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Hound and Horn in Jedforrest
Chapter I. How the News came

“Werry good indeed! most beautifull! in fact, wot honour I arrives at!” — J. J.

TWO horses in summer condition, big all over, were coming in from early morning exercise, and though they had only had a short two hours of slow walking, both were sweating, and the ridden one was slightly lathered on the neck and under the saddle.

It was rather more than midway between the hunting and the shooting seasons; that period dull and dead to the average hunting man, who, if he has no other hobby to ride, finds he is then a weariness to himself and a positive nuisance to his friends. But to the man who delights in country sights and sounds—and what true sportsman does not?—no time of the year in the country is dull or lifeless, and all seasons, far from being flat or profitless, are big with interest, and the days are often all too short for what they bring.

I had strolled stablewards before breakfast, as was my wont on most mornings at this time, for two new purchases had recently been made, and some of the old horses had just been taken up and were being put into work. Of the two come in, the led one was handed over to a strapper with the curt command, issued like a sergeant-instructor’s order, by Batters, head stableman, “Pit this yin inna the lowse box," while he himself tied the other one up to a ring in a bare stall. I watched him run the stirrup irons up to the top of the leathers, loosen the girths to the first hole, raise the saddle up several times before settling it on the mare’s back, take off his coat, and start to scrape her and wipe her over with a wisp of rough straw.

“Good morning, Batters,” said I; “what do you think of her?”

Batters bit the straw in his mouth short before replying.

“Gude mornin’, sir. A think she micht grow intil a beast some day; ony wey, A think A could mak' a beast o’ her throu’ time,” which, being interpreted, meant, “In my opinion she’ll do.”

With this I was fain to be satisfied, and felt relieved, for I had bought the mare, an Irish five-year-old, without his opinion and advice, and dreaded the consequences of his disapproval.

After a pause, Batters added, “There’s a telegraph on the road up for ye, sir,” by which I understood that a telegraph message was in process of conveyance by the usual medium, the village postmistress, a lady of over thirty seasons’ running, and broken to ride her bicycle barely twelve months ago.

“Did you not take the message from her?”

“A did note, becuz the mere was a wee feered for the machine, an' A couldna ha’e taen’t binna oo had baith gotten doon, an’ the twa whulps hed follit mi i’ the cuipples an’ they micht ha’e rin amang her legs, an’ mair as that, the wumman said there wuz a answer wantit till the telegraph.”

Whereupon I returned to the house in search of the wumman and the “telegraph,” whom I presently found. From a sort of reverie I was roused by the voice of Joanna saying, “The tele-girl is waiting to take the reply, and the puppies have already eaten the envelope and are attacking her bicycle. Is there any reply?”

Joanna knew there was, for, as she afterwards explained, she saw me extract the prepaid form from its cover, and she wondered what caused the wide grin to spread over my countenance; but she wished to be enlightened and consulted in the matter.

“Yes, there is a reply—an answer obvious—a question, in fact, as follows: ‘Would I if offered accept a first-class ticket to Elysium?’”

We watched the so-called tele-girl wending her way down the drive on her solid-tyred bike, crawling across the bridge as if on a tortoise race, and disappearing round the bend of the road; and we wondered if the message, carefully read out and spelled over to her, had created any emotion other than that of pity in her stolid breast.

Then Joanna said, “Well?”

I spread the crumpled pink paper out on my knee. “No, 'Playmate' down, 'Pastime,’ you don’t get this document to eat.” It read: “Would you if offered take on the Forest fox-hounds as huntsman and master. Reply,” and this over the name Gideon Dodd, one of the grandest old sportsmen in the whole Borderland. Again and again did I gaze at the electrifying message, and each time it brought up new sensations of delight in the attempt to realise what it meant. Fox-hounds, Huntsman, Master, Forest; each word costing one halfpenny to transmit, yet worth untold gold to me. I set out for a long stroll on the hillside to try and picture something of what it conveyed. It meant the acquiring one of the most sporting and useful little packs of fox-hounds in Britain: sporting, because it was hunted entirely without professional assistance, the Master carrying the horn and being assisted by two non-professional whips; and useful, because although only established some six years previously, it was already doing good work and killing foxes, and improving the sport obtained by neighbouring packs. It meant the serious business of providing and showing sport in a thoroughly sporting district; living in a community of sports men and women who had all the fire and energy of the old mosstroopers, and who, from childhood, were at home in the saddle; fond of a good horse and a good hound, and eager to enjoy to the full the pleasure of a good chase. It meant the interesting effort of breeding hounds, and the engrossing anxiety of bringing them forward; the delight of taking hounds of one’s own breeding into the field; the satisfaction of seeing them take to hunting naturally as to the manner born; and the fascinating occupation of hunting hounds and studying hound-work.

