W. A. FRASER
STEWART OWEN swept the rotunda of the King James with his luminous, black eyes.
The place buzzed like a beehive, the open space of the lounge above echoing back a heavy drone of amalgamated voices, for it was race week, and it had brought an influx of sporting gentlemen.
Owen was on financial intent—prospecting for a capitalist. Times had been with Owen when Toronto was easy for a touch, even a heavy-handed touch, running into thousands, but the cards were not falling his way now. The lawsuit over the Utility Steel Company had taken its tithe.
“Well, look who’s here!” a voice at his elbow exclaimed, a voice that rather declaimed the words, suggesting, somewhat, the stilted enunciation of the stage.
Whirling, Owen saw a rather dressy man and an ultra-dressed girl.
“Why, Corson! How are you, Ralph, old boy?” and Owen’s muscular hand almost crushed the slim fingers of the other.
“I’m in the purple, Stewart. Let me introduce Miss Delane. We’re at the Royal, in ‘Shadows,’ ” he continued.
“A box for me,” Owen declared, his boyish laugh showing superb teeth. “Miss Delane, if you see a peck of orchids floating from a box to your little feet, they’ll be from—my wife, Delilah.”
Corson chuckled. “Miss Vida, what do you think of him? Same old jollier; and when the orchids float you can fall to wondering where Mrs. Owen is that evening.”
“Make it to-night,” Miss Delane suggested.
“Can you manage it, Owen—slip away?” Corson queried. “We’ve got a little revival meeting on. This is the anniversary of the universe, birth day of old Thesp; a little supper, and, afterwards, perhaps a wee game of draw.”
OWEN’S soul watered. The difficult matter of convincing Delilah that he had a late sitting at the club with the Utility Steel fellows might be managed, for practice had made him a sometimes winner over Delilah in diplomacy, but he was broke; what money the Owens had was banked in his wife’s name.
“I’m tremendously busy, Córsön,” hè said, speaking with half his thinking capacity on his stalling, and the other half toying with prospects.
“Racing, or mines?” Corson asked.
By Jove! Corson had furnished the magic word, the thought starter, “racing.”
Owen grinned. “Partly the ponies, I’ll admit.”
“What’s the good thing to-day?” Corson asked. “Is that old side-kick of yours, the Man from the Desert, here with a string? He could tap on the rock and strike oil any old time, as I remember.”
“Yes, Jack Andrews is here; and there’s a skate starting to-day that, if they were shooting with him, it’s a dead bird.”
“Well, old alkali Andrews will know,” Corson declared. “Are you going down to the Grapevine Course, Ralph?” Owen queried; and Corson failed to see the intense concentration so evident in the boyish eyes.
“I can’t—sorry, too. There’s a matinee on. What’s the horse, Owen? I suppose I can get ä bet down in town.” “I’ll find out,” Owen declared. “I’ll have a talk with Jack Andrews.”
“Good stuff! We’re going up to our rooms, and I’ll meet you here on the floor in an hour.”
On their floor Miss Delane said, “Isn’t he handsome? —he’s a dear!”
“Yes,” Corson drawled, “he’s dear—comes high, Vida.”
“Don’t worry, Ralph—-I’m not interested.”
“You’ll find it interesting if Delilah catches you— she’s all the hot-point women of history rolled into one— and clever—phew!”
“But, Ralph, why is a party—■? I hadn’t heard about to-night’s revel.”
“We always have supper after we’ve jumped through the hoop: well, to-night it’s plus Owen. He’s a gambling kid, and I’ve got tucked away in a box of antiques his I.O.U. for two hundred iron men.”
ing form, “What’ll win the fifth race, Andrews?”
The Man from the Desert stretched his long arm, and taking the form from Owen’s hand, ran his eye over the eight horses entered.
“Well,” he said, presently, “they’re a bad lot, no form to speak of; Servitor might get it.”
“I got a tip on one.”
“Of course you did, Owen; and if you keep goin’ you’ll get a tip on eight—on every starter.”
“But the Racing Form calls this one to win,” Owen objected—“some of its tipsters do, I mean.”
With a drawl of weariness Andrews passed the form back to Owen, saying: “Well, you must’ve picked out a bright tout, ’cause you’ve got the only one as I would say hadn’t a chance. Did your information man suggest that you let him bet your money?”
Owen grinned. “Quit ticklin’, Jack. What’s the matter with Gaff? He was pretty slippery a year or so ago.”
“So was I, Stewart, about forty years ago. Gaff’s not ready; kind of think his feet’s under suspicion. This track’s hard as a pawnbroker’s heart, and they ain’t been able to give him enough work; he ain’t keyed up for a race, nohow, Owen. You can just write him off—throw him in the discard. If it was mud, or a track with a cushion to it, he might do: he’s got the speed, and if his feet didn’t heat up on him, he might come home—but he won’t. His owner won’t bet a nickel on him to-day, not a nickel. And they won’t let him scratch out, ’cause he can’t bring up no fresh excuse, an’ there ain’t a big bunch of hosses startin’.”
