His life and books
THE DEAD CERTAINTY
By Nat Gould
Jack Bonar sprawled on his back in a punt. He lay in the friendly shade of a willow tree, and puffed out clouds of smoke from a well seasoned briar. It was an unusually warm mid-May Sunday afternoon, and he had no desire for anything save to lie as he was. It was very peaceful in this pleasant shady backwater of the Thames, and he was away from the rest of the weekend house party, and that in itself was a great blessing.
Teddy Morgan, who owned the up-river house where Bonar was a guest, was an old school friend of his, and the two had met by accident at a theatre a week previously, and an invitation and acceptance to the present party had been the upshot.
Bonar liked Teddy Morgan, but he did not like Teddy Morgan's friends. He had been surprised on arriving for lunch the previous day by the appearance of his friend's guests, and their acquaintance had not caused a ripening friendship. Morgan had quitted the ranks of young men about town years previously to dabble in theatrical finance, and had done well.
At this week-end party there was a South African who was reputed to be a millionaire, two famous actor-managers, and a leading lady, and all four condescended to be quite affable to our host.
“Hulloa! Sorry. Thought I'd allowed plenty of room”.
Something had crashed into the punt, causing Mr. Bonar's head to slip from the cushions, and his mouth to swallow about a couple of inches of pipe-stem. He withdrew it in order to swear, but on sitting up found himself gazing into the dark features of his fellow-guest of Morgan's - the millionaire.
“Sorry 1 bumped you,” said Mr.Ronstein placidly; bit out in my judgment. Shady little place you've found here. Got a cigar on you? I left my jacket in the boathouse.”
Keeping himself well in hand, Bonar produced his cigar-case. Here was insult added to injury. Not only had the man given him an unpleasant shock to the system, but, calmly appropriating one of his cigars, evidently intended quartering himself upon him for some time.
Montague Ronstein lit the cigar, adjusted the cushions in the stern of the boat, and settled down close to the bored young man in the punt, rolling down the sleeves of his shirt over two brown hairy arms that reminded the other of a monkey's. They talked about nothing in particular for some little time, Jack Bonar trying hard to think of some excuse to get away without showing deliberately that he did not want the man's company.Then suddenly Ronstein turned the conversation into a channel that interested him.
“What's your fancy for the Derby, Mr. Bonar," he asked, stroking his small black moustache and regarding the young fellow lazily through half-closed eyes.
“Oh, I don't know. I haven't made a bet yet. I'm told Sea King is greatly fancied, but there's time - no great rush to get on him yet. I see Centaur is being backed quietly, and - by Jove, Mr. Ronstein, you're the owner of Centaur, aren't you?”
“Yes," said the millionaire, with a slight smile. “I suppose you are not a keen follower of racing. 1 think you are the only one of the party who has not been pestering me for information.”
"I am rather a keen follower of racing, and that is why, if I had remembered you owned Centaur, I should not have pestered you. I have never known an owner yet from whom one got anything by pestering. I knew, of course, you were a very lucky owner of racehorses, but for the moment I had completely forgotten that you had anything engaged in the Derby."
The millionaire was silent for a moment.
“Well, Mr. Bonar," he said suddenly, “because you have not pestered me, and because I owe you a good turn for the shock to the system that I must have inflicted upon you, I will tell you the winner of the Derby; the greatest certainty that ever started. You can put your money on Centaur with every confidence.”
Jack Bonar was both grateful and considerably surprised. Ronstein was not the sort of man to give away valuable information to a total stranger, even if he did feel under a slight obligation, for the millionaire was one of the few men who made racing pay.
“It's - it's awfully nice of you" he stammered, “ but -”.
“Oh. the stable are 'on,' and I've got all the bets I want. I'm not out to win a pile, you know. My ambition is to win the race for the honour of the thing more than the money. Put on what you like, only don't make a song about it. I don't want everyone to know.”
When Jack Bonar parted with the millionaire the next morning he was entertaining very different feelings towards him than on the occasion when they had met.
* * *
“Jack,” said Lady Confield a week later, “what do you fancy for the Derby?”
Her brother, who had been gazing at a pretty girl talking to his brother-in-law by the window started.
“Well,”he said thoughtfully, “put a pound or two on Centaur. I've backed him pretty heavily.”
“Thanks. I'll get Bill to put it on for me.”
“Put what on for you?” said Lord Confield, walking with his companion into the centre of the large drawing-room where the brother and sister
“A fiver on Centaur for the Derby,”said his wife, a pretty little woman who understood as little about racing as her brother did about sewing.
“Jack says he's backed it heavily, so it's bound to win. He's always awfully lucky.”
