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   Chapter 58 FACEY ROMFORD

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 15312

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


our days had now elapsed since Mr. Sponge penned his overture to Sir Harry, and each succeeding day satisfied him more of the utter impossibility of holding on much longer in his then billet at Puddingpote Bower. Not only was Jog coarse and incessant in his hints to him to be off, but Jawleyford-like he had lowered the standard of entertainment so greatly, that if it hadn't been that Mr. Sponge had his servant and horses kept also, he might as well have been living at his own expense. The company lights were all extinguished; great, strong-smelling, cauliflower-headed moulds, that were always wanting snuffing, usurped the place of Belmont wax; napkins were withdrawn; second-hand table-cloths introduced; marsala did duty for sherry; and the stickjaw pudding assumed a consistency that was almost incompatible with articulation.

In the course of this time Sponge wrote to Puffington, saying if he was better he would return and finish his visit; but the wary Puff sent a messenger off express with a note, lamenting that he was ordered to Handley Cross for his health, but 'pop'lar man' like, hoping that the pleasure of Sponge's company was only deferred for another season. Jawleyford, even Sponge thought hopeless; and, altogether, he was very much perplexed. He had made a little money certainly, with his horses; but a permanent investment of his elegant person, such as he had long been on the look-out for, seemed as far off as ever. On the afternoon of the fifth day, as he was taking a solitary stroll about the country, having about made up his mind to be off to town, just as he was crossing Jog's buttercup meadow on his way to the stable, a rapid bang! bang! caused him to start, and, looking over the hedge, he saw a brawny-looking sportsman in brown reloading his gun, with a brace of liver-and-white setters crouching like statues in the stubble.

'Seek dead!' presently said the shooter, with a slight wave of his hand; and in an instant each dog was picking up his bird.

'I'll have a word with you,' said Sponge, 'on and off-ing' the hedge, his beat causing the shooter to start and look as if inclined for a run; second thoughts said Sponge was too near, and he'd better brave it.

'What sport?' asked Sponge, striding towards him.

'Oh, pretty middling,' replied the shooter, a great red-headed, freckly faced fellow, with backward-lying whiskers, crowned in a drab rustic. 'Oh, pretty middling,' repeated he, not knowing whether to act on the friendly or defensive.

'Fine day!' said Sponge, eyeing his fox-maskey whiskers and stout, muscular frame.

'It is,' replied the shooter; adding, 'just followed my birds over the boundary. No 'fence, I s'pose-no 'fence.'

'Oh no,' said Mr. Sponge. 'Jog, I dessay, 'll be very glad to see you.'

'Oh, you'll be Mr. Sponge?' observed the stranger, jumping to a conclusion.

'I am,' replied our hero; adding, 'may I ask who I have the honour of addressing?'

'My name's Romford-Charley Romford; everybody knows me. Very glad to make your 'quaintance,' tendering Sponge a great, rough, heavy hand. 'I was goin' to call upon you,' observed the stranger, as he ceased swinging Sponge's arm to and fro like a pump-handle; 'I was goin' to call upon you, to see if you'd come over to Washingforde, and have some shootin' at me Oncle's-Oncle Gilroy's, at Queercove Hill.'

'Most happy!' exclaimed Sponge, thinking it was the very thing he wanted.

'Get a day with the harriers, too, if you like,' continued the shooter, increasing the temptation.

'Better still!' thought Sponge.

'I've only bachelor 'commodation to offer you; but p'raps you'll not mind roughing it a bit?' observed Romford.

'Oh, faith, not I!' replied Sponge, thinking of the luxuries of Puffington's bachelor habitation. 'What sort of stables have you?' asked our friend.

'Capital stables-excellent stables!' replied the shooter; 'stalls six feet in the clear, by twelve dip (deep), iron racks, oak stall-posts covered with zinc, beautiful oats, capital beans, splendacious hay-won without a shower!'

'Bravo!' exclaimed Sponge, thinking he had lit on his legs, and might snap his fingers at Jog and his hints. He'd take the high hand, and give Jog up.

'I'm your man!' said Sponge, in high glee.

'When will you come?' asked Romford.

'To-morrow!' replied Sponge firmly.

'So be it,' rejoined his proffered host; and, with another hearty swing of the arm, the newly made friends parted.

Charley Romford, or Facey, as he was commonly called, from his being the admitted most impudent man in the country, was a great, round-faced, coarse-featured, prize-fighting sort of fellow, who lived chiefly by his wits, which he exercised in all the legitimate lines of industry-poaching, betting, boxing, horse-dealing, cards, quoits-anything that came uppermost. That he was a man of enterprise, we need hardly add, when he had formed a scheme for doing our Sponge-a man that we do not think any of our readers would trouble themselves to try a 'plant' upon.

