Barry Lyndon, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER IX

I Appear in A Manner Becoming My Name and Lineage

Fortune smiling at parting upon Monsieur de Balibari, enabled him to win a handsome sum with his faro-bank.

At ten o’clock the next morning, the carriage of the Chevalier de Balibari drew up as usual at the door of his hotel; and the Chevalier, who was at his window, seeing the chariot arrive, came down the stairs in his usual stately manner.

‘Where is my rascal Ambrose?’ said he, looking around and not finding his servant to open the door.

‘I will let down the steps for your honour,’ said a gendarme, who was standing by the carriage; and no sooner had the Chevalier entered, than the officer jumped in after him, another mounted the box by the coachman, and the latter began to drive.

‘Good gracious!’ said the Chevalier, ‘what is this?’

‘You are going to drive to the frontier,’ said the gendarme, touching his hat.

‘It is shameful — infamous! I insist upon being put down at the Austrian Ambassador’s house!’

‘I have orders to gag your honour if you cry out,’ said the gendarme.

‘All Europe shall hear of this!’ said the Chevalier, in a fury.

‘As you please,’ answered the officer, and then both relapsed into silence.

The silence was not broken between Berlin and Potsdam, through which place the Chevalier passed as His Majesty was reviewing his guards there, and the regiments of Bulow, Zitwitz, and Henkel de Donnersmark. As the Chevalier passed His Majesty, the King raised his hat and said, ‘Qu’il ne descende pas: je lui souhaite un bon voyage.’ The Chevalier de Balibari acknowledged this courtesy by a profound bow.

They had not got far beyond Potsdam, when boom! the alarm cannon began to roar.

‘It is a deserter,’ said the officer.

‘Is it possible?’ said the Chevalier, and sank back into his carriage again.

Hearing the sound of the guns, the common people came out along the road with fowling-pieces and pitchforks, in hopes to catch the truant. The gendarmes seemed very anxious to be on the look-out for him too. The price of a deserter was fifty crowns to those who brought him in.

‘Confess, sir,’ said the Chevalier to the police officer in the carriage with him, ‘that you long to be rid of me, from whom you can get nothing, and to be on the look-out for the deserter who may bring you in fifty crowns? Why not tell the postilion to push on? You may land me at the frontier and get back to your hunt all the sooner.’ The officer told the postillion to get on; but the way seemed intolerably long to the Chevalier. Once or twice he thought he heard the noise of horse galloping behind: his own horses did not seem to go two miles an hour; but they DID go. The black and white barriers came in view at last, hard by Bruck, and opposite them the green and yellow of Saxony. The Saxon custom-house officers came out.

‘I have no luggage,’ said the Chevalier.

‘The gentleman has nothing contraband,’ said the Prussian officers, grinning, and took their leave of their prisoner with much respect.

The Chevalier de Balibari gave them a Frederic apiece.

‘Gentlemen,’ said he, ‘I wish you a good day. Will you please to go to the house whence we set out this morning, and tell my man there to send on my baggage to the “Three Kings” at Dresden?’

Then ordering fresh horses, the Chevalier set off on his journey for that capital. I need not tell you that I was the Chevalier.

‘From the Chevalier de Balibari to Redmond Barry, Esquire, Gentilhomme Anglais, a l’Hotel des 3 Couronnes, a Dresde en Saxe.

‘Nephew Redmond — This comes to you by a sure hand, no other than Mr. Lumpit of the English Mission, who is acquainted, as all Berlin will be directly, with our wonderful story. They only know half as yet; they only know that a deserter went off in my clothes, and all are in admiration of your cleverness and valour.

‘I confess that for two hours after your departure I lay in bed in no small trepidation, thinking whether His Majesty might have a fancy to send me to Spandau, for the freak of which we had both been guilty. But in that case I had taken my precautions: I had written a statement of the case to my chief, the Austrian Minister, with the full and true story how you had been set to spy upon me, how you turned out to be my very near relative, how you had been kidnapped yourself into the service, and how we both had determined to effect your escape. The laugh would have been so much against the King, that he never would have dared to lay a finger upon me. What would Monsieur de Voltaire have said to such an act of tyranny? But it was a lucky day, and everything has turned out to my wish. As I lay in my bed two and a half hours after your departure, in comes your ex-Captain Potzdorff. “Redmont!” says he, in his imperious High-Dutch way, “are you there?” No answer. “The rogue is gone out,” said he; and straightway makes for my red box where I keep my love-letters, my glass eye which I used to wear, my favourite lucky dice with which I threw the thirteen mains at Prague; my two sets of Paris teeth, and my other private matters that you know of.

