Alfred Edward Thomas Watson.

The Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes online

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He may be a proficient shot, and understand how to handle and
use a^gun ; but this comes under the head of the destruction of game,
and the aim of every keeper is its production. Also, he must not
take up a keeper's work with the belief that he will get any amount
of sport, for such is by no means the case if sport with him means
unlimited shooting. Shooting he will get, of a sort and to a certain
extent, but if he considers the gun the principal tool he will have to
use he will not long hold a place. If he expects leniency in this
regard because he is a gentleman, and possibly of social status equal
to his employer, he will not obtain it ; for a too free use of a gun is an
oifence no employer will condone in any keeper. The keeper's work
is to provide sport, not take it, and it is because he does not properly
grasp this point that the gentleman keeper fails. Of course, a keeper
does get plenty of sport, but it is extracted from the trapping of
vermin, snaring of rabbits, etc., and what he derives from the gun is
really not worth consideration.

It is perfectly possible to be a servant and a gentleman, for there
are many such, although they may lack education and accomplish-
ments ; but the chief stumbling-block of the gentleman keep^er is that
he cannot forget his social status. This leads him into all sorts
of difficulties. First of all he is apt to feel aversion to his helpers,
who are ordinary under-keepers, and, although trained and com-
petent men (perhaps to a far greater extent than himselQ, inclined
to take what he considers liberties. These men have been accus-
tomed to work beneath the direction of an ordinary head keeper,
whose relations with them have been characterised by chumminess,
and they resent the superior airs adopted by their present chief.
This difficulty he would overcome in time by treating his assistants
firmly and kindly ; but he too often gets rid of the lot, and engages
in their stead men similar to himself. Now, if a trained head
keeper is unable to dispense with the services of trained men, it is
certain a chief lacking a life's experience cannot. The latter may
replace the bond-fide keepers by engaging men with whom he is able
to associate ; but can he be sure that they will be as efficient at their
work, and is it not likely that beneath their care the estate will
quickly deteriorate as regards game ?

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Many sportsmen object to a gentleman keeper because they feel
the impossibility of treating him as a servant, and have no desire to
receive him as an equal. When a servant is required they prefer to
engage one who will be a servant in every particular, and not
presume on a past position. If a gentleman keeper attempts this he
will soon be voted a nuisance. A servant he is, and must be, and no
intermediate position is satisfactory to both parties. If a gentleman
requiring such a post is fortunate enough to secure an engagement as
keeper he is apt to become dispirited by the harshness with which he
is treated by those above him. This occurs because they anticipate
that he may presume, and measures are adopted to check the slightest
advance in that direction. In such a case his relations with his em-
ployer may never reach the free and easy state which generally marks
those of a gentleman and an ordinary keeper.

A gentleman keeper must also be extremely careful with regard
to his relations with tenant farmers. These most of all resent the
slightest inclination towards superiority on his part, and will mani-
fest that resentment in an exceedingly unpleasant manner. Usually
the tenantry upon an estate look upon the head keeper as their social
inferior, and if the gentleman keeper is conscious of a similar tendency
he had best grin and bear it for the sake of his game. If he is careful,
relations will soon improve, and he will gain amongst the farmers
many firm and valued friends.

His duty to both his employer and assistants is not only to
direct the latter, but actually to work with them. Get rid of the
impression that a head keeper really enjoys an easy time directing
the doings of others, for a lot of the hard and dirty work falls to his
share, and for many reasons must receive his personal attention. If
he shirks, things are sure to go wrong. As a too free use of the
gun often lands a gentleman keeper in trouble with his employer, so
does a mistaken idea of what his horse is provided for. A horse is
to take the keeper about the estate more speedily, and not to take him
off it on every occasion. It may seem hard lines to be compelled to
hold a horse back when hounds leave a covert at full speed on the
trail of a fox, but a keeper's duty does not lie with the pack; it is his
to remain behind and see that his woods are clear of the roughs who
are always glad to make a visit of hounds an excuse for entering.

