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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Roderick Visits a Gaming-House
By Tobias George Smollett (1721–1771)
 
From ‘Roderick Random’

AT length, however, finding myself reduced to my last guinea, I was compelled to disclose my necessity, though I endeavored to sweeten the discovery by rehearsing to him the daily assurances I received from my patron. But these promises were not of efficacy sufficient to support the spirits of my friend, who no sooner understood the lowness of my finances, than uttering a dreadful groan, he exclaimed, “In the name of God, what shall we do!” In order to comfort him, I said that many of my acquaintance who were in a worse condition than we, supported notwithstanding the character of gentlemen; and advising him to thank God that we had as yet incurred no debt, proposed he should pawn my sword of steel inlaid with gold, and trust to my discretion for the rest. This expedient was wormwood and gall to poor Strap, who, in spite of his invincible affection for me, still retained notions of economy and expense suitable to the narrowness of his education; nevertheless he complied with my request, and raised seven pieces on the sword in a twinkling. This supply, inconsiderable as it was, made me as happy for the present as if I had kept five hundred pounds in bank: for by this time I was so well skilled in procrastinating every troublesome reflection that the prospect of want seldom affected me much, let it be never so near. And now indeed it was nearer than I imagined: my landlord, having occasion for money, put me in mind of my being indebted to him five guineas for lodging, and telling me he had a sum to make up, begged I would excuse his importunity and discharge the debt. Though I could ill spare so much cash, my pride took the resolution of disbursing it. This I did in a cavalier manner; after he had written a discharge, telling him with an air of scorn and resentment I saw he was resolved that I should not be long in his books: while Strap, who stood by and knew my circumstances, wrung his hands in secret, gnawed his nether-lip, and turned yellow with despair. Whatever appearance of indifference my vanity enabled me to put on, I was thunderstruck with this demand, which I had no sooner satisfied than I hastened into company, with a view of beguiling my cares with conversation, or of drowning them with wine.  1
  After dinner a party was accordingly made in the coffeehouse, from whence we adjourned to the tavern; where, instead of sharing the mirth of the company, I was as much chagrined at their good-humor as a damned soul in hell would be at a glimpse of heaven. In vain did I swallow bumper after bumper; the wine had lost its effect upon me, and far from raising my dejected spirits, could not even lay me asleep. Banter, who was the only intimate I had (Strap excepted), perceived my anxiety, and when we broke up reproached me with pusillanimity, for being cast down at any disappointment chat such a rascal as Strutwell could be the occasion of. I told him I did not at all see how Strutwell’s being a rascal alleviated my misfortune; and gave him to understand that my present grief did not so much proceed from that disappointment as from the low ebb of my fortune, which was sunk to something less than two guineas. At this declaration he cried, “Pshaw! is that all?” and assured me there were a thousand ways of living in town without a fortune, he himself having subsisted many years entirely by his wit. I expressed an eager desire of becoming acquainted with some of these methods; and he, without further expostulation, bade me follow him.  2
  He conducted me to a house under the piazzas in Covent Garden, which we entered, and having delivered our swords to a grim fellow who demanded them at the foot of the staircase, ascended to the second story, where I saw multitudes of people standing round two gaming-tables, loaded in a manner with gold and silver. My conductor told me this was the house of a worthy Scotch lord, who, using the privilege of his peerage, had set up public gaming-tables, from the profits of which he drew a comfortable livelihood. He then explained the difference between the sitters and the betters; characterized the first as “old hooks,” and the last as “bubbles”: and advised me to try my fortune at the silver table, by betting a crown at a time. Before I would venture anything, I considered the company more particularly; and there appeared such a group of villainous faces that I was struck with horror and astonishment at the sight. I signified my surprise to Banter, who whispered in my ear that the bulk of those present were sharpers, highwaymen, and apprentices who having embezzled their masters’ cash, made a desperate push in this place to make up their deficiencies. This account did not encourage me to hazard any part of my small pittance; but at length, being teased by the importunities of my friend, who assured me there was no danger of being ill used, because people were hired by the owner to see justice done to everybody, I began by risking one shilling, and in less than an hour my winning amounted to thirty. Convinced by this time of the fairness of the game, and animated with success, there was no need of further persuasion to continue the play. I lent Banter (who seldom had any money in his pocket) a guinea, which he carried to the gold table, and lost in a moment. He would have borrowed another; but finding me deaf to his arguments, went away in a pet. Meanwhile my gain advanced to six pieces, and my desire for more increased in proportion; so that I moved to the higher table, where I laid half a guinea on every throw: and fortune still favoring me, I became a sitter, in which capacity I remained until it was broad day; when I found myself, after many vicissitudes, one hundred and fifty guineas in pocket.  3
  Thinking it now high time to retire with my booty, I asked if anybody would take my place, and made a motion to rise; upon which an old Gascon who sat opposite to me, and of whom I had won a little money, started up with fury in his looks, crying, “Restez, restez: il faut donner moi mon ravanchio!” At the same time, a Jew who sat near the other insinuated that I was more beholden to art than to fortune for what I had got; that he had observed me wipe the table very often, and that some of the divisions seemed to be greasy. This intimation produced a great deal of clamor against me, especially among the losers; who threatened, with many oaths and imprecations, to take me up by a warrant as a sharper, unless I would compromise the affair by refunding the greatest part of my winning. Though I was far from being easy under this accusation, I relied upon my innocence, threatened in my turn to prosecute the Jew for defamation, and boldly offered to submit my cause to the examination of any justice in Westminster: but they knew themselves too well to put their characters on that issue; and finding I was not to be intimidated into any concession, dropped their plea and made way for me to withdraw. I would not, however, stir from the table until the Israelite had retracted what he had said to my disadvantage, and asked pardon before the whole assembly.  4
  As I marched out with my prize I happened to tread upon the toes of a tall raw-boned fellow, with a hooked nose, fierce eyes, black thick eyebrows, a pigtail wig of the same color, and a formidable hat pulled over his forehead, who stood gnawing his fingers in the crowd, and no sooner felt the application of my shoe-heel than he roared out in a tremendous voice, “Blood and wounds! what’s that for?” I asked pardon with a great deal of submission, and protested I had no intention of hurting him: but the more I humbled myself the more he stormed, and insisted upon gentlemanly satisfaction, at the same time provoking me with scandalous names that I could not put up with; so that I gave a loose to my passion, returned his billingsgate, and challenged him to follow me down to the piazzas. His indignation cooling as mine warmed, he refused my invitation, saying he would choose his own time, and returned towards the table, muttering threats which I neither dreaded nor distinctly heard; but descending with great deliberation, received my sword from the doorkeeper, whom I gratified with a guinea according to the custom of the place, and went home in a rapture of joy.  5
 
 
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