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Hound and Horn in Jedforrest
Chapter XII. Some by-days

"See that old hound,
How busily he works, but dares not trust
His doubtful sense, draw yet a wider ring;
Hark now again the chorus fills”

MANY of our best gallops and finest hunts have taken place on by-days or days snatched unexpectedly in the middle of a frost, when it had given sufficiently to be safe for horses’ legs and hounds’ feet, and very often on the day before it settled down again with more than its former severity. And after a carefully kept record of the weather conditions in relation to scent, I can only learn this, that we’ve had an unfailing good scent just before the oncoming of a hard frost, and generally on a light east wind day with a rising but not too high barometer. Upon the month depends a good deal; and perhaps during February, when the ground is drying not too fast, more straight-out fast gallops occur than in any other; but scent may be good in any month provided the weather is not too unsettled and changeable.

The most notable of days snatched from the arms of the frost was that on which “the grey fox of Ruberslaw” gave such a fast and straight chase, over an unusual line, if not a very long one.

It was on the 25th January, the beginning of the period when good hunts are expected, and a good scent is assured. Hounds had found in the rocks, and luckily were above the fox when he ran down west of the seedlings by West Lees and crossed the river above the keeper’s house, hounds following slowly till they crossed. The Bedrule shepherd viewed and holloaed him there; and after that hounds drove hard every yard of the way. They ran up Fulton Hill to west of Bedrule pond, down the old toll strip, across Swinnie to west of Gilliestongues and crossed Bairnkin strip and Bairnkin road in and out, east of the entry, up the Kersheugh and Ford strip to the Flat, without a waver and with a full cry all the time, down to Scraesburgh Moss, then sharp right-handed past the Ford cottages to Mossburnford Bank, where the cry ceased suddenly. Hounds came pouring down to the Ford and started to drink and bathe, and George Dod, who had joined in, began to whoop from the bank, and I saw him lift the fox over the fence out of the wood. He had found him crouching as if in life—in fact, at first he thought he was still alive—with old Marmion lying facing him and growling savagely. He was the finest specimen of a fox I ever saw; in his prime, probably second or third season—long, lean, and limber, with the pointed muzzle of the Cheviot foxes, grey back and magnificent brush. It almost seemed a shame to tear him; and by the time we were ready for it, he was so stiff that when we propped him up on his legs he stood there, and after brush and mask were removed, hounds took a long time to break him up. Though only five miles from point of finding to point of killing, this was a very fast and hard gallop for horses; only Tom Telfer and I were in it; and the features of it were the pace and line, this last being right across the usual country at right angles to the valleys, right across the Rule, right across the Black Burn, and right across the Jed, never swerving or turning up or down the watercourses.

Another day snatched out of the frost’s fingers was Monday, 9th December. We had been stopped on the Saturday. Sunday was soft, a little frost on Sunday night, but all gone by mid-day on Monday, when I sallied up the water blowing the horn as I went. This only produced two followers, Miss Douglas and Frank Turnbull. We found a fox in Birkenside, and hounds drove out at the west end ; and when we got to Dolphinston we heard and saw them racing beyond Earlsheugh towards the Belling. For forty minutes they hustled him round by Wood-house, Belling, and Old Jeddart in two big figures of eight, and then killed him in the garden of the latter place. On my coming up I found two couple of hounds only had got in before the gate was shut, and the rest were clamouring and springing at the high fence. As I came in sight I saw an excited farm youth seize the fox, whip out his knife, and with his left hand whack off the brush, bone and all, and flourishing it above his head he yelled like one demented; then, horrible to relate, the fox at his feet gave a last expiring gasp.

After the worthy farmer had refreshed us, and as we were riding away, I looked back and saw a tall figure in white night-clothes and cap look from an upper window and draw back behind a curtain. To Miss Douglas I said, “Did you see that? Was it a ghost?”

“Well, it must be old Mrs. Shaw; only she’s bedridden and not allowed to move, being at the point of death.”

