In a very few days after my first visit to the bank, my confidence in myself was firmly established; and one morning when I took careful stock of my appearance in the looking-glass, I was quite sure no one would ever recognise me again.
It was not only that my wounds had healed beautifully, and that they were now only really discernible when you were actually looking for them; but also that my wild expression seemed to have altered. Whether it was the mental torture I had undergone, or whether it was the lonely silent life I was leading, there was undoubtedly a great change in me. My face was far firmer and far harder than that of the old Archibald Cups, the ledger clerk of the All Australian Bank. My eyes were sterner, and in repose there was a cold, bitter expression about my mouth. There was also something of the quiet confidence of power about me, I thought — the arrogance perhaps of knowing I was a rich man.
I was not in any way superstitious, but many times it came over me that in assuming, as I had done, the role of Dr. Carmichael, something of the mental characteristics of the dead man had descended upon me at the same time.
I had no fear of anyone or anything now. Good opinions or bad opinions would be henceforward of no moment to me. I was absolutely cynical in my views of life and in the main I regarded the outside world as being entirely made up of people who either always bullied or always cringed.
I had only to go into the bank now and there was concrete evidence of the respect in which I was held. Be my past bad and reprobate as it was supposed to be, I was bowed in and bowed out with deference that could not have been greater had I been a haloed saint.
I had money — that was all.
There was no doubt a great deal of good luck was coming my way — for two out of the three people I most feared were suddenly removed from my path.
Bultitude, the manager of the All Australian Bank, died; and Usher, the assistant manager, reigned in his stead. Trotter, the postman, was put on superannuation pay.
One fine Saturday morning I let myself out of the gates in a very pleasurable frame of mind. I was going to the race meeting at Victoria Park, the first meeting I had attended since my arrest for embezzlement at the Bank.
It was a glorious autumn morning and there was a crisp champagne feeling in the air. I was looking forward with great interest to the racing and to seeing many old acquaintances there.
Almost the very first person I saw on the racecourse was my one real friend of former days, Dick Rainton, the trainer. Greatly to my dismay he looked worried, seedy, and anything but prosperous. He was pale and thin, much thinner I imagined than he used to be. And although I only saw him for a few seconds it struck me he looked shabby. It came quite as grief to me, for I remembered how loyally he had spoken up for me at the trial, although in so doing he would certainly not have been applauded by the big-wigs in the city who controlled the racing world.
I went up and sat in the grandstand and for a while watched the racing without mingling among the crowds. Two men came and sat down just behind me and began discussing the people who moved thickly before us. I was amused with the racy way in which they discussed the notabilities of the gathering.
‘There’s Blogger, the stipendiary,’ said one. ‘Conceited ass, thinks he owns the racecourse, he does, although he’s only a paid servant of the club, just like the gatekeeper there, but he doesn’t do his work half so well. Boorish, uneducated chap, real bully, too; drops on the little jockeys like a load of bricks but takes jolly good care to leave the important ones alone.’
‘Damned sight too pally with some of the trainers for me,’ said the other. ‘How the blazes is he going to pull up his own friends? Look at the last meeting here. Bullock runs those two horses of his in the welter. Everybody’s on Moorish Bride. Carries more than half of the tote. Well, as you saw, Antidollar wins, pays seventeen pounds. Splendid scoop for the stable, but the blinking public let down thud. What happens — nothing! No fuss, no enquiry, just considered the natural thing; and next night, what do you think? Blogger and Bullock dining together at the Australian Hotel. Gee-whiz — aren’t we all mugs?’
I heard the other man laugh. ‘It’s all in the game, old man,’ he said. ‘They’re all in the same clique. But, hello, there’s Rainton, there by the rails. A lot of tabs going about him now. They say he’s in queer street and has got a bill of sale on the furniture in his house. I’m sorry if it’s true, because he’s a straight sort, that chap, and that’s why I expect he’s not got on.’
They went on talking of other people, but I didn’t hear any more of what they said. My thoughts were far away, and there was a choking lump in my throat. Poor old Rainton, and his nice little wife, too! I had had many a happy time with him and had often dropped in for a chat at their home. Well, I could help him now, and I could do it quickly, too. I must think of the best way.
The racing was quite good that afternoon, but the hurdles and the steeplechase interested me most, no doubt because in my youthful days I had often schooled horses over the jumps.
