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   Chapter 19 THE WET DAY

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 20873

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


When the dirty slip-shod housemaid came in the morning with her blacksmith's-looking tool-box to light Mr. Sponge's fire, a riotous winter's day was in the full swing of its gloomy, deluging power. The wind howled, and roared, and whistled, and shrieked, playing a sort of ?olian harp amongst the towers, pinnacles, and irregular castleisations of the house; while the old casements rattled and shook, as though some one were trying to knock them in.

'Hang the day!' muttered Sponge from beneath the bedclothes. 'What the deuce is a man to do with himself on such a day as this, in the country?' thinking how much better he would be flattening his nose against the coffee-room window of the Bantam, or strolling through the horse-dealers' stables in Piccadilly or Oxford Street.

Presently the over-night chair before the fire, with the picture of Jawleyford in the Bumperkin yeomanry, as seen through the parted curtains of the spacious bed, recalled his over-night speculations, and he began to think that perhaps he was just as well where he was. He then 'backed' his ideas to where he had left off, and again began speculating on the chances of his position. 'Deuced fine girls,' said he, 'both of 'em: wonder what he'll give 'em down?'-recurring to his over-night speculations, and hitting upon the point at which he had burnt his lips with the end of the cigar-namely, Jawleyford's youth, and the possibility of his marrying again if Mrs. Jawleyford were to die. 'It won't do to raise up difficulties for one's self, however,' mused he; so, kicking off the bedclothes, he raised himself instead, and making for a window, began to gaze upon his expectant territory.

It was a terrible day; the ragged, spongy clouds drifted heavily along, and the lowering gloom was only enlivened by the occasional driving rush of the tempest. Earth and sky were pretty much the same grey, damp, disagreeable hue.

'Well,' said Sponge to himself, having gazed sufficiently on the uninviting landscape, 'it's just as well it's not a hunting day-should have got terribly soused. Must get through the time as well as I can-girls to talk to-house to see. Hope I've brought my Mogg,' added he, turning to his portmanteau, and diving for his Ten Thousand Cab Fares. Having found the invaluable volume, his almost constant study, he then proceeded to array himself in what he considered the most captivating apparel; a new wide-sleeved dock-tail coatee, with outside pockets placed very low, faultless drab trousers, a buff waistcoat, with a cream-coloured once-round silk tie, secured by red cornelian cross-bars set in gold, for a pin. Thus attired, with Mogg in his pocket, he swaggered down to the breakfast-room, which he hit off by means of listening at the doors till he heard the sound of voices within.

Mrs. Jawleyford and the young ladies were all smiles and smirks, and there were no symptoms of Miss Jawleyford's hauteur perceptible. They all came forward and shook hands with our friend most cordially. Mr. Jawleyford, too, was all flourish and compliment; now tilting at the weather, now congratulating himself upon having secured Mr. Sponge's society in the house.

That leisurely meal of protracted ease, a country-house breakfast, being at length accomplished, and the ladies having taken their departure, Mr. Jawleyford looked out on the terrace, upon which the angry rain was beating the standing water into bubbles, and observing that there was no chance of getting out, asked Mr. Sponge if he could amuse himself in the house.

'Oh yes,' replied he, 'got a book in my pocket.'

'Ah, I suppose-the New Monthly, perhaps?' observed Mr. Jawleyford.

'No,' replied Sponge.

'Dizzey's Life of Bentinck, then, I dare say,' suggested Jawleyford; adding, 'I'm reading it myself.'

'No, nor that either,' replied Sponge, with a knowing look; 'a much more useful work, I assure you,' added he, pulling the little purple-backed volume out of his pocket, and reading the gilt letters on the back: 'Mogg's Ten Thousand Cab Fares. Price one shilling!'

'Indeed,' exclaimed Mr. Jawleyford, 'well, I should never have guessed that.'

'I dare say not,' replied Sponge, 'I dare say not, it's a book I never travel without. It's invaluable in town, and you may study it to great advantage in the country. With Mogg in my hand, I can almost fancy myself in both places at once. Omnibus guide,' added he, turning over the leaves, and reading, 'Acton five, from the end of Oxford Street and the Edger Road-see Ealing; Edmonton seven, from Shoreditch Church-"Green Man and Still" Oxford Street-Shepherd's Bush and Starch Green, Bank, and Whitechapel-Tooting-Totteridge-Wandsworth; in short, every place near town. Then the cab fares are truly invaluable; you have ten thousand of them here,' said he, tapping the book, 'and you may calculate as many more for yourself as ever you like. Nothing to do but sit in an arm-chair on a wet day like this, and say, If from the Mile End turnpike to the "Castle" on the Kingsland Road is so much, how much should it be to the "Yorkshire Stingo," or Pine-Apple-Place, Maida Vale? And you measure by other fares till you get as near the place you want as you can, if it isn't set down in black and white to your hand in the book.'

