What happened aboard an Atlantic liner when two card sharps picked a " sucker "
THE Venetia, homeward bound for Southampton, was six hours out from New York harbor before Mr. and Mrs. Brown made their first appearance in the smoking saloon. Many far more imposing people had entered unnoticed, but Mr. Brown was used to attracting attention, although it was usually attention of a not very gratifying kind.
Pale and sandy-haired, with a small drooping mustache, he was such an insignificant figure that he was in fact conspicuous. It might indeed be said that he was so ordinary as to be to some extent extraordinary. In spite, however, of his physical shortcomings, he was evidently a man of considerable substance otherwise, for the Venetia was a luxury vessel and the Browns occupied one of the most expensive suites. This fact had been duly noted for possible advantage by Messrs. Wilson and Hunt, who were observing them from the bar with perfectly controlled faces but joyful hearts.
Messrs. Wilson and Hunt were old transatlantic travellers. In fact, they did little else. They paid their expenses comfortably with a margin to spare by seeing to it that at the end of each trip one or more passengers possessed less cash than at the beginning. Their procedure may have lacked originality, but experience had taught them that conventional methods were the more reliable. People fell for the old hoary tricks more easily than for ingenious newfangled schemes. Their great stand-by was card playing, and at that they were consummate artists. They prided themselves on their ability to sum up prospective victims at first sight, and Mr. Brown appeared to be what they had been waiting for all their lives. It was immediately apparent, however, that there would be an obstacle in the way, and that obstacle would be Mrs. Brown.
Mrs. Brown was also small—pretty, fair, fluffy-haired, with a penetrating though not unpleasant voice. She quite openly treated her husband like a child whose unruly tendencies required constant supervision, and apparently did not realize for a moment that she was making him appear ridiculous in public. In front of all the people in the smoking saloon, she proceeded to lay down lines of conduct for him during the voyage.
“Now, darling,” said Mrs. Brown, “promise you won’t gamble or play cards with any strangers on board.”
Her husband glanced round sheepishly.
“Look here, Loo,” he protested, “I can look after myself. Hang it all, I’m not a child.”
She squeezed his arm.
“Of course not, dearest. Did I ever suggest such a thing? No one knows better than I do how clever you are, but one hears such dreadful stories of crooks and card sharpers on these big liners—”
“If a card sharper tried to put one over on me—” began Mr. Brown. He stopped short as his wife’s grip tightened on his arm.
Her voice rose a little.
“Promise you won’t play.”
He was squirming. Many of the people round were smiling broadly, but Mrs. Brown paid no attention to them. She showed signs of approaching tears.
“Darling, you must promise. You know how gambling tempts you. I shan’t be able to rest a moment unless you promise not to play.”
Mr. Brown heard a laugh behind him. and writhed.
“But, Loo, it isn’t—”
He shrugged his shoulders helplessly.
“Oh, all right. Have it your own way.”
He looked supremely uncomfortable and was obviously feeling a complete fool, but such minor details were plainly beyond the understanding of Mrs. Brown. She had got what she wanted, and the threat of tears vanished. She smiled at him and patted his shoulder.
“Thank you, darling. Now I feel quite happy, and I shan’t worry at all.”
Mr. Brown muttered something under his breath. I lis wife looked round happily. There was broad amusement on the faces surrounding them, but evidently she was a long way from realizing the true meaning of it. She kissed her husband twice.
“I’m going to have a little rest, dearest. Come and wake me up in an hour, and tell me how good you’ve been.”
Mr. Brown watched her out of the saloon before he made a move to the bar.
"KyfESSRS. Wilson and Hunt drew aside to make room for him. They nodded in a friendly way.
“Kinder nervous your wife is,” said Mr. Wilson pleasantly.
Mr. Brown smiled a little shamefacedly.
“Yes, she is rather. Got a horror of gambling, any shape or form.” He ordered a small whisky with a reckless air. “Fact is, her father came a bit of a cropper over card playing—lost pretty near all he’d got—and it scared her.”
“Not surprising,” said Mr. Hunt firmly. “Don’t hold with high play myself. Can’t afford it. Like a little friendly flutter now and again to pass the time, but that’s as far as it goes with me.”
“Same here,” said Mr. Wilson.
Mr. Brown began to expand a little. He put a hand into his pocket to pay for his whisky, but Mr. Wilson was quicker.
