Nor was he out of his reckoning, for at half-past five Bartholomew announced dinner, when in sailed Mrs. Crowdey fresh from the composition of it and from the becoming revision of her own dress. Instead of the loose, flowing, gipsified, stunner tartan of the morning, she was attired in a close-fitting French grey silk, showing as well the fulness and whiteness of her exquisite bust, as the beautiful formation of her arms. Her raven hair was ably parted and flattened on either side of her well-shaped head. Sponge felt proud of the honour of having such a fine creature on his arm, and kicked about in his tights more than usual.
The dinner, though it might show symptoms of hurry, was yet plentiful and good of its kind; and if Bartholomew had not been always getting in Murry Ann's way, would have been well set on and served. Jog quaffed quantities of foaming bottled porter during the progress of it, and threw himself back in his chair at the end, as if thoroughly overcome with his exertions. Scarcely were the wine and dessert set on, ere a violent outbreak in the nursery caused Mrs. Crowdey to hurry away, leaving Mr. Sponge to enjoy the company of her husband.
'You'll drink (puff) fox-hunting, I s'pose,' observed Jog after a pause, helping himself to a bumper of port and passing the bottle to Sponge.
'With all my heart,' replied our hero, filling up.
'Fine (puff, wheeze) amusement,' observed Mr. Crowdey, with a yawn after another pause, and beating the devil's tattoo upon the table to keep himself awake.
'Very,' replied Mr. Sponge, wondering how such a thick-winded chap as Jog managed to partake of it.
'Fine (puff, wheeze) appetizer,' observed Jogglebury, after another pause.
'It is,' replied Mr. Sponge.
Presently Jog began to snore, and as the increasing melody of his nose gave little hopes of returning animation, Mr. Sponge had recourse to his old friend Mogg and amidst speculations as to time and distances, managed to finish the port. We will now pass to the next morning.
Whatever deficiency there might be at dinner was amply atoned for at breakfast, which was both good and abundant; bread and cake of all sorts, eggs, muffins, toast, honey, jellies, and preserves without end. On the side-table was a dish of hot kidneys and a magnificent red home-fed ham.
But a greater treat far, as Mrs. Jogglebury thought, was in the guests set around. There were arranged all her tulips in succession, beginning with that greatest of all wonders, Gustavus James, and running on with Anna Maria, Frederick John, Juliana Jane, Margaret Henrietta, Sarah Amelia, down to Peter William, the heir, who sat next his pa. These formed a close line on the side of the table opposite the fire, that side being left for Mr. Sponge. All the children had clean pinafores on, and their hairs plastered according to nursery regulation. Mr. Sponge's appearance was a signal for silence, and they all sat staring at him in mute astonishment. Baby, Gustavus James, did more; for after reconnoitring him through a sort of lattice window formed of his fingers, he whined out, 'Who's that ogl-e-y man, ma?' amidst the titter of the rest of the line.
'Hush! my dear,' exclaimed Mrs. Crowdey, hoping Mr. Sponge hadn't heard. But Gustavus James was not to be put down, and he renewed the charge as his mamma began pouring out the tea.
'Send that ogl-e-y man away, ma!' whined he, in a louder tone, at which all the children burst out a-laughing.
'Baby (puff), Gustavus! (wheeze),' exclaimed Jog, knocking with the handle of his knife against the table, and frowning at the prodigy.
'Well, pa, he is a ogl-e-y man,' replied the child, amid the ill-suppressed laughter of the rest.
'Ah, but what have I got!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, producing a gaudily done-up paper of comfits from his pocket, opening and distributing the unwholesome contents along the line, stopping the orator's mouth first with a great, red-daubed, almond comfit.
Breakfast was then proceeded with without further difficulty. As it drew to a close, and Mr. Sponge began nibbling at the sweets instead of continuing his attack on the solids, Mrs. Jogglebury began eyeing and telegraphing her husband.
'Jog, my dear,' said she, looking significantly at him, and then at the egg-stand, which still contained three eggs.
'Well, my dear,' replied Jog, with a vacant stare, pretending not to understand.
'You'd better eat them,' said she, looking again at the eggs.
'I've (puff) breakfasted, my (wheeze) dear,' replied Jog pompously, wiping his mouth on his claret-coloured bandana.
'They'll be wasted if you don't,' replied Mrs. Jog.
'Well, but they'll be wasted if I eat them without (wheeze) wanting them,' rejoined he.
'Nonsense, Jog, you always say that,' retorted his wife. 'Nonsense (puff), nonsense (wheeze), I say they will.'
'I say they won't!' replied Mrs. Jog; 'now will they, Mr. Sponge?' continued she, appealing to our friend.
'Why, no, not so much as if they went out,' replied our friend, thinking Mrs. Jog was the one to side with.
'Then you'd better (puff, wheeze, gasp) eat them between you,' replied Jog, getting up and strutting out of the room.
Presently he appeared in front of the house, crowned in a pea-green wide-awake, with a half-finished gibbey in his hand; and as Mr. Sponge did not want to offend him, and moreover wanted to get his horses billeted on him, he presently made an excuse for joining him.
Although his horses were standing 'free gratis,' as he called it, at Mr. Puffington's, and though he would have thought nothing of making Mr. Leather come over with one each hunting morning, still he felt that if the hounds were much on the other side of Puddingpote Bower, it would not be so convenient as having them there. Despite the egg controversy, he thought a judicious application of soft sawder might accomplish what he wanted. At all events, he would try.
Jog had brought himself short up, and was standing glowering with his hands in his coat-pockets, as if he had never seen the place before.
'Pretty look-out you have here, Mr. Jogglebury,' observed Mr. Sponge, joining him.
'Very,' replied Jog, still cogitating the egg question, and thinking he wouldn't have so many boiled the next day.
'All yours?' asked Sponge, waving his hand as he spoke.
'My (puff) ter-ri-tory goes up to those (wheeze) firs in the grass-field on the hill,' replied Jogglebury, pompously.
'Indeed,' said Mr. Sponge, 'they are fine trees'; thinking what a finish they would make for a steeple-chase.
'My (puff) uncle, Crowdey, planted those (wheeze) trees,' observed Jog. 'I observe,' added he, 'that it is easier to cut down a (puff) tree than to make it (wheeze) again.' 'I believe you're right,' replied Mr. Sponge; 'that idea has struck me very often.'
'Has it?' replied Jog, puffing voluminously into his frill.
They then advanced a few paces, and, leaning on the iron hurdles, commenced staring at the cows.
'Where are the stables?' at last asked Sponge, seeing no inclination to move on the part of his host.
'Stables (wheeze)—stables (puff),' replied Jogglebury, recollecting Sponge's previous day's proposal—'stables (wheeze) are behind,' said he, 'at the back there (puff); nothin' to see at them (wheeze).'
'There'll be the horse you drove yesterday; won't you go to see how he is?' asked Mr. Sponge.
'Oh, sure to be well (puff); never nothing the matter with him (wheeze),' replied Jogglebury.
'May as well see,' rejoined Mr. Sponge, turning up a narrow walk that seemed to lead to the back.
Jog followed doggedly. He had a good deal of John Bull in him, and did not fancy being taken possession of in that sort of way; and thought, moreover, that Mr. Sponge had not behaved very well in the matter of the egg controversy.
The stables certainly were nothing to boast of. They were in an old rubble-stone, red-tiled building, without even the delicacy of a ceiling. Nevertheless, there was plenty of room even after Jogglebury had cut off one end for a cow-house.
'Why, you might hunt the country with all this stabling,' observed Mr. Sponge, as he entered the low door. 'One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Nine stalls, I declare,' added he, after counting them.
'My (puff) uncle used to (wheeze) a good deal of his own (puff) land,' replied Jogglebury.
'Ah, well, I'll tell you what: these stables will be much better for being occupied,' observed Mr. Sponge. 'And I'll tell you what I'll do for you.'
'But they are occupied!' gasped Jogglebury, convulsively.
'Only half,' replied Mr. Sponge; 'or a quarter, I may say—not even that, indeed. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll have my horses over here, and you shall find them in straw in return for the manure, and just charge me for hay and corn at market price, you know. That'll make it all square and fair, and no obligation, you know. I hate obligations,' added he, eyeing Jog's disconcerted face.
'Oh, but (puff, wheeze, gasp)—' exclaimed Jogglebury, reddening up—'I don't (puff) know that I can (gasp) that. I mean (puff) that this (wheeze) stable is all the (gasp) 'commodation I have; and if we had (puff) company, or (gasp) anything of that sort, I don't know where we should (wheeze) their horses,' continued he. 'Besides, I don't (puff, wheeze) know about the market price of (gasp) corn. My (wheeze) tenant, Tom Hayrick, at the (puff) farm on the (wheeze) hill yonder, supplies me with the (puff) quantity I (wheeze) want, and we just (puff, wheeze, gasp) settle once a (puff) half-year, or so.'
'Ah, I see,' replied Mr. Sponge; 'you mean to say you wouldn't know how to strike the average so as to say what I ought to pay.'
'Just so,' rejoined Mr. Jogglebury, jumping at the idea.
'Ah, well,' said Mr. Sponge, in a tone of indifference; 'it's no great odds—it's no great odds—more the name of the thing than anything else; one likes to be independent, you know—one likes to be independent; but as I shan't be with you long, I'll just put up with it for once—I'll just put up with it for once—and let you find me—and let you find me.' So saying, he walked away, leaving Jogglebury petrified at his impudence.
'That husband of yours is a monstrous good fellow,' observed Mr. Sponge to Mrs. Jogglebury, who he now met coming out with her tail: 'he will insist on my having my horses over here—most liberal, handsome thing of him, I'm sure; and that reminds me, can you manage to put up my servant?'
'I dare say we can,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury thoughtfully. 'He's not a very fine gentleman, is he?' asked she, knowing that servants were often more difficult to please than their masters. 'Oh, not at all,' replied Sponge; 'not at all—wouldn't suit me if he was—wouldn't suit me if he was.'
Just then up waddled Jogglebury, puffing and wheezing like a stranded grampus; the idea having just struck him that he might get off on the plea of not having room for the servant.
'It's very unfortunate (wheeze)—that's to say, it never occurred to me (puff), but I quite forgot (gasp) that we haven't (wheeze) room for your (puff) servant.'
'Ah, you are a good fellow,' replied Mr. Sponge—'a devilish good fellow. I was just telling Mrs. Jogglebury—wasn't I, Mrs. Jogglebury?—what an excellent fellow you are, and how kind you'd been about the horses and corn, and all that sort of thing, when it occurred to me that it mightn't be convenient, p'raps to put up a servant; but your wife assures me that it will; so that settles the matter, you know—that settles the matter and I'll now send for the horses forthwith.'
Jog was utterly disconcerted, and didn't know which way to turn for an excuse. Mrs. Jogglebury, though she would rather have been without the establishment, did not like to peril Gustavus James's prospects by appearing displeased; so she smilingly said she would see and do what they could.
