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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 15512

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

AMONG Mrs. Pringle's many visitors was that gallant old philanthropist, the well-known Earl of Ladythorne, of Tantivy Castle, Featherbedfordshire and Belvedere House, London.

His lordship had known her at Lady Delacey's, and Mrs. Pringle still wore and prized a ruby ring he slipped upon her finger as he met her (accidentally of course) in the passage early one morning as he was going to hunt. His saddle-horses might often be seen of a summer afternoon, tossing their heads up and down Curtain Crescent, to the amusement of the inhabitants of that locality. His lordship indeed was a well-known general patron of all that was fair and fine and handsome in creation, fine women, fine houses, fine horses, fine hounds, fine pictures, fine statues, fine every thing. No pretty woman either in town or country ever wanted a friend if he was aware of it.

He had long hunted Featherbedfordshire in a style of great magnificence, and though latterly his energies had perhaps been as much devoted to the pursuit of the fair as the fox, yet, as he found the two worked well together, he kept up the hunting establishment with all the splendour of his youth. Not that he was old: as he would say, "far from it!" Indeed, to walk behind him down St.James's Street (he does not go quite so well up), his easy jaunty air, tall graceful figure, and elasticity of step, might make him pass for a man in that most uncertain period of existence the "prime of life," and if uncivil, unfriendly, inexorable time has whitened his pow, his lordship carries it off with the aid of gay costume and colour. He had a great reputation among the ladies, and though they all laughed and shook their heads when his name was mentioned, from the pretty simpering Mrs. Ringdove, of Lime-Tree Grove, who said he was a "naughty man," down to the buxom chambermaid of the Rose and Crown, who giggled and called him a "gay old gentleman," they all felt pleased and flattered by his attentions.

Hunting a country undoubtedly gives gay old gentlemen great opportunities, for, under pretence of finding a fox, they may rummage any where from the garret to the cellar.

In this interesting pursuit, his lordship was ably assisted by his huntsman, Dicky Boggledike. Better huntsman there might be than Dicky, but none so eminently qualified for the double pursuit of the fox and the fine. He had a great deal of tact and manner, and looked and was essentially a nobleman's servant. He didn't come blurting open-mouthed with "I've seen a davilish," for such was his dialect, "I've seen a davilish fine oss, my lord," or "They say Mrs. Candle's cow has gained another prize," but he would take an opportunity of introducing the subject neatly and delicately, through the medium of some allusion to the country in which they were to be found, some cover wanting cutting, some poacher wanting trouncing, or some puppy out at walk, so that if his lordship didn't seem to come into the humour of the thing, Dicky could whip off to the other scent as if he had nothing else in his mind. It was seldom, however, that his lordship was not inclined to profit by Dicky's experience, for he had great sources of information, and was very careful in his statements. His lordship and Dicky had now hunted Featherbedfordshire together for nearly forty years, and though they might not be so Ex. gra., As we say in the classics. "A Fox Run into a Lady's Dressing-Room.-The Heythrop hounds met at Ranger's Lodge, within about a mile of Charlbury, found in Hazell Wood, and went away through Great Cran well, crossing the park of Cornbury, on by the old kennel to Live Oak, taking the side hill, leaving Leafield (so celebrated for clay-pipes) to his left, crossed the bottom by Five Ashes; then turned to the right, through King's Wood. Smallstones, Knighton Copse, over the plain to Ranger's Lodge, with the hounds close at his brush, where they left him in a mysterious manner. After the lapse of a little time he was discovered by a maid- servant in the ladies' dressing-room, from which he immediately bolted on the appearance of the petticoats, without doing the slightest damage to person or property."-Bell's Life. What a gentlemanly fox! punctual in the mornings, or so late in leaving off in the evenings, as they were; and though his lordship might come to the meet in his carriage and four with the reigning favourite by his side, instead of on his neat cover hack, and though Dicky did dance longer at his fences than he used, still there was no diminution in the scale of the establishment, or in Dicky's influence throughout the country. Indeed, it would rather seem as if the now well-matured hunt ran to show instead of sport, for each succeeding year brought out either another second horseman (though neither his lordship nor Dicky ever tired one), or another man in a scarlet and cap, or established another Rose and Crown, whereat his lordship kept dry things to change in case he got wet. He was uncommonly kind to himself, and hated his heir with an intensity of hatred which was at once the best chance for longevity and for sustaining the oft-disappointed ambitious hopes of the fair.

