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Hound and Horn in Jedforrest
Chapter XIV. Blank days, Odd days, and a Record day


“Who-whoop! they have him, they're round him, how
They worry and tear when he's down!
'Twas a stout hill fox when they found him, now
’Tis a hundred tatters of brown!”
—Whyte-Melville.

IT was an infinite satisfaction, and it had begun to be my boast, that we seldom had a blank day. Often did we draw a good big tract of country in the spring months, when vixens were below ground and dog foxes were lying out in the open, without finding, and often when things were looking hopeless, a fox would discover himself in the most unlikely and unusual spot and provide a good hunt or a fast gallop as the case might be. And even if we had only a short scurry with an “interesting” vixen, whom we speedily put to ground and as speedily left, or if we slowly followed the short turnings of an anxious and crafty old dog fox, till, under cover of night and failing scent, he beat us, there was always some fun to enjoy and some amusing incident on which to look back. Though it was in the first days that the most droll occurrences happened and the most novel situations arose.

One day, an alert-looking little man was seen to dismount and hold open the gate from a turnip-field to allow a somewhat strung out line of riders to filter through, with the intention of shutting it when the last had passed. A voice from one of the field well in the rearguard was heard to call out to him— “Go on, go on, don’t wait for me.”

“I think I’ll wait and shut the gate.”

“Oh, nevah mind waiting for me.”

Still the obdurate person stood at the gate.

“We nevah shut gates when hounds are out,” as he approached.

“Well, sir,” said the gatekeeper, “as the turnips are mine, and these sheep coming to us are mine, and I believe the gate is half mine and half the Yerl o’ Whum’s, I think I’ll wait back and shut it after I get you through, so bustle up, please.”

One morning, during a fast gallop over an estate where the fences were well looked after, where jumping places of stout larch rails were put up in what wire there was, and where gaps were few and instantly repaired when they existed, an amusing dialogue took place. We crossed the march or boundary fence, consisting of a fairly high bank with a rail on the top, and as horses were rather blown, most of us were glad to have it at a spot where the fencers were at work renewing the rail, of which they had taken down a rood or two. In the afternoon the homeward way lay back over the same line of country. The foreman fencer, the village joiner, was just about to fix up the last bar, and one of the field seeing this, rode up in advance.

“Hi, Sandy, let’s through there before you nail it up.” No reply from Sandy except a roar to a young apprentice to watch what he was doing, and a little more vicious wielding of the hammer.

“Sandy, man, pull that down.”

Then Sandy’s opportunity came.

“Pull this doon,” said he, without removing his pipe; “I’ll dae naething o’ the kind; we’ve juist bin sent oot here ti pit it up.”

But I once drew blank for Tom Telfer, and of this Joanna was frequently pleased to remind me.

It was in this wise. Tom was staying in the house preparatory to making a very early start by train to hunt next day. I got up in the darkness, and had not proceeded far with my dressing, and was in very scant attire, when I thought I would see if my whip was stirring. So, groping along the passage, at the farther end of which were two doors, I opened the right-hand one, struck a match, and walked across to the dressing-table to light the candles, saying, “Time to get up, Tom.” Then suddenly a feminine voice from the pillows said quite calmly and with appalling distinctness, “Hulloa, Master, whatever do you want in my room?” Looking round, I beheld a frizzled-up head, which I only half recognised, and in my agitation shouted, “Where the devil is Tom Telfer?” To which the young lady chillingly replied, “Well, you didn’t expect to find him here, did you?” I could only gasp and stare helplessly in the direction of the small crib in the corner of the room, and my dilemma was the worse when the match burned my fingers, and being hastily dropped, left me in black darkness.

There was one part of the country which was getting short of foxes, and which we had drawn blank on two successive days’ hunting, and here it was that we had two odd and unexpected hunts on one day.

It was with many misgivings that I proceeded thither in response to the urgent request of the shooting tenant for a third time round. As we passed the door of the keeper’s house, that worthy imparted the startling information that “the Talladale dogues had bin rinnin’ yammerin’ aboot sin grey daylicht.” This was the description given of a small trencher-fed pack that occasionally made incursions into our territory on days when we were at the other side, so mischievous persons said.

