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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 21551

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

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YOUR oss sall be seek-down in de mouth dis mornin', sare," observed Monsieur to Billy, as the latter lay tossing about in his uncomfortable bed, thinking how he could shirk that day's hunting penance; Sir Moses, with his usual dexterity, having evaded the offer of lending him a horse, by saying that Billy's having nothing to do.

"Vot you think right, sare," replied Jack. "He is your quadruped, not mine; but I should not say he is vot dey call, op to snoff-fit to go."

"Ah," replied Billy. "I'll not ride 'im! hate a horse that's not up to the mark."

"Sare Moses Baronet vod perhaps lend you von, sare," suggested Jack.

"Oh, by no means!" replied Billy in a fright. "By no means! I'd just as soon not hunt to-day, in fact, for I've got a good many letters to write and things to do; so just take the water away for the present and bring it back when Sir Moses is gone." So saying, Billy turned over on his thin pillow, and again sought the solace of his couch. He presently fell into a delightful dreamy sort of sleep, in which he fancied that after dancing the Yammerton girls all round, he had at length settled into an interminable "Ask Mamma Polka," with Clara, from which he was disagreeably aroused by Jack Rogers' hirsute face again protruding between the partially-drawn curtains, announcing, "Sare Moses Baronet, sare, has cot his stick-is off."

"Sir Moses, what!" started Billy, dreading to hear about the hunt.

"Sare Moses Baronet, sare, is gone, and I've brought you your l'eau chaude, as you said."

"All right!" exclaimed Billy, rubbing his eyes and recollecting himself, "all right;" and, banishing the beauty, he jumped out of bed and resigned himself to Rogers, who forthwith commenced the elaborate duties of his office. As it progressed he informed Billy how the land lay. "Sare Moses was gone, bot Coddy was left, and Mrs. Margerum said there should be no déjeuner for Cod" (who was a bad tip), till Billy came down. And Jack didn't put himself at all out of his way to expedite matters to accommodate Cuddy.

At length Billy descended in a suit of those tigerish tweeds into which he had lapsed since he got away from Mamma, and was received with a round of tallihos and view-holloas by Cuddy, who had been studying Bell's Life with exemplary patience in the little bookless library, reading through all the meets of the hounds as if he was going to send a horse to each of them. Then Cuddy took his revenge on the servants by ringing for everything he could think of, demanding them all in the name of Mr. Pringle; just as an old parish constable used to run frantically about a fair demanding assistance from everybody in the name of the Queen. Mr. Pringle wanted devilled turkey, Mr. Pringle wanted partridge pie, Mr. Pringle wanted sausages, Mr. Pringle wanted chocolate, Mr. Pringle wanted honey, jelly and preserve. Why the deuce, didn't they send Mr. Pringle his breakfast in properly? And if the servants didn't think Billy a very great man, it wasn't for want of Cuddy trying to make them.

And so, what with Cuddy's exertions and the natural course of events, Billy obtained a very good breakfast. The last cup being at length drained, Cuddy clutched Bell's Life, and wheeling his semicircular chair round to the fire, dived into his side pocket, and, producing a cigar-case, tendered Billy a weed. And Cuddy did it in such a matter-of-course way, that much as Billy disliked smoking, he felt constrained to accept one, thinking to get rid of it by a sidewind, just as he had got rid of old Wotherspoon's snuff, by throwing it away. So, taking his choice, he lit it, and prepared to beat a retreat, but was interrupted by Cuddy asking where "he was going?"

"Only into the open air," replied Billy, with the manner of a professed smoker.

"Open air, be hanged!" retorted Cuddy. "Open airs well enough in summer-time when the roses are out, and the strawberries ripe, but this is not the season for that kind of sport. No, no, come and sit here, man," continued he, drawing a chair alongside of him for Billy, "and let's have a chat about hunting."

"But Sir Moses won't like his room smoked in," observed Billy, making a last effort to be off.