“Well, that’s that, then,” Owen commented. “You like Servitor?”
“I don’t like nothin’. It’s a good race to leave alone—anythin’ might win outside the hoss you’ve picked. Guess I’ll go an’' comb out my whiskers.”
Somebody blundered, but in the din of the race track, blunders are easy and Delilah was glad—for the Home Fund. This is another story of the Woodbine, that Mr. Fraser knows so well.
“I see,” Vida murmured; “heads you win, tails Owen loses.”
“Yes; you’re brilliant; if your dear has chips to cash in I’ll slip him his I.O.U. in settlement.”
ELOW Owen was on a stillhunt for the Man from the Desert. A curious bit of racing information he wanted from Andrews; not a winner, but a loser—absolutely a dead un.
Corson was a man bearing gifts. Owen knew he couldn’t get a bet down in town—that was a cinch, for the Racing Association paid a big tax to the Government in a percentage on the betting at the course, and the authorities would see to it that the handbook men in town were taking a rest. Even then Stewart could see two plainclothes men, detectives, standing nonchalantly about, their lazy-looking eyes keenly alert for a touch of business in the betting line.
Then he saw old Jack—easy to flag with his spread of gray alfalfa, and his wide-brimmed gray hat.
“Want to see you a minute, Andrews,” Owen said, as he slipped a hand through the other’s arm. “Let’s trot up to the lounge.”
Seated on a sofa he asked, running his eyes over a race-
ANDREWS took the elevator up. And Owen chuckled. Things were dovetailing into each other. He ran blithely down the marble stairs to wait for the man with the golden cup. Compared with Delilah Corson was easy.
When Corson had suggested the frisk-away for the evening, Owen had at once been filled with the tremendous query of how he could wheedle Delilah out of a hundred dollars. Now he wouldn’t have to. He would get Corson to use him as vicar to bet a hundred at the course, and on Gaff that hadn’t a chance. He would simply hold out the money—not bet it at all. It was an old tout game, but, under the present conditions, Corson would not be the least bit suspicious.
There was something delightfully humorous about it, too; Corson’s party, and make Corsort furnish the stake for the game of poker. And it hadn’t much of an ethical tangent either; the actor was a man who would sell anybody a sparrow as a canary; he had a fantastic morality as pliable as a rubber band.
And Owen was an extraordinary product of the West— Spokane, he understood, had been his birth place; but thiswas not very clear—almost legendary, for his father had been a drifter, and Stewart a bit of flotsam that drifted with him. He had never grown up—never would—that is, in an academically mental conception of conventional morality—its politic necessity. It was as if nature, not wishing to tip the scales, had left him with his superb physical charms as being sufficiently gifted. His boy’s laugh, his generous personality, almost made his buccaneering something to be taken as a grim touch of humor.
Sharp on time Corson stepped from the elevator, and Owen, with a lithe swing from his chair, said, “Let’s get a smoke, Ralph.”
With a smile, the man behind the counter put up a box of expensive cigars, opened it, then dropped it back into the glass case, and said: “Wait till I get out a fresh box, Mr. Owen—you like them off the top.”
Owen took four, passing two to Corson. Then he leaned over the glass case and asked, “Seen Silent Sam about, Tom?”
“No; none of, the fellers are here; you’ll see them all down at the course backing the horses themselves. There’s too many dicks about,” and Tom’s gray eyes indicated one of the detectives, who was leaning carelessly against the telegraph counter.
As Owen moved away, followed by Corson, he said: “You can’t get a bet on in town to-day.”
“Let’s go up to the lounge—I told Miss Delane I’d wait there for her,” Corson suggested.
They found a seat on a sofa by the elevator, and as if the betting matter were closed out Owen talked of his own affairs. He knew about that I.O.U. just as well as Corson did—hadn’t forgotten it: also he surmised that Corson would say, “You bet a hundred for me, Stewart, and if it loses I’ll pay you.” Yes, that would be the actor’s débonnaire proposition. And what Owen wanted was a hundred cash from Corson, of which not a penny would go on Gaff; he’d hold it out.
Owen explained that he had had a big lawsuit over Utility Steel, and, for fear things might go against him, had put what money he had in his wife’s name—it was all banked in her name. He told this with a laugh to explain why he was going to bet but two hundred on Gaff, the good thing, himself.
Corson had been rather wondering as to Owen’s financial condition. He had noticed that the big bluewhite diamonds Owen had sported when he knew him before, were not in evidence: undoubtedly they had been hocked. Corson was sorry for this—it took away a leverage, a backing for a request for a liquidation of that I.O.U.
