elliot, and a
schoolboy completed the party.
Breakfast was to be half-an-hour earlier than usual, and Billy and
Miss Florence were a quarter of an hour late, owing to the extra
time each had devoted in the morning-room to the adjusting of the
other's scarf, which seemed to be models of neatness and whiteness;
though the young lady’s required more protracted manipulation from
the deft fingers of the gentleman than appeared requisite.
“How’s my stock, Mr. Kerr?” she had asked.
After the most searching examination, the verdict was—"Beautifully
folded, but the pin is a trifle high, and might be a leetle more
sloped. May I put it right for you?” and so on.
This operation had been witnessed through the open window by Bobby,
to his great joy, and he stored up what he had seen and heard for
“Aunt Jane is late,” said Joanna from behind the urn, as the tramp
of horses’ feet was heard on the gravel.
“I don’t think Aunt Jane will appear till she knows I am well away"
exclaimed Captain Richards. “I fear I am the innocent cause of her
absence" he went on. “I met her as I was coming along the passage
with my white apron on, and I believe she thought it was another
sort of garment, and that I was on my way to the bath-room, for in
spite of my most agreeable smiles and greeting, she cut me dead and
ran off with half-suppressed sobs.”
The first incident of note, after the cavalcade started, was that
Bobby’s Shetland pony made a rush to a watering-trough b}' the
roadside, and plunging his muzzle in over the nostrils, drank deep
and long. His rider tugged, and flogged, and kicked, and Captain
Richards flicked clouds of dust out of his shaggy coat with his
whip, all to no purpose, until his thirst was slaked.
“I told Batters to keep the water off him last night,” said Bobb}'.
“Never mind, I don’t need to draw up my girths now; they’re quite
They came home in the evening in
detachments. Bobby was an easy first, bringing in his still panting
pony with one shoe, and bearing the incredible intelligence that he
had stopped most of the field. Whether he was more proud of this
last accomplishment or of losing three shoes it is not easy to
decide. The main body returning later confirmed the news. The facts
were, that a tall untrimmed hedge had temporarily checked part of
the field, who were craning and looking for a weak outlet, and Lord
Charles’ horse had shied off the formidable obstacle, when Bobby
spied a gap with a long tree or spar fixed across it, about four
feet six inches from the ground, and crouching along the side of his
nj-hand hunter, had bolted underneath it at the risk of being
scraped off. It is only fair to say that Lord Charles, following
him, flew the uninviting leap without a fault.
Loud were the praises of the hounds, the huntsman, and the country
by all gathered round the tea-table, and the field’s gallantry was
specially sung by Miss Florence.
On the last point Billy was more silent than was his wont. It
transpired that during a very fast scurry in the afternoon, Billy
had not been as much in evidence as usual.
But to Master Bobby belonged the honours of the day. He had ridden
through the hounds, and was chatting quite at his ease with the
huntsman, when the Duke rode up. Just before moving off, His Grace
had asked who the schoolboy was in the cricket cap, and Bobby was
duly presented. He was eating his sandwiches at the moment, or
rather sharing them with an old hound who was hiding behind his
pony, but snatched off his cap in salutation, which, as he could not
replace, he crammed into his pocket, and then extended a very rough
woolly and not overclean gloved hand in the Duke’s direction. The
sixteen-hand hunter edged away from the rough doormat of a pony; but
Bobby was not to be baffled, and urged his mount alongside, the Duke
good-naturedly bending forward and nearly overbalancing himself as
he stretched out his arm to the persistent boy. Still the nervous
horse shied back and snorted.
“So ho, don’t be afraid, old man,” said Bobby, as he succeeded in
obtaining a firm grasp of the hand, and wrung it with the fervour of
an old comrade, and to an extent that nearly pulled the noble Master
out of his saddle.
I have always experienced some difficulty in obtaining a clear and
connected account of a day’s hunting from those engaged in it—a
difficulty amounting, at times, to despair. If the questioned party
belongs to the gentle sex, the trouble is most acute, and there is
only slight hope of collecting a coherent report, especially if
there should happen to be present another fair participator in the
day’s proceedings all too eager to recount her experiences.
I am frequently forcibly reminded of the saying of an old huntsman
on this point, who was very shrewd and observant, and who had a very
terse and direct way of putting things. It was as follows: “The
merit of a run greatly depends upon the position held in it by the
narrator.” Bearing this in mind, I looked forward with something
more than ordinary interest to the versions I was to hear, knowing
they would be varied. The ladies had already thrashed out every
minute of the day at the tea-table, in their bed-rooms, and at
dinner, but were delighted to be invited into the smoke-room at ten
o’clock for a further palaver.
