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Hound and Horn in Jedforrest
Chapter XIII. A Hill Day

“He's away for the moors in the teeth of the wind

THE interest had not slackened, but the season was waning ; hounds were light in condition, some of the four and five season hunters showing signs of loosening of toes and wearing of feet; earths had been opened for some time and drawn out by the vixens who were now lying up dog foxes were getting scarce and not easy to find; lambs (the huntsman’s bane) were a full crop and two or three weeks old on the lower farms; scent was uncertain; the country was hard, dry, and dusty; and the weather was of the barren and boisterous character common to the period.

The beginning of the day was unpropitious, for we had lost a quarter of an hour at the start, and none of it had been wiped off by the time we passed the halfway milestone. Old “Safety’s” jog was rougher than usual; if there was a loose stone she found it and kept dribbling it in front of her like a footballer till she made her last effort to kick it away, accompanying this with a grunt and a stumble.

The last half of the twelve-mile jog was on a high moorland road, open to the full force of the blast rushing down from the heights; and as we bent our heads to the wind and quickened the pace, I cursed myself for having agreed to give this extra day in this wild waste district on the very outskirts of our country. It had been thought desirable to kill or scare away one or two foxes here before the hill lambing commenced, and though hounds were to hunt the next day on the same side of the country, the fixtures having been duly advertised, this unadvertised by-day had been planned as an auxiliary to it. An amazing number of the keenest of keen sportsmen had assembled at the place of meeting, an exposed farmhouse on a wind-swept hillside, where they were trying to obtain such shelter as was afforded by the walls of a dry-stone sheep-fold. The horses had their tails tucked in and their ears laid back; but their masters’ faces, already glowing from exposure, beamed with pleasure at the sight of hounds, and we had a cheery greeting.

The two joint masters of a trencher-fed hill pack rode up from the opposite direction, and I hailed them with satisfaction, for I deemed that their pilotage might be useful before the day was ended. I was relieved to notice they had not brought any of their hounds; but several sharp-looking, hard-coated terriers ran with them.

For nearly three hours we tried all sorts of likely lying places, exhausting all the hitherto known kennels above ground.

“Ye shood ha’ been here at seven o’clock in the mornin’ an’ ye might ha’ got a drag,” Sandy Oliver kept reiterating. “We’ll have to risk disturbing a vixen, and run the terriers through the big earth at Todholes now.”

I was loath to do this, but there seemed no other way of getting sport; so blowing the disappointed hounds together, we moved on for the famous earths on the opposite side of the valley.

In passing a patch of heather that had escaped the previous spring’s burning, and that was mixed with rough boulders and battered bracken, one or two of the rear hounds hung back, and old Warrior stood still for a moment, feeling the air with his nose before dashing forward, when suddenly, and as if the earth had opened and shot him out, a big supple-looking dog fox projected himself and stretched away like a greyhound, the whole pack screaming after him like distracted beings as he increased his distance from them along the side of the hill.

"That’s right, keep out above them," shouted Sandy Oliver, as he cantered past me tying a new cracker on to his thong as he went. "By the Lord, they are scolding him along proper. That beats a blooming kirk organ,” he added.

For full forty minutes we galloped, or rather scrambled, slithered, or floundered over as rough a piece of country as ever tried the mettle of the stoutest horse. No sooner had we surmounted one hilltop than we saw another before us, higher and farther off than the last, and as we breathed our blowing horses before we set them going again, I heard the shout of one or more of the hill-men, “There they go! Yonder they go! Right forward away!” as they pointed to the expanding sky-line.

I freely confess I was no more anxious to keep in sight of hounds than of the active form of the Master of the Talladale and his pony’s rat tail, as he sailed along with little apparent effort. Once I thought I had lost him; but he came skating down a steep face, his pony sitting on its haunches with its forefeet pushed out before it, and shouted, “They’re right on, and we’ll have to cross the bog. We’ll lose them if we go round. Keep close in to the edge of the haggs between the wet and the dry; you’ll do fine if your mare knows them.” And with that he disappeared between two overhanging haggs into what looked like the bed of a stream.

Old “Safety” had many opportunities of “knowing them” and learning them in the next few minutes, and it was not without several struggles that we emerged on to harder ground.

Three or four more hill-men were now showing in front, and I rode in their tracks, watching them pointing forward with their whips to where you could just see the hounds fading away over the farthest ridge.

Pounding on for another mile or more, I heard loud whoops, and came upon a small knot of excited men, who threw themselves off their horses, leaving them to stand without hobbling or tying up in any way, and rushed down into the hollow where hounds were baying loudly and digging furiously.

