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Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 25808

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

There are pleasanter situations than being left alone with twenty couple of even the best-mannered fox-hounds; far pleasanter situations than being left alone with such a tearing, frantic lot as composed Sir Harry Scattercash's pack. Sportsmen are so used (with some hounds at least) to see foxes 'in hand' that they never think there is any difficulty in getting them there; and it is only a single-handed combat with the pack that shows them that the hound does not bring the fox up in his mouth like a retriever. A tyro's first tête-à-tête with a half-killed fox, with the baying pack circling round, must leave as pleasing a souvenir on the memory as Mr. Gordon Cumming would derive from his first interview with a lion.

Our friend Mr. Sponge was now engaged with a game of 'pull devil, pull baker' with the hounds for the fox, the difficulty of his situation being heightened by having to contend with the impetuous temper of a high-couraged, dangerous horse. To be sure, the gallant Hercules was a good deal subdued by the distance and severity of the pace, but there are few horses that get to the end of a run that have not sufficient kick left in them to do mischief to hounds, especially when raised or frightened by the smell of blood; nevertheless, there was no help for it. Mr. Sponge knew that unless he carried off some trophy, it would never be believed he had killed the fox. Considering all this, and also that there was no one to tell what damage he did, he just rode slap into the middle of the pack, as Marksman, Furious, Thunderer, and Bountiful were in the act of despatching the fox. Singwell and Saladin (puppies) having been sent away howling, the one bit through the jowl, the other through the foot.

'Ah! leave him-leave him-leave him!' screeched Mr. Sponge, trampling over Warrior and Tempest, the brown horse lashing out furiously at Melody and Lapwing. 'Ah, leave him! leave him!' repeated he, throwing himself off his horse by the fox, and clearing a circle with his whip, aided by the hoofs of the animal. There lay the fox before him killed, but as yet little broken by the pack. He was a noble fellow; bright and brown, in the full vigour of life and condition, with a gameness, even in death, that no other animal shows. Mr. Sponge put his foot on the body, and quickly whipped off his brush. Before he had time to pocket it, the repulsed pack broke in upon him and carried off the carcass.

'Ah! dash ye, you may have that,' said he, cutting at them with his whip as they clustered upon it like a swarm of bees. They had not had a wild fox for five weeks.

'Who-hoop!' cried Mr. Sponge, in the hopes of attracting some of the field. 'Who-hoop!' repeated he, as loud as he could halloo. 'Where can they all be, I wonder?' said he, looking around; and echo answered-where?

The hounds had now crunched their fox, or as much of him as they wanted. Old Marksman ran about with his head, and Warrior with a haunch.

'Drop it, you old beggar!' cried Mr. Sponge, cutting at Marksman with his whip, and Mr. Sponge being too near to make a trial of speed prudent, the old dog did as he was bid, and slunk away.

Our friend then appended this proud trophy to his saddle-flap by a piece of whipcord, and, mounting the now tractable Hercules, began to cast about in search of a landmark. Like most down countries, this one was somewhat deceptive; there were plenty of landmarks, but they were all the same sort-clumps of trees on hill-tops, and plantations on hill-sides, but nothing of a distinguishing character, nothing that a stranger could say, 'I remember seeing that as I came'; or, 'I remember passing that in the run.' The landscape seemed all alike: north, south, east, and west, equally indifferent.

'Curse the thing,' said Mr. Sponge, adjusting himself in his saddle, and looking about; 'I haven't the slightest idea where I am. I'll blow the horn, and see if that will bring any one.'

So saying, he applied the horn to his lips, and blew a keen, shrill blast, that spread over the surrounding country, and was echoed back by the distant hills. A few lost hounds cast up from various quarters, in the unexpected way that hounds do come to a horn. Among them were a few branded with S,[4] who did not at all set off the beauty of the rest.

''Ord rot you, you belong to that old ruffian, do you?' said Mr. Sponge, riding and cutting at one with his whip, exclaiming, 'Get away to him, ye beggar, or I'll tuck you up short.'

