Three turns of the wheel had taken place with no appearance of the white hand upon the board. "Busted," had been the laconic comment of a by-stander. Dirke glanced at the count and their eyes met. The gambler was fingering the "lucky ring." As he caught Dirke's eye he drew the ring from his finger. "What will you place against that?" he asked, handing it over to the boss.
And then it was, in that crucial moment, that Dirke's groping soul came out into the light, even as the wide white flower over yonder had come out into the light, springing from its grim, unsightly stem. In that flashing instant of time his true nature, which he had so long sought to belie, took final command. All that was false, fantastic, artificial, loosed its hold and fell away.
In Dirke's face, and bearing, however, devoid as it was of any emotion, one quality was but the more recognizable for that, and the count knew that the man before him was available as an antagonist. "Monsieur," he said, with strong self-control, "it is possible that you do not understand that you are not aware that Monsieur!
Nevertheless, the wheel went round at Dirke's bidding as swiftly and uncompromisingly as heart could wish, and to most of those gathered about that centre of attraction the "boss" seemed an integral part of the machine. Dabney Dirke was an ideal figure for the part he had to play.
In Dirke's countenance there was no change, no slightest trace of any emotion whatever. Yet both seconds perceived, in the flash of time allowed, that the combat was to be a mortal one, and that it was Dirke who had thus decreed it.
"Monsieur!" he cried; "Monsieur! It was a misunderstanding! I mistook you wholly! And you, you were magnanimous! Ah, mon Dieu!" And then a wonder came to pass, for Dabney Dirke's lips parted in a smile. The smile was faint, yet indescribably sweet, and the voice was faint, and far-away, in which he murmured brokenly; "It was a message to the stars."
For Aaron Dirke's failure had involved moral as well as financial ruin. He had died of the shock, as some of his creditors thought it behooved him to do, died in prison after one week's durance. His son envied him; but dying is difficult in early youth, and Dabney Dirke did not quite know how to set about.
As it placed a silver dollar on the board a flash of diamonds caught Dirke's eye, and he recognized the "lucky ring" he had once worn. It was a closer fit for the little finger of the present wearer than it had been for his own. There was little need of further investigation to establish the identity of the new-comer. The wheel went round and the ball dropped in the stranger's favor.