“Now, little one, you begin to realize what this means,” said he. “Or—no, you don’t and I’ve got to be square with you if it spoils the prettiest horse-race ever seen in old Kentucky. I tell you, my dear child, we’re mighty particular about our women, down here in the bluegrass. We’d think it an eternal shame and a disgrace forever for one of them to ride a public race in a costume like the one that you have on, and it would mean not less than social ruin to the man that married her. If anyone should find it out, what you are going to do might stand between you and your happiness. I’m warning you because I know I ought to. Think it over and then tell me if you’re willing to face it—willing to take all the risks.”
“I don’t need to think it over,” Madge said firmly. “I said as I’d gin up my happiness to save him, an’ I will. Colonel, I’ve got on my uniform, I’ve enlisted for th’ war, an’ I am goin’ to fight it through!”
“A thoroughbred!” he cried. “A thoroughbred, and I always said it of you. Come on, little one.”
Brilliant as a garden of flowers was the grand-stand where the fairest of old Kentucky’s wondrous women were as numerous as were her gallant men; full of handsome figures were the lawns, where old Kentucky’s youth and manhood strolled and smoked and gossipped of the day’s great race to come; like an ebon sea in storm was the great crowd of blacks which in certain well-defined limits crowded to the rail about the track. The blare of the band kept the air a-tremble almost constantly, the confused, uneven murmur of a great crowd filled the pauses between brazen outbursts. Everywhere was life and gayety, intense excitement, as the moment for the starting of the famous Ashland Oaks approached. The cries of the book-makers rose, strident, from the betting-ring; on the tracks the jockeys, exercising or trying out their mounts, were, each after his own kind, preparing for the struggle of their lives; stable-boys, and the hundred other species of race-track hangers-on which swarm at such times to the front, were everywhere in evidence; touts with shifty eyes slipped, here and there, among the sightseers, looking for some credulous one who might be willing to pay well for doubtful information. Every minute amidst the throng the words “Queen Bess” might be heard at any chosen point, as the crowd gossipped eagerly about the horse which had been looked on as the favorite, but which, many positively now declared, had been so injured in the fire that she would run but poorly in the race which, it had been thought, would be the most sensational effort of her life.
Frank, nervous and excited, stood in the paddock, watch in hand, with old Neb by his side.
“Why doesn’t that jockey come?” he asked, for the hundredth time, almost beside himself with worry as the moments slipped away.
“He’ll come, Marse Frank,” said Neb. “You kin gamble on de Cunnel.”