At the time of our
marriage 25 years ago, my husband's sporting interests centered solely and
passionately about horses: riding them, employing them for the pursuit of
hounds, observing them at race meets, judging them at horse shows, even paying
formal calls on them in their stalls. I tried, as a blushing bride, to go in
for the fancy. But it was my husband who did the blushing?when I donned the
lovely habit I'd bought when I was at Bryn Mawr: tweed knickers, sleeveless
jacket and stout army puttees.
My husband agreed
that indeed the outfit must be just the thing for Colorado but not exactly
right for the New York or Long Island riding set. Furthermore, as I'd be riding
sidesaddle (an announcement that turned me pale), we'd better see about getting
some proper equipment?from London. An Oxford Street tailor, one of those
"By Appointment" fellows, made me a sidesaddle habit so extremely heavy
I could barely carry it about on foot, let alone lift it onto a horse. My
boots, from Peal, were worthy of a guardsman. The historic Lock & Co.
"built" or more accurately cooked me my bowler hat. At the fitting they
brought it forth from some hat bakery, steaming like a pudding, and clamped it
on my astonished head.
I vastly admired
my appearance in this highly authentic and more highly expensive ensemble. The
admiration, however, was not shared by any horses, and my riding career
(mercifully for both horse and rider) was short-lived. Abandoning for all time
the idea of seeing my picture in The Spur, I divorced myself from any active
sports participation and resigned myself?well, more or less?to becoming a
widowhood might be divided into three periods: the horse, the duck and the
retriever. My husband's obsession during the first half of the horse period was
fox hunting. Having abandoned any hope that his wife might in time become what
I believe is called "a fine woman to hounds," my spouse found some
solace in the fact that I could go along with him for a few weekends to upper
New York State, where there was a hunt of which he was a member, and enjoy the
privilege of observing the goings-on. These took place in a stretch of hill and
valley I in my ignorance called lovely cow pastures but which, I was told, was
"good galloping country," the very sight of which would cause sportsmen
to dilate their nostrils and start dropping their final g's.
During my first
stern initiation I learned one hard and fast rule of the world of outdoor
sports. In order to qualify as first class, a sport must involve acute physical
discomfort. All worthwhile sporting events start at break of day?which means
that all participants must get up and dress a good two hours ahead of the
break, long before the heat has been turned up in private home, country inn or
Never having been
one of those exhibitionists who go swimming on New Year's at Atlantic City, I
found it a matter of acute pain to shiver into my clothes in a glacial room.
The pain turned to fury when I found out that I might have remained in bed much
longer than my husband. For it takes a hunting gentleman more time to get into
the proper attire than it takes a debutante to dress for a ball.
Why people who are
about to be doused in all manner of horse sweat, flying mud, slimy ditch water
or even their own life's blood, should dress with the dainty care of a foreign
minister about to attend a court levee, I don't know. But I do grant that there
is something of the grand manner about it, like the Bourbon aristocrat taking a
pinch of snuff while mounting the steps of the guillotine. And I must admit
that my husband, resplendent in white breeches, gleaming boots, impeccable
stock and red?I said pink!?coat, mustard vest and a reinforced silk topper, was
pretty as a Christmas card. And I felt that I really "belonged," as we
drove to where "hounds were meeting." Horses were also meeting, and
also human beings, but they are never mentioned.
nonparticipant, there are several methods of following a fox hunt. One may tag
along at a distance on a horse. One may dash on foot via frantic short cuts to
various points which it is hoped will be viewing ones. Or one may, like me,
pursue a zigzag course, equally speculative, through side roads and lanes in a
car. Our car was a convertible and my concession to sport was to keep the top
open, even when it was raining.
Lest anyone assume
that this nonsportswoman lacks all feeling for beauty, let me record right here
that the sudden weird sound of that melancholy little horn has turned my hair
to electric wires and that the sight of horses with their bright-coated riders
streaking across a slope, or of hounds streaming in a yelping torrent out of an
autumn copse, has caused me to bawl like a baby.
WHERE ANGELS FEAR