'Please, sir,' said he, riding up to Mr. Sponge, with a touch of the old hat, 'I've got you a capital three-stall stable at the Railway Tavern, here,' pointing to a newly built brick house standing on the rising ground.
'Oh! but I'm going to Jawleyford Court,' responded our friend, thinking the man was the 'tout' of the tavern.
'Mr. Jawleyford don't take in horses, sir,' rejoined the man, with another touch of the hat.
'He'll take in mine,' observed Mr. Sponge, with an air of authority.
'Oh, I beg pardon, sir,' replied the keeper, thinking he had made a mistake; 'it was Mr. Sponge whose horses I had to bespeak stalls for,' touching his hat profusely as he spoke.
'Well, this be Mister Sponge,' observed Leather, who had been listening attentively to what passed.
''Deed!' said the keeper, again turning to our hero with an 'I beg pardon, sir, but the stable is for you then, sir—for Mr. Sponge, sir.'
'How do you know that?' demanded our friend.
''Cause Mr. Spigot, the butler, says to me, says he, "Mr. Watson," says he—my name's Watson, you see,' continued the speaker, sawing away at his hat, 'my name's Watson, you see, and I'm the head gamekeeper. "Mr. Watson," says he, "you must go down to the tavern and order a three-stall stable for a gentleman of the name of Sponge, whose horses are a comin' to-day"; and in course I've come 'cordingly,' added Watson. 'A three-stall'd stable!' observed Mr. Sponge, with an emphasis.
'A three-stall'd stable,' repeated Mr. Watson.
'Confound him, but he said he'd take in a hack at all events,' observed Sponge, with a sideway shake of the head; 'and a hack he shall take in, too' he added. 'Are your stables full at Jawleyford Court?' he asked.
''Ord bless you, no, sir,' replied Watson with a leer; 'there's nothin' in them but a couple of weedy hacks and a pair of old worn-out carriage-horses.'
'Then I can get this hack taken in, at all events,' observed Sponge, laying his hand on the neck of the piebald as he spoke.
'Why, as to that,' replied Mr. Watson, with a shake of the head, 'I can't say nothin'.'
'I must, though,' rejoined Sponge, tartly; 'he said he'd take in my hack, or I wouldn't have come.'
'Well, sir,' observed the keeper, 'you know best, sir.'
'Confounded screw!' muttered Sponge, turning away to give his orders to Leather. 'I'll work him for it,' he added. 'He sha'n't get rid of me in a hurry—at least, not unless I can get a better billet elsewhere.'
Having arranged the parting with Leather, and got a cart to carry his things, Mr. Sponge mounted the piebald, and put himself under the guidance of Watson to be conducted to his destination. The first part of the journey was performed in silence, Mr. Sponge not being particularly well pleased at the reception his request to have his horses taken in had met with. This silence he might perhaps have preserved throughout had it not occurred to him that he might pump something out of the servant about the family he was going to visit.
'That's not a bad-like old cob of yours,' he observed, drawing rein so as to let the shaggy white come alongside of him.
'He belies his looks, then,' replied Watson, with a grin of his cadaverous face, 'for he's just as bad a beast as ever looked through a bridle. It's a parfect disgrace to a gentleman to put a man on such a beast.'
Sponge saw the sort of man he had got to deal with, and proceeded accordingly.
'Have you lived long with Mr. Jawleyford?' he asked.
'No, nor will I, if I can help it,' replied Watson, with another grin and another touch of the old hat. Touching his hat was about the only piece of propriety he was up to.
'What, he's not a brick, then?' asked Sponge.
'Mean man,' replied Watson with a shake of the head; 'mean man,' he repeated. 'You're nowise connected with the fam'ly, I s'pose?' he asked with a look of suspicion lest he might be committing himself.
'No,' replied Sponge; 'no; merely an acquaintance. We met at Laverick Wells, and he pressed me to come and see him.'
'Indeed!' said Watson, feeling at ease again.
'Who did you live with before you came here?' asked Mr. Sponge, after a pause.
'I lived many years—the greater part of my life, indeed—with Sir Harry Swift. He was a real gentleman now, if you like—free, open-handed gentleman—none of your close-shavin', cheese-parin' sort of gentlemen, or imitation gentlemen, as I calls them, but a man who knew what was due to good servants and gave them it. We had good wages, and all the proper "reglars." Bless you, I could sell a new suit of clothes there every year, instead of having to wear the last keeper's cast-offs, and a hat that would disgrace anything but a flay-crow. If the linin' wasn't stuffed full of gun-waddin' it would be over my nose,' he observed, taking it off and adjusting the layer of wadding as he spoke.
'You should have stuck to Sir Harry,' observed Mr. Sponge.
'I did,' rejoined Watson. 'I did, I stuck to him to the last. I'd have been with him now, only he couldn't get a manor at Boulogne, and a keeper was of no use without one.'
'What, he went to Boulogne, did he?' observed Mr. Sponge.
'Aye, the more's the pity,' replied Watson. 'He was a gentleman, every inch of him,' he added, with a shake of the head and a sigh, as if recurring to more prosperous times. 'He was what a gentleman ought to be,' he continued, 'not one of your poor, pryin', inquisitive critturs, what's always fancyin' themselves cheated. I ordered everything in my department, and paid for it too; and never had a bill disputed or even commented on. I might have charged for a ton of powder, and never had nothin' said.'
'Mr. Jawleyford's not likely to find his way to Boulogne, I suppose?' observed Mr. Sponge.
'Not he!' exclaimed Watson, 'not he!—safe bird—very.'
'He's rich, I suppose?' continued Sponge, with an air of indifference.
'Why, I should say he was; though others say he's not,' replied Watson, cropping the old pony with the dog-whip, as it nearly fell on its nose. 'He can't fail to be rich, with all his property; though they're desperate hands for gaddin' about; always off to some waterin'-place or another, lookin' for husbands, I suppose. I wonder,' he continued, 'that gentlemen can't settle at home, and amuse themselves with coursin' and shootin'.' Mr. Watson, like many servants, thinking that the bulk of a gentleman's income should be spent in promoting the particular sport over which they preside.
With this and similar discourse, they beguiled the short distance between the station and the Court—a distance, however, that looked considerably greater after the flying rapidity of the rail. But for these occasional returns to terra firma, people would begin to fancy themselves birds. After rounding a large but gently swelling hill, over the summit of which the road, after the fashion of old roads, led, our traveller suddenly looked down upon the wide vale of Sniperdown, with Jawleyford Court glittering with a bright open aspect, on a fine, gradual elevation, above the broad, smoothly gliding river. A clear atmosphere, indicative either of rain or frost, disclosed a vast tract of wild, flat, ill-cultivated-looking country to the south, little interrupted by woods or signs of population; the whole losing itself, as it were, in an indistinct grey outline, commingling with the fleecy white clouds in the distance.
'Here we be,' observed Watson, with a nod towards where a tarnished red-and-gold flag, floated, or rather flapped lazily in the winter's breeze, above an irregular mass of towers, turrets, and odd-shaped chimneys.
Jawleyford Court was a fine old mansion, partaking more of the character of a castle than a Court, with its keep and towers, battlements, heavily grated mullioned windows, and machicolated gallery. It stood, sombre and grey, in the midst of gigantic but now leafless sycamores—trees that had to thank themselves for being sycamores; for, had they been oaks, or other marketable wood, they would have been made into bonnets or shawls long before now. The building itself was irregular, presenting different sorts of architecture, from pure Gothic down to some even perfectly modern buildings; still, viewed as a whole, it was massive and imposing; and as Mr. Sponge looked down upon it, he thought far more of Jawleyford and Co. than he did as the mere occupants of a modest, white-stuccoed, green-verandahed house, at Laverick Wells. Nor did his admiration diminish as he advanced, and, crossing by a battlemented bridge over the moat, he viewed the massive character of the buildings rising grandly from their rocky foundation. An imposing, solemn-toned old clock began striking four, as the horsemen rode under the Gothic portico, whose notes re-echoed and reverberated, and at last lost themselves among the towers and pinnacles of the building. Sponge, for a moment, was awe-stricken at the magnificence of the scene, feeling that it was what he would call 'a good many cuts above him'; but he soon recovered his wonted impudence.
'He would have me,' thought he, recalling the pressing nature of the Jawleyford invitation.
'If you'll hold my nag,' said Watson, throwing himself off the shaggy white, 'I'll ring the bell,' added he, running up a wide flight of steps to the hall-door. A riotous peal announced the arrival.
THE JAWLEYFORD ESTABLISHMENT
The loud peal of the Jawleyford Court door-bell, announcing Mr. Sponge's arrival, with which we closed the last chapter, found the inhabitants variously engaged preparing for his reception.
Mrs. Jawleyford, with the aid of a very indifferent cook, was endeavouring to arrange a becoming dinner; the young ladies, with the aid of a somewhat better sort of maid, were attractifying themselves, each looking with considerable jealousy on the efforts of the other; and Mr. Jawleyford was trotting from room to room, eyeing the various pictures of himself, wondering which was now the most like, and watching the emergence of curtains, carpets, and sofas from their brown holland covers.
A gleam of sunshine seemed to reign throughout the mansion; the long-covered furniture appearing to have gained freshness by its retirement, just as a newly done-up hat surprises the wearer by its goodness; a few days, however, soon restores the defects of either.
All these arrangements were suddenly brought to a close by the peal of the door-bell, just as the little stage-tinkle of a theatre stops preparation, and compels the actors to stand forward as they are. Mrs. Jawleyford threw aside her silk apron, and took a hasty glance of her face in the old eagle-topped mirror in the still-room; the young ladies discarded their coarse dirty pocket-handkerchiefs, and gently drew elaborately fringed ones through their taper fingers to give them an air of use, as they took a hasty review of themselves in the swing mirrors; the housemaid hurried off with a whole armful of brown holland; and Jawleyford threw himself into attitude in an elaborately carved, richly cushioned, easy-chair, with a Disraeli's Life of Lord George Bentinck in his hand. But Jawleyford's thoughts were far from his book. He was sitting on thorns lest there might not be a proper guard of honour to receive Mr. Sponge at the entrance.
