Levelling with Elisha
by Charles E. Van Loan
The Bald-faced Kid shivered as
he roosted on the paddock fence, for the dawn was raw and cold
and his overcoat was hanging in the back room of a pawnbroker's
establishment some two hundred miles away. Circumstances which he
had unsuccessfully endeavored to control made it a question of
the overcoat or the old-fashioned silver stop watch. The choice
was not a difficult one. "I can get along without the
benny," reflected the Kid, "because I'm naturally
warmblooded, but take away my old white kettle and I'm a soldier
gone to war without his gun."
In the language of the tack
rooms, the Bald-faced Kid was a hustler a free lance of the turf,
playing a lone hand against owner and bookmaker, matching his
wits against secret combinations and operating upon the wheedled
capital of the credulous. He was sometimes called a tout, but
this he resented bitterly, explaining the difference between a
tout and a hustler. "A tout will have six suckers betting on
six different horses in the same race. Five
of 'em have got to lose. A tout is guessing all the time, but a
hustler is likely to know something. One horse a race is my
motto sometimes only one horse a day, but I've got to know
something before I lead the sucker into the betting ring.... What
is a sucker? Huh! He's a foolish party who bets money for a wise
boy because the wise boy never has any money to bet for
Picking winners was the serious
business of the Kid's life, hence the early morning hours and the
careful scrutiny of the daybreak workouts.
Bitter experience had taught the
Kid the error of trusting men, but up to a certain point he
trusted horses. He depended upon his silver stop watch to divide
the thoroughbreds into two classes those which were short of
work and those which were ready. The former he eliminated as
unfit; the latter he ceased to trust, for the horse which is
ready becomes a betting tool, at the mercy of the bookmaker, the
owner, and the strong-armed little jockey.
"Which one are they going
to bet on today," was the Kid's eternal question.
"Which one is going to carry the cheeks?"
Across the track, dim in the
gray light, a horse broke swiftly from a canter into the full
racing stride. Something clicked in the Kid's palm.
"Got you!" he
His eye followed the horse up
the back stretch into the gloom of the upper turn where the
flying figure was lost in the deep shade of the trees. One shadow
detached itself from the others and appeared at the head of the
straightaway. The muffled thud of hoofs became audible, rising in
swift crescendo as the shadow resolved itself into a gaunt bay
horse with a tiny negro boy crouched motionless in the saddle. A
rush, a flurry, a spatter of clods, a low-flying drift of yellow
dust and the vision passed, but the Bald-faced Kid had seen
enough to compensate him for the early hours and the lack of
breakfast. He glanced at his watch.
"Old Elisha, under wraps
and fighting for his head," was his comment. "The
nigger didn't let him out any part of the way. . . . Oh, you
prophet of Israel!"
"What did that bird step
the three-quarters in?" asked a voice, and the Kid turned to
confront Squeaking Henry, also a hustler, and at times a
"Dunno; I didn't clock
him," lied the Kid.
"That was Old Man Curry's nigger Mose," continued Squeaking Henry,
so-called because of his plaintive whine, "and I was wondering if the
horse wasn't Elijah. I didn't get a good look at him. Maybe it was
Obadiah or Nehemiah. Did you ever hear such a lot of names in your life?
They tell me Old Man Curry got 'em out of the Bible. The Kid nodded.
"Bible horses are in fine company at this track," chuckled Squeaking
Henry. "I Been here a week now, and darned if I can get onto the
angles. I guess Old Man Curry is the only owner here who ain't in
business with some bookmaker or other. Look at that King William
yesterday! He was twenty pounds the best in the race and he come fifth.
The jock did everyting to him but cut his throat. What are you goin' to
do when they run 'em in and out like that? . . . Say, Kid, was that
Elijah or was it another one of them Bible beetles? I didn't get a good
look at him."
The Bald-faced Kid stole a sidelong glance at Squeaking Henry.
"Neither did I," said he. "Why don't you ask Old Man Curry which
horse it was? He'd tell you. He's just foolish enough to do it."
Halfway up the back stretch a shabby, elderly man leaned against
the fence, thoughtfully chewing a straw as he watched the little negro
check the bay horse to a walk. He had the flowing beard of a patriarch,
the mild eye of a deacon, the calm untroubled brow of a philosopher, and
his rusty black frock coat lent him a certain simple dignity quite rare
upon the race tracks of the Jungle Circuit. In the tail pocket of the
coat was something rarer still a well-thumbed Bible, for this was Old
Man Curry, famous as the owner of Isaiah, Elijah, Obadiah, Esther,
Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Elisha, Nehemiah, and Ruth. In his spare moments he
read the Psalms of David for pleasure in their rolling cadences and the
Proverbs of Solomon for profit in their wisdom, which habit alone was
sufficient to earn for him a reputation for eccentricity.
