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Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 16876

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Although we have hitherto depicted Lord Scamperdale either in his great uncouth hunting-clothes or in the flare-up red and yellow Stunner tartan, it must not be supposed that he had not fine clothes when he chose to wear them, only he wanted to save them, as he said, to be married in. That he had fine ones, indeed, was evident from the rig-out he lent Jack when that worthy went to Jawleyford Court, and, in addition to those which were of the evening order, he had an uncommonly smart Stultz frock-coat, with a velvet collar, facings, and cuffs, and a silk lining. Though so rough and ready among the men, he was quite the dandy among the ladies, and was as anxious about his appearance as a girl of sixteen. He got himself clipped and trimmed, and shaved with the greatest care, curving his whiskers high on to the cheekbones, leaving a great breadth of bare fallow below.

Baggs the butler was despatched betimes to Jawleyford Court with the dog-cart freighted with clothes, driven by a groom to attend to the horses, while his lordship mounted his galloping grey hack towards noon, and dashed through the country like a comet. The people, who were only accustomed to see him in his short, country-cut hunting-coats, baggy breeches, and shapeless boots, could hardly recognize the frock-coated, fancy-vested, military-trousered swell, as Lord Scamperdale. Even Titus Grabbington, the superintendent of police, declared that he wouldn't have known him but for his hat and specs. The latter, we need hardly say, were the silver ones-the pair that he would not let Jack have when he went to Jawleyford Court. So his lordship went capering and careering along, avoiding, of course, all the turnpike-gates, of which he had a mortal aversion.

Jawleyford Court was in full dress to receive him-everything was full fig. Spigot appeared in buckled shorts and black silk stockings; while vases of evergreens and winter flowers mounted sentry on passage tables and landing-places. Everything bespoke the elegant presence of the fair.

To the credit of Dame Fortune let us record that everything went smoothly and well. Even the kitchen fire behaved as it ought. Neither did Lord Scamperdale arrive before he was wanted, a very common custom with people unused to public visiting. He cast up just when he was wanted. His ring of the door-bell acted like the little tinkling bell at a theatre, sending all parties to their places, for the curtain to rise.

Spigot and his two footmen answered the summons, while his lordship's groom rushed out of a side-door, with his mouth full of cold meat, to take his hack.

Having given his flat hat to Spigot, his whip-stick to one footman, and his gloves to the other, he proceeded to the family tableau in the drawing-room.

Though his lordship lived so much by himself he was neither gauche nor stupid when he went into society. Unlike Mr. Spraggon, he had a tremendous determination of words to the mouth, and went best pace with his tongue instead of coughing and hemming, and stammering and stuttering-wishing himself 'well out of it,' as the saying is. His seclusion only seemed to sharpen his faculties and make him enjoy society more. He gushed forth like a pent-up fountain. He was not a bit afraid of the ladies-rather the contrary; indeed, he would make love to them all-all that were good-looking, at least, for he always candidly said that he 'wouldn't have anything to do with the ugly 'uns.' If anything, he was rather too vehement, and talked to the ladies in such an earnest, interested sort of way, as made even bystanders think there was 'something in it,' whereas, in point of fact, it was mere manner.

He began as soon as ever he got to Jawleyford Court-at least, as soon as he had paid his respects all round and got himself partially thawed at the fire; for the cold had struck through his person, his fine clothes being a poor substitute for his thick double-milled red coat, blankety waistcoat, and Jersey shirt.

There are some good-natured, well-meaning people in this world who think that fox-hunters can talk of nothing but hunting, and who put themselves to very serious inconvenience in endeavouring to get up a little conversation for them. We knew a bulky old boy of this sort, who invariably, after the cloth was drawn, and he had given each leg a kick out to see if they were on, commenced with, 'Well, I suppose, Mr. Harkington has a fine set of dogs this season?' 'A fine set of dogs this season! 'What an observation! How on earth could any one hope to drive a conversation on the subject with such a commencement?

Some ladies are equally obliging in this respect. They can stoop to almost any subject that they think will procure them husbands. Music!-if a man is fond of music, they will sing themselves into his good graces in no time. Painting!-oh, they adore painting-though in general they don't profess to be great hands at it themselves. Balls, boating, archery, racing-all these they can take a lively interest in; or, if occasion requires, can go on the serious tack and hunt a parson with penny subscriptions for a clothing-club or soup-kitchen.

Fox-hunting!-we do not know that fox-hunting is so safe a speculation for young ladies as any of the foregoing. There are many pros and cons in the matter of the chase. A man may think-especially in these hard times, with 'wheat below forty,' as Mr. Springwheat would say-that it will be as much as he can do to mount himself. Again, he may not think a lady looks any better for running down with perspiration, and being daubed with mud. Above all, if he belongs to the worshipful company of Craners, he may not like for his wife to be seen beating him across country.

