His lordship was right. The imprints soon diverged up a muddy lane on the right, and our sportsmen now got into a road so deep and bottomless as to put the idea of stones quite out of the question.
'Hang the road!' exclaimed his lordship, as his hack nearly came on his nose, 'hang the road!' repeated he, adding, 'if Puff wasn't such an ass, I really think I'd give him up the cross-road country.'
'It's bad to get at from us,' observed Jack, who didn't like such trashing distances.
'Ah! but it's a rare good country when you get to it,' replied his lordship, shortening his rein and spurring his steed.
The lane being at length cleared, the road became more practicable, passing over large pastures where a horseman could choose his own ground, instead of being bound by the narrow limits of the law. But though the road improved, the day did not; a thick fog coming drifting up from the south-east in aid of the general obscurity of the scene.
'The day's gettin' wuss,' observed Jack, snuffling and staring about.
'It'll blow over,' replied his lordship, who was not easily disheartened. 'It'll blow over,' repeated he, adding, 'often rare scents such days as these. But we must put on,' continued he, looking at his watch, 'for it's half-past, and we are a mile or more off yet.' So saying, he clapped spurs to his hack and shot away at a canter, followed by Jack at a long-drawn 'hammer and pincers' trot.
A hunt is something like an Assize circuit, where certain great guns show everywhere, and smaller men drop in here and there, snatching a day or a brief, as the case may be. Sergeant Bluff and Sergeant Huff rustle and wrangle in every court, while Mr. Meeke and Mr. Sneeke enjoy their frights on the forensic arenas of their respective towns, on behalf of simple neighbours, who look upon them as thorough Solomons. So with hunts. Certain men who seem to have been sent into the world for the express purpose of hunting, arrive at every meet, far and near, with a punctuality that is truly surprising, and rarely associated with pleasure.
If you listen to their conversation, it is generally a dissertation on the previous day's sport, with inquiries as to the nearest way to cover the next. Sometimes it is seasoned with censure of some other pack they have been seeing. These men are mounted and appointed in a manner that shows what a perfect profession hunting is with them. Of course, they come cantering to cover, lest any one should suppose they ride their horses on.
The 'Cross-roads' was like two hunts or two circuits joining, for it generally drew the picked men from each, to say nothing of outriggers and chance customers. The regular attendants of either hunt were sufficiently distinguishable as well by the flat hats and baggy garments of the one, as by the dandified, Jemmy Jessamy air of the other. If a lord had not been at the head of the Flat Hats, the Puffington men would have considered them insufferable snobs. But to our day.
As usual, where hounds have to travel a long distance, the field were assembled before they arrived. Almost all the cantering gentlemen had cast up.
One cross-road meet being so much like another, it will not be worth while describing the one at Dallington Burn. The reader will have the kindness to imagine a couple of roads crossing an open common, with an armless sign-post on one side, and a rubble-stone bridge, with several of the coping-stones lying in the shallow stream below, on the other.
The country round about, if any country could have been seen, would have shown wild, open, and cheerless. Here a patch of wood, there a patch of heath, but its general aspect bare and unfruitful. The commanding outline of Beechwood Forest was not visible for the weather. Time now, let us suppose, half-past ten, with a full muster of horsemen and a fog making unwonted dulness of the scene—the old sign-pole being the most conspicuous object of the whole.
Hark! what a clamour there is about it. It's like a betting-post at Newmarket. How loud the people talk! What's the news? Queen Anne dead, or is there another French Revolution, or a fixed duty on corn? Reader, Mr. Puffington's hounds have had a run, and the Flat Hat men are disputing it.
'Nothing of the sort! nothing of the sort!' exclaims Fossick, 'I know every yard of the country, and you can't make more nor eight of it anyhow, if eight.'
'Well, but I've measured it on the map,' replied the speaker (Charley Slapp himself), 'and it's thirteen, if it's a yard.'
'Then the country's grown bigger since my day,' rejoins Fossick, 'for I was dropped at Stubgrove, which is within a mile of where you found, and I've walked, and I've ridden, and I've driven every yard of the distance, and you can't make it more than eight, if it's as much. Can you, Capon?' exclaimed Fossick, appealing to another of the 'flat brims,' whose luminous face now shone through the fog.
'No,' replied Capon, adding, 'not so much, I should say.'
Just then up trotted Frostyface with the hounds.
'Good morning, Frosty! good morning!' exclaim half-a-dozen voices, that it would be difficult to appropriate from the denseness of the fog. Frosty and the whips make a general salute with their caps.
'Well, Frosty, I suppose you've heard what a run we had yesterday?' exclaims Charley Slapp, as soon as Frosty and the hounds are settled.
'Had they, sir—had they?' replies Frosty, with a slight touch of his cap and a sneer. 'Glad to hear it, sir—glad to hear it. Hope they killed, sir—hope they killed!' with a still slighter touch of the cap.
'Killed, aye!—killed in the open just below Crabstone Green, in your country,' adding, 'It was one of your foxes, I believe.'
'Glad of it, sir—glad of it, sir,' replies Frosty. 'They wanted blood sadly—they wanted blood sadly. Quite welcome to one of our foxes, sir—quite welcome. That's a brace and a 'alf they've killed.'
'Brace and a ha-r-r-f!' drawls Slapp, in well-feigned disgust; 'brace and a ha-r-r-f!—why, it makes them ten brace, and six run to ground.'
'Oh, don't tell me,' retorts Frosty, with a shake of disgust; 'don't tell me. I knows better—I knows better. They'd only killed a brace since they began hunting up to yesterday. The rest were all cubs, poor things!—all cubs, poor things! Mr. Puffington's hounds are not the sort of animals to kill foxes: nasty, skirtin', flashy, jealous divils; always starin' about for holloas and assistance. I'll be d——d if I'd give eighteenpence for the 'ole lot on 'em.'
A loud guffaw from the Flat Hat men greeted this wholesale condemnation. The Puffington men looked unutterable things, and there is no saying what disagreeable comparisons might have been instituted (for the Puffingtonians mustered strong) had not his lordship and Jack cast up at the moment. Hats off and politeness was then the order of the day.
'Mornin',' said his lordship, with a snatch of his hat in return, as he pulled up and stared into the cloud-enveloped crowd; 'Mornin', Fyle; mornin', Fossick,' he continued, as he distinguished those worthies, as much by their hats as anything else. 'Where are the horses?' he said to Frostyface.
'Just beyond there, my lord,' replied the huntsman, pointing with his whip to where a cockaded servant was 'to-and-froing' a couple of hunters—a brown and a chestnut.
'Let's be doing,' said his lordship, trotting up to them and throwing himself off his hack like a sack. Having divested himself of his muddy overalls, he mounted the brown, a splendid sixteen-hands horse in tip-top condition, and again made for the field in all the pride of masterly equestrianism. A momentary gleam of sunshine shot o'er the scene; a jerk of the head acted as a signal to throw off, and away they all moved from the meet.
Thorneybush Gorse was a large eight-acre cover, formed partly of gorse and partly of stunted blackthorn, with here and there a sprinkling of Scotch firs. His lordship paid two pounds a year for it, having vainly tried to get it for thirty shillings, which was about the actual value of the land, but the proprietor claimed a little compensation for the trampling of horses about it; moreover, the Puffington men would have taken it at two pounds. It was a sure find, and the hounds dashed into it with a scent.
The field ranged themselves at the accustomed corner, both hunts full of their previous day's run. Frostyface's 'Yoicks, wind him!' 'Yoicks, push him up!' was drowned in a medley of voices.
A loud, clear, shrill 'TALLY-HO, AWAY!' from the far side of the cover caused all tongues to stop, and all hands to drop on the reins. Great was the excitement! Each hunt was determined to take the shine out of the other.
'Twang, twang, twang!' 'Tweet, tweet, tweet!' went his lordship's and Frostyface's horns, as they came bounding over the gorse to the spot, with the eager pack rushing at their horses' heels. Then as the hounds crossed the line of scent, there was such an outburst of melody in cover, and such gathering of reins and thrusting on of hats outside! The hounds dashed out of cover as if somebody was kicking them. A man in scarlet was seen flying through the fog, producing the usual hold-hardings. 'Hold hard, sir!' 'God bless you, hold hard, sir!' with inquiries as to 'who the chap was that was going to catch the fox.'
'It's Lumpleg!' exclaimed one of the Flat Hat men.
'No, it's not!' roared a Puffingtonite; 'Lumpleg's here.'
'Then it's Charley Slapp; he's always doing it,' rejoined the first speaker. 'Most jealous man in the world.'
'Is he!' exclaimed Slapp, cantering past at his ease on a thoroughbred grey, as if he could well afford to dispense with a start.
Reader! it was neither Lumpleg nor Slapp, nor any of the Puffington snobs, or Flat Hat swells, or Puffington swells, or Flat Hat snobs. It was our old friend Sponge; Monsieur Tonson again! Having arrived late, he had posted himself, unseen, by the cover side, and the fox had broke close to him. Unfortunately, he had headed him back, and a pretty kettle of fish was the result. Not only had he headed him back, but the resolute chestnut, having taken it into his head to run away, had snatched the bit between his teeth; and carried him to the far side of a field ere Sponge managed to manoere him round on a very liberal semi-circle, and face the now flying sportsmen, who came hurrying on through the mist like a charge of yeomanry after a salute. All was excitement, hurry-scurry, and horse-hugging, with the usual spurring, elbowing, and exertion to get into places, Mr. Fossick considering he had as much right to be before Mr. Fyle as Mr. Fyle had to be before old Capon.
It apparently being all the same to the chestnut which way he went so long as he had his run, he now bore Sponge back as quickly as he had carried him away, and with yawning mouth, and head in the air, he dashed right at the coming horsemen, charging Lord Scamperdale full tilt as he was in the act of returning his horn to its case. Great was the collision! His lordship flew one way, his horse another, his hat a third, his whip a fourth, his spectacles a fifth; in fact, he was scattered all over. In an instant he lay the centre of a circle, kicking on his back like a lively turtle.
