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  The Gambler




soon extended to a stroll. We entered the Park, and approached the Casino, where Polina seated herself upon a bench near the fountain, and sent Nadia away to a little distance to play with some other children. Mischa also I dispatched to play by the fountain, and in this fashion we--that is to say, Polina and myself--contrived to find ourselves alone. Of course, we began by talking on business matters. Polina seemed furious when I handed her only 700 gulden, for she had thought to receive from Paris, as the proceeds of the pledging of her diamonds, at least 2000 gulden, or even more. "Come what may, I MUST have money," she said. "And get it somehow I will--otherwise I shall be ruined." I asked her what had happened during my absence. "Nothing; except that two pieces of news have reached us from St. Petersburg. In the first place, my grandmother is very ill, and unlikely to last another couple of days. We had this from Timothy Petrovitch himself, and he is a reliable person. Every moment we are expecting to receive news of the end." "All of you are on the tiptoe of expectation? " I queried. "Of course--all of us, and every minute of the day. For a year-and-a-half now we have been looking for this." "Looking for it?" "Yes, looking for it. I am not her blood relation, you know--I am merely the Generals step-daughter. Yet I am certain that the old lady has remembered me in her will." "Yes, I believe that you WILL come in for a good deal," I said with some assurance. "Yes, for she is fond of me. But how come you to think so?" I answered this question with another one. "That Marquis of yours," I said, "--is HE also familiar with your family secrets?" "And why are you yourself so interested in them?" was her retort as she eyed me with dry grimness. "Never mind. If I am not mistaken, the General has succeeded in borrowing money of the Marquis." "It may be so." "Is it likely that the Marquis would have lent the money if he had not known something or other about your grandmother? Did you notice, too, that three times during luncheon, when speaking of her, he called her La Baboulenka? [Dear little Grandmother]. What loving, friendly behaviour, to be sure!" "Yes, that is true. As soon as ever he learnt that I was likely to inherit something from her he began to pay me his addresses. I thought you ought to know that." "Then he has only just begun his courting? Why, I thought he had been doing so a long while!" "You KNOW he has not," retorted Polina angrily. "But where on earth did you pick up this Englishman?" She said this after a pause. "I KNEW you would ask about him!" Whereupon I told her of my previous encounters with Astley while travelling. "He is very shy," I said, "and susceptible. Also, he is in love with you.--" "Yes, he is in love with me," she replied. "And he is ten times richer than the Frenchman. In fact, what does the Frenchman possess? To me it seems at least doubtful that he possesses anything at all." "Oh, no, there is no doubt about it. He does possess some chateau or other. Last night the General told me that for certain. NOW are you satisfied? " "Nevertheless, in your place I should marry the Englishman." "And why?" asked Polina. "Because, though the Frenchman is the handsomer of the two, he is also the baser; whereas the Englishman is not only a man of honour, but ten times the wealthier of the pair." "Yes? But then the Frenchman is a marquis, and the cleverer of the two," remarked Polina imperturbably. "Is that so?" I repeated. "Yes; absolutely." Polina was not at all pleased at my questions; I could see that she was doing her best to irritate me with the brusquerie of her answers. But I took no notice of this. "It amuses me to see you grow angry," she continued. "However, inasmuch as I allow you to indulge in these questions and conjectures, you ought to pay me something for the privilege." "I consider that I have a perfect right to put these questions to you," was my calm retort; "for the reason that I am ready to pay for them, and also care little what becomes of me." Polina giggled. "Last time you told me--when on the Shlangenberg--that at a word from me you would be ready to jump down a thousand feet into the abyss. Some day I

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