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Hound and Horn in Jedforrest
Chapter IV. A morning’s cubbing

“With nostrils opening wide, o’er hill, o'er dale
The vigorous hounds pursue, with ev'ry breath
Inhale the grateful steam, quick pleasures sting
Their tingling nerves, while they their thanks repay,
And in triumphant melody confess
The titillating joy”—Somervile.

“COME on, Maister! this is no time of day to lie sweltering in bed,” said Billy’s cheery voice.

It was 4.10 A.M. on the morning of our first cubbing, and swelter could barely be called an accurate description of my condition. For when I woke up half-an-hour previously, in time to stop the alarum clock from going off, I had looked out and had seen in the grey light a distinct rime on the grass, and felt the atmosphere more than chilly. But passing over this, I replied, “Thanks for waking me, Bill; please don’t disturb the house, but slip downstairs and light up the coffee, like a good chap, and I'll be with you in two twos.” When, half-an-hour later, I joined him at the stable door, he was stamping his feet, thumping his hands, and sucking impatiently at a black briar pipe.

When the horses, old “Safe Conveyance” and the grey mare, were led out, their thin summer coats stood up, their tails were tucked tight in, and their ears laid back; and when we got up and moved away they put their backs up and were ready to wriggle out from below us on the smallest excuse. We were soon all aglow with the canter across the moor to the farm, which we accomplished without incident, except the dropping of Billy’s pipe.

The sight of hounds rushing out of kennel further quickened the circulation, and though old “Safety” usually stood their onset very steadily, she wheeled with such amazing rapidity that we nearly parted company, and I saw an ill-suppressed smile on Tom the feeder’s face. Then reinforced by the two lads, we moved away.

Full of eager expectation, we jogged along towards the hills, not holding hounds up too closely. We first tried an old plantation of about six acres, not thoroughly well fenced off and rather bare of under cover, and got indications of a cold line here and there. The old hounds had feathered and tried hard to own it from time to time, and were desperately keen; they had tried every yard of it and came out readily to the voice, a little bit inclined to flash, but we soon had them in hand and proceeded to our next draw.

Imagine a thirty-year-old plantation, about sixteen acres in extent, of spruce and Scotch fir, with some unhealthy larches and a few hardwoods, chiefly ash and mountain-ash, all lichen-covered and wind-waved, some lying over and some laid flat by gales, of quadrangular shape, with sharp-pointed corners and slightly incurved sides, surrounded by an old fail dyke two and a half feet high, riddled with rabbit holes on two sheltered sides, and surmounted by two bars of rotten paling. Through it were patches where the trees were thick and bushy but stunted, and here the heather grew close and high, overhanging and covering the open drains that had been made to dry the mossy soil, and providing dry snug lying in all weathers. From one corner stretched a thick bed of reeds and dwarf willows, running out into a small moss, where water stood several feet deep during most of the year. This was the starting-point, which we approached with feelings not easily described.

Billy and Tom slipped forward to watch their respective corners as arranged, with repeated orders to hold the fox or foxes up in cover as long as they could, on no account to holloa the first fox away, and not to cheer to an old fox on pain of a double thonging.

Assisted by Jack and two young farmers, on fat sweating horses, who had turned up, we followed on, keeping hounds together. When within two or three hundred yards of cover, hounds broke away on a drag, and opened before they got to the wood, into which they hurled themselves.

In less time than it took to get forward, and before the young hounds had squeezed through the fence, Billy was screaming on the other side as if to burst his lungs, and hounds were crushing through the undergrowth in full chorus and pouring out at the far side. Billy made a faint attempt to ride across them in response to my yells of “Stop them, for pity's sake, stop them!” Then catching hold of his bridle and kicking his long-legged grey mare in the ribs, he humped his shoulders and sent her pounding away in pursuit.

“Why did you holler them away? Why didn't you stop them?” I shouted, when I got within earshot; “it can’t be a cub.”

“Don’t know" replied he, in the tone of don’t-want-to-know; “only saw his back as he crept along the bottom of the sheep drain.”

Here was an unexpected start, and an undesired one: a hill fox with his nose to the hills, and hounds screaming close behind him on a hot scent, having had no work to draw for him, and no trouble to find him themselves, and the young hounds hanging back wondering what it was all about.

But see the sheep drawing together only a quarter of a mile in front; and “Jupiter! there he goes crossing back over the white moss and coming in; perhaps it’s a cub after all.” By riding inside of hounds as they swung left-handed we got nearer them, and to our joy saw them turn sharp back towards the cover we had just left. But to our dismay we heard them run right through without dwelling, saw them carry the line out on the far side, and things began to look serious as they streamed away a second time, with an increased cry and no slackening of speed, most of the puppies joining in this time.

Divided between a desperate desire to get forward to see which hounds were running at head, and to hang back and curse Billy, I galloped along towards the hills, the chorus getting fainter as hounds tailed out and sunk the wind. At first I kept in touch by riding the ridges, where the going was sound, and by keeping to some bridle tracks which I knew, and saw hounds crossing to the right front towards Billy, who was riding cunning on the off-side, and who now seemed likely to cut in. On looking round again, I saw the grey mare loose, floundering in soft ground, with her rider on his hands and knees, with a crumpled hat. He got up and ran helplessly after her as she gained sounder ground, and made for a corner in a cross-wire fence. To my horror she rose deliberately at it, and though ringing the top wire hard all round, she got over it and cantered off in a direction opposite to that in which the pack were vanishing.

