Translated by C. J. 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 coldly, greeted me in rather haughty fashion, and
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 Philipovna, too,
seemed distraught, and conversed with me with an air of detachment.
Nevertheless, she took the money which I handed to her, counted it, and
listened to what I had to tell. To luncheon there were expected that
day a Monsieur Mezentsov, a French lady, and an Englishman; for,
whenever money was in hand, a banquet in Muscovite style was always
given. Polina Alexandrovna, on seeing me, inquired why I had been so
long away. Then, without waiting for an answer, she departed. Evidently
this was not mere accident, and 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
see, the party had already gained some notoriety in the place, which
had come to look upon the General as a Russian nobleman of great
wealth. Indeed, even before luncheon he charged me, among other things,
to get two thousand-franc notes changed for him at the hotel counter,
which put us in a position to be thought millionaires at all events for
a week! Later, I 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 so, I could see that he failed to look me in
the eyes. He WANTED to do so, but each time was met by me with such a
fixed, disrespectful stare that he desisted in confusion. In pompous
language, however, which jumbled one sentence into another, and at
length grew disconnected, he gave me to understand that I was to lead
the children altogether away from the Casino, and out into the park.
Finally his anger exploded, and he added sharply:
"I suppose you would like to take them to the Casino to play roulette?
Well, excuse my speaking so plainly, but I know how addicted you are to
gambling. Though I am not your mentor, nor wish to be, at 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 General,
reddening 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 thalers, as 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 luncheon, I met a
cavalcade of our party riding to view some ruins. Two splendid
carriages, magnificently horsed, with Mlle. Blanche, Maria Philipovna,
and Polina Alexandrovna in one of them, and the Frenchman, the
Englishman, and the General in attendance on horseback! The passers-by
stopped to stare at them, for the effect was splendid--the General
could not have improved upon it. I calculated that, with the 4000
francs which I had brought with me, added 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, who, with her mother and the Frenchman, was 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 "Comte et Comtesse."
I knew that "Monsieur le Comte" would take no notice of me when we met
at dinner, as also that the General would not dream of introducing us,
nor of recommending me to the "Comte." However, the latter had lived
awhile in Russia, and knew that the person referred to as an "uchitel"
is never looked upon as a bird of fine feather. Of course, strictly
speaking, he knew me; but I was an uninvited guest at the luncheon--the
General had forgotten to arrange otherwise, or I should have been
dispatched to dine at the table d'hote. Nevertheless, I presented
myself in such guise that the General looked at me with a touch of
approval; and, though the good Maria Philipovna was for showing me my
place, the fact of my having previously met the Englishman, Mr. Astley,
saved me, and thenceforward I figured as one of the company.
This strange Englishman I had met first in Prussia, where we had
happened to sit vis-a-vis in a railway train in which I was travelling
to overtake our party; while, later, I had run across him in France,
and again in Switzerland--twice within the space of two weeks! To
think, therefore, that I should suddenly encounter him again here, in
Roulettenberg! Never in my life had I known a more retiring man, for he
was shy to the pitch of imbecility, yet well aware of the fact (for he
was no fool). At the same time, he was a gentle, amiable sort of an
individual, and, even on our first encounter in Prussia I had contrived
to draw him out, and he had told me that he had just been to the North
Cape, and was now anxious to visit the fair at Nizhni Novgorod. How he
had come to make the General's acquaintance I do not know, but,
apparently, he was much struck with Polina. Also, he was delighted that
I should sit next him at table, for he appeared to look upon me as his
During the meal the Frenchman was in great feather: he was discursive
and pompous to every one. In Moscow too, I remembered, he had blown a
great many bubbles. Interminably he discoursed on finance and Russian
politics, and though, at times, the General made feints to contradict
him, he did so humbly, and as though wishing not wholly to lose sight
of his own dignity.
For myself, I was in a curious frame of mind. Even before luncheon was
half finished I had asked myself the old, eternal question: "WHY do I
continue to dance attendance upon the General, instead of having left
him and his family long ago?" Every now and then I would glance at
Polina Alexandrovna, but she paid me no attention; until eventually I
became so irritated that I decided to play the boor.
First of all I suddenly, and for no reason whatever, plunged 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 General, and exclaimed in an overbearing sort of
way--indeed, I 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
doing, and is forced to put up with insults of every kind. Both at
Paris and on the Rhine, and even in Switzerland--there are so many
Poles, with their sympathisers, the French, at 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 doubtfully, for he did not
know whether to be angry or merely to feel surprised that I should so
far forget myself.
"Of course, one always learns SOMETHING EVERYWHERE," said the Frenchman
in a careless, contemptuous sort of tone.
"In Paris, too, I 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
tone, and a stare, of astonishment, while the Frenchman looked at me
"Just so," I replied. "You must know that, on one occasion, when, for
two days, I had felt certain that at any moment I might have to depart
for Rome on business, I repaired to the Embassy of the Holy See in
Paris, to have my passport visaed. There I encountered a sacristan of
about fifty, and a man dry and cold of mien. After listening politely,
but with great reserve, to my account of myself, this sacristan asked
me to wait a little. I was in a great hurry to depart, but of course I
sat down, pulled out a copy of L'Opinion Nationale, and 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 visitor, and then another bow as the visitor took his leave. I
ventured to remind the good man of my own business also; whereupon,
with an expression of, if anything, increased dryness, he again asked
me to wait. Soon a third visitor arrived who, like myself, had 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
rose, approached the sacristan, and told him that, since Monsignor was
receiving callers, his 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 effrontery, as though he were delighted to have a chance of
insulting me, he looked me up and down, and 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! Yes, and if you do not get me my passport visaed this very
minute, I shall take it to Monsignor myself."
"What? While he is engaged with a Cardinal?" screeched the sacristan,
again shrinking back in horror. Then, rushing to the door, he 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 monsignors, and the rest of them, meant nothing at all to
me. In a word, I 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
passport, and departed with it upstairs. A minute later the passport
had been visaed! Here it is now, if you care to see it,"--and I pulled
out the document, and 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 events, at 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 nobleman, who
had been the most offensive of all who were present at the table
d'hote, at once went upstairs, while some of the Frenchmen were simply
disgusted when I told them that two years ago I had encountered a man
at whom, in 1812, a 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 very respected
ex-captain told me the story, and I myself could see the scar left on
The Frenchman then began chattering volubly, and the General supported
him; but I recommended the former to read, for example, extracts from
the memoirs of General Perovski, who, in 1812, was 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 hand, Mr.
Astley seemed to take great pleasure in my brush with Monsieur, and,
rising from the table, proposed that we should go and have a drink
together. The same afternoon, at four o'clock, I went to have my
customary talk with Polina Alexandrovna; and, the talk soon extended to
a stroll. We entered the Park, and approached the Casino, where Polina
seated herself upon a bench near the fountain, and sent Nadia away to a
little distance to play with some other children. Mischa also I
dispatched to play by the fountain, and in this fashion we--that is to
say, Polina and myself--contrived to find ourselves alone.
Of course, we began by talking on business matters. Polina seemed
furious when I handed her only 700 gulden, for she had thought to
receive from Paris, as the proceeds of the pledging of her diamonds, at
least 2000 gulden, or even more.
"Come what may, I MUST have money," she said. "And get it somehow 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 place, my grandmother is very ill, and
unlikely to last another couple of days. We had this from Timothy
Petrovitch himself, and 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 us, and every minute of the day. For a
year-and-a-half now we have been looking for this."
"Looking for it?"
"Yes, looking 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."
"Yes, I believe that you WILL come in for a good deal," I said with
"Yes, for 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 mistaken, the 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 notice, too,
that three times during luncheon, when speaking of her, he called her
'La Baboulenka'? [Dear little Grandmother]. What loving, friendly
behaviour, to be sure!"
"Yes, that 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? Why, I 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. Also, he is in love with
"Yes, he is in love with me," she replied.
"And he is ten times richer than the Frenchman. In fact, what does the
Frenchman possess? To me it seems at least doubtful that he possesses
anything at all."
"Oh, no, there is no doubt about it. He does possess some chateau or
other. Last night the General told me that for certain. NOW are you
"Nevertheless, in your place I should marry the Englishman."
"And why?" asked Polina.
"Because, though the Frenchman is the handsomer of the two, he is also
the baser; whereas the Englishman is not only a man of honour, but ten
times the wealthier of the pair."
"Yes? But then the Frenchman is a marquis, and 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 conjectures, you 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 them,
and 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 saying, in order to see if you will be as
good as your word. Yes, you may depend upon it that I shall do so. I
hate you because I have allowed you to go to such lengths, and I also
hate you and still more--because you are so necessary to me. For the
time being I want you, so I must keep you."
Then she made a movement to rise. Her tone had sounded very angry.
Indeed, of late her talks with me had invariably ended on a note of
temper and irritation--yes, of 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 say,
if the rumours that Grandmamma is nearing her end should prove true.
Mlle. Blanche, with her mother and her cousin, the Marquis, know very
well that, as things now stand, we are ruined."
"And is the General at last in love?"
"That has nothing to do with it. Listen to me. Take these 700 florins,
and go and play roulette with them. Win as much for me as you can, for
I am badly in need of money."
So saying, she called Nadia back to her side, and entered the Casino,
where she joined the rest of our party. For myself, I took, in musing
astonishment, the first path to the left. Something had seemed to
strike my brain when she told me to go and play roulette. Strangely
enough, that something had also seemed to make me hesitate, and to set
me analysing my feelings with regard to her. In fact, during the two
weeks of my absence I had felt far more at my ease than I did now, on
the day of my return; although, while travelling, I had moped like an
imbecile, rushed about like a man in a fever, and actually beheld her
in my dreams. Indeed, on one occasion (this happened in Switzerland,
when I was asleep in the train) I had spoken aloud to her, and set all
my fellow-travellers laughing. Again, therefore, I put to myself the
question: "Do I, or do I not love her?" and again I could return myself
no answer or, rather, for the hundredth time I told myself that I
detested her. Yes, I 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 that, had there, at such
moments, been a sharp knife ready to my hand, I would have seized that
knife with pleasure, and plunged it into her breast. Yet I also swear
that if, on the Shlangenberg, she had REALLY said to me, "Leap into
that abyss," I should have leapt into it, and with equal pleasure. Yes,
this I knew well. One way or the other, the thing must soon be ended.
She, too, knew it in some curious way; the thought that I was fully
conscious of her inaccessibility, and of the impossibility of my ever
realising my dreams, afforded her, I am certain, the keenest possible
pleasure. Otherwise, is it likely that she, the cautious and clever
woman that she was, would 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 slave, since she did not
account a slave a man. Yes, often Polina must have taken me for
something less than a man!"
Still, she 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 something, and 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. Well, it
behoved me to divine them, and to probe them, and that as soon as
possible. Yet not now: at the present moment I must repair to the
I confess I did not like it. Although I had made up my mind to play, I
felt averse to doing so on behalf of some one else. In fact, it almost
upset my balance, and 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 large, but more especially in that of Russia,
where, almost every evening, journalists write on two subjects in
particular namely, on the splendour and luxury of the casinos to be
found in the Rhenish towns, and 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; and, not only are there no heaps of gold to be seen lying on
their tables, but also there is very little money to be seen at all. Of
course, during the season, some madman or another may make his
appearance--generally an Englishman, or an Asiatic, or a Turk--and (as
had happened during the summer of which I write) win or lose a great
deal; but, as regards the rest of the crowd, it plays only for petty
gulden, and seldom does much wealth figure on the board.
When, on the present occasion, I 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 thing, the crowd oppressed me. Had I been
playing for myself, I think I should have left at once, and never have
embarked upon gambling at all, for I could feel my heart beginning to
beat, and my heart was anything but cold-blooded. Also, I knew, I had
long ago made up my mind, that never should I depart from Roulettenberg
until some radical, some final, change had taken place in my fortunes.
Thus, it must and would be. However ridiculous it may seem to you that
I was expecting to win at roulette, I 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? How, for instance, is it
worse than trade? True, out of a hundred persons, only one can win; yet
what business is that of yours or of mine?
At all events, I confined myself at first simply to looking on, and
decided to attempt nothing serious. Indeed, I felt that, if I began to
do anything at all, I should do it in an absent-minded, haphazard sort
of way--of that I felt certain. Also, it behoved me to learn the game
itself; since, despite a thousand descriptions of roulette which I had
read with ceaseless avidity, I knew nothing of its rules, and had never
even seen it played.
In the first place, everything about it seemed to me so foul--so
morally mean and foul. Yet I am not speaking of the hungry, restless
folk who, by scores nay, even 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 gone, but cocksure, moralist who replied to the excuse that
"one may always gamble moderately", by saying that to do so makes
things worse, since, in that case, the profits too will always be
Insignificant profits and sumptuous profits do not stand on the same
footing. No, it is all a matter of proportion. What may seem a small
sum to a Rothschild may seem a large sum to me, and it is not the fault
of stakes or of winnings that everywhere men can be found winning, can
be found depriving their fellows of something, just as they do at
roulette. As to the question whether stakes and winnings are, in
themselves, immoral is another question altogether, and 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 gain, in spite of its
attendant squalor, to contain, if you will, something intimate,
something sympathetic, to my eyes: for it is always pleasant to see men
dispensing with ceremony, and acting naturally, and in an unbuttoned
Yet, why should I so deceive myself? I could see that the whole thing
was a vain and unreasoning pursuit; and what, at the first glance,
seemed to me the ugliest feature in this mob of roulette players was
their respect for their occupation--the seriousness, and even the
humility, with which they stood around the gaming tables. Moreover, I
had always drawn sharp distinctions between a game which is de mauvais
genre and a game which is permissible to a decent man. In fact, there
are two sorts of gaming--namely, the game of the gentleman and the game
of the plebs--the game for gain, and the game of the herd. Herein, as
said, I draw sharp distinctions. Yet how essentially base are the
distinctions! For instance, a gentleman may stake, say, five or ten
louis d'or--seldom more, unless he is a very rich man, when he may
stake, say, a thousand francs; but, he must do this simply for the love
of the game itself--simply for sport, simply in order to observe the
process of winning or of losing, and, above all things, as a man who
remains quite uninterested in the possibility of his issuing a winner.
If he wins, he will be at liberty, perhaps, to give vent to a laugh, or
to pass a remark on the circumstance to a bystander, or to stake again,
or to double his stake; but, even this he must do solely out of
curiosity, and for the pleasure of watching the play of chances and of
calculations, and not because of any vulgar desire to win. In a word,
he must look upon the gaming-table, upon roulette, and upon trente et
quarante, as 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 all, he 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 himself, and playing solely for recreation and pleasure. This
complete ignorance of the realities, this innocent view of mankind, is
what, in my opinion, constitutes the truly aristocratic. For instance,
I have seen even fond mothers so far indulge their guileless, elegant
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 lost, they have invariably laughed, and departed as though
they were well pleased. In the same way, I saw our General once
approach the table in a stolid, important manner. A lacquey darted to
offer him a chair, but the General did not even notice him. Slowly he
took out his money bags, and slowly extracted 300 francs in gold, which
he staked on the black, and won. Yet he did not take up his
winnings--he left them there on the table. Again the black turned up,
and again he did not gather in what he had won; and when, in the third
round, the RED turned up he lost, at a stroke, 1200 francs. Yet even
then he rose with a smile, and thus preserved his reputation; yet I
knew that his money bags must be chafing his heart, as well as that,
had the stake been twice or thrice as much again, he would still have
restrained himself from venting his disappointment.
On the other hand, I saw a Frenchman first win, and then lose, 30,000
francs cheerfully, and without a murmur. Yes; even if a gentleman
should lose his whole substance, he must never give way to annoyance.
Money must be so subservient to gentility as never to be worth a
thought. Of course, the SUPREMELY aristocratic thing is to be entirely
oblivious of the mire of rabble, with its setting; but sometimes a
reverse course may be aristocratic to remark, to scan, and even to gape
at, the 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 crowd, one must look as though one were fully
assured of being the observer--of having neither part nor lot with the
observed. At the same time, to stare fixedly about one is unbecoming;
for that, again, is ungentlemanly, seeing that no spectacle is worth an
open stare--are no spectacles in the world which merit from a gentleman
too pronounced an inspection.
However, to 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 at, but also to number myself sincerely and
wholeheartedly with, the 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 fact, the mob was playing in exceedingly foul fashion.
Indeed, I 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 stakes, but also to calculate the game--an immense amount
of work for two men! As for the crowd itself--well, it consisted mostly
of Frenchmen. Yet I was not then taking notes merely in order to be
able to give you a description of roulette, but in order to get my
bearings as to my behaviour when I myself should begin to play. For
example, I 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 dispute, and frequently an uproar; and it would be a case
of "I beg of you to prove, and to produce witnesses to the fact, that
the stake is yours."
At first the proceedings were pure Greek to me. I could only divine and
distinguish that stakes were hazarded on numbers, on "odd" or "even,"
and on colours. Polina's money I decided to risk, that evening, only to
the amount of 100 gulden. The thought that I was not going to play for
myself quite unnerved me. It was an unpleasant sensation, and I tried
hard to banish it. I had a feeling that, once I had begun to play for
Polina, I should wreck my own fortunes. Also, I wonder if any one has
EVER approached a gaming-table without falling an immediate prey to
superstition? I began by pulling out fifty gulden, and staking them on
"even." The wheel spun and stopped at 13. I had lost! With a feeling
like a sick qualm, as though I would like to make my way out of the
crowd and go home, I 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 sum, and
again the red turned up. Clutching my 400 gulden, I placed 200 of them
on twelve figures, to 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 curious, such an
inexplicable, unwonted 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 gulden, and, snatching up my pile of 1600, departed in
search of Polina Alexandrovna.
I found the whole party walking in the park, and was able to get an
interview with her only after supper. This time the Frenchman was
absent from the meal, and the General seemed to be in a more expansive
vein. Among other things, he thought it necessary to remind me that he
would be sorry to see me playing at the gaming-tables. In his opinion,
such 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 actions, but you yourself will agree that..." As usual, he did not
finish his sentence. I answered drily that I had very little money in
my possession, and that, consequently, I was hardly in a position to
indulge in any conspicuous play, even if I did gamble. At last, when
ascending to my own room, I succeeded in handing Polina her winnings,
and told her that, next time, I 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; yet, pray leave me in peace."
Nonetheless she insisted that I ought to go halves with her in the
day's winnings, and offered me 800 gulden on condition that henceforth,
I gambled only on those terms; but I refused to do so, once and for
all--stating, as my reason, that 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."
"Well, absurd though it be, I place great hopes on your playing of
roulette," she remarked musingly; "wherefore, you ought to play as my
partner and on equal shares; wherefore, of course, you will do as I
Then she left me without listening to any further protests on my part.
On the morrow she said not a word to me about gambling. In fact, she
purposely avoided me, although 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 short, she was at
no pains to conceal her aversion to me. That I could see plainly. Also,
she did not trouble to conceal from me the fact that I was necessary to
her, and that she was keeping me for some end which she had in view.
Consequently there became established between us relations which, to a
large extent, were incomprehensible to me, considering her general
pride and aloofness. For example, although she knew that I was madly in
love with her, she 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 unrebuked, to mention to her my love).
"You see," her attitude expressed, "how little I regard your feelings,
as well as how little I care for what you say to me, or for what you
feel for me." Likewise, though she spoke as before concerning her
affairs, it 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 trouble, she 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 events, or had she not seen how much I was pained and
disturbed by her teasing insistency, she would never have thought it
worthwhile to soothe me with this frankness--even though, since she not
infrequently used me to execute commissions that were not only
troublesome, but risky, she ought, in my opinion, to have been frank in
ANY case. But, forsooth, it was not worth her while to trouble about MY
feelings--about the fact that I was uneasy, and, perhaps, thrice as put
about by her cares and misfortunes as she was herself!
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 behalf, since
it was unbecoming for her to play in person; and, from 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! No, she had
some end in view, and there were circumstances at which I could guess,
but which I did not know for certain. True, the 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 that,
though she let me question her, she never returned me a single answer,
and 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 ago, had been sent to St. Petersburg, but to which there had come
no answer. The General was visibly disturbed and moody, for the matter
concerned his mother. The Frenchman, too, was excited, and 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 table, and
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 Casino, or 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 anything,
or whether it was still only in the stage of being talked of. Likewise
I was aware, in part, of a family secret--namely, that, last year, the
Frenchman had bailed the General out of debt, and given him 30,000
roubles wherewith to pay his Treasury dues on retiring from the
service. And now, of course, the 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 who, living with her mother, possessed a
colossal fortune. It was also said that she was some relation to the
Marquis, but only a distant one a cousin, or cousin-german, or
something of the sort. Likewise I knew that, up to the time of my
journey to Paris, she 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
friendship, their intimacy--had taken on a much more off-hand and
rough-and-ready air. Perhaps they thought that our means were too
modest for them, and, therefore, unworthy of politeness or reticence.
Also, for 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 shy, reserved, and taciturn in his manner
that one might have looked for anything from him. At all events the
Frenchman accorded him only the slightest of greetings, and 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
another, the 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; and, one 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 reason, I adopted a cold and indifferent air; for I felt
pretty certain that it would not be long before she herself approached
me. For two days, therefore, I devoted my attention to Mlle. Blanche.
The poor General was in despair! To fall in love at fifty-five, and
with such vehemence, is indeed a misfortune! And add to that his
widowerhood, his children, his ruined property, his debts, and 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 events, I
myself have always feared such women. Apparently about twenty-five
years of age, she was tall and broad-shouldered, with shoulders that
sloped; yet though her neck and bosom were ample in their proportions,
her skin was dull yellow in colour, while 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 whites, a proud glance,
gleaming teeth, and lips which were perennially pomaded and redolent of
musk. As for her dress, it was invariably rich, effective, and chic,
yet in good taste. Lastly, her feet and hands were astonishing, and her
voice a deep contralto. Sometimes, when she laughed, she displayed her
teeth, but 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 education, and even of wits,
though cunning and suspicious. This, apparently, was not because her
life had been lacking in incident. Perhaps, if all were known, the
Marquis was not her kinsman at all, nor her mother, her mother; but
there was evidence that, in Berlin, where we had first come across the
pair, they had possessed acquaintances of good standing. As for the
Marquis himself, I doubt to this day if he was a Marquis--although
about the fact that he had formerly belonged to high society (for
instance, in 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 transpire, but 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 dead, Mlle.
Blanche, I felt sure, would disappear in a twinkling. Indeed, it
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. How, then, could I show contempt for those who surrounded her?
Espionage is a base thing, but--what have I to do with that?
