"Ah, my dear Miss Emley!" exclaimed he, advancing gaily towards her with extended hand, which she took with all the pleasure in the world; adding, "and how have you been?"
"Oh, pretty well, thank you," replied she, looking as though she would have said, "As well as I can be without you."
Sponge, though a consummate judge of a horse, and all the minutiae connected with them, was still rather green in the matter of woman; and having settled in his own mind that Amelia should be his choice, he concluded that Emily knew all about it, and was working on her sister's account, instead of doing the agreeable for herself. And there it is where elder sisters have such an advantage over younger ones. They are always shown, or contrive to show themselves, first; and if a man once makes up his mind that the elder one will do, there is an end of the matter; and it is neither a deeper shade or two of blue, nor a brighter tinge of brown, nor a little smaller foot, nor a more elegant waist, that will make him change for a younger sister. The younger ones immediately become sisters in the men's minds, and retire, or are retired, from the field—"scratched," as Sponge would say.
Amelia, however, was not going to give Emily a chance; for, having dressed with all the expedition compatible with an attractive toilet—a lavender-coloured satin with broad black lace flounces, and some heavy jewellery on her well-turned arms, she came sidling in so gently as almost to catch Emily in the act of playing the agreeable. Turning the sidle into a stately sail, with a haughty sort of sneer and toss of the head to her sister, as much as to say, 'What are you doing with my man?'—a sneer that suddenly changed into a sweet smile as her eye encountered Sponge's—she just motioned him off to a sofa, where she commenced a sotto voce conversation in the engaged-couple style.
The plot then began to thicken. First came Jawleyford, in a terrible stew.
'Well, this is too bad!' exclaimed he, stamping and flourishing a scented note, with a crest and initials at the top. 'This is too bad,' repeated he; 'people accepting invitations, and then crying off at the last moment.'
'Who is it can't come, papa—the Foozles?' asked Emily.
'No—Foozles be hanged,' sneered Jawleyford; 'they always come—the Blossomnoses!' replied he, with an emphasis.
'The Blossomnoses!' exclaimed both girls, clasping their hands and looking up at the ceiling.
'What, all of them?' asked Emily.
'All of them,' rejoined Jawleyford.
'Why, that's four,' observed Emily.
'To be sure it is,' replied Jawleyford; 'five, if you count them by appetites; for old Blossom always eats and drinks as much as two people.'
'What excuse do they give?' asked Amelia.
'Carriage-horse taken suddenly ill,' replied Jawleyford; 'as if that's any excuse when there are post-horses within half a dozen miles.'
'He wouldn't have been stopped hunting for want of a horse, I dare say,' observed Amelia.
'I dare say it's all a lie,' observed Jawleyford; adding, 'however, the invitation shall go for a dinner, all the same.'
The denunciation was interrupted by the appearance of Spigot, who came looming up the spacious drawing-room in the full magnificence of black shorts, silk stockings, and buckled pumps, followed by a sheepish-looking, straight-haired, red apple-faced young gentleman, whom he announced as Mr. Robert Foozle. Robert was the hope of the house of Foozle; and it was fortunate his parents were satisfied with him, for few other people were. He was a young gentleman who shook hands with everybody, assented to anything that anybody said, and in answering a question, wherein indeed his conversation chiefly consisted, he always followed the words of the interrogation as much as he could. For instance: 'Well, Robert, have you been at Dulverton to-day?' Answer, 'No, I've not been at Dulverton to-day.' Question, 'Are you going to Dulverton to-morrow?' Answer, 'No, I'm not going to Dulverton to-morrow.' Having shaken hands with the party all round, and turned to the fire to warm his red fists, Jawleyford having stood at 'attention' for such time as he thought Mrs. Foozle would be occupied before the glass in his study arranging her head-gear, and seeing no symptoms of any further announcement, at last asked Foozle if his papa and mamma were not coming.
'No, my papa and mamma are not coming,' replied he.
'Are you sure?' asked Jawleyford, in a tone of excitement.
'Quite sure,' replied Foozle, in the most matter-of-course voice.
'The deuce!' exclaimed Jawleyford, stamping his foot upon the soft rug, adding, 'it never rains but it pours!'
'Have you any note, or anything?' asked Mrs. Jawleyford, who had followed Robert Foozle into the room.
'Yes, I have a note,' replied he, diving into the inner pocket of his coat, and producing one. The note was a letter—a letter from Mrs. Foozle to Mrs. Jawleyford, three sides and crossed; and seeing the magnitude thereof, Mrs. Jawleyford quietly put it into her reticule, observing, 'that she hoped Mr. and Mrs. Foozle were well?'
'Yes, they are well,' replied Robert, notwithstanding he had express orders to say that his papa had the toothache, and his mamma the earache.
Jawleyford then gave a furious ring at the bell for dinner, and in due course of time the party of six proceeded to a table for twelve. Sponge pawned Mrs. Jawleyford off upon Robert Foozle, which gave Sponge the right to the fair Amelia, who walked off on his arm with a toss of her head at Emily, as though she thought him the finest, sprightliest man under the sun. Emily followed, and Jawleyford came sulking in alone, sore put out at the failure of what he meant for the grand entertainment.
Lights blazed in profusion; lamps more accustomed had now become better behaved; and the whole strength of the plate was called in requisition, sadly puzzling the unfortunate cook to find something to put upon the dishes. She, however, was a real magnanimous-minded woman, who would undertake to cook a lord mayor's feast—soups, sweets, joints, entrees, and all.
Jawleyford was nearly silent during the dinner; indeed, he was too far off for conversation, had there been any for him to join in; which was not the case, for Amelia and Sponge kept up a hum of words, while Emily worked Robert Foozle with question and answer, such as:
"Were your sisters out to-day?"
"Yes, my sisters were out to-day."
"Are your sisters going to the Christmas ball?"
"Yes, my sisters are going to the Christmas ball," &c. &c.
Still, nearly daft as Robert was, he was generally asked where there was anything going on; and more than one young la—but we will not tell about that, as he has nothing to do with our story.
By the time the ladies took their departure, Mr. Jawleyford had somewhat recovered from the annoyance of his disappointment; and as they retired he rang the bell, and desired Spigot to set in the horse-shoe table, and bring a bottle of the "green seal," being the colour affixed on the bottles of a four-dozen hamper of port ("curious old port at 48s.") that had arrived from "Wintle & Co." by rail (goods train of course) that morning.
"There!" exclaimed Jawleyford, as Spigot placed the richly cut decanter on the horse-shoe table. "There!" repeated he, drawing the green curtain as if to shade it from the fire, but in reality to hide the dulness the recent shaking had given it; "that wine," said he, "is a quarter of a century in bottle, at the very least."
'Indeed,' observed Sponge: 'time it was drunk.'
'A quarter of a century?' gaped Robert Foozle.
'Quarter of a century if it's a day,' replied Jawleyford, smacking his lips as he set down his glass after imbibing the precious beverage.
'Very fine,' observed Sponge; adding, as he sipped off his glass, 'it's odd to find such old wine so full-bodied.'
'Well, now tell us all about your day's proceedings,' said Jawleyford, thinking it advisable to change the conversation at once. 'What sport had you with my lord?'
'Oh, why, I really can't tell you much,' drawled Sponge, with an air of bewilderment. 'Strange country—strange faces—nobody I knew, and—'
'Ah, true,' replied Jawleyford, 'true. It occurred to me after you were gone, that perhaps you might not know any one. Ours, you see, is rather an out-of-the-way country; few of our people go to town, or indeed anywhere else; they are all tarry-at-home birds. But they'd receive you with great politeness, I'm sure—if they knew you came from here, at least,' added he.
Sponge was silent, and took a great gulp of the dull 'Wintle,' to save himself from answering.
'Was my Lord Scamperdale out?' asked Jawleyford, seeing he was not going to get a reply.
'Why, I can really hardly tell you that,' replied Sponge. 'There were two men out, either of whom might be him; at least, they both seemed to take the lead, and—and—' he was going to say 'blow up the people,' but he thought he might as well keep that to himself.
'Stout, hale-looking men, dressed much alike, with great broad tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles on?' asked Jawleyford.
'Just so,' replied Sponge.
'Ah, you are right, then,' rejoined Jawleyford; 'it would be my lord.'
'And who was the other?' inquired our friend.
'Oh, that Jack Spraggon,' replied Jawleyford, curling up his nose, as if he was going to be sick; 'one of the most odious wretches under the sun. I really don't know any man that I have so great a dislike to, so utter a contempt for, as that Jack, as they call him.'
'What is he?' asked Sponge.
'Oh, just a hanger-on of his lordship's; the creature has nothing—nothing whatever; he lives on my lord—eats his venison, drinks his claret, rides his horses, bullies those his lordship doesn't like to tackle with, and makes himself generally useful.'
'He seems a man of that sort,' observed Sponge, as he thought over the compliment he had received.
'Well, who else had you out, then?' asked Jawleyford. 'Was Tom Washball there?'
'No,' replied Sponge: 'he wasn't out, I know.'
'Ah, that's unfortunate,' observed Jawleyford, helping himself and passing the bottle. 'Tom's a capital fellow—a perfect gentleman—great friend of mine. If he'd been out you'd have had nothing to do but mention my name, and he'd have put you all right in a minute. Who else was there, then?' continued he.
'There was a tall man in black, on a good-looking young brown horse, rather rash at his fences, but a fine style of goer.'
'What!' exclaimed Jawleyford, 'man in drab cords and jack-boots, with the brim of his hat rather turning upwards?'
'Just so,' replied Sponge; 'and a double ribbon for a hat-string.'
'That's Master Blossomnose,' observed Jawleyford, scarcely able to contain his indignation. 'That's Master Blossomnose,' repeated he, taking a back hand at the port in the excitement of the moment. 'More to his credit if he were to stay at home and attend to his parish,' added Jawleyford; meaning, it would have been more to his credit if he had fulfilled his engagement to him that evening, instead of going out hunting in the morning.
The two then sat silent for a time, Sponge seeing where the sore place was, and Robert Foozle, as usual, seeing nothing. 'Ah, well,' observed Jawleyford, at length breaking silence, 'it was unfortunate you went this morning. I did my best to prevent you—told you what a long way it was, and so on. However, never mind, we will put all right to-morrow. His lordship, I'm sure, will be most happy to see you. So help yourself,' continued he, passing the 'Wintle,' 'and we will drink his health and success to fox-hunting.'
Sponge filled a bumper and drank his lordship's health, with the accompaniment as desired; and turning to Robert Foozle, who was doing likewise, said, 'Are you fond of hunting?'
