“Neighbor’s” Wooing

FRANCIS DICKIE May 15 1921

“Neighbor’s” Wooing

FRANCIS DICKIE May 15 1921

“Neighbor’s” Wooing

FRANCIS DICKIE

THE monikers, or nicknames, that men of the turf give to each other are at all times descriptive. From some caprice in dress, as “Silk Clad;” oddity of action, as the “Jiggles Kid;” or through geographic connection, as “Alabam;” or methods of dealing, as “Square Cut;” are these appellatives bestowed on men of the racing fraternity by each other.

So, not without reason, had the movers in that world invested George Thomas Harkness with the nomenclature of “Neighbor,” for during that worthy’s fifteen years of touting around the little and the great tracks of the American continent there was scarcely a jockey, bookmaker, owner, trainer or tout who had not at some time succumbed to Neighbor’s wheedling story of need and handed out a loan. The amounts of these ranged from a two-bit piece to a finif note, and were never by any chance repaid. Yet Neighbor, persuasive, always convincing, continued to secure loans when needed, his creditors either forgetting past contributions, or giving up again out of sheer admiration for the Neighbor’s histrionic powers.

Still a week distant was the opening date of the Pacific coast’s biggest race meet—sixty days racing at Vancouver’s Minoru Park. With this date and city large in mind, but separated therefrom by six hundred mountain miles, Neighbor sat in a soft chair in the big rotunda of the Empire Hotel, Calgary, playing idly with three two-bit.pieces—all his capital. The last meet of the “bush” circuit ending disastrously for him two days previously in a little western town, he had come to the near prairie metropolis of Cal-

gary by way of a horse car, through the indulgence of its owner. Even the box car route would have been acceptable to Neighbor the rest of the way to the coast city of Vancouver, but what horses had finished out the “bush” circuit were now in Calgary to stay; the better strings from here for entry at Vancouver having left long before.

PRESENTLY Neighbor looked up from his aimless fingering of the three silver pieces to the big rotunda clock. It was just 3.15, and the Oriental Limited left for the coast at nine that night.

He pondered the fact several moments; evolving from it a number of varied thoughts. The “short” for that six hundred mountain miles at four cents the mile was twelve dollars. Neighbor knew this from many former trips. Then there were the conductors to be considered; they were always an unknown quantity, more elusive than the algebraical X. Two passenger divisions must of necessity be covered, and, should one or other of the conductors not prove amenable to the “short”—a half fare payment made surreptitiously, which the conductor pocketed if he happened to be “right,” which in the language of Neighbor meant dishonest—much more than this number of dollars would have to be given up. Too, the tout remembered there was the “hotel stakes,” in which he was, to use his own expression, entered, to the extent of five whole dollars for board and lodging. In this matter, at least at this hotel, he did not care to shirk his obligations, it having been long a favorite though temporary home. While the clock ticked off fifteen precious minutes he pondered, going carefully over his long list of acquaintances in the city —bartenders, pool room proprietors, horse owners, and all the motley crew which circumstance and environment had brought him to know.

As the big timepiece tolled the half hour he rose; decision in his eyes, alert, he started on the rounds, mind fixed on that nine o’clock westbound train.

At nine that evening, hotel bill paid, at peace with all the world, Neighbor swung on the platform of one of the first-class coaches of the Oriental Limited. In one pocket reposed sixteen folded one dollar bills. In the other, ten more under a wrapper which would have passed ordinary scrutiny as a hundred dollar

Long ago Neighbor had learned the potency of a “flash” bankroll in chance-come card games so common to railway journeys. But the precarious mode of living he followed, an extreme and mad extravagance when flush, tended to keep him in a financial state where even a “flash” bankroll was difficult of maintaining.

Necessity rowelling invention, however, had brought out the wonderful possibilities which lay in a one dollar bill when carefully supplemented by two cigar box customs stamps of the century denomination.