"Oh, Sir Moses don't care!" rejoined Cuddy, with a jerk of his head; "Sir Moses don't care! can't hurt such rubbish as this," added he, tapping the arm of an old imitation rose-wood painted chair that stood on his left. "No old furniture broker in the Cut, would give ten puns for the whole lot, curtains, cushions, and all," looking at the faded red hangings around.

So Billy was obliged to sit down and proceed with his cigar. Meanwhile Cuddy having established a good light to his own, took up his left leg to nurse, and proceeded with his sporting speculations.

"Ah, hunting wasn't what it used to be (whiff), nor racing either (puff). Never was a truer letter (puff), than that of Lord Derby's (whiff), in which he said racing had got into the (puff) hands of (whiff) persons of an inferior (puff) position, who keep (puff) horses as mere instruments of (puff) gambling, instead of for (whiff) sport." Then, having pruned the end of his cigar, he lowered his left leg and gave his right one a turn, while he indulged in some hunting recollections. "Hunting wasn't what it used to be (puff) in the days of old (whiff) Warde and (puff) Villebois and (whiff) Masters. Ah no!" continued he, taking his cigar out of his month, and casting his eye up at the dirty fly-dotted ceiling. "Few such sportsmen as poor Sutton or Ralph Lambton, or that fine old fire-brick, Assheton Smith. People want to be all in the ring now, instead of sticking to one sport, and enjoying it thoroughly-yachts, manors, moors, race-horses, cricket, coaches, coursing, cooks-and the consequence is, they get blown before they are thirty, and have to live upon air the rest of their lives. Wasn't one man in fifty that hunted who really enjoyed it. See how glad they were to tail off as soon as they could. A good knock on the nose, or a crack on the crown settled half of them. Another thing was, there was no money to be made by it. Nothing an Englishman liked so much as making money, or trying to make it." So saying, Cuddy gave his cigar another fillip, and replacing it in his mouth, proceeded to blow a series of long revolving clouds, as he lapsed into a heaven of hunting contemplations.

From these he was suddenly aroused by the violent retching of Billy. Our friend, after experiencing the gradual growth of seasickness mingled with a stupifying headache, was at length fairly overcome, and Cuddy had just time to bring the slop-basin to the rescue. Oh, how green Billy looked!


"Too soon after breakfast-too soon after breakfast," muttered Cuddy, disgusted at the interruption. "Lie down for half an hour, lie down for half an hour," continued he ringing the bell violently for assistance.

"Send Mr. Pringle's valet here! send Mr. Pringle's valet here!" exclaimed he, as the half-davercd footman came staring in, followed by the ticket-of-leave butler, "Here, Monsieur!" continued he, as Rougier's hairy face now peeped past the door, "your master wants you-eat something that's disagreed with him-that partridge-pie, I think, for I feel rather squeamish myself; and you, Bankhead," added he, addressing the butler, "just bring us each a drop of brandy, not that nasty brown stuff Mother Margermn puts into the puddings, but some of the white, you know-the best, you know," saying which, with a "now old boy!" he gave Billy a hoist from his seat by the arm, and sent him away with his servant. The brandy, however, never came, Bankhead declaring they had drunk all he had out, the other night. So Cuddy was obliged to console himself with his cigars and Bell's Life, which latter he read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested, pausing every now and then at the speculative passages, wondering whether Wilkinson and Kidd, or Messrs. Wilkinson and Co. were the parties who had the honour of having his name on their books, where Henry Just, the backer of horses, got the Latin for his advertisement from, and considering whether Nairn Sahib, the Indian fiend, should be roasted alive or carried round the world in a cage. He also went through the column and a quarter of the meets of hounds again, studied the doings at Copenhagen Grounds, Salford Borough Gardens, and Hornsea Wood, and finally finished off with the time of high-water at London Bridge, and the list of pedestrian matches to come. He then folded the paper carefully up and replaced it iu his pocket, feeling equal to a dialogue with anybody. Having examined the day through the window, he next strolled to his old friend the weather-glass at the bottom of the stairs, and then constituting himself huntsman to a pack of hounds, proceeded to draw the house for our Billy; "Y-o-o-icks, wind him! y-o-o-icks, push him up!" holloaed he, going leisurely up-stairs, "E'leu in there! E'leu in!" continued he, on arriving at a partially closed door on the first landing.

