The Wheel of Chance
Oil wells, trotting horses and humans—you may think you have a sure thing in any or all of the three, but Chance frequently steps in and deals the wanning cards
BUSINESS & INVESTMENTS
W. A. FRASER
IT BEGAN with Oliver Hall's dream that he found a pot of gold beneath a great gaunt elm tree that grew on the bank of a little stream that meandered sluggishly through Peter Gray’s ten acres of land in a corner of two cross roads the Seventh Concession and the Janeville road.
These ten acres lav outside of the oil belt, for the lime-rock that gave up the liquid treasure from its honeycombed stratum, some four hundred and sixty feet below the surface, ran in a north-east and south-west direction, while the Seventh Concession, running due north, left this anticlinal, as it was called, ha!i-a-mi!e down the road.
Oliver had as much
imagination as a grandfather's clock, but the dream lay heavy against his soul - it obsessed him as a hunch. Of course the pot of gold meant oil if it meant anything.
Though Oliver had little capital he had a host of friends, for he was a bluff, likable chap: still he found it difficult to capitalize his dream: the oil men were a hard-headed lot: but they were free with their money when business was cut out and friendship the collateral; so Oliver managed it.
He acquired the oil rights on the land of his dream, had the big elm uprooted, and in the cavity started to bore. At 46A feet the drill bit into a crumbly stratum in the limestone, and a hundred barrel well started in to do business.
Some men when they attain to sudden wealth affect diamonds; some the bright tights; but Oliver gratified his long desire for trotting horses. He acquired three.
A two-year-old that he named Yellow Spy, because he was a sorrel, commenced to show action. At three years old the Spy was the idol of Petroville; he almost vied with the champion foot-racer as a divertissement of the other sport of getting oil. Oliver asserted that he stood ready to back the Spy to trot the mile in two minutes and thirty seconds flat. Now in those days a three minute horse was pretty good; Goldsmith Maid, Flora Temple, and the Patchens hadn’t cut down the record.
Other trotting horses were owned in Petroville; and there was Matt Cody out at Sarnia with his fleet-footed ones. Matt was pretty shrewd when it came to a matter of speed, man or beast.
The First of July, Dominion Day, always put the brakes on the wheel of work in Petroville, and the two great matters of combative interests were the trotting race and the foot-races held out on the half-mile track.
Yellow Spy would win the Open Trot; there wasn’t a man stood ready to bet a five-spot against the Spy— not one.
Matt Cody was coming in with King Patchen to trim Oliver’s yellow skate—so he said, but the boys laughed; and Blue Eagle, a slab-sided roan, was coming up from London to turn the trick.
It was an off season in foot racing in Petroville. Ever since the last Dominion Day, when Charlie Hard and Wallace had brought up the ringer, Tommy Clancy, from Detroit, foot racing had taken a slump; so the Open Trot this year was a great event.
\ FEW days before the holiday Charlie Hard was Ci surprised by a visit from Matt Cody. Cody hadn’t been inside Hard’s hotel since the day Charlie had trimmed him in that foot-race.
“Well, Charlie boy,” Cody said, “for the advancement of trade just pass the word in the billiard room to the boys—line ’em up at the bar, please.”
Now this was just the usual thing; when a hotelkeeper stepped into another hotel he bought for all hands, but with Matt—well, Charles knew it would come out.
“Come into my office, Matt,” Hard invited, and as they sat there Cody said: “Charles, this trot next Thursday is goin’ to be a sipdooler.”
“I don’t know anything about trotters, Matt,” Hard answered.
Cody chuckled. “Charlie, if there’s any game on earth that you can’t take a hand in, it must be some
game the monkeys play in the woods. I guess Oliver figures the Spy will make the other horses look like frozen dough, don’t he?”
“He thinks the sorrel is about the fastest thing that ever whisked a sulky,” Hard replied.
“I know, I know,” Cody mumbled; “anything Oliver gets into his head kind of takes root and grows.”
“Don’t you think the Spy can win the Open?”
“Yes, Charlie, from what I hear, and what I see once, the sorrel can, but if he didn’t, and we bought pools on the one that beat him, we’d get coal for the winter.”
Hard’s washed-out blue eyes took on the faintest shimmer of perception; he shifted his groggy legs, and said: “Oliver ’ll drive the Spy himself, Tom.” Then the blue eyes narrowed a little as he looked into the brown eyes of Cody.
“Sure he will, Charlie, and that’s that. I ain’t a man to bribe any owner’s driver; I wasn’t thinking of that.”
“All right, Matt—that’s one guess I miss; I ain’t much good at guessin’, so you just cough up what’s on
“That’s why I come to you, Charlie.” Cody put a hand on one of Hard’s motor-ataxied legs, and continued: “The bunch up at the Corby House ’re pals of mine, but”—he ceased speaking, and stared into the poker eyes of the other man.
Hard nodded: “Too many cooks, eh?”
“Yes. If the Spy doesn’t win, my King Patchen will slip first under the wire.”
Then Cody sat up impressively, and lighted a cigar.
Hard’s eyes were like blue diamonds in the intense gaze he fixed on the other’s face. “I don’t bet on no ifs, Matt, and if you’ve any idea of squarin’ that Jimmie Clancy race by ticklin’ my nose with a goose feather you best hike back to Sarnia and catch a sucker in your own town.”
Cody thrust out a hand spontaneously, saying, “Shake! If I give you my word when we’re hand to hand, Charlie, doesn’t it go?”
“You’d be a pretty short sport, Matt, if it didn’t; and I don’t think you’re that. Make your spiel, and I’ll declare myself in or out.”
Cody drew his chair closer to Hard’s. “It’s this, Charlie: Yellow Spy is a threeyear-old. Oliver will bet his horse can trot the mile in 2.30—he might win that bet, given a clear track, no interference from other trotters; gettin’ the word with a swingin’ start, he might do it, and again he mightn’t, If he could trot in 2.30 he’d win the Open, and again he mightn’t. My horse, King Patchen, can’t beat 2.36, but he can do it in 2.36 if a swarm of jack rabbits was gallopin’ all over him. A three-year-old trotter has just got speed and no education; ’specially here, where there ain’t nothin’ to extend him. A trottin’ horse has got to learn to stay on his feet—not go up in the air, an’ they don’t gener’lly learn that till they’re ’bout six or seven.”
