Many complications may occur on an ocean voyage, particularly if your wife gets sea-sick, and you get into a poker game for “company’s sake.”
MRS. ED. ROMAN settled her skirts and leaned back luxuriously in the deck chair beside her husband while a narrow-chested deck steward fluttered obsequiously in the background, ministering to her comfort.
“Well, here we are at last, Ed.,” she observed complacently, as her eyes swept the unbeautiful lines of the freight shed, that nosed its way on the cement pier far out into the river, making an unseemly excrescence on the shore line. Her eyes turned to the leave-taking throng that swarmed the decks of the S.S. Maronia, berthed beside the pier.
“I wonder what the folks back home would say if they could only see us now; Chet Dodson and Mrs. Chet for instance?” She leaned over and nudged her husband, playfully.
He endeavored not to look self-conscious as he answered: “You bet! You’ll have something to write the Literary Society about. You mustn’t forget your notes for your lectures to them. They won’t need to know we started from here instead of New York because it’s cheaper. Pretty good work, Mother.”
His eyes wandered in approval, not of the objects upon which they rested so much as upon his own presence amongst them, over the low-lying shore line, the awkward looking freighters and the fussy tug-boats that dotted the sun-lit harbor of the port of Montreal.
“It’s been a long time, old girl,” he said, tenderly, and glancing hurriedly around to assure himself that the steward had departed, he reached over and pressed her worn hand. Her eyes filled with tears, and there was silence between them as they sat thus, oblivious to the crowd around them, and absorbed in their own past.
“Yes, it’s been a long, long time,” he repeated, more to himself than to her. And suddenly turning to her, “Sometimes, Ma, I thought maybe the neighbors were right,
and we’d never make it, and you’d be cheated out of your wedding trip after all those years of waiting and slaving and saving. Everybody we knew would have laughed at us. After having said for all these years that we were going, and after having denied ourselves and missed all the fun they had and that we might have had —and then to miss this too ...”
His wife sighed. “It would have been terrible. But the Lord was with us, Ed.”
“Yes,” he agreed, reverently, “the Lord was with us.” The elderly couple smiled trustfully at one another.
SUDDENLY the woman stiffened in her chair and clutched the man’s arm. “Good land, Ed! What have you done with the money orders? Are they all right?”
“All right, old girl, trust me,” he assured her with a lordly air, and smiting his breast, added, “right here.” “Are you quite sure?” she demanded anxiously. “Let me see.”
In spite of his own certainty, some of her anxiety communicated itself to her husband. He hurriedly thrust his hand into his breast-pocket, withdrawing it to open across his knees a large leather bill-fold, full of crinkly money orders. He counted them. There were ten, each for one hundred dollars. His wife leaned back with an exclamation of relief.
“Land! I was that scared for a minute. How about the return ticket? Where is it?” she demanded sharply, freshly alarmed.
“Oh, it’s all right; locked up safe in the trunk. We won’t need it for two months anyhow,” Roman reassured her. “Quit worrying, Ma,” he added kindly, “and let’s you and me have a good time. That’s what we’re here for, you know.”
“All right, Ed., I will,” she promised, “only when I
think of what we’ve been through to get this trip it gives me cold shivers . . .”
Her husband shook his head understandingly. “Sure, I know, Mother. Feel the same way myself. But that’s all right now. Come on,” he rose. “We’re leaving. Let’s watch.”
There were hoarse shouts of men, the chugging of tugboats, a series of long, drawn-out, deafening blasts from the Maronia, interspersed with shrill cries of'farewell, broken here and there by sobs. In the mild hysteria of departure the couple stood at the rail and waved their handkerchiefs gaily at nothing in particular but because everyone else was waving. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the high cement wall of the pier began to edge away from them. Faces on it grew dimmer. The ship itself seemed to stand still. Nevertheless in a few minutes the Maronia was in midstream.
Ed., as though it had been he who had thus skilfully manoeuvred the ship, exclaimed in triumph: “Horray! We’re off for Europe!”
