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Title: The Silverpool Cup
Author: Fred M White
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Language: English
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THE MASTER CRIMINAL

III. - THE SILVERPOOL CUP

by

Fred M White

ILLUSTRATED BY PAUL HARDY

First published in The Ludgate, London, Aug 1897


Felix Gryde - Master Criminal


CHAPTER I

SACKVILLE MAYNE was still sober, although it was nearly two. The marble clock in the Mornington Arms Hotel recorded the hour and the phenomenon. Years of vinous environment has not yet robbed Mayne of the manorial air, although the necessary acres for the part were gone long ago.

Neither had Mayne quite lost the art of dining. He had done ample justice to the dinner presented by his peripatetic host the Duke de Cavour. The wines left nothing to be desired.

"I am charmed," said the Duke in quite passable English, "charmed to have met you again. Our last foregathering in Naples was many years ago."

For Mayne's part he had forgotten the incident entirely. The Duke's memory was evidently more trustworthy than his own. All Mayne knew was that he had been in Naples at the time his noble host had mentioned. The latter, an elderly buck with small eyes and a ludicrous pointed moustache, nodded over his glass.

"Those were pleasant days," he said, "twenty years ago! Dear me! And yet when I saw you in the billiard room last night I recognised you instantly. And what horses you used to drive in those days!"

Mayne smiled. The Duke had touched him on a tender spot. As the fond mother clings to the reprobate son who spells the family ruin, so did Mayne still love the equine flesh which had been his destruction.

"I've come down in the world," he said. "Egad, how I manage to live upon my paltry little place is a mystery even to myself. But I still continue to have a bit of blood about me. It isn't every man who can boast of having bred and run two Derby winners."

"The old Godolphin blood, I presume?" suggested the Duke.

Mayne nodded. There was a bond of union between himself and his host. All he knew about the latter he had gleaned that day from the Almanach de Gotha. The exclusive volume in question recorded the fact that de Cavour was an enthusiast where racing was concerned. In a hazy kind of way, he wondered what so great a man was doing in Mornington.

"You race still?" the Duke asked.


YOU RACE STILL?

"Oh no, I can't afford it. I only wish I could. I've got a colt entered for the Royal Clarendon Stakes at Oldmarket— run-off next week, you know—but I shall have to forfeit. Bar Sinister can beat any horse in the race bar the favourite—ay, and even beat Rialto too, if wound up."

"Come, my friend, you are not so poor as all that."

Mayne smiled into his glass. Good wine develops the philosophical side of a man's nature. It also taps the well-springs of confidence.

"Indeed I am," he said; "and yet with a little capital, I think I could see my way clear. I would sell my soul for £1,000."

"Men are prepared to take big risks for sums like that."

"I know it. I am prepared to undertake anything short of manslaughter."

The Duke paused in the manipulation of a cigarette in his slim fingers. For an elderly, gouty gentleman with a suggestion of apoplexy in the region of the carotid, he had remarkably clean sinewy hands.

"I can show you how to make £1,000 with no risk at all," he said quietly. "All you have to do is to take the money and hold your tongue."

"How pleasant! And the conditions?"

"Nothing more than the loan of your colt Bar Sinister. You will permit me to find the money for the stakes, and the horse will be sent up to-morrow to a stable I shall mention, and in due course he will win the Royal Clarendon."

"Without a month's preparation the thing is impossible."

The Duke smiled. There was a strange light in his beady eyes.

"There is many a slip, of course," he responded. "Anyway, it matters very little whether Bar Sinister wins or not. That is a mere detail in my scheme. The question is, can I have the horse if I deposit the money?"

"Now you ask the question, of course you may."

"Good. Mind, this is a profound secret. The horse is to be sent to Oldmarket to Gunter's stables to run in your name. Whether Bar Sinister wins or not matters very little. The favourite is firmly established at even money, so if I were you I should not back the colt."

Mayne nodded carelessly. It was not for him to suggest that some rascality was afloat. He had known in his time racing dukes with no more inherent morality than dustmen. "It's all the same to me," he said, "as long as I get the money. By the way, on the day following the Clarendon, the cup is run for at Silverpool. Haven't you got something starting there?"

