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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 22073

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

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THE 15th rule of the Hit-im and Hold-im shire hunt, provides that all members who dine at the club, may have tea and muffins ad libitum for 6 d. a head afterwards, and certainly nothing can be more refreshing after a brawling riotous dinner than a little quiet comfortable Bohea. Sir Moses always had his six-penn'orth, as had a good many of his friends and followers. Indeed the rule was a proposition of the Baronet's, such a thing as tea being unheard of in the reign of Mr. Customer, or any of Sir Moses's great predecessors. Those were the days of "lift him up and carry him to bed." Thank goodness they are gone! Men can hunt without thinking it necessary to go out with a headache. Beating a jug in point of capacity is no longer considered the accomplishment of a gentleman.

Mr. Pica's eloquence having rather prematurely dissolved the meeting, Sir Moses and his friends now congregated round the fire all very cheery and well pleased with themselves-each flattering the other in hopes of getting a compliment in return. "Gone off amazingly well!" exclaimed one, rubbing his hands in delight at its being over. "Capital party," observed another. "Excellent speech yours, Sir Moses," interposed a third. "Never heard a better," asserted a fourth. "Ought to ask to have it printed," observed a fifth. "O, never fear! Pica'll do that," rejoined a sixth, and so they went on warding off the awkward thought, so apt to arise of "what a bore these sort of parties are. Wonder if they do any good?"

The good they do was presently shown on this occasion by Mr. Smoothley, the Jackall of the hunt, whose pecuniary obligations to Sir Moses we have already hinted at, coming bowing and fawning obsequiously up to our Billy, revolving his hands as though he were washing them, and congratulating him upon becoming one of them. Mr. Smoothley was what might be called the head pacificator of the hunt, the gentleman who coaxed subscriptions, deprecated damage, and tried to make young gentlemen believe they had had very good runs, when in fact they had only had very middling ones.

The significant interchange of glances between Sir Moses and him during Billy's speech related to a certain cover called Waverley gorse, which the young Woolpack, Mr. Treadcroft, who had ascertained his inability to ride, had announced his intention of resigning. The custom of the hunt was, first to get as many covers as they could for nothing; secondly to quarter as few on the club funds as possible; and thirdly to get young gentlemen to stand godfathers to covers, in other words to get them to pay the rent in return for the compliment of the cover passing by their names, as Heslop's spiny, Linch's gorse, Benson's banks, and so on.

This was generally an after-dinner performance, and required a skilful practitioner to accomplish, more particularly as the trick was rather notorious. Mr. Smoothley was now about to try his hand on Mr. Pringle. The bowing and congratulations over, and the flexible back straightened, he commenced by observing that, he supposed a copy of the rules of the hunt addressed to Pangburn Park, would find our friend.

"Yarse," drawled Billy, wondering if there would be anything to pay. "Dash it, he wished there mightn't? Shouldn't be surprised if there was?"

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Mr. Smoothley, however, gave him little time for reflection, for taking hold of one of his own red-coat buttons, he observed, "that as he supposed Mr. Pringle would be sporting the hunt uniform, he might take the liberty of mentioning that Garnett the silversmith in the market-place had by far the neatest and best pattern'd buttons."

"Oh, Garnett, oh, yarse," replied Billy, thinking he would get a set for his pink, instead of the plain ones he was wearing.

"His shop is next the Lion and the Lamb public house," continued Mr. Smoothley, "between it and Mrs. Russelton the milliner's, and by the way that reminds me," continued he, though we don't exactly see how it could, "and by the way that reminds me that there is an excellent opportunity for distinguishing yourself by adopting the cover young Mr. Treadcroft has just abandoned."

"The w-h-a-at?" drawled Billy, dreading a "do;" his mother having cautioned him always to be mindful after dinner.

"O, merely the gorse," continued Mr. Smoothley, in the most affable matter-of-course way imaginable, "merely the gorse-if you'll step this way, I'll show you," continued he, leading the way to where a large dirty board was suspended against the wall below the portrait of Lord Martingal on his horse.

