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JACQUES FUTRELLE

THE GRAY GHOST

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First published in Everybody's Magazine, July 1905

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Everybody's Magazine, July 1905 with "The Gray Ghost"


I

"NO hoss cain't run without laigs, an' mostly hind laigs at that," opined Colonel Wishard judicially. He relighted his corn-cob pipe meditatively, and I allowed an assertion so incontrovertible to stand unchallenged. "No-o, suh; cain't run without laigs. Now that hoss thar can run some—fact is, Mistah, that hoss can run like hell; still, my idea of a real hoss—one that can run—is a hoss with long hind laigs and a wheel in front." He puffed his recalcitrant corn-cob into vigorous action. "But, of course, they don't build bosses that way."

Freakish would best describe the animal which had called forth these remarks. But even that word is weak and inadequate and trivial. For instance, when I noted that the horse was leaden gray, I also noted that it was not a usual sort of leaden gray. It was a very leaden gray—a dismal, dank, cheerless leaden gray.

The head was small, broad across the eyes, with a sort of hang-dog droop to it that made one feel depressed until one caught the glint of a cheerful intelligence in the small eyes. The chest was as broad and sturdy as the back of a hack, and the lung capacity seemed limitless. But there was a lamentable sag in the front part of the animal's architecture. It seemed to need stimulation—propping up, as it were. Looking from the front over the horse's ears the view was up-hill all the way to the hind quarters, which were abnormally large and splendidly muscled. From the side the animal was a sort of a panorama of hind legs.

"Ain't particular purty, is he?" asked the Colonel.

"Not enough to notice," I replied. "Why don't you sell it and get a horse?"

"Look here, Mistah," said the Colonel, somewhat sharply, "that's a hoss as is a hoss, that thar hoss. Why that hoss—uh-h-h-h,"—and his rhapsody degenerated into an inarticulate grunt of satisfaction.

"Where did you get him?" I asked gently.

"I growed him, suh," he snapped at me. "I been settin' on this here fence for fifty years, suh, growin' that hoss."


Illustration

"I been settin' on this here fence for fifty years, suh, growin' that hoss."


"Fifty years?" I exclaimed.

The Colonel fairly bristled with rage. His pipe was firmly and relentlessly clinched in his teeth, his broad-brimmed hat pulled low over his eyes. I started to say something soothing, but such a course seemed wholly without promise at the moment and I glanced casually across the flattened acres enclosed by a roughly-made, circular race-track.

One could readily trace the ravages of half a century in everything about the place: in the collapsing corners of the gloomy, ramshackle barn across the way, gilded now by the sinking sun; in the weather-beaten furlong posts which pointed uncompromisingly toward the sky; in the occasional pips of the rail fence which enclosed the track; in the person of the Colonel himself, perched aggressively on the fence. His wrinkled face, keenly pointed beard, and bristling mustache were all much the same color.

The horse which had so unfortunately alienated a rapidly growing friendship between the Colonel and myself cropped grass lazily thirty feet away inside the track enclosure, while off at one side of the circle half a dozen other horses browsed intermittently.

Even at the distance I could trace in these the structural eccentricity which showed them to be the brothers and the sisters and the cousins and the aunts of the leaden gray.

I glanced again at the Colonel, but the belligerent gleam was still in his eyes. I started on a diplomatic tack.

"Fifty years. Colonel?" I said. "Why, surely you can't be fifty years old?"

"Fifty years old?" he bellowed. "Do I look like a child, suh? Do I look like an infant in arms? Well, I ain't, suh. I'm seventy-two years old, suh, an' when I say I been settin' on this here fence for fifty years growin' that hoss, I expect you to believe it, suh."

"Why, certainly I believe it," I hastened to assure him. The Colonel was like a small and very active package of firecrackers.

"An' when I say, suh, that that thar hoss is the greatest hoss in the world, I expect you to believe that," raged the Colonel. He scrambled down from the fence, came close to me, and stretched his five feet three inches of dignity to the utmost. "The greatest hoss in the world, suh. Run? Shoot at that hoss when he is goin' away an' the bullet won't hit him for ten minutes. An' I expect you to believe that, suh. Good day, suh."

And the Colonel stalked away toward the barn, the intermittent puff of his pipe leaving a fuming trail. I felt like a timid person after the Fourth of July. The explosion had left me nerveless. I sneaked back to the village half a mile away, scarce daring to glance at the once magnificent white-columned Southern mansion which I knew was the peppery Colonel's home.

