ALL afternoon Andrews, the Man from the Desert, and Stewart Owen had wandered about the Club Enclosure of the Woodbine Course, and, as the horses went to the post in each race, had climbed up a back stairway to the top of the Stand to watch them gallop.
It was a new experience to Owen to watch race after race pulled off and not have a bet, for he was a mining promoter, and, as such, a gambler; prosaic things, with no chance for a quick win or lose, were too cold for his fevered blood. Perpetually he fingered the big diamond in his tie irritably.
It was like the time he had gone on the water wagon and had observed, with a thrill of self-pride, his fellow mining men, each with a foot on the rail as they tossed off the loquacity juice. To-day was a day off in the betting; to-morrow the big coup was to eventuate. Since their last big win over Red Devil, the Man from the Desert had somewhat monotonously admonished:
“You sit tight, Mr. Owen; we’re on velvet now, an’ we’ll take a breather. I got a better one than Red Devil in the pickle bar’l; yes, sir, by gum!” And the patriarch had pulled lean fingers through the gray beard, and showed his yellow fangs in a soulless grin.
And to-morrow the juicy thing was to be lifted out of the pickle barrel; Drummer was to be run in the Woodstock Plate—and win it.
As each race was run the Man from the Desert, stop-watch in hand, covered the horses with his powerful field glasses, and always his comments were: “There aint nothin’ gallopin’ to-day can take Drummer’s measure”; or “Drummer would just lie behind that bunch breezin’, and gallop over the top of ’em in the stretch.”
Once Owen jibed, “Have we got to bust the water cart to bring home this Drummer colt—does our psychology friend sit into this game?”
And old Andrews had answered solemnly: "Drummer’s plugger—he’s kind of like a cart horse; he aint got no psychology. D’you remember King James, or Phil Dwyer’s Banquet? P’raps you don’t—you’re a young one; but he’s kind of like they was. He’ll go out there on to the track lookin’ as if he was sore at ’em waitin’ him so early, an’ he’ll stand down at the barrier as if he was waitin’ for a feed of oats; an’ when the webbin’ shoots up, there he’ll be humpin’ along same’s if he was off on a trip to Toledo, an’ had no fixed date to arrive. He’ll jus’ gallop, an’ gallop, an’ break their hearts.”
When the last race had been run, the Man from the Desert said: “We’ll jus’ wait till all these gas waggons’ve got away an’ I’ll show you ‘Ol’ Reliable’—that’s what the boys call him.”
WHEN the crowd had thinned out, Andrews led Owen out through the paddock, across the parking square, and down to the row of stalls in Stable A, the backs of which abutted on Queen St. They were situated in the northwest corner of the race course.
“He’s in here,” Andrews said, as they stopped in front of Stall 13. To a negro stableman he added: “Jim, open the door; my friend wants to have a peep at Drummer.”
When the door was swung Owen’s handsome face lighted up, and a grin displayed his white, even teeth: “Putting one over, old Mr. Snookums, eh?” he laughed. “That’s old psychology—Red Devil, isn’t it?”
The darkey exploded in indignation: “What you sayin’, mistah! Red Devil’s an ash cart hawse specified alongside this stake hoss!”
And Andrews added: “He’s kinder looks like him, bein’ a chestnut an’ all, Mr. Owen, but—” he stooped under a bar that halved the doorway, and slipping his fingers in the halter turned the horse around—“Red Devil has got a white cloven hoof in his forehead, an’ this hawse aint got nothin’; he’s jus’ plain sorrel from heel to muzzle.”
“He’s got a pair of hips on him like a Siwash squaw,” Owen grunted.
“Yes,” Andrews affirmed, “them’s the push, the propellers. Men talk a lot about the angle of a hawse’s shoulder, an’ his cannon bones, an’ whether he’s over on the knees or straight as a lamp post, but gimme a long, lean neck, like Drummer’s got, an’ the power behind, an’ I know I’ve got speed an’ stayin’ both. An’ if you’ll look at the width of that forehead, young man, an’ ’em placid, sleepy eyes, you’ll know he’s got brains, an’ aint feared of nothin’.”
He turned the horse back till the immense quarters were facing the door; then he ran a forefinger down a crease in a mighty hip, saying: “See that little gutter, Mr. Owen? That shows that there aint no fat left; he’s all bone an’ sinew, that’s what ‘Ol’ Reliable’ is—he never was better in his life. I’m tellin’ you this, Mister, ’cause we’ve got to bet big money to-morrow to win much—he won’t be more’n two to one at the outside. I’ve done all I know how to cover him up, not lettin’ him work out a full mile-an’-eighth, easin’ him up a furlong in the middle of every gallop; but the dockers ’re gettin’ foxy; they’ve seen that long lope of his, an’ see him come home breezin’ in 1.55 an’ they’ve guessed the rest. They’re callin’ him to win.”
Owen pointed to the number above the door, No.'13. “What th’ hell d’ you expect, camping in that hoodoo joint? It’s dollars to doughnuts he’ll go over the rail, cross a leg, or get disqualified in the race,” he declared.
“If the bookmakers was all like you,” the Man from the Desert sighed, “I’d get six or eight to one for my money. Here’s your friend, Red Devil,” he added, as they moved down to Stall 11. “He’s as big as the other hawse—sixteen-two—but Drummer could lose him at a mile-’n-a-quarter.”
AS THEY rode back to the hotel in Owen's car, the mining man kept lamenting the hoodoo number.
There was a touch of impatience in the unemotional Desert Man’s voice as he put logical deduction against this mental vagary.
