Long Odds

Chapter XXII

The Cardinal

Marcus Clarke

THE STABLES were reached, and Docketer came forth. Touching his hat to Dacre, he inquired what he could do for him.

“The fact is, my dear Mr. Docketer,” said Ryle, “that this gentleman—Mr. Calverly—wants to have a look at the Cardinal.”

Then, aside to Bob, “We must humour the fellow a little.”

Mr. Docketer produced a key from his Bedford cords and said, “With pleasure.”

The Cardinal was stripped and exhibited. He was a big bay horse, with immense power behind the saddle, deep chest, fine muscular thighs, and rather a coarse head. As he stood lazily lifting a leg, and munching contently at his corn, he looked a tower of strength.

“He’s a fine big horse,” said Bob.

“Yes, sir; and he’s a fine fast ’oss too. That’s the ’oss wot can stay till the day after to-morrow. I never knowed one of his lot cut up soft yet, and I’ve seen a good many ’osses in my time. There’s a shoulder for yer! Them’s the quarters, Muster Ryle, as you well know! He’s one of the Marquis Lundyfoot’s breeding, he is; and a fair upstandin’ picter of a ’oss he is.”

“Lord Lundyfoot never did much good with him,” says Bob, who knew something about “prices current” in the sporting world.

“Werry likely,” returned Mr. Docketer, “werry likely. Cos why? Cos his lor’ship was allus eaten up with trainers and such like—cos his lor’ship did’nt know what was a going on in his own stable—cos the ’oss was pulled; ay, pulled, Muster Dacre! Why, blarm me!” cries Mr. Docketer, in a sudden burst of fervour. “If he was jist two yeer younger. I’d henter him for the Darby!”

“Two years make all the difference,” says Bob, laughing.

“You’re right, sir; you’re right! But when a ’oss has make and shape like that, and don’t get fair play, it turns a man agin racin’ as a purfession, blessed if it don’t. You should ha’ seen him ‘spin’ with Cantaloup—you know Cantaloup, Muster Ryle? Blowed if he did’nt walk away from him, jist like nothin’!—left him as if he’d been a standin’ still, he did; and Cantaloup ain’t a bad ’oss neither.”

“You don’t mean the horse that won the Oaks two years ago?” asked Bob.

“Yes, but I do mean the ’oss as won the Hoaks tew yeer ago. Now come, sir, you’re a gent as knows if a ’oss is a ’oss, I know; jist carst yer eye over him, and give us your candid opinion.”

The Cardinal was led forth, and walked up and down; and Bob did cast his eye over him, and liked him much.

“Clap a saddle on him, Robert,” cries Docketer, seeing that the poison was working. “He’s entered for the Spring, Mr. Ryle, as you knows; but I don’t mind a showin’ him to you, gents, has I knows your h’on the square. There’s h’action, there’s ’ocks, there’s h’everythink!”

As Bob watched the tremendous stride of Lord Lundyfoot’s favourite, and heard a running fire of, “fit as a fiddle!” “quiet as a sheep!” “’andy as a lady’s maid!” “pink as a cherry!” and so on, from Mr. Docketer, he became impressed with a desire to own such a horse; the light in his eyes must have said as much, for Ryle whispered to Docketer, “Don’t be afraid of price, Docketer; he’ll have him.”

Round the paddock went the object of these machinations, his head out, his tail well carried, his ears cocked, and the heavy bit bringing his legs well under him at every stride. Seen through the medium of half a bottle of old brown sherry, and a five mile drive bristling with horse-talk, he looked, to Bob’s eyes, as though Lord Lundyfoot’s encomium on him were correct enough, and when the weazen’d groom brought him up, with his forelegs on rising ground, and his coat shining like a star, Bob could not refrain from an exclamation of pleasure.

“Take him in agin,” says Docketer, tenderly feeling the forelegs of the “crack.” “Take him in agin. Them coves is allus a spying round, and there’s tew much money on him for my likin’.”

Bob ran his hand down the massive forelegs.

“Sound as a bell, ain’t ’em?” asked Docketer. “We don’t break ’em down here—we don’t; but, lor, you might ride that ere ’oss till his tail dropped off, and he wouldn’t show nothink.”

“Come round the stable, gents; and I’ll show you what I can. That’s Bambino, that is, wot took all the money from the French nobs; and that’s Blue-light. He’s a likely-looking oss, now. ’Ere’s a Packtolium filly. Lot’s o’ blood she ’as,—and that one in the corner is Tippetywitchet, by Grimaldi out of Pantaloon’s dam.”

Bob looked, and saw clearly that none of them were up to “The Cardinal’s” standard, and said so—an expression of opinion which Mr. Docketer had been waiting for.

“Ah! you’re right; you knows a ’oss, you does. But, lor bless yer! He’s too good for us, that’s just about it. We don’t want no Darby winners ’ere, we don’t.”

“Why don’t you sell him then?” asked Ryle, who had performed the feat of abusing his own horses with much grace.

“Sell him! Why who’d buy him, arter the way he’s been treated? The public as reads the noospapers thinks he’s jest fit for dog’s meat, as you know, Muster Dacre.”

Dacre said that he believed that there was a bad impression about the horse, but he should think that Mr. Docketer could easily sell him if he wished.

“Don’t know,” returned Docketer. “I aint a going to let him go under his vally—not if I loses my last shillin’ on him. Tew thousand pounds is ’is figure, Muster Dacre; and if I takes a penny less, may I never lay my leg over hanythink higher than a donkey. Shut ’em up, Jem! Gen’elmen, come down to the ’ouse, and ’ave a glass of sherry and a biscuit?”

