His life and books
Bred on the Station
An Australian Racing Sketch
By Nat Gould
I. AT BREAK OF DAY.
Oakbar Station is about five hundred miles west from Sydney. It is one of the largest stations in that district, and contains close upon a hundred thousand acres. Harry Hazleford was the manager of Oakbar Station in those days, and he was a popular man in the district and a well-known figure at the local race-meetings, and also at Randwick, the headquarters of the Australian Jockey Club. Like many other men in similar positions Harry Hazleford was fond of a good gamble. His luck during the past twelve months had been dead out, and when his pet fancy, Rupertswood, was beaten in the Melbourne Cup, it put the finishing touch on a very bad season.
The adjoining station to Oakbar was Louthford, and Richard Raven, the owner, resided on the estate. Richard Raven was a very wealthy man, and his daughter Agnes, who was about twenty years of age, was his only child.
Harry Hazleford met Agnes Raven at a ball in Sydney. It was a case of love at first sight, and although Richard Raven did not consider it a good match he knew Harry Hazleford to be a man of honour, and also a man of good family. One thing, however, Richard Raven strongly objected to, and that was his prospective son-in-law's gambling propensities. At the time our story begins Harry Hazleford had been very hard hit indeed. He owed a considerable sum of money, and Richard Raven accidentally heard of the difficulties he was in. He sent for Harry to Louthford, and gave him a bit of his mind on the subject.
"If you will promise me never to back a horse again for more than a fiver I'll pay that two hundred for you, Harry," said Richard Raven.
"No, "said Harry, I cannot accept that offer. 1 have made a fool of myself, and I'll get out of the mess the best way I can. I've got a horse, Mr. Raven, I feel sure can win the Summer Cup, and if he does the stake will pay a good deal more than I owe."
Richard Raven was as fond of horses and racing as any man, and he could afford to follow the game. He knew Harry was an excellent judge of horses, and therefore when he said he had a horse at Oakbar good enough to win a race like the Summer Cup he became interested.
"Do you mean to say you've bought a horse good enough to win a race like that? "said Richard Raven. "He must have cost you a tidy sum."
"He was bred on the station," said Harry. "I bred him myself. He's out of old Rosary, and by a horse I fancy you know," added Harry, smiling.
"She's a good mare," said Mr. Raven. "What's he by?"
"Sir Oliver," said Harry.
"My horse!" exclaimed Richard Raven. "You young scamp! Why haven't I heard of this before? How old is he?"
"Four last August," said Harry, "and only raced once, at Bourke."
"What's his name?" asked Mr. Raven.
"Oliver Twist," replied Harry. "If you will drive back with me and see him gallop in the morning I am sure you will say he's a good one."
Sir Oliver was a favourite horse of Mr. Raven's, and in his excitement at hearing Harry Hazleford had a good one by him he forgot all about gambling and the money Harry owed.
Agnes Raven came into the room, and her father said as he left them together, "Look after Harry, Agnes, for a few moments; I'm going back with him, and I must leave my orders behind."
Mr. Raven was easily persuaded to allow Agnes to accompany them, and Harry Hazleford's fast pair quickly covered the fifteen miles that lay between the two homesteads. They were up at break of day next morning, and as the sun had not yet developed his full powers it was cool, bright, and pleasant.
"What a lovely morning! said Agnes. "We shall have a glorious Christmas, I think."
I hope so," said Harry. "If Oliver Twist lands the Summer Cup it will be a very merry Christmas indeed."
It was a rattling good gallop, and as Mr. Raven saw Oliver Twist buckle to his work in great style he was delighted to think Sir Oliver had sired such a good one.
After the gallop Agnes Raven went towards Oliver Twist and put out her hand to stroke his neck.
"Better mind him, Miss," said Tony; "he's a bit nasty this morning. He made a grab at me when I saddled him."
You won't hurt me, will you?" said Agnes, as she patted Oliver Twist's neck. The horse looked round at her but remained still.
