by W. A. Fraser
Dedicated to a THOROUGHBRED MY WIFE
Less than a hundred miles from the city of Gotham, across broad green fields, dotted into squares and oblong valleys by full-leafed maple, and elm, and mulberry, was the village of Brookfield. A hundred years of expansion in the surrounding land had acted inversely with the little hamlet, and had pinched it into a hermitical isolation.
The Brookfieldians had discovered a huge beetle in the amber of their serene existence; it was really the Reverend Dolman who had unearthed the monster. The beetle in the amber was horse racing, and the prime offender, practically the sole culprit, was John Porter.
By an inconsistent twist of fate he was known as Honest John. His father before him had raced in old Kentucky to considerable purpose, and with the full vigor of a man who races for sport; and so to the son John, in consequence, had come little beyond a not-to-be-eradicated love of thoroughbreds. To race squarely, honestly, and to the glory of high-couraged horses was to him as much a matter of religion as the consistent guardianship of parish morals was to the Reverend George Dolman. Therefore, two men of strong beliefs were set on opposite sides of the fence.
Even in the Porter household, which was at Ringwood Farm, was divided allegiance. Mrs. Porter was possessed of an abhorrent detestation of horse racing; also an assertive Christianity. The daughter, Allison, had inherited the horse taint. The swinging gallop of a striving horse was to her the obliteration of everything but sunshine, and the smile of fields, and the blur of swift-gliding hedges, and the driving perfume of clover-laden winds that passed strong into spread nostrils. For Alan Porter, the son, there were columns of figures and musty-smelling bundles of tattered paper money where he clerked in the bank. There had been great unison in the Porter household over the placing of Alan. In addition to horse lore, John Porter was a fair judge of human nature, and, beyond doubt, there was a streak of velvet in Alan which would have twisted easily in the compressive grip of the race course.
The Porter family were not the only dwellers of Brookfield who took part in racing. Philip Crane, the banker, wandering from the respectable highway of finance, had allowed himself to become interested in race horses. But this fact was all but unknown in Brookfield, so the full resentment of the place was effusively tendered to John Porter.
In his younger days some money had come to Philip Crane. The gambler spirit, that was his of inheritance, had an instinctive truth as allied to finance; but, unfortunately for Philip Crane, chance and a speculative restlessness led him amongst men who commenced with the sport of kings. With acute precipitancy he was separated from the currency that had come to him. The process was so rapid that his racing experience was of little avail as an asset, so he committed the first great wise act of his life-turned his back upon the race course and marched into finance, so strongly, so persistently, that at forty he was wealthy and the banker of Brookfield.
Twenty years of deliberate reminiscence convinced him that he could gratify the desire that had been his in those immature days, and possibly work out a paying revenge. Thus it was that he had got together a small stable of useful horses; and, of far greater moment, secured a clever trainer, Dick Langdon.
Crane's latter-day racing had been successful—he made money at it. No man was ever more naturally endowed to succeed on the turf than was Banker Philip Crane. Cold, passionless, more given to deep concentrated thought than expression, holding silence as a golden gift—even as a gift of rare rubies—nothing drew from him an unguarded word, no sudden turmoil quivered his nerve. It was characteristic of the man that he had waited nearly twenty years to resume racing, which really came as near to being a passion with him as was possible for anything to be. There is a saying in England that it takes two years of preparation to win a big handicap; and these were the lines upon which Philip Crane, by instinctive adaptation, worked.
Quite by chance Dick Langdon had come into his hands over a matter of borrowed money. It ended by the banker virtually owning every horse that raced in the trainer's name. In addition, two or three horses ran in Philip Crane's own name. If there had been any distinctive project in the scheme of creation that gave Dick Langdon to the world, it probably was that he might serve as the useful tool of a subtle thinker. Now it did seem that Langdon had come into his own—that he had found his predestined master.
John Porter had not been successful; ill fortune had set in, and there was always something going wrong. Horses would break down, or get beaten by accident—there was always something. The steady financial drain had progressed even to an encumbrance on Ringwood.
Ringwood was simply a training farm, located close to an old disused race course, for there had been no racing in Brookfield for years.
* * * * * *
Inadvertently the Reverend Mr. Dolman had intensified the strained relationship that existed between the good people who frowned upon all racing endeavor and those who saw but little sinfulness in John Porter's way of life.
The church was in debt—everything in Brookfield was, except the town pump. The pastor was a nervous, zealous worker, and it occurred to him that a concert might lighten the financial load. The idea was not alarmingly original, and the carrying out of it was on conventional lines: local volunteer talent, and a strong appeal to the people of Brookfield for their patronage.
The concert in the little old clap-boarded church, it's sides faded and blistered by many seasons of tempest and scorching sun, was an unqualified success up to the fifth number. Nothing could have been more successful, or even evoked greater applause, than the fourth effort, "Anchored," as rendered by the village pride in the matter of baritone singing; even De Reszke never experienced a more genuine triumph. The applause gradually fell away, and programmes were consulted preparatory to a correct readiness for the fifth offering. The programmes confided that "The Death of Crusader," by Miss Allis Porter, was the next item.
In the front row of seats a prim little body, full of a severe quaintness in every quirk of dress, tilted her head toward a neighbor, and whispered, "It's that racin' gal of John Porter's."
The neighbor answered in a creak meant for a whisper: "I'm right glad she's took to religion for onct, an' is givin' us somethin' about them Crusaders. They was in Palestine, you know. She's been away to boardin' school all winter, an' I guess it'll be a high-falutin' account of the war."
The quaint little old lady jerked her head up and down with decisive bobbiness. On the third upward bob her eyes opened wide in astonishment—a small, slim figure in a glaring red coat stood in the center of the improvised platform.
From beneath the coat fell away in long graceful lines a black riding skirt; a dark oval face, set with large wondrous gray eyes—the Porter eyes—confronted the quaint little old lady.
"That's the Porter gal," her neighbor squeaked; "I've seen her a-top them race horses more'n a hundred times. My! you'd think butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, she's that prim now."
"The coat would melt it," commented the quaint one.
Then a clear, soft girlish voice, with just a tremble of apprehensive nervousness, giving it a lilt like a robin's, said:—
THE RUN OF CRUSADER
Full weight they had given the gallant big Black—a hundred and sixty he carried; And the run for the "Hunt Cup" was over three miles, with mud-wall and water-jump studded. The best racing days of the old horse were past—there'd never been better nor braver But now once again he must carry the silk I was needing the help of Crusader. Could he win at the weight, I whisperingly asked, as I cinched up the saddle girt' tight; He snuggled my hand as I gathered the rein, and I laughed when they talked of defeat. To the call of the bugle I swung to his back—like a rock was the strength of his quarters. At sight of the people he arched his lean neck, and they, cheered for my King of all Hunters.
Ten horses would strive for the prize—a big field, and the pace would be killing. From the West came Sweet Silver, a gray, gallant, and fearless in jumping. A rakish old nag who walked over the sticks, had been sent for the Cup from Kentucky; On a bay, Little Jack, who was fast, they had put but a hundred and thirty. But I knew that North Star, a big brown—even the Black was no gamer- With a pull of ten pounds in the weight, was almost a match for Crusader. We made a brave troop, long-striding and strong, with the pick of cross-country riders, As we filed past the Stand in stately parade, with its thousands of eager admirers, And down to the turn on the lower far side, where a red flag was flicking the sunlight; For twice we must circle the green-swarded field, and finish close under the paddock.
Just once we lined up; then down cut the flag, and "Go!" hoarse-voiced the Starter; And the thunder of hoofs, and the clanking of bits, made music to me on Crusader. Quick to the front, like a deer, sped a mare, a chestnut, making the running; But I steadied my mount, and took him far back—with his weight he would need all my nursing. They took the first hedge like sheep in a bunch, bit to bit, and stirrups a-jingle; And so past the Stand to the broad water-jump, where three went down, in a tangle. I trailed at the heels of the Silver Gray—but Crusader was begging for halter And flew the wide ditch with the swoop of a bird, and on again, lapped on his quarter. Then over the Liverpool, racing like mad,—where Sweet Silver fell fighting for lead, And his rider lay crushed, white-faced to the sky; and to miss him Crusader jumped wide.
At the bank something struck, and a cloud of white dust hid the wall as though it were shrouded; But the big gallant Black took off with a swing—full thirty feet ere we had landed. As we rounded the turn I could see Little Jack go up to the mare that was leading; Then I let out a wrap, and quickened my pace, to work clear of those that were tiring. Once again past the Stand we drove at the ditch that some would never get over; And a cheer shook the air as the Bay landed safe; with the mare on her back in the water. Then over went North Star—though he pecked, and nearly emptied his saddle. As I lifted the Black at his heels, he frothed the Brown's flank with his nozzle.
Then down the back stretch, o'er hedge and o'er bank, we three were racing together; Till at the next rail the Bay jostled the Brown, and riderless crashed through the timber. So we rounded the turn, and into the straight—North Star's lean flank we were lapping But we shot to the front when I gave the Black head, and I saw that the other was stopping. We raced as one horse at the very last hedge—just a nose in front was Crusader; I felt the big Brown bump twice at my side, and knew he was ready to blunder. With stirrups a-ding, empty-saddled the Bay, stride for stride, galloped and floundered. Just missing his swerve, I called on the Black, and drew out as he bravely responded.