Mr. Astley, too, I 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 walking, he
would merely take off his hat and pass us by, though I knew he was
dying to join us. Even when invited to do so, he would refuse. Again,
in places of amusement--in the Casino, at concerts, or near the
fountain--he was never far from the spot where we were sitting. In
fact, WHEREVER we were in the Park, in the forest, or 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; and, one morning when we had
met, and exchanged a couple of words, he burst out in his usual abrupt
way, without saying "Good-morning."
"That Mlle. Blanche," he said. "Well, I have seen a good many women
After that he was silent as he looked me meaningly in the face. What he
meant I did not know, but to my glance of inquiry he returned only a
dry nod, and a reiterated "It is so." Presently, however, he resumed:
"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
"Hm! Then I have an idea in my mind," he concluded. Lastly, with a nod,
he walked away with a pleased expression on his face. The conversation
had been carried on in execrable French.
Today has been a day of folly, stupidity, and ineptness. The time is
now eleven o'clock in the evening, and I am sitting in my room and
thinking. It all began, this morning, with 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--namely, that I
should not go halves with her in her winnings, if any (that is to say,
I should not take anything for myself), and that she should explain to
me, that same evening, why it was so necessary for her to win, and how
much was the sum which she needed. For, I could not suppose that she
was doing all this merely for the sake of money. Yet clearly she did
need some money, and that as soon as possible, and for a special
purpose. Well, she promised to explain matters, and I departed. There
was a tremendous crowd in the gaming-rooms. What an arrogant, greedy
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
fashion, venturing only twenty or thirty gulden at a time. Meanwhile, I
observed and took notes. It seemed to me that calculation was
superfluous, and by no means possessed of the importance which certain
other players attached to it, even though they sat with ruled papers in
their hands, whereon they set down the coups, calculated the chances,
reckoned, staked, and--lost exactly as we more simple mortals did who
played without any reckoning at all.
However, I deduced from the scene one conclusion which seemed to me
reliable--namely, that in the flow of fortuitous chances there is, if
not a system, at all events a sort of order. This, of course, is a very
strange thing. For instance, after 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
ones, and then, again, to a dozen of the middle ciphers, and fall upon
them three or four times, and then revert to a dozen outers; whence,
after another couple of rounds, the ball would again pass to the first
figures, strike upon them once, and then return thrice to the middle
series--continuing thus for an hour and a half, or two hours. One,
three, two: one, three, two. It was all very curious. Again, for the
whole of a day or a morning the red would alternate with the black, but
almost without any order, and from moment to moment, so that scarcely
two consecutive rounds would end upon either the one or the other. Yet,
next day, or, perhaps, the next evening, the red alone would turn up,
and attain a run of over two score, and continue so for quite a length
of time--say, for a whole day. Of these circumstances the majority were
pointed out to me by Mr. Astley, who stood by the gaming-table the
whole morning, yet never once staked in person.
For myself, I lost all that I had on me, and with great speed. To begin
with, I staked two hundred gulden on "even," and won. Then I staked the
same amount again, and 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. That, of course, was the proper moment
for me to have departed, but there arose in me a strange sensation as
of a challenge to Fate--as of a wish to deal her a blow on the cheek,
and to put out my tongue at her. Accordingly I set down the largest
stake allowed by the rules--namely, 4000 gulden--and lost. Fired by
this mishap, I pulled out all the money left to me, staked it all on
the same venture, and--again lost! Then I rose from the table, feeling
as though I were stupefied. What had happened to me I did not know;
but, before 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 morning, and had seen my
exploits there. So now she showed me more attention when talking to me;
while, for his part, the Frenchman approached me, and 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 myself, but I merely
fired up, and replied that the money had been all my own.
At this the General seemed extremely surprised, and asked me whence I
had procured it; whereupon I replied that, though I had begun only with
100 gulden, six or seven rounds had increased my capital to 5000 or
6000 gulden, and that subsequently I had lost the whole in two rounds.
All this, of course, was plausible enough. During my recital I glanced
at Polina, but nothing was to be discerned on her face. However, she
had allowed me to fire up without correcting me, and from that I
concluded that it was my cue to fire up, and to conceal the fact that I
had been playing on her behalf. "At all events," I thought to myself,
"she, in her turn, has promised to give me an explanation to-night, and
to reveal to me something or another."
Although the General appeared to be taking stock of me, he 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. Now, I have an idea
that, last night, he and the Frenchman had a sharp encounter with one
another. At all events they closeted themselves together, and then had
a long and vehement discussion; after which the Frenchman departed in
what appeared to be a passion, but returned, early this morning, to
renew the combat. On hearing of my losses, however, he only remarked
with a sharp, and even a malicious, air that "a man ought to go more
carefully." Next, for some reason or another, he added that, "though a
great many Russians go in for gambling, they 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 gamblers, I 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 capital, but also he exhausts it
wantonly and of sheer folly. None the less we Russians often need
money; wherefore, we are glad of, and greatly devoted to, a method of
acquisition like roulette--whereby, in a couple of hours, one may grow
rich without doing any work. This method, I repeat, has a great
attraction for us, but since we play in wanton fashion, and without
taking any trouble, we almost invariably lose."
"To a certain extent that is true," assented the Frenchman with a
"Oh no, it is not true," put in the General sternly. "And you," he
added to me, "you ought to be ashamed of yourself for traducing your
"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 smiled, for 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 General, now seriously angry.
"To the German method of heaping up riches. I have not been here very
long, but 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; and, everywhere 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 family, and 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
angry, General. Let me tell you something that is even more touching
than that. I can remember how, of an evening, my own father, now dead,
used to sit under the lime trees in his little garden, and to read
books aloud to myself and my mother. Yes, I know how things ought to be
done. Yet every German family is bound to slavery and to submission to
its 'Fater.' They work like oxen, and amass wealth like Jews. Suppose
the 'Fater' has put by a certain number of gulden which he hands over
to his eldest son, in order that the said son may acquire a trade or a
small plot of land. Well, one result is to deprive the daughter of a
dowry, and so leave her among the unwedded. For the same reason, the
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 done, for 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 sold, and that it is simply idyllic for the victim to
rejoice when he is made over into pledge. What more have I to tell?
Well, this--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 her, for the reason that he has not yet amassed sufficient
gulden. So, the pair wait on in a mood of sincere and virtuous
expectation, and smilingly deposit themselves in pawn the while.
Gretchen's cheeks grow sunken, and she begins to wither; until at last,
after some twenty years, their substance has multiplied, and 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
bursts, into tears, reads the pair a lesson on morality, and 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 to, his son, and the latter to HIS son, and so on for
several generations; until at length there will issue a Baron
Rothschild, or a 'Hoppe and Company,' or the devil knows what! Is it
not a beautiful spectacle--the spectacle of a century or two of
inherited labour, patience, intellect, rectitude, character,
perseverance, and calculation, with a stork sitting on the roof above
it all? What is more; they think there can never be anything better
than this; wherefore, from their point of view they begin to judge the
rest of the world, and to censure all who are at fault--that is to say,
who are not exactly like themselves. Yes, there you have it in a
nutshell. For my own part, I would rather grow fat after the Russian
manner, or 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 MYSELF, for in no way do I look upon my personality as necessary
to, or meet to be given over to, capital. I may be wrong, but 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 least chance."
As usual, he left his sentence unfinished. Indeed, whenever he embarked
upon anything that in the least exceeded the limits of daily
small-talk, he left unfinished what he was saying. The Frenchman had
listened to me contemptuously, with a slight protruding of his eyes;
but, he could not have understood very much of my harangue. As for
Polina, she had looked on with serene indifference. She seemed to have
heard neither my voice nor any other during the progress of the meal.
Yes, she had been extraordinarily meditative. Yet, on leaving the
table, she immediately ordered me to accompany her for a walk. We took
the children with us, and 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 strolls, or to speak to her for days
"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:
consequently, I was momentarily awed into silence by this expression of
"Have you noticed, too, that 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 aware, are you not, that the General is
mortgaged to the Marquis, with all his property? Consequently, if the
General's mother does not die, the Frenchman will become the absolute
possessor of everything which he now holds only in pledge."
"Then it is really the case that everything is mortgaged? I have heard
rumours to that effect, but was unaware how far they might be true."
"Yes, they ARE true. What then?"
"Why, it will be a case of 'Farewell, Mlle. Blanche,'" I remarked; "for
in such an event she would never become Madame General. Do you know, I
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."
"Yes, something, I believe, WILL happen to him," assented Polina
"And what a fine thing it all is!" I continued. "Could anything 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 grandmother,
what could be more comical, yet more dastardly, than the sending of
telegram after telegram to know if she is dead? What do you think of
it, Polina Alexandrovna?"
"Yes, it is very horrible," she interrupted with a shudder.
"Consequently, I 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
that, as 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
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. Moreover, it was I who lost your gulden."
She glanced at me, but, seeing that I was in an irritable, sarcastic
mood, changed the subject.
"My affairs cannot possibly interest you," she said. "Still, if you DO
wish to know, I am in debt. I borrowed some money, and must pay it back
again. I have a curious, senseless idea that I am bound to win at the
gaming-tables. Why I think so I cannot tell, but I do think so, and
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 that,
unless he were drowning he would not mistake a straw for the trunk of a
Polina looked surprised.
"What?" she said. "Do not you also hope something from it? Did you not
tell me again and again, two weeks ago, that 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
been, for 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.
Indeed, what you say makes me ask myself--Why have my absurd, senseless
losses of today raised a doubt in my mind? Yet I am still positive
that, so soon as ever I begin to play for myself, I shall infallibly
"And why are you so certain?"
"To tell the truth, I do not know. I only know that I must win--that it
is the one resource I have left. Yes, why do I feel so assured on the
"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. "Well, since you ask me, I 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 ceremony, and that sometimes I put
to you very plain questions. I repeat that I am your slave--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
"A maxim straight from the copybook! Suppose I CANNOT comport myself
with dignity. By that I mean that, though I am a man of self-respect, I
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 dignity, and yet be wholly undignified persons. That is
why, with us, the mode is so all-important. The Frenchman may receive
an insult--a real, a venomous insult: yet, he will not so much as
frown. But a tweaking of the nose he cannot bear, for the reason that
such an act is an infringement of the accepted, of the time-hallowed
order of decorum. That is why our good ladies are so fond of
Frenchmen--the Frenchman's manners, they say, are 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 time, as I am not a woman,
I 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 you, for I am too apt to say
everything that is in my head.
"You see, I have lost my manners. I agree that I have none, nor 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 Dresden, yet am completely in the dark as to what Dresden is
like. You know the cause of my obsession. I have no hope now, and am a
mere cipher in your eyes; wherefore, I 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 know, I am ignorant even
as to what your face is like. In all probability, too, your heart is
not comely, and 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 me, at 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. However, I do not mind if you ARE angry. Sitting in my room,
I need but to think of you, to imagine to myself the rustle of your
dress, and at once I fall almost to biting my hands. Why should you be
angry with me? Because I call myself your slave? Revel, I pray you, in
my slavery--revel in it. Do you know that sometimes I could kill
you?--not because I do not love you, or am jealous of you, but, because
I feel as though I could simply devour you... You are laughing!"
"No, I am not," she retorted. "But I order you, nevertheless, to be
She stopped, well nigh breathless with anger. God knows, she may not
have been a beautiful woman, yet I loved to see her come to a halt like
this, and was therefore, the more fond of arousing her temper. Perhaps
she divined this, and 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. "Also, do you know that it is not safe
for us to take walks together? Often I have a feeling that I should
like to strike you, to disfigure you, to strangle you. Are you certain
that it will never come to that? You are driving me to frenzy. Am I
afraid of a scandal, or of your anger? Why should I fear your anger? I
love without hope, and 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 possible, for I wish to
continue enjoying the unbearable pain which your coldness gives me. Do
you know a very strange thing? It is that, with every day, my love for
you increases--though that would seem to be almost an impossibility.
Why should I not become a fatalist? Remember how, on the third day that
we ascended the Shlangenberg, I was moved to whisper in your ear: 'Say
but the word, and I will leap into the abyss.' Had you said it, I
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 speak, speak, speak. Therefore, I am
speaking. I lose all conceit when I am with you, and everything ceases
"Why should I have wanted you to leap from the Shlangenberg?" she said
drily, and (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? Why, to give pleasure is ALWAYS of use; and, as for
barbarous, unlimited power--even if it be only over a fly--why, it is a
kind of luxury. Man is a despot by nature, and loves to torture. You,
in particular, love 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
senseless, gross sensations which were seething within me. To this day
I can remember, word for word, the conversation as I have written it
down. My eyes were suffused with blood, and the foam had caked itself
on my lips. Also, on my honour I swear that, had she bidden me cast
myself from the summit of the Shlangenberg, I should have done it. Yes,
had she bidden me in jest, or only in contempt and with a spit in my
face, I should have cast myself down.
"Oh no! Why so? I believe you," she said, but in such a manner--in the
manner of which, at times, she was a mistress--and with such a note of
disdain and viperish arrogance in her tone, that God knows I could have
Yes, at that moment she stood in peril. I had not lied to her about
"Surely you are not a coward?" suddenly she asked me.
"I do not know," I replied. "Perhaps I am, but 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
"Do YOU, rather, tell 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 Frenchman, too, with his
mysterious influence over you. Yet, you actually ask me such a
question! If you do not tell me how things stand, I 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
question, and am waiting for an answer."
"Well, then--I will kill whomsoever you wish," I said. "But are 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 it, or else renounce me. Could you ever do the latter? No, you know
that you couldn't. You would first kill whom I had bidden you, and then
kill ME for having dared to send you away!"
Something seemed to strike upon my brain as I heard these words. Of
course, at the time I took them half in jest and half as a challenge;
yet, she had spoken them with great seriousness. I felt thunderstruck
that she should so express herself, that she should assert such a right
over me, that she should assume such authority and say outright:
"Either you kill whom I bid you, or I will have nothing more to do with
you." Indeed, in 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 conversation, my heart
shook within me.
Suddenly, she 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
tall, wizened Prussian there, with the stick in his hand. Do you
remember how he stared at us the other day? Well, go to the Baroness,
take off your hat to her, and say something in French."
"Because you have sworn that you would leap from the Shlangenberg for
my sake, and that you would kill any one whom I might bid you kill.
Well, instead of such murders and tragedies, I wish only for a good
laugh. Go without answering me, and 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 do it?"
"Yes, I do challenge you. Go, for such is my will."
"Then I WILL go, however mad be your fancy. Only, look here: shall you
not be doing the General a great disservice, as well as, through him, a
great disservice to yourself? It is not about myself I am worrying--it
is about you and the General. Why, for a mere fancy, should 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 wrong, and that the General will be
angry about it? But I want to have a good laugh, all the same. I want
that, and nothing else. Why should you insult a woman, indeed? Well,
you will be given a sound thrashing for so doing."
I turned away, and went silently to do her bidding. Of course the thing
was folly, but I could not get out of it. I remember that, as I
approached the Baroness, I felt as excited as a schoolboy. I was in a
frenzy, as 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 childhood, at the school desk, and
to have done the deed simply out of mischief.
It all came of Polina--yes, of Polina. But for her, there 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 fair, it would seem. Others besides myself
she has driven to distraction. She is tall and straight, and very slim.
Her body looks as though it could be tied into a knot, or bent double,
like a cord. The imprint of her foot is long and narrow. It is, a
maddening imprint--yes, simply a maddening one! And her hair has a
reddish tint about it, and her eyes are like cat's eyes--though able
also to glance with proud, disdainful mien. On the evening of my first
arrival, four months ago, I 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 later, when I retired to my own
room upstairs, I kept fancying that she had smitten him in the
face--that she had smitten him right on the cheek, so peculiar had been
her look as she stood confronting him. Ever since that evening I have
But to my tale.
I stepped from the path into the carriage-way, and 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 hat, and bowed.
I remember that the Baroness was clad in a voluminous silk dress, pale
grey in colour, and adorned with flounces and a crinoline and train.
Also, she was short and inordinately stout, while her gross, flabby
chin completely concealed her neck. Her face was purple, and 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 Baron, he was tall, wizened, bony-faced after the German fashion,
spectacled, and, apparently, about forty-five years of age. Also, he
had legs which seemed to begin almost at his chest--or, rather, at his
chin! Yet, for all his air of peacock-like conceit, his clothes sagged
a little, and his face wore a sheepish air which might have passed for
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 little, and the Baroness
swept straight on.
"Madame la Baronne," said I, loudly and distinctly--embroidering each
word, as it were--"j'ai l'honneur d'etre votre esclave."
Then I bowed again, put on my hat, and 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--or, rather, growled--the Baron as he turned towards
me in angry surprise.
I too turned round, and stood waiting in pseudo-courteous expectation.
Yet still I wore on my face an impudent smile as I gazed at him. He
seemed to hesitate, and his brows contracted to their utmost limits.
Every moment his visage was growing darker. The Baroness also turned in
my direction, and gazed at me in wrathful perplexity, while some of the
passers-by also began to stare at us, and others of them halted
"Hein!" the Baron vociferated again, with a redoubled growl and a note
of growing wrath in his voice.
"Ja wohl!" I replied, still looking him in the eyes.
"Sind sie rasend?" he exclaimed, brandishing his stick, and,
apparently, beginning to feel nervous. Perhaps it was my costume which
intimidated him, for I was well and fashionably dressed, after the
manner of a man who belongs to indisputably good society.
"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 conversation, and 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 about, and almost fled
in their alarm. Some of the bystanders gave vent to excited
exclamations, and others remained staring at me in astonishment. But I
do not remember the details very well.
Wheeling quietly about, I returned in the direction of Polina
Alexandrovna. But, when I had got within a hundred paces of her seat, I
saw her rise and set out with the children towards the hotel.
At the portico I caught up to her.
"I have perpetrated the--the piece of idiocy," I said as I came level
"Have you? Then you can take the consequences," she replied without so
much as looking at me. Then she moved towards the staircase.
I spent the rest of the evening walking in the park. Thence I passed
into the forest, and walked on until I found myself in a neighbouring
principality. At a wayside restaurant I partook of an omelette and some
wine, and 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-room, with, adjoining the latter, the 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? Why, the German was the Baron Burmergelm--a most
important personage! I hear that you have been rude both to him and to
"No, I have not."
"But I understand that you simply terrified them, my good sir?" shouted
"Not in the least," I replied. "You must know that when I was in Berlin
I frequently used to hear the Berliners repeat, and repellently
prolong, a certain phrase--namely, 'Ja wohl!'; and, happening to meet
this couple in the carriage-drive, I found, for some reason or another,
that this phrase suddenly recurred to my memory, and exercised a
rousing effect upon my spirits. Moreover, on 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
unnaturally, I too possess a measure of self-respect; wherefore, on
THIS occasion I took off my hat, and said politely (yes, I assure you
it was said politely): 'Madame, j'ai l'honneur d'etre votre esclave.'
Then the Baron turned round, and said 'Hein!'; whereupon I felt moved
to ejaculate in answer 'Ja wohl!' Twice I shouted it at him--the first
time in an ordinary tone, and 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; so, the further I proceeded, the more did the gusto of my
"You are only making fun of me!" vociferated the General as, turning to
the Frenchman, he declared that my bringing about of the incident had
been gratuitous. De Griers smiled contemptuously, and shrugged his
"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; but,
MORE than that it was not. Also, let me tell you that I am very sorry
for my conduct. Yet there is one circumstance which, in my eyes, almost
absolves me from regret in the matter. Of late--that is to say, for the
last two or three weeks--I have been feeling not at all well. That is
to say, I have been in a sick, nervous, irritable, fanciful condition,
so 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; and, under the circumstances, he had no
choice but to answer me. In short, I 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 will, and
the less so since, so far as I know, the circumstance is one which, of
late, has begun to be abused in the legal world, in that advocates in
criminal cases have taken to justifying their clients on the ground
that, at the moment of the crime, they (the clients) were unconscious
of what they were doing--that, in short, they 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
deed, or only a half or a quarter of it! But the Baron and Baroness are
members of an older generation, as well as Prussian Junkers and
landowners. To them such a process in the medico-judicial world will be
unknown, and therefore, they are the more unlikely to accept any such
explanation. What is YOUR opinion about it, General?"
"Enough, sir!" he thundered with barely restrained fury. "Enough, I
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 you, even though it be
confined to a begging of their pardons, they would look upon as a
degradation. I may tell you that, on learning that you formed part of,
my household, the Baron approached me in the Casino, and demanded of me
additional satisfaction. Do you understand, then, what it is that you
have entailed upon me--upon ME, my good sir? You have entailed upon me
the fact of my being forced to sue humbly to the Baron, and to give him
my word of honour that this very day you shall cease to belong to my
"Excuse me, General," I interrupted, "but did he make an express point
of it that I should 'cease to belong to your establishment,' as you
"No; I, of my own initiative, thought that I ought to afford him that
satisfaction; and, with it he was satisfied. So we must part, good sir.
It is my duty to hand over to you forty gulden, three florins, as per
the accompanying statement. Here is the money, and here the account,
which 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 landlord, and 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), and,
bowing low to the General, said 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; but, the 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 yours, nor yet your ward, nor a
person of any kind for whose acts you need be responsible. I am a
judicially competent person, a man of twenty-five years of age, a
university graduate, a gentleman, and, until I met yourself, a complete
stranger to you. Only my boundless respect for your merits restrains me
from demanding satisfaction at your hands, as 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 that, spreading out his hands, he turned
to the Frenchman, and interpreted to him that I had challenged himself
(the General) to a duel. The Frenchman laughed aloud.
"Nor do I intend to let the Baron off," I continued calmly, but with
not a little discomfiture at De Griers' merriment. "And since you,
General, have today been so good as to listen to the Baron's
complaints, and to enter into his concerns--since you have made
yourself a participator in the affair--I have the honour to inform you
that, tomorrow morning at the latest, I shall, in my own name, demand
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
alone, and to put a slight upon me by referring it to another person,
as 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 outrage, showed 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 me, sir--not to laugh at me, for we have police authorities here
who, out of respect for my rank, and for that of the Baron... In
short, sir, I swear to you that I will have you arrested, and marched
out of the place, to prevent any further brawling on your part. Do you
understand what I say?" He was almost breathless with anger, as well as
in a terrible fright.
"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 Baron, and 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 is, to me, a
shameful supposition--namely, that 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 sake, Alexis Ivanovitch, do put an end to this senseless
scheme of yours!" he muttered, but 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 me, I am sure, that at present I ought to move with
especial care--yes, with 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; but, for the time being I-- Well, I
cannot tell you all my reasons." With that he wound up in a despairing
voice: "O Alexis Ivanovitch, Alexis Ivanovitch!"
