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   Chapter 16 THE DINNER

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 9690

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Notwithstanding Jawleyford's recommendation to the contrary, Mr. Sponge made himself an uncommon swell. He put on a desperately stiff starcher, secured in front with a large gold fox-head pin with carbuncle eyes; a fine, fancy-fronted shirt, with a slight tendency to pink, adorned with mosaic-gold-tethered studs of sparkling diamonds (or French paste, as the case might be); a white waistcoat with fancy buttons; a blue coat with bright plain ones, and a velvet collar, black tights, with broad black-and-white Cranbourne-alley-looking stockings (socks rather), and patent leather pumps with gilt buckles-Sponge was proud of his leg. The young ladies, too, turned out rather smart; for Amelia, finding that Emily was going to put on her new yellow watered silk, instead of a dyed satin she had talked of, made Juliana produce her broad-laced blue satin dress out of the wardrobe in the green dressing-room, where it had been laid away in an old tablecloth; and bound her dark hair with a green-beaded wreath, which Emily met by crowning herself with a chaplet of white roses.

Thus attired, with smiles assumed at the door, the young ladies entered the drawing-room in the full fervour of sisterly animosity. They were very much alike in size, shape, and face. They were tallish and full-figured. Miss Jawleyford's features being rather more strongly marked, and her eyes a shade darker than her sister's; while there was a sort of subdued air about her-the result, perhaps, of enlarged intercourse with the world-or maybe of disappointments. Emily's eyes sparkled and glittered, without knowing perhaps why.

Dinner was presently announced. It was of the imposing order that people give their friends on a first visit, as though their appetites were larger on that day than on any other. They dined off plate; the sideboards glittered with the Jawleyford arms on cups, tankards, and salvers; 'Brecknel and Turner's' flamed and swealed in profusion on the table; while every now and then an expiring lamp on the sideboards or brackets proclaimed the unwonted splendour of the scene, and added a flavour to the repast not contemplated by the cook. The room, which was large and lofty, being but rarely used, had a cold, uncomfortable feel; and, if it hadn't been for the looks of the thing, Jawleyford would, perhaps, as soon that they had dined in the little breakfast parlour. Still there was everything very smart; Spigot in full fig, with a shirt frill nearly tickling his nose, an acre of white waistcoat, and glorious calves swelling within his gauze-silk stockings. The improvised footman went creaking about, as such gentlemen generally do.

The style was perhaps better than the repast: still they had turtle-soup (Shell and Tortoise, to be sure, but still turtle-soup); while the wines were supplied by the well-known firm of 'Wintle & Co.' Jawleyford sank where he got it, and pretended that it had been 'ages' in his cellar: 'he really had such a stock that he thought he should never get through it'-to wit, two dozen old port at 36s. a dozen, and one dozen at 48s.; two dozen pale sherry at 36s., and one dozen brown ditto at 48s.; three bottles of Bucellas, of the 'finest quality imported,' at 38s. a dozen; Lisbon 'rich and dry,' at 32s.; and some marvellous creaming champagne at 48s., in which they were indulging when he made the declaration: 'don't wait of me, my dear Mr. Sponge!' exclaimed Jawleyford, holding up a long needle-case of a glass with the Jawleyford crests emblazoned about; 'don't wait of me, pray,' repeated he, as Spigot finished dribbling the froth into Sponge's glass; and Jawleyford, with a flourishing bow and waive of his empty needle-case, drank Mr. Sponge's very good health, adding, 'I'm extremely happy to see you at Jawleyford Court.'

It was then Jawleyford's turn to have a little froth; and having sucked it up with the air of a man drinking nectar, he set down his glass with a shake of the head, saying:

'There's no such wine as that to be got now-a-days.'

'Capital wine!-Excellent!' exclaimed Sponge, who was a better judge of ale than of champagne. 'Pray, where might you get it?'

'Impossible to say!-Impossible to say!' replied Jawleyford, throwing up his hands with a shake, and shrugging his shoulders. 'I have such a stock of wine as is really quite ridiculous.'

'Quite ridiculous,' thought Spigot, who, by the aid of a false key, had been through the cellar.