Just the last jump! and Crusader took off twenty feet from the brush-covered timber. Then the Bay jumped—too short for his stride—and fell, with his head on my wither. Down, down! almost to earth,—brought to his knees in the struggle, The Black lost a length, the Brown forged ahead, and I was half out of the saddle. How I sat down and rode! how the old horse strove! and the Brown rolling tired in his gallop. On, gallant Black! on, my brave pet! We were almost under the paddock. Then we nosed the Brown's dank; then we reached to his girt'; neck and neck I rode at his shoulder. As we flashed past the post I had won by a head. How they cheered, "Bravo, Crusader!"
But Crusader stopped short; gave a sigh and fell dead; I stood all alone in the winning. And a hush came over the clamorous mob; like a babe on his neck I was sobbing. He had run his last race; game to the end, his brave heart broke in the striving.
The girl's voice faltered and died away to a broken whisper as she told of the death of Crusader. For a full minute there was a noiseless hush. The full pathos of the gallant horse's striving had crept into the hearts that were flesh and blood; and, carried away by their feelings, the people had forgotten all about their tortured convictions of the sinfulness of making a horse go faster than a sharp trot. Gradually into their awakening senses stole a conviction that somehow they were countenancing the sin of racing.
Before the complete horror of the situation had mastered the audience, a strong pair of hands, far back in the church, came together with an explosive clap. Like the rat-rat-tat of a quick-firing gun was the appreciative volley of recognition from the solitary applauder. It went rolling and crackling through the church defiantly, derisively, appreciatively. Halfway up the aisle a softer pair of hands touched the rattle with what sounded like a faint echo; then there was sudden silence. The entire audience turned and looked disparagingly, discouragingly, at the man who had figuratively risen as a champion of the scandalous recitation. Resentment had taken hold of the good Christians. That Crusader had enlisted their sympathies for a few minutes showed the dangerous subtlety of this "horseracin' business."
The rest of the programme might just as well have been eliminated; the concert, as a concert, would be discussed for all time to come as having projected "The Death of Crusader."
The people flowed from the church full of an expressive contentiousness, seeking by exuberant condemnation of the sacrilege to square themselves somehow with their consciences for the brief backsliding.
Where the church path turned into the road a group of men had drawn together, attracted by the magnet of discussion. They quite blocked the pathway, oblivious to everything but their outraged feelings. Like a great dark blotch in the night the group stood; and presently two slight gray shadows slipping up the path, coming to the human barricade, stopped, wavered, and circled out on the grass to pass. The shadows were Allis Porter and her brother Alan.
One of the men, overfilled with his exceeding wrath, seeing the girl, gave expression to a most unchristian opinion of her modesty. The sharp ears of the boy heard the words of the man of harsh instinct, and his face flushed hot with resentment. He half turned, bitter reproach rising to his lips. How could men be so brutish? How could they be so base? To speak ill of his sister Allis, who was just the purest, sweetest little woman that ever lived—too brave and true to be anything else but good!
As he turned he saw something that checked his futile anger. A tall shadow that had come up the path behind them stretched out an arm, and he heard the vilifier's words gurgle and die away, as one of the strong hands that had beat the tattoo of approbation clutched him by the throat. The boy would have rushed to the assistance of this executive friend if the girl had not clasped his arm in detention.
"It's Mortimer!" he cried, as a voice from the strong-armed figure cut the night air with sharp decision.
Then the shadowy forms twisted up grotesquely, weaving in and out. There were voices of expostulation and strong words of anger; but the new serious business that had materialized had most effectually put a stop to reflections upon the innocent girl who had so unwittingly offended.
"It's George Mortimer—he's in our bank," Alan confided to his sister, as they moved away. "He's all right—he's strong as a horse; and I bet Crandal'll have a kink in his neck to-morrow, where George pinched him."
"What was it about?" the girl asked.
"Crandal was jawing about people who own race horses," the boy answered, evasively. "It's Crandal, the butcher."
It was the May meeting at Morris Park, and Morris Park is the most beautiful race course in all America.
John Porter, walking up the steps of the Grand Stand, heard some one call him by name. Turning his head, he saw it was James Danby, an owner, sitting in his private box. Porter turned into the box, and taking the chair the other pushed toward him, sat down.
"What about Lucretia?" asked Danby, with the air of an established friendship which permitted the asking of such questions.
"She's ready to the minute," replied Porter.
"Can she get the five furlongs?" queried Danby. "She's by Assassin, and some of them were quitters."
"She'll quit if she falls dead," replied the other man, quietly. "I've worked her good enough to win, and I'm backing her."
"That'll do for me," declared Danby. "To tell you the truth, John, I like the little mare myself; but I hear that Langdon, who trained Lauzanne, expects to win."
"The mare'll be there, or thereabouts," asserted her owner; "I never knew a Lazzarone yet much good as a two-year-old. They're sulky brutes, like the old horse; and if Lucretia's beat, it won't be Lauzanne that'll turn the trick."
The bell clanged imperiously at the Judges' Stand. Porter pulled out his watch and looked at it.
"That's saddling," he remarked, laconically; "I must go and have a bit on the mare, and then take a look at her before she goes out."
As Porter went down the steps his companion leaned over the rail and crooked his fingers at a thin-faced man with a blond mustache who had been keeping a corner of his eye on the box.
"What are they making favorite, Lewis?" queried Danby, as the thin-faced man stood beside him.
"What's her price?"
"Two to one."
"What's second favorite?"
"Lauzanne—five to two."
"Porter tells me Lucretia is good business," said Danby, in a tentative tone.
"Langdon thinks it's all over bar the shouting; he says Lauzanne outclasses his field," retorted Lewis.
"Langdon's a betting man; Porter's an owner, and a good judge," objected Danby; "and he's got a good boy up, too, McKay," he added, slowly focusing his field glasses on the jockey board opposite the Stand.
"Crooked as a dog's hind legs," snarled Lewis, biting viciously at his cigar.
"Bob, it's damned hard to find a straight-legged dog," laughed Danby. "And when John Porter starts a horse, there's never anything doing. Here's six hundred; put' it on the mare—straight."
As Lewis pushed his way into the shoving, seething, elbowing crowd in the betting ring, he was suddenly struck in the chest by something which apparently had the momentum of an eight-inch shell; but it was only John Porter, who, in breaking through the outer crust of the living mass, had been ejected with more speed than was of his own volition.
Bob smothered the expletive that had risen to his lip when he saw who the unwitting offender was, and asked, "What are they doin' to the mare in the ring?"
"Not much," answered his assailant, catching his breath; "there's a strong play on Langdon's horse, and if I didn't know my boy pretty well, and Lucretia better, I'd have weakened a bit. But she can't lose, she can't lose!" he repeated in the tone of a man who is reassuring himself.
Lewis battled his way along till he stood in front of a bookmaker with a face cast very much on the lines of a Rubens' cherub; but the cherub-type ended abruptly with the plump frontispiece of "Jakey" Faust, the bookmaker. Lewis knew that. "If there's anythin' doin', I'm up against it here," he muttered to himself. "What's Lauzanne's price?" he asked, in an indifferent voice, for the bookmaker's assistant was busy changing the figures on his list.
Faust pretended not to hear him.
"Sure thing!" whispered Lewis to himself. Then aloud he repeated the question, touching the bookmaker on the elbow.
The Cherub smiled blandly. "Not takin' any," he answered, nodding his head in the pleasant manner of a man who knows when he's got a good thing.
"What's Lucretia?" persisted Lewis.
"Oh! that's it, is it? I'll lay you two to one."
The questioner edged away, shaking his head solemnly.
"Here! five to two—how much—" but Lewis was gone.
He burrowed like a mole most industriously, regardless of people's toes, their ribs, their dark looks, and even angry expressions of strong disapproval, and when he gained the green sward of the lawn, hurried to his friend's box.
"Did you get it on?" queried the latter.
"No; I don't like the look of it. Faust is holding out Lauzanne, and stretched me half a point about the mare. He and Langdon are in the same boat."
"But that won't win the race," remonstrated Danby. "Lauzanne is a maiden, and Porter doesn't often make a mistake about any of his own stock."
"I thought I'd come back and tell you," said Bob Lewis, apologetically.
"And you did right; but if the mare wins, and I'm not on, after getting it straight from Porter, I'd want to go out and kick myself good and hard. But put it on straight and place; then if Lauzanne's the goods we'll save."
Lewis was gone about four minutes.
"You're on," he said, when he returned; "I've two hundred on the Chestnut for myself."
"It's booked that way; but I'm backin' the Trainer, Langdon. I went on my uppers two years ago backing horses; I'm following men now."
"Bad business," objected his stout friend; "it's bad business to back anything that talks."
When John Porter reached the saddling paddock, his brown mare, Lucretia, was being led around in a circle in the lower corner. As he walked down toward her his trainer, Andy Dixon, came forward a few paces to meet him.
