« AnteriorContinuar »
“ The morning's exercise often extends to four hours, and the evening's to much about the same time. * * * *
“In every stud of horses there are frequent changes; and as their qualities are discovered, one horse is rejected and sold, or perhaps a stranger bought and admitted. It happened on such an occasion that a little horse was brought us from another stud, whence he had been rejected for being unmanageable. He had shown himself restive, and besides the snaffle, was ridden in a check rein. I was immediately placed on his back, and what seemed rather more extraordinary, ordered to lead the gallop as usual. I do not know how it happened, but under me he showed very little disposition to become refractory, and whenever the humour occurred, it was soon overcome. That he
however, watchful for an opportunity to do mischief, the following incident will discover. Our time for hard exercise had begun perhaps a fortnight or three weeks. As that proceeds the boys are less cautious, each having less suspicion of his horse. I was leading the gallop one morning, and had gone more than half the way towards the foot of Cambridge Hill, when something induced me to call and speak to a boy behind me, for which purpose I rather unseated myself, and as I looked back rested on my
The arch traitor no sooner felt the precarious seat I had taken, than he suddenly plunged
from the path, had his head between his legs, his heels in the air, and exerting all his power of bodily contortion, flung me from the saddle, with only one foot in the stirrup, and both my legs on the off-side. I immediately heard the whole set of boys behind shouting triumphantly : 'A calf, a calf !' a phrase of contempt for a boy that is thrown. Though the horse was then in the midst of his wild antics, and increasing his pace to full speed, as far as the tricks he was playing would permit, still, finding I had a foot in the stirrup, I replied to their shouts by a whisper to myself: 'It is no calf yet.' The horse took his usual course, turned up Cambridge Hill, and now rather increased his speed than his mischievous tricks. This opportunity I took, with that rashness of spirit which is peculiar to boys; and notwithstanding the prodigious speed and irregular motion of the horse, threw my left leg over the saddle. It was with the utmost difficulty that I could preserve my balance, but I did; though by this effort I lost hold of the reins, both my feet were out of the stirrup, and the horse for a moment was entirely his own master. But my grand object was gained—I was once more firmly seated, the reins and stirrups were recovered. In a twinkling the horse, instead of being pulled up, was urged to his utmost speed ; and when he came to the end of the gallop, he stopped of himself with a very good will, as he was heartily breathed. The short exclamations of the boys, at having witnessed what they thought an impossibility, were the gratifications I received, and the greatest perhaps that could be bestowed.
“I once saw an instance of what may be called the grandeur of alarm in a horse. In winter, during short exercise, I was returning one evening on the back of a hunter that was put in training for the Hunter's Plate. There had been some little rain, and the channel, always dry in summer, was then a small brook. As I must have rubbed his legs dry, if wetted, I gave him the rein, and made him leap the brook, which he understood as a challenge for play;
and beginning to gambol, after a few antics, he reared very high, and plunging forward with great force alighted with his fore-feet on the edge of a deep gravel-pit, half-filled with water, so near that a very few inches farther he must have gone headlong down. His first astonishment and fear were so great, that he stood for some time breathless and motionless: then gradually recollecting himself, his back became curved, his ears erect, his hind and fore-legs in a position for sudden retreat; his nostrils, from an inward snort, burst into one lond expression of horror, and rearing on his hindlegs, he turned short round, expressing all the terrors he had felt by the utmost violence of plunging, kicking, and other bodily exertions. I was not quite so much frightened as he had been, but I was heartily glad when he became quiet again, that the accident had been no worse. The only little misfortune I had was the loss of my cap, and being obliged to ride back some way, in order to recover it.”
By this time young Holcroft was sixteen, and had begun to feel a craving for knowledge of a different nature from any that he could obtain at Newmarket; although even there he had contrived to read every book that came in his way, to perfect himself in arithmetic, and to acquire a scientific knowledge of vocal music, which was of great use to him in his after-career. He had made this progress, too, chiefly from his own efforts, so that the great process of self-instruction, which distinguished him through life was now begun; and he already knew enough to feel an ardent desire to know more. London, where his father was now living as a cobbler, offered at least the hope of education : accordingly to the great amazement and regret of good John Watson, who had been uniformiy kind to him, and to whom he could hardly summon courage to announce his determination, he abandoned the field in which his success had been so encouraging, took leave of his companions, biped and quadruped, and made his way to the great city.
Here a long series of disappointments awaited him. He became, indeed, a skilful and rapid worker at the shoemaking trade; but the position and confinement disagreed with him (well they
might after the free seat on horseback, the exercise, and the pure air of Newmarket), and his habit of idling his time in reading, as the phrase goes, prevented his earning more than the bare necessaries of his abstemious life. He tried various schemes ; taught an evening school; kept a day school somewhere in the country, with such indifferent success that he had but one pupil, and lived upon potatoes and buttermilk for three months ; authorship, too, he tried in a small way, creeping into notice in the most obscure newspapers and the smallest magazines; and at about the age of twenty, when barely able to support himself, he married. It is to be noticed that throughout his whole life he was eminently a marrying man; having married three wives, and left a young widow, the daughter of Monsieur Mercier, author of the “Tableau de Paris.” Shortly after his first marriage, of which we hear but little, although he was eminently kind and indulgent in his domestic character, he seems to have been induced, by his success in a sporting club, to try his fortune on the stage. He has left a characteristic account of his application to Foote.
“ He had the good fortune to find the manager at breakfast with a young man, whom he employed partly on the stage, and partly as an amanuensis. *Well,” said he, young gentleman, I guess your business by the sheepishness of your manner;