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SOAPEY SPONGE'S SPORTING TOUR.

CHAPTER XXIII.

A COUNTRY DINNER-PARTY.

“Well, what sport ?" asked Jawleyford, as he encountered our exceedingly dirty friend crossing the entrance hall to his bed-room on his return from his day, or rather his non-day, with the “ Flat Hat Hunt."

Why, not much—that's to say, nothing particular— I mean, I've not had any," blurted Soapey.

“But you've had a run ?” observed Jawleyford, pointing to Soapey's boots and breeches, stained with the variation of each soil.

“Ah, I got most of that going to cover,” replied Soapey; "country's awfully deep, roads abominably dirty:" adding," I wish I'd taken your advice, and stayed at home."

"I wish you had,” replied Jawleyford, "you'd have had a most excellent rabbit-pie for luncheon. However, get changed, and we will hear all about it after.” So saying, Jawleyford waved an adieu, and Soapey stumped away in his dirty water-logged boots.

I'm afraid you are very wet, Mr. Soapey Sponge," observed Amelia in the sweetest tone, with the most loving smile possible, as our friend, with three steps at a time, bounded up-stairs, and nearly butted her on the landing, as she was on the point of coming down.

“ I am that," exclaimed Soapey, delighted at the greeting; “I am that,” repeated he, slapping his much stained cords ; “ dirty, too,” added he, looking down at his nether man.

“ Hadn't you better get changed as quick as possible ?" asked Amelia, still keeping her position before him.

“Oh! all in good time," replied Soapey, “all in good time. The sight of you warms me more than a fire would do;" adding, “ I declare you look quite bewitching, after all the roughings and tumblings about out of doors.”

Oh! you've not had a fall, have you?" exclaimed Amelia, looking the picture of despair; "you've not had a'fall, have you? Do let me send for a doctor, and be bied."

Just then a door along the passage to the left opened; and Amelia, knowing pretty well who it was, smiled and tripped away, leaving Soapey to be bled or not as he thought proper.

Our hero then made for his bed-room, where, having sucked off his adhesive boots, and divested himself of the rest of his hunting attire, he wrapped himself up in his grey flannel dressing-gown, and commenced parboiling his legs and feet, amid agreeable anticipations arising out of the recent interview, and occasional references to his old friend" Mogg,' whenever he did not see his way on the matrimonial road as clearly as he could wish. “She'll have me, that's certain,” observed he.

“Curse the water! how hot it is!” exclaimed he, catching his foot up out of the bath, into which he had incautiously plunged it without ascertaining the temperature of the water. He then sluiced it with cold,

and next had to add a little more hot; at last he got it to his mind, and lighting a cigar, prepared for uninterrupted enjoyment.

“Gad!” said he, t she's by no means a bad-looking girl” (whiff). “Devilish good-looking girl" (puff); “good head and neck, and carries it well too” (puff )—“ capital eye” (whiff), “bright and clear” (puff); “no cataracts there. D-n her, she's all good together" (whiff, puff, whiff.) “ Nice size too,” continued he, “and well set up” (whiff, puff, whiff); "straight as a dairy-maid” (puff); “plenty of substance--grand thing substance” (puff). "D-n me, I hate a weedy woman-fifteen two and a half-that's to say, five feet four, 's plenty of height for a woman” (puff). “ Height of a woman has nothing to do with her size” (whiff). “ Wish she hadn't run off” (puff); "would like to have had a little more conversation with her” (whiff, puff ). “ Women never look so well as when one comes in wet and dirty from hunting” (puff). He then sank silently back in the easy chair, and whiffed and puffed all sorts of fantastic clouds and columns and corkscrews at his leisure. The cigar being finished, and the water in the foot-bath beginning to cool, he emptied the remainder of the hot into it, and lighting a fresh cigar, began speculating on how the match was to be accomplished.

The lady was safe, that was clear; he had nothing to do but“ pop.” That he would do in the evening, or in the morning, or any time-a man living in the house with a girl need never be in want of an opportunity. That preliminary over, and the usual answer “ Ask papa" obtained, then came the question, how was the old boy to be managed ? —for men with marriageable daughters are to all intents and purposes “old boys,” be their ages what they may. Question proposed --" How was the old boy to be managed?” Was Soapey to take him as he had taken Mr. Depecarde-ask what he would come down with; or angle him, as he had done Major Spencer-play one piece of confidence off against another; or take the high horse, as he had often done, and decline being questioned himself. Soapey became lost in reflection. He sat with his

eyes

fixed Jawleyford portrait above the mantelpiece, wondering whether he was the amiable, liberal, hearty, disinterested sort of man he appeared to be, indifferent about money, and only wanting unexceptionable young men like himself for his daughters ; or if he was a worldly-minded man, like old Mr. Moneybags of Worthing, who, after giving him every possible encouragement, sent him to the right about as he would a servant. Soapey smoked and thought, and thought and smoked, till, the water in the foot-bath again getting cold, and the shades of night drawing on, leaving the little fire the labour of illuminating the whole of the great gloomy apartment, he at last started up like a man determined to awake himself

