Among his numerous short stories is the classic “To Start a Fire,” which captures the despair of a man trying to build a fire in a snow-bound wilderness to save his life.
London wrote over 25 novels and 65 short stories, in addition to an assortment of essays, poetry, non-fiction, and plays, despite the fact that he died in 1916 at the young age of 40. “A Goboto Night” is one of 18 stories the Post printed by London.
At Goboto the traders come off their schooners and the planters drift in from far wild coasts, and one and all they assume shoes, white duck trousers and various other appearances of civilization. At Goboto mail is received, bills are paid, and newspapers, rarely more than five weeks old, are accessible; for the little island, belted with its coral reefs, affords safe anchorage, is the steamer port of call, and serves as the distributing point for the whole wide-scattered group.
Life at Goboto is heated, unhealthy and lurid, and for its size it asserts the distinction of more cases of acute alcoholism than any other spot in the world. Guvutu, over in the Solomons, claims that it drinks between drinks. Goboto does not deny this. It merely states, in passing, that in the Goboton chronology no such interval time is known. It also poins out its import statistics, which show a far larger per capita consumption of liquors. Guvutu explains this on the basis that Goboto does a larger business and has more visitors. Goboto retorts that its population is smaller and that its visitors are thirstier. And the discussion goes on interminably, principally because the disputants do not live long enough to settle it.
Goboto is not large. The island is only a quarter of a mile in diameter, and on it are situated an Admiralty coalshed—where a few tons of coal have lain untounched for twenty years—the barracks for a handful of black laborers, a big store and warehouse with sheet-iron roofs, and a bungalow inhabited by the manager and his two clerks. They are the white population. An average of one man out of the three is always to be found down with fever. It is the policy of the company to treat its patrons well, as invading companies have found out, and it is the task of the manager and clerks to do the treating. Throughout the year traders and recruiters arrive from far dry cruises and planters from equally distant and dry shores, bringing with them magnificent thirsts. Goboto is the Mecca of sprees, and when they have spreed they go back to their schooners and plantations to recuperate.
Some of the less hardy require as much as six months between visits. But for the manager and his assistants there are no such intervals. They are on the spot, and week by week, blown in by monsoon or southeast trade, the schooners come to anchor, cargoed with copra, ivory, nuts, pearl shell, hawksbill turtle and thirst.
It is a very hard job at Goboto. That is why the pay is twice that on other stations, and that is why the company selects only courageous and intrepid men for this particular station. They last no more than a year or so, when the wreckage of them is shipped back to Australia, or the remains of them are buried in the sand across on the windward side of the islet. Johnny Bassett, almost the legendary hero of Goboto, broke all records. He was a remittance man with a remarkable constitution and he lasted seven years.
Nevertheless, at Goboto they tried to be gentlemen. For that matter, though something was wrong with them, they were gentlemen and had been gentlemen. That was why the great unwritten rule of Goboto was that visitors should put on pants and shoes. Breech-clouts, lavalavas and bare legs were not tolerated. When Captain Jensen, the wildest of the blackbirders though descended from old New York Knickerbocker stock, surged in, clad in loin-cloth, undershirt, two belted revolvers and a sheath-knife, he was stopped at the beach. This was in the days of Johnny Bassett, ever a stickler in matters of etiquette. Captain Jensen stood up in the sternsheets of his whaleboat and denied the existence of pants on his schooner. Also he affirmed his intention of coming ashore. They of Goboto nursed him back to health from a bullet-hole through his shoulder, and in addition handsomely begged his pardon, for no pants had they found on his schooner. And finally, on the first day he sat up, Johnny Bassett kindly but firmly assisted his guest into a pair of pants on his own. This was the great precedent. In all the succeeding years it had never been violated. White men and pants were undivorceable. Only niggers ran naked.