Leaving the hotel at three-thirty that afternoon, and never receiving more than fifty cents in one place, he had completed his tour of the town at exactly seven o’clock, thirty-two dollars richer, an ample proof of the wideness of his acquaintance, persuasive abilities and the fittingness of his name.

SUPPLIED with a surplus of cash, the card game possi^ bilities had come quickly to his mind, causing him to devote the remaining time before his departure to changing the silver pieces he had collected into bills mostly of one dollar denomination, and the preparation of an opulent looking bankroll with part of them, one of the bills, the outer one, having been subjected to the before-mentioned treatment of two customs stamps off a cigar box containing one hundred cigars.

Thus fortified, Neighbor watched the lights of Calgary fade, his spirits close approaching ecstasy.

With still four days to spare Neighbor alighted from the Oriental Limited at Vancouver early in the afternoon. Neatly folded in one trouser pocket reposed two hundred odd dollars, the winnings from a card game which, hoped and prepared for, had materialized upon the trip. Some crisply new, others limply old, but all reassuring were these bills, making triumphant this entry into a desired city, and strengthening once more his conviction—which in months past had begun to weaken through a series of unfortunate

happenings—that the battle goes not to the strong but to the crafty.

Unhampered with baggage he walked briskly down the platform and climbed the ascending side street leading to the main thoroughfare. Reaching this he stood on a corner waiting for a street car to carry him to Minoru Park, the city’s justly famous mile track.

A jockey himself in the distant past, Neighbor recognized full well that jockeys were the real powers of turfdom; and since age and weight had turned hiïn tout had always cultivated with care their acquaintance so that many times in the past a friendly word from one of them had notified him as to whether a certain horse was “trying” or in the

The value of such acquaintance still in mind, he now straightway following arrival was trackward bound. Presently a car came roaring down the street, and, with loud squeaking of brakes on wheels, jerked to a stop before

What Neighbor found out that afternoon by loitering around the orderly row of stables along the back stretch, and from crouching, stop-watch in hand, close to the finishing wire in the misty light of the next morning’s dawn until a horse and rider had dashed past, was of much importance.

TTOLLOWING this vigil, satisfied nothing necessitated “ further hanging around, and amply supplied with funds, making a bed in some extra stall unnecessary, Neighbor repaired to the city and to the Winters Hotel, long a home of the racing fraternity. Here, provided with luxury of a room with bath, in recent times denied him through a series of unfortunate endeavors, he remained in a state of saving and strict sobriety awaiting the opening of the race meet, his usual Indian-like nature restrained from blowing the late-come bankroll by the possibilities it contained if saved and used later in conjunction with his information gained at the track on the day following his arrival.

Early in the evening previous to the opening of the meet, as he was standing at the cigar stand in the rotunda scanning a yellow slip containing the overnight entries, the rustling of skirts caused him to look up. In his years of wandering around the continent, Neighbor had seen thousands of beautiful women from various stations of life without being unduly moved. But now, as he looked upon this one passing from the hotel entrance to the elevator, a strange unknown feeling crept over him; one he could neither define nor understand. The girl was of medium height, lithe, perfectly proportioned, quietly garbed in a plain tailor-made suit of blue, and a black sailor equally simple of design. To reach the elevator she had to pass quite near him, and he glimpsed momentarily a pair of big, soft brown eyes, clear, innocent, as was the face that held them; a face a perfect oval, clear-skinned, small of feature, delicate and refined.

UNASHAMED, Neighbor stared after her in open admiration. Even after she passed out of sight in the ascending elevator his eyes lingered with oddly preoccupied look upon the iron gratings of the shaft. Presently, gathering his wits, he made enquiry regarding her; but the night clerk, an old friend of the Neighbor, could tell him nothing other than her name was Lulu Brown and that she had registered three days previously from a little inland town.

The night was still young; the town held many allurements, yet Neighbor could not tear himself away from the hotel. Filled with hope that the girl might again come down he strolled aimlessly about the rotunda, turning anxious eyes toward the elevator on its each descending trip.

