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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 16075

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

FROM Yammerton Grange to Pangburn Park is twelve miles as the crow flies, or sixteen by the road. The Major, who knows every nick and gap in the country, could ride it in ten or eleven; but this species of knowledge is not to be imparted to even the most intelligent head. Not but what the Major tried to put it into Billy's, and what with directions to keep the Helmington road till he came to the blacksmith's shop, then to turn up the crooked lane on the left, leaving Wanley windmill on the right, and Altringham spire on the left, avoiding the village of Rothley, then to turn short at Samerside Hill, keeping Missleton Plantations full before him, with repeated assurances that he couldn't miss his way, he so completely bewildered our friend, that he was lost before he had gone a couple of miles. Then came the provoking ignorance of country life,-the counter-questions instead of answers,-the stupid stare and tedious drawl, ending, perhaps, with "ars a stranger," or may be the utter negation of a place within, perhaps, a few miles of where the parties live. Billy blundered and blundered; took the wrong turning up the crooked lane, kept Wanley windmill on the left instead of the right, and finally rode right into the village of Rothley, and then began asking his way. It being Sunday, he soon attracted plenty of starers, such an uncommon swell being rare in the country; and one told him one way; another, another; and then the two began squabbling as to which was the right one, enlisting of course the sympathies of the bystanders, so that Billy's progress was considerably impeded. Indeed, he sometimes seemed to recede instead of advance, so contradictory were the statements as to distance, and the further be went the further he seemed to have to go.

If Sir Moses hadn't been pretty notorious as well from hunting the country as from his other performances, we doubt whether Billy would have reached Pangburn Park that night. As it was, Sir Moses's unpopularity helped Billy along in a growling uncivil sort of way, so different to the usual friendly forwarding that marks the approach to a gentleman's house in the country.

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"Ay, ay, that's the way," said one with a sneer. "What, you're gannin to him-are ye?" asked another, in a tone that as good as said, I wouldn't visit such a chap. "Aye, that's the way-straight on, through Addingham town"-for every countryman likes to have his village called a town-"straight on through Addingham town, keep the lane on the left, and then when ye come to the beer-shop at three road ends, ax for the Kingswood road, and that'll lead ye to the lodges."

All roads are long when one has to ask the way-the distance seems nearly double in going to a place to what it does in returning, and Billy thought he never would get to Pangburn Park. The shades of night, too, drew on-Napoleon the Great had long lost his freedom and gaiety of action, and hung on the bit in a heavy listless sort of way. Billy wished for a policeman to protect and direct him. Lights began to be scattered about the country, and day quickly declined in favour of night. The darkening mist gathered perceptibly. Billy longed for those lodges of which he had heard so much, but which seemed ever to elude him. He even appeared inclined to compound for the magnificence of two by turning in at Mr. Pinkerton's single one. By the direction of the woman at this one, he at length reached the glad haven, and passing through the open portals was at length in Pangburn Park. The drab-coloured road directed him onward, and Billy being relieved from the anxieties of asking his way, pulled up into a walk, as well to cool his horse as to try and make out what sort of a place he had got to. With the exception, however, of the road, it was a confused mass of darkness, that might contain trees, hills, houses, hay-stacks, anything. Presently the melodious cry of hounds came wafted on the southerly breeze, causing our friend to shudder at the temerity of his undertaking. "Drat these hounds," muttered he, wishing he was well out of the infliction, and as he proceeded onward the road suddenly divided, and both ways inclining towards certain lights, Billy gave his horse his choice, and was presently clattering on the pavement of the court-yard of Pangburn Park.

Sir Moses's hospitality was rather of a spurious order; he would float his friends with claret and champagne, and yet grudge their horses a feed of corn. Not but that he was always extremely liberal and pressing in his offers, begging people would bring whatever they liked, and stay as long as they could, but as soon as his offers were closed with, he began to back out. Oh, he forgot! he feared he could only take in one horse; or if he could take in a horse he feared he couldn't take in the groom. Just as he offered to lend Billy his gig and horse and then reduced the offer into the loan of the gig only. So it was with the promised two-stalled stable. When Monsieur drove, or rather was driven, with folded arms into the court-yard, and asked for his "me lors stable," the half-muzzy groom observed with a lurch and a hitch of his shorts, that "they didn't take in (hiccup) osses there-leastways to stop all night."

"Veil, but you'll put up me lor Pringle's," observed Jack with an air of authority, for he considered that he and his master were the exceptions to all general rules.

"Fear we can't (hiccup) it," replied the blear-eyed caitiff; "got as many (hiccup) osses comin to-night as ever we have room for. Shall have to (hiccup) two in a (hiccup) as it is" (hiccup).

