Hound and Horn in Jedforrest Chapter XV. Billy's ambition
Happy the man who with unrivalled speed
Can pass his fellowsSomervile.
DURING the usual walk out with hounds
one | afternoon, in the declining days of the season, Billy
remarked: I suppose you have just about got up to the top hole of
your ambition, Master? Joanna, appearing at the moment, asked, as
she kept Lavender and Beeswing back with a dainty little
riding-whip: Which ambition, and how do you suppose?
Well, only his ordinary week-day desire, I mean, something quite
likely to be gratified, not anything outside the possible. I guess
what it is, and that now, at the end of a successful season, he has
pretty well touched it.
Perhaps, I put in; and if you will tell me your ambition, Bill, I
may make a small confession.
Right; you go ahead first.
I'll tell you one of his pet desires, said Joanna, continuing to
ignore my presence. He wishes to make a record in sport, but is not
over-confident of accomplishing it.
What sort of a record?
Her ladyships permission to me to speak for myself being conveyed
in a glance, I blurted out, Well, Id rather like to catch a fox,
shoot a grouse, and land a salmon in one day on my own place.
Ho! ho! not so terribly immodest, and tolerably certain as regards
the first two; but the combination is rather hyperambitious and
touches on the extremely doubtful, laughed Billy.
But he has done the two once, said Joanna, with an amount of pride
she rarely displayed in her partner, again going on as if he was not
present; and he had a try for the third, and came home very much
elated about it, though it was unsuccessful.
Well done, my own uncle, said Miss Flo, who had been an interested
listener; go on and win. I know which is the hardest feat of the
three, and Ill tell you how Ill help you. On some selected October
morning when you are cubbing, I shall get old Geordie Mathieson as
gillie, and I shall thrash the water all day till I hook a fish. If
I cant hook him legitimately, I shall rake and sniggle until I do
get him, and well have him ready for you to land after you have
killed your cub and shot your grouse.
Capital! exclaimed Billy, who had been gazing at her with rapt
admiration during all the time the girl was speaking; that would
almost make a certainty of it; and I dont mind coming with you; but
to 'mak siccar, when we hook him well just land him, and then put
a line through his gills and hitch him up to a tree till the great
man comes to land him, eh?
And this is the hero who only last night disputed the sentiment
that all was fair in love and sport, and held that all sport should
be played square, said Joanna, raising her voice and throwing it
over Billys head.
I think Id as lief have old Geordie for a fisherman as any one
else, Flo continued. Now tell us your little ambition, Mr. Kerr,
though I have a fair surmise of the direction in which it lies, she
added, little dreaming how near the mark she had hit.
Dont give me away, dear lady, Billy had whispered, on seeing a
mischievous sparkle in the eyes of the Mistress of the Forest
In a mood of confidence he had recently confided to that trustworthy
person that his ambition was to win the girl he loved best, and
added with a heartrending sigh, and to prove worthy of her; a
declaration which caused his hearer to howl with laughter.
Seriously, Id like to have a mount in the Grand National; best of
all to ride the winner; but of course that is beyond my loftiest
dreams; so Id be content to get the course and nearly win on an
outside chance. Id really like to be one of that band of brave
gallant men who set their face to ride out over these big fences at
that terrific pace, and never grumble if they are knocked out, and
the greatest ambition of their life denied them.
To which speech we all replied with one voice and equal fervour that
we hoped he might have the chance some day.
Joanna took an early opportunity in private to tell me that Miss
Flo, then several years younger and a very engaging school-girl, had
confessed to her that she had no desire or intention to marry till
she had had a rc al good time; that her ambition was to make heaps
of friendsmen friendsthen marry the man of her heart; and that her
boy should grow into a M.F.H.a consummation which all who knew her
saw no reason for not being realised.
Now, Mistress, said both the young people; but Joanna adhered to
her already pronounced declaration that wild horses wouldnt drag
from her what was her ambition, or whether it had been attained.
As we turned hounds over to Tom and the boy, I asked my super
whipper-in, If, preparatory to the ride in the Grand National which
he coveted, he would ride old 'Royal in the 'point to point;'
adding, and if you win, you may ride him in the 'open hunt chase
the following week. His look of gratitude, and the vigour with
which he sucked his pipe, were answer enough without words spoken.
Twas well that the remaining hunting days could be numbered by
units, for two of my horses were straightway taken possession of by
my self-appointed trainer, and with some occult design, a third, the
Pearl, was appropriated by old Batters, from whom nothing more
could be extracted than that he was going to "wund her up ti opera
pitch. This was a favourite expression of his. I have an opera
gawin on in here, he had once mysteriously said, unlocking the
door of a shed in the back-yard used as a sick-box, and disclosing
the resigned face of old Safety, trussed up with a twitch and a
tight-bearing rein, her fore-legs immersed in a tub of cold water.
