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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 9236

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

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WE need not say that Mrs. Pringle was overjoyed at the receipt of the Earl's letter. It was so kind and good, and so like him. He always said he would do her a good turn if he could: but there are so many fine-weather friends in this world that there is no being certain of any one. Happy are they who never have occasion to test the sincerity of their friends, say we.

Mrs. Pringle was now all bustle and excitement, preparing Billy for the great event.

His wardrobe, always grand, underwent revision in the undergarment line. She got him some magnificently embroidered dress shirts, so fine that the fronts almost looked as if you might blow them out, and regardful of the r?le he was now about to play, she added several dozen with horses, dogs, birds, and foxes upon them, "suitable for fishing, shooting, boating, &c.," as the advertisements said. His cambric kerchiefs were of the finest quality, while his stockings and other things were in great abundance, the whole surmounted by a splendid dressing-case, the like of which had ne'er been seen since the days of Pea-Green Haine. Altogether he was capitally provided, and quite in accordance with a lady's-maid's ideas of gentility.

Billy, on his part, was active and energetic too, for though he had his doubts about being able to sit at the jumps, he had no objection to wear a red coat; and mysterious-looking boys, with blue bags, were constantly to be found seated on the mahogany bench, in the Curtain Crescent passage, waiting to try on his top boots; while the cheval glass up-stairs was constantly reflecting his figure in scarlet, à la Old Briggs. The concomitants of the chase, leathers, cords, whips, spurs, came pouring in apace. The next thing was to get somebody to take care of them.

It is observable that the heads of the various branches of an establishment are all in favour of "master" spending all his money on their particular department. Thus, the coachman would have him run entirely to carriages, the groom to horses, the cook to the cuisine, the butler to wines, the gardener to grapes, &c., and so on.

Mrs. Pringle, we need hardly say, favoured lady's-maids and valets. It has been well said, that if a man wants to get acquainted with a gentleman's private affairs, he should either go to the lawyer or else to the valet that's courting the lady's-maid; and Mrs. Pringle was quite of that opinion. Moreover, she held that no man with an efficient, properly trained valet, need ever be catspawed or jilted, because the lady's-maid would feel it a point of honour to let the valet know how the land lay, a compliment he would return under similar circumstances. To provide Billy with this, as she considered, most essential appendage to a gentleman, was her next consideration-a valet that should know enough and not too much-enough to enable him to blow his master's trumpet properly, and not too much, lest he should turn restive and play the wrong tune.

At length she fixed upon the Anglo-Frenchman, whose name stands at the head of this chapter-Jean Rougier, or Jack Rogers. Jack was the son of old Jack Rogers, so well known as the enactor of the Drunken Huzzar, and similar characters of Nutkins's Circus; and Jack was entered to his father's profession, but disagreeing with the clown, Tom Oliver, who used to give him sundry most unqualified cuts and cuffs in the Circus, Jack, who was a tremendously strong fellow, gave Oliver such a desperate beating one night as caused his life to be despaired off. This took place at Nottingham, from whence Jack fled for fear of the consequences; and after sundry vicissitudes he was next discovered as a post-boy, at Sittingbourne, an office that he was well adapted for, being short and stout and extremely powerful. No brute was ever too bad for Jack's riding: he would tame them before the day was over. Somehow he got bumped down to Dover, when taking a fancy to go "foreign," he sold his master's horses for what they would fetch; and this being just about the time that the late Mr. Probert expiated a similar mistake at the Old Bailey, Jack hearing of it, thought it was better to stay where he was than give Mr. Calcraft any trouble. He therefore accepted the situation of boots to the Albion Hotel, Boulogne-sur-mer; but finding that he did not get on half so well as he would if he were a Frenchman, he took to acquiring the language, which, with getting his ears bored, letting his hair and whiskers grow, and adopting the French costume in all its integrity, coupled with a liberal attack of the small-pox, soon told a tale in fav

our of his fees. After a long absence, he at length returned at the Bill Smith Revolution; and vacillating for some time between a courier and a valet, finally settled down to what we now find him.

We know not how it is, if valets are so essentially necessary, that there should always be so many out of place, but certain it is that an advertisment in a morning paper will always bring a full crop to a door.

Perhaps, being the laziest of all lazy lives, any one can turn his hand to valeting, who to dig is unable, and yet to want is unwilling.

Mrs. Pringle knew better than hold a levee in Curtain Crescent, letting all the applicants pump Properjohn or such of the maids as they could get hold of; and having advertised for written applications, stating full particulars of previous service, and credentials, to be addressed to F. P. at Chisel the baker's, in Yeast Street, she selected some half-dozen of the most promising ones, and appointed the parties to meet her, at different hours of course, at the first-class waiting-room of the great Western Station, intimating that they would know her by a bunch of red geraniums she would hold in her hand. And the second applicant, Jean Rougier, looked so like her money, having a sufficient knowledge of the English language to be able to understand all that was said, and yet at the same time sufficiently ignorant of it to invite confidential communications to be made before him; that after glancing over the testimonials bound up in his little parchment-backed passport book, she got the name and address of his then master, and sought an interview to obtain Monsieur's character. This gentleman, Sir Harry Bolter, happening to owe Jack three-quarters of a year's wages, which he was not likely to pay, spoke of him in the highest possible terms, glossing over his little partiality for drink by saying that, like all Frenchmen, he was of a convivial turn; and in consequence of Sir Harry's and Jack's own recommendations, Mrs. Pringle took him.

The reader will therefore now have the kindness to consider our hero and his valet under way, with a perfect pyramid of luggage, and Monsieur arrayed in the foraging cap, the little coatee, the petticoat trowsers, and odds and ends money-bag of his long adopted country, slung across his ample chest.

Their arrival and reception at Tantivy Castle will perhaps be best described in the following letter from Billy to his mother:-

Tantivy Castle.

My dearest Mamma,

I write a line to say that I arrived here quite safe by the 5-30 train, and found the Earl as polite as possible. I should tell you that I made a mistake at starting, for it being dark when I arrived, and getting confused with a whole regiment of footmen, I mistook a fine gentleman who came forward to meet me for the Earl, and made him a most respectful bow, which the ass returned, and began to talk about the weather; and when the real Earl came in I took him for a guest, and was going to weather him. However he soon put all matters right, and introduced me to Mrs. Moffatt, a very fine lady, who seems to rule the roast here in grand style. They say she never wears the same dress twice.

There are always at least half-a-dozen powdered footmen, in cerulean blue lined with rose-coloured silk, and pink silk stockings, the whole profusely illustrated with gold lace, gold aigulets, and I don't know what, lounging about in the halls and passages, wailing for company which Rougier says never comes. This worthy seems to have mastered the ins and outs of the place already, and says, "my lor has an Englishman to cook his beef-steak for breakfast, a Frenchman to cook his dinner, and an Italian confectioner; every thing that a 'my lord' ought to have" It is a splendid place,-as you will see by the above picture, * more like Windsor than anything I ever saw, and there seems to be no expense spared that could by any possibility be incurred. I've got a beautiful bedroom with warm and cold baths and a conservatory attached.

* Our friend was writing on Castle-paper, of course.

To-morrow is the first day of the season, and all the world and his wife will be there to a grand déjeuner à la Fourchette. The hounds meet before the Castle. His lordship says he will put me on a safe, steady hunter, and I hope he will, for I am not quite sure that I can sit at the jumps. However I'll let you know how I come on. Meanwhile as the gong is sounding for dressing, believe me, my dearest mamma,

Ever your truly affectionate son,


Mrs. Pringle,

Curtain Crescent, Belgrade Square, London.

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