'Just so,' said Jawleyford, 'just so. It must be a very useful work indeed, very useful work. I'll get one-I'll get one. How much did you say it was-a guinea? a guinea?'

'A shilling,' replied Sponge, adding, 'you may have mine for a guinea if you like.'

'By Jove, what a day it is!' observed Jawleyford, turning the conversation, as the wind dashed the hard sleet against the window like a shower of pebbles. 'Lucky to have a good house over one's head, such weather; and, by the way, that reminds me, I'll show you my new gallery and collection of curiosities-pictures, busts, marbles, antiques, and so on; there'll be fires on, and we shall be just as well there as here.' So saying, Jawleyford led the way through a dark, intricate, shabby passage, to where a much gilded white door, with a handsome crimson curtain over it announced the entrance to something better. 'Now,' said Mr. Jawleyford, bowing as he threw open the door, and motioned, or rather flourished, his guest to enter-'now,' said he, 'you shall see what you shall see.'

Mr. Sponge entered accordingly, and found himself at the end of a gallery fifty feet by twenty, and fourteen high, lighted by skylights and small windows round the top. There were fires in handsome Caen-stone chimney-pieced fireplaces on either side, a large timepiece and an organ at the far end, and sundry white basins scattered about, catching the drops from the skylights.

'Hang the rain!' exclaimed Jawleyford, as he saw it trickling over a river scene of Van Goyen's (gentlemen in a yacht, and figures in boats), and drip, drip, dripping on to the head of an infant Bacchus below.

'He wants an umbrella, that young gentleman,' observed Sponge, as Jawleyford proceeded to dry him with his handkerchief.

'Fine thing,' observed Jawleyford, starting off to a side, and pointing to it; 'fine thing-Italian marble-by Frère-cost a vast of money-was offered three hundred for it. Are you a judge of these things?' asked Jawleyford; 'are you a judge of these things?'

'A little,' replied Sponge, 'a little'; thinking he might as well see what his intended father-in-law's personal property was like.

'There's a beautiful thing!' observed Jawleyford, pointing to another group. 'I picked that up for a mere nothing-twenty guineas-worth two hundred at least. Lipsalve, the great picture-dealer in Gammon Passage, offered me Murillo's "Adoration of the Virgin and Shepherds," for which he showed me a receipt for a hundred and eighty-five, for it.'

'Indeed!' replied Sponge, 'what is it?'

'It's a Bacchanal group, after Poussin, sculptured by Marin. I bought it at Lord Breakdown's sale; it happened to be a wet day-much such a day as this-and things went for nothing. This you'll know, I presume?' observed Jawleyford, laying his hand on a life-size bust of Diana, in Italian marble.

'No, I don't,' replied Sponge.

'No!' exclaimed Jawleyford; 'I thought everybody had known this: this is my celebrated "Diana," by Noindon-one of the finest things in the world. Louis Philippe sent an agent over to this country expressly to buy it.'

'Why didn't you sell it him?' asked Sponge.

'Didn't want the money,' replied Jawleyford, 'didn't want the money. In addition to which, though a king, he was a bit of a screw, and we couldn't agree upon terms. This,' observed Jawleyford, 'is a vase of the Cinque Cento period-a very fine thing; and this,' laying his hand on the crown of a much frizzed, barber's-window-looking bust, 'of course you know?'

'No, I don't,' replied Sponge.

'No!' exclaimed Jawleyford, in astonishment.

'No,' repeated Sponge.

'Look again, my dear fellow; you must know it,' observed Jawleyford.

'I suppose it's meant for you,' at last replied Sponge, seeing his host's anxiety.

'Meant! my dear fellow; why, don't you think it like?'

'Why, there's a resemblance, certainly,' said Sponge, 'now that one knows. But I shouldn't have guessed it was you.'

'Oh, my dear Mr. Sponge!' exclaimed Jawleyford, in a tone of mortification, 'Do you really mean to say you don't think it like?'

'Why, yes, it's like,' replied Sponge, seeing which way his host wanted it; 'it's like, certainly; the want of expression in the eye makes such a difference between a bust and a picture.'

'True,' replied Jawleyford, comforted-'true,' repeated he, looking affectionately at it; 'I should say it was very like-like as anything can be. You are rather too much above it there, you see; sit down here,' continued he, leading Sponge to an ottoman surrounding a huge model of the column in the Place Vend?me, that stood in the middle of the room-'sit down here now, and look, and say if you don't think it like?'

'THIS, OF COURSE, YOU KNOW?'

'Oh, very like,' replied Sponge, as soon as he had seated himself. 'I see it now, directly; the mouth is yours to a T.'

'And the chin. It's my chin, isn't it?' asked Jawleyford.

