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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 11156

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

N ext day his lordship, who was of the nice old Andlesey school of dressers, was to be seen in regular St. James's Street attire, viz. a bright blue coat with gilt buttons, a light blue scarf, a buff vest with fawn-coloured leathers, and brass heel spurs, capering on a long-tailed silver dun, attended by a diminutive rosy-cheeked boy-known in the stables as Cupid-without-Wings-on a bay.

He was going to see a pup he had at walk at Freestone Banks, of which the reader will remember Dicky had spoken approvingly on a previous day; and the morning being fine and sunny, his lordship took the bridle-road over Ashley Downs, and along the range of undulating Heathmoor Hills, as well for the purpose of enjoying the breeze as of seeing what was passing in the vale below. So he tit-up'd and tit-up'd away, over the sound green sward, on his flowing-tailed steed, his keen far-seeing eye raking all the roads as he went. There seemed to be nothing stirring but heavy crushing waggons, with doctor's gigs and country carts, and here and there a slow-moving steed of the grand order of agriculture.

When, however, he got to the broken stony ground where all the independent hill tracks join in common union to effect the descent into the vale, his hack pricked his ears, and looking a-head to the turn of the lane into which the tracks ultimately resolved themselves, his lordship first saw a fluttering, light-tipped feather, and then the whole figure of a horsewoman, emerge from the concealing hedge as it were on to the open space beyond. Miss, too, had been on the hills, as the Earl might have seen by her horse's imprints, if he had not been too busy looking abroad; and she had just had time to effect the descent as he approached. She was now sauntering along as unconcernedly as if there was nought but herself and her horse in the world. His lordship started when he saw her, and a crimson flush suffused his healthy cheeks as he drew his reins, and felt his hack gently with his spur to induce him to use a little more expedition down the hill. Cupid-without-Wings put on also, to open the rickety gate at the bottom, and his lordship telling him, as he passed through, to "shut it gently," pressed on at a well-in-hand trot, which he could ease down to a walk as he came near the object of his pursuit. Miss's horse heard footsteps coming and looked round, but she pursued the even tenour of her way apparently indifferent to everything-even to a garotting. His lordship, however, was not to be daunted by any such coolness; so stealing quietly alongside of her, he raised his hat respectfully, and asked, in his mildest, blandest tone, if she had "seen a man with a hound in a string?"

"Hound! me! see!" exclaimed Miss de Glancey, with a well feigned start of astonishment. "No, sir, I have not," continued she haughtily, as if recovering herself, and offended by the inquiry.

"I'm afraid my hounds startled your horse the other day," observed his lordship, half inclined to think she didn't know him.

"Oh, no, they didn't," replied she with an upward curl of her pretty lip; "my horse is not so easily startled as that; are you, Cock Robin?" asked she, leaning forward to pat him.

Cock Robin replied by laying back his ears, and taking a snatch at his lordship's hack's silver mane, which afforded him an opportunity of observing that Cock Robin was not very sociable.

"Not with strangers," pouted Miss de Glancey, with a flash of her bright hazel eyes. So saying, she touched her horse lightly with her gold-mounted whip, and in an instant she was careering away, leaving his lordship to the care of the now grinning Cupid-without-Wings.

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And thus the mynx held the sprightly youth in tow, till she nearly drove him mad, not missing any opportunity of meeting him, but never giving him too much of her company, and always pouting at the suggestion of her marrying a "mere fox-hunter." The whole thing, of course, furnished conversation for the gossips, and Mr. Boggledike, as in duty bound, reported what he heard. She puzzled his lordship more than any lady he had ever had to do with, and though he often resolved to strike and be free, he had only to meet her again to go home more subjugated than ever. And so what between Miss de Glancey out of doors and Mrs. Moffatt in, he began to have a very unpleasant time of it. His hat had so long covered his family, that he hardly knew how to set about obtaining his own consent to marry; and yet he felt that he ought to marry if it was only to spite his odious heir-old General Binks; for his lordship called him old though the General was ten years younger than himself; but still he would like to look about him a little longer. What he would now wish to do would be to keep Miss de Glancey in the country, for he felt interested in her, and thought she would be ornamental to the pack. Moreover, he liked all that was handsome, piquant, and gay, and to be joked about the Featherbedfordshire witches when he went to town. So he resolved himself into a committee of ways and means, to consider how the object was to be effected, without surrendering himself. That must be the last resource at all events, thought he.

