University of Virginia Library


Page 53


A race-course has its music; at all events, we are
now among the flats and sharps. Here you see, on a
small scale, some of those characters who, on a more
extended field, and with better training, might become
famous financiers, or equally famous diplomatists. Here
you may encounter some inglorious Rothschild, and witness
instances of petty dexterity in policy which might
honor Metternich. Look you now, for example, at the
person who approaches us. His shabby exterior and
lounging manner would hardly fix your attention, unless
you were first assured that there was a meaning under
it; mark him closely, and you will discover a certain
significance in his eye and bearing which shows that he
has his object. He is not the stolid indifferent that he
seems to the casual observer. His eye, shrouding his
glances as he may under the heavy penthouse of his
bushy brows, is that of the hawk, as, wheeling aloft, he
casts sidelong glances upon the covey of partridge that
crouch along the bramble thicket. His quiet, cool, and
easy carriage; the half smile that plays about his mouth,
while his face presents a dull, unmeaning gravity; his
manner, at once listless and observant; his evident acquaintance
with everything and everybody; and the
fact that, while he seems to seek nobody, he is seldom
himself without a follower; all declare a character and
talent of his own. But, what sort of talent? The
scene in which he appears so entirely at home, and the
costume which he wears, present us with a clue to his
secret. He is one of the heroes of the turf. This,
though on a somewhat humble scale, is the scene of his


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victories. He knows every race-course and horse of
heels in Georgia; knows every jockey, and his dimensions;
and, a well-known sharp himself, his constant
study is to extend his acquaintance among the flats,
who are too numerous in every country to be so easily
canvassed. His province is, particularly, horseflesh.
He knows clean heels, at a glance. He reads the speed
of an animal in his eye, and its bottom in its quarters;
and knows the art, as well as any man, of so disguising
a horse as to deceive the eyes of other judges. This is
exclusively his world. His library is the stables; his
place of worship is the race-course; his prayer-book, the
little dirty envelop of loosely folded sheets, rudely
stitched together, in which he notes his bets, and records
his obligations. His costume speaks, however, for nothing
of his method, though it sufficiently declares his
character. His trousers are loose; hang about his hips,
without suspenders, something like a sailor's; and are
occasionally jerked up for the purpose of a brief interview
with the short and open vest that hangs somewhat
distantly above; the legs are thrust into his boot-tops,
which are themselves wofully in need of covering, torn
at the sides, and crushed down upon the ankles. His
hunting-shirt has seen like service; the fringe is dilapidated,
the cape half torn away. His cap, which rests
jauntily on one side of his head, has its own fractures;
the peak of it flapping, with a constant threat of departure,
over his left eye. The vest flies wide, in consequence
of the entire absence of its buttons. His
breast is partly bare, from a like condition of his shirtbosom;
and the greasy black kerchief, which is wrapped
about his neck like a rope, with the ends almost
hanging to his middle, has suffered the shirt-collar, on
one side, to escape entirely from its folds. You would
suppose him the poorest devil on the ground. But that
is his policy. He is a chevalier d'industrie. He lives
by his wits; but these are so much capital; they command
capital. Note him, where he goes, and you see
that he is still followed by another, whose externals are


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quite unlike his own. This is a tall, good-looking
stranger, from another county; well dressed,—rather
too much so,—and with quite a fashionable manner.
He finds the capital, while his pilot finds the wit. Still,
they do not seem to work together. The stranger does
not too closely follow on the heels of his associate. He
suffers him to keep ahead, and somewhat distant, but
never loses him from sight. He is simply convenient
when the fish is to be taken, and suffers the other to
proceed after his own designs without interruption or
communication. Let us follow, for a space, our first
acquaintance. How quietly and successfully he makes
his way among the crowd; without any effort at doing
the agreeable, he is yet everywhere received as a favorite.
He has a good-humored speech for all, and knows just
the subject which appeals most directly to the fancies or
the feelings of each. He is, in fact, a nobleman, from
whom more pretentious persons of this order might well
receive a few lessons.