NEXT rooming I was sitting in front of the "hotel" where I was stopping, when I saw Colonel Wishard coming down the road, evidently bound for the post office.

"Good morning, Colonel," I said.

He bowed very stiffly, very formally, removed his hat and passed on. I was sorry. I should have liked to reestablish the entente cordiale. The Colonel was a type—I like types, especially types with theories. My gratification was great, therefore, when, on the Colonel's return from the post-office, he came directly to me with his hand outstretched.

"Suh," he said, "I feel that I owe you an apology, an' I trus' you will take my han' in friendship, suh. I've got a damned fine hoss, suh, an' any 'spersions cast on that hoss is like you insulted me, suh. Have a se-gyar, suh," continued the Colonel. I accepted. There was a slight pause.

"I am always ready to admit a fault, suh, an' trus' you won't think it selfish of me now if I ask for your advice, suh?"

"Only too pleased to give it," I assured him.

"Fact is, suh, I'm about to embark in a new business, for me, an' frankly I don't know much about it. I'm gonter take that gray hoss you saw North, suh, an' race him at the Metropolitan tracks."

"Race him?" I gasped.

"Yes, suh, race him," said the Colonel tersely. "I wrote to the secretary of the Jockey Club an' enclosed a check for five hund'ed dollars, suh, entrance fee for my hoss in the Long Island Handicap. Now, suh, I have just received a letter askin' me the name o' my hoss. I cain't enter a hoss that ain't got no name. What should I do, suh?"

"Name the horse," I suggested feebly.

"A good idee, suh. I will. But what shall I name him?"

"But—Great Scott—that thing—I mean your horse is—Dr—Dr—fact is it's very expensive to race horses at the New York tracks. Had you figured on that?"

"Damn the expense, suh! I know it. It tuck me fifty years to grow a hoss that I thought was really a good hoss—one with laigs, suh—an' expense ain't got nothin' to do with it."

"But, Colonel," I expostulated, "your horse would have to go against all the greatest horses of the country there, particularly in that race—horses that have made world's records."

"That's the reason I'm takin' my hoss thar, suh."

There was a calm and satisfied dignity about the Colonel, yet in my blindness I again tried to dissuade him.

"Your horse won't have a ghost of a chance—not a ghost of a chance," I said positively.

"Ghost," repeated the Colonel, thoughtfully. "The Ghost. That sounds nearly like a name for my hoss, suh. The Ghost."

"But, Colonel——"

"The Ghost. The Gray Ghost. That's it. My hoss is gray, you know. The Gray Ghost it shall be. Thank you, suh, for the suggestion. I shall telegraph it to the secretary o' the Jockey Club."

"But, Colonel, are you sure your horse can run fast enough to——"

"Run fast enough, suh?" repeated the Colonel, with the merciless glitter of triumph in his eyes. "Run fast enough? You ain't never seen no hoss run yet."

II

Theoretically "Batty" Logan lived a methodical, well-regulated, orderly life; but, as he tersely expressed it, "there's many a slip between the book-maker and the lunch counter." The general plan of his existence called for breakfast at three a.m.—if he had the price; luncheon at noon—perhaps; and dinner at six—if he happened to guess right. If, perchance, none of these things came to pass in the course of the day—oh, well, there were other days. It was only after two days' failure to connect with the Commissary Department that "Batty's" philosophy grew wan and pale.

Batty was a tout. Once he had been a jockey, and a good one. He had lived the brief, cloying moment as the winner of a Suburban; he had sat in the flowered horseshoe. Then fate began to tear down his air-castles. Prosperity and the normal-working appetite of a boy of fifteen conspired to defeat him. He grew heavy.

At last came the day when he couldn't make weight. As he had been a good jockey, he was a good tout. For a time Fortune dropped jeweled apples at his feet. Money flowed through his hands. And then the end came. He struck a losing streak. For weeks it clung to him. Occasionally he found it convenient not to eat. Finally convenience became compulsory. Now Batty was in hard luck. He hadn't looked a ham sandwich in the face for two days. Only one relic of his former glory remained—this was a very fine split-second watch. That was his stock in trade. With it he was enabled to keep tab—albeit a precarious one—on the ponies in their work-outs. Eat that? Eat his grandmother. That gone, he was a ship without a rudder.