'Yes, I'm fond of hunting,' replied Foozle.
'But you don't hunt, you know, Robert,' observed Jawleyford.
'No, I don't hunt,' replied Robert.
The 'green seal' being demolished, Jawleyford ordered a bottle of the 'other,' attributing the slight discoloration (which he did not discover until they had nearly finished the bottle) to change of atmosphere in the outer cellar. Sponge tackled vigorously with the new-comer, which was better than the first; and Robert Foozle, drinking as he spoke, by pattern, kept filling away, much to Jawleyford's dissatisfaction, who was compelled to order a third. During the progress of its demolition, the host's tongue became considerably loosened. He talked of hunting and the charms of the chase—of the good fellowship it produced: and expatiated on the advantages it was of to the country in a national point of view, promoting as it did a spirit of manly enterprise, and encouraging our unrivalled breed of horses; both of which he looked upon as national objects, well worthy the attention of enlightened men like himself.
Jawleyford was a great patron of the chase; and his keeper, Watson, always had a bag-fox ready to turn down when my lord's hounds met there. Jawleyford's covers were never known to be drawn blank. Though they had been shot in the day before, they always held a fox the next—if a fox was wanted.
Sponge being quite at home on the subjects of horses and hunting, lauded all his papa-in-law's observations up to the skies; occasionally considering whether it would be advisable to sell him a horse, and thinking, if he did, whether he should let him have one of the three he had down, or should get old Buckram to buy some quiet screw that would stand a little work and yield him (Sponge) a little profit, and yet not demolish the great patron of English sports. The more Jawleyford drank, the more energetic he became, and the greater pleasure he anticipated from the meet of the morrow. He docked the lord, and spoke of 'Scamperdale' as an excellent fellow—a real, good, hearty, honest Englishman—a man that 'the more you knew the more you liked'; all of which was very encouraging to Sponge. Spigot at length appeared to read the tea and coffee riot-act, when Jawleyford determined not to be done out of another bottle, pointing to the nearly emptied decanter, said to Robert Foozle, 'I suppose you'll not take any more wine?' To which Robert replied, 'No, I'll not take any more wine.' Whereupon, pushing out his chair and throwing away his napkin, Jawleyford arose and led the way to the drawing-room, followed by Sponge and this entertaining young gentleman.
A round game followed tea; which, in its turn, was succeeded by a massive silver tray, chiefly decorated with cold water and tumblers; and as the various independent clocks in the drawing-room began chiming and striking eleven, Mr. Jawleyford thought he would try to get rid of Foozle by asking him if he hadn't better stay all night.
'Yes, I think I'd better stay all night,' replied Foozle.
'But won't they be expecting you at home, Robert?' asked Jawleyford, not feeling disposed to be caught in his own trap.
'Yes, they'll be expecting me at home,' replied Foozle.
'Then, perhaps you had better not alarm them by staying,' suggested Jawleyford.
'No, perhaps I'd better not alarm them by staying,' repeated Foozle. Whereupon they all rose, and wishing him a very good night, Jawleyford handed him over to Spigot, who transferred him to one footman, who passed him to another, to button into his leather-headed shandridan.
After talking Robert over, and expatiating on the misfortune it would be to have such a boy, Jawleyford rang the bell for the banquet of water to be taken away; and ordering breakfast half-an-hour earlier than usual, our friends went to bed.
THE F.H.H. AGAIN
Gentlemen unaccustomed to public hunting often make queer figures of themselves when they go out. We have seen them in all sorts of odd dresses, half fox-hunters half fishermen, half fox-hunters half sailors, with now and then a good sturdy cross of the farmer.
Mr. Jawleyford was a cross between a military dandy and a squire. The green-and-gold Bumperkin foraging-cap, with the letters 'B.Y.C.' in front, was cocked jauntily on one side of his badger-pyed head, while he played sportively with the patent leather strap—now, toying with it on his lip, now dropping it below his chin, now hitching it up on to the peak. He had a tremendously stiff stock on—so hard that no pressure made it wrinkle, and so high that his pointed gills could hardly peer above it. His coat was a bright green cut-away—made when collars were worn very high and very hollow, and when waists were supposed to be about the middle of a man's back, Jawleyford's back buttons occupying that remarkable position. These, which were of dead gold with a bright rim, represented a hare full stretch for her life, and were the buttons of the old Muggeridge hunt—a hunt that had died many years ago from want of the necessary funds (80l.) to carry it on. The coat, which was single-breasted and velvet-collared, was extremely swallow-tailed, presenting a remarkable contrast to the barge-built, roomy roundabouts of the members of the Flat Hat Hunt; the collar rising behind, in the shape of a Gothic arch, exhibited all the stitchings and threadings incident to that department of the garment.
But if Mr. Jawleyford's coat went to 'hare,' his waistcoat was fox and all 'fox.' On a bright blue ground he sported such an infinity of 'heads,' that there is no saying that he would have been safe in a kennel of unsteady hounds. One thing, to be sure, was in his favour—namely, that they were just as much like cats' heads as foxes'. The coat and waistcoat were old stagers, but his nether man was encased in rhubarb-coloured tweed pantaloons of the newest make—a species of material extremely soft and comfortable to wear, but not so well adapted for roughing it across country. These had a broad brown stripe down the sides, and were shaped out over the foot of his fine French-polished paper boots, the heels of which were decorated with long-necked, ringing spurs. Thus attired, with a little silver-mounted whip which he kept flourishing about, he encountered Mr. Sponge in the entrance-hall, after breakfast. Mr. Sponge, like all men who are 'extremely natty' themselves, men who wouldn't have a button out of place if it was ever so, hardly knew what to think of Jawleyford's costume. It was clear he was no sportsman; and then came the question, whether he was of the privileged few who may do what they like, and who can carry off any kind of absurdity. Whatever uneasiness Sponge felt on that score, Jawleyford, however, was quite at his ease, and swaggered about like an aide-de-camp at a review.
'Well, we should be going, I suppose,' said he, drawing on a pair of half-dirty, lemon-coloured kid gloves, and sabreing the air with his whip.
'Is Lord Scamperdale punctual?' asked Sponge.
'Tol-lol,' replied Jawleyford, 'tol-lol.'
'He'll wait for you, I suppose?' observed Sponge, thinking to try Jawleyford on that infallible criterion of favour.
'Why, if he knew I was coming, I dare say he would,' replied Jawleyford slowly and deliberately, feeling it was now no time for flashing. 'If he knew I was coming I dare say he would,' repeated he; 'indeed, I make no doubt he would: but one doesn't like putting great men out of their way; besides which, it's just as easy to be punctual as otherwise. When I was in the Bumperkin—'
'But your horse is on, isn't it?' interrupted Sponge; 'he'll see your horse there, you know.'
'Horse on, my dear fellow!' exclaimed Jawleyford, 'horse on? No, certainly not. How should I get there myself, if my horse was on?'
'Hack, to be sure,' replied Sponge, striking a light for his cigar.
'Ah, but then I should have no groom to go with me,' observed Jawleyford, adding, 'one must make a certain appearance, you know. But come, my dear Mr. Sponge,' continued he, laying hold of our hero's arm, 'let us get to the door, for that cigar of yours will fumigate the whole house; and Mrs. Jawleyford hates the smell of tobacco.'
Spigot, with his attendants in livery, here put a stop to the confab by hurrying past, drawing the bolts, and throwing back the spacious folding doors, as if royalty or Daniel Lambert himself were 'coming out.'
The noise they made was heard outside; and on reaching the top of the spacious flight of steps, Sponge's piebald in charge of a dirty village lad, and Jawleyford's steeds with a sky-blue groom, were seen scuttling under the portoco, for the owners to mount. The Jawleyford cavalry was none of the best; but Jawleyford was pleased with it, and that is a great thing. Indeed, a thing had only to be Jawleyford's, to make Jawleyford excessively fond of it.
'There!' exclaimed he, as they reached the third step from the bottom. 'There!' repeated he, seizing Sponge by the arm, 'that's what I call shape. You don't see such an animal as that every day,' pointing to a not badly formed, but evidently worn-out, over-knee'd bay, that stood knuckling and trembling for Jawleyford to mount.
'One of the "has beens," I should say,' replied Sponge, puffing a cloud of smoke right past Jawleyford's nose; adding, 'It's a pity but you could get him four new legs.'
'Faith, I don't see that he wants anything of the sort,' retorted Jawleyford, nettled as well at the smoke as the observation.
'Well, where "ignorance is bliss," &c.,' replied Sponge, with another great puff, which nearly blinded Jawleyford. 'Get on, and let's see how he goes,' added he, passing on to the piebald as he spoke.
Mr. Jawleyford then mounted; and having settled himself into a military seat, touched the old screw with the spur, and set off at a canter. The piebald, perhaps mistaking the portico for a booth, and thinking it was a good place to exhibit it, proceeded to die in the most approved form; and not all Sponge's 'Come-up's' or kicks could induce him to rise before he had gone through the whole ceremony. At length, with a mane full of gravel, a side well smeared, and a 'Wilkinson & Kidd' sadly scratched, the ci-devant actor arose, much to the relief of the village lad, who having indulged in a gallop as he brought him from Lucksford, expected his death would be laid at his door. No sooner was he up, than, without waiting for him to shake himself, Mr. Soapey vaulted into the saddle, and seizing him by the head, let in the Latchfords in a style that satisfied the hack he was not going to canter in a circle. Away he went, best pace; for like all Mr. Sponge's horses, he had the knack of going, the general difficulty being to get them to go the way they were wanted.
Sponge presently overtook Mr. Jawleyford, who had been brought up by a gate, which he was making sundry ineffectual Briggs-like passes and efforts to open; the gate and his horse seeming to have combined to prevent his getting through. Though an expert swordsman, he had never been able to accomplish, the art of opening a gate, especially one of those gingerly balanced spring-snecked things that require to be taken at the nick of time, or else they drop just as the horse gets his nose to them.
'Why aren't you here to open the gate?' asked Jawleyford, snappishly, as the blue boy bustled up as his master's efforts became more hopeless at each attempt.
The lad, like a wise fellow, dropped from his horse, and opening it with his hands, ran it back on foot.
Jawleyford and Sponge then rode through.
Canter, canter, canter, went Jawleyford, with an arm akimbo, head well up, legs well down, toes well pointed, as if he were going to a race, where his work would end on arriving, instead of to a fox-hunt, where it would only begin.
