Reynard the Fox, Part 1
|Reynard the Fox, Part 1
written by John Masefield
|Link to further information|
The meet was at "The Cock and Pye
By Charles and Martha Enderby,"
The grey, three-hundred-year-old inn
Long since the haunt of Benjamin
The highwayman, who rode the bay.
The tavern fronts the coaching way,
The mail changed horses there of old.
It has a strip of grassy mould
In front of it, a broad green strip.
A trough, where horses' muzzles dip,
Stands opposite the tavern front,
And there that morning came the hunt,
To fill that quiet width of road
As full of men as Framilode,
Is full of sea when tide is in.
The stables were alive with din
From dawn until the time of meeting.
A pad-groom gave a cloth a beating,
Knocking the dust out with a stake.
Two men cleaned stalls with fork and rake,
And one went whistling to the pump,
The handle whined, ker-lump, ker-lump,
I The water splashed into the pail,
And, as he went, it left a trail,
Lipped over on the yard's bricked paving.
Two grooms (sent on before) were shaving
There in the yard, at glasses propped
On jutting bricks; they scraped and stropped,
And felt their chins and leaned and peered,
A woodland day was what they feared
(As second horseman), shaving there.
Then, in the stalls where hunters were,
Straw rustled as the horses shifted,
The hayseeds ticked and haystraws drifted
From racks as horses tugged their feed.
Slow gulping sounds of steady greed
Came from each stall, and sometimes stampings,
Whinnies (at well-known steps) and rampings,
To see the horse in the' next stall.
Outside, the spangled cock did call
To scattering grain that Martha flung.
And many a time a mop was wrung
By Susan ere the floor was clean.
The harness-room, that busy scene,
Clinked and chinked from ostlers brightening
Rings and bits with ,dips of whitening,
Rubbing fox-flecks out of stirrups,
Dumbing buckles of their chirrups
By the touch of oily feathers.
Some, with stag's bones rubbed at leathers,
Brushed at saddle-flaps or hove
Saddle-linings to the stove.
Blue smoke from strong tobacco drifted
Out of the yard, the passers snifft it,
Mixed with the strong ammonia flavour
Of horses' stables and the savour
Of saddle-paste and polish spirit
Which put the gleam on flap and tirrit.
The grooms in shirts with rolled-up sleeves,
Belted by girths of coloured weaves,
Groomed the clipped hunters in their stalls.
One said: "My dad cured saddle-galls,
He called it Dr. Barton's cure-
Hog's lard and borax, laid on pure."
And others said: "Ge' back, my son,"
"Stand over, girl; now, girl, ha' done."
"Now, boy, no snapping; gently. Crikes!
He gives a rare pinch when he likes."
"Drawn blood? I thought he looked a biter."
"I give 'em all sweet spit of nitre
For that, myself.: that sometimes cures."
"Now, Beauty, mind them feet of yours."
They groomed, and sissed with hissing notes
To keep the dust out of their throats.
There came again and yet again
The feed-box lid, the swish of grain,
Or Joe's boots stamping in the loft,
The hay-fork's stab and then the soft
Hay's scratching slither down the shoot.
Then with a thud some horse's foot
Stamped, and the gulping munch again
Resumed its lippings at the grain.
The road outside the inn was quiet
Save for the poor, mad, restless pyat
Hopping his hanging wicker-cage.
No calmative of sleep or sage
Will cure the fever to be free.
He shook the wicker ceaselessly
Now up, now down, but never out,
On wind-waves, being blown about,
Looking for dead things good to eat.
His cage was strewn with scattered wheat.
At ten o'clock, the Doctor's lad
Brought up his master's hunting pad
And put him in a stall, and leaned
Against the stall, and sissed, and cleaned
The port and cannons of his curb.
He chewed a sprig of smelling herb.
He sometimes stopped, and spat, and chid
The silly things his master did.
At twenty past, old Baldock strode
His plough man's straddle down the road.
An old man with a gaunt, burnt face,
His eyes rapt back on some far place
Like some starved, half-mad saint in bliss
In God's world through the rags of this.
He leaned upon a stake of ash
Cut from a sapling: many a gash
Was in his old, full-skirted coat.
The twisted muscles in his throat
Moved, as he swallowed, like taut cord.
His oaken face was seamed and gored;
He halted by the inn and stared
On that far bliss, that place prepared,
Beyond his eyes, beyond his mind.
Then Thomas Copp, of Cowfoot's Wynd,
Drove up; and stopped to take a glass.
"I hope they'll gallop on my grass,"
He said; "my little girl does sing
To see the red coats galloping.
It's good for grass, too, to be trodden
Except they poach it, where it's sodden."
Then Billy Waldrist, from the Lynn,
With Jockey Hill, from Pitts, came in
And had a sip of gin and stout
To help the jockey's sweatings out.
"Rare day for scent," the jockey said.
A pony like a feather bed
On four short sticks, took place aside.
The little girl who rode astride
Watched everything with eyes that glowed
With glory in the horse she rode.
At half-past ten some lads on foot
Came to be beaters to a shoot
Of rabbits on the Warren Hill.
Rough sticks they had, and Hob and Jill,
Their ferrets, in a bag, and netting.
They talked of dinner-beer and betting,
And jeered at those who stood around.,
They rolled their dogs upon the ground,
And teased them: "Rats," they cried, "go fetch!"
"Go seek, good Roxer; 'z bite, good betch.
What dinner-beer 'll they give us, lad?
Sex quarts the lot last year we had.
They'd ought to give us seven this.
Seek, Susan; what a betch it is."
A pommle cob came trotting up,
Round-bellied like a drinking-cup,
Bearing on back a pommle man,
Round-bellied like a drinking-can,
The clergyman from Condicote.
His face was scarlet from his trot,
His white hair bobbed about his head
As halos do round clergy dead.
He asked Tom Copp, " How long to wait?"
His loose mouth opened like a gate,
To pass the wagons of his speech.
