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   Chapter 35 THE MEET.

Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 16288

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


THE Crooked Billet Hotel and Posting house, on the Bushin ead road had been severed from society by the Crumpletin Railway. It had indeed been cut off in the prime of life: for Joe Cherriper, the velvet-collared doeskin-gloved Jehu of the fast Regulator Coach, had backed his opinion of the preference of the public for horse transit over steam, by laying out several hundred pounds of his accumulated fees upon the premises, just as the surveyors were setting out the line.

"A rally might be andy enough for goods and eavy marchandise," Joe said; "but as to gents ever travellin' by sich contraband means, that was utterly and entirely out of the question. Never would appen so long as there was a well-appointed coach like the Regulator to be ad." So Joe laid on the green paint and the white paint, and furbished up the sign until it glittered resplendent in the rays of the mid-day sun. But greater prophets than Joe have been mistaken.

One fine summer's afternoon a snorting steam-engine came puffing and panting through the country upon a private road of its own, drawing after it the accumulated rank, beauty, and fashion of a wide district to open the railway, which presently sucked up all the trade and traffic of the country. The Crooked Billet fell from a first-class way-side house at which eight coaches changed horses twice a-day, into a very seedy unfrequented place-a very different one to what it was when our hero's mother, then Miss Willing, changed horses on travelling up in the Old True Blue Independent, on the auspicious day that she captured Mr. Pringle. Still it was visited with occasional glimpses of its former greatness in the way of the meets of the hounds, when the stables were filled, and the long-deserted rooms rang with the revelry of visitors. This was its first gala-day of the season, and several of the Feather-bedfordshire gentlemen availed themselves of the fineness of the weather to see Sir Moses' hounds, and try whether they, too, could ride over Hit-im and Hold-im shire.

The hounds had scarcely had their roll on the greensward, and old black Challenger proclaimed their arrival with his usual deep-toned vehemence, ere all the converging roads and lanes began pouring in their tributaries, and the space before the bay-windowed red brick-built "Billet" was soon blocked with gentlemen on horseback, gentlemen in Malvern dog-carts, gentlemen in Newport Pagnells, gentlemen in Croydon clothesbaskets, some divesting themselves of their wraps, some stretching themselves after their drive, some calling for brandy, some for baccy, some for both brandy and baccy.

Then followed the usual inquiries, "Is Dobbinson coming?"

"Where's the Damper?"

"Has anybody seen anything of Gameboy Green?" Next, the heavily laden family vehicles began to arrive, containing old fat paterfamilias in the red coat of his youth, with his "missis" by his side, and a couple of buxom daughters behind, one of whom will be installed in the driving seat when papa resigns. Thus we have the Mellows of Mawdsley Hill, the Chalkers of Streetley, and the Richleys of Jollyduck Park, and the cry is still, "They come! they come!" It is going to be a bumper meet, for the foxes are famous, and the sight of a good "get away" is worth a dozen Legers put together.

See here comes a nice quiet-looking little old gentleman in a well-brushed, flat-brimmed hat, a bird's-eye cravat, a dark grey coat buttoned over a step-collared toilanette vest, nearly matching in line his delicate cream-coloured leathers, who everybody stares at and then salutes, as he lifts first one rose-tinted top and then the other, working his way through the crowd, on a thorough-bred suatlle-bridled bay. He now makes up to Sir Muses, who exclaims as the raised hat shows the familiar blue-eyed face, "Ah! Dicky my man! how d'ye do? glad to see you?" and taking off his glove the Baronet gives our old friend Boggledike a hearty shake of the hand. Dicky acknowledges the honour with becoming reverence, and then begins talking of sport and the splendid runs they have been having, while Sir Moses, instead of listening, cons over some to give him in return.

But who have we here sitting so square in the tandem-like dogcart, drawn by the high-stepping, white-legged bay with sky-blue rosettes, and long streamers, doing the pride that apes humility in a white Macintosh, that shows the pink collar to great advantage? Imperial John, we do believe?

Imperial John, it is! He has come all the way from Barley Hill Hall, leaving the people 011 the farm and the plate in the drawing-room to take care of themselves, starting before daylight, while his footman groom has lain ont over night to the serious detriment of a half sovereign. As John now pulls up, with a trace-rattling ring, he cocks his Imperial chin and looks round for applause-a "Well done, you!" or something of that sort, for coming such a distance. Instead of that, a line of winks, and nods, and nudges, follow his course, one man whispering another, "I say, here's old Imperial John," or "I say, look at Miss de Glancey's boy;" while the young ladies turn their eyes languidly upon him to see what sort of a hero the would-be Benedict is. His Highness, however, has quite got over his de Glancey failure, and having wormed his way after divers "with your leaves," and "by your leaves," through the intricacies of the crowd, he now pulls up at the inn door, and standing erect in his dog-cart, sticks his whip in the socket, and looks around with a "This is Mr. Hybrid the-friend-of-an-Earl" sort of air.

