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Chapter 17


About this time a circumstance occurred, which seemed to have nothing to do with Churchill, or Beauclerc, but which eventually brought both their characters into action and passion.

Lord Davenant had purchased, at the sale of Dean Stanley's pictures, several of those which had been the dean's favourites, and which, independently of their positive merit, were peculiarly dear to Helen. He had ordered that they should be sent down to Clarendon Park; at first, he only begged house-room for them from the general while he and Lady Davenant were in Russia; then he said that in case he should never return he wished the pictures should be divided between his two dear children, Cecilia and Helen; and that, to prevent disputes, he would make the distribution of them himself now, and in the kindest and most playful manner he allotted them to each, always finding some excellent reason for giving to Helen those which he knew she liked best; and then there was to be a hanging committee, for hanging the pictures, which occasioned a great deal of talking, Beauclerc always thinking most of Helen, or of what was really best for the paintings; Horace most of himself and his amateurship.

Among these pictures were some fine Wouvermans, and other hunting and hawking pieces, and one in particular of the duchess and her ladies, from Don Quixote. Beauclerc, who had gone round examining and admiring, stood fixed when he came to this picture, in which he fancied he discovered in one of the figures some likeness to Helen; the lady had a hawk upon her wrist. Churchill came up eagerly to the examination, with glass at eye. He could not discern the slightest resemblance to Miss Stanley; but he was in haste to, bring out an excellent observation of his own, which he had made his own from a Quarterly Review, illustrating the advantage it would be to painters to possess knowledge, even of kinds seemingly most distant from the line of their profession.

"For instance, now à priori, one should not insist upon a great painter's being a good ornithologist, and yet, for want of being something of a bird-fancier, look here what he has done—quite absurd, a sort of hawk introduced, such as never was or could be at any hawking affair in nature: would not sit upon lady's wrist or answer to her call—would never fly at a bird. Now you see this is a ridiculous blunder."

While Churchill plumed himself on this critical remark Captain Warmsley told of who still kept hawks in England, and of the hawking parties he had seen and heard of—"even this year, that famous hawking in Wiltshire, and that other in Norfolk."

Churchill asked Warmsley if he had been at Lord Berner's when Landseer was there studying the subject of his famous hawking scene. "Have you seen it, Lady Cecilia?" continued he; "it is beautiful; the birds seem to be absolutely coming out of the picture;" and he was going on with some of his connoisseurship, and telling of his mortification in having missed the purchase of that picture; but Warmsley got back to the hawking he had seen, and he became absolutely eloquent in describing the sport.

Churchill, though eager to speak, listened with tolerably polite patience till Warmsley came to what he had forgot to mention,—to the label with the date of place and year that is put upon the heron's leg; to the heron brought from Denmark, where it had been caught, with the label of having been let fly from Lord Berner's; "for," continued he, "the heron is always to be saved if possible, so, when it is down, and the hawk over it, the falconer has some raw beef ready minced, and lays it on the heron's back, or a pigeon, just killed, is sometimes used; the hawk devours it, and the heron, quite safe, as soon as it recovers from its fright, mounts slowly upward and returns to its heronry."

Helen listened eagerly, and so did Lady Cecilia, who said, "You know, Helen, our favourite Washington Irving quotes that in days of yore, 'a lady of rank did not think herself completely equipped in riding forth, unless she had her tassel-gentel held by jesses on her delicate hand.'"

Before her words were well finished, Beauclerc had decided what he would do, and the business was half done that is well begun. He was at the library table, writing as fast as pen could go, to give carte blanche to a friend, to secure for him immediately a whole hawking establishment which Warmsley had mentioned, and which was now upon public sale, or privately to be parted with by the present possessor.

At the very moment when Beauclerc was signing and sealing at one end of the room, at the other Horace Churchill, to whom something of the same plan had occurred, was charming Lady Cecilia Clarendon, by hinting to her his scheme—anticipating the honour of seeing one of his hawks borne upon her delicate wrist.