The couple strolled about the deck like victors, as though all they saw belonged to them; the promenading passengers, the hurrying stewards, the bare-footed sailors still struggling with a mountain of baggage over the ship’s hold, and the ship itself, stupendous to their eyes. It was almost with condescension that they observed the low-lying shores of the St. Lawrence, narrow farms, and green-shuttered, white houses of the habitants slipping by.
“This is what I call life, Mother,” Roman announced with the air of a discoverer. He squeezed his wife’s arm ecstatically.
“Yes, this is living, Eddie.”
He glanced at her, in astonishment, at this unexpected reversion to the long disused name of his youth.
“Well,” he announced delightedly to all who might
care to hear, “this sure is our honeymoon trip, if it is a little late!”
AT THE summons of the beaten gong, they followed the crowd with a high sense of excitement. Eagerly searching the faces of their fellow passengers who crowded the stairway, they speculated as to which of them they would come to know. At dinner they found themselves facing another couple; a middle-aged business-like type of man and a striking-looking girl:
“Jennings, is my name,” the man announced briskly, and waved his fork, “My daughter. I see we’re going to sit together, so I expect we’d better introduce ourselves,” a sentiment in which the Romans concurred, flushing as they wondered if they had been remiss in not speaking before.
On Roman’s left was a well-dressed man, considerably younger than himself, who murmured his way politely but without enthusiasm through the general introductions except in the brief moment when he bowed to the Jennings girl, and thereafter, much to Roman’s chagrin, fell silent. Starret was his name; “stuck-up,” Roman mentally dubbed him. None the less, he was impressed by Starret’s clothes and general air of material well-being and athomeness, in surroundings, so confusing to himself. The others at the table either split up into their own little cliques or were too far away for conversation. The Jennings and Starret became the sole meal-time props of the Romans.
Roman was up at dawn the next morning, tremendously interested in the swabbing of decks by grumpy, bare-footed sailors whom he regarded with awe as men of the sea. He was childishly disappointed to find they were still in the river. But his disappointment was mitigated by the information that they had dropped the pilot at Rimouski before dawn. They would shortly pass Father Point and then be well on their way.
He was curiously pleased to find, at breakfast, that the impressive Starret had also chosen the second sitting, and felt immensely confirmed in his own decision, made with visions of late breakfasts and conversational lingerings over after-dinner coffee such as he had read about, and which might be denied one in the hurry of the first sitting. Roman planned to abandon himself to a life of luxury. He attempted conversation, conveying the news he had gleaned. Starret was obviously disinterested; merely polite, and the meal finished in silence.
' After breakfast and a short walk, his wife elected to sit down, but Roman walked around and around, looking for someone to confide in, to rid himself of the impressions that swelled within him. He wondered, pathetically, how
such acquaintance was managed on board ship. Every few minutes he passed his wife’s chair and they beamed understandingly at one another. No one else noticed him.
JENNINGS was immersed in his own crowd, oblivious to Roman’s appealing glances. Starret had disappeared. “An old traveler, I guess,” he thought sadly, and continued to tramp. He found his wife fast asleep, so proceeded to explore the ship. A pervading light-heartedness intoxicated him; so many people intent solely on pleasure, walking, talking, laughing and playing their strange deck games—the narrow stairs in unexpected places leading down to mysterious depths and up to more amazing heights with view of Gulf and sky—the chatter, the salt air, and the terrifying, delightful strangeness of it all sw'ept over him in revivifying surges—he, Ed. Roman, elderly bank clerk, of Shooter, Saskatchewan, was no longer old; he was one of them and a king! He flung his arms out in a supreme gesture of disdain of his fifty years of useless living and sniffed again the strong salt air of the mysterious sea; and shouted inarticulately to it.
