Part 1 out of 13
Etext prepared by Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
and John Bickers, email@example.com
Under Two Flags
by Ouida [Louise de la Ramee]
TO COLONEL POULETT CAMERON whose family has given so many
brilliant soldiers to the armies of France and England and made
the battle-fields of Europe ring with "The War-Cry of Lochiel"
this story of a soldier's life is dedicated in sincere friendship.
AVIS AU LECTEUR.
This Story was originally written for a military periodical. It
has been fortunate enough to receive much commendation from
military men, and for them it is now specially issued in its
present form. For the general public it may be as well to add
that, where translations are appended to the French phrases, those
translations usually follow the idiomatic and particular meaning
attached to these expressions in the argot of the Army of Algeria,
and not the correct or literal one given to such words or
sentences in ordinary grammatical parlance.
UNDER TWO FLAGS.
"BEAUTY OF THE BRIGADES."
"I don't say but what he's difficult to please with his Tops," said
Mr. Rake, factotum to the Hon. Bertie Cecil, of the 1st Life Guards,
with that article of hunting toggery suspended in his right hand as he
paused, before going upstairs, to deliver his opinions with
characteristic weight and vivacity to the stud-groom, "he is uncommon
particular about 'em; and if his leathers aint as white as snow he'll
never touch 'em, tho' as soon as the pack come nigh him at Royallieu,
the leathers might just as well never have been cleaned, them hounds
jump about him so; old Champion's at his saddle before you can say
Davy Jones. Tops are trials, I aint denying that, specially when
you've jacks, and moccasins, and moor boots, and Russia-leather
crickets, and turf backs, and Hythe boots, and waterproofs, and all
manner of varnish things for dress, that none of the boys will do
right unless you look after 'em yourself. But is it likely that he
should know what a worry a Top's complexion is, and how hard it is to
come right with all the Fast Brown polishing in the world? How should
he guess what a piece of work it is to get 'em all of a color, and how
like they are to come mottled, and how a'most sure they'll ten to one
go off dark just as they're growing yellow, and put you to shame, let
you do what you will to make 'em cut a shine over the country? How
should he know? I don't complain of that; bless you, he never thinks.
It's 'do this, Rake,' 'do that'; and he never remembers 'tisn't done
by magic. But he's a true gentleman, Mr. Cecil; never grudge a guinea,
or a fiver to you; never out of temper either, always have a kind word
for you if you want, thoro'bred every inch of him; see him bring down
a rocketer, or lift his horse over the Broad Water! He's a gentleman--
not like your snobs that have nothing sound about 'em but their cash,
and swept out their shops before they bought their fine feathers!--and
I'll be d----d if I care what I do for him."
With which peroration to his born enemy the stud-groom, with whom he
waged a perpetual and most lively feud, Rake flourished the tops that
had been under discussion, and triumphant, as he invariably was, ran
up the back stairs of his master's lodgings in Piccadilly, opposite
the Green Park, and with a rap on the panels entered his master's
A Guardsman at home is always, if anything, rather more luxuriously
accommodated than a young Duchess, and Bertie Cecil was never behind
his fellows in anything; besides, he was one of the cracks of the
Household, and women sent him pretty things enough to fill the Palais
Royal. The dressing-table was littered with Bohemian glass and gold-
stoppered bottles, and all the perfumes of Araby represented by
Breidenback and Rimmel. The dressing-case was of silver, with the name
studded on the lid in turquoises; the brushes, bootjack, boot-trees,
whip-stands, were of ivory and tortoiseshell; a couple of tiger skins
were on the hearth with a retriever and blue greyhound in possession;
above the mantel-piece were crossed swords in all the varieties of
gilt, gold, silver, ivory, aluminum, chiseled and embossed hilts; and
on the walls were a few perfect French pictures, with the portraits of
a greyhound drawn by Landseer, of a steeple-chaser by Harry Hall, one
or two of Herring's hunters, and two or three fair women in crayons.
The hangings of the room were silken and rose-colored, and a delicious
confusion prevailed through it pell-mell; box-spurs, hunting-stirrups,
cartridge cases, curb-chains, muzzle-loaders, hunting flasks, and
white gauntlets, being mixed up with Paris novels, pink notes, point-
lace ties, bracelets, and bouquets to be dispatched to various
destinations, and velvet and silk bags for banknotes, cigars, or
vesuvians, embroidered by feminine fingers and as useless as those
pretty fingers themselves. On the softest of sofas, half dressed, and
having half an hour before splashed like a waterdog out of the bath,
as big as a small pond, in the dressing-chamber beyond was the Hon.
Bertie himself, second son of Viscount Royallieu, known generally in
the Brigades as "Beauty." The appellative, gained at Eton, was in no
way undeserved; when the smoke cleared away that was circling round
him out of a great meerschaum bowl, it showed a face of as much
delicacy and brilliancy as a woman's; handsome, thoroughbred, languid,
nonchalant, with a certain latent recklessness under the impressive
calm of habit, and a singular softness given to the large, dark hazel
eyes by the unusual length of the lashes over them. His features were
exceedingly fair--fair as the fairest girl's; his hair was of the
softest, silkiest, brightest chestnut; his mouth very beautifully
shaped; on the whole, with a certain gentle, mournful love-me look
that his eyes had with them, it was no wonder that great ladies and
gay lionnes alike gave him the palm as the handsomest man in all the
Household Regiments--not even excepting that splendid golden-haired
Colossus, his oldest friend and closest comrade, known as "the
He looked at the new tops that Rake swung in his hand, and shook his
"Better, Rake; but not right yet. Can't you get that tawny color in
the tiger's skin there? You go so much to brown."
Rake shook his head in turn, as he set down the incorrigible tops
beside six pairs of their fellows, and six times six of every other
sort of boots that the covert side, the heather, the flat, or the
sweet shady side of "Pall Mall" ever knew.
"Do my best, sir; but Polish don't come nigh Nature, Mr. Cecil."
"Goes beyond it, the ladies say; and to do them justice they favor it
much the most," laughed Cecil to himself, floating fresh clouds of
Turkish about him. "Willon up?"
"Yes, sir. Come in this minute for orders."
"How'd Forest King stand the train?"
"Bright as a bird, sir; he never mind nothing. Mother o' Pearl she
worreted a little, he says; she always do, along of the engine noise,
but the King walked in and out just as if the station were his own
"He gave them gruel and chilled water after the shaking before he let
them go to their corn?"
"He says he did, sir."
Rake would by no means take upon himself to warrant the veracity of
his sworn foe, the stud-groom; unremitting feud was between them; Rake
considered that he knew more about horses than any other man living,
and the other functionary proportionately resented back his knowledge
and his interference, as utterly out of place in a body-servant.
"Tell him I'll look in at the stable after duty and see the screws are
all right; and that he's to be ready to go down with them by my train
to-morrow--noon, you know. Send that note there, and the bracelets, to
St. John's Wood: and that white bouquet to Mrs. Delamaine. Bid Willon
get some Banbury bits; I prefer the revolving mouths, and some of
Wood's double mouths and Nelson gags; we want new ones. Mind that
lever-snap breech-loader comes home in time. Look in at the Commission
stables, and if you see a likely black charger as good as Black
Douglas, tell me. Write about the stud fox-terrier, and buy the blue
Dandy Dinmont; Lady Guinevere wants him. I'll take him down with me.
but first put me into harness, Rake; it's getting late."
Murmuring which multiplicity of directions, for Rake to catch as he
could, in the softest and sleepiest of tones, Bertie Cecil drank a
glass of Curacoa, put his tall, lithe limbs indolently off his sofa,
and surrendered himself to the martyrdom of cuirass and gorget,
standing six feet one without his spurred jacks, but light-built and
full of grace as a deer, or his weight would not have been what it was
in gentleman-rider races from the Hunt steeple-chase at La Marche to
the Grand National in the Shires.
"As if Parliament couldn't meet without dragging us through the dust!
The idiots write about 'the swells in the Guards,' as if we had all
fun and no work, and knew nothing of the rough of the Service. I
should like to learn what they call sitting motionless in your saddle
through half a day, while a London mob goes mad round you, and lost
dogs snap at your charger's nose, and dirty little beggars squeeze
against your legs, and the sun broils you, or the fog soaks you, and
you sit sentinel over a gingerbread coach till you're deaf with the
noise, and blind with the dust, and sick with the crowd, and half dead
for want of sodas and brandies, and from going a whole morning without
one cigarette! Not to mention the inevitable apple-woman who
invariably entangles herself between your horse's legs, and the
certainty of your riding down somebody and having a summons about it
the next day! If all that isn't the rough of the Service, I should
like to know what is. Why the hottest day in the batteries, or the
sharpest rush into Ghoorkhas or Bhoteahs, would be light work,
compared!" murmured Cecil with the most plaintive pity for the
hardships of life in the Household, while Rake, with the rapid
proficiency of long habit, braced, and buckled and buttoned, knotted
the sash with the knack of professional genius, girt on the brightest
of all glittering polished silver steel "Cut-and-Thrusts," with its
rich gild mountings, and contemplated with flattering self-complacency
leathers white as snow, jacks brilliant as black varnish could make
them, and silver spurs of glittering radiance, until his master stood
full harnessed, at length, as gallant a Life Guardsman as ever did
duty at the Palace by making love to the handsomest lady-in-waiting.
"To sit wedged in with one's troop for five hours, and in a drizzle
too! Houses oughtn't to meet until the day's fine; I'm sure they are
in no hurry," said Cecil to himself, as he pocketed a dainty, filmy
handkerchief, all perfume, point, and embroidery, with the interlaced
B. C., and the crest on the corner, while he looked hopelessly out of
the window. He was perfectly happy, drenched to the skin on the moors
after a royal, or in a fast thing with the Melton men from Thorpe
Trussels to Ranksborough; but three drops of rain when on duty were a
totally different matter, to be resented with any amount of dandy's
lamentations and epicurean diatribes.
"Ah, young one, how are you? Is the day very bad?" he asked with
languid wistfulness as the door opened.
But indifferent and weary--on account of the weather--as the tone was,
his eyes rested with a kindly, cordial light on the newcomer, a young
fellow of scarcely twenty, like himself in feature, though much
smaller and slighter in build; a graceful boy enough, with no fault in
his face, except a certain weakness in the mouth, just shadowed only,
as yet, with down.