In the hurdles a very pretty light chestnut mare, Moonlight Maid, took my eye. She had rather short legs, but was beautifully symmetrical in form and just the very animal I thought to give a good account of herself over fences. I didn’t like the stable she was in, however. The redoubtable Bullock was training her, and he was the gentleman so uncomplimentarily referred to by my neighbours on the grandstand a few minutes back. One could never be at all certain what he was really up to, and whether he was out to win or not.
I chanced it anyhow and had a tenner on her in the tote. She got off beautifully; but she hadn’t jumped two hurdles before I knew my money was lost. The lad riding her, Macarthy, was supposed to be pretty good; but this time, at any rate, he was riding a bad race. He had the mare too much on the bridle all the time and steadied her far too much, I thought, as she approached the jumps. At the hurdle in the front of the stands, just what I was expecting happened. She jumped short and came a jarring purler, giving her rider a nasty fall. Another animal seemed to jump right on top of her, and yet a third horse was involved in the mishap and brought down. There was a dreadful gasp from the crowds, but to the great relief of everyone it was soon seen no one was much hurt. Moonlight Maid herself got quickly to her feet and bolted half round the course before she was caught.
‘Wretched brute,’ said a man in front of me. ‘Animals like that ought not to be allowed in hurdle races. She’s never been properly schooled as yet, or she can’t jump for nuts.’
I went round into the paddock and had a look at her when she went back in her stall. She had got a nasty gash in one of her forelegs, and Bullock was cursing loudly. He had got the stable veterinary surgeon with him and from their remarks as they were examining the mare I guessed they had both backed her this time. Apparently they were putting all the blame on the poor horse, and none, as in my opinion they should have done, on the jockey. Had she won, she would, I noticed, have paid just over eleven pounds in the tote.
I didn’t catch sight of Rainton again that afternoon, but I saw Drivel Jones marching about the place like the great ‘I Am’ he evidently thought he was. One of his horses, The Rooster, was made a hot favourite in the welter and started at less than two to one. It came in a bad fourth, however, and the public looked rather glum. The general opinion seemed to be that it was one of The Rooster’s ‘stiff’ days.
All the next day I was thinking a good bit about Rainton and in what way I could put him on his feet again. At first I had been for sending him a good sum, anonymously, in bank notes, but after a little cogitation I soon dismissed that idea. To be of any service to him, I told myself, I must find out exactly what his present position was, so that any help I gave him would be adequate and of permanent good.
Besides, my visit to the racecourse, I found, had fanned an old flame, and it was now starting my mind upon a very interesting chain of suggestions and ideas.
One thing, I determined to go and see Rainton himself without delay.
On the Monday evening, just as it was getting dark, I called at Rainton’s house. His wife, the pretty Nellie Rainton of old days, answered the door. If Rainton had looked bad the other day, his wife looked positively ill, I thought, and her eyes were swollen as if she had been crying. I asked in a deep voice if I could speak to Mr. Rainton.
She looked frightened. ‘No-o,’ she replied hesitatingly. ‘I’m sorry, but he’s not in.’
An instinct told me she thought I had come about money and I hastened instantly to remove the idea.
‘I’m a stranger to him,’ I said quickly. ‘My name is Wells. I’ve come about putting some horses under his care,’ and I handed her a card.
Her face cleared at once and the frightened look, I was glad to see, dropped away, but she still hesitated again.
‘He’s not in just now. He’s’ — she broke off short and then stood silent as if she were thinking — ‘well, will you come in and wait. I don’t suppose he’ll be very long.’
I was shown into the drawing-room that in old times I had known so well. There was a girl in there, sewing. She was about twenty-two or twenty-three, I noticed, and she was pretty, with big dark eyes. I had not seen her before, but from her likeness to Mrs. Rainton I knew at once who she was. She was Nellie’s sister from Victoria. I had heard about her.
She left the room at once, and for about a quarter of an hour I was left in there alone, to ponder over the many changes that had taken place since my last visit to the house.
Presently I heard the front door open, the quick pattering of light footsteps into the hall, the sound of a lot of whispering, and finally a heavy tread towards the room that I was in.
In a few brief seconds Dick Rainton stood before me.
Dear old Rainton, how I longed to take his hand! How I longed to seize hold of him and tell him who I was. His face, I knew, would have broken instantly to beaming smiles, and his old honest eyes would have looked into mine with all the trust and pleasure that only true friendship feels.
