previous
next



  ― 184 ―

Chapter XVII. The First Day's Racing

A glorious day marked the opening of the International Race-meeting. A scent of summer was in the air and the stately English trees rustled and whispered as the breeze, passing through their leaves, made mosaics of light and shade on the ground. There is a sort of dignity, a repose, about an English countryside. From the grandstands the eye looked across the course, to uplands covered with a profusion of trees through which the rides ran like the aisles of a cathedral.

The course itself was just a mass of humanity. The grandstand, the flat land in the centre of the course, and the hill at the back, were packed with perhaps the most conglomerate crowd ever assembled to a race-meeting. By some sort of instinct the various nations had sorted themselves into racial groups, and bookmakers were calling the odds in every language under the sun. Black firemen from the China coast were betting in Mexican dollars; Arabs were digging into their voluminous clothing and producing — of all things — sovereigns hoarded since the days when the British Army was in Egypt. In recognition of the liberality of the horse-owners, the best naval and best military


  ― 185 ―
bands had volunteered their services, the former playing in front of the grandstand and the other among the people on the hill at the other side of the course. A few preliminary events were run off and then came the first of the three great races, the Six Furlongs Championship for international horses.

By way of working up the excitement, Mr Manasses had ordered that the horses should trot round the course separately before the race, and that these parades should be accompanied by international music, music being the one thing that is the same in every language. The selection of appropriate tunes he had left to a musical genius on the staff of one of the theatres, and the genius did his job perhaps a little too well.

Sharp on time a horse wearing a jacket of stars and stripes stepped out on to the track and was greeted with a roar of cheering. Most animals would have been scared to death, but a thoroughbred horse is born with an instinct for crowds and the American drew himself up and broke into a trot through that dense human lane, feeling by some animal telepathy that everything was all right and that he himself was the hero of the occasion.

Hardly had he started to trot round when the band at the grandstand gate broke into “Dixie” played as only a great band could play it. The rap tap tap of the kettle-drums seemed to mark the time for the horse's trot, and the blare of the brasses sounded like a call to battle. Southern Americans threw up their hats and gave the rebel yell; niggers in all directions started to cake-walk, accompanying the performance with what they conceived to be appropriate gestures, a North


  ― 186 ―
American prize-fighter from the State of Maine spat out his chewing-gum and said: “I'Il sure take a sock at that big nigger in a minute. He's getting too fresh.” As the horse reached the back of the course the naval band stopped dead and the military band broke into “Marching Through Georgia” with its triumphant refrain of “Hurrah, Hurrah, we bring the jubilee.” The North American section sang the old marching song as Sherman's soldiers sang it in the days that are gone but not forgotten. As the horse got safely back to the enclosure the genius wiped his brow and said:

“Well, I got 'em goin', didn't I? But what was up with 'em. They seemed to want to go for each other.”

Then came the French horse to the strains of “Partant pour la Syrie,” winding up with “Malbrook s'en va't en guerre,” an appropriate enough sentiment. But the genius had been troubled as to the tune that he should allot to the Australian horse. He had an idea that Australia was a remote sort of place so he played for safety with “Ten Thousand Miles Away” and “It's a Long Way to Tipperary.” Being as unexcitable as crack billiard players, the French and Australian horses took it all as a matter of course. When, however, the highly-strung English horse came out, he pranced on the track and blew through his nostrils like Job's warhorse sniffing the battle. Fear was absolutely foreign to his nature, but he knew that he had to race and he snorted defiance as he looked round for his competitors. By some lucky accident the genius awarded him “A Fine Old English Gentleman” for the first half of his parade, and he came home to the strains


  ― 187 ―
of “Rule Britannia” sung by a massed choir of a hundred thousand voices. Far-away Britishers listened in on the wireless and wondered what it was all about and whether the Prince of Wales had got engaged.

When they went to the post the American horse was a short-priced favourite, with Crusader second in demand. The distance was voted too short for the plodding French horse, while the Australian was looked upon as out of his class in this company at any distance. Old campaigners, they gave no trouble at the post, and as the starter pressed the lever and shouted “Go,” the American horse was into his stride like a flash. So quickly did he begin that he set up a lead of three lengths in the first two hundred yards, and it seemed that he would go right away from his field. But a really good horse is a good horse at any distance, and as the others got their longer strides into action he ceased to gain and the race was on in earnest. Hunched on his horse's back, the American rider hugged the rails, for a horse will run better with a rail to guide him than out in the centre of a track. Three lengths behind him came Crusader racing desperately to make up the lost distance, with Sensation and the French horse a couple of lengths farther back. Finding himself left behind at the start, Bill the Gunner's warped mentality asserted itself, and instead of embarking on a hopeless chase after the leader he decided to let Sensation make no show at all. Flourishing his whip, he appeared to be riding his horse hard, but Sensation took no notice of the whip and dropped back till he was an inglorious last. Even the French horse outpaced him, and Messrs Lynx, Searchlight and Company were more than ever convinced


  ― 188 ―
that the Australian horse was one of the worst false-alarms ever seen on the English turf.