'Oh! I'm kilt!' he roared, striking out as if he was swimming, or rather floating. 'I'm kilt!' he repeated. 'He's broken my back—he's broken my legs—he's broken my ribs—he's broken my collar-bone—he's knocked my right eye into the heel of my left boot. Oh! will nobody catch him and kill him? Will nobody do for him? Will you see an English nobleman knocked about like a ninepin?' added his lordship, scrambling up to go in pursuit of Mr. Sponge himself, exclaiming, as he stood shaking his fist at him, 'Rot ye, sir! hangin's too good for ye! you should be condemned to hunt in Berwickshire the rest of your life!'
BOLTING THE BADGER
When a man and his horse differ seriously in public, and the man feels the horse has the best of it, it is wise for the man to appear to accommodate his views to those of the horse, rather than risk a defeat. It is best to let the horse go his way, and pretend it is yours. There is no secret so close as that between a rider and his horse.
Mr. Sponge, having scattered Lord Scamperdale in the summary way described in our last chapter, let the chestnut gallop away, consoling himself with the idea that even if the hounds did hunt, it would be impossible for him to show his horse to advantage on so dark and unfavourable a day. He, therefore, just let the beast gallop till he began to flag, and then he spurred him and made him gallop on his account. He thus took his change out of him, and arrived at Jawleyford Court a little after luncheon time.
Brief as had been his absence, things had undergone a great change. Certain dark hints respecting his ways and means had worked their way from the servants' hall to my lady's chamber, and into the upper regions generally. These had been augmented by Leather's, the trusty groom's, overnight visit, in fulfilment of his engagement to sup with the servants. Nor was Mr. Leather's anger abated by the unceremonious way Mr. Sponge rode off with the horse, leaving him to hear of his departure from the ostler. Having broken faith with him, he considered it his duty to be 'upsides' with him, and tell the servants all he knew about him. Accordingly he let out, in strict confidence of course, to Spigot, that so far from Mr. Sponge being a gentleman of 'fortin,' as he called it, with a dozen or two hunters planted here and there, he was nothing but the hirer of a couple of hacks, with himself as a job-groom, by the week. Spigot, who was on the best of terms with the 'cook-housekeeper,' and had his clothes washed on the sly in the laundry, could not do less than communicate the intelligence to her, from whom it went to the lady's-maid, and thence circulated in the upper regions.
Juliana, the maid, finding Miss Amelia less indisposed to hear Mr. Sponge run down than she expected, proceeded to add her own observations to the information derived from Leather, the groom. 'Indeed, she couldn't say that she thought much of Mr. Sponge herself; his shirts were coarse, so were his pocket-handkerchiefs; and she never yet saw a real gent without a valet.'
Amelia, without any positive intention of giving up Mr. Sponge, at least not until she saw further, had nevertheless got an idea that she was destined for a much higher sphere. Having duly considered all the circumstances of Mr. Spraggon's visit to Jawleyford Court, conned over several mysterious coughs and half-finished sentences he had indulged in, she had about come to the conclusion that the real object of his mission was to negotiate a matrimonial alliance on behalf of Lord Scamperdale. His lordship's constantly expressed intention of getting married was well calculated to mislead one whose experience of the world was not sufficiently great to know that those men who are always talking about it are the least likely to get married, just as men who are always talking about buying horses are the men who never do buy them. Be that, however, as it may, Amelia was tolerably easy about Mr. Sponge. If he had money she could take him; if he hadn't, she could let him alone.
Jawleyford, too, who was more hospitable at a distance, and in imagination than in reality, had had about enough of our friend. Indeed, a man whose talk was of hunting, and his reading Mogg was not likely to have much in common with a gentleman of taste and elegance, as our friend set up to be. The delicate inquiry that Mrs. Jawleyford now made, as to 'whether he knew Mr. Sponge to be a man of fortune,' set him off at a tangent.
'ME know he's a man of fortune! I know nothing of his fortune. You asked him here, not ME,' exclaimed Jawleyford, stamping furiously.
'No, my dear,' replied Mrs. Jawleyford mildly; 'he asked himself, you know; but I thought, perhaps, you might have said something that—'
'ME say anything!' interrupted Jawleyford. 'I never said anything—at least, nothing that any man with a particle of sense would think anything of,' continued he, remembering the scene in the billiard-room. 'It's one thing to tell a man, if he comes your way, you'll be glad to see him, and another to ask him to come bag and baggage, as this impudent Mr. Sponge has done,' added he.
'Certainly,' replied Mrs. Jawleyford, who saw where the shoe was pinching her bear.
'I wish he was off,' observed Jawleyford, after a pause. 'He bothers me excessively—I'll try and get rid of him by saying we are going from home.'
'Where can you say we are going to?' asked Mrs. Jawleyford.
'Oh, anywhere,' replied Jawleyford; 'he doesn't know the people about here: the Tewkesbury's, the Woolerton's, the Brown's—anybody.'
Before they had got any definite plan of proceeding arranged, Mr. Sponge returned from the chase. 'Ah, my dear sir!' exclaimed Jawleyford, half-gaily, half-moodily, extending a couple of fingers as Sponge entered his study: 'we thought you had taken French leave of us, and were off.'
Mr. Sponge asked if his groom had not delivered his note.
'No,' replied Jawleyford boldly, though he had it in his pocket; 'at least, not that I've seen. Mrs. Jawleyford, perhaps, may have got it,' added he.
'Indeed!' exclaimed Sponge; 'it was very idle of him.' He then proceeded to detail to Jawleyford what the reader already knows, how he had lost his day at Larkhall Hill, and had tried to make up for it by going to the cross-roads. 'Ah!' exclaimed Jawleyford, when he was done; 'that's a pity—great pity—monstrous pity—never knew anything so unlucky in my life.'
'Misfortunes will happen,' replied Sponge, in a tone of unconcern.
'Ah, it wasn't so much the loss of the hunt I was thinking of,' replied Jawleyford, 'as the arrangements we have made in consequence of thinking you were gone.'
'What are they?' asked Sponge.
'Why, my Lord Barker, a great friend of ours—known him from a boy—just like brothers, in short—sent over this morning to ask us all there—shooting party, charades, that sort of thing—and we accepted.'
'But that need make no difference,' replied Sponge; 'I'll go too.'
Jawleyford was taken aback. He had not calculated upon so much coolness.
'Well,' stammered he, 'that might do, to be sure; but—if—I'm not quite sure that I could take any one—'
'But if you're as thick as you say, you can have no difficulty,' replied our friend.
'True,' replied Jawleyford; 'but then we go a large party ourselves—two and two's four,' said he, 'to say nothing of servants; besides, his lordship mayn't have room—house will most likely be full.'
'Oh, a single man can always be put up; shake-down—anything does for him,' replied Sponge. 'But you would lose your hunting,' replied Jawleyford. 'Barkington Tower is quite out of Lord Scamperdale's country.'
'That doesn't matter,' replied Sponge, adding, 'I don't think I'll trouble his lordship much more. These Flat Hat gentlemen are not over and above civil, in my opinion.'
'Well,' replied Jawleyford, nettled at this thwarting of his attempt, 'that's for your consideration. However, as you've come, I'll talk to Mrs. Jawleyford, and see if we can get off the Barkington expedition.'
'But don't get off on my account,' replied Sponge. 'I can stay here quite well. I dare say you'll not be away long.'
This was worse still; it held out no hope of getting rid of him. Jawleyford therefore resolved to try and smoke and starve him out. When our friend went to dress, he found his old apartment, the state-room, put away, the heavy brocade curtains brown-hollanded, the jugs turned upside down, the bed stripped of its clothes and the looking-glass laid a-top of it.
The smirking housemaid, who was just rolling the fire-irons up in the hearth-rug, greeted him with a 'Please, sir, we've shifted you into the brown room, east,' leading the way to the condemned cell that 'Jack' had occupied, where a newly lit fire was puffing out dense clouds of brown smoke, obscuring even the gilt letters on the back of Mogg's Cab Fares, as the little volume lay on the toilet-table.
'What's happened now?' asked our friend of the maid, putting his arm round her waist, and giving her a hearty squeeze. 'What's happened now, that you've put me into this dog-hole?' asked he.
'Oh! I don't know,' replied she, laughing; 'I s'pose they're afraid you'll bring the old rotten curtains down in the other room with smokin'. Master's a sad old wife,' added she.
A great change had come over everything. The fare, the lights, the footmen, the everything, underwent grievous diminution. The lamps were extinguished, and the transparent wax gave way to Palmer's composites, under the mild influence of whose unsearching light the young ladies sported their dashed dresses with impunity. Competition between them, indeed, was about an end. Amelia claimed Mr. Sponge, should he be worth having, and should the Scamperdale scheme fail; while Emily, having her mamma's assurance that he would not do for either of them, resigned herself complacently to what she could not help.
Mr. Sponge, on his part, saw that all things portended a close. He cared nothing about the old willow-pattern set usurping the place of the Jawleyford-armed china; but the contents of the dishes were bad, and the wine, if possible, worse. Most palpable Marsala did duty for sherry, and the corked port was again in requisition. Jawleyford was no longer the brisk, cheery-hearted Jawleyford of Laverick Wells, but a crusty, fidgety, fire-stirring sort of fellow, desperately given to his Morning Post.
Worst of all, when Mr. Sponge retired to his den to smoke a cigar and study his dear cab fares, he was so suffocated with smoke that he was obliged to put out the fire, notwithstanding the weather was cold, indeed inclining to frost. He lit his cigar notwithstanding; and, as he indulged in it, he ran all the circumstances of his situation through his mind. His pressing invitation—his magnificent reception—the attention of the ladies—and now the sudden change everything had taken. He couldn't make it out, somehow; but the consequences were plain enough. 'The fellow's a humbug,' at length said he, throwing the cigar-end away, and turning into bed, when the information Watson the keeper gave him on arriving recurred to his mind, and he was satisfied that Jawleyford was a humbug. It was clear Mr. Sponge had made a mistake in coming; the best thing he could do now was to back out, and see if the fair Amelia would take it to heart. In the midst of his cogitations Mr. Puffington's pressing invitation occurred to his mind, and it appeared to be the very thing for him, affording him an immediate asylum within reach of the fair lady, should she be likely to die.
