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   Chapter 55 THE COUNCIL OF WAR.—POOR PUSS AGAIN!

Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 15322

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


WHILE the ladies were absent adorning themselves, the gentlemen held a council of war as to the most advisable mode of dealing with the hare, aud the best way of making her face a good country. The Major thought if they could set her a-going with her head towards Martinfield-heath, they would stand a good chance of a run; while Broadfurrow feared Borrowdale brook would be in the way.

"Why not Linacres?" asked Mr. Rintoul, who preferred having the hounds over any one's farm but his own.

"Linacres is not a bad line," assented the Major thoughtfully; "Linacres is not a bad line, 'specially if she keeps clear of Minsterfield-wood and Dowland preserve; but if once she gets to the preserve it's all U. P., for we should have as many hares as hounds in five minutes, to say nothing of Mr. Grumbleton reading the riot act among us to boot."

"I'll tell ye how to do, then," interposed fat Mr. Nettlefold, holding his coat laps behind him as he protruded his great canary-coloured stomach into the ring; "I'll tell you how to do, then. Just crack her away back over this way, and see if you can't get her for Witherton and Longworth. Don't you mind," continued he, button-holeing the Major, "what a hunt we had aboot eighteen years since with a har we put off old Tommy Carman's stubble, that took us reet away over Marbury Plot, the Oakley hill, and then reet down into Woodbury Yale, where we killed?"

"To be sure I do!" exclaimed the delighted Major, his keen eyes glistening with pleasure at the recollection. "The day Sam Snowball rode into Gallowfield bog and came out as black as a sweep-I remember it well. Don't think I ever saw a better thing. If it had been a-a-certain somebody's hounds (he, he, he!), whose name I won't mention (haw, haw, haw!), we should never have heard the last of it (he, he, he!)."

While this interesting discussion was going on, old Wotherspoon who had been fumbling at the lock of the cellaret, at length got it open, and producing therefrom one of those little square fibre-protected bottles, with mysterious seals and hieroglyphical labels, the particoloured letters leaning different ways, now advanced, gold-dotted liquor-glass in hand, towards the group, muttering as he came, "Major Yammerton, will you 'blege me with your 'pinion of this Maraschino di Zara, which my wine merchants recommend to me as something very 'tickler," pouring out a glass as he spoke, and presenting it to his distinguished guest.

"With all my heart," replied the Major, who rather liked a glass of liquor; adding, "we'll all give our opinion, won't we, Pringle?" appealing to our hero.

"Much pleasure," replied Billy, who didn't exactly know what it was, but still was willing to take it on trust.

"That's right," rejoined old Spoon; "that's right; then 'blege me," continued he, "by helping yourselves to glasses from the sideboard," nodding towards a golden dotted brood clustering about a similarly adorned glass jug like chickens around a speckled hen.

At this intimation a move was made to the point; and all being duly provided with glasses, the luscious beverage flowed into each in succession, producing hearty smacks of the lips, and "very goods" from all.

"Well, I think so," replied the self-satisfied old dandy; "I think so," repeated he, replenishing his nose with a good pinch of snuff; "Comes from Steinberger and Leoville, of King Street, Saint Jeames's-very old 'quaintance of mine-great house in the days of George the Fourth of festive memory. And, by the way, that reminds me," continued he, after a long-drawn respiration, "that I have forgotten a toast that I feel (pause) we ought to have drunk, and-"

"Let's have it now then," interrupted the Major, presenting his glass for a second helping.

"If you please," replied "Wotherspoon, thus cut short in his oration, proceeding to replenish the glasses, but with more moderate quantities than before.

"Well, now what's your toast?" demanded the Major, anxious to be off.

"The toast I was about to propose-or rather, the toast I forgot to propose," proceeded the old twaddler, slowly and deliberately, with divers intermediate sniffs and snuffs, "was a toast that I feel 'sured will come 'ome to the 'arts and symphonies of us all, being no less a-a-(pause) toast than the toast of the illustrious (pause), exalted-I may say, independent-I mean Prince-Royal Highness in fact-who (wheeze) is about to enter into the holy state of matrimony with our own beloved and exalted Princess (Hear, hear, hear). I therefore beg to (pause) propose that we drink the 'ealth of His Royal (pause) 'Ighness Prince (pause) Frederick (snuff) William (wheeze) Nicholas (sniff) Charles!" with which correct enunciation the old boy brightened up and drank off his glass with the air of a man who has made a clean breast of it.

"Drink both their 'ealths!" exclaimed the Major, holding up his glass, and condensing the toast into "The 'ealths of their Royal Highnesses!" it was accepted by the company with great applause.

