They quartered themselves at an unpretentious hotel; and instead of chartering a car went out to the races in a tram. As they watched the arrivals, a magnificent limousine car drove up and out of it stepped a square-built, short-necked man dressed by a good tailor, with a Talisman rose in his buttonhole. An American would have classed him as the chief executive of a chain of factories; an Englishman would have guessed him to be a big Yorkshire contractor. Dismissing his car with a wave of his hand he turned to enter the gate and his eye lit on Red Fred.
“Hello, Fred,” he said, “fancy meeting you! I ain’t seen you since we done that job o’ fencin’ for old hungry Williams, and we nearly had to pull him to court to get our money. What are you doin’ now?”
Being determined not to make any admissions Fred sparred for time.
“Why, Jim,” he said, “I never thought I’d see you again. How did they let you get out of Queensland? Do you remember that night we camped up on the end of the line of fence and you went down a quarter of a mile in the dark to fill two buckets at the creek? And just as you got back you fell over a calf asleep in the grass and you had to go back again. Haw! Haw! You had plenty to say that night, Jim.
“Fitz,” he went on, turning to his aide-de-camp, “this is Jim Frazer; used to be fencin’ with me in Queensland. Fitzroy and me have just come down for a fly round. Fitz used to be a trap but he pinched the wrong bloke so they let him out on his ear. What are you doin’, Jim?”
“Me, I’m makin’ a book. I strained me back fencin’ so I started a barber’s shop up in Lost River. But I wasn’t too good at it. The first cove I shaved, he said: ‘Either your hand’s very heavy or your razor’s very blunt.’ Well, it’s no good lettin’ ’em jump on you, is it, Fred? So I said: ‘No, my hand ain’t very heavy nor my razor ain’t very blunt. It’s your face that’s wrong,’ I says. And he had a look at me—I weighed fifteen stone—and he says: ‘Perhaps you’re right.’ And he pays his money and walks out.
“So then I started layin’ ’em the odds in the township, bettin’ on the wires you know, and I done so well that I gave up the shop and followed the races. If you want a bet you’d better come to me. But unless you’ve got more money than sense you’ll leave it alone. There ain’t many books would tell you that. But I don’t want your money, Fred. If you’re broke, I might be able to stake you till you get a job.”
The owner of the Daybreak Reef considered this offer for some time but said that he could carry on for the present.
“Don’t nobody ever make any money bettin’, Jim?” he said.
“Only the plungers, and they never keep it. There’s some that’ll bet their shirt while they’ve got a shirt, and they might run into big money. But they can’t stop bettin’ and it all comes back to us. They’ll never beat us while we’ve got our health and strength. . . . Why do you go on workin’, Fred? Only fools and horses work?”
By this time he had half a dozen men waiting to see him—scouts who touted horses for him and runners who went round the ring to report any big commissions—and Red Fred and his secretary were left to their own devices.
When men have been cooped up together for weeks, as Red Fred and Fitzroy had been, they are apt to get on each other’s nerves. Something of the sort might have happened to these two, but relief was in sight. Through the crowd came an enormously fat man dressed in the height of fashion and looking as Mr Pickwick would have looked if he had weighed nearly seventeen stone. He was all smiles and affability, although his eyes had the strained and weary look of a night sub-editor, or a gigolo in the height of a New York season.
Charley Stone was what is called the entertainment officer for the Empire Pastoral Company and his job was to keep in touch with the firm’s clients on their visits to Sydney. His duties were first and foremost to prevent the emissaries of other firms from getting hold of these clients; then to take them to the races, theatres, night clubs, the Museum, or Wesleyan lectures, according as their tastes dictated. He had to be an authority on the purchase of clothes, pictures, furniture, saddlery or sheep-dip. He had to be able to get tickets for everything, from a Government House ball to the best seats at a popular prizefight. He had to be prepared to sit drinking and playing cards all night with a party of young Western squatters, and then turn up sober, shaved, and in his right mind, to see an elderly lady off the early train. He never did any work, in the generally accepted sense of that word; but his firm paid him a big salary, and he was able to get his clothes, food, and entertainment for practically nothing. A glorious life, but apt to be very short.