I moved towards the door--begging him to be calm, and promising that
everything should be done decently and in order; whereafter I departed.
Russians, when abroad, are over-apt to play the poltroon, to watch all
their words, and to wonder what people are thinking of their conduct,
or whether such and such a thing is 'comme il faut.' In short, they are
over-apt to cosset themselves, and 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 promenades, at meetings, or when on a journey.
But the General had avowed to me that, over and above such
considerations as these, there 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 calculations, and duly
noted it, for, of course, he MIGHT apply to the authorities tomorrow,
and it behoved me to go carefully.
Yet it was not the General but Polina that I wanted to anger. She had
treated me with such cruelty, and had got me into such a hole, that I
felt a longing to force her to beseech me to stop. Of course, my
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 cockerel, and the Baron were to give me a
good thrashing; but, the fact was that I desired to have the laugh of
them all, and to come out myself unscathed. Let people see what they
WOULD see. Let Polina, for once, have a good fright, and be forced to
whistle me to heel again. But, however 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 stairs, and been informed by her that Maria
Philipovna departed today, by the night train, to 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? Also, the maid has just told me that, three
days ago, Maria 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'hotel, and explained to him
that, in future, my bill was to be rendered to me personally. As a
matter of fact, my expenses had never been so large as to alarm me, nor
to lead me to quit the hotel; while, moreover, I still had 160 gulden
left to me, and--in them--yes, in them, perhaps, riches awaited me. It
was a curious fact, that, though I had not yet won anything at play, I
nevertheless acted, thought, and felt as though I were sure, before
long, to become wealthy--since I could not imagine myself otherwise.
Next, I bethought me, despite the earliness of the hour, of going to
see Mr. Astley, who 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 happened, for 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
express, point of showing it), and I having no reason to desire his
company. In short, I detested him. Consequently, his 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 affability, and began by complimenting me on my
room. Then, perceiving that I had my hat in my hands, he inquired
whither I was going so early; and, no sooner did he hear that I was
bound for Mr. Astley's than he stopped, looked grave, and seemed
plunged in thought.
He was a true Frenchman insofar as that, though he could be lively and
engaging when it suited him, he 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. Also, if he thinks it incumbent upon him to
be fanciful, original, and out of the way, his fancy always assumes a
foolish, unnatural vein, for the reason that it is compounded of trite,
hackneyed forms. In short, the natural Frenchman is a conglomeration of
commonplace, petty, everyday positiveness, so that he is the most
tedious person in the world.--Indeed, I believe that none but
greenhorns and excessively Russian people feel an attraction towards
the French; for, to any man of sensibility, such a compendium of
outworn forms--a compendium which is built up of drawing-room manners,
expansiveness, and gaiety--becomes at once over-noticeable and
"I have come to see you on business," De Griers began in a very
off-hand, yet polite, tone; "nor will I seek to conceal from you the
fact that I have come in the capacity of an emissary, of an
intermediary, from the General. Having small knowledge of the Russian
tongue, I lost most of what was said last night; but, the General has
now explained matters, and I must confess that--"
"See here, Monsieur 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 tutor, and have never claimed to be an
intimate of this household, nor to stand on at all familiar terms with
it. Consequently, I do not know the whole of its circumstances. Yet
pray explain to me this: have you yourself become one of its members,
seeing that you are beginning to take such a part in everything, and
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 affairs, and 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 doubt, very clever;
yet he has charged me to represent to you that you have not the
slightest chance of succeeding in your end, since 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? What, then, would be the good of
going on with it all? On the other hand, the General promises that at
the first favourable opportunity he will receive you back into his
household, and, in the meantime, will credit you with your salary--with
'vos appointements.' Surely that will suit you, will it not?"
Very quietly I replied that he (the Frenchman) was labouring under a
delusion; that perhaps, after all, I should not be expelled from the
Baron's presence, but, on the contrary, be listened to; finally, that 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
"Good heavens!" cried de Griers. "Seeing that the General takes such an
interest in the matter, is there anything very unnatural in his
desiring also to know your plans?"
Again I began my explanations, but the Frenchman only fidgeted and
rolled his head about as he listened with an expression of manifest and
unconcealed irony on his face. In short, he adopted a supercilious
attitude. For my own part, I endeavoured to pretend that I took the
affair very seriously. I declared that, since the Baron had gone and
complained of me to the General, as though I were a mere servant of the
General's, he had, in the first place, lost me my post, and, in the
second place, treated me like a person to whom, as to one not qualified
to answer for himself, it was not even worth while to speak. Naturally,
I said, I felt insulted at this. Yet, comprehending as I did,
differences of years, of social status, and 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 since, of late, I had
been feeling unwell and unstrung, and 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 say, the fact of his referring
the matter to the General) as well as his insistence that the General
should deprive me of my post, had placed me in such a position that I
could not well express my regret to him (the Baron) and to his good
lady, for the reason that in all probability both he and the Baroness,
with the world at large, would imagine that I was doing so merely
because I hoped, by my action, to recover my post. Hence, I found
myself forced to request the Baron to express to me HIS OWN regrets, as
well as to express them in the most unqualified manner--to say, in
fact, that he had never had any wish to insult me. After the Baron had
done THAT, I should, for my part, at once feel free to express to him,
whole-heartedly and without reserve, my 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.
"Besides, what have you to express regret for? Confess, Monsieur,
Monsieur--pardon me, but I have forgotten your name--confess, I say,
that all this is merely a plan to annoy the General? Or perhaps, you
have some other and special end in view? Eh?"
"In return you must pardon ME, mon cher Marquis, and tell me what you
have to do with it."
"But what of the General? Last night he said that, for some reason or
another, it behoved him to 'move with especial care at present;'
wherefore, he was feeling nervous. But I did not understand the
"Yes, there DO exist special reasons for his doing so," assented De
Griers in a conciliatory tone, yet with rising anger. "You are
acquainted with Mlle. de Cominges, are you not?"
"Mlle. Blanche, you mean?"
"Yes, Mlle. Blanche de Cominges. Doubtless you know also that the
General is in love with this young lady, and may even be about to marry
her before he leaves here? Imagine, therefore, what any scene or
scandal would entail upon him!"
"I cannot see that the marriage scheme need, be affected by scenes or
"Mais le Baron est si irascible--un caractere prussien, vous 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 ourselves, the 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
"Ah! Connected, doubtless, with 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 politeness, as 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; but, when people have just said to you, 'Of course we do not
wish to turn you out, yet, for the sake of appearance's, you must
PERMIT yourself to be turned out,' nothing can matter very much."
"Very well, then," he said, in a sterner and more arrogant tone.
"Seeing that my solicitations have had no effect upon you, it is my
duty to mention that other measures will be taken. There exist here
police, you must remember, and 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 them, and 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
"Nevertheless I should not GO out of doors," I retorted with absolute
calm. "You are labouring under a delusion, Monsieur de Griers. The
thing will be done in far better trim than you imagine. I was just
about to start for Mr. Astley's, to ask him to be my intermediary--in
other words, my second. He has a strong liking for me, and I do not
think that he will refuse. He will go and see the Baron on MY behalf,
and the Baron will certainly not decline to receive him. Although I am
only a tutor--a kind of subaltern, Mr. Astley is known to all men as
the nephew of a real English lord, the Lord Piebroch, as well as a lord
in his own right. Yes, you may be pretty sure that the Baron will be
civil to Mr. Astley, and listen to him. Or, should he decline to do so,
Mr. 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 so, picture 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! Indeed, it is a brawl rather than genuine
satisfaction that you are seeking. I have said that the affair may
prove to be diverting, and even clever, and 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, please, for I must take her back an answer."
So saying, he took from his pocket a small, compact, wafer-sealed note,
and handed it to me. In Polina's handwriting I read:
"I hear that you are thinking of going on with this affair. You have
lost your temper now, and are beginning to play the fool! Certain
circumstances, however, I may explain to you later. Pray cease from
your folly, and put a check upon yourself. For folly it all is. I have
need of you, and, moreover, you have promised to obey me. Remember the
Shlangenberg. I ask you to be obedient. If necessary, I shall even BID
you be obedient.--Your own----POLINA.
"P.S.--If so be that you still bear a grudge against me for what
happened last night, pray forgive me."
Everything, to my eyes, seemed to change as I read these words. My lips
grew pale, and I began to tremble. Meanwhile, the cursed Frenchman was
eyeing me discreetly and askance, as though he wished to avoid
witnessing my confusion. It would have been better if he had laughed
"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 trifles, you ought to
have delivered me the missive at once--if you have really come
commissioned as you say."
"Well, pardon some natural haste on my part, for the situation is so
strange. I wished first to gain some personal knowledge of your
intentions; and, moreover, I did not know the contents of the note, and
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 resort, and if you could not otherwise appease me? Is
it not so? Speak out, Monsieur de Griers."
"Perhaps," said he, assuming a look of great forbearance, but gazing at
me in a meaning way.
I reached for my hat; whereupon he nodded, and went out. Yet on his
lips I fancied that I could see a mocking smile. How could it have been
"You and I are to have a reckoning later, Master Frenchman," I muttered
as I descended the stairs. "Yes, we will measure our strength
together." Yet my thoughts were all in confusion, for again something
seemed to have struck me dizzy. Presently the air revived me a little,
and, a couple of minutes later, my brain had sufficiently cleared to
enable two ideas in particular to stand out in it. Firstly, I asked
myself, which of the absurd, boyish, and extravagant threats which I
had uttered at random last night had made everybody so alarmed?
Secondly, what was the influence which this Frenchman appeared to
exercise over Polina? He had but to give the word, and at once she did
as he desired--at once she wrote me a note to beg of me to forbear! Of
course, the relations between the pair had, from the first, been 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 for,
even a contempt for--him, while, for his part, he had scarcely even
looked at her, but had behaved towards her always in the most churlish
fashion. Yes, I had noted that. Also, Polina herself had mentioned to
me her dislike for him, and delivered herself of some remarkable
confessions on the subject. Hence, he must have got her into his power
somehow--somehow he must be holding her as in a vice.
All at once, on the Promenade, as 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
"By no means. Not every one would consider such a fact to be of moment.
Indeed, I 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
you, and was therefore coming to pay you a visit."
"What a splendid fellow you are, Mr. Astley!" I cried, though still
wondering how he had come by his knowledge. "And since I have not yet
had my coffee, and you have, in all probability, scarcely tasted yours,
let us adjourn to the Casino Cafe, where we can sit and smoke and have
The cafe in question was only a hundred paces away; so, when coffee had
been brought, we seated ourselves, and I lit a cigarette. Astley was no
smoker, but, taking 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
contrary, to remain here."
"That I never doubted," he answered good-humouredly.
It is a curious fact that, on my way to see him, I had never even
thought of telling him of my love for Polina. In fact, I had purposely
meant to avoid any mention of the subject. Nor, during our stay in the
place, had I ever made aught but the scantiest reference to it. You
see, not only was Astley a man of great reserve, but also from the
first I had perceived that Polina had made a great impression upon him,
although he never spoke of her. But now, strangely enough, he had no
sooner seated himself and bent his steely gaze upon me, than, for some
reason or another, I 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 subject, and found it a pleasure to do so, even though this was the
first occasion on which I had referred to the matter. Indeed, when, at
certain moments, I perceived that my more ardent passages confused him,
I 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. Suddenly,
however, on my mentioning the Frenchman, he interrupted me, and
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).
"No, I fear not," I replied.
"And concerning this Marquis and Mlle. Polina you know nothing beyond
Again I was surprised that such a categorical question should come from
such a reserved individual.
"No, I know nothing FOR CERTAIN about them" was my reply. "No--nothing."
"Then you have done very wrong to speak of them to me, or even to
imagine things about them."
"Quite so, quite 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 outburst, of
my encounter with the Baron, of my dismissal, of the General's
extraordinary pusillanimity, and of the call which De Griers had that
morning paid me. In conclusion, I showed Astley the note which I had
"What do you make of it?" I asked. "When I met you I was just coming to
ask you your opinion. For myself, I could have killed this Frenchman,
and am not sure that I shall not do so even yet."
"I feel the same about it," said Mr. Astley. "As for Mlle.
Polina--well, you yourself know that, if necessity drives, one enters
into relation with people whom one simply detests. Even between this
couple there may be something which, though unknown to you, depends
upon extraneous circumstances. For, my own part, I think that you may
reassure yourself--or at all events partially. And as for Mlle.
Polina's proceedings of two days ago, they were, of course, strange;
not because she can have meant to get rid of you, or to earn for you a
thrashing from the Baron's cudgel (which for some curious reason, he
did not use, although he had it ready in his hands), but because such
proceedings on the part of such--well, of such a refined lady as Mlle.
Polina are, to say the least of it, unbecoming. But she cannot have
guessed that you would carry out her absurd wish to the letter?"
"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. Now, you have no right whatever to
be suspicious. It is not a right which I can for a moment recognise,
and I absolutely refuse to answer your questions."
"Enough! You need say no more," I cried with a strange emotion at my
heart, yet not altogether understanding what had aroused that emotion
in my breast. Indeed, when, where, and how could Polina have chosen
Astley to be one of her confidants? Of late I had come rather to
overlook him in this connection, even though Polina had always been a
riddle to me--so much so that now, when I had just permitted myself to
tell my friend of my infatuation in all its aspects, I had found myself
struck, during the very telling, with the fact that in my relations
with her I could specify nothing that was explicit, nothing that was
positive. On the contrary, my relations had been purely fantastic,
strange, and unreal; they had been unlike anything else that I could
"Very well, very well," I replied with a warmth equal to Astley's own.
"Then I stand confounded, and have no further opinions to offer. But
you are a good fellow, and I am glad to know what you think about it
all, even though I do not need your advice."
Then, after a pause, I resumed:
"For instance, what 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. Yes, HE, De Griers, has actually been playing
the suppliant to ME! And, mark you, although he came to me as early as
nine o'clock, he had ready-prepared in his hand Mlle. Polina's note.
When, I would ask, was 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 Frenchman,
since 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? Why, too, is 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 circumstance, he 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.
"Yes, I 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
"Well, my belief is that at the present moment Mlle. Blanche has, in
very truth, a special reason for wishing to avoid any trouble with the
Baron and the Baroness. It might lead not only to some unpleasantness,
but even to a scandal."
"Also I may tell you that Mlle. Blanche has been in Roulettenberg
before, for she was staying here three seasons ago. I myself was in the
place at the time, and in those days Mlle. Blanche was not known as
Mlle. de Cominges, nor was her mother, the Widow de Cominges, even in
existence. In any case no one ever mentioned the latter. De Griers,
too, had not materialised, and I am convinced that not only do the
parties stand in no relation to one another, but also they have not
long enjoyed one another's acquaintance. Likewise, the 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 invention, seeing that I have a friend who once met the
said 'Marquis' under a different name altogether."
"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 police, at the instance of the
Baroness, an invitation to leave the town. And she left it."
"Well, I must tell you that she first appeared here in company with an
Italian--a prince of some sort, a man who bore an historic name
(Barberini or something of the kind). The fellow was simply a mass of
rings and diamonds--real diamonds, too--and the couple used to drive
out in a marvellous carriage. At first Mlle. Blanche played 'trente et
quarante' with fair success, but, later, her 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 ensue, for one fine morning her
prince disappeared--horses, carriage, and all. Also, the 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 hotel, and 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 and, catlike, scratching her face with
her beautiful, scented nails produced upon him a strong impression. So
the pair had a talk together, and, by luncheon time, she was consoled.
Indeed, that evening the couple entered the Casino arm-in-arm--Mlle.
Zelma laughing loudly, according to her custom, and showing even more
expansiveness in her manners than she had before shown. For instance,
she 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
tables, push their fellow-players roughly aside. Doubtless you have
"Well, they 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 so, they receive an invitation to depart).
However, Mlle. Zelma continued to change notes of this kind, but her
play grew more and more unsuccessful, despite the fact that such
ladies' luck is frequently good, for they have a surprising amount of
cash at their disposal. Suddenly, the Count too disappeared, even as
the Prince had done, and 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;
whereupon, after staking and losing her last louis d'or she chanced to
look around her, and saw standing by her side the Baron Burmergelm, who
had been eyeing her with fixed disapproval. To his distaste, however,
Mlle. paid no attention, but, turning to him with her well-known smile,
requested him to stake, on her behalf, ten 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 details, the reason is that I
had them from a relative of mine who, later that evening, drove Mlle.
Zelma in his carriage from Roulettenberg to Spa. Now, mark you, Mlle.
wants to become Madame General, in order that, in future, she 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 because, according to the signs, she is lending money to other
players. Yes, that is a much more paying game. I even suspect that the
unfortunate General is himself in her debt, as well as, perhaps, also
De Griers. Or, it may be that the latter has entered into a partnership
with her. Consequently you yourself will see that, until the marriage
shall have been consummated, Mlle. would scarcely like to have the
attention of the Baron and the Baroness drawn to herself. In short, to
any one in her position, a scandal would be most detrimental. You form
a member of the menage of these people; wherefore, any 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
"No, I 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 me, Mr. Astley, why, if you knew this history
all along, and, consequently, always knew who this Mlle. Blanche is,
you never warned either myself or the General, nor, most of all, Mlle.
Polina" (who is accustomed to appear in the Casino--in public
everywhere with Mlle. Blanche). "How could you do it?"
"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 not, the 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 riding, splendidly
mounted, with De Griers, while the General was careering in their wake
on a roan horse. He had said, that morning, that his legs were hurting
him, yet his riding-seat was easy enough. As he passed I looked at him,
and the thought occurred to me that he was a man lost for ever.
However, it is no affair of mine, for 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 questions, however sincere be my liking for
"Enough," I said, rising. "To me it is as clear as day that Mlle.
Polina knows all about this Mlle. Blanche, but cannot bring herself to
part with her Frenchman; wherefore, she 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. Yes, it 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 it, but I was left no
choice in the matter."
"You forget, in the first place, that this Mlle. de Cominges is the
General's inamorata, and, in the second place, that Mlle. Polina, the
General's step-daughter, has a younger brother and sister who, though
they are the General's own children, are completely neglected by this
madman, and robbed as well."
"Yes, yes; that is so. For me to go and desert the children now would
mean their total abandonment; whereas, if I remain, I should be able to
defend their interests, and, perhaps, to save a moiety of their
property. Yes, yes; that is quite true. And yet, and yet--Oh, I 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 die, yet concerning whom
they are for ever expecting telegrams to notify the fact of her death."
"Ah, then of course their interests centre around her. It is a question
of succession. Let that but be settled, and the General will marry,
Mlle. Polina will be set free, and De Griers--"
"Yes, and De Griers?"
"Will be repaid his money, which 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.
"But, I do, I do!" I shouted in my fury. "He is waiting also for the
old woman's will, for the reason that it awards Mlle. Polina a dowry.
As soon as ever the money is received, she 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 alone, and plunged in thought. All
this was pre-ordained and foretold, and 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 moment, we were approaching my hotel. We had left the cafe long
ago, without even noticing that we had done so.
"Yes, I DID hear a woman's voice calling, but 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
settee, the 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
"But why should she be calling ME? Hear her calling again! See! She is
beckoning to us!"
"Yes, so she is," assented Mr. Astley.
"Alexis Ivanovitch, Alexis Ivanovitch! Good heavens, what a stupid
fellow!" came in a despairing wail from the verandah.
We had almost reached the portico, and I was just setting foot upon the
space before it, when my hands fell to my sides in limp astonishment,
and my feet glued themselves to the pavement!
For on the topmost tier of the hotel verandah, after being carried up
the steps in an armchair amid a bevy of footmen, maid-servants, and
other menials of the hotel, headed by the landlord (that functionary
had actually run out to meet a visitor who arrived with so much stir
and din, attended by her own retinue, and accompanied by so great a
pile of trunks and portmanteaux)--on the topmost tier of the verandah,
I say, there was sitting--THE GRANDMOTHER! Yes, it was she--rich, and
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 dying, yet not dying--who had, in her own person, descended 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 brisk, aggressive, self-satisfied, bolt-upright,
loudly imperious, and generally abusive as ever. In fact, she looked
exactly as she had on the only two occasions when I had seen her since
my appointment to the General's household. Naturally enough, I 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 (which, as usual, after hearing
once, she 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 us, and
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
"My good sir," the old woman continued in a stentorian voice, "what are
you standing THERE for, with 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 who, dressed in a frock coat and white waistcoat, had a
bald, red 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! Yes, and after sending hosts of
telegrams to know if I were dead or not! Yes, yes, I have heard the
whole story. I am very much alive, though, as you may see."
"Pardon me, Antonida 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 so, seeing how
"WHY should you be astonished? I just got into my chair, and came.
Things are quiet enough in the train, for there is no one there to
chatter. Have you been out for a walk?"
"Yes. I have just been to the Casino."
"Oh? Well, it is quite nice here," she went on as she looked about her.
"The place seems comfortable, and all the trees are out. I like it very
well. Are your people at home? Is the General, for instance, indoors?"
"Yes; and probably all of them."
"Do they observe the convenances, and keep up appearances? Such things
always give one tone. I have heard that they are keeping a carriage,
even as Russian gentlefolks ought to do. When abroad, our Russian
people always cut a dash. Is Prascovia here too?"
"Yes. Polina Alexandrovna is here."
"And the Frenchwoman? However, I will go and look for them myself. Tell
me the nearest way to their rooms. Do you like being here?"
"Yes, I thank you, Antonida Vassilievna."
"And you, Potapitch, you go and tell that fool of a landlord to reserve
me a suitable suite of rooms. They must be handsomely decorated, and
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
"A Mr. Astley," I replied.
"And who is Mr. Astley?"
"A fellow-traveller, and my very good friend, as well as an
acquaintance of the General's."
"Oh, an Englishman? Then that is why he stared at me without even
opening his lips. However, I like Englishmen. Now, take me upstairs,
direct to their rooms. Where are they lodging?"
Madame was lifted up in her chair by the lacqueys, and I preceded her
up the grand staircase. Our progress was exceedingly effective, for
everyone whom we met stopped to stare at the cortege. It happened that
the hotel had the reputation of being the best, the most expensive, and
the most aristocratic in all the spa, and 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--namely, that the old lady was an
influential foreigner, a Russian, a Countess, and a grande dame, and
that she had taken the suite which, during the previous week, had 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 eye, after first of all interrogating me about him or her
at the top of her voice. She was stout of figure, and, though she could
not leave her chair, one felt, the moment that one first looked at her,
that she was also tall of stature. Her back was as straight as a board,
and never did she lean back in her seat. Also, her large grey head,
with its keen, rugged features, remained always erect as she glanced
about her in an imperious, challenging sort of way, with looks and
gestures that clearly were unstudied. Though she had reached her
seventy-sixth year, her face was still fresh, and her teeth had not
decayed. Lastly, she was dressed in a black silk gown and white mobcap.
