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Title: The Derby Favourite
Author: Edgar Wallace
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1400731h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Feb 2014
Most recent update: Feb 2014

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The Derby Favourite


Edgar Wallace



First Published in Ideas, May 26, 1909

In 1909 Edgar Wallace wrote 24 short stories featuring Police Contable Lee of the London "D" Division for publication in the British weekly magazine Ideas. A number of these were reprinted in Ideas in 1928-1929 (some under new titles) and in other magazines. Nine of the P.C. Lee stories were later included in the 1961 collection The Undisclosed Client and Other Stories. So far as could be ascertained, the only story in the series that appeared in any collection published during Wallace's lifetime was "Change," which was re-written (without P.C. Lee) as "Mr. Sigee's Relations" for The Lady Called Nita, published by George Newnes, London, in 1930.

'LIKELY enough,' said P.C. Lee, 'you've heard me tell about Captain Kintock. He wasn't the sort of man you'd expect a police constable to have much to do with, because he was of the higher class of bad lot, but owin' to his livin' on my ground—a very fine house he had in Ladbroke Gardens—an' owin' to my knowin' Baine, that did most of his dirty work, I got a fair inside knowledge of what happened at Epsom.

'In a sense, this story I'm goin' to tell you is a racin' story, though I don't want you to run away with the idea that I know much about it.

'When people tell you that racin' is a game that is only followed by thieves an' blackguards, by sharps an' flats, do not believe them. Some of the worst men in England go racin', but then, again, some of the best go, too.

'The bulk lie between the two extremes, an' are sane, decent citizens, who love the sport for the sport's sake.

'But the bad men are very bad, because they are clever, an' a clever bad man is a dangerous animal.

'Kintock was one the "Heads". He'd had money enough to sink a ship, at one time or another. A gambler born an' bred, he would bet on anything from horses to windmills.

'But Kintock was a crook, it was against his nature to go straight an' when it was a question of an easy honest way of doin' a thing, an' a hard, dishonest way, he always chose the latter for the sheer devilry of it.

'Rumly enough, he never took to horses till he'd run through every other form of gamblin', but when he did, he took to it colossal scale. He bought bloodstock in every direction, bought horses at the sales, an' out of sellin' races, an' took a lease of an old trainin' establishment down in Wiltshire, an' spent half his time between there an' Kensin'ton. Everybody knew he was a crook, but nobody knew enough about him to point to any definite act he had committed, an' so, somehow, he managed to get the Jockey Club to give him a licence to train.

'He was an extraordinarily fascinatin' man. Tall, lean-limbed, with a face like one of those Greek gods you see at the British Museum, an' a head of brown, curly hair that was goin' grey.

'So far as I could find out, he'd come into a lot of money—somethin' well into six figures—when he was twenty-one. He lived for a year at the rate of 500 a day, went into bankruptcy, an' was sent abroad. He made a fortune in the Argentine an' lost it in South Africa, floated a bogus company in Egypt, got concessions from the Turkish Government in Syria, an' turned up smilin' in England a rich man for the second time.

'Then he disappeared suddenly, an' about the same time a lot of excited shareholders made the discovery that the concession in Syria wasn't worth the paper it was written on, an' the assets of the Egyptian company were just worth the market value of a roller-top desk an' an easy chair, which formed the furniture of the company's office in Mincin' Lane. I don't know how they settled it, but I rather think that some of his rich relations paid up an' liquidated the company, an' a year later Kintock was in Monte Carlo with enough banknotes to stuff a portmanteau. Soon after this it was that he came to England to work the horses.

'I don't know how he froze on to Baine, but I can guess. Baine used to call himself a commission agent, had a house in Nottin' Dale, an' was a wrong 'un through an' through. A little bullet-headed man with an enormous slit of a mouth an' bow legs that were always done up in horsey-lookin' gaiters, he was well known at small meetin's an' made his livin' by chummin' up to inexperienced young men an' "tellin' the tale". His modus operandi was to get them to invest a few sovereigns on a horse that hadn't got an earthly chance of winnin'. He would take the few sovereigns an' "invest" them by puttin' the money in his pocket. When the horse lost he'd come back to the "mug" an' spin a beautiful yarn about how the horse would have won if he hadn't been interfered with at the start.

