MoboReader> Literature > The End of the World: A Love Story

   Chapter 26 A NICE LITTLE GAME.

The End of the World: A Love Story By Edward Eggleston Characters: 13186

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

It was natural enough that the "mud-clerk" on the old steamboat Iatan should take a fancy to the "striker," as the engineer's apprentice was called. Especially since the striker know so much more than the mud-clerk, and was able to advise him about many things. A striker with so much general information was rather a novelty, and all the officers fancied him, except Sam Munson, the second engineer, who had a natural jealousy of a striker that knew more than he did.

The striker had learned rapidly, and was trusted to stand a regular watch. The first engineer and the third were together, and the second engineer and the striker took the other watch. The boat in this way got the services of a competent engineer while paying him only a striker's wage.

About the time the heavily-laden Iatan turned out of the Mississippi into the Ohio at Cairo at six in the evening, the striker went off watch, and he ought to have gone to bed to prepare himself for the second watch of the night, especially as he would only have the dog-watch between that and the forenoon. But a passenger had got aboard at Cairo, whose face was familiar. The sight of it had aroused a throng of old associations, pleasant and unpleasant, and a throng of emotions the most tender and the most wrathful the striker had ever felt. Sleep he could not, and so, knowing that the mud-clerk was on watch, he sought the office after nine o'clock, and stood outside the bar talking to his friend, who had little to do, since most of the freight had been shipped through, and his bills for Paducah were all ready. The striker talked with the mud-clerk, but watched the throng of passengers who drank with each other at the bar, smoked in the "social hall," read and wrote at the tables in the gentlemen's cabin, or sat with doffed hats and chatted gallantly in the ladies' cabin, which was visible as a distant background, seen over a long row of tables with green covers and under a long row of gilded wooden stalactites, which were intended to be ornamental. The little pendent prisms beneath the chandeliers rattled gayly as the boat trembled at each stroke of her wheels, and gaping backwoodsmen, abroad for the first time, looked at all the rusty gingerbread-work, and wondered if kings were able to afford anything half so fine as the cabin of the "palatial steamer Iatan," as she was described on the bills. The confused murmur of many voices, mixed with the merry tinkling of the glass pendants, gave the whole an air of excitement.

But the striker did not see the man he was looking for. "Who got on at Cairo? I think I saw a man from our part of the country," he said.

"I declare, I don't know," said the mud-clerk, who drawled his words in a cold-blooded way. "Let me look. Here's A. Robertson, and T. Le Fevre, and L.B. Sykes, and N. Anderson."

"Where is Anderson going?"

"Paid through to Louisville. Do you know him?"

But just then Norman Anderson himself walked in, and went up to the bar with a new acquaintance. They did not smoke the pipe of peace, like red Americans, but, like white Americans, they had a mysterious liquid carefully compounded, and by swallowing this they solemnly sealed their new-made friendship after the curious and unexplained rite in use among their people.

Norman had been dispatched on a collecting trip, and having nine hundred and fifty dollars in his pocket, he felt as much elated as if it had been his own money. The gentleman with whom he drank, had a band of crape around his white hat. He seemed very nearsighted.

"If that greeny is a friend of yours, Gus, I declare you'd better tell him not to tie to the serious-looking young fellow in the white hat and gold specs, unless he means to part with all his loose change before bed-time."

That is what the mud-clerk drawled to August the striker, but the striker seemed to hear the words as something spoken afar off. For just then he was seeing a vision of a drunken mob, and a rope, and a pleading woman, and a brave old man threatened with death. Just then he heard harsh and muddled voices, rude oaths, and jeering laughter, and above it all the sweet pleading of a little girl begging for a father's life. And the quick blood came into his fair German face, and he felt that he could not save this Norman Anderson from the toils of the gambler, though he might, if provoked, pitch him over the guard of the boat. For was not Andrew's letter, which described the mob, in his pocket, and burning a hole in his pocket as it had been ever since he received it?

But then this was Julia's brother, and there was nothing he would not do for Julia. So, sometime after the mud-clerk had ceased to speak, the striker gave utterance to both impulses by replying, "He's no friend of mine," a little crisply, and then softly adding, "Though I shouldn't like to see him fleeced."

By this time a new actor had appeared on the scene in the person of a man with a black mustache and side-whiskers, who took a seat behind a card-table near the bar.

"H'llo!" said the mud-clerk in a low and lazy voice, "Parkins is back again. After his scrape at Paducah last February, he disappeared, and he's been shady ever since. He's growed whiskers since, so's not to be recognized. But he'll be skeerce enough when we get to Paducah. Now, see how quick he'll catch the greenies, won't you?" The prospect was so charming as almost to stimulate the mud-clerk to speak with some animation.

But August Wehle, the striker on the Iatan, had an uncomfortable feeling that he had seen that face before, and that the long mustache and side-whiskers had grown in a remarkably short space of time. Could it be that there were two men who could spread a smile over the lower half of their faces in that automatic way, while the spider-eyes had no sort of sympathy with it? Surely, this man with black whiskers and mustache was not just like the singing-master at Sugar-Grove school-house, who had "red-top hay on to his upper lip," and yet--and yet--

"Gentlemen," said Parkins--his Dickensian name would be Smirkins--"I want to play a little game just for the fun of the thing. It is a trick with three cards. I put down three cards, face up. Here is six of diamonds, eight of spades, and the ace of hearts. Now, I will turn them over so quickly that I will defy any of you to tell which is the ace. Do you see? Now, I would like to bet the wine for the company that no gentleman here can turn up the ace. All I want is a little sport. Something to pass away the evening and amuse the company. Who will bet the wine? Th

e Scripture says that the hand is quicker than the eye, and I warn you that if you bet, you will probably lose." And here he turned the cards back, with their faces up, and the card which everybody felt sure was the ace proved apparently to be that card. Most of the on-lookers regretted that they had not bet, seeing that they would certainly have won. Again the cards were put face down, and the company was bantered to bet the wine. Nobody would bet.


