Nat Gould

His life and books

The Grafter Wins


By Nat Gould


Detective Val Martyn remained silent, for some minutes, his friends regarding him with curiosity; he had been requested to tell one of his numerous experiences. They had all been at Hurst Park, where Fred Lyme, the jockey, had won a sensational race on Harry Marker's Olympic.

Martyn smoked one of his best cigars; he was an excellent judge of them, and it was his only expensive habit.

Mrs. Breaton looked at Lillie, Martyn's daughter, saying without words:-

“Why don't you rouse him? Ask him to begin.”

Lillie smiled. Before she had time to speak Harry Marker said:-

“Wake up! Let's have it. We are all impatient.”

Martyn took the cigar from his lips and carefully flicked off the ash.

“I hardly know where to begin,” he said. He paused. Then - “You may recollect some years ago when The Grafter won the City and Suburban?”

“I should just think I do,” said Harry Marker. “I backed both him and Syeria, but I had most on The Grafter.”

“I was in the paddock about half an hour before the race” went on Martyn. “I saw Cannon coming across. He was to ride The Grafter. I had an idea he didn't fancy his mount much, and he had good cause, for the old 'waler' was as lame as a cat three days before and could hardly stand up on his box. But his trainer was a clever man, and got him to the post.

“The Grafter was standing with an old rug thrown over him, near the Durdans side. He certainly did not look a City and Suburban horse. I asked Cannon what he thought of his mount. He shrugged his shoulders, and said the horse was not much to look at, but those connected with him had a high opinion of his prospects.

“Quite by accident I came across young Ben Burton. At that time he was just entering on his wild career; he's sobered down a lot since he married the right woman: it's surprising what a difference a good wife makes in a man.”

Mrs. Breaton looked at Martyn with adoring eyes. She would have liked the chance of being the woman in the detective's life.

“The Grafter looked forlorn. With his big head, Roman nose, angular frame, lack of polish, and large hoofs, he had the appearance of a commoner, but he was anything but that.

"Young Burton stood twiddling his race card in his hand, looking at the horse. I knew him fairly well, on one occasion I had saved him from being unmercifully fleeced, and he hadn't forgotten it. He had piles of money then. Some distant relation left him about half a million, I heard.

“I asked Burton if he liked the look of The Grafter. He said he didn't, but that he was going to back him, from information received.

“I asked where he got the information, and he said a friend of his lately over from Australia knew William Forrest, who won the Melbourne Cup with The Grafter, and he had advised backing the old horse every time it ran, no matter the distance, and he was quite sure the result would be satisfactory.

“This seemed good enough, so I made up my mind to have a trifle on the horse.

“As I walked towards the paddock gate I saw three men making their way towards where Ben Burton stood. I knew them; they were three of the most dangerous sharpers ever, seen on a racecourse.

“I watched them - they had not seen me, I took care of that - and saw them stand close to Ben Burton, who shook hands with the chief scoundrel, a keen looking, well-dressed man, named Nick Hart.

“On entering Tattersalls, I found it, as usual, packed; there was hardly room to move. There was a brisk market on the City. I forget what was favourite, something trained by March, I think. Anyway, it doesn't matter to my story.

“The horses were coming on to the course when I spotted Nick Hart and his pals again. Just in front of them was Ben Burton, book in hand, putting down sundry wagers. I watched him. Presently he closed his book, and began to bet ready money. He had a bundle of notes in his hand, and he quickly got rid of them. Nick Hart end his companions kept close on Burton's track. That they meant, if The Grafter won, to relieve Burton of some of his money, by fair means or foul, probably the latter, I was certain.

“How would they do it? That I must discover; they knew all the moves on the board. Ben Burton was as wax in the hands of such men.

“I put a fiver on The Grafter at 10 to 1; very fair odds!”

“They were,” said Harry Barker. “I remember I only got 8.”

“The horses went past,'” went on the detective. “"Cannon seemed to me to take great care of The Grafter. Somehow I liked the way the ugly old beggar moved; he seemed full of courage, the sort of horse who would be game to the end, no matter what happened. You can't keep your eyes on three or four things at once, and for the moment the race was all that interested me.

“When they were at the post I looked round the crowded ring, but neither Nick Hart and the other men nor Ben Burton did I see. I pushed my way to Thompson, the bookmaker, and asked him what Burton had backed.

“ ' The Grafter,' he replied. 'Say, what do you think of Burton?'

“ 'Think of him!' I exclaimed. 'He's all right - but wild, perhaps, but all above board. He wants experience - he'll be shrewd enough when he's cut his wisdom teeth!”

“ 'You're about right,' said the bookmaker. 'Keep your eye on him to-day, Martyn. Some of Hart's sharks are after him.'

“This confirmed my views that Hart's lot were up to no good where Burton was concerned.