Next day he wrote to volunteer a visit.
Mr. Puffington, who was still in ignorance of our friend's real character, and still believed him to be a second 'Nimrod' out on a 'tour,' was overjoyed at his letter; and, strange to relate, the same post that brought his answer jumping at the proposal, brought a letter from Lord Scamperdale to Jawleyford, saying that, 'as soon as Jawleyford was quite alone (scored under) he would like to pay him a visit.' His lordship, we should inform the reader, notwithstanding his recent mishap, still held out against Jack Spraggon's recommendation to get rid of Mr. Sponge by buying his horses, and he determined to try this experiment first. His lordship thought at one time of entering into an explanation, telling Mr. Jawleyford the damage Sponge had done him, and the nuisance he was entailing upon him by harbouring him; but not being a great scholar, and several hard words turning up that his lordship could not well clear in the spelling, he just confined himself to a laconic, which, as it turned out, was a most fortunate course. Indeed, he had another difficulty besides the spelling, for the hounds having as usual had a great run after Mr. Sponge had floored him—knocked his right eye into the heel of his left boot, as he said—in the course of which run his lordship's horse had rolled over him on a road, he was like the railway people—unable to distinguish between capital and income—unable to say which were Sponge's bangs and which his own; so, like a hard cricket-ball sort of a man as he was, he just pocketed all, and wrote as we have described.
His lordship's and Mr. Puffington's letters diffused joy into a house that seemed likely to be distracted with trouble.
So then endeth our thirtieth chapter, and a very pleasant ending it is, for we leave everyone in perfect good humour and spirits, Sponge pleased at having got a fresh billet, Jawleyford delighted at the coming of the lord, and each fair lady practising in private how to sign her Christian name in conjunction with 'Scamperdale.'
MR. PUFFINGTON; OR THE YOUNG MAN ABOUT TOWN
Mr. Puffington took the Mangeysterne, now the Hanby hounds, because he thought they would give him consequence. Not that he was particularly deficient in that article; but being a new man in the county, he thought that taking them would make him popular, and give him standing. He had no natural inclination for hunting, but seeing friends who had no taste for the turf take upon themselves the responsibility of stewardships, he saw no reason why he should not make a similar sacrifice at the shrine of Diana. Indeed, Puff was not bred for a sportsman. His father, a most estimable man, and one with whom we have spent many a convivial evening, was a great starch-maker at Stepney; and his mother was the daughter of an eminent Worcestershire stone-china maker. Save such ludicrous hunts as they might have seen on their brown jugs, we do not believe either of them had any acquaintance whatever with the chase. Old Puffington was, however, what a wise heir esteems a great deal more—an excellent man of business, and amassed mountains of money. To see his establishment at Stepney, one would think the whole world was going to be starched. Enormous dock-tailed dray-horses emerged with ponderous waggons heaped up to the very skies, while others would come rumbling in, laden with wheat, potatoes, and other starch-making ingredients. Puffington's blue roans were well known about town, and were considered the handsomest horses of the day; quite equal to Barclay and Perkin's piebalds.
Old Puffington was not like a sportsman. He was a little, soft, rosy, roundabout man, with stiff resolute legs that did not look as if they could be bent to a saddle. He was great, however, in a gig, and slouched like a sack.
Mrs. Puffington, nee Smith, was a tall handsome woman, who thought a good deal of herself. When she and her spouse married, they lived close to the manufactory, in a sweet little villa replete with every elegance and convenience—a pond, which they called a lake—laburnums without end; a yew, clipped into a dock-tailed waggon-horse; standing for three horses and gigs, with an acre and half of land for a cow.
Old Puffington, however, being unable to keep those dearest documents of the British merchant, his balance-sheets, to himself, and Mrs. Puffington finding a considerable sum going to the 'good' every year, insisted, on the birth of their only child, our friend, upon migrating to the 'west,' as she called it, and at one bold stroke they established themselves in Heathcote Street, Mecklenburgh Square. Novelists had not then written this part down as 'Mesopotamia,' and it was quite as genteel as Harley or Wimpole Street are now. Their chief object then was to increase their wealth and make their only son 'a gentleman.' They sent him to Eton, and in due time to Christ Church, where, of course, he established a red coat to persecute Sir Thomas Mostyn's and the Duke of Beaufort's hounds, much to the annoyance of their respective huntsmen, Stephen Goodall and Philip Payne, and the aggravation of poor old Griff. Lloyd.
What between the field and college, young Puffington made the acquaintance of several very dashing young sparks—Lord Firebrand, Lord Mudlark, Lord Deuceace, Sir Harry Blueun, and others, whom he always spoke of as 'Deuceace,' 'Blueun,' etc., in the easy style that marks the perfect gentleman. How proud the old people were of him! How they would sit listening to him, flashing, and telling how Deuceace and he floored a Charley, or Blueun and he pitched a snob out of the boxes into the pit. This was in the old Tom-and-Jerry days, when fisticuffs were the fashion. One evening, after he had indulged us with a more than usual dose, and was leaving the room to dress for an eight o'clock dinner at Long's, 'Buzzer!' exclaimed the old man, clutching our arm, as the tears started to his eyes, 'Buzzer! that's an amaazin' instance of a pop'lar man!' And certainly, if a large acquaintance is a criterion of popularity, young Puffington, as he was then called, had his fair share. He once did us the honour—an honour we shall never forget—of walking down Bond Street with us, in the spring-tide of fashion, of a glorious summer's day, when you could not cross Conduit Street under a lapse of a quarter of an hour, and carriages seemed to have come to an interminable lock at the Piccadilly end of the street. In those days great people went about like great people, in handsome hammer-clothed, arms-emblazoned coaches, with plethoric three-corner-hatted coachmen, and gigantic, lace-bedizened, quivering-calved Johnnies, instead of rumbling along like apothecaries in pill-boxes, with a handle inside to let themselves out. Young men, too, dressed as if they were dressed—as if they were got up with some care and attention—instead of wearing the loose, careless, flowing, sack-like garments they do now.
We remember the day as if it were but yesterday; Puffington overtook us in Oxford Street, where we were taking our usual sauntering stare into the shop windows, and instead of shirking or slipping behind our back, he actually ran his arm up to the hilt in ours, and turned us into the middle of the flags, with an 'Ah, Buzzer, old boy, what are you doing in this debauched part of the town? Come along with me, and I'll show you Life!'
So saying he linked arms, and pursuing our course at a proper kill-time sort of pace, we were at length brought up at the end of Vere Street, along which there was a regular rush of carriages, cutting away as if they were going to a fire instead of to a finery shop.
Many were the smiles, and bows, and nods, and finger kisses, and bright eyes, and sweet glances, that the fair flyers shot at our friend as they darted past. We were lost in astonishment at the sight. 'Verily,' said we, 'but the old man was right. This is an amaazin' instance of a pop'lar man.'
Young Puffington was then in the heyday of youth, about one-and-twenty or so, fair-haired, fresh-complexioned, slim, and standing, with the aid of high-heeled boots, little under six feet high. He had taken after his mother, not after old Tom Trodgers, as they called his papa. At length we crossed over Oxford Street, and taking the shady side of Bond Street, were quickly among the real swells of the world—men who crawled along as if life was a perfect burden to them—men with eye-glasses fixed and tasselled canes in their hands, scarcely less ponderous than those borne by the footmen. Great Heavens! but they were tight, and smart, and shiny; and Puffington was just as tight, and smart, and shiny as any of them. He was as much in his element here as he appeared to be out of it in Oxford Street. It might be prejudice, or want of penetration on our part, but we thought he looked as high-bred as any of them. They all seemed to know each other, and the nodding, and winking, and jerking, began as soon as we got across. Puff kindly acted as cicerone, or we should not have been aware of the consequence we were encountering.
'Well, Jemmy!' exclaimed a debauched-looking youth to our friend, 'how are you?—breakfasted yet?'
'Going to,' replied Puffington, whom they called Jemmy because his name was Tommy.
'That,' said he, in an undertone, 'is a capital fellow—Lord Legbail, eldest son of the Marquis of Loosefish—will be Lord Loosefish. We were at the Finish together till six this morning—such fun!—bonneted a Charley, stole his rattle, and broke an early breakfast-man's stall all to shivers.' Just then up came a broad-brimmed hat, above a confused mass of greatcoats and coloured shawls.
'Holloa, Jack!' exclaimed Mr. Puffington, laying hold of a mother-of-pearl button nearly as large as a tart-plate, 'not off yet?'
'Just going,' replied Jack, with a touch of his hat, as he rolled on, adding, 'want aught down the road?'
'What coachman is that?' asked we.
'Coachman!' replied Puff, with a snort. 'That's Jack Linchpin—Honourable Jack Linchpin—son of Lord Splinterbars—best gentleman coachman in England.'
So Puffington sauntered along, good morninging 'Sir Harrys' and 'Sir Jameses,' and 'Lord Johns' and 'Lord Toms,' till, seeing a batch of irreproachable dandies flattening their noses against the windows of the Sailors' Old Club, in whose eyes, he perhaps thought, our city coat and country gaiters would not find much favour, he gave us a hasty parting squeeze of the arm and bolted into Long's just as a mountainous hackney-coach was rumbling between us and them.
But to the old man. Time rolled on, and at length old Puffington paid the debt of nature—the only debt, by the way, that he was slow in discharging—and our friend found himself in possession, not only of the starch manufactory, but of a very great accumulation of consols—so great that, though starch is as inoffensive a thing as a man can well deal in, a thing that never obtrudes itself, or, indeed appears in a shop unless it is asked for—notwithstanding all this, and though it was bringing him in lots of money, our friend determined to 'cut the shop' and be done with trade altogether.
