The Great Play Hunt

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering and Alastair Wilson, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. We have been grateful to Alan Underwood for advice on a number of points relating to hunting. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Uniform Edition of Thy Servant a Dog and Other Dog Stories, published in 1938.


[Page 41, line 6] bump refers to the rider’s action when trotting. A horse has fours paces (speeds), walk, trot, canter and gallop. At a walk, one sits in the saddle, but if the horse is trotting, one learns to ‘rise to the trot’, rising off the saddle by standing in the stirrups at each step the horse takes, and establishing a rhythm which matches that of the horse. When one is learning to ride, when first one learns to trot, one just ‘bumps’ along, sitting, going ‘bumpity-bump until one gets the feeling of the horse’s movement, and instinctively starts to rise to the trot. (The Household Cavalry, when trotting on parade, do not rise to the trot.) [A.J.W.]

[Page 41 line 16] keep hands down, and bump, and fall off proper basic riding techniques – any rider is bound to be thrown or otherwise fall off at some stage, so should learn how to fall without breaking anything.

[Page 41 line 20] Meet the assembly of hounds, riders, and hunt followers before the hunt begins.

[Page 42 line 3] kennel-that-moves motor-car.

[Page 42 line 14] new Nursey which is called Guvvy Nurse has been replaced by a Governess who begins the education of the child until he goes to school.

[Page 44 line 15] Frilly Smalls probably a couple of little girls

[Page 44 line 27] meddy medicine.

[Page 45 line 10] brush in this context his tail

[Page 45 line 11] steel-trap he had been caught in a type of rabbit-trap that is now illegal. He was biting off two toes on his left front foot to escape from it.

[Page 46 line 20] as lame as trees extremely lame, since trees cannot walk at all. Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang suggests that the expression relates to the noisy walking of a man with a wooden leg.

[Page 47 line 3] ham-juice bacon-fat.

[Page 48 lines 7-9] being taught … House an old and discredited method of house-training a puppy. See the second verse of “His Apologies”:

Master, behold a Sinner! He hath committed a wrong.
He hath defiled Thy Premises through being kept in too long.
Wherefore his nose has been rubbed in the dirt, and his self-respect has been bruised.
Master, pardon Thy Sinner, and see he is properly used.

[Page 50 line 18] Shiny Plate the full moon.

[Page 50 line 2] not chicken ‘He was no chicken’, implying that he was fully grown at the time. An old expression, dating from the 17th Century. [A.J.W.]

[Page 50 line 23] We went for walk-abouts an echo of Kipling’s younger days Often the night got into my head … and I would wander till dawn in all manner of odd places. (Something of Myself, page 53) The expression has also been used of the ancient wandering way of life of Australian native peoples. [A.J.W.]

[Page 51 line 8] strange new ‘stemper-dog inside Ravager distemper – in this context a dangerous disease of dogs and other animals.

[Page 52 line 1] Ravager’s place on sleepy-bench the kennels have a bench for hounds to sleep on, and the Dominant Hound of the pack would sleep in the most comfortable place on it, away from draughts etc. A younger hound would occasionally fight him for it – see page 55, lines 10-24 and page 95, lines 10-15.

[Page 52 line 2] all-of-a-nuproar uproar – a disturbance.

[Page 52 line 7] Vet-Peoples a veterinary surgeon, or ‘vet’.

[Page 52 line 21] the Cotswold country The Cotswolds is an upland area of great beauty in westerm England, in Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, and extending into parts of Wiltshire, Somerset and Worcestershire. It includes Cirencester Park, Lord Bathurst’s estate, on which the setting of these stories is based. It is also the name of a famous Hunt based in Gloucestershire, and the part of the country in which it operates

[Page 52 line 25] leaves-on April, the end of the hunting season in the United Kingdom

[Page 53 line 3] the Cotswold and Heythrop two Hunts.

[Page 54 line 8] winds me gets my scent.

[Page 54 line 14] They skidded kennel … because they talked conversation distracted the woman who was driving.

[Page 55 line 5] four-year-old in this context a young horse.

[Page 55 line 26 and overleaf] Magistrate’s girths was slack the men are overcome by emotion at seeing Ravager lose his place as Dominant Hound. Alastair Wilson notes that part of the routine of horsemanship is to check the tightness of the saddle-girths before mounting. Moore would have done so before the left the kennels or stables to take Smallest out riding, so has no need to do it again – but he wants to hide his emotion, so bends down and pretends to adjust his girths, while he gets full command of himself again.

[Page 56 line 11] thick leg lymphangitis a swelling of (usually) a rear leg of a horse, now treated with antihistamines etc and exercise, See Lameness by Peter Gray, M.V.B., F.R.C.V.S. (J. A. Allen, 1994), p. 192.

