Any one looking at him in 'mufti' would exclaim, 'what an unfortunate object!' and perhaps offer him a penny, while in his hunting habiliments lords would hail him with, 'Well, Tom, how are you?' and baronets ask him 'how he was?' Commoners felt honoured by his countenance, and yet, but for hunting, Tom would have been wasted—a cypher—an inapplicable sort of man. Old Tom, in his scarlet coat, black cap, and boots, and Tom in his undress—say, shirt-sleves, shorts, grey stockings and shoes, bore about the same resemblance to each other that a three months dead jay nailed to a keeper's lodge bears to the bright-plumaged bird when flying about. On horseback, Tom was a cockey, wiry-looking, keen-eyed, grim-visaged, hard-bitten little fellow, sitting as though he and his horse were all one, while on foot he was the most shambling, scambling, crooked-going crab that ever was seen. He was a complete mash of a man. He had been scalped by the branch of a tree, his nose knocked into a thing like a button by the kick of a horse, his teeth sent down his throat by a fall, his collar-bone fractured, his left leg broken and his right arm ditto, to say nothing of damage to his ribs, fingers, and feet, and having had his face scarified like pork by repeated brushings through strong thorn fences.
But we will describe him as he appeared before Mr. Waffles, and the gentlemen of the Laverick Wells Hunt, on the night of Mr. Sponge's arrival. Tom's spirit being roused at hearing the boastings of Mr. Leather, and thinking, perhaps, his master might have something to say, or thinking, perhaps, to partake of the eleemosynary drink generally going on in large houses of public entertainment, had taken up his quarters in the bar of the 'Imperial,' where he was attentively perusing the 'meets' in Bell's Life, reading how the Atherstone met at Gopsall, the Bedale at Hornby, the Cottesmore at Tilton Wood, and so on, with an industry worthy of a better cause; for Tom neither knew country, nor places, nor masters, nor hounds, nor huntsmen, nor anything, though he still felt an interest in reading where they were going to hunt. Thus he sat with a quick ear, one of the few undamaged organs of his body, cocked to hear if Tom Towler was asked for; when a waiter dropping his name from the landing of the staircase to the hall porter, asking if anybody had seen anything of him, Tom folded up his paper, put it in his pocket, and passing his hand over the few straggling bristles yet sticking about his bald head, proceeded, hat in hand, upstairs to his master's room.
His appearance called forth a round of view halloos! Who-hoops! Tally-ho's! Hark forwards! amidst which, and the waving of napkins, and general noises, Tom proceeded at a twisting, limping, halting, sideways sort of scramble up the room. His crooked legs didn't seem to have an exact understanding with his body which way they were to go; one, the right one, being evidently inclined to lurch off to the side, while the left one went stamp, stamp, stamp, as if equally determined to resist any deviation.
At length he reached the top of the table, where sat his master, with the glittering Fox's head before him. Having made a sort of scratch bow, Tom proceeded to stand at ease, as it were, on the left leg, while he placed the late recusant right, which was a trifle shorter, as a prop behind. No one, to look at the little wizen'd old man in the loose dark frock, baggy striped waistcoat, and patent cord breeches, extending below where the calves of his bow legs ought to have been, would have supposed that it was the noted huntsman and dashing rider, Tom Towler, whose name was celebrated throughout the country. He might have been a village tailor, or sexton, or barber; anything but a hero.
'Well, Tom,' said Mr. Waffles, taking up the Fox's head, as Tom came to anchor by his side, 'how are you?'
'Nicely, thank you, sir,' replied Tom, giving the bald head another sweep.
Mr. Waffles.—'What'll you drink?'
Tom.—'Port, if you please, sir.'
'There it is for you, then,' said Mr. Waffles, brimming the Fox's head, which held about the third of a bottle (an inn bottle at least), and handing it to him.
'Gentlemen all,' said Tom, passing his sleeve across his mouth, and casting a side-long glance at the company as he raised the cup to drink their healths.
He quaffed it off at a draught.
'Well, Tom, and what shall we do to-morrow?' asked Mr. Waffles, as Tom replaced the Fox's head, nose uppermost, on the table.
'Why, we must draw Ribston Wood fust, I s'pose,' replied Tom, 'and then on to Bradwell Grove, unless you thought well of tryin' Chesterton Common on the road, or—'
'Aye, aye,' interrupted Waffles, 'I know all that; but what I want to know is, whether we can make sure of a run. We want to give this great metropolitan swell a benefit. You know who I mean?'
'The gen'leman as is com'd to the Brunswick, I 'spose,' replied Tom; 'at least as is comin', for I've not heard that he's com'd yet.'
'Oh, but he has,' replied Mr. Waffles, 'and I make no doubt will be out to-morrow.'
'S—o—o,' observed Tom, in a long drawled note.
'Well, now! do you think you can engage to give us a run?' asked Mr. Waffles, seeing his huntsman did not seem inclined to help him to his point.
'I'll do my best,' replied Tom, cautiously running the many contingencies through his mind.
'Take another drop of something,' said Mr. Waffles, again raising the Fox's head. 'What'll you have?'
'Port, if you please,' replied Tom.
'There,' said Mr. Waffles, handing him another bumper; 'drink Fox-hunting.'
'Fox-huntin',' said old Tom, quaffing off the measure, as before. A flush of life came into his weather-beaten face, just as a glow of heat enlivens a blacksmith's hearth, after a touch of the bellows.
'You must never let this bumptious cock beat us,' observed Mr. Waffles.
'No—o—o,' replied Tom, adding, 'there's no fear of that.'
'But he swears he will!' exclaimed Mr. Caingey Thornton. 'He swears there isn't a man shall come within a field of him.'
'Indeed,' observed Tom, with a twinkle of his little bright eyes.
'I tell you what, Tom,' observed Mr. Waffles, 'we must sarve him out, somehow.'
'Oh! he'll sarve hissel' out, in all probability,' replied Tom; carelessly adding, 'these boastin' chaps always do.'
'Couldn't we contrive something,' asked Mr. Waffles, 'to draw him out?'
Tom was silent. He was a hunting huntsman, not a riding one.
'Have a glass of something,' said Mr. Waffles, again appealing to the Fox's head.
'Thank you, sir, I've had a glass,' replied Tom, sinking the second one.
'What will you have?' asked Mr. Waffles.
'Port, if you please,' replied Tom.
'Here it is,' rejoined Mr. Waffles, again handing him the measure.
Up went the cup, over went the contents; but Tom set it down with a less satisfied face than before. He had had enough. The left leg prop, too, gave way, and he was nearly toppling on the table.
Having got a chair for the dilapidated old man, they again essayed to get him into their line, with better success than before. Having plied him well with port, they now plied him well with the stranger, and what with the one and the other, and a glass or two of brandy-and-water, Tom became very tractable, and it was ultimately arranged that they should have a drag over the very stiffest parts of the country, wherein all who liked should take part, but that Mr. Caingey Thornton and Mr. Spareneck should be especially deputed to wait upon Mr. Sponge, and lead him into mischief. Of course it was to be a 'profound secret,' and equally, of course, it stood a good chance of being kept, seeing how many were in it, the additional number it would have to be communicated to before it could be carried out, and the happy state old Tom was in for arranging matters. Nevertheless, our friends at the 'Imperial' congratulated themselves on their success; and after a few minutes spent in discussing old Tom on his withdrawal, the party broke up, to array themselves in the splendid dress uniform of the 'Hunt,' to meet again at Miss Jumpheavy's ball.
THE MEET—THE FIND, AND THE FINISH
Early to bed and early to rise being among Mr. Sponge's maxims, he was enjoying the view of the pantiles at the back of his hotel shortly after daylight the next morning, a time about as difficult to fix in a November day as the age of a lady of a 'certain age.' It takes even an expeditious dresser ten minutes or a quarter of an hour extra the first time he has to deal with boots and breeches; and Mr. Sponge being quite a pattern card in his peculiar line, of course took a good deal more to get himself 'up'.
An accustomed eye could see a more than ordinary stir in the streets that morning. Riding-masters and their assistants might be seen going along with strings of saddled and side-saddled screws; flys began to roll at an earlier hour, and natty tigers to kick about in buckskins prior to departing with hunters, good, bad, and indifferent.
Each man had told his partner at Miss Jumpheavy's ball of the capital trick they were going to play the stranger; and a desire to see the stranger, far more than a desire to see the trick, caused many fair ones to forsake their downy couches who had much better have kept them.
The world is generally very complaisant with regard to strangers, so long as they are strangers, generally making them out to be a good deal better than they really are, and Mr. Sponge came in for his full share of stranger credit. They not only brought all the twenty horses Leather said he had scattered about to Laverick Wells, but made him out to have a house in Eaton Square, a yacht at Cowes, and a first-rate moor in Scotland, and some said a peerage in expectancy. No wonder that he 'drew,' as theatrical people say.
Let us now suppose him breakfasted, and ready for a start.
He was 'got up' with uncommon care in the most complete style of the severe order of sporting costume. It being now the commencement of the legitimate hunting season—the first week in November—he availed himself of the privileged period for turning out in everything new. Rejecting the now generally worn cap, he adhered to the heavy, close-napped hat, described in our opening chapter, whose connexion with his head, or back, if it came off, was secured by a small black silk cord, hooked through the band by a fox's tooth, and anchored to a button inside the haven of his low coat-collar. His neck was enveloped in the ample folds of a large white silk cravat, tied in a pointing diamond tie, and secured with a large silver horse-shoe pin, the shoe being almost large enough for the foot of a young donkey.
His low, narrow-collared coat was of the infinitesimal order; that is to say, a coat, and yet as little of a coat as possible—very near a jacket, in fact. The seams, of course, were outside, and were it not for the extreme strength and evenness of the sewing and the evident intention of the thing, an ignorant person might have supposed that he had had his coat turned. A double layer of cloth extended the full length of the outside of the sleeves, much in the fashion of the stage-coachmen's greatcoats in former times; and instead of cuffs, the sleeves were carried out to the ends of the fingers, leaving it to the fancy of the wearer to sport a long cuff or a short cuff, or no cuff at all—just as the weather dictated. Though the coat was single-breasted, he had a hole made on the button side, to enable him to keep it together by means of a miniature snaffle, instead of a button. The snaffle passed across his chest, from whence the coatee, flowing easily back, displayed the broad ridge and furrow of a white cord waistcoat, with a low step collar, the vest reaching low down his figure, with large flap pockets and a nick out in front, like a coachman's. Instead of buttons, the waistcoat was secured with foxes' tusks and catgut loops, while a heavy curb chain, passing from one pocket to the other, raised the impression that there was a watch in one and a bunch of seals in the other. The waistcoat was broadly bound with white binding, and, like the coat, evinced great strength and powers of resistance. His breeches were of a still broader furrow than the waistcoat, looking as if the ploughman had laid two ridges into one. They came low down the leg, and were met by a pair of well-made, well put on, very brown topped boots, a colour then unknown at Laverick Wells. His spurs were bright and heavy, with formidable necks and rowels, whose slightest touch would make a horse wince, and put him on his good behaviour.
