SACKVILLE MAYNE was still sober, although it was nearly two. The marble cloc_n the Mornington Arms Hotel recorded the hour and the phenomenon. Years o_inous environment has not yet robbed Mayne of the manorial air, although th_ecessary acres for the part were gone long ago.
Neither had Mayne quite lost the art of dining. He had done ample justice t_he dinner presented by his peripatetic host the Duke de Cavour. The wine_eft nothing to be desired.
"I am charmed," said the Duke in quite passable English, "charmed to have me_ou again. Our last foregathering in Naples was many years ago."
For Mayne's part he had forgotten the incident entirely. The Duke's memory wa_vidently more trustworthy than his own. All Mayne knew was that he had bee_n Naples at the time his noble host had mentioned. The latter, an elderl_uck with small eyes and a ludicrous pointed moustache, nodded over his glass.
"Those were pleasant days," he said, "twenty years ago! Dear me! And yet whe_ saw you in the billiard room last night I recognised you instantly. And wha_orses you used to drive in those days!"
Mayne smiled. The Duke had touched him on a tender spot. As the fond mothe_lings to the reprobate son who spells the family ruin, so did Mayne stil_ove the equine flesh which had been his destruction.
"I've come down in the world," he said. "Egad, how I manage to live upon m_altry little place is a mystery even to myself. But I still continue to hav_ bit of blood about me. It isn't every man who can boast of having bred an_un two Derby winners."
"The old Godolphin blood, I presume?" suggested the Duke.
Mayne nodded. There was a bond of union between himself and his host. All h_new about the latter he had gleaned that day from the _Almanach de Gotha_.
The exclusive volume in question recorded the fact that de Cavour was a_nthusiast where racing was concerned. In a hazy kind of way, he wondered wha_o great a man was doing in Mornington.
"You race still?" the Duke asked.
"Oh no, I can't afford it. I only wish I could. I've got a colt entered fo_he Royal Clarendon Stakes at Oldmarket— run-off next week, you know—but _hall have to forfeit. Bar Sinister can beat any horse in the race bar th_avourite—ay, and even beat Rialto too, if wound up."
"Come, my friend, you are not so poor as all that."
Mayne smiled into his glass. Good wine develops the philosophical side of _an's nature. It also taps the well-springs of confidence.
"Indeed I am," he said; "and yet with a little capital, I think I could see m_ay clear. I would sell my soul for £1,000."
"Men are prepared to take big risks for sums like that."
"I know it. I am prepared to undertake anything short of manslaughter."
The Duke paused in the manipulation of a cigarette in his slim fingers. For a_lderly, gouty gentleman with a suggestion of apoplexy in the region of th_arotid, he had remarkably clean sinewy hands.
"I can show you how to make £1,000 with no risk at all," he said quietly. "Al_ou have to do is to take the money and hold your tongue."
"How pleasant! And the conditions?"
"Nothing more than the loan of your colt Bar Sinister. You will permit me t_ind the money for the stakes, and the horse will be sent up to-morrow to _table I shall mention, and in due course he will win the Royal Clarendon."
"Without a month's preparation the thing is impossible."
The Duke smiled. There was a strange light in his beady eyes.
"There is many a slip, of course," he responded. "Anyway, it matters ver_ittle whether Bar Sinister wins or not. That is a mere detail in my scheme.
The question is, can I have the horse if I deposit the money?"
"Now you ask the question, of course you may."
"Good. Mind, this is a profound secret. The horse is to be sent to Oldmarke_o Gunter's stables to run in your name. Whether Bar Sinister wins or no_atters very little. The favourite is firmly established at even money, so i_ were you I should not back the colt."
Mayne nodded carelessly. It was not for him to suggest that some rascality wa_float. He had known in his time racing dukes with no more inherent moralit_han dustmen. "It's all the same to me," he said, "as long as I get the money.
By the way, on the day following the Clarendon, the cup is run for a_ilverpool. Haven't you got something starting there?"
"A horse of my own breeding," the Duke responded. "Confetti. No chance, _ear. The odds are forty to one against. Only a few personal friends know I a_n England, or perhaps the odds would be a little less. You will see to thi_atter at once."
Mayne gave the desired assurance. Then the Duke proceeded to take from hi_ocket notes to the value of one thousand pounds.
"I am going to Oldmarket in the morning," he explained, "but not as the Duk_e Cavour. I have my reasons for being known as Mr. Smith. If you desire t_ommunicate with me please do so in that name _per_ Gunter. Again let me urg_pon you the advantage of silence in this matter."
A little while later and Mayne was driving his weedy bay towards his plac_hich lay just outside Mornington. Meanwhile, the Duke de Cavour alias Smit_ad retired to his private sitting-room. Once there he lighted a cigarette an_ocked the door. With a quasi-magical sweep of his hand, he removed wig an_oustache, and stood confessed for the time being in the legitimate form o_elix Gryde.
"Now let me see how I stand," he muttered, throwing himself into a chair. "_m the Duke de Cavour. In my disguise, made up from personal inspection of th_istinguished individual in question, I could defy the noble mother of d_avour to tell the difference between us. For the present the genuine articl_s under private restraint in Genoa. That is a fact of which the world know_othing. To make matters still more safe, there is no need for me to appea_ersonally, except at the finish to draw the money from the tur_ommissioners; and nobody will know that the horse running as Confetti in th_ilverpool Cup is anything but de Cavour's colt. One way and another I ough_o make £100,000 out of this business; and I deserve it, for the scheme ha_ccupied all my care and attention for a whole year."
So saying Gryde rose and proceeded to unlock a dispatch box, and took fro_hence two large photographs. They were both likenesses of horses and appeare_o be taken from the same plate. Gryde regarded them long and earnestly.
"A wonderful resemblance." he said, "the same age to a month, the same marks,
the same everything. It's the Godolphin blood in both, I expect. Upon my word,
I don't know which is Mayne's Bar Sinister, and which is the favourite for th_rand Clarendon, Sir George Julyan's Rialto. I wonder what Mayne would say i_e knew I had been hanging about here for six weeks to get that photograph.