Now Mrs. Pringle had always had a very laudable admiration of fox-hunters. She thought the best introduction for a young man of fortune was at the cover side, and though Jerry Pringle (who looked upon them as synonymous) had always denounced "gamblin' and huntin'" as the two greatest vices of the day, she could never come in to that opinion, as far as hunting was concerned.

She now thought if she could get Billy launched under the auspices of that distinguished sportsman, the Earl of Ladythorne, it might be the means of reclaiming him from Butter Fingers, and getting him on in society, for she well knew how being seen at one good place led to another, just as the umbrella-keepers at the Royal Academy try to lead people into giving them something in contravention of the rule above their heads, by jingling a few half-pence before their faces. Moreover, Billy had shown an inclination for equitation-by nearly galloping several of Mr. Spavin, the neighbouring livery-stable-keeper's horses' tails off; and Mrs. Pringle's knowledge of hunting not being equal to her appreciation of the sport, she thought that a master of hounds found all the gentlemen who joined his hunt in horses, just as a shooter finds them in dogs or guns, so that the thing would be managed immediately.

Indeed, like many ladies, she had rather a confused idea of the whole thing, not knowing but that one horse would hunt every day in the week; or that there was any distinction of horses, further than the purposes to which they were applied. Hunters and racehorses she had no doubt were the same animals, working their ways honestly from year's end to year's end, or at most with only the sort of difference between them that there is between a milliner and a dressmaker. Be that as it may, however, all things considered, Mrs. Pringle determined to test the sincerity of her friend the Earl of Ladythorne: and to that end wrote him a gossiping sort of letter, asking, in the postscript, when his dogs would be going out, as her son was at home and would "so like" to see them.

Although we introduced Lord Ladythorne as a philanthropist, his philanthropy, we should add, was rather lop-sided, being chiefly confined to the fair. Indeed, he could better stand a dozen women than one man. He had no taste or sympathy, for the hirsute tribe, hence his fields were very select, being chiefly composed of his dependents and people whom he could d-- and do what he liked with. Though the Crumpletin Railway cut right through his country, making it "varry contagious," as Harry Swan, his first whip, sa

id, for sundry large towns, the sporting inhabitants thereof preferred the money-griping propensities of a certain Baronet-Sir Moses Mainchance-whose acquaintance the reader will presently make, to the scot-free sport with the frigid civilities of the noble Earl. Under ordinary circumstances, therefore, Mrs. Pringle had made rather an unfortunate selection for her son's début, but it so happened that her letter found the Earl in anything but his usual frame of mind.

He was suffering most acutely for the hundred and twentieth time or so from one of Cupid's shafts, and that too levelled by a hand against whose attacks he had always hitherto been thought impervious. This wound had been inflicted by the well-known-perhaps to some of our readers too well-known-equestrian coquette, Miss de Glancey of Half-the-watering-places-in-England-and-some-on-the-Continent, whose many conquests had caused her to be regarded as almost irresistible, and induced, it was said-with what degree of truth we know not-a party of England's enterprising sons to fit her out for an expedition against the gallant Earl of Ladythorne under the Limited Liability Act.

Now, none but a most accomplished, self-sufficient coquette, such as Miss de Glancey undoubtedly was, would have undertaken such an enterprise, for it was in direct contravention of two of the noble Earl's leading principles, namely, that of liking large ladies (fine, coarse women, as the slim ones call them.) and of disliking foxhunting ones, the sofa and not the saddle being, as he always said, the proper place for the ladies; but Miss de Glancey prided herself upon her power of subjugating the tyrant man, and gladly undertook to couch the lance of blandishment against the hitherto impracticable nobleman. In order, however, to understand the exact position of parties, perhaps the reader will allow us to show how his lordship came to be seized with his present attack, and also how he treated it.

Well, the ash was yellow, the beech was brown, and the oak ginger coloured, and the indomitable youth was again in cub-hunting costume-a white beaver hat, a green cut-away, a buff vest, with white cords and caps, attended by Boggledike and his whips in hats, and their last season's pinks or purples, disturbing the numerous litters of cubs with which the country abounded, when, after a musical twenty minutes with a kill in Allonby Wood, his lordship joined horses with Dicky, to discuss the merits of the performance, as they rode home together.

