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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 29445

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

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IVY BANK 'Power (formerly caled Cow gate Hill), the seat of Jeames Wotherspoon Esquire, stands on a gentle eminence about a stone's throw from the Horseheath and Hinton turnpike road, and looks from the luxuriance of its ivy, like a great Jack-in-the-green. Ivy is a troublesome thing, for it will either not grow at all or it grows far too fast, and Wotherspoon's had rairly overrun the little angular red brick, red tiled mansion, and helped it to its new name of Ivy Bank Tower. If the ivy flourished, however, it was the only thing about the place that did; for Wotherspoon was no farmer, and the 75a,:5r. 18p, of which the estate consisted, was a very uninviting looking property. Indeed Wotherspoon was an illustration of the truth of Sydney Smith's observation that there are three things which every man thinks he ean do, namely, drive a gig, edit a newspaper, and farm a small property, and Spoon bought Cowgate Hill thinking it would "go of itself." as they say of a horse, and that in addition to the rent he would get the farmer's profit as well, which he was told ought to be equal to the rent. Though he had the Farmers' Almanack, he did not attend much to its instructions, for if Mrs. Wotherspoon wanted the Fe-a-ton, as she called it, to gad about the country in, John Strong, the plough-boy footman "loused" his team, and arraying himself in a chocolate-coloured coat, with a red striped vest and black velveteens, left the other horse standing idle for the day. So Spoon sometimes caught the season and sometimes he lost it; and the neighbours used to hope that he hadn't to live by his land. If he caught the season he called it good management; if he didn't he laid the blame upon the weather, just as a gardener takes the credit for all the good crops of fruit, and attributes the failures to the seasons. Still Spoon was not at all sensible of his deficiencies, and subscribed a couple of guineas a year to the Harrowford Agricultural Society, in return for which he always had the toast of the healths of the tenant farmers assigned to him, which he handled in a very magnificent and condescending way, acknowledging the obligations the landowners were under to them, and hoping the happy union would long subsist to their mutual advantage; indeed, if he could only have got the words out of his mouth as fast as he got the drink into it, there is no saying but he might some day have filled the presidential chair. Now, however, a greater honour even than that awaited him, namely, the honour of entertaining the great Major Yammerton to breakfast. To this end John Strong was first set to clean the very dirty windows, then to trim the ivy and polish the brass knocker at the door, next to dig the border, in which grew the famous yellow rose, and finally to hoe and rake the carriage-drive up to the house; while Mrs. Wotherspoon, aided by Sally Brown, her maid-of-all-work, looked out the best blue and gold china, examined the linen, selected a tongue, guillotined the poultry, bespoke the eggs, and arranged the general programme of the entertainment.

The Major thought himself very sly, and that he was doing the thing very cleverly by nibbling and playing with his breakfast on the appointed morning, instead of eating voraciously as usual; but ladies often know a good deal more than they pretend to do, and Mrs. Yammerton had seen a card from Mrs. Wotherspoon to their neighbour, Mrs. Broadfurrow, of Blossomfield Farm, inviting Broadfurrow and her to a "déjeuner à la fourvhette" to meet Major Yammerton and see the hounds. However, Mrs. Yammerton kept the fact to herself, thinking she would see how her Major would manoeuvre the matter, and avoid a general acquaintance with the Wotherspoons. So she merely kept putting his usual viands before him, to try to tempt him into indulgence; but the Major, knowing the arduous part he would have to perform at the Tower, kept rejecting all her insidious overtures for eating, pretending he was not altogether right. "Almond pudding hadn't agreed with him," he thought. "Never did-should have known better than take it," and so on.

Our dawdling hero rather discontented his host, for instead of applying himself sedulously to his breakfast, he did nothing but chatter and talk to the young ladies, as if there was no such important performance before them as a hare to pursue, or the unrivalled harriers to display. he took cup after cup, as though he had lost his reckoning, and also the little word "no" from his vocabulary. At length the Major got him raised from the table, by telling him they had two miles farther to go than they really had, and making for the stable, they found Solomon and the footman whipper-in ready to turn out with the hounds. Up went our sportsmen on to their horses, and forth came the hounds wriggling and frolicking with joy. The cavalcade being thus formed, they proceeded across the fields, at the back of the house, and were presently passing up the Hollington Lane. The gift grey was the first object of interest as soon as they got well under way, and the Major examined him attentively, with every desire to find fault.

