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'Confound your low waggery! We've got to get the luggage registered for somewhere. I don't care two straws where-St. Petersburg, Constantinople, Jerusalem, only it must be somewhere.' A grinning porter ventured to mutter between his teeth something about coopongs and Cologne.
That's it!' ejaculated the younger. Eh, what? Cologne ? All right. I'm your man. We'll do the Rhine, and have a shunt at the tables somewhere or other.' Away spun the gay train to Harwich, where the Great Eastern afforded an excellent dinner. Then, after a glass of cognac just to keep off the cold and something worse, they went on board the steamer, whose nose was turned in the direction of the coast of that marvellous submarine land Holland.
Ten average days in the country of toys, clocks, and organs, of canards, canaille, canaux, a week's dawdle in Belgium, another week on the Rhine, and our travellers were to be discovered located at the Hôtel Victoria, Bingen, which, as all the world knows, is opposite the two most fragrant of the Rhineland vineyards, the Rüdesheim and Assmanshausen.
And here we may take breath from all this severe locomotion in order to glance at the physique of our two young friends.
They were altered, in this way. The elder, who at starting was smooth-shaved, with just the most modest fringe of whisker, had developed into something between a scrubbing-brush and a hedgehog. The action of the sun had removed so much of the outer cuticle of his hands and face as to cause him to resemble an aboriginal native of the other hemisphere; whilst the gunpowderdust of the Taunus-bahn had taken all the shine out of his once
gorgeous tourist-suit. Nature had made this man dark, straight, and square; appetite and ale superadded obesity, though not in excess. Study perhaps aided the former, and palliated the effects of the latter. Not to be prosy, you would have defined him as a jolly fellow with a fair share of brains.
His friend, before leaving London, had exhibited a moustache unsatisfactory both in quantity and quality, with a few hairs in odd places about his face. An Antwerp barber, having shrugged his shoulders at such raggedness of visage, had caused this thoughtless being to reflect on his personal appearance, a reflection which perhaps was enhanced by the terrible spectacle of his brother-traveller, whose outline certainly seemed to offer a major and minor premiss in favour of the original Sheffield blade. The outcome whereof was, that the aforesaid barber received an order to cut it all off, which he obeyed by shaving his countenance up to the level of his eyebrows. A bright-faced Saxon was this young fellow, with just one of those wax-doll faces which when shaved remind you of their pretty sisters, and offer a sufficient reason for the amount of devo
tion they extract from ladies in their teens, who have not yet acquired sufficient confidence to appreciate a great, big, ugly, hairy
Du reste, both parties hailed from the University of Oxford; whereof the senior was M.A.; the latter had just come to sleeves, i.e. taken his degree. It was their first real experience of that nectar of existence only to be quaffed in the brighter corners of a weary world. In fine, to use a vulgar but expressive phrase, they were in for a thorough spree.
It was a brilliant morning; the air light, buoyant, exhilarating; the people gay and happy; the Rhine bowling along like so much liquid lapis lazuli; whilst in the foreground stood a peasant with a basket filled with red and white grapes, the firstfruits of the vintage of that sunny land.
They had just breakfasted on trout, schinken mit ei, and honey. A cigar was consummating digestion; and the scene was lovely beyond expression. Yet there seemed rather a tinge of boredom about their faces. To tell the truth, it was Sunday, and the difficulty is to know how to get through Sunday in Bingen.
To them, thus whiffing, a handsome stranger entered. He had had the good taste to discard dittoes, and dress with scrupulous care as an English gentleman. His manners were as prepossessing as his appearance; and, as so often happens, it transpired, after but a few moments of conversation, that he was a friend of some of their friends; in short, that their individual circles in society intersected each other.
'I shall be happy to direct you to the church here, gentlemen,' he remarked politely. He looked the sort of man who would go to church on Sunday somehow.
