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Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 24290

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

ell, what sport?' asked Jawleyford, as he encountered his exceedingly dirty friend crossing the entrance hall to his bedroom on his return from his day, or rather his non-day, with the 'Flat Hat Hunt.'

'Why, not much-that's to say, nothing particular-I mean, I've not had any,' blurted Sponge.

'But you've had a run?' observed Jawleyford, pointing to his boots and breeches, stained with the variation of each soil.

'Ah, I got most of that going to cover,' replied Sponge; 'country's awfully deep, roads abominably dirty!' adding, 'I wish I'd taken your advice, and stayed at home.'

'I wish you had,' replied Jawleyford, 'you'd have had a most excellent rabbit-pie for luncheon. However, get changed, and we will hear all about it after.' So saying, Jawleyford waved an adieu, and Sponge stamped away in his dirty water-logged boots.

'I'm afraid you are very wet, Mr. Sponge,' observed Amelia in the sweetest tone, with the most loving smile possible, as our friend, with three steps at a time, bounded upstairs, and nearly butted her on the landing, as she was on the point of coming down.

'I am that,' exclaimed Sponge, delighted at the greeting; 'I am that,' repeated he, slapping his much-stained cords; 'dirty, too,' added he, looking down at his nether man.

'Hadn't you better get changed as quick as possible?' asked Amelia, still keeping her position before him.

'Oh! all in good time,' replied Sponge, 'all in good time. The sight of you warms me more than a fire would do'; adding, 'I declare you look quite bewitching, after all the roughings and tumblings about out of doors.'

'Oh! you've not had a fall, have you?' exclaimed Amelia, looking the picture of despair; 'you've not had a fall, have you? Do send for the doctor, and be bled.'

Just then a door along the passage to the left opened; and Amelia, knowing pretty well who it was, smiled and tripped away, leaving Sponge to be bled or not as he thought proper.

Our hero then made for his bedroom, where, having sucked off his adhesive boots, and divested himself of the rest of his hunting attire, he wrapped himself up in his grey flannel dressing-gown, and prepared for parboiling his legs and feet, amid agreeable anticipations arising out of the recent interview, and occasional references to his old friend Mogg, whenever he did not see his way on the matrimonial road as clearly as he could wish. 'She'll have me, that's certain,' observed he.

'Curse the water! how hot it is!' exclaimed he, catching his foot up out of the bath, into which he had incautiously plunged it without ascertaining the temperature of the water. He then sluiced it with cold, and next had to add a little more hot; at last he got it to his mind, and lighting a cigar, prepared for uninterrupted enjoyment.

'Gad!' said he, 'she's by no means a bad-looking girl' (whiff). 'Devilish good-looking girl' (puff); 'good head and neck, and carries it well too' (puff)-'capital eye' (whiff), 'bright and clear' (puff); 'no cataracts there. She's all good together' (whiff, puff, whiff). 'Nice size too,' continued he, 'and well set up (whiff, puff, whiff); 'straight as a dairy maid' (puff); 'plenty of substance-grand thing substance' (puff). 'Hate a weedy woman-fifteen two and a half-that's to say, five feet four's plenty of height for a woman' (puff). 'Height of a woman has nothing to do with her size' (whiff). 'Wish she hadn't run off (puff); 'would like to have had a little more talk with her' (whiff, puff). 'Women never look so well as when one comes in wet and dirty from hunting' (puff). He then sank silently back in the easy-chair and whiffed and puffed all sorts of fantastic clouds and columns and corkscrews at his leisure. The cigar being finished, and the water in the foot-bath beginning to get cool, he emptied the remainder of the hot into it, and lighting a fresh cigar, began speculating on how the match was to be accomplished.

The lady was safe, that was clear; he had nothing to do but 'pop.' That he would do in the evening, or in the morning, or any time-a man living in the house with a girl need never be in want of an opportunity. That preliminary over, and the usual answer 'Ask papa' obtained, then came the question, how was the old boy to be managed?-for men with marriageable daughters are to all intents and purposes 'old boys,' be their ages what they may.