"Neatish horse," at length observed he, half to himself, half to our friend; "neatish horse-lightish of bone below the knee, p'raps, but still by no means a bad shaped 'un."

Still though the Major could'nt hit off the fault, he was pretty sure there was a screw loose somewhere, to discover which he now got Billy to trot the horse, aud cauter him, and gallop him, successively.

"Humph!" grunted he, as he returned after a brush over the rough ground of Farthingfield Moor; "he has the use of his legs-gets well away; easy horse under you, I dessay?" asked he.

Billy said he was, for he could pull him about anywhere; saying which he put him boldly at a water furrow, and lauded handsomely on the far side.

"Humph!" grunted the Major again, muttering to himself, "May be all right-but if he is, it's devilish unlike the Baronet, giving him. Wish he would take that confounded moon-eyed brute of mine and give me my forty puns back."

"And he gave him ye, did he?" asked the Major, with a scrutinising stare at our friend.

"Why-yarse-no-yarse-not exactly," replied Billy, hesitating. "The fact is, he offered to give me him. and I didn't like taking him, and so, after a good deal to do, he said I might give him fifty pounds for him, and pay him when it suited me."

"I twig," replied the Major, adding, "then you have to pay fifty pounds for him, eh?"

"Or return him," replied Billy, "or return him. He made me promise if over I wanted to part with him, I would give him the refusal of him again."

"Humph!" grunted the Major, looking the horse over attentively. "Fifty puns," muttered he to himself,-"must be worth that if he's sound, and only eight off. Wouldn't mind giving fifty for him myself," thought he; "must be something wrong about him-certain of that-or Sir Moses wouldn't have parted with him;" with which firm conviction, and the full determination to find out the horse's weak point, the Major trotted along the Bodenham Road, through the little hamlet of Maywood, thence across Faulder the cattle jobber's farm, into the Heath-field Road at Gilden Bridge. A quarter of a mile further, and Mr. Wotherspoon's residence was full in sight.

The "Tower" never, perhaps, showed to greater advantage than it did on this morning, for a bright winter's sun lit up the luxuriant ivy on its angular, gable-ended walls, nestling myriads of sparrows that flew out in flocks at the approach of each visitor.

"What place is this?" asked our hero, as, at a jerk of the Major's head, Solomon turned off the road through the now propped-open gate of the approach to the mansion.

"Oh, this is where we meet," replied the Major; "this is Mr. Wotherspoon's, the gentleman you remember out with us the day we had the famous run when we lost the hare at Mossheugh Law-the farm by the moor, you know, where the pretty woman was churning-you remember, eh?"

"O, ah!" repeated Billy: "but I thought they called his place a Tower,-Ivy something Tower," thinking this was more like two great sentry boxes placed at right angles, and covered with ivy than anything else.

"Well, yes; he calls this a Tower," replied the Major, seeing by Billy's face that his friend had not risen in his estimation by the view of his mansion. "Capital feller Spoon, though," continued he, "must go in and pay our respects to him and his lady." So saying, he turned off the road upon the closely eaten sward, and, calling to Solomon to stop and let the hounds have a roll on the grass, he dismounted, and gave his horse in charge of a fustian-clad countryman, telling him to walk him about till he returned, and he would remember him for his trouble. Our friend Billy did the same, and knocking the mud sparks off his boots against the well pipe-clayed door-steps, prepared to enter the Tower. Before inducting them, however, let us prepare the inmates for their reception.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Wotherspoon had risen sufficiently early to enable them to put the finishing stroke to their respective arrangements, and then to apparel themselves for the occasion. They were gorgeously attired, vieing with the rainbow in the colour of their clothes. Old Spoon, indeed, seemed as if he had put all the finery on he could raise, and his best brown cauliflower wig shone resplendent with Macassar oil. He had on a light brown coat with a rolling velvet collar, velvet facings and cuffs, with a magnificent green, blue, and yellow striped tartan velvet vest, enriched with red cornelian buttons, and crossed diagonally with a massive Brazilian gold chain, and the broad ribbon of his gold double-eye-glasses. He sported a light blue satin cravat, an elaborately worked ruby-studded shirt front, over a pink flannel vest, with stiff wrist-bands well turned up, showing the magnificence of his imitation India garnet buttons. On his clumsy fingers he wore a profusion of rings-a brilliant cluster, a gold and opal, a brilliant and sapphire, an emerald half-hoop ring, a massive mourning, and a signet ring,-six in all,-genuine or glass as the case might be, equally distributed between the dirty-nailed fingers of each hand. His legs were again encased in the treacherous white cords and woe-begone top-boots that were best under the breakfast table. He had drawn the thin cords on very carefully, hoping they would have the goodness to hang together for the rest of the day.