But I didn’t dare to do it. Mine was too big a secret to give to any man, and the very possession of it would only have thrown another worry on Dick Rainton’s mind. It were best that I should be a stranger — if, indeed, it were only for a while.
So I stood up and faced him coldly. He was holding the card I had given Mrs. Rainton in his hand.
‘Mr. Rainton?’ I asked.
He bowed, without replying.
He looked, I thought, very white and ill. ‘I’ve come to see you about some horses I want to put under your care.’
His face seemed to brighten a little. ‘Will you sit down, sir?’ he said. ‘You have some horses you want me to take?’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘or, rather,’ I went on with a smile, ‘I want you to buy these horses for me, and then take on their training.’
‘Are they Adelaide horses?’ he asked curiously.
‘Yes. One’s Moonlight Maid, now in Bullock’s stable, and the other, I see, comes up for sale at Fentum’s yard on Wednesday. It’s the gelding Pirate King.’
He pursed his lips dubiously. ‘They’ll want a lot for Moonlight Maid, sir, even if they will sell her at all.’
‘I don’t think so,’ I replied confidently. ‘It’s Bullock’s opinion she ran a bad race on Saturday, and he’s just the very man to fire her without giving her another chance if someone offers him a good price now.’
Dick Rainton smiled a quiet smile. ‘You may be right there, sir, but what do you expect to have to give?’
‘Oh, anything up to three-fifty or four hundred,’ I said, ‘but I think you’ll get her for much less than that. Two hundred guineas is what I figure they ought to take. I want you to do the deal.’
He looked down to the carpet without replying then looked up quickly as if about to speak but instead was silent for quite a long time. Then he blurted out, ‘Look here, sir, I’m sure it’s very good of you to want me to take your horses, but to be frank with you I’m thinking of giving up training.’
‘Giving up training!’ I said, and I am sure the surprise I felt was readily apparent in my voice. ‘Why — what do you mean?’
He seemed rather confused. ‘I’ve not made a success of it,’ he said rather falteringly. ‘I’ve not done well lately; I’ve ——’
I interrupted him roughly. ‘Nonsense! You trained Alice Beauty, who won the Adelaide Cup; you had Monsoon, who won the Great Eastern Steeple at Oakbank; you won the Derby with Hard Lines, and the Ledger with Blue Spot, and you’ve had lots of other winners too. Why — what do you expect? You can’t always be winning. Everyone has bad and good times.’
He just opened his mouth in astonishment. I had reeled off his best successes as pat and readily as if they had been my own. He didn’t know what to make of me.
‘Come, Mr. Rainton,’ I went on. ‘You’ll train for me. I’m only starting with two; but I may be racing extensively later and perhaps I’ll give you a string.’
He found his voice at last, but he spoke reluctantly, as if his words hurt him and he was ashamed.
‘I’m sorry, sir,’ he said, slowly, ‘but I can’t train for you. To be quite honest, I’m in financial difficulties and can’t carry on.’
‘You’ve a bill of sale on your furniture?’ I asked bluntly.
He started and his face got very red. ‘Everyone, I suppose, knows it now,’ he said bitterly. ‘The bad news always gets around.’
‘And so will the good news,’ I interrupted heartily. ‘It’ll be all over the place in two days that you’re buying horses and quite free from debt.’
‘What do you mean, sir?’ he asked, quickly.
‘I mean,’ I replied, now slowly and emphatically in my turn, ‘that I’m here to make you promise to take my horses, and I’m going to set you on your feet for that reason. Now — how much is this precious bill of sale?’
‘Two hundred pounds,’ he said, slowly, but with no expression in his voice.
‘It’s nothing,’ I said briskly. ‘You’ll soon work that off.’ I took out my pocket-book and extracted a number of notes.
‘Look here — to begin with, I’ll lend you five hundred pounds. You can pay me back when you’re prosperous again. Then there’s another five hundred for buying these horses; but they won’t cost you that. Go up to two-fifty for Pirate King. There’s a thousand pounds here,’ and I pushed the notes across the table to him.
He made no attempt to pick them up. Instead, he leaned towards me and stared hard into my eyes. For the moment I felt uneasy, but the light was bad and I had my back to the lamp.
‘Who are you?’ he asked, hoarsely. ‘And what do you know about me?’
‘You’ve got my name there,’ I replied coolly, and nodding towards my card, ‘and I know you for an honest man.’ I stood up and picked up my hat, as if to go.
