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Part Eight

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« on: July 19, 2023, 07:44:15 am »

THIS afternoon, when the mail-boat arrived, I received a copy of a London weekly to which I subscribe. On the second page is the announcement that the Editor, Mr. Somerset Lloyd-James, will shortly contribute a series of five long articles about the current state of our national finances; so Somerset, it seems, has realized his ambition to become an authority. At the head of the announcement is a photograph, taken, I should surmise, while he was still up at Cambridge, not so very long after I last saw him. Yet the face on the page before me might as well belong to the devil for anything it recalls of my school-boy friend. And indeed, even when he arrived in Broughton Staithe that August of 1945, he had already changed a great deal. The change, of course, had been taking place the whole of the previous quarter, but since it had been gradual, and since I had seen him daily, l had hardly noticed it (despite the comments of Peter, who, seeing him rather less often, had been more aware). But now, after I had been nearly a month away from Somerset, the metamorphosis was plain: he had matured, I might almost say he had aged, and his knack of spreading a defensive glaze over his eyes was now more than ever pronounced. Had we not still had a number of friends and interests in common (and even these were now discussed by Somerset in a new spirit, a spirit which was grudging where before it had been merely guarded), and had it not been for certain familiar tricks of manner and idiom, I should scarcely have recognized the boy who had walked with me over the cricket ground in May.

'I was sorry, said Somerset as soon as he was out of his train, 'to hear about your father.'

'You needn't be.'

'I should have been interested to meet him. Your mother too.'

'She thought we'd sooner be left to ourselves.'

'Considerate of her,' murmured Somerset. 'As it happens, I do have one or two rather private things to say to you.'

'Fire ahead.'

'Not yet.'

'Why not?'

'Your mood is not propitious. I must wait until you are more receptive.'

'And when is that likely to be?'

Somerset was silent for several seconds. Then he said: 'Before I can tell you what I'm going to, I must first establish the new relationship between us.'

'The new relationship?'

'Yes. Hitherto I have been the ugly but amusing boy befriended by the glamorous school hero. I have been philosopher, clown and client. This is a role I am no longer willing to sustain. I must assert my claim to equality---in some respects to dominance.'

'For heaven's sake, Somerset. I've always regarded you as an ally.'

'No, you haven't. Whether you knew it or not, you always condescended.'

'Well, if so I'm sorry. I never for a moment----'

'---No need to be sorry,' Somerset said. 'I bear no rancour. But from now on things must be different. When I'm sure you fully understand that, I shall be ready to speak more plainly.'

A taxi appeared at last in the station yard. We piled into it with Somerset's luggage, and sat side by side in silence until we were home. There was about Somerset, I thought, the air of a scrupulous duellist---of one determined to ensure, before shedding his opponent's blood, that everything was entirely en règle at the outset. It was as though he were giving me fair warning, enough to let me know that combat was about to begin, not enough to let me into the stratagems which would be used. Yet if he was after my blood, why should he trouble to give warning? Perhaps his Catholic conscience would not allow him to omit this, or perhaps he was obeying some atavistic notion of chivalry, such as might have deterred his remote ancestors from 'striking horse' in a tournament. But whatever the refinements might be, an instinct told me plainly, amid much that was in question, that Somerset meant business and meant it soon.

'The atom bomb,' said Somerset at lunch, 'is just another element in the situation.'

'Peter and the head man seem to think it's too colossal to take into account. That it's beyond our control.'

'Nothing which we ourselves have made can be beyond our control. It is simply another problem which requires thought.'

'So what would you do about it?'

'To start with,' Somerset said, 'I'd put a stop to all this so-called moral protest. The atom bomb exists. We may as well accept the fact without whining.'

'All right. I accept the fact without whining. So what am I to do next?'

'You should remember that as far as you know only your side can make it. No one else has the secret . . . yet.'

'And so?'

'And so you should establish dominance before it's too late. Before your enemies too can make atom bombs and so achieve parity.'

'Somerset . . . You don't mean we ought to use the thing?'

