Scenes in the Life of A Gambler by Unknown

"Lasciate ogni speranza voi che entrate."

Paris!—there was once a magic in the name—a music in the sound. "Paris!" how often said I to myself when in another quarter of the globe, "Yes, I will one day visit thee—will revive the memory of the great events of which thou hast been the arena—thy Fronde—the League—the Revolution—the Cent Jours—the history of thy chivalrous François—thy noble-minded Henri—the Grand Monarque—the witty and profligate Regent—thy unfortunate Louis, and still more pitiable Empereur;—and then, the Gallery of the Louvre—the Museum of the Luxembourg—Versailles—St. Cloud—the Tuileries!" My dream was about to be realised.

I was then in my twenty-fifth year. I had health—a sufficiency of the goods of fortune to purchase the enjoyment of the moderate pleasures of life. My person and manners were agreeable; my acquirements greater then those of most of my college contemporaries; and the fine arts were "my passion and my enjoyment." All these advantages, with a pardonable egotism, I had been canvassing during my solitary journey (solitary? no, my mind was occupied with the most enchanting reveries—the most intoxicating visions) from which I was only awakened at the barrier of Montmartre. How my heart beat with delight as, from the eminence that overlooks the city, I beheld its spires, and domes, and houses, huddled in the vaporous gloom of an evening in May! The day had been a glorious one; the air breathed balm. My caleche was open; and four posters whirled me rapidly through the Boulevards, and entered the gateway of the Hotel des Princes in the Rue Richelieu. This street was, as all who are acquainted with it, know, the centre and focus of the fashion,—the life and motion of Paris, and of the foreigners who then flocked to it from all parts of Europe, (for it was the third year of the Restoration,) and had caught some of the volatile spirit of its mercurial people.

Times and dynasties change. Politics, that many-headed monster, now reigns supreme. Instead of the goddess Pleasure,—at whose shrine all sacrificed,—they have set up the Gorgon of parties. The army is no "état"—the church is no "état." It is become a city of national guards—reviewed by a king, with his three sons,—a family marked for assassination. There is no court—no ancienne noblesse. Everywhere distress and misery, hate and calumny, persecution and imprisonment, ruin, the grippe, and bankruptcy. Such is a picture of the Paris of 1837.

But I was in the Rue Richelieu—the great artery of the life's blood of Paris. From it, as from a floodgate, rushed along in conflicting eddies, sweeping like a torrent, a crowd in quest of pleasure. Some were hurrying to the gaming-houses; some aux Italiens, to the Ambigu, of the Varietés, and the different theatres; others to the Palais Royal, which in its magic circle comprehends all that vice or luxury can invent to seduce the imagination or gratify the sense; then to Tortoni's, or the innumerable cafés, there to enjoy the al fresco of the Boulevards Italiens seated under the trees, or to mingle  with the multitude, chatting, laughing, or whispering in delighted ears under the well-lighted avenue of elms that had just put forth their young leaves. I made one of the throng, and would that Armida Paris had had no worse enchantments—no more seductive pleasures. Alas! what have I now to do with them?—they have lost their charm. My hair is grey,—my heart is withered!

But I anticipate.

What do the phrenologists mean, by not having assigned to their chart of the skull a place for play? Gall, during his long practice in Paris, might surely have discovered it; for, of all people, the Parisians have this passion the most strongly developed. It is common, indeed, to the most savage, as well as the most civilised nations; for I have seen the Hindu strip himself naked, and bet at chukra the last rag in his possession; the African stakes his wife and children; but our neighbours may plunge their families, to the third and fourth generation, in misery and destitution. The pauper sells his only bed: the cradle of his child. The manufacturer takes to the Mont de Pieté his tools; steals those of his employers. The diplomatist and the figurante, the financier and the mendicant, all fall down before one idol—a Moloch worse than that of the Valley of Gehenna—a monster without pity or remorse, who delights in the tears, and groans, and gnashings of teeth of his votaries, nor quits his prey till he tracks them to the Morgue—name of horrid sound! and yet, the last refuge and sole resting-place of his infatuated victims.