But there was nothing for it than to go on, which we did at the very moment when a tired and draggled-looking fox crossed the avenue in front of us, of course taking hounds along with him, and with a burst of music that fairly made the tree-tops tremble. They chased him through the rhododendron bushes and once round the garden, and caught him behind the house by the river-side. In the midst of the struggling mass were two couple of strange hounds all peat-stained and travel-soiled, and with long unrounded ears; and after the trophies were saved and the fox was eaten, a heated youth on a panting pony arrived shouting excitedly, “Where’s my fox?” and was not overpleased when it was explained to him that his fox had been accidentally killed and devoured.

Two futile hours were spent in drawing every bit of holding on this and the adjoining estate all blank, when Tom Telfer’s hawk eye caught sight of two horsemen on the sky-line apparently coming in. Holding hounds together, and waiting and watching, we were not long in making out the white form of a light-coloured hound in the distance

coming towards us, and making fair progress on the line alone. Our Talladale friends were at work again, and we heard their shouts faintly in the distance as they cheered on the rest of the baying pack. To our undisguised delight we viewed the fox, a rakish-looking hill customer, coming inwards, and we saw him actually pass up wind of us and about a quarter of a mile off. Hounds, if they did not view him also, knew he was there, and were soon screaming in the wake of the astonished animal. He took them at a great pace about three miles straight, and was killed on the steps of the Parish Church Manse. So, for the second time on one and the same day, we ran and killed a fox found by another pack, and on this latter occasion we saved the carcase for the neighbouring Master, who, soon coming up with his lot, had the satisfaction of seeing it eaten by the combined packs.

Far from anticipating a blank day, we felt the full assurance of coming sport, as we started one morning early in the year with the low temperature of 38°, a minimum of 28° during the night, and a light east wind and a rising barometer. For we had received gracious permission to hunt an enviable portion of the Duke’s country, well stocked with stout running foxes, and consisting of sound old pastures strongly fenced, and good moorland of unlimited extent, over which we had recollections of many good gallops with his Grace’s famous pack.

“I like the feel of things to-day,” Billy had said, sniffing the air as we left the stableyard; and, "like the look o' things,” he added, as we came into sight of about thirty as' keen sportsmen as one would wish to join, assembled at the place of meet— a number augmented to about sixty as we moved off to draw Tofts Dene. Hounds had dashed out of kennel that morning and behaved as if they already felt a scent, and now showed indications of wishing to be put into a small strip of plantation on the way to the Dene; and barely waiting for Tom Telfer to slip on to a cross ride or for the wave of my arm, they hurled into it and instantly threw their tongues. I saw Tom’s cap go up, and as I got nearer him, noticed the remains of the strangled scream that was half choking him as he galloped forward with set teeth, spurring all he knew and cracking his whip, as he raced for a point where he wished to head the fox off from going back into our own country. This he succeeded in accomplishing, so much to his own satisfaction that his “gone away” holloa was unnecessarily loud and prolonged, and his excitement led him to whip out his horn and blow till his breath was spent.

Tom claimed an intimate acquaintance with every fox in the country-side, and he was wont at times to declare he knew them all by head mark.

“That’s the beggar the Duke’s chivied on Thursday when they had to be stopped in the darkness at four o’clock, and he’s stiff as a board, and stale as cold porridge,” he yelled, as I got alongside of him. Then reading disapproval in my eye, he added, “Nothing like giving him a ‘gliff’ to go away with; makes him scoot along; nothing like bursting him up at the start.”

But Tom was not invariably right in his recognition of foxes, for five minutes later we saw hounds coursing a wretched creature along the river’s bank and pull him down in mid-stream as he was trying to cross a shallow, making for a rough scaur in which there were caves large enough to hold a whole pack. When I waded in, half-way up to the tops of my boots, I found a poor beast, unsound on both forelegs—one being snare-marked, and the other carrying a wire that was cutting in to the bone—yet fat as a seal withal, and quite incapable of standing up before hounds, so Tom had to confess himself mistaken.

Before this fox was well broken up we heard a far-off holloa from the top of the Dene, and as we moved off to it, information was conveyed by signal and otherwise that a fox had gone away, and we learned that he had a good six or seven minutes’ start.

