A Strange Tip
W. Hastings Webling
THE Hon. Robert Norman Beanyngton-Brome, familiarly known as “Beans” to his immediate friends, third son of the late lamented Lord Stranways, and only surviving brother of the present Lord, stood alone in the paddock at Ascot, intently figuring at his gold monogramed betting book. From the serious frown on his naturally good natured freckled face, it was not difficult to conclude that the result of his calculations was far from pleasant. Indeed, the Hon. Robert, to use a familiar phrase, was “up against it.” A monotonous succession of losers, which should have won easily, threatened the young sportsman with a very bad time on settling day.
“Only a miracle, or a lucky plunge on the last race can save the situation,” he muttered, slowly closing the book, “both equally unlikely to come off, so far as I’m concerned; the Fates are against me.”
“Beans, by all that’s beautiful !” exclaimed a cheery voice at his side, “How are you old chap?”
The Hon. Robert turned to see the soldierly figure and handsome face of his best friend, Captain William
Courtney, of His Majesty’s -th
With unaffected pleasure, he grasped the Captain’s outstretched hand and shook it heartily. “Well! ’pon my word, Billie, where in the name of Heaven do you spring from ! I thought you were roasting in India.”
“I was, and that’s a jolly long way removed from Heaven, just now, old chap. Had a touch of fever, got six months’ leave, which by the same token is nearly up, and here I am ! By Jove! it’s great to be home. How goes the battle, Beans?”
“Rotten, old fellow—how goes it with you? You look pretty fit for an invalid.”
“O! I’m enjoying robust health, and having a ripping time. What do you think! Saw old Drivers, at the station. Of course you know old Drivers? Used to train for my Guvnor. Seemed actually glad to see me, marked my card for the first and third race, with a ‘double star’ for the last. The first two won, and I’m going for the ‘cigars’ on the last—what!”
“Bully for you, Bill! Glad to hear somebody is finding them. But what, in the name of all that’s glorious, did the wiley Driver tip you for the last?” “Climatic! and further stated in a mysterious whisper accompanied by a particularly knowing wink—'“If Don Antonio wins the ‘third’ you can have a little extra on Climatic.”
“You’re an angel in disguise, Bill. I may get out of this beastly mess, after all. Let’s get back to the Ring —I see they’re clearing the course for the last race.”
The two friends hurried back to “Tattersalls” and forcing their way through the struggling crowd, managed to attract the attention of Jack
Cooper, the Leviathan Knight of the pencil.
“What price Climatic?” inquired the Hon. Robert.
“Seven to you, Sir,” replied the busy bookmaker.
“To a hundred, twice,” nodded the Hon. Robert—“You’re in, I suppose?” turning to his friend.
“Rather,” replied the Captain* “go for the ‘cigars,’ Beans. I’m with you to the limit.”
The Hon. Robert moved on and backed Climatic down to 5 to i, when the stirring shout of “They’re off!” signalled the horses were running, and suspended further investments. So the two friends made the best of their way to a place of vantage, and watched with keen interest the result of the momentous race.
With field glasses glued to their eyes, they quickly distinguished the well-known colors of the noble owner of Climatic, “green and yellow.” She was well placed and going easily. At the turn her little jockey, one of the most successful lightweights in England, let her out a little, and she promptly went to the head of affairs, taking a nice position on the rails.
“Climatic wins ! Even money Climatic ! Climatic for a thousand !” yelled the Bookies.
“O ! it’s a regular walkover !” observed the Hon. Robert, in tones of suppressed delight.
“All over, bar shouting!” observed Captain Courtney, “and by Gad !— what a win !”
The horses were now racing for home, Climatic with a comfortable lead of a couple of lengths. It was then her young pilot turned in triumph to watch the useless struggle of his straining opponents. Alas ! it was his own undoing! The filly changed her stride and stumbled. Caught by surprise, the boy lost his balance and horse and rider fell heavily to the ground with a sickening thud.
It was all over, a wretched outsider had beat the favorite a head, and
another sad story was added to the annals of a Black Ascot.
