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The poet, though remarkable for his appropriate description of country habits, does not allude to the "country practice” which is the. particular subject of this article, and which, if he had aught of the fire of Somerville in his veins, he would not have omitted on entering a forest dedicated for ages to the service of Diana and the Dryads.
Neither Sherwood nor Windsor Forest boasts of a wilder set of legends than that of Whittlebury. Rangers of ancient date may still be seen in their quaint dresses of Lincoln green, dashing across the glades on fiery steeds, and cheering their hell-hounds with unearthly glee ; and woe to the benighted traveller who crosses the line of the doomed victim as it flies before the spectre pack! The great poet Dryden, “the father of all the Nine,” is supposed to have gleaned the wild legend he relates in “ Theodore and Honoria” from a superstition which still attaches to Whittlebury Forest. A daughter of one of the noble rangers, famed at once for her beauty and coquetry, was an object of the deepest attraction to a gallant young knight; but his love and devotion, though at one time encouraged, were finally treated with coldness and disdain : driven to madness by her conduct, he put an end to his wretched existence by plunging a sword into his heart :
“ Long time I dragged my days in fruitless care ;
Then, loathing life, and plunged in deep despair,
On this sharp sword, and now am damned in hell." But mark the retribution ! The lady soon dies, and is doomed to be cternally hunted by the demon knight:
“ There, then, we met: both tried, and both were cast,
And this irrevocable sentence passed :
And all the vision vanished from the place.' The forest of Whittlebury has been well stocked with deer from the days of the first kings of England ; and the midnight revelries of goblin huntsmen and their hounds might, in all probability, be traced to the deer stealers, who, to escape detection, gave rise to, and encouraged, a superstition, which has become traditionary in the forest—that the cheer
and wild whoop heard by the benighted traveller emanated from beings that had long since passed from this lower world,
Lord Southampton's head quarters are at Whittlebury, where his lordship has fitted up a commodious set of kennels, The floors are of asphalt, which, from its porous nature, usually becomes dry as soon as the water has been swept from its surface. But here it is not so ; the water lodges, in consequence of the floors being on a dead level. Kennel lameness, bowever, has never troubled the establishment: the courts, too, are on the dark side of the lodging-houses, having a cold northerly aspect, and not altogether in accordance with Somerville's directions on the subject :
“Upon some little eminence erect,
And gilds the mountain tops." His lordship has fifty couple of hunting hounds in kennel, which are divided for work into a dog and bitch pack ; the latter, about twentyeight couple, being kept chiefly for open meets ; and the former, twentytwo couple, for cover duty. The arrangement is a judicious one, as far as appearance is concerned ; for there certainly is an extraordinary disparity in size between the sexes ; the bitches being rather below, and many of the dog hounds rather above, the medium standard. A great number of the bitches, too, are deficient in point of bone. If all were of the stamp of Playful, Agnes, Darling, Promise, Artful, Barbara, Hasty, and Violet (the last in pup by a Rutland hound), his lordship might challenge the world to produce a stouter or handsomer lot of bitches; but, with the exception of these and a few others, they generally want size and substance. Among the dog hounds, Dexter, Denmark, and Manful are remarkably fine hounds, but too large for their associates, and must catch the eye of every man who is at all accustomed to a level and sizeable pack. His lordship has a litter of three-year-old hounds that he has great reason to be proud of : Conqueror, Captain, Comrade, Cruel, and Crazy, out of his Vanity (one of Mr. Harvey Coombe's lot), and by the Duke of Rutland's Conqueror. They are remarkably good hounds in chase, have plenty of substance, equal to the longest day, and in colour are blue-pied. The entry for the present season consists of thirteen couples, principally bred from his own bitches, and by sires from Mr. Drake's, Lord Henry Bentinck's, and his own kennels,
Friday, Nov. 17.---Lord Southampton's hounds at Whistley-wood : the bitch pack on duty : found in the cover, and rattled him to and fro merrily for half an hour, when he broke with the pack well at him ; the scent, lowever, was bad in the open, and after a check or two they lost. Trotted away to All ey-thorn copse, where we found number two : ran him hard to Sulgrave, where a most deplorable accident occurred to a favourite horse, belonging to a well-known member of Mr. Drake's hunt. The horse, in landing over a small fence, put his foot into a hole, and broke his leg short off, just below the hock ; the animal, however, did not fall, and actually took another jump before his rider became aware of his sad situation. The leg of the poor beast swung round, and seemed as if nothing but the skin prevented its dropping off: of course, he was instantly shot. His owner had been saying, just before the accident, that this good horse had carried him seven seasons, and that he was quite sure he never should meet with his fellow again. The fox came back to Alley-thorn, where the hounds worked him till dark, and then went home.