Everywhere he saw men and women reacting, accord, ing to their natures, to the life of the ship. They ardently embraced the freedom of its curiously detached relationships, its sinkings of pasts, its opening of new vistas to parched souls. Men and women, strangers an hour ago, talked now with the intimacy of years ashore; lovers loved and the knitting women in the deck chairs gossiped; men pursued and girls evaded; and shrill-voiced children played with a new intensity all born of the sea. In a quiet corner he was amazed to find the striking looking Miss Jennings and the unapproachable Starret chatting gaily like old friends—or were they chatting? ..¿j ^. i
At tiffin he affected the blase man of the world. He awakened his wife to introduce her to the amazement of a mid-morning cup of boullion and biscuit. Nonchalantly he intimated the further possibility of afternoon tea. But she spoilt his effect: “Land sakes!” she expostu-
lated. “Of. all the meals! . . . well, I’m beat!”
BY THE end of the day they were almost out of sight of land. Roman was glad when darkness came that he might imagine they were in the open sea. In spite of her quiet day, his wife went to bed early. He was insatiable, and tramped the upper deck earnestly for hours, buffeting the wind, pausing only to drink in the rare beauty of the night, the scudding clouds that slipped raggedly across the moon, or, with eyes suddenly opened to beauty, to dwell on the path of the moonlight on a silver sea.
Once in his tramping, he ran into a couple sitting against a life-boat. The man’s arm was around the girl.
He recognized them for the strangers they had been to one another in the morning. He thought they would move on, but they only looked up sleepily at him and snuggled closer, like young puppies. It was he who moved on. Once, he thought he recognized Starret and the Jennings girl, talking in low tones, lingeringly.
In the morning they were well out at sea. There was a slight swell. Roman felt hungrier than usual, but his wife complained of a headache and could not be induced to get up, so he went down to breakfast alone. The appearance at his plate of the newspaper of wireless news, filled him with a pleasurable sense of added importance. He endeavored to discuss its contents with Starret. The latter, as usual, was uncommunicative, and the eager Roman was forced into an uneasy silence. In spite of himself he admired Starret; there was about him such an' air of the man of the world, which, he dimly felt, he could never be. Yet he detested Starret because he had an uneasy feeling that Starret looked upon him with'contempt, or worse still, did not think of him at all.
After breakfast, more alone than ever since his wife was not there to beam on him at each turn around the deck, he wandered over the ship. In the smoking-room he discovered the secret of Starret’s habitual disappearances; he sat quietly in a corner behind a large pile of chips deeply immersed in a poker game. Roman had avoided the smoking-room while his wife was about. Any association with its attractions would be distasteful to her; nor did he fancy them himself. He neither drank nor smoked, and was proud of it, as was his wife. He had a secret liking for poker, but his experience had been confined to small games in “Doc” Amber’s office over the drug store, behind drawn blinds, and afterward, a stealthy slinking homeward and up the stairs with his shoes in his hand.
BY NOON the Maronia was swinging gracefully into the long flat swells of mid-Atlantic and Mrs. Roman was undeniably sea-sick. She did not want her husband in the cabin and he felt no guilt in amusing himself on deck. He felt confused by the changes a few days had affected in his shipmates. Some had succumbed to sea-sickness; all had succumbed to the sea. The majority pursued their various love affairs and now seemed happily settled for the remainder of the voyage, if not for life. Ed. Roman sighed.
Occasionally, good husband that he was, he went in to sit with his wife as long as she would allow him, but the stewardess was the only person in whom she was really interested, and he tramped the decks again. After dinner he wandered back into the smoking-room, envying the camaraderie of its little coteries sipping their after-dinner Continued on page 70
Continued from page 21
drinks, smoking, yarning, and laughing.
In this mood he found himself at Starret’s elbow. The other players looked up eagerly. Starret retained his habitual air of aloofness.
“Want a game?” he asked idly. “The other man’s sea-sick and there are only four of us. Rotten number!” he fingered the cards moodily, snapping them back and forth with the natural movements of long experience.
The other men looked expectantly at Roman, relief in their eyes, and began to make room for him. Their unexpected friendliness, and above all, the attention of Starret, flattered and confused him. Without quite intending it, he found himself taking the proffered chair, and cards were dealt him.
“Mr. Roman,” said Starett shortly, introducing him, “sits at my table.”
“How many?” asked one of them briskly, and thrust a small pile of blue and white chips toward Roman.
“I—•—,” he stammered, at a loss, but finished up weakly with: “Oh, a full stack, I guess . . . Whatever you boys are taking.”
