The Dice Thrower
Hunger is the most poignant when it has forced physical suffering to
the highest point without impairing the mental functions. Thus it was
with Silas Carringer, a young man of uncommonly high spirit, when he
found himself a total stranger in a ramshackle Mexican city one rainy
night in November. In his possession remained not a single article that
he might have pawned for a morsel of food. And he had already stripped
his body of every shred of clothing except the few garments he was
compelled by an inborn sense of the fitness of things to retain. Bodily
starvation, as a consequence, was added to hunger, and his misery was
It chanced that an extraordinary happening awaited Silas Carringer
that night in Mexico; otherwise he would either have drowned himself in
the river within twenty-four hours or died of pneumonia within three
days. He had been without food for seventy hours, and his mental
desperation had driven him far in its race with his physical needs to
consume the remaining strength of his emaciated body. Pale, weak, and
tottering, he took what comfort he could find in the savoury odours
which came streaming up from the basement kitchens of the restaurants
in the main streets. He lacked the courage to beg or steal. For he had
been reared as a gentleman, and was accordingly out of place in the
His teeth chattered, his eyes had dark, ugly lines under them, he
shambled, stooped, and gasped. He was too desperate to curse his
fate—he could only long for food. He could not reason. He could not
reflect. He could not understand that there were pitying hands
somewhere that might gladly have succoured him. He could think only of
the hunger which consumed him, of the food that could give him warmth
and comparative happiness.
Staggering along the streets, he came at last to a restaurant a
little way from the main thoroughfares. Stopping before the window, he
stared greedily at the steaks within, thick and juicy and lined with
big, fat oysters lying on ice; at the slices of ham as large as his
hat; at the roasted chickens, brown and ready for the table; and he
ground his teeth, groaned, and staggered on.
A few steps onward was a drinking saloon. At one side of it was a
private door with the words “Family entrance” painted thereon. And in
the recess of the door (which was closed) there stood the dark figure
of a man.
In spite of his own agony, Carringer saw something which appalled
him in the stranger's face as the street light fell upon it; and yet at
the same time he was fascinated. Perhaps it was the unspeakable anguish
of those features that appealed to the starving man's sympathy, and he
came to an uncertain halt at the doorway and stared rudely upon the
stranger. At first the man did not notice him, seeming to look straight
out into the street with a curious fixity of expression, and the
death-like pallor of his face sent a chill through Carringer's limbs,
chilled nigh to stone though they were already.
The stranger caught sight of him at last. “Ah,” he said slowly, and
with peculiar clearness, “the rain has caught you too, without overcoat
or umbrella. Stand in this doorway—there is room for two.”
The voice was not unkind, though it sounded strangely harsh. It was
the first word that had been addressed to Carringer since hunger
possessed him, and to be spoken to at all gave him cheer. So he took
his place in the doorway beside the mysterious stranger, who at once
relapsed into his fixed gaze at nothingness across the street.
“It may rain for a long time,” he said presently, stirring himself.
“I am cold, and I can feel you trembling and shivering. Let us step
inside and drink.”
He turned and opened the door. Carringer followed, hope slowly
warming his chilled heart. The pale stranger led the way into one of
the little private compartments with which the place was fitted. Before
sitting down he drew from his pocket a roll of bank bills.
“You are younger than I,” he said to Carringer. “Will you go to the
bar and buy a bottle of absinthe, and bring also a pitcher of water and
some glasses? I don't like the waiters hanging round. Here is a
Carringer took the money and started down the corridor towards the
bar. He clutched the sudden wealth in his hand tightly. It felt warm
and comfortable, sending a delicious tingling sensation through his
arm. How many glorious meals did not the money represent? He could
smell an imaginary steak, broiled, with fat mushrooms and melted butter
in the steaming dish. Then he paused and looked stealthily backward to
where he had left the stranger. Why not slip away while he had the
opportunity—away from the drinking saloon with the money, to the
restaurant he had passed half-an-hour ago, and buy something to eat? It
was risky, but.... He hesitated, and the coward in him (there are other
names than this) triumphed. He went straight to the bar as the stranger
had requested, and ordered the liquor.
His step was weaker as he returned to the compartment. The stranger
was sitting at the little table, staring at the opposite wall just as
he had stared across the street. He wore a wide-brimmed slouch hat,
pulled well over his eyes. Carringer could only vaguely take the
measure of the man's face.
It was only after Carringer had set the bottle and the glasses on
the table and seated himself opposite that the stranger noticed his
return. “Oh, you have brought it!” he exclaimed without raising his
voice. “How kind of you. Now please close the door.”
Carringer was counting out the change from his pocket when the
stranger interrupted him. “Keep that,” he said. “You will need it, for
I am going to win it back in a way that may interest you. Let us drink
first, though, and I will explain.”
