Page images

being third, and the whole group on good terms—the pace was not good. Anon, Little Harry became third, and thus they approached the bend for home, when Hobbie Noble was once more leading. At the distance Little Harry, with Teddington and Kingston, rushed to the front, ran a rattler past the Stand, and fought every inch thence to the chairKingston finishing first by half a length-Little Harry second, three parts of a length before Teddington. The judge placed Hobbie Noble fourth, but the first trio were alone at the wind up.... The winner had many friends for the Derby- was it the distance that served him here, or the 15 lbs. less there was to carry ? The Second Year of the First Bentinck Memorial Stakes of 10 sovereigns each, for three-year olds, came off a trio-betting even on Harbinger, and 5 to 4 against Longbow. The favourite, with the issue at discretion, made his own running, and won as it suited his convenience-by a length. Longbow ran out at the start, and was left behind. The Duke of Richmond's Plate of a Hundred Sovereigns, free trial for all ages and everybody, out of a field of some eighteen, saw a trio placed. The betting took a most ample range, the best regarded being Alfred the Great, Catalpa, Radulphus, and Plumstead, 6 to 1 being the odds against any one of them— Vivandière, not named in the market, won by a head, after a scurry “ past the telling of all words"! For the Sweepstakes of 50 sovereigns each, for three-year-olds, mile and a half, Mr. Morris was permitted to walk over with the winner of the Cup; and then there was running and riding among the amateurs for their especial display. For the Anglesey Plate of £50, Gentlemen riders, Craven Course, the muster was fiveat 5 to 2 against Agis, and 2 to 1 against Roller. Of course this was a bonne bouche, and after a spirited spurt it fell to the bonne fortune of Agis, ridden by the owner. For the Sweepstakes of 100 sovereigns each, for three-year-olds, one mile, 3 subscribers, the Duke of Richmond's Harbinger walked over ; and his Grace's princely pageant, the anniversary of Goodwood's especial passage of present chivalry, concluded. FLOREAT.

Time and the press--the despots !—forbid further allusion here to the gallant four days of Sussex racing ; little question, howerer, the final movement of that brilliant quartet will be found worthy of its spirited and artistic antecedents......





Chap. XXII.

“ Dined, o'er our claret we talk o'er the merit

Of every choice spirit that rode in the run;
But here the crowd, Sir, can talk just as loud, Sir,
As those who were forward, enjoying the fun.


Do you pity him ? no: he deserves no pity.
Wilt thou love such a woman? What! to make thee an
Instrument, and play false strains upon thee?-not
To be endured."


Time-half-past eight o'clock at night ; scene-a snug dining room, a blazing fire, and a horse-shoe table, on the polished surface of which the massive cut glass decanters, sparkling with old port, that glows like liquid rubies in the firelight, are making their rapid and welcome rounds. The dinner has been excellent, the company agreeable, Mrs. Montague and the ladies have just retired, and we stretch our legs under Jack Topthorne's mahogany with that delightful sense of repose and comfort which those alone experience whose excrcise in the open air has been pushed up to the point at which fatigue commences, but has stopped short of actual " distress." How loose and easy are the thin sable “ continuations” to limbs that have been encased since morning in the uncompromising buckskins of the fox-hunter! how grateful the soft well-cushioned chair, to a frame that has been pounding for some eight or nine hours on the unyielding pigskin, perchance with low cantle and flaps devoid of stuffing or support. How, as the mind looks back through a halo of enthusiasm on the events of the day, do the difficulties and mischances of the chase wane in proportion to the waning decanters, whilst its exploits and its triumphıs stand out in bold and glorious relief ! “ Breathes there the man that cannot at least go over the mahogany"-whose nerves are not braced (for the time) to that pitch at which ox-fences are a privilege and a delight, whilst wood and water, in the shape of stiles and brooks, as negotiated in countless succession by his "little bay horse," furnish themes for the pleader's eloquence and the poet's fire ?

