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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 18418

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

THE first thing that struck Sir Moses Mainchance after he became a "laird" was that he got very little interest for his money. Here he was he who had always looked down with scorn upon any thing that would not pay ten per cent., scarcely netting three by his acres. He couldn't understand it-dom'd if he could. How could people live who had nothing but land? Certainly Mr. Plantagenet Smith had left the estate in as forlorn a condition as could well be imagined. Latterly his agent, Mr. Tom Teaser, had directed his attention solely to the extraction of rent, regardless of maintenance, to say nothing of improvements, consequently the farm buildings were dilapidated, and the land impoverished in every shape and way. Old pasture-field after old pasture-field had gradually succumbed to the plough, and the last ounce of freshness being extracted, the fields were left to lay themselves down to weeds or any thing they liked. As this sort of work never has but one ending, the time soon arrived when the rent was not raiseable. Indeed it was the inability to make "both ends meet," as Paul By used to say, which caused Mr. Plantagenet Smith to retire from Burke's landed gentry, which he did to his own advantage, land being sometimes like family plate, valuable to sell, but unprofitable to keep.

Sir Moses, flushed with his reception and the consequence he had acquired, met his tenants gallantly the first rent-day, expecting to find everything as smooth and pleasant as a London house-rent audit. Great was his surprise and disgust at the pauperised wretches he encountered, creatures that really appeared to be but little raised above the brute creation, were it not for the uncommon keenness they showed at a "catch." First came our old friend Henerey Brown & Co., who, foiled in their attempt to establish themselves on Major Yammerton's farm at Bonnyrigs, and also upon several other farms in different parts of the county, had at length "wheas we have considered" Mr. Teaser to some better purpose for one on the Pangburn Park Estate.

This was Doblington farm, consisting of a hundred and sixty of undrained obdurate clay, as sticky as bird-lime in wet, and as hard as iron in dry weather, and therefore requiring extra strength to take advantage of a favourable season. Now Henerey Brown & Co. had farmed, or rather starved, a light sandy soil of some two-thirds the extent of Doblington, and their half-fed pony horses and wretched implements were quite unable to cope with the intractable stubborn stuff they had selected. Perhaps we can hardly say they selected it, for it was a case of Hobson's choice with them, and as they offered more rent than the outgoing tenant, who had farmed himself to the door, had paid, Mr. Teaser installed them in it. And now at the end of the year, (the farms being let on that beggarly pauper-encouraging system of a running half year) Henerey & Humphrey came dragging their legs to the Park with a quarter of a year's rent between them, Henerey who was the orator undertaking to appear, Humphrey paying his respects only to the cheer. Sir Moses and Mr. Teaser were sitting in state in the side entrance-hall, surrounded by the usual paraphernalia of pens, ink, and paper, when Henerey's short, square turnip-headed, vacant-countenanced figure loomed in the distance. Mr. Teaser trembled when he saw him, for he knew that the increased rent obtained for Henerey's farm had been much dwelt upon by the auctioneer, and insisted upon by the vendor as conducive evidence of the improving nature of the whole estate. Teaser, like the schoolboy in the poem, now traced the day's disaster in Henerey's morning face. However, Teaser put a good face on the matter, saying, as Henerey came diverging up to the table, "This is Mr. Brown, Sir Moses, the new tenant of Doblington-the farm on the Hill." he was going to add "with the bad out-buildings," but he thought he had better keep that to himself. Humph sniffed the eager baronet, looking the new tenant over.

"Your sarvent, Sir Moses," ducked the farmer, seating himself in the dread cash-extracting chair.

"Well, my man, and how dy'e do? I hope you're well-How's your wife? I hope she's well," continued the Baronet, watching Henerey's protracted dive into his corduroy breeches-pockets, and his fish up of the dirty canvas money-bag. Having deliberately untied the string, Henerey, without noticing the Baronet's polite enquiries, shook out a few local five pound notes, along with some sovereigns, shillings, and sixpence upon the table, and heaving a deep sigh, pushed them over towards Mr. Teaser. That worthy having wet his thumb at his mouth proceeded to count the dirty old notes, and finding them as he expected, even with the aid of the change, very short of the right amount, he asked Henerey if he had any bills against them?

