Chapter XXV

Dan Westoby’s Last Coup

Peter Gumley warned by Violetta, took extra precautions to guard the “cracks.” She also made a proposition to him to which he was strongly opposed but she was so insistent that at last he reluctantly gave way.

Gumley had no fear of any attempt at foul play being successful, but he had not reckoned upon Parsons, his discharged groom. At one corner of the Holberry Down property was a little patch of low-lying woodland always swampy even in the time of drought. Beneath the patches of weeds and water lay a mass of glutinous mud and slime not much less than a foot deep. On the shelving bank nearest the dry level ground amid the undergrowth was a fence of barbed wire. No watchers patrolled this spot, as Parsons well knew.

On the further side of the wood was barren common land, on which many years before a squatter had built a hut. Before he had remained long enough to establish his claim he was ejected but the hut was left to decay at its leisure. Not far from the hut was a post some ten feet high, with a fragment of a cross-piece hanging loose, black with age and in places greenish with some kind of fungus. It was all that was left of the gallows where a century and a half ago and more, many a criminal had passed his last moments.

After nightfall few people cared to cross the common, and its solitude made the hut a very convenient place for Godfree and Parsons to meet and arrange their plans. The coup was to be brought off on the eve of the Derby, run very late that year.

Parsons was not seen that night at the Barley Mow. He had taken up his quarters at the hut, and with his pipe and a flask of whisky for his companions, awaited the coming of Godfree and Richards. The latter, terrorised by Godfree’s threats had surrendered himself completely.

The hours crept slowly on. The time appointed for the meeting was midnight. Every now and again Parsons ventured from the hut, and looked anxiously at the sky. His fear was lest there should be a moon, but there did not seem to be much cause for apprehension on that score. The night was as dark as the most enthusiastic burglar could wish.

A little after midnight he heard the steps which he expected. The door opened, and Godfree appeared. He was dressed in a close-fitting suit, and with a travelling cap with the lapels pulled down over his ears. It may have been that the night was chilly, or that he wanted to disguise himself slightly. If the latter, the cap answered the purpose fairly well.

“Well,” said he, “are you ready?”


“Then we’ll start. There’s no hurry, so we’ll take it leisurely. I reckon one o’clock’s a good time, eh? What do you think?”

“It ought to be. Ten o’clock’s about the hour everybody goes to bed.”

They quitted the hut and tramped their way through the bracken, which was now fairly high, towards the gallows post. In the darkness a few yards away a man was standing motionless, bis head bent, his hands thrust in the side pockets of his overcoat. A slight mist had arisen within a very few minutes and the man’s outline was so vague he might have been simply a shadow.

Godfree went up to him and gripped his arm savagely.

“What are you mooning over, you ass,” he whispered. “Pull yourself together. If you’re going to funk the business give the stuff to me. But don’t suppose, Alf, you’re out of it because I take on the job. I guess I needn’t remind you that I know something which might lead you to the neighbourhood of the gallows. You’re close to it now, by the way. Get me?”

Alf Richards turned his face​—​ghastly grey it looked in the gloom​—​towards the horrible memento of the past.

“I get you right enough, Mr. Godfree. You’re the sort of man who’d chuck anyone​—​your best friend if need be​—​when they’re no longer any use to you.”

“Shut up. Are you going to back out? That’s what I want to know?”

“No. I’m up to the neck in this black business and I’ll have to go through with it.”

“I reckon you will,” muttered Godfree.

Ever since the night of his humiliation at the hands of Lord Verschoyle, Godfree had never relaxed his hold on Alf Richards. He had kept him continually in a state of semi-intoxication.

They tramped on to the wood, Richards walking between his two companions, who had their hands beneath his arms and forced him to go their pace. Soon they were on the brink of the treacherous spot. For nights past Parsons had been making preparations for crossing. He had collected a number of boulders and had sunk them at convenient intervals to form stepping stones. Risky as was the showing of a light, he flashed his electric torch and showed the tops of the stones peeping above the water.

“This fool’ll never keep his footing,” growled Godfree. “You’ll have to carry him on your back, Parsons.”

“Not me, Mr. Godfree. I’d rather leave him here and call for him as we come back. What’s the good of him as he is? Pretty nigh non compost, I should say.”

Godfree admitted this. Hitherto he had not dared to trust Alf Richards out of his sight, but in his present half-helpless and wholly stupid condition he couldn’t do much harm. Certainly just now he was a nuisance and a hindrance.

“Give him a drop of his own dope an’ he’ll be safe enough,” suggested Parsons facetiously.

“Don’t talk rot. Let us go on and see what happens.”

This was very soon settled. Richards promptly collapsed.

“That does it,” said Parsons. “He’ll have to stay where he is. Has he got the stuff on him?”

“Of course he has. I wanted him to do the job. He knows the ropes, but we’ll have to carry on by ourselves.”

