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   Chapter 12 AN OLD FRIEND

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 18297

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


About a fortnight after the above catastrophe, and as the recollection of it was nearly effaced by Miss Jumpheavy's abduction of Ensign Downley, our friend, Mr. Waffles, on visiting his stud at the four o'clock stable-hour, found a most respectable, middle-aged, rosy-gilled, better-sort-of-farmer-looking man, straddling his tight drab-trousered legs, with a twisted ash plant propping his chin, behind the redoubtable Hercules. He had a bran-new hat on, a velvet-collared blue coat with metal buttons, that anywhere but in the searching glare and contrast of London might have passed for a spic-and-span new one; a small, striped, step-collared toilanette vest; and the aforesaid drab trousers, in the right-hand pocket of which his disengaged hand kept fishing up and slipping down an avalanche of silver, which made a pleasant musical accompaniment to his monetary conversation. On seeing Mr. Waffles, the stranger touched his hat, and appeared to be about to retire, when Mr. Figg, the stud-groom, thus addressed his master:

'This be Mr. Buckram, sir, of London, sir; says he knows our brown 'orse, sir.'

'Ah, indeed,' observed Mr. Waffles, taking a cigar from his mouth; 'knows no good of him, I should think. What part of London do you live in, Mr. Buckram?' asked he.

'Why, I doesn't exactly live in London, my lord-that's to say, sir-a little way out of it, you know-have a little hindependence of my own, you understand.'

'Hang it, how should I understand anything of the sort-never set eyes on you before,' replied Mr. Waffles.

The half-crowns now began to descend singly in the pocket, keeping up a protracted jingle, like the notes of a lazy, undecided musical snuff-box. By the time the last had dropped, Mr. Buckram had collected himself sufficiently to resume.

Taking the ash-plant away from his mouth, with which he had been barricading his lips, he observed-

'I know'd that oss when Lord Bullfrog had him,' nodding his head at our old friend as he spoke.

'The deuce you did!' observed Mr. Waffles;' where was that?'

'In Leicestersheer,' replied Mr. Buckram. 'I have a haunt as lives at Mount Sorrel; she has a little hindependence of her own, and I goes down 'casionally to see her-in fact, I believes I'm her hare. Well, I was down there just at the beginnin' of the season, the 'ounds met at Kirby Gate-a mile or two to the south, you know, on the Leicester road-it was the fust day of the season, in fact-and there was a great crowd, and I was one; and havin' a heye for an oss, I was struck with this one, you understand, bein' as I thought, a 'ticklar nice 'un. Lord Bullfrog's man was a ridin' of him, and he kept him outside the crowd, showin' off his pints, and passin' him backwards and forwards under people's noses, to 'tract the notish of the nobs-parsecutin, what I call-and I see'd Mr. Sponge struck-I've known Mr. Sponge many years, and a 'ticklar nice gent he is-well, Mr. Sponge pulled hup, and said to the grum, "Who's o' that oss?" "My Lor' Bullfrog's, sir," said the man. "He's a deuced nice 'un," observed Mr. Sponge, thinkin', as he was a lord's, he might praise 'im, seein', in all probability, he weren't for sale. "He is that," said the grum, patting him on the neck, as though he were special fond on him. "Is my lord out?" asked Mr. Sponge. "No, sir; he's not come down yet," replied the man, "nor do I know when he will come. He's been down at Bath for some time 'sociatin' with the aldermen o' Bristol and has thrown up a vast o' bad flesh-two stun' sin' last season-and he's afeared this oss won't be able to carry 'im, and so he writ to me to take 'im out to-day, to show 'im." "He'd carry me, I think," said Mr. Sponge, making hup his mind on the moment, jist as he makes hup his mind to ride at a fence-not that I think it's a good plan for a gent to show that he's sweet on an oss, for they're sure to make him pay for it. Howsomever, that's nouther here nor there. Well, jist as Mr. Sponge said this, Sir Richard driv' hup, and havin' got his oss, away we trotted to the goss jist below, and the next thing I see'd was Mr. Sponge leadin' the 'ole field on this werry nag. Well, I heard no more till I got to Melton, for I didn't go to my haunt's at Mount Sorrel that night, and I saw little of the run, for my oss was rather puffy, livin' principally on chaff, bran mashes, swedes, and soft food; and when I got to Melton, I heard 'ow Mr. Sponge had bought this oss,' Mr. Buckram nodding his head at the horse as he spoke, 'and 'ow that he'd given the matter o' two 'under'd-or I'm not sure it weren't two 'under'd-and-fifty guineas for 'im, and-'

'Well,' interrupted Mr. Waffles, tired of his verbosity, 'and what did they say about the horse?'

