Read CHAPTER III of Wolfville Nights, free online book, by Alfred Lewis, on

How Faro Nell Dealt Bank.

“Riches,” remarked the Old Cattleman, “riches says you! Neither you-all nor any other gent is competent to state whether in the footure he amasses wealth or not. The question is far beyond the throw of your rope.”

My friend’s tone breathed a note of strong contradiction while his glance was the glance of experience. I had said that I carried no hope of becoming rich; that the members of my tribe were born with their hands open and had such hold of money as a riddle has of water. It was this which moved him to expostulatory denial.

“This matter of wealth, that a-way,” he continued, “is a mighty sight a question of luck. Shore, a gent has to have capacity to grasp a chance an’ savey sufficient to get his chips down right. But this chance, an’ whether it offers itse’f to any specific sport, is frequent accident an’ its comin’ or failure to come depends on conditions over which the party about to be enriched ain’t got no control. That’s straight, son! You backtrack any fortune to its beginning an some’ers along the trail or at the farthest end you’ll come up with the fact that it took a accident or two, what we-all darkened mortals calls ‘luck,’ to make good the play. It’s like gettin’ shot gettin’ rich is; all you has to do is be present personal at the time, an’ the bullet does the rest.

“You distrusts these doctrines. You shore won’t if you sets down hard an’ thinks. Suppose twenty gents has made a surround an’ is huntin’ a b’ar. Only one is goin’ to down him. An’ in his clumsy blunderin’ the b’ar is goin’ to select his execootioner himse’f. That’s a fact; the party who downs the b’ar, final, ain’t goin’ to pick the b’ar out; the b’ar’s goin’ to pick him out. An’ it’s the same about wealth; one gent gets the b’ar an’ the other nineteen an’ they’re as cunnin’ an’ industr’ous as the lucky party don’t get nothing don’t even get a shot. I repeats tharfore, that you-all settin’ yere this evenin’, firin’ off aimless observations, don’t know whether you’ll quit rich or not.”

At the close of his dissertation, my talkative companion puffed a cloud which seemed to hang above his venerable head in a fashion of heavy blue approval. I paused as one impressed by the utter wisdom of the old gentleman. Then I took another tack.

“Speaking of wealth,” I said, “tell me concerning the largest money you ever knew to be won or lost at faro tell me a gambling story.”

“Tell you-all a gamblin’ tale,” he repeated, and then mused as if lost in retrospection. “If I hesitates it’s because of a multitoode of incidents from which to draw. I’ve beheld some mighty cur’ous doin’s at the gamblin’ tables. Once I knows a party who sinks his hopeless head on the layout an’ dies as he loses his last chip. This don’t happen in Wolfville none. No, I don’t say folks ain’t cashed in at farobank in that excellent hamlet an’ gone singin’ to their home above; but it ain’t heart disease. Usual it’s guns; the same bein’ invoked by sech inadvertencies as pickin’ up some other gent’s bet.

“Tell you-all a story about gamblin’! Now I reckons the time Faro Nell rescoos Cherokee Hall from rooin is when I sees the most dinero changed in at one play. You can gamble that’s a thrillin’ eepisode when Faro Nell steps in between Cherokee an’ the destroyer. It’s the gossip of the camp for days, an’ when Wolfville discusses anything for days that outfit’s plumb moved.

“This gent who crowds Cherokee to the wall performs the feat deliberate. He organises a sort o’ campaign ag’in Cherokee; what you might term a fiscal dooel, an’ at the finish he has Cherokee corralled for his last peso. It’s at that p’int Nell cuts in an’ redeems the sityooation a heap. It’s all on the squar’; this invadin’ sport simply outlucks the bank. That, an’ the egreegious limit Cherokee gives him, is what does the trick.

“In Wolfville, we-all allers recalls that sharp-set gent who comes after Cherokee with respect. In fact he wins our encomiums before he sets in ag’in Cherokee before ever he gets his second drink at the Red Light bar. He comes ramblin’ over with Old Monte from Tucson one evenin’; that’s the first glimpse we has of him. An’ for a hour, mebby, followin’ his advent, seein’ the gen’ral herd is busy with the mail, he has the Red Light to himse’f.

“On this yere o’casion, thar’s likewise present in Wolfville he’s been infringin’ ‘round some three days a onsettled an’ migratory miscreant who’s name is Ugly Collins. He’s in a heap of ill repoote in the territories, this Ugly Collins is; an’ only he contreebutes the information when he arrives in camp that his visit is to be mighty temp’rary, Enright would have signed up Jack Moore to take his guns an’ stampede him a lot.