“Drummer has showed me good enough to run that mile-’n-eighth to-morrow, with a hundred an' sixteen pounds on his back, in 1.51 or 52, an’ the track record is 1.52. This track’s three seconds slower ’n Saratoga.”
“Look here, Uncle,” and Owen let the smile fade from his face, "you know as well as I do that, racing is luck pure and simple; it’s the devilish uncertainty of the thing—why. hang it! haven’t all the bookmakers got big automobiles and don’t they spend money like drunken fish? And d’you think that one of ’em Johnnies would get up on a stand to make a book if it was numbered 13? Why in the name of Mike don’t you shift him into some other stall?”
“’Cause I aint superstitious. I don’t play cards on a hunch; three aces on the deal is better’n a bobtail flush, I figger. If you don't feel like backin’ Drummer to-morrow, as we agreed, you can pull your freight. I'll run for the stake that’s three thousand, an' bet party nigh every dollar I've got myself.”
“I aint leading up to no quittin',” Owen objected; “I’m in the game to stay.”
They had dinner together at: the hotel, and in spite of the Man from the Desert’s conviction that Drummer was a certainty, Owen felt the metaphysical impact of the ill-reputed No. 13; something would happen, he knew.
Owen had been brought up in the mining West, or rather, like Topsy, he had just “growed up”; very little schooling, so his mind, bright, active, and clever, was still the mind of a boy—subject to impulse. The spirit of the West had been casual; a hunch, or a dream, or a sub-conscious belief winning lucky prospectors more fortunes than mining engineers’ scientific reports.
Owen studied the lean brown face of the Man from the Desert, and something of why his obsession failed to influence the other crept into his mind. Andrews’ mouth was like that of a jack-fish—practically no lips; it was a slit through which food was put, or from which came the workings of that machine-like mind. His eyes were cold—a greenish-blue; selfish, absolutely; seeing only the main point, the deductable possibilities.
“It’s just this way, Uncle,” Owen said; “I never sat into a game in my life feeling I ought to keep out that I didn’t lose. There’s something works here”—and he tapped his chest—“that rings like a bell on the target when I’ve a true bead. I went to see the Brooklyn Handicap run, and I got a four-ways tout on Dandelion as the winner. I went into the paddock to have a look at this pony. The horses were being led around in a ring, and every time I took a peep all I could see was a big bay mare with No. 13 on her saddle cloth—her name was ‘Tokalon.’ I got a hunch right there that I ought to back her, because it was being shoved under my nose. The reason I couldn’t see Dandelion, I learned after, was, that he hadn’t been brought into the paddock, being a bad actor. But my racing friend was a man like yourself, Uncle, all hard facts, and before we got to the books he’d talked me over. I bet five hundred on Dandelion, at three to one, and let Tokalon—who was thirty to one—run for Sweeny. Well, Tokalon beat Dandelion. You’ll find that all in the books.”
“That aint nothin’,” Andrews answered disconsolately; “she was the best hawse, that’s all, an’ had a light weight. Anyway, you’d ’ve won on thirteen that time.”
“Yes, and the hunch was that I would; to-day it’s that I’ll lose—see?”
As they rose from dinner and went out to the rotunda, Andrews began to react; the other’s persistency, his song of “Nevermore,” was actually performing the impossible. He sat down on a lounge to smoke a cigar while Owen wandered about.
IN HALF-AN-HOUR Owen came back, and sitting down beside Andrews said: “You know Ben Hawke, the bookie, don’t you, Uncle?”
“I do; but if I was asked that question by a stranger I’d say, no.”
“I guess he’s kind of like that.”
“What about him?”
“Well, we were in the bar havin’ a shot in the wrist, three or four of us, and they got talking King John to win the Woodstock Plate—”
“Yes, that’s Ben Hawke’s horse, though he runs as Pete Murphy’s.”
“When I said something about Drummer, Ben offered to lay five thousand to two against him.”
The Man from the Desert frowned. “P’raps he’s bettin’ on number thirteen too,” he said sarcastically. “Did you take the bet?”
“I didn’t tell him Drummer was in thirteen stall.”
“Nobody has to tell Ben Hawke anythin’; he’s got a couple of burglars paid to spy on every stable, an’ he knows as well as I do that Drummer can give King John ten pounds at a mi!e-’n-eighth; an’ to-morrow King John carries a hundred an’ twenty-four pounds more ’n Drummer’ll pack."
“What does he want to lay against him for?”
“Takin’ a chance, I guess. Drummer might die, or get sick, or be scratched before race time to-morrow, an’ you’d lose your bet. If the horse starts he’d probably lay it off.”
Andrews rose, saying, “There’s my trainer, Cooper; I’ve got to talk to him. I’ll see you later.”
“Come up to my room,” he said to Cooper when the two met.
In the room Andrews said: “Ben Hawke offered to lay five thousand to two against Drummer, Cooper, an’ Drummer ought to be an eight-to-five chance if he goes to the post.”
“Well, I’ll tell you, Mr. Andrews, he’s got that horsedoper, Memphis Jack, here—that’s the fellow got six months at New Orleans for night ridin’.”
“Gener’ly there aint much of that—it don’t come off more’n once in ten years; but Owen’s been croakin’ all evenin’ about Hoodoo 13; an’ I'm kinder like an’ ol’ lady at a revival meetin', I feel somethin’ pullin’ me.”
Andrews unlocked a trunk, and transferred from it to his pockets a revolver, a Yale lock, a tin of wax, and a bottle. Cooper watched this performance listlessly, comprehendingly; he mentally anticipated the Man from the Desert’s next words:
“I’ll take a taxi out to the stables. Memphis can’t pick this lock. It’s damn nonsense, but I’ll sleep better.”
