In accordance with the usual tactics of these sort of gentlemen, Spraggon and Sponge essayed to be two—if not exactly strangers, at all events gentlemen with very little acquaintance. Spraggon took advantage of a dead silence to call up the table to Mister Sponge to take wine; a compliment that Sponge acknowledged the accordance of by a very low bow into his plate, and by-and-by Mister Sponge 'Mistered' Mr. Spraggon to return the compliment.
'Do you know much of that—that—that—chap?' (he would have said snob if he'd thought it would be safe) asked Pacey, as Sponge returned to still life after the first wine ceremony.
'No,' replied Spraggon, 'nor do I wish.'
'Great snob,' observed Pacey.
'Shocking,' assented Spraggon.
'He's got a good horse or two, though,' observed Pacey; 'I saw them on the road coming here the other day.' Pacey, like many youngsters, professed to be a judge of horses, and thought himself rather sharp at a deal.
'They are good horses,' replied Jack, with an emphasis on the good, adding, 'I'd be very glad to have one of them.'
Mr. Spraggon then asked Mr. Pacey to take champagne, as the commencement of a better understanding.
The wine flowed freely, and the guests, particularly the fresh infusion, did ample justice to it. The guests of the day before, having indulged somewhat freely, were more moderate at first, though they seemed well inclined to do their best after they got their stomachs a little restored. Spraggon could drink any given quantity at any time.
The conversation got brisker and brisker: and before the cloth was drawn there was a very general clamour, in which all sorts of subjects seemed to be mixed—each man addressing himself to his immediate neighbour; one talking of taxes—another of tares—a third, of hunting and the system of kennel—a fourth, of the corn-laws—old Blossomnose, about tithes—Slapp, about timber and water-jumping—Miller, about Collison's pills; and Guano, about anything that he could get a word edged in about. Great, indeed, was the hubbub. Gradually, however, as the evening advanced Pacey and Guano out-talked the rest, and at length Pacey got the noise pretty well to himself. When anything definite could be extracted from the mass of confusion, he was expatiating on steeple-chasing, hurdle-racing, weights for age, ons and offs clever—a sort of mixture of hunting, racing, and 'Alken.'
Sponge cocked his ear, and sat on the watch, occasionally hazarding an observation, while Jack, who was next Pacey, on the left, pretended to decry Sponge's judgement, asking sotto voce, with a whiff through his nose, what such a Cockney as that could know about horses? What between Jack's encouragement, and the inspiring influence of the bottle, aided by his own self-sufficiency, Pacey began to look upon Sponge with anything but admiration; and at last it occurred to him that he would be a very proper subject to, what he called, 'take the shine out of.'
'That isn't a bad-like nag, that chestnut of yours, for the wheeler of a coach, Mr. Sponge,' exclaimed he, at the instigation of Spraggon, to our friend, producing, of course, a loud guffaw from the party.
'No, he isn't,' replied Sponge coolly, adding, 'very like one, I should say.'
'Devilish good horse,' growled Jack in Pacey's ear.
'Oh, I dare say,' whispered Pacey, pretending to be scraping up the orange syrup in his plate, adding, 'I'm only chaffing the beggar.'
'He looks solitary without the coach at his tail,' continued Pacey, looking up, and again addressing Sponge up the table.
'He does,' affirmed Sponge, amidst the laughter of the party.
Pacey didn't know how to take this; whether as a 'sell' or a compliment to his own wit. He sat for a few seconds grinning and staring like a fool; at last after gulping down a bumper of claret, he again fixed his unmeaning green eyes upon Sponge, and exclaimed:
'I'll challenge your horse, Mr. Sponge.'
A burst of applause followed the announcement; for it was evident that amusement was in store.
'You'll w-h-a-w-t?' replied Sponge, staring, and pretending ignorance.
'I'll challenge your horse,' repeated Pacey with confidence, and in a tone that stopped the lingering murmur of conversation, and fixed the attention of the company on himself.
'I don't understand you,' replied Sponge, pretending astonishment.
'Lor bless us! why, where have you lived all your life?' asked Pacey.
'Oh, partly in one place, and partly in another,' was the answer.
'I should think so,' replied Pacey, with a look of compassion, adding, in an undertone, 'a good deal with your mother, I should think.'
'If you could get that horse at a moderate figure,' whispered Jack to his neighbour, and squinting his eyes inside out as he spoke, 'he's well worth having.'
'The beggar won't sell him,' muttered Pacey, who was fonder of talking about buying horses than of buying them.
'Oh yes, he will,' replied Jack; 'he didn't understand what you meant. Mr. Sponge,' said he, addressing himself slowly and distinctly up the table to our hero—'Mr. Sponge, my friend Mr. Pacey here challenges your chestnut.'
Sponge still stared in well-feigned astonishment.
'It's a custom we have in this country,' continued Jack, looking, as he thought, at Sponge, but, in reality, squinting most frightfully at the sideboard.
'Do you mean he wants to buy him?' asked Sponge.
'Yes,' replied Jack confidently.
'No, I don't,' whispered Pacey, giving Jack a kick under the table. Pacey had not yet drunk sufficient wine to be rash.
'Yes, yes,' replied Jack tartly, 'you do,' adding, in an undertone, 'leave it to me, man, and I'll let you in for a good thing. Yes, Mr. Sponge,' continued he, addressing himself to our hero, 'Mr. Pacey fancies the chestnut and challenges him.'
'Why doesn't he ask the price?' replied Sponge, who was always ready for a deal.
'Ah, the price must be left to a third party,' said Jack.' The principle of the thing is this,' continued he, enlisting the aid of his fingers to illustrate his position: 'Mr. Pacey, here,' said he, applying the forefinger of his right hand to the thumb of the left, looking earnestly at Sponge, but in reality squinting up at the chandelier—'Mr. Pacey here challenges your horse Multum-in-somethin'—I forget what you said you call him—but the nag I rode to-day. Well, then,' continued Jack, 'you' (demonstrating Sponge by pressing his two forefingers together, and holding them erect) 'accept the challenge, but can challenge anything Mr. Pacey has—a horse, dog, gun—anything; and, having fixed on somethin' then a third party' (who Jack represented by cocking up his thumb), 'any one you like to name, makes the award. Well, having agreed upon that party' (Jack still cocking up the thumb to represent the arbitrator), 'he says, "Give me money." The two then put, say half a crown or five shillin's each, into his hand, to which the arbitrator adds the same sum for himself. That being done, the arbitrator says, "Hands in pockets, gen'lemen."' (Jack diving his right hand up to the hilt in his own.) 'If this be an award, Mr. Pacey's horse gives Mr. Sponge's horse so much—draw.' (Jack suiting the action to the word, and laying his fist on the table.) 'If each person's hand contains money, it is an award—it is a deal; and the arbitrator gets the half-crowns, or whatever it is, for his trouble; so that, in course, he has a direct interest in makin' such an award as will lead to a deal. Now do you understand?' continued Jack, addressing himself earnestly to Sponge.
'I think I do,' replied Sponge who had been at the game pretty often.
'Well, then,' continued Jack, reverting to his original position, 'my friend, Mr. Pacey here, challenges your chestnut.'
'No, never mind,' muttered Pacey peevishly, in an undertone, with a frown on his face, giving Jack a dig in the ribs with his elbow. 'Never mind,' repeated he; 'I don't care about it—I don't want the horse.'
'But I do,' growled Jack, adding, in an undertone also, as he stooped for his napkin, 'don't spoil sport, man; he's as good a horse as ever stepped; and if you'll challenge him, I'll stand between you and danger.'
'But he may challenge something I don't want to part with,' observed Pacey.
'Then you've nothin' to do,' replied Jack, 'but bring up your hand without any money in it.'
'Ah! I forgot,' replied Pacey, who did not like not to appear what he called 'fly.' 'Well, then, I challenge your chestnut!' exclaimed he, perking up, and shouting up the table to Sponge.
'Good!' replied our friend. 'I challenge your watch and chain, then,' looking at Pacey's chain-daubed vest.
'Name me arbitrator,' muttered Jack, as he again stooped for his napkin.
'Who shall handicap us? Captain Guano, Mr. Lumpleg, or who?' asked Sponge.
'Suppose we say Spraggon?—he says he rode the horse to-day,' replied Pacey.
'Quite agreeable,' said Sponge.
'Now, Jack!' 'Now, Spraggon!' 'Now, old Solomon!' 'Now, Doctor Wiseman,' resounded from different parts of the table.
Jack looked solemn; and diving both hands into his breeches' pockets, stuck out his legs extensively before him.
'Give me money,' said he pompously. They each handed him half a crown; and Jack added a third for himself. 'Mr. Pacey challenges Mr. Sponge's chestnut horse, and Mr. Sponge challenges Mr. Pacey's gold watch,' observed Jack sententiously.
'Come, old Slowman, go on!' exclaimed Guano, adding, 'have you got no further than that?'
'Hurry no man's cattle,' replied Jack tartly, adding, 'you may keep a donkey yourself some day.'
'Mr. Pacey challenges Mr. Sponge's chestnut horse,' repeated Jack. 'How old is the chestnut, Mr. Sponge?' added he, addressing himself to our friend.
'Upon my word I hardly know,' replied Sponge, 'he's past mark of mouth; but I think a hunter's age has very little to do with his worth.'
'Who-y, that depends,' rejoined Jack, blowing out his cheeks, and looking as pompous as possible—'that depends a good deal upon how he's been used in his youth.'