Jawleyford, as we said before, was not the man to entertain unless he could do it 'properly'; and, as we all have our pitch-notes of propriety up to which we play, we may state that Jawleyford's note was a butler and two footmen. A butler and two footmen he looked upon as perfectly indispensable to receiving company. He chose to have two footmen to follow the butler, who followed the gentleman to the spacious flight of steps leading from the great hall to the portico, as he mounted his horse. The world is governed a good deal by appearances. Mr. Jawleyford started life with two most unimpeachable Johns. They were nearly six feet high, heads well up, and legs that might have done for models for a sculptor. They powdered with the greatest propriety, and by two o'clock each day were silk-stockinged and pumped in full-dress Jawleyford livery; sky-blue coats with massive silver aiguillettes, and broad silver seams down the front and round their waistcoat-pocket flaps; silver garters at their crimson plush breeches' knees: and thus attired, they were ready to turn out with the butler to receive visitors, and conduct them back to their carriages. Gradually they came down in style, but not in number, and, when Mr. Sponge visited Mr. Jawleyford, he had a sort of out-of-door man-of-all-work who metamorphosed himself into a second footman at short notice.
'My dear Mr. Sponge!—I am delighted to see you!' exclaimed Mr. Jawleyford, rising from his easy-chair, and throwing his Disraeli's Bentinck aside, as Mr. Spigot, the butler, in a deep, sonorous voice, announced our worthy friend. 'This is, indeed, most truly kind of you,' continued Jawleyford, advancing to meet him; and getting our friend by both hands, he began working his arms up and down like the under man in a saw-pit. 'This is, indeed, most truly kind,' he repeated; 'I assure you I shall never forget it. It's just what I like—it's just what Mrs. Jawleyford likes—it's just what we all like—coming without fuss or ceremony. Spigot!' he added, hailing old Pomposo as the latter was slowly withdrawing, thinking what a humbug his master was—'Spigot!' he repeated in a louder voice; 'let the ladies know Mr. Sponge is here. Come to the fire, my dear fellow,' continued Jawleyford, clutching his guest by the arm, and drawing him towards where an ample grate of indifferent coals was crackling and spluttering beneath a magnificent old oak mantelpiece of the richest and costliest carved work. 'Come to the fire, my dear fellow,' he repeated, 'for you feel cold; and I don't wonder at it, for the day is cheerless and uncomfortable, and you've had a long ride. Will you take anything before dinner?'
'What time do you dine?' asked Mr. Sponge, rubbing his hands as he spoke.
'Six o'clock,' replied Mr. Jawleyford, 'six o'clock—say six o'clock—not particular to a moment—days are short, you see—days are short.'
'I think I should like a glass of sherry and a biscuit, then,' observed Mr. Sponge.
And forthwith the bell was rung, and in due course of time Mr. Spigot arrived with a tray, followed by the Miss Jawleyfords, who had rather expected Mr. Sponge to be shown into the drawing-room to them, where they had composed themselves very prettily; one working a parrot in chenille, the other with a lapful of crochet.
The Miss Jawleyfords—Amelia and Emily—were lively girls; hardly beauties—at least, not sufficiently so to attract attention in a crowd; but still, girls well calculated to 'bring a man to book,' in the country. Mr. Thackeray, who bound up all the home truths in circulation, and many that exist only in the inner chambers of the heart, calling the whole 'Vanity Fair,' says, we think (though we don't exactly know where to lay hand on the passage), that it is not your real striking beauties who are the most dangerous—at all events, that do the most execution—but sly, quiet sort of girls, who do not strike the beholder at first sight, but steal insensibly upon him as he gets acquainted. The Miss Jawleyfords were of this order. Seen in plain morning gowns, a man would meet them in the street, without either turning round or making an observation, good, bad, or indifferent; but in the close quarters of a country house, with all the able assistance of first-rate London dresses, well flounced and set out, each bent on doing the agreeable, they became dangerous. The Miss Jawleyfords were uncommonly well got up, and Juliana, their mutual maid, deserved great credit for the impartiality she displayed in arraying them. There wasn't a halfpenny's worth of choice as to which was the best. This was the more creditable to the maid, inasmuch as the dresses—sea-green glaces—were rather dashed; and the worse they looked, the likelier they would be to become her property. Half-dashed dresses, however, that would look rather seedy by contrast, come out very fresh in the country, especially in winter, when day begins to close in at four. And here we may observe, what a dreary time is that which intervenes between the arrival of a guest and the dinner hour, in the dead winter months in the country. The English are a desperate people for overweighting their conversational powers. They have no idea of penning up their small talk, and bringing it to bear in generous flow upon one particular hour; but they keep dribbling it out throughout the live-long day, wearying their listeners without benefiting themselves—just as a careless waggoner scatters his load on the road. Few people are insensible to the advantage of having their champagne brisk, which can only be done by keeping the cork in; but few ever think of keeping the cork of their own conversation in. See a Frenchman—how light and buoyant he trips into a drawing-room, fresh from the satisfactory scrutiny of the looking-glass, with all the news, and jokes, and tittle-tattle of the day, in full bloom! How sparkling and radiant he is, with something smart and pleasant to say to every one! How thoroughly happy and easy he is; and what a contrast to phlegmatic John Bull, who stands with his great red fists doubled, looking as if he thought whoever spoke to him would be wanting him to endorse a bill of exchange! But, as we said before, the dread hour before dinner is an awful time in the country—frightful when there are two hours, and never a subject in common for the company to work upon. Laverick Wells and their mutual acquaintance was all Sponge and Jawleyford's stock-in-trade; and that was a very small capital to begin upon, for they had been there together too short a time to make much of a purse of conversation. Even the young ladies, with their inquiries after the respective flirtations—how Miss Sawney and Captain Snubnose were 'getting on'? and whether the rich Widow Spankley was likely to bring Sir Thomas Greedey to book?—failed to make up a conversation; for Sponge knew little of the ins and outs of these matters, his attention having been more directed to Mr. Waffles than any one else. Still, the mere questions, put in a playful, womanly way, helped the time on, and prevented things coming to that frightful deadlock of silence, that causes an involuntary inward exclamation of 'How am I to get through the time with this man?' There are people who seem to think that sitting and looking at each other constitutes society. Women have a great advantage over men in the talking way; they have always something to say. Let a lot of women be huddled together throughout the whole of a livelong day, and they will yet have such a balance of conversation at night, as to render it necessary to convert a bedroom into a clearing-house, to get rid of it. Men, however, soon get high and dry, especially before dinner; and a host ought to be at liberty to read the Riot Act, and disperse them to their bedrooms, till such times as they wanted to eat and drink.
A most scientifically sounded gong, beginning low, like distant thunder, and gradually increasing its murmur till it filled the whole mansion with its roar, at length relieved all parties from the labour of further efforts; and, looking at his watch, Jawleyford asked Mrs. Jawleyford, in an innocent, indifferent sort of way, which was Mr. Sponge's room; though he had been fussing about it not long before, and dusting the portrait of himself in his green-and-gold yeomanry uniform, with an old pocket-handkerchief.
'The crimson room, my dear,' replied the well-drilled Mrs. Jawleyford; and Spigot coming with candles, Jawleyford preceded 'Mr. Sponge' up a splendid richly carved oak staircase, of such gradual and easy rise that an invalid might almost have been drawn up it in a garden-chair.
Passing a short distance along a spacious corridor, Mr. Jawleyford presently opened a door to the right, and led the way into a large gloomy room, with a little newly lighted wood fire crackling in an enormous grate, making darkness visible, and drawing the cold out of the walls. We need scarcely say it was that terrible room—the best; with three creaking, ill-fitting windows, and heavy crimson satin-damask furniture, so old as scarcely to be able to sustain its own weight. 'Ah! here you are,' observed Mr. Jawleyford, as he nearly tripped over Sponge's luggage as it stood by the fire. 'Here you are,' repeated he, giving the candle a flourish, to show the size of the room, and draw it back on the portrait of himself above the mantelpiece. 'Ah! I declare here's an old picture of myself,' said he, holding the candle up to the face, as if he hadn't seen it for some time—'a picture that was done when I was in the Bumperkin yeomanry,' continued he, passing the light before the facings. 'That was considered a good likeness at the time,' said he, looking affectionately at it, and feeling his nose to see if it was still the same size. 'Ours was a capital corps—one of the best, if not the very best in the service. The inspecting officer always spoke of it in the highest possible terms—especially of my company, which really was just as perfect as anything my Lord Cardigan, or any of your crack disciplinarians, can produce. However, never mind,' continued he, lowering the candle, seeing Mr. Sponge didn't enter into the spirit of the thing; 'you'll be wanting to dress. You'll find hot water on the table yonder,' pointing to the far corner of the room, where the outline of a jug might just be descried; 'there's a bell in the bed if you want anything; and dinner will be ready as soon as you are dressed. You needn't make yourself very fine,' added he, as he retired; 'for we are only ourselves: hope we shall have some of our neighbours to-morrow or next day, but we are rather badly off for neighbours just here—at least, for short-notice neighbours.' So saying, he disappeared through the dark doorway.
The latter statement was true enough, for Jawleyford, though apparently such a fine open-hearted, sociable sort of man, was in reality a very quarrelsome, troublesome fellow. He quarrelled with all his neighbours in succession, generally getting through them every two or three years; and his acquaintance were divided into two classes—the best and the worst fellows under the sun. A stranger revising Jawleyford after an absence of a year or two, would very likely find the best fellows of former days transformed into the worst ones of that. Thus, Parson Hobanob, that pet victim of country caprice, would come in and go out of season like lamb or asparagus; Major Moustache and Jawleyford would be as 'thick as thieves' one day, and at daggers drawn the next; Squire Squaretoes, of Squaretoes House, and he, were continually kissing or cutting; and even distance—nine miles of bad road, and, of course, heavy tolls—could not keep the peace between lawyer Seedywig and him. What between rows and reconciliations, Jawleyford was always at work.
