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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 16498

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

SIR Moses Mainchance, having fortified himself against the night air with a pint of club port, and a glass of pale brandy after his tea, at length ordered out the inn fly, without naming its destination to his fair messenger. These vehicles, now so generally scattered throughout the country, are a great improvement on the old yellow post-chaise, that made such a hole in a sovereign, and such a fuss in getting ready, holloaing, "Fust pair out!" and so on, to give notice to a smock-frocked old man to transform himself into a scarlet or blue jacketed post-boy by pulling off his blouse, and who, after getting a leg-up and a ticket for the first turnpike-gate, came jingling, and clattering, and cracking his dog-whip round to the inn door, attracting all the idlers and children to the spot, to see who was going to get into the "chay." The fly rumbles quietly round without noise or pretension, exciting no curiosity in any one's mind; for it is as often out as in, and may only be going to the next street, or to Woodbine Lodge, or Balsam Bower, on the outskirts of the town, or for an hour's airing along the Featherbedfordshire or the old London road. It does not even admit of a pull of the hair as a hint to remember the ostler as he stands staring in at the window, the consequence of which is, that the driver is generally left to open the door for his passenger himself. Confound those old iniquities of travelling!-a man used never to have his hand out of his pocket. Let not the rising generation resuscitate the evil, by contravening the salutary regulation of not paying people on railways.

Sir Moses hearing the sound of wheels, put on his wraps; and, rug in hand, proceeded quietly down stairs, accompanied only by the fair Bessy Bannister, instead of a flight of dirty waiters, holloaing "Coming down! coming down! now then! look sharp!" and so on.

The night was dark, but the ample cab-lamps threw a gleam over the drab and red lined door that George Beer the driver held back in his hand to let his customer in.

"Good night, my dear," said Sir Moses, now slyly squeezing Miss Bannister's hand, wondering why people hadn't nice clean quiet-stepping women to wait upon them, instead of stuck-up men, who thought to teach their masters what was right, who wouldn't let them have their plate-warmers in the room, or arrange their tables according to their own desires.-With these and similar reflections he then dived head-foremost into the yawning abyss of a vehicle. "Bang" went the door, and Beer then touched the side of his hat for instructions where to go to.

"Let me see," said Sir Moses, adjusting his rug, as if he hadn't quite made up his mind. "Let me see-oh, ah! drive me northwards, and I'll tell you further when we stop at the Slopewell turnpike-gate:" so saying Sir Moses drew up the gingling window, Beer mounted the box, and away the old perpetual-motion horse went nodding and knuckling over the uneven cobble-stone pavement, varying the motion with an occasional bump and jump at the open channels of the streets. Presently a smooth glide announced the commencement of Macadam, and shortly after the last gas-lamp left the road to darkness and to them. All was starlight and serene, save where a strip of newly laid gravel grated against the wheels, or the driver objurgated a refractory carter for not getting out of his way. Thus they proceeded at a good, steady, plodding sort of pace, never relaxing into a walk, but never making any very vehement trot.

At the Slopewell gate Sir Moses told Beer to take a ticket for the Winterton Burn one; arrived at which, he said, "Now go on and stop at the stile leading into the plantation, about half a mile on this side of my lodges," adding, "I'll walk across the park from there;" in obedience to which the driver again plied his whip along the old horse's ribs, and in due time the vehicle drew up at the footpath along-side the plantation.-The door then opened, Sir Moses alighted and stood waiting while the man turned his fly round and drove off, in order to establish his night eyes ere he attempted the somewhat intricate passage through the plantation to his house.

The night, though dark, was a good deal lighter than it appeared among the gloom of the houses and the glare of the gaslights at Hinton; and if he was only well through the plantation, Sir Moses thought he should not have much difficulty with the rest of the way. So conning the matter over in his mind, thinking whereabouts the boards over the ditch were, where the big oak stood near which the path led to the left, he got over the stile, and dived boldly into the wood.

The Baronet made a successful progress, and emerged upon the open space of Coldnose, just as the night breeze spread the twelve o'clock notes of his stable clock through the frosty air, upon the quiet country.

"All right," said he to himself, sounding his repeater to ascertain the hour, as he followed the tortuous track of the footpath, through cowslip pasture, over the fallow and along the side of the turnip field; he then came to the turn from whence in daylight the first view of the house is obtained.

A faint light glimmered in the distance, about where he thought the house would be situate.

"Do believe that's her room," said Sir Moses, stopping and looking at the light. "Do believe that's her signal for beloved Anthony Thom. If I catch the young scoundrel," continued he, hurrying on, "I'll-I'll-I'll break every bone in his skin." With this determination, Sir Moses put on as fast as the now darker lower ground would allow, due regard being had to not missing his way.

