Hester was a beautiful woman whose family was important and powerful. But she had no luck. Hester fell in love and got married. But her marriage became dull and empty. She had three beautiful children — a boy and two girls. But she did not love them. Hester pretended that she loved them, but she knew that she did not. Hester's husband travelled to the city each day and worked in an office. But he was not very successful in his job and did not earn much money. Hester did not know how to make money either. They both spent more money than they could earn. So they had serious money problems. Hester and her family lived in a fine house, which had a pleasant garden. Beautiful and expensive things filled the house. The children had all the toys that they wanted. But sometimes it seemed that a voice was whispering in the house. The children could hear the voice all the time. Nobody spoke about it, but the whisper was everywhere. There must be more money! There must be more money! Hester's son was called Paul.
'Mother,' said Paul, 'why don't we have our own car?' 'Because we're the poor members of the family,' she said. 'But why are we poor, mother?' asked Paul.
When Hester replied, her voice was cold, hard and angry. 'Well,' she said slowly, 'it's because your father had no luck.'
'Is luck the same thing as money, mother?'
'No, Paul. Luck brings money. If you're lucky, you have money. That's why it's better to be born lucky than rich. If you're rich, you may lose your money. But if you're lucky, you will always get more money.'
'Oh!' said Paul. 'And is father not lucky?'
'He's very unlucky, I think,' said the mother bitterly.
'Well,' said Paul, 'I'm a lucky person.'
'Excellent!' said Hester, laughing.
Paul saw that his mother did not believe him, and this made him angry. So the boy decided to try and find luck.
Paul had a rocking horse in the nursery, the room where the children played. While his sisters played with their dolls, Paul sat on the big wooden rocking horse and rode it madly. Then he stood in front of it, staring into its face. Its red mouth was slightly open, and its big glass eyes were wide and bright. 'Take me to the place where there is luck!' he said to the horse.
The horse could help him to find luck. That is what Paul believed. Sometimes he hit the horse on the neck, to make it go faster. He rode it more and more wildly, hoping for luck.
Paul's mother had a brother, Oscar Cresswell. One day Paul's mother and Uncle Oscar came to the nursery when Paul was riding his horse.
'Hello, young jockey!' said Uncle Oscar. 'Is your horse going to win its race?'
Paul finished his mad ride and got down from the horse.
'What's the horse's name?' asked Uncle Oscar.
'He doesn't have just one name,' said Paul quietly. 'He has different names. He was called Sansovino last week.'
'Sansovino?' said Oscar. He was surprised. 'But that's the name of the horse which won the big race at Ascot. How did you know that name?'
'He talks about horse-races with Bassett,' said Paul's sister.
Bassett was the young gardener who worked for Paul's parents. He had been Oscar Cresswell's servant in the war, when Oscar was an army officer. Bassett now worked in the garden of Paul's house. Bassett knew a lot about horseracing. Oscar was very pleased that Paul was becoming interested in horseracing too. He went to see Bassett to ask him a few questions about his nephew.
'Master Paul asks me a lot of questions about the races, sir,' said Bassett.
'And does he ever make a bet?' asked Oscar.
'I don't want to tell you Master Paul's secrets,' said Bassett. 'Please will you ask him that question yourself?'
Oscar took Paul for a ride in his car. 'Tell me, Paul, do you ever bet money on a horse?' he asked.
'Do you think that I shouldn't?' asked Paul.
'No,' said his uncle. 'I hoped that you could give me a tip for the next big race at Lincoln. What's your advice? Which horse is going to win?'
'It's going to be Daffodil,' said Paul.
Daffodil had not run in many races and had not been successful. No one expected Daffodil to win the race.
'Daffodil!' asked Oscar. 'Are you sure? What about Mirza?'
'I only know the winner,' said Paul. 'That's Daffodil. You won't give the information to anybody else, will you Uncle? I promised Bassett that I wouldn't tell anyone. Bassett and I are partners. We share our information with each other.
'Bassett lent me five shillings to bet on my first racehorse,' Paul went on. 'But the horse lost. Then you gave me ten shillings. I bet that money on a horse, and it won! So I thought that you were lucky. But you won't tell anyone else, will you?'
'All right,' said Oscar. 'I'll keep your tip about Daffodil a secret. How much money are you going to bet on Daffodil?'