"Are they hammerin' Crane's horse in the ring, sir?" he asked, smoothing down the grass with the toe of one foot, watching this physical process with extreme interest.
"Just what you'd notice," replied Porter. "Why?"
"Well, I don't like the look of it a little bit. Here's this Lauzanne runs like a dog the last time out—last by the length of a street—and now I've got it pretty straight they're out for the stuff."
"They'd a stable-boy up on him that time."
"That's just it," cried Dixon. "Grant comes to me that day—you know Grant, he works the commission for Dick Langdon—and tells me to leave the horse alone; and to-day he comes and—" he hesitated.
"Tells me to go light on our mare."
"Isn't Grant broke?" asked Porter, with seeming irrelevance.
"He's close next it," answered the Trainer.
"Aren't his friends that follow him all broke?"
"A good many of them have their address in Queer Street."
"Look here, Andy," said the owner, "there isn't a man with a horse in this stake that doesn't think he's going to win; and when it's all over we'll see Lucretia's number go up. Grant's a fool," he added, viciously. "Didn't he break Fisher-didn't he break every other man that ever stuck to him?"
"It's not Grant at all," replied Dixon, rubbing the palms of his hands together thoughtfully—a way he had when he wished to concentrate in concrete form the result of some deep cogitation—"it's Langdon, an' he's several blocks away from an asylum."
"Langdon makes mistakes too."
"He cashes in often when he's credited with a mistake," retorted the other.
"Well, I've played the little mare," asserted Porter.
"Much, sir?" asked Dixon, solicitously.
"All I can stand—and a little more," he added, falteringly; "I needed a win, a good win," he offered, in an explanatory voice. "I want to clear Ringwood—but never mind about that, Andy. The mare's well—ain't she? There can't be anything doing with McKay—we've only put him up a few times, but he seems all right."
"I think we'll win," answered the Trainer; "I didn't get anythin' straight—just that there seemed a deuced strong tip on Lauzanne, considerin' that he'd never showed any form to warrant it. Yonder he is, sir, in number five—go and have a look at him."
As John Porter walked across the paddock a horseman touched the fingers of his right hand to his cap. There was a half-concealed look of interest in the man's eye that Porter knew from experience meant something.
"What do you know, Mike?" he asked, carelessly, only half halting in his stride.
"Nottin' sir; but dere's somebody in de know dis trip. Yer mare's a good little filly, w'en she's right, but ye'r up against it."
Porter stopped and looked at the horseman. He was Mike Gaynor, a trainer, and more than once Porter had stood his friend. Mike always had on hand three or four horses of inconceivable slowness, and uncertainty of wind and limb; consequently there was an ever-recurring inability to pay feed bills, so he had every chance to know just who was his friend and who was not, for he tried them most sorely.
Porter knew all this quite well; also that in spite of Mike's chronic impecuniosity he was honest, and true as steel to a benefactor. He waited, feeling sure that Gaynor had something to tell.
"There's a strong play on Lauzanne, ain't there, sir?"
"Sure t'ing! That Langdon's a crook. I knowed him when he was ridin' on freight cars; now he's a swell, though he's a long sprint from bein' a gentleman. I got de tip dat dere was a killin' on, an' I axed Dick Langdon if dere was anyt'ing doin'; an' Dick says to me, says he, puttin' hot' t'umbs up"—and Mike held both hands out horizontally with the thumbs stiff and vertical to illustrate this form of oath—"'there's nottin' doin', Mike,' says he. What d'ye t'ink of that, sir, an' me knowin' there was?" asked Mike, tragically.
"It's the biggest tip that always falls down, Gaynor; and they've got to be pretty swift to beat Lucretia."
"That filly's all right; she's worked out well enough to do up that field of stiffs. I ain't no rail bird, but I've hed me eye on her. But I ain't doin' no stunt about horses, Mister Porter; I'm talkin' about men. Th' filly's honest, and ye'r honest sir, but ye don't roide th' mare yerself, do ye?"
"You think, Mike—" began Mr. Porter, questioningly; but Gaynor interrupted him with: "I don't think nothin', sir, an' I ain't sayin' nothin. I ain't never been before the Stewards yet for crooked work, or crooked talk; but there's a boy ridin' in dat bunch to-day w'at got six hundred for t'rowing me down once, see? S'elp me God! he pulled Blue Smoke to a standstill on me, knowin' that it would break me. That was at Coney Island, two years ago."
"And you don't remember his name, I suppose, Mike?"
"I don't remember not'in' but that I got it in th' neck. But ye keep yer eye open, sir. Ye t'ink that none of the b'ys would t'row ye down cause ye've been good to 'em; but some of 'em are that mean they'd steal th' sugar from a fly. I know 'em. I hears 'em talk, cause they don't mind me—t'ink I'm one of th' gang."
"Thank you very much, Gaynor; I appreciate your kindly warning; but I hope you're mistaken, all the same," said Porter. Then he proceeded on his way toward stall five, in which was Lauzanne.
"How are you, Mr. Porter?"
It was Philip Crane, standing just outside of the stall, who thus addressed him. "Got something running today?" he continued, with vague innocence.
Langdon, just inside the box, chuckled softly. Surely Crane was a past master in duplicity.
"I'm starting Lucretia in this race," replied Honest John.
"Oh!" Then Crane took Porter gently by the sleeve and drew him half within the stall. "Mr. Langdon, who trains a horse or two for me, says this one'll win;" and he indicated the big chestnut colt that the Trainer was binding tight to a light racing saddle. "You'd better have a bit on, Mr. Porter," Crane added.
"Lucretia carries my money," answered Porter in loyalty.
Langdon looked up, having cinched the girth tight, and took a step toward the two men.
"Well, we both can't win," he said, half insolently; "an' I don't think there's anything out to-day'll beat Lauzanne."
"That mare'll beat him," retorted Porter, curtly, nettled by the other's cocksureness.
"I'll bet you one horse against the other, the winner to take both," cried Langdon in a sneering, defiant tone.
"I've made my bets," said Lucretia's owner, quietly.
"I hear you had an offer of five thousand for your filly, Mr. Porter," half queried Crane.
"I did, and I refused it."
"And here's the one that'll beat her to-day, an' I'll sell him for half that," asserted the Trainer, putting his hand on Lauzanne's neck.
Exasperated by the persistent boastfulness of Langdon, Porter was angered into saying, "If he beats my mare, I'll give you that for him myself."
"Done!" snapped Langdon. "I've said it, an' I'll stick to it."
"I don't want the horse—" began Porter; but Langdon interrupted him.
"Oh, if you want to crawl."
"I never crawl," said Porter fiercely. "I don't want your horse, but just to show you what I think of your chance of winning, I'll give you two thousand and a half if you beat my mare, no matter what wins the race."
"I think you'd better call this bargain off, Mr. Porter," remonstrated Crane.
"Oh, the bargain will be off," answered John Porter; "if I'm any judge, Lauzanne's running his race right here in the stall."
His practiced eye had summed up Lauzanne as chicken-hearted; the sweat was running in little streams down the big Chestnut's legs, and dripping from his belly into the drinking earth spit-spit, drip-drip; his head was high held in nervous apprehension; his lips twitched, his flanks trembled like wind-distressed water, and the white of his eye was showing ominously.
Langdon cast a quick, significant, cautioning look at Crane as Porter spoke of the horse; then he said, "You're a fair judge, an' if you're right you get all the stuff an' no horse."
"I stand to my bargain whatever happens," Porter retorted.
At that instant the bugle sounded.
"Get up, Westley," Langdon said to his jockey, "they're going out."
As he lifted the boy to the saddle, the Trainer whispered a few concise directions.
"Hold him steady at the post," he muttered; "I've got him a bit on edge to-day. Get off in front and stay there; he's feelin' good enough to leave the earth. This'll be a matter of a couple of hundred to you if you win."
"All out! all out!" called the voice, of the paddock offcial. "Number one!" then, "Come on you, Wesltey! they're all out."
The ten starters passed in stately procession from the green-swarded paddock through an open gate to the soft harrowed earth, gleaming pink-brown in the sunlight, of the course. How consciously beautiful the thoroughbreds looked! The long sweeping step; the supple bend of the fetlock as it gave like a wire spring under the weight of great broad quarters, all sinewy strength and tapered perfection; the stretch of gentle-curved neck, sweet-lined as a greyhound's, bearing a lean, bony head, set with two great jewels of eyes, in which were honesty and courage, and eager longing for the battle of strength and stamina, and stoutness of heart; even the nostrils, with a red transparency as of silk, spread and drank eagerly the warm summer air that was full of the perfume of new-growing clover and green pasture-land.
Surely the spectacle of these lovely creatures, nearest to man in their thoughts and their desires, and superior in their honesty and truth, was a sight to gladden the hearts of kings. Of a great certainty it was a sport of kings; and also most certainly had it at times come into the hands of highway robbers.
