Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > Rujub, the Juggler > CHAPTER VI.
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 The clubhouse at Cawnpore was crowded on the evening before the races. Up to eleven o'clock it had been comparatively deserted, for there was scarcely a bungalow in the station at which dinner parties were not going on; but, after eleven, the gentlemen for the most part adjourned to the club for a smoke, a rubber, or a game of billiards, or to chat over the racing events of the next day. Loud greetings were exchanged as each fresh contingent arrived, for many newcomers had come into the station only that afternoon. Every table in the whist room was occupied, black pool was being played in the billiard room upstairs, where most of the younger men were gathered, while the elders smoked and talked in the rooms below.
“What will you do, Bathurst?” the Doctor asked his guest, after the party from the Major's had been chatting for some little time downstairs. “Would you like to cut in at a rubber or take a ball at pool?”
“Neither, Doctor; they are both accomplishments beyond me; I have not patience for whist, and I can't play billiards in the least. I have tried over and over again, but I am too nervous, I fancy; I break down over the easiest stroke—in fact, an easy stroke is harder for me than a difficult one. I know I ought to make it, and just for that reason, I suppose, I don't.”
“You don't give one the idea of a nervous man, either, Bathurst.”
“Well, I am, Doctor, constitutionally, indeed terribly so.”
“Not in business matters, anyhow,” the Doctor said, with a smile. “You have the reputation of not minding in the slightest what responsibility you take upon yourself, and of carrying out what you undertake in the most resolute, I won't say high handed, manner.”
“No, it doesn't come in there,” Bathurst laughed. “Morally I am not nervous so far as I know, physically I am. I would give a great deal if I could get over it, but, as I have said, it is constitutional.”
“Not on your father's side, Bathurst. I knew him well, and he was a very gallant officer.”
“No, it was the other side,” Bathurst said; “I will tell you about it some day.”
At this moment another friend of Bathurst's came up and entered into conversation with him.
“Well, I will go upstairs to the billiard room,” the Doctor said; “and you will find me there, Bathurst, whenever you feel disposed to go.”
A pool had just finished when the Doctor entered the billiard room.
“That is right, Doctor, you are just in time,” Prothero said, as he entered. “Sinclair has given up his cue; he is going to ride tomorrow, and is afraid of shaking his nerves; you must come and play for the honor of the corps. I am being ruined altogether, and Doolan has retired discomfited.”
“I have not touched a cue since I went away,” the Doctor said, “but I don't mind adding to the list of victims. Who are the winners?”
“Messenger and Jarvis have been carrying all before them; there is a report they have just sent off two club waiters, with loads of rupees, to their quarters. Scarsdale has been pretty well holding his own, but the rest of us are nowhere.”
A year's want of practice, however, told, and the Doctor was added to the list of victims: he had no difficulty in getting someone else to take his cue after playing for half an hour.
“It shows that practice is required for everything,” he said; “before I went away I could have given each of those men a life, now they could give me two; I must devote half an hour a day to it till I get it back again.”
“And you shall give me a lesson, Doctor,” Captain Doolan, who had also retired, said.
“It would be time thrown away by both of us, Doolan. You would never make a pool player if you were to practice all your life. It is not the eye that is wrong, but the temperament. You can make a very good shot now and then, but you are too harum scarum and slap dash altogether. The art of playing pool is the art of placing yourself; while, when you strike, you have not the faintest idea where your ball is going to, and you are just as likely to run in yourself as you are to pot your adversary. I should abjure it if I were you, Doolan; it is too expensive a luxury for you to indulge in.”
“You are right there, Doctor; only what is a man to do when fellows say, 'We want you to make up a pool, Doolan'?”
“I should say the reply would be quite simple. I should answer, 'I am ready enough to play if any of you are ready to pay my losses and take my winnings; I am tired of being as good as an annuity to you all,' for that is what you have been for the last ten years. Why, it would be cheaper for you to send home to England for skittles, and get a ground up here.”
“But I don't play so very badly, Doctor.”