/^ODY discovered something of intense interest in his cigar; he rolled it between a finger and thumb, and eyed it with discrimination; Hard massaged one of his insistent knees.
“D’you see what I’m drivin’ at, Charlie?” Cody asked presently.
“I ain’t much of a mind reader. All I’ve got so far is, that if the Spy goes up in the air, Oliver won’t get him back to earth soon enough to keep your horse from winnin’.”
“That’s it, Charlie.”
“If Yellow Spy is six seconds faster than your horse Oliver won’t have to urge him enough to make him break; he’ll just sit there with the Spy pullin’ that sulky on the reins.” “Charlie,” Cody expostulated, “you know dang well what I mean.”
“S’posin’ I do-—I don’t drive trotters.”
“But you know somebody does.”
“The only one I know isBert Skeen. He’s got a three minute plug, but a codfish-, has got Bert skinned to death for brains.”
“Then he’d take a chance, wouldn’t he?”
“He’d take most anythin’.”
“Well, Charles, I don’t need a horse fast enough to head the Spy trottin’ square. A horse that would break an’ gallop hell bent, could do the trick. And if the Spy was messed up in the first heat he wouldn’t settle down again before I’d got two heats. That’s the full lay-out, Charlie. The Spy’ll sell favorite in the pools, an’ my horse’ll go cheap. Will you feel out Bert Skeen?”
“I don’t like dealin’ with a brainless cuss like Bert, but I’ll think it over.”
“Well, I’ll come in from Sarnia Saturday, and you let me know.”
HARD shuffled out to the sidewalk with Cody, and stood absorbing the warm sunlight. As he stood there an ancient sulky was drawn up to the walk. Between the shafts of the sulky was a raw-boned bay mare that had attained to the age of discretion. She was lamentably lean; she was also tired; an air of chronic tiredness atmosphered her.
And the elderly gentleman who clambered down from the high sulky and reached back for a basket of eggs was, to say the least, sedate. His gray whiskers were a patriarchal rebuke to frivolity; his slouch hat drooped over his solemn eyes in despondent lack of fibre.
“Good day, Jed,” Hard greeted, and held out a hand. “Eggs’re down,” he added.
“These ain’t, Mr. Hard. Most the eggs they sell ain't wuth chucks, ’cause the hens is mostly fed on grasshoppers; they’re engaged in one continuous catch-ascatch-can wrestle with the hoppers.”
“Do you feed the bay on grass-hoppers, Jed?” Hard asked solemnly.
“When I ain’t got ’nough to eat myself, Mr. Hard, p’raps Mammy'll have to do without a feed of oats. We’ve divided the pot now nigh on to seven years.” “Take the eggs around to the kitchen, and come into the bar for your pay.”
Jed spat, at least his thin lips made a snapping noise. “All right, Jed,” Hard chuckled; “guess your whistle ’s pretty dry; we'll fix that.”
As Jed Blake counted the silver, and slipped the
coins into his pocket, the bar tender put up a bottle of ■rye.
“You always drive a sulky, Jed,” Hard said. “Can the old mare move?”
“She kinder can strike a gait, Mr. Hard, an’ I feel more to home in a sulky than I would in a buggy. I put in quite a few years perched up on a gig.”
Hard started. Fate had thrust under his nose the very man Cody needed. Jed Blake was not like Skeen, a fool; and if he had followed the trotting game for years he could turn the trick with professional acumen; and nobody would suspect the quaint, solemn old man —they’d think him just stupid. And Jed was a silent man; he knew enough to keep his tongue between his teeth.
Hard drew the old man into his office, and as they sat down he asked: “Why don’t you enter the mare in the trot, Dominion Day, Jed—there’s two hundred jhung up and you might get a piece of it?”
“I kinder thought of doin’ it,” Blake answered. “I got me two acres up there at Janeville, an’ it gives me plenty of room to put in a hog-run. Keepin’ boarders gives a terrible lot of waste, taters an’ bread; Mother’s as careful as a woman can be, but I’ve seen tears in her eyes when she’d point to the pails of stuff ’em boarders had destroyed; ’tain’t what they eats so much as what they wastes.”
“She’s pretty good then, the old mare, eh, Dad?”
“She ain’t too bad; kinder old like me, but we still both got a shot in the locket yet.”
Hard shuffled his ungovernable legs in an excitement that flushed him, and his cane clattered to the floor.
“Say, Jed,” he said, as he retrieved the cane, “you’ve drove trotters then?”
“I drove trotters agin Pop Gears an’ Bud Doble; I wasn’t as good as they was, but I was purty fair, purty lair. I got smashed up in a nasty spill, an’ had to quit, ’cause a shoulder took to a trick of slippin’ out of joint jus’ when I was most busy with some fiddle-headed brute that had broke. I’d saved up a leetle money, an’ Mother said we’d come up here to the oil field an’ she’d try helpin’ out. Oil fellers gets good wages, an’ they’ve got to have good grub. I bought the ol’ house
an’ tw'ö acres up at Janeville, an’ I look after the chickens an’ buy groceries, an’ we always got plenty boarders. Why we’ve had ’em sleepin’ four to a bed; two of ’em goin’ out on tour at twelve at night, an’ two cornin’ in. We’re purty nigh square on a leetle mor’gage was left over when we bought.”
Hard had listened patiently to the old man’s recital of conditions.
“If you’ve drove trotters, Jed, you know what a ‘sure thing’ means, don’t you?”
“I’ve heerd of ’em.”
“But it ain’t a sure thing that you’ll cop any part of the money in the Open Trot, is it?”
“It ain’t—it’s a chanct.”
“If I guarantee you a hundred, win or lose, plus whatever you win out of the stakes, will you string with me?”
“I might.” And the old man drew his lean fingers five times down over the gray beard.