'He's about nine, I should say,' observed Sponge, pretending to have been calculating, though, in reality, he knew nothing whatever about the horse's age. 'Say nine, or rising ten, and never did a day's work till he was six.'
'Indeed!' said Jack, with an important bow, adding, 'being easy with them at the beginnin' puts on a deal to the end. Perfect hunter, I s'pose?'
'Why, you can judge of that yourself,' replied Sponge.
'Perfect hunter, I should say,' rejoined Jack, 'and steady at his fences—don't know that I ever rode a better fencer. Well,' continued he, having apparently pondered all that over in his mind, 'I must trouble you to let me look at your ticker,' said he, turning short round on his neighbour.
'There,' said Mr. Pacey, producing a fine flash watch from his waistcoat-pocket, and holding it to Jack.
'The chain's included in the challenge, mind,' observed Sponge.
'In course,' said Jack; 'it's what the pawnbrokers call a watch with its appurts.' (Jack had his watch at his uncle's and knew the terms exactly.)
'It's a repeater, mind,' observed Pacey, taking off the chain.
'The chain's heavy,' said Jack, running it up in his hand; 'and here's a pistol-key and a beautiful pencil-case, with the Pacey crest and motto,' observed Jack, trying to decipher the latter. 'If it had been without the words, whatever they are,' said he, giving up the attempt, 'it would have been worth more, but the gold's fine, and a new stone can easily be put in.'
He then pulled an old hunting-card out of his pocket, and proceeded to make sundry calculations and estimates in pencil on the back.
'Well, now,' said he, at length, looking up, 'I should say, such a watch as that and appurts,' holding them up, 'couldn't be bought in a shop under eight-and-twenty pund.'
'It cost five-and-thirty,' observed Mr. Pacey.
'Did it!' rejoined Jack, adding, 'then you were done.'
Jack then proceeded to do a little more arithmetic, during which process Mr. Puffington passed the wine and gave as a toast—'Success to the handicap.'
'Well,' at length said Jack, having apparently struck a balance, 'hands in pocket, gen'lemen. If this is an award, Mr. Pacey's gold watch and appurts gives Mr. Sponge's chestnut horse seventy golden sovereigns. Show money,' whispered Jack to Pacey, adding, 'I'll stand the shot.'
'Stop!' roared Guano, 'do either of you sport your hand?'
'Yes, I do,' replied Mr. Pacey coolly.
'And I,' said Mr. Sponge.
'Hold hard, then, gen'lemen!' roared Jack, getting excited, and beginning to foam. 'Hold hard, gen'lemen!' repeated he, just as he was in the habit of roaring at the troublesome customers in Lord Scamperdale's field; 'Mr. Pacey and Mr. Sponge both sport their hands.'
'I'll lay a guinea Pacey doesn't hold money,' exclaimed Guano.
'Done!' exclaimed Parson Blossomnose.
'I'll bet it does,' observed Charley Slapp.
'I'll take you,' replied Mr. Miller.
Then the hubbub of betting commenced, and raged with fury for a short time; some betting sovereigns, some half-sovereigns, other half-crowns and shillings, as to whether the hands of one or both held money.
Givers and takers being at length accommodated, perfect silence at length reigned, and all eyes turned upon the double fists of the respective champions.
Jack having adjusted his great tortoiseshell-rimmed spectacles, and put on a most consequential air, inquired, like a gambling-house keeper, if they were 'All done'—had all 'made their game?' And 'Yes! yes! yes!' resounded from all quarters.
'Then, gen'lemen,' said Jack, addressing Pacey and Sponge, who still kept their closed hands on the table, 'show!'
At the word, their hands opened, and each held money.
'A deal! a deal! a deal!' resounded through the room, accompanied with clapping of hands, thumping of the table, and dancing of glasses. 'You owe me a guinea,' exclaimed one. 'I want half a sovereign of you,' roared another. 'Here's my half-crown,' said a third, handing one across the table to the fortunate winner. A general settlement took place, in the midst of which the 'watch and appurts' were handed to Mr. Sponge.
'We'll drink Mr. Pacey's health,' said Mr. Puffington, helping himself to a bumper, and passing the lately replenished decanters. 'He's done the thing like a sportsman, and deserves to have luck with his deal. Your good health, Mr. Pacey!' continued he, addressing himself specifically to our friend, 'and luck to your horse.'
'Your good health, Mr. Pacey—your good health, Mr. Pacey—your good health, Mr. Pacey,' then followed in the various intonations that mark the feelings of the speaker towards the toastee, as the bottles passed round the table.
The excitement seemed to have given fresh zest to the wine, and those who had been shirking, or filling on heel-taps, now began filling bumpers, while those who always filled bumpers now took back hands.
There is something about horse-dealing that seems to interest every one. Conversation took a brisk turn, and nothing but the darkness of the night prevented their having the horse out and trying him. Pacey wanted him brought into the dining-room, a la Briggs, but Puff wouldn't stand that. The transfer seemed to have invested the animal with supernatural charms, and those who in general cared nothing about horses wanted to have a sight of him.
Toasting having commenced, as usual, it was proceeded with. Sponge's health followed that of Mr. Pacey's, Mr. Puffington availing himself of the opportunity afforded by proposing it, of expressing the gratification it afforded himself and all true sportsmen to see so distinguished a character in the country; and he concluded by hoping that the diminution of his stud would not interfere with the length of his visit—a toast that was drunk with great applause.
Mr. Sponge replied by saying, 'That he certainly had not intended parting with his horse, though one more or less was neither here nor there, especially in these railway times, when a man had nothing to do but take a half-guinea's worth of electric wire, and have another horse in less than no time; but Mr. Pacey having taken a fancy to the horse, he had been more accommodating to him than he had to his friend, Mr. Spraggon, if he would allow him to call him so (Jack squinted and bowed assent), who,' continued Mr. Sponge, 'had in vain attempted that morning to get him to put a price upon him.'
'Very true,' whispered Jack to Pacey, with a feel of the elbow in his ribs, adding, in an undertone, 'the beggar doesn't think I've got him in spite of him, though.'
'The horse,' Mr. Sponge continued, 'was an undeniable good 'un, and he wished Mr. Pacey joy of his bargain.'
This venture having been so successful, others attempted similar means, appointing Mr. Spraggon the arbitrator. Captain Guano challenged Mr. Fogo's phaeton, while Mr. Fogo retaliated upon the captain's chestnut horse; but the captain did not hold money to the award. Blossomnose challenged Mr. Miller's pig; but the latter could not be induced to claim anything of the worthy rector's for Mr. Spraggon to exercise his appraising talents upon. After an evening of much noise and confusion, the wine-heated party at last broke up—the staying company retiring to their couches, and the outlying ones finding their ways home as best they could.
THE MORNING'S REFLECTIONS
When young Pacey awoke in the morning he had a very bad headache, and his temples throbbed as if the veins would burst their bounds. The first thing that recalled the actual position of affairs to his mind was feeling under the pillow for his watch: a fruitless search that ended in recalling something of the overnight's proceedings.
Pacey liked a cheap flash, and when elated with wine might be betrayed into indiscretions that his soberer moments were proof against. Indeed, among youths of his own age he was reckoned rather a sharp hand; and it was the vanity of associating with men, and wishing to appear a match for them, that occasionally brought him into trouble. In a general way, he was a very cautious hand.
He now lay tumbling and tossing about in bed, and little by little he laid together the outline of the evening's proceedings, beginning with his challenging Mr. Sponge's chestnut, and ending with the resignation of his watch and chain. He thought he was wrong to do anything of the sort. He didn't want the horse, not he. What should he do with him? he had one more than he wanted as it was. Then, paying for him seventy sovereigns! confound it, it would be very inconvenient—most inconvenient—indeed, he couldn't do it, so there was an end of it. The facilities of carrying out after-dinner transactions frequently vanish with the morning's sun. So it was with Mr. Pacey. Then he began to think how to get out of it. Should he tell Mr. Sponge candidly the state of his finances, and trust to his generosity for letting him off? Was Mr. Sponge a likely man to do it? He thought he was. But, then, would he blab? He thought he would, and that would blow him among those by whom he wished to be thought knowing, a man not to be done. Altogether he was very much perplexed: seventy pounds was a vast of money; and then there was his watch gone, too! a hundred and more altogether. He must have been drunk to do it—very drunk, he should say; and then he began to think whether he had not better treat it as an after-dinner frolic, and pretend to forget all about it. That seemed feasible.
All at once it occurred to Pacey that Mr. Spraggon was the purchaser, and that he was only a middle-man. His headache forsook him for the moment, and he felt a new man. It was clearly the case, and bit by bit he recollected all about it. How Jack had told him to challenge the horse, and he would stand to the bargain; how he had whispered him (Pacey) to name him (Jack) arbitrator; and how he had done so, and Jack had made the award. Then he began to think that the horse must be a good one, as Jack would not set too high a price on him, seeing that he was the purchaser. Then he wondered that he had put enough on to induce Sponge to sell him: that rather puzzled him. He lay a long time tossing, and proing and coning, without being able to arrive at any satisfactory solution of the matter. At last he rang his bell, and finding it was eight o'clock he got up, and proceeded to dress himself; which operation being accomplished, he sought Jack's room, to have a little confidential conversation with him on the subject, and arrange about paying Sponge for the horse, without letting out who was the purchaser.
Jack was snoring, with his great mouth wide open, and his grizzly head enveloped in a white cotton nightcap. The noise of Pacey entering awoke him.
'Well, old boy' growled he, turning over as soon as he saw who it was, 'what are you up to?'
'Oh, nothing particular,' replied Mr. Pacey, in a careless sort of tone.