How easy it is to moralise! I should like to know if I always had this infernal bias, or if it was engrafted in me, or whether I was seized at that time with the general epidemy, taking the infection, like the cholera, from those about me, or from the air which I was respiring. Oh, worse than wind-walking pestilence is play! It has a subtle poison, and more kinds of death; no, not death! for, I live,—if dying from day to day can be called life.

The first weeks of my séjour passed like days, nay hours; but I did not confine myself to Paris itself. Few foreigners, or even natives, know the beauty of the environs. These were the scenes of my rides by day. In the evening I assisted at some French réunion, or mixed in the soirées of our own country; frequented the Opera Italienne, where not a note is lost: and such notes!—for Pasta was the prima donna. Being "un peu friand," I frequently dined at the Rocher de Concal. I mention that restaurant because I have reason to remember it. The Rocher de Concal boasts none of the magnificence of Very's, or Beauvilliers. The entrance is encumbered with the shells of the huitres d'Ostende, the most delicious of oysters. The rooms are not much larger than boxes at the opera; but they enclose a world of fun. The rustling of silk is often heard there, and one meets in the narrow passages veiled forms hastening to some mysterious rendezvous.

It was here that I became acquainted with the Prince M——. His was a fatal initial; and might have reminded me of what he proved to be,—my Mephistophiles! M—— was one of those princes that "fourmillent" in all the capitals of Europe. He was about thirty years of age. His figure was tall, slight, and emaciated, and corresponded with his countenance, that was of a paleness approaching to marble, and might be said to have no expression, so complete a  mastery had he obtained over his feelings. His equipage had nothing at first sight remarkable. The cabriolet was of a sombre colour, and the harness without ornaments; but the horse was not to be matched for beauty and power. His dress seemed equally plain; but, on closer inspection, you discovered it was of a studied elegance, the colours being so well matched that the eye had nothing particular on which to rest. He never was known to laugh, and seldom smiled; he was rather cold, though not forbidding in his manners, and perfectly indifferent whether he amused or not. He never spoke of the politics of the day, of his domains, of his stud or family,—much less of himself, his exploits, or his adventures. He never made an observation that was worthy of being repeated, yet never said a foolish thing. With the sex he was a great favourite, for he perfectly understood the science of flattery; but it was with the utmost tact that he put it in requisition. His address was perfect: he spoke French, and indeed several languages, with that admirable choice of phrase for which the Russians are remarkable. The sole occupation of his life was play; and to win or lose seemed a matter of perfect indifference to him, whatever the stake.

There was also of the party that day another foreigner, Baron A——, who had been a Jew. He was his compagnon de voyage. Castor and Pollux were not more inseparable. This alter ego was a little man, with a grey eye of singular archness, and a light moustache, as most Germans have. His whole fortune consisted of five hundred louis, which he carried about with him;—an excellent nest-egg; for he contrived to double annually this poor capital. One year he was at Rome, another at Florence, a third at Vienna—no; there he was too well known. A gambler, like a prophet, has no honour in his own country. The last spring he had passed in London, where, of course, he had the entrée at Almack's, and now opened the campaign under the most promising auspices at Paris. The baron was a sort of lion's-provider—the pilot-fish of the shark.

We separated at an early hour, and I afterwards met my new friends at an hotel in the Fauxbourg St. Honoré, where there was, as usual, an écarté-table. Ecarté was then all the rage; though, like our all-fours, it had originally been the game of the peuple, or rather in Paris of the laquais. It is a game uniting skill and chance; but it is a game of countenance; a game, also, in which the cards played with, being fewer in number than at whist, it is no difficult matter to scratch an important one, so as to know in time of need where to find it, or to sauter le coup. That evening, for the first time, I was induced to take a hand, and, in my innocence of such manœuvres, wondered that my opponent turned up the king so much oftener than myself. In time my eyes were opened, and I discovered that other tricheries were practicable. For instance, one morning, after a ball given by an English lady, there were found rolled up in one corner of the room two queens and a knave; and, on examining the écarté packs, these were missing,—had literally been discarded,—a circumstance which rendered the success of two officers of the garde de corps, who cleaned out the party, by no means problematical. But I was now initiated; and a witty writer says,

"That where that pestilence, play, once leaves a taint, It saps the bone, and pierces to the marrow, And then 'tis easier to extract an arrow." 

