« ForrigeFortsett »
was already good for the “fifty added," and the day for entry drew on. Unfortunately, as it would seem, just at this very nick of time a veterinary surgeon, of acknowledged ability, fancied that my “riding horse” had got a little heat in one of the back-sinews, and, with the Doctor's permission, took him off to his own hospital, the more effectually to put him on his legs again. The way he set about this was certainly rather extraordinary ; but it only shows the great advance we have made in the development and practice of veterinary science. The very next morning he gave him a stiffish gallop of nearly four miles, and within a day or two one yet more severe-a system further persevered with, and only relieved occasionally by a scurry over the country. There appeared, though, no reason to quarrel with the course of treatment adopted, for the horse looked all the better for it; and as the back-sinew got no worse than it had been, there was little to complain of on that score.
In fact, we were in rather high spirits at the nomination—a little toned-down, however, by a written entry, all the way from London
"br, h. THE WEAVER”—who had won twice already that season, and who we certainly did not suspect would have honoured us with his presence on the occasion. A couple of the Doctor's select circle, I should say, had contrived to reach the Black Lion that evening
myself and a senior pupil, who had proved on one or two opportunities occurring, that he was, as they say, “a few pounds better” on a horse than I could qualify to. It was by his hand, indeed, that the back-sinew recipe had been generally applied; and, as the Vet. himself confessed, it was as good as a sermon to see him screw through a queer place, the Weaver threat settled it, and my friend Archy having made up his mind on the matter long before, consented to take my place and ride the chase.
It is the fashion to say you cannot half enjoy any kind of amusement without you take a very active part in what is going on. I only know that I never relished a farce so little as when I attempted “Robin Rough-head," or felt so thoroughly miserable and disgusted with myself as when, in the excess of my happiness and satisfaction, I had to kick over the table, and “ -n the doomplings!" The excitement, then, of owning a race-horse, coupled with the further piece of luck of running him on the sly, was, as may be imagined, quite sufficient for my young idea, and I was well content enough to watch Archy get out, and in order, a pair of wonderfully well-cut leathers, with boots almost as good, and a “blue body with red sleeves," that his “ governor had lost many a hundred on." In short, the old gentleman had spent all he could in supporting the national sport, and so his son, of course, was very well grounded to take a leading part in so all-engrossing a species of manly recreation.
Thursday morning found us once more at the Black Lion on another hair-cutting expedition. Here rumour said that the field would not be a strong one, but the line would; that the Weaver party were in great force, and that the race was going all one way. I heard this rather oddly confirmed myself, while waiting in the coffee-room for Archy, who had retired to don the immaculate boots and breeches. For some little time I had it all to myself, but was
at length intruded on by a couple of gentlemen who had evidently come in to talk business. At first they seemed half inclined to leave me in undisturbed possession; but supposing, no doubt, there could be nothing to fear from a fresh-coloured, good-looking youth in white cord trousers and a basket-buttoned cut-away, they made good their point, and came in, while I went on with my divided occupation of looking out of the window and grinding a tooth-pick. I did not listen, but I could hardly help gathering something of this from the observations of the shorter man of the two, who spoke in a tone offensively confident, and looked, in a suit of seedy black, like an undertaker's man out for a holiday :-“The chase was all squared ; the Weaver was meant ; and as for the others in agen him”-language wasn't powerful enough to express the little gentleman's feelings here, and so he gave a most expressive and contemptuous snap of his fingers ; answered by as peculiar a grunt from his companion, a fifteen-stone piece of solidity, with an acre or so of countenance, on which was legibly inscribed this simple record—that he was ever willing to hear anything anybody had got to say, but that he should reserve to himself that glorious privilege of an Englishman, of believing just as much as he liked of it and no more: the grunt was but an echo of the expression.