The after-dinner autobiography of an equestrian is usually a surprising display of self-deception and infatuation : then how general is the epidemic, attacking equally the old and the young, the bold and the timid, the "customer” who has all day " had the best of it," and who


[ocr errors]

may to-morrow attempt perhaps a third of what he vows to-night, and the sceptical veteran, whom nothing but a continuous line of gates, and an unusually lucky turn, has enabled to scramble up in time to see the finish of to-day." How well your grey horse carried you, Mr. Nogo!" says my next neighbour, whom I had remarked in the morning as the stoutest man I ever saw riding a cob; “ you went like a bird, Sir; I was close to you the whole time !" What a beautiful turn the hounds made in the bottom, Topthorne, just before we came to the brook," says another, anxious to draw the attention of the company to the solitary exploit which he has persuaded himself he accomplished ; “by-the-bye, how did you get over? I thought it was a wide place, so I took old Golumpus hard by the head, and he did it beautifully in a fly." I remember no brook, but I suppose there must have been something of the kind, as I was in company with the last speaker from the moment we found, and I do not see why my grey horse should not obtain as much credit from his master, as falls to the share of the unsuspecting

Golumpus.” So, taking courage from the chorus around me, I too begin to talk of the events of the day, and half unconsciously, half led on by the force of example, I fear I Yarn most unmercifully as to the feats, past, present, and future, of which I boast myself capable.

The run of the morning, undoubtedly a good one, goes on increasing with every fresh version, till it swells into a performance totally unparalleled in ancient or modern history ; and when my health, as a stranger, has been proposed, by the most enthusiastic magnate present, the scarlet in whose visage vies with that of his gorgeous attire, the full dress evening costume of the Pippingdon Hunt, I hesitate not, in my reply, to assure the Squire and his applauding guests, that “I never saw such hounds, I never saw such horses, I never saw such a country, and never, no never, in the whole course of my hunting experience, did I see such a run as that which we have enjoyed together on this eventful day--a run, Sir, unequalled in the annals of the chase, and re. flecting inmortal honour on the toast I am about to take the liberty of proposing, “Health and prosperity to my friend, if he will allow me to call him so, my friend John Topthorne, and the Pippingdon Hunt! With all the honours, gentlemen!” “Capital ! Bravo !" ("Gammon!” sotto voce, from the Squire) “ Topthorne, your health-no heel-taps---more port-hip, hip, hurrah !” and the enthusiasm of the Pippingdonians finds vent in a burst of shouting which startles the ladies in the drawingroom, and wakes an alarm in the very kennel, a good quarter of a mile from the house.

Are these the shouting Bacchanalians, that glide so stealthily into the adjoining room, where the ladies are assembled over their tea, and needle-work, seasoned by that mysterious conversation which none of the male sex has ever yet been known to overhear? Is there an instance on record of the earliest arrival from the dining-room ever yet finding the graceful bevy otherwise than sunk in profound silence, and apparently each totally absorbed in her own tea, her own embroidery, or her own thoughts? Are such habits of speechless meditation natural to the sex, or at any time usual with that conversational race? I have been informed that the contrary is the case, and that the organs of female speech are seldom if ever still but on occasions such as these. What can we conclude ? that there are mysteries into which we must not seek to pry, that there are subjects on which we must be content to remain in ignorance, and that the freezing stillness which pervades the cheerfullooking apartment in which tea awaits us, is but the reaction consequent upon a burst of simultaneous eloquence, roused by some subject on which the enchanting conclave are solemnly bound to maintain in the presence of the hostile sex an unbroken and Masonic silence.

Nevertheless, emboldened by port and encouraged by smiles, we break the formidable line. The seniors, who are conscious of having exceeded their usual moderation with the bottle, assume an additional air of gravity and decorum, to cover the unwonted joviality within, not always successfully, for a bland smile, with occasionally a stifled chuckle, attests the enlivening effects of Topthorne's cellar even on the most pompous of the veterans ; whilst some of the younger members wax unusually confidential to their fair neighbours, and embark upon Jong stories in which, to judge by the inquiring looks of the puzzled listener, the point seems continually to elude their mental grasp. Still one and all appear to enjoy themselves. - Tea succeeds coffee, and music follows the departure of tea. There is shilling whist for those who like it, and the click of billiard-balls from the adjoining room aunounces that well-lighted apartment to have its share of occupants. A snug flirtation is going on at the piano-forte between a bachelor squire, at this period of the evening sufficiently malleable, and a not very juvenile young lady, in a most Parisian toilette, and with her hair very nicely done : the softening squire leans over her music-book, but what he says is completely drowned to other ears by the swelling “refrain” of the “ Marche des Croates," which, as I happen to admire the air, I know she has played at least five times over. Probably like many other of those tèles-à-têtes, which the world calls flirtations, if we could overhear their conversation, we should find it was quite as uninteresting as that of old Mrs. Shafto and her neighbour, a bland pleasant-looking matron, on the sofa ; who are deep in the merits of the former's youngest grand-child, and the defects, culinary and otherwise, of a certain kitchen-maid, who came to the latter from Castle Bowshot. Every one is occupied, and Mrs. Montague only is alone; I drop into a vacant chair by her side, and whilst the Croatian March keeps grinding on at the piano-forte, and the old ladies at my elbow ring the changes upon measles, teething, hooping-cough, and board-wages, I spend another evening of delicious enjoyment, that sends me to bed once more asking myself, as I wind up my watch, “How is this to end? she certainly is a very nice woman, but what is to come of it ?”