, and poking a match into the fire, lighted the candles on the toilette-table, and proceeded to adorn himself. Having again got himself into the killing tights and buckled pumps, with a fine flower-fronted shirt, ere he embarked on the delicacies and difficulties of the starcher he stirred the little pittance of a fire, and again folding himself in his dressing-gown, endeavoured to prepare his mind for the calm consideration of all the minute bearings of the question by a little light reading. He first tried “Ruff's Guide to the Turf,” Leger horses, Derby horses, Oaks' fillies ; but that did not suit him, and he soon changed for his old friend "

Mogg." Then in idea he transferred himself to London, now

on the

So

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fancying himself standing at the end of Burlington Arcade, hailing a Fulham or Turnham Green 'bus ; now wrangling with a conductor for charging him sixpence when there was a pennant flapping at his nose with the words “ALL THE WAY 3D." upon it; now folding the wooden doors of a Hansom cab in Oxford-street, calculating the extreme distance he could go for an eightpenny fare; until at last he fell into a downright vacant sort of reading, without rhyme or reason, just as one sometimes takes a read of a directory or a dictionary—“Conduit-street, Georgestreet, to or from the Adelphi-terrace, Astley's Amphitheatre, Bakerstreet, King-street, Bryanstone-square any part, Covent Garden Theatre, Foundling Hospital, Hatton Garden, and so on, till the b-a-n-g, b-a-n-g, b-a-n-g of the gong aroused him to a recollection of his duties. He then

up

and at his neckcloth. “Ah well,” said Soapey, reverting to his lady love, as he eyed himself intently in the glass while performing the critical operation, " I'll just sound the old gentleman after dinner-one can do that sort of thing better over one's wine, perhaps, than at any other time : looks less formal too,” added he, giving the cravat a knowing crease at the side ; and if it doesn't seem to take, one can just pass it off as if it was done for somebody else—some young gentleman at Laverick Wells, for instance.”

So saying, he on with his white waistcoat, and crowned the whole with a blue coat and metal buttons. Returning his “ Mogg” to his dressing-gown pocket, he blew out the candles, and groped his way downstairs in the dark.

In passing the dining-room he looked in (to see if there were any champagne-glasses set, we believe), when he saw that he should not have an opportunity of sounding his intended papa-in-law after dinner, for he found the table laid for twelve, and a great display of plate, linen, and china, greater than any they had yet had.

Soapey then swaggered on to the drawing-room, which was in a blaze of light. The lively, pretty Emily had stolen a march on her sister, and had just entered, attired in a fine new pale yellow silk dress with a pointlace berthe and other hangings.

High words had ensued between the sisters as to the meanness of Amelia in trying to take her beau from her, especially after the airs Amelia had given herself respecting Soapey; and a minute observer might have seen the slight tinge of red on Emily's eyelids, denoting the usual issue of such scenes. The result was, that each determined to do the best she could for herself ; and acting upon that principle, Emily proceeded to dress with all expedition, calculating that as Mr. Sponge had come in wet, he would very likely dress at once and appear in the drawing-room in good time. Nor was she out in her reckoning, for she had hardly enjoyed an approving glance in the mirror ere our hero came swaggering in, twitching his arms as if he hadn't got his wristbands adjusted, and working his legs as if they didn't belong to him.

"Ah, my dear Miss Emley !” exclaimed he, advancing gaily towards her with extended hand, which she took with all the pleasure in the world; adding, “ And how have

you

been ?" "Oh, pretty well, thank you," replied she, looking as though she would have said, “ As well as I can be without you.”

Soapey, though a consummate judge of a horse, and all the minutiæ

ones.

connected with them, and particularly dexterous at detecting the thimblerig manouvre of a disinterested looker-on, was still rather green in the matter of woman; and having settled in his own mind that Amelia should be his choice, he concluded that Emily knew all about it, and was working on her sister's account instead of doing the agreeable for herself. And there it is where elder sisters have such an advantage over younger

They are always shown, or contrive to show themselves, first; and if a man once makes up his mind that the elder one will do, there is an end of the matter; and it is neither a deeper shade or two of blue, nor a brighter tinge of brown, nor a little smaller foot, nor a yet more elegant waist, that will make him change for a younger sister. The younger ones immediately become sisters in the men's minds, and retire, or are retired, from the field—“ scratched,” as Soapey would say.

