The Flying Fifty-five - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Flying Fifty-five ebook

Edgar Wallace

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Edgar Wallace was an English novelist, journalist and playwright, who was an enormously popular writer of detective, suspense stories, and practically invented the modern „thriller”. His popularity at the time was comparable to that of Charles Dickens – one of Wallace’s publishers claimed that a quarter of all books read in England were written by him. „The Flying Fifty-five” is a novel set in the horse racing community and follows the ups and downs of turf life. It’s all great fun and Wallace keeps the action moving along swiftly, as he always did. Although he takes us into some of the intricacies of betting in the horse racing arena, it is not so tedious that you can’t get through those sections, but otherwise a wonderfully written, funny and happy ending.

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Liczba stron: 432

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Contents

I. THE GIRL TRAINER

II. THE NEW HEAD LAD

III. WHY STELLA GAMBLED

IV. A BACKER OF HORSES

V. THE WINNER OF THE TRIAL STAKES

VI. THE NEW LAD BETS

VII. LORD FONTWELL GIVES HIS ORDERS

VIII. THE COVENTRY STAKES

IX. THE RACE FOR THE COVENTRY

X. THE HONOURABLE CLAUDE BARBERRY

XI. “HELL AND IRON” AT HOME

XII. THE HUNT CUP

XIII. AN UNWELCOME VISITOR

XIV. BILL GOES HOME

XV. THE SUNDERFIELD COLLIERY

XVI. A MORNING GALLOP

XVII. BILL GIVES ADVICE

XVIII. HER LADYSHIP’S GUESTS

XIX. MR. URQUHART GIVES AN OPINION

XX. FOLLY FARM

XXI. THE WONDERFUL CHARLES

XXII. THE STEWARD’S CUP

XXIII. STELLA WINS MONEY

XXIV. THE STORY OF URQUHART’S SON

XXV. “A DIVORCE HAS BEEN ARRANGED”

XXVI. SIR JACQUES CHANGES HIS MIND

XXVII. SIR JACQUES MAKES A DISCOVERY

XXVIII. A REJECTED PROPOSAL

XXIX. THE CHAMPAGNE STAKES

XXX. JEBSON’S CLUB

XXXI. THE GAYNESS OF AUNT ELIZA

XXXII. THE SAFE IN THE WALL

XXXIII. RACING EDUCATION

XXXIV. THE ARRIVAL OF MRS. BROWN

XXXV. THE RUNNING OF TEN SPOT

XXXVI. THE PORTRAIT

XXXVII. A WRONG NOMINATION

XXXVIII. GOLDY LOCKS

XXXIX. “SEVEN HILLS—NOT QUALIFIED.”

XL. MR. JEBSON RECEIVES A COMMISSION

XLI. FINDING A JOCKEY

XLII. JEBSON MAKES A BIT

XLIII. AN OFFER OF ASSISTANCE

XLIV. THE JUBILEE

XLV. LADY SEMBERSON PAYS A VISIT

XLVI. THE NEW APPRENTICE

XLVII. THE RACE FOR THE DERBY STAKES

XLVIII. THE END

I. THE GIRL TRAINER

STELLA BARRINGTON came through Hanging Man Gap at a hard canter, and swinging through the larch grove, checked her hack at the foot of the steep white road that led to the Downs at Fenton.

It may be cloudless in all the world, but over the wealds of Sussex there is always a mountainous cumulus to give height to the heavens and just that relief to the deep blue of a June sky which the landscape artist desires.

Below her, in the valley, the fields were yellow with ripening corn, and about her the green spaces of the Downs, scarred white here and there where the ancient quarry-men had bitten into their smooth flanks, were splashed with the amethyst of flowering rhododendrons.

She sat astride of her horse, her feet hanging clear of the stirrup-irons, as he plodded up the road. Her mind was so completely occupied that she saw none of the comedy and drama of the Downs, which ordinarily exercised a complete and absorbing fascination over her.

A brown hawk dropped stiffly into the grasses almost under her horse’s feet. There was a faint squeal and presently he rose, flapping heavily, with something that squirmed and wriggled in his sharp talons–a rabbit raced across the white road with a lithe black stoat hot on his trail. The old horse pricked his ears but went steadily on, and the girl saw neither hunter nor hunted.

