« PreviousContinue »
YOUNG TOM HALL'S HEART-ACHES AND HORSES.
. CHAPTER XXXV. Our Tom went to bed with a desperate heart-ache ; he thought he had never seen such a beauty as Laura, and how he should ever get on without her he couldn't for the life of him imagine. Angelena wasn't to be compared to her, and already he began to regard that volatile lady with other than feelings of affection.
Then the fifty thousand pounds flashed across his mind and caused him to ponder. Pooh! he didn't believe she had it; at all events, it wouldn't be hers for nobody knew when ; and Laura was worth half a hundred of her without a halfpenny. Then it occurred to him that Laura would have money—that the major wouldn't keep hounds if he wasn't rich ; and as to his fathers objection about Longwind's bill, Tom didn't see any reason why the major should take up Longwind's bill, so long as there was any chance of Longwind taking it up himself. Tom thought it showed caution rather than poverty, and liked the major the better for it.
Then it occurred to Tom, that his friend Padder, who was learned in the law, being in the second year of his clerkship with Mr. Habendum, had told him that heiresses' fortunes always went to their own children ; and if that was the case, Laura would be a catch, if not as great, at all events—beauty and all taken into consideration—as desirable as Angelena. Then the name of Squashington and Slumpington occurred to Tom's mind in the accommodating way that things do turn up in aid of Cupid's endeavours, and Tom began to doubt whether Laura mightn't be a better spec. than Angelena. He now recollected to have heard old Trueboy, the cashier, and his father, discussing a city article of the Times, stating that it would take little more than fifteen years of the existing production of gold to cause an alteration in the relations of property of fifty per cent. ; and if Angelena's fifty thousand solid substantial sovereigns, as Mayor Fibs described them, went down one-half, and Squashington and Slumpington went up in like manner, why then Laura would be the best chance of the two. Of course, Tom, in these speculations, made no allowance for Laura's sisters' shares, who were still at Miss Birchtwig's ; indeed, how could he, seeing he did not know of their existence? though Tights had been fully informed by Mrs. Hogslard, if the punch had not driven the information out of his head. Mrs. Lard—as Tights called her_and he had not quite made up their minds whether they should favour the Guineafowle speculation or not, and Tights thought he had got the. length of his master's foot to a nicety.
The house-clock here struck one, and Tom reverenced the sound on account of the lady. He wondered whether she was lying awake thinking of him. What a darling she was! How sweetly she smiled, and showed her beautiful teeth as she bade him good night, holding out her little ungloved hand for him to shake! He would have her, come what would. He didn't care a copper about his engagement to Angelena : it was quite clear she would throw him over, if she could get any one better
-why shouldn't he do the same by her ? Jug's, the detested Jug's portrait again presented itself to his mind, with Ruddles's “ This is the gent -the right honourable gent that's a courtin' of the great heiress at the barracks.” Hang her! he'd be done with her. What business had she to ride away with old Heartycheer, leaving him doubled up like a gibus hat? She didn't know but he might have been killed. .
Two o'clock found our friend in a profuse perspiration. He had fallen asleep and dreamt that the colonel had called him out, and he couldn't get rid of the idea. In his mind's eye, he was getting hurried on the box of a fly alongside' of Major Fibs, while an enormous mountain of a man, enveloped in a military cloak, assisted by the shoulder of the flyman, had at length succeeded in squeezing sideways into the fly, carrying a brace of ominous-looking articles in blue bathing-dresses, that too evidently showed by their shape to be pistols. Tom was terrified, for he had no taste for fighting; and though he awoke to the consciousness that it was only a dream, he felt most forcibly that the dream might be the precursor of reality. He thought he had better not try any tricks on with Angelena ; and then how his heart wrung him to think that he must give up all thoughts of the lovely, angelic, blue-eyed beauty, who now seemed more necessary to his existence than ever! He felt as if he had been kidnapped.
Balmy sleep, nature's soft restorer, again befriended him, and in the interval that followed he dreamt that old Trueboy, the bank cashier, had negotiated a compromise with the colonel ; after giving him all the dirty five-pound notes in the drawer, was now shovelling the sovereigns over the counter with a copper shovel, for him to put in a sack which seemed to have no bottom ; for the more Trueboy shovelled over, the more the colonel seemed to want, till Tom, dreading the result of the operation on the bank funds, shrieked out, " That's enough ! that's enough!” in a voice that completely startled himself and sounded throughout the house. After this exploit he fell asleep, from which he was aroused by Tights with his tops and hot water.