However, after an hour of this watching had proven fruitless, he gave it up and went slowly down into the heart of the city, in search of entertainment. But somehow tonight the endlessly moving people made him lonesome. He passed the picture-adorned lobby of a vaudeville house and the gaudy fronts of half a dozen picture theatres; and as he passed each one the coming desire to enter was overpowered by a restless something he could not understand: it was as though some unseen hand was moving him on. It irritated him, so strongly did it make itself felt upon him; yet, before he realized it he found himself turning his steps in the direction of the hotel which, though of good reputation, was but one block removed from the waterfront, and up and down the streets near it were wont to pass drunken, stake-spending sailors.

Turning the corner on to the street that led to the hotel he was startled by a woman’s cry, and looking in the direc-

tion saw, fifty yards ahead, a feminine form backing into the doorway of an office building, while, close following, was a man drunkenly swaying, whose outstretched arms st rove to embrace her.

WITH leaping strides Neighbor covered the distance intervening. Hearing his approach the intoxicated man turned from his quarry to meet suspected attack, but not quickly enough. Neighbor’s short swung fist shot to the man’s jaw, sending him spinning half around to fall to the pavement with the heaviness of a frozen log, his head striking the pavement with sound faintly audible.

Without a second glance, Neighbor turned from the fallen one to greet the distressed woman, who now stepped from the semi-darkness of the doorway into the light from the street lamp, half a block away. One glance at her and Neighbor’s hat came off; but for a moment he could not speak, so joyful was his amazement. He had rescued Lulu

Then at last he managed to command his voice. “Say, you oughtn’t to be out alone like this.” He spoke actually with roughness; and neither words nor the tone were what he had wished to utter. The girl was about to answer when Neighbor, seeing signs of approaching life on the part of the fallen one, said : “Let’s get on to the hotel!”

“Why, how do you know I am at a hotel?” There was an odd something of nervous startlement in her voice and manner; a suggestion of fear that even the knowledge that an unknown man was aware of her whereabouts hardly warranted.

But Neighbor was soaring to empyrean heights of ecstasy and did not notice. “Aw, I saw you.” His tone was fatuous as a country bumpkin. For the first time in his life he failed to be captain of himself; was very awkward and embarrassed in the presence of a woman.

“All right; put on your hat and we’ll go.” There was a gentle raillery in her voice, though her eyes were steady, unsmiling; a guarded something and strange reserve filling

’^j’OT until she spoke was Neighbor conscious he was -*• ’ standing twiddling bis hat. He slammed it on almost angrily, and, falling into step, went on by her side in the direction of the hotel. But Neighbor, with fifteen years of living about a race track, was quick to regain his poise, a calm assurance that comes with depending on wits rather than work for a living.

“My name’s Nei—” he caught himself just in time— “Harkness, G. T. Harkness.” He said the words slowly, as one speaking of something unfamiliar. Even to him, who rightly claimed name and initials, they sounded strange, so long was it since he had heard them.

“And mine is. . . ”

“Lulu Brown.” Neighbor took the words out of her mouth. She turned on him a sharp and questioning glance; her eyes suspicious, appraising. “How do you know?” “Why, I asked the clerk.” Neighbor was at his ease now. The old calm effrontery that had carried him safely through many a dangerous encounter in the past, was his again, aiding him in this new game of love-making.

“But why did you ask the clerk?” Her tone was puzzled, but the suspicion and fear no longer was in evidence. Her whole manner was subtly as one who, coming upon a coiling snake believes it to be a rattler, but in the next moment, through closer inspection sees it as only a harmless garter.

“Well, I saw you, and I liked you; that’s reason enough, isn’t it?

And that drunk back there deserves my thanks. I had to hit him, but just the same I think a whole lot of

“Oh!” The exclamation breathed volumes of a queer relief only absolute certainty brings.

THEY had almost reached the hotel entrance and Neighbor, suddenly confronted with the possibility of the acquaintance ending, rose nobly to the occasion.

“Say, are you working in town?”

“No, I just came in from the country. I’m a stenographer ; but there doesn't seem to be much work here. At least I

can’t find any.

