Where gentlemen are in the saddle a race is on the square. But—well, there was a girl, and two cousins, and a great race to be run. It's a story with many strange twists.
A FOOTFALL came into the sleep of Dave Reynolds and waked him back to the verge of consciousness with a familiar pain. The door of his room was thrust open and Tom Reynolds roared: "Turn out! Turn out! Look lively there, young fellow!"
Dave watched the shadow of his cousin sweeping back and forth across the threshold. He preferred looking at the shadow rather than at the man because he knew too intimately the great, gangling body and the long, predatory, forward thrust of the head. For seven years that figure had dominated his life since he was sixteen and had come homeless to the house of Cousin Tom. All during those years he had been trying to find the kindness and the warmth of the blood behind the brutal gruffness of Tom, hut he discovered himself deeper and deeper in a servitude from which he did not know how to escape.
"Hurry it up!" called Tom. Always there was hurry in his house. From the very beginning a whip, Dove felt, had been poised above him, though his older cousin had relented a bit when he discovered that Dave had a natural seat and a fine pair of hands; for the grain and potatoes off the Reynolds farm were far less important than the horses Tom raised or bought. Dave had become, in effect, the first stableman and trainer.
Outside, the autumn night was black and still and cold. When Dave got to the barn, he saw Cousin Tom riding up and down on a tall horse. It had a big head and stood over ground like an Irish hunter, but the neck was finer and so were the legs.
"Where did you get that one?" he asked.
"Never mind where. The main thing is that it's here. Get a saddle on Tiptoe—bring her out!"
Inside the barn, he went to the box stall of the Apperson mare. Molly Apperson had put Tiptoe in his hands to train for the Chester Cup and ride in the famous race. As he entered the stall, Tiptoe leaped up to her feet with a snort, but she knew him at once, the silk of her muzzle touching his hand and his face. The chilly saddle made the mare flinch. She was all delicacy, beauty and nerves, like Molly Apperson; but in Molly gentleness and the soft voice could not keep the high soul and the dauntless spirit of the Appersons from showing through. To young Dave Reynolds, other women were obscure images, but Molly Apperson was the sunlight and the springtime of reality. "There's no finer pair of hands in Virginia than yours, Dave," she had said. "If you take Tiptoe, Father will give you his colors for the Chester Cup."
Colonel Apperson, to some people, was a figure out-of-a-book dignity, narrow gray beard and all—but to Dave Reynolds and thousands of others he was Old Virginia, gallant, gentle, and proud. To wear his colors and to ride Molly's horse—well, Tiptoe had an excellent chance of winning except that Philip Worthing had, besides his millions, that mighty gray stallion, Exeter.
There had been a time, Dave knew, when Reynolds also was a name of dignity whose past was illumined by stern eyes that looked out of faded portraits; but Tom the horse dealer had thrown away the past as junk. All the valley knew that the Reynoldses no longer belonged among the gentry, but only in Dave was the pain of that knowledge perfect when eyes trailed over him and forgot him for the horse he was riding. He brought the mare out of the barn.
GET up on her!" ordered Cousin Tom, "and fly the jumps as though the devil were after you. Maybe the devil is Calamity. That's the name of this horse, Dave, and by God he's likely to be a Calamity to the pocketbooks of some of the swells around here. Ride around the rock pile in the east pasture and back here for the barn. A line between the corner of the barn and the haystack that's the finish."
"It's two miles!" said Dave. "And Tiptoe is cold."
"What's two miles? Line up here beside me!"
The teeth of Dave shuddered together with rage, not with cold, but for the thousandth time he submitted, because he could always remember the muddy road and the bleak day when he had walked out of the desert of this friendless world and found shelter in the house of Cousin Tom.
"When I yell, you go!" said Tom. "Now—get ready—go!"
At the shout the mare was away in a rush. The moon was barely up in the east, so huge in its rising that it made the horizon seem only a mile away and therefore the fields between were small, and the jumps were tiny; but Dave knew the size of the fences and the work there was to do, so he rated the mare along just inside her strength.
