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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 19593

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

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SIR MOSES, being now a magnate of the land, associating with Lord Oilcake, Lord Repartee, Sir Harry Fuzball and other great dons, of course had to live UP to the mark, an inconvenient arrangement for those who do not like paying for it, and the consequence was that he had to put up with an inferior article.-take first-class servants who had fallen into second-class circumstances. He had a ticket-of-leave butler. a delirium tremens footman, and our old friend pheasant-feathers, now calling herself Mrs. Margerum, for cook and house-keeper. And first, of the butler. He was indeed a magnificent man, standing six feet two and faultlessly proportioned, with a commanding presence of sufficient age to awe those under him, and to inspire confidence in an establishment with such a respectable looking man at the head. Though so majestic, he moved noiselessly, spoke in a whisper, and seemed to spirit the things off the table without sound or effort. Pity that the exigencies of gambling should have caused such an elegant man to melt his master's plate, still greater that he should have been found out and compelled to change the faultless white vest of upper service for the unbecoming costume of prison life. Yet so it was: and the man who was convicted as Henry Stopper, and sentenced to fourteen years' transportation, emerged at the end of four with a ticket-of-leave, under the assumed name of Demetrius Bankhead. Mr. Bankhead, knowing the sweets of office, again aspired to high places, but found great difficulty in suiting himself, indeed in getting into service at all.

People who keep fine gentlemen are very chary and scrupulous whom they select, and extremely inquisitive and searching in their inquiries.

In vain Mr. Bankhead asserted that he had been out of health and living-on the Continent, or that he had been a partner in a brewery which hadn't succeeded, or that his last master was abroad he didn't know where, and made a variety of similar excuses.

Though many fine ladies and gentlemen were amazingly taken with him at first, and thought he would grace their sideboards uncommonly, they were afraid to touch for fear "all was not right."

Then those of a lower grade, thought he wouldn't apply to them after having lived in such high places as he described, and this notwithstanding Bankhead's plausible assertion, that he wished for a situation in a quiet regular family in the country, where he could get to bed at a reasonable hour, instead of being kept up till he didn't know when. He would even come upon trial, if the parties liked, which would obviate all inquiries about character; just as if a man couldn't run off with the plate the first day as well as the last.

Our readers, we dare say, know the condescending sort of gentleman "who will accept of their situations," and who deprecate an appeal to their late masters by saying in an airified sort of way, with a toss of the head or a wave of the hand, that they told his Grace or Sir George they wouldn't trouble to ask them for characters. Just as if the Duke or Sir George were infinitely beneath their notice or consideration.

And again the sort of men who flourish a bunch of testimonials, skilfully selecting the imposing passages and evading the want of that connecting link upon which the whole character depends, and who talk in a patronising way of "poor lord this," or "poor Sir Thomas that," and what they would have done for them if they had been alive, poor men!

Mr. Demetrius Bankhead tried all the tricks of the trade-we beg pardon-profession-wherever he heard of a chance, until hope deferred almost made his noble heart sick. The "puts off" and excuses he got were curiously ingenious. However, he was pretty adroit himself, for when he saw the parties were not likely to bite, he anticipated a refusal by respectfully declining the situation, and then saying that he might have had so and so's place, only he wanted one where he should be in town half the year, or that he couldn't do with only one footman under him.