Old Man Curry clinched this general opinion by entering into no
entangling alliances with brother owners, and the bookmaker did not live
who could call him friend. He attended strictly to his own business,
which was training horses and racing them to win, and while he did not
swear, drink liquor, or smoke, he proved he was no Puritan by chewing
fine-cut tobacco and betting on his horses when he thought they had a
chance to win and the odds were to his liking. For the latter he
claimed Scriptural precedent.
"Wasn't the children of Israel commanded to spile the Egyptians?"
said he. "Wasn't thay? Well, then! The way I figger it times has
changed a lot since then, but the principle's the same. There's some
children of Israel making book 'round here that need to be spiled a heap
worse'n Pharaoh ever did." Then, after thought: "But you got to go
some to spile bad eggs." As the little negro drew near, the blackness
of his visage was illuminated by a sudden flash of ivory. Elisha
snorted and shook his head from side to side. Old Man Curry stepped
forward and laid his hand upon the bridle.
"Well, Mose?" said he. The small rider gurgled as he slipped from
"Nothin' to it, nothin' to it a-a-atall. 'Is 'Lisha bird, he's
ready to fly. Yes, suh, he's prepaihed to show all 'em otheh hawsses
which way 'is track runs!"
"Went good, did he, Mose?"
"Good! He like to pull my ahms off, at's how good he went! Yes,
suh, he was jus' buck-jumpin' all 'e way down 'at stretch. 'Ey kin all
be in front of him tuhnin' fo' to-morreh, an' he'll go by 'em so fas'
'ey won't know which way he went!"
Old Man Curry nodded. "Elisha ain't no front runner," said he.
"He's like his daddy does all his running in the last quarter. He
comes from behind."
"Sure does!" chirped Mose. "All I got to do is fetch him into 'e
stretch, swing wide so he got plenty of room to ambulate hisse'f, boot
him once in 'e slats, an' good night an' goodby! Ol' 'Lisha jus' tip
his to 'em otheh haws-ses an' say: 'Scuse me, gen'elmen an' ladies, but
I got mos' uhgent business down yondeh 'bout quahteh of a mile; 'em
judges waitin' faw me.' 'At's whut he say, boss. Nothin' to it
"Give him plenty of room,
"Sutny will. Won't git me
nothin' stickin' on 'at rail. 'Em white bu'glahs don't seem to
crave me nohow, no time; 'ey jus' be tickled to death to put me
an' 'Lisha oveh 'e fence if we git clost 'nough to it. Yes,
indeed; I 'low to give 'is hawss all 'e room whut is on a race
Old Man Curry led Elisha toward
his barn, the little negro trailing behind, addressing the horse
in terms of endearment. "You ol' wolf, onliest way to beat
you to-morreh is to saw all yo' laigs off. You as full of run as
a hydrant, 'at's what you are, ain't you, 'Lisha?"
Two horsemen were standing in
the door of a feed room as the queer procession passed. They
interrupted a low-toned conversation to exchange significant
glances. "Speak of the devil," said one, "and
there he goes now. Been working that horse for the last race to-
"It won't get him
anything," said the other. "You can forget that he's
The first speaker was short and
stout, with no personal beauty to be marred by the knife scar
which ran from the lobe of his left ear to the point of his chin,
a broad, red welt in the blackish stubble of his beard. This was
Martin O'Connor, owner of the Sunrise racing stable, sometimes
known as Grouchy O'Connor.
His companion was a smooth-
faced, dapper gold-toothed blond, apparently not more than
twenty-five years of age. Innocence circled his sleek towhead
like a halo; good cheer radiated from him in ceaseless waves. His
glance was direct and compelling and his smile invited
confidences; he seemed almost too young and entirely too artless
for his surroundings. The average observer would have pitied him
for a lamb among wolves, and the pity would have been misplaced,
for Al Engle was older than he looked by several sinful semesters
and infinitely wiser than he had any honest right to be. His
frank, boyish countenance was at once a cloak and an asset; it
had beguiled many a man to his financial hurt. He was shrewd,
intelligent, unscrupulous, and acquisitive; the dangerous head of
a small clique of horse owners which was doing its bad best to
remove the element of chance from the sport of kings. In his
touting days he had been given the name of the Sharpshooter and
in his prosperity it clung to him.
"Forget that he's entered,
eh?" repeated O'Connor. "Elisha Elisha I don't seem
to place that horse."
"His name used to be Silver
Star," said the Sharpshooter.
"That dog?" said
O'Connor, disgustedly. "Let's see; wasn't he at Butte last
"Yes. Cricket Caley owned
"The little old jock that
died last spring?"
"Same one. This horse
Silver Star was all he had and Cricket used to ride him himself.
