“I am not one who is disposed to quarrel with the inevitable,” said the gray-haired young-looking man as he lighted his pipe in the club smoking-room. There had been considerable discussion in the club as to the propriety of allowing pipes, but he had taken no part in it. He had simply kept on smoking his pipe till the others had settled the question, and when it was settled he continued to have nothing whatever to say.
“I don’t quarrel with the inevitable,” he remarked, “and I realize that changes of all sorts are among the things that are inevitable. Modern progress cannot be stayed,78 and modern improvements cannot be ignored. We have new business methods, new political doctrines, new translations of the Bible, and even the new woman, and there does not seem to be any possibility of ignoring them, or even getting away from them. I therefore make no objection to change of any sort, further than to cling to the old order of things myself, as far as I can. Aside from that I am strongly in favor of new-fangled ways—for those that like them. Indeed, I always think of what President Lincoln said: ‘For people that like that sort of——’”
“Oh! forget it,” said the man with his heels on the fender. “Excuse me,” he added, as the other looked at him in mild surprise, “but that is such an awful chestnut. What has provoked you to philosophizing?”
“Was I philosophizing? Well, perhaps I was. One of the youngsters asked me to79 join in a game of poker a little while ago, and I was going to do it, for I like poker when the stakes are not too heavy, but he told me they were playing with a joker.
“Now, they may get up a game of poker one of these days with high, low, big and little casino, and the right and left bowers in it, and it may prove to be a game that will be much liked by those who play it. Certainly, I will have nothing against it. But when I sit in at the game I want to play it as I learned it. So I declined the invitation.”
“Do you play it as you learned it?” asked the other. “When I learned, four aces couldn’t be beaten.”
“I must admit that point to be well taken,” said the gray-haired young-looking man, “for I can remember, myself, when a straight flush was an unknown hand. In fact, the first one I ever saw came near costing two lives. But the straight flush, though80 it was in its day a modern improvement, was a legitimate development and not a change in the game. The principle underlying draw poker is that a hand is valuable exactly in proportion to the difficulty encountered in getting it—that is, according to the smallness of the chance you have of holding it. Fours were supposed to be the hand that was the hardest to get, and so fours were the winning hand. When somebody discovered that the chances of holding a straight flush were fewer than the chances of holding fours, the straight flush took its place strictly in accordance with the rules of the game as already formulated. The only reason it was not played from the first was that it had not been recognized as a distinct hand before. If somebody should discover a new hand—that is, a new combination of cards with a positive, individual character of its own, sharply distinguishing it from any other combination—that new81 hand might be admitted at its proper value without changing the rules.”
“There is a certain amount of interest in what you say, no doubt,” said the man with his heels on the fender, “but it occurs to me that there may be even more in the narration of the circumstances under which you made the acquaintance of a straight flush.”
“Now a ‘blaze,’” continued the other, “is certainly a distinct hand, but it seems to be a characterless sort of a thing, and not entitled to much respect. And the same may be said of the alternated straight. It is true that an effort was made to introduce the blaze, but it didn’t meet with much favor. I don’t think it is played anywhere now, and I never heard of anybody seriously proposing to play alternated straights. Come to think of it, the straight was not a part of the old original game, and was not universally played until within a few years. I don’t imagine, though I never figured on82 it, that it is any harder to get than an alternated straight, but it has a stronger character of its own. That proves what I said, doesn’t it?”
“About those two lives,” said the other, lazily moving his heels a little further apart.
“It was up in the pine woods of Minnesota. I went there one winter to escape a galloping consumption that my doctor predicted, and had secured a job with Brown & Martin, a firm that had several lumber camps in the woods. There was a gang of about forty men in our camp, and there was nothing particularly unusual about them, excepting perhaps that there was rather more card playing at night than the bosses liked to have. I don’t know that it is prohibited in any of the camps—certainly it was not in those days; but gambling is discouraged, for the men’s sakes as well as for the bosses’, and as a rule there isn’t much going on.
83 “The lumbermen are very impatient of restraint, though, and no intelligent foreman interferes with them much outside of working hours, and as there were half a dozen men in our camp who were inveterate gamblers, the infection spread until there were four or five poker games going on every night. Our foreman was a Yankee from Maine, a strapping big fellow, who did not play himself, and strongly disapproved of it, but he had a great amount of discretion, and beyond speaking his mind freely he did not try to stop it.
“This was thirty years ago, mind you, and, as I said a moment ago, the straight was not played everywhere. We played it, however, for there were a good many there who had become familiar with it, and they insisted on it, and the few who were disposed to grumble at it as a new-fangled notion submitted, though not with the best grace. If you remember, the straight, as84 played then, only beat two pairs. Its value as the lowest complete hand had not yet been recognized.”
The other man nodded.
“One of the men in the party I usually played with was Will Davison, a big, overbearing sort of man, who grew sarcastic whenever a straight was played, and who made it a point to throw down his own hand rather than draw to a sequence of four, calling attention to what he did.
“‘I have no use for a boy’s game,’ he used to say with a sneer, but the rest of the party overruled him, and he liked the game too well to stay out.
