Of our party of visitors, Fitzroy and the Honourable Captain Salter were the two who really sensed the importance of doing in London as London does. The Honourable Salter put it into words:
“Fitz,” he said, “do you think they’ll let us get to the club alive in these hats?”
This was the city which Lady Seawood and her associates were about to enliven and, hopeless as the task might appear, it is nevertheless a fact that a gnat can occasionally enliven an elephant.
Arrived in London, the Countess and her troupe, as she called them, decided to have a breaking-up luncheon and pay a visit to the Countess’s horse before dispersing to their various destinations. They were welcomed by her trainer whose establishment was a great contrast to that of Long Harry. Her Ladyship employed one of the increasing class of gentlemen trainers who are making quite a success of the business, and the visitors had sherry and biscuits instead of tea before making their inspection. Mr Geoffrey Stradbroke, trainer to the Countess, was a sort of male duplicate of Miss Fysshe—small, wiry, and tightly buttoned up. But while Miss Fysshe specialized in an absolute silence, the trainer was prepared to hand his patrons any amount of conversation without giving them any information. To use his own words, he could get them to go the right way without pulling their heads about.
When the English crack was led out for inspection the visitors gasped. Crusader had won the Triple Crown—the Two Thousand Guineas, the Derby and the Leger—and was now in his fourth year, an age at which a horse looks his best. At that age he has his full size and strength without any of the heavy appearance which comes out in later years. A whole bay with hard black legs, he threw true to the line of Bend Or, while the St Simon blood in his dam had given him an extra dash of quality.
For some reason or other (possibly climatic) the English horses have more vitality and more quality than any other horses in the world. While Sensation was a big, sleepy, good-natured giant, this was a fiery domineering horse, snorting, rearing and showing himself off like a picture actor. He had neither the length nor the substance of the big Australian horse, but he was as compact and muscular as a pocket Hercules. A fine, fiery head was followed by a crested neck, and his shoulder, while neither so high nor so deep as that of the Australian, was high enough and deep enough for modern ideas. Like Mercutio’s wound his shoulder was neither as deep as a well, nor as wide as a church door, but it would serve.
Behind the shoulder he had a short back with barrel-like ribs, a broad loin and hips, and his hind quarters were so built up with muscle that the insides of his thighs touched each other almost down to the hocks. Apart from his shape, he had the indefinable gift of quality, the steel-like look about his bones and sinews, that told of immense strength compressed into a relatively small area.
“There you are,” said his trainer. “He’s not such a wonderfully big horse, but the blade of a steel knife is worth twice its weight in hoop-iron, isn’t it? Not that I mean your horse is too big, Mr Carstairs; he must be one of these really good big ones. I’m speaking more of the big fellows, we beat over here. I don’t suppose any of you have seen the American or the French horse, have you?”
“How’s the show shaping?” said Her Ladyship, who expressed herself always in theatrical terms. “Have the stars signed their contracts—the American and French horses I mean? Will we have to close the doors against the crowd, or will we have to give out some paper to fill the house? I’ve been away out where the nigger minstrels come from, and I haven’t seen a paper or heard a word of news. Let me know the worst.”
Here the horse gave a scream and a bound in the air that scattered his audience somewhat, and the trainer told the boy to put him back in his box.
“There’s no worst that I know of,” he said. “Some of the old brigade have been making speeches, saying that it is against all the traditions of racing to pay these men to bring their horses here. But these horses can make so much money in their own countries that their owners won’t spend a lot of money to come over here and perhaps get beaten. Give ’em their expenses and a bit for appearance money, and they’ll come over and have a crack at us.”
“Loud applause,” said Her Ladyship. “Loud applause. This study in scarlet ’ere,” she went on, indicating Red Fred with the point of her parasol, “he has paid his own expenses but we’ll give ’im an order on the treasury so as he gets the same as the others. If Manasses is in his old form I’ll bet he has secured the picture rights and taken an option on half the theatres in London for the crowds that’ll come over. . . . So the old boys don’t like it, eh? I’ll bet the man who likes it least is that crawling little brother-in-law of mine! ’Ow I do ’ate that man!”
