This section is from the book "Hunting: A Manual of Fox, Hare, Stag & Otter Hunting", by J. Otho Paget. Also available from Amazon: Hunting: A Manual of Fox, Hare, Stag & Otter Hunting.
What a pace hounds run! what a head they carry ! They seem to skim over the yellowy-brown surface; the bastard turf, made up of twitch and coarse herbage, answers the purpose of the best old turf. This is as good as a gallop over the cream of Leicestershire, and here are only ten men competing. When the pack run fast and straight, it matters not what the country is like if you can only get over it, and you have never enjoyed yourself more than at this moment.
Away on the ridge to the right there is a hammering of iron-shod hoofs on the road, and you catch a glimpse of the crowd hurrying on to some point. There is a wood of twenty acres in that direction, and according to all precedent it is for there a fox should make, but to-day the calculations of the knowing ones will be upset.
We have thus far been galloping over a sort of flat table-land, which now begins to descend gradually and ends, as far as you can see, in a narrow vale—a strip of green with a grey church-tower in the middle. Up to now you have met nothing which your horse could not cover with ease in his stride, but what is this thicket in front ? It is the boundary hedge that divides two parishes, a huge wall of thorn and young trees that shut out the landscape beyond, with a yawning ditch on either side. The autumn leaves have not yet fallen, and you must guess what lies behind the screen, but from the lie of the land you feel certain there is a drop. The field, after a moment's hesitation, have dashed off to follow one of their number who turned away directly he recognised the obstacle. Hounds have already disappeared through the leafy barrier, and you mean to be with them. At present you can see no spot where a glint of daylight shows weakness, but you remember your old creed that every fence has a feasible place. Then, as you approach nearer, the spot is all at once revealed, where the thorn is replaced by a weakly growth of alder. Sitting down in the saddle and getting plenty of pace on, you ride manfully at it. The rush lands you on top of the bank, and crash through the fence. Then for the fraction of a second you seem to hang on the edge of a bottomless gulf, but your horse's Irish education comes to his aid, as with a slide and a spring he lands safely into the next field. It matters not that your face is bleeding, your ears stinging, and your coat torn, for you are with hounds once more and therefore happy.
The soil now changes and becomes more of a sandy nature, which has an effect on scent, and the pace slackens a trifle; but there are worse things to be seen ahead, and you fear the result. A couple of fields of old seeds and one of growing turnips carry a fair scent, but beyond them are two big bare fields, reeking with the smell of dung and of decaying turnips. On the right-hand a huge flock of sheep are folded and the shepherd is there now, but he has not seen the fox. Of course, you must hold the pack forward beyond the stained ground, but it reaches for some distance in front and to the left—the fox must have been turned slightly to the left by the shepherd. Your whip did not follow you at the double, and you are still alone, so that you will have to make the cast without assistance. Every hound has now got his head up, and the hopelessness of trying to hunt across this tainted soil is apparent. You make a rapid calculation, and decide on a bold cast forward to some seeds half a mile away, that lie beyond the belt of plough. You are doing a very risky thing, for hounds have covered some four miles in fifteen minutes, and the fox must be blown, in which condition he is likely to turn short either way, or possibly double back. Whistling to the pack, who are quite ready to follow you, you canter forward with them over the two fields where the turnips have been, then over a freshly ploughed fallow, and crossing a road you reach the seeds. Beginning nearly opposite to where the shepherd stood, you cast down to the left, parallel with the road. You know there is a fair scent under ordinary conditions, and as this is good ground, you may cast there moderately fast. One or two of the old hounds are drawing on like pointers, feeling for a scent which they know is not far away, and then suddenly they dash forward, the whole pack wheel into line, and the next second they are flying on as fast as ever.
Beyond the seeds are two large stubble-fields, the arable district is left behind, and you suddenly find yourself on the fringe of the vale. A richer soil, grass of a deeper green, and fences of alarming strength. These are pastures of an older generation, and round each enclosure the whitethorn has grown, with the aid of man, into a hedge that controls the summer vagaries of the gadding bullock. Occasionally an ox-rail guards one side, and not infrequently both, whilst the ditch is certain to be there. A few seconds' respite on the turnip-ground gave your horse an opportunity of getting his second wind, and he now seems as fresh as ever, but you feel very thankful that most of his forebears are recorded in the stud-book. He is a good horse, and you know he can be depended on to do his best, but it is a high trial getting into such a stiff country at this period of the run. You must save him all you can, picking out all the smallest places, and yet without going out of the way.
Hounds are driving along now at a tremendous pace over the old turf, and there is not a sign of one tailing off. You are delighted with the result of your kennel management, with summer conditioning and autumn education. This is the moment when you reap the fruits of all your care and labour. In spite of the severity of the pace, neither old nor young show the least symptoms of flagging.
The fiery flame of excitement with which you started the gallop has now settled down to a steady glowing heat. Every nerve and faculty is strained to its utmost tension to attain one end— the death of the fox. Your thirst for blood has grown from a faint desire to a raging fever.