He had a mighty voice to preach,
Though indolent in other matters.
He let his children go in tatters.
His daughter Madge on foot, flush-cheekt,
In broken hat and boots that leakt,
With bits of hay all over her,
Her plain face grinning at the stir
(A broad pale face, snub-nosed, with speckles
Of sandy eyebrows sprinkt with freckles),
Came after him and stood apart
Beside the darling of her heart,
Miss Hattie Dyce from Baydon Dean,
A big young fair one, chiselled clean
Brow, chin and nose, with great blue eyes
All innocence and sweet surprise,
And golden hair piled coil on coil,
Too beautiful for time to spoil.
They talked in undertones together,
Not of the hunting, nor the weather.
Old Steven from Scratch Steven Place
(A white beard and a rosy face)
Came next on his stringhalty grey.
"I've come to see the hounds away,"
He said "and ride a field or two.
We old have better things to do
Than breaking all our necks for fun."
He shone on people like the sun,
And on himself for shining so.
Three men came riding in a row:
John Pym, a bull-man, quick to strike,
Gross and blunt-headed like a shrike,
Yet sweet-voiced as a piping flute;
Tom See, the trainer, from the Toot,
Red, with an angry, puzzled face
And mouth twitched upward out of place,
Sucking cheap grapes and spitting seeds;
And Stone, of Bartle's Cattle Feeds,
A man whose bulk of flesh and bone
Made people call him Twenty Stone.
He was the man who stood a pull
At Tencombe with the Jersey bull,
And brought the bull back to his stall.
Some children ranged the tavern-wall,
Sucking their thumbs and staring hard;
Some grooms brought horses from the yard.
Jane Selbie said to Ellen Tranter,
"A lot on 'em come doggin', ant her?"
" A lot on 'em," said Ellen. "Look,
"There'm Mr. Gaunt of Water's Hook.
They say he…" (whispered). "Law!" said Jane.
Gaunt flung his heel across the mane,
And slithered from his horse and stamped.
"Boots tight," he said, "my, feet are cramped."
A loose-shod horse came clicking-clack;
Nick Wolvesey on a hired hack
Came tittup, like a cup and ball.
One saw the sun, moon, stars, and all
The great green earth twixt him and saddle;
Then Molly Wolvesey riding straddle,
Red as a rose with eyes like sparks;
Two boys from college out for larks
Hunted bright Molly for a smile,
But were not worth their quarry’s while.
Two eyeglassed gunners dressed in tweed
Came with a spaniel on a lead
And waited for a fellow-gunner.
The parson's son, the famous runner,
Came dressed to follow hounds on foot.
His knees were red as yew-tree root
From being bare, day in, day out.
He wore a blazer, and a clout
(His sweater's arms) tied round his neck.
His football shorts had many a speck
And splash of mud from many a fall
Got as he picked the slippery ball
Heeled out behind a breaking scrum.
He grinned at people, but was dumb,
Not like these lousy foreigners.
The otter-hounds and harriers
From Godstow to the Wye all knew him.
And with him came the stock which grew him,
The parson and his sporting wife;
She was a stout one, full of life,
With red, quick, kindly, manly face.
She held the knave, queen, king and ace,
In every hand she played with men.
She was no sister to the hen,
But fierce and minded to be queen.
She wore a coat and skirt of green,
A waistcoat cut of hunting red,
Her tiepin was a fox's head.
The parson was a manly one,
His jolly eyes were bright with fun.
His jolly mouth was well inclined
To cry aloud his jolly mind
To everyone, in jolly terms.
He did not talk of churchyard worms,
But of our privilege as dust
To box a lively bout with lust
Ere going to heaven to rejoice.
He loved the sound of his own voice,
His talk was like a charge of horse,
His build was all compact, for force,
Well-knit, well-made, well-coloured, eager.
He kept no Lent to make him meagre,
He loved his God, himself and man,
He never said, "Life's wretched span;
This wicked world," in any sermon.
This body that we feed the worm on,
To him, was jovial stuff that thrilled.
He liked to see the foxes killed;
But most he felt himself in clover
To hear, "Hen left, hare right, cock over,"
At woodside, when the leaves are brown.
Some grey cathedral in a town
Where drowsy bells toll out the time
To shaven closes sweet with lime,
And wallflower roots rive out the mortar
All summer on the Norman dortar
Was certain some day to be his;
Nor would a mitre go amiss
To him, because he governed well.
His voice was like the tenor bell
When services were said and sung.
And he had read in many a tongue,
Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish, Greek.
Two bright young women, nothing meek,
Rode up on bicycles and propped
Their wheels in such wise that they dropped
To bring the parson's son to aid.
Their cycling suits were tailor-made,
Smart, mannish, pert, but feminine.
The colour and the zest of wine
Were in their presence and their bearing;
Like spring, they brought the thought of pairing.
The parson's lady thought them pert.
And they could mock a man and flirt,
Do billiard tricks with corks and pennies,
Sing ragtime songs and win at tennis
The silver cigarette-case prize.
They had good colour and bright eyes,
Bright hair, bright teeth and pretty skin,
Which many lads had longed to win
On darkened stairways after dances.
Their reading was the last romances,
And they were dashing hockey players.
Men called them "Jill and Joan, the slayers."
They were as bright as fresh sweet-peas.
Old Farmer Bennett followed these
Upon his big-boned savage black,
Whose mule-teeth yellowed to bite back
Whatever came within his reach.
Old Bennett sat him like a leech,
The grim old rider seemed to be
As hard about the mouth as he.
The beaters nudged each other's ribs.
With "There he goes, his bloody Nibs.
He come on Joe and Anty Cop,
And beat 'em with his hunting-crop
Like tho' they'd bin a sack of beans.
His pickers were a pack of queans,
And Joe and Anty took a couple.
He caught 'em there, and banged 'em supple.