'Then make yourself scarce, or I'll baptize you in a way you won't like,' growled Jack, diving under the bedclothes.
'Oh, why I just wanted to have—have half a dozen words with you about our last night's' (ha—hem—haw!) 'handicap, you know—about the horse, you know.'
'About the w-h-a-w-t?' drawled Jack, as if perfectly ignorant of what Pacey was talking about.
'About the horse, you know—about Mr. Sponge's horse, you know—that you got me to challenge for you, you know,' stammered Pacey.
'Oh, dash it, the chap's drunk,' growled Jack aloud to himself, adding to Pacey, 'you shouldn't get up so soon, man—sleep the drink off.'
Pacey stood nonplussed.
'Don't you remember, Mr. Spraggon,' at last asked he, after watching the tassel of Jack's cap peeping above the bedclothes, 'what took place last night, you know? You asked me to get you Mr. Sponge's chestnut, and you know I did, you know.'
'Hout, lad, disperse!—get out of this!' exclaimed Jack, starting his great red face above the bedclothes and squinting frightfully at Pacey.
'Well, my dear friend, but you did,' observed Pacey soothingly.
'Nonsense!' roared Jack, again ducking under.
Pacey stood agape.
'Come!' exclaimed Jack, again starting up, 'cut your stick!—be off!—make yourself scarce!—give your rags a gallop, in short!—don't be after disturbin' a gen'leman of fortin's rest in this way.'
'But, my dear Mr. Spraggon,' resumed Pacey, in the same gentle tone, 'you surely forget what you asked me to do.'
'I do,' replied Jack firmly.
'Well, but, my dear Mr. Spraggon, if you'll have the kindness to recollect—to consider—to reflect on what passed, you'll surely remember commissioning me to challenge Mr. Sponge's horse for you?'
'Me!' exclaimed Jack, bouncing up in bed, and sitting squinting furiously. 'Me!' repeated he; 'unpossible. How could I do such a thing? Why, I handicap'd him, man, for you, man?'
'You told me, for all that,' replied Mr. Pacey, with a jerk of the head.
'Oh, by Jove!' exclaimed Jack, taking his cap by the tassel, and twisting it off his head,' that won't do!—downright impeachment of one's integrity. Oh, by Jingo! that won't do!' motioning as if he was going to bounce out of bed;' can't stand that—impeach one's integrity, you know, better take one's life, you know. Life without honour's nothin', you know. Cock Pheasant at Weybridge, six o'clock i' the mornin'!'
'Oh, I assure you, I didn't mean anything of that sort,' exclaimed Mr. Pacey, frightened at Jack's vehemence, and the way in which he now foamed at the mouth, and flourished his nightcap about. 'Oh, I assure you, I didn't mean anything of that sort,' repeated he, 'only I thought p'raps you mightn't recollect all that had passed, p'raps; and if we were to talk matters quietly over, by putting that and that together, we might assist each other and—'
'Oh, by Jove!' interrupted Jack, dashing his nightcap against the bedpost, 'too late for anything of that sort, sir—downright impeachment of one's integrity, sir—must be settled another way, sir.'
'But, I assure you, you mistake!' exclaimed Pacey.
'Rot your mistakes!' interrupted Jack; 'there's no mistake in the matter. You've reglarly impeached my integrity—blood of the Spraggons won't stand that. "Death before Dishonour!"' shouted he, at the top of his voice, flourishing his nightcap over his head, and then dashing it on to the middle of the floor.
'What's the matter?—what's the matter?—what's the matter?' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, rushing through the connecting door. 'What's the matter?' repeated he, placing himself between the bed in which Jack still sat upright, squinting his eyes inside out, and where Mr. Pacey stood.
'Oh, Mr. Sponge!' exclaimed Jack, clasping his raised hands in thankfulness, 'I'm so glad you're here!—I'm so thankful you're come! I've been insulted!—oh, goodness, how I've been insulted!' added he, throwing himself back in the bed, as if thoroughly overcome with his feelings.
'Well, but what's the matter?—what is it all about?' asked Sponge coolly, having a pretty good guess what it was.
'Never was so insulted in my life!' ejaculated Jack, from under the bedclothes.
'Well but what is it?' repeated Sponge, appealing to Pacey, who stood as pale as ashes.
'Oh! nothing,' replied he; 'quite a mistake; Mr. Spraggon misunderstood me altogether.'
'Mistake! There's no mistake in the matter!' exclaimed Jack, appearing again on the surface like an otter; 'you gave me the lie as plain as a pikestaff.'
'Indeed!' observed Mr. Sponge, drawing in his breath and raising his eyebrows right up into the roof of his head. 'Indeed!' repeated he.
'No; nothing of the sort, I assure you,' asserted Mr. Pacey.
'Must have satisfaction!' exclaimed Jack, again diving under the bedclothes.
'Well, but let us hear how matters stand,' said Mr. Sponge coolly, as Jack's grizzly head disappeared.
'You'll be my second,' growled Jack, from under the bedclothes.
'Oh! second be hanged,' retorted Sponge. 'You've nothing to fight about; Mr. Pacey says he didn't mean anything, that you misunderstood him, and what more can a man want?'
'Just so,' replied Mr. Pacey, 'just so. I assure you I never intended the slightest imputation on Mr. Spraggon.'
'I'm sure not,' replied Mr. Sponge.
'H-u-m-p-h,' grunted Jack from under the bedclothes, like a pig in the straw. Not showing any disposition to appear on the surface again, Mr. Sponge, after standing a second or two, gave a jerk of his head to Mr. Pacey, and forthwith conducted him into his own room, shutting the door between Mr. Spraggon and him.
Mr. Sponge then inquired into the matter, kindly sympathizing with Mr. Pacey, who he was certain never meant anything disrespectful to Mr. Spraggon, who, Mr. Sponge thought, seemed rather quick at taking offence; though, doubtless, as Mr. Sponge observed, 'a man was perfectly right in being tenacious of his integrity,' a position that he illustrated by a familiar passage from Shakespeare, about stealing a purse and stealing trash, &c.
Emboldened by his kindness, Mr. Pacey then got Mr. Sponge on to talk about the horse of which he had become the unwilling possessor—the renowned chestnut, Multum-in-Parvo.
Mr. Sponge spoke like a very prudent, conscientious man; said that really it was difficult to give an opinion about a horse; that what suited one man might not suit another—that he considered Multum-in-Parvo a very good horse; indeed, that he wouldn't have parted with him if he hadn't more than he wanted, and the cream of the season had passed without his meeting with any of those casualties that rendered the retention of an extra horse or two desirable. Altogether, he gave Mr. Pacey to understand that he held him to his bargain. Having thanked Sponge for his great kindness, and got an order on the groom (Mr. Leather) to have the horse out, Mr. Pacey took his departure to the stable, and Sponge having summoned his neighbour Mr. Spraggon from his bed, the two proceeded to a passage window that commanded a view of the stable-yard.
Mr. Pacey presently went swaggering across it, cracking his jockey whip against his leg, followed by Mr. Leather, with a saddle on his shoulder and a bridle in his hand.
'He'd better keep his whip quiet,' observed Mr. Sponge, with a shake of his head, as he watched Pacey's movements.
'The beggar thinks he can ride anything,' observed Jack.
'He'll find his mistake out just now,' replied Sponge.
Presently the stable-door opened, and the horse stepped slowly and quietly out, looking blooming and bright after his previous day's gallop. Pacey, running his eyes over his clean muscular legs and finely shaped form, thought he hadn't done so far amiss after all. Leather stood at the horse's head, whistling and soothing him, feeling anything but the easy confidence that Mr. Pacey exhibited. Putting his whip under his arm, Pacey just walked up to the horse, and, placing the point of his foot in the stirrup, hoisted himself on by the mane, without deigning to take hold of the reins. Having soused himself into the saddle, he then began feeling the stirrups.
'How are they for length, sir?' asked Leather, with a hitch of his hand to his forehead.
'They'll do,' replied Pacey, in a tone of indifference, gathering up the reins, and applying his left heel to the horse's side, while he gave him a touch of the whip on the other. The horse gave a wince, and a hitch up behind; as much as to say, 'If you do that again I'll kick in right earnest,' and then walked quietly out of the yard.
'I took the fiery edge off him yesterday, I think,' observed Jack, as he watched the horse's leisurely movements.
'Not so sure of that,' replied Sponge, adding, as he left the passage-window, 'He'll be trying him in the park; let's go and see him from my window.'
Accordingly, our friends placed themselves at Sponge's bedroom window, and presently the clash of a gate announced that Sponge was right in his speculation. In another second the horse and rider appeared in sight—the horse going much at his ease, but Mr. Pacey preparing himself for action. He began working the bridle and kicking his sides, to get him into a canter; an exertion that produced quite a contrary effect, for the animal slackened his pace as Pacey's efforts increased. When, however, he took his whip from under his arm, the horse darted right up into the air, and plunging down again, with one convulsive effort shot Mr. Pacey several yards over his head, knocking his head clean through his hat. The brute then began to graze, as if nothing particular had happened. This easy indifference, however, did not extend to the neighbourhood; for no sooner was Mr. Pacey floored than there was such a rush of grooms, and helpers, and footmen, and gardeners—to say nothing of women, from all parts of the grounds, as must have made it very agreeable to him to know how he had been watched. One picked him up—another his hat-crown—a third his whip—a fourth his gloves—while Margaret, the housemaid, rushed to the rescue with her private bottle of sal volatile—and John, the under-butler, began to extricate him from the new-fashioned neckcloth he had made of his hat.
