Mr. Popper had come in the front door just in time to hear Big Dee’s proposal to Polly. At that very moment he understood why the Shaman had requested Mr. Struggles to be part of the group. Of course! It made so much sense! Why hadn’t he been able to see it.
“Who are ya? And what da ya want?” inquired Big Dee, to the stranger.
“My name is Mr. Popper and this is my wife Polly.” he said calmly and matter-of-factly. “I heard your proposal and I think I have a counter proposal that would interest you.”
“I done said what I want and I aint a changin my mind.”
“Big Dee, I’ve heard you are a man who likes a game of chance. I’ve heard that you can be very lucky. I’ve also heard that you like to play cards. So, my offer is simple. Double or nothing.”
A smile crept over Big Dee’s face as he contemplated the ins and outs of this situation. “Well now. That sounds right interestin. Spell out the terms of yur proposition and what the game might be.” he said with his best poker face.
“Traditional poker. We will play three hands. The best two out of three wins. The stakes will be this: if we lose, Polly will stay here for the next fourteen years and she will do all your worrying.”
A gasp came from Polly, but she knew Mr. Popper must have a plan. She also knew he wasn’t a gambler.
“If you lose,” continued Mr. Popper, “You will let us go immediately and send your son with us as our guide.”
“I didn’t take ya fer a man that takes big risks, but I like ya, and I think this might be some fun. So, I’m a gonna say yes to this here game.” he said, with the sly look of someone who already knew the outcome. “I’ll get Lou to fetch some cards and we’ll have us a game!”
Big Dee excused himself and left the room to tell Lucinda that he needed a deck of cards. The doors closed behind him and he whispered to Lucinda. “Go over ta Bradley’s general store and get me some cards. I’m fixin ta take them Savages fer everthin they got.”
“But surely they’ve heared that you are the chief of all the luck suckers. I thought everone knowed that.” She said with a look of unbelief.
“I guess they’s still a few out there that aint, but he’s about ta find out.” Big Dee chuckled.
After some time Big Dee came into the room followed by Lucinda, who had the cards, two men carrying a small table, and what appeared to be the whole town behind them. Lucinda had told old man Bradley about the game, when she had gone for the cards. He had told the customers in the store, and soon word had spread through out the whole town. Every one had come to see the game and watch Big Dee do what he does so well.
“ I hope ya don’t mind that these folks have come by ta watch this here friendly little game?” he said, with a wink to the crowd.
“No, I think it will make it more festive.” replied Mr.Popper
“Well then, Lucinda can deal if that’t alright with you?”
“That should be just fine.”
“I’ll sit here and you can sit there, and we’ll get this game a started.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, if I gave you the impression that I was going to be the one to play you.” Mr. Popper apologized. “Mr. Struggles is our card player, not me.”
Polly and the girls looked at each other like Mr. Popper had lost his mind. Bon Bon put her tail between her legs and put her head down, and Mr. Struggles had gone white as Christmas snow.
“It don’t much matter which a yuns wants ta play. Just have a seat and Lou can deal em.”
“I should like to have a quick word in private with Mr. Struggles before you start, if that would be alright?” Mr. Popper asked looking calmly at Mr. Struggles.
“Sure, I aint in no hurry.”
As Big Dee took his seat and the crowd gathered round. Mr. Popper took Mr. Struggles to the side, while Lucinda began shuffling the cards.
Mr. Struggles had begun to sweat and there was an obvious look of fear in his eyes.
“I can’t play poker! You know better than anyone what happens when I try to help, let alone try to win a game that requires luck!” he franticly whispered.
“Don’t worry. Just look directly into Big Dee’s eyes. Don’t turn your gaze and everything will be alright.” Mr. Popper whispered.
“But, I thought we weren’t supposed to look in their...”
“How about takin yer seat, so’s we can begin.” interrupted Big Dee.
Mr. Struggles looked scared as he approached the table and sat down.
“These are the rules.” Lucinda stated, “I’ll deal out five cards, you-uns ill have one draw, best hand wins. Best two out of three will be the winner.”
With that she began to deal the cards. Mr. Struggles looked up to see Big Dee staring straight at him. Big Dee’s gaze was fixed on him in a way that made Mr. Struggles feel uneasy. “I’ll do what Mr. Popper said, regardless of what happens to me.” thought Mr. Struggles as he peered deep into the eyes of his opponent.
The cards were dealt. Big Dee said, “I’ll take two.” as he discarded, with a look of satisfaction on his face.
“Mr. Struggles?” Lucinda asked, “would ya like some cards, or what.”
Mr. Struggles had yet to pick up his cards. His eyes were transfixed on Big Dee’s. “No I’ll keep these.” he answered, as if hypnotized.
“This is gonna be easier than I thought.” laughed Big Dee. “He aint a gona even look ta see what he’s got.” he said in amazement.
“Alright then. Let’s see them hands.” Lucinda commanded.
Big Dee turned his over first to show a full house King’s high. Everyone applauded and talked among themselves. Mr. Struggles had still not picked up his cards. He was consumed by looking into Big Dee’s eyes. He felt his very life was leaving him. He felt he was being sucked dry as he stared into those blood shot eyes. If he had even a small amount of luck, surely it was all but gone now, he thought.
“Please Mr. Struggles, show us yer hand.” said Lucinda, breaking his concentration and reminding him where he was and what he was doing.
