by Unknown

"You want to hear the story, eh?"

Loud chorus of subalterns: "No!"

"All right, then, that settles your fate, and you shall!" and I lit a cigar preliminary to starting the yarn.

"Well do I remember the episode. It was a cut-throat country that we had to ride over. Many of my soldier comrades, brave and true, fell that day thickly around me—but as they all got up again, it did not really so much matter."

Having deftly dodged a sofa-cushion shied at my head by way of a gentle hint to "get forrard," I dropped from airy heights to the sober realms of fact, and proceeded to tell my plain unvarnished tale.

"After hunting for ten years with a pack belonging to a Cavalry regiment—let us call it the 'Heavyshot Drag'—the Fates (and Taylor & Co.) removed me into a far country, and but for the kindness of some members of the hunt, who often asked me up and gave me a mount, I should have known the Heavyshot no more, as it was too far to bring any of my own select stud—consisting of a musical one, with three legs and a swinger, a bolter with a blind eye, and a 13.2 pony!—up for the gallop. And what jolly gallops they always were, too!

"One day I got a wire from my excellent friend Major Laughton, who was then Master of the Heavyshot, 'Come up, Friday. Lunch mess. Hounds meet Pickles Common.' To which, in the degenerate language of the times, I wired reply, 'You bet,' and one P.M. on the day named found my breeched and booted legs beneath the mahogany of the hospitable mess room.

"Major Laughton, in greeting me, said, 'So sorry, my dear boy, I can't give you my second horse, as he's all wrong to-day—a severe "pain under the pinafore" has floored him. But I've got you a gee from—well, never mind where from, I know he can jump.' And with these words the conversation dropped. As to where my mount came from—well, it was no concern of mine, was it? I thought I noticed a slight deflection of the gallant Major's left eyelid when he was speaking, but that, after all, might have been my fancy.

"After putting in some strong work over the luncheon course, we lit cigars, and in a few minutes both horses and hounds appeared on the parade ground. My horse with the mysterious origin was a good-looking bay, who carried his head in the 'cocky' fashion beloved of riding-masters, and proved a very pleasant hack. We jogged along and soon reached the meet.

"The usual scene of eagerness and excitement, hounds supplying the latter element, whilst the superior animal, man, jostled his fellows consumedly, in his natural desire to 'get off the mark' as soon as decency and the Master permitted. The last-named held forth vigorously to us, as with a 'Tow-yow-yow!' hounds dashed across the first field, and jumped, scrambled, or squeezed through the first fence.

"'Let 'em get over before you start, bless you all! Come back there, you man on the grey! What the saintly St Ursula are you doing? All right, now you can go, and be past-participled to you all!'

"And away we went as if His Satanic Majesty had assisted us with the toe of his boot! Swish! and the first fence, long looked at and much disliked, is a thing of the past; horses pull and bore to get their heads as we sail down a stiffish hill and over a broad ditch at the bottom. My horse drops one hind leg in, and loses a couple of lengths by the performance. Up a slight slope we stand in our stirrups—to ease our horses, bien entendu—not to look at the forbidding obstacle in front of us, oh dear no! a post and rails, with no top bar broken anywhere, and what I hear a groom behind me calling a 'narsetty' great ditch on the landing side. Our gallant first Whip crams his horse at it, and but for the animal's forgetfulness in leaving both hind legs the wrong side, would have led over in great style; but 'tis an ill wind which blows nobody any good, and those legs break the top rail for us. Did I follow the Whip over a bit close? Well, I hope not; verdict, 'not guilty, but don't do it again.' Two flights of hurdles and a ploughed field bring us to the main road. We jump into, and out of, this, leaving two of our number as 'bookmakers'—i.e., 'laying on the field.' On we go again over about three miles of pretty hunting country, with nice, plain-sailing fences; then comes a stile, at which one refusal and two 'downers' still further reduces the field; and, with another flight of hurdles surmounted, we come to a check. Oh, the shaking of tails and blowing of nostrils! the 'soaping' of reins and the sweat on the foam-flecked bodies of the poor gees!

"'Horses seem to have had about enough of it, don't you think so?' said a man who had pulled up just alongside of me.

"I turned in my saddle to answer, when, without the slightest warning, and giving vent to a groan which I seem to hear still, my horse suddenly fell to the ground. A dozen men slipped off their horses to lend a hand. We quickly unbuckled the girths and pulled the saddle off, but, even as we did so, I saw the glazing eye, which told unmistakably that the poor old chap had done his last gallop and jumped his last fence. He was as dead as Julius Cæsar!

"'By Jove, and it's one of the Queen's, too!' exclaimed an impetuous Subaltern.