"A horse of my own breeding," the Duke responded. "Confetti. No chance, I fear. The odds are forty to one against. Only a few personal friends know I am in England, or perhaps the odds would be a little less. You will see to this matter at once."

Mayne gave the desired assurance. Then the Duke proceeded to take from his pocket notes to the value of one thousand pounds.

"I am going to Oldmarket in the morning," he explained, "but not as the Duke de Cavour. I have my reasons for being known as Mr. Smith. If you desire to communicate with me please do so in that name per Gunter. Again let me urge upon you the advantage of silence in this matter."

A little while later and Mayne was driving his weedy bay towards his place which lay just outside Mornington. Meanwhile, the Duke de Cavour alias Smith had retired to his private sitting-room. Once there he lighted a cigarette and locked the door. With a quasi-magical sweep of his hand, he removed wig and moustache, and stood confessed for the time being in the legitimate form of Felix Gryde.

"Now let me see how I stand," he muttered, throwing himself into a chair. "I am the Duke de Cavour. In my disguise, made up from personal inspection of the distinguished individual in question, I could defy the noble mother of de Cavour to tell the difference between us. For the present the genuine article is under private restraint in Genoa. That is a fact of which the world knows nothing. To make matters still more safe, there is no need for me to appear personally, except at the finish to draw the money from the turf commissioners; and nobody will know that the horse running as Confetti in the Silverpool Cup is anything but de Cavour's colt. One way and another I ought to make £100,000 out of this business; and I deserve it, for the scheme has occupied all my care and attention for a whole year."

So saying Gryde rose and proceeded to unlock a dispatch box, and took from thence two large photographs. They were both likenesses of horses and appeared to be taken from the same plate. Gryde regarded them long and earnestly.

"A wonderful resemblance." he said, "the same age to a month, the same marks, the same everything. It's the Godolphin blood in both, I expect. Upon my word, I don't know which is Mayne's Bar Sinister, and which is the favourite for the Grand Clarendon, Sir George Julyan's Rialto. I wonder what Mayne would say if he knew I had been hanging about here for six weeks to get that photograph. And what a coup this is going to be!"

CHAPTER II

OLDMARKET, as everybody knows, is the headquarters of the racing world. There are many training establishments there, from the palatial concern with its hundreds of hands down to the tiny quarters from whence from time to time a "dark horse" emerges, and some Tom Jones springs into sudden prominence, and thenceforth is respectfully spoken of by equine scribes as Mr. Thomas Jones.

Such an establishment was Gunter's, which boasted a tumble-down house, and a row of ill-found stables tenanted for the most part by platers. Gunter and two lads found themselves quite equal to the task set before them.

Gunter was a typical specimen of his class, sharp, dapper, and cunning, and good enough for anything outside the pale of the law. On the night following the little dinner at Mornington, Gunter sat in his shabby parlour, a rank cigar in his mouth—a tumbler of gin and water before him.

On the other side of the table was a foxy-looking man, dressed like a stud groom, and whom Gunter addressed with grudging civility as Mr. Smith. We have seen him before under the guise of the Duke de Cavour.

"I suppose it is all right?" asked the latter.

"Oh, it's all right up to now" Gunter replied dubiously. "Bar Sinister came in the dusk clothed up to the eyes, and I stored him into a loose box at once. I took care that the lads didn't see too much."

"You've got them out of the way, of course?"

"Yes, they won't be back till morning. Your part of the business satisfactory?"

"Perfectly. Don't you be afraid over me. Within a fortnight's time you will have your pockets full of money, and I shall be back on my way to Australia again the richer for the coup. You see I don't show up at all—merely a horse of mine goes from this stable to run for the Silverpool Cup. The Duke de Cavour is not known in English sporting circles, and nobody takes an interest in him. It's quite safe, because there really is such a man, and at present he is under restraint—don't you hear? It doesn't matter what name I take in my betting against Rialto for the Grand Clarendon on Friday so long as I have satisfied my commissioner of my bona fides. I have employed a different commissioner to put my money on Confetti for the Silverpool."

