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   Chapter 8 OLD TOM TOWLER

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 8810

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


here are few more difficult persons to identify than a huntsman in undress, and of all queer ones perhaps old Tom Towler was the queerest. Tom in his person furnished an apt illustration of the right appropriation of talent and the fitness of things, for he would neither have made a groom, nor a coachman, nor a postillion, nor a footman, nor a ploughman, nor a mechanic, nor anything we know of, and yet he was first-rate as a huntsman. He was too weak for a groom too small for a coachman, too ugly for a postillion, too stunted for a footman, too light for a ploughman, too useless-looking for almost anything.

Any one looking at him in 'mufti' would exclaim, 'what an unfortunate object!' and perhaps offer him a penny, while in his hunting habiliments lords would hail him with, 'Well, Tom, how are you?' and baronets ask him 'how he was?' Commoners felt honoured by his countenance, and yet, but for hunting, Tom would have been wasted-a cypher-an inapplicable sort of man. Old Tom, in his scarlet coat, black cap, and boots, and Tom in his undress-say, shirt-sleves, shorts, grey stockings and shoes, bore about the same resemblance to each other that a three months dead jay nailed to a keeper's lodge bears to the bright-plumaged bird when flying about. On horseback, Tom was a cockey, wiry-looking, keen-eyed, grim-visaged, hard-bitten little fellow, sitting as though he and his horse were all one, while on foot he was the most shambling, scambling, crooked-going crab that ever was seen. He was a complete mash of a man. He had been scalped by the branch of a tree, his nose knocked into a thing like a button by the kick of a horse, his teeth sent down his throat by a fall, his collar-bone fractured, his left leg broken and his right arm ditto, to say nothing of damage to his ribs, fingers, and feet, and having had his face scarified like pork by repeated brushings through strong thorn fences.

But we will describe him as he appeared before Mr. Waffles, and the gentlemen of the Laverick Wells Hunt, on the night of Mr. Sponge's arrival. Tom's spirit being roused at hearing the boastings of Mr. Leather, and thinking, perhaps, his master might have something to say, or thinking, perhaps, to partake of the eleemosynary drink generally going on in large houses of public entertainment, had taken up his quarters in the bar of the 'Imperial,' where he was attentively perusing the 'meets' in Bell's Life, reading how the Atherstone met at Gopsall, the Bedale at Hornby, the Cottesmore at Tilton Wood, and so on, with an industry worthy of a better cause; for Tom neither knew country, nor places, nor masters, nor hounds, nor huntsmen, nor anything, though he still felt an interest in reading where they were going to hunt. Thus he sat with a quick ear, one of the few undamaged organs of his body, cocked to hear if Tom Towler was asked for; when a waiter dropping his name from the landing of the staircase to the hall porter, asking if anybody had seen anything of him, Tom folded up his paper, put it in his pocket, and passing his hand over the few straggling bristles yet sticking about his bald head, proceeded, hat in hand, upstairs to his master's room.

His appearance called forth a round of view halloos! Who-hoops! Tally-ho's! Hark forwards! amidst which, and the waving of napkins, and general noises, Tom proceeded at a twisting, limping, halting, sideways sort of scramble up the room. His crooked legs didn't seem to have an exact understanding with his body which way they were to go; one, the right one, being evidently inclined to lurch off to the side, while the left one went stamp, stamp, stamp, as if equally determined to resist any deviation.

At length he reached the top of the table, where sat his master, with the glittering Fox's head before him. Having made a sort of scratch bow, Tom proceeded to stand at ease, as it were, on the left leg, while he placed the late recusant right, which was a trifle shorter, as a prop behind. No one, to look at the little wizen'd old man in the loose dark frock, baggy striped waistcoat, and patent cord breeches, extending below where the calves of his bow legs ought to have been, would have supposed that it was the noted huntsman and dashing rider, Tom Towler, whose name was celebrated throughout the country. He might have been a village tailor, or sexton, or barber; anything but a hero.

'Well,

Tom,' said Mr. Waffles, taking up the Fox's head, as Tom came to anchor by his side, 'how are you?'

