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   Chapter 32 THE MAN OF P-R-O-R-PERTY

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 11128

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


And now behold Mr. Puffington, fat, fair, and rather more than forty-Puffington, no longer the light limber lad who patronized us in Bond Street, but Puffington a plump, portly sort of personage, filling his smart clothes uncommonly full. Men no longer hailing him heartily from bay windows, or greeting him cheerily in short but familiar terms, but bowing ceremoniously as they passed with their wives, or perhaps turning down streets or into shops to avoid him. What is the last rose of summer to do under such circumstances? What, indeed, but retire into the country? A man may shine there long after he is voted a bore in town, provided none of his old friends are there to proclaim him. Country people are tolerant of twaddle, and slow of finding things out for themselves. Puff now turned his attention to the country, or rather to the advertisements of estates for sale, and immortal George Robins soon fitted him with one of his earthly paradises; a mansion replete with every modern elegance, luxury, and convenience, situated in the heart of the most lovely scenery in the world, with eight hundred acres of land of the finest quality, capable of growing forty bushels of wheat after turnips. In addition to the estate there was a lordship or reputed lordship to shoot over, a river to fish in, a pack of fox-hounds to hunt with, and the advertisements gave a sly hint as to the possibility of the property influencing the representation of the neighbouring borough of Swillingford, if not of returning the member itself.

This was Hanby House, and though the description undoubtedly partook of George's usual high-flown couleur-de-rose style, the manor being only a manor provided the owner sacrificed his interest in Swillingford by driving off its poachers, and the river being only a river when the tiny Swill was swollen into one, still Hanby House was a very nice attractive sort of place, and seen in the rich foliage of its summer dress, with all its roses and flowering shrubs in full blow, the description was not so wide of the mark as Robins's descriptions usually were. Puff bought it, and became what he called 'a man of p-r-o-r-perty.' To be sure, after he got possession he found that it was only an acre here and there that would grow forty bushels of wheat after turnips, and that there was a good deal more to do at the house than he expected, the furniture of the late occupants having hidden many defects, added to which they had walked off with almost everything they could wrench down, under the name of fixtures; indeed, there was not a peg to hang up his hat when he entered. This, however, was nothing, and Puff very soon made it into one of the most perfect bachelor residences that ever was seen. Not but that it was a family house, with good nurseries and offices of every description; but Puff used to take a sort of wicked pleasure in telling the ladies who came trooping over with their daughters, pretending they thought he was from home, and wishing to see the elegant furniture, that there was nothing in the nurseries, which he was going to convert into billiard and smoking-rooms. This, and a few similar sallies, earned our friend the reputation of a wit in the country.

There was great rush of gentlemen to call upon him; many of the mammas seemed to think that first come would be first served, and sent their husbands over before he was fairly squatted. Various and contradictory were the accounts they brought home. Men are so stupid at seeing and remembering things. Old Mr. Muddle came back bemused with sherry, declaring that he thought Mr. Puffington was as old as he was (sixty-two), while Mrs. Mousetrap thought he wasn't more than thirty at the outside. She described him as 'painfully handsome.' Mr. Slowan couldn't tell whether the drawing-room furniture was chintz, or damask, or what it was; indeed, he wasn't sure that he was in the drawing-room at all; while Mr. Gapes insisted that the carpet was a Turkey carpet, whereas it was a royal cut pile. It might be that the smartness and freshness of everything confused the bucolic minds, little accustomed to wholesale grandeur.

Mr. Puffington quite eclipsed all the old country families with their 'company rooms' and put-away furniture. Then, when he began to grind about the country in his lofty mail-phaeton, with a pair of spanking, high-stepping bays, and a couple of arm-folded, lolling grooms, shedding his cards in return for their calls, there was such a talk, such a commotion, as had never been known before. Then, indeed, he was appreciated at his true worth.

AN 'AMA-A-ZIN' POP'LAR' MAN

'Mr. Puffington was here the other day,' said Mrs. Smirk to Mrs. Smooth, in the well-known 'great-deal-more-meant-than-said' style. 'Oh such a charming man! Such ease! such manners! such knowledge of high life!' Puff had been at his old tricks. He had resuscitated Lord Legbail, now Earl of Loosefish; imported Sir Harry Blueun from somewhere near Geneva, whither he had retired on marrying his mistress; and resuscitated Lord Mudlark, who had broken his neck many years before from his tandem in Piccadilly. Whatever was said, Puff always had a duplicate or illustration involving a nobleman. The great names might be rather far-fetched at times, to be sure, but when people are inclined to be pleased they don't keep putting that and that together to see how they fit, and whether they come naturally or are lugged in neck and heels. Puff's talk was very telling.

