Pennies From Heaven


Pennies From Heaven

Sir R-----, my good friend! Come shake the snow from your boots and join me by the hearth for a draught of warming spirits!

And will you also join me in a wager whilst you let the fire chase the chill from your bones?

Fine fellow! Stout fellow!

I have in mind a game that reminds me of my raid upon the vault of Heaven, which I mounted in order to make amends to the Empress for my failure to snatch the Amulet of Yendor from the inner circle of Hell.
I had recruited a band of sixteen notorious criminals from all walks of life, amongst them the noble museum thieves Sir L----- and Lady de S----, the mechanically minded felon Mister R-------- and the low-born pick-pocket Master D------.
For the sake of security I insisted that throughout the venture we should go by the code names Baron Red, Sir Green, Lady Blue, Mister Bottom, Master Down, Sir Strange, Mistress Top, Baroness Up, Viscount Charm, Lord Gluon, Doctor Photon, Mademoiselle Higgs, Reverend Electron, Mistress Muon, Monsieur Neutrino, Madame Lepton and the Right Honourable Boson; the popular periodicals of the time dubbed us Heaven's Seventeen!

Given the eternal vigilance of Saint Peter I decided against attempting to sneak through the pearly gates and proposed instead that we break into Heaven by way of the lesser-known barley gates, guarded as they are by the perpetually ebrius Saint Amandus. True to form, he was fast asleep at his post when we arrived and the nimble-fingered Master Down was able to lift his keys without waking him.
Once inside we donned the garb of a party of sightseers and made our way to the tourist information office. As should be expected, the staff were extremely courteous; handing out detailed maps noting places of especial interest and offering us the service of a guide, at a quite reasonable price I might add, which we naturally accepted. Our guide let us to a spacious carriage and, once we were all seated, bade the driver to make way. Taking out a speaking-trumpet, she lectured indifferently upon the history, geology and society of each region as we trundled along and, to maintain our pretence, we made a great show of drawing pictures upon our portable sketchbooks.

For the most part the journey was uneventful. In the first sphere, the inconstant were nowhere to be seen whilst in the second, the ambitious vied for our attention. I had the distinct impression that a few of our number were taking their sketching quite seriously as we passed by the lovers in the third sphere, however! In the fourth, the wise were deep in conversation and paid us no heed but in the fifth one of the holy warriors recognised me and called out my name; for a moment I was sure that we should be found out, but mercifully our guide could not be distracted from her monologue! The just kings of the sixth sphere were violently arguing about which of them should reign over the others and the contemplatives of the seventh simply lay about the place doing very little at all. As we passed though the administrative buildings of the eighth sphere our guide brought her recitation to a close, informing us that we might take tea or visit the gift shop when the tour came to its conclusion in the ninth.

It was within the latter that we put our plan into action; the Right Honourable Boson feigned a fainting fit and collapsed into a display of small china figurines depicting the more popular saints and angels. Whilst our guide and the shop staff sought to provide assistance, our motley crew fussed about them so that they might not notice myself and Mister Bottom slip through the door at the rear into the chamber containing the Heavenly vault.
Its lock was of the combinatorial variety and of most fiendish artifice, moving the target with every tick of the ornate clock that was mounted above it. I must confess that its mechanism quite bewildered me but of course that is why, like any competent commander, I had delegated the task of cracking it to the talented Mister Bottom. My faith in his abilities was borne out mere minutes later when the door swung open; to this day I haven't the first inkling as to how he managed it!
We filled our packs with such treasure as we could carry and returned to our compatriots, directing them each in their turn to follow our lead. Needless to say that our return to court with such a copious bounty was more than sufficient to compensate the Empress!

But, now, I am keeping us from our sport!

Here, I shall lay out three coins upon the table for myself and three coins upon it for you, showing heads or tails as takes my fancy. You may then turn your coins to present which soever faces takes yours and, once you are satisfied with them, the game shall begin.
Firstly, I shall toss a coin and place it between the rightmost of ours.
Secondly, I shall toss another and, once it has landed, shift the first to the left so that it lies between the middlemost and fill its place with that other.
Thirdly, I shall toss yet another, shift the first and second to the left and set it upon the vacant rightmost place.
If the faces shown by those three coins are in concert with mine, each in its place, then I shall have three coins from your purse. Likewise, if they agree with yours then you shall have two coins from mine. If neither of us have a match than I shall toss a further coin, move those three to the left and place it in the rightmost space, removing the leftmost after I have done so, and we shall compare them again, with the game enduring in this fashion until the one, the other or the both of us takes a prize.

When I explained the rules of this game to that godforsaken student of my unfortunate acquaintance, he embarked upon a tediously lengthy complaint about the intransigence of some lowly fellow of his against the proposal of upping the ante of their own wagers from the mere pennies that they were accustomed to. As if an earthbound wretch such as he should have the mettle to risk so much as a pittance at gentlemanly sport!

But let us not concern ourselves with the petty disputes of the lower orders! Instead, take another dram whilst you think upon your chances!

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