MoboReader> Literature > Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour

   Chapter 45 THE DISCOMFITED DIPLOMATIST

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 20185

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Well, then, as we said before, when one door shuts another opens; and just as Mr. Puffington's door was closing on poor Mr. Sponge, who should cast up but our newly introduced friend, Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey. Mr. Sponge was sitting in solitary state in the fine drawing-room, studying his old friend Mogg, calculating what he could ride from Spur Street, Leicester Square, by Short's Gardens, and across Waterloo Bridge, to the Elephant and Castle for, when the grinding of a vehicle on the gravelled ring attracted his attention. Looking out of the window, he saw a horse's head in a faded-red, silk-fronted bridle, with the letters 'J.C.' on the winkers; not 'J.C.' writhing in the elegant contortions of modern science, but 'J.C.' in the good, plain, matter-of-fact characters we have depicted above.

'That'll be the doctor,' said Mr. Sponge to himself, as he resumed his reading and calculations, amidst a peal of the door-bell, well calculated to arouse the whole house. 'He's a good un to ring!' added he, looking up and wondering when the last lingering tinkle would cease.

Before the fact was ascertained, there was a hurried tramp of feet past the drawing-room door, and presently the entrance one opened and let in-a rush of wind.

'Is Mr. Sponge at home?' demanded a slow, pompous-speaking, deep-toned voice, evidently from the vehicle.

'Yez-ur,' was the immediate answer.

'Who can that be?' exclaimed Sponge, pocketing his Mogg.

Then there was a creaking of springs and a jingling against iron steps, and presently a high-blowing, heavy-stepping body was heard crossing the entrance-hall, while an out-stripping footman announced Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey, leaving the owner to follow his name at his leisure.

Mrs. Jogglebury had insisted on Jog putting on his new black frock-a very long coat, fitting like a sack, with the well-filled pockets bagging behind, like a poor man's dinner wallet. In lieu of the shrunk and darned white moleskins, receding in apparent disgust from the dingy tops, he had got his nether man enveloped in a pair of fine cinnamon-coloured tweeds, with broad blue stripes down the sides, and shaped out over the clumsy foot.

MR. JOGGLEBURY INTRODUCING HIMSELF TO MR. SPONGE

Puff, wheeze, puff, he now came waddling and labouring along, hat in hand, hurrying after the servant; puff, wheeze, puff, and he found himself in the room. 'Your servant, sir,' said he, sticking himself out behind, and addressing Mr. Sponge, making a ground sweep with his woolly hat.

'Yours,' said Mr. Sponge, with a similar bow.

'Fine day (puff-wheeze),' observed Mr. Jogglebury, blowing into his large frill.

'It is,' replied Mr. Sponge, adding, 'won't you be seated?'

'How's Puffington?' gasped our visitor, sousing himself upon one of the rosewood chairs in a way that threatened destruction to the slender fabric.

'Oh, he's pretty middling, I should say,' replied Sponge, now making up his mind that he was addressing the doctor.

'Pretty middlin' (puff),' repeated Jogglebury, blowing into his frill; 'pretty middlin' (wheeze); I s'pose that means he's got a (puff) gumboil. My third (wheeze) girl, Margaret Henrietta has one.'

'Do you want to see him?' asked Sponge, after a pause, which seemed to indicate that his friend's conversation had come to a period, or full stop.

'No,' replied Jogglebury unconcernedly. 'No; I'll leave a (puff) card for him (wheeze),' added he, fumbling in his wallet behind for his card-case. 'My (puff) object is to pay my (wheeze) respects to you,' observed he, drawing a great carved Indian case from his pocket, and pulling off the top with a noise like the drawing of a cork.

'Much obliged for the compliment,' observed Mr. Sponge, as Jogglebury fumbled and broke his nails in attempting to get a card out.

'Do you stay long in this part of the world?' asked he, as at last he succeeded, and commenced tapping the corners of the card on the table.

