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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 21926

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

THE great event was ushered in by one of those fine bright autumnal days that shame many summer ones, and seem inclined to carry the winter months fairly over into the coming year. The sun rose with effulgent radiance, gilding the lingering brown and yellow tints, and lighting up the landscape with searching, inquisitorial scrutiny. Not a nook, not a dell, not a cot, not a curl of smoke but was visible, and the whole scene shone with the vigour of a newly burnished, newly varnished picture. The cattle stood in bold relief against the perennially green fields, and the newly dipped lambs dotted the hill-sides like white marbles. A clear bright light gleamed through the stems of the Scotch fir belt, encircling the brow of High Rays Hill, giving goodly promise of continued fineness.

* We append one of Mr. Gallon's advertisements for a horse,

which is very characteristic of the man:-

"A Flash high-stepping SCREW WANTED. Must be very fast,

steady in single harness, and the price moderate. Blemishes

no object. Apply, by letter, real name and address, with

full description, to Mr. George Gallon, Rose and Crown,

Four-Lane-ends. Hit-im and Hold-im shire."

Sir Moses, seeing this harbinger of fair from his window as he dressed, arrayed himself in his best attire, securing his new blue and white satin cravat with a couple of massive blood-stone pins, and lacing his broad-striped vest with a multiplicity of chains and appendant gew-gaws. He further dared the elements with an extensive turning up of velvet. Altogether he was a great swell, and extremely well pleased with his appearance.

The inmates of the Park were all at sixes and sevens that morning, Monsieur having left Billy to be valeted by the footman, whose services were entirely monopolised by Cuddy Flintoff and Sir Moses. When he did at length come, he replied to Billy's enquiry "how his horse was," that he was "quite well," which was satisfactory to our friend, and confirmed him in his opinion of the superiority of his judgment over that of Wetun and the rest. Sir Moses, however, who had made the tour of the stables, thought otherwise, and telling the Tiger to put the footboard to the back of the dog-cart, reserved the other place in front for his guest. A tremendous hurry Sir Moses was in to be off, rushing in every two or three minutes to see if Billy wasn't done his breakfast, and at last ordering round the vehicle to expedite his movements. Then he went to the door and gave the bell such a furious ring as sounded through the house and seemed well calculated to last for ever.

Billy then came, hustled along by the ticket-of-leave butler and the excitable footman, who kept dressing him as he went; and putting his mits, his gloves, this shawl, cravat, and his taper umbrella into his hands, they helped him up to the seat by Sir Moses, who forthwith soused him down, by touching the mare with the whip, and starting off at a pace that looked like trying to catch an express train. Round flew the wheels, up shot the yellow mud, open went the lodge gates, bark went the curs, and they were presently among the darker mud of the Marshfield and Greyridge Hill Road.

On, on, Sir Moses pushed, as if in extremis.

"Well now, how is it to be?" at length asked he, getting his mare more by the head, after grinding through a long strip of newly-laid whinstone: "How is it to be? Can this beggar of yours ride, or can he not?" Sir Moses looking with a scrutinising eye at Billy as he spoke.

"Yarse, he can ride," replied Billy, feeling his collar; "rode the other day, you know."

Sir Moses. "Ah, but that's not the sort of riding I mean. Can he ride across country? Can he ride a steeple-chase, in fact?"

Mr. Pringle. "Yarse, I should say he could," hesitated our friend.

Sir Moses. "Well, but it won't do to back a man to do a thing one isn't certain he can do, you know. Now, between ourselves," continued he, lowering his voice so as not to let the Tiger hear-"Cuddy Flintoff is no great performer-more of a mahogany sportsman than any thing else, and it wouldn't take any great hand to beat him."

Billy couldn't say whether Monsieur was equal to the undertaking or not, and therefore made no reply. This perplexed Sir Moses, who wished that Billy's downy face mightn't contain more mischief than it ought. It would be a devil of a bore, he thought, to be done by such a boy. So he again took the mare short by the head, and gave expression to his thoughts by the whip along her sides. Thus he shot down Walkup Hill at a pace that carried him half way up the opposing one. Still he couldn't see his way-dom'd if he could-and he felt half inclined not to risk his "fi-pun" note.