“The race was being run, so I concentrated my attention on it; one thing at a time is sufficient for me, but keep your eyes open for everything.

“'The lot were coming down the hill from the corner when I saw them. I looked for The Grafter - something like a black-and-blue jacket, I think. I picked him out, but he did not seem to like the slope, but there's nobody these days handles such horses like Cannon did, a worthy son of a worthy father.”

“You're right,” chimed in Fred Lyme, “never saw a better than Morny.”

"There was a terrific shout when the dip was reached and they came up the rise.

“The way The Grafter came along was an eye-opener.

“For a horse that couldn't stand up in his box three days before, it seemed impossible. But there he was, Cannon sitting as comfortably as though, in an armchair, without a care in the world! It was a grand sight, especially for a poor man who had 50 to 5 about him.”

Marked laughed.

“I suppose you don't consider me a poor man?” said Martyn. “I was then, at any rate. I'm not what you'd call wealthy now, just about enough to live on, eh, Lillie?”

His daughter smiled. The colour came into her cheeks. She looked at Harry, and they laughed. They were excellent friends, these two, verging towards a closer relationship.

"When Morny let The Grafter go, the old fellow strode up the rise like a lion. There was nothing could get on terms with him, and be passed the post an easy winner by two or three lengths.
“What cheering there was. The public somehow seemed to have been well on the horse, probably Morny being up had something to do with this.

“I drew my bit, and then looked about to see what was going on. I had not to wait long before I discovered Ben Burton stuffing notes and gold into his pockets. His coat seemed to bulge; evidently he had won a lot in ready money alone. I thought him foolish. Why hadn't he booked all his bets, and settled on Monday in safety? The pleasure of handling the stuff on the course was too much for him, I suppose! It is a temptation I've felt myself.

“The sharpers were after him. I just caught a glimpse of Hart's face as he watched Burton cram a big handful of notes into his trousers pocket.


“I was sure Hart meant handling some, if not all, of Burton's money. But how? In the midst of such a dense crowd it is difficult to keep one's eyes on a particular person, and I lost sight of him in one of those sudden waves of movement winch pass through the densely crowded ring.

“There were more races to come, and I went into the paddock, where I found Ben Burton, highly delighted at the success of The Grafter.

“Just as I came near him a tall man, immaculately attired, silk hat and frock coat, shook hands with him, they went to the bar.

“I had a faint recollection of having seen this man before, but could not place him for the moment. I asked one of our men if he knew him, pointing him out.

“ 'The tall man?' he said. 'I wonder you don't remember him. He's got a place in Oxford street, we've had it under observation for some time. The man's a crook - a clever swindler; he's also suspected of being concerned in one or two safe robberies. Many young fellows frequent his place. Look there, that beggar Nick Hart's joined them! I was not aware “the doctor,” that's what they call him, was mixed up with Hart's gang.'

“I was more than ever convinced that Ben Burton was to be plundered, either on the course, on the way back to town in the train, or somewhere in London later at night. I determined to rescue Burton from their clutches, but it was easier said than done.

“When I looked towards the bar Ben Burton and Hart were cracking another bottle; 'the doctor' had left them.

“Hart saw me coming towards them. Much to my surprise he stood his ground; he generally fought shy of me, perhaps being with Burton gave him courage.

“ 'Join us?' asked Ben, with a smile, as I came up.

“I did. I was thirsty. I had a glass of fizz and filled it up with soda water. A real thirst quencher!

“ 'Business brisk?' asked Hart insolently.

“ 'It will be later on,' I said significantly.

“I saw him wince, and in a few minutes he left us.

“Do you know who and what that man is?' I asked Burton.

“ 'Hart? Oh yes, I've known him a good while. He seems a decent sort of fellow, he's a partner in a commission business with “the doctor.” I've been there.'

“You mean to their place in Oxford Street?' I asked.

“ 'Yes, do you know it?' said Burton.

“ 'I don't, but the police do,' I said. He looked surprised. 'Take my advice. Steer clear of Hart and his mob. They're a gang of sharpers.'

“He laughed, said I had made a mistake, and so on.

“I did hot wish to alarm him, but I gave a parting warning against Hart, as he walked away.

“I followed him at a distance into Tattersall's, then lost sight of him; but after the race I caught a glimpse of him. Hart was with him again. Pushing my way through the crowd I saw them at the bar, evidently Burton was making merry, it would be easy for Hart's fellows to get the better of him, if he was half-seas-over.


“Ben Burton seemed to be a sort of will-o'-the wisp that afternoon. He vanished, then suddenly reappeared. I dodged him about, but at last lost him altogether. Hart was still in the ring - that was satisfactory, at any rate.