“If you play badly enough always to lose, it doesn't matter as to the precise degree of badness,” the Doctor retorted. “It is not surprising. When you came out here, fourteen or fifteen years ago, boys did not take to playing billiards, but they do now. Look at that little villain, Richards. He has just cleared the table, and done it with all the coolness of a professional marker. The young scoundrel ought to have been in bed two hours ago, for I hear that tat of his is really a good one. Not that it will make any difference to him. That sort of boy would play billiards till the first bugle sounds in the morning, and have a wash and turn out as fresh as paint, but it won't last, Doolan, not in this climate; his cheeks will have fallen in and he will have crow's feet at the corners of his eyes before another year has gone over. I like that other boy, Wilson, better. Of course he is a cub as yet, but I should say there is good in him. Just at present I can see he is beginning to fancy himself in love with Miss Hannay. That will do him good; it is always an advantage to a lad like that to have a good honest liking for a nice girl. Of course it comes to nothing, and for a time he imagines himself the most unhappy of mortals, but it does him good for all that; fellows are far less likely to get into mischief and go to the bad after an affair of that sort. It gives him a high ideal, and if he is worth anything he will try to make himself worthy of her, and the good it does him will continue even after the charm is broken.”
“What a fellow you are, Doctor,” Captain Doolan said, looking down upon his companion, “talking away like that in the middle of this racket, which would be enough to bother Saint Patrick himself!”
“Well, come along downstairs, Doolan; we will have a final peg and then be off; I expect Bathurst is beginning to fidget before now.”
“It will do him good,” Captain Doolan said disdainfully. “I have no patience with a man who is forever working himself to death, riding about the country as if Old Nick were behind him, and never giving himself a minute for diversion of any kind. Faith, I would rather throw myself down a well and have done with it, than work ten times as hard as a black nigger.”
“Well, I don't think, Doolan,” the Doctor said dryly, “you are ever likely to be driven to suicide by any such cause.”
“You are right there, Doctor,” the other said contentedly. “No man can throw it in my teeth that I ever worked when I had no occasion to work. If there were a campaign, I expect I could do my share with the best of them, but in quiet times I just do what I have to do, and if anyone has an anxiety to take my place in the rota for duty, he is as welcome to it as the flowers of May. I had my share of it when I was a subaltern; there is no better fellow living than the Major, but when he was Captain of my company he used to keep me on the run by the hour together, till I wished myself back in Connaught, and anyone who liked it might have had the whole of India for anything I cared; he was one of the most uneasy creatures I ever came across.”
“The Major is a good officer, Doolan, and you were as lazy a youngster, and as hard a bargain, as the Company ever got. You ought to thank your stars that you had the good luck in having a Captain who knew his business, and made you learn yours. Why, if you had had a man like Rintoul as your Captain, you would never have been worth your salt.”
“You are not complimentary, Doctor; but then nobody looks for compliments from you.”
“I can pay compliments if I have a chance,” the Doctor retorted, “but it is very seldom I get one of doing so—at least, without lying. Well, Bathurst, are you ready to turn in?”
“Quite ready, Doctor; that is one of the advantages of not caring for races; the merits and demerits of the horses that run tomorrow do not in the slightest degree affect me, and even the news that all the favorites had gone wrong would not deprive me of an hour's sleep.”
“I think it a good thing to take an interest in racing, Bathurst. Take men as a whole: out here they work hard—some of them work tremendously hard—and unless they get some change to their thoughts, some sort of recreation, nineteen out of twenty will break down sooner or later. If they don't they become mere machines. Every man ought to have some sort of hobby; he need not ride it to death, but he wants to take some sort of interest in it. I don't care whether he takes to pig sticking, or racing, or shooting, or whether he goes in for what I may call the milder kinds of relaxation, such as dining out, billiards, whist, or even general philandering. Anything is better than nothing—anything that will take his mind off his work. As far as I can see, you don't do anything.”
“Therefore I shall either break down or become a machine, Doctor?”
“One or the other certainly, Bathurst. You may smile, but I mean what I say. I have seen other young fellows just as full of work and enthusiasm as you are, but I have never seen an exception to the rule, unless, of course, they took up something so as to give their minds a rest.”
“The Doctor has just been scolding me because I am not fond enough of work,” Captain Doolan laughed.