How willing we all are to put off the evil moment: to string anecdote on anecdote, and weave parenthesis in parenthesis, rather than come to the point! Does it not remind us of the tricks of the wrestler to avoid the grasp of his more powerful antagonist? But it must come: so let me proceed with my confession.

As I was leaving the room, the prince came up to me and said, "Demain voulez-vous, Monsieur, être des notres?—There is a dinner at the salon, and I will take you with me as my 'umbra,' and present you to the Marquis—." In an evil hour I consented.

The maisons de jeu at Paris are farmed by a society, who purchase of the government the privilege of opening a certain limited number—if I remember right, five. In order to prevent unfair play, a commis of the police is in daily attendance at the opening of the packs of cards, and they are lodged in the office every night. So far so good. But the advantages in favour of the bank are so great, that after the payment of several hundred thousand pounds sterling to the revenue, after defraying the expenses of hotels, cashiers, croupiers, lackeys, &c. &c. the associés divide twenty or thirty per cent. At the head of these establishments is the salon des étrangers. The prime minister, or master of the ceremonies, was then the Marquis de L——. He was the last of the aisles de pigeon, which he wore bien poudrées. He had been an emigré, and, like many of them, had passed twenty years in England without knowing a word of the language. He was distinguished by an ease of manner and a politeness, though rather exaggerated, of the vieille cour. Soon after my introduction to him he lost his appointment, it having been discovered that the cashier, by some mistake, nightly gave him fifty napoleons in exchange for a billet of five hundred francs. By-the-by, the office of president of the salon was in considerable request, and was afterwards filled by a general officer who had once been in the English service.

It was one of the dinners that were given three times a-week. We passed through a range of servants in splendid liveries, to the salon à manger, where I found sixty guests, consisting, not only of the foreigners most distinguished for rank, fortune, and consideration, but pairs de France, deputés of all parties,—in fact, the élite of Paris. Before each, was placed a carte. It was not one of your English bills of fare, with its plats de resistance; but earth, air, and ocean had been ransacked, and all the skill of the most consummate artistes employed to furnish out the table. Every sort of wine circulated in quick succession; but, when I looked around me, I saw no hilarity in this assembly. The viands seemed to pall upon the taste, the goblet passed unquaffed. Gambling is the most selfish of vices; it admits of no society; every one seemed too much occupied with his own thoughts even to address his neighbour. Was I happy myself? No. The soul instinctively seems to foresee all the miseries that originate from a single false step, inspiring us with certain vague apprehensions that with a vain casuistry we endeavour to dissipate. In fact, I never enjoyed a dinner less; and was as pleased at its termination as most of the party were anxious for the real object of the meeting—le commencement de la fin, ou la fin du commencement—le jeu.

