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   Chapter 41 A DINNER AND A DEAL

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 26082

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Another grand dinner, on a more extensive scale than its predecessor, marked the day of this glorious run.

'There's goin' to be a great blow-out,' observed Mr. Spraggon to Mr. Sponge, as, crossing his hands and resting them on the crown of his head, he threw himself back in his easy-chair, to recruit after the exertion of concocting the description of the run.

'How d'ye know?' asked Sponge.

'Saw by the dinner table as we passed,' replied Jack, adding, 'it reaches nearly to the door.'

'Indeed,' said Sponge, 'I wonder who's coming?'

'Most likely Guano again; indeed, I know he is, for I asked his groom if he was going home, and he said no; and Lumpleg, you may be sure, and possibly old Blossomnose, Slapp, and, very likely, young Pacey.'

'Are they chaps with any "go" in them?-shake their elbows, or anything of that sort?' asked Sponge, working away as if he had the dice-box in his hand.

'I hardly know,' replied Jack thoughtfully. 'I hardly know. Young Pacey, I think, might be made summut on; but his uncle, Major Screw, looks uncommon sharp after him, and he's a minor.'

'Would he pay?' asked Sponge, who, keeping as he said, 'no books,' was not inclined to do business on 'tick.'

'Don't know,' replied Jack, squinting at half-cock; 'don't know-would depend a good deal, I should say, upon how it was done. It's a deuced unhandsome world this. If one wins a trifle of a youngster at cards, let it be ever so openly done, it's sure to say one's cheated him, just because one happens to be a little older, as if age had anything to do with making the cards come right.'

'It's an ungenerous world,' observed Sponge, 'and it's no use being abused for nothing. What sort of a genius is Pacey? Is he inclined to go the pace?'

'Oh, quite,' replied Jack; 'his great desire is to be thought a sportsman.'

'A sportsman or a sporting man?' asked Sponge.

'W-h-o-y! I should say p'raps a sportin' man more than the sportsman,' replied Jack. 'He's a great lumberin' lad, buttons his great stomach into a Newmarket cutaway, and carries a betting-book in his breast pocket.'

'Oh, he's a bettor, is he!' exclaimed Sponge, brightening up.

'He's a raw poult of a chap,' replied Jack; 'just ready for anything-in a small way, at least-a chap that's always offering two to one in half-crowns. He'll have money, though, and can't be far off age. His father was a great spectacle-maker. You have heard of Pacey's spectacles?'

'Can't say as how I have,' replied Sponge, adding, 'they are more in your line than mine.'

The further consideration of the youth was interrupted by the entrance of a footman with hot water, who announced that dinner would be ready in half an hour.

'Who's there coming?' asked Jack.

'Don't know 'xactly, sir,' replied the man; 'believe much the same party as yesterday, with the addition of Mr. Pacey; Mr. Miller, of Newton; Mr. Fogo, of Bellevue; Mr. Brown, of the Hill; and some others whose names I forget.'

'Is Major Screw coming?' asked Sponge.

'I rayther think not, sir. I think I heard Mr. Plummey, the butler, say he declined.'

'So much the better,' growled Jack, throwing off his purple-lapped coat in commencement of his toilette. As the two dressed they discussed the point how Pacey might be done.

When our friends got downstairs it was evident there was a great spread. Two red-plushed footmen stood on guard in the entrance, helping the arrivers out of their wraps, while a buzz of conversation sounded through the partially opened drawing-room door, as Mr. Plummey stood, handle in hand, to announce the names of the guests. Our friends, having the entrée, of course passed in as at home, and mingled with the comers and stayers. Guest after guest quickly followed, almost all making the same observation, namely, that it was a fine day for the time of year, and then each sidled off, rubbing his hands, to the fire. Captain Guano monopolized about one-half of it, like a Colossus of Rhodes, with a coat-lap under each arm. He seemed to think that, being a stayer, he had more right to the fire than the mere diners.