[Page 56 lines 16-19] Romeo and Regan etc This seems unlikely – see Note to “Thy Servant a Dog” for Page 22 line 16, earlier in this volume.

This is usually a healthy breed which occasionally has hip dysplasia, renal disease, and epilepsy. The lifespan is typically 10-13 years, although British hunts would probably put working hounds down after 6-7 years hunting. Alastair Wilson notes that since it was usual to give hounds names beginning with a different letter each year, the year of birth could be identified. Ravager’s parents would, therefore, have names beginning with earlier letters of the alphabet. The narrative would have been more realistic if his antecedents had been a pair with names beginning ‘O’ or earlier, and ‘L’ or earlier.

[Page 56 line 21] rumpet trumpet.

[Page 56 line 22] Horn-on-a-fine-hunting-morn an echo of ‘We’ll all go a-hunting today’ a hunting song of seven verses and chorus composed by W. Wilson for the North Warwickshire Hunt. (See Roy Palmer, Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs, p. 213.)

[Page 57 line 20] Taffy is all grass-belly the pony is too fat.

[Page 58 line 1] Brecknock a former county and town in South Wales with beautiful scenery.

[Page 58 line 22] Berkeley Country a market-town in Gloucestershire (the home of Dr. Edward Jenner, the discoverer of vaccination) which gives its name to the Hunt and the part of the country in which it operates (pronounced barkly).

[Page 58 line 26] thick-leg see the note on page 56 line 11 above.

[Page 59 line 8] hand behind ear a usual gesture in the hunting-field.

[Page 59 line 11] thing in Old Nursery a rocking-horse.

[Page 60 line 1] pecked in this context stumbled.

[Page 62 line 4] bull was which we hunted See “Thy Servant a Dog” at page 30 in this volume.

[Page 62 line 8] fly cattle-bars jump over gates.

[Page 62 lines 14 – 19] If I were lame Fox etc the child is thinking like a fox as Disko Troop, the successful skipper of a fishing schooner, thinks like a cod, in Captains Courageous (p. 127).

[Page 62 line 26] music in this context the melodious sound of hounds in full cry on the scent of a fox. ‘The finest sound to my mind that there can be is the noise that hounds make when they are running.’ [Foxhunting, by the Duke of Beaufort, page 1, David and Charles 1980].

[Page 63 line 1] preferred her work to her company she was content to run her line of scent alone so did not give tongue to attract the other hounds.

[Page 65 line 5] snipey-nose-man he probably has a narrow face – see “Thy Servant a Dog”, page 25 line 23.

[Page 65 line 7] whip in this context, ‘Whipper-in’. The Master is in charge of the hunt as a whole, while the Huntsman is in charge of the hounds. The ‘whip’ or ‘whipper-in’ assists the Huntsman, to whom he needs to give loyal and intelligent support. (see Harmsworth, where his duties are set forth; a formidable list !)

Bathsheba Lady-pack ‘Bathsheba Spooner, née Ruggles, daughter of Brigadier Ruggles, grew up amid the luxuries of her father’s house in Massachusetts, for the old brigadier was a colonial aristocrat. A pack of hounds, a park of deer, and other unusual signs of wealth and luxury, surrounded his estate.’ (The Year ‘Round, A Victorian Miscellany. [This is the only reference we have found – further information will be appreciated: Eds.]
Alastair Wilson writes: it was not unusual to take out a pack consisting only of the Hunt’s bitches, or their dog-hounds, so reference would be made to ‘the bitch pack’. I wonder if there is a Bathsheba somewhere in Surtees, whose hunting tales were familiar to Kipling and to ‘Stalky’ (Dunsterville), but I don’t know of one.

[Page 65 line 23] Fan Dringarth a mountain in the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales.

[Page 65 line 27] brush in this context, the fox’s tail. See page 35 line 20 earlier in this volume.

[Page 66 line 6] Badgers Meles meles, a big burrowing animal of the weasel family, still common in Europe and Asia. More than a match for a fox.

[Page 69 line 21] making-much-of patting his pony and calling him a ‘Good Fellow’.

[Page 69 line 25] took off cap it is the civil thing to greet the Master like this – here perhaps somewhat ironically !

[Page 69 line 26] Bowfront Hunt another touch of sarcasm – referring to the Beaufort Hunt

[Page 69 line 27] Your Grace Dukes of Beaufort have either hunted hounds themselves or have been Masters since the title was created in 1682; the hounds, kennels and stables still belong to them. The 10th Duke was Master from 1924 to 1984.

[Page 70 line 13] multum-in-parvo Latin – much in little.

[Page 70 line 21] babes-and-sucklings ‘Out of the mouths of very babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength. ” Psalms 8,2.

[Page 70 line 25] County road a road maintained by the County Council.



©John McGivering and Alastair Wilson 2010 All rights reserved