He now, for the first time, saw them together in anything like numbers, and was struck with the queerness and inequality of the whole. They were of all sorts and sizes, from the solemn towering calf-like fox-hound down to the little wriggling harrier. They seemed, too, to be troubled with various complaints and infirmities. Some had the mange; some had blear eyes; some had but one; many were out at the elbows; and not a few down at the toes. However, they had killed a fox, and 'Handsome is that handsome does,' said Mr. Sponge, as, with his horse surrounded by them, he moved on in quest of his way home.

At first, he thought to retrace his steps by the marks of his horse's hoofs, and succeeded in getting back to the dean, where Sir Harry's hounds changed foxes with Lord Scamperdale's; but he got confused with the imprints of the other horses, and very soon had to trust entirely to chance. Chance, we are sorry to say, did not befriend him; for, after wandering over the wide-extending downs, he came upon the little hamlet of Tinkler Hatch, and was informed that he had been riding in a semicircle.

He there got some gruel for his horse, and, with day closing in, now set off, as directed, on the Ribchester road, with the assurance that he 'couldn't miss his way.' Some of the hounds here declined following him any farther, and slunk into cottages and outhouses as they passed along. Mr. Sponge, however, did not care for their company.

Having travelled musingly along two or three miles of road, now thinking over the glorious run-now of the gallant way in which Hercules had carried him-now of the pity it was that there was nobody there to see-now of the encounter with Lord Scamperdale, just as he passed a well-filled stackyard, that had shut out the view of a flaming red brick house with a pea-green door and windows, an outburst of 'hoo-rays!' followed by one cheer more-'hoo-ray!' made the remaining wild hounds prick up their ears, and our friend rein in his horse, to hear what was 'up.' A bright fire in a room on the right of the door overpowered the clouds of tobacco-smoke with which the room was enveloped, and revealed sundry scarlet coats in the full glow of joyous hilarity. It was Sir Harry and friends recruiting at Fanner Peastraw's after their exertions; for, though they could not make much of hunting, they were always ready to drink. They were having a rare set-to-rashers of bacon, wedges of cheese, with oceans of malt-liquor. It was the appearance of a magnificent cold round of home-fed beef, red with saltpetre and flaky with white fat, borne on high by their host, that elicited the applause and the one cheer more that broke on Mr. Sponge's ear as he was passing-applause that was renewed as they caught a glimpse of his red coat, not on account of his safety or that of the hounds, but simply because being in the cheering mood, they were ready to cheer anything.

'Hil-loo! there's Mr. What's-his-name!' exclaimed brother Bob Spangles, as he caught view of Sponge and the hounds passing the window.

'So there is!' roared another; 'Hoo-ray!'

'Hoo-ray!' yelled two or three more.

'Stop him!' cried another.

'Call him in,' roared Sir Harry, 'and let's liquor him.'

'Hilloo! Mister What's-your-name!' exclaimed the other Spangles, throwing up the window. 'Hilloo, won't you come in and have some refreshment?'

'Who's there?' asked Mr. Sponge, reining in the brown.

'Oh, we're all here,' shouted brother Bob Spangles, holding up a tumbler of hot brandy-and-water; 'we're all here-Sir Harry and all,' added he.

'But what shall I do with the hounds?' asked Mr. Sponge, looking down upon the confused pack, now crowding about his horse's head.

'Oh, let the beef-eaters-the scene-shifters-I meant to say the servants-those fellows, you know, in scarlet and black caps, look after them,' replied brother Bob Spangles.

'But there are none of them here,' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, looking back on the deserted road.

'None of them here!' hiccuped Sir Harry, who had now got reeled to the window. 'None of them here,' repeated he, staring vacantly at the uneven pack. 'Oh (hiccup) I'll tell you what do-(hiccup) them into a barn or a stable, or a (hiccup) of any sort, and we'll send for them when we want to (hiccup) again.' 'Then just you call them to you,' replied Sponge, thinking they would go to their master. 'Just you call them,' repeated he, 'and I'll put them to you.'

'(Hiccup) call to them?' replied Harry. 'I can't (hiccup).'