If a man of good breeding and education is desirous of being a
keeper, and a successful keeper at that, there is nothing for it but to
begin on the lowest rung of the ladder, and while gradually working
up accumulate the knowledge necessary to his purpose. This will
necessitate his starting as an assistant on an estate, where he must
make up his mind to serve faithfully and obey the head keeper ; he
cannot escape closely associating with the other under-men, and it is

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hoped will soon recognise the folly of despising those from whom he
must learn. Should any of them be low-minded it will be better for
him to use his influence in reforming them rather than adopt the
doubtful course of ignoring them. For a time he must be content
with their company, and seek to drown all feelings of antipathy in
continual attention to duty. With a firm purpose in this direction
he will eventually earn their respect. A dandy he should never be ;
there is a vast difference between this and scrupulous neatness and
cleanliness, and if he is required to wear livery, let him strive to wear
it with a dignity such as it has never been worn with before. If he
regards his livery as a soldier does his uniform — that is, as something
never to be disgraced — he is not likely to be ashamed of wearing it.

Should a man of good breeding succeed as a keeper he will enjoy
the satisfaction of being independent of others for support, will lead
a healthy life, and feel that he is doing his duty, even if he does
occupy but a minor position. Wealthy he is not likely to be, but a
competence may be saved against old age. The best position he can
secure is that of head keeper on a big, well-preserved estate, and this
even only yields a moderate salary. It may be sufficient for his own
needs, but he will be wise not to induce a lady of his previous circle
to share it with him. Such a step will surely lead to untold misery
both to her and him. He may not chafe at his position, but such a
wife most assuredly will.

The writer of the foregoing has had much experience of keepers,
well-bred, educated, and otherwise, and a perusal of what is here set
forth may serve to prevent many a young man from attempting a
calling for which he is not fitted, while it may encourage those of
the right sort to go in and win.

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For some time one of my ambitions had been to ride for a good

English dealer in the Shires, but amongst all my "horsey" friends f.

I could find no one who knew such a dealer sufficiently for my

purpose. The Fates, however, were kind to me. One summer in

Worcestershire I met some hunting people; as it happened they ^]

knew Mr. Darby of Hillmorton very well, and gave me a letter of

introduction. I wrote stating the plain facts, that horses and

hunting were the only things I cared about, that I could not afford

these luxuries unless someone mounted me, and that I had been

schooling young horses for dealers in Ireland.

I sent this epistle off without the faintest hope of a favourable
answer, so my delight and astonishment can be imagined when I
heard by return that Mr. Darby would be pleased to mount me, but
that his horses were all trained hunters. I regarded this letter with
awe as a kind of ** spook " that might vanish, or turn into words of
polite refusal ; the luck seemed to be too good to be true, especially

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as my hunting friend, never having seen me ride, very naturally
refused to say anything about my qualifications.

Still meditating on my good fortune, I went off to play Bridge
with some friends staying at the hotel, and as we were talking in
the gardens a fussy motor whizzed up, and half in fun I said that I
would like to "hold it up" and go over to Rugby. A lady of the
party asked me if I really would hold up a strange car, and I laugh-
ingly told her that I had done so more than once in Ireland, where-
upon she vanished into the house, returning a few minutes afterwards
calmly to announce that, liking unconventional people, she had
asked the owner of the machine to take me to Rugby ; he said he
would be delighted, and they were waiting for me to start. In


another five minutes I was whizzing along with three unknown
companions towards the goal of my ambitions. The chauifeur was
youthful and reckless, he had only just learnt to handle a motor,
and wanted to show off her paces, which he did at the rate of
forty miles an hour. It was a most exciting drive entirely ; only a
special providence kept the car right side up, and ourselves inside it.
All went well, however, until we had passed Rugby, when the
machine broke down hopelessly, and as I was not far from Hillmor-
ton I walked on, interviewed Mr. Darby, and was shown some of the
horses — beautiful types of well-bred, compact weight-carriers, up to
14 stone and over, standing on an average 16.1 h., although one

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did not realise their height, they were such grand make and shape ;
a well-made polo pony turned into a 16 h. hunter best describes the
type of the majority. They were a pleasure to look at, and, as I have
since discovered, a pleasure to ride, which is not always the case
with good-looking animals ; but Mr. Darby will never buy a hunter
unless it has perfect mouth and manners, and these qualities added
to the type of horse that fills his stables have justly given him the
reputation of turning out the best hunters in the Shires.