Nor did the great slapping brown horse, Hercules, turn out less imposingly than his master. Leather, though not the man to work himself, had a very good idea of work, and right manfully he made the helpers at the Eclipse livery and bait stables strap and groom his horses. Hercules was a fine animal. It did not require a man to be a great judge of a horse to see that. Even the ladies, though perhaps they would rather have had him a white or a cream colour, could not but admire his nut-brown muzzle, his glossy coat, his silky mane, and the elegant way in which he carried his flowing tail. His step was delightful to look at—so free, so accurate, and so easy. And that reminds us that we may as well be getting Mr. Sponge up—a feat of no easy accomplishment. Few hack hunters are without their little peculiarities. Some are runaways—some kick—some bite—some go tail first on the road—some go tail first at their fences—some rush as if they were going to eat them, others baulk them altogether—and few, very few, give satisfaction. Those that do, generally retire from the public stud to the private one. But to our particular quadruped, 'Hercules.'
Mr. Sponge was not without his misgivings that, regardless of being on his preferment, the horse might exhibit more of his peculiarity than would forward his master's interests, and, independently of the disagreeableness of being kicked off at the cover side, not being always compensated for by falling soft, Mr. Sponge thought, as the meet was not far off, and he did not sport a cover hack, it would look quite as well to ride his horse quietly on as go in a fly, provided always he could accomplish the mount—the mount—like the man walking with his head under his arm—being the first step to everything.
Accordingly, Mr. Leather had the horse saddled and accoutred as quietly as possible—his warm clothing put over the saddle immediately, and everything kept as much in the usual course as possible, so that the noble animal's temper might not be ruffled by unaccustomed trouble or unusual objects. Leather having seen that the horse could not eject Mr. Sponge even in trousers, had little fear of his dislodging him in boots and breeches; still it was desirable to avoid all unseemly contention, and maintain the high character of the stud, by which means Leather felt that his own character and consequence would best be maintained. Accordingly, he refrained from calling in the aid of any of the stable assistants, preferring for once to do a little work himself, especially when the rider was up to the trick, and not 'a gent' to be cajoled into 'trying a horse.' Mr. Sponge, punctual to his time, appeared at the stable, and after much patting, whistling, so—so—ing, my man, and general ingratiation, the redoubtable nag was led out of the stable into a well-littered straw-yard, where, though he might be gored by a bull if he fell, the 'eyes of England' at all events would not witness the floorer. Horses, however, have wonderful memories and discrimination. Though so differently attired to what he was on the occasion of his trial, the horse seemed to recognize Mr. Sponge, and independently of a few snorts as he was led out, and an indignant stamp or two of his foot as it was let down, after Mr. Sponge was mounted he took things very quietly.
'Now,' said Leather, in an undertone, patting the horse's arched neck, 'I'll give you a hint; they're a goin' to run a drag to try what he's made on, so be on the look-out.'
'How do you know?' asked Mr. Sponge, in surprise, drawing his reins as he spoke.
'I know,' replied Mr. Leather with a wink.
Just then the horse began to plunge, and paw, and give symptoms of uneasiness, and not wishing to fret or exhibit his weak points, Mr. Sponge gave him his head, and passing through the side-gate was presently in the street. He didn't exactly understand it, but having full confidence in his horsemanship, and believing the one he was on required nothing but riding, he was not afraid to take his chance.
Not being the man to put his candle under a bushel, Mr. Sponge took the principal streets on his way out of town. We are not sure that he did not go rather out of his way to get them in, but that is neither here nor there, seeing he was a stranger who didn't know the way. What a sensation his appearance created as the gallant brown stepped proudly and freely up Coronation Street, showing his smart, clean, well-put-on head up and down on the unrestrained freedom of the snaffle.
'Oh, d—n it, there he is!' exclaimed Mr. Spareneck, jumping up from the breakfast-table, and nearly sweeping the contents off by catching the cloth with his spur.
'Where?' exclaimed half-a-dozen voices, amid a general rush to the windows.
'What a fright!' exclaimed little Miss Martindale, whispering into Miss Beauchamp's ear: 'I'm sure anybody may have him for me,' though she felt in her heart that he was far from bad looking.
'I wonder how long he's taken to put on that choker,' observed Mr. Spareneck, eyeing him intently, not without an inward qualm that he had set himself a more difficult task than he imagined, to 'cut him down,' especially when he looked at the noble animal he bestrode, and the masterly way he sat him.
'What a pair of profligate boots,' observed Captain Whitfield, as our friend now passed his lodgings.
'It would be the duty of a right-thinking man to ride over a fellow in such a pair,' observed his friend, Mr. Cox, who was breakfasting with him.
'Ride over a fellow in such a pair!' exclaimed Whitfield. 'No well-bred horse would face such things, I should think.'
'He seems to think a good deal of himself!' observed Mr. Cox, as Sponge cast an admiring eye down his shining boot.
'Shouldn't wonder,' replied Whitfield; 'perhaps he'll have the conceit taken out of him before night.'
'Well, I hope you'll be in time, old boy!' exclaimed Mr. Waffles to himself, as looking down from his bedroom window, he espied Mr. Sponge passing up the street on his way to cover. Mr. Waffles was just out of bed, and had yet to dress and breakfast.
One man in scarlet sets all the rest on the fidget, and without troubling to lay 'that or that' together, they desert their breakfasts, hurry to the stables, get out their horses and rattle away, lest their watches should be wrong or some arrangement made that they are ignorant of. The hounds too, were on, as was seen as well by their footmarks, as by the bob, bob, bobbing of sundry black caps above the hedges, on the Borrowdon road as the huntsman and whips proceeded at that pleasant post-boy trot, that has roused the wrath of so many riders against horses that they could not get to keep in time.
Now look at old Tom, cocked jauntily on the spicey bay and see what a different Tom he is to what he was last night. Instead of a battered, limping, shabby-looking little old man, he is all alive and rises to the action of his horse, as though they were all one. A fringe of grey hair protrudes beneath his smart velvet cap, which sets off a weather-beaten but keen and expressive face, lit up with little piercing black eyes. See how chirpy and cheery he is; how his right arm keeps rising and falling with his whip, beating responsive to the horse's action with the butt-end against his thigh. His new scarlet coat imparts a healthy hue to his face, and good boots and breeches hide the imperfections of his bad legs. His hounds seem to partake of the old man's gaiety, and gather round his horse or frolic forward on the grassy sidings of the road, till, getting almost out of earshot, a single 'yooi doit!—Arrogant!'—or 'here again, Brusher!' brings them cheerfully back to whine and look in the old man's face for applause. Nor is he chary of his praise. 'G—oood betch!—Arrogant!—g—oood betch!' says he, leaning over his horse's shoulder towards her, and jerking his hand to induce her to proceed forward again. So the old man trots gaily on, now making of his horse, now coaxing a hound, now talking to a 'whip,' now touching or taking off his cap as he passes a sportsman, according to the estimation in which he holds him.
As the hounds reach Whirleypool Windmill, there is a grand rush of pedestrians to meet them. First comes a velveteen-jacketed, leather-legginged keeper, with whom Tom (albeit suspicious of his honesty) thinks it prudent to shake hands; the miller and he, too, greet; and forthwith a black bottle with a single glass make their appearance, and pass current with the company. Then the earth-stopper draws nigh, and, resting a hand on Tom's horse's shoulder, whispers confidentially in his ear. The pedestrian sportsman of the country, too, has something to say; also a horse-breaker; while groups of awe-stricken children stand staring at the mighty Tom, thinking him the greatest man in the world.
Railways and fox-hunting make most people punctual, and in less than five minutes from the halting of the hounds by the Windmill, the various roads leading up to it emit dark-coated grooms, who, dismounting, proceed to brush off the mud sparks, and rectify any little derangement the horses or their accoutrements may have contracted on the journey. Presently Mr. Sponge, and such other gentlemen as have ridden their own horses on, cast up, while from the eminence the road to Laverick Wells is distinctly traceable with scarlet coats and flys, with furs and flaunting feathers. Presently the foremost riders begin to canter up the hill, when
All around is gay, men, horses, dogs, And in each smiling countenance appears Fresh blooming health and universal joy.
Then the ladies mingle with the scene, some on horseback, some in flys, all chatter and prattle as usual, some saying smart things, some trying, all making themselves as agreeable as possible, and of course as captivating. Some were in ecstasies at dear Miss Jumpheavy's ball—she was such a nice creature—such a charming ball, and so well managed, while others were anticipating the delights of Mrs. Tom Hoppey's, and some again were asking which was Mr. Sponge. Then up went the eye-glasses, while Mr. Sponge sat looking as innocent and as killing as he could. 'Dear me!' exclaimed one, 'he's younger than I thought.' 'That's him, is it?' observed another; 'I saw him ride up the street'; while the propriety-playing ones praised his horse, and said it was a beauty.
The hounds, which they all had come to see, were never looked at.
Mr. Waffles, like many men with nothing to do, was most unpunctual. He never seemed to know what o'clock it was, and yet he had a watch, hung in chains, and gewgaws, like a lady's chatelaine. Hunting partook of the general confusion. He did not profess to throw off till eleven, but it was often nearly twelve before he cast up. Then he would come up full tilt, surrounded by 'scarlets,' like a general with his staff; and once at the meet, there was a prodigious hurry to begin, equalled only by the eagerness to leave off. On this auspicious day he hove in sight, coming best pace along the road, about twenty minutes before twelve, with a more numerous retinue than usual. In dress, Mr. Waffles was the light, butterfly order of sportsman—once-round tie, French polish, paper boots, and so on. On this occasion he sported a shirt-collar with three or four blue lines, and then a white space followed by three or more blue lines, the whole terminating in blue spots about the size of fourpenny pieces at the points; a once-round blue silk tie, with white spots and flying ends. His coat was a light, jackety sort of thing, with little pockets behind, something in the style of Mr. Sponge's (a docked dressing-gown), but wanting the outside seaming, back strapping, and general strength that characterized Mr. Sponge's. His waistcoat, of course, was a worked one—heart's-ease mingled with foxes' heads, on a true blue ground, the gift of—we'll not say who—his leathers were of the finest doe-skin, and his long-topped, pointed-toed boots so thin as to put all idea of wet or mud out of the question.
