Billeder på siden



The' phaeton-horses went off like wildfire, Dick driving as if he was drunk. Omnibus-cads looked after him with undisguised admiration, and Hansom cabmen, catching the enthusiasm of pace, found themselves actually wishing they were gentlemen's servants to have their beer found, and sit behind such steppers as those!

The white foam stood on flank and shoulder when the pair were pulled up at Rose and Brilliant's door.

Dick bustled in with so agitated an air that an experienced shopman instantly lifted the glass from a tray containing the usual assortment of wedding-rings.

'I'm come about some diamonds,' panted the customer, casting a wistful glance towards these implements of coercion the while. 'A set of diamonds-very valuable-left here by a lady-a young lady-I want them back again.'

He looked about him helplessly; nevertheless, the shopman, himself a married man, became at once less commiserating, and more confiden


'Diamonds!' he repeated. 'Let me see-yes, sir-quite so-I think I recollect. Perhaps you'll step in and speak to our principal. Mind your hat, if you please, sir-yes, sir-this way, sir.'

So saying, he ushered Mr. Stanmore through glass doors into a neat little room at the back, where sat a bald, smiling personage in sober attire, something between that of a provincial master of hounds and a low-church clergyman, whose cool composure, as it struck Dick at the time, afforded a ludicrous contrast to his own fuss and agitation.

'My name is Rose, sir,' said the placid man. Pray take a seat.'

Nobody can take a seat' under feelings of strong excitement. Dick grasped the proffered chair by the back.

'Mr. Rose,' he began, what I have to say to you goes no farther.' 'Oh dear, no!--certainly not

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

Mr. Rose took a ledger off the table, and ran his finger down its columns. Quite correct, sir,' said he, stopping at a particular entry. 'You are acquainted with the circumstances, of course.'

Dick nodded, esteeming it little breach of confidence to look as if he knew all about it.

There is no difficulty whatever,' continued the bland Mr. Rose. 'Happy to oblige Miss Bruce. Happy to oblige you. We shall charge a small sum for commission. Nothing more-oh! dear, no! Have them cleaned up? Certainly, sir, and you may depend on their being sent home in time. At your convenience, Mr. Stanmore. No hurry, sir. You can write me your cheque for the amount. Perhaps I'd better draw out a little memorandum. We shall make a mere nominal charge for cleaning.'

Dick glanced over the memorandum, including its nominal charge for cleaning, which, perhaps from ignorance, did not strike him as being extraordinarily low. He was somewhat startled at the sum total, but when this gentleman made up his mind, it was not easy to turn him from an object in view.

The steppers, hardly cool, were hurried straight off to his banker's, to be driven, after their owner's interview with one of the partners, back again to the great emporium of their kind at Tattersall's.

A woman who wants to make a sacrifice parts with her jewels, a man sells his horses. Honour to each, for each offers up what is nearest and dearest to the heart.

Dick Stanmore lived no more within his income than other people. To get back these diamonds he I would have to raise a considerable sum. There was nothing else to be done. The hunters must go. Nay, the whole stud, phaeton-horses, hacks, and all. Yet Dick marched into the office to secure stalls for an early date, with a bright eye and a smiling face. He was proving, to himself at least, how well he loved her.

The first person he met in the yard was Lord Bearwarden. That nobleman, though knowing him but slightly, had rather a liking for Stanmore, cemented by a certain good run they once saw in company, when each approved of the other's straightforward riding and unusual forbearance towards hounds.

'There's a nice horse in the boxes,' said my lord, looks very like your sort, Stanmore, and they say he'll go cheap, though he's quite sound.'

'Thanks,' answered Dick. But I'm all the other way. Been taking stalls. Going to sell.'

'Draft?' asked his lordship, who did not waste words.

'All of them,' replied the other. Even the hacks, saddlery, clothing, in short, the whole plant, and without reserve-going to give it up-at any rate for a time.'

'Sorry for that,' replied Bearwarden, adding, courteously, 'Can I offer you a lift? I'm going your way. Indeed I'm going to call at your mother's. Shall I find the ladies at home?'

'A little later you will,' said honest, unsuspecting Dick, who had not yet learned the lesson that teaches it is not worth while to trust or mistrust any of the sex.

[ocr errors]

They'll be charmed to give you

some tea. I'm off to Croydon to look over my poor screws before they're sold, and break it to my groom.'

'That's a right good fellow,' thought Lord Bearwarden, and not a bad connection if I was fool enough to marry the dark girl, after all.' So he called out to Dick, who had one foot on the step of his phaeton

'I say, Stanmore, come and dine with us on the 11th; we've got two or three hunting fellows, and we can go on together afterwards to your mother's ball.'

