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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 19976

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

MR. Pringle's return was greeted with an immense shoal of letters, one from Mamma, one with "Yammerton Grange" on the seal, two from his tailors-one with the following simple heading, "To bill delivered," so much; the other containing a vast catalogue of what a jury of tailors would consider youthful "necessaries," amounting in the whole to a pretty round sum, accompanied by an intimation, that in consequence of the tightness of the money-market, an early settlement would be agreeable-and a very important-looking package, that had required a couple of heads to convey, and which, being the most mysterious of the whole, after a due feeling and inspection, he at length opened. It was from his obsequious friend Mr. Smoothley, and contained a printed copy of the rules of the Hit-im and Hold-im shire Hunt, done up in a little red-backed yellow-lined book, with a note from the sender, drawing Mr. Pringle's attention to the tenth rule, which stipulated that the annual club subscription of fifteen guineas was to be paid into Greedy and Griper's bank, in Hinton, by Christmas-day in each year at latest, or ten per cent, interest would be charged on the amount after that.

"Fi-fi-fifteen guineas! te-te-ten per cent.!" ejaculated Billy, gasping for breath; "who'd ever have thought of such a thing!" and it was some seconds before he sufficiently recovered his composure to resume his reading. The rent of the cover he had taken, Mr. Smoothley proceeded to say, was eight guineas a-year. "Eight guineas a-year!" again ejaculated Billy; "eight guineas a-year! why I thought it was a mere matter of form. Oh dear, I can't stand this!" continued he, looking vacantly about him. "Surely, risking one's neck is quite bad enough, without paying for doing so. Lord Ladythorne never asked me for any money, why should Sir Moses? Oh dear, oh dear! I wish i'd never embarked in such a speculation. Nothing to be made by it, but a great deal to be lost. Bother the thing, I wish I was out of it," with which declaration he again ventured to look at Mr. Smoothley's letter. It went on to say, that the rent would not become payable until the next season, Mr. Treadcroft being liable for that year's rent. "Ah well, come, that's some consolation, at all events," observed our friend, looking up again; "that's some consolation, at all events," adding, "I'll take deuced good care to give it up before another year comes round."

Smoothley then touched upon the more genial subject of the hunt-buttons. he had desired Garnet, the silversmith, to send a couple of sets off the last die, one for Billy's hunting, the other for his dress coat; and he concluded by wishing our friend a long life of health and happiness to wear them with the renowned Hit-im and Hold-im shire hunt; and assuring him that he was always his, with great sincerity, John Smoothley. "Indeed," said Billy, throwing the letter down; "more happiness if I don't wear them," continued he, conning over his many misfortunes, and the great difficulty he had in sitting at the jumps. "However," thought he, "the dress ones will do for the balls," with which not uncommon consolation he broke the red seal of the Yammerton Grange letter.

This was from our friend the Major, all about a wonderful hunt his "haryers" had had, which he couldn't resist the temptation of writing to tell Billy of. The description then sprawled over four sides of letter paper, going an arrant burst from end to end, there not being a single stop in the whole, whatever there might have been in the hunt; and the Major concluded by saying, that it was by far the finest run he had ever seen during his long mastership, extending over a period of five-and-thirty years.

Glancing his eye over its contents, how they found at Conksbury Corner, and ran at a racing pace without a check to Foremark Hill, and down over the water-meadows at Dove-dale Green to Marbury Hall, turning short at Fullbrook Folly, and over the race-course at Ancaster Lawn, doubling at Dinton Dean, and back over the hill past Oakhanger Gorse to Tufton Holt, where they killed, the account being interwoven, parenthesis within parenthesis, with the brilliant hits and performances of Lovely, and Lilter, and Dainty, and Bustler, and others, with the names of the distinguished party who were out, our old friend Wotherspoon among the number, Billy came at last to a sly postscript, saying that "his bed and stall were quite ready for him whenever he liked to return, and they would all be delighted to see him." The wording of the Postscript had taken a good deal of consideration, and had undergone two or three revisions at the hands of the ladies before they gave it to the Major to add-one wanting to make it rather stronger, another rather milder, the Major thinking they had better have a little notice before Mr. Pringle returned, while Mamma (who had now got all the linen up again) inclined, though she did not say so before the girls, to treat Billy as one of the family. Upon a division whether the word "quite" should stand part of the Postscript or not, the Major was left in a minority, and the pressing word passed. His bed and stall were "quite ready," instead of only "ready" to receive him. Miss Yammerton observing, that "quite" looked as if they really wished to have him, while "ready" looked as if they did not care whether he came or not. And Billy, having pondered awhile on the Postscript, which he thought came very opportunely, proceeded to open his last letter, a man always taking those he doesn't know first.