As she went winging across the third field, Dave glanced back and saw Calamity as a black silhouette that moved with a monstrous fling to its gallop. When Dave compared that with the sweet flowing of Tiptoe beneath him, he wanted to laugh. He would beat Cousin Tom. In fact, he always beat Tom in everything that had to do with horseflesh, except picking the winners. Yet, three fields from the finish, he heard a rhythmic pounding behind him. To look back would be foolish, for he knew what it meant.
Straight and true ran the good mare, but at the last jump a long-headed monster left the ground behind her and landed ahead.
Cousin Tom had finished with a whip that carried Calamity a good length into the lead before the finish—a good length and going away!
CALAMITY was lumbering to an awkward halt as Tiptoe pulled up in the rear. Dave took her on into the open barn and rubbed her down in a stall. He only straightened for a moment when he heard the regular beating of departing hoofs outside.
As he got into the house he heard the tuneless voice of Cousin Tom singing. Tom, with a bottle and a glass, stood at the door from the kitchen to the rear hall.
"That's what you're going to ride—Calamity," said Tom. "He's your mount in the Chester Cup. To hell with that mare. Take her home tomorrow."
In the great, bony face of Cousin Tom there was only one loose feature, and that was the mouth, which was now stretched wide and discolored by the hugeness of his grin. Dave stared at him.
"Why," said Dave, "I've promised Molly Apperson I'd ride Tiptoe!"
"You take that mare back home tomorrow," commanded Tom shortly.
"I can't do it, Tom. I promised Molly. And Tiptoe—"
"Get out of my sight and into your bed!" shouted Tom. His mouth stretched wider than ever, in a grimace. The knees of Dave turned to water. He got up the stairs by pulling with one hand against the rail of the banisters. Afterwards, lying in bed, he dreamed of that day when he would stand face to face with Cousin Tom and strike him with words as with whips.
It was a clean autumn sky that he had over his head the next morning; and he rode the bay gelding, Cold Comfort, leading Tiptoe, and took that winding road towards the Apperson estate. His only hope was that Molly would not be at home. Then he could leave the mare and a note for its owner, and hurry away.
In fact, Molly was not there, but when he brought Tiptoe into the yard Colonel Apperson was at hand with tall young Philip Worthing, who, rumor said, would surely marry Molly Apperson. Worthing merely nodded at the cousin of Tom Reynolds, but the Colonel shook hands.
"I'm glad to see you, Dave," he said. "I was—"
"Have you brought the mare back to show Molly how she's coming along?" broke in Philip Worthing.
"I brought her back to Molly because I can't ride her," said Dave. He added, miserably: "Tom won't let me! He has another horse which I have to ride."
"Have to ride?" shouted the colonel. "Are you a—" He checked himself. "I'll take the mare," he said sternly, and then, suppressing an emotion which still gleamed in his eyes, asked courteously enough: "What sort of a horse has your cousin bought, Dave? In the old days there was a Reynolds who won the Cup. If your cousin has a horse for the Cup it must be a good one. Tom Reynolds is not the fellow to take chances that are too long."
"I've only seen him by night," said Dave, "so I couldn't make out the color clearly. Calamity is his name. He's big—lots of bone—and he can move."
"I'd like to have a look at him one day," said the colonel.
"He's not kept on the place. I mean, he's not in the stable—yet," said Dave with a strange sense of guilt.
"I see," said Worthing, laughing. "Something up the sleeve, eh?"
When Dave rode away he cut across country and lifted the bay at the stiffest jumps he could find; for he knew that the laughter of Worthing would never pass out of his mind till he was dead, and he would have been glad to die soon.
THE next day he had a note from Molly Apperson:
"Dear Dave. I know you're sorry not to ride Tiptoe. Of course I understand. You've done a beautiful piece of work with her. I've asked Dick Thomas to ride her in the Chester Cup, and he's willing to. How can I repay you for all the time you've put in on her?