“At the time I’m talkin’ of, as thar’s no one who’s that abandoned as to go writin’ letters to Ugly Collins, it befalls he’s plenty footloose. This leesure on the part of Ugly Collins turns out some disastrous for that party. Not havin’ no missives to read leaves him free to go weavin’ about permiscus an’ it’s while he’s strayin’ here an’ thar that he tracks up on this stranger who’s come after Cherokee.

“Ugly Collins sees our pilgrim in the Red Light an’, except Black Jack, who of course is present offishul the stranger’s alone. He’s weak an’ meek an’ shook by a cough that sounds like the overture to a fooneral. Ugly Collins, who’s a tyrannizin’ cowardly form of outcast, sizes him up as a easy prey. He figgers he’ll have a heap of evil fun with him, Ugly Collins does. Tharupon he approaches the consumptive stranger:

“‘You-all seems plenty ailin’, pard,’ says Ugly Collins.

“‘Which I shore ain’t over peart none,’ retorts the stranger.

“‘An’ you-all can put down a bet,’ returns Ugly Collins, ’I learns of your ill-health with regrets. It’s this a-way: I ain’t had no exercise yet this evenin’; an’ as I tracks in yere, I registers a vow to wallop the first gent I meets up with to whom I’ve not been introdooced ; merely by way of stretchin’ my muscles. Now I must say an’ I admits it with sorrow that you-all is that onhappy sport. It’s no use; I knows I’ll loathe myse’f for crawlin’ the hump of a gent who’s totterin’ on the brink of the grave; but whatever else can I do? Vows is vows an’ must be kept, so you might as well prepare yourse’f for a cloud of sudden an’ painful vicissitoodes.’

“As Ugly Collins says this he kind o’ reaches for the invalid gent where he’s camped in a cha’r. It’s a onfortunate gesture; the invalid as quick as a rattlesnake, prodooces a derringer, same as Doc Peets allers packs, from his surtoot an’ the bullet carries away most of Ugly Collins’ lower jaw.

“‘You-all is goin’ to be a heap sight more of a audience than a orator yereafter, Collins,’ says Doc Peets, as he ties up the villain’s visage that a-way. ‘Also, you oughter be less reckless an’ get the address of your victims before embarkin’ on them skelp-collectin’ enterprises of yours. That gent you goes ag’inst is Doc Holliday; as hard a game as lurks anywhere between the Slope an’ the Big Muddy.’

“Does the Stranglers do anything to this Holliday? Why, no, not much; all they does is present him with a Colt’s-44 along with the compliments of the camp.

“‘An’ it’s to be deplored,’ says Enright, when he makes the presentation speech to Holliday, ’that you-all don’t have this weepon when you cuts loose at Collins instead of said jimcrow derringer. In sech events, that hoss-thief’s death would have been assured. Shore! shootin’ off Collins’ jaw is good as far as it goes, but it can’t be regyarded as no sech boon as downin’ him complete.

“It’s after supper when this Holliday encounters Cherokee; the two has a conference. This Holliday lays bar’ his purpose.

“‘Which I’m yere,’ says this Holliday, ’not only for your money, but I wants the camp.’ Then he goes for’ard an’ proposes that they plays till one is broke; an, if it’s Cherokee who goes down, he is to vamos the outfit while Holliday succeeds to his game. ‘An’ the winner is to stake his defeated adversary to one thousand dollars wherewith to begin life anew,’ concloodes this Holliday.

“‘Which what you states seems like agreeable offers,’ says Cherokee, an’ he smiles clever an’ gentlemanly. ’How strong be you-all, may I ask?’

“‘Thirty thousand dollars in thirty bills,’ replies this Holliday. ‘An’ now may I enquire how strong be you? I also likes to know how long a trail I’ve got to travel.’

“‘My roll is about forty thousand big,’ says Cherokee. Then he goes on: ’It’s all right; I’ll open a game for you at second drink time sharp.’

“‘That’s comfortin’ to hear,’ retorts this Holliday. ’The chances, what with splits an’ what with the ten thousand you oversizes me, is nacherally with you; but I takes ’em. If I lose, I goes back with a even thousand; if I win, you-all hits the trail with a thousand, while I’m owner of your roll an’ bank. Does that onderstandin’ go?’