Beauclerc, after despatching his letter, came up just in time to catch the sound and the sense, and took Horace aside to tell him what he had done. Horace looked vexed, and haughtily observed, that he conceived his place at Erlesmede was better calculated for a hawking party than most places in England; and he had already announced his intentions to the ladies. The way was open to him—but Beauclerc did not see why he should recede; the same post might carry both their letters—both their orders!"

"How far did your order go, may I ask?" said Churchill.

"Carte blanche."

Churchill owned, with a sarcastic smile, that he was not prepared to go quite so far. He was not quite so young as Granville; he, unfortunately, had arrived at years of discretion—he said unfortunately; without ironical reservation, he protested from the bottom of his heart he considered it as a misfortune to have become that slow circumspect sort of creature which looks before it leaps. Even though this might save him from the fate of the man who was in Sicily, still he considered it as unfortunate to have lost so much of his natural enthusiasm.

"Natural enthusiasm!" Beauclerc could not help repeating to himself, and he went on his own way. It must be confessed, as even Beauclerc's best friends allowed, counting among them Lady Davenant and his guardian, that never was man of sense more subject to that kind of temporary derangement of the reasoning powers which results from being what is called bit by a fancy; he would then run on straight forward, without looking to the right or the left, in pursuit of his object, great or small. That hawking establishment now in view, completely shut out, for the moment, all other objects; "of tercels and of lures he talks;" and before his imagination were hawking scenes, and Helen with a hawk on her wrist, looking most graceful—a hawk of his own training it should be. Then, how to train a hawk became the question. While he was waiting for the answer to his carte blanche, nothing better, or so good, could be done, as to make himself master of the whole business, and for this purpose he found it essential to consult every book on falconry that could be found in the library, and a great plague he became to everybody in the course of this book-hunt.

"What a bore!" Warmsley might be excused for muttering deep and low between the teeth. General Clarendon sighed and groaned. Lady Davenant bore and forebore philosophically—it was for Beauclerc; and to her great philosophy she gave all the credit of her indulgent partiality. Lady Cecilia, half-annoyed yet ever good-natured, carried her complaisance so far as to consult the catalogue and book-shelves sundry times in one hour; but she was not famous for patience, and she soon resigned him to a better friend—Helen, the most indefatigable of book-hunters. She had been well trained to it by her uncle; had been used to it all her life; and really took pleasure in the tiresome business. She assured Beauclerc it was not the least trouble, and he thought she looked beautiful when she said so. Whosoever of the male kind, young, and of ardent, not to say impatient, spirit, has ever been aided and abetted in a sudden whim, assisted, forwarded, above all, sympathised with, through all the changes and chances of a reigning fancy, may possibly conceive how charming, and more charming every hour, perhaps minute, Helen became in Beauclerc's eyes. But, all in the way of friendship observe. Perfectly so—on her part, for she could not have another idea, and it was for this reason she was so much at her ease. He so understood it, and, thoroughly a gentleman, free from coxcombry, as he was, and interpreting the language and manners of women with instinctive delicacy, they went on delightfully. Churchill was on the watch, but he was not alarmed; all was so undisguised and frank, that now he began to feel assured that love on her side not only was, but ever would be, quite out of the question.

Beauclerc was, indeed, in the present instance, really and truly intent upon what he was about; and he pursued the History of Falconry, with all its episodes, from the olden time of the Boke of St. Alban's down to the last number of the Sporting Magazine, including Colonel Thornton's latest flight, with the adventures of his red falcons, Miss M'Ghee and Lord Townsend, and his red tercels, Messrs. Croc Franc and Craignon;—not forgetting that never-to-be forgotten hawking of the Emperor Arambombamboberus with Trebizonian eagles, on the authority of a manuscript in the Grand Signior's library.

Beauclerc had such extraordinary dependence upon the sympathy of his friends, that, when he was reading any thing that interested him, no matter what they might be doing, he must have their admiration for what charmed him. He brought his book to Lord Davenant, who was writing a letter." Listen, oh listen! to this pathetic lament of the falconer,—'Hawks, heretofore the pride of royalty, the insignia of nobility, the ambassador's present, the priest's indulgence, companion of the knight, and nursling of the gentle mistress, are now uncalled-for and neglected.'"

