MoboReader> Literature > Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour

   Chapter 23 THE GREAT RUN

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 27150

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Our hero having inveigled the brown under lee of an out-house as the field moved along, was fortunate enough to achieve the saddle without disclosing the secrets of the stable; and as he rejoined the throng in all the pride of shape, action, and condition, even the top-sawyers, Fossick, Fyle, Bliss, and others, admitted that Hercules was not a bad-like horse; while the humbler-minded ones eyed Sponge with a mixture of awe and envy, thinking what a fine trade literature must be to stand such a horse.

'Is your friend What's-his-name, a workman?' asked Lord Scamperdale, nodding towards Sponge as he trotted Hercules gently past on the turf by the side of the road along which they were riding.

'Oh no,' replied Jawleyford tartly. 'Oh no-gentleman, man of property-'

'I did not mean was he a mechanic,' explained his lordship drily, 'but a workman; a good 'un across country, in fact.' His lordship working his arms as if he was going to set-to himself.

'Oh, a first-rate man!-first-rate man!' replied Jawleyford; 'beat them all at Laverick Wells.'

'I thought so,' observed his lordship; adding to himself, 'then Jack shall take the conceit out of him.'

'Jack!' halloaed he over his shoulder to his friend, who was jogging a little behind; 'Jack!' repeated he, 'that Mr. Something-'

'Sponge!' observed Jawleyford, with an emphasis.

'That Mr. Sponge,' continued his lordship, 'is a stranger in the country: have the kindness to take care of him. You know what I mean?'

'Just so,' replied Jack; 'I'll take care of him.'

'Most polite of your lordship, I'm sure,' said Jawleyford, with a low bow, and laying his hand on his breast. 'I can assure you I shall never forget the marked attention I have received from your lordship this day.'

'Thank you for nothing,' grunted his lordship to himself.

Bump, bump; trot, trot; jabber, jabber, on they went as before.

They had now got to the cover, Tickler Gorse, and ere the last horsemen had reached the last angle of the long hill, Frostyface was rolling about on foot in the luxuriant evergreen; now wholly visible, now all but overhead, like a man buffeting among the waves of the sea. Save Frosty's cheery voice encouraging the invisible pack to 'wind him!' and 'rout him out!' an injunction that the shaking of the gorse showed they willingly obeyed, and an occasional exclamation from Jawleyford, of 'Beautiful! beautiful!-never saw better hounds!-can't be a finer pack!' not a sound disturbed the stillness of the scene. The waggoners on the road stopped their wains, the late noisy ploughmen leaned vacantly on their stilts, the turnip-pullers stood erect in air, and the shepherds' boys deserted the bleating flocks;-all was life and joy and liberty-'Liberty, equality, and foxhunt-ity!'

'Yo-i-cks, wind him! Y-o-o-icks! rout him out!' went Frosty; occasionally varying the entertainment with a loud crack of his heavy whip, when he could get upon a piece of rising ground to clear the thong.

'Tally-ho!' screamed Jawleyford, hoisting the Bumperkin Yeomanry cap in the air. 'Tally-ho!' repeated he, looking triumphantly round, as much as to say, 'What a clever boy am I!'

'Hold your noise!' roared Jack, who was posted a little below. 'Don't you see it's a hare?' added he, amidst the uproarious mirth of the company.

'I haven't your great staring specs on, or I should have seen he hadn't a tail,' retorted Jawleyford, nettled at the tone in which Jack had addressed him.

'Tail be-!' replied Jack, with a sneer; 'who but a tailor would call it a tail?'

Just then a light low squeak of a whimper was heard in the thickest part of the gorse, and Frostyface cheered the hound to the echo. 'Hoick to, Pillager! H-o-o-ick!' screamed he, in a long-drawn note, that thrilled through every frame, and set the horses a-capering.