A celebrity, the Zu-Zu, the last coryphee whom Bertie had translated
from a sphere of garret bread-and-cheese to a sphere of villa
champagne and chicken (and who, of course, in proportion to the
previous scarcity of her bread-and-cheese, grew immediately intolerant
of any wine less than 90s the dozen), said the Cecil cared for nothing
longer than a fortnight, unless it was his horse, Forest King. It was
very ungrateful in the Zu-Zu, since he cared for her at the least a
whole quarter, paying for his fidelity at the tune of a hundred a
month; and, also, it was not true, for, besides Forest King, he loved
his young brother Berkeley--which, however, she neither knew nor
"Beastly!" replied the young gentleman, in reference to the weather,
which was indeed pretty tolerable for an English morning in February.
"I say, Bertie--are you in a hurry?"
"The very deuce of a hurry, little one; why?" Bertie never was in a
hurry, however, and he said this as lazily as possible, shaking the
white horsehair over his helmet, and drawing in deep draughts of
Turkish Latakia previous to parting with his pipe for the whole of
four or five hours.
"Because I am in a hole--no end of a hole--and I thought you'd help
me," murmured the boy, half penitently, half caressingly; he was very
girlish in his face and his ways. On which confession Rake retired
into the bathroom; he could hear just as well there, and a sense of
decorum made him withdraw, though his presence would have been wholly
forgotten by them. In something the same spirit as the French countess
accounted for her employing her valet to bring her her chocolate in
bed--"Est ce que vous appelez cette chose-la un homme?"--Bertie had,
on occasion, so wholly regarded servants as necessary furniture that
he had gone through a love scene, with that handsome coquette Lady
Regalia, totally oblivious of the presence of the groom of the
chambers, and the possibility of that person's appearance in the
witness-box of the Divorce Court. It was in no way his passion that
blinded him--he did not put the steam on like that, and never went in
for any disturbing emotion--it was simply habit, and forgetfulness
that those functionaries were not born mute, deaf, and sightless.
He tossed some essence over his hands, and drew on his gauntlets.
"What's up Berk?"
The boy hung his head, and played a little uneasily with an ormolu
terrier-pot, upsetting half the tobacco in it; he was trained to his
brother's nonchalant, impenetrable school, and used to his brother's
set; a cool, listless, reckless, thoroughbred, and impassive set,
whose first canon was that you must lose your last thousand in the
world without giving a sign that you winced, and must win half a
million without showing that you were gratified; but he had something
of girlish weakness in his nature, and a reserve in his temperament
that was with difficulty conquered.
Bertie looked at him, and laid his hand gently on the young one's
"Come, my boy; out with it! It's nothing very bad, I'll be bound!"
"I want some more money; a couple of ponies," said the boy a little
huskily; he did not meet his brother's eyes that were looking straight
down on him.
Cecil gave a long, low whistle, and drew a meditative whiff from his
"Tres cher, you're always wanting money. So am I. So is everybody. The
normal state of man is to want money. Two ponies. What's it for?"
"I lost it at chicken-hazard last night. Poulteney lent it me, and I
told him I would send it him in the morning. The ponies were gone
before I thought of it, Bertie, and I haven't a notion where to get
them to pay him again."
"Heavy stakes, young one, for you," murmured Cecil, while his hand
dropped from the boy's shoulder, and a shadow of gravity passed over
his face; money was very scarce with himself. Berkeley gave him a
hurried, appealing glance. He was used to shift all his anxieties on
to his elder brother, and to be helped by him under any difficulty.
Cecil never allotted two seconds' thought to his own embarrassments,
but he would multiply them tenfold by taking other people's on him as
well, with an unremitting and thoughtless good nature.
"I couldn't help it," pleaded the lad, with coaxing and almost piteous
apology. "I backed Grosvenor's play, and you know he's always the most
wonderful luck in the world. I couldn't tell he'd go a crowner and
have such cards as he had. How shall I get the money, Bertie? I
daren't ask the governor; and besides I told Poulteney he should have
it this morning. What do you think if I sold the mare? But then I
couldn't sell her in a minute----"
Cecil laughed a little, but his eyes, as they rested on the lad's
young, fair, womanish face, were very gentle under the long shade of
"Sell the mare! Nonsense! How should anybody live without a hack? I
can pull you through, I dare say. Ah! by George, there's the quarters
chiming. I shall be too late, as I live."
Not hurried still, however; even by that near prospect, he sauntered
to his dressing-table, took up one of the pretty velvet and gold-
filigreed absurdities, and shook out all the banknotes there were in
it. There were fives and tens enough to count up 45 pounds. He reached
over and caught up a five from a little heap lying loose on a novel of
Du Terrail's, and tossed the whole across the room to the boy.
"There you are, young one! But don't borrow of any but your own people
again, Berk. We don't do that. No, no!--no thanks! Shut up all that.
If ever you get in a hole, I'll take you out if I can. Good-by--will
you go to the Lords? Better not--nothing to see, and still less to
hear. All stale. That's the only comfort for us--we are outside!" he
said, with something that almost approached hurry in the utterance; so
great was his terror of anything approaching a scene, and so eager was
he to escape his brother's gratitude. The boy had taken the notes with
delighted thanks indeed, but with that tranquil and unprotesting
readiness with which spoiled childishness or unhesitating selfishness
accepts gifts and sacrifices from another's generosity, which have
been so general that they have ceased to have magnitude. As his
brother passed him, however, he caught his hand a second, and looked
up with a mist before his eyes, and a flush half of shame, half of
gratitude, on his face.
"What a trump you are!--how good you are, Bertie!"
Cecil laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
"First time I ever heard it, my dear boy," he answered, as he lounged
down the staircase, his chains clashing and jingling; while, pressing
his helmet on to his forehead and pulling the chin scale over his
mustaches, he sauntered out into the street where his charger was
"The deuce!" he thought, as he settled himself in his stirrups, while
the raw morning wind tossed his white plume hither and thither. "I
never remembered!--I don't believe I've left myself money enough to
take Willon and Rake and the cattle down to the Shires to-morrow. If I
shouldn't have kept enough to take my own ticket with!--that would be
no end of a sell. On my word I don't know how much there's left on the
dressing-table. Well! I can't help it; Poulteney had to be paid; I
can't have Berk's name show in anything that looks shady."
The 50 pounds had been the last remnant of a bill, done under great
difficulties with a sagacious Jew, and Cecil had no more certainty of
possessing any more money until next pay-day should come round than he
had of possessing the moon; lack of ready money, moreover, is a
serious inconvenience when you belong to clubs where "pounds and
fives" are the lowest points, and live with men who take the odds on
most events in thousands; but the thing was done; he would not have
undone it at the boy's loss, if he could; and Cecil, who never was
worried by the loss of the most stupendous "crusher," and who made it
a rule never to think of disagreeable inevitabilities two minutes
together, shook his charger's bridle and cantered down Piccadilly
toward the barracks, while Black Douglas reared, curveted, made as if
he would kick, and finally ended by "passaging" down half the length
of the road, to the imminent peril of all passers-by, and looking
eminently glossy, handsome, stalwart, and foam-flecked, while he thus
expressed his disapprobation of forming part of the escort from Palace
"Home Secretary should see about it; it's abominable! If we must come
among them, they ought to be made a little odoriferous first. A couple
of fire-engines now, playing on them continuously with rose-water and
bouquet d'Ess for an hour before we come up, might do a little good.
I'll get some men to speak about it in the house; call it 'Bill for
the Purifying of the Unwashed, and Prevention of their Suffocating Her
Majesty's Brigades,' " murmured Cecil to the Earl of Broceliande, next
him, as they sat down in their saddles with the rest of the "First
Life," in front of St. Stephen's, with a hazy fog steaming round them,
and a London mob crushing against their chargers' flanks, while Black
Douglas stood like a rock, though a butcher's tray was pressed against
his withers, a mongrel was snapping at his hocks, and the inevitable
apple-woman, of Cecil's prophetic horror, was wildly plunging between
his legs, as the hydra-headed rushed down in insane, headlong haste to
stare at, and crush on to, that superb body of Guards.
"I would give a kingdom for a soda and brandy. Bah! ye gods! What a
smell of fish and fustian," signed Bertie, with a yawn of utter famine
for want of something to drink and something to smoke, were it only a
glass of brown sherry and a little papelito, while he glanced down at
the snow-white and jet-black masterpieces of Rake's genius, all
smirched, and splashed, and smeared.
He had given fifty pounds away, and scarcely knew whether he should
have enough to take his ticket next day into the Shires, and he owed
fifty hundred without having the slightest grounds for supposing he
should ever be able to pay it, and he cared no more about either of
these things than he cared about the Zu-Zu's throwing the half-guinea
peaches into the river after a Richmond dinner, in the effort to hit
dragon-flies with them; but to be half a day without a cigarette, and
to have a disagreeable odor of apples and corduroys wafted up to him,
was a calamity that made him insupportably depressed and unhappy.
Well, why not? It is the trifles of life that are its bores, after
all. Most men can meet ruin calmly, for instance, or laugh when they
lie in a ditch with their own knee-joint and their hunter's spine
broken over the double post and rails: it is the mud that has choked
up your horn just when you wanted to rally the pack; it's the whip who
carries you off to a division just when you've sat down to your
turbot; it's the ten seconds by which you miss the train; it's the
dust that gets in your eyes as you go down to Epsom; it's the pretty
little rose note that went by accident to your house instead of your
club, and raised a storm from madame; it's the dog that always will
run wild into the birds; it's the cook who always will season the
white soup wrong--it is these that are the bores of life, and that try
the temper of your philosophy.
An acquaintance of mine told me the other day of having lost heavy
sums through a swindler, with as placid an indifference as if he had
lost a toothpick; but he swore like a trooper because a thief had
stolen the steel-mounted hoof of a dead pet hunter.
"Insufferable!" murmured Cecil, hiding another yawn behind his
gauntlet; "the Line's nothing half so bad as this; one day in a London
mob beats a year's campaigning; what's charging a pah to charging an
oyster-stall, or a parapet of fascines to a bristling row of
Which question as to the relative hardships of the two Arms was a
question of military interest never answered, as Cecil scattered the
umbrellas right and left, and dashed from the Houses of Parliament
full trot with the rest of the escort on the return to the Palace; the
afternoon sun breaking out with a brightened gleam from the clouds,
and flashing off the drawn swords, the streaming plumes, the
glittering breastplates, the gold embroideries, and the fretting
But a mere sun-gleam just when the thing was over, and the escort was
pacing back to Hyde Park barracks, could not console Cecil for fog,
wind, mud, oyster-vendors, bad odors, and the uproar and riff-raff of
the streets; specially when his throat was as dry as a lime-kiln, and
his longing for the sight of a cheroot approaching desperation.
