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Hound and Horn in Jedforrest
Chapter XI. A Hound haver


“He guides them in covert, he leads them in chase,
Tho’ the young and the jealous try hard for his place,
'Tis ‘Bachelor’ always is first in the race;
He beats them for nose and he beats them for pace;
Hark forward to ‘Bachelor
—Whyte-Melville.

THE frost was holding and getting keener, and it was difficult to get horses exercised, for there was not much snow; so hounds were physicked and their coats dusted with sulphur; and we took to curling. Billy did not care much for the game, but rode out to the pond and came home with me. Our horses had frost nails in their shoes, and we were able to jog slowly along the crackling roads, making as much noise as would an artillery waggon. As we approached the out-buildings behind the stable we heard a scrimmage of some sort going on, and Billy said, “My word, those tom-cats are having a battle royal!”

“Chut, Bill, it’s two foxes fighting.”

And sure enough, as we came round the corner we saw two long forms separate and pop over into the deep glen behind the kennels.

There was more frost and snow during the night, and the morning was spent in the kennels. To Tom the feeder we related the incident of the night before, and that worthy’s reply was, “Oh! that’s nothing, sir. The foxes were barking and fighting at the gallows over the bones so loud two nights ago that they wouldn’t let the hounds get to sleep, and I had to get up twice with the lantern to them!”

We gazed at the huddled-up forms on the sleeping benches, and they were heaped closer than usual during this cold weather. I tested Bill’s knowledge by asking him to tell which hound the smallest portion of exposed surface belonged to, and this we did by spelling; for if we had named them, it would have made the hound named uncurl himself and disturb at least two or three of his fellows; so it was—

“What’s that lying with his head on R-a-m-b-l-e-r-’s flank?”

“That’s P-i-l-g-r-i-m—no? Then it’s P-i-r-a-t-e.” “That’s right. Now find D-e-x-t-e-r, and so on.” Tom told how some hounds “bossed the benches” and always had their own favourite to make a pillow or a footstool of; how some were liked and some disliked by all the others; how much space was needed before feeding, and how much more after feeding; and many other items of supreme importance in his own eyes.

“I like to see them best when they are tired and fed after a long day’s hunting; how they do snuggle up and snore; and when I look in last thing at them not one of them looks up but Regent, and he only opens one eye. Except on the night after a hunt, he’s the restlessest beggar ever was, and as he will lie at the back of the bed, and must get up at the least outside noise, he often disturbs the lot. And then they disturb me" he added half shamefacedly.

“I daresay you dream of hounds" said Billy to Tom, as the latter was going off to dinner.

“Well, very often, sir. The other night I dreamt they were all hunting me, and I couldn’t run a yard and broke into a cold sweat as Forager drew close up to me.”

When the kennel-man had gone I had a score of questions to answer.

"Which is the best all-round hound?”

“Well, Bill, I don’t think there’s any best of all; there’s three or four couple best of all, and each good in a different way. There’s Woodman, who will draw find, challenge; then hunt, speak, and drive; and is patient and untiring at a check: not so brilliant, perhaps, as Regent, but more reliable. Regent of course is grand for dash and drive and tongue; but sometimes he is too free, and again is sometimes too fast and gets away by himself. We have more than once come upon him, having run up to the fox, sitting and keeping him at bay till the others came up; for, curiously enough, the poor chap has no teeth at all, and though he is plucky enough, he cannot tackle the fox to any purpose. He is very quick at a check, and always makes a bold wide forward cast down wind first, and then a similar up wind one, and he is nearly always the first to recover it. Of course, he is the best-known hound in the pack, being so prominent and 'kenspeckle’ with his rough coat and his white colour, a colour that is most useful, as you can often pick him up against the dark heather at a distance when the others are invisible. Some of the shepherds have said to me: *A see ye ha’ gotten a “beardie” amang them; he’ll be mair gleg as the feck o’ them.’ I wish I had a few more like him.”

“Pirate, is that?”

