She was goofy about horses and he was goofy about her—What else could you expect but a story?
THE GIRL was goofy, the truck driver decided. The funny thing was that she didn’t look goofy. She was as neat a job as he had seen in many a day. A streamlined brunette, with a curved red mouth and talkative eyes. Maybe she was just kidding him.
“Did you say you wanted the horse in the house, miss?” he asked, to make sure.
“Yes, bring him around to the side door.” she said, leading the way. “I think the dining room will be best, don’t you, Mike?” She turned to the bent and weatherbeaten old man who was bringing up the rear. “That’ll give him a private entrance.”
“And save us from having to fix up a feed box for him,”
chuckled Mike. “He can eat right off the sideboard.”
The idea of eating off the sideboard seemingly did not appeal to the horse. At any rate, when they reached the doorway he balked. The girl patted him reassuringly.
“It’s all right, Penny Ante,” she crooned. “Come right in.” The horse stepped gingerly across the threshold. “Just ignore the rug, darling. It’s nothing but plain old broadloom. We’ll have a nice new straw one for you tomorrow.”
The truck driver looked on, goggle-eyed. The horse was a pet, he concluded. But why would the little doll be keeping him in the house?
The answer to that was really quite simple. Penny Ante had been evicted from the Kenmore stables on account of an unpaid board bill. The cottage had been Mike Malone’s idea. Mike was a hard-bitten old trainer. He had known Jill Trevor ever since, as he put it, she was knee-high to a grasshopper. In his younger days he had worked for Jill’s father. Whitney (Bet-aMillion) Trevor, whose horses and bets had made turf history.
“Now don’t you be worryin’ about the little horse,” Mike had said when he learned of Penny Ante’s predicament. “My little cottage is made to order for him. It’s only a stone’s throw from the track. He can walk right out of the door and onto the course.”
And because it offered a temporary solution to her problem, Jill had accepted Mike’s offer.
Sitting in the kitchen, having coffee with Mike, Jill said: “Wouldn’t dad
laugh if he could see Penny Ante sleeping in your dining room?”
“Shure and he’d say the best is none too good for a Trevor horse.” Mike reached over and gave Jill’s hand a little pat. “Your father was a grand gentleman. A credit to racing. If he could just have been content to win purses with his horses
“—Penny Ante would still be in the Kenmore stables,” she finished the sentence for him. “But you see, Mike, dad always figured that if a horse was good enough to own, he was good enough to bet a fortune on. That’s why he made that crazy bet on China Boy.”
Mike shook his head sadly. “And China Boy never even came into the money. No wonder your poor dad’s heart stopped.”
For a few moments neither of them spoke. Jill’s thoughts hurdled back to her father. How tall and handsome and
exciting he had been. Horses were almost a religion with him, and a Trevor entry on a racing program was a synonym of honesty and integrity.
AS A YOUNGSTER, Jill had tagged her father around the stables. Trainers and stable boys were always stumbling over her as they went about their tasks. Mike had taught her to ride, and it was Whitney Trevor’s proud boast that his Jill could gallop a horse around the track as well as any exercise boy.
As Jill grew older, however, he began to worry about her hanging around the stables. Her mother, had she lived, wouldn’t have liked that. And so, when Jill was sixteen, he shipped her off to finishing school.
“They’ll teach you the things your mother would have wanted you to know,” he told her. “And maybe, if they’re real smart, they’ll cure you of wanting to spend all your time around a race track.”
But finishing school had not cured Jill of that. When she came home at vacation time, instead of going to dances and luncheons and the theatre with other young people, she got right into her riding togs and headed for the stables. Jockeys, trainers, handicappers—they all knew and liked her.
“That kid knows horses.” they said of her.
JILL REACHED for the coffeepot and refilled their cups. “Dad’s estate was settled today,” she said.
“Anything left for you?” asked Mike.
“Penny Ante—that’s all.” Tears trembled on her lashes but the old man pretended not to notice.
“And what better legacy could any girl want?” he said, trying to buck her up. “That little horse is going to be a winner.”
Jill’s face brightened. “Do you really think so?” she asked eagerly.
“Shure, and why not? He’s a son of Gallant Lad, ain’t he? And Gallant Lad was a grandson of Black Gallant. You couldn’t be beatin’ that, now could you?”
“You don’t think his size will be against him?”
“What’s size got to do with it? Penny Ante’s got the heart. That’s what counts.”
“But will he be able to carry top weight?”
