The Crossroads at Dallington Burn

When his lordship and Jack mounted their hacks in the morning to go to the crossroads at Dallington Burn, it was so dark that they could not see whether they were on bays or browns. It was a dull, murky day, with heavy spongy clouds overhead.

There had been a great deal of rain in the night, and the horses poached and squashed as they went. Our sportsmen, however, were prepared as well for what had fallen as for what might come; for they were encased in enormously thick boots, with baggy overalls, and coats and waistcoats of the stoutest and most abundant order. They had each a sack of a macintosh strapped on to their saddle fronts. Thus they went blobbing and groping their way along, varying the monotony of the journey by an occasional spurt of muddy water up into their faces, or the more nerve-trying noise of a floundering stumble over a heap of stones by the roadside. The country people stared with astonishment as they passed, and the muggers and tinkers, who were withdrawing their horses from the farmers’ fields, stood trembling, lest they might be the ‘pollis’ coming after them.

‘I think it’ll be a fine day,’ observed his lordship, after they had bumped for some time in silence without its getting much lighter. ‘I think it will be a fine day,’ he said, taking his chin out of his great puddingy- spotted neckcloth, and turning his spectacled face up to the clouds.

‘The want of light is its chief fault,’ observed Jack; adding, ‘it’s deuced dark!’

‘Ah, it’ll get better of that,’ observed his lordship. ‘It’s not much after eight yet,’ he added, staring at his watch, and with difficulty making out that it was half-past. ‘Days take off terribly about this time of year,’ he observed; ‘I’ve seen about Christmas when it has never been rightly light all day long.’

They then floundered on again for some time further as before.

‘Shouldn’t wonder if we have a large field,’ at length observed Jack, bringing his hack alongside his lordship’s.

‘Shouldn’t wonder if Puff himself was to come -- all over brooches and rings as usual,’ replied his lordship.

‘And Charley Slapp, I’ll be bund to say,’ observed Jack. ‘He’s a regular hanger-on of Puff’s.’

‘Ass, that Slapp,’ said his lordship; ‘hate the sight of him!’

‘So do I,’ replied Jack; adding, ‘hate a hanger-on!’

‘There are the hounds,’ said his lordship, as they now approached Culverton Dean, and a line of something white was discernible travelling the zig-zagging road on the opposite side.

‘Are they, think you?’ replied Jack, staring through his great spectacles; ‘are they, think you? It looks to me more like a flock of sheep.’

‘I believe you’re right,’ said his lordship, staring too; ‘indeed, I hear the dog. The hounds, however, can’t be far ahead.’

They then drew into single file to take the broken horse-track through the steep woody dean.

‘This is the longest sixteen miles I know,’ observed Jack, as they emerged from it, and overtook the sheep.

‘It is,’ replied his lordship, spurring his hack, who was now beginning to lag: ‘the fact is, it’s eighteen,’ he continued; ‘only if I was to tell Frosty it was eighteen, he would want to lay overnight, and that wouldn’t do. Besides the trouble and inconvenience, it would spoil the best part of a five-pund note; and five-pund notes don’t grow upon gooseberry-bushes -- at least not in my garden.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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