by FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY
Translated by CJ Hogarth
At length I returned from two weeks leave of absence to find
that my patrons had arrived three days ago in Roulettenberg. I
received from them a welcome quite different to that which I had
expected. The General eyed me coldlygreeted me in rather
haughty fashionand dismissed me to pay my respects to his
sister. It was clear that from SOMEWHERE money had been
acquired. I thought I could even detect a certain shamefacedness
in the General's glance. Maria Philipovnatooseemed
distraughtand conversed with me with an air of detachment.
Neverthelessshe took the money which I handed to hercounted
itand listened to what I had to tell. To luncheon there were
expected that day a Monsieur Mezentsova French ladyand an
Englishman; forwhenever money was in handa banquet in
Muscovite style was always given. Polina Alexandrovnaon seeing
meinquired why I had been so long away. Thenwithout waiting
for an answershe departed. Evidently this was not mere
accidentand I felt that I must throw some light upon matters.
It was high time that I did so.
I was assigned a small room on the fourth floor of the hotel
(for you must know that I belonged to the General's suite). So
far as I could seethe party had already gained some notoriety
in the placewhich had come to look upon the General as a
Russian nobleman of great wealth. Indeedeven before luncheon
he charged meamong other thingsto get two thousand-franc
notes changed for him at the hotel counterwhich put us in a
position to be thought millionaires at all events for a week!
LaterI was about to take Mischa and Nadia for a walk when a
summons reached me from the staircase that I must attend the
General. He began by deigning to inquire of me where I was going
to take the children; and as he did soI could see that he
failed to look me in the eyes. He WANTED to do sobut each time
was met by me with such a fixeddisrespectful stare that he
desisted in confusion. In pompous languagehoweverwhich
jumbled one sentence into anotherand at length grew
disconnectedhe gave me to understand that I was to lead the
children altogether away from the Casinoand out into the park.
Finally his anger explodedand he added sharply:
"I suppose you would like to take them to the Casino to play
roulette? Wellexcuse my speaking so plainlybut I know how
addicted you are to gambling. Though I am not your mentornor
wish to beat least I have a right to require that you shall
not actually compromise me."
"I have no money for gambling" I quietly replied.
"But you will soon be in receipt of some" retorted the
Generalreddening a little as he dived into his writing desk
and applied himself to a memorandum book. From it he saw that he
had 120 roubles of mine in his keeping.
"Let us calculate" he went on. "We must translate these
roubles into thalers. Here--take 100 thalersas a round sum. The
rest will be safe in my hands."
In silence I took the money.
"You must not be offended at what I say" he continued. "You
are too touchy about these things. What I have said I have said
merely as a warning. To do so is no more than my right."
When returning home with the children before luncheonI met a
cavalcade of our party riding to view some ruins. Two splendid
carriagesmagnificently horsedwith Mlle. BlancheMaria
Philipovnaand Polina Alexandrovna in one of themand the
Frenchmanthe Englishmanand the General in attendance on
horseback! The passers-by stopped to stare at themfor the
effect was splendid--the General could not have improved upon it.
I calculated thatwith the 4000 francs which I had brought with
meadded to what my patrons seemed already to have acquired
the party must be in possession of at least 7000 or 8000
francs--though that would be none too much for Mlle. Blanche
whowith her mother and the Frenchmanwas also lodging in our
hotel. The latter gentleman was called by the lacqueys
"Monsieur le Comte" and Mlle. Blanche's mother was dubbed
"Madame la Comtesse." Perhaps in very truth they WERE "Comteet
I knew that "Monsieur le Comte" would take no notice of me
when we met at dinneras also that the General would not dream
of introducing usnor of recommending me to the "Comte."
Howeverthe latter had lived awhile in Russiaand knew that
the person referred to as an "uchitel" is never looked upon as
a bird of fine feather. Of coursestrictly speakinghe knew
me; but I was an uninvited guest at the luncheon--the General
had forgotten to arrange otherwiseor I should have been
dispatched to dine at the table d'hote. NeverthelessI presented
myself in such guise that the General looked at me with a touch
of approval; andthough the good Maria Philipovna was for
showing me my placethe fact of my having previously met the
EnglishmanMr. Astleysaved meand thenceforward I figured as
one of the company.
This strange Englishman I had met first in Prussiawhere we had
happened to sit vis-a-vis in a railway train in which I was
travelling to overtake our party; whilelaterI had run across
him in Franceand again in Switzerland--twice within the space
of two weeks! To thinkthereforethat I should suddenly
encounter him again herein Roulettenberg! Never in my life had
I known a more retiring manfor he was shy to the pitch of
imbecilityyet well aware of the fact (for he was no fool). At
the same timehe was a gentleamiable sort of an individual
andeven on our first encounter in Prussia I had contrived to
draw him outand he had told me that he had just been to the
North Capeand was now anxious to visit the fair at Nizhni
Novgorod. How he had come to make the General's acquaintance I
do not knowbutapparentlyhe was much struck with Polina.
Alsohe was delighted that I should sit next him at tablefor
he appeared to look upon me as his bosom friend.
During the meal the Frenchman was in great feather: he was
discursive and pompous to every one. In Moscow tooI
rememberedhe had blown a great many bubbles. Interminably he
discoursed on finance and Russian politicsand thoughat
timesthe General made feints to contradict himhe did so
humblyand as though wishing not wholly to lose sight of his
For myselfI was in a curious frame of mind. Even before
luncheon was half finished I had asked myself the oldeternal
question: "WHY do I continue to dance attendance upon the
Generalinstead of having left him and his family long ago?"
Every now and then I would glance at Polina Alexandrovnabut
she paid me no attention; until eventually I became so irritated
that I decided to play the boor.
First of all I suddenlyand for no reason whateverplunged
loudly and gratuitously into the general conversation. Above
everything I wanted to pick a quarrel with the Frenchman; and
with that end in view I turned to the Generaland exclaimed in
an overbearing sort of way--indeedI think that I actually
interrupted him--that that summer it had been almost impossible
for a Russian to dine anywhere at tables d'hote. The General
bent upon me a glance of astonishment.
"If one is a man of self-respect" I went on"one risks abuse
by so doingand is forced to put up with insults of every kind.
Both at Paris and on the Rhineand even in Switzerland--there
are so many Poleswith their sympathisersthe Frenchat these
tables d'hote that one cannot get a word in edgeways if one
happens only to be a Russian."
This I said in French. The General eyed me doubtfullyfor he
did not know whether to be angry or merely to feel surprised
that I should so far forget myself.
"Of courseone always learns SOMETHING EVERYWHERE" said the
Frenchman in a carelesscontemptuous sort of tone.
"In ParistooI had a dispute with a Pole" I continued
"and then with a French officer who supported him. After that a
section of the Frenchmen present took my part. They did so as
soon as I told them the story of how once I threatened to spit
into Monsignor's coffee."
"To spit into it?" the General inquired with grave disapproval
in his toneand a stareof astonishmentwhile the Frenchman
looked at me unbelievingly.
"Just so" I replied. "You must know thaton one occasion
whenfor two daysI had felt certain that at any moment I
might have to depart for Rome on businessI repaired to the
Embassy of the Holy See in Paristo have my passport visaed.
There I encountered a sacristan of about fiftyand a man dry
and cold of mien. After listening politelybut with great
reserveto my account of myselfthis sacristan asked me to
wait a little. I was in a great hurry to departbut of course I
sat downpulled out a copy of L'Opinion Nationaleand fell to
reading an extraordinary piece of invective against Russia which
it happened to contain. As I was thus engaged I heard some one
enter an adjoining room and ask for Monsignor; after which I saw
the sacristan make a low bow to the visitorand then another
bow as the visitor took his leave. I ventured to remind the good
man of my own business also; whereuponwith an expression of
if anythingincreased drynesshe again asked me to wait. Soon
a third visitor arrived wholike myselfhad come on business
(he was an Austrian of some sort); and as soon as ever he had
stated his errand he was conducted upstairs! This made me very
angry. I roseapproached the sacristanand told him that
since Monsignor was receiving callershis lordship might just
as well finish off my affair as well. Upon this the sacristan
shrunk back in astonishment. It simply passed his understanding
that any insignificant Russian should dare to compare himself
with other visitors of Monsignor's! In a tone of the utmost
effronteryas though he were delighted to have a chance of
insulting mehe looked me up and downand then said: "Do you
suppose that Monsignor is going to put aside his coffee for YOU?"
But I only cried the louder: "Let me tell you that I am
going to SPIT into that coffee! Yesand if you do not get me my
passport visaed this very minuteI shall take it to Monsignor
"What? While he is engaged with a Cardinal? screeched the
sacristanagain shrinking back in horror. Thenrushing to the
doorhe spread out his arms as though he would rather die than
let me enter.
Thereupon I declared that I was a heretic and a barbarian--"Je
suis heretique et barbare" I said"and that these archbishops
and cardinals and monsignorsand the rest of themmeant
nothing at all to me. In a wordI showed him that I was not
going to give way. He looked at me with an air of infinite
resentment. Then he snatched up my passportand departed with
it upstairs. A minute later the passport had been visaed! Here
it is nowif you care to see it"--and I pulled out the
documentand exhibited the Roman visa.
"But--" the General began.
"What really saved you was the fact that you proclaimed
yourself a heretic and a barbarian" remarked the Frenchman with
a smile. "Cela n'etait pas si bete."
"But is that how Russian subjects ought to be treated? Why
when they settle here they dare not utter even a word--they are
ready even to deny the fact that they are Russians! At all
eventsat my hotel in Paris I received far more attention from
the company after I had told them about the fracas with the
sacristan. A fat Polish noblemanwho had been the most
offensive of all who were present at the table d'hoteat once
went upstairswhile some of the Frenchmen were simply disgusted
when I told them that two years ago I had encountered a man at
whomin 1812a French 'hero' fired for the mere fun of
discharging his musket. That man was then a boy of ten and his
family are still residing in Moscow."
"Impossible!" the Frenchman spluttered. "No French soldier
would fire at a child!"
"Nevertheless the incident was as I say" I replied. "A veryrespected
ex-captain told me the storyand I myself could see the scar left on
The Frenchman then began chattering volublyand the General
supported him; but I recommended the former to readfor
exampleextracts from the memoirs of General Perovskiwhoin
1812was a prisoner in the hands of the French. Finally Maria
Philipovna said something to interrupt the conversation. The
General was furious with me for having started the altercation
with the Frenchman. On the other handMr. Astley seemed to take
great pleasure in my brush with Monsieurandrising from the
tableproposed that we should go and have a drink together. The
same afternoonat four o'clockI went to have my customary
talk with Polina Alexandrovna; andthe talk soon extended to a
stroll. We entered the Parkand approached the Casinowhere
Polina seated herself upon a bench near the fountainand sent
Nadia away to a little distance to play with some other
children. Mischa also I dispatched to play by the fountainand
in this fashion we--that is to sayPolina and myself--contrived
to find ourselves alone.
Of coursewe began by talking on business matters. Polina
seemed furious when I handed her only 700 guldenfor she had
thought to receive from Parisas the proceeds of the pledging
of her diamondsat least 2000 guldenor even more.
"Come what mayI MUST have money" she said. "And get itsomehow
I will--otherwise I shall be ruined."
I asked her what had happened during my absence.
"Nothing; except that two pieces of news have reached us from
St. Petersburg. In the first placemy grandmother is very ill
and unlikely to last another couple of days. We had this from
Timothy Petrovitch himselfand he is a reliable person. Every
moment we are expecting to receive news of the end."
"All of you are on the tiptoe of expectation? " I queried.
"Of course--all of usand every minute of the day. For a
year-and-a-half now we have been looking for this."
"Looking for it?"
"Yeslooking for it. I am not her blood relation
you know--I am merely the General's step-daughter. Yet I am
certain that the old lady has remembered me in her will."
"YesI believe that you WILL come in for a good deal" I said
with some assurance.
"Yesfor she is fond of me. But how come you to think so?"
I answered this question with another one. "That Marquis of
yours" I said"--is HE also familiar with your family secrets?"
"And why are you yourself so interested in them?" was her retort
as she eyed me with dry grimness.
"Never mind. If I am not mistakenthe General has succeeded in
borrowing money of the Marquis."
"It may be so."
"Is it likely that the Marquis would have lent the money if he
had not known something or other about your grandmother? Did you
noticetoothat three times during luncheonwhen speaking of
herhe called her 'La Baboulenka'? [Dear little Grandmother].
What lovingfriendly behaviourto be sure!"
"Yesthat is true. As soon as ever he learnt that I was likely
to inherit something from her he began to pay me his addresses.
I thought you ought to know that."
"Then he has only just begun his courting? WhyI thought he
had been doing so a long while!"
"You KNOW he has not" retorted Polina angrily. "But where on
earth did you pick up this Englishman?" She said this after a pause.
"I KNEW you would ask about him!" Whereupon I told her of my
previous encounters with Astley while travelling.
"He is very shy" I said"and susceptible. Alsohe is in
love with you.--"
"Yeshe is in love with me" she replied.
"And he is ten times richer than the Frenchman. In factwhat
does the Frenchman possess? To me it seems at least doubtful
that he possesses anything at all."
"Ohnothere is no doubt about it. He does possess
some chateau or other. Last night the General told me that for
certain. NOW are you satisfied? "
"Neverthelessin your place I should marry the Englishman."
"And why?" asked Polina.
"Becausethough the Frenchman is the handsomer of the twohe
is also the baser; whereas the Englishman is not only a man of
honourbut ten times the wealthier of the pair."
"Yes? But then the Frenchman is a marquisand the cleverer of
the two" remarked Polina imperturbably.
"Is that so?" I repeated.
Polina was not at all pleased at my questions; I could see that
she was doing her best to irritate me with the brusquerie of her
answers. But I took no notice of this.
"It amuses me to see you grow angry" she continued. "However
inasmuch as I allow you to indulge in these questions and
conjecturesyou ought to pay me something for the privilege."
"I consider that I have a perfect right to put these questions
to you" was my calm retort; "for the reason that I am ready to
pay for themand also care little what becomes of me."
"Last time you told me--when on the Shlangenberg--that at a
word from me you would be ready to jump down a thousand feet
into the abyss. Some day I may remind you of that sayingin
order to see if you will be as good as your word. Yesyou may
depend upon it that I shall do so. I hate you because I have
allowed you to go to such lengthsand I also hate you and still
more--because you are so necessary to me. For the time being I
want youso I must keep you."
Then she made a movement to rise. Her tone had sounded very
angry. Indeedof late her talks with me had invariably ended on
a note of temper and irritation--yesof real temper.
"May I ask you who is this Mlle. Blanche?" I inquired (since I
did not wish Polina to depart without an explanation).
"You KNOW who she is--just Mlle. Blanche. Nothing further has
transpired. Probably she will soon be Madame General--that is to
sayif the rumours that Grandmamma is nearing her end should
prove true. Mlle. Blanchewith her mother and her cousinthe
Marquisknow very well thatas things now standwe are
"And is the General at last in love?"
"That has nothing to do with it. Listen to me. Take these 700
florinsand go and play roulette with them. Win as much for me
as you canfor I am badly in need of money.
So sayingshe called Nadia back to her sideand entered the
Casinowhere she joined the rest of our party. For myselfI
tookin musing astonishmentthe first path to the left.
Something had seemed to strike my brain when she told me to go
and play roulette. Strangely enoughthat something had also
seemed to make me hesitateand to set me analysing my feelings
with regard to her. In factduring the two weeks of my absence
I had felt far more at my ease than I did nowon the day of my
return; althoughwhile travellingI had moped like an
imbecilerushed about like a man in a feverand actually
beheld her in my dreams. Indeedon one occasion (this happened
in Switzerlandwhen I was asleep in the train) I had spoken
aloud to herand set all my fellow-travellers laughing. Again
thereforeI put to myself the question: "Do Ior do I not
love her?" and again I could return myself no answer or
ratherfor the hundredth time I told myself that I detested
her. YesI detested her; there were moments (more especially at
the close of our talks together) when I would gladly have given
half my life to have strangled her! I swear thathad thereat
such momentsbeen a sharp knife ready to my handI would have
seized that knife with pleasureand plunged it into her breast.
Yet I also swear that ifon the Shlangenbergshe had REALLY
said to me"Leap into that abyss" I should have leapt into
itand with equal pleasure. Yesthis I knew well. One way or
the otherthe thing must soon be ended. Shetooknew it in
some curious way; the thought that I was fully conscious of her
inaccessibilityand of the impossibility of my ever realising
my dreamsafforded herI am certainthe keenest possible
pleasure. Otherwiseis it likely that shethe cautious and
clever woman that she waswould have indulged in this
familiarity and openness with me? Hitherto (I concluded) she had
looked upon me in the same light that the old Empress did upon
her servant--the Empress who hesitated not to unrobe herself
before her slavesince she did not account a slave a man. Yes
often Polina must have taken me for something less than a man!"
Stillshe had charged me with a commission--to win what I could
at roulette. Yet all the time I could not help wondering WHY it
was so necessary for her to win somethingand what new schemes
could have sprung to birth in her ever-fertile brain. A host of
new and unknown factors seemed to have arisen during the last
two weeks. Wellit behoved me to divine themand to probe
themand that as soon as possible. Yet not now: at the present
moment I must repair to the roulette-table.
I confess I did not like it. Although I had made up my mind to
playI felt averse to doing so on behalf of some one else. In
factit almost upset my balanceand I entered the gaming rooms
with an angry feeling at my heart. At first glance the scene
irritated me. Never at any time have I been able to bear the
flunkeyishness which one meets in the Press of the world at
largebut more especially in that of Russiawherealmost
every eveningjournalists write on two subjects in particular
namelyon the splendour and luxury of the casinos to be found
in the Rhenish townsand on the heaps of gold which are daily
to be seen lying on their tables. Those journalists are not
paid for doing so: they write thus merely out of a spirit of
disinterested complaisance. For there is nothing splendid about
the establishments in question; andnot only are there no heaps
of gold to be seen lying on their tablesbut also there is very
little money to be seen at all. Of courseduring the season
some madman or another may make his appearance--generally an
Englishmanor an Asiaticor a Turk--and (as had happened during
the summer of which I write) win or lose a great deal; butas
regards the rest of the crowdit plays only for petty gulden
and seldom does much wealth figure on the board.
Whenon the present occasionI entered the gaming-rooms
(for the first time in my life)it was several moments
before I could even make up my mind to play. For one thingthe
crowd oppressed me. Had I been playing for myselfI think I
should have left at onceand never have embarked upon gambling at
allfor I could feel my heart beginning to beatand my heart was
anything but cold-blooded. AlsoI knewI had long ago made up my
mindthat never should I depart from Roulettenberg until some radical
some finalchange had taken place in my fortunes. Thusit must
and would be. However ridiculous it may seem to you that I was
expecting to win at rouletteI look upon the generally accepted
opinion concerning the folly and the grossness of hoping to win
at gambling as a thing even more absurd. For why is gambling a
whit worse than any other method of acquiring money? Howfor
instanceis it worse than trade? Trueout of a hundred
personsonly one can win; yet what business is that of yours or
At all eventsI confined myself at first simply to looking on
and decided to attempt nothing serious. IndeedI felt thatif
I began to do anything at allI should do it in an
absent-mindedhaphazard sort of way--of that I felt certain.
Also. it behoved me to learn the game itself; sincedespite a
thousand descriptions of roulette which I had read with
ceaseless avidityI knew nothing of its rulesand had never
even seen it played.
In the first placeeverything about it seemed to me so foul--so
morally mean and foul. Yet I am not speaking of the hungry
restless folk whoby scores nayeven by hundreds--could be seen
crowded around the gaming-tables. For in a desire to win quickly
and to win much I can see nothing sordid; I have always
applauded the opinion of a certain dead and gonebut cocksure
moralist who replied to the excuse that " one may always gamble
moderately "by saying that to do so makes things worsesince
in that casethe profits too will always be moderate.
Insignificant profits and sumptuous profits do not stand on the
same footing. Noit is all a matter of proportion. What may
seem a small sum to a Rothschild may seem a large sum to meand
it is not the fault of stakes or of winnings that everywhere men
can be found winningcan be found depriving their fellows of
somethingjust as they do at roulette. As to the question
whether stakes and winnings arein themselvesimmoral is
another question altogetherand I wish to express no opinion
upon it. Yet the very fact that I was full of a strong desire to
win caused this gambling for gainin spite of its attendant
squalorto containif you willsomething intimatesomething
sympatheticto my eyes: for it is always pleasant to see men
dispensing with ceremonyand acting naturallyand in an
unbuttoned mood. . . .
Yetwhy should I so deceive myself? I
could see that the whole thing was a vain and unreasoning
pursuit; and whatat the first glanceseemed to me the ugliest
feature in this mob of roulette players was their respect for
their occupation--the seriousnessand even the humilitywith
which they stood around the gaming tables. MoreoverI had
always drawn sharp distinctions between a game which is de
mauvais genre and a game which is permissible to a decent man.
In factthere are two sorts of gaming--namelythe game of the
gentleman and the game of the plebs--the game for gainand the
game of the herd. Hereinas saidI draw sharp distinctions.
Yet how essentially base are the distinctions! For instancea
gentleman may stakesayfive or ten louis d'or--seldom more
unless he is a very rich manwhen he may stakesaya thousand
francs; buthe must do this simply for the love of the game
itself--simply for sportsimply in order to observe the process
of winning or of losingandabove all thingsas a man who
remains quite uninterested in the possibility of his issuing a
winner. If he winshe will be at libertyperhapsto give vent
to a laughor to pass a remark on the circumstance to a
bystanderor to stake againor to double his stake; buteven
this he must do solely out of curiosityand for the pleasure of
watching the play of chances and of calculationsand not
because of any vulgar desire to win. In a wordhe must look
upon the gaming-tableupon rouletteand upon trente et
quaranteas mere relaxations which have been arranged solely
for his amusement. Of the existence of the lures and gains upon
which the bank is founded and maintained he must profess to have
not an inkling. Best of allhe ought to imagine his
fellow-gamblers and the rest of the mob which stands trembling
over a coin to be equally rich and gentlemanly with himselfand
playing solely for recreation and pleasure. This complete
ignorance of the realitiesthis innocent view of mankindis
whatin my opinionconstitutes the truly aristocratic. For
instanceI have seen even fond mothers so far indulge their
guilelesselegant daughters--misses of fifteen or sixteen--as to
give them a few gold coins and teach them how to play; and
though the young ladies may have won or have lostthey have
invariably laughedand departed as though they were well
pleased. In the same wayI saw our General once approach the
table in a stolidimportant manner. A lacquey darted to offer
him a chairbut the General did not even notice him. Slowly he
took out his money bagsand slowly extracted 300 francs in
goldwhich he staked on the blackand won. Yet he did not take
up his winnings--he left them there on the table. Again the
black turned upand again he did not gather in what he had won;
and whenin the third roundthe RED turned up he lostat a
stroke1200 francs. Yet even then he rose with a smileand
thus preserved his reputation; yet I knew that his money bags
must be chafing his heartas well as thathad the stake been
twice or thrice as much againhe would still have restrained
himself from venting his disappointment.
On the other handI saw a Frenchman first winand then lose
30000 francs cheerfullyand without a murmur. Yes; even if a gentleman
should lose his whole substancehe must never give way to
annoyance. Money must be so subservient to gentility as never to
be worth a thought. Of coursethe SUPREMELY aristocratic thing
is to be entirely oblivious of the mire of rabblewith its
setting; but sometimes a reverse course may be aristocratic to
remarkto scanand even to gape atthe mob (for preference
through a lorgnette)even as though one were taking the crowd
and its squalor for a sort of raree show which had been
organised specially for a gentleman's diversion. Though one may
be squeezed by the crowdone must look as though one were fully
assured of being the observer--of having neither part nor lot
with the observed. At the same timeto stare fixedly about one
is unbecoming; for thatagainis ungentlemanlyseeing that no
spectacle is worth an open stare--are no spectacles in the world
which merit from a gentleman too pronounced an inspection.
Howeverto me personally the scene DID seem to be worth
undisguised contemplation--more especially in view of the fact
that I had come there not only to look atbut also to number
myself sincerely and wholeheartedly withthe mob. As for my
secret moral views. I had no room for them amongst my actual
practical opinions. Let that stand as written: I am writing only
to relieve my conscience. Yet let me say also this: that from
the first I have been consistent in having an intense aversion
to any trial of my acts and thoughts by a moral standard.
Another standard altogether has directed my life. . . .
As a matter of factthe mob was playing in exceedingly foul
fashion. IndeedI have an idea that sheer robbery was going on
around that gaming-table. The croupiers who sat at the two ends
of it had not only to watch the stakesbut also to calculate
the game--an immense amount of work for two men! As for the crowd
itself--wellit consisted mostly of Frenchmen. Yet I was not
then taking notes merely in order to be able to give you a
description of roulettebut in order to get my bearings as to
my behaviour when I myself should begin to play. For exampleI
noticed that nothing was more common than for another's hand to
stretch out and grab one's winnings whenever one had won. Then
there would arise a disputeand frequently an uproar; and it
would be a case of "I beg of you to proveand to produce
witnesses to the factthat the stake is yours."
At first the proceedings were pure Greek to me. I could only
divine and distinguish that stakes were hazarded on numberson
"odd" or "even" and on colours. Polina's money I decidedto
riskthat eveningonly to the amount of 100 gulden. The
thought that I was not going to play for myself quite unnerved
me. It was an unpleasant sensationand I tried hard to banish
it. I had a feeling thatonce I had begun to play for PolinaI
should wreck my own fortunes. AlsoI wonder if any one has EVER
approached a gaming-table without falling an immediate prey to
superstition? I began by pulling out fifty guldenand staking
them on "even." The wheel spun and stopped at 13. I had lost!
With a feeling like a sick qualmas though I would like to make
my way out of the crowd and go homeI staked another fifty
gulden--this time on the red. The red turned up. Next time I
staked the 100 gulden just where they lay--and again the red
turned up. Again I staked the whole sumand again the red
turned up. Clutching my 400 guldenI placed 200 of them on
twelve figuresto see what would come of it. The result was
that the croupier paid me out three times my total stake! Thus
from 100 gulden my store had grown to 800! Upon that such a
curioussuch an inexplicableunwonted feeling overcame me that
I decided to depart. Always the thought kept recurring to me
that if I had been playing for myself alone I should never have
had such luck. Once more I staked the whole 800 gulden on the
"even." The wheel stopped at 4. I was paid out another 800
guldenandsnatching up my pile of 1600departed in search of
I found the whole party walking in the parkand was able to get
an interview with her only after supper. This time the Frenchman
was absent from the mealand the General seemed to be in a more
expansive vein. Among other thingshe thought it necessary to
remind me that he would be sorry to see me playing at the
gaming-tables. In his opinionsuch conduct would greatly
compromise him--especially if I were to lose much. " And even if
you were to WIN much I should be compromised" he added in a
meaning sort of way. "Of course I have no RIGHT to order your
actionsbut you yourself will agree that..." As usualhe did not
finish his sentence. I answered drily that I had very little
money in my possessionand thatconsequentlyI was hardly in
a position to indulge in any conspicuous playeven if I did
gamble. At lastwhen ascending to my own roomI succeeded in
handing Polina her winningsand told her thatnext timeI
should not play for her.
"Why not?" she asked excitedly.
"Because I wish to play FOR MYSELF" I replied with a feigned
glance of astonishment. "That is my sole reason."
"Then are you so certain that your roulette-playing will get us
out of our difficulties?" she inquired with a quizzical smile.
I said very seriously"Yes" and then added: "Possibly my
certainty about winning may seem to you ridiculous;
yetpray leave me in peace."
Nonetheless she insisted that I ought to go halves with her in
the day's winningsand offered me 800 gulden on condition that
henceforthI gambled only on those terms; but I refused to do
soonce and for all--statingas my reasonthat I found myself
unable to play on behalf of any one else"I am not unwilling
so to do" I added"but in all probability I should lose."
"Wellabsurd though it beI place great hopes on your playing
of roulette" she remarked musingly; "whereforeyou ought to
play as my partner and on equal shares; whereforeof course
you will do as I wish."
Then she left me without listening to any further protests on my
On the morrow she said not a word to me about gambling. In fact
she purposely avoided mealthough her old manner to me had not
changed: the same serene coolness was hers on meeting me -- a
coolness that was mingled even with a spice of contempt and
dislike. In shortshe was at no pains to conceal her aversion
to me. That I could see plainly. Alsoshe did not trouble to
conceal from me the fact that I was necessary to herand that
she was keeping me for some end which she had in view.
Consequently there became established between us relations
whichto a large extentwere incomprehensible to me
considering her general pride and aloofness. For example
although she knew that I was madly in love with hershe allowed
me to speak to her of my passion (though she could not well have
showed her contempt for me more than by permitting me
unhindered and unrebukedto mention to her my love).
"You see" her attitude expressed"how little I regard your
feelingsas well as how little I care for what you say to me
or for what you feel for me." Likewisethough she spoke as
before concerning her affairsit was never with complete
frankness. In her contempt for me there were refinements.
Although she knew well that I was aware of a certain
circumstance in her life of something which might one day cause
her troubleshe would speak to me about her affairs (whenever
she had need of me for a given end) as though I were a slave or
a passing acquaintance--yet tell them me only in so far as one
would need to know them if one were going to be made temporary
use of. Had I not known the whole chain of eventsor had she
not seen how much I was pained and disturbed by her teasing
insistencyshe would never have thought it worthwhile to
soothe me with this frankness--even thoughsince she not
infrequently used me to execute commissions that were not only
troublesomebut riskyshe oughtin my opinionto have been
frank in ANY case. Butforsoothit was not worth her while to
trouble about MY feelings--about the fact that I was uneasyand
perhapsthrice as put about by her cares and misfortunes as she
For three weeks I had known of her intention to take to
roulette. She had even warned me that she would like me to play
on her behalfsince it was unbecoming for her to play in
person; andfrom the tone of her words I had gathered that there
was something on her mind besides a mere desire to win money. As
if money could matter to HER! Noshe had some end in viewand
there were circumstances at which I could guessbut which I did
not know for certain. Truethe slavery and abasement in which
she held me might have given me (such things often do so) the
power to question her with abrupt directness (seeing that
inasmuch as I figured in her eyes as a mere slave and nonentity
she could not very well have taken offence at any rude
curiosity); but the fact was thatthough she let me question
hershe never returned me a single answerand at times did not
so much as notice me. That is how matters stood.
Next day there was a good deal of talk about a telegram which
four days agohad been sent to St. Petersburgbut to which
there had come no answer. The General was visibly disturbed and
moodyfor the matter concerned his mother. The Frenchmantoo
was excitedand after dinner the whole party talked long and
seriously together--the Frenchman's tone being extraordinarily
presumptuous and offhand to everybody. It almost reminded one of
the proverb"Invite a man to your tableand soon he will
place his feet upon it." Even to Polina he was brusque almost to
the point of rudeness. Yet still he seemed glad to join us in
our walks in the Casinoor in our rides and drives about the
town. I had long been aware of certain circumstances which bound
the General to him; I had long been aware that in Russia they
had hatched some scheme together although I did not know whether
the plot had come to anythingor whether it was still only in
the stage of being talked of. Likewise I was awarein partof
a family secret--namelythatlast yearthe Frenchman had
bailed the General out of debtand given him 30000 roubles
wherewith to pay his Treasury dues on retiring from the service.
And nowof coursethe General was in a vice -- although the
chief part in the affair was being played by Mlle. Blanche. Yes
of this last I had no doubt.
But WHO was this Mlle. Blanche? It was said of her that she was
a Frenchwoman of good birth wholiving with her mother
possessed a colossal fortune. It was also said that she was some
relation to the Marquisbut only a distant one a cousinor
cousin-germanor something of the sort. Likewise I knew that
up to the time of my journey to Parisshe and the Frenchman had
been more ceremonious towards our party--they had stood on a much
more precise and delicate footing with them; but that now their
acquaintanceship--their friendshiptheir intimacy--had taken on a
much more off-hand and rough-and-ready air. Perhaps they thought
that our means were too modest for themandthereforeunworthy
of politeness or reticence. Alsofor the last three days I had
noticed certain looks which Astley had kept throwing at Mlle.
Blanche and her mother; and it had occurred to me that he must
have had some previous acquaintance with the pair. I had even
surmised that the Frenchman too must have met Mr. Astley before.
Astley was a man so shyreservedand taciturn in his manner
that one might have looked for anything from him. At all events
the Frenchman accorded him only the slightest of greetingsand
scarcely even looked at him. Certainly he did not seem to be
afraid of him; which was intelligible enough. But why did Mlle.
Blanche also never look at the Englishman?--particularly since
a propos of something or anotherthe Marquis had declared the
Englishman to be immensely and indubitably rich? Was not that a
sufficient reason to make Mlle. Blanche look at the Englishman?
Anyway the General seemed extremely uneasy; andone could well
understand what a telegram to announce the death of his mother
would mean for him!
Although I thought it probable that Polina was avoiding me for a
definite reasonI adopted a cold and indifferent air; for I
felt pretty certain that it would not be long before she
herself approached me. For two daysthereforeI devoted my
attention to Mlle. Blanche. The poor General was in despair! To
fall in love at fifty-fiveand with such vehemenceis indeed a
misfortune! And add to that his widowerhoodhis childrenhis
ruined propertyhis debtsand the woman with whom he had
fallen in love! Though Mlle. Blanche was extremely good-looking
I may or may not be understood when I say that she had one of
those faces which one is afraid of. At all eventsI myself have
always feared such women. Apparently about twenty-five years of
ageshe was tall and broad-shoulderedwith shoulders that
sloped; yet though her neck and bosom were ample in their
proportionsher skin was dull yellow in colourwhile her hair
(which was extremely abundant--sufficient to make two
coiffures) was as black as Indian ink. Add to that a pair of
black eyes with yellowish whitesa proud glancegleaming
teethand lips which were perennially pomaded and redolent of
musk. As for her dressit was invariably richeffectiveand
chicyet in good taste. Lastlyher feet and hands were
astonishingand her voice a deep contralto. Sometimeswhen she
laughedshe displayed her teethbut at ordinary times her air
was taciturn and haughty--especially in the presence of Polina
and Maria Philipovna. Yet she seemed to me almost destitute of
educationand even of witsthough cunning and suspicious.
