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   Chapter 43 ANOTHER SICK HOST

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 11760

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


hen Mr. Puffington read Messrs. Sponge and Spraggon's account of the run with his hounds, in the Swillingford paper, he was perfectly horrified; words cannot describe the disgust that he felt. It came upon him quite by surprise, for he expected to be immortalized in some paper or work of general circulation, in which the Lords Loosefish, Sir Toms, and Sir Harrys of former days might recognize the spirited doings of their early friend. He wanted the superiority of his establishment, the excellence of his horses, the stoutness of his hounds, and the polish of his field, proclaimed, with perhaps a quiet cut at the Flat-Hat gentry; instead of which he had a mixed medley sort of a mess, whose humdrum monotony was only relieved by the absurdities and errors with which it was crammed. At first, Mr. Puffington could not make out what it meant, whether it was a hoax for the purpose of turning run-writing into ridicule, or it had suffered mutilation at the hands of the printer. Calling a good scent an exquisite perfume looked suspicious of a hoax, but then seasonal fox for seasoned fox, scorning to cry for scoring to cry, bay fox for bag fox, grunting for hunting, thrashing for trashing, rests for casts, and other absurdities, looked more like accident than design.

These are the sort of errors that non-sporting compositors might easily make, one term being as much like English to them as the other, though amazingly different to the eye or the ear of a sportsman. Mr. Puffington was thoroughly disgusted. He was sick of hounds and horses, and Bragg, and hay and corn, and kennels and meal, and saddles and bridles; and now, this absurdity seemed to cap the whole thing. He was ill-prepared for such a shock. The exertion of successive dinner-giving-above all, of bachelor dinner-giving-and that too in the country, where men sit, talk, talk, talking, sip, sip, sipping, and 'just another bottle-ing'; more, we believe, from want of something else to do than from any natural inclination to exceed; the exertion, we say, of such parties had completely unstrung our fat friend, and ill-prepared his nerves for such a shock. Being a great man for his little comforts, he always breakfasted in his dressing-room, which he had fitted up in the most luxurious style, and where he had his newspapers (most carefully ironed out) laid with his letters against he came in. It was late on the morning following our last chapter ere he thought he had got rid of as much of his winey headache as fitful sleep would carry off, and enveloped himself in a blue and yellow-flowered silk dressing-gown and Turkish slippers. He looked at his letters, and knowing their outsides, left them for future perusal, and sousing himself into the depths of a many-cushioned easy-chair, proceeded to spell his Morning Post-Tattersall's advertisements-'Grosjean's Pale-tots'-'Mr. Albert Smith'-'Coals, best Stewart Hetton or Lambton's'-'Police Intelligence,' and such other light reading as does not require any great effort to connect or comprehend.

Then came his breakfast, for which he had very little appetite, though he relished his coffee, and also an anchovy. While dawdling over these, he heard sundry wheels grinding about below the window, and the bumping and thumping of boxes, indicative of 'goings away,' for which he couldn't say he felt sorry. He couldn't even be at the trouble of getting up and going to the window to see who it was that was off, so weary and head-achy was he. He rolled and lolled in his chair, now taking a sip of coffee, now a bite of anchovy toast, now considering whether he durst venture on an egg, and again having recourse to the Post. At last, having exhausted all the light reading in it, and scanned through the list of hunting appointments, he took up the Swillingford paper to see that they had got his 'meets' right for the next week. How astonished he was to find the previous day's run staring him in the face, headed 'SPLENDID RUN WITH MR. PUFFINGTON'S HOUNDS,' in the imposing type here displayed. 'Well, that's quick work, however,' said he, casting his eyes up to the ceiling in astonishment, and thinking how unlike it was the Swillingford papers, which were always a week, but generally a fortnight behindhand with information. 'Splendid run with Mr. Puffington's hounds,' read he again, wondering who had done it: Bardolph, the innkeeper; Allsop, the cabinet-maker; Tuggins, the doctor, were all out; so was Weatherhog, the butcher. Which of them could it be? Grimes, the editor, wasn't there; indeed, he couldn't ride, and the country was not adapted for a gig.

He then began to read it, and the further he got the more he was disgusted. At last, when he came to the 'seasonal fox, which some thought was a bay one,' his indignation knew no bounds, and crumpling the paper up in a heap, he threw it from him in disgust. Just then in came Plummey, the butler. Plummey saw at a glance what had happened; for Mr. Bragg, and the whips, and the grooms, and the helpers, and the feeder-the whole hunting establishment-were up in arms at the burlesque, and vowing vengeance against the author of it. Mr. Spraggon, on seeing what a mess had been made of his labours, availed himself of the offer of a seat in Captain Guano's dog-cart, and was clear of the premises; while Mr. Sponge determined to profit by Spraggon's absence, and lay the blame on him.

'Oh, Plummey!' exclaimed Mr. Puffington, as his servant entered, 'I'm deuced unwell-quite knocked up, in short,' clapping his hand on his forehead, adding, 'I shall not be able to dine downstairs to-day.'

''Deed, sir,' replied Mr. Plummey, in a tone of commiseration-''deed, sir; sorry to hear that, sir.'

'Are they all gone?' asked Mr. Puffington, dropping his boiled-gooseberry-looking eyes upon the fine-flowered carpet.

'All gone, sir-all gone,' replied Mr. Plummey; 'a

ll except Mr. Sponge.'