Four months later saw me ensconced in my rooms at Rugby,
feeling, I must own, a trifle lonely and *' Ireland sick," though my
spirits were somewhat revived by the landlady giving me peat to
burn, for the smell was joy to my nose. In the interval of three days


before my first hunt I made my sitting-room presentable; and having
cleared out dozens of horrible ornaments, I found stowed away in an
old cupboard some beautiful china — old blue, Sevres, and Wedgwood;
also a Chippendale table, and some old silver ; so that my time was
pleasantly occupied in cleaning them up.

My first hunt was with the Atherstone at Newbold Revel. I had
meekly requested to be put *' up " on something that would teach me
the timber trade, and was mounted on a big brown mare up to any
weight. As I ride 9 st. 6 lb. with the saddle, etc., thrown in, I am not
quite sure she realised there was anyone in the saddle.

The first objects that struck my attention going to the meet

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were numerous little red boards, which I learnt spelt " wire." At the
meet the big crowd rather alarmed me ; but thank heaven they do
not ride like an Irish field, or there would be none of them left alive
to tell the tale.

The small regiment of grooms carrying their respective owners'
lunches, some of them top-hat, cockaded infants, looked really too
ridiculous in the hunting field. Of course in Ireland we do not have
second and third horsemen chivvying us round the country; we are
more like Mr. Snaffle. ** * How many sound *osses have you ? *
' None, sir,' replied Snaffle, confidently. * How many three-legged
'uns have you that can go, then ? ' ' Oh, a good many ; that's to say
two and three legged 'uns, at least.' 'Ah, well,' said Watchorn,


* that'll do — two legs are too many for some of the rips they'll
have to carry.' " One also missed the friendly chaff and banter, horse
coping, and cheery greeting; even when men in the Shires shoot
over their horses' heads they do it in a polite ceremonious fashion,
without "language" apparently. How John Watson would make
them sit up !

It is sometimes long odds against getting a good start, especially
if the only way out of the field happens to be a narrow gateway.
I was of course very keen to see the country and fences, having had
extremely vague replies to my questions on the subject. One
M.F.H. told me that ''any fool could ride in the Shires." Cer-

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tainly ignorance is bliss on a good horse, and one often sees people
who know nothing about the game going well more by luck than
anything else ; but as a rule a few falls soon sober their enthusiasm.
I imagine, however, that the Master referred to the lines of gates,
although gate-opening seems to be an art in itself; personally I
cordially detest gates unless some kind person is holding them open,
and one happens to be the first through, in which case you can
think ** Now we'll all start fair, you tinkers ! *' knowing that it will
take at least five minutes for the crowd behind to extricate them-
selves from a bumping mass.

On the occasion of my first hunt we were all jammed into a
narrow road, hounds opened in covert at once, and a feeble " toot "


announced the " gone away '* (very different from the blood-curdling
screams of the Tipps). A regular stampede followed, sounding like the
thunder of an avalanche, and one got carried along, feeling as help-
less as the pigs possessed of the devil, and by the time one got clear
of the crowd hounds were racing three fields ahead with a scent
they could eat.

Small thorn hedges, a few with a ditch, were the order of the
day, and I made my first acquaintance with ridge and furrow, which
is like plunging over a choppy sea ; one also had to steer through
innumerable ant-heaps and mole-hills ; and although the country
rode wonderfully light, it is harder work riding than it is in Ireland,
chiefly, I suppose, because the fields are bigger and the fences are
jumped bigger. One is galloping all the time; it is not a case of

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pulling back to a trot or walk to '* negotiate " them, and of course
the hounds with a good scent are much faster. With one short
check crossing the railway they ran to ground a seven-mile point
in 45 min.