In this unchristian spirit the party broke up, Moira and her father going off to stay with relatives in Ireland; the Honourable Captain Salter going off to his recently inherited estates; and Red Fred and his secretary betaking themselves to an hotel strongly recommended by the Countess. “Under Yid management, and the Yids buy the best food in the world,” she declared. The parting between Moira and Fitzroy was of the most perfunctory nature. She had not forgiven the exhibition he had made of himself on the night that the music-hall star kissed him; and he on his part thought it better for them to part now rather than have a perhaps more painful parting later on.
As the curtain descended on the gathering Her Ladyship struck an attitude and spoke the tag.
“Farewell, friends. We will meet again at the Mont de Peet. Farewell!”
Then, observing that Fitzroy was not listening to her, she walked behind him, kicked his hat off, then jumped into her car; thus making a most successful exit according to the exigencies of dramatic art. She felt free, now, to turn her attention to her brother-in-law.
When General Sir Ponsonby Fysshe succeeded to the title and entailed estates of his late brother the Earl of Fysshe and Fynne, he was a man with a grievance. He had never believed that his brother was married to the music-hall star who shared with him sumptuous Fysshe Castle, or as it was usually called the aquarium. And the General had made up his mind that when he succeeded to the title and estates, his very first act would be to hunt into outer darkness the lady to whom he had always referred as “my brother’s concubine.” When the blow fell, and he found that this woman had got pretty well all the money and all the racehorses, while he himself had got little except the title and a few frightfully expensive family seats, he shut himself up for a week and refused to see anybody.
He was a middle-sized man with a choleric temperament and a protruding red moustache which had earned him in the army the sobriquet of “the Lobster.” As his ancestors for a dozen generations had never done anything for themselves—even their clothes and food were chosen for them—Nature had revenged herself by denying to him the initiative and intelligence for which he appeared to have no particular need. He was a robot—a very presentable robot certainly—still, a robot, and he walked through life as a robot might walk, performing various functions to which his machinery was adjusted but knowing nothing else. In his military career he had collected a couple of rows of medals of the type known in the Army as “piccadillies,” given for Coronation and Jubilee parades, or presented by foreign powers. These were eked out by several South African decorations.
He had commanded a brigade in that affair. But he had committed the faux pas of ordering one of his regiments to fire on their own advance party, which happened to consist of Canadian mounted infantry. When the officer hesitated to give the order, the General roared:
“Damn it sir, why don’t you fire?”
A volley was fired well over the heads of the Canadians. These latter promptly scurried round the corner of a hill, and were lost to sight. But it takes an expert to tell whether a bullet is twenty yards or twenty inches over a man’s head, so the Canadians were convinced that a deliberate attempt had been made to murder them. Just as the General was dictating a heliographic message to say that he had engaged and defeated a large body of the enemy, the Canadian Colonel—a most impossible person arrived and said he would like to meet the nameless offspring of shame who had fired at his men.
This resulted in the shelving of the Lobster to a staff job, where he collected all available medals and came home. Then he retired from the Army and became Fault-Finder-General and Depreciator in Chief to the various clubs, committees and boards of directors to which he belonged. He was a great stickler for the proprieties and insisted on everybody keeping his proper place. At a settling after a racemeeting he hailed a bookmaker who rejoiced in the name of “the Major” because of his military appearance:
“Why do they call you the Major? You never were in the Army.”
To which the bookmaker replied:
“Why do they call you the Lobster? You never were in the sea.”
As already stated, the whilom Connie Galbraith loathed and detested her brother-in-law with a bitterness which usually exists only between persons of different religions. When he, in his turn, heard of her intention to enliven London with a new sort of race-meeting, he became almost inarticulate with rage; said that the affair was a damned hippodrome; and that he would give a thousand pounds at any time to see her horse beaten.
