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Title: Queer Luck: Poker Stories from the New York Sun

Author: David A. Curtis

Release date: August 23, 2018 [eBook #57751]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by ellinora, Charlie Howard, and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at (This
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Queer Luck

Queer Luck

Poker Stories from the New York Sun

David A. Curtis

New York

Copyright, 1896, 1897, 1898, by

Copyright, 1899, by


Why He Quit the Game 1
Freeze-out for a Life 19
A Gambler’s Pistol Play 35
Queer Runs of Luck 57
Storms’s Straight Flush 75
For a Senate Seat 93
The Bill Went Through 109
Poker for High Stakes 127
Overland Jack 149
His Last Sunday Game 169
Foss Stopped the Game 181
He Played for His Wife 203
The Club’s Last Game 221


Why he Quit the Game

Five men of better nerve never dealt cards than the five who sat playing poker the other night in one of those up-town club-rooms that are so quietly kept as to be entirely unknown to the police and the general public. The game proved to be phenomenal.

The play was high. The party had played together once a week, for a long time, and the limit had always been one dollar at the beginning of the evening, though occasionally it had gone as high as ten before morning. This particular night, however, the cards ran remarkably well, and by midnight the limit was ignored if not forgotten. Two4 of the players had laid their pocketbooks alongside their chips. They had not played so before, but the gambling fever had come upon them with the excitement of good hands, one against another, until the friendly contest had become a struggle for blood. Fours had been shown several times since midnight, and beaten once, while straight flushes had twice won important money. Deck after deck had been called for, and tossed aside in turn after a few deals, till the carpet was strewn thickly with the discarded pasteboards, but there was no change in the remarkable run of the cards. Pat fulls and flushes showed in deal after deal, and the luck in the draw was so extraordinary and so evenly distributed that they all grew cautious of betting on any ordinary hand, and a bluff had not been tried for an hour. Yet no one had offered a remark, though the play grew higher and harder. It was as if each man feared to break the5 run by mentioning it. At length the Colonel spoke.

“The devil himself is playing with his picture books to-night, I think,” he said, with a short laugh, as he lost two stacks of blues on a seven full.

It had been the Doctor’s deal, and he looked up quickly. Gazing at the Colonel, he said:

“The hands are certainly remarkable. I never saw so many big ones at one sitting.” The words were simple, but there was a curious tone, half of question, in his voice. There had not been such nervous tension in the party before, but they were all men of experience, and had seen trouble between friends resulting from careless words on many different occasions.

The Colonel detected the tone and answered quickly and gracefully:

“That’s so, Doc. I’ve beaten some strong hands myself to-night.”

6 “A new pack, Sam,” said the Editor, who was the next to deal. The imperturbable darky by the sideboard produced one instantly, and the Editor shuffled it carefully. Then he offered it to the other players in turn. They all refused to touch it, and, shuffling the deck himself once more, he laid it down for the cut and began to deal. It was a little thing, but so far out of the ordinary as to mark the fact that they were fencing now with bare blades, and from that on, there was a strict observance of the punctilio of the game.

One by one the cards fell in five symmetrical little piles, as perfect as Herrmann could have made them, for the Editor was deft with his fingers, but one after another of the players passed out and a jack pot was made. The big hands had failed to appear.

It was the Congressman’s deal, and he doubled his ante and took the cards. The Colonel sat next and pushed out four blue7 chips—twenty dollars. The others all came in, the Congressman making good and dealing without a word. There was a hundred dollars in the pot, and there came that curious certainty to all of them which sometimes comes to experienced players, that a mighty struggle was at hand.

The Colonel made a pretense of looking at his hand, but in reality looked only at the first two cards. They were both aces. He passed.

The Lawyer sat next. He found a four flush and a pair of tens; so he passed.

The Doctor was next player. He held a pat straight, king high. He opened the pot for twenty dollars.

The Editor came in on three deuces, and the Congressman with a pair of queens put up his money. The others came up promptly.

The Colonel, having first call, looked over his hand carefully. The last card was8 an ace also, and he called for one, holding up a seven. The four hearts in the Lawyer’s hand were the queen, ten, nine, and eight. He promptly discarded the other ten, and drew one card. The Doctor, of course, stood pat, and the Editor drew two. The Congressman also drew to the strength of his hand.

With all the players in, the Doctor felt that a straight was a doubtful hand, but he put up twenty and waited. The Editor looked anxiously for the fourth deuce, but, finding neither that nor a pair, laid down his cards.

Three sixes had fallen to the Congressman’s queens, and he raised it twenty. Thereupon they all looked keenly at the Colonel. Not a muscle moved in his stern, handsome face, as he saw the raise, and went fifty better.

It was ninety dollars for the Lawyer to come in. He simply made good, and9 looked anxiously to see if there would be another raise. They criticised his play afterward, claiming that he should have raised back, but he defended it by saying that there were two players yet to hear from. The first of these resigned. A king straight was no hand for that struggle. The Congressman was still confident of his full hand, however, for he had drawn three sixes, and he came back at the Colonel with fifty more.

The Colonel raised him a hundred. It looked as if it would be a duel between him and the Congressman, but the Lawyer was still to hear from. He raised it a hundred. The Congressman made good, and the Colonel raised again.

The Lawyer counted his chips carefully, and finding exactly the right amount, covered the last raise. Then, opening his pocketbook, he drew out a hundred-dollar bill and pushed that to the middle of the table.

10 Once more the Congressman made good, and the Colonel raised it a hundred. The Lawyer came back, and the Congressman dropped out.

The Colonel raised it a hundred. The Lawyer made it another, and there was over twenty-five hundred dollars on the table.

The struggle of the evening had come, and the three who had dropped out were not less excited than the two players. To all appearance they were far more so, for the Colonel looked as calm as if on parade, and the Lawyer’s only sign of agitation was his heightened color. None of them thought much of that, for he was of plethoric habit and flushed easily.

The Colonel raised it a hundred. The Lawyer fumbled in his pocketbook for a moment, and, drawing out a fresh roll of bills, raised it two hundred. The Colonel raised it five hundred. The Lawyer came back at him with five hundred more. The11 Colonel raised it a thousand. The Lawyer flipped up the ends of the bills he was holding in his hand, and, counting them rapidly, found a little over two thousand dollars. Separating the odd money, he extended his hand with the twenty centuries in it, and was in the act of speaking, when he checked himself as suddenly as if he had been shot.

“I raise—” he began, and then was stricken dumb. The bills were still in his grasp, and, instead of laying them down, he sat for a moment as rigid as a statue, while his face grew white.

The silence was intense. The Colonel was the only one in the party who showed no excitement, but the Lawyer, who had watched him up to that moment with the most acute scrutiny, no longer looked at him at all. Instead, he slowly withdrew his hand, picked up his cards, which he had laid, face down, before him, and looked them over again.

12 “What is that for?” thought the Editor. “He is not looking to see what he holds. He knows perfectly well. And he hasn’t been bluffing. What stopped him, I wonder?”

No one spoke, however, as the Lawyer laid his cards down again and looked once more into his pocketbook.

“Aha!” thought the Editor. “It’s the amount that staggers him. That’s queer, too. I’ve seen him play higher than this at the tables.”

It seemed to be the amount, however; for the Lawyer, finding no more money in his pocketbook, counted out a thousand dollars from the roll in his hand and, laying that on the pile in the middle of the table, said:

“I call you.”

His hand shook perceptibly, and for the first time the Colonel’s face relaxed. He smiled grimly as he laid down four aces.

The Lawyer’s face had been pale, but it13 grew almost ghastly as he showed his hand. He had caught the jack of hearts in the draw and had won the pot.

The Doctor watched him curiously, even more so than the others, though the entire party was surprised. To his professional eye it looked as if the excitement would culminate in a fainting fit. That for a moment was indeed imminent; then the magnificent nerve which had made the Lawyer famous stood him in good stead, and he rallied by a supreme effort. Once more his hand was as steady as clockwork as he reached out and drew the great pile of chips and gold and bank bills toward him.

It was not, however, until after he had done a strange thing that he could command himself sufficiently to speak. And while he was doing it the others looked on in silence. They had seen four aces beaten by a straight flush, but even the excitement of that was in abeyance. Some strange climax14 was coming, and none could even guess what it would be.

First he counted out from the pile twenty one-hundred-dollar bills, and, folding them together with the money he had held back on the last bet, he placed the roll in his pocketbook, and, closing that carefully, put it into his inside pocket and drew a long breath—almost a gasp—as if of relief. Next he counted out two thousand more and pushed it over toward the Colonel, who looked at it and at him in wonder. The remainder of the pot—a goodly sum—lay in a confused heap in front of him, and before speaking he looked at it steadily for a space wherein one might count fifty. At length he said, raising his hand, as if registering an oath:

“I am done with poker. I have nothing to say against the game. You all know how well I love to play. To my mind there is no other sport that equals it. None, I believe,15 so shows the skill and the mettle of a man as this does. Yet, loving the game as well and admiring it as much as I do, I give it up from this moment, forever. I have stepped across the border line of dishonor to-night. The money I have just put back in my pocket was given to me last evening by a client to be paid out this morning, and if I had lost I could not immediately have replaced it. I had it in my possession simply because I had not had the opportunity to deposit it, and in the excitement of the game I forgot that it was not my own. The fascination that could make me do a thing like that is one that I dare not risk again. Then, as the last two thousand I bet was not my own, I cannot touch the money I won with it. I have returned it to the Colonel, and, as you, sir, would never have betted against dishonest money, it is as if it had never been at stake, and consequently it is yours.”

16 The Colonel bowed and picked up the bills.

“As to the rest of this,” continued the Lawyer, pointing to the pile which he had not yet disturbed, “I am in doubt. I certainly won it, but I am embarrassed at quitting a friendly game with such heavy winnings. It is not a question of right, but of delicacy, and I prefer to put it to you, as to a jury, whether I owe you satisfaction in any way.”

He paused, and still no other man spoke. It was as if each one was waiting for the others. So the Lawyer spoke again.

“What am I to do?” he said. “I am in the hands of my friends.”

They all looked at the Colonel. He was the oldest in the party.

“I am no man’s censor,” said he, seeing that he was expected to speak. “Neither do I care to consider the morals of the question, but I have seen a man blow his brains17 out over a card table after he had done what you have done, and lost, as you, fortunately, did not. I said then that he did well, and I say now that you have done well. Having won with money that was not your own, even though you did it inadvertently, you could not touch your winnings. But as to that which you won with your own money—Are you very sure that you will never play again?”

“Absolutely,” said the Lawyer.

“Then pocket your money. We have played together, we five, for more than a year now, and I doubt if you are much ahead of the game, even counting your winnings to-night.”

He extended his hand, and the Lawyer grasped it nervously. One after another, the three others shook hands with him also, and the game was over.


Freeze-out for a Life

“No, I don’t play poker any more,” said a big Westerner, who came into an up-town club-house the other night with some friends who had been showing him the town. He spoke rather seriously, although he had been chatting and laughing in a loud, breezy way until the very moment when somebody suggested a little game of draw as an appropriate wind-up of the night’s diversion.

“Why, how is that?” exclaimed one of his friends. “You used to play a stiff game. You haven’t sworn off, have you?”

“N-no,” said the Westerner, still serious. “I have not sworn off, but there is no excitement in the game for me now. The last game I played was too exciting.

22 “It was a dozen years ago, when I was a tenderfoot, with the usual allowance of freshness and ignorance of frontier perils. We used to call it brashness, and I was certainly brash. I roamed around the country for the better part of a year, with a more or less vague purpose of settling somewhere, but not caring much where. I had money enough to start with, whenever I should find an opening to suit me, but I was not in a hurry, and was enjoying the freedom and adventurous life of the plains as only a youngster can who is not obliged to put up with the hardships, but looks on them as mere incidents.

“I was well down toward New Mexico when there was a rumor of Indian troubles, and I heard that a company of United States troops were on the march toward one of the principal villages, where the redskins were particularly sullen. I had been out hunting for a week with a couple of fellows23 I had met in one of the towns, when we got the news from a stranger who came into our camp late at night and asked for supper. He admitted when we questioned him—not too closely, for inquisitiveness is at a large discount on the plains, but casually—that he was a scout in the government employ, and was on his way to join this company.

“‘There’s likely to be some pretty warm work,’ he said when we asked a little more, ‘for if the red devils are not on the warpath now they will be in a day or two, and you fellows will do a smart trick if you turn back.’

“Turning back, however, didn’t seem very attractive to me when there was so much excitement ahead. I promptly remarked that I thought I would go on with the scout and offer my services to the Captain in command. I told you I was pretty brash at the time, and I had no knowledge of military affairs. My notion was that the24 Captain would be glad of a recruit, or, at least, that he would make no objection to my going with him.

“I noticed that the scout looked at me a little curiously, but he evidently thought it was not his business to educate tenderfeet, and he only grunted. My two companions were as fresh as I was, and we told the scout we would go along if he had no objection.

“‘It’s a free country, and I reckon you can travel wherever you like,’ he said with a grin that I understood better afterward.

“We started before dawn, and had some thirty odd miles to go to strike the trail where the company was expected to camp that night. There were still some ten miles to go when, as we were rounding a small hill, the scout suddenly leaped from his horse and called to us to do the same.

“He had seen Indians, and, to cut it short, we camped that night in a place where the scout said that four men could25 hold out for a while, even against the hundred or so in the party that had surrounded us. It was a certainty, though, that we would all lose our scalps unless help came, for there was no water to be had, and the Indians knew it and made themselves comfortable just out of range of our rifles. The scout didn’t say much for a long time, but we could see that he was thinking as hard as any of us, and we were all pretty busy at it. There didn’t seem to be anything to suggest, or at least there was nothing that I could think of excepting to make a dash and try to break through. Nobody said anything in reply when I spoke of that, and the scout gave me a look of disgust that made me angry enough, but shut me up all the same. Finally he said:

“‘It’s just this way. These devils have caught us, and they know it. They won’t make a rush, for they know we will shoot, and an Indian will never risk being shot if26 he can get his man without. We can’t fight our way out. There’s too many of ’em. And we can’t stay here any longer than we can live without water.’

“I asked him if the Captain wouldn’t make a search for him, and he said the Captain didn’t know he was coming. ‘He’s on his way south,’ he said, ‘and the trail he is on is ten miles to the east of us. There’s only one thing that I see, and that means certain death for somebody, I reckon. It’s certain death for all of us, though, if something ain’t done.’ We asked him what it was, and he said:

“‘If one man can make his way south-east far enough, so that the noise of the firing will reach the company, the Captain will send a searching party. It all depends on how far the man gets before he is killed. If we all ride out, we will all be killed. If one man goes, the others may stand a chance.’

27 “We all looked at one another in silence for a good while. My blood ran cold at the idea of riding out alone into that pack of fiends, but I realized that our only chance was for somebody to go, and I knew life was as sweet to the others as it was to me. Instinctively we began first talking about the way the man who should go should manœuvre to best advantage, before raising the question who should be the man. It took only a few minutes, though, for the scout to give his advice, which was for one to ride out, waving a white handkerchief. He was to keep to the eastward and ride as far as he dared toward the Indians, looking sharply for the weakest point in their line toward his right. He should then make a dash and ride as hard as possible until it was all over, firing as often as he could. Then we had to decide who should go, and I supposed, of course, that we would draw lots, but one of the men spoke up unexpectedly:

28 “‘Whoever goes,’ he said, ‘doesn’t want to start for some hours. The scout says just after daybreak is the best time. What is the matter with settling this thing with poker? We can play freeze-out, and three games will settle it, the winner dropping out each time.’

“The proposition caught me. You know I used to pride myself on my poker. After a little hesitation the others agreed. The man who proposed it had the cards, and we counted out six hundred coffee beans for chips and began playing on a blanket folded and laid on the ground. You would think the details of a game like that would fix themselves in the memory, so that I would be able to tell you every hand I held and every bet I made, wouldn’t you? Well, I can’t. In fact, I can’t tell anything about the first game excepting that I was the first man to lose all his chips. I had played often enough for what I thought were high29 stakes, but the thought that I was playing for my life rattled me completely, and I really believe I bet at random. Whatever I did I lost, and the man who had proposed the game won out. He was shot in a gambling house three months later—had an extra ace in his sleeve, I believe, or something like that.

“The next freeze-out, between three of us, was a comparatively short one. It did not take more than twenty minutes for the scout to gather in all the chips, but short as it was, I managed to get myself together a little, though I was still full of the thought of the value of the stakes—a thing which, I have noticed, always interferes with my play. When I consider the value of a chip it always influences my betting one way or the other, even though I try not to allow it to do so, and in this case I said to myself that each bean represented the one hundred and fiftieth part of my life. In other30 words, I was gambling away months and years instead of money.

