The following tale is taken from the journal of my very dear friend Mr. E. Flavius Mercurius. Posted to me in a plain brown envelope, some weeks after his incarceration it appears to be an account of a day out we may have enjoyed in the company of the Gael. I can make no comment regarding its veracity, because I was, put simply, quite extraordinarily drunk.
“God Bless you Sir” the beggar adroitly plucks my spinning coin out of the air, “Blue Yonder in the 3.30”. The sunglasses reflect my startled gape, a split second, a connection. White stick, a shabby mutt, capful of meagre change.
Tipping my hat, I plunge forward into the riot of noise and colour; Galway Races, giddy and gay, the search for the craic. The thunder of hooves and the roar of the crowd as the grandstand rises to salute the winner. The jeers and curses of the dispossessed, downstairs the bookies shrug, already chalking up the odds for the next race.
Drawing back the canvas, entering the tent; Peregrine in full flow, lighting up lives with bombast and infamy, a steady supply of Armagnac, the flexing of the elbow, the drawing of breath, the gales of laughter, the return to the tallest of tales. The ladies laugh and bat their eyes, how deliciously wicked! The husbands groan and count the cost. Waiters scurry, clearing glasses, perhaps another? just the one…
Outside the smart money is piling up: “Perfect Scoundrel” a three time winner at Cheltenham, ridden by champion Byron Lautrec. The nags skitter, steam and slide, Byron crouched precariously in garish pink and green. The bookies shorten the odds as the cash piles up. “Blue Yonder” sits stable at thirty to one, a rank outsider. Down at the enclosure, cast an appraising eye. The dozy look and leaden step, the jockey catches my ghastly stare, tips his cap, connects.
Hand on my shoulder a familiar, belligerent presence; Peregrine, handfuls of crisp notes, the small matter of a winner in the 2.15, the bet placed on behalf of Mrs. Millicent Magnificent Malefica.
“But of course! Dear boy, we’ll put the bloody lot on ‘Blue Yonder’, show these pettifogging lickspittles the meaning of plenty! Splendid idea!”
My heart sinks like a millstone in the harbour, Peregrine a man on a mission of unprecedented importance, surging like a destroyer, striding through the tidal flow, I’m heading for the rails, the worthless slip of paper clutched safe in my hand.
Major Malefica accompanied by cronies large, mobile and muscular, barging roughly through the crowd, Peregrine throwing the first punch then away, bounding over obstacles, coat flying out behind, beard jutting, elbows pumping – the henchmen on bicycles in hot pursuit.
The horses appear from behind the stand, Lautrec wielding the crop indiscriminately. The neighboring jockey catches the brunt, launches himself both hands outstretched, the pair of them rolling over and over as the hooves thunder around them. And in third place, wild of eye and tooth, ‘Blue Yonder’ thundering down the home straight, the terrible sound of the field gaining, galvanizing this most hopeless of nags into one final lunge, the winner by a neck.
Peregrine in his pomp, the paycock; in torn and bloodied clothing, counting out the notes one by one. Licking the finger, handing over the readies. Tipping the staff, pocketing the rest. Mrs. Millicent Marvelous Malefica, the Major glowering grim faced behind. The cronies grasping Guinness with bruised and broken knuckles.
“God Bless You Mr Oatenshaw!”
Peregrine grimaces, gestures, a sea of discarded slips, each one a hope, a prayer.
“These” he says, through broken teeth “…These are the blessings…”