Nothing was further from the poor old gentleman’s thoughts than parting with any such sum for any such nefarious purpose; but words spoken cannot be recalled and sometimes a bird of the air will carry the matter. This injudicious remark was made in a club where all communications are sacred. Unfortunately it was overheard by a waiter who was polishing glass behind a screen. Being under notice of dismissal fell an incurable habit of attending race-meetings when he was supposed to be on duty, this waiter thought he saw a chance to make a few pounds to carry him on until he got another job, or backed a long-priced winner. He wrote down the date and time of the remark and the names of the persons present; then went into the hall to see what had won the four o’clock race.
While the Lobster and his associates were predicting all sorts of disaster for the new venture, the “International Racing Syndicate,” as they called themselves, were exhibiting no end of showmanship. For instance, they directed that Sensation should be left in the nominal charge of Bill the Gunner who would also ride him in his races, thus ensuring the international element that was the basis of their plans. Privily, they placed Bill the Gunner under the orders of a leading English trainer, for it was not to be expected that a partially civilized Australian could train the horse properly under new conditions. The French and American horses had their own trainers and riders.
Then the world woke up to the fact that an international racing championship meeting was to be held. Hotels were flooded with telegrams for accommodation; theatres were booked out for weeks in advance; and the ten thousand reserved seats in the racecourse stands, issued at five guineas each, went to a premium in twenty-four hours. As Mr Manasses put it, hunching up his shoulders and spreading out his palms:
“Vot did I tell yer? Thereth any amount of money in the vorld if you can only get at it.”
While the chosen people were preparing their feast of racehorses and their flow of finance, Red Fred and his secretary had nothing in the world to do with themselves all day long. The management of Sensation had been taken over by the syndicate under their written agreement, and the only connexion Red Fred had with the horse was to go out occasionally to see him work. Here he had to listen to the biting criticisms of Bill the Gunner on English trainers and English methods.
It appeared that quite early in the proceedings Bill the Gunner had taken it on himself to give the horse what he called a “twicer” (a working gallop twice round the course) in defiance of the trainer’s orders; whereupon the trainer, being one of the old school, had promised him a good flogging with a horsewhip if he ventured to do such a thing again. The horse had become acclimatized in a week and was looking beautiful, but Bill the Gunner professed to see nothing but disaster ahead. “This Englishman,” he said, “wouldn’t be allowed to train billy-goats at Rockhampton”—a city where goat-racing is brought to a fine art, and hundreds of pounds can be won on a derby for goats driven in miniature sulkies with rubber tyres and ball-bearing wheels.
Tiring of the lamentations of Bill the Gunner, Red Fred and his secretary paid only occasional visits to the stables, and found the rest of the time hang very heavy on their hands. It was then that Miss Fysshe, a confirmed frequenter of racecourses, stepped into the picture and started taking Red Fred to the races.
Miss Fysshe, a most sophisticated person in ordinary matters, was still a child when it came to racing. She had never really grown up, in a racing sense. She still believed in fairies, hoarse-voiced men who whispered in her ear that Timbertoes was a good thing at two to one in a field of twenty-six maiden horses, or that the road to affluence lay in following the betting operations of a notorious bankrupt. A touch of mystery will intrigue any woman, and so long as the tips were sufficiently mysterious she could not resist them. Having appointed herself guide, philosopher, and friend to that vacillating character Red Fred, she directed his operations with the best intentions in the world but with the worst results.
“They tell me it’s unbeatable,” was her only answer to any questions on his part. And when they proceeded to reckon up, their losses at the end of the day she silenced all criticism by saying: “Look what a royal day we would have had if that boy hadn’t gone to sleep on Monkey Tricks.”
When a man has arrived at middle age without any experience of racing and then suddenly tastes the thrill and excitement of backing a few winners, he is apt to go fantee and to take to betting as some people take to cocaine. He becomes an addict; and it is said of this addiction that the only cure is death. Be that as it may, Red Fred started to bet in a fashion reminiscent of the Jubilee Juggins. Before long his plunging operations had attracted notice even in the City of London. His lady friend derived a vicarious excitement from “planking on” five hundreds and thousands for him, and the lower class of sporting papers took to referring to them as “the Australian Copperhead and the Shrimp.” Their sporting columns would record that a certain double had been backed for twenty thousand pounds and as the wager was taken by the Australian Copperhead, it was obviously inspired by the stable.