It entailed a heap of time, labour, forethought, and craft, and the assuming all the heavy responsibility and the multifarious duties connected with the office of Mastership. Well might a more qualified person pause and hesitate; but in one thing I was not deficient, and that was keenness; and I knew I should get every support from a ready and willing staff, and from an enthusiastic field of followers. In old Batters—not that he was old in years, but in wisdom and experience—I had a tower of strength. A better stableman never existed. Punctual as the sun, and as early a riser, his knowledge of the constitution and temperament of his horses was very complete. For years he had turned out a small stud to do, and do well, the work of twice its number. Plenty of exercise, good strapping and dressing, very regular and frequent feeding and not too much corn at a time, was his practice. He hated “Vets," and except for surgical operations resented their being called in as a reflection on his own knowledge; and when this was proposed he used to mutter: “If oo sterve the horse an' pit a clean divot in his manger for him ti worry at, he’ll turn better far quicker wantin’ the Veet.” A tyrant, but a just one, over the many stable lads that had passed through his hands, he had turned out some first-rate men whose recommendation was, they had been "an ’ear wi' auld Batters.” He never quite forgave his master for inadvertently entering him in some official return as “Coachman.” “A micht hae been putten doon what A am shairly—Stud-gruim.” This description he would fairly earn now, for he was not slow in acquainting me with the stipulation that “there wad need ti be nae drievin’ on huntin’ days, an’ that Johnny, his son, wad need ti be putten inta leevery, for he was lairnin’ him ti drieve.” The fact that a move would be made back into his native district, where he was a recognised authority and indeed looked on as a sort of oracle, would, I knew, reconcile him to any extra work and irregular hours which his new duties might bring.

With the hounds went a Volunteer First Whip, Tom Telfer; and no hunt possessed a more active or harder working one, a quicker man in the field, or more determined across a rough difficult country. His incursions to the larger neighbouring hunts were frequent and always brought fun of some kind, for he had a posse of followers who frequently got into difficulties in their attempts to follow him.

For the position of Second Whip I knew there would be some competition. In fact, there was some danger of the supply exceeding the demand. The anxiety of the field to assist during the progress of a fox chase was always superabundant, and on one occasion so great had been this eagerness that my predecessor is said to have declared that having run a dead-beat fox into a small plantation clear of rabbit-holes and all other refuges, he was the only man who was not hunting the hounds. So it was fixed that Jack Purdie, the head stable lad under Batters, should be appointed Second Whip and Second Horseman combined.

Over and over again that day did I enact in anticipation the joy of waving hounds into cover, and after a long chase, of course at a terrific pace over a big country, I pictured myself standing in the middle of the baying pack and throwing the dead body of a stift fox to hounds. Coming in an hour later for lunch, I was asked by the lady who presides at the end of my table what I had been doing, and I replied, “Why, huntin’ hounds, of course.” To which she retorted, “If you are going to drop your 'g’s’ about like that I shan’t play."

Later on in the day, Billy Kerr, a young relative, arrived breathless with excitement, and gasped out: “Is it true? For if it is, by the powers, I’ll whip to you if you have only a three-legged horse to give me.”

“Come away down to the stables, and I’ll show you a four-legged one.”

When the linen sheet was stripped from the Irish mare in obedience to Batters’ command, “Peel that mere,” and after her legs had been felt, and her hocks examined, the Oracle remarked, “She wadna mak’ a bad wheep’s horse, Maister Willyum.”

As there had been no opportunity for an interchange of news between the two, it left it to be surmised that the tele-girl had revealed to Batters the momentous message of the morning.

“Let’s have a look through what you’ve got here before I go,” said Billy.

So the horses were inspected in turn with a new interest and a new importance, and much discussion took place as to whether this one or that one was suitable—fast enough, stout enough, and clever enough for a huntsman’s horse.

“What have you just now?” asked Billy.

“At the moment there are five here and two at grass, seven hunters all told; all good of their kind, and all to be depended upon; but two of them are shared with the family.”

“Which are these?”

“Well, there's 'Pepperbox' whom you know—the 'Powney' as Batters calls her, though she is 15.1½.”

“Fifteen wan on her bare feet an’ stannin' streetched," corrected that worthy.

