[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
On the road.
In front of the Australia a four-in-hand stood, gazed at with a certain languid interest by a pack of cigarette-smoking infants, who filled in the time not occupied in disposing of ‘c’rect cards’ by frank criticisms on the leaders’ fore-legs and the driver’s only ones.
Still, apart from some want of motive displayed in the man’s tops as compared with the narrowness of his calves, and an indescribable stuffiness which seems to cling like a birth-mark about all vehicles for hire, the turnout in question was worthy of the occasion.
Dick and Johnson had secured it days before, having decided, after the manner of bushmen down for a spell, to live up to the traditions of their order while in town.
In the vestibule of the hotel a well-dressed mob stood comparing notes, while pulling on gloves and adjusting the hang of their field-glasses.
Globe-trotters, who would have been millionaires had half the checks displayed on their bodies been negotiable; a well-advertised star actor ‘doing’ the colonies, for the good and sufficient reason that he was ‘done’ at home; the vendor of a magic balm which, applied to the soles of the feet, cured deafness, and who averred that his mane-like head of hair was worth £200 a year to him; a sprinkling of Anglicized Australians, whose fathers had sold their souls in ‘dummying’ land, so that their offspring might acquire an Oxford training and an utter contempt for the old man — these, with sundry well-dressed women of all nationalities, made up the contingent which the Australia was about to send to Randwick.
As the Isis Downs party came down the marble staircase, the people below stared with more than passing interest at this last addition to their ranks. Edith, with her warm colouring and black hair, set off by a bright-gray tailor-made dress, with boa and toque of fur of a darker shade, looked like a joyous spirit of the night who had come to gladden the day.
Clad in that rich brown which in the sunlight glows with a golden radiance, its plainness relieved with deep borderings of astrakhan, Heather, white-skinned and hazel-eyed, with the hair and form of the Queen of the Morning, moved by her side in stately contrast.
As the girls, piloted by Mrs. Enson and Count Zenski, reached the hall, Hatten and Johnson, accompanied by Dromeroff and the rest of the men of their party, joined them.
‘I do hope those wretched horses are quiet, Edward,’ said the old lady anxiously; ‘I noticed the leaders jumping about before we came down.’
‘You needn’t let that trouble you, Mrs. Enson,’ interposed Dick. ‘That’s all included for the money — it’s merely for effect.’
‘Well, suppose we make a start?’ suggested Johnson. ‘It won’t do to miss the hurdles.’
As he spoke he moved towards the steps, followed by the rest. Swinging himself on to the box, he now took the reins, while Hatten and the other men, after helping the ladies into their places, clambered up on top.
‘Are you all fixed?’ inquired Ted, straightening out his team.
‘Now, don’t be scared, Mrs. Enson,’ whispered the manager, as, dropping his whip lightly on the leaders, they rose on their hind-legs according to agreement.
Steadying them, Johnson got his wheelers going, and the drag swung round into King Street, and away past the statue and St. Mary’s, at a good ten miles an hour. Oxford Street, with its trams and miscellaneous traffic, steadied Ted’s pace considerably, but once past the Captain Cook Hotel all was again plain sailing.
On either side, as they bowled along the straight, tree-guarded roadway, crowds of footballers ‘dribbled’ and ‘passed’ and ‘collared’ to the loud-voiced applause of frantic ‘barrackers,’ while the bunting floating above the Association Ground told that there some special struggle for supremacy was taking place.
‘You are a sporting race, Miss Cameron,’ said Dromeroff.
‘Some ill-natured people say that we are nothing else,’ the girl replied. ‘But don’t you think, Mr. Dromeroff, it is, after all, better to see too much play than none at all?’
‘Youth is the time for play,’ retorted the Russian, diplomatically polite.
‘Miss Cameron is very — what shall I say? — Australian,’ interposed Zenski; ‘and we are surrounded by the same interesting race, so be careful, mon ami.’
Now they were in the thick of the stream of vehicles bound for Randwick, and Johnson, tractable as his team was, had his hands full.
‘It’s a bit different to steering out back, eh, Ted?’ queried Hatten, as a bus axle broke just in front.
‘You’re right, old man,’ muttered Johnson, steering round the wreck. ‘You can take the bearing of a stump, and it won’t fool you; but these confounded beggars line you, and jostle, and take the running as coolly as gentlemen jockeys.’
‘You are very personal,’ said Heather, with a glance at Hatten.
‘Oh, Ned’s only thinking of himself,’ chimed in Edith.
So, laughing and talking and chaffing, they rolled on, giving their dust to the lumbering four-horse buses and getting it back from the fast-trotting American buggies, dodging the delivery-vans and dodged by the sporting sulkies, racing the one or two private drags that Sydney could boast, and admiring the numerous well-horsed open carriages, where, wrapped in arrogance which sought in vain to hide their commonplace, sat Higginbotham’s ‘wealthy lower orders.’
‘What do you think of them, Zenski?’ asked Hatten, as the Russian lifted his hat to his old friend, Sir John Baggs.
‘Frankly, my friend,’ replied the Count, who knew he could trust Dick, ‘not much. They are the newest plutocracy in the world, and consequently the most objectionable.’
‘How do you make that out?’
‘Most simply. In America time has, in many cases, mercifully removed the original self-made man, and more refined association has rubbed the crude edges off his descendants. Here you seldom get beyond the founder of a fortune. For your fortunes are so paltry that, by the time your parvenu has brought himself into society, he has to drop out again for want of funds. But here we are; and, if I mistake not, the horses are going out for the first race.’
As Zenski spoke, Johnson wheeled his leaders into the carriage reserve, just as the discordant yet blood-quickening roar of the ring rose in that space behind the members’ stand where men play pitch-and-toss with fortune and honour in the name of sport and in the guise of pleasure.
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 68-72