M. Olivier de ---- was a dissipated young gentleman. His family was one of the oldest and most respectable of the country, and deservedly enjoyed the highest consideration. M. Olivier de ----, his father, was not rich, and therefore could not do much for his son; the consequence was that owing to his outrageous prodigality the son was sorely pinched for means to keep up his position; he exhausted his credit, and was soon overwhelmed with debt. Among the companions of his dissipation was a young man whose abundant means filled him with admiration and envy; he lived like a prince and had not a single creditor. One day he asked his friend to explain the mystery of the fact that, without possessing any fortune, he could gratify all his tastes and fancies, whilst he himself, with certain resources, was compelled to submit to privations, still getting into debt.
Chauvignac--such was the name of the friend thus addressed--was a card-sharper, and he instantly seized the opportunity to make something out of the happy disposition of this modern prodigal son, this scion of gentility. With the utmost frankness he explained to the young man his wonderful method of keeping his pockets full of money, and showed that nothing could be easier than for Olivier to go and do likewise in his terrible condition;--in short, on one hand there were within his grasp, riches, pleasure, all manner of enjoyment; on the other, pitiless creditors, ruin, misery, and contempt. The tempter, moreover, offered to initiate his listener in his infallible method of getting rich. In his frame of mind Olivier yielded to the temptation, with the full determination, if not to get money by cheating at cards, at any rate to learn the method which might serve as a means of self-defense should he not think proper to use it for attack--such was the final argument suggested by the human Mephistopheles to his pupil.
Taking Olivier to his house, he showed him a pack of cards. 'Now here is a pack of cards,' he said; 'there seems to be nothing remarkable about it, does there?' Olivier examined the pack and declared that the cards did not appear to differ in the least from all others. 'Well,' said Chauvignac, 'nevertheless they have been subjected to a preparation called biseautage, or having one end of the cards made narrower than the other. This disposition enables us to remove from the pack such and such cards and then to class them in the necessary order so that they may get into the hand of the operator.' Chauvignac then proceeded to apply his precepts by an example, and although the young man had no particular qualification for the art of legerdemain, he succeeded at once to admiration in a game at Ecarte, for he had already mastered the first process of cheating. Having thus, as he thought, sufficiently compromised his victim, Chauvignac left him to his temptations, and took leave of him.
Two days afterwards the professor returned to his pupil and invited him to accompany him on a pleasure trip. Olivier excused himself on account of his desperate condition--one of his creditors being in pursuit of him for a debt of one thousand francs. 'Is that all?' said Chauvignac; and pulling out his pocket-book he added,--'Here's a bank-note; you can repay me to- morrow.' 'Why, man, you are mad!' exclaimed Olivier. 'Be it so,' said Chauvignac; 'and in my madness I give you credit for another thousand-franc bank-note to go and get thirty thousand francs which are waiting for you.' 'Now, do explain yourself, for you are driving ME mad.' 'Nothing more easy. Here is the fact,' said Chauvignac. 'M. le Comte de Vandermool, a wealthy Belgian capitalist, a desperate gamester if ever there was one, and who can lose a hundred thousand francs without much inconvenience, is now at Boulogne, where he will remain a week. This millionnaire must be thinned a little. Nothing is easier. One of my friends and confreres, named Chaffard, is already with the count to prepare the way. We have only now to set to work. You are one of us--that's agreed--and in a few days you will return, to satisfy your creditors and buy your mistress a shawl.'
'Stop a bit. You are going too fast. Wait a little. I haven't as yet said Yes,' replied Olivier. 'I don't want your Yes now; you will say it at Boulogne. For the present go and pay your bill. We set out in two hours; the post-horses are already ordered; we shall start from my house: be punctual.'
The party reached Boulogne and put up at the Hotel de l'Univers. On their arrival they were informed that no time was to be lost, as the count talked of leaving next day. The two travelers took a hasty dinner, and at once proceeded to the apartment of the Belgian millionaire. Chaffard, who had preceded them, introduced them as two of his friends, whose property was situated in the vicinity of Boulogne.
M. le Comte de Vandermool was a man about fifty years of age, with an open, candid countenance. He wore several foreign decorations. He received the two gentlemen with charming affability; he did more; he invited them to spend the evening with him. Of course the invitation was accepted. When the conversation began to flag, the count proposed a game--which was also, of course, very readily agreed to by the three comperes.
While the table was prepared, Chauvignac gave his young friend two packs of cards, to be substituted for those which should be furnished by the count. Ecarte was to be the game, and Olivier was to play, the two other associates having pretended to know nothing about the game, and saying that they would content themselves by betting with each other. Of course Olivier was rather surprised at this declaration, but he soon understood by certain signs from Chauvignac that this reservation was intended to do away with the count's suspicions, in case of their success.