'One would hope that the mere threat, the unambiguous threat, would be enough.'

'And who,' I asked, 'are our enemies?'

'Those who wish us ill---about three quarters of the world's population.'

'So you would establish a series of atomic bases all over the world and then hold it to ransom?'

'For its own good,' said Somerset, 'to say nothing of ours. Unfortunately, however, we can't afford it and our American friends, who can, won't finance such an undertaking. They would regard it as wicked.'

'They might not be alone in that.'

'No doubt they will have the sentimental support of all who, like themselves, are ignorant of history. The historical lesson is quite plain: if you are lucky enough to discover a new weapon, you should make full use of it. Because if you don't somebody else will, and almost certainty at your expense. A melancholy truth,' said Somerset with satisfaction, 'which applies, mutatis mutandis, in all human activities.'

For three days nothing much happened. We went for walks by the sea, we prepared meals and ate them, we talked of neutral topics, and we read. Somerset said no more of 'the private things' which he had to communicate; nor did he make any signal of impending battle. But always the threat was there, and I became more and more impatient for its open declaration.

On the fourth evening of Somerset's visit, having dinner at the local hotel, we saw Angela Tuck. She waved in a friendly way, and when she had finished her meal she came over, unasked, to join us.

'Introduce me to your fascinating friend,' she said.

I introduced her.

'Tuck is back tomorrow,' she announced.

'And we are off---to a friend at Whereham.'

Then you must come round to my place,' Angela said, 'and have a drink.'

We all went down the road to the Tuck bungalow by the quay.

'Drinkies,' said Angela. She bustled out and bustled back with a tray, three glasses, and, incredibly, two bottles of champagne.

'Don't ask me where I got it from,' she said, and opened one bottle with a few expert movements.

Somerset coyly dabbled some of the wine behind his ear.

'Twenty-one today,' sang Angela raucously, and knocked back the glass in one.

'Literally?'

'Literally. I hope Tuck brings me something nice from London. He hasn't even sent a telegram, the rotten sod.'

'Let's hope he's had good hunting,' I said. 'It might make him more generous.'

Angela gave me a sly look and seemed about to reply. But by now Somerset was on his feet proposing a toast.

'To our charming hostess.' Somerset said, 'now that she has acquired the key of the door. May she always be free with it.'

'Whoops,' went Angela, and tucked into her fizz. She sat down on Somerset's lap and started to stroke his cheek.

'Little Somerset,' she said; 'and where did he learn to say such pretty things to the ladies? Open the other bottle,' she ordered me, rather sharply, and deposited a sploshing kiss on Somerset's spotty forehead.

What in God's name is she up to now, I wondered. I opened the bottle with clumsy, unfamiliar hands, while Angela went on kissing Somerset. The cork popped and a great gout of champagne shot over her dress.

'When it rains, it rains bubble-juice from heaven,' Angela sang. 'Lucky we've got some of mother's ruin for when that's gone. Better put on something dry.'

She tottered out.

'I can't understand it,' I said: 'she's usually got a head like a rock. I mean, whatever she does, there's none of this childishness.'

'She's been drinking all day.' said Somerset coolly.

'How do you know?'

'She's got fresh blisters on her fingers where she's burnt them with cigarettes. Drunks always do that.'

'How clever of you to notice.'

'There've been quite a few drinkers in my family.'

Angela came back in pyjamas.

'Tell you what,' she screamed 'birthday gamies. Let's all have a birthday gamey.'

'Willingly.' said Somerset, hiccuping and helping himself to the last of the champagne.

'Get the gin first.' said Angela, throwing out her bust like Volumnia.

'Where is it?'

'Kitchen.'

Somerset clumped off.

'What do you mean . . . gamies?' I said.

'Cardies,' She swayed over to a desk and came back with a pack. 'Forfeits. You'll see.'

Somerset came back with the gin and poured out stiff measures all round. Remembering the scene on the last night of the quarter, I wondered whether Somerset would be sick again: certainly drink effected a rapid change in his demeanour, a change decidedly for the better, I thought.

'Forfeits.' announced Angela.