Mr. Puffington moved briskly among the motley throng, now expatiating on the splendour of the run, now hoping a friend was hungry, asking a third after his wife, and apologizing to a fourth for not having called on his sister. Still his real thoughts were in the kitchen, and he kept counting noses and looking anxiously at the timepiece. After the door had had a longer rest than usual, Blossomnose at last cast up: 'Now we're all here surely!' thought he, counting about; 'one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, thirteen, fourteen, myself fifteen-fifteen, fifteen, must be another-sixteen, eight couple asked. Oh, that Pacey's wanting; always comes late, won't wait'-so saying, or rather thinking, Mr. Puffington rang the bell and ordered dinner. Pacey then cast up.

He was just the sort of swaggering youth that Jack had described; a youth who thought money would do everything in the world-make him a gentleman, in short. He came rolling into the room, grinning as if he had done something fine in being late. He had both his great red hands in his tight trouser pockets, and drew the right one out to favour his friends with it 'all hot.'

'I'm late, I guess,' said he, grinning round at the assembled guests, now dispersed in the various attitudes of expectant eaters, some standing ready for a start, some half-sitting on tables and sofa ends, others resigning themselves complacently to their chairs, abusing Mr. Pacey and all dinner delayers.

'I'm late, I guess,' repeated he, as he now got navigated up to his host and held out his hand.

'Oh, never mind,' replied Puffington, accepting as little of the proffered paw as he could; 'never mind,' repeated he, adding, as he looked at the French clock on the mantelpiece now chiming a quarter past six, 'I dare say I told you we dined at half-past five.'

'Dare say you did, old boy,' replied Pacey, kicking out his legs, and giving Puffington what he meant for a friendly poke in the stomach, but which in reality nearly knocked his wind out; 'dare say you did, old boy, but so you did last time, if you remember, and deuce a bite did I get before six; so I thought I'd be quits with you this-he-he-he-haw-haw-haw,' grinning and staring about as if he had done something very clever.

MR. PACEY

Pacey was one of those deplorable beings-a country swell. Tomkins and Hopkins, the haberdashers of Swillingford, never exhibited an ugly out-of-the-way neckcloth or waistcoat with the words 'patronized by the Prince,' 'very fashionable,' or 'quite the go,' upon them, but he immediately adorned himself in one. On the present occasion he was attired in a wide-stretching, lace-tipped, black Joinville, with recumbent gills, showing the heavy amplitude of his enormous jaws, while the extreme scooping out of a collarless, flashy-buttoned, chain-daubed, black silk waistcoat, with broad blue stripes, afforded an uninterrupted view of a costly embroidered shirt, the view extending, indeed, up to a portion of his white satin 'forget-me-not' embroidered braces. His coat was a broad-sterned, brass-buttoned blue, with pockets outside, and of course he wore a pair of creaking highly varnished boots. He was apparently, about twenty; just about the age when a youth thinks it fine to associate with men, and an age at which some men are not above taking advantage of a youth. Perhaps he looked rather older than he was, for he was stiff built and strong, with an ample crop of whiskers extending from his great red docken ears round his harvest moon of a face. He was lumpy, and clumsy, and heavy all over. Having now got inducted, he began to stare round the party, and first addressed our worthy friend Mr. Spraggon.

'Well, Sprag, how are you?' asked he.

'Well, Specs' (alluding to his father's trade), 'how are you?' replied Jack, with a growl, to the evident satisfaction of the party, who seemed to regard Pacey as the common enemy.

Fortunately just at the moment Mr. Plummey restored harmony by announcing dinner; and after the usual backing and retiring of mock modesty, Mr. Puffington said he would 'show them the way,' when there was as great a rush to get in, to avoid the bugbear of sitting with their backs to the fire, as there had been apparent disposition not to go at all. Notwithstanding the unfavourable aspect of affairs, Mr. Spraggon placed himself next Mr. Pacey, who sat a good way down the table, while Mr. Sponge occupied the post of honour by our host.

In accordance with the usual tactics of these sort of gentlemen, Spraggon and Sponge essayed to be two-if not exactly strangers, at all events gentlemen with very little acquaintance. Spraggon took advantage of a dead silence to call up the table to Mister Sponge to take wine; a compliment that Sponge acknowledged the accordance of by a very low bow into his plate, and by-and-by Mister Sponge 'Mistered' Mr. Spraggon to return the compliment.

