Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour.
Transcriber's Note: Minor typos corrected and footnotes moved to end of text.
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE LORD ELCHO,
FOR MANY SEASONS OF EXCELLENT SPORT WITH HIS HOUNDS,
ON THE BORDER.
THIS VOLUME IS INSCRIBED,
OBLIGED AND FAITHFUL SERVANT,
The author gladly avails himself of the convenience of a Preface for stating, that it will be seen at the close of the work why he makes such a characterless character as Mr. Sponge the hero of his tale.
He will be glad if it serves to put the rising generation on their guard against specious, promiscuous acquaintance, and trains them on to the noble sport of hunting, to the exclusion of its mercenary, illegitimate off-shoots.
It was a murky October day that the hero of our tale, Mr. Sponge, or Soapey Sponge, as his good-natured friends call him, was seen mizzling along Oxford Street, wending his way to the West. Not that there was anything unusual in Sponge being seen in Oxford Street, for when in town his daily perambulations consist of a circuit, commencing from the Bantam Hotel in Bond Street into Piccadilly, through Leicester Square, and so on to Aldridge's, in St. Martin's Lane, thence by Moore's sporting-print shop, and on through some of those ambiguous and tortuous streets that, appearing to lead all ways at once and none in particular, land the explorer, sooner or later, on the south side of Oxford Street.
Oxford Street acts to the north part of London what the Strand does to the south: it is sure to bring one up, sooner or later. A man can hardly get over either of them without knowing it. Well, Soapey having got into Oxford Street, would make his way at a squarey, in-kneed, duck-toed, sort of pace, regulated by the bonnets, the vehicles, and the equestrians he met to criticize; for of women, vehicles, and horses, he had voted himself a consummate judge. Indeed, he had fully established in his own mind that Kiddey Downey and he were the only men in London who really knew anything about, horses, and fully impressed with that conviction, he would halt, and stand, and stare, in a way that with any other man would have been considered impertinent. Perhaps it was impertinent in Soapey—we don't mean to say it wasn't—but he had done it so long, and was of so sporting a gait and cut, that he felt himself somewhat privileged. Moreover, the majority of horsemen are so satisfied with the animals they bestride, that they cock up their jibs and ride along with a 'find any fault with either me or my horse, if you can' sort of air.
Thus Mr. Sponge proceeded leisurely along, now nodding to this man, now jerking his elbow to that, now smiling on a phaeton, now sneering at a 'bus. If he did not look in at Shackell's or Bartley's, or any of the dealers on the line, he was always to be found about half-past five at Cumberland Gate, from whence he would strike leisurely down the Park, and after coming to a long check at Rotten Row rails, from whence he would pass all the cavalry in the Park in review, he would wend his way back to the Bantam, much in the style he had come. This was his summer proceeding.
Mr. Sponge had pursued this enterprising life for some 'seasons'—ten at least—and supposing him to have begun at twenty or one-and-twenty, he would be about thirty at the time we have the pleasure of introducing him to our readers—a period of life at which men begin to suspect they were not quite so wise at twenty as they thought. Not that Mr. Sponge had any particular indiscretions to reflect upon, for he was tolerably sharp, but he felt that he might have made better use of his time, which may be shortly described as having been spent in hunting all the winter, and in talking about it all the summer. With this popular sport he combined the diversion of fortune-hunting, though we are concerned to say that his success, up to the period of our introduction, had not been commensurate with his deserts. Let us, however, hope that brighter days are about to dawn upon him.
Having now introduced our hero to our male and female friends, under his interesting pursuits of fox and fortune-hunter, it becomes us to say a few words as to his qualifications for carrying them on.
Mr. Sponge was a good-looking, rather vulgar-looking man. At a distance—say ten yards—his height, figure, and carriage gave him somewhat of a commanding appearance, but this was rather marred by a jerky, twitchy, uneasy sort of air, that too plainly showed he was not the natural, or what the lower orders call the real gentleman. Not that Sponge was shy. Far from it. He never hesitated about offering to a lady after a three days' acquaintance, or in asking a gentleman to take him a horse in over-night, with whom he might chance to come in contact in the hunting-field. And he did it all in such a cool, off-hand, matter-of-course sort of way, that people who would have stared with astonishment if anybody else had hinted at such a proposal, really seemed to come into the humour and spirit of the thing, and to look upon it rather as a matter of course than otherwise. Then his dexterity in getting into people's houses was only equalled by the difficulty of getting him out again, but this we must waive for the present in favour of his portraiture.
In height, Mr. Sponge was above the middle size—five feet eleven or so—with a well borne up, not badly shaped, closely cropped oval head, a tolerably good, but somewhat receding forehead, bright hazel eyes, Roman nose, with carefully tended whiskers, reaching the corners of a well-formed mouth, and thence descending in semicircles into a vast expanse of hair beneath the chin.
Having mentioned Mr. Sponge's groomy gait and horsey propensities, it were almost needless to say that his dress was in the sporting style—you saw what he was by his clothes. Every article seemed to be made to defy the utmost rigour of the elements. His hat (Lincoln and Bennett) was hard and heavy. It sounded upon an entrance-hall table like a drum. A little magical loop in the lining explained the cause of its weight. Somehow, his hats were never either old or new—not that he bought them second-hand, but when he got a new one he took its 'long-coat' off, as he called it, with a singeing lamp, and made it look as if it had undergone a few probationary showers.
When a good London hat recedes to a certain point, it gets no worse; it is not like a country-made thing that keeps going and going until it declines into a thing with no sort of resemblance to its original self. Barring its weight and hardness, the Sponge hat had no particular character apart from the Sponge head. It was not one of those punty ovals or Cheshire-cheese flats, or curly-sided things that enables one to say who is in a house and who is not, by a glance at the hats in the entrance, but it was just a quiet, round hat, without anything remarkable, either in the binding, the lining, or the band, but still it was a very becoming hat when Sponge had it on. There is a great deal of character in hats. We have seen hats that bring the owners to the recollection far more forcibly than the generality of portraits. But to our hero.
That there may be a dandified simplicity in dress, is exemplified every day by our friends the Quakers, who adorn their beautiful brown Saxony coats with little inside velvet collars and fancy silk buttons, and even the severe order of sporting costume adopted by our friend Mr. Sponge is not devoid of capability in the way of tasteful adaptation. This Mr. Sponge chiefly showed in promoting a resemblance between his neck-cloths and waistcoats. Thus, if he wore a cream-coloured cravat, he would have a buff-coloured waistcoat, if a striped waistcoat, then the starcher would be imbued with somewhat of the same colour and pattern. The ties of these varied with their texture. The silk ones terminated in a sort of coaching fold, and were secured by a golden fox-head pin, while the striped starchers, with the aid of a pin on each side, just made a neat, unpretending tie in the middle, a sort of miniature of the flagrant, flyaway, Mile-End ones of aspiring youth of the present day. His coats were of the single-breasted cut-away order, with pockets outside, and generally either Oxford mixture or some dark colour, that required you to place him in a favourable light to say what it was.
His waistcoats, of course, were of the most correct form and material, generally either pale buff, or buff with a narrow stripe, similar to the undress vests of the servants of the Royal Family, only with the pattern run across instead of lengthways, as those worthies mostly have theirs, and made with good honest step collars, instead of the make-believe roll collars they sometimes convert their upright ones into. When in deep thought, calculating, perhaps, the value of a passing horse, or considering whether he should have beefsteaks or lamb chops for dinner, Sponge's thumbs would rest in the arm-holes of his waistcoat; in which easy, but not very elegant, attitude he would sometimes stand until all trace of the idea that elevated them had passed away from his mind.
In the trouser line he adhered to the close-fitting costume of former days; and many were the trials, the easings, and the alterings, ere he got a pair exactly to his mind. Many were the customers who turned away on seeing his manly figure filling the swing mirror in 'Snip and Sneiders',' a monopoly that some tradesmen might object to, only Mr. Sponge's trousers being admitted to be perfect 'triumphs of the art,' the more such a walking advertisement was seen in the shop the better. Indeed, we believe it would have been worth Snip and Co.'s while to have let him have them for nothing. They were easy without being tight, or rather they looked tight without being so; there wasn't a bag, a wrinkle, or a crease that there shouldn't be, and strong and storm-defying as they seemed, they were yet as soft and as supple as a lady's glove. They looked more as if his legs had been blown in them than as if such irreproachable garments were the work of man's hands. Many were the nudges, and many the 'look at this chap's trousers,' that were given by ambitious men emulous of his appearance as he passed along, and many were the turnings round to examine their faultless fall upon his radiant boot. The boots, perhaps, might come in for a little of the glory, for they were beautifully soft and cool-looking to the foot, easy without being loose, and he preserved the lustre of their polish, even up to the last moment of his walk. There never was a better man for getting through dirt, either on foot or horseback, than our friend.
To the frequenters of the 'corner,' it were almost superfluous to mention that he is a constant attendant. He has several volumes of 'catalogues,' with the prices the horses have brought set down in the margins, and has a rare knack at recognizing old friends, altered, disguised, or disfigured as they may be—'I've seen that rip before,' he will say, with a knowing shake of the head, as some woe-begone devil goes, best leg foremost, up to the hammer, or, 'What! is that old beast back? why he's here every day.' No man can impose upon Soapy with a horse. He can detect the rough-coated plausibilities of the straw-yard, equally with the metamorphosis of the clipper or singer. His practised eye is not to be imposed upon either by the blandishments of the bang-tail, or the bereavements of the dock. Tattersall will hail him from his rostrum with—'Here's a horse will suit you, Mr. Sponge! cheap, good, and handsome! come and buy him.' But it is needless describing him here, for every out-of-place groom and dog-stealer's man knows him by sight.
