I was awoken of a sudden on the following morning.
With alarm I rushed to the window . These people are given to insurrections and rebellions quite without reason or without any organisation . The things tend to fizzle out after one sulphurous flare , but one doesn’t wish to become involved in the conflagration where one can avoid it.
My fears were unfounded . Much to my relief , as I now observed the commotion playing out in the street below was one of an apparently more joyous if rambunctious nature.
There was bunting strewn haphazardly across the street which was also bedecked with an assortment of flags. It all looked rather jolly , if a tad boisterous , but one must observe the customs of these primitives .
Having run my bath which was needless to say was cold again I ambled along to the breakfast room
I was feeling rather fine this morning I must confess as the wire had finally come from my club that my equity in Indian Tea plantation and not inconsiderable interest I held in the Belgan Congo Rubber Company were both on sound footing once more , and the markets while cautious were generally optimistic .
The girl Mellissa was standing in the doorway leading to the kitchen .
I cant quite capture the way she looked - a harlot in one sense, such as you see in the alley ways of Soho, but with a sort of regal supremacy. I know the whole dam thing sounds preposterous but she was blessed with those unblemished features of the classical Greek statuary that she quite captivated one; the light played on her features as if she controlled it, and used it to better advance her fine cheek bones and alabaster brow.
Whichever sway she looked her mood betook her countenance . It seemed to give her an enhanced sense of exactitude of that expression; she seemed to express sadness , surprise , expectation , relief all with at sort of facial exemplar; she seemed , without any effort to represent the essence of that expression in a manner which was beyond reproof or criticism , and quite defied verbal description.
She regarded me now with that sleepy , limp- eyed manner of hers which I confess left me a little non plussed
I bade her good morning quite civilly .
- I wonder - I said coridally-
-If I might have my bacon and eggs you know , any time it suits .…
- all gone -she said with what could have been satisfaction or revenge but which I restrained myself from further analysis at that point .
_- is there anything left , in order that I might breakfast - I enquired , adding
- one is rather famished this morning . What !
-There’s steak .- she said and threw back her languid neck , her raven hair falling carelessly on her girlish bosom.
- For breakfast ? - I asked, dumbfounded
- or salmon.- she said her keen eyes wide and full of insouciance .
-Oh very well very well , - I said genially , for I was light-hearted this morning
- I say, -I said - what is the source of merriment ?
-There seems to be some considerable gaiety in the streets- what with the band and the bunting and .. Well you know gaiety and well general well you know .. Frolicks-
- that’s dirty talk ! - she looked at me half leering and I dare say I was embarrassed to my very core .
- I do beg your pardon, Miss - I said , I’m afraid I have given quite the wrong impression .There was a ..
- No . its alright . Most of them comin in here cant keep a civil tongue in their mouths - she said . And as she said this she ran her tongue over her young sensual mouth . By God ! I could’ve sworn she was deliberately being seductive ; a temptress . I had to check myself I can assure you.
- any way do you want the salmon or the steak..-She continued .
Oh Well either ,, either whichever is handiest you know .. I - I was about to add that I was feeling jolly good this morning ...
It’s the races ..- she said
- The which - I said
-The races - the races is on didn’t you know ..?
-Aha.. ! I see races - Oh I see the races - what with horses and jockeys and all of that ..- horse racing Eh ? - Sport of Kings and all that . What ?I said finally getting to the point.
She looked at me cooly , and I could swear I heard her sigh in exasperation -They’ll be off at three
Off , Off ; Oh I see rather ; , I see , rather what ? .. Well mustn’t miss the races - Eh ? - I say are you going ..going racing I mean ..
She came to my table in a seemingly motionless swirl and sat before me with those open eyes which seemed to reflect every hue and colour of Connemara ; lustrous and deeper than her age could ever allow.
- Have ye the good eye for a horsE mister soorr ? She asked with that wide eyed innocence
It was the first time she had addressed , and the titled appellation while displaced charmed me utterly.
- well I dare say I have perhaps more than a nodding acquaintance with the equinine proportionality , such as to render me capable.. .I stopped there and continued in another vein-
- Yes I think I know a little about horses ..
