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Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 12671

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

'When one door shuts another opens,' say the saucy servants; and fortune was equally favourable to our friend Mr. Sponge. Though he could not think of any one to whom he could volunteer a visit. Dame Fortune provided him with an overture from a party who wanted him! But we will introduce his new host, or rather victim.

People hunt from various motives-some for the love of the thing-some for show-some for fashion-some for health-some for appetites-some for coffee-housing-some to say they have hunted-some because others hunt.

Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey did not hunt from any of these motives, and it would puzzle a conjurer to make out why he hunted; indeed, the members of the different hunts he patronized-for he was one of the run-about, non-subscribing sort-were long in finding out. It was observed that he generally affected countries abounding in large woods, such as Stretchaway Forest, Hazelbury Chase, and Oakington Banks, into which he would dive with the greatest avidity. At first people thought he was a very keen hand, anxious to see a fox handsomely found, if he could not see him handsomely finished, against which latter luxury his figure and activity, or want of activity, were somewhat opposed. Indeed, when we say that he went by the name of the Woolpack, our readers will be able to imagine the style of man he was: long-headed, short-necked, large-girthed, dumpling-legged little fellow, who, like most fat men, made himself dangerous by compressing a most unreasonable stomach into a circumscribed coat, each particular button of which looked as if it was ready to burst off, and knock out the eye of any one who might have the temerity to ride alongside of him. He was a puffy, wheezy, sententious little fellow, who accompanied his parables with a snort into a large finely plaited shirt-frill, reaching nearly up to his nose. His hunting-costume consisted of a black coat and waistcoat, with white moleskin breeches, much cracked and darned about the knees and other parts, as nether garments made of that treacherous stuff often are. His shapeless tops, made regardless of the refinements of 'right and left,' dangled at his horse's sides like a couple of stable-buckets; and he carried his heavy iron hammer-headed whip over his shoulder like a flail. But we are drawing his portrait instead of saying why he hunted. Well, then, having married Mrs. Springwheat's sister, who was always boasting to Mrs. Crowdey what a loving, doting husband Springey was after hunting, Mrs. Crowdey had induced Crowdey to try his hand, and though soon satisfied that he hadn't the slightest taste for the sport, but being a great man for what he called gibbey-sticks, he hunted for the purpose of finding them. As we said before, he generally appeared at large woodlands, into which he would ride with the hounds, plunging through the stiffest clay, and forcing his way through the strongest thickets, making observations all the while of the hazels, and the hollies, and the blackthorns, and, we are sorry to say, sometimes of the young oaks and ashes, that he thought would fashion into curious-handled walking-sticks; and these he would return for at a future day, getting them with as large clubs as possible, which he would cut into the heads of beasts, or birds, or fishes, or men. At the time of which we are writing, he had accumulated a vast quantity-thousands; the garret at the top of his house was quite full, so were most of the closets, while the rafters in the kitchen, and cellars, and out-houses, were crowded with others in a state of déshabille. He calculated his stock at immense worth, we don't know how many thousand pounds; and as he cut, and puffed, and wheezed, and modelled, with a volume of Buffon, or the picture of some eminent man before him, he chuckled, and thought how well he was providing for his family. He had been at it so long, and argued so stoutly, that Mrs. Jogglebury Crowdey, if not quite convinced of the accuracy of his calculations, nevertheless thought it well to encourage his hunting predilections, inasmuch as it brought him in contact with people he would not otherwise meet, who, she thought, might possibly be useful to their children. Accordingly, she got him his breakfast betimes on hunting-mornings, charged his pockets with currant-buns, and saw to the mending of his moleskins when he came home, after any of those casualties that occur as well in the chase as in gibbey-stick hunting.