But Owen was optimistic: in a month he would be rolling in wealth. The very essence of his existence was swank, a seeming affluence; and he was trying to preserve that atmosphere, and yet make it the most natural thing in the world that he hadn’t a hundred dollars for Corson to play with or lay his hands on. In this he had forestalled Corson, for the latter had been going to propose that Owen bet the money for him—had it all thought out. He would say, “My salary for four weeks is in the hands of the manager—haven’t drawn it—won’t till we get back to New York; so I’d have to go down to the theatre to get a hundred.”
But almost immediately that very formula of deceit came pat, for Owen was saying:
“It doesn’t make any difference about the handbook, for I couldn’t advise you to bet till just before the race. The old man says Gaff can win in a walk if he’s in good shape, and he’s going to find out for me. If Andrews says shoot, I’m going to play Gaff; if he says there’s nothing doing, I’m going to throw in my hand.”
“Damn the luck!” Corson exclaimed; “I’d like to have a flutter on that horse if he wins. "What price will he be?” “About five to one, perhaps.”
Corson’s brows wrinkled; his face carried a hungry look; his eyes narrowed in cupidity: “Five hundred bucks,’-’ he murmured regretfully.
Owen looked at him thoughtfully. It was the psychological moment to play his ace; it might come off—at any rate he had nothing to lose.
“If you are keen about it, Ralph,” he said, “I’ll take your money down and bet it with mine—it won’t be any trouble to me. It’s the only way you’ll be safe.”
DUT Corson was ready—no stammering hesitation, for he had been all over this, mentally, before. He told Owen all about the apocryphal salary in the hands of the manager, and flashed a small roll of ten or twenty dollars as the extent of his pocket wealth.
It was courteous rapier play on the part of both.. Owen didn’t believe the yarn a little bit; he knew how facile Corson was in saying what he didn’t mean. He cursed inwardly.
“By Jove! I’ve thought of something,”
Corson said, suddenly;
“What time does that 'horse start, Stewart?”
“He’s in the fifth ■race — about five •o’clock.”
Corson made a mental computation of time, then he declared:
“I can get to the course T>y four-thirty. I’m on in the first act only:. I ■can get my make-up off, change, hop a taxi :at the theatre, and get to the course by fourthirty. I’ll get the money at the theatre, and everything will be jake. Where shall I find you, Stewart?”
“I’ll be in the Club Enclosure—perhaps in the paddock.”
“I’ll have heaps of Rime. I’ll see you, and
if it’s O.K. we’ll get the needful. If Gaff wins I’ll blow the party to wine to-night.”
“Hello, D’Artagnan,” a cheery, gentle voice greeted.
It was Vida Delane, swinging around at their backs as she came from the elevator. She sat down on the sofa beside Owen, and tapping his knee with her handbag, asked: “You’re coming to our party to-night, big boy, aren’t you?”
“I’ll be there with bells on, Miss Vida, and—”
He checked; his fascinating smile died a premature death; for a slender Spanish-looking girl circled the seat, and was gazing at Owen out of big black soulful eyes—• but the eyes were mirroring a soul in eruption.
Owen sprang to his feet, saying: “Hello, Delilah! This is Miss Delane; and Corson—you remember him in Spokane?”
Delilah favored Vida with a glance frappe, bowed, and held out a slim hand to Corson.
“Your husband is tempting me—the races,” Corson said.
“Are you going, too, Miss Delane?” Deli'ah asked sweetly.
“Miss Vida can’t get off—she’s booked for the afternoon, but I’m going to manage a break-away,” Corson informed. “We’ll have to toddle along now, too—sorry. We’re playing at the Royal, you know, Mrs. Owen.”
“Ah! then I’ll see you to-night. Go down, Stewart, right away and get seats, before they are all gone.” And the face that was so like Cleopatra’s held nothing but just a pleased, satisfied expression.
Delilah saw, from between her drooping eyelids, Vida wince; she saw Corson stiffen his shoulders against the lounge back; she saw a little cloud flit across Stewart’s handsome face, and inwardly she chuckled. She had heard all right as she approached at their backs—there was something doing. Of course there would be with the susceptible Stewart, and a girl like Vida available.
“Can’t make the grade, Lilah. I’ve got a date with Bolton at the club, to talk Utility Steel,” Owen protested; and he winked at Corson.
Delilah knew Stewart had winked—she didn’t see it, she just knew, being a woman who was always on edge, receptive to static.
“Well, Vida, we’ve got to trot,” Corson said, rising. “Deuced sorry you can’t see the play to-night, Owen ; it isn’t top-hole, but not bad.”
WHEN they had gone Delilah sat drawing her gloves through one hand. Owen knew that something was agitating the good lady. This was too bad for, having failed to get the hundred from Corson, he would have to do some missionary work with Delilah. He was wondering if she had heard v'ida’s reference to the night’s engagement. He had a shrewd suspicion that she had; the sudden idea of the theatre seats suggested this—looked as if Delilah had wished herself in on the party. However, the hundred was the thing for the present.
