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- Sybil, or the Two Nations - 2/101 -


"My book is made up," said Egremont; "and I stand or fall by Caravan."

"And I."

"And I."

"And I."

"Well, mark my words," said a fourth, rather solemnly, "Rat- trap wins."

"There is not a horse except Caravan," said Lord Milford, "fit for a borough stake."

"You used to be all for Phosphorus, Egremont," said Lord Eugene de Vere.

"Yes; but fortunately I have got out of that scrape. I owe Phip Dormer a good turn for that. I was the third man who knew he had gone lame."

"And what are the odds against him now."

"Oh! nominal; forty to one,--what you please."

"He won't run," said Mr Berners, "John Day told me he had refused to ride him."

"I believe Cockie Graves might win something if Phosphorus came in first," said Lord Milford, laughing.

"How close it is to-night!" said Egremont. "Waiter, give me some Seltzer water; and open another window; open them all."

At this moment an influx of guests intimated that the assembly at Lady St Julian's was broken up. Many at the table rose and yielded their places, clustering round the chimney-piece, or forming in various groups, and discussing the great question. Several of those who had recently entered were votaries of Rat-trap, the favourite, and quite prepared, from all the information that had reached them, to back their opinions valiantly. The conversation had now become general and animated, or rather there was a medley of voices in which little was distinguished except the names of horses and the amount of odds. In the midst of all this, waiters glided about handing incomprehensible mixtures bearing aristocratic names; mystical combinations of French wines and German waters, flavoured with slices of Portugal fruits, and cooled with lumps of American ice, compositions which immortalized the creative genius of some high patrician name.

"By Jove! that's a flash," exclaimed Lord Milford, as a blaze of lightning seemed to suffuse the chamber, and the beaming lustres turned white and ghastly in the glare.

The thunder rolled over the building. There was a dead silence. Was it going to rain? Was it going to pour? Was the storm confined to the metropolis? Would it reach Epsom? A deluge, and the course would be a quagmire, and strength might baffle speed.

Another flash, another explosion, the hissing noise of rain. Lord Milford moved aside, and jealous of the eye of another, read a letter from Chifney, and in a few minutes afterwards offered to take the odds against Pocket Hercules. Mr Latour walked to the window, surveyed the heavens, sighed that there was not time to send his tiger from the door to Epsom, and get information whether the storm had reached the Surrey hills, for to-night's operations. It was too late. So he took a rusk and a glass of lemonade, and retired to rest with a cool head and a cooler heart.

The storm raged, the incessant flash played as it were round the burnished cornice of the chamber, and threw a lurid hue on the scenes of Watteau and Boucher that sparkled in the medallions over the lofty doors. The thunderbolts seemed to descend in clattering confusion upon the roof. Sometimes there was a moment of dead silence, broken only by the pattering of the rain in the street without, or the pattering of the dice in a chamber at hand. Then horses were backed, bets made, and there were loud and frequent calls for brimming goblets from hurrying waiters, distracted by the lightning and deafened by the peal. It seemed a scene and a supper where the marble guest of Juan might have been expected, and had he arrived, he would have found probably hearts as bold and spirits as reckless as he encountered in Andalusia.

Book 1 Chapter 2

"Will any one do anything about Hybiscus?" sang out a gentleman in the ring at Epsom. It was full of eager groups; round the betting post a swarming cluster, while the magic circle itself was surrounded by a host of horsemen shouting from their saddles the odds they were ready to receive or give, and the names of the horses they were prepared to back or to oppose.

"Will any one do anything about Hybiscus?"

"I'll give you five to one," said a tall, stiff Saxon peer, in a white great coat.

"No; I'll take six."

The tall, stiff peer in the white great coat mused for a moment with his pencil at his lip, and then said, "Well, I'll give you six. What do you say about Mango?"

"Eleven to two against Mango," called out a little humpbacked man in a shrill voice, but with the air of one who was master of his work.

"I should like to do a little business with you, Mr Chippendale," said Lord Milford in a coaxing tone, "but I must have six to one."

"Eleven to two, and no mistake," said this keeper of a second- rate gaming-house, who, known by the flattering appellation of Hump Chippendale, now turned with malignant abruptness from the heir apparent of an English earldom.

"You shall have six to one, my Lord," said Captain Spruce, a debonair personage with a well-turned silk hat arranged a little aside, his coloured cravat tied with precision, his whiskers trimmed like a quickset hedge. Spruce, who had earned his title of Captain on the plains of Newmarket, which had witnessed for many a year his successful exploits, had a weakness for the aristocracy, who knowing his graceful infirmity patronized him with condescending dexterity, acknowledged his existence in Pall Mall as well as at Tattersalls, and thus occasionally got a point more than the betting out of him. Hump Chippendale had none of these gentle failings; he was a democratic leg, who loved to fleece a noble, and thought all men were born equal--a consoling creed that was a hedge for his hump.

"Seven to four against the favourite; seven to two against Caravan; eleven to two against Mango. What about Benedict? Will any one do anything about Pocket Hercules? Thirty to one against Dardanelles."

"Done."

"Five and thirty ponies to one against Phosphorus," shouted a little man vociferously and repeatedly.

"I will give forty," said Lord Milford. No answer,--nothing done.

"Forty to one!" murmured Egremont who stood against Phosphorus. A little nervous, he said to the peer in the white great coat, "Don't you think that Phosphorus may after all have some chance?"

"I should be cursed sorry to be deep against him," said the peer.

Egremont with a quivering lip walked away. He consulted his book; he meditated anxiously. Should he hedge? It was scarcely worth while to mar the symmetry of his winnings; he stood "so well" by all the favourites; and for a horse at forty to one. No; he would trust his star, he would not hedge.

"Mr Chippendale," whispered the peer in the white great coat, "go and press Mr Egremont about Phosphorus. I should not be surprised if you got a good thing."

At this moment, a huge, broad-faced, rosy-gilled fellow, with one of those good-humoured yet cunning countenances that we meet occasionally on the northern side of the Trent, rode up to the ring on a square cob and dismounting entered the circle. He was a carcase butcher, famous in Carnaby market, and the prime councillor of a distinguished nobleman for whom privately he betted on commission. His secret service to-day was to bet against his noble employer's own horse, and so he at once sung out, "Twenty to one against Man-trap."

A young gentleman just launched into the world, and who, proud of his ancient and spreading acres, was now making his first book, seeing Man-trap marked eighteen to one on the cards, jumped eagerly at this bargain, while Lord Fitzheron and Mr Berners who were at hand and who in their days had found their names in the book of the carcase butcher, and grown wise by it, interchanged a smile.

"Mr Egremont will not take," said Hump Chippendale to the peer in the white great coat.

"You must have been too eager," said his noble friend.

The ring is up; the last odds declared; all gallop away to the Warren. A few minutes, only a few minutes, and the event that for twelve months has been the pivot of so much calculation,


Sybil, or the Two Nations - 2/101

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