This letter was Mamma's-poor Mamma's-written in the usual strain of anxious earnestness, hoping her beloved was enjoying himself, but hinting that she would like to have him back. Butterfingers was gone, she had got her a place in Somersetshire, so anxiety on that score was over. Mrs. Pringle's peculiar means of information, however, informed her that the Misses Yammerton were dangerous, and she had already expressed her opinion pretty freely with regard to Sir Moses. Indeed, she didn't know which house she would soonest hear of her son being at-Sir Moses's with his plausible pocket-guarding plundering, or Major Yammerton's, with the three pair of enterprising eyes, and Mamma's mature judgment directing the siege operations. Mrs. Pringle wished he was either back at Tantivy Castle, or in Curtain Crescent again.

Still she did not like to be too pressing, but observed, as Christmas was coming, when hunting would most likely be stopped by the weather, she hoped he would run up to town, where many of his friends, Jack Sheppard, Tom Brown, Harry Bean, and others, were asking for him, thinking he was lost. She also said, it would be a good time to go to Uncle Jerry's, and try to get a settlement with him, for though she had often called, sometimes by appointment, she had never been able to meet with him, as he was always away, either seeing after some chapel he was building, or attending a meeting for the conversion of the Sepoys, or some other fanatics.

The letter concluded by saying, that she had looked about in vain for a groom likely to suit him; for, although plenty had presented themselves from gentlemen wishing for high wages with nothing to do, down to those who would garden and groom and look after cows, she had not seen anything at all to her mind. Mr. Luke Grueler, however, she added, who had called that morning, had told her of one that he could recommend, who was just leaving the Honourable Captain Swellington; and being on his way to town from Doubleimupshire, where the Captain had got to the end of his tether, he would very possibly call; and, if so, Billy would know him by his having Mr. Grueler's card to present. And with renewed expressions of affection, and urging him to take care of himself, as well among the leaps as the ladies, she signed herself his most doting and loving "Mamma."

"Groom!" (humph) "Swellington!" (humph) muttered Billy, folding up the letter, and returning it to its highly-musked envelope.

"Wonder what sort of a beggar he'll be?" continued he, twirling his mustachios; "Wonder how he'll get on with Rougier?" and a thought struck him, that he had about as much as he could manage with Monsieur. However, many people have to keep what they don't want, and there is no reason why such an aspiring youth as our friend should be exempt from the penance of his station. Talking of grooms, we are not surprised at "Mamma's" difficulty in choosing one, for we know of few more difficult selections to make; and, considering the innumerable books we have on the choice and management of horses, we wonder no one has written on the choice and management of grooms. The truth is, they are as various as the horse-tribe itself; and, considering that the best horse may soon be made a second-rate one by bad grooming, when a second-rate one may be elevated to the first class by good management, and that a man's neck may be broken by riding a horse not fit to go, it is a matter of no small importance. Some men can dress themselves, some can dress their horses; but very few can dress both themselves and their horses. Some are only fit to strip a horse and starve him. It is not every baggy-corded fellow that rolls slangily along in top-boots, and hisses at everything he touches, that is a groom. In truth, there are very few grooms, very few men who really enter into the feelings and constitutions of horses, or look at them otherwise than as they would at chairs or mahogany tables. A horse that will be perfectly furious under the dressing of one man, will be as quiet as possible in the hands of another--a rough subject thinking the more a horse prances aud winces, the greater the reason to lay on. Some fellows have neither hands, nor eyes, nor sense, nor feeling, nor anything. We have seen one ride a horse to cover without ever feeling that he was lame, while a master's eye detected it the moment he came in sight. Indeed, if horses co

uld express their opinions, we fear many of them would have very indifferent ones of their attendants. The greater the reason, therefore, for masters giving honest characters of their servants.