He drew a small roll of bills from his pocket, looked them over, and announced: “I’ve only got thirty bucks,
Lilah, and I want to bet a hundred on Gaff to-day—he’s a cinch, and he’ll be five to one; I need that half-grand I’d win.”
“The hotel bill’s up on the writing table, Stewart; why haven’t you paid that?” his wife asked.
. “With what? You’ve got my roll—it’s banked in your name.”
“Yowr roll, Tootie? My roll—yours has blown long ago.”
“Well, I rustled it, gave you half; that was to keep it out of the hands of the sharks.”
“Sharks is good; they got your money—it was like taking candy from a kid.”
“Lilah, slip me a hundred bones; I’ll hand it back to-night when Gaff wins, and I’ll pay the hotel bill.”
“Get it from Vida—she must draw down a good salary.” “Cut that stuff out, Lilah; I never met her till to-day.” “Long enough for you, Tootie—you’re a fast worker.” “Give me a cheque, Lilah; it’s business. I can cop five hundred on Gaif. Andrews says he can run away off from the bunch he’s in with.”
“Get it out of the steel deal,” Delilah suggested.
“Ask for a hundred—show my hand? Say, Lilah, if that bunch thought I was up against it they’d appeal the decision I got against them; they’d wear me down.” “Bolton would lend you a hundred, Stewart.”
“I know he would; you know why, Lilah—you know just why that fish would lend me money.”
Under Owen’s eyes Delilah’s face flushed scarlet. “Tootie, you’re a beast! You’re in Vida’s class!” she declared passionately. “If any man looks at me you weigh him in your own scales.”
“How well do you know that guy, Lilah?”
“The president of Utility, Bolton?”
“I’ve seen him eat—that’s about the limit of my acquaintance with him.”
“You don’t know him, but you check me up when I tell you what he’s like. Some day I want to take a punch at that fat-head. If I borrow his money I can’t do it—see? You’ve got all your rocks—I ain’t asked you to hock a ring, and mine is in soak; now when I want a hundred, you put the shutters up.”
Delilah hesitated: what Stewart had said was true; he had given her diamonds when he was flush;-and she, with an Orientalism that was inherent, lavished them upon her long, tapering fingers, and her olive-hued neck. Ordinarily a hundred dollars had meant little in their prodigal life; perhaps a dinner for two or three friends. Owen had been born with a slow developing silver spoon in his mouth—boyhood days of Bedouin life—selling newspapers, page in a hotel—just the life to educate him in the unlettered lore of humanity.
But from the time Owen had appeared to Delilah, a gorgeous, modern knight, as she stood behind a counter in a departmental store, and had trotted her—(that’s what he called it) before a minister, up to three months before, the silver spoon had dipped gold. A mine deal, an acquaintanceship with a millionaire, due to Owen’s
man-boy enticing manner, had netted a hundred thousand dollars. Luck, he couldn’t go wrong; he knew perfectly well it would last forever.
And now here they were, the tailings of all the luck-mine’s output, two thousand dollars at Delilah’s credit in the bank; and Owen trying to wheedle her out of a hundred.
TT WAS not until they -*■ were down at the race course that Owen succeeded in his laudable endeavor.
It was a bright May afternoon; beyond the course, like far-up stage scenery, Lake Ontario lay like a huge blue Wilton rug, stretching away to a rose-tinted wall that was the horizon. And between the homestretch of tne course, and where Stewart and Delilah sat in the Club stand, was a garden of gorgeous animated flowers, flowers that, as if driven by the gentle breeze volitated hither and yon in and out, laughing and chatContinued on page 66
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ting, twirling parasols of brilliant hue; women, ilower-like, their eyes sparkling with a half subdued excitement, the exhilarating stimulus of combat between the most superb creatures on earth— thoroughbreds: and, like caviare, a bet, a gamble, a tempting of chance.
Men, too, had left their business pokerfaces in office, and were whole-souled, well-met humans; unbending to ask even a clerk, or a man of slim bank account, what he thought would win the Cup—the huge gold vase that stood on a stand on the club lawn.
Where the lawn, another rug of deep green, was cut by a white picket fence, began the paddock; and in a circus-like ring blood-bay, and chestnut, and black thoroughbreds circled with lissome stride. Sometimes a bay would throw his head up, cock his tapering ears, and peer out across the course with big, wondering eyes. Once a black, idle mischief in his heart, stretched his lean, sinewy neck, and nipped the darkey boy who led him; a nervous chestnut filly checked her mincing steps, whirled her quarters toward the ring rail, and lashed out as a boxer sends in a right and left. There was a mad scurry from the rail of those who leaned over it, and a thrill of horror, for a clip of those iron-plated hoofs would have lifted the top of a skull.
To the left of the Club Enclosure stretched away a human sea, thirty thousand heads, all that was visible, for the figures were massed so close that it was a wall. Delilah, looking across this packed humanity, had a curious idea that it was like a stretch of seashore she had seen on the Pacific—a cove paved by round, dark boulders.
