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Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 13636

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

We will now accompany Mr. Watchorn to the stable, whither his resolute legs carried him as soon as the champagne wrought the wonderful change in his opinion of the weather, though, as he every now and then crossed a spangled piece of ground upon which the sun had not struck, or stopped to crack a piece of ice with his toe, he shook his heated head and doubted whether he was Cardinal Wiseman for making the attempt. Nothing but the fact of his considering it perfectly immaterial whether he was with his hounds or not encouraged him in the undertaking. 'Dash them!' said he, 'they must just take care of themselves.' With which laudable resolution, and an inward anathema at George Cheek, he left off trying the ground and tapping the ice.

Watchorn's hurried, excited appearance produced little satisfaction among the grooms and helpers at the stables, who were congratulating themselves on the opportune arrival of the frost, and arranging how they should spend their New Year's Day.

'Look sharp, lads! look sharp!' exclaimed he, clapping his hands as he ran up the yard. 'Look sharp, lads! look sharp!' repeated he, as the astonished helpers showed their bare arms and dirty shirts at the partially opened doors, responsive to the sound. 'Send Snaffle here, send Brown here, send Green here, send Snooks here,' exclaimed he, with the air of a man in authority.

Now Snaffle was the stud-groom, a personage altogether independent of the huntsman, and, in the ordinary course of nature, Snaffle had just as much right to send for Watchorn as Watchorn had to send for him; but Watchorn being, as we said before, some way connected with Lady Scattercash, he just did as he liked among the whole of them, and they were too good judges to rebel.

'Snaffle,' said he, as the portly, well-put-on personage waddled up to him; 'Snaffle,' said he, 'how many sound 'osses have you?'

'None, sir,' replied Snaffle confidently.

'How many three-legged 'uns have you that can go, then?'

'Oh! a good many,' replied Snaffle, raising his hands to tell them off on his fingers. 'There's Hop-the-twig, and Hannah Bell (Hannibal), and Ugly Jade, and Sir-danapalis-the Baronet as we calls him-and Harkaway, and Hit-me-hard, and Single-peeper, and Jack's-alive, and Groggytoes, and Greedyboy, and Puff-and-blow; that's to say two and three-legged 'uns, at least,' observed Snaffle, qualifying his original assertion.

'Ah, well!' said Watchorn, 'that'll do-two legs are too many for some of the rips they'll have to carry-Let me see,' continued he thoughtfully, 'I'll ride 'Arkaway.'

'Yes, sir,' said Snaffle.

'Sir 'Arry, 'It-me-'ard.'

'Won't you put him on Sir-danapalis?' asked Snaffle.

'No,' replied Watchorn, 'no; I wants to save the Bart.-I wants to save the Bart. Sir 'Arry must ride 'It-me-'ard.'

'Is her ladyship going?' asked Snaffle.

'Her ladyship drives,' replied Watchorn. 'And you. Snooks,' addressing a bare-armed helper, 'tell Mr. Traces to turn her out a pony phaeton and pair, with fresh rosettes and all complete, you know.'

'Yes sir,' said Snooks, with a touch of his forelock.

'And you'd better tell Mr. Leather to have a horse for his master,' observed Watchorn to Snaffle, 'unless as how you wish to put him on one of yours.'

'Not I,' exclaimed Snaffle; 'have enough to mount without him. D'ye know how many'll be goin'?' asked he.

'No,' replied Watchorn, hurrying off; adding, as he went, 'oh, hang 'em, just saddle 'em all, and let 'em scramble for 'em.'

The scene then changed. Instead of hissing helpers pursuing their vocations in stable or saddle-room, they began bustling about with saddles on their heads and bridles in their hands, the day of expected ease being changed into one of unusual trouble. Mr. Leather declared, as he swept the clothes over Multum-in-Parvo's tail, that it was the most unconscionable proceeding he had ever witnessed; and muttered something about the quiet comforts he had left at Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey's, hinting his regret at having come to Sir Harry's, in a sort of dialogue with himself as he saddled the horse. The beauties of the last place always come out strong when a servant gets to another. But we must accompany Mr. Watchorn.

