At this festival the magnificence displayed was such as had not been known in the little German place since the days of the prodigal Victor XIV. All the neighbouring Princes, Princesses, and Grandees were invited to the feast. Beds rose to half a crown per night in Pumpernickel, and the Army was exhausted in providing guards of honour for the Highnesses, Serenities, and Excellencies who arrived from all quarters. The Princess was married by proxy, at her father's residence, by the Count de Schlusselback. Snuff-boxes were given away in profusion (as we learned from the Court jeweller, who sold and afterwards bought them again), and bushels of the Order of Saint Michael of Pumpernickel were sent to the nobles of the Court, while hampers of the cordons and decorations of the Wheel of St. Catherine of Schlippenschloppen were brought to ours. The French envoy got both. "He is covered with ribbons like a prize cart- horse," Tapeworm said, who was not allowed by the rules of his service to take any decorations: "Let him have the cordons; but with whom is the victory?" The fact is, it was a triumph of British diplomacy, the French party having proposed and tried their utmost to carry a marriage with a Princess of the House of Potztausend- Donnerwetter, whom, as a matter of course, we opposed.
Everybody was asked to the fetes of the marriage. Garlands and triumphal arches were hung across the road to welcome the young bride. The great Saint Michael's Fountain ran with uncommonly sour wine, while that in the Artillery Place frothed with beer. The great waters played; and poles were put up in the park and gardens for the happy peasantry, which they might climb at their leisure, carrying off watches, silver forks, prize sausages hung with pink ribbon, &c., at the top. Georgy got one, wrenching it off, having swarmed up the pole to the delight of the spectators, and sliding down with the rapidity of a fall of water. But it was for the glory's sake merely. The boy gave the sausage to a peasant, who had very nearly seized it, and stood at the foot of the mast, blubbering, because he was unsuccessful.
At the French Chancellerie they had six more lampions in their illumination than ours had; but our transparency, which represented the young Couple advancing and Discord flying away, with the most ludicrous likeness to the French Ambassador, beat the French picture hollow; and I have no doubt got Tapeworm the advancement and the Cross of the Bath which he subsequently attained.
Crowds of foreigners arrived for the fetes, and of English, of course. Besides the Court balls, public balls were given at the Town Hall and the Redoute, and in the former place there was a room for trente-et-quarante and roulette established, for the week of the festivities only, and by one of the great German companies from Ems or Aix-la-Chapelle. The officers or inhabitants of the town were not allowed to play at these games, but strangers, peasants, ladies were admitted, and any one who chose to lose or win money.
That little scapegrace Georgy Osborne amongst others, whose pockets were always full of dollars and whose relations were away at the grand festival of the Court, came to the Stadthaus Ball in company of his uncle's courier, Mr. Kirsch, and having only peeped into a play-room at Baden-Baden when he hung on Dobbin's arm, and where, of course, he was not permitted to gamble, came eagerly to this part of the entertainment and hankered round the tables where the croupiers and the punters were at work. Women were playing; they were masked, some of them; this license was allowed in these wild times of carnival.
A woman with light hair, in a low dress by no means so fresh as it had been, and with a black mask on, through the eyelets of which her eyes twinkled strangely, was seated at one of the roulette-tables with a card and a pin and a couple of florins before her. As the croupier called out the colour and number, she pricked on the card with great care and regularity, and only ventured her money on the colours after the red or black had come up a certain number of times. It was strange to look at her.
But in spite of her care and assiduity she guessed wrong and the last two florins followed each other under the croupier's rake, as he cried out with his inexorable voice the winning colour and number. She gave a sigh, a shrug with her shoulders, which were already too much out of her gown, and dashing the pin through the card on to the table, sat thrumming it for a while. Then she looked round her and saw Georgy's honest face staring at the scene. The little scamp! What business had he to be there?
When she saw the boy, at whose face she looked hard through her shining eyes and mask, she said, "Monsieur n'est pas joueur?"
"Non, Madame," said the boy; but she must have known, from his accent, of what country he was, for she answered him with a slight foreign tone. "You have nevare played — will you do me a littl' favor?"
"What is it?" said Georgy, blushing again. Mr. Kirsch was at work for his part at the rouge et noir and did not see his young master.
"Play this for me, if you please; put it on any number, any number." And she took from her bosom a purse, and out of it a gold piece, the only coin there, and she put it into George's hand. The boy laughed and did as he was bid.
The number came up sure enough. There is a power that arranges that, they say, for beginners.
"Thank you," said she, pulling the money towards her, "thank you. What is your name?"
"My name's Osborne," said Georgy, and was fingering in his own pockets for dollars, and just about to make a trial, when the Major, in his uniform, and Jos, en Marquis, from the Court ball, made their appearance. Other people, finding the entertainment stupid and preferring the fun at the Stadthaus, had quitted the Palace ball earlier; but it is probable the Major and Jos had gone home and found the boy's absence, for the former instantly went up to him and, taking him by the shoulder, pulled him briskly back from the place of temptation. Then, looking round the room, he saw Kirsch employed as we have said, and going up to him, asked how he dared to bring Mr. George to such a place.
"Laissez-moi tranquille," said Mr. Kirsch, very much excited by play and wine. "ll faut s'amuser, parbleu. Je ne suis pas au service de Monsieur."
Seeing his condition the Major did not choose to argue with the man, but contented himself with drawing away George and asking Jos if he would come away. He was standing close by the lady in the mask, who was playing with pretty good luck now, and looking on much interested at the game.
"Hadn't you better come, Jos," the Major said, "with George and me?"
"I'll stop and go home with that rascal, Kirsch," Jos said; and for the same reason of modesty, which he thought ought to be preserved before the boy, Dobbin did not care to remonstrate with Jos, but left him and walked home with Georgy.
"Did you play?" asked the Major when they were out and on their way home.
The boy said "No."
"Give me your word of honour as a gentleman that you never will."
"Why?" said the boy; "it seems very good fun." And, in a very eloquent and impressive manner, the Major showed him why he shouldn't, and would have enforced his precepts by the example of Georgy's own father, had he liked to say anything that should reflect on the other's memory. When he had housed him, he went to bed and saw his light, in the little room outside of Amelia's, presently disappear. Amelia's followed half an hour afterwards. I don't know what made the Major note it so accurately.