Beware of Jack

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Hattie was a woman who, once engaged in an activity, allowed her passions to rule over her in its pursuit, heedless of advice or warnings from others, including close friends and relatives. With a single-mindedness that could not be deterred even in the face of impending destruction, she pressed on, convinced that the activity would bring her ultimate satisfaction. Such determination is admirable for level-headed people who desire to obtain a goal, as long as it is not unreasonable and it bears favorable promise of gain or advancement, but in the end it led to poor Hattie’s ruin.

For many years her husband Frank held her in check. His iron hand and equally inflexible will governed Hattie’s passions mercilessly. Frank had one area in particular in which he insisted on compliance from his wife, and that was in the area of gambling. He ranted about having witnessed friends and acquaintances from work lose family and homes over gambling losses, and he swore it would never happen to him.

Unfortunately Frank passed away early, leaving Hattie to heed the Sirens Call of betting, and it did not take long for her to plunge in head over heels. She loved two places in particular—the racetrack and the casino, and she generously fed their never-sated appetite to consume others’ money.

Hattie possessed another trait which accounted for much of her troubles. She was extremely superstitious and relied heavily upon the horoscope to direct her to her destiny, religiously reading each day’s words of guidance from her horoscope book. In addition she also believed in lucky numbers and visited fortunetellers.

For months after Frank’s death Hattie made her presence felt either at the local casino or at the horse track, becoming acquainted on a first-name basis with those who worked there. Her losses mounted, and she quickly began losing money she could neither afford nor pay back. As her situation grew desperate, she determined to visit her favorite psychic to get the best number for a particular upcoming meet at the track, along with any other advice she could get.

“I need your help really bad,” said Hattie to Madame Ardanna. “I haven’t been lucky lately and I need you to give me the best advice you’ve ever given because I need money soon.”

“Oh, my poor Hattie,” said the seer, “have you not been taking my advice? Or perhaps you have been visiting someone else, someone not quite as gifted as I am?”

“Well, to be honest, my horoscope’s been all out of whack, and I have seen two, no three, other psychics. They have not been able to see nearly as well as you.”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” said Madame Ardanna. “But you know where to come when you really need good advice, do you not?”

During the visit the psychic presented her with the number seven to use as a guide in her upcoming endeavor.

“I see this is something big for you,” she said. “Something very, very big and important. Do not allow yourself to be sidetracked by any other advice. Seven is your prime number for this crucial time.”

Hattie thanked her profusely, paid her fee along with a generous tip, and was about ready to leave when Madame Ardanna grabbed her arm. “One more thing,” she said. “One important piece of advice, just a phrase really, and I’m trusting you will know what it means when the time comes. Beware of Jack. That’s all—Beware of Jack.”

Hattie now knew her troubles were about at an end. She was going to the track in two more days, and she had decided beforehand that she was only going to bet the number of the horse Madame Ardanna had advised, unlike all the other times when she bet every horse in each race and hoped a long shot would win. However, she told herself that she was going to be smart this time and only bet horse number seven in a race where that particular horse had odds of at least five to one. She knew that meant there would be some races where she would not bet at all, but she persuaded herself that she could be disciplined enough to abstain from betting in those races.

She still pondered the phrase “Beware of Jack,” not as yet understanding its significance. She had known a few men named Jack in her lifetime, but none were of any consequence, and she currently had no contact with any man of that name. What could it mean? Could Jack be the name of a man who would try to get her sidetracked at the races? She simply did not know but was confident she would recognize and avoid him when the proper time came.

The early races proved profitable for Hattie. Two of the first three contained a number seven horse with odds she would use, and they paid nicely for her. Still, she had great debt—over $40,000—and it was coming due soon. She also bet and won in the fifth and sixth races, and her earnings were now in the low thousands.

“If there’s a seven with big odds later, I can cash in and pay everything I owe,” she thought. However, in races seven through nine, no horse number seven had agreeable odds, and she grew sullen.

The tenth and last race approached and she studied the racing program. Suddenly she became overwhelmed with joy and started clapping her hands.

“Tenth race, horse number seven, odds are twenty-five to one! I’m saved! I’m saved!”

Her exuberance left her just as suddenly though as she read the names of the horse and jockey.

“Jack O’Lantern, ridden by Jack Kinney. Beware of Jack! Beware of Jack!”

Convinced that this horse and jockey were plotting to overthrow her good fortune, Hattie determined not to bet horse number seven, but to go with a different one of better but still long odds, a horse wearing number three but named Lucky Seven. She bet all of her winnings.

The race was a long one of a mile, and Lucky Seven got out of the gate well and was near the head of the pack at the halfway point. Trailing the field was Jack O’Lantern. Hattie clapped nervously but said little.

During the next quarter mile Lucky Seven overtook the leader and built a three-length lead, while Jack O’Lantern was still at the back.

“I knew it! I knew it!” she exclaimed excitedly. “Today’s my lucky day. All my problems will be over. I can pay my gambling debts and start over.”

At this point something happened which made her uneasy, as Jack O’Lantern started weaving up through the pack.

“There’s not enough time for that horse,” she said and clapped for Lucky Seven, who was still securely in the lead.

As they rambled down the stretch Jack O’Lantern ran like the wind, passing horses as if they were standing still. With an eighth of a mile to go Lucky Seven led Jack O’Lantern, who had moved up to second, by four lengths. Then it became clear that Lucky Seven had run out of gas. The gap narrowed, but it still appeared as if Hattie’s horse was going to present her with a huge payday.

A photo finish determined that Jack O’Lantern edged out Lucky Seven by the narrowest of margins and she saw her winnings vaporize before her eyes.

Hattie never gave up her belief in the stars determining her fate, nor did she stop visiting her psychic. She faced some especially difficult financial times but also never stopped paying her required Gamblers Union Number One dues to the casino and the track.

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