'I really don't know,' replied Mr. Sponge, as the particulars of his situation flashed across his mind. Could this pudding-headed man be a chap Puffington had got to come and sound him, thought he.

Jogglebury sat silent for a time, examining his feet attentively as if to see they were pairs, and scrutinizing the bags of his cinnamon-coloured trousers.

'I was going to say (hem-cough-hem),' at length observed he, looking up, 'that's to say, I was thinking (hem-wheeze-cough-hem), or rather I should say, Mrs. Jogglebury Crowdey sent me to say-I mean to say,' continued he, stamping one of his ponderous feet against the floor as if to force out his words, 'Mrs. Jogglebury Crowdey and I would be glad-happy, that's to say (hem)-if you would arrange (hem) to (wheeze) pay us a visit (hem).'

'Most happy, I'm sure!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, jumping at the offer.

'Before you go (hem),' continued our visitor, taking up the sentence where Sponge had interrupted him; 'I (hem) live about nine miles (hem) from here (hem).'

'Are there any hounds in your neighbourhood?' asked Mr. Sponge.

'Oh yes,' replied Mr. Jogglebury slowly; 'Mr. Puffington here draws up to Greatacre Gorse within a few (puff-wheeze) miles-say, three (puff)-of my (wheeze) house; and Sir Harry Scattercash (puff) hunts all the (puff-wheeze) country below, right away down to the (puff-wheeze) sea.'

'Well, you're a devilish good fellow!' exclaimed Sponge; 'and I'll tell you what, as I'm sure you mean what you say, I'll take you at your word and go at once; and that'll give our friend here time to come round.'

'Oh, but (puff-wheeze-gasp),' started Mr. Jogglebury, the blood rushing to his great yellow, whiskerless cheeks, 'I'm not quite (gasp) sure that Mrs. (gasp) Jogglebury (puff) Crowdey would be (puff-wheeze-gasp) prepared.'

'Oh, hang preparation!' interrupted Mr. Sponge. 'I'll take you as you are. Never mind me. I hate being made company of. Just treat me like one of yourselves; toad-in-the-hole, dog-in-the-blanket, beef-steaks and oyster-sauce, rabbits and onions-anything; nothing comes amiss to me.'

So saying, and while Jogglebury sat purple and unable to articulate, Mr. Sponge applied his hand to the ivory bell-knob and sounded an imposing peal. Mr. Jogglebury sat wondering what was going to happen, and thinking what a wigging he would get from Mrs. J. if he didn't manage to shake off his friend. Above all, he recollected that they had nothing but haddocks and hashed mutton for dinner.

'Tell Leather I want him,' said Mr. Sponge, in a tone of authority, as the footman answered the summons; then, turning to his guest, as the man was leaving the room, he said, 'Won't you take something after your drive-cold meat, glass of sherry, soda-water, bottled porter-anything in that line?'

In an ordinary way, Jogglebury would have said, 'if you please,' at the sound of the words 'cold meat,' for he was a dead hand at luncheon; but the fix he was in completely took away his appetite, and he sat wheezing and thinking whether to make another effort, or to wait the arrival of Leather.

Presently Leather appeared, jean-jacketed and gaitered, smoothing his hair over his forehead, after the manner of the brotherhood.

'Leather,' said Mr. Sponge, in the same tone of importance, 'I'm going to this gentleman's'; for as yet he had not sufficiently mastered the name to be able to venture upon it in the owner's presence. 'Leather, I'm going to this gentleman's, and I want you to bring me a horse over in the morning; or stay,' said he, interrupting himself, and, turning to Jogglebury, he exclaimed, 'I dare say you could manage to put me up a couple of horses, couldn't you? and then we should be all cosy and jolly together, you know.'

''Pon my word,' gasped Jogglebury nearly choked by the proposal; ''pon my word, I can hardly (puff) say, I hardly (wheeze) know, but if you'll (puff-wheeze) allow me, I'll tell you what I'll do: I'll (puff-wheeze) home, and see what I can (puff) do in the way of entertainment for (puff-wheeze) man as well as for (puff-wheeze) horse.'