‘He first tried a bunch of keys, but none of them would fit the little English lock. Then my gentleman takes out of his pocket a chisel and hammer, and falls to work like a professional burglar, actually bursting open my little box!

‘Now was my time to act. I advance towards him armed with an immense water-jug. I come noiselessly up to him just as he had broken the box, and with all my might I deal him such a blow over the head as smashes the water-jug to atoms, and sends my captain with a snort lifeless to the ground. I thought I had killed him.

‘Then I ring all the bells in the house; and shout and swear and scream, “Thieves! — thieves! — landlord! — murder! — fire!” until the whole household come tumbling up the stairs. “Where is my servant?” roar I. “Who dares to rob me in open day? Look at the villain whom I find in the act of breaking my chest open! Send for the police, send for his Excellency the Austrian Minister! all Europe shall know of this insult!”

‘“Dear Heaven!” says the landlord, “we saw you go away three hours ago!”

‘“ME!” says I; “why, man, I have been in bed all the morning. I am ill — I have taken physic — I have not left the house this morning! Where is that scoundrel Ambrose? But, stop! where are my clothes and wig?” for I was standing before them in my chamber-gown and stockings, with my nightcap on.

‘“I have it — I have it!” says a little chambermaid: “Ambrose is off in your honour’s dress.”

‘“And my money — my money!” says I; “where is my purse with forty-eight Frederics in it? But we have one of the villains left. Officers, seize him!”

‘“It’s the young Herr von Potzdorff!” says the landlord, more and more astonished.

‘“What! a gentleman breaking open my trunk with hammer and chisel — impossible!”

‘Herr von Potzdorff was returning to life by this time, with a swelling on his skull as big as a saucepan; and the officers carried him off, and the judge who was sent for dressed a proces verbal of the matter, and I demanded a copy of it, which I sent forthwith to my ambassador.

‘I was kept a prisoner to my room the next day, and a judge, a general, and a host of lawyers, officers, and officials, were set upon me to bully, perplex, threaten, and cajole me. I said it was true you had told me that you had been kidnapped into the service, that I thought you were released from it, and that I had you with the best recommendations. I appealed to my Minister, who was bound to come to my aid; and, to make a long story short, poor Potzdorff is now on his way to Spandau; and his uncle, the elder Potzdorff, has brought me five hundred louis, with a humble request that I would leave Berlin forthwith, and hush up this painful matter.

‘I shall be with you at the “Three Crowns” the day after you receive this. Ask Mr. Lumpit to dinner. Do not spare your money — you are my son. Everybody in Dresden knows your loving uncle,

‘THE CHEVALIER DE BALIBARI.’

And by these wonderful circumstances I was once more free again: and I kept my resolution then made, never to fall more into the hands of any recruiter, and henceforth and for ever to be a gentleman.

With this sum of money, and a good run of luck which ensued presently, we were enabled to make no ungenteel figure. My uncle speedily joined me at the inn at Dresden, where, under pretence of illness, I had kept quiet until his arrival; and, as the Chevalier de Balibari was in particular good odour at the Court of Dresden (having been an intimate acquaintance of the late monarch, the Elector, King of Poland, the most dissolute and agreeable of European princes), I was speedily in the very best society of the Saxon capital: where I may say that my own person and manners, and the singularity of the adventures in which I had been a hero, made me especially welcome. There was not a party of the nobility to which the two gentlemen of Balibari were not invited. I had the honour of kissing hands and being graciously received at Court by the Elector, and I wrote home to my mother such a flaming description of my prosperity, that the good soul very nearly forgot her celestial welfare and her confessor, the Reverend Joshua Jowls, in order to come after me to Germany; but travelling was very difficult in those days, and so we were spared the arrival of the good lady.

I think the soul of Harry Barry, my father, who was always so genteel in his turn of mind, must have rejoiced to see the position which I now occupied; all the women anxious to receive me, all the men in a fury; hobnobbing with dukes and counts at supper, dancing minuets with high-well-born baronesses (as they absurdly call themselves in Germany), with lovely excellencies, nay, with highnesses and transparencies themselves: who could compete with the gallant young Irish noble? who would suppose that seven weeks before I had been a common — bah! I am ashamed to think of it! One of the pleasantest moments of my life was at a grand gala at the Electoral Palace, where I had the honour of walking a polonaise with no other than the Margravine of Bayreuth, old Fritz’s own sister: old Fritz’s, whose hateful blue-baize livery I had worn, whose belts I had pipeclayed, and whose abominable rations of small beer and sauerkraut I had swallowed for five years.

