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   Chapter 44 THE RACE ITSELF.

Ask Mamma By R. S. Surtees Characters: 15651

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


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FROM the Nettleton cornstacks to Lawristone Clump was under two miles, and, barring Bendibus Brook, there was nothing formidable in the line-nothing at least to a peaceably disposed man pursuing the even tenor of his way, either on horseback or in his carriage along the deserted London road.

Very different, however, did the landscape now appear to our friend Cuddy Flintoff as he saw it stretching away in diminishing perspective, presenting an alternating course of husbandry stubble after grass, wheat after stubble, seeds after wheat, with perhaps pasture again after fallow. Bendibus, too, as its name indicates, seemed to be here, there, and everywhere; here, as shown by the stone bridge on the road,-there, as marked by the pollard willows lower down-and generally wherever there was an inconvenient breadth and irregularity of fence. The more Mr. Flintoff looked at the landscape, the less he liked it. Still he had a noble horse under him in General Havelock-a horse that could go through deep as fast as he could over grass, and that only required holding together and sitting on to carry him safe over his fences. It was just that, however, that Cuddy couldn't master. He couldn't help fancying that the horse would let him down, and he didn't like the idea.

Mayfly, on the other hand, was rather skittish, and began prancing and capering as soon as he got off the road into the field.

"Get 'im by de nob! get 'im by de nob!" cried Jack, setting up his shoulders. "Swing 'im round by de tail! swing 'im round by de tail!" continued he, as the horse still turned away from his work.

"Ord dom it, that's that nasty crazy brute of old Rowley Abingdon's, I do declare!" exclaimed Sir Moses, getting out of the now plunging horse's way. "Didn't know the beggar since he was clipped. That's the brute that killed poor Cherisher,-best hound in my pack. Take care, Monsieur! that horse will eat you if he gets you off."

"Eat me!" cried Jack, pretending alarm; "dat vod be vare unkind."

Sir Moses. "Unkind or not, he'll do it, I assure you."

"Oh, dear! oh! dear!" cried Jack, as the horse laid back his ears, and gave a sort of wincing kick.

"I'll tell you what," cried Sir Moses, emboldened by Jack's fear, "I'll lay you a crown you don't get over the brook."

"Crown, sare! I have no crowns," replied Jack, pulling the horse round. "I'll lay ve sovereign-von pon ten, if vou like."

"Come, I'll make it ten shillings. I'll make it ten shillings," replied Sir Moses: adding, "Mr. Flintoff is my witness."

"Done!" cried Monsieur. "Done! I takes the vager. Von pon I beats old Cuddy to de clomp, ten shillin' I gets over de brook."

"All right!" rejoined Sir Moses, "all right! Now," continued he, clapping his hands, "get your horses together-one, two, three, and away!"

Up bounced Mayfly in the air; away went Cuddy amidst the cheers and shouts of the roadsters-"Flintoff! Flintoff! Flinfoff!! The yaller! the yaller! the yaller!" followed by a general rush along the grass-grown Macadamised road, between London and Hinton.

"Oh, dat is your game, is it?" asked Jack as Mayfly, after a series of minor evolutions, subsided on all fours in a sort of attitude of attention. "Dat is your game, is it!" saying which he just took him short by the head, and, pressing his knees closely into the saddle, gave him such a couple of persuasive digs with his spurs as sent him bounding away after the General. "Go it, Frenchman!" was now the cry.

"Go it! aye he can go it," muttered Jack, as the horse now dropped on the bit, and laid himself out for work. He was soon in the wake of his opponent.

The first field was a well-drained wheat stubble, with a newly plashed fence on the ground between it and the adjoining pasture; which, presenting no obstacle, they both went at it as if bent on contending for the lead, Monsieur sacréing, grinning, and grimacing, after the manner of his adopted country; while Mr. Flintoff sailed away in the true jockey style, thinking he was doing the thing uncommonly well.

Small as the fence was, however, it afforded Jack an opportunity of shooting into his horse's shoulders, which Cuddy perceiving, he gave a piercing view holloa, and spurred away as if bent on bidding him goodbye. This set Jack on his mettle; and getting back into his seat he gathered his horse together and set too, elbows and legs, elbows and legs, in a way that looked very like frenzy.

The feint of a fall, however, was a five-pound note in Mr. Gallon's way, for Jack did it so naturally that there was an immediate backing of Cuddv. "Flintoff! Flintoff! Flintoff! The yaller! the yaller! the yaller!" was again the cry.

The pasture was sound, and they sped up it best pace, Mr. Flintoff well in advance.

The fence out was nothing either-a young quick fence set on the ground, which Cuddy flew in Leicestershire style, throwing up his right arm as he went. Monsieur was soon after him with a high bucking jump.

They were now upon plough,-undrained plough, too, which the recent rains bad rendered sticky and holding. General Havelock could have crossed it at score, but the ragged boundary fence of Thrivewell farm now appearing in view, Mr. Flintoff held him well together, while he scanned its rugged irregularities for a place.

