A RACE AND A FROLIC !
BY JEREMIAH SMITH.
It was a drizzley day, and the weeping boughs of the trees, and bending tops of the tall cane that hung over the road had completely saturated my clothing. Cold, wet, and hungry, I halted at the door of the only “ establishment” in the village of H------ at which strangers could “ tie up.” The house was built of hewn logs, and above the door the sign of “ Union Hotel” had first caught my eye and gave promise of a dinner of ham and “ corn dodgers ;” but when I surveyed the crowd about the door “ hope withering fled !” It was “ the day of the race” but the race was over, and winners and losers were assembled for a frolic. A hurra and a shout greeted my arrival.
“ How do you go it ?” inquired a stout man at my stirrup.
“ Two to one, if you dare, on Medley !”
“ Plank the pewter,” said another--“ no cure no pay--hurra ! hurra ! whoopyew !” And at this I found myself borne upon the shoulders of half a dozen into the house, over chairs and stools and the fallen comrades of my supporters, until they reached the bar, where they made a deposit of their responsibility at the counter, shouting all the while “ liquor ! liquor ! sixteen glasses of brandy oddy ! hurra !” Smash went a dozen decanters, and the fragments jingled upon the floor.
It was not the first time that I had travelled in this region, and what would once have assured me that I was in a den of cut throats, now only served as an annoyance for the loss of dinner and rest.
The most effectual way to make drunkenness in others at all supportable, is to get drunk yourself ; for
“ --------- what’s drinking ? A mere pause from thinking !”
So without ceremony--for remonstrance in this instance would have only made matters worse--I gulped down a strong decoction of brandy and water. “ Go it ye cripples !” said the fellow who pushed it to me, “ he’s a captain !” Hardly had I recovered breath before another glass was crammed at me : “ come, come,” said Jack Snooley, “ don’t fret the cattle Tom,” at the same time taking the glass from the person who presented it. Emboldened by having so powerful an advocate, I begged them to let me take a little breath, but it was a short respite, and I was forced to “ go it again.” A shout at the door called the attention of the party that way ; and looking out, I saw a long-legged fellow upon the back of my jaded steed manœuvring like a militia major at a general muster. “ Hold the stakes, captain, two hundred dollars aside, my weight to Tom Snooley through the paths.” The stakes were deposited and the judges selected. It was in vain that I plead the condition of my horse, and advised the man to draw the bet, assuring him he would lose.“ Nobody’s business,” said the rider; “ if I’m a fool my money’s not.” An idea struck me at the time, forced out perhaps by the brandy which had now began to operate powerfully.
“ Well, gentlemen,” said I, “ if my horse is to run, I must ride him myself.” No objection was made, and the fellow who was mounted yelled like a Choctaw, for he was sure now that I was “ a bite.” We mounted and rode to the end of the quarter-paths, placed the judges at their stands, and threw up “ heads or tails” for “ the word” and choice of paths. The latter resulted in my favor.--The bystanders now began to set their bets, and the knowing ones backed my poor horse, believing that I was a regular built one. While they were making their bets I was surveying the ground over which to make my escape from the “ foul crowd” that beset me. A great flourish and parade were now made about the start. At length we came up square to the polls, and “ Go !” was reiterated by judges and all. Away we went, clatter ! clatter ! clatter ! and loud roared the mob, my competitor pawing the dirt into my face like hail stones of a dark night ! All at once it ceased, and the yells of the crowd ceased. Looking back I saw horse and rider rolling upon the ground ; but knowing the rule of “ no stopping in horse-racing,” onward I went, little caring who won so I cleared the whole field, after which I knew I would be safe. Fortune willed it otherwise.--Coming up to the “ Hotel,” my horse after winning the race, bolted from the road, and was making full speed for the river bank--a bluff of some thirty feet ! “ Stop him ! by G--d, stop him !” shouted all hands--crack went a pistol shot, and down went my horse on his knees, pitching me far over his head. How long I lay in this situation I am unable to determine, for I had taken as complete a farewell to the recollections of all earthly things as ever man did who had “ shuffled off this mortal coil.”
All was silent as death at the Union Hotel when I returned to a state of half consciousness. An old lady sat by the bedside bathing my cheeks with spirits of camphor, and a grave and respectable personage was feeling my pulse, whose countenance greeted me with a bland smile : “ Thank God !” said the old woman, as I groaned and looked wildly around--the recollections of the past day confusedly mingling with strange phantoms. The remainder is soon told. The pious gentleman to whom I owe my life, was a Methodist preacher, who, if he made but few proselytes to his holy creed, had the gratification of knowing that he was the instrument through whose agency a poor mortal was preserved from being hurried unprepared into eternity. And I here take occasion to bear testimony to the many kindnesses I have known administered at his hand. By the next day I was able to stir, and the good dame---wife to the landlord--placed a letter in my hand which read thus :--
“ I am gratified to learn that you have recovered. You will find enclosed $200, which please receive as payment for your horse, and if you can delay your journey, I would be much pleased to have your company at my plantation for as many days as you can devote to our rude society.”
The hostess informed me that the shooting of my horse was to prevent him from tumbling down the precipice, which would have proved certain death to both horse and rider, my recollection of which corroborated the supposition. No pay would be received by any of the kind people who attended me, and I was informed that my tavern bill was paid by Captain -------, the writer of the above letter. The town was now as still as if another “ race day” would never arrive. Purchasing another horse, I bid adieu to the village of H......, in the Territory of Arkansas, and if ever I travel that way again, may it never be when there is a race and a frolick on hand. Yours, &c., J. S.
Manchester, Mississippi, June 5, 1836.
Source: New York Spirit of the Times 6.21 (9 July 1836): 162. University of Virginia Alderman Library.
Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.
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