"Ha! very well that," said good-natured Lord Davenant, stopping his pen, dipping again, dotting, and going on.

Then Beauclerc passaged to Lady Davenant, and, interrupting her in Scott's Lives of the Novelists, on which she was deeply intent, "Allow me, my dear Lady Davenant, though you say you are no great topographer, to show you this, it is so curious; this royal falconer's proclamation—Henry the Eighth's—to preserve his partridges, pheasants, and herons, from his palace at Westminster to St. Giles's in the Fields, and from thence to Islington, Hampstead, and Highgate, under penalty for every bird killed of imprisonment, or whatever other punishment to his highness may seem meet."

Lady Davenant vouchsafed some suitable remark, consonant to expectation, on the changes of times and places, and men and manners, and then motioned the quarto away with which motion the quarto reluctantly complied; and then following Lady Cecilia from window to window, as she tended her flowers, he would insist upon her hearing the table of precedence for hawks. She, who never cared for any table of precedence in her life, even where the higher animals were concerned, would only undertake to remember that the merlin was a lady's hawk, and this only upon condition, that she should have one to sit upon her wrist like the fair ladies in Wouvermans' pictures. But further, as to Peregrine, Gerfalcon, or Gerkin, she would hear nought of them, nor could she listen, though Granville earnestly exhorted, to the several good reasons which make a falcon dislike her master—

1st. If he speak rudely to her. 2nd. If he feed her carelessly.

Before he could get thirdly out, Lady Cecilia stopped him, declaring that in all her life she never could listen to any thing that began with first and secondly—reasons especially.

Horace, meanwhile, looked superior down, and thought with ineffable contempt of Beauclerc's little skill in the arts of conversation, thus upon unwilling ears to squander anecdotes which would have done him credit at some London dinner.

"What I could have made of them! and may make of them yet," thought he; "but some there are, who never can contrive, as other some cleverly do, to ride their hobby-horses to good purpose and good effect;—now Beauclerc's hobbies, I plainly see, will always run away with him headlong, cost him dear certainly, and, may be, leave him in the mire at last."

What this fancy was to cost him, Beauclerc did not yet know. Two or three passages in the Sporting Magazine had given some hints of the expense of this "most delectable of all country contentments," which he had not thought it necessary to read aloud. And he knew that the late Lord Orford, an ardent pursuer of this "royal and noble" sport, had expended one hundred a-year on every hawk he kept, each requiring a separate attendant, and being moreover indulged in an excursion to the Continent every season during moulting-time: but Beauclerc said to himself he had no notion of humouring his hawks to that degree; they should, aristocratic birds though they be, content themselves in England, and not pretend to "damn the climate like a lord." And he flattered himself that he should be able to pursue his fancy more cheaply than any of his predecessors; but as he had promised his guardian that, after the indulgence granted him in the Beltravers' cause, he would not call upon him for any more extraordinary supplies, he resolved, in case the expense exceeded his ways and means, to sell his hunters, and so indulge in a new love at the expense of an old one.

The expected pleasure of the first day's hawking was now bright in his imagination; the day was named, the weather promised well, and the German cadgers and trainers who had been engaged, and who, along with the whole establishment, were handed over to Beauclerc, were to come down to Clarendon Park, and Beauclerc was very happy teaching the merlins to sit on Lady Cecilia's and on Miss Stanley's wrist. Helen's voice was found to be peculiarly agreeable to the hawk, who, as Beauclerc observed, loved, like Lear, that excellent thing in woman, a voice ever soft, gentle, and low.

The ladies were to wear some pretty dresses for the occasion, and all was gaiety and expectation; and Churchill was mortified when he saw how well the thing was likely to take, that he was not to be the giver of the fête, especially as he observed that Helen was particularly pleased—when, to his inexpressible surprise, Granville Beauclerc came to him, a few days before that appointed for the hawking-party, and said that he had changed his mind, that he wished to get rid of the whole concern—that he should be really obliged to Churchill if he would take his engagement off his hands. The only reason he gave was, that the establishment would altogether be more than he could afford, he found he had other calls for money, which were incompatible with his fancy, and therefore he would give it up.

