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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 13413

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

HOW different a place generally proves to what we anticipate, and how difficult it is to recall our expectations after we have once seen it, unless we have made a memorandum beforehand. How different again a place looks in the morning to what we have conjectured over-night. What we have taken for towers perhaps have proved to be trees, and the large lake in front a mere floating mist.

Pangbum Park had that loose rakish air peculiar to rented places, which carry a sort of visible contest between landlord and tenant on the face of everything. A sort of "it's you to do it, not me" look. It showed a sad want of paint and maintenance generally. Sir Moses wasn't the man to do anything that wasn't absolutely necessary, "Dom'd if he was," so inside and outside were pretty much alike.

Our friend Billy Pringle was not a man of much observation in rural matters, though he understood the cut of a coat, the tie of a watch-ribbon cravat, or the fit of a collar thoroughly. We are sorry to say he had not slept very well, having taken too much brandy for conformity's sake, added to which his bed was hard and knotty, and the finely drawn bolsters and pillows all piled together, were hardly sufficient to raise his throbbing temples. As he lay tossing and turning about, thinking now of Clara Yammerton's beautiful blue eyes and exquisitely rounded figure, now of Flora's bright hair, or Harriet's graceful form, the dread Monsieur entered his shabbily furnished bed-room, with, "Sare, I have de pleasure to bring you your pink to-day," at once banishing the beauties and recalling the over-night's conversation, the frightful fences, the yawning ditches, the bottomless brooks, with the unanimous declaration that the man who could ride over Hit-im and Hold-im-shire could ride over any country in the world. And Billy really thought if he could get over the horrors of that day he would retire from the purgatorial pleasures of the chace altogether.

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With this wise resolution he jumped out of bed with the vigorous determination of a man about to take a shower-bath, and proceeded to invest himself in the only mitigating features of the chace, the red coat and leathers. He was hardly well in them before a clamorous bell rang for breakfast, quickly followed by a knock at the door, announcing that it was on the table.

Sir Moses was always in a deuce of a hurry on a hunting morning. Our hero was then presently performing the coming downstairs feat he is represented doing at page 147. and on reaching the lower regions he jumped in with a dish of fried ham which led him straight to the breakfast room.

Here Sir Moses was doing all things at once, reading the "Post," blowing his beak, making the tea, stirring the fire, crumpling his envelopes, cussing the toast, and doming the footman, to which numerous avocations he now added the pleasing one of welcoming our Billv.

"Well done you! First down, I do declare!" exclaimed he, tendering him his left hand, his right one being occupied with his kerchief. "Sit down, and let's be at it," continued he, kicking a rush-bottomed chair under Billy as it were, adding "never wait for any man on a hunting morning." So saying, he proceeded to snatch an egg, in doing which he upset the cream-jug. "Dom the thing," growled he, "what the deuce do they set it there for. D'ye take tea?" now asked he, pointing to the tea-pot with his knife-"or coffee?" continued he, pointing to the coffee-pot with his fork, "or both praps," added he, without waiting for an answer to either question, but pushing both pots towards his guest, following up the advance with ham, eggs, honey, buns, butter, bread, toast, jelly, everything within reach, until he got Billy fairly blocked with good things, when he again set-to on his own account, munching and crunching, and ended by nearly dragging all the contents of the table on to the floor by catching the cloth with his spur as he got up to go away.

He then went doming and scuttling out of the room, charging Billy if he meant to go with the hounds to "look sharp."

During his absence Stephen Booty and Mr. Silverthorn came dawdling into the room, taking it as easy as men generally do who have their horses on and don't care much about hunting.

Indeed Silverthorn never disguised that he would rather have his covers under plough than under gorse, and was always talking about the rent he lost, which he estimated at two pounds an acre, and Sir Moses at ten shillings.

Finding the coast clear, they now rang for fresh ham, fresh eggs, fresh tea, fresh everything, and then took to pumping Billy as to his connection with the house, Sir Moses having made him out over night to be a son of Sir Jonathan Pringle's, with whom he sometimes claimed cousinship, and they wanted to get a peep at the baronetage if they could. In the midst of their subtle examination, Sir Moses came hurrying back, whip in one hand, hat in the other, throwing open the door, with, "Now, are you ready?" to Billy, and "morning, gentlemen," to Booty and Silverthorn.

Then Billy rose with the desperate energy of a man going to a dentist's, and seizing his cap and whip off the entrance table, followed Sir Moses through the intricacies of the back passages leading to the stables, nearly falling over a coal-scuttle as he went. They presently changed the tunnel-like darkness of the passage into the garish light of day, by the opening of the dirty back door.

Descending the little flight of stone steps, they then entered the stable-yard, now enlivened with red coats and the usual concomitants of hounds leaving home. There was then an increased commotion, stable-doors flying open, from which arch-necked horses emerged, pottering and feeling for their legs as they went. Off the cobble-stone pavement, and on to the grass grown soft of the centre, they stood more firm and unflinching. Then Sir Moses took one horse, Tom Findlater another, Harry the first whip a third, Joe the second whip a fourth, while the bine-coated pad groom came trotting round on foot from the back stables, between Sir Moses's second horse and Napoleon the Great.

Billy dived at his horse without look or observation, and the clang of departure being now at its height, the sash of a second-floor window flew up, and a white cotton night-capped head appeared bellowing out, "Y-o-i-cks wind 'im! y-o-i-cks push 'im up!" adding, "Didn't I tell ye it was going to be a hunting morning?"

"Ay, ay, Cuddy you did," replied Sir Moses laughing, muttering as he went: "That's about the extent of your doings."

"He'll be late, won't he?" asked Billy, spurring up alongside of the Baronet.

