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Hound and Horn in Jedforrest
Chapter II. Taking them over

“To rear, feed, hunt, and discipline the pack”

FOLLOWING close upon this memorable morning, preliminaries were quickly arranged, and it was agreed to take over the hounds at once, and bring them to temporary summer quarters at a hill farm, while the permanent premises were being put ready for them.

After spending several days with the retiring huntsman, drinking in the flow of his advice, hanging upon his every utterance, and fearful of forgetting the slightest tip imparted in the boiling-shed or sleeping-house, where nearly every minute of the time was passed, the move was made.

Tom the feeder in front, a new and proud huntsman next, Jack the second whip and Billy flanking, and Jock the kennel terrier strutting at the head of the pack, formed the light-hearted cavalcade as we left at 6 A.M. one fine cool morning. The roads were nicely damped for hounds’ feet, a condition which Tom took credit for obtaining by special stipulation with the weather regulator. Tom had no world outside and beyond the confines of his kennel, and seemed to think that all things existed for or against the well-being of his beloved hounds.

An hour's jog brought us to a river, the boundary of the Forest country proper, which we crossed at a shallow ford, five or six miles below a manufacturing town. Horses would not drink the coloured water; but most of the hounds drank freely, and some were sick immediately afterwards. Tom's remark upon the occasion was characteristic of the man: “Stinkin’ fellahs them malefacterers puttin' all that dye-stuff into the water—might ha' known it would sicken hounds."

Three hours later, of which half the time led over a moorland track, we sighted a snug farmhouse in the heart of the hills, and took possession of the extemporised kennels. An old smearing-shed had been converted into two sleeping-houses, with a boiling-house and a small feeding-yard behind, and a large grass yard with a stream of water running through it in front. We put hounds on to their benches, and gazed at them for some time; and one satisfied soul felt that a new era had commenced.

What an interest life had during the next few weeks, and how full the days were. Bustle and activity reigned, and few idle moments were passed; and what enjoyment the novelty and excitement brought. The early rising, the canter across the moor in the crisp air to the kennels, the long trails among the glorious hills to condition horse and hound, the feeding of the hounds and calling them over, and all the kennel work, the doctoring feet and ears, the loafing on the green in the afternoons, getting acquainted with the character and disposition of individual hounds, the playing with the puppies, all made the days pass like a midsummer dream.

The puppies were soon made handy in the couples, and shortly after this their ears were rounded. This operation was performed by the huntsman of a neighbouring pack, who, by special favour, rode over to do it, and brought two couple of draft hounds with him as an offering of goodwill, and to strengthen our pack.

It was a noteworthy day, and every effort had been made in the kennels to have things in apple-pie order; and the great man was pleased to express his approval, and to say, “We looked a very useful lot.” His remark as to the new huntsman, afterwards passed on to me, was: “I daresay he’ll hunt the hounds well enough, quite as well as any amature.” He gave many valuable hints, one of the chief being: “The first day you hunt be sure to choose a place where you are certain of finding cubs, and where there is no riot. Blood your young hounds if possible; but above all get them to smell him and chase him. To run a hot blowing fox before they kill him is more important for young hounds than the actual killing; the worry often frightens them till they know what it is.”

Episode the first was the eating of Peter Amos, the shepherd's, favourite cat. Hounds would not look at the cats about the farm steading, and indeed two or three lived in the kennels and used to steal meat out of the feeding troughs. But this one invited its fate, for one early morning it pounced on a young rabbit and carried it off, trotting along the road in front of us for two or three hundred yards, as we returned from exercise. Old Peter guessed what had happened, for his favourite was missed from its daily custom of bringing in rabbits, leverets, and young game birds to its “kittlins,” so to clear the atmosphere we introduced the subject on the first opportunity.

“Peter, there’s rather too many cats about the place just now.”

No reply.

“It’s all very well to have a few to keep down the vermin, but when they get beyond a few, they are apt to get into trouble.”

Still no reply.

“In fact, any cat seen a mile away from home will have to be destroyed.”

Then Peter, with a stern face and a hard voice: “For ma pairt A wud raither keep caats az raats,” and wheeled and strode away.