So I had to submit, and had only the old lady and the Omega mare
for the closing days.
On the former, on the last day but one, during a long gallop which
took us to the heart of the hill-country, I was completely
out-paced, coming up at the end to find a stout hill fox had been
pulled down half a mile short of a strong open earth, amid the
unrestrained yells of Tom Telfer and a score of ardent followers of
the over-the-Border hounds.
And on the last day the Omega mare cut herself in kicking back at a
wall of sharp stones, this being the only blood obtained, as Bill,
with unnecessary frequency and doubtful humour, kept reiterating to
me and to himself.
This last day was featureless, a fox not being found till late on in
the day, and scent being faint and catchy, till by a turn of good
fortune old Regent worked out a stale line which led up to a kennel
in a small patch of whins, close behind a lambing shed, and pushed
up a fat old dog fox, which was killed after a short scurry. With a
fine grey mask and handsome brush, we found he was almost toothless.
This made up to the average number of foxes killed in previous
years, so the last day of all, and the very last day of all which we
had been contemplating, were reluctantly abandoned, and the entire
energies of the staff were turned upon the winding up of the three
Of course the jockeys had to be wound up also; and much strange and
spasmodic training was entered upon, more heroic and jerky than
judicious and methodical.
The method of Royals rider was, as he expressed it, to do a bit
of fastin and wastin, and after he had starved himself to his
satisfaction, he found he could ride five pounds under weight; so,
going to the other extreme, he rapidly made it up, and three days
before the races a mean between the two systems was adopted. A
private trial at catch-weights was carried out with the secrecy of a
conspiracy, and it was hinted that some touting had been
The momentous morning came, and men and horses were on the field of
action, the locality of which had only been disclosed by
advertisement the previous day. The heavy-weight race and a yeomanry
race had been run, and sixteen of the twenty-two entered for the
twelve-stone race were starters, and their jockeys were weighing
out. To the great disappointment of every one, Tom Telfer was among
those who had not put in an appearance, and we heard he was
suffering from a bad chill likely to keep him in bed for some days.
Billy, I knew, secretly feared him, but on the other hand had been
counting on him as a pilot to show the way by taking the nearest
road, as he himself put it.
Of course, Royals jockey came in for a fair share of scrutiny,
and he was surrounded by a small ring of criticising spectators as
he was hoisted into the saddle by old Batters. He had a few words
with Miss Florence before leaving the paddock, when he said: I hope
you wont behave like Mrs. Freddy Browne. She tells me she has
driven twenty-two miles to see the race, and dare not cast an eye
over the country, for her man is riding, and she cannot suffer to
look on, but will sit with her back to the fun all the time lest she
should see (dear Freddy fall. And what do you think she added?
continued Billy. She said she couldnt bear the excitement of
seeing 'Freddy ride a close finish. I bet hell finish long before
the turning flag.
It so turned out that the gallant Fred finished in the second field,
for, losing a stirrup at the first fence, he pulled up and trotted
on to the knoll amongst the onlookers.
No fear, Ill look out for the white blaze and the bang tail
popping over the last fence into the winning field at the top of the
crowd, said Flo encouragingly.
There wont be much of a crowd by that time, I suspect; the open
ditch at the bottom will take toll of a few; but Ill do my best for
the Hunt and for the stable.
Im sure you will. The best of luck to you.
I had been more or less neglected by the Oracle, who, having
instructed me in a laconic fashion, I wad advize ye ti mak the
rinnin an never heed whether ye feenish or no, left me to
scramble up unaided, as if my winning, or even getting the course,
were matters of extreme improbability, and went over to Maister
Willyum. To him the Oracles parting injunction had been, "Keep him
gawin on, an for ony favour dinna loss sicht o the leeders, an
aboot a mile frae hame set him awa for a yere worth.
As we moved away to the starting field a covered fly drove up at a
fast trot, a limp figure tumbled out of it and dived into the
weighing tent, where a steaming chestnut horse was standing, and two
minutes later a thoroughly transformed and manifestly workmanlike
pairthorough-bred horse and finished horsemancantered down to the
assembled group of aspirants to fame, where the roll-call was in
progress, and as the starter called it, a husky voice answered to
the name of Tom Telfer.