“Well, Lilah,” Owen was saying, “today I’m a piker.”
“It’ll be a change, Stewart; you’ll find it refreshing. Piker’s sometimes run a shoe-string into a block of buildings.”
“If I had a thousand on Gaff to-day I could start a hot-dog stand at least.”
“If he won, Tootie. If Gaff knew you had a thousand on him he’d wheel and run the other way.”
“Knock as much as you like, Lilah; as I won’t be betting him it won’t cut any ice.” Owen grinned good-naturedly, although in his voice was a rasp of regret.
Delilah caught this, and she asked; “Do you think he’ll sure win—is your info, straight, or is it just another tout stringing you?”
“Andrews ought to know.”
“He ought, and sometimes does. Does the old man think Gaff will win?”
“Jack says that Gaff could beat the bunch he’s in with a hundred yards.”
Now Owen had stated a half-truth, wisely considering his purpose, omitting to say anything about the horse’s condition.
Delilah unclasped her handbag, drew forth ten bank notes, and said, “Stewart, here’s the hundred bones you’re weeping for, and it’s for a set purpose—get me, to bet on Gaff?”
Owen winced under the piercing gaze of Delilah’s Spanish eyes. Did she suspect?
Then she added, as if in apology for yielding: “I might as well give it to you— it’s like betting it myself: I’d have to pay those bills anyway, and if you win you can square up.”
“Good girl, Lilah,” and Owen patted his wife’s hand. “I’ll have five hundred bucks to the good after the fifth race; I’m doing this just to save eating up your pile.”
Delilah laughed: “Tootie, as the considerate one you’re droll; got to take care of little wifie, eh, boy?”
“Haven’t I always done it, Lilah?” “When you couldn’t escape.”
OWEN ran his fingers over Delilah’s blazing rings, as if he played a prelude on ivory keys; then a broad grin bared his white teeth, and he winked.
“Yes, Stewart, and they’ll stay there. Perhaps some day they’ll be needed for bail.”
“What do you mean?”
“Didn’t Bolton threaten a criminal suit if you didn’t settle over Utility?” “Damn Bolton! He’s just a fat-headed bluffer—thinks I’m pinched for the ready. That punch is coming to him sure.”
“I’ll pay your fine.”
“That’s right, girl—has he been making a play?”
“Well, when you’ve got the deal all sewed up you go as far as you like.”
Owen touched Delilah’s cheek with his fingers. “Some class, Lilah. Now me for a piking bet on Little Maud in this race; let me see—I’ve got thirty bucks plus the Gaff money—four races with a five spot on each. You’ve made me feel lucky, too, girl. If I run it up to a betting stake I’ll hand you back the hundred before Gaff starts. Want me to put a bet down for you?”
“No, I’m betting a hundred now on you; that’s gamble enough for me in one day. Besides, we need the money.” Delilah didn’t see much of Owen for the next hour or so. He was busy; but the busier he became the harder luck ran against him. He seemed to have arrived at the perihelion of picking losers. For four races his choice went down, and the worst of it was, that he couldn’t recoup on Gaff, for he had no intention of playing the horse. Perhaps he’d put his last ten spot oh Servitor in the fifth; that was the horse Andrews had said might win.
After the fourth race he went up into the Club to sit with Delilah in the way of keeping in her mind the fact that his coup was about to come off. It was, in a way, of speaking, for this time he certainly had a sure thing for a hundred.
“Now, girl,” he said, as he saw thehorses for the fifth race in the merry-go-round of the paddock, “I’ll go down and put in my bet on Gaff early, so I won’t get shut out.” '
OWEN had another reason for leaving his seat beside Delilah: Corson was likely to arrive about that time, and Owen did not want to see him. He was in a slight dilemma; he was irritated over Corson’s evident distrust of him, but it would be rather a cold-blooded caper to advise his actor friend to bet on the useless Gaff; and if he advised Corson that he wasn’t betting on Gaff himself Corson might mention this to Delilah. Down in the crowd he could avoid Corson, but sitting there beside Delilah he would be easily discovered from the lawn.
At just about that time Corson had dashed up to the gate in a taxi, and, just within, stopped to buy a programme from the man in a small wooden stall.
“What’s the next race?” Corson asked, as he pocketed his change.
“The fifth, sir. The horses’ll be goin’ out in five minutes.”
“The fifth?” Corson drew a watch from his pocket and looked at it. “It’s not four-thirty yet, and I understood the fifth race was at five o’clock—it must be the fourth.”
“No, sir—it’s the fifth. You see, sir, they’re half-an-hour earlier to-day. Through the week the first race started at three o’clock, but to-day, being Saturday, with a great crowd, an’ it bein’ Cup Day, an’ all, they started at two-thirty.”
“Hell! I mean, thank you,” ánd Corson, realizing that he must get hold of Owen at once to be in time to bet, darted to the lawn, and with eyes alert for the tall, handsome husband of Delilah, wove in and out the maze of wheeling, crosscutting, hurrying people.