It was under stress of circumstances that Sir Moses Mainchance became possessed of Mr. Bankhead's services. He had kicked his last butler (one of the fine characterless sort) out of the house for coming in drunk to wait at dinner, and insisting upon putting on the cheese first with the soup, then with the meat, then with the sweets, and lastly with the dessert; and as Sir Moses was going to give one of his large hunt dinners shortly after, it behoved him to fill up the place-we beg pardon-office-as quickly as possible. To this end he applied to Mrs. Listener, the gossiping Register Office-keeper of Hinton, a woman well calculated to write the history of every family in the county, for behind her screen every particular was related, and Mrs. Listener, having paraded all the wretched glazey-clothed, misshapen creatures that always turn up on such occasions, Sir Moses was leaving after his last visit in disgust, when Mr. Bankhead walked in-"quite promiscuous," as the saying is, but by previous arrangement with Mrs. Listener. Sir Moses was struck with Bankhead's air and demeanour, so quiet, so respectful, raising his hat as he met Sir Moses at the door, that he jumped to the conclusion that he would do for him, and returning shortly after to Mrs. Listener, he asked all the usual questions, which Mrs. Listener cleverly evaded, merely saying that he professed to be a perfect butler, and had several most excellent testimonials, but that it would be much better for Sir Moses to judge for himself, for really Mrs. Listener had the comfort of Sir Moses so truly at heart that she could not think of recommending any one with whom she was not perfectly conversant, and altogether she palavered him so neatly, always taking care to extol Bankhead's personal appearance as evidence of his respectability, that the baronet was fairly talked into him, almost without his knowing it, while Mrs. Listener salved her own conscience with the reflection that it was Sir Moses's own doing, and that the bulk of his plate was "Brummagem" ware-and not silver. So the oft-disappointed ticket-of-leaver was again installed in a butlers pantry. And having now introduced him, we will pass over the delirium, tremens footman and arrive at that next important personage in an establishment, the housekeeper, in this case our old friend pheasant's-feathers. Mrs. Margerum, late Sarey Grimes, the early coach companion and confidante of our fair friend Mrs. Pringle-had undergone the world's "ungenerous scorn," as well for having set up an adopted son, as for having been turned away from many places for various domestic peculations. Mrs. Margerum, however, was too good a judge to play upon anything that anybody could identify, consequently though she was often caught, she always had an answer, and would not unfrequently turn the tables on her accusers-lawyer Hindmarch like-and make them pay for having been robbed. No one knew better than Mrs. Margerum how many feathers could be extracted from a bed without detection, what reduction a horse-hair mattress would stand, or how to make two hams disappear under the process of frying one. Indeed she was quite an adept in housekeeping, always however preferring to live with single gentlemen, for whom she would save a world of trouble by hiring all the servants, thus of course having them well under her thumb.

Sir Moses having suffered severely from waste, drunkenness and incapacity, had taken Mrs. Margerum on that worst of all recommendations, the recommendation of another servant-viz., Lord Oilcake's cook, for whom Mrs. Margerum had done the out-door carrying when in another situation. Mrs. Margerum's long career, coupled with her now having a son equal to the out-door department, established a claim that was not to be resisted when his lordship's cook had a chance, on the application of Sir Moses, of placing her.

Mrs. Margerum entered upon her duties at Pangburn Park, with the greatest plausibility, for not content with the usual finding fault with all the acts of her predecessors, she absolutely "reformed the butcher's bills," reducing them nearly a pound a-week below what they had previously been, and showed great assiduity in sending in all the little odds and ends of good things that went out. To be sure the hams disappeared rather quickly, but then they do cut so to waste in frying, and the cows went off in their milk, but cows are capricious things, and Mrs. Hindmarch and she had a running account in the butter and egg line, Mrs. Hindmarch accommodating her with a few pounds of butter and a few score of eggs when Sir Moses had company, Mrs. Margerum repaying her at her utmost convenience, receiving the difference in cash, the repayment being always greatly in excess of the advance. Still as Mrs. Margerum permitted no waste, and allowed no one to rob but herself, the house appeared to be economically kept, and if Sir Moses didn't think that she was a "charming woman," he at all events considered he was a most fortunate man, and felt greatly indebted to Lord Oilcake's cook for recommending her-"dom'd if he didn't."

But though Mrs. Margerum kept the servants well up to their tea and sugar allowances, she granted them every indulgence in the way of gadding about, and also in having their followers, provided the followers didn't eat, by which means she kept the house quiet, and made her reign happy and prosperous.

Being in full power when Mr. Bankhead came, she received him with the greatest cordiality, and her polite offer of having his clothes washed in Sir Moses's laundry being accepted, of course she had nothing to fear from Mr. Bankhead. And so they became as they ought to be, very good friends-great

ly to Sir Moses's advantage.

