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Hound and Horn in Jedforrest
Chapter IX. By Invitation


“Yon sounds neither sheep-bell nor bark;
They're runningI they're running! go hark!”
—Kingsley.

THE pernicious practice of exchanging letters with each other at the breakfast table, or of reading aloud extracts therefrom, was not usually followed in the family; but on this morning, in the fall of the year, I handed a note to Joanna with some elation, and its contents were instantly proclaimed in a tone of triumph from behind the tea-urn.

“The Duke has granted us a day in his country. His Grace says ”—pause for effect—“ or rather the note from the Field-master says: "If you are short of country and would care to have a day in the Crossford side of ours, you might arrange to go early next month, meeting, say, at Marchfield. You can let me know at once, and write to Jimmy Fairbairn so that he may have the earths stopped.’” The news produced various comments.

“Hooroosh!” came from one end of the table.

“What luck! Very civil of them; must keep my best fresh for that day,” from the other; and the boy Bobby, through a mouthful of scrambled eggs, spluttered, “Hope you’ll find a fox. Hope there’ll be a scent.”

Meanwhile I was mentally running over the phraseology of my letter of gratitude accepting the good offer, and considering which horses and hounds I would take, with a determination to present the best available appearance.

The announcement duly appeared :—

THE FOREST FOX-HOUNDS WILL MEET AT IO.3O A.M.
ON SATURDAY, DEC. 6, MARCHFIELD (By Invitation)

All the followers of our little pack looked forward with intense eagerness to the day.

Fortune did not favour the Hunt during the intervening time, for in the last days of November a run of calamities had occurred in rapid succession. Tom Telfer was down with influenza, which scourge had also prostrated the Second Whip and another stable lad; two of the horses were off, and three couple of good working hounds were unfit from various causes.

The eventful morning dawned, and an inauspicious start was made, most unlike what I had pictured and hoped for. Instead of two natty well-turned-out whips and a full pack, old Batters, in rat-catching attire, and a callow stable boy, mustered a diminished pack of twelve and a half couples round a dejected huntsman; old “Royal” was going short, and the “Omega” mare was coughing. Hounds seemed to be sharing the despondency, and things looked far from rosy. But Batters said, “Yin canna ken what’s afore yin; 00 micht happen on a richt guid day,” and the sequel will show that the oracular utterance had in it the spirit of prophecy.

I had been taking my own way with Batters on several points lately, so gave in to him when, on nearing the place of meeting, he suggested a well-known bridle-path as a short cut, saving a mile. It was only across some four or five large open fields, then down alongside a small clump of plantation; so as we were ten minutes behind time, we followed it. A hare got up under our noses and lobbed slowly along into the above-mentioned clump, and though the two terriers cocked their ears and made a dart out, hounds never looked at her, and were as steady as the proverbial rock, and I dreamt no evil. There was a hunting gate close to the corner of the plantation, and the catch-chain was low, necessitating bending well over to reach down to it. I was fumbling with it when, my back being turned to the pack, first the terriers, then one or two young hounds leapt over the wall, and mistaking old Batters’ hoarse rate for a cheer of encouragement, one or two more, till, in a surprisingly short time, all had disappeared and were running in chase with a cry that was full enough to have come from the throats of twenty-five couples, and strong enough to bring down the trees about their heads. Galloping down the side of the wall to the low corner, I was just in time to see a scared-looking fox jump on the top of the wall, and with a twist of his brush, as quickly jump back again. He must have done this almost into the jaws of his pursuers, and from the redoubled chorus I judged they had got a view of him. One turn round and he broke at the bottom with eight and a half couple close at him; and the complexity of the situation was apparent when I realised that the smaller portion of the pack left behind were also in chase, and running backward in the opposite direction. Shouting to old Batters to go on with these and stop them, hearing his fervent “ Heeven help us, this is a queer beginnin’,” and catching a glimpse of the “Omega” mare dancing on her hind-legs, her petrified rider clasping her round the neck, I went off in pursuit. The first fence was a high unswitched hedge with a low rail in the corner under a tree—a place for any hunter to pop over leisurely and temperately. Not so my old “chaser.” He went at it full tilt, and with a twist of his quarters flung himself over with about a foot and a half to spare, crashing my head into the branches, scratching my face, and hooking my scarf round under my ear. Two more fences, and then a big 120 acre park, across the middle of which the little pack sped, revelling in a scent that enabled them to carry a high head, and race along screaming with joy, to my consternation apparently making straight for the front door of the mansion-house. A little mob of Highland bullocks, with wild looks, joined in the chase, carrying their tails erect and galloping like thoroughbreds, and momentarily checking hounds; and whoops and yells from the assembled field testified that the fox was in view.

Close under the stackyard and hinds’ houses hounds ran, a dogcart wheeling on the road and some grooms with led horses being swept into the chase, while the laird of Marchfield was heard shouting lustily, “My horse! my horse! or any horse; let’s have some sort of horse!” and was soon thundering along.

