« ElőzőTovább »
and twenty seconds. Bay Regent was scarcely behind him; the chestnut abhorred the water, but a finer trained hunter was never sent over the Shires, and Jimmy Delmar was a great rider. The giant took the leap in magnificent style, and thundered on neck and neck with the “Guard's crack." The Irish mare followed, and with miraculous gameness, landed safely; but her hind legs slipped on the bank, a moment was lost, and “Baby” Grafton scarce knew enough to recover it, though he scoured on, nothing daunted.
Pas de Charge, much behind, refused the yawning water: his strength was not more than his courage, but both had been strained too severely at first. Montacute struck the spurs into him with a savage blow over the head: the madness was its own punishment; the poor brute rose blindly to the jump, and missed the bank with a reel and a crash. Sir Eyre was hurled out into the brook, and the hope of the Heavy Artillery men lay there with his breast and forelegs resting on the ground, his hindquarters in the water, and his back broken. Pas de Charge would never again see the starting-flag waved, or hear the music of the hounds, or feel the gallant life throb and glow through him at the rallying-notes of the horn. His race was run.
Not knowing or looking or heeding what happened behind, the trio tore on over the meadow and the plowed land; the two favorites neck by neck, the game little mare hopelessly behind through that one fatal moment over Brixworth. The turning-flags were passed.
As the shout rose, Cecil's left stirrup-leather snapped and gave way; at the pace they were going, most men, aye, and good riders, too, would have been hurled out of their saddle by the shock: he scarcely swerved; a moment to ease the King and to recover his equilibrium, then he took the pace up again as though nothing had changed. And his comrades of the Household Guards, when they saw this through their race-glasses, broke through their serenity and burst into a cheer that echoed over the grass-lands and the coppices like a clarion, the grand rich voice of Seraph leading foremost and loudest—a cheer that rolled mellow and triumphant down the cold bright air, like the blasts of trumpets, and thrilled on Bertie's ear where he came down the course a mile away. It made his heart beat quicker with a victorious headlong delight, as his knees pressed closer into Forest King's flanks, and half stirrupless like the Arabs, he thundered forward to the greatest riding-feat of his life. His face was very calm still, but his blood was in tumult: the delirium of pace had got on him; a minute of life like this was worth a year, and he knew that he would win or die for it, as the land seemed to fly like a black sheet under him; and in that killing speed, fence and hedge and double fence and water all went by him like a dream, whirling underneath him as the gray stretched, stomach to earth, over the level, and rose to leap after leap.
For that moment's pause, when the stirrup broke, threatened to lose him the race. Certain wild blood that lay latent in Cecil, under the tranquil gentleness of temper and of custom, woke and had the mastery: he set his teeth hard, and his hands clinched like steel on the bridle. “O my beauty, my beauty!” he cried, all unconsciously half aloud as they cleared the thirty-sixth fence, “kill me if you like, but don't fail me!”
As though Forest King heard the prayer and answered it with all his hero's heart, the splendid form launched faster out, the stretching stride stretched further yet with lightning spontaneity, every fibre strained, every nerve struggled; with a magnificent bound like an antelope the gray recovered the ground he had lost, and passed Bay Regent by a quarter-length. It was a neck-to-neck race once more across the three meadows, with the last and lower fences that were between them and the final leap of all: that ditch of artificial water, with the towering double hedge of oak rails and of blackthorn that was reared black and grim and well-nigh hopeless just in front of the grand stand. A roar like the roar of the sea broke up from the thronged course as the crowd hung breathless on the even race; ten thousand shouts rang as thrice ten thousand eyes watched the closing contest, as superb a sight as the Shires ever saw while the two ran together—the gigantic chestnut, with every massive sinew swelled and strained to tension, side by side with the marvelous grace, the shining flanks, and the Arabian-like head of the Guards' horse.
Sent along at a pace that Epsom flat never eclipsed, sweeping by the grand stand like the flash of electric
flame, they ran side to side one moment more, their foam flung on each other's withers, their breath hot in each other's nostrils, while the dark earth flew beneath their stride. The blackthorn was in front, behind five bars of solid oak, the water yawning on its further side, black and deep, and fenced, twelve feet wide if it was an inch, with the same thorn wall beyond it; a leap no horse should have been given, no steward of the course should have set. Cecil pressed his knees closer and closer, and worked the gallant hero for the test; . . . he heard nothing, knew nothing, saw nothing but that lean chestnut head beside him, the dull thud on the turf of the flying gallop, and the black wall that reared in his face. Forest King had done so much, had he strength for this?
Cecil's hands clinched unconsciously on the bridle, and his face was very palepale with excitation—as his foot, where the stirrup was broken, crushed closer and harder against the gray's flanks.
“O my darling, my beauty—now!"
One touch of the spur—the first—and Forest King rose at the leap, all the life and power there were in him gathered for one superhuman and crowning effort: a flash of time not half a second in duration, and he was lifted in the air higher, and higher, and higher, in the cold, fresh, wild winter wind; stakes and rails, and thorn and water, lay beneath him black and gaunt and shapeless, yawning like a grave; one bound even in mid-air, one last convulsive impulse of the gathered limbs, and Forest King was over!
And as he galloped up the straight run-in, he was alone. Bay Regent had refused the leap.
-From "Under Two Flags."
Notes Titan: giant.
Bucephalus: the famous war horse of Alexander the Great; a magnificent animal.
Olympian: in this passage, wonderful, like the stride of a horse of the gods.
Derby: a horse race run annually at Epsom in England for the Derby stakes.
Duello: contest between two.
Questions for Study 1. How early in this story can you pick out the hero? How do you recognize him? What more could one want in a horse ?
2. See if you can guess from this selection what the preceding part of the novel would have told you—the different names used for the horses, who was the rider of each, and what branch of the army he represented.
3. Find out from the story what sort of race this steeplechase
4. Try to picture clearly this race from beginning to end. At different points describe fully and exactly what you see.
HENRY VAN DYKE
Four things a man must learn to do