MoboReader> Literature > Ask Mamma


Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 16157

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

MAJOR Yammerton was rather a peculiar man, inasmuch as he was an Ass, without being a Fool. He was an Ass for always puffing and inflating himself, while as regarded worldly knowledge, particularly that comprised in the magic letters £. s. d., few, if any, were his equals. In the former department, he was always either on the strut or the fret, always either proclaiming the marked attention he had met with, or worrying himself with the idea that he had not had enough. At home, instead of offering people freely and hospitably what he had, he was continually boring them with apologies for what he had not. Just as if all men were expected to have things alike, or as if the Major was an injured innocent who had been defrauded of his rights. If he was not boring and apologising, then he was puffing or praising everything indiscriminately-depending, of course, upon who he had there-a great gun or a little one.

He returned from his Tantivy Castle hunt, very much pleased with our Billy, who seemed to be just the man for his money, and by the aid of his Baronetage he made him out to be very highly connected. Mrs. Yammerton and the young ladies were equally delighted with him, and it was unanimously resolved that he should be invited to the Grange, for which purpose the standing order of the house "never to invite any one direct from a great house to theirs," was suspended. A very salutary rule it is for all who study appearances, seeing that what looks very well one way may look very shady the other; but this being perhaps a case of "now or never," the exception would seem to have been judiciously made. The heads of the house had different objects in view; Mamma's, of course, being matrimonial, the Major's, the laudable desire to sell Mr. Pringle a horse. And the mention of Mamma's object leads us to the young ladies.

These, Clara, Flora, and Harriet, were very pretty, and very highly educated-that is to say, they could do everything that is useless-play, draw, sing, dance, make wax-flowers, bead-stands, do decorative gilding, and crochet-work; but as to knowing how many ounces there are in a pound of tea, or how many pounds of meat a person should eat in a day, they were utterly, entirely, and most elegantly ignorant. Towards the close of the last century, and at the beginning of the present one, ladies ran entirely to domesticity, pickling, preserving, and pressing people to eat. Corded petticoats and patent mangles long formed the staple of a mid life woman's conversation. Presently a new era sprang up, which banished everything in the shape of utilitarianism, and taught the then rising generation that the less they knew of domestic matters the finer ladies they would be, until we really believe the daughters of the nobility are better calculated for wives, simply because they are generally economically brought up, and are not afraid of losing caste, by knowing what every woman ought to do. No man thinks the worse of a woman for being able to manage her house, while few men can afford to marry mere music-stools and embroidery frames. Mrs. Yammerton, however, took a different view of the matter. She had been brought up in the patent mangle and corded petticoat school, and inwardly resolved that her daughters should know nothing of the sort-should be "real ladies," in the true kitchen acceptation of the term. Hence they were mistresses of all the little accomplishments before enumerated, which, with making calls and drinking tea, formed the principal occupation of their lives. Not one of them could write a letter without a copy, and were all very uncertain in their spelling-though they knew to a day when every King and Queen began to reign, and could spout all the chief towns in the kingdom. Now this might have been all very well, at least bearable, if the cockey Major had had plenty of money to give them, but at the time they were acquiring them, the "contrary was the case," as the lawyers say. The Major's grandfather (his father died when he was young) had gone upon the old annexation principle of buying land and buying land simply because "it joined," and not always having the cash to pay for it with, our Major came into an estate (large or small, according as the reader has more or less of his own) saddled with a good, stout, firmly setting mortgage. Land, however, being the only beast of burthen that does not show what it carries, our orphan-orphan in top-boots to be sure-passed for his best, and was speedily snapped up by the then beautiful, Italian-like Miss Winnington, who consoled herself for the collapse of his fortune, by the reflection that she had nothing of her own. Perhaps, too, she had made allowance for the exaggeration of estimates, which generally rate a man at three or four times his worth. The Winningtons, however, having made a great "crow" at the "catch," the newly-married couple started at score as if the estate had nothing to carry but themselves.