I’m going to start out tomorrow and get a cheaper place to stay.”

“Oh, put it off another day and come with me tomorrow and see the

think I should,” there was that delicious indecision in her voice that invites urging.

Then she added :“Ishouldn’t spare the time, and, and, well,

I never was at a horse race in my life. My father is an eld e r in the church and he’s very much opposed to such things. So, I guess I’d better not go.”

The entrance door gleamed before them.

But Neighbor, refusing to be robbed thus quickly of his prize, and, lacking the finer training common to men of higher society which would have forbidden such action, as he swung open the portal, ventured boldly: “It’s not late yet, let’s go up to the parlor and talk it over.” She did not immediately answer, so, interpreting her silence to suit himself, he stepped into the elevator with her, bidding the boy to stop at the first floor. “The parlor is right at the end of the hall,” he said as the ear came to a stop, and gently took her arm. Unprotesting she allowed herself to be guided down the the hall to the big parlor.

The parlor, like all such sanctuaries allotted to Madame Grundy, was big, bare, lone, depressing in spite of the elegance and grandeur of the furniture. They are always so the world over; whether situate in the newest of great city hostelries or in boarding houses conducted by that lady relic of ancient Southern family, their chilling a’> is the same. But the tout under the spell of two big brown eyes saw nothing but the eyes and face and form before him; the room and its appointments were incon-

sequential, passing unnoticed.

They talked of many things, but not until Lulu had given her promise to attend with him the opening day of the race meeting. And then, many minutes later after they had talked the usual empty nothings common to people meeting for the first time; there came suddenly to Neighbor the great idea. It flashed into his mind apropros of nothing, and with compelling force. With this uppermost in his mind this chance meeting with the girl took on strange significance. Superstitious to a degree, like all track followers, he now read into this' occurrence the direct working of Destiny for his benefit.

Working on a hint dropped by a friendly jockey he had followed this up and learned something big with possibilities in his short sojourn at the track. He had “clocked” Egret, an unknown two-vear-old, in an early morning tryout. In this she had done a mile irr the fast time of 1.39. She was one of theentries for the big race of the meeting on the second’ day, the Fraser River Cup race, the purse a thousand dollars. With a speed like this she came as near being a certain winner as it is possible for a certainty to be in the racing game. Neighbor knew all the other horses entered, and not qne of . them had ever done a mile within a second and a half of this time. And Neighbor -arguing that being an unknown, sure to he at a long price in t he hooks, and in a race where the purse alone was well worth winning, her owner would undoubtedly send the horse out to win was willing to take a chance lier running would he on the square. He had thought out many plans of procedure during the past days as to how to place his two hundred dollars upon the mare, hut without success. The mare was hound to he at a long price. Of this he was certain perhaps thirty or forty to one. But he was known

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as a wise better to every bookmaker in the ring and to the handbook men with grandstand privileges. And Neighbor knew there was not a blockman in front of any of the twenty books who would accept two hundred dollars from him on a forty to one shot; instead would cut the price, and, the other books watching prices like hawks, would too bring their odds scurrying down, for turf odds are more sensitive than any stock on ’change. Even by spreading his two hundred around in small bets .of ten and twenty dollars Neighbor had known the risk would be great of him getting ever shorter prices, each succeeding book cutting the price a little after accepting his money. Yet, until now, this latter course had seemed the only thing to do, for Neighbor was too old a hand to trust any second party with a share in his discovery. Then, with this girl before him, had come the big

/'CAREFULLY, with many explanations to make it clear to her untrained mind, he told his story, beginning with his arrival at the track until the present moment. Then he outlined the idea generated by her meeting.

“It’s very simple,” he concluded, “they don’t know you. And, besides, you’re a woman, and a woman is nearly always looked upon as a sucker better by most bookmakers. So all you have got to do is lay this money on Egret in the last race the second day. Just to make sure you can make four bets of fifty dollars each with the different handbook men in the grandstand. There’s four of them have the privilege. I’ll take you out to-morrow so you can kind of get used to things. Of course, we’ll have to separate out there, for I must’nt take any chances. I dunno as we can even ride in the same seat on the car. You’ve no idea how race track fellows watch each other.”

