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Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Gambler
The Gambler - Page 5
This time the old lady did not call
for Potapitch; for that she was too preoccupied.
Though not outwardly shaken by the
event (indeed, she seemed perfectly calm), she was trembling
inwardly from head to foot. At length, completely absorbed in the
game, she burst out:
"Alexis Ivanovitch, did not the
croupier just say that 4000 florins were the most that could be
staked at any one time? Well, take these 4000, and stake them upon
To oppose her was useless. Once more the wheel revolved.
"Rouge!" proclaimed the croupier.
Again 4000 florins--in all 8000!
"Give me them," commanded the Grandmother, "and stake the other 4000
upon the red again."
I did so.
"Rouge!" proclaimed the croupier.
"Twelve thousand!" cried the old lady. "Hand me the whole lot. Put
the gold into this purse here, and count the bank notes. Enough! Let
us go home. Wheel my chair away."
THE chair, with the old lady beaming in it, was wheeled away towards
the doors at the further end of the salon, while our party hastened
to crowd around her, and to offer her their congratulations.
In fact, eccentric as was her conduct,
it was also overshadowed by her triumph; with the result that the
General no longer feared to be publicly compromised by being seen
with such a strange woman, but, smiling in a condescending,
cheerfully familiar way, as though he were soothing a child, he
offered his greetings to the old lady. At the same time, both he and
the rest of the spectators were visibly impressed. Everywhere people
kept pointing to the Grandmother, and talking about her. Many people
even walked beside her chair, in order to view her the better while,
at a little distance, Astley was
carrying on a conversation on the subject with two English
acquaintances of his. De Griers was simply overflowing with smiles
and compliments, and a number of fine ladies were staring at the
Grandmother as though she had been something curious.
"Quelle victoire!" exclaimed De Griers.
"Mais, Madame, c'etait du feu!" added Mlle. Blanche with an
"Yes, I have won twelve thousand florins," replied the old
lady. "And then there is all this gold. With it the total ought
to come to nearly thirteen thousand. How much is that in Russian
money? Six thousand roubles, I think?"
However, I calculated that the sum would exceed seven thousand
roubles--or, at the present rate of exchange, even eight
"Eight thousand roubles! What a splendid thing! And to think of
you simpletons sitting there and doing nothing! Potapitch!
Martha! See what I have won!"
"How DID you do it, Madame?" Martha exclaimed ecstatically.
"Eight thousand roubles!"
"And I am going to give you fifty gulden apiece. There they
Potapitch and Martha rushed towards her to kiss her hand.
"And to each bearer also I will give a ten-gulden piece. Let
them have it out of the gold, Alexis Ivanovitch. But why is this
footman bowing to me, and that other man as well? Are they
congratulating me? Well, let them have ten gulden apiece."
"Madame la princesse--Un pauvre expatrie--Malheur continuel--Les
princes russes sont si genereux!" said a man who for some time
past had been hanging around the old lady's chair--a personage
who, dressed in a shabby frockcoat and coloured waistcoat, kept
taking off his cap, and smiling pathetically.
"Give him ten gulden," said the Grandmother. "No, give him
twenty. Now, enough of that, or I shall never get done with you
all. Take a moment's rest, and then carry me away. Prascovia, I
mean to buy a new dress for you tomorrow. Yes, and for you too,
Mlle. Blanche. Please translate, Prascovia."
"Merci, Madame," replied Mlle. Blanche gratefully as she
twisted her face into the mocking smile which usually she kept
only for the benefit of De Griers and the General. The latter
looked confused, and seemed greatly relieved when we reached the
"How surprised Theodosia too will be!" went on the Grandmother
(thinking of the General's nursemaid). "She, like yourselves,
shall have the price of a new gown. Here, Alexis Ivanovitch!
Give that beggar something" (a crooked-backed ragamuffin had
approached to stare at us).
"But perhaps he is NOT a beggar--only a rascal," I replied.
"Never mind, never mind. Give him a gulden."
I approached the beggar in question, and handed him the coin.
Looking at me in great astonishment, he silently accepted the
gulden, while from his person there proceeded a strong smell of
"Have you never tried your luck, Alexis Ivanovitch?"
"Yet just now I could see that you were burning to do so?"
"I do mean to try my luck presently."
"Then stake everything upon zero. You have seen how it ought to
be done? How much capital do you possess?"
"Two hundred gulden, Madame."
"Not very much. See here; I will lend you five hundred if you
wish. Take this purse of mine." With that she added sharply to
the General: "But YOU need not expect to receive any."
This seemed to upset him, but he said nothing, and De Griers
contented himself by scowling.
"Que diable!" he whispered to the General. "C'est une
"Look! Another beggar, another beggar!" exclaimed the
grandmother. "Alexis Ivanovitch, go and give him a gulden."