'Three hundred pounds,' said the boy in a serious voice.
Oscar was very surprised. Three hundred pounds was a huge amount of money. He laughed.
'Where is your three hundred pounds?' he asked.
'Bassett keeps it safely for me,' the boy replied.
'And how much is Bassett betting on Daffodil?
'Perhaps a hundred and fifty pounds,' said Paul.
Oscar was silent. He was very surprised but he was also very interested. He decided to take Paul to the racecourse where Daffodil was racing. It was Paul's first visit to a race meeting and his blue eyes shone with excitement. Daffodil won his race.
'I have one thousand, five hundred pounds now,' said Paul. 'Uncle, if you want to be a partner with Bassett and me, we could all be partners. But you must make a promise. You must never give the information about the winning horses to anybody else.'
The next afternoon, Oscar took Bassett and Paul to a park and they talked.
'If I'm sure about the winner, we're successful,' said Paul. 'But sometimes I'm not sure. Then we lose.'
'But when are you sure?' asked Uncle Oscar.
'It's Master Paul, sir,' said Bassett slowly, in a soft, quiet voice. 'Perhaps Heaven tells him. He was absolutely certain that Daffodil would win.'
'But where's the money that Paul has won?' asked Oscar.
'I keep it safely for him,' said Bassett. 'Whenever Master Paul wants the money, he can have it.'
'Fifteen hundred pounds!' said Oscar, shaking his head. He almost did not believe it.
'Yes,' said Bassett.
They drove home again. Oscar asked to see Paul's fifteen hundred pounds, and Bassett showed it to him. Then Oscar decided to become a partner too.
'Sometimes I'm absolutely sure which horse will win,' said Paul. 'I was sure about Daffodil. Sometimes I have an idea, and sometimes I have no idea at all, do I, Bassett? Then we have to be careful, because we lose.'
'And when you're sure, what makes you sure?' asked Oscar.
Paul looked uncomfortable. 'Oh, well, I don't know,' he said. 'I'm sure, Uncle. That's all.'
The next race was the Leger. Paul was 'sure' about the winner of this race. He bet a thousand pounds on a horse called Lively Spark. Lively Spark came in first place and
Paul won ten thousand pounds. Oscar Cresswell won two thousand pounds.
'You see,' said Paul. 'I was absolutely sure that Lively Spark would win.'
'I don't understand how you're guessing correctly,' said Oscar. 'What are you going to do with your money?'
'I wanted to get money for mother,' replied Paul. 'She said that she had no luck because father is unlucky. I want to be lucky. Then 1 can stop the whispers in our house.'
'Whispers in the house?' repeated Oscar in surprise. 'What do you mean?'
'Oh — oh, I don't know,' said Paul. 'But the house never has enough money. And so it's always whispering. I want to stop the whispers. But I don't want mother to know about my luck. She wouldn't let me bet on the horses.'
'Very well, Paul! We won't tell her,' said Oscar.
Paul and his uncle made a plan. Paul gave five thousand pounds to Oscar, and Oscar gave the money to a lawyer. The lawyer was going to tell Hester about a relative who she had never met. Hester was going to get five thousand pounds because the relative had died. Each year, on her birthday, Hester was going to receive one thousand pounds.
'So my sister will have a birthday present of a thousand pounds for the next five years!' said Oscar.
Paul's mother had her birthday in November. By that time, the whispers in the house had become very loud. Paul was worried.
Hester opened her letters at breakfast on her birthday.
Paul watched his mother's face carefully as she read the lawyer's letter. But she did not smile, her face became hard and cold.
'Did you have any presents for your birthday?' asked Paul.
'Not really,' said his mother. Then she went to the city.
In the afternoon, Oscar came to the house. He told Paul that his mother had been to see the lawyer. She had many large debts and she owed a lot of money too many people. So one thousand pounds was not enough for her. She wanted to have the whole amount. She wanted the five thousand pounds immediately.
'Oh, let her have all the money now,' said Paul. 'We can win some more money. We'll get a lot of money if I choose the winners of the Grand National, or the Lincolnshire, or the Derby. I'm sure to know the winner for one of these races.'
So Hester got the whole five thousand pounds. She spent a lot of money on new furniture and expensive things for the house. She told Paul that he would go to an expensive school in the autumn.