"He'd be an uncommon bad judge if he turned nasty with you, Miss," said Tony, eyeing the bonny-looking girl admiringly.
"I quite agree with you, Tony," said Harry laughing. "This is Miss Raven, Tony."
"Oh!" said Tony. "You're a lucky man, Mr. Hazleford," he added as he led Oliver Twist off the track.
II. AT NIGHT.
The week following the gallop between Folly and Oliver Twist, two men drew up to Oakbar Station and asked to see Mr. Hazleford. One of them, named Richard Steel, Harry knew well, but had no particular liking for him. He was the landlord of the Bourke Arms, and in addition to hotel keeping, made a book on the big events.
"Good evening, Mr. Hazleford," said Steel, as Harry came on to the verandah. "This is my friend, Mr. William Tasker, from Sydney."
"Put up your horses and come in," said Harry, wondering what could have brought Steel to Oakbar.
When the refreshment had been attended to Steel said: "I hear you've got a good nag at Oakbar, Mr. Hazleford, and I see you've got a couple in the Summer Cup."
"Is he trying to pump me?" thought Harry, "or has some one on the station given him information about Oliver Twist?"
"You know what my mare, Folly, can do, Steel. You saw her win at Bourke?" said Harry.
"Yes, and I saw Oliver Twist run there," said Steel, "and took a fancy to him. My friend, Mr. Tasker, owns Newtown, and has a good chance in the Summer Cup with him."
"Not a bad horse, Newtown," said Harry, and thought to himself; "but he can't give a stone to my horse."
"I've backed him for a lot of money," said Tasker, "and so has my friend, Mr. Steel; and we want him to win this race."
Harry Hazleford commenced to see the drift of their visit. In a moment of excitement at Bourke races, when he had run short of money, he had borrowed a hundred pounds from Steel. He regretted having done so now, but it could not be helped.
"I should not mind winning the Summer Cup myself," said Harry smiling.
"I hear you've got a good chance of doing so," said Steel.
"And pray who told you that?" said Harry.
"Never mind who told me, Mr. Hazleford," said Steel. What I've heard is that Oliver Twist is as good as Folly at level weights, and if that's the case he'll win and Newtown will lose."
"Confound it all," thought Harry, "who can have told him? It is not Tony, for he has never been into Bourke since the races. It must be Sanders; he was there last week."
"If you will tell me, Steel, what you have come here for," said Harry, "I shall know how to act."
This direct question somewhat staggered the bookmaker, but he said: "You know, Mr. Hazleford, I have a book on the Summer Cup. I'm standing Mr. Tasker's Newtown for it, and if the horse wins I shall land a big stake."
"Well," said Harry.
"Oh, you know what we want," said Steel. "If Oliver Twist is as good as Folly at level weights Newtown can't win. You can make it a good thing for Newtown as far as your horse is concerned."
"By scratching him," said Harry.
"That would be the safest way," said Steel.
"I think you know, Mr. Steel, that I am accustomed to say what I think," said Harry quietly; but there was a look in his eyes the bookmaker did not like. "If you expect me to scratch Oliver Twist to oblige your friend Mr. Tasker, you are very much mistaken. I shall do nothing of the sort."
"Oh, won't you?" said Steel, who was nettled at Harry's tone. "If you can be nasty, so can I."
"Indeed!" said Harry.
"Yes, indeed," said Steel. "It would look better if you'd pay your debts."
"Say that again, and I'll knock you down!" said Harry savagely, "even if you are in my house."
"Your house!" sneered Steel, "you're only- the manager. If that hundred you owe me is not paid to-morrow, I'll post you at the Club."
"You scoundrel," said Harry. "I don't owe the money for bets. I borrowed it off you, worse luck."
"Bets or no bets, I'll post you if it's not paid to-morrow. Say you'll scratch Oliver Twist and I'll let you off that century," said Steel in a more conciliatory tone.
Harry was in an awkward fix, but did not hesitate which course he should take.