The Hon. Robert carefully placed his glasses back in their case, while his grey-blue eyes looked bravely round at Captain Courtney, who stood watching poor Climatic being led limping away in the distance.
“Well, that about settles it, Bill,” said the Hon. Robert, as they slowly followed the crowd hurrying to catch a train for town.
“Did you ever knowr such rotten luck—what?” exclaimed the still dazed Captain, when they at last secured seats in the crowded train.
“Glorious uncertainty of the turf, Bill!”
“Righto ! what’s the good of worrying! let’s go to the Club, and make a night of it—what?”
“You’re on,” replied the Hon. Robert, “we will forget the past in one glorious night—then to-morrow ! Well, it’s chaos and Canada for me!”
“Bad as all that, old chap? I’m sorry, can I do anything for you?”
“No, thanks, Billie. Just a question of selling out my few effects— drawr my little balance, and settling up.”
' “After that?”
“The deluge ! I shall have to touch poor old Stranways again, altho’ goodness knows, with poor crops and increased rents, he has about all he can do to keep things going. However, he is good for a bit, especially when he hears I’m cutting the festive ‘turf,’ and clearing out for Canada. He’s fearfully strong on emigration just now, and simply bursting with facts and figures—the glorious possibilities of the Great Northwest, etc., etc.”
“Not a bad idea—but beastly cold climate—eh ?”
“Not so cold as London, to a man that’s broke,” observed the Hon. Robert, seriously. “There’s simply nothing to do, but follow Stranway’s advice—he’s been at me again lately. But you know how hard it is for a fellow to break away from this sort of thing. Besides, there’s Sara—she
won’t understand the situation, and how can I expect her to wait for a ‘down-and-outer’ like myself.”
“Lady Sara is young,” said the Captain, sympathetically. “She would be the first to stand by you. Give her a chance, you’ll see ; or I’m jolly well mistaken in my guess.”
“Well, a truce to worry,” exclaimed the Hon. Robert, more blithely. “We still have our evening, let the morrow bring forth what it may. Ah ! here we are at last !”
The train reached its terminus and the young men hailed a taxi, and were soon lost in the surging traffic of London Town.
The first thing the Hon. Robert did, when he awoke next morning, was to order his man, Bury, to mix a stiff brandy and soda, which, followed by a cold tub, helped materially in preparing him for the unpleasant duties of the day. He surprised his brother, Lord Stranways, by his early appearance, and himself still more, by the comparatively lucid statement of his affairs, considering that he and the Captain, had only parted a few hours before, in a state of convivial happiness and blissful indifference to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”—or such a mere detail as common cash.
His Lordship listened to the confessions of his younger brother with sympathetic interest—especially in reference to emigration.
“Excellent idea, Beans, splendid Gountry, great opportunities. Should have gone there myself years ago, if the Guvnor had given the word. Tell you what I’ll do ; I’ll have Coutts place £200 to your credit at the Bank of Montreal. This, with the little you can save from the wreck should give you a start. I’d like to do more, but you know the condition of affairs here—absolutely impossible !
The Hon. Robert thanked his brother and they parted as ever, the best of friends, although they had little in common, and really saw very little of one another.
What with selling out, settling accounts and preparing for the journey, the Hon. Robert put in his last few days in England very busily.
The hardest thing of all was explaining matters, and bidding farewell to Lady Sara Bayville.
“Oh! Bob,” she exclaimed, after he had recounted his plans and ambitions. “What a bore ! the Leathers were going to invite us both for a perfectly ripping house party at their place in Scotland next month.” Then more seriously, “I’m awfully sorry, Bob, but it won’t make any difference to me, you know ! I’ll wait ever such a long time, and you will make lots of money, won’t you ? and come back soon ? And, I say, Bob, do be a careful boy, won’t you, and not get scalped by the Indians.”
“I’ll take care of that,” said the Hon. Robert, with a laugh, “although, from what I hear, there are other Indians than the noble Reds, who may be hunting for my scalp over there.”
“Well, good-bye, Sara.” He pressed her fondly to his heart, while their young lips met in a last fond farewell.
“Good-bye, Bob, and—good luck!”
