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The ROUND TENT.
The Round Tent was in full blast when Devine passed by. Sounds of delicious music floated to his ear, the lights flashed in his eyes, he heard the clink of gold and silver, the call of the bankers, and the silvery ring of female laughter. Even in that moment, when jealousy, hatred, revenge, all inflamed by the liquor he had drank, were boiling in his breast, where the sneer of Brown was still rankling, he could not resist the temptation. He entered the tent, and staggering with a wild and excited air to a faro-table, threw down a gold coin upon a card, and won. The result detained him. Again and again he won; and soon the game, from the recklessness with which he played and the luck which followed all his bets, became a matter of absorbing interest to those who stood at the table. The pile of "slugs ”- octagonal fifty-dollar pieces — rapidly increased before him. His face was pale ; but the liquor he had drunk, with the passions which were raging within, gave his countenance a peculiar look which has never been forgotten by those who observed him that night, as he betted and won, and still won until the hand of the banker trembled as he dealt the cards.
The excitement was only at this table however: the other tables were surrounded by their group of betters. Occasionally one of the girls from Brown's would force her way to the table and throw down her coin, and if she won, continue until at last the whole was gone ; if she lost, then back to Brown's, to gain another stake, only to go in the same way. The three-card faro and thimble-rig tables were almost deserted. Occasionally a green-looking fellow would look on at the manæuvrings of the boy-banker, then suddenly put down a small piece of money, and sneak off when it was lost. There was at one of these tables a young man of about eighteen years of age. He was a natural-born gambler, the son of one of the musicians. He had a fine face, just touched with the evidences of premature dissipation. His coal-black hair rising up in wavy masses from a pale high brow, and features of classic beauty, gave him not only an interesting but handsome appearance. He was the petted favorite of all the women of the place. But what could be expected of one reared amid such scenes and influences ? Already cold, calculating, heartless, his only delight was to entangle others in meshes of vice. · Nap Lothair would have been dangerous under the best circumstances : here he was a young demon. Near his table, a three-card faro bank, was standing a large, stout man, the very picture of stupidity and greed. Without capacity to make money by any business pursuit, he was tormented by an insatiable craving for it. Tennie Nevins, as he was called, was one of the few who in those days showed the miser's instinct. Not one cent that once came into his possession ever left it. He sewed his money up in his garments; he buried it in place after place ; he secreted it in the most out-of-the-way places, and fearing it might be found in each, he was daily changing the locality
of its secretion. The prodigality of the people by whom he was surrounded gave him to eat in plenty. He wore the same clothes in '51, when we lost sight of him, as when he came to the diggings in '49.
Nap had declared he would get Tennie some of these days. He said, “So much stupidity might stand the gambling-tables for some time, but his miserly greed for money would tempt him at last to a big figure." Tennie would nightly come to the Round Tent, where he would watch with the intensest interest the different games. If any one was winning, his little round eyes would fairly beam with delight, and a little low chuckle would evince his pleasure ; but when the bank won he would turn away with a groan of sorrow. He always carried with him a buckskin purse with gold dust in it, and sometimes when unusually excited over a losing bank, he had been known to drop this purse on a card, but as instantly snatch it away again before the result could be known, and hurry off, hugging it to his bosom as though it were an old friend whom he had rescued from destruction. Nap had determined to get that buckskin purse and its contents. What cared he that it might break the poor fellow's heart and sweep away the little sense he possessed ? Nap angled for that purse. He had spent many dollars in getting his friends to lend Tennie money to bet. Tennie always got it changed, and gambled with part; the rest he “sunk.” When the part he decided to gamble with was gone, so was Tennie. Nap had spent more time, patience and resources to “rope in " the “old fellow" than would have taught him some useful accomplishment, but in vain. This night Tennie stood by his bank watching the usual loungers throw down their small coin on one of the three cards Lothair was manipulating. All won. Nap cursed his luck; Tennie's eyes brightened every time the better won.