And when they had been counted out, “How much?” he asked.
The reply stunned him.
“Excuse me a minute,” he said with dry lips and walked awkwardly to the cashier’s cage, returning with a crisp hundred dollar bill.
As he sat down he replaced in his breast pocket the large bill-fold which contained the money orders. He was breathing stertorously and held his hands clumsily underneath the table to hide their trembling.
In his absence, “Who’s your friend?” one of the players asked Starret.
“Haven’t the slightest idea,” he admitted. “Usual type, though, I suppose . . . probably rotten with money. Out to do Europe with his wife— Art galleries on the run, and all that sort of thing. We can’t hurt him anyhow. Let’s hope he doesn’t hurt us—One of these backwoods David Harums probably. Banker, I believe. He sits at my table and talks. That’s really all I know about him except that he’s dead above the ears. His wife’s sea-sick, so he’ll do to fill in until your friend finds his legs again.”
AS ROMAN resumed his seat, cigars were offered and a drink austerely declined. The cards were shuffled and dealt. Blue spirals of cigar smoke began to curl gracefully towards the inviting nymphs clinging precariously to the frescoed ceiling. The five players bent earnestly over their cards.
The pitching of the ship became a pleasant sliding movement, the voices at the other tables became a meaningless hum, and once more Ed. Roman was back with the boys in the little rear room over “Doc” Ambers drug-store. “I’ll stay,” he muttered. “Give me two,” and shoved in a stack of blues. There was the creaking of chairs and the “flip-flip” of cards, an occasional terse comment, the click of chips . . . the air stagnant with smoke. The game was on.
Ten times Ed. Roman rose from the table with a stiff and twisted face. Ten times he came back from the cashier’s cage and sat desperately down again. Between deals he hid his shaking hands beneath the table.
At daylight luck came at last to Roman. He worked his pile of chips up to an amount in excess of his purchases. He was ahead of the game! “One more hand,” he muttered to himself, and started guiltily, thinking he had shouted it aloud, so loud it reverberated to his inward ear. No one was noticing him.
He won again. “Just one more,” he thought shamefacedly, with a gambler’s stubborness, as though he had been excusing himself to some accusing finger.
The next deal was his own. It was a jackpot. “Happy is the dealer in the big jackpot,” he sang gaily as he dealt the cards. The jackpot was opened and the betting well under way by the time he had picked up his own hand. There was nothing in it; not even a pair!
“Hell,” he thought. And then: “I’ve got these birds on the run. They’re afraid of Eddie,” and when the betting reached him, he coolly raised the pot. The man on his right who had opened the pot, raised him in turn. Two men, including Starret, stayed. One man dropped out.
“Make it snappy! Make it snappy and kid the boys,” an inward poker voice warned the trembling Roman. “Play your luck!”
When it came to him he called the last bet without a quiver.
“These’ll do me,” he lied nonchalantly, when they drew cards: and he stood pat.
All “checked” bet to him.. In self-protection and feeling like a cornered rat, he bet and was as promptly called in two places. He lost half his pile to Starret.
After that he plunged recklessly in desperate effort to recoup his luck. But at daylight he rose for the last time and staggered wearily out upon the deck. Unmindful of the cold night breeze, and, a mute figure of despair, he tramped the decks aimlessly until breakfast time. “Ruined! Ruined!”
WHEN he entered their cabin, his wife was so ill he found she had failed to notice his absence. He threw himself upon his berth. He could not sleep. He could not eat. So he tramped the decks again.
All those things that had previously seemed so beautiful now seemed equally horrible to him, the sea, the ship and the people. Their light-hearted laughter mocked him; the business of life was torture; he lived in hell and despair was his companion. “A trip to Europe! A fine trip!” and he laughed harshly. “I wonder if Starret is crooked?—if it was a frameup? He seemed smooth with the cards . . .” and Roman’s eyes took on a nasty glint.
