MoboReader> Literature > Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour


Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 48526

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

hen Mr. Sponge returned, all dirtied and stained, from the chase, he found his host sitting in an arm-chair over the study fire, dressing-gowned and slippered, with a pocket-handkerchief tied about his head, shamming illness, preparatory to putting off Mr. Spraggon. To be sure, he played rather a better knife and fork at dinner than is usual with persons with that peculiar ailment; but Mr. Sponge, being very hungry, and well attended to by the fair-moreover, not suspecting any ulterior design-just ate and jabbered away as usual, with the exception of omitting his sick papa-in-law in the round of his observations. So the dinner passed over.

'Bring me a tumbler and some hot water and sugar,' said Mr. Jawleyford, pressing his head against his hand, as Spigot, having placed some bottle ends on the table, and reduced the glare of light, was preparing to retire. 'Bring me some hot water and sugar,' said he; 'and tell Harry he will have to go over to Lord Scamperdale's, with a note, the first thing in the morning.'

The young ladies looked at each other, and then at mamma, who, seeing what was wanted, looked at papa, and asked, 'if he was going to ask Lord Scamperdale over?' Amelia, among her many 'presentiments,' had long enjoyed one that she was destined to be Lady Scamperdale.

'No-over-no,' snapped Jawleyford; 'what should put that in your head?'

'Oh, I thought as Mr. Sponge was here, you might think it a good time to ask him.'

'His lordship knows he can come when he likes,' replied Jawleyford, adding, 'it's to put that Mr. John Spraggon off, who thinks he may do the same.'

'Mr. Spraggon!' exclaimed both the young ladies. 'Mr. Spraggon!-what should set him here?'

'What, indeed?' asked Jawleyford.

'Poor man! I dare say there's no harm in him,' observed Mrs. Jawleyford, who was always ready for anybody.

'No good either,' replied Jawleyford-'at all events, we'll be just as well without him. You know him, don't you?' added he, turning to Sponge-'great coarse man in spectacles.'

'Oh yes, I know him,' replied Sponge; 'a great ruffian he is, too,' added he.

'One ought to be in robust health to encounter such a man,' observed Jawleyford, 'and have time to get a man or two of the same sort to meet him. We can do nothing with such a man. I can't understand how his lordship puts up with such a fellow.'

'Finds him useful, I suppose,' observed Mr. Sponge.

Spigot presently appeared with a massive silver salver, bearing tumblers, sugar, lemon, nutmeg, and other implements of negus.

'Will you join me in a little wine-and-water?' asked Jawleyford, pointing to the apparatus and bottle ends, 'or will you have a fresh bottle?-plenty in the cellar,' added he, with a flourish of his hand, though he kept looking steadfastly at the negus-tray.

'Oh-why-I'm afraid-I doubt-I think I should hardly be able to do justice to a bottle single-handed,' replied Sponge. 'Then have negus,' said Jawleyford; 'you'll find it very refreshing; medical men recommend it after violent exercise in preference to wine. But pray have wine if you prefer it.'

'Ah-well, I'll finish off with a little negus, perhaps,' replied Sponge, adding, 'meanwhile the ladies, I dare say, would like a little wine.'

'The ladies drink white wine-sherry,' rejoined Jawleyford, determined to make a last effort to save his port. 'However, you can have a bottle of port to yourself, you know.'

'Very well,' said Sponge.

'One condition I must attach,' said Mr. Jawleyford, 'which is, that you finish the bottle. Don't let us have any waste, you know.'

'I'll do my best,' said Sponge, determined to have it; whereupon Mr. Jawleyford growled the word 'Port' to the butler, who had been witnessing his master's efforts to direct attention to the negus. Thwarted in his endeavour, Jawleyford's headache became worse, and the ladies, seeing how things were going, beat a precipitate retreat, leaving our hero to his fate.

'I'll leave a note on my writing-table when I go to bed,' observed Jawleyford to Spigot, as the latter was retiring after depositing the bottle; 'and tell Harry to start with it early in the morning, so as to get to Woodmansterne about breakfast-nine o'clock, or so, at latest,' added he.

'Yes, sir,' replied Spigot, withdrawing with an air.

Sponge then wanted to narrate the adventures of the day; but, independently of Jawleyford's natural indifference for hunting, he was too much out of humour at being done out of his wine to lend a willing ear; and after sundry 'hums,' 'indeeds,' 'sos,' &c., Sponge thought he might as well think the run over to himself as trouble to put it into words, whereupon a long silence ensued, interrupted only by the tinkling of Jawleyford's spoon against his glass, and the bumps of the decanter as Sponge helped himself to his wine.

At length Jawleyford, having had as much negus as he wanted, excused himself from further attendence, under the plea of increasing illness, and retired to his study to concoct his letter to Jack.

At first he was puzzled how to address him. If he had been Jack Spraggon, living in old Mother Nipcheese's lodgings at Starfield, as he was when Lord Scamperdale took him by the hand, he would have addressed him as 'Dear Sir,' or perhaps in the third person, 'Mr. Jawleyford presents his compliments to Mr. Spraggon,' &c.; but, as my lord's right-hand man, Jack carried a certain weight, and commanded a certain influence, that he would never have acquired of himself.