He drew nearer and nearer the table. “Who'll bet on the queen of hearts ? the queen of hearts !” cried Nap, in a lazy, half drawling voice. Tennie looked at the cards. He saw the queen's face looking out from underneath, as if Nap was unconscious. He looked at the back; there was on it a tiny black spot. Tennie opened his eyes wider. A better came by: “The queen of hearts,” drawled Nap A voice from behind whispered, "The black spot." The better put his money down on that card, turned it up, it was the queen of hearts; the man won and went whistling away. Tennie nervously clutched his purse, drew it from his pocket, put it down on the black spot, snatched it away. “The queen of hearts! Who bets on the queen of hearts ?” again drawled Nap. He turned the cards up. There was the queen of hearts; she looked so tantalising to Tennie. Nap shuffled the three cards, separated them, picked them up in his hands, and carelessly turned to speak to some one behind him. In doing so the face of the queen of hearts flashed before Tennie's eyes; it was but for an instant. The card went down on the table - it had a black spot on it. Tennie's purse went down as quick as a flash, his trembling hands were withdrawn, a smile spread over his face, and his nostrils dilated and contracted with his quick, excited breathing. Nap looked at him a moment, slowly lifted the purse, and said,
“ Turn the card, Tennie.” He did so. A change flashed over his expectant face, he grew deadly pale, great drops of
perspiration stood on his cheeks, he looked as one seized with deadly sickness the card was the ten of spades. Nap slowly rose. Tennie's eyes followed him until he left the tent, when he burst out in an uncontrollable fit of crying, and was led away. A bystander, after he left, turned over the other cards: one was the ace of clubs, the other the five of clubs; the queen of hearts was not there. A card dropped from Nap's sleeve as he left the tent, and some one picked it up: it was the queen of hearts. Years after, a visitor to the Insane Asylum at Stockton saw a lean, spectral form of a man who sat in the utmost dejection always, and when aroused by a question from the physician, began to lament his “woful loss.” It was the once portly Tennie.
But this was but one of the scenes enacted while Devine was trying to break one of the banks. Earlier in the evening a number of miners from Oregon Gulch had strayed into the room ; all of them were young men. Their 'every movement showed breeding and culture, and the irresolute, timid manner of some of them made it evident that this was their first visit to such scenes. One of them especially, Herbert Woodland, or Herb, as he was better known to his associates, attracted a momentary attention. He was not more than twenty.one years of age, but a type of manly beauty. His height was about five feet eleven inches, well-proportioned, a large head with thick, glossy brown hair, slightly curling. His eyes were of so deep a blue that it was almost impossible at times to tell their color. His cheeks, ruddy with the glow of health and innocence, deepened their hue as he first entered. The painted and zened women behind the tables, the glare of light, the noisy crowd, the excited gamblers, all were new to him. He showed that he felt he was treading on forbidden ground; but as he entered the band had commenced, and the music was charming: he yielded himself to its sway, and was soon lost in following its beautiful changes. Old familiar tunes followed each other and rivetted him to the spot. At length a low plaintive note from the cornet broke upon the ears of that crowd, and but few notes had been played when every voice was hushed, every step arrested, and every arm stayed. The bar was deserted, the tables left alone, the bankers ceased their call, and as the old but sweet, sweet melody of “Home, Sweet Home" rolled through the tent, tears rolled down the cheeks of many a stalwart man. It brought to Herb's memory that home from which he had not been parted long — only a few weeks. He saw parents, sisters, a loved one; the tears gathered in his eyes, he raised his hand to dash them away. As he did so he also raised his eyes, and they encountered those of one of the presiding nymphs at a banking-table. There was a look of deepest sympathy in her face, and her own eye seemed to glisten with the liquid light of memories of other days. He felt that she had watched his emotion, and though he shrank from the thought, he thought too that painted child of sin had sympathised with it. It was all over in an instant, but still the fancy that there was a link of feeling between them followed him, and often during the evening did that look haunt him.