“You are differently placed, Doolan,” the Doctor said. “You have got plenty of enthusiasm in your nature—most Irishmen have—but you have had nothing to stir it. Life in a native regiment in India is an easy one. Your duties are over in two or three hours out of the twenty-four, whereas the work of a civilian in a large district literally never ends, unless he puts a resolute stop to it. What with seeing people from morning until night, and riding about and listening to complaints, every hour of the day is occupied, and then at night there are reports to write and documents of all sorts to go through. It is a great pity that there cannot be a better division of work, though I own I don't see how it is to be managed.”
By this time they were walking towards the lines.
“I should not mind taking a share of the civil work at the station,” Captain Doolan said, “if they would make our pay a little more like that of the civilians.”
“There is something in that, Doolan,” the Doctor agreed; “it is just as hard work having nothing to do as it is having too much; and I have always been of opinion that the tremendous disproportion between the pay of a military man and of a civilian of the same age is simply monstrous. Well, goodnight, Doolan; I hope you will tell Mrs. Doolan that the credit is entirely due to me that you are home at the reasonable hour of one o'clock, instead of dropping in just in time to change for parade.”
“A good fellow,” the Doctor said, as he walked on with Bathurst; “he would never set the Thames on fire; but he is an honest, kindly fellow. He would make a capital officer if he were on service. His marriage has been an excellent thing for him. He had nothing to do before but to pass away his time in the club or mess house, and drink more than was good for him. But he has pulled himself round altogether since he married. His wife is a bright, clever little woman, and knows how to make the house happy for him; if he had married a lackadaisical sort of a woman, the betting is he would have gone to the bad altogether.”
“I only met him once or twice before,” Bathurst said. “You see I am not here very often, and when I am it is only on business, so I know a very few people here except those I have to deal with, and by the time I have got through my business I am generally so thoroughly out of temper with the pig headed stupidity and obstinacy of people in general, that I get into my buggy and drive straight away.”
“I fancy you irritate them as much as they irritate you, Bathurst. Well, here we are; now we will have a quiet cheroot and a peg, to quiet our nerves after all that din, before we turn in. Let us get off our coats and collars, and make ourselves comfortable; it is a proof of the bestial stupidity of mankind that they should wear such abominations as dress clothes in a climate like this. Here, boy, light the candles and bring two sodas and brandies.”
“Well, Bathurst,” he went on, when they had made themselves comfortable in two lounging chairs, “what do you thing of Miss Hannay?”
“I was prepared to admire her, Doctor, from what you said; it is not very often that you overpraise things; but she is a charming girl, very pretty and bright, frank and natural.”
“She is all that,” the Doctor said. “We were four months on the voyage out, and I saw enough of her in that time to know her pretty thoroughly.”
“What puzzles me about her,” Bathurst said, “is that I seemed to know her face. Where I saw her, and under what circumstances, I have been puzzling myself half the evening to recall, but I have the strongest conviction that I have met her.”
“You are dreaming, man. You have been out here eight years; she was a child of ten when you left England! You certainly have not seen her, and as I know pretty well every woman who has been in this station for the last five or six years, I can answer for it that you have not seen anyone in the slightest degree resembling her.”
“That is what I have been saying to myself, Doctor, but that does not in the slightest degree shake my conviction about it.”
“Then you must have dreamt it,” the Doctor said decidedly. “Some fool of a poet has said, 'Visions of love cast their shadows before,' or something of that sort, which of course is a lie; still, that is the only way that I can account for it.”
Bathurst smiled faintly. “I don't think the quotation is quite right, Doctor; anyhow, I am convinced that the impression is far too vivid to have been the result of a dream.”
“By the way, Bathurst,” the Doctor said, suddenly changing his conversation, “what do you think of this talk we hear about chupaties being sent round among the native troops, and the talk about greased cartridges. You see more of the natives than anyone I know; do you think there is anything brewing in the air?”
“If there is, Doctor, I am certain it is not known to the natives in general. I see no change whatever in their manner, and I am sure I know them well enough to notice any change if it existed. I know nothing about the Sepoys, but Garnet tells me that the Company at Deennugghur give him nothing to complain of, though they don't obey orders as smartly as usual, and they have a. sullen air as they go about their work.”
