1839-1908 Ouida.

Wisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida online

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of his life, and realise in how near a neighbourhood he
stood to ruin when he was drinking Regency sherry out
of his gold flask as he crossed the saddle of his second
horse, or, smoking, rode slowly homeward through the
leafless muddy lanes in the gloaming?

Scarcely ; it is very easy to remember our difficulties
when we are eating and drinking them, so to speak, in
bad soups and worse wines in Continental impecuniosity,
sleeping on them as rough Australian shake-downs, or
wearing them perpetually in Californian rags and tatters,
it were impossible very well to escape from them then ;
but it is very hard to remember them when every touch
and shape of life is pleasant to us when everything about
us is symbolical and redolent of wealth and ease when
the art of enjoyment is the only one we are called on to
study, and the science of pleasure all we are asked to
explore. . .

It is well-nigh impossible to believe yourself a beggar
when you never want sovereigns for whist ; and it would
be beyond the powers of human nature to conceive your
ruin irrevocable, while you still eat turbot and terrapin
with a powdered giant behind your chair daily. Up in
his garret a poor wretch knows very well what he is, and
realises in stern fact the extremities of the last sou, the
last shirt, and the last hope ; but in these devil-may-
care pleasures in this pleasant, reckless, velvet-soft rush
down-hill in this club-palace, with every luxury that the
heart of man can devise and desire, yours to command
at your will it is hard work, then, to grasp the truth that
the crossing-sweeper yonder, in the dust of Pall Mall, is
really not more utterly in the toils of poverty than you
are 1

2 A


"PHE bell was clanging and clashing passionately, as
A Cecil at last went down to the weights, all his
friends of the Household about him, and all standing
" crushers " on their champion, for their stringent esprit
du corps was involved, and the Guards are never back-
ward in putting their gold down, as all the world knows.
In the inclosure, the cynosure of devouring eyes, stood
the King, with the sang froid of a superb gentleman,
amid the clamour raging round him, one delicate ear
laid back now and then, but otherwise indifferent to the
din, with his coat glistening like satin, the beautiful
tracery of vein and muscle, like the veins of vine-leaves,
standing out on the glossy, clear-carved neck that had
the arch of Circassia, and his dark antelope eyes gazing
with a gentle, pensive earnestness on the shouting

His rivals, too, were beyond par in fitness and in
condition, and there were magnificent animals among
them. Bay Regent was a huge, raking chestnut, upwards
of sixteen hands, and enormously powerful, with very
fine shoulders, and an all-over-like-going head ; he be-
longed to a Colonel in the Rifles, but was to be ridden
by Jimmy Delmar of the loth Lancers, whose colours
were violet with orange hoops. Montacute's horse,
Pas de Charge, which carried all the money of the
Heavy Cavalry, Montacute himself being in the
Dragoon Guards, was of much the same order, a black
hunter with racing blood in him, loins and withers that
assured any amount of force, and no fault but that of a
rather coarse head, traceable to a slur on his 'scutcheon
on the distaff side from a plebeian great-grandmother,
who had been a cart mare, the only stain in his other-
wise faultless pedigree. However, she had given him
her massive shoulders, so that he was in some sense a
gainer by her after all. Wild Geranium was a beautiful
creature enough, a bright bay Irish mare, with that rich


red gloss that is like the glow of a horse-chestnut, very
perfect in shape, though a trifle light perhaps, and with not
quite strength enough in neck or barrel ; she would jump
the fences of her own paddock half a dozen times a day
for sheer amusement, and was game to anything. She
was entered by Cartouche of the Enniskillens, to be ridden
by " Baby Grafton," of the same corps, a feather-weight,
and quite a boy, but with plenty of science in him. These
were the three favourites ; Day Star ran them close, the
property of Durham Vavassour, of the Scots Greys, and
to be ridden by his owner ; a handsome, flea-bitten, grey
sixteen-hander, with ragged hips, and action that looked a
trifle string-halty, but noble shoulders, and great force in
the loins and withers ; the rest of the field, though un-
usually excellent, did not find so many "sweet voices"
for them, and were not so much to be feared : each starter
was of course much backed by his party, but the betting
was tolerably even on these four : all famous steeple-
chasers ; the King at one time, and Bay Regent at
another, slightly leading in the Ring.

