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They heard the big stranger's muffled swearing, saw him look at his watch again as the time passed. "Curse it, can't you get me that number? It's most important. Try them again, please-they've got a dozen numbers on their own exchange-they can't be all engaged. Hurry!"
Little Hannibal Strive stroked the tip of his nose with a forefinger, and thought that the human race would be much improved with four ears per unit instead of two. Something was going to happen-what was it? It was like being in the front row of the gallery.
"Is that Rogers? Sam Rogers? Willis speaking. That you, Sam? Yes, I'm fine, thanks. What's that? I do not, Sam-I want to back Blue Monkey. Mars Blue Monkey, Sam. Right you are!"
Rapson gave a violent start. "He puts the money down, anyway," he whispered to himself. For Mars was the code word used by Sam Rogers & Co., Commission Agents, for two hundred pounds. He glanced beyond Strive and saw another man who placed his money with Rogers, looking furtively at that firm's book of rules. Half a dozen of the stranger's hearers were now aware that he had invested two hundred pounds on Blue Monkey in the one-thirty race. The stranger reappeared in society a little flushed.
"Got me a bit hot and bothered," he remarked, genially. "Your country exchanges-pardon me are not all that they should be. A bit close on time, too."
"You were, indeed," Rapson agreed. "There's not many bookies would have taken it so late. A tidy
bet, wasn't it?" The other's eyes measured him for a second. "Oh, I see you bet with Rogers, too," he said. "I've a special arrangement, you see-do a lot of business there in the course of the year. Sam Rogers and I are pretty good pals. Landlord, its too stuffy for me to go inside there again till I have to. Perhaps you'd get one of your staff to phone Sam Rogers in ten minutes and ask him what won. And will you send somebody round to look after my chauffeur?"
He seated himself and talked. The population of the White Horse shook off something of its apprehension, its troubling sense of mystery, and listened, for he talked well. His name was John Willis. He had made his bit of money in the States, but he was no American. Not he! He was spending a wonderful holiday year in the old country, for he had the money to do it with. His hobby was racing, and he had been to all the important meetings that year. He had, he told them, packed up a parcel—there never had been such a year. He knew all the chief characters in the world. of the turf, and he had good stories about them, every one.
In ten minutes the big stranger had them all laughing, and Hannibal didn't mind. All his life he had never been allowed to mind being laughed at. He stroked his nose and looked into his tankard, and stared at each of them in turn; and perhaps he stared mostly at big John Willis, fascinated by his good spirits, his huge voice, and the wondrous atmosphere of ease and gold and success. about him.
Then the landlord called a boy in
buttons, and the boy received his instructions from the landlord and went into the telephone booth. He got the connection more quickly than John Willis had done. He came out and saluted Willis, and once again that expectant hush visited the place.
Blue Monkey's sixteen hundred still to come. The hard-headed men he left behind him were shaken and uneasy. And in their souls the glory of Galloper Gem was shaken also. Their faith was disturbed. The world was without light, was changed and wrong. What did he know-hearty
"Blue Monkey did it, sir," he said John Willis, the magic man? smartly. "Eight to one."
"Good enough!" Willis exclaimed. "Sixteen hundred to the good-a nice little appetizer for lunch!"
He got up, unconscious of the awed murmur that greeted the news of this victory. This man was a miracle-worker he had given the proof. He said, as though to himself.
"Very nice too. It isn't all the money in the world, but very nice too!" He turned and looked around, including them all, even Strive, in a victorious, benevolent smile. "Do you know, boys," he declared, "I'm one of those people who like money! I love it!"
"Who doesn't?" demanded Rapson, brightly. And unable to keep it in any longer, he added, "What's your idea for Wednesday-the big race, sir? What were you going to tell us about Galloper Gem?"
The other's manner changed. "Keep off it, that's all. I've told you that-and that's all there is to say. It's not going to win." "But-"
Again John Willis smiled. "Well, good-by, boys," he said kindly. "I'm due for a bite of lunch, and I'm feeling just like it. I'm glad to have met you all I really am!"
He went from them, whistling, great-hearted, laden with money already-and about him the halo of
"Well," Rapson fumbled with the heavy silence, "I can't rightly place him, but that chap's a wonder!"