“She's fresh as ever, and will come up from the grass firm and fat, and frisking like a filly."

“Yes," replied Bill, “she gives a very good imitation of Australian buck-jumping when the saddle is first laid on her, and a lot of fun to the man who crosses it. I remember our friend here had a convenient turn of lumbago last year, and gave me the privilege of 'first ride,'" he went on, seeing Batters leave the stable for a moment; “but I did not see much stiffness about him as he ran to catch her after she had disposed of me."

“The other is this one, one of that rare sort, anybody's horse, a very pleasant ride, an absolutely safe conveyance, a perfect fencer, and never sick or sorry; but, as Batters says, 'sair afflickit wi' want o’ speed.'"

“This old arm-chair rather spoils the look of these three blood-like chasers,” said Billy to Batters, who had come back.

“Mebbe she diz that, Captain Willyum, but she’s yin o’ the kind ye whiles read aboot but dinna aften see, an’ she can mak’ fules o’ some o' the faster kind; an' what's mair," with a very steady and direct glance at his master, “she's a yuisfu’ kind for a snawy day."

Thereupon I made a mental note that whether I wished it or not, “ Old Safety" would have to remain in the Hunt stable.

“Ye’ll never think o' pairtin’ wi’ the auld horse, sir,” continued Batters, after Bill had run his hand over old “Royal’s” tendons and pinched his suspensory ligament, and had observed, “He stands over a bit more than I thought, and that flat foot doesn’t improve, and he is a bit impetuous in a cramped country, is he not?”

“Put him away! Rather not, Bill. There’s some three or four years’ genuine work in him yet, and he and I will never part.”

“The 'Pearl’ here is another of the same, but faster, and has the advantage of youth, though she’s not so careful where she puts her feet as I should like.”

“What’s this, Master?” as we came to a little thick dark-brown mare, with well-turned quarters, muscular thighs, and good straight hocks.

“That’s the ‘Omega’ mare, Bill, only rising five years old, active and clever as a kitten, but has a little to learn yet, and has rather too much action for a hunter.”

“Shae’ll never dae ti keep,” muttered Batters, as he unbuckled the roller; “she can lift her legs high eneuch, but she sets them doon in the verra same bit again.”

Billy could find no fault with the mare’s shapes when she was stripped; but the evident anxiety of Batters to cover her up again left little time for a thorough examination, and when the rug and roller were being adjusted I whispered to my companion the explanation that the Oracle could not ride her, and that she was not a favourite with him.

“Let’s have one more look at the Irish mare,’ said Billy. So we had her run out, and picked her to pieces.

“How's she bred? I suppose you got a pedigree with her?”

“Yes, a real Irish pedigree; by ‘Royal Meath’ from 'Alanna' and going back as long as your arm, and a reputation even longer.”

“Yes; what was it the dealer said about her?” “Well, after I had bought the mare, and he had pocketed his cheque, I said, 'Now, Maloney, the mare is mine and not returnable; is there anything about her that I should know? Has she any trick in or out of the stable?’ 'Thrick is it?' he replied, gulping down a glass of brown sherry which he had selected to wet the bargain. 'In the sthable she has a thrick av licking out her manger clane, an’ out av the sthable she has a thrick av takin’ ye to the front an’ keepin’ ye there.' Then warming up, he went on, 'Whei, the lasht toime I rode her misilf wid the fox-hounds, we had a twilve-moile point, an’ she finished wan iv twilve others in a field av siventy. On our way home we met the sthag-hounds jist startin’, so as she was quite fresh, I tuk her on. We ran a twinty moile point this toime—only foive of us finished out av a field av a hundred' and, raising his voice to a high scream, 'an’ wan av thim foive was your mare.’”

When Bill had done laughing, he said, “Well, I must mount my hireling and tak’ the road.”

“I suppose Brockie, of Kelso, has some useful hack-hunters, eh, Batters?”

“Him,” said Batters, in a tone of inexpressible contempt, “him: no, he hez nae horse.”

“But I saw at least a dozen standing there to-day.”

“Weel, he hez twae’r three auld rungs aboot the place that he thinks is horses; but he hez nae horse.” “But this one I’m riding to-day is not a bad old screw.”

“Weel,” persisted Batters, “there’s a broon mare he bocht at Bosills Fair. Ye micht get a canny half-day’s work oot o’ her if ye didna pussh her ower sair, and him, ye micht ca’ him a beast; but forbye them twae, the feck o’ them’s auld rungs.”

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