Though his early career with the Camberwell and Balham Hill Union harriers had not initiated him much into the delicacies of the chase, yet, recollecting the presence of Mr. Sponge, he felt suddenly seized with a desire of 'doing things as they should be'; and he went muttering to the kennel, thinking how he would leave Dinnerbell and Prosperous at home, and how the pack would look quite as well without Frantic running half a field ahead, or old Stormer and Stunner bringing up the rear with long protracted howls. He doubted, indeed, whether he would take Desperate, who was an incorrigible skirter; but as she was not much worse in this respect than Chatterer or Harmony, who was also an inveterate babbler, and the pack would look rather short without them, he reserved the point for further consideration, as the judges say.

His speculations were interrupted by arriving at the kennel, and finding the door fast, he looked under the slate, and above the frame, and inside the window, and on the wall, for the key; and his shake, and kick, and clatter were only answered by a full chorus from the excited company within.

'Hang the feller! what's got 'im!' exclaimed he, meaning Joe Haggish, the feeder, whom he expected to find there.

Joe, however, was absent; not holiday-making, but on a diplomatic visit to Mr. Greystones, the miller, at Splashford, who had positively refused to supply any more meal, until his 'little bill' (£430) for the three previous years was settled; and flesh being very scarce in the country, the hounds were quite light and fit to go. Joe had gone to try and coax Greystones out of a ton or two of meal, on the strength of its being New Year's Day.

'Dash the feller! wot's got'im?' exclaimed Watchorn, seizing the latch, and rattling it furiously. The melody of the hungry pack increased. ''Ord rot the door!' exclaimed the infuriated huntsman, setting his back against it; at the first push, open it flew. Watchorn fell back, and the astonished pack poured over his prostrate body, regardless alike of his holiday coat, his tidy tie, and toilenette vest. What a scrimmage! What a kick-up was there! Away the hounds scampered, towling and howling, some up to the fleshwheel, to see if there was any meat; some to the bone heap, to see if there was any there; others down to the dairy, to try and effect an entrance in it; while Launcher, and Lightsome, and Burster, rushed to the backyard of Nonsuch House, and were presently over ears in the pig-pail.

'Get me my horn! get me my whop!-get me my cap!-get me my bouts!' exclaimed Watc

horn, as he recovered his legs, and saw his wife eyeing the scene from the door. 'Get me my bouts!-get me my cap!-get me my whop!-get me my horn, woman!' continued he, reversing the order of things, and rubbing the hounds' feetmarks off his clothes as he spoke.

Mrs. Watchorn was too well drilled to dwell upon orders, and she met her lord and master in the passage with the enumerated articles in her hand. Watchorn having deposited himself on an entrance-hall chair-for it was a roomy, well-furnished house, having been the steward's while there was anything to take care of-Mrs. Watchorn proceeded to strip off his gaiters while he drew on his boots and crowned himself with his cap. Mrs. Watchorn then buckled on his spurs, and he hurried off, horn in hand, desiring her to have him a basin of turtle-soup ready against he came in; adding, 'She knew where to get it.' The frosty air then resounded with the twang, twang, twang of his horn, and hounds began drawing up from all quarters, just as sportsmen cast up at a meet from no one knows where.

