Written by Bob Lomas
[Continued from Part One which you can read here]
Eventually I moved them on and they galloped ahead to catch up with the pack, causing me to change up a gear and speed off after them. After travelling some three hundred yards or so I caught up with the pack, and out of habit looked back to see if a straggler had been left behind as sometimes happened but on this occasion I felt quite sure that all the hounds were up together. The track being quite straight as railway tracks usually are I could still see the bridge.
It was clear that my confidence had been ill founded for sure enough there on the bridge, and seemingly watching us, stood two hounds. I duly called to the whipper-in to tell him that I was going back for them. I turned my bicycle around and set off back down the track but by then the hounds had vanished. At the bridge I could see no sight of them. I called for a few minutes but there was no response, which is not unusual as hounds know only too well when they have broken the rules and will then use the natural cover to sneak back to the pack and rejoin it unobserved.
Catching up with the pack again I told the huntsman that we might be a couple of hounds short. He stopped and there was a quick check and count of heads. The three of us made it twenty five couple and all on. Because of the banking on both sides of the track at that point I could not see how the two hounds could have got back without my seeing them and I conveyed this to the huntsman. He thought for a moment before asking “What did they look like?” “Both dark, but it was too far to see clearly”, I replied. The huntsman then, quite uncharacteristically, said: “Don’t worry about it”. And with that he remounted his bicycle and rode on. No more was said about it and I was reluctant to raise the subject as for some inexplicable reason I sensed that he didn’t wish to discuss it, so that was that, but I still pondered on it for a while until eventually I forgot about it.
The summer highlight at a hunt kennels is the Puppy Show. These are not puppies as most people think of puppies but fully grown young hounds ready to join the pack for their first seasons hunting. All members of the hunt and guests are invited to attend. It is quite formal, all the gentlemen wear ties and the ladies dress in their summer frocks and pretty hats and all are seated to watch the young hounds being judged, usually by a master or huntsman from another pack. The hunt servants, as they are still officially called, which includes the huntsman and the whippers-in, wear bowler hats and suits beneath spotless white linen coats. The judges and visiting hunt servants from other hunts wear formal suits and all wear bowler hats.
Short speeches are made by the masters, which the old members cannot hear and the new ones seldom understand. There is indeed much etiquette and tradition, but despite this the atmosphere is very friendly and relaxed, and of course there is a bar to celebrate the not too frequent coming together of old friends. Universally the hunting community is quite close, so needless to say there is gossip to be exchanged and new stories to be told, not to mention the retelling of the old ones.
It was at one of our hunt puppy shows that I had the very great pleasure of again meeting the huntsman’s father. He had been our huntsman when I was a boy and had taught me much and afforded me great tolerance in my youthful enthusiasm. In conversation he asked me which puppy I would have selected as the best of the new entry. I told him that I would have given the top spot to the puppy who took second place. He gave a wry smile, almost in satisfaction, and said: “My choice too”. I knew the parents and grand parents of the puppy, but the old huntsman then went on to relate the pedigree going way back to the days of his father who was huntsman before him. Then after a pause he told me a story that I will never ever forget
He began. “The blood line of that puppy goes back to two of the greatest hounds my father ever had, their names were Bellman and Bombadier. One November evening they were hunting late and a fog started to come down. The hounds were hunting well and were way ahead of all the field. My father had no choice but to call the hounds off. He got them up together and blew for home. They were riding home when he looked down at the hounds, checking them over as one does, when he noticed that Bellman and Bombadier were missing.
Normally he would have sent the whip back to look for them, but because they were his special favourites he told the whip to take the hounds on home, which wasn’t far, and he went back himself. He had to take the road alongside the railway track because the rail was working in those days. He then heard the two of them speak from further down on the other side of the line. Knowing that by then the pack would have reached the kennels he blew his horn but at the same moment he heard the train coming. After that he kept blowing his horn but the two hounds didn’t come. He stayed quite a while but eventually had to go home.
The next morning before light he went back to where he last heard them and blew his horn again, immediately both hounds spoke. He scrambled up the embankment onto the track and ran down the line to where he had heard them. It was there he found them, on the bridge, both dead, both cold.”
Tough as my old mentor was, he failed to hold back his tears, nor could I mine.