As she spoke I saw approaching us a grey-headed old man with a
wooden leg--a man who was dressed in a blue frockcoat and
carrying a staff. He looked like an old soldier. As soon as I
tendered him the coin he fell back a step or two, and eyed me
"Was ist der Teufel!" he cried, and appended thereto a round
dozen of oaths.
"The man is a perfect fool!" exclaimed the Grandmother, waving
her hand. "Move on now, for I am simply famished. When we have
lunched we will return to that place."
"What?" cried I. "You are going to play again?"
"What else do you suppose?" she retorted. "Are you going only
to sit here, and grow sour, and let me look at you?"
"Madame," said De Griers confidentially, "les chances peuvent
tourner. Une seule mauvaise chance, et vous perdrez tout--surtout
avec votre jeu. C'etait terrible!"
"Oui; vous perdrez absolument," put in Mlle. Blanche.
"What has that got to do with YOU?" retorted the old lady.
"It is not YOUR money that I am going to lose; it is my own. And
where is that Mr. Astley of yours?" she added to myself.
"He stayed behind in the Casino."
"What a pity! He is such a nice sort of man!"
Arriving home, and meeting the landlord on the staircase, the
Grandmother called him to her side, and boasted to him of her
winnings--thereafter doing the same to Theodosia, and conferring
upon her thirty gulden; after which she bid her serve luncheon.
The meal over, Theodosia and Martha broke into a joint flood of
"I was watching you all the time, Madame," quavered Martha,
"and I asked Potapitch what mistress was trying to do. And, my
word! the heaps and heaps of money that were lying upon the
table! Never in my life have I seen so much money. And there
were gentlefolk around it, and other gentlefolk sitting down. So,
I asked Potapitch where all these gentry had come from; for,
thought I, maybe the Holy Mother of God will help our mistress
among them. Yes, I prayed for you, Madame, and my heart died
within me, so that I kept trembling and trembling. The Lord be
with her, I thought to myself; and in answer to my prayer He has
now sent you what He has done! Even yet I tremble--I tremble to
think of it all."
"Alexis Ivanovitch," said the old lady, "after luncheon,--that
is to say, about four o'clock--get ready to go out with me again.
But in the meanwhile, good-bye. Do not forget to call a doctor,
for I must take the waters. Now go and get rested a little."
I left the Grandmother's presence in a state of bewilderment.
Vainly I endeavoured to imagine what would become of our party,
or what turn the affair would next take. I could perceive that
none of the party had yet recovered their presence of mind--least
of all the General. The factor of the Grandmother's appearance in
place of the hourly expected telegram to announce her death
(with, of course, resultant legacies) had so upset the whole
scheme of intentions and projects that it was with a decided
feeling of apprehension and growing paralysis that the
conspirators viewed any future performances of the old lady at
roulette. Yet this second factor was not quite so important as
the first, since, though the Grandmother had twice declared that
she did not intend to give the General any money, that
declaration was not a complete ground for the abandonment of
hope. Certainly De Griers, who, with the General, was up to the
neck in the affair, had not wholly lost courage; and I felt sure
that Mlle. Blanche also--Mlle. Blanche who was not only as
deeply involved as the other two, but also expectant of becoming
Madame General and an important legatee--would not lightly
surrender the position, but would use her every resource of
coquetry upon the old lady, in order to afford a contrast to the
impetuous Polina, who was difficult to understand, and lacked
the art of pleasing.
Yet now, when the Grandmother had just performed an astonishing
feat at roulette; now, when the old lady's personality had
been so clearly and typically revealed as that of a rugged,
arrogant woman who was "tombee en enfance"; now, when everything
appeared to be lost,--why, now the Grandmother was as merry as a
child which plays with thistle-down. "Good Lord!" I thought
with, may God forgive me, a most malicious smile, "every
ten-gulden piece which the Grandmother staked must have raised a
blister on the General's heart, and maddened De Griers, and
driven Mlle. de Cominges almost to frenzy with the sight of this
spoon dangling before her lips." Another factor is the
circumstance that even when, overjoyed at winning, the
Grandmother was distributing alms right and left, and
taking every one to be a beggar, she again snapped
out to the General that he was not going to be allowed any of
her money--which meant that the old lady had quite made up her
mind on the point, and was sure of it. Yes, danger loomed ahead.
All these thoughts passed through my mind during the few moments
that, having left the old lady's rooms, I was ascending to my own
room on the top storey. What most struck me was the fact that,
though I had divined the chief, the stoutest, threads which
united the various actors in the drama, I had, until now, been
ignorant of the methods and secrets of the game. For Polina had
never been completely open with me. Although, on occasions, it
had happened that involuntarily, as it were, she had revealed
to me something of her heart, I had noticed that in most
cases--in fact, nearly always--she had either laughed away these
revelations, or grown confused, or purposely imparted to them
a false guise. Yes, she must have concealed a great deal from me.
