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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 21117

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

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THE day was quite at its best, when the party-coloured bees emerged from the sweets of Tantivy Castle, to taint the pure atmosphere with their nasty cigars, and air themselves on the terrace, letting the unadmitted world below see on what excellent terms they were with an Earl. Then Imperial John upbraided Major. Yammerton for taking the words out of his mouth, as it were, and the cockey Major turned up his nose at the "farmer fellow" for presuming to lector him. Then the emboldened ladies strolled through the picture-galleries and reception-rooms, regardless of Mrs. Moffatt or any one else, wondering where this door led to and where that. The hounds had been basking and loitering on the lawn for some time, undergoing the inspection and criticisms of the non-hunting portion of the establishment, the gardeners, the gamekeepers, the coachmen, the helpers, the housemaids, and so on. They all pronounced them as perfect as could be, and Mr. Hoggledike received their compliments with becoming satisfaction, saying, with a chuck of his chin, "Yas, Yas, I think they're about as good as can be! Parfaction. I may say!"

Having abused the cigars, we hope our fair friends will now excuse us for saying that we know of few less agreeable scenes than a show meet with fox-hounds. The whole thing is opposed to the wild nature of hunting. Some people can eat at any time, but to a well-regulated appetite, having to undergo even the semblance of an additional meal is inconvenient; while to have to take a bona fide dinner in the morning, soup, toast, speeches and all, is perfectly suicidal of pleasure. On this occasion, the wine-flushed guests seemed fitted for Cremorne or Foxhall, as they used to pronounce Vauxhall, than for fox-hunting. Indeed, the cigar gentry swaggered about with a very rakish, Regent Street air. His lordship alone seemed impressed with the importance of the occasion; but his anxiety arose from indecision, caused by the Binks' dream and letter, and fear lest the Yammerton girls might spoil Billy for Miss de Glancey, should his lordship adhere to his intention of introducing them to each other. Then he began to fidget lest he might be late at the appointed place, and Miss de Glancey go home, and so frustrate either design.

"To horse! to horse!" therefore exclaimed he, now hurrying through the crowd, lowering his Imperial Jane-made hat-string, and drawing on his Moffatt-knit mits. "To horse! to horse!" repeated he, flourishing his cane hunting-whip, causing a commotion among the outer circle of grooms. His magnificent black horse, Valiant (the one he had seen old Binks bucketing), faultless in shape, faultless in condition, faultless every way, stepped proudly aside, and Cupid-without-Wings dropping himself off by the neck, Mr. Beanley, the stud groom, swept the coronetted rug over the horse's bang tail, as the superb and sensible animal stepped forward to receive his rider, as the Earl came up. With a jaunty air, the gay old gentleman vaulted lightly into the saddle, saying as he drew the thin rein, and felt the horse gently with his left leg, "Now get Mr. Pringle his horse." His lordship then passed on a few paces to receive the sky-scraping salutes of the servants, and at a jerk of his head the cavalcade was in motion.

Our friend Billy then became the object of attention. The dismounted Cupid dived into the thick of the led horses to seek his, while Mr. Beanley went respectfully up to him, and with a touch of his flat-brimmed hat, intimated that "his oss was at 'and."

"What sort of an animal is it?" asked the somewhat misgiving Billy, now bowing his adieus to the pretty Misses Yammerton.

"A very nice oss, sir," replied Mr. Beanley, with another touch of hat; "yes, sir, a very nice oss-a perfect 'unter-nothin' to do but sit still, and give 'im 'is 'ead, he'll take far better care o' you than you can of 'im." So saying, Mr. Beanley led the way to a very sedate-looking, thorough-bred bay, with a flat flapped saddle, and a splint boot on his near foreleg, but in other respects quite unobjectionable. He was one of Swan's stud, but Mr. Beanley, understanding from the under butler, who had it from Jack Rogers-we beg his pardon,-Monsieur Rougier himself, that Mr. Pringle was likely to be a good tip, he had drawn it for him. The stirrups, for a wonder, being the right length, Billy was presently astride, and in pursuit of his now progressing lordship, the gaping crowd making way for the young lord as they supposed him to be-for people are all lords when they visit at lords.

