The Shearer’s Colt

Part I - Chapter XI

Leger Day

Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson

DURING the next few days Moira Delahunty and her father arrived from Queensland and went to stay with relatives in a fashionable suburb. Red Fred and his secretary still remained at their unpretentious hotel; the millionaire had made friends with the landlord’s children and refused to move. Getting a day off from his secretarial duties (which were practically nil) Fitzroy went out to call on Moira and her father.

As the old gentleman was away, he took Moira for a run round the harbour suburbs in a car and they were soon discussing the happenings since the affair with the Chinaman at Calabash.

“How have you been getting on?” Moira asked. “Have you had to carry Red Fred lately? I knew him when he used to shear for us and he was the quietest man I have ever known. And now look at him! You can’t pick up a newspaper without seeing his name in it and all about his horse. We’re off to England soon. Couldn’t you get away and come too?”

“That’s just it,” said Fitzroy. “He bought this horse to take to England, and now his trainer won’t let him go. We’ll have to fix that up somehow. The boss has let other people order him about all his life, so that now if anybody stamps a foot at him he wants to run under the bed. Fancy, if we could get away to England with that horse on board, what a trip we’d have! Did you hear any word about that stolen yearling of mine?”

“Yes. The black-tracker got on to the tracks of some horses and he ran them for miles. Then he came on to two white men and a Chinaman leading three beautiful young horses. He told me: ‘I been think it better I arrest them feller, but the Chinaman he pull out a revolver and he say, go back you black mongrel or we shoot you.’ So I said to him: ‘What did you do then, Billy?’ ‘I went back,’ said Billy. But father says the horse will turn up all right, they’re sure to race him.”

Then they discussed hunting in Ireland with the soft light on the hills, and the dewdrops on the hedges, and the Irish hunters springing on to the banks and off again, and the ladies of title (with horses to sell) who would jump on a fallen man to attract his attention to their horses. Fitzroy inquired after Maggie. Moira told him that at the last shearing Maggie had strolled up to the shed when shearing was over and found the shearers’ cook going away with some kerosene-tins of kitchen fat, which were his perquisite. But a dab of Maggie’s knife into the fat had revealed that the tins were full of plates, knives, and forks covered over with fat. Maggie had confiscated fat and all. Then they talked of Sensation’s chances in England. Moira said:

“I stick up for the Irish when I’m here, but I stick up for the Australians when I’m at Home, for that’s the way the Irish are. I’ll cheer this horse over there and I’d cheer an Irish horse here.”

By the time the drive was over they were, in their minds, writing the name of Sensation on the hearts of the English bookmakers.

Leger day at Randwick drew all parties to the course as a magnet draws steel filings. The cynosure of all eyes was Red Fred who was invited—one had better say compelled—to join the Government House party. In the days when he had been chipped by a soulless boss of the board for making second cuts in a sheep’s fleece, he had solaced his feelings by dreams of the day when he would be wealthy and powerful and generally admired, and able to walk round his own shed with every shearer keeping close to the skin while the boss’s eye was on him. Now that those days had arrived they fell far short of the dreams. Everybody turned to stare at him as he went into the ring.

By way of escaping public notice, he went inside the rails to Sensation’s stall and they mutually enjoyed themselves while he rubbed the chestnut horse about the mouth. But somebody passed the word, and Press photographers arrived in shoals, knocking people out of the way and calling out to him

“Turn round a bit, mister, so that we can get your face.” When the Governor’s wife congratulated him on the ownership of such a beautiful horse he thought with horror of the fight ahead of him before he could get the horse away from Long Harry. When he drifted down to stand for a while alongside his old friend Jim Frazer, the crowd that came to gape and not to bet was so dense that Frazer asked him to go away.

“I won’t hold five shillings while you’re standing there Fred,” he complained.

As this juncture Long Harry arrived and cut Red Fred out of the crowd as skilfully as a stockman cuts out a steer from a mob. The trainer had been handling owners all his life and had no idea of letting such a Koh-i-noor of the punting world lie round loose to be picked up by any adventurer.

