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SOAPEY SPONGE'S SPORTING TOUR.

CHAPTER XXV.

THE FLAT HAT HUNT.

The inhuman exigences of monthly literature compelled us to break off last month in the middle of a run with the Flat Hat Hunt. For the accommodation of readers who may have something else to do than carry on the stories of the New Monthly Magazine, we may state that, thanks to the exertions of “ Jack," the hounds had got well away with their fox from Tickler Gorse; and the field, after the usual cutting and shuffling incidental to starting, had got settled into their places, and were sailing away in good form. The fox had been viewed by Frostyface and Lord Scamperdale rounding Newington Hill, and, in the usual course of events, the hounds were presently doing the same. And, supposing the reader to have reached the hill also, there let us pause, as the poet sings, to look back and view

The strange confusion of the vale below. Scrambleford hill, at the bottom of which is the cover, is far in the rear. Jawleyford and the boy in blue are lost altogether in the distance. A quarter of a mile or so this way are a couple of dots of horsemen, one on a white, the other on a dark colour-most likely Jones the keeper, and Farmer Stubble on the foaly mare. Then, a little nearer again, we see a man in a hedge trying to coax his horse after him, stopping the way of two boys in white trousers, whose ponies look like rats. Again, a little nearer, and we come to some of the persevering ones-men who still hold on in forlorn hopes of a check-all dark coated, and mostly trousered. Then we have the last of the red-coats—Tom Washbali, Charley Joyce, and Sam Sloman, riding well in the first flight of second horsemen-his lordship’s pad groom, Mr. Fossick's man in drab with a green collar, Mr. Wake's in blue, also a lad in scarlet and a flat hat with a second horse for the huntsman. Drawing still nearer where we stand, we come upon the ruck-men in red, men in brown, men in livery, a farmer or two in fustian, all mingled together; and a few hundred yards before these, and close upon his lordship, are the élite of the field--five men in scarlet and one in black. Let us see who they are. By the powers, Mr. Soapey Sponge is first !-Soapey sailing away at his ease, followed by Jack, who is staring at him through his great lamps, longing to launch out at him, but as yet wanting an excuse; Soapey having ridden with judgment-judgment, at least, in everything except in having taken the lead of Jack. After Jack comes old black-booted Blossomnose; and Messrs. Wake, Fossick, and Fyle, complete our complement, and bring us back to where we started. They are all riding steadily and well; all very irate, however, at the stranger for going before them, and ready to back Jack in anything he may say.

On, on, they go; the hounds still pressing forward, though not carrying quite so good a head as before. In truth, they have run four miles in twenty minutes; pretty good going anywhere except upon paper, where they always go awfully fast. However, there they are, still pressing on, though with considerably less music than there was at starting. After rounding Newington Hill, they got into a wilder and worse sort

Sing

yours?"

" Sing

of country, among moorish, ill-cultivated land, with cold unwholesomelooking fallows. The day, too, seemed changing for the worse, and a heavy black cloud hung overhead. The hounds were at length brought to their noses.

His lordship, who had been riding all eyes, ears, fears, and excitement, foresaw the probability of this; and pulling to his horse, held up his hand, the usual signal for Jack to “sing out" and stop the field. Soapey saw the signal, but, unfortunately, Hercules didn't ; and tearing along with his head to the ground, resolutely bore Soapey not only past his lordship, but right on to where the now stooping pack were feathering on the line. Thep Jack and his lordship sung out together.

Hold hard!screeched his lordship, in a dreadful state of excitement.

“ HOLD HARD!” thundered Jack,

Soapey was holding hard-hard enough to split the horse's jaws, but the beast would go on, notwithstanding.

“By the powers, he's among 'em again!” exclaimed his lordship, as the resolute beast, with his upturned head almost pulled round to Soapey's knee, went star-gazing on like the blind man in Regent Street. out, Jack! sing out! for heaven's sake sing out," shrieked his lordship, shutting his eyes ; adding, “or he'll kill every man jack of them.”

“Now, Sur!” roared Jack, “can't you steer that ere quadruped of

“Oh you d-d son of a pontry-maid !" screeched his lordship, as Brilliant ran yelping away from under Soapey's horse's feet. out Jack! sing out !" gasped his lordship again.

“Oh you scandalous, hypocritical, rusty-booted, numb-handed son of a puffing corn-cutter, why didn't you turn your attention to feeding hens, cultivating cabbages, or making pantaloons for little folk, instead of killing hounds in this wholesale way?" roared Jack ; an inquiry that set him foaming again.