MR. BENJAMIN BUCKRAM
Having dressed and sufficiently described our hero to enable our readers to form a general idea of the man, we have now to request them to return to the day of our introduction. Mr. Sponge had gone along Oxford Street at a somewhat improved pace to his usual wont—had paused for a shorter period in the ''bus' perplexed 'Circus,' and pulled up seldomer than usual between the Circus and the limits of his stroll. Behold him now at the Edgeware Road end, eyeing the 'buses with a wanting-a-ride like air, instead of the contemptuous sneer he generally adopts towards those uncouth productions. Red, green blue, drab, cinnamon-colour, passed and crossed, and jostled, and stopped, and blocked, and the cads telegraphed, and winked, and nodded, and smiled, and slanged, but Mr. Sponge regarded them not. He had a sort of ''bus' panorama in his head, knew the run of them all, whence they started, where they stopped, where they watered, where they changed, and, wonderful to relate, had never been entrapped into a sixpenny fare when he meant to take a threepenny one. In cab and ''bus' geography there is not a more learned man in London.
Mark him as he stands at the corner. He sees what he wants, it's the chequered one with the red and blue wheels that the Bayswater ones have got between them, and that the St. John's Wood and two Western Railway ones are trying to get into trouble by crossing. What a row! how the ruffians whip, and stamp, and storm, and all but pick each other's horses' teeth with their poles, how the cads gesticulate, and the passengers imprecate! now the bonnets are out of the windows, and the row increases. Six coachmen cutting and storming, six cads sawing the air, sixteen ladies in flowers screaming, six-and-twenty sturdy passengers swearing they will 'fine them all,' and Mr. Sponge is the only cool person in the scene. He doesn't rush into the throng and 'jump in,' for fear the 'bus should extricate itself and drive on without him; he doesn't make confusion worse confounded by intimating his behest; he doesn't soil his bright boots by stepping off the kerb-stone; but, quietly waiting the evaporation of the steam, and the disentanglement of the vehicles, by the smallest possible sign in the world, given at the opportune moment, and a steady adhesion to the flags, the 'bus is obliged either to 'come to,' or lose the fare, and he steps quietly in, and squeezes along to the far end, as though intent on going the whole hog of the journey.
Away they rumble up the Edgeware Road; the gradual emergence from the brick and mortar of London being marked as well by the telling out of passengers as by the increasing distances between the houses. First, it is all close huddle with both. Austere iron railings guard the subterranean kitchen areas, and austere looks indicate a desire on the part of the passengers to guard their own pockets; gradually little gardens usurp the places of the cramped areas, and, with their humanizing appearance, softer looks assume the place of frowning anti swell-mob ones.
Presently a glimpse of green country or of distant hills may be caught between the wider spaces of the houses, and frequent settings down increase the space between the passengers; gradually conservatories appear and conversation strikes up; then come the exclusiveness of villas, some detached and others running out at last into real pure green fields studded with trees and picturesque pot-houses, before one of which latter a sudden wheel round and a jerk announces the journey done. The last passenger (if there is one) is then unceremoniously turned loose upon the country.
Our readers will have the kindness to suppose our hero, Mr. Sponge, shot out of an omnibus at the sign of the Cat and Compasses, in the full rurality of grass country, sprinkled with fallows and turnip-fields. We should state that this unwonted journey was a desire to pay a visit to Mr. Benjamin Buckram, the horse-dealer's farm at Scampley, distant some mile and a half from where he was set down, a space that he now purposed travelling on foot.
Mr. Benjamin Buckram was a small horse-dealer—small, at least, when he was buying, though great when he was selling. It would do a youngster good to see Ben filling the two capacities. He dealt in second hand, that is to say, past mark of mouth horses; but on the present occasion, Mr. Sponge sought his services in the capacity of a letter rather than a seller of horses. Mr. Sponge wanted to job a couple of plausible-looking horses, with the option of buying them, provided he (Mr. Sponge) could sell them for more than he would have to give Mr. Buckram, exclusive of the hire. Mr. Buckram's job price, we should say, was as near twelve pounds a month, containing twenty-eight days, as he could screw, the hirer, of course, keeping the animals.
Scampley is one of those pretty little suburban farms, peculiar to the north and north-west side of London—farms varying from fifty to a hundred acres of well-manured, gravelly soil; each farm with its picturesque little buildings, consisting of small, honey-suckled, rose-entwined brick houses, with small, flat, pan-tiled roofs, and lattice-windows; and, hard by, a large hay-stack, three times the size of the house, or a desolate barn, half as big as all the rest of the buildings. From the smallness of the holdings, the farmhouses are dotted about as thickly, and at such varying distances from the roads, as to look like inferior 'villas,' falling out of rank; most of them have a half-smart, half-seedy sort of look.
The rustics who cultivate them, or rather look after them, are neither exactly town nor country. They have the clownish dress and boorish gait of the regular 'chaws,' with a good deal of the quick, suspicious, sour sauciness of the low London resident. If you can get an answer from them at all, it is generally delivered in such a way as to show that the answerer thinks you are what they call 'chaffing them,' asking them what you know.
These farms serve the double purpose of purveyors to the London stables, and hospitals for sick, overworked, or unsaleable horses. All the great job-masters and horse-dealers have these retreats in the country, and the smaller ones pretend to have, from whence, in due course, they can draw any sort of an animal a customer may want, just as little cellarless wine-merchants can get you any sort of wine from real establishments—if you only give them time.
There was a good deal of mystery about Scampley. It was sometimes in the hands of Mr. Benjamin Buckram, sometimes in the hands of his assignees, sometimes in those of his cousin, Abraham Brown, and sometimes John Doe and Richard Roe were the occupants of it.
Mr. Benjamin Buckram, though very far from being one, had the advantage of looking like a respectable man. There was a certain plump, well-fed rosiness about him, which, aided by a bright-coloured dress, joined to a continual fumble in the pockets of his drab trousers, gave him the air of a 'well-to-do-in-the-world' sort of man. Moreover, he sported a velvet collar to his blue coat, a more imposing ornament than it appears at first sight. To be sure, there are two sorts of velvet collars—the legitimate velvet collar, commencing with the coat, and the adopted velvet collar, put on when the cloth one gets shabby.
Buckram's was always the legitimate velvet collar, new from the first, and, we really believe, a permanent velvet collar, adhered to in storm and in sunshine, has a very money-making impression on the world. It shows a spirit superior to feelings of paltry economy, and we think a person would be much more excusable for being victimized by a man with a good velvet collar to his coat, than by one exhibiting that spurious sign of gentility—a horse and gig.
The reader will now have the kindness to consider Mr. Sponge arriving at Scampley.
'Ah, Mr. Sponge!' exclaimed Mr. Buckram, who, having seen our friend advancing up the little twisting approach from the road to his house through a little square window almost blinded with Irish ivy, out of which he was in the habit of contemplating the arrival of his occasional lodgers, Doe and Roe. 'Ah, Mr. Sponge!' exclaimed he, with well-assumed gaiety; 'you should have been here yesterday; sent away two sich osses—perfect 'unters—the werry best I do think I ever saw in my life; either would have bin the werry oss for your money. But come in, Mr. Sponge, sir, come in,' continued he, backing himself through a little sentry-box of a green portico, to a narrow passage which branched off into little rooms on either side.
As Buckram made this retrograde movement, he gave a gentle pull to the wooden handle of an old-fashioned wire bell-pull in the midst of buggy, four-in-hand, and other whips, hanging in the entrance, a touch that was acknowledged by a single tinkle of the bell in the stable-yard.
They then entered the little room on the right, whose walls were decorated with various sporting prints chiefly illustrative of steeple-chases, with here and there a stunted fox-brush, tossing about as a duster. The ill-ventilated room reeked with the effluvia of stale smoke, and the faded green baize of a little round table in the centre was covered with filbert-shells and empty ale-glasses. The whole furniture of the room wasn't worth five pounds.
Mr. Sponge, being now on the dealing tack, commenced in the poverty-stricken strain adapted to the occasion. Having deposited his hat on the floor, taken his left leg up to nurse, and given his hair a backward rub with his right hand, he thus commenced:
'Now, Buckram,' said he, 'I'll tell you how it is. I'm deuced hard-up—regularly in Short's Gardens. I lost eighteen 'undred on the Derby, and seven on the Leger, the best part of my year's income, indeed; and I just want to hire two or three horses for the season, with the option of buying, if I like; and if you supply me well, I may be the means of bringing grist to your mill; you twig, eh?'
'Well, Mr. Sponge,' replied Buckram, sliding several consecutive half-crowns down the incline plane of his pocket. 'Well, Mr. Sponge, I shall be happy to do my best for you. I wish you'd come yesterday, though, as I said before, I jest had two of the neatest nags—a bay and a grey—not that colour makes any matter to a judge like you; there's no sounder sayin' than that a good oss is not never of a bad colour; only to a young gemman, you know, it's well to have 'em smart, and the ticket, in short; howsomever, I must do the best I can for you, and if there's nothin' in that tickles your fancy, why, you must give me a few days to see if I can arrange an exchange with some other gent; but the present is like to be a werry haggiwatin' season; had more happlications for osses nor ever I remembers, and I've been a dealer now, man and boy, turned of eight-and-thirty years; but young gents is whimsical, and it was a young 'un wot got these, and there's no sayin' but he mayn't like them—indeed, one's rayther difficult to ride—that's to say, the grey, the neatest of the two, and he may come back, and if so, you shall have him; and a safer, sweeter oss was never seen, or one more like to do credit to a gent: but you knows what an oss is, Mr. Sponge, and can do justice to me, and I should like to put summut good into your hands—that I should.'
With conversation, or rather with balderdash, such as this, Mr. Buckram beguiled the few minutes necessary for removing the bandages, hiding the bottles, and stirring up the cripples about to be examined, and the heavy flap of the coach-house door announcing that all was ready, he forthwith led the way through a door in a brick wall into a little three-sides of a square yard, formed of stables and loose boxes, with a dilapidated dove-cote above a pump in the centre; Mr. Buckram, not growing corn, could afford to keep pigeons.
