Our annual race meet—The arrivals—The camps—The "ordinary"—
The course—"They're off"—The race—The steeple-chase—Incidents of the
On; annual Race Meet is the one great occasion of the year
when all the dwellers in the district meet. Our races in Chumparun generally
took place some time about Christmas. Long before the date fixed on,
arrangements would be made for the exercise of hearty hospitality. The
residents in the "station" ask as many guests as will fill their houses, and
their "compounds" are crowded with tents, each holding a number of visitors,
generally bachelors. The principal managers of the factories in the
district, with their assistants, form a mess for the racing week, and, not
unfrequently, one or two ladies lend their refining presence to the several
camps. Friends from other districts, from up-country, from Calcutta, gather
together; and as the weather is bracing and cool, and everyone determined to
enjoy himself, the meet is one of the pleasantest of reunions. There are
always several races specially got up for assistants' horses, and long prior
to the meet, the youngsters are up in the early morning, giving their
favourite nag a spin across the zeraats, or seeing the groom lead him out
swathed in clothing and bandages, to get him into training for the
As the day draws near, great cases of tinned meats, hampers
of beer and wine, and goodly supplies of all sorts are sent into the station
to the various camps. Tents of snowy white canvas begin to peep out at you
from among the trees. Great oblong booths of blue indigo sheeting show where
the temporary stables for the horses are being erected; and at night the
glittering of innumerable camp-fires betokens the presence of a whole army
of grooms, grass-cutters, peons, watchmen, and other servants cooking their
evening meal of rice, and discussing the chances of the horses of their
respective masters in the approaching races. On the day before the first
racing, the planters are up early, and in buggy, dogcart, or on horseback,
singly, and by twos and threes, from all sides of the district, they find
their way to the station. The Planters' Club is the general rendezvous. The
first comers, having found out their waiting servants, and consigned the
smoking steeds to their care, seat themselves in the verandah, and eagerly
watch every fresh arrival.
Up comes a buggy. "Hullo, who's this?"
"Oh, it's 'Giblets!' How do you do, 'Giblets,' old man?"
Down jumps "Giblets," and a general handshaking ensues.
"Here comes 'Boach' and the 'Moonshee,' " yells out an
observant youngster from the back verandah.
The- venerable buggy of the esteemed "Boach" approaches, and
another jubilation takes place; the handshaking being so vigorous that the "Moonshee's"
spectacles nearly come to grief. Now the arrivals ride and drive up fast and
how d'ye doI"
"By Jove, 'Perdie,' where have you turned up from?"
the 'Skipper' arrived?"
"Have any of you seen ' Jamie?' "
"Where's big 'Macs'' tents?"
"Have any of ye seen my 'Bearer?'"
"Has the 'Bump' come in?" and so on.
Such a scene of bustle and excitement. Friends meet that have
not seen each other for a twelvemonth. Queries are exchanged as to absent
friends. The chances of the meeting are discussed. Perhaps a passing
allusion is made to some dear one who has left our ranks since last meet.
All sorts of topics are started, and up till and daring breakfast there is a
regular medley of tongues, a confused clatter of voices, dishes, and
glasses, a pervading atmosphere of dense curling volumes of tobacco smoke.
To a stranger the names sound uncouth and meaningless the
fact being, that we all go by nicknames. [In
such a limited society every peculiarity is noted; all our antecedents are
known; personal predilections and little foibles of character are marked;
eccentricities are watched, and no one, let him be as uninteresting as a
miller's pig, is allowed to escape observation and remark. Some little
peculiarity is hit upon, and a strange but often very happily expressive
nickname stamps one's individuality and photographs him with a word.]
"Giblets," "Diamond Digger," "Mangelwurzel," "Goggle-eyed
Plover," "Gossein" or holy man, "Blind Bartimeus," "Old Boots," "Polly,"
"Bottle-nosed Whale," "Pin Mac-Coul," "Daddy," "The Exquisite," "The
Mosquito," "Wee Bob," and "Napoleon," are only a very few specimens of this
strange nomenclature. These soubriquets quite usurp our baptismal
appellations, and I have often been called Mr. "Maori,'' by people who did
not actually know my real name.