“Well, Jed,” Hard resumed. “I’ll tell you just what I want you to do, and you take it or leave it—it’s up to you. Just one condition, that you keep your mouth shut, on or off.”
“There ain’t no friends or money got by gabble, Mr. Hard.”
Then Hard put the whole scheme before Blake, the scheme whereby Yellow Spy was to be taken care of. While he talked Jed stroked his gray whiskers in silence.
When Hard had finished Jed said: “I’ll talk it over with Mother.”
“Don’t do that,” Hard objected.
“I don’t do nothin’ without consultin’ my wife; but she ain’t like most women—she can keep a secret better’n I can. I’m goin’ to trot Mammy anyway, an’ I’d powerful like to put in a hog-run on ’em two acres. ’Tain’t nothin’ new on me, what you’ve said; in the trottin’ game I’ve seen a thousan’ of ’em things framed.”
“Let me know to-morrow, Jed.”
“I might, Mr. Hard.”
The old man passed out into the sunshine; his sloping shoulders seemed to have drooped to an acuter angle with the weight of this thing that had been thrust
upon him. It worried him. He liked Hard. Hard had been a generous customer—kindly words, a free drink, and a good price for his eggs or chickens always. But the extraordinary thing was that he was more troubled over submitting Mammy to a piece of iniquity than he was of his own participation in it; he was a free agent —a law unto himself; he could pick or choose; but Mammy—she’d be trying to win that race, striving as though her old heart would burst when suddenly she’d be called upon for a piece of trickery. He had a curious childish faith that she would know it; he had driven Mammy since she was a three-year-old, and they had both been shattered by the game; she with a tendon that had bowed from the twist of a hoof in a hole on the track, and he had nursed her until the tendon was now as hard and safe as gray flexible whalebone. A hog-run, though, would be a fine business. A couple of well-bred sows—there was nothing like sows for prolific fecundity. In a year or so he would have twenty young grunters feeding on the present waste. He could get more waste from the hotel, too. By hanky! yes, sir, by hanky!
That night when the supper dishes had been washed, and the hired girl had gone out to meet her beau, Jed went back into the kitchen. He gave a pail of shattered bread and disrupted potatoes a disgruntled kick, saying “Mother, ’em dang ooloos handles food same’s if they was millionaires; ’em as never had nothin’ when they get a chanct squanders stuff like the Queen of Sheeba.”
“The boys don’t mean no harm, Jed—they’re jus’ a parcel of boys, that’s what they be; they ain’t got no thought, that’s all.”
“If we had a flock of pigs, Mother, it wouldn’t matter; it’s a sin to waste.”
“In six months, Jed, we’ll have money ’nough to fix that up.”
“What’d you say, Mother, if I said I could put that hog-run in in six days ’stead of six months?”
“I’d say that Mr. Hard’d been kinder free with that bottle down to the hotel.”
The old man stroked his whiskers and coughed. “Mr. Hard don’t drink none himself, an’ for nigh on thirty
years I’ve drove the bottle with a curb bit.”
Mrs. Blake had been hanging up pans, rubbing a doth over the kitchen table and chairs: now she sat down beside her husband, and asked: "What was that you said 'bout gettin' rich in six days—was you a-teasin’ me?"
Blake confided to his wife the Hard propaganda. He minimized the enormity of the corruption, and dwelt doubtfully upon his chances of success in winning the trot.
MRS. BLAKE was a very simple-souled woman, which means, of course, that she was one of God s creations, so, in her mind, the sin of it enlarged perceptibly, unconsciously: that her Jed could deviate from honesty was unbelievable. But the scheme she could not readily assimilate—trotting, and breaks, and heats: it was confusing.
"There’s Bat Shandy jus’ come into the front room,” she said; "I'm goin’ to bring him in. ’cause Pat knows everything there ain’t nothin’ ’bout racin’ an’ oil wells that Pat don’t know. An’ he’s just stuck here boardin’ with me when he could afford to stay at the hotel ’cause he knows l love him like my own son.”
"If 1 had a son got as full as Pat does. I’d lambaste him.” Jed commented, irritated at the idea of a young man being placed in judgment over him.
Mrs. Blake opened the door into the big dining room, and in her soft, gentle voice said; "Pat. Jed wants to see you a minute."
AU right. Mother,” and he followed the old lady into
Shandy was a handsome Irish boy. He was twenty-five years old. and it was just atmosphere that made one think of him as a boy. The light curly hair that lay close to his well-shaped skull; the deep blue Irish eyes—violet, they were: the flush on his cheek like the red of an apple: the lithe sinewy form— five-feet-ten of it. And though he was a driller, handling the whirling kicking ash rods that tossed and twirled the huge drill, his hands were shapely and clean.
But certainly some of Pat’s ancestors had a lease on Donnybrook Fair. He had good wages—five dollars a day. and he would work like a Trojan till some day of festivity, and then Pat and his two chums, the Curran brothers, would wake up the glen.
But now he stood before Jed and asked. “What can I do for you. Dad?”
“Mother's got the floor, Pat; sit down an’ she’ll tell you —I ain’t got no say, it seems.”
" Jed Blake, you jus’ quit bein’ smart, an’ tell Pat what
you told me.”
In a depressed voice the patriarch told Pat what Hard
Shandy's blue eyes had darkened to the deepest violet as he listened, and were snapping with an exhilaration as he declared joyously: “Go to it, Jed! and we’ll skim some of the cream from ’em!"
"What! you. Pat Shandy, joinin’ in with Jed?”
Sure I will, Mother. I’ve got two hundred saved up, and we'll just buy ’em pools on Tom Judd’s horse under their noses.”
"Pat Shandy! I ain’ goin' to touch no money that ain’t dean. I guess I can work for ’nough to do me long as I’ve
got to live."
■ An’ I've got to do without that hog-run, Pat, see? In the trot tin' game we never figgered ’twas dishonest to cheat cheaters. I know just what Oliver Hall '11 do with Yellow Spy; he won’t try to win the fust heat, he'll ease that threeyear-old along jus' fast 'nough to not get flagged at the distance, an' let Judd's hoss an' p’raps Blue Eagle fight their heads off pickin' up a heat apiece; then with Yellow Spy not more ’n warmed up, he’ll come through an’ take two straight heats.”
