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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 18741

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

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THE two-penny post used to be thought a great luxury in London, though somehow great people were often shy of availing themselves of its advantages, indeed of taking their two-penny-posters in. "Two-penny-posters," circulars, and ticketed shops, used to be held in about equal repugnance by some. The Dons, never thought of sending their notes or cards of invitation by the two-penny post. John Thomas used always to be trotted out for the purpose of delivery. Pre-paying a letter either by the two-penny post or the general used to be thought little short of an insult. Public opinion has undergone a great change in these matters. Not paying them is now the offence. We need scarcely expatiate on the boon of the penny post, nor on the advantage of the general diffusion of post-offices throughout the country, though we may observe, that the penny post was one of the few things that came without being long called for: indeed, so soon as it was practicable to have it, for without the almost simultaneous establishment of railways it would have been almost impossible to have introduced the system. The mail could not have carried the newspaper traffic and correspondence of the present day. The folded tablecloths of Times, the voluminous Illustrated News, the Punch's, the huge avalanches of papers that have broken upon the country within the last twenty years. Sir Moses Mainchance, unlike many country gentlemen, always had his letters forwarded to him where-ever he went. He knew it was only the trouble of writing a line to the Post-office, saying re-direct my letters to so-and-so, to have what he wanted, and thus to keep pace with his correspondence. He was never overpowered with letters when he came home from a visit or tour, as some of our acquaintance are, thus making writing doubly repugnant to them.

The morning after his arrival at Lundyfoote Castle brought him a great influx of re-directed letters and papers. One from Mr. Heslop, asking him to meet at his house on the Friday week following, as he was going to have a party, one from Signior Quaverini, the eminent musician, offering his services for the Hunt ball: one from Mr. Isinglass, the confectioner, hoping to be allowed to supply the ices and refreshment as usual; another (the fifth), from Mr. Mossman, about the damage to Mr. Anthill's sown grass; an envelope, enclosing the card and terms of Signior Dulcetto, an opposition musician, offering lower terras than Quaverini; a note from Mr. Paul Straddler, telling him about a horse to be bought dog cheap; and a "dead letter office" envelope, enclosing a blue ink written letter, directed to Master Anthony Thom, at the Inn-in-the-Sands Inn, Beechwood Green, stating that the party was not known at the address, reintroduces Mr. Geordey Gallon, a gentleman already known to the reader.

How this letter came to be sent to Sir Moses was as follows:-

When Mr. Geordey Gallon went upon the "Torf," as he calls it, becoming, as he considered, the associate of Princes, Prime Ministers, and so on, he bethought him of turning respectable, and giving up the stolen-goods-carrying-trade,-a resolution that he was further confirmed in by the establishment of that troublesome obnoxious corps the Hit-im-and-Hold-im-shire Rural Police.

To this end, therefore, he gradually reduced the number of his Tippy-Tom-jaunts through the country by night, intimating to his numerous patrons that they had better suit themselves elsewhere ere he ceased travelling altogether.

Among the inconvenienced, was our old friend Mrs. Margerum, long one of his most regular customers; for it was a very rare thing for Mr. Gallon not to find a carefully stitched-up bundle in the corner of Lawyer Hindmarch's cattle-shed, abutting on the Shillburn road as lie passed in his spring cart.

To remedy this serious inconvenience, Mrs. Margerum had determined upon inducting her adopted son, Master Anthony Thom, into the about-to-be-relinquished business; and Mr. Gallon having made his last journey, the accumulation of dripping caused by our hero's visit to Pangburn Park made it desirable to have a clearing-out as soon as possible.

To this end, therefore, she had written the letter now sent to Sir Moses; but, being a very prudent woman, with a slight smattering of law, she thought so long as she did not sign her surname at the end she was safe, and that no one could prove that it was from her. The consequence was, that Anthony Thom not having shifted his quarters as soon as intended, the letter was refused at the sign of the Sun-in-the-Sands, and by dint of postmark and contents, with perhaps a little malice prepense on the part of the Post-master, who had suffered from a dishonest housekeeper himself, it came into the hands of Sir Moses. At first our master of the hounds thought it was a begging-letter, and threw it aside accordingly; but in course of casting about for a fresh idea wherewith to propitiate Mr. Mossman about the sown grass, his eye rested upon the writing, which he glanced at, and glanced at, until somehow he thought he had seen it before. At length he took the letter up, and read what made him stare very much as he proceeded. Thus it run:-

"PANGBURN PARK, Thursday Night.