"She interests me tremendously," whispered Mr. Astley as, still
smoking, he walked by my side. Meanwhile I was reflecting that probably
the old lady knew all about the telegrams, and even about De Griers,
though little or nothing about Mlle. Blanche. I said as much to Mr.
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 fashions.
Our party was lodging on the third floor. Without knocking at the door,
or in any way announcing our presence, I threw open the portals, and
the Grandmother was borne through them in triumph. As though of set
purpose, the whole party chanced at that moment to be assembled in the
General's study. The time was eleven o'clock, and it seemed that an
outing of some sort (at which a portion of the party were to drive in
carriages, and others to ride on horseback, accompanied by one or two
extraneous acquaintances) was being planned. The General was present,
and also Polina, the children, the latter's nurses, De Griers, Mlle.
Blanche (attired in a riding-habit), her mother, the young Prince, and
a learned German whom I beheld for the first time. Into the midst of
this assembly the lacqueys conveyed Madame in her chair, and set her
down within three paces of the General!
Good heavens! Never shall I forget the spectacle which ensued! Just
before our entry, the General had been holding forth to the company,
with De Griers in support of him. I may also mention that, for the last
two or three days, Mlle. Blanche and De Griers had been making a great
deal of the young Prince, under the very nose of the poor General. In
short, the company, though decorous and conventional, was in a gay,
familiar mood. But no sooner did the Grandmother appear than the
General stopped dead in the middle of a word, and, with jaw dropping,
stared hard at the old lady--his eyes almost starting out of his head,
and his expression as spellbound as though he had just seen a basilisk.
In return, the Grandmother stared at him silently and without
moving--though with a look of mingled challenge, triumph, and ridicule
in her eyes. For ten seconds did the pair remain thus eyeing one
another, amid the profound silence of the company; and even De Griers
sat petrified--an extraordinary look of uneasiness dawning on his face.
As for Mlle. Blanche, she too stared wildly at the Grandmother, with
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. Presently, however, she too
turned as white as a sheet, and then reddened to her temples. Truly the
Grandmother's arrival seemed to be a catastrophe for everybody! For my
own part, I stood looking from the Grandmother to the company, and back
again, while Mr. Astley, as usual, remained in the background, and
gazed calmly and decorously at the scene.
"Well, here I am--and instead of a telegram, too!" the Grandmother at
last ejaculated, to dissipate the silence. "What? You were not
"Antonida Vassilievna! O my dearest mother! But how on earth did you,
did you--?" The mutterings of the unhappy General died away.
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. "Why, I 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. Oh, I know ALL about the telegrams which you have been
dispatching. They must have cost you a pretty sum, I should think, for
telegrams are not sent from abroad for nothing. Well, I picked up my
heels, and came here. Who is this Frenchman? Monsieur de Griers, I
"Oui, madame," assented De Griers. "Et, croyez, je suis si enchante!
Votre sante--c'est un miracle vous voir ici. Une surprise charmante!"
"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 on, turning towards Mlle. Blanche.
Evidently the Frenchwoman looked so becoming in her riding-habit, with
her whip in her hand, that she had made an impression upon the old
lady. "Who is that woman there?"
"Mlle. de Cominges," I said. "And this is her mother, Madame de
Cominges. They also are staying in the hotel."
"Is the daughter married?" asked the old lady, without the least
semblance of ceremony.
"No," I replied as respectfully as possible, but under my breath.
"Is she good company?"
I failed to understand the question.
"I mean, is she or is she not a bore? Can she speak Russian? When this
De Griers was in Moscow he soon learnt to make himself understood."
I explained to the old lady that Mlle. Blanche had never visited Russia.
"Bonjour, then," said Madame, with sudden brusquerie.
"Bonjour, madame," replied Mlle. Blanche with an elegant, ceremonious
bow as, under cover of an unwonted modesty, she endeavoured to express,
both in face and figure, her extreme surprise at such strange behaviour
on the part of the Grandmother.
"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 General, and
continued: "I have taken up my abode here, so am going to be your
next-door neighbour. Are you glad to hear that, or are you not?"
"My dear mother, believe me when I say that I am sincerely delighted,"
returned the General, who had now, to a certain extent, recovered his
senses; and inasmuch as, when occasion arose, he could speak with
fluency, gravity, and a certain effect, he set himself to be expansive
in his remarks, and 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--"
"Fibs, fibs!" interrupted the Grandmother.
"How on earth, too, did you come to decide upon the journey?" continued
the General, with raised voice as he hurried to overlook the old lady's
last remark. "Surely, at your age, and in your present state of health,
the thing is so unexpected that our surprise is at least intelligible.
However, I am glad to see you (as indeed, are we all"--he said this
with a dignified, yet conciliatory, smile), "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 journey, you ask? Well, is 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
"And how are YOU, Grandmother?" replied Polina, as 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 me, and 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. Well, he did
me a great deal of good, for on the third day I broke into a sweat, and
was able to leave my bed. Then my German doctors held another
consultation, put on their spectacles, and told me that if I would go
abroad, and take a course of the waters, the indisposition would
finally pass away. 'Why should it not?' I thought to myself. So I had
got things ready, and on the following day, a Friday, set out for here.
I occupied a special compartment in the train, and 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 them, my
good sir? I thought that everything of yours had been mortgaged? This
Frenchman alone must be your creditor for a good deal. Oh, I know all
about it, all about it."
"I-I am surprised at you, my dearest mother," said the General in some
confusion. "I-I am greatly surprised. But I do not need any extraneous
control of my finances. Moreover, my expenses do not exceed my income,
"They do not exceed it? Fie! Why, you are robbing your children of
their last kopeck--you, their guardian!"
"After this," said the General, completely taken aback, "--after what
you have just said, I do not know whether--"
"You do not know what? By heavens, are you never going to drop that
roulette of yours? Are you going to whistle all your property away?"
This made such an impression upon the General that he almost choked
"Roulette, indeed? I play roulette? Really, in view of my
position--Recollect what you are saying, my dearest mother. You must
still be unwell."
"Rubbish, rubbish!" 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. Prascovia, tell me
what there is to be seen here; and do you, Alexis Ivanovitch, show me
everything; and do you, Potapitch, make me a list of excursions. What
IS there to be seen?" again she inquired of Polina.
"There is a ruined castle, and the Shlangenberg."
"The Shlangenberg? What is it? A forest?"
"No, a 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 Theodosia, the nursemaid, approached the old lady with
the General's children.
"No, I DON'T want to see them," said the Grandmother. "I hate kissing
children, for their noses are always wet. How are you getting on,
"I am very well, thank you, Madame," replied the nursemaid. "And how is
your ladyship? We have been feeling so anxious about you!"
"Yes, I know, you simple soul--But who are those other guests?" the old
lady continued, turning again to Polina. "For instance, who is that old
rascal in the spectacles?"
"Prince Nilski, Grandmamma," whispered Polina.
"Oh, a Russian? Why, I had no idea that he could understand me! Surely
he did not hear what I said? As for Mr. Astley, I have seen him
already, and 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 something,
for goodness' sake! Translate to him, Polina."
Polina did so.
"I have only to say," replied Mr. Astley gravely, but also with
alacrity, "that I am indeed glad to see you in such good health." This
was interpreted to the Grandmother, and she seemed much gratified.
"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. Polina, translate to
him that I am staying in rooms on a lower floor. Yes, on a lower
floor," she repeated to Astley, pointing downwards with her finger.
Astley looked pleased at receiving the invitation.
Next, the old lady scanned Polina, from head to foot with minute
"I could almost have liked you, Prascovia," 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?"
"No, Grandmamma. It is my own."
"Well, well. 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 walk, yet I always have to ride. Are you still in a bad
temper?" she added to the General.
"No, indeed," rejoined the now mollified General.
"I quite understand that at your time of life--"
"Cette vieille est tombee en enfance," De Griers whispered to me.
"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--yes, and Polina and Monsieur de
Griers too--we all of us hope to have the pleasure of escorting you."
"Mais, madame, cela sera un plaisir," De Griers commented with a
"'Plaisir' indeed! Why, I 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 now, to 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 cudgel, and De Griers seeming to be
plunged in thought. Endeavouring to be left behind, Mlle. Blanche next
thought better of it, and followed the rest, with the Prince in her
wake. Only the German savant and Madame de Cominges did not leave the
At spas--and, probably, all over Europe--hotel landlords and managers
are guided in their allotment of rooms to visitors, not so much by the
wishes and requirements of those visitors, as by their personal
estimate of the same. It may also be said that these landlords and
managers seldom make a mistake. To the Grandmother, however, our
landlord, for 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 rooms, with bathroom,
servants' quarters, a separate room for her maid, and 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 occupant, as an excuse for raising the price of these
apartments. The Grandmother had herself carried--or, rather,
wheeled--through each room in turn, in order that she might subject the
whole to a close and attentive scrutiny; while the landlord--an
elderly, bald-headed man--walked respectfully by her side.
What every one took the Grandmother to be I do not know, but it
appeared, at least, that she was accounted a person not only of great
importance, but also, and still more, of great wealth; and without
delay they entered her in the hotel register as "Madame la Generale,
Princesse de Tarassevitcheva," although she had never been a princess
in her life. Her retinue, her reserved compartment in the train, her
pile of unnecessary trunks, portmanteaux, and strong-boxes, all helped
to increase her prestige; while her wheeled chair, her sharp tone and
voice, her eccentric questions (put with an air of the most overbearing
and unbridled imperiousness), her whole figure--upright, rugged, and
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 that, with finger extended towards some article of
furniture, she might ply the respectfully smiling, yet secretly
apprehensive, landlord with unexpected questions. She addressed them to
him in French, although her pronunciation of the language was so bad
that sometimes I had to translate them. For the most part, the
landlord's answers were unsatisfactory, and failed to please her; nor
were the questions themselves of a practical nature, but related,
generally, to God knows what.
For instance, on one occasion she halted before a picture which, a poor
copy of a well-known original, had 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 here, yet 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 reply,
despite 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 afar, and had
commanded, for some reason or another, to be brought to her. Finally,
she inquired of the landlord what was the value of the carpet in her
bedroom, as well as where the said carpet had been manufactured; but,
the landlord could do no more than promise to make inquiries.
"What donkeys these people are!" she commented. Next, she turned her
attention to the bed.
"What a huge counterpane!" she exclaimed. "Turn it back, please." The
lacqueys did so.
"Further yet, further yet," the old lady cried. "Turn it RIGHT back.
Also, take off those pillows and bolsters, and lift up the feather bed."
The bed was opened for her inspection.
"Mercifully it contains no bugs," she remarked.
"Pull off the whole thing, and 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 Ivanovitch, come 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 account."
"Because, the other day, there arrived from Berlin a German and his
wife--persons of some importance; and, it chanced that, when taking a
walk, I spoke to them in German without having properly compassed the
"Yes: and this action on my part the Baron held to be an insult, and
complained about it to the General, who yesterday dismissed me from his
"But I suppose you must have threatened that precious Baron, or
something of the kind? However, even if you did so, it was a matter of
"No, I 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 thus, you nincompoop,
and to dismiss him from his post? You are a blockhead--an utter
blockhead! I can see that clearly."
"Do not alarm yourself, my 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. Moreover, Alexis Ivanovitch
has not given you a true account of the matter."
"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 doing so."
"And WHY did you so protest?" she inquired of the General. Then she
turned to the landlord, and questioned him as to whether HE would not
have fought a duel, if 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 departed, though he could
not have understood the Grandmother's compliment.
"Pardon me, Madame," the General continued with a sneer, "but are duels
"Why not? All men are crowing cocks, and that is why they quarrel. YOU,
though, I perceive, are 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 two, for I shall need only to be carried upstairs. On
the level or in the street I can be WHEELED along. Go and tell them
that, and pay them in advance, so that they may show me some respect.
You too, Potapitch, are always to come with me, and YOU, Alexis
Ivanovitch, are to point out to me this Baron as we go along, in order
that I may get a squint at the precious 'Von.' And where is that
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 salons, whether many people played in them,
whether those people played a whole day at a time, and 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 herself, since 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 me, Alexis Ivanovitch."
"What, mother? Before you have so much as rested from your journey?"
the General inquired with some solicitude. Also, for some reason which
I could not divine, he seemed to be growing nervous; and, indeed, the
whole party was evincing signs of confusion, and 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 Casino, where, very likely, she would perpetrate further
eccentricities, and in public too! Yet on their own initiative they had
offered to escort her!
"Why should I rest?" she retorted. "I am not tired, for I have been
sitting still these past five days. Let us see what your medicinal
springs and waters are like, and where they are situated. What, too,
about that, that--what did you call it, Prascovia?--oh, about that
"Yes, we are going to see it, Grandmamma."
"Very well. Is there anything else for me to see here?"
"Yes! Quite a number of things," Polina forced herself to say.
"Martha, YOU must come with me as well," went on the old lady to her
"No, no, mother!" ejaculated the General. "Really she cannot come. They
would not admit even Potapitch to the Casino."
"Rubbish! Because she is my servant, is that a reason for turning her
out? Why, she 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 home, then, and you will
be asked no questions. A pretty General YOU are, to be sure! I am a
general's widow myself. But, after all, why 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.
Indeed, he launched out into a perfect shower of charming phrases
concerning the pleasure of acting as her cicerone, and so forth. Every
one was touched with his words.
"Mais elle est tombee en enfance," he added aside to the General.
"Seule, elle fera des betises." More than this I could not overhear,
but 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 verst, and our route led us
through the Chestnut Avenue until we reached the square directly
fronting the building. The General, I could see, was a trifle reassured
by the fact that, though our progress was distinctly eccentric in its
nature, it was, at least, correct and orderly. As a matter of fact, the
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 smiling, modestly jesting, and, in
short, making 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 me, as he walked by my side, that he
looked for much to happen that morning. Behind the old lady's chair
marched Potapitch and Martha--Potapitch in his frockcoat and white
waistcoat, with a cloak over all, and the forty-year-old and rosy, but
slightly grey-headed, Martha in a mobcap, cotton dress, and squeaking
shoes. Frequently the old lady would twist herself round to converse
with these servants. As for De Griers, he 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 General, with whom he
appeared to have held a conference). But, alas, the 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 lightly, the General knew
his mother better. Also, I 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 Avenue, where they had turned back and
Into the Casino we marched in triumph. At once, both 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 time, the Grandmother gave orders that she should be
wheeled through every room in the establishment; of which apartments
she praised a few, while to others she remained indifferent. Concerning
everything, however, she asked questions. Finally we reached the
gaming-salons, where a lacquey who was, acting as guard over the doors,
flung 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 tables, and at the further end
of the room where the trente-et-quarante table was set out, there may
have been gathered from 150 to 200 gamblers, ranged in several rows.
Those who had succeeded in pushing their way to the tables were
standing with their feet firmly planted, in 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). True, chairs were provided around the
tables, but 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; and, therefore, of 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 row, in 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 hand, the police of the Casino were an able body of men;
and though to escape the crush was an impossibility, however much one
might wish it, the eight croupiers apportioned to each table kept an
eye upon the stakes, performed the necessary reckoning, and decided
disputes as they arose.
In the last resort they always called in the Casino police, and 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 swindlers, who simply swanned in the
roulette salons, and reaped a rich harvest. Indeed, in every direction
money was being filched from pockets or purses--though, of course, if
the attempt miscarried, a great uproar ensued. One had only to approach
a roulette table, begin to play, and then openly grab some one else's
winnings, for a din to be raised, and the thief to start vociferating
that the stake was HIS; and, if the coup had been carried out with
sufficient skill, and the witnesses wavered at all in their testimony,
the 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.
Moreover, if it were a stake of insignificant size, its true owner
would sometimes decline to continue the dispute, rather than become
involved in a scandal. Conversely, if the thief was detected, he was
ignominiously expelled the building.
Upon all this the Grandmother gazed with open-eyed curiosity; and, on
some thieves happening to be turned out of the place, she was
delighted. Trente-et-quarante interested her but little; she preferred
roulette, with its ever-revolving wheel. At length she expressed a wish
to view the game closer; whereupon in some mysterious manner, the
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 crush, at the very centre of one of the tables, and 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 table, in order to watch the old lady from among
the ranks of the gamblers. Many a lorgnette I saw turned in her
direction, and 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 who, though unable to walk, desired to
play was not an everyday phenomenon. I too pressed forward towards the
table, and ranged myself by the Grandmother's side; while Martha and
Potapitch remained somewhere in the background among the crowd, and the
General, Polina, and De Griers, with Mlle. Blanche, also remained
hidden among the spectators.
At first the old lady did no more than watch the gamblers, and ply me,
in a half-whisper, with sharp-broken questions as to who was so-and-so.
Especially did her favour light upon a very young man who was plunging
heavily, and had won (so it was whispered) as much as 40,000 francs,
which 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
hand, as he kept winning and winning, and raking and raking in his
gains. Around him lacqueys fussed--placing chairs just behind where he
was standing--and clearing the spectators from his vicinity, so that he
should have more room, and not be crowded--the whole done, of course,
in 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 violent, but respectful, agitation, who, also in expectation
of a generous largesse, kept whispering to him at intervals (probably
telling him what to stake, and advising and directing his play). Yet
never once did the player throw him a glance as he staked and staked,
and raked in his winnings. Evidently, the player in question was dead
to all besides.
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 stop, and to take his money with him, and go
home. Presently he will be losing--yes, losing everything that he has
now won." She seemed almost breathless with excitement.
"Where is Potapitch?" she continued. "Send Potapitch to speak to him.
No, YOU must tell him, you must tell him,"--here she nudged me
again--"for I have not the least notion where Potapitch is. Sortez,
sortez," she shouted to the young man, until I leant over in her
direction and whispered in her ear that no shouting was allowed, nor
even loud speaking, since to do so disturbed the calculations of the
players, and 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
On the left, among the players at the other half of the table, a young
lady was playing, with, beside her, a 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 occasions,
since, everyday, she entered the Casino at one o'clock precisely, and
departed at two--thus playing for exactly one hour. Being well-known to
the attendants, she always had a seat provided for her; and, taking
some gold and a few thousand-franc notes out of her pocket--would begin
quietly, coldly, and after much calculation, to stake, and mark down
the figures in pencil on a paper, as though striving to work out a
system according to which, at given moments, the odds might group
themselves. Always she staked large coins, and either lost or won one,
two, or three thousand francs a day, but not more; after which she
would depart. The Grandmother took a long look at her.
"THAT woman is not losing," she said. "To whom does she belong? Do you
know her? Who is she?"
"She is, I believe, a Frenchwoman," I replied.
"Ah! A bird of passage, evidently. Besides, I can see that she has her
shoes polished. Now, explain to me the meaning of each round in the
game, and 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," with, lastly, the different values in the system of numbers.
The Grandmother listened attentively, took notes, put questions in
various forms, and laid the whole thing to heart. Indeed, since an
example of each system of stakes kept constantly occurring, a great
deal of information could be assimilated with ease and celerity. The
Grandmother was vastly pleased.
"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
figure, everything lying on the table becomes the absolute property of
the bank. Also, whenever the wheel has begun to turn, the 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 stake."
"Why thirty-five times, when 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 thirty-six."
"Rubbish! Potapitch, Potapitch! Come here, and I will give you some
money." The old lady took out of her pocket a tightly-clasped purse,
and extracted from its depths a ten-gulden piece. "Go at once, and
stake that upon zero."
"But, Madame, zero has only this moment turned up," I remonstrated;
"wherefore, it may not do so again for ever so long. Wait a little, and
you may then have a better chance."
"Rubbish! Stake, please."
"Pardon me, but zero might not turn up again until, say, tonight, even
though you had staked thousands upon it. It often happens so."
"Rubbish, rubbish! Who fears the wolf should never enter the forest.
What? We have lost? Then stake again."
A second ten-gulden piece did we lose, and then I put down a third. The
Grandmother could scarcely remain seated in her chair, so intent was
she upon the little ball as it leapt through the notches of the
ever-revolving wheel. However, the 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
Ivanovitch, stake TWO golden pieces this time. The moment we cease to
stake, that cursed zero will come turning up, and we shall get nothing."
"My good Madame--"
"Stake, stake! 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 petrified, with my hand convulsively clutched
"Zero!" called the croupier.
"There! You see, you see!" cried the old lady, as she turned and faced
me, wreathed in smiles. "I told you so! It was the Lord God himself who
suggested to me to stake those two coins. Now, how much ought I to
receive? Why do they not pay it out to me? Potapitch! Martha! Where are
they? What has become of our party? Potapitch, Potapitch!"
"Presently, Madame," I whispered. "Potapitch is outside, and 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
coins, sealed in blue paper, and containing fifty ten gulden pieces,
together with an unsealed packet containing another twenty. I handed
the whole to the old lady in a money-shovel.
"Faites le jeu, messieurs! Faites le jeu, messieurs! Rien ne va plus,"
proclaimed the croupier as once more he invited the company to stake,
and prepared to turn the wheel.
"We shall be too late! He is going to spin again! Stake, stake!" The
Grandmother was in a perfect fever. "Do not hang back! Be quick!" She
seemed almost beside herself, and nudged me as hard as she could.
"Upon what shall I stake, Madame?"
"Upon zero, upon zero! Again upon zero! Stake as much as ever you can.
How much have we got? Seventy ten-gulden pieces? We shall not miss
them, so stake twenty pieces at a time."
"Think a moment, Madame. Sometimes zero does not turn up for two
hundred rounds in succession. I assure you that you may lose all your
"You are wrong--utterly wrong. Stake, I 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? Monsieur, monsieur--" here
she nudged the croupier who was sitting on her left, and preparing to
spin--"combien zero? Douze? Douze?"
I hastened to translate.
"Oui, Madame," 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!
"Again, again, again! Stake again!" shouted the old lady. Without
attempting to oppose her further, but merely shrugging my shoulders, I
placed twelve more ten-gulden pieces upon the table. The wheel whirled
around and around, with the Grandmother simply quaking as she watched
"Does she again think that zero is going to be the winning coup?"
thought I, as 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 of triumph.