She understood what? She would have understood something else if she had been there when Philip Worthing laughed and Dave took it. He hoped that she would never see him again.
He said that day to Cousin Tom: "The Chester Cup is only five days on. I ought to try out Calamity. I ought to have a hand in making him for the race." But Tom Reynolds laughed.
"Calamity's made for that race, already, and the race was made for him. He's gonna walk away with it. If he could beat the Apperson mare with me on his back, what'll he do with you up? If horses cry, Phil Worthing's Exeter is gonna be wet in the face before the finish."
Not till the following day, and then in the dusk, was Calamity brought over to the place by a man with a little concave face like an ape. He stood by, rubbing his hands to keep out the cold, and shifting from foot to foot.
"It's almost dark," said Dave. "I don't like to try him in this light, Tom."
"What's the matter with you?" demanded Cousin Tom. "You never had any heart on the ground, but you used to have a heart on a horse. Don't argue; get up there and try him."
Calamity looked narrower from above than from the ground, but after he had stepped over a fence or two the mighty roll of his shoulders filled Dave with confidence. He worked Calamity to a good heat and when he dismounted he had to say: "He's a great jumper. But why can't we have him here in the stable till the race?"
"And have the wise ones hanging around and timing him over the ground and watching his style at the fences?" exclaimed Cousin Tom. "Do you know what I'm getting on him? Thirty to one, twenty-five to one, twenty to one."
That made Dave Reynolds worry, for tricks were in the air and he hated tricks. Nothing illegal probably, but one of those sharp bits of practice of which he knew Tom was capable. In the meantime, pain grew in him day and night, and the sense of a lost cause; but pain had been his familiar for seven years. When people were kind to him, he was sure that pity was behind it, that frightful pity which is closer to scorn than to love...
When the day of the race came the sky was sheeted across with gray out of which a small rain slanted to the earth. Cousin Tom stood at a window cursing steadily, grinding his teeth.
"Rain won't bother a sure galloper like Calamity," said Dave.
At that Cousin Tom turned in such a rage that he could only gibber soundlessly for a moment. Then he shouted: "You fool, if you don't know anything, can't you do a little guessing?"
Dave stared at him. He didn't know what there could be to guess about.
"Well, get on down to the tavern," Cousin Tom said. "All the riders are going to be there. You gotta be there among them."
As Dave went down the single street of the old village, he saw that all the small world of that county was moving towards the inn. The current bore him into the tavern's sitting-room, where there was a big fire jumping and shining under the marble of a classical mantelpiece. Near it stood Molly Apperson, lovely and quiet and small, but beside her, greater than a king's son in the eye of Dave Reynolds, was Philip Worthing.
"There's Reynolds now," said Worthing in his loud voice.
The old, sick fear ran into the heart of Dave again, and he was turning away when he saw Molly waving and heard her voice. He went straight up and took her hand. She looked up to him and her eyes, as always, moved a little on his face as though she found it worth reading; but today there was a touch of anxiety in her expression. She had barely time to wish him luck in the race when Worthing cut in.
"Your mount is one of these undercover horses, I hear," said Worthing. "It isn't going to run and then disappear, is it? Here today and gone tomorrow?"
"I don't understand," said Dave.
"He means, Dave," said Molly, "that your horse is honest, isn't he? He's an honest, real horse, isn't he?"
"Of course," said Dave. "He's a real, honest galloper."
"Is that all you know about him?" asked Worthing sharply.
"I know his name and his jumping," said Dave, puzzled.
"Oh, Dave!" cried the girl, and suddenly she was looking down at the floor and away from him.
SO HE left the inn like that, more than ever bewildered. As he went, the rain ended in one quick-pounding last flurry. Perhaps the race would be run in sunshine after all! Everyone began to stream out towards the course.