“Oh you unsightly, sanctified, Bagnigge-Wells coppersmith, you think because I don't swear and use coarse language, that

you may
do what

you like; d-n you, Sir, I'll present you with a testimonial! I'll settle a hundred a-year upon you if you'll quit the country. By the powers, they're away again!” added his lordship, who with one eye on Soapey and the other on the pack, had been watching Frosty lifting the hounds over the bad scenting ground, till, holding them on to a hedgerow beyond, they struck the scent on good sound pasture, and went away again at score, every hound throwing his tongue, and filling the air with joyful melody. Away they swept like a hurricane. “F-0-0-rard" was again

“D--n it, Jack," exclaimed Lord Scamperdale, laying his hand on his double's shoulder as they galloped alongside of each other—"-n it, Jack, see if you can't sarve out this unrighteous, mahogany-booted rattlesnake. Do, if you die for it!--I'll bury your remainders genteely-patent coffin with brass nails, all to yourself-put Frosty and all the fellows in black, and raise a white marble monument to your memory, declaring that you were possessed of every virtue under the sun.”

“Let me off dining with Jaw, and I'll do my best,” replied Jack.

Done !screamed his lordship, flourishing his right arm in the air as he flew over a great stone wall.

the cry:

A good many of the horses and sportsmen too had had enough before the hounds checked; and the quick way Frostyface lifted them and hit off the scent, did not give them much time to recruit. Many of them now sat, hat in hand, mopping, and puffing, and turning their red perspiring faces to the wind. Poough,gasped one, as if he was going to be sick ; “ Puff," went another; “Oh! but its 'ot! exclaimed a third ; " Wonder if there's

any ale hereabouts,” cried a fourth ; " Terrible run!” observed a fifth ; " Ten miles at least,” gasped another. Meanwhile the hounds went streaming on; and it is wonderful how soon those who don't follow are left hopelessly in the rear.

Of the few that did follow, Mr. Soapey Sponge, however, was one. Nothing daunted by the compliments that had been paid him, he got Hercules well in hand; and the horse dropping again on the bit, resumed his place in front, going as strongly and steadily as ever. Thus he went, throwing the mud in the faces of those behind, regardless of the oaths and imprecations that followed; Soapey knowing well enough they would do the same by him if they could.

“ All jealousy,” said Soapey, spurring his horse. “ Never saw such a jealous set of dogs in my life.” An accommodating lane soon presented itself

, along which they all pounded, with the hounds running parallel through the enclosures on the left; Soapey sending out such volleys of pebbles and mud in his rear as made it advisable to keep a good way behind him. The line was now apparently for Firlingham Woods; but on nearing the thatched cottage on Gasper Heath, the fox, most likely being headed, had turned short to the right; and the chase now lay over Sheeplow Water meadows, and so on to Bolsover brick-fields, when the pack again changed from hunting to racing, and the pace for a time was severe. His lordship having got his second horse at the turn, was ready for the tussle, and plied away vigorously, riding, as usual, with all his heart, with all his mind, with all his soul, and with all his strength; while Jack, still on the grey, came plodding diligently along in the rear, saving his horse as much as he could. His lordship charged a stiff Aight of rails in the brick-fields ; while Jack, thinking to save his, rode at a weak place in the fence, a little higher up, and in an instant was souse overhead in a clay-hole.

Duck under, Jack! duck under !screamed his lordship, as Jack's head rose to the surface. Duck under ! you'll have it full directly!" added he, looking round at Soapey and the rest of them coming up.

Soapey, however, saw the splash, and turning a little lower down, landed safe on sound ground ; while poor Blossomnose, who was next, went floundering overhead also. But the pace was too good to stop to fish them out.

“Dash it,” said Soapey, looking at them splashing about, “but that was a near go for me!"

Jack being thus disposed of, Soapey, with increased confidence, rose in his stirrups, easing the redoubtable Hercules; and patting him on the shoulder, at the same time that he gave him the gentlest possible touch of the spur, exclaimed, “By the powers, we'll show these old Flat Hats the trick!" He then commenced humming

Soapey Sponge the raspers taking,

Sets the funkers' nerves a-shaking;and riding cheerfully on, he at length found himself on the confines of a

wild, rough-looking tract of moorland country, with a range of steep hills in the distance.

Frostyface and Lord Scamperdale here for the first time diverged from the line the hounds were running, and made for the neck of a smooth, flat, rather inviting-looking piece of ground, instead of crossing it, Soapey, thinking to get a niche, rode to it; and the “deeper and deeper still" sort of flounder his horse made soon let him know that he was in a bog. The impetuous Hercules rushed and reared onwards as if to clear the wide expanse; and alighting still lower, shot Soapey right over head in the middle.

That's cooked your goose!" exclaimed his lordship, eyeing Soapey and his horse floundering about in the black porridge-like mess. 6 Catch

my

horse !" hallooed Soapey to the first whip, who came galloping up as Hercules was breasting his way out again.

“Catch him yoursel,” grunted the man, galloping on.

A peat-cutter, more humane, received the horse as he emerged from the black sea, exclaiming, as the now piebald Soapey came lobbing after on foot, “ A, sir! but ye should never set tee to ride through sic a place as that!"