Churchill obliged him most willingly by taking the whole upon himself, and he managed so to do in a very ingenious way, without incurring any preposterous expense. He was acquainted with a set of rich, fashionable young men, who had taken a sporting lodge in a neighbouring county, who desired no better than to accede to the terms proposed, and to distinguish themselves by giving a fête out of the common line, while Churchill, who understood, like a true man of the world, the worldly art of bargaining, contrived, with off-hand gentleman-like jockeying, to have every point settled to his own convenience, and he was to be the giver of the entertainment to the ladies at Clarendon Park. When this change in affairs was announced, Lady Cecilia, the general, Lady Davenant, and Helen, were all, in various degrees, surprised, and each tried to guess what could have been the cause of Beauclerc's sudden relinquishment of his purpose. He was—very extraordinary for him—impenetrable: he adhered to the words "I found I could not afford it." His guardian could not believe in this wonderful prudence, and was almost certain "there must be some imprudence at the bottom of it all."

Granville neither admitted nor repelled that accusation. Lady Cecilia worked away with perpetual little strokes, hoping to strike out the truth, but, as she said, you might as well have worked at an old flint. Nothing was elicited from him, even by Lady Davenant; nor did the collision of all their opinions throw any light upon the matter.

Meanwhile the day for the hawking-party arrived. Churchill gave the fete, and Beauclerc, as one of the guests, attended and enjoyed it without the least appearance even of disappointment; and, so far from envying Churchill, he assisted in remedying any little defects, and did all he could to make the whole go off well.

The party assembled on a rising ground; a flag was displayed to give notice of the intended sport; the falconers appeared, picturesque figures in their green jackets and their long gloves, and their caps plumed with herons' feathers—some with the birds on their wrists—one with the frame over his shoulder upon which to set the hawk. Set, did we say?—no: "cast your hawk on the perch" is, Beauclerc observed, the correct term; for, as Horace sarcastically remarked, Mr. Beauclerc might be detected as a novice in the art by his over-exactness; his too correct, too attic, pronunciation of the hawking language. But Granville readily and gaily bore all this ridicule and raillery, sure that it would neither stick nor stain, enjoying with all his heart the amusement of the scene—the assembled ladies, the attendant cavaliers; the hood-winked hawks, the ringing of their brass bells; the falconers anxiously watching the clouds for the first appearance of the bird; their skill in loosening the hoods, as, having but one hand at liberty, they used their teeth to untie the string:——And now the hoods are off, and the hawks let fly.

They were to fly many castes of hawks this day; the first flight was after a curlew; and the riding was so hard, so dangerous, from the broken nature of the ground, that the ladies gave it up, and were contented to view the sport from the eminence where they remained.

And now there was a question to be decided among the sportsmen as to the comparative rate of riding at a fox chase, and in "the short, but terrifically hard gallop, with the eyes raised to the clouds, which is necessary for the full enjoyment of hawking;" and then the gentlemen, returning, gathered round the ladies, and the settling the point, watches in hand, and bets depending, added to the interest of flight the first, and Churchill, master of the revels, was in the highest spirits.

But presently the sky was overcast, the morning lowered, the wind rose, and changed was Churchill's brow; there is no such thing as hawking against the wind—that capricious wind!

"Curse the wind!" cried Churchill; "and confusion seize the fellow who says there is to be no more hawking to-day!"

The chief falconer, however, was a phlegmatic German, and proper-behaved, as good falconers should be, who, as "Old Tristram's booke" has it, even if a bird should be lost, he should never swear, and only say, "Dieu soit loué," and "remember that the mother of hawks is not dead."

