Page images

At this he gave a peculiar kind of chuckle, that he always used when he felt or wished to express satisfaction, adding, in a kind of encouraging tone

"All right, sir! if you'll leave it so."

"Well, Mosey !” said the master, “ we'll see about it: in the mean time there's a sovereign for your good intentions at all events.”

Mosey, in further indication of such intentions, performed the somewhat unseemly ceremony of spitting on the coin for luck ; then giving it a cant into the air with his thumb, caught it back-handed as it descended, put it into his pocket, and opening the box-door, all three went out.

(To be continued.)





Chap. XXI.

“Yelled on the view, the opening pack,

Rock, glen, and cavern paid them back ;
To many a mingled sound at once
The awakened mountain gave response-
en hundred dogs bayed deep and strong,
Clattered an hundred steeds along."


My old friend Jack Raffleton, in his hunting days, used to avow that the happiest moment in his life was when he said to his servant, “ Call me to-morrow morning at half-past seven ; and let the hacks be at the door by nine." Mr. Jorrocks, that most immortal of Nimrods, dearly loved the ride to cover, " the mud on his top-boots, and the smell of the morning h'air." Whilst many an aspiring sportsman, I verily believe, prizes beyond all other hours of the day, that moment of relief in which he dismounts from his jaded hunter, and hies to his long-wished for "dressing-gown and slippers,” and the welcome embrace of his “ too easy-chair.”

But none of these authorities, however much they may disagree as to the exact period which brings them their greatest amount of felicity in connection with the chase, will venture to deny the charm of that most sociable of meals—a hunting-breakfast : not the uncomfortable repast taken in the dark, with a fork in one hand and a button-hook in the other, by the hurried citizen, who makes “ the express” his coverthack, and who knows not what it is to start for his destination in “ the Vale" at a later hour than six a.m. Not the modicum of milk and Boda-water which, with half a devilled kidney, forms the sole support of the dissipated youth, whose two thorough-bred hacks must be “ told out” between Melton and Keythorpe, because their " wide-awake" master played whist this morning till two, and smoked till four. No, the hunting breakfast I mean is that at which a party of quiet steadygoing sportsmen meet at some picturesque old country-house, with clear heads, rosy faces, and sharpened appetites; men whose affection for hunting vies (and it is saying a good deal) with their regard for their dinners; who know the points of a hound, the line of a fox, and every gap in the fences within twenty miles—such a breakfast, in short, as we sat down to, in the comfortable morning-room of Topthorne Lodge, on the squire's first hunting day in November.

At the top of the table, half hidden by the urn, the long sunny tresses of Mrs. Montague Forbes, drooped over the tea which she knew so well how to sweeten to my taste ; need I add that, late or early, a place was reserved for me at her right hand? Old Mr. Shafto and his wife were staying at the Lodge, and sundry jolly squires and substantial magistrates, rejoicing for the most part in roomy cords and stout black boots, had dropped in to partake of the morning meal. The hounds were to meet on the lawn, and all were full of hilarity and anticipation.

I thought the lady glanced admiringly at my attire as I made my appearance, clad with the strictest attention to costume, in well-cleaned leathers and deserving “ tops ;” and even the Squire, although stoutly repudiating dandyism, nodded his approval of my "get-up."

Breakfast progresses—the eggs disappear, and the ham wanes rapidly. The post arrives, and the squires one and all exhibit that rabid eagerness for the newspaper, which in middle-aged country-gentlemen supersedes all other considerations. I am deep in my second cup of tea, and becoming gradually absorbed in a reverie as to the probable merits of my new purchase, the gallant grey, whom I am about to ride with hounds for the first time, when Mrs. Montague's eager exclamation of “ a letter from Bagshot! and what do you think ?" startles us all into attention. “You'll never guess, John," she continues ; “ you'll be so surprised, Mr. Nogo-- Bagshot is going to be married ! and, of all people in the world, to cousin Kate!"

In my ignorance of the fascinating relation who, under the cognomen of “cousin Kate” has subjugated my old friend, I address some unmeaning congratulations to the excited lady, and her somewhat indifferent brother ; but the torrent of feminine eloquence, once let loose by so prolific a subject as a wedding, rushes on unchecked.

“Such a short acquaintance-quite love at first sight, Mr. Nogo and she seems so much attached to him. They are to be married immediately, and he will bring his bride here at once. What a nice clergyman's wife she will make, and so pretty ; but there are few girls like Kate Cotherstone! Shall I give you some more tea, Mr. Nogo? you have upset your last cup all over your”- here Mrs. Montague checked herself, and fortunately for me directed the attention of the company from my manifest confusion.

