Mr Puffington had about got through all the fuss of his preparations, arranged the billets of the guests, and of those scarcely less important personages -- their servants, allotted the stables, and rehearsed the wines, when a chance glance through the gaily-furnished drawing-room window discovered Jack trudging up the trimly-kept avenue.

‘Here’s that nasty Spraggon,’ exclaimed he, eyeing Jack dragging his legs along; adding, ‘I’ll be bound to say he’ll never think of wiping his filthy feet if I don’t go to meet him.’

So saying, Puffington rushed to the entrance, and crowning himself with a white wide-awake, advanced cheerily to do so.

Jack, who was more used to ‘cold shoulder’ than cordial receptions, squinted and stared with surprise at the unwonted warmth, so different to their last interview, when Jack was fresh out of his clay-hole in the Brick Fields; but not being easily put out of his way, he just took Puff as Puff took him. They talked of Scamperdale, and they talked of Frostyface, and the number of foxes he had killed, the price of corn, and the difference its price made in the keep of hounds and horses. Altogether they were very ‘thick.’

‘And how’s our friend Sponge?’ asked Puffington, as the conversation at length began to flag.

‘Oh, he’s nicely,’ replied Jack; adding, ‘hasn’t he come yet?’

‘Not that I’ve seen,’ answered Puffington; adding, ‘I thought, perhaps, you might come together.’

‘No,’ grunted Jack; ‘he comes from Jawleyford’s, you know; I’m from Woodmansterne.’

‘We’ll go and see if he’s come,’ observed Puffington, opening a door in the garden-wall, into which he had man0156uvred Jack, communicating with the courtyard of the stable.

‘Here are his horses,’ observed Puffington, as Mr Leather rode through the great gates on the opposite side, with the renowned hunters in full marching order.

‘Monstrous fine animals they are,’ said Jack, squinting intently at them.

‘They are that,’ replied Puffington.

‘Mr Sponge seems a very pleasant, gentlemanly man,’ observed Mr Puffington.

‘Oh, he is,’ replied Jack.

‘Can you tell me -- can you inform me -- that’s to say, can you give me any idea,’ hesitated Puffington, ‘what is the usual practice -- the usual course -- the usual understanding as to the treatment of those sort of gentlemen?’

‘Oh, the best of everything’s good enough for them,’ replied Jack, adding, ‘just as it is with me.’

‘Ah, I don’t mean in the way of eating and drinking, but in the way of encouragement -- in the way of a present, you know?’ adding -- ‘What did my lord do?’ seeing Jack was slow at comprehension.

‘Oh, my lord bad-worded him well,’ replied Jack; adding ‘he didn’t get much encouragement from him.’

‘Ah, that’s the worst of my lord,’ observed Puffington; ‘he’s rather coarse -- rather too indifferent to public opinion. In a case of this sort, you know, that doesn’t happen every day, or, perhaps, more than once in a man’s life, it’s just as well to be favourably spoken of as not, you know;’ adding, as he looked intently at Jack -- ‘Do you understand me?’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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