|by Knott Gold Author of “Flogged for a Furlong”, “Won by a Winker”, etc., etc.|
He lived in comfort, not to say luxury. He had champagne for breakfast every morning, and his wife always slept with a pair of diamond earrings worth a small fortune in her ears. It is things like these that show true gentility.
Though they had been married many years, the A. de M. Smythers had but one child—a son and heir. No Christmas Day was allowed to pass by his doting parents without a gift to young Algy of some trifle worth about 150 pounds, less the discount for cash. He had six play-rooms, all filled with the most expensive toys and ingenious mechanical devices. He had a phonograph that could hail a ship out at the South Head, and a mechanical parrot that sang “The Wearing of the Green”. And still he was not happy.
Sometimes, in spite of the vigilance of his four nurses and six under-nurses, he would escape into the street, and run about with the little boys he met there. One day he gave one of them a sovereign for a locust. Certainly the locust was a “double-drummer”, and could deafen the German Band when shaken up judiciously; still, it was dear at a sovereign.
It is ever thus.
What we have we do not value, and what other people have we are not strong enough to take from them.
Such is life.
Christmas was approaching, and the question of Algy’s Christmas present agitated the bosom of his parents. He already had nearly everything a child could want; but one morning a bright inspiration struck Algy’s father. Algy should have a pony.
With Mr. Smythers to think was to act. He was not a man who believed in allowing grass to grow under his feet. His motto was, “Up and be doing—somebody.” So he put an advertisement in the paper that same day.
|“Wanted, a boy’s pony. Must be guaranteed sound, strong, handsome, intelligent. Used to trains, trams, motors, fire engines, and motor ’buses. Any failure in above respects will disqualify. Certificate of birth required as well as references from last place. Price no object.”|
Down in a poverty-stricken part of the city lived Blinky Bill, the horse-dealer.
His yard was surrounded by loose-boxes made of any old timber, galvanized iron, sheets of roofing-felt, and bark he could gather together.
He kept all sorts of horses, except good sorts. There were harness horses, that wouldn’t pull, and saddle horses that wouldn’t go—or, if they went, used to fall down. Nearly every animal about the place had something the matter with it.
When the bailiff dropped in, as he did every two or three weeks, Bill and he would go out together, and “have a punt” on some of Bill’s ponies, or on somebody else’s ponies—the latter for choice. But periodical punts and occasional sales of horses would not keep the wolf from the door. Ponies keep on eating whether they are winning or not and Blinky Bill had got down to the very last pitch of desperation when he saw the advertisement mentioned at the end of last chapter.
It was like a ray of hope to him. At once there flashed upon him what he must do.
He must make a great sacrifice; he must sell Sausage II.
Sausage II. was the greatest thirteen-two pony of the day. Time and again he had gone out to race when, to use William’s own words, it was a blue duck for Bill’s chance of keeping afloat; and every time did the gallant race pony pull his owner through.
Bill owed more to Sausage II. than he owed to his creditors.
Brought up as a pet, the little animal was absolutely trustworthy. He would carry a lady or a child, or pull a sulky; in fact, it was quite a common thing for Blinky Bill to drive him in a sulky to a country meeting and look about him for a likely “mark”. If he could find a fleet youth with a reputedly fast pony, Bill would offer to “pull the little cuddy out of the sulky and run yer for a fiver.” Sometimes he got beaten; but as he never paid, that didn’t matter. He did not believe in fighting; but he would always sooner fight than pay.
But all these devices had left him on his uppers in the end. He had no feed for his ponies, and no money to buy it; the corn merchant had written his account off as bad, and had no desire to make it worse. Under the circumstances, what was he to do? Sausage II. must be sold.
With heavy heart Bill led the pony down to be inspected. He saw Mr. Algernon de Montgomery Smythers, and measured him with his eye. He saw it would be no use to talk about racing to him, so he went on the other track.
He told him that the pony belonged to a Methodist clergyman, who used to drive him in a “shay”. There are no shays in this country; but Bill had read the word somewhere, and thought it sounded respectable. “Yus, sir,” he said, “’e goes lovely in a shay,” and he was just starting off at twenty words a second, when he was stopped.
Mr. A. de M. Smythers was brusque with his inferiors, and in this he made a mistake. Instead of listening to all that Blinky Bill said, and disbelieving it at his leisure, he stopped his talk.
“If you want to sell this pony, dry up,” he said. “I don’t believe a word you say, and it only worries me to hear you lying.”
Fatal mistake! You should never stop a horse-dealer’s talk. And call him anything you like, but never say you doubt his word.
Both these things Mr. Smythers did; and, though he bought the pony at a high price, yet the insult sank deep into the heart of Blinky Bill.
As the capitalist departed leading the pony, Blinky Bill muttered to himself, “Ha! ha! Little does he know that he is leading Sausage II., the greatest 13.2 pony of the century. Let him beware how he gets alongside anything. That’s all! Blinky Bill may yet be revenged!”