"W-h-o-y no-a ar think not," replied Henerey, scratching his straggling-haired head, apparently conning the matter over in his mind. "W-h-o-y, yeas, there's the Income Tax, and there's the lime to 'loo off."

"Lime!" exclaimed the Baronet, "What have I to do with lime?"

"W-h-o-y, yeas, you know you promised to 'loo the lime," replied Hererey, appealing to Mr. Teaser, who frowned and bit his lip at the over-true assertion.

"Never heard of such a thing!" exclaimed Sir Moses, seeing through the deceit at a glance. "Never heard of such a thing," repeated he. "That's the way you keep up your rents is it?" asked he: "Deceive yourselves by pretending to get more money than you do, and pay rates and taxes upon your deceit as a punishment. That 'ill not do! dom'd if it will," continued the Baronet, waxing warm.

"Well, but the income tax won't bring your money up to anything like the right amount," observed Mr. Teaser to Henerey, anxious to get rid of the lime question.

"W-h-o-y n-o-a," replied Henerey, again scratching his pate, "but it's as much as I can bring ye to-day."

"To-day, man!" retorted Sir Moses, "Why, don't you know that this is the rent-day! the day on which the entire monetary transactions on the whole estate are expected to be settled."

Henerey-"O, w-h-o-y it 'ill make ne odds to ye, Sir Moses."

Sir Moses-"Ne odds to me! How do you know that?"

Henerey-(apologetically) "Oh, Sir Moses, you have plenty, Sir Moses."

Sir Moses-"Me plenty! me plenty! I'm the poorest crittur alive!" which was true enough, only not in the sense Sir Moses intended it.

Henerey-"Why, why, Sir Moses, ar'll bring ye some more after a bit; but ar tell ye," appealing to Teaser, "Ye mun 'loo for the lime."

"The lime be hanged," exclaimed Sir Moses. "Dy'e sp'ose I'm such a fool as to let you the land, and farm ye the land, and pay income tax on rent that I never receive? That won't do-dom'd if it will."

Henerey-(boiling up) "Well, but Sir Moses, wor farm's far o'er dear."

Sir Moses-(turning flesh-colour with fury) "O'er dear! Why, isn't it the rent you yourself offered for it?"

Henerey-"Why, why, but we hadn't looked her carefully over."

"Bigger fool you," ejaculated the Jew.

"The land's far worse nor we took it for-some of the plough's a shem to be seen-wor stable rains in desprate-there isn't a dry place for a coo-the back wall of the barn's all bulgin oot-the pigs get into wor garden for want of a gate-there isn't a fence 'ill turn a foal-the hars eat all wor tormots-we're perfectly ruined wi' rats," and altogether Henerey opened such a battery of grievances as completely drove Sir Moses, who hated anyone to talk but himself, from his seat, and made him leave the finish of his friend to Mr. Teaser.

As the Baronet went swinging out of the room he mentally exclaimed, "Never saw such a man as that in my life-dom'd if ever I did!"

Mr. Teaser then proceeded with the wretched audit, each succeeding tenant being a repetition of the first-excuses-drawbacks-allowances for lime-money no matter to Sir Moses-and this with a whole year's rent due, to say nothing of hopeless arrears.

"How the deuce," as Sir Moses asked, "do people live who have nothing but land?"

When Sir Moses returned, at the end of an hour or so, he found one of the old tenants of the estate, Jacky Hindmarch, in the chair. Jacky was one of the real scratching order of farmers, and ought to be preserved at Madame Tussaud's or the British Museum, for the information of future ages. To see him in the fields, with his crownless hat and tattered clothes, he was more like a scare-crow than a farmer; though, thanks to the influence of cheap finery, he turned out very shiney and satiney on a Sunday. Jacky had seventy acres of land,-fifty acres of arable and twenty acres of grass, which latter he complimented with an annual mowing without giving it any manure in return, thus robbing his pastures to feed his fallows,-if, indeed, he did not rob both by selling the manure off his farm altogether. Still Jacky was reckoned a cute fellow among his compatriots. He had graduated in the Insolvent Debtors' Court to evade his former landlord's claims, and emerged from gaol with a good stock of bad law engrafted on his innate knavery. In addition to this, Jacky, when a hind, had nearly had to hold up his hand at

