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Hound and Horn in Jedforrest
Chapter VII. A Day with the Duke

“Pleasure that the most enchants us
Seems the soonest done;
What is life, with all it grants us,
But a hunting runI”—Whyte-Melville.

IT had been arranged that we should take a day with the Duke's hounds, and a special effort was being made by every one of the house party to put in a creditable appearance, both as to horse and kit. I was unable to go, having business to attend to at home; but. was mounting Captain Richards, an old friend and fine horseman, on my best; and our numbers were increased by a lady, Miss Anstruther, and a gallant soldier, Major Thurston, who had come to hunt and stay, bringing their own horses. Both were very good in their own way, but a little jealous. Billy, Florence Elliot, and a schoolboy completed the party.

Breakfast was to be half-an-hour earlier than usual, and Billy and Miss Florence were a quarter of an hour late, owing to the extra time each had devoted in the morning-room to the adjusting of the other's scarf, which seemed to be models of neatness and whiteness; though the young lady’s required more protracted manipulation from the deft fingers of the gentleman than appeared requisite.

“How’s my stock, Mr. Kerr?” she had asked.

After the most searching examination, the verdict was—"Beautifully folded, but the pin is a trifle high, and might be a leetle more sloped. May I put it right for you?” and so on.

This operation had been witnessed through the open window by Bobby, to his great joy, and he stored up what he had seen and heard for further use.

“Aunt Jane is late,” said Joanna from behind the urn, as the tramp of horses’ feet was heard on the gravel.

“I don’t think Aunt Jane will appear till she knows I am well away" exclaimed Captain Richards. “I fear I am the innocent cause of her absence" he went on. “I met her as I was coming along the passage with my white apron on, and I believe she thought it was another sort of garment, and that I was on my way to the bath-room, for in spite of my most agreeable smiles and greeting, she cut me dead and ran off with half-suppressed sobs.”

The first incident of note, after the cavalcade started, was that Bobby’s Shetland pony made a rush to a watering-trough b}' the roadside, and plunging his muzzle in over the nostrils, drank deep and long. His rider tugged, and flogged, and kicked, and Captain Richards flicked clouds of dust out of his shaggy coat with his whip, all to no purpose, until his thirst was slaked.

“I told Batters to keep the water off him last night,” said Bobb}'. “Never mind, I don’t need to draw up my girths now; they’re quite tight enough.”

They came home in the evening in detachments. Bobby was an easy first, bringing in his still panting pony with one shoe, and bearing the incredible intelligence that he had stopped most of the field. Whether he was more proud of this last accomplishment or of losing three shoes it is not easy to decide. The main body returning later confirmed the news. The facts were, that a tall untrimmed hedge had temporarily checked part of the field, who were craning and looking for a weak outlet, and Lord Charles’ horse had shied off the formidable obstacle, when Bobby spied a gap with a long tree or spar fixed across it, about four feet six inches from the ground, and crouching along the side of his nj-hand hunter, had bolted underneath it at the risk of being scraped off. It is only fair to say that Lord Charles, following him, flew the uninviting leap without a fault.

Loud were the praises of the hounds, the huntsman, and the country by all gathered round the tea-table, and the field’s gallantry was specially sung by Miss Florence.

On the last point Billy was more silent than was his wont. It transpired that during a very fast scurry in the afternoon, Billy had not been as much in evidence as usual.

But to Master Bobby belonged the honours of the day. He had ridden through the hounds, and was chatting quite at his ease with the huntsman, when the Duke rode up. Just before moving off, His Grace had asked who the schoolboy was in the cricket cap, and Bobby was duly presented. He was eating his sandwiches at the moment, or rather sharing them with an old hound who was hiding behind his pony, but snatched off his cap in salutation, which, as he could not replace, he crammed into his pocket, and then extended a very rough woolly and not overclean gloved hand in the Duke’s direction. The sixteen-hand hunter edged away from the rough doormat of a pony; but Bobby was not to be baffled, and urged his mount alongside, the Duke good-naturedly bending forward and nearly overbalancing himself as he stretched out his arm to the persistent boy. Still the nervous horse shied back and snorted.

“So ho, don’t be afraid, old man,” said Bobby, as he succeeded in obtaining a firm grasp of the hand, and wrung it with the fervour of an old comrade, and to an extent that nearly pulled the noble Master out of his saddle.

I have always experienced some difficulty in obtaining a clear and connected account of a day’s hunting from those engaged in it—a difficulty amounting, at times, to despair. If the questioned party belongs to the gentle sex, the trouble is most acute, and there is only slight hope of collecting a coherent report, especially if there should happen to be present another fair participator in the day’s proceedings all too eager to recount her experiences.