“Don’t you want me to go instead?” Cooper asked.
“No, you stay here an’ keep your ears open; the gang’s about. I see Ben Hawke an’ that wire-tapper, Goener, purty thick.”
WHEN Andrews, leaving his taxi outside, walked into Stable A, he found his stableman, Jim, sitting in front of Stall 13 strumming softly an old banjo, and puffing at a very bad cigar. At sight of Andrews the darkey tried to hide the banjo behind his back.
“Better cut the music out, Jim,” Andrews admonished; “that horse’ll need all his sleep to-night—he’s got some job to-morrow.”
“De ol’ feller likes it, boss; he jes loves dat li’le tinkle-tinkle on de banjo. Guess he kinder thinks he’s down in ol’ Kentuck again. He’s a-roostin’ in de hay, now, boss, snorin’, dat’s what ‘Ol’ Reliable’s’ doin’.”
“Been anybody pokin’ ’bout, Jim?”
“No, sir, dere ain’. I’d’ve give ’em dat,” and he pointed to a hickory stable broom handle. “Dat’s for vis’tors dat ain’ no right hangin’ ’round.”
“Well, listen to me, now, Jim. You been with me a long time, aint you, nigger?”
"I has boss."
“Well, I’m dependin’ on you to-night.” He took the Yale lock from his pocket. “I’m goin’ to put this on Drummer’s door, an’ you put the key in your pocket. Here’s a pistol for you. I want you to sleep in No. 12 stall with the little mare. If you hear a noise, pop out; an’ if there’s anybody tryin’ to get to Drummer pump a bullet into him.”
“I’ll make a strainer ob him, boss.”
“An’ if anybody comes about don’t let ’em give you a drink—it’d be doped.”
“I never take a drink when I’m on de stables at night.”
“Jim there’s bad niggers an’ good niggers, but there never was a nigger that wouldn’t lie. You do take a drink; but you don’t get drunk, or I wouldn’t keep you. You’re goin’ to take a drink to-night, an’ I’m goin’ to give it to you—then no more. Here’s a dollar. You go down to the Duke of York Hotel along Queen St.—it’s only about eight blocks, an’ bring back a flask of the best Scotch.”
The darkey disappeared.
THIS order seemed a little odd as the Man from the Desert had passed the Duke of York on his way down, and there was a hotel at the course.
For the next ten minutes Andrews was a very busy man indeed in his preparations to offset the plans of whoever might want to get at Drummer.
But when Jim returned he saw a brass Yale lock on the door of 13, and Andrews was puffing stolidly at a cigar. He handed the key to Jim, saying, “Put this in your pocket, an’ don’t give it up if you have to kill a man.”
He took the flask and emptied half of its contents on the ground, tears rising to the darkey’s eyes at this wanton waste.
“There’s two drinks, Jim,” he said; “take one now, an’ one t’ward mornin’. Will you promise that?”
“Yes, sah. I guess I gits what you means, boss—dat I’ll sit up dere in dat stall all night waitin’ for dat drink.”
“If you take good care of Ol’ Reliable, he’ll win to-morrow, an’ you get a hundred dollars; an’ whatever you see, or hear, or find out, mum’s the word till I come early in the mornin’. If any pryin’ son-of-a-gun wants to pump you, you jus’ say, 'I don’t know nothin’. Don’t open up any of the stalls till I come.”
“Jes as you say, boss; I can give an oyster ten pounds in de Deef an’ Dumb Stakes when I git de straight tip.”
WHEN the Man from the Desert had gone Jim took the flask, and opening the door of Stall 12, said, in his soft, negro voice: “It’s on’y me, li’l gal—Jim. Don’ you worry none, honey, you jest go right on sleepin’.”
He stood the flask up in a corner, handling it as tenderly as if it were an orchid, muttering: “Dere you is, you red-head debbil! You stay dere till ’bout fou’ clock, or p’raps t’ree; but don’ you whistle, nor make no noise, ’cause I got to keep ma promise to de boss. You jes go sleep, li’l bottle.”
He came out again, closed the door, and taking up his banjo picked from its strings a tremulous wail. He could see along the line of stables two men squatted about a blanket shooting craps. Sometimes a voice carried to his ear: “Come on you ’leven”; sometimes a laugh, sometimes an oath.
The Scotch whisky had roused him to a mild venturesomeness; picking the banjo palled upon him. He leaned it against the stall door, and sauntered down to the players.
It was Memphis Jack, the evil mulatto, who said cheerily, “Squat down, nigger, an’ roll the bones.”
Jim held back; but the itch was on him—his fingers tingled. Mr. Andrews had said nothing about rolling the bones, and if he sat back up yonder alone, he’d keeping thinking of the whisky in the flask.
“Here, Jim, roll ’em for me agen Bill,” Memphis said; “I’ve got a little somethin’—I’ll be back in a minute.”
Memphis went down along the stable to a stall, and presently returned with a bottle in his hand.
Jim, now interested, remained in the game. But when the bottle was passed he, true to his promise, refused to drink. “No, sah, Mistah Memphis, I got to watch de winner ob de Woodstock Plate to-night, an’ I don’ mix ma licker an’ ma bus’ness,” he declared.
Memphis laughed disagreeably. “Drummer!” he sneered. “When did that ol’ cart-horse ever beat a horse like King John? I guess you’d better look out, nigger, that somebody don’t steal him an’ take him down to New York to beat Colin.”