“Come along o’ me,” he said, “and I’ll tell you what to back. The favourite in this fust race is drawn right away from the rails and he’ll want to be a flying machine to come in from there and win. Now, this thing ’ere—Snowfire,” he went on, turning over his book and dropping his voice, to the discomfiture of some loiterers who appeared to be enlarging their ears in an effort to hear what was said, “this thing ’ere Snowfire belongs to a mate o’ mine, and we gave ’im a run with your ’orse and it made the big feller stretch out to beat him. The crowd are backing one of mine in his race, a thing called Sylvester. He’s second favourite. If I had a donkey in, they’d make it second favourite. But you might as well ask a fish to climb a tree as ask mine to beat Snowfire. Go and put a hundred on Snowfire and see me at my stall after lunch.”

Following, as usual, the line of least resistance, Red Fred went and put a hundred on Snowfire at six to one and then, with a sinking heart, he rejoined the Government House party. He found things less strenuous than he expected. The party were listening spellbound to a very large and confident young man who had just arrived from England.

This, was a Mr Noall. In England he was secretary to a Prime Minister and was himself in line for political honours; also, he owned a string of racehorses and was just as sure about racehorses as he was about everything else. He was the glass of fashion and the mould of form. But to the eyes of the two young Englishmen—Captain Salter and Fitzroy—he didn’t seem quite right. He was just a little too loud in the necktie, and—too large in the tie-pin for their money. If they had been asked to name his nationality they would have said that he was a Levantine Greek; and they would not have been far wrong.

“I won’t have the favourite for this race,” said Mr Noall with the air of a man whose decision is final and subject to no appeal.

“This thing of Harry Raynham’s—Sylvester—he’s a stone certainty. He was strangled by his rider last time he ran. The stewards never saw it; but I saw it. They let that stable get away with murder. They’re putting a thousand on him to-day, so you must all be on it. You can get sixes. Go and get on before they shorten it.”

Fearing to be drawn into an argument with this omniscient person Red Fred looked round for a way of escape and to his delight he saw Moira smiling at him from the crowd. She and Fitzroy had also been asked to the official luncheon, and were only waiting for the first race to be run before joining the select band for the viceregal table.

“Oh Fred,” said Moira, “I’ve got such a lot of things to talk to you about. You must sit next me at lunch There’s no time to talk now. Did Raynham tell you anything about this race?”

“Yes, he said his horse was no good and that Snowfire would win. But you heard what that young feller said? He said Raynham’s horse was a certainty. Raynham must ha’ been tellin’ me lies. They’re terribly crook some of these racin’ chaps.”

“Don’t you believe it, Fred. Father says that the racecourses are full of people who like to show off and tell everybody the winner and when their certainty gets beaten they say it was pulled. And the worst of it is that the crowd believes them. Father heard a man talking like that about one of his horses and he tried to ram the man’s race-book down his throat. Father said it was the only remedy an owner had. . . . Now, Fitz, we’ve got this beautiful tip about Snowfire and I’m going to have a tenner on it. Run down and put it on for me quick. They’re at the post.”

A six-furlong race is a hammer and tongs affair from the start, and the favourite—drawn twenty-five horses out—put up a gallant battle but he had to strain every nerve over the first couple of furlongs to hold his position. Sylvester and Snowfire jumped out smartly from positions near the rails and were racing on the inner side, while the favourite was racing on the outer circle. At the turn into the straight the three had come together and were racing abreast. It looked to be anybody’s race. But the favourite’s early efforts told their tale and he was the first to crack up. Then Sylvester was the cry; for, as usual, a lot of people had backed both the favourite and second favourite. At two furlongs from home a doleful howl went up as the jockey on Sylvester, noted for his ability to ride a finish with his hands, went for his whip and gave his mount a couple of sharp cuts down the shoulder. Sylvester made a game effort to answer the whip but he was hopelessly outpaced and Snowfire ran home an easy winner. Sylvester’s jockey, not wishing to knock a game horse about, dropped his hands in the last couple of strides and finished second, beaten a length and a half, which might have been three lengths had Snowfire’s rider so wished.

Moira and Fitzroy each won sixty pounds and went into lunch bubbling with delight. In fact, with the selfishness of youth, they never thought of asking Red Fred what he had won. The truth did not come out until half-way through lunch.