Except the 'Shell and Tortoise' and 'Wintle,' the estate supplied the repast. The carp was out of the home-pond; the tench, or whatever it was, was out of the mill-pond; the mutton was from the farm; the carrot-and-turnip-and-beet-bedaubed stewed beef was from ditto; while the garden supplied the vegetables that luxuriated in the massive silver side-dishes. Watson's gun furnished the old hare and p

artridges that opened the ball of the second course; and tarts, jellies, preserves, and custards made their usual appearances. Some first-growth Chateaux Margaux 'Wintle,' again at 66s., in very richly cut decanters accompanied the old 36s. port; and apples, pears, nuts, figs, preserved fruits, occupied the splendid green-and-gold dessert set. Everything, of course, was handed about-an ingenious way of tormenting a person that has 'dined.' The ladies sat long, Mrs. Jawleyford taking three glasses of port (when she could get it); and it was a quarter to eight when they rose from the table.

Jawleyford then moved an adjournment to the fire; which Sponge gladly seconded, for he had never been warm since he came into the house, the heat from the fires seeming to go up the chimneys. Spigot set them a little round table, placing the port and claret upon it, and bringing them a plate of biscuits in lieu of the dessert. He then reduced the illumination on the table, and extinguished such of the lamps as had not gone out of themselves. Having cast an approving glance around, and seen that they had what he considered right, he left them to their own devices.

'Do you drink port or claret, Mr. Sponge?' asked Jawleyford, preparing to push whichever he preferred over to him.

'I'll take a little port, first, if you please,' replied our friend-as much as to say, 'I'll finish off with claret.'

'You'll find that very good, I expect,' said Mr. Jawleyford, passing the bottle to him; 'it's '20 wine-very rare wine to get now-was a very rich fruity wine, and was a long time before it came into drinking. Connoisseurs would give any money for it.'

'It has still a good deal of body,' observed Sponge, turning off a glass and smacking his lips, at the same time holding the glass up to the candle to see the oily mark it made on the side.

'Good sound wine-good sound wine,' said Mr. Jawleyford. 'Have plenty lighter, if you like.' The light wine was made by watering the strong.

'Oh no, thank you,' replied Mr. Sponge, 'oh no, thank you. I like good strong military port.'

'So do I,' said Mr. Jawleyford, 'so do I; only unfortunately it doesn't like me-am obliged to drink claret. When I was in the Bumperkin yeomanry we drank nothing but port.' And then Jawleyford diverged into a long rambling dissertation on messes and cavalry tactics, which nearly sent Mr. Sponge asleep.

'Where did you say the hounds are to-morrow?' at length asked he, after Mr. Jawleyford had talked himself out.

'To-morrow,' repeated Mr. Jawleyford, thoughtfully, 'to-morrow-they don't hunt to-morrow-not one of their days-next day. Scrambleford Green-Scrambleford Green-no, no, I'm wrong-Dundleton Tower-Dundleton Tower.'

'How far is that from here?' asked Mr. Sponge.

'Oh, ten miles-say ten miles,' replied Mr. Jawleyford. It was sometimes ten, and sometimes fifteen, depending upon whether Mr. Jawleyford wanted the party to go or not. These elastic places, however, are common in all countries-to sight-seers as well as to hunters. 'Close by-close by,' one day. 'Oh! a lo-o-ng way from here,' another.

It is difficult, for parties who have nothing in common, to drive a conversation, especially when each keeps jibbing to get upon a private subject of his own. Jawleyford was all for sounding Sponge as to where he came from, and the situation of his property; for as yet, it must be remembered, he knew nothing of our friend, save what he had gleaned at Laverick Wells, where certainly all parties concurred in placing him high on the list of 'desirables,' while Sponge wanted to talk about hunting, the meets of the hounds, and hear what sort of a man Lord Scamperdale was. So they kept playing at cross-purposes, without either getting much out of the other. Jawleyford's intimacy with Lord Scamperdale seemed to have diminished with propinquity, for he now no longer talked of him-'Scamperdale this, and Scamperdale that-Scamperdale, with whom he could do anything he liked'; but he called him 'My Lord Scamperdale,' and spoke of him in a reverent and becoming way. Distance often lends boldness to the tongue, as the poet Campbell says it:

Lends enchantment to the view,

And robes the mountain in its azure hue.

There are few great men who haven't a dozen people, at least, who 'keep them right,' as they call it. To hear some of the creatures talk, one would fancy a lord was a lunatic as a matter of course.

Spigot at last put an end to their efforts by announcing that 'tea and coffee were ready!' just as Mr. Sponge buzzed his bottle of port. They then adjourned from the gloom of the large oak-wainscoted dining-room, to the effulgent radiance of the well-lit, highly gilt, drawing-room, where our fair friends had commenced talking Mr. Sponge over as soon as they retired from the dining-room.

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