Acting on Batters advice to set the pace, I allowed the Pearl to
sail away, which she did pretty near the head of affairs for two
miles or so, and without misadventure, to the turning flag. About
this time I saw a chestnut horse putting on the steam, and with a
mighty spring out and a twist of his quarters fly a mean-looking
hedge, and I realised that the big ditch was behind it. The Pearl
went boldly at it, but did not jump out quite enough, and landed in
it, but without coming down, though she remained there for some time
before scrambling out, dwelling long enough for me to see three or
four others have it. Billy was one who got over without mishap, then
two got in and went down, before the Pearl started again. There
was now a mile and a half or so of good grass country, with stiff
but fair fences, during which we heard crashing behind us and saw
two loose horses going off in different directions. Two diverging
lines were now available, one slightly longer, taken to avoid some
heavy ploughed land, between us and the end of the course. As the
Pearl drew up to her stable companion, the latters rider hissed,
By gad, old man, I believe we are alone. Jack Elliots and Bobby
St. Clairs horses are both off on a line of their own. Dick Waldie
is out of it.
Steady, Billy, I'm going to try and beat you, I shouted.
As we could hear the crowd cheering and see the flag floating in the
winning field, I asked the mare to go, but she could not stay beside
the old horse, and after pecking at the last fence she dropped
behind, and I had the satisfaction of seeing Billys humped
shoulders and squared elbows ten lengths in front, as he sailed
between the flags.
Bravo, Master! shouted John Elliots younger brother. Well done,
the Forest Hunt!
One, two, three, hip, hooray! screamed Florence. Why, whos
three? I gasped, looking back at the string of riders coming into
Hows that? I know Billy has beat me; but
Yes; but Tommy Telfer has been in for some time, and is now at the
And sure enough when I got there I found him surrounded by a
cheering cluster of admirers. He was holding in his hand two pounds
of loose lead which, as he had not had time to put into his
saddlecloth, he had carried in his pocket throughout the race. The
Clerk of the Scales was saying, You want half a pound yet; but
there is your breastplate and your bridle allowance. All right.
When they came to examine the bridle of Toms reeking horse they
found it all mud-plastered and scraped, with the bridoon bit loose
below the chin like a curb chain and the browband over one ear, in
fact just dropping off. When told of this, Tom said, Of course that
was at the drop into the plough behind Borthwicks farm; the beggar
stood tail end uppermost for half a minute and then ploughed along
for about a whole feering on his head, and dashed nearly rubbed the
bridle offI hadnt time to put it on right again.
Incredible it may
seem that any one should take a fall within a mile of home and be
able to land a winner by the length of a streetyet so it was; and
feeling it was no disgrace to be beaten by such a marvellous
horseman, I said: Congratulations, Tom; but what a ghost you look.
Come up to the waggonette and well christen the cup.
All right, thanks; but I must dodge the doctor, and then leather
away home and get into bed before the wife misses me. I passed her
on the stair on my way out, and said I was going for an airing, and
might not be back for lunch. See you at Kelso on Monday next.
But, Tom, said Billy, how did you come in from Borthwicks? You
must have come fairly straight. I didnt think youd have had these
two hundred-acre ploughs?
No more I did; for I got a fine bit of going along the headriggs,
which you two blind buffers did not see were not ploughed. When I
last saw you, Master, you were sampling the ditch. What? Here comes
the doctor, by gum, Im off. See you at the Chases next week, eh?
Billy won the open hunt chase the following week, or, as old
Batters mercilessly put it, The auld horse wan the race in spite o
Maister Willyum. As a matter of fact, he was nearly caught napping
in the straight, after jumping the last fence with a lead of eight
or ten lengths; and he was so fired by a desire for further fame
that he accepted an invitation to stay with friends in the end of
the week for a two-day west country meeting, where he had the
promise of one mount, with the prospect of more.
On the Saturday evening, on my return from town by the last train, a
hieroglyphic scribble from Joanna was handed to me. It took some
time to decipher, and made the startling announcement that the
writer was going right through at once to nursea decision which
was painfully explained by the accompanying telegram, which read,
"Mr. Kerr has had a heavy fall; rather seriously crushed; everything
is being done.
A sleepless night of great anxiety followed, and Sunday morning
brought a telegram: Still unconscious; come. Now, Joanna was not
an alarmist, so it was with sore forebodings that I started for the
twelve-mile drive necessary to get the only Sunday train at the main
line station. Two hours of a slow train, then a long wait, and a
distressful cross country journey on a branch line, did not hearten
one up. Sick with suspense and misery, I got to the end of the
railway journey, obtaining some slight relief by finding a dog-cart
waiting. This had been sent to meet a nurse who had come on by the
From the driver, an eye-witness of, and only too willing to recount
the grisly details, I obtained these particulars.
The course was rather hard, and the stewards had put down tanned
bark on both sides of some of the fences, a proceeding of rather
doubtful benefit, as it caused some of the horses to overjump the
obstacle. Billy had ridden twice on the first day and had got the
course. On the second day he had a mount in a three-mile selling
steeplechase on the second favourite, and had been forcing the
running, his horse jumping rather wildly. In the second round he was
leading by six lengths, when the favourite came up alongside and
challenged him. His horse rushed the open ditch fence and overjumped
it. The narrator said, I declare to guidness the mere stuid back
toonty feet an flang hersel at the fence. She crashed into it,
and turning over, hurled Billy with great force beyond it and fell
on him, rolling over him.