A good authority told me that only lo per cent, of the crowd
really ride to hounds ; and, as some wise person remarked, there is
always plenty of room in front. If one can escape the numerous
railways and canals it is a glorious country to ride over on a good
horse; a bad one I should think would be useless, as the fences
take some jumping. Not a few of the thorn hedges are very blind
and straggly, and one requires a clean, bold fencer who will not
only jump big but jump on ; clean timber in the shape of rails, and
what I believe are called binders, seem to be the typical fences. In


a fast hunt with the Pytchley from Shawell Wood we had a most
pernicious line of timber, and people were falling with crashes at
every fence. One uninviting obstacle consisted of a wide ditch, a
bank riddled with rabbit holes, with a binder hedge on the top, and
I was delighted to see the horse in front sit down on the hedge,
which took the starch out of it nicely. Two gallant " craners," if
I may use the expression, galloping at the fence both swerved into
the ditch on top of each other.

One sees many amusing incidents, and it is extraordinary how
some people will follow anyone who is galloping, with no idea of
where the hounds are. The other day I had just changed on to a
fresh horse; hounds were away on a screaming scent soon afterwards.

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All went well at first until I let my steed out over a big field, when I
discovered there was a difference of opinion between us. The only
jumpable place was blocked by four or five people waiting their turn
to get over, and not wishing to be had up for their premature decease,
I was obliged to pull off and charge downhill, with my back to
hounds. Three or four men, evidently not hearing the language I
was talking to my horse, turned and followed ! Having finally
pulled up on the top of a hill, I was rewarded with a bird's-eye view
of the hunt. The hounds were hunting beautifully by themselves,
and the proverbial sheet might really have covered them. The sur-
rounding fields in all directions were dotted with scarlet and black
coated sportsmen, and they must have spread out over several miles
of country.


The Hillmorton Brook also affords plenty of amusement.
It is not wider than a Meath drain, but the sides are rather
soft, and some time after the hounds and most of the field had ^

crossed it a head and shoulders were visible above the bank. A
horse had gone in, refused to jump out the right side and continue,
and the effect was very quaint. At the same brook, which we
crossed the other day with the North Warwick, a man had an
extraordinary escape from a nasty accident. His horse jumped on
to a pole that was sticking up in the ground on the landing side ;
the pole was five feet long, and it went between the animal's fore
legs, through the martingale, and out through the girths. The
NO. cxxvii. VOL. 7LX11,— February 1906 M

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rider got a fearful shock, because he thought the rest of the pole
had staked the horse through ; fortunately both came off scatheless.
Rugby is a good hunting centre, four packs generally being
within easy distance. The winter so far has been wonderfully mild ;
scent good on the whole, with very few bad days. I can only wish

I saw thee change, yet still relied.

Still clung with hope the fonder.—/. Moore,



I the same good luck to other impecunious sportsmen, and give them

I Lindsay Gordon's toast : —

I Here's a health to every sportsman, be he stableman or lord ;

If his heart be true I care not what his pocket may afford ;

And may he ever pleasantly each gallant sport pursue,
! If he takes his liquor fairly, and his fences fairly too.

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Havre quay at seven o'clock on a fine summer morning.

There is always something infinitely refreshing in arriving
anywhere when the day is still young. There are few things more
delightful, for instance, than, after a hot and dusty night in the
train, to step out upon the apology for a platform of some little
station up in the mountains, to breathe cool, sweet air once more,
and take a delicious drink of aromatic cafe an lait ; and how
pleasant is the consciousness that all cares and worries are left in
England, and that all one's business is to enjoy the sunshine, and
revel in the charm of novel sights and sounds !

