Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Nothing Venture, Nothing Have
By Anthony Hamilton (1645?–1719)
From ‘Gramont’s Memoirs’
  [De Gramont and his friend M. Matta being much pressed for money, the Count relates an incident of his early youth, and suggests acting on its hint, to raise the sum they require.]

THEY had never yet conferred about the state of their finances, although the steward had acquainted each separately that he must either receive money to continue the expenses, or give in his accounts. One day when the chevalier came home sooner than usual, he found Matta fast asleep in an easy-chair; and being unwilling to disturb his rest, he began musing on his project. Matta awoke without his perceiving it; and having for a short time observed the deep contemplation he seemed involved in, and the profound silence between two persons who had never before held their tongues for a moment when together, he broke it by a sudden fit of laughter, which increased in proportion as the other stared at him.  1
  “A merry way of waking, and ludicrous enough,” said the chevalier: “what is the matter, and whom do you laugh at?”  2
  “Faith, chevalier,” said Matta, “I am laughing at a dream I had just now, which is so natural and diverting that I must make you laugh at it also. I was dreaming that we had dismissed our maître-d’hôtel, our cook, and our confectioner, having resolved for the remainder of the campaign to live upon others as others have lived upon us: this was my dream. Now tell me, chevalier, on what were you musing?”  3
  “Poor fellow!” said the chevalier, shrugging his shoulders; “you are knocked down at once, and thrown into the utmost consternation and despair, at some silly stories which the maître-d’hôtel has been telling you as well as me. What! after the figure we have made in the face of the nobility and foreigners in the army, shall we give it up and like fools and beggars sneak off, upon the first failure of our money? Have you no sentiments of honor? Where is the dignity of France?”  4
  “And where is the money?” said Matta; “for my men say the Devil may take them if there be ten crowns in the house; and I believe you have not much more, for it is above a week since I have seen you pull out your purse or count your money, an amusement you were very fond of in prosperity.”  5
  “I own all this,” said the chevalier; “but yet I will force you to confess that you are but a mean-spirited fellow upon this occasion. What would have become of you if you had been reduced to the situation I was in at Lyons, four days before I arrived here? I will tell you the story….  6
  “When I returned to my mother’s house, I had so much the air of a courtier and a man of the world that she began to respect me, instead of chiding me for my infatuation towards the army. I became her favorite; and finding me inflexible, she only thought of keeping me with her as long as she could, while my little equipage was preparing. The faithful Brinon, who was to attend me as valet-de-chambre, was likewise to discharge the office of governor and equerry, being perhaps the only Gascon who was ever possessed of so much gravity and ill-temper. He passed his word for my good behavior and morality, and promised my mother that he would give a good account of my person in the dangers of the war; but I hope he will keep his word better as to this last article than he has done to the former.  7
  “My equipage was sent away a week before me. This was so much time gained by my mother to give me good advice. At length, after having solemnly enjoined me to have the fear of God before my eyes and to love my neighbor as myself, she suffered me to depart under the protection of the Lord and the sage Brinon. At the second stage we quarreled. He had received four hundred louis d’or for the expenses of the campaign; I wished to have the keeping of them myself, which he strenuously opposed. ‘Thou old scoundrel,’ said I, ‘is the money thine, or was it given thee for me? You suppose I must have a treasurer, and receive no money without his order.’ I know not whether it was from a presentiment of what afterwards happened that he grew melancholy: however, it was with the greatest reluctance and the most poignant anguish that he found himself obliged to yield; one would have thought that I had wrested his very soul from him. I found myself more light and merry after I had eased him of his trust; he on the contrary appeared so overwhelmed with grief that it seemed as if I had laid four hundred pounds of lead upon his back, instead of taking away those four hundred louis. He went on so heavily that I was forced to whip his horse myself, and turning to me now and then, ‘Ah! sir,’ said he, ‘my lady did not think it would be so.’ His reflections and sorrows were renewed at every stage; for instead of giving a shilling to the post-boy, I gave him half a crown.  8