“Dey got a mighty nice chance to steal him, Mistah Memphis, wit’ a Yale lock on de door’, wit’ de key in ma pocket, an’ a gun in de othah”; and Jim displayed the two instruments of protection. “An’ dis li’l coon’ll be right dar, sleepin’ in box 12 wit’ de li’l mare.”
Memphis shot an evil glance across the blanket at Bill, and the latter nodded.
THEY played for an hour, the gleaming cubes holding them so intense that scarce a word escaped, but, “Come on you seben—come eleben! ma bones!” and other vocabulary of the game.
Suddenly Memphis said: “Leave me out for a round—I’ll be back in a minute.”
He rose and went into a stall that held the racing accoutrements of the string of horses that were really owned by Ben Hawke, though they were nominally Murphy’s—the Murphy Stable. Here he took from his pocket a curious surgical-looking contrivance. It was a short hypodermic syringe attached to a ring.
Memphis filled this from a bottle and slipped the ring over the second finger of his right hand. The plunger lay in his palm, and the needle along beneath his finger. Memphis placed the needle point against his left hand, pressed the plunger gently by closing his right slightly, and a drop of fluid lay in his palm.
“That’s all right, Mistah Jim—that’ll give you a nice night's sleep, nigger,” and he laughed.
Then Memphis went back to the game.
Jim was rolling the dice, and threw seven. As he reached for the bones again Memphis exclaimed angrily: “Here, nigger, you lose the bones; you jus’ rolled five—this aint the first round!”
With both hands tie grasped the hand that covered the dice, and drove the needle into a finger.
Jim, with a cry of pain, cried: “What de debbil you got in you’ han’, yeller man—a razor? What you stick in ma fingah, Memphis?”
“I aint got nothin’; mus’ be my fingah nail scratch you? Why you don’t let go the bones?”
“How I goin’ let go when you squeeze ma han’, yeller man?”
Finally Jim got his hand free and looked at his finger by the light of the flickering stable lamp. “It was jes de same’s a bee stung me,” he said.
“Guess it was thistle out of the hay hangin’ to this blanket,” Bill suggested.
Jim put the finger in his mouth and sucked it. “Mought’ve been a damn wasp fell out de hay—it stings,” he grunted between pulls at the finger with his thick lips. “Guess I’ll go up de stable an’ put some arnica on it; I’m gettin’ kind ob sleepy.”
He gathered up the silver that was his stake and slouched back to Stall 12.
“That nigger’ll be dead to the world in twenty minutes,” Memphis declared; “then we’ll get that key.”
THE two had a pull at the bottle, and, turning out the stable lamp, sat plotting for half-an-hour. Then they rose, slipped quietly along and entered the stall where Jim lay sleeping under the effects of the drug. They closed the door behind them, and Memphis found the key to the Yale lock. Then the two men came out, closed the door again, and the mulatto said: “I’ll go up to the Duke of York and phone Ben to make sure that ol’ guy an’ Cooper’s in bed; if they’re fixed for the night we’ll wait an hour an’ then give Drummer his joy ride. I’d phone from the hotel here, but there’s a lot of fellers in the bar and what they don’t see they can’t tell.”
In twenty minutes Memphis was back.
“I got Ben all right,” he said to Bill, “an’ he says that both of ’em is in the hay. In about half-an-hour you take a saddle, a comb, a brush, an’ a couple of cloths to dry Drummer out over to that little patch of trees in behind the old mill. Drummer’ll win the Woodstock Plate tomorrow—I guess not. I owe that ol’ whiskered son-of-a-gun somethin’. It was that ol’ thief got me sent down.”
“Don’t break Drummer down, Jack,” the other man said in low tones; “just gallop him till he’s tired. The Davies Course is heavy, but the goin’s good. Give him about four miles at a stiff clip, that’ll take the edge off him.”
“I aint got nothin’ agen the horse,” Memphis answered; “but if it was that ol’ wall-eyed son-of-a-gun that owns him I’d slit his throat.”
It was still dark, though a faint tint of silver in the eastern sky suggested that a moon was climbing just beyond the hills, when Memphis silently unlocked the door of Stall 13, speaking softly to soothe the horse as he entered.
At a flicker of the electric light he carried, the chestnut, sensing a stranger, canted to his feet.
Memphis shut off the light, slipped a bridle over the horse’s head, and led him out, locking the door behind him; out through the corner gate on to Queen Street he went, and along to where Bill waited with a saddle in the shadow of trees.
“The Davies Course is about three miles from here,” Bill said, “and you ought to be back in an hour-an’-a-half. Walk him all the way back, Jack, to let him cool out.”
“He won’t take no holdin’ cornin’ home,” Memphis sneered. “I’ll have to keep him goin’ after I’ve done with him in the gallop. Four miles with a hundred an’ fifty on his back’ll take the ginger out of him, I guess.”
“Don’t mark him with whip or spur,” Bill cautioned. “When old Andrews finds him in the mornin’ too tired to eat, his new Yale lock all nice in place an’ the key in nigger Jim’s pocket, he’ll just think Drummer’s got botts, or flu, or indigestion. I’ll be here when you come back, Jack. Now up you go.”
MEMPHIS lifted to the saddle, and, keeping to the back streets, trotting and cantering, he swung along to the Davies track. When he came to the C.P.R. track at Leaside, he knew he was almost there.
Presently he turned through a gate that yielded to his lift of the latch, and a quarter of a mile farther on, across fields, a second gate in a board fence that surrounded the little three-quarter-mile track was also not locked.
