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   Chapter 49 THE SHAM DAY.

Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 19807

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


SATURDAY is a very different day in the country to what it is in London. In London it is the lazy day of the week, whereas it is the busy one in the country. It is marked in London by the coming of the clean-linen carts, and the hurrying about of Hansoms with gentlemen with umbrellas and small carpet-bags, going to the steamers and stations for pleasure; whereas in the country everybody is off to the parliament of his local capital on business. All the markets in Hit-im and Hold-im shire were held on a Saturday, and several in Featherbedfordshire; and as everybody who has nothing to do is always extremely busy, great gatherings were the result. This circumstance made Sir Moses hit upon Saturday for his fourth, or make-believe day with the hounds, inasmuch as Few people would be likely to come, and if they did, he knew how to get rid of them. The consequence was, that the court-yard at Pangburn Park exhibited a very different appearance, on this occasion, to what it would have done had the hounds met there on any other day of the week. Two red coats only, and those very shabby ones, with very shady horses under them-viz., young Mr. Billikins of Red Hill Lodge, and his cousin Captain Luff of the navy (the latter out for the first time in his life), were all that greeted our sportsmen; the rest of the field being attired in shooting-jackets, tweeds, antigropolos and other anti-fox-hunting looking things.

"Good morning, gentlemen! good morning!" cried Sir Moses, waving his hand from the steps at the promiscuous throng; and without condescending to particularise any one, he hurried across for his horse, followed by our friend. Sir Moses was going to ride Old Jack, one of the horses he had spoken of for Billy, a venerable brown, of whose age no one's memory about the place supplied any information-though when he first came all the then wiseacres prophesied a speedy decline. Still Old Jack had gone on from season to season, never apparently getting older, and now looking as likely to go on as ever. The old fellow having come pottering out of the stable and couched to his load, the great Lord Mayor came darting forward as if anxious for the fray. "It's your saddle, sir," said Wetun, touching his forehead with his finger, as he held on by the stirrup for Billy to mount. Up then went our friend into the old seat of suffering. "There!" exclaimed Sir Moses, as he got his feet settled in the stirrups; "there, you do look well! If Miss 'um' sees you," continued he, with a knowing wink, "it'll be all over with you;" so saying, Sir Moses touched Old Jack gently with the spur, and proceeded to the slope of the park, where Findlater and the whips now had the hounds.

Tom Findlater, as we said before, was an excellent huntsman, but he had his peculiarities, and in addition to that of getting drunk, he sometimes required to be managed by the rule of contrary, and made to believe that Sir Moses wanted him to do the very reverse of what he really did. Having been refused leave to go to Cleaver the butcher's christening-supper at the sign of the Shoulder of Mutton, at Kimberley, Sir Moses anticipated that this would be one of his perverse days, and so he began taking measures accordingly.

"Good morning, Tom," said he, as huntsman and whips now sky-scraped to his advance-"morning all of you," added he, waving a general salute to the hound-encircling group.

"Now, Tom," said he, pulling up and fumbling at his horn, "I've been telling Mr. Pringle that we'll get him a gallop so as to enable him to arrive at Yammerton Grange before dark."

"Yes, Sir Moses," replied Tom, with a rap of his cap-peak, thinking he would take very good care that he didn't.

"Now whether will Briarey Banks or the Reddish Warren be the likeliest place for a find?"

"Neither, Sir Moses, neither," replied Tom confidently, "Tip-thorne's the place for us."

This was just what Sir Moses wanted.

"Tipthorne, you think, do you?" replied he, musingly. "Tipthorne, you think-well, and where next?"

"Shillington, Sir Moses, and Halstead Hill, and so on to Hatchington Wood."

"Good!" replied the Baronet, "Good!" adding, "then let's be going."

At a whistle and a waive of his hand the watchful hounds darted up, and Tom taking the lead, the mixed cavalcade swept after them over the now yellow-grassed park in a north-easterly direction, Captain Luff working his screw as if he were bent on treading on the hounds' stems.

There being no one out to whom Sir Moses felt there would be any profitable investment of attention, he devoted himself to our hero, complimenting him on his appearance, and on the gallant bearing of his steed, declaring that of all the neat horses he had ever set eyes on the Lord Mayor was out-and-out the neatest. So with compliments to Billy, and muttered "cusses" at Luff, they trotted down Oxclose Lane, through the little village of Homerton, past Dewfield Lawn, over Waybridge Common, shirking Upwood toll-bar, and down Cornforth Bank to Burford, when Tipthorne stood before them. It was a round Billesdon Coplow-like hill, covered with stunted oaks, and a nice warm lying gorse sloping away to the south; but Mr. Tadpole's keeper having the rabbits, he was seldom out of it, and it was of little use looking there for a fox.

