Nat Gould

His life and books

Down on His Luck


By Nat Gould

It was not a hard matter to tell when Bob Etheridge was “down on his luck”. He did not bear misfortune well, and often took a gloomy view of things when other men would have considered themselves fairly well off, had they been in a similar position.

Bob Etheridge was a well-known owner and also trainer of horses at Mordialloc, not many miles from Melbourne in the colony of Victoria. He had been there for some years, and so had his father before him, and the name of Etheridge was as well known in this locality as that of Dawson at Newmarket in the old country. Consequently, when Bob Etheridge was “down on his luck” - his own term - the good folk of Mordialloc knew something had gone wrong which the astute trainer had reckoned to bring off all right.

Bob Etheridge always looked glum when one of his horses lost a race. He growled and grumbled and behaved generally in a bear like manner. The stable lads knew it was just as well for their own peace of mind, and soundness of body, to keep out of the trainer's way when Bob's face showed danger. And yet, like many another hasty man, Bob Etheridge was the reverse of unpopular, either at his training quarters or Mordialloc generally. Bob Etheridge had a great idea of winning races on his own particular course at Mordialloc, and if he hated to be defeated at one place more than another it was on this track. Before the big Melbourne Cup meeting, the Sydney trainer, Clement Mervin, generally came to Mordialloc with a string of five or six good horses. Bob Etheridge and Clement Mervin were excellent friends, probably because they did not see too much of each other during the twelve months. They had many ideas in common on the question of how to train racehorses, and yet they were dissimilar in disposition. Clem Mervin never seemed down on his luck no matter what happened, and he constantly chaffed Bob Etheridge for pulling such a long face.

“Life's too short to he glum, Bob,” the Sydney trainer would say. “Besides, it is absurd making a fuss about getting beaten in a paltry race when we all know you're the richest man about these parts.”

“Oh! that's what the heathens around here say, is it?” replied Bob. “Then you tell 'em from me, Clem Mervin, to mind their own business. The infernal bad luck I have would make even you thin.”

“I reckon I'm stouter than you,” said Clem Mervin, “because I take things a bit easier.

“Then worry like I do,” growled Bob, “and you'll soon commence to look respectable.”

“I'm not much heavier than you,” said Clem Mervin. “I've got a horse here I'd like to ride you a race with against one of yours at catch weights.”

Bob Etheridge laughed. He seemed tickled at the idea and said:

“That would mean giving me a couple of stone, at least.”

“Would it?” said Clem. “Then if you are afraid for the sake of your reputation that I shall beat you, we'll leave it over for twelve months, and when I return next year I'll try and meet you on more equal terms.”

Bob Etheridge agreed; but forgot all about the arrangement in a short time.

However, before the next Cup he received a letter from Clem Mervin, who stated he was bringing some horses to Mordialloc as usual, and reminding Bob about the match they were to ride. Clem Mervin concluded his letter as follows:

“You may have heard I had a severe illness last winter, and it pulled me down a lot, I'm strong and well again now, but much lighter, so we shall meet on more equal terms. I have got a good 'un to pit against you, one of my own, so some fine morning we will try who is the better man.”

“Blest if I had not forgotten all about it,” said Bob Etheridge to himself, after reading the letter. “I must not disappoint him. Let me see, what shall I ride? Hallo, Sam!” he called across the stable yard.

“Yes, sir,” replied Sam, the head lad, popping his head out of a horse-box.

“Come here,” shouted Bob. “Do you think I'd take the trouble to yell like that if I didn't want to speak to you most particularly?”

Sam strolled across the yard and said:

“What is it? More bad luck.”

“It ought to be good luck,” said Bob, and then explained how the matter stood.

The head lad grinned and said, “It ought to be a match worth seeing.”

“So it will be,” said Etheridge, “if I win. Which horse had I better ride? I don't think it will be advisable to risk losing a race for the sake of beating Clem Mervin and landing a few sovs.”

“Ride old Rainbow,” said Sam. “He'll carry yon all right and be good enough for anything Mr. Mervin may have.”

“Do you think so?” chuckled Bob, who, like his head lad, underestimated the value of any horses brought over from “the other side.”

“Sure of it,” said Sam, “and old Rainbow's very well now; a good gallop or two will put the finishing touch on him.” It was agreed that Bob Etheridge should ride Rainbow, and Clement Mervin's arrival at Mordialloc was awaited with confidence.

The Sydney trainer duly put in an appearance with his horses, and met Bob Etheridge the night of his arrival.

“What are the stakes to be?” asked Bob.

“If yon leave it to me, I'll say a hundred a-side. Don't make it more; I'm not a rich man like you,” replied Clem Mervin.

This was a surprise for Bob. He had expected to ride for about ten pounds a-side. He had doubts as to whether Rainbow would be good enough for a match of a hundred a-side, so he thought he would not name his horse that night, as he had fully intended doing.

“We'll make it a hundred if you like,” he replied.

“And what about naming the horses and the date of the race?” asked Clem.

“This day week for the race, and we'll leave out naming the horses until we get on the track. The only stipulation is that each horse must be the property of his rider, and the distance a mile,” said Bob.

