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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 11291

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

NEXT day our friend Billy was buried in looking after his lost luggage and burnishing up the gilt bugle-horn buttons of the coat, waist-coat, and shorts of the Royal Epping Archers, in which he meant to figure in the evening. Having, through the medium of his "Boyle," ascertained the rank of the owner of the residence where he was going to be regaled, he ordered a glass-coach-not a coach made of glass, juvenile readers, in which we could see a gentleman disparting himself like a gold-fish in a glass bowl, but a better sort of hackney coach with a less filthy driver, which, by a "beautiful fiction" of the times, used to be considered the hirer's "private carriage."

It was not the "thing" in those days to drive up to a gentleman's door in a public conveyance, and doing the magnificent was very expensive: for the glass fiction involved a pair of gaunt raw-boned horses, which, with the napless-hatted drab-turned-up-with-grease-coated-coachman, left very little change out of a sovereign. How thankful we ought to be to railways and Mr. Fitzroy for being able to cut about openly at the rate of sixpence a mile. The first great man who drove up St. James's Street at high tide in a Hansom, deserves to have his portrait painted at the public expense, for he opened the door of common sense and utility.

What a follow-my-leader-world it is! People all took to street cabs simultaneously, just as they did to walking in the Park on a Sunday when Count D'Orsay set up his "'andsomest ombrella in de vorld," being no longer able to keep a horse. But we are getting into recent times instead of attending Mr. Pringle to his party. He is supposed to have ordered his glass phenomenon.

Now Mr. Forage, the job-master, in Lamb's Conduit Street, with whom our friend did his magnificence, "performed funerals" also, as his yard-doors indicated, and being rather "full," or more properly speaking, empty, he acted upon the principle of all coaches being black in the dark, and sent a mourning one, so there was a striking contrast between the gaiety of the Royal Epping Archers' uniform-pea-green coat with a blue collar, salmon-coloured vest and shorts-in which Mr. Pringle was attired, and the gravity of the vehicle that conveyed him. However, our lover was so intent upon taking care of his pumps, for the fog had made the flags both slippery and greasy, that he popped in without noticing the peculiarity, and his stuttering knock-knee'd hobble-de-hoy, yclept "Paul," having closed the door and mounted up behind, they were presently jingling away to the west, Billy putting up first one leg and then the other on to the opposite seat to admire his white-gauze-silk-encased calves by the gas and chemists' windows as they passed. So he went fingering and feeling at his legs, and pulling and hauling at his coat,-for the Epping Archer uniform had got rather tight, and, moreover, had been made on the George-the-Fourth principle, of not being easily got into-along Oxford Street, through Hanover Square, and up Brook Street, to the spacious region that contained the object of his adoration. The coach presently drew up at a stately Italian-column porticoed mansion: down goes Paul, but before he gets half through his meditated knock, the door opens suddenly in his face, and he is confronted by Big Ben in the full livery,-we beg pardon,-uniform of the Delacey family, beetroot-coloured coat, with cherry-coloured vest and shorts, the whole elaborately bedizened with gold-lace.

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The unexpected apparition, rendered more formidable by the blazing fire in the background, throwing a lurid light over the giant, completely deprived little Paul of his breath, and he stood gaping and shaking as if he expected the monster to address him.

"Who may you please to want?" at length demanded Ben, in a deep sonorous tone of mingled defiance and contempt.

"P-p-p-please, wo-wo-wo-want," stuttered little Paul, now recollecting that he had never been told who to ask for.

"Yes, who do you wish to see?" demanded Ben, in a clear explanatory tone, for though he had agreed to dress up for the occasion on the reciprocity principle of course-Miss Willing winking at his having two nephews living in the house-he by no means undertook to furnish civility to any of the undergraduates of life, as he called such apologies as Paul.

"I-I-I'll ask," replied Paul, glad to escape back to the coach, out of which the Royal Archer's bull-head was now protruding, anxious to be emancipated.

"Who-ho-ho am I to a-a-ask for, pa-pa-per-please?" stuttered Paul, trembling all over with fear and excitement, for he had never seen such a sight except in a show.

"Ask for!" muttered Billy, now recollecting for the first time that the fair lady and he were mutually ignorant of each other's names. "Ask for! What if it should be a hoax?" thought he; "how foolish he would look!"

While these thoughts were revolving in Billy's mind, Big Ben, having thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his cherry-coloured shorts, was contemplating the dismal-looking coach in the disdainful cock-up-nose sort of way that a high-life Johnny looks at what he considers a low-life equipage; wondering, we dare say, who was to be deceived by such a thing.

Billy, seeing the case was desperate, resolved to put a bold face on the matter, especially as he remembered his person could not be seen in the glass coach; so, raising his crush hat to his face, he holloaed out, "I say! is this the Earl of Delacey's?"

"It is," replied Ben, with a slight inclination of his gigantic person.