There was unusual commotion in the house, caused as well by the unwonted company-making as by the preparations for the hunt and the over-night inebriety of Mrs. Hogslard, the cook. Tights and she had made a night of it, with the punch and her private bottle of spirits ; and now, when she ought to have been up and doing, she was tossing and tumbling about in bed with a desperate headache. Mrs. Hogslard was one of those wretched country cooks whom everybody has had, and no one keeps; and she was a perfect prodigy in all the establishments in a country office. She could sit behind Mrs. Chatterbox, the registeroffice woman's screen, and tell tales that were enough to horrify a hearer, lest his own establishment should be laid bare the same way—what masters prowled about the kitchens and places where they had no business
—what mistresses were “nasty covetous bodies," and stinted for beer or butter, or locked their tea-caddies, and didn't allow meat luncheons or hot suppers—what butlers agreed with the housekeepers, and what didn't —who were supposed to have false keys, and who to have been false to the lady’s-maid; from which valuable information Mrs. Chatterbox—herself an old cook-would draw such deductions as enabled her to place the intelligent “ladies and gentlemen," as she called the servants, who honoured her with their custom, most advantageously. In return for all this, Mrs. Chatterbox used to mention Mrs. Hogslard, casually, to parties who applied in the middle of a term, as a person wot thoroughly understood cooking, and had lived in most respectable families ;" leaving it to the inquirers to find out why it was that so experienced a person was out of place. And this suited Mrs. Hogslard almost as well as regular service, for she made harvest wages, and had greater indulgences as a stranger than she would had she been one of the establishment.
She had been a fortnight at the major's, and not having had a chance of any of the house drink before, had been unable to resist temptation, especially when instigated by so interesting a companion as Tights.
Breakfast, however, being a much less formidable meal than dinner, and one which most women can assist in preparing, things were pretty forward by the time our master of hounds had got himself into his best boots and breeches, and arranged the loosely-tied blue-silk scarf under his buff vest, that he thought contrasted so well with it and his green huntbuttoned coat.
Our Tom, aided by Tights, made what he thought a most killing toilette. After half a dozen "fail-yars,” he at length accomplished a wide-extending, cream-coloured Joinville above a pink, race-horse patterned shirt with gold fox-head studs. He had got his thick thighs into leathers; while Tights, who was much given to buying recipes (with his master's money, of course), had tried his last guinea's worth on Tom's tops, and made them a red-hot colour.
" Why, what an extraordinary colour you've got my boots !” exclaimed Tom, as Tights withdrew the napkin with which they were covered.
“ All is serene, sir, replied Tights, hissing, as he dusted them over with the napkin-56 all is serene, sir," repeated he, setting them down; “ the Melton gents would give any money for such tops, but I wish they may get them, that's all.”
Tom was bad to please in the matter of coats ; he wanted to put on his pink, but Tights wouldn't hear of such a thing, alleging that it would be the ruin of both their reputations if such a thing was known at Melton.
“Nobody ever hunted with currant-jelly dogs," as he profanely called the major's hounds, “in pink.”
The major himself wore green, as Tights knew ; for he had been seeing how he looked in the major's coat, as he found it lying on the back kitchen table. Tom then proposed breakfasting in pink, and changing after, but this Tights also strenuously resisted, on the plea that it would look disrespectful to the major, first showing in scarlet, as if Tom thought he kept foxhounds, and then changing ; and Tom, having a high opinion of Tights' judgment, was at last reluctantly obliged to content himself with laying the scarlet over a chair-back, and leaving the door open for all passers-by to see. Having then tried on a dark-brown duffle, and a red-brown, and a pepper-and-salt duffle, and a black saxopy jacket, all with most liberal sleeves, at length chose the red-brown duffle as the gayest of the whole. When he got down, he found the beautiful subject of his dreams ready to receive him, though, by some strange circumstance, none of the others were down. Perhaps Laura had had the first turn of the maid, who certainly had done her full justice, making her beautiful hair shine like the raven's wing, while the blue Fremantle dress stood imposingly out, in a way that none but spic-and-span new things will stand. Tom was quite enchanted, and stood gaping for utterance as, having again given him her hand on wishing him good morning, Laura
proceeded to draw on a pair of new three-and-sixpenny primrose-coloured kid gloves.