Ere Frosty's prolonged screech was fairly finished, there was such an outburst of melody, and such a shaking of the gorse-bushes, as plainly showed there was no safety for Reynard in cover; and great was the bustle and commotion among the horsemen. Mr. Fossick lowered his hat-string and ran the fox's tooth through the buttonhole; Fyle drew his girths; Washball took a long swig at his hunting-horn-shaped monkey; Major Mark and Mr. Archer threw away their cigar ends; Mr. Bliss drew on his dogskin gloves; Mr. Wake rolled the thong of his whip round the stick, to be better able to encounter his puller; Mr. Sparks got a yokel to take up a link of his curb; George Smith and Joe Smith looked at their watches; Sandy McGregor, the factor, filled his great Scotch nose with Irish snuff, exclaiming, as he dismissed the balance from his fingers by a knock against his thigh, 'Oh, my mon, aw think this tod will gie us a ran!' while Blossomnose might be seen stealing gently forward, on the far side of a thick fence, for the double purpose of shirking Jawleyford and getting a good start.

In the midst of these and similar preparations for the fray, up went a whip's cap at the low end of the cover; and a volley of 'Tallyhos' burst from our friends, as the fox, whisking his white-tipped brush in the air, was seen stealing away over the grassy hill beyond. What a commotion was there! How pale some looked! How happy others!

'Sing out, Jack! for heaven's sake, sing out!' exclaimed Lord Scamperdale; an enthusiastic sportsman, always as eager for a run as if he had never seen one. 'Sing out. Jack; or, by Jove, they'll override 'em at starting!'

'Hold hard, gentlemen,' roared Jack, clapping spurs into his grey, or rather, into his lordship's grey, dashing in front, and drawing the horse across the road to stop the progression of the field. 'Hold hard, one minute!' repeated Jack, standing erect in his stirrups, and menacing them with his whip (a most formidable one). 'Whatever you do, pray let them get away! Pray don't spoil your own sport! Pray remember they're his lordship's hounds!-that they cost him five-and-twenty under'd-two thousand five under'd a year! And where, let me ax, with wheat down to nothing, would you get another, if he was to throw up?'

As Jack made this inquiry, he took a hurried glance at the now pouring-out pack; and seeing they were safe away, he wiped the foam from his mouth on his sleeve, dropped into his saddle, and, catching his horse short round by the head, clapped spurs into his sides, and galloped away, exclaiming:

'Now, ye tinkers, we'll all start fair!'

Then there was such a scrimmage! such jostling and elbowing among the jealous ones; such ramming and cramming among the eager ones; such pardon-begging among the polite ones; such spurting of ponies, such clambering of cart-horses. All were bent on going as far as they could-all except Jawleyford, who sat curvetting and prancing in the patronizing sort of way gentlemen do who encourage hounds for the sake of the manly spirit the sport engenders, and the advantage hunting is of in promoting our unrivalled breed of horses.

His lordship having slipped away, horn in hand, under pretence of blowing the hounds out of cover, as soon as he set Jack at the field, had now got a good start, and, horse well in hand, was sailing away in their wake.

'F-o-o-r-r-ard!' screamed Frostyface, coming up alongside of him, holding his horse-a magnificent thoroughbred bay-well by the head, and settling himself into his saddle as he went.

'F-o-r-rard!' screeched his lordship, thrusting his spectacles on to his nose.

'Twang-twang-twang,' went the huntsman's deep-sounding horn.

'T'weet-t'weet-t'weet,' went his lordship's shriller one.

'In for a stinger, my lurd,' observed Jack, returning his horn to the case.

'Hope so,' replied his lordship, pocketing his.

They then flew the first fence together.

'F-o-r-r-ard!' screamed Jack in the air, as he saw the hounds packing well together, and racing with a breast-high scent.

'F-o-r-rard!' screamed his lordship, who was a sort of echo to his huntsman, just as Jack Spraggon was echo to his lordship.

'He's away for Gunnersby Craigs,' observed Jack, pointing that way, for they were a good ten miles off.

'Hope so,' replied his lordship, for whom the distance could never be too great, provided the pace corresponded.

'F-o-o-r-rard!' screamed Jack.

'F-o-r-rard!' screeched his lordship.

So they went flying and 'forrarding' together; none of the field-thanks to Jack Spraggon-being able to overtake them.

'Y-o-o-nder he goes!' at last cried Frosty, taking off his cap as he viewed the fox, some half-mile ahead, stealing away round the side of Newington Hill.

'Tallyho!' screeched his lordship, riding with his flat hat in the air, by way of exciting the striving field to still further exertion.

