Nat Gould

His life and books

Wild Will


By Nat Gould.

"There is not much harm in him - a bit wild and inclined to kick over the traces, but he'll tame down and be a respectable member of society as he grows older."

This was the general opinion of Will Milford, a good-looking, dashing young man, the pride of his mother and the favourite of the family.

But unfortunately Will Milford did not "tame down" as anticipated. He was often in trouble and ran into debt. He was a splendid rider and, instead of steadying down to business - and becoming a respectable member of society, he spent most of his time in rushing from one race meeting to another and earning for himself the nane of a bold, sometimes reckless, hut skilful amateur rider.

His father objected to all this, but his mother could not help feeling a glow of pride as she secretly read an account of some particularly dashing feat of her son's as chronicled in the sporting paper smuggled into the house by Will's younger brother. William Milford, senior, hated sport and sporting papers, and thought of nothing but making money, legitimately according to his lights, in sundry businesses in which he was interested.

At last the crisis came. Will Milford owed a considerable sum to a money-lender, which his father paid on condition he went out to Australia for a term of years. This was a hard sentence upon Will, as he had succeeded, so he thought, in capturing the affections of Miss Ethel Seedley, an acknowledged beauty with expensive tastes and not over much money to indulge them in. She was fond of "Wild Will" in a selfish kind of way, and it flattered her vanity to think this handsome daring rider loved her. As for Will Milford, he was completely wrapped up in Ethel Seedley, and thought her the dearest girl in all the world. When the fact went forth that Will was to go to Australia, he sought out Ethel Seedley and told her how matters stood. He put on the best face possible and said there was plenty of chance for a man in the Colonies, and he would make a fortune for her to share with him. Would she wait for him a year or two? Of course she would - how could he doubt her ! - and Wild Will left her with a light heart, for he believed in women, and his faith in them had not yet been shattered.

He sailed for Sydney, and when he had been away twelve months, Miss Ethel Seedley was also on her way out to New South Wales but she had changed her name, and was the wife of Robert Latham, a wealthy squatter, who had captured her affections with the amount of money he possessed.

Will Milford heard nothing of this marriage, and Ethel had written to him even after she was engaged to Robert Latham, for she thought it was not wise to be quite off with the old love before she had secured the new. Wild Will had made a name for .himself in the Colonies as a great horseman, and although the fortune he went out to make for the woman he loved was as far off as ever, he did not despair of eventually succeeding.

He heard nothing of the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Latham by the Austral, and their names would have had no special interest for him had he seen them in the passenger list. The day after the Austral arrived, Will Milford was to ride his own horse Crispin in the steeplechase at Randwick, which he knew he had an excellent chance of winning, and he had hoarded up a considerable sum of money to back him.

He was in high spirits when he went to the course. The prospect of a winning mount on his own horse was pleasant to contemplate. He loved riding in a steeplechase with all the ardour of a true sportsman. The element of danger in the sport made it additionally attractive. His bold, fearless riding had carried him safely through many a stiff race, and ho knew Crispin was a horse he could depend upon.

He arrived at Randwick in good time, and watched the first race with no little interest, for it was a hurdle race, and the winner he knew was much inferior to his own horse on the flat. This he thought a good augury for his success.

Robert Latham was fond of racing, and he took his wife to Randwick. Ethel felt she would meet Will Milford there, and, as the truth had to be told some time, she thought the sooner her interview with him was over the better. He could not make a scene on the course, that would be an advantage. Mrs. Latham looked at her best at Randwick, and her husband was proud of the sensation she caused when he introduced her to his friends. He was a well-known man and had much to talk about after his absence in the old country.

When Will Milford caught sight of Ethel quietly chatting to two ladies on the lawn he could hardly believe his eyes. Could it be possible? He looked again, and saw he had made no mistake. What was she doing here? He had not much time to think. He was dressed to ride Crispin, and the race was the next on the card. He hurried across the lawn, and when Ethel saw him she turned pale, but hastened to meet him.

“Ethel!” he exclaimed. “This is a pleasant surprise; but what are you doing out in Australia?”

He looked so handsome and happy, and she saw he was about to ride in a race, that she had not the heart to tell him now. At that moment she repented bitterly what she had done. She saw how he loved her, and that he was faithful and true to her. And what of herself? She had deceived and betrayed him, and she hated herself for it, and almost hated her husband, whom she had also deceived.