Mr. Sponge then procured a messenger to take a note to Hanby House, for Mr. Leather, and having written it, amused himself for a time with his cigars and his Mogg in his bedroom, and then turned out to see the stable got ready, and pick up any information about the hounds, or anything else, from anybody he could lay hold of. As luck would have it, he fell in with a groom travelling a horse to hunt with Sir Harry Scattercash's hounds, which, he said, met at Snobston Green, some eight or nine miles off, the next day, and whither Mr. Sponge decided on going.
Mr. Jogglebury's equanimity returning at dinner time, Mr. Sponge was persuasive enough to induce him to accompany him, and it was finally arranged that Leather should go on with the horses, and Jog should drive Sponge to cover in the phe-a-ton.
A FAMILY BREAKFAST ON A HUNTING MORNING
Mrs. Jogglebury Crowdey was a good deal disconcerted at Gustavus James's irreverence to his intended god-papa, and did her best, both by promises and entreaties, to bring him to a more becoming state of mind. She promised him abundance of good things if he would astonish Mr. Sponge with some of his wonderful stories, and expatiated on Mr. Sponge's goodness in bringing him the nice comfits, though Mrs. Jogglebury could not but in her heart blame them for some little internal inconvenience the wonder had experienced during the night. However, she brought him to breakfast in pretty good form, where he was cocked up in his high chair beside his mamma, the rest of the infantry occupying the position of the previous day, all under good-behaviour orders.
Unfortunately, Mr. Sponge, not having been able to get himself up to his satisfaction, was late in coming down; and when he did make his appearance, the unusual sight of a man in a red coat, a green tie, a blue vest, brown boots, &c., completely upset their propriety, and deranged the order of the young gentleman's performance. Mr. Sponge, too, conscious that he was late, was more eager for his breakfast than anxious to be astonished; so, what with repressing the demands of the youngster, watching that the others did not break loose, and getting Jog and Mr. Sponge what they wanted, Mrs. Crowdey had her hands full. At last, having got them set a-going, she took a lump of sugar out of the basin, and showing it to the wonder, laid it beside her plate, whispering 'Now, my beauty!' into his ear, as she adjusted him in his chair. The child, who had been wound up like a musical snuff-box, then went off as follows:
'Bah, bah, back sheep, have 'ou any 'ool? Ess, marry, have I, three bags full; Un for ye master, un for ye dame, Un for ye 'ittle boy 'ot 'uns about ye 'are.'
But unfortunately, Mr. Sponge was busy with his breakfast, and the prodigy wasted his sweetness on the desert air.
Mrs. Jogglebury, who had sat listening in ecstasies, saw the offended eye and pouting lip of the boy, and attempted to make up with exclamations of 'That is a clever fellow! That is a wonder!' at the same time showing him the sugar.
'A little more (puff) tea, my (wheeze) dear,' said Jogglebury, thrusting his great cup up the table.
'Hush! Jog, hush!' exclaimed Mrs. Crowdey, holding up her forefinger, and looking significantly first at him, and then at the urchin.
'Now, "Obin and Ichard," my darling,' continued she, addressing herself coaxingly to Gustavus James.
'No, not "Obin and Ichard,"' replied the child peevishly.
'Yes, my darling, do, that's a treasure.'
'Well, my (puff) darling, give me some (wheeze) tea,' interposed Jogglebury, knocking with his knuckles on the table.
'Oh dear. Jog, you and your tea!—you're always wanting tea,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury snappishly.
'Well, but, my (puff) dear, you forget that Mr. (wheeze) Sponge and I have to be at (puff) Snobston Green at a (wheeze) quarter to eleven, and it's good twelve (gasp) miles off.'
'Well, but it'll not take you long to get there,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury; 'will it, Mr. Sponge?' continued she, again appealing to our friend.
'Sure I don't know,' replied Sponge, eating away; 'Mr. Crowdey finds conveyance—I only find company.'
Mrs. Jogglebury Crowdey then prepared to pour her husband out another cup of tea, and the musical snuff-box, being now left to itself, went off of its own accord with:
'Diddle, diddle, doubt, My candle's out. My 'ittle dame's not at 'ome— So saddle my hog, and bridle my And bring my 'ittle dame, 'ome.'
A poem that in the original programme was intended to come in after 'Obin and Ichard,' which was to be the chef-d'oeuvre.
Mrs. Jog was delighted, and found herself pouring the tea into the sugar-basin instead of into Jog's cup.
Mr. Sponge, too, applauded. 'Well, that was very clever,' said he, filling his mouth with cold ham.
'"Saddle my dog, and bridle my hog"—I'll trouble you for another cup of tea,' addressing Mrs. Crowdey.
'No, not "saddle my dog," sil-l-e-y man!' drawled the child, making a pet lip: '"saddle my hog."'
'Oh! "saddle my hog," was it?' replied Mr. Sponge, with apparent surprise; 'I thought it was "saddle my dog." I'll trouble you for the sugar, Mrs. Jogglebury'; adding, 'you have devilish good cream here; how many cows have you?'
'Cows (puff), cows (wheeze)?' replied Jogglebury; 'how many cows?' repeated he.
'Oh, two,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury tartly, vexed at the interruption.
'Pardon me (puff),' replied Jogglebury slowly and solemnly, with a full blow into his frill; 'pardon me, Mrs. (puff) Jogglebury (wheeze) Crowdey, but there are three (wheeze).'
'Not in milk. Jog—not in milk,' retorted Mrs. Crowdey.
'Three cows, Mrs. (puff) Jogglebury (wheeze) Crowdey, notwithstanding,' rejoined our host.
'Well; but when people talk of cream, and ask how many cows you have, they mean in milk, Mister Jogglebury Crowdey.'
'Not necessarily. Mistress Jogglebury Crowdey,' replied the pertinacious Jog, with another heavy snort. 'Ah, now you're coming your fine poor-law guardian knowledge,' rejoined his wife. Jog was chairman of the Stir-it-stiff Union.
While this was going on, young hopeful was sitting cocked up in his high chair, evidently mortified at the want of attention.
Mrs. Crowdey saw how things were going, and turning from the cow question, endeavoured to re-engage him in his recitations.
'Now, my angel!' exclaimed she, again showing him the sugar; 'tell us about "Obin and Ichard."'
'No—not "Obin and Ichard,"' pouted the child.
'Oh yes, my sweet, do, that's a good child; the gentleman in the pretty coat, who gives baby the nice things, wants to hear it.'
'Come, out with it, young man!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, now putting a large piece of cold beef into his mouth.
'Not a 'ung man,' muttered the child, bursting out a-crying, and extending his little fat arms to his mamma.
'No, my angel, not a 'ung man yet,' replied Mrs. Jogglebury, taking him out of the chair, and hugging him to her bosom.
'He'll be a man before his mother for all that,' observed Mr. Sponge, nothing disconcerted by the noise.
Jog had now finished his breakfast, and having pocketed three buns and two pieces of toast, with a thick layer of cold ham between them, looked at his great warming-pan of a watch, and said to his guest, 'When you're (wheeze), I'm (puff).' So saying he got up, and gave his great legs one or two convulsive shakes, as if to see that they were on.
Mrs. Jogglebury looked reproachfully at him, as much as to say, 'How can you behave so?'
Mr. Sponge, as he eyed Jog's ill-made, queerly put on garments, wished that he had not desired Leather to go to the meet. It would have been better to have got the horses a little way off, and have shirked Jog, who did not look like a desirable introducer to a hunting field.
'I'll be with you directly,' replied Mr. Sponge, gulping down the remains of his tea; adding, 'I've just got to run upstairs and get a cigar.' So saying, he jumped up and disappeared.
Murry Ann, not approving of Sponge's smoking in his bedroom, had hid the cigar-case under the toilet cover, at the back of the glass, and it was some time before he found it.
Mrs. Jogglebury availed herself of the lapse of time, and his absence, to pacify her young Turk, and try to coax him into reciting the marvellous 'Obin and Ichard.'
As Mr. Sponge came clanking downstairs with the cigar-case in his hand, she met him (accidentally, of course) at the bottom, with the boy in her arms, and exclaimed, 'O Mr. Sponge, here's Gustavus James wants to tell you a little story.'
Mr. Sponge stopped—inwardly hoping that it would not be a long one.
'Now, my darling,' said she, sticking the boy up straight to get him to begin.
'Now, then!' exclaimed Mr. Crowdey, in the true Jehu-like style, from the vehicle at the door, in which he had composed himself.
'Coming, Jog! coming!' replied Mrs. Crowdey, with a frown on her brow at the untimely interruption; then appealing again to the child, who was nestling in his mother's bosom, as if disinclined to show off, she said, 'Now, my darling, let the gentleman hear how nicely you'll say it.'
The child still slunk.
'That's a fine fellow, out with it!' said Mr. Sponge, taking up his hat to be off.
'Now, then!' exclaimed his host again.
'Coming!' replied Mr. Sponge.
As if to thwart him, the child then began, Mrs. Jogglebury holding up her forefinger as well in admiration as to keep silence:
'Obin and Ichard, two pretty men, Lay in bed till 'e clock struck ten; Up starts Obin, and looks at the sky—'
And then the brat stopped.
'Very beautiful!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge; 'very beautiful! One of Moore's, isn't it? Thank you, my little dear, thank you,' added he, chucking him under the chin, and putting on his hat to be off.
'O, but stop, Mr. Sponge!' exclaimed Mrs. Jogglebury, 'you haven't heard it all—there's more yet.'
Then turning to the child, she thus attempted to give him the cue.
'O, ho! bother—'
'Now, then! time's hup!' again shouted Jogglebury into the passage.
'O dear, Mr. Jogglebury, will you hold your stoopid tongue!' exclaimed she, adding, 'you certainly are the most tiresome man under the sun.' She then turned to the child with:
'O ho! bother Ichard' again.
But the child was mute, and Mr. Sponge fearing, from some indistinct growling that proceeded from the carriage, that a storm was brewing, endeavoured to cut short the entertainment by exclaiming:
'Wonderful two-year-old! Pity he's not in the Darby. Dare say he'll tell me the rest when I come back.'
But this only added fuel to the fire of Mrs. Jogglebury's ardour, and made her more anxious that Sponge should not lose a word of it. Accordingly she gave the fat dumpling another jerk up on her arm, and repeated:
'O ho! bother Ichard, the—What's very high?' asked Mrs. Jogglebury coaxingly.
'Sun's very high,'
replied the child.
'Yes, my darling!' exclaimed the delighted mamma. Mrs. Jogglebury then proceeded with:
'Ou go before—' CHILD.—'With bottle and bag,' MAMMA.—'And I'll follow after—' CHILD.—'With 'ittle Jack Nag.'
'Well now, that is wonderful!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, hurrying on his dog-skin gloves, and wishing both Obin and Ichard farther.
'Isn't it!' exclaimed Mrs. Jogglebury, in ecstasies; then addressing the child, she said, 'Now that is a good boy—that is a fine fellow. Now couldn't he say it all over by himself, doesn't he think?' Mrs. Jogglebury looking at Sponge, as if she was meditating the richest possible treat for him.
