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WE now come to a most important section of this painful
subject. The gambling houses, which, as
our commissioners will show, thickly stud most districts of' London, and are more
or less prevalent in all, constitute an evil which, though perhaps less
insidiously dangerous to our youth, is a more glaring reproach to civilisation
than any we have yet considered. Their pandering to vice is conducted in a
comparatively undisguised fashion and whilst in many cases this very lack of disguise would
rather shock than allure inexperienced Lads, the ease and general immunity
under which operations in these "hells" can be carried on, even in the most
respectable quarters, show with sufficient clearness that the law or its
conduct is somewhere at fault.
In the first place, we deem it best to give various accounts of visits paid by our commissioners to gambling clubs of different degrees in extent of vice. These accounts will be printed just as they have been received ; no colouring of an kind will be added. After these plain statements of unvarnished facts will follow complementary details, and evidence of wide import to fill up the disgraceful picture ; and the [-75-] reader will then be n a position to form an adequate conception, clear and unprejudiced, of the magnitude and virulence of the evil as it actually exists. He will thus be able to judge for himself how far the comments which we make and the inferences we draw are warranted by fact and reason.
This one we shall give a concise exposition of the law regarding gambling-houses, as it stands at present ; and then, again, we shall call upon the reader to make his own independent judgment, and decide whether the Executive are doing their duty or whether they are guilty of any neglect. We shall have to make serious accusations, but it will be in the power of any one who carefully reads the accounts which follow to formulate his own opinion; and we think there is but a slight doubt as to whether the charges we bring will meet with general concurrence.
We will begin, then, with gambling ; betting, which is intimately connected with it, will be treated separately, and at present will occupy an entirely subsidiary position when mentioned at all. Gambling is the central object here ; and we give it a most exhaustive consideration because, though it may be a less baneful sore of the body politic than some other evils, its continued existence is relatively more disgraceful to society. There are social cancers which it is impossible to deal with except in the most gradual and indirect manner; but it is in our power to repress gambling clubs, and if not to ensure their extirpation, at least to cleanse society of them to a vast degree. The more shame to us, then, that they not only flourish, but every year spread their vile rammifications farther and farther.
[-76-] The following is an account, by a commissioner, of a club in the Soho district, regarding which he premises, The club is one of a kind almost peculiar to the district in point of the number of foreigners who frequent them. They all bear a national name, such as (to name one which is now done away with) "The Austro-Hungary Club," but the name is a mere farce. In the case of clubs nominally German, whether in this or any other part of London, you wilt find that men of that nationality use them to a considerable extent, and by Germans alone. It would be an exceptional gambling-room in any of the Tottenham Court, Soho, or Clerkenwell localities in which Germans and Jews were not to be seen. The Soho clubs are well supplied with blackguards, from the clumsiest to the most skilful, but the pick of the swell rnobsrnen affect the ------, in Charlotte Street (in which Street, by the way, are or were recenlLy three other clubs), and the ------ near Covent Garden. This latter is also much in favour with the Jew salesmen of Covent Garden.. Of course these remarks as to frequenters apply to what may be called the "fleecers"- the blackguards who "pluck any "pigeon" young and inexperienced enough to enter.
Whilst watching two or three houses in ------ Street, which attracted suspicion by a close, dark ground-floor and well-lit first and second stories, I noticed one which seemed to promise comparatively easy entrance. Several men were admitted within the few minutes which I spent watching from a passage across the road, and with some of them were women. No woman went in alone, and subse[-77-]quently I learned that none were allowed on the premises unless accompanied by a man. This rule, on a par with the others of the establishment, is merely meant to read well, for of course the women have no difficulty in getting some one to take them in. So many entered that it occurred to me that the system of admittance must be very lax - the doorkeeper couldn't know every one. So I crossed over and knocked at the door. A grating was opened and a small boy inquired my business. On telling him I wished to become a member, an exciting conversation took place between us.
"Who are you?"
"What's that to you?"
"Does the boss know you?"
"Who introdooces you?"
"What, are you a member, then?"
"No, but I want to be, didn't I tell you?"
"You must get an introducer."
"I don't know any member."
"Then clear off."
The grating was here shut with more force than civility. I knocked again and rang the bell. The boy open the grating roughly, and swore in a highly experienced manner that if I didn't move away he'd fetch the "committee." That was precisely what I wanted, I said. He evidently thought I was a drunk, and retired, presently returning with a man who proved to be the proprietor or manager. "Who are you?" etc. etc. ; the same conversation - again, with the difference that I was admitted within [-78-] the door to be looked at. The inspection was not unsatisfactory. The outer door was shut behind me, and I was solemnly escorted through an inner one, where, after a little talk, I was proposed as a member by the proprietor and seconded by his bartender. A false name given and 2s. 6d paid as a month's subscription, and behold you commissioner "outside" the law. My mentor accompanied me upstairs into a large, well-lighted room, and left me to find my own way about. A bar at the side attended by a surly, bull-necked individual (the same who seconded me), a baccarat-table, a great many smaller tables, and some thirty men and twenty women-such were the contents of the room when I went in.