Hounds, who were keen enough to begin with, were now desperately eager; but we held them together till we got round above the Dene, where they felt for and soon found the line, and went off with a good cry and at a fair pace.

A bunch of so-called “knowing ones,” mostly from neighbouring hunts, had ridden cunning for a start, and had the advantage of being above us and on the right side of the stream, and seemed likely to hustle hounds before they had properly established a scent and settled down to run it. But the line was over a nicely fenced country that required a little doing, and one hedge and rail with a ditch to us took toll of two or three impetuous spirits and steadied the rash ones, so that after fifteen glorious minutes we were on good terms with the hounds, and on the best with each other and our horses, and I was able to see which hounds were cutting out the work.

Tom Telfer and Billy Kerr and two hard-riding farmers, brothers, on young horses, were prominent in front, and close in our wake thundered and crashed a score or more of the best and boldest of Border sportsmen. The pace was kept for another twenty minutes or so, over larger enclosures with fewer fences and an occasional gate to open, which was usually done by the brothers alternately; though Tom, and a hill-man on a grey pony, seemed to be going out of their way to jump stone walls.

There was no perceptible change of scent, though hounds were slightly more packed than at first, and were pointing towards a hill rising straight in front of us and standing outside the range of higher hills behind it. As they got on to the base of it, we could hear there were few, if any, silent throats among them, and we realised that they had been going faster than was apparent, and we felt we might have to take from our horses all that they had to give us.

I watched the pack swarming up the slope straight for the summit, too steep for horses to climb. Which way round ? Will the fox sink the wind, or will he keep on up wind? Having had a good start, and having had time and opportunity to make his point, and not being unduly pressed, he will likely do the latter. This was the answer to the question mentally-put, and was acted upon. Six or eight of us turned round the right shoulder, while nearly all the rest of the field in sight swung to the left.

It was a period of great suspense that we went through, losing sight of the pack altogether for five or ten minutes at least, and it seemed twice as long and I was beginning to sicken when I saw, barely half a mile in front of us, some sheep on a hillside run together, and shortly afterwards hounds moving up wind right-handed and rather across us, not so packed as before, yet not strung out, and all hunting closely.

We were now completely in the hill county, with not a cover or earth for miles round, and as the cool air rushed into my lungs I could not resist the temptation to cheer on the hounds, an effort which was emulated by half-a-dozen of the leading riders.

The next obstacle, on a rather steep slope, was a wall which we jumped. Tom Telfer, first at it, had pushed off the cope with his foot without getting down. Then came another which was lower and on sound ground, and which we had without waste of time.

Here hounds checked for some minutes but cast themselves well forward, and hit it off just as we got up to them, and raced away, turning backwards and running very fast through a nick between two hills and out of sight again. Only those who have hunted in a hill country can realise how suddenly and completely hounds will disappear. Here were we not three hundred yards behind them when they went over the crest, and when we reached it, though we could see all round for two miles apparently, not a hound could we pick up; they seemed to have vanished out of sight and hearing into space. A shepherd on a hilltop above us with his cap on his stick gave us the direction, and we pushed on. Some grouse, coming down wind with the speed of an express train, confirmed the shepherd, and soon we saw far below us once more the flying pack, sweeping along like a flock of pigeons before a tempest.

The line was now more or less parallel to the outward one, and about three-quarters of a mile from that, and it was not without very hard riding that we got in touch with hounds, who had gone very fast away from us over the hill. By the time we got into enclosed country again our numbers were reduced, and horses had had nearly enough-The two young farmers who had consistently led most of the way were there, one with a lathered horse and a mud-stained back, and Billy Kerr had vanished altogether.

’Twas here that I saw the last of Tom Telfer for a while. With legs and arms working, he rode at an awkward double with a strong hedge on the farther side. His horse jumped on to the bank rather free, and got too close under the second fence, and though he made a big effort to clear it, he blundered through the top of it on to his nose, and Tom temporarily disappeared from the chase.

One of the brothers, in jumping a low drop wall into a plough, found his horse get his fore-legs so deep into the ground that he was unable to get them out in time before his hind-quarters followed, and he was pushed on to his head and balanced there for a while before rolling over and lying still as if dead. But man and horse were up and going later on. The Irish mare had chanced a piece of timber and rapped her shins badly, and needed some persuasion to keep going.

