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- Gaut Gurley - 6/59 -
the competitors to advance and present, in succession, such plans as they would lay before him for his consideration and decision. They did so; and one of them, a young and genteel-looking devil, to whom, from a suppose congeniality of tastes and feelings with the objects of his care, had been especially assigned the duty of supervising the fashionable walks of society, now stepped confidently forward and said:
"I present for your consideration, most honored Lucifer, I present FASHION as one of those social institutions of men which might the most easily become, with a little fostering at our hands, to us the most productive of vices, under a name least calculated to alarm. It already holds an almost omnipotent sway over the wealthier, or what they call the higher, classes of society, who hesitate at no sins that can be committed with its sanction; and the disposition is every day growing stronger and stronger, among all classes, to fall in with its behests. Encourage its progress, make its rule absolute with all, and the world's boasted morality would trouble us, devils, no more. This would be the direct and natural result among the most wealthy, who would leave no vice unpracticed, no sin uncommitted, provided they could excuse themselves under plea that it was fashionable. With those of more limited means the effect would be still better; for devotion to Fashion would beget extravagance--extravagance, poverty--poverty, desperation--desperation, crime; so with all classes, the result, for our purpose, would be equally favorable and _much the same_. The new vice I therefore propose is the one to be made out of, and go under the name of, FASHION."
"There may be something in this conception," said Lucifer, thoughtfully, after the speaker had closed; "but is it safe against all contingencies? What if the world should take it into their heads to make it fashionable to be good?"
"Not the least danger of that," rejoined the other, promptly. "That is a contingency about as likely to happen as that your highness should turn Christian," he added, with a sardonic grin.
"You are right," responded Lucifer; "and, as your scheme comes within the rule, on the score of originality, we will reserve it for consideration."
"My plan," said the next demon who spoke, "consists in inciting man to the general use of intoxicating drinks, under the plea of taking a social glass; for, let the use of these become general, and all men were devils ready made, and---"
"True, most true!" interrupted Lucifer; "but that is not new. That is a vice I invented myself, as long ago as the time Noah was floating about in the ark, and the first man I caught with it was the old patriarch himself. Since then it has been my most profitable agent in the earth, bringing more recruits to my kingdom than all the other vices put together. But our present movement was to insure something new. The plan, therefore, does not come within the rule, and must be set aside."
"The new vice which I propose," said the third demon who came forward, "is involved in the general cultivation of music, which I contend would render men effeminate, indolent, voluptuous, and finally vicious and corrupt, so that whole nations might eventually be kept out of heaven and secured for hell through its deteriorating influences."
"I am not a little dubious about trying to make a vice out of music, which would be all reliable for our purposes," remarked Lucifer, with a negative shake of the head. "I fear it might prove a sword which would cut both ways. It may, it is true, be doing a pretty fair business just now in some localities; but methinks I already see, in the dim vista of the earth's future, a cunning Wesley springing up, and exhorting his brethren 'Not to let the Devil have all the good tunes, but appropriate them to the service of the Lord.' Now if the religious world should have wit enough, as I greatly fear me they would, to follow the sagacious hint of such a leader, they might make music an agency which would enlist two followers for the white banner of Heaven where it would one for the red banner of Hell. The experiment would be one of too doubtful expediency to warrant the trial. The proposition, therefore, cannot be entertained."
Many other methods of creating an efficient new vice were then successively proposed by the different competitors; but they were all, for some deficiency, or want of originality, in turn, rejected, till one more only remained to be announced; when its author, an old, dark-eyed demon, who was much noted for his infernal cunning, and who, conscious perhaps of the superiority of his device, had contrived to defer its announcement till the last, now came forward, and said:
"The scheme I have devised for the accomplishment of the common object of the patriotic enterprise which your Highness has put afoot, proposes a new vice, which, passing under the guise of innocent pastime, will not only, by itself, be fully equal to any other of the many vices now known among men, for its certainty to lure them to its embrace, fascinate, infatuate, deprave, and destroy them, but will insure the exercise and combine the powers of them all. It addresses itself to the intellectual by the implied challenge it holds out to them to make a trial of their skill; it appears to the unfortunate in business as a welcome friend, which is rarely turned away; it presents to pride and vanity the means of gratification that are not to be rejected; it holds out to avarice an irresistible temptation; it begets habits of drunkenness; and thus insures all the fruits of that desolating vice; it engenders envy, hatred, and the spirit of revenge; in short, it brings into play every evil thought and passion that ever entered the head and heart of man, while it the most securely holds its victims, and most speedily hunts them down to ruin and death."
"The name? the name?" eagerly shouted an hundred voices from the excited fiend-throng around.