The baccarat-table at this time (9.30) had the most attention. Sitting and standing round it were quite twenty players, staking sums from 6d. to £3 or £4. In appearance they descended in nice gradations, from a dashing military-tooking man in evening attire to a remarkably dirty young fellow who seemed to be a Scandinavian. Some sat close at the table and betted against the "bank" throughout - and as a natural consequence lost. Others, more wary, with a greater desire to win cautiously than the genuine gambler is possessed of, stood round and put their money on the table after sundry calculations of chances. Now and then one heard a "sitter " grumble out, "Lend us a dollar, Jack" - a sign of approaching financial dissolution; and, occasionally, a man rose, pushed back his chair angrily, and moved off - "dead broke." The chair was instantly seized by another craver for excitement [-79-] and wealth, whilst the late occupant slunk about the room, "on the prowl " for credit or for money in some shape and in some manner.
There is a general movement at the table, and conversation becomes animated and violent; the banker is heard saying, "£9 to you" (followed by a golden chink that brings strange looks into many eyes), as he divides the spoils of the last turn with his partners. Now a new bank is made, and after a little shuffling, comparative silence is restored, and the game begins once more. Some keep stolid countenances, and whether they win or lose, say nothing; others scarcely take their eyes off the table, and at each loss watch nervously whilst the whole of the "table" is swept into the bank, while they grasp with exultant eagerness occasional winnings. Here and there a p1ayer, wholly lost in the game, reveals his inmost thoughts in a semi-maudlin manner at every turn of chance. The banker sits quiet, keen and seeing everything, and only speaks the formulae of the game in a hard, sharp monotone; and so the "fun" goes on - winning and losing, hope and despair. Some are callous, others sensitive to the smallest variation in luck, good or bad. And all the time the manager promenades the room ; now watching some particular person ; now chatting in an undertone with the bar-tender; collecting his fee from a new bank, and spitting on it with an unpleasant leer ; encouraging a "dead-broke" in terms of insinuation and with repulsive greasiness of tone ; chaffing the women; bawling with oily and half-deprecatory sternness, "Order, gentlemen, order, if you please," when some "gentleman" [-80-] becomes obstreperous; round and round the universal provider of moral poison - this ubiquitous, obese, rascally looking Jew - promenades.
When I had watched the baccarat for some time the unprepossessing proprietor, not quite satisfied with me, beckoned, and I joined him at the bar. A few minutes' talk put him off his guard, but the repeated postponement of invitations to dice, to which ignorance of the games forced me, let him see that I was an "innocent." A disturbance between two players and a young man who looked like a shop-assistant drew him away from me, and for some time I watched the dice-players quarrelling and glaring. The "military" man engaged me in conversation - on politics! and expressed his unbounded admiration of Lord Randolph. After 10 the company rapidly increased, arid so many squabbles and other pressing calls upon the proprietor took up that estimable individual's attention that I had much more freedom. Although, as I have said, most classes were represented amongst the players, the upper working class seemed to preponderate. A good many foreigners, mainly French and German ; a few professional thieves and more non-professional ones ; a sprinkling of "pigeons;" shop-assistants and clerks ; several book-makers and the rest working men of intelligence - of such was the company composed. Sitting moodily in corners, or anon wandering with greedy eyes among the rest, one or two regular ragamuffins were evidently waiting until liquor should make easy prey for them. The women were of course friends with all ; but it was too early for them to be fully en [-81-] evidence. One or two looked in for a familiar wvord all round, and departed with a general promise to "come in later on," after a peep at the Pavilion or Alhambra. Very few were anything the worse or drink at this time, but before I left the scene was livelier. Upstairs a billiard-room was well patronized, and a knot of gentlemen interested in the turf discoursed learnedly about "odds," and entered bets in battered-looking pocket-books of ample size. There were too few in this room to admit of my staying long in it, and on going back to the gaming-room I found my friend the enemy looking for me. He was quite satisfied ; and taking all things into consideration, I thought I had better depart as soon as possible. My chance came in a few minutes. A frenzied young man of decent appearance imagined he was being cheated, which was, perhaps, not an improbable fancy? and declared so, which was very foolish. The Montague Tigg style of man accused was naturally wrath at the accusation, and promptly seized a heavy cut-glass water-bottle wherewith to ease his wounded feelings on the decent young man's head. In rushed the proprietor to the fray; a struggle ensued, and I quietly walked to the door and proceeded downstairs safely. I passed the inner door, and found between it and the outer one the small boy before-mentioned engaged in business-like conversation with three women. The women stood close in to the wall to let me pass, and the diminutive janitor opened the door. Half-way out I was suddenly tripped with great cleverness, whilst a grab was made at my watch. The ribbon which held it broke; the watch was safe, but I went headlong out [-82-] of the door, and landed practically in the arms of a policeman who chanced to be passing. The man in blue calmly set me on my feet and remarked quite casually, " Hum! coming out in a hurry, ain't you?" I said I was. He asked what I was doing there ; to which I rejoined that curiosity was answerable. The introduction, though unceremonious, was was opportune, for my new acquaintance opened out more freely than he might have been inclined to in a case of a less unconventional encounter. In the course of our talk he asked if I had seen in the "club" a military-looking man, giving a description that exactly fitted the admirer of Lord Randolph. On saving that I had noticed such a man, I learned that he was one of the cleverest thieves in London, "He lives in the West End," said the policeman, "and in good style too, and every cent he makes is by roguery. He's been had twice, but he's a fly 'un, and no error."