'He's a good 'un!' exclaimed Frosty, eyeing the fox's going.

'He is that!' replied his lordship, staring at him with all his might.

Then they rode on, and were presently rounding Newington Hill themselves, the hounds packing well together, and carrying a famous head.

His lordship now looked to see what was going on behind.

Scrambleford Hill was far in the rear. Jawleyford and the boy in blue were altogether lost in the distance. A quarter of a mile or so this way were a couple of dots of horsemen, one on a white, the other on a dark colour-most likely Jones, the keeper, and Farmer Stubble, on the foaly mare. Then, a little nearer, was a man in a hedge, trying to coax his horse after him, stopping the way of two boys in white trousers, whose ponies looked like rats. Again, a little nearer, were some of the persevering ones-men who still hold on in the forlorn hopes of a check-all dark-coated, and mostly trousered. Then came the last of the red-coats-Tom Washball, Charley Joyce, and Sam Sloman, riding well in the first flight of second horsemen-his lordship's pad-groom, Mr. Fossick's man in drab with a green collar, Mr. Wake's in blue, also a lad in scarlet and a flat hat, with a second horse for the huntsman. Drawing still nearer came the ruck-men in red, men in brown, men in livery, a farmer or two in fustian, all mingled together; and a few hundred yards before these, and close upon his lordship, were the élite of the field-five men in scarlet and one in black. Let us see who they are. By the powers, Mr. Sponge is first!-Sponge sailing away at his ease, followed by Jack, who is staring at him through his great lamps, longing to launch out at him, but as yet wanting an excuse; Sponge having ridden with judgement-judgement, at least, in everything except in having taken the lead of Jack. After Jack comes old black-booted Blossomnose; and Messrs. Wake, Fossick, and Fyle, complete our complement of five. They are all riding steadily and well; all very irate, however, at the stranger for going before them, and ready to back Jack in anything he may say or do.

On, on they go; the hounds still pressing forward, though not carrying quite so good a head as before. In truth, they have run four miles in twenty minutes; pretty good going anywhere except upon paper, where they always go unnaturally fast. However, there they are, still pressing on, though with considerably less music than before.

After rounding Newington Hill, they got into a wilder and worse sort of country, among moorish, ill-cultivated land, with cold unwholesome-looking fallows. The day, too, seemed changing for the worse; a heavy black cloud hanging overhead. The hounds were at length brought to their noses.

His lordship, who had been riding all eyes, ears, and fears, foresaw the probability of this; and pulling-to his horse, held up his hand, the usual signal for Jack to 'sing out' and stop the field. Sponge saw the signal, but, unfortunately, Hercules didn't; and tearing along with his head to the ground, resolutely bore our friend not only past his lordship, but right on to where the now stooping pack were barely feathering on the line.

Then Jack and his lordship sang out together.

'Hold hard!' screeched his lordship, in a dreadful state of excitement.

'Hold Hard!' thundered Jack.

Sponge was holding hard-hard enough to split the horse's jaws, but the beast would go on, notwithstanding.

'By the powers, he's among 'em again!' shouted his lordship, as the resolute beast, with his upturned head almost pulled round to Sponge's knee, went star-gazing on like the blind man in Regent Street. 'Sing out. Jack! sing out! for heaven's sake sing out,' shrieked his lordship, shutting his eyes, as he added, 'or he'll kill every man jack of them.'

'Now, Sur!' roared Jack, 'can't you steer that 'ere aggravatin' quadruped of yours?'

'Oh, you pestilential son of a pontry-maid!' screeched his lordship, as Brilliant ran yelping away from under Sponge's horse's feet. 'Sing out. Jack! sing out!' gasped his lordship again.

'Oh, you scandalous, hypocritical, rusty-booted, numb-handed son of a puffing corn-cutter, why don't you turn your attention to feeding hens, cultivating cabbages, or making pantaloons for small folk, instead of killing hounds in this wholesale way?' roared Jack; an inquiry that set him foaming again.