Then something very strange happened. The voices in the house suddenly changed. Before, they had only whispered. But now, they began to shout: There must be more money! There must be more money!
Paul was frightened. He spent a lot of time with Bassett. The day of the Grand National race arrived, but Paul was not sure about the name of the winner. He bet on the wrong horse and lost a hundred pounds. He did not know the winner for the Lincoln either, and he lost fifty pounds. He became very worried and his eyes were wild and strange.
'Don't worry about it, my boy!' said Oscar.
The next big race was the Derby.
'I must know the winner for the Derby!' said Paul. His big blue eyes shone strangely. Even his mother noticed that Paul did not look well.
'Perhaps you need a holiday,' she said. 'Would you like to go to the seaside? You'll feel better near the sea. The sun and fresh air will help you.'
'Mother, I can't go away before the Derby,' said Paul.
'You care too much about these horse-races,' Hester said. 'It's not good for you.'
'Please don't send me away until after the Derby,' said Paul. 'Don't send me away from this house.'
'Do you love this house so much?' asked his mother in surprise. 'I didn't know that. Very well. You can stay here until after the Derby.'
There was a secret reason why Paul wanted to stay in the house. He had not told anyone about it — not even Uncle Oscar or Bassett. His secret was his wooden rocking horse, which did not have a name. He asked for the horse to be moved to his bedroom.
'But aren't you too big for a rocking horse?' asked Hester.
'Well, I can't have a real horse of my own,' Paul said. 'And the rocking horse is a good friend to me.'
The time for the Derby was getting near. Paul behaved more and more strangely. He became very thin and his eyes were wild. His mother was worried about him.
Two nights before the Derby, Paul's mother and father were at a big party. Suddenly his mother felt worried about Paul. She telephoned the house and spoke to the children's governess.
'Is Master Paul all right?' asked Hester.
'Oh, yes,' said the governess in surprise. 'He's fine.'
Paul's parents got home at about one o'clock. The house was very quiet. Hester went upstairs to her son's room. She stood outside Paul's bedroom door, listening. A strange noise was coming from inside the room. Hester's heart gave a jump and almost stopped. What was that noise? The strange, mad sound went on and on. Hester had heard the sound before, but she did not know what it was.
Feeling very afraid, Hester slowly and carefully turned the handle of the door. The bedroom was dark. But near the window, she saw something moving wildly.
She switched on the light and stared in fear and surprise. Her son was wearing his pyjamas and riding on the wooden horse.
'Paul!' she cried. 'What are you doing?'
'It's Malabar!' the boy screamed in a loud, strange voice.
'It's Malabar!' He stared at his mother, his eyes shining with a strange fire. Then he stopped the horse and fell down onto the floor.
Hester ran to Paul, picked him up, and took him to his bed. His body was hot and he was very weak. He talked all the time in a wild, mad way. 'Malabar! It's Malabar!' he shouted. 'Bassett! Bassett, I know! It's Malabar!'
'Who or what is Malabar?' Hester asked her brother later. 'What does he mean?' Her heart felt as dead as a stone.
'It's the name of a racehorse,' said Oscar. 'Malabar is running in the Derby.'
Paul was very ill. But Oscar bet a thousand pounds on Malabar. On the third day of Paul's illness, his mother sat by his bed. Paul was not asleep, and he was not awake. His eyes stared ahead but saw nothing. They were like blue stones. His mother's heart felt like a stone too.
On the day of the Derby, Bassett came into the house in the evening. He wanted to see Paul. Paul's parents agreed and Bassett went into the boy's bedroom.
'Master Paul!' he whispered. 'Malabar came in first! It won! I did what you told me to do. I bet on Malabar. You now have eighty thousand pounds.'
Paul was very excited. He kept saying the same thing again and again. 'Malabar! Malabar! Do you think I'm lucky, Mother? I knew Malabar, didn't I? Eighty thousand pounds! That's lucky, isn't it, Mother? If I can ride my rocking horse, then I can be sure of the winner! Mother, did I ever tell you? I am lucky!'
'No, you never told me,' said his mother.
Later in the night, Paul died.
'My God,' said Oscar Cresswell to his sister. 'You've got eighty thousand pounds, but you've lost your son. Perhaps it's good that he's dead. Now Paul is at peace. He'll never have to ride a rocking horse again to find a winner.'
— THE END -