Unlimited sodas, three pipes smoked silently over Delphine Demirep's
last novel, a bath well dashed with eau de cologne, and some glasses
of Anisette after the fatigue-duty of unharnessing, restored him a
little; but he was still weary and depressed into gentler languor than
ever through all the courses at a dinner party at the Austrian
Embassy, and did not recover his dejection at a reception of the
Duchess of Lydiard-Tregoze, where the prettiest French Countess of her
time asked him if anything was the matter.
"Yes!" said Bertie with a sigh, and a profound melancholy in what the
woman called his handsome Spanish eyes, "I have had a great
misfortune; we have been on duty all day!"
He did not thoroughly recover tone, light and careless though his
temper was, till the Zu-Zu, in her diamond-edition of a villa,
prescribed Crème de Bouzy and Parfait Amour in succession, with a
considerable amount of pine-apple ice at three o'clock in the morning,
which restorative prescription succeeded.
Indeed, it took something as tremendous as divorce from all forms of
smoking for five hours to make an impression on Bertie. He had the
most serene insouciance that ever a man was blessed with; in worry he
did not believe--he never let it come near him; and beyond a little
difficulty sometimes in separating too many entangled rose-chins
caught round him at the same time, and the annoyance of a
miscalculation on the flat, or the ridge-and-furrow, when a Maldon or
Danebury favorite came nowhere, or his book was wrong for the Grand
National, Cecil had no cares of any sort or description.
True, the Royallieu Peerage, one of the most ancient and almost one of
the most impoverished in the kingdom, could ill afford to maintain its
sons in the expensive career on which it had launched them, and the
chief there was to spare usually went between the eldest son, a
Secretary of Legation in that costly and charming City of Vienna, and
the young one, Berkeley, through the old Viscount's partiality; so
that, had Bertie ever gone so far as to study his actual position, he
would have probably confessed that it was, to say the least, awkward;
but then he never did this, certainly never did it thoroughly.
Sometimes he felt himself near the wind when settling-day came, or the
Jews appeared utterly impracticable; but, as a rule, things had always
trimmed somehow, and though his debts were considerable, and he was
literally as penniless as a man can be to stay in the Guards at all,
he had never in any shape realized the want of money. He might not be
able to raise a guinea to go toward that long-standing account, his
army tailor's bill, and post obits had long ago forestalled the few
hundred a year that, under his mother's settlements, would come to him
at the Viscount's death; but Cecil had never known in his life what it
was not to have a first-rate stud, not to live as luxuriously as a
duke, not to order the costliest dinners at the clubs, and be among
the first to lead all the splendid entertainments and extravagances of
the Household; he had never been without his Highland shooting, his
Baden gaming, his prize-winning schooner among the R. V. Y. Squadron,
his September battues, his Pytchley hunting, his pretty expensive Zu-
Zus and other toys, his drag for Epsom and his trap and hack for the
Park, his crowd of engagements through the season, and his bevy of
fair leaders of the fashion to smile on him, and shower their
invitation-cards on him, like a rain of rose-leaves, as one of the
"Best," that is, in the sense of fashion, flirting, waltzing, and
general social distinction; in no other sense, for the newest of
debutantes knew well that "Beauty," though the most perfect of flirts,
would never be "serious," and had nothing to be serious with; on which
understanding he was allowed by the sex to have the run of their
boudoirs and drawing-rooms, much as if he were a little lion-dog; they
counted him quite "safe." He made love to the married women, to be
sure; but he was quite certain not to run away with the marriageable
Hence, Bertie had never felt the want of all that is bought by and
represents money, and imbibed a vague, indistinct impression that all
these things that made life pleasant came by Nature, and were the
natural inheritance and concomitants of anybody born in a decent
station, and endowed with a tolerable tact; such a matter-of-fact
difficulty as not having gold enough to pay for his own and his stud's
transit to the Shires had very rarely stared him in the face, and when
it did he trusted to chance to lift him safely over such a social
"yawner," and rarely trusted in vain.
According to all the canons of his Order he was never excited, never
disappointed, never exhilarated, never disturbed; and also, of course,
never by any chance embarrassed. "Votre imperturbabilite," as the
Prince de Ligne used to designate La Grande Catherine, would have been
an admirable designation for Cecil; he was imperturbable under
everything; even when an heiress, with feet as colossal as her
fortune, made him a proposal of marriage, and he had to retreat from
all the offered honors and threatened horrors, he courteously, but
steadily declined them. Nor in more interesting adventures was he less
happy in his coolness. When my Lord Regalia, who never knew when he
was not wanted, came in inopportunely in a very tender scene of the
young Guardsman's (then but a Cornet) with his handsome Countess,
Cecil lifted his long lashes lazily, turning to him a face of the most
plait-il? and innocent demureness--or consummate impudence, whichever
you like. "We're playing Solitaire. Interesting game. Queer fix,
though, the ball's in that's left all alone in the middle, don't you
think?" Lord Regalia felt his own similarity to the "ball in a fix"
too keenly to appreciate the interesting character of the amusement,
or the coolness of the chief performer in it; but "Beauty's Solitaire"
became a synonym thenceforth among the Household to typify any very
tender passages "sotto quartr' occhi."
This made his reputation on the town; the ladies called it very
wicked, but were charmed by the Richelieu-like impudence all the same,
and petted the sinner; and from then till now he had held his own with
them; dashing through life very fast, as became the first riding man
in the Brigades, but enjoying it very fully, smoothly, and softly;
liking the world and being liked by it.
To be sure, in the background there was always that ogre of money, and
the beast had a knack of growing bigger and darker every year; but
then, on the other hand, Cecil never looked at him--never thought
about him--knew, too, that he stood just as much behind the chairs of
men whom the world accredited as millionaires, and whenever the ogre
gave him a cold grip, that there was for the moment no escaping,
washed away the touch of it in a warm, fresh draft of pleasure.
THE LOOSE BOX, AND THE TABAGIE.
"How long before the French can come up?" asked Wellington, hearing of
the pursuit that was thundering close on his rear in the most critical
hours of the short, sultry Spanish night. "Half an hour, at least,"
was the answer. "Very well, then I will turn in and get some sleep,"
said the Commander-in-Chief, rolling himself in a cloak, and lying
down in a ditch to rest as soundly for the single half hour as any
Serenely as Wellington, another hero slept profoundly, on the eve of a
great event--of a great contest to be met when the day should break--
of a critical victory, depending on him alone to save the Guards of
England from defeat and shame; their honor and their hopes rested on
his solitary head; by him they would be lost or saved; but, unharassed
by the magnitude of the stake at issue, unhaunted by the past,
unfretted by the future, he slumbered the slumber of the just.
Not Sir Tristram, Sir Caledore, Sir Launcelot--no, nor Arthur himself
--was ever truer knight, was ever gentler, braver, bolder, more stanch
of heart, more loyal of soul, than he to whom the glory of the
Brigades was trusted now; never was there spirit more dauntless and
fiery in the field; never temper kindlier and more generous with
friends and foes. Miles of the ridge and furrow, stiff fences of
terrible blackthorn, double posts and rails, yawners and croppers
both, tough as Shire and Stewards could make them, awaited him on the
morrow; on his beautiful lean head capfuls of money were piled by the
Service and the Talent; and in his stride all the fame of the
Household would be centered on the morrow; but he took his rest like
the cracker he was--standing as though he were on guard, and steady as
a rock, a hero every inch of him. For he was Forest King, the great
steeple-chaser, on whom the Guards had laid all their money for the
Grand Military--the Soldiers' Blue Ribbon.
His quarters were a loose box; his camp-bed a litter of straw fresh
shaken down; his clothing a very handsome rug, hood, and quarter-piece
buckled on and marked "B. C."; above the manger and the door was
lettered his own name in gold. "Forest King"; and in the panels of the
latter were miniatures of his sire and of his dam: Lord of the Isles,
one of the greatest hunters that the grass countries ever saw sent
across them; and Bayadere, a wild-pigeon-blue mare of Circassia. How,
furthermore, he stretched up his long line of ancestry by the
Sovereign, out of Queen of Roses; by Belted Earl, out of Fallen Star;
by Marmion, out of Court Coquette, and straight up to the White
Cockade blood, etc., etc., etc.--is it not written in the mighty and
immortal chronicle, previous as the Koran, patrician as the Peerage,
known and beloved to mortals as the "Stud Book"?
Not an immensely large, or unusually powerful horse, but with race in
every line of him; steel-gray in color, darkening well at all points,
shining and soft as satin, with the firm muscles quivering beneath at
the first touch of excitement to the high mettle and finely-strung
organization; the head small, lean, racer-like, "blood" all over; with
the delicate taper ears, almost transparent in full light; well
ribbed-up, fine shoulders, admirable girth and loins; legs clean,
slender, firm, promising splendid knee action; sixteen hands high, and
up to thirteen stone; clever enough for anything, trained to close and
open country, a perfect brook jumper, a clipper at fencing; taking a
great deal of riding, as anyone could tell by the set-on of his neck,
but docile as a child to a well-known hand--such was Forest King with
his English and Eastern strains, winner at Chertsey, Croydon, the
National, the Granby, the Belvoir Castle, the Curragh, and all the
gentleman-rider steeple-chases and military sweepstakes in the
kingdom, and entered now, with tremendous bets on him, for the Gilt
It was a crisp, cold night outside; starry, wintry, but open weather,
and clear; the ground would be just right on the morrow, neither hard
as the slate of a billiard-table, nor wet as the slush of a quagmire.
Forest King slept steadily on in his warm and spacious box, dreaming
doubtless of days of victory, cub-hunting in the reedy October woods
and pastures, of the ringing notes of the horn, and the sweet music of
the pack, and the glorious quick burst up-wind, breasting the icy cold
water, and showing the way over fence and bullfinch. Dozing and
dreaming pleasantly; but alert for all that; for he awoke suddenly,
shook himself, had a hilarious roll in the straw, and stood "at
Awake only, could you tell the generous and gallant promise of his
perfect temper; for there are no eyes that speak more truly, none on
earth that are so beautiful, as the eyes of a horse. Forest King's
were dark as a gazelle's, soft as a woman's, brilliant as stars, a
little dreamy and mournful, and as infinitely caressing when he looked
at what he loved, as they could blaze full of light and fire when
danger was near and rivalry against him. How loyally such eyes have
looked at me over the paddock fence, as a wild, happy gallop was
suddenly broken for a gentle head to be softly pushed against my hand
with the gentlest of welcomes! They sadly put to shame the million
human eyes that so fast learn the lie of the world, and utter it as
falsely as the lips.
