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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 14919

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

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HE worst of these dejeuners à la fourchette, and also of luncheons, is, that they waste the day, and then send men out half-wild to ride over the hounds or whatever else comes in their way. The greatest funkers, too, are oftentimes the boldest under the influence of false courage; so that the chances of mischief are considerably increased. The mounted Champagne bottle smoking a cigar, at page 71, is a good illustration of what we mean. We doubt not Mr. Longneck was very forward in that run.

All our Ivy Tower party were more or less primed, and even old Wotherspoon felt as if he could ride. Billy, too, mounted the gallant grey without his usual nervous misgivings, and trotted along between the Major and Rintoul with an easy Hyde Park-ish sort of air. Rintonl had intimated that he thought they would find a hare on Mr. Merryweather's farm at Swayland, and now led them there by the fields, involving two or three little obstacles-a wattled hurdle among the rest-which they all charged like men of resolution. The hurdle wasn't knocked over till the dogs'-meatmen came to it.

Arrived at Swayland, the field quickly dispersed, each on his own separate hare-seeking speculation, one man fancying a fallow, another a pasture: Rintonl reserving the high hedge near the Mill bridle-road, out of which he had seen more than one whipped in his time. So they scattered themselves over the country, flipping and flopping all the tufts ard likely places, aided by the foot-people with their sticks, and their pitchings and tossings of stones into bushes and hollows, and other tempting-looking retreats.

The hounds, too, ranged far and wide, examining critically each likely haunt, pondering on spots where they thought she had been, but which would not exactly justify a challenge.

While they were all thus busily employed, Rintoul's shallow hat in the air intimated that the longed-for object was discerned, causing each man to get his horse by the head, and the foot-people to scramble towards him, looking anxiously forward and hurriedly back, lest any of the riders should be over them. Rintoul had put her away, and she was now travelling and stopping, and travelling and stopping, listening and wondering what was the matter. She had been coursed before but never hunted, and this seemed a different sort of proceeding.

The terror-striking notes of the hounds, as they pounced upon her empty form, with the twang of the horn and the cheers of the sportsmen urging them on, now caused her to start; and, laying back her long ears, she scuttled away over Bradfield Green and up Ridge Hill as hard as ever she could lay legs to the ground.

"Come along, Mr. Pringle! come along, Mr. Pringle!" cried the excited Major, spurring up, adjusting his whip as if he was going to charge into a solid square of infantry. He then popped through an open gate on the left.

The bustling beauties of hounds had now fallen into their established order of precedence, Lovely and Lilter contending for the lead, with Bustler and Bracelet, and Ruffler and Chaunter, and Ruin and Restless, and Dauntless and Driver, and Dancer and Flaunter and others striving after, some giving tongue because they felt the scent, others, because the foremost gave it.-So they went truthfully up the green and over the hill, a gap, a gate, and a lane serving the bustling horsemen.

The vale below was not quite so inviting to our "green linnets" as the country they had come from, the fields being small, with the fences as irregular as the counties appear on a map of England. There was none of that orderly squaring up and uniformity of size, that enables a roadster to trace the line of communication by gates through the country.-All was zigzag and rough, indicating plenty of blackthorns and briers to tear out their eyes. However, the Champagne was sufficiently alive in our sportsmen to prevent any unbecoming expression of fear, though there was a general looking about to see who was best acquainted with the country. Rintoul was now out of his district, and it required a man well up in the lin to work them satisfactorily, that is to say, to keep them in their saddles, neither shooting them over their horses' heads nor swishing them over their tails. Our friend Billy worked away on the grey, thinking, if anything, he liked him better than the bay He even ventured to spur him.

The merry pack now swing musically down the steep hill, the chorus increasing as they reach the greener regions below. The fatties, and funkers, and ticklish forelegged ones, begin who-a-ing and g-e-e-ntly-ing to their screws, holding on by the pommels and cantrells, and keeping their nags' heads as straight as they can. Old Wotherspoon alone gets off and leads down. He's afraid of his horse slipping upon its haunches. The sight of him doing so emboldens our Billy, who goes resolutely on, and incautiously dropping his hand too soon, the grey shot away with an impetus that caused him to cannon off Broadfurrow and the Major and pocket himself in the ditch at the bottom of the hill. Great was the uproar! The Richest Commoner in England was in danger! Ten thousand a-year in jeopardy! "Throw yourself off!"