'Oh yes!' rejoined Mr. Sponge; 'call one or two by their names, and the rest will follow.'

'Names! (hiccup) I don't know any of their nasty names,' replied Sir Harry, staring wildly.

'Towler! Towler! Towler! here, good dog-hoop!-here's your liquor!' cried brother Bob Spangles, holding the smoking tumbler of brandy-and-water out of the window, as if to tempt any hound that chose to answer to the name of Towler.

There didn't seem to be a Towler in the pack; at least, none of them qualified for the brandy-and-water.

'Oh, I'll (hiccup) you what we'll do,' exclaimed Sir Harry: 'I'll (hiccup) you what we'll do. 'We'll just give them a (hiccup) kick a-piece and send them (hiccuping) home,' Sir Harry reeling back into the room to the black horse-hair sofa, where his whip was.

He presently appeared at the door, and, going into the midst of the hounds, commenced laying about him, rating, and cutting, and kicking, and shouting.


'Geete away home with ye, ye brutes; what are you all (hiccup)ing here about? Ah! cut off his tail!' cried he, staggering after a venerable blear-eyed sage, who dropped his stern and took off.

'Be off! Does your mother know you're out?' cried Bob Spangles, out of the window, to old Marksman, who stood wondering what to do.

The old hound took the hint also.

'Now, then, old feller,' cried Sir Harry, staggering up to Mr. Sponge, who still sat on his horse, in mute astonishment at Sir Harry's mode of dealing with his hounds. 'Now, then, old feller,' said he, seizing Mr. Sponge by the hand, 'get rid of your quadruped, and (hiccup) in, and make yourself "o'er all the (hiccups) of life victorious," as Bob Spangles says, when he (hiccups) it neat. This is old (hiccup) Peastraw's, a (hiccup) tenant of mine, and he'll be most (hiccup) to see you.'

'But what must I do with my horse?' asked Mr. Sponge, rubbing some of the dried sweat off the brown's shoulder as he spoke; adding, 'I should like to get him a feed of corn.'

'Give him some ale, and a (hiccup) of sherry in it,' replied Sir Harry; 'it'll do him far more good-make his mane grow,' smoothing the horse's thin, silky mane as he spoke.

'Well, I'll put him up,' replied Mr. Sponge, 'and then come to you,' throwing himself, jockey fashion, off the horse as he spoke.

'That's a (hiccup) feller,' said Sir Harry; adding, 'here's old Pea himself come to see after you.'

So saying, Sir Harry reeled back to his comrades in the house, leaving Mr. Sponge in the care of the farmer.

'This way, sir; this way,' said the burly Mr. Peastraw, leading the way into his farmyard, where a line of hunters stood shivering under a long cart-shed.

'But I can't put my horse in here,' observed Mr. Sponge, looking at the unfortunate brutes.

'No, sir, no,' replied Mr. Peastraw; 'put yours in a stable, sir; put yours in a stable'; adding, 'these young gents don't care much about their horses.'

'Does anybody know the chap's name?' asked Sir Harry, reeling back into the room.

'Know his name!' exclaimed Bob Spangles; 'why, don't you?'

'No,' replied Sir Harry, with a vacant stare.

'Why, you went up and shook hands with him, as if you were as thick as thieves,' replied Bob.

'Did I?' hiccuped Sir Harry. 'Well, I thought I knew him. At least, I thought it was somebody I had (hiccup)ed before; and at one's own (hiccup) house, you know, one's 'bliged to be (hiccup) feller well (hiccup) with everybody that comes. But surely, some of you know his (hiccup) name,' added he, looking about at the company.

'I think I know his (hiccup) face,' replied Bob Spangles, imitating his brother-in-law.

'I've seen him somewhere,' observed the other Spangles, through a mouthful of beef.

'So have I,' exclaimed some one else, 'but where I can't say.'

'Most likely at church,' observed brother Bob Spangles.

'Well, I don't thi

nk he'll corrupt me,' observed Captain Quod, speaking between the fumes of a cigar.