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 shaking, and 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 surprising, seeing that, only three days ago, I
myself had been a witness to zero turning up THREE TIMES IN SUCCESSION,
so 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
With the Grandmother, as with any one who has won a very large sum, the
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 gold, and 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 (indeed, she
seemed perfectly calm), she was trembling inwardly from head to foot.
At length, completely absorbed in the game, she burst out:
"Alexis Ivanovitch, did not the croupier just say that 4000 florins
were the most that could be staked at any one time? Well, take these
4000, and 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 the other 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 here, and count the bank notes. Enough! Let us go
home. Wheel my chair away."
THE chair, with the old lady beaming in it, was wheeled away towards
the doors at the further end of the salon, while our party hastened to
crowd around her, and to offer her their congratulations. In fact,
eccentric as was her conduct, it 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 woman, but, smiling in a
condescending, cheerfully familiar way, as though he were soothing a
child, he offered his greetings to the old lady. At the same time, both
he and the rest of the spectators were visibly impressed. Everywhere
people kept pointing to the Grandmother, and talking about her. Many
people even walked beside her chair, in order to view her the better
while, at a little distance, Astley was carrying on a conversation on
the subject with two English acquaintances of his. De Griers was simply
overflowing with smiles and compliments, and a number of fine ladies
were staring at the Grandmother as though she had been something
"Quelle victoire!" exclaimed De Griers.
"Mais, Madame, c'etait du feu!" added Mlle. Blanche with an elusive
"Yes, I 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
roubles, I think?"
However, I calculated that the sum would exceed seven thousand
roubles--or, at the present rate of exchange, even eight thousand.
"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 it, Madame?" Martha exclaimed ecstatically. "Eight
"And I am going to give you fifty gulden apiece. There they are."
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 gold, Alexis Ivanovitch. But why is this footman bowing
to me, and that other man as well? Are they congratulating me? Well,
let 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 who, dressed in a
shabby frockcoat and coloured waistcoat, kept taking off his cap, and
"Give him ten gulden," said the Grandmother. "No, give him twenty. Now,
enough of that, or I shall never get done with you all. Take a moment's
rest, and then carry me away. Prascovia, I mean to buy a new dress for
you tomorrow. Yes, and for you too, Mlle. Blanche. Please translate,
"Merci, Madame," 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 confused, and seemed
greatly relieved when we reached the Avenue.
"How surprised Theodosia too will be!" went on the Grandmother
(thinking of the General's nursemaid). "She, like yourselves, shall
have the price of a new gown. Here, Alexis 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 mind, never mind. Give him a gulden."
I approached the beggar in question, and handed him the coin. Looking
at me in great astonishment, he silently accepted the gulden, while
from his person there proceeded a strong smell of liquor.
"Have you never tried your luck, Alexis 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 gulden, Madame."
"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 him, but he said nothing, and De Griers contented
himself by scowling.
"Que diable!" he whispered to the General. "C'est une terrible vieille."
"Look! Another beggar, another beggar!" exclaimed the grandmother.
"Alexis Ivanovitch, go 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 two, and eyed me threateningly.
"Was ist der Teufel!" he cried, and appended thereto a round dozen of
"The man is a perfect fool!" exclaimed the Grandmother, waving her
hand. "Move on now, for 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
here, and grow sour, and let me look at you?"
"Madame," said De Griers confidentially, "les chances peuvent tourner.
Une seule mauvaise chance, et 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 home, and meeting the landlord on the staircase, the
Grandmother called him to her side, and boasted to him of her
winnings--thereafter doing the same to Theodosia, and conferring upon
her thirty gulden; after which she bid her serve luncheon. The meal
over, Theodosia and Martha broke into a joint flood of ecstasy.
"I was watching you all the time, Madame," quavered Martha, "and I
asked Potapitch what mistress was trying to do. And, my 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 it, and
other gentlefolk sitting down. So, I asked Potapitch where all these
gentry had come from; for, thought I, maybe the Holy Mother of God will
help our mistress among them. Yes, I prayed for you, Madame, and my
heart died within me, so that I kept trembling and trembling. The Lord
be with her, I 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
"Alexis Ivanovitch," said the old lady, "after luncheon,--that is to
say, about four o'clock--get ready to go out with me again. But in the
meanwhile, good-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 (with, of course,
resultant 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 first, since, though the Grandmother had twice declared that she
did not intend to give the General any money, that declaration was not
a complete ground for the abandonment of hope. Certainly De Griers,
who, with the General, was up to the neck in the affair, had not wholly
lost courage; and I felt sure that Mlle. Blanche also--Mlle. Blanche
who was not only as deeply involved as the other two, but also
expectant of becoming Madame General and an important legatee--would
not lightly surrender the position, but would use her every resource of
coquetry upon the old lady, in order to afford a contrast to the
impetuous Polina, who was difficult to understand, and lacked the art
Yet now, when the Grandmother had just performed an astonishing feat at
roulette; now, when the old lady's personality had been so clearly and
typically revealed as that of a rugged, arrogant woman who was "tombee
en enfance"; now, when everything appeared to be lost,--why, now the
Grandmother was as merry as a child which plays with thistle-down.
"Good Lord!" I thought with, may God forgive me, a most malicious
smile, "every ten-gulden piece which the Grandmother staked must have
raised a blister on the General's heart, and maddened De Griers, and
driven Mlle. de Cominges almost to frenzy with the sight of this spoon
dangling before her lips." Another factor is the circumstance that even
when, overjoyed at winning, the Grandmother was distributing alms right
and left, and taking every one to be a beggar, she 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 point, and
was sure of it. Yes, danger loomed ahead.
All these thoughts passed through my mind during the few moments that,
having left the old lady's rooms, I was ascending to my own room on the
top storey. What most struck me was the fact that, though I had divined
the chief, the stoutest, threads which united the various actors in the
drama, I had, until now, been ignorant of the methods and secrets of
the game. For Polina had never been completely open with me. Although,
on occasions, it had happened that involuntarily, as it were, she had
revealed to me something of her heart, I had noticed that in most
cases--in fact, nearly always--she had either laughed away these
revelations, or grown confused, or purposely imparted to them a false
guise. Yes, she must have concealed a great deal from me. But, I had a
presentiment that now the end of this strained and mysterious situation
was approaching. Another stroke, and all would be finished and exposed.
Of my own fortunes, interested though I was in the affair, I took no
account. I was in the strange position of possessing but two hundred
gulden, of being at a loose end, of lacking both a post, the means of
subsistence, a shred of hope, and any plans for the future, yet 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 denouement, and 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 come, or if to hope that she would ever do so was an unthinkable
absurdity--why, then 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 presence, and within the circle of her light
and splendour--to be there now, and forever, and 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 me, and then beckoned me to her.
"Hush! Not so loud."
"Something startled me just now," I whispered, "and I looked round, and
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 words, she was so preoccupied), "and hand it personally to Mr.
Astley. Go as quickly as ever you can, please. No answer will be
required. He himself--" She did not finish her sentence.
"To Mr. Astley?" I asked, in some astonishment.
But she had vanished again.
Aha! So the two were carrying on a correspondence! However, I set off
to search for Astley--first at his hotel, and then at the Casino, where
I went the round of the salons in vain. At length, vexed, and almost in
despair, I 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 stop, I handed him the letter. We had barely time even to look
at one another, but I suspected that it was of set purpose that he
restarted his horse so quickly.
Was jealousy, then, gnawing at me? At all events, I felt exceedingly
depressed, despite the fact that I had no desire to ascertain what the
correspondence was about. To think that HE should be her confidant! "My
friend, mine 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 up, for it was becoming unpleasantly complex.
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 himself, De Griers, and Mlle.
Blanche, but not Mlle.'s mother, who was a person whom her reputed
daughter used only for show purposes, since in all matters of business
the daughter fended for herself, and it is unlikely that the mother
knew anything about them.
Some very heated discussion was in progress, and meanwhile the door of
the study was open--an unprecedented circumstance. As I approached the
portals I could hear loud voices raised, for mingled with the pert,
venomous accents of De Griers were Mlle. Blanche's excited, impudently
abusive tongue and the General's plaintive wail as, apparently, he
sought to justify himself in something. But on my appearance every one
stopped speaking, and tried to put a better face upon matters. De
Griers smoothed his hair, and twisted his angry face into a smile--into
the mean, studiedly polite French smile which I so detested; while the
downcast, perplexed 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 countenance, but bent her
gaze upon me with an air of impatient expectancy. I may remark that
hitherto she had treated me with absolute superciliousness, and, so far
from answering my salutations, had always ignored them.
"Alexis Ivanovitch," began the General in a tone of affectionate
upbraiding, "may I say to you that I find it strange, exceedingly
strange, that--In short, your conduct towards myself and my family-- In
a word, your--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 monsieur, notre general se trompe. What he means to say is that he
warns you--he begs of you most earnestly--not to ruin him. I use the
"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 lady, a 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-table, but, of sheer perversity and temper, will stake her
all, and 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 heirs, for 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 sum, or, maybe, her whole fortune, what will
become of us--of my children" (here the General exchanged a glance with
De Griers) "or of me?" (here he looked at Mlle. Blanche, who turned her
head contemptuously away). "Alexis Ivanovitch, I beg of you to save us."
"Tell me, General, how am I to do so? On what footing do I stand here?"
"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 ca, ce n'est pas ca," again interrupted De Griers. "Que
diable! Do not leave her alone so much as advise her, persuade her,
draw her away. In any case do not let her gamble; find her some
"And how am I to do that? If only you would undertake the task,
Monsieur de Griers!" I said this last as innocently as possible, but at
once saw a rapid glance of excited interrogation pass from Mlle.
Blanche to De Griers, while in the face of the latter also there
gleamed something which he could not repress.
"Well, at the present moment she would refuse to accept my services,"
said he with a gesture. "But if, later--"
Here he gave Mlle. Blanche another glance which was full of meaning;
whereupon she advanced towards me with a bewitching smile, and seized
and pressed my hands. Devil take it, but how that devilish visage of
hers could change! At the present moment it was a visage full of
supplication, and as gentle in its expression as that of a smiling,
roguish infant. Stealthily, she drew me apart from the rest as though
the more completely to separate me from them; and, though no harm came
of her doing so--for it was merely a stupid manoeuvre, and 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 you, I kiss the hem of your garment, as our Russian saying has
it, for you, and only you, can save us. I and Mlle. de Cominges, we all
of us beg of you--But you understand, do you not? Surely you
understand?" and with his eyes he indicated Mlle. Blanche. Truly he was
cutting a pitiful figure!
At this moment three low, respectful knocks sounded at the door; which,
on being opened, revealed a chambermaid, with 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 while, she suddenly rose, called for her chair, and
sent me to look for you. She is now in the verandah."
"Quelle megere!" exclaimed De Griers.
True enough, I found Madame in the hotel verandah--much put about at my
delay, for she had been unable to contain herself until four o'clock.
"Lift me up," she cried to the bearers, and once more we set out for
The Grandmother was in an impatient, irritable frame of mind. Without
doubt the roulette had turned her head, for she appeared to be
indifferent to everything else, and, in general, seemed much
distraught. For instance, she asked me no questions about objects en
route, except that, when a sumptuous barouche passed us and raised a
cloud of dust, she lifted her hand for a moment, and inquired, "What
was that?" Yet even then she did not appear to hear my reply, although
at times her abstraction was interrupted by sallies and fits of sharp,
impatient fidgeting. Again, when I pointed out to her the Baron and
Baroness Burmergelm walking to the Casino, she merely looked at them in
an absent-minded sort of way, and said with complete indifference,
"Ah!" Then, turning sharply to Potapitch and Martha, who 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 departed, she added to me: "You are all the
escort I need."
At the Casino the Grandmother seemed to be expected, for no time was
lost in procuring her former place beside the croupier. It is my
opinion that though croupiers seem such ordinary, humdrum
officials--men who care nothing whether the bank wins or loses--they
are, in reality, anything but indifferent to the bank's losing, and are
given instructions to attract players, and to keep a watch over the
bank's interests; as also, that for such services, these officials are
awarded prizes and premiums. At all events, the croupiers of
Roulettenberg seemed to look upon the Grandmother as their lawful
prey--whereafter there befell what our party had foretold.
It happened thus:
As soon as ever we arrived the Grandmother ordered me to stake twelve
ten-gulden pieces in succession upon zero. Once, twice, and thrice I
did so, yet zero never turned up.
"Stake again," said the old lady with an impatient nudge of my elbow,
and 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, Madame,
that 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
The red turned up, but zero missed again, and we only got our thousand
"But you see, you see," whispered the old lady. "We have now recovered
almost all that we staked. Try zero again. Let us do so another ten
times, and then leave off."
By the fifth round, however, the Grandmother was weary of the scheme.
"To the devil with that zero!" she exclaimed. "Stake four thousand
gulden upon the red."
"But, Madame, that 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.
Consequently, there 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 mien, as though she had not the least doubt of
"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 gulden, together
with everything else that happened to be lying on the table, and
recognised that the zero which had been so long turning up, and on
which we had lost nearly two hundred ten-gulden pieces, had at length,
as though of set purpose, made a sudden reappearance--why, the poor old
lady fell to cursing it, and to throwing herself about, and wailing and
gesticulating at the company at large. Indeed, some people in our
vicinity actually burst out laughing.
"To think that that accursed zero should have turned up NOW!" she
sobbed. "The accursed, accursed thing! And, it is all YOUR fault," she
added, rounding upon me in a frenzy. "It was you who persuaded me to
cease staking upon it."
"But, Madame, I 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
"Farewell, then, Madame." And I turned to depart.
"No--stay," she put in hastily. "Where are you going to? Why should you
leave me? You fool! No, no... stay here. It is I who was the fool. Tell
me what I ought to do."
"I cannot take it upon myself to advise you, for you will only blame me
if I do so. Play at your own discretion. Say exactly what you wish
staked, and 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
"But," I whispered, "such a quantity of money--"
"Never mind. I cannot rest until I have won back my losses. Stake!"
I staked, and we lost.
"Stake again, stake again--eight thousand at a stroke!"
"I cannot, Madame. The largest stake allowed is four thousand gulden."
"Well, then; stake four thousand."
This time we won, and the Grandmother recovered herself a little.
"You see, you see!" she exclaimed as she nudged me. "Stake another four
I did so, and lost. Again, and yet again, we lost. "Madame, your twelve
thousand gulden are now gone," at length I reported.
"I see they are," she replied with, as it were, the calmness of
despair. "I see they are," she muttered again as she gazed straight in
front of her, like a person lost in thought. "Ah well, I do not mean to
rest until I have staked another four thousand."
"But you have no money with which to do it, Madame. In this satchel I
can see only a few five percent bonds and some transfers--no actual
"And in the purse?"
"A mere trifle."
"But there is a money-changer's office here, is 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 away, and call
those fools of bearers."
I wheeled the chair out of the throng, and, the bearers making their
appearance, we left the Casino.
"Hurry, hurry!" commanded the Grandmother. "Show me the nearest way to
the money-changer's. Is it far?"
"A couple of steps, Madame."
At the turning from the square into the Avenue we came face to face
with the whole of our party--the General, De Griers, Mlle. Blanche, and
her mother. Only Polina and Mr. Astley were absent.
"Well, well, well!" 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 little, and immediately was pounced upon by De
"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 vexation, and hastened to communicate
the tidings to the General. Meanwhile we continued to wheel the old
"Stop her, stop her," whispered the General in consternation.
"You had better try and stop her yourself," I returned--also in a
"My good mother," he said as he approached her, "--my good mother, pray
let, let--" (his voice was beginning to tremble and sink) "--let us
hire a carriage, and 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
"Begone with you and your views!" said the Grandmother angrily as she
waved him away.
"And there are trees there, and we could have tea under them,"
continued the General--now in utter despair.
"Nous boirons du lait, sur l'herbe fraiche," added De Griers with the
snarl almost of a wild beast.
"Du lait, de l'herbe fraiche"--the idyll, the ideal of the Parisian
bourgeois--his whole outlook upon "la nature et la verite"!
"Have done with you and your milk!" cried the old lady. "Go and stuff
YOURSELF as much as you like, but my stomach simply recoils from the
idea. What are you stopping for? I have nothing to say to you."
"Here we are, Madame," I announced. "Here is the moneychanger's office."
I entered to get the securities changed, while the Grandmother remained
outside in the porch, and the rest waited at a little distance, in
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 process of changing involved complicated calculations which soon
necessitated my return to the Grandmother for instructions.
"The thieves!" she exclaimed as she clapped her hands together. "Never
mind, though. Get the documents cashed--No; send the banker out to me,"
she added as an afterthought.
"Would one of the clerks do, Madame?"
"Yes, one 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 vehemence,
for his alleged usuriousness, and to bargain with him in a mixture of
Russian, French, and German--I acting as interpreter. Meanwhile, the
grave-faced official eyed us both, and silently nodded his head. At the
Grandmother, in particular, he gazed with a curiosity which almost
bordered upon rudeness. At length, too, he smiled.
"Pray recollect yourself!" cried the old lady. "And may my money choke
you! Alexis Ivanovitch, tell him that we can easily repair to someone
"The clerk says that others will give you even less than he."
Of what the ultimate calculations consisted I do not exactly remember,
but at all events they were alarming. Receiving twelve thousand florins
in gold, I took also the statement of accounts, and carried it out to
"Well, well," she said, "I am no accountant. Let us hurry away, hurry
away." And she waved the paper aside.
"Neither upon that accursed zero, however, nor 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 that,
though at first she agreed to do as I suggested, nothing could stop her
when once she had begun. By way of prelude she won stakes of a hundred
and two hundred gulden.
"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
hundred, for we might win another four thousand, and then--! Oh, it was
YOUR fault before--all your fault!"
I felt greatly put out as I watched her play, but I decided to hold my
tongue, and 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 rest, and was
engaged in flirting with the Prince. Clearly the General was greatly
put out at this. Indeed, he was in a perfect agony of vexation. But
Mlle. was careful never to look his way, though 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
departure, and the General followed them.
"Madame, Madame," sounded the honeyed accents of De Griers as he leant
over to whisper in the Grandmother's ear. "That stake will never win.
No, no, it is impossible," he added in Russian with a writhe. "No, no!"
"But why not?" asked the Grandmother, turning round. "Show me what I
ought to do."
Instantly De Griers burst into a babble of French as he advised, jumped
about, declared that such and such chances ought to be waited for, and
started to make calculations of figures. All this he addressed to me in
my capacity as translator--tapping the table the while with his finger,
and pointing hither and thither. At length he seized a pencil, and
began to reckon sums on paper until he had exhausted the Grandmother's
"Away with you!" she interrupted. "You talk sheer nonsense, for, though
you keep on saying 'Madame, Madame,' you haven't the least notion what
ought to be done. Away with you, I say!"
"Mais, Madame," cooed De Griers--and straightway started afresh with
his fussy instructions.
"Stake just ONCE, as he advises," the Grandmother said to me, "and then
we shall see what we shall see. Of course, his stake MIGHT win."
As a matter of fact, De Grier's one object was to distract the old lady
from staking large sums; wherefore, he now suggested to her that she
should stake upon certain numbers, singly and in groups. Consequently,
in accordance with his instructions, I staked a ten-gulden piece upon
several odd numbers in the first twenty, and five ten-gulden pieces
upon certain groups of numbers-groups of from twelve to eighteen, and
from eighteen to twenty-four. The total staked amounted to 160 gulden.
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 Frenchman, to think that you should advise! Away with you!
Though you fuss and fuss, you don't even know what you're talking
Deeply offended, De Griers shrugged his shoulders, favoured the
Grandmother with a look of contempt, and departed. For some time past
he had been feeling ashamed of being seen in such company, and 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 onwards, until we arrived at the hotel, she kept venting
exclamations of "What a fool I am! What a silly old fool I am, to be
Arrived at the hotel, she called for tea, and then gave orders for her
luggage to be packed.
"We are off again," she announced.
"But whither, Madame?" inquired Martha.
"What business is that of YOURS? Let the cricket stick to its hearth.
[The Russian form of "Mind your own business."] Potapitch, have
everything packed, for we are returning to Moscow at once. I have
fooled away fifteen thousand roubles."
"Fifteen thousand roubles, good 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 then, you fool! At once you begin with your weeping and wailing!
Be quiet, and pack. Also, run downstairs, and get my hotel bill."
"The next train leaves at 9:30, Madame," I interposed, with a view to
checking her agitation.
"And what is the time now?"
"How vexing! But, never mind. Alexis Ivanovitch, I 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 errand, I 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. For, said they,
even if her departure should save her fortune, what 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 dead, but 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 part the Grandmother had nothing for the
party but abuse.
"Away with you, you rascals!" she was shouting. "What have my affairs
to do with you? Why, in particular, do 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
"Diantre!" muttered Mlle. under her breath, but 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 death, have 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
squandering, but my own."
The General shrugged his shoulders, bowed, and withdrew, with De Griers
"Call Prascovia," commanded the Grandmother, and in five minutes Martha
reappeared with Polina, who had been sitting with the children in her
own room (having purposely determined not to leave it that day). Her
face looked grave and careworn.
"Prascovia," began the Grandmother, "is what I have just heard through
a side wind true--namely, that this fool of a stepfather of yours is
going to marry that silly whirligig of a Frenchwoman--that actress, or
something worse? Tell me, is it true?"
"I do not know FOR CERTAIN, Grandmamma," 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 him, for I always looked upon him as a futile, frivolous
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).
Yes, I 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?--Oh, De Cominges) would never dream of accepting the General
and his false teeth--no, not even for him to be her lacquey--since she
herself, they say, possesses a pile of money, and lends it on interest,
and makes a good thing out of it. However, it is not you, Prascovia,
that I am blaming; it was not you who sent those telegrams. Nor, for
that matter, do I wish to recall old scores. True, I know that you are
a vixen by nature--that you are a wasp which will sting one if one
touches it--yet, my heart is sore for you, for I loved your mother,
Katerina. Now, will you leave everything here, and come away with me?
Otherwise, I do not know what is to become of you, and it is not right
that you should continue living with these people. Nay," she
interposed, the moment that Polina attempted to speak, "I have not yet
finished. I ask of you nothing in return. My house in Moscow is, as you
know, large enough for a palace, and you could occupy a whole floor of
it if you liked, and keep away from me for weeks together. Will you
come with me or will you not?"
"First of all, let me ask of YOU," replied Polina, "whether you are
intending to depart at once?"
"What? You suppose me to be jesting? I have said that I am going, and I
AM going. Today I have squandered fifteen thousand roubles at that
accursed roulette of yours, and though, five years ago, I promised the
people of a certain suburb of Moscow to build them a stone church in
place of a wooden one, I have been fooling away my money here! However,
I am going back now to build my church."