He lumbered up to Red Fred and shook his hand vigorously.
“Been looking all over the place for you,” he said. “Heard you were down. I could ha’ got you a ticket for the Members’ Stand. I didn’t know you were a racing man.
Having won the only race in which he had ever started a horse, Red Fred had a fair claim to the title of racing man, but bitter experience in life had taught him never to overbid his hand.
“My secketary here knows more about racin’ than I do,” he said; “but I’m thinkin’ of buyin’ some horses and goin’ in for it. Meet Mr Fitzroy. Him and me are goin’ to buy some horses at the sales.”
“Going to buy some horses, are you? I’ll put you on to a man that’ll tell you what to buy, and I’ll get you a good trainer. I’ll introduce you to Jim Frazer, if you like. He’s our biggest bookie. Bet you a million if you want it.”
“Oh, I know Jim Frazer all right. We was mates in Queensland. But Jim says you can’t beat the ring. I won two thousand off a bookie in Queensland. I didn’t tell Jim, and do you know what he done—he offered to lend me some money.”
This set the giant back on his heels, so to speak, for never in his life had he met a non-racing man—and very few racing men for that matter—who had won two thousand pounds from a bookmaker. Thinking that he had better feel his way a bit before trying to impress this peculiar client he turned to Fitzroy.
“You come with me to the office,” he said, “and I’ll get you those tickets. You wait here, Mr Carstairs, and I’ll send Fitzroy back with the tickets. Then I’ll meet you upstairs before the first race.”
As they shouldered through the crowds he took a good look at Fitzroy and decided to unburden his spirit.
“What’s your boss’s line?” he asked. “Women, horses, theatres, booze, gambling? They all come at something, and whatever it is I have to come at it with them. The firm’d tear me to pieces if we lost this man’s business. Will I offer him a drink?”
“He’s racehorse mad just now. Keep him off the drink. He’s a fine chap, but he can’t carry too much and when he gets a few in he wants to fight somebody. You might have to fight him out of trouble. How are you on fighting?”
“Not too good. You mightn’t think it to look at me, but I could always run too well to fight much. But if he gets into any scrap I’ve only got to hold up my finger and I’ll get ten men round me who can fight like thrashing machines. If he gets into a scrap I’ll soon fight him out of it.”
As they drew near the office they were aware of a bleating sort of voice trying to make itself heard behind them.
“Here! I say! Hello! Fitzroy! What!”
Looking round they saw a young man of about twenty-two, a vision in morning coat, top hat, spats, cane, eye-glass—a typical Ascot Johnnie, incongruous in Australia. A small man, he seemed to be all top hat and eye-glass, but Fitzroy had no difficulty in recognizing an old undergraduate friend in the Honourable Algernon Salter, better known in the University as Psalmsey, owing to the way in which the word Psalter is spelt on the cover of the hymn-book.
Judged on his appearance and conversation, the Honourable Psalmsey was, a most inadequate person in every way; but he had a flair for horses and, while an undergraduate, had ridden his own horse into a place in the Grand National Steeplechase under an assumed name. To do this he had to break about half a dozen rules of the University; so that, instead of awarding him the Victoria Cross, or whatever is the equivalent of that distinction at Oxford, they sent him down. We next find him acting as aide-decamp to his uncle the Governor of New South Wales. It would be understating the case to say that he was glad to see Fitzroy—he positively bubbled and became incoherent in speech.
“What ho, Fitz! By Jove! Rippin’! I’ve got a most frightful job! Positively awful! I have to steer his Excellency about and see that he doesn’t miss recognizing all sorts of weird Johnnies he has already met at some show or other. And if we invite the wrong chappies to Government House, why, yours truly gets it in the neck. I wouldn’t be secretary to the Prince of Wales for all the tea in China. . . . But you’re all right, Fitz. Your uncle’s the head serang in the F.O. What are you doin’, Fitz? You must come and have dinner some night with us.”
“Well, I was a policeman.”
“A policeman! Good gosh! Ain’t that too awful! When I do find a decent chap he’s a policeman! I couldn’t pick a winner in a field of one. But it’s my day off, and I know a few things that might do us some good. Come and we’ll get on the trail like bloodhounds.”