This impudent Facey, as if in contradiction of terms, was originally intended for a civil engineer; but having early in life voted himself heir to his uncle, Mr. Gilroy, of Queercove Hill, a great cattle-jobber, with a 'small independence of his own'-three hundred a year, perhaps, which a kind world called six-Facey thought he would just hang about until his uncle was done with his shoes, and then be lord of Queercove Hill.

Now, 'me Oncle Gilroy,' of whom Facey was constantly talking, had a left-handed wife and promising family in the sylvan retirement of St. John's Wood, whither he used to retire after his business in 'Smi'fiel'' was over; so that Facey, for once, was out in his calculations. Gilroy, however, being as knowing as 'his nevvey,' as he called him, just encouraged Facey in his shooting, fishing, and idle propensities generally, doubtless finding it more convenient to have his fish and game for nothing than to pay for them.

Facey, having the apparently inexhaustible sum of a thousand pounds, began life as a fox-hunter-in a very small way, to be sure-more for the purpose of selling horses than anything else; but, having succeeded in 'doing' all the do-able gentlemen, both with the 'Tip and Go' and Cranerfield hounds, his occupation was gone, it requiring an extended field-such as our friend Sponge roamed-to carry on cheating in horses for any length of time. Facey was soon blown, his name in connexion with a horse being enough to prevent any one looking at him. Indeed, we question that there is any less desirable mode of making, or trying to make money, than by cheating or even dealing in horses. Many people fancy themselves cheated, whatever they get; while the man who is really cheated never forgets it, and proclaims it to the end of time. Moreover, no one can go on cheating in horses for any length of time, without putting himself in the power of his groom; and let those who have seen how servants lord it over each other say how they would like to subject themselves to similar treatment.-But to our story.

Facey Romford had now a splendid milk-white horse, well-known in Mr. Nobbington's and Lord Leader's hunts as Mr. Hobler, but who Facey kindly rechristened the 'Nonpareil,' which the now rising price of oats, and falling state of his finances, made him particularly anxious to get rid of, ere the horse performed the equestrian feat of 'eating its head off.' He was a very hunter-like looking horse, but his misfortune consisted in having such shocking seedy toes, that he couldn't keep his shoes on. If he got through the first field w

ith them on, they were sure to be off at the fence. This horse Facey voted to be the very thing for Mr. Sponge, and hearing that he had come into the country to hunt, it occurred to him that it would be a capital thing if he could get him to take Mother Overend's spare bed and lodge with him, twelve shillings a week being more than Facey liked paying for his rooms. Not that he paid twelve shillings for the rooms alone; on the contrary, he had a two-stalled stable, with a sort of kennel for his pointers, and a sty for his pig into the bargain. This pig, which was eaten many times in anticipation, had at length fallen a victim to the butcher, and Facey's larder was uncommonly well found in black-puddings, sausages, spare ribs, and the other component parts of a pig: so that he was in very hospitable circumstances-at least, in his rough and ready idea of what hospitality ought to be. Indeed, whether he had or not, he'd have risked it, being quite as good at carrying things off with a high hand as Mr. Sponge himself.

The invitation came most opportunely; for, worn out with jealousy and watching, Jog had made up his mind to cut to Australia, and when Sponge returned after meeting Facey, Jog was in the act of combing out an advertisement, offering all that desirable sporting residence called Puddingpote Bower, with the coach-house, stables, and offices thereunto belonging, to let, and announcing that the whole of the valuable household furniture, comprising mahogany, dining, loo, card, and Pembroke tables; sofa, couch, and chairs in hair seating; cheffonier, with plate glass; book-case; flower-stands; pianoforte, by Collard and Collard; music-stool and Canterbury; chimney and pier-glasses; mirror; ormolu time-piece; alabaster and wax figures and shades; china; Brussels carpets and rugs; fenders and fire-irons; curtains and cornices; Venetian blinds; mahogany four-post, French, and camp bedsteads; feather beds; hair mattresses; mahogany chests of drawers; dressing-glasses; wash and dressing-tables; patent shower-bath; bed and table-linen; dinner and tea-ware; warming-pans, &c., would be exposed to immediate and unreserved sale.

How gratefully Sponge's inquiry if he knew Mr. Romford fell on his ear, as they sat moodily together after dinner over some very low-priced port.

'Oh yes (puff)-oh yes (wheeze)-oh yes (gasp)! Know Charley Romford-Facey, as they call him. He's (puff, wheeze, gasp) heir to old Mr. Gilroy, of Queercove Hill.'

'Just so,' rejoined Sponge, 'just so; that's the man-stout, square-built fellow, with backward-growing whiskers. I'm going to stay with him to shoot at old Gil's. Where does Charley live?'

