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   Chapter 36 A BIRD’S EYE VIEW.

Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 19749

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

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HE friends reappeared at the front of the Crooked Billet Hotel when the whole cavalcade had swept away, leaving only the return ladies, and such of the grooms as meant to have a drink, now that "master was safe." Sir Moses had not paid either Louis Napoleon's or Lord Ladythorne's friend, the compliment of waiting for them. On the contrary, having hailed the last heavy subscriber who was in the habit of using the Crooked Billet meet, he hallooed the huntsman to trot briskly away down Rickleton Lane, and across Beecham pastures, as well to shake off the foot-people, as to prevent any attempted attendance on the part of the carriage company. Sir Moses, though very gallant, was not always in the chattering mood; and, assuredly, if ever a master of hounds may be excused for a little abruptness, it is when he is tormented by the rival spirits of the adjoining hunt, people who always see things so differently to the men of the country, so differently to what they are meant to do.

It was evident however by the lingering looks and position of parties that the hunt had not been long gone-indeed, the last red coat might still be seen bobbing up and down past the weak and low parts of the Rickleton Lane fence. So Monsieur, having effected a satisfactory rounding, sot his horse's head that way, much in the old threepence a-mine and hopes for something over, style of his youth. Jack hadn't forgotten how to ride, though he might occasionally find it convenient to pretend to be a tailor. Indeed, his horse seemed to have ascertained the fact, and instead of playing any more monkey-tricks, he began to apply himself sedulously to the road. Imperial John was now a fitter subject for solicitude than Monsieur, His Highness's usual bumptious bolt-upright seat being exchanged for a very slouchy, vulgar roll. His saucy eyes too seemed dim and dazzled, like an owl's flying against the sun. Some of the toiling pedestrians, who in spite of Sir Moses's intention to leave them in the lurch, had started for the hunt, were the first overtaken, next two grinning boys riding a barebacked donkey, one with his face to the tail, doing the flagellation with an old hearth-brush, then a brandy-nosed horse-breaker, with a badly-grown black colt that didn't promise to be good for anything, next Dr. Linton on his dun pony, working his arms and legs most energetically, riding far faster than his nag; next Noggin, the exciseman, stealing quietly along on his mule as though he were bent on his business and had no idea of a hunt; and at length a more legitimate representative of the chace in the shape of young Mr. Hadaway, of Oakharrow Hill, in a pair of very baggy white cords, on but indifferent terms about the knees with his badly cleaned tops. They did not, however, overtake the hounds, and the great body of scarlet, till just as they turned off the Summersham road into an old pasture-field, some five acres of the low end of which had been cut off for a gorse to lay to the adjoining range of rocky hills whose rugged juniper and broom-dotted sides afforded very comfortable and popular lying for the foxes. It being, if a find, a quick "get away," all hands were too busy thinking of themselves and their horses, and looking for their usual opponents to take heed of anything else, and Jack and his friends entered without so much as an observation from any one.

Just at that moment up went Joe's cap on the top of the craig, and the scene changed to one of universal excitement. Then, indeed, had come the tug of war! Sir Moses, all hilarity, views the fox! Now Stephen Booty sees him, now Peter Lynch, and now a whole cluster of hats are off in his honour.


And now his honour's off himself-

"Shrill horns proclaim his flight."

Oh dear! oh dear! where's Billy Pringle?

Oh dear! oh dear! where's Imperial John?

Oh dear! where's Jack Rogers?

Jack's all right! There he is grinning with enthusiasm, quite forgetting that he's a Frenchman, and hoisting his brown cap with the best of them. Another glass would have made him give a stunning view-halloa.

Imperial John stares like a man just awoke from a dream. Is he in bed, or is he out hunting, or how! he even thinks he hears Miss de Glancey's "Si-r-r! do you mean to insult me?" ringing in his ears.

Billy Pringle! poor Billy! he's not so unhappy as usual. His horse is very docile. His tail has lost all its elegant gaiety, and altogether he has a very drooping, weedy look: he coughs, too, occasionally. Billy, however, doesn't care about the coughs, and gives him a dig with his spur to stop it.

"Come along, Mr. Pringle, come along!" now shrieks Sir Moses, hurrying past, hands down, head too, hugging and spurring his horse as he goes. He is presently through the separating throng, leaving Billy far in the rear. "Quick's" the word, or the chance is lost. There are no reserved places at a hunt. A flying fox admits of no delay. It is either go or stay.

