Strange talk, this was, for the jockey who was soon to ride Queen Bess for the capture of the Ashland Oaks and the salvation of the fortune of the house of Layson!
“Don’t look at you!” said the Colonel, in expostulation, and, in the next sentence, revealed a secret which he was guarding carefully from everyone. “See here, little girl, you’ve got to face thousands and not wince, and you can’t ride in that overcoat, either.”
But the jockey wrapped the coat still tighter. “Oh, sho! That can’t make no differ—just a little coat!”
“I tell you it’s impossible. It would give the game away at once. Come, take it off. Practice up on me.”
The jockey shivered nervously. “Reckon I will hev to. Say, turn your back till I am ready.”
The Colonel turned his back, somewhat impatiently. The time was getting short. “All right, but hurry up.”
The jockey pulled the long coat partly off, then, in a panic, shrugged it on again. “Oh, now, you’re lookin’!”
“Not a wink,” declared the Colonel.
“Wal, here goes!” This time the coat came wholly off and the jockey who had been discovered to take the place of drunken Ike stood quite revealed. The voice which warned the Colonel of this was a faint and faltering one. “Now,” it said timidly.
The Colonel turned. “Hurrah!”
The jockey held the coat up in a panic.
“See here, now—none o’ that!” the Colonel warned. “Give it to me.” He reached his hand out for the coat, and, reluctantly, the jockey let him take it.
There stood the trimmest and most graceful figure ever garbed in racing blouse, knickers, boots and cap, with flushed face, dilating, frightened eyes and hands not a little tremulous. The girl who had told Barbara Holton that she would not hesitate to make a sacrifice to save the man she loved was making one—a very great one—the sacrifice of what, her whole life long, she had considered fitting woman’s modesty. Queen Bess must win and there was no one else to ride her. The mountain-girl shrank from the thought of going, thus, before a multitude, as shyly as would the most highly educated and most socially precise girl in the grand-stand, near, which, now, was filling with the gallantry and beauty of Kentucky; but she did not let her nervous tremors conquer her. There was no other way to save the day for Layson, and, somehow, the day must certainly be saved.
The Colonel, now, spoke very seriously as she stood there, shrinking from his gaze. There was not a smile upon his face. It was plain that he regarded the whole matter with the utmost gravity.