Lulu heard him out, and, after much persuasion, finally consented.

The following day Neighbor escorted Lulu to and from the track. In the evening a trip to the theatre and a late supper afterward cut into nearly the last dollar of his money remaining over and above the two hundred he had set aside to play on Egret.

’ I 'HE last race of the second day was at 1 hand. Up in the grandstand Lulu sat, in her mesh purse Neighbor’s two hundred dollars. Down belowjNeighbor had spent

the afternoon in wanderingaimlessly around the betting ring and pacing up and down in front of the stand. The time had dragged horribly. To him, a veteran of a thousand tracks and races, the earlier events were of no interest.

But at last the fifth race had ended. The entries for the Fraser River Cup were flashed upon the big board in the infield opposite the stand.

Nervously Neighbor strolled : into the betting ring. A little disappointed, but still with a faint thrill, he noticed that Egret was only twenty, eight and four. He had hoped for better odds against her winning. However, this was not so bad.

The bugle blew. Some prancing restively, some quiet and sedate, the five slim runners walked out upon the track. The race being a mile they broke from the barrier directly in front of the stand.

Tightly pressed against the picket fence directly opposite the finishing wire, Neighbor watched the runners leap away.

TEAVING it the two favorites, Dr.

' White and Presumption, beat the rest of the field away by two jumps. At the first eighth pole, and all the way to the half, their positions remained unchanged; if anything the two leaders had increased their lead on the other three, all running bunched a full length behind.

Clutching the pickets hard, Neighbor watched the scarcely distinguishable blur of dust and horses with heart that pounded madly. The race was jolting his stoicism; it meant the biggest winning in all his reckless, gambling life.

The horses were at the three-quarters now ; and out of the ruck of the three rear racing runners he saw a gleam of yellow and gold draw clear and shorten the distance on Dr. White and Presumption.

Neighbor breathed a little clucking gasp of relief. Egret was forging to the front. Into the stretch they rounded, and, coming directly toward him as they now were, Neighbor saw something that for a moment atrophied him, killed all hope. Egret lay right on the heels of Dr. White and Presumption, now running neck and neck; but, realizing the value of their position, the leaders’ riders hugged close the rail, defying a passage. Then suddenly Neighbor drew himself up; straining, jeaning far over, till the pickets pressed his chest so

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hard they hurt, he gazed in hopeless yet admiring wonder at what he saw. It was madness; yet it offered a chance to a horse with such a speed as Egret. It appealed to the gambling hope of him, thrilled him afresh.

U'GRET’S jockey, shut off absolutely from passing his competitors on the rail, now took the little mare out and around. . . .was taking the overland for it.

Now scarce a hundred yards away sounded the pounding hoofs’ beating, a rapid staccato like the explosion of distant musketry. Losing a little in her outward swing the little mare was now' making up for it.

With a hundred feet still to go, Egret ran neck and neck with Dr. White.

Hardly breathing, Neighbor clutched the pickets. Could she make it first? Then the question still unanswered, they swept past him. And Egret’s nose was in front. It was an “eye-lash finish,” but Egret was in front. Neighbor relaxed and stepped away from the fence. He was too old in the racing game though to rest satisfied until the judges’ pronouncement had been

given. It came. And as he heard the little mare’s name boomed out he turned away.

THE crowd began to file out. For several minutes he stood at the bottom of the steps of one of the stairs leading upwards, watching the ebbing people. Not. until the stand was almost empty did he ascend to the first aisle. Standing here he searched among the few scattered groups and solitary people still moving downwards. But one by one, in twos and trios they descended closer without revealing her familiar form. Then ranging his eye again over the great reach of the now almost empty seats he saw far up in one corner a woman still sitting. Thinking perhaps she had chosen here to wait and let him pick her out, he went up the broad stairs two at a time. As he came nearer he saw her face was buried in her handkerchief. The premonition of unknown disaster strong upon him, he seized her arm roughly. “Hey, what’s the matter?”