Thirty-two starters were hoisted up on the telegraph
board, and as the field got at last under weigh, uncom-
monly handsome they looked, while the silk jackets of
all the colours of the rainbow glittered in the bright noon
sun. As Forest King closed in, perfectly tranquil still,
but beginning to glow and quiver all over with excite-
ment, knowing as well as his rider the work that was
before him, and longing for it in every muscle and every
limb, while his eyes flashed fire as he pulled at the curb
and tossed his head aloft, there went up a general shout
of " Favourite ! " His beauty told on the populace, and
even somewhat on the professionals, though the legs kept
a strong business prejudice against the working powers of
" the Guards' crack." The ladies began to lay dozens in
gloves on him ; not altogether for his points, which per-
haps they hardly appreciated, but for his owner and rider,


who, in the scarlet and gold, with the white sash across
his chest, and a look of serene indifference on his face,
they considered the handsomest man of the field. The
Household is usually safe to win the suffrages of the sex.

In the throng on the course Rake instantly bonneted
an audacious dealer who had ventured to consider that
Forest King was " light and curby in the 'ock." " You're
a wise 'un, you are ! " retorted the wrathful and ever-
eloquent Rake, "there's more strength in his clean flat
legs, bless him ! than in all the round, thick, mill-posts
olyour half-breds, that have no more tendon than a bit
of wood, and are just as flabby as a sponge ! " Which hit
the dealer home just as his hat was hit over his eyes ;
Rake's arguments being unquestionable in their force.

The thoroughbreds pulled and fretted, and swerved in
their impatience ; one or two over-contumacious bolted
incontinently, others put their heads between their knees
in the endeavour to draw their riders over their withers ;
Wild Geranium reared straight upright, fidgeted all
over with longing to be off, passaged with the prettiest,
wickedest grace in the world, and would have given the
world to neigh if she had dared, but she knew it would
be very bad style, so, like an aristocrat as she was,
restrained herself; Bay Regent almost sawed Jimmy
Delmar's arms off looking like a Titan Bucephalus ; while
Forest King, with his nostrils dilated till the scarlet
tinge on them glowed in the sun, his muscles quivering
with excitement as intense as the little Irish mare's, and
all his Eastern and English blood on fire for the fray,
stood steady as a statue for all that, under the curb of a
hand light as a woman's, but firm as iron to control, and
used to guide him by the slightest touch.

All eyes were on that throng of the first mounts in
the Service ; brilliant glances by the hundred gleamed
down behind hot-house bouquets of their chosen colour,
eager ones by the thousand stared thirstily from the


crowded course, the roar of the Ring subsided for a
second, a breathless attention and suspense succeeded
it ; the Guardsmen sat on their drags, or lounged near
the ladies with their race-glasses ready, and their habitual
expression of gentle and resigned weariness in nowise
altered, because the Household, all in all, had from sixty
to seventy thousand on the event, and the Seraph mur-
mured mournfully to his cheroot, "That chestnut's no
endyz/," strong as his faith was in the champion of the

A moment's good start was caught the flag dropped
off they went, sweeping out for the first second like a
line of cavalry about to charge.

Another moment, and they were scattered over the first
field, Forest King, Wild Geranium, and Bay Regent lead-
ing for two lengths, when Montacute, with his habitual
" fast burst," sent Pas de Charge past them like lightning.
The Irish mare gave a rush and got alongside of him ;
the King would have done the same, but Cecil checked
him, and kept him in that cool swinging canter which
covered the grassland so lightly ; Bay Regent's vast
thundering stride was Olympian, but Jimmy Delmar saw
his worst foe in the " Guards' crack," and waited on him
warily, riding superbly himself.

The first fence disposed of half the field, they crossed
the second in the same order, Wild Geranium racing neck
to neck with Pas de Charge ; the King was all athirst to
join the duello, but his owner kept him gently back, saving
his pace and lifting him over the jumps as easily as a lap-
wing. The second fence proved a cropper to several,
some awkward falls took place over it, and tailing com-
menced ; after the third field, which was heavy plough, all
knocked off but eight, and the real struggle began in sharp
earnest : a good dozen who had shown a splendid stride
over the grass being done up by the terrible work on the


The five favourites had it all to themselves ; Day Star
pounding onward at tremendous speed, Pas de Charge
giving slight symptoms of distress owing to the madness
of his first burst, the Irish mare literally flying ahead of
him, Forest King and the chestnut waiting on one another.