He was roosting on the rail at the Montauk track. The sun was just shaking the dew out of his eyes for another clay's work. Temptation struggled hard within Batty. The watch lay in has open hand. It meant breakfast, luncheon, dinner, lodging for days and days, with enough left over for another dash at the ponies with a ten-spot. It was the supremely critical moment in a life in which critical moments had been plentiful.

"Whoa, suh. What's the matter with you, suh?"

Batty twisted his head to see who was behind him. Not that he was interested—the only thing he was really interested in was his appetite. A wizened old man with a wide-brimmed hat pulled low over his placid blue eyes and a corn-cob pipe in his mouth had spoken. He was leading a—a something with amazingly long hind legs—a leaden gray something. Batty was amused.

"Honest now," he asked. "Wot do you call that?"

"It's a hoss, suh," snapped the wizened old man. The placid blue eyes suddenly flashed fire.

"Aw, quit yer kiddin'." grinned Batty.

"An' what did you think it was, suh?" flamed the old man

"You can search me," said Batty.

"A race-hoss, suh, from Tennessee. The greatest race-hoss ever growed." Colonel Wishard was bellowing at the impassive Batty.

"Aw, don't make me laugh. Me lip's cracked."

Colonel Wishard started for Batty, who didn't move; then he thought better of it, turned, and made a motion to a solemn-looking negro who had followed The Gray Ghost to the track. The negro turned to mount.

"Say, Mister," said Batty solicitously. "Don't let that coon get on that thing; he'll break it."


Illustration

"Don't let that coon get on that thing; he'll break it."


Colonel Wishard snorted. Dummy threw a leg over The Gray Ghost and moved over to the furlong post, forty feet away. When Batty saw the horse in motion he laughed.

The Gray Ghost had a style all his own; his front feet pattered and his hind legs jumped.

"Of all the eccentrical horses I ever see," said Batty, "that is the eccentricalest. Hey, Whiskers, betcher six to one he don't do the mile in fifteen minutes."

Colonel Wishard's lips closed in a thin, rigid line. Batty was tearing the old man's heart out. But the Colonel could stand the gaff; he knew the horse. Batty mechanically set his watch for the start.

At the word The Gray Ghost was off. It was a hop, skip, and jump pace, but the jump part knocked holes in Batty's previous ideas of the action of a horse. It covered ground, and covered ground amazingly.

"Gee! That nag can move some," remarked Batty to himself. The action of the horse fascinated him. He forgot to notice the fractional time as the leaden gray went by post after post, but finally when the animal turned into the stretch and flashed past him, on the bit, Batty glanced at his watch, and fell off the fence.

Colonel Wishard closed his watch, waved horse and rider off the track, and turned to Batty. That expert in horse-flesh was sitting on the ground with a dazed expression on his face, anxiously holding his watch to his ear. He was pale with excitement.

"Now, suh, you see that's a race-hoss," said the Colonel.

"And that ain't no idle vaporing of a buggy intellect—if my clock didn't stop," panted Batty. He shook the timepiece violently.

"Purty slow mile though," continued the Colonel.

"Mile? Me grandmother! Mile? That track is a mile and a quarter."

"Oh," said the Colonel placidly. "That's more like it. But that nigger didn't let him out."

"Didn't let him out?" gasped Batty. "Can he run faster'n that?"

"Certainly, suh," said the Colonel. "That's a race-hoss."

Batty came close up to the Colonel. The future had opened out voluminously, gorgeously.

"Say, Mister," he said, "I ain't never see no race-horse till I see that one." Just before him, through a haze, Batty saw himself with thousand-dollar bills dribbling through his fingers, leaking out of his pockets. "Wot—wot are you going to do with him?"

"Race him, suh, of course."

"Sure. Sure, Beau. And you're in right," gurgled Batty. "But what race is he goin' in?"

"I intend, suh, to start him in the Long Island Handicap on the openin' day at this track, which I believe, suh, is day after tomorrow."

"Say, Boss," continued Batty. "Me name's Batty Logan—used to be a jock—rode the Suburban winner in '99, and I thought I knowed something about race-horses. I pass. That one is the limit. He can run. Hand us your flipper."

And two gentlemen who admired race-horses shook hands. It was a momentous occasion.

"But say, Beau," said Batty, with sudden anxiety. "Is the skate in right for the Long Island?"

