The sweetheart of A king.
The scene was not exactly new to me. Moved by the spirit of adventure, or by an access of ennui which overtakes me at times, I had several times visited the gaudy establishment of Mercer, on the fashionable side of Fifth Avenue in the Fifties. In either case I had found disappointment; where the stake is a matter of indifference there can be no excitement; and besides, I had been always in luck.
But on this occasion I had a real purpose before me, though not an important one, and I surrendered my hat and coat to the servant at the door with a feeling of satisfaction.
At the entrance to the main room I met Bob Garforth, leaving. There was a scowl on his face and his hand trembled as he held it forth to take mine.
“Harry is inside. What a rotten hole,” said he, and passed on. I smiled at his remark—it was being whispered about that Garforth had lost a quarter of a million at Mercer’s within the month— and passed inside.
Gaudy, I have said it was, and it needs no other word. Not in its elements, but in their arrangement.
The rugs and pictures and hangings testified to the taste of the man who had selected them; but they were abominably disposed, and there were too many of them.
The room, which was unusually large, held two or three leather divans, an English buffet, and many easy chairs. A smoking-table, covered, stood in one corner.
Groups of men were gathered about each of the three roulette wheels ranged along the farther side. Through a door to the left could be seen the poker tables, surrounded by grave or jocular faces. Above the low buzz of conversation there sounded the continual droning voices of the croupiers as they called the winning numbers, and an occasional exclamation from a “customer.”
I made my way to the center wheel and stood at the rear of the crowd surrounding it.
The ball rolled; there was a straining of necks amid an intense silence; then, as the little pellet wavered and finally came to a rest in the hole number twenty-four a fervent oath of disappointment came from some one in front of me.
The next moment, rising on tiptoe to look over the intervening shoulders, I found myself looking into the white face of my younger brother Harry.
“Paul!” he exclaimed, turning quickly away.
I pushed my way through and stood at his side. There was no sound from the group of onlookers; it is not to be wondered at if they hesitated to offend Paul Lamar.
“My dear boy,” said I, “I missed you at dinner. And though this may occupy your mind, it can scarcely fill your stomach. Haven’t you had enough?”
Harry looked at me. His face was horribly pale and his eyes bloodshot; they could not meet mine.
“For Heaven’s sake, Paul, let me alone,” he said, hardly above a whisper. “I have lost ninety thousand.”