This story will appeal particularly to lovers of the race horse and to those who believe that kindness with animals will goad them on to greater efforts than would the lash. This is a charming little story of how Dorothy Duggan took her pet colt away from the trainer and rode him to victory herself.
A. Verner McPhail
JOSH DUGGAN opened the lane gate. Placing his foot on the bottom bar he shaded his eyes with his huge, rough hand and peered anxiously down the road. Out of the cloud of dust that suddenly appeared soon emerged the form of a ranch pony upon whose back was seated his young daughter. At sight of her father she gave a little whoop that sent the pony’s feet pounding faster and faster over the sandy road. She halted at the gate, slipped off the pony’s back, and, with a smart slap, sent it galloping down the lane. Instinctively, foreboding an Impending danger by the sullenness of her parent’s features, she smiled cautiously.
“What’s been keeping you?” he demanded, as he closed and locked the gate.
The pretty lips of the girl formed in the shape of a pout. She hung her head, and silently and thoughtfully watched her bare toes playing in the sand.
“Oh, daddy!” she replied plaintively. “I know it is mean of me, but I just can’t help it.”
“Help what? His harsh voice sounded unpleasantly in her ears, and she raised her eyes. Truthful eyes they were, too, which possessed a haughtiness of her mother’s; and he instantly repented of his hasty roughness.
“Can’t help wishing that we had plenty of money so that you could have lots of land and horses, and I could wear nice clothes all the time.”
He smothered his rising indignation and, in a softer tone, inquired, “What’s
been putting that nonsense into your head?”
“Why, daddy,” she replied wistfully, “I was down at the post office, and they all got to talking ’bout Colonel Gordon, and how much money he had, and how he’d make a lot more at the races this year, ’cause no horse can beat his. Then they talked ’bout his daughters, and I would have just given anything to see them: even if I couldn't wear nice
shoes, and stockings, and hats, and dresses, and daddy !—would you believe it?—someone says ‘Speak of an angel and his wings will flutter,’ and sure enough coming out of a dandy, nice big auto was one of these girls. I nearly fell plumb off the counter. My ! but she was grand—nice white shoes, and stockings, and dress, and a beauty of a big hat. Don’t I wish I could have them? Just for a day, to see what it feels like to be dressed up. She came in, just like a queen would, I guess. But she didn’t look at none of us but passed right by and went up to the wicket and spoke to the postmaster. When she was coming back she kind of stopped in front of me, and looked down at my feet. “If I went barefoot I’d do so in clean feet, anyways,’ she said. I looked down at my feet, too, and they were dirty, daddy; but it wasn’t that that made me cry, but the nasty way she said it, and the way she tossed her head as she went out.” And the wistful eyes of the girl again filled with tears.
Duggan’s rough features turned livid as he listened, and he struggled to repress any sign of outward emotion. He
was compelled to sink back, powerless and impotent, in the recollection of a day twelve years back—when Gordon had made him the brunt of a slurring remark. He stood there sullen, silent, inwardly wincing, nursing his chagrin in deepening bitterness; and his clouding mind perceived in the rebuke nothing that she had done to deserve it. He caught the plaintive expression on her averted face—truly, the face of her dead mother, whose image she was.
All these thoughts had something to do with the diffident willingness with which he placed his arm around the girl. Smiling with childish delight and wonderment, she looked up into her father’s face, but with womanly instinct remained silent.
“Little girl,” he said quietly, “I have done you a great wrong. I have allowed you to grow up wild like the honeysuckle. I promised your dear mother that I would look after you, but in my own selfish way I failed to do so. I trust that it is not too late, yet. Up in Michigan Colonel Gordon and I were friends —I was his trainer, too. One day he gave me the ‘double-cross,’ which took every earthly possession except my house. Soon I fell sick and had to mortgage the house'. When it fell due I couldn’t pay. He turned us all out and the result was that your mother died a week later. You and I came South, where I changed my name. I had no desire for the old work, and all I have now is this little place. If I die you’ll have very little. I broke my promise, but I am going to try and do something for you. Gordon came here two years ago—wealthy. He doesn’t know me, but he’s got me to reckon with yet. I haven’t been fair to you child, but—”
“Yes, you have, daddy!” she interrupted, with a touch of remorse in her voice. “I’ve got you, and that is all I want. I’m sorry I spoke about the Gordon girl the way I did, and wishing I was her, ’cause really, daddy, I wouldn’t trade you for the whole world.”
Ignoring her interruption and pointing to the colt in the field, he continuer: “Guess whose colt that is?”
Her laughter sounded distinct in its
refreshing purity. “Why yours, of course.”
“No, I mean his sire.”
“Oh! I don’t know. Who is?”
“Well, Gordon’s own horse is his sire. The great Jupiter! Not a soul knows it but you and me.”
At this startling revelation her eyes widened with wonderment. Then she asked simply, “What difference does that make?”
“Jupiter is the greatest living horse,” he replied thoughtfully, “and next year we can enter this colt in the Blue Gra^s Stake.”
“But he isn’t a thoroughbred,, daddy.”