Pop, pop, bob, bob, went the black caps of the men in advance, indicating the whereabouts of the hounds, while his lordship ambled over the green turf on the right, surrounded by the usual high-pressure toadies. Thus the cavalcade passed through the large wood-studded, deer-scattered park, rousing the nearer herds from their lairs, frightening the silver-tails into their holes, and causing the conceited hares to scuttle away for the fern-browned, undulating hills, as if they had the vanity to suppose that this goodly array would condescend to have anything to do with them. Silly things! Peppercorn, the keeper, had a much readier way of settling their business. The field then crossed the long stretch of smooth, ornamental water, by the old gothic-arched bridge, and passed through the beautiful iron gates of the south lodge, now wheeled back by grey-headed porters, in cerulean-blue plush coats, and broad, gold-laced hats. Meanwhile, the whereabouts of the accustomed hunt was indicated by a lengthening line of pedestrians and small cavalry, toiling across the park by Duntler the watcher's cottage and the deer sheds, to the door in the wall at the bottom of Crow-tree hill, from whence a bird's-eye view of the surrounding country is obtained. The piece had been enacted so often, the same company, the same day, the same hour, the same find, the same finish, that one might almost imagine it was the same fox On this particular occasion, however, as if out of pure contradiction, Master Reynard, by a series of successful manoeuvres, lying down, running a wall, popping backwards and forwards between Ashley quarries and Warmley Gorse, varied by an occasional trip to Crow-tree hill, completely baffled Mr. Boggledike, so that it was afternoon before he brought his morning fox to hand, to the great discomfort of the Earl, who had twice or thrice signaled Swan to "who hoop" him to ground, when the tiresome animal popped up in the midst of the pack. At length Boggledike mastered him; and after proclaiming him a "cowardly, short-running dastardly traitor, no better nor a 'are," he chucked him scornfully to the hounds, decorating Master Pillerton's pony with the brush, while Swan distributed the pads among others of the rising generation.

The last act of the "show meet" being thus concluded, Mr. Boggledike and his men quickly collected their hounds, and set off in search of fresh fields and pastures new.

The Earl, having disposed of his show-meet fox-a bagman, of course-now set up his business-back, and getting alongside of Mr. Boggledike, led the pack at as good a trot as the hounds and the state of the line would allow. The newly laid whinstone of the Brittleworth road rather impeded their progress at first; but this inconvenience was soon overcome by the road becoming less parsimonious in width, extending at length to a grass siding, along which his lordship ambled at a toe in the stirrup trot, his eagle-eye raking every bend and curve, his mind distracted with visions of Binks, and anxiety for the future.

He couldn't get over the dream, and the letter had anything but cheered him.

"Very odd," said he to himself, "very odd," as nothing but drab-coated farmers and dark-coated grooms lounging leisurely "on," with here and there a loitering pedestrian, broke the monotony of the scene. "Hope she's not tired, and gone home," thought he, looking now at his watch, and now back into the crowd, to see where he had Billy Pringle. There was Billy riding alongside of Major Yammerton's old flea-bitten grey, whose rider was impressing Billy with a sense of his consequence, and the excellence of his "haryers," paving the way for an invitation to Yammerton Grange. "D-a-ash that Yammerton," growled his lordship, thinking how he was spoiling sport at both ends; at the Castle by his uninvited eloquence, and now by his fastening on to the only man in the field he didn't want him to get acquainted with. And his lordship inwardly resolved that he would make Easylease a magistrate before he would make the Major one. So settling matters in his own mind, he gave the gallant Valiant a gentle tap on the shoulder with his whip, and shot a few paces ahead of Dicky, telling the whips to keep the crowd off the hounds-meaning off himself. Thus he ambled on through the quiet little village of Strotherdale, whose inhabitants all rushed out to see the hounds pass, and after tantalising poor Jonathan Gape, the turnpike-gate man, at the far end, who thought he was going to get a grand haul, he turned short to the left down the tortuous green lane leading to Quarrington Gorse.

"There's a footmark," said his lordship to himself, looking down at the now closely eaten sward. "Ah! and there's a hat and feather," added he as a sudden turn of the lane afforded a passing glimpse. Thus inspirited, he mended his pace a little, and was presently in sight of the wearer. There was the bay, and there was the wide-awake, and there was the green trimming, and there was the feather; but somehow, as he got nearer, they all seemed to have lost caste. The slender waist and graceful upright seat had degenerated into a fuller form and lazy slouch; the habit didn't look like her habit, nor the bay horse like her bay horse, and as he got within speaking distance, the healthy, full-blown face of Miss Winkworth smiled upon him instead of the mild, placid features of the elegant de Glancey.

"Ah, my dear Miss Winkworth!" exclaimed his half-disgusted, half-delighted lordship, raising his hat, and then extending the right-hand of fellowship; "Ah, my dear Miss Winkworth, I'm charmed to see you" (inwardly wondering what business women had out hunting). "I hope you are all well at home," continued he (most devoutly wishing she was there); and without waiting for an answer, he commenced a furious assault upon Benedict, who had taken a fancy to follow him, a performance that enabled General Boggledike to come up with that

army of relief, the pack, and engulf the lady in the sea of horsemen in the rear.

