I got this story back in 2003. I stored it on my computer these 3 years. Today my friend Peter visit me, long time since last time.
Peter is a writer from England, and allowed me to put the story on to my homepage..
Thank you Peter for letting me have this wonderful story. As you said, it's just simelar to how my property was won long time ago.
Peter Richards loves my Bedlingtons.
Life’s a Gamble and that’s a fact!
The man that appeared to be doing all the losing was, to put it mildly, as miserable as sin. Nothing said by his card-playing companions could shake a smile out of his unshaven face and they’d given up all hope of resurrecting the man’s spirit, concentrating instead on the game in hand.
“I’ll see you for the cow and the bridle.” The pipe-smoking man to the left of the man with the beard threw his cards on the table, and in so doing, scooped the last remaining assets of the miserable man, right from under his nose.
“Sorry about that but that’s the way the cards go sometimes.” The winner of the cow and horse-bridle had, during the last three months, become the proud owner of three other cows that had belonged to the miserable man; so too a fine pair of pigs, a barn full of hay and the last bit of land that hadn’t yet been won by somebody else.
“You’ve only got the house left now and that isn’t worth much because it’s sitting on somebody else’s land. I know that you’ll never bet your horse but dear me, I’ve never seen you playing so badly; nothing wrong is there?”
“No, there’s nothing wrong”. Answered the miserable man. “I seem to have lost the touch somehow and that’s a pity. I had great hopes three months ago but I’m cleaned out good and proper now. How much do you think that my house is worth, taking everything into consideration?”
There followed a general discussion that wandered from one card-player to the other, finally coming to rest when everything had been said but nothing had been decided. One thing that was agreed upon though, the house wasn’t worth very much at all; one bad hand could see it gone, just like that. The miserable man, rising from the table, excused himself from the remaining half hour of gambling by stating that he had to get home to his dear wife.
“She’ll be waiting up for me as usual with a bowl of hot soup and a nice fat chunk of her home-made bread. Where would I be without her by my side in this, my hour of despair; it makes you think doesn’t it?” He bade them all “goodnight” and set off towards his home, knowing that his pig of a wife would have locked him out of the house, leaving him to sleep in the stable with Joshua the horse.
Joshua was asleep when the creaking of the door woke him from the middle of his favourite dream. The dream had been mostly formed of summer sun and lush green meadows but, just before his master interrupted the proceedings, there had been a young mare looking at him over a neighbouring fence, fluttering her eyelashes and swishing her long white tail. He thought that her name might have been Elsa but he could have been mistaken because the dream-mare from the night before, also named Elsa, had been chestnut-coloured, just like him.
“Move over a bit Josh, there’s a good horse.” The horse shifted position, hearing his master muttering to himself in the darkness and then there was silence followed by soft snoring.
“Sleep well master.” The horse tried to pick up the fragments of the interrupted dream, could put a name to the mare with the fluttering eyelashes but couldn’t remember what colour coat she had. Damn it all. He too fell asleep, standing up, like he always did.
The miserable man, after a wash in the cold water of the horse-trough, knocked on the back door of his own house and was made to wait ten minutes before his wife would let him in. As usual, no words passed between them, nothing was said about the man’s gambling and he, in turn, didn’t comment on the pitiful state of the kitchen. Sleeping in the stable had been quite a treat after the filth of the house. He found some apples in a box under the stairs, slipped a couple into his pocket and then went outside to see what was going on in the world.
The man with the beard was turning cattle into one of the fields. He gave the miserable man a wave and came over.
“Him with a pipe says that he’ll be over later to pick up the cow and the bridle and the man with a wart on his nose is coming over with some papers for you to sign for the land that he won from you last week. I’ve just come to say hello and to ask if you’ll be joining us for the next session; you still have your house to play with and who knows, your luck may change for the better, just like it did for the worse. I bet that your wife is really angry with you for losing virtually everything that you’ve ever owned.” He paused at this point, stroking his beard and waiting for the miserable man to answer.
“Far from being angry she cooked me a special breakfast this morning; pancakes and bacon, two fried eggs and more of her home-made bread. I don’t know how she keeps so cheerful. The woman’s a saint, no doubt about it.”
Joshua, scratching his rump on the old apple tree, thought that his master had taken a turn for the worse and also thought that the man with the beard wouldn’t fall for the ‘special breakfast’ story’ at all, but he was wrong about that.