- will ye have a look at Fairy Furrrow
Fairy Furrow ..I see and …what might I lo..
- And Jumping Jack
- Aha , I said gaily - they do rather go in for a little onomatopoeia what ?- It was supposed to be amusing
She regarded me quizzically and I felt for a moment like an idiot . I know . Dam strange but I did.
In time I was served poached salmon (for breakfast ,) and there being no tea , a half bottle off champagne graced my morning table . This was followed by a large brandy and another of those cigars.
Well , I thought , What about it . When in Rome and all of that good rot , what?
As the races were to commence at three I retired to my rooms to dress. I’d brought a morning and an evening coat and of course my topper . And decided that as they have a definite propensity to do things here in this backwater , quite differently to the rest of the realm- I decided on my morning coat and topper. My assumption being that event would end before five o'clock. Had the event ran to past seven o'clock in the evening I should find myself in quite a pickle .
But I reminded myself that this was hardly Epsom . And there one was as it were .
Presently I made my way to the race track , which was a football field with a few scattered jumps hither and thither . And when I say ‘track ‘ needless to remark there was none at all . Just an open meadow really with a few stakes randomly skewered into the mud at intervals..
But fortified as I was from the libation at breakfast and what with the news from the markets I was buoyed up to a considerable degree.
Having keenly observed that not another soul was in morning and topper I became something of a curiosity . The indigents followed me round the paddock ( I use the eterm liberally ) and to my utter consternation ,I heard one of them remark ;
- there he goes King George of England .’- .and another to remark that if if were the king he hoped for the kingdom’s ake that I had the head to fill the hat .. And then a libellous and disparaging remark about the king being borne out of wed lock - Suffice !
Gingerly making my away along the mud bank in my spats I was looking for some indication as to where the parade ground might be. My efforts were fraught and in the end fruitless , and seeing a ruddy faced chap pass I enquired for directions .
- down at the starting line - like always - he said regarding me querulously
-ah ha , I see ! - well Thank you ever so much I said , and the man’s glare followed me as I went . He then decided to follow me suspicion along until plainly he tired of it and sat down , took out a bottle and began to sing a morose lament rather reminiscent of a foghorn in the dark of night.
As I made my way to the starting line the band alluded to above now seemed to erupt forth from the crowd like a cannon from a gun ; boisterously and without a scintilla of musicality .
I was thrown a goodly ten feet into the mud, much to the amusement of the following rabble who were clearly wildly intoxicated .
- a nation once again ..!! A nation once again !!- they bellowed and charged forward waving an assortment of flags.
When I recomposed myself I considered returning to my rooms for a change of costume ,but I had given my word to the girl , Melissa that I would inspect the animals and proffer her the benefit of my equestrian experience.
Nothing was to prepare me for the nags grazing idly around the starting post , some unsaddled and others tethered with bailing twine to a stake in the ground, most of them unshod , and many without apparent bit nor bridle .
The jockeys were up with the bookies. This was scarcely credible ; was this permissible ; who were they betting on ; themselves or their opponents.
My mission being to assess the equestrian line I espied the girl Mellissa as I inspected the nags .
- well ? she came over to me quite solicitously
- Ahh yes well.. You see its rather difficult to judge - I said contemplatively. One didn’t wish to sound rash.
- not knowing their weights you see -
- what weights - she looked at me with that disconcerting beguile , clearly perplexed.
- oh weighting . You see . A form of handicapping . Say for example that horse A had won the three thirty in say Doncaster , and repeated his victory again in Newcaslte a month later .. Well such would be the circumstances in this eventuality as to require a handicapping system ,and hence each horse id weighted on its merit…
She studied me with what I thought for an instant was a pitiful smile.
- not here they don’t she said coyly.
- they do try but the jockeys do have ways of dropping it off ‘cos it slows them down.
- well that’s the whole point don’t you see .the weighting system is governed by the Royal Horse B,, . - I expostulated.
- anyway which is the better horse Fairy Furrow or Jumping Jack ..
-well on the balance .. On balance .. All things being equal .. You see considering this and that and the many imponderables ..