This policeman was one of the force which made the raid upon the notorious "Austro-Hungarian" club, which he said was fitted up in luxurious fashion, and was nightly frequented by as many as a hundred women. This is the club where dances in which only women joined were occasionally performed at odd moments in presence of the men. Hansoms rolled up to the door all night long, "and plenty of fine, fat pigeons in 'em." The thief of military aspect went regularly and made "piles" by cheating and robbery. Short shrift is the reward of a fleeced swell who is fool enough to create a disturbance, and many a man leaves the club, minus all valuables whatever, who dare not complain. [-83-] The policeman hinted repeatedly that tips were frequently forthcoming from habitués of the clubs. He said that he wished the places were cleared out. "But," he added, "it ain't a bit of use; clear them off one part, and they'll spring up in another. Like the bad ha'penny, they always turn up."
The opinion may be taken with the traditional grain of salt, or putting aside the fact that tips do not improve the judgment of the officer, there remains the inconvenient fact that the clubs are not cleared out of any quarter. An occasional raid on a solitary club, which perchance has not made itself agreeable to the police, scarcely constitutes a "clearing out." it remains to be seen whether "it ain't a bit of use " and attempt might be made at an rate.
We next give an account of a club in Clerkenwell, of a description differing somewhat from the last. A commissioner says, I had as introducer a good man, or, rather, a man who was a good introducer. He is a member of the Bar, and was once in very good practice, which, according to his own account, he lost through the new Chancery Rules. He certainty has a remarkable face, and though this qualification might generally be supposed to stand a professional man in good stead, at is extremely probable that my quondam friend's face is answerable even more than the Chancery Rules for the loss of practice. He casually mentioned gambling clubs to me immediately after receiving your instructions. He said that he would show me "round," on the condition that I told no one he knew ; inquired how much money I had on me, and [-84-] on learning, intimated that had L had more than a sovereign he wouldn't have taken me. This promised well for his sincerity, which indeed bore the test successfully throughout the evening. We took a hansom from Fleet Street, and were soon deposited near the first place in the "round" - situated in a small side street, where but few people pass. I marked the place to which we were going immediately we entered the street; the windows on the ground floor of these clubs are almost always painted a dark-chocolate colour, through which nothing can be seen. Lex rang the bell, and after a careful scrutiny of me by the doorkeeper, "A particular friend of mine" proved a password, and we entered through two doors into a fair-sized room, nicely fitted up like an ordinary newspaper or reading-room, only without the newspapers or books. Without the readers too, I might have said, for with the exception of a horsey individual eating a meat-pie at a table, the room was empty. In a recess off from the room a well-appointed bar was attended to by an equally appointed barmaid, and lounging over the counter speaking to the damsel the doorkeeper and bully of the establishment gracefully expended his spare time. We waited here only long enough to allow Lex to refresh himself and exchange sundry playful remarks with the woman, and then we passed to the gambling apartment-the next room,. This room was smaller indeed, when the table was surrounded by the players, some twenty-five or so, little empty space was left except at the upper end, where hats and coats lay on a leather-covered bench. Apparently [-85-] baccarat is the main game of this establishment. During the time I was present no other game was played, and though undoubtedly betting of the ordinary kind is carried on, I saw no telegraphic machine, and should say that the club is a baccarat club, pure and simple. No women were admitted, and the order kept was admirable. Indeed, there seemed no inclination on the part of any one present to be unruly, and it was evident that all regarded gambling simply as a fascinating and profitable or unprofitable (as the case might be) game of chance, an not as part of a course of dissipation. Most of the company behaved as habitués of the place, and the membership is kept what may be called "select" and quiet. I was instantly noticed when I entered the room, and a man in authority asked me pretty sharply who had brought me in. My guide and philosopher again stood sponsor, and all was right. I took a place at the end of the table and joined in the game to the extent of a few shillings. My introduction was a good one, for no more attention was paid me, and I moved among the players as I liked. Of course a good deal of steady drinking was going on, but as I have said, gambling was the object, not dissipation, and the drinking was entirely subsidiary, All the players were between twenty- five and forty or so, with the exception of a big, aggressive man at the head of the table, whom I should have taken to be H. M. Stanley had that gentleman not been playing a different game in Africa at the time. This Stanley-like gambler sat stolid throughout, to all appearance paying no attention to the game [-86-] or anything else, paying his losings and piling up his winnings with the same equanimity. It was principally winnings that he had to do with, for he seemed a remarkably skilled player. But well-behaved as the players generally were, there was none the less excitement, rather more. The sums hazarded ranged here, as in most clubs, from a shilling up to several pounds, and the turns of luck were followed with as intense an eagerness, only somewhat more concealed, as in the commonest omnium-gatherum club. Of the occupation of the members it was very difficult to judge. They were all well-dressed, if in some cases not in extraordinarily good taste. A few were "loud", but if you pass over a partiality for brilliant ties, the clothing as a whole would pass muster anywhere. One or two were evident book-makers, and of almost all it could be said