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   Chapter 56 NONSUCH HOUSE AGAIN

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 25613

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Poor Jog again varied his hints the next morning. After sundry prefatory 'Murry Anns!' and 'Bar-tho-lo-mews!' he at length got the latter to answer, when, raising his voice so as to fill the whole house, he desired him to go to the stable, and let Mr. Sponge's man know his master would be (wheezing) away.

'You're wrong there, old buck,' growled Leather, as he heard the foregoing; 'he's half-way to Sir 'Arry's by this time.'

And sure enough, Mr. Sponge was, as none knew better than Leather, who had got him his horse, the hack being indisposed-that is to say, having been out all night with Mr. Leather on a drinking excursion, Leather having just got home in time to receive the purple-coated, bare-footed runner of Nonsuch House, who dropped in, en passant, to see if there was anything to stow away in his roomy trouser-pockets, and leave word that Sir Harry was going to hunt, and would meet before the house.

Leather, though somewhat muzzy, was sufficiently sober to be able to deliver this message, and acquaint Mr. Sponge with the impossibility of his 'ridin' the 'ack.' Indeed, he truly said that he had 'been hup with him all night, and at one time thought it was all hover with him,' the all-overishness consisting of Mr. Leather being nearly all over the hack's head, in consequence of the animal shying at another drunken man lying across the road.

Mr. Sponge listened to the recital with the indifference of a man who rides hack-horses, and coolly observed that Leather must take on the chestnut, and he would ride the brown to cover.

'Couldn't, sir, couldn't,' replied Leather, with a shake of the head and a twinkle of his roguish, watery grey eyes.

'Why not?' asked Mr. Sponge, who never saw any difficulty.

'Oh, sur,' replied Leather, in a tone of despondency, 'it would be quite unpossible. Consider wot a day the last one was; why, he didn't get to rest till three the next mornin'.'

'It'll only be walking exercise,' observed Mr. Sponge; 'do him good.'

'Better valk the chestnut,' replied Mr. Leather; 'Multum-in-Parvo hasn't 'ad a good day this I don't know wen, and will be all the better of a bucketin'.'

'But I hate crawling to cover on my horse,' replied Mr. Sponge, who liked cantering along with a flourish.

'You'll have to crawl if you ride 'Ercles,' observed Leather, 'if not walk. Bless you! I've been a-nussin' of him and the 'ack most the 'ole night.'

'Indeed!' replied Mr. Sponge, who began to be alarmed lest his hunting might be brought to an abrupt termination.

'True as I'm 'ere,' rejoined Leather. 'He's just as much off his grub as he vos when he com'd in; never see'd an 'oss more reg'larly dished-more-'

'Well, well,' said Mr. Sponge, interrupting the catalogue of grievances; 'I s'pose I must do as you say-I s'pose I must do as you say: what sort of a day is it?'

'Vy, the day's not a bad day; at least that's to say, it's not a wery haggrivatin' day. I've seen a betterer day, in course; but I've also seen many a much worser day, and days at this time of year, you know, are apt to change-sometimes, in course, for the betterer-sometimes, in course, for the worser.'

'Is it a frost?' snapped Mr. Sponge, tired of his loquacity.

'Is it a frost?' repeated Mr. Leather thoughtfully; 'is it a frost? Vy, no; I should say it isn't a frost-at least, not a frost to 'urt; there may be a little rind on the ground and a little rawness in the hair, but the general concatenation-'

'Hout, tout!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, 'let's have none of your dictionary words.'

Mr. Leather stood silent, twisting his hat about.

The consequence of all this was, that Mr. Sponge determined to ride over to Nonsuch House to breakfast, which would give his horse half an hour in the stable to eat a feed of corn. Accordingly, he desired Leather to bring him his shaving-water, and have the horse ready in the stable in half an hour, whither, in due time, Mr. Sponge emerged by the back door, without encountering any of the family. The ambling piebald looked so crestfallen and woebegone in all the swaddling-clothes in which Leather had got him enveloped, that Mr. Sponge did not care to look at the gallant Hercules, who occupied a temporary loose-box at the far end of the dark stable, lest he might look worse. He, therefore, just mounted Multum-in-Parvo as Leather led him out at the door, and set off without a word.