“If sleepin’ in the dinin’ room don’t turn him into a cream puff, he will,” said Mike with a grin. “What do you say we give him a workout tomorrow momin’?”
TT WAS JUST a little past dawn when they led Penny Ante onto the track. Jill had always loved the early morning hours, when the track was alive with horses and the air resonant with the sound of their galloping hoofs.
Perched on the rail, watching Penny Ante’s workout, she was in her element. Stable boys grinned from ear to ear when they saw her and the grapevine soon carried the news from barn to barn, “Miss Jill’s back.” Randolph Ryan. Jr., owner of the celebrated Clover Field stables, heard it and a few moments later he was perched on the rail beside Jill
“It’s grand to see you back, Jill,” he said.
“It’s grand to be back, Randy.”
She wondered if he could see the little pulse throbbing at her throat. Somehow Jill’s heart always seemed to beat too fast when she was near Randy. She had known him since she was a youngster, and though she would have died rather than let him know it, somewhere among her belongings was a scrapbook filled with clippings concerning the activities of Randolph Ryan, Jr., whom the newspapers sometimes referred to as the crown prince of the sport of kings: Mr. Randolph Ryan, Jr., upon Champion; Randolph Ryan, Jr., sailing on the Normandie; Randolph Ryan, Jr., and party in Bermuda. Pictures from magazines and rotogravure. They served to remind Jill that perhaps her father had been right in wanting her to concentrate on the drawing-room instead of the race track. Randy was the one person whom she would have liked to have notice that her eyes were as blue as sapphires and that her lashes curled back like Garbo’s. But Randy seemed quite unaware of that, and he never talked to her about anything but horses.
“What’s this you’re clocking,” he kidded, “a pony?”
“That’s no pony,” she retorted. “That’s Penny Ante.”
“Now don’t tell me that you’re counting on him to carry the torch for the Trevor stables.” he teased.
“Not only that, I’m counting on him to give your Chocolate Kid a run for his money one of these days.”
Randy became serious. “He hasn’t a chance of ever beating the Chocolate Kid.”
“Want to bet?”
“Sure. On the day that Penny Ante crosses the finish line in front of the Chocolate Kid, you can take your pick of any other horse in the Clover Field stables.”
“Thanks, Randy,” Jill smiled up at him. “I’ll remember that.”
Each day Jill reported Penny Ante’s time to Mike, and together they planned his future.
“He ran six furlongs in 1.13 today,” she announced when the horse had been in training atout a month.
“Not bad. Did you give him an extra lump of sugar?” asked Mike.
“Of course I gave him sugar. But he’s getting choosey. He wanted apple pie! I left the window into the serving pantry open, and he reached through and helped himself. Was that cute?”
“I guess this luxury stuff is putting ideas into his head,”
Mike chuckled. “It's a wonder he didn't insist on having the pie à la mode.” Mike took a pipe from his pocket and tapped it thoughttully. “What do you say we enter him in a race next week?"
“Do you think he’s ready?”
“There’s only one way to lind out. Let’s enter him in a six furlong claiming?”
“But suppose somebody claimed him?”
“Don’t worry,” Mike assured her. “He won’t be that good.”
^~AN SATURDAY of the following week. Penny Ante was among the horses listed in the seventh race, $1.000 claiming, maiden two-year-olds. Jill was as jittery as a prima donna on opening night. She had given the jockey his instructions, and now all she could do was to wait. To kill time until the seventh race was called, she ran up to the press box to say hello to Jim Wells, handicapper.
Jim was talking to a tall young man in a loud plaid coat. It seemed to Jill that everywhere she had looked during the afternoon, she had seen that plaid coat. The wearer, she decided, must be advertising something, for he was accompanied by four girls, all with ilame-colored hair which, curiously enough, matched the plaid in his coat. They had been attracting almost as much attention as the horses. The girls were not with him in the press box, and thinking that Jim might be talking business with the man, Jill started back down the stairs. Jim saw her and called to her.
“Wait a minute, Jill. I want to ask you something. How much dough shall I put on that little bangtail of yours?”
“Forget it,” said Jill. “If you feel a betting urge coming on, grab yourself a piece of Lulu Belle in the next.”
“Serious about that?”
“Serious enough that I put two dollars on her myself.”
The man in the plaid coat surveyed Jill with interest. “I suppose you figure that Lulu Belle can’t lose,” he said.