Still, there are many ways that young ladies may insinuate themselves into the good graces of sportsmen without following them into the hunting-field. Talking about their horses, above all admiring them, taking an interest in their sport, seeing that they have nice papers of sandwiches to take out with them, or recommending them to be bled when they come home with dirty faces after falls.

Miss Amelia Jawleyford, who was most elegantly attired in a sea-green silk dress with large imitation pearl buttons, claiming the usual privilege of seniority of birth, very soon led the charge against Lord Scamperdale.

'Oh, what a lovely horse that is you were riding,' observed she, as his lordship kept stooping with both his little red fists close into the bars of the grate.

'Isn't it!' exclaimed he, rubbing his hands heartily together. 'Isn't it!' repeated he, adding, 'that's what I call a clipper.'

'Why do you call it so?' asked she.

'Oh, I don't mean that clipper is its name,' replied he; 'indeed, we call her Cherry Bounce in the stable-but she's what they call a clipper-a good 'un to go, you know,' continued he, staring at the fair speaker through his great, formidable spectacles.

We believe there is nothing frightens a woman so much as staring at her through spectacles. A barrister in barnacles is a far more formidable cross-examiner than one without. But, to his lordship's back.

'Will he eat bread out of your hand?' asked Amelia, adding, 'I should so like a horse that would eat bread out of my hand.'

'Oh yes; or cheese either,' replied his lordship, who was a bit of a wag, and as likely to try a horse with one as the other.

'Oh, how delightful! what a charming horse!' exclaimed Amelia, turning her fine eyes up to the ceiling.

'Are you fond of horses?' asked his lordship, smacking one hand against the other, making a noise like the report of a pistol.

'Oh, so fond!' exclaimed Amelia, with a start; for she hadn't got through her favourite, and, as she thought, most attractive attitude.

'Well, now, that's nice,' said his lordship, giving his other hand a similar bang, adding, 'I like a woman that's fond of horses.'

'Then 'Melia and you'll 'gree nicely,' observed Mrs. Jawleyford, who was always ready to give a helping hand to her own daughters, at least.

'I don't doubt it!' replied his lordship, with emphasis, and a third bang of his hand, louder if possible than before. 'And do you like horses?' asked his lordship, darting sharply round on Emily, who had been yielding, or rather submitting, to the precedence of her sister.

'Oh yes; and hounds, too!' replied she eagerly.

'And hounds, too!' exclaimed his lordship, with a start, and

another hearty bang of the fist, adding, 'well, now, I like a woman that likes hounds.'

Amelia frowned at the unhandsome march her sister had stolen upon her. Just then in came Jawleyford, much to the annoyance of all parties. A host should never show before the dressing-bell rings.

When that glad sound was at length heard, the ladies, as usual, immediately withdrew; and of course the first thing Amelia did when she got to her room was to run to the glass to see how she had been looking: when, grievous to relate, she found an angry hot spot in the act of breaking out on her nose.

What a distressing situation for a young lady, especially one with a spectacled suitor. 'Oh, dear!' she thought, as she eyed it in the glass, 'it will look like Vesuvius itself through his formidable inquisitors.' Worst of all, it was on the side she would have next him at dinner, should he choose to sit with his back to the fire. However, there was no help for it, and the maid kindly assuring her, as she worked away at her hair, that it 'would never be seen,' she ceased to watch it, and turned her attention to her toilette. The fine, new broad-lace flounced, light-blue satin dress-a dress so much like a ball dress as to be only appreciable as a dinner one by female eyes-was again in requisition; while her fine arms were encircled with chains and armlets of various brilliance and devices. Thus attired, with a parting inspection of the spot, she swept downstairs, with as smart a bouquet as the season would afford. As luck would have it, she encountered his lordship himself wandering about the passage in search of the drawing-room, of whose door he had not made a sufficient observation on leaving. He too, was uncommonly smart, with the identical dress-coat Mr. Spraggon wore, a white waistcoat with turquoise buttons, a lace-frilled shirt, and a most extensive once-round Joinville. He had been eminently successful in accomplishing a tie that would almost rival the sticks farmers put upon truant geese to prevent their getting through gaps or under gates.

Well, Miss Amelia having come to his lordship's assistance, and eased him of his candle, now showed him into the drawing-room; and his hands being disengaged, like a true Englishman, he must be doing, and accordingly he commenced an attack on her bouquet.

'That's a fine nosegay!' exclaimed he, staring and rubbing his snub nose into the midst of it.

'Let me give you a piece,' replied Amelia, proceeding to detach some of the best.

'Do,' replied his lordship, banging one hand against the other, adding, 'I'll wear it next my heart of hearts.'

In sidled Miss Emily just as his lordship was adjusting it in his button-hole, and the inconstant man immediately chopped over to her.

