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   Chapter 16 THE MAJOR’S MENAGE.

Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 14576

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


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AND first about the "haryers!"

"Five-and-thirty years master of haryers without a subscription!"

This, we think, is rather an exaggeration, both as regards time and money, unless the Major reckons an undivide d moiety he had in an old lady-hound called "Lavender" along with the village blacksmith of Billinghurst when he was at school. If he so calculates, then he would be right as to time, but wrong as to money, for the blacksmith paid his share of the tax, and found the greater part of the food. For thirty years, we need hardly tell the reader of sporting literature, that the Major had been a master of harriers-for well has he blown the horn of their celebrity during the whole of that long period-never were such harriers for finding jack hares, and pushing them through parishes innumerable, making them take rivers, and run as straight as railways, putting the costly performances of the foxhounds altogether to the blush. Ten miles from point to point, and generally without a turn, is the usual style of thing, the last run with this distinguished pack being always unsurpassed by any previous performance. Season after season has the sporting world been startled with these surprising announcements, until red-coated men, tired of blanks and ringing foxes, have almost said, "Dash my buttons, if I won't shut up shop here and go and hunt with these tremendous harriers," while other currant-jelly gentlemen, whose hares dance the fandango before their plodding pack, have sighed for some of these wonderful "Jacks" that never make a curve, or some of the astonishing hounds that have such a knack at making them fly.

Well, but the reader will, perhaps, say it's the blood that does it-the Major has an unrivalled, unequalled strain of harrier blood that nobody else can procure. Nothing of the sort! Nothing of the sort! The Major's blood is just anything he can get. He never misses a chance of selling either a single hound or a pack, and has emptied his kennel over and over again. But then he always knows where to lay hands on more; and as soon as ever the new hounds cross his threshold they become the very "best in the world"-better than any he ever had before. They then figure upon paper, just as if it was a continuous pack; and the field being under pretty good command, and, moreover, implicated in the honour of their performances, the thing goes on smoothly and well, and few are any the wiser. There is nothing so popular as a little fuss and excitement, in which every man may take his share, and this it is that makes scratch packs so celebrated. Their followers see nothing but their perfections. They are

"To their faults a little blind,

And to their virtues ever kind."

At the period of which we are writing, the Major's pack was rather better than usual, being composed of the pick of three packs,-"cries of dogs" rather-viz., the Corkycove harriers, kept by the shoemakers of Waxley; the Bog-trotter harriers (four couple), kept by some moor-edge miners; the Dribbleford dogs, upon whom nobody would pay the tax; and of some two or three couple of incurables, that had been consigned from different kennels on condition of the Major returning the hampers in which they came.

The Major was open to general consignments in the canine line-Hounds, Pointers, Setters, Terriers, &c.-not being of George the Third's way of thinking, who used to denounce all "presents that eat." He would take anything; anything, at least, except a Greyhound, an animal that he held in mortal abhorrence. What he liked best was to get a Lurcher, for which he soon found a place under a pear-tree.

The Major's huntsman, old Solomon, was coachman, shepherd, groom, and gamekeeper, as well as huntsman, and was the cockaded gentleman who drove the ark on the occasion of our introduction. In addition to all this, he waited at table on grand occasions, and did a little fishing, hay-making, and gardening in the summer. He was one of the old-fashioned breed of servants, now nearly extinct, who passed their lives in one family and turned their hands to whatever was wanted. The Major, whose maxim was not to keep any cats that didn't catch mice, knowing full well that all gentlemen's servants can do double the work of their places, provided they only get paid for it, resolved, that it was cheaper to pay one man the wages of one-and-a-half to do the work of two men, than to keep two men to do the same quantity; consequently, there was very little hissing at bits and curb-chains in the Major's establishment, the hard work of other places being the light work, or no work at all, of his. Solomon was the beau idéal of a harrier huntsman, being, as the French say, d'un certain age, quiet, patient, and a pusillanimous rider.

Now about the subscription.