Thisapparentlywas not because her life had been lacking in
incident. Perhapsif all were knownthe Marquis was not her
kinsman at allnor her motherher mother; but there was
evidence thatin Berlinwhere we had first come across the
pairthey had possessed acquaintances of good standing. As for
the Marquis himselfI doubt to this day if he was a
Marquis--although about the fact that he had formerly belonged to
high society (for instancein Moscow and Germany) there could
be no doubt whatever. What he had formerly been in France I had
not a notion. All I knew was that he was said to possess a
chateau. During the last two weeks I had looked for much to
transpirebut am still ignorant whether at that time anything
decisive ever passed between Mademoiselle and the General.
Everything seemed to depend upon our means--upon whether the
General would be able to flourish sufficient money in her face.
If ever the news should arrive that the grandmother was not
deadMlle. BlancheI felt surewould disappear in a
twinkling. Indeedit surprised and amused me to observe what a
passion for intrigue I was developing. But how I loathed it all!
With what pleasure would I have given everybody and everything
the go-by! Only--I could not leave Polina. Howthencould I
show contempt for those who surrounded her? Espionage is a base
thingbut--what have I to do with that?
Mr. AstleytooI found a curious person. I was only sure that
he had fallen in love With Polina. A remarkable and diverting
circumstance is the amount which may lie in the mien of a shy
and painfully modest man who has been touched with the divine
passion--especially when he would rather sink into the earth than
betray himself by a single word or look. Though Mr. Astley
frequently met us when we were out walkinghe would merely take
off his hat and pass us bythough I knew he was dying to join
us. Even when invited to do sohe would refuse. Againin
places of amusement--in the Casinoat concertsor near the
fountain--he was never far from the spot where we were sitting.
In factWHEREVER we were in the Parkin the forestor on the
Shlangenberg--one needed but to raise one's eyes and glance
around to catch sight of at least a PORTION of Mr. Astley's
frame sticking out--whether on an adjacent path or behind a bush.
Yet never did he lose any chance of speaking to myself; andone
morning when we had metand exchanged a couple of wordshe
burst out in his usual abrupt waywithout saying "Good-morning."
"That Mlle. Blanche" he said. "WellI have seen a good many
women like her."
After that he was silent as he looked me meaningly in the face.
What he meant I did not knowbut to my glance of inquiry he
returned only a dry nodand a reiterated "It is so."
"Does Mlle. Polina like flowers?"
" I really cannot say" was my reply.
"What? You cannot say?" he cried in great astonishment.
"No; I have never noticed whether she does so or not" I
repeated with a smile.
"Hm! Then I have an idea in my mind" he concluded. Lastly
with a nodhe walked away with a pleased expression on his
face. The conversation had been carried on in execrable French.
Today has been a day of follystupidityand ineptness. The
time is now eleven o'clock in the eveningand I am sitting in
my room and thinking. It all beganthis morningwith my being
forced to go and play roulette for Polina Alexandrovna. When she
handed me over her store of six hundred gulden I exacted two
conditions --namelythat I should not go halves with her in her
winningsif any (that is to sayI should not take anything for
myself)and that she should explain to methat same evening
why it was so necessary for her to winand how much was the sum
which she needed. ForI could not suppose that she was doing all
this merely for the sake of money. Yet clearly she did need some
moneyand that as soon as possibleand for a special purpose.
Wellshe promised to explain mattersand I departed. There was
a tremendous crowd in the gaming-rooms. What an arrogantgreedy
crowd it was! I pressed forward towards the middle of the room
until I had secured a seat at a croupier's elbow. Then I began
to play in timid fashionventuring only twenty or thirty gulden
at a time. MeanwhileI observed and took notes. It seemed to me
that calculation was superfluousand by no means possessed of
the importance which certain other players attached to iteven
though they sat with ruled papers in their handswhereon they
set down the coupscalculated the chancesreckonedstaked
and--lost exactly as we more simple mortals did who played
without any reckoning at all.
HoweverI deduced from the scene one conclusion which seemed to me
reliable --namelythat in the flow of fortuitous chances there is
if not a systemat all events a sort of order. Thisof course
is a very strange thing. For instanceafter a dozen middle figures
there would always occur a dozen or so outer ones. Suppose the ball
stopped twice at a dozen outer figures; it would then pass to a dozen of
the first onesand thenagainto a dozen of the middle
ciphersand fall upon them three or four timesand then revert
to a dozen outers; whenceafter another couple of roundsthe
ball would again pass to the first figuresstrike upon them
onceand then return thrice to the middle series--continuing
thus for an hour and a halfor two hours. Onethreetwo: one
threetwo. It was all very curious. Againfor the whole of a
day or a morning the red would alternate with the blackbut
almost without any orderand from moment to momentso that
scarcely two consecutive rounds would end upon either the one or
the other. Yetnext dayorperhapsthe next eveningthe red
alone would turn upand attain a run of over two scoreand
continue so for quite a length of time--sayfor a whole day. Of
these circumstances the majority were pointed out to me by Mr.
Astleywho stood by the gaming-table the whole morningyet
never once staked in person.
For myselfI lost all that I had on meand with great speed.
To begin withI staked two hundred gulden on " even" and won.
Then I staked the same amount againand won: and so on some two or
three times. At one moment I must have had in my hands--gathered there
within a space of five minutes--about 4000 gulden. Thatof course
was the proper moment for me to have departedbut there arose in me a
strange sensation as of a challenge to Fate--as of a wish to deal her a
blow on the cheekand to put out my tongue at her. Accordingly
I set down the largest stake allowed by the rules--namely4000
gulden--and lost. Fired by this mishapI pulled out all the
money left to mestaked it all on the same ventureand--again
lost! Then I rose from the tablefeeling as though I were
stupefied. What had happened to me I did not know; butbefore
luncheon I told Polina of my losses-- until which time I walked
about the Park.
At luncheon I was as excited as I had been at the meal three
days ago. Mlle. Blanche and the Frenchman were lunching with us
and it appeared that the former had been to the Casino that
morningand had seen my exploits there. So now she showed me
more attention when talking to me; whilefor his partthe
Frenchman approached meand asked outright if it had been my
own money that I had lost. He appeared to be suspicious as to
something being on foot between Polina and myselfbut I merely
fired upand replied that the money had been all my own.
At this the General seemed extremely surprisedand asked me
whence I had procured it; whereupon I replied thatthough I
had begun only with 100 guldensix or seven rounds had
increased my capital to 5000 or 6000 guldenand that
subsequently I had lost the whole in two rounds.
All thisof coursewas plausible enough. During my recital I
glanced at Polinabut nothing was to be discerned on her face.
Howevershe had allowed me to fire up without correcting me
and from that I concluded that it was my cue to fire upand to
conceal the fact that I had been playing on her behalf. "At all
events" I thought to myself"shein her turnhas promised
to give me an explanation to-nightand to reveal to me
something or another."
Although the General appeared to be taking stock of mehe said
nothing. Yet I could see uneasiness and annoyance in his face.
Perhaps his straitened circumstances made it hard for him to
have to hear of piles of gold passing through the hands of an
irresponsible fool like myself within the space of a quarter of
an hour. NowI have an idea thatlast nighthe and the
Frenchman had a sharp encounter with one another. At all events
they closeted themselves togetherand then had a long and vehement
discussion; after which the Frenchman departed in what appeared to be
a passionbut returnedearly this morningto renew the combat.
On hearing of my losseshoweverhe only remarked with a sharp
and even a maliciousair that "a man ought to go more carefully."
Nextfor some reason or anotherhe added that"though a great many
Russians go in for gamblingthey are no good at the game."
"I think that roulette was devised specially for Russians" I
retorted; and when the Frenchman smiled contemptuously at my
reply I further remarked that I was sure I was right; also that
speaking of Russians in the capacity of gamblersI had far more
blame for them than praise--of that he could be quite sure.
"Upon what do you base your opinion?" he inquired.
"Upon the fact that to the virtues and merits of the civilised
Westerner there has become historically added--though this is
not his chief point--a capacity for acquiring capital; whereas
not only is the Russian incapable of acquiring capitalbut also
he exhausts it wantonly and of sheer folly. None the less we
Russians often need money; whereforewe are glad ofand greatly
devoted toa method of acquisition like roulette--wherebyin a
couple of hoursone may grow rich without doing any work. This
methodI repeathas a great attraction for usbut since we
play in wanton fashionand without taking any troublewe
almost invariably lose."
"To a certain extent that is true" assented the Frenchman with
a self-satisfied air.
"Oh noit is not true" put in the General sternly. "And you"
he added to me"you ought to be ashamed of yourself for
traducing your own country!"
"I beg pardon" I said. "Yet it would be difficult to say
which is the worst of the two--Russian ineptitude or the German
method of growing rich through honest toil."
"What an extraordinary idea" cried the General.
"And what a RUSSIAN idea!" added the Frenchman.
I smiledfor I was rather glad to have a quarrel with them.
"I would rather live a wandering life in tents" I cried
"than bow the knee to a German idol!"
"To WHAT idol?" exclaimed the Generalnow seriously angry.
"To the German method of heaping up riches. I have not been
here very longbut I can tell you that what I have seen and
verified makes my Tartar blood boil. Good Lord! I wish for no
virtues of that kind. Yesterday I went for a walk of about ten
versts; andeverywhere I found that things were even as we read
of them in good German picture-books -- that every house has its
'Fater' who is horribly beneficent and extraordinarily
honourable. So honourable is he that it is dreadful to have
anything to do with him; and I cannot bear people of that sort.
Each such 'Fater' has his familyand in the evenings they
read improving books aloud. Over their roof-trees there murmur
elms and chestnuts; the sun has sunk to his rest; a stork is
roosting on the gable; and all is beautifully poetic and
touching. Do not be angryGeneral. Let me tell you something
that is even more touching than that. I can remember howof an
eveningmy own fathernow deadused to sit under the lime
trees in his little gardenand to read books aloud to myself
and my mother. YesI know how things ought to be done. Yet
every German family is bound to slavery and to submission to its
'Fater.' They work like oxenand amass wealth like Jews.
Suppose the 'Fater' has put by a certain number of gulden
which he hands over to his eldest sonin order that the said
son may acquire a trade or a small plot of land. Wellone
result is to deprive the daughter of a dowryand so leave her
among the unwedded. For the same reasonthe parents will have
to sell the younger son into bondage or the ranks of the army
in order that he may earn more towards the family capital. Yes
such things ARE donefor I have been making inquiries on the
subject. It is all done out of sheer rectitude--out of a
rectitude which is magnified to the point of the younger son
believing that he has been RIGHTLY soldand that it is simply
idyllic for the victim to rejoice when he is made over into
pledge. What more have I to tell? Wellthis--that matters bear
just as hardly upon the eldest son. Perhaps he has his Gretchen
to whom his heart is bound; but he cannot marry herfor the
reason that he has not yet amassed sufficient gulden. Sothe
pair wait on in a mood of sincere and virtuous expectationand
smilingly deposit themselves in pawn the while. Gretchen's
cheeks grow sunkenand she begins to wither; until at last
after some twenty yearstheir substance has multipliedand
sufficient gulden have been honourably and virtuously
accumulated. Then the 'Fater' blesses his forty-year-old heir and
the thirty-five-year-old Gretchen with the sunken bosom and the
scarlet nose; after which he burstsinto tearsreads the pair
a lesson on moralityand dies. In turn the eldest son becomes a
virtuous 'Fater' and the old story begins again. In fifty or
sixty years' time the grandson of the original 'Fater' will
have amassed a considerable sum; and that sum he will hand over
tohis sonand the latter to HIS sonand so on for several
generations; until at length there will issue a Baron
Rothschildor a 'Hoppe and Company' or the devil knows what!
Is it not a beautiful spectacle--the spectacle of a century or
two of inherited labourpatienceintellectrectitude
characterperseveranceand calculationwith a stork sitting
on the roof above it all? What is more; they think there can
never be anything better than this; whereforefrom their point
of view they begin to judge the rest of the worldand to
censure all who are at fault--that is to saywho are not exactly
like themselves. Yesthere you have it in a nutshell. For my
own partI would rather grow fat after the Russian manneror
squander my whole substance at roulette. I have no wish to be
'Hoppe and Company' at the end of five generations. I want the
money for MYSELFfor in no way do I look upon my personality
as necessary toor meet to be given over tocapital. I may be
wrongbut there you have it. Those are MY views."
"How far you may be right in what you have said I do not know"
remarked the General moodily; "but I DO know that you are
becoming an insufferable farceur whenever you are given the
As usualhe left his sentence unfinished. Indeedwhenever he
embarked upon anything that in the least exceeded the limits of
daily small-talkhe left unfinished what he was saying. The
Frenchman had listened to me contemptuouslywith a slight
protruding of his eyes; buthe could not have understood very
much of my harangue. As for Polinashe had looked on with
serene indifference. She seemed to have heard neither my voice
nor any other during the progress of the meal.
Yesshe had been extraordinarily meditative. Yeton leaving
the tableshe immediately ordered me to accompany her for a
walk. We took the children with usand set out for the fountain
in the Park.
I was in such an irritated frame of mind that in rude and abrupt
fashion I blurted out a question as to "why our Marquis de
Griers had ceased to accompany her for strollsor to speak to
her for days together."
"Because he is a brute" she replied in rather a curious way.
It was the first time that I had heard her speak so of De
Griers: consequentlyI was momentarily awed into silence by this
expression of resentment.
"Have you noticedtoothat today he is by no means on good
terms with the General?" I went on.
"Yes-- and I suppose you want to know why" she replied with dry
captiousness. "You are awareare you notthat the General is
mortgaged to the Marquiswith all his property? Consequently
if the General's mother does not diethe Frenchman will become
the absolute possessor of everything which he now holds only in
"Then it is really the case that everything is mortgaged? I
have heard rumours to that effectbut was unaware how far they
might be true."
"Yesthey ARE true. What then?"
"Whyit will be a case of 'FarewellMlle. Blanche'" I
remarked; "for in such an event she would never become Madame
General. Do you knowI believe the old man is so much in love
with her that he will shoot himself if she should throw him
over. At his age it is a dangerous thing to fall in love."
"YessomethingI believeWILL happen to him" assented
"And what a fine thing it all is!" I continued. "Couldanything
be more abominable than the way in which she has agreed to marry
for money alone? Not one of the decencies has
been observed; the whole affair has taken place without the
least ceremony. And as for the grandmotherwhat could be more
comicalyet more dastardlythan the sending of telegram after
telegram to know if she is dead? What do you think of itPolina
"Yesit is very horrible" she interrupted with a shudder.
"ConsequentlyI am the more surprised that YOU should be so
cheerful. What are YOU so pleased about? About the fact that you
have gone and lost my money?"
"What? The money that you gave me to lose? I told you I should
never win for other people--least of all for you. I obeyed you
simply because you ordered me to; but you must not blame me for
the result. I warned you that no good would ever come of it. You
seem much depressed at having lost your money. Why do you need
it so greatly?"
"Why do YOU ask me these questions?"
"Because you promised to explain matters to me. Listen. I am
certain thatas soon as ever I 'begin to play for myself' (and I
still have 120 gulden left)I shall win. You can then take of
me what you require."
She made a contemptuous grimace.
"You must not be angry with me" I continued"for making such
a proposal. I am so conscious of being only a nonentity in your
eyes that you need not mind accepting money from me. A gift from
me could not possibly offend you. Moreoverit was I who lost
She glanced at mebutseeing that I was in an irritable
sarcastic moodchanged the subject.
"My affairs cannot possibly interest you" she said. Still
if you DO wish to knowI am in debt. I borrowed some
moneyand must pay it back again. I have a curioussenseless
idea that I am bound to win at the gaming-tables. Why I think so
I cannot tellbut I do think soand with some assurance.
Perhaps it is because of that assurance that I now find myself
without any other resource."
"Or perhaps it is because it is so NECESSARY for you to win. It
is like a drowning man catching at a straw. You yourself will
agree thatunless he were drowning he would not mistake a straw
for the trunk of a tree."
Polina looked surprised.
"What?" she said. "Do not you also hope something from it?
Did you not tell me again and againtwo weeks agothat you
were certain of winning at roulette if you played here? And did
you not ask me not to consider you a fool for doing so? Were you
joking? You cannot have beenfor I remember that you spoke with
a gravity which forbade the idea of your jesting."
"True" I replied gloomily. "I always felt certain that I
should win. Indeedwhat you say makes me ask myself--Why have my
absurdsenseless losses of today raised a doubt in my mind?
Yet I am still positive thatso soon as ever I begin to play
for myselfI shall infallibly win."
"And why are you so certain?"
"To tell the truthI do not know. I only know that I must
win--that it is the one resource I have left. Yeswhy do I feel
so assured on the point?"
"Perhaps because one cannot help winning if one is fanatically
certain of doing so."
"Yet I dare wager that you do not think me capable of serious
feeling in the matter?"
"I do not care whether you are so or not" answered Polina with
calm indifference. "Wellsince you ask meI DO doubt your
ability to take anything seriously. You are capable of worrying
but not deeply. You are too ill-regulated and unsettled a person
for that. But why do you want money? Not a single one of the reasons
which you have given can be looked upon as serious."
"By the way" I interrupted"you say you want to pay off a
debt. It must be a large one. Is it to the Frenchman?"
"What do you mean by asking all these questions? You are very
clever today. Surely you are not drunk?"
"You know that you and I stand on no ceremonyand that
sometimes I put to you very plain questions. I repeat that I am
yourslave--and slaves cannot be shamed or offended."
"You talk like a child. It is always possible to comport
oneself with dignity. If one has a quarrel it ought to elevate
rather than to degrade one."
"A maxim straight from the copybook! Suppose I CANNOT comport
myself with dignity. By that I mean thatthough I am a man of
self-respectI am unable to carry off a situation properly. Do
you know the reason? It is because we Russians are too richly and
multifariously gifted to be able at once to find the proper mode
of expression. It is all a question of mode. Most of us are so
bounteously endowed with intellect as to require also a spice of
genius to choose the right form of behaviour. And genius is
lacking in us for the reason that so little genius at all
exists. It belongs only to the French--though a few other
Europeans have elaborated their forms so well as to be able to
figure with extreme dignityand yet be wholly undignified
persons. That is whywith usthe mode is so all-important. The
Frenchman may receive an insult-- a reala venomous insult: yet
he will not so much as frown. But a tweaking of the nose he
cannot bearfor the reason that such an act is an infringement
of the acceptedof the time-hallowed order of decorum. That is
why our good ladies are so fond of Frenchmen--the Frenchman's
mannersthey sayare perfect! But in my opinion there is no
such thing as a Frenchman's manners. The Frenchman is only a
bird--the coq gaulois. At the same timeas I am not a womanI
do not properly understand the question. Cocks may be excellent
birds. If I am wrong you must stop me. You ought to stop and
correct me more often when I am speaking to youfor I am too
apt to say everything that is in my head.
"You seeI have lost my manners. I agree that I have nonenor yet
any dignity. I will tell you why. I set no store upon such things.
Everything in me has undergone a cheek. You know the reason. I have not a
single human thought in my head. For a long while I have been
ignorant of what is going on in the world--here or in Russia. I
have been to Dresdenyet am completely in the dark as to what
Dresden is like. You know the cause of my obsession. I have no
hope nowand am a mere cipher in your eyes; whereforeI tell
you outright that wherever I go I see only you--all the rest is a
matter of indifference.
"Why or how I have come to love you I do not know. It may be that
you are not altogether fair to look upon. Do you knowI am ignorant
even as to what your face is like. In all probabilitytooyour heart
is not comelyand it is possible that your mind is wholly ignoble."
"And because you do not believe in my nobility of soul you
think to purchase me with money?" she said.
"WHEN have I thought to do so?" was my reply.
"You are losing the thread of the argument. If you do not wish
to purchase meat all events you wish to purchase my respect."
"Not at all. I have told you that I find it difficult to
explain myself. You are hard upon me. Do not be angry at my
chattering. You know why you ought not to be angry with me--that
I am simply an imbecile. HoweverI do not mind if you ARE
angry. Sitting in my roomI need but to think of youto
imagine to myself the rustle of your dressand at once I fall
almost to biting my hands. Why should you be angry with me?
Because I call myself your slave? RevelI pray youin my
slavery--revel in it. Do you know that sometimes I could kill
you?--not because I do not love youor am jealous of youbut
because I feel as though I could simply devour you... You are
"NoI am not" she retorted. "But I order younevertheless
to be silent."
She stoppedwell nigh breathless with anger. God knowsshe may
not have been a beautiful womanyet I loved to see her come to
a halt like thisand was thereforethe more fond of arousing
her temper. Perhaps she divined thisand for that very reason
gave way to rage. I said as much to her.
"What rubbish!" she cried with a shudder.
"I do not care" I continued. "Alsodo you know that it is
not safe for us to take walks together? Often I have a feeling
that I should like to strike youto disfigure youto strangle
you. Are you certain that it will never come to that? You are
driving me to frenzy. Am I afraid of a scandalor of your
anger? Why should I fear your anger? I love without hopeand
know that hereafter I shall love you a thousand times more. If
ever I should kill you I should have to kill myself too. But I
shall put off doing so as long as possiblefor I wish to
continue enjoying the unbearable pain which your coldness gives
me. Do you know a very strange thing? It is thatwith every
daymy love for you increases--though that would seem to be
almost an impossibility. Why should I not become a fatalist?
Remember howon the third day that we ascended the
ShlangenbergI was moved to whisper in your ear: 'Say but the
wordand I will leap into the abyss.' Had you said itI should
have leapt. Do you not believe me?"
"What stupid rubbish!" she cried.
"I care not whether it be wise or stupid" I cried in return.
"I only know that in your presence I must speakspeakspeak.
ThereforeI am speaking. I lose all conceit when I am with you
and everything ceases to matter."
"Why should I have wanted you to leap from the Shlangenberg?"
she said drilyand (I think) with wilful offensiveness. "THAT
would have been of no use to me."
"Splendid!" I shouted. "I know well that you must have used
the words 'of no use' in order to crush me. I can see through
you. 'Of no use' did you say? Whyto give pleasure is ALWAYS
of use; andas for barbarousunlimited power--even if it be only
over a fly--whyit is a kind of luxury. Man is a despot by
natureand loves to torture. Youin particularlove to do so."
I remember that at this moment she looked at me in a peculiar
way. The fact is that my face must have been expressing all the
maze of senselessgross sensations which were seething within
me. To this day I can rememberword for wordthe conversation
as I have written it down. My eyes were suffused with bloodand
the foam had caked itself on my lips. Alsoon my honour I swear
thathad she bidden me cast myself from the summit of the
ShlangenbergI should have done it. Yeshad she bidden me in
jestor only in contempt and with a spit in my faceI should
have cast myself down.
"Oh no! Why so? I believe you" she saidbut in such a
manner--in the manner of whichat timesshe was a mistress--and
with such a note of disdain and viperish arrogance in her tone
that God knows I could have killed her.
Yesat that moment she stood in peril. I had not lied to her
"Surely you are not a coward?" suddenly she asked me.
"I do not know" I replied. "Perhaps I ambut I do not know.
I have long given up thinking about such things."
"If I said to you'Kill that man' would you kill him?"
"Whomsoever I wish?"
"Do not ask me questions; return me answers. I repeat
whomsoever I wish? I desire to see if you were speaking
seriously just now."
She awaited my reply with such gravity and impatience that I
found the situation unpleasant.
"Do YOUrathertell me" I said"what is going on here? Why
do you seem half-afraid of me? I can see for myself what is
wrong. You are the step-daughter of a ruined and insensate man
who is smitten with love for this devil of a Blanche. And there
is this Frenchmantoowith his mysterious influence over you.
Yetyou actually ask me such a question! If you do not tell me
how things standI shall have to put in my oar and do something.
Are you ashamed to be frank with me? Are you shy of me? "
"I am not going to talk to you on that subject. I have asked
you a questionand am waiting for an answer."
"Wellthen--I will kill whomsoever you wish" I said. "Butare
you REALLY going to bid me do such deeds?"
"Why should you think that I am going to let you off? I shall
bid you do itor else renounce me. Could you ever do the
latter? Noyou know that you couldn't. You would first kill
whom I had bidden youand then kill ME for having dared to send
Something seemed to strike upon my brain as I heard these words.
Of courseat the time I took them half in jest and half as a
challenge; yetshe had spoken them with great seriousness. I
felt thunderstruck that she should so express herselfthat she
should assert such a right over methat she should assume such
authority and say outright: "Either you kill whom I bid youor
I will have nothing more to do with you." Indeedin what she
had said there was something so cynical and unveiled as to pass
all bounds. For how could she ever regard me as the same after
the killing was done? This was more than slavery and abasement;
it was sufficient to bring a man back to his right senses. Yet
despite the outrageous improbability of our conversationmy
heart shook within me.
Suddenlyshe burst out laughing. We were seated on a bench near
the spot where the children were playing--just opposite the point
in the alley-way before the Casino where the carriages drew up
in order to set down their occupants.
"Do you see that fat Baroness?" she cried. "It is the Baroness
Burmergelm. She arrived three days ago. Just look at her
husband--that tallwizened Prussian therewith the stick in his
hand. Do you remember how he stared at us the other day? Well
go to the Baronesstake off your hat to herand say something
"Because you have sworn that you would leap from the
Shlangenberg for my sakeand that you would kill any one whom I
might bid you kill. Wellinstead of such murders and tragedies
I wish only for a good laugh. Go without answering meand let
me see the Baron give you a sound thrashing with his stick."
"Then you throw me out a challenge?--you think that I will not
"YesI do challenge you. Gofor such is my will."
"Then I WILL gohowever mad be your fancy. Onlylook here:
shall you not be doing the General a great disserviceas well
asthrough hima great disservice to yourself? It is not about
myself I am worrying-- it is about you and the General. Whyfor
a mere fancyshould I go and insult a woman?"
"Ah! Then I can see that you are only a trifler" she said
contemptuously. "Your eyes are swimming with blood--but only
because you have drunk a little too much at luncheon. Do I not
know that what I have asked you to do is foolish and wrongand
that the General will be angry about it? But I want to have a
good laughall the same. I want thatand nothing else. Why
should you insult a womanindeed? Wellyou will be given a
sound thrashing for so doing."
I turned awayand went silently to do her bidding. Of course
the thing was follybut I could not get out of it. I remember
thatas I approached the BaronessI felt as excited as a
schoolboy. I was in a frenzyas though I were drunk.
Two days have passed since that day of lunacy. What a noise and
a fuss and a chattering and an uproar there was! And what a
welter of unseemliness and disorder and stupidity and bad
manners! And I the cause of it all! Yet part of the scene was
also ridiculous--at all events to myself it was so. I am not
quite sure what was the matter with me--whether I was merely
stupefied or whether I purposely broke loose and ran amok.
At times my mind seems all confused; while at other times
I seem almost to be back in my childhoodat the school desk
and to have done the deed simply out of mischief.
It all came of Polina--yesof Polina. But for herthere might
never have been a fracas. Or perhaps I did the deed in a fit of
despair (though it may be foolish of me to think so)? What there
is so attractive about her I cannot think. Yet there IS
something attractive about her--something passing fairit would
seem. Others besides myself she has driven to distraction. She
is tall and straightand very slim. Her body looks as though it
could be tied into a knotor bent doublelike a cord. The
imprint of her foot is long and narrow. It isa maddening
imprint--yessimply a maddening one! And her hair has a reddish
tint about itand her eyes are like cat's eyes--though able also
to glance with prouddisdainful mien. On the evening of my
first arrivalfour months agoI remember that she was sitting
and holding an animated conversation with De Griers in the
salon. And the way in which she looked at him was such that
laterwhen I retired to my own room upstairsI kept fancying
that she had smitten him in the face--that she had smitten him
right on the cheekso peculiar had been her look as she stood
confronting him. Ever since that evening I have loved her.
But to my tale.
I stepped from the path into the carriage-wayand took my stand
in the middle of it. There I awaited the Baron and the Baroness.
When they were but a few paces distant from me I took off my
I remember that the Baroness was clad in a voluminous silk
dresspale grey in colourand adorned with flounces and a
crinoline and train. Alsoshe was short and inordinately stout
while her grossflabby chin completely concealed her neck. Her
face was purpleand the little eyes in it had an impudent
malicious expression. Yet she walked as though she were
conferring a favour upon everybody by so doing. As for the
Baronhe was tallwizenedbony-faced after the German
fashionspectacledandapparentlyabout forty-five years of
age. Alsohe had legs which seemed to begin almost at his
chest--orratherat his chin! Yetfor all his air of
peacock-like conceithis clothes sagged a littleand his face
wore a sheepish air which might have passed for profundity.
These details I noted within a space of a few seconds.
At first my bow and the fact that I had my hat in my hand barely
caught their attention. The Baron only scowled a littleand the
Baroness swept straight on.
"Madame la Baronne" said Iloudly and distinctly--embroidering
each wordas it were--"j'ai l'honneur d'etre votre esclave."
Then I bowed againput on my hatand walked past the Baron
with a rude smile on my face.
Polina had ordered me merely to take off my hat: the bow and the
general effrontery were of my own invention. God knows what
instigated me to perpetrate the outrage! In my frenzy I felt as
though I were walking on air
"Hein!" ejaculated--orrathergrowled--the Baron as he turned
towards me in angry surprise.
I too turned roundand stood waiting in pseudo-courteous
expectation. Yet still I wore on my face an impudent smile as I
gazed at him. He seemed to hesitateand his brows contracted to
their utmost limits. Every moment his visage was growing darker.
The Baroness also turned in my directionand gazed at me in
wrathful perplexitywhile some of the passers-by also began to
stare at usand others of them halted outright.
"Hein!" the Baron vociferated againwith a redoubled growl
and a note of growing wrath in his voice.
"Ja wohl!" I repliedstill looking him in the eyes.
"Sind sie rasend?" he exclaimedbrandishing his stickand
apparentlybeginning to feel nervous. Perhaps it was my costume
which intimidated himfor I was well and fashionably dressed
after the manner of a man who belongs to indisputably good
"Ja wo-o-ohl!" cried I again with all my might with a
longdrawn rolling of the " ohl " sound after the fashion of the
Berliners (who constantly use the phrase "Ja wohl!" in
conversationand more or less prolong the syllable "ohl"
according as they desire to express different shades of meaning
or of mood).
At this the Baron and the Baroness faced sharply aboutand
almost fled in their alarm. Some of the bystanders gave vent to
excited exclamationsand others remained staring at me in
astonishment. But I do not remember the details very well.
Wheeling quietly aboutI returned in the direction of Polina
Alexandrovna. Butwhen I had got within a hundred paces of her
seatI saw her rise and set out with the children towards the
At the portico I caught up to her.
"I have perpetrated the--the piece of idiocy" I said as I came
level with her.
"Have you? Then you can take the consequences" she replied
without so much as looking at me. Then she moved towards the
I spent the rest of the evening walking in the park. Thence I
passed into the forestand walked on until I found myself in a
neighbouring principality. At a wayside restaurant I partook of
an omelette and some wineand was charged for the idyllic
repast a thaler and a half.
Not until eleven o'clock did I return home--to find a summons
awaiting me from the General.
Our party occupied two suites in the hotel; each of which
contained two rooms. The first (the larger suite) comprised a
salon and a smoking-roomwithadjoining the latterthe
General's study. It was here that he was awaiting me as he stood
posed in a majestic attitude beside his writing-table. Lolling
on a divan close by was De Griers.
"My good sir" the General began"may I ask you what this is
that you have gone and done?"
"I should be glad" I replied"if we could come straight to
the point. Probably you are referring to my encounter of today
with a German?"
"With a German? Whythe German was the Baron Burmergelm--a most
important personage! I hear that you have been rude both to him
and to the Baroness?"
"NoI have not."
"But I understand that you simply terrified themmy good sir?"
shouted the General.
"Not in the least" I replied. "You must know that when I was
in Berlin I frequently used to hear the Berliners repeatand
repellently prolonga certain phrase--namely'Ja wohl!'; and
happening to meet this couple in the carriage-driveI found
for some reason or anotherthat this phrase suddenly recurred
to my memoryand exercised a rousing effect upon my spirits.
Moreoveron the three previous occasions that I have met the
Baroness she has walked towards me as though I were a worm which
could easily be crushed with the foot. Not unnaturallyI too
possess a measure of self-respect; whereforeon THIS occasion I
took off my hatand said politely (yesI assure you it was
said politely): 'Madamej'ai l'honneur d'etre votre esclave.'
Then the Baron turned roundand said 'Hein!'; whereupon I
felt moved to ejaculate in answer 'Ja wohl!' Twice I shouted
it at him--the first time in an ordinary toneand the second
time with the greatest prolonging of the words of which I was
capable. That is all."
I must confess that this puerile explanation gave me great
pleasure. I felt a strong desire to overlay the incident with an
even added measure of grossness; sothe further I proceeded
the more did the gusto of my proceeding increase.
"You are only making fun of me! " vociferated the General as
turning to the Frenchmanhe declared that my bringing about of
the incident had been gratuitous. De Griers smiled
contemptuouslyand shrugged his shoulders.
"Do not think THAT" I put in. "It was not so at all. I grant
you that my behaviour was bad--I fully confess that it was so
and make no secret of the fact. I would even go so far as to
grant you that my behaviour might well be called stupid and
indecent tomfoolery; butMORE than that it was not. Alsolet me
tell you that I am very sorry for my conduct. Yet there is one
circumstance whichin my eyesalmost absolves me from regret
in the matter. Of late--that is to sayfor the last two or three
weeks--I have been feeling not at all well. That is to sayI
have been in a sicknervousirritablefanciful conditionso
that I have periodically lost control over myself. For instance
on more than one occasion I have tried to pick a quarrel even
with Monsieur le Marquise here; andunder the circumstanceshe
had no choice but to answer me. In shortI have recently been
showing signs of ill-health. Whether the Baroness Burmergelm
will take this circumstance into consideration when I come to
beg her pardon (for I do intend to make her amends) I do not
know; but I doubt if she willand the less so sinceso far as
I knowthe circumstance is one whichof latehas begun to be
abused in the legal worldin that advocates in criminal cases
have taken to justifying their clients on the ground thatat
the moment of the crimethey (the clients) were unconscious of
what they were doing--thatin shortthey were out of health.
