Fatal Zero. A Diary Kept at Homburg. by Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald
Chapter IX

Chapter IX.

Friday.—Just returned from Frankfort. Such a charming old town, refreshing to see in its reverend innocence and hoariness, after the flaunting garishness of that new and wicked spot. I saw the merchant, who received me very graciously, and had lunch ready. After it was over we talked of business, and he began by saying that he had determined to give the sum he had offered before, and no more. Something prompted me at that moment to try and do something for my friend, and act a little, though I doubt if it was strictly conscientious. Still, making a bargain is making a bargain, and I boldly said that it was too little, out of the question, &c. He was a Jew, and I think not disappointed that there was to be some "haggling." On that we set to work; my pet should have seen the latent diplomatic powers I called into play. Will you believe me—if I did not triumph over the Jew in the end, and obtain a hundred pounds more for my friend! A memorandum was signed, and a day named for me to go before the consul, and finally conclude the matter. I am greatly elated at this little victory. On coming home, I found Grainger waiting at the train. My first impulse was to tell him of what I had done; but a wiser discretion checked me. Here again is a little discipline; and it seems to me, on analysis, that this wish of communicating news, &c., is a mere shape of vanity, and arises from no desire to gratify or amuse any one else. He told me he had not played the whole day, but that he had amused himself watching the game, and trying whether there was anything in what I had said.

"Well, I spent two hours in that way," he said, "and, my dear friend, I must give it against you. Our friend the Pasha, as you called him, is right. You don't know what that man knows."

"He is a shallow creature, I know," I said; "I wonder how he is even tolerated here."

"That fellow has a history, I can tell you. Harems and seraglios, and sacks, and all that. Romantic to a degree."

"Romantic," I said, angrily; "that is the genteel name for vice and villany and rascaldom."

"Hush! here he is. I mustn't abuse him, as he has me bound—I mean I mustn't let him hear me abuse him."

D'Eyncourt came up, his head back, his round hat back also, and with a little pink on the centre of his "mutton-fat" cheeks.

"Well?" he said, "going in to play—to step into the bird-lime, and try a system?"

"I can't play," said Grainger. "I am going to give up. It's a struggle, and it' for the best."

"What! going to reform? How many tricks have you tried in your life, my friend? Is this the last?"

"Tricks, Mr. D'Eyncourt?" said Grainger, colouring. "Tricks?"

The other put his head further back, as if to get a good look, and said, coldly, "I repeat, tricks, Mr. Grainger."

The other, muttering something to himself, looked down.

"Yes, I always speak plain. Well, come in, and let us look at the game. D'ye hear?"

"No use asking you, Austen," said Grainger, as it were obeying an order; "and I won't press you to come. Only one moment."

He looked very helpless and appealingly at me.

"Oh, I forgot," said D'Eyncourt; "you mentioned something about scruples. Stay with your friend. There's Colonel Manby, yonder."

I had already, my pet will remember, rather qualified the resolution I had taken about going into the rooms. In that way, I believe, we are not responsible, in any sort, for the doings of the wicked—at least as regards men—in different actions. As well might we look into the lives of all friends' jealously, and "cut" every one of them—fathers, brothers—who had done anything that was not quite correct. I said:

"I have no scruples of the kind. Merely walking through, or looking on, does not affect the question."

High play was going on; the count with the worn face was in his place, his little bale of clean notes before him.

"Ah, there he is!" said D'Eyncourt. "They have got their pigeon. Let me see. How many feathers has he left? Just a few, but enough to play with. Yes, they are giving him two or three back, to stick into his wing, if he can."

There was a crowd opposite, uttering the usual ejaculations—much as what the lower Irish do when a strange story is told to them: "Il a gagné," "C'est le max-i-moom"—so they pronounce it. "Fooh!" the breath being drawn in between the teeth.

"The old story," said D'Eyncourt, contemptuously.

"Only begin,
And then win;
That's their ruse,
To make you lose;—

a little gambling proverb of my own. He should be told of the new system."

I had been watching the player, and an idea occurred to me. I snatched a card and a pin. It is a duty, surely, to give a lesson now and again to the foolish. It is serving the world and society.

"Now," I said, coolly, "what if I tell you how he ought to play to win? What will you say to my common sense then?"

"What will I say? Your common sense! I am sure I can't tell."

"You shall be told, then; and you be witness, Grainger."

