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   Chapter 48 ROUGIER’S MYSTERIOUS LODGINGS—THE GIFT HORSE.

Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 10384

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


MR. Gallon's liberality after the race with Mr. Flintoff was so great that Monsieur Rougier was quite overcome with his kindness and had to be put to bed at the last public-house they stopped at, viz.-the sign of the Nightingale on the Ashworth road. Independently of the brandy not being particularly good, Jack took so much of it that he slept the clock round, and it was past nine the next morning ere he awoke. It then took him good twenty minutes to make out where he was; he first of all thought he was at Boulogne, then in Paris, next at the Lord Warden Hotel at Dover, and lastly at the Coal-hole in the Strand.

Presently the recollection of the race began to dawn upon him-the red jacket-the grey horse, Cuddy in distress, and gradually he recalled the general outline of the performance, but he could not fill it up so as to make a connected whole, or to say where he was.

He then looked at his watch, and finding it was half-past four, he concluded it had stopped,-an opinion that was confirmed on holding it to his ear; so without more ado, he bounded out of bed in a way that nearly sent him through the gaping boards of the dry-rotting floor of the little attic in which they had laid him. He then made his way to the roof-raised window to see what was outside. A fine wet muddy road shone below him, along which a straw-cart was rolling; beyond the road was a pasture, then a turnip field; after which came a succession of green, brown, and drab fields, alternating and undulating away to the horizon, varied with here and there a belt or tuft of wood. Jack was no wiser than he was, but hearing sounds below, he made for the door, and opening the little flimsy barrier stood listening like a terrier with its ear at a rat-hole. These were female voices, and he thus addressed them-"I say, who's there? Theodosia, my dear," continued he, speaking down stairs, "vot's de time o' day, my sweet?"

The lady thus addressed as Theodosia was Mrs. Windybank, a very forbidding tiger-faced looking woman, desperately pitted with the small-pox, who was not in the best of humours in consequence of the cat having got to the cream-bowl; so all the answer she made to Jack's polite enquiry was, "Most ten."

"Most ten!" repeated Jack, "most ten! how the doose can that be?"

"It is hooiver," replied she, adding, "you may look if you, like."

"No, my dear, I'll take your word for it," replied Jack; "but tell me, Susannah," continued he, "whose house is this I'm at?"

"Whose house is't?" replied the voice; "whose house is't? why, Jonathan Windybank's-you knar that as well as I do."

"De lady's not pleasant," muttered Jack to himself; so returning into the room, he began to array himself in his yesterday's garments, Mr. Gallon's boots and leathers, his own coat with Finlater's cap, in which he presently came creaking down stairs and confronted the beauty with whom he had had the flying colloquy. The interview not being at all to her advantage, and as she totally denied all knowledge of Pangburn Park, and "de great Baronet vot kept the spotted dogs," Monsieur set off on foot to seek it; and after divers askings, mistakings, and deviations, he at length arrived on Rossington hill just as the servants' hall dinner-bell was ringing, the walk being much to the detriment of Mr. Gallon's boots.

In consequence of Monsieur's laches, as the lawyers would say, Mr. Pringle was thrown on the resources of the house the next morning; but Sir Moses being determined to carry out his intention with regard to the horse, sent the footman to remind Billy that he was going to hunt, and to get him his things if required. So our friend was obliged to adorn for the chase instead of retiring from further exertion in that line as he intended; and with the aid of the footman he made a very satisfactory toilette,-his smart scarlet, a buff vest, a green cravat, correct shirt-collar, with unimpeachable leathers and boots.

Though this was the make-believe day of the week, Sir Moses was all hurry and bustle as usual, and greeted our hero as he came down stairs with the greatest enthusiasm, promising, of all things in the world! to show him a run.

"Now bring breakfast! bring breakfast!" continued he, as if they had got twenty miles to go to cover; and in came urn and eggs, and ham, and cakes, and tongue, and toast, and buns, all the concomitants of the meal.-At it Sir Moses went as if he had only ten minutes to eat it in, inviting his guest to fall-to also.

Just as they were in the midst of the meal a horse was heard to snort outside, and on looking up the great Lord Mayor was seen passing up the Park.

"Ah, there's your horse!" exclaimed Sir Moses, "there's your horse! been down to the shop to get his shoes looked to," though in reality Sir Moses had told the groom to do just what he was doing, viz.-to pass him before the house at breakfast-time without his clothing.

The Lord Mayor was indeed a sort of horse that a youngster might well be taken in with, grey, with a beautiful head and neck, and an elegantly set-on tail. He stepped out freely and gaily, and looked as lively as a lark.