Such was the youth who now cantered up and took off his cap to the rank, beauty, and fashion, assembled at Whirleypool Windmill. He then proceeded to pay his respects in detail. At length, having exhausted his 'nothings,' and said the same thing over again in a dozen different ways to a dozen different ladies, he gave a slight jerk of the head to Tom Towler, who forthwith whistled his hounds together, and attended by the whips, bustled from the scene.
Epping Hunt, in its most palmy days could not equal the exhibition that now took place. Some of the more lively of the horses, tired of waiting, perhaps pinched by the cold, for most of them were newly clipped, evinced their approbation of the move, by sundry squeals and capers, which being caught by others in the neighbourhood, the infection quickly spread, and in less than a minute there was such a scene of rocking, and rearing, and kicking, and prancing, and neighing and shooting over heads, and rolling over tails, and hanging on by manes, mingled with such screamings from the ladies in the flys, and such hearty-sounding kicks against splash boards and fly bottoms, from sundry of the vicious ones in harness, as never was witnessed. One gentleman, in a bran-new scarlet, mounted on a flourishing piebald, late the property of Mr. Batty, stood pawing and fighting the air, as if in the saw-dust circle, his unfortunate rider clinging round his neck, expecting to have the beast back over upon him. Another little wiry chestnut, with abundance of rings, racing martingale, and tackle generally, just turned tail on the crowd and ran off home as hard as ever he could lay legs to the ground; while a good steady bay cob, with a barrel like a butt, and a tail like a hearth-brush, having selected the muddiest, dirtiest place he could find, deliberately proceeded to lie down, to the horror of his rider, Captain Greatgun, of the royal navy, who, feeling himself suddenly touch mother earth, thought he was going to be swallowed up alive, and was only awoke from the delusion by the shouts of the foot people, telling him to get clear of his horse before he began to roll.
Hercules would fain have joined the truant set, and, at the first commotion, up went his great back, and down went his ears, with a single lash out behind that meant mischief, but Mr. Sponge was on the alert, and just gave him such a dig with his spurs as restored order, without exposing anything that anybody could take notice of.
The sudden storm was quickly lulled. The spilt ones scrambled up; the loose riders got tighter hold of their horses; the screaming fair ones sank languidly in their carriages; and the late troubled ocean of equestrians fell into irregular line en route for the cover.
Bump, bump, bump; trot, trot, trot; jolt, jolt, jolt; shake, shake, shake; and carriages and cavalry got to Ribston Wood somehow or other. It is a long cover on a hill-side, from which parties, placing themselves in the green valley below, can see hounds 'draw,' that is to say, run through with their noses to the ground, if there are any men foolish enough to believe that ladies care for seeing such things. However, there they were.
'Eu leu, in!' cries old Tom, with a wave of his arm, finding he can no longer restrain the ardour of the pack as they approach, and thinking to save his credit, by appearing to direct. 'Eu leu, in!' repeats he, with a heartier cheer, as the pack charge the rotten fence with a crash that echoes through the wood. The whips scuttle off to their respective points, gentlemen feel their horses' girths, hats are thrust firmly on the head, and the sherry and brandy flasks begin to be drained.
'Tally ho!' cries a countryman at the top of the wood, hoisting his hat on a stick. At the magic sound, fear comes over some, joy over others, intense anxiety over all. What commotion! What indecision! What confusion! 'Which way?—Which way?' is the cry.
'Twang, twang, twang,' goes old Tom's horn at the top of the wood, whither he seems to have flown, so quick has he got there.
A dark-coated gentleman on a good family horse solves the important question—'Which way?'—by diving at once into the wood, crashing along till he comes to a cross-road that leads to the top, when the scene opening to 'open fresh fields and pastures new,' discloses divers other sections struggling up in long drawn files, following other leaders, all puffing, and wheezing and holding on by the manes, many feeling as if they had had enough already—'Quick!' is the word, for the tail-hounds are flying the fence out of the first field over the body of the pack, which are running almost mute at best pace beyond, looking a good deal smaller than is agreeable to the eyes of a sportsman.
'F—o—o—r—rard!' screams old Tom, flying the fence after them, followed by jealous jostling riders in scarlet and colours, some anxious, some easy, some wanting to be at it, some wanting to look as if they did, some wishing to know if there was anything on the far side.
Now Tom tops another fence, rising like a rocket and dropping like a bird; still 'F—o—o—r—rard!' is the cry—away they go at racing pace.
The field draws out like a telescope, leaving the largest portion at the end, and many—the fair and fat ones in particular—seeing the hopelessness of the case, pull up their horses, while yet on an eminence that commands a view. Fifteen or twenty horsemen enter for the race, and dash forward, though the hounds rather gain on old Tom, and the further they go the smaller the point of the telescope becomes. The pace is awful; many would give in but for the ladies. At the end of a mile or so, the determined ones show to the front, and the spirters and 'make-believes' gladly avail themselves of their pioneering powers.
Mr. Sponge, who got well through the wood, has been going at his ease, the great striding brown throwing the large fields behind him with ease, and taking his leaps safely and well. He now shows to the front, and old Tom, who is still 'F—o—o—r—rarding' to his hounds, either rather falls back to the field or the field draws upon him. At all events they get together somehow. A belt of Scotch fir plantation, with a stiffish fence on each side, tries their mettle and the stoutness of their hats: crash they get through it, the noise they make among the thorns and rotten branches resembling the outburst of a fire. Several gentlemen here decline under cover of the trees.
'F—o—o—r—rard!' screams old Tom, as he dives through the stiff fence and lands in the field outside the plantation. He might have saved his breath, for the hounds were beating him as it was. Mr. Sponge bores through the same place, little aided, however, by anything old Tom has done to clear the way for him, and the rest follow in his wake.
The field is now reduced to six, and two of the number, Mr. Spareneck and Caingey Thornton, become marked in their attention to our hero. Thornton is riding Mr. Waffles' crack steeple-chaser 'Dare-Devil,' and Mr. Spareneck is on a first-rate hunter belonging to the same gentleman, but they have not been able to get our friend Sponge into grief. On the contrary, his horse, though lathered goes as strong as ever, and Mr. Sponge, seeing their design, is as careful of him as possible, so as not to lose ground. His fine, strong, steady seat, and quiet handling, contrasts well with Thornton's rolling bucketing style, who has already begun to ply a heavy cutting whip, in aid of his spurs at his fences, accompanied with a half frantic 'g—u—r—r—r along!' and inquires of the horse if he thinks he stole him?
The three soon get in front; fast as they go, the hounds go faster, and fence after fence is thrown behind them, just as a girl throws her skipping-rope.
Tom and the whips follow, grinning with their tongues in their cheeks, Tom still screeching 'F—o—o—o—rard!—F—o—o—o—rard!' at intervals.
A big stone wall, built with mortar, and coped with heavy blocks of stone, is taken by the three abreast, for which they are rewarded by a gallop up Stretchfurrow pasture, from the summit of which they see the hounds streaming away to a fine grass country below, with pollard willows dotted here and there in the bottom.
'Water!' says our friend Sponge to himself, wondering whether Hercules would face it. A desperate black bullfinch, so thick that they could hardly see through it, is shirked by consent, for a gate which a countryman opens, and another fence or two being passed, the splashing of some hounds in the water, and the shaking of others on the opposite bank, show that, as usual, the willows are pretty true prophets.
Caingey, grinning his coarse red face nearly double, and getting his horse well by the head, rams in the spurs, and flourishes his cutting whip high in air, with a 'g—u—u—ur along! do you think I'—the 'stole you' being lost under water just as Sponge clears the brook a little lower down. Spareneck then pulls up.
When Nimrod had Dick Christian under water in the Whissendine in his Leicestershire run, and someone more humane than the rest of the field observed, as they rode on,
'But he'll be drowned.'
'Shouldn't wonder,' exclaimed another.
'But the pace,' Nimrod added, 'was too good to inquire.'
Such, however, was not the case with our watering-place cock, Mr. Sponge. Independently of the absurdity of a man risking his neck for the sake of picking up a bunch of red herrings, Mr. Sponge, having beat everybody, could afford a little humanity, more especially as he rode his horse on sale, and there was now no one left to witness the further prowess of the steed. Accordingly, he availed himself of a heavy, newly-ploughed fallow, upon which he landed as he cleared the brook, for pulling up, and returned just as Mr. Spareneck, assisted by one of the whips, succeeded in landing Caingey on the taking-off side. Caingey was not a pretty boy at the best of times—none but the most partial parents could think him one—and his clumsy-featured, short, compressed face, and thick, lumpy figure, were anything but improved by a sort of pea-green net-work of water-weeds with which he arose from his bath. He was uncommonly well soaked, and had to be held up by the heels to let the water run out of his boots, pockets, and clothes. In this undignified position he was found by Mr. Waffles and such of the field as had ridden the line.
'Why, Caingey, old boy! you look like a boiled porpoise with parsley sauce!' exclaimed Mr. Waffles, pulling up where the unfortunate youth was spluttering and getting emptied like a jug. 'Confound it!' added he, as the water came gurgling out of his mouth, 'but you must have drunk the brook dry.'
Caingey would have censured his inhumanity, but knowing the imprudence of quarrelling with his bread and butter, and also aware of the laughable, drowned-rat figure he must then be cutting, he thought it best to laugh, and take his change out of Mr. Waffles another time. Accordingly, he chuckled and laughed too, though his jaws nearly refused their office, and kindly transferred the blame of the accident from the horse to himself.
'He didn't put on steam enough,' he said.
Meanwhile, old Tom, who had gone on with the hounds, having availed himself of a well-known bridge, a little above where Thornton went in, for getting over the brook, and having allowed a sufficient time to elapse for the proper completion of the farce, was now seen rounding the opposite hill, with his hounds clustered about his horse, with his mind conning over one of those imaginary runs that experienced huntsmen know so well how to tell, when there is no one to contradict them.
Having quartered his ground to get at his old friend the bridge again, he just trotted up with well-assumed gaiety as Caingey Thornton spluttered the last piece of green weed out from between his great thick lips.
'Well, Tom!' exclaimed Mr. Waffles, 'what have you done with him?'
'Killed him, sir,' replied Tom, with a slight touch of his cap, as though 'killing' was a matter of every-day occurrence with them.
'Have you, indeed!' exclaimed Mr. Waffles, adopting the lie with avidity.