He became lost in reflection. He sat with his eyes fixed on the Jawleyford portrait above the mantelpiece, wondering whether he was the amiable, liberal, hearty, disinterested sort of man he appeared to be, indifferent about money, and only wanting unexceptionable young men for his daughters; or if he was a worldly minded man, like some he had met, who, after giving him every possible encouragement, sent him to the right-about like a servant. So Sponge smoked and thought, and thought and smoked, till the water in the foot-bath again getting cold, and the shades of night drawing on, he at last started up like a man determined to awake himself, and poking a match into the fire, lighted the candles on the toilet-table, and proceeded to adorn himself. Having again got himself into the killing tights and buckled pumps, with a fine flower-fronted shirt, ere he embarked on the delicacies and difficulties of the starcher, he stirred the little pittance of a fire, and, folding himself in his dressing-gown, endeavoured to prepare his mind for the calm consideration of all the minute bearings of the question by a little more Mogg. In idea he transferred himself to London, now fancying himself standing at the end of Burlington Arcade, hailing a Fulham or Turnham Green 'bus; now wrangling with a conductor for charging him sixpence when there was a pennant flapping at his nose with the words "all the way 3d." upon it; now folding the wooden doors of a hansom cab in Oxford Street, calculating the extreme distance he could go for an eightpenny fare: until at last he fell into a downright vacant sort of reading, without rhyme or reason, just as one sometimes takes a read of a directory or a dictionary-"Conduit Street, George Street, to or from the Adelphi Terrace, Astley's Amphitheatre, Baker Street, King Street, Bryanston Square any part, Covent Garden Theatre, Foundling Hospital, Hatton Garden," and so on, till the thunder of the gong aroused him to a recollection of his duties. He then up and at his neckcloth.

"Ah, well," said he, reverting to his lady love, as he eyed himself intently in the glass while performing the critical operation, "I'll just sound the old gentleman after dinner-one can do that sort of thing better over one's wine, perhaps, than at any other time: looks less formal too," added he, giving the cravat a knowing crease at the side; "and if it doesn't seem to take, one can just pass it off as if it was done for somebody else-some young gentleman at Laverick Wells, for instance."

So saying, he on with his white waistcoat, and crowned the conquering suit with a blue coat and metal buttons. Returning his Mogg to his dressing-gown pocket, he blew out the candles and groped his way downstairs in the dark.

In passing the dining-room he looked in (to see if there were any champaign-glasses set, we believe), when he saw that he should not have an opportunity of sounding his intended papa-in-law after dinner, for he found the table laid for twelve, and a great display of plate, linen, and china.

He then swaggered on to the drawing-room, which was in a blaze of light. The lively Emily had stolen a march on her sister, and had just entered, attired in a fine new pale yellow silk dress with a point-lace berthe and other adornments.

High words had ensued between the sisters as to the meanness of Amelia in trying to take her beau from her, especially after the airs Amelia had given herself respecting Sponge; and a minute observer might have seen the slight tinge of red on Emily's eyelids denoting the usual issue of such scenes. The result was, that each determined to do the best she could for herself; and free trade being proclaimed, Emily proceeded to dress with all expedition, calculating that, as Mr. Sponge had come in wet, he would, very likely dress at once and appear in the drawing-room in good time. Nor was she out in her reckoning, for she had hardly enjoyed an approving glance in the mirror ere our hero came swaggering in, twitching his arms as if he hadn't got his wristbands adjusted, and working his legs as if they didn't belong to him.

"Ah, my dear Miss Emley!" exclaimed he, advancing gaily towards her with extended hand, which she took with all the pleasure in the world; adding, "and how have you been?"

"Oh, pretty well, thank you," replied she, looking as though she would have said, "As well as I can be without you."

Sponge, though a consummate judge of a horse, and all the minutiae connected with them, was still rather green in the matter of woman; and having settled in his own mind that Amelia should be his choice, he concluded that Emily knew all about it, and was working on her sister's account, instead of doing the agreeable for herself. And there it is where elder sisters have such an advantage over younger ones. They are always shown, or contrive to show themselves, first; and if a man once makes up his mind that the elder one will do, there is an end of the matter; and it is neither a deeper shade or two of blue, nor a brighter tinge of brown, nor a little smaller foot, nor a more elegant waist, that will make him change for a younger sister. The younger ones immediately become sisters in the men's minds, and retire, or are retired, from the field-"scratched," as Sponge would say.