She dealt each of us a card, face down.

'Whoever has the highest card can claim a forfeit from the one with lowest,' she explained with surprising lucidity.

'What kind of forfeit?'

Angela shrugged.

'Turn 'em up,' she said.

Somerset had the highest card, Angela the lowest.

'I claim a kiss from Angela,' Somerset said.

'You've already had some.'

'This will be a special kiss.' Somerset's spectacles were crooked and his lisp pronounced.

'That's the thpirit,' Angela mimicked. She crawled along the carpet to the side of Somerset's chair, knelt there and held her face up to him. Somerset took his spectacles off, leaned down, missed her mouth, and kissed her on the end of her turned up nose.

'You need your gig-lamps.'

She picked them off the arm of the chair.

'Don't meth about with my thepectacles.'

Too late. Angela had keeled over and crunched the glasses against the hearth stone. Blood came from her hand.

'My glathes,' wailed Somerset.

'Angela's hand . . .'

'Never mind my hand or anybody's rotten glasses. Deal the cards.'

'Luckily I remembered to bring another pair. But they're not so comfortable.'

'Deal the cards'

I dealt. This time Angela had the highest card, Somerset the lowest.

'Take your trousers off,' said Angela briskly.

Knowing that Somerset was too mean to buy himself underpants from his allowance, I started to smirk. But Somerset was equal to the occasion. Having got his trousers off swiftly and with dignity, he tucked the tail of his shirt between his legs.

'Not much meat,' said Angela, pinching one of Somerset's thin white calves and leaving a trail of blood. 'Deal the cards.'

Somerset dealt. This time I won with a ten, while both Angela and Somerset had eights.

'Forfeits for both of you,' I said hilariously. 'Let's have your shirt, Somerset. And as for you, Angie, the top half of your pyjamas.'

Angela complied pokerfaced: Somerset seemed reluctant.

When he had removed his shirt, he was naked save for his shoes and socks, and he did not strip prettily. He placed his hand over his groin, Angela inspecting him closely as he did so. Am I trying to humiliate him. I wondered; or do I. in some unbelievably perverse way, wish to be . . . associated with him?

'Cards,' said Angela, excitable no longer but grave and purposeful. She dealt each card with ponderous care; after which she turned up an Ace, Somerset and I both Kings.

'Ace high,' said Angela; 'forfeits from both.'

She looked carefully from Somerset to me and back again.

'You,' she said to Somerset, 'are interesting. Ugly and skinny, but interesting. I claim you . . . You,' she said rounding on me, 'are just a sexual cliché. Peaches and a little frothy cream. From you I claim privacy.'

'The game's not over yet,' I said sullenly.

'This is my house, and I'm telling you to go away and leave us alone.'

She wiped her bloody hand casually over her breast, then bent over Somerset, who was looking myopic but composed.

'Do as the kind lady asks,' said Somerset.

This time, I thought furiously, he is not going to be sick.

'I think,' said Somerset with deadly softness, 'that I shall be able to find my own way back . . . even without my glasses.'

He lay back in his chair. Angela took his hand and lifted it away from his body.

'Get out,' she hissed at me; 'and don't slam the door.'

+++

Inland from the sea, on the way to Whereham, the fields shimmered and drowsed. The bus, almost empty, nosed along the lanes and through chimps of complacent trees, made long stops in market places or in front of tiny post offices, which displayed in their windows pre-war Christmas annuals, knitting magazines and toy magic lanterns.

At one such post office I dismounted and sent a telegram to Christopher. 'Please confirm 3rd, 4th or 5th September for visit. Anxious to hear. Fielding.' After all. I thought, Christopher must have had my last letter at least five days ago; he should have answered by now.

When I returned to the bus, Somerset, who had hardly spoken since we got out of bed, inquired with bland interest: 'What was all that about?'

'Just a wire to the charwoman. Something I forgot to tell her.'

'It could have waited, surely until we reached Peter's house? '

'I suppose so. I just felt restless.'

'So I noticed. You know, I think the time has come . . . now . . . for me to speak to you. After what happened last night, I fancy the conditions are favourable.'

