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   Chapter 42 THE MORNING'S REFLECTIONS

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 15048

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


When young Pacey awoke in the morning he had a very bad headache, and his temples throbbed as if the veins would burst their bounds. The first thing that recalled the actual position of affairs to his mind was feeling under the pillow for his watch: a fruitless search that ended in recalling something of the overnight's proceedings.

Pacey liked a cheap flash, and when elated with wine might be betrayed into indiscretions that his soberer moments were proof against. Indeed, among youths of his own age he was reckoned rather a sharp hand; and it was the vanity of associating with men, and wishing to appear a match for them, that occasionally brought him into trouble. In a general way, he was a very cautious hand.

He now lay tumbling and tossing about in bed, and little by little he laid together the outline of the evening's proceedings, beginning with his challenging Mr. Sponge's chestnut, and ending with the resignation of his watch and chain. He thought he was wrong to do anything of the sort. He didn't want the horse, not he. What should he do with him? he had one more than he wanted as it was. Then, paying for him seventy sovereigns! confound it, it would be very inconvenient-most inconvenient-indeed, he couldn't do it, so there was an end of it. The facilities of carrying out after-dinner transactions frequently vanish with the morning's sun. So it was with Mr. Pacey. Then he began to think how to get out of it. Should he tell Mr. Sponge candidly the state of his finances, and trust to his generosity for letting him off? Was Mr. Sponge a likely man to do it? He thought he was. But, then, would he blab? He thought he would, and that would blow him among those by whom he wished to be thought knowing, a man not to be done. Altogether he was very much perplexed: seventy pounds was a vast of money; and then there was his watch gone, too! a hundred and more altogether. He must have been drunk to do it-very drunk, he should say; and then he began to think whether he had not better treat it as an after-dinner frolic, and pretend to forget all about it. That seemed feasible.

All at once it occurred to Pacey that Mr. Spraggon was the purchaser, and that he was only a middle-man. His headache forsook him for the moment, and he felt a new man. It was clearly the case, and bit by bit he recollected all about it. How Jack had told him to challenge the horse, and he would stand to the bargain; how he had whispered him (Pacey) to name him (Jack) arbitrator; and how he had done so, and Jack had made the award. Then he began to think that the horse must be a good one, as Jack would not set too high a price on him, seeing that he was the purchaser. Then he wondered that he had put enough on to induce Sponge to sell him: that rather puzzled him. He lay a long time tossing, and proing and coning, without being able to arrive at any satisfactory solution of the matter. At last he rang his bell, and finding it was eight o'clock he got up, and proceeded to dress himself; which operation being accomplished, he sought Jack's room, to have a little confidential conversation with him on the subject, and arrange about paying Sponge for the horse, without letting out who was the purchaser.

Jack was snoring, with his great mouth wide open, and his grizzly head enveloped in a white cotton nightcap. The noise of Pacey entering awoke him.

'Well, old boy' growled he, turning over as soon as he saw who it was, 'what are you up to?'

'Oh, nothing particular,' replied Mr. Pacey, in a careless sort of tone.

'Then make yourself scarce, or I'll baptize you in a way you won't like,' growled Jack, diving under the bedclothes.

'Oh, why I just wanted to have-have half a dozen words with you about our last night's' (ha-hem-haw!) 'handicap, you know-about the horse, you know.'

'About the w-h-a-w-t?' drawled Jack, as if perfectly ignorant of what Pacey was talking about.

'About the horse, you know-about Mr. Sponge's horse, you know-that you got me to challenge for you, you know,' stammered Pacey.

'Oh, dash it, the chap's drunk,' growled Jack aloud to himself, adding to Pacey, 'you shouldn't get up so soon, man-sleep the drink off.'

Pacey stood nonplussed.

'Don't you remember, Mr. Spraggon,' at last asked he, after watching the tassel of Jack's cap peeping above the bedclothes, 'what took place last night, you know? You asked me to get you Mr. Sponge's chestnut, and you know I did, you know.'

'Hout, lad, disperse!-get out of this!' exclaimed Jack, starting his great red face above the bedclothes and squinting frightfully at Pacey.

'Well, my dear friend, but you did,' observed Pacey soothingly.

'Nonsense!' roared Jack, again ducking under.

Pacey stood agape.

'Come!' exclaimed Jack, again starting up, 'cut your stick!-be off!-make yourself scarce!-give your rags a gallop, in short!-don't be after disturbin' a gen'leman of fortin's rest in this way.'

'But, my dear Mr. Spraggon,' resumed Pacey, in the same gentle tone, 'you surely forget what you asked me to do.'

