Boy Woodburn came leading the winner through the cheering crowd.
It was Old Mat’s horse, Old Mat’s race; and they had all got a bit on. They were pleased with themselves, pleased with the horse, pleased with the jockey, who, perched up aloft on the great sweating bay, his hands still mechanically at work, his little dark face shining, chaffed his chaffers in the voice of a Punchinello.
“Get off him, Monkey,” called a joker; “get off quick afore he falls to pieces. Do!”
“Same as you do when I get talkin’ to ye!” retorted the little jockey.
There was a roar of laughter at the expense of the joker, who turned suddenly nasty.
“Who said Chukkers?” he cried.
There was an instant of silence, and then some groans.
“Not me,” replied the little jockey grimly.
A snigger rippled through the crowd.
“What you done with your old friend this time, Monkey?” somebody asked. “Laid him out again lately?”
“No such luck,” the other answered. “He’s beat it.”
“Where is he then?”
The little jockey tossed his head backward.
“Gone back to God’s Own Country to find his birf certificate. No flowers by request.”
The reference was to the fact that Monkey’s old-time enemy, the vanquished of Cannibal’s National fifteen years before, Chukkers, the greatest of cross-country riders, was an American citizen of uncertain origin.
The thrust was received with a fresh outburst from
the hilarious crowd.
Monkey Brand’s relations with his “old friend” were well known to all.
The little jockey prepared to dismount.
Amid a burst of jeers and cheers, he threw his leg over his horse’s withers, slipped to the ground, stripped off the saddle, and limped off to the weighing machine.
Old Mat watched him go.
“On his hoss, on his day,” he muttered confidentially to the young man, “Monkey Brand can show his heels to most of ’em yet.”
“How old is he?” asked the other.
The old trainer frowned and shook his head mysteriously.
“You must never ask a jockey his age, no more than a woman,” he said. “He come to me the year I was married, and that’s twenty year since come Michaelmas. And when he come he looked much just the very same as he do now. Might ha’ been any age atween ten and a hundred.” He dropped his voice. “Only way he shows his years—he ain’t so fond of fallin’ as he was. And I don’t blame him. Round about forty a man begins to get a bit brittle like.”
He lilted off after his jockey.
Goosey Gander stood stripped of everything but his bridle, with dark flanks and lowered head reaching at his bit.
He was a typical Woodburn horse: a great upstanding bay, full of bone and quality. But he showed wear. A tube was in his throat, a leather-boot on each fore-leg, and he was bandaged to the hocks, both of which showed the serrated lines of the firing iron.