My First and Last Steeple-Chase
In the year 1859, the Irish militia regiment in which I had the honour
to hold a commission was disembodied; but, as a reward for our
distinguished services at Portsmouth, where we mounted guard daily on
the dockyards for more than twelve months, each subaltern was presented
with a gratuity of six months' pay—a boon that must have been highly
appreciated at the time by our much-enduring and long-suffering
tailors, into whose pockets most of the money, in the end, found its
Dick Maunsel, the senior lieutenant, and myself were cousins, and (as
the old chief never lost a chance of telling us when we got into
trouble) "always hunted in couples." Our fathers' allowance had been
liberal. We were free from debt—that "Old Man of the Sea," which too
often hangs like a millstone about the British subaltern's neck—and,
finding ourselves at liberty, as a matter of course determined to go
off somewhere and get rid of our pay together. Much beer and tobacco
were consumed in the various "corobberys" held to talk the matter over;
and at length it was decided that we should take a lodge at a small
watering-place, well known to both, on the south-west coast of Ireland,
and there abide until something better turned up.
I don't think, under the circumstances, we could have made a much
better choice. The salmon and sea-fishing were excellent; when the
shooting season came round, most of the moors in the neighbourhood were
free to us. The summer had been unusually hot; we were tired of town
life, and longing to divest ourselves of the "war paint," "bury the
hatchet," and get away to some quiet bay by the Atlantic, where we
could do what seemed right in our own eyes, free from the eternal
pipeclay and conventionalities with which we had been hampered. "Last,
not least," at a ball given before the regiment left Ireland, we had
met two girls, sisters, who usually spent the season there, and, if the
truth must be told, I believe they had hit us so hard we were
"crippled" from flying very far. So, after an impartial distribution of
the regimental plate, and a rather severe night at mess, to finish the
remains of the cellar, we bade farewell to our companions in arms, and
found ourselves once more in "dear old dirty Dublin," en route
for the south.
One evening, about six weeks after our arrival at Aunaghmore, we were
lying on the cliffs, watching the trawlers as they drifted slowly up
with the tide. The day had been dark and misty, with some thunder far
out at sea; but it cleared up as the sun went down, and I was pointing
out to Dick, who had been unusually silent, the remarkable likeness
between the scene before us and one of Turner's best-known pictures,
when he interrupted me suddenly, saying—
"I'll tell you a story, Frank. When a boy, I remember starting one
morning with poor Ferguson (the owner of Harkaway) to ride one of his
horses in a private match. We took a short cut across an old mountain
road, and coming out on the brow of the hill which commanded one of the
finest views in Ireland, I pulled up my horse to call Ferguson's
attention to it. 'For heaven's sake, sir,' he said impatiently, 'think
on something that will do you good.' And just at this moment, old man,
I feel half inclined to agree with him. How much money have you left?"
Without speaking, I handed him my purse, the contents of which he
counted slowly over, saying, "I think we shall have enough."
"Enough for what?" I asked.
"For a ball," he replied coolly. "The people here have been very civil
to us, and we owe them some return. There are plenty of girls in the
neighbourhood to make a very good one; men are scarce; but we can ask
the "Plungers" over from —— Barracks. Besides, I promised Emily last
night, and there's no getting out of it."
I ventured mildly to suggest that the regiment didn't get out of the
last under a couple of hundred, and that we had not half that between
"My dear fellow," he replied, "this is quite another affair altogether.
We can borrow the club archery tent for a ballroom. There are many
things, game, &c., to be had for nothing here. My sisters are coming
over on a visit; they will look after the details. It will be a great
success, and we shall only have wine and lights to pay for."
"And how far," I asked, with a slight sneer, "will the money left go in
getting those, not to speak of other essentials that must be provided?"
"I have arranged all that as well," answered Dick, with the air of a
man who had thoroughly mastered the subject. "The races here come off
the end of August. There is a £50 Plate to be run for on the flat, and
a steeple-chase as well. I know all the horses likely to start. With
one exception (Father B.'s) ours can give them a stone for either
event. The priest can't run his horse; the new bishop has been down on
him. We can send for ours: plenty of time for a rough preparation.
Thanks to the hot weather, and that confounded drill, you can still
ride eleven stone. There now, what more do you want? Come along to the
lodge, and we will talk the matter over comfortably."
