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   Chapter 4 LAVERICK WELLS

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 8849

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


We trust our opening chapters, aided by our friend Leech's pencil, will have enabled our readers to embody such a Sponge in their mind's eye as will assist them in following us through the course of his peregrinations. We do not profess to have drawn such a portrait as will raise the same sort of Sponge in the minds of all, but we trust we have given such a general outline of style, and indication of character, as an ordinary knowledge of the world will enable them to imagine a good, pushing, free-and-easy sort of man, wishing to be a gentleman without knowing how.

Far more difficult is the task of conveying to our readers such information as will enable them to form an idea of our hero's ways and means. An accommodating world-especially the female portion of it-generally attribute ruin to the racer, and fortune to the fox-hunter; but though Mr. Sponge's large losses on the turf, as detailed by him to Mr. Buckram on the occasion of their deal or 'job,' would bring him in the category of the unfortunates; still that representation was nearly, if not altogether, fabulous. That Mr. Sponge might have lost a trifle on the great races of the year, we don't mean to deny, but that he lost such a sum as eighteen hundred on the Derby, and seven on the Leger, we are in a condition to contradict, for the best of all possible reasons, that he hadn't it to lose. At the same time we do not mean to attribute falsehood to Mr. Sponge-quite the contrary-it is no uncommon thing for merchants and traders-men who 'talk in thousands,' to declare that they lost twenty thousand by this, or forty thousand by that, simply meaning that they didn't make it, and if Mr. Sponge, by taking the longest of the long odds against the most wretched of the outsiders, might have won the sums he named, he surely had a right to say he lost them when he didn't get them.

It never does to be indigenously poor, if we may use such a term, and when a man gets to the end of his tether, he must have something or somebody to blame rather than his own extravagance or imprudence, and if there is no 'rascally lawyer' who has bolted with his title-deeds, or fraudulent agent who has misappropriated his funds, why then, railroads, or losses on the turf, or joint-stock banks that have shut up at short notice, come in as the scapegoats. Very willing hacks they are, too, railways especially, and so frequently ridden, that it is no easy matter to discriminate between the real and the fictitious loser.

But though we are able to contradict Mr. Sponge's losses on the turf, we are sorry we are not able to elevate him to the riches the character of a fox-hunter generally inspires. Still, like many men of whom the common observation is, 'nobody knows how he lives,' Mr. Sponge always seemed well to do in the world. There was no appearance of want about him. He always hunted: sometimes with five horses, sometimes with four, seldom with less than three, though at the period of our introduction he had come down to two. Nevertheless, those two, provided he could but make them 'go,' were well calculated to do the work of four. And hack horses, of all sorts, it may be observed, generally do double the work of private ones; and if there is one man in the world better calculated to get the work out of them than another, that man most assuredly is Mr. Sponge. And this reminds us, that we may as well state that his bargain with Buckram was a sort of jobbing deal. He had to pay ten guineas a month for each horse, with a sort of sliding scale of prices if he chose to buy-the price of 'Ercles' (the big brown) being fixed at fifty, inclusive of hire at the end of the first month, and gradually rising according to the length of time he kept him beyond that; while, 'Multum in Parvo,' the resolute chestnut, was booked at thirty, with the right of buying at five more, a contingency that Buckram little expected. He, we may add, had got him for ten, and dear he thought him when he got him home.

The world was now all before Mr. Sponge where to choose; and not being the man to keep hack horses to look at, we must be setting him a-going.

'Leicesterscheer swells,' as Mr. Buckram would call them, with their fourteen hunters and four hacks, will smile at the idea of a man going from home to hunt with only a couple of 'screws,' but Mr. Sponge knew what he was about and didn't want any one to counsel him. He knew there we

re places where a man can follow up the effect produced by a red coat in the morning to great advantage in the evening; and if he couldn't hunt every day in the week, as he could have wished, he felt he might fill up his time perhaps quite as profitably in other ways. The ladies, to do them justice, are never at all suspicious about men-on the 'nibble'-always taking it for granted, they are 'all they could wish,' and they know each other so well, that any cautionary hint acts rather in a man's favour than otherwise. Moreover, hunting men, as we said before, are all supposed to be rich, and as very few ladies are aware that a horse can't hunt every day in the week, they just class the whole 'genus' fourteen-horse power men, ten-horse power men, five-horse power men, two-horse power men, together, and tying them in a bunch, label it 'very rich,' and proceed to take measures accordingly.

Let us now visit one of the 'strongholds' of fox and fortune-hunting.

A sudden turn of a long, gently rising, but hitherto uninteresting road, brings the posting traveller suddenly upon the rich, well-wooded, beautifully undulating vale of Fordingford, whose fine green pastures are brightened with occasional gleams of a meandering river, flowing through the centre of the vale. In the far distance, looking as though close upon the blue hills, though in reality several miles apart, sundry spires and taller buildings are seen rising above the grey mists towards which a straight, undeviating, matter-of-fact line of railway passing up the right of the vale, directs the eye. This is the famed Laverick Wells, the resort, as indeed all watering-places are, according to newspaper accounts, of

'Knights and dames,

And all that wealth and lofty lineage claim.'

At the period of which we write, however, 'Laverick Wells' was in great feather-it had never known such times. Every house, every lodging, every hole and corner was full, and the great hotels, which more resemble Lancashire cotton-mills than English hostelries, were sending away applicants in the most offhand, indifferent way.

The Laverick Wells hounds had formerly been under the management of the well-known Mr. Thomas Slocdolager, a hard-riding, hard-bitten, hold-harding sort of sportsman, whose whole soul was in the thing, and who would have ridden over his best friend in the ardour of the chase.

MR. THOMAS SLOCDOLAGER, LATE MASTER OF THE LAVERICK WELLS HOUNDS

In some countries such a creature may be considered an acquisition, and so long as he reigned at the Wells, people made the best they could of him, though it was painfully apparent to the livery-stable keepers, and others, who had the best interest of the place at heart, that such a red-faced, gloveless, drab-breeched, mahogany-booted buffer, who would throw off at the right time, and who resolutely set his great stubbly-cheeked face against all show meets and social intercourse in the field, was not exactly the man for a civilized place. Whether time might have enlightened Mr. Slocdolager as to the fact, that continuous killing of foxes, after fatiguingly long runs, was not the way to the hearts of the Laverick Wells sportsmen, is unknown, for on attempting to realize as fine a subscription as ever appeared upon paper, it melted so in the process of collection, that what was realized was hardly worth his acceptance; saying so, in his usual blunt way, that if he hunted a country at his own expense he would hunt one that wasn't encumbered with fools, he just stamped his little wardrobe into a pair of old black saddle-bags, and rode out of town without saying 'tar, tar,' good-bye, carding, or P.P.C.-ing anybody.

This was at the end of a season, a circumstance that considerably mitigated the inconvenience so abrupt a departure might have occasioned, and as one of the great beauties of Laverick Wells is, that it is just as much in vogue in summer as in winter, the inhabitants consoled themselves with the old aphorism, that there is as 'good fish in the sea as ever came out of it,' and cast about in search of some one to supply his place at as small cost to themselves as possible. In a place so replete with money and the enterprise of youth, little difficulty was anticipated, especially when the old bait of 'a name' being all that was wanted, 'an ample subscription,' to defray all expenses figuring in the background, was held out.

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