Chapter XI

Peter Gumley, the Trainer

A pleasant undulating bit of country is that part of Sussex known as Holberry Down. Long stretches of fine turf on a chalk bottom alternate with sweet smelling pines and firs, which flourish healthily on the strips of sandy soil to be found, by some odd geological freak, stuck here and there among the chalk. As fine a place for a morning gallop as one could find in all England, and no wonder that experienced judge of horseflesh Peter Gumley, selected it as an ideal place for a training-stable.

Peter Gumley was a man who had been used to horses ever since he had been out of the cradle. He was quite sixty years of age, but looked no more than forty, thanks to his early hours at night, his equally early hours in the morning, and his regular and abstemious life.

He was stoutly built, slightly bowed about the legs, as most horsey men are, and with a quiet resolute face. His hair was closely cut, and of a gingery hue, and he had a slight fringe of whiskers, corresponding in colour to his hair, on the edge of each cheek. He always dressed very quietly, generally in a tweed suit of a sort of snuff tint, and wore a white pique scarf with a big diamond pin​—​the gift of some grateful patron​—​blazing in the centre.

Just now there was an irritable expression on his rosy gills as he walked from the big stable yard into the neat garden which surrounded his house, a plain, square, uncompromising sort of building, dull brick with a door in the centre, a window each side and three windows upstairs.

The house had originally belonged to a farmer, and was even uglier than it was now, for Mrs. Gumley Peter’s wife, having a fancy for flowers, had trained a wisteria, a passion flower and a clematis over the front, and this side of the building, at all events, was pleasant to the eye.

Mrs. Gumley herself was standing within a little latticed porch, which projected about a foot from the door, and watched her husband enter the garden and walk towards her down a neatly trimmed box-edge path.

“Well, Peter,” said she, enquiringly.

“I’ll have no more of it. I’ve given him a clout on the ear and sent him packing.”

“Oh, Peter, the best rider in the stable!”

“And the worst boy​—​the worst every way ’cepting when his legs are across the saddle.”

“I suppose it could not be helped,” said Mrs. Gumley, regretfully. She was a buxom, good-natured dame, with rather a soft heart, and was at least ten years younger than her husband.

“Be helped! Of course it can’t! Look here, Mary, this is the third time that boy has got drunk, and his sixteenth birthday only last week.”

“ I know he’s a little weak-minded, but I’d ha’ given him another chance if I’d been you.”

“Chances!” exclaimed the trainer irritably. “He’s had more chances than any boy I’ve ever had in the stables. And as for his being weak-minded, why, that only makes the thing worse. What’s to prevent him being laid hold of by any of the scheming blackguards who are always on the look-out for a ‘weak-minded’ boy, and selling us? A boy who begins by drinking ’ll end in hocussing.”

“Oh, Peter! I’m sure Tim would never do such a dreadful thing!” returned Mrs. Gumley, looking scared.

To her “hocussing” a racehorse was worse than burglary, forgery, or arson. It ranked next to wilful murder.

“Well, I hope not; but see here​—​who do you think give him the drink?”

“Law me! how should I know?”

“Barney Moss, that Jew chap, who’s been stopping at the ‘Barley Mow’ for the past fortnight, and whom I’ve seen hanging round the stables no end of times. He’s here for no good, Mary.”

“That’s true. Well, I’m sorry for Tim Hollis. Such a nice looking boy, too!”

“He’s got a bad strain in him, take my word for it. Anyhow, he’s gone, and on the whole I think the place is well rid of him.”

And Peter Gumley stepped into the house and sat down in the cool little sitting-room, where he took off his hat and mopped his heated brow with a blue bordered handkerchief.

It wasn’t often that Peter Gumley allowed himself to be so excited. To tell the truth, he had a sort of sneaking liking for the erring Tim Hollis, and it put him out terribly that the lad should have gone wrong. But his duty was clear before him. Splendid rider as the boy was, and fully acquainted as he might be with all the ins and outs of the string of colts at present lodged at Holberry Down Farm, it was not safe to keep him, and go he must.

And go he did, and there he was, with a slouching gait, in a dusty road that crossed the Downs into Normanhurst village, leaving so far as he knew Holberry Down for ever.