We had some very pretty hunting here; hounds were desperately keen and unmistakably near their fox, but scent was not so good, and one after another would carry it for a short while, then fall back and allow a slower hunter to take it on and follow the short turns the fox was making. It was an anxious time as they almost walked over a bare fallow and on to the public road but not across it. After a short cast round in front, one hound, old Welfare, feathered and spoke on the road going along for about a hundred yards, then through the hedge and up a ditch on the inside for a short distance till she too gave up. For five or ten minutes every hound tried his best, all being very busy moving round with nose on the ground and stern high, but to no purpose. The field kept coming up, and several dismounted, got down, and loosened the girths of their steaming horses, believing all was over.

We were on some flat haugh lands, close to the river bounding our country, which was in full flood, and I was about to try down the river bank, when I saw old Rambler deliberately walk into the stream and push off to swim across the torrent. He was carried down a long way, and had some difficulty in getting out. Barely waiting to shake himself dry, the true old fellow worked along for a few yards, then his stern began to go till it fairly lashed his ribs, and he proclaimed his find with an electrifying roar. Never was a note of music sweeter or more welcome, never did a huntsman tingle more, never did hounds respond quicker as they dashed into the boiling stream. Immediately half-a-dozen eager souls had plunged in, with the water curling up to the saddle flaps, and were struggling across the swollen river. Fortunately the foothold was good, and all got across but one, who got mid-way over, when his faint-hearted horse turned and took him back, while right and left the remainder galloped for the bridges.

Hounds were taking the line steadily across the furrows of a ploughed field, not making fast progress, but all in it; then wavering on the next field, an old grass one, until half-way across, they ran on at an improved pace. The next fence stopped two of us, and the Irish mare blundered badly, and I made the unpleasant discovery that she had had enough. Tom Telfer appeared on a second horse, which seemed as much distressed as his first one, and pointed towards a gate at which stood a boy waving hurriedly and holding a fresh horse. Who should this turn out to be but Ben with my good old friend “Royal”—a friend indeed, cleverly arriving at the most opportune moment. I blessed the boy profusely, and scrambled up with a feeling of exultation as the gallant old horse stretched himself out and flicked over a couple of fences as if they were brush hurdles. Tom Telfer and another were scrambling through a rough hedge as the old fellow had it faultlessly higher up.

Getting alongside of hounds, I saw Rambler, Pirate, Marmion, Woodman, and Regent running mute and with their hackles up, and as they crashed through the next hedge and turned sharp at right angles down behind it, I viewed, to my intense delight, the fox a short way in front, going very slowly with trailing brush and humped-up back. Hounds, too, got a view of him, and what a thrill they gave one as they opened their throats and threw their tongues with all their might, as they hurled themselves at him and pulled him down in the open, as he wheeled round to face them.

“Whoo-oo-oo-oop. Worry-worry-worry—whoo-oop," from half-a-dozen excited throats. “Well done, hounds" “What a good do, Master, eh?” from Tom Telfer. “Leave it, hounds—dead, dead—leave it."

“Well done, lads.” “One, two, three, five, seven a half, nine, ten a half, eleven, twelve a half, fifteen a half; only one hound short; what a fizzer, what a cracker!” “How the devils drove ahead when they turned in!” “See me take that toss in B's farm?"

“Thought we were going to lose him at Eckford.” “What a rare fine cast of Rambler’s."

“Brush to Mrs. Edgerston, I s’pose; only girl up. Would like that fine sharp-pointed muzzle myself. Just give me a moment to whang off all the pads; there will be bids for every one of them, by gum. Now then, tear him and eat him, boys. Whoo-oop —whoop. Too-too-too-t-oo-too—whoo-oop. Here’s Billy Kerr coming up, and without his hat too, by gum.”

“How far did you say?”

“Don’t know; but it’s seven miles on the map, I know, from where we turned in, and we had been going for forty-five minutes before that.”

“Here comes the Provost. Must try him for a drink. He generally carries a big glass bottle. My throat’s like a lime-kiln. Eh, Provost?”

“Let’s have one more whoo-oo-oop!”


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