"But what about Mammy, Jed?”
• T DUN NO. I'll tell you 'bout her. Her Aright % name's Mambrino Maid, an’ the Mambrinos was one of the bes’ families of standard-bred trotters: in her time she’s beat better hosses than ’ll be in that Open, an' she’s jus ’s reliable as this ol’ silver watch I’ve got in my pocket, never skip a second. But she’s gettin’ kinder old, same 's me, an’ if I’ve got to fight it out with Judd’s Patchen, an’
Blue Eagle, an' Oliver's allowed to lie back with the Spy, mos’ like he’ll win.”
"You're right, Jed,” Pat declared. “A feller's got to keep out of a game of cards he knows is crooked, or else play an ace up his sleeve. If Yellow Spy wasn’t in the race you eould beat the other two, eh?”
"I'd have a good chanct, Pat. Mammy still could reel off miles in ’bout 2.35, an’ that’s p’raps better’n they could do, but she can’t outfoot a hos3 like the Spy that can come under the wire in 2.30.”
"Don’t you see, Mother,” Shandy cried
cheerily, “Jed’s right. We can make enough money to put in a hundred hogs.”
"Two ’ll be ’nough—sows," Jed interposed.
"Jed,” Mrs. Blake exclaimed, “I don’t understand a word you’ve been sayin'; Lord knows I’ve heard ’nough of that talk in my time, too. Jus’ tell me this—no matter what Oliver Hall is goin’ to do, or anybody, don’t Mr. Hard want you to trot Mammy dishonest?” Blake drew a lean hand down over his gray whiskers, a troubled look in his eyes, and said: “Well, Liza, women don’t jus’ understand what’s dishones’ in trottin’ an’ what’s dang dishones’.”
"Yes, Mother,” Shandy interposed, “none of the fellers 'd blame Jed even if they knew, not again that Corby bunch, and nobody '11 know.”
"Jed’ll know, an’ I’ll know, ’cause he can’t keep a thing like that from me. An’ I’ve got hones’ worries 'nough without feelin’ ashamed of ourselves. If Jed couldn't move his little finger I’d go on workin’ all my life for him, ’cause he’s hones’.”
Pat put a hand on the good woman's shoulder, and patted it affectionately. “Mother,” he said, “this ’s just what we’ll do; you leave it to me. I’ve got two hundred that like as not I’d spend some day—but, Mother, p’raps on 2nd July we’ll start buildin’ that hog-run, an’ you won’t have no cause to feel ashamed of Jed, ’cause we'll do it honest. Will you both leave it to me?”
“I will, Pat, bless you, boy!” Mrs. Blake responded. “I'm willin’,” Jed agreed.
“Well then,” Shandy continued, “you come with me, Dad; we’ll go out and have a little talk with Mammy.”
As the two men talked in the stable in very low voices, and Mammy never divulged what was said, a certain amount of mystery hung over the laudable endeavor of getting a hog-run.
WHEN Matt Cody came in to see Charlie Hard about their solicitude over Yellow Spy, Hard said: “I got hold of the very man. Jed Blake. He’s an old-time driver of trotters; he’s got brains and a close mouth. I got him to enter his mare that’s fast enough to outfoot the Spy some part of a heat; and I guess it won’t be the first time Jed’s turned the trick.”
“That sounds good: I’ve got a great chance anyway. King Patchen’s pretty shifty, and unless the Spy keeps down to earth I’m goin’ to beat him. Have you got Jed solid—has he promised he won’t sell out?”
“Jed wouldn’t sell out; and nobody’ll know what he’s going to do. I could hardly get him to talk about it, for fear the angels or somebody’d hear him.”
“What did he say—didn’t he promise?”
“He said, ‘Mr. Hard, Yellow Spy ain’t goin’ to win the trot if I can help it.’ That’s as far as Jed ever goes. If I asked him how old he is, he’d say, ‘Gettin’ along in years, Mr. Hard.’ ”
“I guess it’s all right, Charlie. I figured to buy my horse in the pools anyway. I don’t think a three-year-old trotter can beat him.”
“I’m in fifty-fifty on the buy, Matt; and I’m going to take Oliver for a big bet on the Spy—he’ll lay two to one that he wins.”
DOMINION Day was Petroville’s glorified Sabbatical.
The asthmatic cough of the drilling engines was hushed; the whirr and grind of the driving wheels was stilled; the clanking, crashing uproar of the dancing
drills ceased. Shutters blotted the enticement of the stores’ interiors. The greasy clothes of the oil toilers were hung up; and the sidewalks were thronged with gayattired men and women.
The half-mile race-track had been harrowed and scraped; the Judges’ Stand, and the board Grand Stand, decorated with flags, and the seats swept.
All morning a cornet had been striving to lower its shrill screech; brass instruments had blared; a bass drum boomed out its reverberating song like the war tom-toms of a wild tribe. School was out. Everybody was Bill, or Hank, or Dave.
At the Corby House the bar-tender force had been doubled. The sawdust on the bar-room floor had been baked into a matrix by the feet of jay walkers, who, in their eager abandon, cut across the unpaved street at all angles.
The owner of Blue Eagle had come up from London with his trotter, and with him was a party of sharpshooters, sophisticated-looking chaps who weren’t born yesterday.
Matt Cody’s King Patchen was in the Corby House stables; and in front of the closed door of his box-stall a darky sat on an upturned pail guarding the patrician horse.
At ten o’clock Jed said, “Mother, I guess I best go down town.”
“Jed Blake, you’ll be tired ’nough to-night drivin’ Mammy without trampin’ two miles jus’ to see the sights. Ain’t you got no ambition?”
“I got plenty ambition, Mother, an’ that’s jus’ why I’m goin’; I’m goin’ to see what Pat Shandy ’s up to. He can get’s full ’s he likes to-night, but we’ve got somethin’ to do fust if I’m goin’ to get that hog-run.”
“I spoke to Pat like ’s if I was his mother, an’ he said he was goin’ to swear off for to-day.”
