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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 16772

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

THE Bumbler, like our Mathews-at-home of a huntsman, is now metamorphosed, and in lieu of a little footman, we have a capped and booted whip. Not that he is a whip, for Solomon carries the couples as well as the horn, and also a spare stirrup-leather slung across his shoulder; but our Major has an eye as well to show as to business, and thinks he may as well do the magnificent, and have a horse ready to change with Billy as soon as Napoleon the Great seems to have had enough. To that end the Bumbler now advances with the Weaver which he tenders to Billy, with a deferential touch of his cap.

"Ah, that's your horse!" exclaimed the Major, making for White Surrey, to avoid the frolics and favours of his followers; adding, as he climbed on, "you'll find her a ca-ca-capital hack and a first-rate hunter. Here, elope, hounds, elope!" added he, turning his horse's head away to get the course clear for our friend to mount unmolested.

Billy then effects the ascent of the black mare, most devoutly wishing himself safe off again. The stirrups being adjusted to his length, he gives a home thrust with his feet in the irons, and gathering the thin reins, feels his horse gently with his left leg, just as Solomon mounts Napoleon the Great and advances to relieve the Major of his charge. The cavalcade then proceed; Solomon, with the now clustering hounds, leading; the Major and Billy riding side by side, and the Bumbler on Bulldog bringing up the rear. Caps and curl-papers then disappear to attend to the avocations of the house, the wearers all agreeing that Mr. Pringle is a very pretty young gentleman, and quite worthy of the pick of the young ladies.

Crossing Cowslip garth at an angle they get upon Greenbat pasture, where the first fruits of idleness are shown by Twister and Towler breaking away at the cows.

"Yow, yow!" they go in the full enjoyment of the chase. It's a grand chance for the Bumbler, who, adjusting his whip-thong, sticks spurs into Bulldog and sets off as hard as ever the old horse can lay legs to the ground.

"Get round them, man! get round them," shouts the Major, watching Bully's leg-tied endeavours, the old horse being a better hand at walking than galloping.

At length they are stopped and chided and for shamed, and two more fields land our party in Hollington lane, which soon brings them into the Lingytine and Ewehurst-road, whose liberal width and ample siding bespeaks the neighbourhood of a roomier region. Solomon at a look from the Major now takes the grass siding with his hounds, while the gallant master just draws his young friend alongside of them on the road, casting an unconcerned eye upon the scene, in the hope that his guest will say something handsome at last. But no, Billy doesn't. He is fully occupied with his boots and breeches, whose polish and virgin purity he still deplores. There's a desperate daub down one side. The Major tries to engage his attention by coaxing and talking to the hounds. "Cleaver, good dog! Cleaver! Chaunter, good dog! Chaunter!" throwing them bits of biscuit, but all his efforts are vain. Billy plods on at the old post-boy pace, apparently thinking of nothing but himself.

Meanwhile Solomon ambles cockily along on Napoleon, with a backward and forward move of his leg to the horse's action, who ducks and shakes his head and plays good-naturedly with the hounds, as if quite delighted at the idea of what they are going to do. He shows to great advantage. He has not been out for a week, and the coddling and linseeding have given a healthy bloom to his bay coat, and he has taken a cordial ball with a little catechu, and ten grains of opium, to aid his exertions. Solomon, too, shows him off well. Though he hasn't our friend Dicky Boggledike's airified manner, like him he is little and light, sits neatly in his saddle, while his long coat-lap partly conceals the want of ribbing home of the handsome but washy horse. His boots and breeehes, drab cords and brown tops, are good, so are his spurs, also his saddle and bridle.

There is a difference of twenty per cent, between the looks of a horse in a good, well-made London saddle, and in one of those great, spongy, pulby, puddingy things we see in the country. Again, what a contrast there is between a horse looking through a nice plain-fronted, plain-buckled, thin-reined, town-made bridle, and in one of those gaudy-fronted things, all over buckles, with reins thick enough for traces to the Lord Mayor's coach.

All this adornment, however, is wasted upon fine Billy, who hasn't got beyond the mane and tail beauties of a horse. Action, strength, stamina, symmetry, are as yet sealed subjects to him. The Major was the man who could enlighten him, if Billy would only let him do it, on the two words for himself and one for Billy principle. Do it he would, too, for he saw it was of no use waiting for Billy to begin.

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"Nice 'oss that," now observed the Major casually, nodding towards Nap.

"Yarse," replied Billy, looking him over.

"That's the o-o-oss I showed you in the stable."

"Is it?" observed Billy, who didn't recognize him.

"Ought to be at M-m-melton, that oss," observed the Major.

"Why isn't he?" asked Billy, in the innocence of his heart.

"Don't know," replied the Major carelessly, with a toss of his head; "don't know. The fact is, I'm idle-no one to send with him-too old to go myself-haryers keep me at home-year too short to do all one has to do-see what a length he is-ord bless us he'd go over Ashby p-p-pastures like a comet."

