“’Ow was it, Charley?” said a Cockney bookmaker. “Did they all come up all right?”
“Pretty well, all. There’s some I’ll have to wait for, but I’ll get it all right. There’s one chap hasn’t settled, a Mr Dickson of Australia. Anybody know anything about him? He owes me two hundred.”
“He owes me two hundred too,” said another. “But he’ll be along all right. He’s a big swell is his own country, got millions of sheep. I don’t suppose he knows his way in here.”
Here a Jewish bookmaker chipped in from farther up the table. “He knowth his way in here all right, because he’th been in and thettled.”
“How could he been in and settled?” said the first man. “He ain’t a member.” Among certain classes noise is considered a good substitute for argument, so the Jew roared at the top of his voice:
“I tell you he hath been in and thettled. I paid him five hundred he won over the Australian horse. Now what about it?”
“Not so good,” said the Cockney. “’E backed the Frenchman with me.”
“He backed the favourite with me,” said a voice from across the table.
“Ah laid him six oondred to fifty aboot th’ American,” boomed the big Yorkshireman. “Ah met him going down t’stairs just now and he said he’d be back in a minute.”
“Backed ’em all, an’ only settled on the winner,” said the Cockney. “But ’ow did ’e get in ’ere? ’E ain’t a member.”
The door-keeper was asked whether he had admitted any strangers, and he said that the only stranger he had admitted was a great swell with a card from the Honourable somebody or other in the Guards’ Club.
“Them sort generally loses,” he added defensively. “You’d have made a great row with me if I’d a’ turned him away.”
Just then a bookmaker from another club put his head in at the door and said: “Do any of you gentlemen know anything about a Mr Dickson of Australia? He owes me two hundred.”
“It’s all right, Joe,” said the Cockney. “’E’s just gone down to Australia to get the money. ’E said ’e’d be back in a minite. But they ’ave very long minites in Australia you know.”
While the settling was going on, Fitzroy was lying in the hospital fighting for his life. The brain had been injured, and when Connie called at the hospital the surgeon told her that nothing more could be done, they must wait and hope for the best. All the way back home in the car she wept bitterly, and when her servants told her that a man was waiting to see her, she was in two minds as to whether or not to send him away.
Thinking that, perhaps, he might have some news that would take her out of herself, she walked into the visitors’ room and found a small man with a tight-lipped mouth and the indelible stamp of the turf on his features.
“If it’s anything about the racing,” said Connie, “you can do your song and dance outside. I never want to hear anything more about racing as long as I live.”
“It’s about Mr Fitzroy,” said the man. “I only wanted to tell you—”
“You can’t tell me anything about Mr Fitzroy,” said Connie who was loosing control of herself again. “Such a fine young feller.” Here she relapsed into tears. “There’s all these wasters you see about, and nothing happens to ’em and this young feller gets killed.”
“He’s not dead is he? I thought he had a chance—”
“So he has a chance,” said Connie. “Buckley’s chance, the way his luck is. Fell out with his girl he did, and lost his job, and now ’e’s goin’ to lose ’is life. The unluckiest man that ever lived.”
The little man got up and put his hand on her shoulder, while Connie sobbed into her handkerchief.
“Cheer up, Countess,” he said, “I’ve known him a good many years. He’s a game un and a game un is hard to beat. Perhaps his luck has turned. I just called to say that I’ve got twelve thousand pounds for him that he won in a double. And I’d like to give it to you as I don’t know what else to do with it.”
Theatrical people are always superstitious and Connie took this astounding news as a certain sign that the luck had turned.
“What!” she screamed. “’E’s won twelve thousand pounds! Then ’is luck must ’a’ turned. That means that the Lord hasn’t forgotten us.” And Connie threw her arms round the little man’s neck and kissed him, “for luck,” as she explained.
From the depths of despair she had gone to the heights of hope in one bound. She felt absolutely certain that Fitzroy would get right.
Connie’s faith was justified for Fitzroy took a turn for the better that very day and before long he was able to see visitors. The first person he asked for was Moira Delahunty, and as he was no longer a penniless wastrel, matters were soon fixed up between them. It was arranged that he should buy a partnership with his prospective father-in-law and thus give that gentleman time to devote his mind to breeding really good horses.
The affair between Connie and Red Fred did not go so smoothly. Connie’s craving for publicity had had a good deal to do with the arrangement in the first place; and now that the publicity had served its turn, she wondered whether she would go on with the marriage. Red Fred had many good points; but he was so unassertive, so unable to hold his own in argument, that she felt she would be apologizing for him all her life. She couldn’t bear a man without any vices to keep her on the qui vive. And life with Red Fred promised to be like drinking milk and water after a steady adherence to brandy and soda.
To tell the truth, Red Fred’s existence at this time was spent in a sort of daze. His comings in and his goings out were controlled by one of Her Ladyship’s grooms of the bedchamber, a man who had lived in the best houses and would have infinitely preferred to look after a nobleman or even the younger son of an aristocratic house. He felt rather like a trainer who had been accustomed to look after a Derby winner and now had to take charge of a Clydesdale. He confided to his particular pal in the servants’ hall that he often wondered how long he could stand it. His principal grievance was that Red Fred persistently attempted to be friendly with him which was against all the traditions of upper-class houses. It was not until Red Fred came in one night flushed with wine and wanted to fight him, that he recovered his equanimity.