Jawleyford spoilt three sheets of cream-laid satin-wove note-paper (crested and ciphered) before he pleased himself with a beginning. First he had it 'Dear Sir,' which he thought looked too stiff; then he had it 'My dear Sir,' which he thought looked too loving; next he had it 'Dear Spraggon,' which he considered as too familiar; and then he tried 'Dear Mr. Spraggon,' which he thought would do. Thus he wrote:


'I am sorry to be obliged to put you off; but since I came in from hunting I have been attacked with influenza, which will incapacitate me from the enjoyment of society at least for two or three days. I therefore think the kindest thing I can do is to write to put you off; and, in the hopes of seeing both you and my lord at no distant day.

'I remain, dear sir, yours sincerely,


'Jawleyford Court.


&c. &c. &c.'

This he sealed with the great seal of Jawleyford Court-a coat of arms containing innumerable quarterings and heraldic devices. Having then refreshed his memory by looking through a bundle of bills, and selected the most threatening of the lawyers' letters to answer the next day, he proceeded to keep up the delusion of sickness, by retiring to sleep in his dressing-room. Our readers will now have the kindness to accompany us to Lord Scamperdale's: time, the morning after the foregoing. 'Love me, love my dog,' being a favourite saying of his lordship's, he fed himself, his friends, and his hounds, on the same meal. Jack and he were busy with two great basins full of porridge, which his lordship diluted with milk, while Jack stirred his up with hot dripping, when the put-off note arrived. His lordship was still in a complete suit of the great backgammon-board-looking red-and-yellow Stunner tartan: but as Jack was going from home, he had got himself into a pair of his lordship's yellow-ochre leathers and new top-boots, while he wore the Stunner jacket and waistcoat to save his lordship's Sunday green cutaway with metal buttons, and canary-coloured waistcoat. His lordship did not eat his porridge with his usual appetite, for he had had a disturbed night, Sponge having appeared to him in his dreams in all sorts of forms and predicaments; now jumping a-top of him-now upsetting Jack-now riding over Frostyface-now crashing among his hounds; and he awoke, fully determined to get rid of him by fair means or foul. Buying his horses did not seem so good a speculation as blowing his credit at Jawleyford Court, for, independently of disliking to part with his cash, his lordship remembered that there were other horses to get, and he should only be giving Sponge the means of purchasing them. The more, however, he thought of the Jawleyford project, the more satisfied he was that it would do; and Jack and he were in a sort of rehearsal, wherein his lordship personated Jawleyford, and was showing Jack (who was only a clumsy diplomatist) how to draw up to the subject of Sponge's pecuniary deficiencies, when the dirty old butler came with Jawleyford's note.

'What's here?' exclaimed his lordship, fearing from its smartness, that it was from a lady. 'What's here?' repeated he, as he inspected the direction. 'Oh, it's for you!' exclaimed he, chucking it over to Jack, considerably relieved by the discovery.

'Me!' replied Jack. 'Who can be writing to me?' said he, squinting his eyes inside out at the seal. He opened it: 'Jawleyford Court,' read he. 'Who the deuce can be writing to me from Jawleyford Court when I'm going there?'

'A put-off, for a guinea!' exclaimed his lordship.

'Hope so,' muttered Jack.

'Hope not,' replied his lordship.

'It is!' exclaimed Jack, reading, 'Dear Mr. Spraggon,' and so on.

'The humbug!' muttered Lord Scamperdale, adding, 'I'll be bound he's got no more influenza than I have.'

'Well,' observed Jack, sweeping a red cotton handkerchief, with which he had been protecting his leathers, off into his pocket, 'there's an end of that.'

'Don't go so quick,' replied his lordship, ladling in the porridge.

'Quick!' retorted Jack; 'why, what can you do?'

'Do! why, go to be sure,' replied his lordship.

'How can I go,' asked Jack, 'when the sinner's written to put me off?'

'Nicely,' replied his lordship, 'nicely. I'll just send word back by the servant that you had started before the note arrived, but that you shall have it as soon as you return; and you just cast up there as if nothing had happened.' So saying, his lordship took hold of the whipcord-pull and gave the bell a peal.

'There's no beating you,' observed Jack.

Bags now made his appearance again.

'Is the servant here that brought this note?' asked his lordship, holding it up.

'Yes, me lord,' replied Bags.

'Then tell him to tell his master, with my compliments, that Mr. Spraggon had set off for Jawleyford Court before it came, but that he shall have it as soon as he returns-you understand?'

'Yes, me lord,' replied Bags, looking at Jack supping up the fat porridge, and wondering how the lie would go down with Harry, who was then discussing his master's merits and a horn of small beer with the lad who was going to drive Jack.

Jawleyford Court was twenty miles from Woodmansterne as the crow flies, and any distance anybody liked to call it by the road. The road, indeed, would seem to have been set out with a view of getting as many hills and as little level ground over which a traveller could make play as possible; and where it did not lead over the tops of the highest hills, it wound round their bases, in such little, vexatious, up-and-down, wavy dips as completely to do away with all chance of expedition. The route was not along one continuous trust, but here over a bit of turnpike and there over a bit of turnpike, with ever and anon long interregnums of township roads, repaired in the usual primitive style with mud and soft field-stones, that turned up like flitches of bacon. A man would travel from London to Exeter by rail in as short a time, and with far greater ease, than he would drive from Lord Scamperdale's to Jawleyford Court. His lordship being aware of this fact, and thinking, moreover, it was no use trashing a good horse over such roads, had desired Frostyface to put an old spavined grey mare, that he had bought for the kennel, into the dog-cart, and out of which, his lordship thought, if he could get a day's work or two, she would come all the cheaper to the boiler.

'That's a good-shaped beast,' observed his lordship, as she now came hitching round to the door; 'I really think she would make a cover hack.'