Amelia, however, was not going to give Emily a chance; for, having dressed with all the expedition compatible with an attractive toilet-a lavender-coloured satin with broad black lace flounces, and some heavy jewellery on her well-turned arms, she came sidling in so gently as almost to catch Emily in the act of playing the agreeable. Turning the sidle into a stately sail, with a haughty sort of sneer and toss of the head to her sister, as much as to say, 'What are you doing with my man?'-a sneer that suddenly changed into a sweet smile as her eye encountered Sponge's-she just motioned him off to a sofa, where she commenced a sotto voce conversation in the engaged-couple style.


The plot then began to thicken. First came Jawleyford, in a terrible stew.

'Well, this is too bad!' exclaimed he, stamping and flourishing a scented note, with a crest and initials at the top. 'This is too bad,' repeated he; 'people accepting invitations, and then crying off at the last moment.'

'Who is it can't come, papa-the Foozles?' asked Emily.

'No-Foozles be hanged,' sneered Jawleyford; 'they always come-the Blossomnoses!' replied he, with an emphasis.

'The Blossomnoses!' exclaimed both girls, clasping their hands and looking up at the ceiling.

'What, all of them?' asked Emily.

'All of them,' rejoined Jawleyford.

'Why, that's four,' observed Emily.

'To be sure it is,' replied Jawleyford; 'five, if you count them by appetites; for old Blossom always eats and drinks as much as two people.'

'What excuse do they give?' asked Amelia.

'Carriage-horse taken suddenly ill,' replied Jawleyford; 'as if that's any excuse when there are post-horses within half a dozen miles.'

'He wouldn't have been stopped hunting for want of a horse, I dare say,' observed Amelia.

'I dare say it's all a lie,' observed Jawleyford; adding, 'however, the invitation shall go for a dinner, all the same.'

The denunciation was interrupted by the appearance of Spigot, who came looming up the spacious drawing-room in the full magnificence of black shorts, silk stockings, and buckled pumps, followed by a sheepish-looking, straight-haired, red apple-faced young gentleman, whom he announced as Mr. Robert Foozle. Robert was the hope of the house of Foozle; and it was fortunate his parents were satisfied with him, for few other people were. He was a young gentleman who shook hands

with everybody, assented to anything that anybody said, and in answering a question, wherein indeed his conversation chiefly consisted, he always followed the words of the interrogation as much as he could. For instance: 'Well, Robert, have you been at Dulverton to-day?' Answer, 'No, I've not been at Dulverton to-day.' Question, 'Are you going to Dulverton to-morrow?' Answer, 'No, I'm not going to Dulverton to-morrow.' Having shaken hands with the party all round, and turned to the fire to warm his red fists, Jawleyford having stood at 'attention' for such time as he thought Mrs. Foozle would be occupied before the glass in his study arranging her head-gear, and seeing no symptoms of any further announcement, at last asked Foozle if his papa and mamma were not coming.

'No, my papa and mamma are not coming,' replied he.

'Are you sure?' asked Jawleyford, in a tone of excitement.

'Quite sure,' replied Foozle, in the most matter-of-course voice.


'The deuce!' exclaimed Jawleyford, stamping his foot upon the soft rug, adding, 'it never rains but it pours!'

'Have you any note, or anything?' asked Mrs. Jawleyford, who had followed Robert Foozle into the room.

'Yes, I have a note,' replied he, diving into the inner pocket of his coat, and producing one. The note was a letter-a letter from Mrs. Foozle to Mrs. Jawleyford, three sides and crossed; and seeing the magnitude thereof, Mrs. Jawleyford quietly put it into her reticule, observing, 'that she hoped Mr. and Mrs. Foozle were well?'

'Yes, they are well,' replied Robert, notwithstanding he had express orders to say that his papa had the toothache, and his mamma the earache.

Jawleyford then gave a furious ring at the bell for dinner, and in due course of time the party of six proceeded to a table for twelve. Sponge pawned Mrs. Jawleyford off upon Robert Foozle, which gave Sponge the right to the fair Amelia, who walked off on his arm with a toss of her head at Emily, as though she thought him the finest, sprightliest man under the sun. Emily followed, and Jawleyford came sulking in alone, sore put out at the failure of what he meant for the grand entertainment.

Lights blazed in profusion; lamps more accustomed had now become better behaved; and the whole strength of the plate was called in requisition, sadly puzzling the unfortunate cook to find something to put upon the dishes. She, however, was a real magnanimous-minded woman, who would undertake to cook a lord mayor's feast-soups, sweets, joints, entrées, and all.