Nothing bespeaks the character of a dealer's trade more than the servants and hangers-on of the establishment. The civiler in manner, and the better they are 'put on,' the higher the standing of the master, and the better the stamp of the horses.
Those about Mr. Buckram's were of a very shady order. Dirty-shirted, sloggering, baggy-breeched, slangey-gaitered fellows, with the word 'gin' indelibly imprinted on their faces. Peter Leather, the head man, was one of the fallen angels of servitude. He had once driven a duke—the Duke of Dazzleton—having nothing whatever to do but dress himself and climb into his well-indented richly fringed throne, with a helper at each horse's head to 'let go' at a nod from his broad laced three-cornered hat. Then having got in his cargo (or rubbish, as he used to call them), he would start off at a pace that was truly terrific, cutting out this vehicle, shooting past that, all but grazing a third, anathematizing the 'buses, and abusing the draymen. We don't know how he might be with the queen, but he certainly drove as though he thought nobody had any business in the street while the Duchess of Dazzleton wanted it. The duchess liked going fast, and Peter accommodated her. The duke jobbed his horses and didn't care about pace, and so things might have gone on very comfortably, if Peter one afternoon hadn't run his pole into the panel of a very plain but very neat yellow barouche, passing the end of New Bond Street, which having nothing but a simple crest—a stag's head on the panel—made him think it belonged to some bulky cit, taking the air with his rib, but who, unfortunately, turned out to be no less a person than Sir Giles Nabem, Knight, the great police magistrate, upon one of whose myrmidons in plain clothes, who came to the rescue, Peter committed a most violent assault, for which unlucky casualty his worship furnished him with rotatory occupation for his fat calves in the 'H. of C.,' as the clerk shortly designated the House of Correction. Thither Peter went, and in lieu of his lace-bedaubed coat, gold-gartered plushes, stockings, and buckled shoes, he was dressed up in a suit of tight-fitting yellow and black-striped worsteds, that gave him the appearance of a wasp without wings. Peter Leather then tumbled regularly down the staircase of servitude, the greatness of his fall being occasionally broken by landing in some inferior place. From the Duke of Dazzleton's, or rather from the tread-mill, he went to the Marquis of Mammon, whom he very soon left because he wouldn't wear a second-hand wig. From the marquis he got hired to the great Irish Earl of Coarsegab, who expected him to wash the carriage, wait at table, and do other incidentals never contemplated by a London coachman. Peter threw this place up with indignation on being told to take the letters to the post. He then lived on his 'means' for a while, a thing that is much finer in theory than in practice, and having about exhausted his substance and placed the bulk of his apparel in safe keeping, he condescended to take a place as job coachman in a livery-stable—a 'horses let by the hour, day, or month' one, in which he enacted as many characters, at least made as many different appearances, as the late Mr. Mathews used to do in his celebrated 'At Homes.' One day Peter would be seen ducking under the mews' entrance in one of those greasy, painfully well-brushed hats, the certain precursors of soiled linen and seedy, most seedy-covered buttoned coats, that would puzzle a conjuror to say whether they were black, or grey, or olive, or invisible green turned visible brown. Then another day he might be seen in old Mrs. Gadabout's sky-blue livery, with a tarnished, gold-laced hat, nodding over his nose; and on a third he would shine forth in Mrs. Major-General Flareup's cockaded one, with a worsted shoulder-knot, and a much over-daubed light drab livery coat, with crimson inexpressibles, so tight as to astonish a beholder how he ever got into them. Humiliation, however, has its limits as well as other things; and Peter having been invited to descend from his box—alas! a regular country patent leather one, and invest himself in a Quaker-collared blue coat, with a red vest, and a pair of blue trousers with a broad red stripe down the sides, to drive the Honourable old Miss Wrinkleton, of Harley Street, to Court in a 'one oss pianoforte-case,' as he called a Clarence, he could stand it no longer, and, chucking the nether garments into the fire, he rushed frantically up the area-steps, mounted his box, and quilted the old crocodile of a horse all the way home, accompanying each cut with an imprecation such as 'me make a guy of myself!' (whip) 'me put on sich things!' (whip, whip) 'me drive down Sin Jimses-street!' (whip, whip, whip), 'I'd see her —— fust!' (whip, whip, whip), cutting at the old horse just as if he was laying it into Miss Wrinkleton, so that by the time he got home he had established a considerable lather on the old nag, which his master resenting a row ensued, the sequel of which may readily be imagined. After assisting Mrs. Clearstarch, the Kilburn laundress, in getting in and taking out her washing, for a few weeks, chance at last landed him at Mr. Benjamin Buckram's, from whence he is now about to be removed to become our hero Mr. Sponge's Sancho Panza, in his fox-hunting, fortune-hunting career, and disseminate in remote parts his doctrines of the real honour and dignity of servitude. Now to the inspection.
Peter Leather, having a peep-hole as well as his master, on seeing Mr. Sponge arrive, had given himself an extra rub over, and covered his dirty shirt with a clean, well-tied, white kerchief, and a whole coloured scarlet waistcoat, late the property of one of his noble employers, in hopes that Sponge's visit might lead to something. Peter was about sick of the suburbs, and thought, of course, that he couldn't be worse off than where he was.
'Here's Mr. Sponge wants some osses,' observed Mr. Buckram, as Leather met them in the middle of the little yard, and brought his right arm round with a sort of military swing to his forehead; 'what 'ave we in?' continued Buckram, with the air of a man with so many horses that he didn't know what were in and what were out.
'Vy we 'ave Rumbleton in,' replied Leather, thoughtfully, stroking down his hair as he spoke, 'and we 'ave Jack o'Lanthorn in, and we 'ave the Camel in, and there's the little Hirish oss with the sprig tail—Jack-a-Dandy, as I calls him, and the Flyer will be in to-night, he's just out a hairing, as it were, with old Mr. Callipash.'
'Ah, Rumbleton won't do for Mr. Sponge,' observed Buckram, thoughtfully, at the same time letting go a tremendous avalanche of silver down his trouser pocket, 'Rumbleton won't do,' repeated he, 'nor Jack-a-Dandy nouther.'
'Why, I wouldn't commend neither on 'em,' replied Peter, taking his cue from his master, 'only ven you axes me vot there's in, you knows vy I must give you a cor-rect answer, in course.'
'In course,' nodded Buckram.
Leather and Buckram had a good understanding in the lying line, and had fallen into a sort of tacit arrangement that if the former was staunch about the horses he was at liberty to make the best terms he could for himself. Whatever Buckram said, Leather swore to, and they had established certain signals and expressions that each understood.
'I've an unkimmon nice oss,' at length observed Mr. Buckram, with a scrutinizing glance at Sponge, 'and an oss in hevery respect werry like your work, but he's an oss I'll candidly state, I wouldn't put in every one's 'ands, for, in the fust place, he's wery walueous, and in the second, he requires an ossman to ride; howsomever, as I knows that you can ride, and if you doesn't mind taking my 'ead man,' jerking his elbow at Leather, 'to look arter him, I wouldn't mind 'commodatin' on you, prowided we can 'gree upon terms.'
'Well, let's see him,' interrupted Sponge, 'and we can talk about terms after.'
'Certainly, sir, certainly,' replied Buckram, again letting loose a reaccumulated rush of silver down his pocket. 'Here, Tom! Joe! Harry! where's Sam?' giving the little tinkler of a bell a pull as he spoke.
'Sam be in the straw 'ouse,' replied Leather, passing through a stable into a wooden projection beyond, where the gentleman in question was enjoying a nap.
'Sam!' said he, 'Sam!' repeated he, in a louder tone, as he saw the object of his search's nose popping through the midst of the straw.
'What now?' exclaimed Sam, starting up, and looking wildly around; 'what now?' repeated he, rubbing his eyes with the backs of his hands.
'Get out Ercles,' said Leather, sotto voce.
The lad was a mere stripling—some fifteen or sixteen, years, perhaps—tall, slight, and neat, with dark hair and eyes, and was dressed in a brown jacket—a real boy's jacket, without laps, white cords, and top-boots. It was his business to risk his neck and limbs at all hours of the day, on all sorts of horses, over any sort of place that any person chose to require him to put a horse at, and this he did with the daring pleasure of youth as yet undaunted by any serious fall. Sam now bestirred himself to get out the horse. The clambering of hoofs presently announced his approach.
Whether Hercules was called Hercules on account of his amazing strength, or from a fanciful relationship to the famous horse of that name, we know not; but his strength and his colour would favour either supposition. He was an immense, tall, powerful, dark brown, sixteen hands horse, with an arched neck and crest, well set on, clean, lean head, and loins that looked as if they could shoot a man into the next county. His condition was perfect. His coat lay as close and even as satin, with cleanly developed muscle, and altogether he looked as hard as a cricket-ball. He had a famous switch tail, reaching nearly to his hocks, and making him look less than he would otherwise have done.
Mr. Sponge was too well versed in horse-flesh to imagine that such an animal would be in the possession of such a third-rate dealer as Buckram, unless there was something radically wrong about him, and as Sam and Leather were paying the horse those stable attentions that always precede a show out, Mr. Sponge settled in his own mind that the observation about his requiring a horseman to ride him, meant that he was vicious. Nor was he wrong in his anticipations, for not all Leather's whistlings, or Sam's endearings and watchings, could conceal the sunken, scowling eye, that as good as said, 'you'd better keep clear of me.'
Mr. Sponge, however, was a dauntless horseman. What man dared he dared, and as the horse stepped proudly and freely out of the stable, Mr. Sponge thought he looked very like a hunter. Nor were Mr. Buckram's laudations wanting in the animal's behalf.