'Do you know much of that-that-that-chap?' (he would have said snob if he'd thought it would be safe) asked Pacey, as Sponge returned to still life after the first wine ceremony.

'No,' replied Spraggon, 'nor do I wish.'

'Great snob,' observed Pacey.

'Shocking,' assented Spraggon.

'He's got a good horse or two, though,' observed Pacey; 'I saw them on the road coming here the other day.' Pacey, like many youngsters, professed to be a judge of horses, and thought himself rather sharp at a deal.

'They are good horses,' replied Jack, with an emphasis on the good, adding, 'I'd be very glad to have one of them.'

Mr. Spraggon then asked Mr. Pacey to take champagne, as the commencement of a better understanding.

The wine flowed freely, and the guests, particularly the fresh infusion, did ample justice to it. The guests of the day before, having indulged somewhat freely, were more moderate at first, though they seemed well inclined to do their best after they got their stomachs a little restored. Spraggon could drink any given quantity at any time.

The conversation got brisker and brisker: and before the cloth was drawn there was a very general clamour, in which all sorts of subjects seemed to be mixed-each man addressing himself to his immediate neighbour; one talking of taxes-another of tares-a third, of hunting and the system of kennel-a fourth, of the corn-laws-old Blossomnose, about tithes-Slapp, about timber and water-jumping-Miller, about Collison's pills; and Guano, about anything that he could get a word edged in about. Great, indeed, was the hubbub. Gradually, however, as the evening advanced Pacey and Guano out-talked the rest, and at length Pacey got the noise pretty well to himself. When anything definite could be extracted from the mass of confusion, he was expatiating on steeple-chasing, hurdle-racing, weights for age, ons and offs clever-a sort of mixture of hunting, racing, and 'Alken.'

Sponge cocked his ear, and sat on the watch, occasionally hazarding an observation, while Jack, who was next Pacey, on the left, pretended to decry Sponge's judgement, asking sotto voce, with a whiff through his nose, what such a Cockney as that could know about horses? What between Jack's encouragement, and the inspiring influence of the bottle, aided by his own self-sufficiency, Pacey began to look upon Sponge with anything but admiration; and at last it occurred to him that he would be a very proper subject to, what he called, 'take the shine out of.'

'That isn't a bad-like nag, that chestnut of yours, for the wheeler of a coach, Mr. Sponge,' exclaimed he, at the instigation of Spraggon, to our friend, producing, of course, a loud guffaw from the party.

'No, he isn't,' replied Sponge coolly, adding, 'very like one, I should say.'

'Devilish good horse,' growled Jack in Pacey's ear.

'Oh, I dare say,' whispered Pacey, pretending to be scraping up the orange syrup in his plate, adding, 'I'm only chaffing the beggar.'

'He looks solitary without the coach at his tail,' continued Pacey, looking up, and again addressing Sponge up the table.

'He does,' affirmed Sponge, amidst the laughter of the party.

Pacey didn't know how to take this; whether as a 'sell' or a compliment to his own wit. He sat for a few seconds grinning and staring like a fool; at last after gulping down a bumper of claret, he again fixed his unmeaning green eyes upon Sponge, and exclaimed:

'I'll challenge your horse, Mr. Sponge.'

A burst of applause followed the announcement; for it was evident that amusement was in store.

'You'll w-h-a-w-t?' replied Sponge, staring, and pretending ignorance.

'I'll challenge your horse,' repeated Pacey with confidence, and in a tone that stopped the lingering murmur of conversation, and fixed the attention of the company on himself.

'I don't understand you,' replied Sponge, pretending astonishment.

'Lor bless us! why, where have you lived all you

r life?' asked Pacey.

'Oh, partly in one place, and partly in another,' was the answer.

'I should think so,' replied Pacey, with a look of compassion, adding, in an undertone, 'a good deal with your mother, I should think.'

