suh? Er mebbe yo'd perfuh - "
"Enough!" said P. Sybarite firmly. "A mere bite and a glass are enough
to sustain life."
"Ain't that the troof?"
Chuckling, the negro waddled away, returned, and offered the guest a
glass brimming with amber-tinted liquid.
Poising the vessel delicately between thumb and forefinger, P.
Sybarite treated himself to one small sip - an instant of lingering
delectation - another sip. So only, it is asserted, must the victim of
the desert begin to allay his burning thirst; with discretion - a sip
at a time - gingerly.
It was years since P. Sybarite had tasted a cocktail artfully
Dreamily he closed his eyes halfway. From a point in his anatomy a
degree or two south of his diaphragm, a sensation of the most warm
congratulation began to pervade his famished system: as if (he
thought) his domestic economy were organising a torchlight procession
by way of appropriate celebration.
Tender morsels of lobster smothered in cream and sherry (piping hot)
daintiest possible wafers of bread-and-butter embracing leaves of pale
lettuce, a hollow-stemmed glass effervescent with liquid sunlight of a
most excellent bouquet, and then another: these served not in the
least to subdue his occult jubilation.
Finally "the house," through the medium of its servitor, insisted that
he top off with a cigar.
Ten years since his teeth had gripped a Fancy Tales of Smoke!...
Now it mustn't be understood that P. Sybarite entertained any
misapprehensions as to the nature of the institution into which he had
stumbled. He had not needed the sound, sometimes in quieter moments
audible from upstairs, of a prolonged whirr ending in several staccato
clicks, to make him shrewdly cognisant of its questionable character.
So at length, satiate and a little weary - drawn by curiosity
besides - he rose, endowed Pete lavishly with a handful of small change
(something over fifty cents; all he had in the world aside from his
cherished five dollars), and with an impressive air of the most
thorough-paced sophistication (nodding genially to the doorkeeper _en
passant_) slowly ascended to the second floor.
Here, in remodelling the house for its present purposes, partitions
had arbitrarily been dispensed with, aside from that enclosing the
well of the stairway; the floor was one large room, wholly devoted to
some half a dozen games of chance. With but few of these was P.
Sybarite familiar; but on information and belief he marked down a faro
layout, the device with which his reading had made him acquainted
under the designation of _les petits chevaux_, and at either end of
the saloon, immense roulette tables.
Upon all the gaming tables massive electric domes concentrated their
light. The walls, otherwise severely unadorned, were covered with
lustrous golden fabric; the windows were invisible, cloaked in
splendid golden hangings; the carpet, golden brown in tone, was of a
velvet pile so heavy that it completely muffled the sound of
footsteps. The room, indeed, was singularly quiet for one that
harboured some two-score players in addition to a full corps of
dealers, croupiers, watchers, and waiters. The almost incessant whine
of racing ivory balls with their clattering over the metal
compartments of the roulette wheels, clicking of chips, dispassionate
voices of croupiers, and an occasional low-pitched comment on the part
of one or another of the patrons, seemed only to lend emphasis to the
The warmth of the room was noticeable....
A brief survey of the gathering convinced P. Sybarite that, barring
the servants, he was a lonely exception to the rule of evening dress.
But this discovery discomfited him not at all. The wine buzzing in his
head, his demeanour, not to mince matters, rakehelly, with an eye
alert for the man with the twisted mouth, negligent hands in his
trouser pockets, teeth tight upon that admirable cigar, he strutted
hither and yon, ostensibly as much in his native element as a press
agent in a theatre lobby.
A few minutes sufficed to demonstrate that the owner of the abandoned
hat was not among those present; which fact, coupled with the
doorkeeper's averment that Mr. Bailey Penfield was out, persuaded P.
Sybarite that this last was neither more nor less than the proprietor
of the premises. But this conclusion perturbed, completely unsettling
his conviction regarding the _soi-disant_ Miss Lessing; he couldn't
imagine either her or Miss Marian Blessington in any way involved with
a common (or even a proper) gambler.
To feel obliged constantly to revise his hasty inferences, he
considered tremendously tiresome. It left one all up in the air!
His tour ended at last in a pause by the roulette table at the rear of
the room. Curious to watch the game in being, he lingered there, head
cocked shrewdly on one shoulder, a speculative pensiveness informing
his eyes, his interest plainly aloof and impersonal. This despite the
fact that his emotions of intestinal felicity were momentarily
becoming more intense: the torchlight procession was in full swing,
leaving an enduring refulgence wherever it passed.