It is true that the Major did not take a subscription in the common acceptation of the term, but he took assistance in various ways, such as a few days ploughing from one man, a few "bowels" of seed-wheat from another, a few "bowels" of seed-oats from a third, a lamb from a fourth, a pig from a fifth, added to which, he had all the hounds walked during the summer, so that his actual expenses were very little more than the tax. This he jockeyed by only returning about two-thirds the number of hounds he kept; and as twelve couple were his hunting maximum, his taxing minimum would be about eight-eight couple-or sixteen hounds, at twelve shillings a-piece, is nine pound twelve, for which sum he made more noise in the papers than the Quorn, the Belvoir, and the Cottesmore all put together. Indeed the old adage of "great cry and little wool," applies to packs as well as flocks, for we never see hounds making a great "to-do" in the papers without suspecting that they are either good for nothing, or that the fortunate owner wants to sell them.

With regard to horses, the Major, like many people, had but one sort-the best in England-though they were divided into two classes, viz., hunters and draught horses. Hacks or carriage horses he utterly eschewed. Horses must either hunt or plough with him; nor was he above putting his hunters into the harrows occasionally. Hence he always had a pair of efficient horses for his carriage when he wanted them, instead of animals that were fit to jump out of their skins at starting, and ready to slip through them on coming home.

Clothing he utterly repudiated for carriage horses, alleging, that people never get any work out of them after they are once clothed.

The hunters were mostly sedate, elderly animals, horses that had got through the "morning of life" with the foxhounds, and came to the harriers in preference to harness. The Major was always a buyer or an exchanger, or a mixer of both, and would generally "advance a little" on the neighbouring job-master's prices. Then having got them, he recruited the veterans by care and crushed corn, which, with cutting their tails, so altered them, that sometimes their late groom scarcely knew them again.

Certainly, if the animals could have spoken, they would have expressed their surprise at the different language the Major held as a buyer and as a seller; as a buyer, when like Gil Blas' mule, he made them out to be all faults, as a sel

ler when they suddenly seemed to become paragons of perfection. He was always ready for a deal, and would accommodate matters to people's convenience-take part cash, part corn, part hay, part anything, for he was a most miscellaneous barterer, and his stable loft was like a Marine Store-dealer's shop. Though always boasting that his little white hands were not "soiled with trade," he would traffic in anything (on the sly) by which he thought he could turn a penny. His last effort in the buying way had nearly got him into the County Court, as the following correspondence will show, as also how differently two people can view the same thing.

Being in town, with wheat at 80s. and barley and oats in proportion, and consequently more plethoric in the pocket than usual, he happened to stray into a certain great furniture mart where two chairs struck him as being cheap. They were standing together, and one of them was thus ticketed:

No. 8205.

2 Elizabethan chairs.

India Japanned.

43 s.

The Major took a good stare at them, never having seen any before. Well, he thought they could not be dear at that; little more than a guinea each. Get them home for fifty shillings, say There was a deal of gold, and lacker, and varnish about them. Coloured bunches of flowers, inlaid with mother of pearl, Chinese temples, with "insolent pig-tailed barbarians," in pink silk jackets, with baggy blue trowsers, and gig whips in their hands, looking after the purple ducks on the pea-grcen lake-all very elegant.

He'd have them, dashed if he wouldn't! Would try and swap them for Mrs. Rocket Larkspur's Croydon basket-carriage that the girls wanted. Just the things to tickle her fancy. So he went into the office and gave his card most consequentially, with a reference to Pannell, the sadler in Spur Street, Leicestor-square, desiring that the chairs might be most carefully packed and forwarded to him by the goods train with an invoice by post.

When the invoice came, behold! the 43s. had changed into 86s.