"I paid five hund'ed dollars to race my hoss in that Handicap, if that is what you mean," said the Colonel.

"Say, Cul, you ain't wise a bit, are you?" And Batty displayed certain terpsichorean accomplishments which amazed the old gentleman exceedingly. "Say, I guess we're foolish, hey? I guess we don't know nothin', yes? Us! Can you see us? Diamonds sprouting out of us like whiskers! Private yats with pizazzas all round 'em! Oh, me grandmother!"

"I'm afeared, suh, I don't quite follow you," said the Colonel, with some resentment. "You spoke of 'us,' suh—"


Illustration

"I'm afeared, suh, I don't quite follow you."


"Sure, Bill, us! Don't you see? Can you see the bookies on the sprint for the tall timbers, and us clippin' coupons off their coat tails as they run? But, say," and again there was anxiety in the voice, "does anybody else know what this horse can do?"

"No, suh. I jus' arrived last night from Tennessee, suh, an' had the hoss sent direct to the track. My nigger an' me came in the cyar with him."

"Well, they mustn't know, see?" said Batty. "Shut up the nigger's mouth—"

"He's deef an' dum', suh."

"Well, tie his hands behind him so he can't wigwag the gladsome tidings, and maybe there won't be a mess of greens for us in the first few races that horse starts in!"

"I only intend, suh, to start The Gray Ghost in the Handicap. I want folks to know thar is one race hoss in the world, if it did take fifty years to grow him. I came here for that one race, suh, an' my hoss'll set a world's record that'll stand forever, suh."

"Don't do it, Beau; don't do it." There were tears in Batty's voice. "Not that way. Let him race, let him win a little bit—just enough—then when you can't get the odds you want and have loaded your freight-car with thousand-dollar Williams, let the horse run his race. Then let him make the record."

"But I don't want the money, suh."

"Maybe not now," and Batty was almost on the point of weeping. "But you may after a while. You may take a notion to buy up Nashville and start a fish-pond on it, and then you'd have the mazuma to do it with. It's a shame to let the bookies keep it—they have to set up so late nights countin' it."

Colonel Wishard's blue eyes centered thoughtfully on a bag of tobacco from which he filled the black corn-cob pipe. For an instant only they rested on Batty's eager face,

"Suh, I feel that you know what a real race-hoss is. Will you do me the honah of breakfastin' with me?"

"Sure, Beau, in a minute; but how about letting The Gray Goat—"

"The Gray Ghost, sub."

"How about letting him run for the long green?"

The Colonel lighted his pipe and started it going with several vigorous puffs. "I will think about that, suh."

III

ON the day of the running of the Long Island Handicap, at Montauk, I went down to the track to cast my bread upon the waters. One of the first persons I met was Batty Logan. He was leaning against the steps mounting to the stewards' offices, and didn't look happy. He was thinner than I had remembered seeing him since the days when he was a jockey. He also looked pale.

"Hello, Batty," I saluted. "How're they coming?"

"Hello, Beau," he said, without enthusiasm. "They ain't comin'—they're goin'. Mine's all gone."

"Not hitting them right, eh?"

"Hittin' 'em right? Say, Bill, do I look like I'd been living at de Saint Reggy?" Truly, he did not. "Come down to make a bet?"

"Well, I might," he said carelessly. "Are you wise?"

"'Am I wise?'" he repeated. "Ain't I wise, though! Here's a match."

"What for?" I asked.

"Aw, set fire to your roil and go get on the train. There's less mental anxiety about doing it that way."

I knew Batty of old. Such depression indicated that be was indeed very fair along the line of hard luck.

"They ain't but one thing in the world I want right now," continued Batty, "and that's to get drownded in a sea of scrambled eggs. Me? All to the pickles."


Illustration

"All to the pickles."


"I thought possibly you knew a horse—" I began.

"Me? I don't know a horse from a canal-boat. I used to think I did. Honest, Beau," and his voice dropped mysteriously, "things is gettin' so bad with me I'm afraid I'll have to go to work."

Reluctantly I was turning away, when it occurred to me that a sandwich might be grateful to Batty. I put the question.

"No, Beau, much obliged," he said. "I'm waiting for a man. I've got a chance to pick up a five-dollar William, and one o' them right now would make me feel like Russell Sage. Fact is," he continued, much embarrassed, "an old gazabe from Tennessee engaged me to pilot a nag in the Handicap, and now he's taken a notion to run him in the first race, too. Ain't that crazy? First mount I've had in five years. The old boy's up with the stewards now, askin' permission for me to ride overweight."

