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   Chapter 27 THE FINEST RUN THAT EVER WAS SEEN

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 14263

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


oo-ray, Jack! Hoo-ray!' exclaimed Lord Scamperdale, bursting into his sanctum where Mr. Spraggon sat in his hunting coat and slippers, spelling away at a second-hand copy of Bell's Life by the light of a melancholy mould candle. 'Hooray, Jack! hooray!' repeated he, waving that proud trophy, a splendid fox's brush, over his grizzly head.

His lordship was the picture of delight. He had had a tremendous run-the finest run that ever was seen! His hounds had behaved to perfection; his horse-though he had downed him three times-had carried him well, and his lordship stood with his crownless flat hat in his hand, and one coat lap in the pocket of the other-a grinning, exulting, self-satisfied specimen of a happy Englishman.

'Lor! what a sight you are!' observed Jack, turning the light of the candle upon his lordship's dirty person. 'Why, I declare you're an inch thick with mud,' he added, 'mud from head to foot,' he continued, working the light up and down.

'Never mind the mud, you old badger!' roared his lordship, still waving the brush over his head: 'never mind the mud, you old badger; the mud'll come off, or may stay on; but such a run as we've had does not come off every day.'

'Well, I'm glad you have had a run,' replied Jack. 'I'm glad you have had a run,' adding, 'I was afraid at one time that your day's sport was spoiled.'

'Well, do you know,' replied his lordship, 'when I saw that unrighteous snob, I was near sick. If it were possible for a man to faint, I should have thought I was going to do so. At first I thought of going home, taking the hounds away too; then I thought of going myself and leaving the hounds; then I thought if I left the hounds it would only make the sinful scaramouch more outrageous, and I should be sitting on pins and needles till they came home, thinking how he was crashing among them. Next I thought of drawing all the unlikely places in the country, and making a blank day of it. Then I thought that would only be like cutting off my nose to spite my face. Then I didn't know what on earth to do. At last, when I saw the critter's great pecker steadily down in his plate, I thought I would try and steal a march upon him, and get away with my fox while he was feeding; and, oh! how thankful I was when I looked back from Bramblebrake Hill, and saw no signs of him in the distance.'

'It wasn't likely you'd see him,' interrupted Jack, 'for he never got away from the front door. I twigged what you were after, and kept him up in talk about his horses and his ridin' till I saw you were fairly away.'

'You did well,' exclaimed Lord Scamperdale, patting Jack on the back; 'you did well, my old buck-o'-wax; and, by Jove! we'll have a bottle of port-a bottle of port, as I live,' repeated his lordship, as if he had made up his mind to do a most magnificent act.

'But what's happened you behind?-what's happened you behind?' asked Jack, as his lordship turned to the fire, and exhibited his docked tail.

'Oh, hang the coat!-it's neither here nor there,' replied his lordship; 'hat neither,' he added, exhibiting its crushed proportions. 'Old Blossomnose did the coat; and as to the hat, I did it myself-at least, old Daddy Longlegs and I did it between us. We got into a grass-field, of which they had cut a few roods of fence, just enough to tempt a man out of a very deep lane, and away we sailed, in the enjoyment of fine sound sward, with the rest of the field plunging and floundering, and holding and grinning, and thinking what fools they were for not following my example-when, lo and behold! I got to the bottom of the field, and found there was no way out-no chance of a bore through the great thick, high hedge, except at a branchy willow, where there was just enough room to squeeze a horse through, provided he didn't rise at the ditch on the far side. At first I was for getting off; indeed, had my right foot out of the stirrup, when the hounds dashed forrard with such energy-looking like running-and remembering the tremendous climb I should have to get on to old Daddy's back again, and seeing some of the nasty jealous chaps in the lane eyeing me through the fence, thinking how I was floored, I determined to stay where I was; and gathering the horse together, tried to squeeze through the hole. Well, he went shuffling and sliding down to it, as though he were conscious of the difficulty, and poked his head quietly past the tree, when, getting a sight of the ditch on the far side, he rose, and banged my head against the branch above, crushing my hat right over my eyes, and in that position he carried me through blindfold.'

'Indeed!' exclaimed Jack, turning his spectacles full upon his lordship, and adding, 'it's lucky he didn't crack your crown.'