Having won an English chariot from an Italian gentleman at play, my uncle had our arms painted on the panels in a more splendid way than ever, surmounted (as we were descended from the ancient kings) with an Irish crown of the most splendid size and gilding. I had this crown in lieu of a coronet engraved on a large amethyst signet-ring worn on my forefinger; and I don’t mind confessing that I used to say the jewel had been in my family for several thousand years, having originally belonged to my direct ancestor, his late Majesty King Brian Boru, or Barry. I warrant the legends of the Heralds’ College are not more authentic than mine was.

At first the Minister and the gentlemen at the English hotel used to be rather shy of us two Irish noblemen, and questioned our pretensions to rank. The Minister was a lord’s son, it is true, but he was likewise a grocer’s grandson; and so I told him at Count Lobkowitz’s masquerade. My uncle, like a noble gentleman as he was, knew the pedigree of every considerable family in Europe. He said it was the only knowledge befitting a gentleman; and when we were not at cards, we would pass hours over Gwillim or D’Hozier, reading the genealogies, learning the blazons, and making ourselves acquainted with the relationships of our class. Alas! the noble science is going into disrepute now: so are cards, without which studies and pastimes I can hardly conceive how a man of honour can exist.

My first affair of honour with a man of undoubted fashion was on the score of my nobility, with young Sir Rumford Bumford of the English embassy; my uncle at the same time sending a cartel to the Minister, who declined to come. I shot Sir Rumford in the leg, amidst the tears of joy of my uncle, who accompanied me to the ground; and I promise you that none of the young gentlemen questioned the authenticity of my pedigree, or laughed at my Irish crown again.

What a delightful life did we now lead! I knew I was born a gentleman, from the kindly way in which I took to the business: as business it certainly is. For though it SEEMS all pleasure, yet I assure any low-bred persons who may chance to read this, that we, their betters, have to work as well as they: though I did not rise until noon, yet had I not been up at play until long past midnight? Many a time have we come home to bed as the troops were marching out to early parade; and oh! it did my heart good to hear the bugles blowing the reveille before daybreak, or to see the regiments marching out to exercise, and think that I was no longer bound to that disgusting discipline, but restored to my natural station.

I came into it at once, and as if I had never done anything else all my life. I had a gentleman to wait upon me, a French friseur to dress my hair of a morning; I knew the taste of chocolate as by intuition almost, and could distinguish between the right Spanish and the French before I had been a week in my new position; I had rings on all my fingers, watches in both my fobs, canes, trinkets, and snuffboxes of all sorts, and each outvying the other in elegance. I had the finest natural taste for lace and china of any man I ever knew; I could judge a horse as well as any Jew dealer in Germany; in shooting and athletic exercises I was unrivalled; I could not spell, but I could speak German and French cleverly. I had at the least twelve suits of clothes; three richly embroidered with gold, two laced with silver, a garnet-coloured velvet pelisse lined with sable; one of French grey, silver-laced, and lined with chinchilla. I had damask morning robes. I took lessons on the guitar, and sang French catches exquisitely. Where, in fact, was there a more accomplished gentleman than Redmond de Balibari?