“Sorry.” he said as he turned over his cards, without ever having looked at them. The crowd gasped as he showed his hand; a full house aces high! Big Dee turned his gaze from
Mr. Struggles to the cards in astonishment.
“The winner of the first hand is Mr. Struggles.” announced Lucinda.
The girl’s looked at Polly and squealed with excitement as Bon Bon waged her tail. “Polly, something weird is happening to Mr. Struggles, he doesn’t look the same.” whispered Keona.
Sure enough, Mr. Struggle’s countenance had changed. He began to look younger. His hair had begun to get darker, and he appeared to be getting taller.
“Second hand.” shouted Lucinda, as she dealt the five cards.
Again, Mr. Struggles did not pick up his cards. He was lost in the eyes of Big Dee. He felt his very soul was being sucked from his body, leaving just an empty shell.
“I’ll stay.” said Big Dee, with a smile as he stared at Mr. Struggles.
“Would ya like some cards, there Mr. Struggles.” said Lucinda, trying to get his attention, as the crowd grew quiet in disbelief.
“No thank you.” responded Mr. Struggles with out blinking an eye.
“Let’s see them cards then.” said Lucinda.
Big Dee laid down three aces and smiled, never taking his eyes off Mr. Struggles. Mr. Struggles flipped over his cards without ever looking at them. Three sixes.
“The second hand goes to Big Dee!” exclaimed Lucinda, while the crowd cheered.
“I got ya now son.” whispered Big Dee to Mr. Struggles. “How about we sweeten the pot, Mr. Popper?”
“What do you have in mind?” replied Mr. Popper.
“How about I send ya, not only with my son, but a month’s provisions, Horses for all of you ta ride, and my escape door. I recon it’s the only one knowd ta man.” The crowd convulsed in shock when they heard this.
Mr. Popper had heard of the escape door. It was said that it looked like a black piece of cloth, but where ever you laid it, a hole would appear that you could pass through. “And what would I have to offer?” he asked.
“You and the girls stay on fer fourteen years with Miss Polly.” The girls and Polly looked shocked, but not as shocked as when Mr. Popper replied, “Done.”
“Good then. We got us a real game now, son.” laughed Big Dee. “Deal them cards Lou.”
Lucinda dealt the last hand. Mr. Struggles still had not picked up his hand. The crowd began to whisper among themselves about the changes in Mr. Struggles. “He looks right familiar.” said one man. “He must be a foot taller than when he sat down.” said another. “He looks years younger, and I’m sure I’ve seen him before.” said someone else.
“I’ll take one.” said Big Dee, who had been staring into his eyes so intently, that he hadn’t noticed the changes in his opponent.
“And you Mr. Struggles?” asked Lucinda.
Mr. Struggles was lost inside the eyes of Big Dee. He knew he didn’t have much left. Every ounce of who he was, was slowly being sucked from his being, and yet he began to feel something he hadn’t in a long time. He began to feel like someone he had forgotten he was. He began to feel blessed instead of cursed. “No cards.” he said, without picking up his hand. The crowd marveled. Never had they seen a game where one of the players never looked at his hand.
“Let’s see em boys.” said Lou.
The crowd went crazy as Big Dee laid down a straight flush Jack high. He looked at Mr. Popper and smiled, “Looks like I’m going to be seeing a lot of you and them girls.” he said as he let out a big gut wrenching guffaw.
Quietly, as if it was the last thing he’d ever do, Mr. Struggles turned over his cards one by one. The first was a ten of diamonds. The second was a Jack of diamonds. The third was a Queen of diamonds. Now the crowd had begun to quiet down and look on with interest. The fourth was a King of diamonds. With that Big Dee quit his laughing and gloating and stared at the last card, which was still upside down on the table. Slowly Mr. Struggles reached down and took the card. As he did the last of who he had been for years, left him and he knew who he was. With a new found confidence, he laid down the last card. The crowd roared with amazement as he revealed an Ace of diamonds!
“The winner is Mr. Struggles, with a royal flush.” yelled Lucinda over the shouts of the crowd.
Big Dee was still staring at the card when Mr. Struggles announced in a loud voice, “The winner is not Mr. Struggles, but T Roice Settlehymer!”
“I knew I recognized him.” said one man. “Of course, I see him now.” said another.
Big Dee looked up from the table to see his old employee. “Could it be! Was it possible!” he thought. “Yet there he was.”
“How can this be!” exclaimed Big Dee.
Mr. Popper stood up to address the crowd. As he did everyone quieted down. “It can be, because you made it possible.” explained Mr. Popper, looking at Big Dee. “After T Roice left your employment, he was emptied of all his luck. He had been sucked dry by you and your son. Then in a moment of weakness, he did a foolish thing and tried to take an old man’s magic cane. The old man happened to be a wizard and put a curse on him, which gave him only bad luck. So, you see he went from no luck to bad luck. The wizard said he could only break the curse by becoming totally empty. With out a way to do that, he wandered for years, forgot who he was and changed in his physical appearance, until no one else knew who he was. But now, thanks to you, he has had all the bad luck sucked from his soul and he is once again, my good friend, T Roice Settlehymer!” With that the crowd went wild. Mr. Popper embraced T. Roice as Big Dee looked on with his mouth open.
“I should expect our supplies, horses and your son to meet us at the edge of town at first sunlight tomorrow. And don’t forget the escape door.” Mr.Popper said as he led Polly, the girls, Bon Bon, and his old friend T. Roice out into the fresh evening air.