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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Francis Cowley Burnand (1836–1917)

A Rubber at Whist

From “Happy Thoughts”

CHILDERS proposes “whist.” I never feel certain of myself at whist; I point to the fact that they are four without me. Poss Felmyr says if I sit down he’ll cut in presently. “I play?” I reply, “Yes, a little.” I am Stenton’s partner; Englefield and Childers are against us. Sixpenny points, shilling on the rub. Stenton says to me, “You’ll score.” Scoring always puzzles me. I know it’s done with half a crown, a shilling, a sixpence, and a silver candlestick. Sometimes one bit of money is under the candlestick, sometimes two.

Happy Thought. To watch Englefield scoring; soon pick it up again.

First Rubber. Stenton deals; Childers is first hand; I’m second. Hearts trumps—the queen. It’s wonderful how quick they are in arranging their cards. After I’ve sorted all mine carefully, I find a trump among the clubs. Having placed him in his position on the right of my hand, I find a stupid Three of Clubs among the spades; settled him. Lastly, a King of Diamonds upside down, which seems to entirely disconcert me; put him right. Englefield says, “Come, be quick”—Stenton tells me “not to hurry myself.” I say I’m quite ready, and wonder to myself what Childers will lead.

Childers leads the Queen of Clubs. I consider for a moment what is the duty of second hand; the word “finessing” occurs to me here. I can’t recollect if putting on a three of the same suit is finessing; put on the three and look at my partner to see how he likes it. He is watching the table. Englefield lets it go, my partner lets it go—the trick is Childers’s. I feel that somehow it’s lost through my fault. His lead again—spades. This takes me so by surprise that I have to rearrange my hand, as the spades have got into a lump. I have two spades, an ace and a five. Let me see: “If I play the five I”—I can’t see the consequence. “If I play the ace it must win unless it’s trumped.” Stenton says in a deep voice, “Play away.” The three look from one to the other. Being flustered, I play the ace; the trick is mine. I wish it wasn’t, as I have to lead; I’d give something if I might consult Poss, who is behind me, or my partner. All the cards look ready for playing, yet I don’t like to disturb them. Let me think what’s been played already. Stenton asks me “if I’d like to look at the last trick.” As this will give me time, and them the idea that I am following out my own peculiar tactics, I embrace the offer. Childers displays the last trick; I look at it. I say, “Thank you,” and he shuts it up again. Immediately afterward I can’t recollect what the cards were in that trick; if I did it wouldn’t help me. They are becoming impatient.

About this time somebody’s Queen of Diamonds is taken. I wasn’t watching how the trick went, but I am almost certain it was fatal to the Queen of Diamonds; that is to say, if it was the Queen of Diamonds; but I don’t like to ask. The next trick, which is something in spades, trumped by Englefield, I pass as of not much importance. Stenton growls, “Didn’t I see that he’d got no more spades in his hand?” No, I own I didn’t. Stenton, who is not an encouraging partner, grunts to himself. In a subsequent round, I having lost a trick by leading spades, Stenton calls out, “Why, didn’t you see they were trumping spades?” I defend myself; I say I did see him, Englefield, trump one spade, but I thought that he hadn’t any more trumps. I say this as if I had been reckoning the cards as they’ve been played.

Happy Thought. Try to reckon them, and play by system next rubber.

I keep my trumps back till the last; they’ll come out and astonish them. They do come out and astonish me. Being taken by surprise, I put on my king when I ought to have played the knave, and both surrender to the ace and queen. I say, “Dear me, how odd!” I think I hear Stenton saying sarcastically, in an undertone, “Oh, yes; confoundedly odd.” I try to explain, and he interrupts me at the end of the last deal but two by saying testily, “It’s no use talking; if you attend we may just save the odd.”

Happy Thought. Save the odd.

My friend the Queen of Diamonds, who, I thought, had been played, and taken by some one or other at a very early period of the game, suddenly reappears out of my partner’s hand, as if she was part of a conjuring trick. Second hand can’t follow suit and can’t trump. I think I see what he intends me to do here. I’ve a trump and a small club. “When in doubt,” I recollect the infallible rule, “play a trump.” I don’t think any one expected this trump. Good play.

Happy Thought. Trump. I look up diffidently. My partner laughs, so do the others. My partner’s is not a pleasant laugh. I can’t help asking, “Why, isn’t that right? it’s ours?” “Oh, yes,” says my partner sarcastically, “it is ours.” “Only,” explains little Bob Englefield, “you’ve trumped your partner’s best card.”

I try again to explain that by my computation the Queen of Diamonds had been played a long time ago. My partner won’t listen to reason. He replies, “You might have seen that it wasn’t.” I return, “Well, it couldn’t be helped; we’ll win the game yet.” This I add to encourage him, though, if it depends on me, I honestly (to myself) don’t think we shall.

Happy Thought. After all, we do get the odd trick. Stenton ought to be in a better humour, but he isn’t; he says, “The odd! we ought to have been three.” Englefield asks me how honours are. I don’t know. Stenton says, “Why, you (meaning me) had two in your own hand.” “Oh, yes, I had.” I’d forgotten it. “Honours easy,” says Stenton to me. I agree with him. Now, I’ve got to score with this confounded shilling, sixpence, half-crown, and a candlestick.

Happy Thought. Ask Bob Englefield how he scores generally.

He replies, “Oh, the usual way,” and as he doesn’t illustrate his meaning, his reply is of no use to me whatever. How can I find out without showing them that I don’t know?

Happy Thought (while CHILDERS deals). Pretend to forget to score till next time. Englefield will have to do it, perhaps, next time, then watch Englefield. Just as I am arranging my cards from right to left——

Happy Thought. To alternate the colours black and red, beginning this time with black (right) as spades are trumps. Also to arrange them in their rank and order of precedence. Ace on the right if I’ve got one—yes; king next, queen next—and the hand begins to look very pretty. I can quite imagine whist being a fascinating game—Stenton reminds me that I’ve forgotten to mark “one up.”

Happy Thought. Put sixpence by itself on my left hand. Stenton asks what’s that for?

Happy Thought. To say it’s the way I always mark.

Stenton says, “Oh, go on.” I look round to see what we’re waiting for, and Englefield answers me, “Go on, it’s you; you’re first hand.” I beg their pardon. I must play some card or other, and finish arranging my hand during the round. Anything will do to begin with. Here’s a two of spades, a little one, on my left hand; throw him out.

“Hallo!” cries Englefield (second hand), “trumps are coming out early.” I quite forgot spades were trumps; that comes of that horrid little card being on the left instead of the right.

Happy Thought. Not to show my mistake: nod at Englefield, and intimate that “he’ll see what’s coming.”

So, by the way, will my partner. In a polite moment I accept another cup of tea. I don’t want it, and have to put it by the half-crown, shilling, and candlestick on the whist-table, where I’m afraid of knocking it over, and am obliged to let it get quite cold, as I have to attend to the game.

Happening to be taking a spoonful, with my eyes anxiously on the cards, when my turn comes, Stenton says, “Do play; never mind your tea.” Whist brutalises Stenton: what a pity!

Happy Thought. Send this game as a problem to a sporting paper.

Happy Thought. Why not write generally for sporting papers?

Stenton says, “Do play!” I do.

Happy Thought. Write a treatise on whist, so as to teach myself the game.