He was rather a sturdy lad for a stable-boy, who is generally undersized and wizened looking. He had ruddy cheeks and a thick shock head of red hair. He was, as Mrs. Gumley had said, a nice looking boy, but to a judge of character the face was spoilt by a weak mouth and chin, and somewhat heavy brows. The features, indeed, were contradictory. They betokened a mixture of obstinacy and irresolution. Tim Hollis’s life depended upon the people he associated with, and upon those who had an influence over him for good or for evil.

Just now he had a sullen look upon his face, and as he moved slowly along, almost dragging one foot after the other in the thick dust, his hands in his pockets, and chewing a straw between his teeth, even good Mrs. Gumley must have admitted there were few signs of penitence and remorse about him.

It did not much matter where he went. He knew he should find occupation wherever horses were, and so he did not trouble. Indeed, his mind was occupied with thoughts of revenge, and when this feeling takes possession of one there is not much room for anything else.

“Peter Gumley might have treated me better, considering what I know. But then, Gumley doesn’t know what I know. He’d have done differently if he had; that cuff of the head what he give me stopped my mouth. I’d ha’ told him why Barney Moss made me tipsy last night, if he’d spoke to me fair. Now I shan’t.”

Tim Hollis strode on moodily, and the straw in his mouth became shorter as he nibbled bits and spat them out of his mouth.

Another quarter of a mile and he would be on the top of the downs and be looking over Normanhurst.

The downs rose by a very gentle inclination, but the gradient of the old road years ago had been found too steep for carriage traffic, and so a road had been cut skirting the acclivity, and thus securing a fairly level piece of driving.

Just where the fork of the upper and lower road was situated, there was a grassy bank at the foot of which bubbled a spring of clear water. It had been cut into when the lower road was made, and there it was, sending up hundreds of gallons a day which were running to waste.

Tim was thirsty. He laid himself down on his stomach, dipped his face in the bubbling spring, and lapped the water like a dog. When he was satisfied and had withdrawn his dripping face he saw a young lady standing near watching him. She was nice to look upon Tim at once decided, with her grey tailor made costume, its short skirt revealing her leather gaiters, and her masculine collar and flowing scarf, and as a well brought up lad used to the fine ladies who crowded the racecourse enclosures, lie sprang to his feet and bowed politely. The lady smiled in acknowledgment.

“You drank the water as if you enjoyed it,” said she.

“It’s all right so fur as water can be right. I guess I shan’t have a chance of anything else for a goodish time.”


“Down on my luck, miss. I suppose you don’t know of a job going anywhere?”

“What kind of job?”

“Anything to do with ’orses, don’t matter what.”

“You’re used to horses, are you?”

“Just a bit. Bin among ’em ever since I was a kid, an’ before that. I believe I was born in a stable.”

The lady looked at the lad with increased interest. She noted his old-looking, face, his long nose and his thin lipped mouth. She knew the signs.

“Where were you employed?”

“Up at old Peter Gumley’s stables, Holberry Down, across yonder. He gave me the push this morning. The missus would ha’ kept me on​—​she’s one o’ the best when you know her​—​but the old man​—​no. So he fired me.”

“What for?”

“I dunno. He hadn’t got no fault with me as far as my dooties went.”

“What did he find fault with, then?”

“Said I lifted my right ’and too often. P’raps you don’t know what that means, miss.”

“Oh, yes I do. And was it true?”

“Once in a way maybe, but it warn’t my fault.”

“I hope it wasn’t. You’re too young to begin that kind of thing.”

She looked at the lad keenly. He had not a vicious face. Most likely it was as he said. It seemed a pity he should be allowed to drift from bad to worse.

“Look here, boy, I’m going to see Mr. Gumley. Shall I speak to him for you, and ask him to take you back?”

“Thank ’ee kindly Miss, but I’d rather you didn’t. I don’t want to go back. It won’t do me no good.”

“How’s that?”

“’Cause it won’t. I ain’t sorry to get away. I’d rather work for you, miss.”

“I can’t give you a job that would suit you. I’ve no horses.”

“There might be something else.”

“Do you know anything about gardening or poultry?”

“I guess I do. I’d like ’em for a change.”

“You wouldn’t stay. Before long you’d want to go where there are horses.”

“You might try me, miss.”

“Yes, I might do that, but I won’t promise. Do you know the Owl’s Nest near Weltersfield?”

