Everybody was aware of the facts, though nobody knew the story.
The Duke, who was genuinely fond of the little jockey, and full of vulgar curiosity, coming upon him two nights before the race, stopped him.
“I’m sorry to hear you and Mr. Woodburn have parted after all these years, Brand,” he said in his gruff way.
“Thank you, your Grace,” said the little jockey, pinching his lips.
The Duke waited. Nothing happened, but Monkey poked his chin in the air, and swallowed.
“I thought you were set for life,” continued the Duke slowly.
“I thought so, too, your Grace,” answered the jockey. “But the human ‘eart’s a funny affair—very funny, as the sayin’ is.”
Long ago he had acquired the trick of moralizing from his old master.
“What’s the trouble, then?” grunted the Duke.
He was greatly curious and honestly concerned.
“Thought I were sellin’ him,” muttered Monkey.
The Duke bent shaggy brows upon the little man.
“Were you?” he asked.
For a moment the old merry Monkey rose from the dead and twinkled. Then he stiffened like a dead man, touched his hat, and turned away.
The Duke clung to him.
He, too, had heard a story, and wished to know the rights and wrongs of it.
“Well, well,” he said. “We must all hope the Putnam horse wins—for Mr. Silver’s sake. Eh, what?”
“Yes, your Grace,” replied the uncommunicative Monkey.
The night before the race the Duke, still hunting the trail tenaciously, stumbled, according to his own account, on Old Mat, and reported the substance of his interview with Monkey in that ingenuous way of his, half simple, half brutal, and all with an astonishing savoir-faire you would never have given him credit for.
“One thing,” he ended, “he ain’t blackguardin’ you.”
Mat seemed lost in memories.
“I wep’ a tear. I did reely,” he said at last. Then he shook a sorrowful head. “I ain’t one o’ yer whitewings meself,” he said. “Not by no means. But he shock me, Monkey do. He does reely.” He dabbed his eye. “Rogues and rasqueals, yer Grace,” he said. “All very well. But there is a limit, as the Psalmist very proply remarked.”
The Duke turned to go, his curiosity still unsatisfied.
“Where’s Boy?” he asked gruffly. “I’ve seen nothing of her this time.”
“She’s kep’ busy, your Grace—nursin’ the baby.”
“How is he?”
“Keeps a-crowin’,” said the old man, “from all I hears of it.”
On the Course
Next morning was gray with gleams of sun: an ideal day, old hands said, for the great race of the year.
Mat found his way to the Paddock early and alone.
At Aintree everything is known about the notables by everybody, and there were few more familiar figures than that of the old man with the broad shoulders, the pink face, and the difficulty in drawing breath.