I certainly had my misgivings as to the practicability of Dick's
scheme, but knew him too long and well to doubt his attempting it at
all events. I could, of course, refuse to join, and leave him to his
own devices; but we had pulled through too many scrapes together for
that. To do him justice, he generally succeeded in whatever he
undertook; and whether it was owing to his eloquence, some of his
father's old claret, or both combined, before we separated that night I
had entered heart and soul into his plans.
We lost no time in commencing our preparations. Within a week the
horses had arrived; then Dick's sisters—two fine light-hearted girls,
full of fun and mischief—came over. After that there was no rest for
me. No unhappy adjutant of a newly-embodied militia or volunteer
regiment ever had more or a greater variety of work on hand. Sunrise
generally found me in the saddle, giving the horses a gallop on the
sands—a performance which had to be repeated twice during the day,
Dick's weight, some sixteen stone, preventing him from giving me any
assistance. I was overhead in love, besides, and four hours at least
had to be devoted to the object of my affections. We kept open house;
game and fish had to be provided for the larder, and the girls were
always wanting something or other from the neighbouring town, which
they declared only I could get; so between all, my time was fully
occupied, and seemed to fly.
If Mr Mill's bill for giving ladies the franchise had been in force
then, I think Dick and myself would have had a fair chance of
representing the county. So soon as our intention to give a race ball
was known, we became the most popular men in it. Offers of supplies and
assistance came pouring in from all quarters. Plate, china, and glass
arrived so fast, and in such quantities, the lodge could not contain
them, and we were obliged to pitch the tent. As the time drew near, the
preparation and bustle increased tenfold. Our life was one continual
picnic. From early morning until late at night, the house was crowded
with girls laughing, flirting, trying on ball-dresses, and assisting in
the decorating of the tent. We never thought of sitting down to dinner,
but took it where, when, and how we could. Ay de mi! I have been
in some hospitable houses since, where the owners kept chefs,
and prided themselves, not unjustly, on the quality of their cellars;
but I never enjoyed myself so much, and, I fear, never shall, as those
scrambling dinners, though the bill of fare often consisted of cold
grouse, washed down by a tankard of beer—taken, too, standing in the
corner of a pantry, surrounded by a host of pretty girls, all of them
engaged in teasing and administering to my wants.
Early one morning, about a week before the races were to come off, I
was engaged as usual, exercising Dick's hunter on the course, when, at
a little distance, I saw a horse in body-clothes cantering along with
that easy stride peculiar to thorough-breds. For some time the rider
appeared anxious to avoid me, increasing the pace as I came near, until
the animal I rode, always headstrong, broke away and soon ranged
"Whose horse is that?" I inquired of the groom.
"My master's, yer honour," he replied, without a smile, slackening his
pace at the same time, as mine raced past.
When I succeeded in pulling up again, the fellow was galloping away in
another direction. I had seen enough, however: there was no mistaking
those flat sinewy legs. So, setting the horse's head straight for the
lodge, I went up to Dick's room. He was in bed, but awake; and though
his face slightly lengthened when I told him I was certain the priest's
horse had arrived, he answered coolly enough—
"You need not look so serious, Frank; at the worst, it is only a case
of selling Madman, and I have had a good offer for him. It is too bad
of the priest, though, to spoil our little game. They told me the
bishop had sat on him; but of course he will run in another name. I
should have known an old fox like that would have more than one earth.
He won't be able to go in for the double event, that is certain. His
horse can't jump. The steeplechase is ours; so come and have a swim.
After breakfast we will see what can be done."
Unfortunately there was no help for it. The priest's horse had carried
off a Queen's Plate at the Curragh, and, safe and well at the post,
could win as he pleased. It was too late for us to draw back, however,
even if we were disposed that way. The invitations for the ball (which
was to come off the night of the races) were out. So, consoling
ourselves as well as it was possible under the circumstances, we
continued our preparations, looking well after the horses, determined
not to throw away a chance.
Misfortunes seldom come alone. The day before the race, so ardently
looked forward to, arrived at last. I had been engaged in unpacking the
flowers that were arriving all the afternoon from the neighbouring
conservatories, while Dick was amusing himself brewing cold punch in
the lodge. The girls were out walking; and, when my work was over, I
took a stroll along the beach to meet them. Up to this time the weather
had been glorious; such a summer and autumn as few could remember: but
now I saw, with some anxiety, there was every appearance of an
unfavourable change. Although not a breath of wind stirred, the
ground-swell broke heavily on the bar, and there was a greenish look in
the sky where the sun was setting, that boded no good. The curlews were
unusually noisy, their clear, shrill whistle resounding on all sides,
and large flocks of sea-birds were flying in towards the land. A
fishing-boat had just made fast to the pier, and the owner came forward
to meet me.
