Hound and Horn in Jedforrest Chapter XIII. A Hill Day
He's away for the moors in the teeth of
interest had not slackened, but the season was waning ; hounds were
light in condition, some of the four and five season hunters showing
signs of loosening of toes and wearing of feet; earths had been
opened for some time and drawn out by the vixens who were now lying
up dog foxes were getting scarce and not easy to find; lambs (the
huntsmans bane) were a full crop and two or three weeks old on the
lower farms; scent was uncertain; the country was hard, dry, and
dusty; and the weather was of the barren and boisterous character
common to the period.
The beginning of the day was unpropitious, for we had lost a quarter
of an hour at the start, and none of it had been wiped off by the
time we passed the halfway milestone. Old Safetys jog was rougher
than usual; if there was a loose stone she found it and kept
dribbling it in front of her like a footballer till she made her
last effort to kick it away, accompanying this with a grunt and a
The last half of the twelve-mile jog was on a high moorland road,
open to the full force of the blast rushing down from the heights;
and as we bent our heads to the wind and quickened the pace, I
cursed myself for having agreed to give this extra day in this wild
waste district on the very outskirts of our country. It had been
thought desirable to kill or scare away one or two foxes here before
the hill lambing commenced, and though hounds were to hunt the next
day on the same side of the country, the fixtures having been duly
advertised, this unadvertised by-day had been planned as an
auxiliary to it. An amazing number of the keenest of keen sportsmen
had assembled at the place of meeting, an exposed farmhouse on a
wind-swept hillside, where they were trying to obtain such shelter
as was afforded by the walls of a dry-stone sheep-fold. The horses
had their tails tucked in and their ears laid back; but their
masters faces, already glowing from exposure, beamed with pleasure
at the sight of hounds, and we had a cheery greeting.
The two joint masters of a trencher-fed hill pack rode up from the
opposite direction, and I hailed them with satisfaction, for I
deemed that their pilotage might be useful before the day was ended.
I was relieved to notice they had not brought any of their hounds;
but several sharp-looking, hard-coated terriers ran with them.
For nearly three hours we tried all sorts of likely lying places,
exhausting all the hitherto known kennels above ground.
Ye shood ha been here at seven oclock in the mornin an ye might
ha got a drag, Sandy Oliver kept reiterating. Well have to risk
disturbing a vixen, and run the terriers through the big earth at
I was loath to do this, but there seemed no other way of getting
sport; so blowing the disappointed hounds together, we moved on for
the famous earths on the opposite side of the valley.
In passing a patch of heather that had escaped the previous springs
burning, and that was mixed with rough boulders and battered
bracken, one or two of the rear hounds hung back, and old Warrior
stood still for a moment, feeling the air with his nose before
dashing forward, when suddenly, and as if the earth had opened and
shot him out, a big supple-looking dog fox projected himself and
stretched away like a greyhound, the whole pack screaming after him
like distracted beings as he increased his distance from them along
the side of the hill.
"Thats right, keep out above them," shouted Sandy Oliver, as he
cantered past me tying a new cracker on to his thong as he went. "By
the Lord, they are scolding him along proper. That beats a blooming
kirk organ, he added.
For full forty minutes we galloped, or rather scrambled, slithered,
or floundered over as rough a piece of country as ever tried the
mettle of the stoutest horse. No sooner had we surmounted one
hilltop than we saw another before us, higher and farther off than
the last, and as we breathed our blowing horses before we set them
going again, I heard the shout of one or more of the hill-men,
There they go! Yonder they go! Right forward away! as they pointed
to the expanding sky-line.
I freely confess I was no more anxious to keep in sight of hounds
than of the active form of the Master of the Talladale and his
ponys rat tail, as he sailed along with little apparent effort.
Once I thought I had lost him; but he came skating down a steep
face, his pony sitting on its haunches with its forefeet pushed out
before it, and shouted, Theyre right on, and well have to cross
the bog. Well lose them if we go round. Keep close in to the edge
of the haggs between the wet and the dry; youll do fine if your
mare knows them. And with that he disappeared between two
overhanging haggs into what looked like the bed of a stream.
Old Safety had many opportunities of knowing them and learning
them in the next few minutes, and it was not without several
struggles that we emerged on to harder ground.
Three or four more hill-men were now showing in front, and I rode in
their tracks, watching them pointing forward with their whips to
where you could just see the hounds fading away over the farthest
Pounding on for another mile or more, I heard loud whoops, and came
upon a small knot of excited men, who threw themselves off their
horses, leaving them to stand without hobbling or tying up in any
way, and rushed down into the hollow where hounds were baying loudly
and digging furiously.