He noted the little break in her voice, and it helped him through many a cheerless hour in the days to come.
Bob sailed the following afternoon on the good ship, Florentine. He had booked his passage in the name of Robert Brome, and as Robert Brome he determined to win the smile of fickle fortune entirely on the result of his own efforts.
The wooing of fickle fortune proved more difficult than even he imagined. Gold did not grow on the streets of Montreal, and he drifted from one place to another, from one thing to another, till nearly two empty years passed before a favoring wind wafted him to the little town in western Ontario, which we may call Brownville. Here he got a job working on a farm owned by Thomas Gibson, who ran a general store, a farm, a sawmill, etc., and dealt in anything from a thimble to a timber limit, if he thought there was money in it.
Bob soon made good with the shrewd old man, who put him in full charge of the farm, to work on half shares. This life suited Bob to a turn, he worked with his brains, as well as his hands. He dug right in, rose with the sun and retired early. Labored with a cheerful optimism, and success crowned his efforts.
Letters from the Old Country gradually ceased to arrive, except at rare intervals. He heard occasionally from his brother, once in a great while from Lady Sara, and Courtney. His brother he knew had married the widow of a wealthy brewer, while Captain Courtney was still in India, accumulating medals and contracting a liver. As for Lady Sara, the description of her doings only seemed to prove how utterly vain it was for him to ever hope or expect such a beautiful butterfly of fashion to be the bride of a hard-working Canadian farmer.
Soliloquising alone one evening in the early Fall, smoking his cherished ' briar, Bob’s thoughts gradually wandered back to days of the past. Days of happy childhood spent at Castle Stranways, in the midst of the Chiltern Hills, splendid even in decay. On through Eton, then Oxford, careless happy-go-lucky days of early manhood round town. Racing, shooting, yachting, bridge, etc. The good fellows he knew so well, chief among them Billie Courtney, one of the very best. Dearer still, his first meeting with Lady-Sara at her father’s hunting box Leicestershire. The dutiful attention, next the mild flirtation and happy stolen walks in the moonlight. Then the first awakening of love’s young dream. Slowly it all passed, a succession of moving pictures, before his yearning vision.
How he longed once more to see the old friends, the old home, to dine once more at his favorite club, and indulge in an English sole, served in that incomparable style for which the chef was famous. A draught of good English ale, from its native pewter,— nectar of the gods, indeed! But
above all to see Sara once more. Would she know him? He pictured her surprise at his rugged sunburnt appearance, the queer cut of his country clothes. How she would smile, and in fancy he could see the dainty dimples peeping in and out on her pretty face. But of course, he would get a new wardrobe from Smithers & Jones, before he presented himself.
“Hallo! Beans, my boy—what luck?” exclaimed a well-remembered voice at his elbow.
Surprised beyond measure, he looked up and beheld the lithe form and handsome face of Captain William Courtney. His eyes were glowing with pathetic pleasure, his once bronzed countenance, unnaturally pale and serene.
“Billie, by all that’s wonderful ! What happy fortune brought you here?” And Bob started to his feet.
“Sit down, old man, don’t move, I’m only here for a few minutes” said the Captain in strange low tones. “You remember Climatic?”
Bob nodded in a half stupor, his straining eyes fixed on those of his friend.
“Back her for the Blankshire, she is going to win. Driver says so, and Driver knows.”
“But Billie, old boy, you look so queer—are you ill—is anything wrong?”
“No thanks, I’m quite all right now, you know” replied the Captain with a ghost of his old smile,” but don’t forget, Beans,—Climatic is a certainty ! And I say, Beans, split a bottle of the “boy” with me if it comes off. Good-bye, old chap !’
“Hang Climatic! Bill, sit down like a good fellow, and tell me about yourself” cried Bob, again rising and stepping towards his friend. But the Captain was no longer there, he had faded away as mysteriously as he came, and the room remained silent and in darkness.
Bob quickly struck a match. He lit the lamp and gazed around, but
everything was in order, not a thing disturbed.
