Story type: Literature
“Perhaps race-horses may be a little out of your line, Mr. Kennedy, but I think you will find the case sufficiently interesting to warrant you in taking it up.”
Our visitor was a young man, one of the most carefully groomed and correctly dressed I have ever met. His card told us that we were honored by a visit from Montague Broadhurst, a noted society whip, who had lavished many thousands of dollars on his racing-stable out on Long Island.
“You see,” he went on hurriedly, “there have been a good many strange things that have happened to my horses lately.” He paused a moment, then continued: “They have been losing consistently. Take my favorite, Lady Lee, for instance.”
“Do you think they have been doped?” asked Kennedy quickly, eager to get down to the point at issue, for I had never known Craig to be interested in racing.
“I don’t know,” replied the young millionaire, drawing his eyelids together reflectively. “I’ve had the best veterinary in the country to look my stable over, and even he can’t seem to find a thing that’s wrong.”
“Perhaps a visit out there might show us something,” cut in Kennedy, as though he were rather favorably impressed, after all, by the novelty of the case.
Broadhurst’s face brightened.
“Then you will take it up–you are interested?” he queried, adding, “My car is outside.”
“I’m interested in anything that promises a new experience,” returned Craig, “and I think this affair may be of that sort.”
Broadhurst’s stable was out on central Long Island, not far from the pretty and fashionable town of Northbury. As we passed down the main street, I could see that Broadhurst was easily the most popular of the wealthy residents of the neighborhood. In fact, the Broadhurst racing stables were a sort of local industry, one of the show-places of Northbury.
As we swung out again into the country, we could see ahead of us some stable-boys working out several fine thoroughbreds on Broadhurst’s private track, while a group of grooms and rubbers watched them.
The stable itself was a circular affair of frame, painted dark red, which contrasted sharply with the green of the early summer trees. Broadhurst’s car pulled up before a large office and lounging-room at one end, above which Murchie, his manager and trainer, had his suite of rooms.
The office into which Broadhurst led us was decidedly “horsey.” About the place were handsomely mounted saddles, bridles, and whips, more for exhibition than for use. In velvet-lined cases were scores of glittering bits. All the appointments were brass-mounted. Sporting prints, trophies, and Mission easy chairs made the room most attractive.
Before a desk sat Murchie. As I looked at him, I thought that he had a cruel expression about his eyes, a predatory mouth and chin. He rose quickly at the sight of Broadhurst.
“Murchie, I would like to have you meet my friends, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Jameson,” introduced Broadhurst. “They are very much interested in horses, and I want you to show them about the place and let them see everything.”
We chatted a moment, and then went out to look at the horses.
In the center of the circular group of stalls was a lawn. The stalls of the racers in training were large box stalls.
“You have certainly trained a great horse in Lady Lee,” remarked Kennedy casually, as we made our way around the ring of stalls.
Murchie looked up at him quickly.
“Until the last few races, I thought so,” he replied, stopping before the stall of the famous racer and opening the door.
Lady Lee was a splendid three-year-old bay, a quivering, sensitive, high-strung animal. Murchie looked at her a moment, then at us.
“A horse, you know,” he said reflectively, “is just as ambitious to win a race as you are to win success, but must have hard training. I keep horses in training eight or nine months out of the year. I get them into shape in the early spring and am very careful what they eat. If they get a vacation, they may eat green foods, carrots, and grass in open field; but when we prepare them for the ring or a race, they must have grain, bran, and soft foods. They must have careful grooming to put the coats in first-class condition, must be kept exquisitely clean, with the best ventilation.”
“How about exercise?” asked Kennedy.
“Well,” replied Murchie, “I work out horses according to age, with the distance for fast work gradually increased.”
Our trip through the wonderful stable over, we returned to the office, Murchie walking ahead with Broadhurst. As we reached the door, Broadhurst turned to us.
“I hope you will pardon me,” he said, “but there is some business up at the house that I must attend to.”
“Oh, Mr. Broadhurst,” interjected Murchie, “before you go back to town, I want to talk over with you some of the changes that ought to be made about the boys here, as well as their food and quarters.”
“All right,” returned Broadhurst; “jump into the car and ride with me. We can talk on the way, and you can come right back. I’ll pick you gentlemen up later.”
Kennedy nodded, quick to perceive the cue that Broadhurst had given him to watch the stables without Murchie watching us.
We sat down in the office, and I looked about at the superb fittings.
“Do you think it is possible for an owner to make a financial success of racing without betting?” I asked Kennedy.
