The Way of the Transgressor
THE WAY OF THE
By MARY GRANT BRUCE
PEOPLE are fond of saying nowadays that the day of the horse is passing, and that a time will come when the species will be as extinct as the mastodon and the brontosaurus. It may be so. One hears so much of motor-cars and motor-boats, and everyone talks of electric traction, and even flying machines are in the air; so that it may really be that some day the horse will have vanished from our streets, and will be seen principally in the Zoo, so far as cities are concerned. That, however, is for the youngsters to think about. As for us old hands in Australia, the horse is good enough for us, and we don't think much of a buggy without shafts—no, nor of a race with only wheels to move. The old days were the best, we say, when a man's horse was his friend, and he thought more of it than he did of himself. Things are different now.
It's a good many years now since I was a youngster down Ballarat way. Every man Jack of us owned good horses those times, every man who was worth his salt hunted, and every man who thought anything at all of himself was in love with Mary Arnold. One and all of us, we went through the mill, and though we all came out of it feeling pretty sore at first, we got over it, as youngsters do. Mary was the daughter of Joe Arnold, the horse-dealer, a tall, dark slip or a girl, with the lightest hands and the best seat on a horse I ever saw. She'd ride all Joe's young 'uns for him, and I never yet came across the horse that could beat her; even those that the men couldn't handle she'd manage, somehow or other. She was as good a judge of a horse as her father, and that meant something, I can tell you; and, as for being keen at a bargain, you couldn't best her. You young chaps nowadays don't like your girls to be sharp, but in that time we thought all the more of ours for it. There wasn't much softness about in the early days in Ballarat.
I was about two-and-twenty when Mary Arnold's love affairs became most interesting. I'd done my own time fallen in love with her and out of it again, and into it again with another girl, for that matter, so I was free to watch the game and see all that went on. There were two fellows after Mary then—George Maybrick of Tewirra, and Dick Reid of Narrama, and, as far as outsiders could judge, the betting was about even. One thing was certain—she cared more for them than for the usual run of her admirers. We had got short shrift and no favour; but these two chaps had been dangling after her for months, and she didn't seem able to choose between them.
Naturally, there wasn't much love lost between Maybrick and Reid. They were popular fellows, especially the latter—a devil-may-care chap he was, good-looking and well-set-up, with a snug little property left him by his father. George Maybrick was the elder of the two, a quieter fellow than Reid, and not as much thought of by the women, though the men all said he was a good sort. His place, Tewirra, was a real beauty, and he could have bought Reid up twice over; and no doubt this had its weight with pretty Mary, who always had an eye to the main chance. So she kept the two of them dangling, while she made up her mind, until they were at daggers drawn, and the rest of us fought shy of going into a bar with one if there was any chance that the other would be there. It wasn't bad fun for the onlookers, but the players didn't seem to enjoy the game—all except pretty Mary. She was always cheerful.
About this time the chief topic of conversation was the Hunt Club race meeting. This was a yearly event, and always came off at the end of the hunting season. The principal race was the Amateur Steeplechase, for a cup presented by Joe Arnold—it was about up to him to give a cup, seeing that nearly every hunter in the district passed through his hands. The horses entered had to be hunted throughout the season by their owners, and ridden by them in pink. It was generally a great race.
This year, however, it was reckoned that there were only two horses in it—Dick Reid's mare Countess and a big chestnut of Maybrick's called Panther. They were the two squireens of the neighbourhood, and none of the young fellows had anything as good as their horses; and between these two there was very little to choose, though, if anything, the odds were on the side of Reid's mare. She was a beauty, and no mistake, and Dick loved her only second to Mary Arnold. He was a beautiful rider, and a very gentle fellow with horses, and they loved him, too. As a rider, George Maybrick was as good, but he had a nasty temper when roused, and most of his horses were afraid of him. Panther was a splendid animal—he had paid a very long figure for him—and altogether it promised to be a tight go between the pair. Of course, there were other entries. Jim Arrowsmith had his mare Nora, Jack Parker had Barney. I had a good enough nag myself—a long brown horse I called Poacher—and Billy Mahony and his brother had each an entry—all good horses, but not quite good enough in that company. And then there was Micky Raglan's horse, The Transgressor.
