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Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 18309

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

We will now suppose our distinguished Sponge entering the village, or what the natives call the town of Washingforde, towards the close of a short December day, on his arrival from Mr. Jog's.

'What sort of stables are there?' asked he, reining up his hack, as he encountered the brandy-nosed Leather airing himself on the main street.

'Stables be good enough-forage, too,' replied the stud groom-'per-wided you likes the sittivation.'

'Oh, the sittivation 'll be good enough,' retorted Sponge, thinking that, groom-like, Leather was grumbling because he hadn't got the best stables.

'Well, sir, as you please,' replied the man.

'Why, where are they?' asked Sponge, seeing there was more in Leather's manner than met the eye.

'Rose and Crown!' replied Leather, with an emphasis.

'Rose and Crown!' exclaimed Sponge, starting in his saddle; 'Rose and Crown! Why, I'm going to stay with Mr. Romford!'

'So he said.' replied Leather; 'so he said. I met him as I com'd in with the osses, and said he to me, said he, "You'll find captle quarters at the Crown!"' 'The deuce!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, dropping the reins on his hack's neck; 'the deuce!' repeated he with a look of disgust. 'Why, where does he live?'

''Bove the saddler's, thonder,' replied Leather, nodding to a small bow-windowed white house a little lower down, with the gilt-lettered words:



above a very meagrely stocked shop.

'The devil!' replied Mr. Sponge, boiling up as he eyed the cottage-like dimensions of the place.

The dialogue was interrupted by a sledge-hammer-like blow on Sponge's back, followed by such a proffered hand as could proceed from none but his host.

'Glad to see ye!' exclaimed Facey, swinging Sponge's arm to and fro. 'Get off!' continued he, half dragging him down, 'and let's go in; for it's beastly cold, and dinner'll be ready in no time!'

So saying, he led the captive Sponge down street, like a prisoner, by the arm, and, opening the thin house-door, pushed him up a very straight staircase into a little low cabin-like room, hung with boxing-gloves, foils, and pictures of fighters and ballet girls.

'Glad to see ye!' again said Facey, poking the diminutive fire. 'Axed Nosey Nickel and Gutty Weazel to meet you,' continued he, looking at the little 'dinner-for-two' table; 'but Nosey's gone wrong in a tooth, and Gutty's away sweetheartin'. However, we'll be very cosy and jolly together; and if you want to wash your hands, or anything afore dinner, I'll show you your bedroom,' continued he, backing Sponge across the staircase landing to where a couple of little black doors opened into rooms, formed by dividing what had been the duplicate of the sitting-room into two.

'There!' exclaimed Facey, pointing to Sponge's portmanteau and bag, standing midway between the window and door: 'There! there are your traps. Yonder's the washhand-stand. You can put your shavin'-things on the chair below the lookin'-glass 'gainst the wall,' pointing to a fragment of glass nailed against the stencilled wall, all of which Sponge stood eyeing with a mingled air of resignation and contempt; but when Facey pointed to:

'The chest, contrived a double debt to pay-

A bed by night, a chest of drawers by day'

and said that was where Sponge would have to curl himself up, our friend shook his head, and declared he could not.

'Oh, fiddle!' replied Facey, 'Jack Weatherley slept in it for months, and he's half a hand higher than you-sixteen hands, if he's an inch.' And Sponge jerked his head and bit his lips, thinking he was 'done' for once.

'W-h-o-y, ar thought you'd been a fox-hunter,' observed Facey, seeing his guest's disconcerted look.

'Well, but bein' a fox-hunter won't enable one to sleep in a band-box, or to shut one's-self up like a telescope,' retorted the indignant Sponge.

''Ord hang it, man! you're so nasty partickler,' rejoined Facey; 'you're so nasty partickler. You'll never do to go out duck-shootin' i' your shirt. Dash it, man! Oncle Gilroy would disinherit me if ar was such a chap. However, look sharp,' continued he, 'if you are goin' to clean yourself; for dinner 'll be ready in no time, indeed, I hear Mrs. End dishin' it up.' So saying, Facey rolled out of the room, and Sponge presently heard him pulling off his clogs of shoes in the adjoining one. Dinner spoke for itself, for the house reeked with the smell of fried onions and roast pork.

