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首页 » 经典英文小说 » Frank Merriwell's Endurance » CHAPTER VIII AROUSED BY A MYSTERY.
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CHAPTER VIII AROUSED BY A MYSTERY.
It was nine o’clock that evening when Morton and Merriwell strolled into the card room. They seemed to be wandering around in search of some amusement to pass away the time.

“Come on here, Morton,” called a player. “Bring your friend into this game. It will make just enough.”

Hugh shook his head.

“No cards for me to-night,” he said. “My luck is too poor. Dropped more than enough to satisfy me last week.”

“The place to find your money is where you lost it,” said another player.

“I’m willing to let it rest where it is a while. I have a severe touch of cold feet.”

“How about your friend?”

“He may do as he likes.”

“I know so little about cards—so very little,” protested Frank. “What are you playing?”

“Poker.”

He shook his head.

“I have played euchre,” he said.

“Quite a difference in the games,” laughed a man. “I suppose you have played old maid, also?”

“Yes,” answered Merry innocently, “I have. Do you play that?”

“He’ll spoil your game, fellows,” laughed Morton quickly.

“How do you know I would?” exclaimed Merry resentfully.

“Reckon Hugh is right, Mr. Merriwell,” laughed the one who had invited Frank. “You had better keep out of the game.”

Fred Darleton was playing at one of the tables. He regarded Frank with a sneer on his face.

“An innocent stiff,” he commented, in a low tone. “They say he never takes a drink, never swears, never does anything naughty.”

“He’s rather naughty at fencing,” reminded a man jokingly; but Darleton saw nothing to laugh at in the remark.

Morton was heard informing Merry that he must not ask questions about the game while play was in progress, as by so doing he might seem to give away some player’s hand.

“Oh, I can keep still,” assured Frank smilingly. “I’ve seen them play poker before.”

“No one would ever suspect it,” sneered Darleton under his breath.

This fellow was wearing dark-colored glasses, after his usual custom.

Merry found an opportunity to inspect the lights. While they were sufficiently bright for all purposes, they were shaded in such a manner that Darleton’s excuse for wearing smoked glasses seemed a paltry one.

“His real reason is not because the lights hurt his eyes,” decided Frank.

What was the fellow’s real reason? Merriwell hoped to discover before the evening was over. He seemed to take interest in the play first at one table and then at another, but finally settled on the one at which Darleton was seated.

As usual, Darleton was winning. He had a lot of chips stacked up before him.

“Why did you drop your hand after opening that last jack pot, Darleton?” inquired one of the players.

“Because I was satisfied that you had me beaten,” was the answer.

“You had two pairs to open on, and you drew only one card.”

“What of that?”

“I took three cards.”

“I remember.”

“Well, you wouldn’t bet your two pairs, and I raked in the pot. How did it happen?”

“I decided that you bettered your hand. My pairs were small.”

“I did better my hand,” confessed the man; “but I swear you have a queer method of playing poker! I don’t understand it.”

“My method suits me,” laughed Darleton, fingering his chips.

“It is a successful one, all right; but I never lay down two pairs after opening a jack pot, especially if the only player who stays in with me draws three cards.”

“You lose oftener than I do.”

“No question about that.”

“Then my judgment must be better than yours. Let it go at that.”

Frank had listened to all this, and he, likewise, was puzzled to understand why Darleton had decided not to risk a bet after the draw. It happened that Merry had stood where he could look into the other man’s hand. The man held up a pair of kings on the deal and drew another king when cards were given out. His three kings were better than Darleton’s two pairs; but Darleton knew he had the man beaten before the draw. How did he come to believe the man had him beaten after the draw?

Frank found an opportunity to look round for mirrors. There were none in the room.

Darleton was not working with an accomplice who could look into the other man’s hand. Merry was the only person able to see the man’s cards as he picked them up.

“I don’t believe he’ll suspect me of being Darleton’s accomplice,” thought Frank.

This was only one of the things which increased the mystery of Darleton’s playing. The fellow seemed to know exactly when to bet a hand for all it was worth, and once he persisted in raising a player who was bluffing recklessly. Finally the bluffer became angry and called.

“I have a pair of seven spots, Darleton? What have you got? I don’t believe you have much of anything.”

“Why, I have a pair of ten spots, and they win,” was the smiling retort.

“Bluffers, both of you!” cried another player. “But I swear this is the first time I’ve ever known Darleton to bluff at poker. And he got away with it on a show-down!”

The entire party regarded Darleton with wonderment, but the winner simply smiled a bit behind his dark goggles.

Morton glanced swiftly at Frank, as if to say: “You see how it goes, but you can’t make anything of it.”

Merriwell was perplexed, but this perplexity served as a spur to urge him forward in his desire to solve the mystery. For mystery about Darleton’s success there certainly seemed to be.

With an inquiring and searching mind, Merry was one who disliked to be baffled by anything in the form of mystery that might be legitimately investigated. A mystery amid common things and common events aroused him to insistent investigation, for he knew there should be no mystery, and that which was baffling should, in case it was natural, eventually develop to be simple indeed.

