“There they are!” cried Boy, beginning to canter.
Old Mat sat dumped in familiar attitude on a cob as full of corners and character as himself.
The trainer was thumping mechanically with his heels, sucking at the knob of his ash-plant, his legs in trousers that had slipped up to show his gray socks, and his feet shod with elastic-sided boots.
He glanced shrewdly at the pair as they rode up.
“Good morning, sir,” he said, touching his hat. “So Chukkers has chucked you.”
“So I believe,” answered Silver.
“I wep’ a tear when they tell me. I did reelly,” said the old man, dabbing his eye. “He’s goin’ to ride Ikey’s Jackaroo—that donkey-coloured waler he brought home from Back o’ Sunday. That’s what he’s after.”
“I’m not altogether sorry,” he said quietly. “And I’m not entirely surprised.”
“Nor ain’t I,” replied Mat, with faint irony. “Not altogether somersaulted with surprise, as you might say. We knows Chukkers, and Chukkers knows us—de we.” He dropped his voice. “Monkey Brand’ll tell you a tale or two about his ole friend. You arst him one day when you gets him on the go.”
He raised his voice and began to thump the air with his fist.
“Rogues and rasqueals, Mr. Silver!” he cried in a kind of ecstasy. “Emmin on you in—same as the Psalmist says. But we got to love ’em all the same; else we’ll nebber, nebber lead their liddle feet into the way.” He coughed, wiped the back of his hand apologetically across his lips, and ended dryly: “Not the Three J’s anyway!”
* * * * *
The horses were walking round the little group. Tall, sheeted thoroughbreds, each with his lad perched like a bird on his back, they swung daintily over the turf, blowing their noses, swishing their long tails, miracles of strength and beauty.
Monkey Brand led them on Goosey Gander, bandaged to the knees and hocks. Albert followed him on Make-Way-There, a pretty bay, with a white star. The lad’s lips were turned in, and his face was stiff with aspiration and desire. That morning he hoped to have his chance, and he purposed to make the most of it. Jerry, the economist with the corrugated brow, followed him on a snake-necked chestnut. He sat up aloft, his shoulders square, his little legs clipping his mount, a Napoleon of the saddle, pondering apparently the great things of life and death. In fact, he was cogitating whether if he smoked behind the Lads’ Barn at nights it was likely that he would be caught out by Miss Boy. Next came Stanley, the stupid, surreptitiously nagging at the flashy black he rode. Young Stanley was in evil mood, and he meant his horse to know it. His dark and heavy face was full of injured dignity and spite. Last night Chukkers, just back from winning the Australian National, had wired to say he couldn’t keep his engagement to ride Make-Way-There at Paris. Monkey Brand would not ride, as his leg had been troubling him again; and Jerry had it that Albert, who was Make-Way-There’s lad, was to get the mount. Stanley resented the suggestion. Albert had never yet ridden in public, while he, Stanley, had sported silk half-a-dozen times and had won over the sticks.