“Then Hart vanished. I went quickly into the paddock; it's a good step from the ring, as you know. He wasn't there, nor were any of his gang. 'The doctor' had vanished too. You may not consider it strange that I missed these four or five fellows in such a crowd. A man like you, Marker, would easily lose sight of anybody, but with me it's different. I'm used to fixing people in crowds, consequently I was rather alarmed when I couldn't find any of the men I was looking for.

“Had they left the course to go back to town by train? If so. from the course, or from the town station by the South Western?

“I walked rapidly down the slope to the Downs Station. The platform was almost deserted. I made enquiries. Hart was well known to the railway inspectors. None of them had seen him.

“I had Jill in my pocket, he's always handy in cases of emergency."

Lillie Martyn smiled.

“Jill is father's six-shooter. The bulldog is Jack, so we call the revolver Jill,” she explained, as she pointed to the fine old dog stretched on the hearthrug.

“I've made Friends with Jack,” said Harry, “but I've no desire to be on close acquaintance with Jill!”

“No sight of Hart or Burton!” Martyn continued. “I decided to go to Epsom Town Station. There was a carriage standing outside, and, jumping in, I told told driver to make all speed to the station. By James, he did! The carriage danced about, banged, and swayed on the road, there were some narrow escapes, wheels were shaved, horses' heads just missed, never had such a jolting and jumping about. I was more blown than the horses when we reached the station!

“People were flocking down from the course. I saw nothing of my men on the platform. Where the deuce were they?

“A train went out, then another. No sign of them. They might have gone to some hotel or house in the town. I watched every vehicle as it came up. No luck!

“ 'Looking for anybody?' asked a ticket inspector.

“ I told him l was on the lookout for Hart; he replied that he had seen nothing of him.

“Nothing annoys me more than to lose a man once I have spotted him. It would have given me great pleasure to get Nick Hart sent to penal servitude, and the whole gang with him. I had nearly had him safe once before, but he slipped through my fingers. It was over the doping of Vanguard. You remember it?”

Harry and Lyme nodded.

“There must be some pleasure and excitement in hunting down a man like that,” said Harry.

“There is,” said Martyn. “And some danger. Men like Hart stick at nothing.

“I stood on the platform gloomily watching the crowds, which by this time had increased. If Hart and Burton did not travel from this station I had missed them, and it would be like searching for a needle in a haystack to look for them when they reached London.

“Standing lower down the line were half a dozen carriages ready to he put on to one of the specials.

“There seemed nothing for it but to travel to Waterloo, and trust to luck to find them. A train passed along the line, and the waiting carriages were hooked on. The first part was fairly well filled, but the bulk of the people had not arrived from the course.

“The train moved on; as the linked-up carriages came to the platform, speed was up, they were rapidly passing, the first two were empty, evidently this part of the train was not for passengers. As the fourth carriage went by I caught sight of Hart and Ben Burton in a compartment. It was a mere glimpse, but sufficient to decide me. I must get on the train some how. I made a dash at the end carriage; there was no guard's van, that was at the end of the first portion. It was a rash thing to do, I narrowly, escaped falling on to the line, but my usual luck held good, the door was easily opened, and I fell forward on the floor. There was some shouted warning, but the thing was done, the door was banged to, and I was safe.

“When I recovered from the shock, I had a nasty bump on the head where it had struck against the seat. I waited for a few minutes considering what was the best course to take. I was certain something would happen in Hart's carriage before we arrived at Waterloo. There was no communication cord connected with the front of the train, evidently Hart and the rest had got into the carriage unobserved, and trusted to their being put on to a special.


“It was no use waiting until we reached Waterloo, the mischief would be done, whatever it was.

Opening the door I got out on to the footboard. The train was going at a fair rate. Carefully I went along until I reached the compartment with my men in. I saw they were playing cards, and so absorbed in the game that they didn't see me, and I had a good look at them.

“Nick Hart sat next to Ben Burton, who seemed dazed, probably due to the champagne, I thought. 1 kept back from the window, just being able to peer in, free from observation.

“I saw Hart put his hand into Burton's pocket. One of the men was dealing the cards again. The train slackened speed suddenly, it jolted me forward and my face hit the window.

“Hart looked up and saw me. He struck at me. In dodging the blow I leant sideways along the carriage, just managing to clutch at the next window,
which was, fortunately, open. This steadied me. Hart was leaning out of the window shaking his fist at me, his face distorted with rage. Then he drew in, and I guessed he was going to rob Burton and clear out with his two pals.

“I was back at the carriage in double quick time and wrenched open the door.

“As I scrambled in Hart made another dash at me and tried to fling me on to the line. He failed. Ben Burton was roused to action by what he saw, and seized Hart by the back of his collar, pulling him away from me. This gave me a respite.