“Of course she can lose. Man o’ War lost once, didn’t he?”
“Would you go so far as to suggest that I put my shirt on this Lulu Belle?” he asked.
“Why not your coat?” she said coolly.“If you lost it, Lulu Belle would doubtless be hailed as a public benefactor.”
Jill’s remark seemed to amuse him. “Well, I’ve taken tips from every tout at this little horse park.” he said. “Suppose I might just as well take one from a girl. Maybe it’ll change my luck.”
As he started down the stairs, he bumjred into a news cameraman.
“Hello, Benson,” said the cameraman. “How are chances to get a picture of you with the redheads?”
“Okay, if we can find ’em.”
“They’re right down here by the hot-dog stand. I’d like to get a shot of you eating hot dogs.”
Jill turned to Jim Wells questioningly. “Friend of yours?”
“I wouldn’t exactly call him a friend.” said Jim, “but he seems to have adopted me temporarily— me and the redheads.”
“Who is he?”
“The one and only Hank Benson from the wide-open spaces of the West.” And seeing that the name meant nothing to Jill, he added: “Don’t you read the papers? He’s on the front page.”
“On account of what?”
“Well, it seems that Hank came to the city to have himself a time. I gather that he was poured onto the train out West and he’s been raising Cain ever since. He lassoed four dancing redheads out at the Paradise Club the other night. It got a big hand and he’s had them in tow ever since.”
“Mr. Benson sounds like somebody it wouldn’t pay to encourage,” said Jill. “If Lulu Belle comes in, no telling what he’ll do.”
TULU BELLE did come in. and a few minutes later Hank came rushing back to the press box, looking for Jill.
“Say, Jim,” he said excitedly, “who was the little b. unette that gave us the tip on Lulu Belle.”
“Her name is Jill Trevor,” said Jim, “and, just for your information, she doesn’t give tips. She happens to know horses.”
“I’ll say she does. Look !” He held out a fistful of bills. “I’ve got to find that little girl and thank her.”
“She’s probably over at the paddock. She’s got a horse running in the next race.”
The horses were coming out of the saddling ring when Hank reached the paddock. Jill was saying a last word to the jockey. The sight of the red and white silks of what had once been the Trevor stables had brought a lump to her throat.
“Hello, Rabbit’s Foot,” said a voice at her shoulder.
She glanced up. “Oh, it’s you,” she said, with recognition but no interest.
“Well, Lulu Belle certainly brought home the bacon. Look—one thousand bucks!”
Jill’s congratulations were only lukewarm but Hank didn’t notice.
“Since you were the rabbit’s foot that brought me luck,” he said, “how atout helping me celebrate it?”
Continued on page 45
Continued from page 11—Starts on page 10
She shook her head. “Sorry, but I’m not interested in painting the town—if you know what I mean.”
Hank did. “You’ve been reading the papers,” he grinned sheepishly. “It hasn’t been as bad as they’ve made out. If you’ll have dinner with me tonight, I’ll tell you all about it.”
“I’m busy tonight,” she told him.
“Then how about lunch tomorrow?”
“I don’t eat lunch on Sunday.”
“Well, we could make it breakfast—” Jill’s patience snapped. “Sorry, Mr. Benson, but I’m not interested in having dinner or breakfast or anything with you. If that isn’t quite clear, I’ll make a diagram. And now,” she gave him a frosty little smile, “if you’ll pardon me, I’d really like to see my horse run this race.”
THE NEWS that Hank Benson had claimed her horse was like a bombshell tojm.
“It’s all my fault,” said Mike. “I shouldn’t have let you enter him. But I never dreamed anyone would claim him.” “And no one would have,” sobbed Jill, “except a crazy fool like that Benson. He wouldn’t know a horse from an alligator. He’ll probably have those redheads riding Penny Ante around the park.”
Hank didn’t go as far as that, but the next morning’s papers carried a picture of him, an amiably moronic grin on his face, feeding Penny Ante a hot dog.
Several days later Hank got in touch with Jim Wells. “Some stable has been trying to get me on the phone,” he said. “I seem to have acquired a horse.”
“And nicked a girl’s heart by doing it,” Jim told him.
“What do you mean?” demanded Hank. Jim told him about Jill, and what Penny Ante had meant to her.
“That’s easily remedied,” said Hank. “I’ll give the little horse back to her.”
But when he tried to do that, explaining to Jill that the whole thing was just a gag, she refused to listen to him.