'Well, hang me, but you are a good judge of weather,' exclaimed Sponge to himself, as he got into the field at the back of the house, and found the horse made little impression on the grass. 'No frost!' repeated he, breathing into the air; 'why it's freezing now, out of the sun.'

On getting into Marygold Lane, our friend drew rein, and was for turning back, but the resolute chestnut took the bit between his teeth and shook his head, as if determined to go on.

'Oh, you brute!' growled Mr. Sponge, letting the spurs into his sides with a hearty good-will, which caused the animal to kick, as if he meant to stand on his head. 'Ah, you will, will ye?' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, letting the spurs in again as the animal replaced his legs on the ground. Up they went again, if possible higher than before.

The brute was clearly full of mischief, and even if the hounds did not throw off, which there was little prospect of their doing from the appearance of the weather, Mr. Sponge felt that it would be well to get some of the nonsense taken out of him; and, moreover, going to Nonsuch House would give him a chance of establishing a billet there-a chance that he had been deprived of by Sir Harry's abrupt departure from Farmer Peastraw's. So saying, our friend gathered his horse together, and settling himself in his saddle, made his sound hoofs ring upon the hard road.

'He may hunt,' thought Mr. Sponge, as he rattled along; 'such a rum beggar as Sir Harry may think it fun to go out in a frost. It's hard, too,' said he, as he saw the poor turnip-pullers enveloped in their thick shawls, and watched them thumping their arms against their sides to drive the cold from their finger-ends.

Multum-in-Parvo was a good, sound-constitutioned horse, hard and firm as a cricket-ball, a horse that would not turn a hair for a trifle even on a hunting morning, let alone on such a thorough chiller as this one was; and Mr. Sponge, after going along at a good round pace, and getting over the ground much quicker than he did when the road was all new to him, and he had to ask his way, at length drew in to see what o'clock it was. It was only half-past nine, and already in the far distance he saw the encircling woods of Nonsuch House.

'Shall be early,' said Mr. Sponge, returning his watch to his waistcoat-pocket, and diving into his cutty coat-pocket for the cigar-case. Having struck a light, he now laid the rein on the horse's neck and proceeded leisurely along, the animal stepping gaily and throwing its head about as if he was the quietest, most trustworthy nag in the world. If he got there at half-past ten, Mr. Sponge calculated he would have plenty of time to see after his horse, get his own breakfast, and see how the land lay for a billet.

It would be impossible to hunt before twelve; so he went smoking and sauntering along, now wondering whether he would be able to establish a billet, now thinking how he would like to sell Sir Harry a horse, then considering whether he would be likely to pay for him, and enlivening the general reflections by ringing his spurs against his stirrup-irons.

Having passed the lodges at the end of the avenue, he cocked his hat, twiddled his hair, felt his tie, and arranged for a becoming appearance. The sudden turn of the road brought him full upon the house. How changed the scene! Instead of the scarlet-coated youths thronging the gravelled ring, flourishing their scented kerchiefs and hunting-whips-instead of buxom Abigails and handsome mistresses hanging out of the windows, flirting and chatting and ogling, the door was shut, the blinds were down, the shutters closed, and the whole house had the appearance of mourning.

Mr. Sponge reined up involuntarily, startled at the change of scene. What could have happened! Could Sir Harry be dead? Could my lady have eloped? 'Oh, that horrid Bugles!' thought he; 'he looked like a gay deceiver.' And Mr. Sponge felt as if he had sustained a personal injury.