The poor lady’s death actually occurred a few days after; and meeting her husband later on, I apologised for the disturbance we had created, and expressed a hope that the unusual commotion and excitement had not hastened the end.

“Oh, it disna signify, sir,” was his reply; “she was lying and forbidden to rise; but she wad ha’ dee’d ony wey!”

On one of these by-days we had the longest and latest ride home I had had up till then. After running hard all day and putting two foxes to ground in unassailable strongholds in the Newton-Denholm country, late in the afternoon we moved away towards Cavers to collect the three couples of hounds short. We came on them running a fairly good line outside the big Dene, and of course our pack of eleven couple joined in and went away westwards. This was nearer four than three o’clock, and we could not keep with them owing to the bad riding. There were snow-wreaths at the back of all the fences, with some hard spots, and many of the gates were still blocked. We crossed the Hawick and Newcastle road at High Tofts, and on by Kirkton Hill, Adderstonlee, Adderstonshiels, and Cogsmill, then by Berryfell to Stobs Bank, where we completely lost hounds. My horse was utterly done, reduced to a walk, and Billy and Jack were not much better. They had gone on, and I was wandering slowly up the road by the riverside. My horse was so exhausted that I had to put him into the stable, when a chilled drink and some old bog hay revived him a little. Some boys came to say they thought the fox was “ holed ” in the bank about a mile higher up the river. I went on and found two young hounds marking in a half-hearted way at the opening of a stone conduit which I knew and feared, because we had never been able to bolt from it. The terrier came up and showed us that there could be no access as, a few yards from the mouth, the roof had fallen in and was blocking it. I kept blowing at intervals, this bringing in two or three couples, all of which were panting and had the appearance of having been recently in chase. By this time it was quite dark, and I was on the point of returning to get my horse, when I heard a faint cry in the distance. This gradually came nearer and nearer, till I realised that hounds were running down the wooded bank of the river and very near their fox. Enjoining the boys to keep perfectly quiet, we held our breath and listened to the approaching chorus. Something glided past on the loose stones above me, followed by the dash of a couple of hounds close behind it; those we were endeavouring to hold broke away and darted after them, then there was a splashing in the river, and a “skirling” as of cats fighting, a hound which had been nipped calling out, then a rush of more hounds almost to my very feet as they flung themselves into the stream and grabbed and tore savagely at the body of the fox that had carried them so far from kennels, and baffled them so completely for a while. It was now 7.15, and, though Jack and Billy turned up very soon, swelling with pride at the part they had played in keeping hounds together, their horses had to be made comfortable before we could start for home. From the keeper’s wife we got some real oatcakes or girdle cakes and half a tumblerful of whisky and water before setting out on a fourteen or fifteen mile jog home—twelve and a half miles on the map— and it was fully three hours later before we sighted the stable lantern.

“I see ye’ve killed him, sir,” said Tom.

“How can you tell in this light, Tom?”

“Well, sir, from the way some o’ the hounds is swaggerin’, an’ I think I saw old Rambler carrying the nose as he went past.”

Curious finishes to outstanding hunts sometimes take place, and once or twice we were like losing our fox altogether, after having killed him fairly.

On one of the Harwood days we ran a fox out by Wauchope to Cribb’s hole, by the Flush to Dyke-raw, and in very fast to Tythehouse, where I viewed him one field before hounds, crawling in front of them. When we got up to them at the mill cauld we found hounds were walking round on the tips of their toes, some bloody, some scraping at the apron of the cauld, all with their hackles up and signs of battle, one tuft of fox fur but no fox. Now what to do? Could we put the fox into the count, no one having seen him killed or having handled him? Whipping off some of the boards to let the terrier in disclosed nothing; and only after half-an-hour’s fishing and groping with hay forks and rakes in the deep pool below was the body fished out, and hounds, which had been taken away, were brought back to eat it. Jack the whip’s elation was so marked that Billy sought and obtained an explanation of it. He had laid odds that before the end of the month (February) we should have killed fifteen brace, and this made it, though it was only the nineteenth day of the month.