'There's an 'orse!' exclaimed he, drawing his right hand out of his trouser pocket, and flourishing it towards him. 'If that 'orse were down in Leicestersheer,' added he, 'he'd fetch three 'under'd guineas. Sir Richard would 'ave him in a minnit—that he would!' added he, with a stamp of his foot as he saw the animal beginning to set up his back and wince at the approach of the lad. (We may here mention by way of parenthesis, that Mr. Buckram had brought him out of Warwicksheer for thirty pounds, where the horse had greatly distinguished himself, as well by kicking off sundry scarlet swells in the gaily thronged streets of Leamington, as by running away with divers others over the wide-stretching grazing grounds of Southam and Dunchurch.)
But to our story. The horse now stood staring on view: fire in his eye, and vigour in his every limb. Leather at his head, the lad at his side. Sponge and Buckram a little on the left.
'W—h—o—a—a—y, my man, w—h—o—a—a—y,' continued Mr. Buckram, as a liberal show of the white of the eye was followed by a little wince and hoist of the hind quarters on the nearer approach of the lad.
'Look sharp, boy,' said he, in a very different tone to the soothing one in which he had just been addressing the horse. The lad lifted up his leg for a hoist. Leather gave him one as quick as thought, and led on the horse as the lad gathered up his reins. They then made for a large field at the back of the house, with leaping-bars, hurdles, 'on and offs,' 'ins and outs,' all sorts of fancy leaps scattered about. Having got him fairly in, and the lad having got himself fairly settled in the saddle he gave the horse a touch with the spur as Leather let go his head, and after a desperate plunge or two started off at a gallop.
'He's fresh,' observed Mr. Buckram confidentially to Mr. Sponge, 'he's fresh—wants work, in short—short of work—wouldn't put every one on him—wouldn't put one o' your timid cocknified chaps on him, for if ever he were to get the hupper 'and, vy I doesn't know as 'ow that we might get the hupper 'and o' him, agen, but the playful rogue knows ven he's got a workman on his back—see how he gives to the lad though he's only fifteen, and not strong of his hage nouther,' continued Mr. Buckram, 'and I guess if he had sich a consternation of talent as you on his back, he'd wery soon be as quiet as a lamb—not that he's wicious—far from it, only play—full of play, I may say, though to be sure, if a man gets spilt it don't argufy much whether it's done from play or from wice.'
During this time the horse was going through his evolutions, hopping over this thing, popping over that, making as little of everything as practice makes them do.
Having gone through the usual routine, the lad now walked the glowing coated snorting horse back to where the trio stood. Mr. Sponge again looked him over, and still seeing no exception to take to him, bid the lad get off and lengthen the stirrups for him to take a ride. That was the difficulty. The first two minutes always did it. Mr. Sponge, however, nothing daunted, borrowed Sam's spurs, and making Leather hold the horse by the head till he got well into the saddle, and then lead him on a bit; he gave the animal such a dig in both sides as fairly threw him off his guard, and made him start away at a gallop, instead of standing and delivering, as was his wont.
Away Mr. Sponge shot, pulling him about, trying all his paces, and putting him at all sorts of leaps.
Emboldened by the nerve and dexterity displayed by Mr. Sponge, Mr. Buckram stood meditating a further trial of his equestrian ability, as he watched him bucketing 'Ercles' about. Hercules had 'spang-hewed' so many triers, and the hideous contraction of his resolute back had deterred so many from mounting, that Buckram had begun to fear he would have to place him in the only remaining school for incurables, the 'bus. Hack-horse riders are seldom great horsemen. The very fact of their being hack-horse riders shows they are little accustomed to horses, or they would not give the fee-simple of an animal for a few weeks' work.
'I've a wonderful clever little oss,' observed Mr. Buckram, as Sponge returned with a slack-rein and a satisfied air on the late resolute animal's back. 'Little I can 'ardly call 'im,' continued Mr. Buckram, 'only he's low; but you knows that the 'eight of an oss has nothin' to do with his size. Now this is a perfect dray-oss in miniature. An 'Arrow gent, lookin' at him t'other day christen'd him "Multum in Parvo." But though he's so ter-men-dous strong, he has the knack o' goin', specially in deep; and if you're not a-goin' to Sir Richard, but into some o' them plough sheers (shires), I'd 'commend him to you.'
'Let's have a look at him,' replied Mr. Sponge, throwing his right leg over Hercules' head and sliding from the saddle on to the ground, as if he were alighting from the quietest shooting pony in the world.
All then was hurry, scurry, and scamper to get this second prodigy out. Presently he appeared. Multum in Parvo certainly was all that Buckram described him. A long, low, clean-headed, clean-necked, big-hocked, chestnut, with a long tail, and great, large, flat white legs, without mark or blemish upon them. Unlike Hercules, there was nothing indicative of vice or mischief about him. Indeed, he was rather a sedate, meditative-looking animal; and, instead of the watchful, arms'-length sort of way Leather and Co. treated Hercules, they jerked and punched Parvo about as if he were a cow.
Still Parvo had his foibles. He was a resolute, head-strong animal, that would go his own way in spite of all the pulling and hauling in the world. If he took it into his obstinate head to turn into a particular field, into it he would be; or against the gate-post he would bump the rider's leg in a way that would make him remember the difference of opinion between them. His was not a fiery, hot-headed spirit, with object or reason for its guide, but just a regular downright pig-headed sort of stupidity, that nobody could account for. He had a mouth like a bull, and would walk clean through a gate sometimes rather than be at the trouble of rising to leap it; at other times he would hop over it like a bird. He could not beat Mr. Buckram's men, because they were always on the look-out for objects of contention with sharp spur rowels, ready to let into his sides the moment he began to stop; but a weak or a timid man on his back had no more chance than he would on an elephant. If the horse chose to carry him into the midst of the hounds at the meet, he would have him in—nay, he would think nothing of upsetting the master himself in the middle of the pack. Then the provoking part was, that the obstinate animal, after having done all the mischief, would just set to to eat as if nothing had happened. After rolling a sportsman in the mud, he would repair to the nearest hay-stack or grassy bank, and be caught. He was now ten years old, or a leetle more perhaps, and very wicked years some of them had been. His adventures, his sellings and his returning, his lettings and his unlettings, his bumpings and spillings, his smashings and crashings, on the road, in the field, in single and in double harness, would furnish a volume of themselves; and in default of a more able historian, we purpose blending his future fortune with that of 'Ercles,' in the service of our hero Mr. Sponge, and his accomplished groom, and undertaking the important narration of them ourselves.
We trust our opening chapters, aided by our friend Leech's pencil, will have enabled our readers to embody such a Sponge in their mind's eye as will assist them in following us through the course of his peregrinations. We do not profess to have drawn such a portrait as will raise the same sort of Sponge in the minds of all, but we trust we have given such a general outline of style, and indication of character, as an ordinary knowledge of the world will enable them to imagine a good, pushing, free-and-easy sort of man, wishing to be a gentleman without knowing how.
Far more difficult is the task of conveying to our readers such information as will enable them to form an idea of our hero's ways and means. An accommodating world—especially the female portion of it—generally attribute ruin to the racer, and fortune to the fox-hunter; but though Mr. Sponge's large losses on the turf, as detailed by him to Mr. Buckram on the occasion of their deal or 'job,' would bring him in the category of the unfortunates; still that representation was nearly, if not altogether, fabulous. That Mr. Sponge might have lost a trifle on the great races of the year, we don't mean to deny, but that he lost such a sum as eighteen hundred on the Derby, and seven on the Leger, we are in a condition to contradict, for the best of all possible reasons, that he hadn't it to lose. At the same time we do not mean to attribute falsehood to Mr. Sponge—quite the contrary—it is no uncommon thing for merchants and traders—men who 'talk in thousands,' to declare that they lost twenty thousand by this, or forty thousand by that, simply meaning that they didn't make it, and if Mr. Sponge, by taking the longest of the long odds against the most wretched of the outsiders, might have won the sums he named, he surely had a right to say he lost them when he didn't get them.
It never does to be indigenously poor, if we may use such a term, and when a man gets to the end of his tether, he must have something or somebody to blame rather than his own extravagance or imprudence, and if there is no 'rascally lawyer' who has bolted with his title-deeds, or fraudulent agent who has misappropriated his funds, why then, railroads, or losses on the turf, or joint-stock banks that have shut up at short notice, come in as the scapegoats. Very willing hacks they are, too, railways especially, and so frequently ridden, that it is no easy matter to discriminate between the real and the fictitious loser.
But though we are able to contradict Mr. Sponge's losses on the turf, we are sorry we are not able to elevate him to the riches the character of a fox-hunter generally inspires. Still, like many men of whom the common observation is, 'nobody knows how he lives,' Mr. Sponge always seemed well to do in the world. There was no appearance of want about him. He always hunted: sometimes with five horses, sometimes with four, seldom with less than three, though at the period of our introduction he had come down to two. Nevertheless, those two, provided he could but make them 'go,' were well calculated to do the work of four. And hack horses, of all sorts, it may be observed, generally do double the work of private ones; and if there is one man in the world better calculated to get the work out of them than another, that man most assuredly is Mr. Sponge. And this reminds us, that we may as well state that his bargain with Buckram was a sort of jobbing deal. He had to pay ten guineas a month for each horse, with a sort of sliding scale of prices if he chose to buy—the price of 'Ercles' (the big brown) being fixed at fifty, inclusive of hire at the end of the first month, and gradually rising according to the length of time he kept him beyond that; while, 'Multum in Parvo,' the resolute chestnut, was booked at thirty, with the right of buying at five more, a contingency that Buckram little expected. He, we may add, had got him for ten, and dear he thought him when he got him home.
The world was now all before Mr. Sponge where to choose; and not being the man to keep hack horses to look at, we must be setting him a-going.