'He-here, hounds-he-here, good dogs!' cried he, coaxing and making much of the first-comers: 'he-here. Galloper, old boy!' continued he, diving into his coat-pocket, and throwing him a bit of biscuit. The appearance of food had a very encouraging effect, for forthwith there was a general rush towards Watchorn, and it was only by rating and swinging his 'whop' about that he prevented the pack from pawing, and perhaps downing him. At length, having got them somewhat tranquillized, he set off on his return to the stables, coaxing the shy hounds, and rating and rapping those that seemed inclined to break away. Thus he managed to march into the stable-yard in pretty good order, just as the house party arrived in the opposite direction, attired in the most extraordinary and incongruous habiliments. There was Bob Spangles, in a swallow-tailed, mulberry-coloured scarlet, that looked like an old pen-wiper, white duck trousers, and lack-lustre Napoleon boots; Captain Cutitfat, in a smart new 'Moses and Son's' straight-cut scarlet, with bloodhound heads on the buttons, yellow-ochre leathers, and Wellington boots with drab knee-caps; little Bouncey in a tremendously baggy long-backed scarlet, whose gaping outside-pockets showed that they had carried its late owner's hands as well as his handkerchief; the clumsy device on the tarnished buttons looking quite as much like sheep's-heads as foxes'. Bouncey's tight tweed trousers were thrust into a pair of wide fisherman's boots, which, but for his little roundabout stomach, would have swallowed him up bodily. Captain Quod appeared in a venerable dresscoat of the Melton Hunt, made in the popular reign of Mr. Errington, whose much-stained and smeared silk facings bore testimony to the good cheer it had seen. As if in contrast to the light airiness of this garment, Quod had on a tremendously large shaggy brown waistcoat, with horn buttons, a double tier of pockets, and a nick out in front. With an unfair partiality his nether man was attired in a pair of shabby old black, or rather brown, dress trousers, thrust into long Wellington boots with brass heel spurs. Captain Seedeybuck had on a spruce swallow-tailed green coat of Sir Harry's, a pair of old tweed trousers of his own, thrust into long chamois-leather opera-boots, with red morocco tops, giving the whole a very unique and novel appearance. Mr. Orlando Bugles, though going to drive with my lady, thought it incumbent to put on his jack-boots, and appeared in kerseymere shorts, and a highly frogged and furred blue frock-coat, with the corner of a musked cambric kerchief acting the part of a star on his breast.

"Here comes old sixteen-string'd Jack!" exclaimed Bob Spangles, as his brother-in-law, Sir Harry, came hitching and limping along, all strings, and tapes, and ends, as usual, followed by Mr. Sponge in the strict and severe order of sporting costume; double-stitched, back-stitched, sleeve-strapped, pull-devil, pull-baker coat, broad corduroy vest with fox-teeth buttons, still broader corded breeches, and the redoubtable vinegar tops. "Now we're all ready!" exclaimed Bob, working his arms as if anxious to be off, and giving a shrill shilling-gallery whistle with his fingers, causing the stable-doors to fly open, and the variously tackled steeds to emerge from their stalls.

"A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!" exclaimed Miss Glitters, running up as fast as her long habit, or rather Lady Scattercash's long habit, would allow her. "A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!" repeated she, diving into the throng.

'White Surrey is saddled for the field,' replied Mr. Orlando Bugles, drawing himself up pompously, and waving his right hand gracefully towards her ladyship's Arab palfrey, inwardly congratulating himself that Miss Glitters was going to be bumped upon it instead of him.

'Give us a leg up, Seedey!' exclaimed Lucy Glitters to the 'gent' of the green coat, fearing that Miss Howard, who was a little behind, might claim the horse.


Captain Seedeybuck seized her pretty little uplifted foot and vaulted her into the saddle as light as a cork. Taking the horse gently by the mouth, she gave him the slightest possible touch with the whip, and moved him about at will, instead of fretting and fighting him as the clumsy, heavy-handed Bugles had done. She looked beautiful on horseback, and for a time riveted the attention of our sportsmen. At length they began to think of themselves, and then there were such climbings on, and clutchings, and catchings, and clingings, and gently-ings, and who-ho-ings, and who-ah-ings, and questionings if 'such a horse was quiet?' if another 'could leap well?' if a third 'had a good mouth?' and whether a fourth 'ever ran away?'

'Take my port-stirrup up two 'oles!' exclaimed Captain Bouncey from the top of high Hop-the-twig, sticking out a leg to let the groom do it.

The captain had affected the sea instead of the land service, while a betting-list keeper, and found the bluff sailor character very taking.

'Avast there!' exclaimed he, as the groom ran the buckle up to the desired hole. 'Now,' said he, gathering up the reins in a bunch, 'how many knots an hour can this 'orse go?'

'Twenty,' replied the man, thinking he meant miles.

'Let her go, then!' exclaimed the captain, kicking the horse's sides with his spurless heels.

Mr. Watchorn now mounted Harkaway; Sir Harry scrambled on to Hit-me-hard; Miss Howard was hoisted on to Groggytoes, and all the rest being 'fit' with horses of some sort or other, and the races in the front being over the juveniles poured into the yard. Lady Scattercash's pony-phaeton turned out, and our friends were at length ready for a start.

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