He carried on to the little white picket fence and gazed across the paddock. He could see that it was emptying—men were hurrying into the Club Enclosure to bet; the horses were now in their stalls, ana standing beside them were the silkjacketed boys, the jockeys, ready to mount.
Cursing the stupidity of Owen in having mixed the time, he fairly ran across the club lawn. And as he ran, casting his eyes up into the stand, he saw Delilah, looking somewhat as if Cleopatra sat there on a dais.
Corson ran up the steps, asking: “Where’s Stewart, Mrs. Owen?”
“He’s gone down to bet,” she replied.
“Ah! could you tell me what he’s betting on in this race?”
“You’ll have to hurry if you’re going to bet,” Delilah advised; but Corson was gone—racing down the steps.
He whirled in under the stand to the betting room, bumping his way against, and through the tide of human flood that was surging up the steps to the lawn. He saw, with a grim glance, that but two men were at the fifty dollar wicket, and a white card with black letters “closed” had been stood up to bar the twenty dollar window.
He was in a state of frantic trepidation; to miss by, perhaps a second of time, five hundred dollars, would be one of Fate’s curious twists. And the man in front of him—now the last, was a mudhead. He shoved back the ticket he had bought on Servitor to win, wanting it changed for a ticket on place, Servitor to be second.
At the ticket seller’s elbow stood a man with a “closed” card in his hand, saying, “Hurry up—that’s all— no more, no more!” But Corson had pushed a hundreddollar bill under the arm of the man of indecision, a coaxing tone to his voice as he said, “Two tickets on Gaff, to win, please—don’t close me out.”
The seller’s ears were resounding to the words of three men; his mind was assailed by three different propositions, and the Servitor man fussed. But Corson’s request appealed in its simplicity. He raked the hundred dollar bill into a till, and picking up two tickets from the compartmented tray shoved them out to Corson’s eager fingers. It was a subconscious move, for he was saying to the other man, “What is it you want—do you know— you got your ticket on Servitor?”
BUT Corson, with a breath of relief, rushed out to see the race. Of course, now that he didn’t need him, almost the first man he saw was Owen.
“Hello, Stewart!” he gasped, for he was still puffing over his haste; “By Jove! but you’re a pink-eyed horologist.”
“Eh—what? What’s a horlogger—a con man?” and into Owen’s mind crept a suspicion that Corson had found out something.
“A horologist is a time-sharp, a man that gives time the once-over, and you’re a he-bird at it. You’ve given me one hell of a run for it—you said this race started at five, and it goes at four-thirty. I just got here.”
“I didn’t know that it was starting at two-thirty to-day. You’re too late; but perhaps it’s just as well—perhaps you’ve saved your money.”
Corson looked at Owen out of startled eyes. “What’s wrong—I’ve bet a hundred on Gaff?”
“You got on, eh?” Owen queried.
“Yes—isn’t Gaff good?”
“I told you not to bet till you saw me here—”
“Saw you—that’s good; and I had three minutes to find you in this crowd. Didn’t you bet on Gaff? Mrs. Owen said you did; that’s why I played him.”
“I bet a hundred, but I was going to bet two hundred, or perhaps five. But I guess it’s all right. He can beat these horses a city block if he’s in the pink. Andrews —he’s a cautious old duck—is afraid that his feet may bother him on this hard track. If you’d sent the hundred down with me I wouldn’t have bet it. I’d sometimes draw to a four-flush myself, but I wouldn’t advise a friend to do it, see?”
Corson’s face took on a gloomy look.
If Owen had seen Corson in time he probably would have kept him off the bet, but now he wasn’t worrying about it. Of course if Corson had handed him the hundred he would have kept it, but Corson had distrusted him, had made it quite evident. The loss was coming to Corson, he, Stewart, should worry. Corson was now more or less of a nuisance in ■„ a racing way, for Owen had been forced to get the money from Delilah.
Owen pointed to the probable odds board behind the judges’ stand. “Gaff’s five to one,” he said, “and if it wasn’t for this whisper that he’s not fit, he’d be at twos, or even money. We win something worth while if he wins—”
“/ƒ he wins; I don’t want to do any betting on ifs.”
“There ought to be an If written in front of every horse’s name in every race,” Owen retorted; “there ain’t any sure things; if there was there’d be no racing.”
“But Stewart, you said Gaff was a cinch.”
“I didn’t: I told you I’d tell you just before the race, and you never asked me. You’ve just got the same chance as I have. There come the horses,” Stewart added, as the eight thoroughbreds passed the paddock gate and came down past the stand in Indian file.
“That’s Gaff, number six,” Corson said, as his eyes traveled from the jockey board across the course to the saddlecloth of a big bay; “He looks good, Owen.”
“He looks good to me. Perhaps Andrews made a mistake about his condition; they may have been working him when the old man wasn’t here. He’s got speed to burn, that horse has. If it had rained, and there was a cushion to the track, it would be a cinch, but the course has been like a paved street.”