ON THIS night things were, with one exception, in nowise different from any other night. Seven of them with glimmering eyes and steady legs had capped a day of Scotch with swivelsticked cocktails and sat down to dinner. Jacketed, trousered and shod they were: Jerry McMurtrey, the manager; Eddy Little and Jack Andrews, clerks; Captain Stapler, of the recruiting ketch Merry; Darby Shryleton, planter from Tito-Ito; Peter Gee, a half-caste Chinese pearl-buyer who ranged from Ceylon to the Paumotas; and Alfred Deacon, a visitor who had stopped off from the last steamer. At first wine was served by the black servants to those who drank it, though all quickly shifted back to Scotch and soda—pickling their food as they ate it ere it went into their calcined, pickled stomachs.
Over their coffee they heard the rumble of an anchor-chain through a hawspipe, tokening the arrival of a vessel.
“It’s David Grief,” Peter Gee remarked.
“How do you know?” Deacon demanded truculently, and then went on to deny the half-caste’s knowledge. “You chaps put on a lot of side. I’ve done some sailing myself, and this naming a craft when its sail is only a blur, or naming a man by the sound of his anchor—it’s—it’s unadulterated poppycock.”
Peter Gee was engaged in lighting a cigarette and did not answer.
“Some of the niggers do amazing things that way,” McMurtrey interposed tactfully.
As with the others, this conduct of their visitor jarred on the manager. From the moment of Peter Gee’s arrival that afternoon Deacon had manifested a tendency to pick on him. He had disputed his statements and been generally rude.
“Maybe it’s because Peter’s got Chink blood in him,” had been Andrews’ hypothesis. “Deacon’s Australian, you know, and they’re daffy down there on color.”
“I fancy that’s it,” McMurtrey had agreed. “But we can’t permit any bullying, especially of a man like Peter Gee, who’s whiter than most white men.”
In this the manager had been in nowise wrong. Peter Gee was that rare creature, a good as well as clever Eurasian. In fact it was the stolid integrity of the Chinese blood that toned the recklessness and licentiousness of the English blood that had run in his father’s veins. Also he was better educated than any man there, spoke better English as well as several other tongues, and knew and lived more of their own ideals of gentlemanliness than they did themselves. And, finally, he was a gentle soul. Violence he deprecated, though he had killed men in his times. Turbulence he abhorred. He avoided turbulence as he would the plague.
Captain Stapler stepped in to help McMurtrey:
“I remember when I changed schooners and came into Altman the niggers knew right off the bat it was me. I wasn’t expected, either, much less was I expected to be in another craft. They told the trader it was me. He used the glasses and wouldn’t believe them. But they did know. Told me afterward they could see it sticking out all over the schooner that I was running her.”
Deacon ignored him and returned to the attack on the pearl-buyer.
“How did you know from the sound of the anchor that it was this whatever-you-called-him man?” he challenged.
“There are so many things that go to make up such a judgment,” Peter Gee answered. “It’s very hard to explain. It would require almost a textbook.”
“I thought so,” Deacon sneered. “Explanation that doesn’t explain is easy.”
“Who’s for bridge?” Eddy Little, the second clerk, interrupted, looking up expectantly and starting to shuffle. “You’ll play, won’t you, Peter?”
“If he does, he’s a bluffer,” Deacon cut back. “I’m getting tired of all this poppycock. Mr. Gee, you will favor me and put yourself in a better light if you tell how you know who that man was that just dropped anchor. After that I’ll play you piquet.”