Just as these thoughts were passing in his mind, a drowsy, slatternly charwoman, in an old black straw bonnet and grey bed-gown, opened one of the shutters, and throwing up the sash of the window by where Mr. Sponge sat, disclosed the contents of the apartment. The last waxlight was just dying out in the centre of a splendid candelabra on the middle of a table scattered about with claret-jugs, glasses, decanters, pine-apple tops, grape-dishes, cakes, anchovy-toast plates, devilled biscuit-racks-all the concomitants of a sumptuous entertainment.

'Sir Harry at home?' asked Mr. Sponge, making the woman sensible of his presence, by cracking his whip close to her ear. 'No,' replied the dame gruffly, commencing an assault upon the nearest chair with a duster.

'Where is he?' asked our friend.

'Bed, to be sure,' replied the woman, in the same tone.

MR. SPONGE'S RED COAT COMMANDS NO RESPECT

'Bed, to be sure,' repeated Mr. Sponge. 'I don't think there's any 'sure' in the case. Do you know what o'clock it is?' asked he.

'No,' replied the woman, flopping away at another chair, and arranging the crimson velvet curtains on the holders.

Mr. Sponge was rather nonplussed. His red coat did not command the respect that a red coat generally does. The fact was, they had such queer people in red coats at Nonsuch House, that a red coat was rather an object of suspicion than otherwise.

'Well, but, my good woman,' continued Mr. Sponge, softening his tone, 'can you tell me where I shall find anybody who can tell me anything about the hounds?'

'No,' growled the woman, still flopping, and whisking, and knocking the furniture about.

'I'll remember you for your trouble,' observed Mr. Sponge, diving his right hand into his breeches' pocket.

'Mr. Bottleends be gone to bed,' observed the woman, now ceasing her evolutions, and parting her grisly, disordered tresses, as she advanced and stood staring, with her arms akimbo, out of the window. She was the under-housemaid's deputy; all the servants at Nonsuch House doing the rough of their work by deputy. Lady Scattercash was a real lady, and liked to have the credit of the house maintained, which of course can only be done by letting the upper servants do nothing. 'Mr. Bottleends be gone to bed,' observed the woman.

'Mr. Bottleends?' repeated Mr. Sponge; 'who's he?'

'The butler, to be sure,' replied she, astonished that any person should have to ask who such an important personage was.

'Can't you call him?' asked Mr. Sponge, still fumbling in his pocket.

'Couldn't, if it was ever so,' replied the dame, smoothing her dirty blue-checked apron with her still dirtier hand.

'Why not?' asked Mr. Sponge.

'Why not?' repeated the woman; 'why, 'cause Mr. Bottleends won't be disturbed by no one. He said when he went to bed that he hadn't to be called till to-morrow.'

'Not called till to-morrow!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge; 'then is Sir Harry from home?'

'From home, no; what should put that i' your head?' sneered the woman.

'Why, if the butler's in bed, one may suppose the master's away.'

'Hout!' snapped the woman; 'Sir Harry's i' bed-Captin Seedeybuck's i' bed-Captin Quod's i' bed-Captin Spangle's i' bed-Captin Bouncey's i' bed-Captin Cutitfat's i' bed-they're all i' bed 'cept me, and I've got the house to clean and right, and high time it was cleaned and righted, for they've not been i' bed these three nights any on 'em.' So saying, she flourished her duster as if about to set-to again.

'Well, but tell me,' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, 'can I see the footman, or the huntsman, or the groom, or a helper, or anybody?'

'Deary knows,' replied the woman thoughtfully, resting her chin on her hand. 'I dare say they'll be all i' bed too.'

'But they are going to hunt, aren't they?' asked our friend.

'Hunt!' exclaimed the woman; 'what should put that i' your head.'

'Why, they sent me word they were.'

'It'll be i' bed, then,' observed she, again giving symptoms of a desire to return to her dusting.