After a good deal of fluent talk, and much dexterous handling of the cards, in a way that seemed clear enough to everybody, and that showed that everybody's guess was right as to the place of the ace, the near-sighted gentleman, who had drunk with Norman, offered to bet five dollars.

"Five dollars!" returned Parkins, laughing in derision, "five dollars! Do you think I'm a gambler? I don't want any gentleman's money. I've got all the money I need. However, if you would like to bet the wine with me, I am agreed."

The near-sighted gentleman declined to wager anything but just the five dollars, and Parkins spurned his proposition with the scorn of a gentleman who would on no account bet a cent of money. But he grew excited, and bantered the whole crowd. Was there no gentleman in the crowd who would lay a wager of wine for the company on this interesting little trick? It was strange to him that no gentleman had spirit enough to make the bet. But no gentleman had spirit enough to bet the wine. Evidently there were no gentlemen in the company.

However, the near-sighted man with the white hat adorned with crape now proposed in a crusty tone to bet ten dollars that he could lift the ace. He even took out a ten-dollar bill, and, after examining it, in holding it close to his nose as a penurious man might, extended his hand with, "If you're in earnest, let's know it. I'll bet you ten."

At this Parkins grew furious. He had never been so persistently badgered in all his life. He'd have the gentleman know that he was not a gambler. He had all the money he wanted, and as for betting ten dollars, he shouldn't think of it. But now that the gentleman--he said gentleman with an emphasis--now that the gentleman seemed determined to bet money, he would show him that he was not to be backed down. If the young man would like to wager a hundred dollars, he would cheerfully bet with him. If the gentleman did not feel able to bet a hundred dollars, he hoped he would not say any more about it. He hadn't intended to bet money at all. But he wouldn't bet less than a hundred dollars with anybody. A man who couldn't afford to lose a hundred dollars, ought not to bet.

"Who is this fellow in the white hat with spectacles?" August asked of the mud-clerk.

"That is Smith, Parkins's partner. He is only splurging round to start up the greenies." And the mud-clerk spoke with an indifference and yet a sort of dilettante interest in the game that shocked his friend, the striker.

"Why don't they set these blacklegs ashore?" said August, whose love of justice was strong.

"You tell," drawled the mud-clerk. "The first clerk's tried it, but the old man protects 'em, and" (in a whisper) "get's his share, I guess. He can set them off whenever he wants to." (I must explain that there is only one "old man" on a steamboat--that is, the captain.)

By this time Parkins had turned and thrown his cards so that everybody knew or thought he knew where the ace was. Smith, the man with the white hat, now rose five dollars more and offered to bet fifteen. But Parkins was more indignant than ever. He told Smith to go away. He thrust his hand into his pocket and drew out a handful of twenty-dollar gold-pieces. "If any gentleman wants to bet a hundred dollars, let him come on. A man who couldn't lose a hundred would better keep still."

Smith now made a big jump. He'd go fifty. Parkins wouldn't listen to fifty. He had said that he wouldn't bet less than a hundred, and he wouldn't. He now pulled out handful after handful of gold, and piled the double-eagles up like a fortification in front of him, while the crowd surged with excitement.

At last Mr. Smith, the near-sighted gentleman in spectacles, the gentleman who wore black crape on a white hat, concluded to bet a hundred dollars. He took out his little porte-monnaie and lifted thence a hundred-dollar bill.

"Well," said he angrily, "I'll bet you a hundred." And he laid down the bill. Parkins piled five twenty-dollar gold-pieces atop it. Each man felt that he could lift the ace in a moment. That card at the dealer's right was certainly the ace. Norman was sure of it. He wished it had been his wager instead of Smith's. But Parkins stopped Smith a moment.

"Now, young man," he said, "if you don't feel perfectly able to lose that hundred dollars, you'd better take it back."

"I am just as able to lose it as you are," said Smith snappishly, and to everybody's disappointment he lifted not the card everybody had fixed on, but the middle one, and so lost his money.

"Why didn't you take the other?" said Norman boastfully. "I knew it was the ace."

"Why didn't you bet, then?" said Smith, grinning a little. Norman wished he had. But he had not a hundred dollars of his own, and he had scruples--faint, and yet scruples, or rather alarms--at the thought of risking his employer's money on a wager. While he was weighing motive against motive, Smith bet again, and again, to Norman's vexation, selected a card that was so obviously wrong that Norman thought it a pity that so near-sighted a man should bet and lose. He wished he had a hundred dollars of his own and--There, Smith was betting again. This time he consulted Norman before making his selection, and of course turned up the right card, remarking that he wished his eyes were so keen! He would win a thousand dollars before bed-time if his eyes were so good! Then he took Norman into partnership, and Norman found himself suddenly in possession of fifty dollars, gotten without trouble. This turned his brain. Nothing is so intoxicating to a weak man as money acquired without toil. So Norman continued to bet, sometimes independently, sometimes in partnership with, the gentlemanly Smith. He was borne on by the excitement of varying fortune, a varying fortune absolutely under control of the dealer, whose sleight-of-hand was perfect. And the varying fortune had an unvarying tendency in the long run--to put three stakes out Of five into the pockets of the gamblers, who found the little game very interesting amusement for gentlemen.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top