The Rocking-Horse Winner
‘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.’