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  ― 150 ―

The Race—Little Jim's Story.

My pride was hurt when Dick Marsden entered me for the Ladies' Bracelet at Bong Bong. Having a just regard for my pedigree, I hated country races. There was a feeling in me at times that I could overtake the white flash that runs down a lightning-rod. I objected to be classed with a crowd of hacks, feeling certain that most of them ran in carts during the week, while the others knew more about chasing kangaroos than flat-racing.

My owner, Dick Marsden, knew that the best English and Australian racing blood ran in my veins; the strains of St. Gatien, Dutch Oven, and Lady Betty put me to rights when it came to a dead finish.

The race at Bong Bong was a tenth-rate bush circus, a matter of ten sovereigns, with an added sweepstake of a pound. I was badly ridden, jockeyed, nagged, and spurred. I won, very much against my will, with an iron-fisted jockey sawing my mouth, and half strangling me.

At twenty-four Dick Marsden had married Phyllis Chalmers, a Victorian girl. He was cashier in a Melbourne warehouse, until hard times came; and in the crash that followed the boom he found himself without a billet, and with only a little money in the bank. Bush-fires and drought ruined her father, and Dick, silly, big-hearted Dick, had backed bills for his smart friends and got left.

Immediately after his dismissal Dick cast about for an opening; but unemployed cashiers were as plentiful in those days as overdrafts and empty houses.

Fagged and weary, he would return home after scouring the city for employment. Billets were harder to obtain than 40oz. nuggets or an agent-generalship. Finally, one wet miserable day, Dick told Phyllis that I was their only asset, but when he spoke about selling me she cried so bitterly that he postponed the event a little while longer.

As a two-year-old I was the property of old Captain Marsden, Dick's uncle, who owned a station at Gunoon Downs. The captain always said that he would hand me over to his nephew the moment he could afford to look after a first-class horse. Dick's salary was £300 a year then, but Captain Marsden didn't think it was enough to maintain a wife and a five-hundred-guinea race-horse.

Captain Marsden died suddenly, leaving his affairs in a dreadful state. A big-fisted bailiff walked into Gunoon Downs station, and held the floor until things were straightened out. He came into my stable one morning, and looked at me over the partition.




  ― 151 ―

“Ah! my beauty,” he said huskily, “you're the flyer known as Little Jim, eh? We'll turn you into cash by-and-bye.”

I waited with my ears back, hoping he would come a bit closer. I had never lifted a full-grown bailiff through the stable door, but it's quite easy, even when your shoes are off.

When Dick heard of Captain Marsden's death he ran up to Gunoon and interviewed the bailiff about me. Dick always regarded me as his property, but the bailiff thought otherwise, and defled him to open the stable door. Dick didn't argue with the bailiff; he simply unlocked the stable the following night, and away we went—Dick and I.

He'd tell you about it himself if you asked him. And after Captain Marsden's affairs were wound up, it was found that his creditors came out of it well enough to allow Dick's claim to hold good.

I was sorry for Dick and Phyllis and Baby. As a three-year-old I never liked babies, but when the financial crash came Phyllis brought the red-fisted little mite into the stable, and cried on a heap of straw at my head. Dick was away in Melbourne.

I was used to hearing Phyllis laugh and cry, but when she sobbed with Baby resting against my neck it made me feel queer.

I know what ruin is, black ruin that strips a house bare and leaves an unsatisfied wolf where Love should sit. I heard it in Phyllis's crying, and I stood still, not daring to flinch, while Baby twisted its fingers in my mane.

One cold morning Dick returned from Melbourne, bringing with him a small, bright-eyed little man named Dare. They came to my stable and saddled me, and without a word led me to the grass track at the rear of the house. Dare's horse was standing near the paddock gate, a big, “classy” bay, with a muscle-packed neck, and thighs and quarters heaving with bone and strength. It “cheeked” its bit half savagely as I approached; it had a coat of silk, and the head of a racing machine.

“So .… this is Little Jim,” said Dare, passing his hand with a flexing motion towards my fetlock. I quivered at his touch; it seemed as though he was counting my sinews and veins.

“Ye-es,” he continued, slowly. “Bit small.” Then he drew back and eyed me steadily. “Better try him over a couple of furlongs with Dreadnought. One can never tell,” he said, testily.

Dare mounted Dreadnought. Dick took charge of me, and in a jiffy we were off. It was only a flutter, but Dreadnought seemed to eat the ground as he hammered along. I didn't feel like racing that morning, but when Dick spoke to me I flashed alongside the big bay, hauling at the bit savagely for my head.