Women and men, he didn't care
(He'd kill 'em some day, if he dare),
He beat the whole four nearly dead:
'I'll learn 'ee rabbit in my shed;
That's how my ricks get set afire.'
That's what he said, the bloody liar;
Old oaf! I'd like to burn his ricks,
Th' old swine's too free with fists and sticks.
He keeps that Mrs. Jones himselve."
Just like an axehead on its helve
Old Bennett sat and watched the gathering.
He'd given many a man a lathering
In field or barn, and women too.
His cold eye reached the women through
With comment, and the men with scorn.
He hated women gently born,
He hated all beyond his grasp,
For he was minded like the asp,
That strikes whatever is not dust.
Charles Copse, of Copse Hold Manor, thrust
Next into view. In face and limb
The beauty and the grace of him
Were like the Golden Age returned.
His grave eyes steadily discerned
The good in men and what was wise.
He had deep blue, mild-coloured eyes
And shocks of harvest-coloured hair
Still beautiful with youth. An air
Or power of kindness went about him;
No heart of youth could ever doubt him
Or fail to follow where he led.
He was a genius, simply bred,
And quite unconscious of his power.
He was the very red rose flower
Of all that coloured countryside.
Gauchos had taught him how to ride.
He knew all arts, but practised most
The art of bettering flesh and ghost
In men and lads down in the mud.
He knew no class in flesh and blood.
He loved his kind. He spent some pith,
Long since, relieving Ladysmith.
Many a horse he trotted tame
Heading commandos from their aim
In those old days upon the veldt.
An old bear in a scarlet pelt
Came next, old Squire Harridew,
His eyebrows gave a man the grue,
So bushy and so fierce they were;
He had a bitter tongue to swear.
A fierce, hot, hard, old, stupid squire,
With all his liver made of fire,
Small brain, great courage, mulish will.
The hearts in all his house stood still
When someone crossed the Squire's path.
For he was terrible in wrath,
And smashed whatever came to hand.
Two things he failed to understand,
The foreigner and what was new.
His daughters, Carrie, Jane and Lou,
Rode with him, Carrie at his side.
His son, the ne'er-do-well, had died
In Arizona long before.
The Squire set the greatest store
By Carrie, youngest of the three,
And lovely to the blood was she;
Blonde, with a face of blush and cream,
And eyes deep violet in their gleam,
Bright blue when quiet in repose.
She was a very golden rose.
And many a man when sunset came
Would see the manor windows flame,
And think, "My beauty's home is there."
Queen Helen had less golden hair,
Queen Cleopatra paler lips,
Queen Blanche's eyes were in eclipse
By golden Carrie's glancing by.
She had a wit for mockery
And sang mild, pretty, senseless songs
Of sunsets, Heav'n and lovers' wrongs,
Sweet to the Squire when he had dined.
A rosebud need not have a mind.
A lily is not sweet from learning.
Jane looked like a dark-lantern, burning,
Outwardly dark, unkempt, uncouth,
But minded like the living truth,
A friend that nothing shook nor wearied.
She was not "Darling Jane'd" nor " Dearie'd."
She was all prickles to the touch,
So sharp that many feared to clutch,
So keen that many thought her bitter,
She let the little sparrows twitter.
She had a hard, ungracious way.
Her storm of hair was iron-grey,
And she was passionate in her heart
For women's souls that burn apart,
Just as her mother's had, with Squire.
She gave the sense of smouldering fire.
She was not happy being a maid,
At home, with Squire, but she stayed,
Enduring life, however bleak,
To guard her sisters, who were weak,
And force a life for them from Squire.
And she had roused and stood his fire
A hundred times, and earned his hate,
To win those two a better state.
Long years before the Canon's son
Had cared for her, but he had gone
To Klondyke, to the mines, for gold;
To find, in some strange way untold,
A foreign grave that no men knew.
No depth, nor beauty, was in Lou,
But charm and fun, for she was merry,
Round, sweet and little, like a cherry,
With laughter like a robin's singing;
She was not kitten-like and clinging,
But pert and arch and fond of flirting,
In mocking ways that were not hurting,
And merry ways that women pardoned.
Not being married yet she gardened.
She loved sweet music; she would sing
Songs made before the German King
Made England German in her mind.
She sang "My lady is unkind,"
"The Hunt is up," and those, sweet things
Which Thomas Campion set to strings,
"Thrice toss," and " What," and "Where are now?"
The next to come was Major Howe
Driv'n in a dog-cart by a groom.
The testy major was in fume
To find no hunter standing waiting;
The groom who drove him caught a rating,
The groom who had the horse in stable
Was damned in half the tongues of Babel,
The Major being hot and heady
When horse or dinner was not ready.
He was a lean, tough, liverish fellow,
With pale blue eyes (the whites pale yellow),
Moustache clipped toothbrush-wise, and jaws
Shaved bluish like old partridge claws.
When he had stripped his coat he made
A speckless presence for parade,
New pink, white cords, and glossy tops,
New gloves, the newest thing in crops,
Worn with an air that well expressed
His sense that no one else was dressed.
Quick trotting after Major Howe
Came Doctor Frome of Quickemshow,
A smiling silent man whose brain
Knew all of every secret pain
In every man and woman there.
Their inmost lives were all laid bare
To him, because he touched their lives
When strong emotions sharp as knives
Brought out what sort of soul each was.
As secret as the graveyard grass
He was, as he had need to be.
At some time he had had to see
Each person there, sans clothes, sans mask,
Sans lying even, when to ask
Probed a tamed spirit into truth.
Richard, his son, a jolly youth,
Rode with him, fresh from Thomas's,
As merry as a yearling is
In May-time in a clover patch.
He was a gallant chick to hatch;
Big, brown and smiling, blithe and kind,
With all his father's love of mind
And greater force to give it act.
To see him when the scrum was packt,
Heave, playing forward, was a sight.
His tackling was the crowd's delight
In many a danger close to goal.
The pride in the three-quarter's soul
Dropped, like a wet rag, when he collared.
