Chapter XX

Violetta shows Fight

“There’s something going on at Gumley’s that I don’t quite understand. You must find out, George.”

So declared Dan Westoby in his coldest and most deliberate manner.

“Not so easy, old man,” rejoined the Honourable George. “The place is guarded infernally close. Ever since the Two Thousand, Peter’s put on a double set of watchers, and I tell you straight, Dan, they’re not to be got at.”

“Exactly, and that’s why I want to find out Peter’s game.”

Westoby and George Godfree were seated at luncheon in the stately dining-room of Normanhurst. It was much the same as Sir John had left it for Westoby had bought the furniture as well as the mansion and park.

The bookmaker had an idea that when he became a landed proprietor the gentry would receive him on equal terms. He had been bitterly disappointed. He had been snubbed all round. He could not even obtain the distinction of being made a J.P. Except the satisfaction of having dragged down the man he hated, he had derived no pleasure from being the owner of Normanhurst.

Perhaps had he flung his money about he would have been more successful, but fits of meanness kept his purse strings tightly tied. He knew the hangers-on of the turf too well to make friends of them They were useful to him and that was all. George Godfree was an exception, but that was because of Godfree’s family connections, and because he had been born a gentleman and could call himself the Honourable George.

As a matter of fact, Westoby was a solitary man, and he had begun to find Normanhurst a bore and a white elephant. The upkeep of the place was a financial burden without much compensation. He had occasional thoughts of selling the property but this would have been an admission of defeat, which for the moment he did not feel inclined to face.

But since the Two Thousand he had discovered a reason why he should hold on. A dream was hovering about his brain. He was thinking of it now, but apparently the mystery of Peter Gumley’s extra precautions was the only thing that occupied him.

“Peter’s game’s a deep one, you may bet your bottom dollar on that, Dan,” said Godfree, frowning. “I guess Lord Verschoyle keeps a tight hand over him. It was Verschoyle who insisted upon Gumley firing Parsons and all the gang. He’s got to know something.”

“What’s the meaning of Gumley taking on that boy Tim Hollis again?” said Westoby abruptly. “He was one of the old gang, wasn’t he?”

“Well, he was and he wasn’t,” rejoined Godfree with a short laugh. “Barney Moss got hold of him, it’s true, but he was rather a difficult fish to play. If he hadn’t been rubbed the wrong way by Peter he wouldn’t have opened his mouth; as it was, Barney had precious little out of him.”

“Seen Parsons lately?”

“Yesterday. He’s always hanging about the Barley Mow. Seems in low water.”

“So much the better. No love lost between him and Gumley, eh!”

“Not as much as a bee’s knee.”

“And I should think he ought to know the ins and outs of Holberry Down at his fingers’ ends. You must work him, George. We must see the next trial spin. If Killarney loses the Derby it’ll about sew me up. But he can’t lose with Tom Allworth on his back.”

“What! do you mean to say you’ve backed him?” cried Godfree.

“Yes, why not? I suppose it’s open to me to back a horse as well as take odds against him?”

“I don’t deny it. But it’s not like you. I’ve heard you say that if it weren’t for the jugginses backing horses the bookies couldn’t live.”

“And I still say it. But once in a way a juggins pulls it off. Killarney’s a dead cert. Why shouldn’t I take advantage of it? It’s my whim, so shut up.”

Godfree shrugged his shoulders and veered round to his patron’s way of thinking that Quicksand’s form at Newmarket was but a fluke.

“At the same time, governor, if Tom Allworth hadn’t been on Killarney I do believe Quicksand would have beaten him.”

“And so do I. That’s where the devil interfered. You hadn’t got your ears and eyes open, George.”

“How the dickens could we tell Verschoyle was going to put up Tom Allworth at the last moment? Quicksand beat him when the two were tried together.”

“Barney Moss got that bit of news for us, didn’t he?”

“Yes, and he was well paid for it. He must have known more than he told us, the sneak. He and his crown backed Killarney for all they were worth. We were nearly sold.”

“Mind it doesn’t happen again, George. We’ll see Gumley’s next trial with our own eyes. Parsons must manage it for us. Enough of this. What about the girl we saw with Verschoyle? Found out anything about her?”

Godfrey eyed his patron closely. He was wondering why Westoby took so much interest in Violetta. The bookmaker was as a rule quite indifferent to women. His ideas about them on the few occasions when he talked on the subject were not elevating. He regarded women as created to squeeze what she could out of man. She would, he held, get anything to benefit herself whether in the way of her pocket or of her personal adornment. Judging from his experience of the majority of women whose acquaintance he had made on the race course possibly he was right.

