AFTER THE OTTER.
(By our Confirmed Grumbler.)
Punch, June 24, 1903
The visitor gives his cap a hitch to one side to indicate the sportsman, grasps his hazel walking-stick (white crooked handle and spike complete for eighteen-pence), and prepares to dash off in any direction in which the otter may show himself. There is a pause. He waits. He continues to wait.
“No,” says a grizzled follower of the chase, in answer to a question. “Hardly think we shall be starting just yet. You see, the chief point about an otter hunt is the lunch. Your true sportsman has discarded the otter’s pad as a club badge. He now wears the legend ’Never lose sight of the lunch,’ conspicuously embroidered on his cap. Before the hunt can be begun, elaborate instructions must be given to the driver of the provision-van. He must be told exactly where luncheon is to be taken, and that sort of thing, don’t you know. What?”
“Ah,” says the visitor, “I suppose so.”
Time speeds on, and at last the menial with the van has a vague idea of what is expected of him, and drives off. The noble Master and all the Members of the Hunt, in picturesque, if slightly sudden, suits of blue and red flannel, adjourn to the Inn for a modest quencher. Otter-hunters may be said to be inverted semi-teetotalers. No meet without drink is their motto. At last, the M.O.H., a man of energy, suddenly remembers that his hounds are waiting in the road outside, and, over the remains of a fifth whiskey-and-soda, suggests a start. The hunt, pure and simple, has begun.
Ladies, wearing short skirts bound round the edge with leather, and carrying bamboo poles, now leave their carriages and push their way through the crowd. Children, sternly resolved to get wet, find the deepest puddle and stand in it. Young men with ash-poles, upon which long rows of notches gleam, having manifestly been cut only that morning, rub a little damp earth into them and blush to find it fame. Old men buttonhole acquaintances, and tell them anecdotes of the sport they used to have fifty years ago, at five in the morning, m’boy, five sharp, and sometimes even earlier.
In short, things begin to move.
At last the river! Obviously as stiff with otters as the Irishman’s swamp was with snipe. The cavalcade moves silently along the bank. A wild cry of “Yoicks!” from a weedy youth in a stentorian Norfolkjacket and check cap. The M.O.H. stops the hounds, and turns back to see what has happened. Youth points with enthusiasm to a terrier’s track which he has discovered under a culvert. Enters into a lengthy argument on the subject, but fails to convince the noble Master that there is not a substantial difference between a four-toed and a five-toed track. The sight of lunch is as oil on troubled waters, and for an hour the hunt may be described as a thorough success.
The last bottle of champagne has exuded its fascinating contents. The last cold chicken has been dismembered. The hunt is up again.
A sudden and very inconvenient increase of pace on the part of the hounds indicates that they have got on the drag of an otter. The pace is kept up for two miles, and many stragglers are left behind. Then a halt is recommended, and an anonymous individual in the crowd is surreptitiously cheering hounds on to a stray moor-hen, when somebody stumbles upon a wasps’ nest, and matters for the first time become really exciting. The hunters become the hunted, and fly across country in a record-breaking manner, behaving like semaphores. The dogs snap and dive. Finally, the survivors foregather again half a mile down stream. “I rather think,” says the M.O.H., making his only really popular observation of the afternoon, “that we’ll be goin’ home now.” The hunt is at an end.
“Well,” said the visitor to the grizzled sportsman as they walked back, “we have had a very pleasant stroll, but—tell me, is this the sort of thing that always happens?”
“Well, no,” replied the grey-beard; “not invariably. But it is a curious pastime, and the only person who has nothing to find fault with in it seems to me to be the otter. Perhaps the hounds are kept for his benefit. Hullo, here’s the old chap who asked the hounds to come. Perhaps we shall have some sport after all. He seems excited.”
After which the “old chap” explains in a breathless manner that it’s all right now, your lordship, and he had meant to tell him afore. As he was coming back from mowing that morning, out jumped the otter from a ditch right at his feet, and he cut him in half with a scythe.
“Well,” said the visitor, thoughtfully, feeling his swollen features, “I have no doubt that otter hunting is a noble sport, but what I say is—give me rats.”
Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 124 of Punch.