Now, Sponge didn't like pork; and there was nothing but pork, or pig in one shape or another. Spare ribs, liver and bacon, sausages, black puddings, &c.-all very good in their way, but which came with a bad grace after the comforts of Jog's, the elegance of Puffington's, and the early splendour of Jawleyford's. Our hero was a good deal put out, and felt as if he was imposed upon. What business had a man like this to ask him to stay with him-a man who dined by daylight, and ladled his meat with a great two-pronged fork?

Facey, though he saw Mr. Sponge wasn't pleased, praised and pressed everything in succession down to a very strong cheese; and as the slip-shod girl whisked away crumbs and all in the coarse tablecloth, he exclaimed in a most open-hearted air, 'Well, now, what shall we have to drink?' adding, 'You smoke, of course-shall it be gin, rum, or Hollands-Hollands, rum, or gin?'

Sponge was half inclined to propose wine, but recollecting what sloe-juice sort of stuff it was sure to be, and that Facey, in all probability, would make him finish it, he just replied, 'Oh, I don't care; 'spose we say gin?'

'Gin be it,' said Facey, rising from his seat, and making for a little closet in the wall, he produced a bottle labelled 'Fine London Spirit'; and, hallooing to the girl to get a few 'Captins' out of the box under his bed, he scattered a lot of glasses about the table, and placed a green dessert-dish for the biscuits against they came.

Night had now closed in-a keen, boisterous, wintry night, making the pocketful of coals that ornamented the grate peculiarly acceptable.

'B-o-y Jove, what a night!' exclaimed Facey, as a blash of sleet dashed across the window as if some one had thrown a handful of pebbles against it. 'B-o-y Jove, what a night!' repeated he, rising and closing the shutters, and letting down the little scanty red curtain. 'Let us draw in and have a hot brew,' continued he, stirring the fire under the kettle, and handing a lot of cigars out of the table-drawer. They then sat smoking and sipping, and smoking and sipping, each making a mental estimate of the other.

'Shall we have a game at cards? or what shall we do to pass the evenin'?' at length asked our host. 'Better have a game at cards, p'raps,' continued he.

'Thank'ee, no; thank'ee, no. I've a book in my pocket,' replied Sponge, diving into his jacket-pocket; adding, as he fished up his Mogg, 'always carry a book of light reading about with me.'

'What, you're a literary cove, are you?' asked Facey, in a tone of surprise.

'Not exactly that,' replied Sponge; 'but I like to improve my mind.' He then opened the valuable work, taking a dip into the Omnibus Guide-'Brentford, 7 from Hyde Park Corner-European Coffee House, near the Bank, daily,' and so worked his way on through the 'Brighton Railway Station, Brixton, Bromley both in Kent and Middlesex, Bushey Heath, Camberwell, Camden Town, and Carshalton,' right into Cheam, when Facey, who had been eyeing him intently, not at all relishing his style of proceeding and wishing to be doing, suddenly exclaimed, as he darted up:


'B-o-y Jove! You've not heard me play the flute! No more you have. Dash it, how remiss!' continued he, making for the little bookshelf on which it lay; adding, as he blew into it and sucked the joints, 'you're musical, of course?'

'Oh, I can stand music,' muttered Sponge, with a jerk of his head, as if a tune was neither here nor there with him.

'By Jingo! you should see me Oncle Gilroy when a'rm playin'! The old man act'ly sheds tears of delight-he's so pleased.'

'Indeed,' replied Sponge, now passing on into Mogg's Cab Fares-'Aldersgate Street, Hare Court, to or from Bagnigge Wells,' and so on, when Facey struck up the most squeaking, discordant, broken-winded

'Jump Jim Crow'

that ever was heard, making the sensitive Sponge shudder, and setting all his teeth on edge.

'Hang me, but that flute of yours wants nitre, or a dose of physic, or something most dreadful!' at length exclaimed he, squeezing up his face as if in the greatest agony, as the laboured:

'Jump about and wheel about'

completely threw Sponge over in his calculation as to what he could ride from Aldgate Pump to the Pied Bull at Islington for.

'Oh no!' replied Facey, with an air of indifference, as he took off the end and jerked out the steam. 'Oh no-only wants work-only wants work,' added he, putting it together again, exclaiming, as he looked at the now sulky Sponge, 'Well, what shall it be?'

'Whatever you please,' replied our friend, dipping frantically into his Mogg.