  “Having at last reached Lyons, two soldiers stopped us at the gate of the city, to carry us before the governor. I took one of them to conduct me to the best inn, and delivered Brinon into the hands of the other, to acquaint the commandant with the particulars of my journey and my future intentions.  9
  “There are as good taverns at Lyons as at Paris; but my soldier, according to custom, carried me to a friend of his own, whose house he extolled as having the best accommodations and the greatest resort of good company in the whole town. The master of this hotel was as big as a hogshead; his name Cerise, a Swiss by birth, a poisoner by profession, and a thief by custom. He showed me into a tolerably neat room, and desired to know whether I pleased to sup by myself or at the ordinary. I chose the latter, on account of the beau monde which the soldier had boasted of.  10
  “Brinon, who was quite out of temper at the many questions which the governor had asked him, returned more surly than an old ape; and seeing that I was dressing my hair in order to go down-stairs, ‘What are you about now, sir?’ said he. ‘Are you going to tramp about the town? No, no; have we not had tramping enough ever since the morning? Eat a bit of supper, and go to bed betimes, that you may get on horseback by daybreak.’ ‘Mr. Comptroller,’ said I, ‘I shall neither tramp about the town, nor eat alone, nor go to bed early. I intend to sup with the company below.’ ‘At the ordinary!’ cried he; ‘I beseech you, sir, do not think of it! Devil take me if there be not a dozen brawling fellows playing at cards and dice, who make noise enough to drown the loudest thunder!’  11
  “I was grown insolent since I had seized the money; and being desirous to shake off the yoke of a governor, ‘Do you know, Mr. Brinon,’ said I, ‘that I don’t like a blockhead to set up for a reasoner? Do you go to supper, if you please; but take care that I have post-horses ready before daybreak.’  12
  “The moment he mentioned cards and dice I felt the money burn in my pocket. I was somewhat surprised, however, to find the room where the ordinary was served filled with odd-looking creatures. My host, after presenting me to the company, assured me that there were but eighteen or twenty of those gentlemen who would have the honor to sup with me. I approached one of the tables where they were playing, and thought that I should have died with laughing: I expected to have seen good company and deep play; but I only met with two Germans playing at backgammon. Never did two country boobies play like them; but their figures beggared all description. The fellow near whom I stood was short, thick, and fat, and as round as a ball, with a ruff and a prodigious high-crowned hat. Any one at a moderate distance would have taken him for the dome of a church, with the steeple on the top of it. I inquired of the host who he was. ‘A merchant from Basle,’ said he, ‘who comes hither to sell horses; but from the method he pursues I think he will not dispose of many; for he does nothing but play.’ ‘Does he play deep?’ said I. ‘Not now,’ said he; ‘they are only playing for their reckoning while supper is getting ready: but he has no objection to play as deep as any one.’ ‘Has he money?’ said I. ‘As for that,’ replied the treacherous Cerise, ‘would to God you had won a thousand pistoles of him, and I went your halves: we should not be long without our money.’ I wanted no farther encouragement to meditate the ruin of the high-crowned hat. I went nearer him, in order to take a closer survey. Never was such a bungler; he made blots upon blots: God knows, I began to feel some remorse at winning of such an ignoramus, who knew so little of the game. He lost his reckoning; supper was served up, and I desired him to sit next me. It was a long table, and there were at least five-and-twenty in company, notwithstanding the landlord’s promise. The most execrable repast that ever was begun being finished, all the crowd insensibly dispersed except the little Swiss, who still kept near me, and the landlord, who placed himself on the other side of me. They both smoked like dragons; and the Swiss was continually saying in bad French, ‘I ask your pardon, sir, for my great freedom;’ at the same time blowing such whiffs of tobacco in my face as almost suffocated me. M. Cerise, on the other hand, desired he might take the liberty of asking me whether I had ever been in his country; and seemed surprised I had so genteel an air, without having traveled in Switzerland.  13