'Oh, thank you, my dear fellow!' exclaimed Sponge, seeing the intended dodge; 'thank you, my dear fellow!' repeated he; 'but that's giving you too much trouble-far too much trouble!-couldn't think of such a thing-no, indeed, I couldn't. I'll tell you what we'll do-I'll tell you what we'll do. You shall drive me over in that shandrydan-rattle-trap thing of yours'-Sponge looking out of the window, as he spoke, at the queer-shaped, jumped-together, lack-lustre-looking vehicle, with a turnover seat behind, now in charge of a pepper-and-salt attired youth, with a shabby hat, looped up by a thin silver cord to an acorn on the crown, and baggy Berlin gloves-'and I'll just see what there is in the way of stabling; and if I think it will do, then I'll give a boy sixpence or a shilling to come over to Leather, here,' jerking his head towards his factotum; 'if it won't do, why then-'

'We shall want three stalls, sir-recollect, sir, 'interrupted Leather, who did not wish to move his quarters.

'True, I forgot,' replied Sponge, with a frown at his servant's officiousness; 'however, if we can get two good stalls for the hunters,' said he, 'we'll manage the hack somehow or other.'

'Well,' replied Mr. Leather, in a tone of resignation, knowing how hopeless it was arguing with his master.

'I really think,' gasped Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey, encouraged by the apparent sympathy of the servant to make a last effort, 'I really think,' repeated he, as the hashed mutton and haddocks again flashed across his mind, 'that my (puff-wheeze) plan is the (puff) best; let me (puff-wheeze) home and see how all (puff-wheeze) things are, and then I'll write you a (puff-wheeze) line, or send a (puff-wheeze) servant over.'

'Oh no,' replied Mr. Sponge, 'oh no-that's far too much trouble. I'll just go over with you now and reconnoitre.'

'I'm afraid Mrs. (puff-wheeze) Crowdey will hardly be prepared for (puff-wheeze) visitors,' ejaculated our friend, recollecting it was washing-day, and that Mary Ann would be wanted in

the laundry.

'Don't mention it!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge; 'don't mention it. I hate to be made company of. Just give me what you have yourselves-just give me what you have yourselves. Where two can dine, three can dine, you know.'

Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey was nonplussed.

'Well, now,' said Mr. Sponge, turning again to Leather; 'just go upstairs and help me to pack up my things; and,' addressing himself to our visitor, he said, 'perhaps you'll amuse yourself with the paper-the Post-or I'll lend you my Mogg,' continued he, offering the little gilt-lettered, purple-backed volume as he spoke.

'Thank'ee,' replied Mr. Jogglebury, who was still tapping away at the card, which he had now worked very soft.

Mr. Sponge then left him with the volume in his hand, and proceeded upstairs to his bedroom.

In less than twenty minutes, the vehicle was got under way, Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey and Mr. Sponge occupying the roomy seats in front, and Bartholomew Badger, the before-mentioned tiger, and Mr. Sponge's portmanteau and carpet-bag, being in the very diminutive turnover seat behind. The carriage was followed by the straining eyes of sundry Johns and Janes, who unanimously agreed that Mr. Sponge was the meanest, shabbiest gent they had ever had in their house. Mr. Leather was, therefore, roasted in the servants' hall, where the sins of the masters are oft visited upon the servants.

But to our travellers.

