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Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 18894

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

'Your good husband,' observed Mr. Sponge as he now overtook his hostess and proceeded with her towards the house, 'has insisted upon bringing me over to spend a few days till my friend Puffington recovers. He's just got the gout. I said I was 'fraid it mightn't be quite convenient to you, but Mr. Crowdey assured me you were in the habit of receivin' fox-hunters at short notice; and so I have taken him at his word, you see, and come.'

Mrs. Jogglebury, who was still out of wind from her run after the carriage, assured him that she was extremely happy to see him, though she couldn't help thinking what a noodle Jog was to bring a stranger on a washing-day. That, however, was a point she would reserve for Jog.

Just then a loud outburst from the children announced the approach of the eighth wonder of the world, in the person of Gustavus James in the nurse's arms, with a curly blue feather nodding over his nose. Mrs. Jogglebury's black eyes brightened with delight as she ran forward to meet him; and in her mind's eye she saw him inheriting a splendid mansion, with a retinue of powdered footmen in pea-green liveries and broad gold-laced hats. Great-prospectively great, at least-as had been her successes in the sponsor line with her other children, she really thought, getting Mr. Sponge for a god-papa for Gustavus James eclipsed all her other doings.

Mr. Sponge, having been liberal in his admiration of the other children, of course could not refuse unbounded applause to the evident object of a mother's regards; and, chucking the young gentleman under his double chin, asked him how he was, and said something about something he had in his 'box,' alluding to a paper of cheap comfits he had bought at Sugarchalk's, the confectioner's, sale in Oxford Street, and which he carried about for contingencies like the present. This pleased Mrs. Crowdey-looking, as she thought, as if he had come predetermined to do what she wanted. Amidst praises and stories of the prodigy, they reached the house.

If a 'hall' means a house with an entrance-'hall,' Puddingpote Bower did not aspire to be one. A visitor dived, in medias res, into the passage at once. In it stood an oak-cased family clock, and a large glass-case, with an alarming-looking, stuffed tiger-like cat, on an imitation marble slab. Underneath the slab, indeed all about the passage, were scattered children's hats and caps, hoops, tops, spades, and mutilated toys-spotted horses without heads, soldiers without arms, windmills without sails, and wheelbarrows without wheels. In a corner were a bunch of 'gibbeys' in the rough, and alongside the weather-glass hung Jog's formidable flail of a hunting-whip.

Mr. Sponge found his portmanteau standing bolt upright in the passage, with the bag alongside of it, just as they had been chucked out of the phaeton by Bartholomew Badger, who, having got orders to put the horse right, and then to put himself right to wait at dinner, Mr. Jogglebury proceeded to vociferate:

'Murry Ann!-Murry Ann!' in such a way that Mary Ann thought either that the cat had got young Crowdey, or the house was on fire. 'Oh! Murry Ann!' exclaimed Mr. Jogglebury, as she came darting into the passage from the back settlements, up to the elbows in soap-suds; 'I want you to (puff) upstairs with me, and help to get my (wheeze) gibbey-sticks out of the best room; there's a (puff) gentleman coming to (wheeze) here.'

'Oh, indeed, sir,' replied Mary Ann, smiling, and dropping down her sleeves-glad to find it was no worse.

They then proceeded upstairs together.

All the gibbey-sticks were bundled out, both the finished ones, that were varnished and laid away carefully in the wardrobe, and those that were undergoing surgical treatment, in the way of twistings, and bendings, and tyings in the closets. As they routed them out of hole and corner, Jogglebury kept up a sort of running recommendation to mercy, mingled with an inquiry into the state of the household affairs.

'Now (puff), Murry Ann!' exclaimed he; 'take care you don't scratch that (puff) Franky Burdett,' handing her a highly varnished oak stick, with the head of Sir Francis for a handle; 'and how many (gasp) haddocks d'ye say there are in the house?'

'Three, sir,' replied Mary Ann.

'Three!' repeated he, with an emphasis. 'I thought your (gasp) missus told me there were but (puff) two; and, Murry Ann, you must put the new (puff) quilt on the (gasp) bed, and (puff) just look under it (gasp) and you'll find the (puff) old Truro rolled up in a dirty (puff) pocket hankercher; and, Murry Ann, d'ye think the new (wheeze) purtaters came that I bought of (puff) Billy Bloxom? If so, you'd better (puff) some for dinner, and get the best (wheeze) decanters out; and, Murry Ann, there are two gibbeys on the (puff) surbase at the back of the bed, which you may as well (puff) away. Ah! here he is,' added Mr. Jogglebury, as Mr. Sponge's voice rose now from the passage into the room above.