Presently she reached the rolling table-land and, finding her irons again, set her mount galloping toward a group of four horsemen who were walking their mounts in a wide circle.

Three of the horses were ridden by stable-boys, the fourth and coarser-looking type of horse mounted a young man, whose long nose and small eyes and his trick of holding his head back when he spoke, gave him a curiously rat-like appearance. Him Stella favoured with a curt nod.

“Take the horses along to the five-furlong post, Jebson,” she said. “Jump them off and come along at racing pace.”

“If you don’t mind my saying so, miss, you’re rather overdoing it,” said Jebson. “Mr. Baldwin would have given them a half-pace gallop to-day.”

“What Mr. Baldwin did and what I wish to do are entirely two different matters,” said the girl coldly, and the young man scowled.

“Mr. Baldwin is one of the best trainers in the country,” he complained.

“So I’ve heard you say,” said Stella. “Now, please do as I tell you,” and then to the lads: “Go to the five-furlong post, boys, and you, Higgins, bring along Fifty-Five as fast as he can go. Do you understand?”

“Yes, miss,” piped the budding jockey, and cantered away across the rolling downs.

For a moment Jebson hesitated.

“These horses are going to break down,” he said, “and I shall be the laughing-stock of every stable in England. They are over-trained as it is–Fifty-Five is all legs and ribs. A head lad is supposed to have something to say––”

“Well, you say it, don’t you?” said Stella almost savagely. She brought her horse round with a jerk that made him prance. “Jebson, I’m going to tell you that I’ve had just as much advice from you as I want,” she said. “You have no faith in the horses and no faith in the stable, and I think you can go back to Mr. Baldwin just as soon as you like.”

“That’ll be now!” said Jebson loudly. “I reckon it is beneath my dignity to stay in a one-horse little stable like yours. Besides, what does a girl know about training race-horses?”

Stella made no reply, nor did she turn her head as the disgruntled head lad rode slowly away.

Her eyes were fixed on the horses that were making their way to a small white post which represented the five-furlong start. Near where she stood was another pole, also painted white, which answered for the winning-post.

Presently the boys turned and manoeuvred their horses into line. She took a stopwatch from one pocket and a handkerchief from another. A wave of the handkerchief, and the three horses jumped off together. There was no doubt about the pace. She was so good a judge, that she could have told within a second the time they occupied covering the first three furlongs. Presently they flashed past her, the chestnut half a length in advance, and she snapped down the key of her watch and looked at its big face.

“Fifty-nine seconds–dead!” she sighed, and it was a happy sigh.

The pace the race-horses had been going carried them a quarter of a mile before their tiny riders could pull them into a walk and she cantered after them.

“Take them back to the stables,” she said. “Higgins, I will come along and see Fifty-Five–Jebson has left us.”

There was no sign of sorrow in the three grinning faces that were turned to hers, for Jebson was something of a bully and a little too free with his whip.

As Stella rode slowly down the hill she could see the bobbing cap of the head lad passing through the thick undergrowth in the direction of Fontingwell. He was taking the short cut to the southern road, and she was puzzled to account for his movement, for the course he was taking led him away from Fenton Manor.

However, she had little time to speculate upon her discharged employee, for she had no sooner struck the main road, and turned the hack’s head in the direction of home, before her attention became wholly absorbed in a remarkable happening. Round a sharp bend of the road came a running man. He was too far off at first for her to distinguish his features, but she guessed him to be a tramp, for he was coatless and even at this distance appeared unkempt. He was running at a steady jog-trot and seemed to be in a hurry. The reason she was soon to discover. Hot in pursuit came three men.

She pulled her horse to a halt and watched.

Nearer and nearer came the fugitive. He was bare-headed and dressed in shirt and trousers, and she saw that he was young. The men who followed him were more obviously of the tramp class; great hulking fellows who roared at their victim to stop. One of them stooped as he ran, picked up a stone and sent it whizzing past the head of the first man, but he did not so much as look round. Then he saw her, and to her alarm he came diagonally across the road toward her;

“Lend me your crop!”

His tone was imperious and almost mechanically she held out the heavy-handled whip she carried.

“Thanks!”

He almost snatched it from her hand and turned. His pursuers halted too, and seemed undecided, then she saw them searching the ground for stones.