"When you have done your business, I will attend to mine," said Harry.
"Then you won't make a deal," said Tasker, who up to now had kept quiet.
"If you mean by a deal, will I scratch Oliver Twist?" said Harry, "I certainly shall not do so."
"Then look out for squalls!" said Tasker, as he rose from his seat. "Come along, Dick. Leave the young fool to himself."
Harry's blood was up at these taunts.
"Clear out of this," he said, and going on to the verandah he called to a man to put the horses to the buggy.
Harry Hazleford was not at all pleased with the course events had taken. He had no wish for Mr. Raven to hear there had been a row at Oakbar with such men as Steel and Tasker. If Steel posted him at the Club room, at Bourke, there would be more trouble.
"I'll never get into debt again," he said to himself. "I wish I could post the money to Steel to-night."
After thinking the matter over he decided to ride over to Louthford and tell Mr. Raven the fix he was in, and ask his advice. Richard Raven listened to Harry's tale and then said:" I hope this will be a lesson to you. I will give you a cheque for a hundred, and you can send a man over in the morning with it to pay Steel.
III. A GREAT RACE.
Christmas was near at hand, and it was arranged that the Ravens and Harry should spend it together in Sydney. It was blazing hot and the Australian climate was keeping up its reputation in that respect.
"This is a bit different to the weather they are having in the Old Country," said Mr. Raven, as he glanced over the cable intelligence in the Herald. "They have had very severe frost followed by a heavy fall of snow. I think we may congratulate ourselves upon the fact that we shall not be starved to death."
"But we may be roasted alive, if it gets much hotter," said Harry. "I hope there will be a cool breeze on Cup Day."
At last the long-looked-for morning arrived. Boxing Day was over, and the races on this, the first day of the meeting, had passed off successfully.
Rowlands, the jockey, engaged to ride Newtown, was not over scrupulous, and Steel had promised him a "monkey" if the horse won; and had specially warned him against Oliver Twist.
Randwick looked charming, bathed in the glorious summer sunshine, and the Christmas holiday makers, who dearly love a race meeting, had rolled up in force. Harry Hazleford, as he scanned the list, did not feel very sanguine of his "station-bred one," as he called Oliver Twist, beating all the cracks. He knew the horse had done a first-class preparation and could stay the distance, and he also knew Tony White could he depended upon.
It was a pretty sight as the twenty-four horses filed out on to the track and took their preliminary canter.
"There's Newtown," said Harry, as a black horse went past, Rowland wearing the "all green" of Tasker.
"Moves well," was Mr. Raven's comment. "Here comes your horse, Harry," he added.
Oliver Twist cantered up the track in a leisurely manner, and seemed to be on his best behaviour. Suddenly, however, he whipped sharp round as a horse galloped past him, and, almost pulling Tony White out of the saddle, started off at a great pace.
"Confound it," said Harry; "I believe he's bolted."
"Not quite," said Mr. Raven. "It was a narrow escape; but White's got him in hand again."
It was with difficulty Tony White had restrained the head-strong horse; but he succeeded, and Oliver Twist was none the worse for his spurt.
"I wish the brute had galloped a mile,"was Steel's comment.
In the ring Newtown was still favourite, with Remorse, Winbar, Roseleaf, Merryman, all well backed, and Oliver Twist at fifteen to one.
"He's got a good position," said Mr. Raven, as he looked through his glasses and saw Harry Hazelford's yellow jacket on the rails.
Next to Oliver Twist stood Newtown, whose jockey seemed determined to squeeze Harry's horse out of his place.
"A false start! said Mr. Raven.
"They're just giving them a trial with the machine," said Harry. "They will get off pretty level next time."
The barrier flew up, and away went the horses in a perfect line that was, however, quickly broken. Winbar, who had a light weight, made the pace, and Tony White still had Oliver Twist on the rails running sixth with Newtown alongside him. As they swept along the back of the course Winbar increased his lead still further, and Tony White began to think he was too far behind. There was no favourable opening for him to get through, and he contented himself with retaining his place.
