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  The Gambler




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! IX 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 Generals 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 too ?" "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 being here?" "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

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