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   Chapter 5 MR. WAFFLES

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 17422

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Among a host of most meritorious young men-(any of whom would get up behind a bill for five hundred pounds without looking to see that it wasn't a thousand)-among a host of most meritorious young men who made their appearance at Laverick Wells towards the close of Mr. Slocdolager's reign, was Mr. Waffles; a most enterprising youth, just on the verge of arriving of age, and into the possession of a very considerable amount of charming ready money.

Were it not that a 'proud aristocracy,' as Sir Robert Peel called them, have shown that they can get over any little deficiency of birth if there is sufficiency of cash, we should have thought it necessary to make the best of Mr. Waffles' pedigree, but the tide of opinion evidently setting the other way, we shall just give it as we had it, and let the proud aristocracy reject him if they like. Mr. Waffles' father, then, was either a great grazier or a great brazier-which, we are unable to say, 'for a small drop of ink having fallen,' not 'like dew,' but like a black beetle, on the first letter of the word in our correspondent's communication, it may do for either-but in one of which trades he made a 'mint of money,' and latish on in life married a lady who hitherto had filled the honourable office of dairy-maid in his house; she was a fine handsome woman and a year or two after the birth of this their only child, he departed this life, nearer eighty than seventy, leaving an 'inconsolable,' &c., who unfortunately contracted matrimony with a master pork-butcher, before she got the fine flattering white monument up, causing young Waffles to be claimed for dry-nursing by that expert matron the High Court of Chancery; who, of course, had him properly educated-where, it is immaterial to relate, as we shall step on till we find him at college.

Our friend, having proved rather too vivacious for the Oxford Dons, had been recommended to try the effects of the Laverick Wells, or any other waters he liked, and had arrived with a couple of hunters and a hack, much to the satisfaction of the neighbouring master of hounds and his huntsman; for Waffles had ridden over and maimed more hounds to his own share, during the two seasons he had been at Oxford, than that gentleman had been in the habit of appropriating to the use of the whole university. Corresponding with that gentleman's delight at getting rid of him was Mr. Slocdolager's dismay at his appearance, for fully satisfied that Oxford was the seat of fox-hunting as well as of all the other arts and sciences, Mr. Waffles undertook to enlighten him and his huntsman on the mysteries of their calling, and 'Old Sloc,' as he was called, being a very silent man, while Mr. Waffles was a very noisy one. Sloc was nearly talked deaf by him.

Mr. Waffles was just in the hey-day of hot, rash, youthful indiscretion and extravagance. He had not the slightest idea of the value of money, and looked at the fortune he was so closely approaching as perfectly inexhaustible. His rooms, the most spacious and splendid at that most spacious and splendid hotel, the 'Imperial,' were filled with a profusion of the most useless but costly articles. Jewellery without end, pictures innumerable, pictures that represented all sorts of imaginary sums of money, just as they represented all sorts of imaginary scenes, but whose real worth or genuineness would never be tested till the owner wanted to 'convert them.'

Mr. Waffles was a 'pretty man.' Tall, slim, and slight, with long curly light hair, pink and white complexion, visionary whispers, and a tendency to moustache that could best be seen sideways. He had light blue eyes; while his features generally were good, but expressive of little beyond great good-humour. In dress, he was both smart and various; indeed, we feel a difficulty in fixing him in any particular costume, so frequent and opposite were his changes. He had coats of every cut and colour. Sometimes he was the racing man with a bright-button'd Newmarket brown cut-away, and white-cord trousers, with drab cloth-boots; anon, he would be the officer, and shine forth in a fancy forage cap, cocked jauntily over a profusion of well-waxed curls, a richly braided surtout, with military overalls strapped down over highly varnished boots, whose hypocritical heels would sport a pair of large rowelled long-necked, ringing, brass spurs. Sometimes he was a Jack tar, with a little glazed hat, a once-round tie, a checked shirt, a blue jacket, roomy trousers, and broad-stringed pumps; and, before the admiring ladies had well digested him in that dress, he would be seen cantering away on a long-tailed white barb, in a pea-green duck-hunter, with cream-coloured leather and rose-tinted tops. He was

'All things by turns, and nothing long.'

Such was the gentleman elected to succeed the silent, matter-of-fact Mr. Slocdolager in the important office of Master of the Laverick Wells Hunt; and whatever may be the merits of either-upon which we pass no opinion-it cannot be denied that they were essentially different. Mr. Slocdolager was a man of few words, and not at all a ladies' man. He could not even talk when he was crammed with wine, and though he could hold a good quantity, people soon found out they might just as well pour it into a jug as down his throat, so they gave up asking him out. He was a man of few coats, as well as of few words; one on, and one off, being the extent of his wardrobe. His scarlet was growing plum-colour, and the rest of his hunting costume has been already glanced at. He lodged above Smallbones, the veterinary surgeon, in a little back street, where he lived in the quietest way, dining when he came in from hunting,-dressing, or rather changing, only when he was wet, hunting each fox again over his brandy-and-water, and bundling off to bed long before many of his 'field' had left the dining-room. He was little better than a better sort of huntsman.