A stranger being a marked man in a rural country, Mr. Sponge excited more curiosity in Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey's mind than Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey did in Mr. Sponge's. In truth, Jogglebury was one of those unsportsmanlike beings, that a regular fox-hunter would think it waste of words to inquire about, and if Mr. Sponge saw him, he did not recollect him; while, on the other hand, Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey went home very full of our friend. Now, Mrs. Jogglebury Crowdey was a fine, bustling, managing woman, with a large family, for whom she exerted all her energies to procure desirable god-papas and mammas; and, no sooner did she hear of this newcomer, than she longed to appropriate him for god-papa to their youngest son.

'Jog, my dear,' said she, to her spouse, as they sat at tea; 'it would be well to look after him.'

'What for, my dear?' asked Jog, who was staring a stick, with a half-finished head of Lord Brougham for a handle, out of countenance.

'What for, Jog? Why, can't you guess?'

'No,' replied Jog doggedly.

'No!' ejaculated his spouse. 'Why, Jog, you certainly are the stupidest man in existence.'

'Not necessarily!' replied Jog, with a jerk of his head and a puff into his shirt-frill that set it all in a flutter.

'Not necessarily!' replied Mrs. Jogglebury, who was what they call a 'spirited woman,' in the same rising tone as before. 'Not necessarily! but I say necessarily-yes, necessarily. Do you hear me, Mr. Jogglebury?'

'I hear you,' replied Jogglebury scornfully, with another jerk, and another puff into the frill.

The two then sat silent for some minutes, Jogglebury still contemplating the progressing head of Lord Brougham, and recalling the eye and features that some five-and-twenty years before had nearly withered him in a breach of promise action, 'Smiler v. Jogglebury,'[3] that being our friend's name b

efore his uncle Crowdey left him his property.

Mrs. Jogglebury having an object in view, and knowing that, though Jogglebury might lead, he would not drive, availed herself of the lull to trim her sail, to try and catch him on the other tack.

'Well, Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey,' said she, in a passive tone of regret, 'I certainly thought however indifferent you might be to me' (and here she applied her handkerchief-rather a coarse one-to her eyes) 'that still you had some regard for the interests of your (sob) children'; and here the waterfalls of her beady black eyes went off in a gush.

'Well, my dear,' replied Jogglebury, softened, 'I'm (puff) sure I'm (wheeze) anxious for my (puff) children. You don't s'pose if I wasn't (puff), I'd (wheeze) labour as I (puff-wheeze) do to leave them fortins?'-alluding to his exertions in the gibbey-stick line.

'Oh, Jog, I dare say you're very good and very industrious,' sobbed Mrs. Jogglebury, 'but I sometimes (sob) think that you might apply your (sob) energies to a better (sob) purpose.'

'Indeed, my dear (puff), I don't see that (wheeze),' replied Jogglebury, mildly.

'Why, now, if you were to try and get this rich Mr. Sponge for a god-papa for Gustavus James,' continued she, drying her eyes as she came to the point, 'that, I should say, would be worthy of you.'

'But, my (puff) dear,' replied Jogglebury, 'I don't know Mr. (wheeze) Sponge, to begin with.'

'That's nothing,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury; 'he's a stranger, and you should call upon him.'

Mr. Jogglebury sat silent, still staring at Lord Brougham, thinking how he pitched into him, and how sick he was when the jury, without retiring from the box, gave five hundred pounds damages against him.

'He's a fox-hunter, too,' continued his wife; 'and you ought to be civil to him.'

'Well, but, my (puff) dear, he's as likely to (wheeze) these fifty years as any (puff, wheeze) man I ever looked at,' replied Jogglebury.

'Oh, nonsense,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury; 'there's no saying when a fox-hunter may break his neck. My word! but Mrs. Slooman tells me pretty stories of Sloo's doings with the harriers-jumping over hurdles, and everything that comes in the way, and galloping along the stony lanes as if the wind was a snail compared to his horse. I tell you. Jog, you should call on this gentleman-'

'Well,' replied Mr. Jogglebury.

'And ask him to come and stay here,' continued Mrs. Jogglebury.