“I’d prefer bridge,” Peter answered. “As for the other thing, it’s something like this: By the sound it was a small craft—no square-rigger. No whistle, no siren was blown—again a small craft. It anchored close in—still again a small craft, for steamers and big ships must drop hook outside the middle shoal. Now the entrance is tortuous. There is no recruiting nor trading captain in the group who dares to run the passage after dark. Certainly no stranger would. There were two exceptions. The first was Margonville. But he was executed by the High Court at Fiji. Remains the other exception, David Grief. Night or day in any weather he runs the passage. This is well know to all. A possible factor, in case Grief were somewhere else, would be some young dare-devil of a skipper. In that connection, in the first place, I don’t know of any, nor does anybody else. In the second place, David Grief is in these waters, cruising on the Gunga, which is shortly scheduled to leave here for Karo-Karo. I spoke Grief on the Gunga in Sandfly Passage day before yesterday. He was putting a trader ashore on a new station. He said he was going to call in at Babo and then come on to Goboto. He has had ample time to get here. I have heard an anchor drop. Who else than David Grief can it be? Captain Donovan is skipper of the Gunga, and him I know too well to believe that he’d run in to Goboto after dark unless his owner were in charge. In a few minutes David Grief will enter through that door and say: ‘In Guvutu they merely drink between drinks.’ I’ll wager fifty pounds he’s the man that enters and that his word will be: ‘In Guvutu they merely drink between drinks.'”
Deacon was for the moment crushed. The sullen blood rose darkly in his face.
“Well, he’s answered you,” McMurtrey laughed genially. “And I’ll back his bet myself for a couple of sovereigns.”
“Bridge!—who’s going to take a hand?” Eddy Little cried impatiently. “Come on, Peter.”
“The rest of you play,” Deacon said. “He and I are going to play piquet.”
“I’d prefer bridge,” Peter Gee said mildly.
“Don’t you play piquet?”
“Then come on. Maybe I can show I know more about that than I do about anchors.”
“Oh, I say—” McMurtrey began.
“You can play bridge,” Deacon shut him off. “We prefer piquet.”
Reluctantly Peter Gee was bullied into a game that he knew would be unhappy.
“Only a rubber,” he said, as he cut for deal.
“For how much?” Deacon asked.
Peter Gee shrugged his shoulders. “As you please.”
“Hundred up—five pounds a game?”
Peter Gee agreed.
“With the lurch double, of course, ten pounds?”
“All right,” said Peter Gee.
At another table four of the others sat in at bridge. Captain Stapler, who was no card-player looked on. McMurtrey, with poorly concealed apprehension, followed as well as he could what went on at the piquet table. His fellow Englishmen as well were shocked by the behavior of the Australian, and all were troubled by fear of some untoward act on his part. That he was working up his animosity against the half-caste and that the explosion might come any time was apparent to all.
“I hope Peter loses,” McMurtrey said in an undertone.
“He won’t if he has any luck,” Andrews answered. “He’s a wizard at piquet. I know by experience.”
That Peter Gee was lucky was patent from the continual badgering of Deacon, who filled his glass frequently. He had lost the first game handily and, judging from his remarks, was about to lose the second, when the door opened and David Grief entered.
“In Guvutu they merely drink between drinks,” he remarked casually to the assembled company ere he gripped the manager’s hand. “Hello, Mac! Say, my skipper’s down in the whaleboat. He’s got a silk shirt, a tie and tennis shoes all complete, but he wants you to send a pair of pants down. Mine are too small, but yours will fit him. Hello, Eddy, how’s that gari-gari? You up, Jack? The miracle has happened. No one down with fiver.” He sighed happily. “I suppose the night is still young. Hello, Peter, did you catch that big squall an hour after you left us? We had to let go the second anchor.”
While David Grief was being introduced to Deacon, McMurtrey dispatched a house-boy with the indispensable pants, and when Captain Donovan finally came into the room he was garbed as a white man should be—at least in Goboto.
Deacon lost the second game, and an outburst heralded the fact. Peter Gee devoted himself to lighting a cigarette and keeping quiet.
“What?—are you quitting because you’re ahead?” Deacon demanded.
Grief raised his eyebrows questioningly to McMurtrey who frowned back his own disgust.
“It’s the rubber,” Peter Gee answered.
“It takes three games to make a rubber. It’s my deal. Come on.”
Peter Gee acquiesced and the third game was on.
“Young whelp—he needs a lacing,” McMurtrey muttered to Grief. “Come on, let us quit, you chaps. I want to keep an eye on him. If he goes too far I’ll throw him out on the beach, company instructions or no.”
“Who is he?” Grief queried.