'You are rather hard on the old nag, aren't you?' at length asked Sponge, as, having cleared the rushy, swampy park, they came upon the macadamized turnpike, and Jawleyford selected the middle of it as the scene of his further progression.
'Oh no!' replied Jawleyford, tit-tup-ing along with a loose rein, as if he was on the soundest, freshest-legged horse in the world; 'oh no! my horses are used to it.' 'Well, but if you mean to hunt him,' observed Sponge, 'he'll be blown before he gets to cover.'
'Get him in wind, my dear fellow,' replied Jawleyford, 'get him in wind,' touching the horse with the spur as he spoke.
'Faith, but if he was as well on his legs as he is in his wind, he'd not be amiss,' rejoined Sponge.
So they cantered and trotted, and trotted and cantered away, Sponge thinking he could afford pace as well as Jawleyford. Indeed, a horse has only to become a hack, to be able to do double the work he was ever supposed to be capable of.
But to the meet.
Scrambleford Green was a small straggling village on the top of a somewhat high hill, that divided the vale in which Jawleyford Court was situated from the more fertile one of Farthinghoe, in which Lord Scamperdale lived.
It was one of those out-of-the-way places at which the meet of the hounds, and a love feast or fair, consisting of two fiddlers (one for each public-house), a few unlicensed packmen, three or four gingerbread stalls, a drove of cows and some sheep, form the great events of the year among a people who are thoroughly happy and contented with that amount of gaiety. Think of that, you 'used up' young gentlemen of twenty, who have exhausted the pleasures of the world! The hounds did not come to Scrambleford Green often, for it was not a favourite meet; and when they did come, Frosty and the men generally had them pretty much to themselves. This day, however, was the exception; and Old Tom Yarnley, whom age had bent nearly double, and who hobbled along on two sticks, declared that never in the course of his recollection, a period extending over the best part of a century, had he seen such a 'sight of red coats' as mustered that morning at Scrambleford Green. It seemed as if there had been a sudden rising of sportsmen. What brought them all out? What brought Mr. Puffington, the master of the Hanby hounds, out? What brought Blossomnose again? What Mr. Wake, Mr. Fossick, Mr. Fyle, who had all been out the day before? Reader, the news had spread throughout the country that there was a great writer down; and they wanted to see what he would say of them—they had come to sit for their portraits, in fact. There was a great gathering, at least for the Flat Hat Hunt, who seldom mustered above a dozen. Tom Washball came, in a fine new coat and new flat-fliped hat with a broad binding; also Mr. Sparks, of Spark Hall; Major Mark; Mr. Archer, of Cheam Lodge; Mr. Reeves, of Coxwell Green; Mr. Bliss, of Boltonshaw; Mr. Joyce, of Ebstone; Dr. Capon, of Calcot; Mr. Dribble, of Hook; Mr. Slade, of Three-Burrow Hill; and several others. Great was the astonishment of each as the other cast up.
'Why, here's Joe Reeves!' exclaimed Blossomnose. 'Who'd have thought of seeing you?'
'And who'd have thought of seeing you?' rejoined Reeves, shaking hands with the jolly old nose.
'Here's Tom Washball in time for once, I declare!' exclaimed Mr. Fyle, as Mr. Washball cantered up in apple-pie order.
'Wonders will never cease!' observed Fossick, looking Washy over.
So the field sat in a ring about the hounds in the centre of which, as usual, were Jack and Lord Scamperdale, looking with their great tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles, and short grey whiskers trimmed in a curve up to their noses, like a couple of horned owls in hats.
'Here's the man on the cow!' exclaimed Jack, as he espied Sponge and Jawleyford rising the hill together, easing their horses by standing in their stirrups and holding on by their manes.
'You don't say so!' exclaimed Lord Scamperdale, turning his horse in the direction Jack was looking, and staring for hard life too. 'So there is, I declare!' observed he.' And who the deuce is this with him?'
'That ass Jawleyford, as I live!' exclaimed Jack, as the blue-coated servant now hove in sight.
'So it is!' said Lord Scamperdale; 'the confounded humbug!'
'This boy'll be after one of the young ladies,' observed Jack; 'not one of the writing chaps we thought he was.'
'Shouldn't wonder,' replied Lord Scamperdale; adding, in an undertone, 'I vote we have a rise out of old Jaw. I'll let you in for a good thing—you shall dine with him.'
'Not I,' replied Jack.
'You shall, though,' replied his lordship firmly.
'Pray don't!' entreated Jack.
'By the powers, if you don't,' rejoined his lordship, 'you shall not have a mount out of me for a month.'
While this conversation was going on, Jawleyford and Sponge, having risen the hill, had resumed their seats in the saddle, and Jawleyford, setting himself in attitude, tickled his horse with his spur, and proceeded to canter becomingly up to the pack; Sponge and the groom following a little behind.
'Ah, Jawleyford, my dear fellow!' exclaimed Lord Scamperdale, putting his horse on a few steps to meet him as he came flourishing up. 'Ah, Jawleyford, my dear fellow, I'm delighted to see you,' extending a hand as he spoke. 'Jack, here, told me that he saw your flag flying as he passed, and I said what a pity it was but I'd known before; for Jawleyford, said I, is a real good fellow, one of the best fellows I know, and has asked me to dine so often that I'm almost ashamed to meet him; and it would have been such a nice opportunity to have volunteered a visit, the hounds being here, you see.'
'Oh, that's so kind of your lordship!' exclaimed Jawleyford, quite delighted—'that's so kind of your lordship—that's just what I like!—that's just what Mrs. Jawleyford likes!—that's just what we all like!—coming without fuss or ceremony, just as my friend Mr. Sponge, here, does. By the way, will your lordship give me leave to introduce my friend Mr. Sponge—my Lord Scamperdale.' Jawleyford suiting the action to the word, and manoeuvring the ceremony.
'Ah, I made Mr. Sponge's acquaintance yesterday,' observed his lordship drily, giving a sort of servants' touch of his hat as he scrutinized our friend through his formidable glasses, adding, 'To tell you the truth,' addressing himself in an underone to Sponge, 'I took you for one of those nasty writing chaps, who I 'bominate. But,' continued his lordship, returning to Jawleyford. 'I'll tell you what I said about the dinner. Jack, here, told me the flag was flying; and I said I only wished I'd known before, and I would certainly have proposed that Jack and I should dine with you, either to-day or to-morrow; but unfortunately I'd engaged myself to my Lord Barker's not five minutes before.'
'Ah, my lord!' exclaimed Jawleyford, throwing out his hand and shrugging his shoulders as if in despair, 'you tantalize me—you do indeed. You should have come, or said nothing about it. You distress me—you do indeed.'
'Well, I'm wrong, perhaps,' replied his lordship, patting Jawleyford encouragingly on the shoulder; 'but, however, I'll tell you what,' said he, 'Jack here's not engaged, and he shall come to you.'
'Most happy to see Mr.—ha—hum—haw—Jack—that's to say, Mr. Spraggon,' replied Jawleyford, bowing very low, and laying his hand on his heart, as if quite overpowered at the idea of the honour.
'Then, that's a bargain. Jack,' said his lordship, looking knowingly round at his much disconcerted friend; 'you dine and stay all night at Jawleyford Court to-morrow! and mind,' added he, 'make yourself 'greeable to the girls—ladies, that's to say.'
'Couldn't your lordship arrange it so that we might have the pleasure of seeing you both on some future day?' asked Jawleyford, anxious to avert the Jack calamity. 'Say next week,' continued he; 'or suppose you meet at the Court?'
'Ha—he—hum. Meet at the Court,' mumbled his lordship—'meet at the Court—ha—he—ha—hum—no;—got no foxes.'
'Plenty of foxes, I assure you, my lord!' exclaimed Jawleyford. 'Plenty of foxes!' repeated he.
'We never find them, then, somehow,' observed his lordship, drily; 'at least, none but those three-legged beggars in the laurels at the back of the stables.'
'Ah! that will be the fault of the hounds,' replied Jawleyford; 'they don't take sufficient time to draw—run through the covers too quickly.'
'Fault of the hounds be hanged!' exclaimed Jack, who was the champion of the pack generally. 'There's not a more patient, painstaking pack in the world than his lordship's.'
'Ah—well—ah—never mind that,' replied his lordship, 'Jaw and you can settle that point over your wine to-morrow; meanwhile, if your friend Mr. What's-his-name here, 'll get his horse,' continued his lordship, addressing himself to Jawleyford, but looking at Sponge, who was still on the piebald, 'we'll throw off.'
'Thank you, my lord,' replied Sponge; 'but I'll mount at the cover side. Sponge not being inclined to let the Flat Hat Hunt field see the difference of opinion that occasionally existed between the gallant brown and himself.
'As you please,' rejoined his lordship, 'as you please,' jerking his head at Frostyface, who forthwith gave the office to the hounds; whereupon all was commotion. Away the cavalcade went, and in less than five minutes the late bustling village resumed its wonted quiet; the old man on sticks, two crones gossiping at a door, a rag-or-anything-else-gatherer going about with a donkey, and a parcel of dirty children tumbling about on the green, being all that remained on the scene. All the able-bodied men had followed the hounds. Why the hounds had ever climbed the long hill seemed a mystery, seeing that they returned the way they came.
Jawleyford, though sore disconcerted at having 'Jack' pawned upon him, stuck to my lord, and rode on his right with the air of a general. He felt he was doing his duty as an Englishman in thus patronizing the hounds—encouraging a manly spirit of independence, and promoting our unrivalled breed of horses. The post-boy trot at which hounds travel, to be sure, is not well adapted for dignity; but Jawleyford nourished and vapoured as well as he could under the circumstances, and considering they were going down hill. Lord Scamperdale rode along, laughing in his sleeve at the idea of the pleasant evening Jack and Jawleyford would have together, occasionally complimenting Jawleyford on the cut and condition of his horse, and advising him to be careful of the switching raspers with which the country abounded, and which might be fatal to his nice nutmeg—coloured trousers. The rest of the 'field' followed, the fall of the ground enabling them to see 'how thick Jawleyford was with my lord.' Old Blossomnose, who, we should observe, had slipped away unperceived on Jawleyford's arrival, took a bird's-eye view from the rear. Naughty Blossom was riding the horse that ought to have gone in the 'chay' to Jawleyford Court.
THE GREAT RUN
Our hero having inveigled the brown under lee of an out-house as the field moved along, was fortunate enough to achieve the saddle without disclosing the secrets of the stable; and as he rejoined the throng in all the pride of shape, action, and condition, even the top-sawyers. Fossick, Fyle, Bliss, and others, admitted that Hercules was not a bad-like horse; while the humbler-minded ones eyed Sponge with a mixture of awe and envy, thinking what a fine trade literature must be to stand such a horse.
