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   Chapter 19 THE MAJOR’S STUD.

Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 22185

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


MRS. Yammerton carried the day, and the young ladies carried paper-booted Billy, or rather walked him up to Mrs. Wasperton's at Prospect Hill, and showed him the ugly girls, and also the beautiful view from Eagleton Rocks, over the wide-spreading vale of Vernerley beyond, which, of course, Billy enjoyed amazingly, as all young gentlemen do enjoy views under such pleasant circumstances. Perhaps he might have enjoyed it more, if two out of three of the dear charmers had been absent, but then things had not got to that pass, and Mamma would not have thought it proper-at least, not unless she saw her way to a very decided preference-which, of course, was then out of the question. Billy was a great swell, and the "chaws" who met him stared with astonishment at such an elegant parasol'd exquisite, picking his way daintily along the dirty, sloppy, rutty lanes. Like all gentlemen in similar circumstances, he declared his boots "wouldn't take in wet."

Of course, Mamma charged the girls not to be out late, an injunction that applied as well to precaution against the night air, as to the importance of getting Billy back by afternoon stable time, when the Major purposed treating him to a sight of his stud, and trying to lay the foundation of a sale.

Perhaps our sporting readers would like to take a look into the Major's stable before he comes with his victim, Fine Billy. If so, let them accompany us; meanwhile our lady friends can skip the chapter if they do not like to read about horses-or here; if they will step this way, and here comes the Dairymaid, they can look at the cows: real Durham short-horns, with great milking powers and most undeniable pedigrees. Ah, we thought they would tickle your fancy. The cow is to the lady, what the horse is to the gentleman, or, on the score of usefulness, what hare-hunting is to fox-hunting-or shooting to hunting. Master may have many horses pulled backwards out of his stable without exciting half the commiseration among the fair, that the loss of one nice quiet milk-giving cushy cow affords. Cows are friendly creatures. They remember people longer than almost any other animal, dogs not excepted. Well, here are four of them, Old Lily, Strawberry Cream, Red Rose, and Toy; the house is clean and sweet, and smells of milk, and well-made hay, instead of the nasty brown-coloured snuff-smelling stuff that some people think good enough for the poor cow.

The Major is proud of his cows, and against the whitewashed wall he has pasted the description of a perfect one, in order that people may compare the originals with the portrait. Thus it runs:-

She's long in the face, she's fine in the horn,

She'll quickly get fat without cake or corn;

She's clean in her jaws, anti full in her chine,

She's heavy in flank, and wide in her loin;

She's broad in her ribs, and long in her rump,

A straight and flat back without ever a hump;

She's wide in her hips, and calm in her eyes,

She's fine in her shoulders, and thin in her thighs;

She's light in her neck, and small in her tail,

She's wide at the breast, and good at the pail.

She's tine in her bone and silky of skin.

She's a grazier's without, and a butcher's within.

Now for the stable; this way, through the saddle-room, and mind the whitening on the walls. Stoop yonr head, for the Major being low himself, has made the door on the principle of all other people being low too. There, there you are, you see, in a stable as neat and clean as a London dealer's; a Newmarket straw plait, a sanded floor with a roomy bench against the wall on which the Major kicks his legs and stutters forth the merits of his steeds. They are six in number, and before he comes we will just run the reader through the lot, with the aid of truth for an accompaniment.

This grey, or rather white one next the wall, White Surrey, as he calls him, is the old quivering tailed horse he rode on the de Glancey day, and pulled up to save, from the price-depressing inconvenience of being beat. He is eighteen years old, the Major having got him when he was sixteen, in a sort of part purchase, part swap, part barter deal. He gave young Mr. Meggison of Spoonbill Park thirteen pounds ten shillings, an old mahogany Piano-Forte, by Broadwood, six and a half octaves, a Squirrel Cage, two Sun-blinds, and a very feeble old horse called Nonpareil, that Tom Rivett the blacksmith declared it would be like robbing Meggison to put new shoes on to, for him. He is a game good shaped old horse, but having frequently in the course of a chequered career, been in that hardest of all hard places, the hands of young single horse owners, White Surrey has done the work of three or four horses. He has been fired and blistered, and blistered and fired, till his legs are as round and as callous as those of a mahogany dining-table; still it is wonderful how they support him, and as he has never given the Major a fall, he rides him as if he thought he never would. His price is sometimes fifty, sometimes forty, sometimes thirty, and there are times when he might be bought for a little less-two sovereigns, perhaps, returned out of the thirty. The next one to him-the white legged brown,-is of the antediluvian order too. He is now called Woodpecker, but he may be traced by half-a-dozen aliases through other stables-Buckhunter, Captain Tart, Fleacatcher, Sportsman, Marc Anthony, &c. He is nearly, if not quite thorough bred, and the ignoble purposes to which he has been subjected, false start making, steeple chasing, flat and hurdle racing, accounts for the number of his names. The Major got him from Captain Caret, of the Apple-pie huzzars, when that gallant regiment was ordered out to India,-taking him all away together, saddle, bridle, clothing, &c., for twenty-three pounds, a strong iron-bound chest, fit for sea purposes, as the Major described it, and a spying glass. This horse, like all the rest of them, indeed, is variously priced, depending upon the party asking, sometimes fifty, sometimes five-and-twenty would buy him.