'Oh, he's still here!' replied Mr. Puffington, shuddering with disgust at the recollection of the newspaper run. 'Is he going to-day?' asked he.

'No, sir-I dare say not, sir,' replied Mr. Plummey. 'His man-his groom-his-whatever he calls him, expects they'll be staying some time.'

'The deuce!' exclaimed Mr. Puffington, whose hospitality, like Jawleyford's, was greater in imagination than in reality.

'Shall I take these things away?' asked Plummey, after a pause.

'Couldn't you manage to get him to go?' asked Mr. Puffington, still harping on his remaining guest.

'Don't know, sir. I could try, sir-believe he's bad to move, sir,' replied Plummey, with a grin.

'Is he really?' replied Mr. Puffington, alarmed lest Sponge should fasten himself upon him for good.

'They say so,' replied Mr. Plummey, 'but I don't speak from any personal knowledge, for I know nothing of the man.'

'Well,' said Mr. Puffington, amused at his servant's exclusiveness, 'I wish you would try to get rid of him, bow him out civilly, you know-say I'm unwell-very unwell-deuced unwell-ordered to keep quiet-say it as if from yourself, you know-it mustn't appear as if it came from me, you know.'

'In course not,' replied Mr. Plummey, 'in course not,' adding, 'I'll do my best, sir-I'll do my best.' So saying, he took up the breakfast things and departed.

Mr. Sponge regaling himself with a cigar in the stables and shrubberies, it was some time before Mr. Plummey had an opportunity of trying his diplomacy upon him, it being contrary to Mr. Plummey's custom to go out of doors after any one. At last he saw Sponge coming lounging along the terrace-walk, looking like a man thoroughly disengaged, and, timing himself properly, encountered him in the entrance.

'Beg pardon, sir,' said Mr. Plummey, 'but cook, sir, wishes to know, sir, if you dine here to-day, sir?'

'Of course,' replied Mr. Sponge, 'where would you have me dine?'

'Oh, I don't know, sir-only Mr. Puffington, sir, is very poorly, sir, and I thought p'raps you'd be dining out.

'Poorly is he?' replied Mr. Sponge; 'sorry to hear that-what's the matter with him?'

'Bad bilious attack, I think,' replied Plummey-'very subject to them, at this time of year particklarly; was laid up, at least confined to his room, three weeks last year of a similar attack.'

'Indeed!' replied Mr. Sponge, not relishing the information.

'Then I must say you'll dine here?' said the butler.

'Yes; I must have my dinner, of course,' replied Mr. Sponge. 'I'm not ill, you know. No occasion to make a great spread for me, you know; but still I must have some victuals, you know.'

'Certainly, sir, certainly,' replied Mr. Plummey.

'I couldn't think of leaving Mr. Puffington when he's poorly,' observed Mr. Sponge, half to himself and half to the butler.

'Oh, master-that's to say, Mr. Puffington-always does best when left alone,' observed Mr. Plummey, catching at the sentence: 'indeed the medical men recommend perfect quiet and moderate living as the best thing.'

'Do they?' replied Sponge, taking out another cigar. Mr. Plummey then withdrew, and presently went upstairs to report progress, or rather want of progress, to the gentleman whom he sometimes condescended to call 'master.'

Mr. Puffington had been taking another spell at the paper, and we need hardly say that the more he read of the run the less he liked it.

'Ah, that's Mr. Sponge's handiwork,' observed Plummey, as with a sneer of disgust Mr. Puffington threw the paper from him as Plummey entered the room.

'How do you know?' asked Mr. Puffington.

'Saw it, sir-saw it in the letter-bag going to the post.'

'Indeed!' replied Mr. Puffington.

'Mr. Spraggon and he did it after they came in from hunting.'

'I thought as much,' replied Mr. Puffington, in disgust.

Mr. Plummey then related how unsuccessful had been his attempts to get rid of the now most unwelcome guest. Mr. Puffington listened with attention, determined to get rid of him somehow or other. Plummey was instructed to ply Sponge well with hints, all of which, however, Mr. Sponge skilfully parried. So, at last, Mr. Puffington scrawled a miserable-looking note, explaining how very ill he was, how he regretted being deprived of Mr. Sponge's agreeable society, but hoping that it would suit Mr. Sponge to return as soon as he was better and pay the remainder of his visit-a pretty intelligible notice to quit, and one which even the cool Mr. Sponge was rather at a loss how to parry.

He did not like the aspect of affairs. In addition to having to spend the evening by himself, the cook sent him a very moderate dinner, smoked soup, sodden fish, scraggy cutlets, and sour pudding. Mr. Plummey, too, seemed to have put all the company bottle-ends together for him. This would not do. If Sponge could have satisfied himself that his host would not be better in a day or two, he would have thought seriously of leaving; but as he could not bring himself to think that he would not, and, moreover, had no place to go to, had it not been for the concluding portion of Mr. Puffington's note, he would have made an effort to stay. That, however, put it rather out of his power, especially as it was done so politely, and hinted at a renewal of the visit. Mr. Sponge spent the evening in cogitating what he should do-thinking what sportsmen had held out the hand of good-fellowship, and hinted at hoping to have the pleasure of seeing him. Fyle, Fossick, Blossomnose, Capon, Dribble, Hook, and others, were all run through his mind, without his thinking it prudent to attempt to fix a volunteer visit upon any of them. Many people he knew could pen polite excuses, who yet could not hit them off at the moment, especially in that great arena of hospitality-the hunting-field. He went to bed very much perplexed.

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