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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 produetive 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 despatched 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 hiin, 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 charming 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 preceded them in the momentous plunge.
In our hurried conversation, I gathered from the delighted bridegroom that his journey to Bath had been the immediate cause of all I now saw before me. A short acquaintance, commencing at a ball, and cemented by one or two tea-drinkings, had convinced him that life without Miss Cotherstone would be a blank indeed--that was the piece of furniture, without which the Parsonage was incomplete—that was the smile to which it would be so heavenly to return, after clerical duties, or fatiguing field-sports ; and, in short, ** Joe” for the first time in his life was completely captivated. As usual, the difference of disposition and character between the two riveted the chain only more firmly. My friend, with his fine manly open heart, his ignorance of guile and deceit -- which amounted almost to the simplicity of a child—his trustful nature and unsophisticated candour, was safe to marry a thorough-going woman of the world. Could I blame him? could I, of all people, be astonished at his infatuation ? Ere long he made his proposals to Kate in due form—papa and mamma were abroad, but it took little time to obtain their cordial consent (nor did this surprise me), and the female relative with whom the fair “ fiancée” was staying, lost no opportunity of impressing upon her admirer that he was indeed a fortunate man.
Joe's aunt behaved like a trump, as he said himself, like the Queen of Trumps ; and she, too, was so fascinated by the little witch, that in addition to the handsome present, standing in her venerable name in the Three per Cent. Consols, with which she complimented her nephew on the morning of his nuptials, she likewise presented his bride with a valuable set of diamonds-none of your paste, but real genuine sparklers, that had remained safely locked up in the custody of the old lady's bankers for the last fifty years.
“We have now been married a fortnight,” added Joe, his face beaming with delight, and looking a proper man to win the fancy of any young lady ; and we have not a secret in the world from each other (good gracious, I thought, I wonder whether she has told him all about me). “ If you wish for happiness, my dear Nogo, follow my example ; I never knew what it was really to enjoy life till I found Mrs. Bagshot sitting down to breakfast on the opposite side of the table every day, as a matter of course."
The Squire was by this time making a courteous farewell to the cousin who was to him almost a stranger, and it was now my turn to wish the new Mrs. Bagshot good-bye. Again that cordial shake of the hand, again that half-careless, half-meaning glance, that seemed to say “let bye-gones be bye-gones ”-it was evident that she thought the less said about our previous acquaintance the better ; but I had a right to expect some little embarrassment, some slight half-indicated expression of interest in one for whom she had formerly confessed she entertained a decided regard ; but no, it was—“Good bye, Mr. Nogo ; i trust you will complete your visit here before you leave the country, and not suffer me to frighten you away from your old bachelor quarters,” and she smiled in my face as if I had been her grandfather." They are an inexplicable race," thought I to myself, as I followed the delighted Squire to the garden-gate ; " and this is a chapter in their history that I may puzzle over in vain : the old mythologist was right when he made the Sphinx a lady!” Reader, have you ever experienced the luxury of being an ill-used
man? If you have not, depend upon it you are ignorant of one of the most engrossing sensations known to the human organization. A man without a grievance is like a kettle half-filled, or rather a kettle merely filled with cold water ; but let him only consider himself unfairly treated, let him brood and hatch his grievance till it pervades his system, and straightway he frets, and seethes, and simmers, till at last he boils over in a perfect ecstasy of self-condolence. As I walked silently alongside the Squire, on our homeward journey, I felt ill-used, I knew not whyI felt dissatisfied with all the characters of the drama in which I had lately taken part, and, above all, with myself. My companion was neither loquacious himself, nor tolerant of loquacity in others, so I had no one to whom I could unbosom myself ; and as I kept chafing over Kate's indifference, which piqued me to the core, and at the same time despising my own folly in caring two straws about it—as what could it signify to me?-I gradually worked my feelings up to that state in which a man finds he is ready for any action, no matter how foolish, that takes him from himself. In such a mood the sympathy of a female friend is likely to prove dangerous in the extreme, and to such peril was it my fate unwittingly to expose myself. As we entered the shrubberies that surrounded Topthorne Lodge, I caught sight of a light-coloured dress fluttering in the breeze before us, which could only belong to the widow, and declining the Squire's invitation to “ kennel with more decision than I could usually find courage for, I pushed on to overtake and walk home with Mrs. Montague, partly in the hope of unburdening my mind by a detail of our afternoon visit, partly with a lurking feeling of triumphant vanity in the thought that here at least I could command an interest in one sympathising breast—that in those blue eyes I should read no malicious sarcasm, no cold forgetfulness.
It had been dusk an hour ere the dressing-bell summoned us into the house. Backwards and forwards, to and fro, up and down those winding walks and well-kept shrubberies, had we walked and talked, and hinted and hesitated, and lingered, often trenching upon the topic which I believe was nearest both our hearts, and yet the fatal words were unspoken. Grateful to my wounded vanity was the healing salve of Mrs. Montague's implied admiration—triumphant reflection to think that it was in my own power to show Mrs. Bagshot that she was not the only person who could forget : and besides such considerations, the widow's smiles, to do her justice, were sufficiently intoxicating in them. selves to make a wiser man than me forget prudence, foresight, and everything but the companion by his side. Yet when I went to dress for dinner I was still a free man—the last meshes of the net were unwoven—the spell was incomplete-I had not passed the Rubicon, but by Jove I had been uncommonly close to its brink.
(To be continued.)