Now, to speak the candid truth, I don't think our travellers had contemplated anything of this sort. Although by instinct rigid Protestants, they had dashed off to high mass at Cologne, and returned from that function grumbling rather than impressed. Anything short of a spectacle was quite wide of their present mark; and yet somehow they did not like to appear in the light of heathens. In fact, they were rather of opinion that when you are on the Continent it is the gentlemanly thing to back the English Church, just as they invariably called for Bass's beer and moutarde anglaise. Civis Romanus sum is the attitude adopted by the British tourist when he takes his walks abroad.
'We are-hum-proposing to-ha-go over to Wiesbaden today,' replied the junior, whom we will designate, by way of nomenclature, Mr. Fair.
Quite so,' chimed in Mr. Dark. There is an excellent English church at Wiesbaden.'
But I fear you will be late,' suggested the handsome stranger.
'N'importe,' was on Mr. Dark's lips, but he checked his tongue, stammering instead something about Afternoon service-everybody goes don't you know-much more attractive-don't you see.'
Whereupon the stranger bowed himself off.
'I say,' remarked Mr. Fair, that was rather a move of mine. Suppose we row across to Rüdesheim, take the train, and dine at Wiesbaden ?'
'My dear boy,' returned his friend, 'you always did rise to the spur of the moment. Whatever you do, don't sit down upon it, or your agonies will be awful.'
By this time the weed, like all sublunary sweets, had dissipated into thin air. So, after just one bottle of a compound said to hail from classic Burton, our pair laboured across the rapid river, to the utter astonishment of the German ferryman, who could not understand how any man living could exert himself except for gelt. The love of the English gentleman for muscular exertion is one of the wonders of the world.
By a little after noon they were landed safely in the princely capital of the Grand Duke of Nassau; a potentate who derived his revenue from the Kursaal, and was the proprietor of the famous Steinberg vineyard. You should have tasted the Steinberg Cabinet in those palmy days! Beate Martine! Beate Martine! It was something to remember as an experience. I am not surprised that Bismarck insisted on the unity of Germany under the hegemony of Prussia, inasmuch as thereby his illustrious master has obtained a monopoly of Steinberg Cabinet. You could never buy it. A bribe alone could extract a bottle out of the hotel-keepers, who by especial favour of the Grand Duke were allowed a few dozen per annum.
Now, Messrs. Dark and Fair being strangers to this grand-ducal town, acted according to their Bradshaw and their appetites. The former informed them that the Hôtel Victoria, close to the station, was an eligible hostelry; the latter suggested edibles.. Ergo, to the hospitable doors of Messrs. Heilbach and Holzapfel they wended their way, and in due course were seated at a table discussing all the delicacies of the season, and listening to the dulcet voice of M. Heilbach, who, espying a brace of eligible visitors, strongly recommended that they should send over to Bingen for their luggage, and remain until farther notice at the Hôtel Victoria.
Now, to gentlemen at leisure and on pleasure bent, the seductions of a good dinner alone, in a flood of glorious sunlight, are potent. Our heroes would not say no.' But it required a little stronger persuasion to rouse them to an emphatic affirmative. Herr Heilbach perceived as much, and he therefore with admirable tact hinted that the tables were opened on Sundays.
I am sorry to have to record that, acting on this hint, Messrs. Fair and Dark sallied forth, and passing under the avenue of dwarf limes,
contrived to gain the temple of Tukè, where, I need not add, were assembled a vast multitude of people, varying in morale from the thief who had bolted with the contents of the till to try his luck up to the noble lord who already had tried his luck once too often. All nations and all languages were represented. Respectability jostled rascality; honour rowed in the same boat with its plebeian opposite. There were present the Yankee rowdy and the Southern gentleman, the German or Russian baron and the British felon, the French Anonyma and the peeress of the United Kingdom. The great ruck of the motley group were educated, and perhaps only too clever. Into the 'gallery' or background of the players elbowed our two English gentlemen, actuated by the least possible desire to risk a florin, and by the greatest amount of eager curiosity.
