Old Tom Towler

THERE ARE FEW more difficult persons to identify than a huntsman in undress, and of all queer ones perhaps old Tom Towler was the queerest. Tom in his person furnished an apt illustration of the right appropriation of talent and the fitness of things, for he would neither have made a groom, nor a coachman, nor a postilion, nor a footman, nor a ploughman, nor a mechanic, nor anything we know of, and yet he was first-rate as a huntsman. He was too weak for a groom, too small for a coachman, too ugly for a postilion, too stunted for a footman, too light for a ploughman, too useless-looking for almost anything.

Anyone looking at him in ‘mufti’ would exclaim, ‘what an unfortunate object!’ and perhaps offer him a penny, while in his hunting habiliments lords would hail him with, ‘Well, Tom, how are you?’ and baronets ask him ‘how he was?’ Commoners felt honoured by his countenance, and yet, but for hunting, Tom would have been wasted -- a cypher -- an inapplicable sort of man. Old Tom, in his scarlet coat, black cap, and boots, and Tom in his undress -- say, shirt-sleeves, shorts, grey stockings and shoes, bore about the same resemblance to each other that a three months dead jay nailed to a keeper’s lodge bears to the bright-plumaged bird when flying about. On horseback, Tom was a cockey, wiry-looking, keen-eyed, grim-visaged, hard-bitten little fellow, sitting as though he and his horse were all one, while on foot he was the most shambling, scambling, crooked-going crab that ever was seen. He was a complete mash of a man. He had been scalped by the branch of a tree, his nose knocked into a thing like a button by the kick of a horse, his teeth sent down his throat by a fall, his collar-bone fractured, his left leg broken and his right arm ditto, to say nothing of damage to his ribs, fingers, and feet, and having had his face scarified like pork by repeated brushings through strong thorn fences.

But we will describe him as he appeared before Mr Waffles, and the gentlemen of the Laverick Wells Hunt, on the night of Mr Sponge’s arrival. Tom’s spirit being roused at hearing the boastings of Mr Leather, and thinking, perhaps, his master might have something to say, or thinking, perhaps, to partake of the eleemosynary drink generally going on in large houses of public entertainment, had taken up his quarters in the bar of the Imperial, where he was attentively perusing the ‘meets’ in Bell’s Life, reading how the Atherstone met at Gopsall, the Bedale at Hornby, the Cottesmore at Tilton Wood, and so on, with all industry worthy of a better cause; for Tom neither knew country, nor places, nor masters, nor hounds, nor huntsmen, nor anything, though he still felt an interest in reading where they were going to hunt. Thus he sat with a quick ear, one of the few undamaged organs of his body, cocked to hear if Tom Towler was asked for; when, a waiter dropping his name from the landing of the staircase to the hall porter, asking if anybody had seen anything of him, Tom folded up his paper, put it in his pocket, and passing his hand over the few straggling bristles yet sticking about his bald head, proceeded, hat in hand, upstairs to his master’s room.

His appearance called forth a round of view halloos! Who -- hoops! Tally -- ho’s! Hark forwards! amidst which, and the waving of napkins, and general noises, Tom proceeded at a twisting, limping, halting, sideways sort of scramble up the room. His crooked legs didn’t seem to have an exact understanding with his body which way they were to go; one, the right one, being evidently inclined to lurch off to the side, while the left one went stamp, stamp, stamp, as if equally determined to resist any deviation.

At length he reached the top of the table, where sat his master, with the glittering Fox’s head before him. Having made a sort of scratch bow, Tom proceeded to stand at ease, as it were, on the left leg, while he placed the late recusant right, which was a trifle shorter, as a prop behind. No one, to look at the little wizen’d old man in the loose dark frock, baggy striped waistcoat, and patent cord breeches, extending below where the calves of his bow legs ought to have been, would have supposed that it was the noted huntsman and dashing rider, Tom Towler, whose name was celebrated throughout the country. He might have been a village tailor, or sexton, or barber; anything but a hero.

‘Well, Tom,’ said Mr Waffles, taking up the Fox’s head, as Tom came to anchor by his side, ‘how are you?’

‘Nicely, thank you, sir,’ replied Tom, giving the bald head another sweep.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.