Rank quitter. I've seen Caley boot and kick and slash this bird
until he wore himself out; he'd quit just the same. Wouldn't run
a lick after he got into the stretch.
"Then one day Cricket
slipped him over at a long price. Don't know how he did it. Hop,
most likely. Got somebody to bet on Silver Star at 25 to 1 and
took quite a little chunk of money out of the ring. That was
Caley's last race; he'd been cheating the undertakers for years.
Before he died he gave the horse to Old Man Curry. They'd been
friends, but if a friend of mine gave me a horse like that and
didn t throw in a dog collar, he couldn't run fast enough to get
away from me. Curry put in an application to the Jockey Club and
had the name changed from Silver Star to Elisha. Won't have
anything but Bible names, the old nut!
"Curry hasn't won with him
yet, and I'd hate to be hanging by the neck until he does,
because if ever there was a no-account hound masquerading with a
mane and tail, it's the one you just saw go by here. He won't
gather anything to-morrow. Forget him."
O'Connor hesitated a moment; he
was a cautious soul. "Might tell Grogan and Merritt to look
after him," he suggested.
"No need to. And that
bullet-headed little nigger wouldn't like anything better than a
chance to holler to the judges. The horse ain't got a chance, I
tell you. Wouldn't have with the best rider in the world. Forget
"Well just as you say, Al.
Broadsword's good enough to beat him, I reckon."
"Of course he is! Forget
this Elisha. Go on and figure just the same as if he wasn't in
The Sharpshooter and his
friends, through their betting commissioners, backed Broadsword
from 4 to 1 to even money. The horse was owned by O'Connor and
ridden by Jockey Grogan. Bald Eagle, Amphion, and Remorseful
were supposed to be the contenders, but their riders jogged
blithely to the post with Broadsword tickets in their bootlegs
and riding orders of a sort to make those pasteboards valuable.
Jockey Moseby Jones, on Elisha,
was overlooked when these favors were surreptitiously
distributed, but his bootleg was not empty. There was a ticket
in it which called for twenty-two dollars in case Elisha won a
two-dollar bet at 10 to 1. It was put there by Old Man Curry
just before the bugle blew.
"Bring him home in front,
Mose," said the old man.
"Sutny will!" grinned
the negro. "You betting much on him, boss?"
"I visited a while with the
children of Israel," said Curry gravely. "Remember now-
-lots of room when you turn for home."
"Yes, suh. I won't git
clost 'nough to 'em scound'els faw 'em do nothin' but say 'Heah
he comes' an' 'Yondeh he goes.' Won't slam me into no fence; I'm
comin' back by ovehland route!"
Later O'Connor, who had been
bidden to forget Elisha, remembered him. Broadsword led into the
stretch by four open lengths, hugging the rail. Mose trailed the
bunch around the upper turn, brought Elisha smartly to the
outside, kicked the bay horse in the ribs with his spurs and
"Whut yo' doin' heah? Go
'long about yo' business!"
Jockey Grogan, already spending
his fifty dollar ticket, heard warning yells from the rear and
sat down to ride, but it was too late. Elisha, coming with a
tremendous rush, was already on even terms with Broadsword.
Three strides and daylight showed between them. It was all over
but the shouting, and there was very little of that, for Elisha
had few friends in the crowd.
"Hah!" ejaculated the
presiding judge, tugging at his stubby grey moustache. "Old
Man Curry put one over on the boys, or I miss my guess. Yes,
sir, he beat the good thing and spilled the beans. Elisha, first;
Broadsword, second; that thing of Engle's, third. Serve' 'em
Martin O'Connor standing on the
outskirts of the betting ring, searching a limited vocabulary for
language with which to garnish his emotions, felt a nudge at his
elbow. It was the Sharpshooter.
"Go away from me! Don't
talk to me!" sputtered O'Connor. "You make me sick! I
thought you said that dog couldn't run! You're a swell prophet,
you are, you you "
Al Engle smiled as he slipped
his binoculars into the case. "I may not be a prophet,"
said he, "but I'll have one in my barn to-night."
"Oh, nothing, only that's
too good a horse for Curry to own. I'm going to take Elisha away
"Going to run him up,"
"As far as the old man will
"Well, look out you don't
start a selling-race war."
The Sharpshooter sneered.
"Curry hasn't got nerve enough to fight us," said he.
Now the "selling race"
is an institution devised and created for the protection of
owners against owners, the theory being to prevent the running of
horses out of their proper class.
An owner, entering a selling
race, must set a price upon his horse let us say five hundred
dollars. Should the horse win, it must be offered for sale at
that figure, the owner being given the right to protect his
property in a bidding contest.