He was as steady as a bollard,
And gallant as a skysail yard,
He rode a chestnut mare which sparred.
In good St. Thomas' Hospital
He was the crown imperial
Of all the scholars of his year.
The Harold lads, from Tencombe Weir,
Came all on foot in corduroys,
Poor widowed Mrs. Harold's boys,
Dick, Hal and Charles, whose father died.
(Will Masemore shot him in the side
By accident at Masemore Farm.
A hazel knocked Will Masemore's arm
In getting through a hedge; his gun
Was not half-cocked, so it was done,
And those three boys left fatherless.)
Their gaitered legs were in a mess
With good red mud from twenty ditches,
Hal's face was plastered like his ,breeches,
Dick chewed a twig of juniper.
They kept at distance from the stir;
Their loss had made them lads apart.
Next came the Colways' pony-cart
From Coln St. Evelyn's with the party.
Hugh Colway, jovial, bold and hearty,
And Polly Colway's brother, John
(Their horses had been both sent on,
And Polly Colway drove them there).
Poor pretty Polly Colway's hair!
The grey mare killed her at the brook
Down seven springs mead at Water Hook
Just one month later, poor sweet woman.
Her brother was a rat-faced Roman,
Lean, puckered, tight-skinned from the sea,
Commander in the Canace,
Able to drive a horse, or ship,
Or crew of men without a whip
By will, as long as they could go.
His face would wrinkle, row on row,
From mouth to hair-roots when he laught.
He looked ahead as though his craft
Were with him still, in dangerous channels.
He and Hugh Colway tossed their flannels
Into the pony-cart and mounted.
Six foiled attempts the watchers counted,
The horses being bickering things
That so much scarlet made like kings,
Such sidling and such pawing and shifting.
When Hugh was up his mare went drifting
Sidelong and feeling with her heels
For horses' legs and poshay wheels,
While lather creamed her neat clipt skin.
Hugh guessed her foibles with a grin.
He was a rich town-merchant's son,
A wise and kind man, fond of fun,
Who loved to have a troop of friends
At CoIn St. Eves for all week-ends,
And troops of children in for tea.
He gloried in a Christmas-Tree,
And Polly was his heart's best treasure,
And Polly was a golden pleasure,
To everyone, to see or hear.
Poor Polly's dying struck him queer,
He was a darkened man thereafter,
Cowed, silent, he would wince at laughter
And be so gentle it was strange
Even to see. Life loves to change.
Now Coln St. Evelyn's hearths are cold,
The shutters up, the hunters sold,
And green mould damps the locked front door.
But this was still a month before,
And Polly, golden in the chaise,
Still smiled, and there were golden days,
Still thirty days, for those dear lovers.
The Riddens came, from Ocle Covers,
Bill Ridden riding Stormalong
(By Tempest out of Love-me-Long),
A proper handful of a horse
That nothing but the Aintree course
Could bring to terms, save Bill perhaps.
All sport, from bloody war to scraps,
Came well to Bill, that big-mouthed smiler.
They nicknamed him "the mug-beguiler,"
For Billy lived too much with horses,
In copers' yards and sharpers' courses,
To lack the sharper-coper streak.
He did not turn the other cheek
When struck (as English Christians do);
He boxed like a Whitechapel Jew,
And many a time his knuckles bled
Against a racecourse-gipsy's head.
For "hit him first and argue later"
Was truth at Billy's Alma Mater,
Not love, not any bosh of love.
His hand was like a chamois glove,
And riding was his chief delight.
He bred the chaser Chinese-White
From Lilybud by Mandarin.
And when his mouth tucked corners in,
And scent was high and hounds were going,
He went across a field like snowing
And tackled anything that came.
His wife, Sal Ridden, was the same,
A loud, bold, blonde, abundant mare
With white horse-teeth and stooks of hair
(Like polished brass) and such a manner
It flaunted from her like a banner.
Her father was Torn See the trainer.
She rode a lovely earth-disdainer
Which she and Billy wished to sell.
Behind them rode her daughter Belle,
A strange, shy, lovely girl, whose face
Was sweet with thought and proud with race,
And bright with joy at riding there.
She was as good as blowing air,
But shy and difficult to know.
The kittens in the barley-mow,
The setter's toothless puppies sprawling,
The blackbird in the apple calling,
All knew her spirit more than we.
So delicate these maidens be
In loving lovely helpless things.
The Manor set, from Tencombe Rings,
Came with two friends, a set of six.
Ed Manor with his cockerel chicks,
Nob, Cob and Bunny, as they called them
(God help the school or rule which galled them;
They carried head), and friends from town.
Ed Manor trained on Tencombe Down,
He once had been a famous bat;
He had that stroke, "the Manor-pat,"
Which snicked the ball for three, past cover.
He once scored twenty in an over.
But now he cricketed no more.
He purpled in the face and swore
At all three sons, and trained, and told
Long tales of cricketing of old,
When he alone had saved his side.
Drink made it doubtful if he lied.
Drink purpled him, he could not face
The fences now, nor go the pace,
He brought his friends to meet; no more.
His big son Nob, at whom he swore,
Swore back at him, for Nob was surly,
Tall, shifty, sullen-smiling, burly,
Quite fearless, built with such a jaw
That no man's rule could be his law
Nor any woman's son his master.
Boxing he relished. He could plaster
All those who boxed out Tencombe way.
A front tooth had been knocked away
Two days before, which put his mouth
A little to the east of south,
And put a venom in his laughter.
Cob was a lighter lad, but dafter,
Just past eighteen, while Nob was twenty.
Nob had no nerves but Cob had plenty,
So Cobby went where Nobby led.
He had no brains inside his head,
Was fearless, just like Nob, but put
Some clog of folly round his foot,
Where Nob put will of force or fraud.
He spat aside and muttered Gawd
When vext; he took to whisky kindly
And loved and followed Nobby blindly,
And rode as in the saddle born.
Bun looked upon the two with scorn.