The moon had now topped the trees that bordered the farm, throwing a mystic glamor over the course. It was an ideal spot for this stolen night ride; the track was high and dry but sandy; there was a board fence on the outside and a low, white-painted rail on the inside.
Memphis laughed evilly as he knotted the bridle rein to the right length for his grip, and hunching the horse with his knees broke him into a canter, and then, with a tickle of the spurs, into a gallop. Round the egg-like oval the big chestnut was driven.
And presently the thunder of his hoofs carried to the ears of two ladies who lived in a little house near the entrance to the track. They raised chickens and supervised the track.
Through a window they saw the mysterious rider flash past in the ghostly moonlight, and, being capable, they quickly dressed and slipped out to the track.
As Memphis swung up the home stretch in his fourth round suddenly an electric searchlight blared at him right in the middle of the track, and his mount startled, propped. So precipitate was the stoppage that the mulatto all but went over his horse’s head, and his cap flew off.
Pulling himself back in the saddle, his startled eyes beheld a disconcerting vision. He would have laughed if he hadn’t been so angry at the interruption.
The two women, gray-haired, wore riding breeches, top boots, and serviceable jackets. One of them, held a flashlight and the other an automatic pistol. Memphis could see the weapon, though it was held down at the possessor’s side.
“Get cut of the way, there, you two, or I’ll gallop you down, you fools!” he cursed brutally.
A placid, cultured voice answered him: “What are you doing on this track? This is private property, and you have no business here.”
“Do you happen to be Bob Davies’s grandmother?” Memphis sneered.
One of the women stepped forward, and turning the lapel of her jacket, showed a silver badge.
“I’m in charge of this track; I’m a special constable; and if I have any more insolence from you we’ll lock you up and phone for a policeman. What are you doing here?”
Memphis could see the right hand of the other woman come up to a horizontal position; and the steel barrel of the automatic looked cold and merciless in the moonlight. He was a quick-witted crook, and he realized that with these quiet ladies bluff was of no value. His one object now was to get away quietly. He had galloped the horse four rounds, three miles instead of four, but it would be enough.
“I was only exercisin’ my hoss so the clockers wouldn’t time him,” he answered solemnly; “I wasn’t doin’ no harm to this ol’ dirt track. If you’ll please hand me up that cap I’ll take him back to the stables. I didn’t think there was no harm in jus’ workin’ my hoss here.”
ONE of the women picked up the cap and putting it in a pocket, said, as she flashed the electric light full in the mulatto’s face:
“I think there’s something wrong about this, mister, and I’ll just keep the cap to identify you. I’ll know your face again, too.”
A cold chill shot up the mulatto’s back. “Gimme the cap,” he pleaded; “I aint doin’ no harm.”
"No!” the woman answered decisively. “And if you don’t get off this course at once I’ll make you dismount, march you into the house and lock you up in a room. I should do that anyway.”
Memphis knew he was beaten; those self-possessed sisters would not yield, he could see; even if he got the better of a struggle it would lead to a police case.
“I’ll go,” he declared, “but you aint got no business to keep my cap—I aint doin’ no harm.”
He turned the horse and passed through the gate.
Dreading that they might get busy over the phone he trotted and cantered back instead of walking the horse, so the chestnut was still in a lather of sweat when he came to the little bluff of trees. The two men worked with feverish haste trying to dry him out, Memphis even stripping off his shirt to use as an extra cloth. Then the tired horse was led back to Stall 13, Memphis scraping out his hoofs with a knife-hook to remove the traces of dirt .
Just as he had cleaned the fourth hoof a noise startled him. He sprang to the door, opened it on a crack, and peeped out; but there was nobody in sight. In his startled haste he had dropped his knife in the deep bedding; but he dared not flash his light to find it, and a hurried groping failed to locate it.
Cursing softly he slipped out, locked the door, popped 12, and put the key in nigger Jim’s pocket. Then he discovered what the startling noise had been—it was Jim moaning and tossing about in his drugged sleep.
IN THE morning the sporting page of two papers declared that the Woodstock Plate, the historic race that had been run for over twenty-five years, lay between King John and Drummer. But in the noon papers there was an ominous note by the sporting editor that Drummer might not be a starter in the Woodstock Plate—that he had not been out for a gallop that morning; that he was reported sick, that there seemed to be some sort of mystery about the matter, because his trainer. Cooper, declared he would start.
Twenty minutes before the first race Judge Frank drew the Man from the Desert to one side in the Club Enclosure, and said:
“Now, Andrews, all we want here is straight racing. We don’t take any interest in the betting except, when it stops the horses. Of course Cooper is registered as the owner of that stable—that complies with the racing rules but: you finance him, to say the least. Both of you have had knocks in the South—that I’ve got nothing to do with; but here we try to keep the racing as clean as we can. If a man races to win here we don’t meddle with him unless he’s been reported to the Club, then we’ve got to.”
“I know, judge, all ’bout that; my hawses win whenever they can up here. What've I been accused of?”
“Nothing: if you had I wouldn’t be talking to you, it would be a matter for the stewards. This is unofficial advice. Drummer is a logical contender with King John in the Woodstock Plate; don’t you think he is?”
“I don’t think he’s a contender, I think he’s a the winner, judge.”
“He wasn’t out of the stable this morning, and he’s reported sick. If a man starts a horse that’s sick in that race, the books’ll know it and they’d just steal from the public the money bet on him, and we’re here to protect our patrons.”