'Is your friend What's-his-name, a workman?' asked Lord Scamperdale, nodding towards Sponge as he trotted Hercules gently past on the turf by the side of the road along which they were riding.
'Oh no,' replied Jawleyford tartly. 'Oh no—gentleman, man of property—'
'I did not mean was he a mechanic,' explained his lordship drily, 'but a workman; a good 'un across country, in fact.' His lordship working his arms as if he was going to set-to himself.
'Oh, a first-rate man!—first-rate man!' replied Jawleyford; 'beat them all at Laverick Wells.'
'I thought so,' observed his lordship; adding to himself, 'then Jack shall take the conceit out of him.'
'Jack!' halloaed he over his shoulder to his friend, who was jogging a little behind; 'Jack!' repeated he, 'that Mr. Something—'
'Sponge!' observed Jawleyford, with an emphasis.
'That Mr. Sponge,' continued his lordship, 'is a stranger in the country: have the kindness to take care of him. You know what I mean?'
'Just so,' replied Jack; 'I'll take care of him.'
'Most polite of your lordship, I'm sure,' said Jawleyford, with a low bow, and laying his hand on his breast. 'I can assure you I shall never forget the marked attention I have received from your lordship this day.'
'Thank you for nothing,' grunted his lordship to himself.
Bump, bump; trot, trot; jabber, jabber, on they went as before.
They had now got to the cover, Tickler Gorse, and ere the last horsemen had reached the last angle of the long hill, Frostyface was rolling about on foot in the luxuriant evergreen; now wholly visible, now all but overhead, like a man buffeting among the waves of the sea. Save Frosty's cheery voice encouraging the invisible pack to 'wind him!' and 'rout him out!' an injunction that the shaking of the gorse showed they willingly obeyed, and an occasional exclamation from Jawleyford, of 'Beautiful! beautiful!—never saw better hounds!—can't be a finer pack!' not a sound disturbed the stillness of the scene. The waggoners on the road stopped their wains, the late noisy ploughmen leaned vacantly on their stilts, the turnip-pullers stood erect in air, and the shepherds' boys deserted the bleating flocks;—all was life and joy and liberty—'Liberty, equality, and foxhunt-ity!'
'Yo—i—cks, wind him! Y—o—o—icks! rout him out!' went Frosty; occasionally varying the entertainment with a loud crack of his heavy whip, when he could get upon a piece of rising ground to clear the thong.
'Tally-ho!' screamed Jawleyford, hoisting the Bumperkin Yeomanry cap in the air. 'Tally-ho!' repeated he, looking triumphantly round, as much as to say, 'What a clever boy am I!'
'Hold your noise!' roared Jack, who was posted a little below. 'Don't you see it's a hare?' added he, amidst the uproarious mirth of the company.
'I haven't your great staring specs on, or I should have seen he hadn't a tail,' retorted Jawleyford, nettled at the tone in which Jack had addressed him.
'Tail be—!' replied Jack, with a sneer; 'who but a tailor would call it a tail?'
Just then a light low squeak of a whimper was heard in the thickest part of the gorse, and Frostyface cheered the hound to the echo. 'Hoick to, Pillager! H—o—o—ick!' screamed he, in a long-drawn note, that thrilled through every frame, and set the horses a-capering.
Ere Frosty's prolonged screech was fairly finished, there was such an outburst of melody, and such a shaking of the gorse-bushes, as plainly showed there was no safety for Reynard in cover; and great was the bustle and commotion among the horsemen. Mr. Fossick lowered his hat-string and ran the fox's tooth through the buttonhole; Fyle drew his girths; Washball took a long swig at his hunting-horn-shaped monkey; Major Mark and Mr. Archer threw away their cigar ends; Mr. Bliss drew on his dogskin gloves; Mr. Wake rolled the thong of his whip round the stick, to be better able to encounter his puller; Mr. Sparks got a yokel to take up a link of his curb; George Smith and Joe Smith looked at their watches; Sandy McGregor, the factor, filled his great Scotch nose with Irish snuff, exclaiming, as he dismissed the balance from his fingers by a knock against his thigh, 'Oh, my mon, aw think this tod will gie us a ran!' while Blossomnose might be seen stealing gently forward, on the far side of a thick fence, for the double purpose of shirking Jawleyford and getting a good start.
In the midst of these and similar preparations for the fray, up went a whip's cap at the low end of the cover; and a volley of 'Tallyhos' burst from our friends, as the fox, whisking his white-tipped brush in the air, was seen stealing away over the grassy hill beyond. What a commotion was there! How pale some looked! How happy others!
'Sing out, Jack! for heaven's sake, sing out!' exclaimed Lord Scamperdale; an enthusiastic sportsman, always as eager for a run as if he had never seen one. 'Sing out. Jack; or, by Jove, they'll override 'em at starting!'
'HOLD HARD, gentlemen,' roared Jack, clapping spurs into his grey, or rather, into his lordship's grey, dashing in front, and drawing the horse across the road to stop the progression of the field. 'HOLD HARD, one minute!' repeated Jack, standing erect in his stirrups, and menacing them with his whip (a most formidable one). 'Whatever you do, pray let them get away! Pray don't spoil your own sport! Pray remember they're his lordship's hounds!—that they cost him five-and-twenty under'd—two thousand five under'd a year! And where, let me ax, with wheat down to nothing, would you get another, if he was to throw up?'
As Jack made this inquiry, he took a hurried glance at the now pouring-out pack; and seeing they were safe away, he wiped the foam from his mouth on his sleeve, dropped into his saddle, and, catching his horse short round by the head, clapped spurs into his sides, and galloped away, exclaiming:
'Now, ye tinkers, we'll all start fair!'
Then there was such a scrimmage! such jostling and elbowing among the jealous ones; such ramming and cramming among the eager ones; such pardon-begging among the polite ones; such spurting of ponies, such clambering of cart-horses. All were bent on going as far as they could—all except Jawleyford, who sat curvetting and prancing in the patronizing sort of way gentlemen do who encourage hounds for the sake of the manly spirit the sport engenders, and the advantage hunting is of in promoting our unrivalled breed of horses.
His lordship having slipped away, horn in hand, under pretence of blowing the hounds out of cover, as soon as he set Jack at the field, had now got a good start, and, horse well in hand, was sailing away in their wake.
'F-o-o-r-r-ard!' screamed Frostyface, coming up alongside of him, holding his horse—a magnificent thoroughbred bay—well by the head, and settling himself into his saddle as he went.
'F-o-r-rard!' screeched his lordship, thrusting his spectacles on to his nose.
'Twang—twang—twang,' went the huntsman's deep-sounding horn.
'T'weet—t'weet—t'weet,' went his lordship's shriller one.
'In for a stinger, my lurd,' observed Jack, returning his horn to the case.
'Hope so,' replied his lordship, pocketing his.
They then flew the first fence together.
'F-o-r-r-ard!' screamed Jack in the air, as he saw the hounds packing well together, and racing with a breast-high scent.
'F-o-r-rard!' screamed his lordship, who was a sort of echo to his huntsman, just as Jack Spraggon was echo to his lordship.
'He's away for Gunnersby Craigs,' observed Jack, pointing that way, for they were a good ten miles off.
'Hope so,' replied his lordship, for whom the distance could never be too great, provided the pace corresponded.
'F-o-o-r-rard!' screamed Jack.
'F-o-r-rard!' screeched his lordship.
So they went flying and 'forrarding' together; none of the field—thanks to Jack Spraggon—being able to overtake them.
'Y-o-o-nder he goes!' at last cried Frosty, taking off his cap as he viewed the fox, some half-mile ahead, stealing away round the side of Newington Hill.
'Tallyho!' screeched his lordship, riding with his flat hat in the air, by way of exciting the striving field to still further exertion.
'He's a good 'un!' exclaimed Frosty, eyeing the fox's going.
'He is that!' replied his lordship, staring at him with all his might.
Then they rode on, and were presently rounding Newington Hill themselves, the hounds packing well together, and carrying a famous head.
His lordship now looked to see what was going on behind.
Scrambleford Hill was far in the rear. Jawleyford and the boy in blue were altogether lost in the distance. A quarter of a mile or so this way were a couple of dots of horsemen, one on a white, the other on a dark colour—most likely Jones, the keeper, and Farmer Stubble, on the foaly mare. Then, a little nearer, was a man in a hedge, trying to coax his horse after him, stopping the way of two boys in white trousers, whose ponies looked like rats. Again, a little nearer, were some of the persevering ones—men who still hold on in the forlorn hopes of a check—all dark-coated, and mostly trousered. Then came the last of the red-coats—Tom Washball, Charley Joyce, and Sam Sloman, riding well in the first flight of second horsemen—his lordship's pad-groom, Mr. Fossick's man in drab with a green collar, Mr. Wake's in blue, also a lad in scarlet and a flat hat, with a second horse for the huntsman. Drawing still nearer came the ruck—men in red, men in brown, men in livery, a farmer or two in fustian, all mingled together; and a few hundred yards before these, and close upon his lordship, were the elite of the field—five men in scarlet and one in black. Let us see who they are. By the powers, Mr. Sponge is first!—Sponge sailing away at his ease, followed by Jack, who is staring at him through his great lamps, longing to launch out at him, but as yet wanting an excuse; Sponge having ridden with judgement—judgement, at least, in everything except in having taken the lead of Jack. After Jack comes old black-booted Blossomnose; and Messrs. Wake, Fossick, and Fyle, complete our complement of five. They are all riding steadily and well; all very irate, however, at the stranger for going before them, and ready to back Jack in anything he may say or do.
On, on they go; the hounds still pressing forward, though not carrying quite so good a head as before. In truth, they have run four miles in twenty minutes; pretty good going anywhere except upon paper, where they always go unnaturally fast. However, there they are, still pressing on, though with considerably less music than before.
After rounding Newington Hill, they got into a wilder and worse sort of country, among moorish, ill-cultivated land, with cold unwholesome-looking fallows. The day, too, seemed changing for the worse; a heavy black cloud hanging overhead. The hounds were at length brought to their noses.
His lordship, who had been riding all eyes, ears, and fears, foresaw the probability of this; and pulling-to his horse, held up his hand, the usual signal for Jack to 'sing out' and stop the field. Sponge saw the signal, but, unfortunately, Hercules didn't; and tearing along with his head to the ground, resolutely bore our friend not only past his lordship, but right on to where the now stooping pack were barely feathering on the line.
