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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 14694

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

WHAT a commotion there was in the house the next morning! As great a disturbance as if the Major had been going to hunt an African Lion, a royal Bengal Tiger, or a Bison itself. Ring-ring-ring-ring went one bell, tinkle-tinkle-tinkle went another, ring-ring-ring went the first again, followed by exclamations of "There's master's bell again!" with such a running down stairs, and such a getting up again. Master wanted this, master wanted that, master had carried away the buttons at his knees, master wanted his other pair of White what-do-they-call-ems-not cords, but moleskins-that treacherous material being much in vogue among masters of harriers. Then master's boots wouldn't do, he wanted his last pair, not the newly-footed ones, and they were on the trees, and the Bumbler was busy in the stable, and Betty Bone could not skin the trees, and altogether there was a terrible hubbub in the house. His overnight exertions, though coupled with the castor oil catastrophe, seemed to have abated none of his ardour in pursuit of the hare.

Meanwhile our little dandy, Billy, lay tumbling and tossing in bed, listening to the dread preparations, wishing he could devise an excuse for declining to join him. The recollection of his bumps, and his jumps, and his falls, arose vividly before him, and he would fain have said "no" to any more. He felt certain that the Major was going to give him a startler, more dreadful perhaps than those he had had with his lordship. Would that he was well out of it! What pleasure could there be in galloping after an animal they could shoot? In the midst of these reflections Mons. Rougier entered the apartment and threw further light on the matter by opening the shutters.

"You sall get up, sare, and pursue the vild beast of de voods-de Major is a-goin' to hont."

"Y-a-r-se," replied Billy, turning over.

"I sal get out your habit verd, your green coat, dat is to say."

"No! no!" roared Billy; "the red! the red!"

"De red!" exclaimed Monsieur in astonishment, "de red Not for de soup dogs! you only hont bold reynard in de red."

"Oh, yes, you do," retorted Billy, "didn't the Major come to the carstle in red?"

"Because he came to hont de fox," replied Monsieur; "if he had com' for to hont poor puss he would 'ave 'ad on his green or his grey, or his some other colour."

Billy now saw the difference, and his mortification increased. "Well, I'll breakfast in red at all events," said he, determined to have that pleasure.

"Vell, sare, you can pleasure yourself in dat matter; but it sall be moch ridicule if you pursue de puss in it."

"But why not?" asked Billy, "hunting's hunting, all the world over."

"I cannot tell you vy, sir; but it is not etiquette, and I as a professor of garniture, toggery vot you call, sid lose caste with my comrades if I lived with a me lor vot honted poor puss in de pink."

"Humph!" grunted Billy, bouncing out of bed, thinking what a bore it was paying a man for being his master. He then commenced the operations of the occasion, and with the aid of Monsieur was presently attired in the dread costume. He then clonk, clonk, clonked down stairs with his Jersey-patterned spurs, toes well out to clear the steps, most heartily wishing he was clonking up again on his return from the hunt.

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Original Size

Monsieur was right. The Major is in his myrtle-green coat-a coat, not built after the fashion of the scanty swallow-tailed red in which he appears at page 65 of this agreeable work, but with the more liberal allowance of cloth peculiar to the period in which we live. A loosely hanging garment, and not a strait-waistcoat, in fact, a fashion very much in favour of bunglers, seeing that anybody can make a sack, while it takes a tailor to make a coat. The Major's cost him about two pounds five, the cloth having been purchased at a clothier's and made up at home, by a three shilling a day man and his meat. We laugh at the ladies for liking to be cheated by their milliners; but young gentlemen are quite as accommodating to their tailors. Let any man of forty look at his tailor's bill when he was twenty, and see what a liberality of innocence it displays. And that not only in matters of taste and fashion, which are the legitimate loopholes of extortion, but in the sober articles of ordinary requirement. We saw a once-celebrated west-end tailor's bill the other day, in which a plain black coat was made to figure in the following magniloquent item:-