Notwithstanding Jawleyford's recommendation to the contrary, Mr. Sponge made himself an uncommon swell. He put on a desperately stiff starcher, secured in front with a large gold fox-head pin with carbuncle eyes; a fine, fancy-fronted shirt, with a slight tendency to pink, adorned with mosaic-gold-tethered studs of sparkling diamonds (or French paste, as the case might be); a white waistcoat with fancy buttons; a blue coat with bright plain ones, and a velvet collar, black tights, with broad black-and-white Cranbourne-alley-looking stockings (socks rather), and patent leather pumps with gilt buckles—Sponge was proud of his leg. The young ladies, too, turned out rather smart; for Amelia, finding that Emily was going to put on her new yellow watered silk, instead of a dyed satin she had talked of, made Juliana produce her broad-laced blue satin dress out of the wardrobe in the green dressing-room, where it had been laid away in an old tablecloth; and bound her dark hair with a green-beaded wreath, which Emily met by crowning herself with a chaplet of white roses.
Thus attired, with smiles assumed at the door, the young ladies entered the drawing-room in the full fervour of sisterly animosity. They were very much alike in size, shape, and face. They were tallish and full-figured. Miss Jawleyford's features being rather more strongly marked, and her eyes a shade darker than her sister's; while there was a sort of subdued air about her—the result, perhaps, of enlarged intercourse with the world—or maybe of disappointments. Emily's eyes sparkled and glittered, without knowing perhaps why.
Dinner was presently announced. It was of the imposing order that people give their friends on a first visit, as though their appetites were larger on that day than on any other. They dined off plate; the sideboards glittered with the Jawleyford arms on cups, tankards, and salvers; 'Brecknel and Turner's' flamed and swealed in profusion on the table; while every now and then an expiring lamp on the sideboards or brackets proclaimed the unwonted splendour of the scene, and added a flavour to the repast not contemplated by the cook. The room, which was large and lofty, being but rarely used, had a cold, uncomfortable feel; and, if it hadn't been for the looks of the thing, Jawleyford would, perhaps, as soon that they had dined in the little breakfast parlour. Still there was everything very smart; Spigot in full fig, with a shirt frill nearly tickling his nose, an acre of white waistcoat, and glorious calves swelling within his gauze-silk stockings. The improvised footman went creaking about, as such gentlemen generally do.
The style was perhaps better than the repast: still they had turtle-soup (Shell and Tortoise, to be sure, but still turtle-soup); while the wines were supplied by the well-known firm of 'Wintle & Co.' Jawleyford sank where he got it, and pretended that it had been 'ages' in his cellar: 'he really had such a stock that he thought he should never get through it'—to wit, two dozen old port at 36s. a dozen, and one dozen at 48s.; two dozen pale sherry at 36s., and one dozen brown ditto at 48s.; three bottles of Bucellas, of the 'finest quality imported,' at 38s. a dozen; Lisbon 'rich and dry,' at 32s.; and some marvellous creaming champagne at 48s., in which they were indulging when he made the declaration: 'don't wait of me, my dear Mr. Sponge!' exclaimed Jawleyford, holding up a long needle-case of a glass with the Jawleyford crests emblazoned about; 'don't wait of me, pray,' repeated he, as Spigot finished dribbling the froth into Sponge's glass; and Jawleyford, with a flourishing bow and waive of his empty needle-case, drank Mr. Sponge's very good health, adding, 'I'm extremely happy to see you at Jawleyford Court.'
It was then Jawleyford's turn to have a little froth; and having sucked it up with the air of a man drinking nectar, he set down his glass with a shake of the head, saying:
'There's no such wine as that to be got now-a-days.'
'Capital wine!—Excellent!' exclaimed Sponge, who was a better judge of ale than of champagne. 'Pray, where might you get it?'
'Impossible to say!—Impossible to say!' replied Jawleyford, throwing up his hands with a shake, and shrugging his shoulders. 'I have such a stock of wine as is really quite ridiculous.'
'Quite ridiculous,' thought Spigot, who, by the aid of a false key, had been through the cellar.
Except the 'Shell and Tortoise' and 'Wintle,' the estate supplied the repast. The carp was out of the home-pond; the tench, or whatever it was, was out of the mill-pond; the mutton was from the farm; the carrot-and-turnip-and-beet-bedaubed stewed beef was from ditto; while the garden supplied the vegetables that luxuriated in the massive silver side-dishes. Watson's gun furnished the old hare and partridges that opened the ball of the second course; and tarts, jellies, preserves, and custards made their usual appearances. Some first-growth Chateaux Margaux 'Wintle,' again at 66s., in very richly cut decanters accompanied the old 36s. port; and apples, pears, nuts, figs, preserved fruits, occupied the splendid green-and-gold dessert set. Everything, of course, was handed about—an ingenious way of tormenting a person that has 'dined.' The ladies sat long, Mrs. Jawleyford taking three glasses of port (when she could get it); and it was a quarter to eight when they rose from the table.
Jawleyford then moved an adjournment to the fire; which Sponge gladly seconded, for he had never been warm since he came into the house, the heat from the fires seeming to go up the chimneys. Spigot set them a little round table, placing the port and claret upon it, and bringing them a plate of biscuits in lieu of the dessert. He then reduced the illumination on the table, and extinguished such of the lamps as had not gone out of themselves. Having cast an approving glance around, and seen that they had what he considered right, he left them to their own devices.
'Do you drink port or claret, Mr. Sponge?' asked Jawleyford, preparing to push whichever he preferred over to him.
'I'll take a little port, first, if you please,' replied our friend—as much as to say, 'I'll finish off with claret.'
'You'll find that very good, I expect,' said Mr. Jawleyford, passing the bottle to him; 'it's '20 wine—very rare wine to get now—was a very rich fruity wine, and was a long time before it came into drinking. Connoisseurs would give any money for it.'
'It has still a good deal of body,' observed Sponge, turning off a glass and smacking his lips, at the same time holding the glass up to the candle to see the oily mark it made on the side.
'Good sound wine—good sound wine,' said Mr. Jawleyford. 'Have plenty lighter, if you like.' The light wine was made by watering the strong.
'Oh no, thank you,' replied Mr. Sponge, 'oh no, thank you. I like good strong military port.'
'So do I,' said Mr. Jawleyford, 'so do I; only unfortunately it doesn't like me—am obliged to drink claret. When I was in the Bumperkin yeomanry we drank nothing but port.' And then Jawleyford diverged into a long rambling dissertation on messes and cavalry tactics, which nearly sent Mr. Sponge asleep.
'Where did you say the hounds are to-morrow?' at length asked he, after Mr. Jawleyford had talked himself out.
'To-morrow,' repeated Mr. Jawleyford, thoughtfully, 'to-morrow—they don't hunt to-morrow—not one of their days—next day. Scrambleford Green—Scrambleford Green—no, no, I'm wrong—Dundleton Tower—Dundleton Tower.'
'How far is that from here?' asked Mr. Sponge.
'Oh, ten miles—say ten miles,' replied Mr. Jawleyford. It was sometimes ten, and sometimes fifteen, depending upon whether Mr. Jawleyford wanted the party to go or not. These elastic places, however, are common in all countries—to sight-seers as well as to hunters. 'Close by—close by,' one day. 'Oh! a lo-o-ng way from here,' another.
It is difficult, for parties who have nothing in common, to drive a conversation, especially when each keeps jibbing to get upon a private subject of his own. Jawleyford was all for sounding Sponge as to where he came from, and the situation of his property; for as yet, it must be remembered, he knew nothing of our friend, save what he had gleaned at Laverick Wells, where certainly all parties concurred in placing him high on the list of 'desirables,' while Sponge wanted to talk about hunting, the meets of the hounds, and hear what sort of a man Lord Scamperdale was. So they kept playing at cross-purposes, without either getting much out of the other. Jawleyford's intimacy with Lord Scamperdale seemed to have diminished with propinquity, for he now no longer talked of him—'Scamperdale this, and Scamperdale that—Scamperdale, with whom he could do anything he liked'; but he called him 'My Lord Scamperdale,' and spoke of him in a reverent and becoming way. Distance often lends boldness to the tongue, as the poet Campbell says it:
Lends enchantment to the view, And robes the mountain in its azure hue.
There are few great men who haven't a dozen people, at least, who 'keep them right,' as they call it. To hear some of the creatures talk, one would fancy a lord was a lunatic as a matter of course.
Spigot at last put an end to their efforts by announcing that 'tea and coffee were ready!' just as Mr. Sponge buzzed his bottle of port. They then adjourned from the gloom of the large oak-wainscoted dining-room, to the effulgent radiance of the well-lit, highly gilt, drawing-room, where our fair friends had commenced talking Mr. Sponge over as soon as they retired from the dining-room.
'And what do you think of him?' asked mamma.
'Oh, I think he's very well,' replied Emily gaily.
'I should say he was very toor-lerable,' drawled Miss Jawleyford, who reckoned herself rather a judge, and indeed had had some experience of gentlemen.
'Tolerable, my dear!' rejoined Mrs. Jawleyford, 'I should say he's very well—rather distingue, indeed.'
'I shouldn't say that,' replied Miss Jawleyford; 'his height and figure are certainly in his favour, but he isn't quite my idea of a gentleman. He is evidently on good terms with himself; but I should say, if it wasn't for his forwardness, he'd be awkward and uneasy.'
'He's a fox-hunter, you know,' observed Emily.
'Well, but I don't know that that should make him different to other people,' rejoined her sister. 'Captain Curzon, and Mr. Lancaster, and Mr. Preston, were all fox-hunters; but they didn't stare, and blurt, and kick their legs about, as this man does.'
'Oh, you are so fastidious!' rejoined her mamma; 'you must take men as you find them.'
'I wonder where he lives?' observed Emily, who was quite ready to take our friend as he was.
'I wonder where he does live?' chimed in Mrs. Jawleyford, for the suddenness of the descent had given them no time for inquiry. 'Somebody said Manchester,' observed Miss Jawleyford drily.
'So much the better,' observed Mrs. Jawleyford, 'for then he is sure to have plenty of money.'
