Bedtime Stories: Scrutator

An occasional series in which we offer a pleasant “good night” to our readers, courtesy of hunting literature. Sweet dreams!

THIS is a blatant excuse to go back to reading one of the houndbloggers’ favorite sporting authors, Knightley William Horlocks, who fortunately used a less cumbersome pen name: Scrutator. It’s been a while since I opened up one of my favorite volumes, Scrutator’s The Science of Foxhunting (1868), but coming across that passage about Rummager and huntsman Frank Goodall reminded me. As it happens, my copy of The Science of Foxhunting is inscribed by Goodall, who presented it in 1870 to the Hon. Alan Pennington. So far I have found only a few brief references to Pennington in relation to hunting, although he appears to have been a Master for one season at the Holderness; according to Covertside Sketches by J. Nevill Fitt, he “resigned at the end of it on account of the scarcity of foxes.” Another mention of Pennington is in Annal of the Billesdon Hunt (Mr. Fernie’s) 1856-1913: Notable Runs and Incidents of the Chase, Prominent Members, Celebrated Hunters and Hounds, Amusing Stories and Anecdotes by the improbably named F. Pallister Costobadie (yes, really). Pennington, according to Pallister Costobadie, “used, with Sir Wm. Milner, to hunt from Billesdon, and with the Master and huntsman were generally to be found in the first flight. Nothing gave the writer greater satisfaction in his teens than when the fortune of the day, combined with youth and light weight, enabled him on a game old horse, once not unknown over ‘the sticks,’ to keep within measurable distance of this well-mounted quartet.”

And, indeed, underneath Goodall’s inscription in the Scrutator book, he has  written “Billesdon, 1870.”

But on to Scrutator himself, now. We have featured him before, in a 2009 Bedtime Story about the abduction of the Welsh hound Trojan.

Frank Goodall, huntsman of the Royal Buckhounds

I confess I know little about this favorite author’s life, other than that he resided in Gloucestershire at Ashwick House, where people seemed intent on destroying his rooks, and that he had an exceptionally good pack of exceptionally large hounds, as described by people who hunted with them. I’m hoping that Peter Brook over at Baily’s can enlighten me further, but in the meantime I can tell you that his writing is wonderful and that he is fascinated by hounds. “If he had done nothing more,” a commentator wrote of him in “Baily’s Magazine of Sports & Pastimes” in 1861, “the sporting world would owe him a deep debt of gratitude for having increased the pleasures of the hunting field, tenfold at least, by teaching us to interest ourselves in the hounds themselves, instead of resting satisfied with showing us, in what way we may run the least risk of breaking our necks, without detriment to the sport of our companions.”

And now, after that long prelude, we give you Scrutator.

A remarkable return

“As an instance of the extraordinary instinct in a foxhound which directs his way home, I may relate the following fact: The late Mr. Elton, of Stapleton House, who for many years kept a pack of foxhounds of Lord Egremont’s breed, conjointly with my father, to hunt both fox and hare, gave a hound which had bred a litter of whelps that year to a friend residing in Essex, but at that time staying with him. This hound was taken in his travelling chariot–the usual mode of locomotion in those days–from Bristol, right through London and thirty miles beyond. On the second night after her arrival there, she escaped from the kennel, and no tidings of such a hound being heard of or seen in the neighborhood could be gathered.

“Her new owner, after fruitless inquiries and researches, bethought himself, as almost a forlorn hope, of writing to her late master, telling him the day she absconded, when he was greatly surprised to learn that the hound had reached Stapleton on the fifth day after being missed from Essex. Knowing the instinct and sagacity of the canine race, this feat would not have appeared anything very wonderful, save for the hounds threading her way through the labyrinths of the great metropolis. She would have taken cognizance of the various inns on the road where the carriage stopped to change horses, and where, most probably, she alighted with her new master to stretch her legs. The sign of a large red fox, with a goose in his mouth, could not fail to attract her attention. A White Horse might bring to her mind the old grey mare ridden by the huntsman. The Goat and Compasses–etymologically explained by “God encompasseth us”–a phrase and sign in common usage during that arch-liberator or arch-fiend’s reign, Cromwell–would strike her as bearing some resemblance to deer which she had seen in a park near home. The Three Magpies, on Hounslow Heath, a very notorious posting-house in those times, were likely to have made some impression on her mind from those birds generally assisting hounds with their hoarse notes, when a fox is before them.”

A little eau de vie

“By the foxhunters of the old school, a few little extras were considered requisite to complete their equipment for the field. The loose shoe was generally attached to the saddle, in case of losses of this kind. A small leather case, for eau de vie or tincture of rhubarb, according to taste–the latter having been, as reported, the usual cordial taken by the great Mr. Meynell, when exhausted by the fatigue of a long run. De gustibus non disputandum.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

“That a drop of eau de vie has stood us in good need when meeting with accidents in the hunting field, we can vouch for, and once in particular, when our fox took his line through a farmyard up hill, which, there being no other mode of getting to the hounds by a high wall on either side, we were obliged to follow. Our only means of exit was through a door–not a gate–and being young, hot, and hasty at that time, without considering the difference of rising ground, instead of leading our horse through, which we ought to have done, we had the temerity to ride him. The consequences might have been seen had we allowed ourselves a moment for reflection. In lowering our head to pass under, the back of our neck came in contact with the lintel, which, being rather old, gave way; but the concussion was so severe that, finding ourselves on the point of fainting, we swallowed the contents of our flask, and scrambling out of the saddle lay flat on the grass.”

A close shave

“Sir Wheeler Cuffe, it appears from his own account, was the first man who introduced clipping, or, as he called it, ‘shaving horses.’ His stud being reduced by hard work or accidents, he was told of a good hunter then running loose in a farmyard (having been disabled the previous season), but now quite sound, although with a coat like a bear.

“A bargain having been struck with his present owner, he was transferred to the baronet’s stable, who, to bring him quickly into hunting trim, hit upon the novel expedient of first cutting off all the long hair, and then sending for the village barber, to lather and shave him all over excepting the head and legs; and he used to relate with great glee that, although well known before in the hunt, he was not recognized by even his former master after this metamorphosis, his colour having been quite changed.”

An exceptional deer

“Red deer generally–the stags I mean–are fierce and savage, particularly in the rutting season; the only exception to this rule in our experience being an aged one presented to us with other red calves by the grandfather of the present Duke of Beaufort, when we were also in our calfhood or boyhood, and by whom, being then Lord-Lieutenant of the county, we had also the honor of being appointed a magistrate at a very early date.

“This deer, which had been named ‘Mumbo Jumbo,’ from the terror inspired by his majestic size and appearance to all women and children, happened to be the most gentle of his kind. He would come down to the hall-door, and receive bits of bread and other things from the hands of our children, following them also about the park in the most dutiful manner. A friend of ours acquainted somewhat with the nature of red deer, remarked to us one day, ‘If you don’t kill that stag, he will some day kill one of your children.’

“‘We know him too well,’ was our reply, ‘or a bullet would have gone through his head long ago.’

“Poor old Mumbo Jumbo merited our confidence in him to the last. When, chilled by the blasts of a very inclement winter in a heavy fall of snow, he was found unable to rise from the ground, we had him conveyed upon a hurdle covered with straw into a loose box, where he was attended with assiduous care until his candle was burnt out; and his grateful acceptance of all our little attentions to his wants proved that he appreciated our kindness. Those who have studied deeply the characteristics of animal nature must have perceived something more than instinct cropping out in their conduct towards those who show them great kindness. ‘The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib,’ and so will every animal or bird in the creation respond in some way to gentle and kind treatment.”

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