“Something ails the King,” said Cecil calmly; “he is fairly knocked off his legs. Some Vet must look to him; ridden a yard farther he will fall.”
Words so gently spoken!—yet in the single minute that alone had passed since they had left the Starter’s Chair, a lifetime seemed to have been centered, alike to Forest King and to his owner.
The field swept on with a rush, without the favorite; and the Prix de Dames was won by the French bay L’Etoile.
When a young Prussian had shot himself the night before for roulette losses, the event had not thrilled, startled, and impressed the gay Baden gathering one tithe so gravely and so enduringly as did now the unaccountable failure of the great Guards’ Crack.
Men could make nothing of it save the fact that there was “something dark” somewhere. The “painted quid” had done its work more thoroughly than Willon and the welsher had intended; they had meant that the opiate should be just sufficient to make the favorite off his speed, but not to make effects so palpable as these. It was, however, so deftly prepared that under examination no trace could be found of it, and the result of veterinary investigation, while it left unremoved the conviction that the horse had been doctored, could not explain when or how, or by what medicines. Forest King had simply “broken down”; favorites do this on the flat and over the furrow from an overstrain, from a railway journey, from a touch of cold, from a sudden decay of power, from spasm, or from vertigo; those who lose by them may think what they will of “roping,” or “painting,” or “nobbling,” but what can they prove?
Even in the great scandals that come before the autocrats of the Jockey Club, where the tampering is clearly known, can the matter ever be really proved and sifted? Very rarely. The trainer affects stolid unconsciousness or unimpeachable respectability; the hapless stable-boy is cross-examined, to protest innocence and ignorance, and most likely protest them rightly; he is accused, dismissed, and ruined; or some young jock has a “caution” out everywhere against him, and never again can get a mount even for the commonest handicap; but, as a rule, the real criminals are never unearthed, and by consequence are never reached and punished.
The Household, present and absent, were heavily hit. They cared little for the “crushers” they incurred, but their champion’s failure, when he was in the face of Europe, cut them more terribly. The fame of the English riding-men had been trusted to Forest King and his owner, and they, who had never before betrayed the trust placed in them, had broken down like any screw out of a livery stable; like any jockey bribed to “pull” at a suburban selling-race. It was fearfully bitter work; and, unanimous to a voice, the indignant murmur of “doctored” ran through the titled, fashionable crowds on the Baden course in deep and ominous anger.