'Oh,' replied Mr. Sponge, quite tired of the detention, 'he'll tell me it when I return—he'll tell me it when I return,' at the same time giving the child another parting chuck under the chin. But the child was not to be put off in that way, and instead of crouching, and nestling, and hiding its face, it looked up quite boldly, and after a little hesitation went through 'Obin and Ichard,' to the delight of Mrs. Jogglebury, the mortification of Sponge, and the growling denunciations of old Jog, who still kept his place in the vehicle. Mr. Sponge could not but stay the poem out.
At last they got started, Jog driving. Sponge occupying the low seat, Jog's flail and Sponge's cane whip-stick stuck in the straps of the apron. Jog was very crusty at first, and did little but whip and flog the old horse, and puff and growl about being late, keeping people waiting, over-driving the horse, and so on.
'Have a cigar?' at last asked Sponge, opening the well-filled case, and tendering that olive branch to his companion.
'Cigar (wheeze), cigar (puff)?' replied Jog, eyeing the case; 'why, no, p'raps not, I think (wheeze), thank'e.'
'Do you never smoke?' asked Sponge.
'(Puff—wheeze) Not often,' replied Jogglebury, looking about him with an air of indifference. He did not like to say no, because Springwheat smoked, though Mrs. Springey highly disapproved of it.
'You'll find them very mild,' observed Sponge, taking one out for himself, and again tendering the case to his friend.
'Mild (wheeze), mild (puff), are they?' said Jog, thinking he would try one.
Mr. Sponge then struck a light, and, getting his own cigar well under way, lit one for his friend, and presented it to him. They then went puffing, and whipping, and smoking in silence. Jog spoke first. 'I'm going to be (puff) sick,' observed he, slowly and solemnly.
'Hope not,' replied Mr. Sponge, with a hearty whiff, up into the air.
'I am going to be (puff) sick,' observed Jog, after another pause.
'Be sick on your own side, then,' replied Sponge, with another hearty whiff.
'By the (puff) powers! I am (puff) sick!' exclaimed Jogglebury, after another pause, and throwing away the cigar. 'Oh, dear!' exclaimed he, 'you shouldn't have given me that nasty (puff) thing.'
'My dear fellow, I didn't know it would make you sick,' replied Mr. Sponge.
'Well, but (puff) if they (wheeze) other people sick, in all (puff) probability they'll (wheeze) me. There!' exclaimed he, pulling up again.
The delays occasioned by these catastrophes, together with the time lost by 'Obin and Ichard,' threw our sportsmen out considerably. When they reached Chalkerley Gate it wanted ten minutes to eleven, and they had still three miles to go.
'We shall be late,' observed Sponge inwardly denouncing 'Obin and Ichard.'
'Shouldn't wonder,' replied Jog, adding, with a puff into his frill, 'consequences of making me sick, you see.'
'My dear fellow, if you don't know your own stomach by this time, you did ought to do,' replied Mr. Sponge.
'I (puff) flatter myself I do (wheeze) my own stomach,' replied Jogglebury tartly.
They then rumbled on for some time in silence.
When they came within sight of Snobston Green, the coast was clear. Not a red coat, or hunting indication of any sort, was to be seen.
'I told you so (puff)!' growled Jog, blowing full into his frill, and pulling up short.
'They be gone to Hackberry Dean,' said an old man, breaking stones by the roadside.
'Hackberry Dean (puff)—Hackberry Dean (wheeze)!' replied Jog thoughtfully; 'then we must (puff) by Tollarton Mill, and through the (wheeze) village to Stewley?' 'Y-e-a-z,' drawled the man.
Jog then drove on a few paces, and turned up a lane to the left, whose finger-post directed the road 'to Tollarton.' He seemed less disconcerted than Sponge, who kept inwardly anathematizing, not only 'Obin and Ichard,' but 'Diddle, diddle, doubt'—'Bah, bah, black sheep'—the whole tribe of nursery ballads, in short.
The fact was, Jog wanted to be into Hackberry Dean, which was full of fine, straight hollies, fit either for gibbeys or whip-sticks, and the hounds being there gave him the entree. It was for helping himself there, without this excuse, that he had been 'county-courted,' and he did not care to renew his acquaintance with the judge. He now whipped and jagged the old nag, as if intent on catching the hounds. Mr. Sponge liberated his whip from the apron-straps, and lent a hand when Jog began to flag. So they rattled and jingled away at an amended pace. Still it seemed to Mr. Sponge as if they would never get there. Having passed through Tollarton, and cleared the village of Stewley, Mr. Sponge strained his eyes in every direction where there was a bit of wood, in hopes of seeing something of the hounds. Meanwhile Jog was shuffling his little axe from below the cushion of the driving-seat into the pocket of his great-coat. All of a sudden he pulled up, as they were passing a bank of wood (Hackberry Dean), and handing the reins to his companion, said:
'Just lay hold for a minute whilst I (puff) out.'
'What's happened?' asked Sponge. 'Not sick again, are you?'
'No (puff), not exactly (wheeze) sick, but I want to be out all the (puff) same.'
So saying, out he bundled, and, crushing through the fern-grown woodbiney fence, darted into the wood in a way that astonished our hero. Presently the chop, chop, chop of the axe revealed the mystery.
'By the powers, the fool's at his sticks!' exclaimed Sponge, disgusted at the contretemps. 'Mister Jogglebury!' roared he, 'Mister Jogglebury, we shall never catch up the hounds at this rate!'
But Jog was deaf—chop, chop, chop was all the answer Mr. Sponge got.
'Well, hang me if ever I saw such a fellow!' continued Sponge, thinking he would drive on if he only knew the way.
'Chop, chop, chop,' continued the axe.
'Mister Jogglebury! Mister Jogglebury Crowdey a-hooi!' roared Sponge, at the top of his voice.
The axe stopped. 'Anybody comin'?' resounded from the wood.
'You come,' replied Mr. Sponge.
'Presently,' was the answer; and the chop, chop, chopping was resumed.
'The man's mad,' muttered Mr. Sponge, throwing himself back in the seat. At length Jog appeared brushing and tearing his way out of the wood, with two fine hollies under his arm. He was running down with perspiration, and looked anxiously up and down the road as he blundered through the fence to see if there was any one coming.
'I really think (puff) this will make a four-in-hander (wheeze),' exclaimed he, as he advanced towards the carriage, holding a holly so as to show its full length—'not that I (puff, wheeze, gasp) do much in that (puff, wheeze) line, but really it is such a (puff, wheeze) beauty that I couldn't (puff, wheeze, gasp) resist it.'
'Well, but I thought we were going to hunt,' observed Mr. Sponge dryly.
'Hunt (puff)! so we are (wheeze); but there are no hounds (gasp). My good (puff) man,' continued he, addressing a smock-frocked countryman, who now came up, 'have you seen anything of the (wheeze) hounds?'
'E-e-s,' replied the man. 'They be gone to Brookdale Plantin'.'
'Then we'd better (puff) after them,' said Jog, running the stick through the apron-straps, and bundling into the phaeton with the long one in his hand.
Away they rattled and jingled as before.
'How far is it?' asked Mr. Sponge, vexed at the detention.
'Oh (puff), close by (wheeze),' replied Jog.
'Close by,' as most of our sporting readers well know to their cost, is generally anything but close by. Nor was Jog's close by, close by on this occasion.
'There,' said Jog, after they had got crawled up Trampington Hill; 'that's it (puff) to the right, by the (wheeze) water there,' pointing to a plantation about a mile off, with a pond shining at the end.
Just as Mr. Sponge caught view of the water, the twang of a horn was heard, and the hounds came pouring, full cry, out of cover, followed by about twenty variously clad horsemen, and our friend had the satisfaction of seeing them run clean out of sight, over as fine a country as ever was crossed. Worst of all, he thought he saw Leather pounding away on the chestnut.
HUNTING THE HOUNDS
Tramptinton Hill, whose summit they had just reached as the hounds broke cover, commanded an extensive view over the adjoining vale, and, as Mr. Sponge sat shading his eyes with his hands from a bright wintry sun, he thought he saw them come to a check, and afterwards bend to the left.
'I really think,' said he, addressing his still perspiring companion, 'that if you were to make for that road on the left' (pointing one out as seen between the low hedge-rows in the distance), 'we might catch them up yet.'
'Left (puff), left (wheeze)?' replied Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey, staring about with anything but the quickness that marked his movements when he dived into Hackberry Dean.
'Don't you see,' asked Sponge tartly, 'there's a road by the corn-stacks yonder?' Pointing them out.
'I see,' replied Jogglebury, blowing freely into his shirt-frill. 'I see,' repeated he, staring that way; 'but I think (puff) that's a mere (wheeze) occupation road, leading to (gasp) nowhere.'
'Never mind, let's try!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, giving the rein a jerk, to get the horse into motion again; adding, 'it's no use sitting here, you know, like a couple of fools, when the hounds are running.'
'Couple of (puff)!' growled Jog, not liking the appellation, and wishing to be home with the long holly. 'I don't see anything (wheeze) foolish in the (puff) business.'
'There they are!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, who had kept his eye on the spot he last viewed them, and now saw the horsemen titt-up-ing across a grass field in the easy way that distance makes very uneasy riding look. 'Cut along!' exclaimed he, laying into the horse's hind-quarters with his hunting-whip.
'Don't! the horse is (puff) tired,' retorted Jog angrily, holding the horse, instead of letting him go to Sponge's salute.
'Not a bit on't!' exclaimed Sponge; 'fresh as paint! Spring him a bit, that's a good fellow!' added he.
Jog didn't fancy being dictated to in this way, and just crawled along at his own pace, some six miles an hour, his dull phlegmatic face contrasting with the eager excitement of Mr. Sponge's countenance. If it had not been that Jog wanted to see that Leather did not play any tricks with his horse, he would not have gone a yard to please Mr. Sponge. Jog might, however, have been easy on that score, for Leather had just buckled the curb-rein of the horse's bridle round a tree in the plantations where they found, and the animal, being used to this sort of work, had fallen-to quite contentedly upon the grass within reach.
Bilkington Pike now appeared in view, and Jog drew in as he spied it. He knew the damage: sixpence for carriages, and he doubted that Sponge would pay it.
'It's no use going any (wheeze) farther,' observed he, drawing up into a walk, as he eyed the red-brick gable end of the toll-house, and the formidable white gate across the road.
Tom Coppers had heard the hounds, and, knowing the hurry sportsmen are often in, had taken the precaution to lock the gate.
'Just a leetle farther!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge soothingly, whose anxiety in looking after the hounds had prevented his seeing this formidable impediment. 'If you would just drive up to that farmhouse on the hill,' pointing to one about half a mile off, 'I think we should be able to decide whether it's worth going on or not.'
'Well (puff), well (wheeze), well (gasp),' pondered Jogglebury, still staring at the gate, 'if you (puff) think it's worth (wheeze) while going through the (gasp) gate,' nodding towards it as he spoke.
'Oh, never mind the gate,' replied Mr. Sponge, with an ostentatious dive into his breeches pocket, as if he was going to pay it.