There were perhaps half a dozen players round the board - four on one
wing, two on the other. Of the latter, one was that very young man who
had been responsible for P. Sybarite's change of mind with regard to
going home. With a bored air this prodigal was frittering away
five-dollar notes on the colours, the columns, and the dozens: his ill
success stupendous, his apparent indifference positively magnificent.
But in the course of the little while that P. Sybarite watched, he
either grew weary or succeeded in emptying his pockets, and ceasing to
play, sat back with a grunt of impatience more than of disgust.
The ball ran its course thrice before he moved. Then abruptly lifting
his finger to the croupier: "Five on the red, Andy," said he.
"Five on the red," repeated the croupier; and set aside a
chocolate-coloured chip in memorandum of the wager.
When the ball settled again to rest, the announcement was monotonously
recited: "Nine, red, odd, first dozen." And the blasÃ© prodigal was
presented with the chocolate-coloured token.
Carelessly he tossed it upon the red diamond. Black won. Unperturbed,
he made a second oral bet, this time on black, and lost; increased his
wager to ten dollars on black - and lost; made it twenty, shifted to
red, and lost; dropped back to five-dollar bets for three turns of the
wheel, and lost them all. Fifty dollars in debt to the house, he rose,
nodded casually to the croupier, left the room.
In mingled envy and amazement P. Sybarite watched him go. Fancy losing
three weeks' wages and a third of another week's without turning a
hair! Fancy losing fifty dollars without being required to pay up!
"Looks easy," meditated P. Sybarite with a thrill of dreadful
At precisely that instant the torchlight procession penetrated a
territory theretofore unaffected, which received it with open arms and
tumultuous rejoicings and even went so far as to start up a couple of
bonfires of its own and hang out several strings of Japanese lanterns.
In the midst of a confusion of soaring skyrockets and Roman candles
vomiting showers of scintillant golden sparks, P. Sybarite was shocked
to hear his own voice.
"Five on the red," it said distinctly, with an effect of extravagant
A thought later he caught the croupier's eye and drove the wager home
with a nod. His heart stopped beating.
Five dollars! All he had in the world!
The _whirr_ of the deadly little ball in its ebony runway was like
nothing less than the exultant shriek of a banshee. Instantaneously
(as if an accident had happened in the power house) every light in his
body went out and left it cold and dark and altogether dismayed.
The croupier began his chant: "Three, red - !"
P. Sybarite failed to hear the rest. All the lights were on again,
full blast. The croupier tossed him a chocolate token. He was
conscious that he touched it with numb and witless fingers,
mechanically pushing it upon the red diamond.
Ensued another awful, soul-sickening minute of suspense....
"Twenty-five, red - !"
A second brown chip appeared magically on top of the first. P.
Sybarite regarded both stupidly; afraid to touch them, his brain
communicated to his hand the impulse to remove the chips ere it was
too late, but the hand hung moveless in listless mutiny.
"_Thirty-four red_ - !"
Two more chips were added to his stack.
And this time his brain sulked. If his body wouldn't heed its plain
and sagacious admonition - very well! - it just wouldn't bother to
signal any further advice.
But quite instinctively his hand moved out, tenderly embraced the four
brown chips, and transferred them to the green area dominated by the
"_Twelve, black_ - !"
Forty dollars were represented in that stunted pillar of brown wafers!
P. Sybarite experienced an effect of coming to his senses after an
abbreviated and, to tell the truth, somewhat nightmarish nap. Aping
the manner of one or two other players whom he had observed before
this madness possessed him, he thrust the chips out of the charmed
circle of chance, and nodded again (with what a seasoned air!) to the
"Cash or chips?" enquired that functionary.
"Oh - cash, thank you."
The chips gathered into the company of their brethren, two
twenty-dollar bills replaced them.
Stuffing these into his pocket, P. Sybarite turned and strolled
indifferently toward the door.
"Better leave while your luck holds," Intelligence counselled.
"Right you are," he admitted fairly. "I'll go home now before anybody
gets this away from me."
"Sensible of you," Intelligence approved.
"Still," suggested the small but clear voice of Greed, "you've got
your original five dollars yet to lose. Be a sport. Don't go without
turning in a cent to the house. It wouldn't look pretty."
"There's something in that," admitted P. Sybarite again.