"The name," resumed the speaker, in reply, "the name by which I propose to christen this new and terrible device of mine, to counteract the power of virtue, and curtail the dominions of Heaven, is GAMBLING!"
"Gambling! Gambling!" responded all hell, in thunders of applause; "and Gambling let it be," shouted Lucifer, as the prize was thus awarded by acclamation to the distinguished inventor of Gambling.
From this supposable scene among the demons, we pass, by no unnatural transition, to a kindred one among men.
In a back, secluded room, in the third story of a public house in Boston, of questionable respectability, there might have been found, a few hours after the dispersion of the party before described, a small band of men sitting around a table, intently engaged in games of chance, in which money was at stake; while on a sideboard stood several bottles of different kinds of liquors, with a liberal supply of crackers and cigars. Of this company, two, who have been already introduced to the reader,--Mark Elwood and Gaut Gurley,--seemed to be especially pitted against each other in the game. It was now deep into the night, and Elwood said something about going home. But his remark being received only with jeers by the company, he sank into an abashed silence and played on. Another hour elapsed, and he spoke of it again, but less decidedly. Another passed, and he seemed wholly to have forgotten his purpose; for he, as well as all the rest of the company, had, by this time, become intensely absorbed in the play, allowing themselves no respite or intermission, except to snatch occasionally a glass of liquor from the sideboard, in the entrancing business before them. And, as the sport proceeded, deeper and deeper grew the excitement among the infatuated participants, till every sense and feeling seemed lost to every thing save the result of each rapidly succeeding game; and the heat of concentrated thought and passion gleamed fiercely from every eye, and found vent, in repeated exclamations of triumph or despair, from every tongue, according to the varying fortunes of the parties engaged. On one side was heard the loud and exultant shout of the winner at his success, and on the other, the low bitter curse of the loser at his disappointment; the countenance of the one, in his joy and exultation, assuming the self-satisfied and domineering air of the victor and master, and the countenance of the other, in his grief and envy, darkening into the mingled look of the demon and the slave.
And thus played on this desperate band of gamesters till morning light, which, now stealing through the shutters of their darkened room, came and joined its voiceless monitions with those which their consciences had long since given them, in warning them to break up and return to their families, made wretched by their absence. So completely, however, had they abandoned themselves to the fatal witcheries of the play, that they heeded not even this significant admonition; but, with uneasy glances towards the windows, to note the progress of the unwelcome intrusions of day, turned with the redoubled eagerness often shown by those who know their time is limited to their hellish engagement.
Through the whole night, Fortune seemed to have held nearly an even scale between Elwood and his special adversary, Gaut Gurley, contrary to the evident anticipations of the latter, and despite all his attempts to secure an advantage. Thus far, however, he had signally failed in his purpose; and, at the last game, Elwood had even won of him the largest sum that had as yet been put at stake between them. This seemed to drive him almost to madness; and in his desperation he loudly demanded that the stakes should be doubled for the next trial. It was done. The game was played, and Gurley was again the loser.
"I will now stay no longer," said Elwood, rising. "I was forced here to-night, as you well know, Gurley, against my will, and against all reason, to stop your clamor for a chance to win back what you absurdly called your money lost at our last sitting; though Heaven knows that what I then won was but a pitiful fraction of the amount you have taken from me, within the last two years, in the same or in a worse way. I have now given you your chance,--yes, chance upon chance, all night,--till your claim has been a dozen times cancelled; and, I repeat I will stay no longer."
"You shall!" fiercely cried Gurley, with an oath. "You shall stay to give me another chance, or I will brand you as a trickster and a sneak!"
"Gentlemen," said Elwood, turning to the company, in an expostulating tone, "gentlemen, I appeal to you all if I have not--"
"I will have no appeal," interrupted Gurley, in a voice trembling with rage. "I say I _will_ have another chance, or--"
"Take it, then," hastily interposed Elwood, as if unwilling to let the other finish the sentence; "take it: what will you have the stakes?"
"Double the last."
"Have your own way, then," said Elwood, with forced composure, taking up and shuffling the cards for the important game.
The stake was for a thousand; and the trembling antagonists played as if life and death hung on the event. And the whole company, indeed, forgetful of their own comparatively slight interest, in the momentous one thus put at stake, at once turned their eyes on the two players, and watched the result with breathless interest. That result was soon disclosed; when, to the surprise of all, and the dismay of Gaut Gurley, the victory once more strangely fell to the lot of Mark Elwood, who, gathering up the stakes with trembling eagerness, hastily rose from the table, as if to depart.
"What in the name of Tophet does all this mean?" fiercely exclaimed Gurley, throwing an angry and suspicious look round the table upon those who had
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