THIRTEEN, black, odd and second dozen!” The group gathered around the black and red painted table broke into a nervous laugh at the sound of the number condemned by usage as unlucky.
“I can’t buck thirteen! She’s a repeater to-night.”
A jovial, red-faced drummer counted a few five and ten-cent pieces, all that was left of his pile, and laughingly made his way toward the door. The croupier ordered a milk and Vichy and suspended the play while he drank solemnly. It was a welcome respite for the winners, but a hud ordeal for those who were losing— this waiting for the little ivory ball to go whirring again over the wheel and rattling across the brasses.
Wallace Grant, wondered vaguely how these men could have laughed. He tried to remember when he had last felt in the mood for laughter and the thought came to him-with sickening insistence that he would never have cause to feel glad again.
Thirteen ! and he, with a gambler’s curious superstition had been hammering twenty-four, the present date, all the evening. He left his place and paced nervously the length of the room, stopping near a green-covered, crescent-shaped table where the heavy sports were playing stud. He lighted a cigarette with hands that shook pitifully and stood watching the play.
“The gentleman raises a hundred,’’ cried the dealer crisply. “Does anybody like the looks of it? No? It’s all yours, sir,” and he pushed a huge pile of blue chips and yellow notes toward a stolid, heavy-faced man who apparently awoke from a sound sleep to reach for them.
Wallace gazed at the puffy-eyed man hungrily. A fierce envy leavened by personal hope arose in him at the sight of the gambler’s success. He drew a gasping breath, but the hot, smoke-laden air choked him and he turned again toward the roulette table.
“Once again, gentlemen,” the croupier was saying. “ ’Round and ’round she goes; where she'll stop nobody knows.”
The ball started with a harsh whirr which lessened little by little as the ivory dropped towards the boxes. Then came the clickety-click-click-chcA' of the las ■ moment, of supreme suspense before the little sphere, the soulless bearer of a world of wild hopes and bitter disappointments dropped, satisfied, into its bucket.
Wallace pushed his way again toward the wheel. He glanced around the room as he went, noting the familiar details calmly. It. would be the last, time, anyway, no matter what happened.
He noticed the little Italian who frequented the place nightly, perched on his stool at the far end of the board. So things were going badly with Giovanni too, thought Wallace. It was easy to see
how luck went with the excitable little foreigner. On evenings when he won, his face beamed with happiness and he made a nuisance of himself by his noisy mirth. But when the numbers ran adversely, as now, his distress was tragic. Heretofore, Wallace had been able to see the amusing side of the scene, but to-night the tragedy stood out gaunt and bare, a skeleton stripped of all the graces of jest and humor.
He asked for chips in a dispirited, hopeless manner. Kaleidoscopic glimpses of his récent life passed like flashes through his mind while he screwed up his courage to resume his play. In the early Montreal spring he had been drawn by new companions into a gayer, faster life than was his wont. His habits became more expensive than he could afford. Then came debt, a new element in his hitherto wellregulated existence and one with which his inexperience found it difficult to cope. He remembered how he had confided his troubles to the reckless leader of the little set which had welcomed him to its midst after a first chance meeting.
“Try Donahue’s,” had been the careless answer. Clarendon was going there himself that evening for a flier and would introduce him.
He had won that first night! Oh yes, he had won! Not enough to relieve his difficulties—Fate, with her usual irony, had seen to that-—but enough so that he had been able to be a prince of good fellows during a wild revel in the small hours. The next night had found him again watching the ball spin. And then memories crowded thick and fast, hurting him.
He came out of his reverie with a start and found himself standing beside Giovanni. The Italian’s luck had turned and he was chattering gaily to his neighbors, to the croupier, to anyone who would listen while he placed his bets.
Wallace realized that he had to play.
He began by betting small amounts on number twenty-four, loth to relinquish his superstition. Time and again his money covered the small circle that seemed to fascinate him and time and again it was swept away. He knew what he would do if he lost! There was nothing that he could do to avert -it. He groaned and went very white. Trembling he’hedged
on a color bet—and lost. His hand sought his pocket and found a crumpled note. With a convulsive movement he crushed the note back into his pocket and turned as though to go. Then he laughed to himself harshly. Flee from what? Where to? No! he must stay until the game was played out and then—well— the end.
He shoved his all across the board, placing it on his favorite number, twentyfour. Then he turned his back to the table.
The ball spun. Wallace heard the whirr through ages of agonized waiting— then the click on the brasses—and he wanted to cry out that he couldn’t bear it. The croupier’s voice began sleepily, “Twenty”—Wallace felt a thrill from head to foot—-“three, red, odd and second dozen,” it continued mercilessly. Wallace uttered a low cry and his knees weakened under him. tie staggered blindly from the table and heard someone behind him say contemptuously, '“You take it pretty hard, Sport!”
The cruelty of it! Hard! Of course he took it hard. He looked up and saw the proprietor, watching him from the door cf the faro room. A thought struck him and with it came another rush of hope. Donahue was a fat, good-natured Irishman who seemed to take it seriously to heart when his customers dropped their money in his place and who congratulated them with beaming heartiness upon their successes.