'Then make yourself plain, Somerset. For God's sake be plain and be done.'

'Very well.' Somerset took a deep breath. 'There's one thing I want.' Somerset said, 'which I don't propose to let you take from me or to spoil for me after I have it. Eight months from now, next spring, they will need a new Head of school. I propose to be that Head and I don't propose to allow you, as a subordinate Head of your own House, to challenge my authority. Nor do I propose to allow you to discredit that authority by making a mess of things in your own little area. Mismanagement or scandal in your House would also mean mismanagement or scandal in my school.'

'People have been warning me about you for some time,' I said slowly, 'and I sometimes thought that it might turn out to be something like that. But then I told myself, calmly and reasonably, that it simply couldn't be, because no one as sensible as you could care about anything so trivial. I'm disappointed that I was wrong. Why, Somerset?'

'You have so much already,' said Somerset, almost humbly. 'Surely you wouldn't grudge me this?'

'You can have it and welcome. I shan't stand in your way or make rude noises when you ascend your throne. But the choice isn't ours. It will be made by the Headmaster.'

'If the position is offered to you, you must refuse.'

'The head man would think it very odd.'

'You must put him off as best you can.'

'I've told you,' I said, irritated at last. 'I don't care either way and I wouldn't dream of pushing myself forward. But if the head man should call on me, then I'm damned if I'll grovel about saying, "No, I am not worthy, choose Somerset instead." You can't expect it.'

'Can't I? You know. Fielding. I've been following up one or two little rumours about you. About you and Christopher Roland. I don't suppose you'd much care for them to be brought to the Headmaster's attention.'

'The head man already knows I'm fond of Christopher.'

'But does he know how fond? He can be very sensitive, the head man, about that kind of thing. He has to be in his position.'

'There's nothing to be sensitive about.'

'Isn't there?' Somerset paused, and then proceeded with the solemn manner of one dictating his terms. 'What's happened. Fielding, was no affair of mine. I'll let the past rest and gladly, provided you do as I say. That's the first point. By-gones can be by-gones if you'll let them be.'

'Generous of you.'

'But secondly, remember this. If I get a hint of anything in this line starting up again, next year . . . I won't have it. Fielding. Any more of that, with Christopher or anyone else, and I'll get you sacked.'

'Is it pride talking, or morality?'

'Let's just say that anything of this kind would offend my sense of good order.'

'Pride.'

'Seemliness.'

'Obsession'

The bus drew to a stop. I spotted Peter, who was waiting for us in front of a brick chapel of improbable denomination.

'Have it which way you will,' said Somerset, taking his case from the rack. Those are my terms---quite easy terms, don't you think?---and if you still want to be there wearing your pretty blue blazer next summer, you'd better keep them.'

+++

Peter's father, an immense brown man with a trace of Norfolk in his voice, was seldom seen save in the evenings, when he liked to discuss the prospects for county cricket now that the war was over and Peter's mother, a grave woman with an enchanting smile, was called away to a married sister's sick bed the day after Somerset and I arrived. So the three of us were left, as I had hoped we would be, to amuse ourselves. Since Somerset was prone to hay fever, Peter did not suggest that we should help in the fields. Instead he took us on long leisurely tours of his family demesne; drove us in a farm cart to markets, or in a trap (petrol being tight even for farmers) to have picnics where there was a castle or a church, a village cricket match or a summer fête. It was a time of happiness and truce. Peter gave himself up to serene enjoyment of his last few days as a civilian in his own place; Somerset was clever, affable and modest; and I myself, while conscious of the new threat posed by Somerset, was in good part reassured by the wholesome presence of Peter and lulled by the simple pleasures of his country. So the kind days of the late summer and the new peace passed, until, one morning shortly before Somerset and I must leave, we all set out for Whereham Races, along with Peter's father, who had taken a rare holiday to watch one of his own horses run.