I never was so completely taken aback—could I believe my ears ? “ Kate Cotherstone going to be married to Bagshot !" I inwardly ejaculated ; “and a cousin of these people, with whom I am on terms of such intimacy- this is a go! And coming here almost immediately; but perhaps it may not be my Kate Cotherstone,” and with this slender

consolation I summoned up courage to make further inquiries of my delighted hostess.

* Did you never meet the Cotherstones ?" she proceeded; "he is a great sportsman(very like it, thought I); “and she is a most goodhumoured pleasant woman—a cousin of ours. They used to have a charming little villa in Windsor Forest; but they have been abroad lately. I am sure you would like them so much : and as for Kate, she would captivate you altogether," added the widow, with a glance of triumphant malice and conscious success in her mischievous blue eye.

The truth was now completely revealed. A villa at Windsor and a tour on the continent, left no doubt as to the identity of that dangerous family, and stammering out some incoherent remark, as to “having met them once at Ascot,” I took advantage of the Squire's impatience, · which was now waxing highly irritable, to make my escape to the lawn, where the hounds were already assembled, and there, in the fresh morning air, endeavoured to regain that composure which this startling and unwelcome intelligence had so completely put to flight.

What to do I knew not. In the first place, notwithstanding all that was past and gone, notwithstanding the fascination exercised over me by Mrs. Montague Forbes, I was still sufficiently sore from the feelings I liad so lately entertained for the too charming Kate, not to relish the idea of meeting her as the bride of another, and that other my old friend Joe Bagshot. In the next place, this was hardly a connection that would be advantageous to that worthy and respectable divine ; and was it not my duty to warn him, before it was too late, of all that I knew concerning this very enterprising family? But then, if they were indeed people to be avoided (and no one had better reason to think so than myself), what was to become of sundry day-dreams gilded by the widow's smile, in which I had lately indulged? If my friend was to be dissuaded from marrying Kate on account of her connections, how could I consistently enter into an alliance with her mother's first cousin ? And if such a proceeding was to be immediately dismissed as out of the question, was I not in honour bound to leave Topthorne Lodge immediately, and at once break off an acquaintance, to call it by no softer name, fraught with such dangers and inconveniences ? This, however, would destroy all my arrangements for the autumn, and put me to great personal discomfort—always with me a primary consideration ; besides, I doubted my own stoicism if once it should come to bidding the widow farewell, to say nothing of the difficulty I should find in parrying the Squire's direct questions, and his friends' roundabout inquiries concerning my speedy departure. There was no Jack Raffleton to advise me : I never had enough energy to act entirely for myself in a doubtful case ; so adopting my favourite plan of being guided entirely by circumstances like those doctors, who, leaving Nature to herself, suffer her to kill the patient in her own way-resolved to take no decided course, but to wait philosophically for such events as should duly arrive upon the stream of Time.

It was now necessary to turn my attention to the business of the day, as the Squire was already mounted on his famous horse “Blunderbuss," and, with his hounds around him, two or three of whom I recognised as my tormentors in the kennel, was all anxiety to begin. Whilst he is drawing his own laurels, shrubbery, flower-garden, and washing-green,

with a small patch of gorse on the hill, in which the butler sees a fox every morning, and which as a matter of course is invariably drawn blank, I may find time to describe the assemblage of sportsmen who now met my view, and who, I am given to understand, comprise the élite of the Pippingdon Hunt.

To begin with the Squire and his stud. The equestrian was probably as unlike the famous squire of Leicestershire notoriety, as “Blunderbuss " was to “ Ashton,” which, if the description I have had from eyewitnesses of the latter clipper may be relied on, was a difference sufficiently obvious to the most careless observer. But yet Jack Topthorne, as his familiars called him, was a varmint-looking fellow enough : despite his stained coat with its abominable collar, despite his drab cords, cloth tops, huge hunting cap, uncouth gestures, and ungainly seat, there was a game flash in his eye that looked like " killing,” and I fancy that it was indeed bad scenting weather when the Pippingdon hounds were short of “ blood.” Though unmistakeably “rough,” the Squire looked

ready,” and appeared what he was a thorough practical sportsman. As for “ Blunderbuss,'' a greater brute I never wish to see : with a large ugly head, lop ears, a sleepy eye, and a white face, he had not one single beauty to make amends for his mealy bay coat-of all colours, to my fancy the most unsightly; and yet, though a cross-made horse, he had some good working points about him ; but even these were disfigured by the shortest tail I ever saw upon a hunter. This was a crotchet of his master's, for which I was quite prepared by a conversation I chanced to overhear in the Squire's dressing-room, a few weeks previously. A new purchase had lately come home, and contrary to his usual practice, “master” had bought him from “character,” without a personal inspection. Accordingly, no sooner had the animal entered its future quarters than the groom hurried to “master” with a report of the fresh arrival. The Squire was dressing for dinner, with his door locked; but I plainly heard the following colloquy carried on from either side of the unopened barrier :

Squire : “ Well, Ike” (for that functionary united the office of studgroom to his other avocations), “what sort of a looking horse is he?”