Micky Raglan was a young Irishman, who had come out a year or so previously from Tipperary, and was doing his best to make a fortune by Australian farming on Irish principles. He wasn't getting on too fast—not that that troubled him overmuch, for as long as he had a decent horse to ride, and a pound or two to back it with, if necessary, Micky was all right. There wasn't a more popular fellow in the district than "Rags," as everyone called him. All the men swore by him, and all the women loved him, and, as for Rags, he loved them all alike. Even Mary Arnold had shown him extra attention, but to everyone's amazement he didn't seem a bit inclined to profit by it. Then the rumour got about that Rags had a girl in Tipperary, and, as he never contradicted it, it became generally believed. He was a little chap, ugly as a load of wood, but with the kindest face you ever saw, and a pair of grey eyes that were always on the twinkle. No one really thought Rags was ugly, though, if you came to think over it, he hadn't a decent feature, barring those Irish eyes. His farm was a poor little place, and he never did much good at it, so that this year he had only been able to keep one horse, a big grey brute that could both jump and gallop, but never by any chance would do either properly. Poor old. Rags didn't have much fun out of him. Sometimes the brute would begin a run well, and then stick him up at a little bit of a fence that he could have hopped over. Rags used to say that once he had done a stunning gallop after kangaroo, when he was alone, but no one ever believed it, the horse was such a nasty-tempered beast. His name was Pat at first, but after one very bad day Rags said he wouldn't demean a good Irish name by putting it on such an outlaw, and so no one was surprised, when the en tries for the Steeplechase came out, to see Mr. M. Raglan's nomination christened The Transgressor. He said he'd wanted to call him The Devil, but deferred to the secretary's opinion that it would be too startling to the public; not that the Ballarat public was over-squeamish in those days.
About a week before the race, matters came to a head between George Maybrick and Dick Reid. It was fairly well known that each of them had asked pretty Mary to be his wife, but she had given neither a definite answer that, at least, was the rumour that got about. It came from Polly Cook, the servant up at Arnolds', whose acquaintance with keyholes was said to be a very close one. Whatever Maybrick and Reid knew about it wasn't certain, but at all events they met one day in the bush and had a violent quarrel. They were on the point of coming to blows, when a horse's hoofs were heard, and Mary Arnold herself came riding smartly round a bend in the track. A glance at the angry faces of the two men was enough to show her what was the matter, and she spoke out plainly enough.
"Now, look here, you two," she said, a bit pale, but looking at them scornfully, as if they were no more account than a pair ot schoolboys fighting, "look here! I won't stand your quarrelling about me. I know well enough that's what you're at. You've got me talked about all over the place between you, and I'm fair sick of it!"
Reid broke out at last.
"You'd have no cause to complain, if you'd give one of us an answer, Mary," he said firmly. "If you'd do that, I reckon the fellow that was out of the running would be man enough to take himself off. It's your fault if you keep us on a string like this!"
Mary flushed crimson at his tone, for she had never before heard him speak so sternly. George Maybrick saw the flush, and he put in a smooth word.
"That's your own business, Mary," he said; "and if you're not ready to give me an answer yet why, I can wait. I'm sorry if I've had any hand in getting you talked about."
"I'm not," said Reid bluntly. "You bring it on yourself, Mary."
Now, women are queer cattle. You never know when you have them. Maybrick reckoned he was at least ten points to the good when he heard Reid speak so roughly, but somehow Mary did not seem offended. She even smiled at Dick, as if she understood; but on seeing the seventh heaven into which her smile threw that admirer, she promptly frowned again.
"I'm sure I don't want to marry anyone," she said impatiently. "I don't know why you can't let me alone. If I were to choose between you now, you'd only fight." She thought a moment. "I tell you what," she said suddenly. "I'll marry whichever of you wins the Steeplechase!"