The steeple-chaser stood alert, every fiber of his body strung to
pleasurable excitation; the door opened, a hand held him some sugar,
and the voice he loved best said fondly, "All right, old boy?"
Forest King devoured the beloved dainty with true equine unction,
rubbed his forehead against his master's shoulder, and pushed his nose
into the nearest pocket in search for more of his sweetmeat.
"You'd eat a sugar-loaf, you dear old rascal. Put the gas up, George,"
said his owner, while he turned up the body clothing to feel the firm,
cool skin, loosened one of the bandages, passed his hand from thigh to
fetlock, and glanced round the box to be sure the horse had been well
suppered and littered down.
"Think we shall win, Rake?"
Rake, with a stable lantern in his hand and a forage cap on one side
of his head, standing a little in advance of a group of grooms and
helpers, took a bit of straw out of his mouth, and smiled a smile of
sublime scorn and security. "Win, sir? I should be glad to know as
when was that ere King ever beat yet; or you either, sir, for that
Bertie Cecil laughed a little languidly.
"Well, we take a good deal of beating, I think, and there are not very
many who can give it us; are there, old fellow?" he said to the horse,
as he passed his palm over the withers; "but there are some crushers
in the lot to-morrow; you'll have to do all you know."
Forest King caught the manger with his teeth, and kicked in a bit of
play and ate some more sugar, with much licking of his lips to express
the nonchalance with which he viewed his share in the contest, and his
tranquil certainty of being first past the flags. His master looked at
him once more and sauntered out of the box.
"He's in first-rate form, Rake, and right as a trivet."
"Course he is, sir; nobody ever laid leg over such cattle as all that
White Cockade blood, and he's the very best of the strain," said Rake,
as he held up his lantern across the stable-yard, that looked doubly
dark in the February night after the bright gas glare of the box.
"So he need be," thought Cecil, as a bull terrier, three or four
Gordon setters, an Alpine mastiff, and two wiry Skyes dashed at their
chains, giving tongue in frantic delight at the sound of his step,
while the hounds echoed the welcome from their more distant kennels,
and he went slowly across the great stone yard, with the end of a huge
cheroot glimmering through the gloom. "So he need be, to pull me
through. The Ducal and the October let me in for it enough; I never
was closer in my life. The deuce! If I don't do the distance to-morrow
I shan't have sovereigns enough to play pound-points at night! I don't
know what a man's to do; if he's put into this life, he must go the
pace of it. Why did Royal send me into the Guards, if he meant to keep
the screw on in this way? He'd better have drafted me into a marching
regiment at once, if he wanted me to live upon nothing."
Nothing meant anything under 60,000 pounds a year with Cecil, as the
minimum of monetary necessities in this world, and a look of genuine
annoyance and trouble, most unusual there, was on his face, the
picture of carelessness and gentle indifference habitually, though
shadowed now as he crossed the courtyard after his after-midnight
visit to his steeple-chaser. He had backed Forest King heavily, and
stood to win or lose a cracker on his own riding on the morrow; and,
though he had found sufficient to bring him into the Shires, he had
barely enough lying on his dressing-table, up in the bachelor suite
within, to pay his groom's book, or a notion where to get more, if the
King should find his match over the ridge and furrow in the morning!
It was not pleasant: a cynical, savage, world-disgusted Timon derives
on the whole a good amount of satisfaction from his break-down in the
fine philippics against his contemporaries that it is certain to
afford, and the magnificent grievances with which it furnishes him;
but when life is very pleasant to a man, and the world very fond of
him; when existence is perfectly smooth,--bar that single pressure of
money,--and is an incessantly changing kaleidoscope of London seasons,
Paris winters, ducal houses in the hunting months, dinners at the Pall
Mall Clubs, dinners at the Star and Garter, dinners irreproachable
everywhere; cottage for Ascot week, yachting with the R. V. Y. Club,
Derby handicaps at Hornsey, pretty chorus-singers set up in Bijou
villas, dashing rosieres taken over to Baden, warm corners in Belvoir,
Savernake, and Longeat battues, and all the rest of the general
programme, with no drawback to it, except the duties at the Palace,
the heat of a review, or the extravagance of a pampered lionne--then
to be pulled up in that easy, swinging gallop for sheer want of a
golden shoe, as one may say, is abominably bitter, and requires far
more philosophy to endure than Timon would ever manage to master. It
is a bore, an unmitigated bore; a harsh, hateful, unrelieved martyrdom
that the world does not see, and that the world would not pity if it
"Never mind! Things will come right. Forest King never failed me yet;
he is as full of running as a Derby winner, and he'll go over the
yawners like a bird," thought Cecil, who never confronted his troubles
with more than sixty seconds' thought, and who was of that light,
impassible, half-levity, half-languor of temperament that both throws
off worry easily and shirks it persistently. "Sufficient for the day,"
etc., was the essence of his creed; and if he had enough to lay a
fiver at night on the rubber, he was quite able to forget for the time
that he wanted five hundred for settling-day in the morning, and had
not an idea how to get it. There was not a trace of anxiety on him
when he opened a low arched door, passed down a corridor, and entered
the warm, full light of that chamber of liberty, that sanctuary of the
persecuted, that temple of refuge, thrice blessed in all its forms
throughout the land, that consecrated Mecca of every true believer in
the divinity of the meerschaum, and the paradise of the nargile--the
A spacious, easy chamber, too; lined with the laziest of divans, seen
just now through a fog of smoke, and tenanted by nearly a score of men
in every imaginable loose velvet costume, and with faces as well known
in the Park at six o'clock in May, and on the Heath in October; in
Paris in January, and on the Solent in August; in Pratt's of a
summer's night, and on the Moors in an autumn morning, as though they
were features that came round as regularly as the "July" or the
Waterloo Cup. Some were puffing away in calm, meditative comfort, in
silence that they would not have broken for any earthly consideration;
others were talking hard and fast, and through the air heavily
weighted with the varieties of tobacco, from tiny cigarettes to giant
cheroots, from rough bowls full of cavendish to sybaritic rose-water
hookahs, a Babel of sentences rose together: "Gave him too much
riding, the idiot." "Take the field, bar one." "Nothing so good for
the mare as a little niter and antimony in her mash." "Not at all! The
Regent and Rake cross in the old strain, always was black-tan with a
white frill." "The Earl's as good a fellow as Lady Flora; always give
you a mount." "Nothing like a Kate Terry though, on a bright day, for
salmon." "Faster thing I never knew; found at twenty minutes past
eleven, and killed just beyond Longdown Water at ten to twelve." All
these various phrases were rushing in among each other, and tossed
across the eddies of smoke in the conflicting tongues loosened in the
tabagie and made eloquent, though slightly inarticulate, by pipe-
stems; while a tall, fair man, with the limbs of a Hercules, the chest
of a prize-fighter, and the face of a Raphael Angel, known in the
Household as Seraph, was in the full blood of a story of whist played
under difficulties in the Doncaster express.
"I wanted a monkey; I wanted monkeys awfully," he was stating as
Forest King's owner came into the smoking-room.
"Did you, Seraph? The 'Zoo' or the Clubs could supply you with apes
fully developed to any amount," said Bertie, as he threw himself down.
"You be hanged!" laughed the Seraph, known to the rest of the world as
the Marquis of Rockingham, son of the Duke of Lyonnesse. "I wished
monkeys, but the others wished ponies and hundreds, so I gave in;
Vandebur and I won two rubbers, and we'd just begun the third when the
train stopped with a crash; none of us dropped the cards though, but
the tricks and the scores all went down with the shaking. 'Can't play
in that row,' said Charlie, for the women were shrieking like mad, and
the engine was roaring like my mare Philippa--I'm afraid she'll never
be cured, poor thing!--so I put my head out and asked what was up?
We'd run into a cattle train. Anybody hurt? No, nobody hurt; but we
were to get out. 'I'll be shot if I get out,' I told 'em, 'till I've
finished the rubber.' 'But you must get out,' said the guard;
'carriages must be moved.' 'Nobody says "must" to him,' said Van (he'd
drank more Perles du Rhin than was good for him in Doncaster); 'don't
you know the Seraph?' Man stared. 'Yes, sir; know the Seraph, sir;
leastways, did, sir, afore he died; see him once at Moulsey Mill, sir;
his "one two" was amazin'. Waters soon threw up the sponge.' We were
all dying with laughter, and I tossed him a tenner. 'There, my good
fellow,' said I, 'shunt the carriage and let us finish the game. If
another train comes up, give it Lord Rockingham's compliments and say
he'll thank it to stop, because collisions shake his trumps together.'
Man thought us mad; took tenner though, shunted us to one side out of
the noise, and we played two rubbers more before they'd repaired the
damage and sent us on to town."
And the Seraph took a long-drawn whiff from his silver meerschaum, and
then a deep draught of soda and brandy to refresh himself after the
narrative--biggest, best-tempered, and wildest of men in or out of the
Service, despite the angelic character of his fair-haired head, and
blue eyes that looked as clear and as innocent as those of a six-year-
"Not the first time by a good many that you've 'shunted off the
straight,' Seraph?" laughed Cecil, substituting an amber mouth-piece
for his half-finished cheroot. "I've been having a good-night look at
the King. He'll stay."
"Of course he will," chorused half a dozen voices.
"With all our pots on him," added the Seraph. "He's too much of a
gentleman to put us all up a tree; he knows he carries the honor of
"There are some good mounts, there's no denying that," said
Chesterfield of the Blues (who was called Tom for no other reason than
that it was entirely unlike his real name of Adolphus), where he was
curled up almost invisible, except for the movement of the jasmine
stick of his chibouque. "That brute, Day Star, is a splendid fencer,
and for a brook jumper, it would be heard to best Wild Geranium,
though her shoulders are not quite what they ought to be. Montacute,
too, can ride a good thing, and he's got one in Pas de Charge."
