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Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 13898

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

A sudden change now came over the country.-The weather, which had been mild and summer-like throughout, changed to frost, binding all nature up in a few hours. The holes in the streets which were shining with water in the gas-lights when Miss de Glancey retired to bed, had a dull black-leaded sort of look in the morning, while the windows of her room glistened with the silvery spray of ferns and heaths and fancy flowers.-The air was sharp and bright, with a clear blue sky overhead, all symptomatic of frost, with every appearance of continuing.-That, however, is more a gentleman's question than a lady's, so we will return within doors.

Flys being scarce at Hinton, and Miss de Glancey wishing to avoid the gape and stare of the country town, determined to return by the 11.30 train; so arose after a restless night, and taking a hurried breakfast, proceeded, with the aid of her maid, to make one of those exquisite toilettes for which she had so long been justly famous. Her sylph-like figure was set off in a bright-green terry-velvet dress, with a green-feathered bonnet of the same colour and material, trimmed with bright scarlet ribbons, and a wreath of scarlet flowers inside.-A snow-white ermine tippet, with ermine cuffs and muff, completed her costume. Having surveyed herself in every mirror, she felt extremely satisfied, and only wished Captain Languisher could see her. With that exact punctuality which constant practice engenders, but which sometimes keeps strangers sadly on the fret, the useful fly was at length at the door, and the huge box containing the eight hundred yards of tulle being hoisted on to the iron-railed roof, the other articles were huddled away, and Miss de Glancey ascending the steps, usurped the seat of honour, leaving Mrs. Roseworth and her maid to sit opposite to her. A smile with a half-bow to Mrs. Sarsnet, as she now stood at the door, with a cut of the whip from the coachman, sent our party lilting and tilting over the hard surface of the road to the rail.

The line ran true and smooth this day, and the snorting train stopped at the pretty Swiss cottage station at Fairfield just as Mrs. Roseworth saw the last of the parcels out of the fly, while Miss de Glancey took a furtive peek at the passengers from an angle of the bay window, at which she thought she herself could not be seen.

Now, it so happened that the train was in charge of the well-known Billy Bates, a smart young fellow, whose good looks had sadly stood in the way of his preferment, for he never could settle to anything; and after having been a footman, a whipper-in, a watcher, a groom, and a grocer, he had now taken up with the rail, where he was a great favourite with the fair, whom he rather prided himself upon pairing with what he considered appropriate partners. Seeing our lovely coquette peeping out, it immediately occurred to him, that he had a suitable vis-à-vis for her-a dashing looking gent., in a red flannel Emperor shirt, a blue satin cravat, a buff vest, aud a new bright-green cut-away with fancy buttons; altogether a sort of swell that isn't to be seen every day.

"This way, ladies!" now cried Billy, hurrying into the first-class waiting-room, adjusting the patent leather pouch-belt of his smart grcen-and-red uniform as he spoke. "This way, ladies, please!" waving them on with his clean white doeskin-gloved hand towards the door; whereupon Miss de Glancey, drawing herself up, and primming her features, advanced on to the platform, like the star of the evening coming on to the stage of a theatre.

Billy then opened the frosty-windowed door of a carriage a few paces up the line; whereupon a red railway wrapper-rug with brown foxes' heads being withdrawn, a pair of Bedford-corded legs dropped from the opposite seat, and a dogskin gloved hand was protruded to assist the ascent of the enterer. A pretty taper-fingered primrose-kidded one was presently inside it; but ere the second step was accomplished, a convulsive thrill was felt, and, looking up, Miss de Glancey found herself in the grasp of her old friend Imperial John!

"O Mr. Hybrid!" exclaimed she, shaking his still retained hand with the greatest cordiality; "O Mr. Hybrid! I'm so glad to see you! I'm so glad to meet somebody I know!" and gathering herself together, she entered the carriage, and sat down opposite him.