Mrs. Wotherspoon was bedizened with jewellery and machinery lace. She wore a rich violet-coloured velvet dress, with a beautiful machinery lace chemisette, fastened down the front with large Cairngorum buttons, the whole connected with a diminutive Venetian chain, which contrasted with the massive mosaic one that rolled and rattled upon her plump shoulders. A splendid imitation emerald and brilliant brooch adorned her bust, while her well-rounded arms were encircled with a mosaic gold, garnet and turquoise bracelet, an imitation rose diamond one, intermixed with pearl, a serpent armlet with blood-stone eyes, a heavy jet one, and an equally massive mosaic gold one with a heart's ease padlock. Though in the full development of womanhood, she yet distended her figure with crinoline, to the great contraction of her room.

The two had scarcely entered the little parlour, some twelve feet square, and Spoon got out his beloved Morning Post, ere Mr. and Mrs. Broadfurrow were seen wending their way up the road, at the plodding diligent sort of pace an agricultural horse goes when put into harness; and forthwith the Wotherspoons dismissed the last anxieties of preparation, and lapsed into the easy, unconcerned host and hostess. When John Strong threw open the door, and announced Mr. and Mrs. Broadfurrow, they were discovered standing over the fire, as if d'ejeuner à la fourchette giving was a matter of every day's occurrence with them. Then, at the summons, they turned and came forward in the full glow of cordiality, and welcomed their guests with all the fervour of sincerity; and when Mrs. Wotherspoon mounted the weather for a trot with Mrs. Broadfurrow, old Spoon out with his engine-turned gold snuff-box, and offered Broadfurrow a pinch ere he threw his conversation into the columns of his paper. The offer being accepted, Wotherspoon replenished his own nose, and then felt ready for anything. He was in high feather. He sunk his favourite topic, the doings of the House of Lords, and expatiated upon the Princess Royal's then approaching marriage. Oh, dear, he was so glad. He was so glad of it-glad of it on every account-glad of it on the Princess's account-glad of it on her most gracious Majesty's account. Bless her noble heart! it almost made him feel like an old man when he remembered the Prince Consort leading her to the hymeneal altar herself. Well, well, life was life, and he had seen as much of it as most men; and just as he was going to indulge in some of his high-flown reminiscences, the crack of a hunting whip sounded through the house, and farmer Nettlefold's fat figure, attired in the orthodox green coat and white cords of the Major Yammerton's hunt was seen piled on a substantial brown cob, making his way to the stables at the back of the Tower. Mr. Nettlefold, who profanely entered by the back door, was then presently announced, and the same greetings having been enacted towards him, Wotherspoon made a bold effort to get back to the marriage, beginning with "As I was observing," when farmer Rintoul came trotting up on his white horse, and holloaed out to know if he could get him put up.

"Oh, certainly," replied Wotherspoon, throwing up the window, when a sudden gust of wind nearly blew off his wig, and sadly disconcerted the ladies by making the chimney smoke.

Just at this moment our friend appeared in sight, and all eyes were then directed to the now gamboling tongue-throwing hounds, as they spread frisking over the green.

"What beauties!" exclaimed Mrs. Wotherspoon, pretending to admire them, though in reality she was examining the Point de Paris lace on Mrs. Broadfurrow's mantle-wondering what it would be a yard, thinking it was very extravagant for a person like her to have it so broad. Old Spoon, meanwhile, bustled away to the door, to be ready to greet the great men as they entered.

"Major Yammerton and Mr. Jingle!" announced John Strong, throwing it open, and the old dandy bent nearly double with his bow.