"There's nobody here! There's nobody here!" exclaimed Mrs. Margerum, hurrying out. "There's nobody here, sir!" repeated she, holding steadily on by the door, to prevent any one entering where she was busy packing her weekly basket of perquisites, or what the Americans more properly call "stealings."

"Nobody here! bitch-fox, at all events!" retorted Cuddy, eyeing her confusion-"where's Mr. Pringle's room?" asked he.

"I'll show you, sir; I'll show you," replied she, closing the room-door, and hurrying on to another one further along. "This is Mr. Pringle's room, sir," said she, stopping before it.

"All right!" exclaimed Cuddy, knocking at the door.

"Come in," replied a feeble voice from within; and in Cuddy went.

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There was Billy in bed, with much such a disconsolate face as he had when Jack Rogers appeared with his hunting things. As, however, nobody ever admits being sick with smoking, Billy readily adopted Cuddy's suggestion, and laid the blame on the pie. Cuddy, indeed, was good enough to say he had been sick himself, and of course Billy had a right to be so, too. "Shouldn't have been so," said Cuddy, "if that beggar Bankhead had brought the brandy; but there's no getting anything out of that fellow." And Caddy and Billy being then placed upon terms of equality, the interesting invalids agreed to have a walk together. To this end Billy turned out of bed and re-established himself in his recently-discarded coat and vest; feeling much like a man after a bad passage from Dover to Calais. The two then toddled down-stairs together, Cuddy stopping at the bottom of the flight to consult his old friend the glass, and speculate upon the Weather.


h it! but it's falling," said he, with a shake of the head after tapping it. "Didn't like the looks of the sky this morning-wish there mayn't be a storm brewing. Had one just about this time last year. Would be a horrid bore if hunting was stopped just in its prime," and talked like a man with half-a-dozen horses fit to jump out of their skins, instead of not owning one. And Billy thought it would be the very thing for him if hunting was stopped. "With a somewhat light heart, he followed Cuddy through the back slums to the stables.

"Sir Moses doesn't sacrifice much to appearances, does he?" asked Cuddy, pointing to the wretched rough-cast peeling off the back walls of the house, which were greened with the drippings of the broken spouts.

"No," replied Billy, staring about, thinking how different things looked there to what they did at the Carstle.

"Desperately afraid of paint," continued Cuddy, looking about. "Don't think there has been a lick of paint laid upon any place since he got it. Always tell him he's like a bad tenant at the end of a long lease," which observation brought them to the first stable-door. "Who's here?" cried Cuddy, kicking at the locked entrance.

"Who's there?" demanded a voice from within.

"Me! Mr. Flintoff'!" replied Cuddy, in a tone of authority; "open the door" added he, imperiously.

The dirty-shirted helper had seen them coming; but the servants generally looking upon Cuddy as a spy, the man had locked the door upon him.

"Beg pardon, sir," now said the Catiff', pulling at his cowlick as he opened it; "beg pardon, sir, didn't know it was you."

"Didn't you," replied Cuddy, adding, "you might have known by my knock," saying which Cuddy stuck his cheesey hat down on his nose, and pocketing his hands, proceeded to scrutinise the stud.

"What's this 'orse got a bandage on for?" asked he about one. "Why don't ye let that 'orse's 'ead down?" demanded he of another. "Strip thisn'orse," ordered he of a third. Then Cuddy stood criticising his points, his legs, his loins, his hocks, his head, his steep shoulder, as he called it, and then ordered the clothes to be put on again. So he went from stable to stable, just as he does at Tattersall's on a Sunday, Cuddy being as true to the "corner" as the needle to the pole, though, like the children, he looks, but never touches, that is to say, "bids," at least not for himself. Our Billy, soon tiring of this amusement-if, indeed, amusement it can be called-availed himself of the interregnum caused by the outside passage from one set of stables to another, to slip away to look after his own horse, of whose health he suddenly remembered Rougier had spoken disparagingly in the morning. After some little trouble he found the Juniper-smelling head groom, snoring asleep among a heap of horse-cloths before the fire in the saddle-room.