Thinking that it was about time that he too had a day off, Fitzroy left his employer to the guidance of the representative of the Empire Pastoral Company and melted into the crowd. Then the bell rang for the first race. This was a hurdle race, and as soon as the scratching time had expired the bookmakers got up on their stands and started to roar the odds. Around them frolicked the children of the turf—so wise and important they were too, those children—each with his little bit of information gleaned perhaps from a sporting paper, or a friend who knew the friend of a jockey. In the early betting these neophytes poured in with their pounds and their fivers. One callow sportsman vouchsafed the information to Jim Frazer:
“They’re going to put a packet on Simon’s horse to-day, Jim, so I got in early.”
For this the bookmaker thanked him; then turned to his penciller, an old bushman like himself, with the remark:
“I’m sure Simon’d tell everybody he’s going to back his horse. He’s that mean he wouldn’t give a dog a drink at his mirage.”
There was not very much betting on this hurdle race, as few people like to see their money jumping in the air. It was won by a fine old horse who had developed a technique of going full speed over the hurdles, thus gaining a couple of lengths at every jump. This performance impressed Red Fred tremendously. As soon as the winner came in he wanted to buy him; but Charley Stone advised him to wait a bit as he might see something he liked better.
“A hurdle horse is a good poor man’s horse,” he said.
“He’ll keep him poor. You don’t want a hurdle horse. Wait till you see some of the cracks.”
The hurdle horse had been favourite for his race; then there set in one of those inexplicable runs of favourites which send the smaller bookmakers to the mont-de-piété to pawn their diamond rings. The favourite for the two-year-old race—a beautiful colt belonging to a wealthy non-betting owner—cantered in at even money to the accompaniment of hoarse cheers from Red Fred who had a tenner on it on Charley Stone’s advice.
“That’s a bobby-dazzler of a colt,” said Fred. “I wonder what he’d want for him.”
“No chance in the world,” said Charley Stone. “That’s a Derby colt, and his owner’s got as much money as you have. He has been trying to win a Derby all his life.”
Two minor handicaps also went to favourites, and the crowd were on their toes. They had the bookmakers on the run, and who would work for money when he could get it by betting? They almost resented the fact that the fifth race—a mile and a quarter—was a moral certainty for the great four-year-old Sensation, winner of the Sydney and Melbourne Derbies and the Melbourne Cup. He was one of those colts of the century that occur every ten years or so, and the weight-for-age races were at his mercy. The bookmakers were ready to gamble, but were not prepared to commit financial suicide; so they refused to bet against Sensation. And they laid very cramped odds against any one picking first and second.
“It’s too bad” said Charley Stone. “Here’s a horse that’s as good a thing as St Simon in a field of selling platers, and you can’t get a bet on it! It’s like holding four aces cold at poker and nobody coming into the pool against you.”
Sensation, of whom we shall hear more later on, left his field at the top of the straight and swept past the post with his head in his chest to the accompaniment of a roar of cheering. After all the public do love a good horse. Then it was a case of “to your tents, oh Israel” with the bookmakers. Five favourites in a row, and all were diving into secret pockets under their armpits in search of wads of notes.
Just as betting was about to start on the last race, Red Fred and Charley Stone bumped into Jim Frazer on the way down to his stand.
“Come with me,” he said, “and I’ll show you some bookmaking. I’m going to pill this favourite. There was never six favourites won in the world. You’ll see some betting too, for the rats have got money now, and that’s the time to see betting—when the rats have got it. Talk about your gentlemen punters—it takes a rat to bet. When he has a win he won’t put by a fiver of it. Up it goes, all he’s got, every time. Secrecy ought to be favourite and you’ll see what I’ll do to her. She ought to win—but there never was six favourites won yet.”
By the time that he mounted his box, the betting was well under way and the ring were calling three to one the field. Early money came in, and, thinking that it was a pity to pay three to one if the public would take five to two, the price was dropped to that figure. Even at five to two the public were coming along with their money and then Jim Frazer started. His bull-like voice rang over the tumult:
“Four to one on the field, four to one on the field! Four to one Secrecy! Four to one Secrecy! Four to one on the field!”