In the Grand Stand the Seraph's eyes strained after
the Scarlet and White, and he muttered in his moustaches,
" Ye gods, what's up ? The world's coming to an end !
Beauty's turned cautious ! "

Cautious, indeed, with that giant of Pytchley fame
running neck to neck by him ; cautious, with two-thirds
of the course unrun, and all the yawners yet to come ;
cautious, with the blood of Forest King lashing to boil-
ing heat, and the wondrous greyhound stride stretching
out faster and faster beneath him, ready at a touch to
break away and take the lead : but he would be reckless
enough by-and-by ; reckless, as his nature was, under the
indolent serenity of habit.

Two more fences came, laced high and stiff with the
Shire thorn, and with scarce twenty feet between them,
the heavy ploughed land leading to them, clotted, and
black, and hard, with the fresh earthy scent steaming up
as the hoofs struck the clods with a dull thunder. Pas
de Charge rose to the first : distressed too early, his hind
feet caught in the thorn, and he came down rolling clear
of his rider ; Montacute picked him up with true science,
but the day was lost to the Heavy Cavalry men. Forest
King went in and out over both like a bird, and led for
the first time ; the chestnut was not to be beat at fencing,
and ran even with him ; Wild Geranium flew still as fleet
as a deer, true to her sex, she would not bear rivalry j but
little Grafton, though he rode like a professional, was
but a young one, and went too wildly her spirit wanted
cooler curb.

And now only, Cecil loosened the King to his full vill
and his full speed. Now only, the beautiful Arab head


was stretched like a racer's in the run-in for the Derby,
and the grand stride swept out till the hoofs seemed
never to touch the dark earth they skimmed over ;
neither whip nor spur was needed, Bertie had only to
leave the gallant temper and the generous fire that were
roused in their might to go their way, and hold their
own. His hands were low ; his head was a little back ;
his face very calm ; the eyes only had a daring, eager,
resolute will lighting in them; Brixworth lay before
him. He knew well what Forest King could do ; but he
did not know how great the chestnut Regent's powers
might be.

The water gleamed before them, brown and swollen,
and deepened with the meltings of winter snows a month
before ; the brook that has brought so many to grief
over its famous banks, since cavaliers leapt it with their
falcon on their wrist, or the mellow note of the horn
rang over the woods in the hunting days of Stuart reigns.
They knew it well, that long dark line, skimmering there
in the sunlight, the test that all must pass who go in for
the Soldiers' Blue Ribbon. Forest King scented water,
and went on with his ears pointed, and his greyhound
stride lengthening, quickening, gathering up all its force
and its impetus for the leap that was before then like
the rise and the swoop of the heron he spanned the water,
and, landing clear, launched forward with the lunge of a
spear darted through air. Brixworth was passed the
Scarlet and White, a mere gleam of bright colour, a mere
speck in the landscape, to the breathless crowds in the
stand, sped on over the brown and level grassland ; two
and a quarter miles done in four minutes and twenty
seconds. Bay Regent was scarcely behind him ; the
chestnut abhorred the water, but a finer trained hunter
was never sent over the Shires, and Jimmy Delmar rode
like Grimshaw himself. The giant took the leap in
magnificent style, and thundered on neck and neck with


the " Guards' crack." The Irish mare followed, and,
with miraculous gameness, landed safely ; but her hind-
legs slipped on the bank, a moment was lost, and "Baby"
Grafton scarce knew enough to recover it, though he
scoured on nothing daunted.

Pas de Charge, much behind, refused the yawner ; his
strength was not more than his courage, but both had
been strained too severely at first. Montacute struck
the spurs into him with a savage blow over the head ;
the madness was its own punishment ; the poor brute
rose blindly to the jump, and missed the bank with a
reel and a crash ; Sir Eyre was hurled out into the
brook, and the hope of the Heavies lay there with his
breast and fore-legs resting on the ground, his hind-
quarters in the water, and his back broken. Pas de
Charge would never again see the starting-flag waved, or
hear the music of the hounds, or feel the gallant life
throb and glow through him at the rallying notes of
the horn. His race was run.