“Donahue,” he said in a choked whisper, “I’m up against it!”
“Hov’ ye losht ag’in, Misther Grant?” The genial gambler was commiseration personified.
“Yes—I—I’ve lost again.” Wallace whispered as he drew his companion out of earshot of the group around the faro layout.
“Now—now, thot’s too bad,” Donahue’s face wore an expression of deepest gloom.
Wallace stood biting his nails and wondering how sincere was the sorrow apparently expressed with such vividness in the other’s countenance. “Donahue,” he began shakily, “Could you—that is— w-will you lend me some money to carry me through? I—I’m up against it.”
“Now—now, ain’t thot too bad, Misther Grant? I feel just like if me own brother had told me thot.” Donahue shook his head dolefully. “Just as if you was me brother,” he said slowly. Then he braced himself as for an effort and hurried through the rest of his speech, “an’ if it was me brother, Misther Grant, I couldn’t do a t’ing fer him—not a dom t’ing. Fer why? Well, I don’t lind to no wan.”
Wallace drew his breath with a quick intake and a look of sudden resolution came into his shifting eyes.
“Donahue,” he said, his voice hardening to a more forceful note, “I must have this money—two hundred I need. If you don’t come up with it quick you’ll be sorry.” His hand shot into his pocket and drew out a pistol. He held it concealed from all except the proprietor.
“Look!” he cried.
An amused twinkle played in the Irishman’s eyes as he glanced at it. “So ye’re goin’ to hold me up fer two hund’ed bones right in me own place—eh? An’ if I don’t come up ye’re goin’ to assassinate me with thot?” He pointed contemptuously at the shining thing. “Now—now ain’t it funny !”
“Shoot you? Not by a d-m sight,”
Wallace said tensely. He covered the pistol with his handkerchief and held it to his breast. “That’s where the bullet will go in just one minute if you don’t loosen. Where will vour pretty, gilt hell be then —and your hundred thousand dollar income—after the police have butted in?”
The gambler gazed for a long minute coldly into the eyes of the man who threatened him. “Ye do seem to be in throuble, an’ thot’s a fact,” he said slowly. “Now suppose ye tell me all about it.”
Wallace wilted and slipping his revolver into his coat pocket, said hoarsely, “Mv God, Donahue, I—I’m short at the bank !”
“Why didn’t ye say so in the firrst place?” cried Donahue fiercely. “I may îun a gamblin’ j’int but I don’t want the icon of anny mon on me conscience. An’ wan t’ing more—don’t think yer bluff scared me—fer it didn’t. Now will two hund’ed fix ye up?”
“Yes,” faltered Wallace. He lied when he said it, but he thought it was all he could get.
“Here,” said Donahue, not unkindly. He handed Wallace a roll of bills, walked over to the faro layout and became absorbed in watching the deal.
Wallace stood irresolute for a moment on the threshold looking first at his benefactor and then longingly at the roulette wheel in the other room. With a sudden jesture of relief he stole furtively back to his old place.
Sitting down, he drew Donahue’s money from his pocket and gazed at it earnestly as it lay in his hand, shadowed by the edge of the table. Here was enough certainly to make good the check that he had recklessly drawn and cashed that afternoon but it was not enough to cover the forced loans of which he had previously been guilty. The bank that employed him was merciless in matters of this kind.
“Ten bets of twenty dollars each on a thirty-five to one shot,” he murmured, “One of them must make good and then I’d be square—square.” He turned to a neighbor and asked, “How have the numbers been running? Never mind colors.”
“Low—a whole bunch of first dozens and the 0 and double 0 every other trip, pretty near,” said the man, plastering the l umbers from one to ten as he spoke.
Wallace laid a bill on number one and awaited results.
“Number ten, black, even and first dozen,” sang the new croupier cheerily after the ball had stepped. Wallace was not dismayed—he had plenty of ammunition. He played the 0 four times only to hear one. two, six called, and then double
He began to get worried and changed his bet to the latter number. As the ball fell the croupier called, “Single O.” Hot tears of rage and helplessness sprang into Wallace’s eyes at this last blow of Fate. Could he not win? Was it an impossibility? There were now only four bets left him.
His mind became chaotic—he played in a panic, an insane light raging in his eyes. Once—he lost—twice—and only two bets left. Now the third was gone. And after the next? There was no loophole now. If he lost—he drew a long shuddering breath at the thought—the game would be over—The game! He laughed bitterly at the misnomer.
He placed his last bet on 0, a mist clouding his brain. He was conscious of no feeling of suspense. A great peace encompassed him. Poor human endurance had reached its limit and he would rest. After the drop of the ball came a voice from a great distance, calling and mocking him with, “Thirty-six, red, even and third dozen.”
His hand sought his coat pocket. A
flash—a sharp report—and Donahue came tearing through the press of panic-stricken men who were trying to escape from the place of danger. He bent over the prostrate form for a moment. Then he straightened himself and wiped the sweat from his brow.
“The ongrateful cur!” he said, with a deep-toned curse, the passion of which shook his frame.
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