“By gad, Orthur,” he said to his pal, “I’ll make somethin’ of that Australian yet. I ’aven’t heard nothin’ like it since I lived with old Lord Pepperpot. Of course Pepperpot was in a class by hisself. But this feller ’as a lot of new hoaths that I don’t think even Pepperpot ’ad ever ’eard of. French hoaths, and all the like o’ that. ’E gets me to do a bit of bettin’ for ’im on the sly, too, ’cos Connie has knocked ’im off bettin’. Of course ’e ain’t what I’m used to, for I used to look after the late Hearl; but this chap’s a hoddity all right, and if you can’t have a Hearl I suppose a hoddity is the next best thing.”
Fitzroy’s man on the other hand, had no reason to make excuses for his charge, because he could talk by the hour together about the great people to whom Fitzroy was related. The question whether Fitzroy’s aunt, Lady Gwendoline, had married one of the Cavendishes or one of the Pagets occasioned a spirited debate in the servants’ hall—a debate that had to be adjourned until the butler could get a look at Debrett in the library.
Fitzroy’s engagement to Moira was announced. But Connie was still wondering what she would do about her marriage, when the question was settled in a most unexpected way.
When the boys at Sensation’s stable opened the boxes one morning they found that the horse had gone, Bill the Gunner had gone, and more significant than all, the little dog Sam had gone. Evilly disposed people might have thought it worth while to steal the horse and to kidnap Bill the Gunner, but who would bother to kidnap Sam? The little dog had made great friends with the Australian horse and jockey, and evidently the lot of them had shifted their quarters together. Where they had gone, and why they had gone, were impenetrable mysteries. The trainer rang up Newmarket Lodge and proposed to raise a hue and cry, but was told to wait, as there must be some explanation.
A hurried call was sent up to Red Fred’s room at Newmarket Lodge. Then it was found that Red Fred had gone—had disappeared without leaving a trace. Connie was equally intrigued and bewildered, for her literature consisted mostly of detective stories and here was a situation after her own heart. Fitzroy could offer no suggestions except that they ought to see if there were any black-trackers in London. Connie was just thinking of drawing up an advertisement: “Lost a racehorse, a millionaire, a jockey and a dog,” when a letter delivered by hand cleared up the whole thing.
It was from Red Fred and it ran as follows:
I beg to inform you that I and Miss Fysshe got married yesterday at a registery office, and we hope you won’t mind. Her and I are both fond of racing and you are not fond of racing, so you would get on better with someone that didn’t like racing. We have taken a house near Epsom with stables at the back, and we are going to get Bill the Gunner to train a few prads for us, and we will let you know if we have anything any good. The chestnut horse is well and I think he was very lucky to beat your horse, but Bill the Gunner said he had it won any time. It looks like keeping very dry, doesn’t it?
This was a situation in which most people would have found it difficult to know what to do or what to say. Connie’s master mind, however, which arranged all the charity side of the International Racemeeting did not fail her. Calling in Mr Manasses to aid her in the wording she wrote the following reply:
|The Dowager Countess of Fysshe and Fynne presents her congratulations to Mr and Mrs Carstairs, but regrets that they should have found it advisable to get married on such short notice. Otherwise the Dowager Countess would have been pleased to attend the wedding. The Dowager Countess suggests that the fact that her engagement to Mr Fred Carstairs was recently broken off, should be made as public as possible.|
“That’ll hold ’em,” said the Countess. “Of course there’s no more harm in ’em than a couple of jellyfish. I don’t know how they ever had the pluck to get married. She must have waited till she got him opposite that registry door and pushed him in. But this’ll let Fishy know that, if she starts to talk, I’ll talk! I’ll go and see ’em in a day or two and we’ll get along fine.”
This programme worked out to a nicety. The public scenting a scandal at first, had all the wind taken out of their tongues by the spectacle of Connie as a welcome and honoured guest at Red Fred’s residence. The whole affair had to be put down to the vagaries of music-hall life, where such things as marriages and divorces are but ammunition for the publicity agent. Connie shortly afterwards married a titled husband who beat her, and thus conformed fairly well to her ideas of what a husband ought to be.
Red Fred and his taciturn little wife were ideally happy. They thought and talked about nothing but racehorses; and they soon gathered round them a large circle of friends who also thought and talked about nothing but racehorses. Their Sunday mornings, when the horses were paraded, were attended by some of the highest in the land. Mrs Red Fred became a vogue and was able to pick and choose among the aristocracy for her dinner parties. Whenever Sensation raced she was surrounded by a sort of court but she would never let the horse run against Crusader again. Bill the Gunner wanted to have another go at him, but Mrs Fred thought that it was better to let well alone. There are so many big meetings in England that there was no need for the two stars to appear on the same stage.
As for Red Fred himself perhaps a brief picture—what the movie people call a short—may serve to illustrate his last appearance.
It is early morning and a red-haired man in an old but fashionably-cut suit of clothes strolls through the streets of an English country town. He is followed by a little dog. Stopping opposite a butcher’s window he reads the legends on the carcasses and says:
“Sam, how would you like some dairy-fed pork for your breakfast?”
Sam sits down and stares appreciatively into the window, drumming on the ground with his tail, and groaning with expectation. Then the man goes into the shop and asks the butcher for threepenn’orth of dog’s meat. The butcher, very haughtily, says that he does not sell dog’s meat. Whereat the red-haired man places two pound notes on the counter and lifts from the hook a carcass of lamb ticketed at that price. Laying it on the block he cuts off a liberal portion for Sam and with the skill of a professional, divides the remainder into four quarters. Calling in some poverty-stricken little boys who are hanging round the door, he gives each of them a quarter and tells them to take them home to their mothers. As he walks out of the shop he says:
“Sam, a man must get some fun for his money somehow.”