"If that had been her," said his lordship to himself, "old Binks would have had a better chance;" and he thought what an odious thing a bad copy was.

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Another bend of the land and another glimpse, presently put all matters right. The real feather now fluttered before him. There was the graceful, upright seat, the elegant air, the well-groomed horse, the tout ensemble being heightened, if possible, by the recent contrast with the coarse, country attired Miss Winkworth.

The Earl again trotted gently on, raising his hat most deferentially as he came along side of her, as usual, unaverted head.

"Good morning, my Lord!" exclaimed she gaily, as if agreeably surprised, tendering for the first time her pretty, little, primrose-coloured kid-gloved hand, looking as though she would condescend to notice a "mere fox-hunter."

The gay old gentleman pressed it with becoming fervour, thinking he never saw her looking so well before.

They then struck up a light rapid conversation.

Miss perhaps never did look brighter or more radiant, and as his lordship rode by her side, he really thought if he could make up his mind to surrender his freedom to any woman, it would be to her. There was a something about her that he could not describe, but still a something that was essentially different to all his other flames.

He never could bear a riding-woman before, but now he felt quite proud to have such an elegant, piquant attendant on his pack.-Should like, at all events, to keep her in the country, and enjoy her society.-Would like to add her to the collection of Featherbedfordshire witches of which his friends joked him in town.-"Might have done worse than marry Imperial John," thought his lordship. John mightn't be quite her match in point of manner, but she would soon have polished him up, and John must be doing uncommonly well as times go-cattle and corn both selling prodigiously high, and John with his farm at a very low rent. And the thought of John and his beef brought our friend Billy to the Earl's mind, and after a sort of random compliment between Miss de Glancey and her horse, he exclaimed, "By the way! I've got a young friend out I wish to introduce to you," so rising in his saddle and looking back into the crowd he hallooed out, "Pringle!" a name that was instantly caught up by the quick-eared Dicky, a "Mister" tacked to it and passed backward to Speed, who gave it to a groom; and Billy was presently seen boring his way through the opening crowd, just as a shepherd's dog bores its way through a flock of sheep.

"Pringle," said his lordship, as the approach of Billy's horse caused Valiant to lay back his ears, "Pringle! I want to introduce you to Miss de Glancey, Miss de Glancey give me leave to introduce my friend Mr. Pringle," continued he, adding soto voce, as if for Miss de Glancey's ear alone, "young man of very good family and fortune-richest Commoner, in England, they say." But before his lordship got to the richest Commoner part of his speech, a dark frown of displeasure had overcast the sweet smile of those usually tranquil features, which luckily, however, was not seen by Billy; and before he got his cap restored to his head after a sky scraping salute, Miss de Glancey had resumed her wonted complacency,-inwardly resolving to extinguish the "richest Commoner," just as she had done his lordship's other "friend Mr. Hybrid." Discarding the Earl, therefore, she now opened a most voluble battering on our good-looking Billy who, to do him justice, maintained his part so well, that a lady with less ambitious views might have been very well satisfied to be Mrs. Pringle. Indeed, when his lordship looked at the two chattering and ogling and simpering together, and thought of that abominable old Binks and the drag, and the letter from the Boodleite, his heart rather smote him for what he had done; for young and fresh as he then felt himself, he knew that age would infallibly creep upon him at last, just as he saw it creeping upon each particular friend when he went to town, and he questioned that he should ever find any lady so eminently qualified to do the double duty of gracing his coronet and disappointing the General. Not but that the same thought had obtruded itself with regard to other ladies; but he now saw that he had been mistaken with respect to all of them, and that this was the real, genuine, no mistake, "right one." Moreover, Miss de Glancey was the only lady who according to his idea had not made up to him-rather snubbed him in fact. Mistaken nobleman! There are, many ways of making up to a man. But as with many, so with his lordship, the last run was always the finest, and the last lady always the fairest-the most engaging. With distracting considerations such as these, and the advantage of seeing Miss de Glancey play the artillery of her arts upon our young friend, they reached the large old pasture on the high side of Quarrington Gorse, a cover of some four acres in extent, lying along a gently sloping bank, with cross rides cut down to the brook. Mr. Boggledike pulled up near the rubbing-post in the centre of the field, to give his hounds a roll, while the second-horse gentlemen got their nags, and the new comers exchanged their hacks for their hunters. Judging by the shaking of hands, the exclamations of "halloo! old boy is that you?"