One great man to a house is the usual country allowance, and many ar

e not very long in letting out who theirs are; but Puffington seemed to have the whole peerage, baronetage, and knightage at command. Old Mrs. Slyboots, indeed, thought that he must be connected with the peerage some way; his mother, perhaps, had been the daughter of a peer, and she gave herself an infinity of trouble in hunting through the 'matches'-with what success it is not necessary to say. The old ladies unanimously agreed that he was a most agreeable, interesting young man; and though the young ones did pretend to run him down among themselves, calling him ugly, and so on, it was only in the vain hope of dissuading each other from thinking of him.

Mr. Puffington still stuck to the 'amaazin' pop'lar man' character; a character that is not so convenient to support in the country as it is in town. The borough of Swillingford, as we have already intimated, was not the best conducted borough in the world; indeed, when we say that the principal trade of the place was poaching, our country readers will be able to form a very accurate opinion on that head. When Puff took possession of Hanby there was a fair show of pheasants about the house, and a good sprinkling of hares and partridges over the estate and manor generally; but refusing to prosecute the first poachers that were caught, the rest took the hint, and cleared everything off in a week, dividing the plunder among them. They also burnt his river and bagged his fine Dorking fowls, and all these feats being accomplished with impunity, they turned their attention to his fat sheep.

'Poacher' is only a mild term for 'thief.'

Puff was a perfect milch-cow in the way of generosity. He gave to everything and everybody, and did not seem to be acquainted with any smaller sum than a five-pound note; a five-pound note to replace Giles Jolter's cart-horse (that used to carry his own game for the poachers to the poulterers at Plunderstone)-five pounds to buy Dame Doubletongue another pig, though she had only just given three pounds for the one that died-five pounds towards the fire at farmer Scratchley's, though it had taken place two years before Puff came into the country, and Scratchley had been living upon it ever since-and sundry other five pounds to other equally deserving and amiable people. He put his name down for fifty to the Mangeysterne hounds without ever being asked; which reminds us that we ought to be directing our attention to that noble establishment.

It is hard to have to go behind the scenes of an ill-supported hunt, and we will be as brief and tender with the cripples as we can. The Mangeysterne hounds wanted that great ingredient of prosperity, a large nest-egg subscriber, to whom all others could be tributary-paying or not as might be convenient. The consequence was they were always up the spout. They were neither a scratch pack nor a regular pack, but something betwixt and between. They were hunted by a saddler, who found his own horses, and sometimes he had a whip and sometimes he hadn't. The establishment died as often as old Mantalini himself. Every season that came to a close was proclaimed to be their last, but somehow or other they always managed to scramble into existence on the approach of another. It is a way, indeed, that delicate packs have of recruiting their finances. Nevertheless, the Mangeysternes did look very like coming to an end about the time that Mr. Puffington bought Hanby House. The saddler huntsman had failed; John Doe had taken one of his screws, and Richard Roe the other, and anybody might have the hounds that liked: Puffington then turned up.

Great was the joy diffused throughout the Mangeysterne country when it transpired, through the medium of his valet, Louis Bergamotte, that 'his lor' had beaucoup habit rouge' in his wardrobe. Not only habit rouge, but habit blue and buff, that he used to sport with 'Old Beaufort' and the Badminton Hunt-coats that he certainly had no chance of ever getting into again, but still which he kept as memorials of the past-souvenirs of the days when he was young and slim. The bottle-conjurer could just as soon have got into his quart bottle as Puff could into the Beaufort coat at the time of which we are writing. The intelligence of their existence was quickly followed by the aforesaid fifty-pound cheque. A meeting of the Mangeysterne hunt was called at the sign of the Thirsty Freeman in Swillingford-Sir Charles Figgs, Knight-a large-promising but badly paying subscriber-in the chair, when it was proposed and carried unanimously that Mr. Puffington was eminently qualified for the mastership of the hunt, and that it be offered to him accordingly. Puff 'bit.' He recalled his early exploits with 'Mostyn and old Beaufort,' and resolved that the hunt had taken a right view of his abilities. In coming to this decision he, perhaps, was not altogether uninfluenced by a plausible subscription list, which seemed about equal to the ordinary expenses, supposing that any reliance could be placed on the figures and calculations of Sir Charles. All those, however, who have had anything to do with subscription lists-and in these days of universal testimonializing who has not?-well know that pounds upon paper and pounds in the pocket are very different things. Above all Puff felt that he was a new man in the country, and that taking the hounds would give him weight.

The 'Mangeysterne dogs' then began to 'look up'; Mr. Puffington took to them in earnest; bought a 'Beckford,' and shortened his military stirrups to a hunting seat.

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