Blake’s watery eyes opened in a blank stare of amazement.
“Mother, ’em days of miracles is all past. Pat ’ll work two months an’ not take a drink; he gets that savin’ an’ close he won’t even buy chewin’ tobaccy, borrowin’ from the boys; but when he gets ’em Sunday clothes on, an’ a wad of bills in his pocket, he ain’t Pat Shandy, the driller, no more—he’s one of the boys. I’m goin’ on down.”
But Jed was too late. When he walked down the complaining board sidewalk, past the flat-faced frame buildings that stood with their knees against the walk and on to the main corners where the steel of the stub railway ended, he saw a sight that chilled his sluggish blood.
Pat Shandy and the two Curran brothers sat in a big open carriage, in hilarious abandon. Shandy wore a tweed suit of advertising value, and on top of his curly head crouched a soggy plug hat, the drying mud on it indicating that Pat had taken a header out of the carriage into the kindly softness of the road.
The carriage was pulled up beside the sidewalk just where the station platform abutted, and Pat and the Currans had constituted themselves a reception committee for friends who might arrive from Sarnia or London. Although the Corby House' was just across the street. Shandy had conceived the idea that it would be true hospitality to drive any cherished friend that short distance, and swing up to the main entrance in regal style.
Shandy caught sight of Blake as the old man stood staring at the carriage. “Jed,” he cried, eagerly swinging open the side door, “hop in, and we’ll go up to Charlie Hard's and smell the roses.”
“I ain’t got time, Pat,” Blake answered. “But Mrs. Blake sent down a word I was to deliver if—”
But Shandy leaped spryly from the carriage, and slipping a hand through Blake’s arm drew him to one side.
“I know just what’s on your mind, Dad,” he said; “but don’ you worry: they ain’t got whisky enough in this town to put me out of bus’ness when I’ve got somethin' to do. You just go back and look after Mammy, an’ I’ll buy all the pools they’ve got to sell. Just you don't worry none, Jed.”
“Well, Pat,” Jed said heavily, “I'll do my part, an’ so'll Mammy; I ain’t got no money to buy pools, but if I can rake down that fust money I'll get what I'm aimin’ to get.”
“Come up to Charlie's for a snifter, Jed?”
“I don't want to talk none to Mr. Hard to-day. Guess I'll slip 'crost the street an’ invest a dime all by myself.”
“I’ll drive you up home”’ Shandy offered.
“No, thankee, Pat; I don’t feel safe ridin’ ’cept I’m on a sulky. But I’ll be out to the course, an' I’ll see you afore the fust
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Continued, from page 18
The Wheel of Chance
heat of the Open,” Jed answered him.
Shandy clambered back to his chariot, and Blake stood for a little drawing his wisp of gray beard into a goat-like chin ornament, muttering: “By gum! there’s something wrote in the Good Book ’bout the ways of a ship on waves, an’ the ways of a man with a maid, but they could’ve added the ways of a young gossoon with money. Mother got me a good manager, I guess.”
He had his glass of rye, and then dejectedly trudged back to Janeville and Mammy.
“Well, Mother,” he said, when he arrived home, “Mr. Shandy has been ’lected Mayor of Petroville for Dominion Day. He’s got himself a plug hat, an’ a livery barouche—”
“Had he been drinkin’, Jed?”
“Wuss—he’s still drinkin’.”
“What ’bout Mammy then?”
“I ain’t told her—I guess Mammy don’t care anyway; an’ I don’t know as I care. Fust money ’ll get me the start I’m aimin’ fro get, an’ I kinder feel in my ol’ bones that that’s what I’m goin’ to get.”
Mrs. Blake put a hand on her husband’s shoulder, and touched her lips to his leathery cheek.
“Don’t you worry, Jed. We got along all right without raisin’ hogs, an’ we’re gettin’ ahead. You jus’ drive Mammy hones’, an’ if you don’t win we won’t be a bit wuss off than we are.”
“What’s that you’re puttin’ in my coat pocket, Liza?” Jed asked
“A chicken wishbone for luck.”
“Guess I’ll braiditin Mammy’sforelock to see if it’ll stay out in front.”
FOUR thousand people sprinkled on a half-mile race track makes an animated show, and each one of the four thousand galvanized by exhilarating sport into triple expansion, makes things move with alacrity. Men who had haggled for months over nickels in trade, would flash a ten dollar bill on the slightest provocation, and cast it, like bread, on the waters of chance.
And this Dominion Day, for the first time in years, footracing had slumped; the Open Trot, with the outside horses there to beat Oliver Hall’s Yellow Spy, was the event.
At three o’clock the names of the horses that were to go in the Open Trot and the names of their owners, were announced from the Judges’ Stand.
When Jed Blake’s Mambrino Maid was read off, there was a momentary air of puzzlement on the faces of the crowd. Who was Mambrino Maid? When it dawned on them that it was old Mammy there was a ripple of hilarity.
And there was Jed jogging leisurely around the half-mile track in a warm-up, a disreputable old cap almost obliterating his lean face down to the gray whiskers, the high-wheeled sulky looking as decrepit as the crouching Jed and the raw-boned mare. It was pathetic—just the foolish faith of a simple-minded old man in the mare he loved like a child.
Pathetic indeed it seemed when the roan, Blue Eagle, came thundering up the stretch in a work-out, toe weights on his wide saucer-like hoofs and between his forelegs a bright yellow martingale, the harness rig that was to hold him true to bis stride. Even the white-ash spokes of the sulky wheels, bright-varnished, twinkled in the sunlight, a veritable radiation of speed. And the deep voice of the driver crooning to the roan, “Steady steady boy!” Yellow Spy would have to be at his best, for the long-striding roan seemed to thunder his way to speid, as his wide hoofs beat at the tra* k.
And then Matt Cody’s little bay, King Patchen, driven by Rufus Jones a negro, flashed by. King Patchen was the antithesis of the gigantic roan, Here wag
compactness, symmetry ; the closecoupled shoulder and quarters—the untiring kind; the more heats the better for such a one. The cocky spirit of the fox-terrier showing in the lean out-stretched head; the teeth gleaming white as though Patchen’s lips were curled in a sneer.
