The Mott Street Poker Club
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The Mott Street Poker Club

 

The Accommodating Stranger

He Helps the Club to a Decoration

 

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A MAN with a red nose and a moustache that looked as if it had been gnawed by rats, stopped at the laundry door and looked in. He went on a few steps, came back and looked in again. This time he turned the knob and entered.

Mr. Hong-Lung paused in the distribution of the best hand he had yet been able to fix for himself and glanced at the visitor suspiciously. Mr. Lee-Tip inverted and empty starch bowl over the fifty-nine cents on the table. The visitor eyed the assembled council severely, shaking his head, but spoke no word. This proceeding so affected the frivolous mind of Mr. Hop-Sam that he began to giggle.

“Maybe you won’t laugh so loud, you poor, benighted heathen,” said the stranger. “Have you a license?”

“What you callee him?” demanded Mr. Lee-Tip.

“License,” repeated the stranger. “L-y-e-s-e-n-s-e, license.”

“No washee fol him,” replied Mr. Lee-Tip. “Some othel Chinaman maybe sabbe him.”

“Why, you poor, benighted heathen,” said the stranger, a bland smile expanding over his countenance. “It’s not a man I’m talking about. Don’t you know what a license is?”

Mr. Lee-Tip, Mr. Hong-Lung, Mr. Hop-Sam and Mr. Gin-Sing looked a blank negative, with a suspicion in it that a license might be some new form of deadly weapon that their visitor proposed to employ upon them.

“A license,” said the stranger, talking very loud, as if his hearers could understand him better, “is a license. A license to play cards, to gamble, don’t you know, you poor, benighted heathen.”

“Hi,” replied Mr. Hong-Lung. “Him playee polkel?”

“Yes,” answered the stranger. “Or euchre, or seven-up, or sixty-five, or sancho pedro, or peanuckle, or any other gambling game, do you see?”

“Hi,” reported Mr. Hong-Lung again. “Where you ketchee him?”

“You get it,” said the stranger, “from the city. The mayor gives it to you. I’m his secretary, I am, and I can fix it for you.”

And he turned up the lapel of his by no means excessively fashionable coat, and displayed a very badly battered tin shield about the size of a small saucer. The club recognized the badge of authority at once. They knew that policemen wore shields such as this, and that policemen arrested Chinamen and clubbed Chinamen and in various other ways exercised over Chinamen an onerous and autocratic authority.

“Me wantee license,” said Lee-Tip promptly, and Mr. Hop-Sam, Mr. Hong-Lung and Mr. Gin-Sing added each and severally, “Me too.”

“Well,” said the stranger blandly, “I’ll give you each a license, right here on the spot, and fix it with Mayor myself. There’s a lot of toughs around City Hall,” pursued the stranger, grubbing in his pockets, “that would skin the eyes of any poor, benighted heathen they got hold of down here. They’re a disgrace to the city,” continued the stranger, still grubbing, “and ought all to be in jail, but howsomever—”

He paused in his speech and produced from his pocket four nickel-plated disks, each with a perforation in the vicinity of the rim and a figure 5 stamped in the middle. To any sophisticated metropolitan mind these disks would have appealed as unmistakable souvenirs of a beer bar, which the bearer had, perchance, forgotten to present to the cashier, when eh went out.

“The price of these are five dollars each,” said the stranger, “to Christians. There’s the five; see?”

The club admitted its comprehension of the existence of this numeral, and the stranger went on.

“To you poor, benighted heathen, I’ll let them go for a dollar. A dollar apiece, one dollar each of you; do you see?”

It required some explanation to elucidate this proposition to the club, and they received it with undisguised dismay. The stranger rattled the disks in one hand, and carelessly turned up his lapel to show his shield again.

The five dollars in various varieties of small change were promptly forthcoming.

“You take these, you poor benighted heathen,” said the stranger, when he had pocketed the money, “and each of you hang one around your neck with a string. Then you can sit down and gamble all you want to, for cash, bones for fun. Do you see?”

And he departed while Mr. Lee-Tip was measuring out the string.

“Him velly funny,” said Mr. Hong-Lung, turning his special allowance of nickel-plate over and over in his hand. “Why calle him license, hay?”

A flash of intelligence illumined Mr. Gin-Sing’s face.

“You no sabbee bow-wow?” he asked, imitating the natural vocal expression of a diminutive member of the canine race. “Him havee lilly license, too, hangee lound him neck.”

This lucid explanation appeared to be satisfactory, probably on the ground that a Chinaman had as much right to a license as a dog. The club hung their licenses around their necks and recommenced the game.

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