Some such bitter thought as this came into the heart of John Porter as he stood and watched his beautiful brown mare, Lucretia, trailing with stately step behind the others. He loved good horses with all the fervor of his own strong, simple, honest nature. Their walk was a delight to him, their roaring gallop a frenzy of eager sensation. There was nothing in the world he loved so well. Yes—his daughter Allis. But just now he was thinking of Lucretia—Lucretia and her rival, the golden-haired chestnut, Lauzanne.
He passed through the narrow gate leading from the paddock to the Grand Stand. The gate keeper nodded pleasantly to him and said: "Hope you'll do the trick with the little mare, sir. I'm twenty years at the business, and I haven't got over my likin' for an honest horse and an honest owner yet."
There was covert insinuation of suspicion, albeit a kindly one, in the man's voice. The very air was full of the taint of crookedness; else why should the official speak of honesty at all? Everyone knew that John Porter raced to win.
He crossed the lawn and leaned against the course fence, to take a deciding look at the mare and the Chestnut as they circled past the stand in the little view-promenade which preceded the race.
His trained eye told him that Lauzanne was a grand-looking horse; big, well-developed shoulders reached back toward the huge quarters until the small racing saddle almost covered the short back. What great promise of weight-carrying was there!
He laughed a little at the irrelevance of this thought, for it was not a question of weight-carrying at all; two-year-olds at a hundred pounds in a sprint of only five furlongs. Speed was the great factor to be considered, and surely Lucretia outclassed the other in that way. The long, well-ribbed-up body, with just a trace of gauntness in the flank; the slim neck; the deep chest; the broad, flat canon bones, and the well-let-down hocks, giving a length of thigh like a greyhound's—and the thighs themselves, as John Porter looked at them under the tucked-up belly of the gentle mare, big, and strong, and full of a driving force that should make the others break a record to beat her.
From the inquisition of the owner's study Lucretia stood forth triumphant; neither the Chestnut nor anything else in the race could beat her. And Jockey McKay—Porter raised his eyes involuntarily, seeking for some occult refutation of the implied dishonesty of the boy he had trusted. He found himself gazing straight into the small shifty eyes of Lucretia's midget rider, and such a hungry, wolfish look of mingled cunning and cupidity was there that Porter almost shuddered. The insinuations of Mike Gaynor, and the other things that pointed at a job being on, hadn't half the force of the dishonesty that was so apparent in the tell-tale look of the morally, irresponsible boy in whose hands he was so completely helpless. All the careful preparation of the mare, the economical saving, even to the self-denial of almost necessary things to the end that he might have funds to back her heavily when she ran; and the high trials she had given him when asked the question, and which had gladdened his heart and brought an exclamation of satisfaction from his phlegmatic trainer; the girlish interest of his daughter in the expected triumph—all these contingencies were as less than nothing should the boy, with the look of a demon in his eyes, not ride straight and honest.
Even then it was not too late to ask the Stewards to set McKay down, but what proof had he to offer that there was anything wrong? The boy's good name would be blasted should he, John Porter, say at the last minute that he did not trust him; and perhaps the lad was innocent. Race people were ready to cry out that a jockey was fixed-that there was something wrong, when their own judgment was at fault and they lost.
Suddenly Porter gave a cry of astonishment. "My God!" he muttered, "the boy has got spurs on. That'll set the mare clean crazy."
He turned to Dixon, who was at his elbow: "Why did you let McKay put on the steels?"
"I told him not to." "He's got them on."
"They've got to come off," and the Trainer dashed up the steps to the Stewards. In two minutes he returned, a heavy frown on his face.
"Well?" queried Porter.
"I've made a mess of it," answered Dixon, sullenly. "It seems there's hints of a job on, an' the Stewards have got the wrong end of the stick."
"They refused to let the mare go back to the paddock?" queried Porter.
"Yes; an' one of them said that if trainers would stick closer to their horses, an' keep out of the bettin' ring, that the public'd get a better run for their money."
"I'm sorry, Andy," said Porter, consolingly.
"It's pretty tough on me, but it's worse on you, sir. That boy hadn't spurs when he weighed, an' there's the rankest kind of a job on, I'll take me oath."
"We've got to stand to it, Andy."
"That we have; we've just got to take our medicine like little men. Even if we make a break an' take McKay off there isn't another good boy left. If he jabs the little mare with them steels she'll go clean crazy."
"It's my fault, Andy. I guess I've saved and petted her a bit too much. But she never needed spurs—she'd break her heart trying without them."
"By God!" muttered Dixon as he went back to the paddock, "if the boy stops the mare he'll never get another mount, if I can help it. It's this sort of thing that kills the whole business of racing. Here's a stable that's straight from owner to exercise boy, and now likely to throw down the public and stand a chance of getting ruled off ourselves because of a gambling little thief that can spend the income of a prince. But after all it isn't his fault. I know who ought to be warned off if this race is fixed; but they won't be able to touch a hair of him; he's too damn slick. But his time'll come—God knows how many men he'll break in the meantime, though."
As John Porter passed Danby's box going up into the stand, the latter leaned over in his chair, touched him on the arm and said, "Come in and take a seat."
"I can't," replied the other man, "my daughter is up there somewhere."
"I've played the mare," declared Danby, showing Porter a memo written in a small betting book.
The latter started and a frown crossed his brown face.
"I'm sorry—I'm afraid it's no cinch."
"Five to two never is," laughed his friend. "But she's a right smart filly; she looks much the best of the lot. Dixon's got her as fit as a fiddle string. When you're done with that man you might turn him over to me, John."
"The mare's good enough," said Porter, "and I've played her myself—a stiffish bit, too; but all the same, if you asked me now, I'd tell you to keep your money in your pocket. I must go," he added, his eye catching the flutter of a race card which was waving to him three seats up.
"Here's a seat, Dad," cried the girl, cheeringly, lifting her coat from a chair she had kept for her father.
For an instant John Porter forgot all about Lucretia and her troubles. The winsome little woman had the faculty of always making him forget his trials; she had to the fullest extent that power so often found in plain faces. Strictly speaking, she wasn't beautiful—any man would have passed that opinion if suddenly asked the question upon first seeing her. Doubt of the excellence of this judgment might have crept into his mind after he had felt the converting influence of the blue-gray eyes that were so much like her father's; in them was the most beautiful thing in the world, an undoubted evidence of truth and honesty and sympathy. She was small and slender, but no one had ever likened her to a flower. There was apparent sinewy strength and vigor in the small form. Her life, claimed by the open air, had its reward—the saddle is no cradle for weaklings. Bred in an atmosphere of racing, and surrounded as she had always been by thoroughbreds, Allis had grown up full of admiration for their honesty, and courage, and sweet temper.
In John Porter's home horse racing had no debasing effect. If a man couldn't race squarely—run to win every time—he had better quit the game, Porter had always asserted. He raced honestly and bet openly, without cant and without hypocrisy; just as a financier might have traded in stocks in Wall Street; or a farmer might plant his crops and trust to the future and fair weather to yield him a harvest in return.
So much of the racing life was on honor—so much of the working out of it was in the open, where purple-clovered fields gave rest, and health, and strength, that the home atmosphere was impregnated with moral truth, and courage, and frankness, in its influence on the girl's development.
Every twist of her sinewy figure bore mute testimony to this; every glance from her wondrous eyes was an eloquent substantiating argument in favor of the life she affected. John Porter looked down at the small, rather dark, upturned face, and a half-amused smile of content came to his lips. "Did you see Lucretia?" he asked. "Isn't she a beauty? Hasn't Dixon got her in the pink of condition?"
"I saw nothing else, father." She beckoned to him with her eyes, tipped her head forward, and whispered: "Those people behind us have backed Lauzanne. I think they're racing folks."
The father smiled as an uncultured woman's voice from one row back jarred on his ear. Allis noticed the smile and its provocation, and said, speaking hastily, "I don't mean like you, father—"
"Like us," he corrected.
"Well, perhaps; they're more like betting or training people, though." She put her hand on his arm warningly, as a high-pitched falsetto penetrated the drone of their half-whispered words, saying, "I tell you Dick knows all about this Porter mare, Lucretia."
"But I like her," a baritone voice answered. "She looks a rattlin' filly."
"You'll dine off zwieback and by your lonely, Ned, if you play horses on their looks—"
"Or women either," the baritone cut in.
"You're a fair judge, Ned. But Dick told me to go the limit on Lauzanne, and to leave the filly alone."
"On form Lucretia ought to win," the man persisted; "an' there's never anythin' doin' with Porter."
"Perhaps not;" the unpleasant feminine voice sneered mockingly, with an ill-conditioned drawl on the "perhaps"; "but he doesn't ride his own mare, does he?"
John Porter started. Again that distasteful expression fraught with distrust and insinuation. There was a strong evil odor of stephanotis wafted to his nostrils as the speaker shook her fan with impatient decision. The perfume affected him disagreeably; it was like the exhalation of some noisome drug; quite in keeping with the covert insinuation of her words that Dick, as she called him—it must be Dick Langdon, the trainer of Lauzanne, Porter mused—had given her advice based on a knowledge quite irrespective of the galloping powers of the two horses.
"Did you hear that, father?" Allis whispered.
He nodded his head.
"What does it all mean?"