"What luck this evening, Barney?" I inquired.
"Just middlin', yer honour. There's a dozen of lobsters, a John Dory,
and a turbot. I'll send them to the lodge. The oysters went up this
morning—iligant ones, they wor; raal jewels."
"All right, Barney—what do you think of the weather?"
"Sorra one of me likes it, at all. Them thieves of seals are rollin'
about like purposes, and it isn't for nothin' they do that same.
It'll be a Ballintogher wind, too, before long, I'm thinkin'."
"A what?" I exclaimed.
"The very question the captain axed my brother. It was the first time
iver he went to say, and they wor lyin' somewhere off Afrikay. The
captin was walkin' the quarter-deck when my brother comes up to him,
and says, 'Captain Leslie, you had better shorten sail.'
"'Why so?' ses the captin, very sharp.
"'Bekase it's a Ballintogher wind.'
"'And what the d——l wind may that be?'
"'Oh murther!' ses my brother. 'There you are, wandherin' about the
world all yer life, and didn't hear of a Ballintogher wind, when there
isn't a gossoon in my counthry doesn't know the village it comes from,
and that it niver brought anything but cowld storm and misforthin'
along with it.'
"Well, with that, they all tuk to laughin' like to split their sides at
my brother, an' the captin, he towld him to go forrid and mind his
work; but faith, they worn't laughin' two hours afther, when the ship
rowled the masts out of her, and they wor wracked among the haythens.
But wind or no wind, yer honour, I suppose the races will come off?"
"So I hear, Barney."
"I'm towld there's to be a fight between the Flahertys and the
O'Donnells; but shure av the priest's there it's no use for them to
"Why not, Barney?"
"He's mighty handy with a hunting-whip, an' has got a bad curse
besides. He hot Mickey Devine over the head, for trying to rise a row
at the fair of Dingle, and left a hole in it you might put your fist
in. It was no great things of a head at the best of times, but faith,
he's quare in it at the full of the moon iver since. He cursed Paddy
Keolaghan, too, last Easter, an' the luck left him. His nets wor
carried away, the boat stove in, and the pig died. I don't give in to
the pig myself, for they let him get at the long lines afther they wor
baited; and sure enough when the craythur died, there was fifteen hooks
in his inside, enough to kill any baste. Besides, his reverence is very
partikler, an' wouldn't curse a Christian out of his own parish; but
it's not lucky to cross him anyhow; an' if he's there to-morrow, sorra
bit of fun we'll have. They say yer honours are for givin' a ball
afther the races."
"So we are, Barney; and that reminds me—tell the girls to come up the
next night, and we'll give them a dance before the tent is taken down."
"Long life to yer honour! It's proud and happy they will be to go.
Here's the young ladies comin'. Good evenin', sir! We'll be on the
coorse to-morrow, an' see you get fair play, anyhow."
The tent-ropes flapped ominously that night as we turned in, and before
morning a storm came on which increased to a hurricane, when our party
assembled for breakfast, and looked out disconsolately enough at the
boiling sea, dimly visible through the driving rain and spray that
dashed in sheets of water against the glass. Already numbers of the
peasantry, on their way to the course, were staggering along the road,
vainly trying to shelter themselves from the furious blast which made
the very walls of the lodge shake. Taking advantage of a slight lull,
we managed to get a young fir-tree propped up against the pole of the
tent, and had just returned to the house when a well-appointed
four-in-hand came at a sharp trot up the avenue.
"Here come the Plungers," said Dick. "Plucky fellows to drive over
fourteen miles such a morning."
While he was speaking, a dozen bearded men got down and stalked
solemnly into the room. In a few minutes the ladies of our party made
their appearance, and before long the new comers were busily engaged in
some fashion or another. I have often admired the way in which Irish
ladies contrive to make the "lords of the creation" useful, but never
saw it more strongly exemplified than on the present occasion. Here you
might see a grave colonel employed in the composition of a lobster
salad; there a V.C. opening oysters as industriously as an old woman at
a stall; while in a snug corner, a couple of cornets were filling
custard cups and arranging flowers. To do the gallant fellows justice
they accepted the situation frankly, and set to work like men, while at
every fresh blast the girls' spirits seemed to rise higher; and before
long a merrier party could hardly be found anywhere. Twelve o'clock had
now come round, at which time, it was unanimously agreed, the day must
clear up; and a slight gleam of watery sunshine appearing, we all
started to carry the things over to the supper-room of the tent. As we
mustered a tolerably strong party, in less than an hour this was
effected, not, however, without sundry mishaps; one poor cornet being
blown right over a fence, into a wet ditch, with his burden.