"1 am so happy," she said in a whisper. "You look so well. I will tell you why I am here later on. I had no time to write, it was all so sudden."

Then she caught sight of Robert Latham coming toward them, and her heart stood still.

“You are riding in the steeplechase," she said. “I will see you alter the race. I have so much to say to you." Her manner was confused, and she spoke hastily, jerkily.

The bell rang, and Will said, 1 will see you after the race, Ethel darling. I am sure to win with your bright eyes watching me."

He turned away, full of life and hop e and joy. She trusted him, and had come to him. Yes, that was it, there could be no other meaning to her presence here. Well, she should find her faith in him had not been misplaced.

“Who was that young fellow?” asked Robert Latham as he came up."

“An old friend of mine," she said. “I knew him very well in England. He rides Crispin in the steeplechase”, she added, looking at the riders' names and then at the card.

Robert Latham was satisfied, he was not a suspicious man. Crispin was first favourite, and backers had every confidence in both horse and rider.

Ethel Latham watched Will Milford as lie rode his horse to the starting-point, and saw how well he looked in his white jacket, and how elegantly he sat his horse. As he rode past the lawn Will searched the stand and saw Ethel standing in front on the terrace.

"She will be proud to see you win, Crispin, old fellow!” said Will, as he patted the horse's neck. It was a fine race, and the horses fenced splendidly. Crispin jumped well, and Will, as he kept his eyes on the horses nearest him, felt he had a real good thing on.

Over "the treble" the first time there were no spills, and again at the second attempt only two horses refused.

Will, as they raced round the far side of the course, knew the race was as good as won, for Crispin was going strong with a swinging easy stride that proved he was not tired.

The last fence was in the straight run home, an awkward obstacle boarded and topped with furze.

Crispin came round the bend at a great pace, and Will saw the last fence in front. He heard the cheers of the crowd and the shouts of “Crispin wins!” He felt exultant, and was al ready glorying in the victory of his horse. But the shouts were suddenly hushed, and a dead silence fell on the mass of people. Then a cry of “He's down! The favourite's down!”

Crispin rose at the fence, but strange to say seemed to stumble and jump short. He caught the boards and turned completely over, falling on his rider.

Crispin was quickly on his feet unhurt, but Will did not stir, the white jacket was distinctly seen on the green grass.

Ethel Latham saw the fall, and she clutched her husband's arm with such force that he winced and looked sharply at her.

“See," she said in a hollow voice "he has not moved." She was trembling violently, and Robert Latham said, I am sorry, it is the young fellow you were speaking to before the race. Won't you sit down?”

But Ethel did not move. She was watching them carry that still form in the white jacket to the ambulance van. As the van drove away she said,

“Where are they taking him?”

“ To the casualty room," replied her husband.

"Take me there" she said. He looked hard at her, and replied,

“It is no place for you. I will go and see what has happened."

He left her and walked across the lawn, hut she followed behind him at some little distance.

There was a crowd round the little room, and as Ethel stood near she heard one man say, !Poor young chap! Such a good rider too. His neck is broken."

“It is not true," she said fiercely to the man.

He was startled and said,

“I beg your pardon if you are a friend of his, do not go inside.”

She hurried on, forcing her way through the crowd, with an energy born of despair. Her husband was inside with the doctor and one or two officials. She heard the doctor say, “He's quite dead. He was killed instantly. It is very sad. Has he any friends here?”

"Yes," said Ethel - "one;" and, with a bitter cry, she staggered forward and fell on the body of the man she had wronged.

Robert Latham looked on sternly. He felt there was something here he did not understand.

He touched his wife on the shoulder, and said,

“Come with me you have no business here."

She stood up and faced him.

“No business here," she said in a hollow voice. No, I have no right to be here."

She bent down and kissed Wild Will on the lips, and sobs shook her frame. Then with a lingering glance as she left the room with her husband she murmured,

“Thank God he never know the truth."

"What was that man to you?" asked her husband sternly.

“He loved me. I was engaged to him when I married you," she said.

Robert Latham took her by the arm and said,

"Then you deceived us both. He is happier than I shall over be. I envy him."

Wild Will by Nat Gould was published on 30 April 1898 in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News and on 5 November 1898 in the Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, Australia).