'Sooner you ride her than me,' replied Jack, seeing his lordship was coming the dealer over him-praising the shape when he could say nothing for the action.

'Well, but she'll take you to Jawleyford Court as quick as the best of them,' rejoined his lordship, adding, 'the roads are wretched, and Jaw's stables are a disgrace to humanity-might as well put a horse in a cellar.'

'Well,' observed Jack, retiring from the parlour window to his little den along the passage, to put the finishing touch to his toilet-the green cutaway and buff waistcoat, which he further set off with a black satin stock-'Well,' said he, 'needs must when a certain gentleman drives.'

He presently reappeared full fig, rubbing a fine new eight-and-sixpenny flat-brimmed hat round and round with a substantial puce-coloured bandana. 'Now for the specs!' exclaimed he, with the gaiety of a man in his Sunday's best, bound on a holiday trip. 'Now for the silver specs!' repeated he.

'Ah, true,' replied his lordship; 'I'd forgot the specs.' (He hadn't, only he thought his silver-mounted ones would be safer in his keeping than in Jack's.) 'I'd forgot the specs. However, never mind, you shall have these,' said he, taking his tortoise-shell-rimmed ones off his nose and handing them to Jack.


'You promised me the silver ones,' observed our friend Jack, who wanted to be smart.

'Did I?' replied his lordship; 'I declare I'd forgot. Ah yes, I believe I did,' added he, with an air of sudden enlightenment-'the pair upstairs; but how the deuce to get at them I don't know, for the key of the Indian cabinet is locked in the old oak press in the still-room, and the key of the still-room is locked away in the linen-press in the green lumber-room at the top of the house, and the key of the green lumber-room is in a drawer at the bottom of the wardrobe in the Star-Chamber, and the-'

'Ah, well; never mind,' grunted Jack, interrupting the labyrinth of lies. 'I dare say these will do-I dare say these will do,' putting them on; adding, 'Now, if you'll lend me a shawl for my neck, and a mackintosh, my name shall be Walker.'

'Better make it Trotter,' replied his lordship, 'considering the distance you have to go.'

'Good,' said Jack, mounting and driving away.

'It will be a blessing if we get there,' observed Jack to the liveried stable-lad, as the old bag of bones of a mare went hitching and limping away.

'Oh, she can go when she's warm,' replied the lad, taking her across the ears with the point of the whip. The wheels followed merrily over the sound, hard road through the park, and the gentle though almost imperceptible fall of the ground giving an impetus to the vehicle, they bowled away as if they had four of the soundest, freshest legs in the world before them, instead of nothing but a belly-band between them and eternity.

When, however, they cleared the noble lodge and got upon the unscraped mud of the Deepdebt turnpike, the pace soon slackened, and, instead of the gig running away with the old mare, she was fairly brought to her collar. Being a game one, however, she struggled on with a trot, till at length, turning up the deeply spurlinged, clayey bottomed cross-road between Rookgate and Clamley, it was all she could do to drag the gig through the holding mire. Bump, bump, jolt, jolt, creak, creak, went the vehicle. Jack now diving his elbow into the lad's ribs, the lad now diving his into Jack's; both now threatening to go over on the same side, and again both nearly chucked on to the old mare's quarters. A sharp, cutting sleet, driving pins and needles directly in their faces, further disconcerted our travellers. Jack felt acutely for his new eight-and-sixpenny hat, it being the only article of dress he had on of his own.

Long and tedious as was the road, weak and jaded as was the mare, and long as Jack stopped at Starfield, he yet reached Jawleyford Court before the messenger Harry.

As our friend Jawleyford was stamping about his study anathematizing a letter he had received from the solicitor to the directors of the Doembrown and Sinkall Railway, informing him that they were going to indulge in the winding-up act, he chanced to look out of his window just as the contracted limits of a winter's day were drawing the first folds of night's muslin curtain over the landscape, when he espied a gig drawn by a white horse, with a dot-and-go-one sort of action, hopping its way up the slumpey avenue.

'That's Buggins the bailiff,' exclaimed he to himself, as the recollection of an unanswered lawyer's letter flashed across his mind; and he was just darting off to the bell to warn Spigot not to admit any one, when the lad's cockade, standing in relief against the sky-line, caused him to pause and gaze again at the unwonted apparition.

'Who the deuce can it be?' asked he of himself, looking at his watch, and seeing it was a quarter-past four. 'It surely can't be my lord, or that Jack Spraggon coming after all?' added he, drawing out a telescope and opening a lancet-window.

'Spraggon, as I live!' exclaimed he, as he caught Jack's harsh, spectacled features, and saw him titivating his hair and arranging his collar and stock as he approached.

'Well, that beats everything!' exclaimed Jawleyford, burning with rage as he fastened the window again.

He stood for a few seconds transfixed to the spot, not knowing what on earth to do. At last resolution came to his aid, and, rushing upstairs to his dressing-room, he quickly divested himself of his coat and waistcoat, and slipped on a dressing-gown and night-cap. He then stood, door in hand, listening for the arrival. He could just hear the gig grinding under the portico, and distinguish Jack's gruff voice saying to the servant from the top of the steps, 'We'll start directly after breakfast, mind.' A tremendous peal of the bell immediately followed, convulsing the whole house, for nobody had seen the vehicle approaching, and the establishment had fallen into the usual state of undress torpor that intervenes between calling hours and dinner-time.

The bell not being answered as quickly as Jack expected, he just opened the door himself; and when Spigot arrived, with such a force as he could raise at the moment, Jack was in the act of 'peeling' himself, as he called it.