Billy had now got his eyes well fixed upon the horse, which the Major seeing held his peace, for he was a capital seller, and had the great gift of knowing when he had said enough. He was not the man to try and bore a person into buying, or spoil his market by telling a youngster that the horse would go in harness, or by not asking enough. So with Solomon still to and froing with his little legs, the horse still lively and gay, the hounds still frisking and playing, the party proceeded through the fertility-diminishing country, until the small fields with live fences gradually gave way to larger, drabber enclosures with stone walls, and Broadstruther hill with its heath-burnt summit and quarry broken side at length announces their approach to the moors. The moors! Who does not feel his heart expand and his spirit glow as he comes upon the vast ocean-like space of moorland country? Leaving the strife, the cares, the contentions of a narrow, elbow-jostling world for the grand enjoyment of pure unrestricted freedom! The green streak of fertile soil, how sweet it looks, lit up by the fitful gleam of a cloud-obscured sun, the distant sky-touching cairn, how tempting to reach through the many intricacies of mountain ground-so easy to look at, so difficult to travel. The ink rises gaily in our pen at the thought, and pressing on, we cross the rough, picturesque, stone bridge over the translucent stream, so unlike the polished, chiseled structures of town art, where nothing is thought good that is not expensive; and now, shaking off the last enclosure, we reach the sandy road below the watcher's hill-ensconced hut, and so wind round into the panorama of the hills within.

"Ah! there we are!" exclaimed the Major, now pointing out the myrtle-green gentlemen with their white cords, moving their steeds to and fro upon the bright sward below the grey rocks of Cushetlaw hill.

"There we are," repeated he, eyeing them, trying to make out who they were, so as to season his greetings accordingly.

There was farmer Rintoul on the white, and Godfrey Faulder, the cattle jobber, on the grey; and Caleb Bennison, the horse-breaker, in his twilled-fustian frock, ready to ride over a hound as usual; and old Duffield, the horse-leech, in his low-crowned hat, black tops, and one spur; and Dick Trail, the auctioneer, on his long-tailed nag; and Bonnet, the billiard-table keeper of Hinton, in his odious white hat, grey tweed, and collar-marked screw; but who the cluster of men are on the left the Major can't for the life of him make out. He had hoped that Crickleton might have graced the meet with his presence, but there is no symptom of the yellow-coated groom, and Paul Straddler would most likely be too offended at not being invited to dine and have gone to Sir Moses's hounds

at the Cow and Calf on the Fixton and Primrose-bank road. Still there were a dozen or fourteen sportsmen, with two or three more coming over the hill, and distance hiding the deficiencies as well of steeds as of costume, the whole has a very lively and inspiriting effect.

At the joyous, well-known "here they come!" of the lookers out, a move is perceptible among the field, who forthwith set off to meet the hounds, and as the advancing parties near, the Major has time to identify and appropriate their faces and their persons. First comes Captain Nabley, the chief constable of Featherbeds, who greets our master with the friendliness of a brother soldier, "one of us" in arms, and is forthwith introduced to our Billy. Next is fat farmer Nettlefold, who considers himself entitled to a shake of the hand in return for the Major's frequent comings over his farm at Carol-hill green, which compliment being duly paid the great master then raises his hat in return for the salutes of Faulder, Rennison, and Trail, and again stops to shake hands with an aged well-whiskered dandy in mufty, one Mr. Wotherspoon, now farming or starving a little property he purchased with his butlerage savings under the great Duke of Thunderdownshire. Wotherspoon apes the manners of high life with the brandified face of low, talks parliament, and takes snuff from a gold box with a George-the-Fourthian air. He now offers the Major a pinch, who accepts it with graceful concession.

The seedy-looking gentleman in black, on the too palpable three and sixpence a sider, is Mr. Catoheside, the County Court bailiff, with his pocket full of summonses, who thinks to throw a round with the Major into the day's hire of his broken-knee'd chestnut, and the greasy-haired, shining-faced youth with him, on the longtailed white pony, is Ramshaw, the butcher's boy, on the same sort of speculation. Then we have Mr. Meggison's coachman availing himself of his master's absence to give the family horse a turn with the hounds instead of going to coals, as he ought; and Mr. Dotherington's young man halting on his way to the doctor's with a note. He will tell his mistress the doctor was out and he had to wait ever so long till he came home. The four truants seem to herd together on the birds-of-a-feather principle. And now the reinforced party reach the meet below the grey ivy-tangled rocks, and Solomon pulls up at the accustomed spot to give his hounds a roll, and let the Major receive the encomiums of the encircling field. Then there is a repetition of the kennel scene: "Lovely! Lovely! Lovely!-beautiful bitch that-Chaunter. Chaunter! Chaunter!-there's a handsome hound-Bustler, good dog!" Only each man has his particular favourite or hound that he has either bred or walked, or knows the name of, and so most of the pack come in for more or less praise. It is agreed on all hands that they never looked better, or the establishment more complete. "Couldn't be better if it had cost five thousand a-year!"