'Oh, you unsightly, sanctified, idolatrous, Bagnigge-Wells coppersmith, you think because I'm a lord, and can't swear or use coarse language, that you may do what you like; rot you, sir, I'll present you with a testimonial! I'll settle a hundred a year upon you if you'll quit the country. By the powers, they're away again!' added his lordship, who, with one eye on Sponge and the other on the pack, had been watching Frosty lifting them over

the bad scenting-ground, till, holding them on to a hedgerow beyond, they struck the scent on good sound pasture, and went away at score, every hound throwing his tongue, and filling the air with joyful melody. Away they swept like a hurricane. 'F-o-o-rard!' was again the cry.

'Hang it. Jack,' exclaimed Lord Scamperdale, laying his hand on his double's shoulder, as they galloped alongside of each other, 'Hang it, Jack, see if you can't sarve out this unrighteous, mahogany-booted, rattle-snake. Do if you die for it!-I'll bury your remainders genteelly-patent coffin with brass nails, all to yourself-put Frosty and all the fellows in black, and raise a white marble monument to your memory, declaring you were the most spotless virtuous man under the sun.'

'Let me off dining with Jaw, and I'll do my best,' replied Jack.

'Done!' screamed his lordship, flourishing his right arm in the air, as he flew over a great stone wall.

A good many of the horses and sportsmen too had had enough before the hounds checked; and the quick way Frosty lifted them and hit off the scent, did not give them much time to recruit. Many of them now sat hat in hand, mopping, and puffing, and turning their red perspiring faces to the wind. 'Poough,' gasped one, as if he was going to be sick; 'Puff,' went another; 'Oh! but it's 'ot!' exclaimed a third, pulling off his limp neckcloth; 'Wonder if there's any ale hereabouts,' cried a fourth; 'Terrible run!' observed a fifth; 'Ten miles at least,' gasped another. Meanwhile the hounds went streaming on; and it is wonderful how soon those who don't follow are left hopelessly in the rear.

Of the few that did follow, Mr. Sponge, however, was one. Nothing daunted by the compliments that had been paid him, he got Hercules well in hand; and the horse dropping again on the bit, resumed his place in front, going as strong and steadily as ever. Thus he went, throwing the mud in the faces of those behind, regardless of the oaths and imprecations that followed; Sponge knowing full well they would do the same by him if they could.

'All jealousy,' said Sponge, spurring his horse. 'Never saw such a jealous set of dogs in my life.'

An accommodating lane soon presented itself, along which they all pounded, with the hounds running parallel through the enclosures on the left; Sponge sending such volleys of pebbles and mud in his rear as made it advisable to keep a good way behind him. The line was now apparently for Firlingham Woods; but on nearing the thatched cottage on Gasper Heath, the fox, most likely being headed, had turned short to the right; and the chase now lay over Sheeplow Water meadows, and so on to Bolsover brick-fields, when the pack again changed from hunting to racing, and the pace for a time was severe. His lordship having got his second horse at the turn, was ready for the tussle, and plied away vigorously, riding, as usual, with all his heart, with all his mind, with all his soul, and with all his strength; while Jack, still on the grey, came plodding diligently along in the rear, saving his horse as much as he could. His lordship charged a stiff flight of rails in the brick-fields; while Jack, thinking to save his, rode at a weak place in the fence, a little higher up, and in an instant was soused overhead in a clay-hole.

'Duck under, Jack! duck under!' screamed his lordship, as Jack's head rose to the surface. 'Duck under! you'll have it full directly!' added he, eyeing Sponge and the rest coming up.

Sponge, however, saw the splash, and turning a little lower down, landed safe on sound ground; while poor Blossomnose, who was next, went floundering overhead also. But the pace was too good to stop to fish them out.

'Dash it,' said Sponge, looking at them splashing about, 'but that was a near go for me!'

Jack being thus disposed of, Sponge, with increased confidence, rose in his stirrups, easing the redoubtable Hercules; and patting him on the shoulder, at the same time that he gave him the gentlest possible touch of the spur, exclaimed, 'By the powers, we'll show these old Flat Hats the trick!' He then commenced humming:

Mister Sponge, the raspers taking,

Sets the junkers' nerves a shaking;

and riding cheerfully on, he at length found himself on the confines of a wild rough-looking moor, with an undulating range of hills in the distance.