Its only a water-crack, said Dave Oliver, after we had taken
hounds off to some distance. Well soon bolt him out of there if my
brother Sandys terrier would come up.
Why not try my whulp? said Geordie Davidson, producing the said
creature from a game bag which he carried.
"Its too big and wet, Geordie; hed never go in.
Never go in! yelled Geordie, and a heated argument began, which
was only ended by the appearance of Sandys terrier, who decided the
dispute by diving into the crack lower down the hollow, Sandy
himself lying prostrate on his stomach on the ground with his ear
closely pressed to the earth, while the rest of them drew back and
watched with the most intense interest. Sandys hand went up to
indicate he had located the spot from which the yaps and grunts
accompanying the subterranean battle proceeded, and he crept softly
on all fours down the hollow. Five, ten, fifteen minutes of cold
suspense followed, during which a few straggling men and horses
arrived, all to take up a position well back and above the centre of
attraction. Then Sandy, crawling quietly away, came up to say he
could hear nothing, and thought they must be in grips.
If we had only a spade, we could shift him, he said; but its too
far to send in to Skaith-hill. But whats this? Here come two lads
carrying something very like the instrument.
Two wiry shepherds were not long in setting doubts at rest.
We keep an old draining spade on the heights, they explained; it
often comes in handy.
An opening was soon made, and Sandys terrier dragged out slightly
punished, and at his urgent request Geordie Davidsons young Piper
was put in. He wriggled out of sight in a second, and soon after his
delighted master was screaming in enjoyment: Hooi at him, Piper
lad, good Piper lad, hooi at him. Hes driving him doon the hill is
Whist, Geordie; if ye mak as much noise, nae fox will bolt.
A few minutes of expectation, and then I saw Geordie staring as if
his eyeballs would burst, and thought I caught sight of a black
object slinking down the bed of a small watercourse.
Ta-a-a-aly-ho! screamed Geordie, unable to contain himself any
longer, and hounds poured away like a cataract.
Bi ghor, thats a ghrand tarrierh! said the shepherd; look
yhonderh, hes oot close ahint him!
What sliding and skating; some going straight down, some at a slant;
but all arriving at the bottom somehow.
Old Safety sprawled into an innocent-looking green spot; I flung
myself off to ease her, and landing half-way up to the knee, left my
boot stuck fast in the ground, clean sucked off. The amusement of
several of the boys was undisguised, though I did not altogether
appreciate the chaff to which I had to submit.
Using Todshawhope as a boot-jack, Master? Suffering from hot
feet, sir? Boots too tight? and such-like poor witticisms.
But they were sufficiently Samaritan to catch the old mare, and I
pulled the boot out and worked the foot into it, and continued the
chase, grudging very much the lost minutes.
I was not above being guided by Sandy Oliver again, who to my
surprise turned back towards us with a set expression on his face:
We cant get through the Red Cleugh; were far better on this side
of the hill.
He'll never make the
heights; theyre bound to turn in. Come on.
"Lord preserve us" he cried in his excitement, they must be running
in view, and heres that blasted wire fencethe march between Todlaw
and Softhopetightened up and renewed. Well have to get through it;
theres not a gate for miles.
He brought his pony alongside the fence, stepped off and stood on
the top wire, balancing himself with his hands on the saddle,
dancing and swinging and stamping till a staple flew; then moved
along to the next post, and the next one or two, repeating the
operation. Then jumping down, he bound the loosened wires tight
together with his stirrup leather, and laying his coat on them, he
led his pony over, the sensible beast quietly lifting one leg at a
Safety played the fool, hanging back and planting her toes in the
ground, breasting the fence anywhere but the right where, and at
last leaping so suddenly and so high in the air as almost to land on
the top of me.
Sounder ground enabled us to canter round the base of the hill to a
point overlooking the whole of the wide hope below, which we eagerly
scanned, but without seeing a sign of the chase.
They cant be down into Softhope burn below us, or we would hear
them, and they havent had time to get over Red Cleugh heights; they
must have put him to ground again, said Sandy.
Emerging from the bed of the stream higher up we now saw Davie
Oliver on his white pony, with a few followers, moving in an
uncertain way, and apparently as much at a loss as we were
But a note on the horn brought several dark forms out of a side
cleuch directly below us, and on going down we found the pack at the
edge of the stream, most of them lying in it drinking and panting;
and a little way off, after some search, a mangled object stretched
and flattened and so plastered with black peat as to be more like a
fox that had been dead for a week than the limber animal that had
just stood up so well in front of hounds.