'He'll not borrow much of me,' observed Captain Seedeybuck, producing a much tarnished green purse, and exhibiting two fourpenny-pieces at one end, and three-halfpence at the other.

'Oh, I dare say he's a good feller,' observed Sir Harry; 'I make no doubt he's one of the right sort.'

Just then in came the man himself, hat and whip in hand, waving the brush proudly over his head.

'Ah, that's (hiccup) right, old feller,' exclaimed Sir Harry, again advancing with extended hand to meet him, adding, 'you'd (hiccup) all you wanted for your (hiccup) horse: mutton broth-I mean barley-water, foot-bath, everything right. Let me introduce my (hiccup) brother-in-law, Bob Spangles, my (hiccup) friend Captain Ladofwax, Captain Quod, Captain (hiccup) Bouncey, Captain (hiccup) Seedeybuck, and my (hiccup) brother-in-law, Mr. Spangles, as lushy a cove as ever was seen; ar'n't you, old boy?' added he, grasping the latter by the arm.

All these gentlemen severally bobbed their heads as Sir Harry called them over, and then resumed their respective occupations-eating, drinking, and smoking.

These were some of the debauched gentlemen Mr. Sponge had seen before Nonsuch House in the morning. They were all captains, or captains by courtesy. Ladofwax had been a painter and glazier in the Borough, where he made the acquaintance of Captain Quod, while that gentleman was an inmate of Captain Hudson's strong house. Captain Bouncey was the too well-known betting-office keeper; and Seedeybuck was such a constant customer of Mr. Commissioner Fonblanque's court, that that worthy legal luminary, on discharging him for the fifth time, said to him, with a very significant shake of the head, 'You'd better not come here again, sir.' Seedeybuck, being of the same opinion, had since fastened himself on to Sir Harry Scattercash, who found him in meat, drink, washing, and lodging. They were all attired in red coats, of one sort or another, though some of which were of a very antediluvian, and others of a very dressing-gown cut. Bouncey's had a hare on the button, and Seedeybuck's coat sat on him like a sack. Still a scarlet coat is a scarlet coat in the eyes of some, and the coats were not a bit more unsportsmanlike than the men. To Mr. Sponge's astonishment, instead of breaking out in inquiries as to where they had run to, the time, the distance, who was up, who was down, and so on, they began recommending the victuals and drink; and this, notwithstanding Mr. Sponge kept flourishing the brush.

'We've had a rare run,' said he, addressing himself to Sir Harry.

'Have you (hiccup)? I'm glad of it (hiccup). Pray have something to (hiccup) after it; you must be (hiccup).'

'Let me help you to some of this cold round of beef?' exclaimed Captain Bouncey, brandishing the great broad-bladed carving knife.

'Have a slice of 'ot 'am,' suggested Captain Quod.

'The finest run I ever rode!' observed Mr. Sponge, still endeavouring to get a hearing.

'Dare say it would,' replied Sir Harry;' those (hiccup) hounds of mine are uncommon (hiccup).' He didn't know what they were, and the hiccup came very opportunely.

'The pace was terrific!' exclaimed Sponge.

'Dare say it would,' replied Sir Harry; 'and that's what makes me (hiccup) you're so (hiccup). Pea, here, has some rare old October-(hiccup) bushels to the (hiccup) hogshead.' 'It's capital!' exclaimed Captain Seedeybuck, frothing himself a tumblerful out of the tall brown jug.

'So is this,' rejoined Captain Quod, pouring himself out a liberal allowance of gin.

'That horse of mine carried me MAGnificently!' observed Mr. Sponge, with a commanding emphasis on the MAG.

'Dare say he would,' replied Sir Harry; 'he looked like a (hiccup)er-a white 'un, wasn't he?'

'No; a brown,' replied Mr. Sponge, disgusted at the mistake.

'Ah, well; but there was somebody on a white,' replied Sir Harry. 'Oh-ah-yes-it was old Bugles on my lady's horse. By the (hiccup) way (hiccup), gentlemen, what's got Mr. Orlando (hiccup) Bugles?' asked Sir Harry, staring wildly round.