Mr Noall and some of his admirers were seated just opposite Red Fred and his party at the end of the long table-out of hearing of the real swells at the top of the table. One of the semi-viceregal sisters started the trouble by saying:

“I don’t suppose you backed the winner, Mr Carstairs?”

Before Red Fred could answer Mr Noall chipped in.

“Of course he didn’t,” he said. “He’d back the horse from his own stable—Sylvester.”

“No I didn’t,” said Red Fred, feeling that for once in a way he had distinguished himself. “I backed the winner. I won six hundred. Raynham told me not to back his horse. He told me to back Snowfire.”

Here was a situation right after Mr Noall’s heart. A trainer had the second favourite in a race and he had told one of his patrons to back something else!

“Raynham told you! Well, I wonder what they will stand in this country. I thought that boy on Sylvester wasn’t too keen at the finish. Did you see him drop his hands?”

Having the Irish sympathy for the under dog, Moira threw her hat into the ring and spoke without choosing her words.

“The boy on Sylvester hit him with the whip in the straight. He had no chance with the winner. Any fool could see that.”

His experience as a platform speaker had made Mr Noall a very diffiicult antagonist in a debate. He smiled tolerantly:

“Of course, young lady, as you say, any fool could see it. Some of these jockeys would fool anybody.”

Not liking either his tone or his appearance—in fact not liking anything about him—Moira returned to her lunch with the acid remark:

“I’m afraid you look at life through very dirty spectacles.”

“I see some very dirty spectacles, if that’s what you mean.”

While this was going on, Fitzroy said nothing whatever and applied himself industriously to his plate; but from under his brows he favoured Mr Noall with the look that a fighting bull-terrier gives to his opponent when the pair are led into the pit. Noticing this look, and knowing Fitzroy’s temper, the Honourable Captain Salter thought he had better be the little diplomatist and patch up some sort of peace. One never knew what Fitzroy might do.

“Hard to say,” he said. “Hard to say. Before I started ridin’ I thought if there were six races there were six bally crimes to be detected. Absolutely! But after I’d ridden a bit, I wasn’t so sure. Some people said I didn’t ride my horse out in the Grand National. And of course any chap would give one of his ears to win a National.”

Before the captain could enlarge on this subject His Excellency rose and the party broke up. The next race was the Leger, for which Sensation was voted a certainty, so Red Fred went down to see the trainer.

They found Long Harry saddling the big horse with the greatest care, while Sensation, in no way excited, nibbled thoughtfully at the cardigan jacket of the boy at his head.

“He’s home and dried,” said Long Harry. “They won’t bet on it. They’re offering six to four that you can’t place first and second. He’s got two weight-for-age races next week so I want to get him an easy race to-day. A lot of ’em think this horse can’t sprint, so they’ll run it as slow as they can and try to beat him in the run home. That’s right into my barrow. I’m tellin’ Jacobs to let ’em run the first mile at a walk if they like, and we’ll show ’em if he can sprint or not.”

“What’ll run second to him, Mr Raynham?” said Moira, whose sixty pounds were burning a hole in her pocket. “I might have a bet on placing first and second.”

“Daylight’ll run second to him, miss. Biggest certainty ever you saw.”

“But there’s no horse in it called Daylight.”

“No, miss. But there’ll be daylight between him and the other horses.” And with that he turned his back and went on testing the girths.

It is customary on the stage for the minor characters to prepare the way for the entrance of the star, and when the field of three-year-olds went out on the track, Sensation was kept back to the last. Some of them went up fighting for their heads, while others sidled like crabs, but Sensation trotted along by the rails like an old hack, taking no notice of the cheering mob a few feet away from him. His coat glowed in the sun and the play of his huge muscles could be seen at each stride. Wheeling for his canter he came down with his head in his chest, playing with the bit and disdaining to quicken his pace when another horse rushed past him. He pulled up at a touch of his rider’s hand and walked back to the starting-post with the reins lying loose on his neck, while his rider settled a stirrup-leather in its place.