The horses had wheeled down the course, and were now lined up at the barrier, just below the judges’ stand, for the race was one mile and a sixteenth.
Corson, glass leveled on the thoroughbreds, was inwardly cursing Owen. What a stupid ass the man was, mixing up the race-time like that; but it was so like the devilishly happy-go-lucky fool. He should have known better than to get mixed up in any of Owen’s good things; if he had heard that Gaff was not a sure-enough winner he wouldn’t have bet a cent on him. And Owen was satisfied with the alibi he had built up for Gaff’s lack of winning ability. Corson could think what he liked, I but he couldn’t say that Owen had delibj erately thrown him down.
“There they go—they’re off!” the roar of many voices drove the irritating thoughts from Corson’s mind.
THE starting web had shot up, the eight thoroughbreds had burst into speed like a flock of startled sheep; there was the thunder of their pounding hoofs; the swirling by of a gaudy cloud of fluttering silks; at the upper turn arms rose and fell as the jockeys’ whips cut at the flanks of their mounts in a mad race for position, for a berth next the rail, in
Women and memscrambled to stand on benches on the lawn, and Owen, clutching Corson by the arm commanded, “Let’s hop to a bench to watch this—the club steps are packed.” .
“Gaff’s in front!” Corson said, as he levelled his glasses on the steeds racing down the back stretch. “Six? Yes, that s Gaff. Oh, you boy, you! His jock’s sitting still, too, Owen. By gad! he’s some little
and going strong!
He dropped his glasses to gaze on Owen, a smile on his lips: “I guess it would have been bad luck if I’d given you that
h'uñdféd ánd ÿôü hadn’t bét it, óld mán.’ “Looks like it,”'Owen commented drily. “You can bet that stuff about sore feet was just a stall to steer the public off to get a price against him. If I like a horse, and I hear the knock from everybody, I go to it double. They can’t put me away, Stewart; I’ve played the ponies from New York to ’Frisco. It’s a hunch, my just making it. I promised that taxi man a tip of two dollars if he’d step on the gas. We’ll just turn on the light to-night, old man; that business engagement of yours will be a hot time in the old town to-night. Two lengths, Owen!” Corson cried, beneath his leveled glasses, as the eight thoroughbreds swung around to the lower turn.
They were crowding up now; behind the two leaders, Gaff and a brown, raced a bunch of four, lapped on each other; a length away was a black, Devonite; and trailing, a chestnut mare, her jockey placid in the knowledge that his mount wouldn’t do, not good enough.
As the horses lay flat against the lower end, Corson asked, “What’s that brown, second, Owen? He’s creeping up?”
“The favorite, Servitor.”
“His jockey’s going to the bat,” Corson advised; “he won’t do.”
“Don’t know about that—he’s a sluggish horse, and the harder they belt him the faster he’ll run—he’s game.”
“Ah, you Gaff! Come on, you clubfoot. D’you see that Owen?—the boy eased him back at the turn, and then lay him flat against the rail, and he’s out in front, just winging. He doesn’t need a manicure, Owen, old top, he’s got his spiked running shoes on. We’ll have five hundred of velvet each to-night for our little game of draw; we’ll raise the limit to five dollars, eh, boy?”
“That’s right;” and inwardly Owen muttered, “minus four hundred—I’ll have a hundred, and that will about let us out.” But through his own glasses Owen could see a blood-bay that was Gaff well clear of the brown, lapped on whose quarter was a big bay, and the boy on Gaff had not made a move. He was crouched, just a little something in old gold with a crimson cap.
Owen felt a depressing doubt creeping over him; would the horse, roused by the fury of combat, keep up that ■ tireless swinging stride—would he win after all, and he with not a penny on? Would his clever scheme turn into a mocking something that he had missed? And if Corson won five hundred, his devilish effusiveness would rankle. Corson was like that, up in the air when things were coming his way, but a whiner when matters were going against him.
Once Owen muttered, “By Jove!”
“Isn’t it great, Stewart—Gaff wins in a walk!” Corson cried.
“Look at the brown,” Owen commanded; “he’s coming, coming.”
Corson shifted his eyes for a second to gaze at the speaker; there was absolutely a touch of elation in his voice.
And then back to the struggling thoroughbreds. His heart went down a foot; the brown was lapped on Gaff, and Gaff was shortening his stride, surely he was. The little mannikin in old gold had raised from his crouch along the horse’s neck, and had gone to the whip. He could hear cries of “The favorite wins!” “Come on you, Servitor!”
The air resounded with the acclaim of the many who had wagered on the favorite; women were jumping up and down on the benches, beating the air with their programmes; one shrill-voiced woman was screaming, “Servitor! Servitor! Servitor!” And now the brown had headed Gaff; he was a neck in front. But outside of the brown a big bay had come up out of the ruck, had come up from nowhere; and was galloping like a wild horse, eating up the lead of the brown at every stride. Now he was at his saddle girth: two seconds, and he was at his throat latch; for a hundred feet the brown head of Servitor and the bay head of the outsider rose and fell together.