“A left-over from last steamer. Company’s orders to treat him nice. He’s looking to invest in a plantation. Has a ten-thousand-pound letter of credit with the company. He’s got ‘all-white Australia’ on the brain. Thinks because his skin is white and because his father was once Attorney-General of the Commonwealth that he can be a cur. That’s why he’s picking on Peter, and you know Peter’s the last man in the world to make trouble or incur trouble. Confound the company! I didn’t engage to look after infants with bank accounts. Come on, fill your glass, Grief. The man’s a blighter, a blithering blighter.”
“Maybe he’s only young,” Grief suggested.
“He can’t contain his drink—that’s clear.” The manager glared his disgust and wrath. “If he raises a hand to Peter, so help me, I’ll give him a licking myself—the little, overgrown cad!”
The pearl-buyer pulled the pegs out of the cribbage board on which he was scoring and sat back. He had won the third game. He glanced across to Eddy Little, saying:
“I’m ready for the bridge now.”
“I wouldn’t be a quitter,” Deacon snarled.
“Oh, really, I’m tired of the game,” Peter Gee assured him with his habitual quietness.
“Come on and be game,” Deacon bullied. “One more. You can’t take my money that way. I’m out fifteen pounds. Double or quits.”
McMurtrey was about to interpose, but Grief restrained him with his eyes.
“If it positively is the last, all right,” said Peter Gee, gathering up the cards. “It’s my deal, I believe. As I understand it, this final is for fifteen pounds. Either you owe me thirty or we quit even?”
“That’s it. Either we break even or I pay you thirty.”
“Getting blooded, eh?” Grief remarked.
The other men stood or sat around the table and Deacon played again in bad luck. That he was a good player was clear. The cards were merely running against him. That he could not take his ill luck with equanimity was equally clear. He was guilty of sharp, ugly curses and he snapped and growled at the imperturbable half-caste. In the end Peter Gee counted out, while Deacon had not even made his fifty points. He glowered speechlessly at his opponent.
“Looks like a lurch,” said Grief.
“Which is double,” said Peter Gee.
“There’s no need your telling me,” Deacon snarled; “I’ve studied arithmetic. I owe you forty-five pounds. There, take it!”
The way in which he flung the nine five-pound notes on the table was an insult in itself. Peter Gee was even quieter and flew no signals of resentment.
“You’ve got fool’s luck but you can’t play cards,” Deacon went on. “I could teach you cards.”
The half-caste smiled and nodded acquiescence as he folded up the money.
“There’s a little game called casino; I wonder if you ever heard of it—a child’s game?”
“I’ve seen it played,” the half-caste murmured gently.
“What’s that?” was the resulting snap from Deacon. “Maybe you think you can play it!”
“Oh, no, not for a moment! I’m afraid I haven’t head enough for it.”
“It’s a bully game, casino,” Grief broke in pleasantly. “I like it very much.”
Deacon ignored him.
“I’ll play you ten quid a game—thirty-one points out,” was the challenge to Peter Gee. “And I’ll show you how little you know about cards. Come on, where’s a full deck?”
“No, thanks,” the half-caste answered. “They are waiting for me in order to make up a bridge set.”
“Yes, come on,” Eddy Little begged eagerly. “Come on, Peter, let’s get started.”
“Afraid of a little game like casino!” Deacon girded. “Maybe the stakes are too high. I’ll play you for pennies—or farthings, if you say so.”
The man’s conduct was a hurt and an affront to all of them. McMurtrey could stand it no longer.
“Now hold on, Deacon. He says he doesn’t want to play. Let him alone.”
Deacon turned raging upon his host; but before he could blurt out his abuse Grief stepped into the breach.
“I’d like to play casino with you,” he said.
“What do you know about it?”
“Not much, but I’m willing to learn.”
“Well, I’m not teaching for pennies tonight.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” Grief answered. “I’ll play for almost any sum—within reason, of course.”
Deacon proceeded to dispose of this intruder with one stroke.