He was the youngest, and was wise.
He too was fair, with sullen eyes,
He too (a year before) had had
A zest for going to the bad,
With Cob and Nob. He knew the joys
Of drinking with the stable-boys,
Or smoking while he filled his skin
With pints of Guinness dashed with gin
And Cobby yelled a bawdy ditty,
Or cutting Nobby for the kitty,
And damning people's eyes and guts,
Or drawing evening-church for sluts;
He knew them all and now was quit.
Sweet Polly Colway managed it
And Bunny changed. He dropped his drink
(The pleasant pit's seductive brink),
He started working in the stable,
And well, for he was shrewd and able.
He left the doubtful female friends
Picked up at Evening-Service ends,
He gave up cards and swore no more.
Nob called him "The Reforming Whore,"
"The Soul's A wakening," or "The Text,"
Nob being always coarse when vext.
Ed Manor's friends were Hawke and Sladd,
Old college friends, the last he had,
Rare horsemen, but their nerves were shaken
By all the whisky they had taken.
Hawke's hand was trembling on his rein.
His eyes were dead-blue like a vein,
His peaked, sad face was touched with breeding,
His querulous mind was quaint from reading,
His piping voice still quirked with fun.
Many a mad thing he had done,
Riding to hounds and going to races.
A glimmer of the gambler's graces,
Wit, courage, devil, touched his talk.
Sladd's big fat face was white as chalk,
His mind went wandering, swift yet solemn,
Twixt winning-post and betting-column,
The weights and forms and likely colts.
He said, "This road is full of jolts.
I shall be seasick riding here.
Oh, damn last night with that liqueur!"
Len Stokes rode up on Peterkin;
He owned the downs by Baydon Whin,
And grazed some thousand sheep; the boy
Grinned round at men with jolly joy
At being alive and being there.
His big round face and mop of hair
Shone, his great teeth shone in his grin.'
The clean blood in his clear tanned skin
Ran merry, and his great voice mocked
His young friends present till they rocked.
Steer Harpit came from Rowell Hill,
A small, frail man, all heart and will,
A sailor, as his voice betrayed.
He let his whip-thong droop and played
At snicking off the grass-blades with it.
John Hankerton, from Compton Lythitt,
Was there with Pity Hankerton,
And Mike, their good-for-little son,
Back, smiling, from his seventh job.
Joan Urch was there upon her cob,
Tom Sparsholt on his lanky grey,
John Restrop from Hope Goneaway,
And Vaughan, the big black handsome devil,
Loose-lipped with song and wine and revel,
All rosy from his morning tub.
The Godsdown tigress with her cub
(Lady and Tommy Crow marsh) came.
The great eyes smouldered in the dame,
Wit glittered, too, which few men saw.
There was more beauty there than claw.
Tommy in bearing, horse and dress,
Was black, fastidious handsomeness,
Choice to his trimmed soul's finger-tips,
Heredia's sonnets on his lips.
A line undrawn, a plate not bitten,
A stone uncut, a phrase unwritten
That would be perfect, made his mind.
A choice pull from a rare print, signed,
Was Tommy. He collected plate
(Old Sheffield), and he owned each state
Of all the Meryon Paris etchings.
Colonel Sir Button Budd of Fletchings
Was there; Long Robert Thrupp was there
(Three yards of him men said there were),
Long as the King of Prussia's fancy.
He rode the long-legged Necromancy,
A useless racehorse that could canter.
George Childrey with his jolly banter
Was there, Nick Childrey, too, come down
The night before from London town
To hunt and have his lungs blown.clean.
The Ilsley set from Tuttocks Green
Was there (old Henry Ilsley drove).
Carlotta Ilsley brought her love,
A flop-jowled broker from the city.
Men pitied her, for she was pretty.
Some grooms and second horsemen mustered.
A lot of men on foot were clustered
Round the inn-door all busy drinking,
One heard the kissing glasses clinking
In passage as the tray was brought.
Two terriers (which they had there) fought
There on the green, a loud, wild whirl.
Bell stopped them like a gallant girl.
The hens behind the tavern clucked.
Then on a horse which bit and bucked
(The half-broke four-year-old Marauder)
Came Minton-Price of th' Afghan border,
Lean, puckered, yellowed, knotted, scarred,
Tough as a hide-rope twisted hard,
Tense tiger-sinew knit to bone.
Strange-wayed from having lived alone
With Kafir, Afghan and Beloosh,
In stations frozen in the Koosh
Where nothing but the bullet sings.
His mind had conquered many things
Painting, mechanics, physics, law.
White-hot, hand-beaten things to draw
Self-hammered from his own soul's stithy.
His speech was blacksmith-sparked and pithy.
Danger had been his brother bred;
The stones had often been his bed
In bickers with the border-thieves.
A chestnut mare with swerves and heaves
Came plunging, scattering all the crowd,
She tossed her head and laughed aloud
And bickered sideways past the meet.
From pricking ears to mincing feet
She was all tense with blood and quiver,
You saw her clipt hide twitch and shiver
Over her netted cords of veins.
She carried Cothill, of the Sleins,
A tall, black, bright-eyed, handsome lad.
Great power and great grace he had.
Men hoped the greatest things of him.
His grace made people think him slim,
But he was muscled like a horse,
A sculptor would have wrought his torse
In bronze or marble for Apollo.
He loved to hurry like a swallow
For miles on miles of short-grassed sweet,
Blue, hare-belled downs where dewy feet
Of pure winds hurry ceaselessly,
He loved the downland like a sea.
The downland where the kestrels hover
The downland had him for a lover.
And every other thing he loved
In which a clean free spirit moved.
So beautiful he was, so bright,
He looked to men like young delight
Gone courting April maidenhood,
That has the primrose in her blood,
He on his mincing lady mare.
Ock Gurney and old Pete were there
Riding their bonny cobs and swearing;
Ock's wife had giv'n them both a fairing,
A horse-rosette, red, white and blue.