“I entered Penny Ante in a claiming race,” she said. “You claimed him and that’s that. He’s your horse.”
“But wouldn’t you let me give him back to you—as a present?”
“I don’t accept presents from strange men.”
“All right, Rabbit’s Foot. If that’s the way you feel, there’s nothing I can do—• except perhaps to make a winner out of Penny Ante.”
“You haven’t got brains enough.” “Don’t be too sure,” said Hank. “I might fool you.”
And that was the last Jill heard of Hank Benson until she picked up a racing sheet one day and read that Penny Ante had come from behind to win the Futurity in as thrilling a finish as racing fans had ever witnessed. Sport writers dubbed Penny Ante the “story-book horse” and told how 1-Iank Benson, his owner, had picked him up in a claiming race, for a song.
THE SUMMER season closed, and the turf talk swung to Santa Anita. Future books were already quoting odds on the Chocolate Kid to win the $100,000 handicap, and the middle of November saw Jill, who had talked Randy Ryan into giving her a job as assistant trainer, on her way south with a string of horses from the Clover Field stables.
When they were pulling out of a divisional point, one of the attendants said to Jill: “Guess who’s on the train?”
“I haven’t the slightest notion,” she replied.
“That little horse you used to own. Penny Ante. He’s two cars up from the Chocolate Kid.”
“Penny Ante!” she exclaimed in astonishment. “I’d give anything in the world
to see him. Do you suppose there’s anyway?”
“I think I can fix it. Be on the platform when we pull into the next stop.”
The train rolled to a stop once more, shortly after midnight. Jill was on the platform the moment it came to rest. The attendant lifted her into Penny Ante’s car.
“Make it snappy,” he said. “We’re only here a few minutes.”
The car was but dimly lighted. Jill was halfway across it before she saw the hunched figure of a man sitting on his heels beside the horse. Suddenly, as though sensing an alien presence, he wheeled about.
“What the devil are you doing in here?” He got to his feet and started toward her.
Jill’s breath caught sharply. She had supposed of course that at this hour Hank Benson would be in his compartment, sound asleep.
“I beg your pardon.” she stammered, and started edging back toward the door. A shaft of light, falling across her face, gave Hank his first clear view of her.
“Well, I’ll be darned,” he said, “if it isn’t little Rabbit’s Foot.” As he looked down at her, his firm mouth softened, and before Jill could even suspect his intentions, he caught her in his arms and kissed her. “I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time.”
“And I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” said Jill, giving him a stinging slap across the cheek.
“Then we’re both satisfied,” said Hank. “But surely you didn’t climb into this car just to assault and batter me.”
“Don’t flatter yourself. I didn’t. I wanted to see Penny Ante.”
“Well, he doesn’t usually receive visitors at this hour, but since it’s you . . .”
The way he said it added to Jill’s fury. “I don’t suppose it would be possible for you to understand how anyone could think so much of a horse that she’d swallow her pride and steal into a box car in the middle of the night, just to say hello to him,” she said. “All you care about a horse is the money it’ll make.”
Anger had drained the color from her face, and her throat was so tight that another word would have choked her. She turned abruptly and started toward the door. Hank didn’t try to stop her.
“Penny Ante’s sick.” he said in a quiet voice. It was just as effective as though he had caught her arm and spun her around.
“Sick?” she echoed. “What’s the matter with him?”
“What are you doing for him?” she asked with quick concern.
“I gave him some physic balls but they haven’t done any good. He’s worse, if anything. Come over and have a look at him.”
She followed Hank to the stall at the far end of the car. Together they squatted on the straw beside the horse. Tenderly, Jill reached over and patted Penny Ante’s head, softly crooned his name. Sick as he was, the little horse’s ears went up as though he remembered.
“Can you beat that?” said Hank. “The little son of a gun knows you.”
Jill buried her face in the horse’s mane to hide the swift tears that filled her eyes.
“Have you got any soda?” she asked when she could trust herself to speak. “Yes, I think so.”
“Mix it with some lukewarm water, and we’ll see if we can get it down him.”
She held Penny Ante’s head while Hank forced his mouth open.
“It’s all right, darling,” she crooned. “It won’t taste good, but it will make you feel better.”
And Penny Ante must have believed lier, for he swallowed the mixture without any argument.
‘‘You sure have a way with horses.” Hank complimented her. ‘‘You liad him believing that you were feeding him sugar.”
