URLs for Books

Your last ebook:

You dont read ebooks at this site.

Total ebooks on site: about 25000

You can read and download its for free!

Ebooks by authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 
Surtees, Robert Smith / Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour
Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour.


R.S. Surtees

[Illustration: _Mr. Sponge completely scatters his Lordship_]


Transcriber's Note: Minor typos corrected and footnotes moved
to end of text.

TO

THE RIGHT HONOURABLE LORD ELCHO,

IN GRATITUDE

FOR MANY SEASONS OF EXCELLENT SPORT WITH HIS HOUNDS,

ON THE BORDER.

THIS VOLUME IS INSCRIBED,

BY HIS

OBLIGED AND FAITHFUL SERVANT,

THE AUTHOR.




PREFACE


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.

_November 1852_




CHAPTER I

OUR HERO


[Illustration]

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.




CHAPTER II

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.




CHAPTER III

PETER LEATHER


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.



Pages: | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | 4 | | 5 | | 6 | | 7 | | 8 | | 9 | | 10 | | 11 | | 12 | | 13 | | 14 | | 15 | | 16 | | 17 | | 18 | | 19 | | 20 | | 21 | | 22 | | 23 | | 24 | | 25 | | 26 | | 27 | | Next |

Main -> Surtees, Robert Smith -> Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour