Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/The Derby Day
THE DERBY DAY.
There was a little tea-party at Mrs. Winterbottom’s at Lorenzo Villa, on Wednesday, the 16th of May. Lorenzo Villa is situated in the delightful suburb of Brompton; but in spite of the dramatic character of the locality, Lorenzo Villa is a serious villa, given up to the cultivation of gravities and respectabilities of all kinds—against which I have not a word to say when they are not assumed; but which are sometimes funny to the eyes of the unprejudiced observer, when practice and profession are not exactly in harmony.
That night at Mrs. Winterbottom’s, when the tea and the merriment ran fast and furious, and the muffins and Sally Lunns had got a little into the heads of the amiable assembly, Mrs. W. stated that it was a comfort to her in a perverse age to find that, at least, the gentlemen who frequented Lorenzo Villa had set their faces against the immoral sports and pastimes to be celebrated on Epsom Downs that day week. She had been given to understand that there was not a single form of iniquity which was not carried on at that dreadful place, even in broad daylight—and she shuddered but to think at what went on after sun-down; indeed, as she had understood on excellent authority, all the company were then in the last stage of intoxication.
I am afraid that Charley Hicks at this point winked slowly at Fred Ball—the consequence of which was, that that young gentleman swallowed a mouthful of tea the wrong way.
Mr. Ball, senior. (A stout gentleman about fifty-six.) “Yes, indeed, my dear Mrs. Winterbottom, it is most dreadful; but, leaving out of the question what actually does take place there, what is the nature of the enjoyment of which these miserable people profess to be in search? What do they go out to see? Infuriated animals goaded to their utmost speed amidst the curses of assembled thousands. For myself—as Mrs. Ball will tell you—it is a day which I usually devote to exertions of an extraordinary character. Though our usual habit is to rise from our couch at a quarter to eight, on that day I scorn repose, and am up and stirring at six. At a quarter to seven I start to catch the train for Watford, and spend a laborious day looking after the interests of the firm down in Essex. Indeed I never get home till past midnight: but where there is business to be done—”
It may be not improper to mention that the Misses Crabb then present were three rather mature maiden ladies, who inhabited a little semi-detached villa residence at Clapham, known as Mould Lodge. Their feelings with regard to the Derby Day were rather of an austere character, and necessarily so, inasmuch as year after year they had been exasperated by the spectacle of the long procession of drags, vans, carriages, cabs, and vehicles of every description, which streamed past their windows every Derby Day. They ought, of course, to have confined themselves strictly to the back of the house on this horrible anniversary, and done their worsted-work in the little back drawing-room which looked over the little garden with its water-butt and hollyhocks, but, somehow or other, they were always drawn by their curiosity to the front windows. They were three in number—and a sister sate at each window, groaning over the horrible spectacle beneath. The Misses Crabb were amongst the guests at Lorenzo Villa on this memorable evening.
Mrs. Ball more than confirmed the statements of her husband, whilst that gentleman sipped his tea with a grand air of paternal suavity. As a contrast in figure to this gentleman, who was short and stout, there was a tall thin solicitor present, by name Jonathan Larke, but whose character scarcely seemed in accordance with his patronymic—for he was apparently of a most gloomy turn of mind, and loved to expatiate upon such topics as the derivation of the word “diphtheria,” and the comparative state of mortality in Clapham and Brompton. It would have been an insult to human nature to suppose that a man of so hypochondriacal a character could ever lend his countenance to the miscalled amusements carried on at Epsom on the Derby Day. This gentleman was unmarried, but the frequenters of Lorenzo Villa, in the naughtiness of their imaginations, had frequently supposed that Miss Caroline Crabb was not altogether uninterested in his fortunes. He resided in Great Coram Street, and was a very influential member of the Mendicity Society. Whoever went to the Derby, it seemed reasonably certain that Mr. Jonathan Larke would not be there.
Then there was Mr. Ball’s senior partner, Mr. Toddle, who resided at Stamford Hill, and who was, in all psychological respects, the very opposite of his partner. The persons who had business with the firm were in the habit of nicknaming them Jean qui pleure and Jean qui rit. A more jovial, hearty, cheery little man than the junior partner was not to be found within the bills of mortality, but as he told the company that night, at Mrs. Winterbottom’s, it was necessary to stop within certain limits—and those limits, in his opinion, did not include the annual festivities at Epsom.
Messrs. Toddle and Ball, then, and Mr. Jonathan Larke, distinctly set their faces against the Derby Day. These gentlemen represented the consular senators, and were in themselves a host. With what unction they discoursed upon the subject to an admiring audience at Lorenzo Villa, and amidst the general applause, arrived at the conclusion, that the only excitement worthy of the dignity of our nature was to be found in business, and at a Fancy Bazaar.
I wish that considerations of space permitted me to expatiate at length Upon the serious but sentimental tournament which passed between Messrs. Charles Hicks and Frederick Ball on the one part, and Miss Isabella Winterbottom and Miss Rosa Bliss on the other. I am afraid that, in their little coterie which might be called the Lower House, the sentiments expressed with regard to the Derby Day, were not quite of so hostile a character as amongst the seniors. Indeed there were certain whispers and “asides” which attracted the attention of the three Misses Crabb, and in due course bore fruit, as we shall presently see.
Miss Caroline. “La! Matilda, it’s very odd,—did you notice Mr. Larke?”
Miss Matilda. “Yes, dear; how he was whispering with Mr. Toddle—and Mr. Ball?”
Miss Sophia. “He was saying something about a drag. They must have been talking about the Royal Humane Society, dear. A drag is a kind of grapple to pull drowning men out of the water.”
Mrs. Winterbottom wanted to know what it was that the young men did on Epsom Downs—what, in point of fact, were the distinctive features of the amusements on the Derby Day? Mr. Larke could not resolve her difficulties of his own personal knowledge; but he remembered to have heard when he was a youth, articled to the firm of Catchem and Bounce, that enormous sums of money changed hands at a game played with three thimbles and a pea, and there seemed to be some extraordinary fascination about this sport which recommended it to the acceptance of the youth of Great Britain. There was nothing, as this gentleman observed, in the race itself, for the horses passed by like a flash of lightning; and, except in very extraordinary cases, it was very difficult to determine which was the winner. “How did Mr. Larke come to know so much about it?” was the pithy question addressed by Miss Caroline to Miss Matilda Crabb. Possibly, it might have been by a perusal of the public journals. None of the ladies could possibly understand what interest attached to a game played with thimbles—except when these implements of industry were employed in appropriate labour, and worn upon the taper fingers of the parties who rule the lords of the creation.
There was, however, something about the turn which the conversation had taken which had aroused the suspicions of the three maiden ladies of whom favourable mention has been made. Whether it was that they were, very naturally, irritated at the shameless manner in which the younger guests excluded them from their confidence, or whether it was that there were in reality some unusual symptoms of secret understanding amongst the serious, it is hard to say; but the Misses Crabb felt that something was wrong. It seemed at first sight impossible that their confidence could be so basely betrayed—human nature, bad as it was, could not be so bad as to admit of the supposition that the gentlemen now assembled under the sacred roof-tree of Lorenzo Lodge should ever have attended, or could ever be meditating attendance, at Epsom Downs on the Derby Day. The three ladies in concert applied the epithet “disgusting” to the conduct of Isabella Winterbottom and Rosa Bliss; but as this was beyond cure, they resolved at least, if yet possible, to take pledges from fate against further misfortune. Would it not be a bright idea to invite the company now assembled at Mrs. Winterbottom’s to take tea at Mould Lodge on the Derby Day? The invitation was given and accepted—for save in so far that the returning throng might cause some disquiet, if not delay, to the company, the guests at Lorenzo Villa that night would never have dreamed of mentioning the Derby Day as a reason which could at all influence their conduct.