“The hawse aint sick; if he’d been sick I’d scratched him before one o’clock. Cooper doesn’t work all his hawses every mornin’, an’ when one of 'em’s to go in a race he often don’t gallop that one. Drummer didn’t get a work-out ’cause he didn’t need it. I leave that matter to the trainer, an’ Cooper says Drummer’s fit’s a fiddle. He’s a sluggish hawse an’ would benefit more by feelin’ keen than he would be a gallop.”
“Well, Andrews,” Judge Frank said, with a friendly smile: “I’m just advising you that if Drummer starts and runs a bad race Cooper is going to be on the carpet; and the least he’ll get, unless he can clear himself, will be that he will be told to take his horses away.”
“But, judge, the purse ’s worth nigh three thousand bucks, an’ I’m goin’ to bet all I can afford, a thousand, on him. An’ a friend of mine is goin’ to bet three or four thousand on him. How could I make anythin’ by havin’ him down the course at the finish?”
“All right, Andrews, I’ve had my say: I know this will be talked over by the stewards, and I’ll tell them what you say.”
“You tell ’em from me that Drummer’ll win; if he doesn’t you tell Cooper to take his stable away—an’ that’s a bet. I’m much obliged to you, judge, for your square deal.”
THE Man from the Desert had scarce escaped from Judge Frank’s inquisition when he was beset by Owen. That young gentleman’s usually smiling face was sardonic in its deep gloom.
“What’s all this in the paper about Drummer, uncle?”
“’Taint nothin’ but bunk.”
“But. it’s all over the paddock.”
“The touts in the paddock don’t win my races, my boy,” Andrews answered curtly.
“Look here, Mr. Andrews,” Owen said, "a nigger that’s put me on to two or three good winners at this meeting says there’s something doing.”
“What does he say is doin’, this nigger?”
“He says that Drummer was stole out of his stall last night and galloped, and that King John is a certainty—a ten-to-one-on chance."
“They couldn’t’ve galloped my hawse without my knowin’ it, young man. There was a Yale lock on the door, and the key was in my stableman’s pocket; that lock was all good and tight this morning, the key was still in Jim’s pocket, an’ I had the other one. If you can’t take my word that Drummer’ll win the Woodstock Plate, you’d best foller that nigger’s tip; then, I guess, you’ll find that thirteen is your hoodoo.”
Strangely enough this last sentence had the opposite effect from that intended. The wording of thirteen hoodoo struck Owen full on his superstition bump. By gad! that was the very thing. Here was what was hanging in abeyance when he discovered that unlucky number. And against everything, his subconscious conviction, the rumors of the paddock, and his knowledge that Drummer had not been on the course in the morning, was just the old patriarch’s word that his horse would win. Ab Alden had warned him that Andrews was a deep one, that there was no fathoming him. And there had been something suspicious about Lady Gay’s race in Mount Royal when the jockeys were shifted by the stewards.
“Well, uncle,” he said after a little pondering. “I don’t like it any more than if I was going to marry a girl I’d never seen—it’s too much in the dark. If I can get over that feeling I’ll bet two thousand on Drummer. I’ll tell you what I’ve done as they go to the post, so you’ll know whether you’re on or not.”
“Well, here’s just a word of advice to you, young man, ’cause I don’t claim to dislike you none. If you won’t bet on Drummer don’t bet on King John, then you can’t lose. If I felt that number thirteen had hoodooed a race for me I’d leave it alone. I wouldn’t try to pick the winner out of ’bout ten other starters.”
As Owen walked away the fish eyes of the old man followed him with almost a look of friendliness in them. He took two or three quick steps as though he would overtake the other; then he checked,, muttering: “No, I’m hanged if it’s up to me to tell my bus’ness to anybody! Somethin’ might go wrong, anyway, an’ if it does I’ll have troubles enough.”
THE rumor was certainly all over the paddock and betting ring. Drummer was most effectually disparaged; men spoke in low tones to each other that the race was all set for King John to win. Goldcrest was second choice; even Mike Daley’s Leather Stockings found backers, because old Mike was a wise guy who always had something up his sleeve.
The Woodstock Plate was the third race.
When Drummer was led up from stable A to the paddock, he, was clothed in a heavy blanket, and was taken directly into the little railed-in circle and there led round and round by Jim. He was a sleepy looking horse at all times, but now he plodded as though he walked in a dream,, oblivious of everything. His dejected, heavy air seemed to substantiate the many versions that were related of his condition.
Trainer Cooper stood at the entrance to the saddling stall seemingly disinterested, morose. To one or two questions from friends he answered curtly: “My horses ought to have a good chance; he likes the distance."
They would have liked to have asked, “Is he well?” or, “Has he been got at?” but hesitated. There was something in the set of Cooper’s square jaw that suggested he was not in the best of humors. It confirmed the general suspicion that something was wrong.
And the horse had travelled out m the betting; at first he was two to one against; now he was four to one.
A young man came from the betting ring and showed Cooper his race card with the odds marked on it. King John was six to five, Goldcrest two to one, and Drummer at fours. Cooper glanced at the card and then turned his head away as though not interested.
In the same circle of curious men that fronted the stall one said to another: “Did you see that? They’re not backing him; that’s his betting commissioner, and there’s no sign of a stable play. Drummer is off, or isn’t meant to-day.”
“Yes, looks like it, shouldn’t wonder if that foxy old salamander that really owns the stable isn’t betting on King John. I’m going to play the favorite, anyway.”
AT THIS time Andrews elbowed his way into the betting ring, glanced up and down the double row of bookmakers, and then pushed on till he stood in front of Ben Hawke, who was on the block in front of his betting stand. On the blackboard beside Hawke was chalked, 4 1/2 in front of Drummer’s name—the horse was 4 1/2 to 1.