All right,' said Stanmore, and bowled away in the direction of Croydon at the rate of fourteen miles an hour. If the horses were to be sold, people might just as well be made aware of the class of animal he kept. Though the sacrifice involved was considerable, it would be wise to lessen it by all judicious means in his power.

How great a sacrifice he scarcely felt till he arrived at his country stables.

Dick Stanmore had been fonder of hunting than any other pursuit in the world, ever since he went out for the first time on a Shetland pony, and came home with his nose bleeding, at five years old.

The spin and whizz' of his reel, the rush of a brown mountain stream with its fringe of silver birch and stunted alder, the white side of a leaping salmon, and the gasp of that noble fish towed deftly into the shallows at last, afforded him a natural and unmixed pleasure. He loved the heather dearly, the wild hill-side, the keen pure air, the steady setters, the flap and cackle of the rising grouse, the ringing shot that laid him low, born in the purple, and fated there to die. Nor, when corn-fields were cleared and partridges almost as swift as bullets, and as numerous as locusts, were driven to and fro across the open, was his aim to be foiled by a flight little less rapid than the shot that arrested it. With a rifle in his hand, a general knowledge of the surrounding forest, and a couple of gillies, give him the wind of a royal stag feeding amongst his hinds, and,

despite the feminine jealousy and instinctive vigilance of the latter, an hour's stalk would put the lord of the hills at the mercy of Dick Stanmore. In all these sports he was a proficient, from all of them he derived a keen gratification, but fox-hunting was his passion and his delight.

A fine rider, he loved the pursuit so well, and was so interested in hounds, that he gave his horse every opportunity of carrying him in front, and as his natural qualities included a good eye, and that confidence in the immediate future which we call 'nerve,' he was seen in difficulties less often than might be expected from his predilection in favour of the shortest way.'

His horses generally appeared to go pleasantly, and to reciprocate their rider's confidence, for he certainly seemed to get more work out of them than his neighbours.

As Mr. Crop, his stud-groom, remarked in the peculiar style of English affected by that trustworthy but exceedingly impracticable servant

Take and put him on a "arfbred" 'oss, an' he rides him like a hangel, nussin' of him, and coaxin' of him, and sendin' of him along, beautiful for ground, an' uncommon liberal for fences. Take an' put him on a thoro' bred 'un, like our Vampire 'oss, and-Lor!'"'

One secret perhaps of that success in the hunting-field, which, when well mounted, even Mr. Crop's eloquence was powerless to express but by an interjection, lay in his master's affection for the animal. Dick Stanmore dearly loved a horse, as some men do love them, totally irrespective of any pleasure or advantage to be derived from their


There is a fanciful oriental legend which teaches that when Allah was engaged in the work of creation, he tempered the lightning with the south wind, and thus created the horse. Whimsical as is this idea, it yet suggests the swiftness, the fire, the mettlesome, generous, but plastic temperament of our favourite quadruped-the only one of our dumb servants in whose spirit we can

rouse at will the utmost emulation, the keenest desire for the approval of its lord. Even the countenance of this animal denotes most of the qualities we affect to esteem in the human race-courage, docility, goodtemper, reflection (for few faces are so thoughtful as that of the horse), gratitude, benevolence, and, above all, trust. Yes, the full brown eye, large, and mild, and loving, expresses neither spite, nor suspicion, nor revenge. It turns on you with the mute unquestioning confidence of real affection, and you may depend on it under all pressure of circumstance, in the last extremity of danger or death. Will you say as much for the bluest eyes that ever sparkled in mirth, or swam in tears, or shone and deepened under the combined influence of triumph, belladonna, and war-paint?

I once heard a man affirm that for him there was in every horse's face the beauty each of us sees in the one woman he adores. This outrageous position he assumed after a good run, and, indeed, after the dinner which succeeded it. I will not go quite so far as to agree with him, but I will say that, in generosity, temper, and fidelity, there is many a woman, and man too, who might well take example from the noble qualities of the horse.

And now Dick Stanmore was about to offer up half a dozen of these valued servants before the idol he had lately begun to worship, for whom, indeed, he esteemed no victim too precious, no sacrifice too dear.

Driving into his stable-yard, he threw the reins to a couple of helpers, and made use of Mr. Crop's arm to assist his descent. That worthy's face shone with delight. Next to his horses he loved his master-chiefly, it is fair to say, as an important ingredient without which there would be no stud.

'I was expectin' of ye, sir,' said he, touching an exceedingly straightbrimmed hat. Glad to see ye lookin' so well.'

To do him justice, Mr. Crop did his duty as if he always was expecting his master.

Horses all right?' asked Dick, moving towards the stable-door.