The hotel where we assembled was of the time of Louis the Fifteenth, and had belonged to one of his numerous mistresses; the taste, however, of his predecessor reigned there. In front was a  cour d'honneur, large enough to drawn the rattle of carriages and noise from without; and behind, was a garden laid out in the English style, and full of odoriferous shrubs, then in full bloom, particularly the lilac, the laburnum, and the red-thorn, that wafted their perfume through the unfolded doors, whilst at intervals was heard the plashing of a fountain. The three principal rooms, two of which were dedicated to rouge et noir and French hazard, were in shape octagonal; the compartments, which were fantastically chased, and rich in gilding, served as a frame-work to pictures in the manner of Watteau, and probably by the hand of one of his pupils. The ceilings were similar in taste, and described some exploits of Jupiter, whose representative was the monarch himself according to the fashion of the day. The only light in each of these apartments, proceeded from a lamp shaded by green silk, that diffused its mellow and softened rays around, and threw a brilliant and dazzling effulgence on the table. Along the centre were ranged the dealers and bankers; and before them heaps of gold and silver, and billets de banc, and red and white counters, their representatives. On both sides were the players; and the broad glare, shadowless and impending, displayed their features. Many of them were known to me by name. There was, with his noble and portly figure and countenance, much resembling the busts of Charles Fox, the late Earl of T——, who with perfect sangfroid lost his twenty-five thousand pounds a-year, and thought the only use of money was to buy pieces of ivory marked with numbers on them, and that the next pleasure in life to winning, was to lose. To his right was B—— H——, with his handsome profile, Hyperion locks, and unmeaning red-and-white face, incapable of an expression either of joy or chagrin: Lord M——, who went by the sobriquet of Père la Chaise; S——, bent double with care, and wrinkled with premature old age; the young and emaciated Lord Y——, the only one of his family who resembles his father, and inheriting from him the same propensity: and by his side Benjamin Constant, whose ardent spirit, like the volcano under Vesuvius, was for ever breaking out in the excitement of love, or politics, or play; his hair was grey, as if scorched by the working of his brain; his frame consumed as by an inward fire; his cheek bloodless as that of a corpse, for which, but for his eye, he might have been taken;—there was a desolateness in every trait of his countenance, and nervous sensibility accompanied every cast of the die that it was painful to witness. These were some of the crêpes party. The Prince M—— was not among them: he had found more attractive metal—was closeted in a cabinet at écarté.

For some hours I looked on, as an indifferent spectator. I had come fortified by a long colloquy held with myself, the result of which was a determination not to be duped. I had had too much experience of the world to fall into the snare—I had resisted many worse temptations—I knew too well the chances to risk even the few napoleons cautiously put into my purse. "Facilis descensus Averni," says the poet. Insensibly I took an interest in the game. I flattered my self-vanity by thinking that, when such a one threw in, I should not have been on the contre, or should have withdrawn my money before he sauted,—that I should have taken the odds, or betted them differently from Lord This or Monsieur Tel. In short, for me the veil of Isis was lifted, the mysteries of play revealed. I alone was  inspired; and so for once it was to prove. One of the circle left his seat, and I filled up the vacancy. I sat writhing till my turn came. All had thrown out, and all had backed the casters. I now took the box: by my clumsy way of handling it, and shaking the dice, it was perceived that I was a tyro. And now the contre was covered with gold and notes: "Seven!" I cried; "eleven's the nick!" I changed the main: still my luck continued. In short, I threw in nine times, leaving all my winnings to accumulate, and found myself in possession of twenty-four thousand francs. It was now suggested to me that the bank was only responsible for twelve thousand. Twice more did I tempt Fortune, and with equal success; and then handed over the box, and gave up my place to a new comer; and, without any one seeming to notice my departure, betook myself to my apartment—but not to sleep. I was in a fever of delight; visions more enchanting than those of Eldorado visited my couch. I had found the magic wand,—had gained the golden branch in the Æneid,—opened to myself a mine of wealth,—an inexhaustible treasure. At daybreak I raised myself in the bed, and counted it,—arranged in heaps the glittering treasure. I had all Paris in my hand! I would have an hotel, I would have horses, carriages, all that wealth could purchase should be mine. That gold which others sighed for, toiled for, sinned for, was mine, easily obtained, and won expressly to be spent. Horace, when in his poetic dream of immortality he cried "Album mutor in alitem," and soared above the heads of the admiring world, felt no raptures compared with mine.

My success was soon blazoned abroad, and my gains exaggerated. In the course of the day I had a visit of congratulation from the prince. "There is a fête and ball at Frascati," said he, on taking leave; "you will be there?" There was a devilish smile on his face. It was the first time I had ever seen him smile.

It was ten o'clock, and that temple of Circe was flooded with light, and filled with women and men of all ages;—no, not of all, for one of the conditions of admission is, besides being well dressed, that a person must be of age. Le Jeu has no objection to the gold of a father, a lover, or a husband; but he disdains the pocket-money of a minor. He has great respect for all the decencies of life: he requires a well-filled purse and an elegant toilette. Enter, ye rich and lively!—come, and welcome! There is sure to be gold where there are women, and woman where there is gold.