The main event of the day was to be a three mile steeplechase, carrying a prize of one hundred sovereigns and open to any gentleman or yeoman who, during the war, had farmed his land in the shire or borne arms for his King. Mr. Morrison's contestant for the prize, Tiberius, was to be ridden by a young tenant who had recently returned from Germany, Mr. Morrison himself being disqualified by a weight of eighteen stone. Tiberius, an ageing black stallion much loved by Peter and known for many miles around, was second in the local betting. Favourite was Lord Blakeney's Balthazar, a young, clever and quick-tempered horse, who, it was said, would worry Tiberius by his aggressive manner and finally defeat him by sheer speed and skill.

But hope stood high with the Morrison faction, and the sun shone, and the midday provision of food and drink, which many of Mr. Morrison's friends and tenants had been bidden to share, was ducal by the standards of the time. Flushed faces came and went, ate and drank, whispered into Mr. Morrison's ear or boomed at him across the tankards; during which time Somerset condescended to those about him in his best country manner. I was euphoristic and inclined to show off, and Peter, anxious for his beloved Tiberius, was hospitable but preoccupied. We watched the first race, a mediocre affair over which Somerset contrived to win a little money on the outsider, who was ridden, as he remarked, 'by the only jockey whose knees inspire confidence'. After this there was more drinking. Then came the second race, again poorly contested, again yielding money to Somerset but not to myself. By now, what with the sun and the cider, I had already lost more than I had meant to risk on the entire meeting, but this was no time for counting losses: for next on the card was the great race of the day, and any moment now Tiberius would appear in the paddock.

Peter rejoined us after a visit to the ring.

'How do they bet?' asked Mr. Morrison.

'Even money for Balthazar, sir,' said Peter, who always addressed his father by this style: 'two to one Tiberius. Five bar.'

'Lay this down the line,' his father said, producing a thick I wad of white five pound notes. 'Slowly now. Don't go sending them into a panic. And put at least a score of it with the tote.'

'Thee be sure then, 'squire?' said a wizened old man who wore a vilely dirty cloth cap and had drunk perhaps two gallons of cider since our party arrived on the course.

'Nay,' said Mr. Morrison, 'how should I be? But it's a while since I had a good bet these last years, and the price is fair.'

'Shall I take less than two to one, sir?' asked Peter.

'Go down to six to four, my dear,' his father said; 'then take the rest to the tote. And not less than twenty on the tote, mind, howsoever they bet.'

'Best be to work, master,' said the cloth cap to Peter: 'there'll be a pile of money come in for the black 'un.'

'Come with me,' said Peter to Somerset and myself. 'We'll watch by the water-jump.'

While Peter disposed of his father's money Somerset wandered off 'to see', as he put it, 'if he could get a price'. Myself, feeling that faith was the only logic of the day. I put ten of the twelve pounds I had in my pocket on Tiberius, getting one of the last offers at two to one: if he won. then I should recoup my losses and be fourteen pounds to the good; if not . . . well then Peter or Somerset would have to help. But it seemed as if I were on to a good thing: although Balthazar was still favourite, his price was stretching as that of Tiberius shortened; and likely enough the prices would meet before betting was through. Peter, looking strained, came away from the tote tent and put his hand into my arm; Somerset materialized from nowhere.

'This way.' Peter said.

'Don't you want to look at him in the paddock?'

'No. This way. He'll be all right when he's out on the course, but the crowds make him nervous. I can't bear it.'

We crossed the course from the stand and walked down over the meadows towards the water-jump, which was in a slight dip some three hundred yards after the first turn. I reflected that Peter's unwillingness to watch Tiberius in the paddock amounted almost to a dereliction of loyalty, something so unusual as to indicate that he must be very strung up indeed. I could feel the palm of his hand sweating into my arm; I must find comfort for him.

'Betting go off all right? ' I said.

'Betting? I suppose so. I got twos over quite a bit. then seven to four for all but thirty. I took that to the tote.'

'Quite an investment of your father's,' Somerset said. 'Did you have anything for yourself?'

'No,' said Peter shortly: 'it would be like blackmail.'

'What about you. Somerset?'