By the evening, all, barring the very late arrivals, have
found out their various camps. There is a merry dinner, then each sahib,
well muffled in ulster, plaid, or great coat, hies him to the club, where
the "ordinary" is to be held. The nights are now cold and foggy, and a
tremendous dew falls. At the "ordinary," fresh greetings ensue between those
who now meet for the first time after long separation. The entries and bets
are made for the morrow's races, although not much betting takes place as a
rule; but the lotteries on the different races are rapidly filled, the dice
circulate cheerily, and amid laughing, joking, smoking, noise and
excitement, there is a good deal of mild speculation. The "horsey" ones
visit the stables for the last time; and each retires to his camp bed to
dream of the morrow.
Very early, the respective bearers rouse
the sleepy mldbs. Table
servants rush hurriedly about the mess tent, bearing huge dishes of tempting
viands. Grooms, and grassers
are busy leading the horses off to the course. The cold raw
fog of the morning fills every tent, and dim grey figures of cowering
natives, wrapped up over the eyes in blankets, with moist blue noses and
chattering teeth, are barely discernible in the thick mist.
The racecourse is two miles from the club, on the other side
of the lake, in the middle of a grassy plain, with a neat masonry structure
at the further side, which serves as a grand stand. Already buggies,
dogcarts in single harness and tandem, barouches and waggonettes are merrily
rolling through the thick mist, past the frowning jail, and round the corner
of the lake. Natives in gaudy coloured shawls, and blankets, are pouring on
to the racecourse by hundreds.
Bullock carts, within which are black-eyed, bold beauties,
profusely burdened with silver ornaments, are drawn up in lines. Ukkas—small
jingling vehicles with a dome-shaped canopy and curtains at the sides—drawn
by gaily caparisoned ponies, and containing fat, portly Baboos, jingle and
rattle over the ruts on the side roads.
Sweetmeat sellers, with trays of horrible-looking filth, made
seemingly of insects, clarified butter, and sugar, dodge through the crowd
dispensing their abominable-looking but seemingly much relished wares. Tall
policemen, with blue jackets, red puggries, yellow belts, and white
trousers, stalk up and down with conscious dignity.
A madcap young assistant on his pony comes tearing along
across country. The weighing for the first race is going on; horses are
being saddled, some vicious brute occasionally lashing out, and scattering
the crowd behind him. The ladies are seated round the terraced grand stand;
long strings of horses are being led round and round in a circle, by the syces, vehicles
of every description are lying round the building.
Suddenly a bugle sounds; the judge enters his box; the ever
popular old "Bikiani," who officiates as starter, amides off on his white
cob, and after him go half-a-dozen handsome young fellows, their silks
rustling and flashing through the fast rising mist.
A hundred field-glasses scan the start; all is silent for a
"They're off!" shout a dozen lungs.
"false start! " echo a dozen more.
The gay colours of the riders flicker confusedly in a jumble.
One horse careers madly along for half the distance, is with difficulty
pulled up, and is then walked slowly back.
The others left at the post fret, and fidget, and curvet
about. At length they are again in line. Down goes the white flag! "Good
start!" shouts an excited planter. Down goes the red flag. "Off at last!"
breaks like a deep drawn sigh from the crowd, and now the six horses, all
together, and at a rattling pace, tear up the hill, over the sand at the
south corner, and up, till at the quarter mile post "a blanket could cover
Two or three tails are now showing signals of distress; heels
and whips are going. Two horses have shot ahead, a bay and a black. "Jamie"
on the bay, "Paddy" on the black.
Still as marble sit those splendid riders, the horses are
neck and neck; now the bay by a nose, now again the black. The distance post
is passed with a rush like a whirlwind.
"A dead heat, by Jove!"
wins!" "Jamie has it!" "Hooray, Pat!" "Go it, Jamie!" "Well ridden!" A
subdued hum runs round the excited spectators. The ardent racers are nose
One swift, sharp cut, the cruel whip hisses through the air,
and the black is fairly "lifted in," a winner by a nose. The ripple of
conversation breaks out afresh. The band strikes up a lively air, and the
saddling for the next race goes on.