"A superfine black cloth coat, lappels sewed on" (we wonder if they are usually pinned or glued) "lappels sewed on, cloth collar, cotton sleeve linings, velvet handfacings," (most likely cotton too,) "embossed edges and fine wove buttons"-how much does the reader think? four guineas? four pound ten? five guineas? No, five pound eighteen and sixpence! An article that our own excellent tailor supplies for three pounds fifteen! In a tailor's case that was recently tried, a party swore that fourteen guineas was a fair price for a Taglioni, when every body knows that they are to be had for less than four. But boys will be boys to the end of the chapter, so let us return to our sporting Major. He is not so happy in his nether garments as he is in his upper ones; indeed he has on the same boots and moleskins that Leech drew him in at Tantivy Castle, for these lower habiliments are not so easy of accomplishment in the country as coats, and though most people have tried them there, few wear them out, they are always so ugly and unbecoming. As, however, our Major doesn't often compare his with town-made ones, he struts about in the comfortable belief that they are all right-very smart.

He is now in a terrible stew, and has been backwards and forwards between the house and the stable, and in and out of the kennel, and has called Solomon repeatedly from his work to give him further instructions and further instructions still, until the Major has about confused himself and every body about him. As soon as ever he heard by his tramp overhead that Billy had got into his boots, he went to the bottom of the stairs and holloaed along the passage towards the kitchen. "Betty! Betty! Betty! send in breakfast as soon as ever Mr. Pringle comes down!"' "Ah, dere is de Majur." observed Monsieur, pausing from Billy's hair-arranging to listen-"him kick up dc deval's own dost on a huntin' mornin'."

"What's happened him?" asked Billy.

"Don't know-but von vould think he was going to storm a city-take Sebastopol himself," replied Monsieur, shrugging his broad shoulders. He then resumed his valeting operations, and crowned the whole by putting Billy into his green cut-away, without giving him even a peep of the pink.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Yammerton has been holding a court of inquiry in the kitchen and larder, as to the extent of the overnight mischief, smelling at this dish and that, criticising the spoons, and subjecting each castor-oily offender to severe ablution in boiling water. Of course no one could tell in whose hands the bottle of "cold drawn" had come "in two," and Monsieur was too good a judge to know anything about it; so as the mischief couldn't be repaired, it was no use bewailing it farther than to make a knot in her mind to be more careful of such dangerous commodities in future.

Betty Bone had everything-tea

, coffee, bread, cakes, eggs, ham (fried so as to hide the spurious flavour), honey, jam, &c., ready for Miss Benson, who had been impressed into the carrying service, vice the Bumbler turned whip, to take in as soon as Mr. Pringle descended, a fact that was announced to the household by the Major's uproarious greeting of him in the passage. He was overjoyed to see him! He hoped he was none the worse for his over-night festivities; and without waiting for an answer to that, he was delighted to say that it was a fine hunting morning, and as far as human judgment could form an opinion, a good scenting one; but after five-and-thirty years' experience as a master of "haryers," he could conscientiously say that there was nothing so doubtful or ticklish as scent, and he made no doubt Mr. Pringle's experience would confirm his own, that many days when they might expect it to be first-rate, it was bad, and many days when they might expect it to be bad, it was first-rate; to all which accumulated infliction Billy replied with his usual imperturbable "Yarse," and passed on to the more agreeable occupation of greeting the young ladies in the dining-room. Very glad they all were to see him as he shook hands with all three.

The Major, however, was not to be put off that way; and as he could not get Billy to talk about hunting, he drew his attention to breakfast, observing that they had a goodish trot before them, and that punctuality was the politeness of princes. Saying which, he sat down, laying his great gold watch open on a plate beside him, so that its noisy ticking might remind Billy of what they had to do. The Major couldn't make it out how it was that the souls of the young men of the present day are so difficult to inflame about hunting. Here was he, turned of----, and as eager in the pursuit as ever. "Must be that they smoke all their energies out," thought he; and then applied himself vigorously to his tea and toast, looking up every now and then with irate looks at his wife and daughters, whose volubility greatly retarded Billy's breakfast proceedings. He, nevertheless, made sundry efforts to edge in a hunting conversation himself, observing that Mr. Pringle mustn't expect such an establishment as the Peer's, or perhaps many that he was accustomed to-that they would have rather a shortish pack out, which would enable them to take the field again at an early day, and so on; all of which Billy received with the most provoking indifference, making the Major wish he mightn't be a regular crasher, who cared for nothing but riding. At length, tea, toast, eggs, ham, jam, all had been successively taxed, the Major closed and pocketed his noisy watch, and the doomed youth rose to perform the dread penance with the pack. "Good byes," "good mornings," "hope you'll have good sport," followed his bowing spur-clanking exit from the room.