Their cheeks were brown as any brew,
And every comer to the meet
Said, "Hello, Ock," or " Morning, Pete,
Be you a-going to a wedding? "
"Why, noa," they said, " we'm going a-bedding;
Now ben't us, uncle, ben't us, Ock?"
Pete Gurney was a lusty cock
Turned sixty-three, but bright and hale,
A dairy-farmer in the vale,
Much like a robin in the face,
Much character in little space,
With little eyes like burning coal;
His mouth was like a slit or hole
In leather that was seamed and lined.
He had the russet-apple mind
That betters as the weather worsen.
He was a manly English person,
Kind to the core, brave, merry, true.
One grief he had, a grief still new,
That former Parson joined with Squire
In putting down the Playing Quire
In church, and putting organ in.
"Ah, boys, that was a pious din,
That Quire was; a pious praise
The noise was that we used to raise,
I and my serpent, George with his'n,
On Easter Day in ' He is risen,'
Or blessed Christmas in 'Venite.'
And how the trombone came in mighty
In Alleluias from the heart!
Pious, for each man played his part,
Not like 'tis now." Thus he, still sore
For changes forty years before
When all (that could) in time and tune
Blew trumpets to the newe moon.
He was a bachelor from choice.
He and his nephew farmed the Boyce,
Prime pasture land for thirty cows.
Ock's wife, Selina Jane, kept house,
And jolly were the three together.
Ock had a face like summer weather.
A broad red sun, split by a smile.
He mopped his forehead all the while
And said " By damn," and " Ben' t us, Unk?"
His eyes were close and deeply sunk.
He cursed his hunter like a lover:
"Now blast your soul, my dear, give over.
Woa, now, my pretty, damn your eyes.
"Like Pete, he was of middle size,
Dean-oak-like, stuggy, strong in shoulder.
He stood a wrestle like a boulder.
He had a back for pitching hay.
His singing voice was like a bay.
In talk he had a sideways spit,
Each minute to refresh his wit.
He cracked Brazil-nuts with his teeth.
He challenged Cobbet of the Heath
(Weight-lifting champion) once, but lost.
Hunting was what he loved the most
Next to his wife and Uncle Pete.
With beer to drink and cheese to eat
And rain in May to fill the grasses,
This life was not a dream that passes
To Ock, but like the summer flower.
But now the clock had struck the hour,
And round the corner down the road
The bob-bob-bobbing serpent flowed
With three black knobs upon its spine,
Three bobbing black caps in a line.
A glimpse of scarlet at the gap
Showed underneath each bobbing cap,
And at the corner by the gate
One heard Tom Dansey give a rate:
"Hep, drop it, Jumper; have a care!"
There came a growl, half-rate, half-swear,
A spitting crack, a tuneful whimper
And sweet religion entered Jumper.
There was a general turn of faces,
The men and horses shifted places,
And round the corner came the hunt,
Those feathery things, the hounds, in front.
Intent, wise, dipping, trotting, straying,
Smiling at people, shoving, playing,
Nosing to children's faces, waving
Their feathery sterns, and all behaving,
One eye to Dansey on Maroon.
Their padding cat-feet beat a tune,
And though "they trotted up so quiet
Their noses brought them news of riot,
Wild smells of things with living blood,
Hot smells, against the grippers good,
Of weasel, rabbit, cat and hare,
Whose feet had been before them there,
Whose taint still tingled every breath;
But Dansey on Maroon was death,
So, though their noses roved, their feet
Larked and trit-trotted to the meet.
Bill Tall and Ell and Mirtie Key
(Aged fourteen years between the three)
Were flooded by them at the bend,
They thought their little lives would end;
The grave, sweet eyes looked into theirs,
Cold noses came, and clean short hairs,
And tails all crumpled up like ferns,
A sea of moving heads and sterns,
All round them, brushing coat and dress,
One paused, expecting a caress.
The children shrank into each other,
Shut eyes, clutched tight, and shouted "Mother!"
With mouths wide open, catching tears.
Sharp Mrs. Tall allayed their fears,
"Err out the road, the dogs won't hurt 'ee.
There now, you've cried your faces dirty.
More cleaning up for me to do.
What? Cry at dogs, great lumps like you?
"She licked her handkerchief and smeared
Their faces where the dirt appeared.
The hunt trit-trotted to the meeting,
Tom Dansey touching cap to greeting,
Slow lifting crop-thong to the rim,
No hunter there got more from him
Except some brightening of the eye.
He halted at the Cock and Pye,
The hounds drew round him on the green,
Arrogant, Daffodil and Queen
Closest, but all in little space.
Some lolled their tongues, some made grimace,
Yawning, or tilting nose in quest,
All stood and looked about with zest,
They were uneasy as they waited.
Their sires and dams had been well mated,
They were a lovely pack for looks;
Their forelegs drums ticked without crooks,
Straight, without over-tread or bend,
Muscled to gallop to the end,
With neat feet round as any cat's.
Great-chested, muscled in the slats,
Bright, clean, short-coated, broad in shoulder,
With stag-like eyes that seemed to smoulder.
The heads well-cocked, the clean necks strong,
Brows broad, ears close, the muzzles long,
And all like racers in the thighs;
Their noses exquisitely wise,
Their minds being memories of smells;
Their voices like a ring of bells;
Their sterns all spirit, cock and feather;
Their colours like the English weather,
Magpie and hare, and badger pye,
Like minglings in a double dye,
Some smutty-nosed, some tan, none bald;
Their manners were to come when called,
Their flesh was sinew knit to bone,
Their courage like a banner blown.
Their joy to push him out of cover,
And hunt him till they rolled him over.
They were as game as Robert Dover.
Tom Dansey was a famous whip,
Trained as a child in horsemanship,
Entered, as soon as he was able,
As boy at Caunter's racing-stable;
There, like the other boys, he slept
In stall beside the horse he kept,
Snug in the straw; and Caunter's stick
Brought morning to him all too quick.