Quarter Sessions for stealing his master's corn, which he effected in a very ingenious way:-The granary being above Jacky's stable, he bored a hole through the floor, to which he affixed a stocking; and, having drawn as much corn as he required, he stopped the hole up with a plug until he wanted a fresh supply. The farmer-one Mr. Podmore-at length smelt a rat; but giving Jacky in charge rather prematurely, he failed in substantiating the accusation, when the latter, acting "under advice," brought an action against Podmore, which ended in a compromise, Podmore having to pay Jacky twenty pounds for robbing him! This money, coupled with the savings of a virtuous young woman he presently espoused, and who had made free with the produce of her master's dairy, enabled Jacky to take the farm off which he passed through the Insolvent Debtors' Court, on to the Pangburn Park estate, where he was generally known by the name of Lawyer Hindmarch.

Jacky and his excellent wife attempted to farm the whole seventy acres themselves; to plough, harrow, clean, sow, reap, mow, milk, churn,-do everything, in fact; consequently they were always well in arrear with their work, and had many a fine run after the seasons. If Jacky got his turnips in by the time other people were singling theirs, he was thought to do extremely well. To see him raising the seed-furrow in the autumn, a stranger would think he was ploughing in a green crop for manure, so luxuriant were the weeds. But Jacky Hindmarch would defend his system against Mr. Mechi himself; there being no creature so obstinate or intractable as a pig-headed farmer. A landlord had better let his land to a cheesemonger, a greengrocer, a draper, anybody with energy and capital, rather than to one of these selfsufficient, dawdling nincompoops. To be sure..Jacky farmed as if each year was to be his last, but he wouldn't have been a bit better if he had had a one-and-twenty years' lease before him. "Take all out and put nothing in," was his motto. This was the genius who was shuffling, and haggling, and prevaricating with Mr. Teaser when Sir Moses returned, and who now gladly skulked off: Henerey Brown not having reported very favourably of the great man's temper.

The next to come was a woman,-a great, mountainous woman-one Mrs. Peggy Turnbull, wife of little Billy Turnbull of Lowfield Farm, who, she politely said, was not fit to be trusted from home by hisself.-Mrs. Turnbull was, though, being quite a match for any man in the country, either with her tongue or her fists. She was a great masculine knock-me-down woman, round as a sugar-barrel, with a most extravagant stomach, wholly absorbing her neck, and reaching quite up to her chin. Above the barrel was a round, swarthy, sunburnt face, lit up with a pair of keen little twinkling beady black eyes. She paused in her roll as she neared the chair, at which she now east a contemptuous look, as much as to say, "How can I ever get into such a thing as that?"

Mr. Teaser saw her dilemma and kindly gave her the roomier one on which he was sitting-while Sir Moses inwardly prepared a little dose of politeness for her.

"Well, my good woman," said he as soon as she got soused on to the seat. "Well, my good woman, how dy'e do? I hope you're well. How's your husband? I hope he's well;" and was proceeding in a similar strain when the monster interrupted his dialogue by thumping the table with her fist, and exclaiming at the top of her voice, as she fixed her little beady black eyes full upon him-

"D'ye think we're ganninn to get a new B-a-r-r-u-n?"

"Dom you and your b-a-r-r-n!" exclaimed the Baronet, boiling up. "Why don't you leave those things to your husband?"

"He's see shy!" roared the monster.

"You're not shy, however!" replied Sir Moses, again jumping up and running away.

And thus what with one and another of them, Sir Moses was so put out, that dearly as he loved a let off for his tongue, he couldn't bring himself to face his friends again at dinner. So the agreeable duty devolved upon Mr. Teaser, of taking the chair, and proposing in a bumper toast, with all the honours and one cheer more, the health of a landlord who, it was clear, meant to extract the uttermost farthing he could from his tenants.

