“I have often heard people say that they do not believe in luck,” said the gray-haired young-looking man, “and they say it in the sense of disbelieving that there is any such thing as luck. To my notion that is very much the same as if they should say that they do not believe in the weather. I believe it was John Oakhurst who said that the only thing that is certain about luck is that it is going to change; but although the saying sounds philosophical, I am inclined to think it is inaccurate. I have known a great many men in the course of my life whose luck did not change. To illustrate this it may be enough to recall the stories60 that are told once in a great while about sailors who are swept overboard by the waves in a storm at sea and who are swept back on board the same vessel by the return current. The man who escapes drowning in such a way experiences one of the most extraordinary strokes of luck that can possibly occur to a human being. And it is almost inconceivable that such a thing would happen to any one man twice.
“Yet I know a man to whom it has happened three times. Captain Lowden White, of East Rockaway, Long Island, is a veteran seaman. He cannot swim a stroke, and when he is asked why he never learned, he cannot, or at least he does not, give any clear answer, but turns the question with a careless ‘I don’t know’ and a pleasant laugh. I think he is superstitious about it, as many sailors are, and certainly if anybody’s experience justifies superstition his would seem to, for, as I said, he has been61 washed overboard three times in the course of the last forty years, and each time washed back immediately on board the vessel he had just left. And that does not include the times he has fallen or been knocked overboard and saved in some other way. I, myself, once caught him by the collar after he had fallen into the water by reason of the snapping of the bowsprit foot-rope of the sloop “Martha,” near Wreck Lead. He had rubber boots on, and the current was running like a mill-race. If I had been two seconds slower he would never have come up alive. If it were a legitimate subject for a bet I would wager any reasonable sum that a man with such an experience would never be drowned.
“That is what I call one of the most wonderful runs of luck that I ever heard of. And it is something of a coincidence, perhaps, that Captain White himself is a firm believer in his own luck in other matters,62 though he does not talk much about his escapes from drowning. He was in his younger days fairly prosperous, and had gathered together a modest competence when he was between forty and fifty years old. Then something happened. I hinted that he was superstitious. What happened was that he killed a cat. That does not seem to the average man to be a very important occurrence, but the Captain firmly believes that it changed the whole course of his life.
“‘I had always been lucky before,’ he says, ‘and I have not had a day’s luck since.’ And the fact is, that whereas he was formerly well-to-do, he is not so now, poor man.
“I suppose everybody who plays poker believes in luck. Certainly I do, and I have seen certain things at the card table that in their way were as remarkable as the runs of a single number at roulette, that63 make up the pretty little romances that go out from Monte Carlo at times, and that used to be dated Baden Baden. I sat watching a game one night at a friend’s house in St. Nicholas Avenue, in which only intimate friends were playing, and two of them were ladies. I did not join, as there were six at the table, and I don’t like a game with seven in. There was absolutely nothing in the game to distinguish it from any other of the hundreds of games that go on in the family circles of up-to-date New Yorkers every night. The limit was five cents. There wasn’t a player in the game who knew enough of card manipulation to deal a crooked hand, and there wasn’t one there who would have done it under temptation. And, moreover, there wasn’t anything like temptation.
“Yet one woman in that game held a succession of hands that would have made a fortune for an ordinarily good player if he64 were lucky enough to hold them in a stiff game. She had been playing with indifferent success for perhaps half an hour, and I was amusing myself by noticing her essentially feminine style of play, when she suddenly began holding flushes. Five times in succession she held a flush before any special remark was made. Of course, there was the usual chatter and chaffing, but when she showed down the fifth flush in five deals, there was a general outburst of comment, and a confession by her that it did seem uncanny.
“‘It will give me the shivery creeps if I get any more,’ was the way she expressed it, and I could see that she really was nervous. That, naturally, amused me, for it was not so very extraordinary, though it was certainly unusual.
“The next hand she held nothing. Then she got a four flush and filled. Then she got a pat flush; then, drawing to the ace65 and king of spades, she got three more spades. The next hand was nothing, and the next was a pat flush. By this time I was excited myself, as was everybody in the game, and I made a memorandum of the last eleven hands, and began jotting down each hand as she held it.
“In thirty-six consecutive hands she held twenty-seven flushes. None of the other nine hands contained even a pair. Five of the twenty-seven were pat hands; nine times she drew one card, eight times she drew two, three times she drew three, and twice she drew four. There seemed to be no distinction of suits. The flush was of one suit as often as another. It was absolutely impossible that there could have been trickery, for there were six dealing in turn. The lady herself was exceedingly nervous about it, and although she became so excited as to continue drawing for flushes, she ceased to try to play them scientifically. Indeed,66 the other players ceased after a time to bet against her, and the cards were at length dealt more from curiosity than from any interest in the game as a game. At length, however, the lucky lady grew so nearly hysterical that her husband made some excuse to break up the game. I was sorry it had to be done, too, for I wanted to see how long such a run would continue, but the lady has told me since that she never, before or since, had any similar experience, though she plays frequently.