The furlong posts flashed past and at the half mile the American had exhausted his first great burst of speed. But he still had a two lengths lead and his rider was able to give him just an instant's relief from the pressure, just long enough for him to snatch a breath of much-needed air. Crusader closed on him and a roar went up as the English horse's head drew to his girth. Three lengths from the post, the American rider gave a squeeze of his knees and a twitch of his hands and his horse's great natural speed landed him a winner by half a length from Crusader, with the others beaten off. The first engagement in the international battle had been won by America, and the naval charity was richer by five thousand pounds.

Press reporters crowded round the jockeys to get their stories of the race. But the jockey's story to the Press and his story to his trainer are not always one and the same. Speaking in his soft Southern drawl the American rider said to the Pressmen:

“Waal, gents, ah never saw the other horses. Ah was looking for the winnin'-post. How did he finish with me? Waal, he knew, he'd been racing but ah never noticed that he stopped none.”

To the trainer he said:

“Say, Eli, that track here is measured wrong. That last furlong is half a mile, and then some. Ah thought that winnin'-post was galloping on ahead of us, and ah'd never catch it.”

The English rider, whose valet was waiting to take him home in his car, said:




  ― 189 ―
“Put in anything you like. I think the winner went too fast for me. I may have been wrong; but that was my general impression.”

To the trainer he said:

“That Yank's a certainty at six furlongs; a possibility at a mile; but not an earthly at a mile and yard.”

The Frenchman said much the same things in his own language. Bill the Gunner when asked how his horse was going through the race said: “Flat out,” and walked away to lead the horse home. When the trainer asked him what he thought of Sensation's chance in the longer races Bill said that he would lob in and went to work making the horse comfortable for the night.

Financially, the day's racing had been one of the greatest successes on record. On the way home in Connie's car Fitzroy had to listen to that lady bubbling over with enthusiasm as to the amount of the takings, and the prospects of Crusader in the longer races. He himself felt like a teetotaller at a big dinner, who sits silent and glum while other people are laughing at what passes for wit when everybody had a bottle or so of champagne to stimulate his sense of humour.

Things were all right for Red Fred, for the pumps had sucked dry at the Daybreak mine and production had been resumed, with the mine paying as well as ever. Mr Delahunty, too, was all right, for there had been five inches of rain on his station and fifty thousand sheep that were worth five shillings apiece before the fall were now worth twelve shillings and sixpence. Fitzroy alone was out of luck: he felt that if the heavens were to rain duck soup he would have only a


  ― 190 ―
fork. Then again if Connie married Red Fred, he (Fitzroy) would find his occupation gone. There is no sense in keeping a dog and barking yourself; Red Fred would have no need of a watchdog while Connie retained her health and strength. It was a parasite's job anyhow, and Fitzroy was anxious to be quit of it.

But what was he to do? He had no liabilities, certainly. Red Fred had paid him well and had kept him in food and lodging. But his only assets appeared to be an ability to throw people about and some few hundred pounds he had saved from his pay. Not much of a balance-sheet, this, to present to any prospective father-in-law. Milling the thing over in his mind he suddenly thought of the colt Red Fred had given him in Australia. According to the news from Australia this colt gave great promise and might sell for a fairly large sum of money. As he put it to himself why not sell the colt and give the money a chance — buy shares in a gold-mine; pick up an Old Master for a few pounds in a dealer's shop; or go to Monte Carlo and break the bank? Other people made money quickly, and youth is always ready for adventure.

On the way home from the races he asked Connie to stop the car. He jumped out and hunted up the cable office. There he dispatched an urgent-rate message to Charley Stone at the Empire Pastoral Company in Sydney, asking him to see what he could get for the colt. About midnight he received the reply:

“Can get a thousand. Do you want it?”

Reflecting that, as the Americans say, a thousand was the one thing he wanted, he hunted up the code-book


  ― 191 ―
and replied: “Saucepan audacity emporal”; which on being interpreted meant:

“Must have it, wire at once to my credit Empire Pastoral Company London.” Then he retired to bed, to dream that he had established a stud and was breeding horses, none of which were worth less than a thousand and some up to ten thousand guineas apiece.

Charley Stone must have worked fast, or Fitzroy's colt must have been very cheap at a thousand guineas. The cable to sell was only dispatched on the Saturday night, and early on Monday morning the money came to hand. This was settling-day after the first day's racing, and having nothing in the world to do, Fitzroy thought he might as well stroll down and see the settling.

One of our greatest dramatists — Barrie, was it not? — once wrote about the ten-pound look. Has any one ever done justice to the thousand-pound feeling? With that sum in cash and an honorary member's ticket in his pocket Fitzroy strolled into the settling at the big betting-club. He had no definite ideas but felt like an emperor, or, rather, like emperors used to feel before so many of them became “stonkered” — if one may use the word. Once before in his life he had known a similar feeling: when be landed in Australia with a thousand pounds given him by his uncle. That thousand pounds had vanished like fairy money; but its passing had left no tracks on the india-rubber temperament of youth. Once again he had a thousand pounds, so why worry about the past?