“No, sir. The drinks are on me, if you please. Very glad to get acquainted with you. By Jove, it’s a pleasure.”
Mr. Brown concurred cordially.
He filled up his glass with soda water and made a little grimace as he drank. Then he shot a quick glance at the entrance and lowered his voice slightly.
“Matter of fact, I’ve been a good bit of a gambler in my time. She doesn’t know everything, but she knows enough and that’s what makes her nervous. Got to humor her, you know. She’s afraid I’ll be losing my money too, but I’ll bet I could afford to lose as much as anyone on this boat, and that’s saying a bit.”
He laughed shortly, and seemed to be bracing his small frame against temptation.
“I’ve given it up,” he declared manfully, “because of her. I’d give up anything for her. She’s the best girl in the world.” He glared round pugnaciously. “And I’ll tell anyone that—anyone in the whole darn world.”
“Sure, sure,” said Mr. Hunt soothingly.
He winked over Mr. Brown’s head at his companion.
“Does you credit, sir,” said Mr.
Wilson heartily. “Happy married life is a sacred thing, and it’s a crime—a crime, sir—to do anything to interfere with it. As my friend said, we like a modest little flutter sometimes as between friends to pass away the time, but we’d be the last to try to tempt you—wouldn’t we, Charlie?”
“Yep,”’ said Mr. Hunt.
To a dose observer it might have appeared that this was not exactly the attitude that Mr.
Brown was looking for. He drew himself up.
“It would be no use if you did,” he said firmly.
He insisted on standing another
round of drinks, and talked about the kind of weather they were likely to encounter on the way over. The forecasts were not too good. He finished his second whisky and put down the empty glass.
“My wife’s not a very good sailor,” he said slowly. “She’ll spend a lot of time lying down.” He kept his eyes on the floor, and looked like a guilty schoolboy. “Of course I hope it won’t be rough,” he said dreamily.
He never lost sight of the clock, and hurried away dutifully the moment the hour was up. Messrs. Wilson and Hunt gazed after him. A beatific smile illuminated the face of each.
“Sam,” said Mr. Hunt softly, “if that guy has a loose dollar left when we get to Southampton—”
“You tellin’ me?” said Mr. Wilson.
The rest of that day and the whole of the next morning Mr. Brown devoted to attendance on his wife. It was quite
evident that Mrs. Brown was not a good sailor. She was also an exceedingly trying one. At times it seemed that her husband’s patience would be strained to the breaking point, but he survived the ordeal.
After lunch he came alone into the smoking saloon. Messrs. Wilson and Hunt were sitting together in a corner. He went over to them. There was a dangerous light in his eyes. He looked as if he had been goaded almost to desperation.
“My wife’s gone to bed,” he said. “She isn’t bad. I’m glad to say, but she’s got a headache and wants to sleep. She won’t get up until the evening. . . ”
He paused, hesitating.
“It’s darned difficult passing the time on these big ships,” he said disconsolately.
Mr. Wilson rose, smiling.
“Well, sir, I’d just asked my friend Hunt to come along
for a quiet drink in my stateroom. Maybe you’d care to join us?”
Mr. Brown accepted the invitation with alacrity, and the three went out of the saloon together. In his stateroom Mr. Wilson produced a box of cigars and sent the steward for a bottle of whisky. On the small table were a couple of packs of cards. Mr. Brown spotted them at once, and his eyes kept on straying to them longingly. When the whisky had been brought and the drinks poured out. Mr. Wilson idly took up one of the packs. Then his eyes met Mr. Brown’s, and he put it down quickly.
“Sorry,” he apologized. “I’d forgotten.”
But Mr. Brown drew his chair to the table and picked up the other pack.
IT WAS plain from the start that Mr. Brown was no novice. He was a good player and an experienced one, but something more than experience was necessary when sitting with gentlemen of the calibre of Messrs. Wilson and Hunt. They were, indeed, glad that he was a good player: it was so much easier to let him win at the beginning. They played their fish skilfully, allowing him to do a good deal more than hold his own. At the end of the first hour and his third whisky, Mr. Brown began to grow restive and to show signs of a recklessness which justified his wife’s anxiety. He wanted to push the stakes up to a pretty high limit. This suited the other two perfectly well, but they made a show of protest.
