Cards With A Stranger

Moonraker Chapter Six

It’s been six months since I’ve updated you on James’ adventure with Sir Hugo Drax and the Moonraker. A lot has happened here which has kept me from properly updating this page. To start with, I got married in May, and the preparation for that event and the adjustments afterwards ate up a lot of my free time. I hope to get back on a regular post schedule here soon.

Bond and M are set to start their Bridge match with Sir Hugo Drax and his playing partner Meyer at Blades. The stakes are set right off the bat as Drax asks M if Bond knows what he is in for, and then suggests stakes of One and One. Bond, feeling the effects of the Benzedrine reacts by suggesting Five and Five – Drax’s known limit, and an amount that could double Bond’s yearly income in just four rubbers.

The Moonraker was quickly forgotten as the game became a private affair between Bond and Drax. Bond settles in with his cheroot and strong black coffee, after which he has a fat measure of pale brandy. He smiles at the taste of it. M takes note of the smile.

‘Hope you like it,’ he said. ‘Comes from one of the Rothschild estates at Cognac. About a hundred years ago one of the family bequeathed us a barrel of it every year in perpetuity. During the war they hid a barrel for us every year and then sent us over the whole lot in 1945. Ever since then we’ve been drinking doubles. And,’ he gathered up his cards, ‘now we shall have to concentrate.’

Bond and M take the first rubber, Bond notes that Drax suggests that they don’t cut, but instead go straight on, meaning that he gets to deal again. Drax manages this time to pull off an improbable pair of finesses, which have his partner, Meyer asking in wonderment how he does it. Bond decides to start the needle. “Memory” he chimes in. It prickles Drax, until Bond placates him by adding “and card sense”. Still, Bond has planted a seed in Drax’s head.

M orders Bond another bottle of champagne, and Bond starts to play the role of the careless drunk, taking on Drax’s bet of an additional hundred on this hand. Bond suggests the do the same for the next as well. Bond loses the hand, takes another glass of champagne and bets another hundred on the next two hands, which he loses. He’s nearly 1500 pounds in the hole at this point, and acting very shaky. Bond and M make a little comeback, and then Bond announces that the next rubber will have to be his last.

Drax examines Bond:

He looked up from his score-sheet at Bond. He noticed the signs of intoxication. The moist forehead, the black comma of hair that hung untidily over the right eyebrow, the sheen of alcohol in the grey-blue eyes.

Drax figures that he can take advantage of Bond’s state and suggests they treble the stakes on the final rubber, making this one fifteen and fifteen. Bond may appear out of control, but we know better.

Bond looked up at him. He paused before answering. He wanted Drax to remember every detail of this last rubber, every word that had been spoken, every gesture.

He accepts Drax’s terms and we move onto the next chapter.

Some notes and additional research on things mentioned in the chapter:

Rothschild Estates – Family land of Philippe de Rothschild. Though I couldn’t find anything on Cognac or Brandy being produced there, this section of the entry corresponds with Fleming’s note about the effect the war had on the estate:

The outbreak of World War II had serious consequences for the entire Rothschild family, who were Jewish. Following the German occupation of France, Philippe de Rothschild’s parents fled to the safety of Lausanne, Switzerland and the Paris mansion where they lived became the headquarters for the German Naval Command.

Although he was called up to serve in the French Air Force, the quick fall of France resulted in Philippe being arrested by the Vichy government and the vineyard property seized. Escaping, Philippe de Rothschild made his way to England where he joined the Free French Forces of General Charles de Gaulle, earning a Croix de Guerre medal.

Philippe’s wife Lili never believed any harm would come to her because she was from an old French family. On his return to France following the Allies liberation, Philippe de Rothschild learned that although his daughter was safe, the Gestapo had deported his estranged wife to Ravensbrück concentration camp, where on 23 March 1945, she was executed.

Devastated, Rothschild had to deal with problems at his vineyard as well. The departing German army had done considerable damage to Chateau Mouton Rothschild and the property was in need of considerable repair. Together with dedicated employees, he put his energy into restoring the vineyard and by the early 1950s was once again producing excellent wines.

“Dutch Courage” = “liquid courage”

More on Rubber Bridge

Battersea snuff-boxes (Meyer is a collector): Type of painted enamelware considered the finest of its kind to be produced in England during the mid-18th century. It is especially noted for the high quality of its transfer printing. Battersea ware was made at York House in Battersea, a district in London, by Stephen Theodore Janssen between 1753 and 1756.