Old Judge Hallowell
They called him an old billygoat but a billygoat is a very wise quadruped
FRANK MANN HARRIS
WHEN THE word got spread about that this here young A. G. Van Pole was intending to race his stable in these parts it naturally caused considerable talk, because the name of Van Pole swung pretty near as much weight in racing circles those days as Rockefeller’s does in the oil racket. Barring an occasional shot at big pots like the Preakness or Derby, the Van Pole horses had always stuck around the metropolitan tracks pretty exclusive, so of course it was large news for any of them to be shipping here, although maybe the folks might have taken it more calmly if they had known then that this A. G. Van Pole was as popular with the rest of the family as measles would be to a fan dancer.
Anyway, the morning the horses arrive at the track there is quite a crowd gathered to watch them come in. I am there taking a look myself, for no particular reason, and I spot this young Van Pole immediately, which is not so hard to do at that, as he is very large and noticeable and dressed in a manner by no means noiseless, and he is ordering the help around loud and important so that even a blind man cannot mistake who is the Big Finger of the outfit. There is a meek little middle-aged weasel along with him, who I take to be his trainer on account he wears that patient look customary with guys that have to train for rich eggs that imagine they know more about horses than the man that wrote the Stud Book.
While we are standing there watching, Judge Hallowell, making his morning rounds of the track as usual, comes drifting through the crowd. He goes right up to young Van Pole and sticks out his fin.
“Iam proud and happy to welcome you, sir,” he says in his old-fashioned style. “It is indeed a great pleasure. I had the honor of knowing your father when he was alive.”
Of course Van Pole did not know the judge from Adam’s off ox, but that was no excuse for the patronizing look he handed him and the kidding way he answered.
“So you knew the old man, did you?” he says, taking no notice of the outstretched hand. “Well, well, well, who would ever have thought it? Probably you knew grandpaw and great-grandpappy as well.”
HE CUTS loose one of those big empty laughs that sort of set your teeth on edge and looks around for applause. The old judge draws himself up to his full height of maybe five foot six, and his face reminds me of my fighting cock when he hears a stranger crow.
“Yes, sir,-I did know your grandfather, too,” he says very chilly. “Many’s the bottle of horse liniment I bought from him when he used to peddle it around the stables in the old days. I wish you a very good morning, sir.”
With that he turns on his heel and walks away, stiff as a ramrod. Van Pole lets out another hollow laugh, but I can see his neck is red as a gobbler’s, the crack about the way the family fortune was started having caught him in an ouchy spot.
“Who is the old billygoat anyway?” he asks, and somebody informs him that Judge Hallowell is our presiding steward.
“Haw, haw, haw,” Van Pole laughs. “I knew we were coming to the sticks, but I didn’t expect to bust right into the middle of the Pikestown County Fair.”
The answering laugh from the crowd is sort of feeble, so Van Pole tears in to raising Cain with his trainer and swipes for not getting the stock stabled quicker. The show appearing to be over, I leave, mentally thanking all the saints that up to now I have managed to eat fairly regular without having to take orders from the likes of him, big money or no big money.
On my way up to the track I overtake the judge. He seems to have cooled out all right.
“Good morning, William,” he greets me. “I trust I see you fit and well this beautiful day.”
“Fit as a Derby winner, thanks,” I tell him. “How are you making it yourself, judge?”
“I am ashamed of myself, William,” he says, shaking his head. “I have just let a young whippersnapper anger me into saying things I shouldn’t have said.”
“I was there, judge,” I says, “and you didn’t give the big ape half enough.”
“Strangely enough, William,” he says, “his father, Henry Van Pole, was a gentleman and a sportsman in every way. His brothers, too, they tell me, are very fine chaps. Why should that be?”
“Well,” I says, “I have seen different streams flow out of the same lake, and some of them will be clear as glass, and some black and muddy.”
“That is true, William,” he says. “Very true. Still, I shouldn’t have allowed myself to fly off the handle as I did.
Never let your temper get the better of you, William; it is worse than even hard liquor for making your tongue say things your better judgment will afterward regret. But enough of that. How is that Falstaff colt of yours doing?” “Why,” I says, “I have practically had to grow a new leg on him, but he is coming along pretty fair now. I will get him to the races one of these days.”
“If he runs to his breeding he should do something in some of the spring stakes,” the judge says.