In case the animal changes
hands, the original owner receives five hundred dollars, and no
more. If the horse has been bid up to one thousand dollars, the
racing association shares the run-up with the owner of the horse
which finished second. It will readily be seen that this system
discourages the practice of entering a two-thousand-dollar horse
in a five-hundred-dollar selling race, but it also permits a
disgruntled owner to revenge himself upon a rival. Some of the
bitterest feuds in turf history have grown out of
Little Mose brought Elisha back
into the ring, saluted the judges, and, dismounting, began to
unsaddle. Old Man Curry came wandering down the track from the
paddock gate where he had watched the race. He was chewing a
straw reflectively, and the tails of his rusty black frock coat
flapped in the breeze like the garment of a scarecrow. Mose,
with the saddle, bridle, blanket, and weight pad in his arms,
disappeared under the judges' stand where the clerk of the scales
weighed him together with his tackle.
The associate judge came out on
the steps of the pagoda with a programme in his hand. Mose
bounced into view, handed his tackle to Shanghai, Curry's
hostler, and started for the jockeys' room, singing to himself
out of sheer lightness of heart. He knew what he would do with
that twenty-two-dollar ticket. There was a crap game every night
at the O'Connor stable.
"All right, judge!"
called the clerk of the scales. "Shoot!"
The associate judge cleared his
throat, nodded to Old Man Curry, fingered his programme and began
to speak in a dull, slurring monotone, droning out the formula as
prescribed for such occasions:
"Elisha winner'v this
race entered to be sold four hundred dollars Any bids?"
Old Man Curry, leaning against
the top rail of the fence, started slightly and turned his eyes
in the direction of the sound. The Sharpshooter flashed his gold
teeth at him in a cheerful smile. Old Man Curry shrugged his
shoulders and rolled the straw from one corner of his mouth to
the other. The associate Judge looked at him, asking a question
with his eyebrows. There was a stir in the crowd about the
stand. A bidding contest is always an added attraction.
"Friend, you don't want
this hoss," expostulated Old Man Curry, addressing Engle.
"He ain't a race hoss; he's a trick hoss. You don't want
"What about you,
Curry?" asked the associate judge.
"Oh, well," said the
old man, slowly. "And five."
Old Man Curry seemed annoyed. He
combed his beard with his fingers.
"And five," said he.
Old Man Curry took time for
reflection. Then he sighed deeply.
"Maybe you want him worse
'n I do, friend," said he. "And five."
Old Man Curry smothered an
impatient ejaculation, threw away his straw and ransacked his
pockets for his packet of fine-cut.
"Might as well make it a
good one while we're at it," said he. "And five."
"One thousand!" said
the Sharpshooter, his smile broadening. "Pretty fair price
for a trick horse, eh, Curry?"
The old man paused with a
generous helping of tobacco halfway to its destination He
regarded Engle with unblinking gravity.
"'The words of his mouth
were smoother than butter,' he quoted, 'but war was in his
heart.' That's from Psalms, young man.... Now, it's this way
with a trick hoss: a lot depends on whether you know the trick or
not . . . One thousand! . . . Shucks! Now I know you want him
worse 'n I do !" Old Man Curry hoisted the tails of his
coat, thrust his hands into the hip pockets of his trousers,
hunched his shoulders level with his ears and turned away.
"You ain't quitting, are
you," demanded the Sharpshooter.
"Friend, " said Old
Man Curry, "I ain't even started yet. It appears upon the
face of the returns that you have bought one big, red hoss. . . .
A trick hoss. To show you how I feel about it, I'm going to
throw in a bridle with him.... Good-by, Elisha. The Philistines
have got ye . . . for a thousand dollars."
It was dusk and Old Man Curry
paced up and down under his stable awning, his hands clasped
behind his back and his head bowed at a meditative angle. The
Bald-faced Kid recalled him to earth by his breezy greeting, and
what it lacked in reverence it made up in good will. Old Man
Curry and the hustler were friends, each possessing traits which
the other respected.
"Well, old-timer, you out
airing your lace curtains a little?"
"Eh? What? Oh, good
evening, Frank, good evening! I been walking up and down some.
You know what it says in Ecclesiastes: 'In the day of prosperity
be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider.' I been
"Uh, huh," said the
Bald-faced Kid, falling into step, "and you sure reached out
and grabbed some adversity in that third race today, what? I had
a finnif bet on friend Isaiah my own money, too; that's how good
I thought he was. They pretty near bumped the shoes off him in
the back stretch and they had him in a pocket all the way to the
paddock gate, and even so, he was only beat about the length of
your nose. Adversity is right!" Old Man Curry nodded.
"Say," said the Kid, lowering his voice, "I just
wanted to tell you that next Tuesday the Engle bunch will be
levelling with Elisha."
Curry paused in his stride and
eyed the youth intently.
"Who told you?" said
"Never you mind," said
the Kid, airily.