For a while he listened to the babel of the settling and nodded to an acquaintance here and there. Among them was a tight-lipped little man who had been at


  ― 192 ―
school with him and, after having floated companies, sold shares, and owned racehorses, had settled down into one of London's best-known racing commissioners. He executed commissions for other people and did not forget to help himself when any particularly good information came his way. This man was paying and receiving piles of notes as though they were grocery coupons. Fitzroy, watching his operations, became more than ever convinced that where there was so much money about some of it should fall to his share.

But looking at money was one thing; getting it was quite another. He had vague thoughts of how easy it would be to grab a pile of notes, double up the doorkeeper and make for the great open spaces. He glanced through the window, saw a policeman on guard at the door, and abandoned that method of doubling or trebling his capital. Then just as he was debating whether to go straight home or look in at his club he caught sight of his hereditary foe, the immaculate Mr Noall. Fitzroy decided to make for his club. Mr Noall, however, had other ideas. He had learnt that Fitzroy had some very influential relatives who might be of great assistance to a rising young politician, and he was not of the type that would let a little matter like a fight stand in the way of his personal advancement. Looking more of a swell — and more Levantine — than ever, he bore down on Fitzroy, exuding affability.

“Well, well,” he said. “We haven't met since that affair at Randwick. It was just as well the police stopped it. We might have hurt each other. I met Miss Delahunty in Ireland and made my peace with her. I


  ― 193 ―
seem to have offended her in some way at that luncheon, but you know ladies don't understand racing.”

Fitzroy reflected that perhaps some ladies understood more about racing than some Levantines, but he did not wish to drag Moira's name into any betting-club brawl. He hated the sight of this man, and nothing would have pleased him better than to finish their Randwick fracas there and then, but he managed to choke down his temper. He even thought of offering Mr Noall a drink, but decided there was no need to go to extremes in hypocrisy. He was trying to think of something to say when Mr Noall went on:

“I met your uncle the other day. Being the head of the Foreign Office he could get me the nomination for that Bucks division. Would you come to dinner some evening, and we might be able to get the old gentleman to come along. I'd like to meet him privately. It would do me a good turn, and of course I would be glad to put something in your way later on.”

Reflecting that if he saw Mr Noall drowning he would sooner throw him a grindstone than a life-buoy, Fitzroy said he had no influence with his uncle and turned to walk away. His manner offended the Levantine in his most sensitive point, for he had a great idea of his own importance and a great desire to get into society. He had looked on Fitzroy as one able to open the door for him and here he found it banged in his face.

“All right, Fitzroy,” he said, “you're a queer fellow. I wanted to help you. I was going to ask you to dinner to meet Miss Delahunty, but we'll consider that off.”

Just as he spoke one of the bookmakers started to call the double.




  ― 194 ―
“I'll lay the double. The two last Internationals. Crusader and any way. Crusader and Edouard, Crusader and Clean Sweep. Ten to one Crusader and Sensation. Come on, don't nobody want to back the bushranger?”

“I should think they wouldn't,” said Mr Noall. “A nice brute to bring all the way from Australia. I've got half a dozen horses, myself, which could beat him. I'd lay twelve to one the double Crusader and Sensation and think I was picking up money.”

Looking at this man, so sleek and prosperous, while he himself had only a thousand pounds in the world, Fitzroy recalled the saying of the big Australian bookmaker that it took a rat to bet like a gentleman. He himself was a gentleman — by birth at any rate — and it was up to him to show that a gentleman could bet like a rat. Prudence and common sense went to the winds, for here was a chance to make a fortune at a stroke.

“Do you mean that?” he said. “Do you mean that you would bet twelve to one against Crusader and Sensation?”

Mr Noall wondered what was coming next. He knew that Fiteroy was very hard up, and he had not heard of the sale of the colt.

“Of course I mean it,” he said. “It would be like picking up money in the street. But I wouldn't be interested in any threepenny-bit bets.”

The taunt about the, threepenny-bit bets settled it.

Fitzroy's temperament was that of a schoolboy, and a schoolboy will do anything on a “dare.”

“Will you bet twelve thousand to a thousand?” he said.




  ― 195 ―
“Yes, for cash. I'd like to know that I was going to get the money if I won it.”

Without another word Fitzroy pulled out of his pocket a guaranteed bank cheque for a thousand pounds and beckoned the little commissioner over:

“I've just made a bet with this gentleman. He has laid me twelve thousand to a thousand the double, Crusader and Sensation. Take this cheque and pay him if it loses, and collect for me if it wins.”

Then without even saying good-bye to Mr Noall he turned and stalked out of the club, cursing himself for the greatest fool on earth. That pocket felt so empty without the thousand pounds.

previous
next