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   Chapter 6 LAVERICK WELLS 6

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 10352

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

he flattering accounts Mr. Sponge read in the papers of the distinguished company assembled at Laverick Wells, together with details of the princely magnificence of the wealthy commoner, Mr. Waffles, who appeared to entertain all the world at dinner after each day's hunting made Mr. Sponge think it would be a very likely place to suit him. Accordingly, thither he despatched Mr. Leather with the redoubtable horses by the road, intending to follow in as many hours by the rail as it took them days to trudge on foot.

Railways have helped hunting as well as other things, and enables a man to glide down into the grass 'sheers,' as Mr. Buckram calls them, with as little trouble, and in as short a time almost, as it took him to accomplish a meet at Croydon, or at the Magpies at Staines. But to our groom and horses.

Mr. Sponge was too good a judge to disfigure the horses with the miserable, pulpy, weather-bleached job-saddles and bridles of 'livery,' but had them properly turned out with well-made, slightly-worn London ones of his own, and nice, warm brown woollen rugs, below broadly bound, blue-and-white-striped sheeting, with richly braided lettering, and blue and white cordings. A good saddle and bridle makes a difference of ten pounds in the looks of almost any horse. There is no need because a man rides a hack horse to proclaim it to all the world; a fact that few hack horse letters seem to be aware of. Perhaps, indeed, they think to advertise them by means of their inferior appointments.

Leather, too, did his best to keep up appearances, and turned out in a very stud-groomish-looking, basket-button'd, brown cutaway, with a clean striped vest, ample white cravat, drab breeches and boots, that looked as though they had brushed through a few bullfinches; and so they had, but not with Leather's legs in them, for he had bought them second-hand of a pad groom in distress. His hands were encased in cat's-skin sable gloves, showing that he was a gentleman who liked to be comfortable. Thus accoutred, he rode down Broad Street at Laverick Wells, looking like a fine, faithful old family servant, with a slight scorbutic affection of the nose. He had everything correctly arranged in true sporting marching order. The collar-shanks were neatly coiled under the headstalls, the clothing tightly rolled and balanced above the little saddle-bags on the led horse, 'Multum in Parvo's' back, with the story-telling whip sticking through the roller.

Leather arrived at Laverick Wells just as the first shades of a November night were drawing on, and anxious mammas and careful chaperons were separating their fair charges from their respective admirers and the dreaded night air, leaving the streets to the gaslight men and youths 'who love the moon.' The girls having been withdrawn, licentious youths linked arms, and bore down the broad pavé, quizzing this person, laughing at that, and staring the pin-stickers and straw-chippers out of countenance.

'Here's an arrival!' exclaimed one. 'Dash my buttons, who have we here?' asked another, as Leather hove in sight. 'That's not a bad looking horse,' observed a third. 'Bid him five pounds for it for me,' rejoined a fourth.

'I say, old Bardolph! who do them 'ere quadrupeds belong to?' asked one, taking a scented cigar out of his mouth.

Leather, though as impudent a dog as any of them, and far more than a match for the best of them at a tournament of slang, being on his preferment, thought it best to be civil, and replied, with a touch of his hat, that they were 'Mr. Sponge's.'

'Ah! old sponge biscuits!-I know him!' exclaimed a youth in a Tweed wrapper.' My father married his aunt. Give my love to him, and tell him to breakfast with me at six in the morning-he! he! he!'

'I say, old boy, that copper-coloured quadruped hasn't got all his shoes on before,' squeaked a childish voice, now raised for the first time.

'That's intended, gov'nor,' growled Leather, riding on, indignant at the idea of any one attempting to 'sell him' with such an old stable joke. So Leather passed on through the now splendidly lit up streets, the large plate-glass windowed shops, radiant with gas, exhibiting rich, many-coloured velvets, silver gauzes, ribbons without end, fancy flowers, elegant shawls labelled 'Very chaste,' 'Patronized by Royalty,' 'Quite the go!' and white kid-gloves in such profusion that there seemed to be a pair for every person in the place.

Mr. Leather established himself at the 'Eclipse Livery and Bait Stables,' in Pegasus Street, or Peg Street, as it is generally called, where he enacted the character of stud-groom to perfection, doing nothing himself, but seeing that others did his work, and strutting consequentially with the corn-sieves at feeding time.