"I'm a kind of a private
information bureau and detective agency 'round this track, and my
hours are from twelve to twelve, twice a day. I shake hands with
the night watchman when he comes on duty and I'm here to give the
milkman the high sign in the morning. They tell me things
they've seen and heard. I've got a drag with the bartenders and
the waiters in the track cafe and the telegraph operator is my
"Now Engle has had Elisha
for two weeks. He's started him three times and Elisha hasn't
been in the money once. People are saying that when Engle bought
the horse he didn't buy the prescription that goes with him....
Don't interrupt me; everybody knows you never had a hop horse in
your barn.... It's my notion that Elisha can win any time they
get ready to cut him loose for the kopecs. Engle has been
cheating with him to get a price and using the change of owners
for an alibi. They'll get their price the next time out and
clean up a barrel of money. You can gamble on this tip. It's
straight as gospel."
"That's pretty straight,
son." Old Man Curry squared his shoulders and looked over
the Kid's head toward the track, where the empty grand stand
loomed dark against the evening sky. "Next Tuesday!"
said he. "Just about what I thought . . . but tell me, son
why did you bring this to me?"
The Bald-faced Kid laughed
"Well, maybe it's because
you're the only man round here that calls me Frank it's my name
and I like to hear it once in a while. Maybe it's because you
staked me once when I was broke and didn't take my right eye for
security. Maybe it's because I figure we can both get something
out of it for ourselves. If Engle is going to cut a melon, we
might as well have a knife in it too."
"Ah!" said Old Man
Curry, and he paced the entire length of the barn before he spoke
"Well, you see, son, it's
this way about cutting a melon. You want to be sure it ain't
green . . . or rotten."
" Huh? "
Old Man Curry placed his hand on
the Kid's shoulder.
"My boy," said he,
kindly, "you make a living by by sort of advising folks
what to bet on, don't you? If they're kind of halting between
two opinions, as the Book says, you sort of help 'em out,
The Bald-faced Kid grinned
"I guess that's about the
size of it," said he.
"Well, if you've got any
reg'lar customers, don't invite 'em to have a slice of Engle's
melon next Tuesday. It might disagree with 'em."
"But I don't see how you're going to get away from
Elisha! He's fit and ready and right on edge. You can throw out
his last three races. He's good enough to win without any
"I know he is, son. Didn't
I train him? Now you've told me something that I've been trying
to find out, and I've told you something you never could find
out. Don't ask me any more. . . . No use talking, Frank, Solomon
was a great man. Some time I hope to have a race hoss fit to be
named after him. I've never seen one yet."
"Where does Solomon get in
on this proposition?" demanded the youth.
Old Man Curry chuckled
"You don't read him,"
he said. "Solomon wrote a lot of advice that hossmen can
use. For instance: 'A prudent man foreseeth the evil and hideth
himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.' I've told you
this Engle melon ain't as ripe as they think it is. You be
prudent and don't ask me how I know."
"If the frame-up goes wrong
what 'll win?" asked the kid.
"Well," said the old
man, "my hoss Elijah's in that same race, but it's a little
far for him. I ain't going to bet anything. Sometimes it comes
handy to know these things."
"You spoke an armful
then!" said the Kid. Well, I've got to be going. I'll keep
this under my hat."
"So do, son," said Old
Man Curry. "So do. Good night."
The Bald-faced Kid reflected
aloud as he departed.
"And some people think that
old fellow don't know the right way of the track!" he
murmured. "Gee! I'd give something to be in with what
he's got up his sleeve!"
Old Man Curry was still tramping
up and down when little Mose returned from his nightly foray
upon-the crap games of the neighbourhood. The boy approached
silently and with lagging gait, sure signs that fortune had not
been kind to him. When the dice behaved well it was his habit to
return with songs and improvised dance steps.
"Talk 'bout luck!"
said he, morosely. "You know 'at flat-foot Swede whut swipes
faw Mist' O'Conneh? Hungry Hanson, 'ey calls him. Well, he goes
crazy 'ith 'e heat an' flang 'em bones jus' like he's got 'em
ejicated. Done tossed out nine straight licks, boss. Seems to
me 'at's mo' luck 'an a Swede ought to have!"
"Mose," said Old Man
Curry suddenly, "Job was no hossman."
"I neveh 'cused him of
it," replied Mose sulkily.
"A hossman wouldn't have
wanted his adversary to write a book. If he'd said make a book,
now . . . but the best way to get square with an adversary is to
have him start a hoss in the same race with you, Mose."
"I'll take yo' word faw it,
boss," ssaid Mose. "When you go talkin' 'bout Job an'
Sol'mun an' 'em Bible folks, you got me ridin' on a track I don't
know nothin' 'bout. Nothin' a-a-atall."