A sharp reply sprang to Jill's lips, but it remained unspoken. That Hank Benson should turn out to be the sort of person who would sit up all night with a sick horse was something she had not expected.
“I guess I’d better be getting back to my own car,” she said. “The soda’s going to help you, darling.” She gave Penny Ante a good-by pat and started toward the door. “Why, the train’s started !”
“We pulled out of the station about five minutes ago, while we were administering the soda.” His voice was as casual as though lie were quoting a weather report, but his eyes were laughing. “We won’t stop again until about five, so you might just as well make yourself comfortable. There's a cot over in the corner if you want to sleep.”
“Thanks, I’ll sit up.”
'POR LONG moments neither of them spoke. Hank sat on his heels, his hands clasped about his knees, watching the horse. Jill watched him out of the corner of her eye. In repose his face was sombre, the flesh dark and smooth as though drawn taut over the bones. His body, she noticed, was hard and supple like that of a man who had spent much time outdoors. She found herself wondering what he did before he acquired Penny Ante. He probably would love having her ask him that, but she had no intention of doing so.
“I wish you’d stop hating me the way you do,” Hank said finally. “It makes me uncomfortable. I’m really not half bad, when you get to know me. Penny Ante thinks I’m okay. Don’t you, boy?” He gave the horse a pat, and Penny Ante replied by ruffling his mouth over Hank’s hand. It was, Jill remembered, the little horse’s way of showing affection, but she refused to be impressed by this demonstration.
“Did you ever lose anything that meant a lot to you?” she asked.
“Yes,” Hank said slowly. “I did. I parted with a left kidney, if you’ll pardon the clinical detail.” Lie watched the rings of smoke from his cigarette. “Of course that might not seem like a very great loss to you. But if you happened to be in a profession where you needed a strong back, you’d think differently.”
“What were you—the strong man in a circus?”
“No, a mining engineer. I was careless enough to fall down a shaft and get myself pretty badly messed up. When they finally got me pieced together, the verdict seemed to be that 1 wouldn’t be good for anything but a swivel-chair job.”
“Well. 1 happen to like action. The idea of spending the rest of my days behind a mahogany desk didn’t appeal to me at all. In fact, with a setup like that to look forward to, I figured that I might just as well lead with my chin and get it over with. So I got myself good and drunk and proceeded to run wild.”
Jill didn’t say anything, but her mental blueprint of Hank Benson was undergoing a rapid change.
“Then I met you,” continued Hank, “and you gave me that tip. I’m superstitious about things like that. When the horse came in and I won all that dough, I was convinced that you had changed my luck.”
“So, as a nice little thank-you gesture, you claimed my horse.”
“Know why I did that?” He shot a sidelong glance at her.
Jill shrugged her shoulders lightly. “Temporary insanity, I presume.”
“Well, perhaps my mental processes were a bit haywire that day,” he admitted, “but the real reason was that I figured maybe you went with the horse."
“You certainly figured wrong.”
“Yes, I see that now. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
The cars swayed and creaked and, underneath, the wheels kept up their monotonous clickety-clack. Hank lighted another cigarette. After a while, as though thinking aloud, he said:
“But the real cream of the jest is that a guy like me who’s always had a he-man’s job should wind up following a bangtail around the country.”
“Who’s your trainer?” asked Jill.
“I’m training him myself.”
“Well, speaking of the cream of the jest,” she said, “that seems to me to be it.” “Maybe so, but Penny Ante’s been winning. He followed the Futurity with four stake victories and—you watch—he’ll win the big race at Santa Anita.”
“Just a congenital optimist, aren’t you,” said Jill.
JILL HAD not been at the southern track long, however, before she discovered that there were several other people, including a couple of handicappers, who shared Hank Benson’s belief that Penny Ante would win the big race. There was no denying that the horse was working beautifully. Jill saw him almost every morning, galloping around the track. She saw Hank almost every day, too. And though he frequently found an excuse to stop and talk to her, he never referred to the night they had spent in the box car. Now that Jill’s sense of humor was functioning again, she was able to see the amusing side of that episode.
“We were like a couple of estranged parents drawn together by a colicky baby,” she laughingly told herself.
The same thought must have occurred to Hank, because he always spoke of Penny Ante as “our” horse.
“Our little horse sure likes this track,” he told her one morning when she chanced to meet him on her way to the stables. “I’ve decided to enter him in the next handicap. What do you think of the idea?”
“I happen to be in the employ of the Clover Field stables,” she reminded him. “They don’t pay me to make decisions for the owners of rival stables.”
