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  The Gambler

parted--while the Prince and the German savant contemplated the tableau in profound amazement. Only Polina looked anything but perplexed or surprised. Presently, however, she too turned as white as a sheet, and then reddened to her temples. Truly the Grandmothers arrival seemed to be a catastrophe for everybody! For my own part, I stood looking from the Grandmother to the company, and back again, while Mr. Astley, as usual, remained in the background, and gazed calmly and decorously at the scene. "Well, here I am--and instead of a telegram, too!" the Grandmother at last ejaculated, to dissipate the silence. "What? You were not expecting me?" "Antonida Vassilievna! O my dearest mother! But how on earth did you, did you--?" The mutterings of the unhappy General died away. I verily believe that if the Grandmother had held her tongue a few seconds longer she would have had a stroke. "How on earth did I WHAT?" she exclaimed. "Why, I just got into the train and came here. What else is the railway meant for? But you thought that I had turned up my toes and left my property to the lot of you. Oh, I know ALL about the telegrams which you have been dispatching. They must have cost you a pretty sum, I should think, for telegrams are not sent from abroad for nothing. Well, I picked up my heels, and came here. Who is this Frenchman? Monsieur de Griers, I suppose?" "Oui, madame," assented De Griers. "Et, croyez, je suis si enchante! Votre sante--cest un miracle vous voir ici. Une surprise charmante!" "Just so. Charmante! I happen to know you as a mountebank, and therefore trust you no more than THIS." She indicated her little finger. "And who is THAT?" she went on, turning towards Mlle. Blanche. Evidently the Frenchwoman looked so becoming in her riding-habit, with her whip in her hand, that she had made an impression upon the old lady. "Who is that woman there?" "Mlle. de Cominges," I said. "And this is her mother, Madame de Cominges. They also are staying in the hotel." "Is the daughter married?" asked the old lady, without the least semblance of ceremony. "No," I replied as respectfully as possible, but under my breath. "Is she good company?" I failed to understand the question. "I mean, is she or is she not a bore? Can she speak Russian? When this De Griers was in Moscow he soon learnt to make himself understood." I explained to the old lady that Mlle. Blanche had never visited Russia. "Bonjour, then," said Madame, with sudden brusquerie. "Bonjour, madame," replied Mlle. Blanche with an elegant, ceremonious bow as, under cover of an unwonted modesty, she endeavoured to express, both in face and figure, her extreme surprise at such strange behaviour on the part of the Grandmother. "How the woman sticks out her eyes at me! How she mows and minces!" was the Grandmothers comment. Then she turned suddenly to the General, and continued: "I have taken up my abode here, so am going to be your next-door neighbour. Are you glad to hear that, or are you not?" "My dear mother, believe me when I say that I am. sincerely delighted," returned the General, who had now, to a certain extent, recovered his senses; and inasmuch as, when occasion arose, he could speak with fluency, gravity, and a certain effect, he set himself to be expansive in his remarks, and went on: "We have been so dismayed and upset by the news of your indisposition! We had received such hopeless telegrams about you! Then suddenly--" "Fibs, fibs!" interrupted the Grandmother. "How on earth, too, did you come to decide upon the journey?" continued the General, with raised voice as he hurried to overlook the old ladys last remark. "Surely, at your age, and in your present state of health, the thing is so unexpected that our surprise is at least intelligible. However, I am glad to see you (as indeed, are we all"--he said this with a dignified, yet conciliatory, smile), "and will use my best endeavours to render your stay here as pleasant as possible." "Enough! All this is empty chatter. You are talking the usual nonsense. I shall know quite well how to spend my time. How did I come to undertake the journey, you ask? Well, is there anything so very surprising about it? It was done quite simply. What is every one going into ecstasies about?--How do you do, Prascovia? What are YOU doing here?" "And how are YOU, Grandmother?" replied Polina, as she approached the old lady. "Were you long on the journey?". "The most sensible question that I have yet been asked!

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