Then Jack and his lordship sang out together.
'Hold hard!' screeched his lordship, in a dreadful state of excitement.
'HOLD HARD!' thundered Jack.
Sponge was holding hard—hard enough to split the horse's jaws, but the beast would go on, notwithstanding.
'By the powers, he's among 'em again!' shouted his lordship, as the resolute beast, with his upturned head almost pulled round to Sponge's knee, went star-gazing on like the blind man in Regent Street. 'Sing out. Jack! sing out! for heaven's sake sing out,' shrieked his lordship, shutting his eyes, as he added, 'or he'll kill every man jack of them.'
'NOW, SUR!' roared Jack, 'can't you steer that 'ere aggravatin' quadruped of yours?'
'Oh, you pestilential son of a pontry-maid!' screeched his lordship, as Brilliant ran yelping away from under Sponge's horse's feet. 'Sing out. Jack! sing out!' gasped his lordship again.
'Oh, you scandalous, hypocritical, rusty-booted, numb-handed son of a puffing corn-cutter, why don't you turn your attention to feeding hens, cultivating cabbages, or making pantaloons for small folk, instead of killing hounds in this wholesale way?' roared Jack; an inquiry that set him foaming again.
'Oh, you unsightly, sanctified, idolatrous, Bagnigge-Wells coppersmith, you think because I'm a lord, and can't swear or use coarse language, that you may do what you like; rot you, sir, I'll present you with a testimonial! I'll settle a hundred a year upon you if you'll quit the country. By the powers, they're away again!' added his lordship, who, with one eye on Sponge and the other on the pack, had been watching Frosty lifting them over the bad scenting-ground, till, holding them on to a hedgerow beyond, they struck the scent on good sound pasture, and went away at score, every hound throwing his tongue, and filling the air with joyful melody. Away they swept like a hurricane. 'F-o-o-rard!' was again the cry.
'Hang it. Jack,' exclaimed Lord Scamperdale, laying his hand on his double's shoulder, as they galloped alongside of each other, 'Hang it, Jack, see if you can't sarve out this unrighteous, mahogany-booted, rattle-snake. Do if you die for it!—I'll bury your remainders genteelly—patent coffin with brass nails, all to yourself—put Frosty and all the fellows in black, and raise a white marble monument to your memory, declaring you were the most spotless virtuous man under the sun.'
'Let me off dining with Jaw, and I'll do my best,' replied Jack.
'Done!' screamed his lordship, flourishing his right arm in the air, as he flew over a great stone wall.
A good many of the horses and sportsmen too had had enough before the hounds checked; and the quick way Frosty lifted them and hit off the scent, did not give them much time to recruit. Many of them now sat hat in hand, mopping, and puffing, and turning their red perspiring faces to the wind. 'Poough,' gasped one, as if he was going to be sick; 'Puff,' went another; 'Oh! but it's 'ot!' exclaimed a third, pulling off his limp neckcloth; 'Wonder if there's any ale hereabouts,' cried a fourth; 'Terrible run!' observed a fifth; 'Ten miles at least,' gasped another. Meanwhile the hounds went streaming on; and it is wonderful how soon those who don't follow are left hopelessly in the rear.
Of the few that did follow, Mr. Sponge, however, was one. Nothing daunted by the compliments that had been paid him, he got Hercules well in hand; and the horse dropping again on the bit, resumed his place in front, going as strong and steadily as ever. Thus he went, throwing the mud in the faces of those behind, regardless of the oaths and imprecations that followed; Sponge knowing full well they would do the same by him if they could.
'All jealousy,' said Sponge, spurring his horse. 'Never saw such a jealous set of dogs in my life.'
An accommodating lane soon presented itself, along which they all pounded, with the hounds running parallel through the enclosures on the left; Sponge sending such volleys of pebbles and mud in his rear as made it advisable to keep a good way behind him. The line was now apparently for Firlingham Woods; but on nearing the thatched cottage on Gasper Heath, the fox, most likely being headed, had turned short to the right; and the chase now lay over Sheeplow Water meadows, and so on to Bolsover brick-fields, when the pack again changed from hunting to racing, and the pace for a time was severe. His lordship having got his second horse at the turn, was ready for the tussle, and plied away vigorously, riding, as usual, with all his heart, with all his mind, with all his soul, and with all his strength; while Jack, still on the grey, came plodding diligently along in the rear, saving his horse as much as he could. His lordship charged a stiff flight of rails in the brick-fields; while Jack, thinking to save his, rode at a weak place in the fence, a little higher up, and in an instant was soused overhead in a clay-hole.
'Duck under, Jack! duck under!' screamed his lordship, as Jack's head rose to the surface. 'Duck under! you'll have it full directly!' added he, eyeing Sponge and the rest coming up.
Sponge, however, saw the splash, and turning a little lower down, landed safe on sound ground; while poor Blossomnose, who was next, went floundering overhead also. But the pace was too good to stop to fish them out.
'Dash it,' said Sponge, looking at them splashing about, 'but that was a near go for me!'
Jack being thus disposed of, Sponge, with increased confidence, rose in his stirrups, easing the redoubtable Hercules; and patting him on the shoulder, at the same time that he gave him the gentlest possible touch of the spur, exclaimed, 'By the powers, we'll show these old Flat Hats the trick!' He then commenced humming:
Mister Sponge, the raspers taking, Sets the junkers' nerves a shaking;
and riding cheerfully on, he at length found himself on the confines of a wild rough-looking moor, with an undulating range of hills in the distance.
Frostyface and Lord Scamperdale here for the first time diverged from the line the hounds were running, and made for the neck of a smooth, flat, rather inviting-looking piece of ground, instead of crossing it, Sponge, thinking to get a niche, rode to it; and the 'deeper and deeper still' sort of flounder his horse made soon let him know that he was in a bog. The impetuous Hercules rushed and reared onwards as if to clear the wide expanse; and alighting still lower, shot Sponge right overhead in the middle.
'That's cooked your goose!' exclaimed his lordship, eyeing Sponge and his horse floundering about in the black porridge-like mess.
'Catch my horse!' hallooed Sponge to the first whip, who came galloping up as Hercules was breasting his way out again.
'Catch him yourself,' grunted the man, galloping on.
A peat-cutter, more humane, received the horse as he emerged from the black sea, exclaiming, as the now-piebald Sponge came lobbing after on foot, 'A, sir! but ye should niver set tee to ride through sic a place as that!'
Sponge, having generously rewarded the man with a fourpenny piece, for catching his horse and scraping the thick of the mud off him, again mounted, and cantered round the point he should at first have gone; but his chance was out—the farther he went, the farther he was left behind; till at last, pulling up, he stood watching the diminishing pack, rolling like marbles over the top of Rotherjade Hill, followed by his lordship hugging his horse round the neck as he went, and the huntsman and whips leading and driving theirs up before them.
'Nasty jealous old beggar!' said Sponge, eyeing his lessening lordship disappearing over the hill too. Sponge then performed the sickening ceremony of turning away from hounds running; not but that he might have plodded on on the line, and perhaps seen or heard what became of the fox, but Sponge didn't hunt on those terms. Like a good many other gentlemen, he would be first, or nowhere.
If it was any consolation to him, he had plenty of companions in misfortune. The line was dotted with horsemen back to the brick-fields. The first person he overtook wending his way home in the discontented, moody humour of a thrown-out man, was Mr. Puffington master of the Hanby hounds; at whose appearance at the meet we expressed our surprise.
Neighbouring masters of hounds are often more or less jealous of each other. No man in the master-of-hound world is too insignificant for censure. Lord Scamperdale was an undoubted sportsman; while poor Mr. Puffington thought of nothing but how to be thought one. Hearing the mistaken rumour that a great writer was down, he thought that his chance of immortality was arrived; and, ordering his best horse, and putting on his best apparel, had braved the jibes and sneers of Jack and his lordship for the purpose of scraping acquaintance with the stranger. In that he had been foiled: there was no time at the meet to get introduced, neither could he get jostled beside Sponge in going down to the cover; while the quick find, the quick get away, followed by the quick thing we have described, were equally unfavourable to the undertaking. Nevertheless, Mr. Puffington had held on beyond the brick-fields; and had he but persevered a little farther, he would have had the satisfaction of helping Mr. Sponge out of the bog.
Sponge now, seeing a red coat a little before, trotted on, and quickly overtook a fine nippy, satin-stocked, dandified looking gentleman, with marvellously smart leathers and boots—a great contrast to the large, roomy, bargemanlike costume of the members of the Flat Hat Hunt.
'You're not hurt, I hope?' exclaimed Mr. Puffington, with well-feigned anxiety, as he looked at Mr. Sponge's black-daubed clothes.
'Oh no!' replied Sponge. 'Oh no!—fell soft—fell soft. More dirt, less hurt—more dirt, less hurt.'
'Why, you've been in a bog!' exclaimed Mr. Puffington, eyeing the much-stained Hercules.
'Almost over head,' replied Sponge. 'Scamperdale saw me going, and hadn't the grace to halloa.'
'Ah, that's like him,' replied Mr. Puffington, 'that's like him: there's nothing pleases him so much as getting fellows into grief.'
'Not very polite to a stranger,' observed Mr. Sponge.
'No, it isn't,' replied Mr. Puffington, 'no, it isn't; far from it indeed—far from it; but, low be it spoken,' added he, 'his lordship is only a roughish sort of customer.'
'So he is,' replied Mr. Sponge, who thought it fine to abuse a nobleman.
'The fact is,' said Mr. Puffington, 'these Flat Hat chaps are all snobs. They think there are no such fine fellows as themselves under the sun; and if ever a stranger looks near them, they make a point of being as rude and disagreeable to him as they possibly can. This is what they call keeping the hunt select.' 'Indeed,' observed Mr. Sponge, recollecting how they had complimented him, adding, 'they seem a queer set.'
'There's a fellow they call "Jack,"' observed Mr. Puffington, 'who acts as a sort of bulldog to his lordship, and worries whoever his lordship sets him upon. He got into a clay-hole a little farther back, and a precious splashing he was making, along with the chaplain, old Blossomnose.'
'Ah, I saw him,' observed Mr. Sponge.
'You should come and see my hounds,' observed Mr. Puffington.
'What are they?' asked Sponge.
'The Hanby,' replied Mr. Puffington.
'Oh! then you are Mr. Puffington,' observed Sponge, who had a sort of general acquaintance with all the hounds and masters—indeed, with all the meets of all the hounds in the kingdom—which he read in the weekly lists in Bell's Life, just as he read Mogg's Cab Fares. 'Then you are Mr. Puffington?' observed Sponge.