Christmas Day came. Algy’s father gave orders to have the pony saddled, and led round to the front door. Algy’s mother, a lady of forty summers, spent the morning superintending the dinner. Dinner was the principal event in the day with her. Alas, poor lady! Everything she ate agreed with her, and she got fatter and fatter and fatter.
The cold world never fully appreciates the struggles of those who are fat—the efforts at starvation, the detested exercise, the long, miserable walks. Well has one of our greatest poets written, “Take up the fat man’s burden.” But we digress.
When Algy saw the pony he shouted with delight, and in half a minute was riding him up and down the front drive. Then he asked for leave to go out in the street—and that was where the trouble began.
Up and down the street the pony cantered, as quietly as possible, till suddenly round a corner came two butcher boys racing their horses. With a clatter of clumsy hoofs they thundered past. In half a second there was a rattle, and a sort of comet-like rush through the air. Sausage II. was off after them with his precious burden.
The family dog tried to keep up with him, and succeeded in keeping ahead for about three strides. Then, like the wolves that pursued Mazeppa, he was left yelping far behind. Through Surry Hills and Redfern swept the flying pony, his rider lying out on his neck in Tod Sloan fashion, while the ground seemed to race beneath him. The events of the way were just one hopeless blur till the pony ran straight as an arrow into the yard of Blinky Bill.
As soon as Blinky Bill recognised his visitor, he was delighted.
“You here,” he said, “Ha, ha, revenge is mine! I’ll get a tidy reward for taking you back, my young shaver.”
Then from the unresisting child he took a gold watch and three sovereigns. These he said he would put in a safe place for him, till he was going home again. He expected to get at least a tenner ready money for bringing Algy back, and hoped that he might be allowed to keep the watch into the bargain.
With a light heart he went down town with Algy’s watch and sovereigns in his pocket. He did not return till daylight, when he awoke his wife with bad news.
“Can’t give the boy up,” he said. “I moskenoed his block and tackle, and blued it in the school.” In other words, he had pawned the boy’s watch and chain, and had lost the proceeds at pitch and toss.
“Nothing for it but to move,” he said, “and take the kid with us.”
So move they did.
The reader can imagine with what frantic anxiety the father and mother of little Algy sought for their lost one. They put the matter into the hands of the detective police, and waited for the Sherlock Holmeses of the force to get in their fine work. There was nothing doing.
Years rolled on, and the mysterious disappearance of little Algy was yet unsolved. The horse-dealer’s revenge was complete.
The boy’s mother consulted a clairvoyant, who murmured mystically “What went by the ponies, will come by the ponies;” and with that they had to remain satisfied.
It was race day at Pulling’em Park, and the ponies were doing their usual performances.
Among the throng the heaviest punter is a fat lady with diamond earrings. Does the reader recognize her? It is little Algy’s mother. Her husband is dead, leaving her the whole of his colossal fortune, and, having developed a taste for gambling, she is now engaged in “doing it in on the ponies”. She is one of the biggest bettors in the game.
When women take to betting they are worse than men.
But it is not for betting alone that she attends the meetings. She remembers the clairvoyant’s “What went by the ponies will come by the ponies.” And always she searches in the ranks of the talent for her lost Algy.
Here enters another of our dramatis personae—Blinky Bill, prosperous once more. He has got a string of ponies and punters together. The first are not much use to a man without the second; but, in spite of all temptations, Bill has always declined to number among his punters the mother of the child he stole. But the poor lady regularly punts on his ponies, and just as regularly is “sent up”—in other words, loses her money.
To-day she has backed Blinky’s pair, Nostrils and Tin Can, for the double. Nostrils has won his race, and Tin Can, if on the job, can win the second half of the double. Is he on the job? The prices are lengthening against him, and the poor lady recognises that once more she is “in the cart”.
Just then she meets Tin Can’s jockey, Dodger Smith, face to face. A piercing scream rends the atmosphere, as if a thousand school children drew a thousand slate pencils down a thousand slates simultaneously. “Me cheild! Me cheild! Me long-lost Algy!”
It did not take long to convince Algy that he would be better off as a son to a wealthy lady than as a jockey, subject to the fiendish caprices of Blinky Bill.
“All right, mother,” he said. “Put all you can raise on Tin Can. I’m going to send Blinky up. It’s time I had a cut on me own, anyway.”
The horses went to the post. Tons of money were at the last moment hurled on to Tin Can. The books, knowing he was “dead”, responded gamely, and wrote his name till their wrists gave out. Blinky Bill had a half-share in all the bookies’ winnings, so he chuckled grimly as he went to the rails to watch the race.
They’re off. And what is this that flashes to the front, while the howls of the bookies rise like the yelping of fiends in torment? It is Dodger Smith on Tin Can, and from the grandstand there is a shrill feminine yell of triumph as the gallant pony sails past the post.
The bookies thought that Blinky Bill had sold them, and they discarded him for ever.
Algy and his mother were united, and backed horses together happily ever after, and sometimes out in the back yard of their palatial mansion they hand the empty bottles, free of charge, to a poor old broken-down bottle-O, called Blinky Bill.