“Preferably in Latin,” said Archie. “Quae mensae?”
But it was obviously no good arguing with him. Besides, we were all keen enough to go.
“We needn’t lose,” said Myra. “We might win.”
“Good idea,” said Thomas. He lit his pipe and added, “Simpson was telling me about his system last night. At least, he was just beginning when I went to sleep.” He applied another match to his pipe and went on, as if the idea had suddenly struck him, “Perhaps it was only his internal system he meant. I didn’t wait.”
“Samuel, you are quite well inside, aren’t you?”
“Quite, Myra. But, I have invented a sort of system for roulette, which we might—”
“There’s only one system which is any good,” pronounced Archie. “It’s the system by which, when you’ve lost all your own money, you turn to the man next to you and say, ’Lend me a louis, dear old chap, till Christmas; I’ve forgotten my purse.’”
“No systems,” said Dahlia. “Let’s make a collection and put it all on one number and hope it will win.”
Dahlia had obviously been reading novels about people who break the bank.
“It’s as good a way of losing as any other,” said Archie. “Let’s do it for our first gamble, anyway. Simpson, as our host, shall put the money on. I, as his oldest friend, shall watch him to see that he does it. What’s the number to be?”
We all thought hard for several moments.
“Samuel, what’s your age?” asked Myra, at last.
“Right off the board,” said Thomas.
“You’re not really more than thirty-six?” Myra whispered to him. “Tell me as a secret.”
“Peter’s nearly two,” said Dahlia.
“Do you think you could nearly put our money on ’two’?” asked Archie.
“I once made seventeen,” I said. “On that never-to-be-forgotten day when I went in first with Archie—”
“That settles it. Here’s to the highest score of The Rabbits’ wicket-keeper. To-morrow afternoon we put our money on seventeen. Simpson, you have between now and 3.30 to-morrow to perfect your French delivery of the magic word dix-sept.”
I went to bed a proud but anxious man that night. It was my famous score which had decided the figure that was to bring us fortune ... and yet ... and yet....
Suppose eighteen turned up? The remorse, the bitterness! “If only,” I should tell myself—“if only we had run three instead of two for that cut to square-leg!” Suppose it were sixteen! “Why, oh why,” I should groan, “did I make the scorer put that bye down as a hit?” Suppose it were thirty-four! But there my responsibility ended. If it were going to be thirty-four, they should have used one of Archie’s scores, and made a good job of it.
At 3.30 next day we were in the fatal building. I should like to pause here and describe my costume to you, which was a quiet grey in the best of taste, but Myra says that if I do this I must describe hers too, a feat beyond me. Sufficient that she looked dazzling, that as a party we were remarkably well-dressed, and that Simpson—murmuring “dix-sept" to himself at intervals—led the way through the rooms till he found a table to his liking.