Though our friend was a good deal shaken by the fall, the injury to his body was trifling compared to that done to his mind. Being kicked off a horse was an indignity he had never calculated upon. Moreover, it was done in such a masterly manner as clearly showed it could be repeated at pleasure. In addition to which everybody laughs at a man that is kicked off. All these considerations rushed to his mind, and made him determine not to brook the mirth of the guests as well as the servants.
Accordingly he borrowed a hat and started off home, and seeking his guardian, Major Screw, confided to him the position of affairs. The major, who was a man of the world, forthwith commenced a negotiation with Mr. Sponge, who, after a good deal of haggling, and not until the horse had shot the major over his head, too, at length, as a great favour, consented to take fifty pounds to rescind the bargain, accompanying his kindness by telling the major to advise his ward never to dabble in horseflesh after dinner; a piece of advice that we also very respectfully tender to our juvenile readers.
And Sponge shortly after sent Spraggon a five pound note as his share of the transaction.
ANOTHER SICK HOST
When Mr. Puffington read Messrs. Sponge and Spraggon's account of the run with his hounds, in the Swillingford paper, he was perfectly horrified; words cannot describe the disgust that he felt. It came upon him quite by surprise, for he expected to be immortalized in some paper or work of general circulation, in which the Lords Loosefish, Sir Toms, and Sir Harrys of former days might recognize the spirited doings of their early friend. He wanted the superiority of his establishment, the excellence of his horses, the stoutness of his hounds, and the polish of his field, proclaimed, with perhaps a quiet cut at the Flat-Hat gentry; instead of which he had a mixed medley sort of a mess, whose humdrum monotony was only relieved by the absurdities and errors with which it was crammed. At first, Mr. Puffington could not make out what it meant, whether it was a hoax for the purpose of turning run-writing into ridicule, or it had suffered mutilation at the hands of the printer. Calling a good scent an exquisite perfume looked suspicious of a hoax, but then seasonal fox for seasoned fox, scorning to cry for scoring to cry, bay fox for bag fox, grunting for hunting, thrashing for trashing, rests for casts, and other absurdities, looked more like accident than design.
These are the sort of errors that non-sporting compositors might easily make, one term being as much like English to them as the other, though amazingly different to the eye or the ear of a sportsman. Mr. Puffington was thoroughly disgusted. He was sick of hounds and horses, and Bragg, and hay and corn, and kennels and meal, and saddles and bridles; and now, this absurdity seemed to cap the whole thing. He was ill-prepared for such a shock. The exertion of successive dinner-giving—above all, of bachelor dinner-giving—and that too in the country, where men sit, talk, talk, talking, sip, sip, sipping, and 'just another bottle-ing'; more, we believe, from want of something else to do than from any natural inclination to exceed; the exertion, we say, of such parties had completely unstrung our fat friend, and ill-prepared his nerves for such a shock. Being a great man for his little comforts, he always breakfasted in his dressing-room, which he had fitted up in the most luxurious style, and where he had his newspapers (most carefully ironed out) laid with his letters against he came in. It was late on the morning following our last chapter ere he thought he had got rid of as much of his winey headache as fitful sleep would carry off, and enveloped himself in a blue and yellow-flowered silk dressing-gown and Turkish slippers. He looked at his letters, and knowing their outsides, left them for future perusal, and sousing himself into the depths of a many-cushioned easy-chair, proceeded to spell his Morning Post—Tattersall's advertisements—'Grosjean's Pale-tots'—'Mr. Albert Smith'—'Coals, best Stewart Hetton or Lambton's'—'Police Intelligence,' and such other light reading as does not require any great effort to connect or comprehend.
Then came his breakfast, for which he had very little appetite, though he relished his coffee, and also an anchovy. While dawdling over these, he heard sundry wheels grinding about below the window, and the bumping and thumping of boxes, indicative of 'goings away,' for which he couldn't say he felt sorry. He couldn't even be at the trouble of getting up and going to the window to see who it was that was off, so weary and head-achy was he. He rolled and lolled in his chair, now taking a sip of coffee, now a bite of anchovy toast, now considering whether he durst venture on an egg, and again having recourse to the Post. At last, having exhausted all the light reading in it, and scanned through the list of hunting appointments, he took up the Swillingford paper to see that they had got his 'meets' right for the next week. How astonished he was to find the previous day's run staring him in the face, headed 'SPLENDID RUN WITH MR. PUFFINGTON'S HOUNDS,' in the imposing type here displayed. 'Well, that's quick work, however,' said he, casting his eyes up to the ceiling in astonishment, and thinking how unlike it was the Swillingford papers, which were always a week, but generally a fortnight behindhand with information. 'Splendid run with Mr. Puffington's hounds,' read he again, wondering who had done it: Bardolph, the innkeeper; Allsop, the cabinet-maker; Tuggins, the doctor, were all out; so was Weatherhog, the butcher. Which of them could it be? Grimes, the editor, wasn't there; indeed, he couldn't ride, and the country was not adapted for a gig.
He then began to read it, and the further he got the more he was disgusted. At last, when he came to the 'seasonal fox, which some thought was a bay one,' his indignation knew no bounds, and crumpling the paper up in a heap, he threw it from him in disgust. Just then in came Plummey, the butler. Plummey saw at a glance what had happened; for Mr. Bragg, and the whips, and the grooms, and the helpers, and the feeder—the whole hunting establishment—were up in arms at the burlesque, and vowing vengeance against the author of it. Mr. Spraggon, on seeing what a mess had been made of his labours, availed himself of the offer of a seat in Captain Guano's dog-cart, and was clear of the premises; while Mr. Sponge determined to profit by Spraggon's absence, and lay the blame on him.
'Oh, Plummey!' exclaimed Mr. Puffington, as his servant entered, 'I'm deuced unwell—quite knocked up, in short,' clapping his hand on his forehead, adding, 'I shall not be able to dine downstairs to-day.'
''Deed, sir,' replied Mr. Plummey, in a tone of commiseration—''deed, sir; sorry to hear that, sir.'
'Are they all gone?' asked Mr. Puffington, dropping his boiled-gooseberry-looking eyes upon the fine-flowered carpet.
'All gone, sir—all gone,' replied Mr. Plummey; 'all except Mr. Sponge.'
'Oh, he's still here!' replied Mr. Puffington, shuddering with disgust at the recollection of the newspaper run. 'Is he going to-day?' asked he.
'No, sir—I dare say not, sir,' replied Mr. Plummey. 'His man—his groom—his—whatever he calls him, expects they'll be staying some time.'
'The deuce!' exclaimed Mr. Puffington, whose hospitality, like Jawleyford's, was greater in imagination than in reality.
'Shall I take these things away?' asked Plummey, after a pause.
'Couldn't you manage to get him to go?' asked Mr. Puffington, still harping on his remaining guest.
'Don't know, sir. I could try, sir—believe he's bad to move, sir,' replied Plummey, with a grin.
'Is he really?' replied Mr. Puffington, alarmed lest Sponge should fasten himself upon him for good.
'They say so,' replied Mr. Plummey, 'but I don't speak from any personal knowledge, for I know nothing of the man.'
'Well,' said Mr. Puffington, amused at his servant's exclusiveness, 'I wish you would try to get rid of him, bow him out civilly, you know—say I'm unwell—very unwell—deuced unwell—ordered to keep quiet—say it as if from yourself, you know—it mustn't appear as if it came from me, you know.'
'In course not,' replied Mr. Plummey, 'in course not,' adding, 'I'll do my best, sir—I'll do my best.' So saying, he took up the breakfast things and departed.
Mr. Sponge regaling himself with a cigar in the stables and shrubberies, it was some time before Mr. Plummey had an opportunity of trying his diplomacy upon him, it being contrary to Mr. Plummey's custom to go out of doors after any one. At last he saw Sponge coming lounging along the terrace-walk, looking like a man thoroughly disengaged, and, timing himself properly, encountered him in the entrance.
'Beg pardon, sir,' said Mr. Plummey, 'but cook, sir, wishes to know, sir, if you dine here to-day, sir?'
'Of course,' replied Mr. Sponge, 'where would you have me dine?'
'Oh, I don't know, sir—only Mr. Puffington, sir, is very poorly, sir, and I thought p'raps you'd be dining out.
'Poorly is he?' replied Mr. Sponge; 'sorry to hear that—what's the matter with him?'
'Bad bilious attack, I think,' replied Plummey—'very subject to them, at this time of year particklarly; was laid up, at least confined to his room, three weeks last year of a similar attack.'
'Indeed!' replied Mr. Sponge, not relishing the information.
'Then I must say you'll dine here?' said the butler.
'Yes; I must have my dinner, of course,' replied Mr. Sponge. 'I'm not ill, you know. No occasion to make a great spread for me, you know; but still I must have some victuals, you know.'
'Certainly, sir, certainly,' replied Mr. Plummey.
'I couldn't think of leaving Mr. Puffington when he's poorly,' observed Mr. Sponge, half to himself and half to the butler.
'Oh, master—that's to say, Mr. Puffington—always does best when left alone,' observed Mr. Plummey, catching at the sentence: 'indeed the medical men recommend perfect quiet and moderate living as the best thing.'
'Do they?' replied Sponge, taking out another cigar. Mr. Plummey then withdrew, and presently went upstairs to report progress, or rather want of progress, to the gentleman whom he sometimes condescended to call 'master.'
Mr. Puffington had been taking another spell at the paper, and we need hardly say that the more he read of the run the less he liked it.