The doctors were in attendance at once, and he was carried to a
comfortable farmhouse close to the course.
On my arrival things looked pretty black. Joanna, with a scared
face, was flitting about noiselessly, carrying out the surgeons
instructions as promptly as if she had anticipated them, and said
authoritatively, Before the nurse comes in you may come on your
stocking-soles and look at him for a minute if you like.
The sight of poor Bill, breathing heavily, and with half-closed eyes
that saw nothing, was most upsetting, and his restlessness was
Before Joanna went to take her turn at the nights watch, we passed
a doleful hour together.
Oh, the pity of it! the pity of it! she moaned; this can never
be his doom, to be maimed for the rest of his life! Then with a
groan and half to herself: Poor, poor Flo; who is to tell her, and
how? You know shes off yachting with the Douglases, and may see it
in the newspapers.
Sitting up till the small hours for a report of any change in his
condition, all the bright days that Bill and I had had together ran
in review through my mind, and I saw him always good-natured, always
cheery, always unselfish; proud of any small achievement of our
little pack and jealous of its good name; with a keen appreciation
of all the wholesome and natural joys that rational sport brings,
and a power of enjoyment, and a love of life, and a hold on it
exhibited by few: while oftener than all the other pictures that
passed, was the one of that glorious September morning when we
killed our first fox, and rode home through the shimmering hills,
and when the talk turned upon the risks of hunting and he had said,
Anything but that!
The morning report was No change, and the consulting surgeon had
diagnosed concussion of the brain and of the spinal cord, with a
fractured pelvis, and he nearly made us all break down by saying,
It wont be immediate.
On Monday afternoon I went home. The telegram of Wednesday morning
said: Conscious now, but not out of danger; asking for you. I went
through late on Wednesday night and found him very low, very
restless with his arms, but not able to move his legs, and I was not
allowed to see him.
On Thursday, the local doctor, a hearty man and a thorough
sportsman, declared his opinion that with the help of your good
ladys nursing and his own constitution and pluck, there is a faint
chance of my pulling him through.
Next morning I was allowed to see him, but he only pressed my hand
slightly, and his smile ended in a deep-drawn sigh, as he closed his
eyes. Two days later the evening report was A good two hours
sleep, and wishes to see you. I sat up with him for a quarter of an
hour, speaking what words I could to soothe him and cheer him, and
on leaving said, I'll come early to-morrow and sit with you for a
long time. Glancing back before leaving the room, I saw a question
in his eye, so, going back and bending over him, he whispered, Do
you mindtellingme what waswrongwith thatbrown fillyyousold
tomy brotherlast year?It wont matternow.
Nearly twelve months later, that is, in the first week of the
following April, Tom Telfer was holding up the stiff body of a
brushless and headless hill fox preparatory to tossing it to the
clamouring hounds, when he said, I wish Billy Kerr was here; and
then, By gum, here he comes, and his missus with him. Lets wait
till they come up.
A radiant girl rode up in close attendance upon a man whose clothes
hung loose on him, and they were received with undisguised joy.
How are you, Billy, old man? Mrs. Kerr, heres to you; real glad to
see you, came from all in the little group; and from Tom Telfer,
Just nicked in in time to see them tear him and eat him. Well done,
After the hundred tatters of brown were disposed of, Billy said:
Right glad I am to be here, I can assure you all, and right glad to
see the end of this good hunt. I shall now be able to say I have not
missed the season. I did not see much of the hunt, Master, but I
heard some of it. My word, what a power of good it does one to hear
the full cry of a pack of fox-hounds running hard in chase of a
sinking fox that they have fairly and squarely hunted and run down ;
and I declare I easily recognised old Regent's and Pirates deep
notes, with Woodman and Pilgrim chiming in, when the leaders had for
a moment overrun it, and Vanity and Beeswing squeaking in the rear.
'Pon my word, it beats cathedral bells.
"Yes; doesnt it? echoed Mrs. Bill.
Did it beat the Wedding March as you led her out of church the
other day, Billy, eh, by gum? said Tom Telfer; to which the two had
no reply other than to smile rapturously in each others faces.
Then, as hounds moved off for the last draw of the season, I said,
Are you coming on, Billy?
No, sir, certainly not, spoke out Mrs. Kerr, with decision. "He
has done quite enough for a first day out. You are coming home with
All right, pet; but lets just go to the top of Windburgh hill to
watch them drawing the Hass. I like looking on from a hilltop.
"Yes; it seems nearer heaven always, does it not?
"Im quite near when Im here beside yourself, old girl; but all the
same, well go and watch them from the hilltop.
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