"It means, girl," he said, slowly, "that all the trouble and pains I have taken over Lucretia since she was foaled, two years ago, and her dam, the old mare, Maid of Rome, died, even to raising the little filly on a bottle, and watching over her temper that it should not be ruined by brutal savages of stable-boys, whose one idea of a horse is that he must be clubbed into submission—that all the care taken in her training, and the money spent for her keep and entries goes for nothing in this race, if Jockey McKay is the rascal I fear he is."
"You think some one has got at him, Dad?"
Her father nodded again.
"I wish I'd been a boy, so that I could have ridden Lucretia for you to-day," Allis exclaimed with sudden emphasis.
"I almost wish you had, Little Woman; you'd have ridden straight anyway—there never was a crooked one of our blood."
"I don't see why a jockey or anybody else should be dishonest—I'm sure it must take too much valuable time to cover up crooked ways."
"Yes, you'd have made a great jock, Little Woman;" the father went on, musingly, as he watched the horses lining up for the start. "Men think if a boy is a featherweight, and tough as a Bowery loafer, he's sure to be a success in the saddle. That's what beats me—a boy of that sort wouldn't be trusted to carry a letter with ten dollars in it, and on the back of a good horse he's, piloting thousands. Unless a jockey has the instincts of a gentleman, naturally, he's almost certain to turn out a blackguard sooner or later, and throw down his owner. He'll have more temptations in a week to violate his trust than a bank clerk would have in a lifetime."
"Is that why you put Alan in the bank, father?"
Porter went on as though he had not heard the daughter's query. "To make a first-class jock, a boy must have nerves of steel, the courage of a bulldog, the self-controlling honesty of a monk. You've got all these right enough, Allis, only you're a girl, don't you see—just a good little woman," and he patted her hand affectionately.
"They're off!" exclaimed the baritone.
"Not this trip," objected the falsetto.
"The spurs—the young fiend!" fiercely ejaculated John Porter.
"What is it, father?"
"The boy on Lucretia is jabbing her with the spurs, and she's cutting up."
"That's the fourth false start," said Ned, the baritone. "I don't think much of your Lauzanne, he's like a crazy horse."
Allis heard the woman's shrill voice, smothered to a hissing whisper, answer something. Two distinct words, "the hop," carried to her ears. There was a long-drawnout baritone, "Oh-h!" then, in the same key, "I knew Lauzanne was a sluggard, and couldn't make out why he was so frisky to-day."
"Dick's got it down fine"—just audibly from the woman; "Lauzanne'll try right enough this time out."
"The mare's actin' as if she'd a cup of tea, too," muttered her companion, Ned.
This elicited a dry chuckle from the woman.
Allis pinched her father's arm again, and looked up in his face inquiringly, as from the seat behind them the jumbled conversation came to their ears. Porter nodded his head understandingly, and frowned. The stephanotis was choking his nostrils, and an occasional word was filling his heart with confirmation of his suspicions.
"I don't like it," he muttered to Allis. "They've had four breaks, and the mare's been left each time. The Chestnut's the worst actor I ever saw at the post. But I'm thinking he'll leave the race right there, the way he's cutting up."
"My God!" he exclaimed in the next breath. He had startled the girl with the fierce emphasis he threw into the words; she sprang to her feet in excitement.
A bell had clanged noisily, there was the shuffle of thousands of eager feet; a hoarse cry, "They're off!" went rolling from tier to tier, from seat to seat, to the topmost row of the huge stand.
"Lauzanne is off with a flying lead of three lengths, and the mare is left absolutely-absolutely last. The boy whipped her about just as the flag fell." There was the dreary monotone of crushed hope in Porter's voice as he spoke.
"Yes, we're out of it, Little Woman," he continued; and there was almost a tone of relief, of resignation. Suspense was gone; realization of the disaster seemed to have steadied his nerves again. Allis attempted to speak, but her low voice was hushed to a whisper by the exultant cries that were all about them.
"Didn't I tell you—Lauzanne wins in a walk!" the falsetto voice was an exultant squeak of hilarious excitement.
"You called the turn." Even Ned's baritone had risen to a false-keyed tenor; he was standing on his toes, peering over the heads of taller men in front.
Allis brushed from her eyes the tears of sympathy that had welled into them, and, raising her voice, spoke bravely, clinging to the vain hope: "Lucretia is game, father—she may win yet—the race is not lost till they're past the post."
Then her voice died away, and she kept pleading over and over in her heart, "Come on Lucretia—come on, brave little mare! Is she gaining, father—can you see?"
"She'll never make it up," Porter replied, as he watched the jumble of red, and yellow, and black patterned into a trailing banner, which waved, and vibrated, and streamed in the glittering sunlight, a furlong down the Course—and the tail of it was his own blue, whitestarred jacket. In front, still a good two lengths in front, gleamed scarlet, like an evil eye, the all red of Lauzanne's colors.
"Where is Lucretia, father?" the girl asked again, stretching her slight figure up in a vain endeavor to see over the shoulders of those in front.
"She had an opening there," Porter replied, speaking his thoughts more than answering the girl, "but the boy pulled her into the bunch on the rail. He doesn't want to get through. Oh!" he exclaimed, as though some one had struck him in the face.
"What's wrong? Has she—"
"It's the Minstrel. His boy threw him fair across Lucretia, and knocked her to her knees." He lowered his glasses listlessly. "It's Lauzanne all the way, if he lasts out. He's dying fast though, and Westley's gone to the whip."
He was looking through his glasses again. Though beaten, his racing blood was up. "If Lauzanne wins it will be Westley's riding; the Hanover colt, The Dutchman, is at his quarter. He'll beat him out, for the Hanovers are all game."
"Come on you, Lauzanne!" Even the exotic stephanotis failed to obliterate the harsh, mercenary intensity of the feminine cry at the back of Allis.
"He's beat!" a deep discordant voice groaned. "I knew he was a quitter;" the woman's companion was pessimistic.
Like trees of a forest, swayed by strong compelling winds, the people rocked in excitement, tiptoed and craned eager necks, as they watched the magnificent struggle that was drawing to a climax in the stretch. Inch by inch the brave son of Hanover was creeping up on Lauzanne. How loosely the big Chestnut galloped—rolling like a drunken man in the hour of his distress. Close pressed to his neck, flat over his wither lay the intense form of his rider—a camel's hump—a part of the racing mechanism, unimpeding the weary horse in the masterly rigidity of his body and legs; but the arms, even the shoulders of the great jockey thrust his mount forward, always forward—forward at each stride; fairly lifting him, till the very lurches of Lauzanne carried him toward the goal. And at his girth raced the compact bay son of Hanover; galloping, galloping with a stout heart and eager reaching head; straining every sinew, and muscle, and nerve; in his eye the brave desire, not to be denied.
Ah, gallant little bay! On his back was the offspring of unthinking parents—a pin-head. Perhaps the Evil One had ordained him to the completion of Langdon's villainy with Lauzanne. At the pinch his judgment had flown—he was become an instrument of torture; with whip and spur he was throwing away the race. Each time he raised his arm and lashed, his poor foolish body swayed in the saddle, and The Dutchman was checked.
"Oh, if he would but sit still!" Porter cried, as he watched the equine battle.
The stand mob clamored as though Nero sat there and lions had been loosed in the arena. The strange medley of cries smote on the ears of Allis. How like wild beasts they were, how like wolves! She closed her eyes, for she was weary of the struggle, and listened. Yes, they were wolves leaping at the throat of her father, and joying in the defeat of Lucretia. Deep-throated howls from full-chested wolves: "Come on you, Lauzanne! On, Westley, on! The Bay wins! The Dutchman—The Dutchman for a thousand!"
But the new voice was stilled into nothingness by the shrill, reawakening falsetto. "Go on, Westley! Lauzanne wins—wins—wins!" it seemed to repeat. Allis sank back into her seat. She knew it was all over. The shuffle of many feet hastening madly, the crash of eager heels down the wooden steps, a surging, pushing, as the wolf-pack blocked each passage in its thirstful rush for the gold it had won, told her that the race was over.
No one knew which horse had won. Presently a quiet came over the mob like a lull in a storm. Silently they waited for the winning number to go up.
"I believe it's a dead heat," said Porter; and Allis noted how calm and restful his voice sounded after the exultant babel of the hoarse-throated watchers.
"Where was Lucretia, father?"
"Third," he answered, laconically, schooling his voice to indifference. "I hope it's a dead heat, for if Lauzanne gets the verdict I've got to take him. I don't want him after that run; they made him a present of the race at the start, and he only just squeezed home."
"Why must you take the horse, father, if you don't want him? I don't understand."
"I suppose there's no law for it—I said I would, that's all. The whole thing is crooked though; they stole the race from Lucretia and planted me with a dope horse, and hanged if I don't feel like backing out. Let Langdon go before the Stewards about the sale if he dare."
"Did you give your word that you'd buy the horse, father?"
"I did; but it was a plant."
"Then you'll take him, father. People say that John Porter's word is as good as his bond; and that sounds sweeter in my ears than if I were to hear them say that you were rich, or clever, or almost anything."