When the barrier lifted, Sensation was pulled back last of the field of seven, and here he ran along at an easy swing while some of the leaders were taking a lot out of themselves, springing off the ground and throwing their heads about as a protest against the slow pace.

“I wish they’d string out a bit,” said Long Harry who was watching the race with Sensation’s owner. “I don’t want him to have to come round a mob of horses at the turn, and I don’t want him to come inside and get pocketed.”

For the first half-mile a couple of blankets would have covered the field, but at last the two leaders wore out the arms, or the patience, of their riders and the field lengthened out just as Long Harry had wished. Providence, they say, is always on the side of the big battalions.

There was no real pace on until they had run a mile. The riders were obviously watching each other, for at the six-furlong post every horse jumped into top speed in a stride and the real race was on. Sensation was still the last and was giving as much as six or seven lengths to the leaders, and the trainers clicked their stop-watches just to see what pace the big horse could make over the last six furlongs. There was no fighting for their heads now, the field were all hard at it. But without an effort the big chestnut horse, with his crimson-jacketed rider, seemed to glide past horse after horse. At three furlongs from home, he had made up the six or seven lengths and was on the flanks of the two leaders into the straight. A sprinter that had saved up his energies for a final dash, made a run up to him at the distance but he only lasted there for a couple of strides. Then, without apparently quickening his pace at all, the big horse drew away and won with the greatest ease by a clear three lengths.

The watches showed one minute eleven seconds for the last six furlongs, of a Leger with eight stone ten up.

When the next race came on Red Fred’s trainer gave him peremptory orders not to bet on it at all. But the Leger victory had given Fred a feeling of confidence, so he immediately went into the ring and took two hundred to ten about a horse, because he saw one of the rats backing it. The word went round like lightning that “Bluey,” as the crowd called him, had found another winner. (All red-haired men are called “Bluey” in Australia for some reason or other.) So the crowd got in behind Bluey and made this horse second favourite, to the mystification of the horse’s owner and trainer. What is more, it won. As Red Fred went up to collect his winnings one of the underworld called out to him:

“Good on you, Bluey, you saved me life!”

After all it seemed fairly easy to be a hero.

At the end of the racing Fitzroy told Charley Stone to take Red Fred and to see that he did not get into any brawls, adding that he himself had a little business to attend to before he left the course.

He waited down near the motor-cars and before long saw Mr Noall walking by himself across the lawn. People were hurrying home and no one took any notice as Fitzroy walked up to the embryo statesman and stood square in front of him:

“I want to see you a minute. I didn’t like the way you talked at lunch, accusing my friend Mr Raynham, of pulling a horse.”

A Machiavellian bit of diplomacy that, for he did not wish to drag a lady’s name into the fracas. Mr Noall’s political training had taught him to be at times suave and at times dictatorial, so he gave Fitzroy a good hard push:

“Get out of my way, you’re drunk. If you stop me, I’ll give you something you won’t like.”

Fitzroy dropped his hands by his sides and stuck out his face:

“Yes, go on. You have first hit at me.”

Sure enough, the big man had a hit at him. Fitzroy ducked under it and before any one could see how it happened he was kneeling on Mr Noall and trying to force his jaws open with one hand and to thrust a race-book into his mouth with the other.

“Eat this, you tailor’s dummy. Eat this, and see how you like it.”

A couple of plain clothes policemen ran over from the car rank and pulled them apart. On learning that neither wished to take out a summons against the other, they started them off in different directions and returned to their duties. Brawls of this sort were so common in their lives as to be hardly worth mentioning. Still, Trooper Smithers, an Australian, said in a bored way to his Irish colleague:

“Wot in ’ell do you suppose the little swell wanted to choke the big swell with his race-book for?”

“Search me,” said Trooper O’Grady. “But I’ll tell yez somethin’. I know the little felly. Him and me was in the depot at Brisbane together, and what he’s doin’ here in that rig-out I don’t know. Working the confidence game I suppose. But if ye have to arrist him take another good man wid yez. He’s a handful for anny chew [two] men in Australia, that same easy-looking gentleman.”

The Shearer’s Colt - Contents    |     Chapter XII - Shifting for Fred

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