Things now looked pretty promising. Mr. Sponge's attentions to the children generally, and to Gustavus James in particular, coupled with his free-and-easy mode of introducing himself, made Mrs. Crowdey feel far more at her ease with regard to entertaining him than she would have done if her neighbour, Mr. Makepeace, or the Rev. Mr. Facey himself, had dropped in to take 'pot luck,' as they called it. With either of these she would have wished to appear as if their every-day form was more in accordance with their company style, whereas Jog and she wanted to get something out of Mr. Sponge, instead of electrifying him with their grandeur. That Gustavus James was destined for greatness she had not the least doubt. She began to think whether it might not be advisable to call him Gustavus James Sponge. Jog, too, was comforted at hearing there were three haddocks, for though hospitably inclined, he did not at all like the idea of being on short commons himself. He had sufficient confidence in Mrs. Jogglebury's management-especially as the guest was of her own seeking-to know that she would make up a tolerable dinner.

Nor was he out of his reckoning, for at half-past five Bartholomew announced dinner, when in sailed Mrs. Crowdey fresh from the composition of it and from the becoming revision of her own dress. Instead of the loose, flowing, gipsified, stunner tartan of the morning, she was attired in a close-fitting French grey silk, showing as well the fulness and whiteness of her exquisite bust, as the beautiful formation of her arms. Her raven hair was ably parted and flattened on either side of her well-shaped head. Sponge felt proud of the honour of having such a fine creature on his arm, and kicked about in his tights more than usual.

The dinner, though it might show symptoms of hurry, was yet plentiful and good of its kind; and if Bartholomew had not been always getting in Murry Ann's way, would have been well set on and served. Jog quaffed quantities of foaming bottled porter during the progress of it, and threw himself back in his chair at the end, as if thoroughly overcome with his exertions. Scarcely were the wine and dessert set on, ere a violent outbreak in the nursery caused Mrs. Crowdey to hurry away, leaving Mr. Sponge to enjoy the company of her husband.

'You'll drink (puff) fox-hunting, I s'pose,' observed Jog after a pause, helping himself to a bumper of port and passing the bottle to Sponge.

'With all my heart,' replied our hero, filling up.

'Fine (puff, wheeze) amusement,' observed Mr. Crowdey, with a yawn after another pause, and beating the devil's tattoo upon the table to keep himself awake.

'Very,' replied Mr. Sponge, wondering how such a thick-winded chap as Jog managed to partake of it.

'Fine (puff, wheeze) appetizer,' observed Jogglebury, after another pause.

'It is,' replied Mr. Sponge.

Presently Jog began to snore, and as the increasing melody of his nose gave little hopes of returning animation, Mr. Sponge had recourse to his old friend Mogg and amidst speculations as to time and distances, managed to finish the port. We will now pass to the next morning.

Whatever deficiency there might be at dinner was amply atoned for at breakfast, which was both good and abundant; bread and cake of all sorts, eggs, muffins, toast, honey, jellies, and preserves without end. On the side-table was a dish of hot kidneys and a magnificent red home-fed ham.

But a greater treat far, as Mrs. Jogglebury thought, was in the guests set around. There were arranged all her tulips in succession, beginning with that greatest of all wonders, Gustavus James, and running on with Anna Maria, Frederick John, Juliana Jane, Margaret Henrietta, Sarah Amelia, down to Peter William, the heir, who sat next his pa. These formed a close line on the side of the table opposite the fire, that side being left for Mr. Sponge. All the children had clean pinafores on, and their hairs plastered according to nursery regulation. Mr. Sponge's appearance was a signal for silence, and they all sat staring at him in mute astonishment. Baby, Gustavus James, did more; for after reconnoitring him through a sort of lattice window formed of his fingers, he whined out, 'Who's that ogl-e-y man, ma?' amidst the titter of the rest of the line.

'Hush! my dear,' exclaimed Mrs. Crowdey, hoping Mr. Sponge hadn't heard. But Gustavus James was not to be put down, and he renewed the char

ge as his mamma began pouring out the tea.

'Send that ogl-e-y man away, ma!' whined he, in a louder tone, at which all the children burst out a-laughing.

