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  ― 77 ―

Clinker's Last Race.

“You have quite made up your mind to go?”

“Quite. I've never missed the Spring Meeting since I came to years of discretion—indiscretion, perhaps, you call it.”

She made no reply. It was not her way to give the retort uncourteous.

“You'd better come to town with me. The change will do you good.”

“I'm not sure that it would. I don't care for races, and, after all, I am happier at home. The country is looking lovely this year.”

“As you like, Enid. But it seems to me you've always got two or three reasons for not doing anything I want you to do. Of course, I'm not going to press the point. How long is it since we agreed to go our separate ways?”

“About two years.”

Her voice was low, her head averted. But he saw the edge of a small ear turn a deeper pink.

“Two years—as strangers!”

“No—no—not strangers!”

“Acquaintances, then—friends, shall we say? Two years! I think we have been married almost three years.”

“You're away so much. There are so many race-meetings in Sydney and Melbourne. Time flies so quickly!”

She spoke with an air of apology, and not in any sense of reproach. Addressing the tip of her ear, as though it might act as an index to that averted face, he uttered the thought that was in his mind. “I don't find that time goes so quickly. It drags like a heavy chain. I often think I ought to get a good manager for the station and live in town. You could stay here if you liked—have your own friends about you, and be happy. We shouldn't have to bore each other to death!”

“I'm sorry that I bore you. I try to consider your tastes in every way.”

In his blundering efforts to bring about a reconciliation he had, as usual, said the wrong thing. He had the special disadvantage of being in love with her. And the curious feeling that he was like a man trying to fight a shadow with a bludgeon gave him a foolish sense of being clumsy and ridiculous.

“Of course, I don't mean that you—that I am tired of your society. You don't give me enough of it to—by heaven! when I come to think of it all, I swear you've treated me badly!” In a sudden temper he turned angrily away, walking across the garden with a savage sense of having widened the breach he had tried to heal.




  ― 78 ―

The first sweet breath of spring was in the air. Round the outer edge of lawns, green after the soaking showers which had been as a gold-mine to the western plain country, was a great circle of flowering shrubs like a wreath that embraced the tender beauty of more delicate blossoms. A clump of wattle had been allowed to remain amongst the cultivated trees that shaded the western side of the station homestead. A mass of golden bloom, it made a gorgeous note of colour on the emerald of well-trimmed lawns. Under the shadow of the wattle sat Enid Tremayne. She pulled the brim of her hat further down over her eyes. The glare of quivering light from a distant roof of corrugated iron was hurtful—in more senses than one. That corrugated iron covered the stables. These were almost as big and much more important in the sight of their owner than the homestead. Her book fell to the ground. It was only a pretence to keep it in her lap. A dreamer, and having had as yet no spur of necessity to goad her into the treadmill of daily work, she lounged indolently enough in a low garden chair. And she brooded, as idle women of her type, sensitive and imaginative, will often brood over grievances which are for the most part only the distorted children of their daydreams. Her indolent fancy followed the slow voyage of some fleecy white clouds which sailed like small boats across the azure sky. They were like her own life. With morbid introspection the rich man's wife told herself that she, too, drifting unheeded from the unknown to the unknown, was of no more account in the scheme of creation than those faint shadows on the sea of blue.

Into the vague picture, painted darkly by those bad old masters, Idleness and Discontent, came a loud and cheerful voice.

“Well, Enid, how are you, my dear? No, don't bother about the gate. I'll put him at the fence. It's low enough to get over with his eyes shut!”

A big, masterful woman, Miss Tremayne put her ugly chestnut at the little fence that enclosed the garden.

“This horse is a fool! Unless a jump's nearly half the size of a house he falls over it. But I'll teach him to look after his heels yet. You don't consider him a beauty? It's not his looks, my dear; it's the good stock he's come from. Where's Jim?”

“In his favourite place—the stables.”

Miss Tremayne looked sharply at her young sister-in-law. “We're a horsey-doggy lot, and that's the truth. You might straighten us up if you'd try, Enid. But you sit apart, and look on—moon away the time over a book—while Jim—”

“Have you had lunch, Hester?”

“Had it early, so that I could ride over in good time. Oh, I'm not going to interfere, but you'll excuse me if I say to your face what others say behind your back—you're a fool for your pains!”

“I suppose I must excuse it, if you say it. It doesn't make any difference—you'd say it all the same.”

There was a faint smile on Enid Tremayne's face as she met the old maid's keen glance. There was a stanch friendship between these two, curious enough, for the reason that Hester Tremayne, fifteen years older than her brother, was so like him in temperament. They had the same faults,


  ― 79 ―
counterbalanced by more common-sense on the sister's side. Yet the very traits of character which Enid judged so harshly in her husband she regarded as amusing eccentricities in her sister-in-law.

