An Outcast/Chapter XXXI
The clock has just struck twelve. Mr. Snivel and George, passing from the scenes of our last chapter, enter a Keno den, situated on Meeting street. "You must get money, George. Here you are nothing without money. Take this, try your hand, make your genius serve you." Mr. Snivel puts twenty dollars into George's hand. They are in a room some twenty by thirty feet in dimensions, dimly-lighted. Standing here and there are gambling tables, around which are seated numerous mechanics, losing, and being defrauded of that for which they have labored hard during the week. Hope, anxiety, and even desperation is pictured on the countenances of the players. Maddened and disappointed, one young man rises from a table, at which sits a craven-faced man sweeping the winnings into his pile, and with profane tongue, says he has lost his all. Another, with flushed face and bloodshot eyes, declares it the sixth time he has lost his earnings here. A third reels confusedly about the room, says a mechanic is but a dog in South Carolina; and the sooner he comes to a dog's end the better.
Mr. Snivel points George to a table, at which he is soon seated. "Blank—blank—blank!" he reiterates, as the numbers turn up, and one by one the moody bank-keeper sweeps the money into his fast-increasing heap. "Cursed fate!—it is against me," mutters the forlorn man. "Another gone, and yet another! How this deluding, this fascinating money tortures me." With hectic face and agitated nerve, he puts down his last dollar. "Luck's mysterious!" exclaims Mr. Snivel, looking on unmoved, as the man of the moody face declares a blank, and again sweeps the money into his heap. "Gone!" says George, "all's gone now." He rises from his seat, in despair.
"Don't get frantic, George—be a philosopher—try again—here's a ten. Luck 'll turn," says Mr. Snivel, patting the deluded man familiarly on the shoulder, as he resumes his seat. "Will poverty never cease torturing me? I have tried to be a man, an honest man, a respectable man. And yet, here I am, again cast upon a gambler's sea, struggling with its fearful tempests. How cold, how stone-like the faces around me!" he muses, watching with death-like gaze each number as it turns up. Again he has staked his last dollar; again fortune frowns upon him. Like a furnace of livid flame, the excitement seems burning up his brain. "I am a fool again," he says, throwing the blank number contemptuously upon the table. "Take it—take it, speechless, imperturbable man! Rake it into your pile, for my eyes are dim, and my fortune I must seek elsewhere."
A noise at the door, as of some one in distress, is heard, and there rushes frantically into the den a pale, dejected-looking woman, bearing in her arms a sick and emaciated babe. "Oh, William! William!—has it come to this?" she shrieks, casting a wild glance round the den, until, with a dark, sad expression, her eye falls upon the object of her search. It is her husband, once a happy mechanic. Enticed by degrees into this den of ruin, becoming fascinated with its games of chance, he is how an habitue. To-night he left his suffering family, lost his all here, and now, having drank to relieve his feelings, lies insensible on the floor. "Come home!—come home! for God's sake come home to your suffering family," cries the woman, vaulting to him and taking him by the hand, her hair floating dishevelled down her shoulders. "I sent Tommy into the street to beg—I am ashamed—and he is picked up by the watch for a thief, a vagrant!" The prostrate man remains insensible to her appeal. Two policemen, who have been quietly neglecting their duties while taking a few chances, sit unmoved. Mr. Snivel thinks the woman better be removed. "Our half-starved mechanics," he says, "are a depraved set; and these wives they bring with them from the North are a sort of cross between a lean stage-driver and a wildcat. She seems a poor, destitute creature—just what they all come to, out here." Mr. Snivel shrugs his shoulders, bids George good night, and takes his departure. "Take care of yourself, George," he says admonitiously, as the destitute man watches him take his leave. The woman, frantic at the coldness and apathy manifested for her distress, lays her babe hurriedly upon the floor, and with passion and despair darting from her very eyes, makes a lunge across the keno table at the man who sits stoically at the bank. In an instant everything is turned into uproar and confusion. Glasses, chairs, and tables, are hurled about the floor; shriek follows shriek—"help! pity me! murder!" rises above the confusion, the watch without sound the alarm, and the watch within suddenly become conscious of their duty. In the midst of all the confusion, a voice cries out: "My pocket book—my pocket book!—I have been robbed." A light flashes from a guardsman's lantern, and George Mullholland is discovered with the forlorn woman in his arms—she clings tenaciously to her babe—rushing into the street.
- A gambling den.