Soapey having generously rewarded the man with a fourpenny piece, for catching his horse and scraping the thick of the mud off him, again mounted, and cantered round the point he should at first have gone ; but his chance was out—the further he went, the further he was left behind ; till at last, pulling up altogether, he stood watching the diminishing pack, till he saw them rolling like marbles over the top of Botherjade Hill, followed by his lordship hugging his horse round the neck as he went, and the huntsman and whips leading and driving theirs before them on foot.

- Nasty jealous old beggar!" said Soapey, eyeing his lessening lordship disappearing over the hill too. Soapey then performed the sickening ceremony of turning away from hounds running ; not but that he might have plodded on on the line, and perhaps even seen or heard what became of the fox, but Soapey didn't hunt on those terms. Like a good many other gentlemen, he would be first, or nowhere.

If it was any consolation to him, he had plenty of companions in misfortune. The line was dotted with horsemen back to the brick-fields. The first person he overtook wending his way home in the discontented, moody sort of humour men are in who have lost their errand, was Mr. Puffington, master of the Hanby hounds; at whose appearance at the meet we expressed our surprise.

Masters of hounds are always jealous of each other : that is a rule admitting of no exception. Let one man be the greatest sportsman that ever was seen, and the other the greatest poodle, the great man will always have his cut at the little one. No man in the master-of-hound world is too insignificant for censure.

Lord Scamperdale was a great sportsman, everybody admitted that; while poor Mr. Puffington thought of nothing but how to be thought one. Hearing the mistaken rumour that a great writer was down, he thought that his chance of immortality was arrived ; and ordering his best horse, and putting on his best apparel, had braved the jibes and sneers of Jack and his lordship for the purpose of scraping acquaintance with the stranger. In that he had been foiled : there was no time at the meet to get introduced, neither could he get

jostled beside Soapey in going down to the cover; while the quick find, the quick get away, followed by the quick thing we have described, were equally unfavourable to the undertaking. Nevertheless, Mr. Puffington had held on beyond the brick-fields; and had he but persevered a little further, he would have had the satisfaction of helping Soapey out of the bog. However, he thought otherwise, and pulling up, had returned.

Soapey now, seeing a red coat a little before, trotted on, and quickly overtook' a fine nippy, satin-stocked, dandified looking gentleman, with marvellous smart leathers and boots—a great contrast to the large, roomy, bargeman-like costume of the Flat Hat Hunt.

“You're not hurt, I hope?” exclaimed Mr. Puffington, with wellfeigned anxiety, as he looked at Mr. Soapey Sponge's black-daubed clothes.

“Oh no!" replied Soapey. Oh no!--fell soft-fell soft. More dirt, less hurt-more dirt, less hurt.”

“Why, you've been in a bog!” exclaimed Mr. Puffington, eyeing Soapey's much-stained horse.

"Almost over head,” replied Soapey. “Scamperdale saw me going, and hadn't the grace to holloa out.

“Ah, that's like him," replied Mr. Puffington, -" that's like him: there's nothing pleases him so much as getting fellows into grief.”

“Not very polite to a stranger," observed Mr. Sponge.

“ No, it isn't,” replied Mr. Puffington,—“no, it isn't; far from it, indeed— far from it; but, low be it spoken," added he, “ his lordship is only a roughish sort of customer.”

“So he is,” replied Mr. Soapey, who thought it fine to abuse a noble

man.

“ The fact is,” said Mr. Puffington, “these Flat Hat chaps are all snobs. They think there are no such fine fellows as themselves under the sun; and if ever a stranger looks near them, they make a point of being as rude and disagreeable to him as they possibly can. This is what they call keeping the hunt select."

“ Indeed!" observed Mr. Sponge, recollecting how they had complimented him ; adding, “They seem a queer set.

“ There's a fellow they call • Jack,' " observed Mr. Puffington," who acts as a sort of bulldog to his lordship, and worries whoever his lordship sets him upon.

He got into a clay-hole a little further back, and a precious splashing he was making, along with the chaplain, old Blossomnose.

“Ah, I saw him," observed Mr. Sponge.
“ You should come and see my hounds,” observed Mr. Puffington.
“What are they?" asked Soapey.
“ The Hanby,” replied Mr. Puffington.

“Oh! then you are Mr. Puffington,” observed Soapey, who had a sort of general acquaintance with all the hounds and masters--indeed, with all the meets of all the hounds in the kingdom-which he read in the weekly lists in Bell's Life, just as he read“ Mogg's Cab Fares," or " Ruff's Guide to the Turf.” “Then you are Mr. Puffington ?" observed Soapey.

“ The same,” replied the stranger.

“I'll have a look at you,” observed Soapey; adding, “Do you take in horses ?”

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