When Dave got there, he found Cousin Tom with Calamity blanketed to the ears. Dave knew the stallion by his ugly head; otherwise he never would have guessed at the color, for it was a flaming red bay. To be sure, he had seen the horse only in the moonlight and the dusk, and still that color startled him, the brightness of it. A small man was talking with Cousin Tom. The fellow was middle-aged, soft and fat; he had colorless lips that loosely held an unlighted cigar, and his eyes seemed too tired to shift their gaze or to blink.
"This is the kid, is it?" he asked Tom. "He's the real McCoy?"
"Would I put him up if he wasn't?" asked Tom.
"I've got you on for five hundred, at five to one," said the loose-faced stranger to Dave. "Do your stuff, kid. If Calamity ain't running light enough to suit you, take his hide oft and see how he goes without it. You got a whip. Use it!"
"Yeah," directed Cousin Tom. "Make everything sure. And thank God that the rain's stopped!"
"It had to stop. That's why it stopped," said the stranger. "But maybe even rain wouldn't make the stuff—"
"Shut, up, will you?" snarled Tom. The fat man at that began to roll his cigar slowly across his mouth while his tired eyes regarded Dave with a sort of hurt wonder.
There was no use trying to get at the meaning of these men. Dave stopped trying and looked over the other horses and riders warming up here and there. But a majority of the observers packed about great gray Exeter and Calamity.
Dave could hear fragments of talk. Calamity, he learned, had been pushed up to even money, and people were asking who Calamity was and where he came from. "He doesn't look like anything out of Tom Reynolds' farm or pocketbook," said one man.
Hollis Pembroke came up. Pembroke was one of the judges. He looked carefully over the big bay.
"I'd say that I've seen this horse before," he said to Dave, "except for the color. You say his name is Calamity?"
"Yes," said Dave, wondering why his heart sank.
Hollis Pembroke looked at him for a moment and then turned sharply on his heel and walked off. Whatever doubt was in his mind, plainly he was carrying it away with him.
JUDGE COLLINS began to call the entries to the start. Cousin Tom gripped the left stirrup of Dave and walked at his side. "I been doing things for you for seven years," he said savagely. "Now you try to do one thing for me. Calamity can win. You got to make him win. He's got bottom. You use it up. You hate the whip, you softhead. But use it today if you need it. Burn it into him. I've bet my shirt. You hear me?"
They lined up at the start, between the two oak trees, with a crooked white line drawn across the wet brown of the grass. Neat Dick Thomas brought Tiptoe up on the left. If she could only win for Molly! But never while Calamity was still galloping. He turned suddenly and said to young Dick Thomas: "Let her use her early foot; steady her through the middle; and then bring her on again. If she runs into her second wind she'll be sprinting again for you till the finish."
Dick opened his eyes a good bit. "Thanks a lot, Dave," said he. "If you were up on her she'd have more than half a chance."
The starter waved a gun above his head and at the third gesture discharged it. The line of racers fled from the sound like wild birds and went skimming down towards the first creek jump.
Tiptoe, full of early foot, was much the first over the Number One chance. Dave watched Exeter. He was a glorious horse, the gray, and working now with the smoothness of silk. Philip Worthing sat a horse as every Worthing knows how to do. Well, the gray would take a lot of beating. Besides, the heavy little chunks of lead which brought the burden of Calamity up to that which Exeter was carrying were a dead weight, not living, supple flesh and blood.
Off to the left. Dave saw the hundreds of mounted spectators sweeping along the edge of Temple Hill; and found Molly Apperson. What had she meant in asking if big Calamity were honest?
They entered the Meadows with Exeter suddenly out there in front at the side of Tiptoe. Then the first big stone fence of the Talmadge place rose and trouble started, for Squire Nichols' heavy bay charger rapped his forohnofs on the top of the fence, stumbled on the
farther side, and left Mr. Nichols seated erect, grave, and moveless upon the hard ground.
The bay stallion, with that weight out of the saddle, went ramping ahead for the leaders and took the next fence in flawless style right at the side of Tiptoe.