Now for the out-door department of Sir Moses's ménage. The hunting establishment was of the rough and ready order, but still the hounds showed uncommon sport, and if the horses were not quite up to the mark, that perhaps was all in favour of the hounds. The horses indeed were of a very miscellaneous order-all sorts, all sizes, all better in their wind than on their legs-which were desperately scored and iron-marked. Still the cripples could go when they were warm, and being ridden by men whose necks were at a discount, they did as well as the best. There is nothing like a cheap horse for work.

Sir Moses's huntsman was the noted Tom Findlater, a man famous for everything in his line except sobriety, in which little item he was sadly deficient. Tom would have been quite at the top of the tree if it hadn't been for this unfortunate infirmity. "The crittur," as a Scotch huntsman told Sir Moses at Tattersall's, "could no keep itself sober." To show the necessities to which this degrading propensity reduces a man, we will quote Tom's description of himself when he applied to be discharged under the Insolvent Debtors' Act before coming to Sir Moses. Thus it ran-"John Thomas Findlater known also as Tom Find'ater, formerly huntsman to His Grace the Duke of Streamaway, of Stream-away Castle, in Streamaway-shire, then of No. 6, Back Row, Broomsfield, in the county of Tansey, helper in a livery stable, then huntsman to Sampson Cobbyford, Esq., of Bluntfield Park, master of the Hugger Mugger hounds in the county of Scramblington, then huntsman to Sir Giles Gatherthrong, Baronet, of Clipperley Park, in the county of Scurry, then huntsman to the Right Honourable Lord Lovedale, of Gayhurst Court, in the county of Tipperley, then of No. 11, Tan Yard Lane, Barrenbin, in the county of Thistleford, assistant to a ratcatcher, then huntsman to Captain Rattlinghope, of Killbriton Castle, in the County Steepleford, then whipper-in to the Towrowdeshire hounds in Derrydownshire, then helper at the Lion and the Lamb public-house at Screwford, in the County of Mucklethrift, then of 6 1/2 Union Street, in Screwford, aforesaid, moulder to a clay-pipe maker, then and now out of business and employ, and whose wife is a charwoman."

Such were the varied occupations of a man, who might have lived like a gentleman, if he had only had conduct. There is no finer place than that of a huntsman, for as Beckford truly says, his office is pleasing and at the same time flattering, he is paid for that which diverts him, nor is a general after a victory more proud, than is a huntsman who returns with his fox's head.

When Sir Moses fell in with Tom Findlater down Tattersall's entry, Tom was fresh from being whitewashed in the Insolvent Debtors' Court, and having only ninepence in the world, and what he stood up in, he was uncommonly good to deal with. Moreover, Sir Moses had the vanity to think that he could reclaim even the most vicious; and, provided they were cheap enough, he didn't care to try. So, having lectured Tom well on the importance of sobriety, pointing out to him the lamentable consequences of drunkenness-of which no one was more sensible than Tom-Sir Moses chucked him a shilling, and told him if he had a mind to find his way down to Pangburn Park, in Hit-im-and-Hold-im shire, he would employ him, and give him what he was worth; with which vague invitation Tom came in the summer of the season in which we now find him.

And now having sketched the ménage, let us introduce our friend Billy thereto. But first we must get him out of the dangerous premises in which he is at present located-a visit that has caused our handsome friend Mrs. Pringle no little uneasiness.

It was fortunate for Sir Moses Mainchance, and unfortunate for our friend Fine Billy, that the Baronet was a bachelor, or Sir Moses would have fared very differently at the hands of the ladies who seldom see much harm in a man so long as he is single, and, of course, refrains from showing a decided preference for any young lady. It is the married men who monopolise all the vice and improprieties of life. The Major, too, having sold Billy a horse, and got paid for him, was not very urgent about his further society at present, nor indisposed for a little quiet, especially as Mrs. Yammerton represented that the napkins and table-linen generally were running rather short. Mamma, too, knowing that there would be nothing but men-parties at Pangburn Park, had no uneasiness on that score, indeed rather thought a little absence might be favourable, in enabling Billy to modify his general attentions in favour of a single daughter, for as yet he had been extremely dutiful in obeying his Mamma's injunctions not to be more agreeable to one sister than to another. Indeed, our estimable young friend did not want to be caught, and had been a good deal alarmed at the contents of his Mamma's last letter.