"These are the nastiest fences in the world," muttered Cuddy to himself, "and I'll be bound to say there's a great yawning ditch either on this side or that. Dash it! I wish I was over," continued he, looking up and down for an exit. There was very little choice. Where there weren't great mountain ash or alder growers laid into the fence, there were bristling hazel uprights, which presented little more attraction. Altogether it was not a desirable obstacle. Even from the road it looked like something. "Go it, Cuddy! Go it!" cried Sir Moses, now again in his dogcart, from the midst of the crowd, adding, "It's nothing of a place!"

"Isn't it," muttered Cuddy, still looking up and down, adding, "I wish you had it instead of me."

"Ord dom it, go at it like a man!" now roared the Baronet, fearing for his investments. "Go at it for the honour of the hunt! for the honour of Hit-im and Hold-im shire!" continued he, nearly stamping the bottom of his dog-cart out. The mare started forward at the sound, and catching Tippy Tom with the shafts in the side, nearly upset Geordey Gallon, who, like Sir Moses, was holloaing on the Frenchman. There was then a mutual interchange of compliments. Meanwhile Cuddy, having espied a weak bush-stopped gap in a bend of the hedge, now walks his horse quietly up to it, who takes it in a matter-of-course sort of way that as good as says, "What have you been making such a bother about." He then gathers himself together, and shoots easily over the wide ditch on the far side, Cuddy hugging himself at its depth as he lands. Monsieur then exclaiming, "Dem it, I vill not make two bites of von cherry," goes at the same place at the rate of twenty miles an hour, and beat beside Cuddy ere the latter had well recovered from his surprise at the feat. "Ord rot it!" exclaimed he, starting round, "what d'ye mean by following a man that way? If I'd fallen, you'd ha' been a-top of me to a certainty."

"Oh, never fear," replied Monsieur, grinning and flourishing his whip. "Oh, never fear, I vod have 'elped you to pick up de pieces."

"Pick up the pieces, sir!" retorted Cuddy angrily. "I don't want to pick up the pieces. I want to ride the race as it should be."

"Come then, old cock," cried Monsieur, spurring past, "you shall jomp 'pon me if you can." So saying, Jack hustled away over a somewhat swampy enclosure, and popping through an open bridle-gate, led the way into a large rich alluvial pasture beyond.

Jack's feat at the boundary fen

ce, coupled with the manner in which he now sat and handled his horse, caused a revulsion of feeling on the road, and Gallon's stentorian roar of "The Frenchman! the Frenchman!" now drowned the vociferations on behalf of Mr. Flintoff and the "yaller." Sir Moses bit his lips and ground his teeth with undisguised dismay. If Flintoff let the beggar beat him, he--he didn't know what he would do. "Flintoff! Flintoff!" shrieked he as Cuddy again took the lead.

And now dread Rendibus appears in view! There was no mistaking its tortuous sinuosities, even if the crowd on the bridge had not kept vociferating, "The bruk! the bruk!"

"The bruk be hanged!" growled Cuddy, hardening his heart for the conflict. "The bruk be hanged!" repeated he, eyeing its varying curvature, adding, "if ever I joke with any man under the rank of a duke again, may I be capitally D'd. Ass that I was," continued he, "to take a liberty with this confounded Frenchman, who cares no more for his neck than a frog. Dashed, if ever I joke with any man under the rank of a prince of the blood royal," added he, weaving his eyes up and down the brook for a place.

"Go at it full tilt!" now roars Sir Moses from the bridge; "go at it full tilt for the honour of Hit-im and Hold-im shire!"

"Honour of Hit-im and Hold-im shire be hanged!" growled Cuddy; "who'll pay for my neck if I break it, I wonder!"

"Cut along, old cock of vax!" now cries Monsieur, grinning up on the grey. "Cut along, old cock of vax, or I'll be into your pocket."

"Shove him along!" roars stentorian-lunged Gallon, standing erect in his stirrups, and waving Monsieur on with his hat. "Shove him along!" repeats he, adding, "he'll take it in his stride."

Mayfly defers to the now-checked General, who, accustomed to be ridden freely, lays back his vexed ears for a kick, as Monsieur hurries up. Cuddy still contemplates the scene, anxious to be over, but dreading to go. "Nothing so nasty as a brook," says he; "never gets less, but may get larger." He then scans it attentively. There is a choice of ground, but it is choice of evils, of which it is difficult to choose the least when in a hurry.

About the centre are sedgy rushes, indicative of a bad taking off, while the weak place next the ash involves the chance of a crack of the crown against the hanging branch, and the cattle gap higher up may be mended with wire rope, or stopped with some awkward invisible stuff. Altogether it is a trying position, especially with the eyes of England upon him from the bridge and road.