'I found rather a nice price,' said Somerset, smug but vague: 'really rather nice.'

And now we were at the water-jump, an inoffensive natural ditch and guarded only by a foot of fence, but tricky because of the downward slope which led into it and a brief marshy patch on its far side, which might make it very hard for the horses to gain the firm footing they needed in order to make a proper onset at the sharp up-hill gradient immediately beyond it. Tiberius and the rest would have to take this jump three times. Starting in front of the stand, they would go away for two hundred yards, which included one easy plain fence, then turn, very sharply, over one hundred and thirty degrees, take another plain fence after a hundred yards, and run downhill to the water-jump; after which the course looped away, round and back, over three more fences and through two more dips, till it turned into the home run. This was about quarter of a mile from turning to winning post, included two more jumps, and completed a circuit of just on a mile. Peter had barely finished a rather jerky account of all this, when the first of the horses appeared on the course and started to parade slowly in front of the stand.

'He seems all right,' said Peter, looking through his glasses. 'I'm worried about Johnny Pitts in the saddle though. He's only been back from the Army a few days and he can't but be a bit strange to it. Blakeney's man, Georgie Owen, didn't go to the war . . .'

The ten horses circled in front of the stand, then one by one tailed off to stand sedately behind the starting gate.

'Well behaved bunch,' Peter said. 'I wonder we've not had trouble from Balthazar.'

A white flag went up by the starting gate.

'Orders . . .'

Then there was a great cheer from the stand and all the meadows around, for the flag was down and the field away. After the first hundred yards, it was the brown Balthazar, with the Blakeney cerise and argent up, a clear leader by four lengths; the rest were in a close bunch, nothing to reckon.

'I hope he gets clear of them,' Peter mumbled; 'he doesn't like being jostled.'

And after the first fence, the bunch behind Balthazar began to string out. Two horses stayed neck and neck, second and third, while Tiberius, a length and a half behind them, was going a placid, uncrowded fourth, a position he retained without effort round the terrible angle of the bend, to negotiate which it was necessary to slow down to an extent that made the impatient Balthazar shake his head and prick his ears in anger. Over the second fence and down the slope to the water-jump; Balthazar going very fast---'too fast, Georgie Owen ought to know better'---but proving his cleverness by a jump which cleared the treacherous morass beyond the ditch and sent him racing up the hill the other side, to go seven lengths clear of the pair behind him, who were in turn a good three in front of Tiberius.

There's my good boy,' called Peter softly, as Mr. Morrison's light blue and black sailed easily over the ditch and beyond the marsh. For a moment it seemed to me as if the horse turned his head very slightly to acknowledge the call; but then Tiberius was galloping serenely away up the hill, gaining, little by little and without any forcing, on the two horses between him and Balthazar.

'It's when they start jumping short, late in the race, said Peter, pointing to the patch of marsh: 'once land in that . . .'

By the end of the first circuit, Balthazar was ten lengths in front of the second and third, outside and just behind whom Tiberius was running with a confidence which implied he would pass just so soon as he judged fit. Of the rest of the field, three had fallen on the loop, two were badly tailed off, but one, a little grey animal with a short, humorous face, was going very trimly some five lengths behind Tiberius.

'That grey,' Peter said. 'Fancy Man . . . There's a lot of running there.'

Once again, as he rounded the great bend, Balthazar pricked with annoyance. Once again he came down the slope at a very smart pace, cleared stream and marsh, and thundered off up the hill. Second and third ran more cautiously; but the second horse took off too soon, landed with hind legs almost in the ditch, slipped, kicked, veered, kicked again, and interlocked a leg with the third horse as it landed. In a moment there was a writhing, snorting mass on the ground which seemed to block the entire course. Tiberius having switched suddenly to the far side to avoid it. rapped his right rear leg sharply against the fence post as he jumped. Landing just inside the marsh, he had to struggle and change step to get going, by which time he had lost another two lengths to Balthazar and been substantially gained upon by Fancy Man, who, apparently unimpressed by the melée and giving it the smallest possible margin, improved his position yet further by jumping like a bird.