Accordingly, he sold the premises and good-will, with all the stock of potatoes and wheat, to the foreman, old Soapsuds, at something below what they were really worth, rather than make any row in the way of advertising; and the name of 'Soapsuds, Brothers & Co.' reigns on the blue-and-whitey-brown parcel-ends, where formerly that of Puffington stood supreme.
It is a melancholy fact, which those best acquainted with London society can vouch for, that her 'swells' are a very ephemeral race. Take the last five-and-twenty years—say from the days of the Golden Ball and Pea-green Hayne down to those of Molly C——l and Mr. D-l-f-ld—and see what a succession of joyous—no, not joyous, but rattling, careless, dashing, sixty-percenting youths we have had.
And where are they all now? Some dead, some at Boulogne-sur-Mer, some in Denman Lodge, some perhaps undergoing the polite attentions of Mr. Commissioner Phillips, or figuring in Mr. Hemp's periodical publication of gentlemen 'who are wanted.'
In speaking of 'swells,' of course we are not alluding to men with reference to their clothes alone, but to men whose dashing, and perhaps eccentric, exteriors are but indicative of their general system of extravagance. The man who rests his claims to distinction solely on his clothes will very soon find himself in want of society. Many things contribute to thin the ranks of our swells. Many, as we said before, outrun the constable. Some get fat, some get married, some get tired, and a few get wiser. There is, however, always a fine pushing crop coming on. A man like Puffington, who starts a dandy (in contradistinction to a swell), and adheres steadily to clothes—talking eternally of the cuts of coats or the ties of cravats—up to the sober age of forty, must be always falling back on the rising generation for society.
Puffington was not what the old ladies call a profligate young man. On the contrary, he was naturally a nice, steady young man; and only indulged in the vagaries we have described because they were indulged in by the high-born and gay.
Tom and Jerry had a great deal to answer for in the way of leading soft-headed young men astray; and old Puffington having had the misfortune to christen our friend 'Thomas,' of course his companions dubbed him 'Corinthian Tom'; by which name he has been known ever since.
A man of such undoubted wealth could not be otherwise than a great favourite with the fair, and innumerable were the invitations that poured into his chambers in the Albany—dinner parties, evening parties, balls, concerts, boxes for the opera; and as each succeeding season drew to a close, invitations to those last efforts of the desperate, boating and whitebait parties.
Corinthian Tom went to them all—at least, to as many as he could manage—always dressing in the most exemplary way, as though he had been asked to show his fine clothes instead of to make love to the ladies. Manifold were the hopes and expectations that he raised. Puff could not understand that, though it is all very well to be 'an amaazin' instance of a pop'lar man' with the men, that the same sort of thing does not do with the ladies.
We have heard that there were six mammas, bowling about in their barouches, at the close of his second season, innuendoing, nodding, and hinting to their friends, 'that, &c.,' when there wasn't one of their daughters who had penetrated the rhinoceros-like hide of his own conceit. The consequence was that all these ladies, all their daughters, all the relations and connexions of this life, thought it incumbent upon them to 'blow' our friend Puff—proclaim how infamously he had behaved—all because he had danced three supper dances with one girl, brought another a fine bouquet from Covent Garden, walked a third away from her party at a picnic at Erith, begged the mamma of a fourth to take her to a Woolwich ball, sent a fifth a ticket for a Toxophilite meeting, and dangled about the carriage of the sixth at a review at the Scrubbs. Poor Puff never thought of being more than an amaazin' instance of a pop'lar man!
Not that the ladies' denunciations did the Corinthian any harm at first—old ladies know each other better than that; and each new mamma had no doubt but Mrs. Depecarde or Mrs. Mainchance, as the case might be, had been deceiving herself—'was always doing so, indeed; her ugly girls were not likely to attract any one—certainly not such an elegant man as Corinthian Tom.'
But as season after season passed away, and the Corinthian still played the old game—still went the old rounds—the dinner and ball invitations gradually dwindled away, till he became a mere stop-gap at the one, and a landing-place appendage at the other.
THE MAN OF P-R-O-R-PERTY
And now behold Mr. Puffington, fat, fair, and rather more than forty—Puffington, no longer the light limber lad who patronized us in Bond Street, but Puffington a plump, portly sort of personage, filling his smart clothes uncommonly full. Men no longer hailing him heartily from bay windows, or greeting him cheerily in short but familiar terms, but bowing ceremoniously as they passed with their wives, or perhaps turning down streets or into shops to avoid him. What is the last rose of summer to do under such circumstances? What, indeed, but retire into the country? A man may shine there long after he is voted a bore in town, provided none of his old friends are there to proclaim him. Country people are tolerant of twaddle, and slow of finding things out for themselves. Puff now turned his attention to the country, or rather to the advertisements of estates for sale, and immortal George Robins soon fitted him with one of his earthly paradises; a mansion replete with every modern elegance, luxury, and convenience, situated in the heart of the most lovely scenery in the world, with eight hundred acres of land of the finest quality, capable of growing forty bushels of wheat after turnips. In addition to the estate there was a lordship or reputed lordship to shoot over, a river to fish in, a pack of fox-hounds to hunt with, and the advertisements gave a sly hint as to the possibility of the property influencing the representation of the neighbouring borough of Swillingford, if not of returning the member itself.
This was Hanby House, and though the description undoubtedly partook of George's usual high-flown couleur-de-rose style, the manor being only a manor provided the owner sacrificed his interest in Swillingford by driving off its poachers, and the river being only a river when the tiny Swill was swollen into one, still Hanby House was a very nice attractive sort of place, and seen in the rich foliage of its summer dress, with all its roses and flowering shrubs in full blow, the description was not so wide of the mark as Robins's descriptions usually were. Puff bought it, and became what he called 'a man of p-r-o-r-perty.' To be sure, after he got possession he found that it was only an acre here and there that would grow forty bushels of wheat after turnips, and that there was a good deal more to do at the house than he expected, the furniture of the late occupants having hidden many defects, added to which they had walked off with almost everything they could wrench down, under the name of fixtures; indeed, there was not a peg to hang up his hat when he entered. This, however, was nothing, and Puff very soon made it into one of the most perfect bachelor residences that ever was seen. Not but that it was a family house, with good nurseries and offices of every description; but Puff used to take a sort of wicked pleasure in telling the ladies who came trooping over with their daughters, pretending they thought he was from home, and wishing to see the elegant furniture, that there was nothing in the nurseries, which he was going to convert into billiard and smoking-rooms. This, and a few similar sallies, earned our friend the reputation of a wit in the country.
There was great rush of gentlemen to call upon him; many of the mammas seemed to think that first come would be first served, and sent their husbands over before he was fairly squatted. Various and contradictory were the accounts they brought home. Men are so stupid at seeing and remembering things. Old Mr. Muddle came back bemused with sherry, declaring that he thought Mr. Puffington was as old as he was (sixty-two), while Mrs. Mousetrap thought he wasn't more than thirty at the outside. She described him as 'painfully handsome.' Mr. Slowan couldn't tell whether the drawing-room furniture was chintz, or damask, or what it was; indeed, he wasn't sure that he was in the drawing-room at all; while Mr. Gapes insisted that the carpet was a Turkey carpet, whereas it was a royal cut pile. It might be that the smartness and freshness of everything confused the bucolic minds, little accustomed to wholesale grandeur.
Mr. Puffington quite eclipsed all the old country families with their 'company rooms' and put-away furniture. Then, when he began to grind about the country in his lofty mail-phaeton, with a pair of spanking, high-stepping bays, and a couple of arm-folded, lolling grooms, shedding his cards in return for their calls, there was such a talk, such a commotion, as had never been known before. Then, indeed, he was appreciated at his true worth.
'Mr. Puffington was here the other day,' said Mrs. Smirk to Mrs. Smooth, in the well-known 'great-deal-more-meant-than-said' style. 'Oh such a charming man! Such ease! such manners! such knowledge of high life!' Puff had been at his old tricks. He had resuscitated Lord Legbail, now Earl of Loosefish; imported Sir Harry Blueun from somewhere near Geneva, whither he had retired on marrying his mistress; and resuscitated Lord Mudlark, who had broken his neck many years before from his tandem in Piccadilly. Whatever was said, Puff always had a duplicate or illustration involving a nobleman. The great names might be rather far-fetched at times, to be sure, but when people are inclined to be pleased they don't keep putting that and that together to see how they fit, and whether they come naturally or are lugged in neck and heels. Puff's talk was very telling.
One great man to a house is the usual country allowance, and many are not very long in letting out who theirs are; but Puffington seemed to have the whole peerage, baronetage, and knightage at command. Old Mrs. Slyboots, indeed, thought that he must be connected with the peerage some way; his mother, perhaps, had been the daughter of a peer, and she gave herself an infinity of trouble in hunting through the 'matches'—with what success it is not necessary to say. The old ladies unanimously agreed that he was a most agreeable, interesting young man; and though the young ones did pretend to run him down among themselves, calling him ugly, and so on, it was only in the vain hope of dissuading each other from thinking of him.
Mr. Puffington still stuck to the 'amaazin' pop'lar man' character; a character that is not so convenient to support in the country as it is in town. The borough of Swillingford, as we have already intimated, was not the best conducted borough in the world; indeed, when we say that the principal trade of the place was poaching, our country readers will be able to form a very accurate opinion on that head. When Puff took possession of Hanby there was a fair show of pheasants about the house, and a good sprinkling of hares and partridges over the estate and manor generally; but refusing to prosecute the first poachers that were caught, the rest took the hint, and cleared everything off in a week, dividing the plunder among them. They also burnt his river and bagged his fine Dorking fowls, and all these feats being accomplished with impunity, they turned their attention to his fat sheep.
'Poacher' is only a mild term for 'thief.'