A long, groaning chorus rolled down the eastern slope of Temple Hill. Both Exeter and Tiptoe were being manoeuvred to escape from the dangerous company of the bay. Philip Worthing slashed at the Nichols horse, but the bay stallion flattened his ears and crowded over with bared teeth. He flew the next jump like a big, ugly-headed devil, and bumped gray Exeter to a stagger on the farther side of the wall.
To make a sprint now might burn up the strength of Calamity, but Dave took that chance. He gave the horse the whip, felt that great stride lengthening, and drew up hand over hand upon the leaders. All the others in the field were swinging over to the right, now, preparing to run wide rather than come up behind the bay, but Dave Reynolds closed in, driving straight for the riderless horse.
Cray Exeter, crowded, worried, now had taken the bit in his teeth and was edging over to get at the other stallion in spite of the frantic pull of Worthing. Then Dave and Calamity came up.
Worthing's calm was all gone. His face twisted like madness as he screeched: "You fool, you. Reynolds! Pull away! D'you want to smash us all?" And beyond Worthing, young Dick Thomas was reining Tiptoe back from the coming disaster; but Dave leaned far out from the saddle and caught the reins of the huge bay.
They were so close under the next big wall that there was no turning now. It was over together or crash together, Dave knew. He caught the reins of Calamity in his teeth; with knee and heel he straightened and drove his horse, for with one hand he had to manage the loose-running bay beside him and with the other hand give it the whip. Just before Calamity rose at the barrier, Dave cut the bay with all his might and the huge fellow half turned his head. But he lifted, nevertheless, only swerving at the last moment so that the tug on the reins pulled Dave far over in his saddle. He was holding by toe and ankle and heel as Calamity came down beyond the fence; the bay horse pounded mightily beside him. Only a desperate effort got Dave back in the saddle.
IT WAS easy for him then to steer the big Nichols bay far off to the right of the course, but every stride on that slant was costing Calamity extra running, lengthening his race.
But now, at a gap in a cross-fence, Dave flogged the big bay and shot him harmlessly through the opening into the next field. Then he angled Calamity back towards the red flags that marked the course. Up there on the hill the throng of spectators was stirred like a gay field of flowers struck by a wind. Hats and handkerchiefs waved and lashed and all that was for him!
Dave's whole heart rushed out to the ugly stallion. It would be a pity if so brave a spirit should be beaten. They were halfway around, now, and Dave went on, nursing Calamity, picking the best spots for takeoff, the easiest clearances; he was putting little inches together, here and there, to make up the lost yards and rods.
Dave almost smiled. He was closing the gap little by little. When Herndon Hill hegan to rise, perhaps the imperceptible, deadly slope would bring some of them suddenly back to him; and beyond the hill was the plowed field which the hopes and the strength of many a gallant chaser.
A dimness ran down over Temple Hill. All the bright colors were blurred. First a wind struck him; then slanting rain rattled against him and in a moment he was soaked to the skin, as though buckets of water had been sloshed over him.
Then the rain was gone and the sun laid a warm hand on the back of his neck. They had reached Herndon Hill. Fools who charged Herndon Hill would have spent horses under them at the top, but he only pulled the stallion in a little.
Down the incline the vast stride of Calamity devoured ground. Jeffry Bayne's black horse went reeling to the rear, and Tomlinson's washy chestnut, and the Charing bay which had cost so much in England and done so poorly in Virginia. Tomlinson was a surly brute, but even he gave Dave a shout to wish him luck.
Yonder in the ploughed field went Exeter, the great gray horse, now blackened by rain and sweat, and little Tiptoe, after trailing through half the race, was coming on again.
AND now Calamity struck the ploughed ground and went through it as though it were a clean roadway, though the clotted earth flung up from his hoofs sailed in the air like small black birds.
And the gray came back, and little Tiptoe came back beside him. Every stride of Calamity brought him nearer until Dick Thomas turned his head with a sudden new fear and saw Dave Reynolds at hand. Tall Philip Worthing peered across with a white, exhausted face, but it was Thomas who shouted: "Good boy, Dave, by God! Go on and take it!"