This part of the country was well stocked with stout straight-running foxes, so when it was possible to put in an extra day, I was tempted to do it.

On a day following very closely on the last, a likely-looking beggar, as Tom Telfer described him, found himself in the heather outside Lurgiescleuch, and made for the heights, the hounds soon streaming in a long string after him, and very soon running out of sight. The terrier, and one or two tailed-off hounds, were our guides by Wauchope Common, Hemlaw, Fanna Rig, Note-o’-the-Gate, to Singden, where, in a blown-down plantation of spruce trees, we found hounds hard at work. We obtained the comforting news that the Liddesdale hounds had been through it that morning, so there could only be our fox in it. Very soon after we viewed him steal away on the backward journey, a five and half mile straight point. But this time he kept more to the south, down the bank of the stream, and by Wauchope House they were pressing him closely. On by the Forking and Hawkshaw March they drove with an enlivening chorus, making the whole valley resound, past Hobkirk between the church and the river, then crossing the latter just below the village. Surely he is doomed now! But it was not till an hour later that I took off his brush and threw him to the pack. Twas this way. After he had lain down in a ploughed field and hounds overrun him, Pirate and Dexter pushed him up and he made a spurt for the river. Two hounds rushed at him and simultaneously pinned him on the top of a high bank and rolled down into the deep pool, below a sort of fall, where they throttled him and then left him. We could not discover him in the failing light till the pool got smoothed and was free from hounds swimming in it, and until the discoloured water had cleared. Then we got sight of him in about eight or nine feet of water poised on the point of his nose and two fore pads, his brush stretched stiffly out behind him, about six feet below the surface. The pool was enclosed by a shelving bank of gravel which sloped suddenly down into at least twelve feet of depth, and as the fox was, so to speak, suspended exactly in the centre of the pool, he could not be reached from the side with paling bars, and to attempt him from below only meant pushing him into deeper water. My bribe to the assembled boys to strip and dive for him was not responded to, so in the end I waded the “powney” in as far as she would go, and with a crooked wire hooked him; but for some time it looked as if hounds were going to lose the satisfaction of tearing and eating their fox.

Another very satisfactory by-day was a Monday after a very hard Saturday, which had lamed half the pack. I had not the most remote notion of going out—in fact, had fixed on having a day with the Duke’s; but from my dressing-room window at 8.15 I saw a brace of foxes walk down a furrow in the plough on the opposite side of the glen and lie down together in a hollow. I saw they could be approached from above by making a big detour; this I did on the pony with only Jack as follower and eight couple of selected sound hounds. It took half-an-hour to get round, and being directed by signal from the bath-room window of the house, I trotted quickly down along the very furrow in which the unsuspecting pair were lying, and the hounds were on the top of them before they knew it. They diverged right and left, the vixen going straight down into the glen, and the dog, to his credit be it said, taking straight across the plough, drawing six couple away from his mate. These six couple hunted him well, sticking closely to him round the Dunion and Bedrule Hill, bringing him back to the glen, where they continued to press him for another half-hour, and being reinforced by all the loose terriers belonging to the establishment, they hunted him from one hiding-place to another until they killed him, about two hours after he had first been viewed. Few of those friends whom I met in the Duke’s field about midday, to whom I related my story, seemed to think I was not romancing.

Pleasant as were these by-days, often providing the most unexpected sport and satisfactory finishes, they were seldom so enjoyable as the regular hunting days. Many of the one-horse followers used to go home after a morning’s hunt, leaving a few keen spirits to have another try for him. Tom Telfer, Frank Turnbull, Dick Davidson, George Heriot, Tom Smith, poor Archie Rutherfurd, Robert Laing, George Davidson, and others, never left so long as there was light to draw; and being all good horsemen and anxious to go one better than the other, the pace of these afternoon hunts was never slow, and some prodigious deeds of valour were performed.

Not so often did we kill our fox on these occasions, but nearly always hounds ran hard and pressed their fox, very often putting him to ground at too late an hour to admit of bolting or digging.

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