'What time do we dine?' asked he, with the air of a man with the entrée.

'Seven o'clock, my lord-that's to say, sir-that's to say, my lord,' for Spigot really didn't know whether it was Jack or his master.

'Seven o'clock!' muttered Jack. 'What the deuce is the use of dinin' at such an hour as that in winter?'

Jack and my lord always dined as soon as they got home from hunting. Jack, having got himself out of his wraps, and run his bristles backwards with a pocket-comb, was ready for presentation.

'What name shall I enounce?' asked Mr. Spigot, fearful of committing himself before the ladies.

'Mister Spraggon, to be sure,' exclaimed Jack, thinking, because he knew who he was, that everybody else ought to know too.

Spigot then led the way to the music-room.

The peal at the bell had caused a suppressed commotion in the apartment. Buried in the luxurious depths of a well-cushioned low chair, Mr. Sponge sat, Mogg in hand, with a toe cocked up, now dipping leisurely into his work-now whispering something sweet into Amelia's ear, who sat with her crochet-work at his side; while Emily played the piano, and Mrs. Jawleyford kept in the background, in the discreet way mothers do when there is a little business going on. The room was in that happy state of misty light that usually precedes the entrance of candles-a light that no one likes to call darkness, lest their eyes might be supposed to be failing. It is a convenient light, however, for a timid stranger, especially where there are not many footstools set to trip him up-an exemption, we grieve to say, not accorded to every one.

Though Mr. Spraggon was such a cool, impudent fellow with men, he was the most awkward, frightened wretch among ladies that ever was seen. His conversation consisted principally of coughing. 'Hem!'-cough-'yes, mum,'-hem-cough, cough-'the day,'-hem-cough-'mum, is'-hem-cough-'very,'-hem-cough-'mum, cold.' But we will introduce him to our family circle.

'Mr. Spraggon!' exclaimed Spigot in a tone equal to the one in which Jack had announced himself in the entrance; and forthwith there was such a stir in the twilit apartment-such suppressed exclamations of:

'Mr. Spraggon!-Mr. Spraggon! What can bring him here?'

Our traveller's creaking boots and radiant leathers eclipsing the sombre habiliments of Mr. Spigot, Mrs. Jawleyford quickly rose from her Pembroke writing-desk, and proceeded to greet him.

'My daughters I think you know, Mr. Spraggon; also Mr. Sponge? Mr. Spraggon,' continued she, with a wave of her hand to where our hero was ensconced in his form, in case they should not have made each other's speaking acquaintance.

The young ladies rose, and curtsied prettily; while Mr. Sponge gave a sort of backward hitch of his head as he sat in his chair, as much as to say, 'I know as much of Mr. Spraggon as I want.'

'Tell your master Mr. Spraggon is here,' added Mrs. Jawleyford to Spigot, as that worthy was leaving the room. 'It's a cold day, Mr. Spraggon; won't you come near the fire?' continued Mrs. Jawleyford, addressing our friend, who had come to a full stop just under the chandelier in the centre of the room. 'Hem-cough-hem-thank ye, mum,' muttered Jack. 'I'm not-hem-cough-cold, thank ye, mum.' His face and hands were purple notwithstanding.

'How is my Lord Scamperdale?' asked Amelia, who had a strong inclination to keep in with all parties.

'Hem-cough-hem-my lord-that's to say, my lady-hem-cough-I mean to say, my lord's pretty well, thank ye,' stuttered Jack.

'Is he coming?' asked Amelia.

'Hem-cough-hem-my lord's-hem-not well-cough-no-hem-I mean to say-hem-cough-my lord's gone-hem-to dine-cough-hem-with his-cough-friend Lord Bubbley Jock-hem-cough-I mean Barker-cough.'

Jack and Lord Scamperdale were so in the habit of calling his lordship by this nickname, that Jack let it slip, or rather cough out, inadvertently.

In due time Spigot returned, with 'Master's compliments, and he was very sorry, but he was so unwell that he was quite unable to see any one.'

'Oh, dear!' exclaimed Mrs. Jawleyford.

'Poor pa!' lisped Amelia.

'What a pity!' observed Mr. Sponge.

'I must go and see him,' observed Mrs. Jawleyford, hurrying off.

'Hem-cough-hem-hope he's not much-hem-damaged?' observed Jack.

The old lady being thus got rid of, and Jawleyford disposed of-apparently for the night-Mr. Spraggon felt more comfortable, and presently yielded to Amelia's entreaties to come near the fire and thaw himself. Spigot brought candles, and Mr. Sponge sat moodily in his chair, alternately studying Mogg's Cab Fares-'Old Bailey, Newgate Street, to or from the Adelphi, the Terrace, 1s. 6d.; Admiralty, 2s.'; and so on; and hazarding promiscuous sidelong sort of observations, that might be taken up by Jack or not, as he liked. He seemed determined to pay Mr. Jack off for his out-of-door impudence. Amelia, on the other hand, seemed desirous of making up for her suitor's rudeness, and kept talking to Jack with an assiduity that perfectly astonished her sister, who had always heard her speak of him with the utmost abhorrence.

Mrs. Jawleyford found her husband in a desperate state of excitement, his influenza being greatly aggravated by Harry having returned very drunk, with the mare's knees desperately broken 'by a fall,' as Harry hiccuped out, or by his 'throwing her down,' as Jawleyford declared. Horses fall with their masters, servants throw them down. What a happiness it is when people can send their servants on errands by coaches or railways, instead of being kept on the fidget all day, lest a fifty-pound horse should be the price of a bodkin or a basket of fish!