"My own ever dear Anthony Thom,

"I write to you, trusting you will receive this safe, to say that as Mr. George Gallon has discontinued travelling altogether, I must trust to you entirely to do what is necessary in futur, but you must be most careful and watchful, for these nasty Pollis fellers are about every where, and seem to think they have a right to look into every bodies basket and bundle. We live in terrible times, I'm sure, my own beloved Anthony Thom, and if it wasn't for the hope that I may see you become a great gentleman, like Mr. George Gallon, I really think I would forswear place altogether, for no one knows the anxiety and misery of living with such a nasty, mean, covetous body as Old Nosey."

"Old Nosey!" ejaculated Sir Moses, stopping short in his reading, and feeling his proboscis; "Old Nosey! dom it, can that mean me? Do believe it does-and it's mother Margerum's handwriting-dom'd if it isn't," continued he, holding the letter a little way off to examine and catch the character of the writing; "What does she mean by calling me a nasty, covetous body? I that hunt the country, subscribe to the Infirmary, Agricultural Society, and do everything that's liberal and handsome. I'll Old Nosey her!" continued he, grinding his teeth, and giving a vigorous flourish of his right fist; "I'll Old Nosey her! I'll turn her out of the house as soon as ever I get home, dom'd if I won't," said Sir Moses quivering with rage as he spoke. At length he became sufficiently composed to resume his reading-

"-No one knows the anxiety and misery of living with such a nasty, mean, covetous body as Old Nosey, who is always on the fret about expense, and thinks everybody is robbing him."

"Oh, dom it, that means me sure enough!" exclaimed Sir Moses; "that's on account of the row I was kicking up t'other day about the tea-declared I drank a pound a week myself. I'll tea her!" continued he, again turning to the letter and reading,-

"-I declare I'd almost as soon live under a mistress as under such a shocking mean, covetous man."

"Would you?" muttered Sir Moses; adding, "you shall very soon have a chance then." The letter thus continued,-

"-The old feller will be away on Saturday and Sunday, so come afore lightning on Monday morning, say about four o'clock, and I'll have everything ready to lower from my window."

"Oh the deuce!" exclaimed Sir Moses, slapping his leg; "Oh the deuce! going to rob the house, I declare!"

"-To lower from my window" read he again, "for it's not safe trusting things by the door as we used to do, now that these nasty knavish Pollis fellers are about; so now my own beloved Anthony Thom, if you will give a gentle whistle, or throw a little bit of soft dirt up at the window, where you will see a light burning, I'll be ready for you, and you'll be clear of the place long afore any of the lazy fellers here are up,-for a set of nastier, dirtier drunkards never were gathered together."

"Humph!" grunted Sir Moses, "that's a cut at Mr. Findlater." The writer then proceeded to say,-

"-But mind my own beloved Anthony Thom, if any body questions you., say it's a parcel of dripping, and tell them they are welcome to look in if they like, which is the readiest way of stopping them from doing so. We have had a large party here, including a young gent from that fine old Lord Ladythorne, who I would dearly like to live with, and also that nasty, jealous, covetous body Cuddy Flintoff, peeping and prying about everywhere as usual. He deserves to have a dish-clout pinned to his tail."

"He, he, he!" chuckled Sir Moses, as he read it

"-I shall direct this letter by post to you at the sign of the Sun in the Sands, unless I can get it conveyed by a private hand. I am half in hopes Mr. Gallon may call, as there is going to be a great steeple match for an immense sum of money, £200 they say, and they will want his fine judgment to direct matters. Mr. Gallon is indeed a man of a thousand."