“He will hardly be ready that soon,” I tell him, “but in the late summer or early fall he might do a bit of running.” “That is right, be patient with him,” the judge says. “He is royally bred, and blood still counts—even in these days it still counts.”
EVERY ONCE in a while some fresh young punk in the jocks’ room would suggest taking up a collection to buy Judge Hallowell a dog to lead the judge around. This was always good for a large laugh because, for a fact, the judge did look as if he had gone to school with the Methuselah family. I have no idea how old he really was, but he had been presiding steward around the circuit for so long that a meeting without his little chin whiskers waving in the breeze over the pagoda rail would have seemed as queer as starting a race without a fat bugler blowing sour notes out of a brass horn.
Those of us who knew him best had few doubts about his ability to see anything that was going on. Personally I had respected the judge’s eyesight ever since the time when 1 was riding myself and he set me down for thirty days so quick it made my head spin, just for running a horse that wasn’t supposed to win into a nice little pocket away over on the back stretch, where I didn’t think it could be seen even with a telescope.
And after I got too heavy for the saddle and started running a few of my own, I soon discovered that the judge knew all the answers. I have a horse in a race that I am not ready to bet on that day, so I tell the kid not to burst no blood vessels encouraging him. The numbers are hardly up on the board when the judge has me up in the stand.
“William,” he says—he was the only one that ever gave me my full name—“William, if that horse of yours ran as well as he could, you should have your license taken away as you are not fit to condition horses. If it was something else —well, I am warning you that from now on I expect to see every horse of yours trying all the way from barrier to wire, no matter if he is in front or absolutely last. I shan’t tell you again.”
After that, when the judge was around, I never let myself stray off the straight and narrow, or anyway not very far.
So, like I was saying, the judge was pretty much of a permanent fixture around the circuit, and nobody ever thought of having it any different, at least not seriously. Now and then you might hear somebody wondering if the old fellow ever would retire, but he just went along as usual, running things to suit his own sweet self, pretty much a one-man show because all the other stewards were practically nothing but stooges, looking grand and impressive but not actually counting any more than the joker in a bridge deck.
But this summer that Van Pole raced here I commenced to notice quite a lot of talk about it being time for the old judge to go and stick his cue in the rack. There were an awful lot of new faces among the owners that year. Money came like it flowed out of a tap then, and it seemed like a guy no sooner learned how to read the ticker tape real good than he must bust into horse-racing.
And Van Pole was a big shot among these Johnny-comelatelys. The regular horsemen didn’t appear to have any large amount of use for him, but with this noisy-spending gang that didn’t know whether you feed a horse oats or gasoline and who wouldn’t have thought any more of Alan o’ War than a dime-a-dozen plater so long as they could win a bet, he was a large he-coon. So I suspected that most of this talk about Judge Hallowell being too ancient for his job originated with Mr. Van Pole. He hadn’t forgot the way the judge had put the bee on him that first day; and the two of them had locked horns soon afterward one day when Van Pole drops a horse into a claiming race about SI,000 cheaper than he was worth, and then goes rushing to the stand hollering like a wolf when somebody reaches in and grabs him.
“Mr. Van Pole,” they tell me the judge says to him, “that claim was perfectly in order and it stands as made. And I might say that among sportsmen it isn’t considered quite the fair thing for a wealthy man to run horses in cheap claiming races which are designed for the benefit of the smaller and less fortunate owners.”
So it was hardly any wonder if Van Pole was gunning for the old gentleman. However it wasn’t any gravy spots on my vest that I could see. Anyways, I had troubles enough of my own trying to get by.
THIS FALSTAFF colt was a swell-bred thing that I had picked up cheap when he bowed a tendon as a two-yearold. I had worked like a loving mother on him till the leg appeared to be as good as new. He had galloped sound, and stood up all right when I asked him for a little speed. I am hoping for big things from him, but naturally I want to see him in a race before I get too high on him. So over at Fort Erie one afternoon I shove him in with some fair opposition, and he just giggles home by two lengthswith his mouth wide open.
“What was he like?” I ask Johnny McElroy, who rode him, after the race.
“Take a look at my hands,” Johnny says. “The blood ain’t circulating yet. If I don’t have him back in my lap all the way from the half-mile ground home, he would of win by as far as you can throw a rock.”
That night Van Pole comes to me in the lobby of the hotel.
“How much do you want for that beagle of yours? he asks.
“I am not in the dog business,” I reply.
