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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. Polinas 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 Generals inamorata, and, in the second place, that Mlle. Polina, the Generals step-daughter, has a younger brother and sister who, though they are the Generals 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 Generals 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 her death." "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 womans 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 Frenchmans 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 womans 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 womans 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

The Gambler page 29        The Gambler page 31


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