“Course I do, but there ain’t anybody living there.”

“Oh, yes there is. I am. Come this evening and I’ll see what I can do. Ask for Miss Vaughan. But don’t reckon upon anything for certain, mind.”

“Right y’are, miss.”

The lad brightened visibly.

“What are you going to do meanwhile?”

“Walk about I s’pose.”

“Got any money?”

“Stoney broke, miss.”

“I wonder whether you are,” thought Violetta. “I’ll chance it. I’ve been like that myself more than once. It’s not a nice sensation.”

She gave him a shilling. Tim Hollis could hardly believe his eyes. He spat upon it for luck.

“You are a good sort, miss.”

Violetta nodded and went on her way to Holberry Down. She had been at the Owl’s Nest now nearly a month and had worked like a nigger in getting the place in order. She’d not seen Norman nor heard from him since leaving The Willows. There hadn’t been the slightest difficulty in dealing with his lawyer, and she had taken the place for three years. She half expected Norman would have written to her on the settlement of the business, but he had not, and she concluded that after his astounding admission about his marriage, he did not care to do so.

Of her own feelings on the matter she would not allow herself to think. Every day meant such strenuous work that she always went to bed dog tired. She was wholly absorbed in transforming the Owl’s Nest according to her own ideas, and with the assistance of a country woman, strong as a horse, and an old man who came in every day she wrought wonders. The change from her indolent life of the past year to one of intense activity suited her restless, energetic temperament admirably and she wondered how she could have endured frittering away her time at Monte Carlo. Still, her stay there had ended advantageously. Without the £250 from the stranger for whom she had acted as a mascotte and whom she set down as a “bookie,” she could not have started her enterprise at the Owl’s Nest.

What that enterprise was Violetta kept to herself, but it certainly was not poultry farming. Her visit now to Peter Gumley was to be the first step in the furtherance of her plans.

She made her way to the square, unpretending house of the trainer. It was surrounded by a well-kept garden, and the whole was fenced off from the stables and meadows. Any visitor to Peter Gumley who imagined he would have an opportunity of seeing the horses Peter had under his charge would have been grievously disappointed. Moreover Peter had a vigilant staff of stable helps part of whose duties it was to keep pertinacious racing touts at bay.

Violetta knocked at the door. It was opened by Mrs. Gumley, who was evidently not disposed to make herself agreeable until she was sure of her ground.

“And what may you please want, miss?” said she, after surveying Violetta up and down.

“I want to see Mr. Gumley.”

“Aye, an’ what about may I ask? I daresay I can manage your business. It’s just the same whether you talk to my husband or to me.”

Mrs. Gumley’s manner was not encouraging. Violetta reckoned her up as an admirable lady Cerberus and worth her weight in gold to Peter.

“I’m sure it is,” said Violetta, sweetly. “I’m a new neighbour of yours, but I hope I’m none the worse for that.”

“A new neighbour? Yes, and what then?”

“My name’s Vaughan. I’m living at the Owl’s Nest.”

“Be you? I did hear as Squire Norman had let the place. So you’re his tenant. I don’t want to be uncivil, but I can’t see as your living at Owl’s Nest makes you any the more welcome. My husband and Sir John bean’t the best o’ friends.”

“Is that so? I’m sorry. I feel I ought to apologise for troubling you, but I’m rather interested in a lad I met in the road just now. He told me he’d been in your employ and had been dismissed, and he seemed so downhearted that I was tempted to take him into my service. Now could you recommend him?”

This was not at all the business which had brought Violetta to the house. She knew the secretive ways of trainers, and saw in the boy an excuse for calling. Otherwise her errand might have been fruitless. It was a stroke of luck, for the mention of the lad awoke Mrs. Gumley’s sympathies. She was heartily sorry for him. For all that, she did not lose her caution. After what her husband had hinted about the boy, she was not eager to accept any responsibility. At the same time, she was anxious to do him a good turn.

“So far as I’m concerned, the boy’s always behaved nicely. I found him willing and obliging, but of late he didn’t get on well with the gov’nor. I’d rather you talked to Mr. Gumley about him.”

Violetta desired nothing better, but she showed no eagerness. It was rather the other way about.