'Law, ma! but you don't s'pose pa would ever allow such a thing,' retorted Miss, recollecting her papa's frequent exhortations to them to look high.
'If he's a landowner,' observed Mrs. Jawleyford 'we'll soon find him out in Burke. Emily, my dear,' added she, 'just go into your pa's room, and bring me the Commoners—you'll find it on the large table between the Peerage and the Wellington Despatches.'
Emily tripped away to do as she was bid. The fair messenger presently returned, bearing both volumes, richly bound and lettered, with the Jawleyford crests studded down the backs, and an immense coat of arms on the side.
A careful search among the S's produced nothing in the shape of Sponge.
'Not likely, I should think,' observed Miss Jawleyford, with a toss of her head, as her mamma announced the fact.
'Well, never mind,' replied Mrs. Jawleyford, seeing that only one of the girls could have him, and that one was quite ready; 'never mind, I dare say I shall be able to find out something from himself,' and so they dropped the subject.
In due time in swaggered our hero, himself, kicking his legs about as men in tights or tops generally do.
'May I give you tea or coffee?' asked Emily, in the sweetest tone possible, as she raised her finely turned gloveless arm towards where the glittering appendages stood on the large silver tray.
'Neither, thank you,' said Sponge, throwing himself into an easy-chair beside Mrs. Jawleyford. He then crossed his legs, and cocking up a toe for admiration, began to yawn.
'You feel tired after your journey?' observed Mrs. Jawleyford.
'No, I'm not,' said Sponge, yawning again—a good yawn this time.
Miss Jawleyford looked significantly at her sister—a long pause ensued. 'I knew a family of your name,' at length observed Mrs. Jawleyford, in the simple sort of way women begin pumping men. 'I knew a family of your name,' repeated she, seeing Sponge was half asleep—'the Sponges of Toadey Hall. Pray are they any relation of yours?'
'Oh—ah—yes,' blurted Sponge: 'I suppose they are. The fact is—the—haw—Sponges—haw—are a rather large family—haw. Meet them almost everywhere.'
'You don't live in the same county, perhaps?' observed Mrs. Jawleyford.
'No, we don't,' replied he, with a yawn.
'Is yours a good hunting country?' asked Jawleyford, thinking to sound him in another way.
'No; a devilish bad 'un,' replied Sponge, adding with a grunt, 'or I wouldn't be here.'
'Who hunts it?' asked Mr. Jawleyford.
'Why, as to that—haw,'—replied Sponge, stretching out his arms and legs to their fullest extent, and yawning most vigorously—'why, as to that, I can hardly say which you would call my country, for I have to do with so many; but I should say, of all the countries I am—haw—connected with—haw—Tom Scratch's is the worst.'
Mr. Jawleyford looked at Mrs. Jawleyford as a counsel who thinks he has made a grand hit looks at a jury before he sits down, and said no more.
Mrs. Jawleyford looked as innocent as most jurymen do after one of these forensic exploits.—Mr. Sponge beginning his nasal recreations, Mrs. Jawleyford motioned the ladies off to bed—Mr. Sponge and his host presently followed.
THE EVENING'S REFLECTIONS
'Well, I think he'll do,' said our friend to himself, as having reached his bedroom, in accordance with modern fashion, he applied a cedar match to the now somewhat better burnt-up fire, for the purpose of lighting a cigar—a cigar! in the state-bedroom of Jawleyford Court. Having divested himself of his smart blue coat and white waistcoat, and arrayed himself in a grey dressing-gown, he adjusted the loose cushions of a recumbent chair, and soused himself into its luxurious depths for a 'think over.'
'He has money,' mused Sponge, between the copious whiffs of the cigar, 'splendid style he lives in, to be sure' (puff), continued he, after another long draw, as he adjusted the ash at the end of the cigar. 'Two men in livery' (puff), 'one out, can't be done for nothing' (puff). 'What a profusion of plate, too!' (whiff)—'declare I never' (puff) 'saw such' (whiff, puff) 'magnificence in the whole course of my' (whiff, puff) 'life.'
The cigar being then well under way, he sucked and puffed and whiffed in an apparently vacant stupor, his legs crossed, and his eyes fixed on a projecting coal between the lower bars, as if intent on watching the alternations of flame and gas; though in reality he was running all the circumstances through his mind, comparing them with his past experience, and speculating on the probable result of the present adventure.
He had seen a good deal of service in the matrimonial wars, and was entitled to as many bars as the most distinguished peninsular veteran. No woman with money, or the reputation of it, ever wanted an offer while he was in the way, for he would accommodate her at the second or third interview: and always pressed for an immediate fulfilment, lest the 'cursed lawyers' should interfere and interrupt their felicity. Somehow or other, the 'cursed lawyers' always had interfered; and as sure as they walked in, Mr. Sponge walked out. He couldn't bear the idea of their coarse, inquisitive inquiries. He was too much of a gentleman!
Love, light as air, at sight of human ties Spreads his light wings and in a moment flies.
So Mr. Sponge fled, consoling himself with the reflection that there was no harm done, and hoping for 'better luck next time.'
He roved from flower to flower like a butterfly, touching here, alighting there, but always passing away with apparent indifference. He knew if he couldn't square matters at short notice, he would have no better chance with an extension of time; so, if he saw things taking the direction of inquiry he would just laugh the offer off, pretend he was only feeling his way—saw he was not acceptable—sorry for it—and away he would go to somebody else. He looked upon a woman much in the light of a horse; if she didn't suit one man, she would another, and there was no harm in trying. So he puffed and smoked, and smoked and puffed—gliding gradually into wealth and prosperity.
A second cigar assisted his comprehension considerably—just as a second bottle of wine not only helps men through their difficulties, but shows them the way to unbounded wealth. Many of the bright railway schemes of former days, we make no doubt, were concocted under the inspiring influence of the bottle. Sponge now saw everything as he wished. All the errors of his former days were apparent to him. He saw how indiscreet it was confiding in Miss Trickery's cousin, the major; why the rich widow at Chesterfield had chasseed him; and how he was done out of the beautiful Miss Rainbow, with her beautiful estate, with its lake, its heronry, and its perpetual advowson. Other mishaps he also considered.
Having disposed of the past, he then turned his attention to the future. Here were two beautiful girls apparently full of money, between whom there wasn't the toss-up of a halfpenny for choice. Most exemplary parents, too, who didn't seem to care a farthing about money.
He then began speculating on what the girls would have. 'Great house—great establishment—great estate, doubtless. Why, confound it,' continued he, casting his heavy eye lazily around, 'here's a room as big as a field in a cramped country! Can't have less than fifty thousand a-piece, I should say, at the least. Jawleyford, to be sure, is young,' thought he; 'may live a long time' (puff). 'If Mrs. J. were to die (Curse—the cigar's burnt my lips'), added he, throwing the remnant into the fire, and rolling out of the chair to prepare for turning into bed.
If any one had told Sponge that there was a rich papa and mamma on the look-out merely for amiable young men to bestow their fair daughters upon, he would have laughed them to scorn, and said, 'Why, you fool, they are only laughing at you'; or 'Don't you see they are playing you off against somebody else?' But our hero, like other men, was blind where he himself was concerned, and concluded that he was the exception to the general rule.
Mr. and Mrs. Jawleyford had their consultation too.
'Well,' said Mr. Jawleyford, seating himself on the high wire fender immediately below a marble bust of himself on the mantelpiece; 'I think he'll do.'
'Oh, no doubt,' replied Mrs. Jawleyford, who never saw any difficulty in the way of a match; 'I should say he is a very nice young man,' continued she.
'Rather brusque in his manner, perhaps,' observed Jawleyford, who was quite the 'lady' himself. 'I wonder what he was?' added he, fingering away at his whiskers.
'He's rich, I've no doubt,' replied Mrs. Jawleyford.
'What makes you think so?' asked her loving spouse.
'I don't know,' replied Mrs. Jawleyford; 'somehow I feel certain he is—but I can't tell why—all fox-hunters are.'
'I don't know that,' replied Jawleyford, who knew some very poor ones. 'I should like to know what he has,' continued Jawleyford musingly, looking up at the deeply corniced ceiling as if he were calculating the chances among the filagree ornaments of the centre.
'A hundred thousand, perhaps,' suggested Mrs. Jawleyford, who only knew two sums—fifty and a hundred thousand.
'That's a vast of money,' replied Jawleyford, with a slight shake of the head.
'Fifty at least, then,' suggested Mrs. Jawleyford, coming down half-way at once.
'Well, if he has that, he'll do,' rejoined Jawleyford, who also had come down considerably in his expectations since the vision of his railway days, at whose bright light he had burnt his fingers.
'He was said to have an immense fortune—I forget how much—at Laverick Wells,' observed Mrs. Jawleyford.
'Well, we'll see,' said Jawleyford, adding, 'I suppose either of the girls will be glad enough to take him?'
'Trust them for that,' replied Mrs. Jawleyford, with a knowing smile and nod of the head: 'trust them for that,' repeated she. 'Though Amelia does turn up her nose and pretend to be fine, rely upon it she only wants to be sure that he's worth having.'
'Emily seems ready enough, at all events,' observed Jawleyford.
'She'll never get the chance,' observed Mrs. Jawleyford. 'Amelia is a very prudent girl, and won't commit herself, but she knows how to manage the men.'
'Well, then,' said Jawleyford, with a hearty yawn, 'I suppose we may as well go to bed.'
So saying, he took his candle and retired.
THE WET DAY
When the dirty slip-shod housemaid came in the morning with her blacksmith's-looking tool-box to light Mr. Sponge's fire, a riotous winter's day was in the full swing of its gloomy, deluging power. The wind howled, and roared, and whistled, and shrieked, playing a sort of aeolian harp amongst the towers, pinnacles, and irregular castleisations of the house; while the old casements rattled and shook, as though some one were trying to knock them in.
'Hang the day!' muttered Sponge from beneath the bedclothes. 'What the deuce is a man to do with himself on such a day as this, in the country?' thinking how much better he would be flattening his nose against the coffee-room window of the Bantam, or strolling through the horse-dealers' stables in Piccadilly or Oxford Street.