Jack Bonar smiled ruefully, with painful recollections of previous losses.
“I'm glad to hear it,” he said with a forced laugh.
Lord Confield became inquisitive. Why had Jack backed the horse ? On form it was not half so good as half a dozen others, and yet it had been backed down to second favourite at 5 to 1. Why was it ? Did Ronstein greatly fancy his candidate? Were the stable gambling, and - ?”
“I really can't tell you anything else,” said Jack quickly, sorry that he had spoken. “It's a good horse, and that's all I can say. Are you interested in racing. Miss Renaldson ?”
He fancied that the girl started and lost some of her colour.
“I don't believe Vera knows whether the Derby is run at Epsom or Ascot; said Mrs. Plater, the portly, well-dressed woman with whom the girl was staying for the season.”
“Oh, I do,” cried the girl, "and I'm quite looking forward to the race. I think horses are splendid.”
“By Jove, rather,” said Jack. “By the way, have you seen Confield's hunters, the pictures of 'em, I mean, in the smoking-room? No? Oh, you ought. May I take, you there?”
And to the disgust of a brainy youth, who, over glasses in eye, had been admiring his pink striped socks, he led the girl, who was the acknowledged belle of the season, out of the room.
And as soon as they had entered the empty smoking-room the girl placed a small gloved hand on his arm.
“Don't back Centaur,” she said quickly. “I am sure he will not win.”
“Not win!” gasped Jack, staring blankly into the excited blue eyes, “but I am - oh, it's a good thing. Miss Renaldson, as much a certainty as anything in racing. As for backing it, I've done it already, and stand to make a small fortune if the colt wins.”
He had got on Centaur when the price was 10 to l, and, judiciously spreading the money over half a dozen bookmakers that he knew were sound, had backed the horse to the extent of a thousand pounds.
Jack was no fool, and he had not plunged his all, but it was his one big gamble; and, if the horse lost, he would still have something between fifteen hundred and two thousand a year, and, as a bachelor, he would be able to do very well on that sum. If, on the other hand, if Centaur won, he would be in a very pleasant position indeed, and he had no intention of hedging his bets even when a particularly charming girl, who had somewhat disturbed his ideas of the blessings of the bachelor existence, chose to take up such a strange attitude.
“I - I, perhaps I'm silly about this, Mr. Bonar,” she spoke quickly and nervously. “I hope I am wrong, especially if the result means much
“It means everything to me, Miss Renaldson,” said Jack gravely, thinking what a much better chance the extra ten thousand pounds would give him in the marriage market. “But, I say, don't let's talk about it ; we shall get enough excitement that day week. Come and look at the photos. Of course, I shall see you at Epsom?”
The girl smiled faintly.
“Oh, yes,” she said listlessly,as though lost in thought. “I shall be at Epsom.”
* * *
Jack Bonar went to Epsom on Derby Day by an early first-class special. At the last moment a man who had promised to motor him to the course had been summoned to the bedside of an ailing aunt, and had not dared to disobey.
Jack's own small car was available, but he did not fancy motoring down by himself, so he went by train, and was agreeably surprised to find only two other men in the long saloon carriage of the train to Tattenham corner station.
He interested himself in his sporting paper, noting with pleasure that Centaur was now 3 to 1 - an equal favourite with the Irish horse Sea
King - whilst the only other horse was a colt named Starlight, who in the last few days had been backed down from twenties to eights.
“They're a dirty crowd, and Ronstein the dirtiest of the lot!”
One of the gentlemen at the other end of the saloon spoke excitedly, with reckless disregard as to the law relative to slander.
“You don't expect little angels to be flapping their wings round that stable," said the other man, “but I should have thought Monty would
have been keen on winning the Derby. Apart from the honour of the thing, the stakes, without any betting, are well worth having.”
“Honour!” growled the other. “Ronstein doesn't know the meaning of the word. “Put your shirt on Centaur, Dick,” he said to me. A pretty little game! Gets all his pals and the public to back his horse, whilst he gets a good price about Starlight! Bah! It makes me sick. They tell me he had tried to back his own horse, but the bookies wouldn't lay any price good enough for him.”
“Well,' said the other man, in a low voice, after a quick glance at the young fellow who seemed absorbed in his paper, “I reckon Caver will have to be careful if he pulls the favourite, for everyone knows Ronstein and Bawker are hand in glove.”
The other man laughed shrilly. He had put every penny he could spend on Centaur, and was almost hysterical after having had a short interview with a certain knowing gentleman that morning.
“Pull the favourite!” he cried. “Caver's no fool! A jockey making five thousand a year doesn't pull a horse. He'll ride it to orders. Set the pace too fast - Starlight likes the pace made hot - and -”
The man broke off. They had stopped at Croydon, and several men invaded the carriage.