He kept his hand in his pocket till he came close up to the gate, when, suddenly drawing it out, he said:
'Oh, hang it! I've left my purse at home! Never mind, drive on,' said he to his host; exclaiming to the man, 'it's Mr. Crowdey's carriage—Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey's carriage! Mr. Crowdey, the chairman of the Stir-it-stiff Poor-Law Union!'
'Sixpence!' shouted the man, following the phaeton with outstretched hand.
''Ord, hang it (puff)! I could have done that (wheeze),' growled Jogglebury, pulling up.
'You harn't got no ticket,' said Coppers, coming up, 'and ain't a-goin' to not never no meetin' o' trustees, are you?' asked he, seeing the importance of the person with whom he had to deal;—a trustee of that and other roads, and one who always availed himself of his privilege of going to the meetings toll-free.
'No,' replied Jog, pompously handing Sponge the whip and reins.
He then rose deliberately from his seat, and slowly unbuttoned each particular button of the brown great-coat he had over the tight black hunting one. He then unbuttoned the black, and next the right-hand pocket of the white moleskins, in which he carried his money. He then deliberately fished up his green-and-gold purse, a souvenir of Miss Smiler (the plaintiff in the breach-of-promise action, Smiler v. Jogglebury), and holding it with both hands before his eyes, to see which end contained the silver, he slowly drew the slide, and took out a shilling, though there were plenty of sixpences in.
This gave the man an errand into the toll-house to get one, and, by way of marking his attention, when he returned he said, in the negative way that country people put a question:
'You'll not need a ticket, will you?'
'Ticket (puff), ticket (wheeze)?' repeated Jog thoughtfully. 'Yes, I'll take a ticket,' said he.
'Oh! hang it, no,' replied Sponge; 'let's get on!' stamping against the bottom of the phaeton to set the horse a-going. 'Costs nothin',' observed Jog drily, drawing the reins, as the man again returned to the gate-house.
A considerable delay then took place; first, Pikey had to find his glasses, as he called his spectacles, to look out a one-horse-chaise ticket. Then he had to look out the tickets, when he found he had all sorts except a one-horse-chaise one ready—waggons, hearses, mourning-coaches, saddle-horses, chaises and pair, mules, asses, every sort but the one that was wanted. Well, then he had to fill one up, and to do this he had, first, to find the ink-horn, and then a pen that would 'mark,' so that, altogether, a delay took place that would have been peculiarly edifying to a Kennington Common or Lambeth gate-keeper to witness.
But it was not all over yet. Having got the ticket Jog examined it minutely, to see that it was all right, then held it to his nose to smell it, and ultimately drew the purse slide, and deposited it among the sovereigns. He then restored that expensive trophy to his pocket, shook his leg, to send it down, then buttoned the pocket, and took the tight black coat with both hands and dragged it across his chest, so as to get his stomach in. He then gasped and held his breath, making himself as small as possible, while he coaxed the buttons into the holes; and that difficult process being at length accomplished, he stood still awhile to take breath after the exertion. Then he began to rebutton the easy, brown great-coat, going deliberately up the whole series, from the small button below, to keep the laps together, up to the one on the neck, or where the neck would have been if Jog had not been all stomach up to the chin. He then soused himself into his seat, and, snorting heavily through his nostrils, took the reins and whip and long holly from Mr. Sponge, and drove leisurely on. Sponge sat anathematizing his slowness.
When they reached the farmhouse on the hill the hounds were fairly in view. The huntsman was casting them, and the horsemen were grouped about as usual, while the laggers were stealing quietly up the lanes and by-roads, thinking nobody would see them. Save the whites or the greys, our friends in the 'chay' were not sufficiently near to descry the colours of the horses; but Mr. Sponge could not help thinking that he recognized the outline of the wicked chestnut, Multum-in-Parvo.
'By the powers, but if it is him,' muttered he to himself, clenching his fist and grinding his teeth as he spoke, 'but I'll—I'll—I'll make sich an example of you,' meaning of Leather.
Mr. Sponge could not exactly say what he would do, for it was by no means a settled point whether Leather or he were master. But to the hounds. If it had not been for Mr. Sponge's shabbiness at the turnpike gate, we really believe he might now have caught them up, for the road to them was down hill all the way, and the impetus of the vehicle would have sent the old screw along. That delay, however, was fatal. Before they had gone a quarter of the distance the hounds suddenly struck the scent at a hedge-row, and, with heads up and sterns down, went straight away at a pace that annihilated all hope. They were out of sight in a minute. It was clearly a case of kill.
'Well, there's a go!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, folding his arms, and throwing himself back in the phaeton in disgust. 'I think I never saw such a mess as we've made this morning.'
And he looked at the stick in the apron, and the long holly between Jog's legs, and longed to lay them about his great back.
'Well (puff), I s'pose (wheeze) we may as well (puff) home now?' observed Jog, looking about him quite unconcernedly.
'I think so,' snapped Sponge, adding, 'we've done it for once, at all events.'
The observation, however, was lost upon Jog, whose mind was occupied with thinking how to get the phaeton round without upsetting. The road was narrow at best, and the newly laid stone-heaps had encroached upon its bounds. He first tried to back between two stone-heaps, but only succeeded in running a wheel into one; he then tried the forward tack, with no better success, till Mr. Sponge seeing matters were getting worse, just jumped out, and taking the old horse by the head, executed the manoeuvre that Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey first attempted. They then commenced retracing their steps, rather a long trail, even for people in an amiable mood, but a terribly long one for disagreeing ones.
Jog, to be sure, was pretty comfortable. He had got all he wanted—all he went out a-hunting for; and as he hissed and jerked the old horse along, he kept casting an eye at the contents of the apron, thinking what crowned, or great man's head, the now rough, club-headed knobs should be fashioned to represent; and indulged in speculations as to their prospective worth and possible destination. He had not the slightest doubt that a thousand sticks to each of his children would be as good as a couple of thousand pounds a-piece; sometimes he thought more, but never less. Mr. Sponge, on the other hand, brooded over the loss of the run; indulged in all sorts of speculations as to the splendour of the affair; pictured the figure he would have cut on the chestnut, and the price he might have got for him in the field. Then he thought of the bucketing Leather would give him; the way he would ram him at everything; how he would let him go with a slack rein in the deep—very likely making him over-reach—nay, there was no saying but he might stake him.
Then he thought over all the misfortunes and mishaps of the day. The unpropitious toilet; the aggravation of 'Obin and Ichard'; the delay caused by Jog being sick with his cigar; the divergence into Hackberry Dean; and the long protracted wait at the toll-bar. Reviewing all the circumstances fairly and dispassionately, Mr. Sponge came to the determination of having nothing more to do with Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey in the hunting way. These, or similar cogitations and resolutions were, at length, interrupted by their arriving at home, as denoted by an outburst of children rushing from the lodge to receive them—Gustavus James, in his nurse's arms, bringing up the rear, to whom our friend could hardly raise the semblance of a smile.
It was all that little brat! thought he.
Sir Harry Scattercash's were only an ill-supported pack of hounds; they were not kept upon any fixed principles. We do not mean to say that they had not plenty to eat, but their management was only of the scrimmaging order. Sir Harry was what is technically called 'going it.' Like our noble friend, Lord Hard-up, now Earl of Scamperdale, he had worked through the morning of life without knowing what it was to be troubled with money; but, unlike his lordship, now that he had unexpectedly come into some, he seemed bent upon trying how fast he could get through it. In this laudable endeavour he was ably assisted by Lady Scattercash, late the lovely and elegant Miss Spangles, of the 'Theatre Royal, Sadler's Wells.' Sir Harry had married her before his windfall made him a baronet, having, at the time, some intention of trying his luck on the stage, but he always declared that he never regretted his choice; on the contrary, he said, if he had gone among the 'duchesses,' he could not have suited himself better. Lady Scattercash could ride—indeed, she used to do scenes in the circle (two horses and a flag)—and she could drive, and smoke, and sing, and was possessed of many other accomplishments. Sir Harry would sometimes drink straight on end for a week, and then not taste wine again for a month; sometimes the hounds hunted, and sometimes they did not; sometimes they were advertized, and sometimes they were not; sometimes they went out on one day, and sometimes on another; sometimes they were fixed to be at such a place, and went to quite a different one. When Sir Harry was on a drinking-bout they were shut up altogether; and the huntsman, Tom Watchorn, late of the 'Camberwell and Balham Hill Union Harriers,' an early acquaintance of Miss Spangles—indeed, some said he was her uncle—used to go away on a drinking excursion too. Altogether, they were what the country people called a very 'promiscuous set.' The hounds were of all sorts and sizes; the horses of no particular stamp; and the men scamps and vagabonds of the first class.
With such a master and such an establishment, we need hardly say that no stranger ever came into the country for the purpose of hunting. Sir Harry's fields were entirely composed of his own choice 'set,' and a few farmers, and people whom he could abuse and do what he liked with. Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey, to be sure, had mentioned Sir Harry approvingly, when he went to Mr. Puffington's, to inveigle Mr. Sponge over to Puddingpote Bower; but what might suit Mr. Jogglebury, who went out to seek gibbey sticks, might not suit a person who went out for the purpose of hunting a fox in order to show off and sell his horses. In fact, Puddingpote Bower was an exceedingly bad hunting quarter, as things turned out. Sir Harry Scattercash, having had the run described in our two preceding chapters, and having just imported a few of the 'sock-and-buskin' sort from town, was not likely to be going out again for a time; while Mr. Puffington, finding where Mr. Sponge had taken refuge, determined not to meet within reach of Puddingpote Bower, if he could possibly help it; and Lord Scamperdale was almost always beyond distance, unless horse and rider lay out over-night—a proceeding always deprecated by prudent sportsmen. Mr. Sponge, therefore, got more of Mr. Jogglebury Crowdey's company than he wanted, and Mr. Crowdey got more of Mr. Sponge's than he desired. In vain Jog took him up into his attics and his closets, and his various holes and corners, and showed him his enormous stock of sticks—some tied in sheaves, like corn; some put up more sparingly; and others, again, wrapped in silver paper, with their valuable heads enveloped in old gloves. Jog would untie the strings of these, and placing the heads in the most favourable position before our friend, just as an artist would a portrait, question him as to whom he thought they were.
'There, now (puff),' said he, holding up one that he thought there could be no mistake about; 'who do you (wheeze) that is?'
'Deaf Burke,' replied Mr. Sponge, after a stare.
'Deaf Burke! (puff),' replied Jog indignantly.
'Who is it, then?' asked Mr. Sponge.
'Can't you see? (wheeze),' replied Jog tartly.
'No,' replied Sponge, after another examination. 'It's not Scroggins, is it?'
'Napoleon (puff) Bonaparte,' replied Jog, with great dignity, returning the head to the glove.
He showed several others, with little better success, Mr. Sponge seeming rather to take a pleasure in finding ridiculous likenesses, instead of helping his host out in his conceits. The stick-mania was a failure, as far as Mr. Sponge was concerned. Neither were the peregrinations about the farms, or ter-ri-to-ry, as Jog called his estate, more successful; a man's estate, like his children, being seldom of much interest to any but himself.