“Pancakes and bacon were always my favourite item on the breakfast table. Was that your stomach rumbling or was it mine? All this talk about food has made me suddenly quite hungry so I’ll leg it off home and ask my own dear lady to fix me up a boiled beef sandwich. Perhaps you’d care to join me; I’m sure that there will be enough for both of us.”
The miserable man with the rumbling stomach accepted the offer of food and they set out along the road to the bearded man’s house, talking gambling, talking good and bad luck. Talking their talk.
It was Saturday night again and the soft glow of the oil lamp showed that there was some activity in the barn; five men were huddled over a small card-table whilst another man observed the play from a respectable distance. One could see at a glance that the observer’s countenance reflected the abject misery that was a common trait in those that had been left out of things, but there we are, all’s fair in love and cards because the man had nothing to gamble with except for his next to worthless house. What a shame.
Bits of land, cows, sheep and pigs changed hands as the game progressed. One of the men dropped out when he lost his best suit and silver-topped walking stick and another fell over drunk and sprained his shoulder; he was escorted home by yet another of the group, leaving the man with a beard, the pipe smoker and the miserable observer to continue playing cards late into the night.
“Him with a beard was saying that your wife gives you tender love and care when she should be thrashing you in public for losing all you possess. You must feel that she’s an asset that wouldn’t be gambled away at any price. I’ve never had a wife of my own ever and when my mother died, well, I found that I could manage on my own. Now that I’m getting on a bit in age I feel that it’s about time that I too had my share of special breakfasts, home-made bread and the like. Is she good with pigs?” The man with a pipe was leaning through the stable door, talking with the miserable man as he groomed Joshua the horse.
“She deserves pigs in her life; she found it hard to live without them when they were lost at the cards but she bears it well with never a word of complaint. Like me, she lives in hope that my luck will change but it’s hard for her. Did I mention that she smells like lavender on a summer’s day?” Joshua was seen to stagger a bit at this point and was told to ‘hold steady’ by his master as he continued to brush the horse.
“She deserves someone better than me but I’m in a pickle and there’s nothing more that I can do to rectify the situation. Have you any ideas?” The man that smoked a pipe made one or two suggestions and the news was spread about among the card-players of a last heroic stand by the miserable man, a make or break finale to rival anything that had gone before. The miserable man was willing to offer his wife at the card-table!
The day that the miserable man lost his wife at the turn of a card had started just like any other Sunday; folk had slept an extra hour in their warm fat beds with their warm fat wives, and then had taken breakfast without putting their shirts on, unshaven and unwashed. That was Sunday for you, a special day of the week when things could be left to slide a little and to hell with the Parson.
The miserable man was at the horse-trough again, lathered up and scraping at his face with his hunting knife, making a fuss about the blood and wincing as the soap entered the little nicks in his skin. A passer by would have noticed that the miserable man was wearing what appeared to be new trousers and a smart white shirt; his boots had been cleaned too and there was a rather dashing leather waistcoat hanging on the fence ready to be put on just as soon as the tortuous shave had been completed. Joshua was eyeing his master from a safe distance, wondering what was going on in his master’s mind, hoping that things were about to get better but not convinced that they would.
With the shave completed, the man set off for the neighbour’s barn to confront goodness knew what; he munched at an apple on the way, trying to ignore the protests coming from his abused stomach. A close examination of the man’s face would have detected a slight uplift to the corners of the mouth and a twinkle in the pale blue eyes that suggested that there was something happening behind the normally miserable countenance but neither the horse nor the neighbours would know what it was; not for a few weeks anyway.
“I’d like a warm-up game first.” Said the miserable man. “As you can see, I’m wearing some decent clothes for a change and I’m willing to bet them against the horse-bridle that you won from me last week and then we’ll get on with the real game, whether I play naked or not!” One had to admire the man’s pluck and confidence. Playing cards in the nude was almost as bad as betting your wife but there were times when a gesture had to be made and he needed the bridle, it would play a pivotal role in the plan that had been three months in the making and was about to be brought to a fitting climax.