"Then, let me out," demanded Billy o

f Paul. And this request being complied with, Billy skipped smartly across the flags, and was presently alongside of Ben, whispering up into his now slightly-inclined ear, "I say, was there a lady arrived here last night from the country?" (He was going to say "by the coach," but he checked himself when he got to the word country.)

"There was, sir," replied Ben, relaxing into something like condescension.

"Then I'm come to see her," whispered Billy, with a grin.

"Your name, if you please, sir?" replied Ben, still getting up the steam of politeness.

"Mr. Pringle-Mr. William Pringle!" replied Billy with firmness.

"All right, sir," replied the blood-red monster, pretending to know more than he did; and, motioning Billy onward into the black and white marble-flagged entrance hall, he was about to shut him in, when Billy, recollecting himself, holloaed, "'Ome!" to his coachman, so that he mightn't be let in for the two days' hire. The door then closed, and he was in for an adventure.

It will be evident to our fair friends that the Archer bold had the advantage over the lady, in having all his raiment in town, while she had all hers, at least all the pick of hers,-her first-class things,-in the country. Now every body knows that what looks very smart in the country looks very seedy in London, and though the country cousins of life do get their new things to take back with them there, yet regular town-comers have theirs ready, or ready at all events to try on against they arrive, and so have the advantage of looking like civilised people while they are up. London, however, is one excellent place for remedying any little deficiency of any sort, at least if a person has only either money or credit, and a lady or gentleman can soon be rigged out by driving about to the different shops.

Now it so happened that Miss Willing had nothing of her own in town, that she felt she would be doing herself justice to appear before Billy in, and had omitted bringing her ladyship's keys, whereby she might have remedied the deficiency out of that wardrobe; however, with such a commission as she held, there could be no difficulty in procuring the loan of whatever was wanted from her ladyship's milliner. We may mention that on accepting office under Lady Delacey, Miss Willing, with the greatest spirit of fairness, had put her ladyship's custom in competition among three distinguished modistes, viz. her old friend Madame Adelaide Banboxeney, Madame Celeste de Montmorency, of Dover Street, and Miss Julia Freemantle, of Cowslip Street, May Fair; and Miss Freemantle having offered the same percentage on the bill (£15) as the other two, and £20 a year certain money more than Madame Banboxeney, and £25 more than Madame Celeste de Montmorency, Miss Freemantle had been duly declared the purchaser, as the auctioneers say, and in due time (as soon as a plausible quarrel could be picked with the then milliner) was in the enjoyment of a very good thing, for though the Countess Delacey, in the Gilpin-ian spirit of the age, tried to tie Miss Freemantle down to price, yet she overlooked the extras, the little embroidery of a bill, if we may so call it, such as four pound seventeen and sixpence for a buckle, worth perhaps the odd silver, and the surreptitious lace, at no one knows what, so long as they were not all in one item, and were cleverly scattered about the bill in broken sums, just as the lady thought the ribbon dear at a shilling a yard, but took it when the counter-skipper replied, "S'pose, marm, then, we say thirteen pence"-Miss Willing having had a consultation with Miss Freemantle as to the most certain means of quashing the Countess of Honiton, broached her own little requirements, and Miss Freemantle, finding that she only wanted the dress for one night, agreed to lend her a very rich emerald-green Genoa velvet evening-dress, trimmed with broad Valenciennes lace, she was on the point of furnishing for Alderman Boozey's son's bran-new wife; Miss Freemantle feeling satisfied, as she said, that Miss Willing would do it no harm; indeed, would rather benefit it by the sit her fine figure would give it, in the same way as shooters find it to their advantage to let their keepers have a day or two's wear out of their new shoes in order to get them to go easy for themselves.

The reader will therefore have the goodness to consider Miss Willing arrayed in Alderman Boozey's son's bran-new wife's bran-new Genoa velvet dress, with a wreath of pure white camellias on her beautiful brown Madonna-dressed hair, and a massive true-lover's-knot brooch in brilliants at her bosom. On her right arm she wears a magnificent pearl armlet, which Miss Freemantle had on sale or return from that equitable diamond-merchant, Samuel Emanuel Moses, of the Minories, the price ranging, with Miss Freemantle, from eighty to two hundred and fifty guineas, according to the rank and paying properties of the inquirer, though as between Moses and "Mantle," the price was to be sixty guineas, or perhaps pounds, depending upon the humour Moses might happen to be in, when she came with the dear £. s. d. The reader will further imagine an elegant little boudoir with its amber-coloured silk fittings and furniture, lit up with the united influence of the best wax and Wallsend, and Miss Willing sitting at an inlaid centre-table, turning over the leaves of Heath's "Picturesque Annual" of the preceding year. Opposite the fire are large white and gold folding-doors, opening we know not where, outside of which lurks Pheasant-feathers, placed there by Miss Willing on a service of delicacy.

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