The third is a mare, a black mare, called Star, late the property of Mr. Hazey, the horse-dealing master of the Squeezington hounds. Hazey sold her in his usual course of horse-dealing cheating to young Mr. Sprigginson, of Mary gold Lodge, for a hundred and twenty guineas (the shillings back), Hazey's discrimination enabling him to see that she was turning weaver, and Sprigginson not liking her, returned her on the warranty; when, of course, Hazey refusing to receive her, she was sent to the Eclipse Livery and Bait Stables at Hinton, where, after weaving her head off, she was sold at the hammer to the Major for twenty-nine pounds. Sprig then brought an action against Hazey for the balance, bringing half-a-dozen witnesses to prove that she wove when she came; Hazey, of course, bringing a dozen to swear that she never did nothin' 'o the sort with him, and must have learnt it on the road; and the jury being perplexed, and one of them having a cow to calve, another wanting to see his sweetheart, and the rest wanting their dinners, they just tossed up for it, "Heads!" for Sprig; "Tails!" for Hazey, and Sprig won. There she goes, you see, weaving backwards and forwards like a caged panther in a den. Still she is far from being the worst that the Major has; indeed, we are not sure that she is not about the best, only, as Solomon says, with reference to her weaving, she gets the "langer the warser."

Number four is a handsome whole coloured bright bay horse, "Napoleon the Great," as the Major calls him, in hopes that his illustrious name will sell him, for of all bad tickets he ever had, the Major thinks Nap is the worst. At starting, he is all fire, frisk, and emulation, but before he has gone five miles, he begins to droop, and in hunting knocks up entirely before he has crossed half-a-dozen fields. He is a weak, watery, washy creature, wanting no end of coddling, boiled corn, and linseed tea. One hears of two days a-week horses, but Napoleon the Great is a day in two weeks one. The reader will wonder how the Major came to get such an animal, still more how he came to keep him; above all, how he ever came to have him twice. The mystery, however, is explained on the old bartering, huckstering, half-and-half system. The Major got him first from Tom Brandysneak, a low public-house-keeping leather-plater, one of those sporting men, not sportsmen, who talk about supporting the turf, as if they did it like the noblemen of old, upon principle, instead of for what they can put into their own pockets; and the Major gave Sneak an old green dog-cart, a melon frame, sixteen volumes of the "Racing Calendar," bound in calf, a ton of seed-hay, fifty yards of Croggon's asphalt roofing felt, and three "golden sovereigns" for him. Nap was then doing duty under the title of Johnny Raw, his calling being to appear at different posts whenever the cruel conditions of a race required a certain number of horses to start in order to secure the added money; but Johnny enacted that office so often for the benefit of the "Honourable Society of Confederated Legs," that the stewards of races framed their conditions for excluding him; and Johnny's occupation being gone, he came to the Major in manner aforesaid. Being, however, a horse of prepossessing appearance, a good bay, with four clean black legs, a neat well set-on head, with an equally neat set-on tail, a flowing mane, and other &c's, he soon passed into the possession of young Mr. Tabberton, of Green Linnet Hill, whose grandmamma had just given him a hundred guineas wherewith to buy a good horse-a real good one he was to be-a hundred-guinea-one in fact. Tabberton soon took all the gay insolence out of Johnny's tail, and brought him back to the Major, sadly dilapidated-a sad satire upon his former self.

Meanwhile the Major had filled up his stall with a handsome rich-coloured brown mare, with a decidedly doubtful fore-leg; and the Major, all candour and affability, readily agreed to exchange, on condition of getting five-and-twenty pounds to boot. The mare presently went down to exercise, confirming the Major's opinion of the instability of her leg, and increasing his confidence in his own judgment. Napoleon the Great, late Johnny Raw, now reigns in her stead, and very well he looks in the straw. Indeed, that is his proper place; and as many people only keep their horses to look at, there is no reason why Napoleon the Great should remain in the Major's stables. He certainly won't if the Major can help it.