Still it was very odd that Miss Sophia Crabb distinctly heard Mr. Larke’s whisper to Mr. Ball that he would be answerable for the cold chicken and salad, if Mr. Ball would undertake the responsibility of the champagne. It was also curious that the senior partner should offer a suggestion as to some more generous fluid to keep the night air out. Whatever suspicions might have been excited by these words ought however to have been allayed by the assurance given by the various gentlemen as to the onerous nature of their engagements on that very day. Mr. Ball, as usual, was to go upon his annual visit to Essex. Mr. Toddle was, if his health permitted, to spend the morning with the Home Secretary, in close conclave about the Coal Dues, and as for Mr. Larke, all the legal business of London seemed to devolve upon his shoulders on that unlucky day. Young Fred Ball was to be kept close at work in the office, although Miss R. Bliss gave him a look which seemed to imply that she scarcely attached implicit credit to his statement “that he would not for the world be absent from the office upon so interesting an occasion, for they would have to square accounts with Tubbs and Chaldrons upon that very day!” It was young Mr. Charles Hicks’ intention to spend the day with his aunt. Poor lady! she had been a great invalid of late, and it was a comfort to her when her nephew could devote an afternoon to her sick room. Orange wine and cribbage rewarded his exertions in the evening.
One thing only was clear, the engagements which all the gentlemen present had taken upon themselves for the 23rd of May, next ensuing, were of so onerous a character that it could only be by exertions of the most extraordinary description that they would be able to present themselves at 9 p.m. in the hospitable drawing-room at Mould Lodge, Clapham. Mr. Ball, indeed, had so much work on hand in the neighbourhood of Watford that he was more than doubtful if he would be able to avail himself of the 8 p.m. up-train—but as the Misses Crabb were well aware, business must be attended to before all things—a proposition to which these ladies gave their formal, and not altogether unsarcastic assent.
As the Misses Crabb were enveloping their stately forms in the usual wraps which were intended to protect them from the inclemency of the weather—the front door being open—they distinctly heard voices of persons conversing together in the little garden in front of Lorenzo Villa—the voices were those of Messrs. Toddle and Ball, of Mr. C. Hicks, and of Mr. J. Larke. Something was said about a certain Captain O’Rourke, and how a certain arrangement—not impossibly a social one—would be incomplete without the presence of that gentleman. Mr. Larke, in a sepulchral, and heart-broken tone of voice, intimated that it had been made all square with the Count, and that that nobleman would turn up at the Bridge foot.
Miss Matilda. “Did you hear, my loves?”
Miss Sophia. “I did. I did.”
Miss Caroline. “Men are all deceitful—all—but Mr. Larke—at least, I had hoped so.”
The gentlemen who were waiting in the garden, with an exaggerated degree of courtesy handed the ladies into the fly which was to convey them back to Mould Lodge—and so they parted under engagement to re-assemble at that mansion between 9 and 10 p.m. at latest, on that day week.
The Derby Day—the Derby Day—the great holiday of hard-working England! We have not as many Saints Days as they have in continental countries; but we do our best to cram all the fun of the year into eighteen hours, and we generally succeed. From the Premier down to the poor Cabby we all own the influence of the time. Cares, anxieties, and worries for the space of one day are consigned to the vasty deep. Upon that day all Blue Devils commit suicide. Creditors are not. Bills of Exchange and Promissory Notes cease to run. Work is forgotten. Honourable Members run away from their Parliamentary duties, and gentlemen who have no Parliamentary duties leave their private affairs to take care of themselves. The two tall sentries at the Horse Guards feel a mad desire to give their two huge black horses a breather up Whitehall in honourable rivalry. The nurses with the perambulators would like to run their vehicles against each other for the Two Year Old Stakes! The Baker’s boy, who delivers the rolls at the door, has a small bet with Jenny upon the Favourite, intimating by a wink that he is not without pretensions to that character. If the great heart of England, during those twenty-four hours, were opened, upon it would be found engraven in sanguine characters a list of the Running Horses, with the names, weights, and colours of the riders! <!— section break for image insertion -->
But it must not be thought that the day stands out as an isolated fact. For weeks and weeks beforehand, if grave middle-aged gentlemen meet each other in the street they retire into archways and exchange confidences as to how they are going to the Derby. Younger gentlemen at the clubs put their names down for Sweepstakes at 1l. a-head. Poor fellows! to how many of them the “haul”—that is the nautical expression they make use of—the “haul,” I say, of 50l. or 60l. would be a matter of serious concernment; but with what sound English pluck they laugh it off! How invariably it happens that the poor men draw names of horses which do not appear in the running, and how the coveted prize drifts down into the pocket of some civic Dives, or some Lord of broad acres, to whom it signifies as much as the possession of an extra postage-stamp! It is always something, however, to have indulged in a vision “of the potentiality of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.” Let it go, my friends, we will hold on by hook and by crook until next Derby Day, and better luck next time!
