Reaching the spot from which the crowd was being kept back, they found two men bending over the little heap of scarlet silk and leather. Shelton, who had been one of the stewards, looked up as Adrien approached, and shook his head.
Adrien bent down beside him, and gazed at the thin, shrivelled face of the jockey.
“Have you sent for a doctor, Shelton?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied his friend in a hushed voice. “But I think he will be too late, his spine——”
At the sound of Adrien’s voice, the heavy eyelids raised themselves; the bloodstained lips parted as if about to speak.
“What is it?” said Shelton, bending closer.
“Where—where is he?” gasped the man in disjointed words. “I want—to—see him.”
“Whom?” asked Mortimer Shelton gently. “Whom do you want to see, my poor fellow?”
Mr. Vermont pushed his way forward, his face alight with eager sympathy.
“Perhaps I can be of use,” he said, “I know him; perhaps he wants to tell me——”
The jockey raised his head. It seemed as if the soft, smooth voice gave him strength to speak. He glared at Jasper, then his glance fell on the pitying face of Leroy. With a sudden light in his eyes, he stretched out his hand.
“Him—him, the swell—I tell him the race—was—sold! He—Mr. Vermont——”
His breath came fast in great sobs; he glared from Adrien to Jasper, then back to Leroy, as if seeking to convey some warning, but in vain; with the last words, he fell back.
A gentleman pushed his way forward.
“Allow me, I am Doctor Blake,” he said, and he knelt down beside the still form.
“He is dead,” he declared solemnly, as he placed his hand on the body.
The crowd fell back still further, with murmurs of horror. There was a silence, broken at last by Jasper Vermont.
“Dear, dear!” he exclaimed in tones in which, had it not been for the absurdity of the idea, one might have fancied there was almost a spark of satisfaction. “How very, very sad. I wouldn’t have had this happen for anything!”
It was night and the race-course lay deserted and silent beneath the pallid moon. The noisy crowd had tramped and driven its way back to London. But there was one whom the noise and bustle of a race meet would never rouse again—Peacock the jockey, who lay dead in the stable house.
His death had cast a depression over the entire Castle, and though both Adrien and his father—to say nothing of Jasper—had striven their utmost to keep the minds of the guests away from the unhappy event, it was yet an almost gloomy party that gathered after dinner in the silver drawing-room.
Nearly all had lost heavily through the fall of poor “King Cole.” They had had such entire faith in their champion, that his loss of the race had come like a thunder-bolt; and most of all to Adrien himself. The actual monetary loss did not seem to trouble him; indeed, it was probable that he himself was unaware of the immensity of the sum involved. Only Jasper knew, Jasper who wore his usual calm, serene smile, and certainly worked hard to banish all regrets concerning such a trifle as a dead steeplechaser, as well as any lingering memories of his dying words.