"Lauzanne gets it!" called the eager grating voice behind them. "There go the numbers, Ned—three, five, ten; Lauzanne, The Dutchman, Lucretia. I knew it. Dick don't make no mistakes when he's out for blood."
"He drew it a bit fine that time," growled Ned, still in opposition; "it was the closest sort of a shave."
Again there was more hurrying of feet as the Chestnut's backers who had waited in the stand for the Judge's decision, hurried down to the gold mart.
"You'll take Lauzanne, father," Allis said, when the tumult had stilled; "it will come out right somehow—I know it will—he'll win again."
John Porter stood irresolutely for a minute, not answering the girl, as though he were loath to go close to the contaminating influence that seemed part and parcel of Lauzanne, and which was stretching out to envelop him. He was thinking moodily that he had played against a man who used loaded dice, and had lost through his own rashness. He had staked so much on the race that the loss would cut cripplingly into his affairs.
"I guess you're right, Allis," he said; "a man's got to keep his word, no matter what happens. I never owned a dope horse yet, and unless I'm mistaken this yellow skate is one to-day. I'll take him though, girl; but he'll get nothing but oats from me to make him gallop."
Then Porter went resolutely down the steps, smothering in his heart the just rebellion that was tempting him to repudiate his bargain.
As he reached the lawn, a lad swung eagerly up the steps, threw his eye inquiringly along row after row of seats until it stopped at Allis. Then he darted to her side.
"Hello, Sis—been looking for you. Where's Dad?"
"Gone to get Lauzanne."
"Lauzanne!" and the boy's eyes that were exactly like her own, opened wide in astonishment.
"Yes; father bought him."
"The deuce! I say, Allis, that won't do. Don't you know there's something wrong about this race? I just saved myself. I backed the little mare for a V—then I heard something. This Langdon's a deuce of a queer fish, I can tell you. I wonder Crane has anything to do with him, for the Boss is straight as they make them."
"Did you back Lauzanne then, Alan?"
"You bet I did; quick, too; and was hunting all over for the gov'nor to tell him. You see, I know Langdon—he comes to the bank sometimes. He's that slick he'll hardly say 'Good-day,' for fear of giving something away."
"Then how did you—how did people know there was something wrong?"
"Oh, a woman, of course—she blabbed. I think she's Dick Langdon's sister, and—"
"Hush-hh!" and Allis laid her hand on the boy's arm, indicating with her eyes the woman in the seat behind.
"I'd better go and tell father—"
"You needn't bother; he knows. It's a question of honor. Father said he'd buy the horse, and he's gone to make good."
"I wouldn't; that sort of thing will break a man."
"It's a good way to go broke, Alan. Perhaps we'd all be richer if it wasn't so strong in the Porter blood; but all the same, brother, you do just as father is doing to-day—always keep your word. I tell you what it is, boy"—and her face lighted up as she spoke—"father is a hero—that's what he is; he's just the biggest, bravest man ever lived. He couldn't do a mean act. How did you get away from the bank, Alan?" she said, changing the subject; "I didn't know you were coming to-day."
"Mortimer was light, and took on my work. He's a good sort."
"Does he bet?"
The boy laughed. "Mortimer bet? That's rich. We call him 'Old Solemnity' in the bank; but he doesn't mean any harm by it—he just can't help it, that's all. If he had a stiff ruff about his neck, you could pose him for a picture of one of those old Dutch burgomasters."
"He's doing your work, and you're making fun of him, boy."
"You can't make fun of him, at him, or with him; he's a grave digger; but you can trust him."
"If I'd killed a man and needed a friend to help me out, I'd go straight to Mortimer; he's got that kind of eyes. Do you know why he's doing my work to-day?"
"Because you're away, I suppose."
"Because you recited that doggerel about The Run of Crusader."
"Alan! I've never spoken to Mr. Mortimer."
"That's why he choked the butcher the night of the concert—I mean—"
"You're talking nonsense, Alan."
"I'm not, I know when a man's interested. Hello. Blest if the Boss isn't coming this way—there's Crane. See, Allis? I've a notion to tell him that his trainer is a crook."
"No, you won't, Alan—you're too young to gabble."
Philip Crane had evidently intended going higher up in the stand, but his eye lighting on the brother and sister, he stopped, and turned in to where they were sitting.
"Good afternoon, Miss Porter."
Allis started. Was the stand possessed of unpleasant voices? There was a metallic ring in Crane's voice that affected her disagreeably. He was almost a stranger to her; she hardly remembered ever having spoken to him.
He turned and nodded pleasantly to Alan, saying, "May I take this seat? I'm tired. The Cashier let you oft for the day, eh?" he continued. "Came up to see your father's mare run, I suppose—I'm deuced sorry she was beaten."
"What are they waiting for—why have they taken the horses' numbers down again? Are they trying to steal the race from Lauzanne now?" It was the woman's voice behind them, petulantly exclaiming.
Crane turned in his seat, looked over his shoulder, and raised his hat.
"The impatient lady is my trainer's sister," he explained in a modulated tone to Allis. "A trainer is quite an autocrat, I assure you, and one must be very careful not to forget any of the obvious courtesies."
Allis wondered why he should find it necessary to make any explanation at all.
"I want to thank you, Miss Porter, for that reading about Crusader."
Allis's eyes opened wide.
"Yes, I was there," Crane added, answering the question that was in them.
As he said this a man came hurriedly up the steps, spoke to a policeman on guard, and searched the faces with his eyes. Catching sight of Crane, he came quickly forward and whispered something in his ear.
"Excuse me, I must go—I'm wanted," Crane said to Allis.
As he turned, the Trainer's sister spoke to him.
"What's the matter, Mr. Crane—there's something going on up in the Stewards' Stand?"
"I fancy there's an objection, though I don't know anything about it," he answered, as he went down the steps with the messenger.
Allis breathed more freely when he had gone. Somehow his presence had oppressed her; perhaps it was the fierce stephanotis that came in clouds from the lady behind that smothered her senses. Crane had said nothing—just an ordinary compliment. Like an inspiration it came to the girl what had affected her so disagreeably in Crane—it was his eyes. They were hard, cold, glittering gray eyes, looking out from between partly closed eyelids. Allis could see them still. The lower lids cut straight across; it was as though the eyes were peeping at her over a stone wall.
"What did I tell you about Crusader?" Alan said, triumphantly. "There's another."
"I wondered why Mr. Crane was so deuced friendly; but there's nothing to get cross about, girl, he's a fine old chap, and got lots of wealth."
He leaned forward till he was close to his sister's ear, and added, in a whisper, "Her ladyship behind, Belle Langdon, is trying to hook him. Phew!—but she's loud. But I'm off—I'm going to see what the row is about."
When John Porter left the stand, the horses had just cantered back to weigh in. The jockeys, one after another, with upraised whip, had saluted the Judge, received his nod to dismount, pulled the saddles from their steeds, and, in Indian file, were passing over the scales. As Lucretia was led away, Porter turned into the paddock. He saw that Langdon was waiting for him.
"Well, he won, just as I said he would," declared the latter; "you've got a good horse cheap. You'd ought to've had a bet down on him, an' won him out."
"He won," answered Porter, looking straight into the other's shifty eyes, "but he's a long way from being a good horse—no dope horse is a good horse."
"What're you givin' me?" demanded Langdon, angrily.
"Just what every blackguard ought to have—the truth."
"By God!" the Trainer began, in fierce blasphemy, but John Porter took a step nearer, and his gray eyes pierced the other man's soul until it shriveled like a dried leaf, and turned its anger into fear.
"Oh, if you want to crawl—if you don't want to take Lauzanne—"
But Porter again interrupted Langdon—-"I said I'd take the horse, and I will; but don't think that you're fooling me, Mr. Langdon. You're a blackguard of the first water. Thank God, there are only a few parasites such as you are racing—it's creatures like you that give the sport a black eye. If I can only get at the bottom of what has been done to-day, you'll get ruled off, and you'll stay ruled off. Now turn Lauzanne over to Andy Dixon, and come into the Secretary's office, where I'll give you a check for him."
"Well, we'll settle about the horse now, an' there'll be somethin' to settle between us, John Porter, at some other time and some other place," blustered Langdon, threateningly.
Porter looked at him with a half-amused, half-tolerant expression on his square face, and said, speaking in a very dry convincing voice: "I guess the check will close out all deals between us; it will pay you to keep out of my way, I think."
As they moved toward the Secretary's office, Porter was accosted by his trainer.
"The Stewards want to speak to you, sir," said Dixon.
"All right. Send a boy over to this man's stable for Lauzanne—I've bought him."
The Trainer stared in amazement.
"I'll give you the check when I come back," Porter continued, speaking to Langdon.
"There's trouble on, sir," said Dixon, as they moved toward the Stewards' box.
"There always is," commented Porter, dryly.
"The Stewards think Lucretia didn't run up to her form. They've had me up, an' her jock, McKay, is there now. Starter Carson swears he couldn't get her away from the post—says McKay fair anchored the mare. He fined the boy fifty dollars at the start."
"I think they've got the wrong pig by the ear—why don't they yank Langdon? he's at the bottom of it. It a pretty rich, Andy, isn't it? They hit me heavy over the race, and now they'd like to rule me off for that thief's work," and he jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of Langdon.