“Possible, but highly improbable,” returned Craig. “I believe they consider that they have an excellent year whenever they clear expenses. I don’t know about Broadhurst, but I believe that a good many owners don’t bet on their horses. They have seen the glaring crookedness of the thing, especially if they have happened to be officers of jockey clubs or stewards of various race-meets. Personally, I should think a man of Broadhurst’s stamp would not permit himself to be made a victim of the leeches of the turf–although he may wager a bit, just to give zest to the race. American racing has often been called a purely gambling affair, and I think, before we get through, that we shall see the reason for much of the public opposition to it.”
Just then a small man entered the office, and, seeing us, asked for Mr. Murchie. His face was pinched and thin. He wore the latest cut of clothes, but was so very slight that his garments hung loosely on him. One could well imagine that he had tried all sorts of schemes to keep himself down toward the hundred-and-ten-or-twelve-pound mark. He was the very type of jockey. He introduced himself to us as Danny McGee, and I recognized at once the famous twenty-five-thousand-dollar-a-year rider, who had so often successfully defended the Broadhurst colors.
“Mr. Murchie has gone up to the house,” replied Kennedy to his inquiry.
McGee looked us over a minute.
“Friends of his?” he asked, in a confidential tone. Kennedy smiled.
“Of Mr. Broadhurst’s,” he said quietly.
There was a noticeable change in McGee’s manner.
“Just out here to look the stable over,” went on Kennedy; “a wonderful place.”
“Yes; we think so,” assented McGee.
“It seems strange,” ventured Kennedy, “that, with all this care, Lady Lee should not be keeping up to her record.”
McGee glanced at us keenly.
“I don’t understand it myself,” he said. “I suppose lots of people must think it is the fault of the jockey, but I have certainly earned my salary lately with that filly. I don’t know what’s the matter. I’ve done the best I can, but in spite of it there’s something wrong.”
He spoke with an air of genuine worry, and, although I tried hard, I must confess that I found it impossible to fathom him.
“The filly,” he added, “has her regular work-out and the regular feed, and yet she seems to be all tired out most of the time. Even the veterinaries can’t seem to find out what’s the matter.”
An awkward silence followed, during which both Kennedy and myself endeavored to conceal our ignorance of horses by saying nothing about them. Finally McGee rose and excused himself, saying that he would be back soon.
There were still a few minutes before Murchie would be likely to return. Without saying a word, Kennedy rose and opened the door which led into the stable. Across the lawn in the center we could see a man’s figure rapidly retreating through the main entrance, and, somehow or other, I felt that at the sound of the opening of our door he hastened his pace.
Kennedy walked quickly around the circle of box stalls until he came again to Lady Lee. He entered the stall and looked the famous racer over carefully. I was wondering what, if anything, he expected to find, when, almost before I knew it, I saw him jab a little hypodermic needle into her neck and withdraw a few drops of blood.
Lady Lee reared and snorted, but Kennedy managed to quiet her. He returned the hypodermic, with these few drops of blood, carefully into its case again, and we made our way back to the office.
A few minutes later, the drone of Broadhurst’s car told us that Murchie had returned. We resumed the talk about horses, upstairs in Murchie’s own apartment, which consisted of living-rooms, a library, and bath. It was a luxuriously appointed place, in keeping with the tastes of its occupant. We sat down in the library.
I was quite interested in looking about me. For one thing, Murchie’s idea of art seemed to be a curious blending of horse and woman. There were pictures of all the string of Broadhurst winners, interspersed with Venuses and actresses.
On a little table I noticed, at length, a colored photograph in an oval gilt frame. It was of a very beautiful girl. She was something over medium height, with a fine figure, golden hair, and deep-blue eyes. Somehow, I recalled that I had seen that face before, and when I caught Kennedy looking at it from time to time, I was certain of it.
Suddenly it flashed over me that the picture had been published in the Star. It was Cecilie Safford. I remembered having read of Murchie’s escapades, one of which was his elopement with a pretty young stenographer whom he had met at the horse show a couple of years before.
The talk ran along about horses still, but I noticed that Kennedy was even more interested in Murchie’s pictures, now, than in his conversation. In the place of honor, over the mantel, hung a portrait, in an artistic panel, of a slender girl with dark hair and hazel eyes, with a soft, swanlike throat and neck, and a somewhat imperious manner of carrying her head.
I followed Craig’s glance across the room. There, in a frame upon the wall in a corner, hung an enlargement of a group photograph. It was of a middle-aged woman, a little boy, and a little girl. Then I remembered the whole story.
At the time of his elopement, Murchie had a wife living. Since then he had been divorced. Although he had promised to marry Cecilie when the divorce was obtained, he was now engaged to marry a wealthy girl, Amelie Guernsey.
Broadhurst returned shortly for us, and we made another tour of the stable, on the outside, including the quarters of the innumerable employees. Finally, at a hint from Kennedy that we had seen enough for the present, Broadhurst motored back to the city with us.
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