“I don't like it, Bathurst. I do not understand what the chupaties mean, but I know that there is a sort of tradition that the sending of them round has always preceded trouble. The Sepoys have no reason for discontent, but there has been no active service lately, and idleness is always bad for men. I can't believe there is any widespread dissatisfaction among them, but there is no doubt whatever that if there is, and it breaks out, the position will be a very serious one. There are not half enough white troops in India, and the Sepoys may well think that they are masters of the situation. It would be a terrible time for everyone in India if they did take it into their heads to rise.”
“I can't believe they would be mad enough to do that, Doctor; they have everything to lose by it, and nothing to gain, that is, individually; and we should be sure to win in the long run, even if we had to conquer back India foot by foot.”
“That is all very well, Bathurst; we may know that we could do it, but they don't know it. They are ignorant altogether of the forces we could put into the field were there a necessity to make the effort. They naturally suppose that we can have but a few soldiers, for in all the battles we have fought there have always been two or three Sepoy regiments to one English. Besides, they consider themselves fully a match for us. They have fought by us side by side in every battlefield in India, and have done as well as we have. I don't see what they should rise for. I don't even see whose interest it is to bring a rising about, but I do know that if they rise we shall have a terrible time of it. Now I think we may as well turn in. You won't take another peg? Well, I shall see you in the morning. I shall be at the hospital by half past six, and shall be in at half past eight to breakfast. You have only got to shout for my man, and tell him whether you will have tea, coffee, or chocolate, any time you wake.”
“I shall be about by six, Doctor; five is my general hour, but as it is past one now I dare say I shall be able to sleep on for an hour later, especially as there is nothing to do.”
“You can go round the hospital with me, if you like,” the Doctor said, “if you will promise not to make a dozen suggestions for the improvement of things in general.”
Isobel Hannay came down to breakfast in high spirits upon the morning of the races. The dinner had gone off excellently. The dinner table, with its softly shaded lamps, and the Doctor's arrangements of the flowers, had been, she thought, perfection, and everything had passed off without a hitch. Her duties as a hostess had been much lighter than she had anticipated. Mrs. Hunter was a very pleasant, motherly woman, and the girls, who had only come out from England four months before, were fresh and unaffected, and the other people had all been pleasant and chatty.
Altogether, she felt that her first dinner party had been a great success.
She was looking forward now with pleasant anticipation to the day. She had seen but little of the natives so far, and she was now to see them at their best. Then she had never been present at a race, and everything would be new and exciting.
“Well, uncle, what time did you get in?” she asked, as she stepped out into the veranda to meet him on his return from early parade. “It was too bad of you and Mr. Hunter running off instead of waiting to chat things over.”
“I have no doubt you ladies did plenty of that, my dear.”
“Indeed, we didn't, uncle; you see they had had a very long drive, and Mrs. Hunter insisted on the girls going to bed directly you all went out, and as I could not sit up by myself, I had to go too.”
“We were in at half past twelve,” the Major said. “I can stand a good deal of smoke, but the club atmosphere was too thick for me.”
“Everything went off very well yesterday, didn't it?” she asked.
“Very well, I thought, my dear, thanks to you and the Doctor and Rumzan.”
“I had very little to do with it,” she laughed.
“Well, I don't think you had much to do with the absolute arrangements, Isobel, but I thought you did very well as hostess; it seemed to me that there was a good deal of laughing and fun at your end of the table.”
“Yes; you see we had the two Miss Hunters and the Doctor there, and Mr. Gregson, who took me in, turned out a very merry old gentleman.”
“He would not be pleased if he heard you call him old, Isobel.”
“Well, of course he is not absolutely old, but being a commissioner, and all that sort of thing, gives one the idea of being old; but there are the others.”
And they went into the breakfast room.
The first race was set for two o'clock, and at half past one Mrs. Hunter's carriage, with the four ladies, arrived at the inclosure. The horses were taken out, and the carriage wheeled into its place, and then Isobel and the two Miss Hunters prepared to enjoy the scene.
It was a very gay one. The course was at present covered with a throng of natives in their bright colored garments, and mixed with them were the scarlet uniforms of the Sepoys of the 103d and other regiments. On the opposite side were a number of native vehicles of various descriptions, and some elephants with painted faces and gorgeous trappings, and with howdahs shaded by pavilions glittering with gilt and silver.