How respectable Patres-familiarum to whom, I am sure, the event cannot signify one button, are at infinite pains to master the very latest state of the odds, and how any one of that noble band, to whom a horsy sort of friend has communicated a valuable secret from “the Corner” not to be mentioned for worlds, but to be used by Paterfamilias for his own private guidance in making up his book—keeps faith like a Trojan—(I wonder if they always spoke the truth at Troy—that might account for its fall)—and only smiles with bland superiority as he sees his friends backing up the Brother to Pottinger in a reckless manner, when, as he well knows, Cacodæmon is the horse.
How younger men combine impossible results, and make up books with infinite solicitude and great arithmetical ingenuity, upon which, in any case, they must lose x—and far more probably will lose x² pounds—and how Brown and Jones entertain mean ideas of Robinson’s sporting capacities—and Brown and Robinson come to the same conclusion about Jones; and Jones and Robinson arrive at the same decision about Brown; and how all these in their very heart of hearts envy the thin tall Captain with the bushy whiskers, and the hook-nose, who just about Derby time confines himself to a pint of Léoville per diem, looking upon that military personage as a high authority upon all matters connected with The Turf. How certain it is that the sporting leader of men in question will put his foot in it deeper than any of the poor foolish boys who look up to him with such reverence! The Captain will, in all human probability, disappear from the admiration of the metropolis for a season after the Derby Day is decided—and there will be a report abroad that he is occupied in breaking the banks at Homburg and Baden, whilst he is in reality engaged in combing out his admirable beard and whiskers, and wondering in what quarter he can raise the wind to the extent of fifty pounds upon his own personal security.
But let us be off:—8.45 a.m. at the Bridge foot—not a minute later—if we would avoid the jam—and even then, as we scurry through the streets, the aspect of the town is not what it is upon ordinary days. How the lovely drags sweep past with the slim young men in dust paletôts, and white hats, and blue vests, and the very members of the Shoeblack Brigade cheer them as they go by, and love them because they are going to the Derby with a pomp and solemnity worthy of the occasion. It is just what the little fellows would do themselves if the balance at their bankers was in a more satisfactory condition. And then the great vans—the holiday vans—and the business vans converted into holiday vans for the occasion. I should really be afraid to make a guess at the number of passengers each contains—speaking at random I should be inclined to say any number between thirty and sixty—without taking the dusty babies into account. The very horses seem to rejoice in the performance of their Derby duties, and cast encouraging looks out of the corners of their eyes, as if the addition of a few more passengers would fill up the measure of their hilarity and satisfaction. And how the Hanson cabmen have rigged up their vehicles with veils to keep out the dust, and altogether have an appearance as though they would scorn to look upon the run to the Derby as a purely commercial transaction—what they really want is not an exorbitant fare, but the presence of a couple of kindred spirits.
