Long Odds

Chapter XLIX

Long Odds

Marcus Clarke

TEN O’CLOCK at night in the subscription-rooms at Chester. The smoke suffocating; the noise deafening. Book-makers, racing-men, noble lords, ruined spendthrifts, rich manufacturers,—all mixed up in a wonderful olla podrida. Tobacco-smoke heavy in the air, laughter and chatter, with an under glow of vigorous betting visible.

“Five to one!—Fifty to five!—In ponies?—No, can’t do it, my lord!—I’ll lay against Fly-by-night!—Fifty to five against Lemon-peel!—How are you, Jack?—Ha, Fitz!—Vell—vell! no m’ lord, ’pon my soulsh, can’t do it at the prish!—Well, Windermere, when did you come back?—Ministry going out?—nonsense! I heard it on the best authority!—How is la belle Helène?—Och, don’t mintion her, the little vhiper!—Twenty to one!—Give me a light, Tom, will you!—Seen the ’oss last night!—Sam Dowton came down—lay in a ditch out there by the castle; rheumatism in his back, and can’t walk!—Ha, mon cher Vitz Vederique, je vais mes gombliments!—How do’, Gablentz; broken ’nother bank?—I’ll lay against Andromeda!—What’s your figure?—Done with you?—Haven’t the honour of your name, sir.—A modest pony. Smashed up!—Bolted from college with some woman.—Irish Church must go—As fast as you can clap your hands.—S’elp me, but I saw it with my own eyes!—Too much weight—never catch her!—A hundred to two!—Remember me to the old boy!— Nantwich will do it.—Poor old Snuff-box!—Who’s that man backing the Cardinal?—Calverly—rich Australian.—Ah, gweasy, gweasy!—Sixty to one, sir: yes, sir, in monkies.—Anything in my way, my lord?—The neatest leg and foot I ever saw in my life—give you my honour—danced the Romalis in the market-place—good cigar—stopping at the Bell—hot grog—broke his neck—Rome—Newmarket—carries two stone—lost my hat—ècartè in the carriage—Fly-by-night—Lemon-peel—best run of the season—over the mahogany—chaff—ruined—broken—done—lose your money—damme, sir, you’re on my toes,” etc., etc.,—out of which Babel, Major Ponsonby dragged Bob almost by force.

“Don’t plunge any more, my dear boy—don’t,” cried he, almost pathetically.

The old Duke of Raikesmere (Regency Raikesmere he was called in the clubs) who was standing on the steps, cursing the disgusting practice of tobacco-smoking, looked up with a wicked leer in the corner of his sodden old eye. “Another booby going to the deuce!” was his muttered reflection.

“I mean to win, Ponsonby!” cried Bob. “I’m sure that boy can ride him.”

“Well, but don’t put any more money on now, there’s a good fellow. Leave it till to-morrow, at all events. We will do what we can. That fellow of mine is pretty smart, and I don’t think that Mr. Docketer attempted any nonsense with the horse, though both he and Ryle have laid against him, I know.”

“—And Dacre—”

“Yes, but Master Rupert is such a cautious bird that you can’t ‘fix’ him with anything. He got you to buy the horse, but that is all you can say, and he only did so to oblige you. If you could prove now that he took any money from Ryle—”

“He owes Ryle money, I know.”

“So does everybody else, more or less. However, he didn’t do the right thing about it, and all the fellows who heard the story say so.”

“By-the-bye, his election comes off at Kirkminster to-morrow,” says Bob.

“Yes,” returned the other! “great row in the old shop. Poor Fred’s brother is up too, I see. I don’t think Dacre has much chance.”

Bob didn’t reply. The thought of Cyril made him sad.

“Come down and let us have a look at the horse,” he said, “It isn’t far to go, and I should like to see all safe.”

The old “bullock” was lying down in his stall complacently.

“He’s a fine old beggar to sleep,” says the Hon. John.

The Cardinal turned a shining eye reproachfully. From what could be seen of him, as he lay in the fresh straw, with his muscular thighs tucked up under the clothing, he looked sleepy and stupid enough. Master James Seabright, with the natural desire to show off a horse that animates the breast of every jockey, was about to rouse him, but the Major stopped him.

“Let him alone,” he said; “and send Ricketts to me.”

After the conversation in which the Hon. John had learnt how his friend had been dealt with, he had taken the superintendence of matters into his own hands.

“You leave it all to me, old man,” he had affectionately said. “If I can’t win for you—which I don’t think likely—I can, at all events, get you a fair show for your money.”

Consequently, the wily Docketer received frequent visits from the Major at all sorts of odd times, chiefly in the early morning; and just before the Major returned to barracks, he let drop, in the course of a very pleasant and agreeable chat, a few recollections of his with reference to a horse-coping case in Pontefract, some five years before. Docketer started a little at this, swallowed a glass of the celebrated brown sherry the wrong way, and, when he was bidding his guest adieu, said,

“You’ve got a most uncommon memory, Major, you ’ave.”