Jog and Sponge were soon most heartily sick of each other. Nor did Mrs. Jog's charms, nor the voluble enunciation of 'Obin and Ichard,' followed by 'Bah, bah, black sheep,' &c, from that wonderful boy, Gustavus James, mend matters; for the young rogue having been in Mr. Sponge's room while Murry Ann was doing it out, had torn the back off Sponge's Mogg, and made such a mess of his tooth-brush, by cleaning his shoes with it, as never was seen.
Mr. Sponge soon began to think it was not worth while staying at Puddingpote Bower for the mere sake of his keep, seeing there was no hunting to be had from it, and it did not do to keep hack hunters idle, especially in open weather. Leather and he, for once, were of the same opinion, and that worthy shook his head, and said Mr. Crowdey was 'awful mean,' at the same time pulling out a sample of bad ship oats, that he had got from a neighbouring ostler, to show the 'stuff' their 'osses' were a eatin' of. The fact was, Jog's beer was nothing like so strong as Mr. Puffington's; added to which, Mr. Crowdey carried the principles of the poor-law union into his own establishment, and dieted his servants upon certain rules. Sunday, roast beef, potatoes, and pudding under the meat; Monday, fried beef, and stick-jaw (as they profanely called a certain pudding); Wednesday, leg of mutton, and so on. The allowance of beer was a pint and a half per diem to Bartholomew, and a pint to each woman; and Mr. Crowdey used to observe from the head of the servants' dinner-table on the arrival of each cargo, 'Now this (puff) beer is to (wheeze) a month, and, if you choose to drink it in a (gasp) day, you'll go without any for the rest of the (wheeze) time'; an intimation that had a very favourable effect upon the tap. Mr. Leather, however, did not like it. 'Puffington's servants,' he said, 'had beer whenever they chose,' and he thought it 'awful mean' restricting the quantity. Mr. Jog, however, was not to be moved. Thus time crawled heavily on.
Mr. and Mrs. Jog had a long confab one night on the expediency of getting rid of Mr. Sponge. Mrs. Jog wanted to keep him on till after the christening; while Jog combated her reasons by representing the improbability of its doing Gustavus James any good having him for a godpapa, seeing Sponge's age, and the probability of his marrying himself. Mrs. Jog, however, was very determined; rather too much so, indeed, for she awakened Jog's jealousy, who lay tossing and tumbling about all through the night.
He was up very early, and as Mrs. Jog was falling into a comfortable nap, she was aroused by his well-known voice hallooing as loud as he could in the middle of the entrance-passage.
'BARTHOLO-me-e-w!' the last syllable being pronounced or prolonged like a mew of a cat. 'BARTHOLO-me-e-w!' repeated he, not getting an answer to the first shout.
'MURRY ANN!' shouted he, after another pause.
'MURRY ANN!' exclaimed he, still louder.
Just then, the iron latch of a door at the top of the house opened, and a female voice exclaimed hurriedly over the banisters:
'Yes, sir! here, sir! comin' sir! comin'!'
'Oh, Murry Ann (puff), that's (wheeze) you, is it?' asked Jog, still speaking at the top of his voice.
'Yes, sir,' replied Mary Ann.
'Oh! then, Murry Ann, I wanted to (puff)—that you'd better get the (puff) breakfast ready early. I think Mr. (gasp)—Sponge will be (wheezing) away to-day.'
'Yes, sir,' replied Mary Ann.
All this was said in such a tone as could not fail to be heard all over the house; certainly into Mr. Sponge's room, which was midway between the speakers.
What prevented Mr. Sponge wheezing away, will appear in the next chapter.
SIR HARRY SCATTERCASH'S HOUNDS
The reason Mr. Sponge did not take his departure, after the pretty intelligible hint given by his host, was that, as he was passing his shilling army razor over his soapy chin, he saw a stockingless lad, in a purply coat and faded hunting-cap, making his way up to the house, at a pace that betokened more than ordinary vagrancy. It was the kennel, stable, and servants' hall courier of Nonsuch House, come to say that Sir Harry hunted that day.
Presently Mr. Leather knocked at Mr. Sponge's bedroom door, and, being invited in, announced the fact.
'Sir 'Arry's 'ounds 'unt,' said he, twisting the door handle as he spoke.
'What time?' asked Mr. Sponge, with his half-shaven face turned towards him.
'Meet at eleven,' replied Leather.
'Where?' inquired Mr. Sponge.
'Nonsuch House, 'bout nine miles off.'
It was thirteen, but Mr. Leather heard the malt liquor was good and wanted to taste it.
'Take on the brown, then,' said Mr. Sponge, quite pompously;' and tell Bartholomew to have the hack at the door at ten—or say a quarter to. Tell him, I'll lick him for every minute he's late; and, mind, don't let old Rory O'More here know,' meaning our friend Jog, 'or he may take a fancy to go, and we shall never get there,' alluding to their former excursion.
'No, no,' replied Mr. Leather, leaving the room.
Mr. Sponge then arrayed himself in his hunting costume—scarlet coat, green tie, blue vest, gosling-coloured cords, and brown tops; and was greeted with a round of applause from the little Jogs as he entered the breakfast-room. Gustavus James would handle him; and, considering that his paws were all over raspberry jam, our friend would as soon have dispensed with his attentions. Mrs. Jog was all smiles, and Jog all scowls.
A little after ten our friend, cigar in mouth, was in the saddle. Mrs. Jog, with Gustavus James in her arms, and all the children clustering about, stood in the passage to see him start, and watch the capers and caprioles of the piebald, as he ambled down the avenue.
'Nine miles—nine miles,' muttered Mr. Sponge to himself, as he passed through the Lodge and turned up the Quarryburn road; 'do it in an hour well enough,' said he, sticking spurs into the hack, and cantering away.
Having kept this pace up for about five miles, till he thought from the view he had taken of the map it was about time to be turning, he hailed a blacksmith in his shop, who, next to saddlers, are generally the most intelligent people about hounds, and asked how far it was to Sir Harry's?
'Eight miles,' replied the man, in a minute. 'Impossible!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge. 'It was only nine at starting, and I've come I don't know how many.'
The next person Mr. Sponge met told him it was ten miles; the third, after asking him where he had come from, said he was a stranger in the country, and had never heard of the place; and, what with Mr. Leather's original mis-statement, misdirections from other people, and mistakes of his own, it was more good luck than good management that got Mr. Sponge to Nonsuch House in time.
The fact was, the whole hunt was knocked up in a hurry. Sir Harry, and the choice spirits by whom he was surrounded, had not finished celebrating the triumphs of the Snobston Green day, and as it was not likely that the hounds would be out again soon, the people of the hunting establishment were taking their ease. Watchorn had gone to be entertained at a public supper, given by the poachers and fox-stealers of the village of Bark-shot, as a 'mark of respect for his abilities as a sportsman and his integrity as a man,' meaning his indifference to his master's interests; while the first-whip had gone to visit his aunt, and the groom was away negotiating the exchange of a cow. With things in this state, Wily Tom of Tinklerhatch, a noted fox-stealer in Lord Scamperdale's country, had arrived with a great thundering dog fox, stolen from his lordship's cover near the cross roads at Dallington Burn, which being communicated to our friends about midnight in the smoking-room at Nonsuch House, it was resolved to hunt him forthwith, especially as one of the guests, Mr. Orlando Bugles, of the Surrey Theatre, was obliged to return to town immediately, and, as he sometimes enacted the part of Squire Tallyho, it was thought a little of the reality might correct the Tom and Jerry style in which he did it. Accordingly, orders were issued for a hunt, notwithstanding the hounds were fed and the horses watered. Sir Harry didn't 'care a rap; let them go as fast as they could.'
All these circumstances conspired to make them late; added to which, when Watchorn, the huntsman, cast up, which he did on a higgler's horse, he found the only sound one in his stud had gone to the neighbouring town to get some fiddlers—her ladyship having determined to compliment Mr. Bugles' visit by a quadrille party. Bugles and she were old friends. When Mr. Sponge cast up at half-past eleven, things were still behind-hand.
Sir Harry and party had had a wet night of it, and were all more or less drunk. They had kept up the excitement with a champagne breakfast and various liqueurs, to say nothing of cigars. They were a sad debauched-looking set, some of them scarcely out of their teens, with pallid cheeks, trembling hands, sunken eyes, and all the symptoms of premature decay. Others—the sock-and-buskin ones—were a made-up, wigged, and padded set. Bugles was resplendent. He had on a dress scarlet coat, lined and faced with yellow satin (one of the properties, we believe, of the Victoria), a beautifully worked pink shirt-front, a pitch-plaster coloured waistcoat, white ducks, and jack-boots, with brass heel spurs. He carried his whip in the arm's-length-way of a circus master following a horse. Some dozen of these curiosities were staggering, and swaggering, and smoking in front of Nonsuch House, to the edification of a lot of gaping grooms and chawbacons, when Mr. Sponge cantered becomingly up on the piebald. Lady Scattercash, with several elegantly dressed females, all with cigars in their mouths, were conversing with them from the open drawing-room windows above, while sundry good-looking damsels ogled them from the attics above. Such was the tableau that presented itself to Mr. Sponge as he cantered round the turn that brought him in front of the Elizabethan mansion of Nonsuch House.
Sir Harry, who was still rather drunk, thinking that every person there must be either one of his party, or a friend of one of his party, or a neighbour, or some one that he had seen before, reeled up to our friend as he stopped, and, shaking him heartily by the hand, asked him to come in and have something to eat. This was a godsend to Mr. Sponge, who accepted the proffered hand most readily, shaking it in a way that quite satisfied Sir Harry he was right in some one or other of his conjectures. Bugles, and all the reeling, swaggering bucks, looked respectfully at the well-appointed man, and Bugles determined to have a pair of nut-brown tops as soon as ever he got back to town.
Sir Harry was a tall, wan, pale young man, with a strong tendency to delirium tremens; that, and consumption, appeared to be running a match for his person. He was a harum-scarum fellow, all strings, and tapes, and ends, and flue. He looked as if he slept in his clothes. His hat was fastened on with a ribbon, or rather a ribbon passed round near the band, in order to fasten it on, for it was seldom or ever applied to the purpose, and the ends generally went flying out behind like a Chinaman's tail. Then his flashy, many-coloured cravats, stared and straggled in all directions, while his untied waistcoat-strings protruded between the laps of his old short-waisted swallow-tailed scarlet, mixing in glorious confusion with those of his breeches behind. The knee-strings were generally also loose; the web straps of his boots were seldom in; and, what with one set of strings and another, he had acquired the name of Sixteen-string'd Jack. Mr. Sponge having dismounted, and given his hack to the now half-drunken Leather, followed Sir Harry through a foil and four-in-hand whip-hung hall to the deserted breakfast-room, where chairs stood in all directions, and crumpled napkins strewed the floor. The litter of eggs, and remnants of muffins, and diminished piles of toast, and broken bread and empty toast racks, and cups and saucers, and half-emptied glasses, and wholly emptied champagne bottles, were scattered up and down a disorderly table, further littered with newspapers, letter backs, county court summonses, mustard pots, anchovies, pickles—all the odds and ends of a most miscellaneous meal. The side-table exhibited cold joints, game, poultry, lukewarm hashed venison, and sundry lamp-lit dishes of savoury grills.