'Baby (puff), Gustavus! (wheeze),' exclaimed Jog, knocking with the handle of his knife against the table, and frowning at the prodigy.

'Well, pa, he is a ogl-e-y man,' replied the child, amid the ill-suppressed laughter of the rest.

'Ah, but what have I got!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, producing a gaudily done-up paper of comfits from his pocket, opening and distributing the unwholesome contents along the line, stopping the orator's mouth first with a great, red-daubed, almond comfit.

Breakfast was then proceeded with without further difficulty. As it drew to a close, and Mr. Sponge began nibbling at the sweets instead of continuing his attack on the solids, Mrs. Jogglebury began eyeing and telegraphing her husband.

'Jog, my dear,' said she, looking significantly at him, and then at the egg-stand, which still contained three eggs.

'Well, my dear,' replied Jog, with a vacant stare, pretending not to understand.

'You'd better eat them,' said she, looking again at the eggs.

'I've (puff) breakfasted, my (wheeze) dear,' replied Jog pompously, wiping his mouth on his claret-coloured bandana.

'They'll be wasted if you don't,' replied Mrs. Jog.

'Well, but they'll be wasted if I eat them without (wheeze) wanting them,' rejoined he.

'Nonsense, Jog, you always say that,' retorted his wife. 'Nonsense (puff), nonsense (wheeze), I say they will.'

'I say they won't!' replied Mrs. Jog; 'now will they, Mr. Sponge?' continued she, appealing to our friend.

'Why, no, not so much as if they went out,' replied our friend, thinking Mrs. Jog was the one to side with.

'Then you'd better (puff, wheeze, gasp) eat them between you,' replied Jog, getting up and strutting out of the room.

Presently he appeared in front of the house, crowned in a pea-green wide-awake, with a half-finished gibbey in his hand; and as Mr. Sponge did not want to offend him, and moreover wanted to get his horses billeted on him, he presently made an excuse for joining him.

Although his horses were standing 'free gratis,' as he called it, at Mr. Puffington's, and though he would have thought nothing of making Mr. Leather come over with one each hunting morning, still he felt that if the hounds were much on the other side of Puddingpote Bower, it would not be so convenient as having them there. Despite the egg controversy, he thought a judicious application of soft sawder might accomplish what he wanted. At all events, he would try.

Jog had brought himself short up, and was standing glowering with his hands in his coat-pockets, as if he had never seen the place before.

'Pretty look-out you have here, Mr. Jogglebury,' observed Mr. Sponge, joining him.

'Very,' replied Jog, still cogitating the egg question, and thinking he wouldn't have so many boiled the next day.

'All yours?' asked Sponge, waving his hand as he spoke.

'My (puff) ter-ri-tory goes up to those (wheeze) firs in the grass-field on the hill,' replied Jogglebury, pompously.

'Indeed,' said Mr. Sponge, 'they are fine trees'; thinking what a finish they would make for a steeple-chase.

'My (puff) uncle, Crowdey, planted those (wheeze) trees,' observed Jog. 'I observe,' added he, 'that it is easier to cut down a (puff) tree than to make it (wheeze) again.' 'I believe you're right,' replied Mr. Sponge; 'that idea has struck me very often.'

'Has it?' replied Jog, puffing voluminously into his frill.

They then advanced a few paces, and, leaning on the iron hurdles, commenced staring at the cows.

'Where are the stables?' at last asked Sponge, seeing no inclination to move on the part of his host.

'Stables (wheeze)-stables (puff),' replied Jogglebury, recollecting Sponge's previous day's proposal-'stables (wheeze) are behind,' said he, 'at the back there (puff); nothin' to see at them (wheeze).'

'There'll be the horse you drove yesterday; won't you go to see how he is?' asked Mr. Sponge.

'Oh, sure to be well (puff); never nothing the matter with him (wheeze),' replied Jogglebury.

'May as well see,' rejoined Mr. Sponge, turning up a narrow walk that seemed to lead to the back.

Jog followed doggedly. He had a good deal of John Bull in him, and did not fancy being taken possession of in that sort of way; and thought, moreover, that Mr. Sponge had not behaved very well in the matter of the egg controversy.

The stables certainly were nothing to boast of. They were in an old rubble-stone, red-tiled building, without even the delicacy of a ceiling. Nevertheless, there was plenty of room even after Jogglebury had cut off one end for a cow-house.