And now, Monsieur Jean Rougier having stuck his berry-brown conical cap tight on his bristly black head, crams his chestnut horse through the crowd, hallooing to his transfixed brandy friend, "Come along, old cock-a-doodle! come along, old Blink Bonny!"

Imperial John, who has been holding a mental conference with himself, poising himself in the saddle, and making a general estimate of his condition, thinking he is not so drunk as "all that," accepts the familiar challenge, and urges his horse on with the now flying crowd. He presently makes a bad shot at a gate on the swing, which catching him 011 the kneecap, contributes very materially to restore his sobriety, the pain making him first look back for his leg, which he thinks must be off, and then forward at the field. It is very large; two bustling Baronets, two Monsieurs, two huntsmen, two flying hatters-everybody in duplicate, in short.

Away they scud up Thorneycroft Valley at a pace that looks very like killing. The foremost rise the hill, hugging aud holding 011 by the manes.

"I'll go!" says his Highness to himself, giving up rubbing his kneecap, and settling himself in his saddle, he hustles his horse, and pushing past the undecided ones, is presently in the thick of the fray. There is Jack going, elbows and legs, elbows and legs, at a very galloping, dreary, done sort of pace, the roaring animal he bestrides contracting its short, leg-tied efforts every movement. Jack presently begins to objurgate the ass who lent it him; first wishes he was on himself, then declares the tanner ought to have him. he now sits sideways, and proceeds to give him a good rib-roasting in the old post-boy style.

And now there's a bobbing up and down of hats, caps, and horses' heads in front, with the usual deviation under the "hounds clauses consolidation act," where the dangerous fencing begins. A pair of white breeches are summersaulting in the air, and a bay horse is seen careering in a wild head in the air sort of way, back to the rear instead of following the hounds.

"That's lucky," said Jack Rogers to himself, as soon as he saw him coming towards him, and circumventing him adroitly at the corner of a turnip-field, he quits his own pumped-out animal and catches him. "That's good," said he, looking him over, seeing that he was a lively young animal in fairish condition, with a good saddle and bridle.

"Stirrups just my length, too, I do believe," continued he, preparing to mount. "All right, by Jove!" added he, settling himself into the saddle, feet well home, and gathering his horse together, he shot forward with the easy elasticity of breeding. It was a delightful change from the rolling cow-like action of the other.

"Let us see vot he as in his monkey," said Jack to himself, now drawing the flask from the saddle-case.

"Sherry, I fear," said he, uncorking it.

"Brandy, I declare," added he with delight, after smelling it. He then took a long pull at the contents.

"Good it is, too!" exclaimed he, smacking his lips; "better nor ve ad at de poblic;" so saying, he took another long suck of it.

"May as vell finish it," continued he, shaking it at his ear to ascertain what was left; and having secured the remainder, he returned the monkey to the saddle-case, and put on his horse with great glee, taking a most independent line of his own.

Jack's triumph, however, was destined to be but of short duration. The fox being hard pressed, abandoned his original point for Collington Woods, and swerving to the left over Stanbury Hundred, was headed by a cur, and compelled to seek safety in a drain in the middle of a fallow field. The hounds were presently feathering over the mouth in the usual wild, disappointed sort of way, that as good as says, "No fault of ours, you know; if he won't stay above ground, we can't catch him for you."

Such of the field as had not ridden straight for Collington Woods, were soon down at the spot; and while the usual enquiries, "Where's Pepper?" "Where's Viper?" "Where can we get a spade?" "Does anybody know anything about the direction of this drain?" were going on, a fat, fair, red-coated, flushed-faced pedestrian-to wit, young Mr. Threadcroft, the woolstapler's son of Harden Grange and Hinton, dived into the thick of the throng, and making up to Monsieur, exclaimed in an anger-choked voice, "This (puff) is my (gasp) horse! What the (gasp, puff) devil do you mean by riding away with him in this (puff-, gasp) way?" the youth mopping his brow with a yellow bandanna as he spoke.

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"Your oss!" exclaimed Jack with the greatest effrontery, "on de loose can he be your os: I catched him fair! and I've a right to ride him to de end of de run;" a claim that elicited the uproarious mirth of the field, who all looked upon the young wool-pack, as they called him, as a muff.


" retorted the youth, half frantic with rage. "How can that be?"