He learned the high, quick gingery ways
Of thoroughbreds; his stable days
Made him a rider, groom and vet.
He promised to be too thick-set
For jockeying, so left it soon.
Now he was whip and rode Maroon.
He was a small, lean, wiry man,
With sunk cheeks weathered to a tan
Scarred by the spikes of hawthorn sprays
Dashed thro' head down, on going days,
In haste to see the line they took.
There was a beauty in his look,
It was intent. His speech was plain.
Maroon's head, reaching to the rein,
Had half his thought before he spoke.
His " Gone away! "when foxes broke
Was like a bell. His chief delight
Was hunting fox from noon to night.
His pleasure lay in hounds and horses;
He loved the Seven Springs water-courses,
Those flashing brooks (in good sound grass,
Where scent would hang like breath on glass).
He loved the English countryside:
The wine-leaved bramble in the ride,
The lichen on the apple-trees,
The poultry ranging on the lees,
The farms, the moist earth-smelling cover,
His wife's green grave at Mitcheldover,
Where snowdrops pushed at the first thaw.
Under his hide his heart was raw
With joy and pity of these things.
The second whip was Kitty Myngs,
Still but a lad but keen and quick
(Son of old Myngs, who farmed the Wick),
A horse-mouthed lad who knew his work.
He rode the big black horse, the Turk,
And longed to be a huntsman bold.
He had the horse-look, sharp and old,
With much good-nature in his face.
His passion was to go the pace,
His blood was crying for a taming.
He was the Devil's chick for gaming,
He was a rare good lad to box.
He sometimes had a main of cocks
Down at the Flags. His job with hounds
At present kept his blood in bounds
From rioting and running hare.
Tom Dansey made him have a care.
He worshipped Dansey heart and soul.
To be a huntsman was his goal;
To be with hounds, to charge full tilt
Blackthorns that made the gentry wilt
Was his ambition and his hope.
He was a hot colt needing rope,
He was too quick to speak his passion
To suit his present huntsman's fashion.
The huntsman, Robin Dawe, looked round,
He sometimes called a favourite hound
Gently, to see the creature turn,
Look happy up and wag his stern.
He smiled and nodded and saluted
To those who hailed him, as it suited,
And patted Pip's, his hunter's neck.
His new pink was without a speck.
He was a red-faced smiling fellow,
His voice clear tenor, full and mellow,
His eyes, all fire, were black and small.
He had been smashed in many a fall.
His eyebrow had a white curved mark
Left by the bright shoe of The Lark
Down in a ditch by Seven Springs.
His coat had all been trod to strings,
His ribs laid bare and shoulder broken,
Being jumped on down at Water's Oaken
The time his horse came down and rolled.
His face was of the country mould
Such as the mason sometimes cutted
On English moulding-ends which jutted
Out of the church walls, centuries since.
And as you never know the quince,
How good he is, until you try,
So, in Dawe's face, what met the eye
Was only part; what lay behind
Was English character and mind,
Great kindness, delicate sweet feeling
(Most shy, most clever in concealing
Its depth) for beauty of all sorts,
Great manliness and love of sports,
A grave, wise thoughtfulness and truth,
A merry fun outlasting youth,
A courage terrible to see,
And mercy for his enemy.
He had a clean-shaved face, but kept
A hedge of whisker neatly clipt,
A narrow strip or picture-frame
(Old Dawe, the woodman, did the same),
Under his chin from ear to ear.
But now the resting hounds gave cheer,
Joyful and Arrogant and Catch-him
Smelt the glad news and ran to snatch him;
The Master's dogcart turned the bend.
Damsel and Skylark knew their friend,
A thrill ran through the pack like fire
And little whimpers ran in quire.
The horses cocked and pawed and whickered,
Young Cothill 's chaser kicked and bickered
And stood on end and struck out sparks,
Joyful and Catch-him sang like larks.
There was the Master in the trap,
Clutching old Roman in his lap,
Old Roman, crazy for his brothers,
And putting frenzy in the others,
To set them at the dogcart wheels,
With thrusting heads and little squeals.
The Master put old Roman by,
And eyed the thrusters heedfully.
He called a few pet hounds and fed
Three special friends with scraps of bread,
Then peeled his wraps, climbed down and strode
Through all those clamourers in the road,
Saluted friends, looked round the crowd,
Saw Harridew's three girls and bowed,
Then took White Rabbit from the groom.
He was Sir Peter Bynd, of Coombe;
Past sixty now, though hearty still,
A living picture of good-will,
An old, grave soldier, sweet and kind,
A courtier with a knightly mind,
Who felt whatever thing he thought.
His face was scarred, for he had fought
Five wars for us. Within his face
Courage and power had their place,
Rough energy, decision, force.
He smiled about him from his horse.
He had a welcome and salute
For all, on horse or wheel or foot,
Whatever kind of life each followed.
His tanned, drawn cheeks looked old and hollowed,
But still his bright blue eyes were young,
And when the pack crashed into tongue,
And stanch White Rabbit shook like fire,
He sent him at it like a flier,
And lived with hounds while horses could
They'm lying in the Ghost Heath Wood,
Sir Peter," said an earth-stopper,
(Old Baldy Hill), "you'll find 'em there.
‘Z I come'd across I smell 'em plain.
There's one up back, down Tuttock's drain,
But, Lord, it's just a bog, the Tuttocks,
Hounds would be swallered to the buttocks.
Heath Wood, Sir Peter's best to draw."
Sir Peter gave two minutes' law
For Kingston Challow and his daughter;
He said, "They're late. We'll start the slaughter.
Ghost Heath, then, Dansey. We'll be going."
Now, at his word, the tide was flowing.
Off went Maroon, off went the hounds,
Down road, then off, to Chols Elm Grounds,
Across soft turf with dead leaves cleaving
And hillocks that the mole was heaving,
Mild going to those trotting feet.