that they were more or less interested in racing. The majority were clerks in fair positions, sharp and smart, and with ability rather above than below the average of their class. Some nondescripts there were, of course, who might be anything, from skilled professional thieves to respectable and respected tradespeople with large businesses. It is not too much to say that the desire to cheat was only suppressed by the impracability of the desire, and honour amongst the gamblers seemed to be interpreted here, " Don't cheat openly." Aggression and bare-faced cheating they would take as an insult to their intelligence; but as far as I could judge, a capacity for careful and sly cheating would rather add to the reputation of the individual possessing it. One ill-advised gentleman did attempt [-87-] to cheat in the objectionable manner, and was greeted with a roar of indignation worthy of the occasion, and then (he seemed not to be an habitué) the services of the professional ejector were called in. I thought it advisable to play here more than at common places; suspicion would sooner fall on a non-player here than in a club where most present are "dead-brokes." Strangely enough, I won; and yet no so strange, for I had noticed Lex's playing to be successful, and as I had to lay money down, I thought it advisable to play exactly as he did. He came up to me every few minutes and inquired, "Aren't you dry?" I was not; but the question was accompanied by such an expressive wink that I followed the questioner to the outer room, where he would whisper some such admirable sentiment as, "Sure to lose if we bet against the bank just now." After a glass he would say chances were better, and back we went. This proceeding, kindly to me, was not, perhaps, carried out so often simply to give me the best chance at the table; but at the same time my legal friend evidently knew the game well, and knew how to take advantage of his knowledge.
The players might be divided roughly into two classes - first, those who came with £20 or more in their pockets, and were prepared to buy the bank and run the game on their own account. These were experienced individuals, "wide awake," and probably not too highly principled. For the most part they are book-makers, and have no occupation or any occupation. The other division comprises "pigeons" and strangers generally, occa-[-88-]sional gamblers, and inveterates who are too hard up to run the bank. When I mention pigeons I certainly don't mean that the members of this particular club reckon on and look for "pigeons." Doubtless, if one comes in their way they do not quite reject him ; but still, the main object of the club is legitimate gambling, not either fleecing or dissipation. At the same time my introducer made me promise, as a general precaution against being made a mark, that if any one asked the loan of 2s. 6d. or offered to "put my money on" for me, I would decline, on the plea that I was too hard up. There were never more than thirty or thirty-five persons in the room whilst I was there - about two hours in all - and of these some twenty were constantly there, the other ten or fifteen being made up of men staying for half an hour or an hour. Lex belonged to this portion, behaving as if he had just dropped in on chance or when passing, but playing with admirable tact and skill - to win, and not for the sake of playing. Of course all play to win, but most play, as the Americans say, "right away."
This club is of a kind more more dangerous to young men than those of the brawling description. More danger there is in the latter, immediate and physical on the one hand, and a danger amounting to a certainty that you will come out of them with very, very little in your pocket ; but a young man of any character at all going to one of them is apt to be rather scared than attracted, and the severe loss which he is sure to suffer in one way or another will act on him healthily - he will not be so ready to return ; and certainly he will not, unless he go [-89-] to the bad altogether, drop into a habit of frequenting such places. The danger of the quiet, orderly club is more insidious and its influence more unconscious to the youth who chances to be introduced there. He has been taken, perhaps by some one who does not appear to be a bad fellow, but simply a man who "knows the town." He sees nothing but some playing, at which there is no downright robbery, at which he can lose a shilling or gain a shilling. If he is not known, he need not play more than he cares to. A habit of going to the place, where, in addition to the play, you can get a glass of beer and read a paper at night, in a comfortable room, without the noise and odour of a public-house - a habit of frequenting such a place is easily fallen into. It becomes a club, in fact where to be sure there is a spice of illegality, but that only sharpens the taste. If a young man once becomes accustomed to go he will soon become accustomed to play, and the fascination of the play will lay hold of him. There is, apart from the excitement of gambling - fascinating enough to a young man tired out with the monotony of office routine - a distinct and powerful attraction in having a social club in which he feels a proprietary interest, to which he can go at night. The fee is small, he can have his smoke and glass of beer, and if he has a few shillings in his pocket he can put it on the table with considerable chance of its growing. There are men frequenting these, as well as the lower kind of club, whose livelihood is gained by their wits - who play to win for their living; but a stranger would not be able to pick them out, and in these places they do not [-90-] put themselves too much in the foreground. There is not about such a place as this that odour and aspect of blackguardism and immorality which repels at least inexperienced youths, and the absence of which makes the danger all the more to be shunned. Filth and roguery may, at any rate, repel : a "respectable" gambling club has nothing about it which would be in the slightest degree repulsive to any youth who has had an ordinary experience of life - say of two years in a merchant's office. The only qualification for membership is that you be introduced by a member and get the character of not being likely to "blab."
