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  The Gambler

reach for my hat) "that I have come hither also to hand you these few words from a certain person. Read them, please, for I must take her back an answer." So saying, he took from his pocket a small, compact, wafer-sealed note, and handed it to me. In Polinas handwriting I read: "I hear that you are thinking of going on with this affair. You have lost your temper now, and are beginning to play the fool! Certain circumstances, however, I may explain to you later. Pray cease from your folly, and put a check upon yourself. For folly it all is. I have need of you, and, moreover, you have promised to obey me. Remember the Shlangenberg. I ask you to be obedient. If necessary, I shall even BID you be obedient.--Your own POLINA. "P.S.--If so be that you still bear a grudge against me for what happened last night, pray forgive me." Everything, to my eyes, seemed to change as I read these words. My lips grew pale, and I began to tremble. Meanwhile, the cursed Frenchman was eyeing me discreetly and askance, as though he wished to avoid witnessing my confusion. It would have been better if he had laughed outright. "Very well," I said, "you can tell Mlle. not to disturb herself. But," I added sharply, "I would also ask you why you have been so long in handing me this note? Instead of chattering about trifles, you ought to have delivered me the missive at once--if you have really come commissioned as you say." "Well, pardon some natural haste on my part, for the situation is so strange. I wished first to gain some personal knowledge of your intentions; and, moreover, I did not know the contents of the note, and thought that it could be given you at any time." "I understand," I replied. "So you were ordered to hand me the note only in the last resort, and if you could not otherwise appease me? Is it not so? Speak out, Monsieur de Griers." "Perhaps," said he, assuming a look of great forbearance, but gazing at me in a meaning way. I reached for my hat; whereupon he nodded, and went out. Yet on his lips I fancied that I could see a mocking smile. How could it have been otherwise? "You and I are to have a reckoning later, Master Frenchman," I muttered as I descended the stairs. "Yes, we will measure our strength together." Yet my thoughts were all in confusion, for again something seemed to have struck me dizzy. Presently the air revived me a little, and, a couple of minutes later, my brain had sufficiently cleared to enable two ideas in particular to stand out in it. Firstly, I asked myself, which of the absurd, boyish, and extravagant threats which I had uttered at random last night had made everybody so alarmed? Secondly, what was the influence which this Frenchman appeared to exercise over Polina? He had but to give the word, and at once she did as he desired--at once she wrote me a note to beg of me to forbear! Of course, the relations between the pair had, from the first, been a riddle to me--they had been so ever since I had first made their acquaintance. But of late I had remarked in her a strong aversion for, even a contempt for--him, while, for his part, he had scarcely even looked at her, but had behaved towards her always in the most churlish fashion. Yes, I had noted that. Also, Polina herself had mentioned to me her dislike for him, and delivered herself of some remarkable confessions on the subject. Hence, he must have got her into his power somehow--somehow he must be holding her as in a vice. VIII All at once, on the Promenade, as it was called--that is to say, in the Chestnut Avenue--I came face to face with my Englishman. "I was just coming to see you," he said; "and you appear to be out on a similar errand. So you have parted with your employers?" "How do you know that?" I asked in astonishment. "Is EVERY ONE aware of the fact? " "By no means. Not every one would consider such a fact to be of moment. Indeed, I have never heard any one speak of it." "Then how come you to know it?" "Because I have had occasion to do so. Whither are you bound? I like you, and was therefore coming to pay you a visit." "What a splendid fellow you are, Mr. Astley!" I cried, though still

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