At length he came to the cattle hurdles that separated the east side of the park from the house, climbing over which he was presently among the dark yews and hollies, and box-bushes of the shrubbery. He then paused to reconnoitre.-The light was still there.-If it wasn't Mrs. Margerum's room, it was very near it; but he thought it was hers by the angle of the building and the chimneys at the end. What should he do?-Throw a pebble at the window and try to get her to lower what she had, or wait and see if he could take Anthony Thom, cargo and all? The night was cold, but not sufficiently so, he thought, to stop the young gentleman from coming, especially if he had his red worsted comforter on; and as Sir Moses threw his rug over his own shoulders, he thought he would go for the great haul, at all events; especially as he felt he could not converse with Mrs. Margerum à la Anthony Thom, should she desire to have a little interchange of sentiment. With this determination he gathered his rug around him, and proceeded to pace a piece of open ground among the evergreens, like the Captain of a ship walking the quarter-deck, thinking now of his money, now of his horses, now of Miss Bannister, and now of the next week's meets of his hounds.-He had not got half through his current of ideas when a footstep sounded upon the gravel-walk; and, pausing in his career, Sir Moses distinctly recognised the light patter of some one coming towards him. He down to charge like a pointer to his game, and as the sound ceased before the light-showing window, Sir Moses crept stealthily round among the bushes, and hid behind a thick ground-sweeping yew, just as a rattle of peas broke upon the panes.

The sash then rose gently, and Sir Moses participated in the following conversation:-

Mrs. Margerum (from above)-"O, my own dearly beloved Anthony Thom, is that you, darling! But don't, dear, throw such big 'andfulls, or you'll be bricking the winder."

Master Anthony Thom (from below)-"No, mother; only I thought you might be asleep."

Mrs. Margerum-"Sleep, darling, and you coming! I never sleep when my own dear Anthony Thom is coming! Bless your noble heart! I've been watching for you this-I don't know how long."

Master Anthony Thom-"Couldn't get Peter Bateman's cuddy to come on."

Mrs. Margerum-"And has my Anthony Thom walked all the way?"

Master Anthony Thom-"No; I got a cast in Jackey Lishman the chimbley-sweep's car as far as Burnfoot Bridge. I've walked from there."

Mrs. Margerum-"Bless his sweet heart! And had he his worsted comforter on?"

Master Anthony Thom

-"Yes; goloshes and all."

Mrs. Margerum-"Ah, goloshes are capital things. They keep the feet, warm, and prevent your footsteps from being heard. And has my Anthony Thom got the letter I wrote to him at the Sun in the Sands?"

Master Anthony Thom-"No, never heard nothin' of it."

Mrs. Margerum-"No! Why what can ha' got it?"

Master Anthony Thom-"Don't know.-Makes no odds.-I got the things all the same."

Mrs. Margerum-"O, but my own dear Anthony Thom, but it does. Mr. Gerge Gallon says it's very foolish for people to write anything if they can 'elp it-they should always send messages by word of mouth. Mr. Gallon is a man of great intellect, and I'm sure what he says is right, and I wish I had it back."

Master Anthony Thom-"O, it'll cast up some day, I'll be bound.-It's of no use to nobody else."

Mrs. Margerum-"I hope so, my dear. But it is not pleasant to think other folks may read what was only meant for my own Anthony Thom. However, it's no use crying over spilt milk, and we must manish better another time. So now look out, my beloved, and I'll lower what I have."

So saying, a grating of cord against the window-sill announced a descent, and Master Anthony Thom, grasping the load, presently cried, "All right!"

Mrs. Margerum,-"It's not too heavy for you, is it, dear?" Master Anthony Thom (hugging the package)-"O, no; I can manish it. When shall I come again, then, mother?" asked he, preparing to be off.

Mrs. Margerum-"Oh, bless your sweet voice, my beloved. When shall you come again, indeed? I wish I could say very soon; but, dearest, it's hardly safe, these nasty pollis fellers are always about, besides which, I question if old Nosey may be away again before the ball; and as he'll be all on the screw for a while, to make up for past expense, I question it will be worth coming before then. So, my own dear Anthony Thom, s'pose we say the ball night, dear, about this time o' night, and get a donkey to come on as far as the gates, if you can, for I dread the fatigue; and if you could get a pair of panniers, so much the better, you'd ride easier, and carry your things better, and might have a few fire-bricks or hearth-stones to put at the top, to pretend you were selling them, in case you were stopped-which, however, I hope won't be the case, my own dear; but you can't be too careful, for it's a sad, sinful world, and people don't care what they say of their neighbours. So now, my own dearest Anthony Thom, good night, and draw your worsted comforter close round your throat, for colds are the cause of half our complaints, and the night air is always to be dreaded; and take care that you don't overheat yourself, but get a lift as soon as you can, only mind who it is with, and don't say you've been here, and be back on the ball night. So good night, my own dearest Anthony Thom, and take care of yourself whatever you do, for--"

"Good night, mother," now interrupted Anthony Thom, adjusting the bundle under his arm, and with repeated "Good night, my own dearest," from her, he gave it a finishing jerk, and turning round, set off on his way rejoicing.