“Well, by Jove! if that doesn’t beat the deuce” he muttered, “I’ve been dreaming! The most realistic thing I ever knew—Would have bet a hundred Bill was here. Yet Bill never looked quite so queer in all his life—strange things dreams. Well, I guess I had better turn in now for good, and forget it.”
But he didn’t forget. Next morning the dream returned to Bob with renewed vividness. He couldn't get it out of his mind. “Climadc” forsooth, bet she has been relegated to a hansom cab, or the boneyard long before this. Still, just for the fun of the thing, I’ll run down to the Village and get an English paper. It’s the 15th to-day—the Blankshire is generally run about the 27th. Probably I can find the entries, or betting quotations—that will settle it.”
Bob saddled his mare, and cantered over to Brownville, about three miles distant, and succeeded in getting a fairly late issue of ’’Lloyd’s Weekly.” With strangely trembling hands, he searched through the sheets till at length he discovered a paragraph headed latest betting on the “Blankshire Handicap,” and there, with a start, he read at the bottom of the quotations — “Climatic, 50 to 1 offered.”
“Well, I’m -!” he ejaculated
in surprise “she’s certainly in it all right, altho’ they don’t seem to be running over themselves to back her. However, this paper is two weeks old, and conditions have likely changed since then.”
He returned to the farm, but his heart was not in his work, try as he would, and by the time old Gibson drove over on his daily visit Bob had arrived at a determination.
After greetings and some casual conversation Bob blurted out “I say, Mr. Gibson, can I get away for a month, I want to make a flying trip to England,”
“Why, of course, my boy,” said the old man taken somewhat by surprise. “Coming back?”
“O yes,” said Bob, “I’ll be back, never fear. Everything in pretty good shape. Giles can take hold while I’m away.”
“When do you start?”
“I find the Bostnia sails on the 18th, and I want to make Liverpool by the 26th at the latest. She can just do it.”
“Good enough,” said the old man, who was rather fond of Bob in his dry old way. “You’ll have to get a hustle on if you want to make Montreal by the 18th.”
“Oh ! I can do it easily,” said Bob, who thanked his worthy employer, and prepared for his trip.
After packing a few necessary things in an old suit case, Bob drew a biggish sum in crisp Bank of England ten pound notes, and left that night on the International Limited for Montreal ; there he boarded the Bostnia, and sailed early next morning for England, home and beauty.
It was a most uninteresting trip, very few passengers and prevailing fogs all the way across. One can imagine, therefore, with what pleasure Bob sighted land at last, and finally placed foot on British soil the night of the 26th.
“Pretty close call at that” reflected he, as with bag in hand, he made his way to the London & North Western Hotel.
Buying two or three of the evening papers, he retired to his room, and before turning in, read all the news available in reference to the classic “Blankshire,” scheduled for the following day.
In the betting Climatic was quoted still at 50 to i “taken and offered.” She was also on the list of probable starters, although her jockey’s name was not mentioned.
One scribe writing from the scene of action, referring to different candidates—said, “Among the lighter weights Climatic must be considered,
were one sure she had quite recovered from the severe injury she sustained as a two-year-old. Since then, however, she has seldom run in public and then unsuccessfully in very moderate company.”
“Not awfully encouraging,” reflected Bob, “Still there is one gleam of hope, one oasis in the desert—old Driver still trains her, and if she’s good enough for him to keep, she can’t be absolutely worthless. Then there’s dear old Bill’s supernatural tip. Well, 'here’s for bed—to-morrow will prove all things !”
Bob rose early next morning and took the first train for “Blankshire,” which landed him in that historic old town about noon, in time for lunch at the Rutland. After an excellent cold collation, Bob strolled leisurely up to the course and wandered round reviewing old scenes, watching the various horses parading in the paddock. He encountered many well remembered faces, of casual acquaintances, trainers, touts, bookmakers, jockeys and all the varied mixtures of mankind that go to make up the great racing fraternity. Of course, no one recognized Bob Brome in his weird, country-cut garments, as the erstwhile, fashionable, well-groomed man about town. But little did he care for that, it caused a smile, for he was there for a purpose, and the outcome of that purpose was all that interested him at that moment.