After the scarlet coats the meet
Came clopping up the grass in spate;
They poached the trickle at the gate,
Their horses' feet sucked at the mud,
Excitement in the horses' blood.
Cocked forward every ear and eye,
They quivered as the hounds went by,
They trembled when they first trod grass,
They would not let another pass,
They scattered wide up Chols Elm Hill.
The wind was westerly but still,
The sky a high fair-weather cloud,
Like meadows ridge-and-furrow ploughed,
Just glinting sun but scarcely moving.
Blackbirds and thrushes thought of loving,
Catkins were out; the day seemed tense
It was so still. At every fence
Cow-parsley pushed its thin green fern.
White-violet leaves showed at the burn.
Young Cothill let his chaser go
Round Chols Elm Field a turn or so
To soothe his edge. The riders went
Chatting and laughing and content
In groups of two or three together;
The hounds, a flock of shaking feather,
Bobbed on ahead, past Chols Elm Cop,
The horses' shoes went clip-a-clop,
Along the stony cart-track there,
The little spinney was all bare,
But in the earth-moist winter day
The scarlet coats twixt tree and spray,
The glistening horses pressing on,
The brown-faced lads, Bill, Dick and John,
And all the hurry to arrive,
Were beautiful like spring alive.
The hounds melted away with Master,
The tanned lads ran, the field rode faster,
The chatter joggled in the throats
Of riders bumping by like boats,
"We really ought to hunt a bye day."
"Fine day for scent," "A fly or die day."
"They chopped a bagman in the check,
He had a collar round his neck."
"Old Ridden's girl's a pretty flapper."
"That Vaughan's a cad, the whippersnapper."
"I tell' ee, lads, I seed' em plain
Down in the Rough at Shifford's Main,
Old Squire stamping like a Duke,
So red with blood I thought he'd puke
In appleplexie, as they do.
Miss Jane stood just as white as dew
And heard him out in just white heat,
And then she trimmed him down a treat.
About Miss Lou it was, or Carrie
(She'd be a pretty peach to marry)."
"Her'll draw up-wind, so us'll go
Down by the furze, we'll see 'em so."
"Look, there they go, lad!"
There they went,
Across the brook and up the bent,
Past Primrose Wood, past Brady Ride,
Along Ghost Heath to cover side.
The bobbing scarlet, trotting pack,
Turf scatters tossed behind each back,
Some horses blowing with a whinny,
A jam of horses in the spinney,
Close to the ride-gate; leather straining,
Saddles all creaking, men complaining,
Chaffing each other as they past,
On Ghost Heath turf they trotted fast.
Now as they neared the Ghost Heath Wood
Some riders grumbled, "What's the good?
It's shot all day and poached all night.
We shall draw blank and lose the light,
And lose the scent and lose the day.
Why can't he draw Hope Goneaway,
Or Tuttocks Wood, instead of this?
There's no fox here, there never is."
But as he trotted up to cover
Robin was watching to discover
What chance there was, and many a token
Told him that though no hound had spoken,
Most of them stirred to something there.
The old hounds' muzzles searched the air,
Thin ghosts of scents were in their teeth
From foxes which had crossed the Heath
Not very many hours before.
"We'll find," he said, "I'll bet, a score."
Along Ghost Heath they trotted well,
The hoof-cuts made the bruised earth smell,
The shaken brambles scattered drops,
Stray pheasants kukkered out of copse,
Cracking the twigs down with their knockings
And planing out of sight with cockings;
A scut or two lopped white to bramble.
And now they gathered to the gamble
At Ghost Heath Wood on Ghost Heath Down.
The hounds went crackling through the brown
Dry stalks of bracken killed by frost.
The wood stood silent in its host
Of halted trees all winter bare.
The boughs, like veins that suck the air,
Stretched tense, the last leaf scarcely stirred,
There came no song from any bird;
The darkness of the wood stood still
Waiting for fate on Ghost Heath Hill.
The whips crept to the sides to view,
The Master gave the nod, and "Leu,
Leu in. Ed-hoick, ed-hoick. Leu in !
Went Robin, cracking through the whin
And through the hedge-gap into cover.
The binders crashed as hounds went over,
And cock-cock-cock the pheasants rose.
Then up went stern and down went nose,
And Robin's cheerful tenor cried,
Through hazel-scrub and stub and ride:
"Oh, wind him! beauties, push him out,
Yooi, on to him, Yahout, Yahout,
Oh, push him out, Yooi, wind him, wind him!”
The beauties burst the scrub to find him;
They nosed the warren’s clipped green lawn,
The bramble and the broom were drawn,
The covert's northern end was blank.
They turned to draw along the bank
Through thicker cover than the Rough,
Through three-and-four-year understuff
Where Robin's forearm screened his eyes;
"Yooi, find him, beauties," came his cries.
"Hark, hark to Daffodil," the laughter
Fall'n from his horn, brought whimpers after,
For ends of scents were everywhere.
He said, "This Hope's a likely lair,
And there's his billets, grey and furred.
And George, he's moving, there's a bird."
A blue uneasy jay was chacking
(A swearing screech, like tearing sacking)
From tree to tree, as in pursuit,
He said, "That's it. There’s fox afoot.
And there, they're feathering, there she speaks.
Good Daffodil, good Tarrybreeks,
Hark there to Daffodil, hark, hark!"
The mild horn's note, the soft-flaked spark
Of music fell on that rank scent.
From heart to wild heart magic went.
The whimpering quivered, quavered, rose.
"Daffodil has it. There she goes.
Oh, hark to her!" With wild high crying
From frantic hearts the hounds went flying
To Daffodil, for that rank taint.
A waft of it came warm but faint
In Robin's mouth, and faded so.
"First find a fox, then let him go,"
Cried Robin Dawe. "For any sake
Ring, Charley, till you're fit to break."
He cheered his beauties like a lover,
And charged beside them into cover.
|Works by this author are in the public domain in countries where the copyright term is the author's life plus 51 years or less.|