“When the third game began, however, I pulled myself together with a most tremendous effort, and really became as cool as I ever had been before at a game of cards. The man I played against this time was a young Englishman whom I had grown to esteem highly in the short time I had known him. He was a gentleman clear through, and as cheery and companionable a man as I ever met. His people at home never heard this story, and I hope they never will. They know he was killed by the Indians and that he was on a hunting trip, but they never heard of his last game of cards, nor of the way he rode to his death. We had each three hundred beans, and half a dozen hands were dealt before either of us got cards to bet on. Then on my deal I caught three deuces and made it fifty to play. He looked at his cards and raised me fifty, which I31 covered. He drew one card and let it lie without looking at it, while he watched me. I saw him looking, of course, and I am more glad than I am of almost anything else I ever did in an almost useless life to think that I made the worst play I ever saw made. I liked the man well, as I said, and some impulse that I couldn’t understand then, and can’t explain now, told me to leave the thing to chance, and to give him a little the better chance. I had played with him before, and I was certain that he had not come back at me the way he did on two pair. He was drawing to a flush, and somehow I felt that he had filled it. Of course I should have drawn to the strength of my hand, but I didn’t. I drew one card only, holding up an eight spot to my deuces, and I shoved all my beans into the pot without looking at my draw.

“He gave me one look, in which I read a perfect appreciation of what I had done,32 and without a word and without lifting his fifth card he pushed his chips forward. Then my nerve gave out. I grew as white as death, I know, though no one ever told me so, and I actually could not lift my cards. His nerve never shook, though, apparently, and he turned his fifth card over as he laid the other four on the blanket. They were all clubs. He looked at me, and I swear I saw regret in his eyes. I tell you, he was a man. Then I managed to control myself to turn my hand over. I had drawn the other eight.”

The Westerner stopped. He drained his glass and then said:

“Waiter, bring another bottle, and bring me some whisky besides. This stuff doesn’t go to the right spot.” Then, after he had had his drink, he said:

“You don’t wonder, do you, that I don’t play poker any more?”

33 “No,” said his hearers, “but finish the story.”

“Oh! there isn’t much more to it. At least that is the end of it, as I think about it. The Englishman shook hands with us all, and rode away. We watched him until he fell, and he must have gone fully three miles. A good many Indians fell before he did, for he was a clever shot. Later in the day the company came to our rescue, and I am glad to say a good many more Indians paid for his death with their own.”


A Gambler’s Pistol Play

“I notice that the stories of lawlessness and rambunctious violence printed in the papers from time to time are told, as a rule, of places far West or out of the usual run of travel,” said the gray-haired young-looking man who sat in the card-room of an up-town club the other night after the game had broken up. “I don’t mean by that,” he continued, “to question the truth of any of these stories. It only occurs to me that the writers take unnecessary pains in going so far away for their material. I have seen, right along the banks of the Mississippi River—and we call that pretty well East38 now—some things as exciting as any of the mining-camp yarns. And everything was wide open in some of the towns, too. I haven’t been out there since ’82, but that’s not so long ago, and then it was not uncommon to find a gambling saloon on the main floor of the principal hotel in a flourishing town. You could walk in as freely as you could into the barroom and play faro, keno, or poker at any hour of the day or night.

“The great flood of ’82 rather accentuated the devil-may-care condition of things; partly, I suppose, because there was not so much traveling on the river as usual and none at all by rail. Strangers were scarce in the river towns, and the inhabitants were reduced to the necessity of gambling among themselves. No, there wasn’t what you might call very much shooting, but every man carried a pistol, and occasionally there would be some. There was enough, at all events, to make the citizens of Memphis enforce39 pretty strictly a city ordinance against carrying concealed weapons.”

“That’s right,” said a drummer who was of the party. “I was in Memphis then, and I remember the Mayor of a Kentucky city being sent to jail for ten days for carrying a pistol. He had plenty of money and plenty of influence, too, but neither could save him from jail.”

“Well, Memphis was the only city I struck on the river,” said the first speaker, “where such a law was observed. I got caught in Arkansas City, I remember, when I was trying to get to Little Rock. I arrived there just after the train had gone, so I had to stay over for forty-eight hours. It’s only about a hundred miles, but there was only one train, and that took all day going up and all next day coming down. It was an accommodation train, and I saw it stop fifteen minutes for a darky who signaled from a distance, with a basket of40 eggs on his arm which he wanted to ship as freight. The conductor told me, when I asked about it, that that was quite usual, and a little while afterward he stopped the train to let a passenger get off and get a quail that he shot from the car.

“But the stop in Arkansas City was lively enough, if it was only two days. A darky was drowned trying to get across the street, the first day I was there, for the town was so far under water that the railroad track on top of the levee had been washed away. Only the houses on the highest ground were habitable, and there wasn’t such a thing as a sidewalk visible. A few timbers were strung along here and there, and people jumped from one to another of these when they went from house to house, unless they were going far enough to take a skiff. This poor fellow jumped and missed his footing, and was drowned in sight of a dozen people. I asked the man who told me about it41 whether any effort had been made to save him, and he said no, that there was no boat handy. And when I expressed some horror he seemed surprised and said:

“‘Why, ’twas only a nigger. You couldn’t expect a white man to take chances to save him.’ Niggers were not so valuable then as they were before the war.”

“I don’t know that the color line was so strictly drawn, though,” interrupted the drummer again. “I saw a roustabout fall into the river one night at New Madrid, and he was a white man, too, but no effort was made to save him. The mate stepped to the side of the boat and looked over, but he did no more, and not one of the other rousters stopped work even for a moment. They were unloading freight in a great hurry, and I think they were afraid of the mate. It was dark, to be sure, and the current was swift enough to carry off the strongest swimmer, but still I was surprised to see no effort42 made to save the poor devil. Before I recovered from my surprise it was too late to do anything, and it didn’t seem to be wise to say anything, either.”

“Good policy, sometimes, not to,” resumed the young-looking gray-haired man. “I learned to keep my mouth shut at a card table a long time ago, and that is why I had no part in a little disturbance that occurred the second day I was in Arkansas City. I don’t think there was more than one other stranger in town when I was. He had come there the day before me, on the train, and was waiting for a boat up the river. I struck up an acquaintance with him, and he told me he was on his way home, after a business trip. I congratulated him and we took a drink on it, next door to the hotel.

“We were both tired waiting, and there was nothing better to do in the place, so we both sauntered to the room just back of the bar. The door was wide open, and we saw43 card-playing inside. Three men were playing poker, and we stood for a few moments looking on. One of the three was a comical-looking old fellow, evidently a superannuated gambler. He must have been seventy years old, and his hands were very shaky, but I could not make up my mind whether he was palsied or had been drinking, or whether he was assuming decrepitude in order to watch the cards more carefully as he dealt them. The latter seemed likely enough, and I suspected marked cards, so I pleaded ignorance of the game when one of the other players—the proprietor of the place, as I learned later—looked up with a pleasant smile and suggested that perhaps my friend and I would like to join in.

“My ‘friend,’ as he called him—I didn’t even know his name—was willing enough, and he sat in. I stood by, smoking and looking on for a few minutes, though I pretended not to be watching the game very44 closely. You can’t be too careful about observing the etiquette of the place you’re in, as I have always noticed, no matter what place it is, and the people around a card table are always liable to resent an outsider’s interest if it even borders on inquisitiveness. Where the resentment is liable to be expressed with a knife or a pistol, a wise man avoids showing his interest if he has any.

“In this case I hadn’t a great deal. I saw the game was crooked, but it made no difference to me whether the other stranger knew it or not. If he did it was dog eat dog, and if he didn’t he deserved to lose for playing with strangers in such a place. However, I noticed pretty soon that the old fellow, whom the others called Major, and the proprietor, whom they all addressed as Pete, were looking uneasily at me and at each other from time to time, and that the third player, whose back was turned toward45 me, was making an ostentatious show of hiding his cards from me, as if he suspected or feared me and wanted me to know it. Accordingly I thought the wisest thing for me was to stroll back to the front room and treat the bartender.

“While we were drinking, another man came in. He wore no coat, vest, or hat. He was, I think, the handsomest man I ever saw, though he was slightly flushed with liquor; not drunk, by any means, but he had evidently been drinking. He was a little above the medium height, with a symmetrical form, magnificent chest and shoulders, and the easy motion and graceful carriage of a skilled athlete. He passed directly to the card-room, nodding to the barkeeper and merely glancing at me, and I heard him say:

“‘Do you want another in the game?’

“The response was pleasant, and he took a seat. Up to this time I had not been46 greatly interested, as I said, and I continued talking to the man behind the bar, simply because I had nothing else to do. The newcomer, however, was talkative, and, as I noticed in a few moments, inclined to be surly. He seemed to be trying to pick a quarrel with the stranger, and I lingered, with some natural curiosity, to see if he would succeed. Presently the explosion came. He lost a jack-pot which the stranger won on three tens.

“‘You opened that pot on a pair of tens,’ he exclaimed with an oath, ‘and when we catch any cross-roads gambler playing that kind of a game in this town we commonly hang ’em, do you understand?’

“It was said noisily and furiously, and I looked in expecting to see a fight, but the stranger spoke as coolly as though the other had been calling for his draw.

“‘I did nothing of the sort, sir. I came in on a pair of tens, as I had a perfect right47 to do, after the Major opened it, and I caught the third ten in the draw.’

“‘I say you opened it,’ shouted the newcomer with another oath.

“The stranger looked at him with the most perfect composure and said:

“‘I appeal to the table. Gentlemen, did I open it?’

“‘No, sir,’ said the old Major, promptly enough. ‘I opened it myself, and dropped out after I was raised twice. Jack, shut up! The gentleman is playing all right.’

“But Jack wouldn’t shut up. On the contrary, he became more furious.

“‘This is a hell of a game!’ he shouted, and leaped to his feet like a panther, totally oblivious of the few chips in front of him. He had lost nearly all he had bought on coming in.

“The stranger never moved, though I expected to see weapons drawn. He looked Jack full in the face with a sort of bewilderment48 on his own face, and said nothing. Jack stood for a moment, and while I was wondering whether the stranger was showing nerve, or was really bewildered, he turned suddenly and dashed out of the room.

“The stranger looked around at the other players, and there was a distinct drawl in his words as he said:

“‘What is the matter with that man?’

“‘Oh, nothing,’ said Pete, carelessly. ‘You mustn’t mind him. He killed a man yesterday, and he’s been drinking a good deal to-day. He’s a little excited, but it doesn’t mean anything.’

“‘But why did he rush out so curiously?’ persisted the stranger.

“‘Well, I suppose he went out to get heeled,’ said Pete; ‘but you needn’t be disturbed. The boys won’t let him come back.’

“‘Well, perhaps they won’t,’ said the stranger, still drawling his words, ‘but it’s49 just as well to be on the safe side. If you will excuse me for a few minutes I’ll step over to the hotel and get my gun. I left it in my satchel.’

“‘Why, certainly,’ said the others, and he arose, leaving his chips on the table, and went out of the place. He said nothing when he passed me, and I thought it best to say nothing, too, but you couldn’t have dragged me away just then. I suppose every man likes to see a fight, and I thought there was a good chance for one. I don’t drink fast as a rule, but it seemed to be a good time to treat again, and when the glasses were emptied I said:

“‘Did he really kill a man yesterday?’

“‘Yes,’ said the bartender indifferently. ‘There was a fellow tried to get funny with him in his saloon next door, and when Jack ordered him out and he wouldn’t go Jack shot him.’

“‘Wasn’t he arrested?’ I asked.

50 “‘No, he wasn’t exactly arrested, but he appeared before the Coroner and told how it was, and the Coroner said he’d have to lay the matter before the Grand Jury.’

“‘He wasn’t locked up, then?’ I persisted.

“‘Oh, no. You see, Jack’s very popular around here, and he’s got quite some property, too. I don’t think the boys would have liked it much if he’d been locked up.’

“While I was meditating on this the stranger came back, and, resuming his seat at the table, laid his pistol alongside his chips, which the others had not disturbed. They dealt him a hand, and the game, which had not been interrupted by his absence, went on as before. No one made any remark about the pistol or about the man who had gone out to get heeled, but the old Major pulled out a double-barreled derringer and laid it on the table, and I looked to see the others do the same thing,51 but they did not. I had no doubt, however, that they were armed, and they were all looking for trouble.

“They had not long to wait. There was a sound of voices outside, presently, and looking out I saw Jack, still furious with anger, apparently, breaking away from two or three men who were evidently trying to detain him, but who had a wholesome respect for the revolver he had in his hand. I looked around. The Major was dealing, and the other players were watching him, apparently, but I was satisfied that they had heard the talk outside, and were all alert. The bartender was safe to drop behind the bar when the shooting began, and I looked for some place where I should be able to see and yet not be in range. There was a window in the partition between the rooms, about twelve feet to one side of the door, and I stepped over there as Jack came in toward the door.

52 “Through this window I saw the most magnificent display of cool nerve that ever came under my notice. The stranger never changed color, nor moved in his chair, but I could see his eyelids contract and his lips tighten as he quickly and quietly put his hand on his revolver and looked toward the door, at which Jack was just appearing, pistol in hand.

“On the instant Pete drew a bowie knife, with a motion so quick that I could not tell where the knife came from, and drove it square through the stranger’s hand into the table underneath, nailing it fast to the wood.

“If the stranger had even flinched, he would have been dead in another moment, for Jack’s pistol was leveled at him, but with a motion as quick as Pete’s he reached over with his left hand, seized his revolver, and shot Jack through the pistol arm, shattering his elbow, just as he was pulling his53 trigger. And the next instant he had shot Pete through the heart, and turning to the Major, he shouted, ‘Drop that gun!’

“The old fellow dropped it, and threw up his hands. The other man had gone under the table like a flash, being only anxious to get out of the trouble. And Jack, with a howl of pain and terror, had turned and run. The fight was over before it was fairly begun, and the stranger had not moved from his chair.

“With his left hand he pulled out the knife and wrapped up his right in a handkerchief, and, stepping to the bar, said to the bartender:

“‘You want to have a doctor here damned quick to dress my hand. And while you are about it, you’d better notify the Coroner, if there’s one around. I propose to have this inquest held before the witnesses get away.’

“The Coroner was around; in fact, he54 was playing cards only four or five doors away, and in half an hour he was holding his inquest. The stranger had shown his good sense in demanding immediate action, for though he was a stranger, the facts were too plain for a dispute, and even one or two of Pete’s friends on the jury were forced to admit that the stranger had killed his man in self-defense.

“He was accordingly informed by the Coroner that he could go on his own recognizance to appear before the Grand Jury, and after treating the crowd at the dead man’s bar, and paying for the treat with the chips he had on the card table, he went over to the levee and boarded a boat that had stopped on her way up river.

“He had given his name to the Coroner as Dick Davis of Tuscumbia, Ala., and I afterward heard that he was really a cross-roads gambler, as traveling card sharps used to be called, and was a famous pistol shot.55 Why he did not kill Jack as well as Pete I never really understood, for if the stories of his marksmanship were one-half true, he could have done it easily enough. I never knew what the Grand Jury did about it.”


Queer Runs of Luck

“I have often heard people say that they do not believe in luck,” said the gray-haired young-looking man, “and they say it in the sense of disbelieving that there is any such thing as luck. To my notion that is very much the same as if they should say that they do not believe in the weather. I believe it was John Oakhurst who said that the only thing that is certain about luck is that it is going to change; but although the saying sounds philosophical, I am inclined to think it is inaccurate. I have known a great many men in the course of my life whose luck did not change. To illustrate this it may be enough to recall the stories60 that are told once in a great while about sailors who are swept overboard by the waves in a storm at sea and who are swept back on board the same vessel by the return current. The man who escapes drowning in such a way experiences one of the most extraordinary strokes of luck that can possibly occur to a human being. And it is almost inconceivable that such a thing would happen to any one man twice.

“Yet I know a man to whom it has happened three times. Captain Lowden White, of East Rockaway, Long Island, is a veteran seaman. He cannot swim a stroke, and when he is asked why he never learned, he cannot, or at least he does not, give any clear answer, but turns the question with a careless ‘I don’t know’ and a pleasant laugh. I think he is superstitious about it, as many sailors are, and certainly if anybody’s experience justifies superstition his would seem to, for, as I said, he has been61 washed overboard three times in the course of the last forty years, and each time washed back immediately on board the vessel he had just left. And that does not include the times he has fallen or been knocked overboard and saved in some other way. I, myself, once caught him by the collar after he had fallen into the water by reason of the snapping of the bowsprit foot-rope of the sloop “Martha,” near Wreck Lead. He had rubber boots on, and the current was running like a mill-race. If I had been two seconds slower he would never have come up alive. If it were a legitimate subject for a bet I would wager any reasonable sum that a man with such an experience would never be drowned.