“‘It goes!’ says Cherokee. Then he turns off for a brief powwow with Faro Nell.

“‘But thar’s one thing you-all forgets, Cherokee,’ says Nell. ’If he breaks you, he’s got to go on an’ break me. I’ve a bundle of three thousand; he’s got to get it all before ever the play is closed. Tell this yere Holliday party that.’

“Cherokee argues ag’in it; but Nell stamps ‘round an’ starts to weep some, an’ at that, like every other troo gent, he gives in abject.

“‘Thar’s a bet I overlooks,’ observes Cherokee, when he resoomes his talk with this Holliday; ’it’s my partner. It’s only a little matter of three thousand, but the way the scheme frames itse’f up, after I’m down an’ out, you’ll have to break my partner before Wolfville’s all your own.’

“‘That’s eminent satisfactory,’ returns this Holliday. ‘An’ I freely adds that your partner is a dead game sport to take so brief a fortune an’ win all, lose all go after more’n twenty times as much. Your partner’s a shore enough optimist that a-way.’

“Cherokee don’t make no retort. This Holliday ain’t posted none that the partner Cherokee’s mentionin’ is Faro Nell, an’ Cherokee allows he won’t onbosom himse’f on that p’int onless his hand is forced.

“When the time arrives to open the game, the heft of Wolfville’s public is gathered at the Red Light. The word goes ’round as to the enterprisin’ Holliday bein’ out for Cherokee’s entire game; an’ the prospect of seein’ a limit higher than a cat’s back, an’ a dooel to the death, proves mighty pop’lar. The play opens to a full house, shore!

“‘What limit do you give me?’ says this Holliday, with a sort o’ cough, at the same time settin’ in opposite to Cherokee. ’Be lib’ral; I ain’t more’n a year to live, an’ I’ve got to play ’em high an’ hard to get average action. If I’m in robust health now, with a long, useful life before me, the usual figgers would do. Considerin’ my wasted health, however, I shore hopes you’ll say something like the even thousand.’

“‘Which I’ll do better than that,’ returns Cherokee, as he snaps the deck in the box, ’I’ll let you fix the limit to suit yourse’f. Make it the ceilin’ if the sperit moves you.’

“‘That’s gen’rous!’ says Holliday. ‘An’ to mark my appreciation tharof, I’ll jest nacherally take every resk of splits an’ put ten thousand in the pot, coppered; ten thousand in the big squar’; an’ ten thousand, coppered, on the high kyard.’

“Son, we-all sports standin’ lookin’ on draws a deep breath. Thirty thousand in three ten thousand dollar bets, an’ all on the layout at once, marks a epock in Wolfville business life wherefrom folks can onblushin’ly date time! Thar it lays however, an’ the two sharps most onmoved tharby is Cherokee an’ Holliday themse’fs.

“‘Turn your game!’ says this Holliday, when his money is down, an’ leanin’ back to light a seegyar.

“Cherokee makes the turn. Never does I witness action so sudden an’ complete! It’s shore the sharpest! The top kyard as the deck lays in the box is a ten-spot. An’ as the papers is shoved forth, how do you-all reckon they falls! I’m a Mexican! if they don’t come seven-king! This Holliday wins all along; Cherokee is out thirty thousand an’ only three kyards showed! How’s that for perishin’ flesh an’ blood!

“I looks at Cherokee; his face is as ca’m as a Injun’s; he’s too finely fibred a sport to so much as let a eyelash quiver. This Holliday is equally onemotional. Cherokee shoves over three yaller chips.

“’Call ’em ten thousand each,’ says Cherokee. Then he waits for this Holliday to place his next bets.

“‘Since you-all has exackly that sum left in your treasury,’ observes this Holliday, puffin’ his seegyar, ’I reckons I’ll let one of these yaller tokens go, coppered, on the high kyard ag’in. You-all doubles or breaks right yere.’

“The turn falls trey-eight. Cherokee takes in that ten thousand dollar chip.

“‘Bein’s that I’m still playin’ on velvet,’ remarks this Holliday, an’ his tone is listless an’ languid like he’s only half interested, ’I’ll go twenty thousand on the high kyard, open. This trip we omits the copper.’