All the luxuries becoming my station could not, of course, be purchased without credit and money: to procure which, as our patrimony had been wasted by our ancestors, and we were above the vulgarity and slow returns and doubtful chances of trade, my uncle kept a faro-bank. We were in partnership with a Florentine, well known in all the Courts of Europe, the Count Alessandro Pippi, as skilful a player as ever was seen; but he turned out a sad knave latterly, and I have discovered that his countship was a mere imposture. My uncle was maimed, as I have said; Pippi, like all impostors, was a coward; it was my unrivalled skill with the sword, and readiness to use it, that maintained the reputation of the firm, so to speak, and silenced many a timid gambler who might have hesitated to pay his losings. We always played on parole with anybody: any person, that is, of honour and noble lineage. We never pressed for our winnings or declined to receive promissory notes in lieu of gold. But woe to the man who did not pay when the note became due! Redmond de Balibari was sure to wait upon him with his bill, and I promise you there were very few bad debts: on the contrary, gentlemen were grateful to us for our forbearance, and our character for honour stood unimpeached. In later times, a vulgar national prejudice has chosen to cast a slur upon the character of men of honour engaged in the profession of play; but I speak of the good old days in Europe, before the cowardice of the French aristocracy (in the shameful Revolution, which served them right) brought discredit and ruin upon our order. They cry fie now upon men engaged in play; but I should like to know how much more honourable THEIR modes of livelihood are than ours. The broker of the Exchange who bulls and bears, and buys and sells, and dabbles with lying loans, and trades on State secrets, what is he but a gamester? The merchant who deals in teas and tallow, is he any better? His bales of dirty indigo are his dice, his cards come up every year instead of every ten minutes, and the sea is his green table. You call the profession of the law an honourable one, where a man will lie for any bidder; lie down poverty for the sake of a fee from wealth, lie down right because wrong is in his brief. You call a doctor an honourable man, a swindling quack, who does not believe in the nostrums which he prescribes, and takes your guinea for whispering in your ear that it is a fine morning; and yet, forsooth, a gallant man who sits him down before the baize and challenges all comers, his money against theirs, his fortune against theirs, is proscribed by your modern moral world. It is a conspiracy of the middle classes against gentlemen: it is only the shopkeeper cant which is to go down nowadays. I say that play was an institution of chivalry: it has been wrecked, along with other privileges of men of birth. When Seingalt engaged a man for six-and-thirty hours without leaving the table, do you think he showed no courage? How have we had the best blood, and the brightest eyes, too, of Europe throbbing round the table, as I and my uncle have held the cards and the bank against some terrible player, who was matching some thousands out of his millions against our all which was there on the baize! when we engaged that daring Alexis Kossloffsky, and won seven thousand louis in a single coup, had we lost, we should have been beggars the next day; when HE lost, he was only a village and a few hundred serfs in pawn the worse. When, at Toeplitz, the Duke of Courland brought fourteen lacqueys, each with four bags of florins, and challenged our bank to play against the sealed bags, what did we ask? ‘Sir,’ said we, ‘we have but eighty thousand florins in bank, or two hundred thousand at three months. If your Highness’s bags do not contain more than eighty thousand, we will meet you.’ And we did, and after eleven hours’ play, in which our bank was at one time reduced to two hundred and three ducats, we won seventeen thousand florins of him. Is THIS not something like boldness? does THIS profession not require skill, and perseverance, and bravery? Four crowned heads looked on at the game, and an Imperial princess, when I turned up the ace of hearts and made Paroli, burst into tears. No man on the European Continent held a higher position than Redmond Barry then; and when the Duke of Courland lost, he was pleased to say that we had won nobly; and so we had, and spent nobly what we won.

At this period my uncle, who attended mass every day regularly, always put ten florins into the box. Wherever we went, the tavern-keepers made us more welcome than royal princes. We used to give away the broken meat from our suppers and dinners to scores of beggars who blessed us. Every man who held my horse or cleaned my boots got a ducat for his pains. I was, I may say, the author of our common good fortune, by putting boldness into our play. Pippi was a faint-hearted fellow, who was always cowardly when he began to win. My uncle (I speak with great respect of him) was too much of a devotee, and too much of a martinet at play ever to win GREATLY. His moral courage was unquestionable, but his daring was not sufficient. Both of these my seniors very soon acknowledged me to be their chief, and hence the style of splendour I have described.

I have mentioned H.I.H. the Princess Frederica Amelia, who was affected by my success, and shall always think with gratitude of the protection with which that exalted lady honoured me. She was passionately fond of play, as indeed were the ladies of almost all the Courts in Europe in those days, and hence would often arise no small trouble to us; for the truth must be told, that ladies love to play, certainly, but not to PAY. The point of honour is not understood by the charming sex; and it was with the greatest difficulty, in our peregrinations to the various Courts of Northern Europe, that we could keep them from the table, could get their money if they lost, or, if they paid, prevent them from using the most furious and extraordinary means of revenge. In those great days of our fortune, I calculate that we lost no less than fourteen thousand louis by such failures of payment. A princess of a ducal house gave us paste instead of diamonds, which she had solemnly pledged to us; another organised a robbery of the Crown jewels, and would have charged the theft upon us, but for Pippi’s caution, who had kept back a note of hand ‘her High Transparency’ gave us, and sent it to his ambassador; by which precaution I do believe our necks were saved. A third lady of high (but not princely) rank, after I had won a considerable sum in diamonds and pearls from her, sent her lover with a band of cut-throats to waylay me; and it was only by extraordinary courage, skill, and good luck, that I escaped from these villains, wounded myself, but leaving the chief aggressor dead on the ground: my sword entered his eye and broke there, and the villains who were with him fled, seeing their chief fall. They might have finished me else, for I had no weapon of defence.