“Say,” said Mr. Wilson, “new we see why your wife was nervous about you. Guess she knew something. This is a good bit higher than we ever go to. Isn’t it, Charlie?”
“I’ll say it is,” said Mr. Hunt.
Mr. Brown poured himself out another drink. He sneered at them openly.
“High? Pooh! Call yourselves card players! We used to play higher than this at school.’”
They both stared at him. Mr. Wilson laughed.
“Well, what d’you know about that!”
He emptied his glass at one gulp, and set it down on the table with a force that nearly broke it.
“Say, you’re a real terror. Ain’t he, Charlie?”
“He sure is.” grinned Mr. Hunt.
“Are we going to let him put that line of talk over on us?” demanded Mr. Wilson.
“We are not,” said Mr. Hunt. “He can fix what limit he darned well likes. No man is going to sit opposite me and say I wasn’t game.”
Mr. Wilson shrugged his shoulders.
“Allright. I’m in, too. As I said, it’s a lot higher than I like, but I’ll skin the bank roll before I let any guy get away with that sort of stuff.”
He lit a fresh cigar, and settled himself again at the table. “Now then, Mister Brown—shoot your head off.”
Mr. Brown hesitated, shuffling the cards.
"Of course, if you’d really rather not play so high—” lie began.
Mr. Wilson cut him short.
"No, sir. We'll play for just those stakes you mentioned. They may be a bit up on what we’re used to, but there’ll be no squealin’ from us.”
Mr. Brown dealt.
At the end of the second hour’s play things were pretty much as Messrs. Wilson and Hunt had intended them to be. Luck had fluctuated from one to another, but Brown was the winner to an extent of about a thousand dollars. With the exception of the fact that he had been cleverly allowed to win that amount, the play had been perfectly fair and aboveboard. When they all got up from the table after a three hours sitting. Mr. Brown had lost two thousand dollars and won four, a result that was entirely satisfactory to the other two. An appointment was made to continue the next afternoon.
ON HIS way back to his own suite Mr. Brown met the purser, who had, in fact, been waiting for him. He made a remark about the weather, and was passing on; but the other stopped him.
“Excuse me, sir—”
“Yes?” said Mr. Brown.
The purser came a little closer and dropped his voice confidentially.
“Those two gentlemen you were playing with—”
“What about them?” asked Mr. Brown shortly.
“It’s my duty to tell you that they are professional card players who spend their time on these crossings to win money from the passengers.”
Mr. Brown seemed to be very much annoyed.
“Look here, hang it all, am I to have the whole ship taking care of me?”
The purser apologized politely. He was only doing his duty. His orders were to warn passengers when he saw them playing with certain people. What they chose to do after the warning was, of course, their own affair.
Mr. Brown’s annoyance vanished. He smiled pleasantly. “That’s all right. Sorry I was a bit short. As to being pros.—well, if they’re going to win anything from me they’ll have to play a good bit better than they did this afternoon.”
“They will,” said the purser grimly.
Mr. Brown laughed.
“Don’t you worry about me. I can take care of myself. I don’t mind telling you I’ve won a couple of thousand dollars off them so far.”
The purser looked down at him pityingly. It was just that bumptious self-confidence that made the ideal victim. That sort wouldn’t take warning—and then they’d come to him on the last day and complain that they’d been swindled. He shrugged his shoulders.
“That’s what usually happens, sir. You win at first. It looks perfectly all right. But if you go on playing with them they’ll skin you before w'e get to Southampton.” “We'll see about that,” asid Mr. Brown complacently. He nodded, and passed on. The purser stood looking after the diminutive figure. He was thinking that perhaps it might not be a bad thing if Mr. Brown did lose a little of his money and his complacency at the same time.
The next afternoon perplexed Messrs. Wilson and Hunt a good deal. Not only did Mr. Brown himself puzzle them, but his play puzzled them still more. So far they had not actually played crookedly—that was yet to come—but in
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spite of the perfect understanding between them, Mr. Brown succeeded in holding some spectacular cards at times when he was not supposed to do so. The result was that at the end of two more hours his winnings had leaped to ten thousand dollars. It was then that Mr. Wilson gave the secret sign to Mr. Hunt which brought into operation one of the systems of cheating they had invented, perfected, and considered undetectable. The consequence was that during the next hour Mr. Brown’s winnings had been reduced to six thousand dollars.