'Just about this time there was a young chap livin' in Kensin'ton Gardens by the name of Hite. He was one of those fellows who suffer from havin' too much money, an' naturally he turned to racin' as a cure for the disease. His father was one of them scientific fellows who don't take any notice of money, but spend their lives lookin' through a microscope to see the little bugs in the blood. A professor at Oxford he was, an' so young Sanderson Hite, who wasn't scientific, except with a book of form, got into touch with Baine.

'Baine noticed him at one or two race meetin's, an' particularly noticed that he was always alone, an' so he struck up a sort of acquaintance with him, an' told him "the tale."

'It was about the winner of the Newbury Spring Cup, an' Sandy took it all in, very eagerly.

'Only when it came to the question of partin' with five pounds he hesitated an' said he'd put the money on himself.

'To Baine's annoyance he went into the ring an' backed the horse which hadn't a hundred to one chance—for 250!

'Baine absolutely gnashed his teeth when he saw all this good money goin' into the bookmaker's pocket, but he nearly died with amazement when this "dead" horse he'd recommended won the race by a short head, beatin' a hot favourite.

'Two thousand pounds young Sandy cleared, an' he handed over a hundred to Baine for his information. After that, Baine couldn't do wrong so far as Sandy Hite was concerned. Seein' that he'd got hold of the original golden egg-layin' goose, Baine clamped himself on to it, an' laid himself out to get bona fide information, an' for weeks these two reaped in a fine harvest.

'The Captain was beginnin' to win a few races just then, but was bettin' very light, for him, so that when Baine mentioned "Sandy" an' asked if he could put him "on" to a good thing that the Captain was runnin', he said he didn't mind.

'Now, the most curious feature of the whole business was this, that Kintock never met Sandy, not even when he marked the boy down for pluckin'. He preferred to do it through Baine, an' what is more, he never touched Sandy for a penny until the great Highbury Boy bet.

'Highbury Boy was a two-year-old, the property of Lord Horling. Entered for all the classic races an' tried, almost as a yearlin', to be well above the average, Kintock purchased the colt, with his engagements, for ten thousand pounds.

'If ever there was a man who knew a horse, that man was the Captain, an' when he said that Highbury Boy would win the Derby, Baine believed him.

'He ran him in a couple of his engagements an' ran a "bye". The colt could have won on both occasions, but the jockey, ridin' to orders, contrived to get himself shut in.

'Then he brought him out for the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, an' the Captain betted. He went into the ring, an' threw the money about as though he were bettin' on the most certain of certainties, an' Highbury Boy startin' at 2 to 1 a strong favourite, won in a common canter.

'That was the last race of his two-year-old days, an' when, just before Christmas of that year, bettin' on the next year's Derby began to creep into the papers, he would have been installed a hot favourite but for the disquietin' news published in the sportin' press, that he had trained off, accordin' to the papers.

'Baine was very prosperous in those days—I think he was on the Captain's pension list—an' I don't doubt that some of the exclusive information published in the London sportin' papers came from him.

'I saw him one day—Highbury Boy bein' at 20 to 1 an' me havin' backed him at sixes I was a bit upset.

'"What about this horse of yours, Baine?" I ses.

'"Highbury Boy?" ses he, innocent, "oh, he's trained off accordin' to the papers."

'"I know all about the papers," I ses; "are you their special correspondent?"

'"Without the word of a lie," he ses, very frank, "I am."

'The Craven Stakes, the first race in which Highbury Boy was entered as a three-year-old, came, an' the "Boy" was scratched; the Two Thousand Guineas, won by Bel Mere (who also won the Craven), passed without the colt's puttin' in an appearance. He ran at Kempton for the Jubilee Handicap an' finished tenth, an' he went right out of the Derby list an' was spoken of as a doubtful starter.

'On public form it looked a thousand pounds to an orange pip on Bel Mere, an' money was laid on him, an' the first an' most enthusiastic of his supporters was Sandy.

'He was very jubilant, an' very confident, because he'd had a good season the year before, an' he'd come into somethin' like 40,000 by the death of an aunt.

'"Baine," ses he one day when we were all in the tea-room at Newbury, "if these were the old days when one could bet in ten thousands, I could double my fortune on Bel Mere."

'"What do you mean by old days, Mr. Hite?" ses Baine. "It is just as easy to get a bet on for ten thousand, or one of even twenty thousand for the matter of that, as it ever was."