His sentiments were perfectly well known to George Godfrey and the latter could not conceive Dan regarding Violetta in any other light than as a woman to be bought. Whether this was so or not didn’t matter a rap to the Honourable George. His game was to make his services useful. If Dan Westoby paid him well, and he was able at the same time to indulge his spite against Violetta, he would have a double satisfaction.

“Have I found out anything about her? My dear chap, there’s precious little I don’t know, excepting perhaps what she did during the time she was in France.”

“Yes, you hinted as much before,” rejoined Westoby, impatiently. “Have you found out where she’s living? That’s the point.”

George Godfree’s blood-shot eyes glinted maliciously.

“Quite so. It’s a bit of a find and I guess you’ll open your eyes when I tell you. It cost me a fiver to oil the tongues of the gossips at the Barley Mow.”

“The Barley Mow! What the devil’s the Barley Mow got to do with her?”

“Simply this. She’s living at the Owl’s Nest, and her place isn’t two miles from the pub. There’s nothing the loafers of the bar parlour like better than to chew over the bits of scandal about the ‘Quality.’”


“What they don’t know they invent, and, by Jove, a story in their mouths doesn’t lose by telling. The tale is that Sir John Norman, once my old pal, set her up there and is looking after her welfare. The Owl’s Nest belongs to Norman, you know.”

“I didn’t know​—​curse him.”

“Well, it does, and a snugger cage for a pretty bird it would be difficult to find.”

Westoby’s lips tightened and his nostrils twitched. Godfree watched him narrowly.

“From what I know of her past and present I should say that there’s a lot of truth at the bottom of the story. The Hebe of the buffet in a club where some of the rowdiest boys on the turf were to be seen, isn’t likely to be very particular. But, touching Norman. By a stroke of luck, Christine, who’s the cleverest of devils when she keeps from the cham. and chartreuse, came across both her and Norman when she was doing the spiritualistic fake and the Christian Science wheeze, and making a good thing out of both. It was at Thames-side, up the river, and she got taken up by the vicar, till he was told something about her that made him drop poor Christine like a hot potato. It’s as good as a play to hear her take off his reverence​—​”

“That’ll do. I don’t want to hear about Christine. I know all her doings.”

“Do you? I doubt it,” returned Godfree, with a hoarse laugh. “She wants a bit of knowing. Anyhow, she figures in the story. She was invited to a seance at a riverside villa where Norman and his sister were living, and while she was there Norman and Violetta Vaughan came back from a motor joy ride. They’d been out all day it appeared. Norman’s sister, who is a bit of a spitfire, was in a rare wax. Christine learned that the next day she packed off Violetta bag and baggage. Of course, Norman was on the job, and that was how she comes to be living in that secluded shanty of his, the Owl’s Nest.”

Westoby’s face became harder and harder as he listened to this recital of facts ornamented by fictional conclusions.

“How came she to be gadding about at Newmarket with Verschoyle?” he burst out.

“Ask me another, my dear chap. You’re not a baby in the ways of women. Draw your own inferences, and while you’re doing that draw me a cheque. I guess I’ve made the way easy for you. It’s half the battle when you know the sort of woman you’re after. Five tens wouldn’t hurt you. I wasn’t bound to tell you anything, you know. Dirty work ought to be well paid.”

Westoby pulled out his cheque book and wrote a cheque for the desired amount.

“There you are, Judas,” he hissed.

Godfree laughed. He was used to Westoby’s ways.

“Get on now to Parsons and don’t mess the thing up,” snarled Westoby.

The tone and manner were those of a master to a servant, and the Honourable George’s face momentarily flushed. But he dared not resent the book-maker’s contempt and tyranny.

Three days went over. Violetta, by sheer force of will, had recovered her equanimity. Had she chosen to dwell upon her disappointments she would have been thoroughly miserable. She had half hoped that Lord Verschoyle would have been tempted to call, but he came not.

“Why should he? You’re a fool to think he would after seeing that choice sample of my acquaintances. He must be feeling jolly glad I didn’t accept his promised invitation to his mother’s dinner party. I suppose I shall be honoured with a distant bow if I should chance to meet him with any of his relations, and with a sort of patronising familiarity if he should be alone. That’s how men treat women who’ve gone down in their estimation. I’ve seen that kind of thing over and over again.”

Immediately after pronouncing this judgment she was inclined to make a reservation in favour of his lordship. In whatever he did he would be a gentleman.