Mrs. Roseworth then following, afforded astonished John a moment to collect his scattered faculties, yet not sufficient time to compare the dread. "Si-r-r-r! do you mean to insult me!" of their former meeting, with the cordial greeting of this. Indeed, our fair friend felt that she had a great arrear of politeness to make up, and as railway time is short, she immediately began to ply her arts by inquiring most kindly after His Highness's sister Mrs. Poppeyfield and her baby, who she heard was such a sweet boy; and went on so affably, that before Billy Bates arrived with the tickets, which Mrs. Roseworth had forgotten to take, Imperial John began to think that there must have been some mistake before, and Miss de Glancey couldn't have understood him. Then, when the train was again in motion, she applied the artillery of her eyes so well-for she was as great an adept in her art as the Northumberland horse-tamer is in his-that ere they stopped at the Lanecroft station, she had again subjugated Imperial John;-taken his Imperial reason prisoner! Nay more, though he was going to Bowerbank to look at a bull, she actually persuaded him to alight and accompany her to Mrs. Roseworth's where we need scarcely say he was presently secured, and in less than a week she had him so tame that she could lead him about, anywhere.

The day after the ball was always a busy one in Hit-im-and-Hold-em-shire. It was a sort of settling day, only the parties scattered about the country instead of congregating at the "corner." Those who had made up their minds overnight, came to "Ask Mamma" in the morning, and those who had not mustered sufficient courage, tried what a visit to inquire how the young lady was after the fatigue of the ball would do to assist them. Those who had got so far on the road as to have asked both the young lady and "Mamina," then got handed over to the more business-like inquiries of Papa-when Cupid oft "spreads his light wings and in a moment flies." Then it is that the tenable money exaggerations come out-the great expectations dwindling away, and the thousands a-year becoming hundreds. We never knew a reputed Richest Commoner's fortune that didn't collapse most grievously under the "what have you got, and what will you do?" operation. But if it passes Papa, the still more dread ordeal of the lawyer has to be encountered when one being summoned on either side, a hard money-driving bargain ensues, one trying how much he can get, the other how little he can give-until the whole nature and character of the thing is changed. Money! money! mon

ey! is the cry, as if there was nothing in the world worth living for but those eternal bits of yellow coin. But we are getting in advance of our subject, our suitor not having passed the lower, or "Ask-Mamma" house.

Among the many visited on this auspicious day were our fair friends at Yammaerton Grange, our Richest Commoner having infused a considerable degree of activity into the matrimonial market. There is nothing like a little competition for putting young gentlemen on the alert. First to arrive was our friend Sir Moses Mainchance, who dashed up to the door in his gig with the air of a man on safe ground, saluting Mamma whom he found alone in the drawing-room, and then the young ladies as they severally entered in succession. Having thus sealed and delivered himself into the family, as it were, he enlarged on the delights of the ball-the charming scene, the delightful music, the excellent dancing, the sudden disappearance of de Glancey and other the incidents of the evening. These topics being duly discussed, and cake and wine produced, "Mamma" presently withdrew, her example being followed at intervals by Flora and Harriet.

Scarcely had she got clear of the door ere the vehement bark of the terrier called her attention to the front of the house, where she saw our fat friend the Woolpack tit-tup-ing up on the identical horse Jack Rogers so unceremoniously appropriated on the Crooked Billet day. There was young Treadcroft with his green-liveried cockaded groom behind him, trying to look as unconcerned as possible, though in reality he was in as great a fright as it was well possible for a boy to be. Having dismounted and nearly pulled the bell out of its socket with nervousness, he gave his horse to the groom, with orders to wait, and then followed the footman into the dining-room, whither Mrs. Yammerton had desired him to be shown.

Now, the Woolpack and the young Owl (Rowley Abingdon), had been very attentive both to Flora and Harriet at the ball, the Woolpack having twice had an offer on the tip of his tongue for Flora, without being able to get it off.