To Red Fred this was fame, fame with a capital F. To Fitzroy it was simply lunacy. He was experiencing a bad attack of the blues, so when he found himself with nothing to do except supervise the sending out of huge cheques every settling-day it was hard to keep his self-respect. News from Australia was not reassuring; the bailing-out of the Daybreak mine was costing a lot of money without any certainty that it would resume production. And he, Fitzroy, was drawing a big salary and doing nothing for it. Overhearing one day some remark about a parasite he suddenly resigned from Red Fred’s service and went away to look for a more honourable job.
Red Fred accepted this as he accepted everything, without protest of any sort. Now that he was relieved of Fitzroy’s supervision he began to bet worse than ever. Every day Miss Fysshe and he experienced the delirious excitement of a hunt through the list of runners, the gathering of information from people who, being blind themselves, were always ready to lead the blind, and occasionally the supreme moment when their fancy rounded the turn hard held with everything settled and only a furlong to go. Unfortunately these occasions were so few that not even the Bank of England itself could have carried him on indefinitely.
Betting had already begun on the great championship races and almost every day Red Fred put what the sporting papers described as a packet on Sensation for the long race, and he also backed the horse in doubles and trebles. Shrewd racing men whose acquaintance he had made at the meetings advised him not to try to win too much money at once, for there were ways and means of “fixing” a favourite that threatened to take too much money out of the ring. They might as well have proffered some advice to the Sphinx as try to influence Red Fred.
Matters were at this stage when the Dowager Countess of Fysshe and Fynne got to hear of what was going on. Without the loss of a moment she sent for Fitzroy and told him off in true Whitechapel fashion:
“You,” she said. “You, to leave your boss just when he wanted someone to look after him! Didn’t he treat you well? Didn’t he give you a job when you were down and out, sacked from the police? The only man I ever knew that wasn’t on the take-down, or on the make, and that wouldn’t tell you lies. And when he wants a friend you run out on him like a yeller dog. I’ve told ’im to come and stop ’ere with me and you’ve got to come back and look after ’im. You’ve drawn a lot of money for nothin’; now let’s see you earn some of it. That damned little Fysshe, if I catch her takin’ ’im away bettin’, I’ll take the scales off her. Now go away and get your traps before I reelly start to talk to yer.”
Within the next few days a chastened Red Fred and a Fitzroy with a new sense of duty were established with the Countess at one of her houses near Newmarket, where there was every luxury including a few loose-boxes for the use of the horses when they came up to race. Nothing could be gleaned from either the appearance or the conversation of Miss Fysshe as to what had transpired between her and the Countess, but the betting partnership between the Copperhead and the Shrimp was irrevocably dissolved.
Her Ladyship only referred once to the affair, when she said at dinner that the only people who could make money at racing were people that could make a fortune if turned loose with a shilling in the streets of Aberdeen—a statement that was received in silence by all parties.
Neither Red Fred nor Miss Fysshe had any interest in life other than betting. Fitzroy on the other hand had, for the time being, no interest in life at all. He was somewhat cheered up by the receipt of the following letter from Ireland:
Dear Mr Fitzroy,
Father has asked me to write this letter for him as he has rheumatism in the hand. He has had a letter from his manager and he desires me to inform you that your colt has been recovered by the police. He was being trained in a shed at the back of a Chinaman’s garden up on the Diamantina, and there is no doubt that Jimmy the Pat put him there. The colt is in great order, nearly ready to run, and he is said to be something quite out of the common, and may be the colt of the year. Father says that his nominations were all transferred to your name and you will be able to race him as soon as legal matters are fixed up.
There is a warrant for murder out against Jimmy the Pat for stabbing a man in a gambling dispute. His gang is all broken up and that is how the police got the information about the horse. The police think that Jimmy has cleared out of Australia and that he has come over to England. There is an old suit of armour here which I daresay they would lend you. I hope the Countess is well.
PS. We shall be staying at Claridge’s for the races and Father hopes you will come to dinner one evening.