“Whoa! whoa!” laughed Dick; “you little glutton! Whoa!”

Dare swung round and again looked over me. “Not so dusty,” he snapped. “If he was taken in hand for a while he might.” He looked meaningly at Dick.

Dick shook his head uncertainly. But Dare examined me again, hoof, eye, and mouth. “Hang it!” he said, staring at me, “he's the dead image of little Paris. Look at his shoulders and neck! Great Scot! he might sneak the Cup if we looked after him.”




  ― 152 ―

“No, no! It's too big—out of his class,” answered Dick sharply. “Think of him meeting Burrumbeet and The Jap, Maranoa, and The Czar. He's too small, and I wouldn't ask the little beggar to do it.” Dick patted me affectionately. “You don't know what he's been to me; he saved my life and honour one night in the ranges, when the troopers were at my heels.”

“You didn't borrow him, eh?” laughed Dare.

“No one had a better right to him than I,” answered Dick hotly. “He belonged to Uncle Harry at Gunoon Downs, and after he died he was claimed by a thieving bailiff named Howitt. Little Jim used to follow me about the yard like a sheepdog. I rode off with him one night while the estate was under auction. The bailiff Howitt sent the troopers after me. I was taken to the lockup at Yarraba, but Jim slipped away into the ranges with his saddle and bridle on. The Yarraba lockup couldn't hold me that night; I climbed out and found him in the hills among the brumbies. You know the rest, Dare; I got away, and the affair dropped.”

Dick patted my neck affectionately. “I don't think I'll enter him for the Cup, Dare; let us try a smaller race.”

“Bah!” Dare swung round almost savagely. “I thought you were Dick Big Heart. What's upset you?”

Then after a little while he put his hand on Dick's shoulder kindly. “My boy, your father was my friend once. Men call me the Hound. But I've made enough money and to spare, and I'll see you through if it comes to a pinch.”

I was taken back to the stable. Dreadnought—I learned that he was the winner of a dozen big events—was placed in the adjoining stall.

“Plenty of work ahead,” he said to me; “Derby, Caulfield, and Cup. Whips and colours, spurs and bit. Heigho! what a grand life!”

“I'm only a beginner,” I answered modestly. “Besides, I don't like race-courses.”

“H'm!” Dreadnought glanced at me peevishly. “You a beginner! Go and tell that to the boy who brings the chaff.”

That night Dare clapped a belltopper over Dreadnought's mouth to keep him from biting me. About a week later I was entered for the Cup. Then Dare began to prepare me for the event. Under his clever hand I felt myself grow limber and flexible as indiarubber. They walked and swam me in the sea water at the back of the house, where the gulls hovered in swarms across the bay. My muscles were flexed with hard and soft brushes, my food weighed and given to me at certain hours, until I yearned to break bit and bridle whenever my head was pulled.

One hot day I was taken to Flemington, and stabled alongside some of the big Melbourne cracks. I used to meet them on the tan in the early morning. Big, princely fellows they were, with flashing eyes and wicked heels. I could not but admire the two first favourites, The Jap and Burrumbeet, who were closely attended and “clocked” whenever they exercised or went for a morning gallop. Heigho! no one took the trouble to throw a watch on me!

My box was at the end of the row. Dreadnought and Bill were my stable companions. Bill was Dick's faithful bulldog. He was fond of me, and he used to lie in the straw, his small eyes half closed, his tiny ears pricked at the


  ― 153 ―
slightest sound. Dare said that a bulldog was an excellent companion for a Cup horse.

The Jap soon leaped to position of first favourite. He was fancied on account of the way he smothered the field at Caulfield. Then came Burrumbeet, The Czar, and Maranoa, The Dingo and Alligator. I was hardly mentioned in the betting. And Dick—it made me tremble to think of it—sold everything belonging to him to prepare me for the race.

Phyllis, Baby, and Dick rented a three-roomed cottage near the course. Phyllis would often bring Baby into my box, while Dick smoked and yarned at the door with Dare. These silly young people hadn't a penny in the world now; everything was sold and mortgaged except Baby and me.

“What's the good worrying about the race until it's lost?” said Dick to Phyllis. “We'll shake the field up or bust,” he laughed.

“But Jim is such a little horse,” sobbed Phyllis. “I saw him this morning cantering beside that terrible man-eater The Jap, and, oh; Dick, he looked no bigger than a pony on the track.”