He now felt himself fully aroused, for he did not believe it possible that by any occult power or discernment Darleton was capable of reading the minds of his companions at the card table and thus learning when to drop two pairs and when to bet one very ordinary pair to a finish.

“The cards must be marked,” decided Frank.

At this juncture the player who had called Darleton asked for a fresh pack.

Merry saw the cards brought in by a colored boy. They were still sealed. He saw the seal broken, the joker removed from the pack, the cards shuffled, cut, and dealt.

“Now we’ll note if Darleton continues to win,” thought Merry.

He knew the fresh pack could not be marked. They were sealed, just as purchased from the dealer, when thrown on the table.

Morton spoke to Frank.

“Are you getting tired?” he asked.

“Oh, no,” was the immediate reply. “I am enjoying watching this game. I have nothing else to do to-night.”

Hugh pushed along a chair, and urged Merry to sit down. Frank accepted the chair. Without appearing to do so, he continued to watch Darleton.

Morton leaned on the back of Frank’s chair.

“Have they ever looked for marked cards after playing with Darleton?” asked Frank, in such a low tone that no one save Hugh could hear and understand him.

“Frequently.”

“Never found them marked?”

“Never. They are not marked. I fancied you might think they were. We’ve had experts, regular card sharps, examine packs used in games when he has won heavily.”

Still Merry was not satisfied on this point.

“If they are not marked,” he thought, “Darleton must have an accomplice who gives him tips. The latter seems utterly impossible, and, therefore, the cards must be marked.”

Occasionally Darleton glanced at Merriwell, but every time it seemed that Frank was giving him no attention at all.

Yet every move on the part of the successful player was watched by the young man who had resolved to solve the mystery.

For some time after the appearance of the fresh pack of cards Darleton did little betting. Still he seemed to examine each hand dealt him, and his manner of examining the hands was very critical, as if weighing their value. The cards interested him greatly, although he did not bet.

“Your luck has turned,” cried one of the players. “You haven’t done a thing since the fresh pack was brought.”

“Oh, I’ll get after you again directly,” smiled Darleton. “I’m waiting for the psychological moment, that’s all.”

Frank noted that the fellow frequently put his hand into the side pocket of his coat. Although he did this, he did not seem to take anything out of that pocket. Still, after a while, the watcher began to fancy these careless, but often repeated movements had something to do with the mystery.

At last, Darleton seemed to get a hand to his liking. It was on his own deal, and two other players held good hands, one a straight and the other a flush.

When Darleton was finally called he exhibited a full hand and raked in the money.

“You see!” muttered Morton, in Merry’s ear.

“No, I don’t see,” admitted Frank; “but I mean to.”

Morton was growing tired. He yawned, straightened up and sauntered about.

Frank rose, stretched himself a little, looked on at another table a few moments, and finally brought himself to a position behind Darleton’s chair without attracting Darleton’s attention.

From this point he once more began to watch the playing in which he was so keenly interested.

Morton observed this change, but said nothing, although to him it seemed like wasted time on Frank’s part.

From his new position Merriwell was able to see into Darleton’s hands, and the style of play followed by the fellow surprised him even more. At the very outset he saw Darleton drop two pairs, kings up, without attempting to bet them and without even showing them to any one. In the end it developed that another player held winning cards, having three five spots; but this player had drawn three cards, and before the betting began there seemed nothing to indicate that he could beat kings up.

On the very next hand something still more remarkable happened. The first man after the age stayed in and all the others remained. Observing Darleton’s cards, Merry saw he held the deuce, six, seven, and king of diamonds and the seven of spades. He split his pair, casting aside the seven of spades, and drew to the four diamonds.

The card that came in was the ace of diamonds, giving him an ace-high flush.

Two of the other players took two cards each; but Merry decided that one of them was holding up a “kicker”—that is, an odd card with his pair. This estimation of his hand Frank formed from the fact that the man had not raised the original bettor before the draw, although sitting in a fine position to do so. Had the man held threes he would have raised. It was likely he had a small pair and an ace, and also that he knew the style of play of the original bettor and believed this person was likewise holding a “kicker,” probably for the purpose of leading the other players into fancying he had threes.

This being the case, Darleton’s ace-high was a fancy hand and would be almost certain to rake down the pot.

Even supposing it possible that both players who called for two cards held three of a kind, it was not, in the natural run of the game, at all likely they had improved their hands.

Still when the original bettor tossed four blue chips into the pot and one of the others called, Darleton dropped his handsome flush, declining to come in and, remarking:

“I didn’t catch.”

He lied, for he had “caught” and filled a flush.

What was his object in lying?

A moment later the original bettor lay down three jacks and a pair of nine spots.

The hand was superior to Darleton’s flush.

Beyond question Darleton knew he was beaten, and therefore he chose to pretend he had not filled his hand.

But how did he know?



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