“Yes; alongside of Dexter. Those two are at their best in a straight-out chase; don’t try very well sometimes, and are too eager for a start—that is, they don’t work a fox close in a big thick cover to push him out; but they, along with Challenger, are always first out; demons to drive a straight-going fox; run consistently at head and keep there until the finish. They are not the least jealous of each other—in fact, seem to work to each other; but I fancy I have seen them a little jealous of the rest.”

“A little light of tongue, Challenger, isn’t he?”

“He has plenty, but it’s soft and very high-pitched, and although he’s always using it, on a windy day you don’t always hear him at a distance; but as he is generally with those other two and Regent, who all speak freely, it’s not felt as a fault.”

“A bad point in a pack is a mute hound, eh?”

“The worst sort of all, and not to be tolerated for a day, however good he may be in all other respects.” “But you can’t complain of this now, for the last time they ran down the glen, and only twelve and a half couple out, every hound was speaking freely. It positively made me tingle all over, and the cry might have been from twenty couple of throats.”

“Yes; they’re all right for tongue.”

"Sometimes a little slack in drawing, eh?”

“Well, if they are, I put that down to the fact that the country is so well stocked with foxes (in the early season, anyhow); every bit of cover seems to hold him, and they have no trouble to find him. It's mostly a case of 'Hooi in there!’ and the fox goes off at the farther end, so that the careful drawers and triers don't get a good start. Ruffian and Royal, for instance, on some days, if they think there is a fox in a strip of plantation say, I’ve seen them put their noses up and race through it in a straight line.”

“Do you like to get away with a few hounds close behind a fox?”

“Yes; I generally go. Though I don’t like it, least of all from a close thick whin, because the honest hardworking hounds that have shoved into the thickest parts are at a disadvantage in the matter of a start, and the skirting hounds get away on better terms. But I don’t believe in waiting for hounds to come out. If you wait for them, they expect to be waited for, and become apt to dwell; whereas once left behind out of the fun and having to gallop hard to catch up, they take jolly good care not to hang back and be left behind again.”

“But don’t it disgust them and make them lose interest in trying to find?”

“No; I don't believe it. They are all mad keen to find him and run in chase, and the sooner it comes to that the better. Then, in this country, foxes find themselves so often, and often lie out and rise from the plough or the rough ground.”

“I suppose some are better finders than others?”

“Yes. There's gallant little Woodman, my favourite if I have one, he has the knack and has found more foxes by himself than any other. He seems to know where they are lying and goes straight to the spot. He is most careful, and tries every yard of the ground. I’m sure he has never missed one. He was once or twice left with a bad start; but now he’s away like a dart with the best of them.”

“I see you let them alone at a check?”

“Yes; most decidedly, unless they have tried wide all round and are completely at fault, and then only do I help them if I have positively correct knowledge of his line; for if they are helped too often they will expect to be helped. Besides that, in this country you can’t always get to them on account of wire, or those deep glens, and you must leave them alone; and in my humble opinion this is what makes these hounds work so hard at a check and hunt so close and determinedly. Each wants to be first to recover the lost line, and acts independently on that account. All I like to do is to turn my horse’s head in the direction I wish them to try, and move quietly along. It’s no use having them shouted at or rated when they are all doing their level best.”

“Then, what about a mixed pack?”

“Well, we’ve always hunted a mixed pack; twelve couple at least of dog hounds and five or six of bitches seems to be a useful proportion. Of course, in an open and flying country I’d like an all-bitch pack; but here the first essential is tongue—without it you’d be looking for hounds all day; for dog hounds are freer and stronger in this respect. They may not be so quick and handy as their sisters, and you may get a stubborn or 'dour’ one occasionally, but on a cold scenting day, with a twisting, short-running fox, I think they are more reliable; for their sisters on a cold line might be apt to flash and be more impatient.

But a few couple hunting and running with them sharpens up the dog hounds, I think, and perhaps the spirit of emulation is roused more by their presence. Of course, one has to keep a few more to take the place of those that are laid up in spring, and in the closing weeks we often have an all-dog pack of fourteen couple.”

“I see my little friend, Rosebud; she is surely out of condition?”