In this hesitating mood he came within sight of the now crowd-studded rendezvous.

Timberlake toll bar, the rendezvous for the race, stands on the summit of the hog-backed Wooley Hill, famous for its frequent sheep-fairs, and commands a fine view over the cream of the west side of Featherbedfordshire, and by no means the worst part of the land of Jewdea, as the wags of the former country call Hit-im and Hold-im shire.

Sir Moses had wisely chosen this rendezvous, in order that he might give Lord Ladythorne the benefit of the unwelcome intrusion without exciting the suspicion of the farmers, who would naturally suppose that the match would take place over some part of Sir Moses's own country. In that, however, they had reckoned without their host. Sir Moses wasn't the man to throw a chance away-dom'd if he was.

The road, after crossing the bridge over Bendibus Burn, being all against collar, Sir Moses dropped his reins, and sitting back in his seat, proceeded to contemplate the crowd. A great gathering there was, horsemen, footmen, gigmen, assmen, with here and there a tinkling-belled liquor-vending female, a tossing pie-man, or a nut-merchant. As yet the spirit of speculation was not aroused, and the people gathered in groups, looking as moudy as men generally do who want to get the better of each other. The only cheerful faces on the scene were those of Toney Loftus, the pike-man, and his wife, whose neat white-washed, stone-roofed cottage was not much accustomed to company, save on the occasion of the fairs. They were now gathering their pence and having a let-off for their long pent-up gossip.

Sir Moses's approach put a little liveliness into the scene, and satisfied the grumbling or sceptical ones that they had not come to the wrong place. There was then a general move towards the great white gate, and as he paid his fourpence the nods of recognition and How are ye's? commenced amid a vigorous salute of the muffin bells. Tinkle tinkle tinkle, buy buy buy, toss and try! toss and try! tinkle tinkle tinkle. Barcelona nuts, crack 'em and try 'em, crack 'em and try 'em; the invitation being accompanied with the rattle of a few in the little tin can.

"Now, where are the jockeys?" asked Sir Moses, straining his eye-balls over the open downs.

"They're coomin. Sir Moses, they're coomin," replied several voices; and as they spoke, a gaily-dressed man, on a milk-white horse, emerged from the little fold-yard of Butterby farm, about half a mile to the west, followed by two distinct groups of mounted and dismounted companions, who clustered round either champion like electors round a candidate going to the hustings.

"There's Geordey Gallon!" was now the cry, as the hero of the white horse shot away from the foremost group, and came best pace across the rush-grown sward of the sheep-walk towards the toll-bar. "There's Geordey Gallon! and now we shall hear summut about it;" whereupon the scattered groups began to mingle and turn in the direction of the coming man.

It was Mr. Gallon,-Gallon on his famous trotting hack Tippy Tom-a vicious runaway brute, that required constant work to keep it under, a want that Mr. Gallon liberally supplied it with. It now came yawning and boring on the bit, one ear lying one way, the other another, shaking its head like a terrier with a rat in its mouth, with a sort of air that as good as said. "Let me go, or I'll either knock your teeth down your throat with my head, or come back over upon you." So Mr. Gallon let him go, and came careering along at a leg-stuck-out sort of butcher's shuffle, one hand grasping the weather-bleached reins, the other a cutting-whip, his green coat-laps and red kerchief ends Hying out, his baggy white cords and purple plush waistcoat strings all in a flutter, looking as if he was going to bear away the gate and house, Toney Loftus and wife, all before him. Fortunately for the byestanders there was plenty of space, which, coupled with the deep holding ground and Mr. Gallon's ample weight-good sixteen stone-enabled him to bring the white nag to its bearings; and after charging a flock of geese, and nearly knocking down a Barcelona-nut merchant, he got him manoeuvred in a semicircular sort of way up to the gate, just as if it was all right and plain sailing. He then steadied him with a severe double-handed jerk of the bit, coupled with one of those deep ominous wh-o-o ah's that always preceded a hiding. Tippy Tom dropped his head as if he understood him.