* * *

Original Size

In due time the three graces appeared,-Clara, very fair, with large languishing blue eyes and light hair; Flora, with auburn hair and hazel eyes; and Harriet, tall, clear, and dark, like Mamma. As they grew up, and had had their heads made into Almanacs at home, they were sent to the celebrated Miss Featherey's finishing and polishing seminary at Westbourne Grove, who for £200 a-year, or as near £200 as she could get, taught them all the airs and graces, particularly how to get in and out of a carriage properly, how to speak to a doctor, how to a counter-skipper, how to a servant, and so on. The Major, we may state, had his three daughters taken as two. Well, just as Miss Harriet was supplying the place of Miss Clara (polished), that great agricultural revolution, the repeal of the corn laws, took place, and our Major, who had regarded his estate more with an eye to its hunting and shooting capabilities than to high farming, very soon found it slipping away from him, just as Miss de Glancey slipped away from her dress in the thunder-storm. Up to that time, his easy-minded agent, Mr. Bullrush, a twenty stone man of sixty years of age, had thought the perfection of management was not to let an estate go back, but now the Major's seemed likely to slip through its girths altogether. To be sure, it had not had any great assistance in the advancing line, and was just the same sour, rush-grown, poachy, snipe-shooting looking place that it was when the Major got it; but this was not his grandfather's fault, who had buried as many stones in great gulf-like drains, as would have carried off a river and walled the estate all round into the bargain; but there was no making head against wet land with stone drains, the bit you cured only showing the wetness of the rest. The blotchy March fallows looked as if they had got the small pox, the pastures were hardly green before Midsummer, and the greyhound-like cattle that wandered over them were evidently of Pharaoh's lean sort, and looked as if they would never be ready for the butcher. Foreign cattle, too, were coming in free, and the old cry of "down corn, down horn," frightened the fabulously famed "stout British farmer" out of his wits.

Then those valuable documents called leases-so binding on the landlord, were found to be wholly inoperative on the tenants, who threw up their farms as if there were no such things in existence.

If the Major wouldn't take their givings up, why then he might just do his "warst;" meanwhile, of course, they would "do their warst," by the land. With those who had nothing (farming and beer-shop keeping being about the only trades a man can start with upon nothing), of course, it was of no use persisting, but the awkward part of the thing was, that this probing of pockets showed that in too many cases the reputed honesty of the British farmer was also mere fiction; for some who were thought to be well off, now declared that their capital was their aunt's, or their uncle's, or their grandmother's, or some one else's, so that the two classes, the have-somethings,

and the have-nothings, were reduced to a level. This sort of thing went on throughout the country, and landlords who could not face the difficulty by taking their estates in hand, had to submit to very serious reductions of rent, and rent once got down, is very difficult to get up again, especially in countries where they value by the rate-book, or where a traditionary legend attaches to land of the lowest rent it has ever been let for.

Our Major was sorely dispirited, and each market-day, as he returned from Mr. Bullrush's with worse and worse news than before, he pondered o'er his misfortunes, fearing that he would have to give up his hounds and his horses, withdraw his daughters from Miss Featherey's, and go to Boulogne, and as he contemplated the airy outline of their newly-erected rural palace of a workhouse, he said it was lucky they had built it, for he thought they would all very soon be in it. Certainly, things got to their worst in the farming way, before they began to mend, and such land as the Major's-good, but "salivated with wet," as the cabman said of his coat-was scarcely to be let at any price.

In these go-a-head days of farming, when the enterprising sons of trade are fast obliterating the traces of the heavy-heel'd order of easy-minded Hodges who,

--"held their farms and lived content

While one year paid another's rent,"

without ever making any attempt at improvement, it may be amusing to record the business-like offer of some of those indolent worthies who would bid for a pig in a poke. Thus it runs:-It should have been dated April 1, instead of 21:-


"Onard Sir,

"Hobnail Hill, April 21.

"Wheas We have considered we shall give you for Bonnyrig's farme the som £100 25 puns upon condishinds per year if you should think it to little we may perhaps advance a little as we have not looked her carefully over her and for character Mr. Sowerby will give you every information as we are the third giniration that's been under the Sowerbys.

"Yours sincerely,

"Henerey Brown,

"Homfray Brown-Co.

"If you want anye otes I could sell you fifteen bowels of verye fine ones."

Now the "som £100 25 puns" being less than half what the Major's grandfather used to get for the farm:-viz. "£200 63 puns,"-our Major was considerably perplexed; and as "Henerey and Homfray"'s offer was but a sample of the whole, it became a question between Boulogne and Bastile, as those once unpopular edifices, the workhouses, were then called. And here we may observe, that there is nothing perhaps, either so manageable or so unmanageable as land-nothing easier to keep right than land in good order, and nothing more difficult to get by the head, and stop, than land that has run wild; and it may be laid down as an infallible rule, that the man who has no taste for land or horses should have nothing to do with either. He should put his money in the funds, and rail or steam when he has occasion to travel. He will be far richer, far fatter, and fill the bay window of his club far better, than by undergoing the grinding of farmers and the tyranny of grooms. Land, like horses, when once in condition is easily kept so, but once let either go down, and the owner becomes a prey to the scratchers and the copers.