'Perhaps he mightn't like it (puff),' replied Jogglebury. 'I don't know that we could (puff) entertain him as he's (wheeze) accustomed to be,' added he.

'Oh, nonsense,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury; 'we can entertain him well enough. You always say fox-hunters are not ceremonious. I tell you what, Jog, you don't think half enough of yourself. You are far too easily set aside. My word! but I know some people who would give themselves pretty airs if their husband was chairman of a board of guardians, and trustee of I don't know how many of Her Majesty's turnpike roads,' Mrs. Jog here thinking of her sister Mrs. Springwheat, who, she used to say, had married a mere farmer. 'I tell you, Jog, you're far too humble, you don't think half enough of yourself.'

'Well, but, my (puff) dear, you don't (puff) consider that all people ain't (puff) fond of (wheeze) children,' observed Jogglebury, after a pause. 'Indeed, I've (puff) observed that some (wheeze) don't like them.'

'Oh, but those will be nasty little brats, like Mrs. James Wakenshaw's, or Mrs. Tom Cheek's. But such children as ours! such charmers! such delights! there isn't a man in the county, from the Lord-Lieutenant downwards, who wouldn't be proud-who wouldn't think it a compliment-to be asked to be god-papa to such children. I tell you what, Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey, it would be far better to get them rich god-papas and god-mammas than to leave them a whole house full of sticks.'

'Well, but, my (puff) dear, the (wheeze) sticks will prove very (wheeze) hereafter,' replied Jogglebury, bridling up at the imputation on his hobby.

'I hope so,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury, in a tone of incredulity.

'Well, but, my (puff) dear, I (wheeze) you that they will be-indeed (puff), I may (wheeze) say that they (puff) are. It was only the other (puff) day that (wheeze) Patrick O'Fogo offered me five-and-twenty (wheeze) shillings for my (puff) blackthorn Daniel O'Connell, which is by no means so (puff) good as the (wheeze) wild-cherry one, or, indeed (puff), as the yew-tree one that I (wheeze) out of Spankerley Park.'

'I'd have taken it if I'd been you,' observed Mrs. Jogglebury.

'But he's (puff) worth far more,' retorted Jogglebury angrily; 'why (wheeze) Lumpleg offered me as much for Disraeli.'

'Well, I'd have taken it, too,' rejoined Mrs. Jogglebury.

'But I should have (wheeze) spoilt my (puff) set,' replied the gibbey-stick man. 'S'pose any (wheeze) body was to (puff) offer me five guineas a (puff) piece for the (puff) pick of my (puff) collection-my (puff) Wellingtons, my (wheeze) Napoleons, my (puff) Byrons, my (wheeze) Walter Scotts, my (puff) Lord Johns, d'ye think I'd take it?'

'I should hope so,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury.

'I should (puff) do no such thing,' snorted her husband into his frill. 'I should hope,' continued he, speaking slowly and solemnly, 'that a (puff) wise ministry will purchase the whole (puff) collection for a (wheeze) grateful nation, when the (wheeze)' something 'is no more (wheeze).' The concluding words being lost in the emotion of the speaker (as the reporters say).

'Well, but will you go and call on Mr. Sponge, dear?' asked Mrs. Jogglebury Crowdey, anxious as well to turn the subject as to make good her original point.

'Well, my dear, I've no objection,' replied Joggle, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye with his coat-cuff.

'That's a good soul!' exclaimed Mrs. Jogglebury soothingly. 'Go to-morrow, like a nice, sensible man.'

'Very well,' replied her now complacent spouse.

'And ask him to come here,' continued she.

'I can't (puff) ask him to (puff) come, my dear (wheeze), until he (puff-wheeze) returns my (puff) call.'

'Oh, fiddle,' replied his wife, 'you always say fox-hunters never stand upon ceremony; why should you stand upon any with him?'

Mr. Jogglebury was posed, and sat silent.

* * *

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