'I do,' replied Jack firmly.

'Well, but, my dear Mr. Spraggon, if you'll have the kindness to recollect-to consider-to reflect on what passed, you'll surely remember commissioning me to challenge Mr. Sponge's horse for you?'

'Me!' exclaimed Jack, bouncing up in bed, and sitting squinting furiously. 'Me!' repeated he; 'unpossible. How could I do such a thing? Why, I handicap'd him, man, for you, man?'

'You told me, for all that,' replied Mr. Pacey, with a jerk of the head.

'Oh, by Jove!' exclaimed Jack, taking his cap by the tassel, and twisting it off his head,' that won't do!-downright impeachment of one's integrity. Oh, by Jingo! that won't do!' motioning as if he was going to bounce out of bed; 'can't stand that-impeach one's integrity, you know, better take one's life, you know. Life without honour's nothin', you know. Cock Pheasant at Weybridge, six o'clock i' the mornin'!'

'Oh, I assure you, I didn't mean anything of that sort,' exclaimed Mr. Pacey, frightened at Jack's vehemence, and the way in which he now foamed at the mouth, and flourished his nightcap about. 'Oh, I assure you, I didn't mean anything of that sort,' repeated he, 'only I thought p'raps you mightn't recollect all that had passed, p'raps; and if we were to talk matters quietly over, by putting that and that together, we might assist each other and-'

'Oh, by Jove!' interrupted Jack, dashing his nightcap against the bedpost, 'too late for anything of that sort, sir-downright impeachment of one's integrity, sir-must be settled another way, sir.'

'But, I assure you, you mistake!' exclaimed Pacey.

'Rot your mistakes!' interrupted Jack; 'there's no mistake in the matter. You've reglarly impeached my integrity-blood of the Spraggons won't stand that. "Death before Dishonour!"' shouted he, at the top of his voice, flourishing his nightcap over his head, and then dashing it on to the middle of the floor.

'What's the matter?-what's the matter?-what's the matter?' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, rushing through the connecting door. 'What's the matter?' repeated he, placing himself between the bed in which Jack still sat upright, squinting his eyes inside out, and where Mr. Pacey stood.

'Oh, Mr. Sponge!' exclaimed Jack, clasping his raised hands in thankfulness, 'I'm so glad you're here!-I'm so thankful you're come! I've been insulted!-oh, goodness, how I've been insulted!' added he, throwing himself back in the bed, as if thoroughly

overcome with his feelings.

'Well, but what's the matter?-what is it all about?' asked Sponge coolly, having a pretty good guess what it was.

'Never was so insulted in my life!' ejaculated Jack, from under the bedclothes.

'Well but what is it?' repeated Sponge, appealing to Pacey, who stood as pale as ashes.

'Oh! nothing,' replied he; 'quite a mistake; Mr. Spraggon misunderstood me altogether.'

'Mistake! There's no mistake in the matter!' exclaimed Jack, appearing again on the surface like an otter; 'you gave me the lie as plain as a pikestaff.'

'Indeed!' observed Mr. Sponge, drawing in his breath and raising his eyebrows right up into the roof of his head. 'Indeed!' repeated he.

'No; nothing of the sort, I assure you,' asserted Mr. Pacey.

'Must have satisfaction!' exclaimed Jack, again diving under the bedclothes.

'Well, but let us hear how matters stand,' said Mr. Sponge coolly, as Jack's grizzly head disappeared.

'You'll be my second,' growled Jack, from under the bedclothes.

'Oh! second be hanged,' retorted Sponge. 'You've nothing to fight about; Mr. Pacey says he didn't mean anything, that you misunderstood him, and what more can a man want?'

'Just so,' replied Mr. Pacey, 'just so. I assure you I never intended the slightest imputation on Mr. Spraggon.'

'I'm sure not,' replied Mr. Sponge.

'H-u-m-p-h,' grunted Jack from under the bedclothes, like a pig in the straw. Not showing any disposition to appear on the surface again, Mr. Sponge, after standing a second or two, gave a jerk of his head to Mr. Pacey, and forthwith conducted him into his own room, shutting the door between Mr. Spraggon and him.

Mr. Sponge then inquired into the matter, kindly sympathizing with Mr. Pacey, who he was certain never meant anything disrespectful to Mr. Spraggon, who, Mr. Sponge thought, seemed rather quick at taking offence; though, doubtless, as Mr. Sponge observed, 'a man was perfectly right in being tenacious of his integrity,' a position that he illustrated by a familiar passage from Shakespeare, about stealing a purse and stealing trash, &c.

