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   Chapter 30 BOLTING THE BADGER

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 13089

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


When a man and his horse differ seriously in public, and the man feels the horse has the best of it, it is wise for the man to appear to accommodate his views to those of the horse, rather than risk a defeat. It is best to let the horse go his way, and pretend it is yours. There is no secret so close as that between a rider and his horse.

Mr. Sponge, having scattered Lord Scamperdale in the summary way described in our last chapter, let the chestnut gallop away, consoling himself with the idea that even if the hounds did hunt, it would be impossible for him to show his horse to advantage on so dark and unfavourable a day. He, therefore, just let the beast gallop till he began to flag, and then he spurred him and made him gallop on his account. He thus took his change out of him, and arrived at Jawleyford Court a little after luncheon time.

Brief as had been his absence, things had undergone a great change. Certain dark hints respecting his ways and means had worked their way from the servants' hall to my lady's chamber, and into the upper regions generally. These had been augmented by Leather's, the trusty groom's, overnight visit, in fulfilment of his engagement to sup with the servants. Nor was Mr. Leather's anger abated by the unceremonious way Mr. Sponge rode off with the horse, leaving him to hear of his departure from the ostler. Having broken faith with him, he considered it his duty to be 'upsides' with him, and tell the servants all he knew about him. Accordingly he let out, in strict confidence of course, to Spigot, that so far from Mr. Sponge being a gentleman of 'fortin,' as he called it, with a dozen or two hunters planted here and there, he was nothing but the hirer of a couple of hacks, with himself as a job-groom, by the week. Spigot, who was on the best of terms with the 'cook-housekeeper,' and had his clothes washed on the sly in the laundry, could not do less than communicate the intelligence to her, from whom it went to the lady's-maid, and thence circulated in the upper regions.

Juliana, the maid, finding Miss Amelia less indisposed to hear Mr. Sponge run down than she expected, proceeded to add her own observations to the information derived from Leather, the groom. 'Indeed, she couldn't say that she thought much of Mr. Sponge herself; his shirts were coarse, so were his pocket-handkerchiefs; and she never yet saw a real gent without a valet.'

Amelia, without any positive intention of giving up Mr. Sponge, at least not until she saw further, had nevertheless got an idea that she was destined for a much higher sphere. Having duly considered all the circumstances of Mr. Spraggon's visit to Jawleyford Court, conned over several mysterious coughs and half-finished sentences he had indulged in, she had about come to the conclusion that the real object of his mission was to negotiate a matrimonial alliance on behalf of Lord Scamperdale. His lordship's constantly expressed intention of getting married was well calculated to mislead one whose experience of the world was not sufficiently great to know that those men who are always talking about it are the least likely to get married, just as men who are always talking about buying horses are the men who never do buy them. Be that, however, as it may, Amelia was tolerably easy about Mr. Sponge. If he had money she could take him; if he hadn't, she could let him alone.

Jawleyford, too, who was more hospitable at a distance, and in imagination than in reality, had had about enough of our friend. Indeed, a man whose talk was of hunting, and his reading Mogg was not likely to have much in common with a gentleman of taste and elegance, as our friend set up to be. The delicate inquiry that Mrs. Jawleyford now made, as to 'whether he knew Mr. Sponge to be a man of fortune,' set him off at a tangent.

'Me know he's a man of fortune! I know nothing of his fortune. You asked him here, not me,' exclaimed Jawleyford, stamping furiously.

'No, my dear,' replied Mrs. Jawleyford mildly; 'he asked himself, you know; but I thought, perhaps, you might have said something that-'

'Me say anything!' interrupted Jawleyford. 'I never said anything-at least, nothing that any man with a particle of sense would think anything of,' continued he, remembering the scene in the billiard-room. 'It's one thing to tell a man, if he comes your way, you'll be glad to see him, and another to ask him to come bag and baggage, as this impudent Mr. Sponge has done,' added he.