The third day saw Messrs. Wilson and Hunt prepared for the opening of the last act, which for them was always the fleecing act. They had a loss of six thousand dollars to wipe out. That would be easy. The previous afternoon had shown them that when cheating was resorted to, Mr. Brown was helpless. Then their own winnings would begin.
Cheating, however, proved to be hardly necessary. F rom the start Mr. Brown lost steadily. Not only were the cards against him, but he seemed to be entirely lacking in concentration. He appeared to be worried and anxious. He played on without complaint, but it was the play of a man who had for the time being lost his grip on the game. Very soon the six thousand dollars had been won back, and they were all square, dollar for dollar.
At this point Messrs. Wilson and Hunt began, metaphorically, to lick their lips. But at the end of another half hour they were again puzzled and very angry. Prom the moment the position became all square, not one of their tricks had succeeded in winning another cent from Mr. Brown. The atmosphere was becoming decidedly tense when there was a loud knock at the door. Mr. Wilson got up and opened it. Mrs. Brown was standing outside, and the expression of her face was as stormy as the weather. Mr. Brown muttered a fervid “Darn!” and put his cards down on the table. His wife came in like an east wind. “George!”
Mr. Brown rose slowly to his feet. “Hullo, Loo. Feeling better?”
She pointed to the table.
“So this is the way you keep your promises?”
Her husband attempted a sickly smile. “It’s all right. Nothing to worry about. Just a little friendly game to pass the time.” “You gave me your word you wouldn’t play.”
“Yes, I know, but—”
She burst into tears.
“Oh, George, how could you?”
He tried to put his arms round her, but she pushed him away.
“I shall never be able to trust you again.”
“Look here, Loo,” he said desperately, “for heaven’s sake don’t make a scene—” She swept the cards off the table, scattering them in all directions. For a moment the three men stared at her helplessly.
“Now, see here, marm,” said Mr. Wilson soothingly, “there’s no call to get all het up about this—”
She turned on him furiously.
“I don’t want to talk to you. I can see what happened. You persuaded my husband to play. And I suppose you’ve won all his money.”
Mr. Hunt laughed, with more than a suggestion of bitterness.
“I guess he didn’t want a whole lot of persuading. And as to winning his money — the only way I can think of for winning a dollar from your husband is with an axe.
“I haven’t lost a cent,” Mr. Brown pleaded. “I haven’t, really. We’re just as we were when we started.”
Mrs. Brown took his arm and turned him, not too gently, toward the door. “Come with me.” she commanded.
She ignored the others, and her husband
seemed afraid to look at them again. He j went out with her meekly, and the door closed behind them.
MESSRS. Wilson and Hunt gazed at each other. Both had the appearance of being short of breath. For some I moments neither spoke. Then Mr. Wilson I pulled himself together with an effort. “Charlie—”
“Well?” snapped Mr. Hunt.
“What d’you make of it?”
Mr. Hunt crushed the stump of his cigar viciously into an ashtray.
“Only that we’ve wasted the whole darned trip and not even paid our expenses,” he retorted.
Mr. Wilson picked up the cards from the Hoor and stacked them with a dexterous flick of his fingers.
“It’s got me guessing,” he admitted slowly. “I’ve a hunch that we’ve been had.”
The other snorted.
“How can we have been had? He hasn’t got away with any of our money,”
Mr. Wilson nodded.
“I know that. But I’ll take my oath he can do more with a pack of cards than you or I can, and we’re pretty smart at the game. I tell you he meant to win that ten thousand at first, and if he hadn’t meant to lose it afterward we’d never have seen a dollar of it again. When we got back to all square, could we win another cent off him? No, sir. But I’ll bet he could have won from us if he’d wanted to, and I’m just trying to think why he didn’t.”
Mr. Hunt scratched his head.
“But what’s the idea? Where’s the sense of it?”
“That’s what I’m wondering,” said Mr. Wilson. He mixed himself a stiff drink. “And I’ll tell you another thing. That wife of his is a pretty good actress. From the time we broke even he was waiting for her to come in at that door and take him away. And I’d give a lot to be a fly on their wall at this moment.”
“Well, he hasn’t made anything,” said Mr. Hunt grimly; “and we haven’t lost anything.”
“That’s what it looks like,” returned Mr. Wilson doubtfully. “But I’m still wondering...”