On either side of their vehicle a long line of carriages was soon formed up, and among these were several occupied by gayly dressed natives, whose rank gave them an entrance to the privileged inclosure. The carriages were placed three or four yards back from the rail, and the intervening space was filled with civilian and military officers, in white or light attire, and with pith helmet or puggaree; many others were on horseback behind the carriages.
“It is a bright scene, Miss Hannay,” the Doctor said, coming up to the carriage.
“Wonderfully pretty, Doctor!”
“An English race course doesn't do after this, I can tell you. I went down to the Derby when I was at home, and such an assembly of riff raff I never saw before and never wish to see again.”
“These people are more picturesque, Dr. Wade,” Mrs. Hunter said, “but that is merely a question of garment; these people perhaps are no more trustworthy than those you met on the racecourse at home.”
“I was speaking of them purely as a spectacle; individually I have no doubt one would be safer among the English roughs and betting men than among these placid looking natives. The one would pick your pockets of every penny you have got if they had the chance, the other would cut your throat with just as little compunction.”
“You don't really mean that, Dr. Wade?” Isobel said.
“I do indeed, Miss Hannay; the Oude men are notorious brawlers and fighters, and I should say that the roughs of Cawnpore and Lucknow could give long odds to those of any European city, and three out of four of those men you see walking about there would not only cut the throat of a European to obtain what money he had about him, but would do so without that incentive, upon the simple ground that he hated us.”
“But why should he hate us, Doctor? he is none the worse off now than he was before we annexed the country.”
“Well, yes, that class of man is worse off. In the old days every noble and Zemindar kept up a little army for the purpose of fighting his neighbors, just as our Barons used to do in the happy olden times people talk of. We have put down private fighting, and the consequence is these men's occupations are gone, and they flock to great towns and there live as best they can, ready to commit any crime whatever for the sum of a few rupees.
“There is Nana Sahib.”
Isobel looked round and saw a carriage with a magnificent pair of horses, in harness almost covered with silver ornaments, drive up to a place that had been kept vacant for it. Four natives were sitting in it.
“That is the Rajah,” the Doctor said, “the farther man, with that aigrette of diamonds in his turban. He is Oriental today, but sometimes he affects English fashions. He is a very cheery fellow, he keeps pretty well open house at Bithoor, has a billiard table, and a first rate cellar of wine, carriages for the use of guests—in fact, he does the thing really handsomely.”
“Here is my opera glass,” Mrs. Hunter said. Isobel looked long and fixedly at the Rajah.
“Well, what do you think of him?” the Doctor asked as she lowered it.
“I do not know what to think of him,” she said; “his face does not tell me anything, it is like looking at a mask; but you see I am not accustomed to read brown men's characters, they are so different from Europeans, their faces all seem so impassive. I suppose it is the way in which they are brought up and trained.”
“Ages of tyranny have made them supple and deceitful,” the Doctor said, “but of course less so here than among the Bengallies, who, being naturally unwarlike and cowardly, have always been the slaves of some master or other.
“You evidently don't like the Nana, Miss Hannay. I am rather glad you don't, for he is no great favorite of mine, though he is so generally popular in the station here. I don't like him because it is not natural that he should be so friendly with us. We undoubtedly, according to native notions, robbed him of one of the finest positions in India by refusing to acknowledge his adoption. We have given him a princely revenue, but that, after all, is a mere trifle to what he would have had as Peishwa. Whatever virtues the natives of this country possess, the forgiving of injuries is not among them, and therefore I consider it to be altogether unnatural that he, having been, as he at any rate and everyone round him must consider, foully wronged, should go out of his way to affect our society and declare the warmest friendship for us.”
The Rajah was laughing and talking with General Wheeler and the group of officers round his carriage.
Again Isobel raised the glasses. “You are right, Doctor,” she said, “I don't like him.”
“Well, there is one comfort, it doesn't matter whether he is sincere or not, he is powerless to hurt us. I don't see any motive for his pretending to be friendly if he is not, but I own that I should like him better if he sulked and would have nothing to say to us, as would be the natural course.”