"Now he's running into him!" muttered Sir Moses to himself, his keen eye supplying the words to the action.

"This, you see," explained Mr. Smoothley, hitching the board off its brass-headed nail, and holding it to the light-"this, you see, is a list of all the covers in the country-Screechley, Summer-field, Reddingfield, Bewley, Lanton Hill, Baxterley, and so forth. Then you see here," continned he, pointing to a ruled column opposite, "are the names of the owners or patrons-yes" (reading), "owners or patrons-Lord Oilcake, Lord Polkaton, Sir Harry Fuzball, Mr. Heslop, Lord Harpsichord, Mr. Drew, Mr. Smith. Now young Mr. Treadcroft, who has had as many falls as he likes, and perhaps more, has just announced his intention of retiring and giving up this cover," pointing to Waverley, with Mr. Treadcroft, Jun.'s name opposite to it, "and it struck me that it would be a capital opportunity for you who have just joined us, to take it before anybody knows, and then it will go by the name of Pringle's gorse, and you'll get the credit of all the fine runs that take place from it."

"Y-a-r-s-e," drawled Billy, thinking that that would be a sharp thing to do, and that it would be fine to rank with the lords.

"Then," continued Mr. Smoothley, taking the answer for an assent, "I'll just strike Treadey's name ont, and put yours in;" so saying, he darted at the sideboard, and seizing an old ink-clotted stump of a pen, with just enough go in it to make the required alteration, and substituted Mr. Pringle's name for that of Mr. Treadcroft. And so, what with his cover, his dinner, and his button, poor Billy was eased of above twenty pounds.

Just as Sir Moses was blowing his beak, stirring the fire, and chuckling at the success of the venture, a gingling of cups and tinkling of spoons was heard in the distance, and presently a great flight of tea-trays emerged from either side of the screen, conspicuous among the bearers of which were the tall ticket-of-leave butler and the hirsute Monsieur Jean Rougier. These worthies, with a few other "gentlemen's gentlemen," had been regaled to a supper in the "Blenheim," to which Peter had contributed a liberal allowance of hunt wine, the consumption of which was checked by the corks, one set, it was said, serving Peter the season. That that which is everybody's business is nobody's, is well exemplified in these sort of transactions, for though a member of the hunt went through the form of counting the cork-tops every evening, and seeing that they corresponded with the number set down in Peter's book, nobody ever compared the book with the cellar, so that in fact Peter was both check-keeper and auditor. Public bodies, however, are all considered fair game, and the Hit-im and Hold-im shire hunt was no exception to the rule. In addition to the wine, there had been a sufficient allowance of spirits in the "Blenheim" to set the drunkards to work on their own account, and Jack Rogers, who was quite the life of the party, was very forward in condition when the tea-summons was heard.

"Hush!" cried Peter, holding up his hand, aud listening to an ominous bell-peal, "I do believe that's for tea! So it is," sighed he, as a second summons broke upon the ear. "Tea at this hour!" ejaculated he, "who'd ha' thought it twenty years ago! Why, this is just the time they'd ha' been calling for Magnums, and beginnin' the evening-Tea! They'd as soon ha' thought of callin' for winegar!" added he, with a bitter sneer. So saying, Peter dashed a tear from his aged eye, and rising from his chair, craved the assistance of his guests to carry the degrading beverage up-stairs, to our degenerate party. "A set of weshenvomen!" muttered he, as the great slop-basin-like-cups stood ranged on trays along the kitchen-table ready for conveyance. "Sarves us right for allowing such a chap to take our country," added he, adopting his load, and leading the tea-van.

When the soothing, smoking beverage entered, our friend, Cuddy Flintoff, was "yoicking" himself about the club-room, stopping now at this picture, now that, holloaing at one, view-holloaing at another, thus airing his hunting noises generally, as each successive subject recalled some lively association in his too sensitive hunting imagination. Passing from the contemplation of that great work of art, Mr. Customer getting drunk, he suddenly confronted the tea-brigade entering, led by Peter, Monsieur, and the ticket-of-leave butler.