The Man from the Desert drew a little fold of bills from his trousers pocket, and passing them to Hawke said, “A thousand on Drummer.”
Hawke turned and scanned the betting sheet, asking, “How is Drummer, George?”
“Very little in on him,” the sheet writer answered.
“Four thousand and a half to a thousand, Drummer,” Hawke called, passing the money back to the cashier.
As he handed the ticket to Andrews he said in a low voice: “Step around to the back; I want to speak to you.”
Andrews went to the back of the box, and Hawke, leaning over the rail, till his mouth was close to the patriarch’s ear, said: “If the horse you call Drummer wins this race, I’m going to have the stewards make you prove that it is Drummer; see, old man. The real Drummer never could beat King John, but you aint got Drummer there, you’ve only got his name.”
“You mean, Ben,” Andrews answered back in as low a voice as the other’s, “the stewards ’ll have to prove this aint Drummer—that’s what you mean; an’ they can’t do it, ’cause there aint no other—this is the only hawse o’ that name.”
Andrews had drawn a cap from his pocket. He held it up so that Hawke could see it, saying:
“If, when my hawse wins this race, you don’t cash this ticket without any howl, the stewards’re going to ask you why your yellow man, Memphis Jack, stole my hawse out of his stall last night an’ galloped him on the Davies track.”
“That’s a lie, Andrews; Memphis didn’t.”
“This mornin’ when I found he had drugged my man, Jim, las’ night, an’ found in the hawse’s hoof the wax I’d put there with gravel in it, an’ I picked up from the straw this knife of Memphis’s, I knew he’d been night rode.” Andrews held up in his palm the knife the mulatto had lost. “I guessed they had galloped him on the Davies track, so’s not to be seen, an so’s not to break the hawse down. I took a trip over there an’ found two ol' gals that’d seen Memphis an’ the chestnut gallopin’. They gave me this cap, an’ it belongs to Memphis. They seen him close up with a flashlight, an’ if he’s brought face to face with ’em, they’ll swear to it.”
Consternation sat on Hawke’s evil face. “Just a bluff!” he snarled.
“’Taint no bluff. You take my tip, Ben Hawke, an’ don’t start no trouble”; and Andrews, putting the cap in his pocket, pushed through the crowd, colliding with Owen as the latter elbowed his way in.
“You’d better back my hawse, Mr. Owen,” Andrews said quietly, “’cause he’s goin’ to win.”
THE young man hesitated, looked into the stolid eyes of the Man from the Desert, and said: “I wasn’t going to, Uncle—I tell you straight; but you’re so cocksure, I guess I will.”
Again the old man half turned, as though he would detain Owen. There was a spasmodic twist to the leather face as if he were fighting out something mentally; but the surging maelstrom of eager bettors had swallowed up the athletic mining man, and Andrews pushed on out to the lawn, muttering: “His funeral aint mine, anyway. Over seven thousand in bets an' stakes aint so bad—’taint so bad at all!”
Owen brought up against Ab Alden s stand.
“What d’you want, Owen?” Ab asked, grinning at the handful of bills the young man held.
“What about Drummer, Ab?" Owen asked in a whisper, as, grasping the box, he lifted himself to the bench at the bookmaker’s side.
“Don’t you touch him! My clocker tells me that he was night-rode last night; it’s leaked. Leave the race alone, kid; there aint no money for Drummer, it’s all King John.”
Owen shoved the bills back in his pocket, and buffeting his way out, saw the string of thoroughbreds winding its way from the paddock gate on to the course.
Just as he came to the little turnstile that admitted to the Club Enclosure, he saw nigger Jim with his eyes riveted on No. 4, the Drummer. The horses were opposite the Club lawn and the 48th Highlanders band was playing The Swanee River. Drummer stopped, raised his head, and looked across to the lawn as though he were drinking in the sweet strains.
Nigger Jim clapped his hand on his thigh, and wheeling in an ecstacy of joy saw Owen.
“Look at dat ol’ hoss, Mr. Owen—jes look at him! He’s jes’ lubs de music; he’s a human, he is—he aint no animal. I can put him to sleep mos’ any time tinklin’ de ol’ banjo. He t’inks he’s had a dream an’ is back in ol’ Kentuck. Good Lor’! Won’t he jes’ tow-rope ’em mules home in dis race.”
OWEN swung through the turnstile, and casting his eyes up to the Club Stand saw Andrews sitting placidly on a top step, the field glasses hanging idly in his hand.
As Owen took a seat beside the Man from the Desert he grinned sheepishly and said, with hesitation: “I aint touched the race, Uncle. Ab tells me—” he lowered his voice to a whisper—“that he got a straight tip that somebody stole Drummer out of his stall and night-rode him.”
Owen had expected to see Andrews start at this; but the latter answered quietly, without taking his eye from the horses that were now going down to the post, “Ab’s a purty smart feller—there aint much goes on that he don’t know.”
That was all.
Owen studied the grim, white-whiskered face. What was behind that mask? Andrews hadn’t denied that the horse had been night-riden. Did he think that in spite of that Drummer could win? Or was it all some devilish plant between the crooked bunch that owned King John and this old, subtle manipulator of events? Had Andrews taken offence at something Owen had done, and was trying to make him dump two thousand dollars into the coffers of the bookmakers? The two thousand would go to Ben Hawke, for his odds against Drummer were half a point longer than that of any other book, and Owen would have taken the longest odds.
He felt that, considering all these devilish things, he was well out of it in leaving the race alone. Good old No. 13 had probably saved him.