Amelia's condescension quite turned Jack's head

; and when he went upstairs to dress, he squinted at his lordship's best clothes, all neatly laid out for him on the bed, with inward satisfaction at having brought them.

'Dash me!' said he, 'I really think that girl has a fancy for me.' Then he examined himself minutely in the glass, brushed his whiskers up into a curve on his cheeks, the curves almost corresponding with the curve of his spectacles above; then he gave his bristly, porcupine-shaped head a backward rub with a sort of thing like a scrubbing-brush. 'If I'd only had the silver specs,' thought he, 'I should have done.'

He then began to dress; an operation that, ever and anon was interrupted by the outburst of volleys of smoke from the little spluttering, smouldering fire in the little shabby room Jawleyford insisted on having him put into.

Jack tried all things-opening the window and shutting the door, shutting the window and opening the door; but finding that, instead of curing it, he only produced the different degrees of comparison-bad, worse, worst-he at length shut both, and applied himself vigorously to dressing. He soon got into his stockings and pumps, also his black Saxony trousers; then came a fine black laced fringe cravat, and the damson-coloured velvet waistcoat with the cut-steel buttons.

'Dash me, but I look pretty well in this!' said he, eyeing first one side and then the other as he buttoned it. He then stuck a chased and figured fine gold brooch, with two pendant tassel-drops, set with turquoise and agates, that he had abstracted from his lordship's dressing-case, into his, or rather his lordship's finely worked shirt-front, and crowned the toilet with his lordship's best new blue coat with velvet collar, silk facings, and the Flat Hat Hunt button-'a striding fox,' with the letters 'F.H.H.' below.

'Who shall say Mr. Spraggon's not a gentleman?' said he, as he perfumed one of his lordship's fine coronetted cambric handkerchiefs with lavender-water. Scent, in Jack's opinion, was one of the criterions of a gentleman.

Somehow Jack felt quite differently towards the house of Jawleyford; and though he did not expect much pleasure in Mr. Sponge's company, he thought, nevertheless, that the ladies and he-Amelia and he at least-would get on very well. Forgetting that he had come to eject Sponge on the score of insufficiency, he really began to think he might be a very desirable match for one of them himself.

'The Spraggons are a most respectable family,' said he, eyeing himself in the glass. 'If not very handsome, at all events, very genteel,' added he, speaking of himself in particular. So saying, he adorned himself with his spectacles and set off to explore his way downstairs. After divers mistakes he at length found himself in the drawing-room, where the rest of the party being assembled, they presently proceeded to dinner.

Jack's amended costume did not produce any difference in Mr. Sponge's behaviour, who treated him with the utmost indifference. In truth, Sponge had rather a large balance against Jack for his impudence to him in the field. Nevertheless, the fair Amelia continued her attentions, and talked of hunting, occasionally diverging into observations on Lord Scamperdale's fine riding and manly character and appearance, in the roundabout way ladies send their messages and compliments to their friends.

The dinner was flat. Jawleyford had stopped the champagne tap, though the needle-case glasses stood to tantalize the party till about the time that the beverage ought to have been flowing, when Spigot took them off. The flatness then became flatter. Nevertheless, Jack worked away in his usual carnivorous style, and finished by paying his respects to all the sweets, jellies, and things in succession. He never got any of these, he said, at 'home,' meaning at Lord Scamperdale's-Amelia thought, if she was 'my lady,' he would not get any meat there either.


At length Jack finished; and having discussed cheese, porter, and red herrings, the cloth was drawn, and a hard-featured dessert, consisting principally of apples, followed. The wine having made a couple of melancholy circuits, the strained conversation about came to a full stop, and Spigot having considerately placed the little round table, as if to keep the peace between them, the ladies left the male worthies to discuss their port and sherry together. Jack, according to Woodmansterne fashion, unbuttoned his waistcoat, and stuck his legs out before him-an example that Mr. Sponge quickly followed, and each assumed an attitude that as good as said 'I don't care twopence for you.' A dead silence then prevailed, interrupted only by the snap, snap, snapping of Jack's toothpick against his chair-edge, when he was not busy exploring his mouth with it. It seemed to be a match which should keep silence longest. Jack sat squinting his eyes inside out at Sponge, while Sponge pretended to be occupied with the fire. The wine being with Sponge, and at length wanting some, he was constrained to make the first move, by passing it over to Jack, who helped himself to port and sherry simultaneously-a glass of sherry after dinner (in Jack's opinion) denoting a gentleman. Having smacked his lips over that, he presently turned to the glass of port. He checked his hand in passing it to his mouth, and bore the glass up to his nose.

'Corked, by Jove!' exclaimed he, setting the glass down on the table with a thump of disgust.

It is curious what unexpected turns things sometimes take in the world, and how completely whole trains of well-preconcerted plans are often turned aside by mere accidents such as this. If it hadn't been for the corked bottle of port, there is no saying but these two worthies would have held a Quakers' meeting without the 'spirit' moving either of them.

'Corked, by Jove!' exclaimed Jack.

'It is!' rejoined Sponge, smelling at his half-emptied glass.

'Better have another bottle,' observed Jack.

'Certainly,' replied Sponge, ringing the bell. 'Spigot, this wine's corked,' observed Sponge, as old Pomposo entered the room.