Then all three rose at the fence which bordered the ploughed ground, Calamity with a lurch of effort that told Dave how nearly the big fellow was gone. But there was only the clean brown turf and two jumps between them and the finish now. Yet there were wings in the great, Hinging stride of Calamity.
Off Temple Hill the entire horde of watchers was pouring, now, and at last their yelling voices dissolved into one word: "Calamity! Calamity! Calamity! Calamity!"
They had bet their money till their purses were light, backing their favourites, but horses were more than money in Virginia, thank God! And so they were cheering the horse which had come the longest way. Dave could see Colonel Apperson with his hat off and his long hair blowing; he could see Molly Apperson with her arm stretched, and he knew that she was holding out her hand to Calamity and—to him!
But ah, what power had been burned out of the good stallion! A groan came out of the crowd as it saw Calamity fall back; and then Dave could hear the voice of Cousin Tom yelling: "Damn you! Damn you! The whip!"
But not till the last fence was before him did Dave go to the whip, and he got from Calamity the lumbering answer of an exhausted horse. Yet the answer was there. It took them sailing over the last fence. Now, brave little Tiptoe was down and Dick Thomas was rolling, and here was gray Exeter striding two full lengths in the lead, stretched as straight and as true as ever a noble thoroughbred was seen in the drive to the finish.
Calamity was gaining, but only little by little, little by little—and the finish there so close at hand with the people already pooling about it! They were shouting for Calamity with such thunder that the winds of it blew through the body of Dave Reynolds, and carried his soul away into a glory. It seemed to him, then, that there was insane power in his hands and in his will to lift Calamity right forward across the line. He was gaining. He saw Phil Worthing turn a stricken face towards him. He shouted into the flattened ears of Calamity and saw one ear jerk forward. Those last three strides were like three strokes that beat gray Exeter back. The white line on the grass looked straight as a string, and Dave knew that the ugly head of Calamity had crossed it first.
Side by side, the two dead-beaten horses trotted, stopped, and as they turned, Dave saw Dick Thomas, mud-plastered, sending Tiptoe home for a staggering third, while a flood of yelling madmen poured out to greet the winner.
It was Philip Worthing who got hold of his hand first as they rode back for the weighing. There was a shudder in Worthing's grasp, his lips were jerking, and the voice was unsteady as it said: "The finest thing I ever saw done. Virginia's proud of you, Dave!"
Well, he dragged the saddle off at last and as he did so Calamity turned and rubbed his wet head against the shoulder of his rider. Then he saw a thin, red stain across the padding under the saddle, just where the cloth rubbed on the withers—a small red color as though Calamity had been scratched.
It was not that. There was no hurt on his skin, not a cut. It was not blood but red dye that had come off on the cloth!
He understood the thing not all at once but little by little, truth coming into him with the breaths he drew. The red of Calamity was the red he had been dyed, and that was why Cousin Tom had sworn that it could not and must not rain. This was the stuff that might "run." And honest Calamity, tried and true, was a ringer! What other names had he worn for rascals in the past, serving thieves with all the greatness of his heart? A noble anger, still, deep, and calm, possessed Dave. The world did not matter; it was the cheating of the good horse that counted.
He could keep the red stain on the saddle covered by holding it over his arm and so he could hide the shame that had fallen on the Reynolds name; but the race could not go to a ringer! He pulled up three of the flaps that covered the pockets into which the chunks of lead had been slipped and dropped the weights, one by one. They would be trodden into the mud quickly enough, no doubt.
Then he was standing on the scales, but all he could see of the throng about him was the great, bony head of Calamity as Cousin Tom flung the big blanket over him, covering him and his guilt to the ears.
AFTER that he heard Judge Willett exclaiming; and then they were testing the scales again; and then the empty pockets in which the weights should have lain were opened.
"Back there, somewhere—the flaps weren't secured," said the judge. "Calamity jumped them out. By heaven, Dave, this is a catastrophe, my dear lad! Apperson, Apperson! Come here, will you? What can we do but disqualify Calamity?"