"Humph!" grunted Sir Moses, adding, "we are getting behind the curtain now." He then went on reading,-

"-Oh my o

wn dear darling Anthony Thom! what would I give to see you a fine gentleman like Mr. George Gallon. I do hope and trust, dearest, that it may yet come to pass; but we must make money, and take care of our money when made, for a man is nothing without money. What a noble example you have before you in Mr. George Gallon! He was once no better nor you, and now he has everything like a gentleman,-a hunting horse to ride on, gold studs in his shirt, and goose for his dinner. O my own beloved Anthony Thom, if I could but see you on a white horse, with a flowered silk tie, and a cut velvet vest with bright steel buttons, flourishing a silver-mounted whip, how glad, how rejoiced it would make me. Then I shouldn't care for the pryings and grumblings of Old Nosey, or the jealous watchings of the nasty, waspish set with which one is surrounded, for I should say my Anthony Thom will revenge and protect me, and make me comfortable at last. So now my own dearest Anthony Thom, be careful and guarded in coming about here, for I dread those nasty lurkin Pollis men more nor can I say, for I never knew suspicious people what were good for any thing themselves; and how they ever come to interduce such nasty town pests into the quiet peaceful country, I can't for the life of me imagine; but Mr. George Gallon, who is a man of great intellect, says they are dangerous, and that is partly why he has given up travelling; so therefore my own dearest Anthony Thom be guarded, and mind put on your pee jacket and red worsted comforter, for 1 dread these hoar frosts, and I'll have everything ready for my darling pet, so that you won't be kept waiting a moment; but mind if there's snow on the ground you don't come for fear of the tracks. I think I have littel more to say this time, my own darling Anthony Thom, except that I am, my own dear, dear son,

"Your ever loving mother,


"B-o-o-y Jove!" exclaimed Sir Moses, sousing himself down in an easy chair beside the table at which he had been writing "b-o-y Jove, what a production! Regular robber, dom'd if she's not. Would give something to catch Master Anthony Thom, in his red worsted comforter, with his parcel of dripping. Would see whether I'd look into it or not. And Mr. Geordey Gallon, too! The impudent fellow who pretended not to know the Frenchman. Regular plant as ever was made. Will see whether he gets his money from me. Ten punds the wretch tried to do me ont of by the basest deceit that ever was heard of. Con-found them, but I'll see if I can't be upsides with them all though," continued he, writhing for vengeance. And the whole of that day, and most of that night, and the whole of the following day when hunting at Harker Crag, he was thinking how he could manage it. At length, as he was going quietly home with the hounds, after only an indifferent day's sport, a thought struck him which he proceeded to put in execution as soon as he got into the house. He wrote a note to dear Lord Repartee, saying, if it would be quite convenient to Lady Repartee and his Lordship, he would be glad to stay all night with them before hunting Filberton forest; and leaving the unfolded note on the library table to operate during the night, he wrote a second one in the morning, inquiring the character of a servant; and putting the first note into the fire, he sealed the second one, and laid it ostentatiously on the hall table for the post.

We take it we all have some ambitious feeling to gratify-all have some one whom we either wish to visit, or who we desire should visit us. We will candidly state that our ambition is to dine with the Lord Mayor. If we could but achieve that great triumph, we really think we should rest satisfied the rest of our life. We know how it would elevate us in the eyes of such men as Cuddy Flintoff and Paul Straddler, and what an advantage it would be to us in society being able to talk in a familiar way of his Lordship (Lordship with a capital L., if you please, Mr. Printer).

Thus the world proceeds on the aspiring scale, each man looking to the class a little in advance of his own.

"O knew they but their happiness, of men the happiest" are the sporting country gentlemen who live at home at ease-unvexed alike with the torments of the money-maker and the anxieties of the great, and yet sufficiently informed and refined to be the companions of either-men who see and enjoy nature in all her moods and varieties, and live unfettered with the pomp and vexation of keeping up appearances, envying no one, whoever may envy them. If once a man quits this happy rank to breast the contending billows of party in hopes of rising to the one above it, what a harvest of discord he sows for his own reaping. If a man wants to be thoroughly disgusted with human nature, let him ally himself unreservedly to a political party. He will find cozening and sneaking and selfishness in all their varieties, and patriotic false pretences in their most luxuriant growth. But we are getting in advance of our subject, our thesis being Mr. and Mrs. Wotherspoon.