"But what about the waters, Grandmamma? Surely you came here to take
"You and your waters! Do not anger me, Prascovia. Surely you are trying
to? Say, then: will you, or will you not, come with me?"
"Grandmamma," Polina replied with deep feeling, "I am very, very
grateful to you for the shelter which you have so kindly offered me.
Also, to a certain extent you have guessed my position aright, and I am
beholden to you to such an extent that it may be that I will come and
live with you, and that very soon; yet there are important reasons
why--why I cannot make up my mind just yet. If you would let me have,
say, a couple of weeks to decide in--?"
"You mean that you are NOT coming?"
"I mean only that I cannot come just yet. At all events, I could not
well leave my little brother and sister here, since, since--if I were
to leave them--they would be abandoned altogether. But if, Grandmamma,
you would take the little ones AND myself, then, of course, I could
come with you, and would do all I could to serve you" (this she said
with great earnestness). "Only, without 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 here, Prascovia. I
wish you well, and nothing but well: yet I have divined the reason why
you will not come. Yes, I know all, Prascovia. That Frenchman will
never bring you good of any sort."
Polina coloured hotly, and 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?"
"Now, now! Do not frown," continued the Grandmother. "But I do not
intend to slur things over. You will take care that no harm befalls
you, will 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 now,
please, leave me. Good-bye."
"But let me stay with you a little longer," said Polina.
"No," replied the other; "you need not. Do not bother me, for you and
all of them have tired me out."
Yet when Polina tried to kiss the Grandmother's hand, the old lady
withdrew it, and herself kissed the girl on the cheek. As she passed
me, Polina gave me a momentary glance, and then as swiftly averted her
"And good-bye to you, also, Alexis Ivanovitch. The train starts in an
hour's time, and I think that you must be weary of me. Take these five
hundred gulden for yourself."
"I thank you humbly, Madame, but I am ashamed to--"
"Come, come!" cried the Grandmother so energetically, and with such an
air of menace, that I did not dare refuse the money further.
"If, when in Moscow, you have no place where you can lay your head,"
she added, "come and see me, and I will give you a recommendation. Now,
Potapitch, get things ready."
I ascended to my room, and lay down upon the bed. A whole hour I must
have lain thus, with 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!
No, it 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? Well, he was another problem for me to solve.
Suddenly there came a knock at the door, and I opened it to find
Potapitch awaiting me.
"Sir," he said, "my mistress is asking for you."
"Indeed? But she is just departing, is she not? The train leaves in ten
"She is uneasy, sir; she cannot rest. Come quickly, sir; do not delay."
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 ahead, and we will set out
"But whither, Madame?"
"I cannot rest until I have retrieved my losses. March on ahead, and
ask me no questions. Play continues until midnight, does 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 leave, Madame," I said, "I will not go with you."
"And why not? What do you mean? Is every one here a stupid
"Pardon me, but 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 gulden. Farewell."
Laying the money upon a little table which the Grandmother's chair
happened to be passing, I bowed and withdrew.
"What folly!" the Grandmother shouted after me. "Very well, then. Do
not come, and I will find my way alone. Potapitch, you must come with
me. Lift up the chair, and carry me along."
I failed to find Mr. Astley, and returned home. It was now growing
late--it was past midnight, but I subsequently learnt from Potapitch
how the Grandmother's day had ended. She had lost all the money which,
earlier in the day, I 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 afternoon, she had dowered with two ten-gulden pieces.
But before his arrival on the scene, she 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 language, but also he could speak a
mixture of three different dialects, so that the pair were able to
understand one another. Yet the old lady never ceased to abuse him,
despite his deferential manner, and to compare him unfavourably with
myself (so, at all events, Potapitch declared). "You," the old
chamberlain said to me, "treated her as a gentleman should, but he--he
robbed her right and left, as I could see with my own eyes. Twice she
caught him at it, and rated him soundly. On one occasion she even
pulled his hair, so that the bystanders burst out laughing. Yet she
lost everything, sir--that is to say, she lost all that you had changed
for her. Then we brought her home, and, after asking for some water and
saying her prayers, she 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! Oh, my own Moscow! For what have we not
at home there, in Moscow? Such a garden and flowers as you could never
see here, and fresh air and apple-trees coming into blossom,--and a
beautiful view to look upon. Ah, but what must she do but go travelling
abroad? Alack, alack!"
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
arrived, but in a form a hundred times more extensive and unexpected
than I had looked for. To me it all seems strange, uncouth, and tragic.
Certain occurrences have befallen me which border upon the marvellous.
At all events, that is how I view them. I view them so in one regard at
least. I refer to the whirlpool of events in which, at the time, I was
revolving. But the most curious feature of all is my relation to those
events, for 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 so, what
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;
and, as 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 future, but living under the influence of passing
moods, and of my recollections of the tempest which recently drew me
into its vortex, and then cast me out again. At times I seem still to
be caught within that vortex. At times, the tempest seems once more to
be gathering, and, as it passes overhead, to be wrapping me in its
folds, until I have lost my sense of order and reality, and continue
whirling and whirling and whirling around.
Yet, it 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 enough, of late I have taken to amusing myself
with the works of M. Paul de Kock, which I read in German translations
obtained from a wretched local library. These works I cannot abide, yet
I read them, and 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 spoken, so dear to me
are the impressions which it has left behind it, that I fear to touch
the vision with anything new, lest it should dissolve in smoke. But is
it so dear to me? Yes, it IS dear to me, and will ever be fresh in my
recollections--even forty years hence....
So let me write of it, but only partially, and in a more abridged form
than my full impressions might warrant.
First of all, let me conclude the history of the Grandmother. Next day
she lost every gulden that she possessed. Things were bound to happen
so, for 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;
and, though I personally did not witness her exploits, I 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 former, and incurred dismissal in favour of the first
Pole, who, during the time of his unemployment, had nevertheless
hovered around the Grandmother's chair, and from time to time obtruded
his head over her shoulder. At length the old lady became desperate,
for the second Pole, when dismissed, imitated his predecessor by
declining to go away; with the result that one Pole remained standing
on the right of the victim, and the other on her left; from which
vantage points the pair quarrelled, abused each other concerning the
stakes and rounds, and exchanged the epithet "laidak" [Rascal] and
other Polish terms of endearment. Finally, they effected a mutual
reconciliation, and, tossing the money about anyhow, played simply at
random. Once more quarrelling, each of them staked money on his own
side of the Grandmother's chair (for instance, the one Pole staked upon
the red, and the other one upon the black), until they had so confused
and browbeaten the old lady that, nearly weeping, she was forced to
appeal to the head croupier for protection, and to have the two Poles
expelled. No time was lost in this being done, despite the rascals'
cries and protestations that the old lady was in their debt, that she
had cheated them, and 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
shamelessly pilfered from his mistress. For instance, one Pole demanded
of the Grandmother fifty gulden for his trouble, and then staked the
money by the side of her stake. She happened to win; whereupon he cried
out that the winning stake was his, and hers the loser. As soon as the
two Poles had been expelled, Potapitch left the room, and reported to
the authorities that the men's pockets were full of gold; and, on the
Grandmother also requesting the head croupier to look into the affair,
the police made their appearance, and, despite the protests of the
Poles (who, indeed, had been caught redhanded), their pockets were
turned inside out, and the contents handed over to the Grandmother. In
fact, in, view of the circumstance that she lost all day, the croupiers
and other authorities of the Casino showed her every attention; and on
her fame spreading through the town, visitors of every
nationality--even the most knowing of them, the most
distinguished--crowded to get a glimpse of "la vieille comtesse russe,
tombee en enfance," who had lost "so many millions."
Yet with the money which the authorities restored to her from the
pockets of the Poles the Grandmother effected very, very little, for
there soon arrived to take his countrymen's place, a third Pole--a man
who could speak Russian fluently, was dressed like a gentleman (albeit
in lacqueyish fashion), and sported a huge moustache. Though polite
enough to the old lady, he took a high hand with the bystanders. In
short, he offered himself less as a servant than as an ENTERTAINER.
After each round he would turn to the old lady, and swear terrible
oaths to the effect that he was a "Polish gentleman of honour" who
would scorn to take a kopeck of her money; and, though he repeated
these oaths so often that at length she grew alarmed, he had her play
in hand, and began to win on her behalf; wherefore, she felt that she
could not well get rid of him. An hour later the two Poles who, earlier
in the day, had been expelled from the Casino, made a reappearance
behind the old lady's chair, and 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 wink, as well as that the latter put
something into their hands. Next, since 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 Casino, and brought her thence a cup
of soup, and afterwards some tea. In fact, BOTH the Poles hastened to
perform this office. Finally, towards the close of the day, when it was
clear that the Grandmother was about to play her last bank-note, there
could be seen standing behind her chair no fewer than six natives of
Poland--persons who, as yet, had been neither audible nor visible; and
as soon as ever the old lady played the note in question, they took no
further notice of her, but pushed their way past her chair to the
table; seized the money, and staked it--shouting and disputing the
while, and 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 all, and was returning (about
eight o'clock) to the hotel, some three or four Poles could not bring
themselves to leave her, but 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; whence, presently, the gang of rascals was
ejected neck and crop.
According to Potapitch's calculations, the Grandmother lost, that day,
a total of ninety thousand roubles, in addition to the money which she
had lost the day before. Every paper security which she had brought
with her--five percent bonds, internal loan scrip, and what not--she
had changed into cash. Also, I could not but marvel at the way in
which, for seven or eight hours at a stretch, she sat in that chair of
hers, almost never leaving the table. Again, Potapitch told me that
there were three occasions on which she really began to win; but that,
led on by false hopes, she 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 left.
Meanwhile, that 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 words, on learning that the old lady
had changed her mind about departing, and was bent on setting out for
the Casino again, the 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 General, quaking and greatly apprehensive as
to his possible future, overdid things. After half an hour's prayers
and entreaties, coupled with a full confession of his debts, and even
of his passion for Mlle. Blanche (yes, he had quite lost his head), he
suddenly adopted a tone of menace, and started to rage at the old
lady--exclaiming that she was sullying the family honour, that she was
making a public scandal of herself, and 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 stick, too!). 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 respected, but unfortunate, old lady
has gone out of her mind, and is squandering her last kopeck," or
something of the kind? In short, is it in any way possible to engineer
a species of supervision over, or of restraint upon, the old lady? De
Griers, however, shrugged his shoulders at this, and laughed in the
General's face, while the old warrior went on chattering volubly, and
running up and down his study. Finally De Griers waved his hand, and
disappeared from view; and by evening it became known that he had left
the hotel, after holding a very secret and important conference with
Mlle. Blanche. As for the latter, from early morning she had taken
decisive measures, by completely excluding the General from her
presence, and bestowing upon him not a glance. Indeed, even when the
General pursued her to the Casino, and met her walking arm in arm with
the Prince, he (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 Prince, and 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 name, but, on the contrary, was
minded to borrow of her money wherewith to play at roulette. In high
displeasure she drove him from her presence, and shut herself up in her
The same morning I went to see--or, rather, to look for--Mr. Astley,
but was unsuccessful in my quest. Neither in his rooms nor in the
Casino nor in the Park was he to be found; nor did he, that day, lunch
at his hotel as usual. However, at 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 preoccupied, though in his face
I could discern no actual traces of worry or perturbation. He held out
to me a friendly hand, with his usual ejaculation of "Ah!" but did not
check his stride. I turned and walked beside him, but found, somehow,
that his answers forbade any putting of definite questions. Moreover, I
felt reluctant to speak to him of Polina; nor, for his part, did he ask
me any questions concerning her, although, on my telling him of the
Grandmother's exploits, he listened attentively and gravely, and then
shrugged his shoulders.
"She is gambling away everything that she has," I remarked.
"Indeed? She arrived at the Casino even before I had taken my departure
by train, so I knew she had been playing. If I should have time I will
go to the Casino to-night, and take a look at her. The thing interests
"Where have you been today?" I asked--surprised at myself for having,
as yet, omitted to put to him that question.
What more was there to be asked after that? I accompanied him until, as
we drew level with the Hotel des Quatre Saisons, he suddenly nodded to
me and disappeared. For myself, I returned home, and came to the
conclusion that, even had I met him at two o'clock in the afternoon, I
should have learnt no more from him than I had done at five o'clock,
for 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 impossibility.
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 word, I mean, on any SERIOUS topic). Yes, that I
had noticed. Still, even though I was aware of the position in which
the General was placed, it had never occurred to me that he would have
any reason to avoid HER, or to trouble her with family explanations.
Indeed, when I was returning to the hotel after my conversation with
Astley, and chanced to meet Polina and the children, I 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 bow, and I
retired to my room in a very bad humour.
Of course, since the affair with the Burmergelms I had exchanged not a
word with Polina, nor had with her any kind of intercourse. Yet I had
been at my wits' end, for, as time went on, there was arising in me an
ever-seething dissatisfaction. Even if she did not love me she ought
not to have trampled upon my feelings, nor to have accepted my
confessions with such contempt, seeing 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 ago, I had noticed that she had a desire to
make me her friend, her confidant--that she was making trial of me for
the purpose; but, for some reason or another, the desired result had
never come about, and we had fallen into the present strange relations,
which had led me to address her as I had done. At the same time, if my
love was distasteful to her, why had she not FORBIDDEN me to speak of
it to her?
But she had not so forbidden me. On the contrary, there had been
occasions when she had even INVITED me to speak. Of course, this might
have been done out of sheer wantonness, for I well knew--I had remarked
it only too often--that, after listening to what I had to say, and
angering me almost beyond endurance, she 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 Baron, and I could bear the severance no longer.
When, that afternoon, I met her near the Casino, my heart almost made
me faint, it beat so violently. She too could not live without me, for
had she not said that she had NEED of me? Or had that too been spoken
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 feet, such escapades as I had perpetrated with the Baron. Ah,
was it not torture to me, all this? For could it be that her whole
world was bound up with the Frenchman? What, too, about Mr. Astley? The
affair was inexplicable throughout. My God, what distress it caused me!
Arrived home, I, in a fit of frenzy, indited the following:
"Polina Alexandrovna, I can see that there is approaching us an
exposure which will involve you too. For the last time I ask of
you--have you, or have you not, any need of my life? If you have, then
make such dispositions as you wish, and I shall always be discoverable
in my room if required. If you have need of my life, write or send for
I sealed the letter, and dispatched it by the hand of a corridor
lacquey, with orders to hand it to the addressee in person. Though I
expected no answer, scarcely three minutes had elapsed before the
lacquey returned with "the compliments of a certain person."
Next, about seven o'clock, I was sent for by the General. I found him
in his study, apparently 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 apart, and his head bent down. Also,
he 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 step, and was for leaving the room; whereupon he seized
me by both hands, and, drawing me towards the sofa, and seating himself
thereon, he forced me to sit down on a chair opposite him. Then,
without letting go of my hands, he exclaimed with quivering lips and a
sparkle of tears on his eyelashes:
"Oh, Alexis Ivanovitch! Save me, save me! Have some mercy upon me!"
For a long time I could not make out what he meant, although he kept
talking and talking, and constantly repeating to himself, "Have mercy,
mercy!" At length, however, I divined that he was expecting me to give
him something in the nature of advice--or, rather, that, deserted by
every one, and overwhelmed with grief and apprehension, he had
bethought himself of my existence, and sent for me to relieve his
feelings by talking and talking and talking.
In fact, he was in such a confused and despondent state of mind that,
clasping his hands together, he actually went down upon his knees and
begged me to go to Mlle. Blanche, and beseech and advise her to return
to him, and to accept him in marriage.
"But, General," I exclaimed, "possibly Mlle. Blanche has scarcely even
remarked my existence? What could I do with her?"
It was in vain that I protested, for he could understand nothing that
was said to him, Next he started talking about the Grandmother, but
always in a disconnected sort of fashion--his one thought being to send
for the police.
"In Russia," said he, suddenly 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. Yes, my good sir," he
went on, relapsing 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
this, that in Russia old women like her are subjected to restraint, the
devil take them?" Again he threw himself down upon the sofa.
A minute later, though sobbing and almost breathless, he managed to
gasp out that Mlle. Blanche had refused to marry him, for the reason
that the Grandmother had turned up in place of a telegram, and it was
therefore clear that he had no inheritance to look for. Evidently, he
supposed that I had hitherto been in entire ignorance of all this.
Again, when I referred to De Griers, the 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 Paris, I know not if seven hundred francs be
left. Of course that sum will do to go on with, but, as regards the
future, I know nothing, I know nothing."
"Then how will you pay your hotel bill?" I cried in consternation. "And
what shall you do afterwards?"
He looked at me vaguely, but 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 children, but he only returned brief
answers of "Yes, yes," and again started to maunder about the Prince,
and 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
dangerous, for something might happen to him. I withdrew from his rooms
for a little while, but warned the nursemaid to keep an eye upon him,
as 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 General, when Potapitch approached me with a
summons from the Grandmother. It was now eight o'clock, and 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; yet, even then I could detect in the old lady's tone and manner a
"Good evening, Alexis Ivanovitch," she said slowly, with her head
drooping. "Pardon me for disturbing you again. Yes, you must pardon an
old, old woman like myself, for 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 yours, and am going to
beg of him three thousand francs for a week. Please try and persuade
him to think nothing of it, nor yet to refuse me, for I am still a rich
woman who possesses three villages and a couple of mansions. Yes, the
money shall be found, for 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 enough, Astley had come hot-foot on receiving the Grandmother's
appeal. Scarcely stopping even to reflect, and with scarcely a word, he
counted out the three thousand francs under a note of hand which she
duly signed. Then, his business done, he bowed, and lost no time in
taking his departure.
"You too leave me, Alexis Ivanovitch," said the Grandmother. "All my
bones are aching, and I still have an hour in which to rest. Do not be
hard upon me, old 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 blockhead, and consider myself, simpleton
though I be, at least wiser than HE is. How surely does God visit old
age, and punish it for its presumption! Well, good-bye. Martha, come
and lift me up."
However, I had a mind to see the old lady off; and, moreover, I was in
an expectant frame of mind--somehow I kept thinking that SOMETHING was
going to happen; wherefore, I could not rest quietly in my room, but
stepped out into the corridor, and then into the Chestnut Avenue for a
few minutes' stroll. My letter to Polina had been clear and firm, and
in the present crisis, I felt sure, would prove final. I had heard of
De Griers' departure, and, however much Polina might reject me as a
FRIEND, she might not reject me altogether as a SERVANT. She would need
me to fetch and carry for her, and I was ready to do so. How could it
have been otherwise?
Towards the hour of the train's departure I hastened to the station,
and put the Grandmother into her compartment--she and her party
occupying a reserved family saloon.
"Thanks for your disinterested assistance," she said at parting. "Oh,
and 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 suite,
I met the nursemaid, and inquired after her master. "There is nothing
new to report, sir," she replied quietly. Nevertheless I decided to
enter, and 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 them, on the
sofa, there was seated her mother. Clearly the General was almost out
of his mind with joy, for he was talking all sorts of nonsense, and
bubbling over with a long-drawn, nervous laugh--a laugh which twisted
his face into innumerable wrinkles, and caused his eyes almost to
Afterwards I learnt from Mlle. Blanche herself that, after dismissing
the Prince and hearing of the General's tears, she bethought her of
going to comfort the old man, and had just arrived for the purpose when
I entered. Fortunately, the 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 entering,
and departed unnoticed. Ascending to my own room, and opening the door,
I perceived in the semi-darkness a figure seated on a chair in the
corner by the window. The figure did not rise when I entered, so I
approached it swiftly, peered at it closely, and felt my heart almost
stop beating. The figure was Polina!
The shock made me utter an exclamation.
"What is the matter? What is the matter?" she asked in a strange voice.
She was looking pale, and her eyes were dim.
"What is the matter?" I re-echoed. "Why, the fact that you are HERE!"
"If I am here, I have come with all that I have to bring," she said.
"Such has always been my way, as you shall presently see. Please light
I did so; whereupon she rose, approached the table, and laid upon it an
"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. Although, at this distance of time, I have forgotten the exact
phraseology of the missive, I append, if not the precise words, at all
events the general sense.
"Mademoiselle," the document ran, "certain untoward circumstances
compel me to depart in haste. Of course, you have of yourself remarked
that hitherto I have always refrained from having any final explanation
with you, for the reason that I could not well state the whole
circumstances; and now to my difficulties the advent of the aged
Grandmother, coupled with her subsequent proceedings, has put the final
touch. Also, the involved state of my affairs forbids me to write with
any finality concerning those hopes of ultimate bliss upon which, for a
long while past, I have permitted myself to feed. I regret the past,
but 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 lost, however, almost the whole of my money in debts
incurred by your stepfather, I find myself driven to the necessity of
saving the remainder; wherefore, I 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 time, knowing that, in
addition, your frivolous stepfather has squandered money which is
exclusively yours, I have decided to absolve him from a certain moiety
of the mortgages on his property, in order that you may be in a
position to recover of him what you have lost, by suing him in legal
fashion. I trust, therefore, that, as matters now stand, this 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 enough, to
all outward seeming, yet with a note of irritation in her tone. "Long
ago I made up my mind on the subject, for I could read his thoughts,
and 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
moment, and stood biting her lips. "So of set purpose I redoubled my
contemptuous treatment of him, and waited to see what he would do. If a
telegram to say that we had become legatees had arrived from, St.
Petersburg, I should have flung at him a quittance for my foolish
stepfather's debts, and then dismissed him. For a long time I have
hated him. Even in earlier days he was not a man; and now!--Oh, how
gladly I could throw those fifty thousand roubles in his face, and spit
in it, and then rub the spittle in!"
"But the document returning the fifty-thousand rouble mortgage--has the
General got it? If so, possess yourself of it, and send it to De
"No, no; the General has not got it."
"Just as I expected! Well, what 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 villain, the villain! But I will kill him in a duel. Where
is he now?"
"In Frankfort, where he will be staying for the next three days."
"Well, bid me do so, and 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. What, then,
would 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
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 emotion, for suddenly she
seated herself upon the sofa, as though she were powerless any longer
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
me, and not to Mr. Astley, that she had turned! Although she, an
unprotected girl, had come to me in my room--in an hotel room--and had
probably compromised herself thereby, I 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. Yes, you 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 me, but I did not return.