-Which , she barked cutting me short in the little lesson I’d prepared .
-Jumping Jack - I said almost meekly , her haughter reminding me of a stern but loving nanny from my childhood. She had brought the spoon to bear on my tender hide on more than one occasion.
- Yes ; My money would be on Jumping Jack.
I see. She looked at me querulously .
- you’re sure .?
- well on the balance of… I began.but she cut me short again.
- well I want you to go up there to the bookies and put a tener on -
- I say! a tenner ..?
-Or twenty might be better .- she said and seemed lost in some calculation of her own -
- twenty - had to be twenty ..! Will you do it ..?
- Now look here I said drawing myself up to my not inconsiderable height..
- and could you lend me a fiver , till tea time .?
- A fiver .
-Shh keep your voice down . I’ll explain it later .
-Have you that fiver.?
By Jove the girl was a trifle sudden . She came upon you like a hurricane ;
Whisked you into a muddle and vanished in a storm of confusion . So it was with me anyway,
I parted with my fiver , and before she breezed her way towards the bookie stands she whispered crisply in my ear .
- Hey and something else ; start poking your stick in the ground and rubbing your chin .
- what for ? I asked utterly confused .
- like this , she took my shooting stick and started doing a preposterous mime giving the impression that she was inspecting the turf .
And then just as breezily she said in parting -
- by the way I told them you were a cousin of the king..
-A which to whom ,,-- !? I said but she had vanished.
As is was composing my self and mulling over her last remark, thie genial bozo came along .
- ahh good morning Excellency what .- then he wagged his finger mischifously at me
- you’ve done the devil of a good job at giving us the slip, I’ll say.
What do you mean Sir ,_ said crisply .
But it was too late . I was already being whisked through the peasantry as if being escorted from my redoubt .
I protested that I had to lay my bets and it was with a goodish measure of reluctance that he released my sleeve from his iron fist.
I placed the two bets and when we arrived at an open truck and he stood aside inviting me to mount the platform which I determined was hosting the dignitaries. Luckily I had worn my toper for it seemed to distract attention from my sartorial disarray on which had befallen me when that wretched melee had accosted me earlier.
There were effusive greetings . The vicar introduced the others; a military man with a monocle and a bristling moustache; there was a Mr Dawson who was the RSM , who had a disconcerting cast in his left eye ; or so I thought at first when it seemed to appear in the other eye. There were two other gentlemen who seemed to be otherwise engaged concerning the flag.
I was pleasantly surprised when I was offered a large flute of champagne , and hearing someone behind me whisper - ‘ he’s the kings cousin - turned to investigate what on earth was going when the military man said solemnly - To the king . - we toasted the king .
The parson then asked me my opinion on the quality of the turf , and before I cold answer , our flutes were refilled and he too stood back and said -to the king!
We toasted the king again . And again .
Then the parson said
- well your grace - nearly time for the five o clock .
- surely its not that time already?
No no .. ah ha no.. No indeed he said , scarcely concealing his mirth.
- the five o clock is being held now instead of the three o clock.
Well , that I suppose explained everything. Indeed . I was feeling a little tipsy from the champagne and was finding the whole procedure utterly baffling when my glass was again filled; I must have let the guard down for next I heard myself saying -
-Ah ha ! - to the King - I said , raising my flute , thinking I was getting the jist of the thing.
The major regarded me with scarcely concealed contempt.
- Slaw - tche ; he said and they raised and drained their glasses once more.
The two bozos with the flag were becoming each more possessive of the wretched cloth when a whistle sounded behind my left ear. I should have said - within my left ear- so shrill was the sound .
The two bounded off towards the starting post on reaching which the flag was in tatters. But undeterred they took up their positions on either side of the nags.
Another whistle blew this time knocking my topper clean off, then one of them raised his flag. The other flag was held rigidly tto the ground . Half the field bolted but the other half refrained ; a false start at the at ease position. This was repeated a number of times as if it were part of a Vaudvill sketch ;one false start following the next.
False start .
- oh ho theyre at it again- cried the parson gleefully . Even the military man seemed to share the general mirth.
- it wouldn’t be the same without them- , another magnum had appeared and our glasses were replenished generously.