If Tom hadn't been a slow coach, he would have been far on the road to an offer ere Mrs. Guineafowle made her appearance with the keys; as it was, having to travel his ponderosity through the weather, prognosticating the severity that was to come from the mildness that had prevailed, and travelling onwards through the mess that frost makes of a flower-garden, he had only got as far as the approaching new year's ball at Fleecyborough, when mamma appeared, followed by her light-haired step-daughters at intervals, the major, who had been holding a courtmartial on Cramlington for his over-night delinquencies, bringing up the rear. Cramlington presently came sneaking in with the urn and the viands, and then seats being resorted to, the barter of breakfast com- . menced-one giving coffee for tea, another muffin for toast, a third exchanging butter for fried ham, a fourth marmalade for honey--munch, munch, munch, was presently the order of the day. The major was the first to throw up, not because he was so keen that he couldn't eat any breakfast on a hunting morning, but because he had another project in view, which, as he wasn't sure it would come off as he wished, he did not like to announce, but for which he wished to reserve a little appetite in case it should. So he presently began trifling with his breakfast, looking about him and wondering whether our Tom and the smart girl on his right would make a match of it, or rather whether the smart lady would be able to capture our Tom. Laura, too, trifled with hers, being apparently more intent on getting Tom what he wanted than administering to her own gratification. One of Miss Birchtwig's urgent injunctions to her finishing pupils was, never to eat much before gentlemen. Our Tom, considering his interesting position, the disturbed night he had passed, and the disagreeable amusement he was about to partake of, played a pretty good knife and fork, and it was not until he had paid his respects to all the solids, hot as well as cold, and made a considerable impression on the sweets, that the musical notes of the major's gold repeater awoke him to a sense of his dreadful situation. He was going to hunt !- to hunt with a man who was keener, he believed, if possible, than Lord Heartycheer; and the day with Lord Heartycheer had made him wriggle about ever since, just as if his trousers were stuck full of pins.
Tom would have given anything for a frost, but there was no such luck for him ; hunt he must, and appear fond of it too; so, without more ado, he drained his cup, and screwed up his courage like a man going to a dentist's. Just then Tights appeared before the window with the redoubtable horse, and the ladies rose en masse to admire it- Such a love ! such a beauty !”-though they could only see his head and tail for the fine T. H. embossed sheet in which Tights had him enveloped.
“Y-e-a-yup!" now exclaimed Tom from the steps of the door, where he stood drawing on a pair of clean doeskins-an exclamation that caused Tights to curtail his circuit and hurry up with the horse.
65. And how is he ?” asked Tom, with an air of unconcern, though he would have given something to have been getting off-getting off all safe, at least-instead of getting on-"how is he?" asked he.
“ All is serene, sir,” replied the slangey Londoner, in a tone of confident familiarity, as he cast a roguish eye over his master's vacant face.
“ All is serene,” replied Tom, comforted by the assurance, which he
interpreted into an intimation that the horse had had the fiery edge taken off him—iced, perhaps, as Lord Alvanley recommended Gunter to have done by his hot one—"all is serene,” repeated Tom to himself, as he dived at the stirrup, and at last getting his foot in, with a vigorous hoist succeeded in landing in the saddle. He then looked to the windows, and watching Laura's eye, received the sweetest of sweet smiles, while Mrs. Guineafowle whispered in her ear, “ How well he looks on horseback!" And Tights, who now stood with the sheet over his arm watching his master's departure, said to himself, “ If you can ride, I'm werry much mistaken.”
CHAPTER XXXVI. HESTERCOMBE HOUSE, a tumble-down old family mansion, about five miles from Major Guineafowle's, the property of the Duke of Gormanstone, was occupied by a gentleman-farmer, who-low be it spoken-had formerly been butler in the family, and marrying the very pious housekeeper, Miss, or, as she called herself, Mrs. Holdsworthy, the duchess, who had the upper hand, thought she could not better mark her approbation of the very respectable couple than by placing them upon one of the duke's farms at a very moderate rent. Mrs. Holdsworthy had been fourteen years in the duke's service -a long time, as servants go—and having early impressed the duchess with a sense of her extreme rectitude, she had had a fine time of it ever since. In the accomplishment of this most desirable end, she had been greatly aided by an apparently very trivial, but in reality a very telling assistant, in the shape of a large earthenware medallion with the words
upon it, which, immediately on her arrival at the castle, she suspended above the mantelpiece of her comfortably furnished sitting-room. This struck the duchess amazingly; she thought she never saw anything so nice, so pretty, so proper and becoming, and she instructed all the servants to show Mrs. Holdsworthy, who was “a very superior person," every respect and attention.
This was a grand thing for our housekeeper, for if ever servants do tell of each other, except out of spite, or when they know what they tell has or will be found out, this would effectually have stopped their mouths, and Mrs. Holdsworthy might have carried off half the things in the castle without ever a word being said. Not that she was at all abstemious, but she did her “spiriting so gently,” and was so prudent withal, that nothing but whispers ever arose. It would have been high treason to have hinted at anything. If she ever committed herself by taking anything that could be identified, she kept it long on the premises, in case it should ever be asked for; and in one or two instances, when the duchess was inquisitive about things that had been thus put away, Mrs. Holdsworthy produced them with such a sanctified, self-satisfied smile