'My client committed the murder--that is true; but he has no
recollection of having committed it.' And doctors actually
support these advocates by affirming that there really is such a
malady--that there really can arise temporary delusions which
make a man remember nothing of a given deedor only a half or a
quarter of it! But the Baron and Baroness are members of an
older generationas well as Prussian Junkers and landowners. To
them such a process in the medico-judicial world will be
unknownand thereforethey are the more unlikely to accept any
such explanation. What is YOUR opinion about itGeneral?"
"Enoughsir! " he thundered with barely restrained fury.
"EnoughI say! Once and for all I must endeavour to rid myself
of you and your impertinence. To justify yourself in the eyes of
the Baron and Baroness will be impossible. Any intercourse with
youeven though it be confined to a begging of their pardons
they would look upon as a degradation. I may tell you thaton
learning that you formed part ofmy householdthe Baron
approached me in the Casinoand demanded of me additional
satisfaction. Do you understandthenwhat it is that you have
entailed upon me--upon MEmy good sir? You have entailed upon me
the fact of my being forced to sue humbly to the Baronand to
give him my word of honour that this very day you shall cease to
belong to my establishment!"
"Excuse meGeneral" I interrupted"but did he make an
express point of it that I should 'cease to belong to your
establishment' as you call it?"
"No; Iof my own initiativethought that I ought to afford him
that satisfaction; andwith it he was satisfied. So we must
partgood sir. It is my duty to hand over to you forty gulden
three florinsas per the accompanying statement. Here is the
moneyand here the accountwhich you are at liberty to verify.
Farewell. From henceforth we are strangers. From you I have
never had anything but trouble and unpleasantness. I am about to
call the landlordand explain to him that from tomorrow onwards
I shall no longer be responsible for your hotel expenses. Also I
have the honour to remain your obedient servant."
I took the money and the account (which was indicted in pencil)
andbowing low to the Generalsaid to him very gravely:
"The matter cannot end here. I regret very much that you should
have been put to unpleasantness at the Baron's hands; butthe
fault (pardon me) is your own. How came you to answer for me to
the Baron? And what did you mean by saying that I formed part of
your household? I am merely your family tutor--not a son of
yoursnor yet your wardnor a person of any kind for whose
acts you need be responsible. I am a judicially competent
persona man of twenty-five years of agea university
graduatea gentlemananduntil I met yourselfa complete
stranger to you. Only my boundless respect for your merits
restrains me from demanding satisfaction at your handsas well
as a further explanation as to the reasons which have led you to
take it upon yourself to answer for my conduct."
So struck was he with my words thatspreading out his handshe
turned to the Frenchmanand interpreted to him that I had
challenged himself (the General) to a duel. The Frenchman
"Nor do I intend to let the Baron off" I continued calmlybut
with not a little discomfiture at De Griers' merriment. "And
since youGeneralhave today been so good as to listen to the
Baron's complaintsand to enter into his concerns--since you
have made yourself a participator in the affair--I have the
honour to inform you thattomorrow morning at the latestI
shallin my own namedemand of the said Baron a formal
explanation as to the reasons which have led him to disregard
the fact that the matter lies between him and myself aloneand
to put a slight upon me by referring it to another personas
though I were unworthy to answer for my own conduct."
Then there happened what I had foreseen. The General on hearing
of this further intended outrageshowed the white feather.
"What? " he cried. "Do you intend to go on with this damned
nonsense? Do you not realise the harm that it is doing me? I beg
of you not to laugh at mesir--not to laugh at mefor we have
police authorities here whoout of respect for my rankand for
that of the Baron... In shortsirI swear to you that I will
have you arrestedand marched out of the placeto prevent any
further brawling on your part. Do you understand what I say?"
He was almost breathless with angeras well as in a terrible
"General" I replied with that calmness which he never could
abide"one cannot arrest a man for brawling until he has
brawled. I have not so much as begun my explanations to the
Baronand you are altogether ignorant as to the form and time
which my intended procedure is likely to assume. I wish but to
disabuse the Baron of what isto mea shameful
supposition--namelythat I am under the guardianship of a person
who is qualified to exercise control over my free will. It is
vain for you to disturb and alarm yourself."
"For God's sakeAlexis Ivanovitchdo put an end to this
senseless scheme of yours!" he mutteredbut with a sudden
change from a truculent tone to one of entreaty as he caught me
by the hand. "Do you know what is likely to come of it? Merely
further unpleasantness. You will agree with meI am surethat
at present I ought to move with especial care--yeswith very
especial care. You cannot be fully aware of how I am situated.
When we leave this place I shall be ready to receive you back
into my household; butfor the time being I-- WellI cannot tell
you all my reasons." With that he wound up in a despairing
voice: " O Alexis IvanovitchAlexis Ivanovitch!"
I moved towards the door--begging him to be calmand promising
that everything should be done decently and in order; whereafter
Russianswhen abroadare over-apt to play the poltroonto
watch all their wordsand to wonder what people are thinking of
their conductor whether such and such a thing is 'comme il
faut.' In shortthey are over-apt to cosset themselvesand to
lay claim to great importance. Always they prefer the form of
behaviour which has once and for all become accepted and
established. This they will follow slavishly whether in hotels
on promenadesat meetingsor when on a journey. But the
General had avowed to me thatover and above such
considerations as thesethere were circumstances which
compelled him to "move with especial care at present"and that the
fact had actually made him poor-spirited and a coward--it had made
him altogether change his tone towards me. This fact I took into
my calculationsand duly noted itforof coursehe MIGHT
apply to the authorities tomorrowand it behoved me to go
Yet it was not the General but Polina that I wanted to anger.
She had treated me with such crueltyand had got me into such a
holethat I felt a longing to force her to beseech me to stop.
Of coursemy tomfoolery might compromise her; yet certain other
feelings and desires had begun to form themselves in my brain.
If I was never to rank in her eyes as anything but a nonentity
it would not greatly matter if I figured as a draggle-tailed
cockereland the Baron were to give me a good thrashing; but
the fact was that I desired to have the laugh of them alland
to come out myself unscathed. Let people see what they WOULD
see. Let Polinafor oncehave a good frightand be forced to
whistle me to heel again. Buthowever much she might whistle
she should see that I was at least no draggle-tailed cockerel!
I have just received a surprising piece of news. I have just met
our chambermaid on the stairsand been informed by her that
Maria Philipovna departed todayby the night trainto stay
with a cousin at Carlsbad. What can that mean? The maid declares
that Madame packed her trunks early in the day. Yet how is it
that no one else seems to have been aware of the circumstance?
Or is it that I have been the only person to be unaware of it?
Alsothe maid has just told me thatthree days agoMaria
Philipovna had some high words with the General. I understand
then! Probably the words were concerning Mlle. Blanche.
Certainly something decisive is approaching.
In the morning I sent for the maitre d'hoteland explained to
him thatin futuremy bill was to be rendered to me
personally. As a matter of factmy expenses had never been so
large as to alarm menor to lead me to quit the hotel; while
moreoverI still had 16o gulden left to meand--in them--yesin
themperhapsriches awaited me. It was a curious factthat
though I had not yet won anything at playI nevertheless acted
thoughtand felt as though I were surebefore longto become
wealthy-- since I could not imagine myself otherwise.
NextI bethought medespite the earliness of the hourof going
to see Mr. Astleywho was staying at the Hotel de l'Angleterre
(a hostelry at no great distance from our own). But suddenly De
Griers entered my room. This had never before happenedfor of
late that gentleman and I had stood on the most strained and
distant of terms--he attempting no concealment of his contempt
for me (he even made an expresspoint of showing it)and I
having no reason to desire his company. In shortI detested
him. Consequentlyhis entry at the present moment the more
astounded me. At once I divined that something out of the way
was on the carpet.
He entered with marked affabilityand began by complimenting me
on my room. Thenperceiving that I had my hat in my handshe
inquired whither I was going so early; andno sooner did he hear
that I was bound for Mr. Astley's than he stoppedlooked grave
and seemed plunged in thought.
He was a true Frenchman insofar as thatthough he could be
lively and engaging when it suited himhe became insufferably
dull and wearisome as soon as ever the need for being lively and
engaging had passed. Seldom is a Frenchman NATURALLY civil: he
is civil only as though to order and of set purpose. Alsoif he
thinks it incumbent upon him to be fancifuloriginaland out
of the wayhis fancy always assumes a foolishunnatural vein
for the reason that it is compounded of tritehackneyed forms.
In shortthe natural Frenchman is a conglomeration of
commonplacepettyeveryday positivenessso that he is the
most tedious person in the world.--IndeedI believe that none
but greenhorns and excessively Russian people feel an attraction
towards the French; forto any man of sensibilitysuch a
compendium of outworn forms--a compendium which is built up of
drawing-room mannersexpansivenessand gaiety--becomes at once
over-noticeable and unbearable.
"I have come to see you on business" De Griers began in a very
off-handyet politetone; "nor will I seek to conceal from you
the fact that I have come in the capacity of an emissaryof
an intermediaryfrom the General. Having small knowledge of the
Russian tongueI lost most of what was said last night; butthe
General has now explained mattersand I must confess that--"
"See hereMonsieur de Griers" I interrupted. "I understand
that you have undertaken to act in this affair as an
intermediary. Of course I am only 'un utchitel' a tutorand
have never claimed to be an intimate of this householdnor to
stand on at all familiar terms with it. ConsequentlyI do not
know the whole of its circumstances. Yet pray explain to me this:
have you yourself become one of its membersseeing that you are
beginning to take such a part in everythingand are now present
as an intermediary?"
The Frenchman seemed not over-pleased at my question. It was one
which was too outspoken for his taste--and he had no mind to be
frank with me.
"I am connected with the General" he said drily"partly
through business affairsand partly through special
circumstances. My principal has sent me merely to ask you to
forego your intentions of last evening. What you contemplate is
I have no doubtvery clever; yet he has charged me to represent
to you that you have not the slightest chance of succeeding in
your endsince not only will the Baron refuse to receive you
but also he (the Baron) has at his disposal every possible means
for obviating further unpleasantness from you. Surely you can
see that yourself? Whatthenwould be the good of going on
with it all? On the other handthe General promises that at the
first favourable opportunity he will receive you back into his
householdandin the meantimewill credit you with your
salary--with 'vos appointements.' Surely that will suit youwill
Very quietly I replied that he (the Frenchman) was labouring
under a delusion; that perhapsafter allI should not be
expelled from the Baron's presencebuton the contrarybe
listened to; finallythat I should be glad if Monsieur de
Griers would confess that he was now visiting me merely in order
to see how far I intended to go in the affair.
"Good heavens!" cried de Griers. "Seeing that the General
takes such an interest in the matteris there anything very
unnatural in his desiring also to know your plans? "
Again I began my explanationsbut the Frenchman only fidgeted
and rolled his head about as he listened with an expression of
manifest and unconcealed irony on his face. In shorthe adopted
a supercilious attitude. For my own partI endeavoured to
pretend that I took the affair very seriously. I declared that
since the Baron had gone and complained of me to the Generalas
though I were a mere servant of the General'she hadin the
first placelost me my postandin the second placetreated
me like a person to whomas to one not qualified to answer for
himselfit was not even worth while to speak. NaturallyI
saidI felt insulted at this. Yetcomprehending as I did
differences of yearsof social statusand so forth (here I
could scarcely help smiling)I was not anxious to bring about
further scenes by going personally to demand or to request
satisfaction of the Baron. All that I felt was that I had a
right to go in person and beg the Baron's and the Baroness's
pardon--the more so sinceof lateI had been feeling unwell and
unstrungand had been in a fanciful condition. And so forth
and so forth. Yet (I continued) the Baron's offensive behaviour
to me of yesterday (that is to saythe fact of his referring
the matter to the General) as well as his insistence that the
General should deprive me of my posthad placed me in such a
position that I could not well express my regret to him (the
Baron) and to his good ladyfor the reason that in all
probability both he and the Baronesswith the world at large
would imagine that I was doing so merely because I hopedby my
actionto recover my post. HenceI found myself forced to
request the Baron to express to me HIS OWN regretsas well as
to express them in the most unqualified manner--to sayin fact
that he had never had any wish to insult me. After the Baron had
done THATI shouldfor my partat once feel free to express
to himwhole-heartedly and without reservemy own regrets."
In short" I declared in conclusion" my one desire is that the
Baron may make it possible for me to adopt the latter course."
"Oh fie! What refinements and subtleties!" exclaimed De
Griers. "Besideswhat have you to express regret for? Confess
MonsieurMonsieur--pardon mebut I have forgotten your
name--confessI saythat all this is merely a plan to annoy the
General? Or perhapsyou have some other and special end in
"In return you must pardon MEmon cher Marquisand tell me
what you have to do with it."
"But what of the General? Last night he said thatfor some
reason or anotherit behoved him to 'move with especial care at
present;' whereforehe was feeling nervous. But I did not
understand the reference."
"Yesthere DO exist special reasons for his doing so"
assented De Griers in a conciliatory toneyet with rising
anger. "You are acquainted with Mlle. de Comingesare you not?"
"Mlle. Blancheyou mean?"
"YesMlle. Blanche de Cominges. Doubtless you know also that
the General is in love with this young ladyand may even be
about to marry her before he leaves here? Imaginetherefore
what any scene or scandal would entail upon him!"
"I cannot see that the marriage scheme needbe affected by
scenes or scandals."
"Mais le Baron est si irascible--un caractere prussienvous
savez! Enfin il fera une querelle d'Allemand."
"I do not care" I replied"seeing that I no longer belong to
his household" (of set purpose I was trying to talk as
senselessly as possible). "But is it quite settled that Mlle.
is to marry the General? What are they waiting for? Why should
they conceal such a matter--at all events from ourselvesthe
General's own party?"
"I cannot tell you. The marriage is not yet a settled affair
for they are awaiting news from Russia. The General has business
transactions to arrange."
"Ah! Connecteddoubtlesswith madame his mother?"
De Griers shot at me a glance of hatred.
"To cut things short" he interrupted"I have complete
confidence in your native politenessas well as in your tact
and good sense. I feel sure that you will do what I suggest
even if it is only for the sake of this family which has
received you as a kinsman into its bosom and has always loved
and respected you."
"Be so good as to observe" I remarked"that the same family
has just EXPELLED me from its bosom. All that you are saying you
are saying but for show; butwhen people have just said to you
'Of course we do not wish to turn you outyetfor the sake of
appearance'syou must PERMIT yourself to be turned out'
nothing can matter very much."
"Very wellthen" he saidin a sterner and more arrogant
tone. "Seeing that my solicitations have had no effect upon
youit is my duty to mention that other measures will be taken.
There exist here policeyou must rememberand this very day
they shall send you packing. Que diable! To think of a blanc bec
like yourself challenging a person like the Baron to a duel! Do
you suppose that you will be ALLOWED to do such things? Just try
doing themand see if any one will be afraid of you! The reason
why I have asked you to desist is that I can see that your
conduct is causing the General annoyance. Do you believe that
the Baron could not tell his lacquey simply to put you out of
"Nevertheless I should not GO out of doors" I retorted with
absolute calm. "You are labouring under a delusionMonsieur de
Griers. The thing will be done in far better trim than you
imagine. I was just about to start for Mr. Astley'sto ask him
to be my intermediary--in other wordsmy second. He has a strong
liking for meand I do not think that he will refuse. He will
go and see the Baron on MY behalfand the Baron will certainly
not decline to receive him. Although I am only a tutor--a kind of
subalternMr. Astley is known to all men as the nephew of a
real English lordthe Lord Piebrochas well as a lord in his
own right. Yesyou may be pretty sure that the Baron will be
civil to Mr. Astleyand listen to him. Orshould he decline to
do soMr. Astley will take the refusal as a personal affront to
himself (for you know how persistent the English are?) and
thereupon introduce to the Baron a friend of his own (and he has
many friends in a good position). That being sopicture to
yourself the issue of the affair--an affair which will not quite
end as you think it will."
This caused the Frenchman to bethink him of playing the coward.
"Really things may be as this fellow says" he evidently
thought. "Really he MIGHT be able to engineer another scene."
"Once more I beg of you to let the matter drop" he continued
in a tone that was now entirely conciliatory. "One would think
that it actually PLEASED you to have scenes! Indeedit is a
brawl rather than genuine satisfaction that you are seeking. I
have said that the affair may prove to be divertingand even
cleverand that possibly you may attain something by it; yet
none the less I tell you" (he said this only because he saw me
rise and reach for my hat) "that I have come hither also to
hand you these few words from a certain person. Read them
pleasefor I must take her back an answer."
So sayinghe took from his pocket a smallcompact
wafer-sealed noteand handed it to me. In Polina's handwriting
"I hear that you are thinking of going on with this affair. You
have lost your temper nowand are beginning to play the fool!
Certain circumstanceshoweverI may explain to you later. Pray
cease from your follyand put a check upon yourself. For folly
it all is. I have need of youandmoreoveryou have promised
to obey me. Remember the Shlangenberg. I ask you to be
obedient. If necessaryI shall even BID you be obedient.--Your
"P.S.--If so be that you still bear a grudge against me for what
happened last nightpray forgive me."
Everythingto my eyesseemed to change as I read these words.
My lips grew paleand I began to tremble. Meanwhilethe cursed
Frenchman was eyeing me discreetly and askanceas though he
wished to avoid witnessing my confusion. It would have been
better if he had laughed outright.
"Very well" I said"you can tell Mlle. not to disturb
herself. But" I added sharply"I would also ask you why you
have been so long in handing me this note? Instead of chattering
about triflesyou ought to have delivered me the missive at
once--if you have really come commissioned as you say."
"Wellpardon some natural haste on my partfor the situation
is so strange. I wished first to gain some personal knowledge of
your intentions; andmoreoverI did not know the contents of
the noteand thought that it could be given you at any time."
"I understand" I replied. "So you were ordered to hand me the
note only in the last resortand if you could not otherwise
appease me? Is it not so? Speak outMonsieur de Griers."
"Perhaps" said heassuming a look of great forbearancebut
gazing at me in a meaning way.
I reached for my hat; whereupon he noddedand went out. Yet on
his lips I fancied that I could see a mocking smile. How could
it have been otherwise?
"You and I are to have a reckoning laterMaster Frenchman" I
muttered as I descended the stairs. "Yeswe will measure our
strength together." Yet my thoughts were all in confusionfor
again something seemed to have struck me dizzy. Presently the
air revived me a littleanda couple of minutes latermy
brain had sufficiently cleared to enable two ideas in particular
to stand out in it. FirstlyI asked myselfwhich of the
absurdboyishand extravagant threats which I had uttered at
random last night had made everybody so alarmed? Secondlywhat
was the influence which this Frenchman appeared to exercise over
Polina? He had but to give the wordand at once she did as he
desired--at once she wrote me a note to beg of me to forbear! Of
coursethe relations between the pair hadfrom the firstbeen
a riddle to me--they had been so ever since I had first made
their acquaintance. But of late I had remarked in her a strong
aversion foreven a contempt for--himwhilefor his parthe
had scarcely even looked at herbut had behaved towards her
always in the most churlish fashion. YesI had noted that.
AlsoPolina herself had mentioned to me her dislike for him
and delivered herself of some remarkable confessions on the
subject. Hencehe must have got her into his power
somehow--somehow he must be holding her as in a vice.
All at onceon the Promenadeas it was called--that is to say
in the Chestnut Avenue--I came face to face with my Englishman.
"I was just coming to see you" he said; "and you appear to be
out on a similar errand. So you have parted with your employers?"
"How do you know that?" I asked in astonishment. "Is EVERY ONE
aware of the fact? "
"By no means. Not every one would consider such a fact to be of
moment. IndeedI have never heard any one speak of it."
"Then how come you to know it?"
"Because I have had occasion to do so. Whither are you bound? I
like youand was therefore coming to pay you a visit."
"What a splendid fellow you areMr. Astley!" I criedthough
still wondering how he had come by his knowledge. "And since I
have not yet had my coffeeand you havein all probability
scarcely tasted yourslet us adjourn to the Casino Cafewhere
we can sit and smoke and have a talk."
The cafe in question was only a hundred paces away; sowhen
coffee had been broughtwe seated ourselvesand I lit a
cigarette. Astley was no smokerbuttaking a seat by my side
he prepared himself to listen.
"I do not intend to go away" was my first remark. "I intend
on the contraryto remain here."
"That I never doubted" he answered good-humouredly.
It is a curious fact thaton my way to see himI had never
even thought of telling him of my love for Polina. In factI
had purposely meant to avoid any mention of the subject. Nor
during our stay in the placehad I ever made aught but the
scantiest reference to it. You seenot only was Astley a man of
great reservebut also from the first I had perceived that
Polina had made a great impression upon himalthough he never
spoke of her. But nowstrangely enoughhe had no sooner seated
himself and bent his steely gaze upon methanfor some reason
or anotherI felt moved to tell him everything--to speak to him
of my love in all its phases. For an hour and a half did I
discourse on the subjectand found it a pleasure to do soeven
though this was the first occasion on which I had referred to
the matter. Indeedwhenat certain momentsI perceived that
my more ardent passages confused himI purposely increased my
ardour of narration. Yet one thing I regret: and that is that I
made references to the Frenchman which were a little
Mr. Astley sat without moving as he listened to me. Not a word
nor a sound of any kind did he utter as he stared into my eyes.
Suddenlyhoweveron my mentioning the Frenchmanhe
interrupted meand inquired sternly whether I did right to
speak of an extraneous matter (he had always been a strange man
in his mode of propounding questions).
"NoI fear not" I replied.
"And concerning this Marquis and Mlle. Polina you know nothing
Again I was surprised that such a categorical question should
come from such a reserved individual.
"NoI know nothing FOR CERTAIN about them" was my reply.
"Then you have done very wrong to speak of them to meor even
to imagine things about them."
"Quite soquite so" I interrupted in some astonishment. "I
admit that. Yet that is not the question." Whereupon I related
to him in detail the incident of two days ago. I spoke of
Polina's outburstof my encounter with the Baronof my
dismissalof the General's extraordinary pusillanimityand of
the call which De Griers had that morning paid me. In
conclusionI showed Astley the note which I had lately received.
"What do you make of it?" I asked. "When I met you I was just
coming to ask you your opinion. For myselfI could have killed
this Frenchmanand am not sure that I shall not do so even yet."
"I feel the same about it" said Mr. Astley. "As for Mlle.
Polina--wellyou yourself know thatif necessity drivesone
enters into relation with people whom one simply detests. Even
between this couple there may be something whichthough unknown
to youdepends upon extraneous circumstances. Formy own part
I think that you may reassure yourself--or at all events
partially. And as for Mlle. Polina's proceedings of two days
agothey wereof coursestrange; not because she can have
meant to get rid of youor to earn for you a thrashing from the
Baron's cudgel (which for some curious reasonhe did not use
although he had it ready in his hands)but because such
proceedings on the part of such--wellof such a refined lady as
Mlle. Polina areto say the least of itunbecoming. But she
cannot have guessed that you would carry out her absurd wish to
"Do you know what?" suddenly I cried as I fixed Mr. Astley
with my gaze. "I believe that you have already heard the story
from some one--very possibly from Mlle. Polina herself?"
In return he gave me an astonished stare.
"Your eyes look very fiery" he said with a return of his
former calm"and in them I can read suspicion. Nowyou have
no right whatever to be suspicious. It is not a right which I
can for a moment recogniseand I absolutely refuse to answer
"Enough! You need say no more" I cried with a strange emotion
at my heartyet not altogether understanding what had aroused
that emotion in my breast. Indeedwhenwhereand how could
Polina have chosen Astley to be one of her confidants? Of late I
had come rather to overlook him in this connectioneven though
Polina had always been a riddle to me--so much so that nowwhen
I had just permitted myself to tell my friend of my infatuation
in all its aspectsI had found myself struckduring the very
tellingwith the fact that in my relations with her I could
specify nothing that was explicitnothing that was positive. On
the contrarymy relations had been purely fantasticstrange
and unreal; they had been unlike anything else that I could
"Very wellvery well" I replied with a warmth equal to
Astley's own. "Then I stand confoundedand have no further
opinions to offer. But you are a good fellowand I am glad to
know what you think about it alleven though I do not need your
Thenafter a pauseI resumed:
"For instancewhat reason should you assign for the General
taking fright in this way? Why should my stupid clowning have
led the world to elevate it into a serious incident? Even De
Griers has found it necessary to put in his oar (and he only
interferes on the most important occasions)and to visit me
and to address to me the most earnest supplications. YesHEDe
Griershas actually been playing the suppliant to ME! Andmark
youalthough he came to me as early as nine o'clockhe had
ready-prepared in his hand Mlle. Polina's note. WhenI would
askwas that note written? Mlle. Polina must have been aroused
from sleep for the express purpose of writing it. At all events
the circumstance shows that she is an absolute slave to the
Frenchmansince she actually begs my pardon in the
note--actually begs my pardon! Yet what is her personal concern
in the matter? Why is she interested in it at all? Whytoois
the whole party so afraid of this precious Baron? And what sort
of a business do you call it for the General to be going to
marry Mlle. Blanche de Cominges? He told me last night that
because of the circumstancehe must 'move with especial care at
present.' What is your opinion of it all? Your look convinces me
that you know more about it than I do."
Mr. Astley smiled and nodded.
"YesI think I DO know more about it than you do" he
assented. "The affair centres around this Mlle. Blanche. Of
that I feel certain."
"And what of Mlle. Blanche?" I cried impatiently (for in me
there had dawned a sudden hope that this would enable me to
discover something about Polina).
"Wellmy belief is that at the present moment Mlle. Blanche
hasin very trutha special reason for wishing to avoid any
trouble with the Baron and the Baroness. It might lead not only
to some unpleasantnessbut even to a scandal."
"Also I may tell you that Mlle. Blanche has been in
Roulettenberg beforefor she was staying here three seasons
ago. I myself was in the place at the timeand in those days
Mlle. Blanche was not known as Mlle. de Comingesnor was her
motherthe Widow de Comingeseven in existence. In any case
no one ever mentioned the latter. De Grierstoohad not
materialisedand I am convinced that not only do the parties
stand in no relation to one anotherbut also they have not long
enjoyed one another's acquaintance. Likewisethe Marquisate de
Griers is of recent creation. Of that I have reason to be sure
owing to a certain circumstance. Even the name De Griers itself
may be taken to be a new inventionseeing that I have a friend
who once met the said 'Marquis' under a different name
"Yet he possesses a good circle of friends?"
"Possibly. Mlle. Blanche also may possess that. Yet it is not
three years since she received from the local policeat the
instance of the Baronessan invitation to leave the town. And
she left it."
"WellI must tell you that she first appeared here in company
with an Italian--a prince of some sorta man who bore an
historic name (Barberini or something of the kind). The fellow
was simply a mass of rings and diamonds -- real diamondstoo --
and the couple used to drive out in a marvellous carriage. At
first Mlle. Blanche played 'trente et quarante' with fair success
butlaterher luck took a marked change for the worse. I
distinctly remember that in a single evening she lost an
enormous sum. But worse was to ensuefor one fine morning her
prince disappeared--horsescarriageand all. Alsothe hotel
bill which he left unpaid was enormous. Upon this Mlle. Zelma
(the name which she assumed after figuring as Madame Barberini)
was in despair. She shrieked and howled all over the hoteland
even tore her clothes in her frenzy. In the hotel there was
staying also a Polish count (you must know that ALL travelling
Poles are counts!)and the spectacle of Mlle. Zelma tearing her
clothes andcatlikescratching her face with her beautiful
scented nails produced upon him a strong impression. So the pair
had a talk togetherandby luncheon timeshe was consoled.
Indeedthat evening the couple entered the Casino arm-in-arm --
Mlle. Zelma laughing loudlyaccording to her customand
showing even more expansiveness in her manners than she had
before shown. For instanceshe thrust her way into the file of
women roulette-players in the exact fashion of those ladies who
to clear a space for themselves at the tablespush their
fellow-players roughly aside. Doubtless you have noticed them?"
"Wellthey are not worth noticing. To the annoyance of the
decent public they are allowed to remain here--at all events such
of them as daily change 4000 franc notes at the tables (though
as soon as ever these women cease to do sothey receive an
invitation to depart). HoweverMlle. Zelma continued to change
notes of this kindbut her play grew more and more
unsuccessfuldespite the fact that such ladies' luck is
frequently goodfor they have a surprising amount of cash at
their disposal. Suddenlythe Count too disappearedeven as the
Prince had doneand that same evening Mlle. Zelma was forced to
appear in the Casino alone. On this occasion no one offered her
a greeting. Two days later she had come to the end of her
resources; whereuponafter staking and losing her last louis
d'or she chanced to look around herand saw standing by her
side the Baron Burmergelmwho had been eyeing her with fixed
disapproval. To his distastehoweverMlle. paid no attention
butturning to him with her well-known smilerequested him to
stakeon her behalften louis on the red. Later that evening a
complaint from the Baroness led the authorities to request Mlle.
not to re-enter the Casino. If you feel in any way surprised
that I should know these petty and unedifying detailsthe
reason is that I had them from a relative of mine wholater
that eveningdrove Mlle. Zelma in his carriage from
Roulettenberg to Spa. Nowmark youMlle. wants to become
Madame Generalin order thatin futureshe may be spared the
receipt of such invitations from Casino authorities as she
received three years ago. At present she is not playing; but
that is only becauseaccording to the signsshe is lending
money to other players. Yesthat is a much more paying game. I
even suspect that the unfortunate General is himself in her
debtas well asperhapsalso De Griers. Orit may be that the
latter has entered into a partnership with her. Consequently you
yourself will see thatuntil the marriage shall have been
consummatedMlle. would scarcely like to have the attention of
the Baron and the Baroness drawn to herself. In shortto any
one in her positiona scandal would be most detrimental. You
form a member of the menage of these people; whereforeany act
of yours might cause such a scandal--and the more so since daily
she appears in public arm in arm with the General or with Mlle.
Polina. NOW do you understand?"
"NoI do not!" I shouted as I banged my fist down upon the
table--banged it with such violence that a frightened waiter came
running towards us. "Tell meMr. Astleywhyif you knew this
history all alongandconsequentlyalways knew who this Mlle.
Blanche isyou never warned either myself or the Generalnor
most of allMlle. Polina" (who is accustomed to appear in the
Casino -- in public everywhere with Mlle. Blanche)." How could you
"It would have done no good to warn you" he replied quietly
"for the reason that you could have effected nothing. Against
what was I to warn you? As likely as notthe General knows more
about Mlle. Blanche even than I do; yet the unhappy man still
walks about with her and Mlle. Polina. Only yesterday I saw this
Frenchwoman ridingsplendidly mountedwith De Grierswhile
the General was careering in their wake on a roan horse. He had
saidthat morningthat his legs were hurting himyet his
riding-seat was easy enough. As he passed I looked at himand
the thought occurred to me that he was a man lost for ever.
Howeverit is no affair of minefor I have only recently had
the happiness to make Mlle. Polina's acquaintance. Also"--he
added this as an afterthought--"I have already told you that I
do not recognise your right to ask me certain questionshowever
sincere be my liking for you."
"Enough" I saidrising. "To me it is as clear as day that
Mlle. Polina knows all about this Mlle. Blanchebut cannot
bring herself to part with her Frenchman; whereforeshe consents
also to be seen in public with Mlle. Blanche. You may be sure
that nothing else would ever have induced her either to walk
about with this Frenchwoman or to send me a note not to touch
the Baron. Yesit is THERE that the influence lies before which
everything in the world must bow! Yet she herself it was who
launched me at the Baron! The devil take itbut I was left no
choice in the matter."
"You forgetin the first placethat this Mlle. de Cominges is
the General's inamorataandin the second placethat Mlle.
Polinathe General's step-daughterhas a younger brother and
sister whothough they are the General's own childrenare
completely neglected by this madmanand robbed as well."
"Yesyes; that is so. For me to go and desert the children now
would mean their total abandonment; whereasif I remainI
should be able to defend their interestsandperhapsto save
a moiety of their property. Yesyes; that is quite true. And
yetand yet--OhI can well understand why they are all so
interested in the General's mother!"
"In whom? " asked Mr. Astley.
"In the old woman of Moscow who declines to dieyet concerning
whom they are for ever expecting telegrams to notify the fact of
"Ahthen of course their interests centre around her. It is a
question of succession. Let that but be settledand the General
will marryMlle. Polina will be set freeand De Griers--"
"Yesand De Griers?"
"Will be repaid his moneywhich is what he is now waiting for."
"What? You think that he is waiting for that?"
"I know of nothing else" asserted Mr. Astley doggedly.
"ButI doI do!" I shouted in my fury. "He is waiting also
for the old woman's willfor the reason that it awards Mlle.
Polina a dowry. As soon as ever the money is receivedshe will
throw herself upon the Frenchman's neck. All women are like
that. Even the proudest of them become abject slaves where
marriage is concerned. What Polina is good for is to fall head
over ears in love. That is MY opinion. Look at her--especially
when she is sitting aloneand plunged in thought. All this was
pre-ordained and foretoldand is accursed. Polina could
perpetrate any mad act. She--she--But who called me by name?" I
broke off. "Who is shouting for me? I heard some one calling in
Russian'Alexis Ivanovitch!' It was a woman's voice. Listen!"
At the momentwe were approaching my hotel. We had left the cafe
long agowithout even noticing that we had done so.