“I’ll play you a hundred pounds a game, if that will do you any good.”
Grief beamed his delight. “That will be all right—very right. Let us begin. Do you count sweeps?”
Deacon was taken aback. He had not expected a Goboton trader to be anything but crushed by such a proposition.
“Do you count sweeps?” Grief repeated.
Andrews had brought him a new deck, and he was throwing out the joker.
“Certainly not,” Deacon said. “That’s a sissy game.”
“I’m glad,” Grief coincided. “I don’t like sissy games, either.”
“You don’t, eh? Well, then, I’ll tell you what we do. We’ll play for five hundred pounds a game.”
“I’m agreeable,” Grief said, beginning to shuffle. “Cards and spades go out first, of course, and then big and little casino, and the aces in the bridge order of value. Is that right?”
“You’re a lot of jokers down here,” Deacon laughed, but his laughter was strained. “How do I know you’ve got the money?”
“By the same token I known you’ve got it. Mac, how’s my credit with the company?”
“For all you want,” the manager answered.
“You personally guarantee that?” Deacon demanded.
“I certainly do,” McMurtrey said. “Depend upon it, the company will honor his paper up to and past your letter of credit.”
“Low deals,” Grief said, placing the deck before Deacon.
The latter hesitated in the midst of the cut and looked around with querulous misgiving at the faces of the others. The clerks and captains nodded.
“You’re all strangers to me,” Deacon complained. “How am I to know? Money on paper isn’t always the real thing.”
Then it was Peter Gee, drawing a wallet from his pocket and borrowing a fountain pen from McMurtrey, went into action.
“I haven’t gone to buying yet,” the half-caste explained, “so the account is intact. I’ll just indorse it over to you, Grief. It’s for fifteen thousand. There, look at it.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes. It’s just the same as your own and just as good. The company’s paper is always good.”
Deacon cut the cards, won the deal and gave them a thorough shuffle. But his luck was still against him and he lost the game.
“Another game,” he said. “We didn’t say how many, and you can’t quit with me a loser. I want action.”
Grief shuffled and passed the cards for the cut.
“Let’s play for a thousand,” Deacons said when he had lost the second game. And when the thousand had gone the way of the two five-hundred bets he proposed to play for two thousand.
“That’s progression,” McMurtrey warned, and was rewarded by a glare from Deacon. But the manager was insistent. “You don’t have to play progression, Grief, unless you’re foolish.”
“Who’s playing this game?” Deacon flamed at his host; and then, to Grief: “I’ve lost two thousand to you. Will you play for two thousand?”
Grief nodded, the fourth game began and Deacon won. The manifest unfairness of such betting was known to all of them. Though he had lost three games out of four Deacon had lost no money. By the child’s device of doubling his wager with each loss he was bound, with the first game he won, no matter how long delayed, to be even again.
He now evinced an unspoken desire to stop, but Grief passed the deck to be cut.
“What?” Deacon cried. “You want more?”
“Haven’t got anything yet,” Grief murmured whimsically, as he began the deal. “For the usual five hundred, I suppose?”
The shame of what he had done must have tingled in Deacon, for he answered: “No, we’ll play for a thousand. And say! Thirty-one points is too long. Why not twenty-one points out—if it isn’t too rapid for you?”
“That will make it a nice quick little game,” Grief agreed.
The former method of play was repeated. Deacon lost two games, doubled the stake and was again even. But Grief was patient, though the thing occurred several times in the next hour’s play. Then happened what he was waiting for—a lengthening in the series of losing games for Deacon. The latter doubled to four thousand and lost, doubled to eight thousand and lost, and then proposed the double to sixteen thousand.
Grief shook his head. “You can’t do that, you know. You’ve only ten thousand credit with the company.”
“You mean you won’t give me action?” Deacon asked hoarsely. “You mean that with eight thousand of my money you’re going to quit?”
Grief smiled and shook his head.
“It’s robbery, plain robbery,” Deacon went on. “You take my money and won’t give me action.”