"Yas, my lord, yas," replied Dicky, sawing away at his hat, in reply to his lordship's observation that they ran uncommonly well; "yas, my lord, they did. I don't know that I can ever remamber bein' better pleased with an entry than I am with this year's. I really think in a few more seasons we shall get 'em as near parfection as possible. Did your lordship notish that Barbara betch, how she took to runnin' to-day? The first time she has left my oss's eels. Her mother, old Blossom, was jest the same. Never left my oss's eels the first season, and everybody said she was fit for nothin' but the halter; but my!" continued he, shaking his head, "what a rare betch she did become."

"She did that," replied his lordship, smiling at Dicky's pronunciation.

"And that reminds me," continued Dicky, emboldened by what he thought the encouragement, "I was down at Freestone Banks yasterday, where Barbara was walked, a seein' a pup I have there now, and I think I seed the very neatest lady's pad I ever set eyes on!"-Dicky's light-blue eyes settling on his lordship's eagle ones as he spoke. "Aye! who's was that?" asked the gay old gentleman, catching at the word "lady."

"Why, they say she belongs to a young lady from the south-a Miss Dedancey, I think they call her," with the aptitude people have for mistaking proper names.

"Dedancey," repeated his lordship, "Dedancey; never heard of the name before-what's set her here?"

"She's styin' at Mrs. Roseworth's, at Lanecroft House, but her osses stand at the Spread Heagle, at Bush Dill-Old Sam 'Utchison's, you know."

Indomitable Youth. Horses! what, has she more than one?

Dicky. Two, a bay and a gray,-it's the bay that takes my fancy most:-the neatest stepper, with the lightest month, and fairest, freeest, truest action I ever seed.

Indomitable Youth. What's she going to do with them?

Dicky. Ride them, ride them! They say she's the finest oss-woman that ever was seen.

"In-deed," mused his lordship, thinking over the pros and cons of female equestrianism,-the disagreeableness of being beat by them,-the disagreeableness of having to leave them in the lurch,-the disagreeableness of seeing them floored,-the disagreeableness of seeing them all running down with perspiration;-the result being that his lordship adhered to his established opinion that women have no business out hunting.

Dicky knew his lordship's sentiments, and did not press the matter, but drew his horse a little to the rear, thinking it fortunate that all men are not of the same way of thinking. Thus they rode on for some distance in silence, broken only by the occasional flopping and chiding of Harry Swan or his brother whip of some loitering or refractory hound. His lordship had a great opinion of Dicky's judgment, and though they might not always agree in their views, he never damped Dicky's ardour by openly differing with him. He thought by Dicky's way of mentioning the lady that he had a good opinion of her, and, barring the riding, his lordship saw no reason why he should not have a good opinion of her too. Taking advantage of the Linton side-bar now bringing them upon the Somerton-Longville road, he reined in his horse a little so as to let Dicky come alongside of him again.

"What is this young lady like?" asked the indomitable youth, as soon as they got their horses to step pleasantly together again.

"Well now," replied Dicky, screwing up his mouth, with an apologetic touch of his hat, knowing that that was his weak point, "well now, I don't mean to say that she's zactly-no, not zactly, your lordship's model,-not a large full-bodied woman like Mrs. Blissland or Miss Poach, but an elegant, very elegant, well-set-up young lady, with a high-bred hair about her that one seldom sees in the country, for though we breeds our women very beautiful-uncommon 'andsome, I may say-we don't polish them hup to that fine degree of parfection that they do in the towns, and even if we did they would most likely spoil the 'ole thing by some untoward unsightly dress, jest as a country servant spoils a London livery by a coloured tie, or goin' about with a great shock head of 'air, or some such disfigurement; but this young lady, to my mind, is a perfect pictor, self, oss, and seat,-all as neat and perfect as can be, and nothing that one could either halter or amend. She is what, savin' your lordship's presence, I might call the 'pink of fashion and the mould of form!'-Dicky sawing away at his hat as he spoke.

"Tall, slim, and genteel, I suppose," observed his lordship drily.

"Jest so," assented Dicky, with a chuck of the chin, making a clean breast of it, "jest so," adding, "at least as far as one can judge of her in her 'abit, you know."

"Thought so," muttered his lordship.

And having now gained one of the doors in the wall, they cut across the deer-studded park, and were presently back at the Castle. And his lordship ate his dinner, and quaffed his sweet and dry and twenty-five Lafitte without ever thinking about either the horse, or the lady, or the habit, or anything connected with the foregoing conversation, while the reigning favourite, Mrs. Moffatt, appeared just as handsome as could be in his eyes.

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