Poor old Rainton looked dreadfully perplexed. He took out his handkerchief and mopped his face. Suddenly he seemed to make up his mind. He opened the door and, to my embarrassment, called out to his wife. ‘Nellie — Nellie! I want you a moment.’
Mrs. Rainton had evidently not been far away, for she appeared from round the corner almost before he had finished speaking. She looked white and scared. He held out the notes for her to see. They were all fifties.
‘This gentleman here, dear,’ began Rainton with a catch in his voice, ‘wants me to train for him, and he’s lending me five hundred to set me on my feet. Do you think I ought to take it from him?
‘Oh, sir,’ said Nellie, turning to me and looking as if she were going to cry. ‘It’s a perfect god-send to us, and I know he’ll pay you back. He’s a good man, my husband, but everything’s gone against us lately. Our old hurdler, Antioch — the breadwinner, we used to call him — was killed at Victoria Park. Then Mr. Doughty died, and all his string was taken from us and sold up. Then my husband got into trouble with some important racing people here, because he spoke up for a friend of ours who was falsely accused. They got some other horses taken away from us — and then I fell ill. We’ve had awful expenses, and ——’
‘Hush, hush, dear!’ broke in her husband. ‘This won’t interest Mr. Wells here.’
‘But it does,’ I said, with rather a catch in my own voice now, and I turned sympathetically to Mrs. Rainton.
‘You were referring to that man Cups, weren’t you? I remember reading that Mr. Rainton gave evidence at the trial.’
‘He was a falsely accused man, sir,’ said the trainer, solemnly, ‘and never robbed the bank. I knew him intimately — and he was not that kind.’
‘Where do you think he escaped to?’ I asked.
‘I could never hazard a guess, sir, but I’m afraid, now, my poor friend is dead!’
We chatted for a few minutes about the happenings of my trial, and it warmed my heart to know in what esteem they still held me. Then Mrs. Rainton asked me, rather nervously, if I would like a cup of tea.
‘Or a glass of beer?’ suggested Rainton. ‘I’ve got a nice cool bottle in the cellar now.’
I sniffed up appreciatively. Someone was frying bacon in the house. Mrs. Rainton saw me.
‘I suppose — I suppose,’ she asked rather timidly, ‘you wouldn’t care to stop to our meal? We haven’t much to offer you,’ she went on lamely, ‘but I make my own butter, and my sister fries bacon like no one else.’
Greatly to Rainton’s astonishment, I thought, I accepted at once. I was quite reckless now about the chance of being recognised, and fully believed I was quite safe. But, still, I wanted to put it to the test. If the Raintons didn’t discover me, I argued to myself, no one ever would.
In a few minutes we were all sitting down to tea, and I had Nellie’s pretty dark-eyed sister just opposite to me. Now I always flatter myself I made that meal a great success. There was a natural feeling of restraint among us at first, but I resolutely laid myself out to put them at their ease. I pitched them a good yarn about my life. I told them I was rich man and fond of the turf, but that all my relations were against racing, and that was why I was lying low. I could never do things openly, I said, in my own name.
We spent quite a happy hour at the meal, and it was pure delight to me to see the relief in Nellie Rainton’s eyes. She looked like a reprieved prisoner.
Going home that night I thought a lot about the Raintons; but strangely, it was only the face of Nellie Rainton’s sister, Margaret Price, that came to me in my dreams.
Rainton bought Moonlight Maid for two hundred and twenty guineas, and the next day Pirate King was knocked down to him for a hundred and eighty-five.
According to my instructions he had bought them both absolutely in his own name, and in the case of the gelding it was most amusing to hear the buzz of surprise that went round the saleyard when he started to bid. It was supposed all over the city that he was in great financial straits, and when he started confidently to go up tenners and fivers there was a tremendous lot of whispering and much nodding of heads.
I was standing just behind Bullock, who trained usually for Drivel Jones, and the stout trainer’s muttered comments to a friend gave me great pleasure to overhear.
‘What the devil’s up with Rainton now,’ he whispered, ‘and from where in heaven’s name is he getting the cash?’
‘Don’t know at all,’ replied his friend, ‘but I hear he paid off Lazarus yesterday!’
‘The devil!’ said Bullock. ‘And he downed me yesterday, too, with a most dirty trick. He sent an old hay-seed looking fellow over to my place to buy Moonlight Maid, and like a fool I let her go for two-thirty-one quid. If I’d known it was for him — he shouldn’t have had her at any price!’