Dick came into the box and slapped my shoulder briskly. “Jim, Jim, you pulled me out of the fire once. I can't ask you to do it again. The Jap and Burrumbeet will break us, I fear, and then——” He stopped, and covered his face.

Phyllis came in and put Baby against my shoulder, and it said: “Boo-oo-oo, Gee-gee!”

I kept to my work cheerfully, and one morning I heard Dare say that the papers were reporting every bit of my work. Within a week my price was 10 to 1; later it shortened to 8's, to 7's.

I had heard of men bearing the pinch of hunger before making a final bid for fortune. I knew that every penny spent in training me meant an extra pinch for Phyllis and Baby. And yet I could not blame Dick for putting his last hope in me. It hurt him a little to see dainty Phyllis going out in shabby clothes. She was like a little grey mouse when she moved among the well-dressed ladies and owners' wives.

One midnight, when Dick had gone to bed, I heard a scraping on the roof of the stable. Then the iron began to squeak, as though a crowbar was tearing it open. The moon was shining. I saw the faces of two men looking down at me. Dreadnought became restive, and trembled violently.

“That's him!” said one of the men, pointing to me suddenly. “He's very quiet. Make him swallow the ball, Joe. Don't mark or hurt him in any way.”

A moment later Joe—he was an evil-eyed stable boy—slipped down, holding something in his hand. “Steady! whoa!” he whispered. “Whoa. Jim!” I felt that Dreadnought was shaking with fear in the next stall.

“I'll settle your claim to the Cup, my beauty,” said Joe in my ear. He caught me by the mouth and forced back my head. For a moment I felt that he was strangling me.… Dick, Dick! I thought. He will never know what has happened.

“Hist!” whispered the man on the roof sharply. In a flash I saw Bill the dog leap from the straw to Joe's knee, and in a second was swinging from his throat.




  ― 154 ―

“Help! murder! help!” Dog and man rolled on the stable floor beneath my feet, clawing and tearing at each other. The dog made no sound, voiced no appeal, but the man with the poison ball in his fist rolled and screamed for help.

Dare came, lightning in his eye, a dogwhip in his right hand, and flung wide the stable door. Then a jockey boy flashed a big lantern on the scene. Dare choked off the dog, and picked up Joe. “So,” he said, shaking him fiercely, “what's your little game?” Dare stooped and picked up the poison ball from the floor. Then he looked at the trembling man, and his face grew livid. “You unprincipled dog! Have you no spirit for clean sport? Out, you dog, out!”

Dare smote with his heavy whip again and again. The would-be poisoner staggered to the door with the lash marks on his neck and arms. “Go,” said Dare, “quickly!” The man ran, cursing his luck and the dog that had trapped him.

“You'd better sleep in the stable,” said Dare to Dick. “There's a gang of spielers hanging about ready to do Little Jim an injury. They think he is likely to interfere with their books, I suppose. I'd like to see the little fellow ruin the whole gang. All the same, we'll have to watch him night and day until the race is over.”

The night before the Cup was like a furnace; the heat clung to the stables like a hot blanket. Then came a violent change. A sudden deluge of rain roared on the roof, and made Dick sit up and cover his face. “All over now,” he choked. “The ground will be like a glue-pot to-morrow. The mud will tire him; he's so small and light.”

Dare peeped into the stable with a glum face. He strolled out after midnight to look at the course, and returned silent and depressed. Phyllis and Baby were quite cheerful, especially Baby. It clung to my neck, saying: “Boo-oo, boo! gee-gee!”

“That's what the crowd will say to me after the race,” groaned Dick. And the rain thundered on the roof, and ran in swimming belts of mud across the flat. Afar off I heard the mighty Jap coughing in his box. The voice of a sleepless jockey boy broke upon the night.

“Wait till the numbers are up. I'll show you how to ride!” Then I fell asleep. When I awoke a cool breeze was blowing across the tracks. A grey sky and wet grass greeted me as I crossed the flat for my final morning gallop. Later in the day I heard the voice of a multitude roaring around me. All over the hill and flat they spread, men, women, and children, laughing and panting, in close-packed hundreds. The paddock and enclosures were alive with colours and prettily-dressed women.

Phyllis and Baby came to have a last look at me before I entered the saddling paddock. Her dress was poor, her face pinched and worn.

“Six to four The Jap,” roared a voice. “Eight to four Burrumbeet!”

“Good-bye, Jim,” said Phyllis to me. “Good-bye, dear!”