'Yes, sir,' said Tom gravely; 'he was nearly beat afore he got to the brook. Indeed, I thought Vanquisher would have had him in it; but, however, he got through, and the scent failed on the fallow, which gave him a chance; but I held them on to the hedgerow beyond, where they hit it off like wildfire, and they never stopped again till they tumbled him over at the back of Mr. Plummey's farm-buildings, at Shapwick. I've got his brush,' added Tom, producing a much tattered one from his pocket, 'if you'd like to have it?'
'Thank you, no—yes—no,' replied Waffles, not wanting to be bothered with it; 'yet stay,' continued he, as his eye caught Mr. Sponge, who was still on foot beside his vanquished friend; 'give it to Mr. What-de-ye-call-'em,' added he, nodding towards our hero.
'Sponge,' observed Tom, in an undertone, giving the brush to his master.
'Mr. Sponge, will you do me the favour to accept the brush?' asked Mr. Waffles, advancing with it towards him; adding, 'I am sorry this unlucky bather should have prevented your seeing the end.'
Mr. Sponge was a pretty good judge of brushes, and not a bad one of camphire; but if this one had smelt twice as strong as it did—indeed, if it had dropped to pieces in his hand, or the moths had flown up in his face, he would have pocketed it, seeing it paved the way to what he wanted—an introduction.
'I'm very much obliged, I'm sure,' observed he, advancing to take it—'very much obliged, indeed; been an extremely good run, and fast.'
'Very fair—very fair,' observed Mr. Waffles, as though it were nothing in their way; 'seven miles in twenty minutes, I suppose, or something of that sort.'
'One-and-twenty,' interposed Tom, with a laudable anxiety for accuracy.
'Ah! one-and-twenty,' rejoined Mr. Waffles. 'I thought it would be somewhere thereabouts. Well, I suppose we've all had enough,' added he, 'may as well go home and have some luncheon, and then a game at billiards, or rackets, or something. How's the old water-rat?' added he, turning to Thornton, who was now busy emptying his cap and mopping the velvet.
The water-rat was as well as could be expected, but did not quite like the new aspect of affairs. He saw that Mr. Sponge was a first-rate horseman, and also knew that nothing ingratiated one man with another so much as skill and boldness in the field. It was by that means, indeed, that he had established himself in Mr. Waffles' good graces—an ingratiation that had been pretty serviceable to him, both in the way of meat, drink, mounting, and money. Had Mr. Sponge been, like himself, a needy, penniless adventurer, Caingey would have tried to have kept him out by some of those plausible, admonitory hints, that poverty makes men so obnoxious to; but in the case of a rich, flourishing individual, with such an astonishing stud as Leather made him out to have, it was clearly Caingey's policy to knock under and be subservient to Mr. Sponge also. Caingey, we should observe, was a bold, reckless rider, never seeming to care for his neck, but he was no match for Mr. Sponge, who had both skill and courage.
Caingey being at length cleansed from his weeds, wiped from his mud, and made as comfortable as possible under the circumstances, was now hoisted on to the renowned steeple-chase horse again, who had scrambled out of the brook on the taking-off side, and, after meandering the banks for a certain distance, had been caught by the bridle in the branch of a willow—Caingey, we say, being again mounted, Mr. Sponge also, without hindrance from the resolute brown horse, the first whip put himself a little in advance, while old Tom followed with the hounds, and the second whip mingled with the now increasing field, it being generally understood (by the uninitiated, at least) that hounds have no business to go home so long as any gentleman is inclined for a scurrey, no matter whether he has joined early or late. Mr. Waffles, on the contrary, was very easily satisfied, and never took the shine off a run with a kill by risking a subsequent defeat. Old Tom, though keen when others were keen, was not indifferent to his comforts, and soon came into the way of thinking that it was just as well to get home to his mutton-chops at two or three o'clock, as to be groping his way about bottomless bye-roads on dark winter nights.
As he retraced his steps homeward, and overtook the scattered field of the morning, his talent for invention, or rather stretching, was again called into requisition.
'What have you done with him, Tom?' asked Major Bouncer, eagerly bringing his sturdy collar-marked cob alongside of our huntsman.
'Killed him, sir,' replied Tom, with the slightest possible touch of the cap. (Bouncer was no tip.)
'Indeed!' exclaimed Bouncer, gaily, with that sort of sham satisfaction that most people express about things that can't concern them in the least. 'Indeed! I'm deuced glad of that! Where did you kill him?'
'At the back of Mr. Plummey's farm-buildings, at Shapwick,' replied Tom; adding, 'but, my word, he led us a dance afore we got there—up to Ditchington, down to Somerby, round by Temple Bell Wood, cross Goosegreen Common, then away for Stubbington Brooms, skirtin' Sanderwick Plantations, but scarce goin' into 'em, then by the round hill at Camerton leavin' great Heatherton to the right, and so straight on to Shapwick, where we killed, with every hound up—'
'God bless me!' exclaimed Bouncer, apparently lost in admiration, though he scarcely knew the country; 'God bless me!' repeated he, 'what a run! The finest run that ever was seen.'
'Nine miles in twenty-five minutes,' replied Tom, tacking on a little both for time and distance.
'B-o-y JOVE!' exclaimed the major.
Having shaken hands with, and congratulated Mr. Waffles most eagerly and earnestly, the major hurried off to tell as much as he could remember to the first person he met, just as the cheese-bearer at a christening looks out for some one to give the cheese to. The cheese-getter on this occasion was Doctor Lotion, who was going to visit old Jackey Thompson, of Woolleyburn. Jackey being then in a somewhat precarious state of health, and tolerably advanced in life, without any very self-evident heir, was obnoxious to the attentions of three distinct litters of cousins, some one or other of whom was constantly 'baying him.' Lotion, though a sapient man, and somewhat grinding in his practice, did not profess to grind old people young again, and feeling he could do very little for the body corporate, directed his attention to amusing Jackey's mind, and anything in the shape of gossip was extremely acceptable to the doctor to retail to his patient. Moreover, Jackey had been a bit of a sportsman, and was always extremely happy to see the hounds—on anybody's land but his own.
So Lotion got primed with the story, and having gone through the usual routine of asking his patient how he was, how he had slept, looking at his tongue, and reporting on the weather, when the old posing question, 'What's the news?' was put, Lotion replied, as he too often had to reply, for he was a very slow hand at picking up information.
'Nothin' particklar, I think, sir,' adding, in an off-hand sort of way, 'you've heard of the greet run, I s'pose, sir?'
'Great run!' exclaimed the octogenarian, as if it was a matter of the most vital importance to him; 'great run, sir; no, sir, not a word!'
The doctor then retailed it.
Old Jackey got possessed of this one idea—he thought of nothing else. Whoever came, he out with it, chapter and verse, with occasional variations. He told it to all the 'cousins in waiting'; Jackey Thompson, of Carrington Ford; Jackey Thompson, of Houndesley; Jackey Thompson, of the Mill; and all the Bobs, Bills, Sams, Harrys, and Peters, composing the respective litters;—forgetting where he got it from, he nearly told it back to Lotion himself. We sometimes see old people affected this way—far more enthusiastic on a subject than young ones. Few dread the aspect of affairs so much as those who have little chance of seeing how they go.
But to the run. The cousins reproduced the story according to their respective powers of exaggeration. One tacked on two miles, another ten, and so it went on and on, till it reached the ears of the great Mr. Seedeyman, the mighty WE of the country, as he sat in his den penning his 'stunners' for his market-day Mercury. It had then distanced the great sea-serpent itself in length, having extended over thirty-three miles of country, which Mr. Seedeyman reported to have been run in one hour and forty minutes.
Pretty good going, we should say.
Bag fox-hunts, be they ever so good, are but unsatisfactory things; drag runs are, beyond all measure, unsatisfactory. After the best-managed bag fox-hunt, there is always a sort of suppressed joy, a deadly liveliness in the field. Those in the secret are afraid of praising it too much, lest the secret should ooze out, and strangers suppose that all their great runs are with bag foxes, while the mere retaking of an animal that one has had in hand before is not calculated to arouse any very pleasurable emotions. Nobody ever goes frantic at seeing an old donkey of a deer handed back into his carriage after a canter.
Our friends on this occasion soon exhausted what they had to say on the subject.
'That's a nice horse of yours,' observed Mr. Waffles to Mr. Sponge, as the latter, on the strength of the musty brush, now rode alongside the master of the hounds.
'I think he is,' replied Sponge, rubbing some of the now dried sweat from his shoulder and neck; 'I think he is; I like him a good deal better to-day than I did the first time I rode him.'
'What, he's a new one, is he?' asked Mr. Waffles, taking a scented cigar from his mouth, and giving a steady sidelong stare at the horse.
'Bought him in Leicestershire,' replied Sponge. 'He belonged to Lord Bullfrog, who didn't think him exactly up to his weight.'
'Up to his weight!' exclaimed Mr. Caingey Thornton, who had now ridden up on the other side of his great patron, 'why, he must be another Daniel Lambert.'
'Rather so,' replied Mr. Sponge; 'rides nineteen stun.'
'What a monster!' exclaimed Thornton, who was of the pocket order.
'I thought he didn't go fast enough at his fences the first time I rode him,' observed Mr. Sponge, drawing the curb slightly so as to show the horse's fine arched neck to advantage; 'but he went quick enough to-day, in all conscience,' added he.
'He did that,' observed Mr. Thornton, now bent on a toadying match. 'I never saw a finer lepper.'
'He flew many feet beyond the brook,' observed Mr. Spareneck, who, thinking discretion was the better part of valour, had pulled up on seeing his comrade Thornton blobbing about in the middle of it, and therefore was qualified to speak to the fact.
So they went on talking about the horse, and his points, and his speed, and his action, very likely as much for want of something to say, or to keep off the subject of the run, as from any real admiration of the animal.
The true way to make a man take a fancy to a horse is to make believe that you don't want to sell him—at all events, that you are easy about selling. Mr. Sponge had played this game so very often, that it came quite natural to him. He knew exactly how far to go, and having expressed his previous objection to the horse, he now most handsomely made the amende honorable by patting him on the neck, and declaring that he really thought he should keep him.
It is said that every man has his weak or 'do-able' point, if the sharp ones can but discover it. This observation does not refer, we believe, to men with an innocent penchant for play, or the turf, or for buying pictures, or for collecting china, or for driving coaches and four, all of which tastes proclaim themselves sooner or later, but means that the most knowing, the most cautious, and the most careful, are all to be come over, somehow or another.
There are few things more surprising in this remarkable world than the magnificent way people talk about money, or the meannesses they will resort to in order to get a little. We hear fellows flashing and talking in hundreds and thousands, who will do almost anything for a five-pound note. We have known men pretending to hunt countries at their own expense, and yet actually 'living out of the hounds.' Next to the accomplishment of that—apparently almost impossible feat—comes the dexterity required for living by horse-dealing.
