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   Chapter 40 THE HUNT DINNER,

Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 16320

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


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CARCELY were the congratulations of the company to our hero, on his becoming a member of the renowned Hit-im and Hold-im shire hunt, over, ere a great rush of dinner poured into the room, borne by Peter and the usual miscellaneous attendants at an inn banquet; servants in livery, servants out of livery, servants in a sort of half-livery, servants in place, servants out of place, post-boys converted into footmen, "boots" put into shoes. Then the carrot and turnip garnished roasts and boils, and stews were crowded down the table, in a profusion that would astonish any one who thinks it impossible to dine under a guinea a head. Rounds, sirloins middles, sucking-pigs, poultry, &c. (for they dispensed with the formalities of soup and fish ), being duly distributed. Peter announced the fact deferentially to Sir Moses, as he stood monopolizing the best place before the fire, whereupon the Baronet, drawing his hands out of his trowser's pockets, let fall his yellow lined gloves and clapping his hands, exclaimed. "DINNER GENTLEMAN!" in a stentorian voice, adding, "PRINGLE you sit on my right! and CUDDY!" appealing to our friend Flintoff'. "will you take the vice-chair?"

"With all my heart!" replied Cuddy, whereupon making an imaginary hunting-horn of his hand, he put it to his mouth, and went blowing and hooping down the room, to entice a certain portion of the guests after him. All parties being at length suited with seats, grace was said, and the assault commenced with the vigorous determination of over-due appetites.

If a hand-in-the-pocket-hunt-dinner possesses few attractions in the way of fare, it is nevertheless free from the restraints and anxieties that pervade private entertainments, where the host cranes at the facetious as he scowls at his butler, or madame mingles her pleasantries with prayers for the safe arrival of the creams, and those extremely capricious sensitive jellies. People eat as if they had come to dine and not to talk, some, on this occasion, eating with their knives, some with their forks, some with both occasionally. And so, what with one aid and another, they made a very great clatter.

The first qualms of hunger being at length appeased, Sir Moses proceeded to select subjects for politeness in the wine-taking way-men whom he could not exactly have at his own house, but who might be prevented from asking for cover-rent, or damages, by a little judicious flattery, or again, men who were only supposed to be lukewarmly disposed towards the great Hit-im and Hold-im shire hunt.

Sir Moses would rather put his hand into a chimney-sweep's pocket than into his own, but so long as anything could be got by the tongue he never begrudged it. So he "sherried" with Mossman and the army of observation generally, also with Pica, who always puffed his hunt, cutting at D'Orsay Davis's efforts on behalf of the Earl, and with Buckwheat (whose son he had recently dom'd à la Rowley Abingdon), and with Corduroys, and Straddler, and Hicks, and Doubledrill-with nearly all the dark coats, in short-Cuddy Flintoff, too, kept the game a-going at his end of the table, as well to promote conviviality as to get as much wine as he could; so altogether there was a pretty brisk consumption, and some of the tight-clad gentlemen began to look rather apoplectic. Cannon-ball-like plum-puddings, hip-bath-like apple-pies, and foaming creams, completed the measure of their uneasiness, and left little room for any cheese. Nature being at length most abundantly satisfied throughout the assembly, grace was again said, and the cloth cleared for action. The regulation port and sherry, with light-very light-Bordeaux, being duly placed upon the table, with piles of biscuits at intervals, down the centre, Sir Moses tapped the well-indented mahogany with his presidential hammer, and proceeded to prepare the guests for the great toast of the evening, by calling upon them to fill bumpers to the usual loyal and patriotic ones. These being duly disposed of, he at length rose for the all-important let off, amid the nudges and "now then's," of such of the party as feared a fresh attempt on their pockets-Mossman and Co., in particular, were all eyes, ears, and fears.

"Gentlemen!" cries Sir Moses, rising and diving his hands into his trouser's pockets-"Gentlemen!" repeated he, with an ominous cough, that sounded very like cash.

"Hark to the Bar owl!-hark" cheered Cuddy Flintoff from the other end of the room, thus cutting short a discussion about wool, a bargain for beans, and an inquiry for snuff in his own immediate neighbourhood, and causing a tapping of the table further up.