“Well, Burg,” he says to one, whose ear he first
tickles with the end of the whip which he carries, and
who turns only at the voice of the speaker, “so `Betsey
Wheeler' died of the staggers?”

“Ah! Ned; yes. She did, poor thing, she did!”

“Good heels had `Betsey' for a quarter stretch. That
was a most beautiful run she made with Latham's `Buzzard.'”

“Worn't it, Ned?” responded the man addressed,
with a delighted expression of countenance, as he clasped
the hand of the new-comer. “Ah! she was a critter.
My darter hain't got over the loss of the mar' yet.”

“She was a mare!” was the emphatic reply of Ned.
“She hasn't left many with cleaner heels behind her,

The latter was greatly flattered.

“Ah, Ned,” said he, “you're the man to know when
a horse is a horse!”

“You've got her filly?”

“Sold her to Captain Barry.”


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“Ah! You shouldn't have done so. Is he here

“Yes, I reckon.”

“Has he the filly yet?”

“Yes, that he has; and will run her, too; for he
counts her about as good flesh for a brush as any four-year
old in the county.”

“If she's like her dam, Burg, she can't help it!”

“As like as two peas from the same hull; only, I'm
thinking, she has a little more bone than `Betsey.'”

“So much the better. That's where `Betsey' failed.”

No more was said between the parties. Our acquaintance
passed on: the next moment his follower came up
with him, sufficiently close to catch the whispered sentence—

“I put a spoke in there that'll help to make the
wheel. Barry's a fool! and Burg will tell him everything
I've said.”

The other falls back, and our jockey pursues his way,
until, stopping short, he applies his whip, with a gentle
cut, to the shins of a person; who, leaning against a
sapling, betrays but little interest in what passes. He
turns gently round at the equivocal salutation, and, as
he encounters the features of the assailant, his words
and looks of defiance give place to those of banter and

“Halloo, there, monkey! ain't you afeard of that tail
of your'n getting in the wolf-trap?”

“No, Jake; for I know you hain't got the teeth to
raise the skin of that varmint.”

“Hain't I, then? Just you try it, then, with another
sort of look in your face, and see if I ain't a peeler.”

“Will you peel?”

“Won't I, then?”

“Jake, my boy, I've come here to-day to strip the
skin off you altogether.”

“You! Tain't in your skin to do it, Ned.”

“Yes, or there's no snakes. I'm here with the best
nag at a heat that ever was seed in Hillabee.”


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“Oh, shut up! Where's the cow?”

“She's out in the bushes; I'll show her, when the
time comes. They call her `Graystreak;' and she does
go it like lightning. Now, didn't I hear, from some old
buzzard that never found out the value in a horse until
he come to be carrion, that Lazy Jake Fisher had something
of a nag, with three legs, or more?”

“Didn't you hear? Yes, that you did, Ned Ramsey;
and there the critter stands; `Crazy Kate,' they call
her; but she does her running sensible. There's no
crazy in that. She's the mare to strike your `Graystreak'
all in a heap, and take the shine out of her, or
any animal you ever crossed.”

“What!” said the other, following the direction, and
with the most contemptuous curl of the lip, and wave of
the uplifted whip. “What! you don't mean that poor
old bay, yonder, that looks as if she hadn't shed hair, or
tasted corn, since the beginning of the Seminole war?
Why, Jake, the poor beast looks more like lying down
on her last legs, and begging a judgment upon her
master. You've starved her, Jake, I reckon; and she
only keeps on her legs by the help of her halter. Just
you let down the critter's head now, and all natur'
couldn't keep her up till you'd half curried her.”

“Say no more, Ned, till the run's over. We always
know'd you was a nice person to say hasty things of
other men's cattle. If `Crazy Kate' can't stand, it's
because she prefers to run. But we'll go and look at
this `Graystreak' of your'n; and I'll tell you, when I
set eyes on her, what we'll be doing. I didn't know you
had such a horse. When did you get her, and whar's
she from?”