Red had come up three times. "Now," I said, "let him put on black."

"No," said Grainger. "Don't you see—he is going for the run."

"Well, what do you say?" I said to D'Eyncourt.

"Nothing," he answered; "why should I?"

The player did "go for the run," with, his "maximum," and away it fluttered to the green leather tomb of the capulets, the slab of which shut down on it with a fatal click. I said nothing. The player then waited until two deals had intervened.

"Now," I said, "let him put on red, and he will win."

He almost seemed to have heard me. Down went his maximum, pushed across with trembling fingers; and in a few seconds was heard the chant, "Rouge gagne, et couleur."

I will not dwell on this, for fear of tiring my pet; but I will tell the whole scene to her later. But "suffice it to say," as the novelists are fond of repeating, I really foretold nearly every successful colour, and, by some mysterious rapport, the count seemed to follow or anticipate every prophecy of mine.

"By G—," said Grainger, in a strange excitement, "it's devilry or magic! For Heaven's sake lend me, do, some one, three naps—only three—one, then—one! Well, then a double florin; you won't refuse that?"

"Recollect your promise," I whispered to him—"your resolution, your solemn resolution."

"Folly!" he said; "you are robbing me at this moment; it is cruel of you."

I was watching D'Eyncourt. He was biting his lips with vexation. I could not resist.

"You won't admit my common sense," I said; "it is not to be expected."

"It is easy to play a game with a pin and a card; back your opinion with money, and I'll do the same."

"I never play," I said, coldly, "and never shall. There are some whom it is hopeless to convince of the difference of a mere mathematical study and a pursuit so dangerous and deadly to both soul and body."

"Caution, religion, and the theological virtues. Good. Now, there go my five louis on red."

"If you wait, about twice more," I said, calmly, "you would have a better chance. I hardly think red could come up now."

"Rouge perd, et couleur" came before he could actually answer me. I went on.

"I dare say there might be a chance for you now, if you would risk it."

"I shall go on black," he said, putting down ten louis.

Again, "Rouge gagne, et couleur!"

So it went on, I, with a most extraordinary success in my guess, being astray not more than three or four times; and when I showed the card, the pin-holes all certainly fell into the shape I had predicted. Mr. D'Eyncourt, however, had lost over fifty louis.

"This comes," he said, "of playing with people talking about you, pestering you with systems and cards and pins. There, Manby—there's a gentleman here turned prophet. He'll tell you something about the Derby."

Before I could reply he was gone, and I turned to Grainger.

"He is inclined to be insolent," I said, "and I am not inclined to put up with it. Like any one who cannot bear to be told they are in the wrong, he wishes to give vent to his own spleen and malice."

Grainger was hardly attending.

"Why didn't you let me? I might have been rich this moment; I'd have made three hundred louis in the wake of that fellow. I might have been free from him, and, but for my slavery, I might have paid my bill at the lodgings."

"Is it so much?" I asked.

"Two hundred florins—a wretched sum. But he is insolent enough for its being ten thousand."

"Is that all?" I said. "We are very poor, as you know, Grainger; but if a hundred florins will help, I can let you have that much, but you must solemnly swear; not a florin goes down on that green cloth. An oath on your Bible, mind."

"I'll swear anything," he said. "You are noble, and have always treated me nobly, whatever I may have said. Still," he added, suddenly, "you know it is not so heavy an obligation. You admit that? Only a few pounds, you know."

There was something in his tone that rather jarred on me, but I recollected that he was always subject to these alternations, passing from a most cordial, genial, and even softened tone, into a cold, bitter, and hostile manner. It was his way. He was a disappointed man, so we must have allowance. So that day terminated. Somehow the calm country town monotony of mind which I had brought with me seems to have given way a little before the whirl, as it were, of this place—the strange figures, the dramatic incidents, the curious motives of this place. But I am learning precious lessons. It is like tonics and cold baths for the mind. After all, how many of us go through life without having even the faintest conception of what is going on, no conception of what attitudes, and motions, and wonderful freaks the human mind is capable of. Novels and plays tell us a good deal, but we do not believe in them. One day lets in a light worth a thousand of Mudie's "sets." Shall I own that I dwell with complacency on the fact that I, a mere rustic, ungraduated in the world's devices, should have held "my own" in that little scene to-day, by the sheer force of good plain sense and reason? Thank Heaven, I am growing better every hour! Heaven is very good to us, certainly.