Jawleyford was nearly silent during the dinner; indeed, he was too far off for conversation, had there been any for him to join in; which was not the case, for Amelia and Sponge kept up a hum of words, while Emily worked Robert Foozle with question and answer, such as:

"Were your sisters out to-day?"

"Yes, my sisters were out to-day."

"Are your sisters going to the Christmas ball?"

"Yes, my sisters are going to the Christmas ball," &c. &c.

Still, nearly daft as Robert was, he was generally asked where there was anything going on; and more than one young la-but we will not tell about that, as he has nothing to do with our story.

By the time the ladies took their departure, Mr. Jawleyford had somewhat recovered from the annoyance of his disappointment; and as they retired he rang the bell, and desired Spigot to set in the horse-shoe table, and bring a bottle of the "green seal," being the colour affixed on the bottles of a four-dozen hamper of port ("curious old port at 48s.") that had arrived from "Wintle & Co." by rail (goods train of course) that morning.

"There!" exclaimed Jawleyford, as Spigot placed the richly cut decanter on the horse-shoe table. "There!" repeated he, drawing the green curtain as if to shade it from the fire, but in reality to hide the dulness the recent shaking had given it; "that wine," said he, "is a quarter of a century in bottle, at the very least."

'Indeed,' observed Sponge: 'time it was drunk.'

'A quarter of a century?' gaped Robert Foozle.

'Quarter of a century if it's a day,' replied Jawleyford, smacking his lips as he set down his glass after imbibing the precious beverage.

'Very fine,' observed Sponge; adding, as he sipped off his glass, 'it's odd to find such old wine so full-bodied.'

'Well, now tell us all about your day's proceedings,' said Jawleyford, thinking it advisable to change the conversation at once. 'What sport had you with my lord?'

'Oh, why, I really can't tell you much,' drawled Sponge, with an air of bewilderment. 'Strange country-strange faces-nobody I knew, and-'

'Ah, true,' replied Jawleyford, 'true. It occurred to me after you were gone, that perhaps you might not know any one. Ours, you see, is rather an out-of-the-way country; few of our people go to town, or indeed anywhere else; they are all tarry-at-home birds. But they'd receive you with great politeness, I'm sure-if they knew you came from here, at least,' added he.

Sponge was silent, and took a great gulp of the dull 'Wintle,' to save himself from answering.

'Was my Lord Scamperdale out?' asked Jawleyford, seeing he was not going to get a reply.

'Why, I can really hardly tell you that,' replied Sponge. 'There were two men out, either of whom might be him; at least, they both seemed to take the lead, and-and-' he was going to say 'blow up the people,' but he thought he might as well keep that to himself.

'Stout, hale-looking men, dressed much alike, with great broad tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles on?' asked Jawleyford.

'Just so,' replied Sponge.

'Ah, you are right, then,' rejoined Jawleyford; 'it would be my lord.'

'And who was the other?' inquired our friend.

'Oh, that Jack Spraggon,' replied Jawleyford, curling up his nose, as if he was going to be sick; 'one of the most odious wretches under the sun. I really don't know any man that I have so great a dislike to, so utter a contempt for, as that Jack, as they call him.'

'What is he?' asked Sponge.

'Oh, just a hanger-on of his lordship's; the creature has nothing-nothing whatever; he lives on my lord-eats his venison, drinks his claret, rides his horses, bullies those his lordship doesn't like to tackle with, and makes himself generally useful.'

'He seems a man of that sort,' observed Sponge, as he thought over the compliment he had received.

'Well, who else had you out, then?' asked Jawleyford. 'Was Tom Washball there?'

'No,' replied Sponge: 'he wasn't out, I know.'

'Ah, that's unfortunate,' observed Jawleyford, helping himself and passing the bottle. 'Tom's a capital fellow-a perfect gentleman-great friend of mine. If he'd been out you'd have had nothing to do but mention my name, and he'd have put you all right in a minute. Who else was there, then?' continued he.

'There was a tall man in black, on a good-looking young brown horse, rather rash at his fences, but a fine style of goer.'

'What!' exclaimed Jawleyford, 'man in drab cords and jack-boots, with the brim of his hat rather turning upwards?'

'Just so,' replied Sponge; 'and a double ribbon for a hat-string.'