But, I had a presentiment that now the end of this strained and
mysterious situation was approaching. Another stroke, and all
would be finished and exposed. Of my own fortunes, interested
though I was in the affair, I took no account. I was in the
strange position of possessing but two hundred gulden, of being
at a loose end, of lacking both a post, the means of subsistence,
a shred of hope, and any plans for the future, yet of caring
nothing for these things. Had not my mind been so full of Polina,
I should have given myself up to the comical piquancy of the
impending denouement, and laughed my fill at it. But the thought
of Polina was torture to me. That her fate was settled I already
had an inkling; yet that was not the thought which was giving me
so much uneasiness. What I really wished for was to penetrate her
secrets. I wanted her to come to me and say, " I love you, " and,
if she would not so come, or if to hope that she would ever do so
was an unthinkable absurdity--why, then there was nothing else for
me to want. Even now I do not know what I am wanting. I feel like
a man who has lost his way. I yearn but to be in her presence, and
within the circle of her light and splendour--to be there now, and
forever, and for the whole of my life. More I do not know. How
can I ever bring myself to leave her?
On reaching the third storey of the hotel I experienced a shock.
I was just passing the General's suite when something caused me
to look round. Out of a door about twenty paces away there was
coming Polina! She hesitated for a moment on seeing me, and
then beckoned me to her.
"Hush! Not so loud."
"Something startled me just now," I whispered, "and I looked
round, and saw you. Some electrical influence seems to emanate
from your form."
"Take this letter," she went on with a frown (probably she had
not even heard my words, she was so preoccupied), "and hand it
personally to Mr. Astley. Go as quickly as ever you can, please.
No answer will be required. He himself--" She did not finish her
"To Mr. Astley?" I asked, in some astonishment.
But she had vanished again.
Aha! So the two were carrying on a correspondence! However, I
set off to search for Astley--first at his hotel, and then at
the Casino, where I went the round of the salons in vain. At
length, vexed, and almost in despair, I was on my way home
when I ran across him among a troop of English ladies and
gentlemen who had been out for a ride. Beckoning to him to
stop, I handed him the letter. We had barely time even to look
at one another, but I suspected that it was of set purpose
that he restarted his horse so quickly.
Was jealousy, then, gnawing at me? At all events, I felt
exceedingly depressed, despite the fact that I had no desire
to ascertain what the correspondence was about. To think that
HE should be her confidant! "My friend, mine own familiar
friend!" passed through my mind. Yet WAS there any love in
the matter? "Of course not," reason whispered to me. But
reason goes for little on such occasions. I felt that the
matter must be cleared up, for it was becoming unpleasantly
I had scarcely set foot in the hotel when the commissionaire
and the landlord (the latter issuing from his room for the
purpose) alike informed me that I was being searched for high
and low--that three separate messages to ascertain my
whereabouts had come down from the General. When I entered his
study I was feeling anything but kindly disposed. I found
there the General himself, De Griers, and Mlle. Blanche, but
not Mlle.'s mother, who was a person whom her reputed
daughter used only for show purposes, since in all matters of
business the daughter fended for herself, and it is unlikely
that the mother knew anything about them.
Some very heated discussion was in progress, and meanwhile the
door of the study was open--an unprecedented circumstance. As
I approached the portals I could hear loud voices raised, for
mingled with the pert, venomous accents of De Griers were
Mlle. Blanche's excited, impudently abusive tongue and the
General's plaintive wail as, apparently, he sought to justify
himself in something. But on my appearance every one stopped
speaking, and tried to put a better face upon matters. De
Griers smoothed his hair, and twisted his angry face into a
smile--into the mean, studiedly polite French smile which I so
detested; while the downcast, perplexed General assumed an air
of dignity--though only in a mechanical way. On the other hand,
Mlle. Blanche did not trouble to conceal the wrath that was
sparkling in her countenance, but bent her gaze upon me with
an air of impatient expectancy. I may remark that hitherto
she had treated me with absolute superciliousness, and, so far
from answering my salutations, had always ignored them.
"Alexis Ivanovitch," began the General in a tone of
affectionate upbraiding, "may I say to you that I find it
strange, exceedingly strange, that--In short, your conduct
towards myself and my family--In a word, your-er-extremely"
" Eh! Ce n'est pas ca," interrupted De Griers in a tone of
impatience and contempt (evidently he was the ruling spirit
of the conclave). "Mon cher monsieur, notre general se
trompe. What he means to say is that he warns you--he begs of
you most eamestly--not to ruin him. I use the expression
"Why? Why?" I interjected.