Then came Yellow Spy, the idol of sporting Petroville. And Oliver Hall himself, sitting there in the sulky, was a favorite; Oliver could handle the ribbons with the best of them; and he knew just what the Spy would do. Yellow Spy was a dream of horse beauty, a perfection of physical grace, and strength, and temper. Only a three-year-old, yet he was almost as big as the roan; as much daylight shone under his girth and belly, showing that he was as long in the barrel, and as full in his striding force. Oliver just jogged the Spy past the Stand, a smile on his lips, as if he said, there’s nothing to be excited about—no need for speeding this babe up —content, confidence.
Old Jed had wheeled Mammy at the foot of the stretch, and was down from the sulky examining critically the not too stable parts of his outfit.
IN A booth a full-voiced man was selling pools on the Open Trot.
“This is a hundred dollar pool on the trot, gentlemen. Who’ll give me a hundred for first choice? Who’ll make the favorite? A hundred dollars I want.”
“A hundred for Yellow Spy,” a man cried.
“A hundred in the box for Yellow Spy,” and the auctioneer, pencil in hand, asked “What name?”
“Jack Scott,” the buyer answered.
The auctioneer wrote the initials down on a pad. “Step around to the back of the booth, pay your coin, and get your ticket,” he advised.
“A hundred dollars in the box, tnd how much do I hear for second choice? Speed it up, gentlemen! Turn on the steam; this ain’t a pumpin’ r>g. Tins it a drillin’ gang.”
“Ten dollars for Blue Eagle,’ a voice cried.
“Twenty dollars!” the r uctioneer snapped; “we’re not sellin’ buttons.” “Who bid that?” the ten-dollar bidder queried.
“The man in the moon; he knows the winner of the Trot—Blue Eagle.”
“Twenty-five, Mister Man-in-themoon,” the bidder snarled.
Then like the rat-tat-tat of a drum came thirty, thirty-five, forty-up to sixty, where the bidding hung fire.
“Blue Eagle sold to Mr. W. H. Step around and square accounts. A hundredand-sixty in the box, and the third choice for sale,” declared the pool-seller.
“Five dollars for King Patchen,” Charles Hard said.
“Charlie, d’you think you ’re buying drinks for the crowd? Five dollars!—five dollars for the winner of the trot! When Charlie Hard bets ’em they win, always,” and the auctioneer swung his keen eyes back and forth over the crowd.
“Ten dollars,” somebody offered.
At Hard’s bid of forty dollars, after a flurry of competition, King Patchen was knocked down to him.
“Now we have left,” the seller cried, drawing his face down in a serious look, “Mambrino Maid. The very name suggests breeding if the highest class in the tfotting world. And she’s as fit as a fiddle.”
This was sarcasm, for poor old Mammy was past what would be called fit—she was lean.
The crowd tittered, and the auctioneer threw out his chest in self-appreciation. “What’s bid for the absolute winner?”
I “Two dollars,” a giant bellowed, as if in defiance. It was one of Mrs. Blake’s boarders.
“Here you, big boy,” the auctioneer reproved. “This ain’t no pantomime show. I ain’t sellin’ rabbits, I’m sellin’ Mambrino Maid; there’s two hundred dollars in the box, and you bid two.” “Ten dollars!” and the glorious Pat Shandy took off his battered plug hat, and raised it loftily in his hand, adding: “Hurrah for Jed Blake, an’ the Blake boardin’ house!”
Pat had arrived at a stage of inebriation that was like a home station to him; he had a skinful, absolutely, but his exquisite physical endowment, and his wellfibred intellect always held him at that point. He could always navigate, and he could always act with a certain amount of control.
There were no further bids. Pat would lose his ten dollars, but he would spend it anyway, or lend it anyway—nothing mattered.
IN THE draw for position Mammy tickled the funnybone of Fate, for she got the choice berth, the rail: on a halfmile track that meant something.
Yellow Spy was number two, King Patchen three, and Blue Eagle four—on the outside.
Now the four trotters grouped, fifty yards down the stretch, for the start ; their drivers wheeled the sulkies and wove back and forth—all but Jed. There, close to the rail Mammy stood, her longish ears, though fine as silk, cocked forward as if the memory of old-time combats had come to her with rejuvenating force. Not now that sleepy, listless loosening of the body that was her habitual pose when waiting for Jed in front of Hard’s hotel. Her shapely round hoofs—like black ivory they were, patted, as if in caress, the sand of the track.
“Come on!” the starter, leaning far out over the rail of the Judges’ Stand, called.
There was a swirl of roan, and bay, and chestnut, as if a pot, suddenly come to boil, twisted scum; the thunder of hoofs, the bellow of a driver’s voice. The thousands packed around the Grand Stand hushed to a ghastly silence with the tense strain.
Under the wire the steeds swept like the chariot horses of Ben Hur, but the driver of Blue Eagle, too eager,_ or the roan too hard-mouthed, drove his horse to a lead of a length before they were clear of the wire.
The dinner bell of the Corby House swung by the handle in the hand of the starter, clanged the recall, and at the upper turn the checked horses were wheeled and brought back for a fresh start.
Again they lined up; again they were called to the start, and this time the bull voice of the starter roared “Go!” and they were off.
Jed, trained in a thousand starts, his keen old eye on the others, had shot Mammy under the wire, the wheels of his sulky swirling beside the wheels above which sat Oliver Hall. And Blue Eagle was half a length back.
Down the back stretch Oliver eased Yellow Spy, and as the roan crowded for the place, Oliver fell in behind Mammy, and trailed on the rail.
Hard, watching, muttered: “Matt
Cody got it right; Oliver’ll pass up this heat with the Spy, and let the roan and King Patchen beat each other’s heads off.” Up the stretch on the first round, past the Stand, where voices screamed; “Come on, Spy!” and where Pat Shandy and the two Curran brothers yelled: “Go to it, Jed! You’ve got ’em, Dad!”