As the sweet old tune was ended, Herb was addressed by a soft, mellow voice : "That was a very beautiful piece of music, sir." He turned and saw the handsome face of Nap Lothair at his side. In those days no one in California thought of introductions. There were no social distinctions, no “puttting on airs” was allowed — one man was as good as another. Of course, Herb knew nothing of Nap, and he responded courteously to the remark. Nap resumed: “It seems mean to enjoy this music, simple and sweet as it is, without paying for it in some way; and I don't like to. Let's take something to drink.” It was an adroit way of putting it, for if there was anything in this world Herb shrank from more than another, it was the appearance of meanness. He was on the point of moving towards the bar, but he stopped. “Excuse me, sir, but I do not drink anything." “Oh," replied his companion, not in the least disconcerted, “neither do I much ; but there is soda or lemonade, if you wish. Come.” Herb yielded, feeling that it was almost a duty to make some return for the pleasure he had received. As they approached the bar, Nap gave a knowing wink to the bar-tender, and that personage instantly stood in readiness. “A glass of wine and a lemonade,” said Nap. While waiting for them, Herb felt his shoulder touched ; a not unmusical voice, but with a foreign accent, accosted him: “Excusez-moi, Monsieur, but you will take von leetle glass wine wid me?” at the same time laying a small, white and beautifully shaped hand on his shoulder, and looking up with those same earnest, liquid, melting eyes he had seen before. It was the first touch of vice on Herbert's person; he shrank and recoiled from it, but he could not insult or harshly repel a woman, and he was silent. The woman was not in the least disconcerted; she lowered her eyes, in whose long lashes a tear seemed to linger, as with a sigh, pressing her hand to her bosom, she exclaimed, “Ah yes, monsieur, I know — I know it all. I saw zat you vos von good young man, ven zat sweet, sweet music, zat 'Home' was played. I von poor bad woman no good. You tought of home, mother, all dear. I, too, hab home — far, far away
in sunny France.” Herb was astounded, he hardly knew how to act, but he seized the glass of champagne placed before him, and clinking it with hers, drank it down at a draught and strode away from the building:
A small group of spectators had witnessed part of this scene, and as Herb strode away, Jem Andrews was heard to say, “Madame Pomp”- a nickname and a curtailment of Pompadour, bestowed on this daughter of France — “Madame Pomp tried the soft on that air feller, and he took amazingly fur the fust time.” While Madame Pomp returned to her table, as she passed giving Nap a look, as much as to say, “We've hooked him sure — play gently." Her judgment was, alas, too true, as after events showed. It was founded on a large experience in such life as California presented. A different result was an exception, not the rule ; and while such events give rise to serious social and moral questions, they can only be answered by the future lives of the persons involved. If a young man like Herb Woodland could so easily be led from rectitude; if the more manly and generous impulses of his nature laid the very foundation for his betrayal into wrong; if his early training, his social position, the moral and religious teaching of his surroundings until a few weeks before, were submerged at the first temptation : why, to what purpose
are all our efforts? parents and friends will seriously ask. We must not be diverted from our main purpose now to answer these questions. Should we be able to follow this young man's career, the future might be able to clear up the difficulties that seem to meet us, when we see him suddenly fall into evil.
The writer of these sketches has neither the temptation nor the desire to exaggerate facts. It is his wish to give a faithful picture of scenes that were daily occurring in California during the early period of the gold excitement, any one of which might be verified by a cloud of witnesses. He has therefore grouped together actual occurrences, most of which can be and will be readily recognised by persons still living, as having actually occurred in connection with the prime . object of this sketch, viz: giving some idea of the scenes which characterised Judge Lynch's arbitrament of moral and social evils. He does not pretend io say that in all cases the same motives or the same causes were at work ; his desire is to show how great evils are likely to be connected with any such arbitrament. He has also another object, which may or may not be gathered from the story ; to state that object would be to defeat it, but it involves accuracy of statement as an absolute necessity.
While the scenes described in our last chapter were being enacted, the faro-table at which Devine had seated himself gradually began to be the centre of attraction. His success continued for some time, and the pile before him had grown to a large sum. The game being an unlimited one, the excited gambler staked and won heavily at every turn of the cards. The banker himself began to feel nervous and uneasy ; but trained to hide every expression of feeling, nothing but an excessive paleness betrayed his emotion. His voice, calling for bets, had grown a little husky as he saw his opponent with keen eye watch every movement of his hand; and he soon ceased to speak. The spectators too‘grew too absorbed to make comments, the only noise being a suppressed sigh of relief as they saw Devine draw to himself pile after pile of slugs. At length Devine, gathering up the largest pile on his side of the table, counting it carefully, doubling it, and again doubling the second amount, placed it upon a card – “straight," as he called it. The amount was several thousand dollars. The banker grew slightly paler, and there was a greater tremulousness about his fingers, but nothing more, as he began to draw. Devine's face was as pale as death, and his whole frame trembled violently, while his hands convulsively grasped the sides of the table. Slowly the banker drew the cards
two — three — four – the spectators themselves hardly seemed to breathe. The fifth card was turned, and Devine won.
The dealer with a curse took out the pack he had been using, and throwing it down violently on the floor, trampled it beneath his feet.