Not knowing, or looking, or heeding what happened be-
hind, the trio tore on over the meadow and the ploughed ;
the two favourites neck by neck, the game little mare
hopelessly behind through that one fatal moment over
Brixworth. The turning-flags were passed ; from the
crowds on the course a great hoarse roar came louder
and louder, and the shouts rang, changing every second,
" Forest King wins," " Bay Regent wins," " Scarlet and
White's ahead," "Violet's up with him," "Violet's past
him," " Scarlet recovers," " Scarlet beats," " A cracker
on the King," " Ten to one on the Regent," " Guards
are over the fence first," " Guards are winning," " Guards
are losing," " Guards are beat ! ! "

Were they ?

As the shout rose, Cecil's left stirrup leather snapped
and gave way ; at the pace they were going most men,
ay, and good riders too, would have been hurled out of


their saddle by the shock ; he scarcely swerved ; a mo-
ment to ease the King and to recover his equilibrium,
then he took the pace up again as though nothing had
chanced. And his comrades of the Household, when
they saw this through their race-glasses, broke through
their serenity and burst into a cheer that echoed over
the grasslands and the coppices like a clarion, the grand
rich voice of the Seraph leading foremost and loudest
a cheer that rolled mellow and triumphant down the
cold bright air like the blast of trumpets, and thrilled
on Bertie's ear where he came down the course a mile
away. It made his heart beat quicker with a victorious
headlong delight, as his knees pressed closer into Forest
King's flanks, and, half stirrupless like the Arabs, he
thundered forward to the greatest riding feat of his life.
His face was very calm still, but his blood was in tumult,
the delirium of pace had got on him, a minute of life
like this was worth a year, and he knew that he would
win or die for it, as the land seemed to fly like a black
sheet under him, and, in that killing speed, fence and
hedge and double and water all went by him like a
dream, whirling underneath him as the grey stretches,
stomach to earth, over the level, and rose to leap after

For that instant's pause, when the stirrup broke,
threatened to lose him the race.

He was more than a length behind the Regent, whose
hoofs as they dashed the ground up sounded like thunder,
and for whose herculean strength the plough has no terrors;
it was more than the lead to keep now, there was ground
to cover, and the King was losing like Wild Geranium.
Cecil felt drunk with that strong, keen, west wind that
blew so strongly in his teeth, a passionate excitation was
in him, every breath of winter air that rushed in its
bracing currents round him seemed to lash him like a
stripe the Household to look on and see him beaten !


Certain wild blood that lay latent in Cecil under the
tranquil gentleness of temper and of custom, woke, and
had the mastery ; he set his teeth hard, and his hands
clenched like steel on the bridle. " Oh ! my beauty, my
beauty," he cried, all unconsciously half aloud as they
clear the thirty-sixth fence; "kill me if you like, but
don't fail me ! "

As though Forest King heard the prayer and an-
swered it with all his hero's heart, the splendid form
launched faster out, the stretching stride stretched far-
ther yet with lightning spontaneity, every fibre strained,
every nerve struggled ; with a magnificent bound like an
antelope the grey recovered the ground he had lost, and
passed Bay Regent by a quarter-length. It was a neck-
to-neck race once more, across the three meadows with
the last and lower fences that were between them and
the final leap of all ; that ditch of artificial water with
the towering double hedge of oak rails and of blackthorn
that was reared black and grim and well-nigh hopeless
just in front of the Grand Stand. A roar like the roar
of the sea broke up from the thronged course as the
crowd hung breathless on the even race ; ten thousand
shouts rang as thrice ten thousand eyes watched the
closing contest, as superb a sight as the Shires ever saw,
while the two ran together, the gigantic chestnut, with
every massive sinew swelled and strained to tension,
side by side with the marvellous grace, the shining
flanks, and the Arabian-like head of the Guards'

Louder and wilder the shrieked tumult rose : " The
Chestnut beats ! " " The Grey beats ! " " Scarlet's ahead !"
" Bay Regent's caught him ! " " Violet's winning, Violet's
winning ! " " The King's neck by neck ! " " The King's
beating ! " " The Guards will get it ! :) " The Guards'
crack has it ! " "Not yet, not yet ! " "Violet will thrash
him at the jump ! " " Now for it ! " " The Guards, the


Guards, the Guards ! " "Scarlet will win ! " " The King
has the finish ! " " No, no, no, NO ! "