"I'm not much afraid of Monti, he makes too wild a burst first; he
never saves on atom," yawned Cecil, with the coils of his hookah
bubbling among the rose-water; "the man I'm afraid of is that fellow
from the Tenth; he's as light as a feather and as hard as steel. I
watched him yesterday going over the water, and the horse he'll ride
for Trelawney is good enough to beat even the King if he's properly
"You haven't kept yourself in condition, Beauty," growled "Tom," with
the chibouque in his mouth, "else nothing could give you the go-by.
It's tempting Providence to go in for the Gilt Vase after such a
December and January as you spent in Paris. Even the week you've been
in the Shires you haven't trained a bit; you've been waltzing or
playing baccarat till five in the morning, and taking no end of sodas
after to bring you right for the meet at nine. If a man will drink
champagnes and burgundies as you do, and spend his time after women, I
should like to know how he's to be in hard riding condition, unless he
expects a miracle."
With which Chesterfield, who weighed fourteen stone himself, and was,
therefore, out of all but welter-races, and wanted a weight-carrier of
tremendous power even for them, subsided under a heap of velvet and
cashmere, and Cecil laughed; lying on a divan just under one of the
gas branches, the light fell full on his handsome face, with its fair
hue and its gentle languor on which there was not a single trace of
the outrecuidance attributed to him. Both he and the Seraph could lead
the wildest life of any men in Europe without looking one shadow more
worn than the brightest beauty of the season, and could hold wassail
in riotous rivalry till the sun rose, and then throw themselves into
saddle as fresh as if they had been sound asleep all night; to keep up
with the pack the whole day in a fast burst or on a cold scent, or in
whatever sport Fortune and the coverts gave them, till their second
horses wound their way homeward through muddy, leafless lanes, when
the stars had risen.
"Beauty don't believe in training. No more do I. Never would train for
anything," said the Seraph now, pulling the long blond mustaches that
were not altogether in character with his seraphic cognomen. "If a man
can ride, let him. If he's born to the pigskin he'll be in at the
distance safe enough, whether he smokes or don't smoke, drink or don't
drink. As for training on raw chops, giving up wine, living like the
very deuce and all, as if you were in a monastery, and changing
yourself into a mere bag of bones--it's utter bosh. You might as well
be in purgatory; besides, it's no more credit to win then than if you
were a professional."
"But you must have trained at Christ Church, Rock, for the Eight?"
asked another Guardsman, Sir Vere Bellingham; "Severe," as he was
christened, chiefly because he was the easiest-going giant in
"Did I! men came to me; wanted me to join the Eight; coxswain came,
awful strict little fellow, docked his men of all their fun--took
plenty himself though! Coxswain said I must begin to train, do as all
his crew did. I threw up my sleeve and showed him my arm;" and the
Seraph stretched out an arm magnificent enough for a statue of Milo.
"I said, 'there, sir, I'll help you thrash Cambridge, if you like, but
train I won't for you or for all the University. I've been Captain of
the Eton Eight; but I didn't keep my crew on tea and toast. I fattened
'em regularly three times a week on venison and champagne at
Christopher's. Very happy to feed yours, too, if you like; game comes
down to me every Friday from the Duke's moors; they look uncommonly as
if they wanted it!' You should have seen his face!--fatten the Eight!
He didn't let me do that, of course; but he was very glad of my oar in
his rowlocks, and I helped him beat Cambridge without training an hour
myself, except so far as rowing hard went."
And the Marquis of Rockingham, made thirsty by the recollection,
dipped his fair mustaches into a foaming seltzer.
"Quite right, Seraph!" said Cecil; "when a man comes up to the
weights, looking like a homunculus, after he's been getting every atom
of flesh off him like a jockey, he ought to be struck out for the
stakes, to my mind. 'Tisn't a question of riding, then, nor yet of
pluck, or of management; it's nothing but a question of pounds, and of
who can stand the tamest life the longest."
"Well, beneficial for one's morals, at any rate," suggested Sir Vere.
"Morals be hanged!" said Bertie, very immorally. "I'm glad you remind
us of them, Vere; you're such a quintessence of decorum and
respectability yourself! I say--anybody know anything of this fellow
of the Tenth that's to ride Trelawney's chestnut?"
"Jimmy Delmar! Oh, yes; I know Jimmy," answered Lord Cosmo Wentworth,
of the Scots Fusileers, from the far depths of an arm-chair. "Knew him
at Aldershot. Fine rider; give you a good bit of trouble, Beauty.
Hasn't been in England for years; troop been such a while at Calcutta.
The Fancy take to him rather; offering very freely on him this morning
in the village; and he's got a rare good thing in the chestnut."
"Not a doubt of it. The White Lily blood, out of that Irish mare
D'Orleans Diamonds, too."
"Never mind! Tenth won't beat us. The Household will win safe enough,
unless Forest King goes and breaks his back over Brixworth--eh,
Beauty?" said the Seraph, who believed devoutly in his comrade, with
all the loving loyalty characteristic of the House of Lyonnesse, that
to monarchs and to friends had often cost it very dear.
"You put your faith in the wrong quarter, Rock; I may fail you, he
never will," said Cecil, with ever so slight a dash of sadness in his
words; the thought crossed him of how boldly, how straightly, how
gallantly the horse always breasted and conquered his difficulties--
did he himself deal half so well with his own?
"Well! you both of you carry all our money and all our credit; so for
the fair fame of the Household do 'all you know.' I haven't hedged a
shilling, not laid off a farthing, Bertie; I stand on you and the
King, and nothing else--see what a sublime faith I have in you."
"I don't think you're wise then, Seraph; the field will be very
strong," said Cecil languidly. The answer was indifferent, and
certainly thankless; but under his drooped lids a glance, frank and
warm, rested for the moment on the Seraph's leonine strength and
Raphaelesque head; it was not his way to say it, or to show it, or
even much to think it; but in his heart he loved his old friend
And they talked on of little else than of the great steeple-chase of
the Service, for the next hour in the Tabak-Parliament, while the
great clouds of scented smoke circled heavily round; making a halo of
Turkish above the gold locks of the Titanic Seraph, steeping
Chesterfield's velvets in strong odors of Cavendish, and drifting a
light rose-scented mist over Bertie's long, lithe limbs, light enough
and skilled enough to disdain all "training for the weights."
"That's not the way to be in condition," growled "Tom," getting up
with a great shake as the clock clanged the strokes of five; they had
only returned from a ball three miles off, when Cecil had paid his
visit to the loose box. Bertie laughed; his laugh was like himself--
rather languid, but very light-hearted, very silvery, very engaging.
"Sit and smoke till breakfast time if you like, Tom; it won't make any
difference to me."
But the Smoke Parliament wouldn't hear of the champion of the
Household over the ridge and furrow risking the steadiness of his
wrist and the keenness of his eye by any such additional tempting of
Providence, and went off itself in various directions, with good-night
iced drinks, yawning considerably like most other parliaments after a
It was the old family place of the Royallieu House in which he had
congregated half the Guardsmen in the Service for the great event, and
consequently the bachelor chambers in it were of the utmost comfort
and spaciousness, and when Cecil sauntered into his old quarters,
familiar from boyhood, he could not have been better off in his own
luxurious haunts in Piccadilly. Moreover, the first thing that caught
his eye was a dainty scarlet silk riding jacket broidered in gold and
silver, with the motto of his house, "Coeur Vaillant se fait Royaume,"
all circled with oak and laurel leaves on the collar.
It was the work of very fair hands, of very aristocratic hands, and he
looked at it with a smile. "Ah, my lady, my lady!" he thought half
aloud, "do you really love me? Do I really love you?"
There was a laugh in his eyes as he asked himself what might be termed
an interesting question; then something more earnest came over his
face, and he stood a second with the pretty costly embroideries in his
hand, with a smile that was almost tender, though it was still much
more amused. "I suppose we do," he concluded at last; "at least quite
as much as is ever worth while. Passions don't do for the drawing-
room, as somebody says in 'Coningsby'; besides--I would not feel a
strong emotion for the universe. Bad style always, and more
detrimental to 'condition,' as Tom would say, than three bottles of
He was so little near what he dreaded, at present at least, that the
scarlet jacket was tossed down again, and gave him no dreams of his
fair and titled embroideress. He looked out, the last thing, at some
ominous clouds drifting heavily up before the dawn, and the state of
the weather, and the chance of its being rainy, filled his thoughts,
to the utter exclusion of the donor of that bright gold-laden dainty
gift. "I hope to goodness there won't be any drenching shower. Forest
King can stand ground as hard as a slate, but if there's one thing
he's weak in it's slush!" was Bertie's last conscious thought, as he
stretched his limbs out and fell sound asleep.
THE SOLDIERS' BLUE RIBBON.
"Take the Field bar one." "Two to one on Forest King." "Two to one on
Bay Regent." "Fourteen to seven on Wild Geranium." "Seven to two
against Brother to Fairy." "Three to five on Pas de Charge." "Nineteen
to six on Day Star." "Take the Field bar one," rose above the hoarse
tumultuous roar of the ring on the clear, crisp, sunny morning that
was shining on the Shires on the day of the famous steeple-chase.
The talent had come in great muster from London; the great bookmakers
were there with their stentor lungs and their quiet, quick entry of
thousands; and the din and the turmoil, at the tiptop of their height,
were more like a gathering on the Heath or before the Red House, than
the local throngs that usually mark steeple-chase meetings, even when
they be the Grand Military or the Grand National. There were keen
excitement and heavy stakes on the present event; the betting had
never stood still a second in Town or the Shires; and even the
"knowing ones," the worshipers of the "flat" alone, the professionals
who ran down gentlemen races and the hypercritics who affirmed that
there is not such a thing as a steeple-chaser to be found on earth
(since, to be a fencer, a water-jumper, and a racer were to attain an
equine perfection impossible on earth, whatever it may be in "happy
hunting ground" of immortality)--even these, one and all of them, came
eager to see the running for the Gilt Vase.
For it was known very well that the Guards had backed their horse
tremendously, and the county laid most of its money on him, and the
bookmakers were shy of laying off much against one of the first cross-
country riders of the Service, who had landed his mount at the Grand
National Handicap, the Billesdon Coplow, the Ealing, the Curragh, the
Prix du Donjon, the Rastatt, and almost every other for which he had
entered. Yet, despite this, the "Fancy" took most to Bay Regent; they
thought he would cut the work out; his sire had won the Champion
Stakes at Doncaster, and the Drawing-room at "glorious Goodwood," and
that racing strain through the White Lily blood, coupled with a
magnificent reputation which he brought from Leicestershire as a
fencer, found him chief favor among the fraternity.