'Why,' continued Mr. Buckram, thoughtfully, propping his chin up with his stick, and drawing all the half-crowns up to the top of his pocket again, 'the fust 'spicious thing I heard was Sir Digby Snaffle's grum, Sam, sayin' to Captain Screwley's bat-man grum, jist afore the George Inn door,-

'"Well, Jack, Tommy's sold the brown oss!"

'"N-o-o-r!" exclaimed Jack, starin' 'is eyes out, as if it were unpossible.

'"He 'as though," said Sam.

'"Well, then, I 'ope the gemman's fond o' walkin'," exclaimed Jack, bustin' out a laughin' and runnin' on.

'This rayther set me a thinkin',' continued Mr. Buckram, dropping a second half-crown, which jinked against the nest-egg one left at the bottom, 'and fearin' that Mr. Sponge had fallen 'mong the Philistines-which I was werry concerned about, for he's a real nice gent, but thoughtless, as many young gents are who 'ave plenty of tin-I made it my business to inquire 'bout this oss; and if he is the oss that I saw in Leicestersheer, and I 'ave little doubt about it (dropping two consecutive half-crowns as he spoke), though I've not seen him out, I-'

'Ah! well, I bought him of Mr. Sponge, who said he got him from Lord Bullfrog,' interrupted Mr. Waffles.

'Ah! then he is the oss, in course,' said Mr. Buckram, with a sort of mournful chuck of the chin; 'he is the oss,' repeated he; 'well, then, he's a dangerous hanimal,' added he, letting slip three half-crowns.

'What does he do?' asked Mr. Waffles.

'Do!' repeated Mr. Buckram, 'do! he'll do for anybody.'

'Indeed,' responded Mr. Waffles; adding, 'how could Mr. Sponge sell me such a brute?'

'I doesn't mean to say, mind ye,' observed Mr. Buckram, drawing back three half-crowns, as though he had gone that much too far,-'I doesn't mean to say, mind, that he's wot you call a misteched, runaway, rear-backwards-over-hanimal-but I mean to say he's a difficultish oss to ride-himpetuous-and one that, if he got the hupper 'and, would be werry likely to try and keep the hupper 'and-you understand me?' said he, eyeing Mr. Waffles intently, and dropping four half-crowns as he spoke.

'I'm tellin' you nothin' but the truth,' observed Mr. Buckram, after a pause, adding, 'in course it's nothin' to me, only bein' down here on a visit to a friend, and 'earin' that the oss were 'ere, I made bold to look in to see whether it was 'im or no. No offence, I 'opes,' added he, letting go the rest of the silver, and taking the prop from under his chin, with an obeisance as if he was about to be off.

'Oh, no offence at all,' rejoined Mr. Waffles, 'no offence-rather the contrary. Indeed, I'm much obliged to you for telling me what you have done. Just stop half a minute,' added he, thinking he might as well try and get something more out of him. While Mr. Waffles was considering his next question, Mr. Buckram saved him the trouble of thinking by 'leading the gallop' himself.

'I believe 'im to be a good oss, and I believe 'im to be a bad oss,' observed Mr. Buckram, sententiously. 'I believe that oss, with a bold rider on his back, and well away with the 'ounds, would beat most osses goin', but it's the start that's the difficulty with him; for if, on the other 'and, he don't incline to go, all the spurrin', and quiltin', and leatherin' in the world won't make 'im. It'll be a mercy o' Providence if he don't cut out work for the crowner some day.'

'Hang the brute!' exclaimed Mr. Waffles, in disgust; 'I've a good mind to have his throat cut.'

'Nay,' replied Mr. Buckram, brightening up, and stirring the silver round and round in his pocket like a whirlpool, 'nay,' replied he, 'he's fit for summat better nor that.'

'Not much, I think,' replied Mr. Waffles, pouting with disgust. He now stood silent for a few seconds.

'Well, but what did they mean by hoping Mr. Sponge was fond of walking?' at length asked he.

