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ohl " sound after the fashion of the Berliners (who constantly use the phrase "Ja wohl!" in conversation, and more or less prolong the syllable "ohl" according as they desire to express different shades of meaning or of mood). At this the Baron and the Baroness faced sharply about, and almost fled in their alarm. Some of the bystanders gave vent to excited exclamations, and others remained staring at me in astonishment. But I do not remember the details very well. Wheeling quietly about, I returned in the direction of Polina Alexandrovna. But, when I had got within a hundred paces of her seat, I saw her rise and set out with the children towards the hotel. At the portico I caught up to her. "I have perpetrated the--the piece of idiocy," I said as I came level with her. "Have you? Then you can take the consequences," she replied without so much as looking at me. Then she moved towards the staircase. I spent the rest of the evening walking in the park. Thence I passed into the forest, and walked on until I found myself in a neighbouring principality. At a wayside restaurant I partook of an omelette and some wine, and was charged for the idyllic repast a thaler and a half. Not until eleven oclock did I return home--to find a summons awaiting me from the General. Our party occupied two suites in the hotel; each of which contained two rooms. The first (the larger suite) comprised a salon and a smoking-room, with, adjoining the latter, the Generals study. It was here that he was awaiting me as he stood posed in a majestic attitude beside his writing-table. Lolling on a divan close by was De Griers. "My good sir," the General began, "may I ask you what this is that you have gone and done?" "I should be glad," I replied, "if we could come straight to the point. Probably you are referring to my encounter of today with a German?" "With a German? Why, the German was the Baron Burmergelm--a most important personage! I hear that you have been rude both to him and to the Baroness?" "No, I have not." "But I understand that you simply terrified them, my good sir?" shouted the General. "Not in the least," I replied. "You must know that when I was in Berlin I frequently used to hear the Berliners repeat, and repellently prolong, a certain phrase--namely, Ja wohl!; and, happening to meet this couple in the carriage-drive, I found, for some reason or another, that this phrase suddenly recurred to my memory, and exercised a rousing effect upon my spirits. Moreover, on the three previous occasions that I have met the Baroness she has walked towards me as though I were a worm which could easily be crushed with the foot. Not unnaturally, I too possess a measure of self-respect; wherefore, on THIS occasion I took off my hat, and said politely (yes, I assure you it was said politely): Madame, jai lhonneur detre votre esclave. Then the Baron turned round, and said Hein!; whereupon I felt moved to ejaculate in answer Ja wohl! Twice I shouted it at him--the first time in an ordinary tone, and the second time with the greatest prolonging of the words of which I was capable. That is all." I must confess that this puerile explanation gave me great pleasure. I felt a strong desire to overlay the incident with an even added measure of grossness; so, the further I proceeded, the more did the gusto of my proceeding increase. "You are only making fun of me! " vociferated the General as, turning to the Frenchman, he declared that my bringing about of the incident had been gratuitous. De Griers smiled contemptuously, and shrugged his shoulders. "Do not think THAT," I put in. "It was not so at all. I grant you that my behaviour was bad--I fully confess that it was so, and make no secret of the fact. I would even go so far as to grant you that my behaviour might well be called stupid and indecent tomfoolery; but, MORE than that it was not. Also, let me tell you that I am very sorry for my conduct. Yet there is one circumstance which, in my eyes, almost absolves me from regret in the matter. Of late--that is to say, for the last two or three weeks--I have been feeling not at all well. That is to say, I have been in a sick, nervous, irritable, fanciful condition, so that I have periodically lost control over myself. For instance, on more than one occasion I have

The Gambler page 19        The Gambler page 21


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