Chapter XV

How a Man looks at it

Violetta, Belphegor, and Tim Hollis before long became the best of friends. It wanted a little patience so far as the horse was concerned for his temper had been thoroughly spoilt by bad usage and the stupidity of some of the grooms in Peter Gumley’s stables, and possibly by those who had had the training of him when a yearling and before he came into Peter’s possession. The animal was naturally highly nervous and had been made more so, thanks to being continually thwarted and thrashed. At the sight of a riding whip he either became rebellious or shrank from it according to his mood.

“Well, what do you think of him now, Tim?” said his mistress, “Good enough for the Two Thousand?”

“Oh, he’s good enough so far as his legs go,” returned Tim cautiously, “it’s when he comes to mix up with the other gees that he mayn’t be trusted. You see Miss, ever since I knowed him he’s had a fancy for hugging his horses. It always wanted a bit o’ doing to get him to break away and show what he could do by himself. Do you understand what I mean, Miss?”

“Perfectly, Tim. But that was in the bad old days. I shouldn’t be surprised if he hadn’t felt a sort of protection in the company of his own kind. I believe horses are very much like human beings​—​you and me​—​for instance.”

“That’s what I believe, too, Miss,” returned Tim, touching his forelock quite pleased at Violetta classing him with herself.

Belphegor had been brought out to show his paces and had just done a sprint of a quarter of a mile under Tim’s skilful jockeying. The lad had extended him fully, short as the distance was. The horse was now standing as quiet as a lamb with a cloth thrown over his back. He certainly was in superb condition, and somehow did not look so ugly as when Violetta saw him on the A. P. course.

“I bed your pardon, Miss, for a sayin’ what’s in my mind,” went on Tim with an apologetic cough.

“Say anything you please, my lad, I don’t mind.”

“That’s what I like about you, Miss Violetta. You don’t snub me as Peter an’ his lot was always doin’. Not much good then my trying to have a say. I was told to shut up an’ mind my own business. As if ’orses wasn’t my business. Oh, good lor!”

“Well, you’re not at Peter’s now so get a move on with what you were going to tell me.”

“It was just this. You’ll have to train Belphegor with other ’orses. He’ll only show what he can do when he’s runnin’ against them. A thing as is easy he don’t care for.”

Violetta tapped her riding boots thoughtfully with her whip. She looked a very attractive picture in her masculine dress, and the regular hours, the out door life, and the bracing air of the Owl’s Nest with its elevated position, had given her cheeks a glow of health she had never had before.

“Well, what do you suggest,” said she presently.

“Buy a couple more gees, Miss.”

Violetta laughed.

“Gees cost money. Can’t be done. Think of something else.”

But Tim couldn’t. He was only able to scrape the sole of one boot on the upper of the other.

“I suppose I must think of something for you. What about taking him back to Peter Gumley?”

Tim’s face fell.

“What, sell him? Ain’t you satisfied with me? I’ve done my best with Belphegor, s’truth, an’ the ’orse knows I have.”

“Don’t look so distressed, Tim,” said Violetta gravely. “You’re all right, and so is Belphegor. But I’m thinking if Peter Gumley saw him now and saw you as well that he’d alter his mind about you both. Peter’s not a bad sort.”

“I never said he was. It’s that beast Parsons, his stud groom, as I could never get on with.”

“That’s so. Well, I’ve reason to know that Parsons has been fired. He was found out robbing his master​—​altering the corn bills and so on. Things are not quite the same at Holberry Down as they were when you were there. I had a talk with Mr. Gumley the other day, and I put out a feeler after I told him how straight you’d been running. The fact is he’d be very glad to have you back.”

“Well, Miss, I’m not goin’. I’d rather stay here that’s if you’ll keep me on.”

“It’s this way. It’s for the sake of Belphegor that I think you ought to go to Holberry Down​—​you and the horse too. He can’t get the proper training here. The ground’s not suitable. What’s the good of a quarter of a mile or even half a mile to a great brute like Belphegor? Why he only gets fairly into his stride when he’s a couple of hundred yards from the winning post. You said yourself he wasn’t being done justice to as he is.”


Tim shuffled his feet again and looked down at his toes.

“Well, what is it? What’s your objection?”

“I know it ’ud be a good thing for Belphegor​—​so long as I was with him, but​—​well it’s myself I’ve got in mind. I’m a bit afeared of the crowd at the Barley Mow. Barney Moss ’ud be hanging about again if he once heard I was back at Peter’s.”

“Then you mustn’t go near the Barley Mow. Promise me that.”

“Of course I will. I only hope as I’ll be able to keep my promise. I’ll try, Heaven help me. I will try,” burst out Tim passionately.

“I’m sure you will. I’ll ride over to Mr. Gumley’s this afternoon and fix the thing up somehow.”

Belphegor was not the only occupant of the Owl’s Nest stables. Some time after the purchase of the horse Violetta bought a beautiful pony from a local butcher. The latter had not long had the pony in his possession, and he had found it did not suit him or rather his man. The creature was skittish and capricious, had bolted twice, and on the second occasion had kicked the bottom out of the cart and sent the joints flying. The butcher was afraid to trust it, and he sold it to Violetta cheaply.

Violetta was delighted to have him, and he was soon a great pet.

She lost no time in opening the business which had brought her to Holberry Down, and Peter listened to what she had to say attentively and even approvingly.

“You know, Mr. Gumley, you’re as much interested in Belphegor as I am,” said she. “Whatever stake he pulls off you’ll have a share of. That’s agreed between us, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I haven’t forgotten, and I’d like to see him do some real good work. But as you say, I must have his training under my own eye. I’m not going to have the A. P. show over again.”

