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.
A Day at Ems
By Lord Beaconsfield (1804–1881)
From ‘Vivian Grey’

“I THINK we’d better take a little coffee now; and then, if you like, we’ll just stroll into the REDOUTE” [continued Baron de Konigstein].  1
  In a brilliantly illuminated saloon, adorned with Corinthian columns, and casts from some of the most famous antique statues, assembled between nine and ten o’clock in the evening many of the visitors at Ems. On each side of the room was placed a long, narrow table, one of which was covered with green baize, and unattended, while the variously colored leather surface of the other was very closely surrounded by an interested crowd. Behind this table stood two individuals of very different appearance. The first was a short, thick man, whose only business was dealing certain portions of playing cards with quick succession, one after the other; and as the fate of the table was decided by this process, did his companion, an extremely tall, thin man, throw various pieces of money upon certain stakes, which were deposited by the bystanders on different parts of the table; or, which was more often the case, with a silver rake with a long ebony handle, sweep into a large inclosure near him the scattered sums. This inclosure was called the bank, and the mysterious ceremony in which these persons were assisting was the celebrated game of rouge-et-noir. A deep silence was strictly observed by those who immediately surrounded the table; no voice was heard save that of the little, short, stout dealer, when, without an expression of the least interest, he seemed mechanically to announce the fate of the different colors. No other sound was heard save the jingle of the dollars and napoleons, and the ominous rake of the tall, thin banker. The countenances of those who were hazarding their money were grave and gloomy their eyes were fixed, their brows contracted, and their lips projected; and yet there was an evident effort visible to show that they were both easy and unconcerned. Each player held in his hand a small piece of pasteboard, on which, with a steel pricker, he marked the run of the cards, in order, from his observations, to regulate his own play: the rouge-et-noir player imagines that chance is not capricious. Those who were not interested in the game promenaded in two lines within the tables; or, seated in recesses between the pillars, formed small parties for conversation.  2
  As Vivian and the baron entered, Lady Madeleine Trevor, leaning on the arm of an elderly man, left the room; but as she was in earnest conversation, she did not observe them.  3
  “I suppose we must throw away a dollar or two, Grey!” said the baron, as he walked up to the table.  4
  “My dear De Konigstein—one pinch—one pinch!”  5
  “Ah! marquis, what fortune to-night?”  6
  “Bad—bad! I have lost my napoleon: I never risk further. There’s that cursed crusty old De Trumpetson, persisting, as usual, in his run of bad luck, because he will never give in. Trust me, my dear De Konigstein, it’ll end in his ruin; and then, if there’s a sale of his effects, I shall perhaps get the snuff-box—a-a-h!”  7
  “Come, Grey; shall I throw down a couple of napoleons on joint account? I don’t care much for play myself; but I suppose at Ems we must make up our minds to lose a few louis. Here! now for the red—joint account, mind!”  8
  “Done.”  9
  “There’s the archduke! Let us go and make our bow; we needn’t stick at the table as if our whole soul were staked with our crown pieces—we’ll make our bow, and then return in time to know our fate.” So saying, the gentlemen walked up to the top of the room.  10
  “Why, Grey!—surely no—it cannot be—and yet it is. De Bœffleurs, how d’ye do?” said the baron, with a face beaming with joy, and a hearty shake of the hand. “My dear, dear fellow, how the devil did you manage to get off so soon? I thought you were not to be here for a fortnight: we only arrived ourselves to-day.”  11
  “Yes—but I’ve made an arrangement which I did not anticipate; and so I posted after you immediately. Whom do you think I have brought with me?”  12
  “Who?”  13
  “Salvinski.”  14
  “Ah! And the count?”  15
  “Follows immediately. I expect him to-morrow or next day. Salvinski is talking to the archduke; and see, he beckons to me. I suppose I am going to be presented.”  16
  The chevalier moved forward, followed by the baron and Vivian.  17
  “Any friend of Prince Salvinski I shall always have great pleasure in having presented to me. Chevalier, I feel great pleasure in having you presented to me! Chevalier, you ought to be proud of the name of Frenchman. Chevalier, the French are a grand nation. Chevalier, I have the highest respect for the French nation.”  18