All eyes were now anxiously scrutinising Gallon's great rubicund double-chinned visage, for, in addition to his general sporting knowledge and acquirements, he was just fresh from the scene of action where he had doubtless been able to form an opinion. Even Sir Moses, who hated the sight of him, and always declared he "ought to be hung," vouchsafed him a "good morning, Gallon," which the latter returned with a familiar nod.

He then composed himself in his capacious old saddle, and taking off his white shallow began mopping his great bald head, hoping that some one would sound the key-note of speculation ere the advancing parties arrived at the gate. They all, however, seemed to wish to defer to Mr. Gallon-Gallon was the man for their money, Gallon knew a thing or two, Gallon was up to snuff,-go it, Gallon!


"What does onybody say 'boot it Frenchman?" at length asked he in his elliptical Yorkshire dialect, looking round on the company.

"What do you say 'boot it Frenchman, Sir Moses?" asked he, not getting an answer from any one.

"Faith, I know nothing," replied the Baronet, with a slight curl of the lip.

"Nay, yeer tied to know summut, hooever," replied Gallon, rubbing his nose across the back of his hand; "yeer tied to know summut, hooever. Why, he's a stoppin' at yeer house, isn't he?"

"That may all be," rejoined Sir Moses, "without my knowing anything of his riding. What do you say yourself? you've seen him."

"Seen him!" retorted Gallon, "why he's a queer lookin' chap, ony hoo-that's all ar can say: haw, haw, haw."

"You won't back him, then?" said Sir Moses, inquiringly.

"Hardly that," replied Gallon, shaking his head and laughing heartily, "hardly that, Sir Moses. Ar'l

l tell you whatar'll do, though," said he, "just to mak sport luike, ar'll tak yeer two to one-two croons to one," producing a greasy-looking metallic-pencilled betting-book as he spoke.

Just then a move outside the ring announced an arrival, and presently Mr. Heslop came steering Cuddy Flintoff along in his wife's Croydon basket-carriage, Cuddy's head docked in an orange-coloured silk cap, and his whole person enveloped in a blue pilot coat with large mother-of-pearl buttons. The ominous green-pointed jockey whip was held between his knees, as with folded arms he lolled carelessly in the carriage, trying to look comfortable and unconcerned.

"Mornin', Flintoff', how are ye?" cried Sir Moses, waving hie hand from his loftier vehicle, as they drew up.

"Mornin', Heslop, how goes it? Has anybody seen anything of Monsieur?" asked he, without waiting for an answer to either of these important inquiries.

"He's coming, Sir Moses," cried several voices, and presently the Marseillaise hymn of liberty was borne along on the southerly breeze, and Jack's faded black hunting-cap was seen bobbing up and down in the crowd that encircled him, as he rode along on Paul Straddler's shooting pony.

Jack had been at the brandy bottle, and had imbibed just enough to make him excessively noisy.

"Three cheers for Monsieur Jean Rougier, de next Emperor of de French!" cried he, rising in his stirrups, as he approached the crowd, taking off his old brown hunting-cap, and waving it triumphantly, "Three cheers for de best foxer, de best fencer, de best fighter in all Europe!" and at a second flourish of the cap the crowd came into the humour of the thing, and cheered him lustily. And then of course it was one cheer more for Monsieur; and one cheer more he got.

"Three cheers for ould England!" then demanded Mr. Gallon on behalf of Mr. Flintoff, which being duly responded to, he again asked "What onybody would do 'boot it Frenchman?"