"YesI DID hear a woman's voice callingbut whose I do not
know. The someone was calling you in Russian. Ah! NOW I can see
whence the cries come. They come from that lady there--the one
who is sitting on the setteethe one who has just been escorted
to the verandah by a crowd of lacqueys. Behind her see that pile
of luggage! She must have arrived by train."
"But why should she be calling ME? Hear her calling again! See!
She is beckoning to us!"
"Yesso she is" assented Mr. Astley.
"Alexis IvanovitchAlexis Ivanovitch! Good heavenswhat a
stupid fellow!" came in a despairing wail from the verandah.
We had almost reached the porticoand I was just setting foot
upon the space before itwhen my hands fell to my sides in limp
astonishmentand my feet glued themselves to the pavement!
For on the topmost tier of the hotel verandahafter being
carried up the steps in an armchair amid a bevy of footmen
maid-servantsand other menials of the hotelheaded by the
landlord (that functionary had actually run out to meet a
visitor who arrived with so much stir and dinattended by her
own retinueand accompanied by so great a pile of trunks and
portmanteaux)--on the topmost tier of the verandahI saythere
was sitting--THE GRANDMOTHER! Yesit was she--richand imposing
and seventy-five years of age--Antonida Vassilievna Tarassevitcha
landowner and grande dame of Moscow--the "La Baboulenka" who had
caused so many telegrams to be sent off and received--who had been
dyingyet not dying--who hadin her own persondescended upon
us even as snow might fall from the clouds! Though unable to walk
she had arrived borne aloft in an armchair (her mode of conveyance
for the last five years)as briskaggressiveself-satisfied
bolt-uprightloudly imperiousand generally abusive as ever.
In factshe looked exactly as she had on the only two
occasions when I had seen her since my appointment to the
General's household. Naturally enoughI stood petrified with
astonishment. She had sighted me a hundred paces off! Even while
she was being carried along in her chair she had recognised me
and called me by name and surname (whichas usualafter
hearing onceshe had remembered ever afterwards).
"And this is the woman whom they had thought to see in her
grave after making her will!" I thought to myself. "Yet she
will outlive usand every one else in the hotel. Good Lord!
what is going to become of us now? What on earth is to happen to
the General? She will turn the place upside down!"
"My good sir" the old woman continued in a stentorian voice
"what are you standing THERE forwith your eyes almost falling
out of your head? Cannot you come and say how-do-you-do? Are you
too proud to shake hands? Or do you not recognise me? Here
Potapitch!" she cried to an old servant whodressed in a frock
coat and white waistcoathad a baldred head (he was the
chamberlain who always accompanied her on her journeys). "Just
think! Alexis Ivanovitch does not recognise me! They have buried
me for good and all! Yesand after sending hosts of telegrams
to know if I were dead or not! YesyesI have heard the whole
story. I am very much alivethoughas you may see."
"Pardon meAntonida Vassilievna" I replied good humouredly as
I recovered my presence of mind. "I have no reason to wish you
ill. I am merely rather astonished to see you. Why should I not
be soseeing how unexpected--"
"WHY should you be astonished? I just got into my chairand
came. Things are quiet enough in the trainfor there is no one
there to chatter. Have you been out for a walk?"
"Yes. I have just been to the Casino."
"Oh? Wellit is quite nice here" she went on as she looked
about her. "The place seems comfortableand all the trees are
out. I like it very well. Are your people at home? Is the
"Yes; and probably all of them."
"Do they observe the convenancesand keep up appearances? Such
things always give one tone. I have heard that they are keeping
a carriageeven as Russian gentlefolks ought to do. When
abroadour Russian people always cut a dash. Is Prascovia here
"Yes. Polina Alexandrovna is here."
"And the Frenchwoman? HoweverI will go and look for them
myself. Tell me the nearest way to their rooms. Do you like
"YesI thank youAntonida Vassilievna."
"And youPotapitchyou go and tell that fool of a landlord to
reserve me a suitable suite of rooms. They must be handsomely
decoratedand not too high up. Have my luggage taken up to
them. But what are you tumbling over yourselves for? Why are you
all tearing about? What scullions these fellows are!--Who is that
with you?" she added to myself.
"A Mr. Astley" I replied.
"And who is Mr. Astley?"
"A fellow-travellerand my very good friendas well as an
acquaintance of the General's."
"Ohan Englishman? Then that is why he stared at me without
even opening his lips. HoweverI like Englishmen. Nowtake me
upstairsdirect to their rooms. Where are they lodging?"
Madame was lifted up in her chair by the lacqueysand I
preceded her up the grand staircase. Our progress was
exceedingly effectivefor everyone whom we met stopped to stare
at the cortege. It happened that the hotel had the reputation of
being the bestthe most expensiveand the most aristocratic in
all the spaand at every turn on the staircase or in the
corridors we encountered fine ladies and important-looking
Englishmen--more than one of whom hastened downstairs to inquire
of the awestruck landlord who the newcomer was. To all such
questions he returned the same answer--namelythat the old lady
was an influential foreignera Russiana Countessand a
grande dameand that she had taken the suite whichduring the
previous weekhad been tenanted by the Grande Duchesse de N.
Meanwhile the cause of the sensation--the Grandmother--was being
borne aloft in her armchair. Every person whom she met she
scanned with an inquisitive eyeafter first of all
interrogating me about him or her at the top of her voice. She
was stout of figureandthough she could not leave her chair
one feltthe moment that one first looked at herthat she was
also tall of stature. Her back was as straight as a board
and never did she lean back in her seat. Alsoher large grey
headwith its keenrugged featuresremained always erect as
she glanced about her in an imperiouschallenging sort of way
with looks and gestures that clearly were unstudied. Though she
had reached her seventy-sixth yearher face was still fresh
and her teeth had not decayed. Lastlyshe was dressed in a
black silk gown and white mobcap.
"She interests me tremendously" whispered Mr. Astley asstill
smokinghe walked by my side. Meanwhile I was reflecting that
probably the old lady knew all about the telegramsand even
about De Griersthough little or nothing about Mlle. Blanche. I
said as much to Mr. Astley.
But what a frail creature is man! No sooner was my first
surprise abated than I found myself rejoicing in the shock which
we were about to administer to the General. So much did the
thought inspire me that I marched ahead in the gayest of
Our party was lodging on the third floor. Without knocking at
the dooror in any way announcing our presenceI threw open
the portalsand the Grandmother was borne through them in
triumph. As though of set purposethe whole party chanced at
that moment to be assembled in the General's study. The time was
eleven o'clockand it seemed that an outing of some sort (at
which a portion of the party were to drive in carriagesand
others to ride on horsebackaccompanied by one or two
extraneous acquaintances) was being planned. The General was
presentand also Polinathe childrenthe latter's nursesDe
GriersMlle. Blanche (attired in a riding-habit)her mother
the young Princeand a learned German whom I beheld for the
first time. Into the midst of this assembly the lacqueys
conveyed Madame in her chairand set her down within three
paces of the General!
Good heavens! Never shall I forget the spectacle which ensued!
Just before our entrythe General had
been holding forth to the companywith De Griers in support of
him. I may also mention thatfor the last two or three days
Mlle. Blanche and De Griers had been making a great deal of the
young Princeunder the very nose of the poor General. In short
the companythough decorous and conventionalwas in a gay
familiar mood. But no sooner did the Grandmother appear than the
General stopped dead in the middle of a wordandwith jaw
droppingstared hard at the old lady--his eyes almost starting
out of his headand his expression as spellbound as though he
had just seen a basilisk. In returnthe Grandmother stared at
him silently and without moving--though with a look of mingled
challengetriumphand ridicule in her eyes. For ten seconds
did the pair remain thus eyeing one anotheramid the profound
silence of the company; and even De Griers sat petrified--an
extraordinary look of uneasiness dawning on his face. As for
Mlle. Blancheshe too stared wildly at the Grandmotherwith
eyebrows raised and her lips parted-- while the Prince and the
German savant contemplated the tableau in profound amazement.
Only Polina looked anything but perplexed or surprised.
Presentlyhowevershe too turned as white as a sheetand then
reddened to her temples. Truly the Grandmother's arrival seemed
to be a catastrophe for everybody! For my own partI stood
looking from the Grandmother to the companyand back again
while Mr. Astleyas usualremained in the backgroundand
gazed calmly and decorously at the scene.
"Wellhere I am--and instead of a telegramtoo!" the
Grandmother at last ejaculatedto dissipate the silence.
"What? You were not expecting me?"
"Antonida Vassilievna! O my dearest mother! But how on earth
did youdid you--?" The mutterings of the unhappy General died
I verily believe that if the Grandmother had held her tongue a
few seconds longer she would have had a stroke.
"How on earth did I WHAT?" she exclaimed. "WhyI just got
into the train and came here. What else is the railway meant
for? But you thought that I had turned up my toes and left my
property to the lot of you. OhI know ALL about the telegrams
which you have been dispatching. They must have cost you a
pretty sumI should thinkfor telegrams are not sent from
abroad for nothing. WellI picked up my heelsand came here.
Who is this Frenchman? Monsieur de GriersI suppose?"
"Ouimadame" assented De Griers. "Etcroyezje suis si
enchante! Votre sante--c'est un miracle vous voir ici. Une
"Just so. 'Charmante!' I happen to know you as a mountebank
and therefore trust you no more than THIS." She indicated her
little finger. "And who is THAT?" she went onturning towards
Mlle. Blanche. Evidently the Frenchwoman looked so becoming in
her riding-habitwith her whip in her handthat she had made
an impression upon the old lady. "Who is that woman there?"
"Mlle. de Cominges" I said. "And this is her motherMadamede
Cominges. They also are staying in the hotel."
"Is the daughter married?" asked the old ladywithout the
least semblance of ceremony.
"No" I replied as respectfully as possiblebut under my
"Is she good company?"
I failed to understand the question.
"I meanis she or is she not a bore? Can she speak Russian?
When this De Griers was in Moscow he soon learnt to make himself
I explained to the old lady that Mlle. Blanche had never visited
"Bonjourthen" said Madamewith sudden brusquerie.
"Bonjourmadame" replied Mlle. Blanche with an elegant
ceremonious bow asunder cover of an unwonted modestyshe
endeavoured to expressboth in face and figureher extreme
surprise at such strange behaviour on the part of the
"How the woman sticks out her eyes at me! How she mows and
minces!" was the Grandmother's comment. Then she turned
suddenly to the Generaland continued: "I have taken up my
abode hereso am going to be your next-door neighbour. Are you
glad to hear thator are you not?"
"My dear motherbelieve me when I say that I am. sincerely
delighted" returned the Generalwho had nowto a certain
extentrecovered his senses; and inasmuch aswhen occasion
arosehe could speak with fluencygravityand a certain
effecthe set himself to be expansive in his remarksand went
on: "We have been so dismayed and upset by the news of your
indisposition! We had received such hopeless telegrams about
you! Then suddenly--"
"Fibsfibs!" interrupted the Grandmother.
"How on earthtoodid you come to decide upon the journey?"
continued the Generalwith raised voice as he hurried to
overlook the old lady's last remark. "Surelyat your ageand
in your present state of healththe thing is so unexpected that
our surprise is at least intelligible. HoweverI am glad to see
you (as indeedare we all"--he said this with a dignifiedyet
conciliatorysmile)"and will use my best endeavours to
render your stay here as pleasant as possible."
"Enough! All this is empty chatter. You are talking the usual
nonsense. I shall know quite well how to spend my time. How did
I come to undertake the journeyyou ask? Wellis there
anything so very surprising about it? It was done quite simply.
What is every one going into ecstasies about?--How do you do
Prascovia? What are YOU doing here?"
"And how are YOUGrandmother?" replied Polinaas she
approached the old lady. "Were you long on the journey?".
"The most sensible question that I have yet been asked! Well
you shall hear for yourself how it all happened. I lay and lay
and was doctored and doctored; until at last I drove the
physicians from meand called in an apothecary from Nicolai who
had cured an old woman of a malady similar to my own--cured her
merely with a little hayseed. Wellhe did me a great deal of
goodfor on the third day I broke into a sweatand was able to
leave my bed. Then my German doctors held another consultation
put on their spectaclesand told me that if I would go abroad
and take a course of the watersthe indisposition would finally
pass away. 'Why should it not?' I thought to myself. So I had
got things readyand on the following daya Fridayset out for
here. I occupied a special compartment in the trainand where
ever I had to change I found at the station bearers who were
ready to carry me for a few coppers. You have nice quarters
here" she went on as she glanced around the room. " But where
on earth did you get the money for themmy good sir? I thought
that everything of yours had been mortgaged? This Frenchman
alone must be your creditor for a good deal. OhI know all
about itall about it."
"I-I am surprised at youmy dearest mother" said the General
in some confusion. "I-I am greatly surprised. But I do not
need any extraneous control of my finances. Moreovermy
expenses do not exceed my incomeand we--"
"They do not exceed it? Fie! Whyyou are robbing your children
of their last kopeck--youtheir guardian!"
"After this" said the Generalcompletely taken aback
"--after what you have just saidI do not know whether--"
"You do not know what? By heavensare you never going to drop
that roulette of yours? Are you going to whistle all your
This made such an impression upon the General that he almost
choked with fury.
"Rouletteindeed? I play roulette? Reallyin view of my
position-- Recollect what you are sayingmy dearest mother. You
must still be unwell."
"Rubbishrubbish!" she retorted. "The truth is that you
CANNOT be got away from that roulette. You are simply telling
lies. This very day I mean to go and see for myself what
roulette is like. Prascoviatell me what there is to be seen
here; and do youAlexis Ivanovitchshow me everything; and do
youPotapitchmake me a list of excursions. What IS there to be
seen?" again she inquired of Polina.
"There is a ruined castleand the Shlangenberg."
"The Shlangenberg? What is it? A forest?"
"Noa mountain on the summit of which there is a place fenced
off. From it you can get a most beautiful view."
"Could a chair be carried up that mountain of yours?"
"Doubtless we could find bearers for the purpose" I interposed.
At this moment Theodosiathe nursemaidapproached the old lady
with the General's children.
"NoI DON'T want to see them" said the Grandmother. "I hate
kissing childrenfor their noses are always wet. How
are you getting onTheodosia?"
"I am very wellthank youMadame" replied the nursemaid.
"And how is your ladyship? We have been feeling so anxious about
"YesI knowyou simple soul--But who are those other guests?"
the old lady continuedturning again to Polina. "For instance
who is that old rascal in the spectacles?"
"Prince NilskiGrandmamma" whispered Polina.
"Oha Russian? WhyI had no idea that he could understand me!
Surely he did not hear what I said? As for Mr. AstleyI have
seen him alreadyand I see that he is here again. How do you
do?" she added to the gentleman in question.
Mr. Astley bowed in silence
"Have you NOTHING to say to me?" the old lady went on. "Say
somethingfor goodness' sake! Translate to himPolina."
Polina did so.
"I have only to say" replied Mr. Astley gravelybut also with
alacrity"that I am indeed glad to see you in such good
health." This was interpreted to the Grandmotherand she seemed
"How well English people know how to answer one!" she remarked.
"That is why I like them so much better than French. Come
here" she added to Mr. Astley. "I will try not to bore you too
much. Polinatranslate to him that I am staying in rooms on a
lower floor. Yeson a lower floor" she repeated to Astley
pointing downwards with her finger.
Astley looked pleased at receiving the invitation.
Nextthe old lady scanned Polinafrom head to foot with minute
"I could almost have liked youPrascovia" suddenly she
remarked"for you are a nice girl--the best of the lot. You
have some character about you. I too have character. Turn round.
Surely that is not false hair that you are wearing?"
"NoGrandmamma. It is my own."
"Wellwell. I do not like the stupid fashions of today. You
are very good looking. I should have fallen in love with you if
I had been a man. Why do you not get married? It is time now
that I was going. I want to walkyet I always have to ride. Are
you still in a bad temper?" she added to the General.
"Noindeed" rejoined the now mollified General.
"I quite understand that at your time of life--"
"Cette vieille est tombee en enfance" De Griers whispered to
"But I want to look round a little" the old lady added to the
General. Will you lend me Alexis Ivanovitch for the purpose?
"As much as you like. But I myself--yesand Polina and Monsieur
de Griers too--we all of us hope to have the pleasure of
"Maismadamecela sera un plaisir" De Griers commented with
a bewitching smile.
"'Plaisir' indeed! WhyI look upon you as a perfect fool
monsieur." Then she remarked to the General: "I am not going to
let you have any of my money. I must be off to my rooms nowto
see what they are like. Afterwards we will look round a little.
Lift me up."
Again the Grandmother was borne aloft and carried down the
staircase amid a perfect bevy of followers--the General walking
as though he had been hit over the head with a cudgeland De
Griers seeming to be plunged in thought. Endeavouring to be left
behindMlle. Blanche next thought better of itand followed
the restwith the Prince in her wake. Only the German savant
and Madame de Cominges did not leave the General's apartments.
At spas--andprobablyall over Europe--hotel landlords and
managers are guided in their allotment of rooms to visitorsnot
so much by the wishes and requirements of those visitorsas by
their personal estimate of the same. It may also be said that
these landlords and managers seldom make a mistake. To the
Grandmotherhoweverour landlordfor some reason or another
allotted such a sumptuous suite that he fairly overreached
himself; for he assigned her a suite consisting of four
magnificently appointed roomswith bathroomservants'
quartersa separate room for her maidand so on. In fact
during the previous week the suite had been occupied by no less
a personage than a Grand Duchess: which circumstance was duly
explained to the new occupantas an excuse for raising the
price of these apartments. The Grandmother had herself carried--
orratherwheeled--through each room in turnin order that she
might subject the whole to a close and attentive scrutiny; while
the landlord--an elderlybald-headed man--walked respectfully by
What every one took the Grandmother to be I do not knowbut it
appearedat leastthat she was accounted a person not only of
great importancebut alsoand still moreof great wealth; and
without delay they entered her in the hotel register as "Madame
la GeneralePrincesse de Tarassevitcheva" although she had
never been a princess in her life. Her retinueher reserved
compartment in the trainher pile of unnecessary trunks
portmanteauxand strong-boxesall helped to increase her
prestige; while her wheeled chairher sharp tone and voiceher
eccentric questions (put with an air of the most overbearing and
unbridled imperiousness)her whole figure--uprightruggedand
commanding as it was--completed the general awe in which she was
held. As she inspected her new abode she ordered her chair to be
stopped at intervals in order thatwith finger extended towards
some article of furnitureshe might ply the respectfully
smilingyet secretly apprehensivelandlord with unexpected
questions. She addressed them to him in Frenchalthough her
pronunciation of the language was so bad that sometimes I had to
translate them. For the most partthe landlord's answers were
unsatisfactoryand failed to please her; nor were the questions
themselves of a practical naturebut relatedgenerallyto God
For instanceon one occasion she halted before a picture which
a poor copy of a well-known originalhad a mythological subject.
"Of whom is this a portrait?" she inquired.
The landlord explained that it was probably that of a countess.
"But how know you that?" the old lady retorted.
"You live hereyet you cannot say for certain! And why is the
picture there at all? And why do its eyes look so crooked?"
To all these questions the landlord could return no satisfactory
replydespite his floundering endeavours.
"The blockhead!" exclaimed the Grandmother in Russian.
Then she proceeded on her way--only to repeat the same story in
front of a Saxon statuette which she had sighted from afarand
had commandedfor some reason or anotherto be brought to her.
Finallyshe inquired of the landlord what was the value of the
carpet in her bedroomas well as where the said carpet had been
manufactured; butthe landlord could do no more than promise to
"What donkeys these people are!" she commented. Nextshe
turned her attention to the bed.
"What a huge counterpane!" she exclaimed. "Turn it back
please." The lacqueys did so.
"Further yetfurther yet" the old lady cried. "Turn it RIGHT
back. Alsotake off those pillows and bolstersand lift up the
The bed was opened for her inspection.
"Mercifully it contains no bugs" she remarked.
"Pull off the whole thingand then put on my own pillows and
sheets. The place is too luxurious for an old woman like myself.
It is too large for any one person. Alexis Ivanovitchcome and
see me whenever you are not teaching your pupils"
"After tomorrow I shall no longer be in the General's
service" I replied"but merely living in the hotel on my own
"Becausethe other daythere arrived from Berlin a German and
his wife--persons of some importance; andit chanced thatwhen
taking a walkI spoke to them in German without having properly
compassed the Berlin accent."
"Yes: and this action on my part the Baron held to be an
insultand complained about it to the Generalwho yesterday
dismissed me from his employ."
"But I suppose you must have threatened that precious Baronor
something of the kind? Howevereven if you did soit was a
matter of no moment."
"NoI did not. The Baron was the aggressor by raising his
stick at me."
Upon that the Grandmother turned sharply to the General.
"What? You permitted yourself to treat your tutor thusyou
nincompoopand to dismiss him from his post? You are a
blockhead--an utter blockhead! I can see that clearly."
"Do not alarm yourselfmy dear mother" the General replied
with a lofty air--an air in which there was also a tinge of
familiarity. "I am quite capable of managing my own affairs.
MoreoverAlexis Ivanovitch has not given you a true account of
"What did you do next?" The old lady inquired of me.
"I wanted to challenge the Baron to a duel" I replied as
modestly as possible; "but the General protested against my
"And WHY did you so protest? " she inquired of the General.
Then she turned to the landlordand questioned him as to
whether HE would not have fought a duelif challenged. "For"
she added"I can see no difference between you and the Baron;
nor can I bear that German visage of yours." Upon this the
landlord bowed and departedthough he could not have understood
the Grandmother's compliment.
"Pardon meMadame" the General continued with a sneer"but
are duels really feasible?"
"Why not? All men are crowing cocksand that is why they
quarrel. YOUthoughI perceiveare a blockhead--a man who does
not even know how to carry his breeding. Lift me up. Potapitch
see to it that you always have TWO bearers ready. Go and arrange
for their hire. But we shall not require more than twofor I
shall need only to be carried upstairs. On the level or in the
street I can be WHEELED along. Go and tell them thatand pay
them in advanceso that they may show me some respect. You too
Potapitchare always to come with meand YOUAlexis
Ivanovitchare to point out to me this Baron as we go alongin
order that I may get a squint at the precious 'Von.' And where
is that roulette played?"
I explained to her that the game was carried on in the salons of
the Casino; whereupon there ensued a string of questions as to
whether there were many such salonswhether many people played
in themwhether those people played a whole day at a timeand
whether the game was managed according to fixed rules. At length
I thought it best to say that the most advisable course would be
for her to go and see it for herselfsince a mere description
of it would be a difficult matter.
"Then take me straight there" she said"and do you walk on
in front of meAlexis Ivanovitch."
"Whatmother? Before you have so much as rested from your
journey?" the General inquired with some solicitude. Alsofor
some reason which I could not divinehe seemed to be growing
nervous; andindeedthe whole party was evincing signs of
confusionand exchanging glances with one another. Probably
they were thinking that it would be a ticklish--even an
embarrassing--business to accompany the Grandmother to the
Casinowherevery likelyshe would perpetrate further
eccentricitiesand in public too! Yet on their own initiative
they had offered to escort her!
"Why should I rest?" she retorted. "I am not tiredfor I
have been sitting still these past five days. Let us see what
your medicinal springs and waters are likeand where they are
situated. Whattooabout thatthat--what did you call it
Prascovia?--ohabout that mountain top?"
"Yeswe are going to see itGrandmamma."
"Very well. Is there anything else for me to see here?"
"Yes! Quite a number of things" Polina forced herself to say.
"MarthaYOU must come with me as well" went on the old lady
to her maid.
"Nonomother!" ejaculated the General. "Really she cannot
come. They would not admit even Potapitch to the Casino."
"Rubbish! Because she is my servantis that a reason for
turning her out? Whyshe is only a human being like the rest of
us; and as she has been travelling for a week she might like to
look about her. With whom else could she go out but myself ? She
would never dare to show her nose in the street alone."
"Are you ashamed to be seen with me? Stop at homethenand
you will be asked no questions. A pretty General YOU areto be
sure! I am a general's widow myself. Butafter allwhy should
I drag the whole party with me? I will go and see the sights
with only Alexis Ivanovitch as my escort."
De Griers strongly insisted that EVERY ONE ought to accompany
her. Indeedhe launched out into a perfect shower of charming
phrases concerning the pleasure of acting as her ciceroneand
so forth. Every one was touched with his words.
"Mais elle est tombee en enfance" he added aside to the
General. " Seuleelle fera des betises." More than this I could
not overhearbut he seemed to have got some plan in his mind
or even to be feeling a slight return of his hopes.
The distance to the Casino was about half a verstand our route
led us through the Chestnut Avenue until we reached the square
directly fronting the building. The GeneralI could seewas a
trifle reassured by the fact thatthough our progress was
distinctly eccentric in its natureit wasat leastcorrect
and orderly. As a matter of factthe spectacle of a person who
is unable to walk is not anything to excite surprise at a spa.
Yet it was clear that the General had a great fear of the Casino
itself: for why should a person who had lost the use of her
limbs--more especially an old woman--be going to rooms which were
set apart only for roulette? On either side of the wheeled chair
walked Polina and Mlle. Blanche--the latter smilingmodestly
jestingandin shortmaking herself so agreeable to the
Grandmother that in the end the old lady relented towards her.
On the other side of the chair Polina had to answer an endless
flow of petty questions--such as "Who was it passed just now?"
"Who is that coming along?" "Is the town a large one?""Are
the public gardens extensive?" "What sort of trees are those?"
"What is the name of those hills?" "Do I see eagles flying
yonder?" "What is that absurd-looking building?" and so
forth. Meanwhile Astley whispered to meas he walked by my
sidethat he looked for much to happen that morning. Behind the
old lady's chair marched Potapitch and Martha--Potapitch in his
frockcoat and white waistcoatwith a cloak over alland the
forty-year-old and rosybut slightly grey-headedMartha in a
mobcapcotton dressand squeaking shoes. Frequently the old
lady would twist herself round to converse with these servants.
As for De Griershe spoke as though he had made up his mind to
do something (though it is also possible that he spoke in this
manner merely in order to hearten the Generalwith whom he
appeared to have held a conference). Butalasthe Grandmother
had uttered the fatal words"I am not going to give you any of
my money;" and though De Griers might regard these words
lightlythe General knew his mother better. AlsoI noticed
that De Griers and Mlle. Blanche were still exchanging looks;
while of the Prince and the German savant I lost sight at the
end of the Avenuewhere they had turned back and left us.
Into the Casino we marched in triumph. At onceboth in the
person of the commissionaire and in the persons of the footmen
there sprang to life the same reverence as had arisen in the
lacqueys of the hotel. Yet it was not without some curiosity
that they eyed us.
Without loss of timethe Grandmother gave orders that she should
be wheeled through every room in the establishment; of which
apartments she praised a fewwhile to others she remained
indifferent. Concerning everythinghowevershe asked
questions. Finally we reached the gaming-salonswhere a lacquey
who wasacting as guard over the doorsflung them open as
though he were a man possessed.
The Grandmother's entry into the roulette-salon produced a
profound impression upon the public. Around the tablesand at
the further end of the room where the trente-et-quarante table
was set outthere may have been gathered from 150 to 200
gamblersranged in several rows. Those who had succeeded in
pushing their way to the tables were standing with their feet
firmly plantedin order to avoid having to give up their places
until they should have finished their game (since merely to
stand looking on--thus occupying a gambler's place for
nothing--was not permitted). Truechairs were provided around
the tablesbut few players made use of them--more especially if
there was a large attendance of the general public; since to
stand allowed of a closer approach; andthereforeof greater
facilities for calculation and staking. Behind the foremost row
were herded a second and a third row of people awaiting their
turn; but sometimes their impatience led these people to
stretch a hand through the first rowin order to deposit their
stakes. Even third-row individuals would dart forward to stake;
whence seldom did more than five or ten minutes pass without a
scene over disputed money arising at one or another end of the
table. On the other handthe police of the Casino were an able
body of men; and though to escape the crush was an
impossibilityhowever much one might wish itthe eight
croupiers apportioned to each table kept an eye upon the stakes
performed the necessary reckoningand decided disputes as they
In the last resort they always called in the Casino
policeand the disputes would immediately come to an end.
Policemen were stationed about the Casino in ordinary costume
and mingled with the spectators so as to make it impossible to
recognise them. In particular they kept a lookout for
pickpockets and swindlerswho simply swanned in the roulette
salonsand reaped a rich harvest. Indeedin every direction
money was being filched from pockets or purses--thoughof
courseif the attempt miscarrieda great uproar ensued. One
had only to approach a roulette tablebegin to playand
then openly grab some one else's winningsfor a din to be
raisedand the thief to start vociferating that the stake was
HIS; andif the coup had been carried out with sufficient skill
and the witnesses wavered at all in their testimonythe thief
would as likely as not succeed in getting away with the money
provided that the sum was not a large one--not large enough to
have attracted the attention of the croupiers or some
fellow-player. Moreoverif it were a stake of insignificant
sizeits true owner would sometimes decline to continue the
disputerather than become involved in a scandal. Conversely
if the thief was detectedhe was ignominiously expelled the
Upon all this the Grandmother gazed with open-eyed curiosity;
andon some thieves happening to be turned out of the place
she was delighted. Trente-et-quarante interested her but little;
she preferred roulettewith its ever-revolving wheel. At length
she expressed a wish to view the game closer; whereupon in some
mysterious mannerthe lacqueys and other officious agents
(especially one or two ruined Poles of the kind who keep
offering their services to successful gamblers and foreigners in
general) at once found and cleared a space for the old lady
among the crushat the very centre of one of the tablesand
next to the chief croupier; after which they wheeled her chair
thither. Upon this a number of visitors who were not playing
but only looking on (particularly some Englishmen with their
families)pressed closer forward towards the tablein order
to watch the old lady from among the ranks of the gamblers. Many
a lorgnette I saw turned in her directionand the croupiers'
hopes rose high that such an eccentric player was about to
provide them with something out of the common. An old lady of
seventy-five years whothough unable to walkdesired to play
was not an everyday phenomenon. I too pressed forward towards
the tableand ranged myself by the Grandmother's side; while
Martha and Potapitch remained somewhere in the background among
the crowdand the GeneralPolinaand De Grierswith Mlle.
Blanchealso remained hidden among the spectators.
At first the old lady did no more than watch the gamblersand
ply mein a half-whisperwith sharp-broken questions as to who
was so-and-so. Especially did her favour light upon a very young
man who was plunging heavilyand had won (so it was whispered)
as much as 40000 francswhich were lying before him on the
table in a heap of gold and bank-notes. His eyes kept flashing
and his hands shaking; yet all the while he staked without any
sort of calculation--just what came to his handas he kept
winning and winningand raking and raking in his gains. Around
him lacqueys fussed--placing chairs just behind where he was
standing-- and clearing the spectators from his vicinityso that
he should have more roomand not be crowded--the whole doneof
coursein expectation of a generous largesse. From time to time
other gamblers would hand him part of their winnings--being glad
to let him stake for them as much as his hand could grasp; while
beside him stood a Pole in a state of violentbut respectful
agitationwhoalso in expectation of a generous largessekept
whispering to him at intervals (probably telling him what to
stakeand advising and directing his play). Yet never once did
the player throw him a glance as he staked and stakedand raked
in his winnings. Evidentlythe player in question was dead to
For a few minutes the Grandmother watched him.
"Go and tell him" suddenly she exclaimed with a nudge at my
elbow"--go and tell him to stopand to take his money with
himand go home. Presently he will be losing--yeslosing
everything that he has now won." She seemed almost breathless
"Where is Potapitch?" she continued. "Send Potapitch to speak
to him. NoYOU must tell himyou must tell him"--here she
nudged me again--"for I have not the least notion where
Potapitch is. Sortezsortez" she shouted to the young man
until I leant over in her direction and whispered in her ear
that no shouting was allowednor even loud speakingsince to
do so disturbed the calculations of the playersand might lead
to our being ejected.
"How provoking!" she retorted. "Then the young man is done
for! I suppose he WISHES to be ruined. Yet I could not bear to
see him have to return it all. What a fool the fellow is!" and
the old lady turned sharply away.
On the leftamong the players at the other half of the tablea
young lady was playingwithbeside hera dwarf. Who the dwarf
may have been--whether a relative or a person whom she took with
her to act as a foil--I do not know; but I had noticed her there
on previous occasionssinceeverydayshe entered the Casino
at one o'clock preciselyand departed at two--thus playing for
exactly one hour. Being well-known to the attendantsshe always
had a seat provided for her; andtaking some gold and a few
thousand-franc notes out of her pocket--would begin quietly
coldlyand after much calculationto stakeand mark down the
figures in pencil on a paperas though striving to work out a
system according to whichat given momentsthe odds might
group themselves. Always she staked large coinsand either lost
or won onetwoor three thousand francs a daybut not more;
after which she would depart. The Grandmother took a long look
"THAT woman is not losing" she said. "To whom does she
belong? Do you know her? Who is she?"
"She isI believea Frenchwoman" I replied.
"Ah! A bird of passageevidently. BesidesI can see that she
has her shoes polished. Nowexplain to me the meaning of each
round in the gameand the way in which one ought to stake."
Upon this I set myself to explain the meaning of all the
combinations--of "rouge et noir" of "pair et impair" of
"manque et passe" withlastlythe different values in the
system of numbers. The Grandmother listened attentivelytook
notesput questions in various formsand laid the whole thing
to heart. Indeedsince an example of each system of stakes kept
constantly occurringa great deal of information could be
assimilated with ease and celerity. The Grandmother was vastly
"But what is zero?" she inquired. "Just now I heard the
flaxen-haired croupier call out 'zero!' And why does he keep
raking in all the money that is on the table? To think that he
should grab the whole pile for himself! What does zero mean?"
"Zero is what the bank takes for itself. If the wheel stops at
that figureeverything lying on the table becomes the absolute
property of the bank. Alsowhenever the wheel has begun to
turnthe bank ceases to pay out anything."
"Then I should receive nothing if I were staking?"
"No; unless by any chance you had PURPOSELY staked on zero; in
which case you would receive thirty-five times the value of your
"Why thirty-five timeswhen zero so often turns up? And if so
why do not more of these fools stake upon it?"
