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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 magnato 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 reflecting immortal 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 long 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. Fir 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-lètes, 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 a torrent bears away before it all opposition, tearing up 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 in
spired 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 Fate 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-barrelled 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 such unsuccessful walks as those I have described, the Squire and I hit upon a method of circumventing these flighty denizens of the stubbles, that saved us both considerably in wind and limb, and that, if it did not fill the bag as rapidly as it should have done, was at least productive of a very liberal consumption of powder and shot.
Our plan was this. Despising, with one antiquated exception, the aid of the pointer-kennel, our first destination was the stable, from whence we selected a certain raking-looking four-year-old, whose instruction as a hunter was about to commence ; then, of course, we had to find “ Ike,” as nothing could ever be done on the demesne of Topthorne without the assistance of that original. A snaffle-bridle was put in the young one's mouth, “ Ike ” swung himself into the saddle, and we proceeded to business. Choosing a large and thick field of turnips at the back of a certain farm called Wild-Wood ; and directing all our operations to that green oasis as an eventual rallying point, • Ike" was despatehed to scour the surrounding stubbles, and as much as possible to drive the birds towards our selected turnips, when such a conversation as this would ensue between the huntsman-gamekeeper and his laconic employer.
Squire : "Ike, beat that large oat-stubble.”
Ike : “ How be I to get there, Zur? will’ee have un crawl over the dyke, or be I to deliver un through the stile ?"
Squire : “Teach him the timber.
And without more ado, the undaunted “ Ike” would gather his reins up in a bunch, ply his solitary spur, for on these occasions, under the idea I presume that he was only half equestrian, he never wore more than one, and despite of slippery ground, unbending ash, bad takeoff, and very likely a determined refusal, would arrive at the other side somehow in company with the four-year-old; for even if they fell, they always seemed to get up together. Such was the tuition of the Squire's hunters, and in this manner he combined, as he said, instruction with amusement.
Whilst our domestic Centaur was pursuing his solitary steeplechase, we would ensconce ourselves in some sheltering ravine, or under some concealing spinny, and occasionally get a delightful “rocketing.” shot at an unwary covey that might fly over our lurking-place on its way to the distant turnips : and when at length the country had been sufficiently scoured, and the partridges driven to that treacherous covert, we used to enter the dripping “swedes,” and prepare for action.
Here “Ike” was more than ever in his glory-one steady old pointer being set at liberty on these occasions, our ally conceived that the sport now partook of the nature of hunting, and his excitement was of course proportionate. When the old dog, looking cautiously around hin, and lifting one paw after the other, as if the wet contact was most disagreeable to him (which I believe to have been the case), crouched gradually up to his game, and straightened his short stumpy tail, to all the inflexibility of an undoubted point, “Ike's” enthusiasm knew no bounds. Standing up in his stirrups, and waving his cap down to his horse's knees, he would exclaim, “Yooi! over Ponto ! have at 'em there good dog! yooi ! rustle 'em up!” and then, suddenly recollecting himself, would take his words up sharp, with a stammering “I mean, toho! down charge! you brute, and be hanged to you !” After which, as we shot and bagged our game, he relapsed completely into the keeper. In this manner, if we had not a great deal of sport, we were sure of a certain share of amusement; and as the season wore on, and the birds got wilder and wilder, we more and more affected these laughable expeditions,
One blustering afternoon, as the Squire and I were concluding a more than usually successful day's sport in the well-known vicinity of Wilton Cowslips, we descried a stalwart figure hastening towards us, over the adjoining field, which elicited from each of us the simultaneous exclamation of “ The Benedict, by all that's wonderful !” and “* Bagshot for ' a hundred !” and sure enough, as he drew near, it was none other than our lately-married friend. The greeting was cordial--nay, boisterous; and congratulations, good wishes, questions, and replies were bandied to and fro with heartfelt sincerity.
“ You'll come into the vicarage, Squire, and be introduced to Mrs. Bagshot ; you must stop at your old quarters, and renew your acquaintance with an old friend, my dear Nogo,” said the hospitable parson ; and in another five minutes we were all three walking arm-in-arm up the gravel walk that led to the rustic porch of that well-known dwelling, never before regarded with the painful interest with which to one of the party it was now invested. How my heart beat ! how. I envied the Squire his careless demeanour and robust unconsciousness! She was but Mrs. Bagshot to him—a new neighbour, and nothing more. What was she to me? another minute would show there is but a satin-wood door between my agitated self and her who was once the hope of my heart, the mistress of my destiny. The door opens--the furniture of the apartment seems whirling around me, the floor and ceiling are heaving and swimming before my eyes, for my brain is reeling as I stand once again in the presence of Kate Cotherstone !
Not the least altered--not a shadow of difference between the Rev. Mrs. Bagshot, and the dangerous Kate, of Ascot Heath and Windsor Forest—the black waving hair had lost none of its crispness, the malicious playful glance shot bright as ever from under those jetty eyelashes,—the arch smile, curving her Grecian lip, and disclosing the pearly teeth within, went straight to my heart as in the days of oldthe shapely figure had retained all its rounded graces, and the dress was, as usual, perfection. It was Kate herself; and when she came up to me, and put her hand within mine, imitating the cordial greeting due to an old friend, with the most perfect self-possession and sang froid, in a manner that none but a woman, and a very clever woman to boot, could have effected, I felt, I am ashamed to say, as much her slave as ever. Of course this was all nonsense, it needed but little reflection to remind me that she was now the bride of my old and valued friend ; and even had this not been the case, after all that had taken place, it would have been quite impossible for us ever again to resume our former intimacy. Whilst the Squire was making the agreeable to his new and charining neighbour-for even he was fascinated by the enchantress, and in his uncouth efforts to please reminded me of a bear dancing on its hind legs—I had time to recollect myself, and to press upon Joe, as in duty bound, the usual congratulations which ignorant bachelors offer so warmly to the friend who has gallantly pre