At the entrance of this hell, the laquais, after a scrutiny of my person, took my hat, and, by means of an iron instrument attached to a long pole, with a practised dexterity lifted it to peg 200, where it assumed its place in the well-marshalled ranks of its comrades. I afterwards observed that it was the only thing most of the owners carried away with them.

The first room was occupied by a roulette table. The grand saloon,—of which there is, or was, an admirable picture in the Oxford Street Bazaar, containing the well-known portraits of very many who frequented it,—is dedicated to rouge et noir, or trente et quarante, and was encircled two or three deep by a crowd of both sexes, all preserving a profound silence, only interrupted by the Messieurs, faites votre jeu!—Le jeu est fait!—Rien plus! of the dealer; for the noise of the ratliers that had shovelled the gold and five-franc pieces into a heap  had ceased, and all were breathlessly awaiting the coup. The coup was made: quarante: Rouge gagne. It was then a horrid sight to mark the expression of the different feelings that agitated this assembly—this Pandæmonium! Some tore their hair from their heads in handsful,—some gnashed their teeth like the damned in the Sistine chapel,—others, their eyes almost starting out of their sockets, uttered horrid oaths, and blasphemous exclamations,—and one, who had his hand in his breast, withdrew it, dyed in blood, without being sensible of the wounds his nails had inflicted! But, as if this spectacle of tortured and degraded humanity were not enough, it was still more appalling to observe the countenances of the women, who had staked their last louis on the turn of the card! Their splendid dresses, their silks and gauze, their cachemires de l'Inde, that glitter of gold and gems, their necklaces of pearl, and ear-rings of diamond,—all that serves to heighten and embellish beauty, by a horrid contrast only gave them a greater deformity, reminding us of Pauline Borghese on her death-bed daubing her cadaverous cheeks with rouge, and tricking herself out in the same magnificent costume she had worn in the Tuileries when she shone the wonder and admiration of Paris; assuming in the last agonies of dissolution the voluptuous attitude she had chosen for that masterpiece of art, that wonderful creation of the greatest of modern sculptors, Canova.

Oh! that these Phrynes could at that moment have seen in the mirrors that on all sides reflected them, their hollow eyes—their violet lips—their livid cheeks! The snakes of Leonardo's Medusa would have made them perfect. No; they had no eyes or ears but for that hideous old Sultan whose seraglio they had formed,—le Jeu.

The rouge et noir table being thus agreeably filled, I sat down to roulette, and placed before me my packet of notes; being determined this time to break the bank. I turned some of my billets into gold, and began, during the revolutions of the wheel of Fortune, to cover the cyphers. Sixty-two times the original stake would be good interest for less than as many seconds! Now for my inspiration—but this time my spirit of prophecy had fled. There was no prize for me. The ball still made its accustomed rounds, and lost itself in some number where I had no stake: now it bounded along, and hung suspended like a bird hovering over its nest; and then, just as it was about to crown my wishes, took a new spring, and, with a provoking coquetry, lavished its favours on one who had not courted them with half, perhaps only the twentieth part, of the fervour I had done. Sometimes, as if to lead me on in the pursuit, she tantalised me by hiding herself in the next number to that I had chosen; and then, the succeeding minute crushed all my hopes, and reduced them to nothing, with some zero rouge or zero blanc, or the double misery of two zeros.

I now gave up the lottery of numbers, and betook myself to that of colours. Still I was no diviner. If I made black my favourite, there was sure to be a run on red; and vice versâ. I lost my coolness—my temper. I doubled my stakes,—trebled them. Still the ratliers did their merciless office; the croupiers still with imperturbable nonchalance swept into a gulph, from which was no return, my notes and gold. In short, in a few hours, I was not only stript of all my winnings, but had borrowed of one of the lackeys three thousand francs,  which I was to return the next morning, with a premium of two per cent. He was one of the myrmidons of the salon des étrangers, and knew I had the entrée, and that the loan was a safe one; nay, he pressed me to borrow more: but—ohe, jam satis!—I hurried to my porter's lodge, and thence to my apartment, but in a widely different mood to that in which I had entered it the night before. All the scenes of wealth and riches that my imagination had conjured up, had vanished. I had horrid dreams. The curtain was withdrawn; it showed me the sad reality of all that had happened, and all that was to happen.