'Then he went on to tell him of Captain Kintock, of what a fine, generous "better" he was, an' how, even though Highbury Boy was a physical wreck, he was so cocksure that it would beat Bel Mere that he'd stake his life on it.

'Sandy bit at the bait quicker than Baine thought possible.

'"Would he?" he said eagerly. "What! After the Jubilee runnin'? I wish to goodness he would!"

'If you wonder why this young man was prepared to make such a huge bet, you have got to remember that Bel Mere was extraordinarily superior to any other horse in that race except Highbury Boy, an' that Highbury Boy was popularly supposed to be a cripple on crutches. Well, the long an' the short of the discussion was that Baine promised to see the Captain an' ask him if he was prepared to back Highbury Boy against Bel Mere, an' after a lot of palaver an' an exchange of polite letters, the Captain expressed himself as willin' to lay one bet of 15,000 against Bel Mere beatin' Highbury Boy.

'I heard all this afterwards.

'Derby Day came nearer, an' then I believe there was some more correspondence, an' the 15,000 bet was increased to 25,000, an' then the Captain had a bit of bad luck, for the story of this wager got into the papers, an' the first thing that happened was old Mr. Sanderson Hite got to hear of the foolish tricks that his son was playin', an' puttin' aside his microscope an' his test-tubes an' his electric batteries, he came down to see Kintock, one simple old man with no worldly knowledge worth speakin' about—an' Kintock so wise an' cunnin' an' glib.

'It was a gorgeous spring mornin' when he arrived at Epsom. Kintock had rented a house just outside the town, an' Highbury Boy was in the stable, guarded day an' night by a couple of men.

'They were sittin' out on the lawn takin' eleven o'clock tea—he was a very abstemious man was the Captain—when old Mr. Hite was announced.

'He came up the garden path, by Baine's account, a neat old figure dressed with scrupulous care. Spotless linen, perfectly fittin' frock coat, an' a big old-fashioned satin bow to his wing collar. His fashion was the fashion of forty years ago, he might have stepped out of an 1874 fashion plate.

'He got straight to business with Kintock with an old-fashioned quietness of speech an' courtesy that was very puzzlin' to Baine. Without any preliminary he started in about Highbury Boy.

'"I have taken the trouble," he ses, "to study the form—is that the word?—of Highbury Boy, an' to my surprise I find that it is quite possible to anticipate winners from the study of a horse's performances. If Highbury Boy were in good health, would he win the Derby, Mr. Kintock?"

'The Captain hesitated.

"Yes," he admitted after a pause.

'"Is he well?"

'The old man sat bolt upright in his chair, his thin white hands crossed upon his stick, an' the question was hurled at Kintock with a sudden ferocity that was surprisin'.

'Baine saw the Captain shift uneasily at the directness of the attack.

'Then the old man went on.

'"You have told me all I want to know," he ses. "I have made diligent search for the origin of the stories of your horse's illness, an' I have traced the rumours an' head shakin's an' whispered reports. Now, I ask you, sir," he went on, "to do me a favour."

'"I shall be happy to do anythin' in reason," said Kintock.

'"I ask you to take your bettin' book an' run your pen through the bets my son has made with you concernin' your horse."

'Kintock laughed.

'"That I shall not do," he said calmly.

'The old man rose with a little inclination of his head.

'"Then your horse will not win," he said with such an air of confidence that the Captain was startled. "I have given you a chance, an' you have refused to take it. I do not care a straw how much money you may make from your other dupes, I am satisfied that the foolish young man who is my son shall be saved from his folly." 'Then Kintock got wild at the old man's confidence, an' did a foolish thing, for he lost his temper an' spoke frankly.

'"My horse will win," he said angrily, "that's the truth, an' you might as well know it. Win! Why, Bel Mere will not see the way the Boy will go! An' as for your son, I hold him to his bargain. If he doesn't pay I'll post him, yes, by—"

'The old man turned to go; then he hesitated an' came back.

'"Would it be askin' too much if I asked your permission to see this wonderful horse of yours?" Then, as a suspicious frown gathered on Kintock's face, he went on, with a wry smile, "My interest is not an unnatural one, is it?"

'But Kintock's suspicions were aroused.

'"You may see the horse," he said, "but at a distance."