'Oh, vy,' replied Mr. Buckram, gathering all the money up again, 'I believe it was this 'ere,' beginning to drop them to half-minute time, and talking very slowly; 'the oss, I believe, got the better of Lord Bullfrog one day, somewhere a little on this side of Thrussinton-that, you know, is where Sir 'Arry built his kennels-between Mount Sorrel and Melton in fact-and havin' got his Lordship off, who, I should tell you, is an uncommon fat 'un, he wouldn't let him on again, and he 'ad to lead him the matter of I don't know 'ow many miles

'; Mr. Buckram letting go the whole balance of silver in a rush, as if to denote that it was no joke.

'The brute!' observed Mr. Waffles, in disgust, adding, 'Well, as you seem to have a pretty good opinion of him, suppose you buy him; I'll let you have him cheap.'

''Ord bless you-my lord-that's to say, sir!' exclaimed Buckram, shrugging up his shoulders, and raising his eyebrows as high as they would go, 'he'd be of no use to me, none votsomever-shouldn't know what to do with him-never do for 'arness-besides, I 'ave a werry good machiner as it is-at least, he sarves my turn, and that's everything, you know. No, sir, no,' continued he, slowly and thoughtfully, dropping the silver to half-minute time; 'no, sir, no; if I might make free with a gen'leman o' your helegance,' continued he, after a pause,' I'd say, sell 'im to a post-master or a buss-master, or some sich cattle as those, but I doesn't think I'd put 'im into the 'ands of no gen'leman, that's to say if I were you, at least,' added he.

'Well, then, will you speculate on him yourself for the buss-masters?' asked Mr. Waffles, tired alike of the colloquy and the quadruped.

PORTRAIT OF LORD BULLFROG, FORMERLY OWNER OF 'HERCULES'

'Oh, vy, as to that,' replied Mr. Buckram, with an air of the most perfect indifference, 'vy, as to that-not bein' nouther a post-master nor a buss-master-but 'aving, as I said before, a little hindependence o' my own, vy, I couldn't in course give such a bountiful price as if I could turn 'im to account at once; but if it would be any 'commodation to you,' added he, working the silver up into full cry, 'I wouldn't mind givin' you the with (worth) of 'im-say, deductin' expenses hup to town, and standin' at livery afore I finds a customer-expenses hup to town,' continued Mr. Buckram, muttering to himself in apparent calculation, 'standin' at livery-three-and-sixpence a night, grum, and so on-I wouldn't mind,' continued he briskly, 'givin' of you twenty pund for 'im-if you'd throw me back a sov.,' continued he, seeing Mr. Waffles' brow didn't contract into the frown he expected at having such a sum offered for his three-hundred-guinea horse.

In the course of an hour, that wonderful invention of modern times,-the Electric Telegraph-conveyed the satisfactory words 'All right' to our friend Mr. Sponge, just as he was sitting down to dinner in a certain sumptuously sanded coffee-room in Conduit Street, who forthwith sealed and posted the following ready-written letter:

'BANTAM HOTEL, BOND STREET.

'SIR,

'I have been greatly surprised and hurt to hear that you have thought fit to impeach my integrity, and insinuate that I had taken you in with the brown horse. Such insinuations touch one in a tender point-one's self-respect. The bargain, I may remind you, was of your own seeking, and I told you at the time I knew nothing of the horse, having only ridden him once, and I also told you where I got him. To show how unjust and unworthy your insinuations have been, I have now to inform you that, having ascertained that Lord Bullfrog knew he was vicious, I insisted on his lordship taking him back, and have only to add that, on my receiving him from you, I will return you your bill.'

'I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

'H. SPONGE.

'To w. waffles, Esq.,

'Imperial Hotel, Laverick Wells.'

Mr. Waffles was a good deal vexed and puzzled when he got this letter. He had parted with the horse, who was gone no one knew where, and Mr. Waffles felt that he had used a certain freedom of speech in speaking of the transaction. Mr. Sponge having left Laverick Wells, had, perhaps, led him a little astray with his tongue-slandering an absent man being generally thought a pretty safe game; it now seemed Mr. Waffles was all wrong, and might have had his money back if he had not been in such a hurry to part with the horse. Like a good many people, he thought he had best eat up his words, which he did in the following manner:

'IMPERIAL HOTEL, LAVERICK WELLS.

'DEAR MR. SPONGE,

'You are quite mistaken in supposing that I ever insinuated anything against you with regard to the horse. I said he was a beast, and it seems Lord Bullfrog admits it. However, never mind anything more about him, though I am equally obliged to you for the trouble you have taken. The fact is, I have parted with him.

