How the Grand Aristocrat Came Off

Steeplechases are generally crude, ill-arranged things. Few sportsmen will act as stewards a second time; while the victim to the popular delusion of patronising our ‘national sports’ -- considers -- like gentlemen who have served the office of sheriff, or churchwarden -- that once in a lifetime is enough; hence, there is always the air of amateur actorship about them. There is always something wanting or forgotten. Either they forget the ropes, or they forget the scales, or they forget the weights, or they forget the bell, or -- more commonly still -- some of the parties forget themselves. Farmers, too, are easily satisfied with the benefits of an irresponsible mob careering over their farms, even though some of them are attired in the miscellaneous garb of hunting and racing costume. Indeed, it is just this mixture of two sports that spoils both; steeplechasing being neither hunting nor racing. It has not the wild excitement of the one, nor the accurate calculating qualities of the other. The very horses have a peculiar air about them -- neither hunters nor hacks, nor yet exactly race-horses. Some of them, doubtless, are fine, good- looking, well-conditioned animals; but the majority are lean, lathy, sunken-eyed, woebegone, iron-marked, desperately-abused brutes, lacking all the lively energy that characterises the movements of the up- to-the-mark hunter. In the early days of steeplechasing a popular fiction existed that the horses were hunters; and grooms and fellows used to come nicking and grinning up to masters of hounds at checks and critical times, requesting them to note that they were out, in order to ask for certificates of the horses having been ‘regularly hunted,’ -- a species of regularity than which nothing could be more irregular. That nuisance, thank goodness, is abated. steeplechaser now generally stands on his own merits; a change for which sportsmen may be thankful.

But to our story.

The whole country was in a commotion about this ‘Aristocratic.’ The unsophisticated looked upon it as a grand réeunion of the aristocracy; and smart bonnets and cloaks, and jackets and parasols were ordered with the liberality incident to a distant view of Christmas. As Viney sipped his sherry-cobler of an evening, he laughed at the idea of a son-of-a-day labourer like himself raising such a dust. Letters came pouring in to the clerk of the course from all quarters; some asking about beds; some about breakfasts; some about stakes; some about stables; some about this thing, some about that. Every room in the Old Duke of Cumberland was speedily bespoke. Post-horses rose in price, and Dobbin and Smiler, and Jumper and Cappy, and Jessy and Tumbler were jobbed from the neighbouring farmers, and converted for the occasion into posters. At last came the great and important day -- day big with the fate of thousands of pounds; for the betting list vermin had been plying their trade briskly throughout the kingdom, and all sorts of rumours had been raised relative to the qualities and condition of the horses.

Who doesn’t know the chilling feel of an English spring, or rather of a day at the turn of the year before there is any spring? our gala-day was a perfect specimen of the order -- a white frost succeeded by a bright sun, with an east wind, warming one side of the face and starving the other. It was neither a day for fishing nor hunting, nor coursing, nor anything but farming. The country, save where there were a few lingering patches of turnips, was all one dingy drab, with abundant scalds on the undrained fallows. The grass was more like hemp than anything else. The very rushes were yellow and sickly.

Long before midday the whole country was in commotion. The same sort of people commingled that one would expect to see if there was a balloon to go up, and a man to go down, or be hung at the same place. Fine ladies in all the colours of the rainbow; and swarthy, beady-eyed dames, with their stalwart, big-calved, basket-carrying comrades; genteel young people from behind the counter; Dandy Candy merchants from behind the hedge; rough-coated dandies with their silver-mounted whips; and Shaggyford roughs, in their baggy, poacher-like coats, and formidable clubs; carriages and four, and carriages and pairs; and gigs and dog-carts, and Whitechapels, and Newport Pagnels, and long carts, and short carts, and donkey carts, converged from all quarters upon the point of attraction at Broom Hill.

If farmer Scourgefield had made a mob, he could not have got one that would be more likely to do damage to his farm than this steeplechase one. Nor was the assemblage confined to the people of the country, for the Granddiddle Junction, by its connection with the great network of railways, enabled all patrons of this truly national sport to sweep down upon the spot like flocks of wolves and train after train disgorged

  By PanEris using Melati.

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