Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Business of Pleasure, by Edmund Yates, 1879 - Chapter 20 - The Millers and their Men

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WHAT does he say? He says "Come at six to-night." Another delay When shall I hear when shall I get it?
    What I want to get is "the office:" not a place of trust, not a mahogany-desked, leather-chaired, sky-lighted place of business not the post-office, nor the booking-office, nor the police-office, nor the railway-office, but still "the office." From one office I am to get another; and the first is the head-quarters of the sporting world, and the second is the name of the place where the two great Millers, whose fame has extended far beyond the farinaceous world, are speedily to meet, the whole is - Sphynx avaunt! I will talk no longer in riddles ; it is useless ; for some Oedipus will soon unravel my mystery, remembering of Miss Kilmansegg -
        How her husband had stormed and treated her ill,
        Because she refused to go down to a mill,
        -She couldn't tell where, but remembered still
        That the Miller's name was Mendoza.
So, to be plain and explicit, I am favoured with introductions to the conductors of that newspaper which has for many years been the oracle of the sporting world, and the guide, philosopher, and friend of sporting men of every degree; and from them I have been promised "the office," or the [-213-] information when and where the meeting between Messrs. Heenan and King, the two great Millers, is to take place, and the chance of a safe conveyance to the meeting. It ought to repay me when it comes off, for it has been a source of tremendous annoyance beforehand. For days previously I have lived in a whirl of excitement and in a cloud of slang. In order that everything should be thoroughly "square," everything has been left excessively "dark," everybody has been enveloped in a halo of Rosicrucian mystery, which was so infectious as to lay hold of everybody else. Nobody spoke above a whisper about anything and I am bound to state that, falling in with the general view, I have winked until my eye is weak, and laid my finger alongside my nose until the latter organ is bent, and spoken in a charnel-house whisper whenever the topic of the Millers was broached, without the smallest idea why I have gone through any of these proceedings I have been to the office of the sporting newspaper - once on Tuesday morning, when I was very civilly received, and told to come on that evening, when I was begged to look in the following morning ; and now they tell me, with the utmost courtesy, and with an amount of mystery which is in itself exciting, to come at six to-night. Yesterday, when I paid my first visit, the whole office was filled with excited gentlemen of the pugilistic profession, who were, I learned, the chosen "ring-keepers," and who had come there to receive instructions as to their duties; with tawny moustached swells, known to the establishment, who were courteously addressed; and with prying members of the public, who were speedily dismissed. Now, on this Wednesday morning, I find the place in ordinary working order, and with not a stranger present. I pass the glazed room, where the compositors are busily picking up their types; I find one of the principal members of the staff reading his proof; I see the boys flying about with the long wet slips just fresh pulled; [-214-] to-night at six evidently means business; either I shall know everything then, or the meeting of the Millers is indefinitely postponed.
    I return to my ordinary avocations; and while engaged in them during the afternoon I am visited by my own familiar friend, who tells me that the great event is over - that the Millers met that morning, and that, after an interview of an hour and a half's duration, one of them, the representative of Transatlantic grist, had succumbed. There is no doubt about it; the interview took place near Micheldever station; and my friend has just seen a railway-guard hot from the South-Western line. To my friend I repeat my mysterious pantomime; I wink my eye, and lay my forefinger alongside my nose. There must be some tremendous hidden force in this ; for my friend retires, evidently believing that the guard aforesaid is mendacious. As St. Mary's clock strikes six, I enter the sporting newspaper office the compositors are hard at it under their green-paper-shaded lamps, the boys are flying about with the fluttering slips of proof; but the editor's door is locked, and the gentleman to whom I have been accredited has not come in. So I wait in the passage, humbly expectant. Close by me is a little closet, wherein a boy and a man are "reading proofs." I hear them running over the subject-matter in that dull monotonous jargon invariable on such occasions. I think it must be coursing that they are discussing, for I catch references to Mr. Jones's black dog and Mr. Robinson's slate-coloured bitch; and then a stout man in shirt-sleeves and a white apron - the master-printer evidently - looks in, and asks if they've got that Billiards, and what's become of the slip of Canine, Now arrives my friend, and with him another gentleman, who is introduced to me as the oldest member of the journal's staff who has been connected with it for thirty years, and who has officially attended more meetings of Millers than perhaps anyone living; a quiet [-215-] unpretending-looking gentleman enough, but with an eye like a bead, and a firm-set jaw looking like Determination itself. The editor of the sporting newspaper, who is always stakeholder and referee on all occasions when the Millers meet, and who throughout his life has laboured with the utmost spirit to ameliorate the social position of the Millers, never shrinking from condemning them in the most courageous manner and under circumstances involving the deepest personal peril to himself when they were wrong, but fighting their battles manfully when they were right-the editor is unfortunately laid up by illness at home, and my new acquaintance with the determined jaw is on this occasion, as on many previous ones, to act as his representative. He tells me that he and his party will sleep at the London Bridge Terminus Hotel; that he will engage a bed there for me, and "take care of me in the morning." Mysterious, but satisfactory, I retire with an expression of thanks, feeling sure that the meeting of the Millers will speedily take place, and that I shall be there.
