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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 19932

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

THE reader will perhaps wonder what our fair friend Mrs. Pringle is about, and how there happens to be no tidings from Curtain Crescent. Tidings there were, only the Tantivy Castle servants were so oppressed with work that they could never find time to redirect her effusions. At length Mr. Beverage, the butler, seeing the accumulation of letters in Mr. Packwood, the house-steward's room, suggested that they might perhaps be wanted, whereupon Mr. Packwood huddled them into a fresh envelope, and sent them to the post along with the general consignment from the Castle. Very pressing and urgent the letters were, increasing in anxiety with each one, as no answer had been received to its predecessor. Were it not that Mrs. Pringle knew the Earl would have written, she would have feared her Billy had sustained some hunting calamity. The first letter merely related how Mrs. Pringle had gone to uncle Jerry's according to appointment to have a field-day among the papers, and how Jerry had gone to attend an anti-Sunday-band meeting, leaving seed-cake, and sponge-cake, and wine, with a very affectionate three-cornered note, saying how deeply he deplored the necessity, but how he hoped to remedy the delay by another and an early appointment. This letter enclosed a very handsome large coat-of-arms seal, made entirely out of Mrs. Pringle's own head-containing what the heralds call assumptive arms-divided into as many compartments as a backgammon board, which she advised Billy to use judiciously, hinting that Major H. (meaning our friend Major Y.) would be a fitter person to try it upon than Lord L. The next letter, among many other things of minor importance, reminded Billy that he had not told his Mamma what Mrs. Moffatt had on, or whether they had any new dishes for dinner, and urging him to write her full particulars, but to be careful not to leave either his or her letters lying about, and hoping that he emptied his pockets every night instead of leaving that for Rougier to do, and giving him much other good and wholesome advice. The third letter was merely to remind him that she had not heard from him in answer to either of her other two, and begging him just to drop her a single line by return of post, saying he was well, and so on. The next was larger, enclosing him a double-crest seal, containing a lion on a cap of dignity, and an eagle, for sealing notes in aid of the great seal, and saying that she had had a letter from uncle Jerry, upbraiding her for not keeping her appointment with him, whereas she had never made any, he having promised to make one with her, and again urging Billy to write to her, if only a single line, and when he had time to send her a full account of what Mrs. Moffatt had on every day, and whether they had any new dishes for dinner, and all the news, sporting and otherwise, urging him as before to take care of Dowb (meaning himself), and hoping he was improving in his hunting, able to sit at the jumps, and enjoying himself generally..

The fifth, which caused the rest to come, was a mere repetition of her anxieties and requests for a line, and immediately produced the following letter:-


"Yammerton Grange.

"My dearest Mamma,

"Your letters have all reached me at once, for though both Rougier and I especially charged the butler and another fine fellow, and gave them heads to put on, to send all that came immediately, they seem to have waited for an accumulation so as to make one sending do. It is very idle of them.

"The seals are beautiful, and I am very much obliged to you for them. I will seal this letter with the large one by way of a beginning. It seems to be uncommonly well quartered-quite noble.

"I will now tell you all my movements.

"I have been here at Major Yammerton's,-not Hammerton's as you called him-for some days enjoying myself amazingly, for the Major has a nice pack of harriers that go along leisurely, instead of tearing away at the unconscionable pace the Earl's do. Still, a canter in the Park at high tide in my opinion is a much better thing with plenty of ladies looking on. Talking of cantering reminds me I've bought a horse of the Major's,-bought him all except paying for him, so you had better send me the money, one hundred guineas; for though the Major says I may pay for him when I like, and seems quite easy about it, they say horses are always ready money, so I suppose I must conform to the rule. It is a beautiful bay with four black legs, and a splendid mane and tail-very blood-like and racing; indeed the Major says if I was to put him into some of the spring handicaps I should be sure to win a hatful of money with him, or perhaps a gold cup or two. The Major is a great sportsman and has kept hounds for a great number of years, and altogether he is very agreeable, and I feel more at home here than I did at the Castle, where, though everything was very fine, still there was no fun and only Mrs. Moffatt to talk to, at least in the lady way, for though she always professed to be expecting lady callers, none ever came that I saw or heard of.

