The Bet (Pain)
By BARRY PAIN
CLARA and Bertha were two good young girls, and it is better to be good than to be brilliant. During the War they both did erratic shorthand in a temporary building, and what they were paid for it I cannot tell you, but it was a good deal more than it was worth. And then all of a sudden an armistice broke out, and they had even more leisure than they had before, which was saying a good deal. So, being enamoured of the independent life that war had opened up for them, they decided to join forces and enter upon some business or profession.
As they were not artists nor even art students, the first thing to do was, naturally, to take a studio. There they lived principally on tea—did ingenious things with chintz and packing-cases, and discussed methods of making a livelihood, such as cinema acting, photography, hat-making, house decoration, confectionery—they could both make peppermint creams—book-binding, the forcing of early rhubarb, with mushrooms as a side-line, the opening of a tea shop, and other avocations. Pending a decision, they lived economically ou their dress allowances; and what they dressed on I cannot say, but believe it was principally last year's stock and alterations.
One night, while they were at dinner—sardines, peppermint creams, and cocoa—and discussing the business or profession that they should adopt, the conversation branched off, as, indeed, conversations between Clara and Bertha were apt to do. They began to talk about Cicely.
They both knew Cicely. Cicely was by invitation coming to luncheon—largely re-heated fish-cakes—at the studio next day. Cicely was interesting and had glorious red hair. But she was not quite—not exactly—well, you know what I mean.
Clara and Bertha had something to say on the subject of Cicely's glorious red hair. Clara maintained that Cicely did. Bertha was equally sure that Cicely didn't. At first they stated their reasons, but they rapidly fell back on repeated statement as involving less mental strain.
"I tell you she does," said Clara. "I spotted it the first time I saw her. I couldn't be wrong about a thing like that."
"She does not," said Bertha. "I don't like her any more than you do, and I know lots of things about her. But the colour of her hair is natural."
"Well, I'll bet you evens that it's not."
"I'll take that. How much will you bet?"
"I'll bet you—let me see, I'll bet you a tangerine orange to two cigarettes," said Clara.
"You silly!" said Bertha. "That isn't betting evens. That's betting two to one."
"Nothing of the kind," said Clara. "If anything, it's betting one to two. But it's evens really, because one tangerine is worth about as much as two cigarettes—good cigarettes."
"I ought to know more about betting than you do," said Bertha. "I've got two brothers, and you've got none."
"One of the brothers is a curate."
"That may be," Bertha admitted, "but the other one was sent down from Oxford. Anyhow, you can't get away from facts, can you? Two cigarettes are two, and one orange is one. Whether it's two to one or one to two may be doubtful, and depends on which way you look at it. But why can't we bet some even sum of money—say, twopence?"
"Because ladies don't bet actual money—except with bookmakers."
"I say, Clara, did you ever make a bet with a real bookmaker?"
"Not yet; but I might—if we go to the Derby together."
"Do let's. It would be too thrilling. What colour do you like best for a horse? Oh, yes. But about that bet. It won't do, you see, because, if you win, you'll get two cigarettes, and you don't smoke."
"That's true," said Clara meditatively. "But if you win, you get a tangerine, and you simply hate them. No, it's the same for both."
"Then couldn't we put it the other way round?"
"No, that wouldn't be right. Because, if I lost, I haven't got any cigarettes to pay with, and if you lost, you haven't got any tangerines. Of course, if we both lost, we could exchange afterwards, but then, in strict betting, that doesn't happen."
"Wait a minute," said Bertha; "you've reminded me. We can't bet on a certainty."
"How do you know?"
"One of my brothers told me."
"Well," said Bertha, "as a matter of fact, it was the curate. But it was before he was ordained, though. Now, it must be a certainty about Cicely's hair "
"Of course," said Clara, "it's a certainty she dyes it."
"No, it's a certainty she doesn't. But, anyhow, it's a certainty, because it's really happened."
"That's wrong anyhow. Because, if a person doesn't do a thing, then it hasn't happened. If I don't paint my nose blue, that isn't a happening."
"Then what is it?" said Bertha.
"I don't know. An omission, I suppose. But I've thought of a much worse thing than that which absolutely spoils the bet. How's the bet to be settled?"
"We could ask her. We needn't put it rudely. We could say: 'Cicely, how do you manage to get your hair such a beautiful colour?' And then we could see if she blushed."
"She never blushes," said Clara, "and you can't believe a word she says."
"That's true," Bertha admitted. "The only thing we could do would be to write to the editor of a sporting paper. That's what men do when there's any doubt. My other brother told me that."
"Yes," said Clara, "hut how's the editor going to settle it?"
"Well, he knows all the rules. And he's got to settle it. He's compelled to do it. It's what he's there for. I suppose he'd go and look."
"And would you trust the judgment of any man about a thing of that kind?"
"Of course not. I only said it was all we could do. I suppose the bet must be off. Let's clear these things away. It's your turn to wash and mine to dry."
When the apparatus of the banquet had been removed, the two girls drew deck-chairs to the pleasing vicinity of the coke stove. Clara had a tangerine orange, which she attacked delicately, and a novel, which remained closed. Bertha had one alleged cigarette and another novel, which also remained closed.
"I've been thinking," said Bertha, "that some people make money by breeding Persian cats. They have to be smoke-grey, I mean, the cats do—you know the sort. And then we shouldn't have to give up the studio, which was the great objection to the rhubarb-and-mushrooms idea."
"Yes, cats might do us. Talking of cats, are we going to give Cicely anything for lunch to-morrow besides the fish-cakes?"
"Jam, I suppose. We don't want a lot of swank. And we've got these daffodils."
"Yes, they're lovely. I, say, Bertha, what about bulb-growing? Fortunes have been made by it."
"You've got to know how, and I believe you have to wait six years."
"And that settles that," said Clara definitely, as she dropped the relics of a tangerine orange into the coke stove.
For a moment the conversation lingered, and then Bertha said suddenly: "There's a tot of red tape about betting, isn't there?"
"I know," said Clara. "I can't make out how on earth men manage to ruin themselves by gambling. Once you really go into it, it doesn't seem up to much."