"When I kept the little tobacconist's shop in Park Street, I once saw a fifty-pound note," contributed Hannibal Strive seriously, and they laughed at him, and one of them said, "Oh, shut up, you little poof!"
It was said very kindly, but Hannibal didn't laugh. He went out and stood on top of the broad steps of the hotel. The chauffeur was at his lunch and Hannibal stared in entrancement at the brilliant yellow Rolls-Royce, warming his neighborly little heart with the feeling that it had probably cost over three thousand pounds. He tried to work out how many fares to Australia would go into that. He supposed he could go to Australia and back and keep on going there and back, as long as he lived, for that money.
The landlord came from upstairs with the information that John Willis was drinking Roederer 1914, and had discovered from the headwaiter that there were seven bottles left in the cellar. It was, so John Willis had manfully asserted, a very sound wine. If the gentlemen in the bar would do him the honor of allowing him, John Willis, to order said seven to be opened for them, he, John Willis, would be very pleased indeed.
"Bring 'em up," said the mystified
Rapson, savagely. "Look here, you chaps-we mustn't let that fellow go! We've got to have a talk with him. I don't know how you feel, but I've lost my nerve. That fellow's a—athe tremendous word would not come "a winner! If Galloper Gem's not going to do it next Wednesday, what is?"
Hannibal Strive tore himself away from the bright yellow car in time for the champagne. They were toasting John Willis when the provider of the feast dashed in and rushed to the telephone booth.
Again they heard him call Sam Rogers & Co. Again he planked the maximum-code word Mars, on Poor Man's Purse, running in the two-thirty. Hannibal Strive, still dazed from long staring at the RollsRoyce, watched him, through the thick glass of the telephone booth and through a bright yellow mist.
"Close shave," smiled John Willis, emerging. "Nearly forgot that time. And its a cert, that one-it could throw a fit and still have time to win. Glad you like the wine, boys. I'll finish my lunch, and be with you in a tick! Thank you, boys-all the best to you!"
John Willis finished his lunch, and appeared on the stage again two minutes before the boy in buttons entered the telephone box for the second time on his behalf. For the second time the boy saluted the owner of the yellow car. He reported.
"Poor Man's Purse clicked all right, sir. Gentleman said it was four to one and supposed you hadn't the sauce to go to the telephone, yourself. You big stiff, he says. He-"
The boy in buttons began to stutter, and stopped. The face of big John Willis was smilingly pleasant. "Did Mr. Rogers say anything else, Tommy?"
"He says would you be so kind as to go and drown yourself? Anywhere would do, he says."
John Willis clapped his hands together, and found five shillings for the boy in buttons. The mind of little Hannibal Strive swam in warm and pleasant seas, and he imagined the waves to be made of honey, and pigeon-holed for tankards as he swam. There was something about this champagne stuff that made you feel bigger and brighter, somehow.
He stared at big John Willis.
Crikey, what a toff! Blue Monkey sixteen hundred, Poor Man's Purse eight hundred; twenty-four blooming hundred . . . hundred . . . and still he had the lovely yellow Rolls-Royce! What he could make, that toff, if they let him work overtime. There ought to be more than seven days in a week for a first-class toff like that-dashed if there oughtn't!
Twenty-four hundred in an afternoon!
They saw big John Willis, the magician, the book-maker's terror and please would he drown himself, rub his hands together. They heard him murmur.
"Doing nicely, thank you. .. Not so bad! Not so bad!"
Nothing they missed of the ecstasy of that murmur, these hard and envious lads who knew everything-but not so much as smiling John Willisthese poor defeated triers who had put down their money on Galloper Gem. A new magic possessed them, and they perceived this wondrous
stranger to be the myth of all punter's dreams—a myth-made factthe man who could not lose! Once again Rapson voiced their innermost hearts. He stepped to Willis, who was still smiling, and seized his arm.
"Come on!" he half shouted. "Have a heart, Mr. Willis. You've been asked what you thought before, and you wouldn't tell the boys. What are you going to back next Wednesday?"
"I told you what not to back, didn't I?" said Willis quietly, and his look moved round them. "Didn't
They nodded. "Yes," persisted Rapson. "But—”
John Willis with a gesture, interrupted the fresh plea he would have made. He raised his arm, and for what seemed a very long time, a somber silence captured his hearers.