"Ow can dat be," repeated Jack, turning sideways in his saddle, and preparing to argue the case, "Ow can dat be? Dis hont, sare, I presume, sare, is condocted on de principle of de grand hont de Epping, vere every mans vot cotched anoder's oss, is entitled to ride him to the end of de ron," replied Jack gravely.

"Nonsense!" again retorted the youth, amidst the renewed laughter of the field. "We know nothing of Epping hunts here!"

"Nothin' of Epping onts here?" exclaimed Jack, throwing out his hands with well feigned astonishment. "Nothin' of Epping honts here! Vy, de grand hont de. Epping rules all the oder honts, jost as the grand Clob de Jockey at Newmarket rules all oder Jockey Clubs in de kingdom."

"Hoot, toot," sneered the fat youth, "let's have none of yonr jaw. Give me my horse, I say, how can he be yours?"

"Because, sare," replied Jack, "I tells you I cotched 'im fairly in de field. Bot for me he vod have been lost to society-to de vorld at large-eat up by de loup-by de volf-saddle, bridle, and all."

"Nothing of the sort!" retorted Mr. Treadcroft, indignantly, "you had no business to touch him."

Monsieur (with energy). I appeal to you, Sare Moses Baronet, de grand ma?tre de chien, de master of all de dogs and all de dogs' vives, if I have not a right to ride 'im.

"Ah, I'm afraid, Monsieur, it's not the law of this country," replied Sir Moses, laughing. "It may be so in France, perhaps; but tell me, where's your own horse?"

Monsieur. Pomped out de beggar; had no go in 'im; left him in a ditch.

Sir Moses. That's a pity!-if you'd allowed me, I'd have sent you a good 'un.

Mr. Treadcroft, thus reinforced by Sir Moses's decision, returned to the charge with redoubled vigour. "If you don't give me up my horse, sir," says he, with firmness, "I'll give you in charge of the police for stealing him." Then

"Conscience, which makes cowards of us all,"

caused Jack to shrink at the recollection of his early indiscretion in the horse-stealing line, and instantly resolving not to give Jack Ketch a chance of taking any liberties with his neck, he thus addresses Mr. Treadcroft:-

"Sare, if Sare Moses Baronet, de grand ma?tre de chien, do grandmodder of all de dogs and all de dogs' vives, says it is not a case of catch 'im and keep 'im 'cordin' to de rules of de grand hont de Epping, I must surrender de quadruped, but I most say it is dem un'andsome treatment, after I 'ave been at de trouble of catching 'im." So saying, Jack dropped off on the wrong side of the saddle, and giving the horse a slap on his side left his owner to take him.

"Tally-ho! there he goes!" now exclaimed a dozen voices, as out bounced the fox with a flourish of his well tagged brush that looked uncommonly defiant. What a commotion he caused! Every man lent a shout that seemed to be answered by a fresh effort from the flyer: but still, with twenty couple of overpowering animals after him, what chance did there seem for his life, especially when they could hunt him by his scent after they had lost sight. Every moment, however, improved his opportunity, and a friendly turn of the land shutting him out of view, the late darting, half-frantic pack were brought to their noses.

"Hold hard for one, minute!" is the order of the day.

"Now, catch 'em if' you can!" is the cry.

Away they go in the settled determined way of a second start. The bolt taking place on the lower range of the gently swelling Culmington hills, that stretch across the north-east side of Hit-im and Hold-im shire, and the fox making for the vale below, Monsieur has a good bird's eye view of the scramble, without the danger and trouble of partaking of the struggle. Getting astride a newly stubbed ash-tree near the vacated drain mouth, he thus sits and soliloquises-"He's a pretty flyer, dat fox-if dey catch 'im afore he gets to the hills," eyeing a gray range uudulating in the distance, "they'll do well. That Moff of a man," alluding to Treadcroft, "'ill never get there. At all events," chuckled Jack, "his brandy vont. Dats 'im! I do believe," exclaimed Jack, "off again!" as a loose horse is now seen careering across a grass field. "No; dat is a black coat," continued Jack, as the owner now appeared crossing the field in pursuit of his horse. "Bot dat vill be 'im! dat vill be friend Moll'," as a red rider now measures his length on the greensward of a field in the rear of the other one; and Jack, taking off his faded cap, waives it triumphantly as he distinctly recognises the wild, staring running of his late steed. "Dash my buttons!" exclaims he, working his arms as if he was riding, "bot if it hadn't been for dat unwarrantable, unchristian-like cheek I'd ha' shown those red coats de vay on dat oss, for I do think he has de go in him and only vants shovin' along.-Ah Moff-my friend Moff!" laughed he, eyeing Treadcroft's vain endeavour to catch his horse, "you may as vell leave 'im where he is-you'll only fatigue yourself to no purpose. If you 'ad 'im you'd be off him again de next minute."