'Oh! old Bugles! old Pad-the-Hoof! old Mr. Funker! the horse frightened him so, that he went home crying,' replied Bob Spangles.

'Hope he didn't lose him?' asked Sir Harry.

'Oh no,' replied Bob; 'he gave a lad a shilling to lead him, and they trudged away very quietly together.'

'The old (hiccup)!' exclaimed Sir Harry; 'he told me he was a member of the Surrey something.'

'The Sorry Union,' replied Captain Quod. 'He was out with them once, and fell off on his head and knocked his hat-crown out.'

'Well, but I was telling you about the run,' interposed Mr. Sponge, again endeavouring to enlist an audience. 'I was telling you about the run,' repeated he.

'Don't trouble yourself, my dear sir,' interrupted Captain Bouncey; 'we know all about it-found-checked-killed, killed-found-checked.'

'You can't know all about it!' snapped Mr. Sponge; 'for there wasn't a soul there but myself, much to my horror, for I had a reg'lar row with old Scamperdale, and never a soul to back me.'

'What! you fell in with that mealy-mouthed gentleman, who can't (hiccup) swear because he's a (hiccup) lord, did you?' asked Sir Harry, his attention being now drawn to our friend.

'I did,' replied Mr. Sponge; 'and a pretty passage of politeness we had of it.'

'Indeed! (hiccup),' exclaimed Sir Harry. 'Tell us (hiccup) all about it.'

'Well,' said Mr. Sponge, laying the brush lengthways before him on the table, as if he was going to demonstrate upon it. 'Well, you see we had a devil of a run-I don't know how many miles, as hard as ever we could lay legs to the ground; one by one the field all dropped astern, except the huntsman and myself. At last he gave in, or rather his horse did, and I was left alone in my glory. Well, we went over the downs at a pace that nothing but blood could live with, and, though my horse has never been beat, and is as thorough-bred as Eclipse-a horse that I have refused three hundred guineas for over and over again, I really did begin to think I might get to the bottom of him, when all of a sudden we came to a dean.'

'Ah! Cockthropple that would be,' observed Sir Harry.

'Dare say,' replied Mr. Sponge; 'Cock-anything-you-like-to-call-it for me. Well, when we got there, I thought we should have some breathing time, for the fox would be sure to hug it. But no; no sooner had I got there than a countryman hallooed him away on the far side. I got to the halloo as quick as I could, and just as I was blowing the horn,' producing Watchorn's from his pocket as he spoke; 'for I must tell you,' said he, 'that when I saw the huntsman's horse was beat, I took this from him-a horn to a foot huntsman being of no more use, you know, than a side-pocket to a cow, or a frilled shirt to a pig. Well, as I was tootleing the horn for hard life, who should turn out of the wood but old mealy-mouth himself, as you call him, and a pretty volley of abuse he let drive at me.'

'No doubt,' hiccuped Sir Harry; 'but what was he doing there?'

'Oh! I should tell you,' replied Mr. Sponge, 'his hounds had run a fox into it, and were on him full cry when I got there.'

'I'll be bund,' cried Sir Harry, 'it was all sham-that he just (hiccup) and excuse for getting into that cover. The old (hiccup) beggar is always at some trick, (hiccup)-ing my foxes or disturbing my covers or something,' Sir Harry being just enough of a master of hounds to be jealous of the neighbouring ones.

'Well, however, there he was,' continued Mr. Sponge; 'and the first intimation I had of the fact was a great, gruff voice, exclaiming, "Who the Dickens are you?"

'"Who the Dickens are you?" replied I.'

'Bravo!' shouted Sir Harry.

'Capital!' exclaimed Seedeybuck.

'Go it, you cripples! Newgate's on fire!' shouted Captain Quod.

'Well, what said he?' asked Sir Harry.

'"They commonly call me the Earl of Scamperdale," roared he, "and those are my hounds."

'"They're not your hounds," replied I.

'"Whose are they, then?" asked he.

'"Sir Harry Scattercash's, a devilish deal better fellow," replied I.