"I'll be straight with you boys and I'll tell you why. It's because of you, landlord or at any rate it started there. Do you know, I tried to change that note of mine at three different towns within a hundred miles before I struck Dulchester. They wouldn't look at it-nearly shoved me out of the place. Believe me or believe me not, I know the winner next Wednesday-I've got him taped." He challenged them. "What's that?"
There was no sign of any contradiction. They watched-and heard him with reverence. At this moment, they would have believed anything. John Willis glanced toward the door. "If I tell you what I know," he asked solemnly, "will you promise not to let it go beyond this room?” "Of course. Absolutely to ourselves!"
Willis appeared to be satisfied. For the third time that afternoon he stepped to the telephone box. "Then I'll give you the winner," he said. "Listen to me I'll tell you what will win!"
Once again he called the long-suffering Sam Rogers & Co. Sam Rogers, already wounded by the afternoon's warfare to the extent of twenty-four hundred, was evidently in a harsh mood-and rightly so! John Willis found it necessary to soothe him down, to sweeten him. To the intent listeners it seemed at first that Sam Rogers & Co. had had more than enough of John Willis, that they didn't want any further bet from that too-victorious plunderer of their funds. But in a little time, Willis brought them to the scratch with a jest-and then
"Mars on Friendly Fairy for the big race on Wednesday-have you got that? Wait now-it's days before the race, and you'll have plenty of time to deal with it, and lay it off— if you want to. I'm feeling like a real bet before I get back home next month. Book me Mars three times. . .
His listeners gasped.
"Yes, that's right-three times I said. Here, have it plain English— six hundred pounds on Friendly Fairy! Right! Thank you, Sam!"
Rapson, the others crowding round him, looked at the list of the latest betting for the big race. Friendly Fairy? There it was, quoted at thirty-three to one!
John Willis came out, smiling still. "I shall clean up a fortune on Wednesday," declared he. "And now you boys know all I know—you know the winner! You've dropped
your money on Galloper Gem, and that can't be helped-but you can get in out of the wet on Friendly Fairy, and make a parcel, every one of you. I've your solemn promise it goes no further than this room, mind! Good-by, everybody!"
He saw them all smiling, again made happy, and was delighted. His gaze stopped at the foolish somberness of one face only, and he turned on Hannibal Strive.
"Don't you ever laugh?" he demanded.
Hannibal Strive was puzzled. "I thought I was laughing," he apologized. "Good luck and thank you, sir. You see, I'm going to Australia."
The yellow Rolls-Royce left in glory. Dulchester proceeded to get out of the wet with vigor and determination. Not only Dulchester -these things will get talked about, despite any promise-but Maryboro', Marshton and Corberstead, neighboring towns, abandoned Galloper Gem as a cheat and a lie and went solid for Friendly Fairy, all ends up. Wednesday next was as Waterloo, and every man a Wellington. Galloper Gem went out in the betting, and Friendly Fairy closed in to twenties. Hannibal Strive still gave himself to thought. He thought mostly about the fares for himself and his little family to Australia.
Wednesday was a nasty damp morning. The sun came out at lunch time, but, figuratively, it continued to be a nasty damp afternoon, and before it was over many stalwart lads in Dulchester and elsewhere glanced a little enviously at the nicely scrolled shop-front of Elias the
In the opulent waiting-room of the gorgeous offices of the successful firm of Sam Rogers & Co. somewhere near Piccadilly, little Hannibal Strive sat and stroked his nose. A smooth clerk came and said,
"Mr. Rogers doesn't know your name. He can't spare time to see you."
"Tell him," said the visitor, "that I come from the White Horse, Dulchester."
These tidings passed him in, with no more than half a minute's delay. Hannibal Strive, awed by the superluxury of the place, stared at Sam Rogers, whom he had last seen as kind-hearted Mr. John Willis, smoking the biggest cigar in the world.
"Well," demanded Mr. Sam Rogers, "what's your trouble?" "Did you have a good race, Mr. Willis?"
"Mr. Rogers, please. Get that in your mind, you little worm."
"You're not as nice as you were when you were Mr. Willis," said little Hannibal regretfully. "I liked you as Mr. Willis."
"Get on with it, you shrimp," said Mr. Rogers. He was excessively