I stamped my foot angrily. “It's Baby he wants,” whispered Dick. “We'll have to humour him.”

For one moment Phyllis allowed Baby to lie against my shoulder. “Boo, boo! gee-gee!” it said in my ear.




  ― 155 ―

After that I don't remember much what happened. My jockey, a well-knit little fellow, walked me on to the course.

“Little Jim!” shouted someone. “Here he is! Number eight on the card!”

The clamour of a great multitude buzzed in my ears. Hundreds of glasses were upon me as I cantered half-lazily past the stand.

“Isn't he a tot?” said his Excellency, leaning over. “Almost a pony. Ah! here's The Jap. What a magnificent horse!”

The favourite swung past me, his jockey tugging at his big head. I watched them for a moment as we ambled to the post.

“The Jap will fight out the last furlong,” I said to myself, “until my heart breaks; but it is going to break or win.”

My head flashed up and down. I felt the blood of my sires surging through my veins.

A bell rang, while a great silence fell upon the crowd. One by one the Cup starters lined up to the post. I had a place on the outside. Old racers like Burrumbeet and Maranoa kept their eyes on the flag, and as it fell the field moved away without a mishap.

“They're off!” It was roared from hill to flat. The great race had begun.

Now, I thought, if the boy has grit we'll have a look in for the sake of a little woman and a baby.

“Steady! Jim,” said the boy, in a low, comforting voice. “Steady, you little glutton!”

I liked his voice and his sure hold on my mouth. If he felt that I could whip the stars in their flight he was a boy of sense and discrimination. He crouched forward until I could hardly feel him in the saddle. He seemed to hang his weight on air-pegs. There was no flash riding, no bumping to throw me out of my stride.

“Bless you, my boy,” I said. “What a golden jockey!”

There were thirteen first-class horses in front of me, trained to the hour, well ridden, and biding their time; and they shovelled the mud along my line of sight like a gang of navvies.

“Get out of my way!” shrieked Burrumbeet's jockey. “I can't get through!”

“Catch hold of my tail,” shouted The Jap's rider, “and I'll give you a tow.”

“Steady, Jim!” sang out my jockey. “The fight hasn't started yet.” Through a mud-mist in front I beheld The Jap and Maranoa striding along like machines.

“Easy! Whoa, Jim! Easy, you little devil!” choked the boy. “Great Scot! it's our race if nothing happens.”

A loud murmur surged like the sound of ocean surf across the hill and flat.

“Maranoa and The Jap!” The shout went skyward like a half-frantic appeal to the Fates. The big field was behind us now. My heart was beginning to sing, and, hey! the whips were out!

“Home!” snapped the boy. “Now for it, Jim!”

“Maranoa! Maranoa! come back to me!” I breathed. The whip stung, but not so sharp as the thought of defeat. The long quiet straight leaped


  ― 156 ―
ahead; the judge's box loomed like a small sepulchre at the end. It seemed to reel towards us.

“The Jap”

“Burrumbeet!”

“Maranoa!”

The sky seemed to close upon the maddening voices. Then a hoarse triumphant roar boomed down the hillside.

The Jap rolled in his stride like a dying colossus, and I ate the ground inch on inch until I breathed the air in front of his big head. Then through the sting of spur and whip came the human roar.

“Burrumbeet! Burrumbeet!”

A great silence fell upon the multitude, that was broken by a clear, ringing challenge.

“Little Jim!”

“Yah!” shouted my jockey, “I should think so!”

I forgot everything else, except Phyllis, as I walked from the paddock. Dick found her sitting in the garden, holding baby to her heart.

“Well,” said Dick, huskily, “what do you think of it, dear?”

“I heard the men crying it in the road,” she half whispered. “Oh, Dick, Dick! it's like a dream,” she sobbed.

Dare came up and shook hands with Dick and Phyllis. Then he put Baby on my back and walked me up and down the yard.

‘If you'd like to sell Little Jim,” he said, winking at Dick, “I'll make you a good offer.”

Dick stroked his chin and grinned behind his hand.

“What do you consider a fair offer?” he asked, mischievously.

“Dick!” cried Phyllis, “how dare you talk of such a thing! I'd sooner sell——” She stopped and blushed furiously.

“Baby?” asked Dick, quietly.

“Almost,” answered Phyllis.

We are pretty comfortable new. Phyllis doesn't wear cotton dresses, and Dick tells everyone that I galloped the wolf from the door.

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