'Certainly,' replied Mrs. Jawleyford, who saw where the shoe was pinching her bear.

'I wish he was off,' observed Jawleyford, after a pause. 'He bothers me excessively-I'll try and get rid of him by saying we are going from home.'

'Where can you say we are going to?' asked Mrs. Jawleyford.

'Oh, anywhere,' replied Jawleyford; 'he doesn't know the people about here: the Tewkesbury's, the Woolerton's, the Brown's-anybody.'

Before they had got any definite plan of proceeding arranged, Mr. Sponge returned from the chase. 'Ah, my dear sir!' exclaimed Jawleyford, half-gaily, half-moodily, extending a couple of fingers as Sponge entered his study: 'we thought you had taken French leave of us, and were off.'

Mr. Sponge asked if his groom had not delivered his note.

'No,' replied Jawleyford boldly, though he had it in his pocket; 'at least, not that I've seen. Mrs. Jawleyford, perhaps, may have got it,' added he.

'Indeed!' exclaimed Sponge; 'it was very idle of him.' He then proceeded to detail to Jawleyford what the reader already knows, how he had lost his day at Larkhall Hill, and had tried to make up for it by going to the cross-roads. 'Ah!' exclaimed Jawleyford, when he was done; 'that's a pity-great pity-monstrous pity-never knew anything so unlucky in my life.'

'Misfortunes will happen,' replied Sponge, in a tone of unconcern.

'Ah, it wasn't so much the loss of the hunt I was thinking of,' replied Jawleyford, 'as the arrangements we have made in consequence of thinking you were gone.'

'What are they?' asked Sponge.

'Why, my Lord Barker, a great friend of ours-known him from a boy-just like brothers, in short-sent over this morning to ask us all there-shooting party, charades, that sort of thing-and we accepted.'

'But that need make no difference,' replied Sponge; 'I'll go too.'

Jawleyford was taken aback. He had not calculated upon so much coolness.

'Well,' stammered he, 'that might do, to be sure; but-if-I'm not quite sure that I could take any one-'

'But if yo

u're as thick as you say, you can have no difficulty,' replied our friend.

'True,' replied Jawleyford; 'but then we go a large party ourselves-two and two's four,' said he, 'to say nothing of servants; besides, his lordship mayn't have room-house will most likely be full.'

'Oh, a single man can always be put up; shake-down-anything does for him,' replied Sponge. 'But you would lose your hunting,' replied Jawleyford. 'Barkington Tower is quite out of Lord Scamperdale's country.'

'That doesn't matter,' replied Sponge, adding, 'I don't think I'll trouble his lordship much more. These Flat Hat gentlemen are not over and above civil, in my opinion.'

'Well,' replied Jawleyford, nettled at this thwarting of his attempt, 'that's for your consideration. However, as you've come, I'll talk to Mrs. Jawleyford, and see if we can get off the Barkington expedition.'

'But don't get off on my account,' replied Sponge. 'I can stay here quite well. I dare say you'll not be away long.'

This was worse still; it held out no hope of getting rid of him. Jawleyford therefore resolved to try and smoke and starve him out. When our friend went to dress, he found his old apartment, the state-room, put away, the heavy brocade curtains brown-hollanded, the jugs turned upside down, the bed stripped of its clothes and the looking-glass laid a-top of it.

The smirking housemaid, who was just rolling the fire-irons up in the hearth-rug, greeted him with a 'Please, sir, we've shifted you into the brown room, east,' leading the way to the condemned cell that 'Jack' had occupied, where a newly lit fire was puffing out dense clouds of brown smoke, obscuring even the gilt letters on the back of Mogg's Cab Fares, as the little volume lay on the toilet-table.

'What's happened now?' asked our friend of the maid, putting his arm round her waist, and giving her a hearty squeeze. 'What's happened now, that you've put me into this dog-hole?' asked he.