Presently the over-night chair before the fire, with the picture of Jawleyford in the Bumperkin yeomanry, as seen through the parted curtains of the spacious bed, recalled his over-night speculations, and he began to think that perhaps he was just as well where he was. He then 'backed' his ideas to where he had left off, and again began speculating on the chances of his position. 'Deuced fine girls,' said he, 'both of 'em: wonder what he'll give 'em down?'—recurring to his over-night speculations, and hitting upon the point at which he had burnt his lips with the end of the cigar—namely, Jawleyford's youth, and the possibility of his marrying again if Mrs. Jawleyford were to die. 'It won't do to raise up difficulties for one's self, however,' mused he; so, kicking off the bedclothes, he raised himself instead, and making for a window, began to gaze upon his expectant territory.
It was a terrible day; the ragged, spongy clouds drifted heavily along, and the lowering gloom was only enlivened by the occasional driving rush of the tempest. Earth and sky were pretty much the same grey, damp, disagreeable hue.
'Well,' said Sponge to himself, having gazed sufficiently on the uninviting landscape, 'it's just as well it's not a hunting day—should have got terribly soused. Must get through the time as well as I can—girls to talk to—house to see. Hope I've brought my Mogg,' added he, turning to his portmanteau, and diving for his Ten Thousand Cab Fares. Having found the invaluable volume, his almost constant study, he then proceeded to array himself in what he considered the most captivating apparel; a new wide-sleeved dock-tail coatee, with outside pockets placed very low, faultless drab trousers, a buff waistcoat, with a cream-coloured once-round silk tie, secured by red cornelian cross-bars set in gold, for a pin. Thus attired, with Mogg in his pocket, he swaggered down to the breakfast-room, which he hit off by means of listening at the doors till he heard the sound of voices within.
Mrs. Jawleyford and the young ladies were all smiles and smirks, and there were no symptoms of Miss Jawleyford's hauteur perceptible. They all came forward and shook hands with our friend most cordially. Mr. Jawleyford, too, was all flourish and compliment; now tilting at the weather, now congratulating himself upon having secured Mr. Sponge's society in the house.
That leisurely meal of protracted ease, a country-house breakfast, being at length accomplished, and the ladies having taken their departure, Mr. Jawleyford looked out on the terrace, upon which the angry rain was beating the standing water into bubbles, and observing that there was no chance of getting out, asked Mr. Sponge if he could amuse himself in the house.
'Oh yes,' replied he, 'got a book in my pocket.'
'Ah, I suppose—the New Monthly, perhaps?' observed Mr. Jawleyford.
'No,' replied Sponge.
'Dizzey's Life of Bentinck, then, I dare say,' suggested Jawleyford; adding, 'I'm reading it myself.'
'No, nor that either,' replied Sponge, with a knowing look; 'a much more useful work, I assure you,' added he, pulling the little purple-backed volume out of his pocket, and reading the gilt letters on the back: 'Mogg's Ten Thousand Cab Fares. Price one shilling!'
'Indeed,' exclaimed Mr. Jawleyford, 'well, I should never have guessed that.'
'I dare say not,' replied Sponge, 'I dare say not, it's a book I never travel without. It's invaluable in town, and you may study it to great advantage in the country. With Mogg in my hand, I can almost fancy myself in both places at once. Omnibus guide,' added he, turning over the leaves, and reading, 'Acton five, from the end of Oxford Street and the Edger Road—see Ealing; Edmonton seven, from Shoreditch Church—"Green Man and Still" Oxford Street—Shepherd's Bush and Starch Green, Bank, and Whitechapel—Tooting—Totteridge—Wandsworth; in short, every place near town. Then the cab fares are truly invaluable; you have ten thousand of them here,' said he, tapping the book, 'and you may calculate as many more for yourself as ever you like. Nothing to do but sit in an arm-chair on a wet day like this, and say, If from the Mile End turnpike to the "Castle" on the Kingsland Road is so much, how much should it be to the "Yorkshire Stingo," or Pine-Apple-Place, Maida Vale? And you measure by other fares till you get as near the place you want as you can, if it isn't set down in black and white to your hand in the book.'
'Just so,' said Jawleyford, 'just so. It must be a very useful work indeed, very useful work. I'll get one—I'll get one. How much did you say it was—a guinea? a guinea?'
'A shilling,' replied Sponge, adding, 'you may have mine for a guinea if you like.'
'By Jove, what a day it is!' observed Jawleyford, turning the conversation, as the wind dashed the hard sleet against the window like a shower of pebbles. 'Lucky to have a good house over one's head, such weather; and, by the way, that reminds me, I'll show you my new gallery and collection of curiosities—pictures, busts, marbles, antiques, and so on; there'll be fires on, and we shall be just as well there as here.' So saying, Jawleyford led the way through a dark, intricate, shabby passage, to where a much gilded white door, with a handsome crimson curtain over it announced the entrance to something better. 'Now,' said Mr. Jawleyford, bowing as he threw open the door, and motioned, or rather flourished, his guest to enter—'now,' said he, 'you shall see what you shall see.'
Mr. Sponge entered accordingly, and found himself at the end of a gallery fifty feet by twenty, and fourteen high, lighted by skylights and small windows round the top. There were fires in handsome Caen-stone chimney-pieced fireplaces on either side, a large timepiece and an organ at the far end, and sundry white basins scattered about, catching the drops from the skylights.
'Hang the rain!' exclaimed Jawleyford, as he saw it trickling over a river scene of Van Goyen's (gentlemen in a yacht, and figures in boats), and drip, drip, dripping on to the head of an infant Bacchus below.
'He wants an umbrella, that young gentleman,' observed Sponge, as Jawleyford proceeded to dry him with his handkerchief.
'Fine thing,' observed Jawleyford, starting off to a side, and pointing to it; 'fine thing—Italian marble—by Frere—cost a vast of money—was offered three hundred for it. Are you a judge of these things?' asked Jawleyford; 'are you a judge of these things?'
'A little,' replied Sponge, 'a little'; thinking he might as well see what his intended father-in-law's personal property was like.
'There's a beautiful thing!' observed Jawleyford, pointing to another group. 'I picked that up for a mere nothing—twenty guineas—worth two hundred at least. Lipsalve, the great picture-dealer in Gammon Passage, offered me Murillo's "Adoration of the Virgin and Shepherds," for which he showed me a receipt for a hundred and eighty-five, for it.'
'Indeed!' replied Sponge, 'what is it?'
'It's a Bacchanal group, after Poussin, sculptured by Marin. I bought it at Lord Breakdown's sale; it happened to be a wet day—much such a day as this—and things went for nothing. This you'll know, I presume?' observed Jawleyford, laying his hand on a life-size bust of Diana, in Italian marble.
'No, I don't,' replied Sponge.
'No!' exclaimed Jawleyford; 'I thought everybody had known this: this is my celebrated "Diana," by Noindon—one of the finest things in the world. Louis Philippe sent an agent over to this country expressly to buy it.'
'Why didn't you sell it him?' asked Sponge.
'Didn't want the money,' replied Jawleyford, 'didn't want the money. In addition to which, though a king, he was a bit of a screw, and we couldn't agree upon terms. This,' observed Jawleyford, 'is a vase of the Cinque Cento period—a very fine thing; and this,' laying his hand on the crown of a much frizzed, barber's-window-looking bust, 'of course you know?'
'No, I don't,' replied Sponge.
'No!' exclaimed Jawleyford, in astonishment.
'No,' repeated Sponge.
'Look again, my dear fellow; you must know it,' observed Jawleyford.
'I suppose it's meant for you,' at last replied Sponge, seeing his host's anxiety.
'Meant! my dear fellow; why, don't you think it like?'
'Why, there's a resemblance, certainly,' said Sponge, 'now that one knows. But I shouldn't have guessed it was you.'
'Oh, my dear Mr. Sponge!' exclaimed Jawleyford, in a tone of mortification, 'Do you really mean to say you don't think it like?'
'Why, yes, it's like,' replied Sponge, seeing which way his host wanted it; 'it's like, certainly; the want of expression in the eye makes such a difference between a bust and a picture.'
'True,' replied Jawleyford, comforted—'true,' repeated he, looking affectionately at it; 'I should say it was very like—like as anything can be. You are rather too much above it there, you see; sit down here,' continued he, leading Sponge to an ottoman surrounding a huge model of the column in the Place Vendome, that stood in the middle of the room—'sit down here now, and look, and say if you don't think it like?'
'Oh, very like,' replied Sponge, as soon as he had seated himself. 'I see it now, directly; the mouth is yours to a T.'
'And the chin. It's my chin, isn't it?' asked Jawleyford.
'Yes; and the nose, and the forehead, and the whiskers, and the hair, and the shape of the head, and everything. Oh! I see it now as plain as a pikestaff,' observed Sponge.
'I thought you would,' rejoined Jawleyford comforted—'I thought you would; it's generally considered an excellent likeness—so it should, indeed, for it cost a vast of money—fifty guineas! to say nothing of the lotus-leafed pedestal it's on. That's another of me,' continued Jawleyford, pointing to a bust above the fireplace, on the opposite side of the gallery; 'done some years since—ten or twelve, at least—not so like as this, but still like. That portrait up there, just above the "Finding of Moses," by Poussin,' pointing to a portrait of himself attitudinizing, with his hand on his hip, and frock-coat well thrown back, so as to show his figure and the silk lining to advantage, 'was done the other day, by a very rising young artist; though he has hardly done me justice, perhaps—particularly in the nose, which he's made far too thick and heavy; and the right hand, if anything, is rather clumsy; otherwise the colouring is good, and there is a considerable deal of taste in the arrangement of the background, and so on.'
'What book is it you are pointing to?' asked Sponge.
'It's not a book,' replied Mr. Jawleyford, 'it's a plan—a plan of this gallery, in fact. I am supposed to be giving the final order for the erection of the very edifice we are now in.'
'And a very handsome building it is,' observed Sponge, thinking he would make it a shooting-gallery when he got it.
'Yes, it's a handsome thing in its way,' assented Jawleyford; 'better if it had been water-tight, perhaps,' added he, as a big drop splashed upon the crown of his head.