Sent along at a pace that Epsom flat never saw
eclipsed, sweeping by the Grand Stand like the flash
of electric flame, they ran side to side one moment
more, their foam flung on each other's withers, their
breath hot in each other's nostrils, while the dark earth
flew beneath their stride. The blackthorn was in front
behind five bars of solid oak, the water yawning on its
farther side, black and deep, and fenced, twelve feet
wide if it were an inch, with the same thorn wall be-
yon-d it ! a leap no horse should have been given, no
steward should have set. Cecil pressed his knees
closer and closer, and worked the gallant hero for the
test ; the surging roar of the throng, though so close,
was dull on his ear ; he heard nothing, knew nothing,
saw nothing but that lean chestnut head beside him,
the dull thud on the turf of the flying gallop, and the
black wall that reared in his face. Forest King had
done so much, could he have stay and strength for

Cecil's hands clenched unconsciously on the bridle,
and his face was very pale pale with excitation as his
foot where the stirrup was broken crushed closer and
harder against the grey's flanks.

"Oh, my darling, my beauty noiv /"

One touch of the spur the first and Forest King
rose at the leap, all the life and power there were in him
gathered for one superhuman and crowning effort ; a
flash of time, not half a second in duration, and he was
lifted in the air higher, and higher, and higher in the
cold, fresh, wild winter wind ; stakes and rails, and
thorn and water lay beneath him black and gaunt and
shapeless, yawning like a grave ; one bound, even in
mid air, one last convulsive impulse of the gathered
limbs, and Forest King was over !


And as he galloped up the straight run-in, he was

Bay Regent had refused the leap.

As the grey swept to the judge's chair, the air was
rent with deafening cheers that seemed to reel like
drunken shouts from the multitude. " The Guards win,
the Guards win ; " and when his rider pulled up at the
distance with the full sun shining on the scarlet and
white, with the gold glisten of the embroidered " Cceur
Vaillant se fait Royaume," Forest King stood in all
his glory, winner of the Soldier's Blue Ribbon, by a
feat without its parallel in all the annals of the Gold

there in England, you know, sir, pipe-clay is
the deuce-and-all ; you've always got to have the
stock on, and look as stiff as a stake, or it's all up with
you ; you're that tormented about little things that you
get riled and kick the traces before the great 'uns come
to try you. There's a lot of lads would be game as
game could be in battle, ay, and good lads to boot,
doing their duty right as a trivet when it came to any
thing like war, that are clean druv' out of the service in
time o' peace, along with all them petty persecutions
that worry a man's skin like mosquito-bites. Now here
they know that, and Lord ! what soldiers they do make
through knowing of it ! It's tight enough and stern
enough in big things ; martial law sharp enough, and
obedience to the letter all through the campaigning ;
but that don't grate on a fellow ; if he's worth his salt
he's sure to understand that he must move like clock-
work in a fight, and that he's to go to hell at double-
quick march, and mute as a mouse, if his officers see fit
to send him. Thafs all right, but they don't fidget


you here about the little fal-lals ; you may stick your
pipe in your mouth, you may have your lark, you may
do as you like, you may spend your dtcompte how you
choose, you may settle your little duel as you will, you
may shout and sing and jump and riot on the march,
so long as you march on; you may lounge about half
dressed in any style as suits you best, so long as you're
up to time when the trumpets sound for you ; and that's
what a man likes. He's ready to be a machine when
the machine's wanted in working trim, but when it's run
off the line and the steam all let off, he do like to oil
his own wheels, and lie a bit in the sun at his fancy.
There aren't better stuff to make soldiers out of nowhere
than Englishmen, God bless 'em, but they're badgered,
they're horribly badgered, and that's why the service don't
take over there, let alone the way the country grudge
'em every bit of pay. In England you go in the ranks
well, they all just tell you you're a blackguard, and
there's the lash, and you'd better behave yourself or
you'll get it hot and hot ; they take for granted you're
a bad lot or you wouldn't be there, and in course you're
riled and go to the bad according, seeing that it's what's
expected of you. Here, contrariwise, you come in the
ranks and get a welcome, and feel that it just rests with
yourself whether you won't be a fine fellow or not ; and
just along of feelin' that you're pricked to show the best
metal you're made on, and not to let nobody else beat
you out of the race like. Ah ! it makes a wonderful
difference to a fellow a wonderful difference whether
the service he's come into look at him as a scamp that
never will be nothin' but a scamp, or as a rascal that's

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 26 of 39)