Before they could put their plan into operation, the first tramp was on them. The thong of the whip whistled, there was a crack and a yell. Then up came the horn handle; left and right it fell and the party broke, taking to the fields on either side and running desperately.

II. THE NEW HEAD LAD

SHE heard a chuckle of laughter and the man came back to her, holding out the whip.

“I’m very sorry to bother you,” he said. “It was quite an unexpected meeting, I assure you. I left them on the Cambridge road and never expected to see them again. They must have stolen a ride on the rail.”

His voice was pleasant, the voice of an educated man, and yet the dirty trousers, the worn boots and the tattered shirt open at the throat, to show the mahogany-coloured breast, were the clothes of a tramp. He would have been good-looking in spite of his unshaven face, if it had not been for a black eye and a swollen lip, and seeing her curiously surveying this evidence of battle, he explained:

“I had a little fight with two of them at Cambridge–the third is a reinforcement they picked up on the road. They stole my shirt. This,” he pointed to the disreputable garment he wore,” belongs to the fat man. I hammered him until he pulled it off, and it took me a whole day to wash it.”

He was searching his pocket as he spoke and presently he found what he sought. A limp cigarette and a box of matches, and she watched him, amused and interested, as he solemnly tapped the end of the cigarette until it was more or less rigid and applied a light to its end.

“Are you ‘on the road’?” she asked, using the term that implied a tramp.

He looked at her and at the road. “At present,” he said. “I ought really to be in the ditch and should have been but for your kind help. I beg your pardon! You mean am I a tramp? I am.” His one undamaged eye was smiling at her. She had never met so friendly and self-possessed a tramp before.

“You speak like a gentleman–were you in the war?”

He nodded.

“An officer?”

He nodded again and she frowned.

“It is not nice to see people like you ‘on the road’–but I know how hard it is just now––”

“Have you the time?” he interrupted her, and she looked at the watch on her wrist.

“Ten o’clock,” she said, and he drew a long breath.

“I’ve got four hours,” he said. “I’m sorry I interrupted you. Yes, I’m afraid many good chaps are having a pretty thin time of it, but personally sympathy is wasted on me. I’m enjoying myself.”

He did not look as if he had been enjoying himself.

“Where have you come from?” she asked.

“Edinburgh,” was the startling reply. “I left last Thursday.”

She gasped. “You walked?”

He nodded again and she saw the amusement in his eyes.

“My name is Willie the Walker. It’s a fact; all the fraternity know me by that name, and the rum thing is that they’ve hit upon my real name, which is William to my maiden aunt and Bill to my friends.”

All the time he was admiring her and wondering who she was. Her beauty, face and carriage had taken his breath away, and he thought he had never seen a woman who sat a horse so gracefully as she. Stella, for her part, was thinking rapidly. Her heart bled for the gallant soul whom competition had forced to the highway; she knew the type so well. They were men who were by temperament and training wholly unfitted for business pursuits.

“Are you going to Crayleigh?” she asked.

Crayleigh was the mecca of impecunious ex-soldiers, for it was the seat of the Earl of Fontwell.

“Ye-es,” he replied, and she understood.

“Lord Fontwell is very good to service men,” she said. “They say he never turns an old soldier away–though you’re not very old. Do you know anything about horses?”

“Everything,” replied Walking Willie immodestly.

“Dare she do it?” she asked herself, and took the plunge. “I want a head lad,” she said rapidly. “I own a small training stable and my head lad has left. The pay, I’m afraid, is very poor, but I can give you comfortable quarters.”

He shifted uncomfortably on his feet. “Shall I–or shan’t’ I?” He was speaking to himself.

“Yes, I’ll do it! And thank you, Miss––”

“Barrington,” she said. Already she was regretting her impulsive offer. What would Aunt Eliza say?

“Come along,” she said briskly, and walked her horse in the direction of Fenton Manor, and Bill strode out by her side, smoking valiantly and stopping now and again to laugh to himself.

“Why are you laughing–William?” she asked as they turned through the gateway that led to the stables.

“Bill–call me Bill,” urged the tramp; “don’t be a domineering aunt, Miss Barrington!”

“Don’t say ‘domineering aunt,’” said Stella a little grimly. “I’ve got to interview one in a few seconds.”

*     *

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