    The meeting of the Millers! London thinks of nothing else! Round the door of the office of the sporting newspaper stands an open-mouthed expectant crowd, who glare at me as I come out, and hoarsely bellow to me to "say vere." As I pay my cabman, he touches his hat and asks me for the latest "tip." At my club, where I dine, I find the coffee-room tables surrounded by strange faces, country members, who have made the cattle-show the excuse for a flying visit to town; but who have really come up to see the Millers meet. In the smoking-room aesthetic conversation is voted a bore, and scandal is snuffed out. On this evening Bopps can get no audience for his complaints against the Royal Academy; Sheet's rumour of the intended starting of a new magazine is pooh-poohed; and Middleditch's story of a peccant countess does not enchain a single listener. The Millers, the Millers! their weiuht and height ; what one [-216-] has done, and what the other promises ; their system of training; who is "on," and what are the offered odds ; what is the meaning of "fighting the sack," and what is always a deadly blow; the Millers, the Millers! until we get so excited that little Gillott, who has never wielded anything heavier than a pen, doubles up his arm and begins to feel for his biceps; and old Millboard, who painted "Corinthians" half a century ago, totters on to his feet to show us how Tom Cribb floored Molyneux. Still, the Millers! Looking in at the Music Hall, on my way down to the City, I find the bucolic element laughing hoarsely, indeed, at the humour of the black men or the saltatory gyrations of the Cure; but relapsing during the entr'actes into earnest talk about the Millers, and the chances of their coming meeting; the brickman outside opines that I am a captain, and that I shall be "looking on at 'em at Aldershott " in the morning; the topic soon intrudes into an extemporised verse of a comic song (very shaky in the rhyme, and not at all measured as to the number of words in a line), and is received with roars of applause. So did the people jest and laugh before the great encounter of the gladiators on the last day of Pompeii, when Sporus boasted, and Lydon hoped, and the girl sang
            Ho! ho! for the merry, merry show!
    Still the Millers! Down at the London Bridge Terminus Hotel, where I find my friends, excited groups dot the coffee and smoking rooms, and the young ladies in the bar smile with thorough knowingness when we desire to be called at four. The manager is a wag, and "supposes we are going out shooting," employing, at the same time, the mysterious wink and the masonic touch of the nose. The waiter who brings our grog lingers near the table to catch fragments of our conversation, and points us out to yearning visitors. As we take our bed-candles, our friend Determination stops to [-217-] exchange a word or two with a flat-nosed man, who, followed by three vacuous youths, has just entered. "That was Jim Sloggers," says Determination afterwards ; "he's taking down Lord Tomnoddy and those two other swells." It is one o'clock before I get to bed; it is two o'clock before I get to sleep. From the adjacent railway-yard come hoarse murmurings as of a gathering crowd; shrieks of belated engines, moaning, and grunts of overladen goods trains; up the staircase comes tumbling the bucolic element, apparently somewhat the worse for brandy-and-water; and hoarse good-nights, in all kinds of uncouth dialects, break upon the ear, then gigantic boots are flung out, waking every echo; and finally, with my mind full of the Millers, I glide off into the land of nod.