Ike : “Loikely, Zur ; but uncommon low in flesh he be."

Squire : “Mash him to-morrow, and physic the next day—and Ike, what sort of a tail has he ?"

Ike : “Shortest dock I ever see anywheres longest hair I ever see


Squire : “ Very well ; cut his tail off square with the dock-that'll do, Ike." After this, my surprise was greater to behold Blunderbuss with any vertebral termination at all, than with the short four inches that spasmodically answered every application of his master's spurs.

As was the Squire so were his field, modified certainly in particular instances, but still one and all of the “ drab and ditch-water" school heavy-thonged hunting-whips (a “cut-and-thrust” punisher is an abomination unknown here), short tails, and spaffle-bridles, with a general family resemblance in their jolly complexions which I could only attribute to their getting their port from the same wine-merchant, and drinking it in equally liberal quantities. They seemed to know one another well, and the country if possible better, and were chiefly men

of a certain age, on which,' as on their old jokes and time-honoured anecdotes, they rather seemed to pride themselves.

Why is it that at every fixture in every country, not excepting the 80-called fast “shires," for one man under thirty you shall find a dozen above forty amongst those who comprise the field ? It is as unaccountable as the accompanying fact, that hunting --- far from being on the wane, as those who bewail the absence of “young ones coming on,” would fain lead us to suppose—is becoming, year by year, a more popular amusement ; somewhat, it must be confessed, to the detriment of sport, and greatly to the danger of “forward riders” and “ tail hounds," but still a satisfactory reflection to the true lovers of the glorious pursuit. It may be that the young ones now-a-days are rather pinched for money -it may be that the old ones undoubtedly last longer than was the case with the preceding generation, and when the governor and the heir of entail each keeps a stud, it is rather a case of “ burning the candle at both ends;" but whatever may be the cause, the Pippingdon Hunt was by no means singular in the proportion it showed of "the prime of life” versus the glorious spring-time of delicious twenty-one. Besides these veterans in their scarlets and collars, there was a parson of course ; and although unassuming, quiet, and gentlemanlike in his appearance, as is invariably the case with his profession, he was obviously the fastest of the lot. As I took my hat off to return the bow with which Mr. Rockly honoured my introduction to him, and ran my eye over his lathy figure, graceful seat, and long, low, well-bred chesnut horse, I could not help thinking If there is any truth in appearances, you are a first-flight man anywhere and everywhere, be it in a steeplechasing “scrimmage” from Shankton Holt or the Coplow, be it in a sobbing fifty minutes over the Vale of Belvoir after a thaw, or be it in a long wild foxhunting run, over moor and mountain, “ bank and brae,” ragged copse and brawling river, from such a rough, straggling, picturesque woodland as we are even now about to draw.

“Yooi in, Bellman and Bonnylass ! -stand still, Blunderbuss !” says the Squire in a breath, as he forces the bay horse to take up his position on the side of a bank, and, standing erect in his stirrups, contemplates his hounds, bustling through the still leafy underwood. “Ike," on a five-year-old, has already clapped on to a certain corner, without thinking it necessary to wait to be told to do his duty; and there he sits like a statue, looking all ways at once, and eagerly watching for a view : not that he will holloa if he gets one, as long as there is a hound able to speak to the scent-no, the Squire stands no holloaing, and woe be to the man servant or gentleman, that gets those square sagacious heads up from their proper occupation.

The hounds are drawing the covert well, and with a certain busy keenness that betokens a scent. The Squire gets into a ride, terminating in the only hand-gate in the country, and fumbles hurriedly for his watch, as old Bustler, snuffling eagerly under his horse's nose, throws up his enormous head, and with a deep prolonged note, like that of some triple-tongued Cerberus, proclaims a find! There is no swell, hard-riding, first whip, to rouse the echoes and scare the woodnymphs with his loud-cracking thong and unnecessary injunction to " get together," addressed to a pack who are straining every nerve in their efforts to score to the cry. “ Ike" is at the further end of the

« PreviousContinue »