Our snuffy friend Spoon was not exempt from the ambitious failings of lesser men. His great object of ambition was to get Major Yammerton to visit him-or perhaps to put it more correctly, his great object of ambition was to visit Major Yammerton. But then, unfortunately, it requires two parties to these bargains; and Mrs. Yammerton wouldn't agree to it, not so much because old Spoon had been a butler, but because his wife (our pen splutters as it writes the objection) his wife had been a-a-housekeeper. A handsome housekeeper she was, too, when she first came into the country; so handsome, indeed, that Dicky Boggledike had made two excursions over to their neighbour, Farmer Flamstead, to see her, and had reported upon her very favourably to the noble Earl his august master.

Still Mrs. Yammerton wouldn't visit her. In vain Mrs. Wotherspoon sent her bantams' eggs, and guinea fowls' eggs, and cuttings from their famous yellow rose-tree; in vain old Spoon got a worn-out horse, and invested his nether man in white cords and top boots to turn out after the harriers; in vain he walked a hound in summer, and pulled down gaps, and lifted gates off their hinges in winter-it all only produced thanks and politeness. The Yammertons and they were very good How-do-you-do? neighbours, but the true beef-and-mutton test of British friendship was wanting. The dinner is the thing that signs and seals the acquaintance.

Thus they had gone on from summer to summer, and from season to season, until hope deferred had not only made old Spoon's heart sick, but had also seen the white cords go at the knees, causing him to retire his legs into the military-striped cinnamon-coloured tweeds in which he appears in:

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In addition to muffling his legs, he had begun to mutter and talk about giving up hunting,-getting old,-last season-and so on, which made the Major think he would be losing one of the most personable of his field. This made him pause and consider how to avert the misfortune. Hunted hares he had sent him in more than regular rotation: he had liquored him repeatedly at the door; the ladies had reciprocated the eggs and the cuttings, with dahlias, and Sir Harry strawberry runners; and there really seemed very little left about the place wherewith to propitiate a refractory sportsman. At this critical juncture, a too confiding hare was reported by Cicely Bennett, farmer Merry field's dairymaid, to have taken up her quarters among some tussuckey brambles at the north-east corner of Mr. Wotherspoon's cow pasture-a most unusual, indeed almost unprecedented circumstance, which was communicated by Wotherspoon in person to the Major at the next meet of the hounds at Girdle Stone Green, and received with unfeigned delight by the latter.

"You don't say so!" exclaimed he, wringing the old dandy's hand; "you don't say so!" repented he, with enthusiasm, for hares were scarce, and the country good; in addition to which the Major knew all the gaps.

"I do," replied Spoon, with a confident air, that as good as said, you may take my word for anything connected with hunting.

"Well, then, I'll tell you what we'll do," rejoined the Major, poking him familiarly in the ribs with his whip, "I'll tell you what we'll do; we'll have a turn at her on Tuesday-meet at your house, eh? what say you to that?"

"With all my heart," responded the delighted Wotherspoon, adding, in the excitement of the moment, "S'pose you come to breakfast?"

"Breakfast," gasped the Major, feeling he was caught. "Dash it, what would Mrs. Yammerton say? Breakfast!" repeated he, running the matter through his mind, the wigging of his wife, the walk of his hound, the chance of keeping the old boy to the fore if he went-go he would. "With all my heart," replied he, dashing boldly at the oiler; for it's of no use a man saying he's engaged to breakfast, and the Major felt that if the worst came to the worst, it would only be to eat two, one at home, the other with Spoon.

So it was settled, much to Mr. and Mrs. Wotherspoon's satisfaction, who were afterwards further delighted to hear that our friend Billy had returned, and would most likely be of the party. And most assiduously they applied themselves to provide for this, the great event of their lives.

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