“Neb, Neb, what’s the matter?” Madge asked, frightened by his manner.
“Somebody,” said the negro, “done gone smuggle in a bottle o’ whiskey to dat mis’able jockey, Ike, an’ he am crazy drunk!”
“Drunk!” cried the Colonel, shocked inexpressibly. “And the race this afternoon!”
“Marse Frank said you was to come, suh, an’ help sobuh him.”
Madge approached the Colonel anxiously. “Yes; sober him, if you have to turn him inside out!”
“’Fraid he’s done on bofe sides, missy; drunk cl’ar t’rough,” said Neb.
The Colonel grasped his hat. “We’ll try, we’ll try,” he said. “Oh, whisky, whisky! What a pity anyone can get too much of so good a thing!”
“I neber could, suh,” Neb replied, “but dat ’ar jockey—”
They hurried out together.
Madge was in intense distress. She knew what this might mean. If Queen Bess could not run—and she could not, certainly, without a jockey—the Dyer Brothers would not buy her, probably; and if she were not sold in time, then Layson would be quite unable to meet the assessment on his stock in the coal-mining company. She was by no means certain what this was, or what the reason for it, but she had heard talk of it and knew that it was very serious. Almost beside herself with her anxiety, she could do nothing save sit there and wait for news. The entrance, even of Barbara Holton, who came in, now, was a relief to her overtaxed nerves.
“Say,” said she, admitting Barbara nearer to good-fellowship than she had ever done before, “I reckon you have heered the news—Ike’s drunk—dead drunk!”
Barbara regarded her excitement with a careful calm. She, herself, had been excited by the news when it had reached her, but a moment since, but she would not let this girl know that. Her role was to endeavor to force the mountain girl back into what she thought her place, at any cost.
“Yes, I’ve heard,” said she, “and it’s too late to get another jockey, so Queen Bess can’t run.”
She had formed a plan, deep in her mind, and had sought the mountain-girl with the skilful scheme.
“Then Mr. Frank is goin’ to be ruined!” Madge exclaimed, dejectedly.
“Not unless you wish it,” Barbara replied, looking straight into her eyes.
“Dellaw! Me wish that? Just you tell me what you mean!”
The bluegrass girl stood looking at the mountain maiden with appraising eye for a few seconds. Then she crossed the room and stood close by her side, while she tapped upon the table nervously with her carefully gloved fingers.
“If this sale fails, as it seems it must,” she said, slowly, “it rests with you whether my father will advance the money to pay the assessment on that stock of Mr. Layson’s.”
“Your father give him the money?” Madge said in astonishment. “Well, I’d never thought o’ that! But what have I got to do about it?”