Puff was a perfect milch-cow in the way of generosity. He gave to everything and everybody, and did not seem to be acquainted with any smaller sum than a five-pound note; a five-pound note to replace Giles Jolter's cart-horse (that used to carry his own game for the poachers to the poulterers at Plunderstone)—five pounds to buy Dame Doubletongue another pig, though she had only just given three pounds for the one that died—five pounds towards the fire at farmer Scratchley's, though it had taken place two years before Puff came into the country, and Scratchley had been living upon it ever since—and sundry other five pounds to other equally deserving and amiable people. He put his name down for fifty to the Mangeysterne hounds without ever being asked; which reminds us that we ought to be directing our attention to that noble establishment.
It is hard to have to go behind the scenes of an ill-supported hunt, and we will be as brief and tender with the cripples as we can. The Mangeysterne hounds wanted that great ingredient of prosperity, a large nest-egg subscriber, to whom all others could be tributary—paying or not as might be convenient. The consequence was they were always up the spout. They were neither a scratch pack nor a regular pack, but something betwixt and between. They were hunted by a saddler, who found his own horses, and sometimes he had a whip and sometimes he hadn't. The establishment died as often as old Mantalini himself. Every season that came to a close was proclaimed to be their last, but somehow or other they always managed to scramble into existence on the approach of another. It is a way, indeed, that delicate packs have of recruiting their finances. Nevertheless, the Mangeysternes did look very like coming to an end about the time that Mr. Puffington bought Hanby House. The saddler huntsman had failed; John Doe had taken one of his screws, and Richard Roe the other, and anybody might have the hounds that liked: Puffington then turned up.
Great was the joy diffused throughout the Mangeysterne country when it transpired, through the medium of his valet, Louis Bergamotte, that 'his lor' had beaucoup habit rouge' in his wardrobe. Not only habit rouge, but habit blue and buff, that he used to sport with 'Old Beaufort' and the Badminton Hunt—coats that he certainly had no chance of ever getting into again, but still which he kept as memorials of the past—souvenirs of the days when he was young and slim. The bottle-conjurer could just as soon have got into his quart bottle as Puff could into the Beaufort coat at the time of which we are writing. The intelligence of their existence was quickly followed by the aforesaid fifty-pound cheque. A meeting of the Mangeysterne hunt was called at the sign of the Thirsty Freeman in Swillingford—Sir Charles Figgs, Knight—a large-promising but badly paying subscriber—in the chair, when it was proposed and carried unanimously that Mr. Puffington was eminently qualified for the mastership of the hunt, and that it be offered to him accordingly. Puff 'bit.' He recalled his early exploits with 'Mostyn and old Beaufort,' and resolved that the hunt had taken a right view of his abilities. In coming to this decision he, perhaps, was not altogether uninfluenced by a plausible subscription list, which seemed about equal to the ordinary expenses, supposing that any reliance could be placed on the figures and calculations of Sir Charles. All those, however, who have had anything to do with subscription lists—and in these days of universal testimonializing who has not?—well know that pounds upon paper and pounds in the pocket are very different things. Above all Puff felt that he was a new man in the country, and that taking the hounds would give him weight.
The 'Mangeysterne dogs' then began to 'look up'; Mr. Puffington took to them in earnest; bought a 'Beckford,' and shortened his military stirrups to a hunting seat.
A SWELL HUNTSMAN
One evening the rattle of Puff's pole-chains brought, in addition to the usual rush of shirt-sleeved helpers, an extremely smart, dapper little man, who might be either a jockey or a gentleman, or both, or neither. He was a clean-shaved, close-trimmed, spruce little fellow; remarkably natty about the legs—indeed, all over. His close-napped hat was carefully brushed, and what little hair appeared below its slightly curved brim was of the pepper-and-salt mixture of—say, fifty years. His face, though somewhat wrinkled and weather-beaten, was bright and healthy; and there was a twinkle about his little grey eyes that spoke of quickness and watchful observation. Altogether, he was a very quick-looking little man—a sort of man that would know what you were going to say before you had well broke ground. He wore no gills; and his neatly tied starcher had a white ground with small black spots, about the size of currants. The slight interregnum between it and his step-collared striped vest (blue stripe on a canary-coloured ground) showed three golden foxes' heads, acting as studs to his well-washed, neatly plaited shirt; while a sort of careless turn back of the right cuff showed similar ornaments at his wrists. His single-breasted, cutaway coat was Oxford mixture, with a thin cord binding, and very natty light kerseymere mother-o'-pearl buttoned breeches, met a pair of bright, beautifully fitting, rose-tinted tops, that wrinkled most elegantly down to the Jersey-patterned spur. He was a remarkably well got up little man, and looked the horseman all over.
As he emerged from the stable, where he had been mastering the ins and outs of the establishment, learning what was allowed and what was not, what had not been found fault with and, therefore, might be presumed upon, and so on, he carried the smart dogskin leather glove of one hand in the other, while the fox's head of a massive silver-mounted jockey-whip peered from under his arm. On a ring round the fox's neck was the following inscription: 'FROM JACK BRAGG TO HIS COUSIN DICK.'
Mr. Puffington having drawn up his mail-phaeton, and thrown the ribbons to the active grooms at the horses' heads in the true coaching style, proceeded to descend from his throne, and had reached the ground ere he was aware of the presence of a stranger. Seeing him then, he made the sort of half-obeisance of a man that does not know whether he is addressing a gentleman or a servant, or, maybe, a scamp, going about with a prospectus. Puff had been bit in the matter of some maps in London, and was wary, as all people ought to be, of these birds.
The stranger came sidling up with a half-bow, half-touch of the hat, drawling out:
''Sceuuse me, sir—'sceuuse me, sir,' with another half-bow and another half-touch of the hat. 'I'm Mister Bragg, sir—Mister Richard Bragg, sir; of whom you have most likely heard.'
'Bragg—Richard Bragg,' repeated our friend, thoughtfully, while he scanned the man's features, and ran his sporting acquaintance through his mind's eye.
'Bragg, Bragg,' repeated he, without hitting him off.
'I was huntsman, sir, to my Lord Reynard, sir,' observed the stranger, with a touch of the hat to each 'sir.' 'Thought p'r'aps you might have known his ludship, sir. Before him, sir, I held office, sir, under the Duke of Downeybird, sir, of Downeybird Castle, sir, in Downeybirdshire, sir.'
'Indeed!' replied Mr. Puffington, with a half-bow and a smile of politeness.
'Hearing, sir, you had taken these Mangeysterne dogs, sir,' continued the stranger, with rather a significant emphasis on the word 'dogs'—'hearing, sir, you had taken these Mangeysterne dogs, sir, it occurred to me that possibly I might be useful to you, sir, in your new calling, sir; and if you were of the same opinion, sir, why, sir, I should be glad to negotiate a connexion, sir.'
'Hem!—hem!—hem!' coughed Mr. Puffington. 'In the way of a huntsman do you mean?' afraid to talk of servitude to so fine a gentleman.
'Just so,' said Mr. Bragg, with a chuck of his head, 'just so. The fact is, though I'm used to the grass countries, sir, and could go to the Marquis of Maneylies, sir, to-morrow, sir, I should prefer a quiet place in a somewhat inferior country, sir, to a five-days-a-week one in the best. Five and six days a week, sir, is a terrible tax, sir, on the constitution, sir; and though, sir, I'm thankful to say, sir, I've pretty good 'ealth, sir, yet, sir, you know, sir, it don't do, sir, to take too great liberties with oneself, sir'; Mr. Bragg sawing away at his hat as he spoke, measuring off a touch, as it were, to each 'sir,' the action becoming quick towards the end.
'Why, to tell you the truth,' said Puff, looking rather sheepish, 'to tell you the truth—I intended—I thought at least of—of—of—hunting them myself.'
'Ah! that's another pair of shoes altogether, as we say in France,' replied Bragg, with a low bow and a copious round of the hand to the hat. 'That's another pair of shoes altogether,' repeated he, tapping his boot with his whip.
'Why, I thought of it,' rejoined Puff, not feeling quite sure whether he could or not.
'Well,' said Mr. Bragg, drawing on his dogskin glove as if to be off.
'My friend Swellcove does it,' observed Puff.
'True,' replied Bragg, 'true; but my Lord Swellcove is one of a thousand. See how many have failed for one that has succeeded. Why, even my Lord Scamperdale was 'bliged to give it up, and no man rides harder than my Lord Scamperdale—always goes as if he had a spare neck in his pocket. But he couldn't 'unt a pack of 'ounds. Your gen'l'men 'untsmen are all very well on fine scentin' days when everything goes smoothly and well, and the 'ounds are tied to their fox, as it were; but see them in difficulties—a failing scent, 'ounds pressed upon by the field, fox chased by a dog, storm in the air, big brook to get over to make a cast. Oh, sir, sir, it makes even me, with all my acknowledged science and experience, shudder to think of the ordeal one undergoes!'
'Indeed,' exclaimed Mr. Puffington, staring, and beginning to think it mightn't be quite so easy as it looked.
'I don't wish, sir, to dissuade you, sir, from the attempt, sir,' continued Mr. Bragg; 'far from it, sir—for he, sir, who never makes an effort, sir, never risks a failure, sir, and in great attempts, sir, 'tis glorious to fail, sir'; Mr. Bragg sawing away at his hat as he spoke, and then sticking the fox-head handle of his whip under his chin.
Puff stood mute for some seconds.
'My Lord Scamperdale,' continued Mr. Bragg, scrutinizing our friend attentively, 'was as likely a man, sir, as ever I see'd, sir, to make an 'untsman, for he had a deal of ret (rat) ketchin' cunnin' about him, and, as I said before, didn't care one dim for his neck, but a more signal disastrous failure was never recognized. It was quite lamentable to witness his proceeding.'
'How?' asked Mr. Puffington.
'How, sir?' repeated Mr. Bragg; 'why, sir, in all wayses. He had no dog language, to begin with—he had little idea of making a cast—no science, no judgement, no manner—no nothin'—I'm dim'd if ever I see'd sich a mess as he made.'
