Cox's Diary, by William Makepeace Thackeray

A Day with the Surrey Hounds.

Our ball had failed so completely that Jemmy, who was bent still upon fashion, caught eagerly at Tagrag’s suggestion, and went down to Tuggeridgeville. If we had a difficulty to find friends in town, here there was none: for the whole county came about us, ate our dinners and suppers, danced at our balls — ay, and spoke to us too. We were great people in fact: I a regular country gentleman; and as such, Jemmy insisted that I should be a sportsman, and join the county hunt. “But,” says I, “my love, I can’t ride.” “Pooh! Mr. C.” said she, “you’re always making difficulties: you thought you couldn’t dance a quadrille; you thought you couldn’t dine at seven o’clock; you thought you couldn’t lie in bed after six; and haven’t you done every one of these things? You must and you shall ride!” And when my Jemmy said “must and shall,” I knew very well there was nothing for it: so I sent down fifty guineas to the hunt, and, out of compliment to me, the very next week, I received notice that the meet of the hounds would take place at Squashtail Common, just outside my lodge-gates.

I didn’t know what a meet was; and me and Mrs. C. agreed that it was most probable the dogs were to be fed there. However, Tagrag explained this matter to us, and very kindly promised to sell me a horse, a delightful animal of his own; which, being desperately pressed for money, he would let me have for a hundred guineas, he himself having given a hundred and fifty for it.

Well, the Thursday came: the hounds met on Squashtail Common; Mrs. C. turned out in her barouche to see us throw off; and, being helped up on my chestnut horse, Trumpeter, by Tagrag and my head groom, I came presently round to join them.

Tag mounted his own horse; and, as we walked down the avenue, “I thought,” he said, “you told me you knew how to ride; and that you had ridden once fifty miles on a stretch!”

“And so I did,” says I, “to Cambridge, and on the box too.”

“ON THE BOX!” says he; “but did you ever mount a horse before?”

“Never,” says I, “but I find it mighty easy.”

“Well,” says he, “you’re mighty bold for a barber; and I like you, Coxe, for your spirit.” And so we came out of the gate.

As for describing the hunt, I own, fairly, I can’t. I’ve been at a hunt, but what a hunt is — why the horses WILL go among the dogs and ride them down — why the men cry out “yooooic”— why the dogs go snuffing about in threes and fours, and the huntsman says, “Good Towler — good Betsy,” and we all of us after him say, “Good Towler — good Betsy” in course: then, after hearing a yelp here and a howl there, tow, row, yow, yow, yow! burst out, all of a sudden, from three or four of them, and the chap in a velvet cap screeches out (with a number of oaths I shan’t repeat here), “Hark, to Ringwood!” and then, “There he goes!” says some one; and all of a sudden, helter skelter, skurry hurry, slap bang, whooping, screeching and hurraing, blue-coats and red-coats, bays and grays, horses, dogs, donkeys, butchers, baro-knights, dustmen, and blackguard boys, go tearing all together over the common after two or three of the pack that yowl loudest. Why all this is, I can’t say; but it all took place the second Thursday of last March, in my presence.

Up to this, I’d kept my seat as well as the best, for we’d only been trotting gently about the field until the dogs found; and I managed to stick on very well; but directly the tow-rowing began, off went Trumpeter like a thunderbolt, and I found myself playing among the dogs like the donkey among the chickens. “Back, Mr. Coxe,” holloas the huntsman; and so I pulled very hard, and cried out, “Wo!” but he wouldn’t; and on I went galloping for the dear life. How I kept on is a wonder; but I squeezed my knees in very tight, and shoved my feet very hard into the stirrups, and kept stiff hold of the scruff of Trumpeter’s neck, and looked betwixt his ears as well as ever I could, and trusted to luck: for I was in a mortal fright, sure enough, as many a better man would be in such a case, let alone a poor hairdresser.

