most elegant and expensive that money could command; and it was a rare thing to see upward of twenty such equipages, which, as well as the housings of the horses, were emblazoned with heraldric devices, and glittering all over with splendid silver and gold ornaments.
The open carriages were all filled with the loveliest of England's lovely women, who generally congregated together at an early breakfast, or what with them was considered an early breakfast, between ten and eleven o'clock! The meet took place at the house of Lord Hawke, in Portman Square. His lordship was high admiral, or president, Sir Bellingham Graham, whipper-in—and courteously and cleverly did Sir Bellingham (or Bellinjim, as it is pronounced) perform his delicate duty. When each driver mounted his box, after handing in the ladies, it was wonderful to observe with what dexterity, ease, and order, all wheeled into line, when the leader, with a flourish of his long whip—being the signal for which all were watching—led off the splendid array.
It was a gay sight to witness the start, as they swept round the square—for the horses were one and all of pure blood, and unparalleled for beauty, symmetry, and speed.
To one unaccustomed to such a sight, it might appear somewhat dangerous. The fiery impatience of the horses—their pawing and champing, the tossing of their beautiful heads, and the swan-like curving of their glittering, sleek necks, until they were fairly formed into order—at which time they knew just as well as their owners that the play was going to begin. But it was perfectly delightful to observe the graceful manner in which each pair laid their small heads and ears together when fairly under way, beating time with their highly polished hoofs—pat, pat, pat, pat, as true as the most disciplined regiment marching to a soul-stirring quick step, or a troupe of well-trained ballet girls, bounding across the stage of the Italian Opera.
When fairly off and skimming along the road, it was, perhaps, as animating a show as London ever witnessed since its palmiest days of tilt and tournament. I say nothing of the ladies, their commingled charms, or gorgeous attire; I only noticed that during the gayety in the square, previous to starting, their recognition of each other, and the beaux of their acquaintance, there were plenty of
"Nods, and becks, and wreathed smiles,
Such as hang on Hebe's cheek,
And love to live in dimples sleek."
This celebrated club congregated every fortnight, during the gay season of May and June, and spent the day at the residence of one of their number, within twenty or thirty miles of London, returning in the evening, exactly in the order they had set out.
Master Moody, the driver and proprietor of the fast Windsor Coach, had, as said, been the tutor of these aristocratic charioteers, who placed themselves under his guardianship, and had been taught to handle "the ribbons" until declared perfect in the noble science. He had consequently imbibed much and many of the airs and graces, and manners of his pupils.
Being anxious to have a ride beside this great man, I was at Piccadilly long before he started, and by a pretty handsome douceur to his cad, had the supreme felicity of obtaining a seat on the box, and certainly was well repaid for the extra expense of sitting by Corinthian Tom.
He was a tall fellow, and had a severely serious face; was dressed in the extreme of driving fashion; wore delicate white kid gloves, and the tops of his highly-polished boots were white as the lily. In short, his whole "toggery" was faultless—a perfect out-and-outer. He was truly a great man, or appeared to fancy himself such—for he rarely condescended to exchange a word, except with an acquaintance, and even then, it was with a condescending, patronizing air; and he smiled as seldom as a Connecticut lawyer. Although sitting close by his side for twenty miles, not one word passed between us during the whole journey.
The nags driven by this proud fellow were as splendid as himself; finer cattle never flew over Epsom Downs, the Heath of Ascot, or Doncaster Course—pure bloods, every one of them, and such as might have served Guido as models for his famous fresco of the chariot of Apollo; but Guido's steeds, although they are represented tearing away furiously, are lubberly drays, compared with the slim, graceful, fleet stags of Tom Moody.
When the cad gave the word—"all right," Tom started them with his short, shrill "t'chit, t'chit," and a crack of his two-fathom whip right over the ears of the leaders, as loud as the report of a pistol. They sprang forward with a maddening energy, almost terrifying; but the coach was hung and balanced with such precision, and the Windsor road kept in the finest order for royalty, there was no jumping or jolting, it glided along as smoothly as if it had been running on rails. A proud man was Master Moody; not so much of himself, perhaps, or of his glossy, broad-brimmed beaver, and broadcloth "upper Benjamin," or the dashing silk tie around his neck, but of his beautiful nags—and he had reason, for there was not an equipage on the road, from the ducal chariot to the dandy tandem, to which he did not give the go-by like lightning.
The rapidity of the movement, and the beauty of the animals, produced an excitement sufficient to enable one to appreciate the rapture of the Arab, as he flies over the desert on his beloved barb, enjoying, feeling, exulting in liberty, sweet, intoxicating, unbounded liberty, with the whole wilderness for a home.
Some such feelings took possession of me, as the well-poised machine shot along. Quick as thought we threaded Kensington High street, skirted the wall of Lord Holland's park, just catching, like the twinkle of a sunbeam, a glimpse of the antique turrets of that classic fane peeping through the trees, as we passed the centre avenue.
We speedily reached Hammersmith and Turnham Green, and then passed Sion House and park, the princely residence of the Duke of Northumberland, then dashed through the straggling old town of Brentford. The intervening fields and openings into the landscape affording enchanting prospects before entering on Hounslow Heath, when the horses having got warm, the driver gave them full head, and the vehicle attained a speed truly exhilarating.
The increased momentum, and the extensive prairie-like expanse of Hounslow Heath, would have realized in any enthusiastic mind, the feelings of the children of the desert.
This first excursion to Stoke was made during the month of May, when all nature is fresh and fair; the guelder-roses and lilacs being in full flower, and the hawthorn hedges were one sheet of milky fragrance, the air was almost intoxicating, owing to the concentrated perfumes arising from fruit orchards in full blossom, and the interminable succession of flower gardens opposite every house skirting that lovely road, the beauty of which few can conceive who have not been in England; but the fresh, pure air on the Heath, infused a new feeling, a realization of unalloyed happiness; we were rapidly hastening toward scenes for which the soul was yearning, and hope, bright, young hope, lent wings and a charm to every object, animate and inanimate.
The usual relay of fresh horses were in waiting at Cranburn Bridge, and the reeking bloods were instantly changed for others, not a whit less spirited than their released compeers. Away went Moody, and away went Moody's fiery steeds. In a very short time we passed, at a few miles on the hither side of Slough, the "ivy-mantled tower" of Upton Church, which, but for one or two small, square openings in it, may be mistaken for a gigantic bush, or unshapely tree of evergreen ivy.
Arriving at Slough, I bade adieu to Master Moody; the forty feet telescope of Herschel, with its complicated frame-work and machinery, attracting only a few minutes attention.