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Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 17730

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

The lull that prevailed in the breakfast-room on Miss Howard's return from the window was speedily interrupted by fresh arrivals before the door. The three Master Baskets in coats and lay-over collars, Master Shutter in a jacket and trousers, the two Master Bulgeys in woollen overalls with very large hunting whips, Master Brick in a velveteen shooting-jacket, and the two Cheeks with their tweed trousers thrust into fiddle-case boots, on all sorts of ponies and family horses, began pawing and disordering the gravel in front of Nonsuch House.

George Cheek was the head boy at Mr. Latherington's classical and commercial academy, at Flagellation Hall (late the Crown and Sceptre Hotel and Posting House, on the Bankstone road), where, for forty pounds a year, eighty young gentlemen were fitted for the pulpit, the senate, the bar, the counting-house, or anything else their fond parents fancied them fit for.

George was a tall stripling, out at the elbows, in at the knees, with his red knuckled hands thrust a long way through his tight coat. He was just of that awkward age when boys fancy themselves men, and men are not prepared to lower themselves to their level. Ladies get on better with them than men: either the ladies are more tolerant of twaddle, or their discerning eyes see in the gawky youth the germ of future usefulness. George was on capital terms with himself. He was the oracle of Mr. Latherington's school, where he was not only head boy and head swell, but a considerable authority on sporting matters. He took in Bell's Life, which he read from beginning to end, and 'noted its contents,' as they say in the city.

'I'll tell you what all these little (hiccup) animals will be wanting,' observed Sir Harry, as he cayenne-peppered a turkey's leg; 'they'll be come for a (hiccup) hunt.'

'Wish they may get it,' observed Captain Seedeybuck; adding, 'why, the ground's as hard as iron.'

'There's a big boy,' observed Miss Howard, eyeing George Cheek through the window.

'Let's have him in, and see what he's got to say for himself,' said Miss Glitters.

'You ask him, then,' rejoined Miss Howard, who didn't care to risk another rub.

'Peter,' said Lady Scattercash to the footman, who had been loitering about, listening to the conversation,-'Peter, go and ask that tall boy with the blue neckerchief and the riband round his hat to come in.'

'Yes, my lady,' replied Peter.

'And the (hiccup) Spooneys, and the (hiccup) Bulgeys, and the (hiccup) Raws, and all the little (hiccup) rascals,' added Sir Harry.

'The Raws won't come. Sir H.,' observed Miss Howard soberly.

'Bigger fools they,' replied Sir Harry.

Presently Peter returned with a tail, headed by George Cheek, who came striding and slouching up the room, and stuck himself down on Lady Scattercash's right. The small boys squeezed themselves in as they could, one by Captain Seedeybuck, another by Captain Bouncey, one by Miss Glitters, a fourth by Miss Howard, and so on. They all fell ravenously upon the provisions.

Gobble, gobble, gobble was the order of the day.

'Well, and how often have you been flogged this half?' asked Lady Scattercash of George Cheek, as she gave him a cup of coffee.

Her ladyship hadn't much liking for youths of his age, and would just as soon vex them as not.

'Well, and how often have you been flogged this half?' asked she again, not getting an answer to her first inquiry.

'Not at all,' growled Cheek, reddening up.

'Oh, flogged!' exclaimed Miss Glitters. 'You wouldn't have a young man like him flogged; it's only the little boys that get that-is it, Mister Cheek?'

'To be sure not,' assented the youth.

'Mister Cheek's a man,' observed Miss Glitters, eyeing him archly, as he sat stuffing his mouth with currant-loaf plentifully besmeared with raspberry-jam. 'He'll be wanting a wife soon,' added she, smiling across the table at Captain Seedeybuck.

'I question but he's got one,' observed the captain.

'No, ar haven't,' replied Cheek, pleased at the imputation.

'Then there's a chance for you. Miss G.,' retorted the captain. 'Mrs. George Cheek would look well on a glazed card with gilt edges.'

'What a cub!' exclaimed Miss Howard, in disgust.

'You're another,' replied Master Cheek, amidst a roar of laughter from the party.

'Well, but you ask your master if you mayn't have a wife next half, and we'll see if we can't arrange matters,' observed Miss Glitters.

'Noo, ar sharn't,' replied George, stuffing his mouth full of preserved apricot.