A commissioner says, "There is one advantage in being considered a "mug "- which is, being interpreted, an innocent - and that is that the knowing card evinces the keenest pleasure showing you round. Your astonishment at the scenes with which he is so familiar, your unsophisticated remarks and ill-concealed freshness make his bosom swell with the pride of the initiated - the foolish initiated. It was a gentleman of this kind who undertook to introduce me to "a nice little place" in a street off Holborn. As our hansom rolled along he expatiated on what I must expect to see, and how I had better conduct myself in order to see it. He seemed doubtful of my discretion, but with the confidence of worth, thought he would "manage to pull me through." When we reached the door of the nice little place the tables were turned slightly. The bully apparently did not fed quite sure of the discretion of my guide, and it needed a long altercation and a tip to get us inside. The wise youth was a little discon-[-91-]certed, and explained that this "cad" was new, and did not know him well. It was not long alter the raid upon the club near the "Elephant and Castle" and consequently extra precautions were taken. I had scarcely mounted the rickety, creaking stairs and entered the bar before another bully questioned me, and for some moments my fate was doubtful. The wise youth didn't like this - it seemed to reflect on him, especially as the bar-tender muttered something about a "d---- young idiot." However, I became a member, and, thanks to my guide's reputation, I had to pay 10s. 6d., whereas the regular subscription, I afterwards found out, is only 3s.
T he premises were not very enticing. The ground floor contained an office and several store arid lumber-rooms; on the second floor the only room to which I could get access was the bar. Here the bully and a particularly quiet barmaid held converse and attended to the needs of members, the bully acting as waiter. On the third floor were several rooms, but I only saw into two of them - one a kind of anteroom, apparently used for consultations, settling money matters, and so on ; the other was the gambling-room. Here, after the altercations and explanations before mentioned, I was introduced to the proprietor - a Jew, of course, and a highly objectionable one. In aspect he was near akin to some melodramatic stage villains usually considered impossible, Bulky, with a big, oily face and heavy, fleshy nose, his black eyes, large as they were, had hard work to see over his cheeks, and it was extremely improbable that he had seen his toes for the previous ten years. He was " got up" regardless [-92-] of expense - and taste; gold pince-nez put a kind of note of interrogation into his expression; spotless linen, a marvellous tie, heavy gold watch-chain, trousers of horse-cloth pattern and irreproachable spots - a truly magnificent attire, which, however, simply intensified his blackguardly appearance. He joked with me for a few minutes in thick, sugary tones, accompanying his jokes with hoarse chuckles, and occasionally poked me in the ribs in a playful manner. In spite of his condescending jocularity, it was evident he was taking my measure. He concluded I must be as big an idiot as my introducer, I suppose, for he complacently hung up my membership notice on the wall, and gracefully pointed to the baccarat-table.
A very nice old gentleman had all this time been consuming a Welsh rabbit at a small table, and I wondered whether he had made some mistake in the number of the street-door. He looked the essence of respectability, and his benevolent gravity was more reconcilable with a prayer-meeting than a gambling-house. Presently he rose just as I turned to go to the table, stretched himself comfortably, and took a seat at the game. His presence gave an aspect of sobriety to his end of the table, but it was almost too ludicrous, He played in the same sedate, benign manner in which he ambled through his supper - and won. The players were a very mixed lot ; a good number of them bore an openly unscrupulous look, though I saw no overt robbery whilst there. Clerks of inferior outward smartness and not very well dressed, five or six retail traders, and a few cattle-dealers, a money-lender or two, shopmen on [-93-] good wages, and the usual nondescripts - these, so far as I could judge and pick up from conversation, formed the bulk of the forty-five or fifty men round the table. There were several skilled mechanics, and a fair number of very ordinary labourers. During the night a few young fools such as my introducer came in, but left shortly for scenes of greater liveliness. Truly the room was depressing. No attempt at comfort was made. Bare wooden benches round a deal table covered with faded green baize; no carpet of any kind ; walls dirty and greasy, bearing traces of beer and tobacco-juice, and ornamented solely with a great