One thing, however, was settled, namely, that Billy was to go to the Park, and how to get there was the next consideration; for, though the Baronet had offered to convey him in the first instance, he had modified the offer into the loan of the gig at the last, and there would be more trouble in sending a horse to fetch it, than there would be in starting fair in a hired horse and vehicle from Yammerton Grange. The ready-witted Major, however, soon put matters right.

"I'll te te tell you wot," said he, "you can do. You can have old Tommy P-p-plumberg, the registrar of b-b-births, deaths, and marriages, t-t-trap for a trifle-s-s-say, s-s-seven and sixpence-only you must give him the money as a p-p-present, you know, not as it were for the hire, or the Excise would be down upon him for the du-du-duty, and p-p-p'raps fine him into the b-b-bargain."

Well, that seemed all right and feasible enough, and most likely would have been all right if Monsieur had proposed it; but, coming from master, of course Monsieur felt bound to object.

"It vouldn't hold alf a quarter their things," he said; "besides, how de deuce were they to manage with de horse?"

The Major essayed to settle that, too. There would be no occasion for Mr. Pringle to take all his things with him, as he hoped he would return to them from Sir Moses's and have another turn with the haryers-try if they couldn't circumvent the old hare that had beat them the other day, and the thing would be for Mr. Pringle to ride his horse quietly over, Monsieur going in advance with the gig, and having all things ready against Mr. Pringle arrived; for the Major well knew that the Baronet's promises were not to be depended upon, and would require some little manouvering to get carried out, especially in the stable department.

Still there was a difficulty-Monsieur couldn't drive. No, by his vord, he couldn't drive. He was valet-de-chambre, not coachman or grum, and could make nothing of horses. Might know his ear from his tail, but dat was all. Should be sure to opset, and p'raps damage his crown. (Jack wanted to go in a carriage and pair.) Well, the Major would accommodate that too. Tom Cowlick, the hind's lad at the farm, should act the part of charioteer, and drive Monsieur, bag, baggage and all. And so matters were ultimately settled, it never occurring to Billy to make the attempt on the Major's stud that the Baronet proposed, in the shape of borrowing a second horse, our friend doubtless thinking he carried persecution enough in his own nag. The knotty point of transit being settled, Billy relapsed into his usual easy languor among the girls, while Monsieur made a judicious draft of clothes to take with them, leaving him a very smart suit to appear in at church on Sunday, and afterwards ride through the county in. We will now suppose the dread hour of departure arrived.

It was just as Mrs. Pringle predicted! There were the red eye-lids and laced kerchiefs, and all the paraphernalia of leave-taking, mingled with the hopes of Major and Mrs. Yammerton, that Billy would soon return (after the washing, of course); for, in the language of the turf, Billy was anybody's game, and one sister had just as good a right to red eye-lids as another.

Having seen Billy through the ceremony of leave-taking, the Major then accompanied him to the stable, thinking to say a word for himself and his late horse 'ere they parted. After admiring Napoleon the Great's condition, as he stood turned round in the stall ready for mounting, the Major observed casually, "that he should not be surprised if Sir Moses found fault with that 'oss."

"Why?" asked Billy, who expected perfection for a hundred guineas.

"D-d-don't know," replied the Major, with a Jack Rogers' shrug of the shoulders. "D-d-don't know, 'cept that Sir Moses seldom says a good word for anybody's 'oss but his own."

The clothes being then swept over the horse's long tail into the manger, he stepped gaily out, followed by our friend and his host.

"I thought it b-b-better to send your servant on," observed the Major confidentially, as he stood eyeing the gay deceiver of a horse: "for, between ourselves, the Baronet's stables are none of the best, and it will give you the opportunity of getting the pick of them."

"Yarse," replied Billy, who did not enter into the delicacies of condition.

"That ho-ho-horse requires w-w-warmth," stuttered the Major, "and Sir Moses's stables are both d-d-damp and d-d-dirty;" saying which, he tendered his ungloved hand, and with repeated hopes that Billy would soon return, and wishes for good sport, not forgetting compliments to the Baronet, our hero and his host at length parted for the present.

And the Major breathed more freely as he saw the cock-horse capering round the turn into the Helmington road.

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