A little lower down in the scale comes the income derived from the profession of a 'go-between'—the gentleman who can buy the horse cheaper than you can. This was Caingey Thornton's trade. He was always lurking about people's stables talking to grooms and worming out secrets—whose horse had a cough, whose was a wind-sucker, whose was lame after hunting, and so on—and had a price current of every horse in the place—knew what had been given, what the owners asked, and had a pretty good guess what they would take.
Waffles would have been an invaluable customer to Thornton if the former's groom, Mr. Figg, had not been rather too hard with his 'reg'lars.' He insisted on Caingey dividing whatever he got out of his master with him. This reduced profits considerably; but still, as it was a profession that did not require any capital to set up with, Thornton could afford to be liberal, having only to tack on to one end to cut off at the other.
After the opening Sponge gave as they rode home with the hounds, Thornton had no difficulty in sounding him on the subject.
'You'll not think me impertinent, I hope,' observed Caingey, in his most deferential style, to our hero when they met at the News'-room the next day—'you'll not think me impertinent, I hope; but I think you said as we rode home, yesterday, that you didn't altogether like the brown horse you were on?'
'Did I?' replied Mr. Sponge, with apparent surprise; 'I think you must have misunderstood me.'
'Why, no; it wasn't exactly that,' rejoined Mr. Thornton, 'but you said you liked him better than you did, I think?'
'Ah! I believe I did say something of the sort,' replied Sponge casually—'I believe I did say something of the sort; but he carried me so well that I thought better of him. The fact was,' continued Mr. Sponge, confidentially, 'I thought him rather too light mouthed; I like a horse that bears more on the hand.'
'Indeed!' observed Mr. Thornton; 'most people think a light mouth a recommendation.'
'I know they do,' replied Mr. Sponge, 'I know they do; but I like a horse that requires a little riding. Now this is too much of a made horse—too much of what I call an old man's horse, for me. Bullfrog, whom I bought him of, is very fat—eats a great deal of venison and turtle—all sorts of good things, in fact—and can't stand much tewing in the saddle; now, I rather like to feel that I am on a horse, and not in an arm-chair.'
'He's a fine horse,' observed Mr. Thornton.
'So he ought,' replied Mr. Sponge; 'I gave a hatful of money for him—two hundred and fifty golden sovereigns, and not a guinea back. Bullfrog's the biggest screw I ever dealt with.'
That latter observation was highly encouraging to Thornton. It showed that Mr. Sponge was not one of your tight-laced dons, who take offence at the mere mention of 'drawbacks,' but, on the contrary, favoured the supposition that he would do the 'genteel,' should he happen to be a seller.
'Well, if you should feel disposed to part with him, perhaps you will have the kindness to let me know,' observed Mr. Thornton; adding, 'he's not for myself, of course, but I think I know a man he would suit, and who would be inclined to give a good price for him.'
'I will,' replied Mr. Sponge; 'I will,' repeated he, adding, 'if I were to sell him, I wouldn't take a farthing under three 'underd for him—three 'underd guineas, mind, not punds.'
'That's a vast sum of money,' observed Mr. Thornton.
'Not a bit on't,' replied Mr. Sponge. 'He's worth it all, and a great deal more. Indeed, I haven't said, mind that, I'll take that for him; all I've said is, that I wouldn't take less.'
'Just so,' replied Mr. Thornton.
'He's a horse of high character,' observed Mr. Sponge. 'Indeed he has no business out of Leicestershire; and I don't know what set my fool of a groom to bring him here.'
'Well, I'll see if I can coax my friend into giving what you say,' observed Mr. Thornton.
'Nay, never mind coaxing,' replied Mr. Sponge, with the utmost indifference; 'never mind coaxing; if he's not anxious, my name's "easy." Only mind ye, if I ride him again, and he carries me as he did yesterday, I shall clap on another fifty. A horse of that figure can't be dear at any price,' added he. 'Put him in a steeple-chase, and you'd get your money back in ten minutes, and a bagful to boot.'
'True,' observed Mr. Thornton, treasuring that fact up as an additional inducement to use to his friend.
So the amiable gentlemen parted.
THE DEAL, AND THE DISASTER
If people are inclined to deal, bargains can very soon be struck at idle watering-places, where anything in the shape of occupation is a godsend, and bargainers know where to find each other in a minute. Everybody knows where everybody is.
'Have you seen Jack Sprat?'
'Oh yes; he's just gone into Muddle's Bazaar with Miss Flouncey, looking uncommon sweet.' Or—
'Can you tell me where I shall find Mr. Slowman?'
Answer.—'You'll find him at his lodgings, No. 15, Belvidere Terrace, till a quarter before seven. He's gone home to dress, to dine with Major and Mrs. Holdsworthy, at Grunton Villa, for I heard him order Jenkins's fly at that time.'
Caingey Thornton knew exactly when he would find Mr. Waffles at Miss Lollypop's, the confectioner, eating ices and making love to that very interesting much-courted young lady. True to his time, there was Waffles, eating and eyeing the cherry-coloured ribbons, floating in graceful curls along with her raven-coloured ringlets, down Miss Lollypop's nice fresh plump cheeks.
After expatiating on the great merits of the horse, and the certainty of getting all the money back by steeple-chasing him in the spring, and stating his conviction that Mr. Sponge would not take any part of the purchase-money in pictures or jewellery, or anything of that sort, Mr. Waffles gave his consent to deal, on the terms the following conversation shows.
'My friend will give you your price, if you wouldn't mind taking his cheque and keeping it for a few months till he's into funds,' observed Mr. Thornton, who now sought Mr. Sponge out at the billiard-room.
'Why,' observed Mr. Sponge, thoughtfully, 'you know horses are always ready money.'
'True,' replied Thornton; 'at least that's the theory of the thing; only my friend is rather peculiarly situated at present.'
'I suppose Mr. Waffles is your man?' observed Mr. Sponge, rightly judging that there couldn't be two such flats in the place.
'Just so,' said Mr. Thornton.
'I'd rather take his "stiff" than his cheque,' observed Mr. Sponge, after a pause. 'I could get a bit of stiff done, but a cheque, you see—especially a post-dated one—is always objected to.'
'Well, I dare say that will make no difference,' observed Mr. Thornton, '"stiff," if you prefer it—say three months; or perhaps you'll give us four?'
'Three's long enough, in all conscience,' replied Mr. Sponge, with a shake of the head, adding, 'Bullfrog made me pay down on the nail.'
'Well, so be it, then,' assented Mr. Thornton; 'you draw at three months, and Mr. Waffles will accept, payable at Coutts's.'
After so much liberality, Mr. Caingey expected that Mr. Sponge would have hinted at something handsome for him; but all Sponge said was, 'So be it,' too, as he walked away to buy a bill-stamp.
Mr. Waffles was more considerate, and promised him the first mount on his new purchase, though Caingey would rather have had a ten, or even a five-pound note.
Towards the hour of ten on that eventful day, numerous gaitered, trousered, and jacketed grooms began to ride up and down the High Street, most of them with their stirrups crossed negligently on the pommels of the saddles, to indicate that their masters were going to ride the horses, and not them. The street grew lively, not so much with people going to hunt, as with people coming to see those who were. Tattered Hibernians, with rags on their backs and jokes on their lips; young English chevaliers d'industrie, with their hands ready to dive into anybody's pockets but their own; stablemen out of place, servants loitering on their errands, striplings helping them, ladies'-maids with novels or three-corner'd notes, and a good crop of beggars.
'What, Spareneck, do you ride the grey to-day? I thought you'd done Gooseman out of a mount,' observed Ensign Downley, as a line of scarlet-coated youths hung over the balcony of the Imperial Hotel, after breakfast and before mounting for the day.
Spareneck.—'No, that's for Tuesday. He wouldn't stand one to-day. What do you ride?'
Downley.—'Oh, I've a hack, one of Screwman's, Perpetual Motion they call him, because he never gets any rest. That's him, I believe, with the lofty-actioned hind-legs,' added he, pointing to a weedy string-halty bay passing below, high in bone and low in flesh.
'Who's o' the gaudy chestnut?' asked Caingey Thornton, who now appeared, wiping his fat lips after his second glass of eau de vie.
'That's Mr. Sponge's,' replied Spareneck in a low tone, knowing how soon a man catches his own name.
'A deuced fine horse he is, too,' observed Caingey, in a louder key; adding, 'Sponge has the finest lot of horses of any man in England—in the world, I may say.'
Mr. Sponge himself now rose from the breakfast table, and was speedily followed by Mr. Waffles and the rest of the party, some bearing sofa-pillows and cushions to place on the balustrades, to loll at their ease, in imitation of the Coventry Club swells in Piccadilly. Then our friends smoked their cigars, reviewed the cavalry, and criticised the ladies who passed below in the flys on their way to the meet.
'Come, old Bolter!' exclaimed one, 'here's Miss Bussington coming to look after you—got her mamma with her, too—so you may as well knock under at once, for she's determined to have you.'
'A devil of a woman the old un is, too,' observed Ensign Downley; 'she nearly frightened Jack Simpers of ours into fits, by asking what he meant after dancing three dances with her daughter one night.'
'My word, but Miss Jumpheavy must expect to do some execution to-day with that fine floating feather and her crimson satin dress and ermine,' observed Mr. Waffles, as that estimable lady drove past in her Victoria phaeton. 'She looks like the Queen of Sheba herself. But come, I suppose,' he added, taking a most diminutive Geneva watch out of his waistcoat-pocket, 'we should be going. See! there's your nag kicking up a shindy,' he said to Caingey Thornton, as the redoubtable brown was led down the street by a jean-jacketed groom, kicking and lashing out at everything he came near.
'I'll kick him,' observed Thornton, retiring from the balcony to the brandy-bottle, and helping himself to a pretty good-sized glass. He then extricated his large cutting whip from the confusion of whips with which it was mixed, and clonk, clonk, clonked downstairs to the door.
'Multum in Parvo' stopped the doorway, across whose shoulder Leather passed the following hints, in a low tone of voice, to Mr. Sponge, as the latter stood drawing on his dogskin gloves, the observed, as he flattered himself, of all observers.
'Mind now,' said Leather, 'this oss as a will of his own; though he seems so quiet like, he's not always to be depended on; so be on the look-out for squalls.'