"'Osses is 'ealthy, I am thankful to say,' replied the groom, gravely, 'and lookin', too, pretty nigh as I could wish, now they've done breakin' with their coats. There's Firetail got a queerish hock-them Northamptonshire 'osses is mostly unsound ones-and the mare's off-leg's filled; and the Vampire 'oss, he's got a bit of a splent a-comin', but I'll soon frighten that away; an' old Dandy brush, he's awful, but not wuss nor I counted; and the young un--'

'I'll look 'em over,' said Dick, interrupting what threatened to be a long catalogue. 'I came down on purpose. The fact is (take those horses out and feed them) — the fact is, Crop, I'm going to sell them all. I'm going to send them up to Tattersall's.'

Every groom is more or less a sporting man, and it is the peculiarity of sporting men to betray astonishment at no eventuality, however startling; therefore Mr. Crop, doing violence to his feelings, moved not a muscle of his countenance.

'I'm sorry to part with them, Crop,' added Dick, a little put out by the silence of his retainer, and not knowing exactly what to say next. They've carried me very well-I've seen a deal of fun on them-I don't suppose I shall ever have such good ones-I don't suppose I shall ever hunt much again.'

[ocr errors]

Mr. Crop began to thaw. They're good 'osses,' he observed, sententiously; but that's not to say as there isn't good 'osses elsewheres. In regard of not huntin' there's a many seasons, askin' your pardon, atween you and me, and I should be sorry to think as I wasn't goin' huntin', ay, twenty years from now! When is 'em goin' up, sir?' added he, sinking sentiment and coming to business at once.

'Monday fortnight,' answered Dick, entering a loose box, in which stood a remarkably handsome mare, that neighed at him, and rubbed her head against his breast.

'I should ha' liked another ten days,' replied Crop, for it was an important part of his system never to accept his master's arrangements without a protest. I could ha' got

'em to show as they ought to show by then. Is the stalls took?'

Dick nodded. He was looking wistfully at the mare, thinking what a light mouth she had, and how boldly she faced water.

'That leg'll be as clean as my face in a week,' observed Mr. Crop, confidently. She'll fetch a good price, she will. Sir Frederic's after her, I know. There's nothing but tares in there, sir; old Dandy brush is in the box on the right.'

Dick gave the mare a loving pat, and turned sadly into the residence of old Dandy brush. That experienced animal greeted him with laidback ears and a grin, as though to say, 'Here you are again! But I like you best in your red coat.'

They had seen many a good gallop together, and rolled over each other with the utmost good-humour, in every description of soil. To look at the old horse, even in his summer guise, was to recall the happiest moments of a sufficiently happy life.

'I'd meant to have guv it him pretty sharp,' said Crop; but I'll let him alone now. He'd 'a carried you, maybe, another season or two, with a good strong dressin'; but them legs isn't what they was. Last time as I rode of him second horse, I found him different-gettin' inquisitive at his places-and when they gets inquisitive they soon begins to get slow. You'll look at the Vampire 'oss, sir, before you go back to town?'

Now the Vampire 'oss,' as he called him, was an especial favourite with Mr. Crop. Dick Stanmore had bought him out of training at Newmarket by his groom's advice, and the highbred animal, being ridden by an exceedingly good horseman, had turned out a far better hunter than common-not invariably the case with horses that begin life on the Heath. Crop took great pride in this purchase, confidently asserting, and doubtless believing, that England could not produce its equal.

He threw the box-door open with the air of a man who is going to exhibit a picture of his own painting.

It's a pity to let him go,' said the groom, with a sigh. Where'll

you get another as can touch him when the ground's deep, like it was last March? I've had a many to look after, first and last; but such a kind 'oss to do for in the stable I never see. Why, if you was to give that 'oss ten feeds of corn a day he'd take an' eat 'em all out cleanwouldn't leave a hoat! And legs! Them's not legs! them's slips of gutta-percher an' steel! To be sure he'll fetch a hawful price at the 'ammer-four 'underd, five 'underd, I shouldn't wonder-why he's worth all the money to look at. Blessed if you mightn't ride a good 'ack to death only tryin' to find such another!'

Nevertheless, the Vampire horse was condemned to go up with the rest. Notwithstanding the truth of the groom's protestations, its money value was exactly the quality that decided the animal's fate.

Driving back to London, Dick's heart bounded to think that in an hour's time he should meet Miss

Bruce again at dinner. How delightful to be doing all this for her sake, yet to keep the precious secret safe locked in his own breast, until the moment should come when it would be judicious to divulge it, making, at the same time, another confession, of which he hoped the result might be happiness for life.

'I'd do more than that for her,' muttered this enthusiastic young gentleman, while he trotted over Vauxhall Bridge. 'I liked my poor horses better than anything; and that's just the reason I like to part with them for her sake. My darling, I'd give you the heart out of my breast, even if I thought you'd tread it under foot and send it back again!'"

Had such an anatomical absurdity been reconcileable with the structure of the human frame, it is possible Miss Bruce might have treated this important organ in the contumelious manner suggested.

« ForrigeFortsæt »