"Because the number of chances against its occurrence is
"Rubbish! PotapitchPotapitch! Come hereand I will give you
some money." The old lady took out of her pocket a
tightly-clasped purseand extracted from its depths a
ten-gulden piece. "Go at onceand stake that upon zero."
"ButMadamezero has only this moment turned up" I
remonstrated; "whereforeit may not do so again for ever so
long. Wait a littleand you may then have a better chance."
"Pardon mebut zero might not turn up again untilsay
tonighteven though you had staked thousands upon it. It often
"Rubbishrubbish! Who fears the wolf should never enter the
forest. What? We have lost? Then stake again."
A second ten-gulden piece did we loseand then I put down a
third. The Grandmother could scarcely remain seated in her
chairso intent was she upon the little ball as it leapt
through the notches of the ever-revolving wheel. Howeverthe
third ten-gulden piece followed the first two. Upon this the
Grandmother went perfectly crazy. She could no longer sit still
and actually struck the table with her fist when the croupier
cried out"Trente-six" instead of the desiderated zero.
"To listen to him!" fumed the old lady. "When will that
accursed zero ever turn up? I cannot breathe until I see it. I
believe that that infernal croupier is PURPOSELY keeping it from
turning up. Alexis Ivanovitchstake TWO golden pieces this
time. The moment we cease to stakethat cursed zero will come
turning upand we shall get nothing."
"My good Madame--"
"Stakestake! It is not YOUR money."
Accordingly I staked two ten-gulden pieces. The ball went
hopping round the wheel until it began to settle through the
notches. Meanwhile the Grandmother sat as though petrifiedwith
my hand convulsively clutched in hers.
"Zero!" called the croupier.
"There! You seeyou see!" cried the old ladyas she turned
and faced mewreathed in smiles. "I told you so! It was the
Lord God himself who suggested to me to stake those two coins.
Nowhow much ought I to receive? Why do they not pay it out to
me? Potapitch! Martha! Where are they? What has become of our
"PresentlyMadame" I whispered. "Potapitch is outsideand
they would decline to admit him to these rooms. See! You are
being paid out your money. Pray take it." The croupiers were
making up a heavy packet of coinssealed in blue paperand
containing fifty ten gulden piecestogether with an unsealed
packet containing another twenty. I handed the whole to the old
lady in a money-shovel.
"Faites le jeumessieurs! Faites le jeumessieurs! Rien ne va
plus" proclaimed the croupier as once more he invited the
company to stakeand prepared to turn the wheel.
"We shall be too late! He is going to spin again! Stakestake!"
The Grandmother was in a perfect fever. "Do not hang back! Be
quick!" She seemed almost beside herselfand nudged me as hard
as she could.
"Upon what shall I stakeMadame?"
"Upon zeroupon zero! Again upon zero! Stake as much as ever
you can. How much have we got? Seventy ten-gulden pieces? We
shall not miss themso stake twenty pieces at a time."
"Think a momentMadame. Sometimes zero does not turn up for
two hundred rounds in succession. I assure you that you may lose
all your capital."
"You are wrong--utterly wrong. StakeI tell you! What a
chattering tongue you have! I know perfectly well what I am
doing." The old lady was shaking with excitement.
"But the rules do not allow of more than 120 gulden being
staked upon zero at a time."
"How 'do not allow'? Surely you are wrong? Monsieurmonsieur--"
here she nudged the croupier who was sitting on her leftand
preparing to spin-- "combien zero? Douze? Douze?"
I hastened to translate.
"OuiMadame" was the croupier's polite reply. "No single
stake must exceed four thousand florins. That is the regulation."
"Then there is nothing else for it. We must risk in gulden."
"Le jeu est fait!" the croupier called. The wheel revolved
and stopped at thirty. We had lost!
"Againagainagain! Stake again!" shouted the old lady.
Without attempting to oppose her furtherbut merely shrugging
my shouldersI placed twelve more ten-gulden pieces upon the
table. The wheel whirled around and aroundwith the Grandmother
simply quaking as she watched its revolutions.
"Does she again think that zero is going to be the winning
coup?" thought Ias I stared at her in astonishment. Yet an
absolute assurance of winning was shining on her face; she
looked perfectly convinced that zero was about to be called
again. At length the ball dropped off into one of the notches.
"Zero!" cried the croupier.
"Ah!!!" screamed the old lady as she turned to me in a whirl
I myself was at heart a gambler. At that moment I became acutely
conscious both of that fact and of the fact that my hands and
knees were shakingand that the blood was beating in my brain.
Of course this was a rare occasion--an occasion on which zero had
turned up no less than three times within a dozen rounds; yet in
such an event there was nothing so very surprisingseeing that
only three days agoI myself had been a witness to zero turning
up THREE TIMES IN SUCCESSIONso that one of the players who was
recording the coups on paper was moved to remark that for
several days past zero had never turned up at all!
With the Grandmotheras with any one who has won a very large
sumthe management settled up with great attention and respect
since she was fortunate to have to receive no less than 4200
gulden. Of these gulden the odd 200 were paid her in goldand
the remainder in bank notes.
This time the old lady did not call for Potapitch; for that she
was too preoccupied. Though not outwardly shaken by the event
(indeedshe seemed perfectly calm)she was trembling inwardly
from head to foot. At lengthcompletely absorbed in the game
she burst out:
"Alexis Ivanovitchdid not the croupier just say that 4000
florins were the most that could be staked at any one time?
Welltake these 4000and stake them upon the red."
To oppose her was useless. Once more the wheel revolved.
"Rouge!" proclaimed the croupier.
Again 4000 florins--in all 8000!
"Give me them" commanded the Grandmother"and stake theother
4000 upon the red again."
I did so.
"Rouge!" proclaimed the croupier.
"Twelve thousand!" cried the old lady. "Hand me the whole
lot. Put the gold into this purse hereand count the bank
notes. Enough! Let us go home. Wheel my chair away."
THE chairwith the old lady beaming in itwas wheeled away
towards the doors at the further end of the salonwhile our
party hastened to crowd around herand to offer her their
congratulations. In facteccentric as was her conductit was
also overshadowed by her triumph; with the result that the
General no longer feared to be publicly compromised by being
seen with such a strange womanbutsmiling in a condescending
cheerfully familiar wayas though he were soothing a childhe
offered his greetings to the old lady. At the same timeboth he
and the rest of the spectators were visibly impressed.
Everywhere people kept pointing to the Grandmotherand talking
about her. Many people even walked beside her chairin order to
view her the better whileat a little distanceAstley was
carrying on a conversation on the subject with two English
acquaintances of his. De Griers was simply overflowing with
smiles and complimentsand a number of fine ladies were staring
at the Grandmother as though she had been something curious.
"Quelle victoire!" exclaimed De Griers.
"MaisMadamec'etait du feu!" added Mlle. Blanche with an
"YesI have won twelve thousand florins" replied the old
lady. "And then there is all this gold. With it the total ought
to come to nearly thirteen thousand. How much is that in Russian
money? Six thousand roublesI think?"
HoweverI calculated that the sum would exceed seven thousand
roubles--orat the present rate of exchangeeven eight
"Eight thousand roubles! What a splendid thing! And to think of
you simpletons sitting there and doing nothing! Potapitch!
Martha! See what I have won!"
"How DID you do itMadame?" Martha exclaimed ecstatically.
"Eight thousand roubles!"
"And I am going to give you fifty gulden apiece. There they
Potapitch and Martha rushed towards her to kiss her hand.
"And to each bearer also I will give a ten-gulden piece. Let
them have it out of the goldAlexis Ivanovitch. But why is this
footman bowing to meand that other man as well? Are they
congratulating me? Welllet them have ten gulden apiece."
"Madame la princesse--Un pauvre expatrie--Malheur continuel--Les
princes russes sont si genereux!" said a man who for some time
past had been hanging around the old lady's chair--a personage
whodressed in a shabby frockcoat and coloured waistcoatkept
taking off his capand smiling pathetically.
"Give him ten gulden" said the Grandmother. "Nogive him
twenty. Nowenough of thator I shall never get done with you
all. Take a moment's restand then carry me away. PrascoviaI
mean to buy a new dress for you tomorrow. Yesand for you too
Mlle. Blanche. Please translatePrascovia."
"MerciMadame" replied Mlle. Blanche gratefully as she
twisted her face into the mocking smile which usually she kept
only for the benefit of De Griers and the General. The latter
looked confusedand seemed greatly relieved when we reached the
"How surprised Theodosia too will be!" went on the Grandmother
(thinking of the General's nursemaid). "Shelike yourselves
shall have the price of a new gown. HereAlexis Ivanovitch!
Give that beggar something" (a crooked-backed ragamuffin had
approached to stare at us).
"But perhaps he is NOT a beggar--only a rascal" I replied.
"Never mindnever mind. Give him a gulden."
I approached the beggar in questionand handed him the coin.
Looking at me in great astonishmenthe silently accepted the
guldenwhile from his person there proceeded a strong smell of
"Have you never tried your luckAlexis Ivanovitch?"
"Yet just now I could see that you were burning to do so?"
"I do mean to try my luck presently."
"Then stake everything upon zero. You have seen how it ought to
be done? How much capital do you possess?"
"Two hundred guldenMadame."
"Not very much. See here; I will lend you five hundred if you
wish. Take this purse of mine." With that she added sharply to
the General: "But YOU need not expect to receive any."
This seemed to upset himbut he said nothingand De Griers
contented himself by scowling.
"Que diable!" he whispered to the General. "C'est une
"Look! Another beggaranother beggar!" exclaimed the
grandmother. "Alexis Ivanovitchgo and give him a gulden."
As she spoke I saw approaching us a grey-headed old man with a
wooden leg--a man who was dressed in a blue frockcoat and
carrying a staff. He looked like an old soldier. As soon as I
tendered him the coin he fell back a step or twoand eyed me
"Was ist der Teufel!" he criedand appended thereto a round
dozen of oaths.
"The man is a perfect fool!" exclaimed the Grandmotherwaving
her hand. "Move on nowfor I am simply famished. When we have
lunched we will return to that place."
"What?" cried I. "You are going to play again?"
"What else do you suppose?" she retorted. "Are you going only
to sit hereand grow sourand let me look at you?"
"Madame" said De Griers confidentially"les chances peuvent
tourner. Une seule mauvaise chanceet vous perdrez tout--surtout
avec votre jeu. C'etait terrible!"
"Oui; vous perdrez absolument" put in Mlle. Blanche.
"What has that got to do with YOU?" retorted the old lady.
"It is not YOUR money that I am going to lose; it is my own. And
where is that Mr. Astley of yours?" she added to myself.
"He stayed behind in the Casino."
"What a pity! He is such a nice sort of man!"
Arriving homeand meeting the landlord on the staircasethe
Grandmother called him to her sideand boasted to him of her
winnings--thereafter doing the same to Theodosiaand conferring
upon her thirty gulden; after which she bid her serve luncheon.
The meal overTheodosia and Martha broke into a joint flood of
"I was watching you all the timeMadame" quavered Martha
"and I asked Potapitch what mistress was trying to do. Andmy
word! the heaps and heaps of money that were lying upon the
table! Never in my life have I seen so much money. And there
were gentlefolk around itand other gentlefolk sitting down. So
I asked Potapitch where all these gentry had come from; for
thought Imaybe the Holy Mother of God will help our mistress
among them. YesI prayed for youMadameand my heart died
within meso that I kept trembling and trembling. The Lord be
with herI thought to myself; and in answer to my prayer He has
now sent you what He has done! Even yet I tremble--I tremble to
think of it all."
"Alexis Ivanovitch" said the old lady"after luncheon--that
is to sayabout four o'clock--get ready to go out with me again.
But in the meanwhilegood-bye. Do not forget to call a doctor
for I must take the waters. Now go and get rested a little."
I left the Grandmother's presence in a state of bewilderment.
Vainly I endeavoured to imagine what would become of our party
or what turn the affair would next take. I could perceive that
none of the party had yet recovered their presence of mind--least
of all the General. The factor of the Grandmother's appearance in
place of the hourly expected telegram to announce her death
(withof courseresultant legacies) had so upset the whole
scheme of intentions and projects that it was with a decided
feeling of apprehension and growing paralysis that the
conspirators viewed any future performances of the old lady at
roulette. Yet this second factor was not quite so important as
the firstsincethough the Grandmother had twice declared that
she did not intend to give the General any moneythat
declaration was not a complete ground for the abandonment of
hope. Certainly De Grierswhowith the Generalwas up to the
neck in the affairhad not wholly lost courage; and I felt sure
that Mlle. Blanche also--Mlle. Blanche who was not only as
deeply involved as the other twobut also expectant of becoming
Madame General and an important legatee--would not lightly
surrender the positionbut would use her every resource of
coquetry upon the old ladyin order to afford a contrast to the
impetuous Polinawho was difficult to understandand lacked
the art of pleasing.
the Grandmother had just performed an astonishing feat at
roulette; nowwhen the old lady's personality had been so
clearly and typically revealed as that of a ruggedarrogant
woman who was "tombee en enfance"; nowwhen everything
appeared to be lost--whynow the Grandmother was as merry as a
child which plays with thistle-down. "Good Lord!" I thought
withmay God forgive mea most malicious smile"every
ten-gulden piece which the Grandmother staked must have raised a
blister on the General's heartand maddened De Griersand
driven Mlle. de Cominges almost to frenzy with the sight of this
spoon dangling before her lips." Another factor is the
circumstance that even whenoverjoyed at winningthe
Grandmother was distributing alms right and leftand
taking every one to be a beggarshe again snapped
out to the General that he was not going to be allowed any of
her money-- which meant that the old lady had quite made up her
mind on the pointand was sure of it. Yesdanger loomed ahead.
All these thoughts passed through my mind during the few moments
thathaving left the old lady's roomsI was ascending to my own
room on the top storey. What most struck me was the fact that
though I had divined the chiefthe stoutestthreads which
united the various actors in the dramaI haduntil nowbeen
ignorant of the methods and secrets of the game. For Polina had
never been completely open with me. Althoughon occasionsit
had happened that involuntarilyas it wereshe had revealed
to me something of her heartI had noticed that in most
cases--in factnearly always--she had either laughed away these
revelationsor grown confusedor purposely imparted to them
a false guise. Yesshe must have concealed a great deal from me.
ButI had a presentiment that now the end of this strained and
mysterious situation was approaching. Another strokeand all
would be finished and exposed. Of my own fortunesinterested
though I was in the affairI took no account. I was in the
strange position of possessing but two hundred guldenof being
at a loose endof lacking both a postthe means of subsistence
a shred of hopeand any plans for the futureyet of caring
nothing for these things. Had not my mind been so full of Polina
I should have given myself up to the comical piquancy of the
impending denouementand laughed my fill at it. But the thought
of Polina was torture to me. That her fate was settled I already
had an inkling; yet that was not the thought which was giving me
so much uneasiness. What I really wished for was to penetrate her
secrets. I wanted her to come to me and say" I love you" and
if she would not so comeor if to hope that she would ever do so
was an unthinkable absurdity--whythen there was nothing else for
me to want. Even now I do not know what I am wanting. I feel like
a man who has lost his way. I yearn but to be in her presenceand
within the circle of her light and splendour--to be there nowand
foreverand for the whole of my life. More I do not know. How
can I ever bring myself to leave her?
On reaching the third storey of the hotel I experienced a shock.
I was just passing the General's suite when something caused me
to look round. Out of a door about twenty paces away there was
coming Polina! She hesitated for a moment on seeing meand
then beckoned me to her.
"Hush! Not so loud."
"Something startled me just now" I whispered"and I looked
roundand saw you. Some electrical influence seems to emanate
from your form."
"Take this letter" she went on with a frown (probably she had
not even heard my wordsshe was so preoccupied)"and hand it
personally to Mr. Astley. Go as quickly as ever you canplease.
No answer will be required. He himself--" She did not finish her
"To Mr. Astley?" I askedin some astonishment.
But she had vanished again.
Aha! So the two were carrying on a correspondence! HoweverI
set off to search for Astley--first at his hoteland then at
the Casinowhere I went the round of the salons in vain. At
lengthvexedand almost in despairI was on my way home
when I ran across him among a troop of English ladies and
gentlemen who had been out for a ride. Beckoning to him to
stopI handed him the letter. We had barely time even to look
at one anotherbut I suspected that it was of set purpose
that he restarted his horse so quickly.
Was jealousythengnawing at me? At all eventsI felt
exceedingly depresseddespite the fact that I had no desire
to ascertain what the correspondence was about. To think that
HE should be her confidant! "My friendmine own familiar
friend!" passed through my mind. Yet WAS there any love in
the matter? "Of course not" reason whispered to me. But
reason goes for little on such occasions. I felt that the
matter must be cleared upfor it was becoming unpleasantly
I had scarcely set foot in the hotel when the commissionaire
and the landlord (the latter issuing from his room for the
purpose) alike informed me that I was being searched for high
and low--that three separate messages to ascertain my
whereabouts had come down from the General. When I entered his
study I was feeling anything but kindly disposed. I found
there the General himselfDe Griersand Mlle. Blanchebut
not Mlle.'s motherwho was a person whom her reputed
daughter used only for show purposessince in all matters of
business the daughter fended for herselfand it is unlikely
that the mother knew anything about them.
Some very heated discussion was in progressand meanwhile the
door of the study was open--an unprecedented circumstance. As
I approached the portals I could hear loud voices raisedfor
mingled with the pertvenomous accents of De Griers were
Mlle. Blanche's excitedimpudently abusive tongue and the
General's plaintive wail asapparentlyhe sought to justify
himself in something. But on my appearance every one stopped
speakingand tried to put a better face upon matters. De
Griers smoothed his hairand twisted his angry face into a
smile--into the meanstudiedly polite French smile which I so
detested; while the downcastperplexed General assumed an air
of dignity--though only in a mechanical way. On the other hand
Mlle. Blanche did not trouble to conceal the wrath that was
sparkling in her countenancebut bent her gaze upon me with
an air of impatient expectancy. I may remark that hitherto
she had treated me with absolute superciliousnessandso far
from answering my salutationshad always ignored them.
"Alexis Ivanovitch" began the General in a tone of
affectionate upbraiding"may I say to you that I find it
strangeexceedingly strangethat--In shortyour conduct
towards myself and my family--In a wordyour-er-extremely"
" Eh! Ce n'est pas ca" interrupted De Griers in a tone of
impatience and contempt (evidently he was the ruling spirit
of the conclave). "Mon cher monsieurnotre general se
trompe. What he means to say is that he warns you--he begs of
you most eamestly--not to ruin him. I use the expression
"Why? Why?" I interjected.
"Because you have taken upon yourself to act as guide to this
to this--how shall I express it?--to this old ladya cette
pauvre terrible vieille. But she will only gamble away all
that she has--gamble it away like thistledown. You yourself have
seen her play. Once she has acquired the taste for gambling
she will never leave the roulette-tablebutof sheer
perversity and temperwill stake her alland lose it. In
cases such as hers a gambler can never be torn away from the
game; and then--and then--"
"And then" asseverated the General"you will have ruined
my whole family. I and my family are her heirsfor she has
no nearer relatives than ourselves. I tell you frankly that
my affairs are in great--very great disorder; how much they are
so you yourself are partially aware. If she should lose a
large sumormaybeher whole fortunewhat will become of
us--of my children" (here the General exchanged a glance
with De Griers)" or of me? "(here he looked at Mlle.
Blanchewho turned her head contemptuously away). "Alexis
IvanovitchI beg of you to save us."
"Tell meGeneralhow am I to do so? On what footing do I
"Refuse to take her about. Simply leave her alone."
"But she would soon find some one else to take my place?"
"Ce n'est pas cace n'est pas ca" again interrupted De
Griers. "Que diable! Do not leave her alone so much as
advise herpersuade herdraw her away. In any case do not
let her gamble; find her some counter-attraction."
"And how am I to do that? If only you would undertake the
taskMonsieur de Griers! " I said this last as innocently as
possiblebut at once saw a rapid glance of excited
interrogation pass from Mlle. Blanche to De Grierswhile in
the face of the latter also there gleamed something which he
could not repress.
"Wellat the present moment she would refuse to accept my
services" said he with a gesture. "But iflater--"
Here he gave Mlle. Blanche another glance which was full of
meaning; whereupon she advanced towards me with a bewitching
smileand seized and pressed my hands. Devil take itbut how
that devilish visage of hers could change! At the present
moment it was a visage full of supplicationand as gentle in
its expression as that of a smilingroguish infant.
Stealthilyshe drew me apart from the rest as though the more
completely to separate me from them; andthough no harm came
of her doing so--for it was merely a stupid manoeuvreand no
more--I found the situation very unpleasant.
The General hastened to lend her his support.
"Alexis Ivanovitch" he began"pray pardon me for having
said what I did just now--for having said more than I meant to
do. I beg and beseech youI kiss the hem of your garmentas
our Russian saying has itfor youand only youcan save us.
I and Mlle. de Comingeswe all of us beg of you-- But you
understanddo you not? Surely you understand?" and with his
eyes he indicated Mlle. Blanche. Truly he was cutting a
At this moment three lowrespectful knocks sounded at the
door; whichon being openedrevealed a chambermaidwith
Potapitch behind her--come from the Grandmother to request
that I should attend her in her rooms. "She is in a bad
humour" added Potapitch.
The time was half-past three.
"My mistress was unable to sleep" explained Potapitch; "so
after tossing about for a whileshe suddenly rosecalled
for her chairand sent me to look for you. She is now in the
"Quelle megere!" exclaimed De Griers.
True enoughI found Madame in the hotel verandah -much put
about at my delayfor she had been unable to contain herself
until four o'clock.
"Lift me up" she cried to the bearersand once more we set
out for the roulette-salons.
The Grandmother was in an impatientirritable frame of mind.
Without doubt the roulette had turned her headfor she
appeared to be indifferent to everything elseandin
generalseemed much distraught. For instanceshe asked me no
questions about objects en routeexcept thatwhen a
sumptuous barouche passed us and raised a cloud of dustshe
lifted her hand for a momentand inquired" What was that? "
Yet even then she did not appear to hear my replyalthough at
times her abstraction was interrupted by sallies and fits of
sharpimpatient fidgeting. Againwhen I pointed out to her
the Baron and Baroness Burmergelm walking to the Casinoshe
merely looked at them in an absent-minded sort of wayand
said with complete indifference"Ah!" Thenturning
sharply to Potapitch and Marthawho were walking behind us
she rapped out:
"Why have YOU attached yourselves to the party? We are not
going to take you with us every time. Go home at once." Then
when the servants had pulled hasty bows and departedshe
added to me: "You are all the escort I need."
At the Casino the Grandmother seemed to be expectedfor no
time was lost in procuring her former place beside the
croupier. It is my opinion that though croupiers seem such
ordinaryhumdrum officials--men who care nothing whether the
bank wins or loses--they arein realityanything but
indifferent to the bank's losingand are given instructions
to attract playersand to keep a watch over the bank's
interests; as alsothat for such servicesthese officials are
awarded prizes and premiums. At all eventsthe croupiers of
Roulettenberg seemed to look upon the Grandmother as their
lawful prey-- whereafter there befell what our party had
It happened thus:
As soon as ever we arrived the Grandmother ordered me to stake
twelve ten-gulden pieces in succession upon zero. Once
twiceand thrice I did soyet zero never turned up.
"Stake again" said the old lady with an impatient nudge of my
elbowand I obeyed.
"How many times have we lost? " she inquired--actually
grinding her teeth in her excitement.
"We have lost 144 ten-gulden pieces" I replied. "I tell you
Madamethat zero may not turn up until nightfall."
"Never mind" she interrupted. "Keep on staking upon zero
and also stake a thousand gulden upon rouge. Here is a
banknote with which to do so."
The red turned upbut zero missed againand we only got our
thousand gulden back.
"But you seeyou see " whispered the old lady. "We have now
recovered almost all that we staked. Try zero again. Let us do
so another ten timesand then leave off."
By the fifth roundhoweverthe Grandmother was weary of the
"To the devil with that zero!" she exclaimed. Stake four
thousand gulden upon the red."
"ButMadamethat will be so much to venture!" I
remonstrated. "Suppose the red should not turn up?" The
Grandmother almost struck me in her excitement. Her agitation
was rapidly making her quarrelsome. Consequentlythere was
nothing for it but to stake the whole four thousand gulden as
she had directed.
The wheel revolved while the Grandmother sat as bolt upright
and with as proud and quiet a mienas though she had not the
least doubt of winning.
"Zero!" cried the croupier.
At first the old lady failed to understand the situation; but
as soon as she saw the croupier raking in her four thousand
guldentogether with everything else that happened to be
lying on the tableand recognised that the zero which had
been so long turning upand on which we had lost nearly two
hundred ten-gulden pieceshad at lengthas though of set
purposemade a sudden reappearance--whythe poor old lady
fell to cursing itand to throwing herself aboutand wailing
and gesticulating at the company at large. Indeedsome
people in our vicinity actually burst out laughing.
"To think that that accursed zero should have turned up NOW!"
she sobbed. "The accursedaccursed thing! Andit is all
YOUR fault" she addedrounding upon me in a frenzy. "It
was you who persuaded me to cease staking upon it."
"ButMadameI only explained the game to you. How am I to
answer for every mischance which may occur in it?"
"You and your mischances!" she whispered threateningly.
"Go! Away at once!"
"FarewellthenMadame." And I turned to depart.
"No-- stay" she put in hastily. "Where are you going to? Why
should you leave me? You fool! Nono... stay here. It is I who
was the fool. Tell me what I ought to do."
"I cannot take it upon myself to advise youfor you will only
blame me if I do so. Play at your own discretion. Say exactly
what you wish stakedand I will stake it."
"Very well. Stake another four thousand gulden upon the red.
Take this banknote to do it with. I have still got twenty
thousand roubles in actual cash."
"But" I whispered"such a quantity of money--"
"Never mind. I cannot rest until I have won back my losses.
I stakedand we lost.
"Stake againstake again--eight thousand at a stroke!"
"I cannotMadame. The largest stake allowed is four thousand
"Wellthen; stake four thousand."
This time we wonand the Grandmother recovered herself a
"You seeyou see!" she exclaimed as she nudged me. "Stake
another four thousand."
I did soand lost. Againand yet againwe lost. "Madame
your twelve thousand gulden are now gone" at length I
"I see they are" she replied withas it werethe calmness
of despair. "I see they are" she muttered again as she
gazed straight in front of herlike a person lost in
thought. "Ah wellI do not mean to rest until I have staked
another four thousand."
"But you have no money with which to do itMadame. In this
satchel I can see only a few five percent bonds and some
transfers--no actual cash."
"And in the purse?"
"A mere trifle."
"But there is a money-changer's office hereis there not?
They told me I should be able to get any sort of paper
security changed! "
"Quite so; to any amount you please. But you will lose on the
transaction what would frighten even a Jew."
"Rubbish! I am DETERMINED to retrieve my losses. Take me
awayand call those fools of bearers."
I wheeled the chair out of the throngandthe bearers making
their appearancewe left the Casino.
"Hurryhurry!" commanded the Grandmother. "Show me the
nearest way to the money-changer's. Is it far?"
"A couple of stepsMadame."
At the turning from the square into the Avenue we came face to
face with the whole of our party--the GeneralDe GriersMlle.
Blancheand her mother. Only Polina and Mr. Astley were
"Wellwellwell! " exclaimed the Grandmother. "But we have
no time to stop. What do you want? I can't talk to you here."
I dropped behind a littleand immediately was pounced upon by
"She has lost this morning's winnings" I whispered"and
also twelve thousand gulden of her original money. At the
present moment we are going to get some bonds changed."
De Griers stamped his foot with vexationand hastened to
communicate the tidings to the General. Meanwhile we
continued to wheel the old lady along.
"Stop herstop her" whispered the General in consternation.
"You had better try and stop her yourself" I returned--also in
"My good mother" he said as he approached her"--my good
motherpray letlet--" (his voice was beginning to tremble
and sink) "--let us hire a carriageand go for a drive. Near
here there is an enchanting view to be obtained. We-we-we were
just coming to invite you to go and see it."
"Begone with you and your views!" said the Grandmother
angrily as she waved him away.
"And there are trees thereand we could have tea under them"
continued the General--now in utter despair.
"Nous boirons du laitsur l'herbe fraiche" added De Griers
with the snarl almost of a wild beast.
"Du laitde l'herbe fraiche"--the idyllthe ideal of the
Parisian bourgeois--his whole outlook upon "la nature et la
"Have done with you and your milk!" cried the old lady. "Go
and stuff YOURSELF as much as you likebut my stomach simply
recoils from the idea. What are you stopping for? I have
nothing to say to you."
"Here we areMadame" I announced. "Here is the
I entered to get the securities changedwhile the Grandmother
remained outside in the porchand the rest waited at a
little distancein doubt as to their best course of action.
At length the old lady turned such an angry stare upon them
that they departed along the road towards the Casino.
The process of changing involved complicated calculations
which soon necessitated my return to the Grandmother for
"The thieves!" she exclaimed as she clapped her hands
together. "Never mindthough. Get the documents cashed--No;
send the banker out to me" she added as an afterthought.
"Would one of the clerks doMadame?"
"Yesone of the clerks. The thieves!"
The clerk consented to come out when he perceived that he was
being asked for by an old lady who was too infirm to walk;
after which the Grandmother began to upbraid him at length
and with great vehemencefor his alleged usuriousnessand
to bargain with him in a mixture of RussianFrenchand
German--I acting as interpreter. Meanwhilethe grave-faced
official eyed us bothand silently nodded his head. At the
Grandmotherin particularhe gazed with a curiosity which
almost bordered upon rudeness. At lengthtoohe smiled.
"Pray recollect yourself!" cried the old lady. "And may my
money choke you! Alexis Ivanovitchtell him that we can
easily repair to someone else."
"The clerk says that others will give you even less than he."
Of what the ultimate calculations consisted I do not exactly
rememberbut at all events they were alarming. Receiving
twelve thousand florins in goldI took also the statement of
accountsand carried it out to the Grandmother.
"Wellwell" she said"I am no accountant. Let us hurry
awayhurry away." And she waved the paper aside.
"Neither upon that accursed zerohowevernor upon that
equally accursed red do I mean to stake a cent" I muttered to
myself as I entered the Casino.
This time I did all I could to persuade the old lady to stake
as little as possible--saying that a turn would come in the
chances when she would be at liberty to stake more. But she
was so impatient thatthough at first she agreed to do as I
suggestednothing could stop her when once she had begun. By
way of prelude she won stakes of a hundred and two hundred
"There you are!" she said as she nudged me. "See what we
have won! Surely it would be worth our while to stake four
thousand instead of a hundredfor we might win another four
thousandand then--! Ohit was YOUR fault before--all your
I felt greatly put out as I watched her playbut I decided to
hold my tongueand to give her no more advice.
Suddenly De Griers appeared on the scene. It seemed that all
this while he and his companions had been standing beside us--
though I noticed that Mlle. Blanche had withdrawn a little
from the restand was engaged in flirting with the Prince.
Clearly the General was greatly put out at this. Indeedhe
was in a perfect agony of vexation. But Mlle. was careful
never to look his waythough he did his best to attract her
notice. Poor General! By turns his face blanched and reddened
and he was trembling to such an extent that he could scarcely
follow the old lady's play. At length Mlle. and the Prince
took their departureand the General followed them.
"MadameMadame" sounded the honeyed accents of De Griers as
he leant over to whisper in the Grandmother's ear. "That
stake will never win. Nonoit is impossible" he added in
Russian with a writhe. "Nono!"
"But why not?" asked the Grandmotherturning round. "Show
me what I ought to do."
Instantly De Griers burst into a babble of French as he
advisedjumped aboutdeclared that such and such chances
ought to be waited forand started to make calculations of
figures. All this he addressed to me in my capacity as
translator--tapping the table the while with his fingerand
pointing hither and thither. At length he seized a penciland
began to reckon sums on paper until he had exhausted the
"Away with you!" she interrupted. "You talk sheer nonsense
forthough you keep on saying 'MadameMadame' you haven't
the least notion what ought to be done. Away with youI say!"
"MaisMadame" cooed De Griers--and straightway started
afresh with his fussy instructions.
"Stake just ONCEas he advises" the Grandmother said to me
"and then we shall see what we shall see. Of coursehis
stake MIGHT win."
As a matter of factDe Grier's one object was to distract the
old lady from staking large sums; whereforehe now suggested
to her that she should stake upon certain numberssingly and
in groups. Consequentlyin accordance with his instructionsI
staked a ten-gulden piece upon several odd numbers in the
first twentyand five ten-gulden pieces upon certain groups
of numbers-groups of from twelve to eighteenand from
eighteen to twenty-four. The total staked amounted to 160
The wheel revolved. "Zero!" cried the croupier.
We had lost it all!
"The fool!" cried the old lady as she turned upon De Griers.
"You infernal Frenchmanto think that you should advise!
Away with you! Though you fuss and fussyou don't even know
what you're talking about."
Deeply offendedDe Griers shrugged his shouldersfavoured
the Grandmother with a look of contemptand departed. For
some time past he had been feeling ashamed of being seen in
such companyand this had proved the last straw.
An hour later we had lost everything in hand.
"Home!" cried the Grandmother.
Not until we had turned into the Avenue did she utter a word;
but from that point onwardsuntil we arrived at the hotel
she kept venting exclamations of "What a fool I am! What a
silly old fool I amto be sure!"
Arrived at the hotelshe called for teaand then gave orders
for her luggage to be packed.
"We are off again" she announced.
"But whitherMadame?" inquired Martha.
"What business is that of YOURS? Let the cricket stick to
its hearth. [The Russian form of "Mind your own business."]
Potapitchhave everything packedfor we are returning to
Moscow at once. I have fooled away fifteen thousand roubles."
"Fifteen thousand roublesgood mistress? My God!" And
Potapitch spat upon his hands--probably to show that he was
ready to serve her in any way he could.