As for Norman, his silence had first surprised and then slightly angered her. Having taken her fully into confidence, he had dropped her. Why? She could find no reason, but after Ella’s base insinuations she was glad he had never written nor sought to see her. No one who knew the facts could cast a stone either at her or him.

But, as she thought, with a shrug of the shoulders, what do facts matter where scandalous tongues are at work?

Notwithstanding that Norman had to a certain extent dropped out of her dreams of the future, the sudden appearance of Dan Westoby and his identity with the man of her “mascotte” days impressed her strangely, and brought to life the romanticism of her nature. It had once pleased her to let her fancy rove in the regions of the ideal when she saw herself the central figure of a story which was to have a happy ending in restoring to Norman his ancestral house. She did not know exactly how this was to be done, and Norman himself had rather knocked the bottom out of her fanciful weavings by his confession. Of late she had ceased to speculate about him and herself​—​save on one point.

That point was closely allied to her romanticism. She had never cast aside the impression that she brought good luck to other people. Though she had ceased to be a “mascotte,” she still believed in her powers. As she had at Monte Carlo told the man who had proved to be Dan Westoby, she had not the slightest idea why she should possess this occult influence. All she could say was that such was the fact.

And with this conviction firmly fixed in her mind, she had governed all her speculative plunges by the idea that she was acting for Norman and not for herself. It might be said to be a species of self delusion, but whether or not she had hitherto not had a failure. Of course, she herself would benefit by her successes, but this was a minor consideration. She had as a Monte Carlo “mascotte” steadily refused anything but a fair remuneration and she would continue to do so. It was no doubt a “fad,” but “fads” have a strange individualistic influence incapable of explanation.

The startling entry of Westoby into her life had made a considerable difference in her views. She now had a strange personal interest in wresting Normanhurst from the man who had deposed its rightful owner. She had no cause for hating Westoby, it was purely the antagonism she felt against him. But with Violetta this was quite enough.

So it came about that the sympathy with Norman and her desire to help him receded into the background, and a yearning to pit herself against Westoby occupied the first place.

In spite of all this, Violetta felt that for the moment she had not nerve enough to take the bold step of calling on Westoby. She had worked herself up into hating the man, but neither his questionable reputation nor his intimacy with her avowed enemy George Godfree had anything to do with that hatred. The cause was something which worked upon her indignation and galled her to the quick. She knew that her character and much of her past were in his hands. And she felt helpless.

Violetta brooded over the position until it began to dash her spirits, and she felt the want of some mental tonic. It came in the shape of a note from Peter Gumley, which arrived by post.

“Dear Miss Vaughan,” he wrote. “I should much like you to see the horses run. I’m going to have a trial​—​at night. I’ve reason to believe that spies are about, so I send this by post instead of messenger, who might be watched. To-morrow night the moon will be at the full, and if the present weather continues it ought to be almost as light as day. Come over about nine. I shouldn’t ride if I were you, nor travel direct. Take a roundabout route. We can’t be too careful. All going well. Yours respectfully, Peter Gumley.”

Violetta felt a strange sense of elation. Here was something to fight against. The prospect of a battle of wits always put her in a good humour. She carried out Gumley’s instructions to the letter.

A few fleecy clouds flecked the sky when Violetta reached the trainer’s house. Gumley was awaiting her. There was a shade of anxiety in his face.

“Are you sure you weren’t dogged?” said he.

“Quite sure​—​that is to say, I saw no one at all suspicious. I set out from my place as if I weren’t coming here. I came round by Normanhurst.”

“That was rather risky, wasn’t it?”

“No. I thought it was the best thing. If you’re in any fear of Westoby’s people they’d hardly think I should go in his direction.”

“Perhaps you’re right. What troubles me is that blackguard Parsons. He’s been nosing about here these last two or three days. Anyway, all is in readiness, so come along.”

The two went into the paddock. The horses were out for a gentle walk to stretch their legs previous to the trial. There they were, the three beauties,​—​Killarney, Quicksand, and Belphegor. Violetta’s heart bounded when she saw how the action and bearing of her favourite had improved.

“Oh, Mr. Gumley, how splendid he looks!” she cried enthusiastically.

“Aye, and I’ll go bail his running will be just as good.”

“Who’s up?”

“Tim, of course. I wouldn’t trust any other boy on his back.”

“That’s right. Who’ll ride Killarney​—​I mean for the Derby? Tom Allworth, I suppose.”

“Yes, Tom’s booked for the Derby, but for the moment it’s a dead secret.”

“Where does to-night’s run end?”

“At yonder post. Wait here and see ’em come in.”