'Here you are!' exclaimed Sir Harry, taking his hunting-whip and sweeping the contents of one end of the table on to the floor with a crash that brought in the butler and some theatrical-looking servants.
'Take those filthy things away! (hiccup),' exclaimed Sir Harry, crushing the broken china smaller under his heels; 'and (hiccup) bring some red-herrings and soda-water. What the deuce does the (hiccup) cook mean by not (hiccuping) things as he ought? Now,' said he, addressing Mr. Sponge, and raking the plates and dishes up to him with the handle of his whip, just as a gaming-table keeper rakes up the stakes, 'now,' said he, 'make your (hiccup) game. There'll be some hot (hiccup) in directly.' He meant to say 'tea,' but the word failed him.
Mr. Sponge fell to with avidity. He was always ready to eat, and attacked first one thing and then another, as though he had not had any breakfast at Puddingpote Bower.
Sir Harry remained mute for some minutes, sitting cross-legged and backwards in his chair, with his throbbing temples resting upon the back, wondering where it was that he had met Mr. Sponge. He looked different without his hat; and, though he saw it was no one he knew particularly, he could not help thinking he had seen him before.
Indeed, he thought it was clear, from Mr. Sponge's manner, that they had met, and he was just going to ask him whether it was at Offley's or the Coal Hole, when a sudden move outside attracted his attention. It was the hounds.
The huntsman's horse having at length returned from the fiddler hunt, and being whisped over, and made tolerably decent, Mr. Watchorn, having exchanged the postilion saddle in which it had been ridden for a horn-cased hunting one, had mounted, and, opening the kennel-door, had liberated the pent-up pack, who came tearing out full cry and spread themselves over the country, regardless alike of the twang, twang, twang of the horn and the furious onslaught of a couple of stable lads in scarlet and caps, who, true to the title of 'whippers-in,' let drive at all they could get within reach of. The hounds had not been out, even to exercise, since the Snobston-Green day, and were as wild as hawks. They were ready to run anything. Furious and Furrier tackled with a cow. Bountiful ran a black cart-colt, and made him leap the haw-haw. Sempstress, Singwell, and Saladin (puppies), went after some crows. Mercury took after the stable cat, while old Thunderer and Come-by-chance (supposed to be one of Lord Scamperdale's) joined in pursuit of a cur. Watchorn, however, did not care for these little ebullitions of spirit, and never having been accustomed to exercise the Camberwell and Balham Hill Union Harriers, he did not see any occasion for troubling the fox-hounds. 'They would soon settle,' he said, 'when they got a scent.'
It was this riotous start that diverted Sixteen-string'd Jack's attention from our friend, and, looking out of the window, Mr. Sponge saw all the company preparing to be off. There was the elegant Bugles mounting her ladyship's white Arab; the brothers Spangles climbing on to their cream-colours; Mr. This getting on to the postman's pony, and Mr. That on to the gamekeeper's. Mr. Sponge hurried out to get to the brown ere his anger arose at being left behind, and provoked a scene. He only just arrived in time; for the twang of the horn, the cracks of the whips, the clamorous rates of the servants, the yelping of the hounds, and the general commotion, had got up his courage, and he launched out in such a way, when Mr. Sponge mounted, as would have shot a loose rider into the air. As it was, Mr. Sponge grappled manfully with him, and, letting the Latchfords into his sides, shoved him in front of the throng, as if nothing had happened. Mr. Leather then slunk back to the stables, to get out the hack to have a hunt in the distance.
The hounds, as we said before, were desperately wild; but at length, by dint of coaxing and cracking, and whooping and hallooing, they got some ten couples out of the five-and-twenty gathered together, and Mr. Watchorn, putting himself at their head, trotted briskly on, blowing most lustily, in the hopes that the rest would follow. So he clattered along the avenue, formed between rows of sombre-headed firs and sweeping spruce, out of which whirred clouds of pheasants, and scuttling rabbits, and stupid hares kept crossing and recrossing, to the derangement of Mr. Watchorn's temper, and the detriment of the unsteady pack. Squeak, squeak, squeal sounded right and left, followed sometimes by the heavy retributive hand of Justice on the offenders' hides, and sometimes by the snarl, snap, and worry of a couple of hounds contending for the prey. Twang, twang, twang, still went the horn; and when the huntsman reached the unicorn-crested gates, between tea-caddy looking lodges, he found himself in possession of a clear majority of his unsizable pack. Some were rather bloody to be sure, and a few carried scraps of game, which fastidious masters would as soon have seen them without; but neither Sir Harry nor his huntsman cared about appearances.
On clearing the lodges, and passing about a quarter of a mile on the Hardington road, hedge-rows ceased, and they came upon Farleyfair Downs, across which Mr. Watchorn now struck, making for a square plantation, near the first hill-top, where it had been arranged the bag-fox should be shook. It was a fine day, rather brighter perhaps, than sportsmen like, and there was a crispness in the air indicative of frost, but then there is generally a burning scent just before one. So thought Mr. Watchorn, as he turned his feverish face up to the bright, blue sky, imbibing the fine fresh air of the wide-extending downs, instead of the stale tobacco smoke of the fetid beer-shop. As he trotted over the springy sward, up the gently rising ground, he rose in his stirrups; and, laying hold of his horse's mane, turned to survey the long-drawn, lagging field behind.
'You'll have to look sharp, my hearties,' said he to himself, as he ran them over in his eye, and thought there might be twenty or five-and-twenty horsemen; 'you'll have to look sharp, my hearties,' said he, 'if you mean to get away, for Wily Tom has his hat on the ground, which shows he has put him down, and if he's the sort of gem'man I expect he'll not be long in cover.'
So saying, he resumed his seat in the saddle, and easing his horse, endeavoured, by sundry dog noises—such as, 'Yooi doit, Ravager!' 'Gently, Paragon!' 'Here again. Mercury!'—to restrain the ardour of the leading hounds, so as to let the rebellious tail ones up and go into cover with something like a body. This was rather a difficult task to accomplish, for those with him being light, and consequently anxious to be doing and ready for riot, were difficult to restrain from dashing forward; while those that had taken their diversion and refreshment among the game, were easy whether they did anything more or not.
While Watchorn was thus manoeuvring his forces Wily Tom beckoned him on, and old Cruiser and Marmion, who had often been at the game before, and knew what Wily Tom's hat on the ground meant, flew to him full cry, drawing all their companions after them.
'I think he's away to the west,' said Tom in an undertone, resting his hand on Watchorn's horse's shoulder; 'back home,' added he, jerking his head with a knowing leer of his roguish eye. 'They're on him!' exclaimed he after a pause, as the outburst of melody proclaimed that the hounds had crossed his line. Then there was such racing and striving among the field to get up, and such squeezing and crowding, and 'Mind, my horse kicks!' at the little white hunting wicket leading into cover. 'Knock down the wall!' exclaimed one. 'Get out of the way; I'll ride over it!' roared another. 'We shall be here all day!' vociferated a third. 'That's a header!' cried another, as a clatter of stones was followed by a pair of white breeches summerseting in the air with a horse underneath. 'It's Tom Sawbones, the doctor!' exclaimed one, 'and he can mend himself.' 'By Jove! but he's killed!' shrieked another. 'Not a bit of it,' added a third, as the dead man rose and ran after his horse. 'Let Mr. Bugles through,' cried Sir Harry, seeing his friend, or rather his wife's friend, was fretting the Arab.
Meanwhile, the melody of hounds increased, and each man, as he got through the little gate, rose in his stirrups and hustled his horse along the green ride to catch up those on before. The plantation was about twenty acres, rather thick and briary at the bottom; and master Reynard, finding it was pretty safe, and, moreover, having attempted to break just by where some chawbacons were ploughing, had headed short back, so that, when the excited field rushed through the parallel gate on the far side of the plantation, expecting to see the pack streaming away over the downs, they found most of the hounds with their heads in the air, some looking for halloos, others watching their companions trying to carry the scent over the fallow.
Watchorn galloped up in the frantic state half-witted huntsmen generally are, and one of the impromptu whips being in attendance, got quickly round the hounds, and commenced a series of assaults upon them that very soon sent them scuttling to Mr. Watchorn for safety. If they had been at the hares again, or even worrying sheep, he could not have rated or flogged more severely.
'MARKSMAN! MARKSMAN! ough, ye old Divil, get to him!' roared the whip, aiming a stinging cut with his heavy knotty-pointed whip, at a venerable sage who still snuffed down a furrow to satisfy himself the fox was not on before he returned to cover—an exertion that overbalanced the whip, and would have landed him on the ground, had not he caught by the spur in the old mare's flank. Then he went on scrambling and rating after Marksman, the field exclaiming, as the Edmonton people did, by Johnny Gilpin:
He's on! no, he's off, he hangs by the mane!
At last he got shuffled back into the saddle, and the cry of hounds in cover attracting the outsiders back, the scene quickly changed, and the horsemen were again overhead in wood. They now swept up the grass ride to the exposed part of the higher ground, the trees gradually diminishing in size, till, on reaching the top, they did not come much above a horse's shoulder. This point commanded a fine view over the adjacent country. Behind was the rich vale of Dairylow, with its villages and spires, and trees and enclosures, while in front was nothing but the undulating, wide-stretching downs, reaching to the soft grey hills in the distance. There was not, however, much time for contemplating scenery; for Wily Tom, who had stolen to this point immediately the hounds took up the scent, now viewed the fox stealing over a gap in the wall, and, the field catching sight, there was such a hullabaloo as would have made a more composed and orderly minded fox think it better to break instead of running the outside of the wall as this one intended to do. What wind there was swept over the downs; and putting himself straight to catch it, he went away whisking his brush in the air, as if he was fresh out of his kennel instead of a sack. Then what a commotion there was! Such jumpings off to lead down, such huggings and holdings, and wooa-ings of those that sat on, such slidings and scramblings, and loosenings and rollings of stones. Then the frantic horses began to bound, and the frightened riders to exclaim:
'Do get out of my way, sir.'
'Mind, sir! I'm a-top of you!'
'Give him his head and let him go!' exclaimed the still drunken brother Bob Spangles, sliding his horse down with a slack rein.
'That's your sort!' roared Sir Harry, and just as he said it, his horse dropped on his hind-quarters like a rabbit, landing Sir Harry comfortably on his feet, amid the roars of the foot-people, and the mirth of such of the horsemen as were not too frightened to laugh.
'I think I'll stay where I am,' observed Mr. Bugles, preparing for a bird's-eye view where he was. 'This hunting,' said he, getting off the fidgety Arab, 'seems dangerous.'