"Get clear of him!"

"Keep hold of him!"

"Mind he doesn't strike ye!" resounded from all parts, as first the horse's head went up, and then his tail, and then his head again, in his efforts to extricate himself.

At length Billy, seizing a favourable opportunity, threw himself off on the green sward, and, ere he could rise, the horse, making a desperate plunge, got out, and went staling away with his head in the air, looking first to the right and then to the left, as the dangling reins kept checking and catching him.

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"Look sharp or you'll loss him!" now cried old Duffield, as after an ineffectual snatch of the reins by a passing countryman, the horse ducked his head and went kicking and wriggling and frolicking away to the left, regardless of the tempting cry of the hounds.

The pace, of course, was too good for assistance-and our friend and the field were presently far asunder.

Whatever sport the hounds had-and of course they would have a clipper-we can answer for it Mr. Pringle had a capital run; for his horse led him a pretty Will-o'-the-wisp sort of dance, tempting him on and on by stopping to eat whenever his rider-or late rider, rather-seemed inclined to give up the chase, thus deluding him from field to lane and from lane to field until our hero was fairly exhausted.-Many were the rushes and dashes and ventures made at him by hedgers and ditchers and drainers, but he evaded them all by laying back his ears and turning the battery of his heels for the contemplation, as if to give them the choice of a bite or a kick.

At length he turned up the depths of the well-known Love Lane, with its paved trottoir, for the damsels of the adjoining hamlets of East and West Woodhay to come dry-shod to the gossip-shop of the well; and here, dressed in the almost-forgotten blue boddice and red petticoat of former days, stood pretty Nancy Bell, talking matrimonially to Giles Bacon, who had brought his team to a stand-still on the higher ground of the adjoining hedge, on the field above.

Hearing the clatter of hoofs, as the grey tried first the hard and then the soft of the lane, Bacon looked that way; and seeing a loose horse he jumped bodily into the lane, e

xtending his arms and his legs and his eyes and his mouth in a way that was very well calculated to stop even a bolder animal than a horse. He became a perfect barrier. The grey drew up with an indignant snort and a stamp of his foot, and turning short round he trotted back, encountering in due time his agitated and indignant master, who had long been vowing what a trimming he would give him when he caught him. Seeing Billy in a hurry,-for animals are very good judges of mischief, as witness an old cock how he ducks when one picks up a stone,-seeing Billy in a hurry we say, the horse again wheeled about, and returned with more leisurely steps towards his first opponent. Bacon and Nancy were now standing together in the lane; and being more pleasantly occupied than thinking about loose horses, they just stood quietly and let him come towards them, when Giles's soothing w-ho-o-ays and matter-of-course style beguiled the horse into being caught.

Billy presently came shuffling up, perspiring profusely, with his feet encumbered with mud, and stamping the thick of it off while he answered Bacon's question as to "hoo it happened," and so on, in the grumpy sort of way a man does who has lost his horse, he presented him with a shilling, and remounting, rode off, after a very fine run of at least twenty minutes.

The first thing our friend did when he got out of sight of Giles Bacon and Nancy, was to give his horse a good rap over the head with his whip for its impudent stupidity in running away, causing him to duck his head and shake it, as if he had got a pea or a flea in hiss ear.-He then began wheeling round and round, like a dog wanting to lie down, much to Billy's alarm, for he didn't wish for any more nonsense. That performance over, he again began ducking and shaking his head, and then went moodily on, as if indifferent to consequences. Billy wished he mightn't have hit him so hard.

When he got home, he mentioned the horse's extraordinary proceedings to the Major, who, being a bit, of a vet. and a strong suspector of Sir Moses' generosity to boot, immediately set it down to the right cause-megrims-and advised Billy to return him forthwith, intimating that Sir Moses was not altogether the thing in the matter of horses; but our friend, who kept the blow with the whip to himself, thought he had better wait a day or two and see if the attack would go off.-In this view he was upheld by Jack Rogers, who thought his old recipe, "leetle drop gin," would set him all right, and proceeded to administer it to himself accordingly. And the horse improved so much that he soon seemed himself again, whereupon Billy, recollecting Sir Moses's strenuous injunctions to give him the refusal of him if ever he wanted to part with him, now addressed him the following letter:-

"Yammerton Grange.