“That is what I call one of the most wonderful runs of luck that I ever heard of. And it is something of a coincidence, perhaps, that Captain White himself is a firm believer in his own luck in other matters,62 though he does not talk much about his escapes from drowning. He was in his younger days fairly prosperous, and had gathered together a modest competence when he was between forty and fifty years old. Then something happened. I hinted that he was superstitious. What happened was that he killed a cat. That does not seem to the average man to be a very important occurrence, but the Captain firmly believes that it changed the whole course of his life.

“‘I had always been lucky before,’ he says, ‘and I have not had a day’s luck since.’ And the fact is, that whereas he was formerly well-to-do, he is not so now, poor man.

“I suppose everybody who plays poker believes in luck. Certainly I do, and I have seen certain things at the card table that in their way were as remarkable as the runs of a single number at roulette, that63 make up the pretty little romances that go out from Monte Carlo at times, and that used to be dated Baden Baden. I sat watching a game one night at a friend’s house in St. Nicholas Avenue, in which only intimate friends were playing, and two of them were ladies. I did not join, as there were six at the table, and I don’t like a game with seven in. There was absolutely nothing in the game to distinguish it from any other of the hundreds of games that go on in the family circles of up-to-date New Yorkers every night. The limit was five cents. There wasn’t a player in the game who knew enough of card manipulation to deal a crooked hand, and there wasn’t one there who would have done it under temptation. And, moreover, there wasn’t anything like temptation.

“Yet one woman in that game held a succession of hands that would have made a fortune for an ordinarily good player if he64 were lucky enough to hold them in a stiff game. She had been playing with indifferent success for perhaps half an hour, and I was amusing myself by noticing her essentially feminine style of play, when she suddenly began holding flushes. Five times in succession she held a flush before any special remark was made. Of course, there was the usual chatter and chaffing, but when she showed down the fifth flush in five deals, there was a general outburst of comment, and a confession by her that it did seem uncanny.

“‘It will give me the shivery creeps if I get any more,’ was the way she expressed it, and I could see that she really was nervous. That, naturally, amused me, for it was not so very extraordinary, though it was certainly unusual.

“The next hand she held nothing. Then she got a four flush and filled. Then she got a pat flush; then, drawing to the ace65 and king of spades, she got three more spades. The next hand was nothing, and the next was a pat flush. By this time I was excited myself, as was everybody in the game, and I made a memorandum of the last eleven hands, and began jotting down each hand as she held it.

“In thirty-six consecutive hands she held twenty-seven flushes. None of the other nine hands contained even a pair. Five of the twenty-seven were pat hands; nine times she drew one card, eight times she drew two, three times she drew three, and twice she drew four. There seemed to be no distinction of suits. The flush was of one suit as often as another. It was absolutely impossible that there could have been trickery, for there were six dealing in turn. The lady herself was exceedingly nervous about it, and although she became so excited as to continue drawing for flushes, she ceased to try to play them scientifically. Indeed,66 the other players ceased after a time to bet against her, and the cards were at length dealt more from curiosity than from any interest in the game as a game. At length, however, the lucky lady grew so nearly hysterical that her husband made some excuse to break up the game. I was sorry it had to be done, too, for I wanted to see how long such a run would continue, but the lady has told me since that she never, before or since, had any similar experience, though she plays frequently.

“I never saw anything exactly similar to that, but I had a run of luck once myself that seemed to me almost as curious. I went to visit a friend and there was invited to sit down at a poker game with some men I had never met before. The fact of not knowing the other players did not worry me, for I assumed that they were all friends of Harry’s, but it was not long before the fact that they did not know me began to67 worry me most confoundedly, for I never had such cards in my life before, and I don’t dare even to hope that I will ever hold them again. If the circumstances had been different and I could have felt free to play to win, I could have won big money, for they were playing an open game, and the limit was two dollars. At first I played my hands for what they were worth, and I won more than half the pots I played for—a big percentage when six are playing. But after a little I began to worry. It seemed to me that they must mistrust me, and I hesitated about betting as I ordinarily would. Still I kept winning and my pile of chips grew till I was positively ashamed of myself.

“Then I started to try to lose money. Fancy a man doing that at poker! I threw down a number of hands that were well worth betting on, and bet rather heavily on some that I was convinced were losers.68 Even at that I got fooled once or twice and took in pots that were not contested, when the other players would have won them if they had not grown cautious of my luck. Still, I was reducing my pile slowly, in spite of the cards I was getting, and would have reduced it still further if the ladies had not grown tired of their own society and come out to look at the game. One or two casual remarks by their husbands about my luck excited their curiosity, and two or three began looking at my cards.

“I don’t know what they thought of my playing, for I still refused to press my luck as even the most cowardly player would have done, but I know they were fairly astonished at the way the cards came to me. Over and over again I filled full hands, drawing to a pair; twice I held fours, and the flushes were as common as two pairs ever were when I played before. I played at random. I made wild draws and foolish69 bets, and threw down winning hands, but the chips kept coming my way till the situation became positively painful. That luck held till the game broke up, and, though I had honestly tried to keep from winning, I had seventy-five dollars cash to the good, over and above the stack I bought on entering the game. To make matters worse, one of the players had given me some unmistakably black looks, and in my embarrassment I felt certain that he took me for a card sharp, and I thought that the others would be likely to share his opinion.

“When we were all saying good-night, however, one of the players drew me one side and whispered:

“‘We were very glad to see you win that money.’ I was puzzled for fair, but I said:

“‘Well, I’m glad you’re glad, but why should you be? I didn’t exactly like it myself.’

“‘No,’ he replied. ‘I saw you didn’t.70 But didn’t you notice that the man that lost the most lost his temper also?’

“‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I did notice that.’

“‘Well,’ he chuckled, ‘he is the fellow we have been trying all winter to catch.’

“That was a relief, but I never got over my regret that the easiest winnings I ever made at poker should have come when I was trying my best to lose.”

“I quite believe, as you do,” said one of his listeners, “that there is such a thing as luck, but do you think that it is affected by anything that we can possess?”

“Meaning a rabbit’s foot or a child’s caul, I suppose,” said the gray-haired young-looking man with a smile. “Well, I wouldn’t like to declare myself on that point, but I can tell you one more story that is true within my own knowledge. About five years ago I met a man on Broadway, whom I had formerly known as a speculator and a roving character in the West. He71 was a good fellow, with a reputation for being square that I had never heard questioned, and he had, when I knew him well, been unusually successful, so that he was very well off for a young man. I was therefore surprised to see that he looked very seedy. Moreover, he had a discouraged look which I had never seen on his face before.

“I questioned him, and he frankly declared that he was ‘dead broke’ and in trouble. He had tried New York in the hope of mending matters, but had decided that his best chance was to go West again. I offered to help him, but he would not borrow more than a trifle, which he needed toward his fare to Chicago. While he talked I noticed that he wore a small but very brilliant opal in his scarf-pin, and half-laughingly I asked him if he ever expected to have any luck while he wore that. It was not an expensive stone, but it was a72 very pretty one. He looked at me, half surprised, for a moment, and then he took the pin out and looked at it thoughtfully for several moments before speaking. At length he said:

“‘I don’t know that I ever had any superstition. In fact, I don’t know that I have now, but it is certainly curious. I bought that stone about two years ago, and everything I have done in a business way since then has resulted in a loss. I have lost some thousands more than I had, and have still to pay the debts. I think I’ll throw it away. The setting is worth the price of a dinner, I guess, so I’ll keep that.’ And he pried the jewel out with his pen-knife and tossed it into the gutter.

“I met him again last week, and he returned the loan, taking the bills off a roll that it would do you good to look at. He told me that his luck had changed the day he threw the stone away, for he received a73 letter that afternoon which put him on the track of a contract by which he made twenty thousand within a year, and that since then everything had prospered as it always had before he bought the opal.

“I don’t feel called on to say what I think about it, but those are the facts, and, to say the least, they are curious.”


Storms’s Straight Flush

“I am not one who is disposed to quarrel with the inevitable,” said the gray-haired young-looking man as he lighted his pipe in the club smoking-room. There had been considerable discussion in the club as to the propriety of allowing pipes, but he had taken no part in it. He had simply kept on smoking his pipe till the others had settled the question, and when it was settled he continued to have nothing whatever to say.

“I don’t quarrel with the inevitable,” he remarked, “and I realize that changes of all sorts are among the things that are inevitable. Modern progress cannot be stayed,78 and modern improvements cannot be ignored. We have new business methods, new political doctrines, new translations of the Bible, and even the new woman, and there does not seem to be any possibility of ignoring them, or even getting away from them. I therefore make no objection to change of any sort, further than to cling to the old order of things myself, as far as I can. Aside from that I am strongly in favor of new-fangled ways—for those that like them. Indeed, I always think of what President Lincoln said: ‘For people that like that sort of——’”

“Oh! forget it,” said the man with his heels on the fender. “Excuse me,” he added, as the other looked at him in mild surprise, “but that is such an awful chestnut. What has provoked you to philosophizing?”

“Was I philosophizing? Well, perhaps I was. One of the youngsters asked me to79 join in a game of poker a little while ago, and I was going to do it, for I like poker when the stakes are not too heavy, but he told me they were playing with a joker.

“Now, they may get up a game of poker one of these days with high, low, big and little casino, and the right and left bowers in it, and it may prove to be a game that will be much liked by those who play it. Certainly, I will have nothing against it. But when I sit in at the game I want to play it as I learned it. So I declined the invitation.”

“Do you play it as you learned it?” asked the other. “When I learned, four aces couldn’t be beaten.”

“I must admit that point to be well taken,” said the gray-haired young-looking man, “for I can remember, myself, when a straight flush was an unknown hand. In fact, the first one I ever saw came near costing two lives. But the straight flush, though80 it was in its day a modern improvement, was a legitimate development and not a change in the game. The principle underlying draw poker is that a hand is valuable exactly in proportion to the difficulty encountered in getting it—that is, according to the smallness of the chance you have of holding it. Fours were supposed to be the hand that was the hardest to get, and so fours were the winning hand. When somebody discovered that the chances of holding a straight flush were fewer than the chances of holding fours, the straight flush took its place strictly in accordance with the rules of the game as already formulated. The only reason it was not played from the first was that it had not been recognized as a distinct hand before. If somebody should discover a new hand—that is, a new combination of cards with a positive, individual character of its own, sharply distinguishing it from any other combination—that new81 hand might be admitted at its proper value without changing the rules.”

“There is a certain amount of interest in what you say, no doubt,” said the man with his heels on the fender, “but it occurs to me that there may be even more in the narration of the circumstances under which you made the acquaintance of a straight flush.”

“Now a ‘blaze,’” continued the other, “is certainly a distinct hand, but it seems to be a characterless sort of a thing, and not entitled to much respect. And the same may be said of the alternated straight. It is true that an effort was made to introduce the blaze, but it didn’t meet with much favor. I don’t think it is played anywhere now, and I never heard of anybody seriously proposing to play alternated straights. Come to think of it, the straight was not a part of the old original game, and was not universally played until within a few years. I don’t imagine, though I never figured on82 it, that it is any harder to get than an alternated straight, but it has a stronger character of its own. That proves what I said, doesn’t it?”

“About those two lives,” said the other, lazily moving his heels a little further apart.

“It was up in the pine woods of Minnesota. I went there one winter to escape a galloping consumption that my doctor predicted, and had secured a job with Brown & Martin, a firm that had several lumber camps in the woods. There was a gang of about forty men in our camp, and there was nothing particularly unusual about them, excepting perhaps that there was rather more card playing at night than the bosses liked to have. I don’t know that it is prohibited in any of the camps—certainly it was not in those days; but gambling is discouraged, for the men’s sakes as well as for the bosses’, and as a rule there isn’t much going on.

83 “The lumbermen are very impatient of restraint, though, and no intelligent foreman interferes with them much outside of working hours, and as there were half a dozen men in our camp who were inveterate gamblers, the infection spread until there were four or five poker games going on every night. Our foreman was a Yankee from Maine, a strapping big fellow, who did not play himself, and strongly disapproved of it, but he had a great amount of discretion, and beyond speaking his mind freely he did not try to stop it.

“This was thirty years ago, mind you, and, as I said a moment ago, the straight was not played everywhere. We played it, however, for there were a good many there who had become familiar with it, and they insisted on it, and the few who were disposed to grumble at it as a new-fangled notion submitted, though not with the best grace. If you remember, the straight, as84 played then, only beat two pairs. Its value as the lowest complete hand had not yet been recognized.”

The other man nodded.

“One of the men in the party I usually played with was Will Davison, a big, overbearing sort of man, who grew sarcastic whenever a straight was played, and who made it a point to throw down his own hand rather than draw to a sequence of four, calling attention to what he did.

“‘I have no use for a boy’s game,’ he used to say with a sneer, but the rest of the party overruled him, and he liked the game too well to stay out.

“One night a young law student from Columbia, who had gone West as I had for his health, joined our game, taking the sixth hand. Davison didn’t like that, either, as I noticed by his expression, but Harry Storms, the student, was a general favorite, and the rest of us all welcomed him, although we85 were a little surprised when he offered to play, for he generally spent his evenings poring over a law book, and we had thought he didn’t know the cards.

“We speedily found out that he did, though, and that he was not afraid to back his hand for what he thought it was worth. We played only a quarter limit, and as a rule we kept pretty well inside of the limit, too, so that it was not often that there was more than two or three dollars, even in a jack-pot. Storms, however, generally bet the limit when he bet at all, and as the boldest player generally sets the pace, we were soon playing a stiffer game than had been seen before in the camp.

“It was stiffer than I was used to, then, for I was only a youngster, and hadn’t played much, so I was naturally too much absorbed to notice for some time that we had attracted the attention of a number of other men, who crowded around us, watching86 the play in silence. When I did look up I saw Aleck White, our foreman, looking on with an expression of profound dissatisfaction, but as he said nothing I did not feel like quitting the game, especially as the luck was a little in my favor just then.

“Presently there was a jack-pot of one dollar and fifty cents on the table, and as it went over three or four deals without an open, it was sweetened up to three dollars and odd before Storms threw in a quarter, saying, ‘I open.’ I sat next to him, and, looking at my hand, I saw that I had aces up, so I stayed, of course. The next man stayed also, and then Davison, who was next, raised it a quarter. There seemed to be some good hands around, for everybody stayed, even after the raise, and there was nearly five dollars on the board before the betting began. It does not sound very exciting now, but, as I tell you, we did not87 play heavily. There were no professional gamblers among us, and the men were all working for day’s wages. A dollar meant more then than it does now to me, and it was a respectable sum to any of us.

“Before anybody drew cards Storms said: ‘Is there any reason why we shouldn’t raise the limit for this one hand?’

“I had suspected him of bluffing once or twice before that, and I thought this was surely a bluff. Moreover, I had a fool sort of confidence that I was going to get another ace, so I said promptly: ‘I haven’t any objections.’ Davison spoke quickly, too. ‘Suits me,’ he said, and the others, with a little hesitation, agreed: ‘Make it fifty cents for this hand only,’ said one.

“‘Oh, hell!’ growled Davison. ‘Make it a dollar while you are about it.’ I felt that this was too heavy for me, but I was too excited to object, and, as I said, the hands must have been pretty good all88 around, for no one else remonstrated, and a dollar it was.

“I did no better in the draw, and I had sense enough to lay down when Storms threw in a dollar, for he had stood pat, and I didn’t feel like holding up a bluff from where I sat. The next man had drawn two, and he hesitated, but finally put up his dollar. Davison held his hand pat also, and raised Storms a dollar. The next two laid down.

“Storms raised back, and my left-hand neighbor laid down, leaving the struggle to the two men. Davison raised it five dollars, and one of the men who had pulled out exclaimed: ‘I thought it was a dollar limit?’

“‘Well, what business is it of yours?’ said Davison savagely. ‘Storms is the only one that has a right to kick. If he is afraid to bet I’ll stick to the limit,’ he added with a sneer.

89 “Storms laughed. ‘I’ll see your five and raise you ten’ he said, putting up the money.

“Davison pulled out a wallet and, putting a ten-dollar bill on the table, said: ‘That’s all the money I have with me, but I’ll give you an order on my pay and raise you ten.’

“‘And I’ll see that the order is not paid,’ said the foreman, quietly.

“There was a moment’s silence, and then the foreman spoke again. ‘I don’t propose to interfere with anything you fellows do within reason, but I am not going to see you robbing your families.’

“‘He is right,’ said Storms. ‘I don’t want to play out of reason. Perhaps we have gone far enough.’

“‘Oh, well, if you are afraid,’ said Davison, insultingly, ‘I just make it a call.’

“Storms laughed again good-naturedly,90 and said: ‘Well, let it go at that,’ and he laid his cards down, face up.

