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The table was the earth, and the earth, in lumps and chunks, from loaves of bread to big red motor-cars, was the stake. And in the end, lucky and unlucky, they were all a long time dead.
It was hard on the stupid lowly, for they were coppered to lose from the start; but the more he saw of the others, the apparent winners, the less it seemed to him that they had anything to brag about. They, too, were a long time dead, and their living did not amount to much. It was a wild animal fight; the strong trampled the weak, and the strong, he had already discovered,--men like Dowsett, and Letton, and Guggenhammer,--were not necessarily the best. He remembered his miner comrades of the Arctic. They were the stupid lowly, they did the hard work and were robbed of the fruit of their toil just as was the old woman making wine in the Sonoma hills; and yet they had finer qualities of truth, and loyalty, and square-dealing than did the men who robbed them. The winners seemed to be the crooked ones, the unfaithful ones, the wicked ones. And even they had no say in the matter. They played the cards that were given them; and Luck, the monstrous, mad-god thing, the owner of the whole shebang, looked on and grinned. It was he who stacked the universal card-deck of existence.
There was no justice in the deal. The little men that came, the little pulpy babies, were not even asked if they wanted to try a flutter at the game. They had no choice. Luck jerked them into life, slammed them up against the jostling table, and told them: "Now play, damn you, play!" And they did their best, poor little devils. The play of some led to steam yachts and mansions; of others, to the asylum or the pauper's ward. Some played the one same card, over and over, and made wine all their days in the chaparral, hoping, at the end, to pull down a set of false teeth and a coffin. Others quit the game early, having drawn cards that called for violent death, or famine in the Barrens, or loathsome and lingering disease. The hands of some called for kingship and irresponsible and numerated power; other hands called for ambition, for wealth in untold sums, for disgrace and shame, or for women and wine.
As for himself, he had drawn a lucky hand, though he could not see all the cards. Somebody or something might get him yet. The mad god, Luck, might be tricking him along to some such end. An unfortunate set of circumstances, and in a month's time the robber gang might be war-dancing around his financial carcass. This very day a street-car might run him down, or a sign fall from a building and smash in his skull. Or there was disease, ever rampant, one of Luck's grimmest whims. Who could say? To-morrow, or some other day, a ptomaine bug, or some other of a thousand bugs, might jump out upon him and drag him down. There was Doctor Bascom, Lee Bascom who had stood beside him a week ago and talked and argued, a picture of magnificent youth, and strength, and health. And in three days he was dead--pneumonia, rheumatism of the heart, and heaven knew what else--at the end screaming in agony that could be heard a block away. That had been terrible. It was a fresh, raw stroke in Daylight's consciousness. And when would his own turn come? Who could say?