This section is from the book "Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain", by Alfred W. Rees. Also available from Amazon: Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain.
Of all the hounds employed in the chase of the hare, the basset promises to become the prime favourite among some true - hearted sportsmen who love sport for its own sake, and not from a desire to kill. He is a loose, lumbering little fellow—resembling his relative, the dachshund—low and long, with out-turned legs, sickle-shaped " flag," and features which, in repose, seem to suggest that he has borne the grief and the care of a hundred years, but which, when the huntsman comes to open the kennel doors, are radiant with delight. Mirthfulness and dignity seem to seek expression in every movement of the quaint, old - fashioned little hound, and in every line of his face. As for his music —who would expect such a deep, belllike note from this queer midget among hunters, standing not much higher than the second button of the huntsman's legging? Withal, he is a merry, lively little fellow, with a good nose for the scent of a rabbit or a hare, and, when in fit condition, is able to follow, follow, follow, if needed, from earliest dawn till the coming of night. The chase being ended, he with his companions, Harlequin and Columbine, and all the stragglers of the panting pack, will surround the tired hare, and will wait, bellowing lustily, but without molesting the quarry, till the Master appears and calls them to heel.
If the ten to twenty sportsmen often to be found in a village would combine, each keeping a basset for the common Hunt, they might derive the utmost pleasure from following their pets afield, and incidentally would assist to prevent the extermination of an innocent wildling of our fields and woodlands. For the sake of the sport shown by the basset-hounds, many of the farmers near the villages, who dearly love to hear the deep music of a pack in full cry, would protect Puss from those more cunning and powerful enemies of hers, who, lurcher in leash or gun in hand, steal along the hedgerows at nightfall, so that, from a secret transaction thereafter with some local game-dealer, they may get the wherewithal for a carouse in the kitchen of the "Blossom" or the "Bunch of Grapes".
One morning in December, when the rime lay thick on the fields, and the unclouded sun, rising in the steel-blue sky, cast a radiance over the glittering countryside, our village basset-hounds found the " cold " scent of the hare in the woods above the church, where Puss had sheltered beside a prostrate pine-trunk before returning to her " form " at dawn. After endeavouring in vain for some time to discover the direction of her "run," they set off, "checking" occasionally, across the stubble, through the root-crop field, and down over the fallow to the bottom of the dingle. There, near a bubbling spring, Puss had hidden since daybreak. Hearing the far-off music, she slipped out of the field unobserved, till, reaching the uplands, she was seen to pass leisurely by in the direction of the furze-brake.
Directly the bassets came to the spring, a chorus of deep sounds announced that the quarry had been tracked to her recent lair. All through the morning they continued their quest; they streamed in a long, irregular line up the hillside, their black and tan and white coats gaily conspicuous in the sunlight; they trickled over the hedgerows, and dotted the furrows of the deserted ploughlands; they moved in "open order" through the copse, and plodded along by the furze-brakes or through the undergrowth where the sharp-thorned brambles continually annoyed and impeded them ; they worked as if time needed not to be taken into the slightest account. The least scent met with loud and hearty recognition; fancy ran riot with the excited puppies; the atmosphere at every turn seemed to betray the near presence of Puss. But every condition of weather and fortune was against good sport. The ground was steadily thawing in the warmth of the sun, and the rising vapour, trembling in the light, seemed to carry the scent too high for accurate hunting.
So the hare ambled along her line of flight —a wide, horse-shoe curve that began and ended in the fallow on the slope. When a considerable distance had been placed between herself and her pursuers, she ceased to hurry. Indeed, the music of horn and hounds seemed almost to fascinate the creature, and frequently she lingered for a few moments to listen intently to the clamour of her enemies. A farm labourer, who tried to " grab " her as she passed down the grassy lane, said that she " was coming along as cool as a cucumber. Sometimes she'd sit down to tickle her neck with her hind-feet. Then she'd give a big jump, casual-like, to one side of the path, and sit down again, with her ears twitching and turning as if she thought there was mischief in every flutter of a leaf or creak of a bough".
Frightened almost out of her wits by the labourer's sudden and well-nigh successful endeavour to secure her, Puss rushed back along the lane, crossed a gap, and sped over the uplands once more, leaving her usual horseshoe line of flight, and taking a much greater curve towards the fallow. But gradually her pace slackened as she discovered she was no longer followed; and then, not far from her lair by the spring, she paused to rest. The music of the hounds was faint, distant, and intermittent; and at last it entirely ceased. Somewhat exhausted towards the end of her journey, she had withheld her scent, and had thus completely outwitted her slow but patient pursuers.
Once, and once only, towards the end of January, she found herself chased by her more formidable foes, the beagles. At first she eluded them by stealing off without yielding the faintest scent; but she was "viewed" in crossing the meadow, and the hounds, making a long, wide cast, "picked up" as soon as a slight, increasing taint in the air was perceptible, then followed for several miles. But, ultimately, they were baffled, and Puss made good her escape.
It had happened that, after creeping through a gutter in the hedgerow of a stubble, she had come in sight of a flock of sheep grazing on the opposite side. Like Vulp, the fox, she knew how to hinder the chase by mingling her scent with that of other animals ; so without hesitation she passed through the flock, and made straight for an open gateway in the far corner of the field. When the beagles, in hot pursuit, appeared on the scene, the startled sheep, rushing away, took the line of the hunted hare through the opening, and thus "fouled" the scent so thoroughly that the hunt came to a " check." After the hare had left the fields frequented by the sheep, she took the direction of a path leading over a wide bog towards the woodland. On the damp ground the scent lay so badly, that when, some time later, the beagles crossed her line, they were unable, even after repeated "casts," to follow her track. Presently the impatient huntsman, with hounds at heel, moved away to the nearest road and relinquished his quest.