Skurry, skurry—away we go—no jam yet! Paterfamilias—by George, he is a churchwarden—makes frantic gestures as though he were bidding an eternal adieu to a party of thirteen seated in a tax-cart, and drawn by a solemn-looking rat-tailed mare. Pater wishes them to understand that his spirit is oppressed with grief at finding himself under the painful necessity of leaving them on the road; but at the same time he still fondly clings to the expectation that by preternatural exertions upon the part of the rat-tailed mare, they may yet be in time to see the horses unsaddled at the conclusion of the race. And how the thirteen in the tax-cart do in the most indelicate manner poke fun at him as to the greater or less degree of acquiescence yielded by his consort to his presence at these festivities. How they tell him that upon his return to his household duties he will find “kittles to mend” in consequence of the fact that his lady and seven “darters” have taken advantage of his absence to make investments in haberdashery to a large amount, for which he is distinctly responsible by the laws of his country.
Whilst the vans, and the omnibuses, and the open carriages with four horses, and accurately fitting hampers tied on behind, and the still more technical drags with the young men in blue veils, give a good account of themselves—how they are all beaten by a vehicle which can only be described as a tray upon wheels, drawn by a ragged pony, and guided by a gentleman, I fear, in the coster-mongering line, who stands up to his work like a Greek charioteer, and with his equipage flashes like a meteor through the crowd of men, carriages, and horses, evading even the stout policeman who had supposed himself equal to the task of arresting the progress of that impetuous charioteer.
It has been a late spring, and the almond trees are not yet out of blossom, whilst the fragrant lilacs, shaken by the gentle breeze from the south-west, give out their grateful perfume in the sunshine, and the roads are well watered, and everybody has a good-humoured word or joke for everybody. How impossible it seems to pass the phaeton, drawn by two horses, with the neat postilion, which contains the five Jewish ladies. Whether the procession, for it has come to be a procession, arrives at a stand-still, or whether, taking advantage of an opening, you rush in madly for a start, when the pace is checked you still find yourself opposite that phaeton with its bevy of Hebrew maidens.
We have reached Clapham at last, and before us there is a drag. That drag contains seven passengers. One sits on the box—he is a distinguished foreigner with magnificent facial hair. Inside there is one gentleman equally favoured by Nature under the head of whiskers—but they are of native growth and of bright red. The other five passengers, I grieve to say, are Messrs. Toddle and Ball, Mr. Jonathan Larke, Mr. F. Ball, and Mr. C. Hicks. The foreign gentleman is Count Razemoffski. The military man is Captain Horace O’Rourke, an officer who had the honour of serving some years back in the Enniskillens. The nearer they approached to Clapham, the more a damp seemed to fall upon the spirits of the British elders, and the more they would insist upon sitting with their backs to one particular side of the road. The gloomier they became, the more highly ran the spirits of the Count and the Captain, in whom a spirit of chivalric courtesy to the fair seemed to outrun discretion. As is well known to all misguided men who travel on that particular day on the road to Epsom, there is a period during which the procession passes through rows of houses where every window seems to contain a mournful and sorrowing face. That is the Clapham period of the day. Now Count Razemoffski might possibly be excused on account of his ignorance of our national customs, although he did constantly raise his hat to the serious looking ladies in the windows—but the same excuse cannot be urged in favour of Captain O’R. Why would he claim acquaintance with so many families to which I am sure he had never been formally introduced? Why would he, despite of the most earnest remonstrances of Messrs. T. and B., persist in kissing his hand to the young ladies at the windows. At last the part of the procession in which the T. and B. drag was moving came in front of a stiff red brick house, surrounded by stiff poplars, and on the gate of this house was a brass plate—on the brass plate was engraved in bold and legible characters the words
There were two stone balls over the two posts on each side of the gate. There were three windows in front on the drawing-room floor. At each of these windows sate a young lady glancing mournfully at the painful scene below—and each of these ladies was a Miss Crabb. Behind Miss Caroline Crabb was standing a stout, unctuous-looking gentleman in a loose suit of black, one Dr. Dullington, a friend of the family, who ejaculated from time to time the words, “Ow ollow! Oh! ow ollow!”