"And if they find out that your Confetti is really--"

"How can they? Confetti has never appeared in public yet. Still, the likeness between the two horses is so wonderful that I am not particularly uneasy. Now you have a good look at the colt? You know Rialto, of course?"

"What do you think? Do I know my own mother?"

"Very good. Then come to the stables and let us see that everything is quite in order."

Gunter followed with a lantern. In one of the stalls stood a handsome dark chestnut clothed to the eyes, the clothes, strange to say, marked in blue with the monogram "G.J."—nothing less, in fact, than Sir George Julyan's copyright The set had been stolen from the owner of the favourite for the Grand Clarendon for a purpose which will be disclosed in due course.


A HANDSOME, DARK CHESTNUT

The chestnut was stripped, and for some time Smith and Gunter stood contemplating him from all points of view.

"It is a wonderful likeness to Rialto," Gunter exclaimed. "If you'd searched the world you would not have found a better match."

"It has taken me nearly a year to do it," Smith replied.

"Well, you look like getting your money back, sir. If I could only see the next two hours safely over, why--"

"Leave that to me," responded the other sternly. "Everything is ready. You have managed to get a key to fit the back entrance to Lorrimer's stable?"

Gunter nodded. Lorrimer's was a big establishment close at hand where Sir George Julyan's horses were trained, and where Rialto, the favourite for the Grand Clarendon, lay at the present moment.

Then Smith addressed his colleague long and earnestly. The latter followed every word carefully. When the hour of midnight struck the lights were put out and the stable door gently opened. It was pitch dark then, but it made no difference to Gunter. He could have found his way for a radius of a mile blindfold. The turf was thick and yielding underfoot, so that the adventurers made no noise. They were not alone, for Gunter was leading Bar Sinister by the bridle. Silently they made their way across the heath to a spot where a clump of trees were faintly outlined. These were not far from Lorrimer's stables. The journey was made without a single soul being encountered.

The critical moment had arrived-- Smith, or to call him by his proper name, Felix Gryde, peered into the darkness. Not more than a hundred yards away from him he could make out Lorrimer's stables.

Gunter fairly shivered with excitement. Rogue and big as he was, this was the first scheme in which had entered the element of personal danger.

"Now you stay here perfectly still till you hear me whistle," Gryde said sternly; "and when I do so, bring the horse forward. Don't show up yourself, the idea being to lead these people to believe that Rialto has found his way out of the stable."

Gunter muttered something, and Gryde disappeared. He came at length to the buildings and proceeded to skirt round them till the far side was reached. Here he stopped and listened intently. Not a sound was to be heard from the semi-detached building where the favourite for the Royal Clarendon was quartered. Then Gryde stepped into the outer box, opening the door by means of a key. There was plenty of straw littering the floor, which Gryde proceeded to moisten with the aid of a jar of paraffin with which he had armed himself for the purpose.

All remained perfectly still. No sound came from the room over the box where the favourite lay beyond a tough snore. The head lad in charge of Rialto had evidently dropped into a sound slumber.

"I hope he won't sleep too long," Gryde chuckled.

The next proceeding was to advance into the box devoted to the pampered quadruped. To fix blinkers over the animal's eyes was a sufficiently delicate job, but it was at length accomplished.

Then the far stable door was just opened. A match was laid to the saturated straw and a brilliant tongue of flame shot up. In less time than it takes to tell the whole place was roaring and crackling.


A MATCH WAS LAID TO THE STRAW

Two minutes were allowed to lapse and then Gryde crept into the open. He commenced to hammer on the walls and to yell "Fire" at the top of his voice.

From an uneasy dream the head lad was aroused. Scared and frightened he stumbled down the ladder and bolted out for his life. Before the occupants of the other boxes were aroused, Gryde had passed into the stable again. There was still room for a clear passage for the horse. It was just touch and go, but Gryde coaxed the frightened animal out and led it away into the darkness. An instant later and a shrill whistle rang out on the air.

By this time quite a small mob of helpers had arrived.

Buckets were procured, and amongst much noise and clatter the fire was extinguished. But what had become of the horse? No sooner had this question commenced to pass from lip than a pair of ears sharper than the rest discerned the sound of hoofs.