We were all so much engaged laying out the tables, that the increasing
darkness of the day was scarcely remarked until a vivid flash of
lightning, followed by a loud peal of thunder which broke directly
overhead, made the boldest pause for a moment in his occupation. The
storm, which had gone down considerably, burst forth again worse than
ever, the tent-pole swayed to and fro like a fishing-rod, and the
fir-tree we had lashed alongside for additional security threatened
every moment to come down by the run. Matters were beginning to look
serious, when Dick, snatching a carving-knife from the table, cut an
opening in the wall of the tent, through which we all bolted into the
open air. Hardly had we got clear of the ropes, when the tent-pole
snapped, the pegs gave way, the roof flew off down the wind, and with a
crash of broken glass, heard distinctly above the howling of the wind
and sea, the whole fabric came to the ground, burying all our materials
and the greater part of the supper in the ruins.
All was over now,—"the stars in their courses" had fought against us.
There was no use in contending against fate and the elements; so, after
seeing the girls safe in shelter, and leaving the dragoons to test the
merits of Dick's cold punch, I filled my largest pipe with the
strongest cavendish, and had walked round to the lee of the house, to
blow a cloud in peace, and think over what was best to be done, when a
window opened above, and looking up, I saw a bright sunny face framed
against the dark scowling sky, and heard a voice call out, "Wait there
one moment, Frank; I am coming down."
Without giving me time to reply, the face disappeared, but immediately
afterwards a small slight figure, closely muffled up, glided round the
corner, and put its arm in mine, while a pair of blue eyes looked up
appealingly in my face.
"Don't look so down-hearted, Frank, or you will make me cry. I could
hardly keep from it, when I saw the tent in ruins, and heard that
dreadful crash. All Lady ——'s old china, I promised to take such care
of, and the flowers, and Mrs ——'s dinner service, that has been in
the family for four generations. It is a downright calamity; but we are
determined, happen what will, to have the ball, and I want you to come
to look at a barn we saw the other day."
"But you cannot think of going out in such weather!"
"Not by the road—the sea is all across it. But we can go by the
fields. Come now, and take great care of me."
We did reach the barn, though with great difficulty; and, at first
sight, a more unlikely or unpromising place could hardly be found. In
one corner stood a heap of straw and a winnowing machine, under which
half a dozen rats scampered as we came in. The roof was thatched, and
in several places we could see the sky through it. Long strings of
floating cobwebs hung from the rafters, and the rough walls were
thickly coated with dust. There were two storeys to it, however; the
floor of the upper one was boarded and seemed sound. Taking out a
note-book, my companion seated herself on an old garden-roller,
"Go down-stairs, Frank, and finish your smoke; I want to think for five
minutes; or you may stay here, if you promise not to speak until I give
I gave the required pledge, and, lighting my pipe, lay down in a
corner, watching the rats peering out with their sharp, black, beady
eyes at the strange visitors, and rather enjoying the confusion of the
spiders, who, not relishing the smoke, were making off out of reach as
fast as they could. Before long my companion called me over, to give
her directions, which were, to go back to the lodge, and bring all the
volunteers I could get, as well as some materials, of which she gave me
On my way I met one of the stewards, who told me the races had been
postponed until four o'clock in the afternoon, and on reaching the
lodge found Dick and the officers engaged in recovering "salvage" from
the tent. Getting out a wagonette, I soon had it filled with
volunteers, and drove them over to the barn, where we once more set to
work, and for the next few hours the rats and spiders had a bad time of
I was hard at work converting some rough deal boards into a
supper-table, when a little boy handed me a note, saying—
"They are clearin' the coorse, yer honour; you haven't a minit to lose;
I brought down a 'baste' for you."
The note was from Dick, telling me the first race would be run off at
once. There was a dressing-room provided on the ground, so, jumping on
the horse, I rode down.