Sponge, having had a glass of brandy, just mounted with the air of a man thoroughly at home with his horse, and drawing the rein, with a slight feel of the spur, passed on from the door to make way for the redoubtable Hercules. Hercules was evidently not in a good humour. His ears were laid back, and the rolling white eye showed mischief. Sponge saw all this, and turned to see whether Thornton's clumsy, wash-ball seat, would be able to control the fractious spirit of the horse.
'Whoay!' roared Thornton, as his first dive at the stirrup missed, and was answered by a hearty kick out from the horse, the 'whoay' being given in a very different tone to the gentle, coaxing style of Mr. Buckram and his men. Had it not been for the brandy within and the lookers-on without, there is no saying but Caingey would have declined the horse's further acquaintance. As it was, he quickly repeated his attempt at the stirrup with the same sort of domineering 'whoay,' adding, as he landed in the saddle and snatched at the reins, 'Do you think I stole you?'
Whatever the horse's opinion might be on that point, he didn't seem to care to express it, for finding kicking alone wouldn't do, he immediately commenced rearing too, and by a desperate plunge, broke away from the groom, before Thornton had either got him by the head or his feet in the stirrups. Three most desperate bounds he gave, rising at the bit as though he would come back over if the hold was not relaxed, and the fourth effort bringing him to the opposite kerb-stone, he up again with such a bound and impetus that he crashed right through Messrs. Frippery and Flummery's fine plate-glass window, to the terror and astonishment of their elegant young counter-skippers, who were busy arranging their ribbons and finery for the day. Right through the window Hercules went, switching through book muslins and bareges as he would through a bullfinch, and attempting to make his exit by a large plate-glass mirror against the wall of the cloak-room beyond, which he dashed all to pieces with his head. Worse remains to be told. 'Multum in Parvo,' seeing his old comrade's hind-quarters disappearing through the window, just took the bit between his teeth, and followed, in spite of Mr. Sponge's every effort to turn him; and when at length he got him hauled round, the horse was found to have decorated himself with a sky-blue visite trimmed with Honiton lace, which he wore like a charger on his way to the Crusades, or a steed bearing a knight to the Eglinton tournament.
Quick as it happened, and soon as it was over, all Laverick Wells seemed to have congregated in the street as our heroes rode out of the folding glass-doors.
AN OLD FRIEND
About a fortnight after the above catastrophe, and as the recollection of it was nearly effaced by Miss Jumpheavy's abduction of Ensign Downley, our friend, Mr. Waffles, on visiting his stud at the four o'clock stable-hour, found a most respectable, middle-aged, rosy-gilled, better-sort-of-farmer-looking man, straddling his tight drab-trousered legs, with a twisted ash plant propping his chin, behind the redoubtable Hercules. He had a bran-new hat on, a velvet-collared blue coat with metal buttons, that anywhere but in the searching glare and contrast of London might have passed for a spic-and-span new one; a small, striped, step-collared toilanette vest; and the aforesaid drab trousers, in the right-hand pocket of which his disengaged hand kept fishing up and slipping down an avalanche of silver, which made a pleasant musical accompaniment to his monetary conversation. On seeing Mr. Waffles, the stranger touched his hat, and appeared to be about to retire, when Mr. Figg, the stud-groom, thus addressed his master:
'This be Mr. Buckram, sir, of London, sir; says he knows our brown 'orse, sir.'
'Ah, indeed,' observed Mr. Waffles, taking a cigar from his mouth; 'knows no good of him, I should think. What part of London do you live in, Mr. Buckram?' asked he.
'Why, I doesn't exactly live in London, my lord—that's to say, sir—a little way out of it, you know—have a little hindependence of my own, you understand.'
'Hang it, how should I understand anything of the sort—never set eyes on you before,' replied Mr. Waffles.
The half-crowns now began to descend singly in the pocket, keeping up a protracted jingle, like the notes of a lazy, undecided musical snuff-box. By the time the last had dropped, Mr. Buckram had collected himself sufficiently to resume.
Taking the ash-plant away from his mouth, with which he had been barricading his lips, he observed—
'I know'd that oss when Lord Bullfrog had him,' nodding his head at our old friend as he spoke.
'The deuce you did!' observed Mr. Waffles;' where was that?'
'In Leicestersheer,' replied Mr. Buckram. 'I have a haunt as lives at Mount Sorrel; she has a little hindependence of her own, and I goes down 'casionally to see her—in fact, I believes I'm her hare. Well, I was down there just at the beginnin' of the season, the 'ounds met at Kirby Gate—a mile or two to the south, you know, on the Leicester road—it was the fust day of the season, in fact—and there was a great crowd, and I was one; and havin' a heye for an oss, I was struck with this one, you understand, bein' as I thought, a 'ticklar nice 'un. Lord Bullfrog's man was a ridin' of him, and he kept him outside the crowd, showin' off his pints, and passin' him backwards and forwards under people's noses, to 'tract the notish of the nobs—parsecutin, what I call—and I see'd Mr. Sponge struck—I've known Mr. Sponge many years, and a 'ticklar nice gent he is—well, Mr. Sponge pulled hup, and said to the grum, "Who's o' that oss?" "My Lor' Bullfrog's, sir," said the man. "He's a deuced nice 'un," observed Mr. Sponge, thinkin', as he was a lord's, he might praise 'im, seein', in all probability, he weren't for sale. "He is that," said the grum, patting him on the neck, as though he were special fond on him. "Is my lord out?" asked Mr. Sponge. "No, sir; he's not come down yet," replied the man, "nor do I know when he will come. He's been down at Bath for some time 'sociatin' with the aldermen o' Bristol and has thrown up a vast o' bad flesh—two stun' sin' last season—and he's afeared this oss won't be able to carry 'im, and so he writ to me to take 'im out to-day, to show 'im." "He'd carry me, I think," said Mr. Sponge, making hup his mind on the moment, jist as he makes hup his mind to ride at a fence—not that I think it's a good plan for a gent to show that he's sweet on an oss, for they're sure to make him pay for it. Howsomever, that's nouther here nor there. Well, jist as Mr. Sponge said this, Sir Richard driv' hup, and havin' got his oss, away we trotted to the goss jist below, and the next thing I see'd was Mr. Sponge leadin' the 'ole field on this werry nag. Well, I heard no more till I got to Melton, for I didn't go to my haunt's at Mount Sorrel that night, and I saw little of the run, for my oss was rather puffy, livin' principally on chaff, bran mashes, swedes, and soft food; and when I got to Melton, I heard 'ow Mr. Sponge had bought this oss,' Mr. Buckram nodding his head at the horse as he spoke, 'and 'ow that he'd given the matter o' two 'under'd—or I'm not sure it weren't two 'under'd-and-fifty guineas for 'im, and—'
'Well,' interrupted Mr. Waffles, tired of his verbosity, 'and what did they say about the horse?'
'Why,' continued Mr. Buckram, thoughtfully, propping his chin up with his stick, and drawing all the half-crowns up to the top of his pocket again, 'the fust 'spicious thing I heard was Sir Digby Snaffle's grum, Sam, sayin' to Captain Screwley's bat-man grum, jist afore the George Inn door,—
'"Well, Jack, Tommy's sold the brown oss!"
'"N—O—O—R!" exclaimed Jack, starin' 'is eyes out, as if it were unpossible.
'"He 'as though," said Sam.
'"Well, then, I 'ope the gemman's fond o' walkin'," exclaimed Jack, bustin' out a laughin' and runnin' on.
'This rayther set me a thinkin',' continued Mr. Buckram, dropping a second half-crown, which jinked against the nest-egg one left at the bottom, 'and fearin' that Mr. Sponge had fallen 'mong the Philistines—which I was werry concerned about, for he's a real nice gent, but thoughtless, as many young gents are who 'ave plenty of tin—I made it my business to inquire 'bout this oss; and if he is the oss that I saw in Leicestersheer, and I 'ave little doubt about it (dropping two consecutive half-crowns as he spoke), though I've not seen him out, I—'
'Ah! well, I bought him of Mr. Sponge, who said he got him from Lord Bullfrog,' interrupted Mr. Waffles.
'Ah! then he is the oss, in course,' said Mr. Buckram, with a sort of mournful chuck of the chin; 'he is the oss,' repeated he; 'well, then, he's a dangerous hanimal,' added he, letting slip three half-crowns.
'What does he do?' asked Mr. Waffles.
'Do!' repeated Mr. Buckram, 'DO! he'll do for anybody.'
'Indeed,' responded Mr. Waffles; adding, 'how could Mr. Sponge sell me such a brute?'
'I doesn't mean to say, mind ye,' observed Mr. Buckram, drawing back three half-crowns, as though he had gone that much too far,—'I doesn't mean to say, mind, that he's wot you call a misteched, runaway, rear-backwards-over-hanimal—but I mean to say he's a difficultish oss to ride—himpetuous—and one that, if he got the hupper 'and, would be werry likely to try and keep the hupper 'and—you understand me?' said he, eyeing Mr. Waffles intently, and dropping four half-crowns as he spoke.
'I'm tellin' you nothin' but the truth,' observed Mr. Buckram, after a pause, adding, 'in course it's nothin' to me, only bein' down here on a visit to a friend, and 'earin' that the oss were 'ere, I made bold to look in to see whether it was 'im or no. No offence, I 'opes,' added he, letting go the rest of the silver, and taking the prop from under his chin, with an obeisance as if he was about to be off.
'Oh, no offence at all,' rejoined Mr. Waffles, 'no offence—rather the contrary. Indeed, I'm much obliged to you for telling me what you have done. Just stop half a minute,' added he, thinking he might as well try and get something more out of him. While Mr. Waffles was considering his next question, Mr. Buckram saved him the trouble of thinking by 'leading the gallop' himself.
'I believe 'im to be a good oss, and I believe 'im to be a bad oss,' observed Mr. Buckram, sententiously. 'I believe that oss, with a bold rider on his back, and well away with the 'ounds, would beat most osses goin', but it's the start that's the difficulty with him; for if, on the other 'and, he don't incline to go, all the spurrin', and quiltin', and leatherin' in the world won't make 'im. It'll be a mercy o' Providence if he don't cut out work for the crowner some day.'
'Hang the brute!' exclaimed Mr. Waffles, in disgust; 'I've a good mind to have his throat cut.'
'Nay,' replied Mr. Buckram, brightening up, and stirring the silver round and round in his pocket like a whirlpool, 'nay,' replied he, 'he's fit for summat better nor that.'
'Not much, I think,' replied Mr. Waffles, pouting with disgust. He now stood silent for a few seconds.
'Well, but what did they mean by hoping Mr. Sponge was fond of walking?' at length asked he.