It was Tuesday afternoon and
little Mose was struggling into his riding boots. The other
jockeys dressed in the jockeys' room at the paddock inclosure,
but Mose found it pleasanter to don the silks in the tack room of
Old Man Curry's barn, which also served him as a sleeping
apartment. The old man sat on the edge of Mose's cot, speaking
earnestly and slapping the palm of his left hand with the fingers
of his right, as if to lend emphasis to his words.
"The big thing is to get
him away from the post. I want Elijah out there in front when
you turn for home. With his early speed, he ought to be leading
into the stretch. Elisha will come from behind; Engle is smart
enough for that. He'll have to pass you somewhere, because
Elijah will begin to peter out after he's gone half a mile. Pull
in as close to Elisha as you can, but not so close that Merritt
can claim a foul, and you know the rest."
Mose nodded soberly. "Sutny
do, boss. But I neveh knowed 'at ol' 'Lisha "
"That 'll do," said
Old Man Curry sternly. "There's lots of things you don't
"Yes, suh," said the
little negro, subsiding. "Quite a many."
Later the Bald-faced Kid came to
Old Man Curry in the paddock
"Elisha looks awful
good," said he, "and they're commencing to set in the
checks. He opened at 4 to 1, went up to 6, and they've hammered
him down to 2 to 1 now. I hear they're playing the bulk of their
money in the pool rooms all over the coast.... Elisha looks as if
he could win, eh?"
Old Man Curry combed his beard.
"You can't always tell by
the looks of a melon what's inside it, my son."
"Engle is telling everybody
that the horse ain't quite ready," persisted the hustler
"Of course they don't want everybody betting on him and
spoiling the price."
"He's doing 'em a kindly
act without knowing it," said Old Man Curry. "That's
'bout the only way he'll ever do one, Frank, unbeknownst
"You're not betting on this
one?" asked the
"Not a thin dime's worth.
It's too far for him.''
"I give it up." The
Kid shook his head, hopelessly. "You're too many for
The presiding judge came out on
the platform in front of the stand and watched the horses dance
along the rail on their way to the post, coats glistening, eyes
flashing, nostrils flaring one of the prettiest sights the turf
offers to its patrons. "Merritt on Elisha again," said
the judge. "Merritt. Hm-m-m. That young man is entirely too
strong in the arms to suit me. It struck me the last three times
he rode this horse. But somebody is betting on Elisha to-day.
That may make a difference, and if it does, we may have to ask
Mr. Sharpshooter Engle a few questions."
"Leave it to him to answer
'em," said the associate judge. "It's the best thing he
does. That fellow is like a hickory nut smooth on the outside,
but hard, awfully hard, to get anything out of . . . . Old Man
Curry is in this race with Elijah. Little far for him, isn't
In the very top row of the grand
stand Grouchy Martin O'Connor waited for Al Engle. Just as the
horses reached the post, the Sharpshooter slipped in, breathless
and fumbling at the catch of his binocular case. "He was 6
to 5 when I came through the betting ring," said Engle.
"Well, any old price is a good price. He'll roll home.
"He better. He owes me
something," growled O'Connor. "This is where he pays you."
"I hope so. "
"I saw Old Man Curry out in
the paddock," and Engle smiled at the recollection.
"What do you think the old coot said to me?"
"What do I care what an old
"Nobody cares, of course,
but this was kind of funny. After the horses started for the
post he came up to me, solemn as a judge, and says he: 'Remember,
I told you this was a trick horse.' Just like that. They ought
to have a look at his head. He's got an attic for rent,
"Must have. But what does
he mean by that trick-horse stuff? He pulled it on you a couple
of times when you ran Elisha up on him."
"Darned if I know. I guess
that's just his vey of kidding. . . . Hello! They're off!"
"Yes, and that thing of
Curry's got away flying."
"He'll quit about the time
he hits the head of the stretch," said Engle. "He gets
his mail there . . . . Merritt has got Elisha in on the rail,
taking it easy, as I told him to. Believe me, that baby is some
"It cost me enough to find
it out!" said O'Connor shortly.
Engle peered through his
"Unless he breaks a leg, or
something" here O'Connor hastily knocked wood "we'll
clean up," said Engle, critically. "Elisha is fighting
for his head wants to run. I don't care where he is, turning
for home. He'll run over that bunch in the last quarter."
"Yes, but look at that
Elijah go!" muttered O'Connor.
"Let him go!" said
Engle, with a trace of irritation. "He'll come back; he
always does. Bet you fifty he's last!"
"Got you!" snapped
O'Connor. "You may not know any more about this one than you
did about Elisha last month!"
The dots of color skimmed around
the upper turn, one of them so far ahead that it seemed lonely.
