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Authors: D.J. Taylor

Tags: #Fiction, #Horse Racing, #Sports & Recreation, #Historical, #General Fiction

Derby Day

BOOK: Derby Day
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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Also by D.J. Taylor

Dedication

Title Page

Epigraph

Part One

I: The Conversation in Clipstone Court

II: Belgrave Square

III: An Addition to the Family

IV: Scroop Hall

V: Marriage à la Mode

Part Two

VI: A Situation in the Country

VII: Boulogne-sur-mer

VIII: What
The Sportman’s Magazine
thought about it

IX: Mr Happerton’s Haunts and Homes

X: Shepherd’s Inn and elsewhere

XI: London and Lincolnshire

XII: What
Bell’s Life
thought about it

XIII: An Evening in the City

Part Three

XIV: Hounds upon the Scent

XV: Captain McTurk Takes Charge

XVI: What
The Star
thought about it

XVII: At Home and Abroad with Captain Raff

XVIII: The Triumph of a Modern Man

XIX: Visitors

XX: More from
Bell’s Life

XXI: The Governess’s Tale

Part Four

XXII: Mist

XXIII: Stratagems of Captain McTurk

XXIV: Mount Street and beyond

XXV: Inside Information

XXVI: Derby Day: Begun

XXVII: Derby Day: Concluded

XXVIII: Afterwards

Acknowledgements

Copyright

About the Book

 

As the shadows lengthen over the June grass, all England is heading for Epsom Downs – high life and low life, society beauties and Whitechapel street girls, bookmakers and gypsies, hawkers and acrobats, punters and thieves. Whole families stream along the Surrey back-roads, towards the greatest race of the year. Hopes are high, nerves are taut, hats are tossed in the air – this is Derby Day.

 

For months people have been waiting and plotting for this day. Even in dark November, when the wind whistles through the foggy London courts, the alehouses and gentlemen’s clubs echo to the sound of disputed odds. In Belgrave Square old Mr Gresham is baffled by his tigerish daughter Rebecca, whose intentions he cannot fathom. In the clubs of St James’s rakish Mr Happerton plays billiards with his crony Captain Raff, while in darkest Lincolnshire sad Mr Davenant broods over his financial embarrassments and waits for his daughter’s new governess. Across the channel the veteran burglar Mr Pardew is packing his bags to return, to the consternation of the stalwart detective Captain McTurk. Everywhere money jingles and plans are laid. Uniting them all is the champion horse Tiberius, on whose performance half a dozen destinies depend.

 

In this rich and exuberant novel, rife with the idioms of Victorian England, the mysteries pile high, propelling us towards the day of the great race, and we wait with bated breath as the story gallops to a finish that no one expects.

 

About the Author

 

D.J. Taylor was born in Norwich in 1960. He is a novelist, critic and acclaimed biographer, whose
Orwell: The Life
won the Whitbread Biography prize in 2003. His most recent books are
Kept: A Victorian Mystery
(a
Publishers Weekly
Book of the Year),
Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918–1940
, and the novels
Ask Alice
and
At the Chime of a City Clock
.

 

ALSO BY D.J. TAYLOR

Fiction

 

Great Eastern Land

Real Life

English Settlement

After Bathing at Baxter’s: Stories

Trespass

The Comedy Man

Kept: A Victorian Mystery

Ask Alice

At the Chime of a City Clock

Non-fiction

 

A Vain Conceit: British Fiction in the 1980s

Other People: Portraits from the ’90s (with Marcus Berkmann)

After the War: The Novel and England Since 1945

Thackeray

Orwell: The Life

On the Corinthian Spirit: The Decline of Amateurism in Sport

Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918–1940

Felix’s

Derby Day

 

D.J. Taylor

… I felt sure that if I could find a theme capable of affording me the opportunity of showing an appreciation of the infinite variety of everyday life, I had confidence enough in my power of dealing with it successfully; but the subject – then, as now and ever, the chief difficulty – where was I to find a scene of such interest and importance as to warrant my spending months, perhaps a year or two, in representing it? Until the year of which I write – 1854 – I had never seen any of the great horse races for which England is so famous, and my first experience of the modern Olympian games was at Hampton; when the idea occurred to me that if some of the salient points of the great gathering could be grouped together, an effective picture might be the result …

 

W. P. Frith, ‘The Derby Day’

My Autobiography and Reminiscences
(1887)

Part One

The Conversation in Clipstone Court

 

A foreign gentleman, who had run horses with great success on the plains of Bremen, once enquired of me: ‘Where is it that the sporting men of England may generally be found?’ ‘My dear sir,’ I told him, ‘this is a universal passion, its devotees are everywhere, and of all sorts and conditions. A gentlemen’s club in Mayfair; the humblest inn in a Whitechapel rookery; the most somnolent village in Barsetshire, but that it has a meadow and a rail for jumping; anywhere and everywhere – these are the places where the sporting men of England are generally to be found
.