Strangely enough, so far, Dad had ’em. How smoothly the bay mare, so like a genteel old lady, seemed to glide;_ no swinging mad fling of the hoofs, no widemouthed thrusting out of the head, just beat, beat, beat, at the track, of the clean hoofs. And Jed, arms wide spread with a steadying grip of the reins, and shoulders crouched down till they barriered no wind, was like a wooden part of the wooden gear. And the thundering beat of the hoofs on the hard track like the war drums of a fighting tribe; a rhythmic thing of reverberating splendor to rouse the multitude, to cadse their blood to run hot in the strain of excitement; the mad swirl of wheels as the drivers leaned far out to the left at the turn, human gyroscopes.
Down the back stretch, Mammy, sweet-running machine, holding the place of choice, the rail, in the lead.
As they swung into the stretch the roan, of coarse-fibred intellect, tortured by the clap-clap on his rump of his driver’s short whip, went up in the air, broke, as Rufus Jones, drawing up on him, voiced a yell. Now was a duel, now was combat between the unflustered Mammy and the quick-hoofed little bay, King Patchen.
Some yelled: “Patchen’ll get Mammy! The nigger’ll get Jed!”
And Shandy, swinging his battered plug, was yelling, “For the love of St. Patrick, come on, old boy! Let her out, Jed!”
Inch by inch the terrier-like bay strove. Brave-hearted little chap, he fought for the lead, gaining, gaining all the time; Rufus, wise in his knowledge of the horse, sitting as still as Blake. He was leaning out over the outside of his sulky to take off the swing of the wheels for the bay, as he fought and crept closer and closer to his enemy. Vain the little bay’s trying; too steady the old mare—too wise the patriarch who drove.
Half a length was Mammy in the lead as they swung under the wire.
DAT SHANDY threw a handspring A over the guarding rail, and danced m the middle of the track.
“Listen, Petroville!” he screamed: “Hurrah for Janeville, and Jed Blake, and Mammy!”
The trotters wheeled, came back, and were led from the course for a twenty minute rest before the next heat.
Jed unhitched Mammy, and puffing like a walrus—a hissing, soothing lullaby it was like—massaged the old lady’s ribs, and rump, and legs.
“She’s kinder like me, Pat,” he said to Shandy; “she sort o’ stiffens up after doin’ a turn.”
( "She’s great, Jed,” Shandy laughed.
You’ve got the nobs, cornin’ an’ goin’.” With his two hands he bulged out a pocket of his trousers, saying: “Jed, that’s hog-run money. A book-maker laid me ten to one against Mammy for that heat. An’ I bought three pools— one for Jed, one for Mother, and one for the little boy that lives in the lane. Whoop, Jed! For the love of Mike, Dad!” and Shandy showed the neck of a flask in his inner pocket.
No, thankee, Pat,” and Blake almost closed his eyes to shut out the alluring thing. “Me an’ Mammy has got to keep our heads clear, ’cause I kinder think there’s a nigger in the woodpile somewheres. There’s a sayin’, Pat, that the race ain’t always to the swift, an’ as we come back now a feller leans from his sulky, an’ says, ‘You damn ol’ double crosser! I’ll get you!”’
Who was it? I’ll put a head on him!” I don’t jus’ remember his name, but he was drivin’ a bay hoss.”
Now the bull voice of the pool seller fell upon Pat’s ear, and he strode away, saying: ‘I’m goin’ to get some more
hog-run money; you tune up the old lady.”
There was a slight switch in the pool odds now; Yellow Spy was still first choice for the knowing ones had seen that Oliver had purposely trailed to save up the three-year-old. But Mammy had crept up in favoritism—twenty-five dollars she brought in the pools now.
Then the trotters were ordered on to the track for the second heat. Mammy was entitled to first position again, because she had come in first; King Patchen, having come in second, owned position number two.
Again the same scoring for an advantage at the start, an advantage that wouldn’t bring them back. There were two false breaks—keener than before, for Oliver was letting Yellow Spy have his head a bit.
And at the “Go!” Mammy again was off well, a neck to the good; the spryness of youth offset by the two heads of wisdom, Mammy and Jed’s.
And the quick bay was at her neck. Yellow Spy was trotting on the outside beyond the roan, but this time no pulling back to trail; Oliver sitting there with just a steady drag on the mouth of the three-year-old.
Down the back, past the Stand for the second half of the mile, just the same, the four of them like fencers with foils; and Yellow Spy trotting with supple, swinging grace, no threat of a break; Rufus keeping the little bay lapped on Mammy for another duel in the stretch.
Jed might have posed to Rodin for a statue of Meditation. He had a straw in his mouth that wiggled and gleamed yellow among his gray whiskers.
Up the stretch they thundered; the roan, outpaced at the turn, had been superseded by Yellow Spy, a length behind the two who now battled— Mammy and the bay.
But now the hour glass had been turned upside down, and the sands ran for Cody. For surely King Patchen had crept up till his terrier head showed clear of the Mare’s.
Then a roar of joy went up from tense throats, for a yellow sandstorm blew up the stretch; Yellow Spy swept along with terrific speed, steady and true and smooth, and under the wire a length to the good.
Petroville had won; Janeville, and Sarnia, and London had been trampled on. Now there would be no doubt about the next heat and the race. Foxy old Oliver! Nothing but a miracle could stop the Spy, a question of speed alone and it was now all over; the time chalked up on the Judges’ Stand told that—2.31 flat for the mile. And Mammy had won her heat in 2.36.
And then in the third heat the miracle happened, only it was a miracle of the Evil One’s work.
AS THEY scored for the third heat Cody was full of bitterness. Jed had thrown them down; he had sneaked the first heat with Mammy, and instead of taking care of Yellow Spy in the second had tried to trot it out on them; Cody’s curious gambler’s ethical code held a rule that it was no sin to double-cross a double-crosser. And now, unless the three-year-old broke badly, the race was in the can. And his driver, the negro, Rufus, was muttering obscene oaths; his pug-dog eyes were rolling villainously.
The Spy now had the rail, King Patchen was second, Mammy third, and the roan outside—just as they had finished.