Two eyes that were hopeless pools of shame looked up a moment to meet his eyes, then dropped again.

“Why. . . why, everything is,” she

gasped out between sobs. “Oh, can you ever forgive me?” Her sobs choked her. Then growing calmer, she went on: “You see, it was this way. I heard so much talk about the race up here and everybody said Dr. White was going to win. And. . well . . . I. . . I . . I bet on Dr. White.” She gasped the last words out with a desperate rush, and then fell to crying again with heart-broken sobs.

For a long moment, Neighbor stood straight and rigid, for the time seeming as one dead, as insensate as the uprearing pillars about him. And standing thus, out of the past the hard memories of a thousand penniless times came back to burn and sear his soul. Life had always been a hard struggle; the racing game a hard game to play. And this girl had let a little fortune slip through her hands. Grimly he recollected that Adam too had lost paradise. But Neighbor was not of forgiving soul. A flooding bitterness welled up within him, sweeping away the homey dreams and the love that had been so quickly born. He did not even glance at the girl again. With head turned half away he started to descend, as he did blurting out all his full heart in five contemptuous words: “Of all the fool muffs!” Then he went slowly down the steps and into the betting ring, and leaning against a post absently rolled a cigarette which he did not light.

“Oh, lord, what a fool I was to trust it to a woman!” Ending his soliloquy, he crossed the track into the centre field, headed for the stables beyond. A bed in some_ kind owner’s feed room must now suffice him.

Down town a little later Lulu Brown sat in a softly lighted box in one of the city’s most expensive cafés. Across from her was a keen-faced, perfectly dressed young man, engaged in explaining his unexpected arrival. “I fixed it with the chief so you can come back. But it was awful tough. You see the guy we took stands awful strong with one of the aidermen, and of course the chief just had to make good. So I blew back with all the money. Of course he didn’t want to prosecute, him being so prominent and married at that, so the chief’s say so that he let you go for kick’in in with the dough sounded all right. So it’s a case of welcome when you want to come back to your home town. And we are free to trim all possible suckers, on the same old percentage basis for the chief. Gee, it’s nice to be a copper, always sure of your bit, with never a worry over a beef, and able to make someone else the fall guy when things get real tough.” He paused to smile on her fondly. “I missed you so much, I came myself rather than wire you to come back alone. I’ll bet you been bored to death in this strange Canadian town.”

LULU BROWN—better known in certain circles as “The Crier”—skilled performer of the badger and various forms of high class confidence games— smiled demurely. “Say,” she said, apropos of nothing of their conversation, “who was the poet gink who pulled them lines about a destiny that shapes our ends?”

“Search me,” he answered wonderingly “Well, he sure was there with the right idea. Count that, hubby, dear.” She drew forth from her bulged mesh purse a thick roll of bills of large denominations.

“Awful simple,” she continued, in answer to his questioning. “Sure tip with another man’s money; then told him I’d laid it on a horse that come second. Then my usual storm of tears. It was the softest thing ever. He was kinda a half smart guy himself, so I looked for an awful holler. You know generally wise people squawk the loudest when somebody wiser gets to them. But not him. Just walked away cold. He was standing in the betting ring still as a statue when I slipped out to the car stand. But the funny part of it is how I met him. He saved me from a drunk right near the hotel the third night I was in town. Then right off the reel he pulls my name. Say, for a minute, I was scared stiff. I thought the Old Man had sent one of his pets after me sure. But, then in the next second, I figured that couldn’t hardly be. But it was funny, and I was scared till he explained it all. He’d seen me in the hotel and got stuck right off. Real thing love at first sight. Yes, sure as you know, there’s a destiny that shapes our ends.” The entrance of the waiter interrupted her. When she had given her order she leaned back languidly. “Really, I almost feel Y could afford a whole bottle of wine,” she said. “I think I’ve earned it.”