Chapter V

“Daughter of the Mist”

“Blest if the sight o’ you, lass, bean’t good for sore eyes. Leastways if I haven’t made a mistake, an’ I don’t think I have​—​it bean’t often as I forget a face, ’specially if it be a woman’s, though, to be sure, you gals have a way o’ growing up out o’ knowledge. I’ll bet any money as your name’s Vaughan​—​little Violetta Vaughan.”

“Yes, and I think I recollect you. Mr. Burrup, isn’t it?”

“Aye, Ben Burrup’s my name an’ Yorkshire my dwelling place. Why, it must be a matter o’ four years since you was ladling out whiskies an’ sodas. I see the death of your poor dad in the Sporting Gazette, an’ it give me a bit of a shock. We were great pals, him an’ me.”

“Yes, I remember. Poor father. I missed him awfully.”

“I’ll bet you did. I hope as he left you a bit o’ brass.”

“Only his debts. The horse he was riding was so knocked about the poor thing had to be shot.”

“That was a bit o’ bad luck. If it’s not a rude question, what are you doing here? Not by yourself, eh?”

Violetta understood the roguish look in Mr. Burrup’s twinkling eyes. She laughed.

“Yes, I am. Why not?”

“Then all I’ve got to say is I don’t understand what the Lunnon chaps be about. At Leeds you’d have a whole string of ’em after you.”

“Then I’m glad I’m not at Leeds. I don’t want them, thank you. But, Mr. Burrup, tell me​—​are you still in the pencilling line?”

“What on earth should I be doing at the A.P. spring meeting if I wasn’t?”

“I’m glad, because I’ve got a fancy I’d like to back.”

The bookmaker’s smile fled.

“Don’t you, Miss Violetta. I wouldn’t-like to know I was walking away with your money in my pocket.”

“What nonsense. How do you know you will? Anyhow, if I lose it’ll only be the fortune of the racecourse. What’s ‘Daughter of the Mist’?”

“Went a bit back this morning​—​35 to 1.”

“I wonder why. I’m told the filly ran well last year.”

Mr. Burrup gave a short laugh.

“It bean’t no business o’ mine to talk about the ’osses. I hears all and says nothing. It’s only the odds that int’rest me. But you’re an old friend​—​well, she’s run by one o’ the smartest o’ the smart, Dan Westoby, and he’s got a tricky crowd in his pay. But mum’s the word. D’ye twig?”

Violetta nodded.

“Same time, mind ye, the going’ll be pretty heavy over this sticky, slippery turf. That’s all agen her.”

“Well, I want to see her, and if she shapes well I’ll risk £50 at 35 to 1. Will you take me?”

“That’ll mean £1,750 if I lose. Pretty heavy, my dear,” and Ben Burrup gave a long whistle.

“Well, will any of your friends do it?”

“I’ll take you up to £10. Maybe Bill Jackson’s good for another tenner. Shall I book your ten?”

“Wait till I’ve seen the filly. I suppose the horses will come out before the race. You know the ropes pretty well, I guess. Take me to a seat in the Grand Stand where there’s a fair view of the course.”

“Right y’are. We shall see some of my pals there.”

They walked to the entrance of the Grand Stand, Burrup nodding to and cracking jokes with his many acquaintances as he went. He secured Violetta an excellent seat. She surveyed the course through her race glasses and noted its bend about half-way round, and the long straight home. It seemed to her that all things being equal it was a case of skilful jockeying.

“I’ll sound some of the boys about ‘Daughter of the Mist,’” said Burrup. “Meanwhile you make yourself happy. The horses’ll be out in two ticks.”

All traces of the morning’s storm were gone. The sky was of an intense blue, with here and there a scudding fleecy cloud. The April sun was shining brilliantly as only an English April sun can. The air was exhilarating and under its influence, combined with the excitement of the coming contest and the strong personal interest she felt in it, brought a clear rich crimson to her cheeks.

Violetta was about to put the glasses down when she chanced to swerve, and the movement brought the other end of the Grand Stand into view. She saw a man with his glasses turned in her direction. She knew him at once. It was George Godfree. The woman by his side, tall, fair and somewhat overdressed, was talking to him animatedly. He did not appear to be listening to her.

