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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGoing Some: A Romance Of Strenuous Affection - Chapter 17
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Going Some: A Romance Of Strenuous Affection - Chapter 17 Post by :rvlawrence Category :Long Stories Author :Rex Beach Date :May 2012 Read :519

Click below to download : Going Some: A Romance Of Strenuous Affection - Chapter 17 (Format : PDF)

Going Some: A Romance Of Strenuous Affection - Chapter 17

CHAPTER XVII

Speed leaped down from the buckboard in which Carara had driven him and Glass over to the Centipede corral.

"I told you to jump out when we crossed that bridge," was Larry's reproach to him. "You could have broke your arm. Now--it's too late."

But Speed joined his friends with the most cheerful of greetings.

They responded nervously, shocked at his flippant assurance.

"This, Mr. Speed, is the scene of your defeat!" Gallagher made the introduction.

"And this is Mr. Skinner, no doubt?" Wally shook hands with the Centipede runner, who stared at him, refused to recognize his knowing wink, and turned away. "You think pretty well of yourself, don't you?" suggested Gallagher unpleasantly, and Speed laughed. There was no reason why he should not laugh. Either way his hour had come.

"I s'pose that satchel is full of money?" Gallagher pointed to the suitcase.

"On the contrary, it is full of clothes. It is I who contain the money." He thrust a cold palm into his pocket as Covington dragged him aside to advise him not to be an utter idiot, to throw his money away if he must, but to throw it to charity or to his friends.

"Yes," Glass seconded, lugubriously, "and hold out enough to buy me a _Gates Ajar in immortelles." But he said also, as if to himself, "He may be wrong in the burr, but he's a game little guy."

As the Centipede foreman counted the money, Helen came forward, announcing:

"You'll _have to win now, won't you, Mr. Speed? I've wagered five hundred dollars on you. I bet against Mr. Fresno." "Fresno! So he's out from cover at last, eh?"

"I haven't been under cover," spoke up the Californian. "I've been wise all along."

Chapin wheeled. "Does it seem to you quite the thing to bet against our man, Fresno?" he inquired, his glance full in the other's eyes.

"Why not? There's no sentiment in financial affairs."

Speed shrugged. "Our tenor friend will sing his way back to California." He turned with his thanks to Helen.

"The talkin'--machine!" interrupted Still Bill, suddenly. A group of men was approaching, who bore the phonogragh upon a dry-goods box, and deposited it in state beside the race-course. "Say, Gabby, s'pose you give us a tune, just to show she's in good order."

"Suspicious, eh?"

"You bet! There's a monologue I'd admire to hear. It's called-"

"We'll have _The Holy City_," said Willie, positively. "It's more appropriate."

So, with clumsy fingers, Gallagher fitted a record, then wound up the machine under the jealous eyes of the Flying Heart cowboys.

Drawn by the sound, Skinner, wrapped to the chin in his blanket, idled toward the crowd, affording Glass a sight of his face for the first time. The latter started as if stung, and crying under his breath, "Salted car-horse!" drew his employer aside.

"Say," he said, pointing a finger, "who's that?"

"Skinner, the man I run."

Glass groaned. "His name ain't Skinner; that's 'Whiz' Long. Six years ago I saw him win the Sheffield Handicap from scratch in nine-three." Then, as Speed did not seem to be particularly pressed, "Don't you understand, Wally? He's a pro; this is his game!"

To which the younger man replied, serenely and happily, "It's fixed."

"What's fixed?"

"The race. It' s all arranged--framed."

"Who framed it? How? When?"

"Sh-h! I did. Yesterday; by stealth; I fixed it."

"You win from 'Whiz' Long, and you can't run under fifteen?"

Wally nodded. "I told him that--it's all right."

"You told him?" Glass staggered. "It's all right? Say! Don't you know he's the fastest, crookedest, cheatingest, double- crossingest--why, he just came to feel you out!"

And Speed turned dizzy.

"And you fell for that old stuff!" Larry's voice was trembling with anger and disgust. "Why, that's part of his 'work.' He's double-crossed every runnin' mate he ever had. He'd cheat his mother. Wait!"

Skinner had left the crowd, and was seated now in the shade of the corral fence. He glanced upward from beneath his black brows as Larry reached and greeted him. "Hello, Whiz! I just 'made' you--" Then he shook his head.

"I haven't got you. My name is Skinner."

"Nix on that monaker," Glass smiled, indulgently. "I had a man in that Sheffield Handicap six years ago."