"Because you have taken upon yourself to act as guide to this,
to this--how shall I express it?--to this old lady, a cette
pauvre terrible vieille. But she will only gamble away all
that she has--gamble it away like thistledown. You yourself have
seen her play. Once she has acquired the taste for gambling,
she will never leave the roulette-table, but, of sheer
perversity and temper, will stake her all, and lose it. In
cases such as hers a gambler can never be torn away from the
game; and then--and then--"
"And then," asseverated the General, "you will have ruined
my whole family. I and my family are her heirs, for she has
no nearer relatives than ourselves. I tell you frankly that
my affairs are in great--very great disorder; how much they are
so you yourself are partially aware. If she should lose a
large sum, or, maybe, her whole fortune, what will become of
us--of my children" (here the General exchanged a glance
with De Griers)" or of me? "(here he looked at Mlle.
Blanche, who turned her head contemptuously away). "Alexis
Ivanovitch, I beg of you to save us."
"Tell me, General, how am I to do so? On what footing do I
"Refuse to take her about. Simply leave her alone."
"But she would soon find some one else to take my place?"
"Ce n'est pas ca, ce n'est pas ca," again interrupted De
Griers. "Que diable! Do not leave her alone so much as
advise her, persuade her, draw her away. In any case do not
let her gamble; find her some counter-attraction."
"And how am I to do that? If only you would undertake the
task, Monsieur de Griers! " I said this last as innocently as
possible, but at once saw a rapid glance of excited
interrogation pass from Mlle. Blanche to De Griers, while in
the face of the latter also there gleamed something which he
could not repress.
"Well, at the present moment she would refuse to accept my
services," said he with a gesture. "But if, later--"
Here he gave Mlle. Blanche another glance which was full of
meaning; whereupon she advanced towards me with a bewitching
smile, and seized and pressed my hands. Devil take it, but how
that devilish visage of hers could change! At the present
moment it was a visage full of supplication, and as gentle in
its expression as that of a smiling, roguish infant.
Stealthily, she drew me apart from the rest as though the more
completely to separate me from them; and, though no harm came
of her doing so--for it was merely a stupid manoeuvre, and no
more--I found the situation very unpleasant.
The General hastened to lend her his support.
"Alexis Ivanovitch," he began, "pray pardon me for having
said what I did just now--for having said more than I meant to
do. I beg and beseech you, I kiss the hem of your garment, as
our Russian saying has it, for you, and only you, can save us.
I and Mlle. de Cominges, we all of us beg of you--But you
understand, do you not? Surely you understand?" and with his
eyes he indicated Mlle. Blanche. Truly he was cutting a
At this moment three low, respectful knocks sounded at the
door; which, on being opened, revealed a chambermaid, with
Potapitch behind her--come from the Grandmother to request
that I should attend her in her rooms. "She is in a bad
humour," added Potapitch.
The time was half-past three.
"My mistress was unable to sleep," explained Potapitch; "so,
after tossing about for a while, she suddenly rose, called
for her chair, and sent me to look for you. She is now in the
"Quelle megere!" exclaimed De Griers.
True enough, I found Madame in the hotel verandah -much put
about at my delay, for she had been unable to contain herself
until four o'clock.
"Lift me up," she cried to the bearers, and once more we set
out for the roulette-salons.
The Grandmother was in an impatient, irritable frame of mind.
Without doubt the roulette had turned her head, for she
appeared to be indifferent to everything else, and, in
general, seemed much distraught. For instance, she asked me no
questions about objects en route, except that, when a
sumptuous barouche passed us and raised a cloud of dust, she
lifted her hand for a moment, and inquired, " What was that? "
Yet even then she did not appear to hear my reply, although at
times her abstraction was interrupted by sallies and fits of
sharp, impatient fidgeting. Again, when I pointed out to her
the Baron and Baroness Burmergelm walking to the Casino, she
merely looked at them in an absent-minded sort of way, and
said with complete indifference, "Ah!" Then, turning
sharply to Potapitch and Martha, who were walking behind us,
she rapped out:
"Why have YOU attached yourselves to the party? We are not
going to take you with us every time. Go home at once." Then,
when the servants had pulled hasty bows and departed, she
added to me: "You are all the escort I need."
At the Casino the Grandmother seemed to be expected, for no
time was lost in procuring her former place beside the
croupier. It is my opinion that though croupiers seem such
ordinary, humdrum officials--men who care nothing whether the
bank wins or loses--they are, in reality, anything but
indifferent to the bank's losing, and are given instructions
to attract players, and to keep a watch over the bank's
interests; as also, that for such services, these officials are
awarded prizes and premiums. At all events, the croupiers of
Roulettenberg seemed to look upon the Grandmother as their
lawful prey--whereafter there befell what our party had
It happened thus:
As soon as ever we arrived the Grandmother ordered me to stake
twelve ten-gulden pieces in succession upon zero. Once,
twice, and thrice I did so, yet zero never turned up.
"Stake again," said the old lady with an impatient nudge of my
elbow, and I obeyed.
"How many times have we lost? " she inquired--actually
grinding her teeth in her excitement.
"We have lost 144 ten-gulden pieces," I replied. "I tell you,
Madame, that zero may not turn up until nightfall."