'If you could get that horse at a moderate figure,' whispered Jack to his neighbour, and squinting his eyes inside out as he spoke, 'he's well worth having.'

'The beggar won't sell him,' muttered Pacey, who was fonder of talking about buying horses than of buying them.

'Oh yes, he will,' replied Jack; 'he didn't understand what you meant. Mr. Sponge,' said he, addressing himself slowly and distinctly up the table to our hero-'Mr. Sponge, my friend Mr. Pacey here challenges your chestnut.'

Sponge still stared in well-feigned astonishment.

'It's a custom we have in this country,' continued Jack, looking, as he thought, at Sponge, but, in reality, squinting most frightfully at the sideboard.

'Do you mean he wants to buy him?' asked Sponge.

'Yes,' replied Jack confidently.

'No, I don't,' whispered Pacey, giving Jack a kick under the table. Pacey had not yet drunk sufficient wine to be rash.

'Yes, yes,' replied Jack tartly, 'you do,' adding, in an undertone, 'leave it to me, man, and I'll let you in for a good thing. Yes, Mr. Sponge,' continued he, addressing himself to our hero, 'Mr. Pacey fancies the chestnut and challenges him.'

'Why doesn't he ask the price?' replied Sponge, who was always ready for a deal.

'Ah, the price must be left to a third party,' said Jack. 'The principle of the thing is this,' continued he, enlisting the aid of his fingers to illustrate his position: 'Mr. Pacey, here,' said he, applying the forefinger of his right hand to the thumb of the left, looking earnestly at Sponge, but in reality squinting up at the chandelier-'Mr. Pacey here challenges your horse Multum-in-somethin'-I forget what you said you call him-but the nag I rode to-day. Well, then,' continued Jack, 'you' (demonstrating Sponge by pressing his two forefingers together, and holding them erect) 'accept the challenge, but can challenge anything Mr. Pacey has-a horse, dog, gun-anything; and, having fixed on somethin' then a third party' (who Jack represented by cocking up his thumb), 'any one you like to name, makes the award. Well, having agreed upon that party' (Jack still cocking up the thumb to represent the arbitrator), 'he says, "Give me money." The two then put, say half a crown or five shillin's each, into his hand, to which the arbitrator adds the same sum for himself. That being done, the arbitrator says, "Hands in pockets, gen'lemen."' (Jack diving his right hand up to the hilt in his own.) 'If this be an award, Mr. Pacey's horse gives Mr. Sponge's horse so much-draw.' (Jack suiting the action to the word, and laying his fist on the table.) 'If each person's hand contains money, it is an award-it is a deal; and the arbitrator gets the half-crowns, or whatever it is, for his trouble; so that, in course, he has a direct interest in makin' such an award as will lead to a deal. Now do you understand?' continued Jack, addressing himself earnestly to Sponge.

'I think I do,' replied Sponge who had been at the game pretty often.

'Well, then,' continued Jack, reverting to his original position, 'my friend, Mr. Pacey here, challenges your chestnut.'

'No, never mind,' muttered Pacey peevishly, in an undertone, with a frown on his face, giving Jack a dig in the ribs with his elbow. 'Never mind,' repeated he; 'I don't care about it-I don't want the horse.'

'But I do,' growled Jack, adding, in an undertone also, as he stooped for his napkin, 'don't spoil sport, man; he's as good a horse as ever stepped; and if you'll challenge him, I'll stand between you and danger.'

'But he may challenge something I don't want to part with,' observed Pacey.

'Then you've nothin' to do,' replied Jack, 'but bring up your hand without any money in it.'

'Ah! I forgot,' replied Pacey, who did not like not to appear what he called 'fly.' 'Well, then, I challenge your chestnut!' exclaimed he, perking up, and shouting up the table to Sponge.

'Good!' replied our friend. 'I challenge your watch and chain, then,' looking at Pacey's chain-daubed vest.

'Name me arbitrator,' muttered Jack, as he again stooped for his napkin.

'Who shall handicap us? Captain Guano, Mr. Lumpleg, or who?' asked Sponge.