number of printed rules and orders of the committee - this, lit up from half a dozen glaring burners, was not an attractive picture. Play went on with great regularity and with little in the way of disorder. There was more talking and swearing than at more respectable clubs, and at times the din grew to pitch enough to incite the flashy Shylock to interference. then he shone forth in all his glory as he demanded order. He did it with the fatty sternness of tone so much in vogue with his kind, as who should say, "Now, gentlemen, I want you o enjoy yourselves, but really - well come, you must be quiet, you know." After delivering his charge he smiled expansively over the room, replaced his cigar between his ponderous lips, and resumed his stroll, rattling watch-chain and money. Two or three mechanics, originally with but little in their pockets, hung anxiously over the table, watching the luck of the sixpence or shilling which, if not the last which remained, was very near it. Soon they had lost all. They waited about for some [-94-] time, for a drink or anything else that might turn up. One with a haggard face - perhaps he had lost the whole of his wages (it was Saturday) - managed to borrow five shillings and sat down again. The bank raked it remorselessly in, and in a few minutes the man rose and rushed down the stairs, followed by the mocking laugh of Shylock, who had keenly enjoyed the poor fellow's agonized face, Another, also a mechanic, had just as wretched luck. He staked sixpence at a time, and played ahead until he had but a shilling or two left. Then he commenced to be cautious, and laid his money down at intervals. It was no use; he was doomed. The last sixpence went; he quietly lifted his chair back, and as quietly walked to the door. There was no small pathos in his departure, but the repulsive proprietor leered with sneering pity, and seemed to be saying to himself, "He'll come back." Perhaps he was right. The man had certainly lost several pounds, and just as he passed down the stairs Shylock moved after him and whispered something in his ear. The fellow smiled in a ghastly manner, and went off shaking his head. Shylock came back and encouraged me to take the vacant chair. I thought I had better play a little, and so sat down. To-night the bank had alt the luck, and at the close I think all had lost save the bankers, A red-faced, healthy cattle-dealer, well-dressed, and apparently of great self-reliance, lost sovereign after sovereign. He calmly changed £5 notes with great good-humour. But he was evidentIy an habitué of the place and an old gambler. Doubtless he ran the bank when he could get the chance ; and I suspect he goes to the [-95-] club several nights each week, playing ahead when he can't get the bank, and knowing that all his losses will be made up.
The continued luck of the bank seemed to have the effect of making the great majority of the players fiercely reckless. A man seated on my right maintained a rigid face at each draw of the cards till he saw his form swept away, and then he ground out in an undertone a hideous volley of oaths. Down went another form, or maybe two, and a fresh combination of imprecations followed the stake into the bank. How much he lost it is not easy to say but he played regularly for over two hours, and did not win once in ten times. His originality in swearing was the most remarkable thing about him. Not only did he invent new oaths but he displayed the most extraordinary ingenuity in new arrangements of old ones. The recent novelist who invented the tasteful expression "Slap me crimson" did not beat this shop man.
The club closes at 12 - the sole attempt at respectability - and at 11.30 the play was fierce and exciting. No one won. The banker and his partners were placid and obliging, speaking in the most courteous manner; but I strongly suspected sleight-of-hand in their dealing and drawing. Every five minutes some one or other disappeared - now a shopman and now a mechanic. The nondescripts without exception stayed on, occasionally adjourning to the bar for a drink. One lost everything but a shilling. He relieved his feelings in the customary manner, spat on his shilling, and remarked, "Keep that for breakfast." This prudent determination [-96-] taken, his good-humour was restored, and he- mirabile dictu - managed to get Shylock to "stand him a drink." Probably the two had other "business" connections beyond gambling ; that is the only plausible explanation of an otherwise inexplicable circumstance. Shylock came back looking virtuous, and his generosity had its own reward, no doubt. About 11.45 two players quarrelled, and in attempting to fight both struck a nervous clerk, who seemed unused to the scenes; he laid out right and left, and was taken downstairs very soon and shot out into the street.. The players who created the disturbance each got a quietening blow and settled down.