THE race was a mile and an eighth, and the horses were now lined up behind the barrier near the bottom of the stretch run.
Three times a quiver ran over the little sea of humans in the stand, and men sprang to their feet; but three times it was the erratic Goldcrest breaking through—no start.
Owen, watching, could see that the big chestnut, Drummer, had stood quiet, or been turned around by his jockey. Once there was a mix-up like a tangle of many colored ribbons; Goldcrest had lashed out with his heels, and landed fair in the ribs of another horse. But Jockey Kelly had swung the obedient Drummer clear of the fracas, and the big chestnut stood behind the mob waiting til! he would be urged into place again.
There! Owen saw the green jacket on Drummer flatten down to the horse’s withers, one green arm swished a whip, the sleepy chestnut sprang forward as if galvanized into life, the web shot upward, and cries of, “They’re off!” went up.
The chestnut that had stood somnolently at the post was racing with the leaders; four horses almost abreast were being driven with whip and spur for the rail position—the shortest way home of the circuit.
Now they could hear the thunder of many hoofs; the windlashed silk jackets fluttered and crackled like many-colored flags as the ten horses flooded past the stand on their way around that mile loop.
Drummer was lapped on the horse that lay next the rail, Goldcrest, and as they swung around the sharp upper turn, Owen saw Kelly pull the big chestnut back and inward till his head nodded at the switching tail of Goldcrest.
“That’s some ridin’, boy,” Andrews muttered from beneath his levelled glasses. “I told him Goldcrest couldn’t go the route but would get the lead. Goldcrest when he tires about the lower turn there’ll swing wide—he’s got a heart like a mushmelon; then you’ll see somethin’, Mr. Owen, ’cause Drummer’ll only be getting warmed up then—he’s a cold-blooded fish.”
Down the back stretch, straight across from the Stand, the ten horses galloped, some beginning to trail already; the terrific pace Goldcrest had set was beginning to tell on the horses that weren’t quite good enough.
King John, a bay with a white face, who had been partly cut off at the upper turn, was now threading his way through the strung-out horses. He was in sixth place; now he was fifth; then he had passed the fourth horse and his nose was at Drummer’s quarter.
“King John’s overhauling Drummer!” Owen said.
“Coyn is ridin’ King John, he’s hustlin’ him, an’ Kelly is sittin’ still on my hawse,” the dry, alkaline voice rasped.
AROUND the lower turn they swung, still carried at that fierce pace by Goldcrest, who now had drawn out into a lead of a length.
Down on the lawn a strained, nervous bettor cried: “There comes Goldcrest, you buy! He’ll get all this dough!”
And King John’s head was at Drummer’s girth.
Somebody, a step lower than Owen, said: “Drummer’s tiring—King John’s got him now; Goldcrest can’t win!”
There was a shuffling wait of intensity, a scraping of feet, a craning of necks, as the horses took the turn into the stretch. It was curiously like the fade-out in a moving picture, for instead of the brown figure of Goldcrest next the rail was the chestnut form of Drummer. And beside him, edging in between him and Goldcrest was the bay, King John.
Andrews lowered his glasses, and his flat-toned eyes rested quizzically on Owen as he drawled.
“That thirteen was a hoodoo, young man.”
“Is Drummer beat?”
“No; he can’t lose now. Any time Drummer’s got the lead and the rail comin’ in to the stretch there aint no hawse at this track can reach the tape first. I mean thirteen was your hoodoo, not mine.”
Owen raised his glasses again, cursing softly under his breath. Yes, the Man from the Desert was right. Kelly was sitting hunched like a monkey, not a move of his arms, but his face turned sideways, watching that King John did not creep up on him.
The boy on King John was riding with whip and spur; but now the big galloping chestnut had opened up a lead of a length; and as they flashed past the Judges’ Stand it was two lengths.
The horse of the evil rumor had won.
WHEN they had weighed in, and Drummer, blanketed, was being led to his stable by the grinning Jim, Andrews said: “Jus’ wait for me, young man. I’ve got a little ticket here, an’ if Ben Hawke cashes it without no kick I want to show you somethin’.”
In five minutes the Man from the Desert was back, the money in his pocket, and saying, “Come with me, Mr. Owen,” led the way down to Stable A.
There Andrews drew a key from his pocket and unlocked Stall 11. He motioned Owen to enter, and followed closing the door.
He drew a medicine bottle from his pocket, and turned the chestnut horse that was there, about. He dampened a sponge from the bottle and rubbed the forehead of the horse that was plain chestnut, and, as he rubbed, a white mark, a cloven hoof, appeared. Then he stepped back and said:
“Mr. Owen, this is the hawse they nightrode, Red Devil. I kinder thought there was something doin’, an’ I changed Drummer an’ Red Devil into each other’s stalls. The hawses is like twins except that Drummer aint got no star in his forehead. I figured that if Ben Hawke believed Drummer had heen night-rode he’d stretch his odds considerable. I was leavin’ this dyed, not knowin’ but I might need it as evidence, but I guess Ben’s quit.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this before the race, Uncle?” Owen asked, reproach in his voice.
“I nigh did, twice; but I figgered if you didn’t believe me when I told you he’d win, you wouldn’t take no stock in this yarn. I needed to have somethin’ on Ben Hawke, an’ if there’d been a leak, an’ he was had up, he’d a tried to get back at me with somelie.”
“It was my own fault, Uncle; but when wise-guy Ab was fooled, I aint so bad. It was hoodoo thirteen—that’s what it was,” Owen answered generously.