But the iron heels, with their shining plates, only caught the oak of his box-door; and the tete-a-tete in the sultry, oppressive night went on as the speakers moved to a prudent distance; one of them thoughtfully chewing a bit of straw, after the immemorial habit of grooms, who ever seem as if they had been born into this world with a cornstalk ready in their mouths.
“It’s almost a pity—he’s in such perfect condition. Tip-top. Cool as a cucumber after the longest pipe-opener; licks his oats up to the last grain; leads the whole string such a rattling spin as never was spun but by a Derby cracker before him. It’s almost a pity,” said Willon meditatively, eyeing his charge, the King, with remorseful glances.
“Prut-tush-tish!” said his companion, with a whistle in his teeth that ended with a “damnation!” “It’ll only knock him over for the race; he’ll be right as a trivet after it. What’s your little game; coming it soft like that, all of a sudden? You hate that ere young swell like p’ison.”
“Aye,” assented the head groom with a tigerish energy, viciously consuming his bit of straw. “What for am I—head groom come nigh twenty years; and to Markisses and Wiscounts afore him—put aside in that ere way for a fellow as he’s took into his service out of the dregs of a regiment; what was tied up at the triangles and branded D, as I know on, and sore suspected of even worse games than that, and now is that set up with pride and sich-like that nobody’s woice ain’t heard here except his; I say what am I called on to bear it for?”: and the head groom’s tones grew hoarse and vehement, roaring louder under his injuries. “A man what’s attended a Duke’s ’osses ever since he was a shaver, to be put aside for that workhus blackguard! A ’oss had a cold—it’s Rake what’s to cure him. A ’oss is entered for a race—it’s Rake what’s to order his morning gallops, and his go-downs o’ water. It’s past bearing to have a rascally chap what’s been and gone and turned walet, set up over one’s head in one’s own establishment, and let to ride the high ’oss over one, roughshod like that!”
And Mr. Willon, in his disgust at the equestrian contumely thus heaped on him, bit the straw savagely in two, and made an end of it, with a vindictive “Will yer be quiet there; blow yer,” to the King, who was protesting with his heels against the conversation.
“Come, then, no gammon,” growled his companion—the “cousin out o’ Yorkshire” of the keeper’s tree.
“What’s yer figure, you say?” relented Willon meditatively.
“Two thousand to nothing—come!—can’t no handsomer,” retorted the Yorkshire cousin, with the air of a man conscious of behaving very nobly.
“For the race in Germany?” pursued Mr. Willon, still meditatively.
“Two thousand to nothing—come!” reiterated the other, with his arms folded to intimate that this and nothing else was the figure to which he would bind himself.