"Here's the tit," yelled a voice from the darkness, "standin' here like a lamb. Blest if I ever see such a knowing creature."

The head lad gave a sigh of relief.

"Thank goodness!" he muttered. "Here, Joe, go and turn those colts out of the far box yonder and get Rialto in at once."

Apparently the horse was none the worse for his adventure. He appeared to be unhurt down to the last row of braid upon his blanket. That anything was wrong, that the affair was anything but an accident, nobody dreamed.

Meanwhile Gryde with his prize had slipped away to an appointed spot, where he waited patiently till everything had passed off quietly. At the end of an hour Gunter approached with the greatest caution.

"Ah, I see you've got him," he whispered.


I SEE YOU'VE GOT HIM

"Of course I have. How did you get on?"

"Splendidly," Gunter replied. "They never saw me at all, and they took Bar Sinister for their own Rialto as naturally as possible; and I'll lay a wager that not one of them will ever know the difference. In all the years I've been in this line, I never saw such a likeness."

"You are right there," said Gryde.

"But hadn't we better get Rialto back to our own stable without further delay?"

A little later, and Rialto stood in the place where Bar Sinister recently was. The two men watched him with admiration.

"The finest colt in England and the best three-year-old to-day," Gryde exclaimed. "But he isn't going to be Rialto or Bar Sinister any longer. Your lads haven't seen him stripped, you say, so they haven't a notion what he is like. Now then, you boast that you can 'fake' a horse better than any man in England. Let us see you get rid of those white stockings and star, in fact turn the finely trained Rialto into the half wound Confetti—the Confetti who is to land me such a coup over the Silverpool Cup."

Gunter chuckled hoarsely.

"Don't you worry," he said. "Confetti won't gain a friend when he's pulled out for the preliminary canter on Monday, and he'll win in a canter. Go and smoke a cigar in my room and leave me for a couple of hours. When you come back, I shall be able to astonish you."

All the same it was nearly daylight when Gunter summoned Gryde to see the result of his handiwork. He held up the lantern with artistic pride.

"There," he laughed hoarsely, "what do you think of that?"

Gryde expressed his satisfaction, as well he might. Gone were the white stockings and the star, gone was the sleek and glossy coat. The difference in the appearance of the colt was wonderful. He was transformed into another animal.

"Looks ragged and half trained," Gunter chuckled. "Suggests speed, but a little thick, perhaps. They'll open their eyes a bit up yonder when he spreadeagles his field for the Silverpool. He's simply chucked in at the weight."


* * * * *

An extremely fashionable crowd had assembled at Oldmarket the following afternoon to witness the race for the Grand Clarendon. Royalty was present, and the stands were packed with fair women and brave men. Amongst the latter, perfectly at home and yet apart from the rest, was a neatly attired individual, who, had he been asked his name, would have answered to that of Smith. He lolled over the railings in front of the enclosure, a cigarette in his well-gloved fingers. Any sportsman of note would have passed his get-up approvingly, and yet there was nothing about the man to attract attention—he seemed to fit quite naturally into the picture.

Probably the least excited spectator present when the horses were weighed out for the Grand Clarendon was this Smith, otherwise Gryde. Close behind him were a lot of superb sporting dandies, conspicuous amongst them being Sir George Julyan, the owner of Rialto. As the latter swept past the stand in the preliminary canter, Sir George looked a little uneasy; so did his companions.

"Is that horse really fit, Julyan?" asked one.

"I should have said emphatically yes on Monday," Julyan replied. "So you notice the difference, eh? Seems short, and inclined to lather. Just my luck if Rialto got a cold on the night of the fire."

Those of the public who knew a horse when they saw one shared the uneasiness. The favourite dropped a point or two in the betting.

As the kaleidoscope of brilliant jackets flashed out in a streaming band from under the eye of the starter Rialto dropped to fourth place, and so continued until at length the horses came into the home stretch.

"Rialto is coming, I see," remarked one of the group behind Gryde.