"Ah! Hybrid, how d'ye do?" now exclaims Sir Moses familiarly; "hope you're well?-how's the Peer? hope he's well. Come all the way from Barley Hill?"

"Barley Hill Hall," replies the great man with an emphasis on the Hall, adding in the same breath, "Oi say, ostler, send moy fellow!" whereupon there is a renewed nudging and whispering among the ladies beside him, of "That's Mr. Hybrid!"

"That's Imperial John, the gentleman who wanted to marry Miss de Glancey for though Miss de Glancey was far above having him, she was not above proclaiming the other."

His Highness then becomes an object of inquisitive scrutiny by the fair; one thinking he might do for Lavinia Edwards; another, for Sarah Bates; a third, for Rachel Bell; a fourth, perhaps, for herself. It must be a poor creature that isn't booked for somebody.

Still, John stands erect in his vehicle, flourishing his whip, hallooing and asking for his fellow.

"Ring the bell for moy fellow!-Do go for moy fellow!-Has anybody seen moy fellow? Have you seen moy fellow?" addressing an old smock-frocked countryman with a hoe in his hand.

"Nor, arm d-d if iver ar i did!" replied the veteran, looking him over, a declaration that elicited a burst of laughter from the bystanders, and an indignant chuck of the Imperial chin from our John.

"Tweet, tweet, tweet!" who have we here? All eyes turn up the Cherryburn road; the roused hounds prick their ears, and are with difficulty restrained from breaking away. It's Walker, the cross postman's gig, and he is treating himself to a twang of the horn. But who has he with him? Who is the red arm-folded man lolling with as much dignity as the contracted nature of the vehicle will allow? A man in red, with cap and beard, and all complete. Why it's Monsieur! Monsieur coming in forma pauperis, after Sir Moses' liberal offer to send him to cover,-Monsieur in a faded old sugar-loaf shaped cap, and a scanty coat that would have been black if it hadn't been red.

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Still Walker trots him up like a man proud of his load amid the suppressed titters and "Who's this?" of the company. Sir Moses immediately vouchsafes him protection-by standing erect in his stirrups, and exclaiming with a waive of his right hand, "Ah, Monsieur! comment vous portez-vous?"

"Pretty bobbish, I tenk you, sare, opes you are veil yourself and all de leetle Mainchanees," replied Monsieur, rising in the gig, showing the scrimpness of his coat and the amplitude of his cinnamon-coloured peg-top trousers, thrust into green-top

ped opera-boots, much in the style of old Paul Pry. Having put something into Walker's hand, Monsieur alights with due caution and Walker whipping on, presently shows the gilt "V. R." on the back of his red gig as he works his way through the separating crowd. Walker claims to be one of Her Majesty's servants; if not to rank next to Lord Palmerston, at all events not to be far below him. And now Monsieur being left to himself, thrusts his Malacca cane whip stick under his arm, and drawing on a pair of half-dirty primrose-coloured kid gloves, pokes into the crowd in search of his horse, making up to every disengaged one he saw, with "Is dee's for me? Is dee's for me?"

Meanwhile Imperial John having emancipated himself from his Mackintosh, and had his horse placed becomingly at the step of the dog-cart, so as to transfer himself without alighting, and let everybody see the magnificence of the establishment, now souces himself into the saddle of a fairish young grey, and turns round to confront the united field; feeling by no means the smallest man in the scene. "Hybrid!" exclaims Sir Moses, seeing him approach the still dismounted Monsieur, "Hybrid! let me introduce my friend Rougier, Monsieur Rougier, Mr. Hybrid! of Barley Hill Hall, a great friend of Lord Ladythorne's," whereupon off went the faded sugar-loaf-shaped cap, and down came the Imperial hat, Sir Moses interlarding the ceremony with, "great friend of Louis Nap's, great friend of Louis Nap's," by way of balancing the Ladythorne recommendation of John. The two then struck up a most energetic conversation, each being uncommonly taken with the other. John almost fancied he saw his way to the Tuileries, and wondered what Miss "somebody" would say if he got there.

The conversation was at length interrupted by Dribbler's grinning groom touching Jack behind as he came up with a chestnut horse, and saying, "Please, Sir, here's your screw."

"Ah, my screw, is it!" replied Jack, turning round, "dat is a queer name for a horse-screw-hopes he's a good 'un."

"A good 'un, and nothin' but a good 'un," replied the groom, giving him a punch in the ribs, to make him form up to Jack, an operation that produced an ominous grunt.

"Vell" said Jack, proceeding to dive at the stirrup with his foot without taking hold of the reins; "if Screw is a good 'un I sail make you handsome present-tuppence a penny, p'raps-if he's a bad 'un, I sail give you good crack on the skoll," Jack flourishing his thick whipstick as he spoke.

"Will you!" replied the man, leaving go of the rein, whereupon down went the horse's head, up went his heels, and Jack was presently on his shoulder.