This was Elijah, burning his early speed, jack-rabbiting ten
lengths in front of his field, but beginning to notice his
exertions and feel the swift pace.
little Mose, looking back over his shoulder, "if eveh you
finds a race track whut's got a short home stretch in it, you'll
be 'notheh Roseben. Sutny will. Onliest trouble 'ith you, 'Lijah,
'em stretches built too long faw you. Put 'e judges' stand up
heah whah we is now, an' yo' neveh lose a race! . . . Uh, huh!
Heah come 'Lisha now; 'em otheh jocks lettin' him th'ough on 'e
rail . . . . Come on, honey blossom ! We's waitin' faw you. Come
Said the presiding judge:
"That thing in front is quitting to nothing . . . and here
comes Elisha through on the rail . . . . Yes, he's a real race
horse to-day. Better see Engle about this. Have to teach him
that he can't run his horses in and out at this track!"
Said Al Engle: "What did I
tell you? Running over horses, ain't he? He'll have that Elijah
grabbed in a few more jumps . . . . Take it easy, Merritt! Don't
win too far with him!"
Martin O'Connor heaved a great
sigh of relief. Like all cautious souls, he never ceased to
worry until the last doubt was dispelled. The weary, staggering
Elijah was the only barrier between Elisha and the goal.
O'Connor's practiced eye saw no menace in that floundering front
runner; no danger in a shaft already spent. "He wins! He
wins easy!" breathed Martin.
"Just rolls home, I tell
you!" said the Sharpshooter, putting away his binoculars.
"I knew he would."
By leaps and bounds the stretch-
running Elisha overhauled his former stable companion. Poor,
tired Elijah was rocking in his gait, losing ground almost as
fast as Elisha was gaining it; his race was behind him; he could
do no more.
Mose, keeping watch out of the
tail of his eye, saw the bay head bobbing close behind. Now it
was at Elijah's heels; the next stride would bring it level with
the saddle . . . . The next stride.
All that anyone ever saw was
that Jockey Moseby Jones leaned slightly toward the flying Elisha
as Merritt drew alongside, and very few spectators saw this much.
Who cares to watch a loser when the winner is in sight? Old Man
Curry, waiting at the paddock gate, saw the movement and
immediately began to search his pockets for tobacco.
Jockey Merritt, strong of arm
but weak of principle, was first to realize that something had
happened. Elisha's speed checked with such suddenness that the
rider narrowly escaped pitching out of the saddle . . . . Had the
horse stumbled . . . or been frightened! . . . What in the world
was it? . . . Merritt recovered his balance and quite
instinctively drove the spurs home; the only response was a grunt
from Elisha. The long racing stride shortened to a choppy one.
The horse was not tired, nor was he quitting in the general
acceptance of the term; he was merely stopping to a walk with all
possible speed. Merritt was seized with panic. He drew his whip
and began slashing savagely. Elisha answered this by waving his
tall high in the air, a protest and a flag of truce but run he
would not. His pace grew slower and slower and at the paddock
gate he was on even terms with the drooping Elijah. "What
ails that horse?" demanded the presiding judge. "He
won't run a lick!! Acts as if he's taken a sulky streak all at
"Yes," said the
associate. "The Bible horses are having a contest to see
which one of 'em can quit the fastest . . . . Queer-looking race,
judge. And they bet on Elisha this time, too.
"I'm glad of it!"
exploded the other "It serves 'em right. I like to see a
frame up go wrong once in a while!"
Side by side Elijah and Elisha
fell back toward the field, little Mose grinning from ear to ear,
but industriously hand riding his mount; Jockey Merritt cursing
wildly and plying rawhide and steel with all his strength. The
other horses, coming on with a closing rush, enveloped the pair,
passed them and continued on toward the wire.
Only one remark of Martin
O'Connor's is fit for quotation. It came when his vocabulary was
bare of vituperation, abusive epithet, and profanity.
"You can slip me fifty,
Engle. That darned trick horse of yours was last!"
An inquisitive soul is an
itching thing and the gathering of information was the Bald-faced
Kid's ruling passion. He called at Old Man Curry's stable that
evening with a bit of news which he hoped to use as the key to a
"Greetings!" said he
at the tack-room door. "Thought you'd like to know that
Engle has sold Elisha. Pete Lawrence bought him for three
hundred dollars. Engle says that's two-ninety-five more than he'd
bring at a soap works."
Old Man Curry had been reading
by the light of the tack-room lantern; he pushed his glasses back
on his forehead and smiled at his informant.
''Oh, Elisha!" said he.
"Yes, if you look in the second stall to the right, you'll
find him. He's been straying among the publicans and sinners, but
he's home again now where he belongs. I asked Pete to go over
and buy him for me."