His jockey, Jimmy Delmar, too, with his bronzed, muscular, sinewy
frame, his low stature, his light weight, his sunburnt, acute face,
and a way of carrying his hands as he rode that was precisely like
Aldcroft's, looked a hundred times more professional than the
brilliance of "Beauty," and the reckless dash of his well-known way of
"sending the horse along with all he had in him," which was undeniably
much more like a fast kill over the Melton country, than like a
weight-for-age race anywhere. "You see the Service in his stirrups,"
said an old nobbler who had watched many a trial spin, lying hidden in
a ditch or a drain; and indisputably you did: Bertie's riding was
superb, but it was still the riding of a cavalryman, not of a jockey.
The mere turn of the foot in the stirrups told it, as the old man had
the shrewdness to know.
So the King went down at one time two points in the morning betting.
"Know them flash cracks of the Household," said Tim Varnet, as sharp a
little Leg as ever "got on" a dark thing, and "went halves" with a
jock who consented to rope a favorite at the Ducal. "Them swells, ye
see, they give any money for blood. They just go by Godolphin heads,
and little feet, and winners' strains, and all the rest of it; and so
long as they get pedigree never look at substance; and their bone
comes no bigger than a deer's. Now, it's force as well as pace that
tells over a bit of plow; a critter that would win the Derby on the
flat would knock up over the first spin over the clods; and that
King's legs are too light for my fancy, 'andsome as 'tis ondeniable he
looks--for a little 'un, as one may say."
And Tim Varnet exactly expressed the dominant mistrust of the talent;
despite all his race and all his exploits, the King was not popular in
the Ring, because he was like his backers--"a swell." They thought him
"showy--very showy," "a picture to frame," "a luster to look at"; but
they disbelieved in him, almost to a man, as a stayer, and they
trusted him scarcely at all with their money.
"It's plain that he's 'meant,' though," thought little Tim, who was so
used to the "shady" in stable matters that he could hardly persuade
himself that even the Grand Military could be run fair, and would have
thought a Guardsman or a Hussar only exercised his just privilege as a
jockey in "roping" after selling the race, if so it suited his book.
"He's 'meant,' that's clear, 'cause the swells have put all their pots
on him--but if the pots don't bile over, strike me a loser!" a
contingency he knew he might very well invoke; his investments being
invariably so matchlessly arranged that, let what would be "bowled
over," Tim Varnet never could be.
Whatever the King might prove, however, the Guards, the Flower of the
Service, must stand or fall by him; they had not Seraph, they put in
"Beauty" and his gray. But there was no doubt as to the tremendousness
of the struggle lying before him. The running ground covered four
miles and a half, and had forty-two jumps in it, exclusive of the
famous Brixworth: half was grassland, and half ridge and furrow; a
lane with very awkward double fences laced in and in with the
memorable blackthorn, a laid hedge with thick growers in it and many
another "teaser," coupled with the yawning water, made the course a
severe one; while thirty-two starters of unusual excellence gave a
good field and promised a close race. Every fine bit of steeple-chase
blood that was to be found in their studs, the Service had brought
together for the great event; and if the question could ever be
solved, whether it is possible to find a strain that shall combine
pace over the flat with the heart to stay over an inclosed country,
the speed to race with the bottom to fence and the force to clear
water, it seemed likely to be settled now. The Service and the Stable
had done their uttermost to reach its solution.
The clock of the course pointed to half-past one; the saddling bell
would ring at a quarter to two, for the days were short and darkened
early; the Stewards were all arrived, except the Marquis of
Rockingham, and the Ring was in the full rush of excitement; some
"getting on" hurriedly to make up for lost time; some "peppering" one
or other of the favorites hotly; some laying off their moneys in a
cold fit of caution; some putting capfuls on the King, or Bay Regent,
or Pas de Charge, from the great commission stables, the local betting
man, the shrewd wiseacres from the Ridings, all the rest of the
brotherhood of the Turf were crowding together with the deafening
shouting common to them which sounds so tumultuous, so insane, and so
unintelligible to outsiders. Amid them half the titled heads of
England, all the great names known on the flat, and men in the Guards,
men in the Rifles, men in the Light Cavalry, men in the Heavies, men
in the Scots Greys, men in the Horse Artillery, men in all the Arms
and all the Regiments that had sent their first riders to try for the
Blue Ribbon, were backing their horses with crackers, and jotting down
figure after figure, with jeweled pencils, in dainty books, taking
long odds with the fields. Carriages were standing in long lines along
the course, the stands were filled with almost as bright a bevy of
fashionable loveliness as the Ducal brings together under the park
trees of Goodwood; the horses were being led into the inclosure for
saddling, a brilliant sun shone for the nonce on the freshest of
February noons; beautiful women were fluttering out of their barouches
in furs and velvets, wearing the colors of the jockey they favored,
and more predominant than any were Cecil's scarlet and white, only
rivaled in prominence by the azure of the Heavy Cavalry champion, Sir
Eyre Montacute. A drag with four bays--with fine hunting points about
them--had dashed up, late of course; the Seraph had swung himself from
the roller-bolt into the saddle of his hack (one of these few rare
hacks that are perfect, and combine every excellence of pace, bone,
and action, under their modest appellative), and had cantered off to
join the Stewards; while Cecil had gone up to a group of ladies in the
Grand Stand, as if he had no more to do with the morning's business
than they. Right in front of that Stand was an artificial bullfinch
that promised to treat most of the field to a "purler," a deep ditch
dug and filled with water, with two towering blackthorn fences on
either side of it, as awkward a leap as the most cramped country ever
showed; some were complaining of it; it was too severe, it was unfair,
it would break the back of very horse sent at it. The other Stewards
were not unwilling to have it tamed down a little, but he Seraph,
generally the easiest of all sweet-tempered creatures, refused
resolutely to let it be touched.
"Look here," said he confidentially, as he wheeled his hack round to
the Stand and beckoned Cecil down, "look here, Beauty; they're wanting
to alter that teaser, make it less awkward, you know; but I wouldn't
because I thought it would look as if I lessened it for you, you know.
Still it is a cracker and no mistake; Brixworth itself is nothing to
it, and if you'd like it toned down I'll let them do it--"
"My dear Seraph, not for worlds! You were quite right not to have a
thorn taken down. Why, that's where I shall thrash Bay Regent," said
Bertie serenely, as if the winning of the stakes had been forecast in
The Seraph whistled, stroking his mustaches. "Between ourselves,
Cecil, that fellow is going up no end. The Talent fancy him so--"
"Let them," said Cecil placidly, with a great cheroot in his mouth,
lounging into the center of the Ring to hear how the betting went on
his own mount; perfectly regardless that he would keep them waiting at
the weights while he dressed. Everybody there knew him by name and
sight; and eager glances followed the tall form of the Guards'
champion as he moved through the press, in a loose brown sealskin
coat, with a little strip of scarlet ribbon round his throat, nodding
to this peer, taking evens with that, exchanging a whisper with a
Duke, and squaring his book with a Jew. Murmurs followed about him as
if he were the horse himself--"looks in racing form"--"looks used up
to me"--"too little hands surely to hold in long in a spin"--"too much
length in the limbs for a light weight; bone's always awfully heavy"--
"dark under the eye, been going too fast for training"--"a swell all
over, but rides no end," with other innumerable contradictory phrases,
according as the speaker was "on" him or against him, buzzed about him
from the riff-raff of the Ring, in no way disturbing his serene
One man, a big fellow, " 'ossy" all over, with the genuine sporting
cut-away coat, and a superabundance of showy necktie and bad jewelry,
eyed him curiously, and slightly turned so that his back was toward
Bertie, as the latter was entering a bet with another Guardsman well
known on the turf, and he himself was taking long odds with little
Berk Cecil, the boy having betted on his brother's riding, as though
he had the Bank of England at his back. Indeed, save that the lad had
the hereditary Royallieu instinct of extravagance, and, with a half
thoughtless, half willful improvidence, piled debts and difficulties
on this rather brainless and boyish head, he had much more to depend
on than his elder; old Lord Royallieu doted on him, spoilt him, and
denied him nothing, though himself a stern, austere, passionate man,
made irascible by ill health, and, in his fits of anger, a very
terrible personage indeed--no more to be conciliated by persuasion
than iron is to be bent by the hand; so terrible that even his pet
dreaded him mortally, and came to Bertie to get his imprudences and
peccadilloes covered from the Viscount's sight.
Glancing round at this moment as he stood in the ring, Cecil saw the
betting man with whom Berkeley was taking long odds on the race; he
raised his eyebrows, and his face darkened for a second, though
resuming its habitual listless serenity almost immediately.
"You remember that case of welshing after the Ebor St. Leger, Con?" he
said in a low tone to the Earl of Constantia, with whom he was
talking. The Earl nodded assent; everyone had heard of it, and a very
flagrant case it was.
"There's the fellow," said Cecil laconically, and strode toward him
with his long, lounging cavalry swing. The man turned pallid under his
florid skin, and tried to edge imperceptibly away; but the density of
the throng prevented his moving quickly enough to evade Cecil, who
stooped his head, and said a word in his ear. It was briefly:
"Leave the ring."
The rascal, half bully, half coward, rallied from the startled fear
into which his first recognition by the Guardsman (who had been the
chief witness against him in a very scandalous matter at York, and who
had warned him that if he ever saw him again in the Ring he would have
him turned out of it) had thrown him, and, relying on insolence and
the numbers of his fraternity to back him out of it, stood his ground.
"I've as much right here as you swells," he said, with a hoarse laugh.
"Are you the whole Jockey Club, that you come it to a honest gentleman
Cecil looked down on him slightly amused, immeasurably disgusted--of
all earth's terrors, there was not one so great for him as a scene,
and the eager bloodshot eyes of the Ring were turning on them by the
thousand, and the loud shouting of the bookmakers was thundering out,
"My 'honest gentleman,' " he said wearily, "leave this. I tell you; do
"Make me!" retorted the "welsher," defiant in his stout-built square
strength, and ready to brazen the matter out. "Make me, my cock o'
fine feathers! Put me out of the ring if you can, Mr. Dainty Limbs!
I've as much business here as you."