'Oh! I don't know,' replied she, laughing; 'I s'pose they're afraid you'll bring the old rotten curtains down in the other room with smokin'. Master's a sad old wife,' added she.

A great change had come over everything. The fare, the lights, the footmen, the everything, underwent grievous diminution. The lamps were extinguished, and the transparent wax gave way to Palmer's composites, under the mild influence of whose unsearching light the young ladies sported their dashed dresses with impunity. Competition between them, indeed, was about an end. Amelia claimed Mr. Sponge, should he be worth having, and should the Scamperdale scheme fail; while Emily, having her mamma's assurance that he would not do for either of them, resigned herself complacently to what she could not help.

MR. SPONGE DEMANDING AN EXPLANATION

Mr. Sponge, on his part, saw that all things portended a close. He cared nothing about the old willow-pattern set usurping the place of the Jawleyford-armed china; but the contents of the dishes were bad, and the wine, if possible, worse. Most palpable Marsala did duty for sherry, and the corked port was again in requisition. Jawleyford was no longer the brisk, cheery-hearted Jawleyford of Laverick Wells, but a crusty, fidgety, fire-stirring sort of fellow, desperately given to his Morning Post.

Worst of all, when Mr. Sponge retired to his den to smoke a cigar and study his dear cab fares, he was so suffocated with smoke that he was obliged to put out the fire, notwithstanding the weather was cold, indeed inclining to frost. He lit his cigar notwithstanding; and, as he indulged in it, he ran all the circumstances of his situation through his mind. His pressing invitation-his magnificent reception-the attention of the ladies-and now the sudden change everything had taken. He couldn't make it out, somehow; but the consequences were plain enough. 'The fellow's a humbug,' at length said he, throwing the cigar-end away, and turning into bed, when the information Watson the keeper gave him on arriving recurred to his mind, and he was satisfied that Jawleyford was a humbug. It was clear Mr. Sponge had made a mistake in coming; the best thing he could do now was to back out, and see if the fair Amelia would take it to heart. In the midst of his cogitations Mr. Puffington's pressing invitation occurred to his mind, and it appeared to be the very thing for him, affording him an immediate asylum within reach of the fair lady, should she be likely to die.

Next day he wrote to volunteer a visit.

Mr. Puffington, who was still in ignorance of our friend's real character, and still believed him to be a second 'Nimrod' out on a 'tour,' was overjoyed at his letter; and, strange to relate, the same post that brought his answer jumping at the proposal, brought a letter from Lord Scamperdale to Jawleyford, saying that, 'as soon as Jawleyford was quite alone (scored under) he would like to pay him a visit.' His lordship, we should inform the reader, notwithstanding his recent mishap, still held out against Jack Spraggon's recommendation to get rid of Mr. Sponge by buying his horses, and he determined to try this experiment first. His lordship thought at one time of entering into an explanation, telling Mr. Jawleyford the damage Sponge had done him, and the nuisance he was entailing upon him by harbouring him; but not being a great scholar, and several hard words turning up that his lordship could not well clear in the spelling, he just confined himself to a laconic, which, as it turned out, was a most fortunate course. Indeed, he had another difficulty besides the spelling, for the hounds having as usual had a great run after Mr. Sponge had floored him-knocked his right eye into the heel of his left boot, as he said-in the course of which run his lordship's horse had rolled over him on a road, he was like the railway people-unable to distinguish between capital and income-unable to say which were Sponge's bangs and which his own; so, like a hard cricket-ball sort of a man as he was, he just pocketed all, and wrote as we have described.

His lordship's and Mr. Puffington's letters diffused joy into a house that seemed likely to be distracted with trouble.

So then endeth our thirtieth chapter, and a very pleasant ending it is, for we leave everyone in perfect good humour and spirits, Sponge pleased at having got a fresh billet, Jawleyford delighted at the coming of the lord, and each fair lady practising in private how to sign her Christian name in conjunction with 'Scamperdale.'

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