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  The Gambler




finger. Astley looked pleased at receiving the invitation. Next, the old lady scanned Polina, from head to foot with minute attention. "I could almost have liked you, Prascovia," suddenly she remarked, "for you are a nice girl--the best of the lot. You have some character about you. I too have character. Turn round. Surely that is not false hair that you are wearing?" "No, Grandmamma. It is my own." "Well, well. I do not like the stupid fashions of today. You are very good looking. I should have fallen in love with you if I had been a man. Why do you not get married? It is time now that I was going. I want to walk, yet I always have to ride. Are you still in a bad temper?" she added to the General. "No, indeed," rejoined the now mollified General. "I quite understand that at your time of life--" "Cette vieille est tombee en enfance," De Griers whispered to me. "But I want to look round a little," the old lady added to the General. Will you lend me Alexis Ivanovitch for the purpose? "As much as you like. But I myself--yes, and Polina and Monsieur de Griers too--we all of us hope to have the pleasure of escorting you." "Mais, madame, cela sera un plaisir," De Griers commented with a bewitching smile. "Plaisir indeed! Why, I look upon you as a perfect fool, monsieur." Then she remarked to the General: "I am not going to let you have any of my money. I must be off to my rooms now, to see what they are like. Afterwards we will look round a little. Lift me up." Again the Grandmother was borne aloft and carried down the staircase amid a perfect bevy of followers--the General walking as though he had been hit over the head with a cudgel, and De Griers seeming to be plunged in thought. Endeavouring to be left behind, Mlle. Blanche next thought better of it, and followed the rest, with the Prince in her wake. Only the German savant and Madame de Cominges did not leave the Generals apartments. X At spas--and, probably, all over Europe--hotel landlords and managers are guided in their allotment of rooms to visitors, not so much by the wishes and requirements of those visitors, as by their personal estimate of the same. It may also be said that these landlords and managers seldom make a mistake. To the Grandmother, however, our landlord, for some reason or another, allotted such a sumptuous suite that he fairly overreached himself; for he assigned her a suite consisting of four magnificently appointed rooms, with bathroom, servants quarters, a separate room for her maid, and so on. In fact, during the previous week the suite had been occupied by no less a personage than a Grand Duchess: which circumstance was duly explained to the new occupant, as an excuse for raising the price of these apartments. The Grandmother had herself carried-- or, rather, wheeled--through each room in turn, in order that she might subject the whole to a close and attentive scrutiny; while the landlord--an elderly, bald-headed man--walked respectfully by her side. What every one took the Grandmother to be I do not know, but it appeared, at least, that she was accounted a person not only of great importance, but also, and still more, of great wealth; and without delay they entered her in the hotel register as "Madame la Generale, Princesse de Tarassevitcheva," although she had never been a princess in her life. Her retinue, her reserved compartment in the train, her pile of unnecessary trunks, portmanteaux, and strong-boxes, all helped to increase her prestige; while her wheeled chair, her sharp tone and voice, her eccentric questions (put with an air of the most overbearing and unbridled imperiousness), her whole figure--upright, rugged, and commanding as it was--completed the general awe in which she was held. As she inspected her new abode she ordered her chair to be stopped at intervals in order that, with finger extended towards some article of furniture, she might ply the respectfully smiling, yet secretly apprehensive, landlord with unexpected questions. She addressed them to him in French, although her pronunciation of the language was so bad that sometimes I had to translate them. For the most part, the landlords answers were unsatisfactory, and failed to please her; nor were the questions themselves of a practical nature, but related, generally, to God knows what. For instance, on one occasion she halted before a picture which, a poor copy of a well-known original, had a mythological subject. "Of whom is this a portrait?" she inquired. The landlord explained that it was

The Gambler page 34        The Gambler page 36


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