'Oh, vy,' replied Mr. Buckram, gathering all the money up again, 'I believe it was this 'ere,' beginning to drop them to half-minute time, and talking very slowly; 'the oss, I believe, got the better of Lord Bullfrog one day, somewhere a little on this side of Thrussinton—that, you know, is where Sir 'Arry built his kennels—between Mount Sorrel and Melton in fact—and havin' got his Lordship off, who, I should tell you, is an uncommon fat 'un, he wouldn't let him on again, and he 'ad to lead him the matter of I don't know 'ow many miles'; Mr. Buckram letting go the whole balance of silver in a rush, as if to denote that it was no joke.
'The brute!' observed Mr. Waffles, in disgust, adding, 'Well, as you seem to have a pretty good opinion of him, suppose you buy him; I'll let you have him cheap.'
''Ord bless you—my lord—that's to say, sir!' exclaimed Buckram, shrugging up his shoulders, and raising his eyebrows as high as they would go, 'he'd be of no use to me, none votsomever—shouldn't know what to do with him—never do for 'arness—besides, I 'ave a werry good machiner as it is—at least, he sarves my turn, and that's everything, you know. No, sir, no,' continued he, slowly and thoughtfully, dropping the silver to half-minute time; 'no, sir, no; if I might make free with a gen'leman o' your helegance,' continued he, after a pause,' I'd say, sell 'im to a post-master or a buss-master, or some sich cattle as those, but I doesn't think I'd put 'im into the 'ands of no gen'leman, that's to say if I were you, at least,' added he.
'Well, then, will you speculate on him yourself for the buss-masters?' asked Mr. Waffles, tired alike of the colloquy and the quadruped.
'Oh, vy, as to that,' replied Mr. Buckram, with an air of the most perfect indifference, 'vy, as to that—not bein' nouther a post-master nor a buss-master—but 'aving, as I said before, a little hindependence o' my own, vy, I couldn't in course give such a bountiful price as if I could turn 'im to account at once; but if it would be any 'commodation to you,' added he, working the silver up into full cry, 'I wouldn't mind givin' you the with (worth) of 'im—say, deductin' expenses hup to town, and standin' at livery afore I finds a customer—expenses hup to town,' continued Mr. Buckram, muttering to himself in apparent calculation, 'standin' at livery—three-and-sixpence a night, grum, and so on—I wouldn't mind,' continued he briskly, 'givin' of you twenty pund for 'im—if you'd throw me back a sov.,' continued he, seeing Mr. Waffles' brow didn't contract into the frown he expected at having such a sum offered for his three-hundred-guinea horse.
In the course of an hour, that wonderful invention of modern times,—the Electric Telegraph—conveyed the satisfactory words 'All right' to our friend Mr. Sponge, just as he was sitting down to dinner in a certain sumptuously sanded coffee-room in Conduit Street, who forthwith sealed and posted the following ready-written letter:
'BANTAM HOTEL, BOND STREET.
'I have been greatly surprised and hurt to hear that you have thought fit to impeach my integrity, and insinuate that I had taken you in with the brown horse. Such insinuations touch one in a tender point—one's self-respect. The bargain, I may remind you, was of your own seeking, and I told you at the time I knew nothing of the horse, having only ridden him once, and I also told you where I got him. To show how unjust and unworthy your insinuations have been, I have now to inform you that, having ascertained that Lord Bullfrog knew he was vicious, I insisted on his lordship taking him back, and have only to add that, on my receiving him from you, I will return you your bill.
'I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
'To W. WAFFLES, Esq., 'Imperial Hotel, Laverick Wells.'
Mr. Waffles was a good deal vexed and puzzled when he got this letter. He had parted with the horse, who was gone no one knew where, and Mr. Waffles felt that he had used a certain freedom of speech in speaking of the transaction. Mr. Sponge having left Laverick Wells, had, perhaps, led him a little astray with his tongue—slandering an absent man being generally thought a pretty safe game; it now seemed Mr. Waffles was all wrong, and might have had his money back if he had not been in such a hurry to part with the horse. Like a good many people, he thought he had best eat up his words, which he did in the following manner:
'IMPERIAL HOTEL, LAVERICK WELLS.
'DEAR MR. SPONGE,
'You are quite mistaken in supposing that I ever insinuated anything against you with regard to the horse. I said he was a beast, and it seems Lord Bullfrog admits it. However, never mind anything more about him, though I am equally obliged to you for the trouble you have taken. The fact is, I have parted with him.
'We are having capital sport; never go out but we kill, sometimes a brace, sometimes a leash of foxes. Hoping you are recovered from the effects of your ride through the window, and will soon rejoin us, believe me, dear Mr. Sponge,
'Yours very sincerely,
To which Mr. Sponge shortly after rejoined as follows:
'BANTAM HOTEL, BOND STREET.
'Yours to hand—I am glad to receive a disclaimer of any unworthy imputations respecting the brown horse. Such insinuations are only for horse-dealers, not for men of high gentlemanly feeling.
'I am sorry to say we have not got out of the horse as I hoped. Lord Bullfrog, who is a most cantankerous fellow, insists upon having him back, according to the terms of my letter; I must therefore trouble you to hunt him up, and let us accommodate his lordship with him again. If you will say where he is, I may very likely know some one who can assist us in getting him. You will excuse this trouble, I hope, considering that it was to serve you that I moved in the matter, and insisted on returning him to his lordship, at a loss of L50 to myself, having only given L250 for him.
'I remain, dear Waffles,
'To W. WAFFLES, Esq., 'Imperial Hotel, Laverick Wells.'
'I'm afraid Bullfrog will have to make himself happy without his horse, for I hav'n't the slightest idea where he is. I sold him to a cockneyfied, countryfied sort of a man, who said he had a small "hindependence of his own"—somewhere, I believe, about London. He didn't give much for him, as you may suppose, when I tell you he paid for him chiefly in silver. If I were you, I wouldn't trouble myself about him.
'Yours very truly,
'To H. SPONGE, Esq.'
Our hero addressed Mr. Waffles again, in the course of a few days, as follows:
'I am sorry to say Bullfrog won't be put off without the horse. He says I insisted on his taking him back, and now he insists on having him. I have had his lawyer, Mr. Chousam, of the great firm of Chousam, Doem, and Co., of Throgmorton Street, at me, who says his lordship will play old gooseberry with us if we don't return him by Saturday. Pray put on all steam, and look him up.
'Yours in haste,
'To W. WAFFLES, Esq.'
Mr. Waffles did put on all steam, and so successfully that he ran the horse to ground at our friend Mr. Buckram's. Though the horse was in the box adjoining the house, Mr. Buckram declared he had sold him to go to 'Hireland'; to what county he really couldn't say, nor to what hunt; all he knew was, the gentleman said he was a 'captin,' and lived in a castle.
Mr. Waffles communicated the intelligence to Sponge, requesting him to do the best he could for him, who reported what his 'best' was in the following letter:
'My lawyer has seen Chousam, and deuced stiff he says he was. It seems Bullfrog is indignant at being accused of a "do"; and having got me in the wrong box, by not being able to return the horse as claimed, he meant to work me. At first Chousam would hear of nothing but "l—a—w." Bullfrog's wounded honour could only be salved that way. Gradually, however, we diverged from l—a—w to L—s.—d.; and the upshot of it is, that he will advise his lordship to take L250 and be done with it. It's a bore; but I did it for the best, and shall be glad now to know your wishes on the subject. Meanwhile, I remain,
'Yours very truly,
'To W. WAFFLES, Esq.'
Formerly a remittance by post used to speak for itself. The tender-fingered clerks could detect an enclosure, however skilfully folded. Few people grudged double postage in those days. Now one letter is so much like another, that nothing short of opening them makes one any wiser. Mr. Sponge received Mr. Waffles' answer from the hands of the waiter with the sort of feeling that it was only the continuation of their correspondence. Judge, then, of his delight, when a nice, clean, crisp promissory note, on a five-shilling stamp, fell quivering to the floor. A few lines, expressive of Mr. Waffles' gratitude for the trouble our hero had taken, and hopes that it would not be inconvenient to take a note at two months, accompanied it. At first Mr. Sponge was overjoyed. It would set him up for the season. He thought how he'd spend it. He had half a mind to go to Melton. There were no heiresses there, or else he would. Leamington would do, only it was rather expensive. Then he thought he might as well have done Waffles a little more.
'Confound it!' exclaimed Sponge, 'I don't do myself justice! I'm too much of a gentleman! I should have had five 'under'd—such an ass as Waffles deserves to be done!'
A NEW SCHEME
Our friend Soapey was now in good feather; he had got a large price for his good-for-nothing horse, with a very handsome bonus for not getting him back, making him better off than he had been for some time. Gentlemen of his calibre are generally extremely affluent in everything except cash. They have bills without end—bills that nobody will touch, and book debts in abundance—book debts entered with metallic pencils in curious little clasped pocket-books, with such utter disregard of method that it would puzzle an accountant to comb them into anything like shape.
It is true, what Mr. Sponge got from Mr. Waffles were bills—but they were good bills, and of such reasonable date as the most exacting of the Jew tribe would 'do' for twenty per cent. Mr. Sponge determined to keep the game alive, and getting Hercules and Multum in Parvo together again, he added a showy piebald hack, that Buckram had just got from some circus people who had not been able to train him to their work.
The question now was, where to manoeuvre this imposing stud—a problem that Mr. Sponge quickly solved.
Among the many strangers who rushed into indiscriminate friendship with our hero at Laverick Wells, was Mr. Jawleyford, of Jawleyford Court, in ——shire. Jawleyford was a great humbug. He was a fine, off-hand, open-hearted, cheery sort of fellow, who was always delighted to see you, would start at the view, and stand with open arms in the middle of the street, as though quite overjoyed at the meeting. Though he never gave dinners, nor anything where he was, he asked everybody, at least everybody who did give them, to visit him at Jawleyford Court. If a man was fond of fishing, he must come to Jawleyford Court, he must, indeed; he would take no refusal, he wouldn't leave him alone till he promised. He would show him such fishing—no waters in the world to compare with his. The Shannon and the Tweed were not to be spoken of in the same day as his waters in the Swiftley.
Shooting, the same way. 'By Jove! are you a shooter? Well, I'm delighted to hear it. Well, now, we shall be at home all September, and up to the middle of October, and you must just come to us at your own time, and I will give you some of the finest partridge and pheasant shooting you ever saw in your life; Norfolk can show nothing to what I can. Now, my good fellow, say the word; do say you'll come, and then it will be a settled thing, and I shall look forward to it with such pleasure!'