'Ah, that's Mr. Sponge's handiwork,' observed Plummey, as with a sneer of disgust Mr. Puffington threw the paper from him as Plummey entered the room.
'How do you know?' asked Mr. Puffington.
'Saw it, sir—saw it in the letter-bag going to the post.'
'Indeed!' replied Mr. Puffington.
'Mr. Spraggon and he did it after they came in from hunting.'
'I thought as much,' replied Mr. Puffington, in disgust.
Mr. Plummey then related how unsuccessful had been his attempts to get rid of the now most unwelcome guest. Mr. Puffington listened with attention, determined to get rid of him somehow or other. Plummey was instructed to ply Sponge well with hints, all of which, however, Mr. Sponge skilfully parried. So, at last, Mr. Puffington scrawled a miserable-looking note, explaining how very ill he was, how he regretted being deprived of Mr. Sponge's agreeable society, but hoping that it would suit Mr. Sponge to return as soon as he was better and pay the remainder of his visit—a pretty intelligible notice to quit, and one which even the cool Mr. Sponge was rather at a loss how to parry.
He did not like the aspect of affairs. In addition to having to spend the evening by himself, the cook sent him a very moderate dinner, smoked soup, sodden fish, scraggy cutlets, and sour pudding. Mr. Plummey, too, seemed to have put all the company bottle-ends together for him. This would not do. If Sponge could have satisfied himself that his host would not be better in a day or two, he would have thought seriously of leaving; but as he could not bring himself to think that he would not, and, moreover, had no place to go to, had it not been for the concluding portion of Mr. Puffington's note, he would have made an effort to stay. That, however, put it rather out of his power, especially as it was done so politely, and hinted at a renewal of the visit. Mr. Sponge spent the evening in cogitating what he should do—thinking what sportsmen had held out the hand of good-fellowship, and hinted at hoping to have the pleasure of seeing him. Fyle, Fossick, Blossomnose, Capon, Dribble, Hook, and others, were all run through his mind, without his thinking it prudent to attempt to fix a volunteer visit upon any of them. Many people he knew could pen polite excuses, who yet could not hit them off at the moment, especially in that great arena of hospitality—the hunting-field. He went to bed very much perplexed.
WANTED—A RICH GOD-PAPA!
'When one door shuts another opens,' say the saucy servants; and fortune was equally favourable to our friend Mr. Sponge. Though he could not think of any one to whom he could volunteer a visit. Dame Fortune provided him with an overture from a party who wanted him! But we will introduce his new host, or rather victim.
People hunt from various motives—some for the love of the thing—some for show—some for fashion—some for health—some for appetites—some for coffee-housing—some to say they have hunted—some because others hunt.
Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey did not hunt from any of these motives, and it would puzzle a conjurer to make out why he hunted; indeed, the members of the different hunts he patronized—for he was one of the run-about, non-subscribing sort—were long in finding out. It was observed that he generally affected countries abounding in large woods, such as Stretchaway Forest, Hazelbury Chase, and Oakington Banks, into which he would dive with the greatest avidity. At first people thought he was a very keen hand, anxious to see a fox handsomely found, if he could not see him handsomely finished, against which latter luxury his figure and activity, or want of activity, were somewhat opposed. Indeed, when we say that he went by the name of the Woolpack, our readers will be able to imagine the style of man he was: long-headed, short-necked, large-girthed, dumpling-legged little fellow, who, like most fat men, made himself dangerous by compressing a most unreasonable stomach into a circumscribed coat, each particular button of which looked as if it was ready to burst off, and knock out the eye of any one who might have the temerity to ride alongside of him. He was a puffy, wheezy, sententious little fellow, who accompanied his parables with a snort into a large finely plaited shirt-frill, reaching nearly up to his nose. His hunting-costume consisted of a black coat and waistcoat, with white moleskin breeches, much cracked and darned about the knees and other parts, as nether garments made of that treacherous stuff often are. His shapeless tops, made regardless of the refinements of 'right and left,' dangled at his horse's sides like a couple of stable-buckets; and he carried his heavy iron hammer-headed whip over his shoulder like a flail. But we are drawing his portrait instead of saying why he hunted. Well, then, having married Mrs. Springwheat's sister, who was always boasting to Mrs. Crowdey what a loving, doting husband Springey was after hunting, Mrs. Crowdey had induced Crowdey to try his hand, and though soon satisfied that he hadn't the slightest taste for the sport, but being a great man for what he called gibbey-sticks, he hunted for the purpose of finding them. As we said before, he generally appeared at large woodlands, into which he would ride with the hounds, plunging through the stiffest clay, and forcing his way through the strongest thickets, making observations all the while of the hazels, and the hollies, and the blackthorns, and, we are sorry to say, sometimes of the young oaks and ashes, that he thought would fashion into curious-handled walking-sticks; and these he would return for at a future day, getting them with as large clubs as possible, which he would cut into the heads of beasts, or birds, or fishes, or men. At the time of which we are writing, he had accumulated a vast quantity—thousands; the garret at the top of his house was quite full, so were most of the closets, while the rafters in the kitchen, and cellars, and out-houses, were crowded with others in a state of deshabille. He calculated his stock at immense worth, we don't know how many thousand pounds; and as he cut, and puffed, and wheezed, and modelled, with a volume of Buffon, or the picture of some eminent man before him, he chuckled, and thought how well he was providing for his family. He had been at it so long, and argued so stoutly, that Mrs. Jogglebury Crowdey, if not quite convinced of the accuracy of his calculations, nevertheless thought it well to encourage his hunting predilections, inasmuch as it brought him in contact with people he would not otherwise meet, who, she thought, might possibly be useful to their children. Accordingly, she got him his breakfast betimes on hunting-mornings, charged his pockets with currant-buns, and saw to the mending of his moleskins when he came home, after any of those casualties that occur as well in the chase as in gibbey-stick hunting.
A stranger being a marked man in a rural country, Mr. Sponge excited more curiosity in Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey's mind than Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey did in Mr. Sponge's. In truth, Jogglebury was one of those unsportsmanlike beings, that a regular fox-hunter would think it waste of words to inquire about, and if Mr. Sponge saw him, he did not recollect him; while, on the other hand, Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey went home very full of our friend. Now, Mrs. Jogglebury Crowdey was a fine, bustling, managing woman, with a large family, for whom she exerted all her energies to procure desirable god-papas and mammas; and, no sooner did she hear of this newcomer, than she longed to appropriate him for god-papa to their youngest son.
'Jog, my dear,' said she, to her spouse, as they sat at tea; 'it would be well to look after him.'
'What for, my dear?' asked Jog, who was staring a stick, with a half-finished head of Lord Brougham for a handle, out of countenance.
'What for, Jog? Why, can't you guess?'
'No,' replied Jog doggedly.
'No!' ejaculated his spouse. 'Why, Jog, you certainly are the stupidest man in existence.'
'Not necessarily!' replied Jog, with a jerk of his head and a puff into his shirt-frill that set it all in a flutter.
'Not necessarily!' replied Mrs. Jogglebury, who was what they call a 'spirited woman,' in the same rising tone as before. 'Not necessarily! but I say necessarily—yes, necessarily. Do you hear me, Mr. Jogglebury?'
'I hear you,' replied Jogglebury scornfully, with another jerk, and another puff into the frill.
The two then sat silent for some minutes, Jogglebury still contemplating the progressing head of Lord Brougham, and recalling the eye and features that some five-and-twenty years before had nearly withered him in a breach of promise action, 'Smiler v. Jogglebury,' that being our friend's name before his uncle Crowdey left him his property.
Mrs. Jogglebury having an object in view, and knowing that, though Jogglebury might lead, he would not drive, availed herself of the lull to trim her sail, to try and catch him on the other tack.
'Well, Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey,' said she, in a passive tone of regret, 'I certainly thought however indifferent you might be to me' (and here she applied her handkerchief—rather a coarse one—to her eyes) 'that still you had some regard for the interests of your (sob) children'; and here the waterfalls of her beady black eyes went off in a gush.
'Well, my dear,' replied Jogglebury, softened, 'I'm (puff) sure I'm (wheeze) anxious for my (puff) children. You don't s'pose if I wasn't (puff), I'd (wheeze) labour as I (puff—wheeze) do to leave them fortins?'—alluding to his exertions in the gibbey-stick line.
'Oh, Jog, I dare say you're very good and very industrious,' sobbed Mrs. Jogglebury, 'but I sometimes (sob) think that you might apply your (sob) energies to a better (sob) purpose.'
'Indeed, my dear (puff), I don't see that (wheeze),' replied Jogglebury, mildly.
'Why, now, if you were to try and get this rich Mr. Sponge for a god-papa for Gustavus James,' continued she, drying her eyes as she came to the point, 'that, I should say, would be worthy of you.'
'But, my (puff) dear,' replied Jogglebury, 'I don't know Mr. (wheeze) Sponge, to begin with.'
'That's nothing,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury; 'he's a stranger, and you should call upon him.'
Mr. Jogglebury sat silent, still staring at Lord Brougham, thinking how he pitched into him, and how sick he was when the jury, without retiring from the box, gave five hundred pounds damages against him.
'He's a fox-hunter, too,' continued his wife; 'and you ought to be civil to him.'
'Well, but, my (puff) dear, he's as likely to (wheeze) these fifty years as any (puff, wheeze) man I ever looked at,' replied Jogglebury.
'Oh, nonsense,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury; 'there's no saying when a fox-hunter may break his neck. My word! but Mrs. Slooman tells me pretty stories of Sloo's doings with the harriers—jumping over hurdles, and everything that comes in the way, and galloping along the stony lanes as if the wind was a snail compared to his horse. I tell you. Jog, you should call on this gentleman—'
'Well,' replied Mr. Jogglebury.
