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   Chapter 52 A MOONLIGHT RIDE

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 4887

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The position, then, of Mr. Sponge was this. He was left on a frosty, moonlight night at the door of a strange farmhouse, staring after a receding coach, containing all his recent companions.

'You'll not be goin' wi' 'em, then?' observed Mr. Peastraw, who stood beside him, listening to the shrill notes of the horn dying out in the distance.

'No,' replied Mr. Sponge.

'Rummy lot,' observed Mr. Peastraw, with a shake of the head.

'Are they?' asked Mr. Sponge.

'Very!' replied Mr. Peastraw. 'Be the death of Sir Harry among 'em.'

'Who are they all?' asked Mr. Sponge.

'Rubbish!' replied Peastraw with a sneer, diving his hands into the depths of his pockets. 'Well, we'd better go in,' added he, pulling his hands out and rubbing them, to betoken that he felt cold.

Mr. Sponge, not being much of a drinker, was more overcome with what he had taken than a seasoned cask would have been; added to which the keen night air striking upon his heated frame soon sent the liquor into his head. He began to feel queer.

'Well,' said he to his host, 'I think I'd better be going.'

'Where are you bound for?' asked Mr. Peastraw.

'To Puddingpote Bower,' replied Mr. Sponge.

'S-o-o,' observed Mr. Peastraw thoughtfully; 'Mr. Crowdey's-Mr. Jogglebury that was?'

'Yes,' replied Mr. Sponge.

'He is a deuce of a man, that, for breaking people's hedges,' observed Mr. Peastraw; after a pause, 'he can't see a straight stick of no sort, but he's sure to be at it.'

'He's a great man for walking-sticks,' replied Mr. Sponge, staggering in the direction of the stable in which he put his horse.

The house clock then struck ten.

'She's fast,' observed Mr. Peastraw, fearing his guest might be wanting to stay all night.

'How far will Puddingpote Bower be from here?' asked Mr. Sponge.

'Oh, no distance, sir, no distance,' replied Mr. Peastraw, now leading out the horse. 'Can't miss your way, sir-can't miss your way. First turn on the right takes you to Collins' Green; then keep by the side of the church, next the pond; then go straight forward for about a mile and a half, or two miles, till you come to a small village called Lea Green; turn short at the finger-post as you enter, and keep right along by the side of the hills till you come to the Winslow Woods; leave them to the left, and pass by Mr. Roby's farm, at Runton-you'll know Mr. Roby?'

'Not I,' replied Mr. Sponge, hoisting himself into th

e saddle, and holding out a hand to take leave of his host.

'Good night, sir; good night!' exclaimed Mr. Peastraw, shaking it; 'and have the goodness to tell Mr. Crowdey from me that the next time he comes here a bush-rangin', I'll thank him to shut the gates after him. He set all my young stock wrong the last time he was here.'

'I will,' replied Mr. Sponge, riding off.

Mr. Peastraw's directions were well calculated to confuse a clearer head than Mr. Sponge then carried; and the reader will not be surprised to learn that, long before he reached the Winslow Woods, he was regularly bewildered. Indeed, there is no surer way of losing oneself than trying to follow a long train of directions in a strange country. It is far better to establish one's own landmarks, and make for them as the natural course of the country seems to direct. Our forefathers had a wonderful knack of getting to points with as little circumlocution as possible. Mr. Sponge, however, knew no points, and was quite at sea; indeed, even if he had, they would have been of little use, for a fitful and frequently obscured moon threw such bewildering lights and shades around, that a native would have had some difficulty in recognizing the country. The frost grew more intense, the stars shone clear and bright, and the cold took our friend by the nape of the neck, shooting across his shoulder-blades and right down his back. Mr. Sponge wished and wished he was anywhere but where he was-flattening his nose against the coffee-room window of the Bantam, tooling in a hansom as hard as he could go, squaring along Oxford Street criticizing horses-nay, he wouldn't care to be undergoing Gustavus James himself-anything, rather than rambling about a strange country in a cold winter's night, with nothing but the hooting of owls and the occasional bark of shepherds' dogs to enliven his solitude. The houses were few and far between. The lights in the cottages had long been extinguished, and the occupiers of such of the farmhouses as would come to his knocks were gruff in their answers, and short in their directions. At length, after riding, and riding, and riding, more with a view of keeping himself awake than in the expectation of finding his way, just as he was preparing to arouse the inmates of a cottage by the roadside, a sudden gleam of moonlight fell upon the building, revealing the half-Swiss, half-Gothic lodge of Puddingpote Bower.

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