If, however, a man likes a little occupation better than the eternal gossip, and "who's that?" of the clubs, and prefers a smiling improving landscape to a barren retrograding scene, he will find no pleasanter, healthier, or more interesting occupation than improving his property. And a happy thing it was for this kingdom, that Prince Albert who has done so much to refine and elevate mankind, should have included farming in the list of his amusements,-bringing the before despised pursuit into favour and fashion, so that now instead of land remaining a prey to the "Henerey Browns & Co." of life, we find gentlemen advertising for farms in all directions, generally stipulating that they are to be on the line of one or other of the once derided railways.

But we are getting in advance of the times with our Major, whom we left in the slough of despond, consequent on the coming down of his rents. Just when things were at their worst, the first sensible sunbeam of simplicity that ever shone upon land, appeared in the shape of the practical, easy-working Drainage Act, an act that has advanced agriculture more than all previous inventions and legislation put together. But our gallant friend had his difficulties to contend with even here.

Mr. Bullrush was opposed to it. He was fat and didn't like trouble, so he doubted the capacity of such a pocket companion as a pipe to carry off the superfluous water, then he doubted the ability of the water to get into the pipe at such a depth, above all he doubted the ability of the tenants to pay drainage interests. "How could they if they couldn't pay their rents?" Of course, the tenants adopted this view of the matter, and were all opposed to making what they called "experiences," at their own expense; so upon the whole, Mr. Bullrush advised the Major to have nothing to do with it. It being, however, a case of necessity with the Major, he disregarded Mr. Bullrush's advice which led to a separation, and being now a free agent, he went boldly at the government loan, and soon scared all the snipes and half the tenants off his estate. The water poured off in torrents; the plump juicy rushes got the jaundice, and Mossington bog, over which the Major used to have to scuttle on foot after his "haryers," became sound enough to carry a horse. Then as Mr. Bullrush rode by and saw each dreary swamp become sound ground, he hugged himself with the sloven's consolation that it "wouldn't p-a-a-y." Pay, however, it did, for our Major next went and got some stout horses, and the right sort of implements of agriculture, and soon proved the truth of the old adage, that it is better to follow a sloven than a scientific farmer. He worked his land well, cleaned it well, and manured it well; in which three simple operations consists the whole science of husbandry, and instead of growing turnips for pickling, as his predecessors seemed to do, he got great healthy Swedes that loomed as large as his now fashionable daughter's dresses. He grew as many "bowels" of oats upon one acre of land as any previous tenant had done upon three. So altogether, our Major throve, and instead of going to Boulogne, he presently set up the Cockaded Coach in which we saw him arrive at Tantivy Castle. Not that he went to a coachmaker's and said, "Build me a roomy family coach regardless of expense," but, finding that he couldn't get an inside seat along with the thirty-six yard dresses in the old chariot, he dropped in at the sale of the late Squire Trefoil's effects, who had given some such order, and, under pretence of buying a shower-bath, succeeded in getting a capital large coach on its first wheels for ten pounds,-scarcely the value of the pole.

As a contrast to Henerey Brown and Co.'s business-like offer for the farm, and in illustration of the difference between buying and selling, we append the verbose estimate of this ponderous affair. Thus it runs-


To CHALKER AND CHARGER COACHMAKERS, BY APPOINTMENT, TO THE EMPEROR OF CHINA, Emperor of Morocco, the King of Oude, the King of the Cannibal Islands, &c., &c., &c., &c.

Long Acre, London.

(Followed by all the crowns, arms, orders, flourish, and flannel, peculiar to aristocratic tradesmen.)

* * *

Original Size

Three hundred and ninety pounds! And to think that the whole should come to be sold for ten sovereigns. Oh, what a falling off was there, my coachmakers! Surely the King of the Cannibal Islands could never afford to pay such prices as those! Verily, Sir Robert Peel was right when he said that there was no class of tradespeople whose bills wanted reforming so much as coachmakers. What ridiculous price they make wood and iron assume, and what absurd offers they make when you go to them to sell!

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top