I am frequently forcibly reminded of the saying of an old huntsman on this point, who was very shrewd and observant, and who had a very terse and direct way of putting things. It was as follows: “The merit of a run greatly depends upon the position held in it by the narrator.” Bearing this in mind, I looked forward with something more than ordinary interest to the versions I was to hear, knowing they would be varied. The ladies had already thrashed out every minute of the day at the tea-table, in their bed-rooms, and at dinner, but were delighted to be invited into the smoke-room at ten o’clock for a further palaver.

My initial question of where the fox was found was completely ignored, and the line of talk taken and followed consisted mostly of interjections as to what each had seen the other do.

“Did you have a very awkward post and rail in a corner ? ”

“Did you see me jump the drop?”

"How did my mare do the double?”

“Didn’t Mrs. Black’s horse peck badly there?” These were questions fired off by Miss Anstruther to Florence with such startling rapidity as almost to preclude reply.

“Where was the double?" I ventured to ask.

“Oh, just after we crossed a muddy lane, and through a gate, along a grass field, over a horrid little trappy fence into a sticky plough, not far from the donkey,” was the enlightening reply, reeled off, amid laughter, without a pause, by the eager lady.

This one feature of the donkey seemed to be prominent in the recollection of all, and served as a basis comparative for time and locality.

It seemed hounds had checked for a minute or two behind some farm buildings, and on recovering the line and throwing their tongues, a donkey in an orchard adjoining had lifted up his voice and brayed loudly.

So it was, “Captain Stone fell before the donkey.” “I didn't have my lunch till after the donkey.” And, “The double was just about the same time as the donkey.”

“But where was the tremendous double?” again I asked, while various items of information, relevant or otherwise, were rapidly volunteered. “Was it in the afternoon, or in the morning hunt?”

“The afternoon, I think,” replied Miss Anstruther; “at least, Lord Charles had his second horse, and he and Major Thurston were at it first, and I came next, the first woman, except that Mrs. Black, who had it lower down at a much easier place, Mr. Kerr told me. I saw her in trouble soon after, and I don't think she can go much without a pilot. Yes it was just about the donkey.”

Florence, who had been waiting for an opportunity, now chimed in, “It was on the line between Cotley and Brownmoor, and on old Moffat’s farm,” she said triumphantly, after a whispered consultation with Billy, who may have prompted her. Miss Florence had followed hounds on a pony as a schoolgirl; but this was only her second season on a grown horse. She was quite inexperienced in a crowd, and a little over-anxious not to be in the way; but had a decided knack of getting along without being conspicuous or seeming to be in a hurry. She had a good eye for a country, and an unfailing memory; a wrong turn once taken was always remembered and never again repeated. She never “coffee-housed,” and at a check always stood still outside the crowd, watching, so usually got a good start. Her great desire was to become a thorough sportswoman, to learn the country well, to get to hounds, to know and see what they were doing, and to save her horse as much as possible. All she knew she had learnt with the Forest fox-hounds, and I was distinctly disappointed to hear that though she had held her own well in the morning, she had not been quite “in it” in the afternoon.

“It was a real nice day's sport, my Uncle,” she said. “Hounds did not get a good start from Cotley. gorsc. They hunted the best part of two hours, and were kept busy all the time; it was a ringing hunt, but they took us over some nice country; never fast, but always kept moving on. They ran by Catshawhill, Friarshaw Moor and the Fans, and crossed the river twice, at the Lowlynn ford and again higher up. Anyhow, 'Nugget’ and I had enough to do, and I was not sorry when they ran into the fox at Sandymill, five miles from where they found him."

The gallant Major must be catalogued in the class along with those who hunt to ride. An undeniably fine horseman, with good nerve and judgment, he was generally well mounted, and prominently in front. But he was handicapped with short sight that prevented him from seeing hounds cutting out the work in a close country, and with shorter temper that came to the front when he lost his place and fell back. In fact, he liked to be first or nowhere. I anticipated his reply to my “Now, Major Thurston?"

“Well, it was very slow in the mornin', with time to pick your place twice over, and lots of time to get out of the way of the boys and girls. Not much leppin'; a nice fence or two now and again, but nothin' that a pony couldn’t jump, and hounds kept checkin’, and ringin', and dwellin'."

“Not much 'dwell' from Harestanes, Major," put in Richards.

“No, it was certainly better in the afternoon; a fastish ten minutes over a fairish country that took some doin'; if they had only gone on there wouldn’t have been many in it."

“Fastish!" screamed several voices; “it’s four miles on the map, and I swear we did not take more than fifteen minutes to it. Why, it’s racing. It’s 'Grand National’ form.”