'Well, now, that is a beautiful nosegay!' exclaimed he, turning upon her in precisely the same way, with a bang of the hand and a dive of his nose into Emily's.

She did not offer him any, and his lordship continued his attentions to her until Mrs. Jawleyford entered.

Dinner was presently announced; but his lordship, instead of choosing to sit with his back to the fire, took the single chair opposite, which gave him a commanding view of the young ladies. He did not, however, take any advantage of his position during the repast, neither did he talk much, his maxim being to let his meat stop his mouth. The preponderance of his observations, perhaps, were addressed to Amelia, though a watchful observer might have seen that the spectacles were oftener turned upon Emily. Up to the withdrawal of the cloth, however, there was no perceptible advantage on either side.

As his lordship settled to the sweets, at which he was a great hand at dessert, Amelia essayed to try her influence with the popular subject of a ball. 'I wish the members of your hunt would give us a ball, my lord,' observed she.

'Ah, hay, hum-ball,' replied he, ladling up the syrup of some preserved peaches that he had been eating; 'ball, ball, ball. No place to give it-no place to give it,' repeated he.

'Oh, give it in the town-hall, or the long room at the Angel,' replied she.

'Town-hall-long room at the Angel-Angel at the long room of the town-hall-oh, certainly, certainly, certainly,' muttered he, scraping away at the contents of his plate.

'Then that's a bargain, mind,' observed Amelia significantly.

'Bargain, bargain, bargain-certainly,' replied he; 'and I'll lead off with you, or you'll lead off with me-whichever way it is-meanwhile, I'll trouble you for a piece of that gingerbread.'

Having supplied him with a most liberal slice, she resumed the subject of the ball.

'Then we'll fix it so,' observed she.

'Oh, fix it so, certainly-certainly fix it so,' replied his lordship, filling his mouth full of gingerbread.

'Suppose we have it on the day of the races?' continued Amelia.

'Couldn't be better,' replied his lordship; 'couldn't be better,' repeated he, eyeing her intently through his formidable specs.

His lordship was quite in the assenting humour, and would have agreed to anything-anything short of lending one a five-pound note.

Amelia was charmed with her success. Despite the spot on her nose, she felt she was winning.

His lordship sat like a target, shot at by all, but making the most of his time, both in the way of eating and staring between questions.

At length the ladies withdrew, and his lordship having waddled to the door to assist their egress, now availed himself of Jawleyford's invitation to occupy an arm-chair during the enjoyment of his 'Wintle.'

Whether it was the excellence of the beverage, or that his lordship was unaccustomed to wine-drinking, or that Jawleyford's conversation was unusually agreeable, we know not, but the summons to tea and coffee was disregarded, and when at length they did make their appearance, his lordship was what the ladies call rather elevated, and talked thicker than there was any occasion for. He was very voluble at first-told all how Sponge had knocked him about, how he detested him, and wouldn't allow him to come to the hunt ball, &c.; but he gradually died out, and at last fell asleep beside Mrs. Jawleyford on the sofa, with his little legs crossed, and a half-emptied coffee-cup in his hand, which Mr. Jawleyford and she kept anxiously watching, expecting the contents to be over the fine satin furniture every moment.

In this pleasant position they remained till he awoke himself with a hearty snore, and turned the coffee over on to the carpet. Fortunately there was little damage done, and, it being nearly twelve o'clock, his lordship waddled off to bed.

Amelia, when she came to think matters over in the retirement of her own room, was well satisfied with the progress she had made. She thought she only wanted opportunity to capture him. Though she was most anxious for a good night in order that she might appear to advantage in the morning, sleep forsook her eyelids, and she lay awake long thinking what she would do when she was my lady-how she would warm Woodmansterne, and what a dashing equipage she would keep. At length she dropped off, just as she thought she was getting into her well-appointed chariot, showing a becoming portion of her elegantly turned ankles.

In the morning she attired herself in her new light blue satin robe, corsage Albanaise, with a sort of three-quarter sleeves, and muslin under ones-something, we believe, out of the last book of fashion. She also had her hair uncommonly well arranged, and sported a pair of clean primrose-coloured gloves. 'Now for victory,' said she, as she took a parting glance at herself in general, and the hot spot in particular.

Judge of her disgust on meeting her mamma on the staircase at learning that his lordship had got up at six o'clock, and had gone to meet his hounds on the other side of the county. That Baggs had boiled his oatmeal porridge in his bedroom, and his lordship had eaten it as he was dressing.

It may be asked, what was the maid about not to tell her.

The fact is, that ladies'-maids are only numb hands in all that relates to hunting, and though Juliana knew that his lordship was up, she thought he had gone to have his hunt before breakfast, just as the young gentlemen in the last place she lived in used to go and have a bathe.

Baggs, we may add, was a married man, and Juliana and he had not had much conversation.

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