Violetta could not say why the sight of Godfree was disquieting, as it was the most natural thing in the world that he should be there, but it was so. However, she dismissed the man from her mind, as at that moment the horses entered the course for a preliminary canter and to show themselves. Violetta at once picked out “Daughter of the Mist.” Her jockey’s colours were blue and white. She was a beautiful creature​—​a dark chestnut​—​perfectly symmetrical, yet strong and wiry. She moved as if on wires working harmoniously. There wasn’t a sign of anything wrong with her.

Of the other horses, “Prince Edward,” the favourite, won Violetta’s approval, but he was a trifle too slightly built, so she thought, to be a stayer. Another horse took her fancy. He was a bright chestnut with a white streak down his nose. Hardly handsome, he was big, bony, and enormously strong. The question was did his speed equal his strength? His jockey’s colours were scarlet and gold. She looked at the card​—​scarlet and gold belonged to “Belphegor,” the horse of uncertain temper, mentioned by Alf Bartlett.

The horses came out in a cluster and then separated with the exception of three. One of the latter was “Belphegor.” The three kept close together for about twenty yards and then something happened to annoy the bright chestnut and his haunches suddenly went up, and he lashed out one of his hind legs in a vicious kick which luckily touched nothing. The jockey probably was prepared for the horse’s attempt at buck jumping, as he stuck to his saddle gallantly. He brought the whip down sharply on the animal’s hindquarters, and presently “Belphegor” condescended to use his four legs normally. The knowing ones among the spectators shook their heads. “Belphegor” was evidently inclined to be in one of his tantrums.

“Not much chance of your getting your money on ‘Daughter of the Mist,’” Violetta heard Burrup whisper behind her. “The chaps fight shy of her. The best I could do was to divide your ten pounds between me and Bill Jackson.”

“Oh, Mr. Burrup, how horrid. She’s lovely, don’t you think so?”

“It’s not the filly, it’s the crowd that’s running her we’re afraid of. We know something of Dan Westoby, George Godfree, and the rest, and we don’t intend to be rooked. I don’t suppose half a dozen of the public have backed her. You see, after winning the selling race and coming into Westoby’s hands, she did nothing but lose everything she was entered for. It was thought that Westoby was horribly unlucky, because in each case the filly nearly pulled it off.”

“Who was the jockey?”

“Ted Loram.”

“And is he up to-day?”

“Of course he is.”

“Oh.”

“Eh? What do you know about him?”

“Nothing much, excepting that I believe he’s a bad egg.”

“That wouldn’t surprise me. It be mighty queer that the backing should only be among the Westoby gang. If Loram doesn’t win they don’t stand to lose much. But I fancy they’re fly and are cocksure they’ve got a good thing. Jackson tells me that ten minutes ago Godfree wanted to put a bit more on, but Bill wasn’t taking any and George went off with a face as black as my hat. Hallo​—​there’s the bell. ’Xcuse me, miss.”

And the bookmaker hurried off leaving Violetta with much to ponder over. Amid her disturbing thoughts one thing was tolerably clear. The Westoby gang, as Burrup called it, had clearly engineered the business, with the assistance of Loram, and to-day the coup was to be brought off. She did not feel at all comfortable at benefiting by a fraud.

“All the same I don’t see that I’m to blame if ‘Daughter of the Mist’ shows her true form and beats the rest,” she thought.

The annoying part was that in a way she was associated with George Godfree, and she hoped devoutly it would not get to his ears that she had backed the filly. But she had not time to consider further the position. The horses were being marshalled for the start and were coming into line.

Considerable restiveness was caused by Belphegor’s bad conduct. Violetta put down the big chestnut as an irreclaimable beast. He was clearly bent on mischief, and it was only after several false starts that the official got them away in something like equality.

At first it was a scramble. “Belphegor” was showing temper, and the jockeys round about him were doing their best to keep away from the brute. But the creature took it into his head to “hug” his horses, and his rider could not get him clear despite whip and spur. It was unlucky that the favourite was his nearest neighbour, for his jockey found himself considerably hampered. About a quarter of the course had been covered and then one of the horses found an opening, shook itself free, and in a flash was a length in front. The jockey’s colours were blue and white.