“‘A flush, eh?’ shouted Davison. ‘That’s what I thought you had,’ and showing down a king full on aces, he reached for the pot. ‘That’ll beat anything but fours.’

“‘But my hand beats fours,’ said Storms, also reaching for the money. ‘It’s a straight flush.’ And so it was, jack high. It was the first one I ever saw in play.

“‘Straight flush be damned!’ exclaimed Davison. ‘Who ever heard of beating fours?’ And as Storms still attempted to take the money, Davison grappled him across the table, shouting and cursing violently.

“Storms struck one or two blows, and good ones, before any of us could interfere, but as Davison had him in a close grip he could not spar, and he seized the other’s throat, choking off his wind instantly.

“The foreman jumped in, of course, as91 did two or three others, but Davison had a knife out in an instant, and if he hadn’t been caught in time would have stabbed his antagonist. As it was, it was a difficult thing to pull them apart, for their blood was up, and they would certainly have killed each other if they hadn’t been stopped. When we dragged them apart they struggled like two wild beasts. And that broke up poker playing in that camp for the winter, for the foreman put his foot down hard.”

“And who took the pot?” asked the man with his feet on the fender.

“The foreman made them divide it. I don’t know as he had any right to, but his word was law with us then.”


For a Senate Seat

“Poker has often been called the national game,” said the gray-haired young-looking man in the club smoking-room, “but I fancy there are few citizens who fully appreciate how much influence it has exerted on the destinies of the nation in one way and another. We hear stories now and again of the winning and losing of fortunes, and sometimes how large estates and mining properties have been staked on the chances lying between two hands. And every lobbyist in the country is familiar with the old device of losing large sums in a friendly game with a legislator whose vote is desired on one side or the other. Such96 things, naturally enough, sway public interests as well as private to no small extent, but I have seen a seat in the United States Senate lost on four queens.”

“Of course you are not talking seriously,” said one of the party.

“But I am,” was the answer, “seriously and literally. It happened in Minnesota soon after the war. Political conditions in that part of the West were very different to what they are now, and in fact all other conditions were, too. It was at about the beginning of the real growth of the North-west. The value of the wheat fields had been learned, but the Swedish and Norwegian immigration was in its infancy, and the lumber industry, that afterward grew to such enormous proportions, was then making comparatively few men rich. Minneapolis was a small town on the south side of the river, and St. Anthony was a town of the same size on the other side. Now it’s all97 one city, but at that time nobody dreamed of St. Paul being eclipsed in size or importance.

“I was knocking about late one summer at that period, and had made many friends around St. Paul and Minneapolis, some of whom were State officials, and I had heard much talk of the struggle there was to be in the next Legislature over the election of a Senator. Two men were in the race, and as they were both popular the contest was likely to be a close one. Party questions did not enter in, for the State was strongly Republican, and no Democrat stood a show. But which of the two Republicans would carry the Legislature was a matter of great doubt, and I saw bets made on the issue as early as the first of September. As the time of election drew near, it was evident that the choice for Senator was going to govern the nomination of candidates for the Legislature, and as both the Senatorial aspirants98 were long of head as well as long of purse they were using all the influence they had in the county conventions which were to be held early in October.

“Right there was where the importance of the lumber industry came in. The money on which the lumbermen in the upper counties lived came to them mostly through Minneapolis and St. Anthony, and the perfectly legitimate business relations between them and the business men of those two cities naturally gave the latter much influence among the former. There was a rollicking, happy-go-lucky man in Minneapolis whom everybody called Doc Martin, for no reason that I could discover except that he wasn’t a doctor. He was part owner of a saw-mill, and spent the most of each winter in the woods with his men. He was credited with being as influential as any one there was, among voters, but he had a rival in another man named Gilmartin, who was99 a logger himself, but had for a dozen seasons been foreman of one gang or another. Martin was a rich man, but Gilmartin was seldom flush, excepting in the spring, when he had drawn his winter’s pay. These two men were known to be strong partisans, one favoring one of the would-be Senators, and the other the other, and it was generally thought that they would both go electioneering when the county conventions were held.

“The week before that was to happen I was one of a party who drove from Minneapolis to a road-house on the Fort Snelling road near the Minnehaha Falls, partly for the enjoyment of the moonlight and partly for a game supper such as the house was famous for providing. Martin was one of the party, and as there were two or three other high rollers with us, I had made up my mind that it would be daybreak before we would get back.

“I was right, but before the night was100 over we had more excitement than I had expected. We had had the supper and an abundance of good wine with it, and were sitting around the table enjoying some rarely good punch when somebody proposed poker. No one objected, and in a few minutes there were two games in progress, for there were eleven in the party. Six played at one table, and Martin and I and three others were at the other. The game was a fairly stiff one, ten dollars being the limit, and the cards ran well enough to build up some heavy pots. We had all indulged freely enough to give ourselves thoroughly to the enjoyment of the hour, though we had not been drinking heavily, and there wasn’t a man there under the influence. Altogether it was a delightful occasion. Suddenly the door opened, and Gilmartin looked in.

“‘I don’t want to “rough in,” boys,’ he said, ‘but I stopped here to get supper on the way home, and the landlord told me101 you were here, so I thought I’d ask you to drink with me.’

“He was greeted heartily, for everybody knew and liked him, and a bumper of punch was poured out for him forthwith, his invitation being peremptorily laid on the table. Then, as a matter of course, it was suggested that he take a hand in the game, and he being more than willing, he sat at our table.

“‘We’re playing ten-dollar limit, Gil,’ said one of the party, who knew that money was not always plentiful with the big fellow. But he laughed carelessly and said: ‘That’s all right,’ as he pulled out a hundred-dollar bill and bought chips.

“Martin looked at him rather keenly, as I thought, for an instant, and said:

“‘Been out to St. Paul to-night, Gil?’

“‘Yes, I have,’ said Gilmartin, and I was sure that I saw a half-laughing look of defiance on his face as he answered. It102 puzzled me at the moment, but I understood the question and answer afterward. Martin, it seemed, suspected that Gilmartin had perfected his arrangements to go electioneering, and that he had the money in his pocket with which he was expected to do his work. It was this that he had asked by implication, and Gilmartin, understanding him perfectly, and knowing that he could not keep his secret long from the other, had admitted it. As it proved, he had five thousand dollars in greenbacks with him.

“The game went on without any special development for perhaps half an hour before I noticed that Martin was playing against Gilmartin as heavily as he could, and only trying to hold his own against the rest of us. Gilmartin held his end up fairly, and was not far from even when Martin got his first good chance at him. It was a pretty play, too, for Gilmartin thought, as the rest of us103 did, that Martin was bluffing when he stood pat, and contented himself with coming in without a raise every time it came his bet, until the rest of us had dropped out. Then he raised Gilmartin the limit. Gilmartin had a jack-high flush and was confident, so they had it back and forth till Gilmartin called and gave up four hundred dollars to an ace flush.

“That was the heaviest pot for a long time, but presently the two got together again, and Gilmartin lost two hundred more. Then he grew a little nervous and Martin grew cooler. Then Gilmartin became angry, though he controlled himself tolerably well, and I was sure that Martin would beat him. So it proved. It came my deal soon after in a jack-pot, and Gilmartin opened it. We all came in, standing Martin’s raise. I had aces, but didn’t better in the draw, so I laid down after one raise. Martin drew three cards, as did each104 of the others, excepting Gilmartin, who drew two. He bet the limit, and the next man laid down. Martin raised it the limit, and another man and myself dropped out. Gilmartin raised, and the fourth man threw down his cards. That left the two alone again, and Martin raised back.

“‘Ten better than you,’ said Gilmartin savagely, and then with a short laugh he added, ‘You won’t get away with me this time.’

“‘If you think so,’ said Martin quietly, ‘what do you say to taking off the limit?’

“‘That will suit me exactly,’ said Gilmartin, and Martin pushed up his last blue chip and a hundred-dollar bill.

“‘I’ll see that and go you five hundred better,’ said Gilmartin eagerly, and he skinned the bills off from a big roll that he drew from an inside pocket.

“‘Does my check go?’ asked Martin. ‘I haven’t so much money with me.’105 “‘It’s good for fifty thousand, and you know it,’ said Gilmartin.

“‘I raise you a thousand,’ said Martin.

“‘And I’ll go you a thousand better,’ exclaimed the other. He was getting excited, but nobody dared to speak. It was a serious matter to interfere in a game like that.

“‘A thousand better,’ was the response.

“Gilmartin hesitated. He looked at his cards and thought for a moment. Then he counted his money.

“‘I’ll have to call you,’ he said finally, ‘for I’ve only got twelve hundred left.’

“Martin’s face was perfectly impassive. He, too, hesitated a moment, and then he spoke.

“‘I’ll put up five thousand more, if you want to play for it,’ he said.

“‘But how can I? I tell you I haven’t any more money,’ said Gilmartin, looking puzzled.

“‘If you will give me your promise to106 go as far south as St. Louis for sixty days, and tell nobody that you are going, I’ll take that as an equivalent for the five thousand,’ said Martin very slowly and distinctly.

“Gilmartin flushed. He knew that everybody in the room understood the proposition. He was asked to sell out his honor, for going away in that fashion meant betraying his employer and running away with his money, as well as leaving him in the lurch. I expected to hear an indignant outburst of invective and abuse, and indeed the man was about to speak when another thought seemed to strike him, and he grew deathly white. The gambling fever had seized him, and he looked at his cards again.

“While he was hesitating Martin spoke again, and the devilish coolness of his speech made me shudder.

“‘I need not say anything to impress on the minds of all the gentlemen present that this is a private party,’ he said, ‘and that107 nothing which happens here can be told outside while it can by any possibility work injury to any one concerned.’

“Gilmartin looked round at every man in the room, and seeing by our faces that we all recognized the obligation, he seemed nerved, as Martin had meant that he should be, to take the risk.

“‘I’ll take the bet,’ he said at length, and he spoke desperately. ‘But God help you, Martin, if you win it. I don’t believe you can, for I’ve got almost a sure hand.’

“‘If you lose,’ said Martin, ‘you have no cause of quarrel with me. I am not forcing you to play. But if you mean enmity, all right. I’ll gamble your friendship, too, along with the rest, if you like.’

“‘So be it,’ said Gilmartin. ‘It’s a call, then. If you lose you pay me five thousand. If I lose I leave.’

“‘Correct,’ said Martin, and the hands were shown.

108 “Martin had drawn to kings and caught the other two. Gilmartin had drawn to three queens and drawn the other.

“His face as he left the room was such a picture as I hope never to see again, but he kept to his bargain. At least, I imagine he did, for he was not seen again in that part of the country while I was there. I never spoke to Martin again, but his friend was elected Senator at the next session of the Legislature by a majority of two votes. Both men are dead, or I would not have told the story.”


The Bill Went Through

“It is no news to the average newspaper reader,” said the gray-haired young-looking man, “that there has been a vast deal of heavy gambling done in Washington since the capital of the nation was established in that city. Stories without number have been told and retold about famous statesmen who have bucked the tiger in this and that resort, whichever one happened to be famous in its day, and who have won and lost enormous sums as coolly as Englishmen of equally high rank are said to have done when Pitt and Fox played in the London clubs. For one, I have little doubt that112 many of these stories are substantially true, though most of them are probably embroidered around the edges. Men who make national politics the game of their lives learn to love excitement, and next to politics, gambling is about the most exciting thing out. Some people even put it ahead of politics.

“I am the more inclined to believe these stories, too, because I remember a good deal about what happened in a certain poker club in that city a little while before the Crédit Mobilier scandal. I was a youngster then, but I had some reputation as a cool-headed player, and I was fond of the game, so it was not strange that after I had been properly introduced and had sat in once or twice, I got in the way of dropping in frequently, and finally of spending most of my evenings in this particular club-house until after Congress adjourned and the season was over. My business there was accomplished113 at about the same time, and I left the city, not to return for several years.

“The place was a modest-looking house, just off Pennsylvania Avenue. It had been designed for a private residence, and was used as such by the proprietor, for, though it was called a club, it was nothing more than a private gambling-house. No one could get admittance without a personal introduction by some one whom the proprietor knew and trusted, but once inside, a visitor was made to feel as if he almost owned the place.

“I never saw anything but poker played in the house, but the game was sometimes for tremendous stakes. Everybody seemed to have almost unlimited money who came there to play, for money was plentiful in Washington that year, and a thousand-dollar bet was no more an occasion for surprise than one of fifty dollars, though a five- or ten-dollar limit game was common enough,114 too. You could play a modest game if you liked, for there were several tables going every night, but if you preferred, you could generally get into a table stakes game and flash any sort of a roll you saw fit. I never saw a professional gambler in the house, excepting the proprietor. He was one, but he never played in his own place, and so far as I know, there was never a suspicion of a crooked play in any of the games that I saw.

“And as to the men who played? Oh! well, it would do no good to name names. Some were men whom nothing could injure in reputation. Some are dead. Others are out of politics. And not a few would be sorry indeed to be mentioned in connection with high play at a time when their ostensible income was not sufficient to warrant it. It was a season, however, in which no man prominent in official circles was obliged to be without money, provided he could be115 induced to accept it. It is enough to say that one of the unwritten rules of the ‘club’—it had no written ones—was that any man’s I. O. U. was good, but that it must be taken up within forty-eight hours. And I never heard of an infraction of the rule.

“In one or two cases I would have been glad to hear that the man giving his paper thus, had had the nerve to repudiate it and quit the game. One Congressman in particular I remember who might have been a man of distinction according to all indications, if he had been willing to shoulder the odium of an unpaid ‘debt of honor’ instead of lending himself to the lobby and accepting money for his vote. How do I know it? How does a man know anything he doesn’t actually see? I knew the circumstances leading up to his ruin well enough.

“What I did see was the way the lobby tried him night after night, for it was an open secret that this particular poker club116 was one of the channels through which the crack lobbyists of the season reached their men. A good many games were played to lose, in the big parlor, and more, I reckon, in some of the small rooms, but the man who won in such a game was always a man who was wanted for something. Of course, when it came to handing over the cold cash as a specified payment for a particular service, it was done in private, but different men have to be approached in different ways, and poker affords some peculiar opportunities.

“This Congressman—call him Smith for short—was particularly wanted in one scheme that hung fire for a long time in the committee-room. He was a member of the committee, and for local reasons connected with his home district could have decided the matter either way, but being a conscientious fellow, he had held it up in a way that exasperated the lobby greatly. He had117 been approached in various ways, but had proved obdurate, and not until he had been introduced at the club did there seem to be any chance of winning him.

“Even then it was not easy, for he refused at first to play for any considerable money, but he was fond of the game and it undid him at the last. He was led on by degrees—the finesse and astuteness of a really gifted lobbyist is something almost diabolical—until, being a fairly skilful player, he found himself encouraged to plunge. Then the real game began.

“At first he was allowed to win. I say allowed, because the men against him were far better players than he, though they did not let him suspect it. One night he won so heavily that at the conclusion of the game he had Jones’s I. O. U. for over seven thousand dollars. Jones was the man the lobby had put against him, and what he had to do was to meet Smith privately next day118 and hand him the money, and at the same time urge the passage of the bill they wanted. Of course the money could not be considered in any sense a bribe, but Smith, in taking it, could not possibly refuse conversation, and would, it was thought, be inclined to listen favorably to a man who lost money to him as gracefully as Jones did. He couldn’t be expected to know, and as a fact, he did not know, how easy it was for Jones to lose gracefully, since the money was furnished to him for the purpose.

“It was the most delicate sort of diplomacy, but it failed completely. Smith was gentleman enough to feel the temptation, and man enough to withstand it. The loss of the money was not considered for a moment by the lobby. They had money to burn. But the failure to get Smith was important, so other tactics were employed.

“There was no necessity for asking him to give Jones his revenge at the game, for119 he was by this time in the fever of play, and he was at the club every night, looking for the opportunity that somebody was always ready to give him. It did seem almost pitiful to see a man of his talents and character fluttering like a big fool moth around a flame that was almost certain to destroy him, but it didn’t seem to be anybody’s business to tell him what he ought to have known for himself. At any rate, nobody made it his business. I, for one, considered that it was the part of wisdom to say nothing. It’s a good safe rule generally, and I was too young a man to play mentor to one who had reached his rank.

“Nothing was done hastily. The lobby never makes mistakes of that sort. Smith was allowed to play along for perhaps a week before Jones was put at him again. I don’t know exactly, but I think a part of the calculation was to wait till his luck should turn, for he had been winning before120 he made his big stake from Jones, and he continued to win for several nights, though he got no very important money after that.

“Luck does change, though, and in a week he was losing, not heavily, but enough to whet his desire, and it was noticeable that he grew more and more eager for high play. The time had come for the decisive stroke, and Jones, of course, was on hand at the proper time to deliver it.