  “The little chub I had to encounter was full as inquisitive as the other. He desired to know whether I came from the army in Piedmont; and having told him I was going thither, he asked me whether I had a mind to buy any horses? that he had about two hundred to dispose of, and that he would sell them cheap. I began to be smoked like a gammon of bacon: and being quite wearied out, both with their tobacco and their questions, I asked my companion if he would play for a single pistole at backgammon, while our men were supping; it was not without great ceremony that he consented, at the same time asking my pardon for his great freedom.  14
  “I won the game; I gave him his revenge, and won again. We then played double or quit; I won that too, and all in the twinkling of an eye; for he grew vexed, and suffered himself to be taken in, so that I began to bless my stars for my good fortune. Brinon came in about the end of the third game, to put me to bed. He made a great sign of the cross, but paid no attention to the signs I made him to retire. I was forced to rise to give him that order in private. He began to reprimand me for disgracing myself by keeping company with such a low-bred wretch. It was in vain that I told him he was a great merchant, that he had a great deal of money, and that he played like a child. ‘He a merchant!’ cried Brinon. ‘Do not believe that, sir. May the Devil take me, if he is not some conjurer.’ ‘Hold your tongue, old fool,’ said I: ‘he is no more a conjurer than you are, and that is decisive; and to prove it to you, I am resolved to win four or five hundred pistoles of him before I go to bed.’ With these words I turned him out, strictly enjoining him not to return or in any manner to disturb us.  15
  “The game being done, the little Swiss unbuttoned his pockets to pull out a new four-pistole piece, and presenting it to me, he asked my pardon for his great freedom, and seemed as if he wished to retire. This was not what I wanted. I told him we only played for amusement; that I had no designs upon his money; and that if he pleased I would play him a single game for his four pistoles. He raised some objections, but consented at last, and won back his money. I was piqued at it. I played another game: fortune changed sides; the dice ran for him; he made no more blots. I lost the game; another game, and double or quit; we doubled the stake, and played double or quit again. I was vexed; he like a true gamester took every bet I offered, and won all before him, without my getting more than six points in eight or ten games. I asked him to play a single game for one hundred pistoles; but as he saw I did not stake, he told me it was late; that he must go and look after his horses; and went away, still asking my pardon for his great freedom. The cool manner of his refusal, and the politeness with which he took his leave, provoked me to such a degree that I almost could have killed him. I was so confounded at losing my money so fast, even to the last pistole, that I did not immediately consider the miserable situation to which I was reduced.  16
  “I durst not go up to my chamber for fear of Brinon. By good luck, however, he was tired with waiting for me, and had gone to bed. This was some consolation, though but of short continuance. As soon as I was laid down, all the fatal consequences of my adventure presented themselves to my imagination. I could not sleep. I saw all the horrors of my misfortune without being able to find any remedy: in vain did I rack my brain; it supplied me with no expedient. I feared nothing so much as daybreak; however, it did come, and the cruel Brinon along with it. He was booted up to the middle, and cracking a cursed whip which he held in his hand, ‘Up, Monsieur le Chevalier,’ cried he, opening the curtains; ‘the horses are at the door, and you are still asleep. We ought by this time to have ridden two stages; give me money to pay the reckoning.’ ‘Brinon,’ said I in a dejected tone, ‘draw the curtains.’ ‘What!’ cried he, ‘draw the curtains? Do you intend then to make your campaign at Lyons? You seem to have taken a liking to the place. And for the great merchant, you have stripped him, I suppose. No, no, Monsieur le Chevalier, this money will never do you any good. This wretch has perhaps a family; and it is his children’s bread that he has been playing with, and that you have won. Was this an object to sit up all night for? What would my lady say, if she knew what a life you lead?’ ‘M. Brinon,’ said I, ‘pray draw the curtains.’ But instead of obeying me, one would have thought that the Devil had prompted him to use the most pointed and galling terms to a person under such misfortunes. ‘And how much have you won?’ said he. ‘Five hundred pistoles? what must the poor man do? Recollect, Monsieur le Chevalier, what I have said: this money will never thrive with you. It is perhaps but four hundred? three? two? Well, if it be but one hundred louis d’ors,’ continued he, seeing that I shook my head at every sum which he had named, ‘there is no great mischief done; one hundred pistoles will not ruin him, provided you have won them fairly.’ ‘Friend Brinon,’ said I, fetching a deep sigh, ‘draw the curtains; I am unworthy to see daylight.’ Brinon was much affected at these melancholy words: but I thought he would have fainted when I told him the whole adventure. He tore his hair, made grievous lamentations, the burden of which still was, ‘What will my lady say?’ and after having exhausted his unprofitable complaints, ‘What will become of you now, Monsieur le Chevalier?’ said he: ‘what do you intend to do?’ ‘Nothing,’ said I, ‘for I am fit for nothing.’ After this, being somewhat eased after making him my confession, I thought upon several projects, to none of which could I gain his approbation. I would have had him post after my equipage, to have sold some of my clothes; I was for proposing to the horse-dealer to buy some horses of him at a high price on credit, to sell again cheap: Brinon laughed at all these schemes, and after having had the cruelty of keeping me upon the rack for a long time, he at last extricated me. Parents are always stingy towards their poor children: my mother intended to have given me five hundred louis d’ors, but she had kept back fifty—as well for some little repairs in the abbey as to pay for praying for me! Brinon had the charge of the other fifty, with strict injunctions not to speak of them unless upon some urgent necessity. And this, you see, soon happened.  17
  “Thus you have a brief account of my first adventure. Play has hitherto favored me; for since my arrival I have had at one time, after paying all my expenses, fifteen hundred louis d’ors. Fortune is now again become unfavorable: we must mend her. Our cash runs low; we must therefore endeavor to recruit.”  18
  “Nothing is more easy,” said Matta; “it is only to find out such another dupe as the horse-dealer at Lyons; but now I think on it, has not the faithful Brinon some reserve for the last extremity? Faith, the time is now come, and we cannot do better than to make use of it.”  19
  “Your raillery would be very seasonable,” said the chevalier, “if you knew how to extricate us out of this difficulty. You must certainly have an overflow of wit, to be throwing it away upon every occasion as at present. What the devil! will you always be bantering, without considering what a serious situation we are reduced to? Mind what I say: I will go to-morrow to the headquarters, I will dine with the Count de Cameran, and I will invite him to supper.”  20
  “Where?” said Matta.  21
  “Here,” said the chevalier.  22
  “You are mad, my poor friend,” replied Matta. “This is some such project as you formed at Lyons: you know we have neither money nor credit; and to re-establish our circumstances you intend to give a supper.”  23
  “Stupid fellow!” said the chevalier: “is it possible that, so long as we have been acquainted, you should have learned no more invention? The Count de Cameran plays at quinze, and so do I: we want money; he has more than he knows what to do with: I will bespeak a splendid supper; he shall pay for it. Send your maître-d’hôtel to me, and trouble yourself no farther, except in some precautions which it is necessary to take on such an occasion.”  24
  “What are they?” said Matta.  25
  “I will tell you,” said the chevalier; “for I find one must explain to you things that are as clear as noonday. You command the guards that are here, don’t you? As soon as night comes on, you shall order fifteen or twenty men under the command of your serjeant La Place to be under arms, and to lay themselves flat on the ground between this place and the headquarters.”  26
  “What the devil!” cried Matta; “an ambuscade? God forgive me, I believe you intend to rob the poor Savoyard. If that be your intention, I declare I will have nothing to do with it.”  27
  “Poor devil!” said the chevalier: “the matter is this: it is very likely that we shall win his money. The Piedmontese, though otherwise good fellows, are apt to be suspicious and distrustful. He commands the horse; you know you cannot hold your tongue, and are very likely to let slip some jest or other that may vex him. Should he take it into his head that he is cheated, and resent it, who knows what the consequences might be? for he is commonly attended by eight or ten horsemen. Therefore, however he may be provoked at his loss, it is proper to be in such a situation as not to dread his resentment.”  28
  “Embrace me, my dear chevalier,” said Matta, holding his sides and laughing; “embrace me, for thou art not to be matched. What a fool was I to think, when you talked to me of taking precautions, that nothing more was necessary than to prepare a table and cards, or perhaps to provide some false dice! I should never have thought of supporting a man who plays at quinze by a detachment of foot; I must indeed confess that you are already a great soldier.”  29
