Punch, or the London Charivari, Volume 104, January 21, 1893

Periodicals/
#Periodicals #Games/Humor
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Excerpt Of the many varieties of keeper, I propose, at present, to consider only the average sort of keeper, who looks after a shooting, comprising partridges, pheasants, hares, and rabbits, in an English county. Now it is to be observed that your ordinary keeper is not a conversational animal. He has, as a rule, too much to do to waste time in unnecessary talk. To begin with, he has to control his staff, the men and boys who walk in line with you through the root-fields, or beat the coverts for pheasants. That might seem at first sight to be an easy business, but it is actually one of the most difficult in the world. For thorough perverse stupidity, you will not easily match the autochthonous beater. Watch him as he trudges along, slow, expressionless, clod-resembling, lethargic, and say how you would like to be the chief of such an army. He is always getting out of line, pressing forward unduly, or hanging back too much, and the loud voice of the keeper makes the woods resound with remonstrance, entreaty, and blame, hurled at his bovine head. After lunch, it is true, the beater wakes up for a little. Then shall you hear William exchanging confidences from one end of the line to the other with Jarge, while the startled pheasant rises too soon and goes back, to the despair of the keeper and the guns. Then, too, are heard the shouts of laughter which greet the appearance of a rabbit, and the air is thick with the sticks that the joyous, beery beaters fling at the scurrying form of their hereditary foe. It is marvellous to note with what a venomous hatred the beater regards the bunny. Pheasant or partridge he is careless of; even the hare is, in comparison, a thing of nought, but let him once set eyes on a rabbit, and his whole being seems to change. His eye absolutely flashes, his chest heaves with excitement beneath the ancient piece of sacking that protects his form from thorns. If the rabbit falls to the shot, he yells with exultation; if it be missed, an expression of morose and gloomy disappointment settles on his face, as who should say, "Things are played out; the world is worthless!" On their Beat. All these characteristics are the keeper's despair; though, to be sure, he has staunch lieutenants in his under-keepers; and towards the end of the day he can always count on two sympathising allies in the postman and the policeman. These two never fail to come out in the afternoon to join the beaters. It is amusing to watch the demeanour of the beaters in the policeman's presence. Some of them, it is possible, have been immeshed by the law, and have made the constable's acquaintance in his professional capacity. Others are conscious of undiscovered peccadilloes, or they feel that on some future day they may be led to transgress rules, of which the policeman is the sturdy embodiment. None of them is, therefore, quite at his best in the policeman's presence. Their attitude may be described as one of uneasy familiarity, bursting here and there into jocular nervousness, but never quite attaining the rollicking point. You may sometimes take advantage of this feeling to let off a joke on a beater. Select a stout, plethoric one, and say to him, "Mind you keep your eye on the policeman, or he'll poach a rabbit before you can say knife." This simple inversion of probabilities and positions is quite certain to "go." A hesitating smile will first creep into the corners of the beater's eye. After an interval spent in grappling with the jest, he will become purple, and finally he will explode. During the rest of the day you will hear him repeating your little pleasantry either to himself or to his companions. You can keep it up by saying now and then, "How many did the constable pocket that last beat?" (Shouts of laughter.) Thus shall your reputation as a humorist be established amongst the beating fraternity—("that 'ere Muster Jackson, 'e do make a chap laugh, that 'e do," is the formula)—and if you revisit the same shooting next year, a beater is sure to take an opportunity of saying to you, with a grin on his face, "Policeman's a comin' out to-day, Sir; I'm a goin' to hev my eye tight on 'im, so as 'e don't pocket no rabbits," to which you will reply, "That's right, George, you stick to it, and you'll be a policeman yourself some day," at which impossible anticipation there will be fresh explosions of mirth. So easily pleased is the rustic mind, so tenacious is the rustic memory. But the head-keeper recks not of these things. All the anxiety of the day is his. If, for one reason or another, he fails to show as good a head of game as had been expected, he knows his master will be displeased. If the beaters prove intractable, the birds go wrong, but the burden of the host's disappointment falls on the keeper's shoulders. His are all the petty worries, the little failures of the day. The keeper is, therefore, not given to conversation. How should he be, with all these responsibilities weighing upon him? Few of those who shoot realise what the keeper has gone through to provide the sport. Inclement nights spent in the open, untiring vigilance by day and by night, a constant and patient care of his birds during the worst seasons, short hours of sleep, and long hours of tramping, such is the keeper's life....
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