"Now thenyou fool! At once you begin with your weeping and
wailing! Be quietand pack. Alsorun downstairsand get my
"The next train leaves at 9:30Madame" I interposedwith a
view to checking her agitation.
"And what is the time now?"
"How vexing! Butnever mind. Alexis IvanovitchI have not a
kopeck left; I have but these two bank notes. Please run to
the office and get them changed. Otherwise I shall have
nothing to travel with."
Departing on her errandI returned half an hour later to find
the whole party gathered in her rooms. It appeared that the
news of her impending departure for Moscow had thrown the
conspirators into consternation even greater than her losses
had done. Forsaid theyeven if her departure should save
her fortunewhat will become of the General later? And who
is to repay De Griers? Clearly Mlle. Blanche would never
consent to wait until the Grandmother was deadbut would at
once elope with the Prince or someone else. So they had all
gathered together--endeavouring to calm and dissuade the
Grandmother. Only Polina was absent. For her pad the
Grandmother had nothing for the party but abuse.
"Away with youyou rascals!" she was shouting. "What have my
affairs to do with you? Whyin particulardo you"--here
she indicated De Griers--"come sneaking here with your goat's
beard? And what do YOU"--here she turned to Mlle. Blanche
"want of me? What are YOU finicking for?"
"Diantre!" muttered Mlle. under her breathbut her eyes
were flashing. Then all at once she burst into a laugh and
left the room--crying to the General as she did so: "Elle
vivra cent ans!"
"So you have been counting upon my deathhave you?" fumed
the old lady. "Away with you! Clear them out of the room
Alexis Ivanovitch. What business is it of THEIRS? It is not
THEIR money that I have been squanderingbut my own."
The General shrugged his shouldersbowedand withdrewwith
De Griers behind him.
"Call Prascovia" commanded the Grandmotherand in five
minutes Martha reappeared with Polinawho had been sitting
with the children in her own room (having purposely
determined not to leave it that day). Her face looked grave
"Prascovia" began the Grandmother"is what I have just
heard through a side wind true--namelythat this fool of a
stepfather of yours is going to marry that silly whirligig of
a Frenchwoman--that actressor something worse? Tell meis
"I do not know FOR CERTAINGrandmamma" replied Polina; "but
from Mlle. Blanche's account (for she does not appear to think
it necessary to conceal anything) I conclude that--"
"You need not say any more" interrupted the Grandmother
energetically. "I understand the situation. I always thought
we should get something like this from himfor I always
looked upon him as a futilefrivolous fellow who gave himself
unconscionable airs on the fact of his being a general (though
he only became one because he retired as a colonel). YesI
know all about the sending of the telegrams to inquire
whether 'the old woman is likely to turn up her toes soon.' Ah
they were looking for the legacies! Without money that
wretched woman (what is her name?--OhDe Cominges) would
never dream of accepting the General and his false teeth--no
not even for him to be her lacquey--since she herselfthey
saypossesses a pile of moneyand lends it on interestand
makes a good thing out of it. Howeverit is not you
Prascoviathat I am blaming; it was not you who sent those
telegrams. Norfor that matterdo I wish to recall old
scores. TrueI know that you are a vixen by nature--that you
are a wasp which will sting one if one touches it-- yetmy
heart is sore for youfor I loved your motherKaterina. Now
will you leave everything hereand come away with me?
OtherwiseI do not know what is to become of youand it is
not right that you should continue living with these people.
Nay" she interposedthe moment that Polina attempted to
speak"I have not yet finished. I ask of you nothing in
return. My house in Moscow isas you knowlarge enough for
a palaceand you could occupy a whole floor of it if you
likedand keep away from me for weeks together. Will you
come with me or will you not?"
"First of alllet me ask of YOU" replied Polina"whetheryou
are intending to depart at once?"
"What? You suppose me to be jesting? I have said that I am
goingand I AM going. Today I have squandered fifteen
thousand roubles at that accursed roulette of yoursand
thoughfive years agoI promised the people of a certain
suburb of Moscow to build them a stone church in place of a
wooden oneI have been fooling away my money here! However
I am going back now to build my church."
"But what about the watersGrandmamma? Surely you came here
to take the waters?"
"You and your waters! Do not anger mePrascovia. Surely you
are trying to? Saythen: will youor will you notcome
"Grandmamma" Polina replied with deep feeling"I am very
very grateful to you for the shelter which you have so kindly
offered me. Alsoto a certain extent you have guessed my
position arightand I am beholden to you to such an extent
that it may be that I will come and live with youand that
very soon; yet there are important reasons why--why I cannot
make up my mind just yet. If you would let me havesaya
couple of weeks to decide in--?"
"You mean that you are NOT coming?"
"I mean only that I cannot come just yet. At all eventsI
could not well leave my little brother and sister here
sincesince--if I were to leave them--they would be abandoned
altogether. But ifGrandmammayou would take the little ones
AND myselfthenof courseI could come with youand would
do all I could to serve you" (this she said with great
earnestness). "Onlywithout the little ones I CANNOT come."
"Do not make a fuss" (as a matter of fact Polina never at
any time either fussed or wept). "The Great Foster--Father
[Translated literally--The Great Poulterer] can find for all
his chicks a place. You are not coming without the children?
But see herePrascovia. I wish you welland nothing but
well: yet I have divined the reason why you will not come.
YesI know allPrascovia. That Frenchman will never bring
you good of any sort."
Polina coloured hotlyand even I started. "For" thought I to
myself"every one seems to know about that affair. Or
perhaps I am the only one who does not know about it? "
"Nownow! Do not frown" continued the Grandmother. "But I
do not intend to slur things over. You will take care that no
harm befalls youwill you not? For you are a girl of sense
and I am sorry for you--I regard you in a different light to
the rest of them. And nowpleaseleave me. Good-bye."
"But let me stay with you a little longer" said Polina.
"No" replied the other; "you need not. Do not bother mefor
you and all of them have tired me out."
Yet when Polina tried to kiss the Grandmother's handthe old
lady withdrew itand herself kissed the girl on the cheek.
As she passed mePolina gave me a momentary glanceand then
as swiftly averted her eyes.
"And good-bye to youalsoAlexis Ivanovitch. The train
starts in an hour's timeand I think that you must be weary
of me. Take these five hundred gulden for yourself."
"I thank you humblyMadamebut I am ashamed to--"
"Comecome!" cried the Grandmother so energeticallyand
with such an air of menacethat I did not dare refuse the
"Ifwhen in Moscowyou have no place where you can lay your
head" she added"come and see meand I will give you a
recommendation. NowPotapitchget things ready."
I ascended to my roomand lay down upon the bed. A whole hour
I must have lain thuswith my head resting upon my hand. So
the crisis had come! I needed time for its consideration. To-
morrow I would have a talk with Polina. Ah! The Frenchman! So
it was true? But how could it be so? Polina and De Griers!
What a combination!
Noit was too improbable. Suddenly I leapt up with the idea
of seeking Astley and forcing him to speak. There could be no
doubt that he knew more than I did. Astley? Wellhe was
another problem for me to solve.
Suddenly there came a knock at the doorand I opened it to
find Potapitch awaiting me.
"Sir" he said"my mistress is asking for you."
"Indeed? But she is just departingis she not? The train
leaves in ten minutes' time."
"She is uneasysir; she cannot rest. Come quicklysir; do
I ran downstairs at once. The Grandmother was just being
carried out of her rooms into the corridor. In her hands she
held a roll of bank-notes.
"Alexis Ivanovitch" she cried"walk on aheadand we will
set out again."
"I cannot rest until I have retrieved my losses. March on
aheadand ask me no questions. Play continues until
midnightdoes it not?"
For a moment I stood stupefied--stood deep in thought; but it
was not long before I had made up my mind.
"With your leaveMadame" I said"I will not go withyou."
"And why not? What do you mean? Is every one here a stupid
"Pardon mebut I have nothing to reproach myself with. I
merely will not go. I merely intend neither to witness nor to
join in your play. I also beg to return you your five hundred
Laying the money upon a little table which the Grandmother's
chair happened to be passingI bowed and withdrew.
"What folly!" the Grandmother shouted after me. "Very wellthen.
Do not comeand I will find my way alone. Potapitchyou must
come with me. Lift up the chairand carry me along."
I failed to find Mr. Astleyand returned home. It was now
growing late--it was past midnightbut I subsequently learnt
from Potapitch how the Grandmother's day had ended. She had
lost all the money whichearlier in the dayI had got for
her paper securities--a sum amounting to about ten thousand
roubles. This she did under the direction of the Pole whom
that afternoonshe had dowered with two ten-gulden pieces.
But before his arrival on the sceneshe had commanded
Potapitch to stake for her; until at length she had told him
also to go about his business. Upon that the Pole had leapt
into the breach. Not only did it happen that he knew the
Russian languagebut also he could speak a mixture of three
different dialectsso that the pair were able to understand
one another. Yet the old lady never ceased to abuse him
despite his deferential mannerand to compare him
unfavourably with myself (soat all eventsPotapitch
declared). "You" the old chamberlain said to me"treated
her as a gentleman shouldbut he--he robbed her right and
leftas I could see with my own eyes. Twice she caught him
at itand rated him soundly. On one occasion she even pulled
his hairso that the bystanders burst out laughing. Yet she
lost everythingsir--that is to sayshe lost all that you had
changed for her. Then we brought her homeandafter asking
for some water and saying her prayersshe went to bed. So
worn out was she that she fell asleep at once. May God send
her dreams of angels! And this is all that foreign travel has
done for us! Ohmy own Moscow! For what have we not at home
therein Moscow? Such a garden and flowers as you could
never see hereand fresh air and apple-trees coming into
blossom--and a beautiful view to look upon. Ahbut what
must she do but go travelling abroad? Alackalack!"
Almost a month has passed since I last touched these notes--
notes which I began under the influence of impressions at once
poignant and disordered. The crisis which I then felt to be
approaching has now arrivedbut in a form a hundred times
more extensive and unexpected than I had looked for. To me it
all seems strangeuncouthand tragic. Certain occurrences
have befallen me which border upon the marvellous. At all
eventsthat is how I view them. I view them so in one regard
at least. I refer to the whirlpool of events in whichat the
timeI was revolving. But the most curious feature of all is
my relation to those eventsfor hitherto I had never clearly
understood myself. Yet now the actual crisis has passed away
like a dream. Even my passion for Polina is dead. Was it ever
so strong and genuine as I thought? If sowhat has become of
it now? At times I fancy that I must be mad; that somewhere I
am sitting in a madhouse; that these events have merely SEEMED
to happen; that still they merely SEEM to be happening.
I have been arranging and re-perusing my notes (perhaps for the
purpose of convincing myself that I am not in a madhouse). At
present I am lonely and alone. Autumn is coming--already it is
mellowing the leaves; andas I sit brooding in this melancholy
little town (and how melancholy the little towns of Germany can
be!)I find myself taking no thought for the futurebut
living under the influence of passing moodsand of my
recollections of the tempest which recently drew me into its
vortexand then cast me out again. At times I seem still seem to
be caught within that vortex. At timesthe tempest seems once
more to be gatheringandas it passes overheadto be
wrapping me in its foldsuntil I have lost my sense of order
and realityand continue whirling and whirling and whirling
Yetit may be that I shall be able to stop myself from
revolving if once I can succeed in rendering myself an exact
account of what has happened within the month just past.
Somehow I feel drawn towards the pen; on many and many an
evening I have had nothing else in the world to do. But
curiously enoughof late I have taken to amusing myself with
the works of M. Paul de Kockwhich I read in German
translations obtained from a wretched local library. These
works I cannot abideyet I read themand find myself
marvelling that I should be doing so. Somehow I seem to be
afraid of any SERIOUS book--afraid of permitting any SERIOUS
preoccupation to break the spell of the passing moment. So
dear to me is the formless dream of which I have spokenso
dear to me are the impressions which it has left behind it
that I fear to touch the vision with anything newlest it
should dissolve in smoke. But is it so dear to me? Yesit IS
dear to meand will ever be fresh in my recollections--even
forty years hence. . . .
So let me write of itbut only partiallyand in a more
abridged form than my full impressions might warrant.
First of alllet me conclude the history of the Grandmother.
Next day she lost every gulden that she possessed. Things were
bound to happen sofor persons of her type who have once
entered upon that road descend it with ever-increasing rapidity
even as a sledge descends a toboggan-slide. All day until eight
o'clock that evening did she play; andthough I personally did
not witness her exploitsI learnt of them later through report.
All that day Potapitch remained in attendance upon her; but the
Poles who directed her play she changed more than once. As a
beginning she dismissed her Pole of the previous day--the Pole
whose hair she had pulled--and took to herself another one; but
the latter proved worse even than the formerand incurred
dismissal in favour of the first Polewhoduring the time of
his unemploymenthad nevertheless hovered around the
Grandmother's chairand from time to time obtruded his head
over her shoulder. At length the old lady became desperatefor
the second Polewhen dismissedimitated his predecessor by
declining to go away; with the result that one Pole remained
standing on the right of the victimand the other on her left;
from which vantage points the pair quarrelledabused each other
concerning the stakes and roundsand exchanged the epithet
"laidak " [Rascal] and other Polish terms of endearment. Finallythey
effected a mutual reconciliationandtossing the money about
anyhowplayed simply at random. Once more quarrellingeach of
them staked money on his own side of the Grandmother's chair
(for instancethe one Pole staked upon the redand the other
one upon the black)until they had so confused and browbeaten
the old lady thatnearly weepingshe was forced to appeal to
the head croupier for protectionand to have the two Poles
expelled. No time was lost in this being donedespite the
rascals' cries and protestations that the old lady was in their
debtthat she had cheated themand that her general behaviour
had been mean and dishonourable. The same evening the
unfortunate Potapitch related the story to me with tears
complaining that the two men had filled their pockets with
money (he himself had seen them do it) which had been
shamelesslly pilfered from his mistress. For instanceone Pole
demanded of the Grandmother fifty gulden for his troubleand
then staked the money by the side of her stake. She happened to
win; whereupon he cried out that the winning stake was hisand
hers the loser. As soon as the two Poles had been expelled
Potapitch left the roomand reported to the authorities that
the men's pockets were full of gold; andon the Grandmother
also requesting the head croupier to look into the affairthe
police made their appearanceanddespite the protests of the
Poles (whoindeedhad been caught redhanded)their pockets
were turned inside outand the contents handed over to the
Grandmother. In factinview of the circumstance that she lost
all daythe croupiers and other authorities of the Casino
showed her every attention; and on her fame spreading through
the townvisitors of every nationality--even the most knowing of
themthe most distinguished--crowded to get a glimpse of "la
vieille comtesse russetombee en enfance" who had lost "so
Yet with the money which the authorities restored to her from
the pockets of the Poles the Grandmother effected veryvery
littlefor there soon arrived to take his countrymen's placea
third Pole--a man who could speak Russian fluentlywas dressed
like a gentleman (albeit in lacqueyish fashion)and sported a
huge moustache. Though polite enough to the old ladyhe took a
high hand with the bystanders. In shorthe offered himself less
as a servant than as an ENTERTAINER. After each round he would
turn to the old ladyand swear terrible oaths to the effect
that he was a "Polish gentleman of honour" who would scorn to
take a kopeck of her money; andthough he repeated these oaths
so often that at length she grew alarmedhe had her play in
handand began to win on her behalf; whereforeshe felt that
she could not well get rid of him. An hour later the two Poles
whoearlier in the dayhad been expelled from the Casinomade
a reappearance behind the old lady's chairand renewed their
offers of service--even if it were only to be sent on messages;
but from Potapitch I subsequently had it that between these rascals
and the said "gentleman of honour" there passed a winkas well as
that the latter put something into their hands. Nextsince the
Grandmother had not yet lunched--she had scarcely for a moment
left her chair--one of the two Poles ran to the restaurant of the
Casinoand brought her thence a cup of soupand afterwards
some tea. In factBOTH the Poles hastened to perform this
office. Finallytowards the close of the daywhen it was clear
that the Grandmother was about to play her last bank-notethere
could be seen standing behind her chair no fewer than six
natives of Poland--persons whoas yethad been neither audible
nor visible; and as soon as ever the old lady played the note in
questionthey took no further notice of herbut pushed their
way past her chair to the table; seized the moneyand staked
it--shouting and disputing the whileand arguing with the
"gentleman of honour" (who also had forgotten the Grandmother's
existence)as though he were their equal. Even when the
Grandmother had lost her alland was returning (about eight
o'clock) to the hotelsome three or four Poles could not bring
themselves to leave herbut went on running beside her chair
and volubly protesting that the Grandmother had cheated them
and that she ought to be made to surrender what was not her own.
Thus the party arrived at the hotel; whencepresentlythe gang
of rascals was ejected neck and crop.
According to Potapitch's calculationsthe Grandmother lost
that daya total of ninety thousand roublesin addition to the
money which she had lost the day before. Every paper security
which she had brought with her--five percent bondsinternal
loan scripand what not--she had changed into cash. AlsoI
could not but marvel at the way in whichfor seven or eight
hours at a stretchshe sat in that chair of hersalmost never
leaving the table. AgainPotapitch told me that there were
three occasions on which she really began to win; but thatled
on by false hopesshe was unable to tear herself away at the
right moment. Every gambler knows how a person may sit a day and
a night at cards without ever casting a glance to right or to
Meanwhilethat day some other very important events were
passing in our hotel. As early as eleven o'clock--that is to say
before the Grandmother had quitted her rooms--the General and De
Griers decided upon their last stroke. In other wordson
learning that the old lady had changed her mind about departing
and was bent on setting out for the Casino againthe whole of
our gang (Polina only excepted) proceeded en masse to her rooms
for the purpose of finally and frankly treating with her. But
the Generalquaking and greatly apprehensive as to his possible
futureoverdid things. After half an hour's prayers and
entreatiescoupled With a full confession of his debtsand
even of his passion for Mlle. Blanche (yeshe had quite lost
his head)he suddenly adopted a tone of menaceand started to
rage at the old lady--exclaiming that she was sullying the family
honourthat she was making a public scandal of herselfand
that she was smirching the fair name of Russia. The upshot was
that the Grandmother turned him out of the room with her stick
(it was a real sticktoo!). Later in the morning he held
several consultations with De Griers--the question which occupied
him being: Is it in any way possible to make use of the
police--to tell them that "this respectedbut unfortunateold
lady has gone out of her mindand is squandering her last
kopeck" or something of the kind? In shortis it in any way
possible to engineer a species of supervision overor of
restraint uponthe old lady? De Griershowevershrugged his
shoulders at thisand laughed in the General's facewhile the
old warrior went on chattering volublyand running up and down
his study. Finally De Griers waved his handand disappeared
from view; and by evening it became known that he had left the
hotelafter holding a very secret and important conference with
Mlle. Blanche. As for the latterfrom early morning she had
taken decisive measuresby completely excluding the General
from her presenceand bestowing upon him not a glance. Indeed
even when the General pursued her to the Casinoand met her
walking arm in arm with the Princehe (the General) received
from her and her mother not the slightest recognition. Nor did
the Prince himself bow. The rest of the day Mlle. spent in
probing the Princeand trying to make him declare himself; but
in this she made a woeful mistake. The little incident occurred
in the evening. Suddenly Mlle. Blanche realised that the Prince
had not even a copper to his namebuton the contrarywas
minded to borrow of her money wherewith to play at roulette. In
high displeasure she drove him from her presenceand shut
herself up in her room.
The same morning I went to see--orratherto look for--Mr.
Astleybut was unsuccessful in my quest. Neither in his rooms
nor in the Casino nor in the Park was he to be found; nor did
hethat daylunch at his hotel as usual. Howeverat about
five o'clock I caught sight of him walking from the railway
station to the Hotel d'Angleterre. He seemed to be in a great
hurry and much preoccupiedthough in his face I could discern
no actual traces of worry or perturbation. He held out to me a
friendly handwith his usual ejaculation of " Ah! " but did not
check his stride. I turned and walked beside himbut found
somehowthat his answers forbade any putting of definite
questions. MoreoverI felt reluctant to speak to him of Polina;
norfor his partdid he ask me any questions concerning her
althoughon my telling him of the Grandmother's exploitshe
listened attentively and gravelyand then shrugged his
"She is gambling away everything that she has" I remarked.
"Indeed? She arrived at the Casino even before I had taken my
departure by trainso I knew she had been playing. If I should
have time I will go to the Casino to-nightand take a look at
her. The thing interests me."
"Where have you been today?" I asked--surprised at myself for
havingas yetomitted to put to him that question.
What more was there to be asked after that? I accompanied him
untilas we drew level with the Hotel des Quatre Saisonshe
suddenly nodded to me and disappeared. For myselfI returned
homeand came to the conclusion thateven had I met him at two
o'clock in the afternoonI should have learnt no more from him
than I had done at five o'clockfor the reason that I had no
definite question to ask. It was bound to have been so. For me
to formulate the query which I really wished to put was a simple
Polina spent the whole of that day either in walking about the
park with the nurse and children or in sitting in her own room.
For a long while past she had avoided the General and had
scarcely had a word to say to him (scarcely a wordI meanon
any SERIOUS topic). Yesthat I had noticed. Stilleven though
I was aware of the position in which the General was placedit
had never occurred to me that he would have any reason to avoid
HERor to trouble her with family explanations. Indeedwhen I
was returning to the hotel after my conversation with Astley
and chanced to meet Polina and the childrenI could see that
her face was as calm as though the family disturbances had never
touched her. To my salute she responded with a slight bowand I
retired to my room in a very bad humour.
Of coursesince the affair with the Burmergelms I had exchanged
not a word with Polinanor had with her any kind of
intercourse. Yet I had been at my wits' endforas time went
onthere was arising in me an ever-seething dissatisfaction.
Even if she did not love me she ought not to have trampled upon
my feelingsnor to have accepted my confessions with such
contemptseeing that she must have been aware that I loved her
(of her own accord she had allowed me to tell her as much). Of
course the situation between us had arisen in a curious manner.
About two months agoI had noticed that she had a desire to make
me her friendher confidant--that she was making trial of me for
the purpose; butfor some reason or anotherthe desired result
had never come aboutand we had fallen into the present strange
relationswhich had led me to address her as I had done. At the
same timeif my love was distasteful to herwhy had she not
FORBIDDEN me to speak of it to her?
But she had not so forbidden me. On the contrarythere had been
occasions when she had even INVITED me to speak. Of coursethis
might have been done out of sheer wantonnessfor I well knew--I
had remarked it only too often--thatafter listening to what I
had to sayand angering me almost beyond enduranceshe loved
suddenly to torture me with some fresh outburst of contempt and
aloofness! Yet she must have known that I could not live without
her. Three days had elapsed since the affair with the Baronand
I could bear the severance no longer. Whenthat afternoonI
met her near the Casinomy heart almost made me faintit beat
so violently. She too could not live without mefor had she not
said that she had NEED of me? Or had that too been spoken in
That she had a secret of some kind there could be no doubt. What
she had said to the Grandmother had stabbed me to the heart. On
a thousand occasions I had challenged her to be open with me
nor could she have been ignorant that I was ready to give my
very life for her. Yet always she had kept me at a distance with
that contemptuous air of hers; or else she had demanded of me
in lieu of the life which I offered to lay at her feetsuch
escapades as I had perpetrated with the Baron. Ahwas it not
torture to meall this? For could it be that her whole world
was bound up with the Frenchman? Whattooabout Mr. Astley?
The affair was inexplicable throughout. My Godwhat distress it
Arrived homeIin a fit of frenzyindited the following:
"Polina AlexandrovnaI can see that there is approaching us an
exposure which will involve you too. For the last time I ask of
you--have youor have you notany need of my life? If you have
then make such dispositions as you wishand I shall always be
discoverable in my room if required. If you have need of my
lifewrite or send for me."
I sealed the letterand dispatched it by the hand of a corridor
lacqueywith orders to hand it to the addressee in person.
Though I expected no answerscarcely three minutes had elapsed
before the lacquey returned with "the compliments of a certain
Nextabout seven o'clockI was sent for by the General. I
found him in his studyapparently preparing to go out again
for his hat and stick were lying on the sofa. When I entered he
was standing in the middle of the room--his feet wide apartand
his head bent down. Alsohe appeared to be talking to himself.
But as soon as ever he saw me at the door he came towards me in
such a curious manner that involuntarily I retreated a stepand
was for leaving the room; whereupon he seized me by both hands
anddrawing me towards the sofaand seating himself thereon
he forced me to sit down on a chair opposite him. Thenwithout
letting go of my handshe exclaimed with quivering lips and a
sparkle of tears on his eyelashes:
"OhAlexis Ivanovitch! Save mesave me! Have some mercy upon
For a long time I could not make out what he meantalthough he
kept talking and talkingand constantly repeating to himself
"Have mercymercy!" At lengthhoweverI divined that he was
expecting me to give him something in the nature of advice--or
ratherthatdeserted by every oneand overwhelmed with grief
and apprehensionhe had bethought himself of my existenceand
sent for me to relieve his feelings by talking and talking and
In facthe was in such a confused and despondent state of mind
thatclasping his hands togetherhe actually went down upon
his knees and begged me to go to Mlle. Blancheand beseech and
advise her to return to himand to accept him in marriage.
"ButGeneral" I exclaimed"possibly Mlle. Blanche has
scarcely even remarked my existence? What could I do with her?"
It was in vain that I protestedfor he could understand nothing
that was said to himNext he started talking about the
Grandmotherbut always in a disconnected sort of fashion--his
one thought being to send for the police.
"In Russia" said hesuddenly boiling over with indignation
"or in any well-ordered State where there exists a government
old women like my mother are placed under proper guardianship.
Yesmy good sir" he went onrelapsing into a scolding tone as
he leapt to his feet and started to pace the room"do you not
know this " (he seemed to be addressing some imaginary auditor
in the corner) "--do you not know thisthat in Russia old women
like her are subjected to restraintthe devil take them?"
Again he threw himself down upon the sofa.
A minute laterthough sobbing and almost breathlesshe managed
to gasp out that Mlle. Blanche had refused to marry himfor the
reason that the Grandmother had turned up in place of a
telegramand it was therefore clear that he had no inheritance
to look for. Evidentlyhe supposed that I had hitherto been in
entire ignorance of all this. Againwhen I referred to De
Griersthe General made a gesture of despair. "He has gone
away" he said"and everything which I possess is mortgaged to
him. I stand stripped to my skin. Even of the money which you
brought me from ParisI know not if seven hundred francs be
left. Of course that sum will do to go on withbutas regards
the futureI know nothingI know nothing."
"Then how will you pay your hotel bill?" I cried in
consternation. "And what shall you do afterwards?"
He looked at me vaguelybut it was clear that he had not
understood--perhaps had not even heard--my questions. Then I tried
to get him to speak of Polina and the childrenbut he only
returned brief answers of " Yesyes" and again started to
maunder about the Princeand the likelihood of the latter
marrying Mlle. Blanche. "What on earth am I to do?" he
concluded. "What on earth am I to do? Is this not ingratitude?
Is it not sheer ingratitude?" And he burst into tears.
Nothing could be done with such a man. Yet to leave him alone
was dangerousfor something might happen to him. I withdrew
from his rooms for a little whilebut warned the nursemaid to
keep an eye upon himas well as exchanged a word with the
corridor lacquey (a very talkative fellow)who likewise
promised to remain on the look-out.
Hardly had I left the Generalwhen Potapitch approached me with
a summons from the Grandmother. It was now eight o'clockand
she had returned from the Casino after finally losing all that
she possessed. I found her sitting in her chair--much distressed
and evidently fatigued. Presently Martha brought her up a cup of
tea and forced her to drink it; yeteven then I could detect in
the old lady's tone and manner a great change.
"Good eveningAlexis Ivanovitch" she said slowlywith her
head drooping. "Pardon me for disturbing you again. Yesyou
must pardon an oldold woman like myselffor I have left
behind me all that I possess--nearly a hundred thousand roubles!
You did quite right in declining to come with me this evening.
Now I am without money--without a single groat. But I must not
delay a moment; I must leave by the 9:30 train. I have sent for
that English friend of yoursand am going to beg of him three
thousand francs for a week. Please try and persuade him to think
nothing of itnor yet to refuse mefor I am still a rich woman
who possesses three villages and a couple of mansions. Yesthe
money shall be foundfor I have not yet squandered EVERYTHING.
I tell you this in order that he may have no doubts about--Ah
but here he is! Clearly he is a good fellow."
True enoughAstley had come hot-foot on receiving the
Grandmother's appeal. Scarcely stopping even to reflectand
with scarcely a wordhe counted out the three thousand francs
under a note of hand which she duly signed. Thenhis business
donehe bowedand lost no time in taking his departure.
"You too leave meAlexis Ivanovitch" said the Grandmother.
"All my bones are achingand I still have an hour in which to
rest. Do not be hard upon meold fool that I am. Never again
shall I blame young people for being frivolous. I should think
it wrong even to blame that unhappy General of yours. Nevertheless
I do not mean to let him have any of my money (which is all that
he desires)for the reason that I look upon him as a perfect
blockheadand consider myselfsimpleton though I beat least
wiser than HE is. How surely does God visit old ageand punish
it for its presumption! Wellgood-bye. Marthacome and lift
HoweverI had a mind to see the old lady off; andmoreoverI
was in an expectant frame of mind--somehow I kept thinking that
SOMETHING was going to happen; whereforeI could not rest
quietly in my roombut stepped out into the corridorand then
into the Chestnut Avenue for a few minutes' stroll. My letter to
Polina had been clear and firmand in the present crisisI felt
surewould prove final. I had heard of De Griers' departure
andhowever much Polina might reject me as a FRIENDshe might
not reject me altogether as a SERVANT. She would need me to
fetch and carry for herand I was ready to do so. How could it
have been otherwise?
Towards the hour of the train's departure I hastened to the
stationand put the Grandmother into her compartment--she and
her party occupying a reserved family saloon.
"Thanks for your disinterested assistance" she said at
parting. "Ohand please remind Prascovia of what I said to her
last night. I expect soon to see her."
Then I returned home. As I was passing the door of the General's
suiteI met the nursemaidand inquired after her master.
"There is nothing new to reportsir" she replied quietly.
Nevertheless I decided to enterand was just doing so when I
halted thunderstruck on the threshold. For before me I beheld
the General and Mlle. Blanche--laughing gaily at one another!--
while beside themon the sofathere was seated her mother.
Clearly the General was almost out of his mind with joyfor he
was talking all sorts of nonsenseand bubbling over with a
long-drawnnervous laugh--a laugh which twisted his face into
innumerable wrinklesand caused his eyes almost to disappear.
Afterwards I learnt from Mlle. Blanche herself thatafter
dismissing the Prince and hearing of the General's tearsshe
bethought her of going to comfort the old manand had just
arrived for the purpose when I entered. Fortunatelythe poor
General did not know that his fate had been decided--that Mlle.
had long ago packed her trunks in readiness for the first
morning train to Paris!
Hesitating a moment on the threshold I changed my mind as to
enteringand departed unnoticed. Ascending to my own roomand
opening the doorI perceived in the semi-darkness a figure
seated on a chair in the corner by the window. The figure did
not rise when I enteredso I approached it swiftlypeered at
it closelyand felt my heart almost stop beating. The figure
The shock made me utter an exclamation.
"What is the matter? What is the matter?" she asked in a
strange voice. She was looking paleand her eyes were dim.
"What is the matter?" I re-echoed. "Whythe fact that you
"If I am hereI have come with all that I have to bring" she
said. "Such has always been my wayas you shall presently see.
Please light a candle."
I did so; whereupon she roseapproached the tableand laid
upon it an open letter.
"Read it" she added.
"It is De Griers' handwriting!" I cried as I seized the
document. My hands were so tremulous that the lines on the pages
danced before my eyes. Althoughat this distance of timeI
have forgotten the exact phraseology of the missiveI append
if not the precise wordsat all events the general sense.
"Mademoiselle" the document ran"certain untoward
circumstances compel me to depart in haste. Of courseyou have
of yourself remarked that hitherto I have always refrained from
having any final explanation with youfor the reason that I
could not well state the whole circumstances; and now to my
difficulties the advent of the aged Grandmothercoupled with
her subsequent proceedingshas put the final touch. Alsothe
involved state of my affairs forbids me to write with any
finality concerning those hopes of ultimate bliss upon which
for a long while pastI have permitted myself to feed. I regret
the pastbut at the same time hope that in my conduct you have
never been able to detect anything that was unworthy of a
gentleman and a man of honour. Having losthoweveralmost the
whole of my money in debts incurred by your stepfatherI find
myself driven to the necessity of saving the remainder;
whereforeI have instructed certain friends of mine in St.
Petersburg to arrange for the sale of all the property which has
been mortgaged to myself. At the same timeknowing thatin
additionyour frivolous stepfather has squandered money which
is exclusively yoursI have decided to absolve him from a
certain moiety of the mortgages on his propertyin order that
you may be in a position to recover of him what you have lost
by suing him in legal fashion. I trustthereforethatas
matters now standthis action of mine may bring you some
advantage. I trust also that this same action leaves me in the
position of having fulfilled every obligation which is incumbent
upon a man of honour and refinement. Rest assured that your
memory will for ever remain graven in my heart."
"All this is clear enough" I commented. "Surely you did not
expect aught else from him?" Somehow I was feeling annoyed.
"I expected nothing at all from him" she replied--quietly
enoughto all outward seemingyet with a note of irritation in
her tone. "Long ago I made up my mind on the subjectfor I
could read his thoughtsand knew what he was thinking. He
thought that possibly I should sue him--that one day I might
become a nuisance." Here Polina halted for a momentand stood
biting her lips. "So of set purpose I redoubled my contemptuous
treatment of himand waited to see what he would do. If a
telegram to say that we had become legatees had arrived from
St. PetersburgI should have flung at him a quittance for my
foolish stepfather's debtsand then dismissed him. For a long
time I have hated him. Even in earlier days he was not a man;
and now!-- Ohhow gladly I could throw those fifty thousand
roubles in his faceand spit in itand then rub the spittle in!"
