(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Soapey Sponge led a remarkably consistent life while he was in London. Each day he appeared at the same pub or betting stall at exactly the same time. No man had a better knowledge of London’s streets and transportation. In fact, he spent all his spare time studying his street guide. He affected loud clothes, and he was intimate with grooms and horse dealers.

Just outside London was a small farm run by Buckram, a sharp horse trader. In need of mounts for the hunting season, Sponge decided to visit him. Buckram had two horses to show, Hercules and Multum in Parvo; both could be bought cheaply, for they were incurably vicious. Sponge, an expert horseman, concluded a deal whereby he could take the horses on an installment basis. Since he would need a groom if he were to cut a figure among fox hunters, he engaged Leather, Buckram’s slippery factotum. Leather had neither morals nor standing, but Sponge believed he could make him behave acceptably.

The hunt at Laverick Wells had become popular among certain of the sporting fraternity, and Sponge decided to try his luck there first. He sent Leather and the horses on ahead to prepare for his coming. Leather, however, was too efficient; he puffed his master up too much. He extolled Sponge’s rich wardrobe and extensive stables to such an extent that the whole town was sick of Sponge before he even arrived.

Waffles, the master of the hunt, determined to show up the newcomer by substituting a drag hunt for the real fox hunt. All the town knew of the substitution and secretly hoped Sponge would come to grief. On the day of the hunt, Sponge mounted Hercules in private. By the time he joined the crowd, the horse was considerably subdued. The drag hunt was thrilling. The pack ran through all the bogs and flinty pastures, through all the stout fences. The casualties were numerous, but Sponge kept on bravely. Riding ahead of Waffles, he was first at the supposed kill.

The daring horsemanship of Sponge changed the atmosphere a great deal; now he was admired, and his horse was praised. Waffles made indirect overtures to buy Hercules; by pretending indifference, Sponge closed the deal at three hundred guineas. As a favor, Waffles allowed a friend to ride Hercules soon afterward. The animal, vicious as always, took the bit in his teeth and crashed through the window of a drapery shop.

After four weeks, Waffles was heartily sick of his bargain and told people of his unlucky deal. When Buckram turned up and offered twenty pounds for Hercules, Waffles was glad to let the horse go. Sponge, however, pretended that Lord Bullfrog, Hercules’ former owner, was incensed at the report that he had sold Sponge a vicious horse. Sponge supposedly agreed to return Hercules and get his money back. Waffles had to...

(The entire section is 1142 words.)