'The same,' replied the stranger.
'I'll have a look at you,' observed Sponge, adding, 'do you take in horses?'
'Yours, of course,' replied Mr. Puffington, bowing; adding something about great public characters, which Sponge didn't understand.
'I'll be down upon you, as the extinguisher said to the rushlight,' observed Mr. Sponge.
'Do,' said Mr. Puffington; 'come before the frost. Where are you staying now?'
'I'm at Jawleyford's,' replied our friend.
'Indeed!—Jawleyford's, are you?' repeated Mr. Puffington. 'Good fellow, Jawleyford—gentleman, Jawleyford. How long do you stay?'
'Why, I haven't made up my mind,' replied Sponge. 'Have no thoughts of budging at present.'
'Ah, well—good quarters,' said Mr. Puffington, who now smelt a rat; 'good quarters—nice girls—fine fortune—fine place, Jawleyford Court. Well, book me for the next visit,' added he. 'I will,' said Sponge, 'and no mistake. What do they call your shop?'
'Hanby House,' replied Mr. Puffington; 'Hanby House—anybody can tell you where Hanby House is.'
'I'll not forget,' said Mr. Sponge, booking it in his mind, and eyeing his victim.
'I'll show you a fine pack of hounds,' said Mr. Puffington; 'far finer animals than those of old Scamperdale's—steady, true hunting hounds, that won't go a yard without a scent—none of your jealous, flashy, frantic devils, that will tear over half a township without one, and are always looking out for "halloas" and assistance—'
Mr. Puffington was interrupted in the comparison he was about to draw between his lordship's hounds and his, by arriving at the Bolsover brick-fields, and seeing Jack and Blossomnose, horse in hand, running to and fro, while sundry countrymen blobbed about in the clay-hole they had so recently occupied. Tom Washball, Mr. Wake, Mr. Fyle, Mr. Fossick, and several dark-coated horsemen and boys were congregated around. Jack had lost his spectacles, and Blossomnose his whip, and the countrymen were diving for them.
'Not hurt, I hope?' said Mr. Puffington, in the most dandified tone of indifference, as he rode up to where Jack and Blossomnose were churning the water in their boots, stamping up and down, trying to get themselves warm.
'Hurt be hanged!' replied Jack, who had a frightful squint, that turned his eyes inside out when he was in a passion: 'hurt be hanged!' said he; 'might have been drownded, for anything you'd have cared.'
'I should have been sorry for that,' replied Mr. Puffington, adding, 'the Flat Hat Hunt could ill afford to lose so useful and ornamental a member.'
'I don't know what the Flat Hat Hunt can afford to lose,' spluttered Jack, who hadn't got all the clay out of his mouth; 'but I know they can afford to do without the company of certain gentlemen who shall be nameless,' said he, looking at Sponge and Puffington as he thought, but in reality showing nothing but the whites of his eyes. 'I told you so,' said Puffington, jerking his head towards Jack, as Sponge and he turned their horses' heads to ride away; 'I told you so,' repeated he; 'that's a specimen of their style'; adding, 'they are the greatest set of ruffians under the sun.'
The new acquaintances then jogged on together as far as the cross-roads at Stewley, when Puffington, having bound Sponge in his own recognizance to come to him when he left Jawleyford Court, pointed him out his way, and with a most hearty shake of the hands the new-made friends parted.
LORD SCAMPERDALE AT HOME
We fear our fair friends will expect something gay from the above heading—lamps and flambeaux outside, fiddlers, feathers, and flirters in. Nothing of the sort, fair ladies—nothing of the sort. Lord Scamperdale 'at home' simply means that his lordship was not out hunting, that he had got his dirty boots and breeches off, and dry tweeds and tartans on.
Lord Scamperdale was the eighth earl; and, according to the usual alternating course of great English families—one generation living and the next starving—it was his lordship's turn to live; but the seventh earl having been rather unreasonable in the length of his lease, the present earl, who during the lifetime of his father was Lord Hardup, had contracted such parsimonious habits, that when he came into possession he could not shake them off; and but for the fortunate friendship of Abraham Brown, the village blacksmith, who had given his young idea a sporting turn, entering him with ferrets and rabbits, and so training him on with terriers and rat-catching, badger-baiting and otter-hunting, up to the noble sport of fox-hunting itself, in all probability his lordship would have been a regular miser. As it was, he did not spend a halfpenny upon anything but hunting; and his hunting, though well, was still economically done, costing him some couple of thousand a year, to which, for the sake of euphony, Jack used to add an extra five hundred; 'two thousand five under'd a year, five-and-twenty under'd a year,' sounding better, as Jack thought, and more imposing, than a couple of thousand, or two thousand, a year. There were few days on which Jack didn't inform the field what the hounds cost his lordship, or rather what they didn't cost him.
Woodmansterne, his lordship's principal residence, was a fine place. It stood in an undulating park of 800 acres, with its church, and its lakes, and its heronry, and its decoy, and its racecourse, and its varied grasses of the choicest kinds, for feeding the numerous herds of deer, so well known at Temple Bar and Charing Cross as the Woodmansterne venison. The house was a modern edifice, built by the sixth earl, who, having been a 'liver,' had run himself aground by his enormous outlay on this Italian structure, which was just finished when he died. The fourth earl, who, we should have stated, was a 'liver' too, was a man of vertu—a great traveller and collector of coins, pictures, statues, marbles, and curiosities generally—things that are very dear to buy, but oftentimes extremely cheap when sold; and, having collected a vast quantity from all parts of the world (no easy feat in those days), he made them heirlooms, and departed this life, leaving the next earl the pleasure of contemplating them. The fifth earl having duly starved through life, then made way for the sixth; who, finding such a quantity of valuables stowed away, as he thought, in rather a confined way, sent to London for a first-rate architect. Sir Thomas Squareall (who always posted with four horses), who forthwith pulled down the old brick-and-stone Elizabethan mansion, and built the present splendid Italian structure, of the finest polished stone, at an expense of—furniture and all—say 120,000l.; Sir Thomas's estimates being 30,000l. The seventh earl of course they starved; and the present lord, at the age of forty-three, found himself in possession of house, and coins, and curiosities; and, best of all, of some 90,000l. in the funds, which had quietly rolled up during the latter part of his venerable parent's existence. His lordship then took counsel with himself—first, whether he should marry or remain single; secondly, whether he should live or starve. Having considered the subject with all the attention a limited allowance of brains permitted, he came to the resolution that the second proposition depended a good deal upon the first; 'for,' said he to himself, 'if I marry, my lady, perhaps, may make me live; and therefore,' said he, 'perhaps I'd better remain single.' At all events, he came to the determination not to marry in a hurry; and until he did, he felt there was no occasion for him to inconvenience himself by living. So he had the house put away in brown holland, the carpets rolled up, the pictures covered, the statues shrouded in muslin, the cabinets of curiosities locked, the plate secured, the china closeted, and everything arranged with the greatest care against the time, which he put before him in the distance like a target, when he should marry and begin to live.
At first he gave two or three great dinners a year, about the height of the fruit season, and when it was getting too ripe for carriage to London by the old coaches—when a grand airing of the state-rooms used to take place, and ladies from all parts of the county used to sit shivering with their bare shoulders, all anxious for the honours of the head of the table. His lordship always held out that he was a marrying man; but even if he hadn't they would have come all the same, an unmarried man being always clearly on the cards; and though he was stumpy, and clumsy, and ugly, with as little to say for himself as could well be conceived, they all agreed that he was a most engaging, attractive man—quite a pattern of a man. Even on horseback, and in his hunting clothes, in which he looked far the best, he was only a coarse, square, bull-headed looking man, with hard, dry, round, matter-of-fact features, that never looked young, and yet somehow never get old. Indeed, barring the change from brown to grey of his short stubbly whiskers, which he trained with great care into a curve almost on to his cheek-bone, he looked very little older at the period of which we are writing than he did a dozen years before, when he was Lord Hardup. These dozen years, however, had brought him down in his doings.
The dinners had gradually dwindled away altogether, and he had had all the large tablecloths and napkins rough dried and locked away against he got married; an event that he seemed more anxious to provide for the more unlikely it became. He had also abdicated the main body of the mansion, and taken up his quarters in what used to be the steward's room; into which he could creep quietly by a side door opening from the outer entrance, and so save frequent exposure to the cold and damp of the large cathedral-like hall beyond. Through the steward's room was what used to be the muniment room, which he converted into a bedroom for himself; and a little farther along the passage was another small chamber, made out of what used to be the plate-room, whereof Jack, or whoever was in office, had the possession. All three rooms were furnished in the roughest, coarsest, homeliest way—his lordship wishing to keep all the good furniture against he got married. The sitting-room, or parlour as his lordship called it, had an old grey drugget for a carpet, an old round black mahogany table on castors, that the last steward had ejected as too bad for him, four semi-circular wooden-bottomed walnut smoking-chairs; an old spindle-shanked sideboard, with very little middle, over which swung a few bookshelves, with the termination of their green strings surmounted by a couple of foxes' brushes. Small as the shelves were, they were larger than his lordship wanted—two books, one for Jack and one for himself, being all they contained; while the other shelves were filled with hunting-horns, odd spurs, knots of whipcord, piles of halfpence, lucifer-match boxes, gun-charges, and such-like miscellaneous articles.
His lordship's fare was as rough as his furniture. He was a great admirer of tripe, cow-heel, and delicacies of that kind; he had tripe twice a week—boiled one day, fried another. He was also a great patron of beefsteaks, which he ate half-raw, with slices of cold onion served in a saucer with water.
It was a beefsteak-and-batter-pudding day on which the foregoing run took place; and his lordship and Jack having satisfied nature off their respective dishes—for they only had vegetables in common—and having finished off with some very strong Cheshire cheese, wheeled their chairs to the fire, while Bags the butler cleared the table and placed it between them. They were dressed in full suits of flaming large-check red-and-yellow tartans, the tartan of that noble clan the 'Stunners,' with black-and-white Shetland hose and red slippers. His lordship and Jack had related their mutual adventures by cross visits to each other's bedrooms while dressing: and, dinner being announced by the time they were ready, they had fallen to, and applied themselves diligently to the victuals, and now very considerately unbuttoned their many-pocketed waistcoats and stuck out their legs, to give it a fair chance of digesting. They seldom spoke much until his lordship had had his nap, which he generally took immediately after dinner; but on this particular night he sat bending forward in his chair, picking his teeth and looking at his toes, evidently ill at ease in his mind. Jack guessed the cause, but didn't say anything. Sponge, he thought, had beat him.