The latter stole a glance at Sir George's face. The latter was perfectly calm and collected, but his lips flickered like a tongue of flame in a fire.

"I don't think so," he said. "Ribton is riding him."

Just an instant the favourite shot out only to drop back again. Then amidst a perfect babel a rank outsider challenged, Rialto made a desperate effort, and finally was beaten by half a length.

The ring cheered to the echo; everybody else was ominously silent. With a click Sir George snapped his race glasses together.

"Well, they can't say Rialto didn't run a game horse," he said. "Egad, the burning of that bundle or two of straw cost me £40,000."

"Precisely the sum I have won," Gryde told himself. "The pseudo Rialto was a game horse; indeed, a little later on it may be that I have provided Sir George with a better animal than his own. No use staying here any longer. And now we shall see what kind of a turn the real Rialto will do me on Monday.

CHAPTER III

AT TWENTY minutes past three on the following Monday afternoon a ragged-looking colt with a fine turn of speed flashed along between the white posts fencing off thousands of turfites, and once more the ring was rejoicing in the pleasing and remunerative pastime of "skinning the lamb."

Outsiders frequently win big races, but the spectacle of a horse absolutely unknown striding twenty lengths ahead of anything else past the judge's chair is not quite so common. Until the numbers went up, nobody knew who had won the Silverpool.

There was a good deal of raucous mirtn in the ring. But one or two Napoleons of the pencil were observed to look grave. The owner of the fortunate Confetti was supposed to be somewhere on the course, but nobody had seen him.

After the jockey had weighed in, Gunter and "Mr. Smith" discussed the matter calmly.

"You are perfectly satisfied?" asked the latter.

"Well, what do you think?" exclaimed the delighted Gunter. "I've made ten thousand clear. And a prettier plant, a plant more worthy of 'Awley Smart, I never heard tell of. I expect you've done better."

"A trifle," Gryde said drily. "You know what to do next. It seems a pity, but it's the only way to keep the thing from creeping out. Rialto, otherwise Confetti, must never run another race."

Gunter winked knowingly.

"It does seem a pity," he said, "but I'll do exactly as you tell me."

The confederates shook hands and parted. It was the last time they were likely to meet: a piece of information Gryde did not deem it necessary to impart to Gunter. And as the former sat in propria persona and entirely shorn of disguise in his club, he was calmly reading as follows in the special Globe:

THE SILVERPOOL CUP
DEATH OF THE WINNER

The sensational victory of the rank outsider Confetti in the Silverpool Cup to-day is followed by a no less tragic sequel. It appears that whilst the animal was being personally rubbed down by Gunter, his trainer, the colt burst a blood vessel, and died a few minutes later. Confetti had no other engagements this season, but all the same the Duke de Cavour is to be condoled with on his loss.

Gryde smiled as he lay back smoking a thoughtful cigar.

"Really," he told himself, "this has been a very pretty piece of business. And they say there cannot be anything new in the way of a racing fraud. Not only have I proved the contrary, but also I have hit upon a scheme which will never be found out. First I find a horse so like Rialto that I exchange one for the other without fear of detection. Even the Grand Clarendon defect is naturally accounted for. I make a pile of money laying against Rialto—a certainty this. Then the real Rialto, artistically faked, runs as Confetti. This means still more money. And as the Duke is safely out of the way, where he is likely to see no English papers, with friends who don't know a horse from a halter, that avenue of detection is closed. The rest of my money I can safely draw on Monday, and then "Mr. Smith's" place will know him no more. A pity to destroy Rialto, but it was necessary. The course taken renders everything absolutely safe.

"And as to Sackville Mayne? Well, Mr. Mayne is not likely to open his mouth. He has had a thousand pounds for his horse, knowing perfectly well that some swindle was afloat, and though he may wonder, the last thing he will do will be to ask questions. You can always, buy that class of man. Perhaps I ought to have had Bar Sinister, now passing as Rialto, poisoned, but that is a mere detail. And how easy it has all been! Really, next time I must try something with an element of danger in it. Wonder if there is anyone in the billiard-room. I should like a bit of excitement after this humdrum business."


Felix Gryde - Master Criminal


THE END

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