Most grateful were their commendations to the Major after the dry, monotonous "yarses" of Billy, who sits looking unconcernedly on, a regular sleeping partner in the old established firm of "Laudation and Co." The Major inwardly attributes his indifference to conceited fox-hunting pride. "Looks down upon haryers."

The field, however, gradually got the steam of praise up to a very high pitch. Indeed, had not Mr. Wotherspoon, who was only an air-and-exercise gentleman, observed, after a pompous pinch of snuff, that he saw by the papers that the House of Lords, of which he considered himself a sort of supernumerary member, were going to do something or not to do something, caused a check in the cry, there is no saying but they might altogether have forgotten what they had come out about. As it was, the mention of Mr. Wotherspoon's favourite branch of the legislature, from which they had all suffered more or less severely, operated like the hose of a fire-engine upon a crowd, sending one man one way, another another, until Wotherspoon had only Solomon and the hounds to finish off before. "Indeed, sir," was all the encouragement he got from Solomon. But let us get away from the insufferable Brummagem brandy-faced old bore by supposing Solomon transferred from Napoleon the Great to Bulldog, Billy mounted on the washy horse instead of the weaving mare, the Major's girths drawn, clay pipes deposited in the breast pockets of the owners, and thongs unloosened to commence the all-important operation of thistle-whipping.

At a nod from the Major, Solomon gives a wave of his hand to the hounds, and putting his horse on, the tide of sportsmen sweep after, and Cushetlaw rocks are again left in their pristine composure.

Despite Billy's indifference, the Major is still anxious to show to advantage, not knowing who Billy may relate his day's sport to, and has therefore arranged with Solomon not to cast off until they get upon the more favourable ground of Sunnylaws moor. This gives Billy time to settle in his new saddle, and scrape acquaintance with Napoleon, whom he finds a very complacent, easy-going horse. He has a light, playful mouth, and Billy doesn't feel afraid of him. Indeed, if it wasn't for the idea of the jumps, he would rather enjoy it. His mind, however, might have been easy on that score, for they are going into the hills instead of away from them, and the Major has scuttled over the ground so often that he knows every bog, and every crossing, and every vantage-taking line; where to view the hare, and where to catch up his hounds, to a nicety.

At length they reached a pretty, amphitheatreish piece of country, encircled by grassy hills, folding gracefully into each other, with the bolder outline of the Arkenhill moors for the background. A silvery stream meanders carelessly about the lowland, occasionally lost to view by sand wreaths and gravel beds thrown up by impetuous torrents rushing down from the higher grounds.

The field is here reinforced by Tom Springer, the generally out-of-place watcher, and his friend Joe Pitfall, the beer-shop keeper of Wetten hill, with their tenpenny wide-awakes, well-worn, baggy-pocketed shooting-coats, and strong oak staffs, suitable either for leaping or poking poles.

The Major returns their salute with a lowering brow, for he strongly suspects they are there on their own account, and not for the sake of enjoying a day with his unrivalled hounds. However, as neither of them have leave over the ground, they can neither of them find fault, and must just put up with each other.

So the Major, addressing Springer, says "I'll give you a shillin' if you'll find me a hare," as he turns to the Bumbler and bids him uncouple Billy's old friends Ruffler and Bustler. This done, the hounds quickly spread to try and hit off the morning scent, while the myrtle-greeners and others distribute themselves, cracking, Hopping, and hissing, here, there, and everywhere. Springer and Pitfall go poke, poke, tap, tap, peep, peep, at every likely bush and tuft, but both the Major and they are too often over the ground to allow of hares being very plentiful. When they do find them they are generally well in wind from work Meanwhile, Mr. Wotherspoon, finding that Billy Pringle is a friend of Lord Ladythorne's, makes up to him, and speaks of his lordship in the kind, encouraging way, so becoming a great man speaking of a lesser one. "Oh, he knew his lordship well, excellent man he was, knew Mrs. Moffatt, too-'andsome woman she was. Not so 'andsome, p'raps, as Mrs. Spangles, the actress, but still a v-a-a-ry 'andsome woman. Ah, he knew Mrs. Spangles, poor thing, long before she came to Tantivy-when she was on the stage, in fact." And here the old buck, putting his massive, gold-mounted riding-whip under his arm, heaved a deep sigh, as though the mention of her name recalled painful recollections, and producing his gold snuff-box, after offering it to Billy, he consoled himself with a long-drawn respiration from its contents. He then flourished his scarlet, attar-of-rose-scented bandana, and seemed lost in contemplation of the stripes down his trowsers and his little lacquered-toe'd boots. Billy rode silently on with him, making no doubt he was a very great man-just the sort of man his Mamma would wish him to get acquainted with.

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