A loud crack of the Major's hammer-headed whip now announced their arrival in the stable-yard, which was at once a signal for the hounds to raise a merry cry, and for the stable-men to loosen their horses' heads from the pillar-reins. It also brought a bevy of caps and curl-papers to the back windows of the house to see the young Earl, for so Rougier had assured them his master was-(heir to the Earldom of Ladythorne)-mount. At a second crack of the whip the stable-door flew open, and as a shirt-sleeved lad receded, the grey-headed, green-coated sage Solomon advanced, leading forth the sleek, well-tended, well-coddled, Napoleon the Great.

Amid the various offices filled by this Mathews-at-home of a servant, there was none perhaps in which he looked better or more natural than in that of a huntsman. Short, spare, neat, with a bright black eye, contrasting with the sobered hue of his thin grey hair, no one would suppose that the calfless little yellow and brown-liveried coachman of the previous night was the trim, neatly-booted, neatly-tied huntsman now raising his cap to the Richest Commoner in England, and his great master Major Yammerton-Major of the Featherbedfordshire Militia, master of "haryers," and expectant magistrate.

"Well, Solomon," said the Major, acknowledging his salute, as though it was their first meeting of the morning, "well, Solomon, what do you think of the day?"

"Well, sir, I think the day's well enough," replied Solomon, who was no waster of words.

"I think so too," said the Major, drawing on his clean doeskin gloves. The pent-up hounds then raised another cry.

"That's pretty!" exclaimed the Major listening

"That's beautiful!" added he, like an enthusiastic admirer of music at the opera.

Imperturbable Billy spoke not.

"Pr'aps you'd like to see them unkenneled?" said the Major, thinking to begin with the first act of the drama.

"Yarse," replied Billy, feeling safe as long as he was on foot.

The Major then led the way through a hen-house-looking door into a little green court-yard, separated by peeled larch palings from a flagged one beyond, in which the expectant pack were now jumping and frisking and capering in every species of wild delight.

"Ah, you beauties!" exclaimed the Major, again cracking his whip. He then paused, thinking there would surely be a little praise. But no; Billy just looked at them as he would at a pen full of stock at a cattle show.

"Be-be-beauties, ar'n't they?" stuttered the Major.

"Yarse," replied Billy; thinking they were prettier than the great lounging, slouching foxhounds.

"Ca-ca-capital hounds," observed the Major.

No response from Billy.

"Undeniable b-b-blood," continued our friend.

No response again.

"F-f-foxhounds in mi-mi-miniature," observed the Major.

"Yarse," replied Billy, who understood that.

"Lovely! Lovely! Lovely! there's a beautiful bitch," continued the Major, pointing to a richly pied one that began frolicking to his call.

"Bracelet! Bracelet! Bracelet!" holloaed he to another; "pretty bitch that-pure Sir Dashwood King's blood, just the right size for a haryer-shouldn't be too large. I hold with So-so-somerville," continued the Major, waxing warm, either with his subject, or at Billy's indifference, "that one should

'A di-di-different hound for every chase

Select with judgment; nor the timorous hare,

O'ermatch'd, destroy; but leave that vile offence

To the mean, murderous, coursing crew, intent

On blood and spoil.'"

"Yarse," replied Billy, turning on his heel as though he had had enough of the show.

At this juncture, the Major drew the bolt, open flew the door, and out poured the pack; Ruffler and Bustler dashing at Billy, and streaking his nice cream-coloured leathers down with their dirty paws, while Thunder and Victim nearly carried him off his legs with the couples. Billy was in a great fright, never having been in such a predicament before.

The Major came to the rescue, and with the aid of his whip and his voice, and his "for shame, Ruffler! for shame, Bustler!" with cuts at the coupled ones, succeeded in restoring order.

"Let's mount," said he, thinking to get Billy out of further danger; so saying he wheeled about and led the way through the outer yard with the glad pack gamboling and frisking around him to the stables.

The hounds raise a fresh cry of joy as they see Solomon with his horse ready to receive them.

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