The other races are much the same; there are lots of entries:
the horses are in splendid condition, and the riding is superb. What is
better, everything is emphatically "on the square." No pulling and roping here,
no false entries, no dodging of any kind. Fine, gallant, English gentlemen
meet each other in fair and honest emulation, and enjoy the favourite
national sport in perfection. The "Waler" race, for imported Australians,
brings out fine, tall, strong-boned, clean-limbed horses, looking blood all
over. The country breeds, with slender limbs, small heads, and glossy coats,
look dainty and delicate as antelopes. The lovely, compact Arabs, the
pretty-looking ponies, and the thick-necked, coarse-looking Cabools, all
have their respective trials, and then comes the great event—the race of the
The course is marked out behind the grand stand, following a
wide circle outside the flat course, which it enters at the quarter mile
post, so that the finish is on the flat before the grand stand. The fences,
ditches, and water leap, are all artificial, but they are regular howlers and
Seven horses are despatched to a straggling start, and all
negotiate the first bank safely. At the next fence a regular snorter of
a "post and rail"—topped with brushwood—two horses swerve, one rider being
deposited on his racing seat upon mother earth, while the other sails away
across country in a line for home, and is next heard of at the stables. The
remaining five, three "walers" and two country-breds, race together to the
water jump, where one waler deposits his rider, and races home by himself,
one country-bred refuses, and is henceforth out of the race, and the other
three, taking the lea]) in beautiful style, put on racing pace to the next
bank, and are in the air together. A lovely sight! The country is now stiff,
and the stride of the waler tells. He is leading the country-breds
a."whacker," hut he stumbles and falls at the last fence hut one from home.
His gallant rider, the undaunted "Holey," remounts just as the two country-breds
pass him like a flash of light. "Nothing venture, nothing win," however, so
in go the spurs, and off darts the waler like an arrow in pursuit. He is
gaining fast, and tops the last hurdle leading to the straight just as the
hoofs of the other two reach the ground.
It is now a matter of pace and good riding. It will he a
close finish; the waler is first to feel the whip; there is a roar from the
crowd; he is actually leading; whips and spurs are hard at work now; it is a
mail, headlong rush; every muscle is strained, and the utmost effort made;
the poor horses are doing their very best; amid a thunder of hoofs, clouds
of dust, hats in air, waving of handkerchiefs from the grand stand, and a
truly British cheer from the paddock, the "waler" shoots in half a length
ahead; and so end the morning's races.
Back to camp now, to bathe and breakfast. A long line of dust
marks the track from the course, for the sun is now high
in the heavens, the lake is rippling in placid beauty under a gentle breeze,
and the moving groups of natives, as well as vehicles of all sorts, form a
quaint but picturesque sight After breakfast calls are made upon all the
camps and bungalows round the station. Croquet, badminton, and other games
go on until dinner-time. I could linger lovingly over, a camp dinner; the
rare dishes, the sparkling conversation, the racy anecdote, and the general
jollity and brotherly feeling; but we must all dress for the ball, and so
about 5 p.m.
the buggies are again in requisition for the ball room— the fine, large,
central apartment in the Planters' Club,
The. walls are festooned with flowers, gay curtains, flags,
and cloths. The floor is shining like silver, and as polished as a mirror.
The band strikes up the Blue Danube waltz, and amid the usual bustle,
flirtation, scandal, whispering, glancing, dancing, tripping, sipping, and
hand-squeezing, the ball goes gaily on till the stewards announce supper. At
this—to the wall-flowers—welcome announcement, we adjourn from the heated
ball-room to the cool arbour-like supper tent, where every delicacy that can
charm the eye or tempt the appetite is spread out.
Next morning early we are out with the hounds, and enjoy a
rattling burst round by the racecourse, where the horses are at exercise.
Perchance we have heard of a boar in the sugar-cane, and away we go with
beaters to rouse the grisly monster from his lair. In the afternoon there is
hockey on horseback, or volunteer drill, with our gallant adjutant putting
us through our evolutions. In the evening there is the usual drive, dinner,
music, and the ordinary, and so the meet goes on. A constant succession of
gaieties keeps every one alive, till the time arrives for a return to our
respective factories, and another year's hard work.