The men looked amazed.
"I don't like that," Reid said slowly. "Surely there's one of us you like best. Mary dear, take him, whichever it is, and trust the other not to make a brute of himself. Don't go leaving it to chance like that."
"I'm not afraid to leave it to my horse, if you are," Maybrick said.
Dick flushed. "I'm not afraid of anything that's just between you and me," he said angrily, "but I'd a great deal rather that Mary made her choice straight out. There's no sense in leaving a thing like this on the chance of a race."
Mary flared up at that.
"I'm sorry you don't think I've much sense, Mr. Reid," she said scornfully. Anyway, I'll stick to what I've said. I'll marry whichever of you wins the race, and if you don't like to take the chance, you can leave it. There are plenty of others!" And, with that, she shook her reins and cantered off.
There was a good deal of talk about the matter, when it became known, for Mary made no secret of her plan. A good many thought hardly of her for it, especially the women, who said she didn't know what it meant to care for a man, and that she had no right to play with the two who cared for her. Some of us thought she fancied Reid's mare was really the best, and certainly she ought to have known, as her father had owned both horses. Very likely she found it hard to let Maybrick and his acres go without a pang, for, when all's said and done, Mary was a real sensible girl. There aren't many like her these times.
Maybrick and Reid spent most of their time during that last week putting a final bit of polish on their horses—not that the nags weren't fit enough after the season's hunting. Occasionally they met, and then they were barely civil; and George Maybrick grew darker and darker-looking as he saw how well Dick's mare Countess was. She looked fit to run for a man's life. Just as it happened, his own horse. Panther, wasn't doing too well, and the more George worked at him, the less rosy his chance looked. The day before the race he was riding home, as down in the mouth as a man could well be, when, as luck would have it, he ran into Dick Reid's stable-boy, young Harry Kerr.
None of us ever heard exactly what was arranged between these two. Maybrick was pretty desperate, and the boy was a young rip, who'd have murdered his grandmother for half-a-crown, and it was more than half-a-crown that passed from Maybrick's pocket to the lad's, I'll go bail. Anyhow, it was a simple arrangement enough—only to make a mistake in the mare's bedding-down that night. Any boy might do it, and Dick Reid was so completely unsuspicious a chap that he'd never have dreamed of any trickery. He went to see the mare that night, as usual, and found her knee deep in her bedding. How was he to dream it was wheaten hay—feed for a dozen horses? He never imagined that all that night his mare was steadily eating away any chance of winning his bride next day.
He found it out next morning when he went to look at Countess. Young Kerr was busy cleaning the bedding out of the loose box, and that attracted Diok's attention first of all, for it was unusual for the youngster to bestir himself. "You're in a mighty hurry this morning," Dick said carelessly; and then he noticed the straw and turned suddenly white. "Good Heavens, Harry, you didn't use that for bedding, surely?" he cried out. And then, at the guilty look on the boy's face, he realised what had happened to him even before he had made a bound towards the mare.
It was an hour later that the merry Irish face of young Rags looked over the stable-yard fence. Dick was leaning against the wall, with his hands in his pockets, and young Kerr was still lying where Dick had flung him when he'd finished with him, and sobbing. Countess had poked her head over the half-door of the box, and was looking out with the contented air of the well fed.
"What's wrong, Dick?" Dick looked up.
"That you, Rags, old man?" he said slowly. "Oh, nothing much, only I'm out of the running to-day."
Rags gave a long whistle. "What on earth d'ye mean?" he cried. Then his face darkened as Dick explained briefly.
"She's no chance, then?" he asked.
"Chance!" Dick gave a short, bitter laugh. "She's as full as she can hold. I don't believe she could gallop a yard if you pushed her along with a steam-engine. George has managed his business pretty thoroughly this time."
"You'll start her, of course?" Rags asked.