That being the case, of course it was more necessary to make a great pretension, so halting noiselessly behind the high red-berried hedge, dividing the pasture from the gorse, Tom despatched his whips to their points, and then touching his cap to Sir Moses, said, "P'raps Mr. Pringle would like to ride in and see him find."

"Ah, to be sure," replied Sir Moses, "let's both go in," whereupon Tom opened the bridle-gate, and away went the hounds with a dash that as good as said if we don't get a fox we'll get a rabbit at all events.

"A fox for a guinea!" cried Findlater, cheering them, and looking at his watch as if he had him up already. "A fox for a guinea!" repeated he, thinking how nicely he was selling his master.

"Keep your eye on this side," cried Sir Moses to Billy. "he'll cross directly!" Terrible announcement. How our friend did quake.

"Yap, yap, yap," now went the shrill note of Tartar, the tarrier, "Yough, yough, yough" followed the deep tone of young Venturesome, close in pursuit of a bunny.

"Crack!" went a heavy whip, echoing through the air and resounding at the back of the hill.

All again was still, and Tom advanced up the cover, standing erect in his stirrups, looking as if half-inclined to believe it was a fox after all.

"Eloo in! Eloo in!" cried he, capping Talisman and Wonderful across. "Yoicks wind 'im! yoicks push him up!" continued he, thinking what a wonderful performance it would be if they did find.

"Squeak, yap, yell, squeak," now went the well-known sound of a hound in a trap. It is Labourer, and a whip goes diving into the sea of gorse to the rescue.

"Oh, dom those traps," cries Sir Moses, as the clamour ceases, adding, "no fox here, I told you so," adding, "should have gone to the Warren."

He then took out his box-wood horn and stopped the performance by a most discordant blast. The hounds came slinking out to the summons, some of them licking their lips as if they had not been there altogether for nothing.

"Where to, now, please Sir Moses?" asked Tom, with a touch of his cap, as soon as he had got them all out.

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"Tally-ho!" cries Captain Luff, in a most stentorian strain-adding immediately, "Oh no! I'm mistaken, It's a hare!" as half the hounds break away to his cry.

"Oh, dom you and your noise," cries Sir Moses, in well-feigned disgust, adding-"Why don't you put your spectacles on?"

Luff looks foolish, for he doesn't know what to say, and the excitement dies out in a laugh at the Captain's expense.

"Where to, now, please, Sir Moses?" again asks Tom, chuckling at his master's displeasure, and thinking how much better it would have been if he had let him go to the supper.

"Where you please," growled the Baronet, scowling at Luff's nasty rusty Napoleons-"where you please, you said Shillington, didn't you-anywhere, only let us find a fox," added he, as if he really wanted one.

Tom then got his horse short by the head, and shouldering his whip, trotted off briskly, as if bent on retrieving the day. So he went through the little hamlet of Hawkesworth over Dippingham water meadows, bringing Blobbington mill-race into the line, much to Billy's discomfiture, and then along the Hinton and London turnpike to the sign of the Plough at the blacksmith's shop at Shillington.

The gorse was within a stone's throw of the "Public," so Luff and some of the thirsty ones pulled up to wet their whistles and light the clay pipes of gentility.

The gorse was very open, and the hounds ran through it almost before the sots had settled what they would have, and there being a bye-road at the far end, leading by a slight détour to Halstead Hill, Sir Moses hurried them out, thinking to shake off some of them by a trot. They therefore slipped away with scarcely a crack of the whip, let alone the twang of a horn.

"Bad work this," said Sir Moses, spurring and reining up alongside of Billy, "bad work this; that huntsman of mine," added he, in an under tone, "is the most obstinate fool under the sun, and let me give you a bit of advice," continued he, laying hold of our friend's arm, as if to enforce it. "If ever you keep hounds, always give orders and never ask opinions. Now, Mister Findlater!" hallooed he, to the bobbing cap in advance, "Now, Mister Findlater! you're well called Findlater, by Jove, for I think you'll never find at all. Halstead Hill, I suppose, next?"