- To the King
To the King !
The two gentlemen at the starting post continued with their chaotic semaphore antics until at length the jockeys and punters both getting thoroughly fed up with thieir antics , they responded to a call from the rabble when some unofficial raffish bloke with a yellow cap and a clay pipe shouted
-theyre off -
And they were off.
With a furlong to go my bet Jumping Jack whom I’d backed at even money was a clear leader by ten lengths , followed by Fairy Furrow.
The blasted Jumping jack horse then seemed to riveted to the turf as if like Lot’s wife he’d been turned of an instannt into a pillar of salt or stone in this case.
Fairy Furrow , barely made it over the last and stopped in sympathy beside Jumping and seemed to nuzzle him along. These overtures were plainly rejected and after some time he went into a short little trot just a nose ahead of the field.
But he’d won. Fairy Furrow had won; beaten Jumping Jack. I was sure there would be a stewards inquiry .
I felt ghastly I can tell you. Never mind my twenty five - Dear God , the girl Melissa . She had relied on me . I had let her down.
I sat down resignedly and accepted a much needed brandy when I spied the darkeyed beauty coming out of the crowd . My feet trembled . My heart pounded. Dear God .. What to say . Well for one thing I would write off the five I’d lent her. A gentleman could do no less.
But as she approached the stage , there seemed about her an air of nonchalance ; strange . I thought - but my relief was profound.
I alighted from the truck and began to make my apology complete and resolute
- I say old girl.. I don’t know quite what to say .. You poor poor dear.. I feel utterly dreadful.. You cant imagine the,..
-Whats on you man ? - she said scanning me with those wondrous eyes , which frankly now made me feel weak kneed and enfeebled .
- the bet - I said with as much soft sympathy as I could muster ..
- Oh That !!! - she fell into a paroxysm of hearty laughter which took her some three full minutes to recover from .
And through the shrieks of utter delight at my bemusement , she whisperes in my ear .
- No , I didn’t back Jumpin Jack..you ddope!
- you didn’t !! -I ejaculated .
-Not on your life !- she continued , her mirth still unconfined .
I backed Fairy Furrow.
Fairy Fiurrow !!- you backed the winner .. !!- I asked completely befuddled now. I thought I tipped Jumping Jack ?
Shh - you old dope - she said ruffling my hair in a manner I would have thought unseemly in London.Perhaps even to the degree of it being an assault on the person. But somehow I was so dam confudes , I let it go.
- I backed him at six to one .
- sixes !
-making a neat thirty. - !!
- But I don’t undetstand ..
- oh they all thought you knew all about horses and the track , you being a cousin of the King and all that and they all backed Jumping Jack. And fairy Furrow went out to fives ..see !
- And what happened Jumping Jack ? - I expostulated .
-Oh they pulled him - she said with a measure of sly solicitude .
- Pulled him ? you mean they allowed Fairy Furrow..you mean they fixed the race - I said , the plot now dawning on me at last.
- shhh !! Dont get all huffy - its just a race . !
She now took out her purse , and I declare to my astonishment she counted out five pounds to repay her borrowings and then a further twenty pounds to cover my losses .
Leaving her with five pounds for herself.
- No No ! - I said firmly
- Never - a gentleman could never acceppt.. I mean I .. oh I don’t know what I mean .. Why did you not borrow more..
-I’m happy ..she said simply .
That’s all I wanted . -she saiid without equivocation.
I could feel a sense of rapture overcoming me. Dam it I lost but .. well I didnt .. well the point is I did , but I didnt if you get my drift .
Of course I couldn’t accept the money , and wouldn’t . Never .
But that was the moment I realised I’d fallen completely under this splell of this untamed Connnemara girl..
And there I was used as a simple marionette in their plot . i should have resented it with a bitter scorn . But no.
And I am a man not easily given to given to washy sentiment , and now was no time for it . Suffice it to say that I admired her greatly …But more ; Yes I confess . More
I loved her . ..
I adored her ….
I was consumed utterly with Melissa.
Why .. I .. I .. Yes Damit - I worshiped the girl.
There - Forsooth!!