Nevertheless, he never quite understood how it was that his feet
carried him to the other roulette table, at the end of the salon
opposite that at which he had been playing; or how it was that his
fingers produced and coolly handed over the board, one of the
twenty-dollar notes rather than the modest five he had meant to risk.
"How many?" the new croupier asked pleasantly.
P. Sybarite pulled a doubtful mouth. Five dollars' worth was all he
really wanted. What on earth would he do with all the chips twenty
dollars would buy? He'd need a bushel measure!
Before he could make up his mind, however, exactly twenty white
counters were meted out to him.
"What are these worth?" he demanded incredulously, dropping into a
"One dollar each," he was informed.
"Indeed?" he replied, politely smothering a slight yawn.
But he conceived a new respect for those infatuated men who so
recklessly peppered the lay-out with chips - singly and in little piles
of five and ten - worth one-hundred cents each!
However, to save his face, he'd have to go through his twenty. But
after that - exit!
He made this promise to himself.
Prying a single chip apart from its fellows, he tossed it heedlessly
upon the numbered squares. It landed upon its rim, rolled toward the
wheel, and fainted gracefully upon the green compartment numbered 00.
The croupier cocked an eyebrow at him, as if questioning his
intention, at the instant the ivory ball began to sing its song of a
single note. Abruptly it was chattering; in another instant it was
"Double O!" announced a voice.
A player next P. Sybarite swore soulfully.
Thirty-five white chips were stacked alongside the winning stake. With
unbecoming haste P. Sybarite removed them.
"Well," he sighed privately, "there's one thing certain: this won't
last. But I don't like to seem a piker. I'll just make sure of this
one: it can't win. And at that, I'll be another fifteen dollars in."
Deliberately he shifted the nineteen remaining of his original stack
to keep company with his winning chip on the Double O....
A minute or so later the man at his elbow said excitedly: "I'll be
damned if it didn't repeat! Can you beat that - !"
P. Sybarite stared stupidly.
"How's that?" he said.
"Double O," the croupier answered: "the second time."
"This is becoming uncanny," P. Sybarite observed to himself;
and - "Cash!" said he aloud with cold decision.
Seven new one-hundred dollar certificates were placed in his hand. In
a daze he counted, folded, and pocketed them. While thus engaged he
heard the ball spin again. His original twenty dollars remained upon
the double naught. Ten turned up: his stake was gathered in.
"You've had enough," Intelligence advised.
"Perfectly true," P. Sybarite admitted.
This time his anatomy proved quite docile. He found himself at the
foot of the steps, fatuously smiling at the doorkeeper.
"He ain't come in yet," said the latter; "but he's liable to be here
any minute now."
"Oh, yes," said P. Sybarite brightly, after a brief pause - "Mr.
Penfield, of course. Sorry I can't wait."
"Well, you'll want your hat before you go - won't you?"
Placing an incredulous hand upon the crown of his head, P. Sybarite
realised that it was covered exclusively with hair.
"I must have put it down somewhere upstairs," he murmured in panic.
"Mebbe you left it with Pete before you went up."
"Perhaps I did."
Turning back to the lounge, he entered to find it deserted save for
the somnolent old gentleman and the hospitable Pete, but for whom P.
Sybarite would probably never have known the delirious joy of that
internal celebration or found the courage to risk his first bet.
And suddenly the fifty-cent tip previously bestowed upon the servitor
seemed, to one unexpectedly fallen heir to the princely fortune then
in P. Sybarite's pockets, the very nadir of beggarliness.
"Pete," said he with owlish gravity, "I begin to see that I have done
you an inexcusable injustice."
Giggling, the negro scratched his head.
"Well, suh," he admitted, "Ah finds that gemmun gen'ly does change
they min's erbout me, aftuh they done cut er melon, like."
With the air of an emperor, P. Sybarite gave the negro a twenty-dollar
"And now," he cut short a storm of thanks, "if you'll be good enough
to give me just one more glass of champagne, I think I'll totter
In a twinkling a glass was in his hand. As if it were so much
water - in short, indifferently - P. Sybarite tossed it off.
"And my hat."
"Yo' hat?" Pete iterated in surprise. "Yo' didn't leaf yo' hat wif me,
suh; yo' done tek it wif yo' when yo' went upstahs."
"Oh," murmured P. Sybarite, dashed.