'It is,' assented his lordship, feeling his head to satisfy himself that he had not done so.

'And how did you lose your tail?' asked Jack, having got the information about the hat.

'The tail! ah, the tail!' replied his lordship, feeling behind, where it wasn't;' I'll tell you how that was: you see we went away like blazes from Springwheat's gorse-nice gorse it is, and nice woman he has for a wife-but, however, that's neither here nor there; what I was going to tell you about was the run, and how I lost my tail. Well, we got away like winking; no sooner were the hounds in on one side than away went the fox on the other. Not a soul shouted till he was clean gone; hats in the air was all that told his departure. The fox thus had time to run matters through his mind-think whether he should go to Ravenscar Craigs, or make for the main earths at Painscastle Grove. He chose the latter, doubtless feeling himself strong and full of running; and if we had chosen his ground for him he could not have taken us a finer line. He went as straight as an arrow through Bramblebrake Wood, and then away down the hill over those great enormous pastures to Haselbury Park, which he skirted, leaving Evercreech Green on the left, pointing as if for Dormston Dean. Here he was chased by a cur, and the hounds were brought to a momentary check. Frosty, however, was well up, and a hat being held up on Hothersell Hill, he clapped forrard and laid the hounds on beyond. We then viewed the fox sailing away over Eddlethorp Downs, still pointing for Painscastle Grove, with the Hamerton Brook lighting up here and there in the distance.

'The field, I should tell you, were fairly taken by surprise. There wasn't a man ready for a start; my horse had only just come down. Fossick was on foot, drawing his girths; Fyle was striking a light to smoke a cigar on his hack; Blossomnose and Capon's grooms were fistling and wisping their horses; Dribble, as usual, was all behind; and altogether there was such a scene of hurry and confusion as never was seen.

'As they came to the brook they got somewhat into line, and one saw who was there. Five or six of us charged it together, and two went under. One was Springwheat on his bay, who was somewhat pumped out; the other was said to be Hook. Old Daddy Longlegs skimmed it like a swallow, and, getting his hind-legs well un

der him, shot over the pastures beyond, as if he was going upon turf. The hounds all this time had been running, or rather racing, nearly mute. They now, however, began to feel for the scent; and, as they got upon the cold, bleak grounds above Somerton Quarries, they were fairly brought to their noses. Uncommon glad I was to see them; for ten minutes more, at the pace they had been going, would have shaken off every man Jack of us. As it was, it was bellows to mend; and Calcott's roarer roared as surely roarer never roared before. You could hear him half a mile off. We had barely time, however, to turn our horses to the wind, and ease them for a few moments, before the pace began to mend, and from a catching to a holding scent they again poured across Wallingburn pastures, and away to Roughacres Court. It was between these places that I got my head duntled into my hat,' continued his lordship, knocking the crownless hat against his mud-stained knee. 'However, I didn't care a button, though I'd not worn it above two years, and it might have lasted me a long time about home; but misfortunes seldom come singly, and I was soon to have another. The few of us that were left were all for the lanes, and very accommodating the one between Newton Bushell and the Forty-foot Bank was, the hounds running parallel within a hundred yards on the left for nearly a mile. When, however, we got to the old water-mill in the fields below, the fox made a bend to the left, as if changing his mind, and making for Newtonbroome Woods, and we were obliged to try the fortunes of war in the fields. The first fence we came to looked like nothing, and there was a weak place right in my line that I rode at, expecting the horse would easily bore through a few twigs that crossed the upper part of it. These, however, happened to be twisted, to stop the gap, and not having put on enough steam, they checked him as he rose, and brought him right down on his head in the broad ditch, on the far side. Old Blossomnose, who was following close behind, not making any allowance for falls, was in the air before I was well down, and his horse came with a forefoot, into my pocket, and tore the lap clean off by the skirt'; his lordship exhibiting the lap as he spoke.

'It's your new coat, too,' observed Jack, examining it with concern as he spoke.

''Deed, is it!' replied his lordship, with a shake of the head. ''Deed, is it! That's the consequence of having gone out to breakfast. If it had been to-morrow, for instance, I should have had number two on, or maybe number three,' his lordship having coats of every shade and grade, from stainless scarlet down to tattered mulberry colour.

