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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 15337

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"Tantivy Castle, November.

"My dearest Mamma,

"Though I wrote to you only the other day, I take up my pen, stiff and sore as I am and scarcely able to sit, to tell you of my first day's hunt, which, I assure you, was anything but enjoyable. In fact, at this moment I feel just as if I had been thumped by half the pugilists in London and severely kicked at the end. To my fancy, hunting is about the most curious, unreasonable amusement that ever was invented. The first fox was well enough, running backwards and forwards in an agreeable manner, though they all abused him and called him a cowardly beggar, though to my mind it was far pluckier to do what he did, with fifty great dogs after him, than to fly like a thief as the next one did. Indeed I saw all the first run without the slightest inconvenience or exertion, for a very agreeable gentleman, called Major Hammerton, himself an old keeper of hounds, led me about and showed me the country.

"I don't mean to say that he led my horse, but he showed me the way to go, so as to avoid the jumps, and pointed out the places where I could get a peep of the fox. I saw him frequently. The Major, who was extremely polite, asked me to go and stay with him after I leave here, and I wouldn't mind going if it wasn't for the hounds, which, however, he says are quite as fine as his lordship's, without being so furiously and inconveniently fast. For my part, however, I don't see the use of hunting an animal that you can shoot, as they do in France. It seems a monstrous waste of exertion. If they were all as sore as I am this morning, I'm sure they wouldn't try it again in a hurry. I really think racing, where you pay people for doing the dangerous for you, is much better fun, and prettier too, for you can choose any lively colour you like for your jacket, instead of having to stick to scarlet or dark clothes.

"But I will tell you about fox No. 2. I was riding with a very pretty young lady, Miss de Glancey, whom the Earl had just introduced me to, when all of a sudden everybody seemed to be seized with an uncontrollable galloping mania, and set off as hard as ever their horses could lay legs to the ground. My horse, who they said was a perfect hunter, but who, I should say, was a perfect brute, partook of the prevailing epidemic, and, though he had gone quite quietly enough before, now seized the bit between his teeth, and plunged and reared as though he would either knock my teeth down my throat, or come back over upon me. 'Drop your hand!' cried one. 'Ease his head!' cried another, and what was the consequence? He ran away with me and, dashing through a flock of turkeys, nearly capsized an old sow.

"Then the people, who had been so civil before, all seemed to be seized with the rudes. It was nothing but 'g-u-u-r along, sir! g-u-u-r along! Hang it! don't you see the hounds are running!' just as if I had made them run, or as if I could stop them. My good friend, the Major, seemed to be as excited as any body: indeed, the only cool person was Miss de Glancey, who cantered away in a most unconcerned manner. I am sorry to say she came in for a desperate ducking. It seems that after I had had as much as I wanted, and pulled up to come home, they encountered a most terrific thunder-storm in crossing some outlandish moor, and as his lordship, who didn't get home till long after dark, said she all at once became a dissolving view, and went away to nothing. Mrs. Moffatt, who is stout and would not easily dissolve, seemed amazingly tickled with the joke, and said she supposed she would look like a Mermaid-which his lordship said was exactly the case. When the first roll of thunder was heard here, the Earl's carriage and four was ordered out, with dry things, to go in quest of him; but they tried two of his houses of call before they fell in with him. It then had to return to take the Mermaid to her home, who had to borrow the publican's wife's Sunday clothes to travel in.

"After dinner, the stud-groom came in to announce the horses for to-day; and hearing one named for me, I begged to decline the honour, on the plea of having a great many letters to write, so Mrs. Moffatt accompanied his lordship to the meet, some ten miles north of this, in his carriage and four, from whence she has just returned, and says they went away with a brilliant scent from Foxlydiate Gorse, meaning, I presume, with another such clatter as we had yesterday. I am glad I didn't go, for I don't think I could have got on to a horse, let alone sit one, especially at the jumps, which all the Clods in the country seem to have clubbed their ideas to concoct. Rougier says people are always stiff after the first day's hunting; but if I had thought I should be as sore and stiff as I am, I don't think I would ever have taken a day, because Major Hammerlon says it is not necessary to go out hunting in the morning to entitle one to wear the dress uniform in the evening-which is really all I care for.