Sometimes it happens that the most insane thought, the most impossible
conception, will become so fixed in one's head that at length one
believes the thought or the conception to be reality. Moreover, if with
the thought or the conception there is combined a strong, a passionate,
desire, one will come to look upon the said thought or conception as
something fated, inevitable, and foreordained--something bound to
happen. Whether by this there is connoted something in the nature of a
combination of presentiments, or a great effort of will, or a
self-annulment of one's true expectations, and so on, I do not know;
but, at 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 arithmetic, I still believe it to
have been a miracle. Yet why did this conviction take such a hold upon
me at the time, and remain with me ever since? Previously, I had
thought of the idea, not as an occurrence which was ever likely to come
about, but 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 (though, at the same time, of agitation) as I had
never before experienced. In the gaming-rooms there were still a large
number of people, but not half as many as had been present in the
At eleven o'clock there usually remained behind only the real, the
desperate gamblers--persons for whom, at spas, there existed nothing
beyond roulette, and who went thither for that alone. These gamesters
took little note of what was going on around them, and were interested
in none of the appurtenances of the season, but played from morning
till night, and would have been ready to play through the night until
dawn had that been possible. As it was, they used to disperse
unwillingly when, at midnight, roulette came to an end. Likewise, as
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 part, lost it. For my own part I proceeded towards the table at
which the Grandmother had lately sat; and, since the crowd around it
was not very large, I soon obtained standing room among the ring of
gamblers, while directly in front of me, on the green cloth, I 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 fallen, and so took no
bearings when I began to play, as, in my place, any SYSTEMATIC gambler
would have done. No, I merely extended my stock of twenty ten-gulden
pieces, and threw them down upon the space "Passe" which happened to be
"Vingt-deux!" called the croupier.
I had won! I staked upon the same again--both my original stake and my
"Trente-et-un!" called the croupier.
Again I had won, and was now in possession of eighty ten-gulden pieces.
Next, I moved the whole eighty on to twelve middle numbers (a stake
which, if successful, would bring me in a triple profit, but also
involved a risk of two chances to one). The wheel revolved, and 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 pile, en bloc, on 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 me, and showed
itself in a trembling of the hands and knees). For with horror I had
realised that I MUST win, and that upon that stake there depended all
"Rouge!" called the croupier. I drew a long breath, and hot shivers
went coursing over my body. I was paid out my winnings in
bank-notes--amounting, of course, to a total of four thousand florins,
eight hundred gulden (I could still calculate the amounts).
After that, I remember, I again staked two thousand florins upon twelve
middle numbers, and lost. Again I staked the whole of my gold, with
eight hundred gulden, in notes, and lost. Then madness seemed to come
upon me, and seizing my last two thousand florins, I staked them upon
twelve of the first numbers--wholly by chance, and at random, and
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 when, in Paris, she was descending earthwards from a
"Quatre!" called the croupier.
Once more, with the addition of my original stake, I 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 them, and
exchanged a few words; the bystanders murmured expectantly.
The black turned up. After that I do not exactly remember either my
calculations or the order of my stakings. I only remember that, as in a
dream, I won in one round sixteen thousand florins; that in the three
following rounds, I lost twelve thousand; that I moved the remainder
(four thousand) on to "Passe" (though quite unconscious of what I was
doing--I was merely waiting, as it were, mechanically, and without
reflection, for something) and won; and that, finally, four times in
succession I lost. Yes, I can remember raking in money by
thousands--but most frequently on the twelve, middle numbers, to which
I constantly adhered, and which kept appearing in a sort of regular
order--first, three or four times running, and then, after an interval
of a couple of rounds, in another break of three or four appearances.
Sometimes, this 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 had, won thirty thousand florins, as well
as that, since the latter was the limit for which, at any one time, the
bank could make itself responsible, roulette at that table must close
for the night. Accordingly, I caught up my pile of gold, stuffed it
into my pocket, and, grasping my sheaf of bank-notes, moved to the
table in an adjoining salon where a second game of roulette was in
progress. The crowd followed me in a body, and cleared a place for me
at the table; after which, I proceeded to stake as before--that is to
say, at random and without calculating. What saved me from ruin I do
Of course there were times when fragmentary reckonings DID come
flashing into my brain. For instance, there were times when I attached
myself for a while to certain figures and coups--though always leaving
them, again before long, without knowing what I was doing.
In fact, I cannot have been in possession of all my faculties, for I
can remember the croupiers correcting my play more than once, owing to
my having made mistakes of the gravest order. My brows were damp with
sweat, and my hands were shaking. Also, Poles came around me to proffer
their services, but I heeded none of them. Nor did my luck fail me now.
Suddenly, there arose around me a loud din of talking and laughter.
"Bravo, bravo!" was the general shout, and some people even clapped
their hands. I had raked in thirty thousand florins, and again the bank
had had to close for the night!
"Go away now, go 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.
"Yes, for God's sake go," whispered a second voice in my left ear.
Glancing around, I perceived that the second voice had come from a
modestly, plainly dressed lady of rather less than thirty--a woman
whose face, though pale and sickly-looking, bore also very evident
traces of former beauty. At the moment, I 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 gulden, I contrived
to insinuate it, unperceived, into the hand of the pale lady. An
overpowering impulse had made me do so, and I remember how her thin
little fingers pressed mine in token of her lively gratitude. The whole
affair was the work of a moment.
Then, collecting my belongings, I crossed to where trente et quarante
was being played--a game which could boast of a more aristocratic
public, and was played with cards instead of with a wheel. At this
diversion the bank made itself responsible for a hundred thousand
thalers as the limit, but the highest stake allowable was, as in
roulette, four 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.
But, as ever, fortune seemed to be at my back. As though of set
purpose, there came to my aid a circumstance which not infrequently
repeats itself in gaming. The circumstance is that not infrequently
luck attaches itself to, say, the red, and does not leave it for a
space of say, ten, or even fifteen, rounds in succession. Three days
ago I had heard that, during 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 enough,
many deserted the red after a dozen rounds, and 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 anything, for
the reason that every practised player knows the meaning of "capricious
fortune." That is to say, after the sixteenth (or so) success of the
red, one would think that the seventeenth coup would inevitably fall
upon the black; wherefore, novices would be apt to back the latter in
the seventeenth round, and even to double or treble their stakes upon
it--only, in the end, to lose.
Yet some whim or other led me, on remarking that the red had come up
consecutively for seven times, to attach myself to that colour.
Probably this was mostly due to self-conceit, for I wanted to astonish
the bystanders with the riskiness of my play. Also, I remember
that--oh, strange sensation!--I suddenly, and without any challenge
from my own presumption, became obsessed with a DESIRE to take risks.
If the spirit has passed through a great many sensations, possibly it
can no longer be sated with them, but grows more excited, and demands
more sensations, and stronger and stronger ones, until at length it
falls exhausted. Certainly, if the rules of the game had permitted even
of my staking fifty thousand florins at a time, I should have staked
them. All of a sudden I heard exclamations arising that the whole thing
was a marvel, since the red was turning up for the fourteenth time!
"Monsieur a gagne cent mille florins," a voice exclaimed beside me.
I awoke to my senses. What? I had won a hundred thousand florins? If
so, what more did I need to win? I grasped the banknotes, stuffed them
into my pockets, raked in the gold without counting it, and started to
leave the Casino. As I passed through the salons people smiled to see
my bulging pockets and unsteady gait, for the weight which I was
carrying must have amounted to half a pood! Several hands I saw
stretched out in my direction, and 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. Indeed, never since my boyhood have I done
that. Also, I cannot remember what I thought about on the way. I only
felt a sort of fearful pleasure--the pleasure of success, of conquest,
of power (how can I best express it?). Likewise, before me there
flitted the image of Polina; and I kept remembering, and reminding
myself, that it was to HER I was going, that it was in HER presence I
should soon be standing, that 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 me, or the reason why I had left her, or all those
varied sensations which I had been experiencing a bare hour and a half
ago. No, those sensations seemed to be things of the past, to be things
which had righted themselves and grown old, to be things concerning
which we needed to trouble ourselves no longer, since, for us, life 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 until, in my terror, I almost started to run.
Suddenly, as I issued from the Avenue, there burst upon me the lights
of the hotel, sparkling with a myriad lamps! Yes, thanks be to God, I
had reached home!
Running up to my room, I flung open the door of it. Polina was still
on the sofa, with a lighted candle in front of her, and her hands
clasped. As I entered she stared at me in astonishment (for, at the
moment, I must have presented a strange spectacle). All I did, however,
was to halt before her, and fling upon the table my burden of wealth.
I remember, too, how, without moving from her place, or changing her
attitude, she 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. Consequently, for a moment
or two Polina escaped my mind. Then I set myself to arrange the pile in
order, and to sort the notes, and to mass the gold in a separate heap.
That done, I left everything where it lay, and proceeded to pace the
room with rapid strides as I lost myself in thought. Then I darted to
the table once more, and began to recount the money; until all of a
sudden, as though I had remembered something, I rushed to the door, and
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 thousand florins--fifty
thousand francs, or more. Take them, and tomorrow throw them in De
She returned no answer.
"Or, if you should prefer," I continued, "let me take them to him
myself tomorrow--yes, early tomorrow morning. Shall I?"
Then all at once she burst out laughing, and 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 ceased, and frowned at me from
under her eyebrows.
"I am NOT going to take your money," she said contemptuously.
"Why not?" I cried. "Why not, Polina?"
"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 long, questioning glance, as 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 Polina, how can you speak so?" I exclaimed reproachfully. "Am I De
"You?" she cried with her eyes suddenly flashing. "Why, I HATE you!
Yes, yes, I HATE you! I love you no more than I do De Griers."
Then she buried her face in her hands, and 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 me, would you, would you? Would you buy me for fifty thousand
francs as De Griers did?" she gasped between her convulsive sobs.
I clasped her in my arms, kissed her hands and feet, and fell upon my
knees before her.
Presently the hysterical fit passed away, and, laying her hands upon my
shoulders, she gazed for a while into my face, as though trying to read
it--something I said to her, but 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 suddenly, she 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 even to quarrel
with the Baron at my bidding?"
Then she laughed--laughed as though something dear, but laughable, had
recurred to her memory. Yes, she 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 know, since she
spoke with a feverish lisp, as though she were trying to tell me
something very quickly. At intervals, too, she would break off into the
smile which I was beginning to dread. "No, no!" she kept repeating.
"YOU are my dear one; YOU are the man I trust." Again she laid her
hands upon my shoulders, and again she gazed at me as she reiterated:
"You love me, you 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. True, the mood was the outcome of hysteria; but--! All
of a sudden she noticed my ardent gaze, and smiled slightly. The next
moment, for no apparent reason, she began to talk of Astley.
She continued talking and talking about him, but 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 whole, she
appeared to be laughing at Astley, for she kept repeating that he was
waiting for her, and did I know whether, even at that moment, he was
not standing beneath the window? "Yes, yes, he is there," she said.
"Open the window, and see if he is not." She pushed me in that
direction; yet, no sooner did I make a movement to obey her behest than
she burst into laughter, and I remained beside her, and she embraced me.
"Shall we go away tomorrow?" presently she asked, as 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 up, and her eyes first lit upon us? What, too, about 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! Ha, ha, ha! He also says that we
Russians know nothing, can do nothing, without European help. But he is
a good fellow all the same. For instance, he does not blame the General
in the matter, but declares that Mlle. Blanche--that love--But no; I do
not know, I do not know." She stopped suddenly, as though she had said
her say, and was feeling bewildered. "What poor creatures these people
are. How sorry I am for them, and 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! Oh, how I laughed and
Then she kissed and embraced me again; again she pressed her face to
mine with tender passion. Yet I neither saw nor heard her, for my head
was in a whirl....
It must have been about seven o'clock in the morning when I awoke.
Daylight had come, and Polina was sitting by my side--a strange
expression on her face, as though she had seen a vision and was unable
to collect her thoughts. She too had just awoken, and was now staring
at the money on the table. My head ached; it felt heavy. I attempted to
take Polina's hand, but she pushed me from her, and leapt from the
sofa. The dawn was full of mist, for rain had fallen, yet she moved to
the window, opened it, and, leaning her elbows upon the window-sill,
thrust out her head and shoulders to take the air. In this position did
she remain for several minutes, without ever looking round at me, or
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 window, approached the table, and, looking at me with an
expression of infinite aversion, said with lips which quivered with
"Well? Are you going to hand me over my fifty thousand francs?"
"Polina, you say that AGAIN, AGAIN?" I exclaimed.
"You have changed your mind, then? Ha, ha, ha! You are sorry you ever
On the table where, the previous night, I had counted the money there
still was lying the packet of twenty five thousand florins. I handed it
"The francs are mine, then, are 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 so, and 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; yet, what 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 mind, above all things, this 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 that, presuming too much on my good fortune, I had seemed to
be intending to desert her (even as De Griers had done) when once I had
given her the fifty thousand francs? But, on my honour, I had never
cherished any such intention. What was at fault, I think, was her own
pride, which kept urging her not to trust me, but, rather, to insult
me--even though she had not realised the fact. In her eyes I
corresponded to De Griers, and therefore had been condemned for a fault
not wholly my own. Her mood of late had been a sort of delirium, a sort
of light-headedness--that I knew full well; yet, never had I
sufficiently taken it into consideration. Perhaps she would not pardon
me now? Ah, but 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. No, she must have known what she
was doing when she brought it.
Somehow I contrived to stuff the pile of notes and gold under the bed,
to cover them over, and then to leave the room some ten minutes after
Polina. I felt sure that she had returned to her own room; wherefore, I
intended quietly to follow her, and to ask the nursemaid aid who opened
the door how her mistress was. Judge, therefore, of my surprise when,
meeting the domestic on the stairs, she 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 reproachfully.
Already sundry rumours were flying about the hotel. Both in the office
of the commissionaire and in that of the landlord it was whispered
that, at seven o'clock that morning, the Fraulein had left the hotel,
and set off, despite the rain, in 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.
Also, sundry rumours were circulating concerning the General's family
affairs. It was known that last night he had gone out of his mind, and
paraded the hotel in tears; also, that 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 Cominges, as well as to cut him out of her
will if he should disobey her; also that, because he had disobeyed her,
she had squandered all her money at roulette, in order to have nothing
more to leave to him. "Oh, these Russians!" exclaimed the landlord,
with an angry toss of the head, while the bystanders laughed and the
clerk betook himself to his accounts. Also, every one had learnt about
my winnings; Karl, the corridor lacquey, was 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; but, as soon as
he learnt that it was I who had arrived, he came out into the corridor
to meet me, and 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 replied, still looking at me with his direct,
"And she is in your rooms."
"Yes, she is in my rooms."
"Then you are minded to keep her there?"
"Yes, I am minded to keep her there."
"But, Mr. Astley, that will raise a scandal. It ought not to be
allowed. Besides, she is very ill. Perhaps you had not remarked that?"
"Yes, I have. It was I who told you about it. Had she not been ill, she
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. Unfortunately, being ill, she made a mistake, and
went to your rooms instead."
"Indeed? Then I wish you joy, Mr. Astley. Apropos, you 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? No, I was not there; but I was waiting in the corridor, and
walking about the hotel."
"She ought to see a doctor, you know, Mr. Astley."
"Yes, she ought. I have sent for one, and, if she dies, I shall hold
This surprised me.
"Pardon me," I replied, "but what do you mean?"
"Never mind. Tell me if it is true that, last night, you won two
hundred thousand thalers?"
"No; I won a hundred thousand florins."
"Good heavens! Then I suppose you will be off to Paris this morning?
"Because all Russians who have grown rich go to Paris," explained
Astley, as though he had read the fact in a book.
"But what could I do in Paris in summer time?--I LOVE her, Mr. Astley!
Surely you know that?"
"Indeed? I am sure that you do NOT. Moreover, if you were to stay here,
you would lose everything that you possess, and 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 here."
"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; yet, I hardly suppose that that will break the General's
heart. Moreover, Mlle. Polina has a perfect right to live where she
chooses. In short, we may say that, as a family, this family has ceased
I departed, and 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 duel, should Polina die. Yes, that is what he intends
to do." Now, although I was honestly sorry for Polina, it is a fact
that, from the moment when, the previous night, I had approached the
gaming-table, and begun to rake in the packets of bank-notes, my love
for her had entered upon a new plane. Yes, I can say that now;
although, at the time, I was barely conscious of it. Was I, then, at
heart a gambler? Did I, after all, love Polina not so very much? No,
no! As God is my witness, I loved her! Even when I was returning home
from Mr. Astley's my suffering was genuine, and 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
open, and a voice call me by name. It was Mlle.'s mother, the Widow de
Cominges who was inviting me, in her daughter's name, to enter.
I did so; whereupon, I 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.
"Ah, c'est lui! Viens, donc, bete! 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."
"Bibi, comme tu es bete! Come in here, for I can't hear you where you
are now. Nous ferons bombance, n'est-ce pas?"
Entering her room, I found her lolling under a pink satin coverlet, and
revealing a pair of swarthy, wonderfully healthy shoulders--shoulders
such as one sees in dreams--shoulders covered over with a white cambric
nightgown which, trimmed with lace, stood out, in striking relief,
against the darkness of her skin.
"Mon fils, as-tu du coeur?" she cried when she saw me, and then
giggled. Her laugh had always been a very cheerful one, and at times it
even sounded sincere.
"Tout autre--" I began, paraphrasing Corneille.
"See here," she prattled on. "Please search for my stockings, and help
me to dress. Aussi, si tu n'es pas trop bete je te prends a Paris. I am
just off, let me tell you."
"In half an hour."
True enough, everything stood ready-packed--trunks, portmanteaux, and
all. Coffee had long been served.
"Eh bien, tu verras Paris. Dis donc, qu'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--small, swarthy, and not
misshapen like the majority of feet which look dainty only in bottines.
I laughed, and started to draw on to the foot a silk stocking, while
Mlle. Blanche sat on the edge of the bed and chattered.
"Eh bien, que feras-tu si je te prends avec moi? First of all I must
have fifty thousand francs, and you shall give them to me at Frankfurt.
Then we will go on to Paris, where we will live together, et 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 francs, what
should I have left for myself?"
"Another hundred thousand francs, please to remember. Besides, I could
live with you in your rooms for a month, or even for two; or even for
longer. But it would not take us more than two months to get through
fifty thousand francs; for, look you, je suis bonne enfante, et tu
verras des etoiles, you may be sure."
"What? You mean to say that we should spend the whole in two months?"
"Certainly. Does that surprise you very much? Ah, vil esclave! Why, one
month of that life would be better than all your previous existence.
One month--et apres, le deluge! Mais tu ne peux comprendre. Va! Away,
away! You are not worth it.--Ah, que fais-tu?"
For, while drawing on the other stocking, I had felt constrained to
kiss her. Immediately she shrunk back, kicked me in the face with her
toes, and turned me neck and prop out of the room.
"Eh bien, mon '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 face, and preferred Mr. Astley to
myself. A few bank-notes were still fluttering about the floor, and I
picked them up. At that moment the door opened, and the landlord
appeared--a person who, until now, had 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 account, please, for in ten minutes I shall be
"To Paris, to Paris!" I added to myself. "Every man of birth must make
Within a quarter of an hour all three of us were seated in a family
compartment--Mlle. Blanche, the Widow de Cominges, and 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 two, and
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 stake, that I had lost
my senses, that I desired nothing better, I 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 you, Mr. Astley!" Yes, as now I look back at things, I
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 task.
"Come, come! We are going to spend your two hundred thousand francs for
you, et tu seras heureux comme un petit roi. I myself will tie your tie
for you, and introduce you to Hortense. And when we have spent your
money you shall return here, and break the bank again. What did those
two Jews tell you?--that the thing most needed is daring, and that you
possess it? Consequently, this is not the first time that you will be
hurrying to Paris with money in your pocket. Quant ... moi, je veux
cinquante mille francs de rente, et 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 occasion, I took care to tell him
that he must hunt for the choicest of flowers; and when he returns
home, the poor fellow will find the bird flown. Possibly he may take
wing in pursuit--ha, ha, ha! And if so, I shall not be sorry, for he
could be useful to me in Paris, and 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 there, and, during that
time, saw my hundred thousand francs come to an end. I speak only of
the ONE hundred thousand francs, for the other hundred thousand I gave
to Mlle. Blanche in pure cash. That is to say, I handed her fifty
thousand francs at Frankfurt, and, three days later (in Paris),
advanced her another fifty thousand on note of hand. Nevertheless, a
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 moi,
mon utchitel." Yes, she always called me her "utchitel." A person more
economical, grasping, and 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
footing, and proof against any stones which may be thrown at me--at all
events for a long time to come." Nevertheless, I saw nothing of those
hundred thousand francs, for my own purse (which she inspected daily)
never managed to amass in it more than a hundred francs at a time; and,
generally 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. Nevertheless, though she
fitted out her flat very badly with the money, the fact did not prevent
her from saying when, later, she was showing me over the rooms of her
new abode: "See what care and taste can do with the most wretched of
means!" However, her "wretchedness" had cost fifty thousand francs,
while with the remaining fifty thousand she purchased a carriage and
Also, we gave a couple of balls--evening parties attended by Hortense
and Lisette and Cleopatre, who 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 braggadocio, colonels of various kinds, hungry
authors, and journalistic hacks--all of whom disported themselves in
fashionable tailcoats and pale yellow gloves, and 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 me, but I would console myself by drinking champagne and then
lolling in a retiring-room. Nevertheless, I found it deadly work.
"C'est un utchitel," Blanche would say of me, "qui a gagne deux cent
mille francs, and but for me, would 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 know, one must do something for him."
I had the more frequent recourse to champagne in that I constantly felt
depressed and bored, owing to the fact that I was living in the most
bourgeois commercial milieu imaginable--a milieu wherein every sou was
counted and grudged. Indeed, two weeks had not elapsed before I
perceived that Blanche had no real affection for me, even though she
dressed me in elegant clothes, and herself tied my tie each day. In
short, she utterly despised me. But that caused me no concern. Blase
and inert, I spent my evenings generally at the Chateau des Fleurs,
where I would get fuddled and then dance the cancan (which, in that
establishment, was a very indecent performance) with eclat. At length,
the time came when Blanche had drained my purse dry. She had conceived
an idea that, during the term of our residence together, it would be
well if I were always to walk behind her with a paper and pencil, in
order to jot down exactly what she spent, what she had saved, what she
was paying out, and what she was laying by. Well, of 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 answer, she soon saw that I made no objections, and
therefore, had to start disputes herself. That is to say, she 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 that, being too stupid to understand, I was a hopeless case.
Then she would leave the room, but 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."
"Yes, yes. They are splendid horses, and you have got a splendid
turn-out. I am quite content. Let me hear no more of the matter."