“As you like it,” replied Clem Mervin. “What time in the morning?”

“When we go on to the track to train. Say 5.30.”

“Done,” replied Clem. “I'll be there,” and he smiled as he thought he would give Bob Etheridge a surprise.

At Moonee Valley races the following Saturday after this conversation took place, Bob Etheridge thought he had an excellent chance with Firefly for the Cup. He met Clem Mervin in the paddock, and told him he thought Firefly would win.

“Thanks,” said Clem. “I'll have a pound or two on, but I have a bit of a fancy for Diadem myself.”

“You Sydney chaps fancy you can win anything,” replied Bob. “Diadem belongs to Mason - ”

Before he had time to finish his sentence Clem Mervin said, “Excuse me a minute, Bob. Don't leave Diadem out in your calculations. There's a chap over there I want to see.”

He left Bob Etheridge, who thought Firefly ought to beat Diadem on form, and looks also, if that went for any thing.

There was a lot of speculation on the Moonee Valley Cup, and Firefly was backed down to the position of favourite.

It was a good race, but Diadem beat Firefly by a length, at which the Sydney visitors rejoiced greatly.

Bob Etheridge was down on his luck as usual. He went to the Victorian Club at night looking melancholy, and in a grumpy temper. When Bob appeared at the Club after a defeat he generally had to stand a certain amount of chaff, for the bookmakers liked to pay the trainer out for the many wins he scored over them.

“The Sydney nag was too good for you to-day,” said Harold Wane, a popular member of the ring.

“A fluke,” growled Bob. “Just my luck to be taken down by a horse like Diadem.”

“They had a good win over him. I wish you had landed it," said Wane. “It would have suited me better, on this occasion, to pay over Firefly than Diadem.”

“A bit of luck for Mason, anyway,” said Bob.

“Well, it was and it wasn't,” said Wane.

“How's that?”said Bob. “Not much bad luck about landing a Moonee Valley Cup. I wish I'd done it instead.”

“It stood this way as far as I can make out,” said Wane. “Mason owed Clem Mervin some money. They agreed to settle it this way. If Diadem won Mason was to have the stake and Mervin the horse.”

“Do you mean to say Clem Mervin owns Diadem ?” said Bob Etheridge, springing to his feet excitedly.

“That's what it amounts to; but what difference can it make to you?” said Wane, surprised.

“Oh, not much,” said Bob, calming down. “I'm off. Good-night.”

“He's an erratic beggar when he's down on his luck, as he calls it,” thought Wane. Then seeing Clem Mervin enter the room the bookmaker went to him.

After a few minutes conversation Wane said, “Your pal Bob seemed very excited when I told him you owned Diadem. He bid me good-night and went home.”

“Ah! ah! Ah!” laughed Clem at the top of his voice. “I thought he'd be surprised when he found out who owned Diadem.”

“What on earth's Diadem got to do with all this hilarity?” said Wane.

“Can't explain to-night. You'll hear soon enough,” said Clem Mervin.

“Deuce take the pair of 'em,” thought Wane. “What's the joke, I wonder?”

When Bob Etheridge arrived home, he said to his head lad, “Sam, we've made a mess of it.”

“Firefly ran well,” was the reply.

“Oh, I'm not grumbling at that,” said Bob. “Who do you think owns Diadem?”

“Mason,” replied Sam.

“No; Clem Mervin,” said Bob.

“Bless my soul!” said Sam. “Then he'll ride him in the match.”

“That's just about it,” said Bob. “It's all square enough ; but what awful luck!”

“Forfeit!”t said Sam.

“Never,” replied Bob, “I'll die game. The old horse might have a chance.”

The match was to come off on Monday morning, and when Bob Etheridge rode on to the course he found Clem Mervin seated on the Moonee Valley Cup winner.

“So that's your horse, is it?” said Bob.

“Yes,” replied Clem; I've got you on toast this time.”

“What's your weight?” asked Bob.

“Ten stone.”

“Mine's eight six. I've got a chance. I'll bet you another fifty.”

“Bluff,” thought Clem Mervin. “As you like, but it's robbing you, Bob.”

“Not a bit of it,” said Bob. “I'm satisfied.”

It was a good race, and so thought Sam, the head lad, as with a chuckle he saw Rainbow draw up to Diadem at the distance post. Clem Mervin was surprised, but he sat down and rode Diadem hard. It was no use, however, for Rainbow beat him by half a length. When the trainers dismounted Clem shook hands with Bob and said,

“How did you manage it ?”

“Heard you owned Diadem at the club on Saturday night. We tried Rainbow with Firefly early on Sunday morning. Rainbow won,” said Bob.

"Then that extra fifty was not a bluff? ashed Clem Mervin.

“No, my boy.”

“Then never say you are down on your luck again,” said Clem with a smile.

“But I am,” said Bob; “I never found out that Rainbow was better than Firefly until after the Moonee Valley Cup.”

“Bob, you're a wonder,” said Clem Mervin.

“I am!” said Bob placidly, “but that doesn't alter the fact that I'm still down on my luck.”

Down on His Luck by Nat Gould was published on 20 November 1897 in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.