'Why not?' asked Miss Howard, 'Because-because-ar'll have somethin' younger,' replied George.

'Bravo, young Chesterfield!' exclaimed Miss Howard; adding, 'what it is to be thick with Lord John Manners!'

'Ar'm not,' growled the boy, amidst the mirth of the company.

'Well, but what must we do with these little (hiccup)?' asked Sir Harry, at last rising from the breakfast-table, and looking listlessly round the company for an answer.

'Oh! liquor them well, and send them home to their mammas,' suggested Captain Bouncey, who was all for the drink.

'But they won't take their (hiccup),' replied Sir Harry, holding up a Curacao bottle to show how little had disappeared.

'Try them with cherry brandy,' suggested Captain Seedeybuck; adding, 'it's sweeter. Now, young man,' continued he, addressing George Cheek, as he poured him out a wineglassful, 'this is the real Daffy's elixir that you read of in the papers. It's the finest compound that ever was known. It will make your hair curl, your whiskers grow, and you a man before your mother.'

'N-o-a, n-o-ar, don't want any more,' growled the young gentleman, turning away in disgust. 'Ar won't drink any more.'

'Well, but be sociable,' observed Miss Howard, helping herself to a glass.

'N-o-a, no, ar don't want to be sociable,' growled he, diving into his trouser-pockets, and wriggling about on his chair.

'Well, then, what will you do?' asked Miss Howard.

'Hunt,' replied the youth.

'Hunt!' exclaimed Bob Spangles; 'why, the ground's as hard as bricks.'

'N-o-a, it's not,' replied the youth.

'What a whelp!' exclaimed Miss Howard, rising from the table in disgust.

'My Uncle Jellyboy wouldn't let such a frost stop him, I know,' observed the boy.

'Who's your Uncle Jellyboy?' asked Miss Glitters.

'He's a farmer, and keeps a few harriers at Scutley,' observed Bob Spangles, sotto voce.

'And is that your extraordinary horse with all the legs?' asked Miss Howard, putting her glass to her eye, and scrutinizing a lank, woolly-coated weed, getting led about by a blue-aproned gardener. 'Is that your extraordinary horse, with all the legs?' repeated she, following the animal about with her glass.

'Hoots, it hasn't more legs than other people's,' growled George.

'It's got ten, at all events,' replied Miss Howard, to the astonishment of the juveniles.

'Nor, it hasn't,' replied George.

'Yes, it has,' rejoined the lady.

'Nor, it hasn't,' repeated George.

'Come and see,' said the lady; adding, 'perhaps it's put out some since you got off.'

George slouched up to where she stood at the window.

'Now,' said he, as the gardener turned the horse round, and he saw it had but four, 'how many has it?'

'Ten!' replied Miss Howard.

'Hoots,' replied George, 'you think it's April Fool's Day, I dare say.'

'No, I don't,' replied Miss Howard; 'but I maintain your horse has ten legs. See, now!' continued she, 'what do you call these coming here?'

'His two forelegs,' replied George.

'Well, two fours-twice four's eight, eh? and his two hind ones make ten.'

'Hoots,' growled George, amidst the mirth of his comrades, 'you're makin' a fool o' one.'

'Well, but what must I do with all these little (hiccup) creatures?' asked Sir Harry again, seeing the plot still thickening outside.

'Turn them out a bagman?' suggested Mr. Sponge, in an undertone; adding, 'Watchorn has a three-legged 'un, I know, in the hay-loft.'

'Oh, Watchorn wouldn't (hiccup) on such a day as this,' replied Sir Harry. 'New Year's Day, too-most likely away, seeing his young hounds at walk.'

'We might see, at all events,' observed Mr. Sponge.

'Well,' assented Sir Harry, ringing the bell. 'Peter,' said he, as the servant answered the summons, 'I wish you would (hiccup) to Mr. Watchorn's, and ask if he'll have the kindness to (hiccup) down here.' Sir Harry was obliged to be polite, for Watchorn, too, was on the 'free' list as Miss Glitters called it.

'Yes, Sir Harry,' replied Peter, leaving the room.