"Holloa! old Bushey Heath!" exclaimed Cuddy, dapping his hands, as Mousieur's frizzed face loomed congruously behind a muffin-towering tea-tray. "Holloa! old Bushey Heath!" repeated he, louder than before, "What cheer there?"

"Vot cheer there, Brother Bareacres?" replied Jack in the same familiar tone, to the great consternation of Cuddy, and the amusement of the party.

"Dash the fellow! but he's getting bumptious," muttered Cuddy, who had no notion of being taken up that way by a servant. "Dash the fellow! but he's getting bumptious," repeated he, adding aloud to Jack, "That's not the way you talked when you tumbled off your horse the other day!"

"Tombled off my 'oss, sare!" replied Jack, indignantly-"tombled off my 'oss, sare-nevare, sare!-nevare!"

"What!" retorted Cuddy, "do you mean to say you didn't tumble off your horse on the Crooked Billet day?" for Cuddy had heard of that exploit, but not of Jack's subsequent performance.

"No, sare, I jomp off," replied Jack, thinking Cuddy alluded to his change of horses with the Woolpack.

"Jo-o-m-p off! j-o-omp off!" reiterated Cuddy, "we all jomp off, when we can't keep on. Why didn't old Imperial John take you into the Crooked Billet, and scrape you, and cherish you, and comfort you, and treat you as he would his own son?" demanded Cuddy.

"Imperial John, sare, nevare did nothin' of the sort," replied Jack, confidently. "Imperial John and I retired to 'ave leetle drop drink together to our better 'quaintance. I met John there, n'est-ce pas? Monsieur Sare Moses, Baronet! Vasn't it as I say?" asked Jack, jingling his tea-tray before the Baronet.

"Oh yes," replied Sir Moses,-"Oh yes, undoubtedly; I introduced you there; but here! let me have some tea," continued he, taking a cup, wishing to stop the conversation, lest Lord Lady-thorne might hear he had introduced his right-hand man, Imperial John, to a servant.

Cuddy, however, wasn't to be stopped. H

e was sure Jack had tumbled off, and was bent upon working him in return for his Bareacres compliment.

"Well, but tell us," said he, addressing Jack again, "did you come over his head or his tail, when you jomp off?"

"Don't, Cuddy! don't!" now muttered Sir Moses, taking the entire top tier off a pile of muffins, and filling his mouth as full as it would hold; "don't," repeated he, adding, "it's no use (munch) bullying a poor (crunch) beggar because he's a (munch) Frenchman" (crunch). Sir Moses then took a great draught of tea.

Monsieur's monkey, however, was now up, and he felt inclined to tackle with Flintoff. "I tell you vot, sare Cuddy," said he, looking him full in the face, "you think yourself vare great man, vare great ossmaan, vare great foxer, and so on, bot I vill ride you a match for vot monies you please."

"Hoo-ray! well done you! go it, Monsieur! Who'd ha' thought it! Now for some fun!" resounded through the room, bringing all parties in closer proximity.

Flintoff was rather taken aback. He didn't expect anything of that sort, and though he fully believed Jack to be a tailor, he didn't want to test the fact himself; indeed he felt safer on foot than on horseback, being fonder of the theory than of the reality of hunting.

"Hut you and your matches," sneered he, thrusting his hands deep in his trousers' pockets, inclining to sheer of, adding, "go and get his Imperial Highness to ride you one."

"His Imperial Highness, sare, don't deal in oss matches. He is not a jockey, he is a gentlemans-great friend of de great lords vot rules de oder noisy dogs," replied Jack.

"Humph, grunted Sir Moses, not liking the language.

"In-deed!" exclaimed Cuddy with a frown, "In-deed! Hark to Monsieur! Hark!"

"Oh, make him a match, Cuddy! make him a match!" now interposed Paul Straddler, closing up to prevent Cuddy's retreat. Paul, as we said before, was a disengaged gentleman who kept a house of call for Bores at Hinton,-a man who was always ready to deal, or do anything, or go any where at any body else's expense. A great judge of a horse, a great judge of a groom, a great judge of a gig, a gentleman a good deal in Cuddy Flintoff's own line in short, and of course not a great admirer of his. He now thought he saw his way to a catch, for the Woolpack had told him how shamefully Jack had bucketed his horse, and altogether he thought Monsieur might be as good a man across country as Mr. Flintoff. At all events he would like to see.