Friday Dec. 1.-Astwell Mill. Found number one in Alley-thorn : had a sharp burst for ten minutes, and lost ; thus reminding one of the explosion of a bottle of soda-water-pop, phiz, and it's all over. Found number two in a new gorse cover : had an uncommonly good run for an hour and thirty minutes, at a rattling pace, when unfortunately the hounds, just as they should have tasted him, got upon a fresh fox: stopped the hounds, and sang " dulce domum.'
Saturday, Dec. 2.-Salcey Lawne. Drew Preston Park blank : found in Salcey Forest, to which he stuck like a martin cat, but going at a very different pace through it. For one hour and forty minutes they screeched with one accord in his rear, and they ran into him, without a check or a cast, in the very heart of the forest : an ancient dog-fox. This was a run after the fashion of old Ned Rose. It might have been the very fox that beat him so many times during the last years of his life, and, it was whispered by some of his acquaintance, hurried the old man himself to ground at last, through vexation that he could not kill him.
Monday, Dec. 4.–Stowe-nine-churches. “The ladies" again at the cover side, looking bright and beautiful, and displaying the work of an artist in their condition. Found in Stowe Wood, and stuck as if they had been glued to him for two hours, when they killed.
Wednesday, Dec. 6.—Cowper's Oak. The dog pack : found immediately in Yardley Chase (a name at once sacred to the Muses and Diana) : took one turn through West-wood, leaving Ranson-wood on the right, and crossing the Northampton road by “the Bull," entered Salcey Forest ; here he had not a moment's rest, though he ran his foil and tried many a wile. The hounds were hard at him from first to last, at least two hours (the oldest forester could not remember such a crash), and killed. Butler was in his glory; well pleased to see every hound in his place, and delighted with the day's sport. After all, condition is the main-stay of every establishment ; and unless matters go well in the kennel, they cannot do so in the field ; the art of feeding hounds is only acquired by long experience, and a nice discrimination is requisite to enable a man to do it judiciously. “ Some hounds will feed better than others; some there are that will do with less meat ; and it requires a nice eye and great attention, to keep them all in equal fleshit is what distinguishes a good kennel huntsman.' According to Beckford,“ to distinguish, with any nicety, the order a pack of hounds are in, and the different degrees of it, is surely no easy task; and to be done well
, requires no small degree of circumspection." Up to the present date, the weather has been so changeable and so adverse to scent, that no opportunity has been given of testing the condition and stoutness of his lordship's pack by any severe days; but the most casual observer need but cast his eye over them, and he will not fail to discover in their clean, glossy skins and muscular development that their form is first-rate, and that they are indebted to no novice, no inexperienced hand for such a brilliant state of condition,
Friday, Dec. 8.—Lord Southampton's bitch pack at Foxley : found directly ; and just as the hounds were settling to their fox, and all thought we were in for a good thing, a check ensued that proved fatal : in vain were they cast, not a hound hit it afterwards. Found No. 2 in Seawell Wood, rattled him in cover for twenty minutes ; the field seeming determined that he should not break, by encircling the cover in all directions ; at length, however, he did get away, from the end of Maidford Wood, the pack well at him, and screeching for his blood : he led us, like a Will-o-'the-Wisp, through a heavy and distressing country, where the fences, though in reality they were small, looked like very big ones, as the horses, up to their hocks in mire, attempted to take them in their stride ; through Farthingstone Wood “like an arrow he passed,” skirted Henwood, and to the Everdon brook, over which Mr. Brereton Trelawny gallantly led the field, and into which, bumper as it was, many a good steed, with its gallant rider, plunged : on he flew, over the hill, still sinking the wind, with his head pointing for Daventry, when he was suddenly headed by a farmer, who turned him from his line, and the hounds, cutting off the angle, raced him to Everdon Mill, where he was fairly run into : time, fifty-eight minutes--with but a momentary check throughout the piece.
