"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Thursday, May 12, 2022

"The Point of Thirty Miles" by T. H. White

'....He was still a good way in front of us, gentlemen, but he was beginning to be a tangible identity. I even winded him myself: a whiff of sour bread and stale bananas. I suppose I ought to have stopped the pack; but he seemed just possible, and I was young. The glory of achievement went to my head.'

"The Point of Thirty Miles" by T. H. White is a first-person short story presented as an after-dinner anecdote. Like "The Troll," it is from a larger portmanteau title: Gone to Ground: The Sporting Decameron (1935).  

The sport in "The Point of Thirty Miles" is fox-hunting. Frosty, the teller, is an old man recalling an extraordinary adventure from youth.

....The hounds came out of the spinney slowly and well together. They were half into the field, almost under the metaphorical shadow of the wire, when a grey creature that looked like a cross between the Benicia Boy and a bear jumped up amongst them. Personally, the first thing I thought of was a sheep-dog. There was nothing to be done at all. The Master, who was hunting them because the huntsman had asthma, was on the hither side of the wire with the field, and we whips had cleared off round the spinney. The grey creature just went straight away for a windmill on the skyline, and the hounds went after him, within a few yards, as soon as they had recovered from their surprise. The cry was amazing. The field all turned up the fence and went bucketing along for the nearest gate, which proved to be at the farthest corner of a big enclosure. After that there was no hope of stopping hounds. 'Gentlemen, I must not bore you with the details of the run; and in any case I couldn't, because I have forgotten the country. The important things about it were that our quarry ran practically straight and that I was the only person on a fresh horse. I don't suppose that you have ever hunted a wolf. He went away at a tremendous loping pace, a kind of wolf-burst which brought the hounds back to scent within a couple of fields. Then he must have settled to a steadier gait, and he ran like a human being pursued – straight away from his pursuers. 

     'Like a human being,' repeated Frosty meditatively, and the Professor handed him a cigar.

Tales of pursuit over open country are among my favorites. UK writers skilled at the laconic and dead-pan tone  are some of its finest craftsmen.

T. H. White clearly conveys the experience of being outdoors and on the move. He depicts the use of every sense with relish and knowing economy.

....Every now and then, but very rarely, we had a bit of country and soft going to make up for the eternal trot and canter along the roads. At four o'clock there was only the Master and myself. He was in a temper and couldn't bring his mount to canter. I offered him mine, but he had worked himself into such a fury about the hounds running riot that he wouldn't listen to anything likely to bring him into salutary touch with them. At the same time I had a faint suspicion that he had by now reached the stage when he preferred his home to his hounds. He simply told me to get along as well as I could, and send him a wire from Dover if I caught them. Well, by now I was excited. Anything like a record is apt to excite a young man. So, although it was not enjoyable, and although my horse was beginning to fade, I set out on my travels with a rising heart. To be the only one up with the hounds on a historic run, perhaps on the most historic run of all! And then there was the nature of the quarry: the last wolf in England....


12 May 2022


"The Point of Thirty Miles" 

From: The Penguin Book of the British Short Story Volume 2 (2016) 

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