"Gentlemen!" repeated Sir Moses, for the third time, amid cries of "hear, hear," and "order, order,"-"I now have the pleasure of introducing to your notice the toast of the evening-a toast endeared by a thousand associations, and rendered classical by the recollection of the great and good men who have given it in times gone by from this very chair-(applause). I need hardly say, gentlemen, that that toast is the renowned Hit-im and Hold-im shire hunt-(renewed applause)-a hunt second to none in the kingdom; a hunt whose name is famous throughout the land, and whose members are the very flower and élite of society-(renewed applause). Never, he was happy to say, since it was established, were its prospects so bright and cheering as they were at the present time-(great applause, the announcement being considered indicative of a healthy exchequer)-its country was great, its covers perfect, and thanks to their truly invaluable allies-the farmers-their foxes most abundant-(renewed applause). Of those excellent men it was impossible to speak in terms of too great admiration and respect-(applause)-whether he looked at those he was blessed with upon his own estate-(laughter)-or at the great body generally, he was lost for words to express his opinion of their patriotism, and the obligations he felt under to them. So far from ever hinting at such a thing as damage, he really believed a farmer would be hooted from the market-table who broached such a subject-(applause, with murmurs of dissent)-or who even admitted it was possible that any could be done-(laughter and applause). As for a few cocks and hens, he was sure they felt a pleasure in presenting them to the foxes. At all events, he could safely say he had never paid for any-(renewed laughter). Looking, therefore, at the hunt in all its aspects-its sport past, present, and to come-he felt that he never addressed them under circumstances of greater promise, or with feelings of livelier satisfaction. It only remained for them to keep matters up to the present mark, to insure great and permanent prosperity. He begged, therefore, to propose, with all the honours, Success to the Hit-im and Hold-im shire hunt!"-(drunk with three times three and one cheer more). Sir Moses and Cuddy Flintoff mounting their chairs to mark time. Flintoff finishing off with a round of view halloas and other hunting noises.

When the applause and Sir Moses had both subsided, parties who had felt uneasy about their pockets, began to breathe more freely, and as the bottles again circulated, Mr. Mossman and others, for whom wine was too cold, slipped out to get their pipes, and something warm in the bar; Mossman calling for whiskey, Buckwheat for brandy, Broadfurrow for gin, and so on. Then as they sugared and flavoured their tumblers, they chewed the cud of Sir Moses's eloquence, and at length commenced discussing it, as each man got seated with his pipe in his mouth and his glass on his knee, in a little glass-fronted bar.

"What a man he is to talk, that Sir Moses," observed Buckwheat after a long respiration.

"He's a greet economist of the truth, I reckon," replied Mr. Mossman, withdrawing his pipe from his mouth, "for I've written to him till I'm tired, about last year's damage to Mrs. Anthill's sown grass."

"He's right, though, in saying he never paid for poultry," observed Mr. Broadfurrow, with a humorous shake of his big head, "but, my word, his hook-nosed agent has as many letters as would pap

er a room;" and so they sipped, and smoked, and talked the Baronet over, each man feeling considerably relieved at there being no fresh attempt on the pocket.

Meanwhile Sir Moses, with the aid of Cuddy Flintoff, trimmed the table, and kept the bottles circulating briskly, presently calling on Mr. Paul Straddler for a song, who gave them the old heroic one, descriptive of a gallant run with the Hit-im and Hold-im shire hounds, in the days of Mr. Customer, at which they all laughed and applauded as heartily as if they had never heard it before. They then drank Mr. Straddler's health, and thanks to him for his excellent song.

As it proceeded, Sir Moses intimated quietly to our friend Billy Pringle that he should propose his health next, which would enable Mr. Pringle to return the compliment by proposing Sir Moses, an announcement that threw our hero into a very considerable state of trepidation, but from which he saw no mode of escape. Sir Moses then having allowed a due time to elapse after the applause that followed the drinking of Mr. Straddler's health, again arose, and tapping the table with his hammer, called upon them to fill bumpers to the health of his young friend on his right (applause). "He could not express the pleasure it afforded him," he said, "to see a nephew of his old friend and brother Baronet, Sir Jonathan Pringle, become a member of their excellent hunt, and he hoped Billy would long live to enjoy the glorious diversion of fox-hunting," which Sir Moses said it was the bounden duty of every true-born Briton to support to the utmost of his ability, for that it was peculiarly the sport of gentlemen, and about the only one that defied the insidious arts of the blackleg, adding that Lord Derby was quite right in saying that racing had got into the hands of parties who kept horses not for sport, but as mere instruments of gambling, and if his (Sir Moses's) young friend, Mr. Pringle, would allow him to counsel him, he would say, Never have anything to do with the turf (applause). Stick to hunting, and if it didn't bring him in money, it would bring him in health, which was better than money, with which declaration Sir Moses most cordially proposed Mr. Pringle's health (drunk with three times three and one cheer more).

Now our friend had never made a speech in his life, but being, as we said at the outset, blessed with a great determination of words to the mouth, he rose at a hint from Sir Moses, and assured the company "how grateful he was for the honour they had done him as well in electing him a member of their delightful sociable hunt, as in responding to the toast of his health in the flattering manner they had, and he could assure them that nothing should be wanting on his part to promote the interests of the establishment, and to prove himself worthy of their continued good opinion," at which intimation Sir Moses winked knowingly at Mr. Smoothley, who hemmed a recognition of his meaning.