Jack Bonar still held the paper before him.
The girl had been right - Centaur would not win the Derby. Women often had strange presentiments; this muse be one. Perhaps Vera Renaldson had seen the millionaire and summed up his true character. Perhaps -
Oh! What did it matter? He would be eleven thousand pounds worse off. A question that he had intended asking would -
“I'd like to wring the blackguard's neck!” he cried half-aloud, and a meek little man sitting near him edged away.
Of course, the men might be wrong; but it was not likely. It was evident that they were professional racegoers, and were not men to lose their heads save under exceptional circumstances.
“Curse it!” he said, as he alighted at Tattenham Corner station and walked down the course to the stands.
It was a perfect day - warm sunshine tempered by a gentle breeze - and the 'going' was perfect; but Jack failed to appreciate now the things that in the ordinary way he would have revelled in.
He lost five pounds on the first race, won ten on the second, and then went to his brother-in-law's coach, where he knew he would find Vera Renaldson.
He reached it just as the horses were parading for the great race of the day, and, more by force of habit than anything else, he stopped to watch the action of the horse ridden by George Caver, the crack middle-weight jockey, and certainly Ronstein's black and yellow striped jacket was borne by a horse who looked as though he could do his owner credit.
“The shame of it all!” he muttered hoarsely as he ascended to the roof of the coach.
Vera Renaldson was evidently greatly excited, her face was flushed and her eyes were gleaming. Jack cleverly managed to be by her side as the horses went to the starting gate.
“I think you were right, Miss Renaldson,” he said. “Centaur will not win, but - ”
“Oh, I think he will, Mr. Bonar; I feel almost certain he will.”
The girl spoke with strange conviction, and Jack was staggered.
The roar around them, and the clang of the bell by the stands drowned the remainder of the sentence, the whole atmosphere was charged with excitement. Men's hearts beat quickly, the black mass by the rails surged to and fro, and every eye followed the horses that were travelling up the hill towards Tattenham Corner.
Jack was quite cool all of a sudden, he watched the race dispassionately as he had no interest in it. Centaur was not to win, it was only a question of Starlight or some outsider, and he hoped that it would not be Starlight. He put up his glasses, Centaur was well to the front; at the head a couple of outsiders were leading, but they would not last. Starlight, on the rails, was travelling smoothly. Of course, it was all -
He put down his glasses; he was a sportsman, and he hated this jobbery.
“By Jove!” cried Lord Confield, “'you're right, Jack; I wish I'd put more on the colt. Centaur will win easily”.
Jack laughed harshly as he put up his glasses; then the cynical laugh died away. They were round Tattenham Corner, and Centaur had gained the coveted inside position and was leading the field. Starlight was beaten; it was a question whether the Irish horse, Sea King, or Centaur would win the greatest race of the year.
The two shot out from the others, the green jacket and red cap of the Irish horse forged ahead for a moment, then Caver, riding the race of his life, suddenly shot out the favourite, the black and yellow striped jacket passed the green and red, and Centaur went on to win by three lengths from Sea King, with a rank outsider beating Starlight for third place.
“You see,” said Miss Renaldson, in the conservatory of Lord Confield's house that night, “my real name is Vera Renaldson Caver, but George, when father died and we were left penniless, became a professional jockey, and soon made a lot of money. He did not want me to be associated with him, and so I was known as Vera Renaldson, and George paid Mrs. Plater to introduce me into society. I did not want to come to London at all, but I did it to please him.”
“He's a fine fellow,” said Jack,”'but how on -"
“'Oh, George has no secrets from me, said the girl proudly. “'I knew that the Ronstein gang were a shady crowd, for George had told me, and so, when you told me that you had backed Centaur, I knew he was not intended to win, but I -”
“You persuaded your brother to ride straight to let a good horse do his best,” said Jack quickly “but why did you trouble?”
“Really, I -”
“Vera,” said Jack Bonar, with wonderful presence of mind. “We love each other, and we're going to get married this season. I'll see that George gets on.'
And Vera Renaldson found nothing to say, which Jack took to be a very good sign.
Mr. Montague Ronstein was not elated at winning the Derby, and freely broke the agreement with his first jockey. So George Caver went to a little Wiltshire village, where, as a trainer, he does very well, and has no cause to regret winning the race that gave him such a genial and helpful brother-in-law.
The Dead Certainty by Nat Gould was published on 1 October 1911 in the Sunday Times (Sydney, Australia). It is not to be confused with the novel that had been published in book form entitled A Dead Certainty by Routledge in 1900.