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- From Jest to Earnest - 6/79 -
of purgatory. But Lottie anticipated him. Giving a signal to the others and drawing down her face to portentous length, she said to Hemstead, "I fear you do not approve of cards."
"You are correct, Miss Marsden," he replied, stiffly.
As he turned away, she glanced at the card-players with a look of horror, as if they were committing sacrilege, and Harcourt had to improvise another poor joke to account for their increasing merriment.
But Mr. Dimmerly looked at his nephew in dismay and some irritation. "What under heaven can I now do, this long evening," he thought, "but gape and talk theology?"
But Lottie, in the purpose to draw out and quiz her victim, continued: "Really, Mr. Hemstead, you surprise me. Cards are the staple amusement of a quiet evening in New York. I fear I have been doing wrong all my life without knowing it."
"If you did not know you were wrong, you were not very guilty," he replied, smiling.
"Yes, but now I do know, or at least from one who will be an authority on such matters--pardon me--who is one now, I am assured that this old custom is wrong. In questions of right and wrong, I suppose a minister should guide."
"No, Miss Marsden, that is not Protestantism. Your conscience, instructed by the Bible, should guide."
"But I see no more harm in whist than in a sleigh-ride."
"Perhaps your conscience needs instruction."
"O, certainly, that is it! Please instruct it."
He turned quickly, but saw a face serious enough for an anxious seat in an old-time revival.
"Yes," said Mr. Dimmerly, testily. "My conscience needs instruction also. What harm is there in a quiet game of whist?"
"Well, I do not know that there is anything wrong in a 'quiet game of cards,' per se" commenced Hemstead, didactically.
"'Per' who?" asked Lottie, innocently.
Just then the party at the other table seemed to explode, but they made it appear as if the cause came from themselves.
"Yes, yes, nephew, speak English. You may find some reasons in Latin, but none in English, the only language of sound sense."
"Well," resumed Hemstead, somewhat confused, "I do not know that a quiet game such as you would play here would be wrong in itself. But the associations of the game are bad, and your example might be injurious."
"The associations bad!" said Lottie, lifting her eyebrows. "Cards are associated in my mind with father, mother, and quiet home evenings."
"I have chiefly seen them played by rough characters, and in questionable places," he replied quickly.
"I'm sorry you visit such places," she replied in a tone of rebuke.
Even Mr. Dimmerly and his sister laughed at this remark, as coming from Lottie, while the others were almost convulsed. Bel managed to gasp out, as a blind, "Mr. Harcourt, if you don't behave yourself and play fair, I'll throw down my hand."
But straightforward Hemstead increased difficulties by saying, a little stiffly, "I hope, Miss Marsden, that you do not suppose that one of my calling would frequent places of improper resort."
"No, indeed," she replied quickly, "and therefore I was the more surprised when you spoke of witnessing something in 'questionable places.'"
He turned to her with a look in which perplexity and annoyance were mingled, and said hastily: "It is different with a man from a lady. A man is more out in the world, and, no matter how careful, cannot help catching glimpses of the evil substratum of society. One cannot help passing through a smoking-car occasionally, or--"
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Lottie, as if startled. "Is a smoking-car a 'questionable place'? Mr. De Forrest," she continued sharply, "did you not spend half an hour in the smoking-car coming up?"
"Yes," he replied faintly.
"You surprise me, sir," she said severely. "Mr. Hemstead declares it is a 'questionable place.' I hope hereafter you will have more regard for your reputation."
"Please do not mistake me," said Hemstead, with increasing annoyance; "I did not mean to assert any moral qualities of smoking-cars, though with then filth and fumes there would be no question in your mind about them whatever, Miss Marsden. What I meant to say was, that in such places as smoking-cars, hotel lobbies, and through the open doors of saloons, are caught glimpses of a life which we all should unite in condemning and loathing; and what I have seen has always led me to connect cards with just that kind of life. Moreover, gambling--that fearful and destructive vice--is almost inseparable from cards."