Presently Peter's white legs were seen wending their way among the laurels and evergreens, in the direction of Mr. Watchorn's house; he having a house and grass for six cows, all whose milk, he declared, went to the puppies and young hounds. Luckily, or unluckily perhaps, Mr. Wat

chorn was at home, and was in the act of shaving as Peter entered. He was a square-built dark-faced, dark-haired, good-looking, ill-looking fellow who cultivated his face on the four-course system of husbandry. First, he had a bare fallow-we mean a clean shave; that of course was followed by a full crop of hair all over, except on his upper lip; then he had a soldier's shave, off by the ear; which in turn was followed by a Newgate frill. The latter was his present style. He had now no whiskers, but an immense protuberance of bristly black hair, rising like a wave above his kerchief. Though he cared no more about hunting than his master, he was very fond of his red coat, which he wore on all occasions, substituting a hat for a cap when 'off duty,' as he called it. Having attired himself in his best scarlet, of which he claimed three a year-one for wet days, one for dry days, another for high days-very natty kerseymere shorts and gaiters, with a small-striped, standing-collar, toilenette waistcoat, he proceeded to obey the summons.

'Watchorn,' said Sir Harry, as the important gentleman appeared at the breakfast-room door-'Watchorn, these young (hiccup) gentlemen want a (hiccup) hunt.'

'Oh! want must be their master, Sir 'Arry,' replied Watchorn, with a broad grin on his flushed face, for he had been drinking all night, and was half drunk then.

'Can't you manage it?' asked Sir Harry, mildly.

''Ow is't possible. Sir 'Arry,' asked the huntsman, ''ow is't possible? No man's fonder of 'untin' than I am, but to turn out on sich a day as this would be a daring-a desperate violation of all the laws of registered propriety. The Pope's bull would be nothin' to it!'

'How so?' asked Sir Harry, puzzled with the jumble.

'How so?' repeated Watchorn; 'how so? Why, in the fust place, it's a mortal 'ard frost, 'arder nor hiron; in the second place, I've got no arrangements made-you can't turn out a pack of 'igh-bred fox-'ounds as you would a lot of "staggers" or "muggers"; and, in the third place, you'll knock all your nags to bits, and they are a deal better in their wind than they are on their legs, as it is. No, Sir 'Arry-no,' continued he, slowly and thoughtfully. 'No, Sir 'Arry, no. Be Cardinal Wiseman, for once. Sir 'Arry; be Cardinal Wiseman for once, and don't think of it.'

'Well,' replied Sir Harry, looking at George Cheek, 'I suppose there's no help for it.'

'It was quite a thaw where I came from,' observed Cheek, half to Sir Harry and half to the huntsman.

''Deed, sir, 'deed,' replied Mr. Watchorn, with a chuck of his fringed chin, 'it generally is a thaw everywhere but where hounds meet.'

'My Uncle Jollyboy wouldn't be stopped by such a frost as this,' observed Cheek.

''Deed, sir, 'deed,' replied Watchorn, 'your Uncle Jellyboy's a very fine feller, I dare say-very fine feller; no such conjurers in these parts as he is. What man dare, I dare; he who dares more, is no man,' added Watchorn, giving his fat thigh a hearty slap.

'Well done, old Talliho!' exclaimed Miss Glitters. 'We'll have you on the stage next.'

'What will you wet your whistle with after your fine speech?' asked Lady Scattercash.

'Take a tumbler of chumpine, if there is any,' replied Watchorn, looking about for a long-necked bottle.

'Fear you'll come on badly,' observed Captain Seedeybuck, holding up an empty one, 'for Bouncey and I have just finished the last'; the captain chucking the bottle sideways on to the floor, and rolling it towards its companion in the corner.

'Have a fresh bottle,' suggested Lady Scattercash, drawing the bell-string at her chair.

'Champagne,' said her ladyship, as the footman answered the summons.

'Two on 'em!' exclaimed Captain Bouncey.

'Three!' shouted Sir Harry.

'We'll have a regular set-to,' observed Miss Howard, who was fond of champagne.

'New Year's Day,' replied Bouncey, 'and ought to be properly observed.'

Presently, Fiz-z,-pop,-bang! Fiz-z,-pop,-bang! went the bottles; and, as the hissing beverage foamed over the bottle-necks, glasses were sought and held out to catch the creaming contents.

'Here's a (hiccup) happy new year to us all!' exclaimed Sir Harry, drinking off his wine. 'H-o-o-ray!' exclaimed the company in irregular order, as they drank off theirs.