Violetta purposely avoided making herself known either to Tim or to Belphegor. She wanted the trial to be carried out fairly and squarely on its merits.

The horses were walked to the starting place, and Gumley’s head groom set them going. Violetta and the old trainer watched and waited.

It was an exciting struggle, and to Violetta all the more so because of the solitude and silence. There was no bustle, no roar of a tumultuous crowd, no buzz of tongues to relieve the strain on the nerves.

Soon the quick sullen thud of hoofs became distinctly audible. Violetta, looking direct at the advancing horses, could not determine which was ahead. They seemed to be in a cluster. Gumley’s more experienced eyes, however, told him that Killarney was a little in front, and he said so.

“But that means nothing,” he added. “They’re only through the first half of the spin. The last bit will tell. It’s a little uphill.”

“Oh, if only Belphegor puts out all his strength!” cried Violetta, clasping her hands. “He’s got it in him, I’m sure.”

“I’ll go bail Tim’ll see to that. I never see a boy so wrapped up in a horse. They’re pals, and that’s a fact.”

On they came. At three hundred yards or so from the post they were level, and at a hundred yards Belphegor began to draw away from his companions. He gradually drew ahead and won by a length. It was a dead heat between Killarney and Quicksand.

Violetta rushed to Belphegor, stroked his nose and caressed his neck. The horse knew her. Then she held out her hand to Tim, whose eyes glistened.

“I knowed he’d do it, miss, when he’d got fair play,” gasped Tim, who was breathless with exertion and excitement.

“Yes, and he must do it again at the Derby,” said she.

“You bet he will if I’m on him.”

Violetta turned to Gumley.

“What will Lord Verschoyle say to this, Peter?”

“It’s a bit awkward. He’s pretty deep in with Killarney, though I warned him the Derby wouldn’t be the sure thing the Two Thou, was.”

“Did you say anything about Belphegor?”

“No; I wasn’t confident about him or about Tim either. He’s come along wonderful since then.”

Violetta was silent for a few minutes. Then she looked up with a shade of vexation in her voice.

“I wish you’d invited Lord Verschoyle to-night. He ought to have seen the trial considering he’s so interested in it. It would have been playing the game, wouldn’t it?”

“I suppose it would,” rejoined Gumley with an apologetic cough. “But I didn’t know how you’d take it.”

“How I’d take it? Why on earth should I object?”

“Well, you see, Miss, the thing had to be kept so close on account of Dan Westoby.”

“Yes, I know, but Lord Verschoyle’s a gentleman. He’s to be trusted.”

“Of course​—​of course. Anyhow, the thing’s done and can’t be undone.”

“Yes it can. You must let Lord Verschoyle know as soon as possible. Remember, I insist upon it.”

Gumley was a little puzzled over Violetta’s manifestation of feeling. And; indeed, Violetta herself was puzzled. It seemed to her, however, that as things had turned out, it might be said that she had been conspiring with Peter Gumley against his lordship. But had Belphegor failed, what then? It was a point she could not decide off-hand.

“How does the betting on Belphegor stand?” said she.

“Ten to one. The bookmakers want less odds. Before the Two Thou, you could have got twenty to one.”

“I did,” rejoined Violetta quietly.

The trainer gave a long whistle.

“Up to how much?”

“A £100.”

“Who’s the man who took you?”

“Dan Westoby. I chose him purposely. The bet’s not in my name. I booked it through my old friend, William Burrup.”

“H’m. If Dan Westoby knew of to-night’s result he’d say his £2,000 was as good as gone.”

“I suppose he’d get it back and more by Killarney losing. Killarney’s hot favourite just now.”

“That’s so. But he wouldn’t be if this trial gets talked about. I’ve done my level best to keep everything as close as wax, but stable secrets have a nasty way of oozing out.”

“I might get on the first thing to-morrow at ten to one,” said Violetta, reflecting.

“You might.”

“I happen to know Burrup’s in town. I shall go to London to-night and see him. Shall I put a bit on for you?”

“No; that would never do. It would upset the show if it were known that I was booking bets.”

“I should take care it wasn’t known but please yourself. Good-night, Mr. Gumley. If I hurry I shall just catch the next train.”

She sped away, and the old trainer’s looks followed her. Scratching his chin, the while he muttered:

“Mercy on me, when a woman takes on a hobby, whether its horses or anything else, she goes the whole hog. What did she pick out Westoby for?”

Peter couldn’t answer the question and he didn’t try. He could only shake his head.

“The gell may be right, but——” well, there was a volume in that “but.”