[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
In the paddock.
Leaving the ladies in charge of three members of their party who meant to ‘stand off’ the hurdles, Dick and Ted hurried into the paddock, followed more leisurely by the two Russians.
‘There they are,’ said Zenski, as he and his friend took up a position beside a tree: ‘commerce and law and medicine, masters and servants — even the Church, for aught I know — all are represented here: the world and his wife to pay tribute to a four-legged god through his chosen high-priests, the Levites.’
‘In England, too, they think much of the racehorse; so do we, Zenski.’
‘Here they think of nothing else; and that is one of the reasons why we have had so little trouble. Listen.’
As Zenski was speaking, a well-dressed, keen-looking middle-aged man coming from the Birdcage passed.
‘One moment, Mr. Mills,’ said Zenski, touching him on the arm; ‘what is this I hear about Herat?’
Stopping, the man looked puzzled for a moment, then said in a tone of annoyance:
‘Hanged if I can remember the nominations a bit! What about him? Is he scratched?’
‘So I hear,’ replied the Russian.
‘Hope you haven’t backed him,’ retorted the other, adding, in a tone of friendly warning, as he turned away: ‘Take my advice, and never touch ’em till after the weights are out.’
‘Who is he?’ inquired Dromeroff curiously.
‘A member of the Upper House,’ said Zenski with a cynical grin.
As the winner of the hurdle-race turned up in Dart, a comparative outsider ridden by Jack Brewster, it naturally caused that brilliant horseman’s mount for the steeplechase to harden in the betting. Two minutes after the red flag was hoisted Sardius touched six to four, while, partly from the advance of the favourite and partly because of a rumour having gained ground to the effect that a well-known horse-owner and member of the committee had backed Satan, Io receded a couple of points.
Still the Queensland ‘crowd’ remained confident, for the mare looked fit as hands could make her, and her rider professed himself as confident of a favourable result.
As few of the Northern men were members, the whole party took luncheon at a reserved table under the stand. Let moralists preach as they may, I wonder if friends can come together under gladder conditions than those of a race-lunch. Given that the wine be mellow and the hearts be leal, I doubt it. Too early in the day to count the cost, the sordid side of the question is as yet absent, while, the first blood being drawn, the layers, whether the skirmish be for or against them, are full of fight and enthusiasm. Given the presence of two young and handsome women both deeply interested in the same horse as themselves, the man who is to ride and every other man present a devoted partisan, and I can conceive no closer bond of camaraderie.
Such were the spirits who now toasted Io and the North amid the clatter of knives and the popping of corks under the Randwick Stand. During the lull that fell upon the paddock between luncheon and the next race, Mrs. Enson foregathered with her friend Mrs. Manson, leaving the two girls in charge of Hatten and Johnson. Her daughter and the manager of Isis Downs thoroughly understood each other, and, despite Edith’s habit of making light of Ted’s horsey proclivities, the girl really loved the good-hearted, straight-going bushman. Recognising that it would be some time before he could offer her a home, Johnson in no way attempted to clog her freedom of action, shrewdly judging that in love, of all things, coercion is worse than useless. That Edith fully returned this magnanimity is doubtful, while that she to a certain extent took advantage of it, Johnson occasionally found to his cost. Still, on the whole, all went smoothly enough, and to-day, as he walked with her up and down the lawn, he fully realized how good a thing it was to have for his possession this winsome, warm-hearted daughter of tropic suns.
Hatten and Heather wandered farther afield, taking advantage of the lessened crowd to look at the mare round which so many hopes centred. A weaker woman would have avoided Hatten altogether; one less earnest and honest would have made the fact of their being together appear to possess an embarrassment for her, whether it did so or not. With Heather all this was impossible. She had told him she had no love to give, and she meant it; she had, in place of what she did not possess, offered him her truest friendship, and in this, as in all things, she was sincere. Doubting his stability in all matters pertaining to deep human passion, she had little fear as to his quick recuperative power, and so, now that he had accepted what she offered, she felt that her best and kindest course was to simply ignore all that had passed, save only her latest compact. Though in this she had somewhat misjudged Dick, he, on his part, was too much a man of the world to rush on another certain defeat when every hope of ultimate success seemed to lie in delay. So, satisfied with the fact that if refused he had still retained his position, he, too, for the present, ignored all that had passed save the fact that they were firm friends, both deeply interested in the fortunes of Io.