“I wish you'd go to the stables, too, Hester, and take that ugly horse of yours out of my sight. He spoils the perspective. His head is out of drawing, and his tail—I suppose it is a tail—is exactly like the end of a feather duster.”

“I can't alter his head, but I'll teach him manners before I've had him many weeks longer. Good-bye for the present, my dear!”

She made across the soft green lawns, careless of the havoc her horse's hoofs made on the edges of garden beds. Then, whistling to her dog, Miss Tremayne put the chestnut at an awkward double. Clearing it without the rap of a hoof, and mightily pleased with herself, she cantered into the stable-yard.

Within an hour these two, brother and sister, were in hot dispute. They had loved each other always, and they had quarrelled with consistent inconsistency ever since the days when Jim Tremayne had grown too tall to submit to his sister's authority. Fingering her riding whip, Miss Tremayne looked as though she would have dearly loved to lay it across her brother's broad shoulders. He laughed at the light of battle in her grey eyes.

“That day's past, Hester. Oh, I daresay I deserve it!”

“You're no better than a child—a stupid, troublesome child, in the hands of men who make a catspaw of you! Your affairs are getting into such a hopeless muddle that they'll never come right again, if you don't mind what you are doing! You needn't scowl like that! Good seasons won't pull you through, unless you cut down expenses. How many horses did you buy last time you went to Sydney?”

“Who's been talking to you about my business? Mind your own affairs! Take a leaf out of Enid's book—she doesn't trouble her head about me.”

“Perhaps she does trouble—I'm not sure! We don't understand Enid. I can't say she pretends to understand us! When a dove flutters into a stable-yard, it takes time to make her feel at home.”

“I've always had such cursed luck in everything!”

“You fall into the hands of rogues, and believe they're honest men until they fleece you too openly. Oh, yes, you do! Then you raise a hornet's nest about your ears. Don't talk to me about your thirty-five years, Jim! You haven't got thirty-five months' worth of common-sense in that foolish head of yours.”

So she raged, pacing wrathfully up and down the little den in which Mr. James Tremayne made some pretence of managing his affairs and balancing his accounts. He was a younger and much handsomer edition of the sporting sister. A big, fair-haired man, he stared moodily out of the window that commanded a view of the sunlit garden. His wife was still there. She sat in her low chair, leaning back with her hands idly clasped behind her back, her hat pulled down over her eyes, her white dress a light patch under the flickering shadows of the wattles.




  ― 80 ―

“She hasn't forgiven me yet.”

“That little affair with Mrs. Strellings? All moonshine, of course! A silly woman over-fond of admiration—anyone with common-sense could see it was only nonsense!”

“Enid can't see it.”

“Because you won't take the trouble to explain it all. She listened to idle tales, and you're too obstinate to make the peace.”

“I wish she'd come to the spring meeting, but she doesn't care about races.”

“I'll speak to her about it,” said Miss Tremayne, sharply. “Her proper-place is with you, and so I shall tell her.”

“I wish to heaven you wouldn't interfere with me and my business! Why don't you look after your own affairs, Hester?” But he knew that his sister had looked after her own affairs. Miss Tremayne was a prosperous woman; fortunate in a mining speculation, she had invested wisely. The world was going very well with her.

“I've found time for my own business, as you know. Everything I touch nowadays seems to turn up trumps. It used not to be so! And everything I have will be yours some day, Jim! But you'll have to steady down if you want to save this place. How do I know? Never mind how; I know it!”

There were tears in her hard grey eyes. Her unwonted moment of tenderness touched her brother as her anger never did.

“I'll think about—many things—after the Spring Meeting. I'm going to put a pot of money on Tarboy.”

“I wouldn't! His owner isn't—um—no, I wouldn't touch Tarboy, Jim.”

“A sure thing, I tell you! I've had special opportunities of knowing Tarboy for the Derby—Clinker for—”

“I don't like your choice, Jim. It's not mine!”

They sat down to discuss the coming races. With pencil and notebook they studied the odds, the weights, the hundred and one chance for and against the various “sure things” which haunt the dreams of every racing man and betting woman.

Then they began to differ again, with minor explosions of the Tremayne temper.

“I tell you what it is, Jim, you never did know a rogue when you saw him, but now you don't even seem to know a horse from a jackass!”

After this slight token of her sisterly esteem, Miss Tremayne left the room, taking some trouble to give the door a really good bang.

Tarboy had been an easy last for the Derby. Every stable-boy at Randwick knew that Mr. James Tremayne, of Enadoon station, had been hard hit. Not because he had talked about his losses, but because the saddling paddock is full of voices that double or treble a man's gains, and quadruple his losses.