Mr. Sponge, who still kept his hand in his pocket, sat on his horse in a state of stupid bewilderment. He had never seen a case of this sort before-a house shut up, and a master of hounds in bed when the hounds were to meet before the door. It couldn't be the case: the woman must be dreaming, or drunk, or both.

'Well, but, my good woman,' exclaimed he, as she gave a punish

ing cut at the chair, as if to make up for lost time; 'well, but, my good woman, I wish you would try and find somebody who can tell me something about the hounds. I'm sure they must be going to hunt. I'll remember you for your trouble, if you will,' added he, again diving his hand up to the wrist in his pocket.

'I tell you,' replied the woman slowly and deliberately, 'there'll be no huntin' to-day. Huntin'!' exclaimed she; 'how can they hunt when they've all had to be carried to bed?'

'Carried to bed! had they?' exclaimed Mr. Sponge; 'what, were they drunk?'

'Drunk! aye, to be sure. What would you have them be?' replied the crone, who seemed to think that drinking was a necessary concomitant of hunting.

'Well, but I can see the footman or somebody, surely,' observed Mr. Sponge, fearing that his chance was out for a billet, and recollecting old Jog's 'Bartholo-m-e-ws!' and 'Murry Anns!' and intimations for him to start.

''Deed you can't,' replied the dame-'ye can see nebody but me,' added she, fixing her twinkling eyes intently upon him as she spoke.

'Well, that's a pretty go,' observed Mr. Sponge aloud to himself, ringing his spurs against his stirrup-irons.

'Pretty go or ugly go,' snapped the woman, thinking it was a reflection on herself, 'it's all you'll get'; and thereupon she gave the back of the chair a hearty bastinadoing as if in exemplification of the way she would like to serve Mr. Sponge out for the observation.

'I came here thinking to get some breakfast,' observed Mr. Sponge, casting an eye upon the disordered table, and reconnoitring the bottles and the remains of the dessert.

'Did you?' said the woman; 'I wish you may get it.'

'I wish I may,' replied he. 'If you would manage that for me, just some coffee and a mutton chop or two, I'd remember you,' said he, still tantalizing her with the sound of the silver in his pocket.

'Me manish it!' exclaimed the woman, her hopes again rising at the sound; 'me manish it! how d'ye think I'm to manish sich things?' asked she.

'Why, get at the cook, or the housekeeper, or somebody,' replied Mr. Sponge.

'Cook or housekeeper!' exclaimed she. 'There'll be no cook or housekeeper astir here these many hours yet; I question,' added she, 'they get up to-day.'

'What! they've been put to bed too, have they?' asked he.

'W-h-y no-not zactly that,' drawled the woman; 'but when sarvants are kept up three nights out of four, they must make up for lost time when they can.'

'Well,' mused Mr. Sponge, 'this is a bother, at all events; get no breakfast, lose my hunt, and perhaps a billet into the bargain. Well, there's sixpence for you, my good woman,' said he at length, drawing his hand out of his pocket and handing her the contents through the window; adding, 'don't make a beast of yourself with it.'

'It's nabbut fourpence,' observed the woman, holding it out on the palm of her hand.

'Ah, well, you're welcome to it whatever it is,' replied our friend, turning his horse to go away. A thought then struck him. 'Could you get me a pen and ink, think you?' asked he; 'I want to write a line to Sir Harry.'

'Pen and ink!' replied the woman, who had pocketed the groat and resumed her dusting; 'I don't know where they keep no such things as penses and inkses.'

'Most likely in the drawing-room or the sitting-room, or perhaps in the butler's pantry,' observed Mr. Sponge.

'Well, you can come in and see,' replied the woman, thinking there was no occasion to give herself any more trouble for the fourpenny-piece.