"Oh, you can stow him away somewhere," now observed Mr. Demetrius Bankhead, emerging from his pantry dressed in a pea-green wide-awake, a Meg Merrilies tartan shooting-jacket, a straw-coloured vest, and drab pantaloons.

"You'll be Mr. Pringle's gentleman, I presume," observed Bankhead, now turning and bowing to Jack, who still retained his seat in the gig.

"I be, sare," replied Jack, accepting the proffered hand of his friend.

"Oh, yes, you'll put him up somewhere, Fred," observed Bankhead, appealing again to the groom, "he'll take no harm anywhere," looking at the hairy, heated animal, "put 'im in the empty cow-house," adding "it's only for one night-only for one night."

"O dis is not the quadruped," observed Monsieur, nodding at the cart mare before him, "dis is a job beggar vot ve can kick out at our pleasure, but me lor is a cornin' on his own proper cheval, and he vill vant space and conciliation."

"Oh, we'll manage him somehow," observed Bankhead confidently, "only we've a large party to-night, and want all the spare stalls we can raise, but they'll put 'im up somewhere," added he, "they'll put 'im up somewhere," observing as before, "it's only for one night-only for one night. Now won't you alight and walk in," continued he, motioning Monsieur to descend, and Jack having intimated that his lor vould compliment their politeness if they took veil care of his 'orse, conceived he had done all that a faithful domestic could under the circumstances, and leaving the issue in the hands of fate, alighted from his vehicle, and entering by the back way, proceeded to exchange family "particulars" with Mr. Bankhead in the pantry.

Now the Pangburn Park stables were originally very good, forming a crescent at the back of the house, with coach-houses and servants' rooms intervening, but owing to the trifling circumstance of allowing the drains to get choked, they had fallen into disrepute. At the back of the crescent were some auxiliary stables, worse of course than the principal range, into which they put night-visitors' horses, and those whose owners were rash enough to insist upon Sir Muses fulfilling his offers of hospitality to them. At either end of these latter were loose boxes, capable of being made into two-stalled stables, only these partitions were always disappearing, and the roofs had long declined turning the weather; but still they were better than not

hing, and often formed receptacles for sly cabby's, or postboys who preferred the chance of eleemosynary fare at Sir Moses's to the hand in the pocket hospitality of the Red Lion, at Fillerton Hill, or the Main-chance Arms, at Duckworth Bridge. Into the best of these bad boxes the gig mare was put, and as there was nothing to get in the house, Tom Cowlick took his departure as soon as she had eaten her surreptitious feed of oats. The pampered Napoleon the Great, the horse that required all the warmth and coddling in the world, was next introduced, fine Billy alighting from his back in the yard with all the unconcern that he would from one of Mr. Splint's or Mr. Spavins's week day or hour jobs. Indeed, one of the distinguishing features between the new generation of sportsmen and the old, is the marked indifference of the former to the comforts of their horses compared to that shown by the old school, who always looked to their horses before themselves, and not unfrequently selected their inns with reference to the stables. Now-a-days, if a youth gives himself any concern about the matter, it will often only be with reference to the bill, and he will frequently ride away without ever having been into the stable. If, however, fine Billy had seen his, he would most likely have been satisfied with the comfortable assurance that it was "only for one night," the old saying, "enough to kill a horse," leading the uninitiated to suppose that they are very difficult to kill.

"Ah, my dear Pringle!" exclaimed Sir Moses, rising from the depths of a rather inadequately stuffed chair (for Mrs. Margerum had been at it). "Ah, my dear Pringle, I'm delighted to see you!" continued the Baronet, getting Billy by both hands, as the noiseless Mr. Bankhead, having opened the library door, piloted him through the intricacies of the company. Our host really was glad of a new arrival, for a long winter's evening had exhausted the gossip of parties who in a general way saw quite enough, if not too much, of each other. And this is the worst of country visiting in winter; people are so long together that they get exhausted before they should begin.

