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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
hush.

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 blasť 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
yearning....

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
apathy.

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
black diamond.

"_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
croupier.

"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
chair.

"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
still.

"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.



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