‘Why don’t you make out, then, that there was a mistake?’ said the other. ‘Say you meant three-thirty-one.’
‘But it’s too late. He paid cash and took her away. It was only this morning I heard she’d gone into Rainton’s yard.’
‘Well, there’s something up, it’s sure, and we’ll know later what it is.’
Bullock and his friend were not, however, the only curious ones. Rainton told me lots of people tried to pump him, but I knew he was a close man, and I had no fear.
I went down to his place the next day and had a leg up on both Moonlight Maid and Pirate King. The mare was a beautiful mover, and I put her at a couple of hurdles at the end of the paddock. As I expected, leaving her to herself, she cleared them like a bird, but she jumped both of them very high, I thought.
I pulled up where Rainton was standing. He was watching me with a rather puzzled look.
‘Not the first jump you’ve taken, Mr. Wells,’ he said quietly, ‘and your riding reminds me of someone I used to know.’
I brushed his remark aside. ‘The mare jumps like a cat,’ I said, ‘but it’s fences she ought to be over not sticks. I want you to get her ready for the big steeple, and I’ll ride her myself, that is, if I can get down to the weight.’
He stared at me in a sort of amazed surprise, but my next words made him stare harder still.
‘Now, look here, Rainton,’ I said, ‘I’m going to get some fun out of this. For the next three or four months at any rate I shall be at a loose end, and I’ll do a bit of riding for a living. You must get me a licence to ride.’
At first he thought I was joking, but I soon convinced him I was in deadly earnest. I explained my plans to him. ‘Now for the future,’ I insisted. ‘I’m going to be one of your lads. No one must know me here as Mr. Wells. I’ll be Huggins from New Zealand, or anybody you like. For the future I’ll come down here in quite different clothes, and you must put me wise in just the ordinary way. I’ve done a lot of hunting, and can ride, as you can see, but I’ve never ridden in a race as yet, and I expect I’ve got a bit to learn.’
Rainton didn’t say much, but I am sure he thought a great deal.
A week later I got my licence and then started as extraordinary a life as it will ever be my lot to experience.
I had no less than four distinct personalities. I was John Archibald Cups to myself, a convict, who ought to have been doing five years’ penal servitude in the stockade. I was Robert Carmichael to the postman at North Adelaide and to the people of the All Australian Bank. I was Arnold Wells to Rainton and his family and, to the racing public, I was Harry Huggins, a most capable jockey over the jumps.
Rainton believed I was living at the Australasian Hotel. At any rate, he never questioned me and, if he wanted ever to write to me, I had told him to address my letters there. I came down to his place on a motor bicycle that I housed in a private garage at North Adelaide. I leased the place from the owner, and because I paid six months’ rent in advance the latter probably never gave me another thought.
I used to slip out very early from my lonely home, the motor bicycle was not a quarter of a mile away, and dawn was often only just rising when I was on the training grounds and beginning my work.
I had always been a very capable horseman, and I soon found there was not much anyone could teach me. I seemed to have a natural aptitude for handling horses, and the most nervous of them would become quiet and tractable when under my hands.
Rainton, after a couple of weeks, said I was a born steeplechase jockey and, without boasting, I don’t think he was far from wrong.
I had a limpet-like seat in the saddle, and I was absolutely without fear. Even after some really bad falls, I continued to approach every obstacle with the calm, unruffled confidence of a man who had never had a spill.
I remember well my first race in the metropolitan area. It was at Victoria Park. But it was not my first appearance in public. I had had a losing mount at Balaclava and also one at Gawler, but I had so far not appeared in the Adelaide district.
Rainton came up to me that morning as soon as he saw me and asked me with a grim smile if I would take a mount that afternoon.
‘It’s Vixen Lady they’ve got no jockey for,’ he said, ‘and Benson’s just phoned up to ask if I can give him any help.’
I smiled back at Rainton. I knew quite well what he meant by his smile. Vixen Lady was a dreadful beast to handle and was certainly one of the most risky mounts in the state. As far as the jockeys were concerned, she already had one fatal accident to her credit and had been responsible for a good many minor injuries as well. She was a well-bred animal and when it pleased her could go like the wind, but she was very uncertain in her jumping, and in some of her moods would rush every obstacle she was put to, whether it was a hurdle or stone-wall.