  “The most subtle diplomatist,” thought Vivian, as he recalled to mind his own introduction, “would be puzzled to decide to which interest his imperial highness leans.”  19
  The archduke now entered into conversation with the prince, and most of the circle who surrounded him. As his highness was addressing Vivian, the baron let slip our hero’s arm, and seizing hold of the Chevalier de Bœffleurs, began walking up and down the room with him, and was soon engaged in very animated conversation. In a few minutes the archduke, bowing to his circle, made a move and regained the side of a Saxon lady, from whose interesting company he had been disturbed by the arrival of Prince Salvinski—an individual of whose long stories and dull romances the archduke had, from experience, a particular dread; but his highness was always very courteous to the Poles.  20
  “Grey, I’ve dispatched De Bœffleurs to the house to instruct the servant and Ernstorff to do the impossible, in order that our rooms may be all together. You’ll be delighted with De Bœffleurs when you know him, and I expect you to be great friends. Oh! by the by, his unexpected arrival has quite made us forget our venture at rouge-et-noir. Of course we’re too late now for anything; even if we had been fortunate, our doubled stake, remaining on the table, is of course lost; we may as well, however, walk up.” So saying, the baron reached the table.  21
  “That is your excellency’s stake!—that is your excellency’s stake!” exclaimed many voices as he came up.  22
  “What’s the matter, my friends? what’s the matter?” asked the baron, very calmly.  23
  “There’s been a run on the red! there’s been a run on the red! and your excellency’s stake has doubled each time. It has been 4—8—16—32—64—128—256; and now it’s 512!” quickly rattled a little thin man in spectacles, pointing at the same time to his unparalleled line of punctures. This was one of those officious, noisy little men, who are always ready to give you unasked information on every possible subject, and who are never so happy as when they are watching over the interest of some stranger, who never thanks them for their unnecessary solicitude.  24
  Vivian, in spite of his philosophy, felt the excitement and wonder of the moment. He looked very earnestly at the baron, whose countenance, however, remained perfectly unmoved.  25
  “Grey,” said he, very coolly, “it seems we’re in luck.”  26
  “The stake’s then not all your own?” very eagerly asked the little man in spectacles.  27
  “No, part of it is yours, sir,” answered the baron, very dryly.  28
  “I’m going to deal,” said the short, thick man behind. “Is the board cleared?”  29
  “Your excellency then allows the stake to remain?” inquired the tall, thin banker, with affected nonchalance.  30
  “Oh! certainly,” said the baron, with real nonchalance.  31
  “Three—eight—fourteen—twenty-four—thirty-four, Rouge 34—”  32
  All crowded nearer; the table was surrounded five or six deep, for the wonderful run of luck had got wind, and nearly the whole room were round the table. Indeed, the archduke and Saxon lady, and of course the silent suite, were left alone at the upper part of the room. The tall banker did not conceal his agitation. Even the short, stout dealer ceased to be a machine. All looked anxious except the baron. Vivian looked at the table; his excellency watched, with a keen eye, the little dealer. No one even breathed as the cards descended. “Ten—twenty—” here the countenance of the banker brightened—“twenty-two— twenty-five—twenty-eight—thirty-one—Noir 31. The bank’s broke; no more play to-night. The roulette table opens immediately.”  33
  In spite of the great interest which had been excited, nearly the whole crowd, without waiting to congratulate the baron, rushed to the opposite side of the room in order to secure places at the roulette table.  34
  “Put these five hundred and twelve Napoleons into a bag,” said the baron; “Grey, this is your share, and I congratulate you. With regard to the other half, Mr. Hermann, what bills have you got?”  35
  “Two on Gogel’s house of Frankfort—accepted of course—for two hundred and fifty each, and these twelve napoleons will make it right,” said the tall banker, as he opened a large black pocket-book, from which he took out two small bits of paper. The baron examined them, and after having seen them indorsed, put them calmly into his pocket, not forgetting the twelve napoleons; and then taking Vivian’s arm, and regretting extremely that he should have the trouble of carrying such a weight, he wished Mr. Hermann a very good-night and success at his roulette, and walked with his companion quietly home. Thus passed a day at Ems!  36

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