'In every way. You forget, I told you I know a good deal about you. By the time I reached Perlooma yesterday afternoon I had decided toer… investigate you, one might say, to find out what sort of man you really were to see if there were the slightest chance of your being attracted by such a… a job.' He drank again, and paused, waiting.

'I can't take on anything like that,' I said.

'I have enough to do here.' The understatement of the month, I thought.

'Could you take on twenty thousand pounds?' He said it casually, conversationally.

The short answer to that was 'Yes'; but instead, after a moment's stillness, I said ' Australian, or English? '

His mouth curled down at the corners and his eyes narrowed. He was amused.

'English. Of course,' he said ironically.

I said nothing. I simply looked at him. As if reading my thoughts he sat down in an armchair, crossed his legs comfortably, and said, 'I'll tell you what you would do with it, if you like. You would pay the fees of the medical school your sister Belinda has set her heart on.

You would send your younger sister Helen to art school, as she wants.

You would put enough aside for your thirteen-year-old brother Philip to become a lawyer, if he is still of the same mind when he grows up.

You could employ more labour here, instead of working yourself into an early grave feeding, clothing, and paying school fees for your family. '

I suppose I should have been prepared for him to be thorough, but I felt a surge of anger that he should have pried so very intimately into my affairs. However, since the time when an angry retort had cost me the sale of a yearling who broke his leg the following week, I had learned to keep my tongue still whatever the provocation.

'I also have had two girls and a boy to educate,' he said.

'I know what it is costing you. My elder daughter is at university, and the twin boy and girl have recently left school.'

When I again said nothing, he continued, 'You were born in England, and were brought to Australia when you were a child. Your father, Howard Roke, was a barrister, a good one. He and your mother were drowned together in a sailing accident when you were eighteen. Since then you have supported yourself and your sisters and brother by horse dealing and breeding. I understand that you had intended to follow your father into the law, but instead used the money he left to set up business here, in what had been your holiday house. You have done well at it. The horses you sell have a reputation for being well broken in and beautifully mannered. You are thorough, and you are respected.'

He looked up at me, smiling. I stood stiffly. I could see there was still more to come.

He said 'Your headmaster at Geelong says you had a brain and are wasting it. Your bank manager says you spend little on yourself. Your doctor says you haven't had a holiday since you settled here nine years ago except for a month you spent in hospital once with a broken leg. Your pastor says you never go to church, and he takes a poor view of it.' He drank slowly.

Many doors, it seemed, were open to determined earls.

'And finally,' he added, with a lop-sided smile, 'the bar keeper of the Golden Platypus in Perlooma says he'd trust you with his sister, in spite of your good looks. '

'And what were your conclusions, after all that?' I asked, my resentment a little better under control.

'That you are a dull, laborious prig,' he said pleasantly.

I relaxed at that, and laughed, and sat down.

'Quite right,' I agreed.

'On the other hand, everyone says you do keep on with something once you start it, and you are used to hard physical work. You know so much about horses that you could do a stable lad's job with your eyes shut standing on your head.'

'The whole idea is screwy,' I said, sighing.

'It wouldn't work, not with me, or Arthur Simmons, or anybody. It just isn't feasible. There are hundreds of training stables in Britain, aren't there? You could live in them for months and hear nothing, while the dopers got strenuously to work all around you.'

He shook his head.

'I don't think so. There are surprisingly few dishonest lads, far fewer than you or most people would imagine. A lad known to be corruptible would attract all sorts of crooks like an unguarded gold mine All our man would have to do would be to make sure that the word was well spread that he was open to offers. He'd get them, no doubt of it.'

'But would he get the ones you want? I very much doubt it.'

'To me it seems a good enough chance to be worth taking. Frankly, any chance is worth taking, the way things are. We have tried everything else. And we have failed. We have failed in spite of exhaustive questioning of everyone connected with the affected horses. The police say they cannot help us. As we cannot analyse the drug being used, we can give them nothing to work on. We employed a firm of private investigators. They got nowhere at all.

Direct action has achieved absolutely nothing. Indirect action cannot achieve less. I am willing to gamble twenty thousand pounds that with you it can achieve more. Will you do it? '

'I don't know,' I said, and cursed my weakness. I should have said, 'No, certainly not.'

He pounced on it, leaning forward and talking more rapidly, every word full of passionate conviction.

'Can I make you understand how concerned my colleagues and I are over these undetectable cases of doping? I own several racehorses mostly steeple chasers and my family for generations have been lovers and supporters of racing… The health of the sport means more to me, and people like me, than I can possibly say… and for the second time in three years it is being seriously threatened. During the last big wave of doping there were satirical jokes in the papers and on television, and we simply cannot afford to have it happen again. So far we have been able to stifle comment because the cases are still fairly widely spaced it is well over a year since the first and if anyone inquires we merely report that the tests were negative.

But we must identify this new dope before there is a widespread increase in its use. Otherwise it will become a worse menace to racing than anything which has happened before. If dozens of undetectably doped winners start turning up, public faith will be destroyed altogether, and steeple chasing will suffer damage which it will take years to recover from, if it ever does. There is much more at stake than a pleasant pastime. Racing is an industry employing thousands of people. and not the least of them are stud owners like you. The collapse of public support would mean a great deal of hardship.

'You may think that I have offered you an extraordinarily large sum of money to come over and see if you can help us, but I am a rich man, and, believe me, the continuance of racing is worth a great deal more than that to me. My horses won nearly that amount in prize money last season, and if it can buy a chance of wiping out this threat I will spend it gladly.'

'You are much more vehement today,' I said slowly, 'than you were yesterday. '

He sat back.

'Yesterday I didn't need to convince you. But I felt just the same.'

'There must be someone in England who can dig Out the information you want,' I protested.

'People who know the ins and outs of your racing.

I know nothing at all. I left your country when I was nine. I'd be useless. It's impossible. '

That's better, I approved myself. That's much firmer.

He looked down at his glass, and spoke as if with reluctance.

'Well we did approach someone in England… A racing journalist, actually. Very good nose for news; very discreet, too; we thought he was just the chap. Unfortunately he dug away without success for some weeks. And then he was killed in a car crash, poor fellow.'

'Why not try someone else?' I persisted.

'It was only in June that he died, during steeplechas- ing's summer recess. The new season started in August and it was not until after that that we thought of the stable lad idea, with all its difficulties.'

'Try a farmer's son,' I suggested.

'Country accent, knowledge of horses… the lot.'

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