    The remorseless "boots" thunders at my door at four o'clock; and, after a hasty toilette, I make my way down the staircase (on which I encounter a gentleman in full dress, who has just come from the Dramatic College Ball, and who stares in great wonder at my simple costume and billycock hat, and who is evidently tremendously amazed at my carrying the lid of a hamper under my arm) to the coffee-room, where I find my friends already at breakfast off cold chicken and ham. My original acquaintance of the sporting newspaper, who is to act as reporter on this occasion, has apparelled himself in a shooting suit, thick boots and gaiters, and has immediately under his greatcoat and over all the rest of his clothes a thick blue woollen fisherman's guernsey, a most splendid preventive against cold; he has a thick travelling-cap on his head, and in his pocket he carries a gigantic note-book, large enough to contain at least a volume of Macaulay's History written out in text hand. I glance at Determination, and find him in the dress of the previous evening; frock-coat, dark trousers, chimneypot hat, blue bird's-eye scarf with valuable pin well protruded, watch-chain plainly visible: "Lord bless you! they [-218-] won't touch me," he says ; "they know better!" A hurried breakfast over, we strike across to the terminus, through a very small fringe of blackguardism we push our way instantaneously, and then march quietly up between open ranks of police to a door, through which we are at once admitted to the station. At the open window I pay three sovereigns, receiving in return a red-and-white ticket, bearing the words "From London, and back;" then I take temporary leave of my companions, who have business to look after; and being joined by two other friends, I seat myself in a second-class compartment of the enormous train, which is already nearly full.
    There is no mistake about our compartment being quite full. In addition to myself and my two friends there are a thin hatchet-faced pedestrian, two or three pugilists, one with an enormously thick stick, one rather merrily "fresh," but all perfectly civil and inoffensive, and two nondescript men, one with little bleary red eyes. A rough freemasonry is at once established ; all talk of the admirable manner in which the arrangements have tip to this point been carried out; one of the pugilists has just left King; "I aired his fightin' drawers for him and see him eat three chops for his breakfast, like a man," he says; and we are full of conversation, when a porter, passing along the line of carriages, calls out, "All tickets ready." Hasty whispering takes place between three or four of my fellow-travellers; and the thin pedestrian, who is next to me, asks me if "I'd mind sitting for'ard." I comply at once; the pedestrian shrinks into nothing behind my tolerably broad shoulders, and the man on the other side (the pugilist with the stick) sits "for'ard" too. Plainly the pedestrian has no ticket and is trying a dodge. But, alas for him, the ticket collector, a strong official, bodily enters the carriage, and collects from each individual. "Your ticket?" to the pedestrian. "Mr. Willoughby's got it," stammering reply. " What?" Stam-[-219-]mering reply repeated. "Out you go!" Pedestrian seized by the collar and hurled into the arms of expectant porters, who speedily run him out of the station. The whole business is so instantaneous that we cannot help laughing at the poor fellow's expulsion, and we are in the midst of our shout when - the officials having withdrawn - one of the pugilists lifts up his railway rug, and the bleary-eyed little man creeps out from underneath the seat! Neither I nor my two friends had seen him disappear, and we stared in wonder at the narrow compass in which he had packed himself and the marvelously quick way in which he had hidden. He is thoroughly civil and frank; tells us he was determined to see the fight; that he would not have minded giving ten shillings for his ticket, but could not scrape together the three pounds; and then he gave us an account of his intrusion into the railway - how he climbed up ladders and dragged them after him, crossed roofs, dropped down walls, and finally crept under the long line of carriages and made his entry through the window; after hearing which, I have a much meaner opinion of Latude's escape from the Bastille, and think that my bleary-eyed friend really deserved his trip.
    It is very nearly six o'clock before the train moves out of the station, and the patience of those who arrived at three has been severely tried. But there has been no outbreak, and, indeed, the whole proceedings have been carried on with perfect quietude. Once off, we rattle along at capital speed, and almost before we expect it find ourselves alongside the platform at Redhill Junction, listening to the porters calling out the name of the station in their ordinary manner. This is evidently a portion of the entire "gag." We are an excursion-train, of whose object the Railway Company is, of course, entirely ignorant; to ensure our proper safety at London Bridge, the police were engaged; and now, as some of [-220-] us may perhaps be anxious to alight at Redhill, the porters give us all due information. But nobody gets out, although numberless heads are protruded through carriage- windows to stare at five members of the Surrey constabulary, who are grinning on the platform; and we speed away once more. Some distance farther down we strike off the main line towards Tunbridge, and the pugilistic gentleman who was "fresh" at starting, and whom frequent applications to a brandy-flask have made very convivial, is earnest in his offers to "take ten to one they'll fight in the same place as Sayers and Heenan did" - nobody responding, he takes refuge in sleep. Onward still, through the lovely fresh dawn, which is first a rift in a black cloud, and gradually broadens into a flood of rosy light, so lovely that the attention of all my fellow-travellers is excited, and the pugilists break out into raptures of admiration ; a saying of one of them that it's "like a picture" being capped by one of the nondescript men, who says, " There's no artist like Nater - none of 'em could touch that!" On, with the growing day, through Kent - that lovely English garden, where the furrowed land lies in purple gloaming, where the stacked hop-poles stand black against