"Oh, yes, I'll start her. I'll probably lay an information against Maybrick as well, but what's the use? That won't affect the race. I hardly think I've any chance of making it warm for the cur afterwards, for I don't expect anyone will take Harry's word against his." And Dick glanced scornfully at the sobbing, prostrate form. "Here, get up, curse you, and saddle the mare!" he said, and the boy came unwillingly to do his bidding. " If you'll excuse me a minute, Rags, I'll go and change," Dick went on. "Don't leave that hound alone with Countess, like a good chap." And he went inside.
Rags watched the boy dreamily as he rubbed the mare down.
"Look here, young 'un," he said suddenly, "do you want another hiding?" Harry looked up and shrank away. "Well, if you don't," Rags said, "take my tip. Go to Miss Arnold, as quick as you like, and let her know all about the business everything, mind! Now, you needn't put on that lip!"—as the boy's face darkened. "Go, or I'll give you the very father of a licking meself! It's the least you can do now."
"All right, Mr. Raglan," Harry sniffed; "I'll go."
Dick Reid made no secret of his misfortunes on the course, though he forbore to mention Maybrick's name, and maintained an obstinate silence when asked if he had any suspicions about the job. He avoided Mary Arnold, and as young Harry did not turn up with his explanation until after the race, she heard no more than the rumour that Countess was not fit. It was enough to bring a shadow into her eyes. Maybrick was at her side most of the time. He went up once and condoled with Dick on his hard luck, and Reid turned his back on him. There was a thunderous feeling in the mental atmosphere, and when Rags dropped a hint or two of the state of affairs, public feeling ran pretty high against Maybrick, though most of the men said he should be given a show to clear himself. "He'll get it after the race, my oath!" Dick said to Rags.
Rags stuck pretty close to Dick until the race came on. There was a hard look on his merry boy's face, and he cut Maybrick dead; and a cut from Rags meant something down our way those days, I can tell you. He took little interest over saddling-up, though The Transgressor was looking very well, and nearly brained a chap who came too near his heels. A long, iron-grey brute was The Transgressor, with the ugliest head you ever saw; but he looked a galloper and a jumper every inch of him. If he'd only had a decent temper, he'd have been a beauty; but though Rags and Dick each put a bit on him for luck, none of the other fellows cared to touch a horse which in all probability would baulk at the first fence or bolt off across country. A real will-o'-the-wisp was poor old Rags's solitary string.
Panther went out a hot favourite, with two or three others close up in the betting. Countess had fallen back, and you could get anything about her. She was all in a lather of sweat by the time they'd got the saddle on her, and most of the chaps told Dick he was a fool to start her but he refused to scratch. He and Rags rode down to the post together, the Irish boy very silent. Near the post he spoke suddenly.
"I may as well tell you, old chap," he said, "I'm going to foul Maybrick if I can."
"Don't talk like a fool!" said Reid curtly.
"I may be a fool," Rags said, "but that's now I was born. If I can spoil that spalpeen's chance, I will, you can take my word upon it. You keep back and don't interfere."
"I've little chance of doing anything but keep back," Dick said bitterly; "but, for Heaven's sake, Rags, don't do such a mad thing! You'd be wiped out for life."
Rags's mouth was set obstinately.
"If you can't win, he shan't, if I can make the Transgressor transgress!" he said, further protest on Dick's part was checked abruptly as the starter cantered up to them. He tried to caution Rags again, but the latter kept out of his way, and in a moment they were off to a good start.
Well, poor old Countess was done from the jump pretty well. She kept up over the first two fences, but then she was rolling and wallowing in her stride, and puffing like a blacksmith's bellows, and at last Dick pulled her up and stood by to watch the race. It was no good riding her out. It nearly broke Dick's heart, as he slowed into a walk, to look at the Arnolds' buggy, where Mary was standing up with glasses to watch the racing. She had never looked prettier than she did that day, and Dick ground his teeth to think that he had lost her.
Meanwhile the field was going along at a good bat. There were several horses between Maybrick and Rags, and so the latter found it hard to get within distance of putting into effect his deliberate intention of fouling Panther, for The Transgressor wasn't a horse you could hustle along as you liked. Rather to Rags's surprise—to the surprise of all of us, in fact—he was going quite kindly, jumping his fences as if he liked them. But you never knew how long it might last, and Rags began to be afraid that he might turn nasty before he had a chance of getting level with Panther.