On Steeplechase day he waited, morose and silent, for the big event that was to mend his broken fortunes. Clinker was his last horse. With a jealous pang, Tremayne saw his wife, more animated than usual, one of the prettiest


  ― 81 ―
women on the lawn. Evidently she found a race-meeting sufficiently attractive. Faithful to her compact, she made no sign of interfering with her husband's pleasures. Yet once or twice he fancied that his wife was watching him. Her eyes were anxious. It was the money she cared about. Someone had been telling her, perhaps, that he was hard hit. Clinker would make things fairly straight.

But in the meantime there was suspense—the kind of suspense that is almost harder to bear than ruin. Tremayne began to drink more than was good for his legs. His brain was steady, his speech clear and incisive, but he staggered slightly as he walked. His senses were almost abnormal in their alert tension. He could see and hear with extraordinary ease. Field-glasses were almost forgotten as he watched the start. Remembering those unsteady legs of his, which had in some sudden freak taken to themselves a sidling movement, like the gait of a shying horse, Tremayne sat in a quiet corner of the grandstand. He wanted to keep away from his own people. Surrounded by strangers, he felt alone.

At last! They were off!

The hoarse voices of the “books” were silent. The babble of idle chatter ceased. Ten horses held 30,000 human beings in thrall. Up and over!

“Ah—a—ah!”

A flash of silk, a glimpse of flying hoofs, a thud, a black horse down; the ambulance crossing the flat.

What did it matter?

“Clinker leads! Clinker!”

“Silver Hoofs!” “Bright Eyes!”

Up and over!

“Ah—a—ah!”

Another fall—a dull echo from 30,000 throats.

“Clinker! Clinker!”

“By Gad! Down—no—up again!”

“Blue Peter leads—Storm King—no—Clinker!”

And now the pace began to tell. The field became a straggling tail, closing up on the straight, dragging out as they ascended the green hill.

Five horses in the steeplechase—then four!

Four, with the game bay still leading.

“There's only been one horse in this race from the start. I knew it all along. I stand to win a cool five hundred—come on, Clinker!”

The man next to Tremayne was prattling cheerfully. But he spoke to ears that heard not. With that hideously distinct sense of sight which had come to him since he had lost the proper control of his feet, Tremayne thought he saw the great bay horse stumble ever so slightly. And he thought he heard, being afflicted with that horrible exaggeration of hearing, the desperate whizz of the stinging blows that rained on the satin skin of gallant Clinker.

“The favourite wins! By the Lord Harry, Clinker, with three lengths to spare! Come on!”

The prattling tongue clacked merrily in Tremayne's ear.




  ― 82 ―

Up and over—the last jump!

A crashing fall—a roar that echoed like the angry booming of a sullen sea—a rush to the fence that divided the lawn from the straight—a thousand voices in shrill clamour—a hundred questions with one answer.

Clinker had dropped dead within twenty yards of the winning post. Ambling up with the sudden importance of having, by strange chance, won the Steeplechase, came the ugly grey mare Silver Hoofs.

Tremayne tried to think, but his thoughts seemed to have gone the way of his legs. The only thing he could remember was the quaint death of one John Tremayne—a story that was over a hundred years old. He laughed as he recalled the incident.

“A fine swimmer, too, yet he died in a ditch! Fell on his face in four inches of water—man first, horse on top of him—a wild scamp—the horse is always on top when Tremayne—no, I don't believe it was more than three inches of dirty water! Good Lord! what a death!”

Muttering, he staggered down the grandstand. Sober enough to know that he was drunk, he made a desperate effort to get out at the back. His legs tried to take him to the lawn, and so to the saddling paddock, but he fought them. If he could only get away where none would point the finger of scorn at his absurd gait—if he could only get five minutes alone!

With a sudden rush he made a dash for the lawn behind the stand. Crossing the road he saw a drag coming fast towards him.

“Horse playing up—driver's a fool! My God!”

He was under their heels. The mutinous legs he had tried to guide in the way of safety took him straight to the leader's heads, then collapsed.

In that mysterious place reserved for “accidents” Jim Tremayne came slowly, and with much half-delirious babble, to his sober senses. He had a broken arm, an ugly gash across his forehead, an internal ache that was like a raw bruise.

“Don't frighten my wife; I'm all right. That's Enid riding Clinker. I'll swear she's going to win—going to win. Tarboy was pulled. Any fool could see he wasn't trying! There's old John Tremayne, dead—in a ditch—spoilt his hunting togs—what a mess I've made of it all! Don't let her come in, I say!”

But his wife was pushing her way through the crowd outside the door.

“I am Mrs. Tremayne. Let me get past! I must go to my husband. Please let me in!”

“I'm in such a beastly mess—smashed-up face—don't let her in. She's riding Clinker, too! Game old Clinker!”

In a moment she was in, her knees beside the stretcher, her beautiful dress marked with the blood that oozed from under the ghastly bandage. She had no words, but she took the damaged head and held it on her breast, crooning over it with fond endearment.

“It's Enid! She's the only straight goer on the field. I knew she'd win! Enid and good old Clinker!”

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