“No, you’re wrong. I’m perfectly willing to give what action you’ve got coming to you. You’ve got two thousand pounds of action yet.”
“Well, we’ll play it,” Deacon took him up. “You cut.”
The game was played in silence, save for irritable remarks and curses from Deacon. Silently the onlookers filled and sipped their long Scotch glasses. Grief took no notice of his opponent’s outbursts, but concentrated on the game. He was really playing cards, and there were fifty-two in the deck to be kept track of and of which he did keep track. Two-thirds of the way through the last deal he threw down his hand.
“Cards put me out,” he said. “I have twenty-seven.”
“If you’ve made a mistake!” Deacon threatened, his face white and drawn.
“Then I shall have lost. Count them.”
Grief passed over his stack of takings, and Deacon with trembling fingers verified the count. He half shoved his chair back from the table and emptied his glass. He looked about him at unsympathetic faces.
“I fancy I’ll be catching the next steamer for Sydney,” he said, and for the first time his speech was quiet and without bluster.
As Grief told them afterward: “Had he whined or raised a roar I wouldn’t have given him that last chance. As it was he took his medicine like a man, and I had to do it.”
Deacon glanced at his watch, simulated a weary yawn and started to rise.
“Wait,” Grief said. “Do you want further action?”
The other sank down in his chair, strove to speak but could not, licked his dry lips and nodded his head.
“Captain Donovan here sails at daylight in the Gunga for Karo-Karo,” Grief began with seeming irrelevance. “Karo-Karo is a ring of sand in the sea, with a few thousand cocoanut trees. Pandanus grows there, but they can’t grow sweet potatoes or taro. There are about eight hundred natives, a king and two prime minsters, and the last three named are the only ones who were any clothes. It’s a sort of God-forsaken little hole and once a year I send a schooner up from Goboto. The drinking water is brackish, but old Tom Butler has survived on it for a dozen years. He’s the only white man there, and he has a boat’s crew of five Santa Cruz boys who would run away or kill him if they could. That is why there were sent there. They can’t run away. He is always supplied with the hard cases from the plantations.
“Naturally you are wondering what it is all about. But have patience. As I have said, Captain Donovan sails on the annual trip to Karo-Karo at daylight tomorrow. Tom Butler is old and getting quite helpless. I’ve tried to retire him to Australia, but he says he wants to remain and die on Karo-Karo, and he will in the next year or so. He’s a queer old codger. Now the time is due for me to send some white man up to take the work off his hands. I wonder how you’d like the job. You’d have to stay two years.
“Hold on, I’ve not finished. You’ve talked frequently of action this evening. There’s no action in betting away what you’ve never sweated for. The money you’ve lost to me was left you by your father or some other relative who did the sweating. But two years of work as trader on Karo-Karo would mean something. I’ll bet the ten thousand I’ve won from you against two years of your time. If you win, the money’s yours. If you lose, you take the job at Karo-Karo and sail at daylight. Now that’s what might be called real action. Will you play?”
Deacon could not speak. His throat lumped and he nodded his head as he reached for the cards.
“One thing more,” Grief said. “I can do even better. If you lose, two years of your time are mine—naturally without wages. Nevertheless, I’ll pay you wages. If your work is satisfactory, if you observe all instructions and rules, I’ll pay you five thousand pounds a year for two years. The money will be deposited with the company, to be paid to you with interest when the time expires. Is that all right?”
“Too much so,” Deacon answered. “You are unfair to yourself. A trader only gets ten or fifteen pounds a month.”
“Put it down to action then,” Grief said with an air of dismissal. “And before we begin I’ll jot down several of the rules. These you will repeat aloud every morning during the two years—if you lose. They are for the good of your soul. When you have repeated them aloud seven hundred and thirty Karo-Karo mornings I am confident they will be in your memory to stay. Lend me your pen, Mac. Now, let’s see.”
He wrote steadily and rapidly for some minutes, then proceeded to read the matter aloud:
“I must always remember that one man is as good as another, save and except when he thinks he is better.
