The Faithful Groom

We left our friend Mr Sponge wending his way home moodily, after having lost his day at Larkhall Hill. Some of our readers will, perhaps, say, why didn’t he clap on, and try to catch up the hounds at a check, or at all events rejoin them for an afternoon fox? Gentle reader! Mr Sponge did not hunt on those terms; he was a front-rank or a ‘nowhere’ man, and independently of catching hounds up, being always a fatiguing and hazardous speculation, especially on a fine-scenting day, the exertion would have taken more out of his horse than would have been desirable for successful display in a second run. Mr Sponge, therefore, determined to go home.

As he sauntered along, musing on the mishaps of the chase, wondering how Miss Jawleyford would look, and playing himself an occasional tune with his spur against his stirrup, who should come trotting behind him but Mr Leather on the redoubtable chestnut? Mr Sponge beckoned him alongside. The horse looked blooming and bright; his eye was clear and cheerful, and there was a sort of springy graceful action that looked like easy going.

One always fancies a horse most with another man on him. We see all his good points without feeling his imperfections -- his trippings, or startings, or snatchings, or borings, or roughness of action, and Mr Sponge proceeded to make a silent estimate of Multum in Parvo’s qualities as he trotted gently along on the grassy side of the somewhat wide road.

‘By Jove! it’s a pity but his lordship had seen him,’ thought Sponge, as the emulation of companionship made the horse gradually increase his pace, and steal forward with the lightest freest action imaginable. ‘If he was but all right,’ continued Sponge, with a shake of the head, ‘he would be worth any money, for he has the strength of a dray-horse, with the symmetry and action of a racer.’

Then Sponge thought he shouldn’t have an opportunity of showing the horse till Thursday, for Jack had satisfied him that the next day’s meet was quite beyond distance from Jawleyford Court.

‘It’s a bore,’ said he, rising in his stirrups, and tickling the piebald with his spurs, as if he were going to set-to for a race. He thought of having a trial of speed with the chestnut, up a slip of turf they were now approaching; but a sudden thought struck him, and he desisted. ‘These horses have done nothing today,’ he said; ‘why shouldn’t I send the chestnut on for tomorrow?’

‘Do you know where the crossroads are?’ he asked his groom.

‘Crossroads, crossroads -- what crossroads?’ replied Leather.

‘Where the hounds meet tomorrow.’

‘Oh, the crossroads at Somethin’ Burn,’ rejoined Leather, thoughtfully -- ‘no, ’deed, I don’t,’ he added. ‘From all ’counts, they seem to be somewhere on the far side of the world.’

That was not a very encouraging answer; and feeling it would require a good deal of persuasion to induce Mr Leather to go in search of them without clothing and the necessary requirements for his horses, Mr Sponge went trotting on, in hopes of seeing some place where he might get a sight of the map of the county. So they proceeded in silence, till a sudden turn of the road brought them to the spire and housetops of the little agricultural town of Barleyboll. It differed nothing from the ordinary run of small towns. It had a pond at one end, an inn in the middle, a church at one side, a fashionable milliner from London, a merchant tailor from the same place, and a hardware shop or two where they also sold treacle, Dartford gunpowder, pocket-handkerchiefs, sheep-nets, patent medicines, cheese, blacking, marbles, mole-traps, men’s hats, and other miscellaneous articles. It was quite enough of a town, however, to raise a presumption that there would be a map of the county at the inn.

‘We’ll just put the horses up for a few minutes, I think,’ said Sponge, turning into the stable-yard at the end of the Red Lion Hotel and Posting House; adding, ‘I want to write a letter, and perhaps,’ said he, looking at his watch, ‘you may be wanting your dinner.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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