"Yes, racin's hell now," commented Dixon with laconic directness. "It seems just no use workin' over a good horse when any mut of a crook who is takin' a turn at plungin' can get at the boy. I believe Boston Bill's game of gettin' a straight boy to play, an' lettin' the horses go hang, is the proper racket."
"Yes, a good boy is better than a good horse nowadays; but they're like North Poles—hard to come by."
"Some mug give the Stewards a yarn that you'd bought Lauzanne, sir, an' sez that's why you didn't win with the mare."
Porter stopped, and gasped in astonishment. What next?
"You see," continued Dixon, apologetically, "I didn't know you was meanin' to buy that skate, so I says it was all a damned lie."
"Things are mixed, Andy, ain't they?"
"I didn't know, sir."
"Of course not—I didn't mention it to you—it was all a fluke. But I don't blame you, Andy. I'll go and talk to the Stewards—they're all right; they only want to get at the truth of it."
As Porter went up the steps of the Stewards' Stand, he felt how like a man mounting a scaffold he was, an innocent man condemned to be hanged for another's crime.
The investigation had been brought about by a note one of the Stewards had received. The sender of the missive stated in it that he had backed Lucretia heavily, but had strong reasons for believing there was a job on. The backer was a reliable man and asked for a fair run for his money. The note had come too late—just as the horses were starting—to be of avail, except as a corroboration of the suspicious features of the race. Starter Carson's evidence as to McKay's handling of the mare coincided with the contents of the note. Then there was the fact of Porter's having bought Lauzanne. The Stewards did not know the actual circumstances of the sale, but had been told that Lucretia's owner had acquired the Chestnut before the race. Where all was suspicion, every trivial happening was laid hold of; and Alan's trifling bet on Lauzanne had been magnified into a heavy plunge—no doubt the father's money had been put up by the boy. A race course is like a household, everything is known, absolutely everything.
Porter was aghast. Were all the Furies in league against him? He was more or less a believer in lucky and unlucky days, but he had never experienced anything quite so bad as this. He, the one innocent man in the transaction, having lost almost his last dollar, and having been saddled with a bad horse, was now accused of being the perpetrator of the villainy; and the insinuation was backed up by such a mass of circumstantial evidence. No wonder he flushed and stood silent, lost for words to express his indignation.
"Speak up, Mr. Porter," said the Steward, kindly. "Those that lost on Lucretia are swearing the mare was pulled."
"And they're right," blurted out Porter. "I know what the mare can do; she can make hacks of that bunch. She was stopped, and interfered with, and given all the worst of it from start to finish; but my money was burnt up with the public's. I never pulled a horse in my life, and I'm too old to begin now."
"I believe that," declared the Steward, emphatically. "I've known you, John Porter, for forty years, man and boy, and there never was anything crooked. But we've got to clear this up. Racing isn't what it used to be—it's on the square now, and we want the public to understand that."
"What does the boy say," asked Porter; "you've had him up?"
"He says the mare was 'helped;' that she ran like a drunken man—swayed all over the course, and he couldn't pull her together at all."
"Does he mean she was doped?"
"You've guessed it," answered the Steward, laconically.
"That's nonsense, sir; and he knows it. Why, the little mare is as sweet as a lamb, and as game a beast as ever looked through a bridle. Somebody got at the boy. I can prove by Dixon that Lucretia never had a grain of cocaine in her life—never even a bracer of whiskey—she doesn't need it; and as for the race, I hadn't a cent on Lauzanne."
"But your son."
"He had a small bet; I didn't know that, even, until they were running."
"Did you tell him not to back Lucretia, for he did Lauzanne?"
"I told him not to bet at all."
"And you played the mare yourself?"
For answer Porter showed the Steward his race programme, on which was written the wager he had made on Lucretia, and the bookmaker's name.
"Ask Ullmer to bring his betting sheet," the Steward said to an assistant.
On the sheet, opposite John Porter's badge number, was a bet, $10,000 to $4,000, in the Lucretia column.
"Did this gentleman make that bet with you?" the Steward asked of Ullmer.
"He carries the number; besides I know Mr. Porter, I remember laying it to him."
"Thank you, that will do. Hit you pretty hard," he said, turning to Porter. "And you hadn't a saver on Lauzanne?"
"Not a dollar."
"What about your buying him—is there anything in that story?"
Porter explained the purchase. The Steward nodded his head.
"They seem to have been pretty sure of winning, those other people," he commented; "but we can't do anything to them for winning; nor about selling you the horse, I fear; and as far as you're concerned, Lucretia was supposed to be trying. Who gave your jockey orders?"
"Dixon. I don't interfere; he trains the horses."
"We'd like to have Dixon up here again for a minute. I'm sorry we've had to trouble you, Mr. Porter; I can see there is not the slightest suspicion attaches to you."
In answer to the Steward's query about the order to McKay, Dixon said: "I told McKay the boss had a big bet down, and to make no mistake—no Grand Stand finish for me. I told him to get to the front as soon as he could, and stay there, and win by as far as he liked. I got the office that there'd be somethin' doin' in the race, an' I told him to get out by himself."
After Dixon was dismissed, the Stewards consulted for a minute, with the result that McKay was suspended for the balance of the meeting, pending a further investigation into his methods.
* * * * * * * * * * *
During the carpeting of Porter and Dixon, a sea of upturned faces, furrowed by lines of anxious interest, had surrounded the Judge's box. Wave on wave the living waters reached back over the grassed lawn to the betting ring. An indefinable feeling that something was wrong had crept into the minds of the waiting people, tense with excitement.
As the horses had flashed past the post, and, after a brief wait for decision, Lauzanne's number had gone up, his backers had hastened eagerly to the money mart, and lined up in waiting rows behind the bookmakers' stands. There they waited, fighting their impatient souls into submission, for the brief wait would end in the acquiring of gold. Why did not the stentorian-voiced crier send through the ring the joyful cry of "All right!" The minutes went by, and the delay became an age. A whisper vibrated the throng, as a breeze stirs slender branches, that the winner had been disqualified—that there had been an objection. First one dropped out of line; then another; one by one, until all stood, an army of expectant speculators, waiting for the verdict that had its birthplace up in that tiny square building, the Stewards' Stand.
"It's over the pulling of Lucretia," a man said, simply to relieve his strained feelings.
"It was the most barefaced job I ever saw," declared another; "it's even betting the stable gets ruled off." He had backed Porter's mare, and was vindictive.
"Not on your life," sneered a Tout, wolfishly; "a big owner always gets off. The jock'll get it in the neck if they've been caught."
"Why don't they pay?" whined the fourth. "What's the pulling of the mare got to do with it? The best horse won." He was a backer of Lauzanne.
"Bet yer life the bookies won't part till the numbers of the placed horses an' riders are up on that board again. They've run them down, don't you see?" chimed in the Tout.
"I'll take two to one The Dutchman gets it," said a backer of that horse. "There's a job on, and they'll both get disqualified. Porter's kid won ten thousand over Lauzanne, and that's why they stiffened the mare."
"That's what the Public are up against in this game," sneered the backer of Lucretia.
"And the jock'll have to stand the shot; I know how it goes," asserted the Tout.
"You ought to know," drawled Lauzanne's backer. The racing men within earshot smiled, for the Tout had been a jockey before his license had been taken away for crooked work.
"Hello! here it comes," cried Lauzanne's backer, as a fat, red-faced man came swiftly down from the Stewards' Stand, ran to the betting ring, and pushing his way through the crowd, called with the roar of a gorilla: "Al-l-l right! Lauzanne, first! The Dutchman, second! Lucretia, third! They're al-l-l weighed in!"
A Niagara of human beings poured from the lawn to the ring; they ran as though the course was on fire and they sought to escape.
"What about Lucretia?" some one asked.
"They've broke McKay," the red-faced crier answered; "suspended him."
"What did I tell you?" sneered the Tout, maliciously; "it's the under dog gets the worst of it every time."
* * * * * * * * * * *
A Celt, is an outspoken man when the prod of his hot temper has loosened his tongue, and Mike Gaynor was a Celt in excess.
The injustice that had come to his benefactor, John Porter, had stirred a tempest in his Irish soul. A fierce exclamation of profane wrath had gone up from him as he watched the bad start from over the paddock rail.
A misguided retribution led Starter Carson to pass from the Judges' Stand after the race, along the narrow passage between the Club Stand and the course, to the paddock gate. There he met Mike, who forthwith set to flailing him.
"Did ye notice a little mare called Lucretia in that race, Mr. Carson—did ye see anythin' av her at all down at the post?"
Carson's eyes twinkled uneasily. Years of starting had taught him that self-control was nine out of ten rules which should govern the Starter's actions.
"Was there anythin' th' mather wit' yer ancestor's eyes that ye come by, Mister Carson?"
The Starter made answer with a smile of good-humored tolerance. But Mike was only warming up; the hot blood was stinging his quick brain, and his sharp tongue galloped on with unbridled irresponsibility. With the deep pathos of scorn he continued:
"Ye'r Carson the Stharter—Mister Carson! S'help me, Bob! ye couldn't sthart a sthreet car down hill wit' bot' brakes off!"