“Don’t be a sap,” he says. “I mean that thing that wins for you this afternoon.”
“He ain’t for sale,” I tell him.
“Everything is for sale at the right price,” he says. “Will ten grand buy him?” “It will not,” I answer. “You can’t keep a fast
horse in a poor man’s bam,” he says in an annoying tone.
“I read that one out of the same book you did,” I says. “But I can try and keep this one for a little while anyway. Come and talk to me after he has won the Corinthian.” “That thing van the Corinthian,” he sneers. “You make me laugh.”
“Well, I won’t charge you for the laugh,” I says. “Now go and peddle your fish somewheres else, because as far as the colt is concerned it is no dice.”
T DID NOT start the colt at Windsor, not wanting to risk Jgetting him cut down or injured in a race. The Corinthian is the biggest three-year-old stake of the fall season, and I am aiming straight for it, giving the horse a prep, that is the father and mother of all preps. I am not doing so bad with my other horses, and all the dough I can lay hands on I am sinking away, because 1 am certain I have something real good, and I intend to try and make me a real clean-up for once.
After dark one night I am coming along the alleyway between two rows of stables, and I hear a yell and see something bright flash in the moonlight. I reach out just, in time to grab a big Guinea’s hand with a long knife in it. Having a sort of a prejudice against knife-fighting, I twist the hand till it lets go and then put the boots to the big Guinea till he takes it on the lam.
“Keep on running till you hit the river and then swim acrost,” I holler after him. “And don’t come back, because we hang guys like you on this side.”
Then I look to see what it. is that is moaning and groaning in a heap at my feet. It is a little snowball, and from the noise he is making I think he will probably live. I lug him to my tackroom and turn on the light. The snowball is carved a bit here and there, but nothing serious, so I bandage him up. When the blood is wiped away I recognize him as one of Van Pole’s colored swipes. He has made the mistake of getting too lucky in a friendly crap game, and the big Guinea has tried to declare a dividend with the knife. After patching him up 1 give him a small drink for the good of his nerves, and take a large one for the good of my own. Then I send him on his way with the warning to always walk where it is bright when in the money.
The next day he shows up at my stable to thank me, and he is about the gratefullest snowball I ever did see. He appears to think I saved his life or something, and from then on he is around me morning, noon and night, trying to tell me what a grand guy I am. He gets to be something of a pest, and I would probably have told him to blow but I do not like to hurt his feelings. I am sort of funny that way.
One day, after the Falstaff colt has worked awful fast, this snowball asks me something.
“Alisto Gunn,” he says, “what for you don’t start that there colt? ’Pears to me he is a powerful fit horse.”
“Him?” I says. “Why, I’m saving him.”
“What you saving him for?” he asks. “Christmas dinner? “No,” I says, “but I will get plenty of Christmas dinners out of him. That colt is going to win the Corinthian Stakes.” “C’rinthian?” the snowball says. “ ’At big three-year-old stake, you mean?”
“That’s the one,” I says.
THE SNOWBALL shakes his fuzzy black head. “Don’t you evuh go betting yo’ money on ’at, Misto Gunn,” he says. “No, suh. Mighty fine colt, ’at colt, but he ain’t going to win no C’rinthian. Misto Van Pole got ’at race sewed up like a chicken in a coop.”
“Van Pole,” I says. “Why, he hasn’t got a three-year-old that can make this colt get out of a strong pull.”
The snowball comes close to me and speaks low. “You been mighty good to me, Misto Gunn. Now, if I tell you something you won’t tell nobody else?”
I promise that I will keep quiet.
“You evah see ’at big bay horse we got in the bam?” he says. “Been heah ’bout three-four weeks. That horse really can run. They work him very early in the momin’, and every time he works they put a big heavy boy on him, and twenty pounds lead in saddle as well. Even then he works mile in one thutty-nine. Don’t you go betting yoh money against him, no suh.”
Naturally I am interested, and I ask the snowball why, if this horse is such a ball of fire, he hasn’t ever done anything.
“Don’t forget you say you not tell no one,” he says. “You remembah ’at two-year-old they call Brother Amos that win all ’em big races in New Yohk? Well, this here is Brother Amos.”
“Why,” I says, “I heard that he got cut down so bad he had to be destroyed.”