Godfree thrust his hand into the pocket of the prostrate man’s overcoat and took out a cardboard box and a phial. Richards seemed indifferent to or unconscious of what was being done.

Presently Godfree and Parsons attempted the tricky crossing and got over safely. They scrambled up the bank, cutting the lower strands of the barbed wire fence on their way, and Parsons made for a sort of gully at the bottom of which trickled a thin stream. This they crept along and were well concealed.

The gully led to the wall of the stable yard, and at the bottom of the wall was a circular opening to allow the passage of the water. The latter continued its course inside and had an outlet at the wall on the other side of the yard. People often wanted to know the good of this little open ditch with its surface drainage water. They were told that if the water were prevented from coming into the stable yard the soil which was clay would dry and shrink, and the solid stable buildings would be unsafe.

Parsons, who was familiar with every nook and cranny of the Holberry Down stables, saw how the gully and the circular opening in the wall could be made use of. The opening was large enough for even a man as big as Godfree to creep through.

It was done. Parsons went first, and soon the two were crouching in the darkness.

“Which is the door of Belphegor’s stable?” whispered Godfree.

“Keep close to me an’ I’ll take you straight to it. He’s in a stable all to himself. I told you so. Makes things easy, don’t it?”

“What about the dog?”

“Kennel’s right over t’other side of the yard. He won’t bother us if you don’t make no noise.”

Presently he and Godfree were opposite the door. Parsons had a duplicate key which he had had made to further his depredations on the corn bin when he was in Peter’s employ. It was well oiled and moved noiselessly in the lock. They crept inside unseen, favoured by the darkness and mist.

Parsons, of course, knew the situation of Belphegor’s stall, and crept towards it. He could discern a vague outline of a figure on a bundle of hay at the entrance. Godfree saw it too.

“Make for the boy​—​quick,” he breathed.

The contemplated surprise attack might have been brought off but for Belphegor who suddenly elected to be restive. The recumbent form on the hay sprang into life. The light of an electric torch flashed into the two men’s faces.

“You vil——”

The word was never completed. Parsons had clutched the speaker’s throat, while Godfree whipped open the cardboard box. In a second a sponge saturated with chloroform was pressing over nose and mouth. It was dark once more for in the scuffle the electric torch had been dropped among the hay.

All seemed to be going well, but again Belphegor’s temper asserted itself. Whatever was the cause, he lashed out a hoof and caught Godfree a nasty kick on the shoulder.

“Curse the brute,” he muttered, together with a few other epithets.

“Been worse if he’d kicked your leg,” whispered Parsons. “Where’s the dope? Stick the bottle to the boy’s lips. A drop or two follerin’ that chloryform ought to do the trick.”

Godfree’s right arm was useless. Parsons had to administer the dose.

“It’ll be all a job to physic that beast. I know him too well. I’d rather put a bullet through his brains. ’Spose I fetch him a crack over the hocks. That ought to spoil his running, I guess.”

A long handled brush was on its nail close to the stall, just as it used to hang in Parson’s time. He snatched at it, at the same moment Godfree gripped his arm.

“Leave it alone, you damned fool. I don’t want to hurt the horse.”

“What! Warn’t there to be any hocussing?”

“No, not of the horse​—​the boy. Both I and Dan Westoby mean to let the horse run and do his best or worst​—​most likely his worst.”

“What did you bring me here for, then?”

“You’ve been well paid. Why are you grumbling? Look here, you blockhead. No one knows better than you that there’s only one jockey who can ride Belphegor. Can’t you see that if we knock out young Tim Hollis Belphegor hasn’t a dog’s chance of winning, no matter who’s up? Won’t that rile its owner more than anything? Hocussing the brute with Hollis on his back wouldn’t do it half as much. What about that?”

He pointed to the inanimate form on the hay.

“Miss Vaughan may scratch him,” said Parsons, gloomily.

“Not she. I’ll give the devil his due. She’s too good a sport. Now then, let’s clear out.”

They crept back the way they came. They crossed the stepping stones; they stumbled upon Alf Richards. He was lying exactly in the position in which he was left.

“I don’t like this,” muttered Godfree, uneasily.

He knelt down, felt the man’s pulse, then his heart. He glanced at the ashen face. The eyes were staring. The lips were partly open. A little blood and froth marked them.

“My God, Parsons, the fellow’s dead!”

The two men looked at each other. It was a catastrophe totally unlooked for. Anyhow, they were not responsible for his death. And, being dead, he could say nothing. From this point of view the event was all to the good.

“Let’s leave him as he is,” said Parsons in a low voice. “It may be a week or more afore anybody’ll find him.”

“That’s so.”

Parsons had already turned away, and Godfree was about to follow when an idea suddenly struck him. He took the cardboard box and the phial of “dope” and thrust them into Richard’s pocket.