Now as the T. and B. party arrived in front of this mansion there was a stoppage; but all the native-born members of it drew their veils down over their heads, and sat in the attitude of men who were receiving a ducking from a pitiless storm. Not so with the Count and Captain O’Rourke; the sight of Mould Lodge, and its fair tenants, seemed to rouse them into unusual hilarity—and neither of the two gentlemen was under ordinary circumstances afflicted with low spirits. How they did take off their hats, and kiss their hands to the Misses Crabb—despite of the earnest remonstrances of their companions. The Captain desired to be informed why he should desist when his eye was filled with the “charrums” of lovely womanhood, which according to his experience of the fair sex had been seldom equalled, and never surpassed. Indeed a playful controversy arose between the gallant officer and the foreign nobleman as to who should be considered as having prior claims to urge the assurances of his respectful attachment upon the sister-band who were contemplating, not without scorn, their proceedings from the windows of Mould Lodge.
The deceitful men were recognised. Need I say more? But, O, the pain of it to Dr. Dullington!
Meanwhile the procession continued on its way. There were the usual number of stoppages, when a number of vehicles had stopped at some roadside public-house to refresh horse and man. The narrows were passed—and the pace began to mend, and as the pace mended you occasionally lost sight of the phaeton with the Jewish ladies, but were sure to pick them up again within the half-mile. And now parties were seen who had taken the horses out of their carts by the roadside, and were holding extemporised pic-nics, never forgetting, however, to hold up their glasses with gestures of courteous invitation and hospitality to the passers by. Then there was a refreshing check in the shady lanes, and at last pleasant Epsom was reached—and swarms of boys with “The only correct lists, and pins to prick ’em with,” were pressed upon the notice of the pilgrims. One check at the nasty corner, and Hey for the open country. We pass the phaeton with the Jewish ladies—it is to be hoped for the last time—and here are the Downs at last. Hurrah! There were moments when it seemed as though we should never be in time to see the Derby run, though we had been true to the meet at the Bridge foot at 8.45 a.m. Now, the only anxiety is for a good place. It shall be on the hill over-against the Grand Stand. That is the best place from which to see and be seen. Some races are over—but these are insignificant matters—we are only divided by one from the event of the day—the struggle for the Blue Ribbon of the Turf.
What a sight it is, that Grand Stand on the Derby Day! It is to be questioned if ever—save, perhaps, on the battle-field, where everybody is intent upon killing everybody—there is anywhere else to be found such a mass of human beings under the influence of precisely the same idea at the same moment. You trace the progress of the horses round the course by the direction in which all the heads are turned. And how the ladies do flirt in platoons! There is no great chance of skirmishing upon the Grand Stand at Epsom. And how many gentlemen bet dozens of gloves in the most reckless manner, taking long odds against the Favourite and the Field, and other similar acts of insanity; and the young ladies, although in the prettiest manner, keep a sharp eye on their liabilities, and talk about the double event, and other similar incidents of the race, in a manner which incites you to send them home copious consignments of Balmorals, as well as dozens of five-and-a-quarter gloves from Houbicant’s, long in the fingers. But enough of this subject. It is most painful to reflect that the hour has struck when such pleasing incidents are historical. Viximus, oh, my noble contemporaries; at least let us march out with the honours of war. The subject of Derby luncheons, I should say, is more in harmony with our present figures and just pretensions.