'We'll drink Mr. Watchorn and the Nonsuch hounds!' exclaimed Bob Spangles, as Watchorn, having drained off his tumbler, replaced it on the sideboard.

'With all the honours!' exclaimed Captain Cutitfat, filling his glass and rising to give the time; 'Watchorn, your good health!' 'Watchorn, your good health!' sounded from all parts, which Watchorn kept acknowledging, and looking about for the means to return the compliment, his friends being more intent upon drinking his health than upon supplying him with wine. At last he caught the third of a bottle of 'chumpine,' and, emptying it into his tumbler, held it up while he thus addressed them:

'Gen'lemen all!' said he, 'I thank you most 'ticklarly for this mark of your 'tention (applause); it's most gratifying to my feelins to be thus remembered (applause). I could say a great deal more, but the liquor won't wait.' So saying, he drained off his glass while the wine effervesced.

'Well, and what d'ye (hiccup) of the weather now?' asked Sir Harry, as his huntsman again deposited his tumbler on the sideboard.

'Pon my soul! Sir 'Arry,' replied Watchorn, quite briskly, 'I really think we might 'unt-we might try, at all events. The day seems changed, some'ow,' added he, staring vacantly out of the window on the bright sunny landscape, with the leafless trees dancing before his eyes.

'I think so,' said Sir Harry. 'What do you think, Mr. Sponge?' added he, appealing to our hero.

'Half an hour may make a great difference,' observed Mr. Sponge. 'The sun will then be at its best.'

'We'll try, at all events,' observed Sir Harry.

'That's right,' exclaimed George Cheek, waving a scarlet bandana over his head.

'I shall expect you to ride up to the 'ounds, young gent,' observed Watchorn, darting an angry look at the speaker.

'Won't I, old boy!' exclaimed George; 'ride over you, if you don't get out of the way.'

''Deed,' sneered the huntsman, whisking about to leave the room; muttering, as he passed behind the large Indian screen at the door, something about 'jawing jackanapes, well called Cheek.'

''Unt in 'alf an hour!' exclaimed Watchorn, from the steps of the front door; an announcement that was received by the little Raws, and little Spooneys, and little Baskets, and little Bulgeys, and little Bricks, and little others, with rapturous applause.

All was now commotion and hurry-scurry inside and out; glasses were drained, lips wiped, and napkins thrown hastily away, while ladies and gentlemen began grouping and talking about hats and habits, and what they should ride.

'You go with me, Orlando,' said Lady Scattercash to our friend Bugles, recollecting the quantity of diachylon plaster it had taken to repair the damage of his former equestrian performance. 'You go with me, Orlando,' said she, 'in the phaeton; and I'll lend Lucy,' nodding towards Miss Glitters, 'my habit and horse.'

'Who can lend me a coat?' asked Captain Seedeybuck, examining the skirts of a much frayed invisible-green surtout.

'A coat!' replied Captain Quod; 'I can lend you a Joinville, if that will do as well,' the captain feeling his own extensive one as he spoke.

'Hardly,' said Seedeybuck, turning about to ask Sir Harry.

'What!-you are going to give Watchorn a tussle, are you?' asked Captain Cutitfat of George Cheek, as the latter began adjusting the fox-toothed riband about his hat.

'I believe you,' replied George, with a knowing jerk of his head; adding, 'it won't take much to beat him.'

'What! he's a slow 'un, is he?' asked Cutitfat, in an undertone.

'Slowest coach I ever saw,' growled George.

'Won't ride, won't he?' asked the Captain.

'Not if he can help it,' replied George, adding, 'but he's such a shocking huntsman-never saw such a huntsman in all my life.'

George's experience lay between his Uncle Jellyboy, who rode eighteen stone and a half, Tom Scramble, the pedestrian huntsman of the Slowfoot hounds, near Mr. Latherington's, and Mr. Watchorn. But critics, especially hunting ones, are all ready made, as Lord Byron said.

'Well, we'd better disperse and get ready,' observed Bob Spangles, making for the door; whereupon the tide of population flowed that way, and the room was presently cleared.

George Cheek and the juveniles then returned to their friends in the front; and George got up pony races among the Johnny Raws, the Baskets, the Bulgeys, and the Spooneys, thrice round the carriage ring and a distance, to the detriment of the gravel and the discomfiture of the flower-bed in the centre.

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