'Suppose we say Spraggon?-he says he rode the horse to-day,' replied Pacey.

'Quite agreeable,' said Sponge.

'Now, Jack!' 'Now, Spraggon!' 'Now, old Solomon!' 'Now, Doctor Wiseman,' resounded from different parts of the table.

Jack looked solemn; and diving both hands into his breeches' pockets, stuck out his legs extensively before him.

'Give me money,' said he pompously. They each handed him half a crown; and Jack added a third for himself. 'Mr. Pacey challenges Mr. Sponge's chestnut horse, and Mr. Sponge challenges Mr. Pacey's gold watch,' observed Jack sententiously.

'Come, old Slowman, go on!' exclaimed Guano, adding, 'have you got no further than that?'

'Hurry no man's cattle,' replied Jack tartly, adding, 'you may keep a donkey yourself some day.'

'Mr. Pacey challenges Mr. Sponge's chestnut horse,' repeated Jack. 'How old is the chestnut, Mr. Sponge?' added he, addressing himself to our friend.

'Upon my word I hardly know,' replied Sponge, 'he's past mark of mouth; but I think a hunter's age has very little to do with his worth.'

'Who-y, that depends,' rejoined Jack, blowing out his cheeks, and looking as pompous as possible-'that depends a good deal upon how he's been used in his youth.'

'He's about nine, I should say,' observed Sponge, pretending to have been calculating, though, in reality, he knew nothing whatever about the horse's age. 'Say nine, or rising ten, and never did a day's work till he was six.'

'Indeed!' said Jack, with an important bow, adding, 'being easy with them at the beginnin' puts on a deal to the end. Perfect hunter, I s'pose?'

'Why, you can judge of that yourself,' replied Sponge.

'Perfect hunter, I should say,' rejoined Jack, 'and steady at his fences-don't know that I ever rode a better fencer. Well,' continued he, having apparently pondered all that over in his mind, 'I must trouble you to let me look at your ticker,' said he, turning short round on his neighbour.

'There,' said Mr. Pacey, producing a fine flash watch from his waistcoat-pocket, and holding it to Jack.

'The chain's included in the challenge, mind,' observed Sponge.

'In course,' said Jack; 'it's what the pawnbrokers call a watch with its appurts.' (Jack had his watch at his uncle's and knew the terms exactly.)

'It's a repeater, mind,' observed Pacey, taking off the chain.

'The chain's heavy,' said Jack, running it up in his hand; 'and here's a pistol-key and a beautiful pencil-case, with the Pacey crest and motto,' observed Jack, trying to decipher the latter. 'If it had been without the words, whatever they are,' said he, giving up the attempt, 'it would have been worth more, but the gold's fine, and a new stone can easily be put in.'

He then pulled an old hunting-card out of his pocket, and proceeded to make sundry calculations and estimates in pencil on the back.

'Well, now,' said he, at length, looking up, 'I should say, such a watch as that and appurts,' holding them up, 'couldn't be bought in a shop under eight-and-twenty pund.'

'It cost five-and-thirty,' observed Mr. Pacey.

'Did it!' rejoined Jack, adding, 'then you were done.'

Jack then proceeded to do a little more arithmetic, during which process Mr. Puffington passed the wine and gave as a toast-'Success to the handicap.'

'Well,' at length said Jack, having apparently struck a balance, 'hands in pocket, gen'lemen. If this is an award, Mr. Pacey's gold watch and appurts gives Mr. Sponge's chestnut horse seventy golden sovereigns. Show money,' whispered Jack to Pacey, adding, 'I'll stand the shot.'

'Stop!' roared Guano, 'do either of you sport your hand?'

'Yes, I do,' replied Mr. Pacey coolly.

'And I,' said Mr. Sponge.

'Hold hard, then, gen'lemen!' roared Jack, getting excited, and beginning to foam. 'Hold hard, gen'lemen!' repeated he, just as he was in the habit of roaring at the troublesome customers in Lord Scamperdale's field; 'Mr. Pacey and Mr. Sponge both sport their hands.'