And the T. and B. party did immediate justice, if not to the luncheon, at least to its preliminaries, for the repast was postponed until the great event of the day was over; but Mr. Jonathan Larke suggested that a slight mug now of well-iced champagne might have a tendency to allay the feeling of dryness in the throat consequent upon the long drive from town. There was no water-cart to allay dust equal to a champagne bottle, according to this gentleman’s theory, for the generous wine was applied immediately to the suffering part, whereas the insipid lymph was scattered indiscriminately about the road. But after this “slight mug now” of iced champagne had been passed round once, Mr. J. Larke, the gloomy solicitor, who was humming in the dickey something about “do it again” in a tune which seemed to be compounded of many tunes or discords, let fly another cork, and yet another. Before they had been ten minutes on the ground Mr. Toddle, the senior partner in the firm of Toddle and Ball, had beckoned the junior partner aside with an air of business, as though some serious trade matter had been lost sight of before their departure from town. They begged the party in the carriage to excuse them for a moment, and the Count gave them leave of absence with a courteous bow, laying his hand upon his heart, while Captain O’Rourke, who was an invited guest, dismissed them with the remark that “This was Liberty Hall, and they might make themselves quite at home.” The partners had scarcely interposed a band of Ethiopian serenaders and some gipsy-women—who were singing some little simple melodies, not from Metastasio, I fear—between them and the carriage, when Mr. Toddle said to Mr. Ball that it was a curious sight to witness the betting inside the ring if they could but shake off those fellows in the drag. Mr. B. clapped his partner on the shoulders as though in commendation of the brilliant and novel idea, and the two gentlemen sneaked at once behind a canvas wall which was receiving constant thumps from projectiles cast from the other side, and which struck against it with a thud. I have sometimes supposed that our common Aunt Sarah was not altogether a stranger to the business then in hand.
It was beautiful to see how Mr. Ball cleared the open, and bustled through the crush, taking care of his partner the while, and paid the rather stiffish fee for entry for both without hesitation, and just as though he wished it had been a 5l. note a-head, so it had given greater satisfaction to his friend. How misplaced they looked amidst this crowd of uneasy-eyed men, upon whoso brows Nature had written the word Horse in indelible characters. Was it not somewhat singular, however, that the partners had not advanced ten paces in the ring when they saw their two friends, the Count and the Captain, who had managed to get there before them for all their speed, and were now engaged in arithmetical operations of a complicated character. I care not what becomes of Razemoffski and O’Rourke—such fellows are to the manner born; but, Oh, my horsy friends! spare Messrs. T. and B. Do not offer them five to three, and nine to seven, upon impossible horses. Nay; they are safe. Mr. Lewis Tomlinson, a gentleman in the palm-oil line, resident in Dorset Square, and the father, I pledge my word, of seven nubile daughters, not one of whom has the slightest idea of how her respected parent is spending the day, has seen the perils of his friends, and has carried them off to see the saddling.
This is one of the episodes of a Derby Day which is deficient in the element of the ludicrous—or rather one in which the admiration for the symmetry, and beauty, and power of the animals so completely overpowers the comic features of the scene that you lose sight of them altogether. What a vicious brute is that big-boned chestnut mare who is led into the paddock, and claps her ears well back as though they were glued to her crest—and how she rears up, as though she would snap the halter like a thread—and how she lashes out with her hind feet! A blow from the Benicia Boy would be of a soothing tendency as compared with the delivery of one of those plated hoofs upon the human body. Yet that little pale, anxious looking stunted man will be on her back in a few minutes when the saddle is on, and rule her with iron grasp from which there is no escape. The saddle is not on yet, however—there will be some little trouble, and some little pulling of the grooms and attendants about the paddock before that feat is accomplished. What a thrill runs through the spectators when the Favourite is led out—a few minutes will now decide if he is to wear the ribbon, and make good the expectations of his backers. Half a million depends on the speed of that animal this day.
And now the clearing of the course begins—and with singular facility the multitude are persuaded to take their places behind the ropes. A bay mare with a jockey in green and black comes cantering down the course—then another with colours blue and pink—and when the course is well cleared and every one is in momentary expectation of the appearance of the Favourite, the inevitable dog runs his frantic muck down the course amidst the cheers of the crowd. The horses are now all out—and the men who have staked so heavily upon their performances, are chatting with the ladies, as though nothing particular was astir. They are got decently into line—the signal is given—“They’re off!”