'Leicesterscheer swells,' as Mr. Buckram would call them, with their fourteen hunters and four hacks, will smile at the idea of a man going from home to hunt with only a couple of 'screws,' but Mr. Sponge knew what he was about, and didn't want any one to counsel him. He knew there were places where a man can follow up the effect produced by a red coat in the morning to great advantage in the evening; and if he couldn't hunt every day in the week, as he could have wished, he felt he might fill up his time perhaps quite as profitably in other ways. The ladies, to do them justice, are never at all suspicious about men—on the 'nibble'—always taking it for granted, they are 'all they could wish,' and they know each other so well, that any cautionary hint acts rather in a man's favour than otherwise. Moreover, hunting men, as we said before, are all supposed to be rich, and as very few ladies are aware that a horse can't hunt every day in the week, they just class the whole 'genus' fourteen-horse power men, ten-horse power men, five-horse power men, two-horse power men, together, and tying them in a bunch, label it 'very rich,' and proceed to take measures accordingly.
Let us now visit one of the 'strongholds' of fox and fortune-hunting.
A sudden turn of a long, gently rising, but hitherto uninteresting road, brings the posting traveller suddenly upon the rich, well-wooded, beautifully undulating vale of Fordingford, whose fine green pastures are brightened with occasional gleams of a meandering river, flowing through the centre of the vale. In the far distance, looking as though close upon the blue hills, though in reality several miles apart, sundry spires and taller buildings are seen rising above the grey mists towards which a straight, undeviating, matter-of-fact line of railway passing up the right of the vale, directs the eye. This is the famed Laverick Wells, the resort, as indeed all watering-places are, according to newspaper accounts, of
'Knights and dames, And all that wealth and lofty lineage claim.'
At the period of which we write, however, 'Laverick Wells' was in great feather—it had never known such times. Every house, every lodging, every hole and corner was full, and the great hotels, which more resemble Lancashire cotton-mills than English hostelries, were sending away applicants in the most offhand, indifferent way.
The Laverick Wells hounds had formerly been under the management of the well-known Mr. Thomas Slocdolager, a hard-riding, hard-bitten, hold-harding sort of sportsman, whose whole soul was in the thing, and who would have ridden over his best friend in the ardour of the chase.
In some countries such a creature may be considered an acquisition, and so long as he reigned at the Wells, people made the best they could of him, though it was painfully apparent to the livery-stable keepers, and others, who had the best interest of the place at heart, that such a red-faced, gloveless, drab-breeched, mahogany-booted buffer, who would throw off at the right time, and who resolutely set his great stubbly-cheeked face against all show meets and social intercourse in the field, was not exactly the man for a civilized place. Whether time might have enlightened Mr. Slocdolager as to the fact, that continuous killing of foxes, after fatiguingly long runs, was not the way to the hearts of the Laverick Wells sportsmen, is unknown, for on attempting to realize as fine a subscription as ever appeared upon paper, it melted so in the process of collection, that what was realized was hardly worth his acceptance; saying so, in his usual blunt way, that if he hunted a country at his own expense he would hunt one that wasn't encumbered with fools, he just stamped his little wardrobe into a pair of old black saddle-bags, and rode out of town without saying 'tar, tar,' good-bye, carding, or P.P.C.-ing anybody.
This was at the end of a season, a circumstance that considerably mitigated the inconvenience so abrupt a departure might have occasioned, and as one of the great beauties of Laverick Wells is, that it is just as much in vogue in summer as in winter, the inhabitants consoled themselves with the old aphorism, that there is as 'good fish in the sea as ever came out of it,' and cast about in search of some one to supply his place at as small cost to themselves as possible. In a place so replete with money and the enterprise of youth, little difficulty was anticipated, especially when the old bait of 'a name' being all that was wanted, 'an ample subscription,' to defray all expenses figuring in the background, was held out.
Among a host of most meritorious young men—(any of whom would get up behind a bill for five hundred pounds without looking to see that it wasn't a thousand)—among a host of most meritorious young men who made their appearance at Laverick Wells towards the close of Mr. Slocdolager's reign, was Mr. Waffles; a most enterprising youth, just on the verge of arriving of age, and into the possession of a very considerable amount of charming ready money.
Were it not that a 'proud aristocracy,' as Sir Robert Peel called them, have shown that they can get over any little deficiency of birth if there is sufficiency of cash, we should have thought it necessary to make the best of Mr. Waffles' pedigree, but the tide of opinion evidently setting the other way, we shall just give it as we had it, and let the proud aristocracy reject him if they like. Mr. Waffles' father, then, was either a great grazier or a great brazier—which, we are unable to say, 'for a small drop of ink having fallen,' not 'like dew,' but like a black beetle, on the first letter of the word in our correspondent's communication, it may do for either—but in one of which trades he made a 'mint of money,' and latish on in life married a lady who hitherto had filled the honourable office of dairy-maid in his house; she was a fine handsome woman and a year or two after the birth of this their only child, he departed this life, nearer eighty than seventy, leaving an 'inconsolable,' &c., who unfortunately contracted matrimony with a master pork-butcher, before she got the fine flattering white monument up, causing young Waffles to be claimed for dry-nursing by that expert matron the High Court of Chancery; who, of course, had him properly educated—where, it is immaterial to relate, as we shall step on till we find him at college.
Our friend, having proved rather too vivacious for the Oxford Dons, had been recommended to try the effects of the Laverick Wells, or any other waters he liked, and had arrived with a couple of hunters and a hack, much to the satisfaction of the neighbouring master of hounds and his huntsman; for Waffles had ridden over and maimed more hounds to his own share, during the two seasons he had been at Oxford, than that gentleman had been in the habit of appropriating to the use of the whole university. Corresponding with that gentleman's delight at getting rid of him was Mr. Slocdolager's dismay at his appearance, for fully satisfied that Oxford was the seat of fox-hunting as well as of all the other arts and sciences, Mr. Waffles undertook to enlighten him and his huntsman on the mysteries of their calling, and 'Old Sloc,' as he was called, being a very silent man, while Mr. Waffles was a very noisy one. Sloc was nearly talked deaf by him.
Mr. Waffles was just in the hey-day of hot, rash, youthful indiscretion and extravagance. He had not the slightest idea of the value of money, and looked at the fortune he was so closely approaching as perfectly inexhaustible. His rooms, the most spacious and splendid at that most spacious and splendid hotel, the 'Imperial,' were filled with a profusion of the most useless but costly articles. Jewellery without end, pictures innumerable, pictures that represented all sorts of imaginary sums of money, just as they represented all sorts of imaginary scenes, but whose real worth or genuineness would never be tested till the owner wanted to 'convert them.'
Mr. Waffles was a 'pretty man.' Tall, slim, and slight, with long curly light hair, pink and white complexion, visionary whispers, and a tendency to moustache that could best be seen sideways. He had light blue eyes; while his features generally were good, but expressive of little beyond great good-humour. In dress, he was both smart and various; indeed, we feel a difficulty in fixing him in any particular costume, so frequent and opposite were his changes. He had coats of every cut and colour. Sometimes he was the racing man with a bright-button'd Newmarket brown cut-away, and white-cord trousers, with drab cloth-boots; anon, he would be the officer, and shine forth in a fancy forage cap, cocked jauntily over a profusion of well-waxed curls, a richly braided surtout, with military overalls strapped down over highly varnished boots, whose hypocritical heels would sport a pair of large rowelled long-necked, ringing, brass spurs. Sometimes he was a Jack tar, with a little glazed hat, a once-round tie, a checked shirt, a blue jacket, roomy trousers, and broad-stringed pumps; and, before the admiring ladies had well digested him in that dress, he would be seen cantering away on a long-tailed white barb, in a pea-green duck-hunter, with cream-coloured leather and rose-tinted tops. He was
'All things by turns, and nothing long.'
Such was the gentleman elected to succeed the silent, matter-of-fact Mr. Slocdolager in the important office of Master of the Laverick Wells Hunt; and whatever may be the merits of either—upon which we pass no opinion—it cannot be denied that they were essentially different. Mr. Slocdolager was a man of few words, and not at all a ladies' man. He could not even talk when he was crammed with wine, and though he could hold a good quantity, people soon found out they might just as well pour it into a jug as down his throat, so they gave up asking him out. He was a man of few coats, as well as of few words; one on, and one off, being the extent of his wardrobe. His scarlet was growing plum-colour, and the rest of his hunting costume has been already glanced at. He lodged above Smallbones, the veterinary surgeon, in a little back street, where he lived in the quietest way, dining when he came in from hunting,—dressing, or rather changing, only when he was wet, hunting each fox again over his brandy-and-water, and bundling off to bed long before many of his 'field' had left the dining-room. He was little better than a better sort of huntsman.
Waffles, as we said before, had made himself conspicuous towards the close of Mr. Slocdolager's reign, chiefly by his dashing costume, his reckless riding, and his off-hand way of blowing up and slanging people.
Indeed, a stranger would have taken him for the master, a delusion that was heightened by his riding with a formidable-looking sherry-case, in the shape of a horn, at his saddle. Save when engaged in sucking this, his tongue was never at fault. It was jabber, jabber, jabber; chatter, chatter, chatter; prattle, prattle, prattle; occasionally about something, oftener about nothing, but in cover or out, stiff country or open, trotting or galloping, wet day or dry, good scenting day or bad. Waffles' clapper never was at rest. Like all noisy chaps, too, he could not bear any one to make a noise but himself. In furtherance of this, he called in the aid of his Oxfordshire rhetoric. He would halloo at people, designating them by some peculiarity that he thought he could wriggle out of, if necessary, instead of attacking them by name. Thus, if a man spoke, or placed himself where Waffles thought he ought not to be (that is to say, anywhere but where Waffles was himself), he would exclaim, 'Pray, sir, hold your tongue!—you, sir!—no, sir, not you—the man that speaks as if he had a brush in his throat!'—or, 'Do come away, sir!—you, sir!—the man in the mushroom-looking hat!'—or, 'that gentleman in the parsimonious boots!' looking at some one with very narrow tops.