the horizon, where the leafless woods fringe the blue hills, and the lazy cattle are here and there pastern - deep in the flooded fields. On, past a hitherto unheard-of little place called Frant, to an equally unknown station called Wadhurst, where we stop, our journey at an end. No fear of official interruption at present, at all events ; for there is not a soul near us, and the little station-tavern, unexpectant of eleven hundred visitors, is tight closed. In a long straggling line we excursionists start off at once down a red-clay lane; and then for the first time I have opportunity of observing the material of which we are composed. I don't think there are a dozen "roughs" in the entire company, and even they are so outnumbered as to be on their best behaviour; swells muster [-221-] strongly; the faces which you are accustomed to see at the Opera and in the Park can be counted by dozens; a few theatrical people, a few authors, a few reporters, some fifty professional pugilists engaged as ring-keepers and all armed with long gutta-percha riding-whips, crowds of heavy-footed broad-shouldered yeomen (seduced from the cattle-show), and hundreds of sporting publicans and tradesmen. Now do we in gaiters congratulate ourselves on our forethought, for the loam is heavy and sticky, and soon we leave the lane and enter a field, where apparently our pitch is to be made. Hither- among us arrives a man laden with campstools, with which he drives a brisk trade, retailing them at ten shillings apiece I do not purchase, for I still retain my hamper-lid, on the possession of which I have received frequent congratulations from unknown gentlemen, who characterise my having brought it as a "reg'lar leery move." After half-an-hour's waiting, it is discovered that, for some reason unknown to me, the field which we occupy is not suitable ; and then commences a regular steeple-chase, over ploughed land, through stiff hedges and over swollen dykes, until at length we arrive at a sloping field at the ridge of a hill, where the ropes and stakes are extracted from the sacks in which they have been conveyed, and the formation of the ring commences in earnest.
    At this moment, I and some hundreds of others are guilty of great weakness in purchasing, at the price of ten shillings, an "inner-ring ticket," which is supposed to confer on us certain privileges of comfort and security. As it is, we discover, when the ropes and stakes are fixed, that there is no outer ring, or if there be, there is no one in it, every one crowding into the first circle, immediately round the fighting-ring, whether they have tickets or not indeed, one on either side of me are two country joskins in smock-frocks and soft wide-awakes, who have walked over from an adjacent field. The stakes of the fighting-ring, painted [-222-] blue, and adorned at the top with the "colours" or "arms," of the respective Millers, look like gigantic constables' staves; from one to the other strong ropes are knotted, making a square area of about twenty-four feet. And now, with very great trouble, and with much show of assault but without any actual molestation, the ring-keepers have driven everyone from the fighting-ring, and the crowd, some squatting on the ground, some seated on their camp-stools, others standing in dense masses behind, and others again mounted in trees and on ladders propped against the hedges, begins to murmur with expectation. Betting, of which there have been mutterings all along, now breaks forth in shouts, and keen-eyed men are betting long odds, which they offer to lay on the American. In the space of three minutes I hear two bets of two hundred pounds to one, and thirty-five to twenty, all on Heenan. Now a roar! What is it? Brayvo, Tom! Hooray, King! and I look up and see a tall man stepping into the ring, and bowing to his welcome. A good-looking man this, with nothing of the prize-fighter in his face, which yet has a singular and almost sinister expression, owing to the vast development of the frontal bones and the smallness and shiftiness of his eyes. Another roar! Brayvo, Jack! a tremendous shout this time greets Mr. Heenan, who grins confidently, and makes a sort of mock salute. Both men are together now, tossing for choice of position. The toss is won by Heenan, who, of course, chooses the higher ground, where he has also the advantage of the sun at his back. In pursuance of this arrangement, King comes to the corner where I stand; his seconds place his chair, and, so soon as he is seated, wrap him all round in a large green rug. He sits perfectly passive, his face immobile, his enormous brown hands occasionally pulling the rug tighter round him. In the opposite corner, so surrounded that I cannot see him, is his adversary. But I don't want to see him yet; I have quite enough to do in [-223-] looking at a middle-sized man, dressed in a fantastic yellow-silk jacket, with Heenan's gaudy-striped "colours" round his neck, and a close-fitting fur-cap on his head; a man with a flat nose, an enormous jowl, and a face altogether like a slack-baked quartern loaf of dirty dough - Tom Sayers. He is acting as one of Heenan's seconds, and has, it is said, backed him for a great deal of that money which the English people subscribed for the courageous Thomas after his fight at Farnborough. A tremendous wrangle is going on all this time in the ring ; the editor of the sporting newspaper, unable to attend himself, has appointed my friend Determination to act as referee, and this is objected to by King's party, who with frightful language declare they will not have him in that capacity. The row is tremendous, awful threats are used, sticks and fists are raised; and at this time Determination shows himself in his true character. While fifty yelling scoundrels are bawling at and threatening him, he stands perfectly unmoved, save perhaps that he thrusts on his hat a little tighter, and clenches that under- jaw a little more firmly; but he never flinches from word or threat, and tells King that if he is not fighting in twenty minutes, he, Determination, as referee, will give the day in favour of the other man. This threat - which he has, it appears, the power to carry out - has proper edict, and King's friends yield; one of them, in a loud voice, swearing that if the referee don't act fair he'll be murdered. This pleasant piece of badinage I heard uttered.