'Why, you might hunt the country with all this stabling,' observed Mr. Sponge, as he entered the low door. 'One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Nine stalls, I declare,' added he, after counting them.

'My (puff) uncle used to (wheeze) a good deal of his own (puff) land,' replied Jogglebury.

'Ah, well, I'll tell you what: these stables will be much better for being occupied,' observed Mr. Sponge. 'And I'll tell you what I'll do for you.'

'But they are occupied!' gasped Jogglebury, convulsively.

'Only half,' replied Mr. Sponge; 'or a quarter, I may say-not even that, indeed. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll have my horses over here, and you shall find them in straw in return for the manure, and just charge me for hay and corn at market price, you know. That'll make it all square and fair, and no obligation, you know. I hate obligations,' added he, eyeing Jog's disconcerted face.

'Oh, but (puff, wheeze, gasp)-' exclaimed Jogglebury, reddening up-'I don't (puff) know that I can (gasp) that. I mean (puff) that this (wheeze) stable is all the (gasp) 'commodation I have; and if we had (puff) company, or (gasp) anything of that sort, I don't know where we should (wheeze) their horses,' continued he. 'Besides, I don't (puff, wheeze) know about the market price of (gasp) corn. My (wheeze) tenant, Tom Hayrick, at the (puff) farm on the (wheeze) hill yonder, supplies me with the (puff) quantity I (wheeze) want, and we just (puff, wheeze, gasp) settle once a (puff) half-year, or so.'

'Ah, I see,' replied Mr. Sponge; 'you mean to say you wouldn't know how to strike the average so as to say what I ought to pay.'

'Just so,' rejoined Mr. Jogglebury, jumping at the idea.

'Ah, well,' said Mr. Sponge, in a tone of indifference; 'it's no great odds-it's no great odds-more the name of the thing than anything else; one likes to be independent, you know-one likes to be independent; but as I shan't be with you long, I'll just put up with it for once-I'll just put up with it for once-and let you find me-and let you find me.' So saying, he walked away, leaving Jogglebury petrified at his impudence.

'That husband of yours is a monstrous good fellow,' observed Mr. Sponge to Mrs. Jogglebury, who he now met coming out with her tail: 'he will insist on my having my horses over here-most liberal, handsome thing of him, I'm sure; and that reminds me, can you manage to put up my servant?'

'I dare say we can,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury thoughtfully. 'He's not a very fine gentleman, is he?' asked she, knowing that servants were often more difficult to please than their masters. 'Oh, not at all,' replied Sponge; 'not at all-wouldn't suit me if he was-wouldn't suit me if he was.'

Just then up waddled Jogglebury, puffing and wheezing like a stranded grampus; the idea having just struck him that he might get off on the plea of not having room for the servant.

'It's very unfortunate (wheeze)-that's to say, it never occurred to me (puff), but I quite forgot (gasp) that we haven't (wheeze) room for your (puff) servant.'

'Ah, you are a good fellow,' replied Mr. Sponge-'a devilish good fellow. I was just telling Mrs. Jogglebury-wasn't I, Mrs. Jogglebury?-what an excellent fellow you are, and how kind you'd been about the horses and corn, and all that sort of thing, when it occurred to me that it mightn't be convenient, p'raps to put up a servant; but your wife assures me that it will; so that settles the matter, you know-that settles the matter and I'll now send for the horses forthwith.'

Jog was utterly disconcerted, and didn't know which way to turn for an excuse. Mrs. Jogglebury, though she would rather have been without the establishment, did not like to peril Gustavus James's prospects by appearing displeased; so she smilingly said she would see and do what they could.

Mr. Sponge then procured a messenger to take a note to Hanby House, for Mr. Leather, and having written it, amused himself for a time with his cigars and his Mogg in his bedroom, and then turned out to see the stable got ready, and pick up any information about the hounds, or anything else, from anybody he could lay hold of. As luck would have it, he fell in with a groom travelling a horse to hunt with Sir Harry Scattercash's hounds, which, he said, met at Snobston Green, some eight or nine miles off, the next day, and whither Mr. Sponge decided on going.

Mr. Jogglebury's equanimity returning at dinner time, Mr. Sponge was persuasive enough to induce him to accompany him, and it was finally arranged that Leather should go on with the horses, and Jog should drive Sponge to cover in the phe-a-ton.

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