'Yes; and the nose, and the forehead, and the whiskers, and the hair, and the shape of the head, and everything. Oh! I see it now as plain as a pikestaff,' observed Sponge.

'I thought you would,' rejoined Jawleyford comforted-'I th

ought you would; it's generally considered an excellent likeness-so it should, indeed, for it cost a vast of money-fifty guineas! to say nothing of the lotus-leafed pedestal it's on. That's another of me,' continued Jawleyford, pointing to a bust above the fireplace, on the opposite side of the gallery; 'done some years since-ten or twelve, at least-not so like as this, but still like. That portrait up there, just above the "Finding of Moses," by Poussin,' pointing to a portrait of himself attitudinizing, with his hand on his hip, and frock-coat well thrown back, so as to show his figure and the silk lining to advantage, 'was done the other day, by a very rising young artist; though he has hardly done me justice, perhaps-particularly in the nose, which he's made far too thick and heavy; and the right hand, if anything, is rather clumsy; otherwise the colouring is good, and there is a considerable deal of taste in the arrangement of the background, and so on.'

'What book is it you are pointing to?' asked Sponge.

'It's not a book,' replied Mr. Jawleyford, 'it's a plan-a plan of this gallery, in fact. I am supposed to be giving the final order for the erection of the very edifice we are now in.'

'And a very handsome building it is,' observed Sponge, thinking he would make it a shooting-gallery when he got it.

'Yes, it's a handsome thing in its way,' assented Jawleyford; 'better if it had been water-tight, perhaps,' added he, as a big drop splashed upon the crown of his head.

'The contents must be very valuable,' observed Sponge.

'Very valuable,' replied Jawleyford. 'There's a thing I gave two hundred and fifty guineas for-that vase. It's of Parian marble, of the Cinque Cento period, beautifully sculptured in a dance of Bacchanals, arabesques, and chimera figures; it was considered cheap. Those fine monkeys in Dresden china, playing on musical instruments, were forty; those bronzes of scaramouches on ormolu plinths were seventy; that ormolu clock, of the style of Louis Quinze, by Le Roy, was eighty; those Sèvres vases were a hundred-mounted, you see, in ormolu, with lily candelabra for ten lights. The handles,' continued he, drawing Sponge's attention to them, 'are very handsome-composed of satyrs holding festoons of grapes and flowers, which surround the neck of the vase; on the sides are pastoral subjects, painted in the highest style-nothing can be more beautiful or more chaste.'

'Nothing,' assented Sponge.

'The pictures I should think are most valuable,' observed Jawleyford. 'My friend Lord Sparklebury said to me the last time he was here-he's now in Italy, increasing his collection-"Jawleyford, old boy," said he, for we are very intimate-just like brothers, in fact; "Jawleyford, old boy, I wonder whether your collection or mine would fetch most money, if they were Christie-&-Manson'd." "Oh, your lordship," said I, "your Guidos, and Ostades, and Poussins, and Velasquez, are not to be surpassed." "True," replied his lordship, "they are fine-very fine; but you have the Murillos. I'd like to give you a good round sum," added he, "to pick out half-a-dozen pictures out of your gallery." Do you understand pictures?' continued Jawleyford, turning short on his friend Sponge.

'A little,' replied Sponge, in a tone that might mean either yes or no-a great deal or nothing at all.

Jawleyford then took him and worked him through his collection-talked of light and shade, and tone, and depth of colouring, tints, and pencillings; and put Sponge here and there and everywhere to catch the light (or rain, as the case might be); made him convert his hand into an opera-glass, and occasionally put his head between his legs to get an upside-down view-a feat that Sponge's equestrian experience made him pretty well up to. So they looked, and admired, and criticized, till Spigot's all-important figure came looming up the gallery and announced that luncheon was ready.

'Bless me!' exclaimed Jawleyford, pulling a most diminutive Geneva watch, hung with pencils, pistol-keys, and other curiosities, out of his pocket; 'Bless me, who'd have thought it? One o'clock, I declare! Well, if this doesn't prove the value of a gallery on a wet day. I don't know what does. However,' said he, 'we must tear ourselves away for the present, and go and see what the ladies are about.'

If ever a man may be excused for indulging in luncheon, it certainly is on a pouring wet day (when he eats for occupation), or when he is making love; both which excuses Mr. Sponge had to offer, so he just sat down and ate as heartily as the best of the party, not excepting his host himself, who was an excellent hand at luncheon.

Jawleyford tried to get him back to the gallery after luncheon, but a look from his wife intimated that Sponge was wanted elsewhere, so he quietly saw him carried off to the music-room; and presently the notes of the 'grand piano,' and full clear voices of his daughters, echoing along the passage, intimated that they were trying what effect music would have upon him.

When Mrs. Jawleyford looked in about an hour after, she found Mr. Sponge sitting over the fire with his Mogg in his hand, and the young ladies with their laps full of company-work, keeping up a sort of crossfire of conversation in the shape of question and answer. Mrs. Jawleyford's company making matters worse, they soon became tediously agreeable.