Saturday, Dec. 9.—Tile House. Drew Akely Wood, and found ; crossed the Park, by Stowe House, for Hatch Woods, where he was lost : found again in the Crown Lands, a tremendously strong place, and the dread of old Ned Rose ; ran him hard through Bucklands, the hounds being knee-deep in slosh, and on to Silverstone, where they killed him without a check-time, fifty minutes. A fine cover run as any man could wish, but the rides unmercifully deep.
Nothing can exceed the steadiness of Lord Southampton's hounds ; nineteen times out of twenty, if a hound speaks, it is a fox ; but surely, whatever their character, fifty couple of hounds is a short complement for four days a week in his lordship’s country, fenced as it is, to keep out the deer from certain parts of the forest, with huge black-thorn hedges, at least ten feet high, wattled, impenetrable, and dark as night. In topping these, from the inside, where they are not so high, hounds often fail to cover the ditch by which they are bounded, and the consequence is, the fore legs get shaken, and sprains occur, from which they do not recover for a long time. It is no uncommon thing in the kennel for eight or ten couple to be lame at once, principally from this cause.
Lord Southampton's "Field" are still fairly entitled to the charge of being a little too quick upon hounds. Old Tom Rose, we are told, whenever it was an open fixture, “dreaded the sight of the Pytchley Wild-boys,' who were ever for a scurry in the morning, and not being accustomed, when at home, to give them much room,' used to drive them over it most unmercifully, and generally soon lost their fox for them :” unquestionably, in the present day, a dash of the same blood still exists on that side of the country, and in unsettled weather, partly from over-riding, partly from wind-sinking, many a good fox is lost or headed, which would otherwise have shown a brilliant run.
To be too near hounds at any time, but especially when the scent is not first-rate, is a fault of which huntsmen have but too much reason to complain ; indeed, the wonder is, how, crowded upon and over-ridden as hounds occasionally are, they ever contrive, under such circumstances, to kill their fox at all. Gentlemen yclept “ bruisers” are usually the mischief-makers ; and as the action of a hound catching the scent, dropping his stern, and flying upon it, is of secondary importance to the pleasure of fencing, so they not only constantly drive hounds over the scent, but cannot tell how far it has been brought when hounds come to a check: with them, the man who is first over the fence is entitled to the chief glory; but this is not hunting, it is a kind of hybrid sport between steeple-chasing and the chase, akin to both, but legitimatized by neither. There are, however, some steady and first-rate men in his lordship’s country : no one can surpass Capt. Fitzroy as a judge of hounds' work, and an undeniably good horseman ; the captain is very quiet, but very determined ; he possesses a clear head, a quick eye, and a wonderfully big heart, when hounds are running hard ; his geographical knowledge, too, is such as to give him a decided advantage over most men who hunt in that country. Lord Euston and Lord Charles Fitzroy, his brother, are both very difficult men to beat, and are thorough-bred fox-hunters by birth and inclination ; the latter rides a chesnut horse, up to about fourteen stone, which is as clever an animal as ever was saddled. The noble master has also a big chesnut or two, which carry him well, and have the action and airiness of ponies ; “ Claret” and “ Congress” are first-rate animals : his lordship goes to Mr. Anderson, in Piccadilly, who, for his own sake, never allows a horse to pass through his hands that is not perfect at his business ; and men of a certain calibre in bulk and pocket, who have once known the comfort of a made hunter, never stick at price when a horse of such a character is required for their riding.
Butler, the present huntsman, was eleven years with Mr. Foljambe, six with the Sandbeck, and ten with the Badsworth, from which pack he came to Lord Southampton. These are his credentials, and they are quite enough to carry him through the world as an experienced houndsman, and as a servant who can appreciate a good master, The condi, dition of his pack, which has been already noticed, shows how well he has attended to the kennel department ; without which, success in the field could never be ensured. His system in hunting is, to let hounds alone, which, by men accustomed to the fast countries, may be considered as carried to too great an extent ; nevertheless, few huntsmen in the north of England showed more sport or killed more foxes than he did. He is remarkably silent with hounds, but often uses a whistle, which we cannot reconcile our ears to as the right “dog-language ; yet he has a fine manly voice, and one which hounds must fly to, when he catches a view or gets them together on a newly found fox. Butler is supported in the field by two very efficient men, Tom Atkinson and George Turner ; the former, who is head-whip, has been two years in his present service, and came from Ireland with the pack, which Lord Southampton bought from Lord Shannon ; the latter, an excellent horseman, learned his business at Rome, where he belonged to the pack of foxhounds which hunted that classic country.