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Concerning a Steeplechase Rider
by [?]

He reappeared clad in his racing rig, and we set off to see the horse saddled. We found the owner in a great state of excitement. It seemed he had no money — absolutely none whatever — but had borrowed enough to pay the sweepstakes, and stood to make something if the horse won and lose nothing if he lost, as he had nothing to lose. My friend insisted on being paid two pounds before he would mount, and the owner nearly had a fit in his efforts to persuade him to ride on credit. At last a backer of the horse agreed to pay 2 pounds 10s., win or lose, and the rider was to get 25 pounds out of the prize if he won. So up he got; and as he and the others walked the big muscular horses round the ring, nodding gaily to friends in the crowd, I thought of the gladiators going out to fight in the arena with the cry of “Hail, Caesar, those about to die salute thee!”

The story of the race is soon told. My friend went to the front at the start and led nearly all the way, and “Contractor!” was on every one’s lips as the big horse sailed along in front of his field. He came at the log-fence full of running, and it looked certain that he would get over. But at the last stride he seemed to falter, then plunged right into the fence, striking it with his chest, and, turning right over, landed on his unfortunate rider.

A crowd clustered round and hid horse and rider from view, and I ran down to the casualty-room to meet him when the ambulance came in. The limp form was carefully taken out and laid on a stretcher while a doctor examined the crushed ribs, the broken arm, and all the havoc that the horse’s huge weight had wrought.

There was no hope from the first. My poor friend, who had so often faced Death for two pounds, lay very still awhile. Then he began to talk, wandering in his mind, “Where are the cattle?” — his mind evidently going back to the old days on the road. Then, quickly, “Look out there — give me room!” and again “Five-and-twenty pounds, Mary, and a sure thing if he don’t fall at the logs.”

Mary was sobbing beside the bed, cursing the fence and the money that had brought him to grief. At last, in a tone of satisfaction, he said, quite clear and loud: “I know how it was — THERE COULDN’T HAVE BEEN ANY DEAD MAN IN THAT HEARSE!”

And so, having solved the mystery to his own satisfaction, he drifted away into unconsciousness — and woke somewhere on the other side of the big fence that we can neither see through nor over, but all have to face sooner or later.