The "table" was more exasperated, for the bank would have to hurry in order to finish by 12, and was there not some chance of coming out successful? Many seemed to think so, at any rate. And yet, had luck turned absolutely against the bank, they could not have recouped themselves. Besides, with these bankers there was little chance of the luck turning. However, there is no hope like the gamblers. Play went on, and the bank and punters called more frequently, "Any more money this time?" The play became more furious, and scarce an unnecessary word was spoken. Down went the bets, and over and over the punters raked them into the bank. As the last few chances came the bets increased ; the excited and inexperienced placed almost their all upon the table; men who were own down in the bar having a drink rushed up for a last fling - but luck went with the bank. The pack was run out all but the last draw; hope was [-97-] gone for to-night ; faces relaxed, and the interest became less intense. The bank drew in its final sweep, and the chairs were pitched angrily back as all rose. Tongues loosened, and the usual finale began. Some were glum and sullen ; others were maudlin and murmured in a weak voice; here and there a stolid and taciturn expression set off by contrast an angered one and heated words; a few swore as if for very life; and the bankers looked the serene look of the winner. But silent and loquacious, glum and animated, grumbling, swearing, mooning, and radiant - all moved down to the bar. All but one, who threw himself down on a chair and bent his head over his knees. No one paid attention to him, and we passed downstairs, leaving him to his wretchedness. In the bar groups of two or three discussed the luck; Shylock and the bankers smiled comfortably, and the latter "stood drinks." In the course of a few minutes all trace of the recent agitation had disappeared. A few, too much broken, slipped away ; but the great majority regained their spirits and began to talk of the races of the next week. Betting-books came out, and I left the room in a state of excitement over bets as great as that which but lately came from disappointed gamblers. The innocents were mostly drunk by this time, and those who had any money left soon parted with it on their "fancy" and in drink; they who were moneyless, but were well known to the proprietor, borrowed money from him and instantly laid it all out. One excitement succeeded the other and dispelled the recollection of it. Possibly next morning's headache and empty pockets might tell a different tale. I [-98-] made my way out before the drove turned to go, the doorkeeper ushering me through the outer door with an obsequiously familiar "Good-night, captain;" for was I not a new member, and, moreover, one bearing the quickly earned reputation of an unplucked pigeon? Thanks to the general excitement, I had played little nor was the doorkeeper bowed down by the weight of my generosity.
No doubt I got on easily by being a new member; Shylock did not want to frighten me away. The wise youth who introduced me had evidently been himself introduced but lately, for his plucking began to-night. I lost sight of him for some time, but about 11 he came into the baccarat-room staggering, and made for the table. Despite my hints and attempts to get him away, he would play; and the result was that be left this "nice little place" without a penny to take him to his lodgings. He was too shamefaced it appears after his bragging, to ask me to lend him sufficient, and slunk away unobserved. It was not till some time afterwards that I learned the full extent of his loss, which was great enough to keep him hard up for the next month.
This club is a shade more repellent than some others; but on the other hand, if after, say, two preliminary visits a "pigeon" goes with a good sum of money in his pocket he may be sure that he will be "treated" until he can hardly stand, and then - well, he will wake next morning with an empty purse. If he is obstinate, and will not play sufficiently, some needy sharper will manage to relieve him of his money in another way. I don't know the tricks which are "workable" in baccarat suffi-[-99-]ciently to say where the cheating takes place, but it is certain that wholesale cheating is carried on in this hell. Those who run the bank can guard against it to some extent when they are ordinary players; but it pays them better to stand a little robbery at such times than to spoil their own future opportunities.
There were no women on the premises, with the exception of the barmaid ; and I am fairly certain that none are admitted - at any rate before 12. What occurs after that I cannot say, but when I left at 12.15 there were none of the premonitory symptoms of "closing" and the house is very spacious. However, none but habitués and well-known "customers" will be allowed to learn that the place is anything more than a gambling-den.
The clubs which have the most attraction for young clerks and superior shopmen, and exercise the most deleterious influence on them, are of a kind to be found mainly in the Tottenham Court Road district. In these gambling, of course, forms the main feature of the entertainment, but the dancing rooms attached are of but slightly less importance.
Of one of these clubs a commissioner reports -
I had small difficulty in gaining admission. The club, Like most of those in the vicinity, is registered as a "working-man's club" amd there is very little secrecy as to its operations. The membership is large, and so long as a member introduces you there is no questioning. My introducer is not very well known to the attendants, but when he knocked the "bully" asked, "Member, sir?" and on receiving an affirmative reply, admitted us without further ado.
[-100-] We passed through a large, well-furnished and nicely lighted card-room into what serves as bar and billiard-room. This apartment was well-lighted too, and though the night was too young for the card-tables to be occupied, all four billiard-tabies were in great request. At the upper end of the room the bar was attended to by a boy of about fourteen, already of depraved and generally heavy and sensual appearance. Scattered about were several men and lads belonging to the establishment, and it was impossible not to notice how the moral atmosphere of the place had become part of their natures, and was plainly enough depicted on their faces. Very prominently throughout the house placards of "rules," "orders" and "notices" decorated the walls. Members are ordered to do this and not to do that; visitors are informed that only members are allowed to pay for drink. The advantages of membership are eloquently described, to ensnare the visitor; and those who wish to be present at a smoking concert to be held shortly, at which many members of the musical profession have promised to be present, are urgently advised to apply for tickets instantly. For the most part the rules and orders are mere shams; they are all contravened. Their real purpose is to make a brave show of legality to any visitor whose object is not exactly favourable to the club, and in case of a raid the defence would be based on the fact that the club is conducted properly and as the law admits. The billiard-room presents pretty much the same scene as the billiard-room in a public-house, and the twenty or more young men playing and looking on are of the usual [-101-] type - clerks and shopmen, with a few bookmakers. We go through the card-room, which in the interval has filled a little; and here the secretary, a pasty-faced youth of dissipated aspect, proposes to make me a member. He escorts me to a remarkably clean office - little used, I fancy - and takes five shillings, saying he will bring me the receipt downstairs. I doubt it, but go away down to the dancing-saloon.
