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Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Gambler
The Gambler - Page 4
"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 understand?"
"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 you."
"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
"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 by train."
"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 upside down!"
"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 unexpected--"
"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
"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
"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 myself.
"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. Astley.
But what a frail creature is man! No sooner was my first
surprise abated than I found myself rejoicing in the shock which
we were about to administer to the General. So much did the
thought inspire me that I marched ahead in the gayest of
Our party was lodging on the third floor. Without knocking at
the 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 expecting me?"
"Antonida Vassilievna! O my dearest mother! But how on earth
did you, did you--?" The mutterings of the unhappy General died
I verily believe that if the Grandmother had held her tongue a
few seconds longer she would have had a stroke.
"How on earth did I WHAT?" she exclaimed. "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 suppose?"
"Oui, madame," assented De Griers. "Et, croyez, je suis si
enchante! Votre sante--c'est un miracle vous voir ici. Une
"Just so. 'Charmante!' I happen to know you as a mountebank,
and therefore trust you no more than THIS." She indicated her
little finger. "And who is THAT?" she went 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
"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
I explained to the old lady that Mlle. Blanche had never visited
"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
"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 here?"
"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, and we--"
"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
This made such an impression upon the General that he almost
choked with fury.
"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, Theodosia?"
"I am very well, thank you, Madame," replied the nursemaid.
"And how is your ladyship? We have been feeling so anxious about
"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
"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
"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
"Mais, madame, cela sera un plaisir," De Griers commented with
a bewitching smile.
"'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 General's apartments.
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
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
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
"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
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
"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 Berlin accent."
"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 employ."
"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 moment."
"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
"What did you do next?" The old lady inquired of me.
"I wanted to challenge the Baron to a duel," I replied as
modestly as possible; "but the General protested against my
"And WHY did you so protest? " she inquired of the General.
Then she turned to the 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 really feasible?"
"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 roulette played?"
I explained to her that the game was carried on in the salons of
the Casino; whereupon there ensued a string of questions as to
whether there were many such 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 mountain top?"
"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 maid.
"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 left us.
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
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
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
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
"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 sharply away.
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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 in hers.
"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 capital."
"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 its revolutions.
"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
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 all!
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.