The storm, after doing all the harm it well could to us, had now
cleared off, and the scene on the course was lively and animated
enough. A dozen frieze-coated farmers, headed by an old huntsman in
scarlet, were galloping wildly about to clear the ground, the usual
"dog" being represented, on this occasion, by a legion of curs, barking
at the heels of stray donkeys, sheep, cows, and goats, as they doubled
in and out, to avoid the merciless whips of their pursuers; and when at
last they were driven off, the people broke in on the line, and the
whole place appeared one mass of inextricable confusion, until the
priest, accompanied by the stewards, was found. The fisherman certainly
had not belied his reverence. More than once I saw his whip descend
with a vigour that made itself felt even through the thick greatcoats
worn by the peasantry, causing the recipient to shrink back, shaking
his shoulders, and never feeling himself safe until he had put the
nearest fence between him and the giver. Soon his stalwart figure,
mounted on a stout cob, was the signal for a general suave qui
peut, and the mob gradually settled into something like order,
leaving the course tolerably free.
Six horses came to the post for the first race, which was about three
miles on the flat, the priest's of course being the favourite, and with
reason. It was a magnificent dark chestnut, with great power and
symmetry, showing the "Ishmael" blood in every part of its beautiful
frame, Dick's hunter, although thorough-bred, and with a fair turn of
speed, looking like a coach-horse beside it. The only other competitor
entered worth notice was a light bay, high-bred, but a great, staring,
weedy-looking brute, evidently a cast-off from some racing stable.
At the word "Off!" a fair start was effected. The bay, however, had
hardly taken a dozen strides, when it came down, giving the rider an
ugly fall. After rolling over, it sat up like a dog, and stared wildly
about; then, jumping up suddenly, galloped into the sea, where it lay
down, apparently with the intention of committing suicide. Before we
had gone a mile, all the other horses were shaken off, and the priest's
jockey and myself had it all to ourselves. He was a knowing old fellow,
and evidently did not wish to distress his horse, keeping only a few
lengths ahead, until within the distance-post, when he let him go,
cantering in a winner by about twenty yards, and receiving a perfect
ovation from the people.
In half an hour the bugle sounded for the horses to fall in for
the race. A steeple-chase being always the great event on an
Irish course, we were about to take our places, when Dick came up with
rather a long face, and whispered—
"I am afraid the luck is against us still, Frank. Look at that gray. He
has been kept dark until now. Before seeing him I backed you rather
heavily with the priest. It was our only chance to get out."
The more I looked the less I liked the appearance of either horse or
man. To a casual observer the first was a plain animal, cross-built,
rough in the coat, and with remarkably drooping quarters; but, on
closer inspection, a hunter all over, if not a steeple-chaser, although
an attempt had evidently been made to disguise his real character. The
saddle was old and patched; the bridle had a rusty bit, with a piece of
string hung rather ostentatiously from it; the rider might once have
been a gentleman, but drink and dissipation had left their mark on what
was originally a handsome face. His dress was slovenly and careless to
a degree, but he sat his horse splendidly, and his hand was as light
and fair as a woman's. He returned my look with a defiant stare.
"That fellow looks dangerous," said Dick; "but I suspect he is more
than half drunk. Make a waiting race until you see what he is made of.
Above all things keep cool, and don't lose your temper."
I had perfect confidence in the mare I rode. She had been broken by
myself, and many a long day we had hunted together over the big
pastures of Roscommon and Meath. There was a thorough understanding
between us. My only anxiety was as to how she would face the crowd, who
were collected in thousands about every jump, barely leaving room for
the horses to pass, and yelling like a set of Bedlamites let loose.
With the exception of the last fence, there were no very formidable
obstacles. It was a stone wall, fully five feet high, built up loose,
but strong, and rather a severe trial at the end of a race, if the pace
was a stiff one throughout. There was no time for thinking now,
however. The word was given, and we were away.
About a dozen horses started—all fair animals, with that cat-like
activity in negotiating a fence so remarkable in Irish hunting. We had
hardly gone a mile, however, when the want of condition began to tell,
and they fell hopelessly to the rear, leaving the race to the gray, my
mare, and a game little thorough-bred, ridden and owned by one of the
Up to this time I had followed Dick's directions to wait on the gray, a
proceeding evidently not approved of by the rider, for, turning round
in his saddle as he came down to a water jump, he said, with a sneer—
"You want a lead over, I suppose."
I made no reply, and he went at the river; but whether by accident or
design, when within a few yards of the brink his horse bolted, dashing
in among the crowd. The dragoon's swerved slightly to follow; the
rider, however, would not be denied, and sent him through it; while my
mare, cocking her ears, and turning her head half round, as an old
pointer might do at seeing a young one break fence, flew over like a
bird, and settled steadily to her work on the other side.
For some distance the dragoon and myself rode neck and neck, though the
pace was beginning to tell on his horse, who was slightly overweighted.