“There were only four players in the game that night, and it was played in the big parlor. The lobby never made the mistake of seeking privacy unnecessarily, and Smith, though he was infatuated with the game, was the sort of man to take alarm quickly at anything that looked suspicious. So it happened that I was one of the lookers-on at a memorable contest.

“Smith didn’t know it, but there were three against him that night, although one of them was a fellow-Congressman who was121 not known to be interested in the scheme, and another was a Westerner, who had only been introduced at the club two or three nights before, and had only played there once. The fourth man, of course, was Jones.

“The play went on for half an hour before anything serious happened. Occasionally there would be some pretty big bets, but they all won and lost so nearly even that no one was much ahead. Then to an outsider it became evident that each of the other three was playing for Smith’s money, although Smith himself did not, I believe, suspect anything of the sort. As I said, the play was straight enough, but three first-class players can bring any ordinary player to grief easily enough in a four-handed game without any crooked manipulation of the cards, if they work in concert, and Smith was soon losing heavily.

“They knew the size of his pile pretty122 accurately, for they had kept tabs on him closely ever since he began playing, and there wasn’t a detail of his outside business that hadn’t been studied carefully beforehand. So when he had been coaxed along to a ten-dollar ante, with occasional bets of as much as five hundred, they knew that they could reach his uttermost limit easily enough, for he couldn’t have raised much over twelve thousand dollars in cash to save his life, without getting outside help somewhere. Twelve thousand dollars isn’t much of a wad to sit in a game with, if there is unlimited money against you, and the betting runs up into the hundreds, so Smith was on pretty thin ice all the time, though he didn’t realize it until it was too late.

“He had four or five thousand with him in money, but when that was gone the rule of the place made it fatally easy for him to go on, and I really believe that he lost his head as the play went on, and he gave check123 after check in payment for more chips. The proprietor understood well enough what was going on, and he took the checks with perfect readiness, knowing that he would be protected. Smith bought again and again, keeping no memorandum, until he was in it for over ten thousand.

“Then came the deciding hand. We did not play straight flushes then, so fours of any denomination made even a stronger hand than they do now, and Smith caught four eights. There isn’t a poker player on earth who wouldn’t look on that as a chance to recoup, and very few who wouldn’t risk their pile on the chance. Smith did it anyhow, and came to grief. He risked more than his pile, for, as it happened, the other Congressman held a good hand, too, and bet freely for a little while. Jones had four queens and scooped the pot. The Westerner wasn’t in it.

“All the chips were in the center when124 Smith raised it a thousand, putting up a marker in the shape of an I. O. U., hastily scribbled. The other Congressman dropped out, and Jones came back with another thousand. Smith was fairly white, but he reached over and changed the figures on his I. O. U. from $1,000 to $4,000, saying quietly, ‘Two better.’

“‘Two more than you,’ said Jones, just as quietly, laying four one-thousand-dollar bills on the table. And then there was dead silence in the room.

“Smith paused, and it seemed to me that I could read his thoughts. He was eager enough to go on with the play, but though he did not know, and could not stop just then to reckon how deeply he was dipped, he knew he was over his head. Moreover, four eights, strong as it was, was not an invincible hand, and his better sense urged him to call.

“Finally he did, and when the showdown125 came, I thought for a moment he would faint. He rallied, however, and like the gallant fellow he was, made some light remark with a half-laugh as he rose from the table.

“‘I’ve got enough for to-night,’ he said, and the game was over. I never knew all the circumstances of the settlement, but I know the bill was reported favorably by the committee within a week, and that Smith used to hang around the club-house more persistently than ever for the rest of the season. As for Jones, I never saw him after that night.”


Poker for High Stakes

“I have always found it hard to believe the stories I used to read about the luxury of travel and the magnificence of the appointments on the great Mississippi River steamboats,” said the gray-haired young-looking man in the club smoking-room. “It seems to be the generally accepted belief that forty years ago or so people went up and down on the bosom of the Father of Waters in floating palaces, enjoying something like the extreme of sumptuous luxury. Maybe that is true. I didn’t travel the river so long ago as that, and, of course, I can’t say what the condition of things may130 or may not have been when I wasn’t there to see. What I can say positively is that if it was true in those days, the war or some other disturbing cause changed things very materially before I became as familiar as I did afterward with the river boats. My notion is that the whole thing is a tradition, resting on very little foundation excepting comparison. The mere fact of having a stateroom to sleep in, with only one stranger as a room-mate, and a seat at a table with room for a waiter to pass behind you, served to make travelers at that time think they were in luxury, because they hadn’t experienced it before. And I imagine, from what I know of a later period, that that was about the extent of the luxury. Certainly none of the boats I was ever on, in the ’60s and ’70s, compared with the North River or the Sound boats of the same time. And even those would not seem very luxurious to travelers of the present day.

131 “But there were a good many stories told about the old-time Mississippi boats that I am fully prepared to believe. That the game of poker flourished on the river as it never has elsewhere, before or since, seems entirely probable. I have seen games that made me hold my breath because of the size of the stakes, and because of the fact that I knew the players were all armed, and a shot or a stab was certain to follow a hasty word or a suspicious act.

“It was on a trip from Memphis to Natchez that I first saw a woman gamble in public. The boat wasn’t crowded, but there were perhaps fifty passengers on board, and among them were six or eight ladies and this woman. That she was a social outlaw was evident enough at a glance. Not only were her clothes of a fashion too pronounced for respectability and her jewelry too ostentatious for daylight wear, but there was a frank devilry in her eye, and a defiant swing—almost132 a swagger—in her carriage that told the story all too plainly. Her behavior was correct enough. She was, or seemed to be, traveling alone, and she took the somewhat too ostentatious avoidance of the ladies in perfectly good part, pretending to be utterly unconscious of it, and ignoring them as completely as they did her. Neither did she give any overt encouragement to the efforts that some of the men made to cultivate her acquaintance. It was evident that while she took no pains to conceal her character, she did not propose to make herself obnoxious. Naturally every one was curious to know who she was, and I soon learned, as I supposed the other passengers all did, that she was a notorious character in New Orleans, where she was known as ‘Flash Kate.’ What her business had been in Memphis I did not hear, but a dozen stories were told of her recklessness and general cussedness, and among other133 things it was said that she was a confirmed gambler.

“After supper the first evening we were on board, the tables in the main saloon were cleared, and, as if it were a matter of course, two games of poker were soon in progress. It was plain enough that two of the men in the game that I watched at first were professionals, but the game was small, and I found no great excitement in it, though it was, in a way, interesting to notice how easily the others were being fleeced. Tiring, after a time, of watching so bold a fraud, I sauntered over to the other table, and found a very different game in progress.

“In the first place, it was a bigger game. They were playing table stakes, and each man had a wad of greenbacks lying alongside his chips. White chips were a dollar, and bets of ten or twenty at once were common. There were several thousand dollars in sight, and it looked as if any moment134 might bring on a struggle between hands that would draw down big money. Then it did not take long for me to determine that two of the men in this game also were professionals. The third man at the table I knew. He was a cotton-factor from New Orleans, who had been up the river on a business trip investigating some of the advances he and his partner had made to the planters. He was young—not over thirty, I should say—but I knew he had the reputation of being a bold speculator, and it did not seem surprising to see him at cards. The other two men—there were five playing—puzzled me. One was a veteran soldier. You could tell that from his military bearing without waiting to hear him addressed as ‘Major,’ but an ex-soldier of either army might be anything from a gambler to a bank president. The other was a nondescript. There didn’t seem to be any points about him to distinguish him from anybody else,135 but I afterward learned that he was a cattle-dealer.

“The game lasted far into the night, and was interesting all the way through, but, somewhat to my surprise, there was no very desperate struggle over any single pot. The hands ran fairly well, and some few big ones were held, but no two unusual ones happened to be held in the same deal. So far as I could see, the play was absolutely fair, and I wondered a little that the gamblers should attempt no tricks. Later on I understood it. They were laying the foundation for the second night’s play, and their game was to lose a little at the first sitting. Accordingly they did so, and one pulled out soon after midnight, saying with a laugh that he had lost all he wanted to. The cotton-factor was a loser, too, though not to any very serious extent. The other two were ahead. Altogether it was a pleasant sitting, and it was a foregone conclusion136 that the game would be renewed, as it was, the next evening. After supper the five seated themselves without loss of time, and the spectators stood, two deep, around the table inside of a few minutes. The clerk of the boat was banker, and furnished the cards and sold the chips, as a matter of course.

“For half an hour or so there was no special play, but the lookers-on were patient, and the excitement grew with every deal. It was the first time I ever saw ladies look on at public gambling, but there were three or four on board who walked in, holding their husbands’ arms, and watched the proceedings with keen interest. Presently, however, ‘Flash Kate’ sauntered up alone, and the ladies seeing her, quietly withdrew. She paid no attention to this, but stood apparently absorbed in the game, and edging forward from time to time till she stood directly behind the cotton-factor.

137 “The betting grew heavier. The ante was made ten dollars and the bet was often fifty, but still there was no contest between unusual hands. We all knew it was coming, though, and I noticed that three or four of the men near me were breathing hard. ‘Flash Kate’s’ eyes sparkled like a snake’s and her lips were parted, but she was as silent as we all were. Even the players said nothing outside of the few words the game called for.

“Suddenly I heard a sort of gasp from the man next me, and at the same instant I saw the fellow they called Keene hold out an ace. It was cleverly done, and yet I marveled at his nerve in trying such a trick under so many watching eyes. He relied, of course, on his skill, which was really marvelous, but I had studied such things too closely to be mistaken, and as, for an instant, I met the eye of the man who had gasped, I saw that he was equally certain.138 Neither of us was fool enough to say anything, for interference meant fight, and I wondered for a moment what would follow, or if any of the players had seen it.

“It was the deal of the cattle-dealer, whose name was Downing, next, and as he gathered up the cards he threw them, with a quick motion, on the floor, saying: ‘Bring us a fresh deck, Mr. Clerk, of another color.’ It seemed certain that he had seen Keene’s manœuvre, but if he had he gave no other indication of it, but shuffled and dealt the cards as coolly as if nothing out of the way had happened. Neither could I see any trace of chagrin or disappointment on Keene’s face as he was thus cleverly checkmated. He looked sharply at Downing for an instant, as if to see whether he had really been discovered or not, but that worthy did not return the glance, and the game went on.

“Soon after there was a jack-pot that went139 around several times before it was opened, and of course there was considerable money up. Presently, on the cotton-factor’s deal, Alcott, the other professional gambler, opened it for a hundred dollars, and all the players came in. That made big money before the draw, and no one was likely to get away with it without a struggle. The Major drew one card, and without waiting for further developments, threw his hand into the discard pile. He knew he wasn’t strong enough to bluff that crowd. Alcott drew three, and threw another hundred into the pot. Downing drew two, and left them lying face down, while he threw in his hundred. Keene also drew two, and studied them carefully before seeing the bet. The cotton-factor drew three, and raised it a hundred. I could not see his cards, but I learned afterward that he had a queen full.

“Alcott had three of a kind and raised back. Downing carefully lifted one corner140 of one of the cards he had drawn and lifted the pot two hundred. Keene studied a while longer and finally threw down his cards. The cotton-factor was game and raised it five hundred, but Alcott, without a quiver, came back at him with a thousand more. The battle was on, and I looked curiously at Downing. I was more interested in his play than in that of either of the others, and it was a real disappointment to see him pick up his whole hand, give it a quick glance, and throw it down. The cotton-factor studied his hand again, more, it seemed to me, to gain time than to make certain, and then began fingering his roll. At length he spoke a little hesitatingly:

“‘I haven’t as much money here as I’d like to have, but I’ll see your thousand and——’

“‘If Monsieur cares to back his hand and will allow me, I will put up any amount he likes.’

141 “It was ‘Flash Kate’ who interrupted him—no man would have ventured to do it—and there was a general start of surprise. I was looking at Alcott, and I was sure I saw a gleam of satisfaction, totally unmixed with surprise, on his face. The situation was getting complicated. The cotton-factor flushed.

“‘Thank you,’ he said, coldly, without even looking around, ‘but I never play with borrowed money, and I never borrow from a woman.’

“‘Pardon me,’ said ‘Flash Kate,’ as coolly as he, ‘I hope there is no offense, Monsieur. None was intended.’ She spoke with a villainous affectation of a French accent.

“‘None whatever,’ said the cotton-factor, and he looked at his cards again. He told me afterward that when the woman spoke it flashed upon him that there was a conspiracy somewhere, and that he didn’t142 care to play against it. Accordingly, he pretended to study a moment longer, and then threw down his cards.

“Alcott raked in the money without a word, and the cotton-factor, putting the remains of his roll in his pocket, picked up his chips and left the table, saying politely as he arose: ‘Excuse me, gentlemen, I think I have had enough.’

“There was a moment’s hush. The four players looked around the spectators, as if to see if any one cared to take the vacated seat, but no one gave a sign, and presently Keene said:

“‘Madame is interested in the game. Perhaps she plays, and would like to take a hand.’

“‘Yes, if there is no objection,’ she said readily, and looked from one to another of the four at the table. Downing said nothing, but there was a grim smile on his face. The Major looked uncomfortable, but he143 said nothing, either, and as Alcott said, ‘Certainly there can be no objection,’ the woman took the seat and laid a handful of money on the table in front of her.

“From the moment she sat down I felt morally certain that it was a case of three against one, for the Major was not much in evidence. And I was pretty confident that the man from Texas was going to hold his own, as indeed he did triumphantly. For nearly twenty minutes his play was a perfect puzzle, and the trio got actually nervous as he threw down hand after hand that ordinarily he would have betted heavily on. They stacked the cards, not once, but half a dozen times, giving him excellent cards, but he pretended to have lost his nerve, and played now with seeming rashness, and now with cowardice, but never risking any considerable amount, until he had them rattled.

“Then he played a trick that was worthy of the great Herrmann himself. It was at144 once the boldest and the neatest thing I ever saw at a card table, and although I thought I saw it done, I was not certain about it till he told me of it after we had become well acquainted. It was Keene’s deal and Downing’s cut, and the latter, watching, as he did, every motion around the table, knew that Keene’s nerve had failed him, and that he had not this time undertaken to set up the cards. His time had come, and as he leaned over to cut he substituted another pack for the one Keene had shuffled. It sounds like an impossibility, but wonderful things are possible to a sleight-of-hand performer, and he was the best I ever saw at a card table. Not one of the other players saw it, but he knew that deal every card that every player would hold.

“And they held wonderful cards—all but the Major. It was his first say, and he dropped out. Alcott came in and discarded145 two cards. Downing was next. He raised it twenty and threw down three cards. Keene raised it fifty, and threw down one. ‘Flash Kate’ came in with threes, but did not raise. Alcott saw the raise, and Downing raised it a hundred. The others all came in, and the draw was dealt.

“They all filled, of course, and it being Keene’s deal, they suspected nothing, but, each being confident of his own strength, they betted wildly. It was almost too quick work to follow, but in a few minutes Keene said: ‘I claim a show for my pile,’ and pushed the money already in the pot a little to one side. The others nodded, and went on betting.

“Presently Alcott also claimed his show, and Downing and ‘Flash Kate’ went on. She must have had five or six thousand with her, for there was over twenty thousand on the table when she called, with what appeared to be the last of her money, and it146 came to a showdown. Keene had four jacks, Alcott four queens, ‘Flash Kate’ four kings, and Downing four aces.

“For an instant there was perfect silence. Then Alcott and Keene made a movement simultaneously, as if to seize the money; but Downing was quicker than they. It was impossible to say where he drew his revolver from, but it was there in his right hand, while he coolly pulled in the money with his left.

“‘That was no square deal,’ shouted Alcott, though neither he nor Keene made any fight.

“‘Think not?’ drawled Downing. ‘Well, you ought to know. Your pal dealt the cards. But I think you are right. There’s been some queer play here to-night. But there’s one honest player in the party, and he isn’t hurt much. As for me, I reckon this’ll do me, unless some of you want to play any more.’ And he grinned at the147 discomfited gamblers, who, seeing that they had the worst of it, said no more.

“‘Flash Kate’ took it the best. She looked on with a smile while this was going on, and when it was over, she smiled some more, and rising from her chair, said sarcastically: ‘Monsieur is a most excellent player.’ And she went to her stateroom without another word. I noticed when we reached Vicksburg that she and Alcott left the boat together.

“‘Those three were pretty slick players,’ said Downing to the crowd, as he ordered champagne for everybody who would take it, ‘but they ought to travel in Texas for a time if they want to get on to the safest kind of play.’

“It was only an episode in the old river life, and as nobody was much hurt excepting professionals, nobody thought much about it.”