"I say! where are you from?" and similar inquiries, there were a good many of the latter-some who never went to the Castle, some who thought it too far, some who thought it poor fun. Altogether, when the field got scattered over the pasture, as a shop-keeper scatters his change on the counter, or as an old stage coachman used to scatter his passengers on the road with an upset, there might be fifty or sixty horsemen, assmen, and gigmen.

Most conspicuous was his lordship's old eye-sore, Hicks, the flying hatter of Hinton (Sir Moses Mainchance's "best man"), who seemed to think it incumbent upon him to kill his lordship a hound every year by his reckless riding, and who now came out in mufti, a hunting-cap, a Napoleon-grey tweed jacket, loose white cords, with tight drab leggings, and spurs on his shoes, as if his lordship's hounds were not worth the green cut-a-way and brown boots he sported with Sir Moses. He now gave his cap-peak a sort of rude rap with his fore-finger, as his lordship came up, as much as to say, "I don't know whether I'll speak to you or not," and then ran his great raking chestnut into the crowd to get at his old opponent Gameboy Green, who generally rode for the credit of the Tantivy hunt. As these sort of cattle always hunt in couples, Hicks is followed by his shadow, Tom Snowdon, the draper-or the Damper, as he is generally called, from his unhappy propensity of taking a gloomy view of everything.

To the right are a knot of half-horse, half-pony mounted Squireen-looking gentlemen, with clay pipes in their mouths, whose myrtle-green coats, baggy cords, and ill-cleaned tops, denote as belonging to the Major's "haryers." And mark how the little, pompons man wheels before them, in order that Pringle may see the reverence they pay to his red coat. He raises his punt hat with all the dignity of the immortal Simpson of Vauxhall memory, and passes on in search of further compliments.

His lordship has now settled himself into the "Wilkinson and Kidd" of Rob Roy, a bay horse of equal beauty with Valiant, but better adapted to the country into which they are now going, Imperial John has drawn his girths with his teeth, D'Orsay Davis has let down his hat-string, Mr. John Easylease has tightened his curb, Mr. Section drawn on his gloves, the Damper finished his cigar, and all things are approximating a start.

"Elope, lads! Elope!" cries Dicky Boggledike to his hounds, whistling and waving them together, and in an instant the rollers and wide-spreaders are frolicking and chiding under his horse's nose. "G-e-e-ntly, lads! g-e-ently!" adds he, looking the more boisterous ones reprovingly in the face-"gently lads, gently," repeats he, "or you'll be rousin' the gem'lman i' the gos." This movement of Dicky and the hounds has the effect of concentrating the field, all except our fair friend and Billy, who are still in the full cry of conversation, Miss putting forth her best allurements the sooner to bring Billy to book.

At a chuck of his lordship's chin, Dicky turns his horse towards the gorse, just as Billy, in reply to Miss de Glancey's question, if he is fond of hunting, declares, as many a youth has done who hates it, that he "doats upon it!"

A whistle, a waive, and a cheer, and the hounds are away. They charge the hedge with a crash, and drive into the gorse as if each hound had a bet that he would find the fox himself.

Mr. Boggledike being now free of his pack, avails himself of this moment of ease, to exhibit his neat, newly clad person of which he is not a little proud, by riding along the pedestrian-lined hedge, and requesting that "you fut people," as he calls them, "will have the goodness not to 'alloa, but to 'old up your 'ats if you view the fox;" and having delivered his charge in three several places, he turns into the cover by the little white bridle-gate in the middle, which Cupid-without-Wings is now holding open, and who touches his hat as Dicky passes.

The scene is most exciting. The natural inclination of the land affords every one a full view of almost every part of the sloping, southerly-lying gorse, while a bright sun, with a clear, rarified atmosphere, lights up the landscape, making the distant fences look like nothing. Weak must be the nerves that would hesitate to ride over them as they now appear.

Delusive view! Between the gorse and yonder fir-clad hills are two bottomless brooks, and ere the dashing rider reaches Fairbank Farm, whose tall chimney stands in bold relief against the clear, blue sky, lies a tract of country whose flat surface requires gulph-like drains to carry off the surplus water that rushes down from the higher grounds. To the right, though the country looks rougher, it is in reality easier, but foxes seem to know it, and seldom take that line; while to the left is a strongly-fenced country, fairish for hounds, but very difficult for horses, inasmuch as the vales are both narrow and deep. But let us find our fox and see what we can do among them. And as we are in for a burst, let us do the grand and have a fresh horse.

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