Oliver, convinced that he had six lengths the best of any of them, guarding against the chances of exciting his youngster, made no scramble at the start, and Rufus shot the little bay under the wire half a length in the lead. At the first turn he pinched in, and in, knowing that it would bother both the three-yearold and Oliver, this crowding. Down the back stretch he had pinched the Spy off, until Oliver took him back to trail King Patchen and Mammy until they hit the home stretch on the final round, when he would again swing by them as if they were standing still—yes, he could do that.
And as they swung into the stretch on the second round Mammy lay flat against the little bay, Patchen, and was creeping up with that steady tireless stride.
Rufus saw it ; he could hear the thunderous rush of the Spy on the outside, behind. A hundred yards from the wire he swung the bay to the right; it was as if the little horse had swerved. There was a crash; a scream of agony from women’s throats; a roar of startled fear from men. Spokes flew from the shattered wheel of Jed’s rickety old sulky like pop corn flicking from a popper. Jed shot head first, to plow along the biting sand on his cheek and shoulder. The Spy, startled by the crash, by the swinging pull of the bit to draw him clear of the catastrophe, went up in the air, and under the wire still galloping. The little bay, King Patchen, hardly checked by the blow on the hub of his sulky, trotted fair and square, the winner.
Men leaped the rail and raced down the course to where Jed had picked himself up, and stood wiping blood with a handkerchief from his face. Shandy’s arm was about the old man steadying him.
“Are you hurt, Dad?” he cried.
“I ain’t hurt none—jus’ some scratches. How’s Mammy—did she come to any harm?”
But men had caught Mammy—in fact she had caught herself, coming to a stop before she reached the wire, and now they brought her back to Jed, and were stripping the shattered sulky from her lean sides.
“I was kinder feared of that sulky,” Jed said. “It’s purty old; but I didn’t expect no rough work such as that. Guess I’m put out of bus’ness.”
“Can you drive another heat?” Pat asked.
“I ain’t hurt none that would stop my drivin’.”
“Then I’ll get you another sulky,” Pat declared.
“There ain’t none ’cept the ones in this race, short of Petroville,” Jed said. “An’ if 1 had a new one I wouldn’t kinder know how it’d act. I got another sulky over to the house; the shafts is broke, but if I had one of ’em ■ reels, I’d try an’geteven with that skunk. Guess 1 couldn’t get it here in time.”
“You’ll get it, Dad,” Shandy declared. “Here, some of you fellers that saw this, get the Judges to hold up till I get back with a new wheel—’tain’t far.” Then he went on the run for his carriage, followed by the Curran brothers.
IN FRONT of the Judges’ Stand the A course seethed with angry men clamouring for the disqualification of Rufus and King Patchen. But the three Judges had seen the crash, and it was one of those fine touches that occur on the course that cannot be proven as intentional. The slightest swerve of a trotter might have brought it about.
The heat was given to King Patchen, though the giant boarder of Mother Blake’s offered to lack the three officials if they would come down on to the course.
In twenty minutes Pat Shandy swung on to the course with his chariot, down where the outer rail ceased, and up to the Grand Stand in regal splendor. Behind the carriage spun, and jiggled, and hopped a clattering sulky, and in the back seat leaned outward the Curran brothers gripping the broken two shafts of the gear. Pat was up on the box seat beside the driver, yelling. “Hold the fort, Judge, we’re cornin’!”
A mighty cheer went up from a thousand throats, men rushed out to help Pat rejuvenate -Jed’s ruined sulky; eager hands stripped a wheel from the shaftless vehicle and clapped it on to the axle of Jed’s sulky; gentle hands draped the shafts against Mammy’s gaunt ribs.
Then Jed clambered to his seat and announced: “I’m ready mos’ any time now, Jedge. Thankee for waitin’.”
The four horses went down the course for the deciding heat. Mammy had won a heat; Yellow Spy had won one; and so had King Patchen-^one of the three would win this heat which would give him the race. It looked almost a certainty for Yellow Spy; unless Mammy were second, King Patchen would get second money, fifty dollars, for he had been first once, and second once. It looked as if Jed would be trotting for the chance at fifty dollars.
As the winner, King Patchen had the rail. And as they swung down the backstretch the first round, Oliver pulled the Spy in behind Patchen; and Mammy trotting true, lay in against Blue Eagle, whose driver was fighting to pinch off Rufus and the bay.
At the lower turn he headed Patchen, and Mammy slipped in to second place lapped on the roan.
UP THE stretch, around the turn, and down the back, holding to these positions; and as they swung into the stretch the roan broke, and Mammy slipped into the lead. At her quarter nodded the outstretched head of King Patchen.
And now, on the outside came the yellow whirlwind, the Spy; no urging from Oliver beyond a “click-click” from his lips; shoulders thrown far back, and his strong arms holding taut the guiding reins.
Poor gallant old Mammy! What would her brave heart avail against that swoop of speed.
And Rufus had almost drawn level with Mammy—he thought he would win. The yellow head of the Spy thrust past Rufus; from the wide-spread nostrils the breath whistled in his ears.
“Go on, King!” he yelled.
They had just struck the spot where the spokes of Jed’s wheel had gyrated in the sun, where the crash had broken the youth-nerves of the three-year-old; and at the bellowing roar from the negro he shuddered, threw up his head, and his forefeet pawed the air in a broken gallop.
On, on, battled Mammy, and with whip and roaring voice Rufus drove at the little bay.
Too late! Mammy’s lean head caught the Judge’s eye first as he looked down from above the wire.
Cheers rocked the Stand. Humanity
is very human when honest worth wins. And Shandy, out on the track with a crowd of others, was clasping Jed’s hand as he pulled the mare up in front of the Judges’ Stand, and he was saying:
“Dad, we’re goin’ to put walnut doors and plate-glass winders on the hog-run. Whoop for Janeville! Whoop for Mother
Blake’s boardin’ house! Dad, you get j Mammy sent home, an’ hop into the j carriage till we bust in in vict’ry on Mother.”
“Thankee, Pat, but I guess I’ll jus’ ! lead Mammy home myself—guess she’s | hauled me ’nough on that ol’ sulky today, an’ she’s kinder tired.”