At length his lordship threw himself back in his chair, and stretching his little queer legs out before him, began to breathe thicker and thicker, till at last he got the melody up to a grunt. It was not the fine generous snore of a sleep that he usually enjoyed, but short, fitful, broken naps, that generally terminated in spasmodic jerks of the arms or legs. These grew worse, till at last all four went at once, like the limbs of a Peter Waggey, when, throwing himself forward with a violent effort, he awoke; and finding his horse was not a-top of him, as he thought, he gave vent to his feelings in the following ejaculations:
'Oh, Jack, I'm onhappy!' exclaimed he. 'I'm distressed!' continued he. 'I'm wretched!' added he, slapping his knees. 'I'm perfectly miserable!' he concluded, with a strong emphasis on the 'miserable.'
'What's the matter?' asked Jack, who was half-asleep himself.
'Oh, that Mister Something!—he'll be the death of me!' observed his lordship.
'I thought so,' replied Jack; 'what's the chap been after now?'
'I dreamt he'd killed old Lablache—best hound I have,' replied his lordship.
'He be ——,' grunted Jack.
'Ah, it's all very well for you to say "he be this" and "he be that," but I can tell you what, that fellow is going to be a very awkward customer—a terrible thorn in my side.'
'Humph!' grunted Jack, who didn't see how.
'There's mischief about that fellow,' continued his lordship, pouring himself out half a tumbler of gin, and filling it up with water. 'There's mischief about the fellow. I don't like his looks—I don't like his coat—I don't like his boots—I don't like anything about him. I'd rather see the back of him than the front. He must be got rid of,' added his lordship.
'Well, I did my best to-day, I'm sure,' replied Jack. 'I was deuced near wanting the patent coffin you were so good as to promise me.'
'You did your work well,' replied his lordship; 'you did your work well; and you shall have my other specs till I can get you a new pair from town; and if you'll serve me again, I'll remember you in my will—I'll leave you something handsome.'
'I'm your man,' replied Jack.
'I never was so bothered with a fellow in my life,' observed his lordship. 'Captain Topsawyer was bad enough, and always pressed far too close on the hounds, but he would pull up at a check; but this rusty-booted 'bomination seems to think the hounds are kept for him to ride over. He must be got rid of somehow,' repeated his lordship; 'for we shall have no peace while he's here.'
'If he's after either of the Jawley girls, he'll be bad to shake off,' observed Jack.
'That's just the point,' replied his lordship, quaffing off his gin with the air of a man most thoroughly thirsty; 'that's just the point,' repeated he, setting down his tumbler. 'I think if he is, I could cook his goose for him.'
'How so?' asked Jack, drinking off his glass.
'Why, I'll tell you,' replied his lordship, replenishing his tumbler, and passing the old gilt-labelled blue bottle over to Jack; 'you see, Frosty's a cunning old file, picks up all the news and gossip of the country when he's out at exercise with the hounds, or in going to cover—knows everything!—who licks his wife, and whose wife licks him—who's after such a girl, and so on—and he's found out somehow that this Mr. What's-his-name isn't the man of metal he's passing for.'
'Indeed,' exclaimed Jack, raising his eyebrows, and squinting his eyes inside out; Jack's opinion of a man being entirely regulated by his purse.
'It's a fact,' said his lordship, with a knowing shake of his head. 'As we were toddling home with the hounds, I said to Frosty, "I hope that Mr. Something's comfortable in his bath"—meaning Gobblecow Bog, which he rode into. "Why," said Frosty, "it's no great odds what comes of such rubbage as that." Now, Frosty, you know, in a general way, is a most polite, fair-spoken man, specially before Christmas, when he begins to look for the tips; and as we are not much troubled with strangers, thanks to your sensible way of handling them, I thought Frosty would have made the most of this natural son of Dives, and been as polite to him as possible. However, he was evidently no favourite of Frosty's. So I just asked—not that one likes to be familiar with servants, you know, but still this brown-booted beggar is enough to excite one's curiosity and make any one go out of one's way a little—so I just asked Frosty what he knew about him. "All over the left," said Frosty, jerking his thumb back over his shoulder, and looking as knowing as a goose with one eye; "all over the left," repeated he. "What's over the left?" said I. "Why, this Mr. Sponge," said he. "How so?" asked I. "Why," said Frosty, "he's come gammonin' down here that he's a great man—full of money, and horses, and so on; but it's all my eye, he's no more a great man than I am."'
'The deuce!' exclaimed Jack, who had sat squinting and listening intently as his lordship proceeded. 'Well, now, hang me, I thought he was a snob the moment I saw him,' continued he; Jack being one of those clever gentlemen who know everything after they are told.
'"Well, how do you know. Jack?" said I to Frosty. "Oh, I knows," replied he, as if he was certain about it. However, I wasn't satisfied without knowing too; and, as we kept jogging on, we came to the old Coach and Horses, and I said to Jack, "We may as well have a drop of something to warm us." So we halted, and had glasses of brandy apiece, whips and all; and then, as we jogged on again, I just said to Jack casually, "Did you say it was Mr. Blossomnose told you about old Brown Boots?" "No—Blossomnose—no," replied he, as if Blossom never had anything half so good to tell; "it was a young woman," said he, in an undertone, "who told me, and she had it from old Brown Boots's groom."'
'Well, that's good,' observed Jack, diving his hands into the very bottom of his great tartan trouser pockets, and shooting his legs out before him; 'well, that's good,' repeated he, falling into a sort of reverie.
'Well, but what can we make of it?' at length inquired he, after a long pause, during which he ran the facts through his mind, and thought they could not be much ruder to Sponge than they had been. 'What can we make of it?' said he. 'The fellow can ride, and we can't prevent him hunting; and his having nothing only makes him less careful of his neck.'
'Why, that was just what I thought,' replied Lord Scamperdale, taking another tumbler of gin; 'that was just what I thought—the fellow can ride, and we can't prevent him; and just as I settled that in my sleep, I thought I saw him come staring along, with his great brown horse's head in the air, and crash right a-top of old Lablache. But I see my way clearer with him now. But help yourself,' continued his lordship, passing the gin-bottle over to Jack, feeling that what he had to say required a little recommendation. 'I think I can turn Frosty's information to some account.'
'I don't see how,' observed Jack, replenishing his glass.
'I do, though,' replied his lordship, adding, 'but I must have your assistance.'
'Well, anything in moderation,' replied Jack, who had had to turn his hand to some very queer jobs occasionally.
'I'll tell you what I think,' observed his lordship. 'I think there are two ways of getting rid of this haughty Philistine—this unclean spirit—this 'bomination of a man. I think, in the first place, if old Chatterbox knew that he had nothing, he would very soon bow him out of Jawleyford Court; and in the second, that we might get rid of him by buying his horses.'
'Well,' replied Jack, 'I don't know but you're right. Chatterbox would soon wash his hands of him, as he has done of many promising young gentlemen before, if he has nothing; but people differ so in their ideas of what nothing consists of.'
Jack spoke feelingly, for he was a gentleman who was generally spoken of as having nothing a year, paid quarterly; and yet he was in the enjoyment of an annuity of sixty pounds.
'Oh, why, when I say he has nothing,' replied Lord Scamperdale, 'I mean that he has not what Jawleyford, who is a bumptious sort of an ass, would consider sufficient to make him a fit match for one of his daughters. He may have a few hundreds a year, but Jaw, I'm sure, will look at nothing under thousands.'
'Oh, certainly not,' said Jack, 'there's no doubt about that.'
'Well, then, you see, I was thinking,' observed Lord Scamperdale, eyeing Jack's countenance, 'that if you would dine there to-morrow, as we fixed—'
'Oh, dash it! I couldn't do that,' interrupted Jack, drawing himself together in his chair like a horse refusing a leap; 'I couldn't do that—I couldn't dine with Jaw, not at no price.'
'Why not?' asked Lord Scamperdale; 'he'll give you a good dinner—fricassees, and all sorts of good things; far finer fare than you have here.'
'That may all be,' replied Jack, 'but I don't want none of his food. I hate the sight of the fellow, and detest him fresh every time I see him. Consider, too, you said you'd let me off if I sarved out Sponge; and I'm sure I did my best. I led him over some awful places, and then what a ducking I got! My ears are full of water still,' added he, laying his head on one side to try to run it out.
'You did well,' observed Lord Scamperdale—'you did well, and I fully intended to let you off, but then I didn't know what a beggar I had to deal with. Come, say you'll go, that's a good fellow.'
'Couldn't,' replied Jack, squinting frightfully.
'You'll oblige me,' observed Lord Scamperdale.
'Ah, well, I'd do anything to oblige your lordship,' replied Jack, thinking of the corner in the will. 'I'd do anything to oblige your lordship: but the fact is, sir, I'm not prepared to go. I've lost my specs—I've got no swell clothes—I can't go in the Stunner tartan,' added he, eyeing his backgammon-board-looking chest, and diving his hands into the capacious pockets of his shooting-jacket.
'I'll manage all that,' replied his lordship; 'I've got a pair of splendid silver-mounted spectacles in the Indian cabinet in the drawing-room, that I've kept to be married in. I'll lend them to you, and there's no saying but you may captivate Miss Jawleyford in them. Then as to clothes, there's my new damson-coloured velvet waistcoat with the steel buttons, and my fine blue coat with the velvet collar, silk facings, and our button on it; altogether I'll rig you out and make you such a swell as there's no saying but Miss Jawleyford'll offer to you, by way of consoling herself for the loss of Sponge.'
'I'm afraid you'll have to make a settlement for me, then,' observed our friend.
'Well, you are a good fellow. Jack,' said his lordship, 'and I'd as soon make one on you as on any one.'
'I s'pose you'll send me on wheels?' observed Jack.
'In course,' replied his lordship. 'Dog-cart—name behind—Right Honourable the Earl of Scamperdale—lad with cockade—everything genteel'; adding, 'by Jove, they'll take you for me!'
Having settled all these matters, and arranged how the information was to be communicated to Jawleyford, the friends at length took their block-tin candlesticks, with their cauliflower-headed candles, and retired to bed.
MR. SPRAGGON'S EMBASSY TO JAWLEYFORD COURT
When Mr. Sponge returned, all dirtied and stained, from the chase, he found his host sitting in an arm-chair over the study fire, dressing-gowned and slippered, with a pocket-handkerchief tied about his head, shamming illness, preparatory to putting off Mr. Spraggon. To be sure, he played rather a better knife and fork at dinner than is usual with persons with that peculiar ailment; but Mr. Sponge, being very hungry, and well attended to by the fair—moreover, not suspecting any ulterior design—just ate and jabbered away as usual, with the exception of omitting his sick papa-in-law in the round of his observations. So the dinner passed over.