'Live!' exclaimed Jog, almost choked with delight at the information; 'live! live!' repeated he, for the third time; 'lives at (puff, wheeze, gasp, cough) Washingforde-yes, at Washingforde; 'bout ten miles from (puff, wheeze) here. When d'ye go?'

'To-morrow,' replied Sponge, with an air of offended dignity.

Jog was so rejoiced that he could hardly sit on his chair.

Mrs. Jog, when she heard it, felt that Gustavus James's chance of independence was gone; for well she knew that Jog would never let Sponge come back to the Bower.

We need scarcely say that Jog was up betimes in the morning, most anxious to forward Mr. Sponge's departure. He offered to allow Bartholomew to convey him and his 'traps' in the phaeton-an offer that Mr. Sponge availed himself of as far as his 'traps' were concerned, though he preferred cantering over on his piebald to trailing along in Jog's jingling chay. So matters were arranged, and Mr. Sponge forthwith proceeded to put his brown boots, his substantial cords, his superfine tights, his cuttey scarlet, his dress blue saxony, his clean linen, his heavy spurs, and though last, not least in importance, his now backless Mogg, into his solid leather portmanteau, sweeping the surplus of his wardrobe into a capacious carpet-bag. While the guest was thus busy upstairs, the host wandered about restlessly, now stirring up this person, now hurrying that, in the full enjoyment of the much-coveted departure. His pleasure was, perhaps, rather damped by a running commentary he overheard through the lattice-window of the stable, from Leather, as he stripped his horses and tried to roll up their clothing in a moderate compass.

''Ord rot your great carcass!' exclaimed he, giving the roll a hearty kick in its bulging-out stomach, on finding that he had not got it as small as he wanted. ''Ord rot your great carcass,' repeated he, scratching his head and eyeing it as it lay; 'this is all the consequence of your nasty brewers' hapron weshins-blowin' of one out, like a bladder!' and, thereupon, he placed his hand on his stomach to feel how his own was. 'Never see'd sich a house, or sich an awful mean man!' continued he, stooping and pommelling the package with his fists. It was of no use, he could not get it as small as he wished-'Must have my jacket out on you, I do believe,' added he, seeing where the impediment was; 'sticks in your gizzard just like a lump of old Puff-and-blow's puddin''; and then he thrust his hand into the folds of the clothing, and pulled out the greasy garment. 'Now,' said he, stooping again, 'I think we may manish ye'; and he took the roll in his arms and hoisted it on to Hercules, whom he meant to make the led horse, observing aloud, as he adjusted it on the saddle, and whacked it well with his hands to make it lie right, 'I wish it was old Jog-wouldn't I sarve him out!' He then turned his horses round in their stalls, tucked his greasy jacket under the flap of the saddle-bags, took his ash-stick from the crook, and led them out of the capacious door. Jog looked at him with mingled feelings of disgust and delight. Leather just gave his old hat flipe a rap with his forefinger as he passed with the horses-a salute that Jog did not condescend to return.

Having eyed the receding horses with great satisfaction, Jog re-entered the house by the kitchens, to have the pleasure of seeing Mr. Sponge off. He found the portmanteau and carpet-bag standing in the passage, and just at the moment the sound of the phaeton wheels fell on his ear, as Bartholomew drove round from the coach-house to the door. Mr. Sponge was already in the parlour, making his adieus to Mrs. Jog and the children, who were all assembled for the purpose.

'What, are you goin'?' (puff) asked Jog, with an air of surprise.

'Yes,' replied Mr. Sponge; adding, as he tendered his hand, 'the best friends must part, you know.'

'Well (puff), but you'd better have your (wheeze) horse round,' observed Jog, anxious to avoid any overture for a return.

'Thankee,' replied Mr. Sponge, making a parting bow; 'I'll get him at the stable.'

'I'll go with you,' said Jog, leading the way.

Leather had saddled, and bridled, and turned him round in the stall, with one of Mr. Jog's blanket-rugs on, which Mr. Sponge just swept over his tail into the manger, and led the horse out.

'Adieu!' said he, offering his hand to his host.

'Good-bye!-good (puff) sport to you,' said Jog, shaking it heartily.

Mr. Sponge then mounted his hack, and cocking out his toe, rode off at a canter.

At the same moment, Bartholomew drove away from the front door; and Jog, having stood watching the phaeton over the rise of Pennypound Hill, scraped his feet, re-entered his house, and rubbing them heartily on the mat as he closed the sash-door, observed aloud to himself, with a jerk of his head:

'Well, now, that's the most (puff) impittent feller I ever saw in my life! Catch me (gasp) godpapa-hunting again.'

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