He turned to the door, hesitated, turned back, and solemnly sat
"Pete," said he, extending his right foot, "I wish you'd do something
"Take off my shoe."
Staring with naÃ¯f incredulity until assured of the gentleman's
complete seriousness, the negro plumped down upon his knees, unlaced,
and removed the shoe.
"It's a shocking shoe," observed P. Sybarite dreamily.
Bending forward he tucked his original five-dollar note into the toe
of the despised footgear.
"I am not going home broke," he explained laboriously to Pete; "as I
certainly shall if I dare go upstairs again to find my hat."
"Yo's sholly sens'ble," Pete approved. "But they ain't no reason why
yo' sho'd tek enny mo' chances ef yo' don't wantuh," he added,
knotting the laces. "I'd just as leave's not go fetch yo' hat."
"You needn't bother," P. Sybarite returned with dignity.
A humour the most cool and reckless imaginable now possessed P.
Sybarite. The first flush of his unaccustomed libations seemed to have
worn itself out, his more recent draught to have had no other effect
than to steady his gratulate senses; and a certain solid comfort
resided in the knowledge that his hard-earned five dollars reposed in
"They can't get _that_ away from me - not so long as I'm able to kick,"
he reflected with huge satisfaction.
And the seven hundred and thirty-five in his pocket was possessed of a
devil of restlessness. He could almost feel it quivering with
impatience to get into action. After all, it was only seven hundred
and thirty-five dollars: not a cent more than the wages of forty-nine
weeks' servitude to the Genius of the Vault of the Smell!
"That," mused P. Sybarite scornfully, "won't take me far....
"What," he argued, "is the use of travelling if you can't go to the
end of the line?...
"I might as well be broke," he asseverated, "as the way I am!"
Glancing cunningly down his nose, he saw the finish of a fool.
"Anyway," he insisted, "it was ever my fondest ambition to get rid of
precisely seven hundred and thirty-five dollars in one hour by the
So he sat down at the end of the table of his first winnings, and
exchanged one of his seven big bills for one hundred white chips.
"What," he asked with an ingenious smile, "is the maximum?"
"Seein's it's you," said the croupier, grinning, "we'll make it twenty
"Such being the case" - P. Sybarite pushed back the little army of
white chips - "you may give me twenty dark-brown counters for
In ten minutes he had lost two hundred dollars.
At the end of twenty minutes, he exchanged his last thirty-five
dollars for seven brown chips.
Ten minutes later, he was worth eighteen hundred dollars; in another
ten, he had before him counters calling for five thousand or
"It is," he observed privately - "it must be my Day of Days!"
A hand touched his shoulder, and a quiet voice said: "Beg pardon - "
He looked up with a slight start - that wasn't one of joyous welcome,
because the speaker was altogether a stranger - to find at his elbow a
large body of man entirely surrounded by evening clothes and urbanity;
whose face was broad with plump cheeks particularly clean-shaven;
whose eyes were keen and small and twinkling; whose fat hand (offered
to P. Sybarite) was strikingly white and dimpled and well-manicured;
whose dignity and poise (alike inimitable) combined with the
complaisance of a seasoned student of mankind to mark an individuality
at once insinuating and forceful.
"You were asking for me, I believe?" pursued this person, with
P. Sybarite pursed doubtful lips. "I'm afraid," he replied
pleasantly, "you have the advantage of me.... Let's see: this is my
The ball was spinning. He deposited four chips on the square numbered
"I am Mr. Penfield," the stranger explained.
"Really?" P. Sybarite jumped up and cordially seized his hand. "I hope
I see you well to-night."
Releasing the hand, he sat down.
"Quite well, thank you; in fact, never better." With a slight smile
Mr. Penfield nodded toward the gaming table. "Having a good time?"
"_Thirty-two, red, even_," observed the croupier....
"Oh, tolerable, tolerable," assented P. Sybarite, blandly accepting
counters that called for seven hundred dollars....
"In one year from to-day, I shall be thirty-three," he reckoned; and
shifted a maximum to the square designated by that number....
"What do you think? Is Teddy going to get the nomination?"
"I'm only very slightly interested in politics," returned Mr.
Penfield. "I shouldn't like to express an opinion.... Sorry a prior
engagement obliged me to keep you waiting."
"_Thirty-three, black, odd_...."