"Never mind," she interrupted. "Keep on staking upon zero,
and also stake a thousand gulden upon rouge. Here is a
banknote with which to do so."
The red turned up, but zero missed again, and we only got our
thousand gulden back.
"But you see, you see " whispered the old lady. "We have now
recovered almost all that we staked. Try zero again. Let us do
so another ten times, and then leave off."
By the fifth round, however, the Grandmother was weary of the
"To the devil with that zero!" she exclaimed. Stake four
thousand gulden upon the red."
"But, Madame, that will be so much to venture!" I
remonstrated. "Suppose the red should not turn up?" The
Grandmother almost struck me in her excitement. Her agitation
was rapidly making her quarrelsome. Consequently, there was
nothing for it but to stake the whole four thousand gulden as
she had directed.
The wheel revolved while the Grandmother sat as bolt upright,
and with as proud and quiet a mien, as though she had not the
least doubt of winning.
"Zero!" cried the croupier.
At first the old lady failed to understand the situation; but,
as soon as she saw the croupier raking in her four thousand
gulden, together with everything else that happened to be
lying on the table, and recognised that the zero which had
been so long turning up, and on which we had lost nearly two
hundred ten-gulden pieces, had at length, as though of set
purpose, made a sudden reappearance--why, the poor old lady
fell to cursing it, and to throwing herself about, and wailing
and gesticulating at the company at large. Indeed, some
people in our vicinity actually burst out laughing.
"To think that that accursed zero should have turned up NOW!"
she sobbed. "The accursed, accursed thing! And, it is all
YOUR fault," she added, rounding upon me in a frenzy. "It
was you who persuaded me to cease staking upon it."
"But, Madame, I only explained the game to you. How am I to
answer for every mischance which may occur in it?"
"You and your mischances!" she whispered threateningly.
"Go! Away at once!"
"Farewell, then, Madame." And I turned to depart.
"No--stay," she put in hastily. "Where are you going to? Why
should you leave me? You fool! No, no... stay here. It is I who
was the fool. Tell me what I ought to do."
"I cannot take it upon myself to advise you, for you will only
blame me if I do so. Play at your own discretion. Say exactly
what you wish staked, and I will stake it."
"Very well. Stake another four thousand gulden upon the red.
Take this banknote to do it with. I have still got twenty
thousand roubles in actual cash."
"But," I whispered, "such a quantity of money--"
"Never mind. I cannot rest until I have won back my losses.
I staked, and we lost.
"Stake again, stake again--eight thousand at a stroke!"
"I cannot, Madame. The largest stake allowed is four thousand
"Well, then; stake four thousand."
This time we won, and the Grandmother recovered herself a
"You see, you see!" she exclaimed as she nudged me. "Stake
another four thousand."
I did so, and lost. Again, and yet again, we lost. "Madame,
your twelve thousand gulden are now gone," at length I
"I see they are," she replied with, as it were, the calmness
of despair. "I see they are," she muttered again as she
gazed straight in front of her, like a person lost in
thought. "Ah well, I do not mean to rest until I have staked
another four thousand."
"But you have no money with which to do it, Madame. In this
satchel I can see only a few five percent bonds and some
transfers--no actual cash."
"And in the purse?"
"A mere trifle."
"But there is a money-changer's office here, is there not?
They told me I should be able to get any sort of paper
security changed! "
"Quite so; to any amount you please. But you will lose on the
transaction what would frighten even a Jew."
"Rubbish! I am DETERMINED to retrieve my losses. Take me
away, and call those fools of bearers."
I wheeled the chair out of the throng, and, the bearers making
their appearance, we left the Casino.
"Hurry, hurry!" commanded the Grandmother. "Show me the
nearest way to the money-changer's. Is it far?"
"A couple of steps, Madame."
At the turning from the square into the Avenue we came face to
face with the whole of our party--the General, De Griers, Mlle.
Blanche, and her mother. Only Polina and Mr. Astley were
"Well, well, well! " exclaimed the Grandmother. "But we have
no time to stop. What do you want? I can't talk to you here."
I dropped behind a little, and immediately was pounced upon by
"She has lost this morning's winnings," I whispered, "and
also twelve thousand gulden of her original money. At the
present moment we are going to get some bonds changed."
De Griers stamped his foot with vexation, and hastened to
communicate the tidings to the General. Meanwhile we
continued to wheel the old lady along.
"Stop her, stop her," whispered the General in consternation.
"You had better try and stop her yourself," I returned--also in
"My good mother," he said as he approached her, "--my good
mother, pray let, let--" (his voice was beginning to tremble
and sink) "--let us hire a carriage, and go for a drive. Near
here there is an enchanting view to be obtained. We-we-we were
just coming to invite you to go and see it."
"Begone with you and your views!" said the Grandmother
angrily as she waved him away.