People stared and looked at their cards. Blue and white stood opposite No. 6, and the name of the horse was “Daughter of the Mist.” No one looked pleased. Quite the reverse. She was run in the name of Mr. Jones, about whom nothing was known. As for the filly herself, had anybody troubled to look up her record for the past year it would not have been found sufficiently encouraging to warrant one venturing a shilling upon her chances. No wonder she had been left severely alone.

Violetta’s colour fled and returned. She was breathless with excess of emotion. The hand holding the race-glass to her eves quivered. The excitement of the gaming table was nothing to this. Rouge et noir and roulette were lifeless and sordid. One’s thoughts in watching the spinning ball were sordid. There was no struggle of flesh and blood. To watch a number of high-bred sensitive animals straining every nerve and muscle in rivalry was a different matter altogether.

The filly was doing splendidly. She was being kept close to the rails and was quite half a dozen lengths ahead. Unless she was overhauled she would be able to sweep round the bend​—​one of the features of the A. P. course​—​without the slightest chance of losing her advantageous position.

“Oh you dear​—​oh you darling!” murmured Violetta.

The words had hardly escaped her lips than something totally unexpected happened, and a roar burst from the crowd. A jockey in scarlet and gold was sprawling on the ground. Belphegor had thrown his rider. The latter was apparently unhurt. In less than a second he was on his feet, and had dashed to his horse which with strange perversity was standing stock still, seemingly surveying his work.

The jockey sprang into the saddle, and “Belphegor” seized with a new mood, no sooner felt the weight on his back, than he plunged forward and raced after the other horses at an amazing speed. The jockey had the sense to leave him alone and probably this was what the horse wanted. Shouts were heard all over the course as stride by stride he gained upon the striving horses in front, and about halfway round the bend he was in front and close to the rails. But “Daughter of the Mist” was still half a dozen lengths ahead, and apparently the heavy ground had not yet affected her. But when the two emerged into the straight run home, it was seen that “Belphegor” was only behind by a length, and was moving with tremendous power and freshness. The odds on him had dropped to 6 to 1, and many who had backed the favourite tried to “hedge,” for “Prince Edward” was hopelessly beaten. In the short space of a quarter of a minute everything changed for “Daughter of the Mist” was visibly tiring, and “Belphegor” was getting nearer at every stride and was as strong as ever.

Violetta could hardly control her agitation. Money had little to do with it, for if “Belphegor” won, her actual loss out of pocket would be small, but the fever of speculation had seized her, and to be defeated would be galling. As the horses neared the post, “Belphegor,” with his muzzle on a level with the filly’s haunches, Violetta closed her eyes. There was not more than twenty yards to run, and it was purely a question whether “Daughter of the Mist” would last. Violetta could not look. All the blood in her body seemed to be rushing to her brain.

Then a tremendous cheering was heard and a man near her ejaculated “Great Scott, did you ever see anything like the way that horse ‘Belphegor’ forged ahead? Another half a dozen yards and he’d have romped in.”

So “Daughter of the Mist” had won, but Violetta could not trust herself to believe it until she saw “No. 6” hoisted on the board. Her friend Burrup presently came to her looking a little rueful, but he warmly congratulated her nevertheless.

“Are you going to follow your luck with the next race, Miss Violetta? I’m a bit afraid of you, you know; still, if you’ve another good thing up your sleeve, I’ll see what I can do.”

“No. I’ve finished for to-day. It was all luck, you see, and a very near thing. Who would have thought it was possible?​—​I mean about that cantankerous ‘Belphegor.’ I’d like to see him run again. He was badly ridden. His jockey used the whip and lost his temper in addition.”

“You’re right there, Miss Vaughan. By Jove, if his mount had been someone who understood him, he’d have chawed up the rest of the field. You should ha’ seen Westoby’s face when his filly was losing ground every yard. It was a sight, I can tell you. As long as a fiddle. As for Godfree, danged if he didn’t go green. They must ha’ netted a nice little pile. They won’t do the same trick again, I’ll bet.”

Then he and Violetta had a little talk about the settlement of her bets with him and Jackson, and Violetta went back to town alternately exalted and depressed. She was worried about her strange piece of luck. Was it really to be explained by the fact that she had Norman in her mind when she backed the horse which had once been Norman’s? She had rarely won when she only thought of herself. But what was the use of trying to penetrate the unknown?