The telescope of the chace is now drawn out to the last joint, and Jack, as he sits, has a fine bird's eye view of the scene. If the hounds go rather more like a flock of wild geese than like the horses in the chariot of the sun, so do the field, until the diminutive dots, dribbling through the vale, look like the line of a projected railway.

"If I mistake not," continued Jack, "dat leetle shiny eel-like ting," eyeing a tortuous silvery thread meandering through the vale, "is vater, and dere vill be some fon by de time dey get there."

Jack is right in his conjecture. It is Long Brawlingford brook, with its rotten banks and deep eddying pools, describing all sorts of geographical singularities in its course through the country, too often inviting aspiring strangers to astonish the natives by riding at it, while the cautious countrymen rein in as they approach, and, eyeing the hounds, ride for a ford at the first splash.

Jack's friend, Blink Bonny, has ridden not amiss, considering his condition-at all events pretty forward, as may be inferred from his having twice crossed the Flying Hatter and come in for the spray of his censure. But for the fact of his Highness getting his hats of the flyer, he would most likely have received the abuse in the bulk. As it was, the hatter kept letting it go as he went.

And now as the hounds speed over the rich alluvial pastures by the brook, occasionally one throwing its tongue, occasionally another, for the scent is first-rate and the pace severe, there is a turning of heads, a checking of horses, and an evident inclination to diverge. Water is in no request.

"Who knows the ford?" cries Harry Waggett, who always declined extra risk.-"You know the ford, Smith?" continued he, addressing himself to black tops.

"Not when I'm in a hur-hur-hurry," ejaculates Smith, now fighting with his five-year-old bay.

"O'ill show ye the ford!" cries Imperial John, gathering his grey together and sending him at a stiff flight of outside slab-made rails which separate the field from the pack. This lands His Highness right among the tail hounds.

"Hold hard, Mr. Hybrid!" now bellows Sir Moses, indignant! at the idea of a Featherbedfordshire farmer thinking to cut down his gallant field.

"One minuit! and you may go as hard as iver you like!" cries Tom Findlater, who now sees the crows hovering over his fox as he scuttles away on the opposite side of the brook.

There is then a great yawing of mouths and hauling of heads and renewed inquiries for fords.-You know the ford, Brown? You know the ford, Green? Who knows the ford?

His Highness, thus snubbed and rebuked on all sides, is put on his mettle, and inwardly resolves not to be bullied by these low Hit-im and Hold-im shire chaps. "If they don't know what is due to the friend of an Earl, he will let them see that he does." So, regardless of their shouts, he shoves along with his Imperial chin well in the air, determined to ride at the brook-let those follow who will. He soon has a chance. The fox has taken it right in his line, without deviating a yard either way, and Wolds-man, and Bluecap, and Ringwood, and Hazard, and Sparkler are soon swimming on his track, followed by the body of the screeching, vociferating pack.

Old Blink Bonny now takes a confused, wish-I-was-well-over, sort of look at the brook, shuddering when he thought how far he was from dry clothes. It is however, too late to retreat. At it he goes in a half resolute sort of way, and in an instant the Imperial hat and the Imperial horse's head are all that appear above water.

"Hoo-ray!" cheer some of the unfeeling Hit-im and Hold-im shireites, dropping down into the ford a little below.

"Hoo-ray!" respond others on the bank, as the Red Otter, as Silverthorne calls His Highness, rises hatless to the top.

"Come here, and I'll help you out!" shouts Peter Linch, eyeing Mr. Hybrid's vain 'tarts first at the hat and then at the horse.

"Featherbed ford shire for ever!" cries Charley Drew, who doesn't at all like Imperial John.

And John, who finds the brook not only a great deal wider, but also a great deal deeper and colder than he expected, is in such a state of confusion that he lands on one side and his horse on the other, so that his chance of further distinction is out for the day. And as he stands shivering and shaking and emptying his hat, he meditates on the vicissitudes of life, the virtues of sobriety, and the rashness of coping with a friend of His Imperial brother, Louis Nap. His horse meanwhile regales upon grass, regardless of the fast receding field. Thus John is left alone in his glory, and we must be indebted to other sources for an account of the finish of this day's sport.

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