Puff looked unutterable things.
'He never did no good, in fact, till I fit him with Frostyface. I taught Frosty,' continued Mr. Bragg. 'He whipped in to me when I 'unted the Duke of Downeybird's 'ounds—nice, 'cute, civil chap he was—of all my pupils—and I've made some first-rate 'untsmen, I'm dim'd if I don't think Frostyface does me about as much credit as any on 'em. Ah, sir,' continued Mr. Bragg, with a shake of his head, 'take my word for it, sir, there's nothin' like a professional. S-c-e-u-s-e me, sir,' added he, with a low bow and a sort of military salute of his hat; 'but dim all gen'l'men 'untsmen, say I.'
Mr. Bragg had talked himself into several good places. Lord Reynard's and the Duke of Downeybird's among others. He had never been able to keep any beyond his third season, his sauce or his science being always greater than the sport he showed. Still he kept up appearances, and was nothing daunted, it being a maxim of his that 'as one door closed another opened.'
Mr. Puffington's was the door that now opened for him.
What greater humiliation can a free-born Briton be subjected to than paying a man eighty or a hundred pounds a year, and finding him house, coals, and candles, and perhaps a cow, to be his master?
Such was the case with poor Mr. Puffington, and such, we grieve to say, is the case with nine-tenths of the men who keep hounds; with all, indeed, save those who can hunt themselves, or who are blest with an aspiring whip, ready to step into the huntsman's boots if he seems inclined to put them off in the field. How many portly butlers are kept in subjection by having a footman ready to supplant them. Of all cards in the servitude pack, however, the huntsman's is the most difficult one to play. A man may say, 'I'm dim'd if I won't clean my own boots or my own horse, before I'll put up with such a fellow's impudence'; but when it comes to hunting his own hounds, it is quite another pair of shoes, as Mr. Bragg would say.
Mr. Bragg regularly took possession of poor Puff; as regularly as a policeman takes possession of a prisoner. The reader knows the sort of feeling one has when a lawyer, a doctor, an architect, or any one whom we have called in to assist, takes the initiative, and treats one as a nonentity, pooh-poohing all one's pet ideas, and upsetting all one's well-considered arrangements.
Bragg soon saw he had a greenhorn to deal with, and treated Puff accordingly. If a 'perfect servant' is only to begot out of the establishments of the great, Mr. Bragg might be looked upon as a paragon of perfection, and now combined in his own person all the bad practices of all the places he had been in. Having 'accepted Mr. Puffington's situation,' as the elegant phraseology of servitude goes, he considered that Mr. Puffington had nothing more to do with the hounds, and that any interference in 'his department' was a piece of impertinence. Puffington felt like a man who has bought a good horse, but which he finds on riding is rather more of a horse than he likes. He had no doubt that Bragg was a good man, but he thought he was rather more of a gentleman than he required. On the other hand, Mr. Bragg's opinion of his master may be gleaned from the following letter which he wrote to his successor, Mr. Brick, at Lord Reynard's:
'HANBY HOUSE, SWILLINGFORD.
'If your old man is done daffling with your draft, I should like to have the pick of it. I'm with one Mr. Puffington, a city gent. His father was a great confectioner in the Poultry, just by the Mansion House, and made his money out of Lord Mares. I shall only stay with him till I can get myself suited in the rank of life in which I have been accustomed to move; but in the meantime I consider it necessary for my own credit to do things as they should be. You know my sort of hound; good shoulders, deep chests, strong loins, straight legs, round feet, with plenty of bone all over. I hate a weedy animal; a small hound, light of bone, is only fit to hunt a kat in a kitchen.
'I shall also want a couple of whips—not fellows like waiters from Crawley's hotel, but light, active men, not boys. I'll have nothin' to do with boys; every boy requires a man to look arter him. No; a couple of short, light, active men—say from five-and-twenty to thirty, with bow-legs and good cheery voices, as nearly of the same make as you can find them. I shall not give them large wage, you know; but they will have opportunities of improving themselves under me, and qualifying themselves for high places. But mind, they must be steady—I'll keep no unsteady servants; the first act of drunkenness, with me, is the last.
'I shall also want a second horseman; and here I wouldn't mind a mute boy who could keep his elbows down and never touch the curb; but he must be bred in the line; a huntsman's second horseman is a critical article, and the sporting world must not be put in mourning for Dick Bragg. The lad will have to clean my boots, and wait at table when I have company—yourself, for instance.
'This is only a poor, rough, ungentlemanly sort of shire, as far as I have seen it; and however they got on with the things I found that they called hounds I can't for the life of me imagine. I understand they went stringing over the country like a flock of wild geese. However, I have rectified that in a manner by knocking all the fast 'uns and slow 'uns on the head; and I shall require at least twenty couple before I can take the field. In your official report of what your old file puts back, you'll have the kindness to cobble us up good long pedigrees, and carry half of them at least back to the Beaufort Justice. My man has got a crochet into his head about that hound, and I'm dimmed if he doesn't think half the hounds in England are descended from the Beaufort Justice. These hounds are at present called the Mangeysternes, a very proper title, I should say, from all I've seen and heard. That, however, must be changed; and we must have a button struck, instead of the plain pewter plates the men have been in the habit of hunting in.
'As to horses, I'm sure I don't know what we are to do in that line. Our pastrycook seems to think that a hunter, like one of his pa's pies, can be made and baked in a day. He talks of going over to Rowdedow Fair, and picking some up himself; but I should say a gentleman demeans himself sadly who interferes with the just prerogative of the groom. It has never been allowed I know in any place I have lived; nor do I think servants do justice to themselves or their order who submit to it. Howsomever the crittur has what Mr. Cobden would call the "raw material" for sport—that is to say, plenty of money—and I must see and apply it in such a way as will produce it. I'll do the thing as it should be, or not at all.
'I hope your good lady is well—also all the little Bricks. I purpose making a little tower of some of the best kennels as soon as the drafts are arranged, and will spend a day or two with you, and see how you get on without me. Dear Brick,
'Yours to the far end,
'To BENJAMIN BRICK, Esq.,
'Huntsman to the Right Hon. the Earl of Reynard,
'P.S.—I hope your old man keeps a cleaner tongue in his head than he did when I was premier. I always say there was a good bargeman spoiled when they made him a lord.
THE BEAUFORT JUSTICE
There is nothing more indicative of real fine people than the easy indifferent sort of way they take leave of their friends. They never seem to care a farthing for parting.
Our friend Jawleyford was quite a man of fashion in this respect. He saw Sponge's preparations for departure with an unconcerned air, and a—'sorry you're going,' was all that accompanied an imitation shake, or rather touch of the hand, on leaving. There was no 'I hope we shall see you again soon,' or 'Pray look in if you are passing our way,' or 'Now that you've found your way here we hope you'll not be long in being back,' or any of those blarneyments that fools take for earnest and wise men for nothing. Jawleyford had been bit once, and he was not going to give Mr. Sponge a second chance. Amelia too, we are sorry to say, did not seem particularly distressed, though she gave him just as much of a sweet look as he squeezed her hand, as said, 'Now, if you should be a man of money, and my Lord Scamperdale does not make me my lady, you may,' &c.
There is an old saying, that it is well to be 'off with the old love before one is on with the new,' and Amelia thought it was well to be on with the new love before she was off with the old. Sponge, therefore, was to be in abeyance.
We mentioned the delight infused into Jawleyford Court by the receipt of Lord Scamperdale's letter, volunteering a visit, nor was his lordship less gratified at hearing in reply that Mr. Sponge was on the eve of departure, leaving the coast clear for his reception. His lordship was not only delighted at getting rid of his horror, but at proving the superiority of his judgement over that of Jack, who had always stoutly maintained that the only way to get rid of Mr. Sponge was by buying his horses.
'Well, that's good,' said his lordship, as he read the letter; 'that's good,' repeated he, with a hearty slap of his thigh. 'Jaw's not such a bad chap after all; worse chaps in the world than Jaw.' And his lordship worked away at the point till he very nearly got him up to be a good chap.
They say it never rains but it pours, and letters seldom come singly; at least, if they do they are quickly followed by others.
As Jack and his lordship were discussing their gin, after a repast of cow-heel and batter-pudding, Baggs entered with the old brown weather-bleached letter-bag, containing a county paper, the second-hand copy of Bell's Life, that his lordship and Frostyface took in between them, and a very natty 'thick cream-laid' paper note.
'That must be from a woman,' observed Jack, squinting ardently at the writing, as his lordship inspected the fine seal.
'Not far wrong,' replied his lordship. 'From a bitch of a fellow, at all events,' said he, reading the words 'Hanby House' in the wax.
'What can old Puffey be wanting now?' inquired Jack.
'Some bother about hounds, most likely,' replied his lordship, breaking the seal, adding, 'the thing's always amusing itself with playing at sportsman. Hang his impudence!' exclaimed his lordship, as he opened the note.
'What's happened now?' asked Jack.
'How d'ye think he begins?' asked his lordship, looking at his friend.
'Can't tell, I'm sure,' said Jack, squinting his eyes inside out.
'Dear Scamp!' exclaimed his lordship, throwing out his arms.
'Dear Scamp!' repeated Jack in astonishment. 'It must be a mistake. It must be dear Frost, not dear Scamp.'
'Dear Scamp is the word,' replied his lordship, again applying himself to the letter. 'Dear Scamp,' repeated he, with a snort, adding, 'the impudent button-maker! I'll dear Scamp him! "Dear Scamp, our friend Sponge!" Bo-o-y the powers, just fancy that! 'exclaimed his lordship, throwing himself back in his chair, as if thoroughly overcome with disgust. 'Our friend Sponge! the man who nearly knocked me into the middle of the week after next—the man who, first and last, has broken every bone in my skin—the man who I hate the sight of, and detest afresh every time I see—the 'bomination of all 'bominations; and then to call him our friend Sponge! "Our friend Sponge,"' continued his lordship, reading, '"is coming on a visit of inspection to my hounds, and I should be glad if you would meet him."'