Here, lounging round a bar, attended to by three young women with a profusion of flaxen hair, are groups of young fellows, chatting with groups of girls - the dancing has not begun. At a half-grand piano a girl stands and listlessly runs through a waltz with one hand, staring at the ceiling the while, as if to show how easy the thing is to her, in various parts of the room young men in twos and threes chat in various manners. Some are not quite at home, and therefore arrange themselves in nonchalant and devil-may-care attitudes; others are very much at home, and behave themselves accordingly. The girls are all at home. Soon some impatient gentleman curses the waiting very heartily, and the "devil-may-cares" look at him admiringly, and, encouraged by his bold example, curse the waiting too. One noticeable feature of the room is the presence of a great many Jewish lads and hobbledehoys. They all wear silk hats, generally on the back of their heads, and are dressed in the most approved style. They have plenty of money, and spend it freely. They know all the girls, and are certainly the most impudent, unrestrained individuals in the place. Mostly their parents are wealthy tradespeople or money-lenders, and one of them was telling how, on [-102-] coming of age the week before, he celebrated the event by inviting some twenty of his friends to the boxes at the "Oxford" and subsequently to a "little supper." In spite of the designation of the club, there were no working men. These disgusting young Jews are a mainstay of the place, and having money, they have plenty of toadies. Clerks were there of all grades, and every second man wore the regulation top hat and black coat ; the few shop assistants, dapper, Tittlebat Titmouses, in intelligence, who were in the house when I went in had their numbers considerably augmented as the evening wore on and the business houses closed. After awhile the dancing began, and I went to the card-room. In this dancing-saloon were certainty to be found young fellows of all shades of character. A few were recently introduced, and as yet ill at ease - the dancing attracted them - and it is quite possible that some were ignorant of the character of the girls - "giddy" possibly they thought them. From innocents of this kind,, easily led on, but as easily rescued at present, you could mark the descending types until you reached the type represented by the habitué of thirty. A shopman he seemed to be, from the stereotyped "What next? " expression on his face; but a more repulsive face it would be difficult to find. Vapid, stupidly unintelligent, weak- eyed, and of exhausted physique, he bore about him a kind of smartness, the mechanical result of his occupation, which simply made his utter weakness more disgusting. Most of the dancers kept him at arms length, but he did not appear to notice it; he simpered about the room by himself in maudlin [-103-] enjoyment. His mental and moral consistency was perhaps a trifle superior to that of a jelly-fish.
The average intelligence of the room must have been remarkably small : smartness there was - too much of it; but with the exception of the Jews, who are all sharp enough in some ways, and of a few superior-class clerks, the dancers wore the vapid expression that tells of a dwarfed intellect. The membership includes at least a hundred higher middle-class young men, who "look" in occasionally for a spree. Sunday night is their favourite time. Then numbers of ballet-girls and inferior actresses are present, and the scene is very animated. The night on which I was in was a "bad" one - that is to say a lower stratum of members was resent. The card-room was well filled when I left the dancing-saloon, and the usual games were in progress. The general tone of the room is more "clubby" than that of many gambling-clubs. Members chatted, talked "racing," and stood drinks; politics formed the source of conversation of some groups, and gambling was carried on more in the style of social card-playing; it was exciting enough in some quarters, but there was less of that intense, concentrated interest than is usually to be noticed. The class of men gathered in this room was more that of the billiard-player than the dancer. There was less affectation, less pretence of being men of the world ; the whole affair was part and parcel of their lives, and looked to be so. Clerks, superior shop-assistants, shopkeepers, betting men, and men of the pawnbroking stamp made up the majority of the company ; not a genuine working man was to [-104-] be seen. The Teutonic element, of course, was well represented.
The pasty-faced young secretary fu1filled his promise ere I left; he crushed a folded paper into my hands, saying "Receipt." On opening the paper afterwards I noticed that I had paid a subscription of four shillings. The other shilling was not mentioned.
Such a club as this has little or nothing about it to repel a young man of average experience, more especially if he be fond of dancing. If he knows the inside of a public-house and a billiard-room in a slight way, then to become a member is a step the downward tendency of which is almost imperceptible. Of course, it is all the more dangerous for that; but at the same time it is easy for a man of average determination to withdraw when he finds out his mistake. There are undoubtedly plenty of fellows who use this club really as a club. They are not by any means vicious. They go and have a game of nap, take a turn at billiards, smoke, chat, perhaps join a dance, and go home quite sober. Unhappily, the majority are not content with this, and there is no doubt that for a lad with a weak will and a desire to be "about town" there is no place more likely to help him into difficulty of all kinds than a club of this nature. And it may also safely be said that any man who regularly frequents such clubs, even though he hold himself aloof from actual dissipation, yet loses all delicacy of moral sensibility. Twenty years hence the influence of the club may perchance appear as decisively in him as it does in those of weak will and judgment who start with him.