Waffles, as we said before, had made himself conspicuous towards the close of Mr. Slocdolager's reign, chiefly by his dashing costume, his reckless riding, and his off-hand way of blowing up and slanging people.

Indeed, a stranger would have taken him for the master, a delusion that was heightened by his riding with a formidable-looking sherry-case, in the shape of a horn, at his saddle. Save when engaged in sucking this, his tongue was never at fault. It was jabber, jabber, jabber; chatter, chatter, chatter; prattle, prattle, prattle; occasionally about something, oftener about nothing, but in cover or out, stiff country or open, trotting or galloping, wet day or dry, good scenting day or bad, Waffles' clapper never was at rest. Like all noisy chaps, too, he could not bear any one to make a noise but himself. In furtherance of this, he called in the aid of his Oxfordshire rhetoric. He would halloo at people, designating them by some peculiarity that he thought he could wriggle out of, if necessary, instead of attacking them by name. Thus, if a man spoke, or placed himself where Waffles thought he ought not to be (that is to say, anywhere but where Waffles was himself), he would exclaim, 'Pray, sir, hold your tongue!-you, sir!-no, sir, not you-the man that speaks as if he had a brush in his throat!'-or, 'Do come away, sir!-you, sir!-the man in the mushroom-looking hat!'-or, 'that gentleman in the parsimonious boots!' looking at some one with very narrow tops.

MR. WAFFLES, THE PRESENT MASTER OF THE LAVERICK WELLS HOUNDS

Still, he was a rattling, good-natured, harum-scarum fellow; and masterships of hounds, memberships of Parliament-all expensive unmoney-making offices,-being things that most men are anxious to foist upon their friends, Mr. Waffles' big talk and interference in the field procured him the honour of the first refusal. Not that he was the man to refuse, for he jumped at the offer, and, as he would be of age before the season came round, and would have got all his money out of Chancery, he disdained to talk about a subscription, and boldly took the hounds as his own. He then became a very important personage at Laverick Wells.

He had always been a most important personage among the ladies, but as the men couldn't marry him, those who didn't want to borrow money of him, of course, ran him down. It used to be, 'Look at that dandified ass, Waffles, I declare the sight of him makes me sick'; or, 'What a barber's apprentice that fellow is, with his ringlets all smeared with Macassar.'

Now it was Waffles this, Waffles that, 'Who dines with Waffles?' 'Waffles is the best fellow under the sun! By Jingo, I know no such man as Waffles!' 'Most deserving young man!'

In arriving at this conclusion, thei

r judgement was greatly assisted by the magnificent way he went to work. Old Tom Towler, the whip, who had toiled at his calling for twenty long years on fifty pounds and what he could 'pick up,' was advanced to a hundred and fifty, with a couple of men under him. Instead of riding worn-out, tumble-down, twenty-pound screws, he was mounted on hundred-guinea horses, for which the dealers were to have a couple of hundred, when they were paid. Everything was in the same proportion.

Mr. Waffles' succession to the hunt made a great commotion among the fair-many elegant and interesting young ladies, who had been going on the pious tack against the Reverend Solomon Winkeyes, the popular bachelor preacher of St. Margaret's, teaching in his schools, distributing his tracts, and collecting the penny subscriptions for his clothing club, now took to riding in fan-tailed habits and feathered hats, and talking about leaping and hunting, and riding over rails. Mr. Waffles had a pound of hat-strings sent him in a week, and muffatees innumerable. Some, we are sorry to say, worked him cigar-cases. He, in return, having expended a vast of toil and ingenuity in inventing a 'button,' now had several dozen of them worked up into brooches, which he scattered about with a liberal hand. It was not one of your matter-of-fact story-telling buttons-a fox with 'tally-ho,' or a fox's head grinning in grim death-making a red coat look like a miniature butcher's shamble, but it was one of your queer-twisting lettered concerns, that may pass either for a military button or a naval button, or a club button, or even for a livery button. The letters, two W's, were so skilfully entwined, that even a compositor-and compositors are people who can read almost anything-would have been puzzled to decipher it. The letters were gilt, riveted on steel, and the wearers of the button-brooches were very soon dubbed by the non-recipients, 'Mr. Waffles' sheep.'

A fine button naturally requires a fine coat to put it on, and many were the consultations and propositions as to what it should be. Mr. Slocdolager had done nothing in the decorative department, and many thought the failure of funds was a good deal attributable to that fact. Mr. Waffles was not the man to lose an opportunity of adding another costume to his wardrobe, and after an infinity of trouble, and trials of almost all the colours of the rainbow, he at length settled the following uniform, which, at least, had the charm of novelty to recommend it. The morning, or hunt-coat, was to be scarlet, with a cream-coloured collar and cuffs; and the evening, or dress coat, was to be cream-colour, with a scarlet collar and cuffs, and scarlet silk facings and linings, looking as if the wearer had turned the morning one inside out. Waistcoats, and other articles of dress, were left to the choice of the wearer, experience having proved that they are articles it is impossible to legislate upon with any effect.

