'Owners had been advised to lock their stable doors, and to great effect had done so after the Derby. The Pump disclaims all responsibility for Sid Halley now ludicrously fingering Ellis Quint as the demon responsible for torturing defenseless horses. Ellis Quint, whose devotion to thoroughbreds stretches back to his own starry career as the country's top amateur race-rider, the popular hero who braved all perils in the ancient tradition of gentlemen sportsmen...'

More of the same.

'See also Analysis on page 10, and India Cathcart, page 15.' I supposed one had to know the worst. I read the leader column - 'Should an ex-jockey be allowed free rein as pseudo sleuth? (Answer: no, of course not.)' and then, dredging deep for steel, I finally returned to India Cathcar's piece.

> Sid Halley, smugly accustomed to acclaim as a champion, in short time lost his career, his wife and his left hand, and then weakly watched his friend soar to super-celebrity and national star status, all the things that he considered should be his.

This is from Dick Francis' "Come to Grief". I'm trying to get my head around the meaning of dredging deep for steel.

Many thanks for your help ;)

  • 1
    I've never seen this usage before, but it looks like steel is being used as a (perhaps rare, domain-specific) slang metaphoric term meaning matters of substance/importance (equivalent to something like scraping the casserole pot in search of some real meat). But given the exact context, it's possible the allusion is to steel as the material used to make weapons (such as swords, daggers), since what he actually finds is a vindictive attack (contrasting with the earlier and obviously frivolous subject of the leader column). Mar 24, 2015 at 21:59
  • 3
    It's really hard to say without more context. But could it be possible that India Cathcar's piece was something he was not looking forward to, and so had to steel himself to the task?
    – Jim
    Mar 25, 2015 at 0:08
  • Thought myself about Jim's suggestion. Mar 25, 2015 at 0:21
  • Thanks for your ideas, guys. I'll put more text from the book after work.
    – Arman
    Mar 25, 2015 at 8:23
  • Sry, @Jim, "so had to steel himself to the task" did you mean here to kind of "mentally prepeare" himself to face something unpleasant in that piece of the text?
    – Arman
    Mar 25, 2015 at 8:29

2 Answers 2


I would take this as a slightly mixed metaphor: "dredging deep" meaning drawing on my last reserves, and "steel" meaning backbone or resolution. If I recall correctly, the hero has had a bad time recently (including being the ex-jockey criticised in a thinly veiled manner), and he does not expect the Cathcart article to be pleasant reading.

  • Tim, so is it like he just wants to say reading that text was really unpleasant and he kind of had to return to and read India Cathcar's piece with his last bit of strength? Or, almost (as you said, drawing on his last reserves)
    – Arman
    Mar 30, 2015 at 21:57
  • 1
    I think this is certainly what it is meant -- and it's a completely mixed metaphor. Uncharacteristically bad writing from the usually reliable Francis. Mar 31, 2015 at 0:29

The context is not sufficient to yield a comprehensive answer.

But it occurs to me that it means something that is hard to get or achieve.

"Steel" is an alloy and is not available naturally. Dredging is an excavation activity which is generally carried out underwater either to get something valuable or to increase the depth of a water body.

But we cannot get steel even if we dredge deep. We may get iron (which is one of the elements in steel) but not steel.

  • 1
    Dredging may turn up salvageable wreckage that contains steel. The phrase still isn't clear.
    – jejorda2
    Mar 30, 2015 at 17:00
  • @Jeff and BGaurav - I added more text from the book. Hope it helps. But I see your point. Still, check the new text, might shed some more light on this.
    – Arman
    Mar 30, 2015 at 21:42

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