Benjamin Farjeon.

Miser Farebrother: A Novel (vol. 2 of 3)



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Jeremiah smiled as he packed his winnings away.

"It is my opinion," observed Captain Ablewhite pleasantly, "that Mr. Pamflett has made a bargain with the old gentleman. Everything he touches turns to gold."

On the following day Jeremiah, on the race-course, commenced to plunge, and after a martingale of six series of bets on six races found himself a loser of eleven hundred pounds. He was desperately frightened. He went carefully over his "system," and it was small satisfaction to him to prove that he had not made a mistake. What should he do? Leave off, or go on? There was no choice for him. He must go on; he must get back the money he had lost. It was not possible that he should continue to lose. The money would be sure to come back. He infused false courage into his trembling body by drinking brandy.

"A bad day," said Captain Ablewhite.

"What's the odds?" cried Jeremiah, emptying his glass. "It's only lent."

"Bravo!" exclaimed Captain Ablewhite. "You've got the right sort of stuff in you. You'll break the ring."

They played "poker" that night, and Jeremiah, by boldness, won back two hundred of the eleven. This put spirit into him. "It is all right," he thought. "I'll make them sing small before I've done with them."

On the race-course again he continued his "system" – lost on the first race of the day, lost on the second, and lost on the Leger. The "dark" horse, which Captain Ablewhite was certain would win, came in fourth. The carrying out of Jeremiah's "system" now required very heavy stakes, and when the number of the winner of the Leger went up on the board, he had but four hundred of the two thousand pounds left. Then he began to flounder. He had lost on nine successive races, and to pull back his losses it was necessary that he should stake the whole of the four hundred pounds in his pocket on the race about to take place. Did he dare to do that?

He walked about the ring, muttering to himself, and studying his card. "Shall I do it? shall I do it?" he muttered, in a state of indecision. He knew exactly what his "system" demanded. There was the horse, and there the jockey; did he dare to back them for the four hundred pounds? As he was hesitating and dallying, two men, whispering, brushed past him. He heard what they said. "They've squared it: it's a moral. Now's the time; I'm going nap on Morning Light."

Morning Light! Morning Light! The man was going nap on Morning Light. Was there ever a straighter tip? It was not the horse his "system" proclaimed he should back; but he could never forgive himself if he neglected the tip so fortuitously imparted to him. "It is sure to win; it is sure to win," muttered Jeremiah; and in a fit of nervous desperation he put his money on Morning Light. He could not get the odds to the amount from one book-maker, but he got them from four good men and true, to whom he intrusted the last of his new crisp bank-notes. He stood to win three thousand eight hundred pounds.

"That will put me eighteen hundred on the right side," he muttered, "and my four hundred that I shall get back, that will be two thousand two hundred."

So great was his agitation that he walked out of the ring, and tried not to think of the race till it was over.

"Hallo, my buck!" cried Captain Ablewhite, clapping him on the shoulder just as he passed through the gate. "How are we getting along? Do you know anything? What have you backed?"

But Jeremiah would not allow the name of the horse to pass consciously from his lips. He had a superstitious fear that it would bring him bad luck; he mumbled some indistinct words, and staggered away. Captain Ablewhite looked after him and smiled.

How was it that in a few moments Jeremiah found himself back in the ring again? He could not tell, except that he was impelled by a terrible force which seemed to deprive him of self-control. His eyes blazed, his tongue clave to the roof of his mouth. All at once he was standing before the bar calling for brandy. He drank it neat, and called for another glass and another, which he tossed off. The ringing of a bell and cries of, "They're off!" dragged him to the grand stand; but though he strained his eyes and looked in the direction of the running horses he could not see them. They were all mixed up in seemingly inextricable confusion. A man close to him shouted, "Tricksy wins! Tricksy wins, for a pony!" Tricksy! It was the horse he ought to have backed. "You're a damned liar!" He thought he had screamed the words aloud, but only a gurgling, inarticulate sound had escaped him. From a hundred throats came the cries, "Tricksy wins! Tricksy wins! Tricksy wins!" The horses rushed past the post, and the race was over.