“No matter how drunk I am I must not fail to be a gentleman. A gentleman is a man who is gentle. Note: It would be better not to get drunk.
“A good curse, rightly used and rarely, is an efficient thing. Too many curses spoil the cursing. Note: A curse cannot change a card sequence nor cause the wind to blow.
“There is no license for a man to be less than a man. Ten thousand pounds cannot purchase such a license.”
At the beginning of the reading Deacon’s face had gone white with anger. Then had arisen, from neck to forehead, a slow and terrible flush that deepened to the end of the reading.
“There, that will be all,” Grief said, as he folded the paper and tossed it to the center of the table. “Are you still ready to play the game?”
“I deserve it,” Deacon muttered brokenly. “I’ve been an ass! Mr. Gee, before I know whether I win or lose I want to apologize. Maybe it was the whisky, I don’t know, but I’m an ass, a cad, a bounder—everything that’s rotten.”
He held out his hand and the half-caste took it beamingly.
“I say, Grief,” he blurted out, “the boy’s all right. Call the whole thing off and let’s forget it in a final nightcap.”
Grief showed signs of debating, but Deacon cried:
“No; I won’t permit it. I’m not a quitter. If it’s Karo-Karo, it’s Karo-Karo. There’s nothing more to it.”
“Right,” said Grief, as he began the shuffle. “If he’s the right stuff to go to Karo-Karo, Karo-Karo won’t do him any harm.”
The game was close and hard. Three times they divided the deck between them and “cards” was not scored. At the beginning of the fifth and last deal Deacon needed three points to go out and Grief needed four. “Cards” alone would put Deacon out, and he played for “cards.” He no longer muttered or cursed, and played his best game of the evening. Incidentally he gathered in the two black aces and the ace of hearts.
“I suppose you can name the four cards I hold,” he challenged, as the last of his deal was exhausted and he picked up his hand.
“Then name them.”
“The knave of spades, the deuce of spades, the tray of hearts and the ace of diamonds,” Grief answered.
Those behind Deacon and looking at his hand made no sign. Yet the naming had been correct.
“I fancy you play casino better than I,” Deacon acknowledged. “I can name only three of yours, a knave, and ace and big casino.”
“Wrong. There aren’t five aces in the deck. You’ve taken in three and you hold the fourth in your hand now.”
“By Jove, you’re right,” Deacon admitted. “I did scoop in three. Anyway, I’ll make ‘cards’ on you. That’s all I need.”
“I’ll let you save little casino—” Grief paused to calculate. “Yes, and the ace as well, and I’ll make ‘cards’ and go out with big casino. Play.”
“No ‘cards,’ and I win!” Deacon exulted as the last of the hand was played. “I go out on little casino and the four aces. Big casino and ‘spades’ only bring you to twenty.”
Grief shook his head. “Some mistake, I’m afraid.”
“No,” Deacon declared positively. “I counted every card I took in. That’s the one thing I was correct on. I’ve twenty-six and you’ve twenty-six.”
“Count again,” Grief said.
Carefully and slowly, with trembling fingers, Deacon counted the cards he had taken. There were twenty-five. He reached over to the corner of the table, took up the rules Grief had written, folded them and put them in his pocket. Then he emptied his glass and stood up. Captain Donovan looked at his watch, yawned and also arose.
“Going aboard, Captain?” Deacon asked.
“Yes,” was the answer. “What time shall I send the whaleboat for you?”
“I’ll go with you now. We’ll pick up my luggage from the Billy as we go by. I was wailing on her for Babo in the morning.”
Deacon shook hands all around, after receiving a final pledge of good luck on Karo-Karo.
“Does Tom Butler play cards?” he asked Grief.
“Solitaire,” was the answer.
“Then I’ll teach him double solitaire.” Deacon turned toward the door where Captain waited, and added with a sigh—”And I fancy he’ll skin me, too, if he plays like the rest of you island men.”