It is said that a man who is never exactly sober is never quite drunk, and Jack Wetun was one of this order, he was always running to the "unsophisticated gin-bottle," keeping up the steam of excitement, but seldom overtopping it, and could shake himself into apparent sobriety in an instant. Like most of Sir Moses's people, he was one of the fallen angels of servitude, having lived in high places, from which his intemperate habits had ejected him; and he was now gradually descending to that last refuge of the destitute, the Ostlership of a farmer's inn. Starting out of his nest at the rousing shake of the helper, who holloaed in his ear that "Mr. Pringle wanted to see his 'orse," Wetun stretched his brawny arms, and, rubbing his eyes, at length comprehended Billy, when he exclaimed with a start, "Oss, sir? Oh, by all means, sir;" and, bundling on his greasy-collared, iron-grey coat, he reeled and rolled out of the room, followed by our friend. "That (hiccup) oss of (hiccup) yours is (hiccup) amiss, I think (hiccup), sir," said he, leading, or rather lurching the way. "A w-h-a-w-t?" drawled Billy, watching Weton's tack and half-tack gait.

"Amiss (hiccup)-unwell-don't like his (hiccup) looks," replied the groom, rolling past the stable-door where he was. "Oh, beg pardon," exclaimed he, bumping against Billy on turning short back, as he suddenly recollected himself; "Beg pardon, he's in here," added he, fumbling at the door. It was locked. Then, oh dear, he hadn't got the (hiccup) key, then (hiccup); yes, he had got the (hiccup) key, as he recollected he had his coat on, and dived into the pocket for it. Then he produced it; and, after making several unsuccessful pokes at the key-hole, at length accomplished an entry, and Billy again saw Napoleon the Great, now standing in the promised two-stalled stable along with Sir Moses's gig mare.

To a man with any knowledge of horses, Napoleon certainly did look very much amiss-more like a wooden horse at a harness-maker's, than an animal meant to go,-stiff, with his fore-logs abroad, and an anxious care-worn countenance continually cast back at its bearing flanks.

"Humph!" said Billy, looking him over, as he thought, very knowingly. "Not so much amiss, either, is he?"

"Well, sir, what you think," replied Wetun, glad to find that Billy didn't blame him for his bad night's lodgings.

"Oh, I dare say he'll be all right in a day or two," observed

Billy, half inclined to recommend his having his feet put into warm water.

"Ope so," replied Wetun, looking up the horse's red nostrils, adding, "but he's not (hiccup) now, somehow."

Just then a long reverberating crack sounded through the courtyard, followed by the clattering of horses' hoofs, and Wetun exclaiming, "Here be Sir Moses!" dropped the poor horse's head, and hurried ont to meet his master, accompanied by Billy.

"Ah, Pringle!" exclaimed Sir Moses, gaily throwing his leg over his horse's head as he alighted. "Ah, Pringle, my dear fellow, what, got you?"

"Well, what sport?" demanded Cuddy Flintoff, rushing up with eager anxiety depicted on his face.

"Very good," replied Sir Moses, stamping the mud off his boots, and then giving himself a general shake; "very good," repeated he; "found at Lobjolt Corse--ran up the banks and down the banks, and across to Beatie's Bog, then over to Deep-well Rocks, and back again to the banks."

"Did you kill?" demanded Cuddy, not wanting to hear any more about the banks-up the banks or down the banks either.