Still, he was a rattling, good-natured, harum-scarum fellow; and masterships of hounds, memberships of Parliament—all expensive unmoney-making offices,—being things that most men are anxious to foist upon their friends, Mr. Waffles' big talk and interference in the field procured him the honour of the first refusal. Not that he was the man to refuse, for he jumped at the offer, and, as he would be of age before the season came round, and would have got all his money out of Chancery, he disdained to talk about a subscription, and boldly took the hounds as his own. He then became a very important personage at Laverick Wells.
He had always been a most important personage among the ladies, but as the men couldn't marry him, those who didn't want to borrow money of him, of course, ran him down. It used to be, 'Look at that dandified ass, Waffles, I declare the sight of him makes me sick'; or, 'What a barber's apprentice that fellow is, with his ringlets all smeared with Macassar.'
Now it was Waffles this, Waffles that, 'Who dines with Waffles?' 'Waffles is the best fellow under the sun! By Jingo, I know no such man as Waffles!' 'Most deserving young man!'
In arriving at this conclusion, their judgement was greatly assisted by the magnificent way he went to work. Old Tom Towler, the whip, who had toiled at his calling for twenty long years on fifty pounds and what he could 'pick up,' was advanced to a hundred and fifty, with a couple of men under him. Instead of riding worn-out, tumble-down, twenty-pound screws, he was mounted on hundred-guinea horses, for which the dealers were to have a couple of hundred, when they were paid. Everything was in the same proportion.
Mr. Waffles' succession to the hunt made a great commotion among the fair—many elegant and interesting young ladies, who had been going on the pious tack against the Reverend Solomon Winkeyes, the popular bachelor preacher of St. Margaret's, teaching in his schools, distributing his tracts, and collecting the penny subscriptions for his clothing club, now took to riding in fan-tailed habits and feathered hats, and talking about leaping and hunting, and riding over rails. Mr. Waffles had a pound of hat-strings sent him in a week, and muffatees innumerable. Some, we are sorry to say, worked him cigar-cases. He, in return, having expended a vast of toil and ingenuity in inventing a 'button,' now had several dozen of them worked up into brooches, which he scattered about with a liberal hand. It was not one of your matter-of-fact story-telling buttons—a fox with 'TALLY-HO,' or a fox's head grinning in grim death—making a red coat look like a miniature butcher's shamble, but it was one of your queer-twisting lettered concerns, that may pass either for a military button or a naval button, or a club button, or even for a livery button. The letters, two W's, were so skilfully entwined, that even a compositor—and compositors are people who can read almost anything—would have been puzzled to decipher it. The letters were gilt, riveted on steel, and the wearers of the button-brooches were very soon dubbed by the non-recipients, 'Mr. Waffles' sheep.'
A fine button naturally requires a fine coat to put it on, and many were the consultations and propositions as to what it should be. Mr. Slocdolager had done nothing in the decorative department, and many thought the failure of funds was a good deal attributable to that fact. Mr. Waffles was not the man to lose an opportunity of adding another costume to his wardrobe, and after an infinity of trouble, and trials of almost all the colours of the rainbow, he at length settled the following uniform, which, at least, had the charm of novelty to recommend it. The morning, or hunt-coat, was to be scarlet, with a cream-coloured collar and cuffs; and the evening, or dress coat, was to be cream-colour, with a scarlet collar and cuffs, and scarlet silk facings and linings, looking as if the wearer had turned the morning one inside out. Waistcoats, and other articles of dress, were left to the choice of the wearer, experience having proved that they are articles it is impossible to legislate upon with any effect.
The old ladies, bless their disinterested hearts, alone looked on the hound freak with other than feelings of approbation.
They thought it a pity he should take them. They wished he mightn't injure himself—hounds were expensive things—led to habits of irregularity—should be sorry to see such a nice young man as Mr. Waffles led astray—not that it would make any difference to them, but—(looking significantly at their daughters). No fox had been hunted by more hounds than Waffles had been by the ladies; but though he had chatted and prattled with fifty fair maids—any one of whom he might have found difficult to resist, if 'pinned' single-handed by, in a country house, yet the multiplicity of assailants completely neutralized each other, and verified the truth of the adage that there is 'safety in a crowd.'
If pretty, lisping Miss Wordsworth thought she had shot an arrow home to his heart over night, a fresh smile and dart from little Mary Ogleby's dark eyes extracted it in the morning, and made him think of her till the commanding figure and noble air of the Honourable Miss Letitia Amelia Susannah Jemimah de Jenkins, in all the elegance of first-rate millinery and dressmakership, drove her completely from his mind, to be in turn displaced by some one more bewitching. Mr. Waffles was reputed to be made of money, and he went at it as though he thought it utterly impossible to get through it. He was greatly aided in his endeavours by the fact of its being all in the funds—a great convenience to the spendthrift. It keeps him constantly in cash, and enables him to 'cut and come again,' as quick as ever he likes. Land is not half so accommodating; neither is money on mortgage. What with time spent in investigating a title, or giving notice to 'pay in,' an industrious man wants a second loan by the time, or perhaps before, he gets the first. Acres are not easy of conversion, and the mere fact of wanting to sell implies a deficiency somewhere. With money in the funds, a man has nothing to do but lodge a power of attorney with his broker, and write up for four or five thousand pounds, just as he would write to his bootmaker for four or five pairs of boots, the only difference being, that in all probability the money would be down before the boots. Then, with money in the funds, a man keeps up his credit to the far end—the last thousand telling no more tales than the first, and making just as good a show.
We are almost afraid to say what Mr. Waffles' means were, but we really believe, at the time he came of age, that he had 100,000l. in the funds, which were nearly at 'par'—a term expressive of each hundred being worth a hundred, and not eighty-nine or ninety pounds as is now the case, which makes a considerable difference in the melting. Now a real bona fide 100,000l. always counts as three in common parlance, which latter sum would yield a larger income than gilds the horizon of the most mercenary mother's mind, say ten thousand a-year, which we believe is generally allowed to be 'v—a—a—ry handsome.'
No wonder, then, that Mr. Waffles was such a hero. Another great recommendation about him was, that he had not had time to be much plucked. Many of the young men of fortune that appear upon town have lost half their feathers on the race-course or the gaming-table before the ladies get a chance at them; but here was a nice, fresh-coloured youth, with all his downy verdure full upon him. It takes a vast of clothes, even at Oxford prices, to come to a thousand pounds, and if we allow four or five thousand for his other extravagances, he could not have done much harm to a hundred thousand.
Our friend, soon finding that he was 'cock of the walk,' had no notion of exchanging his greatness for the nothingness of London, and, save going up occasionally to see about opening the flood-gates of his fortune, he spent nearly the whole summer at Laverick Wells. A fine season it was, too—the finest season the Wells had ever known. When at length the long London season closed, there was a rush of rank and fashion to the English watering-places, quite unparalleled in the 'recollection of the oldest inhabitants.' There were blooming widows in every stage of grief and woe, from the becoming cap to the fashionable corset and ball flounce—widows who would never forget the dear deceased, or think of any other man—unless he had at least five thousand a year. Lovely girls, who didn't care a farthing if the man was 'only handsome'; and smiling mammas 'egging them on,' who would look very different when they came to the horrid L s. d. And this mercantile expression leads us to the observation that we know nothing so dissimilar as a trading town and a watering-place. In the one, all is bustle, hurry, and activity; in the other, people don't seem to know what to do to get through the day. The city and west-end present somewhat of the contrast, but not to the extent of manufacturing or sea-port towns and watering-places. Bathing-places are a shade better than watering-places in the way of occupation, for people can sit staring at the sea, counting the ships, or polishing their nails with a shell, whereas at watering-places, they have generally little to do but stare at and talk of each other, and mark the progress of the day, by alternately drinking at the wells, eating at the hotels, and wandering between the library and the railway station. The ladies get on better, for where there are ladies there are always fine shops, and what between turning over the goods, and sweeping the streets with their trains, making calls, and arranging partners for balls, they get through their time very pleasantly; but what is 'life' to them is often death to the men.
The flattering accounts Mr. Sponge read in the papers of the distinguished company assembled at Laverick Wells, together with details of the princely magnificence of the wealthy commoner, Mr. Waffles, who appeared to entertain all the world at dinner after each day's hunting made Mr. Sponge think it would be a very likely place to suit him. Accordingly, thither he despatched Mr. Leather with the redoubtable horses by the road, intending to follow in as many hours by the rail as it took them days to trudge on foot.
Railways have helped hunting as well as other things, and enables a man to glide down into the grass 'sheers,' as Mr. Buckram calls them, with as little trouble, and in as short a time almost, as it took him to accomplish a meet at Croydon, or at the Magpies at Staines. But to our groom and horses.
Mr. Sponge was too good a judge to disfigure the horses with the miserable, pulpy, weather-bleached job-saddles and bridles of 'livery,' but had them properly turned out with well-made, slightly-worn London ones of his own, and nice, warm brown woollen rugs, below broadly bound, blue-and-white-striped sheeting, with richly braided lettering, and blue and white cordings. A good saddle and bridle makes a difference of ten pounds in the looks of almost any horse. There is no need because a man rides a hack horse to proclaim it to all the world; a fact that few hack horse letters seem to be aware of. Perhaps, indeed, they think to advertise them by means of their inferior appointments.