"Oh, make him a match, Cuddy! make him a match!" now exclaimed he, adding in Flintoff's ear, "never let it be said you were afraid of a Frenchman."

"Afraid!" sneered Cuddy, "nobody who knows me will think that, I guess."

"Well then, make him a match!" urged Tommy Heslop, who was no great admirer of Cuddy's either; "make him a match, and I'll go your halves."

"And I'll go Monsieur's," said Mr. Straddler, still backing the thing up. Thus appealed to, poor Cuddv was obliged to submit, and before he knew where he was, the dread pen, ink and paper were produced, and things began to assume a tangible form. Mr. Paul Straddler, having seated himself on a chair at the opportune card-table, began sinking his pen and smoothing out his paper, trying to coax his ideas into order.

"Now, let us see," said he, "now let us see. Monsieur, what's his name-old Bushey-heath as you call him, agrees to ride Mr. Flintoff a match across country-now for distance, time, and stake! now for distance, time, and stake!" added he, hitting off the scent.

"Well, but how can you make a match without any horses? how can you make a match without any horses?" asked Sir Moses, interposing his beak, adding "I'll not lend any-dom'd if I will." That being the first time Sir Moses was ever known not to volunteer one.

"O, we'll find horses," replied Tommy Heslop, "we'll find horses!" thinking Sir Moses's refusal was all in favor of the match. "Catch weights, catch horses, catch every thing."

"Now for distance, time, and stake," reiterated Mr. Straddler. "Now for distance, time, and stake, Monsieur!" continued he, appealing to Jack. "What distance would you like to have it?"

"Vot you please, sare," replied Monsieur, now depositing his tray on the sideboard; "vot you please, sare, much or little; ten miles, twenty miles, any miles he likes."

"O, the fellow's mad," muttered Cuddy, with a jerk of his head, making a last effort to be off.

"Don't be in a hurry, Cuddy, don't be in a hurry," interposed Heslop, adding, "he doesn't understand it-he doesn't understand it."

"O, I understands it, nicely, veil enough," replied Jack, with a shrug of his shoulders; "put us on to two orses, and see vich gets first to de money post."

"Aye, yes, exactly, to be sure, that's all right," asserted Paul Straddler, looking up approvingly at Jack, "and you say you'll beat Mr. Flintoff?"

"I say I beat Mr. Flintoff," rejoined Jack-"beat im dem veil too-beat his ead off-beat him stupendous!" added he.

"O, dash it all, we can't stand that, Caddy!" exclaimed Mr. Heslop, nudging Mr. Flintoff; "honor of the country, honor of the hunt, honor of England, honor of every thing's involved." Cuddy's bristles were now up too, and shaking his head and thrusting his hands deep into his trousers pockets, "he declared he couldn't stand that sort of language,-shot if he could."

"No; nor nobody else," continued Mr. Heslop, keeping him up to the indignity mark; "must be taught better manners," added he with a pout of the lip, as though fully espousing Caddy's cause.

"Come along, then! come along!" cried Paul Straddler, flourishing his dirty pen; "let's set up a school for grown sportsmen. Now for the guod boys. Master Bushey-heath says he'll ride Master Bareacres a match across country-two miles say-for, for, how much?" asked he, looking up.

This caused a pause, as it often does, even after dinner, and not the less so in the present instance, inasmuch as the promoters of the match had each a share in the risk. What would be hundreds in other people's cases becomes pounds in our own.

Flintoff and Straddler looked pacifically at each other, as much as to say, "There's no use in cutting each other's throats, you know."

"Suppose we say," (exhibiting four fingers and a thumb, slyly to indicate a five pound note), said Heslop demurely, after a conference with Cuddy.

"With all my heart," asserted Straddler, "glad it was no more."

"And call it fifty," whispered Heslop.

"Certainly!" assented Straddler, "very proper arrangement."