'Shouldn't wonder!' exclaimed Jack.
'Meet him!' snapped his lordship; 'I'd go ten miles to avoid him.'
'"Glad if you would meet him,"' repeated his lordship, returning to the letter, and reading as follows: '"If you bring a couple of nags or so we can put them up, and you may get a wrinkle or two from Bragg." A wrinkle or two from Bragg! 'exclaimed his lordship, dropping the letter and rolling in his chair with laughter. 'A wrinkle or two from Bragg!—he—he—he—he! The idea of a wrinkle or two from Bragg!—haw—haw—haw—haw!
'That beats cockfightin',' observed Jack, squinting frightfully.
'Doesn't it?' replied his lordship. 'The man who's so brimful of science that he doesn't kill above three brace of foxes in a season.'
'Which Puff calls thirty,' observed Jack.
'Th-i-r-ty!' exclaimed his lordship, adding, 'I'll lay he'll not kill thirty in ten years.'
His lordship then picked the letter from the floor, and resumed where he had left off.
'"I expect you will meet Tom Washball, Lumpleg, and Charley Slapp."'
'A very pretty party,' observed Jack, adding, 'Wouldn't be seen goin' to a bull-bait with any on 'em.'
'Nor I,' replied his lordship.
'Birds of a feather,' observed Jack.
'Just so,' said his lordship, resuming his reading.
'"I think I have a hound that may be useful to you—" The devil you have!' exclaimed his lordship, grinding his teeth with disgust. 'Useful to me, you confounded haberdasher!—you hav'n't a hound in your pack that I'd take. "I think I have a hound that may be useful to you—"' repeated his lordship.
'A Beaufort Justice one, for a guinea!' interrupted Jack, adding, 'He got the name into his head at Oxford, and has been harping upon it ever since.'
'"I think I have a hound that may be useful to you—"' resumed his lordship, for the third time. '"It is Old Merriman, a remarkably stout, true line hunting hound; but who is getting slow for me—" Slow for you, you beggar!' exclaimed his lordship; 'I should have thought nothin' short of a wooden 'un would have been too slow for you. "He's a six-season hunter, and is by Fitzwilliam's Singwell out of his Darling. Singwell was by the Rutland Rallywood out of Tavistock's Rhapsody. Rallywood was by Old Lonsdale's—" Old Lonsdale's!—the snob!' sneered Lord Scamperdale—'"Old Lonsdale's Palafox, out of Anson's—" Anson's!—curse the fellow,' again muttered his lordship—'"out of Anson's Madrigal. Darling was by old Grafton's Bolivar, out of Blowzy. Bolivar was by the Brocklesby; that's Yarborough's—" That's Yarborough's!' sneered his lordship, 'as if one didn't know that as well as him—"by the Brocklesby; that's Yarborough's Marmion out of Petre's Matchless; and Marmion was by that undeniable hound, the—" the—what?' asked his lordship.
'Beaufort Justice, to be sure!' replied Jack.
'"The Beaufort Justice!"' read his lordship, with due emphasis.
'Hurrah!' exclaimed Jack, waving the dirty, egg-stained, mustardy copy of Bell's Life over his head. 'Hurrah! I told you so.'
'But hark to Justice!' exclaimed his lordship, resuming his reading. '"I've always been a great admirer of the Beaufort Justice blood—"'
'No doubt,' said Jack; 'it's the only blood you know.'
'"It was in great repute in the Badminton country in old Beaufort's time, with whom I hunted a great deal many years ago, I'm sorry to say. The late Mr. Warde, who, of course, was very justly partial to his own sort, had never any objection to breeding from this Beaufort Justice. He was of Lord Egremont's blood, by the New Forest Justice; Justice by Mr. Gilbert's Jasper; and Jasper bred by Egremont—" Oh, the hosier!' exclaimed his lordship; 'he'll be the death of me.'
'Is that all?' asked Jack, as his lordship seemed lost in meditation.
'All?—no!' replied he, starting up, adding, 'here's something about you.'
'Me!' exclaimed Jack.
'"If Mr. Spraggon is with you, and you like to bring him, I can manage to put him up too,"' read his lordship. 'What think you of that?' asked his lordship, turning to our friend, who was now squinting his eyes inside out with anger.
'Think of it!' retorted Jack, kicking out his legs—'think of it!—why, I think he's a dim'd impittant feller, as Bragg would say.'
'So he is,' replied his lordship; 'treating my friend Jack so.'
'I've a good mind to go,' observed Jack, after a pause, thinking he might punish Puff, and try to do a little business with Sponge. 'I've a good mind to go,' repeated he; 'just by way of paying Master Puff off. He's a consequential jackass, and wants taking down a peg or two.'
'I think you may as well go and do it,' replied his lordship, after thinking the matter over; 'I think you may as well go and do it. Not that he'll be good to take the conceit out of, but you may vex him a bit; and also learn something of the movements of his friend Sponge. If he sarves Puff out as he's sarved me,' continued his lordship, rubbing his ribs with his elbows, 'he'll very soon have enough of him.'
'Well,' said Jack, 'I really think it will be worth doing. I've never been at the beggar's shop, and they say he lives well.'
'Well, aye!' exclaimed his lordship; 'fat o' the land—dare say that man has fish and soup every day.'
'And wax-candles to read by, most likely,' observed Jack, squinting at the dim mutton-fats that Baggs now brought in.
'Not so grand as that,' observed his lordship, doubting whether any man could be guilty of such extravagance; 'composites, p'raps.'
It being decided that Jack should answer Mr. Puffington's invitation as well and saucily as he could, and a sheet of very inferior paper being at length discovered in the sideboard drawer, our friends forthwith proceeded to concoct it. Jack having at length got all square, and the black-ink lines introduced below, dipped his pen in the little stone ink-bottle, and, squinting up at his lordship, said:
'How shall I begin?'
'Begin?' replied he. 'Begin—oh, let's see—begin—begin, "Dear Puff," to be sure.'
'That'll do,' said Jack, writing away.
('Dear Puff!' sneered our friend, when he read it; 'the idea of a fellow like that writing to a man of my p-r-o-r-perty that way.')
'Say "Scamp,"' continued his lordship, dictating again, '"is engaged, but I'll be with you at feeding-time."'
('Scamp's engaged,' read Puffington, with a contemptuous curl of the lip,' Scamp's engaged: I like the impudence of a fellow like that calling noblemen nicknames.')
The letter concluded by advising Puffington to stick to the Beaufort Justice blood, for there was nothing in the world like it. And now, having got both our friends booked for visits, we must yield precedence to the nobleman, and accompany him to Jawleyford Court.
LORD SCAMPERDALE AT JAWLEYFORD COURT
Although we have hitherto depicted Lord Scamperdale either in his great uncouth hunting-clothes or in the flare-up red and yellow Stunner tartan, it must not be supposed that he had not fine clothes when he chose to wear them, only he wanted to save them, as he said, to be married in. That he had fine ones, indeed, was evident from the rig-out he lent Jack when that worthy went to Jawleyford Court, and, in addition to those which were of the evening order, he had an uncommonly smart Stultz frock-coat, with a velvet collar, facings, and cuffs, and a silk lining. Though so rough and ready among the men, he was quite the dandy among the ladies, and was as anxious about his appearance as a girl of sixteen. He got himself clipped and trimmed, and shaved with the greatest care, curving his whiskers high on to the cheekbones, leaving a great breadth of bare fallow below.
Baggs the butler was despatched betimes to Jawleyford Court with the dog-cart freighted with clothes, driven by a groom to attend to the horses, while his lordship mounted his galloping grey hack towards noon, and dashed through the country like a comet. The people, who were only accustomed to see him in his short, country-cut hunting-coats, baggy breeches, and shapeless boots, could hardly recognize the frock-coated, fancy-vested, military-trousered swell, as Lord Scamperdale. Even Titus Grabbington, the superintendent of police, declared that he wouldn't have known him but for his hat and specs. The latter, we need hardly say, were the silver ones—the pair that he would not let Jack have when he went to Jawleyford Court. So his lordship went capering and careering along, avoiding, of course, all the turnpike-gates, of which he had a mortal aversion.
Jawleyford Court was in full dress to receive him—everything was full fig. Spigot appeared in buckled shorts and black silk stockings; while vases of evergreens and winter flowers mounted sentry on passage tables and landing-places. Everything bespoke the elegant presence of the fair.
To the credit of Dame Fortune let us record that everything went smoothly and well. Even the kitchen fire behaved as it ought. Neither did Lord Scamperdale arrive before he was wanted, a very common custom with people unused to public visiting. He cast up just when he was wanted. His ring of the door-bell acted like the little tinkling bell at a theatre, sending all parties to their places, for the curtain to rise.
Spigot and his two footmen answered the summons, while his lordship's groom rushed out of a side-door, with his mouth full of cold meat, to take his hack.
Having given his flat hat to Spigot, his whip-stick to one footman, and his gloves to the other, he proceeded to the family tableau in the drawing-room.
Though his lordship lived so much by himself he was neither gauche nor stupid when he went into society. Unlike Mr. Spraggon, he had a tremendous determination of words to the mouth, and went best pace with his tongue instead of coughing and hemming, and stammering and stuttering—wishing himself 'well out of it,' as the saying is. His seclusion only seemed to sharpen his faculties and make him enjoy society more. He gushed forth like a pent-up fountain. He was not a bit afraid of the ladies—rather the contrary; indeed, he would make love to them all—all that were good-looking, at least, for he always candidly said that he 'wouldn't have anything to do with the ugly 'uns.' If anything, he was rather too vehement, and talked to the ladies in such an earnest, interested sort of way, as made even bystanders think there was 'something in it,' whereas, in point of fact, it was mere manner.
He began as soon as ever he got to Jawleyford Court—at least, as soon as he had paid his respects all round and got himself partially thawed at the fire; for the cold had struck through his person, his fine clothes being a poor substitute for his thick double-milled red coat, blankety waistcoat, and Jersey shirt.