The course was being cleared for the first event, which Bob watched with t'he keen interest of the true sportsman, for he loved horses. He saw the second race won by the favorite which carried the good King’s Royal colors. The victory created an ovation and proved how fondly His Majesty rested in the hearts of his subjects.
Then Bob returned to the paddock, and after a diligent search, discovered Climatic, looking wonderfully fit, in the course of saddling, under the superintendence of the astute Driver
himself. He examined her critically ; she seemed full of life, and her bay coat shone like satin.
“Good enough,” concluded Bob, “She’s here, she’s well, and I’m going to see the bally thing through to the limit—come what may!”
Having reached this conclusion, Bob returned to Tattersalls, where speculation was in full force. The bookies were offering 5 to 2 the Field, 4 to i Tipster, 6 to 1 Merrylip, 6 to 1 Lonia, 100 to 14 Gildersleeve, and so on, while Climatic with two or three other horses was offered at 50 to 1. The odds were tempting, but still Bob held on, and turned to watch the parade, for the contestants, a field of twenty-six, were now passing the stands. Very beautifully they looked, trained to perfection, stepping proudly before their critics, with a seeming knowledge of their great importance and responsibilities.
Climatic was ridden by a young apprentice from the Driver stables, a bright, likely looking lad. As for the mare, she walked sedately, but looked fit to run for her life. The horses turned slowly, and then cantered sharply past on their way to the starting post.
Once more pandemonium broke loose, and wagering was carried on at feverish heat. The betting rings presented one seething mass of struggling humanity.
“’Ere!” shouted a stentorian voice, “I’ll lay 66 to 1 Ballinger, 66 to 1 Turnover, 66 to 1 Climatic.” It was old Ben Morton and Bob knew him well as a sound man. Pushing his way to t'he front he shouted through the din “Climatic to a hundred!”
“What name?” briskly inquired old Ben, who thought he half recognized the face of an old client.
“Cash” replied Bob, passing ten crisp notes into the Bookie’s capacious hand.
“Like it again, Sir?” inquired the obliging Ben, scenting a Juggins.
Bob hesitated. Suddenly the vision of Courtnev appeared before him.
and once more he seemed to hear the echo of his voice saying, “Climatic is a certainty!”
“Yes, to five hundred!" cried Bob on the spur of the moment, handing Ben the balance of his precious wad, receiving a ticket in exchange.
'Bob turned quickly to look for his old friend, almost expecting to see him in the immediate crowd—but not a sign of Courtney could he discover. “Well! if that doesn’t beat the deuce, I’m a Rotterdam Dutchman !” he muttered, edging his way through the mass of packed humanity. “Jove! I’m in for it now, right up to the hilt. Five hundred of the best, well ! I’m either inspired, or a fit subject for a lunatic asylum.”
Once more he heard that thrilling shout “They’re ofif,” and he secured the best place possible to watch the great struggle for the “Blanks'hire.” The course was a straight one, about one mile in length, but he could see little of the race till half the distance had been covered. At last he distinguished the well remembered colors of Climatic, bringing up the rear.
On they came, a glorious mass of flashing colors, while the thundering ring of hoofs and shouts of the excited multitude filled the air. The jockeys were now hard at it, whip and spur, tooth and nail.
“The favorite wins ! The favorite for a hundred !” yells the crowd. “No, the favorite’s beat ! It’s Tipster! Tipster, come along Tipster!”
“Here ! What’s that in green and yellow on the right?” shouts the voice of a well known backer.
“Climatic ! Climatic ! Climatic ! Thousand to one on Climatic” roars the ring, and Climatic it was. She came out like a streak at the distance, shot by the leaders, and won in a romp by two lengths.
Bob stepped quietly down from the stand, and waited the final cry “All right.” It came at last, as he knew it would. Of course it was all right —she made no mistake this time. Her little pilot rode to orders and took no
chances. The “Gratwick" stables had brought off another great coup, and that silent old veteran, William Driver, bidhig 'his time patiently, had added another great victory to his splendid record, incidentally scoring his third “Blankshire.”