It is proverbially a “long lane that has no turning," and what with my own indecision how to act, my disinclination to take any step that might alter the extremely pleasant footing on which I found myself at the Lodge, and the rough Squire's hospitable disposition, gratified beyond measure by a long and unceremonious visit, I might have remained as a sort of tolerated hanger-on and family friend of my entertainers till we had all grown old together, without any question being asked as to my intentions, or any hint hazarded as to my departure. But as the stream, which swollen to n torrent bears away before it all opposition, tearing np the very rock from its earth-fast foundation, may yet, when rippling lazily down its summer bed, be turned from its course by the minutest pebble, so doth the human mind, albeit so invincible if inspired by a worthy object and directed to a noble aim, become when uninfluenced by such higher considerations, the prey of the most trifling circumstance. “What great events from trivial causes spring !" and how little did I think that the accident of my meeting a goodlooking middle-aged lady at an archery-meeting, and afterwards joining her robust brother in the sports of the field, would exercise the influence which it eventually did upon the career and the comfort of the unconscious Tilbury Nogo. Certainly I was overcome by a concatenation of circumstances : it was not one pebble that turned me, but a whole heap of them; and after all, we are willing to persuade ourselves that we are but tools in the hands of Fated doctrine which saves the undecided man a large proportion of trouble, and the unsuccessful one a good deal of self-reproach.

Well, I “ took no note of time," as I stayed on at the Lodge. Three days in the week I devoted to the study of the chase with the “ Pippingdon," and found myself becoming daily more conversant with woodcraft, more cunning in the art of smuggling over a country without the painful and perilous necessity of jumping large fences; the other three “ lawful days," as they are called by our Calvinistic neighbours in the north, were consumed in various sporting pursuits, all connected with the destruction of game and vermin, all studied and effected by the Squire with the ardour of an enthusiast and the skill of a professor.

Amongst other devices for wearing through the shortening hours of a November day, there is one much in request amongst those who particularly plume themselves on their keenness as sportsmen, or who absolutely require the stimulus of severe exercise to counteract the labour imposed on the digestive organs by their gigantic performances at dinner-time. This amusement, if such it can be called, is playfully termed “shooting wild partridges,” whereas it has always appeared to me that the verb “ hunting ”would convey a far more correct idea of the mode in which these feathered "will-o'-the-wisps" are persecuted. To stagger all day long under a heavy double-burrelled gun, deafening in report, and wide in bore, so as to insure that extensive range the necessity of which is implied by the very words “ November shooting ”—to walk at that painful stretch of muscle and sinew, which would hail a jog-trot as an inexpressible relief, to be blown without getting warmth, and tired without achieving success to enter an extensive stubble, bare as your own lately shaved chin, with the monosyllable “ mark” upon your lips, and to leave its bleak and disappointing acres with undischarged weapon, and the same exclamation, now guttural from despair, still gurgling in your throat-to scramble through quickset hedges and climb up and down precipitous banks in hopes of getting a shot, and to be forced to console yourself for torn clothes and lacerated person by the suggestion " that they must be gone to them turnips ”'--said turnips being two miles off as the crow flies, and in a contrary direction from home ; to tie up your disgusted dogs, and resolve manfully upon walking up your game, which the vigilant coveys suffer you to do at a distance of several hundred yards; and finally, shaking from fatigue and sulky from disappointment, to miss the only fair shot you have had all day—“this may indeed be sport,” as was once remarked by an observant philosopher, “but you can hardly call it pleasure.” Nevertheless, experience makes even fools wise, and after a few such unsatisfactory days, a few

« PreviousContinue »