“I’m afraid it’s rather late, Docketer,” says Ryle; “but, however, I don’t mind just one glass.”

The one glass became four, and then Bob began to wax merry.

“Shall I ask him for the money?” said he to Ryle.

“I’ll do it, if you like,” said Ryle.

Docketer, who was in the middle of an apocryphal story, concerning a mare that ought to have won the Liverpool steeplechase, and didn’t, was interrupted by Ryle saying in a confidential tone,

“Mr. Docketer, I want to ask you a favour. The fact is that Mr. Calverly came out here with me, in order to transact a little business with you.”

Docketer was used to this sort of thing from his principal, and expressed his readiness to be of service.

“Mr. Calverly wants to borrow two thousand.”

“Werry okard just now,” says Docketer; “werry okard. I’ve got most of my money out, and I’m rayther pressed. Tew thousand is a large sum. If it was a ’oss, now?”—

“Like the Cardinal, eh?” laughed Ryle.

“Yes, he’s a magnificent horse,” said Bob.

“Not for sech as you, sur—with all respect,” says Docketer. “That’s a ’oss wot ought ter be the property of a nobleman—he ought. Why he’s engaged knee deep all over England!”

“He needn’t break his engagements because he belonged to me,” says Bob, a little nettled.

“Werry true, sur—werry true; but then you see that I’ve been a puttin’ of my money on ’im, and if he gets into ’ands as don’t know ’ow to ’andle ’im, why wot becomes of me?”

“I tell you what!” cries Bob; “I’ll give you your price for him, if you will lend me the two thousand.”

Mr. Docketer laughed cheerily.

“Lor, sur; why that ’ud be throwing a good ’oss after bad money! Begging your pardon, sur.—No. I’ll tell you what I’ll do, if you’re so sweet on the ’oss, I let you ’ave ‘im for tew thousand cash, and that’s more than I’d do for any human bein’—barrin’ personal friends.”

Two thousand cash was beyond Bob’s wildest dreams. “I’ll give you a bill,” he said.

“Werry liberal of yer, indeed, sur; but, with all doo respect to a friend of Mr. Ryle’s, I couldn’t do nothink but cash with that ’oss.”

“Come, Docketer; I tell you what I’ll do,” cries Ryle. “You lend Mr. Calverly two thousand, and I’ll back his bill for the horse.”

“Well, Muster Ryle,” said Docketer, who began to see how the land lay; “it goes agin my heart to refuse you, it does; but I can’t let that ’oss go for less than cash.”

“Pooh! nonsense; my name is as good as money in the city.”

“Well, look here now,” cried the dealer, as though he had hit upon a capital way of putting things pleasantly. “You give me your bill for fower thousand pund, and I’ll lend Mr. Calverly the money.”

“Oh no!” cries Bob; “I couldn’t think of such a thing.”

“I shall be happy to back anybody’s bill, for any reasonable sum,” says Dacre, out of a distant chair.

“I knows you would be, Muster Dacre; you’re allus ready to oblige a friend, you are,” and Docketer laughed inwardly as he thought what a pleasant time the sunburnt young man would have of it. “But I can’t do business like that, gen’elmen; it ain’t in my line, and I don’t understand it.”

“I’ll tell you what it is,” says Ryle. “You let Mr. Calverly have the horse and the money, and I’ll back his bill with Mr. Dacre; will that do?”

After some further demur, Docketer agreed that it would do, and the requisite document was signed and delivered.

“I’ll give Mr. Calverly a cheque, Docketer,” says Ryle, “and you can give me the balance of our account the next time we meet.”

Bob thought this rather a curious arrangement, but as, on passing through the gate, Mr. Ryle took occasion to observe that “he’d known Docketer for years, and would trust him with untold gold,” the simple minded Australian thought no more.

“What shall I do with the ’oss?” asked the model of trust-worthiness, as the phaeton dashed up the gravel.

“Keep him until you hear from me,” says Bob. “You can give him exercise as usual.”

“That of course, sir,” replied Docketer. “I’ll look a’ter ’im as if he was my own.”

“Who’s that swell, Muster Docketer?” asked the weazen’d groom, as the phaeton drove off.

“He’s a Horstralian, that’s what he is. He comes from the country where yer pick up nuggets in the streets. He’ll have to go back agin and pick up some more, I’m thinking, if he goes on like he’s a doin’ of! Tew thousand pound for that old bullock!” he muttered, sotto voce, as he glanced at the low line of buildings where the unconscious Cardinal was reposing. “Tew thousand pound! Oh lor, oh lor!” and his soliloquy terminated in a guffaw, which caused Jem to wonder “what devilment master had been up tew.”

“Here’s a cheque, my dear sir, and I wish you success with your new purchase,” said Ryle, when they reached the house. “I shall be very happy to see you whenever you come down this way.”

Bob departed with a light heart, and his good-humour seemed to have infected Dacre, for he laughed and joked incessantly all the way home.

“I should like to win with that horse!” cried Bob.

“Nothing would delight me more than to see you do so,” said Dacre, “but it’s long odds against you?”

“I’ll try, by George!”

“Do, my dear fellow! I’ll give you every assistance I can!”

“You are a very good fellow, Dacre, upon my word, and I am more obliged to you that I can tell.”

Dacre laughed.

“Bob,” said he, “did you ever hear of the story of the man who went all over the world to look for treasure, and, upon coming home, found it at his own door?”

“No!” said Bob.

“I’ll lend you the book one of these days; it is uncommonly clever and amusing!”

Long Odds - Contents    |     Chapter XXIII - Political Plots

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