“One night a young law student from Columbia, who had gone West as I had for his health, joined our game, taking the sixth hand. Davison didn’t like that, either, as I noticed by his expression, but Harry Storms, the student, was a general favorite, and the rest of us all welcomed him, although we85 were a little surprised when he offered to play, for he generally spent his evenings poring over a law book, and we had thought he didn’t know the cards.
“We speedily found out that he did, though, and that he was not afraid to back his hand for what he thought it was worth. We played only a quarter limit, and as a rule we kept pretty well inside of the limit, too, so that it was not often that there was more than two or three dollars, even in a jack-pot. Storms, however, generally bet the limit when he bet at all, and as the boldest player generally sets the pace, we were soon playing a stiffer game than had been seen before in the camp.
“It was stiffer than I was used to, then, for I was only a youngster, and hadn’t played much, so I was naturally too much absorbed to notice for some time that we had attracted the attention of a number of other men, who crowded around us, watching86 the play in silence. When I did look up I saw Aleck White, our foreman, looking on with an expression of profound dissatisfaction, but as he said nothing I did not feel like quitting the game, especially as the luck was a little in my favor just then.
“Presently there was a jack-pot of one dollar and fifty cents on the table, and as it went over three or four deals without an open, it was sweetened up to three dollars and odd before Storms threw in a quarter, saying, ‘I open.’ I sat next to him, and, looking at my hand, I saw that I had aces up, so I stayed, of course. The next man stayed also, and then Davison, who was next, raised it a quarter. There seemed to be some good hands around, for everybody stayed, even after the raise, and there was nearly five dollars on the board before the betting began. It does not sound very exciting now, but, as I tell you, we did not87 play heavily. There were no professional gamblers among us, and the men were all working for day’s wages. A dollar meant more then than it does now to me, and it was a respectable sum to any of us.
“Before anybody drew cards Storms said: ‘Is there any reason why we shouldn’t raise the limit for this one hand?’
“I had suspected him of bluffing once or twice before that, and I thought this was surely a bluff. Moreover, I had a fool sort of confidence that I was going to get another ace, so I said promptly: ‘I haven’t any objections.’ Davison spoke quickly, too. ‘Suits me,’ he said, and the others, with a little hesitation, agreed: ‘Make it fifty cents for this hand only,’ said one.
“‘Oh, hell!’ growled Davison. ‘Make it a dollar while you are about it.’ I felt that this was too heavy for me, but I was too excited to object, and, as I said, the hands must have been pretty good all88 around, for no one else remonstrated, and a dollar it was.
“I did no better in the draw, and I had sense enough to lay down when Storms threw in a dollar, for he had stood pat, and I didn’t feel like holding up a bluff from where I sat. The next man had drawn two, and he hesitated, but finally put up his dollar. Davison held his hand pat also, and raised Storms a dollar. The next two laid down.
“Storms raised back, and my left-hand neighbor laid down, leaving the struggle to the two men. Davison raised it five dollars, and one of the men who had pulled out exclaimed: ‘I thought it was a dollar limit?’
“‘Well, what business is it of yours?’ said Davison savagely. ‘Storms is the only one that has a right to kick. If he is afraid to bet I’ll stick to the limit,’ he added with a sneer.
89 “Storms laughed. ‘I’ll see your five and raise you ten’ he said, putting up the money.
“Davison pulled out a wallet and, putting a ten-dollar bill on the table, said: ‘That’s all the money I have with me, but I’ll give you an order on my pay and raise you ten.’
“‘And I’ll see that the order is not paid,’ said the foreman, quietly.
“There was a moment’s silence, and then the foreman spoke again. ‘I don’t propose to interfere with anything you fellows do within reason, but I am not going to see you robbing your families.’
“‘He is right,’ said Storms. ‘I don’t want to play out of reason. Perhaps we have gone far enough.’
“‘Oh, well, if you are afraid,’ said Davison, insultingly, ‘I just make it a call.’
“Storms laughed again good-naturedly,90 and said: ‘Well, let it go at that,’ and he laid his cards down, face up.
“‘A flush, eh?’ shouted Davison. ‘That’s what I thought you had,’ and showing down a king full on aces, he reached for the pot. ‘That’ll beat anything but fours.’
“‘But my hand beats fours,’ said Storms, also reaching for the money. ‘It’s a straight flush.’ And so it was, jack high. It was the first one I ever saw in play.
“‘Straight flush be damned!’ exclaimed Davison. ‘Who ever heard of beating fours?’ And as Storms still attempted to take the money, Davison grappled him across the table, shouting and cursing violently.
“Storms struck one or two blows, and good ones, before any of us could interfere, but as Davison had him in a close grip he could not spar, and he seized the other’s throat, choking off his wind instantly.
“The foreman jumped in, of course, as91 did two or three others, but Davison had a knife out in an instant, and if he hadn’t been caught in time would have stabbed his antagonist. As it was, it was a difficult thing to pull them apart, for their blood was up, and they would certainly have killed each other if they hadn’t been stopped. When we dragged them apart they struggled like two wild beasts. And that broke up poker playing in that camp for the winter, for the foreman put his foot down hard.”
“And who took the pot?” asked the man with his feet on the fender.
“The foreman made them divide it. I don’t know as he had any right to, but his word was law with us then.”