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   Chapter 10 THE FEELER

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 8423

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Bag fox-hunts, be they ever so good, are but unsatisfactory things; drag runs are, beyond all measure, unsatisfactory. After the best-managed bag fox-hunt, there is always a sort of suppressed joy, a deadly liveliness in the field. Those in the secret are afraid of praising it too much, lest the secret should ooze out, and strangers suppose that all their great runs are with bag foxes, while the mere retaking of an animal that one has had in hand before is not calculated to arouse any very pleasurable emotions. Nobody ever goes frantic at seeing an old donkey of a deer handed back into his carriage after a canter.

Our friends on this occasion soon exhausted what they had to say on the subject.

'That's a nice horse of yours,' observed Mr. Waffles to Mr. Sponge, as the latter, on the strength of the musty brush, now rode alongside the master of the hounds.

'I think he is,' replied Sponge, rubbing some of the now dried sweat from his shoulder and neck; 'I think he is; I like him a good deal better to-day than I did the first time I rode him.'

'What, he's a new one, is he?' asked Mr. Waffles, taking a scented cigar from his mouth, and giving a steady sidelong stare at the horse.

'Bought him in Leicestershire,' replied Sponge. 'He belonged to Lord Bullfrog, who didn't think him exactly up to his weight.'

'Up to his weight!' exclaimed Mr. Caingey Thornton, who had now ridden up on the other side of his great patron, 'why, he must be another Daniel Lambert.'

'Rather so,' replied Mr. Sponge; 'rides nineteen stun.'

'What a monster!' exclaimed Thornton, who was of the pocket order.

'I thought he didn't go fast enough at his fences the first time I rode him,' observed Mr. Sponge, drawing the curb slightly so as to show the horse's fine arched neck to advantage; 'but he went quick enough to-day, in all conscience,' added he.

'He did that,' observed Mr. Thornton, now bent on a toadying match. 'I never saw a finer lepper.'

'He flew many feet beyond the brook,' observed Mr. Spareneck, who, thinking discretion was the better part of valour, had pulled up on seeing his comrade Thornton blobbing about in the middle of it, and therefore was qualified to speak to the fact.

So they went on talking about the horse, and his points, and his speed, and his action, very likely as much for want of something to say, or to keep off the subject of the run, as from any real admiration of the animal.

The true way to make a man take a fancy to a horse is to make believe that you don't want to sell him-at all events, that you are easy about selling. Mr. Sponge had played this game so very often, that it came quite natural to him. He knew exactly how far to go, and having expressed his previous objection to the horse, he now most handsomely made the amende honorable by patting him on the neck, and declaring that he really thought he should keep him.

It is said that every man has his weak or 'do-able' point, if the sharp ones can but discover it. This observation does not refer, we believe, to men with an innocent penchant for play, or the turf, or for buying pictures, or for collecting china, or for driving coaches and four, all of which tastes proclaim themselves sooner or later, but means that the most knowing, the most cautious, and the most careful, are all to be come over, somehow or another.

There are few things more surprising in this remarkable world than the magnificent way people talk about money, or the meannesses they will resort to in order to get a little. We hear fellows flashing and talking in hundreds and thousands, who will do almost anything for a five-pound note. We have known men pretending to hunt countries at their own expense, and yet actually 'living out of the hounds.' Next to the accomplishment of that-apparently almost impossible feat-comes the dexterity required for living by horse-dealing.

A little lower down in the scale comes the income derived from the profession of a 'go-between'-the gentleman who can buy the horse cheaper than you can. This was Caingey Thornton's trade. He was always lurking about people's stables talking to grooms and worming out secrets-whose horse had a cough, whose w

as a wind-sucker, whose was lame after hunting, and so on-and had a price current of every horse in the place-knew what had been given, what the owners asked, and had a pretty good guess what they would take.

Waffles would have been an invaluable customer to Thornton if the former's groom, Mr. Figg, had not been rather too hard with his 'reg'lars.' He insisted on Caingey dividing whatever he got out of his master with him. This reduced profits considerably; but still, as it was a profession that did not require any capital to set up with, Thornton could afford to be liberal, having only to tack on to one end to cut off at the other.

After the opening Sponge gave as they rode home with the hounds, Thornton had no difficulty in sounding him on the subject.

'You'll not think me impertinent, I hope,' observed Caingey, in his most deferential style, to our hero when they met at the News'-room the next day-'you'll not think me impertinent, I hope; but I think you said as we rode home, yesterday, that you didn't altogether like the brown horse you were on?'

'Did I?' replied Mr. Sponge, with apparent surprise; 'I think you must have misunderstood me.'

'Why, no; it wasn't exactly that,' rejoined Mr. Thornton, 'but you said you liked him better than you did, I think?'

'Ah! I believe I did say something of the sort,' replied Sponge casually-'I believe I did say something of the sort; but he carried me so well that I thought better of him. The fact was,' continued Mr. Sponge, confidentially, 'I thought him rather too light mouthed; I like a horse that bears more on the hand.'

'Indeed!' observed Mr. Thornton; 'most people think a light mouth a recommendation.'

'I know they do,' replied Mr. Sponge, 'I know they do; but I like a horse that requires a little riding. Now this is too much of a made horse-too much of what I call an old man's horse, for me. Bullfrog, whom I bought him of, is very fat-eats a great deal of venison and turtle-all sorts of good things, in fact-and can't stand much tewing in the saddle; now, I rather like to feel that I am on a horse, and not in an arm-chair.'

'He's a fine horse,' observed Mr. Thornton.

'So he ought,' replied Mr. Sponge; 'I gave a hatful of money for him-two hundred and fifty golden sovereigns, and not a guinea back. Bullfrog's the biggest screw I ever dealt with.'

That latter observation was highly encouraging to Thornton. It showed that Mr. Sponge was not one of your tight-laced dons, who take offence at the mere mention of 'drawbacks,' but, on the contrary, favoured the supposition that he would do the 'genteel,' should he happen to be a seller.

'Well, if you should feel disposed to part with him, perhaps you will have the kindness to let me know,' observed Mr. Thornton; adding, 'he's not for myself, of course, but I think I know a man he would suit, and who would be inclined to give a good price for him.'

'I will,' replied Mr. Sponge; 'I will,' repeated he, adding, 'if I were to sell him, I wouldn't take a farthing under three 'underd for him-three 'underd guineas, mind, not punds.'

'That's a vast sum of money,' observed Mr. Thornton.

'Not a bit on't,' replied Mr. Sponge. 'He's worth it all, and a great deal more. Indeed, I haven't said, mind that, I'll take that for him; all I've said is, that I wouldn't take less.'

'Just so,' replied Mr. Thornton.

'He's a horse of high character,' observed Mr. Sponge. 'Indeed he has no business out of Leicestershire; and I don't know what set my fool of a groom to bring him here.'

'Well, I'll see if I can coax my friend into giving what you say,' observed Mr. Thornton.

'Nay, never mind coaxing,' replied Mr. Sponge, with the utmost indifference; 'never mind coaxing; if he's not anxious, my name's "easy." Only mind ye, if I ride him again, and he carries me as he did yesterday, I shall clap on another fifty. A horse of that figure can't be dear at any price,' added he. 'Put him in a steeple-chase, and you'd get your money back in ten minutes, and a bagful to boot.'

'True,' observed Mr. Thornton, treasuring that fact up as an additional inducement to use to his friend.

So the amiable gentlemen parted.

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