"The servants here seem to live like fighting-cocks, from Rougier's account; breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, teas, and suppers. They sit down, ten or a dozen at the second table, and about thirty or so in the hall, besides which there are no end of people out of doors. Rougier says they have wine at the second table, and eau de vie punch at night at discretion, of which, I think, he takes more than is discreet, for he came swaggering into my room at day-break this morning, in his evening dress, with his hat on, and a great pewter inkstand in his hand, which he set down on the dressing-table, and said, 'dere, sir, dere is your shavin' water!' Strange to say, the fellow speaks better English when he's drunk than he does when he's sober. However, I suppose I must have a valet, otherwise I should think it would be a real kindness to give the great lazy fellows here something to do, other than hanging about the passages waylaying the girls, I'll write you again when I know what I'm going to do, but I don't think I shall stay here much longer, if I'm obliged to risk my neck after these ridiculous dogs. Ever, my dearest Mamma your most affectionate, but excruciatingly sore, son.


The following is Mrs. Pringle's answer; who, it will be seen, received Billy's last letter while she was answering his first one:-

"25, Curtain Crescent, "Belgrave Square, London.

"My own dearest William,

"I was overjoyed, my own darling, to receive your kind letter, and hear that you had arrived safe, and found his lordship so kind and agreeable. I thought you had known him by sight, or I would have prevented your making the mistake by describing him to you. However, there is no harm done. In a general way, the great man of the place is oftentimes the least.-The most accessible, that is to say. The Earl is an excellent, kind-hearted man, and it will do you great good among your companions to be known to be intimate with him, for I can assure you it is not every one he takes up with. Of course, there are people who abuse him, and say he is this and that, and so on; but you must take people-especially great ones-as you find them in this world; and he is quite as good as his whites of their eyes turning-up neighbours. Don't, however presume on his kindness by attempting to stay beyond what he presses you to do, for two short visits tell better than one long one, looking as though you had been approved of. You can easily find out from the butler or the groom of the chambers, or some of the upper servants, how long you are expected to stay, or perhaps some of the guests can tell you how long they are inv

ited for.

"I had written thus far when your second welcome letter arrived, and I can't tell you how delighted I am to hear you are safe and well, though I'm sorry to hear you don't like hunting, for I assure you it is the best of all possible sports, and there is none that admits of such elegant variety of costume.

"Look at a shooter,-what a ragamuffin dress his is, hardly distinguishable from a keeper; and yachters and cricketers might be taken for ticket-of-leave men. I should be very sorry indeed if you were not to persevere in your hunting; for a red coat and leathers are quite your become, and there is none, in my opinion, in which a gentleman looks so well, or a snob so ill. Learning to hunt can't be more disagreeable than learning to sail or to smoke, and see how many hundreds-thousands I may say-overcome the difficulty every year, and blow their clouds, as they call them, on the quarterdeck, as though they had been born sailors with pipes in their mouths. Remember, if you can't manage to sit your horse, you'll be fit for nothing but a seat in Parliament along with Captain Catlap and the other incurables. I can't think there can be much difficulty in the matter, judging from the lumpy wash-balley sort of men one hears talking about it. I should think if you had a horse of your own, you would be able to make better out. Whatever you do, however, have nothing to do with racing. It's only for rogues and people who have more money than they know what to do with, and to whom it doesn't matter whether they win or they lose. We musn't have you setting up a confidential crossing-sweeper with a gold eyeglass. No gentleman need expect to make money on the turf, for if you were to win they wouldn't pay you, whereas, if you lose it's quite a different thing. One of the beauties of hunting is that people have no inducement to poison each other; whereas in racing, from poisoning horses they have got to poisoning men, besides which one party must lose if the other is to win. Mutual advantage is impossible. Another thing, if you were to win ever so, the trainer would always keep his little bill in advance of your gains, or he would be a very bad trainer.