“No, suh, not him,” the snowball answers. “He cut mighty bad, jus’ like me, but they don’t destroy him. Misto Van Pole’s brother, he own that colt, and ship him to Lexin’ton. Cullud man down there, he nurse ’at colt and make him good as new. Now he here, and he can run ovah the moon.”
“But,” I says, “that was two years ago. That would make him a four-year-old, and he couldn t get into the Corinthian.”
“Don’t you evuh think he can’t get in, Misto Gunn,” the snowball says. “Misto Van Pole he buy this horse from his
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brother. Same time he buys another bay—a three-yeah-old. Now he goin’ to run this Brother Amos under the other horse’s name. If anybody catch on, he goin’ to say it is a mistake and blame the trainer. But nobody goin’ to catch on. Misto Van Pole too big a man for anybody to get suspicious, and anyway he say they’s nobody but blind men around these tracks, so what chance they got to find out? Misto Van Pole and all his high-tone friends goin’ to bet that horse from heah to China.”
“If you don’t quit banging away at that gin bottle they will be putting you in the funny house,” I says. “You are seeing things that ain’t there.”
“Not me, Misto Gunn,” he says. “I knows what I knows, and I tells you what I tells you because you my friend. So don’t you go betting no dough on youah colt to win ’at stake, because if you do you goin’ to lose, suah.”
I SIT and try and figure the thing out till my brain is spinning. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why the snowball would lie to me, thinking what he does of me; and I know that Van Pole is a guy who would think he had pulled something smart in putting that kind of deal across. On the other hand, if I go and make a squawk right away, all I will get is the loud laugh from everybody concerned. So 1 decide that the best thing to do is sit tight and wait for developments.
So I wait till we are in Toronto, and the overnight entries for the Corinthian are out. There, sure enough, is the name Brotherhood, bay colt, owner A. G. Van Pole. I scout around a few places where Van Pole and his gang hang out, and I discover that Brotherhood is a very warm tip for the Stakes, in fact he is practically burning. Tom O’Dowd, who handles all the big commission money, tells me that Brotherhood has been bet all over America.
“He’s as good as in already,” Tom says, “if you can go by the way the boys are laying it on him.”
Late in the evening I go to the quiet little hotel where Judge Hallowell puts up. I find the old gentleman in his room, nodding over a book.
“Good evening, William,” he greets me very hearty. “It is indeed kind of you to come and visit a lonely old man. Very kind. Nothing the matter, I hope, William?” “Judge Hallowell,” I says, “I am in a mess of trouble.”
“Trouble, William?” he says. “You distress me. What sort of trouble, if I might ask?”
“Well, judge,” I says, “it is this way.” Then I blurt out the whole story to him, thinking all the time what a cock-and-bull sort of a yarn it must sound. The old man listens in silence, his glasses perched up on his forehead and his chin whiskers wagging.
“Dear me, William,” he says when I am finished. “What a tale. Is there, by any chance, any truth in it?”
“Judge,” I says, “I honestly do not know. I do know that Van Pole and his bunch are betting the horse as if he was already home free; and I do know that this colored swipe swears that he is a four-year-old. Outside of that, I am out on a limb and don’t know how to get down.”
“Let me see, William,” the judge says. “You have a horse of your own in the Stake, haven’t you?”
“I have,” I says. “And just between you and me, judge, I was all primed to make the killing of my life on him. But now—well, I don’t know what to do.”
“You think your horse has a chance?” he asks.
“I would bet my life on him against any three-year-old in the country,” I says. “But I am not going to risk my dough on him at even weights against a horse that has a year to the good on him.”
THE OLD gentleman sits there in silence till I think he has gone to sleep on me. Finally he gets up and holds out his hand.
“Thank you for calling. William.” he says. “It has been a pleasure, I assure you.”
“But, judge,” I says, “you haven’t told me what I am to do.”
“William.” he says, “if you are confident your horse is the best three-year-old, go and wager on him. You will be protected, William.”
So I leave him and go wire my connections to bet my dough. I am anxious to get as big odds as I can, so all my money is planted away from the track. I figure that the judge will probably go to Van Pole quietly and warn him to take his horse out, but when I get to the track in the morning there is no word of him being scratched.
This puzzles me for a while, and then I dope it out that the judge is going to put Van Pole in the grease in public. He will warn the paddock judge to have the horse thoroughly looked over, and then have him ruled out with everybody looking on. The judge has promised me protection and he is a man of his word, so why should I worry?