The count, enormously rich as he was, would only play for bank-notes. 'Metal smells bad in a room,' he said. The novice, at first confused at being a party to the intended roguery, followed the dictates of his conscience and, neglecting the advantages of his hands, trusted merely to chance. The result was that the only thousand-franc bank-note he had was speedily transferred to the count. At that moment Chauvignac gave him a significant look, and this, together with the desire to retrieve his loss, induced him to put into execution the culpable manoeuvres which his friend had taught him. His work was of the easiest; the count was so short-sighted that he had to keep his nose almost upon the cards to see them. Chance now turned, as might be expected, and thousand-franc bank-notes soon accumulated in the hands of Olivier, who, intoxicated by this possession, worked away with incredible ardour. Moreover, the count was not in the least out of humour at losing so immensely; on the contrary, he was quite jovial; indeed, from his looks he might have been supposed to be the winner. At length, however, he said with a smile, taking a pinch from his golden snuff-box--'I am evidently not in vein. I have lost eighty thousand francs. I see that I shall soon be in for one hundred thousand. But it is proper, my dear sir, that I should say I don't make a habit of losing more than this sum at a sitting; and if it must be so, I propose to sup before losing my last twenty thousand francs. Perhaps this will change my vein. I think you will grant me this indulgence.' The proposal was agreed to.
Olivier, almost out of his senses at the possession of eighty thousand francs, could not resist the desire of expressing his gratitude to Chauvignac, which he did, grasping his hand with emotion and leading him into a corner of the room.
Alas! the whole thing was only an infamous conspiracy to ruin the young man. The Belgian capitalist, this count apparently so respectable, was only an expert card-sharper whom Chauvignac had brought from Paris to play out the vile tragi-comedy, the denouement of which would be the ruin of the unfortunate Olivier.
At the moment when the latter left the card-table to go to Chauvignac, the pretended millionnaire changed the pack of cards they had been using for two other packs.
Supper went off very pleasantly. They drank very moderately, for the head had to be kept cool for what had to follow. They soon sat down again at the card-table. 'Now,' said the Parisian card- shaper, on resuming his seat, 'I should like to end the matter quickly: I will stake the twenty thousand francs in a lump.'
Olivier, confident of success after his previous achievement, readily assented; but, alas, the twenty thousand francs of which he made sure was won by his adversary.
Forty thousand francs went in like manner. Olivier, breathless, utterly prostrate, knew not what to do. All his manoeuvres were practised in vain; he could give himself none but small cards. His opponent had his hands full of trumps, and HE dealt them to him! In his despair he consulted Chauvignac by a look, and the latter made a sign to him to go on. The wretched young man went on, and lost again. Bewildered, beside himself, he staked fabulous sums to try and make up for his losses, and very soon found, in his turn, that he owed his adversary one hundred thousand francs!
At this point the horrible denouement commenced. The pretended count stopped, and crossing his arms on his breast, said sternly--'Monsieur Olivier de ----, you must be very rich to stake so glibly such enormous sums. Of course you know your fortune and can square yourself with it; but, however rich you may be, you ought to know that it is not sufficient to lose a hundred thousand francs, but that you must pay it. Besides, I have given you the example. Begin, therefore, by putting down the sum I have won from you; after which we can go on.' . . .
'Nothing can be more proper, sir,' stammered out young Olivier, 'I am ready to satisfy you; but, after all, you know that . . . . gaming debts . . . . my word . . . .'
'The d--l! sir,' said the pretended count, giving the table a violent blow with his fist--'Why do you talk to me about your WORD. Gad! You are well entitled to appeal to the engagements of honour! Well! We have now to play another game on this table, and we must speak out plainly. Monsieur Olivier de ----, you are a rogue . . . Yes, a rogue! The cards we have been using are biseautees and YOU brought them hither.'
'Sir! . . You insult me!' said Olivier.
'Indeed? Well, sir, that astonishes me!' replied the false Belgian ironically.
'That is too much, sir. I demand satisfaction, and that on the very instant. Do you understand me? Let us go out at once.'
'No! no! We must end this quarrel here, sir. Look here--your two friends shall be your "seconds;" I am now going to send for MINE.'
The card-sharper, who had risen at these words, rang the bell violently. His own servant entered. 'Go,' said he, 'to the Procureur de Roi, and request him to come here on a very important matter. Be as quick as you can.'
'Oh, sir, be merciful! Don't ruin me!' exclaimed the wretched Olivier; 'I will do what you like.' At these words, the sharper told his servant to wait behind the door, and to execute his order if he should hear nothing to the contrary in ten minutes.
'And now, sir,' continued the sharper, turning to Olivier, 'and now, sir, for the business between you and me. These cards have been substituted by you in the place of those which I supplied . . . You must do them up, write your name upon the cover, and seal it with the coat of arms on your ring.'
Olivier looked first at Chauvignac and then at Chaffard, but both the fellows only made signs to him to resign himself to the circumstances. He did what was ordered.
'That is not all, sir,' added the false Belgian; 'I have fairly won money from you and have a right to demand a guarantee for payment. You must draw me short bills for the sum of one hundred thousand francs.'
As the wretched young man hesitated to comply with this demand, his pitiless creditor rose to ring the bell.
'Don't ring, sir, don't ring,' said Olivier, 'I'll sign.'
He signed, and the villany was consummated. Olivier returned to his family and made an humble avowal of his fault and his engagements. His venerable father received the terrible blow with resignation, and paid the 100,000 francs, estimating his honour far above that amount of money.
An old tale by Robert-Hondin, Tricherics des Grecs devoilees, retold by Andrew Steinmetz, Esq. (c. 1860). Steinmetz was an interesting character and among other things was the Officer Instructor of Musketry for the Queen's Own Light Infantry Militia. This tale struck me because if we replaced Olivier with "Seller," Chauvignac with "Banker," and the Belgian Capitalist with "Private Equity Partner," it could have taken place in 2005.