"I hope Major Hammerton is a gentleman of station, whose acquaintance will do you good, though the name is not very aristocratic-Hamilton would have been belter. Are there any Miss H's? Remember there are always forward people in the world, who think to advance themselves by taking strangers by the hand, and that a bad introduction is far worse than none. Above all, never ask to be introduced to a great man. Great people have their eyes and ears about them just as well as little ones, and if they choose to know you, they will make the advance. Asking to be introduced only prejudices them against you, and generally insures a cut at the first opportunity.

"Beware of Miss de Glancey. She is a most determined coquette, and if she had fifty suitors, wouldn't be happy if she saw another woman with one, without trying to get him from her. She hasn't a halfpenny. If you see her again, ask her if she knows Mr. Hotspur Smith, or Mr. Enoch Benson, or Mr. Woodhorn, and tell me how she looks. What is she doing down there? Surely she hasn't the vanity to think she can captivate the Earl. You needn't mention me to Mrs. Moffatt, but I should like to know what she has on, and also if there are any new dishes for dinner. Indeed, the less you talk about your belongings the better; for the world has but two ways, that of running people down much below their real level, or of extolling them much beyond their deserts. Remember, well-bred people always take breeding for granted, 'one of us,' as they say in others when they find them at good houses, and as you have a good name, you have nothing to do but hold your tongue, and the chances are they will estimate you at far more than your real worth.

"A valet is absolutely indispensable for a young gentleman. Bless you! you would be thought nothing of among the servants if you hadn't one. They are their masters' trumpeters. A valet, especially a French one, putting on two clean shirts a day, and calling for Burgundy after your cheese, are about the most imposing things in the lower regions. In small places, giving as much trouble as possible, and asking for things you think they haven't got, is very well; but this will not do where you now are. In a general way, it is a bad plan taking servants to great houses, for, as they all measure their own places by the best they have ever seen, and never think how many much worse ones there are, they come back discontented, and are seldom good for much until they have undergone a quarter's starving or so, out of place. It is a good thing when the great man of a country sets an example of prudence and economy, for then all others can quote him, instead of having the bad practices of other places raked up as authority for introducing them into theirs. The Earl, however, would never be able to get through half his income if he was not to wink at a little prodigality, and the consumption of wine in great houses would be a mere nothing if it was not for the assistance of the servants. Indeed, the higher you get into society, the less wine you get, until you might expect to see it run out to nothing at a Duke's. I dare say Rougier will be fond of drink, and the English servants will perhaps be fond of plying him with it; but, so long as he does not get incompetent, a little jollity on his part will make them more communicative before him, and it is wonderful what servants can tell. They know everything in the kitchen-nothing in the parlour. His lordship, I believe, doesn't allow strange servants to wait except upon very full occasions, otherwise it might be well to put Rougier under the surveillance of Beverage, the butler, lest he should come into the room drunk and incompetent, which would be very disagreeable.

"I enclose you a gold fox-head pin to give Mr. Boggledike, who doesn't take money, at least nothing under £5, and this only costs 18s. He is a favourite with his lordship, and it will be well to be in with him. You had better give the men who whip the hounds a trifle, say 10s. or half-a-sovereign each-gold looks better than silver. If you go to Major Hammertons you must let me know; but perhaps you will inquire further before you fix. And now, hoping that you will stick to your hunting, and be more successful on another horse after a quieter fox, believe me ever, my own dearest William, your most truly and sincerely affectionate mother,

"Emma Pringle.

"P.S.-Don't forget the two clean shirts.

"P.S.-When you give Dicky Boggledike the pin, you can compliment him on his talents as a huntsman (as Mr. Redpath did the actor); and as they say he is a very bad one, he will be all the more grateful for it.

"P.S.-I have just had another most pressing letter from your uncle Jerry, urging me to go and look through all the accounts and papers, as he says it is not fair throwing such a heavy responsibility upon him. Poor man! He need not be so pressing. He little knows how anxious I am to do it. I hope now we shall get something satisfactory, for as yet I know no more than I did before your poor father died.

"P.S.-Don't forget to tell me if there are any Miss H.'s, and whatever you do, take care of Dowb, that is, yourself."

But somehow Billy forgot to tell his Mamma whether there were any Miss H.'s or not, though he might have said "No," seeing they were Miss "Y.'s."

And now, while our hero is recovering from his bruises, let us introduce the reader further to his next host, Major Y.

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