Jeremiah wiped the perspiration from his face, and dug his handkerchief in his eyes to clear them. The winning numbers were going up, and he saw them in a red mist. Tricksy first, Bamboo second, Moselle third. Morning Light nowhere.

What a cursed fool he had been! Fortune was within his grasp, and he had missed it – had wilfully thrown it away. His "system" pointed unerringly to the backing of Tricksy, and he had allowed himself to be turned from the certainty by a casual whisper. No, not casual; it was a plot to ruin him; it had been done purposely to destroy him. And here was Captain Ablewhite at his elbow again.

"Was there ever such infernal luck?" the Captain was saying to him. "I had the tip before I came on the course, and I go and back Moselle. I've no head, no head! Oh, if I only had your clear brain! No use growling, though; it won't mend matters. Better luck next time. None but the brave deserve the – mopusses. But I say, old fellow, you look upset. You don't mean to say you didn't back Tricksy! Why you told me after the second race that mathematically, it couldn't lose, and I said to myself, 'Pamflett'll back Tricksy, and I'll back Moselle. If Moselle wins, I can let Pamflett have a few hundreds to go on with. If Tricksy wins, he can oblige me.' You can't eh?"

"No, I can't," said Jeremiah, in a hoarse tone. "I didn't back it."

"You didn't back it!" exclaimed Captain Ablewhite, with an amazed look. "What did you back, then?"

"Morning Light."

"Morning Light! Have you lost your wits? Why, old chap, he was never meant! I could have told you that if you had asked me. He's going to win the Cambridgeshire. Upon my soul, this is the best thing I've heard for a month."

"I don't think so."

"How much did you back him for?"

"Four hundred."

Captain Ablewhite whistled. "Well, it's no use crying over spilt milk. There's one good thing – the game's alive. You can pull it back with interest, and you are not the man I take you for if you don't do it. What does it matter to you, a thousand or two? These things happen to all of us. I remember last year at Ascot – but it's no good raking it up. It knocked me over for a month, I can tell you that. From what I can understand of your system it's when you risk the most you win the most. Isn't it?"

"Yes," groaned Jeremiah.

"I thought so. Now if you had backed Tricksy, what would you have won?"

"Nearly five thousand," groaned Jeremiah.

"By all that's wonderful! And you didn't follow it out! But I'm a nice one, I am, to preach!" And then Captain Ablewhite said, playfully, "Don't you let me catch you at it again!"

"I won't," groaned Jeremiah.

"The beauty of the thing is, as I have said," continued Captain Ablewhite, "that the game's alive. It's always alive, and waiting for us. What is one miss? You can snap your fingers at it. All you've got to do is to increase your stake the next time. Old fellow, I give you my solemn word there's only one thing in life worth living for, and that is horse-racing and betting on it. If it was abolished, there are a thousand men in England who would put a bullet through their heads to-morrow; and I'd be one of them – I would! It isn't called a Royal sport for nothing. There never was anything like it, and there never will be anything like it. Great Scot! the fortunes I've seen lost and won! Come and have some fizz."

Jeremiah went and had some fizz, and then Captain Ablewhite asked him what his trouble was.

"I've lost all the ready money I brought with me," said Jeremiah.

"What of that? You want to go on betting?"

"Yes."

"Give me," said Captain Ablewhite, "your I O U for a thou."

What with his despair, and the mixed liquors he had imbibed, Jeremiah scarcely knew what he was doing; and under Captain Ablewhite's directions he wrote and signed an I O U for ?1,000, which the gallant Captain comfortably deposited in his pocket-book.

"Come with me," said Captain Ablewhite. "By Jove! the numbers are going up."

Jeremiah went with him, and was introduced to a book-maker, to whom Captain Ablewhite whispered a few words.

"All right, Captain," said the book-maker. "The gentleman's name is good enough; but I thought he was quite a different sort of man."

Captain Ablewhite nodded, and took Jeremiah aside.

"Make your bets with him," said the Captain, in a low tone, "in the name of Farebrother. You've got Farebrother's cards about you; give him one. Before the meeting is over you will be in clover. You can bet with him without staking a shilling."

But on the Friday morning of the Doncaster Meeting Jeremiah was in anything but clover. He was tossing about on a bed of nettles.

END OF VOL. II

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