My initial question of where the fox was found was completely
ignored, and the line of talk taken and followed consisted mostly of
interjections as to what each had seen the other do.
“Did you have a very awkward post and rail in a corner ? ”
“Did you see me jump the drop?”
"How did my mare do the double?”
“Didn’t Mrs. Black’s horse peck badly there?” These were questions
fired off by Miss Anstruther to Florence with such startling
rapidity as almost to preclude reply.
“Where was the double?" I ventured to ask.
“Oh, just after we crossed a muddy lane, and through a gate, along a
grass field, over a horrid little trappy fence into a sticky plough,
not far from the donkey,” was the enlightening reply, reeled off,
amid laughter, without a pause, by the eager lady.
This one feature of the donkey seemed to be prominent in the
recollection of all, and served as a basis comparative for time and
It seemed hounds had checked for a minute or two behind some farm
buildings, and on recovering the line and throwing their tongues, a
donkey in an orchard adjoining had lifted up his voice and brayed
So it was, “Captain Stone fell before the donkey.” “I didn't have my
lunch till after the donkey.” And, “The double was just about the
same time as the donkey.”
“But where was the tremendous double?” again I asked, while various
items of information, relevant or otherwise, were rapidly
volunteered. “Was it in the afternoon, or in the morning hunt?”
“The afternoon, I think,” replied Miss Anstruther; “at least, Lord
Charles had his second horse, and he and Major Thurston were at it
first, and I came next, the first woman, except that Mrs. Black, who
had it lower down at a much easier place, Mr. Kerr told me. I saw
her in trouble soon after, and I don't think she can go much without
a pilot. Yes it was just about the donkey.”
Florence, who had been waiting for an opportunity, now chimed in,
“It was on the line between Cotley and Brownmoor, and on old
Moffat’s farm,” she said triumphantly, after a whispered
consultation with Billy, who may have prompted her. Miss Florence
had followed hounds on a pony as a schoolgirl; but this was only her
second season on a grown horse. She was quite inexperienced in a
crowd, and a little over-anxious not to be in the way; but had a
decided knack of getting along without being conspicuous or seeming
to be in a hurry. She had a good eye for a country, and an unfailing
memory; a wrong turn once taken was always remembered and never
again repeated. She never “coffee-housed,” and at a check always
stood still outside the crowd, watching, so usually got a good
start. Her great desire was to become a thorough sportswoman, to
learn the country well, to get to hounds, to know and see what they
were doing, and to save her horse as much as possible. All she knew
she had learnt with the Forest fox-hounds, and I was distinctly
disappointed to hear that though she had held her own well in the
morning, she had not been quite “in it” in the afternoon.
“It was a real nice day's sport, my Uncle,” she said. “Hounds did
not get a good start from Cotley. gorsc. They hunted the best part
of two hours, and were kept busy all the time; it was a ringing
hunt, but they took us over some nice country; never fast, but
always kept moving on. They ran by Catshawhill, Friarshaw Moor and
the Fans, and crossed the river twice, at the Lowlynn ford and again
higher up. Anyhow, 'Nugget’ and I had enough to do, and I was not
sorry when they ran into the fox at Sandymill, five miles from where
they found him."
The gallant Major must be catalogued in the class along with those
who hunt to ride. An undeniably fine horseman, with good nerve and
judgment, he was generally well mounted, and prominently in front.
But he was handicapped with short sight that prevented him from
seeing hounds cutting out the work in a close country, and with
shorter temper that came to the front when he lost his place and
fell back. In fact, he liked to be first or nowhere. I anticipated
his reply to my “Now, Major Thurston?"
“Well, it was very slow in the mornin', with time to pick your place
twice over, and lots of time to get out of the way of the boys and
girls. Not much leppin'; a nice fence or two now and again, but
nothin' that a pony couldn’t jump, and hounds kept checkin’, and
ringin', and dwellin'."
“Not much 'dwell' from Harestanes, Major," put in Richards.
“No, it was certainly better in the afternoon; a fastish ten minutes
over a fairish country that took some doin'; if they had only gone
on there wouldn’t have been many in it."
“Fastish!" screamed several voices; “it’s four miles on the map, and
I swear we did not take more than fifteen minutes to it. Why, it’s
racing. It’s 'Grand National’ form.”
“I would sum it up,” persisted the Major, “by saying it was an
indifferent day, relieved by a smart dash in the afternoon.”