  The next day everything happened as the Chevalier Gramont had planned it; the unfortunate Cameran fell into the snare. They supped in the most agreeable manner possible; Matta drank five or six bumpers to drown a few scruples which made him somewhat uneasy. The Chevalier de Gramont shone as usual, and almost made his guest die with laughing, whom he was soon after to make very serious; and the good-natured Cameran ate like a man whose affections were divided between good cheer and a love of play;—that is to say, he hurried down his victuals, that he might not lose any of the precious time which he had devoted to quinze.  30
  Supper being done, the serjeant La Place posted his ambuscade and the Chevalier de Gramont engaged his man. The perfidy of Cerise and the high-crowned hat were still fresh in remembrance, and enabled him to get the better of a few grains of remorse and conquer some scruples which arose in his mind. Matta, unwilling to be a spectator of violated hospitality, sat down in an easy-chair in order to fall asleep, while the chevalier was stripping the poor count of his money.  31
  They only staked three or four pistoles at first, just for amusement; but Cameran having lost three or four times, he staked high, and the game became serious. He still lost, and became outrageous; the cards flew about the room, and the exclamations awoke Matta. As his head was heavy with sleep and hot with wine, he began to laugh at the passion of the Piedmontese instead of consoling him. “Faith, my poor count,” said he, “if I was in your place, I would play no more.”  32
  “Why so?” said the other.  33
  “I don’t know,” said he; “but my heart tells me that your ill luck will continue.”  34
  “I will try that,” said Cameran, calling for fresh cards.  35
  “Do so,” said Matta, and fell asleep again: it was but for a short time. All cards were equally unfortunate for the loser. He held none but tens or court cards; and if by chance he had quinze, he was sure to be the younger hand, and therefore lost it. Again he stormed.  36
  “Did not I tell you so?” said Matta, starting out of his sleep: “all your storming is in vain; as long as you play you will lose. Believe me, the shortest follies are the best. Leave off, for the Devil take me if it is possible for you to win.”  37
  “Why?” said Cameran, who began to be impatient.  38
  “Do you wish to know?” said Matta: “why, faith, it is because we are cheating you.”  39
  The Chevalier de Gramont, provoked at so ill-timed a jest, more especially as it carried along with it some appearance of truth: “M. Matta,” said he, “do you think it can be very agreeable for a man who plays with such ill luck as the count to be pestered with your insipid jests? For my part, I am so weary of the game that I would desist immediately, if he was not so great a loser.” Nothing is more dreaded by a losing gamester than such a threat; and the count in a softened tone told the chevalier that M. Matta might say what he pleased, if he did not offend him; that as to himself, it did not give him the smallest uneasiness.  40
  The Chevalier de Gramont gave the count far better treatment than he himself had experienced from the Swiss at Lyons, for he played upon credit as long as he pleased; which Cameran took so kindly that he lost fifteen hundred pistoles, and paid them the next morning. As for Matta, he was severely reprimanded for the intemperance of his tongue. All the reason he gave for his conduct was, that he made it a point of conscience not to suffer the poor Savoyard to be cheated without informing him of it. “Besides,” said he, “it would have given me pleasure to have seen my infantry engaged with his horse, if he had been inclined to mischief.”  41
  This adventure having recruited their finances, fortune favored them the remainder of the campaign; and the Chevalier de Gramont, to prove that he had only seized upon the count’s effects by way of reprisal, and to indemnify himself for the losses he had sustained at Lyons, began from this time to make the same use of his money that he has been known to do since upon all occasions. He found out the distressed, in order to relieve them: officers who had lost their equipage in the war, or their money at play; soldiers who were disabled in the trenches; in short, every one felt the influence of his benevolence, but his manner of conferring a favor exceeded even the favor itself.  42
  Every man possessed of such amiable qualities must meet with success in all his undertakings. The soldiers knew his person, and adored him. The generals were sure to meet him in every scene of action, and sought his company at other times. As soon as fortune declared for him, his first care was to make restitution, by desiring Cameran to go his halves in all parties where the odds were in his favor.  43

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