It was a wonder to everyone she had not been killed half a dozen times already but, so far, as far as she was concerned, she had borne quite a charmed life. With my own eyes I had seen her once laid out at Morphettville — stunned, for the best part of an hour; and then, when they were just thinking of putting the friendly bullet into her, she had got up and allowed herself to be led meekly away.
She was only kept in training because in her good moods she was really brilliant, and so little was she generally supported in the totalisator that whenever she was successful her owner invariably got a very good win.
No one was ever very anxious to ride her, and even some of the most hardened jockeys would refuse to take the mount.
Rainton regarded me curiously, waiting for my reply.
‘Of course I’ll ride her,’ I told him. ‘It will be interesting to see what I can do.’
Benson, the owner-trainer, had a good stare at me when I was brought up to him just before the race that afternoon.
‘Ride her boldly,’ he said gruffly, ‘and don’t for a moment let her think you’re afraid. If you’re in any doubt keep her back till after the stone wall, because it’s there she’s twice come to grief.’
I touched my cap respectfully and muttered, ‘All right, sir.’ She was carrying eleven stone two, and as I could weigh in at ten stone eight I was well able to do the weight. I stroked and patted her for a moment or two before I got into the saddle. She was certainly not an animal for a nervous man to ride. She kept looking round and showing the whites of her eyes. She was quiet as a sheep, however, in the preliminary canter, and went down to the starting post as if she were one of the best mannered beasts in the world.
I heard afterwards that everyone was most interested in us. People asked Benson from where I’d been dug out, and there was mild speculation about the odds of my being killed.
The starter gave us all a beautiful send off and, making up my mind quickly what I would do, I bustled the mare forward to get her well out in front. I was full of courage, but my experience of racing had been so very meagre that I knew I would feel more confident if I were free from the other horses for the first jump.
Vixen Lady responded like the high-bred dame she was, and we were soon leading by some three or four lengths. Approaching the first obstacle I let her take it at her pace, and she skimmed over it like a bird. The second she also took beautifully, and then came the stone wall bang in front of the stands. Here, I thought, she seemed about to falter, but giving her a hard sharp cut with the whip I wouldn’t let her slacken, and almost before I knew it we were over and danger was passed.
I heard a great cheer as I went by, and I remember even now the intoxicating feeling that it gave me. It was like some strong heady wine that made me absolutely reckless of danger, and determined me, at any risk, to try and get the mare home first.
But after the stone wall all else seemed to come easy, and at every further obstacle I drove the mare forward with a confidence so absolute that I really astonished myself. I never gave her a chance to scamp, and like a beautiful and precise machine she cleared everything in her way. Coming down the straight I eased her ever so little, and almost effortlessly she ran home a winner by five lengths.
The crowd gave me a rousing cheer for my success, and Benson was most enthusiastic about the way I had ridden his mare.
‘That’s the way to handle her, my boy,’ he cried. ‘No one’s ever ridden her before like that. All she wants is a bit of courage with the lad on top, and she’ll jump sweet and clean as a deer.’
Rainton met me a beaming smile, too. ‘You certainly have brought me luck, Mr. Wells,’ he whispered. ‘I simply had to have a fiver on her as you were riding, and she’s paid seventeen pounds ten at the tote. Eighty-seven pounds ten’s a glorious win for me just now, and won’t they be pleased at home.’
My success on Vixen Lady brought my name at once before the public, and by pure good luck at the very next race-meeting on the following Saturday I received another unexpected win.
In a way, perhaps, this second success was as pleasant a one as I can ever remember, mainly, I think, because it helped a little unimportant one-horse man as against some of the most fashionable racing stables in the state.
I had just run a very respectable third on a rotten beast in the hurdles (it would have paid eighty-one pounds in the tote had it won), when the trainer of Vixen Lady came up and asked me if I would like a mount in the steeple.
‘It’s not much of an animal, and it’s got no chance at all, but it belongs to a pal of mine from up-country, and I’d like him to have a run for his money. It’s Farmer’s Boy I want you to ride.’
I had just heard of the animal and that was all, but Benson told me all about him. His owner, it appeared, was a little shop-keeper somewhere in the country up Balaclava way, and he had brought him down to the city more, it was believed, for the sake of swank than anything else. Years ago, however, the horse had been a pretty good third-rater and had won a few little races up somewhere in the bush, but it was fourteen years old now and not up to much. He had no chance at all among metropolitan horses, and yet for some reason the handicapper had given him ten stone. I should have to declare about eight pounds over-weight.