Carson ceased to smile; the smile had passed to other faces, the owners of which were listening with fiendish delight to the castigation.
Some one touched Mike on the arm, saying, "Come over into the paddock, Gaynor; you're barkin' up the wrong tree." It was Dixon.
"Bot' t'umbs up! This game's too tough fer me—I'll ship me plugs to Gravesend. Whin a straight man like Porther gets a deal av this kind."
"Never mind, Mike," interrupted Dixon; "let it drop."
Carson opened his lips to retort, then closed them tight, set his square jaw firmly, turned on his heel, and walked away.
"What d' ye think av it, b'ys?" appealed Mike to the others.
"You're wrong, Gaynor," declared a thin, tall, hawkfaced man, who was in his shirt sleeves; "my boy was in that run, and it isn't Carson's fault at all. It's dope, Mike. Lauzanne was fair crazy with it at the post; and McKay was dead to the world on the little mare—the Starter couldn't get him away."
"That's right, Mike," added Dixon; "Carson fined the boy fifty, an' the Stewards set him down."
"Is that straight goods?" asked Gaynor, losing confidence in the justice of his wordy assault.
"Yes, you're wrong, Mike," they all asserted.
In five minutes Gaynor had found Carson, and apologized with the full warmth of a penitent Irishman.
For a week John Porter brooded over Lucretia's defeat, and, worse still, over the unjust suspicion of the unthinking public. Touched in its pocket, the public responded in unsavory references to Lucretia's race. Porter loved a good horse, and liked to see him win. The confidence of the public in his honesty was as great a reward as the stakes. The avowed principle of racing, that it improved the breed of horses, was but a silent sentiment with him. He believed in it, but not being rich, raced as a profession, honestly and squarely. He had asserted more than once that if he were wealthy he would never race a two-year-old. But his income must be derived from his horses, his capital was in them; and just at this time he was sitting in a particularly hard streak of bad luck; financially, he was in a hole; morally, he stood ill with the public.
His reason told him that the ill-fortune could not last; he had one great little mare, good enough to win, an honest trainer—there the inventory stopped short; his stock in trade was incomplete—he had not a trusty jockey. In his dilemma he threshed it out with Dixon.
"How's the mare doing, Andy?" he asked. "What did the race do to her?"
"She never was better in her life," the Trainer answered, proudly. Then he added, to ease the troubled look that was in the gray eyes of his master, "She'll win next time out, sir—I'll gamble my shirt on that."
"Not with another McKay up."
"I think she's good enough for the 'Eclipse,' sir, dashed if I don't. I worked her the distance, and she shaded the time they made last year."
"What's the use," said Porter, dejectedly; "where'll we get a boy?"
"Oh, lots of the boys are straight."
"I know that," Porter answered, "but all the straight ones are tied hand and foot to the big stables."
"I've been thinkin' it over," hazarded Dixon, tentatively—"Boston Bill's got a good lad—there's none of them can put it over him, an' his boss ain't got nothin' in the 'Eclipse,' I know."
"That means the same old game, Andy; we nurse the horse, get him into condition, place him where he can win, and then turn him over to a plunger and take the small end of the divide. Boston Bill would back her off the boards.
"The stake'd mount up to seven or eight thousand, an' the win would square the little mare with the public."
"And I'd do that, if I didn't land a dollar," said Porter. "Andy, it hurt me more to see the filly banged about there in the ruck than it did giving up the money."
The Trainer smiled. With him this was unusual; there was a popular superstition that he never smiled except when one of his horses won. But his heart expanded at Porter's words, for he, too, was fond of the little mare.
Then Porter spoke again, abruptly, and fast, as though he feared he might change his mind: "They downed me last trip, Dixon—I guess I'm getting a bit slow in my paces; and you do just as you like—arrange with Boston Bill if you think it's good business. He makes a specialty of winning races—not pulling horses, and we need a win, too, I guess."
"Thank you, sir. We'll land that stake; an' p'raps the sharp division'll take a tumble. I'll bet a dollar they'll go for The Dutchman—he ran a great race the other day, an' he's in the Eclipse—if they start him. Lurcetia's right on edge, she's lookin' for the key hole, an' may go back if we don't give her a race. We'd better get the money for the oat bill while it's in sight. She oughter be a long price in the bettin', too," continued Dixon, meditatively; "the public soon sour on a beaten horse. You'll have a chance to get even."
"I don't like that part of it," muttered Porter; "I'm in the black books now. People have no reason at all—no sense; they've got it into their heads that dirty job was of my making, and if the filly starts at ten to one, and I win a bit, they'll howl."
"You can't make a success of racin', sir, an' run your stable for the public—they don't pay the feed bill."
"Perhaps you're right, Dixon," answered Porter.
For immediate financial relief Porter knew that he must look to Lucretia—no other horse in his stable was ready to win; but more immediately he must arrange certain money matters with his banker, who was Philip Crane. To Porter, Crane had been a tolerant financier, taking the man's honesty liberally as a security; not but what Ringwood had been called upon as a tangible asset. So that day, following his conversation with Dixin, the master of Ringwood had an interview with his banker. It was natural that he should speak of his prospects—his hopes of winning the Eclipse with Lucretia, and, corroboratively, mention her good trial.
"I think that's a good mare of yours, Mr. Porter," said Crane, sympathetically. "I only race, myself in a small way, just for the outdoor relaxation it gives me, you know, so I'm not much of a judge. The other horse you bought—the winner of the race, I mean, Lauzanne—will also help put you right, I should say."
Porter hesitated, uneasily. He disliked to talk about a man behind his back, but he knew that Langdon trained for Crane, and longed to give the banker a friendly word of warning; he knew nothing of the latter's manipulation of the trainer.
With a touch of rustic quaintness he said, with seeming irrelevance to the subject, "Have you ever picked wild strawberries in the fields, Mr. Crane?"
"I have," answered the other man, showing no surprise at the break, for life in Brookfield had accustomed him to disjointed deals.
"Did you ever notice that going down wind you could see the berries better?"
Crane thought for a moment. "Yes, that's right; coming up wind the leaves hid them."
"Just so," commented Porter; "and when a man's got a trainer he's nearly always working up wind with him."
"The trainer hides things?" queried Crane.
"Some do. But the outsiders walking down wind see the berries."
And the Banker pondered for a minute, then he said, "Whose garden are the berries in, Mr. Porter, yours or mine?"
"Well, you've always been a good friend of mine, Mr. Crane," Porter answered, evasively.
"I see," said the other, meditatively; "I understand. I'm much obliged. If I thought for an instant that any trainer wasn't dealing perfectly straightforward with me, I'd have nothing more to do with him—nothing whatever."
Crane sat looking through the open window at John Porter as the latter went down the street. About his thin-lipped, square-framed mouth hovered an expression that might have been a smile, or an intense look of interest, or a touch of avaricious ferocity. The gray eyes peeped over the wall of their lower lids, and in them, too, was the unfathomable something.
"Yes," he repeated, as though Porter still stood beside him, "if Langdon tried to deceive me, I'd crush him. Poor old Porter with his story of the strawberries! If he were as clever as he is honest, he wouldn't have been stuck with a horse like Lauzanne. I told Langdon to get rid of that quitter, but I almost wish he'd found another buyer for him. The horse taint is pretty strong in that Porter blood. How the girl said that line,
'And a hush came over the clamorous mob; Like a babe on his neck I was sobbing.'
She's cleverer than her father."
Crane sat for an hour. Porter had vanished from the landscape, but still the Banker's thoughts clung to his personality as though the peeping eyes saw nothing else.
From the time of the first loan obtained upon Ringwood, Crane had coveted the place. It appealed to him with its elm-bordered, sweeping driveway, leading from gate to old colonial residence. Its thick-grassed fields and running water made it just the place for a man who tempered his passion for racing with common sense. And it would pass from Porter's hands right enough—Crane knew that. Porter might call it ill luck, but he, Crane the Banker, knew it was the lack of something, the inability to make money.
"Made music to me on Crusader." Yes, that was it. With the Porters it was jingle of spurs, and stride of the horse. All very fine in theory, but racing, as he looked at it, was a question of proper odds, and many other things connected with the betting ring.
Why did the girl, Allis, with her jingling verse creep into his mind. Perhaps it was because she was so different from the woman who was always steeped in stephanotis. Of the one there was only the memory of an unmodulated voice and oppressive perfume; in truth, of the other there was not much more—just a pair of big, blue-gray, honest eyes, that somehow stared at him fearlessly, and withal with a great sweetness.
Crane suddenly chuckled in dry disapprobation of himself. Grotesquely enough, all at once he remembered that he was forty—that very day forty. He ran his hand over his waistcoat, dipped two fingers into the pocket and drew out a cigar. Ordinarily the face of an alabaster Buddha was mobile and full of expression compared with Crane's. His mind worked behind a mask, but it worked with the clean-cut precision of clockwork. When his thoughts had crystallized into a form of expression, Crane was very apt to be exactly right in his deductions.