There are some good-natured, well-meaning people in this world who think that fox-hunters can talk of nothing but hunting, and who put themselves to very serious inconvenience in endeavouring to get up a little conversation for them. We knew a bulky old boy of this sort, who invariably, after the cloth was drawn, and he had given each leg a kick out to see if they were on, commenced with, 'Well, I suppose, Mr. Harkington has a fine set of dogs this season?' 'A fine set of dogs this season! 'What an observation! How on earth could any one hope to drive a conversation on the subject with such a commencement?
Some ladies are equally obliging in this respect. They can stoop to almost any subject that they think will procure them husbands. Music!—if a man is fond of music, they will sing themselves into his good graces in no time. Painting!—oh, they adore painting—though in general they don't profess to be great hands at it themselves. Balls, boating, archery, racing—all these they can take a lively interest in; or, if occasion requires, can go on the serious tack and hunt a parson with penny subscriptions for a clothing-club or soup-kitchen.
Fox-hunting!—we do not know that fox-hunting is so safe a speculation for young ladies as any of the foregoing. There are many pros and cons in the matter of the chase. A man may think—especially in these hard times, with 'wheat below forty,' as Mr. Springwheat would say—that it will be as much as he can do to mount himself. Again, he may not think a lady looks any better for running down with perspiration, and being daubed with mud. Above all, if he belongs to the worshipful company of Craners, he may not like for his wife to be seen beating him across country.
Still, there are many ways that young ladies may insinuate themselves into the good graces of sportsmen without following them into the hunting-field. Talking about their horses, above all admiring them, taking an interest in their sport, seeing that they have nice papers of sandwiches to take out with them, or recommending them to be bled when they come home with dirty faces after falls.
Miss Amelia Jawleyford, who was most elegantly attired in a sea-green silk dress with large imitation pearl buttons, claiming the usual privilege of seniority of birth, very soon led the charge against Lord Scamperdale.
'Oh, what a lovely horse that is you were riding,' observed she, as his lordship kept stooping with both his little red fists close into the bars of the grate.
'Isn't it!' exclaimed he, rubbing his hands heartily together. 'Isn't it!' repeated he, adding, 'that's what I call a clipper.'
'Why do you call it so?' asked she.
'Oh, I don't mean that clipper is its name,' replied he; 'indeed, we call her Cherry Bounce in the stable—but she's what they call a clipper—a good 'un to go, you know,' continued he, staring at the fair speaker through his great, formidable spectacles.
We believe there is nothing frightens a woman so much as staring at her through spectacles. A barrister in barnacles is a far more formidable cross-examiner than one without. But, to his lordship's back.
'Will he eat bread out of your hand?' asked Amelia, adding, 'I should so like a horse that would eat bread out of my hand.'
'Oh yes; or cheese either,' replied his lordship, who was a bit of a wag, and as likely to try a horse with one as the other.
'Oh, how delightful! what a charming horse!' exclaimed Amelia, turning her fine eyes up to the ceiling.
'Are you fond of horses?' asked his lordship, smacking one hand against the other, making a noise like the report of a pistol.
'Oh, so fond!' exclaimed Amelia, with a start; for she hadn't got through her favourite, and, as she thought, most attractive attitude.
'Well, now, that's nice,' said his lordship, giving his other hand a similar bang, adding, 'I like a woman that's fond of horses.'
'Then 'Melia and you'll 'gree nicely,' observed Mrs. Jawleyford, who was always ready to give a helping hand to her own daughters, at least.
'I don't doubt it!' replied his lordship, with emphasis, and a third bang of his hand, louder if possible than before. 'And do you like horses?' asked his lordship, darting sharply round on Emily, who had been yielding, or rather submitting, to the precedence of her sister.
'Oh yes; and hounds, too!' replied she eagerly.
'And hounds, too!' exclaimed his lordship, with a start, and another hearty bang of the fist, adding, 'well, now, I like a woman that likes hounds.'
Amelia frowned at the unhandsome march her sister had stolen upon her. Just then in came Jawleyford, much to the annoyance of all parties. A host should never show before the dressing-bell rings.
When that glad sound was at length heard, the ladies, as usual, immediately withdrew; and of course the first thing Amelia did when she got to her room was to run to the glass to see how she had been looking: when, grievous to relate, she found an angry hot spot in the act of breaking out on her nose.
What a distressing situation for a young lady, especially one with a spectacled suitor. 'Oh, dear!' she thought, as she eyed it in the glass, 'it will look like Vesuvius itself through his formidable inquisitors.' Worst of all, it was on the side she would have next him at dinner, should he choose to sit with his back to the fire. However, there was no help for it, and the maid kindly assuring her, as she worked away at her hair, that it 'would never be seen,' she ceased to watch it, and turned her attention to her toilette. The fine, new broad-lace flounced, light-blue satin dress—a dress so much like a ball dress as to be only appreciable as a dinner one by female eyes—was again in requisition; while her fine arms were encircled with chains and armlets of various brilliance and devices. Thus attired, with a parting inspection of the spot, she swept downstairs, with as smart a bouquet as the season would afford. As luck would have it, she encountered his lordship himself wandering about the passage in search of the drawing-room, of whose door he had not made a sufficient observation on leaving. He too, was uncommonly smart, with the identical dress-coat Mr. Spraggon wore, a white waistcoat with turquoise buttons, a lace-frilled shirt, and a most extensive once-round Joinville. He had been eminently successful in accomplishing a tie that would almost rival the sticks farmers put upon truant geese to prevent their getting through gaps or under gates.
Well, Miss Amelia having come to his lordship's assistance, and eased him of his candle, now showed him into the drawing-room; and his hands being disengaged, like a true Englishman, he must be doing, and accordingly he commenced an attack on her bouquet.
'That's a fine nosegay!' exclaimed he, staring and rubbing his snub nose into the midst of it.
'Let me give you a piece,' replied Amelia, proceeding to detach some of the best.
'Do,' replied his lordship, banging one hand against the other, adding, 'I'll wear it next my heart of hearts.'
In sidled Miss Emily just as his lordship was adjusting it in his button-hole, and the inconstant man immediately chopped over to her.
'Well, now, that is a beautiful nosegay!' exclaimed he, turning upon her in precisely the same way, with a bang of the hand and a dive of his nose into Emily's.
She did not offer him any, and his lordship continued his attentions to her until Mrs. Jawleyford entered.
Dinner was presently announced; but his lordship, instead of choosing to sit with his back to the fire, took the single chair opposite, which gave him a commanding view of the young ladies. He did not, however, take any advantage of his position during the repast, neither did he talk much, his maxim being to let his meat stop his mouth. The preponderance of his observations, perhaps, were addressed to Amelia, though a watchful observer might have seen that the spectacles were oftener turned upon Emily. Up to the withdrawal of the cloth, however, there was no perceptible advantage on either side.
As his lordship settled to the sweets, at which he was a great hand at dessert, Amelia essayed to try her influence with the popular subject of a ball. 'I wish the members of your hunt would give us a ball, my lord,' observed she.
'Ah, hay, hum—ball,' replied he, ladling up the syrup of some preserved peaches that he had been eating; 'ball, ball, ball. No place to give it—no place to give it,' repeated he.
'Oh, give it in the town-hall, or the long room at the Angel,' replied she.
'Town-hall—long room at the Angel—Angel at the long room of the town-hall—oh, certainly, certainly, certainly,' muttered he, scraping away at the contents of his plate.
'Then that's a bargain, mind,' observed Amelia significantly.
'Bargain, bargain, bargain—certainly,' replied he; 'and I'll lead off with you, or you'll lead off with me—whichever way it is—meanwhile, I'll trouble you for a piece of that gingerbread.'
Having supplied him with a most liberal slice, she resumed the subject of the ball.
'Then we'll fix it so,' observed she.
'Oh, fix it so, certainly—certainly fix it so,' replied his lordship, filling his mouth full of gingerbread.
'Suppose we have it on the day of the races?' continued Amelia.
'Couldn't be better,' replied his lordship; 'couldn't be better,' repeated he, eyeing her intently through his formidable specs.
His lordship was quite in the assenting humour, and would have agreed to anything—anything short of lending one a five-pound note.
Amelia was charmed with her success. Despite the spot on her nose, she felt she was winning.
His lordship sat like a target, shot at by all, but making the most of his time, both in the way of eating and staring between questions.
At length the ladies withdrew, and his lordship having waddled to the door to assist their egress, now availed himself of Jawleyford's invitation to occupy an arm-chair during the enjoyment of his 'Wintle.'
Whether it was the excellence of the beverage, or that his lordship was unaccustomed to wine-drinking, or that Jawleyford's conversation was unusually agreeable, we know not, but the summons to tea and coffee was disregarded, and when at length they did make their appearance, his lordship was what the ladies call rather elevated, and talked thicker than there was any occasion for. He was very voluble at first—told all how Sponge had knocked him about, how he detested him, and wouldn't allow him to come to the hunt ball, &c.; but he gradually died out, and at last fell asleep beside Mrs. Jawleyford on the sofa, with his little legs crossed, and a half-emptied coffee-cup in his hand, which Mr. Jawleyford and she kept anxiously watching, expecting the contents to be over the fine satin furniture every moment.
In this pleasant position they remained till he awoke himself with a hearty snore, and turned the coffee over on to the carpet. Fortunately there was little damage done, and, it being nearly twelve o'clock, his lordship waddled off to bed.
Amelia, when she came to think matters over in the retirement of her own room, was well satisfied with the progress she had made. She thought she only wanted opportunity to capture him. Though she was most anxious for a good night in order that she might appear to advantage in the morning, sleep forsook her eyelids, and she lay awake long thinking what she would do when she was my lady—how she would warm Woodmansterne, and what a dashing equipage she would keep. At length she dropped off, just as she thought she was getting into her well-appointed chariot, showing a becoming portion of her elegantly turned ankles.