The bell now began to ring, and the native police cleared the course. Major Hannay and Mr. Hunter, who had driven over in the buggy, came up and took their places on the box of the carriage.
“Here are cards of the races,” he said. “Now is the time, young ladies, to make your bets.”
“I don't know even the name of anyone in this first race,” Isobel said, looking at the card.
“That doesn't matter in the least, Miss Hannay,” Wilson, who had just come up to the side of the carriage, said. “There are six horses in; you pick out any one you like, and I will lay you five pairs of gloves to one against him.”
“But how am I to pick out when I don't know anything about them, Mr. Wilson? I might pick out one that had no chance at all.”
“Yes; but you might pick out the favorite, Miss Hannay, so that it is quite fair.”
“Don't you bet, Isobel,” her uncle said. “Let us have a sweepstake instead.”
“What is a sweepstake, uncle?”
There was a general laugh.
“Well, my dear, we each put in a rupee. There are six of us, and there are Wilson and the Doctor. You will go in, Doctor, won't you?”
“Yes; I don't mind throwing away a rupee, Major.”
“Very well, that makes eight. We put eight pieces of paper in the hat. Six of them have got the names of the horses on, the other two are blank. Then we each pull out one. Whoever draws the name of the horse that wins takes five rupees, the holder of the second two, and the third saves his stake. You shall hold the stakes, Mrs. Hunter. We have all confidence in you.”
The slips were drawn.
“My horse is Bruce,” Isobel said.
“There he is, Miss Hannay,” Wilson, who had drawn a blank, said, as a horse whose rider had a straw colored jacket and cap came cantering along the course. “This is a race for country horses—owners up. That means ridden by their owners. That is Pearson of the 13th Native Cavalry. He brought the horse over from Lucknow.”
“What chance has he?”
“I have not the least idea, Miss Hannay. I did not hear any betting on this race at all.”
“That is a nice horse, uncle,” Isobel said, as one with a rider in black jacket, with red cap, came past.
“That is Delhi. Yes, it has good action.”
“That is mine,” the eldest Miss Hunter said.
“The rider is a good looking young fellow,” the Doctor said, “and is perfectly conscious of it himself. Who is he, Wilson? I don't know him.”
“He is a civilian. Belongs to the public works, I think.”
The other horses now came along, and after short preliminary canters the start was made. To Isobel's disappointment her horse was never in the race, which Delhi looked like winning until near the post, when a rather common looking horse, which had been lying a short distance behind him, came up with a rush and won by a length.
“I don't call that fair,” Miss Hunter said, “when the other was first all along. I call that a mean way of winning, don't you, father?”
“Well, no, my dear. It was easy to see for the last quarter of a mile that the other was making what is called 'a waiting race' of it, and was only biding his time. There is nothing unfair in that, I fancy Delhi might have won if he had had a better jockey. His rider never really called upon him till it was too late. He was so thoroughly satisfied with himself and his position in the race that he was taken completely by surprise when Moonshee came suddenly up to him.”
“Well, I think it is very hard upon Delhi, father, after keeping ahead all the way and going so nicely. I think everyone ought to do their best from the first.”
“I fancy you are thinking, Miss Hunter,” the Doctor said, “quite as much that it is hard on you being beaten after your hopes had been raised, as it is upon the horse.”
“Perhaps I am, Doctor,” she admitted.
“I think it is much harder on me,” Isobel said. “You have had the satisfaction of thinking all along that your horse was going to win, while mine never gave me the least bit of hope.”
“The proper expression, Miss Hannay, is, your horse never flattered you.”
“Then I think it is a very silly expression, Mr. Wilson, because I don't see that flattery has anything to do with it.”
“Ah, here is Bathurst,” the Doctor said. “Where have you been, Bathurst? You slipped away from me just now.”
“I've just been talking to the Commissioner, Doctor. I have been trying to get him to see—”
“Why, you don't mean to say,” the Doctor broke in, “that you have been trying to cram your theories down his throat on a racecourse?”
“It was before the race began,” Bathurst said, “and I don't think the Commissioner has any more interest in racing than I have.”