"You're in bad," asserted the cook steadily, "but assuming that my name _is Long--"

"I didn't say your name was 'Long.' I called you 'Whiz.'" Glass chuckled at the point as he scored it. "Now come in; be good."

Skinner darted a look toward Gallagher and the Centipede men gathered about the shrilling phonograph, stooped and tied his shoes, and breathed softly:

"Spiel!"

"This little feller I'm trainin'--does he win?"

Without an upward glance, Skinner inquired:

"Did the man you trained for the Sheffield Handicap win?"

"Never mind that. Does this frame-up go through?" It happened that Speed, drawn irresistibly, had come forward to hang upon every word, and now chose this moment to interrupt.

"It's all right, Mr. Skinner--" But Skinner leaped to his feet.

"Don't try anything like that!" he cried, in a terrible voice that brought Gabby Gallagher striding toward them.

"What's goin' on here? Are they try in' to fix you, Skinner?"

"Not a bit like it," Glass protested stoutly. "I only asked him which side he'd rather run on, and now he calls for police protection."

"Don't try it again, that's all!" the cook warned, sullenly.

"I reckon I'll take a hand in this!" Gallagher was in a fine rage, and would have fallen upon the offender had not Stover stepped in his path.

"I reckon you won't!" he said easily.

The two glared at each other, and were standing thus when Speed and his trainer moved gently off. They made their way to the house in comparative silence. "I--I made a mistake," said Wally.

"You've been jobbed like you was a baby," said Glass. "There ain't but one thing to do now. Go into the house and change your clothes, and when you get ready to run, get ready to run for your life--and mine." Over on the race-course Gallagher was inquiring:

"Who's goin' to send these y'ere athaletes away?"

"I am!" announced Willie without hesitation "Bein' perhaps the handiest man present with a weepon, I'm goin' to start this journey." He looked his foes squarely in the eyes. "Has anybody got objections to me?" The silence was nattering, and more loudly now, so that Skinner might hear, he added: "If your man tries to beat the gun, I'll have him wingin' his way to lands celestial before he makes his second jump."

Gallagher acknowledged the fairness of this proposition. "This race is goin' to be squar'," said he. "We're ready when y'all are."

J. Wallingford Speed stepped out of his clothes and into his silken running-suit. He was numb and cold. His hands performed their duties to be sure, but his brain was idle. All he knew was that he had been betrayed and all was lost. He heard Glass panting instructions into his ear, but they made no impression upon him. In a dull trance he followed his trainer back to the track, his eyes staring, his bones like water. Not until he heard the welcoming shout of the Flying Heart henchmen did he realize that the worst was yet to come. He heard Larry still coaching earnestly: "If you can't bite him, trip him up," and some one said:

"Are we ready?"

Glass held out his hand. "Good-bye, Mr. Speed."

Chapin came forward and spoke with artificial heartiness, "Good- luck, Wally; beat him at the start," and Covington followed.

"Remember," he cautioned, sadly, "what I told you about the start--it's your only chance."

"Why don't you fellows think about the finish of this race?" faltered the runner.

Then, in a voice broken with excitement, Helen Blake spoke, holding out her hand for a good-bye clasp. "Dear Mr. Speed," she said, "will you try to remember this?--remember to run before he does, and don't let him catch up to you. If you do that, I just _know you'll win."

This magnificent display of confidence nerved the athlete, and he smiled at her. He wished to speak, but dared not trust himself.

Gallagher was calling; so he went to the starting-point, whence he surveyed the course. There it lay, no more than a lane leading down between ranks of brown-faced men whose eyes were turned upon him. On the top rail of the corral perched Willie, revolver in hand. The babble of voices ceased, the strident laughter stilled, Speed heard the nervous Tustle of feminine skirts. Skinner was standing like a statue, his toe to the mark, his eyes averted.

"You'll start here and run a hundred yards out yonder to the tape," Gallagher announced.

"I refuse!" said Speed firmly.

For one breathless instant there was a hush of amazement, then a cry of rage. Still Bill Stover hurled the nearest man out of his path, and stode forward, his lean face ablaze. He wheeled and flung up his hand as if to check some hidden movement of Willie's.

"No voylence yet, Will! What d'you mean, Mr. Speed?"

Speed uttered what he knew was his final joke on earth. "I mean that I refuse to run straightaway. I'm an all-around athlete, and I must run all around something."