One of the old draft hounds was the principal offender in this instance, and as he distinguished himself soon after in a way calculated to bring discredit on the pack, his death warrant was signed. We had ridden over (with hounds) to a farm which seemed a likely walk for a puppy. We had shut hounds up in the straw-barn, and were interviewing old Mr. Brydon in his parlour. He had just said: “I didna ken hoonds were sic bonny massy beasts, and I wud like fine ti rear a whulp; but the mistress ”

Billy was eloquently urging that Mrs. B. need know no fear, two whelps were no trouble, that one kept the other out of mischief, and so on; when we both saw passing the window that gluttonous fiend “Forager” with the carcase of a hen hanging from his jaws, and pursued by another couple who were grabbing at the dainty morsel, and strewing feathers all over the lawn. Billy ran out, and I did my best to hold the worthy couple in conversation, and had to assent to a second glass of very fiery whisky to accomplish this, touching on every topic from the price and condition of ewes to the prospects of harvest, and keeping one eye on the window and the other on Mr. B.’s glass the while. Shortly afterwards I made an escape, leaving the crime unconfessed, and, as we believed, undetected. Mr. Brydon’s last words were: “I’ll think aboot the maitter o’ the whulp.”

Billy’s account was that when he got to the straw-barn he found the two lads throwing half-mangled corpses of fowls down the pit of the mill-wheel, and smothering clouds of feathers in the straw. Some luckless hens had been roosting on the rafters; and when the door was closed on the pack, they had flown down in the darkness, and courted certain death.

No puppies were taken to walk by Mr. and Mrs. Brydon that year.

About this time Billy went off rather suddenly and with much mystery, as he only revealed “he was going south.” Two days later we received two incomprehensible wires from him, the first reading, “Have bought her;” the second, though handed in an hour before the first, received an hour later, and reading, “Have seen A Clinker. Carrie is a lady.” Of course, Joanna instantly composed several replies to the effect that we were interested to have his opinion as to the gentle birth of Carrie, and pleased that he had seen Mr. Clinker, and that if he contemplated bringing one or both back with him she had only one spare room at present; but dreading the complications that mutilation of the message might produce, and grudging the 4s. 6d. involved in sending, none of them were sent. In the end of the week Billy returned with the Clinker, a grey thoroughbred, five-year-old mare; but without the suggested lady, at whose non-appearance, after having had her explained away to our dull minds, Joanna professed profound disappointment.

When Billy asked blandly, “May I bring John Elliot to see hounds fed to-morrow, and his sister with him ? ” I already knew from my usual source of information that he had written asking the lady to come with her brother to lunch, and to see hounds fed, and had received a reply that she would be charmed. So as we strolled along the footpath leading to the kennels next afternoon, I contrived to appropriate the young lady in spite of Billy’s manoeuvres, and found her delightfully naive and refreshing. Before reaching the kennels, Miss Florence having heard that we had some cubs in captivity, asked to see them. They were in a newly built pig-house that had never been occupied, and the surroundings were quite sanitary and wholesome. There was a small quantity of hay in a corner of the inside house, and the yard was covered over with wire netting. Tom the feeder used to look after them, but beyond throwing in a rabbit or a crow occasionally, he did not keep them as he kept his hounds’ quarters. Miss Florence was a very dainty young lady, and as she tip-toed up wind to the courtyard she suddenly came to a dead stop, holding her nose.

“Shall I go in and stir them up?” said Billy.

“Oh no, please don’t; I don’t think I’d care to see them.”

As we walked away she said, “Mr. Master, I used to think it so clever of fox-hounds to smell a fox and so far off, and wondered how they did it. I don’t wonder at all now.”

Clad in linen coats, and taking an ash plant in our hands, we entered the boiling-house, and at a crucial moment. Tom was standing on a wooden stool over a thirty-gallon boiler filled with hot bubbling porridge, and stirring with a wooden weapon like a canoe paddle, as if his life depended on his labour, and he barely noticed us. He then jumped down and raked out the glowing coals from the fire-box of the furnace, and was joined by Jack, who had been mincing up junks of boiled horse-flesh with a chopper.

“Keep the puddin’ movin’ for a bit yet, Jack. The copper is nearly red hot.”

Florence looked on with great interest, and had many questions to ask.

"Do they eat all that to-day? Do you give it them hot like that ? Does that last them for a week?”

She was instructed that this was the feed for to-morrow and next day, and we watched the men ladle it out with big scoops into wooden coolers, from which the boiling of two days previous had been cut out with a spade in solid cubes, which looked most appetising in the troughs in the feeding-house next door.

“Let’s take hounds out on the green while the pudding is being prepared" suggested Bill.

As hounds climbed round one, and scrambled and raced for a little bit of broken biscuit thrown to them, my volunteer whip got the ear of the young lady for a time, and had evidently been impressing her with his knowledge of hounds’ names, for she said to me, “Do you know that Mr. Kerr knows all the hounds’ names,” and added shyly, “Do you?”

I was obliged to confess I did, and disclaiming any supernatural talent for the accomplishment, continued, “There is a shepherd here who knows at a glance every one of the 640 sheep he has to look after.” But this did not seem to impress Miss Florence as much as might have been expected.