"Hilloa!" exclaimed the astonished Major. This won't do! 86s. is twice 43s.; and he wrote off to say they had made a mistake. This brought the secretary of the concern, Mr. Badbill, on to the scene. He replied beneath a copious shower of arms, orders, flourish, and flannel, that the mistake was the Major's-that they, "never marked their goods in pairs," to which the Major rejoined, that they had in this instance, as the ticket which he forwarded to Pannell for Badbill's inspection showed, and that he must decline the chairs at double the price they were ticketed for.

Badbill, having duly inspected the ticket, retorted that he was surprised at the Major's stupidity, that two meant one, in fact, all the world over.

The Major rejoined, that he didn't know what the Reform Bill might have done, but that two didn't mean one when he was at school; and added, that as he declined the chairs at 86s. they were at Badhill's service for sending for.

Badbill wrote in reply-

"We really cannot understand how it is possible, for any one to make out that a ticket on an article includes the other that may stand next it. Certainly the ticket you allude to referred only to the chair on which it was placed."

And in a subsequent letter he claimed to have the chairs repacked at the Major's expense, as it was very unfair saddling them with the loss arising entirely from the Major's mistake.

To which our gallant friend rejoined, "that as he would neither admit that the mistake was his, nor submit to the imputation of unfairness, he would stick to the chairs at the price they were ticketed at."

Badbill then wrote that this declaration surprised them much-that they did not for a moment think he "intentionally misunderstood the ticket as referring to a pair of chairs, whereas it only gave the price of one chair," and again begged to have them back; to which the Major inwardly responded, he "wished they might get them," and sent them an order for the 43s.

This was returned with expressions of surprise, that after the explanation given, the Major should persevere in the same "course of error," and hoped that he would, without further delay, favour the Co. with the right amount, for which Badbill said they "anxiously waited," and for which the Major inwardly said, they "might wait."

In due time came a lithographed circular, more imposingly flourished and flanneled than ever, stating the terms of the firm were "cash on delivery;" and that unless the Major remitted without further delay, he would be handed over to their solicitor, &c.; with an intimation at the bottom, that that was the "third application"-of which our gallant friend took no notice.

Next came a written,

"Sir,

"I am desired by this firm to inform you, that unless we hear from you by return of post respecting the payment of our account, we shall place the matter in the hands of our solicitors without further notice, and regret you should have occasioned us so much trouble through your own misunderstanding."

Then came the climax. The Major's solicitor went, ticket in hand, and tendered the 43s., when the late bullying Badbill was obliged to write as follows:-

"It appears you are quite correct rejecting the ticket, and we are in error. Our ticketing clerk had placed the figure in the wrong part of the card, the figure 'two' referring to the number of chairs in stock, and not as understood to signifying chairs for 43s.;" and Badbill humorously concluded by expressing a hope that the Major would return the chairs and continue his custom-two very unlikely events, as we dare say the reader will think, to happen.

Such, then, was the knowing gentleman who now sought the company of Fine Billy; and considering that he is to be besieged an both sides, we hope to be excused for having gone a little into his host and hostess' pedigree and performances.

The Major wrote Billy a well-considered note, saying, that when he could spare a few days from his lordship and the foxhounds, it would afford Mrs. Yammerton and himself great pleasure if he would come and pay them a visit at Yammerton Grange, and the Major would be happy to mount him, and keep his best country for him, and show him all the sport in his power, adding, that they had been having some most marvellous runs lately-better than any he ever remembered.

Now, independently of our friend Billy having pondered a good deal on the beauty of the young lady's eyes, he could well spare a few days from the foxhounds, for his lordship, being quite de Glancey-cured, and wishing to get rid of him, had had him out again, and put him on to a more fractious horse than before, who after giving him a most indefinite shaking, had finally shot him over his head.

The Earl was delighted, therefore, when he heard of the Major's invitation, and after expressing great regret at the idea of losing our Billy, begged he would "come back whenever it suited him:" well knowing that if he once got him out of the house, he would be very sly if he got in again. And so Billy, who never answered Mamma's repeated inquiries if there were any "Miss H's" engaged himself to Yammerton Grange, whither the reader will now perhaps have the kindness to accompany him.

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