'And ask him to come and stay here,' continued Mrs. Jogglebury.
'Perhaps he mightn't like it (puff),' replied Jogglebury. 'I don't know that we could (puff) entertain him as he's (wheeze) accustomed to be,' added he.
'Oh, nonsense,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury; 'we can entertain him well enough. You always say fox-hunters are not ceremonious. I tell you what, Jog, you don't think half enough of yourself. You are far too easily set aside. My word! but I know some people who would give themselves pretty airs if their husband was chairman of a board of guardians, and trustee of I don't know how many of Her Majesty's turnpike roads,' Mrs. Jog here thinking of her sister Mrs. Springwheat, who, she used to say, had married a mere farmer. 'I tell you, Jog, you're far too humble, you don't think half enough of yourself.'
'Well, but, my (puff) dear, you don't (puff) consider that all people ain't (puff) fond of (wheeze) children,' observed Jogglebury, after a pause. 'Indeed, I've (puff) observed that some (wheeze) don't like them.'
'Oh, but those will be nasty little brats, like Mrs. James Wakenshaw's, or Mrs. Tom Cheek's. But such children as ours! such charmers! such delights! there isn't a man in the county, from the Lord-Lieutenant downwards, who wouldn't be proud—who wouldn't think it a compliment—to be asked to be god-papa to such children. I tell you what, Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey, it would be far better to get them rich god-papas and god-mammas than to leave them a whole house full of sticks.'
'Well, but, my (puff) dear, the (wheeze) sticks will prove very (wheeze) hereafter,' replied Jogglebury, bridling up at the imputation on his hobby.
'I hope so,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury, in a tone of incredulity.
'Well, but, my (puff) dear, I (wheeze) you that they will be—indeed (puff), I may (wheeze) say that they (puff) are. It was only the other (puff) day that (wheeze) Patrick O'Fogo offered me five-and-twenty (wheeze) shillings for my (puff) blackthorn Daniel O'Connell, which is by no means so (puff) good as the (wheeze) wild-cherry one, or, indeed (puff), as the yew-tree one that I (wheeze) out of Spankerley Park.'
'I'd have taken it if I'd been you,' observed Mrs. Jogglebury.
'But he's (puff) worth far more,' retorted Jogglebury angrily; 'why (wheeze) Lumpleg offered me as much for Disraeli.'
'Well, I'd have taken it, too,' rejoined Mrs. Jogglebury.
'But I should have (wheeze) spoilt my (puff) set,' replied the gibbey-stick man. 'S'pose any (wheeze) body was to (puff) offer me five guineas a (puff) piece for the (puff) pick of my (puff) collection—my (puff) Wellingtons, my (wheeze) Napoleons, my (puff) Byrons, my (wheeze) Walter Scotts, my (puff) Lord Johns, d'ye think I'd take it?'
'I should hope so,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury.
'I should (puff) do no such thing,' snorted her husband into his frill. 'I should hope,' continued he, speaking slowly and solemnly, 'that a (puff) wise ministry will purchase the whole (puff) collection for a (wheeze) grateful nation, when the (wheeze)' something 'is no more (wheeze).' The concluding words being lost in the emotion of the speaker (as the reporters say).
'Well, but will you go and call on Mr. Sponge, dear?' asked Mrs. Jogglebury Crowdey, anxious as well to turn the subject as to make good her original point.
'Well, my dear, I've no objection,' replied Joggle, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye with his coat-cuff.
'That's a good soul!' exclaimed Mrs. Jogglebury soothingly. 'Go to-morrow, like a nice, sensible man.'
'Very well,' replied her now complacent spouse.
'And ask him to come here,' continued she.
'I can't (puff) ask him to (puff) come, my dear (wheeze), until he (puff—wheeze) returns my (puff) call.'
'Oh, fiddle,' replied his wife, 'you always say fox-hunters never stand upon ceremony; why should you stand upon any with him?'
Mr. Jogglebury was posed, and sat silent.
THE DISCOMFITED DIPLOMATIST
Well, then, as we said before, when one door shuts another opens; and just as Mr. Puffington's door was closing on poor Mr. Sponge, who should cast up but our newly introduced friend, Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey. Mr. Sponge was sitting in solitary state in the fine drawing-room, studying his old friend Mogg, calculating what he could ride from Spur Street, Leicester Square, by Short's Gardens, and across Waterloo Bridge, to the Elephant and Castle for, when the grinding of a vehicle on the gravelled ring attracted his attention. Looking out of the window, he saw a horse's head in a faded-red, silk-fronted bridle, with the letters 'J.C.' on the winkers; not 'J.C.' writhing in the elegant contortions of modern science, but 'J.C.' in the good, plain, matter-of-fact characters we have depicted above.
'That'll be the doctor,' said Mr. Sponge to himself, as he resumed his reading and calculations, amidst a peal of the door-bell, well calculated to arouse the whole house. 'He's a good un to ring!' added he, looking up and wondering when the last lingering tinkle would cease.
Before the fact was ascertained, there was a hurried tramp of feet past the drawing-room door, and presently the entrance one opened and let in—a rush of wind.
'Is Mr. Sponge at home?' demanded a slow, pompous-speaking, deep-toned voice, evidently from the vehicle.
'Yez-ur,' was the immediate answer.
'Who can that be?' exclaimed Sponge, pocketing his Mogg.
Then there was a creaking of springs and a jingling against iron steps, and presently a high-blowing, heavy-stepping body was heard crossing the entrance-hall, while an out-stripping footman announced Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey, leaving the owner to follow his name at his leisure.
Mrs. Jogglebury had insisted on Jog putting on his new black frock—a very long coat, fitting like a sack, with the well-filled pockets bagging behind, like a poor man's dinner wallet. In lieu of the shrunk and darned white moleskins, receding in apparent disgust from the dingy tops, he had got his nether man enveloped in a pair of fine cinnamon-coloured tweeds, with broad blue stripes down the sides, and shaped out over the clumsy foot.
Puff, wheeze, puff, he now came waddling and labouring along, hat in hand, hurrying after the servant; puff, wheeze, puff, and he found himself in the room. 'Your servant, sir,' said he, sticking himself out behind, and addressing Mr. Sponge, making a ground sweep with his woolly hat.
'Yours,' said Mr. Sponge, with a similar bow.
'Fine day (puff—wheeze),' observed Mr. Jogglebury, blowing into his large frill.
'It is,' replied Mr. Sponge, adding, 'won't you be seated?'
'How's Puffington?' gasped our visitor, sousing himself upon one of the rosewood chairs in a way that threatened destruction to the slender fabric.
'Oh, he's pretty middling, I should say,' replied Sponge, now making up his mind that he was addressing the doctor.
'Pretty middlin' (puff),' repeated Jogglebury, blowing into his frill; 'pretty middlin' (wheeze); I s'pose that means he's got a (puff) gumboil. My third (wheeze) girl, Margaret Henrietta has one.'
'Do you want to see him?' asked Sponge, after a pause, which seemed to indicate that his friend's conversation had come to a period, or full stop.
'No,' replied Jogglebury unconcernedly. 'No; I'll leave a (puff) card for him (wheeze),' added he, fumbling in his wallet behind for his card-case. 'My (puff) object is to pay my (wheeze) respects to you,' observed he, drawing a great carved Indian case from his pocket, and pulling off the top with a noise like the drawing of a cork.
'Much obliged for the compliment,' observed Mr. Sponge, as Jogglebury fumbled and broke his nails in attempting to get a card out.
'Do you stay long in this part of the world?' asked he, as at last he succeeded, and commenced tapping the corners of the card on the table.
'I really don't know,' replied Mr. Sponge, as the particulars of his situation flashed across his mind. Could this pudding-headed man be a chap Puffington had got to come and sound him, thought he.
Jogglebury sat silent for a time, examining his feet attentively as if to see they were pairs, and scrutinizing the bags of his cinnamon-coloured trousers.
'I was going to say (hem—cough—hem),' at length observed he, looking up, 'that's to say, I was thinking (hem—wheeze—cough—hem), or rather I should say, Mrs. Jogglebury Crowdey sent me to say—I mean to say,' continued he, stamping one of his ponderous feet against the floor as if to force out his words, 'Mrs. Jogglebury Crowdey and I would be glad—happy, that's to say (hem)—if you would arrange (hem) to (wheeze) pay us a visit (hem).'
'Most happy, I'm sure!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, jumping at the offer.
'Before you go (hem),' continued our visitor, taking up the sentence where Sponge had interrupted him; 'I (hem) live about nine miles (hem) from here (hem).'
'Are there any hounds in your neighbourhood?' asked Mr. Sponge.
'Oh yes,' replied Mr. Jogglebury slowly; 'Mr. Puffington here draws up to Greatacre Gorse within a few (puff—wheeze) miles—say, three (puff)—of my (wheeze) house; and Sir Harry Scattercash (puff) hunts all the (puff—wheeze) country below, right away down to the (puff—wheeze) sea.'
'Well, you're a devilish good fellow!' exclaimed Sponge; 'and I'll tell you what, as I'm sure you mean what you say, I'll take you at your word and go at once; and that'll give our friend here time to come round.'
'Oh, but (puff—wheeze—gasp),' started Mr. Jogglebury, the blood rushing to his great yellow, whiskerless cheeks, 'I'm not quite (gasp) sure that Mrs. (gasp) Jogglebury (puff) Crowdey would be (puff—wheeze—gasp) prepared.'