Just as the last of the glasses was drained, and the lip-smacking guests were preparing to restore them to the sideboard, a slight rustle was heard at the door, which opening gently, a smart black velvet bonnet trimmed with cerise-coloured velvet and leaves, and broad cerise-coloured ribbons, piloted Mrs. Wotherspoon's pretty face past the post, who announced that Mrs. Broadfurrow and she were ready to go whenever they were.

"Let's be going, then," exclaimed Major Yammerton, hurrying to the sideboard and setting down his glass. "How shall it be, then? How shall it be?" appealing to the company. "Give them a view or put her away quietly?-give them a view or put her away quietly?"

"Oh, put her away quietly," responded Mr. Broadfurrow, who had seen many hares lost by noise and hurry at starting.

"With her 'ead towards Martinfield?" asked the Major.

"If you can manage it," replied Broadfurrow, well knowing that these sort of feats are much easier planned than performed.

"'Spose we let Mrs. Wotherspoon put her away for us," now suggested Mr. Rintonl.

"By all means!" rejoined the delighted Major; "by all means! She knows the spot, and will conduct us to it. Mrs. Wotherspoon," continued he, stumping up to her as she now stood waiting in the little passage, "allow me to have the honour of offering you my arm;" so saying, the Major presented it to her, observing confidentially as they passed on to the now open front door, "I feel as if we were going to have a clipper!" lowering the ominous hat-string as he spoke.

"Solomon! Solomon!" cried he, to the patient huntsman, who had been waiting all this lime with the hounds. "We are going! we are going!"

"Yes, Major," replied Solomon, with a respectful touch of his cap.

"Now for it!" cried the Major, wheeling sharp round with his fair charge, and treading on old Wotherspoon's gouty foot, who was following too closely behind with Mrs. Broadfurrow on his arm, causing the old cock to catch up his leg and spin round on the other, thus splitting the treacherous cords across the knee.

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"Oh-o-o-o!" shrieked he, wrinkling his face up like a Norfolk biffin, and hopping about as if he was dancing a hornpipe.

"Oh-o-o-o!" went he again, on setting it down to try if he could stand.

"I really beg you ten thousand pardons!" now exclaimed the disconcerted Major, endeavouring to pacify him. "1 really beg you ten thousand pardons; but I thought you were ever so far behind."

"So did I, I'm sure," assented Mrs. Wotherspoon.

"You're such a gay young chap, and step so smartly, you'd tread on any body

's heels," observed the Major jocularly.

"Well, but it was a pincher, I assure you," observed Wotherspoon, still screwing up his mouth.

At length he got his foot down again, and the assault party was reformed, the Major and Mrs. Wotherspoon again leading, old Spoon limping along at a more respectful distance with Mrs. Broadfurrow, while the gentlemen brought up the rear with the general body of pedestrians, who now deserted Solomon and the hounds in order to see poor puss started from her form. Solomon was to keep out of sight until she was put away.

Passing through the little American blighted orchard, and what Spoon magnificently called his kitchen garden, consisting of a dozen grass-grown gooseberry bushes, and about as many winter cabbages, they came upon a partially-ploughed fallow, with a most promising crop of conch grass upon the unturned part, the hungry soil looking as if it would hardly return the seed.

"Fine country! fine country!" muttered the Major, looking around on the sun-bright landscape, and thinking he could master it whichever way the hare went. Up Sandywell Lane for Martinfield Moor, past Woodrow Grange for Linacres, and through Farmer Fulton's fold-yard for Witherton.

Oh, yes, he could do it; and make a very good show out of sight of the ladies.

"Now, where have you her? where have you her?" whispered he, squeezing Mrs. Wotherspoon's plump arm to attract her attention, at the same time not to startle the hare.

"O, in the next field," whispered she, "in the next field," nodding towards a drab-coloured pasture in which a couple of lean and dirty cows were travelling about in search of a bite. They then proceeded towards it.

The gallant Major having opened the ricketty gate that intervened between the fallow and it, again adopted his fair charge, and proceeded stealthily along the high ground by the ragged hedge on the right, looking back and holding up his hand for silence among the followers.

At length Mrs. Wotherspoon stopped. "There, you see," said she, nodding towards a piece of rough, briary ground, on a sunny slope, in the far corner of the field.

"I see!" gasped the delighted Major; "I see!" repeated he, "just the very place for a hare to be in-wonder there's not one there always. Now," continued he, drawing his fair charge a little back, "we'll see if we can't circumvent her, and get her to go to the west. Rintoul!" continued he, putting his hand before his mouth to prevent the sound of what he said being wafted to the hare. "Rintoul! you've got a whip-you go below and crack her away over the hill, that's a good feller, and we'll see if we can't have something worthy of com-mem-mo-ration"-the Major thinking how he would stretch out the run for the newspapers-eight miles in forty minutes, an hour and twenty with only one check-or something of that sort.