“If I’d only left the money orders with her,” he groaned. “Every one of them gone. Lucky to have enough left to eat while we wait for the first boat back.” Panic seized him as the thought occurred that the steamship company might not exchange the return ticket for an earlier sailing. “We’d starve to death,” he repeated incredulously to himself. “Starve to. death on our wedding trip. Not another cent in the world . . . after all these years of saving . . . thirty years and all our talk . . . boasting . . . And now the first boat back . . . and maybe have to wire the bank and everybody know . . . and Ma president of the Literary. Elected over Mrs. Chet just because of Europe •—They’ve never forgiven us . . . and Chet working beside me in the bank all the rest of my life, with his mean face in mine. And his wife’s talk . . . They’d laugh us out of town . . . and where then? . . . We’re getting old ... no one in Shooter must ever know. It would kill us both . . . Chet Dodson . . . and that wife of his . . . My God!”
These were the things Roman thought. The mean malice of a little town, his sick wife and how best to break her heart. He thought of suicide but lacked the courage.
Night succeeded day, and day, night; he lost all count of time. Occasionally, he stepped into the cabin but was only dimly aware of his wife’s sufferings. As for other things or people, he saw them only through the haze of his own suffering, unreal and fantastic to his senses. He heard dimly that the poker game went on, and was amazed. He scarcely believed it possible after such catastrophe to himself. Periodically, when the gong was beaten, he went to the dining saloon, carried by impulse. Starret, who had unbent since the fatal night, endeavored in vain to engage him in conversation.
“ A NASTY wallop you gave the old lY man the other night,” Jennings commented after Roman had left the table.
“O—oh?” Starret said slowly with lifted brows. “What do you mean?”
“The poker game,” the other said. “Cleaned him out, didn’t you? He looks like it anyhow. I don’t think his wife knows yet. She told my daughter before she fell sick that they’d been saving up for years for this trip; spending everything on one burst of speed after a life of stagnation. It’s their honeymoon trip too, first and second. They missed their first, figuring on this. The old fellow’s a clerk in a bank in some small farming town in Saskatchewan. Tough!”
“Oh!” observed Starret thoughtfully, “I didn’t win much of it though,” and sauntered away.
“The dirty dog!” Jennings as his eyes followed the retreating form, made a grimace of acute disgust.
At the top of the steps as he entered the lounge, Starret met Rosalie Jennings. Hat in hand, he stopped, but she looked coolly through him. There was no mistaking her manner. With a pale face he passed on.
“Won’t you have a drink with me?” Starret asked Roman later in the day.
“Thanks,” he answered surlily,“I don’t drink.”
But Starret persisted in his strange friendliness. “Do come, there’s a good fellow,” and took Roman by the arm, half dragging him. “Come with me anyhow. I’m lonely. I want to talk to you.” Roman looked up with sudden suspicion protesting. But he was flattered, and for lack of anything more definite at the moment, suffered himself to be led along.
AS THEY entered the smoking-room ■ he saw again the table, the very chair in which he had played his life away. A feeling of acute nausea flooded him and he turned on his companion, growling. Starret if he heard, gave no sign and sang out cheerily: “Here’s a table,” and motioned to the barman.
“Having a nice trip?” he enquired in a friendly manner, watching Roman over his drink.
“Depends on what you call nice,” Roman answered bitterly. “I” He checked himself, and at Starret’s look of interrogation, added, “Oh, nothing.” And to cover his momentary confusion: “You’ve been over before?”
“Many times. Ever since I was a boy. I live on both sides of the water. Always have; no home; no ties; very little money; not much of anything—except a few ideals. Hard things to live up to, ideals,” he finished carelessly.
“They don’t pay,” Roman asserted contemptuously. “It’s dog eat dog,” and regarded Starret with an incredulous stare, his thoughts divided between envy and suspicion. “Must have had a soft time all hislife,” he thought bitterly, “traveling on these boats and nothing to worry about. No slaving for him.” But dominating everything else were those other thoughts that pounded incessantly on his brain: “How’ll I tell Mother? How’ll I tell her? What will they say in Shooter?”
Starret went on smoothly: “I haven’t seen as much of you as I would have liked ... I think we would get on. I hope you’ll let me see more of you for the remainder of the trip.”