The next day I locked my room-door, and held a long dialogue with my conscience. I felt two powers at work within me—two inclinations striving for mastery—two persons, as it were, one acting against and in spite of the other. I endeavoured to arm myself against myself. It was a violent struggle between the principles of good and evil. Whether, like Hercules, I should have made the same choice, I know not; but vice never wants for arguments or supporters, and in the afternoon came an invitation, by one of his emissaries, from the prince, to dine with him. My foible—the rock on which I have made shipwreck—has been, that I never could say, no. I accepted it.

Besides the inseparables, were present, on this occasion, a Prussian colonel and a Polish count. The dinner was recherché; the dishes having been sent from different restaurants famous for their cuisine: the ravioli, for instance, from an Italian house, and the omelette Russe from the café de Paris. The mock and real champagne were well iced, and the Chambertín a bouquet of violets. I endeavoured to find a Lethe in the glass, which circulated freely, though it only circulated; for the prince, on the plea of health, drank lemonade, and his guests, as the Italians say, baptised their Lafitte with water. Two nights such as I had passed did not diminish the effect of the wine; and when it was proposed to play at faro, though I knew nothing of the game, I made no objection. It was suggested that the baron should be banker. He had come ready prepared; opened his strong box, and produced his five hundred louis. The practised neatness with which he turned up the cards, the accuracy of his calculations, and correctness of his accounts, might have excited the admiration of any croupier at the salon; certainly none of them understood his métier better. I began with very small stakes, which were unlimited. I soon, however, followed the example of the circle, and played higher. I lost. The two strangers appeared to lose also, and retired at an early hour.

I had added one hundred louis to the baron's capital. Whilst I was in search of my hat to make my escape, A—— had been employed in preparing an écarté pack, and offered to give me my revanche; our host encouraging me to take it by saying he would back me.

I sat down; and, as the prince was interested in the result, I asked his advice, but he told me, he never gave or took it. My adversary had an extraordinary run of luck,—almost always voled me when I did not propose, and scored the king so often that I could not help observing it. The prince in the mean time walked about the room, occasionally looking over my cards; at length he declined participating in my stakes, and betted with me largely on his own account. Ill fortune continued to pursue me; still I played higher and higher,  till my score had swelled to a frightful amount. My immense losses sobered me, and I then had my suspicions that all was not right. Opposite to the table was a mirror over the chimney, which extended from the marble-slab to the ceiling. I was fronting it, when I perceived by the reflection, the prince standing over my shoulder: he was taking snuff, and, in the act of so doing, raised up his fingers in a manner that excited my attention. I now determined to watch the pair more closely. I observed that the German always awaited the sign before he decided on proposing or refusing; and once inadvertently did so, without even looking at his own hand. It is true, we were both at four, but I had not an atout or court-card: the consequence was, that I lost the game. It was now clear that I had fallen into the hands of sharpers. I found myself minus thirty thousand francs. Throwing down the pack, I got up, and walked about the room for some time, in order to collect my thoughts and consider how to act. Though confident of having been cheated; almost unknown as I was in Paris, I was aware it would not be easy to convince their numerous and powerful friends of the fact. I therefore determined to pay the money, and insult one or the other so grossly that he must give me my revanche in a different way. Thinking that the scheme, however concocted, had been put in execution at the prince's own house, and that it was rendered still blacker by a breach of hospitality, I made choice of him with perfect self-possession. I asked for pen, ink, and paper; and having written cheques payable on demand at my bankers' in London for the par nobile fratrum, I turned to the prince, and said, presenting him with his share of the plunder, "Monsieur, voilà votre argent: vous savez comment il étoit gagné." Running his eye over the amount to ascertain if it were correct, he carefully folded up the paper, and put it in his pocket; and then, with imperturbable coolness, turned to me, and said, "Monsieur, vous m'avez insulté, et vous me ferez l'honneur de m'en rendre raison." "Très, très volontiers," I replied; "c'est ce que je cherchois." "The sooner the better," said the prince; "I will leave my friend the baron to settle the preliminaries." With these words he walked slowly to the door, and left me with his associate. He had not been gone more than a few minutes, when the Polish count, who was lodging in the same hotel, (it was in the Rue de la Paix,) and had just returned from some orgies, made his appearance, probably thinking to find us still engaged in play. The baron, without entering into particulars, immediately explained to him that the prince and myself had had a serious misunderstanding, and that it had ended in his claiming satisfaction. I was not sufficiently intimate with any one in Paris to disturb him at that hour in the morning; and, thinking it a mere formality to have a second, readily asked the count to be my friend. He consented with the best grace imaginable. It was now explained to me, that it is the custom (though I believe such is not the case) for the challenger to choose his own weapons.