'We are having capital sport; never go out but we kill, sometimes a brace, sometimes a leash of foxes. Hoping you are recovered from the effects of your ride through the window, and will soon rejoin us, believe me, dear Mr. Sponge,'

'Yours very sincerely,

'W. WAFFLES.'

To which Mr. Sponge shortly after rejoined as follows:

'BANTAM HOTEL, BOND STREET.

'DEAR WAFFLES,

'Yours to hand-I am glad to receive a disclaimer of any unworthy imputations respecting the brown horse. Such insinuations are only for horse-dealers, not for men of high gentlemanly feeling.

'I am sorry to say we have not got out of the horse as I hoped. Lord Bullfrog, who is a most cantankerous fellow, insists upon having him back, according to the terms of my letter; I must therefore trouble you to hunt him up, and let us accommodate his lordship with him again. If you will say where he is, I may very likely know some one who can assist us in getting him. You will excuse this trouble, I hope, considering that it was to serve you that I moved in the matter, and insisted on returning him to his lordship, at a loss of £50 to myself, having only given £250 for him.'

'I remain, dear Waffles,

'Yours sincerely,

'H. SPONGE.'

'To w. waffles, Esq.,

'Imperial Hotel, Laverick Wells.'

'LAVERICK WELLS.

'DEAR SPONGE,

'I'm afraid Bullfrog will have to make himself happy without his horse, for I hav'n't the slightest idea where he is. I sold him to a cockneyfied, countryfied sort of a man, who said he had a small "hindependence of his own"-somewhere, I believe, about London. He didn't give much for him, as you may suppose, when I tell you he paid for him chiefly in silver. If I were you, I wouldn't trouble myself about him.'

'Yours very truly,

'W. WAFFLES.

'To H. SPONGE, Esq.'

Our hero addressed Mr. Waffles again, in the course of a few days, as follows:

'dear waffles,

'I am sorry to say Bullfrog won't be put off without the horse. He says I insisted on his taking him back, and now he insists on having him. I have had his lawyer, Mr. Chousam, of the great firm of Chousam, Doem, and Co., of Throgmorton Street, at me, who says his lordship will play old gooseberry with us if we don't return him by Saturday. Pray put on all steam, and look him up.'

'Yours in haste,

'H. SPONGE.

'To W. WAFFLES, Esq.'

Mr. Waffles did put on all steam, and so successfully that he ran the horse to ground at our friend Mr. Buckram's. Though the horse was in the box adjoining the house, Mr. Buckram declared he had sold him to go to 'Hireland'; to what county he really couldn't say, nor to what hunt; all he knew was, the gentleman said he was a 'captin,' and lived in a castle.

Mr. Waffles communicated the intelligence to Sponge, requesting him to do the best he could for him, who reported what his 'best' was in the following letter:

'dear waffles,

'My lawyer has seen Chousam, and deuced stiff he says he was. It seems Bullfrog is indignant at being accused of a "do"; and having got me in the wrong box, by not being able to return the horse as claimed, he meant to work me. At first Chousam would hear of nothing but "l-a-w." Bullfrog's wounded honour could only be salved that way. Gradually, however, we diverged from l-a-w to £-s.-d.; and the upshot of it is, that he will advise his lordship to take £250 and be done with it. It's a bore; but I did it for the best, and shall be glad now to know your wishes on the subject. Meanwhile, I remain,'

'Yours very truly,

'H. SPONGE.

'To w. waffles, Esq.'

Formerly a remittance by post used to speak for itself. The tender-fingered clerks could detect an enclosure, however skilfully folded. Few people grudged double postage in those days. Now one letter is so much like another, that nothing short of opening them makes one any wiser. Mr. Sponge received Mr. Waffles' answer from the hands of the waiter with the sort of feeling that it was only the continuation of their correspondence. Judge, then, of his delight, when a nice, clean, crisp promissory note, on a five-shilling stamp, fell quivering to the floor. A few lines, expressive of Mr. Waffles' gratitude for the trouble our hero had taken, and hopes that it would not be inconvenient to take a note at two months, accompanied it. At first Mr. Sponge was overjoyed. It would set him up for the season. He thought how he'd spend it. He had half a mind to go to Melton. There were no heiresses there, or else he would. Leamington would do, only it was rather expensive. Then he thought he might as well have done Waffles a little more.

'Confound it!' exclaimed Sponge, 'I don't do myself justice! I'm too much of a gentleman! I should have had five 'under'd-such an ass as Waffles deserves to be done!'

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