Of All Things - Cover

Of All Things

Public Domain

Chapter 8: Not According to Hoyle

I have just finished reading an article by an expert in auction bridge, and it has left me in a cold sweat. As near as I can make out, it presupposes that every one who plays bridge knows what he is doing before he does it, which simply means that I have been going along all this time working on exactly the wrong theory. It may incidentally explain why I have never been voted the most popular bridge player in Wimblehurst or presented with a loving cup by admiring members of the Neighborhood Club.

Diametrically opposed to the system of “think-before-you-play,” advocated by this expert, my game has been built up purely on intuition. I rely almost entirely on the inner promptings of the moment in playing a card. I don’t claim that there is anything spiritualistic about it, for it does not work out with consistent enough success to be in any way uncanny. As a matter of fact, it causes me a lot of trouble. When one relies on instinct to remind one of what the trumps are, or how many of them have been played, there is bound to be a slip-up every so often.

But what chagrins me, after reading the expert’s article, is the thought that all this while I may have been playing with people who were actually thinking the thing out beforehand in a sordid sort of way, counting the trumps played and figuring on who had the queen or where the ten-spot lay. I didn’t think there were such people in the world.

Here I have been going ahead, in an honest, hail-fellow-well-met mood, sometimes following suit, sometimes trumping my partner’s trick, always taking it for granted that the idea was to get the hand played as quickly as possible in order to talk it over and tell each other how it might have been done differently.

It is true that, now and again, I have noticed sharp looks directed at me by my various partners, but I have usually attributed them to a little mannerism I have of humming softly while playing, and I have always stopped humming whenever my partner showed signs of displeasure, being perfectly willing to meet any one halfway in an effort to make the evening a pleasant one for all concerned. But now I am afraid that perhaps the humming was only a minor offense. I am appalled at the thought of what really was the trouble.

I should never have allowed myself to be dragged into it at all. My first big mistake was made when, in a moment of weakness, I consented to learn the game; for a man who can frankly say “I do not play bridge” is allowed to go over in the corner and run the pianola by himself, while the poor neophyte, no matter how much he may protest that he isn’t “at all a good player, in fact, I’m perfectly rotten,” is never believed, but dragged into a game where it is discovered, too late, that he spoke the truth.

But it was a family affair at first. Dora belonged to a whist club which met every Friday afternoon on strictly partizan lines, except for once a year, when they asked the men in. My experience with this organization had been necessarily limited, as it held its sessions during my working hours. Once in a while, however, I would get home in time to meet in the front hall the stragglers who were just leaving, amid a general searching for furs and over-shoes, and for some unaccountable reason I usually felt very foolish on such occasions. Certainly I had a right, under the Common Law, to be coming in my own front door, but I always had a sneaking feeling, there in the midst of the departing guests, that the laugh was on me.

One Friday, when I was confined to my room with a touch of neuralgia (it was in my face, if you are interested, and the whole right side swelled up until it was twice its normal size--I’d like to tell you more about it some time), I could hear the sounds of carnival going on downstairs. The noises made by women playing bridge are distinctive. At first the listener is aware of a sort of preliminary conversational murmur, with a running accompaniment of shuffling pasteboards. Then follows an unnatural quiet, punctuated by the thud of jeweled knuckles or the clank of bracelets as the cards are played against the baize, with now and then little squeals of dismay or delight from some of the more demonstrative and an occasional “Good for you, partner!” from an appreciative dummy. Gradually, as the hand draws toward its close, there begins a low sound, like the murmurings of the stage mob in the wings, which rapidly increases, until the room is filled with a shrill chatter, resembling that in the Bird House in Central Park, from which there is distinguishable merely a wild medley:

“If you had led me your queen--was so afraid she might trump in with--my dear, I didn’t have a face card in my--threw away just the wrong--had the jack, 10, 9, and 7--thought Alice had the king--ace and three little ones--how about honors?--my dear, simply frightful--if you had returned my lead--my dear!”

This listening in at bridge, however, was the nearest I had ever been to the front, until it came time for the Friday Afternoon Club to let down the bars and have a Men’s Night. I had no illusions about this “Men’s Night,” but it was a case of my learning to play bridge and accompanying Dora, or of her getting some man in from off the sidewalk to take my place, and I figured that it would cause less talk if I were there to play myself. As I think it over now, I feel that the strange-man scheme might have worked out with less comment being made than my playing drew down.

But it was for this purpose that I allowed myself to be instructed in the rudiments of bridge. I had nothing permanent in mind in absorbing these principles, fully expecting to forget them again the day after the party. I miscalculated by about one day, it now seems.

The expert, whose article has been such an inspiration to me, had some neat little diagrams drawn for him, showing just where the cards lay in the four hands, and with the players indicated as A, B, Y, and Z; apparently the same people, come up in the world, who, in our algebras some years ago, used to buy and sell apples to each other with feverish commercialism and to run races with all sorts of unfair handicaps. What a small world it is, after all!

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