Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Queer Luck - Poker Stories from the New York Sun
Author: Curtis, David A.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Queer Luck - Poker Stories from the New York Sun" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Queer Luck



  Queer Luck

  Poker Stories from the New York Sun

  By
  David A. Curtis

      ❦

  New York
  Brentano’s
  1899



  COPYRIGHT, 1896, 1897, 1898, BY
  THE SUN PRINTING AND PUBLISHING ASSOCIATION

  COPYRIGHT, 1899, BY
  BRENTANO’S



Contents


                                               PAGE

  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



_THE EXCITEMENT OF A PHENOMENAL STRUGGLE TOOK HIM TO THE VERGE OF
DISHONOR_


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. Two
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 the 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.”

“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 blue 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 was 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,
and 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.

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. The 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.

“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 it 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 climax 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, 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.”

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 brains 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



_AN OLD GAME UNDER NEW CIRCUMSTANCES_


“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.

“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 fellows 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 the 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 could 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 if 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.’

“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:

“‘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
high 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 other 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 I
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, 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?”

“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



_ENDING OF A POKER GAME IN FLOOD TIME IN ARKANSAS CITY_


“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 East 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 enforce 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 of 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 it 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 effort 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 saw 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 very
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 toward 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 been 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 right 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 bewilderment 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’s 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.

“‘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, 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.

“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 his 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, he 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.
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



_VARIOUS YARNS, INCLUDING ONE OF THE MAN AND THE OPAL_


“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 stories 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 been 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,
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, that 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 he 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 ace 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, 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
to 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. 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 foolish
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. 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. He 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 a 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 a
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



_IT CAME NEAR COSTING HIS LIFE AND ANOTHER’S_


“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, 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 to 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, though 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 new
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 on 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.

“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, as 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 we 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, watching 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 not 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 all
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.

“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, 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, as 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



_A POKER GAME IN MINNESOTA THAT HAD POLITICAL IMPORTANCE_


“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. Such
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 all 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 aspirants 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 was 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 was 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 me 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. It
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 us 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 each 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.’
“‘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 to 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 that 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.

“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



_THE USE THE LOBBY USED TO MAKE OF POKER_


“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 that 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 accomplished 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, 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 be 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 club 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 had 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 day 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, for 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 before 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 was 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 pretty 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
check 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 when 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 showdown 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



_A BOUT WITH CARD SHARPERS ON A MISSISSIPPI BOAT_


“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 may 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.

“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--almost 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 other
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 moment 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, 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
conclusion 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.

“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. 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 went 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 corner 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.’

“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’t 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 he
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 at 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 discarded 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 it 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 the 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”



_HOW A WESTERN CROOK HAD FUN WITH SOME SHARP NEW YORKERS_


“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-known
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 champagne 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 was
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 until ’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 accommodated 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 changing 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
particularly 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 had 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 four 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 going 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.’

“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 next 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, 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
small 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 resulted 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
naturally 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 marvelous
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



_HE WAS BETTING ON A JACK-POT WHEN THE YACHT UPSET_


“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.

“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 we 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 not 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 talking 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 raised 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--the
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 that 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.

“‘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,’ he 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



_ONE OF THE DUTIES OF AN OLD-TIME MISSISSIPPI RIVER PACKET CAPTAIN_


“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
and 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 the 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 Orleans 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 him 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 this 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 game 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.

“‘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
largest 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 uneven 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 door 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 wore 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
there 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 passed 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:

“‘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 contemptuous 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.

“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.

“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 saw 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. 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



_A FREEZE-OUT GAME BETWEEN A HUSBAND AND HIS RIVAL_


“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, 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
indifference 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
he 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, 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, stopping 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-roads 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, as 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 one
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 try 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 man 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 not 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 delighted
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 had 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 uncommonly 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 TAUGHT AN INTERESTING MORAL ABOUT RAISING THE LIMIT_


“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 it 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 the 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 friendship 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-fledged 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 manage 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
even $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. It 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.

“‘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.’

“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 have 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 pushed 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, 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.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Queer Luck - Poker Stories from the New York Sun" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home