There they go—all together. The correct thing is now to say that you could throw a table-cloth over them. One horse begins to draw a-head—now another—now three lead—one follows, and then the ruck. It must be one of the three. Hurrah! for Green and Black. Hurrah! for Orange and White—no, by George, Pink and Blue does it. The one behind is the Favourite—three a-head of him—they turn the corner—horses bound, and hearts beat;—there is a rush—a flash of lightning the Favourite’s in by a head!
Presently the jockeys return, and the winner is bending wearily forward, and holding his side. What it must be to sit that series of tremendous jumps!
From the moment the Derby is won revelry is the order of the day, and I fear that the drag of T. and B. offered no exception to the general rule. How Mr. Ball hurried everybody out, and seating himself on the back-seat of the carriage, did the carving, using the front-seat as his table. The consumption of champagne-cup was enormous at that establishment, and lobster-salads and cold roast chicken were swallowed with a voracity which might well astonish even persons accustomed to that sublimest of human repasts—a Derby Luncheon. One gentleman makes a table of the steps of the carriage—another, a sly dog, prefers the board behind, for there he can find room for the jug as well. This scene is repeated some hundreds of times on some hundreds of vehicles. You see ladies seated on the top of carriages at their festivities, and little hungry boys, Lazaruses in blossom, dodging under the bottoms of the carriages to secure the relics of the feast. When each one has had as much champagne-cup as is good for him at his own little establishment, he circulates round amongst his friends and rivets the links of friendship at other carriage-doors—and then his friends look in upon him, and the process is repeated. About this time Aunt Sally begins to form a prominent feature in the scene.
It is a wonderful and a not unpleasing sight to see so many middle-aged and elderly gentlemen all converted into school-boys again. How Messrs. T. and B. did go at it, to be sure, and how they laid each—in a betting sense—more dinners at Richmond and Greenwich than any human digestions could possibly have accounted for in five years. How Mr. Ball did bound about to secure his prizes. Mr. Jonathan Larke devoted himself steadily to the ruin of one Aunt Sally establishment, muttering in a wild and foolish manner, as he cast each stick, something or other about “it’s a poor heart that never rejoices;”—the guardian of the Aunt Sally in question was not of poor heart, for he rejoiced a good deal at Mr. Larke’s performances. In the end, the party collectively had lost about 10l. in actual money expended—I say nothing of bets—and had obtained in exchange, on a large estimate, ten shillings’ worth of wooden dolls, pin-cushions, tin snuff-boxes, and other goods of that description.
There must be an end of all things—and there was an end of this, and at length the T. & B. drag got under weigh—the spirits of the whole party being in a state of high exhilaration. I wish that space permitted me to dwell upon the humours of the road, and how everybody pelted everybody with projectiles purchased from Aunt Sally—the favourite missile being pin-cushions well stuffed with bran, and with a corner torn open, so that where it struck there the bran was scattered. What jokes were made about Mr. Larke’s solemnity of manner, and about the fatherly appearance of Messrs. T. and B., and how they were asked if their mothers were aware of their little escapade. For miles and miles the fun continued, and, at last, at the Cock at Sutton, the party got out for a final drink, which they conscientiously accomplished amidst the clipped hedges of that famous public; and, with a last peep over the low wall which divides the garden from the road, ended their adventures on the Derby Day.
I wish I could stop here; but it is my painful duty to record the fact, that about half-past ten, p.m., there was a heavy knocking at the portals of Mould Lodge. The gentlemen with whose proceedings we are now familiar presented themselves in the drawing-room of that mansion in a shameful condition indeed. Mr. Ball, in particular, had forgotten to remove his hat on entering the presence, and round it were stuck four wooden dolls. In answer to the inquiries of the horror-stricken ladies, he informed them that he had been all day at Wa-Wa-Watford, and that his simple luncheon of cold beef and pickles had disagreed with him. The Count, with many apologies for his intrusion, admitted that Mr. B.’s conduct was trop fort. The Misses Crabb sternly remarked that it was “disgusting.” Dr. Dullington added, “He’s been to the Derby!—Oh, ’ow ’ollow!”