"Oh, go at it, mun!" roars Sir Moses, agonised at his hesitation; "Oh, go at it, mun! It's nothin' of a place!"

"Isn't it," muttered Cuddy; "wish you were at it instead of me." So saying, he gathers his horse together in an undecided sort of way, and Monsieur charging at the moment, lands Cuddie on his back in the field and himself in the brook.

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Then a mutual roar arose, as either party saw its champion in distress.

"Stick to him, Cuddy! stick to him!" roars Sir Moses.

"Stick to him, Mouncheer! stick to him!" vociferates Mr. Gallon on the other side.

They do as they are bid; Mr. Flintoff remounting just as Monsieur scrambles out of the brook, aud Cuddy's blood now being roused, he runs the General gallantly at it, and lands, hind legs and all, on the opposite bank. Loud cheers followed the feat.

It is now anybody's race, and the vehemence of speculation is intense.

"The red!"-"The yaller! the yaller!"-"The red!" Mr. Gallon is frantic, and Tippy Tom leads the way along the turnpike as if he, too, was in the race. Sir Moses's mare breaks into a canter, and makes the action of the gig resemble that of a boat going to sea. The crowd rush pell-mell without looking where they are going; it is a wonder that nobody is killed.

Lawristone Clump is now close at hand, enlivened with the gay parasols and colours of the ladies.

There are but three more fences between the competitors and it, and seeing what he thinks a weak place in the next, Mr. Flintoff races for it over the sound furrows of the deeply-drained pasture. As he gets near it begins to look larger, and Cuddy's irresolute handling makes the horse swerve.

"Now, then, old stoopid!" cries Jack, in a good London cabman's accent; "Now, then, old stoopid! vot are ye stargazing that way for? Vy don't ye go over or get out o' de vay?"

"Go yourself,'" growled Cuddy, pulling his horse round.

"Go myself!" repeated Jack; "'ow the doose can I go vid your great carcase stuck i' the vay!"

"My great carcase stuck i' the way!" retorted Cuddy, spurring and hauling at his horse. "My great carcase stuck in the way! Look at your own, and be hanged to ye!"

"Yell, look at it!" replied Jack, backing his horse for a run, and measuring his distance, he dapped spurs freely in his sides, and going at it full tilt, flew over the fence, exclaiming as he lit, "Dere, it is for you to 'zarnine."

"That feller can ride a deuced deal better than he pretends," muttered Cuddy, wishing his tailorism mightn't be all a trick; saying which he followed Jack's example, and taking a run he presently landed in the next field, amidst the cheers of the roadsters. This was a fallow, deep, wet, and undrained, and his well ribbed-lip horse was more than a match for Jack's across it. Feeling he could go. Cuddy set himself home in his saddle, and flourishing his whip, cantered past, exclaiming, "Come along old stick in the mud!"

"I'll stick i' the mod ye!" replied Jack, hugging and holding his sobbing horse. "I'll stick i' the mod ye! Stop till I gets off dis birdliming field, and I'll give you de go-bye, Cuddy, old cock."

Jack was as good as his word, for the ground getting sounder on the slope, he spurted up a wet furrow, racing with Cuddy for the now obvious gap, that afforded some wretched half-starved calves a choice between the rushes of one field and the whicken grass of the other. Pop, Jack went over it, looking back and exclaiming to Cuddy, "Bon jour! top of de mornin' to you, sare!" as he hugged his horse and scuttled up a high-backed ridge of the sour blue and yellow-looking pasture.

The money was now in great jeopardy, and the people on the road shouted and gesticulated the names of their respective favourites with redoubled energy, as if their eagerness could add impetus to the animals. "Flintoff! Flintoff! Flintoff!" "The Frenchman! the Frenchman!" as Monsieur at length dropped his hands and settled into something like a seat. On, on, they went, Monsieur every now and then looking back to see that he had a proper space between himself and his pursuer, and, giving his horse a good dig with his spurs, he lifted him over a stiff stake-and-rice fence that separated him from the field with the Clump.

"Here they come!" is now the cry on the hill, and fair faces at length turn to contemplate the galloppers, who come sprawling np the valley in the unsightly way fore-shortened horses appear to do. The road gate on the right flies suddenly open, and Tippy Tom is seen running away with Geordey Gallon, who just manages to manouvre him round the Clump to the front as Monsieur comes swinging in an easy winner.

Glorious victory for Geordey! Glorious victory for Monsieur! They can't have won less than thirty pounds between them, supposing they get paid, and that Geordey gives Jack his "reglars." Well may Geordey throw up his shallow hat and hug the winner. But who shall depict the agony of Sir Moses at this dreadful blow to his finances? The way he dom'd Cuddy, the way he dom'd Jack, the way he swung frantically about Lawristone Clump, declaring he was ruined for ever and ever! After thinking of everybody at all equal to the task, we are obliged to get, our old friend Echo to answer "Who!"

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