“Feeding-time, Tom?” as that individual appeared at the kennel door. “Very well, now let’s see you separate the puppies first.”

“Right, sir. Stand back, hounds: steady there now: then, puppies, little puppies, puppies only; here, little boys; here, little dearies: ” and in no time he had six couple of young hounds forward wriggling with delight; and while the old hounds all remained standing dejected in the background, they were allowed to pick out the tit-bits. Then a little more flesh and biscuits was added, and the old hounds called over singly, the shy feeders first—Dainty, Lavender, Beeswing, Rosalind, Pilgrim, Woodman, Ringwood, Gossamer, Gambol, Dexter, Sportsman, Ranter, Dalesman, Driver, Newsman.

Then, after a pause, as fast as they could be named— Warrior, Trywell, Trojan, Templar, Truthful, Dew-drop, Ringlet, Ruffian, Regent, Proctor, Rallywood, Royal, Talisman, Rustic, Challenger, Marmion, Pirate, Lapwing, Tyrant.

In a very short time the troughs were cleared out and polished clean, and hounds started to lick each other all over.

“What are these poor things, Tom?” inquired Miss Florence, as three hounds—Forager, Chorister, Wisdom—were let out of a small shed to join the others.

“Them three, Missus, is to have ile to-night” (“Because they’ve been naughty,” ejaculated Billy, bursting with laughter), “and I’m preparing them for it. Besides, old Forager will lick about a full feed off the muzzles and backs to the others.”

As we were leaving, some little kittens appeared from below the meal-chest on the concrete floor.

“They were kittened underneath there,” explained Tom.

“You’d better put an old sack or something for them to lie on.”

“Oh, sir, when they feel cold they lie on the porridge,” retorted Tom; and sure enough I frequently saw them after this extended flat on their little stomachs, their hind feet pushed out behind them, evidently enjoying the comfort of the heat-retaining pudding.

Old Batters was a man of moods. He was either tiresomely taciturn or abundantly voluble; and we could never decide in which he showed to the greater advantage. He had often to be consulted on matters outside and not pertaining to the stables, and indeed was never slow to give his opinion or present a theory when asked. He was in his loquacious mood as he drove me back from the last train one evening about this time, and introduced the subject of a projected servants’ dance.

“Na, na,” he emphatically declared, “A wadna hev nae drink—drink disna dae whan there’s females aboot.”

He was equally firm as to the undesirability of including a certain youth in the list of invited guests. This individual was a musician and a step-dancer, and had been in great request till his habits drove people to be rather shy of him.

“It wad never dae to hev Yeddy Da’gleish,” said the Oracle. “Ye see the warst o’ him is whan he gets on, he strikes; no like Donal’ Purdie, for he juist roars when he gets drink, and Sandy Blyth he juist glowers an’ grumphs. Yedd got on at Talla sports a week past on Setterday an’ strak. Oo was kinda coaxin’ him awa’, an’ oo had gotten ’im as fer as the brig, when he brak awa’ frae us an’ made straicht for the tent and strak. The sairgent tell’t mi the poliss wasna for lifting onybody frae the sports; but Yedd he strak that sair an’ that wicked they couldna evite it, so they juist liftit um.”

After a very brief silence, which he broke only by an abortive hiccup, Batters went off at a tangent.

“Hev they gotten thae Boors oot o’ the camp on yon river yet ? Hes Sir Buller won ower yet, sir?”

“No, not yet; but Sir Redvers is getting up his guns to shell them out.”

“Weel, I’ll tell ye what should be dune—what A wad dae if they askit me—what A think they shood dae: they shood juist keep blatterin’ on at them nicht an’ day.”

After several more oracular utterances, and before the house-lights appeared, I began to think I preferred Batters’ taciturn mood.

When he had received the instructions for next day, and before driving off to the stables, he whispered mysteriously that he had seen “the best shapit horse” in the countryside that evening at Brockie’s livery stables while waiting for the train.

“He’s a graund tappit yin' an’ a graund middle’t yin, an’ the finest leggit yin, wi’ the best per o’ fower legs—the best set o’ fower legs—A ever clappit een on. Short cannon banes, an’ hocks ner the grund, nerrer as ony A ever saw; in fack his hocks is on the grund” He then blew into my ear: “He micht be bocht for a hunder.” Almost in the same breath he groaned: “Dinna buy that mere o’ Maister Willyum’s.”

Expressing a desire to have an opportunity of inspecting the phenomenal horse, and disclaiming all desire to possess the grey mare, I for the third and last time wished him good-night.

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