"Two races in one day, and overweight? How much overweight?" I asked.

"Honest, Beau, I'm ashamed to tell you," he said. "It's thirty-nine pounds;" and he laughed.

"Thirty-nine what?" I gasped.

"Well, I'll tell you. Bill," he continued confidentially. "This old gent brings a horse up here, gets stuck on me shape, and asks me to ride. Sure I'll ride, if the stewards'll let me. I need the money. I'd ride a gy-raffe around the track if they was a fiver in it."

"What horse is it?" I asked.

"The Gray Ghost."

Instantly my mind flashed back to a quiet little village in Tennessee and a wizened old man sitting on a fence with a corn-cob pipe in his mouth.

"Colonel Wishard?" I exclaimed in surprise.

"Do you know him, Beau?" Batty was uneasy.

"I met him in Tennessee," I replied. "Has his horse got a chance?"

"Got a chanst?" and Batty glowed with indignation. "Got a chanst? A skate that never was in a race, come into a six-furlong sprint against good horses, with thirty-nine pounds overweight, and got a chanst? If I can get him to the half-mile post without him falling down, I've earned the fiver all right all right. Got a chanst? Oh, me grandmothe!"

A hand fell on my shoulder from behind, and I turned to face Colonel Wishard, who had just descended the steps from the stewards' office.

"Colonel Wishard!" I exclaimed.

"Suh, it gives me great pleasure to meet you ag'in," said the Colonel, as he lifted his wide-brimmed hat with a cordial courtesy.

"Say, Beau," said Batty anxiously to the Colonel, "what did they say up-stairs?"

"They gave permission, suh," said the Colonel. "But they laughed at me," and a hard glint came into the clear blue eyes. "Laughed at me, suh."

"Well, ain't we the lalla-perzips, though?" inquired Batty, with an enthusiasm all the more astounding to me because of his recent despondency. "Well, I guess yes. But, say," and again there was a trace of anxiety in his voice, "can the nag do it?"

"Do it, suh? Do it?" thundered the Colonel. "Of course he can do it. He can pull a farm waggin round that track faster'n them other horses can run."

"All right, Papa, all right," said Batty soothingly. "I don't know a thing about horses, bein' as I was only a jockey for six years. I pass to you. You're the main chunk. You see, though, I have a natural anxiety, considerin' that I hocked me clock for forty plunks to invest on the nag. I ain't been eating regular, and if that nag don't win I reckon I never will eat no more."

"You think The Gray Ghost will win, then?" I asked sternly. Batty's change of front puzzled me.

"It's a cincherino, if the Colonel says so," he grinned cheerfully. "Say, Beau, I was just stringin' you. It don't do no good, you see, to climb on a rain-barrel an' shout what you know about a horse to the gapin' multitude, as it were. It don't improve the odds any. But since you an' the Colonel are friends—"

"Yes, suh," said the Colonel "That hoss will win, suh."

"But two races, Colonel?"

"That first race is only an exercise gallop, suh, and he needs it He'll win both races."

I knew the Colonel too well to express an opinion, but I resolved nevertheless to clutch my diminutive roll all the more firmly for fear I might be tempted. I couldn't see The Gray Ghost—neither could the bookies, for when they noted the announcement of thirty-nine pounds overweight they laughed.

"What's this Gray Ghost?" one asked.

"I don't know," said another, "but I'll try two hundred to one that he don't win."

Before Batty returned to the paddock to struggle into the green and gold silk, Colonel Wishard's colors, he placed forty dollars in my hands to go down in five-dollar bets with different book-makers at the best odds possible.

"The odds'll be way up," he said. "But if the bookies find out anybody is placing even forty piasters on the nag they'll cut hard, and when the Colonel begins to bet, maybe they'll wipe him off. And say, Beau," he continued, "just 'cause I tried to string you, I'll buy you a thousand dollars' worth of pie after the first race."

TEN minutes before the bugle sounded for the first race Colonel Wishard strolled into the betting ring. I followed him. In one hand he grasped a particularly healthy-looking roll of bills.

"Will you accept a bet of one thousand dollars, suh?" he asked of a book-maker.

"That's the easiest thing I do," said the bookie, reaching for the money. "What horse?"