The thing is all “ squared," then, is it, thought I, as I looked at poor Archy, who was looking at himself, and gradually fitting his neck to a bit of well-folded cambric that “the Dean” himself might have taken a notion from. Still I had too much tact to tell him what I had learned, and so on we went to business. Rumour was right on the other tack too; the line was a stiff one-nol a mere plastered and pointened make-up, but a regular home-made rough one, with some very curious doubles-a lane that was neither good to get into or out of—and a brook about a mile from home, with very much the same kind of recommendation. Of course we weren't going to grumble ; and whatever the Weavers thought, they didn't. In fact, their jockey, a good-tempered, black-whiskered, dark-visaged fellow, whom everybody seemed to know, and everybody as regularly hailed as “ Tom,” had a reputation for riding at anything required, while the Weaver himself was a known good-hcarted one. I cannot say I troubled myself much about the other four who, with these two, were taken some way down to fight it out, while I went into the Stand to compose my feelings, and see what I could of it.
The fame of the Weaver, or nothing else “on,” had brought down a portion of the regular ring-men; conspicuous amongst whom was the sable-suited, sallow-faced one I saw in the coffee-room. The offensive tone was stronger than ever. I never heard a man say what he had to say in such a disagreeable voice in my life: and the defiant jarring way in which he repeated his offer to “ Lay agen the grey,” almost drove me wild. He didn't appear to deign to know the horse had a name on the card, though he had what we thought a very good as well as a very classic one _" Apelles” to wit—but round and round he went, with “ I'LL LAY AGEN THE GREY !” And whenever he got a taker, which he did occasionally, out came the defiant stronger than ever, with a sort of sneering “ Would you like to do it again, sir ?" I was positively compelled to take his thirty to five to
prevent my doing something yet more outrageous; though I felt, as he asked my name and booked the bet, it was all “ squared," and no mistake.
“ They are off!" says somebody, who appears to have a peculiar pleasure in being the first to proclaim it; but it is a long way "off," and we only get a bird's-eye view now and then. There is a bit of a hitch, though, at the third fence, one of the big doubles already mentioned. White-jacket, leading, turns right away from it- No go, sir; and three are well away again before he jumps into it. A little more coquetting and he is out again; but white-jacket won't do here. « Well saved” at the next fence: the little chesnut mare was on her head, but nothing worse; and round the hill they rattle, a good-looking grey horse making play, with a great slashing brown pulling hard on his quarter; three more in a cluster, and whitejacket still in the rear. We shan't see any more of them for some time; not well, indeed, till they top the hill again for the run home; while here, in the interim, the excitement becomes greater than ever : " Three to one against anything, bar one.” “ I'll take six to four I name the winner;" and “ I'LL LAY AGEN THE GREY," of course from my vindictive friend in the suit of sables.
“ Here they are again,” singe out Sister Anne, from his corner of the stand; and Apelles, screwed famously through an unshorn bullfincher, comes “a stunner” for the brook. There are only three with him, but the black-whiskered hero is one of them, pulling his horse beautifully together, and certainly looking as well, or better, than anything. Hurrah! well jumped, by Jupiter ! and Archy is over and away again—" The Weaver's down !” says everybody almost at the same moment: a less interesting gentleman is nearly out of sight in the full luxury of his cold bath ; while the chesnut mare is the only other safely landed. I hardly dare what to hope; it is barely a mile from home, and if it is “squared” still
“THE GREY FOR A PONY !" roars out somebody at my elbow in the voice of a Stentor. “THE GREY WINS FOR A Pony." " Done wi' you.” “Yes, I'll do it again." “ Done wi' you, sir.” “I'll lay odds on one.”
Conceive my astonishment, it was my old enemy, the undertaker, who, with an utter disregard for all consistency of character and conduct, was now as vehemently supporting my horse as he had just previously been decrying him. But it is all the way of the world, thought I to myself, as I moved frorn him to watch the race home —a pretty close one between the two, for the chesnut mare showed a turn of speed, and had been very carefully ridden all through; so close, indeed, did they finish, that when an over-excited man in spectacles, who hadn't a shilling on it, and didn't know a soul in it, asked me in much trepidation, “What had won ?" I really hesitated a bit as I stammered out I thought that my-I mean the
“O, • Apples' won, safe enough,” declared the gentleman in black once more, in his over-confident way; "and I loses a hundred on it, s'help me!"
He was right; “ Apples" had won; and it was past ten o'clock, I'm afraid, before Archy and I reached the vicarage that night,