'Is it?' said Spigot, with the most perfect innocence, though he knew it came out of the corked batch. 'I'll bring another bottle,' added he, carrying it off as if he had a whole pipe at command, though in reality he had but another out. This fortunately was less corked than the first; and Jack having given an approving smack of his great thick lips, Mr. Sponge took it on his judgement, and gave a nod to Spigot, who forthwith took his departure.

'Old trick that,' observed Jack, with a shake of the head, as Spigot shut the door.

'Is it?' observed Mr. Sponge, taking up the observation, though in reality it was addressed to the fire.

'Noted for it,' replied Jack, squinting at the sideboard, though he was staring intently at Sponge to see how he took it.

'Well, I thought we had a bottle with a queer smatch the other night,' observed Sponge.

'Old Blossomnose corked half a dozen in succession one night,' replied Jack.

(He had corked three, but Jawleyford re-corked them, and Spigot was now reproducing them to our friends.)

Although they had now got the ice broken, and entered into something like a conversation, it nevertheless went on very slowly, and they seemed to weigh each word before it was uttered. Jack, too, had time to run his peculiar situation through his mind, and ponder on his mission from Lord Scamperdale-on his lordship's detestation of Mr. Sponge, his anxiety to get rid of him, his promised corner in his will, and his lordship's hint about buying Sponge's horses if he could not get rid of him in any other way.

Sponge, on his part, was thinking if there was any possibility of turning Jack to account.

It may seem strange to the uninitiated that there should be prospect of gain to a middle-man in the matter of a horse-deal, save in the legitimate trade of auctioneers and commission stable-keepers; but we are sorry to say we have known men calling themselves gentlemen, who have not thought it derogatory to accept a 'trifle' for their good offices in the cause. 'I can buy cheaper than you,' they say, 'and we may as well divide the trifle between us.'

That was Mr. Spraggon's principle, only that the word 'trifle' inadequately conveys his opinion on the point; Jack's notion being that a man was entitled to 5l. per cent. as of right, and as much more as he could get.

It was not often that Jack got a 'bite' at my lord, which, perhaps, made him think it the more incumbent on him not to miss an opportunity. Having been told, of course he knew exactly the style of man he had to deal with in Mr. Sponge-a style of men of whom there is never any difficulty in asking if they will sell their horses, price being the only consideration. They are, indeed, a sort of unlicensed horse-dealers, from whose presence few hunts are wholly free. Mr. Spraggon thought if he could get Sponge to make it worth his while to get my lord to buy his horses, the-whatever he might get-would come in very comfortably to pay his Christmas bills.

By the time the bottle drew to a close, our friends were rather better friends, and seemed more inclined to fraternize. Jack had the advantage of Sponge, for he could stare, or rather squint, at him without Sponge knowing it. The pint of wine apiece-at least, as near a pint apiece as Spigot could afford to let them have-somewhat strung Jack's nerves as well as his eyes, and he began to show more of the pupils and less of the whites than he did. He buzzed the bottle with such a hearty good will as settled the fate of another, which Sponge rang for as a matter of course. There was but the rejected one, which, however, Spigot put into a different decanter, and brought in with such an air as precluded either of them saying a word in disparagement of it.

'Where are the hounds next week?' asked Sponge, sipping away at it.

'Monday, Larkhall Hill; Tuesday, the cross-roads by Dallington Burn; Thursday, the Toll-bar at Whitburrow Green; Saturday, the kennels,' replied Jack.

'Good places?' asked Sponge.

'Monday's good,' replied Jack; 'draw Thorney Gorse-sure find; second draw, Barnlow Woods, and home by Loxley, Padmore, and so on.'

'What sort of a place is Tuesday?'

'Tuesday?' repeated Jack. 'Tuesday! Oh, that's the cross-roads. Capital place, unless the fox takes to Rumborrow Craigs, or gets into Seedywood Forest, when there's an end of it-at least, an end of everything except pulling one's horse's legs off in the stiff clayey rides. It's a long way from here, though,' observed Jack.

'How far?' asked Sponge.

'Good twenty miles,' replied Jack. 'It's sixteen from us; it'll be a good deal more from here.'

'His lordship will lay out overnight, then?' observed Sponge.

'Not he,' replied Jack. 'Takes better care of his sixpences than that. Up in the dark, breakfast by candlelight, grope our ways to the stable, and blunder along the deep lanes, and through all the by-roads in the country-get there somehow or another.'

'Keen hand!' observed Sponge.

'Mad!' replied Jack.

They then paid their mutual respects to the port.

'He hunts there on Tuesdays,' observed Jack, setting down his glass, 'so that he may have all Wednesday to get home in, and be sure of appearing on Thursday. There's no saying where he may finish with a cross-roads' meet.'

By the time the worthies had finished the bottle, they had got a certain way into each other's confidence. The hint Lord Scamperdale had given about buying Sponge's horses still occupied Jack's mind; and the more he considered the subject, and the worth of a corner in his lordship's will, the more sensible he became of the truth of the old adage, that 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.' 'My lord,' thought Jack, 'promises fair, but it is but a chance, and a remote one. He may live many years-as long, perhaps longer, than me. Indeed, he puts me on horses that are anything but calculated to promote longevity. Then he may marry a wife who may eject me, as some wives do eject their husbands' agreeable friends; or he may change his mind, and leave me nothing after all.'

All things considered, Jack came to the conclusion that he should not be doing himself justice if he did not take advantage of such fair opportunities as chance placed in his way, and therefore he thought he might as well be picking up a penny during his lordship's life, as be waiting for a contingency that might never occur. Mr. Jawleyford's indisposition preventing Jack making the announcement he was sent to do, made it incumbent on him, as he argued, to see what could be done with the alternative his lordship had proposed-namely, buying Sponge's horses. At least, Jack salved his conscience over with the old plea of duty; and had come to that conclusion as he again helped himself to the last glass in the bottle.