"Yes, Sir Moses," replied Tom, with a half-touch of his cap, putting on a little faster, to get away, as he thought, from the spray of his master's wrath. And so with this co

mfortable game at cross purposes, master and servant passed over what is still called Lingfield common (though it now grows turnips instead of gorse), and leaving Cherry-trees Windmill to the left, sunk the hill at Drovers' Heath, and crossing the bridge at the Wellingburn, the undulating form of Halstead Hill stood full before them. Tom then pulled up into a walk, and contemplated the rugged intricacies of its craggy bush-dotted face.

"If there's a fox in the country one would think he'd be here," observed he, in a general sort of way, well knowing that Mr. Testyfield's keeper took better care of them than that. "Gently hurrying!" hallooed he, now cracking his whip as the hounds pricked their ears, and seemed inclined to break away to an outburst of children from the village school below.

Tom then took the hounds to the east end of the hill, where the lying began, and drew them along the face of it with the usual result, "Nil." Not even a rabbit.

"Well, that's queer," said he, with well feigned chagrin, as Pillager, Petulant, and Ravager appeared on the bare ground to the west, leading out the rest of the pack on their lines. They were all presently clustering in view again. A slight twang of the horn brought them pouring down to the hill to our obstinate huntsman just as Captain Luff and Co. hove in sight on the Wellingburn Bridge, riding as boldly as refreshed gentlemen generally do.

There was nothing for it then but Hatchington Wood, with its deep holding rides and interminable extent.

There is a Hatchington Wood in every hunt, wild inhospitable looking thickets, that seem as if they never knew an owner's care, where men light their cigars and gather in groups, well knowing that whatever sport the hounds may have, theirs is over for the day. Places in which a man may gallop his horse's tail off, and not hear or see half as much as those do who sit still.

Into it Tom now cheered his hounds, again thinking how much better it would have been if Sir Moses had let him go to the supper. "Cover hoick! Cover hoick!" cheered he to his hounds, as they came to the rickety old gate. "I wouldn't ha' got drunk," added he to himself. "Yoi, wind him! Yoi, rouse him, my boys! what 'arm could it do him, my going, I wonders?" continued he to himself. "Yoi, try for him, Desp'rate, good lass! Desp'rate bad job my not gettin', I know," added he, rubbing his nose on the back of his hand; and so with cheers to his hounds and commentaries on Sir Moses's mean conduct, the huntsman proceeded from ride to road and from road to ride, varied with occasional dives into the fern and the rough, to exhort and encourage his hounds to rout out a fox; not that he cared much now whether he found one or not, for the cover had long existed on the reputation of a run that took place twelve years before, and it was not likely that a place so circumstanced would depart from its usual course on that day.

There is nothing certain, however, about a fox-hunt, but uncertainty; the worst-favoured days sometimes proving the best, and the best-favoured ones sometimes proving the worst. We dare say, if our sporting readers would ransack their memories, they will find that most of their best days have been on unpromising ones. So it was on the present occasion, only no one saw the run but Tom and the first whip. Coming suddenly upon a fine travelling fox, at the far corner of the cover, they slipped away with him down wind, and had a bona fide five and thirty minutes, with a kill, in Lord Ladythorne's country, within two fields of his famous gorse cover, at Cockmere.

"Ord! rot ye, but ye should ha' seen that, if you'd let me go to the supper," cried Tom, as he threw himself off his lathered tail-quivering horse to pick up his fox, adding, "I knows when to blow the horn and when not."

Meanwhile Sir Moses, having got into a wrangle with Jacky Phillips about the price of a pig, sate on his accustomed place on the rising ground by the old tumble-down farm-buildings, wrangling, and haggling, and declaring it was a "do." In the midst of his vehemence, Robin Snowball's camp of roystering, tinkering besom-makers came hattering past; and Robin, having a contract with Sir Moses for dog horses, gave his ass a forwarding bang, and ran up to inform his patron that "the hunds had gone away through Piercefield plantins iver see lang since:"-a fact that Robin was well aware of, having been stealing besom-shanks in them at the time.

"Oh, the devil!" shrieked Sir Moses, as if he was shot. "Oh, the devil!" continued he, wringing his hands, thinking how Tom would be bucketing Crusader now that he was out of sight; and catching up his horse, he stuck spurs in his sides, and went clattering up the stony cross-road to the west, as hard as ever the old Jack could lay legs to the ground, thinking what a wigging he would give Tom if he caught him.