"Now, gentlemen," cried Sir Moses, standing erect in his dogcart, and waving his hand for silence: "Now, gentlemen, listen to me!" Instead of which somebody roared out, "Three cheers for Sir Moses!" and at it they went again, Hooray, hooray, hooray, for when an English mob once begins cheering, it never knows when to stop. "Now, gentlemen, listen to me," again cried he, as soon as the noise had subsided. "It's one o'clock, and it's time to proceed to business. I called you here that there might be no unnecessary trespass or tampering with the ground, and I think I've chosen a line that will enable you all to see without risk to yourselves or injury to anyone" (applause, mingled with a tinkling of the little bells). "Well now," added he, "follow me, and I'll show you the way;" so saying, he resumed his seat, and passing through the gate turned short to the right, taking the diagonal road leading down the hill, in the direction of Featherbedfordshire.

"Where can it be?" was then the cry.

"I know," replied one of the know-everything ones.

"Rainford, for a guinea!" exclaimed Mr. Gallon, fighting with Tippy Tom. who wanted to be back.

"I say Rushworth!" rejoined Mr. Heslop, cutting in before him.

"Nothin' o' the sort!" asserted Mr. Buckwheat; "he's for Harlingson green to a certainty."

The heterogeneous cavalcade then fell into line, the vehicles and pedestrians keeping the road, while the horsemen spread out on either side of the open common, with the spirit of speculation divided between where the race was to be and who was to win.

Thus they descended the hill and joined the broad, once well-kept turnpike, whose neglected milestones still denoted the distance between London and Hinton-London so many miles on one side, Hinton so many miles on the other-things fast passing into the regions of antiquity. Sir Moses now put on a little quicker, and passing through the village of Nettleton and clearing the plantation beyond, a long strip of country lay open to the eye, hemmed in between the parallel lines of the old road and the new Crumpletin Railway.

He then pulled up on the rising ground, and placing his whip in the socket, stood up to wait the coming of the combatants, to point them out the line he had fixed for the race. The spring tide of population flowed in apace, and he was presently surrounded with horsemen, gigmen, footmen, and bellmen as before.

"Now, gentlemen!" cried Sir Moses, addressing Mr. Flintoff and Monsieur, who were again ranged on either side of his dogcart: "Now, gentlemen, you see the line before you. The stacks, on the right here," pointing to a row of wheat stacks in the adjoining field, "are the starting post, and you have to make your ways as straight as ever you can to Lawristone Clump yonder," pointing to a clump of dark Scotch firs standing against the clear blue sky, on a little round hill, about the middle of a rich old pasture on Thrivewell Farm, the clump being now rendered more conspicuous by sundry vehicles clustered about its base, the fair inmates of which had received a private hint from Sir Moses where to go to. The Baronet always played up to the fair, with whom he flattered himself he was a great favourite.

"Now then, you see," continued he, "you can't get wrong, for you've nothing to do but to keep between the lines of the rail and the road, on to neither of which must you come: and now you gentlemen," continued he. addressing the spectators generally, "there's not the slightest occasion for any of you to go off the road, for you'll see a great deal better on it, and save both your own necks and the farmers' crops; so just let me advise you to keep where you are, and follow the jockeys field by field as they go. And now, gentlemen," continued he, again addressing the competitors, '"having said all I have to say on the subject, I advise you to get your horses and make a start of it, for though the day is fine its still winter, you'll remember, and there are several ladies waiting for your coming." So saying, Sir Moses soused down in his seat, and prepared to watch the proceedings.

Mr. Flintoff was the first to peel; and his rich orange and white silk jacket, natty doeskins, and paper-like boots, showed that he had got himself up as well with a due regard to elegance as to lightness. He even emptied some halfpence out of his pockets, in order that he might not carry extra weight. He would, however, have been a great deal happier at home. There was no "yoieks, wind him," or "yoicks, push 'im up," in him now.