'Oh, hang preparation!' interrupted Mr. Sponge. 'I'll take you as you are. Never mind me. I hate being made company of. Just treat me like one of yourselves; toad-in-the-hole, dog-in-the-blanket, beef-steaks and oyster-sauce, rabbits and onions—anything; nothing comes amiss to me.'
So saying, and while Jogglebury sat purple and unable to articulate, Mr. Sponge applied his hand to the ivory bell-knob and sounded an imposing peal. Mr. Jogglebury sat wondering what was going to happen, and thinking what a wigging he would get from Mrs. J. if he didn't manage to shake off his friend. Above all, he recollected that they had nothing but haddocks and hashed mutton for dinner.
'Tell Leather I want him,' said Mr. Sponge, in a tone of authority, as the footman answered the summons; then, turning to his guest, as the man was leaving the room, he said, 'Won't you take something after your drive—cold meat, glass of sherry, soda-water, bottled porter—anything in that line?'
In an ordinary way, Jogglebury would have said, 'if you please,' at the sound of the words 'cold meat,' for he was a dead hand at luncheon; but the fix he was in completely took away his appetite, and he sat wheezing and thinking whether to make another effort, or to wait the arrival of Leather.
Presently Leather appeared, jean-jacketed and gaitered, smoothing his hair over his forehead, after the manner of the brotherhood.
'Leather,' said Mr. Sponge, in the same tone of importance, 'I'm going to this gentleman's'; for as yet he had not sufficiently mastered the name to be able to venture upon it in the owner's presence. 'Leather, I'm going to this gentleman's, and I want you to bring me a horse over in the morning; or stay,' said he, interrupting himself, and, turning to Jogglebury, he exclaimed, 'I dare say you could manage to put me up a couple of horses, couldn't you? and then we should be all cosy and jolly together, you know.'
''Pon my word,' gasped Jogglebury nearly choked by the proposal; ''pon my word, I can hardly (puff) say, I hardly (wheeze) know, but if you'll (puff—wheeze) allow me, I'll tell you what I'll do: I'll (puff—wheeze) home, and see what I can (puff) do in the way of entertainment for (puff—wheeze) man as well as for (puff—wheeze) horse.'
'Oh, thank you, my dear fellow!' exclaimed Sponge, seeing the intended dodge; 'thank you, my dear fellow!' repeated he; 'but that's giving you too much trouble—far too much trouble!—couldn't think of such a thing—no, indeed, I couldn't. I'll tell you what we'll do—I'll tell you what we'll do. You shall drive me over in that shandrydan-rattle-trap thing of yours'—Sponge looking out of the window, as he spoke, at the queer-shaped, jumped-together, lack-lustre-looking vehicle, with a turnover seat behind, now in charge of a pepper-and-salt attired youth, with a shabby hat, looped up by a thin silver cord to an acorn on the crown, and baggy Berlin gloves—'and I'll just see what there is in the way of stabling; and if I think it will do, then I'll give a boy sixpence or a shilling to come over to Leather, here,' jerking his head towards his factotum; 'if it won't do, why then—'
'We shall want three stalls, sir—recollect, sir, 'interrupted Leather, who did not wish to move his quarters.
'True, I forgot,' replied Sponge, with a frown at his servant's officiousness; 'however, if we can get two good stalls for the hunters,' said he, 'we'll manage the hack somehow or other.'
'Well,' replied Mr. Leather, in a tone of resignation, knowing how hopeless it was arguing with his master.
'I really think,' gasped Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey, encouraged by the apparent sympathy of the servant to make a last effort, 'I really think,' repeated he, as the hashed mutton and haddocks again flashed across his mind, 'that my (puff—wheeze) plan is the (puff) best; let me (puff—wheeze) home and see how all (puff—wheeze) things are, and then I'll write you a (puff—wheeze) line, or send a (puff—wheeze) servant over.'
'Oh no,' replied Mr. Sponge, 'oh no—that's far too much trouble. I'll just go over with you now and reconnoitre.'
'I'm afraid Mrs. (puff—wheeze) Crowdey will hardly be prepared for (puff—wheeze) visitors,' ejaculated our friend, recollecting it was washing-day, and that Mary Ann would be wanted in the laundry.
'Don't mention it!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge; 'don't mention it. I hate to be made company of. Just give me what you have yourselves—just give me what you have yourselves. Where two can dine, three can dine, you know.'
Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey was nonplussed.
'Well, now,' said Mr. Sponge, turning again to Leather; 'just go upstairs and help me to pack up my things; and,' addressing himself to our visitor, he said, 'perhaps you'll amuse yourself with the paper—the Post—or I'll lend you my Mogg,' continued he, offering the little gilt-lettered, purple-backed volume as he spoke.
'Thank'ee,' replied Mr. Jogglebury, who was still tapping away at the card, which he had now worked very soft.
Mr. Sponge then left him with the volume in his hand, and proceeded upstairs to his bedroom.
In less than twenty minutes, the vehicle was got under way, Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey and Mr. Sponge occupying the roomy seats in front, and Bartholomew Badger, the before-mentioned tiger, and Mr. Sponge's portmanteau and carpet-bag, being in the very diminutive turnover seat behind. The carriage was followed by the straining eyes of sundry Johns and Janes, who unanimously agreed that Mr. Sponge was the meanest, shabbiest gent they had ever had in their house. Mr. Leather was, therefore, roasted in the servants' hall, where the sins of the masters are oft visited upon the servants.
But to our travellers.
Little conversation passed between our friends for the first few miles, for, in addition to the road being rough, the driving-seat was so high, and the other so low, that Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey's parables broke against Mr. Sponge's hat-crown, instead of dropping into his ear; besides which, the unwilling host's mind was a good deal occupied with wishing that there had been three haddocks instead of two, and speculating whether Mrs. Crowdey would be more pleased at the success of his mission, or put out of her way by Mr. Sponge's unexpected coming. Above all, he had marked some very promising-looking sticks—two blackthorns and a holly—to cut on his way home, and he was intent on not missing them. So sudden was the jerk that announced his coming on the first one, as nearly to throw the old family horse on his knees, and almost to break Mr. Sponge's nose against the brass edge of the cocked-up splash-board. Ere Mr. Sponge recovered his equilibrium, the whip was in the case, the reins dangling about the old screw's heels, and Mr. Crowdey scrambling up a steep bank to where a very thick boundary-hedge shut out the view of the adjacent country. Presently, chop, chop, chop, was heard, from Mr. Crowdey's pocket axe, with a tug—wheeze—puff from himself; next a crash of separation; and then the purple-faced Mr. Crowdey came bearing down the bank dragging a great blackthorn bush after him.
'What have you got there?' inquired Mr. Sponge, with surprise.
'Got! (wheeze—puff—wheeze),' replied Mr. Crowdey, pulling up short, and mopping his perspiring brow with a great claret-coloured bandana. 'Got! I've (puff—wheeze) got what I (wheeze) think will (puff) into a most elaborate and (wheeze) valuable walking-stick. This I (puff) think,' continued he, eyeing the great ball with which he had got it up, 'will (wheeze) come in most valuably (puff) for my great (puff—wheeze—gasp) national undertaking—the (puff) Kings and (wheeze) Queens of Great Britain (gasp).'
'What are they?' asked Mr. Sponge, astonished at his vehemence.
'Oh! (puff—wheeze—gasp) haven't you heard?' exclaimed Mr. Jogglebury, taking off his great woolly hat, and giving his lank, dark hair, streaked with grey, a sweep round his low forehead with the bandana. 'Oh! (puff—gasp) haven't you heard?' repeated he, getting a little more breath. 'I'm (wheeze) undertaking a series of (gasp) sticks, representing—(gasp)—immortalizing, I may say (puff), all the (wheeze) crowned heads of England (puff).'
'Indeed!' replied Mr. Sponge.
'They'll be a most valuable collection (wheeze—puff),' continued Mr. Jogglebury, still eyeing the knob. 'This,' added he, 'shall be William the Fourth.' He then commenced lopping and docking the sides, making Bartholomew Badger bury them in a sand-pit hard by, observing, in a confidential wheeze to Mr. Sponge, 'that he had once been county-courted for a similar trespass before.' The top and lop being at length disposed of, Mr. Crowdey, grasping the club-end, struck the other forcibly against the ground, exclaiming, 'There!—there's a (puff) stick! Who knows what that (puff—wheeze) stick may be worth some day?'
He then bundled into his carriage and drove on.
Two more stoppages marked their arrival at the other sticks, which being duly captured and fastened within the straps of the carriage-apron, Mr. Crowdey drove on somewhat more at ease in his mind, at all events somewhat comforted at the thoughts of having increased his wealth. He did not become talkative—indeed that was not his forte, but he puffed into his shirt-frill, and made a few observations, which, if they did not possess much originality, at all events showed that he was not asleep.
'Those are draining-tiles,' said he, after a hearty stare at a cart-load. Then about five minutes after he blew again, and said, 'I don't think (puff) that (wheeze) draining without (gasp) manuring will constitute high farming (puff).'
So he jolted and wheezed, and jerked and jagged the old quadruped's mouth, occasionally hissing between his teeth, and stamping against the bottom of the carriage, when other persuasive efforts failed to induce it to keep up the semblance of a trot. At last the ill-supported hobble died out into a walk, and Mr. Crowdey, complacently dropping his fat hand on his fat knees, seemed to resign himself to his fate.