    The ring is once more cleared of all save the Millers and their seconds, and the excitement recommences. Greeted by a loud burst of applause, Heenan steps forward. He is stripped to the waist, wearing drawers fastening at the knee, long stockings, and ankle-jack boots with spiked soles. I suppose a finer picture of a man has scarcely ever been seen. As he draws himself tip with somewhat of a swagger, and holds his arms aloft in the air, you can see horny [-224-] muscle working like steel beneath his skin, which is hard, brown, and polished like hickory. In another minute a shout of welcome is given to King, who stands up in similar guise. He is nearly an inch taller than Heenan, who stands 6 feet 1, but he weighs a stone less than the American, and he looks greyhoundy and thin, as though his training had been a little too fine. Now they shake hands rapidly, and fall into position.
    I have never before seen a prize-fight, but I am an old attendant at the sparring-schools, and have some practical as well as theoretical knowledge of the "noble art;" and it strikes me at once that Mr. Heenan is sadly ignorant of the proper way to use his hands. In the first round he showed this, and also exposed his course of tactics, which was to wrestle with his antagonist, to hug him, and - if the truth must be told - to break his neck. Heenan wrestles splendidly his grip is something tremendous, and he hurled King about with a force and ease that was surprising. Heenan's backers were enthusiastic, and called out that the fight was as good as over. It was curious to watch the two men throughout the contest. Heenan always first up to time, and, during all the first rounds, smiling, confident, and swaggering: King very anxious-looking, with knit brows to shade his eyes from the sun, and close-set teeth. King fought, Heenan wrestled; King fought him off, Heenan gripped him again and again, and after each grip threw him heavily to the ground. Meanwhile the shouts from the spectators were terrific immediately behind me stood a raving knot of Heenan's friends, who, not content with cheering their champion, heaped clouds of invective and ridicule on his adversary. When King got one tremendous fall - so tremendous that he lay without motion, even when carried to his corner, and I thought he was dead - these ruffians jeered him with twofold fury; and even that incarnation of English virtue, Mr. Thomas Sayers, turned round, [-225-] and pointing at the senseless body, uttered some graceful sarcasm. But King revived, partly through the application of a bowl of water to his head, partly through another application of a more practical nature, and with his revival came new fortune. All throughout, his friends had been urging him to keep Heenan off and to make him fight; and now he took the advice. In the next round he struck Heenan a blow into which he had put all his strength, and in delivering which he seemed to concentrate his pent-up rage and humiliation. It did its work; utterly devoid of science, Heenan made no attempt to stop it, and it told on his whole frame, he came up again, time after time, with a pluck and endurance which cannot be too highly praised; but he was all abroad; the play of his hands was feeble in the extreme, and he was prevented from attempting his old tactics of gripping and hugging by King's powerful fists, which were shooting out all round him with the force of steam-hammers. Heenan was too courageous; he should have given in at least two rounds before the sponge was thrown up and King declared the victor, after a fiercely-contested fight, lasting thirty-five minutes.
    So ended my first and last experience of the mysteries of the Millers and their men. I never wish to attend another celebration; but in all honesty I am bound to say that what I did see was by no means so horrifying, so lowering, so disgusting, as before and since I heard it described. When I read the account of what I had seen, in the next day's Times, I really wondered which I ought to believe - my own eyesight or the vivid description of The Times reporter!