Poker face

The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell - William Klaber

Lucy, disguised as Joseph, has left Honesdale, and is on a riverboat heading for Minnesota, where she hopes to find work raising horses.


I was familiar with poker from my time at Blandin's. Nothing at all to the rules – – some hands were higher than others, and the high hand won. The real game was in making people think something that wasn't true. If you had good cards, you wanted others to think that they weren't that good, and sometimes, at just the right moment, you could win with nothing at all. It was a game where a man's nerve and a woman's keen eye might work well together, but I never dared play at Blandin's . . .


I watched for a time, gaining a sense of how each man played – – whether he liked to bluff or just ride his luck. Then a man got up and said he was done for the night. I waited to see if his chair would be taken. When it wasn't, I took it and said the words I'd been itching to say at Blandin's.  'Deal me in.'


 A certain quickening of the pulse comes with sitting at a table gambling with money – – a feeling of importance and danger. I could see the tightness in faces, feel the heat of bodies. I felt the vibration in the floor and was aware that this room of peeling elegance was floating into the wilderness. I had climbed into man's sacred cave.


Thirty dollars was what I gave myself to play with, one quarter of what I still had. My first few hands were so bad that I got out of the way in a hurry. Then I got lucky and won two hands. Pots were not large, but suddenly I was working with other people's money.   Only two of the table played with caution. The others were just loud mouths. When they won, they acted like they were born clever, and when they lost, they took pains to show how put upon they were by fate. . . 


. . . another game of seven card stud. . . It was down to me and the heavy man across the table. . . (his) two pair looked real good, sitting there like eggs in a pan.  But I didn't think the owner had anything else. He was the bragging kind, and if he had a full house, he'd be getting ready to crow like a rooster. It wasn't there. That was good as far as it went, but he still had me  beat. . . 


When the final card came, I lifted its corner. It was a queen and no help. I held my face steady and looked at the man across the table. He wasn't eager to meet my eye, and that told me what I needed to know. Still he had me beat. But the riddle was his to solve, and he must have been feeling a little naked. Everything he had was there for all to see. And why was I still in? I couldn't be there with just two sevens– – the dimmest wit on the boat would know that.


Sensing that he was now the prey, the man tapped his finger to say that he didn't want to bet. It was for me to do it . . .  I let out a sigh and then put in five dollars as though sorry it had come to this. The man folded. I nodded like he had done the smart thing and tossed my cards facedown. 


That night I won near forty dollars. And so taken was I by the drama that had I been a man and could have borne the scrutiny, I would have then and there become a riverboat gambler.