'The contents must be very valuable,' observed Sponge.
'Very valuable,' replied Jawleyford. 'There's a thing I gave two hundred and fifty guineas for—that vase. It's of Parian marble, of the Cinque Cento period, beautifully sculptured in a dance of Bacchanals, arabesques, and chimera figures; it was considered cheap. Those fine monkeys in Dresden china, playing on musical instruments, were forty; those bronzes of scaramouches on ormolu plinths were seventy; that ormolu clock, of the style of Louis Quinze, by Le Roy, was eighty; those Sevres vases were a hundred—mounted, you see, in ormolu, with lily candelabra for ten lights. The handles,' continued he, drawing Sponge's attention to them, 'are very handsome—composed of satyrs holding festoons of grapes and flowers, which surround the neck of the vase; on the sides are pastoral subjects, painted in the highest style—nothing can be more beautiful or more chaste.'
'Nothing,' assented Sponge.
'The pictures I should think are most valuable,' observed Jawleyford. 'My friend Lord Sparklebury said to me the last time he was here—he's now in Italy, increasing his collection—"Jawleyford, old boy," said he, for we are very intimate—just like brothers, in fact; "Jawleyford, old boy, I wonder whether your collection or mine would fetch most money, if they were Christie-&-Manson'd." "Oh, your lordship," said I, "your Guidos, and Ostades, and Poussins, and Velasquez, are not to be surpassed." "True," replied his lordship, "they are fine—very fine; but you have the Murillos. I'd like to give you a good round sum," added he, "to pick out half-a-dozen pictures out of your gallery." Do you understand pictures?' continued Jawleyford, turning short on his friend Sponge.
'A little,' replied Sponge, in a tone that might mean either yes or no—a great deal or nothing at all.
Jawleyford then took him and worked him through his collection—talked of light and shade, and tone, and depth of colouring, tints, and pencillings; and put Sponge here and there and everywhere to catch the light (or rain, as the case might be); made him convert his hand into an opera-glass, and occasionally put his head between his legs to get an upside-down view—a feat that Sponge's equestrian experience made him pretty well up to. So they looked, and admired, and criticized, till Spigot's all-important figure came looming up the gallery and announced that luncheon was ready.
'Bless me!' exclaimed Jawleyford, pulling a most diminutive Geneva watch, hung with pencils, pistol-keys, and other curiosities, out of his pocket; 'Bless me, who'd have thought it? One o'clock, I declare! Well, if this doesn't prove the value of a gallery on a wet day. I don't know what does. However,' said he, 'we must tear ourselves away for the present, and go and see what the ladies are about.'
If ever a man may be excused for indulging in luncheon, it certainly is on a pouring wet day (when he eats for occupation), or when he is making love; both which excuses Mr. Sponge had to offer, so he just sat down and ate as heartily as the best of the party, not excepting his host himself, who was an excellent hand at luncheon.
Jawleyford tried to get him back to the gallery after luncheon, but a look from his wife intimated that Sponge was wanted elsewhere, so he quietly saw him carried off to the music-room; and presently the notes of the 'grand piano,' and full clear voices of his daughters, echoing along the passage, intimated that they were trying what effect music would have upon him.
When Mrs. Jawleyford looked in about an hour after, she found Mr. Sponge sitting over the fire with his Mogg in his hand, and the young ladies with their laps full of company-work, keeping up a sort of crossfire of conversation in the shape of question and answer. Mrs. Jawleyford's company making matters worse, they soon became tediously agreeable.
In course of time, Jawleyford entered the room, with:
'My dear Mr. Sponge, your groom has come up to know about your horse to-morrow. I told him it was utterly impossible to think of hunting, but he says he must have his orders from you. I should say,' added Jawleyford, 'it is quite out of the question—madness to think of it; much better in the house, such weather.'
'I don't know that,' replied Sponge, 'the rain's come down, and though the country will ride heavy, I don't see why we shouldn't have sport after it.'
'But the glass is falling, and the wind's gone round the wrong way; the moon changed this morning—everything, in short, indicates continued wet,' replied Jawleyford. 'The rivers are all swollen, and the low grounds under water; besides, my dear fellow, consider the distance—consider the distance; sixteen miles, if it's a yard.'
'What, Dundleton Tower!' exclaimed Sponge, recollecting that Jawleyford had said it was only ten the night before.
'Sixteen miles, and bad road,' replied Jawleyford.
'The deuce it is!' muttered Sponge; adding, 'Well, I'll go and see my groom, at all events.' So saying, he rang the bell as if the house was his own, and desired Spigot to show him the way to his servant.
Leather, of course, was in the servants' hall, refreshing himself with cold meat and ale, after his ride up from Lucksford.
Finding that he had ridden the hack up, he desired Leather to leave him there. 'Tell the groom I must have him put up,' said Sponge; 'and you ride the chestnut on in the morning. How far is it to Dundleton Tower?' asked he.
'Twelve or thirteen miles, they say, from here,' replied Leather; 'nine or ten from Lucksford.'
'Well, that'll do,' said Sponge; 'you tell the groom here to have the hack saddled for me at nine o'clock, and you ride Multum in Parvo quietly on, either to the meet or till I overtake you.'
'But how am I to get back to Lucksford?' asked Leather, cocking up a foot to show how thinly he was shod.
'Oh, just as you can,' replied Sponge; 'get the groom here to set you down with his master's hacks. I dare say they haven't been out to-day, and it'll do them good.'
So saying, Mr. Sponge left his valuable servant to do the best he could for himself.
Having returned to the music-room, with the aid of an old county map Mr. Sponge proceeded to trace his way to Dundleton Tower; aided, or rather retarded, by Mr. Jawleyford, who kept pointing out all sorts of difficulties, till, if Mr. Sponge had followed his advice, he would have made eighteen or twenty miles of the distance. Sponge, however, being used to scramble about strange countries, saw the place was to be accomplished in ten or eleven. Jawleyford was sure he would lose himself, and Sponge was equally confident that he wouldn't.
At length the glad sound of the gong put an end to all further argument; and the inmates of Jawleyford Court retired, candle in hand, to their respective apartments, to adorn for a repetition of the yesterday's spread, with the addition of the Rev. Mr. Hobanob's company, to say grace, and praise the 'Wintle.'
An appetiteless dinner was succeeded by tea and music, as before.
The three elegant French clocks in the drawing-room being at variance, one being three-quarters of an hour before the slowest, and twenty minutes before the next, Mr. Hobanob (much to the horror of Jawleyford) having nearly fallen asleep with his Sevres coffee-cup in his hand, at last drew up his great silver watch by its jack-chain, and finding it was a quarter past ten, prepared to decamp—taking as affectionate a leave of the ladies as if he had been going to China. He was followed by Mr. Jawleyford, to see him pocket his pumps, and also by Mr. Sponge, to see what sort of a night it was.
The sky was clear, stars sparkled in the firmament, and a young crescent moon shone with silvery brightness o'er the scene.
'That'll do,' said Sponge, as he eyed it; 'no haze there. Come,' added he to his papa-in-law, as Hobanob's steps died out on the terrace, 'you'd better go to-morrow.'
'Can't,' replied Jawleyford; 'go next day, perhaps—Scrambleford Green—better place—much. You may lock up,' said he, turning to Spigot, who, with both footmen, was in attendance to see Mr. Hobanob off; 'you may lock up, and tell the cook to have breakfast ready at nine precisely.'
'Oh, never mind about breakfast for me,' interposed Sponge, 'I'll have some tea or coffee and chops, or boiled ham and eggs, or whatever's going, in my bedroom,' said he; 'so never mind altering your hour for me.'
'Oh, but my dear fellow, we'll all breakfast together' (Jawleyford had no notion of standing two breakfasts), 'we'll all breakfast together,' said he; 'no trouble, I assure you—rather the contrary. Say half-past eight—half-past eight. Spigot! to a minute, mind.'
And Sponge, seeing there was no help for it, bid the ladies good night, and tumbled off to bed with little expectation of punctuality.
Nor was Sponge wrong in his conjecture, for it was a quarter to nine ere Spigot appeared with the massive silver urn, followed by the train-band bold, bearing the heavy implements of breakfast. Then, though the young ladies were punctual, smiling, and affable as usual, Mrs. Jawleyford was absent, and she had the keys; so it was nearly nine before Mr. Sponge got his fork into his first mutton chop. Jawleyford was not exactly pleased; he thought it didn't look well for a young man to prefer hunting to the society of his lovely and accomplished daughters. Hunting was all very well occasionally, but it did not do to make a business of it. This, however, he kept to himself.
'You'll have a fine day, my dear Mr. Sponge,' said he, extending a hand, as he found our friend brown-booted and red-coated, working away at the breakfast.
'Yes,' said Sponge, munching away for hard life. In less than ten minutes, he managed to get as much down as, with the aid of a knotch of bread that he pocketed, he thought would last him through the day; and, with a hasty adieu, he hurried off to find the stables, to get his hack. The piebald was saddled, bridled, and turned round in the stall; for all servants that are worth anything like to further hunting operations. With the aid of the groom's instructions, who accompanied him out of the courtyard, Sponge was enabled to set off at a hard canter, cheered by the groom's observation, that 'he thought he would be there in time.' On, on he went; now speculating on a turn; now pulling a scratch map he had made on a bit of paper out of his waistcoat-pocket; now inquiring the name of any place he saw of any person he met. So he proceeded for five or six miles without much difficulty; the road, though not all turnpike, being mainly over good sound township ones, It was at the village of Swineley, with its chubby-towered church and miserable hut-like cottages, that his troubles were to begin. He had two sharp turns to make—to ride through a straw-yard, and leap over a broken-down wall at the corner of a cottage—to get into Swaithing Green Lane, and so cut off an angle of two miles. The road then became a bridle one, and was, like all bridle ones, very plain to those who know them, and very puzzling to those who don't. It was evidently a little-frequented road; and what with looking out for footmarks (now nearly obliterated by the recent rains) and speculating on what queer corners of the fields the gates would be in, Mr. Sponge found it necessary to reduce his pace to a very moderate trot. Still he had made good way; and supposing they gave a quarter-of-an-hour's law, and he had not been deceived as to distance, he thought he should get to the meet about the time. His horse, too, would be there, and perhaps Lord Scamperdale might give a little extra law on that account. He then began speculating on what sort of a man his lordship was, and the probable nature of his reception. He began to wish that Jawleyford had accompanied him, to introduce him. Not that Sponge was shy, but still he thought that Jawleyford's presence would do him good.