“That makes no difference. He’s not barred, and he’ll win, ’cause he’s got it in him.”
For a year Duggan carefully watched and brought forth the best traits in the colt. At no stage of the game was he disheartened; and during all this time he fostered his old-time hatred of Colonel Gordon. But it was not solely to ruin Gordon that he labored so faithfully—although he knew that Gordon would stake everything on his own horse—but it was to make amends for his unkind act of depriving his daughter of the greater joys of life.
It was a great delight to see the way in which Dorothy assisted him in his precarious undertaking. At times, when she was greatly fatigued, her father would request her to mount again. Gladly would she do it, always thinking of the day that her father would be the proud possessor of the winner of the Blue Grass Stake. He would be a rich man then, and they would move to the city where his remaining years would be spent in pleasure and congenial surroundings, instead of mingled hardship and misery they would be otherwise compelled to undergo. But if they should not win ! Inwardly troubled, but concealed by a happy smile, she would drop off the colt’s back and, placing her arms around his silken neck, and bringing his ear level with her mouth, would whisper, “Jimmie, you must win for daddy. Won’t you?” And, as if in mute understanding, he would rub his head against her arm,
Although Jimmie had a peculiarly bad temper, Josh conceded that a bad temper is preferable to slow legs. And such legs! Long, tapering ones, full of muscle and beauty. True, they were a bit sluggish at times, owing to his temper, but withal, they had the staying power. Once, when he was being ridden under time, Josh was compelled to look at his watch a second time, to see that it had not stopped. At times the animal’s red-flecked eyes would become lazily indifferent, but at the approach of his little mistress they would sparkle with animation and kindness.
When the first day of the meet arrived, Duggan was on hand to watch the early morning workout of the other horses. They showed up better than he expected, while Jimmie was continually ill at ease with the jockey who had been hired to ride him. However, he was here and he would stay it out. The day wore on slowly, and as the hour approached Duggan grew more anxious. When the crowd began to arrive, and he could hear the shouts of the stable-boys and the bookies, his feeling of lightheartedness returned. Once, on his way from the paddock to the stable, he glanced up and saw Dorothy in the stand, a smile of confidence fixed on her vivid lips.
With brown eyes brooding, but ears alert to catch any mention of her horse’s name she sat, stonily silent. She was sure Jimmie would win, but when the horses filed out from the paddock she heard various comments which affected her disagreeably, and her sense of sureness dwindled almost to hope. She shuddered, and the smile faded from her lips.
“What’s number seven?” inquired a voice directly behind her.
“Oh !” was the laughing reply, “some mutt of a horse from the tall timbers, Jimmie ! Ha ! Ha ! Ha !” And the laugh seemed to chill lier very bones. She could not bear to hear more, so she closed her ears to the babble.
Suddenly everyone’s attention was directed to the track. After several breaks she saw them come. Jimmie was following; but the flag was lowered. The bell clanged vigorously, and the
men from the betting-ring surged toward the stand. She saw them make the first turn, but was too nervous to tell which horse was in the lead. Soon the faces about her became more strained, more wondering, more excited, as they followed the horses around. • One veil was followed by many until the stand was one howling mass of humanity. The crowd stood up, so Dorothy stood up too, but her view was blocked by a burly figure in front of her and a huge hat at her left. All she could do was wait as patiently as she could. Days, months, years were crowded into seconds. The suspense was nerve-racking, and once or twice she endeavored to alleviate the situation by peeping under the man’s arm, but was unsuccessful. At last a cheer seemed to come from every throat. “Spectator wins! Spectator wins!” was shouted again and again. Disheartened and dismayed, she seated herself and, with her kerchief, wiped a tear from either cheek. Realizing that her place was elsewhere than there at that time, she descended to the paddock and made her way to the stables. Fearfully and with a tightening of the heart that sapped the very energy she most needed, she stepped inside.
Jimmie, had just been brought in, looking comparatively fresh after his hard run, although he was covered with dust and perspiration and little rivulets of water trickled down his sides, which her father had just commenced sponging. He tossed his head impatiently, but ceased when he scented her. Affectionately she threw her arms about his neck, regardless of her new frock. Had anyone else taken this liberty Jimmie would have immediately implanted a firm imprint of his teeth on that person’s anatomy that appeared most inviting. But he loved his little mistress who had never spoken a cross word to him nor used a whip. And he knew that she loved him. He considered man his mortal enemy, and when the boy, disobeying instructions, had lashed him just once in the race, he halked. turned around several times and cantered in last.
It was his first race, and the noise did not appeal to his senses. It was
difficult to turn him and twice he refused, carrying his rider round the track. But he had wonderful powers of endurance, so he minded not the extra gallop. Being an unknown quan' tity and a half-breed he was a “long shot” in the first race. He was placed at fifty to one and, except for a few
aiker bets” was not considered at all.
3 was entered for the Blue Grass Stake for the following week and, no doubt, would open at the same odds.
“Oh! You old dear! Why didn’t you win?” she questioned.