"Oliver's going well," said Agnes, as she pressed Harry's arm.
"He is," Harry replied; but I don't like that fellow on Newtown watching him so closely. He seems to be crowding him on the rails."
"That's right, Rowlands," muttered Steel, as he saw what the jockey was doing. "Knock the beggar over the railings."
The sheds were reached - a critical point in the race- and still Winbar led, but the pace had told, and he was gradually going back to his field. As they rounded the bend Roseleaf led, with Remorse and three or four more close up, Oliver Twist shut in on the rails with Newtown on his quarters. Suddenly Rowlands gave Newtown a cut with the whip, and drew level with Harry's horse.
Then there was a loud cry from the stand: "There's a spill. Look, Oliver Twis'ts down. No, it's Winbar. Newtown wins."
When Newtown drew up level with Oliver Twist, Rowlands, had pulled his horse across and cannoned Harry's horse on to the rails. Tony White received a severe cut on the leg, but he hardly felt it as it took him all his time to recover his mount and get him into his stride again. This contretemps had lost Oliver Twist several lengths at a critical time, but it had given White the opening he had been waiting for, and he sent his mount along at his top. At this moment the race became intensely exciting. Roseleaf, Remorse, and Newtown were fighting hard to obtain the lead, and the attention of the crowd was riveted upon them.
"Newtown wins!" shouted Steel, as he saw the green jacket coming to the front; and the crowd cheered mightily as the favourite struggled on.
"That cannon did it," said Harry. "He'll never get up. Look how well he's going. By Jove! he has a chance yet. Hurrah!"
Agnes Raven waved her handkerchief, and Mr. Raven took off his hat in his excitement, and waved it in response to Harry's "Hurrah."
Coming on the outside at a great pace was Oliver Twist, the brilliant yellow jacket shining in the sunlight, and Tony White straining every nerve to make up the ground he had lost. There was a moment's silence as the vast crowd saw the yellow jacket drawing dangerously near the leaders. Newtown, Roseleaf, and Remorse seemed to be losing ground, sp fast was Oliver Twist gaining on them. It was a moment of intense excitement.
Would Harry's horse get up in time? Would he catch the leaders in that short distance? It seemed well nigh impossible. Tony White was at it in earnest now. He had saved Oliver Twist for the final pinch. He had nerved himself for a last effort. Slowly but surely the yellow jacket drew alongside. Now it had reached the quarters of Roseleaf. Then it forged ahead and drew level with the green on Newtown, and the two brilliant colours danced together for a moment.
"Oliver Twist wins!" "Newtown wins!" shouted the crowd of excited people.
Rowlands could hardly believe his eyes when he saw Oliver Twist alongside him. He fancied he had effectively disposed of his chance. Nearer and nearer they drew to the winning-post, and when the judge's box was reached the yellow and green appeared to be level.
"Newtown won"; "No, Oliver won." "Here, I'll lay a pony Oliver Twist's won," said a man.
"Done," said Steel; "Newtown won."
Up went the number of the winner - 7.
"Hurrah!" roared Steel; "Newtown has won."
"Not yet," said Harry, who chanced to be near him.
Steel looked at the board and saw a 1 placed beside the 7.
"Seventeen, Oliver Twist," said Harry exultingly; and Steel walked away muttering a smothered curse.
Yes, the station-bred 'un had won a glorious race, and there was much rejoicing at Oakbar and Louthford when the news arrived. On settling-day Steel was missing, and also his friend Tasker. Newtown's defeat had settled them.
"Serve the scoundrels right," said Harry, "and I hope to win a much richer prize before long, " he added, with a glance at Agnes.
"No more debts," said Mr. Raven.
"Only one," said Harry. "I shall owe you a lifelong debt of gratitude when you give me Agnes."
Bred on the Station by Nat Gould was published in Holly Leaves, the Christmas number of Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News on 30 November 1895.