Lord Scamperdale's hunt was not the most polished in the world. The hounds and the horses were a good deal better bred than the men. Of course his lordship gave the tone to the whole; and being a coarse, broad, barge-built sort of man, he had his clothes to correspond, and looked like a drayman in scarlet. He wore a great round flat-brimmed hat, which being adopted by the hunt generally, procured it the name of the 'F.H.H.,' or 'Flat Hat Hunt.' Our readers, we dare say, have noticed it figuring away, in the list of hounds during the winter, along with the 'H.H.s,' 'V.W.H.s,' and other initialized packs. His lordship's clothes were of the large, roomy, baggy, abundant order, with great pockets, great buttons, and lots of strings flying out. Instead of tops, he sported leather leggings, which at a distance gave him the appearance of riding with his trousers up to his knees. These the hunt too adopted; and his 'particular,' Jack (Jack Spraggon), the man whom he mounted, and who was made much in his own mould, sported, like his patron, a pair of great broad-rimmed, tortoise-shell spectacles of considerable power. Jack was always at his lordship's elbow; and it was 'Jack' this, 'Jack' that, 'Jack' something, all day long. But we must return to Mr. Sponge, whom we left working his way through the intricate fields. At last he got through them, and into Red Pool Common, which, by leaving the windmill to the right, he cleared pretty cleverly, and entered upon a district still wilder and drearier than any he had traversed. Peewits screamed and hovered over land that seemed to grow little but rushes and water-grasses, with occasional heather. The ground poached and splashed as he went; worst of all, time was nearly up.
In vain Sponge strained his eyes in search of Dundleton Tower. In vain he fancied every high, sky-line-breaking place in the distance was the much-wished-for spot. Dundleton Tower was no more a tower than it was a town, and would seem to have been christened by the rule of contrary, for it was nothing but a great flat open space, without object or incident to note it.
Sponge, however, was not destined to see it.
As he went floundering along through an apparently interminable and almost bottomless lane, whose sunken places and deep ruts were filled with clayey water, which played the very deuce with the cords and brown boots, the light note of a hound fell on his ear, and almost at the same instant, a something that he would have taken for a dog had it not been for the note of the hound, turned, as it were, from him, and went in a contrary direction.
Sponge reined in the piebald, and stood transfixed. It was, indeed, the fox!—a magnificent full-brushed fellow, with a slight tendency to grey along the back, and going with the light spiry ease of an animal full of strength and running.
'I wish I mayn't ketch it,' said Sponge to himself, shuddering at the idea of having headed him.
It was, however, no time for thinking. The cry of hounds became more distinct—nearer and nearer they came, fuller and more melodious; but, alas! it was no music to Sponge. Presently the cheering of hunters was heard—'FOR—rard! FOR—rard!' and anon the rate of a whip farther back. Another second, and hounds, horses, and men were in view, streaming away over the large pasture on the left.
There was a high, straggling fence between Sponge and the field, thick enough to prevent their identifying him, but not sufficiently high to screen him altogether. Sponge pulled round the piebald, and gathered himself together like a man going to be shot. The hounds came tearing full cry to where he was; there was a breast-high scent, and every one seemed to have it. They charged the fence at a wattled pace a few yards below where he sat, and flying across the deep dirty lane, dashed full cry into the pasture beyond.
'Hie back!' cried Sponge. 'Hie back!' trying to turn them; but instead of the piebald carrying him in front of the pack, as Sponge wanted, he took to rearing, and plunging, and pawing the air. The hounds meanwhile dashed jealously on without a scent, till first one and then another feeling ashamed, gave in; and at last a general lull succeeded the recent joyous cry. Awful period! terrible to any one, but dreadful to a stranger! Though Sponge was in the road, he well knew that no one has any business anywhere but with hounds, when a fox is astir.
'Hold hard!' was now the cry, and the perspiring riders and lathered steeds came to a standstill.
'Twang—twang—twang,' went a shrill horn; and a couple of whips, singling themselves out from the field, flew over the fence to where the hounds were casting.
'Twang—twang—twang,' went the horn again.
Meanwhile Sponge sat enjoying the following observations, which a westerly wind wafted into his ear.
'Oh, d—n me! that man in the lane's headed the fox,' puffed one.
'Who is it?' gasped another.
'Tom Washball!' exclaimed a third.
'Heads more foxes than any man in the country,' puffed a fourth.
'Always nicking and skirting,' exclaimed a fifth.
'Never comes to the meet,' added a sixth.
'Come on a cow to-day,' observed another.
'Always chopping and changing,' added another; 'he'll come on a giraffe next.'
Having commenced his career with the 'F.H.H.' so inauspiciously and yet escaped detection, Mr. Sponge thought of letting Tom Washball enjoy the honours of his faux-pas, and of sneaking quietly home as soon as the hounds hit off the scent; but unluckily, just as they were crossing the lane, what should heave in sight, cantering along at his leisure, but the redoubtable Multum in Parvo, who, having got rid of old Leather by bumping and thumping his leg against a gate-post, was enjoying a line of his own.
'Whoay!' cried Sponge, as he saw the horse quickening his pace to have a shy at the hounds as they crossed. 'Who—o—a—y!' roared he, brandishing his whip, and trying to turn the piebald round; but no, the brute wouldn't answer the bit, and dreading lest, in addition to heading the fox, he should kill 'the best hound in the pack,' Mr. Sponge threw himself off, regardless of the mud-bath in which he lit, and caught the runaway as he tried to dart past.
'For-rard!—for-rard!—for-rard!' was again the cry, as the hounds hit off the scent; while the late pausing, panting sportsmen tackled vigorously with their steeds, and swept onward like the careering wind.
Mr. Sponge, albeit somewhat perplexed, had still sufficient presence of mind to see the necessity of immediate action; and though he had so lately contemplated beating a retreat, the unexpected appearance of Parvo altered the state of affairs.
'Now or never,' said he, looking first at the disappearing field, and then for the non-appearing Leather. 'Hang it! I may as well see the run,' added he; so hooking the piebald on to an old stone gate-post that stood in the ragged fence, and lengthening a stirrup-leather, he vaulted into the saddle, and began lengthening the other as he went.
It was one of Parvo's going days; indeed, it was that that old Leather and he had quarrelled about—Parvo wanting to follow the hounds, while Leather wanted to wait for his master. And Parvo had the knack of going, as well as the occasional inclination. Although such a drayhorse-looking animal, he could throw the ground behind him amazingly; and the deep-holding clay in which he now found himself was admirably suited to his short, powerful legs and enormous stride. The consequence was, that he was very soon up with the hindmost horsemen. These he soon passed, and was presently among those who ride hard when there is nothing to stop them. Such time as these sportsmen could now spare from looking out ahead was devoted to Sponge, whom they eyed with the utmost astonishment, as if he had dropped from the clouds.
A stranger—a real out-and-out stranger—had not visited their remote regions since the days of poor Nimrod. 'Who could it be?' But 'the pace,' as Nimrod used to say, 'was too good to inquire.' A little farther on, and Sponge drew upon the great guns of the hunt—the men who ride to hounds, and not after them; the same who had criticized him through the fence—Mr. Wake, Mr. Fossick, Parson Blossomnose, Mr. Fyle, Lord Scamperdale, Jack himself, and others. Great was their astonishment at the apparition, and incoherent the observations they dropped as they galloped on.
'It isn't Wash, after all,' whispered Fyle into Blossomnose's ear, as they rode through a gate together.
'No-o-o,' replied the nose, eyeing Sponge intently.
'What a coat!' whispered one.
'Jacket,' replied the other.
'Lost his brush,' observed a third, winking at Sponge's docked tail.
'He's going to ride over us all,' snapped Mr. Fossick, whom Sponge passed at a hand-canter, as the former was blobbing and floundering about the deep ruts leading out of a turnip-field.
'He'll catch it just now,' said Mr. Wake, eyeing Sponge drawing upon his lordship and Jack, as they led the field as usual. Jack being at a respectful distance behind his great patron, espied Sponge first; and having taken a good stare at him through his formidable spectacles, to satisfy himself that it was nobody he knew—a stare that Sponge returned as well as a man without spectacles can return the stare of one with—Jack spurred his horse up to his lordship, and rising in his stirrups, shot into his ear—
'Why, here's the man on the cow!' adding, 'it isn't Washey.'
'Who the deuce is it then?' asked his lordship, looking over his left shoulder, as he kept galloping on in the wake of his huntsman.
'Don't know,' replied Jack; 'never saw him before.'
'Nor I,' said his lordship, with an air as much as to say, 'It makes no matter.'
His lordship, though well mounted, was not exactly on the sort of horse for the country they were in; while Mr. Sponge, in addition to being on the very animal for it, had the advantage of the horse having gone the first part of the run without a rider: so Multum in Parvo, whether Mr. Sponge wished it or not, insisted on being as far forward as he could get. The more Sponge pulled and hauled, the more determined the horse was; till, having thrown both Jack and his lordship in the rear, he made for old Frostyface, the huntsman, who was riding well up to the still-flying pack.
'HOLD HARD, sir! For God's sake, hold hard!' screamed Frosty, who knew by intuition there was a horse behind, as well as he knew there was a man shooting in front, who, in all probability, had headed the fox.
'HOLD HARD, sir!' roared he, as, yawning and boring and shaking his head, Parvo dashed through the now yelping scattered pack, making straight for a stiff new gate, which he smashed through, just as a circus pony smashes through a paper hoop.
'Hoo-ray!' shouted Jack Spraggon, on seeing the hounds were safe. 'Hoo-ray for the tailor!'