Frostyface and Lord Scamperdale here for the first time diverged from the line the hounds were running, and made for the neck of a smooth, flat, rather inviting-looking piece of ground, instead of crossing it, Sponge, thinking to get a niche, rode to it; and the 'deeper and deeper still' sort of flounder his horse made soon let him know that he was in a bog. The impetuous Hercules rushed and reared onwards as if to clear the wide expanse; and alighting still lower, shot Sponge right overhead in the middle.

'That's cooked your goose!' exclaimed his lordship, eyeing Sponge and his horse floundering about in the black porridge-like mess.

'Catch my horse!' hallooed Sponge to the first whip, who came galloping up as Hercules was breasting his way out again.

'Catch him yourself,' grunted the man, galloping on.

A peat-cutter, more humane, received the horse as he emerged from the black sea, exclaiming, as the now-piebald Sponge came lobbing after on foot, 'A, sir! but ye should niver set tee to ride through sic a place as that!'

Sponge, having generously rewarded the man with a fourpenny piece, for catching his horse and scraping the thick of the mud off him, again mounted, and cantered round the point he should at first have gone; but his chance was out-the farther he went, the farther he was left behind; till at last, pulling up, he stood watching the diminishing pack, rolling like marbles over the top of Rotherjade Hill, followed by his lordship hugging his horse round the neck as he went, and the huntsman and whips leading and driving theirs up before them.

'Nasty jealous old beggar!' said Sponge, eyeing his lessening lordship disappearing over the hill too. Sponge then performed the sickening ceremony of turning away from hounds running; not but that he might have plodded on on the line, and perhaps seen or heard what became of the fox, but Sponge didn't hunt on those terms. Like a good many other gentlemen, he would be first, or nowhere.

If it was any consolation to him, he had plenty of companions in misfortune. The line was dotted with horsemen back to the brick-fields. The first person he overtook wending his way home in the discontented, moody humour of a thrown-out man, was Mr. Puffington master of the Hanby hounds; at whose appearance at the meet we expressed our surprise.

Neighbouring masters of hounds are often more or less jealous of each other. No man in the master-of-hound world is too insignificant for censure. Lord Scamperdale was an undoubted sportsman; while poor Mr. Puffington thought of nothing but how to be thought one. Hearing the mistaken rumour that a great writer was down, he thought that his chance of immortality was arrived; and, ordering his best horse, and putting on his best apparel, had braved the jibes and sneers of Jack and his lordship for the purpose of scraping acquaintance with the stranger. In that he had been foiled: there was no time at the meet to get introduced, neither could he get jostled beside Sponge in going down to the cover; while the quick find, the quick get away, followed by the quick thing we have described, were equally unfavourable to the undertaking. Nevertheless, Mr. Puffington had held on beyond the brick-fields; and had he but persevered a little farther, he would have had the satisfaction of helping Mr. Sponge out of the bog.

Sponge now, seeing a red coat a little before, trotted on, and quickly overtook a fine nippy, satin-stocked, dandified looking gentleman, with marvellously smart leathers and boots-a great contrast to the large, roomy, bargemanlike costume of the members of the Flat Hat Hunt.

'You're not hurt, I hope?' exclaimed Mr. Puffington, with well-feigned anxiety, as he looked at Mr. Sponge's black-daubed clothes.

'Oh no!' replied Sponge. 'Oh no!-fell soft-fell soft. More dirt, less hurt-more dirt, less hurt.'

'Why, you've been in a bog!' exclaimed Mr. Puffington, eyeing the much-stained Hercules.

'Almost over head,' replied Sponge. 'Scamperdale saw me going, and hadn't the grace to halloa.'

'Ah, that's like him,' replied Mr. Puffington, 'that's like him: there's nothing pleases him so much as getting fellows into grief.'

'Not very polite to a stranger,' observed Mr. Sponge.

'No, it isn't,' replied Mr. Puffington, 'no, it isn't; far from it indeed-far from it; but, low be it spoken,' added he, 'his lordship is only a roughish sort of customer.'

'So he is,' replied Mr. Sponge, who thought it fine to abuse a nobleman.

'The fact is,' said Mr. Puffington, 'these Flat Hat chaps are all snobs. They think there are no such fine fellows as themselves under the sun; and if ever a stranger looks near them, they make a point of being as rude and disagreeable to him as they possibly can. This is what they call keeping the hunt select.'