Little conversation passed between our friends for the first few miles, for, in addition to the road being rough, the driving-seat was so high, and the other so low, that Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey's parables broke against Mr. Sponge's hat-crown, instead of dropping into his ear; besides which, the unwilling host's mind was a good deal occupied with wishing that there had been three haddocks instead of two, and speculating whether Mrs. Crowdey would be more pleased at the success of his mission, or put out of her way by Mr. Sponge's unexpected coming. Above all, he had marked some very promising-looking sticks-two blackthorns and a holly-to cut on his way home, and he was intent on not missing them. So sudden was the jerk that announced his coming on the first one, as nearly to throw the old family horse on his knees, and almost to break Mr. Sponge's nose against the brass edge of the cocked-up splash-board. Ere Mr. Sponge recovered his equilibrium, the whip was in the case, the reins dangling about the old screw's heels, and Mr. Crowdey scrambling up a steep bank to where a very thick boundary-hedge shut out the view of the adjacent country. Presently, chop, chop, chop, was heard, from Mr. Crowdey's pocket axe, with a tug-wheeze-puff from himself; next a crash of separation; and then the purple-faced Mr. Crowdey came bearing down the bank dragging a great blackthorn bush after him.

'What have you got there?' inquired Mr. Sponge, with surprise.

'Got! (wheeze-puff-wheeze),' replied Mr. Crowdey, pulling up short, and mopping his perspiring brow with a great claret-coloured bandana. 'Got! I've (puff-wheeze) got what I (wheeze) think will (puff) into a most elaborate and (wheeze) valuable walking-stick. This I (puff) think,' continued he, eyeing the great ball with which he had got it up, 'will (wheeze) come in most valuably (puff) for my great (puff-wheeze-gasp) national undertaking-the (puff) Kings and (wheeze) Queens of Great Britain (gasp).'

'What are they?' asked Mr. Sponge, astonished at his vehemence.

'Oh! (puff-wheeze-gasp) haven't you heard?' exclaimed Mr. Jogglebury, taking off his great woolly hat, and giving his lank, dark hair, streaked with grey, a sweep round his low forehead with the bandana. 'Oh! (puff-gasp) haven't you heard?' repeated he, getting a little more breath. 'I'm (wheeze) undertaking a series of (gasp) sticks, representing-(gasp)-immortalizing, I may say (puff), all the (wheeze) crowned heads of England (puff).'

'Indeed!' replied Mr. Sponge.

'They'll be a most valuable collection (wheeze-puff),' continued Mr. Jogglebury, still eyeing the knob. 'This,' added he, 'shall be William the Fourth.' He then commenced lopping and docking the sides, making Bartholomew Badger bury them in a sand-pit hard by, observing, in a confidential wheeze to Mr. Sponge, 'that he had once been county-courted for a similar trespass before.' The top and lop being at length disposed of, Mr. Crowdey, grasping the club-end, struck the other forcibly against the ground, exclaiming, 'There!-there's a (puff) stick! Who knows what that (puff-wheeze) stick may be worth some day?'

He then bundled into his carriage and drove on.

Two more stoppages marked their arrival at the other sticks, which being duly captured and fastened within the straps of the carriage-apron, Mr. Crowdey drove on somewhat more at ease in his mind, at all events somewhat comforted at the thoughts of having increased his wealth. He did not become talkative-indeed that was not his forte, but he puffed into his shirt-frill, and made a few observations, which, if they did not possess much originality, at all events showed that he was not asleep.

'Those are draining-tiles,' said he, after a hearty stare at a cart-load. Then about five minutes after he blew again, and said, 'I don't think (puff) that (wheeze) draining without (gasp) manuring will constitute high farming (puff).'

So he jolted and wheezed, and jerked and jagged the old quadruped's mouth, occasionally hissing between his teeth, and stamping against the bottom of the carriage, when other persuasive efforts failed to induce it to keep up the semblance of a trot. At last the ill-supported hobble died out into a walk, and Mr. Crowdey, complacently dropping his fat hand on his fat knees, seemed to resign himself to his fate.

So they crawled along the up-and-downy piece of road below Poplarton plantations, Mr. Jogglebury keeping a sharp eye upon the underwood for sticks. After passing these, they commenced the gradual ascent of Roundington Hill, when a sudden sweep of the road brought them in view of the panorama of the rich Vale of Butterflower.