I think now it is a pity I did not get on the scales at the beginning of that afternoon, and then again after it is over; for I will gamble that I broke all existing records for taking off weight. When I go into the paddock to saddle my colt the big bay is already in his stall, with Van Pole alongside talking to his jockey. I watch them so close, not wishing to miss any of the big blow-off, that the saddling bell has gone a good two minutes before I think of putting the tack on my colt. No veterinaries have shown up, there has been no fuss or investigation, and the big bay goes out on the track leading the parade, and looking bigger and more powerful by the minute.
“What is the matter with you, Billy?” Johnny McElroy asks me from the saddle. “You look like you are seeing ghosts or something.”
“I am,” I tell him. “Iam seeing the ghost of all my lovely dough flying away never to return. So long, Johnny, and I hope you enjoy the trip.”
Of course, I can easily figure out what has happened. Either the judge has investigated quietly and found out that the story the little nigger has handed me is nothing but a lot of the old hoke; or else the weight of the Van Pole name and the Van Pole dough is such that they have the judge scared to start anything. After all, he is an old man and has his job to look after, and in racing it is every guy for himself. Still, that don’t ease my feelings none, and my only hope is that the Van Pole horse will bust a leg or run into plenty of trouble.
That race is still like a bad dream to me. My colt ran like the good one he was, and was pounds the best of the others. But out in front of him, from start to finish, is that big hound, Brotherhood, and they plow past the judges with the colt’s nose just at the bay’s throat-latch. And there I am, busted as flat as a pavement.
T HAVE watched the race from the infield, Jand as I wander toward the finish line in a sort of a daze, I see something of a commotion in front of the judges’ stand. The winner has just got back there, but the boy has not been given the signal to dismount. Judge Hallowell is thete on the lower steps, and just as I get within earshot he is giving orders to three guys whom I recognize as veterinaries.
“Gentlemen,” the judge says, “will you have the kindness to examine that horse?” The three of them go over to Brotherhood and look him over, paying especial attention to his teeth.
“Now, gentlemen,” the judge asks w'hen they are finished, “how old is that horse?
“Four years old,” replies one of the vets, and the other two agree with him.
“Change those numbers,” the judge
orders the guy up at the finish board. “The winner is disqualified, so move the others up in the order they finished.”
“What is this?” hollers Van Pole, who has just bust through the crowd. “What is going on around here?”
“Mr. Van Pole,” Judge Hallowell says, and I never heard a voice so icy, “your horse is disqualified for reasons which are not necessary to explain to you. Take him away; and talce all your other horses away with him, because your entries, and your presence are no longer welcome on any of the tracks over which I have the honor to preside. The full facts of the case will be reported to ruling turf bodies the world over.”
Then he turns and spots me in the mob. He bolds out bis band witli a smile that warms me all over.
“And now, William,” he says to me, “allow me to congratulate you on winning the historic Corinthian Stakes with a gallant horse, capitally ridden and beautifully trained.”
And you am believe it or not, but it was two days later, what with the excitement of collecting my winnings and throwing a small celebration and one thing and another, that I thought of getting the old judge off in a corner and asking for an explanation.
“Why did you have to do it that way, judge?” I asked him. “What for did you have to leave it till the last minute like that, and give me three kinds of heart failure
besides sweating off every pick of flesh on my bones?”
“William,” the judge says, “I am a firm believer in making the punishment fit the crime; and there are some kinds of people who can only be punished by striking them in the part they value most. In the pocket, William, in the pocket. If I had ruled that horse out before the race, Mr. Van Pole and his cohorts would have got their money back and lost nothing. As it was, William, they lost every cent they wagered and, without wishing to appear vindictive, I hope it was a great deal.”
“You and me both, judge,” I says.
“From the first I could see that Van Pole was no gentleman, William,” he says, “and strangely enough I still have the oldfashioned notion that racing should be a sport for gentlemen. Besides that, William,” he goes on, “the young whippersnapper had the audacity to question the keenness of my physical faculties. But I think I convinced him that I can still see. Not perhaps as well as in the days of my youth, but still well enough for ordinary’ purposes. Don’t you think so, William?”
“You can see good enough to suit me all right, Judge Hallowell,” I says.
“Thank you, William,” the judge replies. “Thank you very much. Your assurance of faith in the old man is very gratifying indeed.”
He holds out his hand and as I shook it Judge Hallowell winks one of his eyes.