Leaning against the rails of her stall, Billy the Kid kept jealous guard over his favourite. Seeing his master and Heather approach, the trainer’s face brightened slightly under its casing of tan.
As a rule Billy strongly objected to women; at any rate, in connection with horse-racing. Some years ago he had remarked to Hatten, when discussing the hiring of a lad, ‘Boys is the ruin of stables, an’ socks an’ wimmin is the ruin o’ boys,’ and he meant it. However, with Heather it was different. The trainer recognised that she not only loved, but knew a good horse when she saw one; and this, coupled with the fact that she had made a complete new suit for the mare when Billy was last at the Downs, induced him to waive his objections in her case.
Returning his clumsy, half-bashful acknowledgment with a courtesy that was a part of her, Heather asked if all was well with the mare.
‘My o — beg pardon, my word, miss,’ said Billy. ‘She’s had a great night, and’ — throwing back the sheet — ‘’er coat’s as shiny as yer own!’
‘It does you credit, Billy,’ said the girl, smiling at his simile. ‘I’m afraid mine never gets so well looked after.’
‘It’s all a question o’ elbow-grease, miss,’ replied Billy oracularly.
Here Hatten interposed, asking the trainer if he had heard anything about Satan.
‘It’s whispered ’e did a great go last Thursday mornin’ with the weight up, but I don’t think it,’ answered Billy. ‘They got ’is measure to a ’air long afore he come to Randwick, you take it from me, sir; and they means backin’ ’im for what they’s worth, all right. But never you mind; all you got to do is to keep a hold o’ the mare’s head, an’ don’t let them go too slow, nor yet take you too fast, and you’ll d—— well lose ’em at the finish. Beg pardon for swearing, miss,’ stuttered Billy; ‘I ain’t been accustomed to ladies as minds — I mean the mare likes me to swear at ’er a bit.’
‘Send her in a winner to-day, Billy, and, for the sake of the North, I’ll forgive you,’ said Heather kindly. ‘Thank goodness, if she has learnt a bad habit, she can’t express it.’
‘She’s in the first class, she is!’ muttered Billy admiringly, as the two walked back towards the stand. ‘But he’ll never lead ’er in a winner, if I know anything about trainin’.’
As the horses went out for the Ransom Plate, the big flat event of the meeting, Zenski and Dromeroff, who had been captured by Sir John Baggs before luncheon, rejoined the party.
The Wonder, despite a career marred by frequent loss of form, again left the paddock an ‘odds on’ favourite.
‘He looks head and shoulders above his field,’ remarked Dromeroff. ‘I think I must have a wager; it’s better to buy money at a short price than to lose it at a long one.’
‘Certainly, my friend,’ retorted Zenski; ‘I will go with you.’
As the two neared the ring, the older man added:
‘Let well alone; when the price is too short, he becomes seized with a curious desire to inspect the tails of his compatriots. Come into the members’ stand, and judge for yourself.’
The race needs little description; the Wonder, fighting for his head, lay out of position until entering the straight, then came only to be blocked; and, finally, after pulling out and coming round his field, just suffered defeat at the hands of a rank outsider by a length.
As the horse returned to the weighing-yard, looking fit to go out again and run away from his field, an angry crowd gathered round the railing, and treated both horse and owner to a volley of hearty, ill-sounding groans.
Standing beside his horse, the Wonder’s master looked with supreme contempt at the white-faced men who hissed.
‘Let them howl!’ he said, loud enough for all to hear. ‘They have the fun, and I have the stuff!’
‘He is a philosopher,’ remarked Dromeroff.
‘He would make an admirable Russian,’ returned Zenski admiringly, ‘but I doubt if he is honest enough even for us.’
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 73-79