At one of the tables-it was trente et quarante-there was perceptible a stifled but a wild excitement. It seemed as if the whole of the company would crowd around that one centre. The other tables lost half their occupants. Mr. Fair's quick eye detected something extraordinary, and he eagerly nudged Mr. Dark to follow him. In a trice they were lookers-on at one of those crises in gambling which astonish the old habitués of the tables even more than the sciolists of the game. A tall, thin, gaunt man, with straight yellow hair, whom afterwards they ascertained to be a Pole, had won a heavy stake, and instead of taking it up, closed his eyes, and waited till it multiplied itself beyond the resources of the bank. With something like a sense of awe they heard the slow voice of the croupier calling Faites le jeu, messieurs, and still this man's hoard increased. He seemed as if inspired to place his stake on the winning colour. At length the bank was actually broken, and the winner, accepting a cheque in lieu of cash, left the rooms with his friends, for the time a triumphant man, the hero of a Wiesbaden Sunday.
This scene, the meaning whereof their minds could fully appreciate, affected deeply both Mr. Fair and Mr. Dark. Both agreed that it would be advisable in the course of the evening to return to Bingen, in order to settle their bill and pack up their effects; but that to return early on the morrow and try their luck would be an act of but common prudence. True, they had money enough and to spare; of that consoling fact both were conscious. Nevertheless, on reflection, it seemed a matter of sheer impossibility for any rational being to possess too much money. Too little was to them a definable quantity. Enough, they opined, was a relative term, since what will content A appears starvation to B and luxury to C. As for too much, however, they at all events were not prepared to admit the possibility of such plethora. Hence, to use the expressive phraseology of Mr. Fair, they resolved to have a shunt, feeling morally convinced that what was feasible for a contemptible Pole might surely be effected by a brace of English thoroughbreds.
Of course there was the awkward alternative that they might lose. That, however, they determined to overlook, as being at once absurd and unlikely. Granted that the Kursaal lessee made a profit out of a business, the corollary to be derived therefrom was that more people lose than win at the tables; still, with so many chances offered, it appeared self-evident that losers were indebted for their misfortune to recklessness or want of science. Now they, Messrs. Fair and Dark, were emphatically the reverse of recklesscautious, in fact; whilst, so far as intelligence went, they flattered themselves considerably on having taken a degree at the first university in the world.
Accordingly they carried out their plan in its integrity. On the morrow they returned as early as possible to Wiesbaden, and after discussing a bottle of Herr Heilbach's Assmanshausen and some sublime cutlets, marched solemnly to their fate, having provided themselves with a sufficiency of loose cash by melting a brace of circular notes.
Two hours afterwards, with somewhat elongated countenances, our heroes wended their way back to their hotel. They had not broken the bank, but they had succeeded in emptying their pockets. Evidently the superior intelligence whereon they had relied so firmly had played them false.
'H'm,' grunted Mr. Dark; I should say that for this game it would be an advantage to know the outlines of mathematics. Upon my honour, there is some good in being a Cambridge man after all.' This with acrimony.
'You're wrong,' retorted Mr. Fair, who could lose more happily than his friend. 'I back Oxford logic against the universe. We must argue from particulars to universals-inductive reasoning, you know. Mathematics are quite beside the mark. That's why these systems one hears of come to grief; they are based on figures, not on logic.'
And yet you propose to invent a new system; a sort of philosopher's stone.' I'll tell you
Most decidedly I do, and you shall help me. how. You know those cards which every one seemed to be pricking most diligently to tell the run of the luck?'
'Well, I've picked up a baker's dozen of them on the floor, and I shall get some more to-morrow. These, however, which I have collected, seem to me to contain a principle, and if I can prove that that principle is unerring, I have found a method whereby we may win ad libitum.'
Exactly, my boy, if
'Don't be captious, but give me your closest attention.'