“Well, Master,” said Richards, “I call it a very first-rate day’s
sport” (he had ridden in many point to point races, and between the
flags). “Hounds ran quite fast enough over a stiffish enclosed
country, with a twisting fox headed back once or twice, and on an
uncertain scent. They stuck well to the line, and put in some very
pretty work. The huntsman was very patient and persevering; let them
alone at the critical time, and encouraged them at the right moment;
and worked hard all through the show sport. As to the afternoon
gallop, you wanted a steeplechase horse to be near it, and, thanks
to you, I had one.” Billy’s chief contribution to the discussion was
grunted out between clouds of smoke from his pipe: “Some of these
fellows ride big bang blood horses up to two stone over their
weight, and know the country like their pockets;” and added, “I
wasn't in the afternoon spurt.”
Bobby's shrill treble now piped up from a dark corner of the sofa,
where he had been sleeping unnoticed: “The old Duke’s a brick, but
Freddy Elliot’s a prig. He does swagger so about a brush he’s got at
home, some poor cub’s likely, or a mangy vixen’s,” he continued, as
an afterthought. “By-the-bye, Mr. Kerr, it was jolly decent of you
to wait and girth up cousin Florence, and tie her tie, as I saw you
doing in the stackyard at Harestanes, just as the hounds were going
This interjection threw some light on Billy's absence from the
“Be off to bed with you, you young whelp,” said Billy, taking him by
the shoulder and hustling him out of the room.
After the ladies had retired, the talk was prolonged till past
midnight. It sometimes passed away temporarily from horses and
hounds, but always drifted back to this oft-travelled channel, and
from all sides reminiscences came ready and rife. The Duke’s
huntsman came in for a full share of the discussion.
“How did you like him?” said I to Captain Richards.
“I think it would be well worth riding fifty miles on a rough horse
if only to have a look at him, the way he sits his horse, and the
way he winds his scarf round his neck. He’s a hard-bitten
purposelike old man; looks a workman and a bit of a character too.”
“He’s all that,” came from several voices; and then some
recollections of him were given.
“I remember,” said the Major, “coming upon him standing at the edge
of the big wood at Bailliestane on a very windy day, when, for the
time being, we were out of sight and hearing of hounds. He was
watching a fox going right away, well out across a good country,
before he touched his horn. Hounds soon came streaming out, and
apparently ran the line so far, then turned at right angles back
towards the wood. He blew till he was purple; then laying down the
horn, said, "Look at that. What in wonder is taking them down there?
Isn’t that most excruciating?"
“Again, when hounds had divided for the moment, and we were
hesitating which to follow, and an ardent young sportsman rode up to
him saying, ‘There are some hounds on.’ "I'm aware of that, sir; but
don't you hear the major portion of the pack running back like
On another occasion, a wild stormy day in the end of March, we had
drawn a large tract of country blank till late in the afternoon,
when we found a fox in a long strip of plantation, from end to end
of which and then across some fields to another plantation, hounds
ran. It was then found to be a vixen they were running, so they were
stopped, not without some difficulty. Meanwhile one or two of the
field had viewed, or thought they had viewed, a dog fox away from
some scattered whin bushes outside the first strip, and the news
spread. Hounds had crossed the supposed line and had not indicated
it. Then one after another, down to the youngest, no less than three
members of the Ducal family came to the huntsman with the
“You know a fox went away from the end of the strip when hounds were
running the other," said No. I.
“Indeed, my lud?”
Now No. 2 waiting his opportunity, “Perhaps you didn’t hear that a
fox went away, and it”
“Did he, my lud?”
Lastly No. 3, a schoolboy full of importance, bustled up, "I say, I
don't suppose you heard” (our friend was fairly tired of hearing by
this time) “that a fox, a dog fox too, went away, &c. Oh yes,
there's no doubt about it, for Mr. A. saw him, and some others saw
“Did they, indeed, my lud? Privileged persons!” A bold rider
himself, he was merciless to a shirker or a funker. A high strong
rail had stopped a bevy of these one day, till one enterprising
spirit charged and broke the top rail. A confirmed funker asked,
“Who is the culprit?”
“What do you say?” said the huntsman.
“Who is the malefactor?”
“Surely you mean, who is the benefactor.”
One time, in a crowd of over-anxious horsemen, who had headed a not
very adventurous fox back, as he turned his horse round, hemmed in
for the moment, he whispered to me, “There's nothing more injurious
to fox-hunting than mad haste. Where is the sense of pressing on
when the fox is back?”
On these lines conversation flowed on till the small hours.