Number five is a vulgar looking little dun-duck-et-y mud-coloured horse, with long white stockings, and a large white face, called Bull-dog, that Solomon generally rides. Nobody knows how old he is, or how many masters he has had, or where he came from, or who his father was, or whether he had a grandfather, or anything whatever about him. The Major got him for a mere nothing-nine pounds-at Joe Seton's, the runaway Vet's sale, about five years ago, and being so desperately ugly and common lookin

g, no one has ever attempted to deprive the Major of him either in the way of barter or sale. Still Bully is a capital slave, always ready either to hunt, or hack, or go in harness, and will pass anything except a public-house, being familiarly and favourably known at the doors of every one in the county. Like most horses, he has his little peculiarity; and his consists of a sort of rheumatic affection of the hind leg, which causes him to catch it up, and sends him limping along on three legs, like a lame dog, but still he never comes down, and the attack soon goes off. Solomon and he look very like their work together.

The next horse to Bull-dog, and the last in the stable, is Golden-drop, a soft, mealy chestnut-of all colours the most objectionable. He is a hot, pulling, hauling, rushing, rough-actioned animal, that gives a rider two days' exercise in one.

The worst of him is, he has the impudence to decline harness; for though he doesn't "mill," as they call it, he yet runs backwards as fast as forwards, and would crash through a plate-glass window, a gate, a conservatory, or anything else that happened to be behind. As a hack he is below mediocrity, for in his walk he digs his toes into the ground about every tenth step, and either comes down on his nose, or sets off at score for fear of a licking, added to which, he shies at every heap of stones and other available object on the road, whereby he makes a ten miles' journey into one of twelve. The Major got him of Mr. Brisket, the butcher, at Hinton, being taken with the way in which his hatless lad spun him about the ill-paved streets, with the meat-basket on his arm-the full trot, it may be observed, being the animal's pace-but having got him home, the more the Major saw of him the less he liked him. He had a severe deal for him too, and made two or three journeys over to Hinton on market-days, and bought a pennyworth of whipcord of one saddler, a set of spur-leathers of another, a pot of harness-paste of a third, in order to pump them about the horse ere he ventured to touch. He also got Mr. Paul Straddler, the disengaged gentleman of the place, whose greatest pleasure is to be employed upon a deal, to ferret out all he could about him, who reported that the horse was perfectly sound, and a capital feeder, which indeed he is, for he will attack anything, from a hayband down to a hedge-stake. You see he's busy on his bedding now.

Brisket knowing his man, and that the Major killed his own mutton, and occasionally beef, in the winter, so that there was no good to be got of him in the meat way, determined to ask a stiff price, viz., £25 (Brisket having given £14, which the Major having beat down to £23 commenced on the mercantile line, which Brisket's then approaching marriage favoured, and the Major ultimately gave a four-post mahogany bedstead, with blue damask furniture, palliasse and mattress to match; a mahogany toilet-mirror, 23 inches by 28: a hot-water pudding-dish, a silver-edged cake-basket, a bad barometer, a child's birch-wood crib, a chess-board, and £2 10 s. in cash for him, the £2 1 s.. being, as the Major now declares (to himself, of course,) far more than his real worth. However, there the horse stands; and though he has been down twice with the Major, and once with the Humbler, these little fore paws (faux pas) as the Major calls them, have been on the soft, and the knees bear no evidence of the fact. Such is our friend's present stud, and such is its general character.

But stay! We are omitting the horse in this large family-pew-looking box at the end, whose drawn curtains have caused us to overlook him. He is another of the Major's bad tickets, and one of which he has just become possessed in the following way:-

Having-in furtherance of his character of a "thorrer sportsman," and to preserve the spirit of impartiality so becoming an old master of "haryers"-gone to Sir Moses Mainchance's opening day, as well as to my Lord's, Sir Moses, as if in appreciation of the compliment, had offered to give the horse on which his second whip was blundering among the blind ditches.

The Major jumped at the offer, for the horse looked well with the whip on him; and, as he accepted, Sir Moses increased the stream of his generosity by engaging the Major to dine and take him away. Sir Moses had a distinguished party to meet him, and was hospitality itself. He plied our Major with champagne, and hock, and Barsac, and Sauterne, and port, and claret, and compliments, but never alluded to the horse until about an hour after dinner, when Mr. Smoothley, the jackal of the hunt, brought him on the tapis.

"Ah!" exclaimed Sir Moses, as if in sudden recollection, "that's true! Major, you're quite welcome to 'Little-bo-peep,' (for so he had christened him, in order to account for his inquisitive manner of peering). Your quite welcome to 'Little-bo-peep,' and I hope he'll be useful to you."

"Thank'e, Sir Moses, thank'e!" bobbed the grateful Major, thinking what a good chap the baronet was.

"Not a bit!" replied Sir Moses, chucking up his chin, just as if he was in the habit of giving a horse away every other day in the week. "Not a bit! Keep him as long as you like-all the season if you please-and send him back when you are done."