"I really forget all about the dinners there, except that they were very good and lasted a long time. We had a new dish here the other night, which if you want a novelty, you can introduce, namely, to flavour the plates with castor oil; you will find it a very serviceable one for saving your meat, as nobody can eat it. Mrs. Moffatt was splendidly dressed every day, sometimes in blue, sometimes in pink, sometimes in green, sometimes in silk, sometimes in satin, sometimes in velvet with a profusion of very lovely lace and magnificent jewelry. Rougier says, 'she makes de hay vile the son does shine.'

"I don't know how long I shall stay here, certainly over Friday, and most likely until Monday, after which I suppose I shall go back to the Castle. The Major says I must have another day with his hounds, and I don't care if I do, provided he keeps in the hills and away from the jumps, as I can manage the galloping well enough. It's the jerks that send me out of my saddle. A hare is quite a different animal to pursue to a fox, and seems to have some sort of consideration for its followers. She stops short every now and then and jumps up in view, instead of tearing away like an express train on a railway.

"The girls here are very pretty-Miss Yammerton extremely so,-fair, with beautiful blue eyes, and such a figure; but Rougier says they are desperately bad-tempered, except the youngest one, who is dark and like her Mamma; but I shouldn't say Monsieur is a particular sweet-tempered gentleman himself. He is always grumbling and grouting about what he calls his 'grob' and declares the Major keeps his house on sturdied mutton and stale beer. But he complained at the Castle that there was nothing but port and sherry, and composite candles to go to bed with, which he declared was an insult to his station, which entitles him to wax.

"You can't, think how funny and small this place looked after the Castle. It seemed just as if I had got into a series of closets instead of rooms. However. I soon got used to it, and like it amazingly. But here comes Monsieur with my dressing things, so I must out with the great seat and bid you good bye for the present, for the Major is a six o'clock man, and doesn't like to be kept waiting for his dinner, so now, my dearest Mamma, believe me. to remain ever your most truly affectionate son,

"Wm. Pringle,"

To which we need scarcely say the delighted Mrs. Pringle replied by return of post, writing in the following loving and judicious strain.

"25, Curtain Crescent,

"Belgrave Square.

"My own Beloved Darling,

"I was so overjoyed you can't imagine, to receive your most welcome letter, for I really began to be uneasy about you, not that I feared any accident out hunting, but I was afraid you might have caught cold or be otherwise unwell-mind, if ever you feel in the slightest degree indisposed send for the doctor immediately. There is nothing like taking things in time. It was very idle of the servants at Tantivy Castle to neglect your instructions so, but for the future you had better always write a line to the post-master of the place where you are staying, giving him your next address to forward your letters to; for it is the work for which they are paid, and there is no shuffling it off on to anybody elses shoulders. The greatest people are oftentimes the worst served, not because the servants have any particular objection to them personally-but because they are so desperately afraid of being what they call put upon by each other, that they spend double the time in fighting off doing a thing that it would take to do it. This is one of the drawbacks upon rank. Noblemen must keep a great staff of people, whom in a general way they cannot employ, and who do nothing but squabble and fight with each other who is to do the little there is, the greatest man among servants being he who does the least. However, as you have got the letters at last we will say no more about it.

"I hope your horse is handsome, and neighs and paws the ground prettily; you should be careful, however, in buying, for few people are magnanimous enough to resist cheating a young man in horses;-still, I am glad you have bought one if he suits you, as it is much better and pleasanter to ride your own horse than be indebted to other people for mounts. Nevertheless, I would strongly advise you to stick to either the fox or the stag, with either of which you can sport pink and look smart. Harriers are only for bottle-nosed old gentlemen with gouty shoes. I can't help thinking, that a day with a milder, more reasonable fox than the ones you had with Lord Ladythorne, would convince you of the superiority of fox-hounds over harriers. I was asking Mr. Ralph Rasper, who called here the other day, how little Tom Stott of the Albany managed with the Queen's,

and he said Tom always shoes his horses with country nails, and consequently throws a shoe before he has gone three fields, which enables him to pull up and lament his ill luck. He then gets it put on, and has a glorious ride home in red-landing at the Piccadilly end of the Albany about dusk. He then goes down to the Acacia or some other Club, and having ordered his dinner, retires to one of the dressing-rooms to change-having had, to his mind, a delightful day.