He mixed two drinks of absinthe and water, and the two men lifted
their glasses. Carringer had never tasted the liquor before, and it
offended his palate at first; but no sooner had it passed down his
throat than he began to feel warm again, and the most delicious
thrills. He had heard of the absinthe drinkers of Paris, and he
wondered no longer at the deadly fascination of the liquor—not
realising that his extreme weakness and the emptiness of his stomach
made him peculiarly susceptible to its effects.
“This will do us good,” murmured the stranger, setting down his
glass. “Presently we shall have more. Meanwhile, tell me if you know
how to play with the dice.”
Carringer replied that he did not.
“I was afraid that you might not,” said the stranger. “All the same,
please go to the bar and bring a dice-box. I would ring for it,” he
explained, seeing Carringer glance towards the bell, “but I don't want
the waiters coming in and out.”
Carringer brought the dice-box, closed the door carefully again, and
the play began. It was not one of the simpler games, but had
complications in which judgment as well as chance played a part. After
a game or two without stakes, the stranger said:
“You have picked it up very quickly. All the same, I will show you
that you don't understand it. We will throw for a dollar a game, and in
that way I shall win the money that you received in change. Otherwise I
would be robbing you, and I imagine that you cannot afford to lose. I
mean no offence. I am a plain-spoken man, but I believe in honesty
before politeness.” Here his face relaxed into a most fearful grin....
“I merely want a little recreation, and you are so good-natured that I
am sure you will not object.”
“On the contrary,” replied Carringer politely, “I shall enjoy it.”
“Very well; but let us drink again before we start. I believe I am
They drank again. Carringer took the liquor now with relish, for it
was something in his stomach at least, and it warmed and soothed him.
Then the play commenced. He won.
The pale stranger smiled quietly and opened another game. Again
Then the stranger pushed back his hat, and fixed his quiet gaze upon
his opponent, smiling yet. Carringer obtained a full view of the man's
face for the first time, and it appalled him. He had begun to acquire a
certain self-possession and ease, and the novelty of the adventure was
beginning to pall before the new advances of his terrible hunger, when
this revelation of the man's face threw him back into confusion.
It was the extraordinary expression of the face that alarmed him.
Never upon the face of a living being had he beheld a pallor so
chilling, so death-like. The features were more than pale. They were
ghastly as sunless frost. Carringer's powers of observation had been
sharpened by the absinthe, and after having detected the stranger in an
absent-minded effort on several occasions to stroke a beard which had
no existence, he reflected that some of the whiteness of the face might
be due to the recent shaving and removal of a full beard. The eyes were
black, and his lower lip was purple. The hands were fine, white and
thin, and black veins bulged out upon them.
After gazing for a few moments at Carringer, the stranger pulled his
hat down over his eyes again. “You are lucky,” he said, referring to
the success of his opponent. “Suppose we try another drink. There is
nothing to sharpen a man's wits like absinthe, and I see that you and I
are going to have a delightful game.”
After the drink the play proceeded. Carringer won from the first,
rarely losing a game. He became greatly excited. Colour flooded his
cheeks, and he forgot his hunger. The stranger exhausted the little
roll of bills which he had first produced and drew forth another, much
larger in amount. There were several thousand dollars in the roll.
At Carringer's right hand were his winnings—something like two
hundred dollars. The stakes were raised, and the game went on. Another
drink was taken and then fortune turned to the stranger. He began to
win easily. Carringer was stung by these reverses, and began to play
with all the skill and judgment at his command. He took the lead again.
Only once did it occur to him to wonder what he should do with the
money if he continued to win. But a sense of honour decided for him
that it belonged to the stranger.
As the play went on Carringer's physical suffering returned with
increased aggressiveness. Sharp pains darted through him viciously, and
he writhed within him and ground his teeth in agony. Could he not order
a supper with his winnings, he wondered? No; it was, of course, out of
The stranger did not observe his suffering, for he was now
completely absorbed in the game. He seemed puzzled and disconcerted. He
played with great care, studying each throw minutely. Not a word
escaped him. The two men drank occasionally, and the dice continued to
rattle. And the money kept piling up at Carringer's hand.
The pale stranger suddenly began to behave strangely. At moments he
would start and throw back his head, listening intently. His eyes would
sharpen and flash as he did so; then they sank back into heaviness once
more. Carringer saw a strange expression sweep over the man's face on
several occasions—an expression of ghastly frightfulness, and the
features would become fixed in a peculiar grimace.
He noticed also that his companion was steadily sinking deeper and
deeper into a condition of apathy. Occasionally, none the less, he
would raise his eyes to Carringer's face after some lucky throw, and he
would fix them upon him with a steadiness that made the starving man
grow chiller than ever he had been before.
Then came the time when the stranger produced another roll of bills,
and braced himself for a bigger effort. With speech somewhat thick, but
still deliberate and very quiet, he addressed his young opponent.
