Smoke Bellew

Contents:
Author: Jack London

I.

"Funny you don’t gamble none," Shorty said to Smoke one night in the Elkhorn. "Ain’t it in your blood?"

"It is," Smoke answered. "But the statistics are in my head. I like an even break for my money."

All about them, in the huge bar-room, arose the click and rattle and rumble of a dozen games, at which fur-clad, moccasined men tried their luck. Smoke waved his hand to include them all.

"Look at them," he said. "It’s cold mathematics that they will lose more than they win to-night, that the big proportion is losing right now."

"You’re sure strong on figgers," Shorty murmured admiringly. "An’ in the main you’re right. But they’s such a thing as facts. An’ one fact is streaks of luck. They’s times when every geezer playin’ wins, as I know, for I’ve sat in in such games an’ saw more’n one bank busted. The only way to win at gamblin’ is wait for a hunch that you’ve got a lucky streak comin’ and then to play it to the roof."

"It sounds simple," Smoke criticized. "So simple I can’t see how men can lose."

"The trouble is," Shorty admitted, "that most men gets fooled on their hunches. On occasion I sure get fooled on mine. The thing is to try, an’ find out."

Smoke shook his head.

"That’s a statistic, too, Shorty. Most men prove wrong on their hunches."

"But don’t you ever get one of them streaky feelin’s that all you got to do is put your money down an’ pick a winner?"

Smoke laughed.

"I’m too scared of the percentage against me. But I’ll tell you what, Shorty. I’ll throw a dollar on the ’high card’ right now and see if it will buy us a drink."

Smoke was edging his way in to the faro table, when Shorty caught his arm.

"Hold on. I’m gettin’ one of them hunches now. You put that dollar on roulette."

They went over to a roulette table near the bar.

"Wait till I give the word," Shorty counselled.

"What number?" Smoke asked.

"Pick it yourself. But wait till I say let her go."

"You don’t mean to say I’ve got an even chance on that table?" Smoke argued.

"As good as the next geezers."

"But not as good as the bank’s."

"Wait and see," Shorty urged. "Now! Let her go!"

The game-keeper had just sent the little ivory ball whirling around the smooth rim above the revolving, many-slotted wheel. Smoke, at the lower end of the table, reached over a player, and blindly tossed the dollar. It slid along the smooth, green cloth and stopped fairly in the centre of ’34.’

The ball came to rest, and the game-keeper announced, "Thirty-four wins!" He swept the table, and alongside of Smoke’s dollar, stacked thirty-five dollars. Smoke drew the money in, and Shorty slapped him on the shoulder.

"Now, that was the real goods of a hunch, Smoke! How’d I know it? There’s no tellin’. I just knew you’d win. Why, if that dollar of yourn’d fell on any other number it’d won just the same. When the hunch is right, you just can’t help winnin’."

"Suppose it had come ’double nought’?" Smoke queried, as they made their way to the bar.

"Then your dollar’d ben on ’double nought,’" was Shorty’s answer. "They’s no gettin’ away from it. A hunch is a hunch. Here’s how. Come on back to the table. I got a hunch, after pickin’ you for a winner, that I can pick some few numbers myself."

"Are you playing a system?" Smoke asked, at the end of ten minutes, when his partner had dropped a hundred dollars.

Shorty shook his head indignantly, as he spread his chips out in the vicinities of ’3,’ ’11,’ and ’17,’ and tossed a spare chip on the ’green.’

"Hell is sure cluttered with geezers that played systems," he exposited, as the keeper raked the table.

From idly watching, Smoke became fascinated, following closely every detail of the game from the whirling of the ball to the making and the paying of the bets. He made no plays, however, merely contenting himself with looking on. Yet so interested was he, that Shorty, announcing that he had had enough, with difficulty drew Smoke away from the table. The game-keeper returned Shorty the gold sack he had deposited as a credential for playing, and with it went a slip of paper on which was scribbled, "Out . . . 350 dollars." Shorty carried the sack and the paper across the room and handed them to the weigher, who sat behind a large pair of gold-scales. Out of Shorty’s sack he weighed 350 dollars, which he poured into the coffer of the house.

"That hunch of yours was another one of those statistics," Smoke jeered.

"I had to play it, didn’t I, in order to find out?" Shorty retorted. "I reckon I was crowdin’ some just on account of tryin’ to convince you they’s such a thing as hunches."

"Never mind, Shorty," Smoke laughed. "I’ve got a hunch right now—"

Shorty’s eyes sparkled as he cried eagerly: "What is it? Kick in an’ play it pronto."

"It’s not that kind, Shorty. Now, what I’ve got is a hunch that some day I’ll work out a system that will beat the spots off that table."

"System!" Shorty groaned, then surveyed his partner with a vast pity. "Smoke, listen to your side-kicker an’ leave system alone. Systems is sure losers. They ain’t no hunches in systems."

"That’s why I like them," Smoke answered. "A system is statistical. When you get the right system you can’t lose, and that’s the difference between it and a hunch. You never know when the right hunch is going wrong."

"But I know a lot of systems that went wrong, an’ I never seen a system win." Shorty paused and sighed. "Look here, Smoke, if you’re gettin’ cracked on systems this ain’t no place for you, an’ it’s about time we hit the trail again."

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Chicago: Jack London, "I.," Smoke Bellew, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 in Smoke Bellew (New York: Mills and Boon, 1913), Original Sources, accessed November 30, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=F11UHNXWY4E9MIU.

MLA: London, Jack. "I." Smoke Bellew, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, in Smoke Bellew, Vol. 22, New York, Mills and Boon, 1913, Original Sources. 30 Nov. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=F11UHNXWY4E9MIU.

Harvard: London, J, 'I.' in Smoke Bellew, ed. . cited in 1913, Smoke Bellew, Mills and Boon, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 30 November 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=F11UHNXWY4E9MIU.