Nevertheless, a little thrill of pride surged through her because Hank had asked her advice. There were a dozen things she wanted to tell him about how Penny Ante’s race should be run. But she managed to keep them to herself. After all, the Chocolate Kid was her worry. Randy had decided to save the Chocolate Kid for the $100,000 handicap which came in February. Penny Ante was none of her business.
However, when she saw Penny Ante come from behind to pass the early pace setters in his first race and flash off the far turn with a sizzling burst of speed which carried him past Three Tricks, the favorite, and over the finish line, in front by half a length, she concluded that perhaps she should be worrying about the Chocolate Kid instead of Penny Ante.
Jill had been so intent upon the race that she did not know that Hank Benson had found a place beside her at the rail until she heard him saying: “Well, what do you think of our little horse now?”
“He was marvellous!”
Before she could remonstrate, Hank had hold of her arm and was piloting her through the crowd.
“Penny Ante’d be disappointed if you didn’t congratulate him,” he told her.
The little horse, floral wreath about his neck, was posing for the cameramen when Hank and Jill finally reached the winner’s circle.
“Takes it big, doesn’t he?” said Hank, grinning.
“And why shouldn’t he?” Jill bristled. “He knows he won.”
“I’m not blaming him. Rabbit’s Foot. I wouldn’t blame him if he crowed. He made those other nags look like county-fair platers. He’s got a right to feel proud."
Jill rubbed her cheek against Penny Ante’s drenched neck. “You were wonderful, darling,” she whispered.
“You showed ’em, didn’t you. boy?” said Hank. And then, smiling down at Jill, he added: “Don’t you think we owe it to Penny Ante to bury the hatchet and celebrate his victory—together?”
Perhaps it was the little-boy eagerness she saw in his eyes; perhaps it was because when he reached into his pocket for cigarettes, several cubes of sugar fell out; or perhaps it was because Penny Ante, as though in confirmation of Hank’s suggestion, whinnied. At any rate, Jill said: “That might not be a bad idea.”
“Will you have dinner with me then?” “All right,” she agreed.
THEY DINED at the Sportsmen’s Tavern, a rustic inn not far from the track. Jill had discarded her jodhpurs, for a change, and had put on a simple but very feminine frock of a shade of blue that accented her eyes. She was feeling very gay, very right-with-the-world-ish. They had toasted Penny Ante and the “hatchet” seemed to be nicely buried. In fact, it stayed buried until Hank, stepping out of bounds, said: “Know something, Rabbit’s Foot? This is the first time I’ve ever seen you dressed like a girl.”
“I hope that it isn’t too disillusioning.” Her eyes flirted a little.
“On the contrary, it convinces me of something I suppose I’ve really known all the time.”
“What is that?”
He hesitated a moment, then blurted it out. “That I’m head over heels in love with you.”
A hot flush mounted Jill’s cheek. “I suppose I walked into that one.” she said crisply, “but I wasn’t aware that you were subject to hallucinations.”
“My being in love with you doesn’t come under the heading of hallucinations,” he assured her. “It's the genuine article.”
Jill shrugged. “And what am I supposed to do about it?”
A twinkle crept into his eyes. “Just relax,'and get yourself used to the idea of being Mrs. Hank Benson one of these days.”
“Why, I wouldn’t marry you if you were Clark Gable and Gary Cooper and Robert Taylor, all rolled into one.”
“And of course I wouldn’t expect you to if I were that sort of hybrid. But since I happen to be somebody with whom you have a lot in common—”
“But that’s just the point. We have nothing in common.”
“We have Penny Ante,” he reminded her.
“Suppose you leave Penny Ante out of this,” She retorted.
Perhaps if the orchestra hadn't chosen that moment to stop playing, Randy Ryan, who had just entered the tavern and was standing a few steps away, would not have caught Jill's last remark. But anger had lifted her voice to a higher key. and hearing the name “Penny Ante,” Randy turned. Jill looked up and saw him.
It had not occurred to Jill that there was anything unethical about her dining with Hank Benson. But the expression on Randy’s face, as he came over to their table, told her that he disapproved.
“Hello, Jill.” he said casually. “1 didn’t | know that you frequented this place.”
She introduced Randy to Hank.
Randy said: ‘‘Nice race that little
horse of yours ran today.”
“Wasn’t that a honey?” said Hank. “Miss Trevor and I are celebrating his victory.”