The words were hardly out of his mouth before, light as a deer and
close as steel, Cecil's hand was on his collar, and without any
seeming effort, without the slightest passion, he calmly lifted him
off the ground, as though he were a terrier, and thrust him through
the throng; Ben Davis, as the welsher was named, meantime being so
amazed at such unlooked-for might in the grasp of the gentlest,
idlest, most gracefully made, and indolently tempered of his born foes
and prey, "the swells," that he let himself be forced along backward
in sheer passive paralysis of astonishment, while Bertie, profoundly
insensible to the tumult that began to rise and roar about him, from
those who were not too absorbed in the business of the morning to note
what took place, thrust him along in the single clasp of his right
hand outward to where the running ground swept past the Stand, and
threw him lightly, easily, just as one may throw a lap-dog to take his
bath, into the artificial ditch filled with water that the Seraph had
pointed out as "a teaser." The man fell unhurt, unbruised, so gently
was he dropped on his back among the muddy, chilly water, and the
overhanging brambles; and, as he rose from the ducking, a shudder of
ferocious and filthy oaths poured from his lips, increased tenfold by
the uproarious laughter of the crowd, who knew him as "a welsher," and
thought him only too well served.
Policemen rushed in at all points, rural and metropolitan, breathless,
austere, and, of course, too late. Bertie turned to them, with a
slight wave of his hand, to sign them away.
"Don't trouble yourselves! It's nothing you could interfere in; take
care that person doesn't come into the betting ring again, that's
The Seraph, Lord Constantia, Wentworth, and may others of his set,
catching sight of the turmoil and of "Beauty," with the great square-
set figure of Ben Davis pressed before him through the mob, forced
their way up as quickly as they could; but before they reached the
spot Cecil was sauntering back to meet them, cool and listless, and a
little bored with so much exertion; his cheroot in his mouth, and his
ear serenely deaf to the clamor about the ditch.
He looked apologetically at the Seraph and the others; he felt some
apology was required for having so far wandered from all the canons of
his Order as to have approached "a row," and run the risk of a scene.
"Turf must be cleared of these scamps, you see," he said, with a half
sigh. "Law can't do anything. Fellow was trying to 'get on' with the
young one, too. Don't bet with those riff-raff, Berk. The great
bookmakers will make you dead money, and the little Legs will do worse
The boy hung his head, but looked sulky rather than thankful for his
brother's interference with himself and the welsher.
"You have done the Turf a service, Beauty--a very great service;
there's no doubt about that," said the Seraph. "Law can't do anything,
as you say; opinion must clear the ring of such rascals; a welsher
ought not to dare to show his face here; but, at the same time, you
oughtn't to have gone unsteadying your muscle, and risking the
firmness of your hand at such a minute as this, with pitching that
fellow over. Why couldn't you wait till afterward? or have let me do
"My dear Seraph," murmured Bertie languidly, "I've gone in to-day for
exertion; a little more or less is nothing. Besides, welshers are
slippery dogs, you know."
He did not add that it was having seen Ben Davis taking odds with his
young brother which had spurred him to such instantaneous action with
that disreputable personage; who, beyond doubt, only received a tithe
part of his deserts, and merited to be double-thonged off every course
in the kingdom.
Rake at that instant darted, panting like a hot retriever, out of the
throng. "Mr. Cecil, sir, will you please come to the weights--the
saddling bell's a-going to ring, and--"
"Tell them to wait for me; I shall only be twenty minutes dressing,"
said Cecil quietly, regardless that the time at which the horses
should have been at the starting-post was then clanging from the clock
within the Grand Stand. Did you ever go to a gentleman-rider race
where the jocks were not at least an hour behind time, and considered
themselves, on the whole, very tolerably punctual? At last, however,
he sauntered into the dressing-shed, and was aided by Rake into tops
that had at length achieved a spotless triumph, and the scarlet gold-
embroidered jacket of his fair friend's art, with white hoops and the
"Coeur Vaillant se fait Royaume" on the collar, and the white,
gleaming sash to be worn across it, fringed by the same fair hands
Meanwhile the "welsher," driven off the course by a hooting and
indignant crowd, shaking the water from his clothes, with bitter
oaths, and livid with a deadly passion at his exile from the harvest-
field of his lawless gleanings, went his way, with a savage vow of
vengeance against the "d----d dandy," the "Guards' swell," who had
shown him up before the world as the scoundrel he was.
The bell was clanging and clashing passionately, as 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
de corps was involved, and the Guards are never backward in putting
their gold down, as all the world knows. In the inclosure, the
cynosure of devouring eyes, stood the King, with the sangfroid of a
superb gentleman, amid the clamor raging round him, one delicate ear
laid back now and them, 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 crowd.
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, upward of sixteen hands, and enormously powerful,
with very fine shoulders, and an all-over-like-going head; he belonged
to a Colonel in the Rifles, but was to be ridden by Jimmy Delmar of
the 10th Lancers, whose colors 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 his 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 on his otherwise 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 for 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 favorites. 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, gray 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 unusually 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.
[*] The portrait of this lady is that of a very esteemed young Irish
beauty of my acquaintance; she this season did seventy-six miles
on a warm June day, and ate her corn and tares afterward as if
nothing had happened. She is six years old.
Thirty-two starters were hoisted up on the telegraph board, and as the
field got at last underway, uncommonly handsome they looked, while the
silk jackets of all the colors 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 excitement, 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
"Favorite!" His beauty told on the populace, and even somewhat on the
professionals, though his 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,
perhaps, 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
in the field. The Household is usually safe to win the suffrages of
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 of your
halfbreds, 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
The thoroughbreds pulled and fretted and swerved in their impatience;
one or two overcontumacious bolted incontinently, others put their
heads between their knees in the endeavor 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 hothouse bouquets
of their chosen color, 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 murmured mournfully to
his cheroot, "that chestnut's no end fit," strong as his faith was in
the champion of the Brigades.
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
Another moment and they were scattered over the first field. Forest
King, Wild Geranium, and Bay Regent leading 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 lapwing. The second fence proved a cropper to several, some
awkward falls took place over it, and tailing commenced; after the
third field, which was heavy plow, 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 down up by the terrible work on
The five favorites 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
In the Grand Stand the Seraph's eyes strained after the Scarlet and
White, and he muttered in his mustaches, "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 boiling 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 plowed 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 man. 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; 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 will 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 a little back, his
face very calm; the eyes only had a daring, eager, resolute will
lighting 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
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 leaped
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 line, shimmering 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 a 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 color, 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 forelegs resting on the ground, his hindquarters in the
water, and his neck 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 behind, the trio
tore on over the meadow and the plowed; the two favorites 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!" "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!"
As the shout rose, Cecil's left stirrup-leather snapped and gave way;
at the pace they were going most men, aye, and good riders too, would
have been hurled out of their saddle by the shock; he scarcely
swerved; a moment 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 close 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 gray
stretched, 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 plow had 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
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 clinched like steel on the bridle. "Oh,
my beauty, my beauty!" he cried, all unconsciously half aloud, as they
cleared the thirty-sixth fence. "Kill me if you like, but don't fail
As though Forest King heard the prayer and answered it with all his
hero's heart, the splendid form launched faster out, the stretching
stride stretched farther yet with lightning spontaneity, every fiber
strained, every nerve struggled; with a magnificent bound like an
antelope the gray recovered the ground he had lost, and passed Bay
Regent by a quarter-length. It was a neck-and-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 marvelous grace, the
shining flanks, and the Arabian-like head of the Guards' horse.
Louder and wilder the shrieked tumult rose: "The chestnut beats!" "The
gray beats!" "Scarlet's ahead!" "Bay Regent's caught him!" "Violet's
winning, Violet's wining!" "The King's neck by neck!" "The King's
beating!" "The Guards will get it!" "The Guard's 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 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 beyond
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 this?
Cecil's hands clinched 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 gray's flanks.
"Oh, my darling, my beauty--now!"
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 alone.
Bay Regent had refused the leap.
As the gray 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 "Coeur Vaillant se fait
Royaume," Forest King stood in all his glory, winner of the Soldiers'
Blue Ribbon, by a feat without its parallel in all the annals of the
But, as the crowd surged about him, and the mad cheering crowned his
victory, and the Household in the splendor of their triumph and the
fullness of their gratitude rushed from the drags and the stands to
cluster to his saddle, Bertie looked as serenely and listlessly
nonchalant as of old, while he nodded to the Seraph with a gentle
"Rather a close finish, eh? Have you any Moselle Cup going there? I'm
a little thirsty."
Outsiders would much sooner have thought him defeated than triumphant;
no one, who had not known him, could possibly have imagined that he
had been successful; an ordinary spectator would have concluded that,
judging by the resigned weariness of his features, he had won the race
greatly against his own will, and to his own infinite ennui. No one
could have dreamt that he was thinking in his heart of hearts how
passionately he loved the gallant beast that had been victor with him,
and that, if he had followed out the momentary impulse in him, he
could have put his arms round the noble bowed neck and kissed the
horse like a woman!
The Moselle Cup was brought to refresh the tired champion, and before
he drank it Bertie glanced at a certain place in the Grand Stand and
bent his head as the cup touched his lips: it was a dedication of his
victory to the Queen of Beauty. Then he threw himself lightly out of
saddle, and, as Forest King was led away for the after-ceremony of
bottling, rubbing, and clothing, his rider, regardless of the roar and
hubbub of the course, and of the tumultuous cheers that welcomed both
him and his horse from the men who pressed round him, into whose
pockets he had put thousands upon thousands, and whose ringing hurrahs
greeted the "Guards' Crack," passed straight up toward Jimmy Delmar
and held out his hand.
"You gave me a close thing, Major Delmar. The Vase is as much yours as
mine; if your chestnut had been as good a water jumper as he is a
fencer, we should have been neck to neck at the finish."
The browned Indian-sunned face of the Lancer broke up into a cordial
smile, and he shook the hand held out to him warmly; defeat and
disappointment had cut him to the core, for Jimmy was the first riding
man of the Light Cavalry; but he would not have been the frank
campaigner that he was if he had not responded to the graceful and
generous overture of his rival and conqueror.
"Oh, I can take a beating!" he said good-humoredly; "at any rate, I am
beat by the Guards; and it is very little humiliation to lose against
such riding as yours and such a magnificent brute as your King. I
congratulate you most heartily, most sincerely."
And he meant it, too. Jimmy never canted, nor did he ever throw the
blame, with paltry, savage vindictiveness, on the horse he had ridden.
Some men there are--their name is legion--who never allow that it is
their fault when they are "nowhere"--oh, no! it is the "cursed screw"
always, according to them. But a very good rider will not tell you
Cecil, while he talked, was glancing up at the Grand Stand, and when
the others dispersed to look over the horses, and he had put himself
out of his shell into his sealskin in the dressing-shed, he went up
thither without a moment's loss of time.