“She comes from Mississippi. I traded for her with
a man named Myers, that brought her out. But she's
to pay for herself, yit; and that's one reason why I'm
greedy for Hillabee. So get ready to shell out handsome.”

“Yes, empty the chist, Jake! Go your death on the
bay mar', old fellow. I don't reckon she'll find her


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match on this ground to-day.” So cried one of his

“I reckon you think yourself a judge of horseflesh,
Owens?” quietly said Ned Ramsey.

“I reckon, then, I do. I ought, by this time!” was
the answer.

“Well! if a man's judgment's worth anything, it's
worth what he's got in his pocket.”

“Guess it is; and I'm willing to come down a trifle
on Jake's bay mar', though I never seed your critter.”

“That's coming out, like a man. But you shall see

“On sight, on seen, same to me. I'll go all I've got
on the bay, whether or no!”

“That's right! into him, Charley Owens. He's a
suck,” cried one of the bystanders.

“He'll dive, if you shoot,” said another.

“A suck! Yes! that's it,” responded Ned Ramsey,
very coolly. “Ready for any bait, boys, with a swallow
that never refuses. I'll dive too, that's cla'r; but you
may let drive first, and I'll carry off your load if I can.
Load for buck, if you please. The larger the shot, the
better. Here's `Graystreak' agin `Crazy Kate,' or agin
the field. Who cares? The nag's got to be paid for.
Here's steam agin wind! I'm wanting money mightily.
Who'll sweat for the sake of charity? Here he stands;
the Georgy railroad agin, besides a line of stages.
Whar's the passengers?”

“Into him, Charley Owens!”

“Deep as I can go,” said Charley, pulling out a
greasy pocketbook, and laying bare its contents; no
great matter; in bills and silver, some nine dollars
thirty-seven cents, chiefly Georgia and Carolina currency.
It was instantly covered from one of the pockets
of Ned Ramsey, who cries out for more customers.

“But whar's the gray mar' all this time?” demanded
Lazy Jake.

“It's a bite!”

“A bite! It's your bite, then,” answered Ramsey,


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at this outcry. “You've jaw enough, I reckon, for any
sort of bite. As for the critter, look out, boys, there
she comes. Yonder's the gray; a foal of the hurricane,
sir'd by a streak of lightning.”

“Hurrah for Ned Ramsey; he can go it!”

“Graystreak” was now brought up by a groom.

“Thar she stands, ready to fly. Thar's legs for you,
and a head and neck to make a pretty gal jealous.
There's no want of heels whar the sire was the lightning.
No want of wind, with the hurricane for a dam!
Ain't she a beauty, Jake?”

“A decent-looking thing enough, but not a crease
to `Crazy Kate.'”

“You say it? Well, chalk up your figure!”

“Cover that V.”

“Thar it is, and I'm willing to face its brother.”

“It's a go!” cried a huge-handed fellow, who called
Jake “uncle,” unfolding a greasy bank-note of the same

“What the dickens!” cried another, interposing;
“can't I have a grab at some of them pretty picters?
I believe in Uncle Jake, too. I've seen `Crazy Kate's'
heels before, at a three-mile stretch, and I'll back her
agin a five myself.”

“Will you!—you're a bold fellow,” answered Ramsey,
as he began to fish up the contents of his pockets.
It seemed low-water mark with him, and his bank-notes
began to give place to a curious assortment of commodities,
which he brought up very deliberately, and without
any blushing, from the capacious depths of two enormous
breeches-pockets. There were knife and gimlet
and fishhook; whistle, button, and tobacco; gun-screw,
bottle-stopper, and packthread, and a dozen or more of
pea-nuts. It was only here and there that the pieces of
money turned up; a quarter eagle, a few Mexicans, and
a couple of dollars, in small silver, making their appearance
somewhat reluctantly, and contrasting oddly enough
with the other possessions of our jockey. These were
soon brought together, and, the sum ascertained, it was