“I never saw anything exactly similar to that, but I had a run of luck once myself that seemed to me almost as curious. I went to visit a friend and there was invited to sit down at a poker game with some men I had never met before. The fact of not knowing the other players did not worry me, for I assumed that they were all friends of Harry’s, but it was not long before the fact that they did not know me began to67 worry me most confoundedly, for I never had such cards in my life before, and I don’t dare even to hope that I will ever hold them again. If the circumstances had been different and I could have felt free to play to win, I could have won big money, for they were playing an open game, and the limit was two dollars. At first I played my hands for what they were worth, and I won more than half the pots I played for—a big percentage when six are playing. But after a little I began to worry. It seemed to me that they must mistrust me, and I hesitated about betting as I ordinarily would. Still I kept winning and my pile of chips grew till I was positively ashamed of myself.
“Then I started to try to lose money. Fancy a man doing that at poker! I threw down a number of hands that were well worth betting on, and bet rather heavily on some that I was convinced were losers.68 Even at that I got fooled once or twice and took in pots that were not contested, when the other players would have won them if they had not grown cautious of my luck. Still, I was reducing my pile slowly, in spite of the cards I was getting, and would have reduced it still further if the ladies had not grown tired of their own society and come out to look at the game. One or two casual remarks by their husbands about my luck excited their curiosity, and two or three began looking at my cards.
“I don’t know what they thought of my playing, for I still refused to press my luck as even the most cowardly player would have done, but I know they were fairly astonished at the way the cards came to me. Over and over again I filled full hands, drawing to a pair; twice I held fours, and the flushes were as common as two pairs ever were when I played before. I played at random. I made wild draws and foolish69 bets, and threw down winning hands, but the chips kept coming my way till the situation became positively painful. That luck held till the game broke up, and, though I had honestly tried to keep from winning, I had seventy-five dollars cash to the good, over and above the stack I bought on entering the game. To make matters worse, one of the players had given me some unmistakably black looks, and in my embarrassment I felt certain that he took me for a card sharp, and I thought that the others would be likely to share his opinion.
“When we were all saying good-night, however, one of the players drew me one side and whispered:
“‘We were very glad to see you win that money.’ I was puzzled for fair, but I said:
“‘Well, I’m glad you’re glad, but why should you be? I didn’t exactly like it myself.’
“‘No,’ he replied. ‘I saw you didn’t.70 But didn’t you notice that the man that lost the most lost his temper also?’
“‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I did notice that.’
“‘Well,’ he chuckled, ‘he is the fellow we have been trying all winter to catch.’
“That was a relief, but I never got over my regret that the easiest winnings I ever made at poker should have come when I was trying my best to lose.”
“I quite believe, as you do,” said one of his listeners, “that there is such a thing as luck, but do you think that it is affected by anything that we can possess?”
“Meaning a rabbit’s foot or a child’s caul, I suppose,” said the gray-haired young-looking man with a smile. “Well, I wouldn’t like to declare myself on that point, but I can tell you one more story that is true within my own knowledge. About five years ago I met a man on Broadway, whom I had formerly known as a speculator and a roving character in the West. He71 was a good fellow, with a reputation for being square that I had never heard questioned, and he had, when I knew him well, been unusually successful, so that he was very well off for a young man. I was therefore surprised to see that he looked very seedy. Moreover, he had a discouraged look which I had never seen on his face before.
“I questioned him, and he frankly declared that he was ‘dead broke’ and in trouble. He had tried New York in the hope of mending matters, but had decided that his best chance was to go West again. I offered to help him, but he would not borrow more than a trifle, which he needed toward his fare to Chicago. While he talked I noticed that he wore a small but very brilliant opal in his scarf-pin, and half-laughingly I asked him if he ever expected to have any luck while he wore that. It was not an expensive stone, but it was a72 very pretty one. He looked at me, half surprised, for a moment, and then he took the pin out and looked at it thoughtfully for several moments before speaking. At length he said:
“‘I don’t know that I ever had any superstition. In fact, I don’t know that I have now, but it is certainly curious. I bought that stone about two years ago, and everything I have done in a business way since then has resulted in a loss. I have lost some thousands more than I had, and have still to pay the debts. I think I’ll throw it away. The setting is worth the price of a dinner, I guess, so I’ll keep that.’ And he pried the jewel out with his pen-knife and tossed it into the gutter.
“I met him again last week, and he returned the loan, taking the bills off a roll that it would do you good to look at. He told me that his luck had changed the day he threw the stone away, for he received a73 letter that afternoon which put him on the track of a contract by which he made twenty thousand within a year, and that since then everything had prospered as it always had before he bought the opal.
“I don’t feel called on to say what I think about it, but those are the facts, and, to say the least, they are curious.”