"Why, no," replied Sir Moses, moodily; "if that dom'd old Daddy Nevins hadn't stuck his ugly old mug right in the way, we should have forced him over Willowsike Pastures, and doubled him up in no time, for we were close upon him; whereas the old infidel brought us to a check, aud we never could get upon terms with him again; but, come," continued Sir Moses, wishing to cut short this part of the narrative, "let's go into the house and get ourselves warmed, for the air's cold, and I haven't had a bite since breakfast."

"Ay, come in!" cried Cuddy, leading the way; "come in, and get Mr. Pringle a drop of brandy, for he's eat something that's disagreed with him."

"Eat something that's disagreed with him. Sorry to hear that; what could it be?-what could it be?" asked Sir Moses, as the party now groped their way along the back passages.

"Why, I blame the partridge-pie," replied Cuddy, demurely.

"Not a bit of it!" rejoined Sir Moses-"not a bit of it! eat some myself-eat some myself-will finish it now-will finish it now."

"We've saved you that trouble," replied Cuddy, "for we finished it ourselves."

"The deuce you did!" exclaimed Sir Moses, adding, "and were you sick?"

"Squeamish," replied Cuddy-"Squeamish; not so bad as Mr. Pringle."

"But bad enough to want some brandy, I suppose," observed the Baronet, now entering the library.

"Quite so," said Cuddy-"quite."

"Why didn't you get some?-why didn't you get some?" asked the Baronet, moving towards the bell.

"Because Bankhead has none out," replied Mr. Cuddy, before Sir Moses rang.

"None out!" retorted Sir Moses-"none out!-what! have you finished that too!"

"Somebody has, it seems," replied Cuddy, quite innocently.

"Well, then, I'll tell you what you must do-I'll tell you what you must do," continued the Baronet, lighting a little red taper, and feeling in his pocket for the keys-"you must go into the cellar yourself and get some-go into the cellar yourself and get some;" so saying, Sir Moses handed Cuddy the candle and keys, saying, "shelf above the left hand bin behind the door," adding, "you know it-you know it."

"Better bring two when I'm there, hadn't I?" asked Cuddy.

"Well," said Sir Moses, dryly, "I s'pose there'll be no great harm if you do;" and away Cuddy went.

"D-e-e-a-vil of a fellow to drink-d-e-e-a-vil of a fellow to drink," drawled Sir Moses, listening to his receding footsteps along the passage. He then directed his blarney to Billy. "Oh dear, he was sorry to hear he'd been ill; what could it be? Lost a nice gallop, too-dom'd if he hadn't. Couldn't be the pie! Wondered he wasn't down in the morning." Then Billy explained that his horse was ill, and that prevented him.

"Horse ill!" exclaimed Sir Moses, throwing out his hands, and raising his brows with astonishment-"horse ill! O dear, but that shouldn't have stopped you, if I'd known-should have been most welcome to any of mine-dom'd if you shouldn't! There's Pegasus, or Atalanta, or Will-o'-the-Wisp, or any of them, fit to go. O dear, it was a sad mistake not sending word. Wonder what Wetun was about not to tell me-would row him for not doing so," and as Sir Moses went on protesting and professing and proposing, Cuddy Flintoff's footstep and "for-rard on! for-rard on!" were heard returning along the passage, and he presently entered with a bottle in each hand.

"There are a brace of beauties!" exclaimed he, placing them on the round table, with the dew of the cellar fresh on their sides-"there are a brace of blood-like beauties!" repeated he, eyeing their neat tapering necks, "the very race-horse of bottles-perfect pictures, I declare; so different to those great lumbering roundshouldered English things, that look like black beer or porter, or something of that sort." Then Cuddy ran off for glasses and tumblers and water; and Sir Moses, having taken a thimble-full of brandy, retired to change his clothes, declaring he felt chilly; and Cuddy, reigning in his stead, made Billy two such uncommonly strong brews, that we are sorry to say he had to be put to bed shortly after.

And when Mr. Bankhead heard that Cuddy Flintoff had been sent to the cellar instead of him, he declared it was the greatest insult that had ever been offered to a gentleman of his "order," and vowed that he would turn his master off the first thing in the morning.

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