"Don't mention it," insisted P. Sybarite politely. "Not another word
of apology - I protest! Indeed, I've managed to divert myself amazingly
while waiting.... Thank you," he added in acknowledgment of another
seven-hundred-dollar consignment of chips. "To-day," he mused aloud,
"is the thirteenth of April - "
"The fourteenth," corrected Mr. Penfield: "to-day is only about two
"Right you are," admitted P. Sybarite, shifting twenty dollars from
the 13 to the 14. "Careless memory of mine ..."
"_Thirteen, black, odd_...."
"There, now! You see - you spoiled my aim," P. Sybarite complained
"Forgive me," murmured Mr. Penfield while P. Sybarite made another
wager. "Are you in a hurry to break the bank?" he added.
"It's my ambition," modestly confessed the little man, watching a
second twenty gathered in to the benefit of the house. "But I've only
a few minutes more - and you do play such a _darned_ small game."
"Perhaps I can arrange matters for you," suggested Mr. Penfield.
"You'd like the limit removed?"
"Not as bad as all that. Make the maximum a hundred, and I'll begin to
feel at home."
"Delighted to oblige. You won't object to my rolling for you?"
Penfield nodded to the croupier; who (first paying P. Sybarite seven
hundred on his last wager) surrendered his place.
"Not in the least," agreed P. Sybarite, marshalling his chips in
stacks of five: twenty-five dollars each. "It's an honour," he added,
covering several numbers as Penfield deftly set ball and wheel in
He won the first fall; and encouraged by this, began to play
extravagantly, sowing the board liberally with wagers of twenty-five,
fifty, and one hundred dollars each. Hardly ever the ball clattered to
a lodgment but he cashed one or another of these; and the number of
times that the house paid him thirty-five hundred dollars passed his
count. All other play at that table ceased; and a gallery of patrons
of the establishment gathered round, following with breathless
interest the fortunes of this shabby little plunger. Their presence,
far from annoying, pleased him; it was just so much additional
assurance of fair play. The mounting of the roulette wheel - it was
placed upon a broad sheet of plate-glass elevated several inches above
the table - was proof against secret manipulation. And a throng of
spectators not only forbade any attempt to call wrong numbers on a
winning cast but likewise insured fair dealing on the part of the
croupier, who was so busy raking in losing bets or paying winnings
that P. Sybarite had time neither to watch him nor to check his
Penfield, cool and smiling, confined his attention to the wheel. If he
felt any uneasiness or dismay on account of P. Sybarite's steadily
augmented mountain of chips, he betrayed it not at all overtly.
But abruptly (they had been playing less than fifteen minutes) he
paused and, instead of starting the ball on another race round its
ebony run, dropped it lightly in the depression immediately above the
axle of the wheel.
"The game is closed," he announced evenly, with a slow smile.
"Sir" - directly to P. Sybarite - "although it lacks the resources of
Monte Carlo, this establishment nevertheless imitates its protective
measures. A table losing twenty-five thousand dollars in one day
ceases operations. You are just twenty-five thousand to the good.
Accept my congratulations."
"You are very amiable," insisted P. Sybarite, rising, with a little
bow. "But if you care for revenge, I shall be pleased to continue at
the other table."
"Unfortunately that, too, has suspended operations," returned
Penfield. "However, I hope before long to relieve you of your gains."
Opening the cash drawer, he cleared it completely of its contents,
placing before P. Sybarite a tremendous accumulation of bills, old and
new, of all denominations, loose and in packages, together with some
ten or twelve golden double-eagles.
"I believe you will find that correct," he observed genially.
"Afterwards, I trust you will do me the honour of splitting a bottle
with me in the lounge."
"Delighted," said P. Sybarite.
Penfield strolled off, exchanged a few words with an acquaintance or
two, and a few more with his employees, and went downstairs. The
remaining handful of patrons disappeared gradually, yet so quickly
that P. Sybarite was a lonely outsider by the time he had finished
counting his winnings and stowing them away about his person.
Presenting the croupier with five hundred dollars, he recovered his
hat (at last) and descended, to find Penfield awaiting him at the foot
of the steps.
Bloated though he was with lawless wealth and fat with insufferable
self-satisfaction, P. Sybarite, trotting by the side of his host, was
dwarfed alike in dignity and in physique, strongly resembling an
especially cocky and ragged Airedale being tolerated by a well-groomed
Now when Pete had placed a plate of caviare sandwiches between them,
and filled their glasses from a newly opened bottle, he withdrew from
the lounge and closed the door behind him; whether or not at a sign