The old ladies, bless their disinterested hearts, alone looked on the hound freak with other than feelings of approbation.

They thought it a pity he should take them. They wished he mightn't injure himself-hounds were expensive things-led to habits of irregularity-should be sorry to see such a nice young man as Mr. Waffles led astray-not that it would make any difference to them, but-(looking significantly at their daughters). No fox had been hunted by more hounds than Waffles had been by the ladies; but though he had chatted and prattled with fifty fair maids-any one of whom he might have found difficult to resist, if 'pinned' single-handed by, in a country house, yet the multiplicity of assailants completely neutralized each other, and verified the truth of the adage that there is 'safety in a crowd.'

If pretty, lisping Miss Wordsworth thought she had shot an arrow home to his heart over night, a fresh smile and dart from little Mary Ogleby's dark eyes extracted it in the morning, and made him think of her till the commanding figure and noble air of the Honourable Miss Letitia Amelia Susannah Jemimah de Jenkins, in all the elegance of first-rate millinery and dressmakership, drove her completely from his mind, to be in turn displaced by some one more bewitching. Mr. Waffles was reputed to be made of money, and he went at it as though he thought it utterly impossible to get through it. He was greatly aided in his endeavours by the fact of its being all in the funds-a great convenience to the spendthrift. It keeps him constantly in cash, and enables him to 'cut and come again,' as quick as ever he likes. Land is not half so accommodating; neither is money on mortgage. What with time spent in investigating a title, or giving notice to 'pay in,' an industrious man wants a second loan by the time, or perhaps before, he gets the first. Acres are not easy of conversion, and the mere fact of wanting to sell implies a deficiency somewhere. With money in the funds, a man has nothing to do but lodge a power of attorney with his broker, and write up for four or five thousand pounds, just as he would write to his bootmaker for four or five pairs of boots, the only difference being, that in all probability the money would be down before the boots. Then, with money in the funds, a man keeps up his credit to the far end-the last thousand telling no more tales than the first, and making just as good a show.

We are almost afraid to say what Mr. Waffles' means were, but we really believe, at the time he came of age, that he had 100,000l. in the funds, which were nearly at 'par'-a term expressive of each hundred being worth a hundred, and not eighty-nine or ninety pounds as is now the case, which makes a considerable difference in the melting. Now a real bona fide 100,000l. always counts as three in common parlance, which latter sum would yield a larger income than gilds the horizon of the most mercenary mother's mind, say ten thousand a-year, which we believe is generally allowed to be 'v-a-a-ry handsome.'

No wonder, then, that Mr. Waffles was such a hero. Another great recommendation about him was, that he had not had time to be much plucked. Many of the young men of fortune that appear upon town have lost half their feathers on the race-course or the gaming-table before the ladies get a chance at them; but here was a nice, fresh-coloured youth, with all his downy verdure full upon him. It takes a vast of clothes, even at Oxford prices, to come to a thousand pounds, and if we allow four or five thousand for his other extravagances, he could not have done much harm to a hundred thousand.

Our friend, soon finding that he was 'cock of the walk,' had no notion of exchanging his greatness for the nothingness of London, and, save going up occasionally to see about opening the flood-gates of his fortune, he spent nearly the whole summer at Laverick Wells. A fine season it was, too-the finest season the Wells had ever known. When at length the long London season closed, there was a rush of rank and fashion to the English watering-places, quite unparalleled in the 'recollection of the oldest inhabitants.' There were blooming widows in every stage of grief and woe, from the becoming cap to the fashionable corset and ball flounce-widows who would never forget the dear deceased, or think of any other man-unless he had at least five thousand a year. Lovely girls, who didn't care a farthing if the man was 'only handsome'; and smiling mammas 'egging them on,' who would look very different when they came to the horrid £ s. d. And this mercantile expression leads us to the observation that we know nothing so dissimilar as a trading town and a watering-place. In the one, all is bustle, hurry, and activity; in the other, people don't seem to know what to do to get through the day. The city and west-end present somewhat of the contrast, but not to the extent of manufacturing or sea-port towns and watering-places. Bathing-places are a shade better than watering-places in the way of occupation, for people can sit staring at the sea, counting the ships, or polishing their nails with a shell, whereas at watering-places, they have generally little to do but stare at and talk of each other, and mark the progress of the day, by alternately drinking at the wells, eating at the hotels, and wandering between the library and the railway station. The ladies get on better, for where there are ladies there are always fine shops, and what between turning over the goods, and sweeping the streets with their trains, making calls, and arranging partners for balls, they get through their time very pleasantly; but what is 'life' to them is often death to the men.

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