'It'll mend, however,' observed his lordship, taking it back from Jack; 'it'll mend, however,' he said, fitting it round to the skirt as he spoke.

'Oh, nicely!' replied Jack; 'it's come off clean by the skirt. But what said Old Blossom?' inquired Jack.

'Oh, he was full of apologies and couldn't helps it as usual,' replied his lordship; 'he was down, too, I should tell you, with his horse on his left leg; but there wasn't much time for apologies or explanation, for the hounds were running pretty sharp, considering how long they had been at work, and there was the chance of others jumping upon us if we didn't get out of the way, so we both scrambled up as quick as we could and got into our places again.'

'Which way did you go, then?' asked Jack, who had listened with the attention of a man who knows every yard of the country.

'Well,' continued his lordship, casting back to where he got his fall, 'the fox crossed the Coatenburn township, picking all the plough and bad-scenting ground as he went, but it was of no use, his fate was sealed; and though he began to run short, and dodge and thread the hedge-rows, they hunted him yard by yard till he again made an effort for his life, and took over Mossingburn Moor, pointing for Penrose Tower on the hill. Here Frosty's horse, Little Jumper, declined, and we left him standing in the middle of the moor with a stiff neck, kicking and staring and looking mournfully at his flanks. Daddy Longlegs, too, had begun to sob, and in vain I looked back in hopes of seeing Jack-a-Dandy coming up. "Well," said I to myself, "I've got a pair of good strong boots on, and I'll finish the run on foot but I'll see it"; when, just at the moment, the pack broke from scent to view and rolled the fox up like a hedgehog amongst them.'

'Well done!' exclaimed Jack, adding, 'that was a run with a vengeance!' 'Wasn't it?' replied his lordship, rubbing his hands and stamping; 'the finest run that ever was seen-the finest run that ever was seen!'

'Why, it couldn't be less than twelve miles from point to point,' observed Jack, thinking it over.

'Not a yard,' replied his lordship, 'not a yard, and from fourteen to fifteen as the hounds ran.'

'It would be all that,' assented Jack. 'How long were you in doing it?' he asked.

'An hour and forty minutes,' replied his lordship; 'an hour and forty minutes from the find to the finish'; adding, 'I'll stick the brush and present it to Mrs. Springwheat.'

'It's to be hoped Springy's out of the brook,' observed Jack.

'To be hoped so,' replied his lordship, thinking, if he wasn't whether he should marry Mrs. Springwheat or not.

Well now, after all that, we fancy we hear our fair friends exclaim, 'Thank goodness, there's an end of Lord Scamperdale and his hunting; he has had a good run, and will rest quiet for a time; we shall now hear something of Amelia and Emily, and the doings at Jawleyford Court.' Mistaken lady! If you are lucky enough to marry an out-and-out fox-hunter, you will find that a good run is only adding fuel to the fire, only making him anxious for more. Lord Scamperdale's sporting fire was in full blaze. His bumps and his thumps, his rolls, and his scrambles, only brought out the beauties and perfections of the thing. He cared nothing for his hat-crown, no; nor for his coat-lap either. Nay, he wouldn't have cared if it had been made into a spencer.

'What's to-day? Monday,' said his lordship, answering himself. 'Monday,' he repeated; 'Monday-bubble-and-squeak, I guess-sooner it's ready the better, for I'm half-famished-didn't do half-justice to that nice breakfast at Springy's. That nasty brown-booted buffer completely threw me off my feed. By the way, what became of the chestnut-booted animal?'

'Went home,' replied Jack; 'fittest place for him.'

'Hope he'll stay there,' rejoined his lordship. 'No fear of his being at the roads to-morrow, is there?' 'None,' replied Jack. 'I told him it was quite an impossible distance from him, twenty miles at least.'

'That's grand!' exclaimed his lordship; 'that's grand! Then we'll have a rare, ding-dong hey-away pop. There'll be no end of those nasty, jealous, Puffington dogs out; and if we have half such a scent as we had to-day, we'll sew some of them up, we'll show 'em what hunting is. Now,' he added, 'if you'll go and get the bottle of port, I'll clean myself, and then we'll have dinner as quick as we can.'

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