Somehow his tongue clave to his lips-he felt as if his mouth was full of claggum. He now came to see if he could have any better luck at the Grange.

Mrs. Yammerton had read his feelings at the ball, and not receiving the expected announcement from Flora, saw that he wanted a little of her assistance, so now proceeded to give it. After a most cordial greeting and interchanges of the usual nothings of society, she took a glance at the ball, and then claimed his congratulations on Clara's engagement, which of course led up to the subject, opening the locked jaw at once; and Mamma having assured the fat youth of her perfect approval and high opinion of his character, very soon arranged matters between them, and produced Flora to confirm her. So she gained two sons-in-law in one night. Miss Harriet thus left alone, took her situation rather to heart, and fine Billy, forgetful of his Mamma's repeated injunctions and urgent entreaties to him to return now that the ball was over, and the hunting was stopped by the frost, telling him she wanted him on most urgent and particular business, was tender-hearted enough on finding Harriet in tears the next day to offer to console her with his hand, which we need not say she joyfully accepted, no lady liking to emulate "the last rose of summer and be left blooming alone." So all the pretty sisters were suited, Harriet perhaps the best off, as far as looks at least went.

But, when in due course the old "what have you got and what will you do?" inquiries came to be instituted, we are sorry to say our fine friend could not answer them nearly so satisfactorily as the Woolpack, who had his balance-sheets nearly off by heart. Billy replying in the vacant negligè sort of way young gentlemen do, that he supposed he would have four or five thousand a-year, though when asked why he thought he'd have four or five thousand a-year, he really could not tell the reason why. Then when further probed by our persevering Major, he admitted that it was all at the mercy of uncle Jerry, and that his Mamma had said their lawyer had told her he did not think pious Jerry would account except under pressure of the Court of Chancery, whereupon the Major's chin dropped, as many a man's chin has dropped, at the dread announcement. It sounds like an antidote to matrimony. Even Mrs. Yammerton thought under the circumstances that the young Owl might be a safer speculation than fine Billy, though she rather leant, to fine Billy, as people do lean to strangers in preference to those they knew all about. Still Chancery was a choker. Equity is to the legal world what Newmarket is to the racing world, the unadulterated essence of the thing. As at Newmarket there is none of the fun and gaiety of the great race-meetings, so in Chancery there is none of the pomp and glitter and varied incident that rivets so many audiences to the law courts.

All is dull, solemn, and dry-paper, paper, paper-a redundancy of paper, as if it were possible to transfer the blush of perjury to paper. Fifty people will make affidavits for one that will go into a witness-box and have the truth twisted out of them by cross-examination. The few strangers who pop into court pop out again as quickly as they can, a striking contrast to those who go in in search of their rights-though wrestling for one's rights under a pressure of paper, is very like swimming for one's life enveloped in a salmon-net. It is juries that give vitality to the administration of justice. A drowsy hum pervades the bar, well calculated for setting restless children to sleep, save when some such brawling buffoon as the Indian juggler gets up to pervert facts, and address arguments to an educated judge that would be an insult to the mind of a petty juryman. One wonders at men calling themselves gentlemen demeaning themselves by such practices. Well did the noble-hearted Sir William Erie declare that the licence of the bar was such that he often wished the offenders could be prosecuted for a misdemeanour. We know an author who made an affidavit in a chancery suit equal in length to a three-volume novel, and what with weighing every word in expectation of undergoing some of the polished razors keen of that drowsy bar, he could not write fiction again for a twelvemonth. As it was, he underwent that elegant extract Mr. Verde, whose sponsors have done him such justice in the vulgar tongue, and because he made an immaterial mistake he was held up to the Court as utterly unworthy of belief! We wonder whether Mr. Verde's character or the deponent's suffered most by the performance. But enough of such worthies. Let all the bullies of the bar bear in mind if they have tongues other people have pens, and that consideration for the feelings of others is one of the distinguishing characteristics of gentlemen.

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