"But the document returning the fifty-thousand rouble
mortgage--has the General got it? If sopossess yourself of it
and send it to De Griers."
"Nono; the General has not got it."
"Just as I expected! Wellwhat is the General going to do?"
Then an idea suddenly occurred to me. "What about the
Grandmother?" I asked.
Polina looked at me with impatience and bewilderment.
"What makes you speak of HER?" was her irritable inquiry. "I
cannot go and live with her. Nor" she added hotly"will I go
down upon my knees to ANY ONE."
"Why should you?" I cried. "Yet to think that you should have
loved De Griers! The villainthe villain! But I will kill him
in a duel. Where is he now?"
"In Frankfortwhere he will be staying for the next three
"Wellbid me do soand I will go to him by the first train
tomorrow" I exclaimed with enthusiasm.
"If you were to do that" she said"he would merely
tell you to be so good as first to return him the fifty
thousand francs. Whatthenwould be the use of
having a quarrel with him? You talk sheer nonsense."
I ground my teeth.
"The question" I went on"is how to raise the fifty thousand
francs. We cannot expect to find them lying about on the floor.
Listen. What of Mr. Astley?" Even as I spoke a new and strange
idea formed itself in my brain.
Her eyes flashed fire.
"What? YOU YOURSELF wish me to leave you for him?" she cried
with a scornful look and a proud smile. Never before had she
addressed me thus.
Then her head must have turned dizzy with emotionfor suddenly
she seated herself upon the sofaas though she were powerless
any longer to stand.
A flash of lightning seemed to strike me as I stood there. I
could scarcely believe my eyes or my ears. She DID love me
then! It WAS to meand not to Mr. Astleythat she had turned!
Although shean unprotected girlhad come to me in my room--in
an hotel room--and had probably compromised herself therebyI
had not understood!
Then a second mad idea flashed into my brain.
"Polina" I said"give me but an hour. Wait here just one
hour until I return. Yesyou MUST do so. Do you not see what I
mean? Just stay here for that time."
And I rushed from the room without so much as answering her look
of inquiry. She called something after mebut I did not return.
Sometimes it happens that the most insane thoughtthe most
impossible conceptionwill become so fixed in one's head that
at length one believes the thought or the conception to be
reality. Moreoverif with the thought or the conception there
is combined a stronga passionatedesireone will come to
look upon the said thought or conception as something fated
inevitableand foreordained--something bound to happen. Whether
by this there is connoted something in the nature of a
combination of presentimentsor a great effort of willor a
self-annulment of one's true expectationsand so onI do not
know; butat all events that night saw happen to me (a night
which I shall never forget) something in the nature of the
miraculous. Although the occurrence can easily be explained by
arithmeticI still believe it to have been a miracle. Yet why
did this conviction take such a hold upon me at the timeand
remain with me ever since? PreviouslyI had thought of the idea
not as an occurrence which was ever likely to come aboutbut as
something which NEVER could come about.
The time was a quarter past eleven o'clock when I entered the
Casino in such a state of hope (thoughat the same timeof
agitation) as I had never before experienced. In the
gaming-rooms there were still a large number of peoplebut not
half as many as had been present in the morning.
At eleven o'clock there usually remained behind only the real
the desperate gamblers--persons for whomat spasthere existed
nothing beyond rouletteand who went thither for that alone.
These gamesters took little note of what was going on around
themand were interested in none of the appurtenances of the
seasonbut played from morning till nightand would have been
ready to play through the night until dawn had that been
possible. As it wasthey used to disperse unwillingly whenat
midnightroulette came to an end. Likewiseas soon as ever
roulette was drawing to a close and the head croupier had called
"Les trois derniers coups" most of them were ready to stake on
the last three rounds all that they had in their pockets--and
for the most partlost it. For my own part I proceeded towards
the table at which the Grandmother had lately sat; andsince the
crowd around it was not very largeI soon obtained standing
room among the ring of gamblerswhile directly in front of me
on the green clothI saw marked the word "Passe."
"Passe" was a row of numbers from 19 to 36 inclusive; while a
row of numbers from 1 to 18 inclusive was known as "Manque."
But what had that to do with me? I had not noticed--I had not so
much as heard the numbers upon which the previous coup had
fallenand so took no bearings when I began to playasin my
placeany SYSTEMATIC gambler would have done. NoI merely
extended my stock of twenty ten-gulden piecesand threw them
down upon the space "Passe" which happened to be confronting
"Vingt-deux!" called the croupier.
I had won! I staked upon the same again--both my original stake
and my winnings.
"Trente-et-un!" called the croupier.
Again I had wonand was now in possession of eighty ten-gulden
pieces. NextI moved the whole eighty on to twelve middle
numbers (a stake whichif successfulwould bring me in a
triple profitbut also involved a risk of two chances to one).
The wheel revolvedand stopped at twenty-four. Upon this I was
paid out notes and gold until I had by my side a total sum of
two thousand gulden.
It was as in a fever that I moved the pileen blocon to the
red. Then suddenly I came to myself (though that was the only
time during the evening's play when fear cast its cold spell
over meand showed itself in a trembling of the hands and
knees). For with horror I had realised that I MUST winand that
upon that stake there depended all my life.
"Rouge!" called the croupier. I drew a long breathand hot
shivers went coursing over my body. I was paid out my winnings
in bank-notes--amountingof courseto a total of four thousand
florinseight hundred gulden (I could still calculate the
After thatI rememberI again staked two thousand florins upon
twelve middle numbersand lost. Again I staked the whole of
my goldwith eight hundred guldenin notesand lost. Then
madness seemed to come upon meand seizing my last two thousand
florinsI staked them upon twelve of the first numbers--wholly
by chanceand at randomand without any sort of reckoning.
Upon my doing so there followed a moment of suspense only
comparable to that which Madame Blanchard must have experienced
whenin Parisshe was descending earthwards from a balloon.
"Quatre!" called the croupier.
Once morewith the addition of my original stakeI was in
possession of six thousand florins! Once more I looked around me
like a conqueror--once more I feared nothing as I threw down four
thousand of these florins upon the black. The croupiers glanced
around themand exchanged a few words; the bystanders
The black turned up. After that I do not exactly remember
either my calculations or the order of my stakings. I only
remember thatas in a dreamI won in one round sixteen
thousand florins; that in the three following roundsI lost
twelve thousand; that I moved the remainder (four thousand) on
to "Passe" (though quite unconscious of what I was doing--I was
merely waitingas it weremechanicallyand without
reflectionfor something) and won; and thatfinallyfour
times in succession I lost. YesI can remember raking in money
by thousands--but most frequently on the twelvemiddle numbers
to which I constantly adheredand which kept appearing in a
sort of regular order--firstthree or four times runningand
thenafter an interval of a couple of roundsin another break
of three or four appearances. Sometimesthis astonishing
regularity manifested itself in patches; a thing to upset all
the calculations of note--taking gamblers who play with a
pencil and a memorandum book in their hands Fortune perpetrates
some terrible jests at roulette!
Since my entry not more than half an hour could have elapsed.
Suddenly a croupier informed me that I hadwon thirty thousand
florinsas well as thatsince the latter was the limit for
whichat any one timethe bank could make itself responsible
roulette at that table must close for the night. AccordinglyI
caught up my pile of goldstuffed it into my pocketand
grasping my sheaf of bank-notesmoved to the table in an
adjoining salon where a second game of roulette was in
progress. The crowd followed me in a bodyand cleared a place
for me at the table; after whichI proceeded to stake as
before--that is to sayat random and without calculating. What
saved me from ruin I do not know.
Of course there were times when fragmentary reckonings DID come
flashing into my brain. For instancethere were times when I
attached myself for a while to certain figures and coups--though
always leaving themagain before longwithout knowing what I
In factI cannot have been in possession of all my faculties
for I can remember the croupiers correcting my play more than
onceowing to my having made mistakes of the gravest order. My
brows were damp with sweatand my hands were shaking. Also
Poles came around me to proffer their servicesbut I heeded
none of them. Nor did my luck fail me now. Suddenlythere arose
around me a loud din of talking and laughter. " Bravobravo! "
was the general shoutand some people even clapped their hands.
I had raked in thirty thousand florinsand again the bank had
had to close for the night!
"Go away nowgo away now" a voice whispered to me on my
right. The person who had spoken to me was a certain Jew of
Frankfurt--a man who had been standing beside me the whole while
and occasionally helping me in my play.
"Yesfor God's sake go" whispered a second voice in my left
ear. Glancing aroundI perceived that the second voice had come
from a modestlyplainly dressed lady of rather less than
thirty--a woman whose facethough pale and sickly-lookingbore
also very evident traces of former beauty. At the momentI was
stuffing the crumpled bank-notes into my pockets and collecting
all the gold that was left on the table. Seizing up my last note
for five hundred guldenI contrived to insinuate it
unperceivedinto the hand of the pale lady. An overpowering
impulse had made me do soand I remember how her thin little
fingers pressed mine in token of her lively gratitude. The whole
affair was the work of a moment.
Thencollecting my belongingsI crossed to where trente et
quarante was being played--a game which could boast of a more
aristocratic publicand was played with cards instead of with a
wheel. At this diversion the bank made itself responsible for a
hundred thousand thalers as the limitbut the highest stake
allowable wasas in roulettefour thousand florins. Although I
knew nothing of the game--and I scarcely knew the stakes
except those on black and red--I joined the ring of players
while the rest of the crowd massed itself around me. At this
distance of time I cannot remember whether I ever gave a thought
to Polina; I seemed only to be conscious of a vague pleasure in
seizing and raking in the bank-notes which kept massing
themselves in a pile before me.
Butas everfortune seemed to be at my back. As though of set
purposethere came to my aid a circumstance which not
infrequently repeats itself in gaming. The circumstance is that
not infrequently luck attaches itself tosaythe redand does
not leave it for a space of saytenor even fifteenrounds
in succession. Three days ago I had heard thatduring the
previous week there had been a run of twenty-two coups on the
red--an occurrence never before known at roulette-- so that men
spoke of it with astonishment. Naturally enoughmany deserted
the red after a dozen roundsand practically no one could now
be found to stake upon it. Yet upon the black also--the
antithesis of the red--no experienced gambler would stake
anythingfor the reason that every practised player knows the
meaning of "capricious fortune." That is to sayafter the
sixteenth (or so) success of the redone would think that the
seventeenth coup would inevitably fall upon the black; wherefore
novices would be apt to back the latter in the seventeenth
roundand even to double or treble their stakes upon it--only
in the endto lose.
Yet some whim or other led meon remarking that the red had
come up consecutively for seven timesto attach myself to that
colour. Probably this was mostly due to self-conceitfor I
wanted to astonish the bystanders with the riskiness of my play.
AlsoI remember that--ohstrange sensation!--I suddenlyand
without any challenge from my own presumptionbecame obsessed
with a DESIRE to take risks. If the spirit has passed through a
great many sensationspossibly it can no longer be sated with
thembut grows more excitedand demands more sensationsand
stronger and stronger onesuntil at length it falls exhausted.
Certainlyif the rules of the game had permitted even of my
staking fifty thousand florins at a timeI should have staked
them. All of a sudden I heard exclamations arising that the
whole thing was a marvelsince the red was turning up for the
"Monsieur a gagne cent mille florins" a voice exclaimed beside
I awoke to my senses. What? I had won a hundred thousand
florins? If sowhat more did I need to win? I grasped the
banknotesstuffed them into my pocketsraked in the gold
without counting itand started to leave the Casino. As I
passed through the salons people smiled to see my
bulging pockets and unsteady gaitfor the weight which I was
carrying must have amounted to half a pood! Several hands I saw
stretched out in my directionand as I passed I filled them
with all the money that I could grasp in my own. At length two
Jews stopped me near the exit.
"You are a bold young fellow" one said"but mind you depart
early tomorrow--as early as you can--for if you do not you will
lose everything that you have won."
But I did not heed them. The Avenue was so dark that it was
barely possible to distinguish one's hand before one's face
while the distance to the hotel was half a verst or so; but I
feared neither pickpockets nor highwaymen. Indeednever since
my boyhood have I done that. AlsoI cannot remember what I
thought about on the way. I only felt a sort of fearful pleasure
--the pleasure of successof conquestof power (how can I best
express it?). Likewisebefore me there flitted the image of
Polina; and I kept rememberingand reminding myselfthat it
was to HER I was goingthat it was in HER presence I should
soon be standingthat it was SHE to whom I should soon be able
to relate and show everything. Scarcely once did I recall what
she had lately said to meor the reason why I had left heror
all those varied sensations which I had been experiencing a bare
hour and a half ago. Nothose sensations seemed to be things of
the pastto be things which had righted themselves and grown
oldto be things concerning which we needed to trouble
ourselves no longersincefor uslife was about to begin
anew. Yet I had just reached the end of the Avenue when there
DID come upon me a fear of being robbed or murdered. With each
step the fear increased untilin my terrorI almost started to
run. Suddenlyas I issued from the Avenuethere burst upon me
the lights of the hotelsparkling with a myriad lamps! Yes
thanks be to GodI had reached home!
Running up to my roomI flung open the door of it. Polina was
still on the sofawith a lighted candle in front of herand
her hands clasped. As I entered she stared at me in astonishment
(forat the momentI must have presented a strange spectacle).
All I didhoweverwas to halt before herand fling upon the
table my burden of wealth.
I remembertoohowwithout moving from her placeor changing
her attitudeshe gazed into my face.
"I have won two hundred thousand francs!" cried I as I pulled
out my last sheaf of bank-notes. The pile of paper currency
occupied the whole table. I could not withdraw my eyes from it.
Consequentlyfor a moment or two Polina escaped my mind. Then I
set myself to arrange the pile in orderand to sort the notes
and to mass the gold in a separate heap. That doneI left
everything where it layand proceeded to pace the room with
rapid strides as I lost myself in thought. Then I darted to the
table once moreand began to recount the money; until all of a
suddenas though I had remembered somethingI rushed to the
doorand closed and double-locked it. Finally I came to a
meditative halt before my little trunk.
"Shall I put the money there until tomorrow?" I asked
turning sharply round to Polina as the recollection of her
returned to me.
She was still in her old place--still making not a sound. Yet her
eyes had followed every one of my movements. Somehow in her face
there was a strange expression--an expression which I did not
like. I think that I shall not be wrong if I say that it
indicated sheer hatred.
Impulsively I approached her.
"Polina" I said"here are twenty-five thousandflorins--fifty
thousand francsor more. Take themand tomorrow throw them
in De Griers' face."
She returned no answer.
"Orif you should prefer" I continued"let me take
them to him myself tomorrow--yesearly tomorrow morning. Shall
Then all at once she burst out laughingand laughed for a long
while. With astonishment and a feeling of offence I gazed at
her. Her laughter was too like the derisive merriment which she
had so often indulged in of late--merriment which had broken
forth always at the time of my most passionate explanations. At
length she ceasedand frowned at me from under her eyebrows.
"I am NOT going to take your money" she said contemptuously.
"Why not?" I cried. "Why notPolina?"
"Because I am not in the habit of receiving money for nothing."
"But I am offering it to you as a FRIEND in the same way I
would offer you my very life."
Upon this she threw me a longquestioning glanceas though she
were seeking to probe me to the depths.
"You are giving too much for me" she remarked with a smile.
"The beloved of De Griers is not worth fifty thousand francs."
"Oh Polinahow can you speak so?" I exclaimed reproachfully.
"Am I De Griers?"
"You?" she cried with her eyes suddenly flashing. "WhyI
HATE you! YesyesI HATE you! I love you no more than I do De
Then she buried her face in her handsand relapsed into
hysterics. I darted to her side. Somehow I had an intuition of
something having happened to her which had nothing to do with
myself. She was like a person temporarily insane.
"Buy mewould youwould you? Would you buy me for fifty
thousand francs as De Griers did?" she gasped between her
I clasped her in my armskissed her hands and feetand fell
upon my knees before her.
Presently the hysterical fit passed awayandlaying her hands
upon my shouldersshe gazed for a while into my faceas though
trying to read it--something I said to herbut it was clear
that she did not hear it. Her face looked so dark and despondent
that I began to fear for her reason. At length she drew me towards
herself--a trustful smile playing over her features; and then
as suddenlyshe pushed me away again as she eyed me dimly.
Finally she threw herself upon me in an embrace.
"You love me?" she said. "DO you?--you who were willing evento
quarrel with the Baron at my bidding?"
Then she laughed--laughed as though something dearbut
laughablehad recurred to her memory. Yesshe laughed and wept
at the same time. What was I to do? I was like a man in a fever.
I remember that she began to say something to me--though WHAT I do
not knowsince she spoke with a feverish lispas though she
were trying to tell me something very quickly. At intervals
tooshe would break off into the smile which I was beginning to
dread. "Nono!" she kept repeating. "YOU are my dear one;
YOU are the man I trust." Again she laid her hands upon my
shouldersand again she gazed at me as she reiterated: "You love
meyou love me? Will you ALWAYS love me?" I could not take my
eyes off her. Never before had I seen her in this mood of
humility and affection. Truethe mood was the outcome of
hysteria; but--! All of a sudden she noticed my ardent gazeand
smiled slightly. The next momentfor no apparent reasonshe
began to talk of Astley.
She continued talking and talking about himbut I could not
make out all she said--more particularly when she was
endeavouring to tell me of something or other which had happened
recently. On the wholeshe appeared to be laughing at Astley
for she kept repeating that he was waiting for herand did I
know whethereven at that momenthe was not standing beneath
the window? "Yesyeshe is there" she said. "Open the
windowand see if he is not." She pushed me in that direction;
yetno sooner did I make a movement to obey her behest than she
burst into laughterand I remained beside herand she
"Shall we go away tomorrow?" presently she askedas though
some disturbing thought had recurred to her recollection. "How
would it be if we were to try and overtake Grandmamma? I think
we should do so at Berlin. And what think you she would have to
say to us when we caught her upand her eyes first lit upon us?
Whattooabout Mr. Astley? HE would not leap from the
Shlangenberg for my sake! No! Of that I am very sure!"--and she
laughed. "Do you know where he is going next year? He says he
intends to go to the North Pole for scientific investigations
and has invited me to go with him! Hahaha! He also says that
we Russians know nothingcan do nothingwithout European help.
But he is a good fellow all the same. For instancehe does not
blame the General in the matterbut declares that Mlle.
Blanche--that love--But no; I do not knowI do not know." She
stopped suddenlyas though she had said her sayand was
feeling bewildered. "What poor creatures these people are. How
sorry I am for themand for Grandmamma! But when are you going
to kill De Griers? Surely you do not intend actually to murder
him? You fool! Do you suppose that I should ALLOW you to fight
De Griers? Nor shall you kill the Baron." Here she burst out
laughing. "How absurd you looked when you were talking to the
Burmergelms! I was watching you all the time--watching you from
where I was sitting. And how unwilling you were to go when I
sent you! Ohhow I laughed and laughed!"
Then she kissed and embraced me again; again she pressed her
face to mine with tender passion. Yet I neither saw nor heard
herfor my head was in a whirl. . . .
It must have been about seven o'clock in the morning when I
awoke. Daylight had comeand Polina was sitting by my side--a
strange expression on her faceas though she had seen a vision
and was unable to collect her thoughts. She too had just
awokenand was now staring at the money on the table. My head
ached; it felt heavy. I attempted to take Polina's handbut she
pushed me from herand leapt from the sofa. The dawn was full
of mistfor rain had fallenyet she moved to the window
opened itandleaning her elbows upon the window-sillthrust
out her head and shoulders to take the air. In this position did
she remain for several minuteswithout ever looking round at
meor listening to what I was saying. Into my head there came
the uneasy thought: What is to happen now? How is it all to end?
Suddenly Polina rose from the windowapproached the tableand
looking at me with an expression of infinite aversionsaid with
lips which quivered with anger:
"Well? Are you going to hand me over my fifty thousand francs?"
"Polinayou say that AGAINAGAIN?" I exclaimed.
"You have changed your mindthen? Hahaha! You are sorry
you ever promised them?"
On the table wherethe previous nightI had counted the money
there still was lying the packet of twenty five thousand
florins. I handed it to her.
"The francs are minethenare they? They are mine?" she
inquired viciously as she balanced the money in her hands.
"Yes; they have ALWAYS been yours" I said.
"Then TAKE your fifty thousand francs!" and she hurled them
full in my face. The packet burst as she did soand the floor
became strewed with bank-notes. The instant that the deed was
done she rushed from the room.
At that moment she cannot have been in her right mind; yetwhat
was the cause of her temporary aberration I cannot say. For a
month past she had been unwell. Yet what had brought about this
PRESENT condition of mindabove all thingsthis outburst? Had
it come of wounded pride? Had it come of despair over her
decision to come to me? Had it come of the fact thatpresuming
too much on my good fortuneI had seemed to be intending to
desert her (even as De Griers had done) when once I had given
her the fifty thousand francs? Buton my honourI had never
cherished any such intention. What was at faultI thinkwas
her own pridewhich kept urging her not to trust mebut
ratherto insult me--even though she had not realised the fact.
In her eyes I corresponded to De Griersand therefore had been
condemned for a fault not wholly my own. Her mood of late had
been a sort of deliriuma sort of light-headedness--that I knew
full well; yetnever had I sufficiently taken it into consideration.
Perhaps she would not pardon me now? Ahbut this was THE PRESENT.
What about the future? Her delirium and sickness were not likely to
make her forget what she had done in bringing me De Griers'
letter. Noshe must have known what she was doing when she
Somehow I contrived to stuff the pile of notes and gold under
the bedto cover them overand then to leave the room some ten
minutes after Polina. I felt sure that she had returned to her
own room; whereforeI intended quietly to follow herand to ask
the nursemaid aid who opened the door how her mistress was.
Judgethereforeof my surprise whenmeeting the domestic on
the stairsshe informed me that Polina had not yet returned
and that she (the domestic) was at that moment on her way to my
room in quest of her!
"Mlle. left me but ten minutes ago" I said.
"What can have become of her?" The nursemaid looked at me
Already sundry rumours were flying about the hotel. Both in the
office of the commissionaire and in that of the landlord it was
whispered thatat seven o'clock that morningthe Fraulein had
left the hoteland set offdespite the rainin the direction
of the Hotel d'Angleterre. From words and hints let fall I could
see that the fact of Polina having spent the night in my room
was now public property. Alsosundry rumours were circulating
concerning the General's family affairs. It was known that last
night he had gone out of his mindand paraded the hotel in
tears; alsothat the old lady who had arrived was his mother
and that she had come from Russia on purpose to forbid her son's
marriage with Mlle. de Comingesas well as to cut him out of
her will if he should disobey her; also thatbecause he had
disobeyed hershe had squandered all her money at roulettein
order to have nothing more to leave to him. "Ohthese
Russians!" exclaimed the landlordwith an angry toss of the
headwhile the bystanders laughed and the clerk betook himself
to his accounts. Alsoevery one had learnt about my winnings;
Karlthe corridor lacqueywas the first to congratulate me.
But with these folk I had nothing to do. My business was to set
off at full speed to the Hotel d'Angleterre.
As yet it was early for Mr. Astley to receive visitors; butas
soon as he learnt that it was I who had arrivedhe came out
into the corridor to meet meand stood looking at me in silence
with his steel-grey eyes as he waited to hear what I had to say.
I inquired after Polina.
"She is ill" he repliedstill looking at me with his direct
"And she is in your rooms."
"Yesshe is in my rooms."
"Then you are minded to keep her there?"
"YesI am minded to keep her there."
"ButMr. Astleythat will raise a scandal. It ought not to be
allowed. Besidesshe is very ill. Perhaps you had not remarked
"YesI have. It was I who told you about it. Had she not been
illshe would not have gone and spent the night with you."
"Then you know all about it?"
"Yes; for last night she was to have accompanied me to the
house of a relative of mine. Unfortunatelybeing illshe made
a mistakeand went to your rooms instead."
"Indeed? Then I wish you joyMr. Astley. Aproposyou have
reminded me of something. Were you beneath my window last night?
Every moment Mlle. Polina kept telling me to open the window and
see if you were there; after which she always smiled."
"Indeed? NoI was not there; but I was waiting in the
corridorand walking about the hotel."
"She ought to see a doctoryou knowMr. Astley."
"Yesshe ought. I have sent for oneandif she diesI shall
hold you responsible."
This surprised me.
"Pardon me" I replied"but what do you mean?"
"Never mind. Tell me if it is true thatlast nightyou won two
hundred thousand thalers?"
"No; I won a hundred thousand florins."
"Good heavens! Then I suppose you will be off to Paris this
"Because all Russians who have grown rich go to Paris"
explained Astleyas though he had read the fact in a book.
"But what could I do in Paris in summer time?--I LOVE herMr.
Astley! Surely you know that?"
"Indeed? I am sure that you do NOT. Moreoverif you were to
stay hereyou would lose everything that you possessand have
nothing left with which to pay your expenses in Paris. Well
good-bye now. I feel sure that today will see you gone from
"Good-bye. But I am NOT going to Paris. Likewise--pardon me--what
is to become of this family? I mean that the affair of the
General and Mlle. Polina will soon be all over the town."
"I daresay; yetI hardly suppose that that will break the
General's heart. MoreoverMlle. Polina has a perfect right to
live where she chooses. In shortwe may say thatas a family
this family has ceased to exist."
I departedand found myself smiling at the Englishman's strange
assurance that I should soon be leaving for Paris. "I suppose
he means to shoot me in a duelshould Polina die. Yesthat is
what he intends to do." Nowalthough I was honestly sorry for
Polinait is a fact thatfrom the moment whenthe previous
nightI had approached the gaming-tableand begun to rake in
the packets of bank-notesmy love for her had entered upon a
new plane. YesI can say that now; althoughat the timeI was
barely conscious of it. Was Ithenat heart a gambler? Did I
after alllove Polina not so very much? Nono! As God is my
witnessI loved her! Even when I was returning home from Mr.
Astley's my suffering was genuineand my self-reproach sincere.
But presently I was to go through an exceedingly strange and
I was proceeding to the General's rooms when I heard a door near
me openand a voice call me by name. It was Mlle.'s motherthe
Widow de Cominges who was inviting mein her daughter's
I did so; whereuponI heard a laugh and a little cry proceed
from the bedroom (the pair occupied a suite of two apartments)
where Mlle. Blanche was just arising.
"Ahc'est lui! Viensdoncbete! Is it true that you have won
a mountain of gold and silver? J'aimerais mieux l'or."
"Yes" I replied with a smile.
"A hundred thousand florins."
"Bibicomme tu es bete! Come in herefor I can't hear you
where you are now. Nous ferons bombancen'est-ce pas?"
Entering her roomI found her lolling under a pink satin
coverletand revealing a pair of swarthywonderfully healthy
shoulders--shoulders such as one sees in dreams--shoulders covered
over with a white cambric nightgown whichtrimmed with lace
stood outin striking reliefagainst the darkness of her skin.
"Mon filsas-tu du coeur?" she cried when she saw meand
then giggled. Her laugh had always been a very cheerful oneand
at times it even sounded sincere.
"Tout autre--" I beganparaphrasing Comeille.
"See here" she prattled on. "Please search for my stockings
and help me to dress. Aussisi tu n'es pas trop bete je te
prends a Paris. I am just offlet me tell you."
"In half an hour."
True enougheverything stood ready-packed--trunksportmanteaux
and all. Coffee had long been served.
"Eh bientu verras Paris. Dis doncqu'est-ce que c'est qu'un
'utchitel'? Tu etais bien bete quand tu etais 'utchitel.' Where
are my stockings? Please help me to dress."
And she lifted up a really ravishing foot--smallswarthyand
not misshapen like the majority of feet which look dainty only
in bottines. I laughedand started to draw on to the foot a
silk stockingwhile Mlle. Blanche sat on the edge of the bed
"Eh bienque feras-tu si je te prends avec moi? First of all I
must have fifty thousand francsand you shall give them to me
at Frankfurt. Then we will go on to Pariswhere we will live
togetheret je te ferai voir des etoiles en plein jour. Yes
you shall see such women as your eyes have never lit upon."
"Stop a moment. If I were to give you those fifty thousand
francswhat should I have left for myself?"
"Another hundred thousand francsplease to remember. Besides
I could live with you in your rooms for a monthor even for
two; or even for longer. But it would not take us more than two
months to get through fifty thousand francs; forlook youje
suis bonne enfanteet tu verras des etoilesyou may be sure."
"What? You mean to say that we should spend the whole in two
"Certainly. Does that surprise you very much? Ahvil esclave!
Whyone month of that life would be better than all your
previous existence. One month--et apresle deluge! Mais tu ne
peux comprendre. Va! Awayaway! You are not worth it.--Ahque
Forwhile drawing on the other stockingI had felt constrained
to kiss her. Immediately she shrunk backkicked me in the face
with her toesand turned me neck and prop out of the room.
"Eh bienmon 'utchitel'" she called after me"je t'attends
si tu veux. I start in a quarter of an hour's time."
I returned to my own room with my head in a whirl. It was not my
fault that Polina had thrown a packet in my faceand preferred
Mr. Astley to myself. A few bank-notes were still fluttering
about the floorand I picked them up. At that moment the door
openedand the landlord appeared--a person whountil nowhad
never bestowed upon me so much as a glance. He had come to know
if I would prefer to move to a lower floor--to a suite which had
just been tenanted by Count V.
For a moment I reflected.
"No!" I shouted. "My accountpleasefor in ten minutes I
shall be gone."
"To Paristo Paris!" I added to myself. "Every man of birth
must make her acquaintance."
Within a quarter of an hour all three of us were seated in a
family compartment--Mlle. Blanchethe Widow de Comingesand
myself. Mlle. kept laughing hysterically as she looked at me
and Madame re-echoed her; but I did not feel so cheerful. My
life had broken in twoand yesterday had infected me with a
habit of staking my all upon a card. Although it might be that I
had failed to win my stakethat I had lost my sensesthat I
desired nothing betterI felt that the scene was to be changed
only FOR A TIME. "Within a month from now" I kept thinking to
myself"I shall be back again in Roulettenberg; and THEN I
mean to have it out with youMr. Astley!" Yesas now I look
back at thingsI remember that I felt greatly depressed
despite the absurd gigglings of the egregious Blanche.
"What is the matter with you? How dull you are!" she cried at
length as she interrupted her laughter to take me seriously to
"Comecome! We are going to spend your two hundred thousand
francs for youet tu seras heureux comme un petit roi. I myself
will tie your tie for youand introduce you to Hortense. And
when we have spent your money you shall return hereand break
the bank again. What did those two Jews tell you?--that the thing
most needed is daringand that you possess it? Consequently
this is not the first time that you will be hurrying to Paris
with money in your pocket. Quant ... moije veux cinquante mille
francs de renteet alors"
"But what about the General?" I interrupted.
"The General? You know well enough that at about this hour every
day he goes to buy me a bouquet. On this occasionI took care to
tell him that he must hunt for the choicest of flowers; and when
he returns homethe poor fellow will find the bird flown.
Possibly he may take wing in pursuit--hahaha! And if soI
shall not be sorryfor he could be useful to me in Parisand
Mr. Astley will pay his debts here."
In this manner did I depart for the Gay City.
Of Paris what am I to say? The whole proceeding was a delirium
a madness. I spent a little over three weeks thereandduring
that timesaw my hundred thousand francs come to an end. I
speak only of the ONE hundred thousand francsfor the other
hundred thousand I gave to Mlle. Blanche in pure cash. That is
to sayI handed her fifty thousand francs at Frankfurtand
three days later (in Paris)advanced her another fifty thousand
on note of hand. Neverthelessa week had not elapsed ere she
came to me for more money. "Et les cent mille francs qui nous
restent" she added"tu les mangeras avec moimon utchitel."
Yesshe always called me her "utchitel." A person more
economicalgraspingand mean than Mlle. Blanche one could not
imagine. But this was only as regards HER OWN money. MY hundred
thousand francs (as she explained to me later) she needed to set
up her establishment in Paris"so that once and for all I may
be on a decent footingand proof against any stones which may
be thrown at me--at all events for a long time to come."
NeverthelessI saw nothing of those hundred thousand francsfor
my own purse (which she inspected daily) never managed to amass
in it more than a hundred francs at a time; andgenerally the
sum did not reach even that figure.
"What do you want with money?" she would say to me with air of
absolute simplicity; and I never disputed the point.
Neverthelessthough she fitted out her flat very badly with the
moneythe fact did not prevent her from saying whenlatershe
was showing me over the rooms of her new abode: "See what
care and taste can do with the most wretched of means!"
Howeverher "wretchedness " had cost fifty thousand francs
while with the remaining fifty thousand she purchased a carriage
Alsowe gave a couple of balls--evening parties
attended by Hortense and Lisette and Cleopatrewho were women
remarkable both for the number of their liaisons and (though
only in some cases) for their good looks. At these reunions
I had to play the part of host--to meet and entertain fat
mercantile parvenus who were impossible by reason of their
rudeness and braggadociocolonels of various kindshungry
authorsand journalistic hacks-- all of whom disported
themselves in fashionable tailcoats and pale yellow glovesand
displayed such an aggregate of conceit and gasconade as would be
unthinkable even in St. Petersburg--which is saying a great deal!
They used to try to make fun of mebut I would console myself
by drinking champagne and then lolling in a retiring-room.
NeverthelessI found it deadly work. "C'est un utchitel" Blanchewould
say of me"qui a gagne deux cent mille francs
and but for mewould have had not a notion how to spend them.
Presently he will have to return to his tutoring. Does any one
know of a vacant post? You knowone must do something for him."