Amid shouts of confusion, those who had taken positions along the course came crowding back to the starting-point. Willie wrapped his legs about the top rail of the fence and drew a second revolver, while the two foremen bellowed indistinguishable threats at each other. Chapin lost no time in withdrawing his guests out of the turmoil, but Helen kept her place, her face chalky but her eyes very bright.

"What are you tryin' to hand us?" roared Gallagher.

Still Bill was quick to take a cue. "Don't get hectic!" said he. "There's nothin' in the articles about runnin' straight. Let 'em run around the corral." But at this suggestion every voice seemed to break out simultaneously.

"Humpy Joe ran straightaway," declared Gallagher.

"Yes, an' he kept at it," piped Willie. "I favor the idea of them runners comin' back where they start from."

"Listen, all of you," Speed announced. "I am going to run around and around and around this corral. If Mr. Skinner chooses to accompany me, he may trail along; otherwise I shall run alone."

"Never heerd of such a thing!" Gallagher was dancing in his excitement, but Skinner calmed him by announcing, curtly:

"I'll beat him any way he wants to run."

"You couldn't beat a rug," retorted Wally, and Glass suddenly smote his palms together, crying, blankly:

"I forgot the rug!"

"We don't want no arg'ment afterwards. Does the Centipede accept its fate?" Still Bill glared at the faces ringed about him.

"We do if Skinner says so."

"Twice around the corral," agreed Skinner. "But no accidents, understand? If he falls, I keep going."

Instantly there ensued a scramble for grand-stand seats; the cowboys swarmed like insects upon the stout fence of the corral.

"Then you'll start and finish here. Once y'all pass we'll stretch a string to yonder post, and the first man to bust it wins. Who's got a string?"

"Mr. Gallagher, won't you use my sash?" Helen quickly unfastened the long blue bow of ribbon from her cotton gown, and Gallagher thanked her, adding:

"Moreover, the winner gets it!"

For the first time, then, Skinner addressed Miss Blake.

"Hadn't you better make that the loser, miss? The winner gets the coin," and the assent came in a flashing smile from sky-blue eyes.

"Then the loser gets the ribbon!" Gallagher announced loudly, and made one end fast to the corral. "Which I call han'some treatment for Mr. Speed, an' only wish we might retain it at the Centipede as a remembrance. Are the runners ready?"

Those near the starting-line gave room. Skinner stepped quickly out from his blanket, and stamped his spikes into the soil; he raised and lowered himself on his toes to try his muscles. Speed drew his bath-robe from his shoulders and thrust it toward his trainer, who shook his head.

"Give it to Covington, Bo; I won't be here when you come back."

"Get on your marks!" The starter gave his order.

Speed set his spikes into the dirt, brought his weight forward upon his hands. He whispered something to Skinner. That gentleman straightened up, whereupon Willie cried for a second time:

"On your marks!" and again Skinner crouched.

"Get set!"

The crowd filled its lungs and waited. Helen Blake buried her nails in her rosy cold palms. Chapin and his friends were swayed by their heart-beats, while even Fresno was balanced upon his toes, his plump face eager. The click of Willie's gun sounded sharp as he cocked it.

Into the ear close by his cheek Speed again whispered an agonized--

"Don't forget to fall down!"

This time the cook of the Centipede leaped backward with an angry snarl, while the crowd took breath.

"Make him quit talking to me!" cried Skinner.

Gallagher uttered an imprecation and strode forward, only to have his way once more barred by Still Bill Stover. "He can talk if he wants to."

"There is nothing," Speed pointed out with dignity, "in the articles to forbid talking. If I wished to, I could sing. Yes, or whistle, if I felt like it."

"_On your marks!" came the rasping voice of Willie as Wally murmured to Skinner:

"Remember, I trust you."

Skinner ground his teeth; the tendons in his calves stood out rigidly.

"Get set!"

Once more the silence of death wrapped the beholders, and Willie raised his arm. Speed cast one lingering farewell glance to the skies, and said, devoutly: "What a beautiful, beautiful day!"

Now the starter was shaking in an ague of fury.

"Listen, you!" he chattered, shrilly. "I'm goin' to shoot twice this time--once in the air, and the next time at the nearest foot-runner. Now, _get set_!" and the speaker pulled trigger, whereupon Speed leaped as if the bullet had been aimed at him.