We landed at once, leaving " Clementina " in charge of the
faithful Frederick, as the tide would not allow of her being put
ashore for another four hours. Frederick is a youth of the most
supreme imperturbability and cheerfulness. We never can make out
whether his attitude to Clementina is that of a lover for his mistress,
or of a worshipper for his goddess ; but, anyhow, the two are
inseparable, and the result of his unremitting attentions is undeniably

At eleven o'clock we strolled down to the quay, and found the
process of disembarkation in full swing. It was very carefully done,
and there was none of that ostentatious hanging around for tips
that has become such a nuisance at certain English ports.

Our permis de conduire and perntis de circulation held good from
last year, so there were no ceremonies to perform, and within
twenty minutes of landing we were bowling through the paved

M 2

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streets of Havre. What a difference there is between motoring in
England and in France ! In France even a tramp steps briskly to
one side at the sound of the horn, the farm cart is almost always
on its proper side, or, if not, makes all haste to get there ; the very
chickens stay not upon the order of their going, but go quickly,
perhaps because all the laggards have long since been run over.
One is free from the haunting fear of police traps, which gather into
their net the reckless and the cautious alike ; the signboards are
frequent and legible ; the danger marks are placed where they are
wanted, and nowhere else.

The road to Kouen is very charming, especially where it runs
along the winding Seine. Our day's run was without incident, save
for a puncture, the work of a wicked black nail. As we pulled up
on a flat tyre, a big car coming in the opposite direction did the
same thing — punctured too. There was a great race as to who
should get off again first, and they won by a few seconds ; our
tyres were a new set, and the rims uncommonly stiff.

The next day was Sunday, and we spent it in wandering about
lovely Rouen. What a wealth of wonderful buildings one finds
there ! Saint-Maclou or Saint-Ouen alone would make the place
famous, and the cathedral is a sheer superfluity of beauty.

Next morning we bade an affectionate farewell to the pleasant
city, and pulled out of it up the long hill before you come to
Pont de TArche. On through Louviers and Evreux, and then over
that most marvellous straight road between Evreux and Nonancourt.
Mile after mile it runs as though drawn with a ruler ; the car
seemed to go to sleep upon the satin surface, and snored like a
gigantic humming top ; the rich corn land on either side rushed by
and vanished into a golden distance, no villages occurring to break
the spell.

Where do they all dwell, the tillers of these wonderful plains ?
At rare intervals one sees a tiny village that appears lost in this
fruitful wilderness, but great distances must be covered by the
labourers in their journeyings to and from their work. One seemed
to be in a magic land where a kindly power has caused the seed to
sow itself, and the harvest to fall down in swathes uncut by the
hand of man.

At Dreux, the H6tel du Paradis proved worthy of the fork after
its name in the Annuaire de Route, and provided a capital lunch.
The midday meal at a small French inn is a very different affair
from lunch at an English hostel. In England one solemnly eats
cold beef and cheese amidst an arctic silence, and frequently there
are no other guests. In France the meal is always hot, often
elaborate, usually good, and the room is invariably full. Monsieur

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le Cur6 is generally there, and there is sure to be at least one
prodigiously stout Frenchwoman who makes one wonder if the
innkeeper subsidises her as an advertisement of his fare. Most of
the local celebrities come in for their dejeuner, and all is "smiles,

good humour, and jollity." The French are a bonhomous nation.
After lunch there was a little trouble owing to one of the pins

which hold the springs in position on the top of the coil breaking,

but a brass nail was trimmed down into a perfectly efficient


We ran slowly through Chartres, thinking it looked too inter-


esting a place to pass by, but we had no time to make a stop there,
and ran on into Orleans over the worst bit of road we encountered
at all, though the wayside heaps of stones gave a promise of future

At Orleans we talked about Joan of Arc, and went to the big
Place to see her statue, and the cleverly carved low reliefs of
different episodes in her career. Little of old Orleans is left, and
the cathedral is not very interesting. A fine morning brought us
next day to the tiny inn at Bonny-sur- Loire by lunch time, a strange

Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 13 of 52)