"And there are trees there, and we could have tea under them,"
continued the General--now in utter despair.
"Nous boirons du lait, sur l'herbe fraiche," added De Griers
with the snarl almost of a wild beast.
"Du lait, de l'herbe fraiche"--the idyll, the ideal of the
Parisian bourgeois--his whole outlook upon "la nature et la
"Have done with you and your milk!" cried the old lady. "Go
and stuff YOURSELF as much as you like, but my stomach simply
recoils from the idea. What are you stopping for? I have
nothing to say to you."
"Here we are, Madame," I announced. "Here is the
I entered to get the securities changed, while the Grandmother
remained outside in the porch, and the rest waited at a
little distance, in doubt as to their best course of action.
At length the old lady turned such an angry stare upon them
that they departed along the road towards the Casino.
The process of changing involved complicated calculations
which soon necessitated my return to the Grandmother for
"The thieves!" she exclaimed as she clapped her hands
together. "Never mind, though. Get the documents cashed--No;
send the banker out to me," she added as an afterthought.
"Would one of the clerks do, Madame?"
"Yes, one of the clerks. The thieves!"
The clerk consented to come out when he perceived that he was
being asked for by an old lady who was too infirm to walk;
after which the Grandmother began to upbraid him at length,
and with great vehemence, for his alleged usuriousness, and
to bargain with him in a mixture of Russian, French, and
German--I acting as interpreter. Meanwhile, the grave-faced
official eyed us both, and silently nodded his head. At the
Grandmother, in particular, he gazed with a curiosity which
almost bordered upon rudeness. At length, too, he smiled.
"Pray recollect yourself!" cried the old lady. "And may my
money choke you! Alexis Ivanovitch, tell him that we can
easily repair to someone else."
"The clerk says that others will give you even less than he."
Of what the ultimate calculations consisted I do not exactly
remember, but at all events they were alarming. Receiving
twelve thousand florins in gold, I took also the statement of
accounts, and carried it out to the Grandmother.
"Well, well," she said, "I am no accountant. Let us hurry
away, hurry away." And she waved the paper aside.
"Neither upon that accursed zero, however, nor upon that
equally accursed red do I mean to stake a cent," I muttered to
myself as I entered the Casino.
This time I did all I could to persuade the old lady to stake
as little as possible--saying that a turn would come in the
chances when she would be at liberty to stake more. But she
was so impatient that, though at first she agreed to do as I
suggested, nothing could stop her when once she had begun. By
way of prelude she won stakes of a hundred and two hundred
"There you are!" she said as she nudged me. "See what we
have won! Surely it would be worth our while to stake four
thousand instead of a hundred, for we might win another four
thousand, and then--! Oh, it was YOUR fault before--all your
I felt greatly put out as I watched her play, but I decided to
hold my tongue, and to give her no more advice.
Suddenly De Griers appeared on the scene. It seemed that all
this while he and his companions had been standing beside us--
though I noticed that Mlle. Blanche had withdrawn a little
from the rest, and was engaged in flirting with the Prince.
Clearly the General was greatly put out at this. Indeed, he
was in a perfect agony of vexation. But Mlle. was careful
never to look his way, though he did his best to attract her
notice. Poor General! By turns his face blanched and reddened,
and he was trembling to such an extent that he could scarcely
follow the old lady's play. At length Mlle. and the Prince
took their departure, and the General followed them.
"Madame, Madame," sounded the honeyed accents of De Griers as
he leant over to whisper in the Grandmother's ear. "That
stake will never win. No, no, it is impossible," he added in
Russian with a writhe. "No, no!"
"But why not?" asked the Grandmother, turning round. "Show
me what I ought to do."
Instantly De Griers burst into a babble of French as he
advised, jumped about, declared that such and such chances
ought to be waited for, and started to make calculations of
figures. All this he addressed to me in my capacity as
translator--tapping the table the while with his finger, and
pointing hither and thither. At length he seized a pencil, and
began to reckon sums on paper until he had exhausted the
"Away with you!" she interrupted. "You talk sheer nonsense,
for, though you keep on saying 'Madame, Madame,' you haven't
the least notion what ought to be done. Away with you, I say!"
"Mais, Madame," cooed De Griers--and straightway started
afresh with his fussy instructions.
"Stake just ONCE, as he advises," the Grandmother said to me,
"and then we shall see what we shall see. Of course, his
stake MIGHT win."
As a matter of fact, De Grier's one object was to distract the
old lady from staking large sums; wherefore, he now suggested
to her that she should stake upon certain numbers, singly and
in groups. Consequently, in accordance with his instructions, I
staked a ten-gulden piece upon several odd numbers in the
first twenty, and five ten-gulden pieces upon certain groups
of numbers-groups of from twelve to eighteen, and from
eighteen to twenty-four. The total staked amounted to 160
The wheel revolved. "Zero!" cried the croupier.
