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- ANIMAL HEROES - 20/31 -
shocked to see how many halt, maimed, and diseased there were in that pen of four thousand or five thousand Jack-rabbits.
It was a Roman victory--the rabble of prisoners was to be butchered. The choicest were to be reserved for the arena. The arena? Yes, that is the Coursing Park.
In that corral trap, prepared beforehand for the Rabbits, were a number of small boxes along the wall, a whole series of them, five hundred at least, each large enough to hold one Jack.
In the last rush of driving, the swiftest Jacks got first to the pen. Some were swift and silly; when once inside they rushed wildly round and round. Some were swift and wise; they quickly sought the hiding afforded by the little boxes; all of these were now full. Thus five hundred of the swiftest and wisest had been selected, in, not by any means an infallible way, but the simplest and readiest. These five hundred were destined to be coursed by Greyhounds. The surging mass of over four thousand were ruthlessly given to slaughter.
Five hundred little boxes with five hundred bright-eyed Jack-rabbits were put on the train that day, and among them was Little Jack Warhorse.
Rabbits take their troubles lightly, and it is not to be supposed that any great terror was felt by the boxed Jacks, once the uproar of the massacre was over; and when they reached the Coursing Park near the great city and were turned out one by one, very gently,--yes, gently; the Roman guards were careful of their prisoners, being responsible for them,--the Jacks found little to complain of, a big inclosure with plenty of good food, and no enemies to annoy them.
The very next morning their training began. A score of hatchways were opened into a much larger field--the Park. After a number of Jacks had wandered out through these doors a rabble of boys appeared and drove them back, pursuing them noisily until all were again in the smaller field, called the Haven. A few days of this taught the Jack-rabbits that when pursued their safety was to get back by one of the hatches into the Haven.
Now the second lesson began. The whole band were driven out of a side door into a long lane which led around three sides of the Park to another inclosure at the far end. This was the Starting Pen. Its door into the arena--that is, the Park--was opened, the Rabbits driven forth, and then a mob of boys and Dogs in hiding, burst forth and pursued them across the open. The whole army went bobbing and bounding away, some of the younger ones soaring in a spy-hop, as a matter of habit; but low skimming ahead of them all was a gorgeous black-and-white one; clean-limbed and bright-eyed, he had attracted attention in the pen, but now in the field he led the band with easy lope that put him as far ahead of them all as they were ahead of the rabble of common Dogs.
"Luk at thot, would ye--but ain't he a Little Warhorse?" shouted a villainous-looking Irish stable-boy, and thus he was named. When halfway across the course the Jacks remembered the Haven, and all swept toward it and in like a snow-cloud over the drifts.
This was the second lesson--to lead straight for the Haven as soon as driven from the Pen. In a week all had learned it, and were ready for the great opening meet of the Coursing Club.
The Little Warhorse was now well known to the grooms and hangers-on; his colors usually marked him clearly, and his leadership was in a measure recognized by the long-eared herd that fled with him. He figured more or less with the Dogs in the talk and betting of the men.
"Wonder if old Dignam is going to enter Minkie this year?"
"Faix, an' if he does I bet the Little Warhorse will take the gimp out av her an' her runnin' mate."
"I'll bet three to one that my old Jen will pick the Warhorse up before he passes the grand stand," growled a dog-man.
"An' it's meself will take thot bet in dollars," said Mickey, "an', moore than thot, Oi'll put up a hull month's stuff thot there ain't a dog in the mate thot kin turrn the Warrhorrse oncet on the hull coorse."
So they wrangled and wagered, but each day, as they put the Rabbits through their paces, there were more of those who believed that they had found a wonderful runner in the Warhorse, one that would give the best Greyhounds something that is rarely seen, a straight stern chase from Start to Grand Stand and Haven.