'Bring me a tumbler and some hot water and sugar,' said Mr. Jawleyford, pressing his head against his hand, as Spigot, having placed some bottle ends on the table, and reduced the glare of light, was preparing to retire. 'Bring me some hot water and sugar,' said he; 'and tell Harry he will have to go over to Lord Scamperdale's, with a note, the first thing in the morning.'
The young ladies looked at each other, and then at mamma, who, seeing what was wanted, looked at papa, and asked, 'if he was going to ask Lord Scamperdale over?' Amelia, among her many 'presentiments,' had long enjoyed one that she was destined to be Lady Scamperdale.
'No—over—no,' snapped Jawleyford; 'what should put that in your head?'
'Oh, I thought as Mr. Sponge was here, you might think it a good time to ask him.'
'His lordship knows he can come when he likes,' replied Jawleyford, adding, 'it's to put that Mr. John Spraggon off, who thinks he may do the same.'
'Mr. Spraggon!' exclaimed both the young ladies. 'Mr. Spraggon!—what should set him here?'
'What, indeed?' asked Jawleyford.
'Poor man! I dare say there's no harm in him,' observed Mrs. Jawleyford, who was always ready for anybody.
'No good either,' replied Jawleyford—'at all events, we'll be just as well without him. You know him, don't you?' added he, turning to Sponge—'great coarse man in spectacles.'
'Oh yes, I know him,' replied Sponge; 'a great ruffian he is, too,' added he.
'One ought to be in robust health to encounter such a man,' observed Jawleyford, 'and have time to get a man or two of the same sort to meet him. We can do nothing with such a man. I can't understand how his lordship puts up with such a fellow.'
'Finds him useful, I suppose,' observed Mr. Sponge.
Spigot presently appeared with a massive silver salver, bearing tumblers, sugar, lemon, nutmeg, and other implements of negus.
'Will you join me in a little wine-and-water?' asked Jawleyford, pointing to the apparatus and bottle ends, 'or will you have a fresh bottle?—plenty in the cellar,' added he, with a flourish of his hand, though he kept looking steadfastly at the negus-tray.
'Oh—why—I'm afraid—I doubt—I think I should hardly be able to do justice to a bottle single-handed,' replied Sponge. 'Then have negus,' said Jawleyford; 'you'll find it very refreshing; medical men recommend it after violent exercise in preference to wine. But pray have wine if you prefer it.'
'Ah—well, I'll finish off with a little negus, perhaps,' replied Sponge, adding, 'meanwhile the ladies, I dare say, would like a little wine.'
'The ladies drink white wine—sherry,' rejoined Jawleyford, determined to make a last effort to save his port. 'However, you can have a bottle of port to yourself, you know.'
'Very well,' said Sponge.
'One condition I must attach,' said Mr. Jawleyford, 'which is, that you finish the bottle. Don't let us have any waste, you know.'
'I'll do my best,' said Sponge, determined to have it; whereupon Mr. Jawleyford growled the word 'Port' to the butler, who had been witnessing his master's efforts to direct attention to the negus. Thwarted in his endeavour, Jawleyford's headache became worse, and the ladies, seeing how things were going, beat a precipitate retreat, leaving our hero to his fate.
'I'll leave a note on my writing-table when I go to bed,' observed Jawleyford to Spigot, as the latter was retiring after depositing the bottle; 'and tell Harry to start with it early in the morning, so as to get to Woodmansterne about breakfast—nine o'clock, or so, at latest,' added he.
'Yes, sir,' replied Spigot, withdrawing with an air.
Sponge then wanted to narrate the adventures of the day; but, independently of Jawleyford's natural indifference for hunting, he was too much out of humour at being done out of his wine to lend a willing ear; and after sundry 'hums,' 'indeeds,' 'sos,' &c., Sponge thought he might as well think the run over to himself as trouble to put it into words, whereupon a long silence ensued, interrupted only by the tinkling of Jawleyford's spoon against his glass, and the bumps of the decanter as Sponge helped himself to his wine.
At length Jawleyford, having had as much negus as he wanted, excused himself from further attendence, under the plea of increasing illness, and retired to his study to concoct his letter to Jack.
At first he was puzzled how to address him. If he had been Jack Spraggon, living in old Mother Nipcheese's lodgings at Starfield, as he was when Lord Scamperdale took him by the hand, he would have addressed him as 'Dear Sir,' or perhaps in the third person, 'Mr. Jawleyford presents his compliments to Mr. Spraggon,' &c.; but, as my lord's right-hand man, Jack carried a certain weight, and commanded a certain influence, that he would never have acquired of himself.
Jawleyford spoilt three sheets of cream-laid satin-wove note-paper (crested and ciphered) before he pleased himself with a beginning. First he had it 'Dear Sir,' which he thought looked too stiff; then he had it 'My dear Sir,' which he thought looked too loving; next he had it 'Dear Spraggon,' which he considered as too familiar; and then he tried 'Dear Mr. Spraggon,' which he thought would do. Thus he wrote:
'DEAR MR. SPRAGGON,—
'I am sorry to be obliged to put you off; but since I came in from hunting I have been attacked with influenza, which will incapacitate me from the enjoyment of society at least for two or three days. I therefore think the kindest thing I can do is to write to put you off; and, in the hopes of seeing both you and my lord at no distant day.
'I remain, dear sir, yours sincerely,
'CHARLES JAMES JAWLEYFORD,
'TO JOHN SPRAGGON, ESQ.,
&c. &c. &c.'
This he sealed with the great seal of Jawleyford Court—a coat of arms containing innumerable quarterings and heraldic devices. Having then refreshed his memory by looking through a bundle of bills, and selected the most threatening of the lawyers' letters to answer the next day, he proceeded to keep up the delusion of sickness, by retiring to sleep in his dressing-room. Our readers will now have the kindness to accompany us to Lord Scamperdale's: time, the morning after the foregoing. 'Love me, love my dog,' being a favourite saying of his lordship's, he fed himself, his friends, and his hounds, on the same meal. Jack and he were busy with two great basins full of porridge, which his lordship diluted with milk, while Jack stirred his up with hot dripping, when the put-off note arrived. His lordship was still in a complete suit of the great backgammon-board-looking red-and-yellow Stunner tartan: but as Jack was going from home, he had got himself into a pair of his lordship's yellow-ochre leathers and new top-boots, while he wore the Stunner jacket and waistcoat to save his lordship's Sunday green cutaway with metal buttons, and canary-coloured waistcoat. His lordship did not eat his porridge with his usual appetite, for he had had a disturbed night, Sponge having appeared to him in his dreams in all sorts of forms and predicaments; now jumping a-top of him—now upsetting Jack—now riding over Frostyface—now crashing among his hounds; and he awoke, fully determined to get rid of him by fair means or foul. Buying his horses did not seem so good a speculation as blowing his credit at Jawleyford Court, for, independently of disliking to part with his cash, his lordship remembered that there were other horses to get, and he should only be giving Sponge the means of purchasing them. The more, however, he thought of the Jawleyford project, the more satisfied he was that it would do; and Jack and he were in a sort of rehearsal, wherein his lordship personated Jawleyford, and was showing Jack (who was only a clumsy diplomatist) how to draw up to the subject of Sponge's pecuniary deficiencies, when the dirty old butler came with Jawleyford's note.
'What's here?' exclaimed his lordship, fearing from its smartness, that it was from a lady. 'What's here?' repeated he, as he inspected the direction. 'Oh, it's for you!' exclaimed he, chucking it over to Jack, considerably relieved by the discovery.
'Me!' replied Jack. 'Who can be writing to me?' said he, squinting his eyes inside out at the seal. He opened it: 'Jawleyford Court,' read he. 'Who the deuce can be writing to me from Jawleyford Court when I'm going there?'
'A put-off, for a guinea!' exclaimed his lordship.
'Hope so,' muttered Jack.
'Hope not,' replied his lordship.
'It is!' exclaimed Jack, reading, 'Dear Mr. Spraggon,' and so on.
'The humbug!' muttered Lord Scamperdale, adding, 'I'll be bound he's got no more influenza than I have.'
'Well,' observed Jack, sweeping a red cotton handkerchief, with which he had been protecting his leathers, off into his pocket, 'there's an end of that.'
'Don't go so quick,' replied his lordship, ladling in the porridge.
'Quick!' retorted Jack; 'why, what can you do?'
'Do! why, go to be sure,' replied his lordship.
'How can I go,' asked Jack, 'when the sinner's written to put me off?'
'Nicely,' replied his lordship, 'nicely. I'll just send word back by the servant that you had started before the note arrived, but that you shall have it as soon as you return; and you just cast up there as if nothing had happened.' So saying, his lordship took hold of the whipcord-pull and gave the bell a peal.
'There's no beating you,' observed Jack.
Bags now made his appearance again.
'Is the servant here that brought this note?' asked his lordship, holding it up.
'Yes, me lord,' replied Bags.
'Then tell him to tell his master, with my compliments, that Mr. Spraggon had set off for Jawleyford Court before it came, but that he shall have it as soon as he returns—you understand?'
'Yes, me lord,' replied Bags, looking at Jack supping up the fat porridge, and wondering how the lie would go down with Harry, who was then discussing his master's merits and a horn of small beer with the lad who was going to drive Jack.
Jawleyford Court was twenty miles from Woodmansterne as the crow flies, and any distance anybody liked to call it by the road. The road, indeed, would seem to have been set out with a view of getting as many hills and as little level ground over which a traveller could make play as possible; and where it did not lead over the tops of the highest hills, it wound round their bases, in such little, vexatious, up-and-down, wavy dips as completely to do away with all chance of expedition. The route was not along one continuous trust, but here over a bit of turnpike and there over a bit of turnpike, with ever and anon long interregnums of township roads, repaired in the usual primitive style with mud and soft field-stones, that turned up like flitches of bacon. A man would travel from London to Exeter by rail in as short a time, and with far greater ease, than he would drive from Lord Scamperdale's to Jawleyford Court. His lordship being aware of this fact, and thinking, moreover, it was no use trashing a good horse over such roads, had desired Frostyface to put an old spavined grey mare, that he had bought for the kennel, into the dog-cart, and out of which, his lordship thought, if he could get a day's work or two, she would come all the cheaper to the boiler.