We had lost it all!
"The fool!" cried the old lady as she turned upon De Griers.
"You infernal Frenchman, to think that you should advise!
Away with you! Though you fuss and fuss, you don't even know
what you're talking about."
Deeply offended, De Griers shrugged his shoulders, favoured
the Grandmother with a look of contempt, and departed. For
some time past he had been feeling ashamed of being seen in
such company, and this had proved the last straw.
An hour later we had lost everything in hand.
"Home!" cried the Grandmother.
Not until we had turned into the Avenue did she utter a word;
but from that point onwards, until we arrived at the hotel,
she kept venting exclamations of "What a fool I am! What a
silly old fool I am, to be sure!"
Arrived at the hotel, she called for tea, and then gave orders
for her luggage to be packed.
"We are off again," she announced.
"But whither, Madame?" inquired Martha.
"What business is that of YOURS? Let the cricket stick to
its hearth. [The Russian form of "Mind your own business."]
Potapitch, have everything packed, for we are returning to
Moscow at once. I have fooled away fifteen thousand roubles."
"Fifteen thousand roubles, good mistress? My God!" And
Potapitch spat upon his hands--probably to show that he was
ready to serve her in any way he could.
"Now then, you fool! At once you begin with your weeping and
wailing! Be quiet, and pack. Also, run downstairs, and get my
"The next train leaves at 9:30, Madame," I interposed, with a
view to checking her agitation.
"And what is the time now?"
"How vexing! But, never mind. Alexis Ivanovitch, I have not a
kopeck left; I have but these two bank notes. Please run to
the office and get them changed. Otherwise I shall have
nothing to travel with."
Departing on her errand, I returned half an hour later to find
the whole party gathered in her rooms. It appeared that the
news of her impending departure for Moscow had thrown the
conspirators into consternation even greater than her losses
had done. For, said they, even if her departure should save
her fortune, what will become of the General later? And who
is to repay De Griers? Clearly Mlle. Blanche would never
consent to wait until the Grandmother was dead, but would at
once elope with the Prince or someone else. So they had all
gathered together--endeavouring to calm and dissuade the
Grandmother. Only Polina was absent. For her part the
Grandmother had nothing for the party but abuse.
"Away with you, you rascals!" she was shouting. "What have my
affairs to do with you? Why, in particular, do you"--here
she indicated De Griers--"come sneaking here with your goat's
beard? And what do YOU"--here she turned to Mlle. Blanche
"want of me? What are YOU finicking for?"
"Diantre!" muttered Mlle. under her breath, but her eyes
were flashing. Then all at once she burst into a laugh and
left the room--crying to the General as she did so: "Elle
vivra cent ans!"
"So you have been counting upon my death, have you?" fumed
the old lady. "Away with you! Clear them out of the room,
Alexis Ivanovitch. What business is it of THEIRS? It is not
THEIR money that I have been squandering, but my own."
The General shrugged his shoulders, bowed, and withdrew, with
De Griers behind him.
"Call Prascovia," commanded the Grandmother, and in five
minutes Martha reappeared with Polina, who had been sitting
with the children in her own room (having purposely
determined not to leave it that day). Her face looked grave
"Prascovia," began the Grandmother, "is what I have just
heard through a side wind true--namely, that this fool of a
stepfather of yours is going to marry that silly whirligig of
a Frenchwoman--that actress, or something worse? Tell me, is
"I do not know FOR CERTAIN, Grandmamma," replied Polina; "but
from Mlle. Blanche's account (for she does not appear to think
it necessary to conceal anything) I conclude that--"
"You need not say any more," interrupted the Grandmother
energetically. "I understand the situation. I always thought
we should get something like this from him, for I always
looked upon him as a futile, frivolous fellow who gave himself
unconscionable airs on the fact of his being a general (though
he only became one because he retired as a colonel). Yes, I
know all about the sending of the telegrams to inquire
whether 'the old woman is likely to turn up her toes soon.' Ah,
they were looking for the legacies! Without money that
wretched woman (what is her name?--Oh, De Cominges) would
never dream of accepting the General and his false teeth--no,
not even for him to be her lacquey--since she herself, they
say, possesses a pile of money, and lends it on interest, and
makes a good thing out of it. However, it is not you,
Prascovia, that I am blaming; it was not you who sent those
telegrams. Nor, for that matter, do I wish to recall old
scores. True, I know that you are a vixen by nature--that you
are a wasp which will sting one if one touches it--yet, my
heart is sore for you, for I loved your mother, Katerina. Now,
will you leave everything here, and come away with me?
Otherwise, I do not know what is to become of you, and it is
not right that you should continue living with these people.
Nay," she interposed, the moment that Polina attempted to
speak, "I have not yet finished. I ask of you nothing in
return. My house in Moscow is, as you know, large enough for
a palace, and you could occupy a whole floor of it if you
liked, and keep away from me for weeks together. Will you
come with me or will you not?"