They have let off the steam of their small talk, and have nothing left to fall back upon but repetition. One man has told what there is in the "Post," another in "Punch," a third in the "Mark Lane Express," and then they are about high-and-dry for the rest of the evening. From criticising Billy, they had taken to speculating upon whether he would come or not, the odds-without which an Englishmen can do nothing-being rather in favour of Mrs. Yammerton's detaining him. It was not known that Monsieur Rougier had arrived. The mighty problem was at length solved by the Richest Commoner in England appearing among them, and making the usual gyrations peculiar to an introduction. He was then at liberty for ever after to nod or speak or shake hands with or bow to Mr. George and Mr. Henry Waggett, of Kitteridge Green, both five-and-twenty pound subscribers to the Hit-im and Hold-im-shire hounds, to Mr. Stephen Booty, of Verbena Lodge, who gave ten pounds and a cover, to Mr. Silver-thorn, of Dryfield, who didn't give anything, but who had two very good covers which he had been hinting he should require to be paid for,-a hint that had procured him the present invitation, to Mr. Strongstubble, of Buckup Hill, and Mr. Tupman, of Cowslip Cottage, both very good friends to the sport but not "hand in the pocket-ites," to Mr. Tom Dribbler, Jun., of Hardacres, and his friend Captain Hurricane, of Her Majesty's ship Thunderer, and to Mr. Cuthbert Flintoff, commonly called Cuddy Flintoff, an "all about" sportsman, who professed to be of all hunts but blindly went to none. Cuddy's sporting was in the past tense, indeed he seemed to exist altogether upon the recollections of the chace, which must have made a lively impression upon him, for he was continually interlarding his conversation with view holloas, yoicks wind 'ims! yoick's push 'im ups! Indeed, in walking about he seemed to help himself along with the aid of for-rardson! for-rards on! so that a person out of sight, but within hearing, would think he was hunting a pack of hounds.

He dressed the sportsman, too, most assiduously, bird's-eye cravats, step-collared striped vests, green or Oxford-grey cutaways, with the neatest fitting trousers on the best bow-legs that ever were seen. To see him at Tattersall's sucking his cane, his cheesy hat well down on his nose, with his stout, well-cleaned doe-skin gloves, standing criticising each horse, a stranger would suppose that he lived entirely on the saddle, instead of scarcely ever being in one. On the present occasion, as soon as he got his "bob" made to our Billy, and our hero's back was restored to tranquillity, he at him about the weather,-how the moon looked, whether there were any symptoms of frost, and altogether seemed desperately anxious about the atmosphere. This inquiry giving the conversation a start in the out-of-doors line, was quickly followed by Sir Moses asking our Billy how he left the Major, how he found his way there, with hopes that everything was comfortable, and oh! agonising promise! that he would do his best to show him sport.

The assembled guests then took up the subject of their "magnificent country" generally, one man lauding its bottomless brooks, another its enormous bullfinches, a third its terrific stone walls, a fourth its stupendous on-and-offs, a fifth its flying foxes, and they unanimously resolved that the man who could ride over Hit-im and Hold-im-shire could ride over any country in the world. "Any country in the world!" vociferated Cuddy, slowly and deliberately, with a hearty crack of his fat thigh. And Billy, as he sat listening to their dreadful recitals, thought that he had got into the lion's den with a vengeance. Most sincerely he wished himself back at the peaceful pursuits of Yammerton Grange. Then, as they were in full cry with their boasting eulogiums, the joyful dressing-bell rang, and Cuddy Flintoff putting his finger in his ear, as if to avoid deafening himself, shrieked, "hoick halloa! hoick!" in a. tone that almost drowned the sound of the clapper. Then when the "ticket of leaver" and the delirium tremens footman appeared at the door with the blaze of bedroom candles, Cuddy suddenly turned whipper-inv and working his right arm as if he were cracking a whip, kept holloaing, "get away hoick! get away hoick!" until he drove Billy and Baronet and all before him.


"Rum fellow that," observed the Baronet, now showing Billy up to his room, as soon as he had got sufficient space put between them to prevent Cuddy hearing, "Rum fellow that," repeated he, not getting a reply from our friend, who didn't know exactly how to interpret the word "rum."

"That fellow's up to everything,-cleverest fellow under the sun," continued Sir Moses, now throwing open the door of an evident bachelor's bed-room. Not but that it was one of the best in the house, only it was wretchedly furnished, and wanted all the little neatnesses and knic-knaceries peculiar to a lady-kept house. The towels were few and flimsy, the soap hard and dry, there was a pincushion without pins, a portfolio without paper, a grate with a smoky fire, while the feather-bed and mattress had been ruthlessly despoiled of their contents. Even the imitation maple-wood sofa on which Billy's dress-clothes were now laid, had not been overlooked, and was as lank and as bare as a third-rate Margate lodging-house, one-all ribs and hollows.

"Ah, there you are!" exclaimed Sir Moses, pointing to the garments, "There you are!" adding, "You'll find the bell at the back of your bed," pointing to one of the old smothering order of four-posters with its dyed moreen curtains closely drawn, "You'll find the bell at the back of the bed, and when you come down we shall be in the same room as we were before." So saying, the Baronet retired, leaving our Billy to commence operations.

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