They never do break up a fox when they kill him in a peat-hole like
that, explained Sandy.
Davie was urged by his elder brother to thrust a finger down the
creatures throat, which he did very gingerly, and reported not only
that it was blood-hot, but declared he felt an expiring twitch and
quiver, with an attempt to close the long jaws, which made him
retract his finger with more decision than he had inserted it.
After washing in the stream and removing brush, mask, and all the
pads, amid the whoops and yells of their followers, the body was
thrown to the hounds, who soon tore him and ate him, being assisted
in the operation by such of the terriers as had come up. These
determined little creatures held on to and fought for every scrap of
skin, and we had a good laugh to see Geordie Davidsons Piper pounce
upon a small portion and bear it off while the brothers Olivers
terriers were locked in mortal combat over the same prize.
Estimating distance and time and comparing notes occupied us till we
followed down stream to the shepherds house.
Where got ye that saddle, Dave? inquired Sandy.
Its the Masters. I lent mine to Jack the whip to use to get his
horse out of Lairhope bog, said Dave; he was in firm up to the
withers and had done struggling; so, as my saddle was a very old
one, I whipped it off, and we turned it up before him and drew the
horses fore-feet out and put them on the panels, and flicked him
with our whips, and at the first try he got out. But I bargained
that Jack was to ride home on my dirty saddle, and I was to get
And how did you get off Softhope? pursued Sandy.
We took down the water-gate, and lifted the hanging rail off,
replied Davie; but you came a quicker road. Where did you get a
gate in the march fence?
Oh, about half-way down the rig on the other side of the hill,
replied his brother, winking at me.
At the parting of the ways we were only one couple of hounds short;
but of their followers only nine out of about thirty starters
survived, and of these six were hill-bred men on hill-bred horses.
Fourteen miles from our sleeping place, and eight from the point
where we were to meet the fresh horses and some four couple of fresh
hounds, and it was dusk, and every minute of daylight was precious.
Youll save nearly a mile and a quarter if you cut across behind
Dryslade woods, shouted Sandy Oliver, as he waved back
How I repented of taking this road may be imagined when, five
minutes later, hounds, without any warning, dashed off into the
sombre woods on a red-hot scent, screaming as if to waken the dead.
Blowing till I was blue, my two companions cracking their whips,
rating till they were hoarse, and riding their tired horses for all
they were worth, produced seven and a half couple of surprised
hounds, while the rest pursued with a vigour and a vehemence worthy
of a better time and occasion.
Its no use, Ben; Mr. Stewart and you will have to go back and try
to stop them and bring them on to Dryslade farm.
Only those who have tried it can know what an exasperatingly slow
process it is to coax tired-out foxhounds with a leg-weary horse
along a strange road, especially when their heads are turned away
from home, and when you have no one putting them on from behind.
Stiff, chilled, and dispirited, I crept along by slow yards, blowing
a dejected note on the horn at intervals, musing on the alternating
joys and misfortunes of the day, attempting to realise the
predicament in which I was placed, and picturing the sort of
appearance I would cut next day with only half a pack of hounds.
A faint Hi, woa! came from the distance; a figure showed in the
dusk running across the fields; then a friendly voice shouted:
Stop, Maister. Ave been watchin ye a day, it panted, an Ave
seen the feck o the hunt; yeve hed a lang sair day, an ye maun
bei gey hungery an awfullies droi, and me an the wifes socht ye a
basket. It was dear old Andrew Waugh, and the basket was a generous
supply of scones, and oatcakes, and cheese, and currant loaf, and
butter, and a decanter of whisky, and glasses.
Dod! bit er ye a yersel? What hae ye dune wi the rest o them?
said the honest fellow, as he poured out a generous supply from the
decanter. Michty, what a gran hunt. A aim gled ye catched him, he
went on ejaculating, as his questions were answered by degrees.
Sitting on the bank by a roadside spring of water, when one of the
most delicious meals was in progress, the rap rap of horses feet
was heard, and Stewart and the boy jogged up with the missing
hounds. Sandy and the rest of the hill-boys had heard the cry
approaching them, and by a liberal use of whip-cord and voice had
stopped the hounds. So the feast was prolonged, and with the dews
falling and the stars coming out we demolished the basket and
drained the decanter to the toast of Andrew Waugh and fox-hunting.
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