He was, however, as great an impostor as Napol

eon the Great; for, independently of being troubled with the Megrims, he was a shocking bad hack, and a very few fields shut him up as a hunter.

"Well now," said Sir Moses, pausing in his meal, with the uplifted knife and fork of admiration, "that, to my mind, is the handsomest horse in the country,-I don't care where the next handsomest is.-Just look at his figure, just look at his action.-Did you ever see anything so elegant? To my mind he's as near perfection as possible, and what's more, he's as good as he looks, and all I've got to say is, that you are most heartily welcome to him."

"O, thank'e," replied Billy, "thank'e, but I couldn't think of accepting him,-I couldn't think of accepting him indeed."

"O, but you shall," said Sir Moses, resuming his eating, "O but you shall, so there's an end of the matter.-And now have some more tea," whereupon he proceeded to charge Billy's cup in the awkward sort of way men generally do when they meddle with the tea-pot.

Sir Moses, having now devoured his own meal, ran off to his study, telling Billy he would call him when it was time to go, and our friend proceeded to dandle and saunter, and think what he would do with his gift horse. He was certainly a handsome one-handsomer than Napoleon, and grey was a smarter colour than bay-might not be quite so convenient for riding across country on, seeing the color was conspicuous, but for a hot day in the Park nothing could be more cool or delightful. And he thought it was extremely handsome of Sir Moses giving it to him, more, he felt, than nine-tenths of the people in the world would have done.

Our friend's reverie was presently interrupted by Sir Moses darting back, pen and paper in hand, exclaiming, "I'll tell ye what, my dear Pringle! I'll tell ye what! there shall be no obligation, and you shall give me fifty puns for the grey and pay for him when you please. But mark me!" added he, holding up his forefinger and looking most scrutinisingly at our friend, "Only on one condition, mind! only on one condition, mind! that you give me the refusal of him if ever you want to part with him;" and without waiting for an answer, he placed the paper before our friend, and handing him the pen, said, "There, then, sign that I. O. U." And Billy having signed it, Sir Moses snatched it up and disappeared, leaving our friend to a renewal of his cogitations.

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Sir Moses having accomplished the grand "do," next thought he would back out of the loan of the dog-cart. For this purpose he again came hurrying back, pen in hand, exclaiming, "Oh dear, he was so sorry, but it had just occurred to him that he wanted the mare to go to Lord Lundyfoote's; however, I'll make it all square, I'll make it all square," continued he; "I'll tell Jenkins, the postman, to send a fly as soon as he gets to Hinton, which, I make no doubt, will be here by the time we come in from hunting, and it will take you and your traps all snug and comfortable; for a dog-cart, after all, is but a chilly concern at this time of year, and I shouldn't like you to catch cold going from my house;" and without waiting for an answer, he pulled-to the door and hurried back to his den. Billy shook his head, for he didn't like being put off that way, and muttered to himself, "I wonder who'll pay for it though." However, on reflection, he thought perhaps he would be as comfortable in a fly as finding his way across country on horseback; and as he had now ascertained that Monsieur could ride, whether or not he could drive, he settled that he might just as well take the grey to Yammerton Grange as not. This then threw him back on his position with regard to the horse, which was not so favourable as it at first appeared; indeed, he questioned whether he had done wisely in signing the paper, his Mamma having always cautioned him to be careful how he put his name to anything. Still, he felt he couldn't have got off without offending Sir Moses; and after all, it was more like a loan than a sale, seeing that he had not paid for him, and Sir Moses would take him back if he liked. Altogether he thought he might be worse off, and, considering that Lord Tootleton had given three hundred for the horse, he certainly must be worth fifty. There is nothing so deceiving as price. Only tell a youngster that a horse has cost a large sum, and he immediately looks at him, while he would pass him by if he stood at a low figure. Having belonged to a lord, too, made him so much more acceptable to Billy.

A loud crack of a whip, accompanied by a "Now, Pringle!" presently resounded through the house, and our friend again found himself called upon to engage in an act of horsemanship.

"Coming!" cried he, starting from the little mirror above the scanty grey marble mantel-piece, in which he was contemplating his moustachios; "Coming!" and away he strode, with the desperate energy of a man bent on braving the worst. His cap, whip, gloves, and mits, were all laid ready for him on the entrance hall-table; and seizing them in a cluster, he proceeded to decorate himself as he followed Sir Moses along the intricate passages leading to the stable-yard.

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