Thus it will be seen that our life, for all its splendour, was one of extreme danger and difficulty, requiring high talents and courage for success; and often, when we were in a full vein of success, we were suddenly driven from our ground on account of some freak of a reigning prince, some intrigue of a disappointed mistress, or some quarrel with the police minister. If the latter personage were not bribed or won over, nothing was more common than for us to receive a sudden order of departure; and so, perforce, we lived a wandering and desultory life.

Though the gains of such a life are, as I have said, very great, yet the expenses are enormous. Our appearance and retinue was too splendid for the narrow mind of Pippi, who was always crying out at my extravagance, though obliged to own that his own meanness and parsimony would never have achieved the great victories which my generosity had won. With all our success, our capital was not very great. That speech to the Duke of Courland, for instance, was a mere boast as far as the two hundred thousand florins at three months were concerned. We had no credit, and no money beyond that on our table, and should have been forced to fly if his Highness had won and accepted our bills. Sometimes, too, we were hit very hard. A bank is a certainty, ALMOST; but now and then a bad day will come; and men who have the courage of good fortune, at least, ought to meet bad luck well: the former, believe me, is the harder task of the two.

One of these evil chances befell us in the Duke of Baden’s territory, at Mannheim. Pippi, who was always on the look-out for business, offered to make a bank at the inn where we put up, and where the officers of the Duke’s cuirassiers supped; and some small play accordingly took place, and some wretched crowns and louis changed hands: I trust, rather to the advantage of these poor gentlemen of the army, who are surely the poorest of all devils under the sun.

But, as ill luck would have it, a couple of young students from the neighbouring University of Heidelberg, who had come to Mannheim for their quarter’s revenue, and so had some hundred of dollars between them, were introduced to the table, and, having never played before, began to win (as is always the case). As ill luck would have it, too, they were tipsy, and against tipsiness I have often found the best calculations of play fail entirely. They played in the most perfectly insane way, and yet won always. Every card they backed turned up in their favour. They had won a hundred louis from us in ten minutes; and, seeing that Pippi was growing angry and the luck against us, I was for shutting up the bank for the night, saying the play was only meant for a joke, and that now we had had enough.

But Pippi, who had quarrelled with me that day, was determined to proceed, and the upshot was, that the students played and won more; then they lent money to the officers, who began to win, too; and in this ignoble way, in a tavern room thick with tobacco-smoke, across a deal table besmeared with beer and liquor, and to a parcel of hungry subalterns and a pair of beardless students, three of the most skilful and renowned players in Europe lost seventeen hundred louis! I blush now when I think of it. It was like Charles XII or Richard Coeur de Lion falling before a petty fortress and an unknown hand (as my friend Mr. Johnson wrote), and was, in fact, a most shameful defeat.

Nor was this the only defeat. When our poor conquerors had gone off, bewildered with the treasure which fortune had flung in their way (one of these students was called the Baron de Clootz, perhaps he who afterwards lost his head at Paris), Pippi resumed the quarrel of the morning, and some exceedingly high words passed between us. Among other things I recollect I knocked him down with a stool, and was for flinging him out of the window; but my uncle, who was cool, and had been keeping Lent with his usual solemnity, interposed between us, and a reconciliation took place, Pippi apologising and confessing he had been wrong.

I ought to have doubted, however, the sincerity of the treacherous Italian; indeed, as I never before believed a word that he said in his life, I know not why I was so foolish as to credit him now, and go to bed, leaving the keys of our cash-box with him. It contained, after our loss to the cuirassiers, in bills and money, near upon L8000 sterling. Pippi insisted that our reconciliation should be ratified over a bowl of hot wine, and I have no doubt put some soporific drug into the liquor; for my uncle and I both slept till very late the next morning, and woke with violent headaches and fever: we did not quit our beds till noon. He had been gone twelve hours, leaving our treasury empty; and behind him a sort of calculation, by which he strove to make out that this was his share of the profits, and that all the losses had been incurred without his consent.

Thus, after eighteen months, we had to begin the world again. But was I cast down? No. Our wardrobes still were worth a very large sum of money; for gentlemen did not dress like parish-clerks in those days, and a person of fashion would often wear a suit of clothes and a set of ornaments that would be a shop-boy’s fortune; so, without repining for one single minute, or saying a single angry word (my uncle’s temper in this respect was admirable), or allowing the secret of our loss to be known to a mortal soul, we pawned three-fourths of our jewels and clothes to Moses Lowe the banker, and with the produce of the sale, and our private pocket-money, amounting in all to something less than 800 louis, we took the field again.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07