'Never mind, boy,' called Peter. 'There's a long way to go.'

And indeed it was now apparent that Balthazar was feeling the pace. Round the loop, back into the straight, Tiberius, unworried as it seemed by his mistake at the water, tracked him with an easy, fluid action and was visibly making up ground. The gap shortened to ten lengths and then to seven; Balthazar's jumping was beginning to lose its rhythm, while Tiberius's was still as smooth as paint; but always, three lengths behind Tiberius and giving the impression that at any moment he could run if he would, came the perky little Fancy Man. And so, when they passed the post for the second time, it was a three horse race and an open one.

'Take two to one, Tiberius.' a bookie's call floated across the meadow.

'Will you now?' muttered Peter, whose eyes had been fixed into his glasses. Now he lowered them to talk.

'I don't like it,' he said; 'he's hurt. He's hiding it, bless his heart, but he's hurt. That rap last time over here . . .'

And again he lifted the glasses. Looking towards Somerset, I saw that the expression of casual condescension, which he had worn all day, had somehow deepened to one of sagacity and power.

'What are you looking so pleased about?' I said.

'I'm glad Tiberius is shortening the gap.'

Which he was still doing. This time, as he rounded the bend, Balthazar seemed glad to relax his speed; he took the plain fence clumsily and came towards the water-jump without enthusiasm. Meanwhile Tiberius kept to the same powerful and, as it were, routine stride which he had used throughout the race; and always the little Fancy Man came skipping daintily behind.

'He's hurt,' mumbled Peter again and again; 'I know it.'

At the water-jump Balthazar checked, jumped nervously, landed with rear legs in the morass, floundered, panicked, threw Georgie Owen back into the ditch. Tiberius jumped gamely: but weariness (or was it pain, as Peter said?) showed through his immaculate style; he too landed in the marsh, kept his footing only with a desperate effort ('Good boy. my sweetheart, that's my good boy'), and was off, oh, very slowly, up the hill. He had beaten Balthazar; but Fancy Man. who had jumped both ditch and marsh as sharp and clever as a flute, was now gaining rapidly. For all the wear he showed he might have been at the beginning of the day.

'He can't keep him off. Even if he wasn't hurt . . .'

But as Fancy Man drew up to Tiberius the brave stallion seemed to find new heart. A slight check in his beautiful action showed that he was indeed hurt; but he found new pace from somewhere, and even though Fancy Man was gaining it was no longer with ease. There were now five fences left. Over the first Tiberius stayed clear; then down into a dip where they could not be seen; out of the dip and over the second fence Tiberius still had his shoulders ahead; then down into another dip. Out of this and over the third fence---which was also the third from home---it was neck and neck. Into the home straight.

'Now, boy. Does it hurt? Does it hurt you. boy? Does it hurt?'

The second fence from home was an artificial and heavily guarded water-jump. Tiberius, amidst applause that rang back from the sky, took it with all the grace and skill he had shown at the very start of the race. Fancy Man pecked slightly, lost half a length, but he was over safely, his nose still level with Johnny Pitts's thigh. And now, once more, with the last fence a hundred yards ahead, he started to gain.

And this was when Johnny Pitts, forgetful after four years of driving a tank with his famous cavalry regiment, made his one mistake. For the first time in the race, he took his whip to Tiberius.

'Oh God,' moaned Peter, 'oh God, oh God . . .'

For a few yards more the horses were more or less level; then Tiberius faltered and, as Pitts thrashed more and more desperately, seemed to skid to a halt. For a moment he stood upright, shaking his head slowly, then knelt (as though to pay Pitts the final courtesy of allowing him to dismount), then subsided on to his flank and lay still. Pitts, puzzled, stood looking down on him; Fancy Man prinked over the last fence and past the post; the crowd responded with a low murmur and a turning of backs; and Peter, the tears pouring from his eyes, lowered his glasses and faced his friends.

'It's no good.' he sobbed. 'It's the whip that has broken his heart. Not the pain, the exhaustion, the defeat. But the whip . . . the whip has broken his heart.'

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