"Beware of the girls!-There's nothing so dangerous as a young man staying in a country house with pretty girls. He is sure to fall in love with one or other of them imperceptibly, or one or other of them is sure to fall in love with him; and then when at length he leaves, there is sure to be a little scene arranged, Miss with her red eye-lids and lace fringed kerchief, Mamma with her smirks and smiles, and hopes that he'll soon return, and so on. There are more matches made up in country houses than in all the west-end London ones put together,-indeed, London is always allowed to be only the cover for finding the game in, and the country the place for running it down. Just as you find your fox in a wood and run him down in the open. Be careful therefore what you are about.

"It is much easier to get entangled with a girl than to get free again, for though they will always offer to set a young man free, they know better than do it, unless, indeed, they have secured something better,-above all, never consult a male friend in these matters.

"The stupidest woman that ever was born, is belter than the cleverest man in love-affairs. In fact, no man is a match for a woman until he's married,-not all even then. The worst of young men is, they never know their worth until it is too late-they think the girls are difficult to catch, whereas there is nothing so easy, unless, as I said before, the girls are better engaged. Indeed, a young man should always have his Mamma at his elbow, to guard him against the machinations of the fair. As, however, that cannot be, let me urge you to be cautious what you are about, and as you seem to have plenty of choice, Don't be more attentive to one sister than to another, by which means you will escape the red eye-lids, and also escape having Mamma declaring you have trifled with Maria or Sophia's feelings, and all the old women of the neighbourhood denouncing your conduct and making up to you themselves for one of their own girls. Some ladies ask a man's intentions before he is well aware that he has any himself, but these are the spoil-sport order of women. Most of them are prudent enough to get a man well hooked before they hand him over to Papa, it is generally a case of 'Ask Mamma first. Beware of brothers!-I have known undoubted heiresses crumpled up into nothing by the appearance (after the catch) of two or three great heavy dragooners. Rougier will find all that out for you.

"Be cautious too about letter-writing. There is no real privacy about love-letters, any more than there is about the flags and banners of a regiment, though they occasionally furl and cover them up. The love letters are a woman's flags and banners, her trophies of success, and the more flowery they are, the more likely to be shown, and to aid in enlivening a Christmas tea-party. Then the girls' Mammas read them, their sisters read them, their maids read them, and ultimately, perhaps, a boisterous energetic barrister reads them to an exasperated jury, some of whose daughters may have suffered from simitar effusions themselves. Altogether, I assure you, you are on very ticklish ground, and I make no doubt if you could ascertain the opinion of the neighbourhood, you are booked for one or other of the girls, so again I say, my dearest boy, beware what you are about, for it is much easier to get fast than to get free again;-get a lady of rank, and not the daughter of a little scrubby squire; and whatever you do, don't leave this letter lying about, and mind, empty your pockets at nights, and don't leave it for Rougier to find.

"Now, about your movements. I think I wouldn't go back to Lord L.'s unless he asks you, or unless he named a specific day for your doing so when you came away. Mere general invitations mean nothing; they are only the small coin of good society. 'Sorry you're going. Hope we shall soon meet again. Hope we shall have the pleasure of seeing you to dinner some day,' is a very common mean-nothing form of politeness.

"Indeed, I question that your going to a master of harriers from Tantivy Castle would be any great recommendation to his Lordship; for masters of foxhounds and masters of harriers are generally at variance. Altogether, I think I would pause and consider before you decided on returning. I would not talk much about his Lordship where you now are, as it would look as if you were not accustomed to great people. You'll find plenty of friends ready to bring him in for you, just as Mr. Handycock brings in Lord Privilege in Peter Simple. We all like talking of titles. Remember, all noblemen under the rank of dukes are lords in common conversation. No earls or marquises then.