“Overland Jack”

“I don’t know how far local pride may color the judgment,” said the gray-haired young-looking man, “but I am satisfied that very few New Yorkers would be willing to admit that an all-round sport could come here from the West and clean up the town, metaphorically speaking. That is, tackle the experts of the city at their own different games and win money from one after another without losing to any of them, and finally depart after a season of riotous success with his pockets laden with spoils. Such a thing does not seem likely. Yet I remember one case in the ’70s when just that thing was done by one of the best-known152 gamblers in the United States. ‘Overland Jack’ was the name by which he was usually called, but his real name was John McCormick. He cut a very wide swath when he first came to New York, but he made a good many friends here, too, not only among the sporting fraternity, but among actors and men-about-town generally.

“The fact of his having a goodly number of friends was manifest when he came to die afterward in Chicago. He knew, toward the last, that his death was near, but instead of weakening he recalled the incidents of his career with the utmost satisfaction, and declared that he had no regrets for the way he had spent his life, but, on the contrary, considered that he had done excellently well with it. As a token of his feelings, he expressed the wish that his friends should go to his funeral, not with religious ceremonies, but with champagne153 galore, and that in place of praying for his future they should drink to his memory over his open grave.

“It was just such a crowd as he would have selected that went to his grave and carried out his wishes. Tony Pastor, Jack Studley, Pat Sheedy, Johnny Blaisdell, Mike McDonald, and many others were there. There were enough, at all events, to get away with five baskets of wine before the grave was filled in, and the empty bottles were thrown in on the coffin. It was a memorable occasion, even for Chicago, and it occurred only a few years ago. It was in ’90 or ’91, if I remember aright.

“The time I speak of, however, was before he was known on this side of the continent, excepting by reputation. Overland Jack, the sport, came from San Francisco. Where John McCormick, the man, came from originally no one seemed to know. The first that could be definitely stated was154 that he was a private in a California cavalry regiment at the time of the Civil War. He never rose from the ranks, but he was always well supplied with money, even when on duty, for he was far and away the best poker player in the regiment. After the war he never did anything but gamble for a living.

“He was a quiet man, who was so uncommunicative about himself that his best friends could not even say with certainty whether he was a well-educated man or not, but he was always smiling and extremely pleasant in his manner. It was said of him that he was never known to be angry, but I have heard this disputed. Certainly he had no reputation as a fighter, though he took his life in his hands often enough in his play, for he was, beyond question, a crook, which makes the fact of his having so many friends all the more remarkable.

“He became well known on the Pacific coast soon after the war, but it was not until155 ’73 or ’74 that he started East, and then he didn’t come straight through, but stopped at various places. The first I heard of him was at Salt Lake City, where he had a notable adventure. I heard the story from a man who stood in with him in his faro game and helped him to get away with considerable Mormon capital. He traveled with a faro outfit and dealt a brace game always. Of course he had to be skilful to do that, but he was particularly skilful. When he reached Salt Lake he put up at the Townsend House and set up his faro layout in his room, running the game quietly enough to rouse no antagonism on the part of the landlord, but managing, with the aid of my informant, who was an actor, then playing in Brigham Young’s theatre, to rope in several of the wildest sports in the city.

“Among others, Brigham Young’s son, John Young, was informed of the chance to play, and, being eager to do so, was accommodated156 to the tune of seven hundred or eight hundred dollars the first night. The actor went with him and played with him, and was a loser to a less amount. He was therefore in a proper position to urge Young to try it the second night that they might both get even. Overland Jack, however, let nobody get even when he was manipulating the box, and Young lost about three thousand dollars the second night. He was not a good loser, as was shown long afterward when he came to Chicago and killed a man there in a quarrel in a gambling-house—a matter, by the way, for which he was never tried—and he was furious at his losses this time. Overland Jack was shrewd enough to foresee trouble, and that night he packed his faro layout in the trunk of his friend the actor, and early in the morning started out for a walk. The walk was a long one, and not caring about walking back he took a way train at the next station, and after changing157 cars once or twice was well on his way to Laramie before John Young went back to the Townsend House with police force enough to take in four faro banks and all their attendants.

“The actor tarried in Salt Lake for a discreet interval and then went to Laramie himself. For some reason it was not thought wise to deal faro there, and they lay around idle till they got a chance to play together in a pretty heavy poker game that was going on. They had not spoken to each other there till they met at the table, and supposed that no one in the place knew that they were acquainted, so the chance seemed a good one to play in the way they had arranged, which was for Overland Jack to do the dealing and the other man to hold the cards. Among the other players was a rich plainsman who had come to town for a racket and was having it to his complete satisfaction. He was not a particularly158 good player, and the game looked like a good thing.

“It came Overland Jack’s deal, and his confederate looked confidently at his cards, expecting to find winners, but, instead, he found nothing at all. Overland Jack had seen what he had not, that the landlord of the hotel, who was in the room but not in the game, was watching the actor’s play, as if he had an inkling of the truth. Instantly changing his plan, he dealt himself the hand he had stacked for the actor, which was four aces, while he gave the plainsman his four kings as he had intended.

“There was the raise before the draw and after it, and the pile on the table grew rapidly, while the other players dropped out, and the two hands were being played for all they were worth. Overland Jack’s nerve was perfectly good, and he was playing for the other man’s pile, when he heard a click under the table, just as the plainsman had159 raised him five hundred dollars. Without an instant’s hesitation, and without the slightest change of expression, he exclaimed, ‘That’s good,’ and threw his four aces into the discard pile. Neither did he show any emotion of any kind as he saw the plainsman, with a look of considerable surprise, rake in the pile. He had cold feet soon after, however, as did the actor also, and they left the room and went straight to the bar.

“While they were chewing their whisky the landlord and the plainsman came in together, and Overland Jack instantly called to them both to come over and have a drink. They came, and the plainsman put out his hand, laughing.

“‘You are a good one,’ he said. ‘What did you throw down four aces for?’

“‘My friend,’ said Overland Jack, ‘when you have played cards as much as I have you will know that there are times when four160 aces are not worth four cents. And when you have been through what I have you will know that it is damned foolish to pull the second gun. When you hear a click, and your own gun is not out, it is time to quit the game.’

“‘Well, you are a good one,’ said the plainsman again, and they all drank.

“At that time the old Morton House was the center of a good deal of the excitement of various kinds that was going on in this city, and it was natural enough that Overland Jack should put up there when he arrived in New York. He did so, and looked around quietly enough for a few days without making himself known. It was not hard for him to strike up a hotel acquaintance with Jim Morton, who was then running the house alone, after Ryan’s death, and it was not long before Overland Jack managed to be in the room as a spectator when there was a tolerably stiff game of poker going161 on. He hadn’t been invited to play, and he was not making proposals. He was simply awaiting his chance, and it came suddenly.

“Morton was in the game. So was Shed Shook, and so were the late General Owens, Ed Gilmore, and a Senator from Albany who spent considerable time in the city. They were betting pretty well and playing table stakes. Morton was called away by a summons from the office, and, not caring to quit the game, he looked around for somebody to take his hand while he should go downstairs for a few minutes. It happened that he saw Overland Jack first among the lookers-on, and he asked him if he would keep the seat warm for him.

“Naturally Overland Jack didn’t refuse, but as he sat down he said: ‘If you want me to play for you, you’d better leave me some more money, for I shall play your cards for all they are worth.’162 “Morton had two or three hundred on the table at the time, but he didn’t hesitate an instant. Putting his hand in his pocket, he pulled out a roll and tossed it down in front of Overland Jack, who did not even count it, but nodded and shoved the money all together and waited for his cards. He never made any charge afterward that anybody was trying to play tricks in that game, but he did say that he was satisfied in his own mind that a certain man in that party was likely to hold four of a kind soon after he began playing, and as it happened that man did hold four deuces the next time it came Overland Jack’s deal. It was a jack-pot, and the deuce man opened it for fifty dollars. The others came in, and Overland Jack raised it fifty. The deuce man raised it fifty more, and all stayed.

“On the draw the deuce man called for one, the next man stood pat on a flush, the next drew two cards and didn’t fill, the next163 drew to two pairs and didn’t better, and the dealer took three. The opener proceeded to make merry at his expense. ‘You raised it on a pair, eh!’ he exclaimed. ‘Well, you have a nerve, to be sure. Do they play that kind of poker where you came from? If they do you have come to a good place to learn the game. Why, I have you beaten without a struggle.’ And he shoved one hundred dollars into the pot.

“‘Yes,’ said Overland Jack, coolly. ‘I raised it on a pair of queens,’ and he turned them over, while he let the three he had drawn lie where they had fallen, without looking at them himself. ‘A pair of queens is a good hand to draw to,’ he continued, speaking with calm indifference to the open amusement of all the others. ‘There are more queens in the pack, I suppose, and I may get some of them.’

“‘Yes, you may,’ said the opener, with a sneer. ‘You may get struck by lightning,164 but I’m not looking for it to happen this evening.’

“The flush man stayed, and the next two dropped out. Then Overland Jack saw the hundred and raised it a hundred, still without looking at his cards.

“The opener skinned through his hand to make sure that he still had all his deuces, and then said with paternal severity: ‘Young man, I’m sorry for you, but you certainly ought to be taught something of the rudiments of this game. If you are determined to bet, I’ll give you a chance. I’ll see your hundred and raise you two hundred and fifty.’

“It was too rich for the man with a flush, and he threw down his cards. Then it was Overland Jack’s turn. He pretended to be greatly provoked, and said hotly: ‘I may be a younger man than you are, sir, but where I came from we call two queens, with a chance for two more, good for a small165 bet, anyhow. So I’ll just cover your two-fifty and bet you the balance of the pile.’ And he shoved the whole of Morton’s money to the center of the table, still without counting it.

“The others were astounded, but he had made the play and there was only the opener to talk. He counted the money. It was eleven hundred and odd dollars. Then he counted his own. He had only five hundred with him, and he began to sputter.

“‘If you’ll take a check,’ he began, but Overland Jack stopped him.

“‘No checks,’ he said excitedly. ‘This is table stakes.’

“‘Well, if you’ll wait till I go downstairs and——’

“‘Oh, yes,’ sneered Overland Jack. ‘Go out of the room and gather up four of a kind, I suppose.’

“And there was more talk that resulted166 in the opener getting angry for fair and calling the bet for the amount of his pile. He slammed down his four deuces as he did so and exclaimed: ‘There! Is that good, or do you think you have drawn the other two queens?’

“‘Well, I don’t know,’ drawled Overland Jack. ‘Maybe I have. Let’s see,’ and he turned over two queens and an ace.

“Everybody else in the room saw the point, but the opener was furious. ‘They’re not good,’ he shouted. ‘You never got that hand honestly.’

“‘Oh, yes, they’re good,’ said Overland Jack, with still more of a drawl. ‘Four of a kind is good—when you get ’em out of the pack.’

“There was a shout of laughter as the opener grew purple with rage, and Overland Jack raked in the pot.

“That was only one of his adventures in this city. He had a number, and naturally167 made a good many enemies, but, as in this case, he made more friends than foes, so that he was really a popular man despite the fact that he was known to be a sharper.

“Crooked poker and brace faro were his favorite games, but he was also a billiard sharp, who gave pointers as well as points to the many others of that ilk who made a living around the billiard saloons in those days. One of the first places where he distinguished himself was in Chris Conner’s place in Fourteenth Street, where there were always gentlemen of leisure ready to play almost anybody for a small bet or a large one, provided they could settle the odds. Overland Jack always had confederates in the room ready to make side bets while he was playing, and he was pretty sure to get one or two himself in addition to the nominal stakes of the game. There was one young fellow who played in Conner’s place a great deal who really played a marvelous168 game, and was as steady as a rock. Conner thought he couldn’t be beaten if the odds were fixed anywhere near right, so Overland Jack studied his play for a couple of nights and then sailed in himself.

“He acted the usual part of a fairly skilful amateur excited with the game and anxious to display his skill and win or lose his money, and managed, without trouble, to get himself picked up as a sucker by this particular fellow. Conner himself settled the odds after seeing the stranger play, and bet considerable money himself on the outside, but Overland Jack won, hands down.

“In fact, he won at everything he touched while he was here, but as a matter of course he soon became known, as a first-class crook is sure to, and he was obliged after a while to seek new pastures. So it came that the man who came and had fun with the New York sports for a season drifted away again without exciting any regrets by his departure.”


His Last Sunday Game

“The closest call I ever had,” said the gray-haired young-looking man, “was in a game of poker, and, curiously enough, nobody called in that particular deal in which it occurred. In fact, nobody thought about it after the interruption until it was too late for a showdown and the chips had all disappeared, nobody knew where. It takes a pretty serious happening to destroy all interest in a game of poker just at the moment when somebody has raised the limit in a big jack-pot and each player is confident of winning. But this was a serious happening. It was about the most serious that I ever knew, and came near being a tragedy.

172 “Perhaps you remember one summer about ten years ago when a succession of tremendous squalls struck the south side of Long Island on four successive Sundays. I think it was just ten years ago.

“We had a club-house, eight or ten of us, that summer, which was located on Hicks’s Beach, on the extreme western end of the Great South Bay, not far from the Long Beach Hotel. It was about as unpretentious as any club-house need be, being only a shanty, but it was weather-proof, and with cots and hammocks we made ourselves thoroughly comfortable when we slept ashore. More often we would sleep on board the little sloop yacht that we had chartered for the summer, for we used to cruise through the entire day, using the club-house as a rendezvous. It was one of the jolliest and most economical seasons I ever enjoyed.

“We all knew something about sailing—I least of all—but the Commodore, as we173 all called him, was the best amateur sailor I ever knew, so, naturally, we made him skipper, and nobody else assumed or felt any responsibility when he was aboard.

“On this particular Sunday, the fourth in the series of squally Sundays, there were seven of us on the yacht. We had been weakfishing all the forenoon about four miles east of Wreck Lead, and had had fair luck, but it was wretchedly hot, and, tiring of the sport, we had run back nearly to Hicks’s Beach again and come to anchor off the best bathing-ground in the neighborhood, opposite the life-saving station. Then we had a plunge, and after dressing had gone into the cabin. Two of the men had gone to sleep and the rest of us had begun a game of poker. It was the last game I ever played on Sunday. The Commodore had made all snug above, and had come down into the cabin last of all, satisfied that everything was right, as we were not174 in the channel, and no big boats navigate thereabout anyhow. He was good enough sailor, however, to leave the game occasionally for a moment or two, just to take a look around. But not even he thought it worth while to keep a lookout all the time, for he thought we were as safe as we would have been in a brick house.

“After an hour or so there came a jack-pot, in which there was some of the most remarkable drawing I ever saw. The Broker had opened it on a pair of queens. The Commodore sat next, and, having a pair of sevens, came in. The Doctor had three spades with a queen at the head, and, being a brash player at all times, pushed in his chips. I had been having great luck for a time, and decided to rely on it, so I came in with an ace. And the Lawyer came also, though he had only two little four-spots in his hand. We found out all this long afterward when we were together one night talking175 over the adventure, and at the same time we learned what the draw was. It seemed so curious to me that I wrote it down, so I speak by the card in telling it. The Doctor was dealing, so I drew the first cards. They were another ace and three eight spots. The Lawyer caught another four and two tens. The Broker got three jacks. The Commodore caught a seven and two nines, and the Doctor got his two coveted spades. A pair of queens was high hand before the draw, and there were four fulls and a flush around the board after it. Such a thing may have happened often, but I never happened to hear of it as happening on any other occasion but this.

“Naturally enough, the betting began furiously, and the chips on the table were all in the pot presently. We were betting money and were, some of us, feeling through our pockets for our rolls, when suddenly the Commodore threw back his head and raised176 his hand with a sudden gesture that arrested our attention instantly. Dropping his cards, he sprang to his feet and started to rush out on deck, when a lurch of the vessel sent us all sprawling. The squall had struck us. For a moment, while we were scrambling up, we could feel the yacht tugging at her anchor, and then with a sudden drive dash onward somewhere. Whither we could not even guess, being all below, but we afterward found that it was toward the northeast, the squall coming from the south-west. Almost at the moment of the snapping of the cable, for it had snapped, we heard a tremendous crash overhead, and we afterward learned that the lurch of the boat had thrown her stick out of her.

“The sudden drive meant that we were drifting helplessly toward the mud flats on the other side of the channel; but before we could ascertain this—in fact, before any of us could get to the companion-way—the177 wretched boat turned turtle. I have heard it denied that such a boat could turn turtle under such circumstances, and I don’t pretend to explain how or why it did. All I know is that it did, and it looked as if we had reached our last quarter of an hour.