Then, as if in deprecation of any more thanks, he plied the wine again, and gave the Major and his "harriers" in a speech of great gammonosity. The Major was divided between mortification at the reduction of the gift into a loan, and gratification at the compliment now paid him, but was speedily comforted by the flattering reception his health, and the stereotyped speech in which he returned thanks, met at the hands of the company. He thought he must be very popular. Then, when they were all well wined, and had gathered round the sparkling fire with their coffee or their Cura?oa in their hands, Sir Moses button-holed the Major with a loud familiar, "I'll tell ye what, Yammerton! you're a devilish good feller, and there shall be no obligation between us-you shall just give me forty puns for 'Little-bo-peep,' and that's making you a present of him for it's a hundred less than I gave."

"'Ah! that's the way to do it!" exclaimed Mr. Smoothley, as if delighted at Sir Moses having dropped upon the right course. "Ah! that's the way to do it!" repented he swinging himself gaily round on his toe, with a loud snap of his finger and thumb in the air.

And Sir Moses said it in such a kind, considerate, matter-of-course sort of way, before company too, and Smoothley clenched it so neatly, that our wine-flushed Major, acute as he is, hadn't presence of mind to say "No." So he was saddled with "Little-bo-peep," who has already lost one eye from cataract, which is fast going with the other.

But see! Here comes Solomon followed by the Bumbler in fustian, and the boy from the farm, and we shall soon have the Major and Billy, so let us step into Bo-peep's box, an I hear the Major's description of his stud.

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Scarcely have the grooms dispersed the fast-gathering gloom of a November afternoon, by lighting the mould candles in the cord-suspended lanterns slung along the ceiling, and began to hiss at the straw, when the Major entered, with our friend Billy at his heels. The Bumbler and Chaw then put on extra activity, and the stable being presently righted, heads were loosened, water supplied, and the horses excited by Solomon's well-known peregrination to the crushed corn-bin. All ears were then pricked, eyes cast back, and hind-quarters tucked under to respond gaily to the "come over" of the feeder.

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Original Size

The late watchful whinnying restlessness is succeeded by gulping, diving, energetic eating. Our friend having passed his regiment of horses in silent review, while the hissing was going on, now exchanges a few confidential words with the stud groom, as if he left everything to him, and then passes upwards to where he started from. Solomon having plenty to do elsewhere, presently retires, followed by his helpers, and the Major and Billy seat themselves on the bench. After a few puffs and blows of the cheeks and premonitory jerks of the legs, the Major nods an approving "nice 'oss, that," to Napoleon the Great, standing opposite, who is the first to look up from his food, being with it as with his work, always in a desperate hurry to begin, and in an equally great one to leave off.

"Nice 'oss, that," repeats the Major, nodding again.

"Yarse, he looks like a nice 'orse;" replied Billy, which is really as much as any man can say under the circumstances.

"That 'oss should have won the D-d-d-derby in Nobbler's year," observed the Major; "only they d-d-drugged him the night before starting, and he didn't get half round the c-c-co-course," which was true enough, only it wasn't owing to any drugging, for he wasn't worth the expense.

"That 'oss should be in Le-le-le-leieestershire," observed the Major. "He has all the commandin' s-s-s-statur requisite to make large fences look s-s-s-small, and the s-s-s-smoothest, oiliest action i-ma-ma-maginable."

"Yarse;" replied Billy, wondering what pleasure there was in looking at a lot of blankets and hoods upon horses-which was about all he could see.

"He should be at Me-me-melton," observed the Major; still harping on Napoleon-"wasted upon haryers," added he.

"Yarse," replied Billy, not caring where he was.

The Major then took a nod at the Weaver, who, as if in aid of her master's design, now stood bolt upright, listening, as it were, instead of reeling from side to side.

"That's a sw-sw-swe-e-t mare," observed the Major, wishing he was rid of her. "I don't know whether I would rather have her or the horse (Nap);" which was true enough, though he knew which he would like to sell Billy.

"You'll remember the g-g-gray, the whi-white," continued he; looking on at the old stager against the wall. "That's the 'oss I rode with the Peer, on the Castle day, and an undeniable g-g-good one he is;" but knowing that he was not a young man's horse-moreover, not wanting to sell him, he returned to Napoleon, whose praises he again sounded considerably. Billy, however, having heard enough about him, and wanting to get into the house to the ladies, drew his attention to Bull-dog, now almost enveloped in blankets and straw; but the Major, not feeling inclined to waste any words on him either, replied, "That he was only a servant's 'oss." He, however, spoke handsomely of Golden-drop, declaring he was the fastest trotter in England, perhaps in Europe, perhaps in the world, and would be invaluable to a D-d-doctor, or any man who wanted to get over the ground. And then, thinking he had said about enough for a beginning, it all at once occurred to him that Billy's feet must be wet, and though our friend asserted most confidently that they were not, as all townsmen do assert who walk about the country in thin soles, the Major persisted in urging him to go in and change, which Billy at length reluctantly assented to do.

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