Amelia, however, was not going to give Emily a chance ; for, having dressed with all the expedition compatible with an attractive toilettea lavender-coloured satin with broad black lace flounces, and some heavy jewellery on her well-turned arms, she came sidling in so gently as almost to catch Emily in the act of playing the agreeable. Turning the sidle into a stately sail, with a haughty sort of sneer and toss of the head to her sister, as much as to say, “ What are you doing with my man ?”. sneer that suddenly changed into a sweet smile as her eye encountered Soapey's—she just motioned him off to a sofa, where she commenced a sotto voce conversation in the true engaged-couple style.

The plot then began to thicken. First came Jawleyford, in a deuce of a stew.

“Well, this is too bad !” exclaimed he, stamping and Aourishing a scented note with a crest and initials at the top. “ This is too bad," repeated he; “people accepting invitations, and then crying off at the last moment."

“Who is it can't come, papa ?- the Foozles ?” asked Emily.

“No-Foozles be hanged,” sneered Jawleyford, " they always comethe Blossomnoses !" replied he, with an emphasis.

“ The Blossomnoses !" exclaimed both girls, clasping their hands and looking up at the ceiling.

“What, all of them ?" asked Emily. All of them,rejoined Jawleyford.

Why, that's four,” observed Emily. “To be sure it is,” replied Jawleyford; “five, if you count them by appetites; for old Blossomnose always eats and drinks as much as two people.”

“What excuse do they give ?" asked Amelia.

“Carriage-horse taken suddenly ill,” replied Jawleyford; " as if that's any excuse when there are post-horses within half-a-dozen miles.”

He wouldn't have been stopped hunting for want of a horse, I dare say,” observed Amelia.

*« I dare say it's all a lie," observed Jawleyford; adding, " however, the invitation shall

go for a dinner, all the same.” The denunciation was interrupted by the appearance of Spigot, who came looming up the spacious drawing-room in the full magnificence of black shorts, silk stockings, and buckled pumps, followed by a sheepishlooking, straight-haired, red apple-faced young gentleman, whom he announced as Mr. Robert Foozle. Robert was the hope of the house of

Foozle; and it was fortunate his parents were satisfied with him, for few other people would. He was a young gentleman who shook hands with every body, assented to any thing that any body said, and in answering à question, wherein indeed his conversation chiefly consisted, he always followed the words of the interrogation as much as he could. For instance: “ Well, Robert, have you been at Dulverton to-day?” Answer, “ No, I've not been at Dulverton to-day.” Question, “ Are you going to Dulverton to-morrow?". Answer, No, I'm not going to Dulverton to-morrow.” Having shaken hands with the party all round, and turned to the fire to warm his red fists, Jawleyford having stood at “attention” for such time as he thought Mrs. Foozle would be occupied before the glass in his study arranging her head-gear, and seeing no symptoms of any further announcement, at last asked Foozle if his

papa

and mamma were not coming

“ No, my papa and mamma are not coming,” replied he.
" Are you sure?" asked Jawleyford, in a tone of excitement.
« Quite sure,” replied Foozle, in the most matter-of-course voice,

“ The deuce !” exclaimed Jawleyford, stamping his foot upon the soft rug; adding, - It never rains but it pours !"

“Have you any note, or anything?" asked Mrs. Jawleyford, who had followed Robert Foozle into the room.

“ Yes, I have a note,” replied he, diving into the inner pocket of his coat and producing one.

The note was a letter—a letter from Mrs. Foozle to Mrs. Jawleyford, three sides and crossed; and seeing the magnitude thereof, Mrs. Jawleyford quietly put it into her reticule, observing “ that she hoped Mr. and Mrs. Foozle were well?”

“ Yes, they are well,” replied Robert, notwithstanding he had express orders to say

that his

papa

had the tooth-ache, and his mamma the earache. So much for leading a man, as the lawyers call it!

Jawleyford then gave a furious ring at the bell for dinner, and in due course of time the party of six proceeded to a table for twelve. Soapey pawned Mrs. Jawleyford off upon Robert Foozle, which gave him the right to the fair Amelia, who walked off on Soapey's arm with a toss of her head at Emily, as though she thought him the finest, sprightliest man under the sun. Emily followed, and Jawleyford came sulking in alone, sore put out at the failure of what he meant for the grand entertainment.

Lights blazed in profusion ; lamps more accustomed had now become better behaved ; and the whole strength of the plate was called in requisition, sadly puzzling the unfortunate cook to find something to put upon each of the dishes. She, however, was one of your real magnanimous-minded women, who would undertake to cook a lord mayor's feast -soups, sweets, joints, entrées, and all.

Jawleyford was nearly silent during the dinner; indeed, he was too far off for conversation, had there been any for him to join in ; which was not the case, for Amelia and Soapey kept up a hum of words, while Emily worked Robert Foozle with question and answer, such as

“Were your sisters out to-day?”
“ Yes, my sisters were out to-day.”
“Are your sisters going to the Christmas ball?"

sisters are going to the Christmas ball,” &c., &c.

Yes, my

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