“The first kyard to show is a deuce. It’s better than ten to one Cherokee will win. But disapp’intment chokes the camp; the next kyard is a ace, an’ Cherokee’s swept off his moccasins. The bank is broke; and to signify as much, Cherokee turns his box on its side, counts over forty thousand dollars to this Holliday an’ gets up from the dealer’s cha’r.

“As Cherokee rises, Faro Nell slides off the lookout’s stool an’ into the vacated cha’r. When Cherokee loses the last bet I hears Nell’s teeth come together with a click. I don’t dare look towards her at the time; but now, when she turns the box back, takes out the deck, riffles an’ returns it to its place I gives her a glance. Nell’s as game as Cherokee. As she sets over ag’inst this lucky invalid her colour is high an’ her eyes like two stars.

“‘An’ now you’ve got to break me,’ says Nell to this Holliday. ’Also, we restores the statu quo, as Colonel Sterett says in that Coyote paper, an’ the limit retreats to a even hundred dollars.’

“‘Be you-all the partner Mister Hall mentions?’ asks this Holliday, at the same time takin’ off his sombrero an’ throwin’ away his seegyar.

“Nell says she is.

“‘Miss,’ says this Holliday, ’I feels honoured to find myse’f across the layout from so much sperit an’ beauty. A limit of one hundred, says you; an’ your word is law! As a first step then, give me three thousand dollars worth of chips an’ make ’em fifty dollars each. I’ll take the same chance with you on that question of splits I does former, an’ I wants a hundred on every kyard, middle to win ag’in the ends.’

“The deal begins; Nell is winner from the jump; she takes in three bets to lose one plumb down to the turn. This Holliday calls the turn for the limit; an’ loses. The kyards go into the box ag’in an’ a next deal ensooes. So it continyoos; an’ Nell beats this Holliday hard for half a hour. Nell sees she’s in luck; an’ she feels that strong she concloods to press it some.

“‘The limit’s five hundred!’ says Nell to this Holliday. ’Come after me!’

“Holliday bows like he’s complimented. ‘I’m after you; an’ I comes a-runnin’,’ he says.

“Down goes his money all over the lay-out; only now its five hundred instead of one hundred.

“It’s no avail, this Holliday still loses. At the end of a hour Nell sizes up her roll; she’s a leetle over forty thousand strong; jest where Cherokee stands at the start.

“Nell pauses as she’s about to put the deck in the box for a deal. She looks at this Holliday a heap thoughtful. That look excites Dan Boggs who’s been on the brink of fits since ever the play begins, he’s that ’motional.

“‘Don’t raise the limit, Nell!’ says Dan in a awful whisper. ’That’s where Cherokee’s weak at the go-off. He ought never to have thrown away the limit.’

“Nell casts her eyes they’re burnin’ like coals! on Dan. I can see his bluff about Cherokee bein’ weak has done decided her mind.

“‘Cherokee does right,’ says Nell to Dan, ’like Cherokee allers does. An’ I’ll do the same as Cherokee. Stranger,’ goes on Nell, turnin’ from Dan to this Holliday; ’go as far as you likes. The bridle’s off the hoss.’

“‘An’ much obleeged to you, Miss!’ says this Holliday, with another of them p’lite bows. ’As the kyards goes in the box, I makes you the same three bets I makes first to Mister Hall. Ten thousand, coppered, in the pot; ten thousand, open, in the big squar’; an’ ten thousand on the high kyard, coppered.’

“‘An’ now as then,’ says Nell, sort o’ catchin’ her breath, ’the ten-spot’s the soda kyard!’

“Son, it won’t happen ag’in in a billion years! Nell’s right hand shakes a trifle she’s only a child, mind, an’ ain’t got the nerves that goes with case-hardened sports as she shoves the ten-spot forth. But it’s comin’ her way; her luck holds; as certain as we all sets yere drinkin’ toddy, the same two kyards shows for her as for Cherokee, but this time they falls ‘king-seven’; the bank wins, an’ pore Holliday is cleaned out.

“‘Thar, Cherokee,’ says Nell, an’ thar’s a soft smile an’ a sigh of deep content goes with the observation, ’thar’s your bank ag’in; only it’s thirty thousand stronger than it is four hours ago.’

“‘Your bank, ladybird, you means!’ says Cherokee.

“‘Well, our bank, then,’ retorts Nell. ’What’s the difference? Don’t you-all tell me we’re partners?’ Then Nell motions to Black Jack. ‘The drinks is on me, Jack,’ she says; ’see what the house will have.’”