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quickly covered by friends of Jake Owens, who had a
faith in his creature. Owens was quite a knowing one
in the estimation of his friends, and so indeed was Ramsey;
but “Crazy Kate” had shown herself a “buster,
and her very loggish appearance led the crowd to expect
a great deal from an animal whose own looks promised
so little, while her sagacious owner seemed to expect
from her so much. Her skin really looked unhealthy;
she carried her head low, almost between her legs; and
her eye drooped sadly, as if with a consciousness of the
disappointment which she was about to give her friends.
But all this was regarded as deception by the backers of
Uncle Jake. It was known what arts the cunning sportsman
employed to disarm the doubts of the gullible: and
the matted mane of “Crazy Kate;” the coarse, disordered
hair; sorted, rough hide, and sullen carriage,
were only regarded as results of a shrewd training and
preparation, by which the more completely to take in the
“flats.” Very different was the appearance of “Graystreak.”
She did look like a thing of speed and mettle.
She was clean-limbed and light of form, with a
smooth, well-rubbed skin, and such a toss of the head,
and such a bright glitter of the eye, that every one saw,
at a glance, that her own conceit of her abilities was not
a whit less than the conviction of her master in her
favor. But this really made against her, in the opinions
of the betting portion of the multitude, most of whom
had, at one season or other of their lives, been taken in
by just such a dowdy-looking beast as that of Lazy Jake
Owens. Ramsey relied upon this result, or the appearance
of “Graystreak” had been less in her favor.

“I reckon,” said Ramsey, looking around him, “that
I've hooked all the bait in these diggings.”

“If you had anything that a chap might kiver,” cried
a greasy citizen, thrusting himself forward, and holding
out a couple of shinplasters, of single dollar denominations.

“And who says I hain't?” answered Ramsey, as, with


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his forefinger and thumb, he drew from his vest pocket
a small supply of similar I O U's.

“Well, kiver them!

“A short horse is soon curried.”

“Are you man enough, Ned Ramsey, to curry a long
one?” cried one from the crowd, who now pressed forward
and appeared amid the ring. His presence caused
a sensation. It was well calculated to do so. He was
small of person; a lively, dapper-looking person, seemingly
of gentle birth and of occupations which implied
no labor;—a smooth, pale cheek, and a bright, restless
black eye. His hair was long, and fell from under a
green cloth cap, from which hung a gay green tassel;
and several great rings might be seen upon his fingers.
But the rest of his equipment was what fixed every eye.
It consisted of a close-fitting jacket, with a short tail
like that of a light dragoon, and small-clothes, all of
scarlet, after the fashion of an English jockey, and his
white-topped boots completed the equipment. The habit
had been copied from an English print; and a good leg,
and rather good figure, though petit, had justified, in
the eye of vanity, the strange departure from all the
customs of the country.

“It's Captain Jones Barry,” says one of the spectators,
in an under tone, to another who had made some
inquiry: “He's rich enough to make any sort of fool
of himself, and nobody see the harm of it.” At the
same moment, it could be seen that Ned Ramsey exchanged
significant looks with the well-dressed stranger,
who had been his shadow through the morning, as if
disposed to say, “This is our man.”

“I say, Ned Ramsey,” cried Barry, “are you man
enough to curry a large horse? I've seen your nag;
she's a pretty creature, that's true; but I know something
of Jake Owens's `Crazy Kate,' and I don't care
if I could put a customer on her heels, against your'n.”

“You don't, eh! well, Squire Barry, you're a huckleberry
above my persimmon, but I reckon something can
be done. I believe in `Graystreak,' and will go my


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death on her. 'Twon't take much to bury me, that's
true; but what thar is—”

“There! can you roll out against that?” asked Barry,
as he laid a fifty dollar note upon his palm.