"'Shut up, you young ass!' quickly rejoined his Major in low tones, and the good youth incontinently closed the floodgates of his eloquence just as an enormous man, Colonel de Boots, in command of the Cavalry depôt, who had driven out to see the fun, pushed his way through the little crowd assembled round the 'stiff un' in order to tender his advice.

"It was a tight place for those concerned, but the tension was quickly relaxed when, instead of looking at the horse, he turned to me and said, 'Deuced sorry for your loss, really—most annoying. My wife will be delighted to give you a seat in her carriage. My servant shall look after your horse until——'

"'Not for worlds, sir,' I replied hastily, 'that is all arranged for. But if you will really be so good as to take me to Mrs de Boots' carriage, and if she would not mind my entering it in this very muddy condition——?'

"'Delighted; come along with me!' We walked off, and the situation was saved.

"Only temporarily, though. I blandly received Colonel and Mrs de Boots' condolences on the loss of my horse all the way home to Barracks, and I heard afterwards that they thought I 'took it in very good part.' The moment I was released from their carriage, after thanking them warmly for picking me up as they had done, I took to my heels and ran down to Major Laughton's quarters.

"'Here's a pretty mess, my boy!' he exclaimed; 'there'll have to be a Board to "sit on" the departed, to-morrow, and report in what way he came to his "frightful end," as the newspaper Johnnies call it. Which is his "frightful end," by the way?' he added in meditative tones.

"'Give it up; ask me another,' I rejoined, with a grin. 'But, seriously, will there be an awful row when it comes out that we were hunting one of Her Majesty's?'

"'Well, naturally, a Paternal Government doesn't provide hunters for "all and sundry." Come along with me: we'll see the Vet., and find out what can be done.'

"Away we went to the Vet.'s office, and fortunately found him in. Laughton related the whole affair to him, and wound up by saying, 'I don't want you to do anything that isn't strictly right, you know; but if you can see a way of helping us out of the difficulty, I shall be awfully obliged. The worst of it is that it's a young horse—Bradford.'

"'Bradford? Oh, no; I saw Bradford in his stall not ten minutes ago.'

"'Are you sure of that?'

"'Oh, perfectly.'

"'How strange! I sent a man down to the stables this morning to tell them to send Bradford up—but I'll ask him at once: he's just in the yard there,' and the next minute we were eagerly questioning the 'Tommy' as he stood rigidly at attention.

"'Did you tell them I wanted Bradford?'


"'What did they say?'

"'Said there was no such 'orse as Radford.'

"'Bradford, I said.'

"'Beg pardon, sir. Understood the name was Radford, and the Sergeant——'

"'Yes, the Sergeant, what did he say then?'

"'Said I was a hass, sir——'

"'Quite right, go on,' said the Major, encouragingly.

"'And that I must mean Radnor, and Radnor was the 'orse as was sent up, sir.'

"The Major turned on his heel without a word, and walked again into the Vet.'s office, followed by me. The 'Tommy' remained at 'attention,' and may be in the same attitude now, as far as I know.

"'This is a relief, anyhow,' said Laughton, 'Radnor would have been "cast" very soon, and so his sudden death won't be so surprising to the Board.'

"Up to this point the Vet. had been silent; now a smile hovered over his face as he said, 'Leave the whole business to me, Major. Where's the defunct?'

"The Major described the place, and the interview ended, and we walked back to Laughton's quarters."

"The Board assembled, and briefly, the result of their deliberations was to find that the bay gelding Radnor was discovered dead in his stall, the certified cause of death being fatty degeneration of the heart."

"Yes, that's all very fine and large, but how the——? what the——? when the——!!!" broke in a Babel of voices.

"Hold on, boys, and you shall know one or two things which the Board didn't know. Picture a scene in the barrack yard like this: a dark night, moon only showing in fitful gleams now and then; a trolly with a couple of horses; four stalwart Tommies and a sergeant-major seated on the trolly; it rattles out of the barrack square and over some five miles or so of road to the heath where the hero of the day breathed his last. The trolly is drawn up on to the grass, and after a few minutes' search the Sergeant-Major discovers the corpus delicti; with much exertion it is hauled up on to the trolly, and the return journey commences.

"Just before the witching hour of midnight 'when sentries yawn and Colonels go to bed'—Shakespeare freely transposed, boys, this—enter the trolly to the stable yard again. The dead horse is hoisted out, put in its stall, and the head-collar most carefully adjusted ('in case he should get loose,' observed one Tommy to another, with an unholy grin).

"All the actors in the little drama retire to imbibe liquid sustenance 'stood' by an invisible donor—peace reigns again all around the barrack square, and——and that's the end. Waiter, bring me a whiskey and soda, and some matches."