Our friend on the gray now raced alongside, and galloping recklessly at
an awkward ditch, which he cleared, took a lead of a dozen lengths, and
kept it until within a short distance of the last fence, when he fell
back, allowing us to get to the front once more.
I think fear was the last thing uppermost in my mind as I rode at it.
My blood was fairly roused, and passing a carriage a minute before, I
got a glance from a pair of blue eyes that would have made a coward
brave. Still, with all that, I could not avoid a slight feeling of
anxiety as it loomed across, looking about as dangerous an obstacle as
the most reckless rider could desire at the end of a race. If stone
walls "grew," I could have sworn it had done so since I crossed it on
Dick's hunter the evening before. The people had closed in on both
sides until there was scarcely twenty feet of clear space in the
middle, and evidently a row of some sort was going on. Sticks were
waving wildly about, and a dozen voices shouted for me to stop, while
hundreds called to go on. The gray was creeping up, however. I had
faced as bad before, when there was less occasion; so pulled the mare
up to a trot until within a few yards, when I let her go with a shout
she well knew, and in a second we were safe on the other side. The
dragoon's horse refusing, the gray, who came up at full speed, chested
it heavily, and horse, rider, and wall came rolling over to the ground
together, while I cantered in alone.
I had hardly received the congratulations of the stewards, when Dick
came up, looking flushed and excited. As he grasped my hand, he said
"Why didn't you stop when I shouted?"
"It was too late. But what is wrong?"
"That scoundrel on the gray bribed a couple of fellows to add six
inches to the height of the wall during the storm this morning. They
raised it nearly a foot. Some one told the priest, but not until you
were in the field. He has caught one of them, the other got away. As
for the fellow himself, his collar-bone is smashed, and the horse all
cut to pieces. He couldn't expect better luck. It was a near thing,
though. I don't know how the mare got over it. She must have known," he
added, patting her neck, "what a scrape we were in."
The usual hack races for saddles and bridles followed, and the day's
sport came to an end without a fight, thanks to the priest, whose
exertions to keep the peace would have satisfied a community of
Quakers, although they might not approve of the mode by which the
object was effected.
We had hardly finished dinner at the lodge, when the carriages with our
guests for the ball began to arrive, those from a distance looking with
dismay at the wreck of the tent, that still lay strewed on the lawn.
They were all directed forward to the barn, however, whither we were
soon prepared to follow.
Although my confidence in the ability and resources of the ladies of
our party was nearly unlimited, I could hardly avoid feeling some
slight misgivings on entering the barn, knowing the short time they had
to work in, and how heavily the mishap of the morning must have told
against them. All, however, agreed that they had seldom seen a prettier
room. The walls and roof were completely covered with fishing-nets,
filled in and concealed by purple and white heath. The effect was
remarkably good; and if the storm had deprived the supper-table of many
of the light dishes, quite enough was left to satisfy guests who were
not disposed to be critical.
I shall not detain the reader by giving a description of the ball,
which proved a complete success, more than compensating us for the
trouble and anxiety we had undergone. It was seldom the girls in the
neighbourhood had a chance of enjoying themselves in that way, and they
seemed resolved to make the most of it. Human endurance, however, has
its limits. Towards morning the band, whose "staying powers" were
sorely tried, began to show symptoms of mutiny. Threats and bribes (the
latter too often administered in the shape of champagne) were tried,
and they were induced to continue for another hour. The result may
easily be anticipated: they broke down hopelessly, at last, in the
middle of "Sir Roger." A sudden change in the music made us all stop,
and to our dismay we found one half of the performers playing "God save
the Queen." The others had just commenced "Partant pour la Syrie,"
while the "big drum" was furiously beating the "tattoo" in a corner.
Turning them all out, we threw open the windows. A flood of sunshine
poured into the room, and the cool fresh sea breeze swept joyously
round, extinguishing the lights. This was the signal for a general
departure. One by one our fair guests drove away, leaving
"The banquet-hall deserted."
The last man to go was the priest. As he mounted his horse I saw him
hand Dick a sheaf of dingy-looking bank-notes, and they parted, hoping
to meet again the following season, when the latter pledged himself to
bring something out of his own stable to race against the mare. But we
only appeared there once since in public, and that was at a wedding.
Before the next autumn came round we had settled down into steady
married men. I still hunt, but have grown stouter, and the old mare has
given place to a weight-carrier. The mare draws my wife and children to
church regularly, however, and though rather matronly-looking, is as
full of life and spirit as when she started with her master to win his
first and "last" steeple-chase.