So they crawled along the up-and-downy piece of road below Poplarton plantations, Mr. Jogglebury keeping a sharp eye upon the underwood for sticks. After passing these, they commenced the gradual ascent of Roundington Hill, when a sudden sweep of the road brought them in view of the panorama of the rich Vale of Butterflower.
'There's a snug-looking box,' observed Sponge, as he at length espied a confused jumble of gable-ends and chimney-pots rising from amidst a clump of Scotch firs and other trees, looking less like a farmhouse than anything he had seen.
'That's my house (puff); that's Puddingpote Bower (wheeze),' replied Crowdey slowly and pompously, adding an 'e' to the syllable, to make it sound better, the haddocks, hashed mutton, and all the horrors of impromptu hospitality rushing upon his mind.
Things began to look worse the nearer he got home. He didn't care to aggravate the old animal into a trot. He again wondered whether Mrs. J. would be pleased at the success of his mission, or angry at the unexpected coming.
'Where are the stables?' asked Sponge, as he scanned the in-and-out irregularities of the building.
'Stables (wheeze), stables (puff),' repeated Crowdey—thinking of his troubles—of its being washing-day, and Mary Ann, or Murry Ann, as he called her, the under-butler, being engaged; of Bartholomew Badger having the horse and fe-a-ton to clean, &c.—'stables,' repeated he for the third time; 'stables are at the back, behind, in fact; you'll see a (puff) vane—a (wheeze) fox, on the top.'
'Ah, indeed!' replied Mr. Sponge, brightening up, thinking there would be old hay and corn.
They now came to a half-Swiss, half-Gothic little cottage of a lodge, and the old horse turned instinctively into the open white gate with pea-green bands.
'Here's Mrs. Crow—Crow—Crowdey!' gasped Jogglebury, convulsively, as a tall woman, in flare-up red and yellow stunner tartan, with a swarm of little children, similarly attired, suddenly appeared at an angle of the road, the lady handling a great alpaca umbrella-looking parasol in the stand-and-deliver style.
'What's kept you?' exclaimed she, as the vehicle got within ear-shot. 'What's kept you?' repeated she, in a sharper key, holding her parasol across the road, but taking no notice of our friend Sponge, who, in truth, she took for Edgebone, the butcher. 'Oh! you've been after your sticks, have you?' added she, as her spouse drew the vehicle up alongside of her, and she caught the contents of the apron-straps.
'My dear (puff)' gasped her husband, 'I've brought Mr. (wheeze) Sponge,' said he, winking his right eye, and jerking his head over his left shoulder, looking very frightened all the time. 'Mr. (puff) Sponge, Mrs. (gasp) Jogglebury (wheeze) Crowdey,' continued he, motioning with his hand.
Finding himself in the presence of his handsome hostess, Sponge made her one of his best bows, and offered to resign his seat in the carriage to her. This she declined, alleging that she had the children with her—looking round on the grinning, gaping group, the majority of them with their mouths smeared with lollipops. Crowdey, who was not so stupid as he looked, was nettled at Sponge's attempting to fix his wife upon him at such a critical moment, and immediately retaliated with, 'P'raps (puff) you'd like to (puff) out and (wheeze) walk.'
There was no help for this, and Sponge having alighted, Mr. Crowdey said, half to Mr. Sponge and half to his fine wife, 'Then (puff—wheeze) I'll just (puff) on and get Mr. (wheeze) Sponge's room ready.' So saying, he gave the old nag a hearty jerk with the bit, and two or three longitudinal cuts with the knotty-pointed whip, and jingled away with a bevy of children shouting, hanging on, and dragging behind, amidst exclamations from Mrs. Crowdey, of 'O Anna Maria! Juliana Jane! O Frederick James, you naughty boy! you'll spoil your new shoes! Archibald John, you'll be kilt! you'll be run over to a certainty. O Jogglebury, you inhuman man!' continued she, running and brandishing her alpaca parasol, 'you'll run over your children! you'll run over your children!'
'My (puff) dear,' replied Jogglebury, looking coolly over his shoulder,' how can they be (wheeze) run over behind?'
So saying Jogglebury ground away at his leisure.
PUDDINGPOTE BOWER, THE SEAT OF JOGGLEBURY CROWDEY, ESQ.
'Your good husband,' observed Mr. Sponge as he now overtook his hostess and proceeded with her towards the house, 'has insisted upon bringing me over to spend a few days till my friend Puffington recovers. He's just got the gout. I said I was 'fraid it mightn't be quite convenient to you, but Mr. Crowdey assured me you were in the habit of receivin' fox-hunters at short notice; and so I have taken him at his word, you see, and come.'
Mrs. Jogglebury, who was still out of wind from her run after the carriage, assured him that she was extremely happy to see him, though she couldn't help thinking what a noodle Jog was to bring a stranger on a washing-day. That, however, was a point she would reserve for Jog.
Just then a loud outburst from the children announced the approach of the eighth wonder of the world, in the person of Gustavus James in the nurse's arms, with a curly blue feather nodding over his nose. Mrs. Jogglebury's black eyes brightened with delight as she ran forward to meet him; and in her mind's eye she saw him inheriting a splendid mansion, with a retinue of powdered footmen in pea-green liveries and broad gold-laced hats. Great—prospectively great, at least—as had been her successes in the sponsor line with her other children, she really thought, getting Mr. Sponge for a god-papa for Gustavus James eclipsed all her other doings.
Mr. Sponge, having been liberal in his admiration of the other children, of course could not refuse unbounded applause to the evident object of a mother's regards; and, chucking the young gentleman under his double chin, asked him how he was, and said something about something he had in his 'box,' alluding to a paper of cheap comfits he had bought at Sugarchalk's, the confectioner's, sale in Oxford Street, and which he carried about for contingencies like the present. This pleased Mrs. Crowdey—looking, as she thought, as if he had come predetermined to do what she wanted. Amidst praises and stories of the prodigy, they reached the house.
If a 'hall' means a house with an entrance-'hall,' Puddingpote Bower did not aspire to be one. A visitor dived, in medias res, into the passage at once. In it stood an oak-cased family clock, and a large glass-case, with an alarming-looking, stuffed tiger-like cat, on an imitation marble slab. Underneath the slab, indeed all about the passage, were scattered children's hats and caps, hoops, tops, spades, and mutilated toys—spotted horses without heads, soldiers without arms, windmills without sails, and wheelbarrows without wheels. In a corner were a bunch of 'gibbeys' in the rough, and alongside the weather-glass hung Jog's formidable flail of a hunting-whip.
Mr. Sponge found his portmanteau standing bolt upright in the passage, with the bag alongside of it, just as they had been chucked out of the phaeton by Bartholomew Badger, who, having got orders to put the horse right, and then to put himself right to wait at dinner, Mr. Jogglebury proceeded to vociferate:
'Murry Ann!—Murry Ann!' in such a way that Mary Ann thought either that the cat had got young Crowdey, or the house was on fire. 'Oh! Murry Ann!' exclaimed Mr. Jogglebury, as she came darting into the passage from the back settlements, up to the elbows in soap-suds; 'I want you to (puff) upstairs with me, and help to get my (wheeze) gibbey-sticks out of the best room; there's a (puff) gentleman coming to (wheeze) here.'
'Oh, indeed, sir,' replied Mary Ann, smiling, and dropping down her sleeves—glad to find it was no worse.
They then proceeded upstairs together.
All the gibbey-sticks were bundled out, both the finished ones, that were varnished and laid away carefully in the wardrobe, and those that were undergoing surgical treatment, in the way of twistings, and bendings, and tyings in the closets. As they routed them out of hole and corner, Jogglebury kept up a sort of running recommendation to mercy, mingled with an inquiry into the state of the household affairs.
'Now (puff), Murry Ann!' exclaimed he; 'take care you don't scratch that (puff) Franky Burdett,' handing her a highly varnished oak stick, with the head of Sir Francis for a handle; 'and how many (gasp) haddocks d'ye say there are in the house?'
'Three, sir,' replied Mary Ann.
'Three!' repeated he, with an emphasis. 'I thought your (gasp) missus told me there were but (puff) two; and, Murry Ann, you must put the new (puff) quilt on the (gasp) bed, and (puff) just look under it (gasp) and you'll find the (puff) old Truro rolled up in a dirty (puff) pocket hankercher; and, Murry Ann, d'ye think the new (wheeze) purtaters came that I bought of (puff) Billy Bloxom? If so, you'd better (puff) some for dinner, and get the best (wheeze) decanters out; and, Murry Ann, there are two gibbeys on the (puff) surbase at the back of the bed, which you may as well (puff) away. Ah! here he is,' added Mr. Jogglebury, as Mr. Sponge's voice rose now from the passage into the room above.
Things now looked pretty promising. Mr. Sponge's attentions to the children generally, and to Gustavus James in particular, coupled with his free-and-easy mode of introducing himself, made Mrs. Crowdey feel far more at her ease with regard to entertaining him than she would have done if her neighbour, Mr. Makepeace, or the Rev. Mr. Facey himself, had dropped in to take 'pot luck,' as they called it. With either of these she would have wished to appear as if their every-day form was more in accordance with their company style, whereas Jog and she wanted to get something out of Mr. Sponge, instead of electrifying him with their grandeur. That Gustavus James was destined for greatness she had not the least doubt. She began to think whether it might not be advisable to call him Gustavus James Sponge. Jog, too, was comforted at hearing there were three haddocks, for though hospitably inclined, he did not at all like the idea of being on short commons himself. He had sufficient confidence in Mrs. Jogglebury's management—especially as the guest was of her own seeking—to know that she would make up a tolerable dinner.