'Well, th

en, I'll play you me oncle's favourite tune, "The Merry Swiss Boy,"' whereupon Facey set to most vigorously with that once most popular air. It, however, came off as rustily as 'Jim Crow,' for whose feats Facey evidently had a partiality; for no sooner did he get squeaked through 'me oncle's' tune than he returned to the nigger melody with redoubled zeal, and puffed and blew Sponge's calculations as to what he could ride from 'Mother Redcap's at Camden Town down Liquorpond Street, up Snow Hill, and so on, to the 'Angel' in Ratcliff Highway for, clean out of his head. Nor did there seem any prospect of relief, for no sooner did Facey get through one tune than he at the other again.

'Rot it!' at length exclaimed Sponge, throwing his Mogg from him in despair, 'you'll deafen me with that abominable noise.' 'Bless my heart!' exclaimed Facey, in well-feigned surprise, 'Bless my heart! Why, I thought you liked music, my dear feller!' adding, 'I was playin' to please you.'

'The deuce you were!' snapped Mr. Sponge. 'I wish I'd known sooner: I'd have saved you a deal of wind.'

'Why, my dear feller,' replied Facey, 'I wished to entertain you the best in my power. One must do somethin', you know.'

'I'd rather do anything than undergo that horrid noise,' replied Sponge, ringing his left ear with his forefinger.

'Let's have a game at cards, then,' rejoined Facey soothingly, seeing he had sufficiently agonized Sponge.

'Cards,' replied Mr. Sponge. 'Cards,' repeated he thoughtfully, stroking his hairy chin. 'Cards,' added he, for the third time, as he conned Facey's rotund visage, and wondered if he was a sharper. If the cards were fair, Sponge didn't care trying his luck. It all depended upon that. 'Well,' said he, in a tone of indifference, as he picked up his Mogg, thinking he wouldn't pay if he lost, 'I'll give you a turn. What shall it be?'

'Oh-w-h-o-y-s'pose we say écarté?' replied Facey, in an off-hand sort of way.

'Well,' drawled Sponge, pocketing his Mogg, preparatory to action.

'You haven't a clean pack, have you?' asked Sponge, as Facey, diving into a drawer, produced a very dirty, thumb-marked set.

'W-h-o-y, no, I haven't,' replied Facey. 'W-h-o-y, no, I haven't: but, honour bright, these are all right and fair. Wouldn't cheat a man, if it was ever so.'

'Sure you wouldn't,' replied Sponge, nothing comforted by the assertion.

They then resumed their seats opposite each other at the little table, with the hot water and sugar, and 'Fine London Spirit' bottle equitably placed between them.

At first Mr. Sponge was the victor, and by nine o'clock had scored eight-and-twenty shillings against his host, when he was inclined to leave off, alleging that he was an early man, and would go to bed-an arrangement that Facey seemed to come into, only pressing Sponge to accompany the gin he was now helping himself to with another cigar. This seemed all fair and reasonable; and as Sponge conned matters over, through the benign influence of the ''baccy,' he really thought Facey mightn't be such a bad beggar after all.

'Well, then,' said he, as he finished cigar and glass together, 'if you'll give me eight-and-twenty bob, I'll be off to Bedfordshire.'

'You'll give me my revenge surely!' exclaimed Facey, in pretended astonishment.

'To-morrow night,' replied Sponge firmly, thinking it would have to go hard with him if he remained there to give it.

'Nay, now!' rejoined Facey, adding, 'it's quite early. Me Oncle Gilroy and I always play much later at Queercove Hill.'

Sponge hesitated. If he had got the money, he would have refused point-blank; as it was, he thought, perhaps the only chance of getting it was to go on. With no small reluctance and misgivings he mixed himself another tumbler of gin and water, and, changing seats, resumed the game. Nor was our discreet friend far wrong in his calculations, for luck now changed, and Facey seemed to have the king quite at command. In less than an hour he had not only wiped off the eight-and-twenty shillings, but had scored three pound fifteen against his guest. Facey would now leave off. Sponge, on the other hand, wanted to go on. Facey, however, was firm. 'I'll cut you double or quits, then,' cried Sponge, in rash despair. Facey accommodated him and doubled the debt.

'Again!' exclaimed Sponge, with desperate energy.

'No! no more, thank ye,' replied Facey coolly. 'Fair play's a jewel.'

'So it is,' assented Mr. Sponge, thinking he hadn't had it.