The parties who accomplished the descent had now some fine plain sailing for their trouble. The line lay across the open downs, composed of sound, springy, racing-like turf, extremely well adapted for trying the pace either of horses or hounds. And very soon it did try the pace of them, for they had not gone above a mile before there was very considerable tailing with both. To be sure, they had never been very well together, but still the line lengthened instead of contracting. Horses that could hardly be held downhill, and that applied themselves to the turf, on landing, as if they could never have enough of it, now began to bear upon the rein and hang back to those behind; while the hounds came straggling along like a flock of wild geese, with full half a mile between the leader and the last. However, they all threw their tongues, and each man flattered himself that the hound he was with was the first. In vain the galloping Watchorn looked back and tootled his horn; in vain he worked with his cap; in vain the whips rode at the tail hounds, cursing and swearing, and vowing they would cut them in two.
There was no getting them together. Every now and then the fox might be seen, looking about the size of a marble, as he rounded some distant hill, each succeeding view making him less, till, at last, he seemed no bigger than a pea.
Five-and-twenty minutes best pace over downs is calculated to try the mettle of anything; and, long before the leading hounds reached Cockthropple Dean, the field was choked by the pace. Sir Harry had long been tailed off; both the brothers Spangles had dropped astern; the horse of one had dropped too; Sawbones, the doctor's, had got a stiff neck; Willing, the road surveyor, and Mr. Lavender, the grocer, pulled up together. Muddyman, the farmer's four-year-old, had enough at the end of ten minutes; both the whips tired theirs in a quarter of an hour; and in less than twenty minutes Watchorn and Sponge were alone in their glory, or rather Sponge was in his glory, for Watchorn's horse was beat.
'Lend me your horn!' exclaimed Sponge, as he heard by the hammer and pincering of Watchorn's horse, it was all U P with him.
The horse stopped as if shot; and getting the horn, Mr. Sponge went on, the brown laying himself out as if still full of running. Cockthropple Dean was now close at hand, and in all probability the fox would not leave it. So thought Mr. Sponge as he dived into it, astonished at the chorus and echo of the hounds.
'Tally ho!' shouted a countryman on the opposite side; and the road Sponge had taken being favourable to the point, he made for it at a hand-gallop, horn in hand, to blow as soon as he got there.
'He's away!' cried the man as soon as our friend appeared; 'reet 'cross tornops!' added he, pointing with his hoe.
Mr. Sponge then put his horse's head that way, and blew a long shrill reverberating blast. As he paused to take breath and listen, he heard the sound of horses' hoofs, and presently a stentorian voice, half frantic with rage, exclaimed from behind:
'WHO THE DICKENS ARE YOU?'
'Who the Dickens are you?' retorted Mr. Sponge, without looking round.
'They commonly call me the EARL OF SCAMPERDALE,' roared the same sweet voice, 'and those are my hounds.'
'They're not your hounds!' snapped Mr. Sponge, now looking round on his big-spectacled, flat-hatted lordship, who was closely followed by his double, Mr. Spraggon.
'Not my hounds!' screeched his lordship. 'Oh, ye barber's apprentice! Oh, ye draper's assistant! Oh ye unmitigated Mahomedon! Sing out, Jack! sing out! For Heaven's sake, sing out!' added he, throwing out his arms in perfect despair.
'Not his lordship's hounds!' roared Jack, now rising in his stirrups and brandishing his big whip. 'Not his lordship's hounds! Tell me that, when they cost him five-and-twenty 'underd—two thousand five 'underd a year! Oh, by Jingo, but that's a pretty go! If they're not his lordship's hounds, I should like to know whose they are?' and thereupon Jack wiped the foam from his mouth on his sleeve.
'Sir Harry's!' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, again putting the horn to his lips, and blowing another shrill blast.
'Sir Harry's!' screeched his lordship in disgust, for he hated the very sound of his name—'Sir Harry's! Oh, you rusty-booted ruffian! Tell me that to my very face!'
'Sir Harry's!' repeated Jack, again standing erect in his stirrups. 'What! impeach his lordship's integrity—oh, by Jove, there's an end of everything! Death before dishonour! Slugs in a saw-pit! Pistols and coffee for two! Cock Pheasant at Weybridge, six o'clock i' the mornin'!' And Jack, sinking exhausted on his saddle, again wiped the foam from his mouth.
His lordship then went at Sponge again.
'Oh, you sanctified, putrified, pestilential, perpendicular, gingerbread-booted, counter-skippin' snob, you think because I'm a lord, and can't swear or use coarse language, that you may do what you like; but I'll let you see the contrary,' said he, brandishing his brother to Jack's whip. 'Mark you, sir, I'll fight you, sir, any non-huntin' day you like, sir, 'cept Sunday.'
Just then the clatter and blowing of horses was heard, and Frostyface emerged from the wood followed by the hounds, who, swinging themselves 'forrard' over the turnips, hit off the scent and went away full cry, followed by his lordship and Jack, leaving Mr. Sponge transfixed with astonishment.
'Changed foxes,' at length said Sponge, with a shake of his head; and just then the cry of hounds on the opposite bank confirmed his conjecture, and he got to Sir Harry's in time to take up his lordship's fox.
His lordship's hounds ran into Sir Harry's fox about two miles farther on, but the hounds would not break him up; and, on examining him, he was found to have been aniseeded; and, worst of all, by the mark on his ear to be one that they had turned down themselves the season before, being one of a litter that Sly had stolen from Sir Harry's cover at Seedeygorse—a beautiful instance of retributive justice.
FARMER PEASTRAW'S DINE-MATINEE
There are pleasanter situations than being left alone with twenty couple of even the best-mannered fox-hounds; far pleasanter situations than being left alone with such a tearing, frantic lot as composed Sir Harry Scattercash's pack. Sportsmen are so used (with some hounds at least) to see foxes 'in hand' that they never think there is any difficulty in getting them there; and it is only a single-handed combat with the pack that shows them that the hound does not bring the fox up in his mouth like a retriever. A tyro's first tete-a-tete with a half-killed fox, with the baying pack circling round, must leave as pleasing a souvenir on the memory as Mr. Gordon Cumming would derive from his first interview with a lion.
Our friend Mr. Sponge was now engaged with a game of 'pull devil, pull baker' with the hounds for the fox, the difficulty of his situation being heightened by having to contend with the impetuous temper of a high-couraged, dangerous horse. To be sure, the gallant Hercules was a good deal subdued by the distance and severity of the pace, but there are few horses that get to the end of a run that have not sufficient kick left in them to do mischief to hounds, especially when raised or frightened by the smell of blood; nevertheless, there was no help for it. Mr. Sponge knew that unless he carried off some trophy, it would never be believed he had killed the fox. Considering all this, and also that there was no one to tell what damage he did, he just rode slap into the middle of the pack, as Marksman, Furious, Thunderer, and Bountiful were in the act of despatching the fox. Singwell and Saladin (puppies) having been sent away howling, the one bit through the jowl, the other through the foot.
'Ah! leave him—leave him—leave him!' screeched Mr. Sponge, trampling over Warrior and Tempest, the brown horse lashing out furiously at Melody and Lapwing. 'Ah, leave him! leave him!' repeated he, throwing himself off his horse by the fox, and clearing a circle with his whip, aided by the hoofs of the animal. There lay the fox before him killed, but as yet little broken by the pack. He was a noble fellow; bright and brown, in the full vigour of life and condition, with a gameness, even in death, that no other animal shows. Mr. Sponge put his foot on the body, and quickly whipped off his brush. Before he had time to pocket it, the repulsed pack broke in upon him and carried off the carcass.
'Ah! dash ye, you may have that,' said he, cutting at them with his whip as they clustered upon it like a swarm of bees. They had not had a wild fox for five weeks.
'Who-hoop!' cried Mr. Sponge, in the hopes of attracting some of the field. 'WHO-HOOP!' repeated he, as loud as he could halloo. 'Where can they all be, I wonder?' said he, looking around; and echo answered—where?
The hounds had now crunched their fox, or as much of him as they wanted. Old Marksman ran about with his head, and Warrior with a haunch.
'Drop it, you old beggar!' cried Mr. Sponge, cutting at Marksman with his whip, and Mr. Sponge being too near to make a trial of speed prudent, the old dog did as he was bid, and slunk away.
Our friend then appended this proud trophy to his saddle-flap by a piece of whipcord, and, mounting the now tractable Hercules, began to cast about in search of a landmark. Like most down countries, this one was somewhat deceptive; there were plenty of landmarks, but they were all the same sort—clumps of trees on hill-tops, and plantations on hill-sides, but nothing of a distinguishing character, nothing that a stranger could say, 'I remember seeing that as I came'; or, 'I remember passing that in the run.' The landscape seemed all alike: north, south, east, and west, equally indifferent.
'Curse the thing,' said Mr. Sponge, adjusting himself in his saddle, and looking about; 'I haven't the slightest idea where I am. I'll blow the horn, and see if that will bring any one.'
So saying, he applied the horn to his lips, and blew a keen, shrill blast, that spread over the surrounding country, and was echoed back by the distant hills. A few lost hounds cast up from various quarters, in the unexpected way that hounds do come to a horn. Among them were a few branded with S, who did not at all set off the beauty of the rest.
''Ord rot you, you belong to that old ruffian, do you?' said Mr. Sponge, riding and cutting at one with his whip, exclaiming, 'Get away to him, ye beggar, or I'll tuck you up short.'
He now, for the first time, saw them together in anything like numbers, and was struck with the queerness and inequality of the whole. They were of all sorts and sizes, from the solemn towering calf-like fox-hound down to the little wriggling harrier. They seemed, too, to be troubled with various complaints and infirmities. Some had the mange; some had blear eyes; some had but one; many were out at the elbows; and not a few down at the toes. However, they had killed a fox, and 'Handsome is that handsome does,' said Mr. Sponge, as, with his horse surrounded by them, he moved on in quest of his way home.
At first, he thought to retrace his steps by the marks of his horse's hoofs, and succeeded in getting back to the dean, where Sir Harry's hounds changed foxes with Lord Scamperdale's; but he got confused with the imprints of the other horses, and very soon had to trust entirely to chance. Chance, we are sorry to say, did not befriend him; for, after wandering over the wide-extending downs, he came upon the little hamlet of Tinkler Hatch, and was informed that he had been riding in a semicircle.
He there got some gruel for his horse, and, with day closing in, now set off, as directed, on the Ribchester road, with the assurance that he 'couldn't miss his way.' Some of the hounds here declined following him any farther, and slunk into cottages and outhouses as they passed along. Mr. Sponge, however, did not care for their company.
Having travelled musingly along two or three miles of road, now thinking over the glorious run—now of the gallant way in which Hercules had carried him—now of the pity it was that there was nobody there to see—now of the encounter with Lord Scamperdale, just as he passed a well-filled stackyard, that had shut out the view of a flaming red brick house with a pea-green door and windows, an outburst of 'hoo-rays!' followed by one cheer more—'hoo-ray!' made the remaining wild hounds prick up their ears, and our friend rein in his horse, to hear what was 'up.' A bright fire in a room on the right of the door overpowered the clouds of tobacco-smoke with which the room was enveloped, and revealed sundry scarlet coats in the full glow of joyous hilarity. It was Sir Harry and friends recruiting at Fanner Peastraw's after their exertions; for, though they could not make much of hunting, they were always ready to drink. They were having a rare set-to—rashers of bacon, wedges of cheese, with oceans of malt-liquor. It was the appearance of a magnificent cold round of home-fed beef, red with saltpetre and flaky with white fat, borne on high by their host, that elicited the applause and the one cheer more that broke on Mr. Sponge's ear as he was passing—applause that was renewed as they caught a glimpse of his red coat, not on account of his safety or that of the hounds, but simply because being in the cheering mood, they were ready to cheer anything.