Sir Moses was too good a sportsman to holloa before his game was clear of the cover; and he not only let Anthony Thom's footsteps die out on the gravel-walk, but the sash of Mrs. Margerum's window descend ere he withdrew from his hiding-place and set off in pursuit. He then went tip-toeing along after him, and was soon within hearing of the heavily laden lad.

"Anthony Thom, my dear! Anthony Thom," whispered he, coming hastily upon him as he now turned the corner of the house.

Anthony Thom stopped, and trembling violently exclaimed, "O Mr. Callon. is it you?"

"Yes, my dear, it's me," replied Sir Moses, adding, "you've got a great parcel, my dear; let me carry it for you," taking it from him as he spoke.

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Original Size

"Shriek! shriek! scream!" now went the terrified Thom, seeing into whose hands he had fallen. "O you dom'd young rascal," exclaimed Sir Moses, muffling him with his wrapper,-"I'll draw and quarter you if you make any noise. Come this way, you young miscreant!" added he, seizing him by the worsted comforter and dragging him along past the front of the house to the private door in the wall, through which Sir Moses disappeared when he wanted to evade Mon s. Rougier's requirements for his steeple-chase money.

That passed, they were in the stable-yard, now silent save the occasional stamp of the foot or roll of the halter of some horse that had not yet lain down. Sir Moses dragged his victim to the door in the corner leading to the whipper-in's bedroom, which, being open, he proceeded to grope his way up stairs. "Harry! Joe! Joe! Harry!" holloaed he, kicking at the door.

Now, Harry was away, but Joe was in bed; indeed he was having a hunt in his sleep, and exclaimed as the door at length yielded to the pressure of Sir Moses' foot. "'Od rot it! Don't ride so near the hounds, man!"

"Joe!" repeated Sir Moses, making up to the corner from whence the sound proceeded. "Joe! Joe!" roared he still louder.

"O, I beg your pardon! I'll open the gate!" exclaimed Joe, now throwing off the bed-clothes and bounding vigorously on to the floor.

"Holloa!" exclaimed he, awaking and rubbing his eyes. "Holloa! who's there?"

"Me," said Sir Moses, "me,"-adding: "Don't make a row, but strike a light as quick as you can; I've got a bag fox I want to show you."

"Bag fox, have you?" replied Joe, now recognising his master's voice, making for the mantel-piece and feeling for the box. "Bag fox, have you? Dreamt we were in the middle of a run from Ripley Coppice, and that I couldn't get old Crusader over the brook at no price." He then hit upon the box, and with a scrape of a lucifer the room was illuminated.

Having lit a mould candle that stood stuck in the usual pint-bottle neck, Joe came with it in his hand to receive the instructions of his master.

"Here's a dom'd young scoundrel I've caught lurking about the house," said Sir Moses, pushing Anthony Thom towards him "and I want you to give him a good hiding."

"Certainly, Sir Moses; certainly," replied Joe, taking Anthony Thom by the ear as he would a hound, and looking him over amid the whining and whimpering and beggings for mercy of the boy.

"Why this is the young rascal that stole my Sunday shirt off Mrs. Saunders's hedge!" exclaimed Joe, getting a glimpse of Anthony Thom's clayey complexioned face.

"No, it's not," whined the boy. "No, it's not. I never did nothin' o' the sort."

"Nothin' o' the sort!" retorted Joe, "why there ain't two hugly boys with hare lips a runnin' about the country," pulling down the red-worsted comforter, and exposing the deformity as he spoke.

"It's you all over," continued he, seizing a spare stirrup leather, and proceeding to administer the buckle-end most lustily. Anthony Thom shrieked and screamed, and yelled and kicked, and tried to bite; but Joe was an able practitioner, and Thom could never get a turn at him.

Having finished one side, Joe then turned him over, and gave him a duplicate beating on the other side.

"There! that'll do: kick him down stairs!" at length cried Sir Moses, thinking Joe had given him enough; and as the boy went bounding head foremost down, he dropped into his mother's arms, who, hearing his screams, had come to the rescue.

Joe and his master then opened the budget and found the following goods:-

2 lb. of tea, 1 bar of brown soap in a dirty cotton night-cap, marked C. F.; doubtless, as Sir Moses said, one of Cuddy Flintoff's.

"Dom all such dripping," said Sir Moses, as he desired Joe to carry the things to the house. "No wonder that I drank a great deal of tea," added he, as Joe gathered them together.

"Who the deuce would keep house that could help it?" muttered Sir Moses, proceeding on his way to the mansion, thinking what a trouncing he would give Mrs. Margerum ere he turned her out of doors.

1 lb. of coffee

3 lb. of brown sugar

3 lb. of starch

1 lb. of currants

1 lb. of rushlights

1 roll of cocoa

2 oz. of nutmegs

1 lb. of mustard

1 bar of pale soap

1 lb. of orange peel

1 bottle of capers

1 quail of split pras

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