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   Chapter 48 HUNTING THE HOUNDS

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 11897

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Tramptinton Hill, whose summit they had just reached as the hounds broke cover, commanded an extensive view over the adjoining vale, and, as Mr. Sponge sat shading his eyes with his hands from a bright wintry sun, he thought he saw them come to a check, and afterwards bend to the left.

'I really think,' said he, addressing his still perspiring companion, 'that if you were to make for that road on the left' (pointing one out as seen between the low hedge-rows in the distance), 'we might catch them up yet.'

'Left (puff), left (wheeze)?' replied Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey, staring about with anything but the quickness that marked his movements when he dived into Hackberry Dean.

'Don't you see,' asked Sponge tartly, 'there's a road by the corn-stacks yonder?' Pointing them out.

'I see,' replied Jogglebury, blowing freely into his shirt-frill. 'I see,' repeated he, staring that way; 'but I think (puff) that's a mere (wheeze) occupation road, leading to (gasp) nowhere.'

'Never mind, let's try!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, giving the rein a jerk, to get the horse into motion again; adding, 'it's no use sitting here, you know, like a couple of fools, when the hounds are running.'

'Couple of (puff)!' growled Jog, not liking the appellation, and wishing to be home with the long holly. 'I don't see anything (wheeze) foolish in the (puff) business.'

'There they are!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, who had kept his eye on the spot he last viewed them, and now saw the horsemen titt-up-ing across a grass field in the easy way that distance makes very uneasy riding look. 'Cut along!' exclaimed he, laying into the horse's hind-quarters with his hunting-whip.

'Don't! the horse is (puff) tired,' retorted Jog angrily, holding the horse, instead of letting him go to Sponge's salute.

'Not a bit on't!' exclaimed Sponge; 'fresh as paint! Spring him a bit, that's a good fellow!' added he.

Jog didn't fancy being dictated to in this way, and just crawled along at his own pace, some six miles an hour, his dull phlegmatic face contrasting with the eager excitement of Mr. Sponge's countenance. If it had not been that Jog wanted to see that Leather did not play any tricks with his horse, he would not have gone a yard to please Mr. Sponge. Jog might, however, have been easy on that score, for Leather had just buckled the curb-rein of the horse's bridle round a tree in the plantations where they found, and the animal, being used to this sort of work, had fallen-to quite contentedly upon the grass within reach.

Bilkington Pike now appeared in view, and Jog drew in as he spied it. He knew the damage: sixpence for carriages, and he doubted that Sponge would pay it.

'It's no use going any (wheeze) farther,' observed he, drawing up into a walk, as he eyed the red-brick gable end of the toll-house, and the formidable white gate across the road.

Tom Coppers had heard the hounds, and, knowing the hurry sportsmen are often in, had taken the precaution to lock the gate.

'Just a leetle farther!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge soothingly, whose anxiety in looking after the hounds had prevented his seeing this formidable impediment. 'If you would just drive up to that farmhouse on the hill,' pointing to one about half a mile off, 'I think we should be able to decide whether it's worth going on or not.'

'Well (puff), well (wheeze), well (gasp),' pondered Jogglebury, still staring at the gate, 'if you (puff) think it's worth (wheeze) while going through the (gasp) gate,' nodding towards it as he spoke.

'Oh, never mind the gate,' replied Mr. Sponge, with an ostentatious dive into his breeches pocket, as if he was going to pay it.

He kept his hand in his pocket till he came close up to the gate, when, suddenly drawing it out, he said:

'Oh, hang it! I've left my purse at home! Never mind, drive on,' said he to his host; exclaiming to the man, 'it's Mr. Crowdey's carriage-Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey's carriage! Mr. Crowdey, the chairman of the Stir-it-stiff Poor-Law Union!'

'Sixpence!' shouted the man, following the phaeton with outstretched hand.

''Ord, hang it (puff)! I could have done that (wheeze),' growled Jogglebury, pulling up.

'You harn't got no ticket,' said Coppers, coming up, 'and ain't a-goin' to not never no meetin' o' trustees, are you?' asked he, seeing the importance of the person with whom he had to deal;-a trustee of that and other roads, and one who always availed himself of his privilege of going to the meetings toll-free.

'No,' replied Jog, pompously handing Sponge the whip and reins.

He then rose deliberately from his seat, and slowly unbuttoned each particular button of the brown great-coat he had over the tight black hunting one. He then unbuttoned the black, and next the right-hand pocket of the white moleskins, in which he carried his money. He then deliberately fished up his green-and-gold purse, a souvenir of Miss Smiler (the plaintiff in the breach-of-promise action, Smiler v. Jogglebury), and holding it with both hands before his eyes, to see which end contained the silver, he slowly drew the slide, and took out a shilling, though there were plenty of sixpences in.

This gave the man an errand into the toll-house to get one, and, by way of marking his attention, when he returned he said, in the negative way that country people put a question:

'You'll not need a ticket, will you?'

'Ticket (puff), ticket (wheeze)?' repeated Jog thoughtfully. 'Yes, I'll take a ticket,' said he.

'Oh! hang it, no,' replied Sponge; 'let's get on!' stamping against the bottom of the phaeton to set the horse a-going. 'Costs nothin',' observed Jog drily, drawing the reins, as the man again returned to the gate-house.

