‘Confounded screw!’ muttered Sponge, turning away to give his orders to Leather. ‘I’ll work him for it,’ he added. ‘He sha’n’t get rid of me in a hurry -- at least not unless I can get a better billet elsewhere.’

Having arranged the parting with Leather, and got a cart to carry his things, Mr Sponge mounted the piebald, and put himself under the guidance of Watson to be conducted to his destination. The first part of the journey was performed in silence, Mr Sponge not being particularly well pleased at the reception his request to have his horses taken in had met with. This silence he might perhaps have preserved throughout had it not occurred to him, that he might pump something out of the servant about the family he was going to visit.

‘That’s not a bad-like old cob of yours,’ he observed, drawing rein so as to let the shaggy white come alongside of him.

‘He belies his looks, then,’ replied Watson, with a grin of his cadaverous face, ‘for he’s just as bad a beast as ever looked through a bridle. It’s a parfect disgrace to a gentleman to put a man on such a beast.’

Sponge saw the sort of man he had got to deal with, and proceeded accordingly.

‘Have you lived long with Mr Jawleyford?’ he asked.

‘No, nor will I, if I can help it,’ replied Watson, with another grin and another touch of the old hat. Touching his hat was about the only piece of propriety he was up to.

‘What, he’s not a brick then?’ asked Sponge.

Mean man,’ replied Watson with a shake of the head; ‘mean man,’ he repeated. ‘You’re nowise connected with the fam’ly, I s’pose?’ he asked with a look of suspicion lest he might be committing himself.

‘No.’ replied Sponge; ‘no; merely an acquaintance. We met at Laverick Wells, and he pressed me to come and see him.’

‘Indeed!’ said Watson, feeling at ease again.

‘Who did you live with before you came here?’ asked Mr Sponge after a pause.

‘I lived many years -- the greater part of my life, indeed -- with Sir Harry Swift. He was a real gentleman now, if you like -- free, open-handed gentleman -- none of your close shavin’, cheese-parin’ sort of gentlemen, or imitation gentlemen, as I calls them, but a man who knew what was due to good servants and gave them it. We had good wages, and all the proper ‘‘reglars.’’ Bless you, I could sell a new suit of clothes there every year, instead of having to wear the last keeper’s cast-offs, and a hat that would disgrace anything but a flay-crow. If the linin’ wasn’t stuffed full of gun waddin’ it would be over my nose,’ he observed, taking it off and adjusting the layer of wadding as he spoke.

‘You should have stuck to Sir Harry,’ observed Mr Sponge.

‘I did,’ rejoined Watson, ‘I did, I stuck to him to the last. I’d have been with him now, only he couldn’t get a manor at Boulogne, and a keeper was of no use without one.’

‘What, he went to Boulogne, did he?’ observed Mr Sponge.

‘Aye, the more’s the pity,’ replied Watson. ‘He was a gentleman, every inch of him,’ he added, with a shake of the head and a sigh, as if recurring to more prosperous times. ‘He was what a gentleman ought to be,’ he continued, ‘not one of your poor, pryin’, inquisitive critturs, what’s always fancyin’ themselves cheated. I ordered everything in my department, and paid for it too; and never had a bill disputed or even commented on. I might have charged for a ton of powder, and never had nothin’ said.’

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