“The confusion was indescribable. Of course we were immediately standing or scrambling on the ceiling of the little cabin, while everything that had been on the floor fell with us. The water rushed in more than waist deep, and for a few moments it looked as if the little room would fill up completely before we could even think what possibility there was of getting out. Fortunately, however, there was buoyancy enough about the miserable craft, and the cabin was deep enough in the hull, to keep it pretty near the water level, and the air in the room was not immediately displaced. At least that was how I reasoned it out. All that I can say positively is that178 whereas I expected to be totally submerged I found that I could easily enough keep my head out of water. What air there was in the cabin doubtless helped to keep us afloat, confined as it was, and for a time—it seemed a very long time—we were tossed about, splashed, and thrown down, as the boat rocked and pitched, but we were not drowned.

“At first no one spoke. The situation was too awful for words, and it seemed as if we were all so shocked as to be mentally stunned. I know I was for one, and if our escape had depended on my thinking of a means we would all have perished then and there. Fortunately the Commodore grasped the situation, and, as we could talk and understand one another well enough, he told us his plan in a few words. It was simple, and it gave us at least a chance for life. Moreover, it appeared to be our only chance.

179 “‘You can all swim,’ he said. ‘Find a fishing-line. There are plenty in the cabin.’

“Somebody produced one in a moment. It was on a reel.

“‘Hold fast to the reel,’ said the Commodore. ‘I’ll take one end of the line and dive through the companion-way. I think I can find my way over the side and up on the bottom of the boat. I’ll hold my end, and when you feel three jerks make this end fast. Then you will have to follow, one at a time. Don’t let go of the line as you go out, and you can’t miss the way. I’ll hold the other end.’

“‘Very good, Commodore,’ said the Broker, ‘but I’d better go first. You know what a swimmer I am, and I reckon the man who goes first will have the hardest job.’

“The Commodore was disposed to dispute this proposition, but the Lawyer spoke up sharply: ‘Let him go, Commodore,’ he180 said. ‘It’s a forlorn hope at best, and he’s far and away the best swimmer.’ So it was settled, and in another moment the Broker had disappeared.

“Well, that’s all the story. The plan worked and we were all perched on the keel inside of ten minutes. There we were seen by the life-saving patrol, and were all taken off safely soon after. I can’t say I ever enjoyed yachting after that day, and, as I said, I never played poker on Sunday again.”


Foss Stopped the Game

“I have always been a little hazy in my notion of what are the proper functions of the Captain of a Mississippi River steamboat,” said the gray-haired young-looking man. “I suppose, really, that nothing would have been easier than for me to find out, for I traveled a great deal on the river some years ago, and I knew a lot of people who were engaged in steamboating as a business, besides enjoying a personal acquaintance with several of the Captains themselves. But there are some things that I do not like to know definitely, and this is one of them. It is more interesting to speculate about them in idle moments and184 to think of all sorts of whimsicalities as possible than to get at the facts, which would not be interesting at all.

“Now, on the lakes, and on such salt-water craft as I have traveled on, the Captain of the boat is very much in evidence. He has all to say about everything, and seems to be a sort of court of appeals for the trial and final disposition of all cases, trivial or important. He seems to have a personal supervision over every detail of his business, and to have very little real leisure. It may be, of course, that the Captain of a Mississippi boat has similar duties and responsibilities, but it doesn’t seem so to the average passenger.

“In the first place, he seems to have nothing to say about the navigation of his boat. The pilot attends to that, apparently, all the time. Then the Captain has little to say to the crew. The mate bosses the deckhands and the roustabouts, and the185 engineer has control of his own department. I suppose the Captain gives them both orders, though I never saw or heard him do it. I have heard him order the waiters about in the dining-room, but it seems ridiculous to class that among his duties. Altogether, to one who doesn’t understand the matter, the Captain’s office seems suited to comic opera rather than to navigation, and, as I intimated, I enjoy comic opera too much to want to understand this.

“There is one thing about the position, however, which is no joke. The Captain has arbitrary police power over everybody on board his boat, unless, indeed, the pilot is exempt. I don’t know about that. So well is this fact understood that I never saw this authority disputed but once, and on that occasion it was not well for the man who did the disputing.

“Captain Foss of the river packet Lone Star, plying between St. Louis and New Orleans186 some twenty years ago, was one of the finest men I ever chanced to know on the river. That he was a Southerner no one could doubt who saw him and heard him talk, but I never knew what State he came from. He was a man of middle stature and remarkable physical development, strong as a horse and active as a cat. I think he had been in the army, for he had a military bearing, but his title of Captain came, of course, from his position. He was somewhat of a dandy, and dressed in what was old style even then, but the exquisite neatness and fine material of his clothing made him conspicuous even among the wealthy and well-dressed passengers who patronized his boat from choice whenever they traveled the river.

“Suave, polished, and extremely quiet in his manners on ordinary occasion, he could blaze out in the most fiery bursts of temper when he had provocation. I never saw him187 in a temper but twice, and curiously enough the trouble grew out of a game of poker each time.

“Poker was always played in the main saloon of the boat at night, as a matter of course, and I have seen some stiff games played on the Lone Star, for I made several trips on her. I didn’t hesitate to play there myself, even with strangers, for I knew the reputation of the boat and of the Captain, who played himself occasionally, though not very often. He was called one of the best players on the river, and was known to be thoroughly upright and believed to be utterly devoid of fear. He knew all the gamblers who traveled the river, and would not allow any crooked play in his jurisdiction. It was reported that they all knew this and had a wholesome respect for his authority, knowing that he made it a rule to set a man ashore in the wilderness if he was detected in any underhand work. He had done this188 several times, and it was generally believed that there wasn’t a gambler in the country who would play any tricks on Captain Foss’s boat.

“One night, an hour or two after we had left Memphis on the way down the river, the Captain sauntered into the saloon looking as if he hadn’t a care or a responsibility of any kind, and, seeing a game of cards going on, he walked up to the table and joined the lookers-on, of whom I was one. It was a fairly stiff game, and there was enough money changing hands to make it rather exciting, even for those who weren’t playing. As for the four men who were playing, they seemed almost dead to the outside world. Whether they were playing beyond their means, or whether it was simply the excitement of the game that held them spellbound, I didn’t know, but I had watched them for an hour and hadn’t heard one of them utter a word beyond what the game189 called for. Their faces all showed intense emotion, and one man’s hand shook so that he had hard work to deal. It may not have been the game that caused it, but I thought it was.

“After Captain Foss had been standing by for a few minutes, one of the four, a pale, intellectual-looking man, threw down a losing hand with some show of temper, and exclaimed with an oath, ‘not loud, but deep’: ‘I never did have any luck in a four-handed game.’ And looking around the little group—there were a dozen or more of us—he spied the Captain.

“‘Captain,’ he said, ‘won’t you take a hand?’

“‘Well,’ said Captain Foss, ‘I don’t mind playing a little while if none of the other gentlemen object. I didn’t know you were superstitious, though, Dr. Baisley.’

“The doctor frowned. ‘I guess everybody is who plays cards,’ he replied shortly.

190 “‘Possibly,’ said Captain Foss; and as the other three signified a welcome to him, he drew up a chair and bought some chips.

“It was a curious thing, and to Dr. Baisley it was, no doubt, ‘confirmation strong as proofs of Holy Writ’ of his superstition, but it is a fact that his luck turned from the moment Captain Foss entered the game. He had been a heavy loser before. I could count up over a thousand dollars in chips that I had seen him lose, and I hadn’t seen all the play. But the turn set the chips rolling back to him so fast that he was soon even and then winner to a considerable amount.

“Of the others, one was evidently a commercial traveler who had got into a heavier game than knights of the road often indulge in. Somehow, he did not seem like a gentleman, and I was not greatly surprised when he lost his temper, for his luck had changed also. He had been the largest191 winner at first, for the other two won and lost in turn, so that they were not far from even. But as the doctor won, he lost, until at length he pulled out what seemed to be his last hundred-dollar bill and bought another stack of chips.

“These, too, he was losing when the doctor beat his flush with a full. Throwing down his cards, he said, with a nasty sneer: ‘It’s evident that you knew who to invite into the game.’

“There was a hush for a moment. Everybody seemed to be holding his breath. We all looked at Captain Foss, and I don’t think anybody would have been surprised to see him draw a weapon. The insult was a frightful one, and, as I said, the Captain could blaze on occasions.

“He blazed this time. There was no motion toward physical violence, but he glared at the fellow as an angry tiger might have glared, and the veins stood out in uneven192 knots on his forehead, and his clenched fists quivered in the struggle for self-control. At first he could not speak for rage, but presently he swallowed spasmodically twice, and then broke forth.

“‘If I could lower myself and forget my place so far as to meet such a vile whelp of a hell-hound as you on common ground, I’d cut your ears off and make you eat them along with your words. As it is, damn you—’ And then he went on with such a torrent of profane abuse as I for one never heard before or since. The wretch actually cowered under it like a whipped dog. He tried to speak once or twice, but he might as well have tried to whistle down a whirlwind, and presently realizing his miserable impotence, he shoved the balance of his chips over to the banker, who cashed them, and slunk away to his stateroom.

“Captain Foss sat talking, or raving, whichever it was, till the fellow’s door193 closed. Then he stopped, and we could see that he was again struggling to control himself. There was another hush, which was presently broken by a young fellow less than twenty years old, who had been listening open-mouthed.

“‘My!’ he exclaimed. ‘But that was fine.’

“This brought a general burst of laughter, in which the Captain himself joined after a few moments, and the strain was over. But I don’t think there was a man there who would not rather have been shot at than to have had such a tongue-lashing.

“The fact of the Captain of a passenger boat playing poker in the cabin when actually in command of her, and in active service, was, I think, what set me thinking, as I said, about his duties and responsibilities. It seemed a strange thing to me then, because it was the first time I ever saw it. But, though the strangeness wore194 off afterward when I saw other Captains doing the same thing, I never saw Foss play again, though I believe he occasionally did so.

“I noticed, however, every time I traveled with him after that, that he always came into the saloon in the evening and looked at the play that was going on. And on one occasion I got an inkling of his reasons for doing this. It was a part of his regular patrol of the boat, and he was as particular to see that nothing was going wrong at the card table as he was to see that everything was right elsewhere on the boat. Of course, poker itself was not considered wrong. It was part of the regular routine of life. A man could play or not, but a man who would object to anybody else playing would have been as lonesome as a prohibitionist in Kentucky.

“Drinking was common on the river boats. Drunkenness was rare. If there195 were ladies among the passengers, as commonly there were, drinks were seldom served in the main saloon till after they had retired. Then, if a man wanted a drink while he was playing, one of the darkies would bring it to him.

“On the particular occasion that I speak of a man not over twenty-two or twenty-three years old was playing cards at a table with four older men. He was a bright, handsome fellow, with manly ways and a pleasant manner, who seemed well able to take care of himself even at poker, and who, indeed, held his own fairly well in the first part of the game. The play went on, however, far into the night, and a number of drinks were brought to the table, so that after a time the youngster grew flushed and began playing wild.

“Captain Foss noticed this, as he noticed everything, but did not at once interfere. I observed, however, that he passed196 in and out several times between the saloon and the deck, and just as I had seen a particularly foolish play made by the youngster I heard the Captain say quietly: ‘Gentlemen, the game will have to be closed for to-night.’

“Naturally the players all looked up in surprise, and one or two attempted a remonstrance, but, noticing the Captain’s expression, thought better of it. He was smiling pleasantly, but you could tell by his face that he was in earnest.

“The youngster himself was vehement and vociferous, but the Captain only smiled at him still more pleasantly, and said again that the game must be closed for the night. It was easy enough to manage such a case as his, but after the young fellow had pleaded and sputtered and even tried feebly to bluster without any success, another man, much older, of dark visage and thin, sharp features, spoke up in ugly fashion:

197 “‘I call it a piece of impertinence and a gross assumption of authority for the Captain of a steamboat or anybody else to undertake to stop a party of gentlemen playing a friendly game.’

“A quick change came over the Captain’s face. The smile was gone, and the eyes contracted a little as they seemed to shoot fire, so keen and brilliant was the look in them:

“‘It is not necessary, Major, to consider what I might or might not do in case a party of gentlemen were playing a friendly game of poker here. The point is that this game is going to stop now. Gentlemen don’t ply boys with liquor and then win money from them, and, by the Almighty, nobody else is going to do it on my boat.’

“The Major was as angry now as the Captain. He glanced at the other players, but they all had sufficient grace to be ashamed, or, at least, to appear so, and with a contemptuous198 smile, he said: ‘I understand you perfectly, Captain, and I suppose you will give me satisfaction. Nobody else seems inclined to demand it, but I am not in the habit of allowing anybody to lie about me without calling him to account.’

“No law on earth could have prevented those two men from fighting after that, and there was nobody present to put the machinery of the law in operation, even if it had been of any avail. The Captain bowed. ‘I will make a landing on the Arkansas side in twenty minutes,’ he said, ‘and we can step ashore alone, unless you prefer to take a friend with you.’

“‘No,’ said the Major, ‘I would rather prefer going alone.’

“The two saluted and the Captain strode out of the cabin. The Major, without deigning a look or a word to any of us, walked over to his stateroom, entered it, and closed the door.

199 “There was a good deal of quiet conversation going on for a little while, but nobody seemed to feel called on—I know I did not—to interfere, and there was considerable speculation as to which would kill the other. That one of them would be killed seemed certain, and, it was my own notion that the Major would be the one. It was true that I did not know him, but I did know Captain Foss.

“I was right. When the boat slackened speed and then slid her nose into the mud, stopping with that queer, slow suddenness with which a boat does stop on a bank, we all went outside to see the two men off. I was surprised to see that it was daylight, for I had not thought it was so late. But, looking around, I saw the pilot had chosen an excellent spot for the purpose in hand. He had run so close to a wooded knoll in the forest that it was easy to put a gangplank out to reach the firm ground.

200 “As he stepped toward this gangplank Captain Foss paused, and, addressing the mate, said, so that we could all understand him, ‘Do not allow any one to go ashore for half an hour after I do. If neither I nor Major Nevins should return in that time, take four men and come after us.’ Then he turned to Major Nevins, who was close beside him, and said something to him which no one else could hear. The Major nodded, and the two stepped ashore together.

“Walking side by side, they disappeared among the trees. Almost breathlessly, it seemed to me, we all listened for a long time. I don’t know how long, though I noticed the mate kept his watch in his hand. Suddenly we heard two shots, almost together. Then there was a pause, then another shot, then another, then silence.

“Three or four minutes after this we saw201 Captain Foss walking back alone toward the boat. Coming on board, he stopped beside the mate and gave him some orders in an undertone, then passed on to his own room. The mate saluted, and, calling two men to him, went somewhere aft, presently returning with a folded cloth in his hand which looked like a sheet. The two men brought a cot with them, and, following the mate with two more men, to whom he called, they went ashore and disappeared in the woods.

“When they returned, some quarter of an hour later, there was a burden on the cot, which all four men were carrying, and over this burden the sheet was spread, decently and smoothly. It was carried to Major Nevins’s room and deposited inside. Then the door was locked and the key taken to the Captain’s room.

“The boat moved on, and when we reached Helena, which was the next stopping-place, Captain Foss went ashore alone.202 In an hour’s time he returned to the boat with the Coroner of the town, the local undertaker, and two or three of his assistants. The burden on the cot was taken ashore, and after a little time the boat went on down the river.

“If there was ever any prosecution I didn’t hear of it. All I know is that it was then the custom in Arkansas to allow the survivor to go on his own recognizance in any case in which the Coroner was satisfied that there had been a fair fight.”


He Played for His Wife

“For my sins, I suppose it must have been, I lived once in Egypt,” said the gray-haired young-looking man in the club smoking-room, “and if Egypt on the other side of the world is anything like the southern part of Illinois, I can readily understand how the children of Israel found the wilderness preferable. As I remember the story, though, in Pharaoh’s realm they had only one plague at a time, whereas in southern Illinois—however, there may be a better condition of things there now, so there’s nothing to gain by recalling our experiences. I sincerely hope things are better,206 but I scarcely think I have curiosity enough to go back and find out.

“In our village—for I was a part of it, and a part of it was mine—about the same conditions obtained as in all the other small settlements within a hundred miles. We had a railroad station and two trains a day. We had a post-office and one mail a day. We had a general store and a blacksmith’s shop and a tavern, and we had a few private residences. If there was anything else of importance, excepting the farmers’ wagons, that came in with loads that were too heavy for the horses, and too often went back with loads that burdened the farmers, the details have escaped my mind. It was a typical southern Illinois village.

“Small as it was, there were two social sets in town. The married men lived in their own houses, and their wives visited one another and had their small festivities from time to time in the most serene indifference207 to the fact that there were other human beings around. And these others—that is, the unmarried men—lived at the tavern, or hotel, as we preferred to call it, equally indifferent to the occurrence of social functions to which we were not bidden. If, as occasionally happened, one of the married men broke loose for a night or two, and spent his spare time and money at the hotel, he was tolerated, but no more. We felt sorry for him when we thought of his return home, but we had no yearnings toward reciprocity in his effort to break down the barriers.