“I would sum it up,” persisted the Major, “by saying it was an indifferent day, relieved by a smart dash in the afternoon.”

“Well, Master,” said Richards, “I call it a very first-rate day’s sport” (he had ridden in many point to point races, and between the flags). “Hounds ran quite fast enough over a stiffish enclosed country, with a twisting fox headed back once or twice, and on an uncertain scent. They stuck well to the line, and put in some very pretty work. The huntsman was very patient and persevering; let them alone at the critical time, and encouraged them at the right moment; and worked hard all through the show sport. As to the afternoon gallop, you wanted a steeplechase horse to be near it, and, thanks to you, I had one.” Billy’s chief contribution to the discussion was grunted out between clouds of smoke from his pipe: “Some of these fellows ride big bang blood horses up to two stone over their weight, and know the country like their pockets;” and added, “I wasn't in the afternoon spurt.”

Bobby's shrill treble now piped up from a dark corner of the sofa, where he had been sleeping unnoticed: “The old Duke’s a brick, but Freddy Elliot’s a prig. He does swagger so about a brush he’s got at home, some poor cub’s likely, or a mangy vixen’s,” he continued, as an afterthought. “By-the-bye, Mr. Kerr, it was jolly decent of you to wait and girth up cousin Florence, and tie her tie, as I saw you doing in the stackyard at Harestanes, just as the hounds were going away.”

This interjection threw some light on Billy's absence from the afternoon spurt.

“Be off to bed with you, you young whelp,” said Billy, taking him by the shoulder and hustling him out of the room.

After the ladies had retired, the talk was prolonged till past midnight. It sometimes passed away temporarily from horses and hounds, but always drifted back to this oft-travelled channel, and from all sides reminiscences came ready and rife. The Duke’s huntsman came in for a full share of the discussion.

“How did you like him?” said I to Captain Richards.

“I think it would be well worth riding fifty miles on a rough horse if only to have a look at him, the way he sits his horse, and the way he winds his scarf round his neck. He’s a hard-bitten purposelike old man; looks a workman and a bit of a character too.”

“He’s all that,” came from several voices; and then some recollections of him were given.

“I remember,” said the Major, “coming upon him standing at the edge of the big wood at Bailliestane on a very windy day, when, for the time being, we were out of sight and hearing of hounds. He was watching a fox going right away, well out across a good country, before he touched his horn. Hounds soon came streaming out, and apparently ran the line so far, then turned at right angles back towards the wood. He blew till he was purple; then laying down the horn, said, "Look at that. What in wonder is taking them down there? Isn’t that most excruciating?"

“Again, when hounds had divided for the moment, and we were hesitating which to follow, and an ardent young sportsman rode up to him saying, ‘There are some hounds on.’ "I'm aware of that, sir; but don't you hear the major portion of the pack running back like distraction?'”

On another occasion, a wild stormy day in the end of March, we had drawn a large tract of country blank till late in the afternoon, when we found a fox in a long strip of plantation, from end to end of which and then across some fields to another plantation, hounds ran. It was then found to be a vixen they were running, so they were stopped, not without some difficulty. Meanwhile one or two of the field had viewed, or thought they had viewed, a dog fox away from some scattered whin bushes outside the first strip, and the news spread. Hounds had crossed the supposed line and had not indicated it. Then one after another, down to the youngest, no less than three members of the Ducal family came to the huntsman with the intelligence.

“You know a fox went away from the end of the strip when hounds were running the other," said No. I.

“Indeed, my lud?”

Now No. 2 waiting his opportunity, “Perhaps you didn’t hear that a fox went away, and it”

“Did he, my lud?”

Lastly No. 3, a schoolboy full of importance, bustled up, "I say, I don't suppose you heard” (our friend was fairly tired of hearing by this time) “that a fox, a dog fox too, went away, &c. Oh yes, there's no doubt about it, for Mr. A. saw him, and some others saw him.”

“Did they, indeed, my lud? Privileged persons!” A bold rider himself, he was merciless to a shirker or a funker. A high strong rail had stopped a bevy of these one day, till one enterprising spirit charged and broke the top rail. A confirmed funker asked, “Who is the culprit?”

“What do you say?” said the huntsman.

“Who is the malefactor?”

“Surely you mean, who is the benefactor.”

One time, in a crowd of over-anxious horsemen, who had headed a not very adventurous fox back, as he turned his horse round, hemmed in for the moment, he whispered to me, “There's nothing more injurious to fox-hunting than mad haste. Where is the sense of pressing on when the fox is back?”

On these lines conversation flowed on till the small hours.

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