“Land's sakes," says Hugh, in his burred Scottish accent. "There I was quietly enjoying a quick puff on my favourite cigarillo, when it all started.
Hugh Robertson is an honorary whipper-in with the Eglinton and Caledon Hounds (ON). Hugh knows the country and had already taken up his post on the ridge. It was early in the season and hounds were drawing the swamp in the valley at the south end of Galten Farms country in Caledon. So far the day had been quiet, providing the opportunity for Hugh to enjoy the overly-warm but beautiful September day.
"Get on up there to the north on the ridge and keep an eye out,” the huntsman had said. "The swamp is bound to produce something in this heat." Like any experienced whipper-in, Hugh had anticipated this and was on the job.
The first hound spoke. Tentatively at first and then with more conviction as others joined in. Hugh's horse, Flash, pricked his ears and a little tremor was reflected up through the saddle. Hugh stubbed out the cigarillo and waited expectantly.
A gentle rustling in the now sun-scorched weeds below him was the first hint that something was afoot. A moment later, a sandy coloured coyote slipped quietly past him, headed northeast. Not the biggest one Hugh had ever seen but a healthy youngster probably from this spring's litter. A brief word on the hunt radio to the huntsman was all that was needed as the hounds were now speaking to the line.
“Here we go,” thought Hugh. Not just yet, as it turned out. No sooner had he gathered up the reins than a large red fox sped under his horse's feet traveling east to west. This fellow knew when it was best to get out of town. "A full grown fox has just crossed the line headed west. Hounds are not on his line. Over," reported Hugh using his traditional military style of radio etiquette.
At this point, the lead hounds broke cover and streamed past Hugh on the line of the coyote. The ruckus of the hounds in full cry must have alerted a four-pointer stag quietly enjoying a peaceful moment in the morning sun. Hugh's head swung in yet another direction as the startled stag headed away from him in gracious bounding leaps over the bushes and a rusty old wire fence.
"No need to report that," thought Hugh, as hounds were well focused on the coyote's line. With a flash of its white flag and a final leap the deer vanished into the safety of the deeply-wooded valley.
"Ah, here comes our huntsman," thought Hugh as the sound of a horse cantering up the slope towards him continued the non-stop action. Wrong! It was a rider-less horse with its bridle dangling off one side of its head. Subsequent enquiries determined that a protruding branch had slipped between the horse's head and the cheek strap of the bridle. The forward motion of the horse had pried the bridle half off his head, crushing an ear. The horse freaked out and its rider was dumped.
Meanwhile, our intrepid whipper-in moved across the horse's path. Talking gently, he managed to calm down the frightened animal. Taking the bridle in hand, Hugh slipped it back over the horse's ears and used the now-broken reins as a lead line.
It was just a few minutes later that the sound of more twigs cracking underfoot and laboured breathing announced the arrival of the horse's erstwhile rider. "Would you be looking for this fine fellow, Master?" said Hugh as he handed the reins back to the Field Master of the first flight.
At this point the huntsman appeared. Intent on staying with hounds, he cantered past Hugh and was heard to say, "Did you see anything?" Hugh didn't have time to respond but thought, "Did I ever."
Some might doubt the authenticity of this little action tale. Some might even question what was inside that cigarillo that Hugh was smoking. Be assured that our hero is of impeccably good character. Maybe the author of this tale is sometimes prone to exaggeration, but the essence of the story is accurate. You never know when the whipper-in will need to become a traffic cop.
Posted October 21, 2019
English-born Derek French grew up in Kent (UK), served as Master
of the Eglinton and Caledon Hunt (ON) from 2000 to 2007, and is the author of Spirit: The Lighter Side of Life in Wartime Britain.