I had the more frequent recourse to champagne in that I
constantly felt depressed and boredowing to the fact that I
was living in the most bourgeois commercial milieu imaginable--a
milieu wherein every sou was counted and grudged. Indeedtwo
weeks had not elapsed before I perceived that Blanche had no
real affection for meeven though she dressed me in elegant
clothesand herself tied my tie each day. In shortshe utterly
despised me. But that caused me no concern. Blase and inertI
spent my evenings generally at the Chateau des Fleurswhere I
would get fuddled and then dance the cancan (whichin that
establishmentwas a very indecent performance) with eclat. At
lengththe time came when Blanche had drained my purse dry. She
had conceived an idea thatduring the term of our residence
togetherit would be well if I were always to walk behind her
with a paper and pencilin order to jot down exactly what she
spentwhat she had savedwhat she was paying outand what
she was laying by. Wellof course I could not fail to be aware
that this would entail a battle over every ten francs; so
although for every possible objection that I might make she had
prepared a suitable answershe soon saw that I made no
objectionsand thereforehad to start disputes herself. That is
to sayshe would burst out into tirades which were met only
with silence as I lolled on a sofa and stared fixedly at the
ceiling. This greatly surprised her. At first she imagined that
it was due merely to the fact that I was a fool"un utchitel";
wherefore she would break off her harangue in the belief
thatbeing too stupid to understandI was a hopeless case.
Then she would leave the roombut return ten minutes later to
resume the contest. This continued throughout her squandering of
my money--a squandering altogether out of proportion to our
means. An example is the way in which she changed her first pair
of horses for a pair which cost sixteen thousand francs.
"Bibi" she said on the latter occasion as she approached me
"surely you are not angry?"
"No-o-o: I am merely tired" was my reply as I pushed her
from me. This seemed to her so curious that straightway she
seated herself by my side.
"You see" she went on"I decided to spend so much upon these
horses only because I can easily sell them again. They would
go at any time for TWENTY thousand francs."
"Yesyes. They are splendid horsesand you have got a
splendid turn-out. I am quite content. Let me hear no more of
"Then you are not angry?"
"No. Why should I be? You are wise to provide yourself with
what you needfor it will all come in handy in the future.
YesI quite see the necessity of your establishing yourself on
a good basisfor without it you will never earn your million.
My hundred thousand francs I look upon merely as a beginning--as
a mere drop in the bucket."
Blanchewho had by no means expected such declarations from me
butratheran uproar and protestswas rather taken aback.
"Wellwellwhat a man you are! " she exclaimed. " Mais tu as
l'esprit pour comprendre. Sais-tumon garconalthough you are
a tutoryou ought to have been born a prince. Are you not sorry
that your money should be going so quickly?"
"No. The quicker it goes the better."
"Mais--sais-tu-mais dis doncare you really rich? Mais sais-tu
you have too much contempt for money. Qu'est-ce que tu feras
"Apres I shall go to Homburgand win another hundred thousand
"Ouiouic'est cac'est magnifique! AhI know you will win
themand bring them to me when you have done so. Dis donc--you
will end by making me love you. Since you are what you areI
mean to love you all the timeand never to be unfaithful to
you. You seeI have not loved you before parce que je croyais
que tu n'es qu'un utchitel (quelque chose comme un lacquais
n'est-ce pas?) Yet all the time I have been true to youparce
que je suis bonne fille."
"You lie!" I interrupted. "Did I not see youthe other day
with Albert--with that black-jowled officer?"
"Ohoh! Mais tu es--"
"Yesyou are lying right enough. But what makes you suppose
that I should be angry? Rubbish! Il faut que jeunesse se passe.
Even if that officer were here nowI should refrain from
putting him out of the room if I thought you really cared for
him. Onlymind youdo not give him any of my money. You hear?"
"You saydo youthat you would not be angry? Mais tu es un
vrai philosophesais-tu? Ouiun vrai philosophe! Eh bienje
t'aimeraije t'aimerai. Tu verras-tu seras content."
True enoughfrom that time onward she seemed to attach herself
only to meand in this manner we spent our last ten days
together. The promised "etoiles" I did not seebut in other
respects sheto a certain extentkept her word. Moreovershe
introduced me to Hortensewho was a remarkable woman in her
wayand known among us as Therese Philosophe.
But I need not enlarge furtherfor to do so would
require a story to itselfand entail a colouring which
I am lothe to impart to the present narrative. The point
is that with all my faculties I desired the episode to
come to an end as speedily as possible. Unfortunately
our hundred thousand francs lasted usas I have said
for very nearly a month--which greatly surprised me. At all
eventsBlanche bought herself articles to the tune of eighty
thousand francsand the rest sufficed just to meet our expenses
of living. Towards the close of the affairBlanche grew almost
frank with me (at leastshe scarcely lied to me at
all)--declaringamongst other thingsthat none of the debts
which she had been obliged to incur were going to fall upon my
head. "I have purposely refrained from making you responsible
for my bills or borrowings" she said"for the reason that I
am sorry for you. Any other woman in my place would have done
soand have let you go to prison. Seethenhow much I love
youand how good-hearted I am! Thinktoowhat this accursed
marriage with the General is going to cost me!"
True enoughthe marriage took place. It did so at the close of
our month togetherand I am bound to suppose that it was
upon the ceremony that the last remnants of my money were spent.
With it the episode--that is to saymy sojourn with the
Frenchwoman--came to an endand I formally retired from the
It happened thus: A week after we had taken up our abode in
Paris there arrived thither the General. He came straight to see
usand thenceforward lived with us practically as our guest
though he had a flat of his own as well. Blanche met him with
merry badinage and laughterand even threw her arms around him.
In factshe managed it so that he had to follow everywhere in
her train--whether when promenading on the Boulevardsor when
drivingor when going to the theatreor when paying calls; and
this use which she made of him quite satisfied the General.
Still of imposing appearance and presenceas well as of fair
heighthe had a dyed moustache and whiskers (he had formerly
been in the cuirassiers)and a handsomethough a somewhat
wrinkledface. Alsohis manners were excellentand he could
carry a frockcoat well--the more so sincein Parishe took to
wearing his orders. To promenade the Boulevards with such a man
was not only a thing possiblebut alsoso to speaka thing
advisableand with this programme the good but foolish
General had not a fault to find. The truth is that he had never
counted upon this programme when he came to Paris to seek us
out. On that occasion he had made his appearance nearly shaking
with terrorfor he had supposed that Blanche would at once
raise an outcryand have him put from the door; whereforehe
was the more enraptured at the turn that things had takenand
spent the month in a state of senseless ecstasy. Already I had
learnt thatafter our unexpected departure from Roulettenberg
he had had a sort of a fit--that he had fallen into a swoonand
spent a week in a species of garrulous delirium. Doctors had
been summoned to himbut he had broken away from themand
suddenly taken a train to Paris. Of course Blanche's reception of
him had acted as the best of all possible curesbut for long
enough he carried the marks of his afflictiondespite his
present condition of rapture and delight. To think clearlyor
even to engage in any serious conversationhad now become
impossible for him; he could only ejaculate after each word
"Hm!" and then nod his head in confirmation. Sometimesalsohe
would laughbut only in a nervoushysterical sort of a
fashion; while at other times he would sit for hours looking as
black as nightwith his heavy eyebrows knitted. Of much that
went on he remained wholly obliviousfor he grew extremely
absent-mindedand took to talking to himself. Only Blanche
could awake him to any semblance of life. His fits of depression
and moodiness in corners always meant either that he had not
seen her for some whileor that she had gone out without taking
him with heror that she had omitted to caress him before
departing. When in this conditionhe would refuse to say what he
wanted-- nor had he the least idea that he was thus sulking and
moping. Nextafter remaining in this condition for an hour or
two (this I remarked on two occasions when Blanche had gone out
for the day--probably to see Albert)he would begin to look
about himand to grow uneasyand to hurry about with an air as
though he had suddenly remembered somethingand must try and
find it; after whichnot perceiving the object of his search
nor succeeding in recalling what that object had beenhe would
as suddenly relapse into oblivionand continue so until the
reappearance of Blanche--merrywantonhalf-dressedand
laughing her strident laugh as she approached to pet himand
even to kiss him (though the latter reward he seldom received).
Oncehe was so overjoyed at her doing so that he burst into
tears. Even I myself was surprised.
From the first moment of his arrival in ParisBlanche set
herself to plead with me on his behalf; and at such times she
even rose to heights of eloquence--saying that it was for ME
she had abandoned himthough she had almost become his
betrothed and promised to become so; that it was for HER sake he
had deserted his family; thathaving been in his serviceI
ought to remember the factand to feel ashamed. To all this I
would say nothinghowever much she chattered on; until at
length I would burst out laughingand the incident would come
to an end (at firstas I have saidshe had thought me a fool
but since she had come to deem me a man of sense and
sensibility). In shortI had the happiness of calling her
better nature into play; for thoughat firstI had not deemed
her soshe wasin realitya kind-hearted woman after her own
fashion. "You are good and clever" she said to me towards the
finish"and my one regret is that you are also so
wrong-headed. You will NEVER be a rich man!"
"Un vrai Russe--un Kalmuk" she usually called me.
Several times she sent me to give the General an airing in the
streetseven as she might have done with a lacquey and her
spaniel; butI preferred to take him to the theatreto the Bal
Mabilleand to restaurants. For this purpose she usually
allowed me some moneythough the General had a little of his
ownand enjoyed taking out his purse before strangers. Once I
had to use actual force to prevent him from buying a phaeton at
a price of seven hundred francsafter a vehicle had caught his
fancy in the Palais Royal as seeming to be a desirable present
for Blanche. What could SHE have done with a seven-hundred-franc
phaeton?--and the General possessed in the world but a thousand
francs! The origin even of those francs I could never determine
but imagined them to have emanated from Mr. Astley--the more so
since the latter had paid the family's hotel bill.
As for what view the General took of myselfI think that he never divined
the footing on which I stood with Blanche. Truehe had heard
in a dim sort of waythat I had won a good deal of money; but
more probably he supposed me to be acting as secretary--or even
as a kind of servant--to his inamorata. At all eventshe
continued to address mein his old haughty styleas my
superior. At times he even took it upon himself to scold me. One
morning in particularhe started to sneer at me over our
matutinal coffee. Though not a man prone to take offencehe
suddenlyand for some reason of which to this day I am
ignorantfell out with me. Of course even he himself did not
know the reason. To put things shortlyhe began a speech which
had neither beginning nor endingand cried outa batons
rompusthat I was a boy whom he would soon put to rights--and so
forthand so forth. Yet no one could understand what he was
sayingand at length Blanche exploded in a burst of laughter.
Finally something appeased himand he was taken out for his
walk. More than oncehoweverI noticed that his depression was
growing upon him; that he seemed to be feeling the want of
somebody or something; thatdespite Blanche's presencehe was
missing some person in particular. Twiceon these occasions
did he plunge into a conversation with methough he could not
make himself intelligibleand only went on rambling about the
servicehis late wifehis homeand his property. Every now
and thenalsosome particular word would please him; whereupon
he would repeat it a hundred times in the day--even though the
word happened to express neither his thoughts nor his feelings.
AgainI would try to get him to talk about his childrenbut
always he cut me short in his old snappish wayand passed to
another subject. "Yesyes--my children" was all that I could
extract from him. "Yesyou are right in what you have said
about them." Only once did he disclose his real feelings. That
was when we were taking him to the theatreand suddenly he
exclaimed: "My unfortunate children! Yessirthey are
unfortunate children." Oncetoowhen I chanced to mention
Polinahe grew quite bitter against her. "She is an ungrateful
woman!" he exclaimed. "She is a bad and ungrateful woman! She
has broken up a family. If there were laws hereI would have
her impaled. YesI would." As for De Griersthe General would
not have his name mentioned. " He has ruined me" he would say.
"He has robbed meand cut my throat. For two years he was a
perfect nightmare to me. For months at a time he never left me
in my dreams. Do not speak of him again."
It was now clear to me that Blanche and he were on the point of
coming to terms; yettrue to my usual customI said nothing.
At lengthBlanche took the initiative in explaining matters.
She did so a week before we parted.
"Il a du chance" she prattled"for the Grandmother is now
REALLY illand thereforebound to die. Mr. Astley has just sent
a telegram to say soand you will agree with me that the
General is likely to be her heir. Even if he should not be so
he will not come amisssincein the first placehe has his
pensionandin the second placehe will be content to live in
a back room; whereas I shall be Madame Generaland get into a
good circle of society" (she was always thinking of this) "and
become a Russian chatelaine. YesI shall have a mansion of my
ownand peasantsand a million of money at my back."
"Butsuppose he should prove jealous? He might demand all
sorts of thingsyou know. Do you follow me?"
"Ohdear no! How ridiculous that would be of him! BesidesI
have taken measures to prevent it. You need not be alarmed. That
is to sayI have induced him to sign notes of hand in Albert's
name. Consequentlyat any time I could get him punished. Isn't
"Very wellthen. Marry him."
Andin truthshe did so--though the marriage was a family one
onlyand involved no pomp or ceremony. In factshe invited to
the nuptials none but Albert and a few other friends. Hortense
Cleopatreand the rest she kept firmly at a distance. As for
the bridegroomhe took a great interest in his new position.
Blanche herself tied his tieand Blanche herself pomaded him--
with the result thatin his frockcoat and white waistcoathe
looked quite comme il faut.
"Il estpourtantTRES comme il faut" Blanche remarked when
she issued from his roomas though the idea that he was "TRES
comme il faut " had impressed even her. For myselfI had so
little knowledge of the minor details of the affairand took
part in it so much as a supine spectatorthat I have forgotten
most of what passed on this occasion. I only remember that
Blanche and the Widow figured at itnot as "de Cominges" but
as "du Placet." Why they had hitherto been "de Cominges "I do
not know-- I only know that this entirely satisfied the
Generalthat he liked the name "du Placet" even better than he
had liked the name "de Cominges." On the morning of the wedding
he paced the salon in his gala attire and kept repeating to
himself with an air of great gravity and importance: " Mlle.
Blanche du Placet! Mlle. Blanche du Placetdu Placet!" He
beamed with satisfaction as he did so. Both in the church and at
the wedding breakfast he remained not only pleased and
contentedbut even proud. She too underwent a changefor now
she assumed an air of added dignity.
"I must behave altogether differently" she confided to me with
a serious air. "Yetmark youthere is a tiresome circumstance
of which I had never before thought--which ishow best to
pronounce my new family name. ZagorianskiZagozianskiMadame
la Generale de SagoMadame la Generale de Fourteen
Consonants--oh these infernal Russian names! The LAST of them
would be the best to usedon't you think?"
At length the time had come for us to partand Blanchethe
egregious Blancheshed real tears as she took her leave of me.
"Tu etais bon enfant" she said with a sob. "je te croyais beteet tu
en avais l'airbut it suited you." Thenhaving given me a final
handshakeshe exclaimed"Attends!"; whereafterrunning into
her boudoirshe brought me thence two thousand-franc notes. I
could scarcely believe my eyes! "They may come in handy for
you" she explained"forthough you are a very learned
tutoryou are a very stupid man. More than two thousand francs
howeverI am not going to give youfor the reason thatif I
did soyou would gamble them all away. Now good-bye. Nous
serons toujours bons amisand if you win againdo not fail to
come to meet tu seras heureux."
I myself had still five hundred francs leftas well as a watch
worth a thousand francsa few diamond studsand so on.
ConsequentlyI could subsist for quite a length of time without
particularly bestirring myself. Purposely I have taken up my
abode where I am now partly to pull myself togetherand partly
to wait for Mr. AstleywhoI have learntwill soon be here
for a day or so on business. YesI know thatand then--and then
I shall go to Homburg. But to Roulettenberg I shall not go until
next yearfor they say it is bad to try one's luck twice in
succession at a table. MoreoverHomburg is where the best play
is carried on.
It is a year and eight months since I last looked at these notes
of mine. I do so now only becausebeing overwhelmed with
depressionI wish to distract my mind by reading them through
at random. I left them off at the point where I was just going
to Homburg. My Godwith what a light heart (comparatively
speaking) did I write the concluding lines!--though it may be
not so much with a light heartas with a measure of
self-confidence and unquenchable hope. At that time had I any
doubts of myself ? Yet behold me now. Scarcely a year and a half
have passedyet I am in a worse position than the meanest
beggar. But what is a beggar? A fig for beggary! I have ruined
myself --that is all. Nor is there anything with which I can
compare myself; there is no moral which it would be of any use
for you to read to me. At the present moment nothing could well
be more incongruous than a moral. Ohyou self-satisfied persons
whoin your unctuous prideare forever ready to mouth your
maxims--if only you knew how fully I myself comprehend the
sordidness of my present stateyou would not trouble to wag
your tongues at me! What could you say to me that I do not
already know? Wellwherein lies my difficulty? It lies in the
fact that by a single turn of a roulette wheel everything for
mehas become changed. Yethad things befallen otherwise
these moralists would have been among the first (yesI feel
persuaded of it) to approach me with friendly jests and
congratulations. Yesthey would never have turned from me as
they are doing now! A fig for all of them! What am I? I am
zero--nothing. What shall I be tomorrow? I may be risen from the
deadand have begun life anew. For stillI may discover the man
in myselfif only my manhood has not become utterly shattered.
I wentI sayto Homburgbut afterwards went also to
Roulettenbergas well as to Spa and Baden; in which latter
placefor a timeI acted as valet to a certain rascal of a
Privy Councillorby name Heintzewho until lately was also my
master here. Yesfor five months I lived my life with lacqueys!
That was just after I had come out of Roulettenberg prison
where I had lain for a small debt which I owed. Out of that
prison I was bailed by--by whom? By Mr. Astley? By Polina? I do
not know. At all eventsthe debt was paid to the tune of two
hundred thalersand I sallied forth a free man. But what was I
to do with myself ? In my dilemma I had recourse to this
Heintzewho was a young scapegraceand the sort of man who
could speak and write three languages. At first I acted as his
secretaryat a salary of thirty gulden a monthbut afterwards
I became his lacqueyfor the reason that he could not afford to
keep a secretary--only an unpaid servant. I had nothing else to
turn toso I remained with himand allowed myself to become
his flunkey. But by stinting myself in meat and drink I saved
during my five months of servicesome seventy gulden; and one
eveningwhen we were at BadenI told him that I wished to
resign my postand then hastened to betake myself to roulette.
Ohhow my heart beat as I did so! Noit was not the money that
I valued-- what I wanted was to make all this mob of Heintzes
hotel proprietorsand fine ladies of Baden talk about me
recount my storywonder at meextol my doingsand worship my
winnings. Truethese were childish fancies and aspirationsbut
who knows but that I might meet Polinaand be able to tell her
everythingand see her look of surprise at the fact that I had
overcome so many adverse strokes of fortune. NoI had no desire
for money for its own sakefor I was perfectly well aware that
I should only squander it upon some new Blancheand spend
another three weeks in Paris after buying a pair of horses which
had cost sixteen thousand francs. NoI never believed myself to
be a hoarder; in factI knew only too well that I was a
spendthrift. And alreadywith a sort of feara sort of
sinking in my heartI could hear the cries of the croupiers--
"Trente et unrougeimpair et passe" "Quartenoirpair et
manque. " How greedily I gazed upon the gaming-tablewith its
scattered louis d'orten-gulden piecesand thalers; upon the
streams of gold as they issued from the croupier's handsand
piled themselves up into heaps of gold scintillating as fire;
upon the ell--long rolls of silver lying around the croupier.
Even at a distance of two rooms I could hear the chink of that
money--so much so that I nearly fell into convulsions.
Ahthe evening when I took those seventy gulden to the gaming
table was a memorable one for me. I began by staking ten gulden
upon passe. For passe I had always had a sort of predilection
yet I lost my stake upon it. This left me with sixty gulden in
silver. After a moment's thought I selected zero--beginning by
staking five gulden at a time. Twice I lostbut the third round
suddenly brought up the desired coup. I could almost have died
with joy as I received my one hundred and seventy-five gulden.
IndeedI have been less pleased whenin former timesI have
won a hundred thousand gulden. Losing no timeI staked another
hundred gulden upon the redand won; two hundred upon the red
and won; four hundred upon the blackand won; eight hundred
upon manqueand won. Thuswith the addition of the remainder
of my original capitalI found myself possessedwithin five
minutesof seventeen hundred gulden. Ahat such moments one
forgets both oneself and one's former failures! This I had
gained by risking my very life. I had dared so to riskand
beholdagain I was a member of mankind!
I went and hired a roomI shut myself up in itand sat
counting my money until three o'clock in the morning. To think
that when I awoke on the morrowI was no lacquey! I decided to
leave at once for Homburg. There I should neither have to serve
as a footman nor to lie in prison. Half an hour before starting
I went and ventured a couple of stakes--no more; with the result
thatin allI lost fifteen hundred florins. NeverthelessI
proceeded to Homburgand have now been there for a month.
Of courseI am living in constant trepidationplaying for the
smallest of stakesand always looking out for
something--calculatingstanding whole days by the gaming-tables
to watch the play--even seeing that play in my dreams--yet
seemingthe whileto be in some way stiffeningto be growing
cakedas it werein mire. But I must conclude my noteswhich
I finish under the impression of a recent encounter with Mr.
Astley. I had not seen him since we parted at Roulettenbergand
now we met quite by accident. At the time I was walking in the
public gardensand meditating upon the fact that not only had I
still some fifty olden in my possessionbut also I had fully
paid up my hotel bill three days ago. ConsequentlyI was in a
position to try my luck again at roulette; and if I won anything
I should be able to continue my playwhereasif I lost what I
now possessedI should once more have to accept a lacquey's
placeprovided thatin the alternativeI failed to discover a
Russian family which stood in need of a tutor. Plunged in these
reflectionsI started on my daily walk through the Park and
forest towards a neighbouring principality. Sometimeson such
occasionsI spent four hours on the wayand would return to
Homburg tired and hungry; buton this particular occasionI had
scarcely left the gardens for the Park when I caught sight of
Astley seated on a bench. As soon as he perceived mehe called
me by nameand I went and sat down beside him; buton noticing
that he seemed a little stiff in his mannerI hastened to
moderate the expression of joy which the sight of him had called
"YOU here?" he said. "WellI had an idea that I should meet
you. Do not trouble to tell me anythingfor I know all--yes
all. In factyour whole life during the past twenty months lies
within my knowledge."
"How closely you watch the doings of your old friends!" I
replied. "That does you infinite credit. But stop a moment. You
have reminded me of something. Was it you who bailed me out of
Roulettenberg prison when I was lying there for a debt of two
hundred gulden? SOMEONE did so."
"Oh dear no!--though I knew all the time that you were lying
"Perhaps you could tell me who DID bail me out?"
"No; I am afraid I could not."
"What a strange thing! For I know no Russians at all hereso
it cannot have been a Russian who befriended me. In Russia we
Orthodox folk DO go bail for one anotherbut in this case I
thought it must have been done by some English stranger who was
not conversant with the ways of the country."
Mr. Astley seemed to listen to me with a sort of surprise.
Evidently he had expected to see me looking more crushed and
broken than I was.
"Well" he said--not very pleasantly"I am none the less glad
to find that you retain your old independence of spiritas well
as your buoyancy."
"Which means that you are vexed at not having found me more
abased and humiliated than I am?" I retorted with a smile.
Astley was not quick to understand thisbut presently did so
"Your remarks please me as they always did" he continued. "In
those words I see the clevertriumphantandabove all things
cynical friend of former days. Only Russians have the faculty of
combining within themselves so many opposite qualities. Yes
most men love to see their best friend in abasement; for
generally it is on such abasement that friendship is founded.
All thinking persons know that ancient truth. Yeton the
present occasionI assure youI am sincerely glad to see that
you are NOT cast down. Tell meare you never going to give up
"Damn the gambling! YesI should certainly have given it up
were it not that--"
"That you are losing? I thought so. You need not tell me any
more. I know how things standfor you have said that last in
despairand thereforetruthfully. Have you no other employment
"No; none whatever."
Astley gave me a searching glance. At that time it was ages
since I had last looked at a paper or turned the pages of a book.
"You are growing blase" he said. "You have not only renounced
lifewith its interests and social tiesbut the duties of a citizen
and a man; you have not only renounced the friends whom I know
you to have hadand every aim in life but that of winning
money; but you have also renounced your memory. Though I can
remember you in the strongardent period of your lifeI feel
persuaded that you have now forgotten every better feeling of
that period--that your present dreams and aspirations of
subsistence do not rise above pairimpair rougenoirthe
twelve middle numbersand so forth."
"EnoughMr. Astley!" I cried with some irritation--almost in
anger. "Kindly do not recall to me any more recollectionsfor
I can remember things for myself. Only for a time have I put
them out of my head. Only until I shall have rehabilitated
myselfam I keeping my memory dulled. When that hour shall come
you will see me arise from the dead."
"Then you will have to be here another ten years" he replied.
"Should I then be aliveI will remind you--hereon this very
bench--of what I have just said. In factI will bet you a wager
that I shall do so."
"Say no more" I interrupted impatiently. "And to show you
that I have not wholly forgotten the pastmay I enquire where
Mlle. Polina is? If it was not you who bailed me out of prison
it must have been she. Yet never have I heard a word concerning
"NoI do not think it was she. At the present moment she is in
Switzerlandand you will do me a favour by ceasing to ask me
these questions about her." Astley said this with a firmand
even an angryair.
"Which means that she has dealt you a serious wound?" I burst
out with an involuntary sneer.
"Mlle. Polina" he continued"Is the best of all possible
living beings; butI repeatthat I shall thank you to cease
questioning me about her. You never really knew herand her
name on your lips is an offence to my moral feeling."
"Indeed? On what subjectthenhave I a better right to speak
to you than on this? With it are bound up all your recollections
and mine. Howeverdo not be alarmed: I have no wish to probe
too far into your privateyour secret affairs. My interest in
Mlle. Polina does not extend beyond her outward circumstances
and surroundings. About them you could tell me in two words."
"Wellon condition that the matter shall end thereI will
tell you that for a long time Mlle. Polina was illand still is
so. My mother and sister entertained her for a while at their
home in the north of Englandand thereafter Mlle. Polina's
grandmother (you remember the mad old woman?) diedand left
Mlle. Polina a personal legacy of seven thousand pounds
sterling. That was about six months agoand now Mlle. is
travelling with my sister's family-- my sister having since
married. Mlle.'s little brother and sister also benefited by the
Grandmother's willand are now being educated in London. As for
the Generalhe died in Paris last monthof a stroke. Mlle.
Blanche did well by himfor she succeeded in having transferred
to herself all that he received from the Grandmother. ThatI
thinkconcludes all that I have to tell."
"And De Griers? Is he too travelling in Switzerland?"
"No; nor do I know where he is. Also I warn you once more that
you had better avoid such hints and ignoble suppositions;
otherwise you will assuredly have to reckon with me."
"What? In spite of our old friendship?"
"Yesin spite of our old friendship."
"Then I beg your pardon a thousand timesMr. Astley. I meant
nothing offensive to Mlle. Polinafor I have nothing of which
to accuse her. Moreoverthe question of there being anything
between this Frenchman and this Russian lady is not one which
you and I need discussnor even attempt to understand."
"If" replied Astley"you do not care to hear their names
coupled togethermay I ask you what you mean by the expressions
'this Frenchman' 'this Russian lady' and 'there being
anything between them'? Why do you call them so particularly a
'Frenchman' and a 'Russian lady'?"
"AhI see you are interestedMr. Astley. But it is a long
long storyand calls for a lengthy preface. At the same time
the question is an important onehowever ridiculous it may seem
at the first glance. A FrenchmanMr. Astleyis merely a fine
figure of a man. With this youas a Britishermay not agree.
With it I alsoas a Russianmay not agree--out of envy. Yet
possibly our good ladies are of another opinion. For instance
one may look upon Racine as a broken-downhobbledehoyperfumed
individual--one may even be unable to read him; and I too may
think him the sameas well asin some respectsa subject for
ridicule. Yet about himMr. Astleythere is a certain charm
andabove all thingshe is a great poet--though one might like
to deny it. Yesthe Frenchmanthe Parisianas a national
figurewas in process of developing into a figure of elegance
before we Russians had even ceased to be bears. The Revolution
bequeathed to the French nobility its heritageand now every
whippersnapper of a Parisian may possess mannersmethods of
expressionand even thoughts that are above reproach in form
while all the time he himself may share in that form neither in
initiative nor in intellect nor in soul--his mannersand the
resthaving come to him through inheritance. Yestaken by
himselfthe Frenchman is frequently a fool of fools and a
villain of villains.
Per contrathere is no one in the world
more worthy of confidence and respect than this young Russian
lady. De Griers might so mask his face and play a part as easily
to overcome her heartfor he has an imposing figureMr.
Astleyand this young lady might easily take that figure for
his real self--for the natural form of his heart and soul--instead
of the mere cloak with which heredity has dowered him. And even
though it may offend youI feel bound to say that the majority
also of English people are uncouth and unrefinedwhereas we
Russian folk can recognise beauty wherever we see itand are
always eager to cultivate the same. But to distinguish beauty of
soul and personal originality there is needed far more
independence and freedom than is possessed by our women
especially by our younger ladies. At all eventsthey need more
EXPERIENCE. For instancethis Mlle. Polina--pardon mebut the
name has passed my lipsand I cannot well recall it--is taking a
very long time to make up her mind to prefer you to Monsieur de
Griers. She may respect youshe may become your friendshe may
open out her heart to you; yet over that heart there will be
reigning that loathsome villainthat mean and petty usurerDe
Griers. This will be due to obstinacy and self-love--to the fact
that De Griers once appeared to her in the transfigured guise of
a marquisof a disenchanted and ruined liberal who was doing
his best to help her family and the frivolous old General; and
although these transactions of his have since been exposedyou
will find that the exposure has made no impression upon her
mind. Only give her the De Griers of former daysand she will
ask of you no more. The more she may detest the present De
Griersthe more will she lament the De Griers of the past--even
though the latter never existed but in her own imagination. You
are a sugar refinerMr. Astleyare you not?"
"YesI belong to the well-known firm of Lovell and Co."
"Then see here. On the one handyou are a sugar refiner
whileon the other handyou are an Apollo Belvedere. But the
two characters do not mix with one another. Iagainam not
even a sugar refiner; I am a mere roulette gambler who has also
served as a lacquey. Of this fact Mlle. Polina is probably well
awaresince she appears to have an excellent force of police at
"You are saying this because you are feeling bitter" said
Astley with cold indifference. "Yet there is not the least
originality in your words."
"I agree. But therein lies the horror of it all--thathowever
mean and farcical my accusations may bethey are none the less
TRUE. But I am only wasting words."
"Yesyou arefor you are only talking nonsense! exclaimed my
companion--his voice now trembling and his eyes flashing fire.
"Are you aware" he continued"that wretchedignoblepetty
unfortunate man though you areit was at HER request I came to
Homburgin order to see youand to have a longserious talk
with youand to report to her your feelings and thoughts and
hopes--yesand your recollections of hertoo?"
"Indeed? Is that really so?" I cried--the tears beginning to
well from my eyes. Never before had this happened.
"Yespoor unfortunate" continued Astley. "She DID love you;
and I may tell you this now for the reason that now you are
utterly lost. Even if I were also to tell you that she still
loves youyou would none the less have to remain where you are.
Yesyou have ruined yourself beyond redemption. Once upon a
time you had a certain amount of talentand you were of a
lively dispositionand your good looks were not to be despised.
You might even have been useful to your countrywhich needs men
like you. Yet you remained hereand your life is now over. I am
not blaming you for this-- in my view all Russians resemble you
or are inclined to do so. If it is not roulettethen it is
something else. The exceptions are very rare. Nor are you the
first to learn what a taskmaster is yours. For roulette is not
exclusively a Russian game. Hithertoyou have honourably preferred
to serve as a lacquey rather than to act as a thief; but what the
future may have in store for you I tremble to think. Now good-bye.
You are in want of moneyI suppose? Then take these ten louis d'or.
More I shall not give youfor you would only gamble it away. Take
care of these coinsand farewell. Once moreTAKE CARE of them."
"NoMr. Astley. After all that has been said I--"
"TAKE CARE of them!" repeated my friend. "I am certain you
are still a gentlemanand therefore I give you the money as one
gentleman may give money to another. Alsoif I could be certain
that you would leave both Homburg and the gaming-tablesand
return to your own countryI would give you a thousand pounds
down to start life afresh; butI give you ten louis d'or instead
of a thousand pounds for the reason that at the present time a
thousand pounds and ten louis d'or will be all the same to
you--you will lose the one as readily as you will the other. Take
the moneythereforeand good-bye."
"YesI WILL take it if at the same time you will embrace me."
So we parted--on terms of sincere affection.
But he was wrong. If I was hard and undiscerning as regards
Polina and De GriersHE was hard and undiscerning as regards
Russian people generally. Of myself I say nothing. Yet--yet words
are only words. I need to ACT. Above all things I need to think
of Switzerland. Tomorrowtomorrow-- Ahbut if only I could
set things right tomorrowand be born againand rise again
from the dead! But no--I cannot. Yet I must show her what I can
do. Even if she should do no more than learn that I can still
play the manit would be worth it. Today it is too latebut
Yet I have a presentiment that things can never be otherwise. I
have got fifteen louis d'or in my possessionalthough I began
with fifteen gulden. If I were to play carefully at the
start--But nono! Surely I am not such a fool as that? Yet WHY
should I not rise from the dead? I should require at first but
to go cautiously and patiently and the rest would follow. I
should require but to put a check upon my nature for one hour
and my fortunes would be changed entirely. Yesmy nature is my
weak point. I have only to remember what happened to me some
months ago at Roulettenbergbefore my final ruin. What a
notable instance that was of my capacity for resolution! On the
occasion in question I had lost everything--everything; yetjust
as I was leaving the CasinoI heard another gulden give a
rattle in my pocket! "Perhaps I shall need it for a meal" I
thought to myself; but a hundred paces further onI changed my
mindand returned. That gulden I staked upon manque--and there
is something in the feeling thatthough one is aloneand in a
foreign landand far from one's own home and friendsand
ignorant of whence one's next meal is to comeone is
nevertheless staking one's very last coin! WellI won the
stakeand in twenty minutes had left the Casino with a hundred
and seventy gulden in my pocket! That is a factand it shows
what a last remaining gulden can do. . . . But what if my heart
had failed meor I had shrunk from making up my mind? . . .
No: tomorrow all shall be ended!