"The Gray Ghost to win, suh."

"Gray Ghost to—to—to what?" shouted the bookie. Beads of perspiration suddenly appeared on his head. "Two hundred thousand dollars to one thousand? Well, not the same. Uncle Hezekiah, not the same." With one movement he wiped off the odds of two hundred to one, and with another he crowded the money into Colonel Wishard's hands. "Not for me," he said. "I ain't J. Pierpont Morgan." He was still perspiring. "I'll take a hundred dollars at fifty to one," he said.


Illustration

"Well, not the same. Uncle Hezekiah."


"Thank you, suh," said the Colonel.

"Gray Ghost now fifty to one," screamed the ring announcer.

Colonel Wishard's trip down the line was punctuated by the ring announcer. Each bet cut the odds. "Gray Ghost now forty to one" was followed immediately by "Gray Ghost now twenty-five," and then, after a couple of minutes, "Gray Ghost now ten."

WHEN the bugle sounded the post call, there was a rush of bookies for points of vantage from which to view The Gray Ghost. Finally there was a flash of green and gold topping a dismal gray at the paddock gate, and lo, The Gray Ghost! For an instant only the bookies looked over the animal, and then there went up a roar of laughter. A moment more and the shout was taken up by the grand stand.

The Gray Ghost had arrived!

"That ain't no horse," said one bookie, between laughs. "That's a blooming kangaroo."

Anger flashed in Colonel Wishard's eyes and his face grew white. His hand on my shoulder tightened until I winced,

"By gad, suh, I'll make 'em laugh another way," he said.

And he did. The Gray Ghost won by half a length in a second and three-fifths slower than the track record. There was a casual surprise in the grand stand, and some amusement That was all.

After the third race I went down into the betting-ring, curious to see what the odds were on The Gray Ghost in the big Handicap, the fourth event. Chalked up against the horse was twenty to one, thirty-two pounds overweight, Batty Logan up. The Colonel was standing in front of a book-maker a few yards away.

"Colonel, allow me to congratulate you," I said as I grasped his hand.

"Thank you, suh," he said "I knowed my hoss could win, suh. I trus', suh, you'll git sompin' down on this race."

"Do you think he can win this, too?" I asked. "Two races in one day with the same horse, heavily overweighted, seems asking a great deal."

"He will win, suh," and the Colonel passed down the line. The bellowing of the ring announcer marked his progress and in ten minutes the odds dropped from twenty to one to fours. The last I saw of the Colonel before the race was when he was trying to induce a book-maker to accept a bet of five thousand dollars at any odds. The book-maker couldn't see it that way, and to settle the argument wiped all quotations off his slate.

"No," said the bookie decidedly. "I don't care if your horse is a jack-rabbit; if he can pick up thirty-nine overweight and win that first race in that company, then carry thirty-two over against the best horses in training in this race, and still you back him, I pass. Not for mine."

THE start of the Handicap, a mile and a quarter, was directly in front of the grand stand. When the post call came, The Gray Ghost trailed dismally along behind the other horses, with his head tucked cheerlessly between ms short fore-legs, and the hind quarters looming up like Pike's Peak in the distance. Batty wore a grin of exultation, and when I figured that he had won eight thousand dollars on the first race I could readily understand it.

Three false breaks from the starting-post, and then: "They're off!" And The Gray Ghost was left, standing stock-still, looking in the wrong direction! He was directly opposite me, not more than twenty feet away, and I saw Batty clench his teeth desperately.

Twenty lengths ahead the horses were smashing on when Batty, with a savage yank, swung The Gray Ghost nose forward and started in pursuit. There was a mocking jeer from the grand stand, and ribald shouts of encouragement But Batty got down to work, and I saw he was going to get a run for his money. Slowly the gap between the bunch and the trailing Gray Ghost began to grow less. At the first turn for home he was lying fifth. To me the horse looked out of it. Batty had quit riding.

The grand stand was wild over the struggle between Gold Eyes and Black Devil. I happened to notice the gray. An amazing thing bad happened. He had gained two lengths. At the last furlong post he was second, and I could dimly trace a smile on Batty's face. He had cut across the track and drawn up close to Gold Eyes' rider. That youth looked at him apprehensively.

Then, in Batty's voice was wafted to me: "Hello, Bill! Ain't you coming home?"


Illustration

"Hello, Bill! Ain't you coming home?"