"First of all, let me ask of YOU," replied Polina, "whether you
are intending to depart at once?"
"What? You suppose me to be jesting? I have said that I am
going, and I AM going. Today I have squandered fifteen
thousand roubles at that accursed roulette of yours, and
though, five years ago, I promised the people of a certain
suburb of Moscow to build them a stone church in place of a
wooden one, I have been fooling away my money here! However,
I am going back now to build my church."
"But what about the waters, Grandmamma? Surely you came here
to take the waters?"
"You and your waters! Do not anger me, Prascovia. Surely you
are trying to? Say, then: will you, or will you not, come
"Grandmamma," Polina replied with deep feeling, "I am very,
very grateful to you for the shelter which you have so kindly
offered me. Also, to a certain extent you have guessed my
position aright, and I am beholden to you to such an extent
that it may be that I will come and live with you, and that
very soon; yet there are important reasons why--why I cannot
make up my min,d just yet. If you would let me have, say, a
couple of weeks to decide in--?"
"You mean that you are NOT coming?"
"I mean only that I cannot come just yet. At all events, I
could not well leave my little brother and sister here,
since,since--if I were to leave them--they would be abandoned
altogether. But if, Grandmamma, you would take the little ones
AND myself, then, of course, I could come with you, and would
do all I could to serve you" (this she said with great
earnestness). "Only, without the little ones I CANNOT come."
"Do not make a fuss" (as a matter of fact Polina never at
any time either fussed or wept). "The Great Foster--Father
[Translated literally--The Great Poulterer] can find for all
his chicks a place. You are not coming without the children?
But see here, Prascovia. I wish you well, and nothing but
well: yet I have divined the reason why you will not come.
Yes, I know all, Prascovia. That Frenchman will never bring
you good of any sort."
Polina coloured hotly, and even I started. "For," thought I to
myself, "every one seems to know about that affair. Or
perhaps I am the only one who does not know about it? "
"Now, now! Do not frown," continued the Grandmother. "But I
do not intend to slur things over. You will take care that no
harm befalls you, will you not? For you are a girl of sense,
and I am sorry for you--I regard you in a different light to
the rest of them. And now, please, leave me. Good-bye."
"But let me stay with you a little longer," said Polina.
"No," replied the other; "you need not. Do not bother me, for
you and all of them have tired me out."
Yet when Polina tried to kiss the Grandmother's hand, the old
lady withdrew it, and herself kissed the girl on the cheek.
As she passed me, Polina gave me a momentary glance, and then
as swiftly averted her eyes.
"And good-bye to you, also, Alexis Ivanovitch. The train
starts in an hour's time, and I think that you must be weary
of me. Take these five hundred gulden for yourself."
"I thank you humbly, Madame, but I am ashamed to--"
"Come, come!" cried the Grandmother so energetically, and
with such an air of menace, that I did not dare refuse the
"If, when in Moscow, you have no place where you can lay your
head," she added, "come and see me, and I will give you a
recommendation. Now, Potapitch, get things ready."
I ascended to my room, and lay down upon the bed. A whole hour
I must have lain thus, with my head resting upon my hand. So
the crisis had come! I needed time for its consideration. To-
morrow I would have a talk with Polina. Ah! The Frenchman! So,
it was true? But how could it be so? Polina and De Griers!
What a combination!
No, it was too improbable. Suddenly I leapt up with the idea
of seeking Astley and forcing him to speak. There could be no
doubt that he knew more than I did. Astley? Well, he was
another problem for me to solve.
Suddenly there came a knock at the door, and I opened it to
find Potapitch awaiting me.
"Sir," he said, "my mistress is asking for you."
"Indeed? But she is just departing, is she not? The train
leaves in ten minutes' time."
"She is uneasy, sir; she cannot rest. Come quickly, sir; do
I ran downstairs at once. The Grandmother was just being
carried out of her rooms into the corridor. In her hands she
held a roll of bank-notes.
"Alexis Ivanovitch," she cried, "walk on ahead, and we will
set out again."
"But whither, Madame?"
"I cannot rest until I have retrieved my losses. March on
ahead, and ask me no questions. Play continues until
midnight, does it not?"
For a moment I stood stupefied--stood deep in thought; but it
was not long before I had made up my mind.
"With your leave, Madame," I said, "I will not go with you."
"And why not? What do you mean? Is every one here a stupid
"Pardon me, but I have nothing to reproach myself with. I
merely will not go. I merely intend neither to witness nor to
join in your play. I also beg to return you your five hundred
Laying the money upon a little table which the Grandmother's
chair happened to be passing, I bowed and withdrew.
"What folly!" the Grandmother shouted after me. "Very well, then.
Do not come, and I will find my way alone. Potapitch, you must
come with me. Lift up the chair, and carry me along."