And that day's proceedings furnished ample scope for a beginning, for there was not one tenant on the estate who paid up; and Sir Moses declared that of all the absurdities he had ever heard tell of in the whole course of his life, that of paying income-tax on money he didn't receive was the greatest. "Dom'd if it wasn't!" said he.

In fact the estate had come to a stand still, and wanted nursing instead of further exhaustion. If it had got into the hands of an improving owner-a Major Yammerton, for instance,-there was redemption enough in the land; these scratching fellows, only exhausting the surface; and draining and subsoiling would soon have put matters right, but Sir Moses declared he wouldn't throw good money after bad, that the rushes were meant to be there and there they should stay. If the tenants couldn't pay their rents how could they pay any drainage interest? he asked. Altogether Sir Moses declared it shouldn't be a case of over shoes, over boots, with him-that he wouldn't go deeper into the mud than he was, and he heartily wished he had the price of the estate back in his pocket again, as many a man has wished, and many a one will wish again-there being nothing so ticklish to deal with as land. There is no reason though why it should be so; but we will keep our generalities for another chapter.

Sir Moses's property went rapidly back, and soon became a sort of last refuge for the destitute, whither the ejected of all other estates congregated prior to scattering their stock, on failing to get farms in more favoured localities. As they never meant to pay, of course they all offered high rents, and then having got possession the Henerey Brown scene was enacted-the farm was "far o'er dear"-they could "make nouton't at that rent!" nor could they have made aught on them if they had had them for nothing, seeing that their capital consisted solely of their intense stupidity. Then if Sir Moses wouldn't reduce the rent, he might just do his "warst," meanwhile they pillaged the land both by day and by night. The cropping of course corresponded with the tenure, and may be described as just anything they could get off the land. White crop succeeded white crop, if the weeds didn't smother the seeds, or if any of the slovens did "try for a few turnips," as they called it, they were sown on dry spots selected here and there, with an implement resembling a dog's-meat man's wheelbarrow-drawn by one ass and steered by another.

Meanwhile Mr. Teaser's labours increased considerably, what with the constant lettings and leavings and watchings for "slopings." There was always some one or other of the worthies on the wing, and the more paper and words Mr. Teaser employed to bind them, the more inefficient and futile he found the attempt. It soon became a regular system to do the new landlord, in furtherance of which the tenants formed themselves into a sort of mutual aid association. Then when a seizure was effected, they combined not to buy, so that the sufferer got his wretched stock back at little or no loss.

Wretched indeed, was the spectacle of a sale; worn out horses, innocent of corn; cows, on whose hips one could hang one's hat; implements that had been "fettled oop" and "fettled oop," until not a particle of the parent stock remained; carts and trappings that seemed ready for a bonfire; pigs, that looked as if they wanted food themselves instead of being likely to feed any one else; and poultry that all seemed troubled with the pip.

The very bailiff's followers were shocked at the emptiness of the larders. A shank bone of salt meat dangling from the ceiling, a few eggs on a shelf, a loaf of bread in a bowl, a pound of butter in a pie-dish,-the whole thing looking as unlike the plentiful profusion of a farm-house as could well be imagined.

The arduous duties of the office, combined with the difficulty of pleasing Sir Moses, at length compelled Mr. Teaser to resign, when our "laird," considering the nature of the services required concluded that there could be no one so fit to fulfil them as one of the "peoplish." Accordingly he went to town, and after Consulting Levy this, and "Goodman" that, and Ephraim t'other, he at length fixed upon that promising swell, young Mr. Mordecai Nathan, of Cursitor-street, whose knowledge of the country consisted in having assisted in the provincial department of his father's catchpoll business in the glorious days of writs and sponging-houses.

In due time down came Mordecai, ringed and brooched and chained and jewelled, and as Sir Moses was now the great man, hunting the country, associating with Lord Oilcake, and so on, he gave Mordecai a liberal salary, four-hundred a year made up in the following clerical way:

Original Size

Besides, which, Sir Moses promised him ten per cent, upon all recovered arrears, which set Mordecai to work with all the enthusiastic energy of his race.

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