'Now,' continued Facey, poking into the table-drawer and producing a dirty scrap of paper, with a little pocket ink-case, 'if you'll give me an "I.O.U.," we'll shut up shop.'

'An "I.O.U.!"' retorted Sponge, looking virtuously indignant. 'An "I.O.U.!" I'll give you your money i' the mornin'.'

'I know you will,' replied Facey coolly, putting himself in boxing attitude, exclaiming, as he measured out a distance, 'just feel the biceps muscle of my arm-do believe I could fell an ox. However, never mind,' continued he, seeing Sponge declined the feel. 'Life's uncertain: so you give me an "I.O.U." and we'll be all right and square. Short reckonin's make long friends, you know,' added he, pointing peremptorily to the paper.

'I'd better give you a cheque at once,' retorted Sponge, looking the very essence of chivalry.

'Money, if you please,' replied Facey; muttering, with a jerk of his head, 'don't like paper.'

The renowned Sponge, for once, was posed. He had the money, but he didn't like to part with it. So he gave the 'I.O.U.' and, lighting a twelve-to-the-pound candle, sulked off to undress and crawl into the little impossibility of a bed.

Night, however, brought no relief to our distinguished friend; for, little though the bed was, it was large enough to admit lodgers, and poor Sponge was nearly worried by the half-famished vermin, who seemed bent on making up for the long fast they had endured since the sixteen-hands-man left. Worst of all, as day dawned, the eternal 'Jim Crow' recommenced his saltations, varied only with the:

'Come, arouse ye, arouse ye, my merry Swiss boy'

of 'me Oncle Gilroy.'

'Well, dash my buttons!' groaned Sponge, as the discordant noise shot through his aching head, 'but this is the worst spec I ever made in my life. Fed on pork, fluted deaf, bit with bugs, and robbed at cards-fairly, downrightly robbed. Never was a more reg'ler plant put on a man. Thank goodness, however, I haven't paid him-never will, either. Such a confounded, disreputable scoundrel deserves to be punished-big, bad, blackguard-looking fellow! How the deuce I could ever be taken in by such a fellow! Believe he's nothing but a great poaching blackleg. Hasn't the faintest outlines of a gentleman about him-not the slightest particle-not the remotest glimmerin'.'

These and similar reflections were interrupted by a great thump against the thin lath-and-plaster wall that separated their rooms, or rather closets, accompanied by an exclamation of:

'Halloo, old boy! how goes it?'-an inquiry to which our friend deigned no answer.

''Ord rot ye! you're awake,' muttered Facey to himself, well knowing that no one could sleep after such a 'Jim-Crow-ing' and 'Swiss-boy-ing' as he had given him. He therefore resumed his battery, thumping as though he would knock the partition in.

'Halloo!' at last exclaimed Mr. Sponge, 'who's there?'

'Well, old Sivin-Pund-Ten, how goes it?' asked Facey, in a tone of the keenest irony.

'You be --!' growled Mr. Sponge, in disgust.

'Breakfast in half an hour!' resumed Facey. 'Pigs'-puddin's and sarsingers-all 'ot-pipin' 'ot!' continued our host.

'Wish you were pipin' 'ot,' growled Mr. Sponge, as he jerked himself out of his little berth.

Though Facey pumped him pretty hard during this second pig repast, he could make nothing out of Sponge with regard to his movements-our friend parrying all his inquiries with his Mogg, and assurances that he could amuse himself. In vain Facey represented that his Oncle Gilroy would be expecting them; that Mr. Hobler was ready for him to ride over on; Sponge wasn't inclined to shoot, but begged Facey wouldn't stay at home on his account. The fact was, Sponge meditated a bolt, and was in close confab with Leather, in the Rose and Crown stables, arranging matters, when the sound of his name in the yard caused him to look out, when-oh, welcome sight!-a Puddingpote Bower messenger put Sir Harry's note in his hand, which had at length arrived at Jog's through their very miscellaneous transit, called a post. Sponge, in the joy of his heart, actually gave the lad a shilling! He now felt like a new man. He didn't care a rap for Facey, and, ordering Leather to give him the hack and follow with the hunters, he presently cantered out of town as sprucely as if all was on the square.

When, however, Facey found how matters stood, he determined to stop Sponge's things, which Leather resisted; and, Facey showing fight, Leather butted him with his head, sending him backwards downstairs and putting his shoulder out. Leather than marched off with the kit, amid the honours of war.

* * *

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