"Oh, he's onl

y an afternoon sportsman that," replied Sir Moses; adding, "he's greatest after dinner."

"Indeed!" mused Billy, who had looked upon him with the respect due to a regular flyer, a man who could ride over Hit-im and Hold-im-shire itself.

The reverie was presently interrupted by the throwing open of the kennel door, and the clamorous rush of the glad pack to the advancing red coats, making the green sward look quite gay and joyful.

"Gently, there! gently!" cried Tom Findlater, and first and second whips falling into places, Tom gathered his horse together and trotted briskly along the side of the ill-kept carriage road, and on through the dilapidated lodges: a tattered hat protruding through the window of one, and two brown paper panes supplying the place of glass in the other. They then got upon the high road, and the firy edge being taken off both hounds and horses, Tom relaxed into the old post-boy pace, while Sir Moses proceeded to interrogate him as to the state of the kennel generally, how Rachael's feet were, whether Prosperous was any better, if Abelard had found his way home, and when Sultan would be fit to come out again.

They then got upon other topics connected with the chace, such as, who the man was that Harry saw shooting in Tinklerfield cover; if Mrs Swan had said anything more about her confounded poultry; and whether Ned Smith the rat-catcher would take half a sovereign for his terrier or not.

Having at length got all he could out of Tom, Sir Moses then let the hounds flow past him, while he held back for our Billy to come up. They were presently trotting along together a little in the rear of Joe, the second whip.

"I've surely seen that horse before," at length observed Sir Moses, after a prolonged stare at our friend's steed.

"Very likely," replied Billy, "I bought him of the Major."

"The deuce you did!" exclaimed Sir Moses, "then that's the horse young Tabberton had."

"What, you know him, do you?" asked Billy.

"Know him! I should think so," rejoined Moses; "everybody knows him."

"Indeed!" observed Billy, wondering whether for good or evil.

"I dare say, now, the Major would make you give thirty, or five-and-thirty pounds for that horse," observed Sir Moses, after another good stare.

"Far more!" replied Billy, gaily, who was rather proud of having given a hundred guineas.

"Far more!" exclaimed Sir Moses with energy; "far more! Ah!" added he, with a significant shake of the head, "he's an excellent man, the Major-an excellent man,-but a leetle too keen in the matter of horses."

Just at this critical moment Tommy Heslop of Hawthorndean, who had been holding back in Crow-Tree Lane to let the hounds pass, now emerged from his halting-place with a "Good morning, Sir Moses, here's a fine hunting morning?"

"Good morning, Tommy, good morning," replied Sir Moses, extending his right hand; for Tommy was a five-and-twenty pounder besides giving a cover, and of course was deserving of every encouragement.

The salute over, Sir Moses then introduced our friend Billy,-"Mr. Pringle, a Featherbedfordshire gentleman, Mr. Heslop," which immediately excited Tommy's curiosity-not to say jealousy-for the "Billet" was very "contagious," for several of the Peer's men, who always brought their best horses, and did as much mischief as they could, and after ever so good a run, declared it was nothing to talk of. Tommy thought Billy's horse would not take much cutting down, whatever the rider might do. Indeed, the good steed looked anything but formidable, showing that a bad stable, though "only for one night," may have a considerable effect upon a horse. His coat was dull and henfeathered; his eye was watery, and after several premonitory sneezes, he at length mastered a cough. Even Billy thought he felt rather less of a horse under him than he liked. Still he didn't think much of a cough. "Only a slight cold," as a young lady says when she wants to go to a ball.

Three horsemen in front, two black coats and a red, and two reds joining the turnpike from the Witch berry road, increased the cavalcade and exercised Sir Moses' ingenuity in appropriating backs and boots and horses. "That's Simon Smith," said he to himself, eyeing a pair of desperately black tops dangling below a very plumb-coloured, long-backed, short-lapped jacket. "Ah I and Tristram Wood," added he, now recognising his companion. He then drew gradually upon them and returned their salutes with an extended wave of the hand that didn't look at all like money. Sir Moses then commenced speculating on the foremost group. There was Peter Linch and Charley Drew; but who was the fellow in black? He couldn't make out.

"Who's the man in black, Tommy?" at length asked he of Tommy Heslop.

"Don't know," replied Tommy, after scanning the stranger attentively.

"It can't be that nasty young Rowley Abingdon; and yet I believe it is," continued Sir Moses, eyeing him attentively, and seeing that he did not belong to the red couple, who evidently kept aloof from him. "It is that nasty young Abingdon," added he. "Wonder at his impittance in coming out with me. It's only the other day that ugly old Owl of a father of his killed me young Cherisher, the best hound in my pack," whereupon the Baronet began grinding his teeth, and brewing a little politeness wherewith to bespatter the young Owl as he passed. The foremost horses hanging back to let their friends the hounds overtake them, Sir Moses was presently alongside the black coat, and finding he was right in his conjecture as to who it contained, he returned the youth's awkward salute with, "Well, my man, how d'ye do? hope you're well. How's your father? hope he's well," adding, "dom 'im, he should be hung, and you may tell 'im I said so." Sir Closes then felt his horse gently with his heel, and trotted on to salute the red couple. And thus he passed from singles to doubles, and from doubles to triples, and from triples to quartets, and back to singles again, including the untold occupants of various vehicles, until the ninth milestone on the Bushmead road, announced their approach to the Crooked Billet. Tom Findlater then pulled up from the postboy jog into a wallk, at which pace he turned into the little green field on the left of the blue and gold swinging sign. Here he was received by the earthstopper, the antediluvian ostler, and other great officers of state. But for Sir Moses' presence the question would then have been "What will you have to drink?" That however being interdicted, they raised a discussion about the weather, one insisting that it was going to be a frost; another, that it was going to be nothing of the sort.

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