"Dear Sir Moses,

"As I find I must return to town immediately after the hunt ball, to which you were so good as invite me, and as the horse you were so good as give me would be of no use to me there, I write, in compliance with my promise to offer him back to you if ever I wanted to part with him, to say that he will be quite at your service after our next day's hunting, or before if you like, as I dare say the Major will mount me if 1 require it. He is a very nice horse, and I feel extremely obliged for your very handsome intentions with regard to him, which, under other circumstances, 1 should have been glad to accept. Circumstanced as I am, however, he would be wasted upon me, and will be much better back in your stud.

"I will, therefore, send him over on hearing from you; and you can either put my I.O.U. in the fire, or enclose it to me by the Post.

"Again thanking you for your very generous offer, and hoping you are having good sport, I beg to subscribe myself,

"Dear Sir Moses,

"Yours very truly,


"To Sir Moses Mainchance, Bart.,

"Pangburn Park."

And having sealed it with the great seal of state, he handed it to Rougier to give to the postman, without telling his host what he had done.

The next post brought the following answer:-

"Many, very many thanks to you, my dear Pringle, for your kind recollection of me with regard to the grey, which I assure you stamps you in my opinion as a most accurate and excellent young man.-You are quite right in your estimate of my opinion of the horse; indeed, if I had not considered him something very far out of the common way, I should not have put him into your hands; but knowing him to be as good as he's handsome, I had very great satisfaction in placing him with you, as well on your own account as from your being the nephew of my old and excellent friend and brother baronet, Sir Jonathan Pringle-to whom I beg you to make my best regards when you write.

"Even were it not so, however, I should be precluded from accepting your kind and considerate offer for only yesterday I sent Wetun into Doubleimupshire, to bring home a horse I've bought of Tom Toweler, on Paul Straddler's recommendation, being, as I tell Paul, the last I'll ever buy on his judgment, unless he turns out a trump, as he has let me in for some very bad ones.

"But, my dear Pringle, ain't you doing yourself a positive injustice in saying that you would have no use for the grey in town? Town, my dear fellow, is the very place for a horse of that colour, figure, and pretension; and a very few turns in the Park, with you on his back, before that best of all pennyworths, the chair-sitting swells, might land you in the highest ranks of the aristocracy-unless, indeed, you are booked elsewhere, of which, perhaps, I have no business to inquire.

"I may, however, as a general hint, observe to the nephew of my old friend, that the Hit-im and Hold-imshire Mammas don't stand any nonsense, so you will do well to be on your guard. No; take my advice, my dear fellow, and ride that horse in town.-It will only be sending him to Tat.'s if you tire of him there, and if it will in any way conduce to your peace of mind, and get rid of any high-minded feeling of obligation, you can hand me over whatever you get for him beyond the £50 -And that reminds me, as life is uncertain, and it is well to do everything regularly, I'll send my agent, Mr. Mordecai Nathan, over with your I.O.U., and you can give me a bill at your own date-say two or three months-instead, and that will make vs all right and square, and, I hope, help to maintain the truth of the old adage, that short reckonings make long friends,-which I assure you is a very excellent one.

"And now, having exhausted both my paper and subject, I shall conclude with repeating my due appreciation of your kind recollection of my wishes; and with best remembrances to your host and hostess, not forgetting their beautiful daughters, whom I hope to see in full feather at the ball, I remain,

"My dear Pringle.

"Very truly and sincerely, yours,

"Moses Mainchance.

"To Wm. Pringle"

We need scarcely add that Mr. Mordecai Nathan followed quickly on the heels of the letter, and that the I. 0. U. became a short-winded bill of exchange, thus saddling our friend permanently with the gallant grey. And when Major Yammerton heard the result, all the consolation Billy got from him was, "I told you so," meaning that he ought to have taken his advice, and returned the horse as unsound.

With this episode about the horse, let us return to Pangburn Park.

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