Monsieur did not show to so much advantage as Cuddy; but still he was a good deal better attired than he was out hunting on the Crooked-Billet day. He still retained the old brown cap, but in lieu of the shabby scarlet, pegtop trousers and opera-boots, he sported a red silk jacket, a pair of old-fashioned broad-seamed leathers, and mahogany boots-the cap being the property of Sir Moses's huntsman, Tom Findlater, the other articles belonging to Mr. George Gallon of the Rose and Crown. And the sight of them, as Monsieur stripped, seemed to inspirit the lender, for he immediately broke out with the old inquiry, "What does onybody say 'boot it Frenchman?"

"What do you say 'boot it Frenchman, Sir Moses?" asked he.

Sir Moses was silent, for he couldn't see his way to a satisfactory investment; so, rising in his seat, he holloaed out to the grooms, who were waiting their orders outside the crowd, to "bring in the horses."

"Make way, there! make way, there!" cried he, as the hooded and sheeted animals approached and made up to their respective riders.

"Takeoff his nightcap! take off his nightcap!" cried Jack, pulling pettedly at the strings of the hood; "take off his nightcap!" repeated he, stamping furiously, amid the laughter of the bystanders, many of whom had never seen a Frenchman, let alone a mounted one, before.

The obnoxious nightcap being removed, and the striped sheet swept over his tail, Mr. Rowley Abingdon's grey horse Mayfly Blood showing himself as if he was in a dealer's yard, for as yet he had not ascertained what he was out for. A horse knows when he is going to hunt, or going to exercise, or going to be shod, or going to the public house, but these unaccustomed jaunts puzzle him. Monsieur now proceeded to inform him by clutching at the reins, as he stood preparing for a leg-up on the wrong side.

"The other side, mun, the other side," whispered Paul Straddler in his ear; whereupon Monsieur passed under the horse's head, and appeared as he ought. The movement, however, was not lost on Sir Moses, who forthwith determined to back Cuddy. Cuddy might be bad, but Monsieur must be worse, he thought.

"I'll lay an even five on Mr. Flintoff!" cried he in a loud and audible voice. "I'll lay an even five on Mr. Flintoff," repeated he, looking boldly round. "Gallon, what say you?" asked he, appealing to the hero of the white horse.

"Can't be done, Sir Moses, can't be done," replied Gallon, grinning from ear to ear, with a shake of his great bull head. "Tak yeer three to two if you loike," added he, anxious to be on.

Sir Moses now shook his head in return.

"Back myself, two pound ten-forty shillin', to beat dis serene and elegant Englishman!" exclaimed Jack, now bumping up and down in his saddle as if to establish a seat.

"Do you owe him any wages?" asked Sir Moses of Billy in an under-tone, wishing to ascertain what chance there was of being paid if he won.

"Yarse, I owe him some," replied Billy; but how much he couldn't say, not having had Jack's book lately.

Sir Moses caught at the answer, and the next time Jack offered to back himself, he was down upon him with a "Done!" adding, "I'll lay you an even pund if you like."

"With all my heart, Sare Moses Baronet," replied Jack gaily; adding, "you are de most engagin', agreeable mans I knows; a perfect beauty vidout de paint."

Gallon now saw his time was come, and he went at Sir Moses with a "Weell, coom, ar'le lay ye an even foive."

"Done!" cried the Baronet.

"A tenner, if you loike!" continued Gallon, waxing valiant.

Sir Moses shook his head.

"Get me von vet sponge, get me von vet sponge," now exclaimed Jack, looking about for the groom.

"Wet sponge! What the deuce do you want with a wet sponge?" demanded Sir Moses with surprise.

"Yet sponge, just damp my knees leetle-make me stick on better," replied Jack, turning first one knee and then the other out of the saddle to get sponged.

"O dom it, if it's come to that, I may as well have the ten," muttered Sir Moses to himself. So, nodding to Gallon, he said "I'll make it ten."

"Done!" said Gallon, with a nod, and the bet was made-Done, and Done, being enough between gentlemen.

"Now, then," cried Sir Moses, stepping down from his dogcart, "come into the field, and I'll start you."

Away then the combatants went, and the betting became brisk in the ring. Mr. Flintoff the favourite at evens.

* * *

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