'He called Baine aside, an' told him to watch the old man closely, an' if he made any movement that threatened the horse's safety to grip him.

'He went to the stables himself, an' by-an'-by came back to invite the professor into the little meadow that adjoined the house, an' after a while the two grooms come in leadin' Highbury Boy.

'The old man stood with his 'ands behind him watchin' the beautiful bay as they led him up an' down.

'There never was a more perfect-lookin' colt than the Boy, an' somethin' like pride came into Kintock's face as he watched the horse movin'.

'Then the old man spoke.

'"Once more, Mr. Kintock, will you cancel my son's bet?"

'"No," said Mr. Kintock briefly, an' the old man nodded.

'Baine was watchin' him as a cat watches a mouse, but he made no sign. Still, with his hands clasped behind him, he stood like one lost in thought. Then he roused himself.

'"Very well," was all he said, an' with bent head an' knitted brows he accompanied us back to the garden.

'"I have one thing to say to you," he said to Kintock, "have you ever heard of a sayin', falsely ascribed to the Jesuits, that a man may do harm that good may come?"

'"I have heard that very frequently," said Kintock. "Moreover, that has been my creed."

'"Suppose," the old man said slowly, "suppose somebody got into the stable of this fine horse of yours, an'—"

'"Nobbled it?" smiled Kintock.

'"I think that is the word I have read in connection with similar occurrences," said Mr. Hite; "suppose this happened—suppose I sent my friends—"

'"Try," said Kintock with an ugly smile; "if you or they succeed in gettin' at Highbury Boy they're welcome. I shall not complain. If that is your hope of preventin' him winnin', you are buildin' upon sand. Good-morning."

'"We shall see," said old Mr. Sanderson Hite, an' he walked down the path to the gate.

'Baine went round to see the Boy boxed for the day, an' after Kintock had issued his orders to the grooms, who were devoted to him body an' soul, he walked back across the meadow.

'The Captain had already shaken off his annoyance, an' was laughin' quietly at the old man an' his threat.

'"He is certainly an original, an' if young Sandy had half his brains—hullo!"

'He stopped suddenly an' picked up a matchbox—he was the tidiest man I ever knew.

'"Who dropped this?" he said. Then he looked at the box an' whistled. On the outside was printed in red letters—Tompkins, Tobacconist, Cambridge. "The old man dropped that," he said with a frown, "he was standin' close to this spot. He is not the sort of man to carry an empty matchbox about for fun, he didn't look like a smoker; now, what is the meanin' of this?"

'Somehow old Mr. Hite's threat had a depressin' effect upon Kintock, an' he must have taken him more seriously than did Baine, for he ordered his bed to be taken to the room above the stables, an' had a square hole cut in the floor immediately over Highbury Boy's box, an' a pane of glass fitted. He was thus able to see all that was happenin' in the stable from the room above. He went farther than this, for he went to the police an' got a couple of officers specially detailed to watch the outside of the stable for the two nights that intervened between Mr. Hite's visit an' Derby Day. I was one of 'em, an' that's how I come to know all about this story.

'The Epsom summer meetin' begins on the Tuesday, an' it was on the Tuesday that Kintock started to bet. Highbury Boy stood at 50 to 1 in the list when Kintock started operations. He was a clever gambler, for he never showed his hand thoroughly. He had an agent in Holland backin' the horse, whilst he was simultaneously gettin' the odds from the biggest bookmakers on the course, an' by night Highbury Boy had been "backed down" to 4 to 1 an' was co-favourite with Bel Mere.

'Kintock's great fear had been that his foolish outburst might have been taken advantage of by old Hite; that he would spoil his market, an' he put a man on to watch the old fellow.

'The Captain came home to dinner the night before the Derby jubilant.

'"He's gone back to Cambridge," he said, with a triumphant laugh, "an' to think I was worryin' about him!"

'"He's thrown up the sponge," said Baine.

'"Capitulated without firin' a shot," smiled Kintock, "but it may be a ruse to throw us off our guard. The Boy must not be left out of our sight."

'Nothin' happened that night so far as I know, an' Derby Day dawned with me sittin' on a chair outside the favourite's stable smokin' a pipe.

