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Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 8033

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

The reader will now have the kindness to consider that Mr. Puffington has undergone his swell huntsman, Dick Bragg, for three whole years, during which time it was difficult to say whether his winter's service or his summer's impudence was most oppressive. Either way, Mr. Puffington had had enough both of him and the honours of hound-keeping. Mr. Bragg was not a judicious tyrant. He lorded it too much over Mr. Puffington; was too fond of showing himself off, and exposing his master's ignorance before the servants, and field. A stranger would have thought that Mr. Bragg, and not 'Mr. Puff,' as Bragg called him, kept the hounds. Mr. Puffington took it pretty quietly at first, Bragg inundating him with what they did at the Duke of Downeybird's, Lord Reynard's, and the other great places in which he had lived, till he almost made Puff believe that such treatment was a necessary consequence of hound-keeping. Moreover, the cost was heavy, and the promised subscriptions were almost wholly imaginary; even if they had been paid, they would not have covered a quarter of the expense Mr. Bragg ran him to; and worst of all, there was an increasing instead of a diminishing expenditure. Trust a servant for keeping things up to the mark.

All things, however, have an end, and Mr. Bragg began to get to the end of Mr. Puff's patience. As Puff got older he got fonder of his five-pound notes, and began to scrutinize bills and ask questions; to be, as Mr. Bragg said, 'very little of the gentleman'; Bragg, however, being quite one of your 'make-hay-while-the-sun-shines' sort, and knowing too well the style of man to calculate on a lengthened duration of office, just put on the steam of extravagance, and seemed inclined to try how much he could spend for his master. His bills for draft hounds were enormous; he was continually chopping and changing his horses, often almost without consulting his master; he had a perfect museum of saddles and bridles, in which every invention and variety of bit was exhibited; and he had paid as much as twenty pounds to different 'valets' and grooms for invaluable recipes for cleaning leather breeches and gloves. Altogether, Bragg overdid the thing; and when Mr. Puffington, in the solitude of a winter's day, took pen, ink, and paper, and drew out a 'balance sheet,' he found that on the average of six brace of foxes to the season, they had cost him about three hundred pounds a head killing. It was true that Bragg always returned five or six and twenty brace; but that was as between Bragg and the public, as between Bragg and his master the smaller figure was the amount.

Mr. Puffington had had enough of it, and he now thought if he could get Mr. Sponge (who he still believed to be a sporting author on his travels) to immortalize him, he might retire into privacy, and talk of 'when I kept hounds,' 'when I hunted the country,' 'when I was master of hounds I did this, and I did that,' and fuss, and be important as we often see ex-masters of hounds when they go out with other packs. It was this erroneous impression with regard to Mr. Sponge that took our friend to the meet of Lord Scamperdale's hounds at Scrambleford Green, when he gave Mr. Sponge a general invitation to visit him before he left the country, an invitation that was as acceptable to Mr. Sponge on his expulsion from Jawleyford Court, as it was agreeable to Mr. Puffington-by opening a route by which he might escape from the penalty of hound-keeping, and the persecution of his huntsman.

The reader will therefore now have the kindness to consider Mr. Puffington in receipt of Mr. Sponge's note, volunteering a visit.

With gay and cheerful steps our friend hurried off to the kennel, to communicate the intelligence to Mr. Bragg of an intended honour that he inwardly hoped would have the effect of extinguishing that great sporting luminary.

Arriving at the kennel, he learned from the old feeder, Jack Horsehide, who, as usual, was sluicing the flags with water, though the

weather was wet, that Mr. Bragg was in the house (a house that had been the steward's in the days of the former owner of Hanby House). Thither Mr. Puffington proceeded; and the front door being open he entered, and made for the little parlour on the right. Opening the door without knocking, what should he find but the swell huntsman, Mr. Bragg, full fig, in his cap, best scarlet and leathers, astride a saddle-stand, sitting for his portrait!

'O, dim it!' exclaimed Bragg, clasping the front of the stand as if it was a horse, and throwing himself off, an operation that had the effect of bringing the new saddle on which he was seated bang on the floor. 'O, sc-e-e-use me, sir,' seeing it was his master, 'I thought it was my servant; this, sir,' continued he, blushing and looking as foolish as men do when caught getting their hair curled or sitting for their portraits, 'this, sir, is my friend, Mr. Ruddle, the painter, sir-yes, sir-very talented young man, sir-asked me to sit for my portrait, sir-is going to publish a series of portraits of all the best huntsmen in England, sir.'

'And masters of hounds,' interposed Mr. Ruddle, casting a sheep's eye at Mr. Puffington.

'And masters of hounds, sir,' repeated Mr. Bragg; 'yes, sir, and masters of hounds, sir'; Mr. Bragg being still somewhat flurried at the unexpected intrusion.

'Ah, well,' interrupted Mr. Puffington, who was still eager about his mission, 'we'll talk about that after. At present I'm come to tell you,' continued he, holding up Mr. Sponge's note, 'that we must brush up a little-going to have a visit of inspection from the great Mr. Sponge.'

'Indeed, sir!' replied Mr. Bragg, with the slightest possible touch of his cap, which he still kept on. 'Mr. Sponge, sir!-indeed, sir-Mr. Sponge, sir-pray who may he be, sir?'

'Oh-why-hay-hum-haw-he's Mr. Sponge, you know-been hunting with Lord Scamperdale, you know-great sportsman, in fact-great authority, you know.' 'Indeed-great authority is he-indeed-oh-yes-thinks so p'raps-sc-e-e-use me, sir, but des-say, sir, I've forgot more, sir, than Mr. Sponge ever knew, sir.'

'Well, but you mustn't tell him so,' observed Mr. Puffington, fearful that Bragg might spoil sport.

'Oh, tell him-no,' sneered Bragg, with a jerk of the head; 'tell him-no; I'm not exactly such a donkey as that; on the contrary, I'll make things pleasant, sir-sugar his milk for him, sir, in short, sir.'

'Sugar his milk!' exclaimed Mr. Puffington, who was only a matter-of-fact man; 'sugar his milk! I dare say he takes tea.'

'Well, then, sugar his tea,' replied Bragg, with a smile, adding, 'can 'commodate myself, sir, to circumstances, sir,' at the same time taking off his cap and setting a chair for his master.

'Thank you, but I'm not going to stay,' replied Mr. Puffington; 'I only came up to let you know who you had to expect, so that you might prepare, you know-have all on the square, you know-best horses-best hounds-best appearance in general, you know.'

'That I'll attend to,' replied Mr. Bragg, with a toss of the head-'that I'll attend to,' repeated he, with an emphasis on the I'll, as much as to say, 'Don't you meddle with what doesn't concern you.'

Mr. Puffington would fain have rebuked him for his impertinence, as indeed he often would fain have rebuked him; but Mr. Bragg had so overpowered him with science, and impressed him with the necessity of keeping him-albeit Mr. Puffington was sensible that he killed very few foxes-that, having put up with him so long, he thought it would never do to risk a quarrel, which might lose him the chance of getting rid of him and hounds altogether; therefore, Mr. Puffington, instead of saying, 'You conceited humbug, get out of this,' or indulging in any observations that might lead to controversy, said, with a satisfied, confidential nod of the head:

'I'm sure you will-I'm sure you will,' and took his departure, leaving Mr. Bragg, to remount the saddle-stand and take the remainder of his sitting.

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