“Very well, that’s what you won’t have if you agree to what I propose. Tim must come with him. That’s a dead cert.”

Peter looked grave and fingered his chin.

“I swore I’d never take the young beggar back.”

“Very likely. But what’s an oath more or less, especially where horses are concerned. I’m quite sure there are more lies told and more oaths used on the turf than anywhere else in the world.”

“Well, that’s a fact, Miss Violetta.”

“Of course it is. Now, Tim’s a reformed character.”

“If he is, he has to thank you for it.”

“No, I’ve just treated him decently and trusted to his word. I’ve come to the conclusion that his disposition’s very like that of Belphegor. Both must be allowed to go their own road to a certain extent. I confess that I’m built much on the same lines. We may be led, but we won’t be driven.”

“I’m not going to contradict you, Miss. But about Tim​—​what I fear is the Barley Mow. Nothing but touts there.”

“I know, and I may tell you that the lad’s as much afraid of the Barley Mow as you are. He’s given me his word of honour that he’ll never go near the place.”

“Yes, that may be, and I don’t doubt as he’ll try to keep his word. But you don’t know what a damned crafty crew get there. The landlord’s as bad as any of ’em. He’s a tenant of Dan Westoby’s, and I’ll go bail that the two are hand in glove. The only safe thing is to keep the matter quiet. Not a soul must know that I’ve got the two here.”

“Well, that can be done I guess. Your men are used to keeping secrets, aren’t they. Can you trust them?”

“I can now. I couldn’t three months ago, but I’ve weeded out the splitters, and I’ve got a decent lot now. It all depends upon Tim himself.”

“And I’ll answer for him. He’s only to know what’s expected from him and I’m convinced he’ll act up to it.”

“I hope he will. Well, we must risk it, I guess.”

“That’s right. Now about Belphegor. Can he be entered for the Two Thousand?”

“No. The day’s too near. There isn’t time to get him into his best form, and I must know what he’s like before we think of him as a Derby runner. But the Two Thousand’s no good. Besides, I’m fixed on Killarney. He’s one of Lord Verschoyle’s string, and his lordship’s backed him for all he’s worth. I must keep faith with Lord Frederick, who’s a real gentleman.”

“So I’ve heard. Righto. Then we’ll drop the Two Thou. Now when will you come and have a look at Belphegor? I shall be much surprised if you don’t say that Tim has worked wonders.”

“So much the better, but I’ll wager that you’ve had a hand in that same too. Begorrah! I shall never forget that lesson in horse training you gave my chaps. They still talk about it.”

“Only a matter of common sense and a bit of humanity Peter. Nothing more.”

“Whatever it was it did the trick. Well I’ll run over to the Owl’s Nest to-morrow evening.”

So the matter was arranged. The trainer presented himself as he promised, and when it was dark Belphegor and Tim were transferred to Holberry Down and Gumley’s staff was sworn to secrecy.

There was every probability of the secret being kept for all the men and boys who had been on bad terms with the lad had been dismissed.

But when the two had departed Violetta felt strangely desolate. It was as though her occupation was gone, and it wasn’t strange that in the vacuity of mind which followed that her thoughts should drift back to John Norman.

“Don’t be a fool,” said she to herself. “You know you’re not in love with the man, and if you were what would be the good. One woman’s made a fool of him, and it would be an act of cruelty to add to his complications by another woman coming on the scene. Besides, he’s a stupid. He simply drifts.”

Quite so, but a drifting man is very often an object of interest to an energetic woman. Violetta tried to banish John Norman from her mind but she found the effort very difficult.

She felt rather annoyed that he had not written to her and angry with herself because she was annoyed. Yet on reasoning the thing out his silence was quite excusable. After his confession of folly he probably had regretted his outburst of confidence. No doubt his conduct, in so doing, was perfectly proper, but it was really putting a barrier in front of their future friendship.

“I suppose that’s how a man would look at it,” she mused. “A woman doesn’t take the same view. When a man admits to one woman what a fool he has made of himself over another it’s a sort of tribute to the superiority of the woman to whom the admission is made.”

There was something in this argument. The annals of crime abound with examples. Men after perpetrating some offence, whether robbing or violence, are restless and unhappy until they have made some woman their confidant. The police know this full well, and they are quick to take advantage of it. Even Mr. Charles Peace, silent and solitary worker though he prided himself on being, was not proof against the weakness.

But Violetta was not concerned about solving sexual problems of this kind. She did not pursue the subject, and as the stables no longer possessed anything of interest for her she sat down to the piano to drive away her thoughts by grappling with the intricacies of Bach.

A fortnight went over and she missed the peculiarities of Belphegor, which she was never tired of studying, and the shrewd talk of Tim Hollis, who in some of his observations was quite the man of experience, and she felt a restless curiosity to know how both were getting on.

She had not heard from Peter Gumley, but this did not surprise her. The trainer, as he often confessed, was no “scholard,” and to put pen to paper was to him always a task of abhorrence.

The two had arranged that Peter should not go near the Owl’s Nest. Peter had reason to believe that Barney Moss or some other tout was always lurking about Holberry Down on the look out for some scraps of news, and he had discovered that one of the stable lads had been approached and offered bribes, but without success. He was particularly anxious that Belphegor should remain a “dark horse,” and accordingly neglected no precautions to preserve secrecy.

Violetta quite agreed with this policy, but as the days wore on her anxiety became intolerable, and she at last came to the conclusion that though it might not be wise for Peter Gumley to come to the Owl’s Nest, as doubtless his movements were watched, there did not seem any harm in her calling upon him. The touts could hardly care what she did.

So one afternoon she sallied forth, and mounted on her pony she rode to Holberry Down.