‘Now (puff), Murry Ann!’ exclaimed he; ‘take care you don’t scratch that (puff) Franky Burdett,’ handing her a highly-varnished oak stick, with the head of Sir Francis for a handle, ‘and how many (gasp) haddocks d’ye say there are in the house?’

‘Three, sir,’ replied Mary Ann.

‘Three!’ repeated he, with an emphasis. ‘I thought your (gasp) missus told me there were but (puff) two; and, Murry Ann, you must put the new (puff) quilt on the (gasp) bed, and (puff) just look under it (gasp) and you’ll find the (puff) old Truro rolled up in a dirty (puff) pocket hankercher; and, Murry Ann, d’ye think the new (wheeze) purtaters came that I bought of (puff) Billy Bloxom? If so, you’d better (puff) some for dinner, and get the best (wheeze) decanters out; and Murry Ann, there are two gibbeys on the (puff) surbase at the back of the bed, which you may as well (puff) away. Ah! here he is,’ added Mr Jogglebury, as Mr Sponge’s voice rose now from the passage into the room above.

Things now looked pretty promising. Mr Sponge’s attentions to the children generally, and to Gustavus James in particular, coupled with his free-and-easy mode of introducing himself, made Mrs Crowdey feel far more at her ease with regard to entertaining him than she would have done if her neighbour, Mr Makepeace, or the Revd Mr Facey himself, had dropped in to take ‘pot luck,’ as they called it. With either of these she would have wished to appear as if their every-day form was more in accordance with their company style, whereas Jog and she wanted to get something out of Mr Sponge, instead of electrifying him with their grandeur. That Gustavus James was destined for greatness she had not the least doubt. She began to think whether it might not be advisable to call him Gustavus James Sponge. Jog, too, was comforted, at hearing there were three haddocks, for though hospitably inclined he did not at all like the idea of being on short commons himself. He had sufficient confidence in Mrs Jogglebury’s management -- especially as the guest was of her own seeking -- to know that she would make up a tolerable dinner.

Nor was he out of his reckoning, for at half-past five Bartholomew announced dinner, when in sailed Mrs Crowdey fresh from the composition of it and from the becoming revision of her own dress. Instead of the loose, flowing, gypsified, stunner tartan of the morning, she was attired in a close-fitting French grey silk, showing as well the fullness and whiteness of her exquisite bust, as the beautiful formation of her arms. Her raven hair was ably parted and flattened on either side of her well-shaped head. Sponge felt proud of the honour of having such a fine creature on his arm, and kicked about in his tights more than usual.

The dinner, though it might show symptoms of hurry, was yet plentiful and good of its kind; and, if Bartholomew had not been always getting in Murry Ann’s way, would have been well set on and served. Jog quaffed quantities of foaming bottled porter during the progress of it, and threw himself back in his chair at the end, as if thoroughly overcome with his exertions. Scarcely were the wine and dessert set on, ere a violent outbreak in the nursery caused Mrs Crowdey to hurry away, leaving Mr Sponge to enjoy the company of her husband.

‘You’ll drink (puff) fox-hunting, I s’pose,’ observed Jog, after a pause, helping himself to a bumper of port and passing the bottle to Sponge.

‘With all my heart,’ replied our hero, filling up.

‘Fine (puff, wheeze) amusement,’ observed Mr Crowdey, with a yawn after another pause, and beating the devil’s tattoo upon the table to keep himself awake.

‘Very,’ replied Mr Sponge, wondering how such a thick-winded chap as Jog managed to partake of it.

‘Fine (puff, wheeze) appetiser,’ observed Jogglebury, after another pause.

‘It is,’ replied Mr Sponge.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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