Agreeing at once to take the mount, I was duly introduced to the owner, Mr. Tommy Pucker. He was a common, vulgar little chap, but very affable and friendly. He was as impressive in his riding instructions as if the race were the Melbourne Cup.
‘Keep him going the whole time,’ he implored. ‘He’s safe as a house at the jumps, and he’ll warm up like anything as he goes along and will be fresh as a daisy when he’s done about a couple of miles. Give him plenty of stick.’
He offered me a vile-looking cigar and introduced me to his wife and daughter. The two ladies both shook hands. Mrs. Pucker was very red and stout and the daughter fat and big like her ma, but with a good-natured smiling face. Not at all bad-looking in her way.
‘I’m sure you’ll win, Mr. Huggins,’ the mother said. ‘Trainer Benson thinks we’ve got quite a chance, and my husband’s putting twenty on in the tote. All our friends are on it, too.’
I cursed Benson for a liar, and really felt genuinely sorry for the simple folk. Celerity, the top weight with twelve stone seven, would just walk round Farmer’s Boy, I knew.
I cantered slowly before the stands on my way up to the starting post, and some of the remarks I couldn’t help hearing were quite the reverse of complimentary.
‘This is not a ploughing competition,’ called out one. ‘Take him home.’
‘Hurry up, old Noah,’ called out another, ‘or you’ll be too late for the ark.’
But Farmer’s Boy wasn’t at all a bad mover, I found, and as soon as the starter sent us off I was agreeably surprised with my mount. He wasn’t a slug by any means, and he certainly took the jumps as if he were an old hand at the game. He jumped desperately slowly, it was true, and always almost stopped after landing but, as his owner had told me, he wasn’t given to falling.
It was a very small field and there were only six runners. A couple of hundred yards from the start and I was, as I expected, a good many lengths behind but, after the first obstacle, with a nice cut from the whip, the old boy put on pace and seemed, I thought, to be quite respectably holding his own.
At the fence opposite the grandstand two of the horses in front of me fell and, bustling up Farmer’s Boy, I was greeted with ironical cheers as I went by. We cleared the obstacle, however, in great style, but at that point I calculated we were a good fifty yards behind.
Then suddenly I began to think there might be something in the old beast after all. I thumped him heartily with the butt-end of the whip, and responding gamely he began actually to gain on the leaders. It was very gradual, but when we were on the other side of the course opposite the stands there was not a foot more than ten lengths between us and The Seagull, who was then leading.
Farmer’s Boy battled on bravely, but when The Seagull at length approached the last obstacle — and the distance between us was about the same — I naturally thought the whole thing was up.
Still, I determined at any rate to give the Pucker family a good run for their money, and with hands and whip I continued to urge my solid conveyance on. It was well I did so, for suddenly and unexpectedly my opportunity came.
At the last obstacle, a simple brush-fence, The Seagull fell and so close were the three horses together that he brought down Celerity and Bonjour as well.
Now was my chance, I realised, and well wide of the floundering animals I drove my mount over the bush-fence into the straight.
But the straight was a long way from home and, even as we passed the fallen leaders I got a flashing glance of Bennett, the jockey of Celerity, up on his feet and stretching for his whip.
I gave one fierce cut at Farmer’s Boy and was delighted that he bucked up at once to quite a respectable pace. But we had gone very few yards before a great rousing cheer boomed up from the stands, and I knew instantly what had happened. Celerity had been remounted, and he was now no doubt following hot foot in pursuit.
Now I always flatter myself I didn’t then for a moment lose my head. My riding experience in races up to then had been, as I have told, very little, and I might quite reasonably have been excused if I had just thoughtlessly flogged on my mount until he had died away to nothing.
But I did nothing of the kind. Instead I just thought and reasoned the whole matter out. I looked up towards the winning post and calculated how far we had yet to go. Then I cocked my eye back and saw how far Celerity was behind and exactly what his jockey was doing. Bennett was working his whip like a flail, and from the resounding noise of the whacks I could hear, his blows were evidently in deadly and desperate earnest.
But punishment like that, I argued, couldn’t be of much good for long, and on top of the shaking Celerity had probably just received, the effect might soon peter out.
So I took things quite calmly on Farmer’s Boy, and finding he was rattling along now in first-rate style I held back my whip and rode him only with my hands.
Nearer and nearer came the winning post, and louder and louder sounded the whacks on poor Celerity behind, but I just held my breath and waited for the supreme moment to come.