Our worthy friend sat on his horse a few seconds staring intently into the dining-room window, thinking that lapse of time might cause the fourpenny-piece to be sufficiently respected to procure him something like directions how to proceed as well to get rid of his horse, as to procure access to the house, the door of which stood frowningly shut. In this, however, he was mistaken, for no sooner had the woman uttered the words, 'Well, you can come in and see,' than she flaunted into the interior of the room, and commenced a regular series of assaults upon the furniture, throwing the hearth-rug over one chair back, depositing the fire-irons in another, rearing the steel fender up against the Carrara marble chimney-piece, and knocking things about in the independent way that servants treat unoffending furniture, when master and mistress are comfortably esconced in bed. 'Flop' went the duster again; 'bang' went the furniture; 'knock' this chair went against that, and she seemed bent upon putting all things into that happy state of sixes and sevens that characterizes a sale of household furniture, when chairs mount tables, and the whole system of domestic economy is revolutionized. Seeing that he was not going to get anything more for his money, our friend at length turned his horse and found his way to the stables by the unerring drag of carriage-wheels. All things there being as matters were in the house, he put the redoubtable nag into a stall, and helped him to a liberal measure of oats out of the well-stored unlocked corn-bin. He then sought the back of the house by the worn flagged-way that connected it with the stables. The back yard was in the admired confusion that might be expected from the woman's account. Empty casks and hampers were piled and stowed away in all directions, while regiments of champagne and other bottles stood and lay about among blacking bottles, Seltzer-water bottles, boot-trees, bath-bricks, old brushes, and stumpt-up besoms. Several pair of dirty top-boots, most of them with the spurs on, were chucked into the shoe-house just as they had been taken off. The kitchen, into which our friend now entered, was in the same disorderly state. Numerous copper pans stood simmering on the charcoal stoves, and the jointless jack still revolved on the spit. A dirty slip-shod girl sat sleeping, with her apron thrown over her head, which rested on the end of a table. The open door of the servants' hall hard by disclosed a pile of dress and other clothes, which, after mopping up the ale and other slops, would be carefully folded and taken back to the rooms of their respective owners.

DOMESTIC ECONOMY OF NONSUCH HOUSE

'Halloo!' cried Mr. Sponge, shaking the sleeping girl by the shoulder, which caused her to start up, stare, and rub her eyes in wild affright. 'Halloo!' repeated he, 'what's happened you?'

'Oh, beg pardon, sir!' exclaimed she; 'beg pardon,' continued she, clasping her hands; 'I'll never do so again, sir; no, sir, I'll never do so again, indeed I won't.'

She had just stolen a shape of blanc-mange, and thought she was caught.

'Then show me where I'll find pen and ink and paper,' replied our friend.

'Oh, sir, I don't know nothin' about them,' replied the girl; 'indeed, sir, I don't'; thinking it was some other petty larceny he was inquiring about.

'Well, but you can tell me where to find a sheet of paper, surely?' rejoined he.

'Oh, indeed, sir, I can't,' replied she; 'I know nothin' about nothin' of the sort.' Servants never do.

'What sort?' asked Mr. Sponge, wondering at her vehemence.

'Well, sir, about what you said,' sobbed the girl, applying the corner of her dirty apron to her eyes.

'Hang it, the girl's mad,' rejoined our friend, brushing by, and making for the passage beyond. This brought him past the still-room, the steward's room, the housekeeper's room, and the butler's pantry. All were in most glorious confusion; in the latter, Captain Cutitfat's lacquer-toed, lavender-coloured dress-boots were reposing in the silver soup tureen, and Captain Bouncey's varnished pumps were stuffed into a wine-cooler. The last detachment of empty bottles stood or lay about the floor, commingling with boot-jacks, knife-trays, bath-bricks, coat-brushes, candle-end boxes, plates, lanterns, lamp-glasses, oil bottles, corkscrews, wine-strainers-the usual miscellaneous appendages of a butler's pantry. All was still and quiet; not a sound, save the loud ticking of a timepiece, or the occasional creak of a jarring door, disturbed the solemn silence of the house. A nimble-handed mugger or tramp might have carried off whatever he liked.

