Brightly shone the sun upon the noble timber embowering the mansion of the Asshetons; upon the ancient gateway, in the upper chamber of which Ned Huddlestone, the porter, and the burly representative of Friar Tuck, was rubbing his sleepy eyes, preparatory to habiting himself in his ordinary attire; and upon the wide court-yard, across which Nicholas was walking in the direction of the stables. Notwithstanding his excesses overnight, the squire was astir, as he had declared he should be, before daybreak; and a plunge into the Calder had cooled his feverish limbs and cured his racking headache, while a draught of ale set his stomach right. Still, in modern parlance, he looked rather “seedy,” and his recollection of the events of the previous night was somewhat confused. Aware he had committed many fooleries, he did not desire to investigate matters too closely, and only hoped he should not be reminded of them by Sir Ralph, or worse still, by Parson Dewhurst. As to his poor, dear, uncomplaining wife, he never once troubled his head about her, feeling quite sure she would not upbraid him. On his appearance in the court-yard, the two noble blood-hounds and several lesser dogs came forward to greet him, and, attended by this noisy pack, he marched up to a groom, who was rubbing down his horse at the stable-door.
“Poor Robin,” he cried to the steed, who neighed at his approach. “Poor Robin,” he said, patting his neck affectionately, “there is not thy match for speed or endurance, for fence or ditch, for beck or stone wall, in the country. Half an hour on thy back will make all right with me; but I would rather take thee to Bowland Forest, and hunt the stag there, than go and perambulate the boundaries of the Rough Lee estates with a rascally attorney. I wonder how the fellow will be mounted.”
“If yo be speering about Mester Potts, squoire,” observed the groom, “ey con tell ye. He’s to ha’ little Flint, the Welsh pony.”
“Why, zounds, you don’t say, Peter!” exclaimed Nicholas, laughing; “he’ll never be able to manage him. Flint’s the wickedest and most wilful little brute I ever knew. We shall have Master Potts run away with, or thrown into a moss-pit. Better give him something quieter.”
“It’s Sir Roaph’s orders,” replied Peter, “an ey darna disobey ’em. Boh Flint’s far steadier than when yo seed him last, squoire. Ey dar say he’ll carry Mester Potts weel enough, if he dusna mislest him.”
“You think nothing of the sort, Peter,” said Nicholas. “You expect to see the little gentleman fly over the pony’s head, and perhaps break his own at starting. But if Sir Ralph has ordered it, he must abide by the consequences. I sha’n’t interfere further. How goes on the young colt you were breaking in? You should take care to show him the saddle in the manger, let him smell it, and jingle the stirrups in his ears, before you put it on his back. Better ground for his first lessons could not be desired than the