"Two miles for fifty pounds," announced Straddler, writing it down.

"P. P. I s'pose?" observed he, looking up.

"P. P." assented Heslop.

"Now, what next?" asked Paul, feeling that there was something more wanted.

"An umpire," suggested Mr. Smoothley.

"Ah, to be sure, an umpire," replied Mr. Straddler; "who shall it be?"

"Sir Moses!" suggested several voices.

"Sir Moses, by all means," replied Straddler.

"Content," nodded Mr. Heslop.

"It must be on a non-hunting day, then," observed the Baronet, speaking from the bottom of his tea-cup.

"Non-hunting day!" repeated Cuddy; "non-hunting day; fear that 'ill not do-want to be off to town on Friday to see Tommy White's horses sold. Have been above a week at the Park, as it is."

"You've been a fortnight to-morrow, sir," observed the ticket-of-leave butler (who had just come to announce the carriage) in a very different tone to his usual urbane whisper.

"Fortnight to-morrow, have I?" rejoined Cuddy sheepishly; "greater reason why I should be off."

"O, never think about that! O, never think about that! Heartily welcome, heartily welcome," rejoined Sir Moses, stuffing his mouth full of muffin, adding "Mr. Pringle will keep you company; Mr. Pringle will keep you company." (Hunch, munch, crunch.)

"Mr. Pringle must stop," observed Mr. Straddler, "unless he goes without his man."

"To besure he must," assented Sir Moses, "to be sure he must," adding, "stop as long as ever you like. I've no engagement till Saturday-no engagement till Saturday."

Now putting off our friend's departure till Saturday just gave a clear day for the steeple-chase, the next one, Thursday, being Woolerton by Heckfield, Saturday the usual make-believe day at the kennels; so of course Friday was fixed upon, and Sir Moses having named "noon" as the hour, and Timberlake toll-bar as the rendezvous, commenced a series of adieus as he beat a retreat to the screen, where having resumed his wraps, and gathered his tail, he shot down-stairs, and was presently re-ensconced in his carriage.

The remanets then of course proceeded to talk him and his friends over, some wishing the Baronet mightn't be too many for Billy, others again thinking Cuddy wasn't altogether the most desirable acquaintance a young man could have, though there wasn't one that didn't think that he himself was.

That topic being at length exhausted, they then discussed the projected steeple-chase, some thinking that Cuddy was a muff, others that Jack was, some again thinking they both were. And as successive relays of hot brandy and water enabled them to see matters more clearly, the Englishman's argument of betting was introduced, and closed towards morning at "evens," either jockey for choice.

Let us now take a look at the homeward bound party.

It was lucky for Billy that the night was dark and the road rough with newly laid whinstones, for both Sir Moses and Cuddy opened upon him most volubly and vehemently as soon as ever they got off the uneven pavement, with no end of inquiries about Jack and his antecedents. If he could ride? If he had ever seen him ride? If he had ever ridden a steeplechase? Where he got him? How long he had had him?

To most of which questions, Billy replied with his usual monosyllabic drawling, "yarses," amid jolts, and grinds, and gratings, and doms from Sir Moses, and cusses from Cuddy, easing his conscience with regard to Jack's service, by saying that he had had him "some time." Some time! What a line elastic period that is. We'd back a lawyer to make it cover a century or a season. Very little definite information, however, did they extract from Billy with regard to Jack for the best of all reasons, that Billy didn't know anything. Both Cuddy and Sir Moses interpreted his ignorance differently, and wished he mightn't know more than was good for them. And so in the midst of roughs and smooths, and jolts and jumps, and examinings, and cross-examinings, and re-examinings, they at length reached Pangburn Park Lodges, and were presently at home.

"Breakfast at eight!" said Sir Moses to Bankhead, as he alighted from the carriage.

"Breakfast at eight, Pringle!" repeated he, and seizing a flat candlestick from the half-drunken footman in the passage, he hurried up-stairs, blowing his beak with great vigour to drown any appeal to him about a horse.

He little knew how unlikely our young friend was to trouble him in that way.

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