"Hark!" continued he, pulling short up across the road, and nearly shooting Billy into his pocket with the jerk of his suddenly stopped horse, "Hark!" repeated he, holding up his hand, "Isn't that the horn?"

"Oh, dom it! it's Parker, the postman," added he,-"what business has the beggar to make such a row!" for, like all noisy people, Sir Moses had no idea of anybody making a noise but himself. He then set his horse agoing again, and was presently standing in his stirrups, tearing up the wretched, starvation, weed-grown ground outside the cover.

Having gained a sufficient elevation, he again pulled up, and turning short round, began surveying the country. All was quiet and tranquil. The cattle had their heads to the ground, the sheep were scattered freely over the fields, and the teams were going lazily over the clover-lays, leaving shiny furrows behind them.

"Well, that's a sell, at all events!" said he, dropping his reins. "Be b'und to say they are right into the heart of Featherbedfordshire by this time,-most likely at Upton Moss in Woodberry Yale,-as fine a country as ever man crossed,-and to think that that wretched deluded man has it all to himself!-I'd draw and quarter him if I had him, dom'd if I wouldn't," added Sir Moses, cutting frantically at the air with his thong-gathered whip.

Our friend Billy, on the other hand, was all ease and composure. He had escaped the greatest punishment that could befall him, and was so clean and comfortable, that he resolved to surprise his fair friends at Yammerton Grange in his pink, instead of changing as he intended.

Sir Moses, having strained his eye-balls about the country in vain, at length dropped down in his saddle, and addressing the few darkly-clad horsemen around him with, "Well, gentlemen, I'm afraid it's all over for the day," adding, "Come, Pringle, let us be going," he poked his way past them, and was presently retracing his steps through the wood, picking up a lost hound or two as he went. And still he was so loth to give it up, that he took Forester Hill in his way, to try if he could see anything of them; but it was all calm and blank as before; and at length he reached Pangburn Park in a very discontented mood.

In the court-yard stood the green fly that had to convey our friend back to fairy-land, away from the red coats, silk jackets and other the persecutions of pleasure, to the peaceful repose of the Major and his "haryers." Sir Moses looked at it with satisfaction, for he had had as much of our friend's society as he required, and did not know that he could "do" him much more if he had him a month; so if he could now only get clear of Monsieur without paying him, that was all he required.

Jack, however, was on the alert, and appeared on the back-steps as Sir Moses dismounted; nor did his rapid dive into the stable avail him, for Jack headed him as he emerged at the other end, with a hoist of his hat, and a "Bon jour, Sare Moses, Baronet!"

"Ah, Monsieur, comment vous portez-vous?" replied the Baronet, shying off, with a keep-your-distance sort of waive of the hand.

Jack, however, was not to be put off that way, and following briskly up, he refreshed Sir Moses's memory with, "Pund, I beat Cuddy, old cock, to de clomp; ten franc-ten shillin'-I get over de brook; thirty shillin' in all, Sare Moses, Baronet," holding out his hand for the money.

"Oh, ah, true," replied Sir Moses, pretending to recollect the bets, adding, "If you can give me change of a fifty-pun note, I can pay ye," producing a nice clean one from his pocket-book that he always kept ready for cases of emergency like the present.

"Fifty-pun note, Sare Moses!" replied Jack, eyeing it. "Fifty-pun note! I 'ave not got such an astonishin' som about me at present," feeling his pockets as he spoke; "bot I vill seek change, if you please."

"Why, no," replied Sir Moses, thinking he had better not part with the decoy-duck. "I'll tell you what I'll do, though," continued he, restoring it to its case; "I'll send you a post-office order for the amount, or pay it to your friend, Mr. Gallon, whichever you prefer."

"Veil, Sir Moses, Baronet," replied Jack, considering, "I think de leetle post-office order vill be de most digestible vay of squarin' matters."

"Va-a-ry good," cried Sir Moses, "Va-a-ry good. I'll send you one, then," and darting at a door in the wall, he slipped through it, and shot the bolt between Jack and himself.

And our hero, having recruited nature with lunch, and arranged with Jack for riding his horse, presently took leave of his most hospitable host, and entered the fly that was to convey him back to Yammerton Grange. And having cast himself into its ill-stuffed hold he rumbled and jolted across country in the careless, independent sort of way that a man does who has only a temporary interest in the vehicle, easy whether he was upset or not. Let us now anticipate his arrival by transferring our imaginations to Yammerton Grange.

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