"How are ye, Wotherspoon?" demanded our affable master, shaking him heartily by the hand, with a hail-fellow-well-met air of cordiality. "Mr. Pringle you know," cont

inued he, drawing our friend forward with his left hand, while he advanced with his right to greet the radiant Mrs. Wotherspoon.

The Major then went the round of the party, whole handing Mrs. Broadfurrow, three fingering her husband, presenting two to old Rintonl, and nodding to Nettlefold.

"Well, here's a beautiful morning," observed he, now Colossus-of-Rhodesing with his clumsily built legs-"most remarkable season this I ever remember during the five-and-thirty years that I have kept haryers-more like summer than winter, only the trees are as bare of leaves as boot-trees, haw, haw, haw."

"He, he, he," chuckled old Wotherspoon, "v-a-a-ry good, Major, v-a-a-ry good," drawled he, taking a plentiful replenishment of snuff as he spoke.

Breakfast was then announced, and the Major making up to the inflated Mrs. Wotherspoon tendered his arm, and with much difficulty piloted her past the table into the little duplicate parlour across the passage, followed by Wotherspoon with Mrs. Broadfurrow and the rest of the party.

And now the fruits of combined science appeared in the elegant arrangement of the breakfast-table, the highly polished plate vieing with the snowy whiteness of the cloth, and the pyramidical napkins encircling around. Then there was the show pattern tea and coffee services, chased in wreaths and scrolls, presented to Mr. Wotherspoon by the Duke of Thunderdownshire on his marriage; the Louis Quatorze kettle presented to Mrs. Wotherspoon by the Duchess, with the vine-leaf-patterned cake-basket, the Sutherland-patterned toast-rack, and the tulip-patterned egg-stand, the gifts and testimonials of other parties.

Nor was the entertainment devoted to mere show, for piles of cakes and bread of every shape and make were scattered profusely about, while a couple of covered dishes on the well polished little sideboard denoted that the fourchette of the card was not a mere matter of form. Best of all, a group of flat vine-leaf encircling Champagne glasses denoted that the repast was to be enlivened with the exhilarating beverage.

The party having at length settled into seats, Major Yammerton on Mrs. Wotherspoon's right, Mr. Pringle on her left, Mrs. Broadfurrow on Spoon's right, her husband on his left, with Rintoul and Nettlefold filling in the interstices, breakfast began in right earnest, and Mrs. Wotherspoon having declined the Major's offer of assisting with the coffee, now had her hands so full distributing the beverages as to allow him to apply himself sedulously to his food. This he did most determinedly, visiting first one detachment of cakes, then another, and helping himself liberally to both hashed woodcocks and kidneys from under the covers. His quick eye having detected the Champagne glasses, and knowing Wotherspoon's reputed connoisseurship in wines, he declined Mrs. Wotherspoon's tea, reserving himself for what was to follow. In truth, Spoon was a good judge of wine, so much so that he acted as a sort of decoy duck to a London house, who sent him very different samples to the wine they supplied to the customers with whom he picked up. He had had a great deal of experience in wines, never, in the course of a longish life having missed the chance of a glass, good, bad, or indifferent. We have seen many men set up for judges without a tithe of Wotherspoon's experience. Look at a Club for instance. We see the footman of yesterday transformed into the butler of to-day, giving his opinion to some newly joined member on the next, with all the authority of a professor-talking of vintages, and flavours, and roughs and smooths, and sweets, and drys, as if he had been drinking wine all his life. Wotherspoon's prices were rather beyond the Major's mark, but still he had no objection to try his wine, and talk as if he would like to have some of the same sort. So having done ample justice to the eatables he turned himself back in his chair and proceeded to criticise Mrs. Wotherspoon's now slightly flushed face, and wonder how such a pretty woman could marry such a snuffy old cock. While this deliberate scrutiny was going on, the last of the tea-drinkers died out, and at a pull of the bell, John Strong came in, and after removing as many cups and saucers as he could clutch, he next proceeded to decorate the table with Champagne glasses amid the stares and breath-drawings of the company.

While this interesting operation was proceeding, the old dandy host produced his snuff-box, and replenishing his nose passed it on to Broadfurrow to send up the table, while he threw himself back in his chair and made a mental wager that Strong would make a mistake between the Champagne and the Sillery. The glasses being duly distributed, and the Major's eye at length caught, our host after a prefatory throat-clearing hem thus proceeded to address him, individually, for the good of the company generally.