Passing onward, Mr. Sponge came to a red-baized, brass-nailed door, which, opening freely on a patent spring, revealed the fine proportions of a light picture-gallery with which the bright mahogany doors of the entertaining rooms communicated. Opening the first door he came to, our friend found himself in the elegant drawing-room, on whose round bird's-eye-maple table, in the centre, were huddled all the unequal-lengthed candles of the previous night's illumination. It was a handsome apartment, fitted up in the most costly style; with rose-colour brocaded satin damask, the curtains trimmed with silk tassel fringe, and ornamented with massive bullion tassels on cornices, Cupids supporting wreaths under an arch, with open carved-work and enrichments in burnished gold. The room, save the muster of the candles, was just as it had been left; and the richly gilt sofa still retained the indentations of the sitters, with the luxurious down pillows, left as they had been supporting their backs.

The room reeked of tobacco, and the ends and ashes of cigars dotted the tables and white marble chimney-piece, and the gilt slabs and the finely flowered Tournay carpet, just as the fires of gipsies dot and disfigure the fair face of a country. Costly china and nick-nacks of all sorts were scattered about in profusion. Altogether, it was a beautiful room.

'No want of money here,' said Mr. Sponge to himself, as he eyed it, and thought what havoc Gustavus James would make among the ornaments if he had a chance.

He then looked about for pen, ink, and paper. These were distributed so wide apart as to show the little request they were in. Having at length succeeded in getting what he wanted gathered together, Mr. Sponge sat down on the luxurious sofa, considering how he should address his host, as he hoped. Mr. Sponge was not a shy man, but, considering the circumstances under which he made Sir Harry Scattercash's acquaintance, together with his design upon his hospitality-above all, considering the crew by whom Sir Harry was surrounded-it required some little tact to pave the way without raising the present inmates of the house against him. There are no people so anxious to protect others from robbery as those who are robbing them themselves. Mr. Sponge thought, and thought, and thought. At last he resolved to write on the subject of the hounds. After sundry attempts on pink, blue, and green-tinted paper, he at last succeeded in hitting off the following, on yellow:

'NONSUCH HOUSE.

'Dear sir harry,-I rode over this morning, hearing you were to hunt, and am sorry to find you indisposed. I wish you would drop me a line to Mr. Crowdey's, Puddingpote Bower, saying when next you go out, as I should much like to have another look at your splendid pack before I leave this country, which I fear will have to be soon.-Yours in haste,

'H. SPONGE.

'P.S.-I hope you all got safe home the other night from Mr. Peastraw's.'

Having put this into a richly gilt and embossed envelope, our friend directed it conspicuously to Sir Harry Scattercash, Bart., and stuck it in the centre of the mantelpiece. He then retraced his steps through the back regions, informing the sleeping beauty he had before disturbed, and who was now busy scouring a pan, that he had left a letter in the drawing-room for Sir Harry, and if she would see that he got it, he (Mr. Sponge) would remember her the next time he came, which he inwardly hoped would be soon. He then made for the stable, and got his horse, to go home, sauntering more leisurely along than one would expect of a man who had not got his breakfast, especially one riding a hack hunter.

The truth was, Mr. Sponge did not much like the aspect of affairs. Sir Harry's was evidently a desperately 'fast' house; added to which, the guests by whom he was surrounded were clearly of the wide-awake order, who could not spare any pickings for a stranger. Indeed, Mr. Sponge felt that they rather cold-shouldered him at Farmer Peastraw's, and were in a greater hurry to be off when the drag came, than the mere difference between inside and outside seats required. He much questioned whether he got into Sir Harry's at all. If it came to a vote, he thought he should not. Then, what was he to do? Old Jog was clearly tired of him; and he had nowhere else to go to. The thought made him stick spurs into the chestnut, and hurry home to Puddingpote Bower, where he endeavoured to soothe his host by more than insinuating that he was going on a visit to Nonsuch House. Jog inwardly prayed that he might.

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