Alcantra

A man, a horse, and a mysterious jockey

How I ever came to be a friend and ally, co-conspirator and business partner, of Tobias Starkweather it is not important to relate. The moralist might find in the narrative a painful instance of moral disintegration and decay, the cynic might smile and regard the whole episode as indicating nothing more culpable than childish credulity and vanity.

For this reason the story will never be told. I am satisfied that those who have shared with me an interest in horses, those in whose veins has flowed the deadliest virus known to man, will understand. They know that this interest is fraught with many dramatic possibilities, and that it may lead the most virtuous of men, on occasion, perilously near the rocks of moral turpitude.

There is no human interest that leads a man in stranger or more fascinating paths. There is no human relationship that introduces him to a more interesting group of his fellows or enables him to rub elbows with a more alluring multitude of kindred enthusiasts.

From the moment that a horse lover takes his first tentative steps into this half-gypsy land of paddock and race track, auction room and hunting field, when he first feels within him the stirrings of a strange desire, and learns to know that it is the call of the horse, from that moment he treads the paths of a new and wonderful country.

It is not alone the noble beast that allures; it is far more the followers in his train—men and women, rich and poor, wise and foolish, virtuous and vicious, all actuated by motives ranging from the noblest and purest to the most sordid and unworthy.

It was into this unknown world that at I ventured many years ago, and in it I have seen strange things and stranger people. It was in this land that I first encountered Tobias, and for many months I dwelt there with him. It had been written in the book of fate that we should meet. I was the one person in the world suited to Tobias and his needs, and he was for me as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. The most trivial circumstance brought about this epochal meeting. I desired a horse. Not any horse, for I had long since passed that early stage. I desired one particular and special horse. There was nothing unusual about this. I was in a chronic state of desire, if not for it is one horse, then for another. Poets have sung the anguish of mortals in the agony of desire for a loved one. They ably have told the poignant story of human love, but they have never sung, so far as I know, the love of a man for a horse, the all-conquering lust for possession that seizes a man when he sees the horse of his dreams. When this is done the Great Epic will have been created.

I desired a horse, and with cold deliberation and callous indifference to the consequences conspired to secure him. At this point Tobias came into the picture. The fullness of time had come. Tobias and I were to meet. It was a moment of tremendous significance to us both, though we did not realize it at the time. Tobias came to me with credentials as the one intermediary who could secure the desired horse for me. Blinded as I was, at the moment, by the fervor of my longing, I did not regard Tobias as an instrument to this end.

The negotiations proved long and difficult. I was still inexperienced enough to find it almost impossible to to dissemble my desires, and I marveled at the coldly indifferent manner in which Tobias approached the owner. I’ve since grown to regard as one of his most engaging qualities the horseman's ability to stifle all his longings and to conduct long and delicate transactions in a manner of utter boredom. On many occasions I should have despaired of a fortunate outcome had I not been buoyed up by Tobias's unfailing optimism and hopefulness.

At last, however, I secured the horse. Even this triumphant conclusion of labors did not excite Tobias. He. brought me the news with the same air of world-weary indifference that had characterized him from the first. It is true that my exultation was somewhat tempered by the fact that the price paid for the beast was considerably higher than that I had authorized Tobias to pay, but this did not seem to be a matter of interest to him. Nor did the horse prove to be the jewel I had wanted, but Tobjas assured me that they rarely were; and after all, he pointed out, it was I who had wanted to the animal, not he. Had he consulted his own convictions in the matter, he would have purchased a quite different horse, but as I had expressed an unalterable determination to possess this one, here he was. It was clear that Tobias was quite guiltless in the matter.

After a few months of troubled and disillusioning ownership, I sought Tobias, this time to dispose of the horse for me. The previous owner had assured me that he had parted with the horse only under the pressure of temporary embarrassment, and that at any time he would be glad to buy him back at the price I paid for him.

I imparted this information to Tobias, but he did not seem to be impressed by it. The process of selling was much more rapid than that of purchasing, despite the fact that the previous owner was still in difficulties and could not buy the horse as he most ardently desired. In fact, as Tobias explained to me, the horse market was in a very unsettled condition, and if I desired to sell (which I most certainly did) he advised me to take any offer I could get. Things were very bad. Again Tobias triumphed. I sold at a figure considerably below the lowest I had fixed, but any sale just then was a miracle, so Tobias said.

By this time Tobias was firmly woven into the warp and woof of my horse life. On the whole I profited by it. But sordid motives were the smallest factor in my regard for Tobias. His appearance alone was enough to reward me. A tiny scrap of a man, he might have been thirty, he might have been sixty. I never could decide. As I listened enthralled to the recitals of his experiences I leaned toward the higher figure, for no man of less than sixty could have had time to have all the things happen to him that had happened to Tobias. Yet as I grew to know him and witnessed repeated feats of strength and agility I knew he must still be young. His face gave no hint of his age. Sallow, almost colorless, it still had the fresh contours of youth. An utterly mirthless mouth, a head almost entirely bereft of hair, contrasted strangely with a mouthful of perfect teeth of unimpeachable genuineness. He was always clad in riding togs of a strange and indiscriminate nature, and yet he had that gift, so infrequently seen in men, of so wearing clothes, no matter what they were, that he looked well groomed and well set up.

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