The crowd were wildly excited, and roared strenuously for the favourite to cut us down.
Suddenly, when only about ten yards from home, the fine head of Celerity loomed up upon my side. Now or never, I called to myself, and in a lightning flash my whip was up. One fierce hard cut and Farmer’s Boy sprang forward. The favourite was shaken off as if he were standing still, and with a good two lengths to spare we passed the post in front.
Instantly, and as if by magic, all the shouting ceased. Being only a six-horse race, only one dividend would be declared, and Farmer’s Boy, the wretched and despised outsider, would scoop the pool. The crowd were badly hit. Then their better feelings got possession of them. A thin clapping of hands, a few isolated ‘Bravos’, and then a long big rousing cheer as I came up to weigh in. ‘Well ridden, sir; a fine judged race,’ called out some man by the rails, and the cheers grew and grew in volume until I finally disappeared into the weighing-room.
It certainly panned out a good thing for those who had had the courage to back Farmer’s Boy.
Just over two-thousand-five-hundred pounds had been invested in the tote, but only fifty-four pounds ten had gone on my mount, and it paid forty pounds five for each one pound invested.
My employer in the race might have been a vulgar little chap, but he was undoubtedly a good sport. He searched me out in the paddock later, and was most grateful to me in his thanks. In fact, he almost had tears in his eyes. He insisted upon my taking another of his vile cigars, and then, in saying goodbye, he unobtrusively pressed a many times folded banknote into my hand. As soon as he had gone, I unfolded it. It was a fifty.
Rather to my discomfiture I met the whole party again about half an hour later, just by the bandstand. They all looked in the seventh heaven of pride and happiness, and when they caught sight of me I had to endure all the thanks over again. Mama Pucker held my hand for an uncomfortably long time, and the girl took a flower out of her dress and insisted it should be mine. With everyone looking on, I was glad to get away.
From that day a most successful riding career began for me, and almost at once I sprang to the very forefront of cross-country jockeys. Without boasting, there was no one could better me at the game, and over the jumps my services were soon continually in demand.
In a few weeks very rarely was I without a mount, both over the fences and over the sticks.
I soon became a great favourite with the public, and with ‘Huggins up’ people at once rushed to support any horse I was riding in the tote.
I was proud, too, when they looked upon me as a ‘straight’ jockey, and in their minds there was never any question whether the horse was out to win or not when I was riding.
To my great amusement Drivel Jones came up one day and asked me to ride his chaser, Babylon, at Morphettville. The regular jockey of the stable was ill.
I was on the point of refusing, when Drivel Jones suddenly winked his eye.
‘Don’t knock him about,’ he said, looking me hard in the face. ‘It’s not one of his good days, and if we win there’ll be a seven pound penalty at Oakbank to put up. Take it easy, you understand. Myself, I think Robin Adair will win,’ and with a measuring nod he walked away.
But if he thought Robin Adair would win, the public certainly thought otherwise, and with me in the saddle Babylon was at once backed down to a very short price in the machine.
The race needs no description because I made the great black gelding win, right from beginning to end. He got badly balked, it is true, at the last fence, by a horse falling just in front of him, but I brought him around smartly and won a good race by a length.
He paid only two pounds eleven.
Drivel Jones’s face was a study when I came into the enclosure after the race. He gave me a vile black look, and I could see he was cursing me under his breath. He never said a word to me, but Rainton told me afterwards he went about telling everyone I had knocked his horse about. People, however, had a shrewd idea why he was angry, and there was a lot of quiet amusement about the seven pounds penalty Babylon would now have to put up.
One racing paper quite openly ‘guessed’ Harry Huggins would not be asked to ride for Drivel Jones, esquire, again; but it left it to its readers to wonder why. It made the significant comment, however, that it would be a good thing for racing in Australia if there were more jockeys like me.
The great majority of the people in the Commonwealth are interested in racing, and it may be wondered why I was never afraid some or other of the officials of the All Australian Bank would not one day recognise, in the capable jockey Harry Huggins, their eccentric customer, Dr. Robert Carmichael.
But I really never had any fear on that score. At the bank no one had ever seen me without my smoked glasses, and these I knew made a vital difference to how I looked. Besides, I argued, if it ever did dawn on anyone for a second that there was some likeness between the two, they would contemptuously dismiss the idea in the next second. On the bare face of it, the whole thing would seem too absurd.
So, as I say, I never worried about that matter at all.
Last updated Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 13:21