“I get so tired of all this,” Starret waved a well kept hand. “The ship, the people, the sea, always the same. That’swhy I’m at the cards all the time.” And as Roman continued to preserve a stony silence: “There’ll be a little game to-night, if you’d care . . . ?” he suggested gently. “Your revenge,” he whispered, and leaned forward with bright eyes, waiting.
Roman gave an animal-like growl of inarticulate rage and rose cumbrously to his feet, exclaiming: “What do you think? You—you—That I’ll let you do it again?” and sputtered indignantly; but as the gambler in him rose to the temptation that flitted across his mind, he sat down and added weakly, “Besides, I can’t . . . unless I . . .” and he whispered and stared with rigid eyes at nothing, his hands gripping the table until the white of his knuckles showed.
Starret leaned forward eagerly. “Yes? Yes? Unless you . . .? Unless you what?” he questioned gently.
“Nothing . . .nothing,” Roman answered wearily, brushing his hand across his forehead as though to exorcise an evil thought. “I must go,” he said, rising again, “my wife is sick. She’ll be expecting me.”
“Oh, do sit down,” Starret begged desperately, “I haven’t half finished yet. You do interest me. Do have a drink.” Roman thought: Why not? This man seemed to appreciate him anyhow—the first friendship he had been offered on the boat. Everybody upset the rules of life on board ship. Why not he? He had done it once when he played poker. As well be killed for a sheep as a lamb!
He hesitated and nodded, and Starret pushed the bell.
An hour later Starret was saying: “Yes, that’s all right. You get it. I’ll cash it for you. If you win you can have it back.”
“Sure. That’s all right. You’re my friend, I know.” Roman walked away with painful erectness. Starret smiled somewhat sadly to himself, and waitedContinued on page 72
Continued from page 70
ROMAN was fumbling noisily in the trunk which he had dragged from under the berth.
“What’s that you’re doing?” his wife demanded querulously, raising a wan face from the pillows.
“Nothing. Nothing,” he assured her in a thick voice. He furtively slipped a small package into his breast pocket and glanced apprehensively at her. She had fallen back upon the pillows again, exhausted and uninterested.
Starret sat as Roman had left him, curiously quiet. . ° '
“Here it is,” Roman announced, and handed over to Starret the ticket for the return passage of himself and his wife. “Lose this too,” he laughed boisterously. Starret nodded, and drawing a roll of bills from his pocket, carefully counted out two hundred and fifty dollars.
“All right,” he said, “they’re waiting forus. Now for your revenge ...” “Yes,” Roman shouted, so loudly that heads turned toward them. “Play careful—ver’ careful. Now for my revenge. I’m. a sport, I am, I . and
followed Starret, murmuring platitudes, flattering to himself.
Starret stopped suddenly and turned swiftly on Roman. “Did you ever pass out a pat hand in a jackpot, sitting under the gun?” he questioned in an eager whisper.
“Yeh. No. Why? What d’ye mean?” Roman questioned, confused.
Starret’s voice cut like a knife. “Listen! I got this from a man who was playing poker when you. were rolling a hoop. If you’re ever sitting in a big jackpot, on the right of the dealer with first say and get a pat hand right off the bat, or even an extra good ‘helping hand,’ don’t let a peep out of you! Don’t open the pot! Pass! . . . Pass!” he whispered fiercely.
Roman stared at him. “What’s the big idea?”
The words came in an eager rush from Starret’s lips. “Take a chance! Figure that somebody coming after you will have ‘openers’ and will use them, and that three or four more will ‘stay’ with him. Then when it gets around to you again, wade in and sock it to them! Raise them! Make the blue sky the limit! They won’t know what to make of it; they’ll think you’re only bluffing, that you came in as an afterthought. And they’ll all ‘stay’ and you can tease them along . . . big bets every time . . . Afterward you can use their thigh-bones for toothpicks . . .” Roman stared at him. “I get you,” he chuckled. “But what’s the use? I’ll never get a hand like that.”