As for the hounds, after my first riding in among them, I tell you honestly, I never saw so much as the tip of one of their tails; nothing in this world did I see except Trumpeter’s dun-colored mane, and that I gripped firm: riding, by the blessing of luck, safe through the walking, the trotting, the galloping, and never so much as getting a tumble.

There was a chap at Croydon very well known as the “Spicy Dustman,” who, when he could get no horse to ride to the hounds, turned regularly out on his donkey; and on this occasion made one of us. He generally managed to keep up with the dogs by trotting quietly through the cross-roads, and knowing the country well. Well, having a good guess where the hounds would find, and the line that sly Reynolds (as they call the fox) would take, the Spicy Dustman turned his animal down the lane from Squashtail to Cutshins Common; across which, sure enough, came the whole hunt. There’s a small hedge and a remarkably fine ditch here: some of the leading chaps took both, in gallant style; others went round by a gate, and so would I, only I couldn’t; for Trumpeter would have the hedge, and be hanged to him, and went right for it.

Hoop! if ever you DID try a leap! Out go your legs, out fling your arms, off goes your hat; and the next thing you feel — that is, I did — is a most tremendous thwack across the chest, and my feet jerked out of the stirrups: me left in the branches of a tree; Trumpeter gone clean from under me, and walloping and floundering in the ditch underneath. One of the stirrup-leathers had caught in a stake, and the horse couldn’t get away: and neither of us, I thought, ever WOULD have got away: but all of a sudden, who should come up the lane but the Spicy Dustman!

“Holloa!” says I, “you gent, just let us down from this here tree!”

“Lor’!” says he, “I’m blest if I didn’t take you for a robin.”

“Let’s down,” says I; but he was all the time employed in disengaging Trumpeter, whom he got out of the ditch, trembling and as quiet as possible. “Let’s down,” says I. “Presently,” says he; and taking off his coat, he begins whistling and swishing down Trumpeter’s sides and saddle; and when he had finished, what do you think the rascal did? — he just quietly mounted on Trumpeter’s back, and shouts out, “Git down yourself, old Bearsgrease; you’ve only to drop! I’LL give your ‘oss a hairing arter them ‘ounds; and you — vy, you may ride back my pony to Tuggeridgeweal!” And with this, I’m blest if he didn’t ride away, leaving me holding, as for the dear life, and expecting every minute the branch would break.

It DID break too, and down I came into the slush; and when I got out of it, I can tell you I didn’t look much like the Venuses or the Apollor Belvidearis what I used to dress and titivate up for my shop window when I was in the hairdressing line, or smell quite so elegant as our rose-oil. Faugh! what a figure I was!

I had nothing for it but to mount the dustman’s donkey (which was very quietly cropping grass in the hedge), and to make my way home; and after a weary, weary journey, I arrived at my own gate.

A whole party was assembled there. Tagrag, who had come back; their Excellencies Mace and Punter, who were on a visit; and a number of horses walking up and down before the whole of the gentlemen of the hunt, who had come in after losing their fox! “Here’s Squire Coxe!” shouted the grooms. Out rushed the servants, out poured the gents of the hunt, and on trotted poor me, digging into the donkey, and everybody dying with laughter at me.

Just as I got up to the door, a horse came galloping up, and passed me; a man jumped down, and taking off a fantail hat, came up, very gravely, to help me down.

“Squire,” says he, “how came you by that there hanimal? Jist git down, will you, and give it to its howner?”

“Rascal!” says I, “didn’t you ride off on my horse?”

“Was there ever sich ingratitude?” says the Spicy. “I found this year ‘oss in a pond, I saves him from drowning, I brings him back to his master, and he calls me a rascal!”

The grooms, the gents, the ladies in the balcony, my own servants, all set up a roar at this; and so would I, only I was so deucedly ashamed, as not to be able to laugh just then.

And so my first day’s hunting ended. Tagrag and the rest declared I showed great pluck, and wanted me to try again; but “No,” says I, “I HAVE been.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00