But Horace, in the face of reason and in defiance of his German counsellors, insisted upon letting fly the hawks in this high wind; and it so fell out that, in the first place, all the terms he used in his haste and spleen were wrong; and in the next, that the quarry taking down the wind, the horsemen could not keep up with the hawks: the falconers in great alarm, called to them by the names they gave them—"Miss Didlington," "Lord Berners." "Ha! Miss Didlington's off;—off with Blucher, and Lady Kirby, and Lord Berners, and all of 'em after her." Miss Didlington flew fast and far, and further still, till she and all the rest were fairly out of sight—lost, lost, lost!

"And as fine a caste of hawks they were as ever came from Germany!"—the falconers were in despair, and Churchill saw that the fault was his; and it looked so like cockney sportsmanship! If Horace had been in a towering rage, it would have been well enough; but he only grew pettish, snappish, waspish: now none of those words ending in ish become a gentleman; ladies always think so, and Lady Cecilia now thought so, and Helen thought so too, and Churchill saw it, and he grew pale instead of red, and that looks ugly in an angry man.

But Beauclerc excused him when he was out of hearing; and when others said he had been cross, and crosser than became the giver of a gala, Beauclerc pleaded well for him, that falconry has ever been known to be "an extreme stirrer-up of the passions, being subject to mischances infinite."

However, a cold and hot collation under the trees for some, and under a tent for others, set all to rights for the present. Champagne sparkled, and Horace pledged and was pledged, and all were gay; even the Germans at their own table, after their own fashion, with their Rhenish and their foaming ale, contrived to drown the recollection of the sad adventure of the truant hawks.

And when all were refreshed and renewed in mind and body, to the hawking they went again. For now that

"The wind was laid, and all their fears asleep,"

there was to be a battle between heron and hawk, one of the finest sights that can be in all falconry.

"Look! look! Miss Stanley," cried Granville; "look! follow that high-flown hawk—that black speck in the clouds. Now! now! right over the heron; and now she will canceleer—turn on her wing, Miss Stanley, as she comes down, whirl round, and balance herself—chanceler. Now! now look! cancelleering gloriously!"

But Helen at this instant recollected what Captain Warmsley had said of the fresh-killed pigeon, which the falconer in the nick of time is to lay upon the heron's back; and now, even as the cancelleering was going on—three times most beautifully, Helen saw only the dove, the white dove, which that black-hearted German held, his great hand round the throat, just raised to wring it. "Oh, Beauclerc, save it, save it!" cried Lady Cecilia and Helen at once.

Beauclerc sprang forward, and, had it been a tiger instead of a dove, would have done the same no doubt at that moment; the dove was saved, and the heron killed. If Helen was pleased, so was not the chief falconer, nor any of the falconers, the whole German council in combustion! and Horace Churchill deeming it "Rather extraordinary that any gentleman should so interfere with other gentlemen's hawks."

Lady Cecilia stepped between, and never stepped in vain. She drew a ring from her finger—a seal; it was the seal of peace—no great value—but a well-cut bird—a bird for the chief falconer—a guinea-hen, with its appropriate cry, its polite motto, "Come back, come back;" and she gave it as a pledge that the ladies would come back another day, and see another hawking; and the gentlemen were pleased, and the aggrieved attendant falconers pacified by a promise of another heron from the heronry at Clarendon Park; and the clouded faces brightened, and "she smoothed the raven down of darkness till it smiled," whatever that may mean; but, as Milton said it, it must be sense as well as sound.

At all events, in plain prose, be it understood that every body was satisfied, even Mr. Churchill; for Beauclerc had repaired for him, just in time, an error which would have been a blot on his gallantry of the day. He had forgotten to have some of the pretty grey hairs plucked from the heron, to give to the ladies to ornament their bonnets, but Beauclerc had secured them for him, and also two or three of those much-valued, smooth, black feathers, from the head of the bird, which are so much prized that a plume of them is often set with pearls and diamonds. Horace presented these most gracefully to Lady Cecilia and Helen, and was charmed with Lady Cecilia's parting compliments, which finished with the words "Quite chivalrous."

And so, after all the changes and chances of weather, wind, and humour, all ended well, and no one rued the hawking of this day.

Maria Edgeworth