Starret suddenly appeared to lose all interest in the conversation. “Well, you never can tell,” he agreed listlessly. And then, with a resumption of his former almost threatening fierceness: “But if you do, roll ’em high and sleep in the street! Take my tip and do as I tell you!” “Oh, I guess little Eddie can take care of himself,” Roman boasted.
NIGHT, a private cabin, the same players, the same stagnant air, and the same game. Roman dealt first and gave himself so good a hand he felt constrained to plunge, with the result that he lost to the better hand of Starrett. At the end of the first ten minutes of play his capital was reduced by half. He was tragically sober, beads of perspiration on his face, his eyes painful to behold. He no longer concealed his hands. The cards shook in them.
A shade of annoyance passed over Starret’s face as he raked in his winnings. He seemed worried, but glancing at Roman and noting his obvious sobriety, seemed relieved. “My deal,” he said sharply and picked up the pack, flipping the cards nervously back and forth with long, slender fingers that gripped the cards like vines. Meanwhile he carried on an animated argument with the other players until a reminder from one of them caused him to go on with the deal. It was a jackpot.
Ed. Roman picked up his cards. He sat on the right of Starret, who was dealing. There was a moment’s hesitation. and he felt Starret’s eyes upon him. The cards swam before his eyes. He could not believe them! Four aces!
“Can’t open,” he muttered thickly. “Check.”
“Open!” promptly retorted the man on his right, and shoved in a goodly stack of chips.
“Tilt you,” said the next man cheerfully, and raised him.
“Just to be sociable,” observed the next and raised.
The fourth man hesitated, studying his cards. “The boys are getting rough, aren’t they?” He “joshed” pleasantly and beamed enquiringly on his opponents, hoping for some tell-tale sign. They kept their heads down and their hats drawn over their eyes, sphinx-like, giving up nothing. “Humph!” Slowly, suspiciously, reluctantly, he sized a stack of chips up against the last bet, “calling” it.
The man next on Starret’s left was prompt. “The little men are weakening,” quoth he cheerily. “Something tells me I’m going to make a killing. Guess I’ll take you for a ride in an aeroplane,” and he raised the last man.
As he saw the size of the last bet Starret’s face went white. The other players eyed him. enquiringly from the corners of their narrowed eyes, afraid to look up for fear of disclosing some emotion. Starret studied his cards.
“ ‘Call’ you,” he said briefly, at last, and stacked a pile of chips against the last bet until the top of his was flush with the other stack.
No one was paying any attention to ■ Roman who had refused to open the pot, presumably for lack of a pair of jacks; but with one movement of his shaking hands, he shoved in all he had, upsetting all calculations, or nearly all; and the bets went around again, everyone in too deeply now to remain out of the pot.
And Ed. Roman went to bed a happy man.
WE DON’T like the look of it and that’s flat,” one of the other players said to Roman the next day. “We can’t get any satisfaction out of Starret and I’ve come to you. The others wanted to go to the captain.”
“'Y ou’re poor losers,” Roman remarked airily. “What do you want with me, anyhow?”
“What we want to know, is: Who are you and who is this man Starret? He’s too good. He claims he doesn’t know you. Perhaps . . . but how about that big hand he dealt you last night when you cleaned up, every last one of us with betting hands, sets of fours and full houses and you sitting there with four aces all the time! How about that?” he demanded angrily.
“Just knowing how to play your cards when you get them; that’s how about it,” Roman assured him quite sincerely with a superi orair and entirely good-humoredly. He was pleased to be the centre of sopleasant a storm. “I don’t know anymore about Starret than you do. He was after me and I was after him. He had to coax me into the game. He thought I would be easy picking. You fellows shouldn’t squeal; he lost more than any of you. You didn’t lose much more to me last night than I lost to you the other night,” he charged, the memory of his earlier sufferings beginning to make him indignant too.
“That’s all right,” his opponent grumbled. “You didn’t lose on a bunch of picture hands, all in one deal. You lost on straight play. We didn’t. Those cards were fixed! Starret’s a crook and we want our money back. He as good as admitted it too by saying he’d pay it back rather than have us holler, but he hasn’t got that much to spare. Says he just has enough left to see him through wherever he’s going. Says you cleaned him too.” “Well, I reckon I did,” Roman admitted proudly. “The trouble with you boys is, you’re poor losers.” He turned abruptly and left his complainant, still fuming.
