A Day with Puffington's Hounds

Day dawned cheerfully. If there was rather more sun than the strict rules of Beckford prescribe, still sunshine is not a thing to quarrel with under any circumstances -- certainly not for a gentleman to quarrel with who wants his place seen to advantage on the occasion of a meet of hounds. Everything at Hanby House was in apple-pie order. All the stray leaves that the capricious wintry winds still kept raising from unknown quarters, and whisking about the trim lawns, were hunted and caught, while a heavy roller passed over the Kensington gravel, pressing out the hoof and wheelmarks of the previous day. The servants were up betimes, preparing the house for those that were in it, and a déjeûner à la fourchette for chance customers, from without.

They were equally busy at the stable. Although Mr Bragg did profess such indifference for Mr Sponge’s opinion, he nevertheless thought it might perhaps be as well to be condescending to the stranger. Accordingly, he ordered his whips to be on the alert, to tie their ties and put on their boots as they ought to be, and to hoist their caps becomingly on the appearance of our friend. Bragg, like a good many huntsmen, had a sort of tariff of politeness, that he indicated by the manner in which he saluted the field. To a lord, he made a sweep of his cap like the dome of St Paul’s; a baronet came in for about half as much; a knight, to a quarter. Bragg had also a sort of City or monetary tariff of politeness -- a tariff that was oftener called in requisition than the ‘Debrett’ one, in Mr Puffington’s country. To a good ‘tip,’ he vouchsafed as much cap as he gave to a lord; to a middling ‘tip’ he gave a sort of move that might either pass for a touch of the cap or a more comfortable adjustment of it to his head; a very small ‘tip’ had a forefinger to the peak; while he who gave nothing at all got a good stare or a Good-morning! or something of that sort. A man watching the arrival of the field could see who gave the fives, who the fours, who the threes, who the twos, who the ones, and who were the great Os.

But to our day with Mr Puffington’s hounds.

Our overnight friends were not quite so brisk in the morning as the servants and parties outside. Puffington’s ‘mixture’ told upon a good many of them. Washball had a headache, so had Lumpleg; Crane was seedy; and Captain Guano, sea-green. Soda-water was in great request.

There was a splendid breakfast, the table and sideboard looking as if Fortnum and Mason or Morel had opened a branch establishment at Hanby House. Though the staying guests could not do much for the good things set out, they were not wasted, for the place was fairly taken by storm shortly before the advertised hour of meeting; and what at one time looked like a most extravagant supply, at another seemed likely to prove a deficiency. Each man helped himself to whatever he fancied, without waiting for the ceremony of an invitation, in the usual style of fox-hunting hospitality.

A few minutes before eleven, a ‘gently Rantaway,’ accompanied by a slight crack of a whip, drew the seedy and satisfied parties to the auriol window, to see Mr Bragg pass along with his hounds. They were just gliding noiselessly over the green sward, Mr Bragg rising in his stirrups, as spruce as a game- cock, with his thoroughbred bay gambolling and pawing with delight at the frolic of the hounds, some clustering around him, others shooting forward a little, as if to show how obediently they would return at his whistle. Mr Bragg was known as the whistling huntsman, and was a great man for telegraphing and signalising with his arms, boasting that he could make hounds so handy that they could do everything, except pay the turnpike-gates. At his appearance the men all began to shuffle to the passage and entrance- hall, to look for their hats and whips; and presently there was a great outpouring of red coats upon the lawn, all straddling and waddling of course. Then Mr Bragg, seeing an audience, with a slight whistle and waive of his right arm, wheeled his forces round, and trotted gaily towards where our guests had grouped themselves, within the light iron railing that separated the smooth slope from the field. As he reined in his horse, he gave his cap an aerial sweep, taking off perpendicularly, and finishing at his horse’s ears -- an example that was immediately followed by the whips, and also by Mr Bragg’s second horseman, Tom Stot.

‘Good-morning, Mister Bragg! -- Good-morning, Mister Bragg! -- Good-morning, Mister Bragg!’ burst from the assembled spectators: for Mr Bragg was one of those people that one occasionally meets whom

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