“Yes,” said Jack, “I can remember a good deal when I think a little, but then I never do think. By the way, you can let me know how the horse gets on, Docketer; I’m interested in him.”

“All right, sir,” says the other, and wondered if the “boy” had said anything about the trial.

Jemmy Seabright looked so preposterously innocent when the question was asked him, that the astute Ryle, who was present at the inquiry, at once guessed that Ponsonby knew all about it.

“Have you got much money against him, Docketer?” asked he.

“Not werry much.”

“Well, I don’t know if he can do anything, especially with the weight; but I wouldn’t play any tricks with him if I were you.”

Even had Mr. Docketer any such desire—which, to do him justice, he had not—his plans would have been frustrated, for the Major had sent down his own groom, who had removed the horse and little Jemmy to Chester three weeks before the present date.

It was Ricketts, grey-headed, upright, and lantern-jawed, who now presented himself with a half military salute.

“All right I suppose?” asked his master.

“Right as the mail, sir,” says Ricketts, standing in a position which had some curious blending of the horsey and the soldier-like about it. “No one troubled ’emselves to come anigh us.”

“See what a reputation we’ve got,” says the Major, cheerfully, “they won’t even look at us. Well, Jemmy,” to the lad, “you must do your best.”

“Look here, sir!” says the boy, with a strange quiver about his lip, “you done for me what nobody ever did afore, and I’ll win this race for yer, sir, if I never ride another!”

To which sudden burst, the good-humoured Jack said only, “All right, you little beggar,—cut away to bed, and don’t get smoking.”

“Gratitude in a racing-stable!” says Bob, who was becoming cynical, or trying to become so.

The rigid Ricketts, who was a bit of a philosopher, and subscribed to a mechanics’ institute, only said, with a shake of the head eminently suggestive of a tight stock, “Human nature’s a dam rum thing, sir—begging your pardon for the oath. It’s like ’osses and Johnnie-raws, sir—bullyin’ ain’t no use;—you must Rareyfy ’em, if you want to do any good with ’em.” At which curious jumble of drilling and horse-taming, Bob laughed, to Ricketts’s intense disgust.

As they stepped out into the stable-yard, a large drop of rain fell on the major’s glove. Both looked up. The sky was dark and threatening. It would seem that the clouds had come up out of the valley of the Dee, and were spreading themselves over the city.

“Bravo!” said the Honourable John,—“that’s glorious, if it only lasts!”

“What is?” said Bob, forgetful for a moment.

“Why, the rain, old boy!” cried the other, turning up his coat-collar. “It’ll make the ground too heavy for the light lot, you see if it don’t.”

At the subscription rooms, the same gabble was going on. Fly-by-night, the property of Lord Windermere, was the favourite, at two to one; next came Lemon-peel, by Citron out of Pomme-descure, one of the many horses with which poor Count Karateff still came valiantly to the front, at eight to one. Then Automaton, Andromeda, Tambourine, and Penelope (pronounced Pennyloap by the Ring) at ten to one, or thereabouts, and a host at fifty to one, one hundred to six, and odds of any length, among whom was the despised Cardinal. Welterwate, Pierrepoint, and Miniver stood to win upon Lemonpeel, while Berry, and his friend Fitz-Frederick had, as they graphically expressed it, “‘gone a cracker,’ on the favourite, and no mistake.” Gablentz had made a book of course, so had Randon, who, having got well on as soon as the weights were declared, went about, vowing that “He owned—he fu-fuf-wankly owned he was a lucky fuf-fuf-fellow!” Little Figleaf, who prided himself upon his knowledge of the world, and would have given at least six points over the market price in order to bet with a duke, had placed his little pot upon Automaton, a big-boned chestnut of some pretensions, and the numerous “men,” of whom Hetherington and Toodles are fair types, had all “got on” according to their lights, but not one had deigned to back the unlucky Cardinal.—Yes one. As the rooms were emptying, a little, pale-faced Jew, with a nose like a scimitar, and an eye like a snake, said,

“Vly-by-night and Andromeda. Vell now, Muster Ryle, I garn’t. I vould if I gould, but I garn’t.”

Just then the quick ears of Mr. Charles Ryle caught a distant rumbling sound, and heard a rapid tapping on the windows.

“I’ll take the Cardinal instead of Andromeda then, if you like to give me five to two, said he.”

The Jew booked the bet, and, as he did so, a terrific peal of thunder rattled overhead, and the storm broke in torrents of hissing rain. “Do it again?” said Ryle, carelessly.

The Pole looked at him with bright, sharp eyes. “No dank you,” he said; and when Barnet Isaacs, considered the sharpest “leg” in all Jewry, offered eighty to one against the Cardinal a few moments after, little Mikhailoffsky opened his blubber-lips and shot him in fifties.

Long Odds - Contents    |     Chapter L - The Chester Cup

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