Luckily I hit upon a gate, and then having little else as a guide than the terriers showing now and again like white specks on the heather, and sheep occasionally bunched together on the hillsides, I held on my way. I was making for a deep glen or linn in the heart of the hills, which ran at right angles to the line of the chase, for, knowing it to have at least two strong breeding earths besides numerous kennels and lying places on the rocky ledges and loose stones on both sides of the stream, I fully expected to find hounds here. Half-an-hour of bad going, during which there was no indication of them except the overtaking of two very tired and blown puppies, whose delight to see me was touching, brought me within hail of a shepherd. He shouted back in a high-pitched key that he had “seen hoonds rinnin’ like mad oot by ayont the bunemaist scaur in the fore day.” In the next half-mile occurred not the least catastrophe of the day, for in scrambling over a gap in the stone wall “Old Safety” cut herself badly. After washing and binding it up, the wound continued to bleed considerably, so there was nothing for it but to go back home with her. Seven miles took an hour and a half to do, when at eleven o’clock I again set out on a fresh horse to look for the pack.

I found one hound near where I had turned back, evidently working homewards on the back trail, which confirmed the shepherd lad’s information, and jogging along for another six miles towards a large woodland in enclosed country, a gamekeeper gave the news that a certain young farmer had got hold of the hounds, had taken them on to his farm and shut them up in his straw barn. There I found them a little footsore, and one couple only short, and heard Paton’s story.

At about 10.30 A.M. he was riding in to the market town. While off his horse to open a gate on the edge of the moor, he saw a fox crossing a grass field. Not dreaming of hounds, and seeing the fox was very tired, he kept perfectly still and watched. The animal made three attempts to jump a wall before succeeding, and then he saw him creep towards the mouth of a stone drain, slowly and deliberately walk past it to a manure heap. On this he rolled, after which he came back by a series of jumps down wind and disappeared into the drain just as leading hounds crossed the wall sixty yards behind him. The drain, which was usually protected by an iron grating, was fully half a mile long, and led to a threshing-mill pond, and had many side branches; and though large enough to admit a terrier, it was considered by the Duke’s people, in whose country it was, too strong to allow of bolting.

After refreshing man and horse, we started with Jack, who had opportunely turned up, picked up the two missing hounds on the way, and reached kennels at 8 P.M.

Billy emerged from the stables, where he had been watching his mare being dressed over, looking very much injured. He had come home early in the afternoon in the nearest approach to bad temper possible to him, and had received scant sympathy from the household. He was not improved by the remark of a young girl, who innocently inquired if he had had a nice run; and as he had been engaged in chasing his horse for the best part of three hours, he could not reciprocate the smile that flitted over Joanna’s face; nor, had he known she had prompted the question to the young lady, could he have immediately forgiven her.

At nine-o'clock dinner, after hearing my tale, he told his.

He declared he had ridden out to stop tail hounds from running a hare that had jumped up from her form in front of their noses, when his mare blundered elbow deep into a soft spot, and shot him over her head. He was up as soon as the mare, but could not catch her. Just as he had cornered the “jade” between two wire fences, “the long-legged besom that she is” hoisted herself over with a buck and made off.

“How and where did you catch her?”

“Caught her in a stackyard two hours later in the middle of the next parish; must have jumped about six fences to get there, and after a wide forward cast round, brought her home; spoiled a hat and lost a spur—made good use of the remaining one, though,” he added viciously.

Later on, from the room adjoining the smoke-room, scraps of conversation came drifting. Billy was evidently telling his oft-told tale, and from the tone of his voice, seeking sympathy.

“Are you still thinking of selling 'Quicksilver’?” asked Joan.

“I would willingly have presented her to my dearest foe this morning,” he replied. “What’s the use of keeping a beast that won’t jump when asked, and jumps like a wallaby when not wanted?” Then raising his voice, “I wonder if the Master has written up his journal?”

“Just done so.”

“What have you said?”

“Hounds ran a cracker with an old fox from Dodhead cover by Whiterope Moss, Glenlude Linn, and Blaw-wearie Moor to Burn foot with no help, and without checking, and marked the fox to ground in the Park Mill pond drain—a fourteen-mile point— all up except old Lapwing and one and a half couple of puppies.”

“Did you say all the staff was up at the drain, or up the drain? Because”

“And lost hounds for a time, and Whipper-in altogether,” suggested Joanna.

“I am adding, Second Whip lost his horse, one of his spurs, and part of his temper.”

“Never cub unless you're sure of finding cubs,” growled Billy.

“Never holler hounds on to an old fox. Good night,” was the retort.

On the smoke-room table next morning we found this draft advertisement:—

For Sale (along with the Forest Hunt Cub Hunters), the Property of W. G. Kerr, Esq.,

Grey Mare “Quicksilver,”

(16 hands, 5 years old)

By “Loadstone” from a “Grey leg” mare.

Undocked, good hunter, a fine free fencer, and fast; very good in a Hill Country.

“And long-tailed, long-pedigreed, long-winded, and long-suffering; warranted not to refuse wire,” was added in a feminine hand.

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