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Going To The Derby
by [?]

I do not blame him for not being enthusiastic. I am myself no longer enthusiastic about Polumetis. Still, one wished for a little violence besides the violence of the sun and of the man who tried to sell you a shilling’s worth of sausage and who said he was “the only firm, the only firm in the place.” Camden Town on a Saturday night could give points to Derby Day for colour and uproar. Derby Day is so big, perhaps, that it is frightened of itself. But I forgot. There was one violent man. He was fat, hatless, and sweating, and he was hoarse with shouting superlatives about his tips to a circle of poor old men, “dunchers” in caps, small boys in jerseys, and tired-looking country girls.

“If only I could tell you where I got my information,” he declared, “you’d–you’d be s’prised. If any of you has got twenty-five pahnd abaht him–if you’ve got even a tenner–why, you’ve only got ten bob–well, you can’t exactly have a gamble for ten bob, but you can ‘ave a bit o’ fun, anyway. If you take my advice–it’s ‘ere on this bit o’ paper–you can ‘ave it for a bob–I can give you three ‘orses that’ll turn your ten bob into a tenner see? Some people tell you Tetratema’s going to win.”

He made a face of disgust, popularly known as giving Tetratema the raspberry, “Don’t you believe it. Didn’t I tell you Tagrag? Didn’t I tell you Arion? ‘Ere, take my tip, and you’ll dance all the w’y ‘ome with joy tonight. Dance? Why, you’ll go ‘ome jazzin’ all the w’y.”

And he spread out his fat hands and threw out his fat stomach, and danced on the grass, just to show one how one ought to behave if one backed a Derby winner.

Meanwhile, his partner, dressed as a red and white jockey, in a peaked cap and incongruous puttees, moved round the circle thrusting his slips of tips almost angrily on us. “Go on,” he ordered us. “What’s a bob to a gambler? You people read the papers and believe what you see in ’em. The papers! I tell you stryte–the worst pack of rogues and bookmakers in England.” A simple old man of ninety, who had lost his teeth, beckoned to him and paid him a shilling for his tip. The jockey took him aside and whispered impressively into his ear. Then he said, in a loud voice: “Are you satisfied, sir?” “Quite satisfied,” quavered the old man. I wish I could have stayed near him. I should like to have seen him jazzing later in the evening.

Sausages, lemonade, fried fish, chewing gum, bets, ladies standing on the roofs of taxis, a try-your-strength machine, extemporised conveniences of civilisation, with youths standing by them and yelling “Commodytion!” hills of humanity in all attitudes of dazedness and despair, the thunder and the shouting of the distant bookmakers under the stands, the quiet of the ten thousand free-lance bookmakers who were, I suppose, breaking the law in the open spaces; the dust, the sun, the smell, faces smeary with fruit, the cunning tinker in an old khaki hat with striped ribbon, who was selling some twopenny instrument that was supposed to imitate either the bark of a dog or the song of a nightingale–one could not tell which from the noise he made with it; stand after stand packed to the sky with what are called serried ranks of human beings, who looked like immense banks of many-coloured shingle, and who, as they raised a million pairs of field-glasses to two million eyes, scintillated in the distance like a bank of shingle after a wave has broken on it on a tropical noon–it was certainly an amazing medley of spectacle and odour.

It is said that an important horse-race took place. It is even said that Polumetis ran in it. I looked for him everywhere–over people’s heads, under people’s heads, through motor-buses, round the corners of refreshment tents, in the sky above, and on the earth beneath. But no Polumetis was to be seen anywhere–except on my race-card, where I read about his lilac-coloured jockey. A jockey in lilac–how beautiful, how Japanese! And, indeed, all the jockeys as they paraded down the field before the race seemed to have robbed a rainbow.