Chapter 56 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

The Faro Bank.

We entered the saloon. The game voilà!

At one end was the table—the bank. We could see neither bank nor dealer; both were hidden by the double ring of bettors, who encircled the table—one line seated, the other standing behind. There were women, too, mingled in the crowd—seated and standing in every attitude—gay and beautiful women, decked out in the finery of fashion, but with a certain braverie of manner that betokened their unfortunate character.

D’Hauteville had guessed aright—the game was at its height. The look and attitudes of the betters—their arms constantly in motion, placing their stakes—the incessant rattling of the ivory cheques, and the clinking together of dollars—all told that the game was progressing briskly.

A grand chandelier, suspended above the table, cast its brilliant light over the play and the players.

Near the middle of the saloon stood a large table, amply furnished with “refreshments.” Cold fowls, ham and tongue, chicken salad, and lobsters, cut-glass decanters tilled with wine, brandy, and other liquors, garnished this table. Some of the plates and glasses bore the traces of having been already used, while others were clean and ready for anyone who chose to play knife and fork a while. It was, in fact, a “free lunch,” or rather supper—free to any guest who chose to partake of it. Such is the custom of an American gambling-house.

The rich viands did not tempt either my companion or myself. We passed the table without halting, and walked directly up to the “bank.”

We reached the outer circle, and looked over the shoulders of the players. “Shade of Fortuna! Chorley and Hatcher!”

Yes—there sat the two sharpers, side by side, behind the faro-table—not as mere bettors, but acting respectively as banker and croupier of the game! Chorley held the dealing-box in his fingers, while Hatcher sat upon his right, with cheques, dollars, and bank-notes piled upon the table in front of him! A glance around the ring of faces showed us the pork-merchant as well. There sat he in his loose jeans coat and broad white-hat, talking farmer-like, betting bravely, and altogether a stranger to both banker and croupier!

My companion and I regarded each other with a look of surprise.

After all, there was nothing to surprise us. A faro bank needs no charter, no further preliminaries to its establishment than to light up a table, spread a green baize over it, and commence operations. The sportsmen were no doubt quite at home here. Their up-river excursion was only by way of a little variety—an interlude incidental to the summer. The “season” of New Orleans was now commencing, and they had just returned in time for it. Therefore there was nothing to be surprised at, in our finding them where we did.

At first seeing them, however, I felt astonishment, and my companion seemed to share it. I turned towards him, and was about proposing that we should leave the room again, when the wandering eye of the pseudo pork-merchant fell upon me.

“Hilloa, stranger!” he cried out, with an air of astonishment, “you hyar?”

“I believe so,” I replied unconcernedly.

“Wal! wal! I tho’t you war lost. Whar did you go, anyhow?” he inquired in a tone of vulgar familiarity, and loud enough to turn the attention of all present upon myself and my companion.

“Ay—whar did I go?” I responded, keeping my temper, and concealing the annoyance I really felt at the fellow’s impudence.

“Yes—that’s jest what I wanted to know.”

“Are you very anxious?” I asked.

“Oh, no—not particklerly so.”

“I am glad of that,” I responded, “as I don’t intend telling you.”

With all his swagger I could see that his crest fell a little at the general burst of laughter that my somewhat bizarre remark had called forth.

“Come, stranger,” he said, in a half-deprecatory, half-spiteful tone, “you needn’t a be so short-horned about it, I guess; I didn’t mean no offence—but you know you left us so suddintly—never mind—’taint no business o’ mine. You’re going to take a hand at faro, ain’t you?”


“Wal, then, it appears a nice game. I’m jest trying it for the first time myself. It’s all chance, I believe—jest like odds and evens. I’m a winnin’ anyhow.”

He turned his face to the bank, and appeared to busy himself in arranging his bets.

A fresh deal had commenced, and the players, drawn off for a moment by our conversation, became once more engaged in what was of greater interest to them—the little money-heaps upon the cards.

Of course, both Chorley and Hatcher recognised me; but they had restricted their recognitions to a friendly nod, and a glance that plainly said—

“He’s here! all right! he’ll not go till he has tried to get back his hundred dollars—he’ll have a shy at the bank—no fear but he will.”

If such were their thoughts they were, not far astray. My own reflections were as follows:—

“I may as well risk my money here as elsewhere. A faro bank is a faro bank all the same. There is no opportunity for cheating, where cards are thus dealt. The arrangement of the bets precludes every possibility of such a thing. Where one player loses to the bank, another may win from it by the very same turn, and this of course checks the dealer from drawing the cards falsely, even if it were possible for him to do so. So I may as well play against Messrs Chorley and Hatcher’s bank as any other—better, indeed; for if I am to win I shall have the satisfaction of the revanche, which those gentlemen owe me. I shall play here then. Do you advise me, Monsieur?”

Part of the above reflections, and the interrogatory that wound them up, were addressed in a whisper to the young Creole.

He acknowledged their justice. He advised me to remain. He was of the opinion I might as well tempt fortune there as go farther.

Enough—I took out a five-dollar gold-piece, and placed it upon the ace.

No notice was taken of this—neither banker nor croupier even turning their eyes in the direction, of the bet. Such a sum as five dollars would not decompose the well-practised nerves of these gentlemen—where sums of ten, twenty, or even fifty times the amount, were constantly passing to and from their cash-box.

The deal proceeded, Chorley drawing the cards with that air of imperturbable sang-froid so characteristic of his class.

“Ace wins,” cried a voice, as two aces came forth together.

“Pay you in cheques, sir?” asked the croupier.

I assented, and a flat round piece of ivory, of a red colour, with the figure 5 in its centre, was placed upon my half-eagle. I permitted both to remain upon the ace. The deal went on, and after a while two aces came out together, and two more of the red cheques were mine.

I suffered all four pieces, now worth twenty dollars, to lie. I had not come there to amuse myself. My purpose was very different; and, impelled by that purpose, I was resolved not to waste time. If Fortune was to prove favourable to me, her favours were as likely to be mine soon as late; and when I thought of the real stake for which I was playing, I could not endure the suspense. No more was I satisfied at contact with the coarse and bawd company that surrounded the table.

The deal went on—and after some time aces again came out. This time I lost.

Without a word passing from his lips, the croupier drew in the cheques and gold-piece, depositing them in his japanned cash-box, I took out my purse, and tried ten dollars upon the queen, I won. I doubled the bet, and lost again.

Another ten dollars won—another lost—another and another, and so on, now winning, now losing, now betting with cheques, now with gold-pieces—until at length I felt to the bottom of my purse without encountering a coin!