A considerable delay then took place; first, Pikey had to find his glasses, as he called his spectacles, to look out a one-horse-chaise ticket. Then he had to look out the tickets, when he found he had all sorts except a o

ne-horse-chaise one ready-waggons, hearses, mourning-coaches, saddle-horses, chaises and pair, mules, asses, every sort but the one that was wanted. Well, then he had to fill one up, and to do this he had, first, to find the ink-horn, and then a pen that would 'mark,' so that, altogether, a delay took place that would have been peculiarly edifying to a Kennington Common or Lambeth gate-keeper to witness.

But it was not all over yet. Having got the ticket Jog examined it minutely, to see that it was all right, then held it to his nose to smell it, and ultimately drew the purse slide, and deposited it among the sovereigns. He then restored that expensive trophy to his pocket, shook his leg, to send it down, then buttoned the pocket, and took the tight black coat with both hands and dragged it across his chest, so as to get his stomach in. He then gasped and held his breath, making himself as small as possible, while he coaxed the buttons into the holes; and that difficult process being at length accomplished, he stood still awhile to take breath after the exertion. Then he began to rebutton the easy, brown great-coat, going deliberately up the whole series, from the small button below, to keep the laps together, up to the one on the neck, or where the neck would have been if Jog had not been all stomach up to the chin. He then soused himself into his seat, and, snorting heavily through his nostrils, took the reins and whip and long holly from Mr. Sponge, and drove leisurely on. Sponge sat anathematizing his slowness.

When they reached the farmhouse on the hill the hounds were fairly in view. The huntsman was casting them, and the horsemen were grouped about as usual, while the laggers were stealing quietly up the lanes and by-roads, thinking nobody would see them. Save the whites or the greys, our friends in the 'chay' were not sufficiently near to descry the colours of the horses; but Mr. Sponge could not help thinking that he recognized the outline of the wicked chestnut, Multum-in-Parvo.

'By the powers, but if it is him,' muttered he to himself, clenching his fist and grinding his teeth as he spoke, 'but I'll-I'll-I'll make sich an example of you,' meaning of Leather.

Mr. Sponge could not exactly say what he would do, for it was by no means a settled point whether Leather or he were master. But to the hounds. If it had not been for Mr. Sponge's shabbiness at the turnpike gate, we really believe he might now have caught them up, for the road to them was down hill all the way, and the impetus of the vehicle would have sent the old screw along. That delay, however, was fatal. Before they had gone a quarter of the distance the hounds suddenly struck the scent at a hedge-row, and, with heads up and sterns down, went straight away at a pace that annihilated all hope. They were out of sight in a minute. It was clearly a case of kill.

'Well, there's a go!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, folding his arms, and throwing himself back in the phaeton in disgust. 'I think I never saw such a mess as we've made this morning.'

And he looked at the stick in the apron, and the long holly between Jog's legs, and longed to lay them about his great back.

'Well (puff), I s'pose (wheeze) we may as well (puff) home now?' observed Jog, looking about him quite unconcernedly.

'I think so,' snapped Sponge, adding, 'we've done it for once, at all events.'

The observation, however, was lost upon Jog, whose mind was occupied with thinking how to get the phaeton round without upsetting. The road was narrow at best, and the newly laid stone-heaps had encroached upon its bounds. He first tried to back between two stone-heaps, but only succeeded in running a wheel into one; he then tried the forward tack, with no better success, till Mr. Sponge seeing matters were getting worse, just jumped out, and taking the old horse by the head, executed the man?uvre that Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey first attempted. They then commenced retracing their steps, rather a long trail, even for people in an amiable mood, but a terribly long one for disagreeing ones.

Jog, to be sure, was pretty comfortable. He had got all he wanted-all he went out a-hunting for; and as he hissed and jerked the old horse along, he kept casting an eye at the contents of the apron, thinking what crowned, or great man's head, the now rough, club-headed knobs should be fashioned to represent; and indulged in speculations as to their prospective worth and possible destination. He had not the slightest doubt that a thousand sticks to each of his children would be as good as a couple of thousand pounds a-piece; sometimes he thought more, but never less. Mr. Sponge, on the other hand, brooded over the loss of the run; indulged in all sorts of speculations as to the splendour of the affair; pictured the figure he would have cut on the chestnut, and the price he might have got for him in the field. Then he thought of the bucketing Leather would give him; the way he would ram him at everything; how he would let him go with a slack rein in the deep-very likely making him over-reach-nay, there was no saying but he might stake him.

Then he thought over all the misfortunes and mishaps of the day. The unpropitious toilet; the aggravation of 'Obin and Ichard'; the delay caused by Jog being sick with his cigar; the divergence into Hackberry Dean; and the long protracted wait at the toll-bar. Reviewing all the circumstances fairly and dispassionately, Mr. Sponge came to the determination of having nothing more to do with Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey in the hunting way. These, or similar cogitations and resolutions were, at length, interrupted by their arriving at home, as denoted by an outburst of children rushing from the lodge to receive them-Gustavus James, in his nurse's arms, bringing up the rear, to whom our friend could hardly raise the semblance of a smile.

It was all that little brat! thought he.

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