A bull-voiced man just down on the lawn bellowed; “The favorite’s beat! the other one gets it!”
Somebody queried, “What horse is that?”
Nobody answered, nobody knew—just an outsider.
Then the judges’ stand blotted the leading horses out, and they flashed into view again past the finish.
“Number one won,” Owen said.
Corson dropped his glasses into the leather case, a frown on his face. “And
number six, our good thing, is down the course, as they say in England,” he growled.
There was a little silent wait, the vociferous mob was stilled, hushed by the calamity of the beaten favorite. Then across the course the numbers of the first three horses were slid into place.
“1, 8, 4,” Owen read; he consulted his programme; “Gath, Servitor, Devonite.” “The good thing blew, Owen,” Corson said bitterly.
“He’d have won if it hadn[t been for his feet,” Stewart declared, sticking to his alibi, though he knew nothing about Gaff’s feet.
“You’re right, Owen, his feet beat him, naturally; it’s with their feet that horses win or lose.”
CORSON drew the two fifty dollar tickets from his vest pocket. “A hundred bucks—a hundred bucks of wise money! Owen, you’re some picker: allow me to present you with these as souvenirs of your acumen in picking a horse with fallen arches.”
Owen put the tickets in his vest pocket, and said, “I’ll paste them in my hat, Corson, as a reminder not to try and do a friend a good turn.”
“Quite so,” Corson retorted; “and also to get the good turn straight next time.” During the race Andrews, seeing Delilah sitting alone had gone up the steps to take Owen’s seat. As the horses flashed past the post Delilah said: “There goes another hundred dollars of Stewart’s money, Mr. Andrews.”
“Servitor?” he queried.
“No; Stewart backed Gaff.”
“What—he must be crazy. I told him the horse hadn’t a chance.”
“Are you sure that he understood you?” “Sure he did. Guess that tout got the loan of him again, and stung him. Owen is too easy led—these crooks is always stringin’ him. Well, I’-ll shuffle along to the paddock.”
“So, Mr. Tootie,” Delilah mused, as the Man from the Desert was lost in the crowd. “I didn’t think you were deep enough for that. Sorted out a dead one, and you’ve got my hundred in your pocket now. Vida, eh!”
. Her analysis of motive was interrupted by the coming of Owen, a doleful look on his face, a sickly smile on his lips as though he were trying to bear up under his loss.
“It went wrong, Lilah,” he said despondently.
“What went wrong—Vida?”
“Say, Lilah, are we at a horse race, or a fox-trot? Gaff was beaten—didn’t you know that?”
“Did you bet on Gaff, Stewart?”
“Sure thing!” He dipped a finger and thumb into his vest pocket, and handed her the oblong strips of pasteboard; “here ’re the tickets—two fifties on Gaff.” As Delilah compared the numbers on the tickets with the numbers on her programme, she gave a start; then she slipped them into her handbag, saying, “I’ll keep them, and when you ask again for a hundred I’ll return them.”
“I’m sorry, Lilah; I did it for the best.” “You always do—best for yourself.” “Oh, don’t rub it in, girl; I feel blue enough over it. I’ll come back when you get in a better humor.”
As Owen clattered down the steps he chuckled. The tickets on Gaff that Corson had so captiously bestowed upon him had been a most happy thing; they had convinced the suspicious Delilah, and he had the hundred dollars in his pocket. The party was surely on.
When Owen had gone Delilah drew forth the tickets, and read the numbers: 4815, and Gaff's number was 4813; the 4815 stood opposite the name of Gath, and Gath had won. There were his odds now on the board, forty-two dollars for a two-dollar ticket: the two little slips of pasteboard were good for twenty-one hundred dollars.
SOMEBODY had blundered, happily.
Stewart had got the names mixed, or the ticket seller had understood him to say Gath; the names were so similar in their phonetics, and there would have been such a din of bettors’ voices. This thing of getting a ticket on the wrong horse happened quite often, Delilah knew that. It was so like her kid husband. Stewart was not a man devoted to‘ detail; he would never bother to check up the numbers of his tickets, and—she shuddered—if he had not been saving them to show her, he would have torn
them up. Then nobody would have profited by this stroke of blind luck. If he had discovered, by chance, his miracle, he would have said nothing about the money to Delilah—it would only supply a stake for a joy-ride into high life. Tootie with twenty-one hundred dollars in his pocket, and Vida in the offing!
What an escape! And now the Vida episode had simplified; Stewart hadn’t even the hundred in his pocket that Delilah had fancied he was holding out for Vida; the party was off.
She smiled grimly. Lucky for Stewart that he had someone to look after him. She would bank this money in her own account—her Home Fund, as she called it.