He knew them all; those dainty beauties with their delicate cheeks
just brightened by the western winterly wind, and their rich furs and
laces glowing among the colors of their respective heroes; he was the
pet of them all; "Beauty" had the suffrages of the sex without
exception; he was received with bright smiles and graceful
congratulations, even from those who had espoused Eyre Montacute's
cause, and still fluttered their losing azure, though the poor hunter
lay dead, with his back broken, and a pistol-ball mercifully sent
through his brains--the martyr to a man's hot haste, as the dumb
things have ever been since creation began.
Cecil passed them as rapidly as he could for one so well received by
them, and made his way to the center of the Stand, to the same spot at
which he had glanced when he had drunk the Moselle.
A lady turned to him; she looked like a rose camellia in her floating
scarlet and white, just toned down and made perfect by a shower of
Spanish lace; a beautiful brunette, dashing, yet delicate; a little
fast, yet intensely thoroughbred; a coquette who would smoke a
cigarette, yet a peeress who would never lose her dignity.
"Au coeur vaillant rien d'impossible!" she said, with an envoi of her
lorgnon, and a smile that should have intoxicated him--a smile that
might have rewarded a Richepanse for a Hohenlinden. "Superbly ridden!
I absolutely trembled for you as you lifted the King to that last
leap. It was terrible!"
It was terrible; and a woman, to say nothing of a woman who was in
love with him, might well have felt a heart-sick fear at sight of that
yawning water, and those towering walls of blackthorn, where one touch
of the hoofs on the topmost bough, one spring too short of the
gathered limbs, must have been death to both horse and rider. But, as
she said it, she was smiling, radiant, full of easy calm and racing
interest, as became her ladyship who had had "bets at even" before now
on Goodwood fillies, and could lead the first flight over the Belvoir
and the Quorn countries. It was possible that her ladyship was too
thoroughbred not to see a man killed over the oak-rails without
deviating into unseemly emotion, or being capable of such bad style as
to be agitated.
Bertie, however, in answer, threw the tenderest eloquence into his
eyes; very learned in such eloquence.
"If I could not have been victorious while you looked on, I would at
least not have lived to meet you here!"
She laughed a little, so did he; they were used to exchange these
passages in an admirably artistic masquerade, but it was always a
little droll to each of them to see the other wear the domino of
sentiment, and neither had much credence in the other.
"What a preux chevalier!" cried his Queen of Beauty. "You would have
died in a ditch out of homage to me. Who shall say that chivalry is
past! Tell me, Bertie; is it very delightful, that desperate effort to
break your neck? It looks pleasant, to judge by its effects. It is the
only thing in the world that amuses you!"
"Well--there is a great deal to be said for it," replied Bertie
musingly. "You see, until one has broken one's neck, the excitement of
the thing isn't totally worn out; can't be, naturally, because the--
what-do-you-call-it?--consummation isn't attained till then. The worst
of it is, it's getting commonplace, getting vulgar; such a number
break their necks, doing Alps and that sort of thing, that we shall
have nothing at all left to ourselves soon."
"Not even the monopoly of sporting suicide! Very hard," said her
ladyship, with the lowest, most languid laugh in the world, very like
"Beauty's" own, save that it had a considerable indication of studied
affectation, of which he, however much of a dandy he was, was wholly
guiltless. "Well! you won magnificently; that little black man, who is
he? Lancers, somebody said?--ran you so fearfully close. I really
thought at one time that the Guards had lost."
"Do you suppose that a man happy enough to wear Lady Guenevere's
colors could lose? An embroidered scarf given by such hands has been a
gage of victory ever since the days of tournaments!" murmured Cecil
with the softest tenderness, but just enough laziness in the tone and
laughter in the eye to make it highly doubtful whether he was not
laughing both at her and at himself, and was wondering why the deuce a
fellow had to talk such nonsense. Yet she was Lady Guenevere, with
whom he had been in love ever since they stayed together at Belvoir
for the Croxton Park week the autumn previous; and who was beautiful
enough to make their "friendship" as enchanting as a page out of the
"Decamerone." And while he bent over her, flirting in the fashion that
made him the darling of the drawing-rooms, and looking down into her
superb Velasquez eyes, he did not know, and if he had known would have
been careless of it, that afar off, while with rage, and with his gaze
straining on to the course through his race-glass, Ben Davis, "the
welsher," who had watched the finish--watched the "Guards' Crack"
landed at the distance--muttered, with a mastiff's savage growl:
"He wins, does he? Curse him! The d----d swell--he shan't win long."
LOVE A LA MODE.
Life was very pleasant at Royallieu.
It lay in the Melton country, and was equally well placed for
Pytchley, Quorn, and Belvoir, besides possessing its own small but
very perfect pack of "little ladies," or the "demoiselles," as they
were severally nicknamed; the game was closely preserved, pheasants
were fed on Indian corn till they were the finest birds in the
country, and in the little winding paths of the elder and bilberry
coverts thirty first-rate shots, with two loading-men to each, could
find flock and feather to amuse them till dinner, with rocketers and
warm corners enough to content the most insatiate of knickerbockered
gunners. The stud was superb; the cook, a French artist of consummate
genius, who had a brougham to his own use and wore diamonds of the
first water; in the broad beech-studded grassy lands no lesser thing
than doe and deer ever swept through the thick ferns in the sunlight
and the shadow; a retinue of powdered servants filled the old halls,
and guests of highest degree dined in its stately banqueting room,
with its scarlet and gold, its Vandykes and its Vernets, and yet--
there was terribly little money at Royallieu with it all. Its present
luxury was purchased at the cost of the future, and the parasite of
extravagance was constantly sapping, unseen, the gallant old Norman-
planted oak of the family-tree. But then, who thought of that? Nobody.
It was the way of the House never to take count of the morrow. True,
any one of them would have died a hundred deaths rather than have had
one acre of the beautiful green diadem of woods felled by the ax of
the timber contractor, or passed to the hands of a stranger; but no
one among them ever thought that this was the inevitable end to which
they surely drifted with blind and unthinking improvidence. The old
Viscount, haughtiest of haughty nobles, would never abate one jot of
his accustomed magnificence; and his sons had but imbibed the teaching
of all that surrounded them; they did but do in manhood what they had
been unconsciously molded to do in boyhood, when they were set to Eton
at ten with gold dressing-boxes to grace their Dame's tables, embryo
Dukes for their cofags, and tastes that already knew to a nicety the
worth of the champagnes at the Christopher. The old, old story--how it
repeats itself! Boys grow up amid profuse prodigality, and are
launched into a world where they can no more arrest themselves than
the feather-weight can pull in the lightning stride of the two-year-
old, who defies all check and takes the flat as he chooses. They are
brought up like young Dauphins, and tossed into the costly whirl to
float as best they can--on nothing. Then, on the lives and deaths that
follow; on the graves where a dishonored alien lies forgotten by the
dark Austrian lakeside, or under the monastic shadow of some crumbling
Spanish crypt; where a red cross chills the lonely traveler in the
virgin solitudes of Amazonian forest aisles, or the wild scarlet
creepers of Australia trail over a nameless mound above the trackless
stretch of sun-warmed waters--then at them the world "shoots out its
lips with scorn." Not on them lies the blame.
A wintry, watery sun was shining on the terraces as Lord Royallieu
paced up and down the morning after the Grand Military; his step and
limbs excessively enfeebled, but the carriage of his head and the
flash of his dark hawk's eyes as proud and untamable as in his
earliest years. He never left his own apartments; and no one, save his
favorite "little Berk," ever went to him without his desire. He was
too sensitive a man to thrust his age and ailing health in among the
young leaders of fashion, the wild men of pleasure, the good wits and
the good shots of his son's set; he knew very well that his own day
was past; that they would have listened to him out of the patience of
courtesy, but that they would have wished him away as "no end of a
bore." He was too shrewd not to know this; but he was too quickly
galled ever to bear to have it recalled to him.
He looked up suddenly and sharply: coming toward him he saw the figure
of the Guardsman. For "Beauty" the Viscount had no love; indeed, well-
nigh a hatred, for a reason never guessed by others, and never
betrayed by him.
Bertie was not like the Royallieu race; he resembled his mother's
family. She, a beautiful and fragile creature whom her second son had
loved, for the first years of his life, as he would have thought it
now impossible that he could love anyone, had married the Viscount
with no affection toward him, while he had adored her with a fierce
and jealous passion that her indifference only inflamed. Throughout
her married life, however, she had striven to render loyalty and
tenderness toward a lord into whose arms she had been thrown,
trembling and reluctant; of his wife's fidelity he could not entertain
a doubt; though, that he had never won her heart, he could not choose
but know. He knew more, too; for she had told it him with a noble
candor before he wedded her; knew that the man she did love was a
penniless cousin, a cavalry officer, who had made a famous name among
the wild mountain tribes of Northern India. This cousin, Alan Bertie--
a fearless and chivalrous soldier, fitter for the days of knighthood
than for these--had seen Lady Royallieu at Nice, some three years
after her marriage; accident had thrown them across each other's path;
the old love, stronger, perhaps, now than it had ever been, had made
him linger in her presence--had made her shrink from sending him to
exile. Evil tongues at last had united their names together; Alan
Bertie had left the woman he idolized lest slander should touch her
through him, and fallen two years later under the dark dank forests on
the desolate moor-side of the hills of Hindostan, where long before he
had rendered "Bertie's Horse" the most famous of all the wild
Irregulars of the East.
After her death, Lord Royallieu found Alan's miniature among her
papers, and recalled those winter months by the Mediterranean till he
cherished, with the fierce, eager, self-torture of a jealous nature,
doubts and suspicions that, during her life, one glance from her eyes
would have disarmed and abashed. Her second and favorite child bore
her family name--her late lover's name; and, in resembling her race,
resembled the dead soldier. It was sufficient to make him hate Bertie
with a cruel and savage detestation, which he strove indeed to temper,
for he was by nature a just man, and, in his better moments, knew that
his doubts wronged both the living and the dead; but which colored,
too strongly to be dissembled, all his feelings and his actions toward
his son, and might both have soured and wounded any temperament less
nonchalantly gentle and supremely careless than Cecil's.
As it was, Bertie was sometimes surprised at his father's dislike to
him, but never thought much about it, and attributed it, when he did
think of it, to the caprices of a tyrannous old man. To be jealous of