"How experiences differ!" said Lottie, reflectively. "I have had but few glimpses of the life you describe so graphically. With the bits of pasteboard that you have seen chiefly in coarse, grimy hands, I associate our cosey sitting-room at home, with its glowing grate and 'moon-light lamp,' as we call it, for father's eyes are weak. Even now," she continued, assuming the look of a rapt and beautiful sibyl, that was entrancing to Hemstead as well as De Forrest--"even now I see papa and mamma and old-fashioned Auntie Jane, and poor invalid Jennie, all gathered at home in our sacred little snuggery where father permits no visitors to come."
The look she had assumed became genuine, and her eyes suddenly moistened as the scene called up became real and present to her. With all her faults she had a warm heart, and loved her kindred sincerely.
But this touch of truth and feeling served her mischievous purpose better than she thought, for it convinced the honest-minded Hemstead that she was just what she seemed, and his sympathy went out to her at once as a well-meaning, true-hearted girl.
He was a little taken aback, however, when Lottie, ashamed of her feeling, said brusquely, "As to gambling with cards, we no more thought of it than sending to a corner grocery for a bottle of whiskey, and taking from it a drink all around between the games."
"O Lottie!" laughed her aunt, "what an absurd picture you suggest! The idea of your stately mother taking a drink from a bottle of whiskey!"
"It is no more strange to me," persisted Lottie, gravely, "than Mr. Hemstead's associations. Of course I know that bad and vulgar people play cards, but they also drive horses and walk the streets, and do other things which it is perfectly proper for us to do."
"I admit, Miss Marsden, that education and custom make a great difference. I have always been taught to look upon cards with great abhorrence. What may be right for you would be wrong for me."
"No," said positive Lottie, "that will not satisfy me. A thing is either right or wrong. If you can prove to me that a quiet game of cards is wrong, I won't play any more--at least I ought not," she added hastily. "Because some vulgar and fast people gamble with them is nothing. You will take a sleigh-ride with us to-morrow, and yet loud jockeys bet and gamble over horses half the year."
Hemstead sprang up. His ungainliness disappeared, as was ever the case when he forgot himself in excitement.
"Miss Marsden," he said, "what you say sounds plausible, but years ago I saw the mangled corpse of a young suicide. He was an adept at cards, and for aught I know had learned the game as your brother might, at home. But away among strangers at the West that knowledge proved fatal. He was inveigled into playing by some gamblers, staked all his own money, then that committed to his trust. Having lost everything but life, he threw that also down the abyss. He might have been living to-day if he had known as little about cards as I do."
His manner was so earnest, the picture called up so sad and tragic, that even Lottie's red cheek paled a little, and the gigglers became quiet. She only said, "He was very weak and foolish. I can't understand such people."
"But the world is largely made up of the weak and foolish, who need safeguards rather than temptations. And history would seem to prove that even the wisest and best are at times 'weak and foolish.' I think the knowledge of card-playing can result in no harm to you, shielded as you will be, but it might to your brother. Miss Marsden," asked he, abruptly, "do you know how many professional gamblers there are in the world?"
"I do not remember the estimated number accurately, but it is very large. They often revel in wealth, but they do not make it out of each other. It is from the unwary, the 'weak and foolish' who think they can win money by playing a fair game. They are permitted to win just enough to turn their heads, and then are robbed. Remorse, despair, and suicide too often follow. Cards are the usual means employed in these great wrongs. I should be sorry to see a young brother of mine, who was soon to face the temptations of the world, go away with a knowledge that has been the ruin of so many."
This was bringing the question home to Lottie in a way that she did not expect. Her heedless, wilful, impulsive brother, the dear torment of her life, was just the one an artful knave could mislead. For a moment or two she sat silent and thoughtful. All awaited her answer save Mr. Dimmerly, who, without his whist, had dropped off into a doze, as was his wont. Then her decided character asserted itself, and she spoke sincerely for the moment.
"I do not believe in the safety of ignorance. If a young man is weak
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