'It was a glorious May day, with bright sunshine, an' a fleck or two of white cloud in the sky, an' the Downs were crowded. The people stood in a solid black mass up the hill, an' ten deep from the startin' gate, round Tattenham Corner, to the winnin' post. In the paddock, big as it is, there was scarcely room to walk about, but we found a corner where the crowd was thin, an' there we saddled Highbury Boy an' gave him his final preparation.

'Kerslake was the jockey, a lad who had won two Derbies, an' knew exactly every inch of the course.

'The bell rang, an' Kerslake mounted.

'Kintock had a few words with him, an' what the jockey said, I think, restored some of the Captain's assurance.

'"I stand to win 60,000," he said to me, as he an' Baine walked back to the rings, me an' Baine to Tattersalls, an' he to the Members' enclosure, "an' that old man got on my nerves."

'"Is he still at Cambridge?" says Baine, an' Kintock nodded.

'"I've had a man watchin' him there, an' I received a wire from him only half an hour ago, sayin' that Hite was lecturin' this mornin' at eleven, an' he had seen him a few minutes before he sent the wire."

'There was the usual parade an' canter, the usual string of horses pickin' a slow way across the Downs to the startin' gate, the usual delay, an' then—

'"They're off!"

'A roar from the stands an' an answerin' roar from the packed course as the bell rang, an' away went the field in a perfect line.

'Baine was on the rails just behind me, an' was readin' the race through his glasses.

'"Bel Mere is makin' the runnin' from Handy Lad, Mosempions, Highbury Boy, an' Cattino," he said.

'They breasted the hill in a bunch, an' came sweepin' to the left to the famous corner.

'They were all together when they turned into the straight, an' then without any glasses I saw Kerslake prepare to take his position.

'Bel Mere was leadin' an' already stands an' course resounded with the yell: "Bel Mere wins!"

'Then Kerslake went after the leader, caught him an' passed him in with one run an' down below in the ring a bookmaker shouted: "I'll back Highbury Boy!"

'Up went the whip of Bel Mere's rider, but he could get no nearer, an' Highbury Boy came with his devastatin' strides nearer an' nearer the post.

'Then he stopped . . .

'There is no other word to describe what happened.

'Stopped as dead as that horse did that was shot by the anti-gamblin' fanatic; then swerved right across the course, stopped again an' went down all of a heap as Bel Mere flashed past the post an easy winner.

'I saw Kintock's white face on the Members' stand as I ran across to the horse.

'Baine was at the horse's side first, an' with another policeman helped to lift the unconscious jockey. He was badly shaken by his fall, but was not seriously injured.

'But Highbury Boy was finished, you could see that, long before the vet came with the horse ambulance.

'Kintock, very quiet and self-possessed, directed operations.

'As it happened there were two famous veterinary surgeons on the course an' they accompanied us back to the house—the Captain, Baine, Inspector Carbury an' me.

'Highbury Boy was taken from the ambulance an' collapsed on the grass as we gathered round him.

'Very carefully one of the surgeons made his examination.

'"Has he been shot?" asked Kintock, but the doctor shook his head.

'He continued his examination; then asked if we had a microscope.

'Baine went into the town to borrow one, whilst the vet applied one or two rough an' ready remedies to the horse. By-an'-by he rose an' stood by the horse, eyein' him thoughtfully.

'"Remarkable, very remarkable," he ses; then he asked if he might see the stable.

'He went in by himself an' was there ten minutes, an' when he came out he held in his hand—a matchbox!

'Kintock started back with an oath.

'"Where did you get that?" he demanded.

'The surgeon looked surprised.

'"Out of my pocket," he said, an' just then Baine came back with the microscope.

'The veterinary surgeon took a little blood from the horse with the point of a needle an' adjourned to the house.

'He was back in five minutes.

'"Have you had any person here interested in tropical diseases?" he asked.

'A slow light dawned on Kintock's face an' he nodded.

'"Because," said the vet, "whoever it was must have inadvertently left behind him, these."

'He opened the matchbox he still held in his hand an' produced two dead flies.

They were a little larger than the house-fly, of a dark-brown colour, an' their wings were folded over their backs in the shape of scissors.

'"This," said the vet, "is the fly which is known to science as the Glossina morsitans, or as it is commonly called the 'tsetse fly'. Its bite is almost certain death to a horse, though, curiously enough, the usual symptoms peculiar to the disease are absent in your horse. Do you know who brought the flies here?"

'"I can guess," ses the Captain with a grim smile.'


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