'Would you like a little claret?' asked Sponge, with all the hospitality of a host.

'No, hang your claret!' replied Jack.

'A little brandy, perhaps?' suggested Sponge.

'I shouldn't mind a glass of brandy,' replied Jack, 'by way of a nightcap.'

Spigot, at this moment entering to announce tea and coffee, was interrupted in his oration by Sponge demanding some brandy.

'Sorry,' replied Spigot, pretending to be quite taken by surprise, 'very sorry, sir-but, sir-master, sir-bed, sir-disturb him, sir.'

'Oh, dash it, never mind that!' exclaimed Jack; 'tell him Mr. Sprag-Sprag-Spraggon' (the bottle of port beginning to make Jack rather inarticulate)-'tell him Mr. Spraggon wants a little.'

'Dursn't disturb him, sir,' responded Spigot, with a shake of his head; 'much as my place, sir, is worth, sir.'

'Haven't you a little drop in your pantry, think you?' asked Sponge.

'The cook perhaps has,' replied Mr. Spigot, as if it was quite out of his line.

'Well, go and ask her,' said Sponge; 'and bring some hot water and things, the same as we had last night, you know.'

Mr. Spigot retired, and presently returned, bearing a tray with three-quarters of a bottle of brandy, which he impressed upon their minds was the 'cook's own.'

'I dare say,' hiccuped Jack, holding the bottle up to the light.

'Hope she wasn't using it herself,' observed Sponge.

'Tell her we'll (hiccup) her health,' hiccuped Jack, pouring a liberal potation into his tumbler.

'That'll be all you'll do, I dare say,' muttered Spigot to himself, as he sauntered back to his pantry.

'Does Jaw stand smoking?' asked Jack, as Spigot disappeared.

'Oh, I should think so,' replied Sponge; 'a friend like you, I'm sure, would be welcome'-Sponge thinking to indulge in a cigar, and lay the blame on Jack.

'Well, if you think so,' said Jack, pulling out his cigar-case, or rather his lordship's, and staggering to the chimney-piece for a match, though there was a candle at his elbow, 'I'll have a pipe.'

'So'll I,' said Sponge, 'if you'll give me a cigar.' 'Much yours as mine,' replied Jack, handing him his lordship's richly embroidered case with coronets and ciphers on either side, the gift of one of the many would-be Lady Scamperdales.

'Want a light!' hiccuped Jack, who had now got a glow-worm end to his.

'Thanks,' said Sponge, availing himself of the friendly overture.

Our friends now whiffed and puffed away together-whiffing and puffing where whiffing and puffing had never been known before. The brandy began to disappear pretty quickly; it was better than the wine.

'That's a n-n-nice-ish horse of yours,' stammered Jack, as he mixed himself a second tumbler.

'Which?' asked Sponge.

'The bur-bur-brown,' spluttered Jack.

'He is that,' replied Sponge; 'best horse in this country by far.'

'The che-che-chest-nut's not a ba-ba-bad un. I dare say,' observed Jack.

'No, he's not,' replied Sponge; 'a deuced good un.'

'I know a man who's rayther s-s-s-sweet on the b-b-br-brown,' observed Jack, squinting frightfully.

Sponge sat silent for a few seconds, pretending to be wrapt up in his 'sublime tobacco.'

'Is he a buyer, or just a jawer?' he asked at last.

'Oh, a buyer,' replied Jack.

'I'll sell,' said Sponge, with a strong emphasis on the sell.

'How much?' asked Jack, sobering with the excitement.

'Which?' asked Sponge.

'The brown,' rejoined Jack.

'Three hundred,' said Sponge; adding, 'I gave two for him.'

'Indeed!' said Jack.

A long pause then ensued. Jack thinking whether he should put the question boldly as to what Sponge would give him for effecting a sale, or should beat about the bush a little. At last he thought it would be most prudent to beat about the bush, and see if Sponge would make an offer.

'Well,' said Jack, 'I'll s-s-s-see what I can do.'

'That's a good fellow,' said Sponge; adding, 'I'll remember you if you do.'

'I dare say I can s-s-s-sell them both, for that matter,' observed Jack, encouraged by the promise.

'Well,' replied Sponge, 'I'll take the same for the chestnut; there isn't the toss-up of a halfpenny for choice between them.'

'Well,' said Jack,' we'll s-s-s-see them next week.'

'Just so,' said Sponge.

'You r-r-ride well up to the h-h-hounds,' continued Jack; 'and let his lordship s-s-see w-w-what they can do.'

'I will,' said Sponge, wishing he was at work.

'Never mind his rowing,' observed Jack; 'he c-c-can't help it.'

'Not I,' replied Sponge, puffing away at his cigar.

When men once begin to drink brandy-and-water (after wine) there's an end of all note of time. Our friends-for we 'may now call them so,' sat sip, sip, sipping-mix, mix, mixing; now strengthening, now weakening, now warming, now flavouring, till they had not only finished the hot water but a large jug of cold, that graced the centre of the table between two frosted tumblers, and had nearly got through the brandy too.

'May as well fi-fi-fin-nish the bottle,' observed Jack, holding it up to the candle. 'Just a thi-thi-thim-bleful apiece,' added he, helping himself to about three-quarters of what there was.

'You've taken your share,' observed Sponge, as the bottle suspended payment before he got half the quantity that Jack had.