What a plight for an anxious recently fledged Master of Hounds to find himself in. Instead of the dignified and conventional entry so often rehearsed, to appear on the scene in this headlong fashion. Yet I could not help enjoying the humour of the thing, though I saw with some dismay that we were following hounds that appeared to be tied to their fox, running in a direction away from the country where we were expected, and where some important members of the field would be waiting; and I also thought with apprehension of Batters and the boy away with one-third of the already too small pack making for the hills.

The laird came up, cutting a comic figure, hatless, breathless, with stirrups six holes too short, and crouching like an American jockey in his saddle, and shining with excitement.

“They’re running down by the river side and are like crossing, and they’re going to kill him,” he gasped.

But when we jumped the next fence and got down to the banks we found the panting pack marking at the mouth of a stone conduit. Asking the laird where the other opening was, he said, “It leads into a tile pipe which, I believe, comes away from my laundry. Anyhow, I lost a ferret here lately, and it was found there after the terrified laundry-maid had run screaming to the gardener that there was a serpent poking its nose out of a grating behind the tubs."

“Then, of course, we’ll have to leave him and get back and see where the rest of the hounds have run to.”

“You’ve got another fox on foot, and a chase going on, have you? Well, you are a greedy chap; won’t one at a time satisfy you? How, when, and where did you find this one?”

It was only civil to go through the form of apologising for an appearance so sudden and precipitate, and for the dishevelled state of the huntsman; but this was not listened to.

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” said the laird; “I never had such a piece of fun; you certainly let us know you were coming, and when I heard you I ran to get a horse. I would have been at their tails, but the first horse I got at had a lady’s saddle, and the next I seized was this—a fine fencer and a bold one, but I don’t know whose he is—how do you like my seat, eh? But how did you do it?”

“Well, laird,” I explained, “if you will plant a brace of foxes right in the path, you can’t blame hounds for chasing them.”

“Now, Master, don’t try to make me believe you were not drawing for him.”

And it was useless to contradict.

During our short jog back to the house, we were amused to find various ardent sportsmen aimlessly scouring across the country towards all points of the compass, in much anxiety and uncertainty, which was increased by the fact that wild blasts of the horn were being wafted down wind from a direction contrary to that in which we had so unexpectedly flashed. Old Batters was evidently doing his best.

When ultimately we got cooled' down and readjusted, and, having appointed two whips for the day, were proceeding to the pre-arranged draw, we met him coming back with his four couples. I could see him glancing at my saddle as if expecting to find a mask there, and from his triumphant expression I half expected to see one dangling from his. He reported having run over a tremendous big country, and having made a five to six mile point (extended in the saddle-room that night, for the benefit of the convalescing grooms, to ten miles, but in reality proved to be one and a half), and implying the exercise of great cunning and desperate racing—(on old “ Safety") he cut in before them and stopped them.

Subsequent proceedings kept us on the go all day till darkness overtook us, for we were fortunate in being blessed with a good scent that lasted, and enabled the hounds to run, if not as fast, at least as unerringly at 3 P.M. as they did at 10.30 A.M.

After trying a considerable extent of country, we got on to a fox who, with a ten minutes’ start, took us to the hills and down the adjoining valley for a short distance, and attempting to climb the hill on the return journey, failed, and was pulled down in the open in twenty-five minutes.

The shooting tenant of the ground then piloted us to a thick bracken bed where he had often seen a fox that used to lie close to his puzzled setters, and sure enough he was there to-day, and gave a pretty find as he jumped up in the middle of and twisted through the hounds, one or two actually snapping at him. This fox gave a good deal of trouble, for being blown in the first ten minutes’ burst, he did not go straight, but took to running short, and attempted every known ruse to baffle hounds, and if scent had not held well he might have succeeded.

He first tried creeping the tops of the stone walls and lying down on the shingles. He then went back to his kennel and pushed up another fox not a quarter of a mile from where he was found; but hounds did not change, and hunted him down into the low country, where he went into a cover and ran his foil. At last he made a quick and curious turn, and ran the road for three-quarters of a mile, bringing hounds to a check. Altogether they hunted him hard for nearly two hours, being very close at him more than once. His fate was an unusual one. Two collies and a greyhound broke away from their master, watching from a hilltop, and killed him stiff and draggled on a bare hillside, just short of a large whin cover generally holding one or two of his kind, and not three minutes in front of a disappointed and eager pack, and a hot and sulphurous huntsman.

But in reality the incidents of this notable day, satisfactory as the authorised programme was, do not obliterate the recollections of the unexpected fun of the morning which is always uppermost.

Old Batters seemed to think the part he played was of the most supreme importance, and on the long jog home repeated it again and again.

“They ran terrible fast, an’ the mere gaed like stoor an’ lap like a deer. A wud stoppet them suinner, but oo cam till a stane dyke five feet high or mair, vera near, an’ the saucy auld bezzom refused it the first time. The callant, puir body, was for pushin’ the stane aff the cope, bit A telt him there was nae time for that; then oo crossed the Cessburn road in-an’-oot” (through gates), “an’ A watched ma chance an’ rammed the auld mere forrit owre a stiff railin’ an’ raced her in afore them, an’ whuppit them aff. Aye, they wad killed him in anither quarter mile if A hadna hindered them."

And the genial laird seldom fails to remind me how I came to Marchfield “by invitation.”


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