'There's a snug-looking box,' observed Sponge, as he at length espied a confused jumble of gable-ends and chimney-pots rising from amidst a clump of Scotch firs and other trees, looking less like a farmhouse than anything he had seen.

'That's my house (puff); that's Puddingpote Bower (wheeze),' replied Crowdey slowly and pompously, adding an 'e' to the syllable, to make it sound better, the haddocks, hashed mutton, and all the horrors of impromptu hospitality rushing upon his mind.

Things began to look worse the nearer he got home. He didn't care to aggravate the old animal into a trot. He again wondered whether Mrs. J. would be pleased at the success of his mission, or angry at the unexpected coming.

'Where are the stables?' asked Sponge, as he scanned the in-and-out irregularities of the building.

'Stables (wheeze), stables (puff),' repeated Crowdey-thinking of his troubles-of its being washing-day, and Mary Ann, or Murry Ann, as he called her, the under-butler, being engaged; of Bartholomew Badger having the horse and fe-a-ton to clean, &c.-'stables,' repeated he for the third time; 'stables are at the back, behind, in fact; you'll see a (puff) vane-a (wheeze) fox, on the top.'

'Ah, indeed!' replied Mr. Sponge, brightening up, thinking there would be old hay and corn.

They now came to a half-Swiss, half-Gothic little cottage of a lodge, and the old horse turned instinctively into the open white gate with pea-green bands.

'Here's Mrs. Crow-Crow-Crowdey!' gasped Jogglebury, convulsively, as a tall woman, in flare-up red and yellow stunner tartan, with a swarm of little children, similarly attired, suddenly appeared at an angle of the road, the lady handling a great alpaca umbrella-looking parasol in the stand-and-deliver style.

'What's kept you?' exclaimed she, as the vehicle got within ear-shot. 'What's kept you?' repeated she, in a sharper key, holding her parasol across the road, but taking no notice of our friend Sponge, who, in truth, she took for Edgebone, the butcher. 'Oh! you've been after your sticks, have you?' added she, as her spouse drew the vehicle up alongside of her, and she caught the contents of the apron-straps.

'My dear (puff)' gasped her husband, 'I've brought Mr. (wheeze) Sponge,' said he, winking his right eye, and jerking his head over his left shoulder, looking very frightened all the time. 'Mr. (puff) Sponge, Mrs. (gasp) Jogglebury (wheeze) Crowdey,' continued he, motioning with his hand.

Finding himself in the presence of his handsome hostess, Sponge made her one of his best bows, and offered to resign his seat in the carriage to her. This she declined, alleging that she had the children with her-looking round on the grinning, gaping group, the majority of them with their mouths smeared with lollipops. Crowdey, who was not so stupid as he looked, was nettled at Sponge's attempting to fix his wife upon him at such a critical moment, and immediately retaliated with, 'P'raps (puff) you'd like to (puff) out and (wheeze) walk.'

There was no help for this, and Sponge having alighted, Mr. Crowdey said, half to Mr. Sponge and half to his fine wife, 'Then (puff-wheeze) I'll just (puff) on and get Mr. (wheeze) Sponge's room ready.' So saying, he gave the old nag a hearty jerk with the bit, and two or three longitudinal cuts with the knotty-pointed whip, and jingled away with a bevy of children shouting, hanging on, and dragging behind, amidst exclamations from Mrs. Crowdey, of 'O Anna Maria! Juliana Jane! O Frederick James, you naughty boy! you'll spoil your new shoes! Archibald John, you'll be kilt! you'll be run over to a certainty. O Jogglebury, you inhuman man!' continued she, running and brandishing her alpaca parasol, 'you'll run over your children! you'll run over your children!'

'My (puff) dear,' replied Jogglebury, looking coolly over his shoulder,' how can they be (wheeze) run over behind?'

So saying Jogglebury ground away at his leisure.

* * *

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