'Nicely, thank you, sir,' replied Tom, giving the bald head another sweep.

Mr. Waffles.-'What'll you drink?'

Tom.-'Port, if you please, sir.'

'There it is for you, then,' said Mr. Waffles, brimming the Fox's head, which held about the third of a bottle (an inn bottle at least), and handing it to him.

'Gentlemen all,' said Tom, passing his sleeve across his mouth, and casting a side-long glance at the company as he raised the cup to drink their healths.

He quaffed it off at a draught.

'Well, Tom, and what shall we do to-morrow?' asked Mr. Waffles, as Tom replaced the Fox's head, nose uppermost, on the table.

OLD TOM TOWLER

'Why, we must draw Ribston Wood fust, I s'pose,' replied Tom, 'and then on to Bradwell Grove, unless you thought well of tryin' Chesterton Common on the road, or-'

'Aye, aye,' interrupted Waffles, 'I know all that; but what I want to know is, whether we can make sure of a run. We want to give this great metropolitan swell a benefit. You know who I mean?'

'The gen'leman as is com'd to the Brunswick, I 'spose,' replied Tom; 'at least as is comin', for I've not heard that he's com'd yet.'

'Oh, but he has,' replied Mr. Waffles, 'and I make no doubt will be out to-morrow.'

'S-o-o,' observed Tom, in a long drawled note.

'Well, now! do you think you can engage to give us a run?' asked Mr. Waffles, seeing his huntsman did not seem inclined to help him to his point.

'I'll do my best,' replied Tom, cautiously running the many contingencies through his mind.

'Take another drop of something,' said Mr. Waffles, again raising the Fox's head. 'What'll you have?'

'Port, if you please,' replied Tom.

'There,' said Mr. Waffles, handing him another bumper; 'drink Fox-hunting.'

'Fox-huntin',' said old Tom, quaffing off the measure, as before. A flush of life came into his weather-beaten face, just as a glow of heat enlivens a blacksmith's hearth, after a touch of the bellows.

'You must never let this bumptious cock beat us,' observed Mr. Waffles.

'No-o-o,' replied Tom, adding, 'there's no fear of that.'

'But he swears he will!' exclaimed Mr. Caingey Thornton. 'He swears there isn't a man shall come within a field of him.'

'Indeed,' observed Tom, with a twinkle of his little bright eyes.

'I tell you what, Tom,' observed Mr. Waffles, 'we must sarve him out, somehow.'

'Oh! he'll sarve hissel' out, in all probability,' replied Tom; carelessly adding, 'these boastin' chaps always do.'

'Couldn't we contrive something,' asked Mr. Waffles, 'to draw him out?'

Tom was silent. He was a hunting huntsman, not a riding one.

'Have a glass of something,' said Mr. Waffles, again appealing to the Fox's head.

'Thank you, sir, I've had a glass,' replied Tom, sinking the second one.

'What will you have?' asked Mr. Waffles.

'Port, if you please,' replied Tom.

'Here it is,' rejoined Mr. Waffles, again handing him the measure.

Up went the cup, over went the contents; but Tom set it down with a less satisfied face than before. He had had enough. The left leg prop, too, gave way, and he was nearly toppling on the table.

Having got a chair for the dilapidated old man, they again essayed to get him into their line, with better success than before. Having plied him well with port, they now plied him well with the stranger, and what with the one and the other, and a glass or two of brandy-and-water, Tom became very tractable, and it was ultimately arranged that they should have a drag over the very stiffest parts of the country, wherein all who liked should take part, but that Mr. Caingey Thornton and Mr. Spareneck should be especially deputed to wait upon Mr. Sponge, and lead him into mischief. Of course it was to be a 'profound secret,' and equally, of course, it stood a good chance of being kept, seeing how many were in it, the additional number it would have to be communicated to before it could be carried out, and the happy state old Tom was in for arranging matters. Nevertheless, our friends at the 'Imperial' congratulated themselves on their success; and after a few minutes spent in discussing old Tom on his withdrawal, the party broke up, to array themselves in the splendid dress uniform of the 'Hunt,' to meet again at Miss Jumpheavy's ball.

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