He buckled down over The Gray Ghost's neck and drew away. A length of daylight showed. Five lengths from the finish he was sitting up straight, looking back, with a grin on his face.

"Hurry up, fellows," he sang out. And he flashed under the wire one length to the good. He had dipped a fifth of a second off the track record. Then I cashed in.

IV

The Gray Ghost was a seven days' wonder in racing. He had done an impossible thing. The Colonel was the most eminent figure in the horse world, but he had nothing to say. He was credited with having taken more than a hundred thousand dollars out of the betting-ring on the day of the Handicap, but this he would not discuss. He had been approached with numerous offers for the horse; he would not listen.

Meanwhile Batty Logan was sitting up nights counting his money, I chanced upon him once, and he was the dizziest-looking youth I have ever seen. His raiment was almost audible.


Illustration

His raiment was almost audible.


"How is the world treating you?" I asked, as I sank into the chair opposite.

"Fine and dandy," he replied. "I guess I look on the bum, yes? You know on Handicap day I took down twenty-seven thousand cold simoleons on them two races."

"What kind of a horse is that Gray Ghost, anyhow?" I asked.

"Beau, if you was to strike me dead, I couldn't tell you," he replied. "I dunno. You know in the Handicap when I was left? Gee, but I made remarks for a couple of seconds, and when I turned to chase the others I was dead sore. But it was like a rockin'-chair, Beau. When I did that sprint and caught up on the back-stretch I figured the horse would be all in—and, hell, he wasn't even breathin'. Then I knowed I was all to the tabasco. When I started to run in the stretch, why that horse hadn't even let a kink out. I could have won by forty lengths just as easy."

Batty carefully selected a large, fat, black cigar and offered me another.

"And say, Beau, 'tween you and me and the starter's stand, that horse ain't never showed what's in him yet. The Colonel says the horse ain't never had a chanst yet, and next time he is going to let him run a race."

THUS the situation two days later, when The Gray Ghost was again entered at a mile and a quarter. Immediately the other owners at the track scratched their entries.

"Not for them, Beau," said Batty in explanation to the Colonel. "They see him run with all sorts o' weight, they've felt of them hind legs of his'n—an' not for them. They know he can run. Of course they scratched. Same with the bookies. I heard one say no more Gray Ghost for his'n—not one to a thousand; they're willing to make a book on horses, but no more greased lightning in their'n."

It was therefore with a troubled countenance that Colonel Wishard, accompanied by Batty and myself, climbed the stairs to the stewards' office.

"Gentlemen," said the Colonel as the three men turned to meet us, "I am in sompin' of an embarrassin' position. I understand, suhs, that ev'y hoss entered in the third race to-day ag'in my hoss has been scratched. My puhpose in breedin' a fast hoss, gentlemen, was to promote racin', not to stop it, an' I desire to apologize to you because there cain't be a third race, suhs. But I wanted to start my hoss on this here track once more to make a world's record, suhs, an' I don't want to start him by hisself. If you gentlemen could induce two other owners to start for place an' third to-day, suhs, I will declare my hoss in to break the world's record an' they may divide the whole purse. You understand, suhs?"

"Certainly," said the steward, and he exchanged glances with the others. "I think that can be arranged."

"Thank you, suhs."

"Colonel Wishard, bow fast can The Gray Ghost run?" asked the steward who had done the talking.

"Well, suh, I don't exactly know," said the Colonel, "But he has done the mile on a round, rough track—a very rough track, suh, as this gentleman here can testify" (indicating me)—"in one thirty-three with a hund'ed an' forty-seven pounds up."

Batty bit his cigar in two in his amazement and the stewards looked at one another with doubt in their eyes. Slowly one of them shook his head. The Colonel noted it.

"If any one here doubts my word, suh," he said, sharply, "I will bet twenty thousand dollahs that The Gray Ghost will do the mile with a hund'ed an' twelve pounds up in one twenty-seven."

"Of course nothing of that kind would be permitted," hurriedly said one of the stewards. "But do you happen to know the fastest mile ever run by a horse?"

"Yes, suh," snapped the Colonel. "A little better than one thirty-six on a straightaway course, by Salvator, suh."

"And your horse can beat that?" continued the steward. "You must admit that Salvator was a great horse."