MRS. BROWN appeared to have taken a very strong line with her untrustworthy husband. For the rest of the voyage she never let him outside their suite alone, and allowed him no opportunity for even a word with his tempters. Rigorously she kept him by her side until the Venetia arrived at Southampton.
As the boat-train sped to London, Mr. Wilson was still wondering. . .
HE CEASED wondering the next morning in a tourist agency. After a second interval of quarter of an hour he went back to the counter and rapi>ed on it angrily.
“See here, we didn’t come to spend the day in this office. I reckon it’s a simple thing. If it’s too much for your institution to grapple with, we’ll go somewhere else.” A clerk apologized profusely.
“Very sorry, sir. Shan’t keep you a minute now.”
Three men came in at the door. The clerk made a slight sign , but both Mr Wilson and Mr. Hunt saw it. They turned quickly.
“Just a moment,” said DetectiveInspector Barker with a pleasant smile.
“What do you want?” snapped Mr. Hunt.
A quick glance showed that the other two men had taken up a stand by the door.
“Always a pleasure to meet a couple of distinguished visitors,” said Inspector Barker genially. “Got your passports on you by any chance?”
“We have not,” returned Mr. Wilson
aggressively. “Our passports are in our luggage at our hotel.”
“Fine!” said the inspector. “And where may that be? The Ritz?”
“Who are you?” demanded Mr. Wilson. The inspector told him. Both men were genuinely indignant. They knew they had done nothing that could bring them into conflict with the police. Mr. Wilson assumed an impressive dignity.
“Say, what’s the big idea? We are American citizens, travelling for pleasure, and our passjxrrts are in order. There’ll be some trouble over this.”
“There sure will,” agreed Mr. Hunt. “It’s an outrage,” said Mr. Wilson. “Disgraceful,” said Mr. Hunt.
“We just came in here to change some American money into English—”
“And very nice to have it to change,” said Inspector Barker heartily. “Nicer still if it didn’t happen to be money stolen in a hold-up on Broadway exactly a week ago, when two men were shot dead and a third wounded.”
“What?” snarled Mr. Wilson.
A violent exclamation came from Mr. Hunt. The two men stared at each other. For a moment there was a titanic silence.
“If I were you,” said the inspector confidentially, “I wouldn’t say anything about it until we get to Bow Street.”
“Bow Street?” said Mr. Wilson sharply. “What are we going there for?”
“Because, to tell you the truth,” returned Inspector Barker cheerfully,“you’re under arrest. And anything you say may be used in evidence.”
There was a pregnant pause.
“Charlie,” said Mr. Wilson hoarsely, “I told you that little guy had done us. It was a put-up job with his wife all through. He knew the numbers of the stolen notes would be known, so he just wanted to exchange ’em for good money. And he did.”
“If I had him here—” said Mr. Hunt thickly.
Mr. Wilson’s teeth met with a snap.
“He first won our ten thousand, and then unloaded the stolen notes on us. And now you see why he didn’t want to win any more after that—because we’d have paid him in the notes he’d just got rid of.”
Mr. Hunt was past intelligible speech. Mr. Wilson struggled for breath. Then he turned furiously on the inspector.
“Say, do you think we’d be such goldamed fools as to walk into a place like this and hand those notes over the counter if we’d known they were stolen?”
“When we know each other a bit better,” said Inspector Barker cautiously, “I may be able to answer that question. In the meantime you’re coming along with us. But don’t be downhearted. If you’ve got a good story and tell it well, you’ll find us a grand audience.”
He slipped a hand through the arm of each.
“Come along,” he said affectionately. And they went.
+ + 4* +
Iodized Fruit Wrappers
IODINE, the old reliable of the first-aid kit, is a useful medicine for fruit too, according to Food Industries. Experiments by the Food Investigation Board of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in Great Britain have established the interesting fact that when paper wrappers for certain kinds of fruit are treated with iodine, fungal rotting is greatly retarded. The appearance and flavor of the product is unimpaired. Bunches of grapes wrapped in iodized paper were found to remain free from mold much longer than those wrapped in plain paper. The same applies to tomatoes and oranges. The iodized wraps also reduce the brown rot of plums and peaches, but certain varieties of these fruits were adversely affected by the treatment, failing to ripen properly and even turning black.—Scientific American.