“That’ll explain everything,” he thought.

Then he hurried off.


“Mary, I feel very worried about Belphegor. I oughtn’t to have agreed,” said Peter Gumley, rubbing his chin with an air of uneasiness.

“I told you so, Peter. You shouldn’t have said yes to such a wild harum scarum idea.”

“Well, it’s done. Anyhow, there’s been no signal and I had the ’phone set up in case anything went wrong. I wasn’t to go unless I heard.”

“That’s nothing to do with it. It’s pretty nigh one o’clock in the morning! Go and see if it’s all right.”

As Peter generally obeyed his wife, he went.


Three o’clock in the afternoon of the next day. Within ten minutes or so the great race for the Derby stakes would be decided.

The Derby Day has been described a thousand and one times more or less. It would be but a tedious repetition to attempt to do so again. Interest for the present purpose is centred around two men, Dan Westoby and George Godfree. The latter had his right arm in a sling. They were anxiously awaiting the horses.

At last the string entered the course and cantered leisurely to the starting post. Westoby had stationed himself sufficiently near to note every horse and every jockey with the naked eye, but for all that he used his field glasses.

“What the devil’s the meaning of this?” demanded Westoby sharply. “Tim Hollis is up on Belphegor.”

“Rats! The boy won’t be fit to ride for a week. I left him last night lying insensible. I​—​by God, I believe you’re right. It is the urchin.”

Most certainly it was, and as spry and as healthy looking as he could possibly be.

“You’ve sold me, you sneak,” burst out Westoby.

“Sneak yourself. I risked everything for you, and nearly got killed in the bargain. Parsons must have been hoodwinked. He swore that Hollis would be with the horse all right. We doped some other stable lad.”

“That’s a lie. Peter wouldn’t be such an ass. Belphegor’s not to be trusted with a stranger.”

He could say no more. The horses were being marshalled. They were off. They started in a cluster, the jockey’s caps and jackets mingling in a confused mass of colour. In half a minute no particular horse seemed prominent; then a blue and orange darted ahead. It was Killarney, the favourite. Tom Allworth had shaken his mount free from the ruck and Killarney was rushing for dear life close to the rails.

“Damn! I shall pull it off after all,” muttered Westoby. “Good horse!​—​great horse!”

But at Tattenham Corner other horses were creeping up. Foremost was a scarlet and black.

“Rouge et Noir! Her colours. Curse the woman. She hasn’t forgotten her luck.”

The thought was Westoby’s. It was an omen of evil for him. Violetta was not now his mascotte!

Yard by yard, foot by foot Belphegor overhauled Killarney, which was visibly tiring. Allworth called upon him for another effort, but the pace was too good. Amid an uproar almost unparalleled, Belphegor passed the post half a length in front of the favourite.

Westoby dropped his field glasses into their case with a bang. He turned to Godfree, his face white as a sheet, but quite cool in his manner.

“This lets me down to zero. I don’t know whether I’ve to thank you or Parsons, or the boy, or​—​the woman.”

“Where are you off to?” whispered Godfree, anxiously, as Westoby was striding away.

“Don’t know. To the devil, most likely.”

He and Godfree, who was sticking to him, had hardly got out of the crowd when a police inspector with a couple of men who, despite their plain clothes, had detective written all over them, approached.

“You are Mr. Dan Westoby, I think.”


“And your friend’s name, I believe, is George Godfree.”

“What do you want? Out with it,” said Westoby, brusquely.

“I hold a warrant to arrest both you gentlemen on a charge of conspiracy.”

“Confoundedly vague. Conspiring to do what?”

“To do bodily injury by administering a noxious drug to one Violetta Vaughan,” returned the inspector, reading from the document in his hand.

“By God, she’s done us!” burst out Godfree, furiously.


It was so. Violetta’s plan was to dress herself in Tim’s clothes and take his place by the side of Belphegor. She was dozing when Godfree and Parsons took her by surprise. But she recognised Godfree and she had not quite succumbed to the effects of the chloroform when Belphegor shot out his hoof. Had Godfree tried to shift the blame on to Alf Richards, his injured shoulder would have given him the lie. But there was no necessity. Parsons, to save his own skin as much as possible, gave his employers away.

Violetta, unconscious, was of course discovered by Peter Gumley, and a doctor was instantly summoned. The quantity of the dope she had swallowed was fortunately very small, and she speedily recovered.


The last scene. (Enter Violetta and Lord Verschoyle).


Now that I’ve told you all my past, you may want more time to think over the matter. In marrying me you’re marrying a great risk, you know.

Lord Verschoyle

I don’t care what risk I run to get you, Violetta, and I’ll not take a second for thought. A woman who can care for a horse as you do can care still more for a man. Dearest, you’re my mascotte​—​for life!