Leather, too, did his best to keep up appearances, and turned out in a very stud-groomish-looking, basket-button'd, brown cutaway, with a clean striped vest, ample white cravat, drab breeches and boots, that looked as though they had brushed through a few bullfinches; and so they had, but not with Leather's legs in them, for he had bought them second-hand of a pad groom in distress. His hands were encased in cat's-skin sable gloves, showing that he was a gentleman who liked to be comfortable. Thus accoutred, he rode down Broad Street at Laverick Wells, looking like a fine, faithful old family servant, with a slight scorbutic affection of the nose. He had everything correctly arranged in true sporting marching order. The collar-shanks were neatly coiled under the headstalls, the clothing tightly rolled and balanced above the little saddle-bags on the led horse, 'Multum in Parvo's' back, with the story-telling whip sticking through the roller.
Leather arrived at Laverick Wells just as the first shades of a November night were drawing on, and anxious mammas and careful chaperons were separating their fair charges from their respective admirers and the dreaded night air, leaving the streets to the gaslight men and youths 'who love the moon.' The girls having been withdrawn, licentious youths linked arms, and bore down the broad pave, quizzing this person, laughing at that, and staring the pin-stickers and straw-chippers out of countenance.
'Here's an arrival!' exclaimed one. 'Dash my buttons, who have we here?' asked another, as Leather hove in sight. 'That's not a bad looking horse,' observed a third. 'Bid him five pounds for it for me,' rejoined a fourth.
'I say, old Bardolph! who do them 'ere quadrupeds belong to?' asked one, taking a scented cigar out of his mouth.
Leather, though as impudent a dog as any of them, and far more than a match for the best of them at a tournament of slang, being on his preferment, thought it best to be civil, and replied, with a touch of his hat, that they were 'Mr. Sponge's.'
'Ah! old sponge biscuits!—I know him!' exclaimed a youth in a Tweed wrapper.' My father married his aunt. Give my love to him, and tell him to breakfast with me at six in the morning—he! he! he!'
'I say, old boy, that copper-coloured quadruped hasn't got all his shoes on before,' squeaked a childish voice, now raised for the first time.
'That's intended, gov'nor,' growled Leather, riding on, indignant at the idea of any one attempting to 'sell him' with such an old stable joke. So Leather passed on through the now splendidly lit up streets, the large plate-glass windowed shops, radiant with gas, exhibiting rich, many-coloured velvets, silver gauzes, ribbons without end, fancy flowers, elegant shawls labelled 'Very chaste,' 'Patronized by Royalty,' 'Quite the go!' and white kid-gloves in such profusion that there seemed to be a pair for every person in the place.
Mr. Leather established himself at the 'Eclipse Livery and Bait Stables,' in Pegasus Street, or Peg Street, as it is generally called, where he enacted the character of stud-groom to perfection, doing nothing himself, but seeing that others did his work, and strutting consequentially with the corn-sieves at feeding time.
After Leather's long London experience, it is natural to suppose that he would not be long in falling in with some old acquaintance at a place like the 'Wells,' and the first night fortunately brought him in contact with a couple of grooms who had had the honour of his acquaintance when in all the radiance of his glass-blown wigged prosperity as body-coachman to the Duke of Dazzleton, and who knew nothing of the treadmill, or his subsequent career. This introduction served with his own easy assurance, and the deference country servants always pay to London ones, at once to give him standing, and it is creditable to the etiquette of servitude to say, that on joining the 'Mutton Chop and Mealy Potato Club,' at the Cat and Bagpipes, on the second night after his arrival, the whole club rose to receive him on entering, and placed him in the post of honour, on the right of the president.
He was very soon quite at home with the whole of them, and ready to tell anything he knew of the great families in which he had lived. Of course, he abused the duke's place, and said he had been obliged to give him 'hup' at last, 'bein' quite an unpossible man to live with; indeed, his only wonder was, that he had been able to put hup with him so long.' The duchess was a 'good cretur,' he said, and, indeed, it was mainly on her account that he stayed, but as to the duke, he was—everything that was bad, in short.
Mr. Sponge, on the other hand, had no reason to complain of the colours in which his stud-groom painted him. Instead of being the shirtless strapper of a couple of vicious hack hunters. Leather made himself out to be the general superintendent of the opulent owner of a large stud. The exact number varied with the number of glasses of grog Leather had taken, but he never had less than a dozen, and sometimes as many as twenty hunters under his care. These, he said, were planted all over the kingdom; some at Melton, to ''unt with the Quorn'; some at Northampton, to ''unt with the Pytchley'; some at Lincoln, to ''unt with Lord 'Enry'; and some at Louth, to ''unt with'—he didn't know who. What a fine flattering, well-spoken world this is, when the speaker can raise his own consequence by our elevation! One would think that 'envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness' had gone to California. A weak-minded man might have his head turned by hearing the description given of him by his friends. But hear the same party on the running-down tack!—when either his own importance is not involved, or dire offence makes it worth his while' to cut off his nose to spite his face.' No one would recognize the portrait then drawn as one of the same individual.
Mr. Leather, as we said before, was in the laudatory strain, but, like many indiscreet people, he overdid it. Not content with magnifying the stud to the liberal extent already described, he must needs puff his master's riding, and indulge in insinuations about' showing them all the way,' and so on. Now nothing 'aggrawates' other grooms so much as this sort of threat, and few things travel quicker than these sort of vapourings to their masters' ears. Indeed, we can only excuse the lengths to which Leather went, on the ground of his previous coaching career not having afforded him a due insight into the delicacies of the hunting stable; it being remembered that he was only now acting as stud-groom for the first time. However, be that as it may, he brewed up a pretty storm, and the longer it raged the stronger it became.
''Ord dash it!' exclaimed young Spareneck, the steeple-chase rider, bursting into Scorer's billiard-room in the midst of a full gathering, who were looking on at a grand game of poule, 'Ord dash it! there's a fellow coming who swears by Jove that he'll take the shine out of us all, "cut us all down!"'
'I'll play him for what he likes!' exclaimed the cool, coatless Captain Macer, striking his ball away for a cannon.
'Hang your play!' replied Spareneck; 'you're always thinking of play—it's hunting I'm talking of.' bringing his heavy, silver-mounted jockey-whip a crack down his leg.
'You don't say so!' exclaimed Sam Shortcut, who had been flattered into riding rather harder than he liked, and feared his pluck might be put to the test.
'What a ruffian!'—(puff)—observed Mr. Waffles, taking his cigar from his mouth as he sat on the bench, dressed as a racket-player, looking on at the game, 'he shalln't ride roughshod over us.'
'That he shalln't!' exclaimed Caingey Thornton, Mr. Waffles's premier toady, and constant trencherman.
'I'll ride him!' rejoined Mr. Spareneck, jockeying his arms, and flourishing his whip as if he was at work, adding: 'his old brandy-nosed, frosty-whiskered trumpeter of a groom says he's coming down by the five o'clock train. I vote we go and meet him—invite him to a steeple-chase by moonlight.'
'I vote we go and see him, at all events,' observed Frank Hoppey, laying down his cue and putting on his coat, adding, 'I should like to see a man bold enough to beard a whole hunt—especially such a hunt as ours.'
'Finish the game first,' observed Captain Macer, who had rather the best of it.
'No, leave the balls as they are till we come back,' rejoined Ned Stringer; 'we shall be late. See, it's only ten to, now,' continued he, pointing to the timepiece above the fire; whereupon there was a putting away of cues, hurrying on of coats, seeking of hats, sorting of sticks, and a general desertion of the room for the railway station.
OUR HERO ARRIVES AT LAVERICK WELLS
Punctual to the moment, the railway train, conveying the redoubtable genius, glid into the well-lighted, elegant little station of Laverick Wells, and out of a first-class carriage emerged Mr. Sponge, in a 'down the road' coat, carrying a horse-sheet wrapper in his hand. So small and insignificant did the station seem after the gigantic ones of London, that Mr. Sponge thought he had wasted his money in taking a first-class ticket, seeing there was no one to know. Mr. Leather, who was in attendance, having received him hat in hand, with all the deference due to the master of twenty hunters, soon undeceived him on that point. Having eased him of his wrapper, and inquired about his luggage, and despatched a porter for a fly, they stood together over the portmanteau and hat-box till it arrived.
'How are the horses?' asked Sponge.
'Oh, the osses be nicely, sir,' replied Leather; 'they travelled down uncommon well, and I've had 'em both removed sin they com'd, so either on 'em is fit to go i' the mornin' that you think proper.'
'Where are the hounds?' asked our hero.
''Ounds be at Whirleypool Windmill,' replied Leather, 'that's about five miles off.'
'What sort of country is it?' inquired Sponge.
'It be a stiffish country from all accounts, with a good deal o' water jumpin'; that is to say, the Liffey runs twistin' and twinin' about it like a H'Eel.'
'Then I'd better ride the brown, I think,' observed Sponge, after a pause: 'he has size and stride enough to cover anything, if he will but face water.'
'I'll warrant him for that,' replied Leather; 'only let the Latchfords well into him, and he'll go.'
'Are there many hunting-men down?' inquired our friend casually.
'Great many,' replied Leather, 'great many; some good 'ands among 'em too; at least to say their grums, though I never believe all these jockeys say. There be some on 'em 'ere now,' observed Leather, in an undertone, with a wink of his roguish eye, and jerk of his head towards where a knot of them stood eyeing our friend most intently.
'Which?' inquired Sponge, looking about the thinly peopled station.
'There,' replied Leather, 'those by the book-stall. That be Mr. Waffles,' continued he, giving his master a touch in the ribs as he jerked his portmanteau into a fly, 'that be Mr. Waffles,' repeated he, with a knowing leer.
'Which?' inquired Mr. Sponge eagerly.
'The gent in the green wide-awake 'at, and big-button'd overcoat,' replied Leather, 'jest now a speakin' to the youth in the tweed and all tweed; that be Master Caingey Thornton, as big a little blackguard as any in the place—lives upon Waffles, and yet never has a good word to say for him, no, nor for no one else—and yet to 'ear the little devil a-talkin' to him, you'd really fancy he believed there wasn't not never sich another man i' the world as Waffles—not another sich rider—not another sich racket-player—not another sich pigeon-shooter—not another sich fine chap altogether.'