"Great hoss?" snorted the Colonel. "The Gray Ghost'd make him look like he was pullin' a truck, suh. I've been interested in growin' hosses for fifty years, suh, but I never started one in a race until now, when I knowed I had the hoss I wanted. I have my own the'ries, suh, as to how a race-hoss should be developed, an' I think I may say, without boastin', that my the'ries have been vindicated."

"And your theory, Colonel Wishard?"

"My the'ry, suh, is hind laigs. Thai's what a horse runs with. Ev'y season a hoss will cut down the world's record a fraction. The Gray Ghost represents, if I may say it, suhs, fifty years of these fractions. He is fifty years ahead of any hoss ever bred, the result of a development of hind hugs. I bred dozens of hosses, suhs, to increase their power in their hind laigs, and my hoss is the fouhteenth generation of hosses whose hind laigs have been properly attended to."


Illustration

"My the'ry, suh, is hind laigs."


And that was the end of Colonel Wishard's theory.

TWO other owners were induced to start in the third race and split the purse. The Gray Ghost was barred in the betting, allotted a weight of one hundred and twelve pounds, and a light-weight jockey, Jack Mathers, was selected for the race.

When the bugle called the third race, The Gray Ghost, with Mathers up, Little Silver, and Ida responded. The start for a mile and a quarter was directly before us, and when the flag fell and the three horses flashed away, Batty stood watch in hand. There was no pretty riding by Mathers.

"Ride that hoss all the way, suh," the Colonel had told him; "don't do nothin' but ride. He can stand it."

And ride Mathers certainly did. In the first six lengths The Gray Ghost had gained two and was going away. Further and further ahead he drew and his eccentric action was forgotten in a yell of appreciation from the grand stand. On, on, positively flying away from the two horses behind him, on past the first-furlong post.

"Eleven an' four-fifths," said Batty, "an' that's a world's record!"

On he crashed on the second furlong, the other horses lengths and lengths behind, Mathers low over his neck.

"Ten and four-fifths! Wow!" said Batty, as the second-furlong post flashed by. Colonel Wishard, with head thrown forward, gripped the rail before him. The grand stand had now become absolutely still.

"Eleven, an' on a turn, too," announced Batty.

And still on, on, on the gray streak flew. A hundred lengths he was ahead and Little Mathers still urged him forward. The fourth furlong he did in ten and four-fifths, the fifth in ten and three-fifths. Batty announced the figures monotonously, but his voice trembled. No horse had ever approached this phenomenal pace.

"Eleven," droned Batty as the flying beast slipped past the sixth post and rounded into the stretch.

"He can do it in ten," said the Colonel. Never have I seen a face bearing the excitement of his at that moment.

"Ten an' a fifth," said Batty as the seventh pole went by. The other horses were in the middle of the turn into the stretch.

"Ten flat," shrieked Batty as The Gray Ghost finished the mile. There was a silence of death as the gray went on for the extra quarter.

"Ten an' two fifths," sang out Batty. And little Mathers doubled still further over The Gray Ghost. It was the last effort of the last furlong of the greatest race ever run.

"Ten flat," again sang out Batty. "Wow-wow, said the fox!"

The Colonel straightened up. His face was white but his voice was calm.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I have realized an ambition. He did the mile in one twenty-six an' a fifth, mile and a quarter in one forty-six an' three-fifths."

The thousands in the grand stand sat as if dazed for a moment, and then the clatter of the forgotten Little Silver and Ida coming on to the finish, furlongs behind, aroused them to a shriek of frenzied laughter.

But that marked the end of The Gray Ghost in racing,

"They ain't nothin' to it. Beau," Batty had advised. "It's back to Tennessee for you. Your horse is too good. He's put a crimp in the racin' game fer keeps. You've got all the owners in ther hay-loft, an' if you don't take him away they ain't goin' to be no more racin'. Besides, they ain't nothin' in lettin' your horse skate aroun' the track fer exercise."

"Reckin you're right, suh," said the Colonel.

AND the following day the Colonel, Dummy, and The Gray Ghost returned to Tennessee. It was my good fortune to be present at the farewell between Batty and the old Southerner. It was simple, but it was heartfelt.

"Mr. Logan," said the Colonel, "I desire, suh, to shake hands with a gentleman an' a hossman, suh. I trus' some day you may visit me at my home in Tennessee."

"Beau, you're the limit," said Batty. "You're the only one. Hand us your wing, Bill, and God bless yer."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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