Meanwhile Mr. Pringle stood twirling his trifling moustache, wishing to sit down, but feeling there was something to keep him up: still he couldn't hit it off. Even a friendly round of applause failed to help him out; at length, Sir Moses, fearing he might stop altogether, whispered the words "My health," just under his nose; at which Billy perking up, exclaimed, "Oh, aye, to be sure!" and seizing a decanter under him, he filled himself a bumper of port, calling upon the company to follow his example. This favour being duly accorded, our friend then proceeded, in a very limping, halting sort of way, to eulogise a man with whom he was very little acquainted amid the friendly word-supplying cheers and plaudits of the party. At length he stopped again, still feeling that he was not due on his seat, but quite unable to say why he should not resume it. The company thinking he might have something to say to the purpose, how he meant to hunt with them, or something of that sort, again supplied the cheers of encouragement. It was of no use, however, he couldn't hit it off.

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"All the honors!" at length whispered Sir Moses as before.

"O, ah, to be sure! all the honors!" replied Billy aloud, amidst the mirth of the neighbours. "Gentlemen!" continued he, elevating his voice to its former pitch, "This toast I feel assured-that is to say, I feel quite certain. I mean," stammered he, stamping with his foot, "I, I, I."

"Aye, two thou's i' Watlington goods!" exclaimed the half-drunken Mr. Corduroys, an announcement that drew forth such a roar of laughter as enabled Billy to tack the words, "all the honors," to the end, and so with elevated glass to continue the noise with cheers. He then sate down perfectly satisfied with this his first performance, feeling that he had the germs of oratory within him.

A suitable time having elapsed, Sir Moses rose and returned thanks with great vigour, declaring that beyond all comparison that was the proudest moment of his life, and that he wouldn't exchange the mastership of the Hit-im and Hold-im shire hounds for the highest, the noblest office in the world-Dom'd if he would! with which asseveration he drank all their very good healths, and resumed his seat amidst loud and long continued applause, the timidest then feeling safe against further demands on their purses Another song quickly followed, and then according to the usual custom of society, that the more you abuse a man in private the more you praise him in public, Sir Moses next proposed the health of that excellent and popular nobleman the Earl of Ladythorne, whose splendid pack showed such unrivalled sport in the adjoining county of Featherbedford; Sir Moses, after a great deal of flattery, concluding by declaring that he would "go to the world's end to serve Lord Ladythorne-Dom'd if he wouldn't," a sort of compliment that the noble Earl never reciprocated; on the contrary, indeed, when he condescended to admit the existence of such a man as Sir Moses, it was generally in that well-known disparaging enquiry, "Who is that Sir Aaron Mainchance? or who is that Sir Somebody Mainchance, who hunts Hit-im and Hold-im shire?" He never could hit off the Baronet's Christian or rather Jewish name. Now, however, it was all the noble Earl, "my noble friend and brother master," the "noble and gallant sportsman," and so on. Sir Moses thus partly revenging himself on his lordship with the freedom.

When a master of hounds has to borrow a "draw" from an adjoining country, it is generally a pretty significant hint that his own is exhausted, and when the chairman of a hunt dinner begins toasting his natural enemy the adjoining master, it is pretty evident that the interest of the evening is over. So it was on the present occasion. Broad backs kept bending away at intervals, thinking nobody saw them, leaving large gaps unclosed up, while the guests that remained merely put a few drops in the bottoms of their glasses or passed the bottles altogether.

Sir Aaron, we beg his pardon-Sir Moses, perceiving this, and knowing the value of a good report, called on those who were left to "fill a bumper to the health of their excellent and truly invaluable friend Mr. Pica, contrasting his quiet habits with the swaggering bluster of a certain Brummagem Featherbedfordshire D'Orsay." (Drunk with great applause, D'Orsay Davis having more than once sneered at the equestrian prowess of the Hit-im aud Hold-im shire-ites.)

Mr. Pica, who was a fisherman and a very bad one to boot, then arose and began dribbling out the old stereotyped formula about air we breathe, have it not we die, &c., which was a signal for a general rise; not all Sir Moses and Cuddy Flintoff's united efforts being able to restrain the balance of guests from breaking away, and a squabble occurring behind the screen about a hat, the chance was soon irrevocably gone. Mr. Pica was, therefore, left alone in his glory. If any one, however, can afford to be indifferent about being heard, it is surely an editor who can report himself in his paper, and poor Pica did himself ample justice in the "Hit-im and Hold-im shire Herald" on the Saturday following.

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