Emboldened by his kindness, Mr. Pacey then got Mr. Sponge on to talk about the horse of which he had become the unwilling possessor-the renowned chestnut, Multum-in-Parvo.

Mr. Sponge spoke like a very prudent, conscientious man; said that really it was difficult to give an opinion about a horse; that what suited one man might not suit another-that he considered Multum-in-Parvo a very good horse; indeed, that he wouldn't have parted with him if he hadn't more than he wanted, and the cream of the season had passed without his meeting with any of those casualties that rendered the retention of an extra horse or two desirable. Altogether, he gave Mr. Pacey to understand that he held him to his bargain. Having thanked Sponge for his great kindness, and got an order on the groom (Mr. Leather) to have the horse out, Mr. Pacey took his departure to the stable, and Sponge having summoned his neighbour Mr. Spraggon from his bed, the two proceeded to a passage window that commanded a view of the stable-yard.

Mr. Pacey presently went swaggering across it, cracking his jockey whip against his leg, followed by Mr. Leather, with a saddle on his shoulder and a bridle in his hand.

'He'd better keep his whip quiet,' observed Mr. Sponge, with a shake of his head, as he watched Pacey's movements.

'The beggar thinks he can ride anything,' observed Jack.

'He'll find his mistake out just now,' replied Sponge.

Presently the stable-door opened, and the horse stepped slowly and quietly out, looking blooming and bright after his previous day's gallop. Pacey, running his eyes over his clean muscular legs and finely shaped form, thought he hadn't done so far amiss after all. Leather stood at the horse's head, whistling and soothing him, feeling anything but the easy confidence that Mr. Pacey exhibited. Putting his whip under his arm, Pacey just walked up to the horse, and, placing the point of his foot in the stirrup, hoisted himself on by the mane, without deigning to take hold of the reins. Having soused himself into the saddle, he then began feeling the stirrups.

'How are they for length, sir?' asked Leather, with a hitch of his hand to his forehead.

'They'll do,' replied Pacey, in a tone of indifference, gathering up the reins, and applying his left heel to the horse's side, while he gave him a touch of the whip on the other. The horse gave a wince, and a hitch up behind; as much as to say, 'If you do that again I'll kick in right earnest,' and then walked quietly out of the yard.

'I took the fiery edge off him yesterday, I think,' observed Jack, as he watched the horse's leisurely movements.

'Not so sure of that,' replied Sponge, adding, as he left the passage-window, 'He'll be trying him in the park; let's go and see him from my window.'

Accordingly, our friends placed themselves at Sponge's bedroom window, and presently the clash of a gate announced that Sponge was right in his speculation. In another second the horse and rider appeared in sight-the horse going much at his ease, but Mr. Pacey preparing himself for action. He began working the bridle and kicking his sides, to get him into a canter; an exertion that produced quite a contrary effect, for the animal slackened his pace as Pacey's efforts increased. When, however, he took his whip from under his arm, the horse darted right up into the air, and plunging down again, with one convulsive effort shot Mr. Pacey several yards over his head, knocking his head clean through his hat. The brute then began to graze, as if nothing particular had happened. This easy indifference, however, did not extend to the neighbourhood; for no sooner was Mr. Pacey floored than there was such a rush of grooms, and helpers, and footmen, and gardeners-to say nothing of women, from all parts of the grounds, as must have made it very agreeable to him to know how he had been watched. One picked him up-another his hat-crown-a third his whip-a fourth his gloves-while Margaret, the housemaid, rushed to the rescue with her private bottle of sal volatile-and John, the under-butler, began to extricate him from the new-fashioned neckcloth he had made of his hat.

MR. PACEY TRIES MULTUM-IN-PARVO

Though our friend was a good deal shaken by the fall, the injury to his body was trifling compared to that done to his mind. Being kicked off a horse was an indignity he had never calculated upon. Moreover, it was done in such a masterly manner as clearly showed it could be repeated at pleasure. In addition to which everybody laughs at a man that is kicked off. All these considerations rushed to his mind, and made him determine not to brook the mirth of the guests as well as the servants.

Accordingly he borrowed a hat and started off home, and seeking his guardian, Major Screw, confided to him the position of affairs. The major, who was a man of the world, forthwith commenced a negotiation with Mr. Sponge, who, after a good deal of haggling, and not until the horse had shot the major over his head, too, at length, as a great favour, consented to take fifty pounds to rescind the bargain, accompanying his kindness by telling the major to advise his ward never to dabble in horseflesh after dinner; a piece of advice that we also very respectfully tender to our juvenile readers.

And Sponge shortly after sent Spraggon a five pound note as his share of the transaction.

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