'Hil-loo! there's Mr. What's-his-name!' exclaimed brother Bob Spangles, as he caught view of Sponge and the hounds passing the window.
'So there is!' roared another; 'Hoo-ray!'
'Hoo-ray!' yelled two or three more.
'Stop him!' cried another.
'Call him in,' roared Sir Harry, 'and let's liquor him.'
'Hilloo! Mister What's-your-name!' exclaimed the other Spangles, throwing up the window. 'Hilloo, won't you come in and have some refreshment?'
'Who's there?' asked Mr. Sponge, reining in the brown.
'Oh, we're all here,' shouted brother Bob Spangles, holding up a tumbler of hot brandy-and-water; 'we're all here—Sir Harry and all,' added he.
'But what shall I do with the hounds?' asked Mr. Sponge, looking down upon the confused pack, now crowding about his horse's head.
'Oh, let the beef-eaters—the scene-shifters—I meant to say the servants—those fellows, you know, in scarlet and black caps, look after them,' replied brother Bob Spangles.
'But there are none of them here,' exclaimed Mr. Sponge, looking back on the deserted road.
'None of them here!' hiccuped Sir Harry, who had now got reeled to the window. 'None of them here,' repeated he, staring vacantly at the uneven pack. 'Oh (hiccup) I'll tell you what do—(hiccup) them into a barn or a stable, or a (hiccup) of any sort, and we'll send for them when we want to (hiccup) again.' 'Then just you call them to you,' replied Sponge, thinking they would go to their master. 'Just you call them,' repeated he, 'and I'll put them to you.'
'(Hiccup) call to them?' replied Harry. 'I can't (hiccup).'
'Oh yes!' rejoined Mr. Sponge; 'call one or two by their names, and the rest will follow.'
'Names! (hiccup) I don't know any of their nasty names,' replied Sir Harry, staring wildly.
'Towler! Towler! Towler! here, good dog—hoop!—here's your liquor!' cried brother Bob Spangles, holding the smoking tumbler of brandy-and-water out of the window, as if to tempt any hound that chose to answer to the name of Towler.
There didn't seem to be a Towler in the pack; at least, none of them qualified for the brandy-and-water.
'Oh, I'll (hiccup) you what we'll do,' exclaimed Sir Harry: 'I'll (hiccup) you what we'll do. 'We'll just give them a (hiccup) kick a-piece and send them (hiccuping) home,' Sir Harry reeling back into the room to the black horse-hair sofa, where his whip was.
He presently appeared at the door, and, going into the midst of the hounds, commenced laying about him, rating, and cutting, and kicking, and shouting.
'Geete away home with ye, ye brutes; what are you all (hiccup)ing here about? Ah! cut off his tail!' cried he, staggering after a venerable blear-eyed sage, who dropped his stern and took off.
'Be off! Does your mother know you're out?' cried Bob Spangles, out of the window, to old Marksman, who stood wondering what to do.
The old hound took the hint also.
'Now, then, old feller,' cried Sir Harry, staggering up to Mr. Sponge, who still sat on his horse, in mute astonishment at Sir Harry's mode of dealing with his hounds. 'Now, then, old feller,' said he, seizing Mr. Sponge by the hand, 'get rid of your quadruped, and (hiccup) in, and make yourself "o'er all the (hiccups) of life victorious," as Bob Spangles says, when he (hiccups) it neat. This is old (hiccup) Peastraw's, a (hiccup) tenant of mine, and he'll be most (hiccup) to see you.'
'But what must I do with my horse?' asked Mr. Sponge, rubbing some of the dried sweat off the brown's shoulder as he spoke; adding, 'I should like to get him a feed of corn.'
'Give him some ale, and a (hiccup) of sherry in it,' replied Sir Harry; 'it'll do him far more good—make his mane grow,' smoothing the horse's thin, silky mane as he spoke.
'Well, I'll put him up,' replied Mr. Sponge, 'and then come to you,' throwing himself, jockey fashion, off the horse as he spoke.
'That's a (hiccup) feller,' said Sir Harry; adding, 'here's old Pea himself come to see after you.'
So saying, Sir Harry reeled back to his comrades in the house, leaving Mr. Sponge in the care of the farmer.
'This way, sir; this way,' said the burly Mr. Peastraw, leading the way into his farmyard, where a line of hunters stood shivering under a long cart-shed.
'But I can't put my horse in here,' observed Mr. Sponge, looking at the unfortunate brutes.
'No, sir, no,' replied Mr. Peastraw; 'put yours in a stable, sir; put yours in a stable'; adding, 'these young gents don't care much about their horses.'
'Does anybody know the chap's name?' asked Sir Harry, reeling back into the room.
'Know his name!' exclaimed Bob Spangles; 'why, don't you?'
'No,' replied Sir Harry, with a vacant stare.
'Why, you went up and shook hands with him, as if you were as thick as thieves,' replied Bob.
'Did I?' hiccuped Sir Harry. 'Well, I thought I knew him. At least, I thought it was somebody I had (hiccup)ed before; and at one's own (hiccup) house, you know, one's 'bliged to be (hiccup) feller well (hiccup) with everybody that comes. But surely, some of you know his (hiccup) name,' added he, looking about at the company.
'I think I know his (hiccup) face,' replied Bob Spangles, imitating his brother-in-law.
'I've seen him somewhere,' observed the other Spangles, through a mouthful of beef.
'So have I,' exclaimed some one else, 'but where I can't say.'
'Most likely at church,' observed brother Bob Spangles.
'Well, I don't think he'll corrupt me,' observed Captain Quod, speaking between the fumes of a cigar.
'He'll not borrow much of me,' observed Captain Seedeybuck, producing a much tarnished green purse, and exhibiting two fourpenny-pieces at one end, and three-halfpence at the other.
'Oh, I dare say he's a good feller,' observed Sir Harry; 'I make no doubt he's one of the right sort.'
Just then in came the man himself, hat and whip in hand, waving the brush proudly over his head.
'Ah, that's (hiccup) right, old feller,' exclaimed Sir Harry, again advancing with extended hand to meet him, adding, 'you'd (hiccup) all you wanted for your (hiccup) horse: mutton broth—I mean barley-water, foot-bath, everything right. Let me introduce my (hiccup) brother-in-law, Bob Spangles, my (hiccup) friend Captain Ladofwax, Captain Quod, Captain (hiccup) Bouncey, Captain (hiccup) Seedeybuck, and my (hiccup) brother-in-law, Mr. Spangles, as lushy a cove as ever was seen; ar'n't you, old boy?' added he, grasping the latter by the arm.
All these gentlemen severally bobbed their heads as Sir Harry called them over, and then resumed their respective occupations—eating, drinking, and smoking.
These were some of the debauched gentlemen Mr. Sponge had seen before Nonsuch House in the morning. They were all captains, or captains by courtesy. Ladofwax had been a painter and glazier in the Borough, where he made the acquaintance of Captain Quod, while that gentleman was an inmate of Captain Hudson's strong house. Captain Bouncey was the too well-known betting-office keeper; and Seedeybuck was such a constant customer of Mr. Commissioner Fonblanque's court, that that worthy legal luminary, on discharging him for the fifth time, said to him, with a very significant shake of the head, 'You'd better not come here again, sir.' Seedeybuck, being of the same opinion, had since fastened himself on to Sir Harry Scattercash, who found him in meat, drink, washing, and lodging. They were all attired in red coats, of one sort or another, though some of which were of a very antediluvian, and others of a very dressing-gown cut. Bouncey's had a hare on the button, and Seedeybuck's coat sat on him like a sack. Still a scarlet coat is a scarlet coat in the eyes of some, and the coats were not a bit more unsportsmanlike than the men. To Mr. Sponge's astonishment, instead of breaking out in inquiries as to where they had run to, the time, the distance, who was up, who was down, and so on, they began recommending the victuals and drink; and this, notwithstanding Mr. Sponge kept flourishing the brush.
'We've had a rare run,' said he, addressing himself to Sir Harry.
'Have you (hiccup)? I'm glad of it (hiccup). Pray have something to (hiccup) after it; you must be (hiccup).'
'Let me help you to some of this cold round of beef?' exclaimed Captain Bouncey, brandishing the great broad-bladed carving knife.
'Have a slice of 'ot 'am,' suggested Captain Quod.
'The finest run I ever rode!' observed Mr. Sponge, still endeavouring to get a hearing.
'Dare say it would,' replied Sir Harry;' those (hiccup) hounds of mine are uncommon (hiccup).' He didn't know what they were, and the hiccup came very opportunely.
'The pace was terrific!' exclaimed Sponge.
'Dare say it would,' replied Sir Harry; 'and that's what makes me (hiccup) you're so (hiccup). Pea, here, has some rare old October—(hiccup) bushels to the (hiccup) hogshead.' 'It's capital!' exclaimed Captain Seedeybuck, frothing himself a tumblerful out of the tall brown jug.
'So is this,' rejoined Captain Quod, pouring himself out a liberal allowance of gin.
'That horse of mine carried me MAGnificently!' observed Mr. Sponge, with a commanding emphasis on the MAG.
'Dare say he would,' replied Sir Harry; 'he looked like a (hiccup)er—a white 'un, wasn't he?'
'No; a brown,' replied Mr. Sponge, disgusted at the mistake.
'Ah, well; but there was somebody on a white,' replied Sir Harry. 'Oh—ah—yes—it was old Bugles on my lady's horse. By the (hiccup) way (hiccup), gentlemen, what's got Mr. Orlando (hiccup) Bugles?' asked Sir Harry, staring wildly round.
'Oh! old Bugles! old Pad-the-Hoof! old Mr. Funker! the horse frightened him so, that he went home crying,' replied Bob Spangles.
'Hope he didn't lose him?' asked Sir Harry.
'Oh no,' replied Bob; 'he gave a lad a shilling to lead him, and they trudged away very quietly together.'
'The old (hiccup)!' exclaimed Sir Harry; 'he told me he was a member of the Surrey something.'
'The Sorry Union,' replied Captain Quod. 'He was out with them once, and fell off on his head and knocked his hat-crown out.'
'Well, but I was telling you about the run,' interposed Mr. Sponge, again endeavouring to enlist an audience. 'I was telling you about the run,' repeated he.
'Don't trouble yourself, my dear sir,' interrupted Captain Bouncey; 'we know all about it—found—checked—killed, killed—found—checked.'
'You can't know all about it!' snapped Mr. Sponge; 'for there wasn't a soul there but myself, much to my horror, for I had a reg'lar row with old Scamperdale, and never a soul to back me.'
'What! you fell in with that mealy-mouthed gentleman, who can't (hiccup) swear because he's a (hiccup) lord, did you?' asked Sir Harry, his attention being now drawn to our friend.