"Oh, de devil!" roared Jack, "he vill distribute me! he vill distribute me! I vill be killed! Nobody sall save me! here, gar?on, grum!" roared he amid the mirth of the company. "Lay 'old of his 'ead! lay 'old of his 'ocks! lay 'old of 'eels! Oh, murder! murder!" continued he in well-feigned dismay, throwing out his supplicating arms. Off jumped Imperial John to the rescue of his friend, and seizing the dangling rein, chucked up the horse's head with a resolute jerk that restored Jack to his seat.

"Ah, my friend, I see you are not much used to the saddle," observed His Highness, proceeding to console the friend of an Emperor.

"Veil, sare, I am, and I am not," replied Jack, mopping his brow, and pretending to regain his composure, "I am used to de leetle 'orse at de round-about at de fair, I can carry off de ring ten time out of twice, but these great unruly, unmannerly, undutiful screws are more than a match for old Harry."

"Just so," assented His Highness, with a chuck of his Imperial chin, "just so;" adding in an under-tone, "then I'll tell you what we'll do-I'll tell you what we'll do-we'll pop into the bar at the back of the house, and have a glass of something to strengthen our nerves."

"By all means, sare," replied Jack, who was always ready for a glass. So they quietly turned the corner, leaving the field to settle their risible faculties, while they summoned the pretty corkscrew ringletted Miss Tubbs to their behests.

"What shall it be?" asked Imperial John, as the smiling young lady tripped down the steps to where they stood.

"Brandy," replied Jack, with a good English accent.

"Two brandies!" demanded Imperial John, with an air of authority.

"Cold, with?" asked the lady, eyeing Monsieur's grim visage.

"Neat!" exclaimed Jack in a tone of disdain.

"Yes, Sir," assented the lady, bustling away.

"Shilling glasses!" roared Jack, at the last flounce of her blue muslin.

Presently she returned bearing two glasses of very brown brandy, and each having appropriated one, Jack began grinning and bowing and complimenting the donor.

"Sare," said he, after smelling at the beloved liquor, "I have moch pleasure in making your quaintance. I am moch pleased, sare, with the expression of your mog. I tink, sare, you are de 'andsomest man I never had de pleasure of lookin' at. If, sare, dey had you in my country, sare, dey vod make you a King-Emperor, I mean. I drink, sare, your vare good health," so saying, Jack swigged off the contents oi his glass at a draught.

Imperial John felt constrained to do the same.

"Better now," observed Jack, rubbing his stomach as the liquid fire began to descend. "Better now," repeated he, with a jerk of his head, "Sare," continued he, "I sall return the compliment-I sall treat you to a glass."

Imperial John would rather not. He was a glass of sherry and a biscuit sort of man; but Monsieur was not to be balked in his liberality. "Oh, yes, sare, make me de pleasure to accept a glass," continued Jack, "Here! Jemima! Matilda! Adelaide! vot the doose do they call de young vomans-look sharp," added he, as she now reappeared. "Apportez, dat is to say, bring tout suite, directly; two more glasses; dis gentlemans vill be goode enough to drink my vare good 'ealth."

"Certainly," replied the smiling lady, tripping away for them.

"Ah, sare, it is de stoff to make de air corl," observed Jack, eyeing his new acquaintance. "Ye sall go like old chaff before the vind after it. Vill catch de fox myself."

The first glass had nearly upset our Imperial friend, and the second one appeared perfectly nauseous. He would give anything that Jack would drink them both himself. However, Monsieur motioned blue muslin to present the tray to John first, so he had no alternative but to accept. Jack then took his glass, and smacking his lips, said-"I looks, sare, towards you, sare, vith all de respect due to your immortal country. De English, sare, are de finest nation under de moon; and you, sare, and you are as fine a specimens of dat nation as never vas seen. Two such mans as you, sare, could have taken Sebastopol. You could vop all de ell ound savage Sepoys by yourself. So now, sare," continued Jack, brandishing his glass, "make ready, present, fire!" and at the word fire, he drained off his glass, and then held it upside down to show he had emptied it.

Poor Imperial John was obliged to follow suit.

The Imperial head now began to swim. Mr. Hybrid saw two girls in blue muslin, two Monsieurs, two old yellow Po-chaises, two water-carts with a Cochin-China cock a gollowing a-top of each.

Jack, on the contrary, was quite comfortable. He had got his nerves strung, and was now ready for anything. "S'pose, now," said he, addressing his staring, half-bewildered friend, "you ascend your gallant grey, and let us look after dese mighty chasseurs. But stop," added he, "I vill first pay for de tipple," pretending to dive into his peg-top trousers pocket for his purse. "Ah! malheureusement," exclaimed he, after feeling them both. "I have left my blont, my tin, in my oder trousers pockets. Navare mind! navare mind," continued he, gaily, "ve vill square it op some other day. Here," added he to the damsel, "dis gentlemens vill pay, and I vill settle vid him some oder day-some oder day." So saying, Jack gathered his horse boldly together, and spurred out of the inn-yard in a masterly way, singing Partant pour la Syrie as he went.

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