Our friend Mr. Pringle, having read his letters, was swinging up and down the little library, digesting them, when the great Mr. Bankhead bowed in with a card on a silver salver, and announced, in his usual bland way, that the bearer wished to speak to him.

"Me!" exclaimed Billy, wondering who it could be; "Me!" repeated he, taking the highly-glazed thin pasteboard missive off the tray, and reading, "Mr. Luke Grueler, Half-Moon Street, Piccadilly."

"Grueler, Grueler!" repeated Billy, frowning and biting his pretty lips; "Grueler-I've surely heard that name before."

"The bearer, sir, comes from Mr. Grueler, sir," observed Mr. Bankhead, in explanation: "the party's own name, sir, is Gaiters; but he said by bringing in this card, you would probably know who he is."

"Ah! to be sure, so I do," replied Billy, thus suddenly enlightened, "I've just been reading about him. Send him in, will you?"

"If you please, sir," whispered the bowing Bankhead as he withdrew.

Billy then braced himself up for the coming interview.

A true groom's knock, a loud and a little one, presently sounded on the white-over-black painted door-panel, and at our friend's "Come in," the door opened, when in sidled a sleek-headed well put on groomish-looking man, of apparently forty or five-and-forty years of age. The man bowed respectfully, which Billy returned, glancing at his legs to see whether they were knock-kneed or bowed, his Mamma having cautioned him against the former. They were neither; on the contrary, straight good legs, well set off with tightish, drab-coloured kerseymere shorts, and continuations to match. His coat was an olive-coloured cutaway, his vest a canary-coloured striped toilanette, with a slightly turned-down collar, showing the whiteness of his well-tied cravat, secured with a gold flying-fox pin. Altogether he was a most respectable looking man, and did credit to the recommendation of Mr. Grueler.

Still he was a groom of pretension-that is to say, a groom who wanted to be master. He was hardly, indeed, satisfied with that, and would turn a gentleman off who ventured to have an opinion of his own on any matter connected with his department. Mr. Gaiters considered that his character was the first consideration, his master's wishes and inclinations the second; so if master wanted to ride, say, Rob Roy, and Gaiters meant him to ride Moonshine, there would be a trial of skill which it should be.

Mr. Gaiters always considered himself corporally in the field, and speculated on what people would be saying of "his horses."

Some men like to be bullied, some don't, but Gaiters had dropped on a good many who did. Still these are not the lasting order of men, and Gaiters had at tended the dispersion of a good many studs at the Corner. Again, some masters had turned him off, while he had turned others off; and the reason of his now being disengaged was that the Sheriff of Doubleimupshire had saved him the trouble of taking Captain Swellington's horses to Tattersall's, by selling them off on the spot. Under these circumstances, Gaiters had written to his once former master-or rather employer-Mr. Grueler, to announce his retirement, which had led to the present introduction. Many people will recommend servants who they wouldn't take themselves. Few newly married couples but what have found themselves saddled with invaluable servants that others wanted to get rid of.

Mutual salutations over, Gaiters now stood in the first position, hat in front, like a heavy father on the stage.

Our friend not seeming inclined to lead the gallop, Mr. Gaiters, after a prefatory hem, thus commenced: "Mr. Grueler, sir, I presume, would tell you, sir, that I would call upon you, sir?"

Billy nodded assent.

"I'm just leaving the Honourable Captain Swellington, of the Royal Hyacinth Hussars, sir, whose regiment is ordered out to India; and fearing the climate might not agree with my constitution, I have been obliged to give him up."

"Ah!" ejaculated Billy.