'"Oh, by Jove!" roared he, "there's an end of everything, Jack," shouted he to old Spraggon, "this gentleman says these are not my hounds!"

'"I'll tell you what it is, my lord," said I, gathering my whip and riding close up as if I was goin' to pitch into him, "I'll tell you what it is; you think, because you're a lord, you may abuse people as you like, but by Jingo you've mistaken your man. I'll not put up with any of your nonsense. The Sponges are as old a family as the Scamperdales, and I'll fight you any non-hunting day you like with pistols, broadswords, fists or blunder-busses."'

'Well done you! Bravo! that's your sort!' with loud thumping of tables and clapping of hands, resounded from all parts.

'By Jove, fill him up a stiff'un! he deserves a good drink after that!' exclaimed Sir Harry, pouring Mr. Sponge out a beaker, equal parts brandy and water.

Mr. Sponge immediately became a hero, and was freely admitted into their circle. He was clearly a choice spirit-a trump of the first water-and they only wanted his name to be uncommonly thick with him. As it was, they plied him with victuals and drink, all seeming anxious to bring him up to the same happy state of inebriety as themselves. They talked and they chattered, and they abused Old Scamperdale and Jack Spraggon, and lauded Mr. Sponge up to the skies.

Thus day closed in, with Farmer Peastraw's bright fire shedding its cheering glow over the now encircling group. One would have thought that, with their hearts mellow, and their bodies comfortable, their minds would have turned to that sport in whose honour they sported the scarlet; but no, hunting was never mentioned. They were quite as genteel as Nimrod's swell friends at Melton, who cut it altogether. They rambled from subject to subject, chiefly on indoor and London topics; billiards, betting-offices, Coal Holes, Cremorne, Cider Cellars, Judge and Jury Courts, there being an evident confusion in their minds between the characters of sportsmen and sporting men, or gents as they are called. Mr. Sponge tried hard to get them on the right tack, were it only for the sake of singing the praises of the horse for which he had so often refused three hundred guineas, but he never succeeded in retaining an hearing. Talkers were far more plentiful than listeners.

At last they got to singing, and when men begin to sing, it is a sign that they are either drunk, or have had enough of each other's company. Sir Harry's hiccup, from which he was never wholly free, increased tenfold, and he hiccuped and spluttered at almost every word. His hand, which shook so at starting that it was odds whether he got his glass to his mouth or his ear, was now steadied, but his glazed eye and green haggard countenance showed at what a fearful sacrifice the temporary steadiness had been obtained. At last his jaw dropped on his chest, his left arm hung listlessly over the back of the chair, and he fell asleep. Captain Quod, too, was overcome, and threw himself full-length on the sofa. Captain Seedeybuck began to talk thick.

Just as they were all about brought to a standstill, the trampling of horses, the rumbling of wheels, and the shrill twang, twang, twang of the now almost forgotten mail horn, roused them from their reveries. It was Sir Harry's drag scouring the country in search of our party. It had been to all the public-houses and beer-shops within a radius of some miles of Nonsuch House, and was now taking a speculative blow through the centre of the circle.

It was a clear frosty night, and the horses' hoofs rang, and the wheels rolled soundly over the hard road, cracking the thin ice, yet hardly sufficiently frozen to prevent a slight upshot from the wheels.


Twang, twang, twang, went the horn full upon Farmer Peastraw's house, causing the sleepers to start, and the waking ones to make for the window.

'Coach-a-hoy!' cried Bob Spangles, smashing a pane in a vain attempt to get the window up. The coachman pulled up at the sound.

'Here we are. Sir Harry!' cried Bob Spangles, into his brother-in-law's ear, but Sir Harry was too far gone; he could not 'come to time.' Presently a footman entered with furred coats, and shawls, and checkered rugs, in which those who were sufficiently sober enveloped themselves, and those who were too far gone were huddled by Peastraw and the man; and amid much hurry and confusion, and jostling for inside seats, the party freighted the coach, and whisked away before Mr. Sponge knew where he was.

When they arrived at Nonsuch House, they found Mr. Bugles exercising the fiddlers by dancing the ladies in turns.

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