Like a wave they came at him. Fierce, flushed faces surrounded him and thrusting fists tried to push money into his hands. Unable to get near him, the big punters yelled from the back of the crowd, “Two hundred me, Jim,” “Three hundred me, Jim,” and his penciller worked feverishly as the leviathan called the names:
“Two hundred, Mr Skinner; three hundred, Mr Clark; a hundred, Fred Staples; fifty, George Sharkey; fifty, Harry Smith; twenty, Mr Sothern. Four to one on the field!” A rat elbowed his way through the crowd and shrieked: “You got fifteen of mine, Jim. All up on it!”
“Won’t you keep the odd five, Brownie? You might want it. Put a tenner on this.”
“No, up with the lot! What’s the good of a lousy fiver to a man?”
“Right-oh! Fifteen on it, Bullswool Brown. Four to one on the held. Tenner on it number sixty-nine. Fiver on it number seventy. Twenty on it number seventy-one. A quid number seventy-two. Four to one on the field.”
By this time the excitement of betting had swept even the bookmaker off his feet, and instead of getting in some money on the other horses he went in deeper and deeper against the favourite. His penciller whispered to him:
“The mare’s taking out twelve thousand and we’re only holding three thousand.”
But his employer’s answer was a snort of defiance:
“What do I care what she’s taking out? There never was six favourites won! I’m down three thousand on the day and I want to hold four thousand so as to make it a winner. That’s why I’m laying four to one. Come on here, four to one on the field.”
“You were laughing at the rats, Jim,” said Charley Stone, “and now you’re betting like a rat yourself. All or nothing.”
“Don’t I know it! But you’ve got to bet like a rat to make a big book. Four to one on the held.”
By this time Red Fred had had a few drinks and was beginning to think that his opinion was at least as good as anybody else’s. Seeing a fine-looking old horse going to the post he turned to Jim Frazer and said:
“Here, Jim, what price Peacemaker?”
“Peacemaker? Spare me days! You don’t want to back him. He’s been out for a spell and he’s not half ready.”
“That’s all right, Jim, that’s all right. I know what I’m doin’. What price Peacemaker?”
“Well, if you will have it, fifty to one to you. What do you want on it? Ten bob?”
Rocking slightly on his feet Red Fred gathered himself together with great dignity and handed over a twenty-pound note.
“That’s what I’ll (hiccup) on it,” he said. “I’ve heard too much of this ten bob talk. Too much of it. Just ’cause you got money you think everybody else is a porpoise [pauper]. A thousand to (hic) twenny. Gimme me ticket.”
“Right. Here’s your ticket. Don’t come to me to borrow money if you get broke. Of all the fools . . . ”
Those who know most about racing will agree that a horse will sometimes run his best race when fresh and full of life. Old Peacemaker, a good performer in his day and naturally a clean-winded horse, went into his job like a Trojan. His apprentice rider, like many other apprentices, went into a sort of trance as soon as the barrier lifted. But the old horse knew his business. Jumping out clear of his field, he made for the rails and in spite of the barbaric finish of his rider he just lasted long enough to beat the favourite by a head. Instead of coming out with a profit of a thousand, Jim Frazer had had all his day’s work and his huge risk for a loss of a couple of hundred pounds.
When Red Fred came to be paid, he presented his ticket without saying a word. He struck an attitude and waited for the applause which had been all too rare in his life. Instead, he got advice of which he had always had too much. It seemed to him that everybody looked upon him as a sort of natural advice-taker, and it was time to resent it.
As the bookmaker paid him over the money he said:
“Well, Fred, a fool for luck! I don’t know why you picked on me, but if anybody had to take me down for a thousand it might as well be you. Now listen. Don’t come at that game again—backing fifty-to-one shots. If you back favourites you’ll have no laces in your boots, but if you back outsiders you’ll have no boots.”
“That’s all right,” said Red Fred. “That’s all right. If ever I want yer to buy me a pair of (hic) boots I’ll come and ask yer.”