Instantly a full-lunged roar went up that rolled away to the foot-hills, and the runners sped out of the pandemonium, their legs twinkling against the dust-colored prairie. Down to the turn they raced. Speed was leading. Fright had acted upon him as an electric charge; his terror lent him wings; he was obsessed by a propelling force outside of himself. Naturally strong, lithe, and active, he likewise possessed within him the white-hot flame of youth, and now, with a nameless fear to spurn him on, he ran as any healthy, frightened young animal would run. At the second turn Skinner had not passed him, but the thud of his feet was close behind.

This unparalleled phenomenon surprised Lawrence Glass perhaps most of all. He had laid his plans to slip quietly out of the crowd under cover of the first confusion and lay his own course eastward; but when he beheld his protege actually in the lead, he remained rooted to his tracks. Was this a miracle? He turned to Covington, to find him dancing madly, his crutches waving over his head, in his eyes the stare of a maniac. His mouth was distended, and Glass reasoned that he must be shouting violently, but could not be sure. Suddenly Covington dashed to the turn whence the runners would be revealed as they covered the last half lap, for nothing was distinguishable through the fence, burdened by human forms, and Larry lumbered after him, ploughing his way through the crowd and colliding with the box upon which stood the Echo Phonograph, of New York and Paris. He hurled Mariedetta out of his path with brutal disregard, but even before he could reach his point of vantage the sprinters burst into the homestretch. Larry Glass saw it all at a glance--Speed was weakening, while Skinner was running easily. Nature had done her utmost; she could not work the impossible. As they tore past, Skinner was ahead.

The air above the corral became blackened with hats as if a flock of vultures had wheeled suddenly; the shriek of triumph that rose from the Centipede ranks warned the trainer that he had tarried too long. Heavily he set off across the prairie for New York.

The memory of that race awakened Speed from his slumbers many times in later years. When he found the brown shoulder of his rival drawing past he realized that for him the end of all things was at hand. And yet, be it said to his credit, he held doggedly to his task, and began to fight his waning strength with renewed determination. Down through the noisy crowd he pounded at the heels of his antagonist, then out upon the second lap. But now his fatigue increased rapidly, and as it increased, so did Skinner's lead. At the second turn Wally was hopelessly outdistanced, and began to sob with fury, in anticipation of the last, long, terrible stretch. Back toward the final turn they came, the college man desperately laboring, the cook striding on like a machine. Wally saw the rows of forms standing upon the fence, but of the shouting he heard nothing. Skinner was twenty yards ahead now, and flung a look back over his shoulder. As he turned into the last straightaway he looked back again and grinned triumphantly.

Then--J. Wallingford Speed gasped, and calling upon his uttermost atom of strength, quickened the strides of his leaden legs. Skinner had fallen!

A shriek of exultation came from the Flying Heart followers; it died as the unfortunate man struggled to his feet, and was off again before his opponent had overtaken him. Down the alley of human forms the two came; then as their man drew ahead for an instant or two, such a bedlam broke forth from Gallagher's crew that Lawrence Glass, well started on his overland trip, judged that the end had come.

But Skinner wavered. His ankle turned for a second time; he seemed about to fall once more. Then he righted himself, but he came on hobbling.

The last thirty yards contained the tortures of a lifetime to Wally Speed. His lungs were bursting, his head was rolling, every step required a separate and concentrated effort of will. He knew he was wobbling, and felt his knees ready to buckle beneath him, but he saw the blue, tight-stretched ribbon just ahead, and continued to lessen the gap between himself and Skinner until he felt he must reach out wildly and grasp at the other man's clothing. Helen's face stood out from the blur, and her lips cried to him. He plunged forward, his outflung arm tore the ribbon from its fastening, and he fell. But Skinner was behind him.

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CHAPTER XVIIIThe only thing in the world that the victorious Speed wanted was to lie down and stretch out and allow those glowing coals in his chest to cool off. But rough hands seized him, and he found himself astride of Stover's shoulders and gyrating about the Echo Phonograph in the midst of a war-dance. He kicked violently with his spiked shoes at the foreman bucked like a wild horse under the spur and dropped him, and he staggered out of the crowd a girl flew to him. "Oh, Wally," she cried, "I knew you could!" He sank to the
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CHAPTER XVIThe day of the race dawned bright and fair, without a cloud to mar its splendor. As the golden morning wore on, a gradual excitement became apparent among the cowboys, increasing as the hours passed, and as they prepared with joy to invade their rival's territory; nevertheless, the vigilant watch upon their champion did not relax. Theirs was an attitude of confidence tinged with caution. It was some time after midnight that Lawrence Glass had been the cause of a wild alarm that brought the denizens of the ranch out in night apparel. Jack Chapin, awakened by a cry for
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