"Good work!" said the
Kid, seating himself. "There's quite a mass meeting over at
"So?" said Old Man
"Yes indeed! They've got
Jock Merritt up on the carpet and they haven't decided yet
whether to hang him to a rafter or boil him in oil. Some of 'em
think he pulled Elisha to-day. Merritt is giving 'em a powerful
argument. Says he never rode a harder finish in his life, but
that the horse took a sudden notion to quit and did it. Didn't
seem to be tired or anything but just stopped running. O'Connor
gets the floor once in a while and rips and raves about that
'trick-horse thing.' He thinks you know something. Engle says
you don't and never did, but that Elisha is a dog, same as he
said at first. Wouldn't surprise me none if they got into a
free-for-all fight over there because they're all losers and all
sore. Jock Merritt is sorer'n anybody; he bet some of his own
money and he thinks they ought to give it back to him . . . .
Now, just between friends, what happened to that horse to-day,
You told me he wouldn't win, but at the head of the stretch he
looked like a 1 to 10 chance. I thought he'd walk in. Then all at once he quit
running. He wasn't pulled, but something stopped him and stopped
him quick. What was it?"
Old Man Curry stroked his beard
and regarded the Bald-faced Kid with a tolerant expression.
"Well, now," said he
at length, "seeing as how you know so much, I'm going to
tell you something more 'bout that 'Lisha hoss. He used to have
another name once."
"Silver Star," nodded
the Kid. "I looked him up in the form charts."
Old Man Curry nodded.
"Eddie Caley him they
called the Cricket owned the hoss in the first place. Raised him
from a yearling. Now understand, I ain't excusing the Cricket for
what he done, and I ain't
blaming him neither. He was sick most of the time, and a sick man
gets his notions sort of twisted like. Maybe he figured the race
track owed him something for taking away his health. I don't
know. He wasn't no hand to talk.
"Anyhow, he had this one
hoss and always the one idea in his head to slip him over at
such a long price that he could clean up enough to quit on.
Caley was doing his own training and riding. I kept an eye on
the hoss, and it seemed to me Silver Star worked good enough to
win, but every time he got in a race he'd quit at the head of the
stretch. That struck me as sort of queer because he come from
stretch-running stock. His daddy was a great one to win from
behind. Well, six or seven times Silver Star quit that way, and
from the head of the stretch home the Cricket would lay into him,
whip and spur both. Wouldn't make the slightest difference to
the hoss, but everybody could see that Caley was doing his best
to make him run. Folks got kind of sorry for him, sick that way,
only one hoss and him such a dog.
"Then one day Caley came to
me and wanted the loan of some money. He said the price had got
long enough to suit him, but that he didn't have anything to bet.
Happened I had the bank roll handy and I let him have two
hundred. I can see the little feller now, with the red patches
on his cheeks and his eyes kind of shining with fever.
"'This is the biggest cinch
that ever came off on a race track!' he says to me, coughing
every few words. 'Don't let the price scare you. Don't let
anything scare you. He'll be a good hoss to-day. Win something
"It's this way 'bout me:
I've heard that kind of talk before. When I bet, it's got to be
on my own hoss. I thought two hundred was plenty to lose.
Silver Star was 25 and 30 to 1 over the ring and a friend of
Caley's unloaded the two hundred in little driblets so's nobody
would get suspicious and cut the price too far. The Cricket got
out of a sick bed to ride the race and Silver Star came from
behind and won by seven lengths. Could have made it seventeen
easy as not. I reckon everyody was glad to see Caley win
everybody but the bookmakers, but they hadn't any right to kick,
seeing as he beat a red-hot favorite
"Caley went to bed that
night and didn't get up any more. I used to read to him when he
couldn't sleep. Maybe that's how he come to give me the hoss,
along with a little secret 'bout him."
Old Man Chrry paused,
tantalizingly, and rumaged in his pockets for his fine-cut. The
Bald-faced Kid squirmed on his chair.
"It was a trick that nobody
but a jockey would ever have thought of, son. Caley taught the
colt to stop whenever a certain word was hollered in his ear.
Dinged it into him, morning after morning, until Silver Star got
so's he'd quit as soon as he heard it, like a buggy hoss stops
when you say 'Whoa' to him. Best part of the trick, though, was
that all the whipping and spurring in the world couldn't get him
to running again. Caley taught him that for his own protection.
It gave him an alibi with the judges. Couldn't they see he was
riding the hoss as hard as he knew how? I don't say it was
exackly honest, but "
"Oho!" interrupted the
Bald-faced Kid, "now I know why you had a front runner in
that race! Between friends, old-timer, what was it Mose hollered
at Elisha when he came alongside?"
"Well," said Old Man
Curry, "that's the secret of it, my son, and it's this way
'bout a secret: you can't let too many folks in on it. I reckon
it was a word spoken in due season, as Solomon says. Elisha, he
won't hear it again unless he changes owners."