In course of time, Jawleyford entered the room, with:

'My dear Mr. Sponge, your groom has come up to know about your horse to-morrow. I told him it was utterly impossible to think of hunting, but he says he must have his orders from you. I should say,' added Jawleyford, 'it is quite out of the question-madness to think of it; much better in the house, such weather.'

'I don't know that,' replied Sponge, 'the rain's come down, and though the country will ride heavy, I don't see why we shouldn't have sport after it.'

'But the glass is falling, and the wind's gone round the wrong way; the moon changed this morning-everything, in short, indicates continued wet,' replied Jawleyford. 'The rivers are all swollen, and the low grounds under water; besides, my dear fellow, consider the distance-consider the distance; sixteen miles, if it's a yard.'

'What, Dundleton Tower!' exclaimed Sponge, recollecting that Jawleyford had said it was only ten the night before.

'Sixteen miles, and bad road,' replied Jawleyford.

'The deuce it is!' muttered Sponge; adding, 'Well, I'll go and see my groom, at all events.' So saying, he rang the bell as if the house was his own, and desired Spigot to show him the way to his servant.

Leather, of course, was in the servants' hall, refreshing himself with cold meat and ale, after his ride up from Lucksford.

Finding that he had ridden the hack up, he desired Leather to leave him there. 'Tell the groom I must have him put up,' said Sponge; 'and you ride the chestnut on in the morning. How far is it to Dundleton Tower?' asked he.

'Twelve or thirteen miles, they say, from here,' replied Leather; 'nine or ten from Lucksford.'

'Well, that'll do,' said Sponge; 'you tell the groom here to have the hack saddled for me at nine o'clock, and you ride Multum in Parvo quietly on, either to the meet or till I overtake you.'

'But how am I to get back to Lucksford?' asked Leather, cocking up a foot to show how thinly he was shod.

'Oh, just as you can,' replied Sponge; 'get the groom here to set you down with his master's hacks. I dare say they haven't been out to-day, and it'll do them good.'

So saying, Mr. Sponge left his valuable servant to do the best he could for himself.

Having returned to the music-room, with the aid of an old county map Mr. Sponge proceeded to trace his way to Dundleton Tower; aided, or rather retarded, by Mr. Jawleyford, who kept pointing out all sorts of difficulties, till, if Mr. Sponge had followed his advice, he would have made eighteen or twenty miles of the distance. Sponge, however, being used to scramble about strange countries, saw the place was to be accomplished in ten or eleven. Jawleyford was sure he would lose himself, and Sponge was equally confident that he wouldn't.

At length the glad sound of the gong put an end to all further argument; and the inmates of Jawleyford Court retired, candle in hand, to their respective apartments, to adorn for a repetition of the yesterday's spread, with the addition of the Rev. Mr. Hobanob's company, to say grace, and praise the 'Wintle.'

An appetiteless dinner was succeeded by tea and music, as before.

The three elegant French clocks in the drawing-room being at variance, one being three-quarters of an hour before the slowest, and twenty minutes before the next, Mr. Hobanob (much to the horror of Jawleyford) having nearly fallen asleep with his Sèvres coffee-cup in his hand, at last drew up his great silver watch by its jack-chain, and finding it was a quarter past ten, prepared to decamp-taking as affectionate a leave of the ladies as if he had been going to China. He was followed by Mr. Jawleyford, to see him pocket his pumps, and also by Mr. Sponge, to see what sort of a night it was.

The sky was clear, stars sparkled in the firmament, and a young crescent moon shone with silvery brightness o'er the scene.

'That'll do,' said Sponge, as he eyed it; 'no haze there. Come,' added he to his papa-in-law, as Hobanob's steps died out on the terrace, 'you'd better go to-morrow.'

'Can't,' replied Jawleyford; 'go next day, perhaps-Scrambleford Green-better place-much. You may lock up,' said he, turning to Spigot, who, with both footmen, was in attendance to see Mr. Hobanob off; 'you may lock up, and tell the cook to have breakfast ready at nine precisely.'

'Oh, never mind about breakfast for me,' interposed Sponge, 'I'll have some tea or coffee and chops, or boiled ham and eggs, or whatever's going, in my bedroom,' said he; 'so never mind altering your hour for me.'

'Oh, but my dear fellow, we'll all breakfast together' (Jawleyford had no notion of standing two breakfasts), 'we'll all breakfast together,' said he; 'no trouble, I assure you-rather the contrary. Say half-past eight-half-past eight. Spigot! to a minute, mind.'

And Sponge, seeing there was no help for it, bid the ladies good night, and tumbled off to bed with little expectation of punctuality.

MR. SPONGE'S RAPID BREAKFAST

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