“Well, you see, she was left behind at the hill farm to have her whelps; then she was brought back to kennels on a cart in a large crate, with her five puppies six weeks old. They were soon afterwards weaned, and a week or so later Rosebud was taken out for exercise with the hunting pack, and shut up at the place of meet to be let out in the afternoon to find her way back to kennel. On getting home later I found a wire from Peter Amos saying Rosebud had come on there—to the hill farm—about six o’clock P.M.—a distance of nineteen and a half miles on the map from where she had been let out.” “Poor old lady,” said Bill; “I suppose she was looking for her whelps, and expected to find them there. S’pose she’s good in her work like her mother, eh?”

“Yes; but not quite so good. She inherits most of Rosamund’s good qualities, and she and her brother Rambler both inherit many of their mother's little tricks and habits. They both on the roads like to be a sort of vanguard about twenty-five yards in advance and on the off-side, and to jump into every water-trough they come to, as Rosamund did. As they are rather handsome, and have a fine carriage, and are as alike as two peas, I don’t insist on their being kept in the cluster. Then Rambler invariably carries the mask or nose home; and if he can’t get that, a pad; just as his mother used to do.”

“Funny how hounds sometimes miss seeing the hunted fox when they have run up to him and he has lain down?”

“Well, I think they are so intent on their noses, as it were, that the other senses suffer to some extent. You’ve seen, I daresay, hound after hound so bent upon carrying on the line as to run full tilt into wire netting which they would have jumped or avoided had they not been so engrossed; and you’ve seen them run a line up through a wood while the fox ran back parallel to them quite openly and within a very short distance; and I’ve seen the whole pack actually run right over the top of a crouching fox without being aware of it. I sometimes think that once the olfactory power is excited and stimulated to full operation the scent penetrates through the eye, through what anatomists would call the lachrymal duct, to the smelling nerve, as well as through the nostrils. Anyhow, it is believed by naturalists that some deer possess this faculty. If you hold any object to them they feel it not only with their noses but with the corner of their eyes where the lachrymal duct opens. Anyhow, hounds don’t see so well when they are carrying a head and in full chase on a hot holding scent, as they do when their smell nerves are not stimulated and excited. And it is as well they don’t get taken off the line, for the whole essence of hunting is to get hounds to find a line, carry it, and never leave it.”

Said Bill: “I once saw a curious instance of this intentness with the Duke’s. Hounds had brought their fox very blown into a small whin cover where they were pressing him hard and he was crawling along the top of a low bank alongside a patch of thin whins, when a big powerful hound coming to the cry met him and grabbed him and proceeded to shake and worry him. While this operation was going on the whole pack swept past, paying no attention to it, but racing along on the line which the fox had travelled about three minutes previously. Pause for a few minutes. Then a question—

“What is the principal cause of the hounds missing a fox after having run him hard and being close at him?”

“Well, I suppose it’s more often a failing scent or owing to the fox lying down and keeping perfectly still; so long as he doesn’t move he is quite safe, unless a hound happens to blunder against him and shift him. But a very frequent cause with us is the changing to a fresh fox. This would not happen so often if onlookers or others would keep quiet, but so often a run fox is seen to enter a cover and a fox is seen to leave it. This last is at once taken for the hunted one and holloaed away by some one who ought to know better. My experience is that the sore-pressed and hunted fox gets to a stage when he does not show himself; his only hope of escape is to hide, which he can do, and does do, in the most unexpected place, and in the most complete manner. It's the fresh fox that shows himself in most cases of this sort. He has digested his night’s supper and had a sleep, and now feels fresh enough and bold enough to risk a game of romps, and goes off with no attempt to conceal himself.”

“Is there any way of telling from the hounds if they have changed?”

“Well, I sometimes think that if, say, three or four couple have been running steadily at head during a chase, backing each other and without jealousy and with a regular cry, and when they run through a holding place, and all at once these hounds stop speaking and a fresh lot join in with a noisy cry, this may be sign of a changing scent with a change of fox.”

A shrill whistle from outside the yard and a voice piped up—

“Whatever have you been doing? It’s 2.30, and lunch is cold. Fie, fie—wasting time!”

“Don’t say we’ve been wasting time; we’ve been having a grand 'hound haver'”


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