"Then you are not angry?"
"No. Why should I be? You are wise to provide yourself with what you
need, for it will all come in handy in the future. Yes, I quite see the
necessity of your establishing yourself on a good basis, for 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."
Blanche, who had by no means expected such declarations from me, but,
rather, an uproar and protests, was rather taken aback.
"Well, well, what a man you are!" she exclaimed. "Mais tu as l'esprit
pour comprendre. Sais-tu, mon garcon, although you are a tutor, you
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 donc, are you really rich? Mais sais-tu, you
have too much contempt for money. Qu'est-ce que tu feras apres, dis
"Apres I shall go to Homburg, and win another hundred thousand francs."
"Oui, oui, c'est ca, c'est magnifique! Ah, I know you will win them,
and bring them to me when you have done so. Dis donc--you will end by
making me love you. Since you are what you are, I mean to love you all
the time, and never to be unfaithful to you. You see, I 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 you, parce que je suis bonne fille."
"You lie!" I interrupted. "Did I not see you, the other day, with
Albert--with that black-jowled officer?"
"Oh, oh! Mais tu es--"
"Yes, you 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 now, I should refrain from putting him out of the
room if I thought you really cared for him. Only, mind you, do not give
him any of my money. You hear?"
"You say, do you, that you would not be angry? Mais tu es un vrai
philosophe, sais-tu? Oui, un vrai philosophe! Eh bien, je t'aimerai, je
t'aimerai. Tu verras-tu seras content."
True enough, from that time onward she seemed to attach herself only to
me, and in this manner we spent our last ten days together. The
promised "etoiles" I did not see, but in other respects she, to a
certain extent, kept her word. Moreover, she introduced me to Hortense,
who was a remarkable woman in her way, and known among us as Therese
But I need not enlarge further, for to do so would require a story to
itself, and entail a colouring which I am loth 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 us, as I have said, for very nearly a
month--which greatly surprised me. At all events, Blanche bought
herself articles to the tune of eighty thousand francs, and the rest
sufficed just to meet our expenses of living. Towards the close of the
affair, Blanche grew almost frank with me (at least, she scarcely lied
to me at all)--declaring, amongst other things, that 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 so, and have let you go to
prison. See, then, how much I love you, and how good-hearted I am!
Think, too, what this accursed marriage with the General is going to
True enough, the marriage took place. It did so at the close of our
month together, and 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 say, my sojourn with the Frenchwoman--came to an
end, and I formally retired from the scene.
It happened thus: A week after we had taken up our abode in Paris there
arrived thither the General. He came straight to see us, and
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
laughter, and even threw her arms around him. In fact, she managed it
so that he had to follow everywhere in her train--whether when
promenading on the Boulevards, or when driving, or when going to the
theatre, or when paying calls; and this use which she made of him quite
satisfied the General. Still of imposing appearance and presence, as
well as of fair height, he had a dyed moustache and whiskers (he had
formerly been in the cuirassiers), and a handsome, though a somewhat
wrinkled, face. Also, his manners were excellent, and he could carry a
frockcoat well--the more so since, in Paris, he took to wearing his
orders. To promenade the Boulevards with such a man was not only a
thing possible, but also, so to speak, a thing advisable, and 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 terror, for he had supposed that Blanche would at
once raise an outcry, and have him put from the door; wherefore, he was
the more enraptured at the turn that things had taken, and spent the
month in a state of senseless ecstasy. Already I had learnt that, after
our unexpected departure from Roulettenberg, he had had a sort of a
fit--that he had fallen into a swoon, and spent a week in a species of
garrulous delirium. Doctors had been summoned to him, but he had broken
away from them, and suddenly taken a train to Paris. Of course
Blanche's reception of him had acted as the best of all possible cures,
but for long enough he carried the marks of his affliction, despite his
present condition of rapture and delight. To think clearly, or even to
engage in any serious conversation, had now become impossible for him;
he could only ejaculate after each word "Hm!" and then nod his head in
confirmation. Sometimes, also, he would laugh, but only in a nervous,
hysterical sort of a fashion; while at other times he would sit for
hours looking as black as night, with his heavy eyebrows knitted. Of
much that went on he remained wholly oblivious, for he grew extremely
absent-minded, and 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 while, or
that she had gone out without taking him with her, or that she had
omitted to caress him before departing. When in this condition, he
would refuse to say what he wanted--nor had he the least idea that he
was thus sulking and moping. Next, after 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 him, and to grow uneasy, and to hurry about with an air as though
he had suddenly remembered something, and must try and find it; after
which, not perceiving the object of his search, nor succeeding in
recalling what that object had been, he would as suddenly relapse into
oblivion, and continue so until the reappearance of Blanche--merry,
wanton, half-dressed, and laughing her strident laugh as she approached
to pet him, and even to kiss him (though the latter reward he seldom
received). Once, he 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 Paris, Blanche 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 him, though
she had almost become his betrothed and promised to become so; that it
was for HER sake he had deserted his family; that, having been in his
service, I ought to remember the fact, and to feel ashamed. To all this
I would say nothing, however much she chattered on; until at length I
would burst out laughing, and the incident would come to an end (at
first, as I have said, she had thought me a fool, but since she had
come to deem me a man of sense and sensibility). In short, I had the
happiness of calling her better nature into play; for though, at first,
I had not deemed her so, she was, in reality, a 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 streets,
even as she might have done with a lacquey and her spaniel; but, I
preferred to take him to the theatre, to the Bal Mabille, and to
restaurants. For this purpose she usually allowed me some money, though
the General had a little of his own, and 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 francs, after 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 myself, I think that he never divined the footing
on which I stood with Blanche. True, he had heard, in a dim sort of
way, that 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 events, he continued to address me, in his old
haughty style, as my superior. At times he even took it upon himself to
scold me. One morning in particular, he started to sneer at me over our
matutinal coffee. Though not a man prone to take offence, he suddenly,
and for some reason of which to this day I am ignorant, fell out with
me. Of course even he himself did not know the reason. To put things
shortly, he began a speech which had neither beginning nor ending, and
cried out, a batons rompus, that I was a boy whom he would soon put to
rights--and so forth, and so forth. Yet no one could understand what he
was saying, and at length Blanche exploded in a burst of laughter.
Finally something appeased him, and he was taken out for his walk. More
than once, however, I noticed that his depression was growing upon him;
that he seemed to be feeling the want of somebody or something; that,
despite Blanche's presence, he was missing some person in particular.
Twice, on these occasions, did he plunge into a conversation with me,
though he could not make himself intelligible, and only went on
rambling about the service, his late wife, his home, and his property.
Every now and then, also, some 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.
Again, I would try to get him to talk about his children, but always he
cut me short in his old snappish way, and passed to another subject.
"Yes, yes--my children," was all that I could extract from him. "Yes,
you 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
theatre, and suddenly he exclaimed: "My unfortunate children! Yes, sir,
they are unfortunate children." Once, too, when I chanced to mention
Polina, he 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 here, I would have her impaled. Yes, I
would." As for De Griers, the General would not have his name
mentioned. "He has ruined me," he would say. "He has robbed me, and 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; yet, true to my usual custom, I said nothing. At length,
Blanche 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 ill,
and therefore, bound to die. Mr. Astley has just sent a telegram to say
so, and 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 amiss, since, in
the first place, he has his pension, and, in the second place, he will
be content to live in a back room; whereas I shall be Madame General,
and get into a good circle of society" (she was always thinking of
this) "and become a Russian chatelaine. Yes, I shall have a mansion of
my own, and peasants, and a million of money at my back."
"But, suppose he should prove jealous? He might demand all sorts of
things, you know. Do you follow me?"
"Oh, dear no! How ridiculous that would be of him! Besides, I have
taken measures to prevent it. You need not be alarmed. That is to say,
I have induced him to sign notes of hand in Albert's name.
Consequently, at any time I could get him punished. Isn't he
"Very well, then. Marry him."
And, in truth, she did so--though the marriage was a family one only,
and involved no pomp or ceremony. In fact, she invited to the nuptials
none but Albert and a few other friends. Hortense, Cleopatre, and the
rest she kept firmly at a distance. As for the bridegroom, he took a
great interest in his new position. Blanche herself tied his tie, and
Blanche herself pomaded him--with the result that, in his frockcoat and
white waistcoat, he looked quite comme il faut.
"Il est, pourtant, TRES comme il faut," Blanche remarked when she
issued from his room, as though the idea that he was "TRES comme il
faut" had impressed even her. For myself, I had so little knowledge of
the minor details of the affair, and took part in it so much as a
supine spectator, that I have forgotten most of what passed on this
occasion. I only remember that Blanche and the Widow figured at it, not
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
General, that 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 Placet, du Placet!" He beamed with satisfaction as he did
so. Both in the church and at the wedding breakfast he remained not
only pleased and contented, but even proud. She too underwent a change,
for now she assumed an air of added dignity.
"I must behave altogether differently," she confided to me with a
serious air. "Yet, mark you, there is a tiresome circumstance of which
I had never before thought--which is, how best to pronounce my new
family name. Zagorianski, Zagozianski, Madame la Generale de Sago,
Madame la Generale de Fourteen Consonants--oh these infernal Russian
names! The LAST of them would be the best to use, don't you think?"
At length the time had come for us to part, and Blanche, the egregious
Blanche, shed real tears as she took her leave of me. "Tu etais bon
enfant" she said with a sob. "Je te croyais bete et tu en avais l'air,
but it suited you." Then, having given me a final handshake, she
exclaimed, "Attends!"; whereafter, running into her boudoir, she
brought me thence two thousand-franc notes. I could scarcely believe my
eyes! "They may come in handy for you," she explained, "for, though you
are a very learned tutor, you are a very stupid man. More than two
thousand francs, however, I am not going to give you, for the reason
that, if I did so, you would gamble them all away. Now good-bye. Nous
serons toujours bons amis, and if you win again, do not fail to come to
me, et tu seras heureux."
I myself had still five hundred francs left, as well as a watch worth a
thousand francs, a few diamond studs, and so on. Consequently, I 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 together, and partly to wait for Mr. Astley, who, I have
learnt, will soon be here for a day or so on business. Yes, I know
that, and then--and then I shall go to Homburg. But to Roulettenberg I
shall not go until next year, for they say it is bad to try one's luck
twice in succession at a table. Moreover, Homburg 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 because, being overwhelmed with depression, I
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 God, with what a
light heart (comparatively speaking) did I write the concluding
lines!--though it may be not so much with a light heart, as 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 passed, yet 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. Oh,
you self-satisfied persons who, in your unctuous pride, are forever
ready to mouth your maxims--if only you knew how fully I myself
comprehend the sordidness of my present state, you would not trouble to
wag your tongues at me! What could you say to me that I do not already
know? Well, wherein lies my difficulty? It lies in the fact that by a
single turn of a roulette wheel everything for me, has become changed.
Yet, had things befallen otherwise, these moralists would have been
among the first (yes, I feel persuaded of it) to approach me with
friendly jests and congratulations. Yes, they 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 dead,
and have begun life anew. For still, I may discover the man in myself,
if only my manhood has not become utterly shattered.
I went, I say, to Homburg, but afterwards went also to Roulettenberg,
as well as to Spa and Baden; in which latter place, for a time, I acted
as valet to a certain rascal of a Privy Councillor, by name Heintze,
who until lately was also my master here. Yes, for 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 events, the debt was paid to the tune of two
hundred thalers, and I sallied forth a free man. But what was I to do
with myself? In my dilemma I had recourse to this Heintze, who was a
young scapegrace, and the sort of man who could speak and write three
languages. At first I acted as his secretary, at a salary of thirty
gulden a month, but afterwards I became his lacquey, for the reason
that he could not afford to keep a secretary--only an unpaid servant. I
had nothing else to turn to, so I remained with him, and allowed myself
to become his flunkey. But by stinting myself in meat and drink I
saved, during my five months of service, some seventy gulden; and one
evening, when we were at Baden, I told him that I wished to resign my
post, and then hastened to betake myself to roulette.
Oh, how my heart beat as I did so! No, it was not the money that I
valued--what I wanted was to make all this mob of Heintzes, hotel
proprietors, and fine ladies of Baden talk about me, recount my story,
wonder at me, extol my doings, and worship my winnings. True, these
were childish fancies and aspirations, but who knows but that I might
meet Polina, and be able to tell her everything, and see her look of
surprise at the fact that I had overcome so many adverse strokes of
fortune. No, I had no desire for money for its own sake, for I was
perfectly well aware that I should only squander it upon some new
Blanche, and spend another three weeks in Paris after buying a pair of
horses which had cost sixteen thousand francs. No, I never believed
myself to be a hoarder; in fact, I knew only too well that I was a
spendthrift. And already, with a sort of fear, a sort of sinking in my
heart, I could hear the cries of the croupiers--"Trente et un, rouge,
impair et passe," "Quarte, noir, pair et manque." How greedily I gazed
upon the gaming-table, with its scattered louis d'or, ten-gulden
pieces, and thalers; upon the streams of gold as they issued from the
croupier's hands, and 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.
Ah, the 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 lost, but 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. Indeed, I have been less pleased when, in former
times, I have won a hundred thousand gulden. Losing no time, I staked
another hundred gulden upon the red, and won; two hundred upon the red,
and won; four hundred upon the black, and won; eight hundred upon
manque, and won. Thus, with the addition of the remainder of my
original capital, I found myself possessed, within five minutes, of
seventeen hundred gulden. Ah, at 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 risk, and behold, again I was a member of mankind!
I went and hired a room, I shut myself up in it, and sat counting my
money until three o'clock in the morning. To think that when I awoke on
the morrow, I 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 that, in all, I lost fifteen hundred
florins. Nevertheless, I proceeded to Homburg, and have now been there
for a month.
Of course, I am living in constant trepidation, playing for the
smallest of stakes, and always looking out for something--calculating,
standing whole days by the gaming-tables to watch the play--even seeing
that play in my dreams--yet seeming, the while, to be in some way
stiffening, to be growing caked, as it were, in mire. But I must
conclude my notes, which I finish under the impression of a recent
encounter with Mr. Astley. I had not seen him since we parted at
Roulettenberg, and now we met quite by accident. At the time I was
walking in the public gardens, and meditating upon the fact that not
only had I still some fifty gulden in my possession, but also I had
fully paid up my hotel bill three days ago. Consequently, I was in a
position to try my luck again at roulette; and if I won anything I
should be able to continue my play, whereas, if I lost what I now
possessed, I should once more have to accept a lacquey's place,
provided that, in the alternative, I failed to discover a Russian
family which stood in need of a tutor. Plunged in these reflections, I
started on my daily walk through the Park and forest towards a
neighbouring principality. Sometimes, on such occasions, I spent four
hours on the way, and would return to Homburg tired and hungry; but, on
this particular occasion, I had scarcely left the gardens for the Park
when I caught sight of Astley seated on a bench. As soon as he
perceived me, he called me by name, and I went and sat down beside him;
but, on noticing that he seemed a little stiff in his manner, I
hastened to moderate the expression of joy which the sight of him had
"YOU here?" he said. "Well, I had an idea that I should meet you. Do
not trouble to tell me anything, for I know all--yes, all. In fact,
your 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 there."
"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 here, so it cannot
have been a Russian who befriended me. In Russia we Orthodox folk DO go
bail for one another, but in this case I thought it must have been done
by some English stranger who was not conversant with the ways of the
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 spirit, as well as your
"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 this, but presently did so and
"Your remarks please me as they always did," he continued. "In those
words I see the clever, triumphant, and, above 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. Yet, on the present occasion, I assure you, I am sincerely glad
to see that you are NOT cast down. Tell me, are you never going to give
"Damn the gambling! Yes, I should certainly have given it up, were it
"That you are losing? I thought so. You need not tell me any more. I
know how things stand, for you have said that last in despair, and
therefore, truthfully. Have you no other employment than gambling?"
"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 life,
with its interests and social ties, but the duties of a citizen and a
man; you have not only renounced the friends whom I know you to have
had, and every aim in life but that of winning money; but you have also
renounced your memory. Though I can remember you in the strong, ardent
period of your life, I 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 pair, impair rouge, noir, the twelve
middle numbers, and so forth."
"Enough, Mr. Astley!" I cried with some irritation--almost in anger.
"Kindly do not recall to me any more recollections, for I can remember
things for myself. Only for a time have I put them out of my head. Only
until I shall have rehabilitated myself, am 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 alive, I will remind you--here, on this very bench--of what I
have just said. In fact, I 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 past, may 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 her."
"No, I do not think it was she. At the present moment she is in
Switzerland, and you will do me a favour by ceasing to ask me these
questions about her." Astley said this with a firm, and even an angry,
"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; but, I repeat, that I shall thank you to cease questioning me
about her. You never really knew her, and her name on your lips is an
offence to my moral feeling."
"Indeed? On what subject, then, have I a better right to speak to you
than on this? With it are bound up all your recollections and mine.
However, do not be alarmed: I have no wish to probe too far into your
private, your 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."
"Well, on condition that the matter shall end there, I will tell you
that for a long time Mlle. Polina was ill, and still is so. My mother
and sister entertained her for a while at their home in the north of
England, and thereafter Mlle. Polina's grandmother (you remember the
mad old woman?) died, and left Mlle. Polina a personal legacy of seven
thousand pounds sterling. That was about six months ago, and 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
will, and are now being educated in London. As for the General, he died
in Paris last month, of a stroke. Mlle. Blanche did well by him, for
she succeeded in having transferred to herself all that he received
from the Grandmother. That, I think, concludes 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?"
"Yes, in spite of our old friendship."
"Then I beg your pardon a thousand times, Mr. Astley. I meant nothing
offensive to Mlle. Polina, for I have nothing of which to accuse her.
Moreover, the question of there being anything between this Frenchman
and this Russian lady is not one which you and I need discuss, nor even
attempt to understand."
"If," replied Astley, "you do not care to hear their names coupled
together, may 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
"Ah, I see you are interested, Mr. Astley. But it is a long, long
story, and calls for a lengthy preface. At the same time, the question
is an important one, however ridiculous it may seem at the first
glance. A Frenchman, Mr. Astley, is merely a fine figure of a man. With
this you, as a Britisher, may not agree. With it I also, as a Russian,
may not agree--out of envy. Yet possibly our good ladies are of another
opinion. For instance, one may look upon Racine as a broken-down,
hobbledehoy, perfumed individual--one may even be unable to read him;
and I too may think him the same, as well as, in some respects, a
subject for ridicule. Yet about him, Mr. Astley, there is a certain
charm, and, above all things, he is a great poet--though one might like
to deny it. Yes, the Frenchman, the Parisian, as a national figure, was
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 heritage, and now every whippersnapper of a Parisian may
possess manners, methods of expression, and 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 manners,
and the rest, having come to him through inheritance. Yes, taken by
himself, the Frenchman is frequently a fool of fools and a villain of
villains. Per contra, there 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 heart, for he
has an imposing figure, Mr. Astley, and 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 you, I feel bound to say that the
majority also of English people are uncouth and unrefined, whereas we
Russian folk can recognise beauty wherever we see it, and 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 events, they need more EXPERIENCE. For instance, this Mlle.
Polina--pardon me, but the name has passed my lips, and 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 you, she may become your friend,
she may open out her heart to you; yet over that heart there will be
reigning that loathsome villain, that mean and petty usurer, De 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 marquis, of 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 exposed, you will find that the exposure has
made no impression upon her mind. Only give her the De Griers of former
days, and she will ask of you no more. The more she may detest the
present De Griers, the 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 refiner, Mr. Astley, are you not?"
"Yes, I belong to the well-known firm of Lovell and Co."
"Then see here. On the one hand, you are a sugar refiner, while, on the
other hand, you are an Apollo Belvedere. But the two characters do not
mix with one another. I, again, am 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 aware, since she appears to have an
excellent force of police at her disposal."
"You are saying this because you are feeling bitter," said Astley with
cold indifference. "Yet there is not the least originality in your
"I agree. But therein lies the horror of it all--that, how trepidation,
playing ever mean and farcical my accusations may be, they are none the
less TRUE. But I am only wasting words."
"Yes, you are, for you are only talking nonsense!" exclaimed my
companion--his voice now trembling and his eyes flashing fire. "Are you
aware," he continued, "that wretched, ignoble, petty, unfortunate man
though you are, it was at HER request I came to Homburg, in order to
see you, and to have a long, serious talk with you, and to report to
her your feelings and thoughts and hopes--yes, and your recollections
of her, too?"
"Indeed? Is that really so?" I cried--the tears beginning to well from
my eyes. Never before had this happened.
"Yes, poor 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 you, you would none the
less have to remain where you are. Yes, you have ruined yourself beyond
redemption. Once upon a time you had a certain amount of talent, and
you were of a lively disposition, and your good looks were not to be
despised. You might even have been useful to your country, which needs
men like you. Yet you remained here, and 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 roulette, then 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.
Hitherto, you 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 money, I suppose?
Then take these ten louis d'or. More I shall not give you, for you
would only gamble it away. Take care of these coins, and farewell. Once
more, TAKE CARE of them."
"No, Mr. Astley. After all that has been said I--"
"TAKE CARE of them!" repeated my friend. "I am certain you are still a
gentleman, and therefore I give you the money as one gentleman may give
money to another. Also, if I could be certain that you would leave both
Homburg and the gaming-tables, and return to your own country, I would
give you a thousand pounds down to start life afresh; but, I 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 money, therefore, and good-bye."
"Yes, I 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 Griers, HE 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. Tomorrow,
tomorrow--Ah, but if only I could set things right tomorrow, and be
born again, and 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 man, it would be worth it. Today it is too late, but
Yet I have a presentiment that things can never be otherwise. I have
got fifteen louis d'or in my possession, although I began with fifteen
gulden. If I were to play carefully at the start--But no, no! 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. Yes, my nature is
my weak point. I have only to remember what happened to me some months
ago at Roulettenberg, before my final ruin. What a notable instance
that was of my capacity for resolution! On the occasion in question I
had lost everything--everything; yet, just as I was leaving the Casino,
I 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
on, I changed my mind, and returned. That gulden I staked upon
manque--and there is something in the feeling that, though one is
alone, and in a foreign land, and far from one's own home and friends,
and ignorant of whence one's next meal is to come, one is nevertheless
staking one's very last coin! Well, I won the stake, and in twenty
minutes had left the Casino with a hundred and seventy gulden in my
pocket! That is a fact, and it shows what a last remaining gulden can
do.... But what if my heart had failed me, or I had shrunk from
making up my mind? ...
No: tomorrow all shall be ended!