“You have won seventy-four thousand dollars, and that is the exact
amount I have remaining. We have been playing for several hours, and I
am very tired, and so are you. Let us hasten the finish. You have
seventy-four thousand dollars, I have seventy-four thousand dollars.
Nether of us has a cent beside. Each will now stake his all and throw a
final game for it.”
Without hesitation Carringer agreed. The bills made a considerable
pile upon the table. Carringer threw, and his starving heart beat
violently as the pale stranger took up the dice-box with exasperating
deliberation. Hours seemed to pass before he threw, but at last the
dice rattled on to the table, and the pale stranger had won. The winner
sat staring at the dice, and then he leaned slowly back in his chair,
settled himself with seeming comfort, raised his eyes to Carringer's
and fixed that unearthly stare upon him.
He did not speak. His face showed not a trace of emotion or even of
intelligence. He simply stared. One cannot keep one's eyes open very
long without winking, but the stranger never winked at all. He sat so
motionless that Carringer became filled with a vague dread.
“I will go now,” he said, standing back from the table. As he spoke
he recollected his position and found himself swaying like a drunken
The stranger made no reply, nor did he relax his gaze. Under that
gaze the younger man shrank back into his chair, terrified and faint. A
deathly silence filled the compartment.... Suddenly he became aware
that two men were talking in the next room, and he listened curiously.
The walls were of wood, and he heard every word distinctly.
“Yes,” said a voice, “he was seen to turn into this street about
three hours ago.”
“And he must have shaved?”
“He must have shaved. To remove a full beard would naturally make a
great change in the man. His extreme pallor attracted attention. As you
know, he has been seriously troubled with heart disease lately, and it
has greatly altered him.”
“Yes, but his old skill remains. Why, this is the most daring
bank-robbery we have ever had! A hundred and forty-eight thousand
dollars—think of it! How long is it since he came out of prison after
that New York affair?”
“Eight years. In that time he has grown a beard, and lived by
throwing dice. No human being can come out winner in a game with him.”
The two men clinked glasses and a silence fell between them. Then
Carringer heard the shuffling of their feet as they passed out, and he
sat on, suffering terrible mental and bodily pain.
The silence remained unbroken, save for the sounds of voices far
off, and the clink of glasses. The dice-players—the pale man and the
starving one—sat gazing at each other, with a hundred and forty-eight
thousand dollars piled upon the table between them. The winner made no
attempt to gather up the money. He merely sat and stared at Carringer,
wholly unmoved by the conversation in the adjoining compartment.
Carringer began to shake with an ague. The cold, unwavering gaze of
the stranger sent ice into his veins. Unable to bear it longer, he
moved to one side, and was amazed to discover that the eyes of the pale
man, instead of following him, remained fixed upon the spot where he
A great fear came over him. He poured out absinthe for himself with
shaking fingers, staring back at his companion all the while, watching
him, watching him as he drank alone and unnoticed. He drained the
glass, and the poison had a peculiar effect upon him; he felt his heart
bounding with alarming force and rapidity, and his breathing came in
great, pumping spasms. His hunger was now become a deadly thing, for
the absinthe was destroying his vitals. In terror he leaned forward to
beg the hospitality of the stranger, but his whisper had no effect. One
of the man's hands lay on the table. Carringer placed his own upon it,
and drew back quickly, for the hand was as cold as stone!
Then there came into the starving man's face a crafty expression,
and he turned eagerly to the money. Silently he grasped the pile of
bills with his skeleton fingers, looking stealthily every moment at the
stark figure of his companion, mortally dreading lest he should stir.
And yet, instead of hastening from the room with the stolen fortune,
he sank back into his chair again. A deadly fascination forced him
there, and he sat rigid, staring back into the wide stare of the other
man. He felt his breath coming heavier and his heart-beats growing
weaker, but he was comforted because his hunger was no longer causing
him that acute pain. He felt easier, and actually yawned. If he had
dared he would have gone to sleep. The pale stranger still stared at
him without ceasing. And Carringer had no inclination for anything but
simply to stare back.
* * * * *
The two detectives who had traced the notorious bank robber to the
drink saloon moved slowly through the compartments, searching in every
nook and cranny of the building. At last they reached a compartment
from which no answer came when they knocked.
They pushed the door open with a stereotyped apology on their lips.
They beheld two men before them, one of middle age and the other very
young, sitting perfectly still, and in the queerest manner imaginable
staring at each other across the table. Between the two was a pile of
money, and near at hand an empty absinthe bottle, a water pitcher, two
glasses, and a dice-box. The dice lay before the elder man as though he
had just thrown them.
With a quick movement one of the detectives covered the older man
with a revolver and commanded him to put up his hands. But the
dice-thrower paid not the slightest heed.
The detectives exchanged startled glances. They stepped nearer,
looked closely into the gamesters' faces, and knew in the same instant
that they were dead.