“It’s only a water-crack,” said Dave Oliver, after we had taken hounds off to some distance. “We’ll soon bolt him out of there if my brother Sandy’s terrier would come up.”

“Why not try my whulp?” said Geordie Davidson, producing the said creature from a game bag which he carried.

"It’s too big and wet, Geordie; he’d never go in.”

“Never go in!” yelled Geordie, and a heated argument began, which was only ended by the appearance of Sandy’s terrier, who decided the dispute by diving into the crack lower down the hollow, Sandy himself lying prostrate on his stomach on the ground with his ear closely pressed to the earth, while the rest of them drew back and watched with the most intense interest. Sandy’s hand went up to indicate he had located the spot from which the yaps and grunts accompanying the subterranean battle proceeded, and he crept softly on all fours down the hollow. Five, ten, fifteen minutes of cold suspense followed, during which a few straggling men and horses arrived, all to take up a position well back and above the centre of attraction. Then Sandy, crawling quietly away, came up to say he could hear nothing, and thought they must be in grips.

“If we had only a spade, we could shift him,” he said; “but it’s too far to send in to Skaith-hill. But what’s this? Here come two lads carrying something very like the instrument.”

Two wiry shepherds were not long in setting doubts at rest.

“We keep an old draining spade on the heights,” they explained; “it often comes in handy.”

An opening was soon made, and Sandy’s terrier dragged out slightly punished, and at his urgent request Geordie Davidson’s young Piper was put in. He wriggled out of sight in a second, and soon after his delighted master was screaming in enjoyment: “Hooi at him, Piper lad, good Piper lad, hooi at him. He’s driving him doon the hill is Piper.”

“Whist, Geordie; if ye mak as much noise, nae fox will bolt.”

A few minutes of expectation, and then I saw Geordie staring as if his eyeballs would burst, and thought I caught sight of a black object slinking down the bed of a small watercourse.

“Ta-a-a-aly-ho!” screamed Geordie, unable to contain himself any longer, and hounds poured away like a cataract.

“Bi ghor, that’s a ghrand tarrierh!” said the shepherd; “look yhonderh, he’s oot close ahint him!”

What sliding and skating; some going straight down, some at a slant; but all arriving at the bottom somehow.

Old “Safety” sprawled into an innocent-looking green spot; I flung myself off to ease her, and landing half-way up to the knee, left my boot stuck fast in the ground, clean sucked off. The amusement of several of the boys was undisguised, though I did not altogether appreciate the chaff to which I had to submit.

“Using Todshawhope as a boot-jack, Master?” “Suffering from hot feet, sir?” “Boots too tight?” and such-like poor witticisms.

But they were sufficiently Samaritan to catch the old mare, and I pulled the boot out and worked the foot into it, and continued the chase, grudging very much the lost minutes.

I was not above being guided by Sandy Oliver again, who to my surprise turned back towards us with a set expression on his face: “We can’t get through the Red Cleugh; we’re far better on this side of the hill.”

“He'll never make the heights; they’re bound to turn in. Come on.”

"Lord preserve us" he cried in his excitement, “they must be running in view, and here’s that blasted wire fence—the march between Todlaw and Softhope—tightened up and renewed. We’ll have to get through it; there’s not a gate for miles.”

He brought his pony alongside the fence, stepped off and stood on the top wire, balancing himself with his hands on the saddle, dancing and swinging and stamping till a staple flew; then moved along to the next post, and the next one or two, repeating the operation. Then jumping down, he bound the loosened wires tight together with his stirrup leather, and laying his coat on them, he led his pony over, the sensible beast quietly lifting one leg at a time.

“Safety” played the fool, hanging back and planting her toes in the ground, breasting the fence anywhere but the right where, and at last leaping so suddenly and so high in the air as almost to land on the top of me.

Sounder ground enabled us to canter round the base of the hill to a point overlooking the whole of the wide hope below, which we eagerly scanned, but without seeing a sign of the chase.

“They can’t be down into Softhope burn below us, or we would hear them, and they haven’t had time to get over Red Cleugh heights; they must have put him to ground again,” said Sandy.

Emerging from the bed of the stream higher up we now saw Davie Oliver on his white pony, with a few followers, moving in an uncertain way, and apparently as much at a loss as we were ourselves.

But a note on the horn brought several dark forms out of a side cleuch directly below us, and on going down we found the pack at the edge of the stream, most of them lying in it drinking and panting; and a little way off, after some search, a mangled object stretched and flattened and so plastered with black peat as to be more like a fox that had been dead for a week than the limber animal that had just stood up so well in front of hounds.