Hollis Pembroke was close by, his jaw hard-set.
"This horse couldn't win. Judge," he said. "I've been looking up his record. No use making the thing public now. Not in the face of that gallant piece of horsemanship." He took Dave's hand and crushed it. "Because of you, I'm sorry for what has to happen!" he said.
Someone raised a howling voice. That was Cousin Tom, crushing his way through the crowd; and Dave slipped away into the press where numbers hid him.
He took the longest way home. The rain had begun again when he came to the bleak old house of Cousin Tom.
Cousin Tom, seated at the table, lifted his face from his hands, he spoke not a word as Dave crossed the room.
"So you've come, Dave," said Cousin Tom, and then gradually erected his height from the chair. Dave seemed to he too tired to be afraid; he kept waiting for the terrible panic to fly through his blood.
Cousin Tom pulled off his coat. "You've busted me, damn you," he said. "Because you're a fool! I'm going to give you a lesson that'll be worth millions to you."
"Why, Tom," said Dave. "I've had a lesson. Seven years of adding up, and today I get the answer." He went over to the table and looked into the face of Tom. "I want to tell you a thing you don't know. The weights weren't jumped out of their pockets. Beyond the finish, when I pulled the saddle off Calamity and found the red stain of the dye, I took the weights out then and dropped 'em in the mud."
COUSIN TOM moistened his gray lips with the tip of his tongue and looked at space. There was fear in him, and Dave with a sick disgust and pity knew it. Not fear of a smaller man, of course, but the dread of something far greater than Dave and far beyond him. the voice that comes out of a man's own silence, and the light that comes out of his own darkness.
Dave left him staring and went to the door, pulled it open and stepped into the twilight. It was thickened with rain but still there was enough light stretched around the horizon to show him the hills beyond which lay the world.
When he walked out onto the road he knew that he would never turn to look back. An automobile came bucking towards him over the muddy road. He pulled aside, but the car stopped and the figure of Colonel Apperson stepped out.
"Well, Dave, my boy," he said, "where are you heading through all this muck?"
"I'm getting out of the muck," said Dave. "I'm just taking a walk out of it."
There was a silence, after this. A flurry of heavier rain stung the face of Dave and slackened again before he heard the colonel say: "You're leaving home?"
"I'm getting out," repeated Dave.
They had blundered into another silence.
"Now, look here." said the colonel at last, "I was wondering if you would come up to my house this evening. I was wanting to tell you, Dave, that my affairs on the place are too big for me; and I thought we might talk matters over."
Suddenly Dave cried out: "I know what you're driving at, but I've got to get away. I've started and I'd better keep going."
"You'll keep going," said the colonel. "When a fellow like you starts moving, he takes long steps. But Molly is cut up a bit. She's been crying over Calamity and you, Dave, and I'd like to take you up to the house for dinner, if you'll come; and then you can go on to the biggest things you can find."
"Of course I'll come." said Dave. "I only thought—but, of course, I'll come."
He sat back in the deep seat and by the dashboard light saw the shadowy face of the colonel above the steering wheel.
"About the horse," said the colonel finally. "A few inquiries were all we needed after the race. Calamity. Engineer. Santone. Gossip. Those have seen some of his names. And the fat fellow is Lew Grayson. Don't blame your cousin too much. But there'll be no more heard of this affair. The horse has been given to me for safekeeping until we know the right way to dispose of him. As for your cousin, he'll be all right. He's your cousin; and the people around here think a great deal of you, Dave."
Before words came to Dave the car was stopping in front of the Apperson house and he was climbing the steps at the side of the colonel.
From the porch, through an uncurtained window, he saw Molly Apperson standing in front of the fireplace. She was all in white that flowed over her, and the firelight handled her softly and seemed to breathe its shining into her hair. She was looking down at her loosely clasped hands and Dave realized that he knew them so well that even if her face had been masked he would have recognized her by their brown and slender beauty.