He was equally magnanimous about hunting, though, like a good many people who have 'had their hunts,' he pretended that his day was over, though he was a most zealous promoter of the sport. So he asked everybody who did hunt to come and see him; and what with his hearty, affable manner, and the unlimited nature of his invitations, he generally passed for a deuced hospitable, good sort of fellow, and came in for no end of dinners and other entertainments for his wife and daughters, of which he had two—daughters, we mean, not wives. His time was about up at Laverick Wells when Mr. Sponge arrived there; nevertheless, during the few days that remained to them, Mr. Jawleyford contrived to scrape a pretty intimate acquaintance with a gentleman whose wealth was reported to equal, if it did not exceed, that of Mr. Waffles himself. The following was the closing scene between them:
'Mr. Sponge,' said he, getting our hero by both hands in Culeyford's Billiard Room, and shaking them as though he could not bear the idea of separation; 'my dear Mr. Sponge,' added he, 'I grieve to say we're going to-morrow; I had hoped to have stayed a little longer, and to have enjoyed the pleasure of your most agreeable society.' (This was true; he would have stayed, only his banker wouldn't let him have any more money.) 'But, however, I won't say adieu,' continued he; 'no, I won't say adieu! I live, as you perhaps know, in one of the best hunting countries in England—my Lord Scamperdale's—Scamperdale and I are like brothers; I can do whatever I like with him—he has, I may say, the finest pack of hounds in the world; his huntsman. Jack Frostyface, I really believe, cannot be surpassed. Come, then, my dear fellow,' continued Mr. Jawleyford, increasing the grasp and shake of the hands, and looking most earnestly in Sponge's face, as if deprecating a refusal; 'come, then, my dear fellow, and see us; we will do whatever we can to entertain and make you comfortable. Scamperdale shall keep our side of the country till you come; there are capital stables at Lucksford, close to the station, and you shall have a stall for your hack at Jawleyford, and a man to look after him, if you like; so now, don't say nay—your time shall be ours—we shall be at home all the rest of the winter, and I flatter myself, if you once come down, you will be inclined to repeat your visit; at least, I hope so.'
There are two common sayings; one, 'that birds of a feather flock together'; the other, 'that two of a trade never agree'; which often seem to us to contradict each other in the actual intercourse of life. Humbugs certainly have the knack of drawing together, and yet they are always excellent friends, and will vouch for the goodness of each other in a way that few straight-forward men think it worth their while to adopt with regard to indifferent people. Indeed, humbugs are not always content to defend their absent brother humbugs when they hear them abused, but they will frequently lug each other in neck and crop, apparently for no other purpose than that of proclaiming what excellent fellows they are, and see if anybody will take up the cudgels against them.
Mr. Sponge, albeit with a considerable cross of the humbug himself, and one who perfectly understood the usual worthlessness of general invitations, was yet so taken with Mr. Jawleyford's hail-fellow-well-met, earnest sort of manner, that, adopting the convenient and familiar solution in such matters, that there is no rule without an exception, concluded that Mr. Jawleyford was the exception, and really meant what he said.
Independently of the attractions offered by hunting, which were both strong and cogent, we have said there were two young ladies, to whom fame attached the enormous fortunes common in cases where there is a large property and no sons. Still Sponge was a wary bird, and his experience of the worthlessness of most general invitations made him think it just possible that it might not suit Mr. Jawleyford to receive him now, at the particular time he wanted to go; so after duly considering the case, and also the impressive nature of the invitation, so recently given, too, he determined not to give Jawleyford the chance of refusing him, but just to say he was coming, and drop down upon him before he could say 'no.' Accordingly, he penned the following epistle:
'BANTAM HOTEL, BOND-STREET, LONDON.
'I purpose being with you to-morrow, by the express train, which I see, by Bradshaw, arrives at Lucksford a quarter to three. I shall only bring two hunters and a hack, so perhaps you could oblige me by taking them in for the short time I shall stay, as it would not be convenient for me to separate them. Hoping to find Mrs. Jawleyford and the young ladies well, I remain, dear sir,
'Yours very truly,
'To—JAWLEYFORD, Esq., Jawleyford Court, Lucksford.'
'Curse the fellow!' exclaimed Jawleyford, nearly choking himself with a fish bone, as he opened and read the foregoing at breakfast. 'Curse the fellow!' he repeated, stamping the letter under foot, as though he would crush it to atoms. 'Who ever saw such a piece of impudence as that!'
'What's the matter, my dear?' inquired Mrs. Jawleyford, alarmed lest it was her dunning jeweller writing again.
'Matter!' shrieked Jawleyford, in a tone that sounded through the thick wall of the room, and caused the hobbling old gardener on the terrace to peep in at the heavy-mullioned window. 'Matter!' repeated he, as though he had got his coup de grace; 'look there,' added he, handing over the letter.
'Oh, my dear,' rejoined Mrs. Jawleyford soothingly, as soon as she saw it was not what she expected. 'Oh, my dear, I'm sure there's nothing to make you put yourself so much out of the way.' 'No!' roared Jawleyford, determined not to be done out of his grievance. 'No!' repeated he; 'do you call that nothing?'
'Why, nothing to make yourself unhappy about,' replied Mrs. Jawleyford, rather pleased than otherwise; for she was glad it was not from Rings, the jeweller, and, moreover, hated the monotony of Jawleyford Court, and was glad of anything to relieve it. If she had had her own way, she would have gadded about at watering-places all the year round.
'Well,' said Jawleyford, with a toss of the head and a shrug of resignation, 'you'll have me in gaol; I see that.'
'Nay, my dear J.,' rejoined his wife, soothingly; 'I'm sure you've plenty of money.'
'Have I!' ejaculated Jawleyford. 'Do you suppose, if I had, I'd have left Laverick Wells without paying Miss Bustlebey, or given a bill at three months for the house-rent?'
'Well, but, my dear, you've nothing to do but tell Mr. Screwemtight to get you some money from the tenants.'
'Money from the tenants!' replied Mr. Jawleyford. 'Screwemtight tells me he can't get another farthing from any man on the estate.'
'Oh, pooh!' said Mrs. Jawleyford; 'you're far too good to them. I always say Screwemtight looks far more to their interest than he does to yours.'
Jawleyford, we may observe, was one of the rather numerous race of paper-booted, pen-and-ink landowners. He always dressed in the country as he would in St. James's Street, and his communications with his tenantry were chiefly confined to dining with them twice a year in the great entrance-hall, after Mr. Screwemtight had eased them of their cash in the steward's room. Then Mr. Jawleyford would shine forth the very impersonification of what a landlord ought to be. Dressed in the height of the fashion, as if by his clothes to give the lie to his words, he would expatiate on the delights of such meetings of equality; declare that, next to those spent with his family, the only really happy moments of his life were those when he was surrounded by his tenantry; he doated on the manly character of the English farmer. Then he would advert to the great antiquity of the Jawleyford family, many generations of whom looked down upon them from the walls of the old hall; some on their war-steeds, some armed cap-a-pie, some in court-dresses, some in Spanish ones, one in a white dress with gold brocade breeches and a hat with an enormous plume, old Jawleyford (father of the present one) in the Windsor uniform, and our friend himself, the very prototype of what then stood before them. Indeed, he had been painted in the act of addressing his hereditary chawbacons in the hall in which the picture was suspended. There he stood, with his bright auburn hair (now rather badger-pied, perhaps, but still very passable by candlelight)—his bright auburn hair, we say, swept boldly off his lofty forehead, his hazy grey eyes flashing with the excitement of drink and animation, his left hand reposing on the hip of his well-fitting black pantaloons, while the right one, radiant with rings, and trimmed with upturned wristband, sawed the air, as he rounded off the periods of the well-accustomed saws.
Jawleyford, like a good many people, was very hospitable when in full fig—two soups, two fishes, and the necessary concomitants; but he would see any one far enough before he would give him a dinner merely because he wanted one. That sort of ostentatious banqueting has about brought country society in general to a deadlock. People tire of the constant revision of plate, linen, and china.
Mrs. Jawleyford, on the other hand, was a very rough-and-ready sort of woman, never put out of her way; and though she constantly preached the old doctrine that girls 'are much better single than married,' she was always on the look-out for opportunities of contradicting her assertions.
She was an Irish lady, with a pedigree almost as long as Jawleyford's, but more compressible pride, and if she couldn't get a duke, she would take a marquis or an earl, or even put up with a rich commoner.
The perusal, therefore, of Sponge's letter, operated differently upon her to what it did upon her husband, and though she would have liked a little more time, perhaps, she did not care to take him as they were. Jawleyford, however, resisted violently. It would be most particularly inconvenient to him to receive company at that time. If Mr. Sponge had gone through the whole three hundred and sixty-five days in the year, he could not have hit upon a more inconvenient one for him. Besides, he had no idea of people writing in that sort of a way, saying they were coming, without giving him the chance of saying no. 'Well, but, my dear, I dare say you asked him,' observed Mrs. Jawleyford.
Jawleyford was silent, the scene in the billiard-room recurring to his mind.
'I've often told you, my dear,' continued Mrs. Jawleyford, kindly, 'that you shouldn't be so free with your invitations if you don't want people to come; things are very different now to what they were in the old coaching and posting days, when it took a day and a night and half the next day to get here, and I don't know how much money besides. You might then invite people with safety, but it is very different now, when they have nothing to do but put themselves into the express train and whisk down in a few hours.'
'Well, but, confound him, I didn't ask his horses,' exclaimed Jawleyford; 'nor will I have them either,' continued he, with a jerk of the head, as he got up and rang the bell, as though determined to put a stop to that at all events.
'Samuel,' said he, to the dirty page of a boy who answered the summons, 'tell John Watson to go down to the Railway Tavern directly, and desire them to get a three-stalled stable ready for a gentleman's horses that are coming to-day—a gentleman of the name of Sponge,' added he, lest any one else should chance to come and usurp them—'and tell John to meet the express train, and tell the gentleman's groom where it is.'
True to a minute, the hissing engine drew the swiftly gliding train beneath the elegant and costly station at Lucksford—an edifice presenting a rare contrast to the wretched old red-tiled, five-windowed house, called the Red Lion, where a brandy-faced blacksmith of a landlord used to emerge from the adjoining smithy, to take charge of any one who might arrive per coach for that part of the country. Mr. Sponge was quickly on the platform, seeing to the detachment of his horse-box.
Just as the cavalry was about got into marching order, up rode John Watson, a ragamuffin-looking gamekeeper, in a green plush coat, with a very tarnished laced hat, mounted on a very shaggy white pony, whose hide seemed quite impervious to the visitations of a heavily-knotted dogwhip, with which he kept saluting his shoulders and sides.