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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

George Vere Hobart (1867–1926)

John Henry at the Races

I WAS anxious to make Clara Jane think that she was all the money, so I boiled out a few plunks, trotted over to the trolley, and rushed her to the race-track.

I’m a dub on the dope, but it was my play to be a Wise Boy among the skates on this particular occasion, and I went the whole distance.

In the presence of my lady-love I knew every horse that ever pulled a harrow.

Isn’t it cruel how a slob will cut the guy-ropes and go up in the air just because his Baby is by his side?

Me—to the mountain-tops!

Before the car got started I was telling her how Pittsburg Phil and I won $18,000 last summer on a fried fish they called Benzine.

Then I confided to her the fact that I doped a turtle named Pink Toes to win the next day, but he went over the fence after a loose bunch of grass and I lost $23,680.

She wanted to know what I meant by dope, and I told her it generally meant a sour dream, but she didn’t seem to grab.

When we got to the track they were bunching the bones for the first race; so I told Clara Jane I thought I’d crawl down to the ring and plaster two or three thousand around among the needy. Two or three thousand, and me with nothing but a five-spot in my jeans, and the return ticket-money in that!

“Are you really going to bet?” she asked.

“Sure!” I said; “I’ve got a pipe!”

“Well, I hope you won’t smoke it near me. I hate pipes!” she said.

“All right; I’ll take my pipe down to the betting-ring and smoke it there!” I said, and we parted good friends.

In front of the grand stand I met Nash Martinetti.

He was holding a bunch of poppies, and he picked out one in the first race and handed it to me.

“A skinch!” said Nash. “Go as far as you like.”

Then Ned Rose went into a cataleptic state and handed me the winner—by a block. It couldn’t go wrong unless its feet fell out.

“Here you are, John Henry, the real Pietro!” said Ban Roberts; “play Pump-Handle straight and place! It’s the road to wealth—believe me! All the others are behind the hill!”

Every Breezy Boy I met had a different hunch, and they called me into the wharf and unloaded.

I figured it out that if I had bet $5 on each good thing they gave me I would have lost $400,000.

Then I ducked under, sopped up a stein of root beer, and climbed up again to the hurricane-deck.

“Did you bet?” inquired Clara Jane.

“Only $730,” I said; “a mere bag o’ shells.”

I leave a call for 7.30 every morning, and I suppose that’s the reason I was so swift with the figures.

“My! what a lot of money!” said the Fair One. “Do point out the horse you bet on! I shall be awfully interested in this race!”

Carlo! you’re a bad dog—lie down!

I pointed out the favorite as the one I had my bundle on, and explained to Clara Jane that the only way it could lose was for some sorehead to get out and turn the track around.

Sure enough, the favorite galloped into port and dropped anchor six hours ahead of the other clams.

I win over $2,200—conversation money—and Bonnie Brighteyes was in a frenzy of delight.

She wanted to know if I wasn’t going to be awfully careful with it and save it up for a rainy day.

I told her yes, but I expected we’d have a storm that afternoon.

I had a nervous chill for fear she’d declare herself in on the rake-off.

But she didn’t, so I excused myself, and backed down the ladder to cash in.

The boys were all out in the inquest room, trying to find out what killed the dead ones.

Then they stopped apologizing to themselves, and began to pick things out of the next race and push them up their sleeves.

I ran across Harry Maddy, and he took me up to the roof with a line of talk about a horse called Pretty Boy in the last race.

“He’ll be over 80 to 1, and it’s a killing,” Harry insisted. “Get down to the bank when the doors open and grab all you can. Take a satchel and the ice-tongs and haul it away.”

I was beginning to be impressed.

“Put a fiver on Pretty Boy,” Harry continued, “and you’ll find yourself dropping over in the Pierp Morgan class before sundown.”

“This may be a real Alexander,” I said to myself.

“Pretty Boy can stop in the stretch to do a song and dance and still win by a bunch of houses,” Harry informed me.

I began to think hard.

“Don’t miss it,” said Harry. “It’s a moral that if you play him you’ll die rich and disgraced, like our friend Andy, the Hoot, Mon!”

When I got back to the stand I had a preoccupied air.

The five-spot in my jeans was crawling around and begging for a change of scene.

When Clara Jane asked me how much I had bet on the race just about to start, I could only think of $900.

When she wanted to know which horse, I pointed my finger at every toad on the track, and said, “That one over there.”

It won.

At the end of the third race I was $19,218 to the good.

Clara Jane had it down in black and white on the back of an envelope in figures that couldn’t lie.

She said she was very proud of me, and that’s where my finish bowed politely and stood waiting.

She told me that it was really very wrong to bet any more after such a run of luck, and made me promise that I wouldn’t wring another dollar from the trembling hands of the poor book-makers.

I promised, but she didn’t notice that I had my fingers crossed.

I simply had to have a roll to flash on the way home, so I took my lonely V and went out into the Promised Land after the nuggets Maddy had put me wise to.

“It will be just like getting money from Uncle Peter,” I figured.

“A small steak from Pretty Boy,” I said to Wise Samuel, the book-maker. “What’s doing?”

Wise Samuel gave me the gay look-over.

“Take the ferry for Sioux Falls!” he said.

“Nix on the smart talk, Sammy!” I said. “Me for the Pretty Boy! How much?”

“A bundle for a bite—you’re on a cold plate!” whispered Wise Samuel, but he couldn’t throw me.

“I don’t see any derricks to hoist the price with,” I tapped him.

“Write your own ticket, then you to the woods!” said Sammy.

In a minute my fiver was up, and I was on the card to win $500 when my cute one came romping home.

I went back to Clara Jane, satisfied that in a few minutes I’d have a roll big enough to choke the tunnel.

“Not having any money on this race, you can watch it without the least excitement, can’t you?” she said.

I said yes, and all the while I was scrapping with a lump in my throat the size of my fist.

When the horses got away, with Pretty Boy in front, I started in to stand on my head, but changed my mind and swallowed half the program.

Pretty Boy at the quarter! Me for Rector’s till they put the shutters up!

Pretty Boy at the half! Me down to Tiffany’s in the morning dragging tiaras away in a dray!

Pretty Boy at the three-quarter pole! Me doing the free library gag all over the place!

But just as they came in the stretch Pretty Boy forgot something and went back after it.

The roach quit me cold at the very door of the safety deposit vaults.

I was under the water a long time.

Finally I heard Clara Jane saying, “Isn’t it lucky you didn’t bet on this race? I believe you would have picked that foolish-looking horse that stopped over there to bite the fence!”

“I’m done! Turn me over!” I murmured, and then I rushed down among the ramblers and made a swift touch for the price of a couple of rides home.

On the way back Clara Jane made me promise again that I’d be awfully, awfully careful of my $19,218.

I promised her I would.