“'Twill go hard to drain me dry, but I ain't to be
bluffed, neither; and though it takes from what I put
away to pay for the nag, here's at you!” and the required
amount was brought forth; but this time it came
from a side pocket, in the coat of Ramsey, who, it was
observed, seemed to find some difficulty in detaching it
from its place of security. Lazy Jake Owens was not
insensible to this demonstration. It seemed to open to
him new views of the case, and he now proceeded to reexamine
the strange animal upon which so good a judge
as Ned Ramsey had so much to peril. But the new-comer,
whom we shall know hereafter as Squire Barry,
was not similarly impressed with the proceeding.

“Too much,” said he, “for `Crazy Kate,' Ned Ramsey!
I have a nag of my own, as nice a little bit of filly
as is on the ground to-day. I reckon you never saw
or heard of her. Her name was `Betsey Wheeler,' a
crack mare of this county, and her sire was a New Orleans
horse, whose name I now forget.”

“I know the mar' you speak of,” answered Ramsey,
looking up, but without appearing to discover the man
Burg, who stood behind Barry, and to whom he had
spoken of this same mare an hour before in terms of exceeding
admiration. “The mar', `Betsey Wheeler,' was
famous at a hunt. I can't say for the filly; I don't
know that I ever seed her. But you can tell me what
about her, Squire?”

“She's mine, and I believe in her; I believe in her
against your `Graystreak,' there: that I do!”

“Well, Squire, you have a right to believe in your
nag; she's your own, and you know her. `Graystreak's'
mine, though not quite paid for yit, and I've a
notion that I've a right to believe in her; she's got the
heels to believe in. But what's the use of believing
when every pictur (bank-note) that you have has got its


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fellow already? If you was to go your belief very
I couldn't say a word agin it!”

“What say you to another fifty?”

“It's tough, but let's see your filly; if she's much like
her dam,” hesitating.

“What! scared, old fellow?”

“No! not exactly skeared, but a little dubous! I
know'd the dam; she was a clean-heeled critter.”

Looking up, he pretended to discover Burg, the former
owner of the filly, for the first time. “Ah!” said
he, “Burg, you're a keener.” Barry looked gratified.
He exulted in the notion that he had bluffed the bully;
and Ramsey walked forward, with a side-long air,
switching his whip as he went with the manner of a
man half discomfited. He was pinned suddenly by Lazy
Jake Owens, who had just returned from a reinspection
of “Graystreak.”

“Ned,” said the latter in a whisper, calling him
aside, “I see your game! We've got but three V's on
this brush; if you'll let me, I'll take the fence and say

“What, hedge?” said Ramsey; “no you won't!”

“It's as you please; but, if this bet's to hold, you don't
do Jones Barry.”

“You'll not put your spoon into my dish, Jake?”

“I won't be dished myself if I can help it.”

“Well! I'll let you off, if you'll let your nag run.
Keep your tongue, and you may keep your V's.”

“It's a bargain—mum's the word!”

“Do you know this filly, Jake?” said Ramsey, half
aloud, as he saw Barry approaching.

“A nice critter to the eye, but I never seed her run.
Her dam was a beauty for a mile stretch or so.”

“There she stands!” cried Barry; “I'll back her
against the field for any man's hundred.”

“I'll take you!” quickly responded the stranger, who
was Ramsey's shadow.

“Who's he?” inquired Ramsey, in a whisper of Barry


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“I don't know him at all,” answered Barry. “But
I reckon he'll show his money.”

“I'm ready to cover, sir,” was the remark of the
stranger, showing his money just as if he had heard the
whispered reply of Barry to Ramsey. The bet was
taken down, and the bill covered in the hands of a third
person. Ramsey did not linger to behold these proceedings,
but occupied himself in a close examination of
Barry's filly. The eye of the latter, with an exultation
which it could not conceal, beheld the grave expression
in that of the jockey. He saw the head of the
latter shaken ominously.

“Isn't she a beauty, Ramsey? I call her the `Fair
Geraldine,' after the most beautiful lady in the world.”