Now upon his lordship's vast estates was a most unmitigated block-head called Imperial John, from his growing one of those chin appendages. His real name was Hybrid-John Hybrid, of Barley Hill Farm; but his handsome sister, "Imperial Jane," as the wags called her, having attracted his lordship's attention, to the danger as it was thought of ol

d Binks, on leaving her furnishing seminary at Turnham Green, John had been taken by the hand, which caused him to lose his head, and make him set up for what he called "a gent." He built a lodge and a portico to Barley Hill Farm, rough cast, and put a pine roof on to the house, and then advertised in the "Featherbedfordshire Gazette," that letters and papers were for the future to be addressed to John Hybrid, Esquire, Barley Hill Hall, and not Farm as they had hitherto been. And having done so much for the place, John next revised his own person, which, though not unsightly, was coarse, and a long way off looking anything like that of a gentleman. He first started the imperial aforesaid, and not being laughed at as much as he expected for that, he was emboldened to order a red coat for the then approaching season. Mounting the pink is a critical thing, for if a man does not land in the front rank they will not admit him again into the rear, and he remains a sort of red bat for the rest of his life,-neither a gentleman nor a farmer.

John, however, feeling that he had his lordship's countenance, went boldly at it, and the first day of the season before that with which we are dealing, found him with his stomach buttoned consequentially up in a spic and span scarlet with fancy buttons, looking as bumptious as a man with a large balance at his banker's. He sat bolt upright, holding his whip like a field-marshal's baton, on his ill-groomed horse, with a tight-bearing rein chucking the Imperial chin well in the air, and a sort of half-defiant "you'd better not laugh at me" look. And John was always proud to break a fence, or turn a hound, or hold a horse, or do anything his lordship bid him, and became a sort of hunting aide-de-camp to the great man. He was a boasting, bragging fool, always talking about m-o-y hall, and m-o-y lodge, and m-o-y plate in m-o-y drawing-room, for he had not discovered that plate was the appendage of a dining-room, and altogether he was very magnificent.

Imperial Jane kept old Binks on the fret for some time, until another of his lordship's tenants, young Fred Poppyfield, becoming enamoured of her charms, and perhaps wishing to ride in scarlet too, sought her fair hand, whereupon his lordship, acting with his usual munificence, set them up on a farm at so low a rent that it acquired the name of Gift Hall Farm. This arrangement set Barley Hall free so far as the petticoats were concerned, and his lordship little knowing how well she was "up" in the country, thought this great gouk of a farmer, with his plate in his drawingroom, might come over the accomplished Miss de Glancey,-the lady who sneered at himself as "a mere fox-hunter." And the wicked monkey favoured the delusion, which she saw through the moment his lordship brought the pompous egotist up at Newington Gorse, and begged to be allowed to introduce his friend, Mr Hybrid, and she inwardly resolved to give Mr. Hybrid a benefit. Forsaking his lordship therefore entirely, she put forth her most seductive allurements at Imperial John, talked most amazingly to him, rode over whatever he recommended, and seemed quite smitten with him.

And John, who used to boast that somehow the "gals couldn't withstand him," was so satisfied with his success, that he presently blundered out an offer, when Miss de Glancey, having led him out to the extreme length of his tether, gave such a start and shudder of astonishment as Fanny Kemble, or Mrs. Siddons herself, might have envied.

"O, Mr. Hybrid! O, Mr. Hybrid!" gasped she, opening wide her intelligent eyes, as if she had but just discovered his meaning. "O, Mr. Hybrid!" exclaimed she for the third time, "you-you-you," and turning aside as if to conceal her emotion, she buried her face in her laced-fringed, richly-cyphered kerchief.

John, who was rather put out by some women who were watching him from the adjoining turnip-field, construing all this into the usual misfortune of the ladies not being able to withstand him, returned to the charge as soon as he got out of their hearing, when he was suddenly brought up by such a withering "Si-r-r-r! do you mean to insult me?" coupled with a look that nearly started the basket-buttons of his green cut-away, and convinced him that Miss de Glancey, at all events, could withstand him. So his Majesty slunk off, consoling himself with the reflection, that riding-habits covered a multitude of sins, and that if he was not much mistaken, she would want a deal of oil-cake, or cod liver oil, or summut o' that sort, afore she was fit to show.

And the next time Miss met my lord (which, of course, she did by accident), she pouted and frowned at the "mere fox-hunter," and intimated her intention of leaving the country-going home to her mamma, in fact.

It was just at this juncture that Mrs. Pringle's letter arrived, and his lordship's mind being distracted between love on his own account, dread of matrimony, and dislike of old Binks, he caught at what he would in general have stormed at, and wrote to say that he should begin hunting the first Monday in November, and if Mrs. Pringle's son would come down a day or two before, he would "put him up" (which meant mount him), and "do for him" (which meant board and lodge him), all, in fact, that Mrs. Pringle could desire. And his lordship inwardly hoped that Mr. Pringle might be more to Miss de Glancey's liking than his Imperial Highness had proved. At all events, he felt it was but a simple act of justice to himself to try. Let us now return to Curtain Crescent.

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