After Leather's long London experience, it is natural to suppose that he would not be long in falling in with some old acquaintance at a place like the 'Wells,' and the first night fortunately brought him in contact with a couple of grooms who had had the honour of his acquaintance when in all the radiance of his glass-blown wigged prosperity as body-coachman to the Duke of Dazzleton, an

d who knew nothing of the treadmill, or his subsequent career. This introduction served with his own easy assurance, and the deference country servants always pay to London ones, at once to give him standing, and it is creditable to the etiquette of servitude to say, that on joining the 'Mutton Chop and Mealy Potato Club,' at the Cat and Bagpipes, on the second night after his arrival, the whole club rose to receive him on entering, and placed him in the post of honour, on the right of the president.

He was very soon quite at home with the whole of them, and ready to tell anything he knew of the great families in which he had lived. Of course, he abused the duke's place, and said he had been obliged to give him 'hup' at last, 'bein' quite an unpossible man to live with; indeed, his only wonder was, that he had been able to put hup with him so long.' The duchess was a 'good cretur,' he said, and, indeed, it was mainly on her account that he stayed, but as to the duke, he was-everything that was bad, in short.

Mr. Sponge, on the other hand, had no reason to complain of the colours in which his stud-groom painted him. Instead of being the shirtless strapper of a couple of vicious hack hunters. Leather made himself out to be the general superintendent of the opulent owner of a large stud. The exact number varied with the number of glasses of grog Leather had taken, but he never had less than a dozen, and sometimes as many as twenty hunters under his care. These, he said, were planted all over the kingdom; some at Melton, to ''unt with the Quorn'; some at Northampton, to ''unt with the Pytchley'; some at Lincoln, to ''unt with Lord 'Enry'; and some at Louth, to ''unt with'-he didn't know who. What a fine flattering, well-spoken world this is, when the speaker can raise his own consequence by our elevation! One would think that 'envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness' had gone to California. A weak-minded man might have his head turned by hearing the description given of him by his friends. But hear the same party on the running-down tack!-when either his own importance is not involved, or dire offence makes it worth his while 'to cut off his nose to spite his face.' No one would recognize the portrait then drawn as one of the same individual.

Mr. Leather, as we said before, was in the laudatory strain, but, like many indiscreet people, he overdid it. Not content with magnifying the stud to the liberal extent already described, he must needs puff his master's riding, and indulge in insinuations about 'showing them all the way,' and so on. Now nothing 'aggrawates' other grooms so much as this sort of threat, and few things travel quicker than these sort of vapourings to their masters' ears. Indeed, we can only excuse the lengths to which Leather went, on the ground of his previous coaching career not having afforded him a due insight into the delicacies of the hunting stable; it being remembered that he was only now acting as stud-groom for the first time. However, be that as it may, he brewed up a pretty storm, and the longer it raged the stronger it became.

''Ord dash it!' exclaimed young Spareneck, the steeple-chase rider, bursting into Scorer's billiard-room in the midst of a full gathering, who were looking on at a grand game of poule, 'Ord dash it! there's a fellow coming who swears by Jove that he'll take the shine out of us all, "cut us all down!"'

'I'll play him for what he likes!' exclaimed the cool, coatless Captain Macer, striking his ball away for a cannon.

'Hang your play!' replied Spareneck; 'you're always thinking of play-it's hunting I'm talking of.' bringing his heavy, silver-mounted jockey-whip a crack down his leg.

'You don't say so!' exclaimed Sam Shortcut, who had been flattered into riding rather harder than he liked, and feared his pluck might be put to the test.

'What a ruffian!'-(puff)-observed Mr. Waffles, taking his cigar from his mouth as he sat on the bench, dressed as a racket-player, looking on at the game, 'he shalln't ride roughshod over us.'

'That he shalln't!' exclaimed Caingey Thornton, Mr. Waffles's premier toady, and constant trencherman.

'I'll ride him!' rejoined Mr. Spareneck, jockeying his arms, and flourishing his whip as if he was at work, adding: 'his old brandy-nosed, frosty-whiskered trumpeter of a groom says he's coming down by the five o'clock train. I vote we go and meet him-invite him to a steeple-chase by moonlight.'

'I vote we go and see him, at all events,' observed Frank Hoppey, laying down his cue and putting on his coat, adding, 'I should like to see a man bold enough to beard a whole hunt-especially such a hunt as ours.'

'Finish the game first,' observed Captain Macer, who had rather the best of it.

'No, leave the balls as they are till we come back,' rejoined Ned Stringer; 'we shall be late. See, it's only ten to, now,' continued he, pointing to the timepiece above the fire; whereupon there was a putting away of cues, hurrying on of coats, seeking of hats, sorting of sticks, and a general desertion of the room for the railway station.


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