“Not in racing,” the Doctor agreed, “but I expect he has an interest in enjoying himself generally, which is a thing you don't seem to have the most remote idea of. Here we are just getting up a sweepstake for the next race; hand over a rupee and try to get up an interest in it. Do try and forget your work till the race is over. I have brought you here to do you good. I regard you as my patient, and I give you my medical orders that you are to enjoy yourself.”
Bathurst laughed.
“I am enjoying myself in my way, Doctor.”
“Who is that very pretty woman standing up in the next carriage but one?” Isobel asked.
“She comes from an out station,” the Doctor repeated; “she is the wife of the Collector there, but I think she likes Cawnpore better than Boorgum; her name is Rose.”
“Is that her husband talking to her?”
“No; that is a man in the Artillery here, I think.”
“Yes,” the Major said, “that is Harrowby, a good looking fellow, and quite a ladies' man.”
“Do you mean a man ladies like, uncle, or who likes the society of ladies?”
“Both in his case, I should fancy,” the Major said; “I believe he is considered one of the best looking men in the service.”
“I don't see why he should be liked for that,” Isobel said. “As far as I have seen, good looking men are not so pleasant as others. I suppose it is because they are conscious of their own good looks, and therefore do not take the trouble of being amusing. We had one very good looking man on board ship, and he was the dullest man to talk to on board. No, Doctor, I won't have any names mentioned, but I am right, am I not?”
“He was a dull specimen, certainly,” the Doctor said, “but I think you are a little too sweeping.”
“I don't mean all good looking men, of course, but men who what I call go in for being good looking. I don't know whether you know what I mean. What are you smiling at, Mr. Wilson?”
“I was thinking of two or three men I know to whom your description applies, Miss Hannay; but I must be going—they are just going to start the next race, and mine is the one after, so I must go and get ready. You wish me success, don't you?”
“I wish you all the success you deserve. I can't say more than that, can I?”
“I am afraid that is saying very little,” he laughed. “I don't expect to win, but I do hope I shall beat Richards, because he is so cock sure he will beat me.”
This wish was not gratified. The first and second horses made a close race of it; behind them by ten or twelve lengths came the other horses in a clump, Wilson and Richards singling themselves out in the last hundred yards and making a desperate race for the third place, for which they made a dead heat, amid great laughter from their comrades.
“That is excellent,” Major Hannay said; “you won't see anything more amusing than that today, girls. The third horse simply saved his stake, so that as they will of course divide, they will have paid twenty-five rupees each for the pleasure of riding, and the point which of their tats is the fastest remains unsettled.”
“Well, they beat a good many of them, Major Hannay,” Miss Hunter said; “so they did not do so badly after all.”
“Oh, no, they did not do so badly; but it will be a long time before they get over the chaff about their desperate struggle for the third place.”
The next two races attracted but slight attention from the occupants of the carriage. Most of their acquaintances in the station came up one after the other for a chat. There were many fresh introductions, and there was so much conversation and laughter that the girls had little time to attend to what was going on around them. Wilson and Richards both sauntered up after changing, and were the subject of much chaff as to their brilliant riding at the finish. Both were firm in the belief that the judge's finding was wrong, and each maintained stoutly he had beaten the other by a good head.
The race for Arabs turned out a very exciting one; the Rajah of Bithoor's horse was the favorite, on the strength of its performances elsewhere; but Prothero's horse was also well supported, especially in the regiment, for the Adjutant was a first class rider, and was in great request at all the principal meetings in Oude and the Northwest Provinces, while it was known that the Rajah's horse would be ridden by a native. The latter was dressed in strict racing costume, and had at the last races at Cawnpore won two or three cups for the Rajah.
But the general opinion among the officers of the station was that Prothero's coolness and nerve would tell. His Arab was certainly a fast one, and had won the previous year, both at Cawnpore and Lucknow; but the Rajah's new purchase had gained so high a reputation in the Western Presidency as fully to justify the odds of two to one laid on it, while four to one were offered against Prothero, and from eight to twenty to one against any other competitor.
Prothero had stopped to have a chat at the Hunters' carriage as he walked towards the dressing tent.
“Our hopes are all centered in you, Mr. Prothero,” Mr. Hunter said. “Miss Hannay has been wagering gloves in a frightfully reckless way.”