“I put my hand in my pocket, intending to draw 'Jill' and cover them, but I had no time. Burton suddenly collapsed on to the seat, half on, half off. I saw one of the fellows hit him over the head with something. The situation was desperate. I've been in a good many tight fixes in my time, but that was one of the most dangerous. Imagine the situation for a moment! Three against one, big odds with out any handicap, such as the open door at my back!”

Mrs. Breaton shuddered.

“How terrible!” she said.

“Yes, it was a tight fix,” went on Martyn. “Hart came at me like a tiger, his mates sprang on the seats, one on each side of me. Ben Burton rolled on to the floor.

“There followed a desperate struggle. It meant life or death to me, I saw that by the men's faces. If only I could get my revolver out!

“Again fortune favoured me. Hart tore my coat and the pocket. 'Jill' dropped on to the floor. He saw it, put his foot on it, and tried to push it to one of the others.

“Risking a lot, I fell on my knees, caught Hart by the legs, and gave a hard pull. He fell backwards, and I had the revolver in my hand in a moment! As I seized it one of my assailants struck my hand, the weapon went off. The man groaned, and wrung his hand in evident pain.

“I was on my feet in a moment. Hart was up again; he struck me a violent blow in the face. He was an old prize-ring man, and had a fist like a sledge-hammer. I saw stars, my head reeled; I struck out blindly.

“What happened during the next few minutes I can hardly say. As you may suppose, there wasn't much time to think. Curious to relate, I yelled 'The Grafter wins!' A man does and says strange things at a time like that. Why on earth I shouted 'The Grafter wins,' goodness knows, but I did, and it had a remarkable effect. It seemed like a call to arms, a trumpet blast to Ben Burton, who a moment before was completely knocked out. He got on to his feet and looked wildly around, dazed, bewildered, at the scene of struggle and confusion. Hats, sticks, pieces of clothing, notes, sovereigns, cards, a coat, were all strewn over the compartment.

“ 'The Grafter wins!' I shouted again.

“ 'The Grafter wins!' Burton yelled in reply, and seizing a stick he laid about him like a madman.

“He hit everybody, including myself. I think he had an idea we were all against him, that we were all intent on robbing him, for he grabbed some notes that lay on the seat. He kept on yelling 'The Grafter wins!' like mad, followed by 'Take that!' as the stick came down with a whack on a head, a back, or an arm.

“By James, it was a scene! I shall never forget it!”

“I shouldn't think yon would,” said Harry Marker.

“If you pulled through that, you'll pull through anything,” said Fred Lime.

“I think I've a pretty fair chance,” said Martyn. “Talk about a rough-and-tumble! I had the whole lot against me. So fierce was the fight that I used 'Jill,' and put one of the men out, merely wounded him; then Hart managed to wrench the weapon from me. He fired point blank. I felt the bullet graze the hair on the top of my head. A second shot whizzed past my cheek, a third caused a sting in my arm.

“The train went round a curve, the motion threw Hart sideways as he fired; the bullet hit the other man, who groaned and collapsed on the seat. Six shots had been fired; there was no more danger from 'Jill.'

“I love that little weapon. It has been a good pal to me. I saw Hart meant throwing it through the window; so I made a dash at him and saved it.

“Suddenly Hart saw we were passing through Clapham Junction. He had no time to spare if he was to get away.

" 'The Grafter wins!' howled Ben Burton as he hurled Hart on to me. We both lost our footing, and sprawled on the floor. Ben Burton was on top of us in a moment, belabouring us both with his clenched fist. It was a comical, at the same time an unpleasant, situation.

“The train slowed down as it entered Waterloo Station. Hart saw this was the only chance of making his escape; he gave me a parting kick on the leg, and made for the door. As he opened it I managed to grasp his leg. He fell out on to the platform. A ticket inspector stood there, saw something was wrong, and at once pounced on Hart.

“Scrambling out as best I could I gave the alarm, and in less time than it takes to tell the three sharpers were seemed.

“Ben Barton had collapsed again, and was in a bad way. We carried him off the platform; I sent him to Charing Cross Hospital, and then went to the police station with Hart and his companions. As soon as they were locked up in the cells, after the charge was taken, I went to the hospital.

“ 'Can't make him out at all,' said the doctor, referring to Burton. 'He keeps on shouting, "The Grafter wins!" What does he mean?'

“I asked him if he hadn't heard what had won the City and Suburban, then proceeded to explain what had happened.

“Well, that's about all!" said Martyn. “Ben Burton was out and about in a few days. He thanked me for rescuing him from the sharpers. He only had a faint idea of what had taken place; fortunately his money was safe. He always books his bets now.”

“What became of Hart?” asked Harry.

“He got five years; the other two three years each,” answered Martyn.

The Grafter Wins by Nat Gould was published on 23 August 1919 in the Observer (Adelaide, Australia).