“In our set there was, it is true, one married woman, but she did not count. At least we thought so till the trouble came. She was the landlord’s wife. Old Stein, as we called him, though he was not over forty, was a placid, easy-going German, who kept the hotel fairly up to the standard of the country, and I think a trifle above it, but he208 hadn’t energy enough, apparently, to make any strenuous effort to improve things. What was good enough for his boarders was good enough for him, and we were demoralized enough by the climate, or whatever it is that tends to the deterioration of mankind thereabout, to make no demand for unusual luxury. As far as we ever noticed, he had no remarkable affection for his wife, but seemed rather too indifferent to her very pronounced hunger for admiration.

“She was a born flirt, but though she carried her flirtations with anybody who would flirt with her, much nearer to the danger line than would be tolerated in a more strait-laced community, it was the general opinion among the boarders that there was no real evil in her, and, moreover, that she was fully capable of taking care of herself in almost any emergency. So, though she would not have been recognized as respectable by any other married woman in town,209 a fact that troubled her not, she was considered all right by our set, and we looked upon her as a good fellow rather than as a woman bound by the ordinary rules of propriety. She was a German by descent, and Stein was German by birth, but Lena was perhaps too thoroughly Americanized in a poor school.

“Naturally trouble came of it. We were accustomed, as the people in most small Western towns were accustomed some years ago, to receiving occasionally a visit from what we used to call a ‘cross-roads gambler.’ These worthies are perhaps the least useful and most ‘ornery’ specimens of humanity to be found in North America. They are professionals without the skill or nerve they need to enable them to hold their own among other professionals. Knowing just enough to cheat, but not enough to cheat deftly, they travel about the country, usually alone, but sometimes in pairs, stopping210 in the smallest settlements for a day or a week at a time, looking for victims. No game is too small for them, though they will play heavily at times, but they manage to live on their little skill by worming their way into friendly games of poker, such as are played all over the country, but perhaps more openly in the West than in the East.

“When Dick Bradley happened along our way and stopped over at our town, we had, though we did not realize it immediately, all the elements of a drama right at hand. It was not long before the drama was enacted, and perhaps it was just as well that we were not a little farther West, for there might have been considerable shooting in the last act. As it was we had a duel, but that was fought with the pasteboards instead of revolvers, and the difference was supposed to be settled by a freeze-out in the great American game.

“Bradley was an ordinary cross-roads211 gambler, and nothing more. He was a little handsomer than the usual run of men, and he dressed rather better than custom demanded in that part of the country. Moreover, he had a free-and-easy way with him—it was a part of his stock in trade—that was attractive to anybody, and I suppose especially so to a woman like Lena. At all events he hadn’t been with us twenty-four hours before there was a violent flirtation going on between the two. We all considered that natural enough, and supposing we knew the woman thoroughly well, we thought no harm of it at first. Stein took no notice of it apparently, and as it was a matter that concerned no one else so closely as it did him, none of us felt called on to say anything.

“Somewhat to our surprise, however, Bradley stayed on for more than a week. It wasn’t his regular business that kept him, for though we played poker every night, as212 a matter of course, in the back room of the hotel, and though he got into the game, equally as a matter of course, he didn’t make enough out of it to make it an object to stay. There were some of us who understood the game and the ordinary tricks of crooked players as well as he did, and he was not long in finding out that he had to play square if he played at all. So, as we never played for big money, the prospect was a poor one for him. Still he stayed. After a few days we all, excepting Stein, began to see that he was staying entirely on Lena’s account. He was a bit cautious at first; more so than she was, but seeing that Stein made no objection to anything she did, but gave her a perfectly free foot, the gambler grew bolder and bolder, until there was no longer any possibility of remaining blind to the fact that a scandal impended. Some of us talked it over very quietly and carefully, but it was agreed that no one213 ought to interfere, since Stein did not see fit to do so.

“We had begun to think that Stein was absolutely indifferent and to regard him with considerable contempt, when one evening he undeceived us, and gave us a great surprise by his manner of doing it. It was early in the evening, and, though we had gathered—perhaps a dozen of us—in the card-room, we had not yet begun playing when Stein came in, and, after fidgeting around for a minute or two in a manner quite unlike his usual phlegmatic way, spoke suddenly to Bradley.

“‘Look here, Bradley,’ he said in his broken English, ‘I must settle things with you. I have talked things with my wife, Lena, already, and she says she will go away with you. If she goes this world is no good to me any more, and you and I must settle if she goes or if she stays. I would kill you, but it would be foolishness to try214 that, for I am not a fighting man and you always carry your gun. Now, what shall we do? Will you go away and leave me my Lena, or will she go with you?’

“The poor Dutchman seemed not to understand in the least what an amazing sort of a speech this was. His voice trembled with his strong emotion, and there were tears in his eyes. The rest of us were struck dumb. I don’t know what the other fellows thought, but I know that there came to me a sort of hungry longing to organize a tar-and-feather party, with Dick Bradley as the principal guest. And, despite my contemptuous pity for the husband who showed so little manhood, I made up my mind that there was going to be fair play, anyhow.

“Bradley was fairly staggered. He flushed and stammered, and, I think, was for a moment about to say that he would go; but he pulled himself together, and seemed to remember that as a bad man215 he had a reputation to sustain. At length he said:

“‘It’s pretty hard to tell what to do, Stein. I’d be willing to fight you for the woman if you wanted to do that, but, as you don’t, I suppose she’d better settle it herself.’

“‘No,’ said the landlord. ‘She is foolish with you now, and she would have no sense about it. You and I will settle it now. And what will you do? Will you go away and leave us?’

“Bradley looked around, as if to see what the crowd thought about it, and perceiving at a glance that our sympathies were all with the other man, he replied:

“‘Well, if you won’t fight, supposing we settle it with the cards. I’ll play you a freeze-out, $1,000 against your wife. What do you say?’

“‘I say no,’ said Stein again, and we began almost to respect him. ‘I will not216 play my wife against your money, but I will play you a freeze-out for $1,000, my money against yours, and if you lose, you will go away. And if I lose, I will go away, and she may do what she likes. Only you will play a square game.’

“‘You bet, by ——, it’ll be a square game,’ said Jack Peters, the biggest man and the best card player in the party. ‘I don’t like your proposition, but that’s your business and not mine. But if you’re going to play, Stein, you may be perfectly sure that Bradley won’t try any cross-roads tricks in this freeze-out.’

“Bradley seated himself at the card table and said: ‘Get out your cards.’ At the same time he pulled out his wad and counted off the thousand. Stein got the cards and chips, and each man taking chips to represent his pile, the money was laid at one side. It did not seem like an even contest, for Stein was not a good player. I was delighted217 to notice, however, after they were fairly well going, that Stein was the cooler of the two. Bradley, I suppose, was a bit rattled by the consciousness that we were watching his play suspiciously.

“Bradley tried at first to force the play, and once or twice caught Stein for considerable money, but the game went on for perhaps twenty minutes without anything like a decisive result. Suddenly, as Stein was about to cut the cards, Jack Peters exclaimed:

“‘Shuffle ’em, Stein!’

“‘Can’t Stein play his own game?’ asked Bradley.

“‘I reckon he can,’ said Peters, ‘but in case the cards should happen to be stacked against him, and I found it out, there’d be a lynching right here in this town to-night. I don’t want that to happen, so I thought I’d make sure.’

“It was an unfair trick, for Bradley had218 not stacked the cards. He hadn’t dared to. But Peters told me afterward that he did it to ‘throw a scare’ into Bradley if he could. He succeeded, for the gambler lost his nerve when he looked around once more, while Stein remained as cool as before. He nodded and shuffled the cards and the game went on.

“The end came suddenly. It was a flush against a full, and Stein held the full and swept the board. There was a moment’s silence, and then Bradley said with a short laugh:

“‘Well, I’ve lost, and I’ll leave town on the morning train. That’ll do, I suppose, won’t it?’

“‘Yes, that’ll do,’ said Stein, gravely. He had won in the outrageous contest, and I expected to see him greatly elated, but instead he seemed curiously depressed. And as the situation was decidedly embarrassing for all hands we went to bed uncommonly219 early that night, so that everybody was up in time next morning to see Bradley go on the early train as he had agreed to do.”

“Well, yes,” said the gray-haired young-looking man, in answer to a question, “that is the end of the story, as far as the poker part of it goes. Of course there was this sequel. It was inevitable, I suppose. Lena followed Bradley a day or two afterward, and Stein drank himself to death.”


The Club’s Last Game

“It is sometimes hard to draw the line between a professional gambler and another,” said the gray-haired young-looking man in the club smoking-room. “And even if you do succeed in making the distinction clear, the comparison isn’t always to the detriment of the professional. I remember an instance in a poker club to which I once belonged, which was interesting enough, though it pointed no particular moral that I know of, unless it was by renewing the old doubt whether the devil is always as black as he is painted.

“Our club was rather a curious one in some respects, though we did not realize it224 at the time. It began with a little game in one of the New England cities where you have to keep very quiet about your card playing unless you don’t give a rap for your standing in the business community, to say nothing of your social position. I don’t know that people are so very much better in such communities than they are elsewhere, but there is a sort of general bluff made by common consent that shuts out open and flagrant offenders from companionship with those who have more regard for ‘the speech of people.’

“There were six of us in the party that used to meet every Saturday night at one another’s rooms, and it was as pleasant and harmonious a circle as I ever joined. We were all young business men, unmarried and prosperous, and all of excellent standing at that time. There was never a quarrel among us, in all our play, and for a long time the play was never heavy enough to hurt even the225 worst loser. It was almost always a fifty-cent limit, though we would often disregard the limit in the single round of consolation jack-pots with which we concluded every evening’s play.

“One of the number, whom I will call George, for I can’t give surnames in this story, because it is a true one, was transferred by the railroad company for which he worked to another city, forty odd miles away. Then Harry had an offer of a situation in a large wholesale house in another direction, and sold out his business to accept it. Eli married a rich girl in still another place, and he moved away, leaving only three of us in the same town, yet the Saturday evening games went on almost without interruption. Eli was, naturally enough, oftenest absent, but George and Harry would come in by rail, so that we always had four and almost always five at the table. Of course, as the old friendship226 was as warm as ever, we enjoyed the reunions even more keenly than we had. After a time the play grew harder. The limit was usually $2, and occasionally as high as $5, while it was lifted off altogether in the consolation pots, so that it was not unusual for one or two of us to be several hundred dollars ahead or behind at the end of the evening.

“Things went on this way for perhaps a couple of years before the smash came, and while some of us were not specially harmed by it, there is no doubt that our club did work serious mischief to at least two of the party. We didn’t know about it until afterward, but it was true that Harry had become so infatuated with cards that he had neglected his business and had lost his situation in the wholesale house, and then, instead of trying to get employment elsewhere, had devoted himself entirely to gambling, and had become a full-fledged227 professional. None of us had happened to learn of his discharge, and as he said nothing to us about it, we never suspected the truth till we learned it very strangely. He continued meeting with us, as usual, and in our company, at least, he never played anything but a straight game.

“As for George, we did know that he was playing a great deal, aside from his games with us, for he told us about it and we knew to our sorrow that he was particularly unlucky. He had some means, outside of his very good salary, so we didn’t suspect that he was financially involved. We did know, however, that he played in the heaviest games he could get into, and on more than one occasion he traveled two or three hundred miles in order to sit in at some game that he would hear of, where the stakes were likely to be unusually large. The railroad company kept him on the go a good part of the time, so he was able to manage228 this without really neglecting his work, and if the officials of the road had learned of his gambling habits they either underestimated the importance of them or they valued George’s services very highly, for he was promoted, not once, but two or three times. We therefore had a professional among us without knowing it, and another man who was playing further beyond his limit than we dreamed of, and still our little game went on, as pleasantly and serenely as if we were not drifting into a tragedy.

“One particular summer night we had a full table. Each one of the six was there, and all seemed unusually gay. The game was a good one, too, for the cards ran high and the luck ran from one to the other most delightfully. We started with the usual two-dollar limit, but it was broken two or three times without any remonstrance, so that after a couple of hours we were playing without any limit. Bets of $10 and even229 $20 were made frequently, and several times there was $100 in a jack-pot before cards were drawn.

“Eli had to go home by a train that went through about 1:30 o’clock, so the consolation pots were played a little before one. We had been playing about four hours then, and the luck had been running against George for half an hour. It was affecting him, too, and instead of waiting for a turn he had been trying to force it, so that he was considerably dipped, and I for one was hoping that he would recoup in one or two pots in the last round. He didn’t, though. On the contrary, he came into each of the first five, standing all the raises before the draw, and drawing to one card, on the chance of getting an accidental hand. It was wretchedly poor play, of course, but he was trying desperately to force the luck.

“On the last deal I thought he had a chance, for he opened the pot for $20. It230 had gone around for three or four deals, so it was a good pot to start with, and after it was opened it grew rapidly. We all came in, and Harry raised it ten. George went back at him with twenty more, and we all came in.

“On the draw George took two cards, Harry two, and Eli one. The rest of us took three each, but as none of us bettered his pair, we dropped our cards, leaving the three to fight it out. George bet fifty, and Eli, who sat next, raised it fifty. Harry came in and raised it ten. It looked a little queer, but I remembered then that Harry had been playing more moderately than any of the rest of us all the evening. George put up fifty more, and Eli made good. He had filled a small flush, but sitting between two raisers he didn’t care to play too hard on it. Harry raised it ten again, and George showed his excitement plainly.

231 “‘A hundred better,’ he almost shouted, putting up the money.

“Eli laid his hand on the table, but Harry put up a hundred and ten.

“‘Another hundred,’ said George, now fairly trembling.

“‘Ten more,’ said Harry, as cool as ever.

“‘Five hundred better,’ exclaimed George.

“‘Ten more.’

“‘A thousand better,’ said George, and Harry hesitated.

“‘I have you beaten, George,’ he said, after a moment, ‘but I don’t want to play any higher. This is getting altogether too heavy for our party. I’ll call you.’

“‘It isn’t too heavy for me,’ said George, almost insultingly. ‘I’ll go you another thousand on my hand if you will stand it.’

“‘No,’ said Harry, still as cool as possible. ‘I won’t go any higher. I have called you.’

232 “George laid down an ace full, and looked with confident expectation to see Harry surrender, but instead he showed down four eights. ‘I was pretty sure,’ he said quietly.

“George’s face turned white, and we all saw that he was hard hit, though we didn’t suspect even then that it was so serious as it was.

“‘I’ll have to give you a check for that last thousand,’ he said, faltering, for he had not put up the money on the last bet. We had always settled up before separating at night, but it was not unusual for checks to pass among us, though we had never had so much money up before.

“‘That’s all right,’ said Harry, and to my surprise his voice trembled when he spoke. ‘The fact is,’ he continued after he had swallowed once or twice in the effort to get control of himself—‘the fact is, I’m not going to take your money, George. I have233 been playing this game for fun, and I don’t think I was doing you fellows any harm by playing with you, for I have always played square, and I’ve never taken any of your money to speak of; but the fact is, I have been a professional gambler for a year past, and I have been sailing under false colors. I don’t say that I wouldn’t do that anywhere else, but I wouldn’t do it among my old friends. Take back your money, George. I don’t believe you can afford to lose it, and I wouldn’t take it if you could.’

“This was sufficiently surprising, but what George said was even more so, to the rest of us, for we knew that he wasn’t above playing with professionals elsewhere.

“‘I wouldn’t take it back,’ he said with a sneer, ‘if the game had been above board, but if, as you say, you have been sailing under false colors, I think I can take it without any loss of self-respect.’ And he pocketed the money which Harry pushed234 over to him, after deducting what he himself had put in.

“It was the last game we ever played together, and we broke up with a feeling of constraint that we had never had before. Our good-nights were said in the usual words, but the tone was that of curious embarrassment. We could not feel the same toward either of the two, but I think we all felt far more respect for Harry than we did for George.

“I am quite sure we all did after we read in the papers two weeks later that George had absconded with a considerable amount of the company’s money. It appeared from the published accounts that he had been a defaulter for some months, though he had concealed the fact by falsifying his books, so that he was really playing with stolen money when he pretended a superiority to Harry.

“I never saw either of the two men again,235 and as I tell you, we never had another meeting of the club. As for me, I have never played poker since for any considerable stakes. When the game gets so large that it is a question of money instead of the fun of the game itself, I always drop out.”

Press of J. J. Little & Co.
Astor Place, New York

Transcriber’s Notes

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.

Transcriber removed duplicate chapter headings.

The floral decoration on the Title page represents a similar but angled decoration in the original book.