'Billy Button, himself!' exclaimed his lordship, adding, 'never saw such a thing in my life!'
'Who the deuce is he?' asked Blossomnose, in the full glow of pulling-five-year-old exertion.
'Don't know,' replied Jack, adding, 'he's a shaver, whoever he is.'
Meanwhile the frightened hounds were scattered right and left.
'I'll lay a guinea he's one of those confounded waiting chaps,' observed Fyle, who had been handled rather roughly by one of the tribe, who had dropped 'quite promiscuously' upon a field where he was, just as Sponge had done with Lord Scamperdale's.
'Shouldn't wonder,' replied his lordship, eyeing Sponge's vain endeavours to turn the chestnut, and thinking how he would 'pitch into him' when he came up. 'By Jove,' added his lordship, 'if the fellow had taken the whole country round, he couldn't have chosen a worse spot for such an exploit; for there never is any scent over here. See! not a hound can own it. Old Harmony herself throws up.
The whips again are in their places, turning the astonished pack to Frostyface, who sets off on a casting expedition. The field, as usual, sit looking on; some blessing Sponge; some wondering who he was; others looking what o'clock it is; some dismounting and looking at their horses' feet.
'Thank you, Mr. Brown Boots!' exclaimed his lordship, as, by dint of bitting and spurring, Sponge at length worked the beast round, and came sneaking back in the face of the whole field. 'Thank you, Mr. Brown Boots,' repeated he, taking off his hat and bowing very low. 'Very much obleged to you, Mr. Brown Boots. Most particklarly obleged to you, Mr. Brown Boots,' with another low bow. 'Hang'd obleged to you, Mr. Brown Boots! D—n you, Mr. Brown Boots!' continued his lordship, looking at Sponge as if he would eat him.
'Beg pardon, sir,' blurted Sponge; 'my horse—'
'Hang your horse!' screamed his lordship; 'it wasn't your horse that headed the fox, was it?'
'Beg pardon—couldn't help it; I—'
'Couldn't help it. Hang your helps—you're always doing it, sir. You could stay at home, sir—I s'pose, sir—couldn't you, sir? eh, sir?'
Sponge was silent.
'See, sir!' continued his lordship, pointing to the mute pack now following the huntsman, 'you've lost us our fox, sir—yes, sir, lost us our fox, sir. D'ye call that nothin', sir? If you don't, I do, you perpendicular-looking Puseyite pig-jobber! By Jove! you think because I'm a lord, and can't swear, or use coarse language, that you may do what you like—but I'll take my hounds home, sir—yes, sir, I'll take my hounds home, sir.' So saying, his lordship roared HOME to Frostyface; adding, in an undertone to the first whip, 'bid him go to Furzing-field gorse.'
A COUNTRY DINNER-PARTY
'Well, what sport?' asked Jawleyford, as he encountered his exceedingly dirty friend crossing the entrance hall to his bedroom on his return from his day, or rather his non-day, with the 'Flat Hat Hunt.'
'Why, not much—that's to say, nothing particular—I mean, I've not had any,' blurted Sponge.
'But you've had a run?' observed Jawleyford, pointing to his boots and breeches, stained with the variation of each soil.
'Ah, I got most of that going to cover,' replied Sponge; 'country's awfully deep, roads abominably dirty!' adding, 'I wish I'd taken your advice, and stayed at home.'
'I wish you had,' replied Jawleyford, 'you'd have had a most excellent rabbit-pie for luncheon. However, get changed, and we will hear all about it after.' So saying, Jawleyford waved an adieu, and Sponge stamped away in his dirty water-logged boots.
'I'm afraid you are very wet, Mr. Sponge,' observed Amelia in the sweetest tone, with the most loving smile possible, as our friend, with three steps at a time, bounded upstairs, and nearly butted her on the landing, as she was on the point of coming down.
'I am that,' exclaimed Sponge, delighted at the greeting; 'I am that,' repeated he, slapping his much-stained cords; 'dirty, too,' added he, looking down at his nether man.
'Hadn't you better get changed as quick as possible?' asked Amelia, still keeping her position before him.
'Oh! all in good time,' replied Sponge, 'all in good time. The sight of you warms me more than a fire would do'; adding, 'I declare you look quite bewitching, after all the roughings and tumblings about out of doors.'
'Oh! you've not had a fall, have you?' exclaimed Amelia, looking the picture of despair; 'you've not had a fall, have you? Do send for the doctor, and be bled.'
Just then a door along the passage to the left opened; and Amelia, knowing pretty well who it was, smiled and tripped away, leaving Sponge to be bled or not as he thought proper.
Our hero then made for his bedroom, where, having sucked off his adhesive boots, and divested himself of the rest of his hunting attire, he wrapped himself up in his grey flannel dressing-gown, and prepared for parboiling his legs and feet, amid agreeable anticipations arising out of the recent interview, and occasional references to his old friend Mogg, whenever he did not see his way on the matrimonial road as clearly as he could wish. 'She'll have me, that's certain,' observed he.
'Curse the water! how hot it is!' exclaimed he, catching his foot up out of the bath, into which he had incautiously plunged it without ascertaining the temperature of the water. He then sluiced it with cold, and next had to add a little more hot; at last he got it to his mind, and lighting a cigar, prepared for uninterrupted enjoyment.
'Gad!' said he, 'she's by no means a bad-looking girl' (whiff). 'Devilish good-looking girl' (puff); 'good head and neck, and carries it well too' (puff)—'capital eye' (whiff), 'bright and clear' (puff); 'no cataracts there. She's all good together' (whiff, puff, whiff). 'Nice size too,' continued he, 'and well set up (whiff, puff, whiff); 'straight as a dairy maid' (puff); 'plenty of substance—grand thing substance' (puff). 'Hate a weedy woman—fifteen two and a half—that's to say, five feet four's plenty of height for a woman' (puff). 'Height of a woman has nothing to do with her size' (whiff). 'Wish she hadn't run off (puff); 'would like to have had a little more talk with her' (whiff, puff). 'Women never look so well as when one comes in wet and dirty from hunting' (puff). He then sank silently back in the easy-chair and whiffed and puffed all sorts of fantastic clouds and columns and corkscrews at his leisure. The cigar being finished, and the water in the foot-bath beginning to get cool, he emptied the remainder of the hot into it, and lighting a fresh cigar, began speculating on how the match was to be accomplished.
The lady was safe, that was clear; he had nothing to do but 'pop.' That he would do in the evening, or in the morning, or any time—a man living in the house with a girl need never be in want of an opportunity. That preliminary over, and the usual answer 'Ask papa' obtained, then came the question, how was the old boy to be managed?—for men with marriageable daughters are to all intents and purposes 'old boys,' be their ages what they may.
He became lost in reflection. He sat with his eyes fixed on the Jawleyford portrait above the mantelpiece, wondering whether he was the amiable, liberal, hearty, disinterested sort of man he appeared to be, indifferent about money, and only wanting unexceptionable young men for his daughters; or if he was a worldly minded man, like some he had met, who, after giving him every possible encouragement, sent him to the right-about like a servant. So Sponge smoked and thought, and thought and smoked, till the water in the foot-bath again getting cold, and the shades of night drawing on, he at last started up like a man determined to awake himself, and poking a match into the fire, lighted the candles on the toilet-table, and proceeded to adorn himself. Having again got himself into the killing tights and buckled pumps, with a fine flower-fronted shirt, ere he embarked on the delicacies and difficulties of the starcher, he stirred the little pittance of a fire, and, folding himself in his dressing-gown, endeavoured to prepare his mind for the calm consideration of all the minute bearings of the question by a little more Mogg. In idea he transferred himself to London, now fancying himself standing at the end of Burlington Arcade, hailing a Fulham or Turnham Green 'bus; now wrangling with a conductor for charging him sixpence when there was a pennant flapping at his nose with the words "ALL THE WAY 3D." upon it; now folding the wooden doors of a hansom cab in Oxford Street, calculating the extreme distance he could go for an eightpenny fare: until at last he fell into a downright vacant sort of reading, without rhyme or reason, just as one sometimes takes a read of a directory or a dictionary—"Conduit Street, George Street, to or from the Adelphi Terrace, Astley's Amphitheatre, Baker Street, King Street, Bryanston Square any part, Covent Garden Theatre, Foundling Hospital, Hatton Garden," and so on, till the thunder of the gong aroused him to a recollection of his duties. He then up and at his neckcloth.
"Ah, well," said he, reverting to his lady love, as he eyed himself intently in the glass while performing the critical operation, "I'll just sound the old gentleman after dinner—one can do that sort of thing better over one's wine, perhaps, than at any other time: looks less formal too," added he, giving the cravat a knowing crease at the side; "and if it doesn't seem to take, one can just pass it off as if it was done for somebody else—some young gentleman at Laverick Wells, for instance."
So saying, he on with his white waistcoat, and crowned the conquering suit with a blue coat and metal buttons. Returning his Mogg to his dressing-gown pocket, he blew out the candles and groped his way downstairs in the dark.
In passing the dining-room he looked in (to see if there were any champaign-glasses set, we believe), when he saw that he should not have an opportunity of sounding his intended papa-in-law after dinner, for he found the table laid for twelve, and a great display of plate, linen, and china.
He then swaggered on to the drawing-room, which was in a blaze of light. The lively Emily had stolen a march on her sister, and had just entered, attired in a fine new pale yellow silk dress with a point-lace berthe and other adornments.
High words had ensued between the sisters as to the meanness of Amelia in trying to take her beau from her, especially after the airs Amelia had given herself respecting Sponge; and a minute observer might have seen the slight tinge of red on Emily's eyelids denoting the usual issue of such scenes. The result was, that each determined to do the best she could for herself; and free trade being proclaimed, Emily proceeded to dress with all expedition, calculating that, as Mr. Sponge had come in wet, he would, very likely dress at once and appear in the drawing-room in good time. Nor was she out in her reckoning, for she had hardly enjoyed an approving glance in the mirror ere our hero came swaggering in, twitching his arms as if he hadn't got his wristbands adjusted, and working his legs as if they didn't belong to him.