“You're right, to pay the filly such a compliment.
She's the most sweetest little critter! Will you sell her,

“Sell her; no! not for any man's thousand dollars.”

“You'll not get that, I reckon. But she's got the
heels; that's cla'r! she'll run!”

“Will she? well! Can she do `Graystreak?'”

“N—o! I don't exactly think she can.”

“You don't? well! Can `Graystreak' do her?”

“Y-e-s! I reckon.”

“You reckon? well! If such is your reckoning, I suppose
you'r ready to match your mind with your money.
What'll you go, on the match?”

“Well, squire, you see I'm quite clear up. Bating
what I've put aside to pay for `Graystreak,' I don't
suppose I've got more than a single Mexican or two.
I might raise three, or, prehaps, five upon a pinch; but
I shouldn't like to go more.”

“Be it five, then,” said Barry, eagerly; and the seemingly
reluctant pieces were fished up to the light out of
the assorted contents of the deep pockets of the jockey.

“Now,” said Barry, tauntingly; “what's the value of
a horse, if you're afraid to risk on her? You say you've
got money to pay for `Graystreak?' How much did you
give for her?”


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“Oh! that's telling, squire.”

“Well, I don't care to know; but how much have
you made up towards paying?”

“Well, a matter of seventy-five or eighty dollars left.”

“Which might be a hundred. But whatever it is, Ned
Ramsey, I'm clear that if you valued the heels of your
horse at all; if, indeed, you were not frightened, you'd
see it all covered before you'd be bantered off the

“Squire, you're a little too hard upon a fellow,” was
the somewhat deprecating reply.

“Oh! it's the turn against you, then, Ramsey,” was
the retort of Barry. “You had the laugh and banter
against everybody before. Well! you can taste the feeling
for yourself. Now, if you're a man, I banter you to
empty your pockets on the match; every fip down; and
I cover it, fip for fip, and eagle for eagle. I'm your
man, Ramsey, though you never met with him before.”

It was with the air of the bully, desperate with
defeat and savage with his apprehensions, that Ramsey
dashed his hands into his bosom, drawing forth, as he
replied, a pocketbook which had hitherto been unshown—

“I'm not to be bantered by any man, though I lose
every picayune I have in the world. I'm a poor man,
but, make or break, thar goes. No man shall bluff me
off the track, though the horse runs off her legs. Thar,
squire, you've pushed me to the edge of the water, and
now I'll go my death on the drink. Thar! Count! Ef
my figuring ain't out of the way, thar's one hundred
and five dollars in that heap!”

“That's the notch,” said a bystander, as the bills
were counted.

“Covered!” cried Barry, with a look of exultation.
He had obtained a seeming victory over the cock of the
walk. The more sagacious “Lazy Jake Owens,” however,
muttered to himself, with the desponding air of
one who was compelled to acknowledge the genius of
the superior:


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“A mighty clever chap, that Ned Ramsey, by the
hokey! His mar' is paid for this day, if he never paid
for her before.”

Barry, cock-sure of the result, now slapped his pocketbook
with the flat of his hand, as he lifted it over his
head, and cried to the circle around him:

“There is more money to be had on this match,
gentlemen. Here are a couple of bran new C's (hundreds)
ready for company. Who covers them against
the `Fair Geraldine?”

The stranger, the distant shadow of Ramsey, again
modestly approached with two similar bank-notes already
in his hands. The bets were closed.

“I must find out who that stranger is,” muttered
Ramsey, in the hearing of Lazy Jake Owens and Barry.
The latter did not seem to hear or to attend to him;
but, as he walked away, Lazy Jake whispered to Ramsey:

“If so be you ain't pretty well knowing to each other
a'ready, Ned.”

The latter simply drew down the corner of his eye,
in a way that Lazy Jake understood, and the parties
dispersed in search of other associates and objects. The
scene we have witnessed was but a sample of that
which was in progress, on a smaller scale, perhaps, all
over the field. It needs no farther description.