EVERYTHING seemed beautiful and desirable again. All things, yesterday, had seemed horrible beyond belief. He shook his head like a man ridding himself of a bad dream, and catching sight of a small knot of people, joined them. They were looking at the chart of the ship’s run. “Gosh! Nearly four hundred miles
yesterday,” he remarked complacently to anyone who would listen. “That’s going some, I’ll tell you. And only two hundred
more to go. Be in to-morrow sure..........
Well, everything’s got to end some time. Been a pleasant trip, folks, and I guess we’ll all be kind of sorry to leave the little old bus, what say, eh?” and he slapped his nearest fellow-passenger jovially.
“This trip’s done me good. Taken me out of myself. I’ve got to be quite a mixer,” he reflected.
He strolled around the deck admiring all he saw, even the sea. “A good, lively lot of people,” he thought. “Stepping a mite higher, maybe, than they would ashore, but then folks are folks and they can’t be the same all the time. Why, look at me,” he chuckled boyishly.
“Come, on, Mother,” he shouted gleefully as he entered the cabin. “You promised to go down to dinner to-night. Show folks you’re a sailor from Shooter. We’re passing Ireland. It’s as green as grass. Come and see it.”
“Give a body a chance. My, but I’ve been an awful lot of trouble to you this trip, sick and all, and you’ve been so good and never complained. One thing’s sure; I’ll never want to come again. What’s that you’re doing?” she demanded suspiciously.
“Oh, nothing,” he assured her, laughing. “Just putting our return ticket back in the trunk. I had it out.”
“Well, I do wish you wouldn’t fool with those things like that; you make me uneasy. Sure you have the money orders all right?”
“Surest thing you know,” he laughed nervously. “See,” and drawing the billfold from his pocket, he spread out the ten crisp notes, fanning her coquettishly.
“Oh, Ed, how you do go on!” his wife said fondly.
In the morning when Roman awakened and peered through the port hole, he gave a boyish shout: “We’re here, Mother! Look!” She joined him and together they took in the low-lying mud shores of the Mersey, clusters of squat grey buildings, and the rain of Liverpool. “Shucks! It ain’t so much after all,” Roman complained disappointedly.
Again as on the first day, there was about the ship an air of unnatural gaiety that was almost hysteria. The passengers prepared for shore, more eager to get off than they had been to get on. Up for’ard the donkey engine creaked and groaned as it reached into the belly of the ship with a huge net.
Passengers hurried back and forth like swarming bees, packing baggage, bidding farewells, hunting lost articles, writing last minute letters, tipping stewards. All was confusion.
THE Romans stood at the head of the gangway, waiting impatiently. A haggard Starret passed and bowed. Roman, about to acknowledge the salute, was checked by his wife as she turned her back. “Don’t speak to him, Eddie,” she whispered hurriedly, “he’s not fit. Miss Jennings told me this morning he’s been gambling all the way over, and dishonest besides. Some men caught him at it and went to the captain and he had to give them their money back. When he did that Miss Jennings was sure, and when he came up to her just now, she wouldn’t even say good-bye to him.. And they were getting real soft on one another. The way he deceived that poor girl! She feels terrible. Men are such brutes. The captain warned him he wouldn’t ever be able to play cards on his ship again. They say he’s right down poor too, and no business to be gambling that way, let alone tricks like that. He’s been shamed before the whole ship and nobody speaks to him now. And don’t you. He’s a bad man!” “That’s right,” Ed. Roman agreed as he too turned from Starret. “He doesn't know how to play his cards anyhow.” “What do you know about his playing?” she demanded sharply.
Just then there was a warning shout -the gang-plank fell with a clatter, there was a shrill squeal of delight. Mrs. Roman seized her husband’s arm, crying: “Come on, Ed! Land sakes! Hurry up so we’ll be first to land! Horray for Europe! . . . Where’s my note-book?”