"The prince," observed the baron, "has two blades of the finest Spanish steel; they are beautifully watered, and it is a pleasure to look at them. They have never yet been used: Monsieur," added he, addressing the count, "shall have his choice." All this was said with the utmost nonchalance, as though he had been only treating of a trial of skill, and not a duel à l'outrance.

I had never taken a fencing-lesson since I was at school, and then only for a few months of old Angelo. The prince I knew to be almost as dexterous in the art as a maître d'armes. The first qualification for an accomplished gambler is to be a duellist; foils were at that moment lying in a corner of the room, and he had probably been practising the very day before; indeed it was almost the only exercise he took at any time.

To have made, however, my want of skill a plea for the adoption of pistols, might, I knew, be answered by the baron's professing the prince to be the worst of shots; besides its being a deviation from the established rule in such cases for me to have a voice.

Strange to say, I felt little uneasiness on the subject: I had a quick eye, great activity, and superior physical strength; and I had heard that the most expert fencer is often at a loss to parry the determined assault of an aggressor, even though he should hardly know the use of his weapon. A sense, too, of my wrongs, and a desire of revenge, added to that moral courage in which I was never deficient, rendered me bold and confident.

It was now broad daylight. The fiacre rattled up to the door, and the count and I, got into it; the prince following in his cabriolet, accompanied by A——. We drove through the Champs Elyseés, passed the Port Maillot, and, without meeting a single carriage, arrived at our destination. If there were ever a spot where a lover of nature might die almost without regret, it is this favourite resort of the beau monde of Paris. Avenues ankle-deep in sand, cut into straight lines; allées without verdure, that lead to nothing; a wood without trees. Such is the Bois de Boulogne.

The coachman, who had a perfect knowledge of the localities, and the object of our morning ride, pulled up at a spot where four roads met; and, having alighted, we followed an ill-defined path for a few hundred yards, till we came to an opening in the brushwood that was scarcely above our heads. It had served for a recent encounter, for I perceived the prince step on one side to avoid a stain of blood on one of the tufts of grass that here and there rose rankly among the sand. He appeared not to notice it, and continued to talk on indifferent subjects to his companion.

Having received our swords, all new, and bright, and glittering, as the baron promised they should be, and taken up our ground, without waiting to cross blades, I precipitated myself on my adversary, and endeavoured to beat down his guard: so impetuous was my onset, that he retreated, or, rather, I drove him before me for several yards. Those who have not experienced it, may conceive what a strange grating sensation the meeting of two pieces of steel produces; but they cannot be aware how it quickens the pulse, and that there is in every electric shock, such fierce rage, and hatred, and revenge, as burnt within me then. Still, however, the prince parried my thrusts, and kept me at arm's length. All I now remember is, that I made a last desperate lunge—that I almost lost my balance—that I felt the point of my adversary's sword enter my side, and then a film came over my eyes. When I awoke from this trance, I found myself in a crowded hospital, with a Sœur de Charité leaning over me.