"It just occurs to me, that as you are in the neighbourhood, you might take advantage of the opportunity for paying a visit to Yawnington Hot Wells, where you will find a great deal of good society assembled at this time of year, and where you might pickup some useful and desirable acquaintances. Go to the best hotel whatever it is, and put Rougier on board wages, which will get rid of his grumbling. It is impertinent, no doubt, but still it carries weight in a certain quarter.

"As you have got a hunting horse, you will want a groom, and should try to get a nice-looking one. He should not be knocknee'd; on the contrary, bow-legged,-the sort of legs that a pig can pop through. Look an applicant over first, and if his appearance is against him. just put him off quietly by taking his name and address, and say that there are one or two before him, and that you will write to him if you are likely to require his services.

"You will soon have plenty to choose from, but it is hard to say whether the tricks of the town ones, or the gaucheries of the country ones are most objectionable. The latter never put on their boots and upper things properly. A slangy, slovenly-looking fellow should be especially avoided. Also men with great shock heads of hair. If they can't trim themselves, there will not be much chance of their trimming their horses. In short, I believe a groom-a man who really knows and cares anything about horses-is a very difficult person to get. There are plenty who can hiss and fuss, and be busy upon nothing, but very few who can both dress a horse, and dress themselves.

"I know Lord Ladythorne makes it a rule never to take one who has been brought up in the racing-stable, for he says they are all hurry and gallop, and for putting two hours' exercise into one. Whatever you do, don't take one without a character, for however people may gloss over their late servant's faults and imperfections, and however abject and penitent the applicants may appear, rely upon it, nature will out, and as soon as ever they yet up their condition, as they call it, or are installed into their new clothes, they begin to take liberties, and ultimately relapse into their old drunken dissolute habits. It is fortunate for the world that most of them carry their characters in their faces. Besides, it isn't fair to respectable servants to bring them in contact with these sort of profligates.

"Whatever you do, don't let him find his own clothes. There isn't one in twenty who can be trusted to do so, and nothing looks worse than the half-livery, half-plain, wholly shabby clothes some of them adopt.

"It is wonderful what things they will vote good if they have to find others themselves, things that they would declare were not fit to put on, and they couldn't be seen in if master supplied them. The best of everything then is only good enough for them.

"Some of them will grumble and growl whatever you give them; declare this man's cloth is bad, and another's boots inferior, and recommend you to go to Mr. Somebody else, who Mr. This, or Captain That, employs, Mr. This, or Captain That, having, in all probability, been recommended to this Mr. Somebody by some other servant. The same with the saddlers and tradespeople generally. If you employ a saddler who does not tip them, there will be nothing bad enough for his workmanship, or they will declare he does not do that sort of work, only farmer's work-cart-trappings, and such like things.

"The remedy for this is to pay your own bills, and give the servants to understand at starting that you mean to be master. They are to be had on your own terms, if you only begin as you mean to go on. If the worst comes to the worst, a month's notice, or a month's pay, settles all differences, and it is no use keeping and paying a servant that doesn't suit you. Perhaps you will think Rougier trouble enough, but he would be highly offended if you were to ask him to valet a horse. I will try if I can hear of anything likely to suit you, but the old saying, 'who shall counsel a man in the choice of a wife, or a horse,' applies with equal force to grooms.

"And now, my own dearest boy, having given you all the advice and assistance in my power, I will conclude by repeating what joy the arrival of your letter occasioned me, and also my advice to beware of the girls, and request that you will not leave this letter in your pockets, or lying about, by signing myself ever, my own dearest son, your most truly loving and affectionate Mamma,

"Emma Pringle.

"P.S.-I will enclose the halves of two fifty-pound notes for the horse, the receipt of which please to acknowledge by return of post, when I will send the other halves.

"P.S.-Mind the red eyelids! There's nothing so infectious

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