“They never do break up a fox when they kill him in a peat-hole like that,” explained Sandy.

Davie was urged by his elder brother to thrust a finger down the creature’s throat, which he did very gingerly, and reported not only that it was blood-hot, but declared he felt an expiring twitch and quiver, with an attempt to close the long jaws, which made him retract his finger with more decision than he had inserted it.

After washing in the stream and removing brush, mask, and all the pads, amid the whoops and yells of their followers, the body was thrown to the hounds, who soon tore him and ate him, being assisted in the operation by such of the terriers as had come up. These determined little creatures held on to and fought for every scrap of skin, and we had a good laugh to see Geordie Davidson’s Piper pounce upon a small portion and bear it off while the brothers Oliver’s terriers were locked in mortal combat over the same prize.

Estimating distance and time and comparing notes occupied us till we followed down stream to the shepherd’s house.

“Where got ye that saddle, Dave?” inquired Sandy.

“It’s the Master’s. I lent mine to Jack the whip to use to get his horse out of Lairhope bog,” said Dave; “he was in firm up to the withers and had done struggling; so, as my saddle was a very old one, I whipped it off, and we turned it up before him and drew the horse’s fore-feet out and put them on the panels, and flicked him with our whips, and at the first try he got out. But I bargained that Jack was to ride home on my dirty saddle, and I was to get his.”

“And how did you get off Softhope?” pursued Sandy.

“We took down the water-gate, and lifted the hanging rail off,” replied Davie; “but you came a quicker road. Where did you get a gate in the march fence?”

“Oh, about half-way down the rig on the other side of the hill,” replied his brother, winking at me.

At the parting of the ways we were only one couple of hounds short; but of their followers only nine out of about thirty starters survived, and of these six were hill-bred men on hill-bred horses.

Fourteen miles from our sleeping place, and eight from the point where we were to meet the fresh horses and some four couple of fresh hounds, and it was dusk, and every minute of daylight was precious.

“You’ll save nearly a mile and a quarter if you cut across behind Dryslade woods,” shouted Sandy Oliver, as he waved back “Good-night.”

How I repented of taking this road may be imagined when, five minutes later, hounds, without any warning, dashed off into the sombre woods on a red-hot scent, screaming as if to waken the dead. Blowing till I was blue, my two companions cracking their whips, rating till they were hoarse, and riding their tired horses for all they were worth, produced seven and a half couple of surprised hounds, while the rest pursued with a vigour and a vehemence worthy of a better time and occasion.

“It’s no use, Ben; Mr. Stewart and you will have to go back and try to stop them and bring them on to Dryslade farm.”

Only those who have tried it can know what an exasperatingly slow process it is to coax tired-out foxhounds with a leg-weary horse along a strange road, especially when their heads are turned away from home, and when you have no one putting them on from behind. Stiff, chilled, and dispirited, I crept along by slow yards, blowing a dejected note on the horn at intervals, musing on the alternating joys and misfortunes of the day, attempting to realise the predicament in which I was placed, and picturing the sort of appearance I would cut next day with only half a pack of hounds.

A faint “Hi, woa!” came from the distance; a figure showed in the dusk running across the fields; then a friendly voice shouted: “Stop, Maister. A’ve been watchin’ ye a’ day,” it panted, “an’ A’ve seen the feck o’ the hunt; ye’ve hed a lang sair day, an’ ye maun bei gey hungery an’ awfullies droi, and me an’ the wife’s socht ye a basket.” It was dear old Andrew Waugh, and the basket was a generous supply of scones, and oatcakes, and cheese, and currant loaf, and butter, and a decanter of whisky, and glasses.

“Dod! bit er ye a’ yersel? What hae ye dune wi’ the rest o’ them?” said the honest fellow, as he poured out a generous supply from the decanter. “Michty, what a gran’ hunt. A aim gled ye catched him,” he went on ejaculating, as his questions were answered by degrees.

Sitting on the bank by a roadside spring of water, when one of the most delicious meals was in progress, the rap rap of horses’ feet was heard, and Stewart and the boy jogged up with the missing hounds. Sandy and the rest of the hill-boys had heard the cry approaching them, and by a liberal use of whip-cord and voice had stopped the hounds. So the feast was prolonged, and with the dews falling and the stars coming out we demolished “the basket” and drained the decanter to the toast of “Andrew Waugh and fox-hunting.”

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