“Oh, so?” Randy's eyebrows lifted perceptibly. “I wasn’t aware that Jill was still interested in Penny Ante.”
There was a funny little silence. Jill could feel her cheeks reddening.
‘‘I understand you're entering Penny Ante in the big race,” Randy said.
“Yes, indeed. And Penny Ante’s going to wrap that race right up and walk away with it.”
“You think so? Perhaps my Chocolate Kid may have something to say about that.” And then, turning to Jill. Randy added: “I believe that you and I have a little bet on that, haven’t we. Jill?”
Jill did not need an X-ray to tel! her what Randy was thinking. The color drained from her face and her soft lips tightened. “I supposed that bet was oil when I lost Penny Ante,” she said.
“I don't go back on bets. You know that. If Penny Ante is lucky enough to win the handicap, the bet's good.”
It wasn’t what Randy said so much as the way he said it that puzzled Jill. Surely Randy couldn’t think that she would even consider holding him to that bet. A waiter signalled to Randy that his table was ready, and with a brief goodnight he lelt them.
“Now, see what you’ve done!” Jill told Hank. “It wasn’t enough that you should cause me to lose my horse. Oh, no. You have to double it and cause me to lose my job, too.”
He stared at her questioningly. “Would you mind explaining what you’re talking about?”
“Randy. Can’t you see? He thinks I’m planning to let the Chocolate Kid down, so Penny Ante can win the handicap.”
“You’re imagining things. What would give him that idea?”
“Seeing me here with you probably put the idea into his head. And that bright remark of yours about our celebrating Penny Ante’s victory started it percolating. ’ ' “But a man doesn't leap to a crooked conclusion like that unless—”
“Well, unless he’s the sort who might have a crooked idea of his own.”
Jill flared up. “There’s nothing crooked about Randy Ryan, you may be sure of that.”
“All right, all right,” said Hank, seeing that Jill was simmering to a boil. “My apologies for speaking out of turn.”
“And now having spoiled my evening completely,” said Jill, “suppose you take me home.”
WHEN JILL saw Randy the following day, he seemed as usual. It was not until he was leaving the stables that he said: “By the way, Jill, I’ve been talking it over with Tom (lorn was Randy s trainer) and he agrees with me that it would be a good idea for you to take over Dark Heather for the next few weeks. I’d like to get that little two-year-old in shape for the nursery stakes. Tom 11 keep the Chocolate Kid wound up.”
Jill knew perfectly well what was back of that decision, and while she managed to maintain an outward calm, inwardly she was raging, not at Randy but at Hank Benson. It was all his fault. And so far as she was concerned, from now on Hank was in the same category with poison ivy.
By concentrating on it. she succeeded in avoiding any face-to-face encounters with Hank. She didn’t try to avoid Randy, but she saw very little of him. Through Tom Jacobs she learned that Randy had engaged Sonny Miller to ride the Chocolate Kid in the big race. Sonny was a smart jockey and could be counted on to carryout orders, but Randy heretofore had always favored Tiny Smith. When Jill asked Tom why the change had been made, he merely shrugged.
“I suppose Mr. Ryan’s got reasons,” said Tom, “but he didn’t confide in me.”
Randy didn’t confide his reasons to Jill either. And that was the way matters stood when the curtain went up on the big race.
Jill could feel little trickles of perspiration running down her back as she watched the horses entering their stalls for the great event. The little story-book horse had drawn No. 4. The Chocolate Kid, No. 10. Penny Ante went in like a lamb, but Sweet Lassie, as usual, was acting up. When they got her back into her stall, No. 6 became temperamental and caused momentary excitement by throwing his jockey. Jill’s clenched hands tapped against her legs. Each second’s delay added just that much burden to the Chocolate Kid who was carrying top weight of 130 pounds.
Jill tried to keep her eyes focused on the chocolate-colored horse, but instinctively they followed her heart which, disloyal though it might be to her own stable, was with Penny Ante. He was m the peak of condition, she knew that. He had lightning speed. But could he last?
There was a split second of nervous tension, then the voice of the announcer booming, “There they gooo-o-o—” which was drowned in a swelling roar from the crowd as the horses broke from the barrier.
The Chocolate Kid was laying back, letting the others set the pace. As the field passed the stands for the first time, he was twelfth. At the half, he was as much as thirteen.lengths behind the leaders and hadn’t even had a call. Jill kept her glasses on Penny Ante. At the far turn she saw him moving up to the front of the parade. The early pace setters were fading fast.