'Sque-ee-eze it,' replied Jack, suiting the action to the word, and working away at an exhausted lemon.

At length they finished.

'Well, I s'pose we may as well go and have some tea,' observed Jack.

'It's not announced yet,' said Sponge, 'but I make no doubt it will be ready.'

So saying, the worthies rose, and, after sundry bumps and certain irregularities of course, they each succeeded in reaching the door. The passage lamp had died out and filled the corridor with its fragrance. Sponge, however, knew the way, and the darkness favored the adjustment of cravats and the fingering of hair. Having got up a sort of drunken simper, Sponge opened the drawing-room door, expecting to find smiling ladies in a blaze of light. All, however, was darkness, save the expiring embers in the grate. The tick, tick, tick, ticking of the clocks sounded wonderfully clear.

'Gone to bed!' exclaimed Sponge.

'Who-hoop!' shrieked Jack, at the top of his voice.

'What's smatter, gentlemen?-What's smatter?' exclaimed Spigot rushing in, rubbing his eyes with one hand, and holding a block tin candlestick in the other.

'Nothin',' replied Jack, squinting his eyes inside out; adding, 'get me a devilled-' (hiccup).

'Don't know how to do them here, sir,' snapped Spigot.

'Devilled turkey's leg though you do, you rascal!' rejoined Jack, doubling his fists and putting himself in posture.

'Beg pardon, sir,' replied Spigot, 'but the cook, sir, is gone to bed, sir. Do you know, sir, what o'clock it is, sir?'

'No,' replied Jack.

'What time is it?' asked Sponge.

'Twenty minutes to two,' replied Spigot, holding up a sort of pocket warming-pan, which he called a watch.

'The deuce!' exclaimed Sponge.

'Who'd ha' thought it?' muttered Jack.

'Well, then, I suppose we may as well go to bed,' observed Sponge.

'S'pose so,' replied Jack; 'nothin' more to get.'

'Do you know your room?' asked Sponge.

'To be sure I do,' replied Jack; 'don't think I'm d-d-dr-drunk, do you?'

'Not likely,' rejoined Sponge.

Jack then commenced a very crab-like ascent of the stairs, which fortunately were easy, or he would never have got up. Mr. Sponge, who still occupied the state apartments, took leave of Jack at his own door, and Jack went bumping and blundering on in search of the branch passage leading to his piggery. He found the green baize door that usually distinguishes the entrance to these secondary suites, and was presently lurching along its contracted passage. As luck would have it, however, he got into his host's dressing-room, where that worthy slept; and when Jawleyford jumped up in the morning, as was his wont, to see what sort of a day it was, he trod on Jack's face, who had fallen down in his clothes alongside of the bed, and Jawleyford broke Jack's spectacles across the bridge of his nose.

'Rot it!' roared Jack, jumping up, 'don't ride over a fellow that way!' When, shaking himself to try whether any limbs were broken, he found he was in his dress clothes instead of in the roomy garments of the Flat Hat Hunt. 'Who are you? where am I? what the deuce do you mean by breaking my specs?' he exclaimed, squinting frightfully at his host.

'My dear sir,' exclaimed Mr. Jawleyford, from the top of his night-shirt, 'I'm very sorry, but-'

'Hang your buts! you shouldn't ride so near a man!' exclaimed Jack, gathering up the fragments of his spectacles; when, recollecting himself, he finished by saying, 'Perhaps I'd better go to my own room.'

'Perhaps you had,' replied Mr. Jawleyford, advancing towards the door to show him the way.

'Let me have a candle,' said Jack, preparing to follow.

'Candle, my dear fellow! why, it's broad daylight,' replied his host.

'Is it?' said Jack, apparently unconscious of the fact. 'What's the hour?'

'Five minutes to eight,' replied Jawleyford, looking at a timepiece.

When Jack got into his own den he threw himself into an old invalid chair, and sat rubbing the fractured spectacles together as if he thought they would unite by friction, though in reality he was endeavouring to run the overnight's proceedings through his mind. The more he thought of Amelia's winning ways, the more satisfied he was that he had made an impression, and then the more vexed he was at having his spectacles broken: for though he considered himself very presentable without them, still he could not but feel that they were a desirable addition. Then, too, he had a splitting headache; and finding that breakfast was not till ten and might be a good deal later, all things considered, he determined to be off and follow up his success under more favourable auspices. Considering that all the clothes he had with him were his lordship's, he thought it immaterial which he went home in, so to save trouble he just wrapped himself up in his mackintosh and travelled in the dress ones he had on.

It was fortunate for Mr. Sponge that he went, for, when Jawleyford smelt the indignity that had been offered to his dining-room, he broke out in such a torrent of indignation as would have been extremely unpleasant if there had not been some one to lay the blame on. Indeed, he was not particularly gracious to Mr. Sponge as it was; but that arose as much from certain dark hints that had worked their way from the servants' hall into 'my lady's chamber' as to our friend's pecuniary resources and prospects. Jawleyford began to suspect that Sponge might not be quite the great 'catch' he was represented.

Beyond, however, putting a few searching questions-which Mr. Sponge skilfully parried-advising his daughters to be cautious, lessening the number of lights, and lowering the scale of his entertainments generally, Mr. Jawleyford did not take any decided step in the matter. Mr. Spraggon comforted Lord Scamperdale with the assurance that Amelia had no idea of Sponge, who he made no doubt would very soon be out of the country-and his lordship went to church and prayed most devoutly for him to go.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top