Tales of the Turf, Part 3
Seven pounds a month was my remuneration when I commenced as foreman, but three months later I was drawing £25 a month as assistant engineer. I soon realized, however, that I should not make my fortune at this work, and Mr. Boggs, General Manager of the Entre Rios line, told me there was not the least chance of promotion, unless one had a big backer. Even then things were not all honey, for contractors were heavily penalized if they failed to complete their sections within the specified time.
Young H., for example, with whom I worked as assistant, invested £5000 of the money his father left him with a Brazilian firm of contractors. These people took on a stretch of line, and had to stake £20,000 that it would be constructed by a certain date. Indian labour was all they had to depend upon, and the dusky gentlemen served them as their fellow-countrymen served me at Sicasica and elsewhere. They worked only as long as they cared to work, and then they went off. So the contractors were unable to complete their contract to time, and consequently lost their £20,000.
This kind of thing didn’t appeal to me, so I decided to apprentice myself to a trainer of race-horses at Buenos Ayres, and see if I could make money on the Turf. Brett was considered a pastmaster of his craft. He had had a more than passing acquaintance with some of the most famous racing establishments in England, and was exceptionally clever at treating foundered horses. He taught me all he knew of this important subject, during the time I officiated as his secretary and assistant trainer. Subsequently I picked up many useful wrinkles from the Medicine Men of various tribes of Indians with whom I came in contact on my exploring trips.
A few months after I started with Brett, the black galloway before mentioned became mine, to dispose of as I thought fit. About this time I received news of my sister’s impending marriage to H. G. Ley (who has since succeeded to the baronetcy), so I decided I couldn’t give her a better wedding present. I had broken the galloway to harness, and he was a really smart trapper.
I shipped him aboard the Nile, and everything went well until the boat arrived two days off the English coast. Then, as Captain Spooner subsequently told me, she ran into a bad storm. The sea raged mountains high, and the horse-box broke loose from one of its moorings, and was washed about hither and thither. When the storm abated, and the sailors were able to restore the box to its original position, they found the galloway still standing up, but showing signs of the terrible experience he had been through. At Southampton he was carefully examined, and found to have sustained very serious injury across his loins. My father had him conveyed by easy stages to his place, and called in the best vet. in Wiltshire. Much to everybody’s regret that gentleman decided the horse must be shot.
Before this order was put into execution, the late Duke of Beaufort drove over and had a look at the poor animal. There was no better judge of horseflesh in the whole wide world. As his Grace turned away, he said to my father, “Prodgers, next time you write to your son, tell him this is the finest galloway I have ever seen.”
When I began training on my own, my stables were located not far from the racecourse near Belgrano. One day there arrived a gaucho, or native cattle-man, bringing with him a half-bred percheron, about six years old. He wanted £2 for it, and produced the official papers which have to be procured when one wishes to pass a horse on to some one else. He said he had bought it al corte, with twenty-nine others out of a herd, or troupillo, which consisted of 500 animals, tamed and untamed. The lot cost him £60. I was curious to learn why he was willing to part with the percheron at the same price he gave for it. It seemed a great strong horse, if somewhat clumsy. The gaucho explained that it was because “the rotten swine,” as he called it in his picturesque lingo, wouldn’t stand for anybody. Several times when he had been riding around, and had had occasion to dismount for a minute or two, the animal had cleared off and left his luckless master stranded many miles from camp! Well, I agreed to take the percheron at the price named. Six months later I sold him to the Belgrano Tramway Company for £20.