Half round we were all going well together, and then the water-jump brought down Billy Mahony and another fellow. Panther jumped it splendidly, and, much to everyone's amazement, The Transgressor took it like a bird. My old nag nearly came a cropper at the next fence, but I kept him up somehow. About a mile from home Arrowsmith's mare began to come back to the rest of us—she had led from the start—and then Panther began to forge ahead. The race just looked at his mercy.
That made Rags uneasy. He hadn't one idea about racing himself that day—well, he never did have much—on The Transgressor; all he cared for or thought about was stopping George Maybrick. And here was George racing away from him, gaining at every stride, and looking, by the self-satisfied back of him, as if the race were over and won already. He was leading by four lengths as we crossed the third fence. I heard Rags say under his breath, "Oh, hang!" and he gave The Transgressor a sudden vicious cut with his whip.
The Transgressor almost stopped in his stride with sheer amazement. Such a thing hadn't happened to him for ages. He simply wouldn't stand the whip, as a rule—had been known to lie down under it and what Rags carried it for was a mystery to us; we always chaffed him about it. He certainly wouldn't have used it this time if he had thought for a second; and when he felt the horse's indignant swerve under him and saw his ears go back, he gave himself and the race up for lost. "Oh, murder, he's going to turn nasty on me!" he said despairingly, and in his desperation he suddenly brought his whip down a second time.
That cut—it was a beauty—had a most astonishing effect on The Transgressor. He flung his had up for a second; and then it went down, and, with his neck stretched out, his ears laid back, and his big eyes glaring wildly, The Transgressor bolted.
He took the next fence almost in his stride; we held our breath as we followed, wondering how on earth he didn't come down. George Maybrick, leading well ahead, heard the thunder of hoofs behind him, and the next moment something long and lean and iron-grey went past him like a comet with a man in green on its back. To the last fence they rushed, Rags sitting back and tugging wildly—he might as well have tugged at a thunderbolt—and I don't think there was a woman on the course, and precious few men either, but shut their eyes and shuddered as the mad horse tore at that fence. Rags tried to lift him as best he could, but the brute was almost unmanageable in his fury. He hardly rose at it at all you could hear the crash half a mile off as the rails splintered beneath his rush. We hardly dared look.
Luckily the top rails were old. They gave as he crashed through them. He was down on his knees, his nose was almost on the ground, and then, with a wild effort, he struggled to his feet as Rags made the best recovery I've ever seen, or expect to see—you won't do it with your motor-cars! Stumbling, pecking, half falling for a score of yards, and then The Transgressor was himself again, and he came down the straight like a streak of greased lightning, with the field tailing off somewhere—it didn't matter where—behind him. It was Eclipse first and the rest of no account, as he flashed past the post, with the gay green jacket on his back. The Irish green was splashed and stained with blood as Rags rode back to weigh in, when at last he pulled The Transgressor up—they went half round the course again before he managed it, and Rags was pretty white and shaky—indeed, Dick Reid's arm was round him for the last hundred yards. A bit of wood from the splintered rail had caught him across the forehead and laid it open, and he had ridden that finish in a mist of blood.
Well, we cheered—I needn't tell you that; we could cheer in those days—and Mary Arnold came and kissed Rags before us all, before ever he'd washed his face. No one thought of George Maybrick, and he took himself off as quickly as might be, after he caught the look Mary gave him as she turned away from young Harry Kerr's faltering story. As for Dick Reid, he looked perfectly contented—I don't know why—even though he said to Rags: "I think I ought to stand aside in your favour, old man; you won the race, you know!"
Rags flushed ever so faintly beneath his bandages.
"I think I won't be troublin' you, Dicky, my boy," he said. "Miss Arnold mightn't be afther likin' it; and there's someone in Tipperary mightn't, either!"
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1958, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 65 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.
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