The pause thrilled through the field, and caused our friend Billy to feel rather uncomfortable, he didn't appreciate the beauties of the thing.

Rintoul having now got to his point, and prepared his heavy whip-thong, the gallant band advanced, in semicircular order, until they came within a few paces of where the briars began. At a signal from the Major they all hailed. The excitement was then intense.

"I see her!" now whispered the Major into Mrs. Wotherspoon's oar. "I sec her!" repeated he, squeezing her arm, and pointing inwardly with his thong-gathered whip.

Mrs. Wotherspoon's wandering eyes showed that she did not participate in the view.

"Don't you see the tuft of fern just below the thick red-berried rose bush a little to the left here?" asked the Major; "where the rushes die out?"

Mrs. Wotherspoon nodded assent.

"Well, then, she's just under the broken piece of fern that lies bending this way. You can see her ears moving at this moment."

Mrs. Wotherspoon's eyes brightened as she saw a twinkling something.

"Now then, put her away!" said the Major gaily.

"She won't bite, will she?" whispered Mrs. Wotherspoon, pretending alarm.

"Oh, bite, no!" laughed the Major; "hares don't bite-not pretty women at least," whispered he. "Here take my whip and give her a touch behind," handing it to her as he spoke.

Mrs. Wotherspoon having then gathered up her violet-coloured velvet dress a little, in order as well to escape the frays of the sharp-toothed brambles as to show her gay red and black striped petticoat below, now advanced cautiously into the rough sea, stepping carefully over this tussuck and t'other, avoiding this briar and that, until she came within whip reach of the fern. She then paused, and looked back with the eyes of England upon her.

"Up with her!" cried the excitcd Major, as anxious for a view as if he had never seen a hare in his life.

Mrs. Wotherspoon then advanced half a step farther, and protruding the Major's whip among the rustling fern, out sprang-what does the reader think?-A GREAT TOM CAT!

"Tallyho!" cried Billy Pringle, deceived by the colour.

"Hoop, hoop, hoop!" went old Spoon, taking for granted it was a hare.

Crack! resounded Rintoul's whip from afar.

"Haw, haw, haw! never saw anything like that!" roared the Major, holding his sides.

"Why, it's a cat!" exclaimed the now enlightened Mrs. Wotherspoon, opening wide her pretty eyes as she retraced her steps towards where he stood.

"Cat, ay, to be sure, my dear! why, it's your own, isn't it?" demanded our gallant Master.

"No; ours is a grey-that's a tabby," replied she, returning him his whip.

"Grey or tab, it's a cat," replied the Major, eyeing puss climbing up a much-lopped ash-tree in the next hedge.

"Why, Spoon, old boy, don't you know a cat when you see her?" demanded he, as his chagrined host now came pottering towards them.

"I thought it was a hare, 'pon honour, as we say in the Lords," replied the old buck, bowing and consoling himself with a copious pinch of snuff.

"Well, it's a sell," said the Major, thinking what a day he had lost.

"D-a-a-vilish likely place for a hare," continued old Wotherspoon, reconnoitring it through his double eye-glasses; "D-a-a-vilish likely place, indeed."

"Oh, likely enough," muttered the Major, with a chuck of his chin, "likely enough,-only it isn't one, that's all!"

"Well, I wish it had been," replied the old boy.

"So do I," simpered his handsome wife, drawing her fine lace-fringed kerchief across her lips.

The expectations of the day being thus disappointed, another council of war was now held, as to the best way of retrieving the misfortune. Wotherspoon, who was another instance of the truth of the observation, that a man who is never exactly sober is never quite drunk, was inclined to get back to the bottle. "Better get back to the house," said he, "and talk matters quietly over before the fire;" adding, with a full replenishment of snuff up his nose, "I've got a batch of uncommonly fine Geisenheimer that I would like your 'pinion of, Major," but the Major, who had had wine enough, and wanted to work it off with a run, refused to listen to the tempter, intimating, in a whisper to Mrs. Spoon, who again hung on his arm, that her husband would be much better of a gallop.

And Mrs. Wotherspoon, thinking from the haziness of the old gentleman's voice, and the sapient twinkling of his gooseberry eyes, that he had had quite enough wine, seconded this view of the matter; whereupon, after much backing and bowing, and shaking of hands, and showing of teeth, the ladies and gentlemen parted, the former to the fire, the latter to the field, where the performance of the pack must stand adjourned for another chapter.

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