'Indeed,' observed Mr. Sponge, recollecting how they had complimented him, adding, 'they seem a queer set.'

'There's a fellow they call "Jack,"' observed Mr. Puffington, 'who acts as a sort of bulldog to his lordship, and worries whoever his lordship sets him upon. He got into a clay-hole a little farther back, and a precious splashing he was making, along with the chaplain, old Blossomnose.'

'Ah, I saw him,' observed Mr. Sponge.

'You should come and see my hounds,' observed Mr. Puffington.

'What are they?' asked Sponge.

'The Hanby,' replied Mr. Puffington.

'Oh! then you are Mr. Puffington,' observed Sponge, who had a sort of general acquaintance with all the hounds and masters-indeed, with all the meets of all the hounds in the kingdom-which he read in the weekly lists in Bell's Life, just as he read Mogg's Cab Fares. 'Then you are Mr. Puffington?' observed Sponge.

'The same,' replied the stranger.

'I'll have a look at you,' observed Sponge, adding, 'do you take in horses?'

'Yours, of course,' replied Mr. Puffington, bowing; adding something about great public characters, which Sponge didn't understand.

'I'll be down upon you, as the extinguisher said to the rushlight,' observed Mr. Sponge.

'Do,' said Mr. Puffington; 'come before the frost. Where are you staying now?'

'I'm at Jawleyford's,' replied our friend.

'Indeed!-Jawleyford's, are you?' repeated Mr. Puffington. 'Good fellow, Jawleyford-gentleman, Jawleyford. How long do you stay?'

'Why, I haven't made up my mind,' replied Sponge. 'Have no thoughts of budging at present.'

'Ah, well-good quarters,' said Mr. Puffington, who now smelt a rat; 'good quarters-nice girls-fine fortune-fine place, Jawleyford Court. Well, book me for the next visit,' added he. 'I will,' said Sponge, 'and no mistake. What do they call your shop?'

'Hanby House,' replied Mr. Puffington; 'Hanby House-anybody can tell you where Hanby House is.'

'I'll not forget,' said Mr. Sponge, booking it in his mind, and eyeing his victim.

'I'll show you a fine pack of hounds,' said Mr. Puffington; 'far finer animals than those of old Scamperdale's-steady, true hunting hounds, that won't go a yard without a scent-none of your jealous, flashy, frantic devils, that will tear over half a township without one, and are always looking out for "halloas" and assistance-'

Mr. Puffington was interrupted in the comparison he was about to draw between his lordship's hounds and his, by arriving at the Bolsover brick-fields, and seeing Jack and Blossomnose, horse in hand, running to and fro, while sundry countrymen blobbed about in the clay-hole they had so recently occupied. Tom Washball, Mr. Wake, Mr. Fyle, Mr. Fossick, and several dark-coated horsemen and boys were congregated around. Jack had lost his spectacles, and Blossomnose his whip, and the countrymen were diving for them.

'Not hurt, I hope?' said Mr. Puffington, in the most dandified tone of indifference, as he rode up to where Jack and Blossomnose were churning the water in their boots, stamping up and down, trying to get themselves warm.

'Hurt be hanged!' replied Jack, who had a frightful squint, that turned his eyes inside out when he was in a passion: 'hurt be hanged!' said he; 'might have been drownded, for anything you'd have cared.'

'I should have been sorry for that,' replied Mr. Puffington, adding, 'the Flat Hat Hunt could ill afford to lose so useful and ornamental a member.'

'I don't know what the Flat Hat Hunt can afford to lose,' spluttered Jack, who hadn't got all the clay out of his mouth; 'but I know they can afford to do without the company of certain gentlemen who shall be nameless,' said he, looking at Sponge and Puffington as he thought, but in reality showing nothing but the whites of his eyes. 'I told you so,' said Puffington, jerking his head towards Jack, as Sponge and he turned their horses' heads to ride away; 'I told you so,' repeated he; 'that's a specimen of their style'; adding, 'they are the greatest set of ruffians under the sun.'

The new acquaintances then jogged on together as far as the cross-roads at Stewley, when Puffington, having bound Sponge in his own recognizance to come to him when he left Jawleyford Court, pointed him out his way, and with a most hearty shake of the hands the new-made friends parted.

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