"Major Yammerton," said he, "I will take the liberty of recommending a glass of Sillery to you.-The sparkling, I believe, is very good, but the still is what 1 particularly pride myself upon and recommend to my friends."

"Strong!" continued he, addressing the clown, "the Sillery to Major Yammerton," looking at Strong as much as to say, "you know it's the bottle with the red cord round the neck."

The Major, however, like many of us, was not sufficiently versed in the delicacies of Champagne drinking to prefer the Sillery, and to his host's dismay called for the sparkling-stuff that Wotherspoon considered was only fit for girls at a boarding school. The rest of the party, however, were of the Major's opinion, and all glasses were eagerly held for the sparkling fluid, while the Sillery remained untouched to the master.

It is but justice to Wotherspoon to add, that he showed himself deserving of the opportunity, for he immediately commenced taking two glasses to his guest's one.

That one having been duly sipped and quaffed and applauded, and a becoming interval having elapsed between, Mr. Wotherspoon next rose from his chair, and looking especially wise, observed, up the table "that there was a toast he wished-he had-he had-he wished to propose, which he felt certain under any-any (panse) circumstances, would be (pause again) accepted-he meant received with approbation (applause), not only with approbation, but enthusiasm," continued he, hitting off the word he at first intended to use, amid renewed applause, causing a slight "this is my health," droop of the head from the Major-"But when," continued the speaker, drawing largely on his snuff-box for inspiration, "But when in addition to the natural and intrinsic (pause) merit of the (hem) illustrious individual" ("Coming it strong," thought the Major, who had never been called illustrious before,) "there is another and a stronger reason," continued Wotherspoon, looking as if he wished he was in his seat again-"a reason that comes 'ome to the 'earts and symphonies of us all (applause). ("Ah, that's the hounds," thought the Major, "only I 'spose he means sympathies.") "I feel (pause) assured," continued Mr. Wotherspoon, "that the toast will be received with the enthusiasm and popularity that ever attends the (pause) mention of intrinsic merit, however (pause) 'umbly and inadequately the (pause) toast may be (pause) proposed," (great applause, with cries of no, no,) during which the orator again appealed to his snuff-box. He knew he had a good deal more to say, but he felt he couldn't get it out. If he had only kept his seat he thought he might have managed it. "I therefore," said he, helping Mrs. Broadfurrow to the sparkling, and passing the bottle to her husband while he again appealed to the Sillery, "beg to propose, with great sincerity, the 'ealth of Her most gracious Majesty The Queen! The Queen! God bless her!" exclaimed Wotherspoon, holding up a brimming bumper ere he sunk in his chair to enjoy it.

"With all my heart!" gasped the disgusted Major, writhing with vexation-observing to Mrs. Wotherspoon as he helped her, and then took severe toll of the passing bottle himself, "by Jove, your husband ought to be in Parliament-never heard a man acquit himself better"-the Major following the now receding bottle with his eye, whose fast diminishing contents left little hopes of a compliment for himself out of its contents. He therefore felt his chance was out, and that he had been unduly sacrificed to Royalty. Not so, however, for Mr. Wotherspoon, after again charging his nose with snuff, and passing his box round the table while he collected his scattered faculties for the charge, now drew the bell-cord again, and tapping with his knife against the empty bottle as "Strong" entered, exclaimed, "Champagne!" with the air of a man accustomed to have all the wants of life supplied by anticipation. There's nobody gets half so well waited upon as an old servant.

This order being complied with, and having again got up the steam of his eloquence, Mr. Wotherspoon arose, and, looking as wise as before, observed, "That there was another toast he had to propose, which he felt (pause) sure would (pause) would be most agreeable and acceptable to the meeting,-he meant to say the party, the present party (applause)-under any circumstances (sniff, snuff, sneeze); he was sure it would be most (snuff) acceptable, for the great and distinguished (pause), he had almost said illustrious (sniff), gentleman (pause), was-was estimable"-"-was estimable (pause) and glorious in every relation of life.

