NR Digital

Country Life

A Noble Animal

by Richard Brookhiser

I have ridden a horse once in my life, in a party of beginners at a resort. It was not a success. The horses were fitted with English, not Western saddles, and the young man who led the tyros out tried to teach us how to post in one easy lesson. I could not sit down for half a week. If I have to set out on a journey, I call a cab. Yet, child of machinery though I am, I know at one remove two men who made their living from the turf.

One friend’s father was a professional gambler. I assume that anyone who gambles a lot does so as a matter of need, not habit. Gambling is a way to make the universe demonstrate that the gambler is worthy (or, since most gamblers eventually come to grief, a way to demonstrate that he is worthless). There are no atheists in the casinos: A goddess rules the gambler’s universe, Fortuna. When she’s smiling, the whole world smiles at him. Gambling can test the water, the little bet before the big one: George Washington, Virginia gentleman, lived in a world of gentlemanly wagering, but at moments of great tension — heading to the second Continental Congress — he would wager more than usual. Heads I win, tails George III does.

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