For answer he shoved his glistening nose against her sleeve, and she patted it. Turning round she beheld her father smiling. Divining that she had become discouraged for naught, she allowed this sudden reaction to envelop her and smiled back in return.
“What is it, daddy? I thought he didn’t win.”
With a surprised look, he replied, “Neither he did. Didn’t you see the race?”
“No. My view was shut off, and anyway, I was so nervous. What does it all mean?” And wonderment succeeded smiles.
“Why, child, it means that we have
the finest horse ever. He could have
run away from the whole bunch only
the boy lashed him. He don’t seem
to take to men no how. He bolted, but he’s there just the same.”
t The girl clapped her hands impulsively then, throwing her arms about her father, who was in the act of placing a blanket on the colt, she cried, “Oh, daddy ! I’ve got it ! I’ll ride him and I’ll just make him win! He’ll do anything for me,” and, turning toward the horse, added, “Won’t you, Jimmie boy?”
“Tush, tush, child !” said the old man slowly “I can’t think of such a thing. I’ll give the boy closer instructions next time.”
“You mean that you’ll give me instructions,” she cried decidedly. “I’m going to ride him.”
Duggan knew the absolute futility of remonstrating against any decision of his daughter, so he said quietly, “Well, we’ll see.”
“That means I’ll ride,” she murmured to herself.
Tffe week—seven days of nervous suspense for Josh Duggan and his daughter—was gone, and the last day of the Blue Grass Meet was ushered in by a fiery, bright sun which betokened a beautiful day. Early in the afternoon the crowd began to swarm into the stand, and the mob that encircled the betting-ring was boisterously growing larger.
Jimmie’s wonderful Improvement gladdened both their hearts, and he showed not the slightest fear or nervousness when his mistress was near. Her father had attended to all the details in connection with his office, and an air of confidence possessed him as he noted how supremely indifferent the horse acted to the saddling, to the noises and to the people who were continually passing in and out of the stables.
No one would have recognized Dorothy seated on her pinnacle of a saddle, in her colors of red and black, and with her beautiful hair coiled beneath the jockey cap, the peak of which overshadowed her purposely soiled face. When the horses passed onto the track she gripped the reins firmly, endeavoring to stifle the touch of fear that arose within; and, as if seeking some token of friendship, she turned her head slightly, observing her father’s anxious face. A wave of determination swept over her, and a smile of confidence edged her delicate mouth.
Jimmie’s sluggish movements and high-strung temperament were responsible for three breaks. In silence she bore the angry curses of the other jockeys, and affectionately patted her horse. At the fourth attempt they were away. “Don’t get pocketed—they’re not counting on you”—her father’s last instruction was uppermost in her mind. She was farthest from the pole, but swung farther away, keeping apace with the rest. Suddenly the boy on Spectator saw his chance. His horse sprang forward leaving the rest. Like a black streak Jimmie swept diagonally across the track in front of the others until his head was even with the big black’s stir-
rup. As the half-mile post flashed by —vividly white—it was plainly obvious that the race was between these two, for the others were gradually dropping behind. Before her she could see her father’s face as she had left it—strained, anxious, weary, expectant. Her firm little legs became firmer; her features set with a grim, defiant determination. A lump surged in her throat and a nauseating feeling came over her as she thought of the dreaded result. But for a moment ! She tugged at the reins, leaned over Jimmie’s neck and whispered “Oh ! Jimmie boy, you must win 1” As if goaded on by a prong his strong muscles tightened and, inch by inch, he crept up on the black. She was almost even with the bright colors of the other jockey. One more strain, but without avail, and as they passed the three-quarter post their positions remained unchanged. The big black was breathing with difficulty, the noise of which was almost drowned by the thumping of her own little heart. What if she shouldn’t win? And again her father’s features loomed before her moistened eyes. His instruction “If you are in the running at the home stretch, child, swing out and go to it!” quickened her senses. The home stretch! Slowly she turned out while the other kept the rail. On they plunged as into full view of the
whole stand they swung. Another tug and soon Jimmie’s head was even with his rival’s. He was not indifferent nor sluggish now. It was his little mistress’ voice he heard again, and then he was a nose ahead. Spectator’s rider was riding with whip and spur. One crack of the whip and they were again even. A stifled cry of fear and Jimmie led once more. The boy exerted his last bit of energy as he plunged his spurs in deep. A terrific lunge, but still Jimmie was in the lead. Faster and faster they came, one urged by kindness; the other by pain. But the big black was tiring—the pace set by Jimmie was too much—and soon—but not too soon— the girl swept past him. A few feet more! If no accident happened they should win. Her mouth was dry, her throat parched and her face was In stinging pain. A deafening roar rent the air. Instinctively she knew it was for the favorite. Who would yell for Jimmie or for her? For a moment startled astonishment dominated her as she noticed the other’s gain. Bending over the withers of her horse she screamed in his ear, “Just once more, Jimmie!” All Jimmie’s latent energy, at the appealing cry pi his mistress, seemed to centre in his quivering limbs. With a powerful stride he lengthened the distance between them and passed under the wire a neck to the good.