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"If you turn out to be as bad a guesser when you're asleep as I am when I'm awake," said Dolly, "we're going to lose our fortune."
"I'm weakening!" declared Carter. "A hundred dollars is beginning to look to me like an awful lot of money. Twenty- seven dollars, and there's only twenty of that left now, is mighty small capital, but twenty dollars plus a hundred could keep us alive for a month!"
"Did you, or did you not, dream that Dromedary would win?" demanded Dolly sternly.
"I certainly did, several times," said Carter. "But it may be I was thinking of the horse. I've lost such a lot on him, my mind may have----"
"Did you," interrupted Dolly, "say if you had a hundred dollars you'd bet it, and did a hundred dollars walk in through the door instantly?"
Carter, reassured, breathed again. " It certainly did!" he repeated.
Even in his proud days, Carter had never been able to bet heavily, and instead of troubling the club-house commissioners with his small wagers, he had, in the ring, bet ready money. Moreover, he believed in the ring he obtained more favorable odds, and, when he won, it pleased him, instead of waiting until settling day for a check, to stand in a line and feel the real money thrust into his hand. So, when the fourth race started he rose and raised his hat.
"The time has come," he said.
Without looking at him, Dolly nodded. She was far too tremulous to speak.
For several weeks Dromedary had not been placed, and Carter hoped for odds of at least ten to one. But, when he pushed his way into the arena, he found so little was thought of his choice that as high as twenty to one was being offered, and with few takers. The fact shattered his confidence. Here were two hundred book-makers, trained to their calling, anxious at absurd odds to back their opinion that the horse he liked could not win. In the face of such unanimous contempt, his dream became fantastic, fatuous. He decided he would risk only half of his fortune. Then, should the horse win, he still would be passing rich, and should he lose, he would, at least, have all of fifty dollars.
With a book-maker he wagered that sum, and then, in unhappy indecision, stood, in one hand clutching his ticket that called for a potential thousand and fifty dollars, and in the other an actual fifty. It was not a place for meditation. From every side men, more or less sane, swept upon him, jostled him, and stamped upon him, and still, struggling for a foothold, he swayed, hesitating. Then he became conscious that the ring was nearly empty, that only a few shrieking individuals still ran down the line. The horses were going to the post. He must decide quickly. In front of him the book- maker cleaned his board, and, as a final appeal, opposite the names of three horses chalked thirty to one. Dromedary was among them. Such odds could not be resisted. Carter shoved his fifty at the man, and to that sum added the twenty dollars still in his pocket. They were the last dollars he owned in the world. And though he knew they were his last, he was fearful lest the book-maker would refuse them. But, mechanically, the man passed them over his shoulder.
"And twenty-one hundred to seventy," he chanted.
When Carter took his seat beside Dolly, he was quite cold. Still, Dolly did not speak. Out of the corner of her eyes she questioned him.
"I got fifty at twenty to one," replied Carter, and seventy at thirty!"
In alarm, Dolly turned upon him.
"SEVENTY!" she gasped.
Carter nodded. "All we have," he said. "We have sixty cents left, to start life over again!"
As though to encourage him, Dolly placed her finger on her race-card.
"His colors," she said, "are 'green cap, green jacket, green and white hoops.'"
Through a maze of heat, a half-mile distant, at the starting- gate, little spots of color moved in impatient circles. The big, good-natured crowd had grown silent, so silent that from the high, sun-warmed grass in the infield one could hear the lazy chirp of the crickets. As though repeating a prayer, or an incantation, Dolly's lips were moving quickly.
"Green cap," she whispered, "green jacket, green and white hoops!"
With a sharp sigh the crowd broke the silence. "They're off!" it cried, and leaned forward expectant.
The horses came so fast. To Carter their conduct seemed outrageous. It was incredible that in so short a time, at a pace so reckless, they would decide a question of such moment. They came bunched together, shifting and changing, with, through the dust, flashes of blue and gold and scarlet. A jacket of yellow shot out of the dust and showed in front; a jacket of crimson followed. So they were at the half; so they were at the three-quarters.
The good-natured crowd began to sway, to grumble and murmur, then to shout in sharp staccato.
"Can you see him?" begged Dolly.
"No," said Carter. "You don't see him until they reach the stretch."
One could hear their hoofs, could see the crimson jockey draw his whip. At the sight, for he rode the favorite, the crowd gave a great gasp of concern.
"Oh, you Gold Heels!" it implored.
Under the whip, Gold Heels drew even with the yellow jacket; stride by stride, they fought it out alone.
"Gold Heels!" cried the crowd.
Behind them, in a curtain of dust, pounded the field. It charged in a flying wedge, like a troop of cavalry. Dolly, searching for a green jacket, saw, instead, a rainbow wave of color that, as it rose and fell, sprang toward her in great leaps, swallowing the track.
"Gold Heels!" yelled the crowd.
The field swept into the stretch. Without moving his eyes, Carter caught Dolly by the wrist and pointed. As though giving a signal, he shot his free hand into the air.
"Now!" he shouted.
From the curtain of dust, as lightning strikes through a cloud, darted a great, raw-boned, ugly chestnut. Like the Empire Express, he came rocking, thundering, spurning the ground. At his coming, Gold Heels, to the eyes of the crowd, seemed to falter, to slacken, to stand still. The crowd gave a great cry of amazement, a yell of disgust. The chestnut drew even with Gold Heels, passed him, and swept under the wire. Clinging to his neck was a little jockey in a green cap, green jacket, and hoops of green and white.
Dolly's hand was at her side, clutching the bench. Carter's hand still clasped it. Neither spoke or looked at the other. For an instant, while the crowd, no longer so good-natured, mocked and jeered at itself, the two young people sat quite still, staring at the green field, at the white clouds rolling from the ocean. Dolly drew a long breath.
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Davis' Short Stories Vol. 2 -by- Richard Harding Davis