'That's Master Blossomnose,' observed Jawleyford, scarcely able to contain his indignation. 'That's Master Blossomnose,' repeated he, taking a back hand at the port in the excitement of the moment. 'More to his credit if he were to stay at home and attend to his parish,' added Jawleyford; meaning, it would have been more to his credit if he had fulfilled his engagement to him that evening, instead of going out hunting in the morning.

The two then sat silent for a time, Sponge seeing where the sore place was, and Robert Foozle, as usual, seeing nothing. 'Ah, well,' observed Jawleyford, at length breaking silence, 'it was unfortunate you went this morning. I did my best to prevent you-told you what a long way it was, and so on. However, never mind, we will put all right to-morrow. His lordship, I'm sure, will be most happy to see you. So help yourself,' continued he, passing the 'Wintle,' 'and we will drink his health and success to fox-hunting.'

Sponge filled a bumper and drank his lordship's health, with the accompaniment as desired; and turning to Robert Foozle, who was doing likewise, said, 'Are you fond of hunting?'

'Yes, I'm fond of hunting,' replied Foozle.

'But you don't hunt, you know, Robert,' observed Jawleyford.

'No, I don't hunt,' replied Robert.

The 'green seal' being demolished, Jawleyford ordered a bottle of the 'other,' attributing the slight discoloration (which he did not discover until they had nearly finished the bottle) to change of atmosphere in the outer cellar. Sponge tackled vigorously with the new-comer, which was better than the first; and Robert Foozle, drinking as he spoke, by pattern, kept filling away, much to Jawleyford's dissatisfaction, who was compelled to order a third. During the progress of its demolition, the host's tongue became considerably loosened. He talked of hunting and the charms of the chase-of the good fellowship it produced: and expatiated on the advantages it was of to the country in a national point of view, promoting as it did a spirit of manly enterprise, and encouraging our unrivalled breed of horses; both of which he looked upon as national objects, well worthy the attention of enlightened men like himself.

Jawleyford was a great patron of the chase; and his keeper, Watson, always had a bag-fox ready to turn down when my lord's hounds met there. Jawleyford's covers were never known to be drawn blank. Though they had been shot in the day before, they always held a fox the next-if a fox was wanted.

Sponge being quite at home on the subjects of horses and hunting, lauded all his papa-in-law's observations up to the skies; occasionally considering whether it would be advisable to sell him a horse, and thinking, if he did, whether he should let him have one of the three he had down, or should get old Buckram to buy some quiet screw that would stand a little work and yield him (Sponge) a little profit, and yet not demolish the great patron of English sports. The more Jawleyford drank, the more energetic he became, and the greater pleasure he anticipated from the meet of the morrow. He docked the lord, and spoke of 'Scamperdale' as an excellent fellow-a real, good, hearty, honest Englishman-a man that 'the more you knew the more you liked'; all of which was very encouraging to Sponge. Spigot at length appeared to read the tea and coffee riot-act, when Jawleyford determined not to be done out of another bottle, pointing to the nearly emptied decanter, said to Robert Foozle, 'I suppose you'll not take any more wine?' To which Robert replied, 'No, I'll not take any more wine.' Whereupon, pushing out his chair and throwing away his napkin, Jawleyford arose and led the way to the drawing-room, followed by Sponge and this entertaining young gentleman.

A round game followed tea; which, in its turn, was succeeded by a massive silver tray, chiefly decorated with cold water and tumblers; and as the various independent clocks in the drawing-room began chiming and striking eleven, Mr. Jawleyford thought he would try to get rid of Foozle by asking him if he hadn't better stay all night.

'Yes, I think I'd better stay all night,' replied Foozle.

'But won't they be expecting you at home, Robert?' asked Jawleyford, not feeling disposed to be caught in his own trap.

'Yes, they'll be expecting me at home,' replied Foozle.

'Then, perhaps you had better not alarm them by staying,' suggested Jawleyford.

'No, perhaps I'd better not alarm them by staying,' repeated Foozle. Whereupon they all rose, and wishing him a very good night, Jawleyford handed him over to Spigot, who transferred him to one footman, who passed him to another, to button into his leather-headed shandridan.

After talking Robert over, and expatiating on the misfortune it would be to have such a boy, Jawleyford rang the bell for the banquet of water to be taken away; and ordering breakfast half-an-hour earlier than usual, our friends went to bed.

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