Bob walked over to Ben Morton and with strange pleasure gave the old man his real name.
“Well, well,” chuckled the worthy Ben, “Glad to see you again, sir. Rather thought your face looked sort of familiar, like ! Hope to see you often, sir; maybe you’d like me to settle, eh?”
“No” replied Bob, “You might let me have a hundred and send me your cheque for the balance, care of Coutts.”
Bob did not wait for the final events, but drove to the station and took the first train for Town. He arrived at St. Paneras about 8 o’clock, hailed a taxi and drove direct to the “Cavalry Club” to find out, if possible, whether Captain Courtney was in town by chance.
The hall porter was a new man, and did not know Captain Courtney but would inquire.
“Pardon me,” said a short, erect gentleman, with a deeply lined brown face, and a grizzled grey moustache, “did you inquire for Captain Courtney of the —th Dragoons?”
“Yes,” replied Bob, raising his hat, “Captain Courtney was an old friend and I am particularly anxious to know whether he is in town, or where his regiment is stationed. My name is Brome.”
“I am Colonel Grey, Mr. Brome, and regret exceedingly to say poor Courtney was assasinated in India— found dead in his tent. Most mysterious thing. It is feared Courtney suffered for the fault of others. His native orderly disappeared—probably a political crime.”
“When was the crime committed?” Inquired Bob, infinitely distressed.
“Cable despatch says the night of the 14th.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Bob, with bowed head and saddened heart. “Poor old Bill—By Jove it’s too bad!” “Another victim to the vacillating policy of our precious government,” said the Colonel, turning to re-enter his Club, while Bob raised his hat and walked slowly away in deep thought. ,
He secured a room at a small private hotel in Jermyn Street, frequented often by him in his undergraduate days, and where he had expressed his suit case from Liverpool.
When he entered the old familiar coffee room he could hardly imagine so many years had elapsed. Everything looked exactly as he remembered it in the days gone by, even to old Thomas, the waiter, who stood at his side, rubbing expectant hands, a paternal smile on his rubicund features.
The sad news of Courtney’s death had entirely robbed Bob of any particular desire for food, but he glanced through the menu and ordered a light repast. From the wine card he selected a reliable brand of vintage champagne—a pint bottle and two glasses.
“Poor old Bill; he asked me to split a bottle of the “boy” with him if Climatic won—Maybe his spirit is hovering round now. I’d give all I possess if he were only here.”
Slowly he filled his glass, and standing up, he leaned across the table, and reverently clinked the empty glass. “Here’s to you, dear old Bill,” he said solemnly, with subdued emotion,—“you were always one of the best—God bless you!”
While experience is the dependable thing, we must have fancy and hope as well, or we make little progress. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” said the ablest of the apostles.
The following month, Lady Sara Bayville and the Hon. Robert Norman Beanyngton-Brome were married by special license, at a quiet wedding in Hanover Square. Only the immediate relatives were present at the ceremony in consequence of the recent decease of the bride’s father, the late Baron Bayville, of Lynne.
The honeymoon was spent at Castle Stranways, loaned the young couple b> Lord Stranways, the groom’s brother. There they spent a month of unclouded happiness, returning to Canada later in the year.
A more perfect or better run farm does not exist in Western Ontario than “The River Farm,” owned by Robert Brome, and its interior arrangements and menage are equally attractive, thanks to the excellent taste and charming personality of Mrs. Brome.
As for Mr. Robert William Courtney Brome, Junior, he is certainly the most wonderful baby in the world, and if you do not believe me, you can ask his unprejudiced mother, and I’m sure she will quickly convince you the truth of this statement.
In conclusion I might add, Robert Brome has never set foot on a racecourse since the running of that sensational “Blankshire,” or made another wager on a horse. In fact his interest in racing is a thing of the past and it is only with extreme reluctance, even now, that he refers to the mysterious visitation of his poor murdered friend and the great coup which resulted from “A Strang Tip.
Conservatism and skepticism play their part in the world, but they don t blaze new paths or pull off victories. The mistakes of progress are much more worth while than the inertia of the sure thing.—Frank A. Munsey.