The first morning of the meet arrived bright and promising. The Grand Stand was filled with a city crowd. The usual types of a racecourse appeared in force. Here and there were to be seen the dog-grooms leading in leash single Greyhounds or couples, shrouded in blankets, but showing their sinewy legs, their snaky necks, their shapely heads with long reptilian jaws, and their quick, nervous yellow eyes--hybrids of natural force and human ingenuity, the most wonderful running-machines ever made of flesh and blood. Their keepers guarded them like jewels, tended them like babies, and were careful to keep them from picking up odd eatables, as well as prevent them smelling unusual objects or being approached by strangers. Large sums were wagered on these Dogs, and a cunningly placed tack, a piece of doctored meat, yes, an artfully compounded smell, has been known to turn a superb young runner into a lifeless laggard, and to the owner this might spell ruin. The Dogs entered in each class are paired off, as each contest is supposed to be a duel; the winners in the first series are then paired again. In each trial, a Jack is driven from the Starting-pen; close by in one leash are the rival Dogs, held by the slipper. As soon as the Hare is well away, the man has to get the Dogs evenly started and slip them together. On the field is the judge, scarlet-coated and well mounted. He follows the chase. The Hare, mindful of his training, speeds across the open, toward the Haven, in full view of the Grand Stand. The Dogs follow the Jack. As the first one comes near enough to be dangerous, the Hare balks him by dodging. Each time the Hare is turned, scores for the Dog that did it, and a final point is made by the kill.
Sometimes the kill takes place within one hundred yards of the start--that means a poor Jack; mostly it happens in front of the Grand Stand; but on rare occasions it chances that the Jack goes sailing across the open Park a good half-mile and, by dodging for time, runs to safety in the Haven. Four finishes are possible: a speedy kill; a speedy winning of the Haven; new Dogs to relieve the first runners, who would suffer heart-collapse in the terrific strain of their pace, if kept up many minutes in hot weather; and finally, for Rabbits that by continued dodging defy and jeopardize the Dogs, and yet do not win the Haven, there is kept a loaded shotgun.
There is just as much jockeying at a Kaskado coursing as at a Kaskado horse-race, just as many attempts at fraud, and it is just as necessary to have the judge and slipper beyond suspicion.
The day before the next meet a man of diamonds saw Irish Mickey--by chance. A cigar was all that visibly passed, but it had a green wrapper that was slipped off before lighting. Then a word: "If you wuz slipper to-morrow and it so came about that Dignam's Minkie gets done, wall,--it means another cigar."
"Faix, an' if I wuz slipper I could load the dice so Minkie would flyer score a p'int, but her runnin' mate would have the same bad luck."
"That so?" The diamond man looked interested. "All right--fix it so; it means two cigars."
Slipper Slyman had always dealt on the square, had scorned many approaches--that was well known. Most believed in him, but there were some malcontents, and when a man with many gold seals approached the Steward and formulated charges, serious and well-backed, they must perforce suspend the slipper pending an inquiry, and thus Mickey Doo reigned in his stead.
Mickey was poor and not over-scrupulous. Here was a chance to make a year's pay in a minute, nothing wrong about it, no harm to the Dog or the Rabbit either.
One Jack-rabbit is much like another. Everybody knows that; it was simply a question of choosing your Jack.
The preliminaries were over. Fifty Jacks had been run and killed. Mickey had done his work satisfactorily; a fair slip had been given to every leash. He was still in command as slipper. Now came the final for the cup--the cup and the large stakes.
There were the slim and elegant Dogs awaiting their turn. Minkie and her rival were first. Everything had been fair so far, and who can say that what followed was unfair? Mickey could turn out which Jack he pleased.
"Number three!" he called to his partner.
Out leaped the Little Warhorse,--black and white his great ears, easy and low his five-foot bounds; gazing wildly at the unwonted crowd about the Park, he leaped high in one surprising spy-hop.
"Hrrrrr!" shouted the slipper, and his partner rattled a stick on the fence. The Warhorse's bounds increased to eight or nine feet.
"Hrrrrrr!" and they were ten or twelve feet. At thirty yards the Hounds were slipped--an even slip; some thought it could have been done at twenty yards.
"Hrrrrrr! Hrrrrrrr!" and the Warhorse was doing fourteen-foot leaps, not a spy-hop among them.
"Hrrrrr! "wonderful Dogs! how they sailed; but drifting ahead of them, like a white sea-bird or flying scud, was the Warhorse. Away past the Grand Stand. And the Dogs--were they closing the gap of start? Closing! It was lengthening! In less time than it
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