“Hush please and deal the cards!” Click-click slap, click slap click, a gasp from the crowd as the miserable man won his bridle back with an ease that had been missing from his game for quite a while. The pipe-smoking man’s confidence took a slight knock at this display of arrogance by his opponent but, regardless of the risk, he proceeded to bet all of the land that he’d won, plus the barn and a few other things against the opportunity to win himself a lavender-smelling wife. As the cards were dealt for the make-or-break game he noticed that the miserable man was smiling, something that he hadn’t been seen to do for many a year and a bit more of the pipe-smokers confidence drained away.
“Congratulations, you wiped the floor with me good and proper. I thought that I had you there for a moment but it wasn’t to be; damn it all I do believe that I was over-confident, something that’s bound to lead you astray so serves me right. Well done!” Everyone agreed that the man took his loss like a gentleman, watched him heading for home with a weary step and slouched shoulders, carrying the horse’s bridle and munching at an apple. He’d told the pipe-smoker that he’d be gone from the house by the following evening.
“Just give me a bit of time to say goodbye to my dear lady wife. You’ll never see me again so don’t worry about that; you won her fair and square. Goodbye all, on this, the saddest day of my life!”
“I won your bridle back Josh so let’s get a move on.” The bridle was fitted to the mystified horse and saddlebags were placed across his back. He thought that he could hear his master giggling but thought that is was just imagination playing tricks on him again. He’d heard him giggling seven years ago on his wedding night but nothing since.
He was led out into the yard and the giggling miserable man climbed onto the horse’s back and ordered him to ‘walk on’, past the dirty house with it’s dirty wife and down the small lane that led past the fields that he used to own, without a backward glance, glad that the plan had succeeded and glad to see the back of it all.
“My horse needs new shoes and I need a haircut and shave.” The town, a three-day ride from his old home, brought back fond memories to the miserable man, and his horse. Joshua was led to the smithy and the smiling miserable man was shown to the barber’s shop and told to sit in a strange chair whilst a man with very soft skin clipped away at the overgrown hair and then gave him the closest shave that he’d ever had.
“I remember this horse from about three months ago; the letter ‘J’ on the bridle is very nicely done if you don’t mind me saying so.” The blacksmith was wondering whether to ask the man whether he’d consider playing cards for the bridle but, looking at the smartly turned out smiling man, thought that he wasn’t the gambling type at all. The goldsmith, in the small workshop at the end of the main street remembered the man and his horse very well; the gold earrings had been completed weeks ago, as per the man’s orders, paid for in advance and here he was, as large as life to receive them, in their fancy box.
“She’s a lucky woman to be getting such a gift. Would there be a wedding ring to order?” No, the smiling man assured the goldsmith that there was already a wedding ring in existence, “but thank you for asking”.
“Off we go Josh, only another day or so and then we’ll be home and dry.” They passed the barn where the miserable man had played his finest game. The gold coin that had belonged to his grandfather had glinted in the soft lamplight, mesmerising the man and his gambling companions, lulling them into a dream world of careless card playing until the miserable man had taken them for everything that they had.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.” That was the general comment at the end of the game; gentlemen and rough landowners acknowledged that they’d never seen such play by such a miserable man and conceded that they had been thrashed out of sight. Now, the miserable man was one of the biggest landowners in the district with a large farmhouse and animals without number.
Joshua’s heart gave a lurch as they crested the rise at the head of the valley.
“Almost there now Josh; it’s the big place half way along the valley with the small lake in front. There’s a large stable just for you and more grass than you could eat in a lifetime.” There was also a fair-haired wife who actually did smell of lavender and made the most wonderful pancake and bacon breakfasts. He’d met her just the once, at the signing of the papers, before her broken husband had left for foreign parts to seek another fortune and better luck. Serves him right for betting everything on that one last game!
Yes, there she was, waving at him from the porch, a woman that had been worth the three months of deliberate loss at the card-table, the acting and deceit. His old neighbours pitied him such bad luck but that pity would quickly be transferred to the pipe-smoking man and his ugly-dirty wife, won on the turn of a card. Serves him right too for betting everything on that one last game!
“They call me Joshua but you can call me Josh.” She fluttered her eyelashes and swished her white tail whilst in the spotless kitchen of the spotless house the happy man ate his pancakes and bacon, watching the woman watching the horses in the paddock.
“I think that my Elsa has taken quite a shine to your horse. Would you like another pancake my dear?”
© Peter Richards, Skiptvet, 2003.