The Modern Sportsman: His Dress, Habits and Recreations
(1865)

 

SKY THE COLOUR of a fish’s underside; grey smoke diffusing over a thousand house-fronts; a wind moving in from the east: London.

Clipstone Court lies on the western approach to Tottenham Court Road, slightly beyond Goodge Street, and is not much visited. There is a cab rank at which no cab was ever seen standing, and a murky tobacconist’s over whose lintel no customer in search of enlightenment from the copies of
The Raff’s Journal
and
The Larky Swell
that hang in the window was ever known to tread. An occasional costermonger, thinking to forge a path into Cleveland Street – only the way is barred – drags his barrow through the dusty entry, notes the silence and desolation of the place, and gladly retires. There is also a pump, which nobody ever uses – the quality of the water being horribly suspect – the Clipstone Arms, Jas Fisher, prop., out of whose aquarium-like lower windows a face can occasionally be seen dimly staring, and a kind of rubbish heap made up of ancient packing cases and vegetable stalks which a furious old man who lives up six flights of stairs in a tenement building hard by is always defiantly rearranging in the expectation that it will be taken away, only it never is. All of which gives the place a rather dismal and moral air, as if great truths about human nature could be extracted from it if only you knew where to look.

It was generally agreed that three o’clock in the afternoon – the lunch hour long gone, the evening an eternity away – represented Clipstone Court’s lowest ebb, and that if anyone was going to hang himself there, this would be the time to do it: the cab stand vacant, the tobacconist’s shop murkier than ever, and a breeze coming in over the rooftops to send the packing-case frames and the vegetable stalks flying over the greystone surround like so much flotsam and jetsam on the seashore. All this the two men in the downstairs bar of the Clipstone Arms saw and no doubt appreciated, but for some reason they did not seem cast down by it. They were sitting at a table in the window, very comfortably ensconced behind a strew of empty pewter pots, and not seeming to care that it was November, so that even now the light was beginning to fade across the court and one or two flakes of snow were drifting in to mingle with the soot on the peeling window sills. A visitor to the bar – and it was otherwise empty – might have thought that there was some mystery about these men, and that the mystery lay not in their outward appearance – they were identically dressed in shabby suits, dirty collars and billycock hats – but in the way they regarded each other: that one of them, taller and perhaps older, imagined himself to be a figure of consequence, and that the other, smaller and perhaps younger, was happy to support him in this belief.

‘But you ain’t told me yet,’ the taller man was saying, looking into the pewter pots one by one to see if they contained any liquor, ‘just how you’re placed right now.’

‘That’s so, Mr Mulligan,’ the smaller man replied, tapping the underside of his pipe on the table with an extraordinarily dirty hand. ‘Well – the fact is, I does run – well – errands for Mr Whalen that keeps the Bird in Hand in Wardour Street, and he lets me – well – make up a book sometimes.’

Mr Mulligan was grimly pouring the dregs from four of the pewter pots into the fifth.

‘It ain’t a genteel house, the Bird in Hand,’ he pronounced.

‘No it ain’t.’ The look on the smaller man’s face was quite wonderful to see. ‘Dreadful lot of riff-raff they has in there. Irish, too. Never more than a shilling a time. But beggars can’t be choosers.’

‘You’re a poor fish, McIvor, that’s what you are’ said Mr Mulligan. ‘You’d have been better placed a-sticking to Mr Cheeseman that I put you in the way of.’

‘You wouldn’t say that if you knew about it, Mr Mulligan. Why, if that Cheeseman is worth a ten-pound note nowadays, that’s all he is worth.’

Mr Mulligan put the pewter pot down upon the table and examined his fingers, as if they were a row of saveloy sausages he might very soon begin to eat.

BOOK: Derby Day
8.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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