“Certainly​—​if it’s not taking up his time. Perhaps he’s busy.”

“There’s always plenty to do here, but I’ll see. Step in, Miss Vaughan, and I’ll see.”

So Violetta followed the good lady into the neat sitting-room, where everything was mathematically arranged, even to the pictures of famous race horses and jockeys and turf celebrities generally, on the walls. Mrs. Gumley dusted a chair, more from force of habit than because it needed dusting, and left her visitor to herself.

Peter Gumley came in. Violetta recognised him at once. He was the man she had seen in the meadow when Norman’s car frightened the horses. Mr. Gumley saluted his visitor with his forefinger to his forehead.

“Mornin’, young lady. My missus tells me as you’re thinking of engaging young Tim Hollis.”

“If that’s the name of the lad, yes. Is he honest?”

“So fur as money goes, I b’lieve so. Not a bad chap in some ways, but I’m afraid he’s got into a queer set. But if you don’t run racehorses I guess that set won’t have much use for him. Mind you, it’s only my suspicions. He drinks a bit, too, but he may give that up if he once gets out with the lot that I’m afraid’s got hold of him.”

“But he knows horses?”

“Knows a lot. That’s where the shame of it comes in. He’s got all the makings in him of a first-rate jockey.”

“He might suit me, then. I think of buying a race horse.”

Peter Gumley stared at the young lady open-mouthed.

“You do, miss? My word! What for?”

“To make money, of course.”

“You’ll excuse me, but there’s no ‘of course.’ You’re just as likely to lose money as to make it. It wants a lot o’ capital. If you must go in for the turf, you might back a horse so long as you don’t risk much.”

“I’m not so sure. I’ve heard it said that it’s safer to bet on a horse you know something about than on one about which you know nothing. That’s why I say I prefer to own my own racer.”

Peter had nothing to say to this. He could only stare again at the young woman who spoke so confidently.

“I wonder, Mr. Gumley, whether you knew my father, Captain Vaughan. He opened a riding school near Regents Park some eighteen years ago, and afterwards ran a sporting club.”

“Captain Vaughan! What, are you Frank Vaughan’s little girl who used to ride a pony barebacked, when little more than a toddler?”

“Yes, though I don’t remember you, Mr. Gumley.”

“I don’t suppose you do. Well, let’s shake hands anyhow on the strength of it. And how’s the dad?”

“My father’s dead, Mr. Gumley. He was thrown when riding in a steeplechase in France. I warned him against the horse he was on, but it was no good.”

“I’ll reckon it warn’t. Frank Vaughan was bound to have his way if he could get it. He was a rare plucked ’un at going over the sticks, but I told him again an’ again he’d do it once too often. Well, well. And so you’re going in for the gees, are you?”

“In a small way, yes. I haven’t too much coin, but I thought you might have a horse I could buy. Did Mrs. Gumley tell you I’m renting the Owl’s Nest at Weltersfield?”

“Aye. It’s not a lucky place​—​leastways, it brought no luck to Sir John Norman.”

“He never lived there, I’m told, so I don’t see what it had to do with his bad luck.”

“P’raps not. Sir John’s all right so long as he’s not allowed to choose his own friends. He seems bent upon picking up all the rotten ones. It was over one of ’em we fell out​—​George Godfree. He swore the man was all right ’cause they were chums at Oxford. I knew better, but he wouldn’t believe me. As I wouldn’t work with Gentleman George Sir John took his horses away from me, and came to grief.”

“I’ve heard about that. It was very silly of him. If I had a string of racers, Mr. Gumley, you should train every one.”

“Thankee, Miss Vaughan. I wish you had a string of ’em.”

“Well, there might be one,” rejoined Violetta, in her most seductive tone. “That is, if you’ve a horse that the owner would sell.”

“What figure are you willing to go to​—​£1,000?”

“Good gracious, no. I’m not a millionaire​—​yet. I can’t afford more than £100.”

“Blest if that ain’t a woman all over. She asks for impossibilities, and has a way of getting ’em, too! You’d better have a look at my stables. If you’re as good a judge of horseflesh as you were a rider, you’ll pick out the best of the bunch. But it won’t be a deal at your price. I’ve nothing like that.”

“Never mind, Mr. Gumley. It’ll be a treat to see what you’ve got, all the same.”