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Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Gambler
The Gambler - Page 3
"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
"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
"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
"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 loved her.
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 profundity.
These details I noted within a space of a few seconds.
At first my bow and the fact that I had my hat in my hand barely
caught their attention. The Baron only scowled a 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 outright.
"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
"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
At the portico I caught up to her.
"I have perpetrated the--the piece of idiocy," I said as I came
level with her.
"Have you? Then you can take the consequences," she replied
without so much as looking at me. Then she moved towards the
I spent the rest of the evening walking in the park. Thence I
passed into the 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 the Baroness?"
"No, I have not."
"But I understand that you simply terrified them, my good sir?"
shouted the General.
"Not in the least," I replied. "You must know that when I was
in Berlin I frequently used to hear the Berliners 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 proceeding increase.
"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 shoulders.
"Do not think THAT," I put in. "It was not so at all. I grant
you that my behaviour was bad--I fully confess that it was so,
and make no secret of the fact. I would even go so far as to
grant you that my behaviour might well be called stupid and
indecent tomfoolery; 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 establishment!"
"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 call it?"
"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
"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
"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
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
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 16o 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 unbearable.
"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
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 affair.
"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
"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 reference."
"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 scandals."
"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 arrange."
"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 of
"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 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
"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 outright.
"Very well," I said, "you can tell Mlle. not to disturb
herself. But," I added sharply, "I would also ask you why you
have been so long in handing me this note? Instead of chattering
about 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 otherwise?
"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 the fact? "
"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 a talk."
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
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.
"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 lately received.
"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
"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
"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
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 about Polina).
"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."
"Oh, oh! "
"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
"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 noticed them?"