'Has Thornton any horses?' asked Sponge.
'Not he,' replied Leather, 'not he, nor the gen'lman next him nouther—he, in the pilot coat, with the whip sticking out of the pocket, nor the one in the coffee-coloured 'at, nor none on 'em in fact'; adding, 'they all live on Squire Waffles—breakfast with him—dine with him—drink with him—smoke with him—and if any on 'em 'appen to 'ave an 'orse, why they sell to him, and so ride for nothin' themselves.'
'A convenient sort of gentleman,' observed Mr. Sponge, thinking he, too, might accommodate him.
The fly-man now touched his hat, indicative of a wish to be off, having a fare waiting elsewhere. Mr. Sponge directed him to proceed to the Brunswick Hotel, while, accompanied by Leather, he proceeded on foot to the stables.
Mr. Leather, of course, had the valuable stud under lock and key, with every crevice and air-hole well stuffed with straw, as if they had been the most valuable horses in the world. Having produced the ring-key from his pocket, Mr. Leather opened the door, and having got his master in, speedily closed it, lest a breath of fresh air might intrude. Having lighted a lucifer, he turned on the gas, and exhibited the blooming-coated horses, well littered in straw, showing that he was not the man to pay four-and-twenty shillings a week for nothing. Mr. Sponge stood eyeing them for some seconds with evident approbation.
'If any one asks you about the horses, you can say they are mine, you know,' at length observed he casually, with an emphasis on the mine.
'In course,' replied Leather.
'I mean, you needn't say anything about their being jobs,' observed Sponge, fearing Leather mightn't exactly 'take.'
'You trust me,' replied Leather, with a knowing wink and a jerk of his elbow against his master's side; 'you trust me,' repeated he, with a look as much as to say, 'we understand each other.'
'I've hadded a few to them, indeed,' continued Leather, looking to see how his master took it.
'Have you?' observed Mr. Sponge inquiringly.
'I've made out that you've as good as twenty, one way or another,' observed Leather; 'some 'ere, some there, all over in fact, and that you jest run about the country, and 'unt with 'oever comes h'uppermost.'
'Well, and what's the upshot of it all?' inquired Mr. Sponge, thinking his groom seemed wonderfully enthusiastic in his interest.
'Why, the hupshot of it is,' replied Leather, 'that the men are all mad, and the women all wild to see you. I hear at my club, the Mutton Chop and Mealy Potato Club, which is frequented by flunkies as well as grums, that there's nothin' talked of at dinner or tea, but the terrible rich stranger that's a comin', and the gals are all pulling caps, who's to have the first chance.'
'Indeed,' observed Mr. Sponge, chuckling at the sensation he was creating.
'The Miss Shapsets, there be five on 'em, have had a game at fly loo for you,' continued Leather, 'at least so their little maid tells me.'
'Fly what?' inquired Mr. Sponge.
'Fly loo,' repeated Leather, 'fly loo.'
Mr. Sponge shook his head. For once he was not 'fly.'
'You see,' continued Leather, in explanation, 'their father is one of them tight-laced candlestick priests wot abhors all sorts of wice and himmorality, and won't stand card playin', or gamblin', or nothin' o' that sort, so the young ladies when they want to settle a point, who's to be married first, or who's to have the richest 'usband, play fly loo. 'Sposing it's at breakfast time, they all sit quiet and sober like round the table, lookin' as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths, and each has a lump o' sugar on her plate, or by her cup, or somewhere, and whoever can 'tice a fly to come to her sugar first, wins the wager, or whatever it is they play for.'
'Five on 'em,' as Leather said, being a hopeless number to extract any good from, Mr. Sponge changed the subject by giving orders for the morrow.
Mr. Sponge's appearance being decidedly of the sporting order, and his horses maintaining the character, did not alleviate the agitated minds of the sporting beholders, ruffled as they were with the threatening, vapouring insinuations of the coachman-groom, Peter Leather. There is nothing sets men's backs up so readily, as a hint that any one is coming to take the 'shine' out of them across country. We have known the most deadly feuds engendered between parties who never spoke to each other by adroit go-betweens reporting to each what the other said, or, perhaps, did not say, but what the 'go-betweens' knew would so rouse the British lion as to make each ride to destruction if necessary.
'He's a varmint-looking chap,' observed Mr. Waffles, as the party returned from the railway station; 'shouldn't wonder if he can go—dare say he'll try—shouldn't wonder if he's floored—awfully stiff country this for horses that are not used to it—most likely his are Leicestershire nags, used to fly—won't do here. If he attempts to take some of our big banked bullfinches in his stride, with a yawner on each side, will get into grief.'
'Hang him,' interrupted Caingey Thornton, 'there are good men in all countries.'
'So there are!' exclaimed Mr. Spareneck, the steeple-chase rider.
'I've no notion of a fellow lording it, because he happens to come out of Leicestershire,' rejoined Mr. Thornton.
'Nor I!' exclaimed Mr. Spareneck.
'Why doesn't he stay in Leicestershire?' asked Mr. Hoppey, now raising his voice for the first time—adding, 'Who asked him here?'
'Who, indeed?' sneered Mr. Thornton.
In this mood our friends arrived at the Imperial Hotel, where there was always a dinner the day before hunting—a dinner that, somehow, was served up in Mr. Waffles's rooms, who was allowed the privilege of paying for all those who did not pay for themselves; rather a considerable number, we believe.
The best of everything being good enough for the guests, and profuse liberality the order of the day, the cloth generally disappeared before a contented audience, whatever humour they might have set down in. As the least people can do who dine at an inn and don't pay their own shot, is to drink the health of the man who does pay, Mr. Waffles was always lauded and applauded to the skies—such a master—such a sportsman—such knowledge—such science—such a pattern-card. On this occasion the toast was received with extra enthusiasm, for the proposer, Mr. Caingey Thornton, who was desperately in want of a mount, after going the rounds of the old laudatory course, alluded to the threatened vapourings of the stranger, and expressed his firm belief that he would 'meet with his match,' a 'taking of the bull by the horns,' that met with very considerable favour from the wine-flushed party, the majority of whom, at that moment, made very 'small,' in their own minds, of the biggest fence that ever was seen.
There is nothing so easy as going best pace over the mahogany.
Mr. Waffles, who was received with considerable applause, and patting of the table, responded to the toast in his usual felicitous style, assuring the company that he lived but for the enjoyment of their charming society, and that all the money in the world would be useless, if he hadn't Laverick Wells to spend it in. With regard to the vapourings of a 'certain gentleman,' he thought it would be very odd if some of them could not take the shine out of him, observing that 'Brag' was a good dog, but 'Holdfast' was a better, with certain other sporting similes and phrases, all indicative of showing fight. The steam is soon got up after dinner, and as they were all of the same mind, and all agreed that a gross insult had been offered to the hunt in general, and themselves in particular, the only question was, how to revenge it. At last they hit upon it. Old Slocdolager, the late master of the hunt, had been in the habit of having Tom Towler, the huntsman, to his lodgings the night before hunting, where, over a glass of gin-and-water, they discussed the doings of the day, and the general arrangements of the country.
Mr. Waffles had had him in sometimes, though for a different purpose—at least, in reality for a different purpose, though he always made hunting the excuse for sending for him, and that purpose was, to try how many silver foxes' heads full of port wine Tom could carry off without tumbling, and the old fellow being rather liquorishly inclined, had never made any objection to the experiment. Mr. Waffles now wanted him, to endeavour, under the mellowing influence of drink, to get him to enter cordially into what he knew would be distasteful to the old sportsman's feelings, namely, to substitute a 'drag' for the legitimate find and chase of the fox. Fox-hunting, though exciting and exhilarating at all times, except, perhaps, when the 'fallows are flying,' and the sportsman feels that in all probability, the further he goes the further he is left behind—Fox-hunting, we say, though exciting and exhilarating, does not, when the real truth is spoken, present such conveniences for neck-breaking, as people, who take their ideas from Mr. Ackermann's print-shop window, imagine. That there are large places in most fences is perfectly true; but that there are also weak ones is also the fact, and a practised eye catches up the latter uncommonly quick. Therefore, though a madman may ride at the big places, a sane man is not expected to follow; and even should any one be tempted so to do, the madman having acted pioneer, will have cleared the way, or at all events proved its practicability for the follower.
In addition to this, however, hounds having to smell as they go, cannot travel at the ultra steeple-chase pace, so opposed to 'looking before you leap,' and so conducive to danger and difficulty, and as going even at a fair pace depends upon the state of the atmosphere, and the scent the fox leaves behind, it is evident that where mere daring hard riding is the object, a fox-hunt cannot be depended upon for furnishing the necessary accommodation. A drag-hunt is quite a different thing. The drag can be made to any strength; enabling hounds to run as if they were tied to it, and can be trailed so as to bring in all the dangerous places in the country with a certain air of plausibility, enabling a man to look round and exclaim, as he crams at a bullfinch or brook, 'he's leading us over a most desperate country—never saw such fencing in all my life!' Drag-hunting, however, as we said before, is not popular with sportsmen, certainly not with huntsmen, and though our friends with their wounded feelings determined to have one, they had yet to smooth over old Tom to get him to come into their views. That was now the difficulty.
OLD TOM TOWLER
There are few more difficult persons to identify than a huntsman in undress, and of all queer ones perhaps old Tom Towler was the queerest. Tom in his person furnished an apt illustration of the right appropriation of talent and the fitness of things, for he would neither have made a groom, nor a coachman, nor a postillion, nor a footman, nor a ploughman, nor a mechanic, nor anything we know of, and yet he was first-rate as a huntsman. He was too weak for a groom too small for a coachman, too ugly for a postillion, too stunted for a footman, too light for a ploughman, too useless-looking for almost anything.