"I have his testimonials," continued Gaiters, putting his hat between his legs, and diving into the inside pocket of his cutaway as he spoke. "I have his testimonials," repeated he, producing a black, steel-clasped banker or bill-broker's looking pocket-book, and tedding up a lot of characters, bills, recipes, and other documents in the pocket. He then selected Captain Swellington's character from the medley, written on the best double-thick, cream-laid note-paper, sealed with the Captain's crest-a goose-saying that the bearer John Gaiters was an excellent groom, and might safely be trusted with the management of hunters. "You'll probably know who the Captain is, sir," continued Mr. Gaiters, eyeing Billy as he read it, "He's a son of the Right Honourable Lord Viscount Flareup's, of Flareup Castle, one of the oldest and best families in the kingdom-few better families anywhere," just as if the Peer's pedigree had anything to do with Gaiters's grooming. "I have plenty more similar to it," continued Mr. Gaiters, who had now selected a few out of the number which he held before him, like a hand at cards. "Plenty more similar to it," repeated he, looking them over. "Here is Sir Rufus Rasper's, Sir Peter Puller's, Lord Thruster's, Mr. Cropper's, and others. Few men have horsed more sportsmen than I have done; and if my principals do not go in the first flight, it is not for want of condition in my horses. Mr. Grueler was the only one I ever had to give up for overmarking my horses; and he was so hard upon them I couldn't stand it; still he speaks of me, as you see, in the handsomest manner," handing our friend Mr. Grueler's certificate, couched in much the same terms as Captain Swellington's.

"Yarse," replied Billy, glancing over and then returning it, thinking, as he again eyed Mr. Gaiters, that a smart lad like Lord Ladythorne's Cupid without wings would be more in his way than such a full-sized magnificent man. Still his Mamma and Mr. Grueler had sent Gaiters, and he supposed they knew what was right. In truth, Gaiters was one of those overpowering people that make a master feel as if he was getting hired, instead of suiting himself with a servant.

This preliminary investigation over, Gaiters returned the characters to his ample book, and clasping it together, dropped it into his capacious pocket, observing, as it fell, that he should be glad to endeavour to arrange matters with Mr. Pringle, if he was so inclined.

Our friend nodded, wishing he was well rid of him.

"It's not every place I would accept," continued Mr. Gaiters, growing grand; "for the fact is, as Mr. Grueler will tell you, my character is as good as a Bank of England note; and unless I was sure I could do myself justice, I should not like to venture on an experiment, for it's no use a man undertaking anything that he's not allowed to carry out his own way; and nothing would be so painful to my feelings as to see a gentleman not turned out as he should be."

Mr. Pringle drawled a "yarse," for he wanted to be turned out properly.

"Well, then," continued Mr. Gaiters, changing his hat from his right hand to his left, subsiding into the second position, and speaking slowly and deliberately, "I suppose you want a groom to take the entire charge and management of your stable-a stud groom, in short?"

"Yarse, I s'pose so," replied Billy, not knowing exactly what he wanted, and wishing his Mamma hadn't sent him such a swell.

"Well, then, sir," continued Mr. Gaiters, casting his eyes up to the dirty ceiling, and giving his chin a dry shave with his disengaged hand; "Well, then, sir, I flatter myself I can fulfil that office with credit to myself and satisfaction to my employer."

"Yarse," assented Billy, thinking there would be very little satisfaction in the matter.

"Buy the forage, hire the helpers, do everything appertaining to the department,-in fact, just as I did with the Honourable Captain Swellington."

"Humph," said Billy, recollecting that his Mamma always told him never to let servants buy anything for him that he could help.

"Might I ask if you buy your own horses?" inquired Mr. Gaiters, after a pause.

"Why, yarse, I do," replied Billy; "at least I have so far."

"Hum! That would be a consideration," muttered Gaiters, compressing his mouth, as if he had now come to an obstacle; "that would be a consideration. Not that there's any benefit or advantage to be derived from buying horses," continued he, resuming his former tone; "but when a man's character's at stake, it's agreeable, desirable, in fact, that he should be intrusted with the means of supporting it. I should like to buy the horses," continued he, looking earnestly at Billy, as if to ascertain the amount of his gullibility.

"Well," drawled Billy, "I don't care if you do," thinking there wouldn't be many to buy.

"Oh!" gasped Gaiters, relieved by the announcement; he always thought he had lost young Mr. Easyman's place by a similar demand, but still he couldn't help making it. It wouldn't have been doing justice to the Bank of England note character, indeed, if he hadn't.

"Oh!" repeated he, emboldened by success, and thinking he had met with the right sort of man. He then proceeded to sum up his case in his mind,-forage, helpers, horses, horses, helpers, forage;-he thought that was all he required; yes, he thought it was all he required, and the Bank of England note character would be properly supported. He then came to the culminating point of the cash. Just as he was clearing his throat with a prefatory "Hre" for this grand consideration, a sudden rush and banging of doors foreboding mischief resounded through the house, and something occurred--that we will tell in another chapter.

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