Newly revised and extended edition
“I was afraid at first it would be wishy-washy, but you are your usual acerbic self… “
Grumpy author Rob meets horse-mad Mike and somehow – through a series of minor incidents and accidents – they end up sharing a lifetime commitment which, given the climate of the times, can be only half-acknowledged.
Written in the last quarter of the twentieth century, but evoking an earlier time still, THE LARTON CHRONICLES is an affectionate portrait of the world that exists in the novels of Somerville and Ross or the background of a Giles cartoon. Replete with industrious housewives, dim-witted officers, termagant grandmothers, impoverished aristocrats and dauntless little girls on ponies, it’s an Aga-saga with a comic twist.
If Rob thought he was in for a quiet life in the country, he was very much mistaken!
* * *
N.B.: Although the action takes place before the UK banned fox-hunting in 2005, there are no scenes or descriptions of fox-hunting in the book.
"The hounds!" yelled Ashley.
Robert looked at the mass of dogs which erupted onto the green; they struck him as a motley, undisciplined crowd and he was glad he'd left Kasper safely locked up. Everyone was hurriedly finishing their drinks while Mrs Bleavins and assorted helpers collected glasses. Riders began to mount their horses.
Robert looked at Victor sternly. "We haven't met before, Victor, but be warned: I know too much about horses!" He decided to swallow his pride and use the mounting-block; his leg, already complaining in the too-tight boot, wasn't likely to stand for the normal method of mounting.
Mr Faulkner watched him, then came over to check his girth. "Better pull it up a notch for you. Victor blows out - you could find yourself upside down. Move your leg, man!"
Robert glared at him, then shifted his leg so Faulkner could tighten the girth.
"There, that should do it. Just keep with the main bunch.
Watch that dun with the red ribbon in his tail - he's a kicker. And watch out for Bodger: he likes to nip in front - nearly fell over the bugger last month. Right, Fred!"
The hunt moved slowly off, cheered on by the local children, trotting down one of the lanes, then off into the open fields; the hounds began to call.
"They've picked up the scent," said Faulkner. "You all right, March?"
It was a fine day, Robert thought. He'd forgotten how good it could be to be up on a horse again. He sniffed the air as the hounds began to move faster.
"We're off!" yelled a rubicund gentleman, whom Robert now recognised as the local doctor: he had just heard he was on his panel and wasn't sure he cared for the fact that his doctor was a hunting man.
Victor began to pull hard; he seemed to be trying to get up to the front with Piper and Gert, Mr Stebbins's mount. Robert wondered if they normally rode together, then stifled a curse as a madly galloping Bodger cut right in front of him. After a few moments he realised that Bodger constituted a major traffic hazard, as a storm of curses from nearby riders confirmed. However, this had no effect on Bodger, who continued forging ahead to shrieks of delight from Ashley, apparently kept in the saddle by gravity alone.
Robert looked around: apart from himself and possibly two of the ladies present, he wouldn't care to breathalyse this bunch. Victor was now galloping hard on Piper's heels and they were approaching what looked like Becher's Brook, only larger.
"Oh shit!" said Robert.
With the rest of the pack thundering on his heels there was no chance of pulling up. He looked for a convenient gap; there wasn't one so he sat down hard, as his grandfather had taught him, and prayed. Piper rocketed over the bank ahead of him. Not bad, thought Robert; his rider was no lightweight. Then Victor followed suit. The descent on the other side of the bank seemed to have been modelled on the Cresta Run, but both horses took it in their stride. After that Robert just sat down, enjoyed the trip and left the decisions to Victor.
As they pounded across what seemed endless miles of muddy fields, always with the unspeakable Bodger not far behind, he heard a shout as a rider to his left took a crashing fall. They were now thundering down a muddy lane then, to Robert's relief as a large muddy clod narrowly missed his left ear, the hounds seemed to lose the scent and circled about, yelping dismally.
"Not a bad run," said Faulkner, looking back at him; his face was liberally splattered with mud. "You kept up well, March."
"Victor seemed to want to," said Robert. Credit where it was due, he thought.
"Yes, Amy and I usually ride together. Ashley!" he roared, "you stay right there!"
Robert winced as Faulkner's voice, guaranteed to carry across ten miles of hunting country, grated on his ear. Faulkner walked his horse over to Ashley and Bodger. Robert could not hear what was being said but Faulkner's gestures offered hints.
"... and take your bloody pony and go!"
Ashley gazed up; his lower lip trembled, and even Bodger quivered. Then, with a howl, Ashley buried his face in his pony's mane.
"You're always rotten to him," he wailed. "He didn't mean any harm. It's not his fault they can't keep up with him." Large tears were splashing down his round face.
Robert, amused, watched Faulkner disintegrate before this attack.
"All right," Faulkner said through gritted teeth, "but the little sod goes on a leading rein before he has someone down. Maud, can you take him?"
"No problem, Mike. Bring him over, Ashley."
Ashley hugged Mr Faulkner's leg thankfully, which transferred even more mud to his person, then led his pony over to Maud. The rest of the hunt had now caught them up, several looking much the worse for wear.
"Faulkner!" roared the doctor, tossing his hip-flask over. Faulkner caught it deftly and took a long drink. He offered it to Robert, who shook his head; he was beginning to feel a deep-seated ache in his bad leg.
There was a shriek of delight from Ashley. "They've found the scent again!"
"Oh God," said Robert...
Novel length: 127,000 words