This was the weekend of the Virginia Hound Show. I realized yesterday that, beyond the pleasure of watching fox hounds in the ring, at no other kind of venue could one routinely overhear so many distinctively amusing conversations.
The book I carried along to read while waiting for my wife, A Long Way to Go by Marigold Armitage, daughter of Air Chief Marshall Arthur Harris echoed the live scene around me. Though the novel’s setting is Ireland not Virginia, the topic under discussion and the sense of humor was very much the same.
And who was-out?” asked Aunt Emmy.
We were all gathering round Conor like well-trained hawks to a lure. The hold that fox hunting has over its disciples it as frightening as it is fascinating. Conor would tell us that Paddy Casey had been trying to sell his grey horse and the lad had given it a crucifying fall over wire; that the puppy Aunt Emmy had walked was still inclined to babble; that they had gone away very fast from Killanure and several people had been left; that Mike Harrington’s English horse had flown a stone-faced bankâ€””the sight went from my eyes to see the lep he made”; that hounds had split on a fresh fox, but Tommy had managed to stop them; that Euphemia Coke had jumped a “hell of a big, dirty drain like Becher’s Brook” on her four-year-old by Tartan; and on these words we would hang, wide-eyed, like children learning about Father Christmas. I had often tried to analyse this fearful fascination; to work out for myself exactly what the black magic consists of, and I had come to the conclusion that it must because fox hunting provides, mentally and physically, the perfect form of escapism, the perfect reaction from the dreary twentieth-century myth of Progress and the perfectibility 0f man. To begin with, even before one has got on one’s horse, there is the dressing-up in traditional clothesâ€”and anybody who does not enjoy dressing up is fit only for treasons, stratagems and spoilsâ€”and not really even for those since he will not enjoy being in disguise. Then, I do not believe that M. Sartre himself could deny the romance implicit in the sight and sound of galloping horses, and the power and glory of being a part of this speed and strength and, if one is lucky, in control of itâ€”this rare sensation might have even seduced Oscar Wilde if he had once tried itâ€”might indeed, yet, seduce a Sitwell. Add to this that ancient, incalculable, irresistible lure, the spice of authentic danger, and you have the perfect, the complete, sweet, oblivious antidote, which will for the space of forty-five minutes from Kilquin Gorse raze out the written troubles of the brain as if they had been written on a slate and a damp sponge had been passed across them.
“In this the patient must minister to himself,” and a psychiatrist prescribing three days’ hunting a week would, I am sure, have the very greatest success. For no oneâ€” not if he has drunk too much the night before; not if he has lain awake with a mind reeling restively amongst the Metaphysics of Donne, the philosophy of Seneca, and the psychology of Jungâ€”only to find at 2 a.m. that Soneryl has the laugh on them all; not if he has woken groaning, Suspecting cancer of the liver and hating the sight of his boots; not even he will fail to be healed by the splendid immediacy of the moment when the little black horse (grabbing cunningly at his bit in the hope of getting his head free enough to buck on the far side) faces the stone-faced bank which Mike Harrington’s horse has just flown with such superb disregard of the law of gravityâ€”whilst behind, advancing in a crescendo of bounds and snorting like a steam engine, Euphemia Coke’s four-year-old is showing unmistakable signs that if you and the little black horse do not jump both quickly and cleanly there is every possibility that you and the little black horse will yourselves be jumped upon, heavily and hideously, by Euphemia Coke and her four-year-old.
So Conor held us spellbound with his commonplace tale until they had again marked him below at Murphy’s and the bitches had sung hopelessly above his cosy ramifications in the big double bank.