'I'll lay a guinea Pacey doesn't hold money,' exclaimed Guano.

'Done!' exclaimed Parson Blossomnose.

'I'll bet it does,' observed Charley Slapp.

'I'll take you,' replied Mr. Miller.

Then the hubbub of betting commenced, and raged with fury for a short time; some betting sovereigns, some half-sovereigns, other half-crowns and shillings, as to whether the hands of one or both held money.

Givers and takers being at length accommodated, perfect silence at length reigned, and all eyes turned upon the double fists of the respective champions.

Jack having adjusted his great tortoiseshell-rimmed spectacles, and put on a most consequential air, inquired, like a gambling-house keeper, if they were 'All done'-had all 'made their game?' And 'Yes! yes! yes!' resounded from all quarters.

'Then, gen'lemen,' said Jack, addressing Pacey and Sponge, who still kept their closed hands on the table, 'show!'

At the word, their hands opened, and each held money.

'A deal! a deal! a deal!' resounded through the room, accompanied with clapping of hands, thumping of the table, and dancing of glasses. 'You owe me a guinea,' exclaimed one. 'I want half a sovereign of you,' roared another. 'Here's my half-crown,' said a third, handing one across the table to the fortunate winner. A general settlement took place, in the midst of which the 'watch and appurts' were handed to Mr. Sponge.

'We'll drink Mr. Pacey's health,' said Mr. Puffington, helping himself to a bumper, and passing the lately replenished decanters. 'He's done the thing like a sportsman, and deserves to have luck with his deal. Your good health, Mr. Pacey!' continued he, addressing himself specifically to our friend, 'and luck to your horse.'

'Your good health, Mr. Pacey-your good health, Mr. Pacey-your good health, Mr. Pacey,' then followed in the various intonations that mark the feelings of the speaker towards the toastee, as the bottles passed round the table.

The excitement seemed to have given fresh zest to the wine, and those who had been shirking, or filling on heel-taps, now began filling bumpers, while those who always filled bumpers now took back hands.

There is something about horse-dealing that seems to interest every one. Conversation took a brisk turn, and nothing but the darkness of the night prevented their having the horse out and trying him. Pacey wanted him brought into the dining-room, à la Briggs, but Puff wouldn't stand that. The transfer seemed to have invested the animal with supernatural charms, and those who in general cared nothing about horses wanted to have a sight of him.

Toasting having commenced, as usual, it was proceeded with. Sponge's health followed that of Mr. Pacey's, Mr. Puffington availing himself of the opportunity afforded by proposing it, of expressing the gratification it afforded himself and all true sportsmen to see so distinguished a character in the country; and he concluded by hoping that the diminution of his stud would not interfere with the length of his visit-a toast that was drunk with great applause.

Mr. Sponge replied by saying, 'That he certainly had not intended parting with his horse, though one more or less was neither here nor there, especially in these railway times, when a man had nothing to do but take a half-guinea's worth of electric wire, and have another horse in less than no time; but Mr. Pacey having taken a fancy to the horse, he had been more accommodating to him than he had to his friend, Mr. Spraggon, if he would allow him to call him so (Jack squinted and bowed assent), who,' continued Mr. Sponge, 'had in vain attempted that morning to get him to put a price upon him.'

'Very true,' whispered Jack to Pacey, with a feel of the elbow in his ribs, adding, in an undertone, 'the beggar doesn't think I've got him in spite of him, though.'

'The horse,' Mr. Sponge continued, 'was an undeniable good 'un, and he wished Mr. Pacey joy of his bargain.'

This venture having been so successful, others attempted similar means, appointing Mr. Spraggon the arbitrator. Captain Guano challenged Mr. Fogo's phaeton, while Mr. Fogo retaliated upon the captain's chestnut horse; but the captain did not hold money to the award. Blossomnose challenged Mr. Miller's pig; but the latter could not be induced to claim anything of the worthy rector's for Mr. Spraggon to exercise his appraising talents upon. After an evening of much noise and confusion, the wine-heated party at last broke up-the staying company retiring to their couches, and the outlying ones finding their ways home as best they could.

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