"This is me, at all events," thought the Major, again slightly drooping his too bashful head, as though the shower-bath of compliment was likely to be too heavy for him. (applause), and keeps a pack of hounds second to none in the kingdom (great applause, during which the drooping head descended an inch or two lower). I need not after that (snuff) expression of your (sniff) feelings (pause), undulate on the advantage such a character is of to the country, or in promoting (pause) cheerful hospitality in all its (pause) branches, and drawing society into sociable communications; therefore I think I shall (pause) offer a toast most, most heartily acceptable (sniff) to all your (snuff) feelings, when I propose, in a bumper toast, the health of our most-most distinguished and-and hospitable host-guest, I mean-Major Yammerton, and his harriers!" saying which, the old orator filled himself a bumper of Sillery, and sent the sparkling beverage foaming and creaming on its tour. He then presently led the charge with a loud, "Major! your very good health!"

"Major, your very good health!"

"Your very good health, Major!"

"Major, your very good health!" then followed up as quickly as the glasses could be replenished, and the last explosion having taken place, the little Major arose, and looked around him like a Bantam cock going to crow. He was a man who could make what he would call an off-hand speech, provided he was allowed to begin with a particular word, and that word was "for." Accordingly, he now began with,-

"Ladies and gentlemen, For the very distinguished honour you have thus most unexpectedly done me, I beg to return you my most grateful and cordial thanks. (Applause.) I beg to assure you, that the 'steem and approbation of my perhaps too partial friends, is to me the most gratifying of compliments; and if during the five-and-thirty years I have kept haryers, I have contributed in any way to the 'armony and good fellowship of this neighbourhood, it is indeed to me a source of unfeigned pleasure. (Applause.) I 'ope I may long be spared to continue to do so. (Renewed applause.) Being upon my legs, ladies and gentlemen," continued he, "and as I see there is still some of this most excellent and exhilarating beverage in the bottle (the Major holding up a halfemptied one as he spoke), permit me to conclude by proposing as a toast the 'ealth of our inestimable 'ost and 'ostess-a truly exemplary couple, who only require to be known to be respected and esteemed as they ought to be. (Applause.) I have great pleasure in proposing the 'ealth of Mr. and Mrs. Wotherspoon! (Applause.) Mrs. Wotherspoon," continued he, bowing very low to his fair hostess, and looking, as he thought, most insinuating, "your very good 'ealth! Wotherspoon!" continued he, standing erect, and elevating his voice, "Your very good 'ealth!" saying which he quaffed off his wine, and resumed his seat as the drinking of the toast became general.

Meanwhile old Wotherspoon had taken a back hand at the Sillery, and again arose, glass in hand, to dribble out his thanks for the honour the Major and company had done Mrs. Wother-spoon and himself, which being the shortest speech he had made, was received with the greatest applause.

All parties had now about arrived at that comfortable state when the inward monitor indicates enough, and the active-minded man turns to the consideration of the "next article, mem,"-as the teasing shop-keepers say, The Major's "next article," we need hardly say, was his haryers, which were still promenading in front of the ivy-mantled tower, before an admiring group of pedestrians and a few sorrily mounted horsemen,-old Duffield, Dick Trail, and one or two others,-who would seem rather to have come to offer up their cattle for the boiler, than in expectation of their being able to carry them across country with the hounds. These are the sort of people who stamp the farmers' hedges down, and make hare hunting unpopular.

"Well, sir, what say you to turning out?" now asked our Master, as Wotherspoon still kept working away at the Sillery, and maundering on to Mr. Broadfurrow about the Morning Post and high life.

"Well, sir, what you think proper," replied Spoon, taking a heavy pinch of snuff, and looking at the empty bottles on the table.

"The hare, you say, is close at hand," observed our master of hounds.

"Close at hand, close at hand-at the corner of my field, in fact," assented Wotherspoon, as if there was no occasion to be in a hurry.

"Then let's be at her!" exclaimed the Major rising with wine-inspired confidence, and feeling that it would require a very big fence to stop him with the hounds in full cry.

"Well, but we are going to see you, ain't we?" asked Mrs. Wotherspoon.

"By all means," replied our Master; adding, "but hadn't you better get your bonnet on?"

"Certainly," rejoined Mrs. Wotherspoon, looking significantly at Mrs. Broadfurrow; whereupon the latter rose, and with much squeezing, and pardoning, and thank-you-ing, the two succeeded in effecting a retreat. The gentlemen then began kicking their legs about, feeling as though they would not want any dinner that day.

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