“Come on, darling, come on," she breathed a little prayer.
The Chocolate Kid was still trailing. Sonny Miller was doubtless carrying out Randy’s orders.
“But if Penny Ante can hold that pace,” thought Jill, “the Kid will never catch him.”
Like stars from a rocket the horses sprayed out of the final turn and into the stretch. It was Bingo in front by a length, with Gay Week-end closing in. Now Penny Ante was moving up fast on the outside. It was Bingo and Penny Ante, neck and neck.
“Come on, Penny Ante.” yelled the wildly cheering thousands who had backed the story-book horse to win.
Jill’s throat was too tight to cheer. Breathlessly, she whispered, “Darling, darling!"
Then suddenly the staccato voice of the announcer electrified the crowd with: “Look ! Here comes the Chocolate Kid !”
With great, ground-eating strides which were fascinating to watch, the chocolatecolored horse flashed to the fore, gathering speed as he rolled. Bingo was on the rail, Penny Ante close in. With breath-taking swiftness, the Kid moved up on the outside.
And then—Jill couldn’t be sure what happened, but it looked as though the Kid bumped Penny Ante hard as he swept past his contenders and made for the rail. Penny Ante stumbled and almost fell. By the time he regained his stride, the Kid had pounded over the finish line, in front by two lengths. Jill had the strange sensation that her heart had nose-dived to her stomach.
“I shouldn’t feel like this,” she told herself. “The Chocolate Kid was.the best horse. I was sure he’d win.” Still, she could not get away from the fact that the bumping had seemed a little too deliberate, too well timed, to be accidental.
Others felt the same way. She caught fragments of their conversations. “Sonny Miller’s always been a rough rider,” she heard a man who was standing near her say. “He’s been set back more than once for just what he did today.”
And suddenly Jill knew why Randy had switched jockeys. He had seen Penny Ante run, and he was taking no chances. Sonny Miller could be depended upon to carry out orders, and in her heart Jill knew what Randy’s orders had been. Her father, she remembered, had always contended that if a man had any inclination toward trickiness, a race track would bring it out.
“I guess dad was right,” she concluded. “But Randy is the last person I would ever have believed would stoop to anything like that.”
C LOWLY SHE inched her way through ^ the jostling, milling crowd that was swarming toward the cashier’s windows, cut back of the grandstand and started toward the stables. Later, of course, she would have to congratulate Randy; but first she had to see Penny Ante and tell him how she felt about the race. .
The little horse was in his stall, his head and neck, flecked with white, sticking out above the half door. A stable boy was giving him a rubdown. As Jill approached, Penny Ante’s ears lifted.
“Hello there, precious,” she crooned, stroking his neck. “They sort of ganged up on you, didn’t they? But don’t you worry” —she reached up and kissed the star on his forehead—“you were wonderful. And next season, you’ll show ’em.” The little horse ruffled his mouth over her hand, as though in appreciation of her belief in him. “Are they giving you a nice rubdown. darling?”
Penny Ante let out a whinny. But it was not, as Jill supposed, in reply to her ques-
tion. It was a greeting to Hank Benson.
“Hello, Rabbit’s Foot,” Hank said. He seemed shrouded in gloom. He turned to Penny Ante. “Here’s your hot dog, boy.”
The horse’s lips twitched, baring long teeth, as he took the hot dog from the palm of Hank’s hand.
“Are you going to let him eat that?” demanded Jill.
“Why not? He’s crazy about hot dogs.”
In spite of herself, Jill laughed. She was thinking of the time Penny Ante ate the apple pie. She told Hank about it. It seemed to cheer him up a little.
“Well, Rabbit’s Foot,” he said finally. “I guess you were right about the Chocolate Kid being a wonder horse. The trouble with our little horse was that he thought he was running a race. He didn’t know he’d been entered in a rodeo. Did you, boy?” Very gently, he ran his hand along the flat of the horse’s neck.
It was a casual enough gesture, but it was the straw which broke down Jill’s resistance.
“The trouble with our little horse,” she said, “is that he needs a new trainer. Somebody who can teach him how to cope with rodeo tactics.” And then, smiling up at Hank, she added: “How about giving me the job?”
He looked at her questioningly. “You mean . . . ?”
Jill nodded, and in less than a split second he had gathered her in his arms.
“As Penny Ante is my witness,” he said, “it’s a deal !”