“I should advise you to hedge if you can, Miss Hannay,” he said. “I think there is no doubt that Mameluke is a good deal faster than Seila. I fancy he is pounds better. I only beat Vincent's horse by a head last year, and Mameluke gave him seven pounds, and beat him by three lengths at Poona. So I should strongly advise you to hedge your bets if you can.”
“What does he mean by hedge, uncle?”
“To hedge is to bet the other way, so that one bet cancels the other.”
“Oh, I shan't do that,” she said; “I have enough money to pay my bets if I lose.”
“Do you mean to say you mean to pay your bets if you lose, Miss Hannay?” the Doctor asked incredulously.
“Of course I do,” she said indignantly. “You don't suppose I intend to take the gloves if I win, and not to pay if I lose?”
“It is not altogether an uncommon practice among ladies,” the Doctor said, “when they bet against gentlemen. I believe that when they wager against each other, which they do not often do, they are strictly honest, but that otherwise their memories are apt to fail them altogether.”
“That is a libel, Mrs. Hunter, is it not?”
“Not altogether, I think. Of course many ladies do pay their bets when they lose, but others certainly do not.”
“Then I call it very mean,” Isobel said earnestly. “Why, it is as bad as asking anyone to make you a present of so many pairs of gloves in case a certain horse wins.”
“It comes a good deal to the same thing,” Mrs. Hunter admitted, “but to a certain extent it is a recognized custom; it is a sort of tribute that is exacted at race time, just as in France every lady expects a present from every gentleman of her acquaintance on New Year's Day.”
“I wouldn't bet if I didn't mean to pay honestly,” Isobel said. “And if Mr. Prothero doesn't win, my debts will all be honorably discharged.”
There was a hush of expectation in the crowd when the ten horses whose numbers were up went down to the starting point, a quarter of a mile from the stand. They were to pass it, make the circuit, and finish there, the race being two miles. The interest of the natives was enlisted by the fact that Nana Sahib was running a horse, while the hopes of the occupants of the inclosure rested principally on Seila.
The flag fell to a good start; but when the horses came along Isobel saw with surprise that the dark blue of the Rajah and the Adjutant's scarlet and white were both in the rear of the group. Soon afterwards the scarlet seemed to be making its way through the horses, and was speedily leading them.
“Prothero is making the running with a vengeance,” the Major said. “That is not like his usual tactics, Doctor.”
“I fancy he knows what he is doing,” the Doctor replied. “He saw that Mameluke's rider was going to make a waiting race of it, and as the horse has certainly the turn of speed on him, he is trying other tactics. They are passing the mile post now, and Prothero is twelve or fourteen lengths ahead. There, Mameluke is going through his horses; his rider is beginning to get nervous at the lead Prothero has got, and he can't stand it any longer. He ought to have waited for another half mile. You will see, Prothero will win after all. Seila can stay, there is no doubt about that.”
A roar of satisfaction rose from the mass of natives on the other side of the inclosure as Mameluke was seen to leave the group of horses and gradually to gain upon Seila.
“Oh, he will catch him, uncle!” Isobel said, tearing her handkerchief in her excitement.
The Major was watching the horses through his field glass.
“Never mind his catching him,” he said; “Prothero is riding quietly and steadily. Seila is doing nearly her best, but he is not hurrying her, while the fool on Mameluke is bustling the horse as if he had only a hundred yards further to go.”
The horses were nearing the point at which they had started, when a shout from the crowd proclaimed that the blue jacket had come up to and passed the scarlet. Slowly it forged ahead until it was two lengths in advance, for a few strides their relative positions remained unaltered, then there was a shout from the carriages; scarlet was coming up again. Mameluke's rider glanced over his shoulder, and began to use the whip. For a few strides the horse widened the gap again, but Prothero still sat quiet and unmoved. Just as they reached the end of the line of carriages, Seila again began to close up.
“Seila wins! Seila wins!” the officers shouted.
But it seemed to Isobel that this was well nigh impossible, but foot by foot the mare came up, and as they passed the Hunters' carriage her head was in advance.
In spite of the desperate efforts of the rider of Mameluke, another hundred yards and they passed the winning post, Seila a length ahead.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved