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  The Gambler




in a perfect fever. "Do not hang back! Be quick!" She seemed almost beside herself, and nudged me as hard as she could. "Upon what shall I stake, Madame?" "Upon zero, upon zero! Again upon zero! Stake as much as ever you can. How much have we got? Seventy ten-gulden pieces? We shall not miss them, so stake twenty pieces at a time." "Think a moment, Madame. Sometimes zero does not turn up for two hundred rounds in succession. I assure you that you may lose all your capital." "You are wrong--utterly wrong. Stake, I tell you! What a chattering tongue you have! I know perfectly well what I am doing." The old lady was shaking with excitement. "But the rules do not allow of more than 120 gulden being staked upon zero at a time." "How do not allow? Surely you are wrong? Monsieur, monsieur--" here she nudged the croupier who was sitting on her left, and preparing to spin--"combien zero? Douze? Douze?" I hastened to translate. "Oui, Madame," was the croupiers polite reply. "No single stake must exceed four thousand florins. That is the regulation." "Then there is nothing else for it. We must risk in gulden." "Le jeu est fait!" the croupier called. The wheel revolved, and stopped at thirty. We had lost! "Again, again, again! Stake again!" shouted the old lady. Without attempting to oppose her further, but merely shrugging my shoulders, I placed twelve more ten-gulden pieces upon the table. The wheel whirled around and around, with the Grandmother simply quaking as she watched its revolutions. "Does she again think that zero is going to be the winning coup?" thought I, as I stared at her in astonishment. Yet an absolute assurance of winning was shining on her face; she looked perfectly convinced that zero was about to be called again. At length the ball dropped off into one of the notches. "Zero!" cried the croupier. "Ah!!!" screamed the old lady as she turned to me in a whirl of triumph. I myself was at heart a gambler. At that moment I became acutely conscious both of that fact and of the fact that my hands and knees were shaking, and that the blood was beating in my brain. Of course this was a rare occasion--an occasion on which zero had turned up no less than three times within a dozen rounds; yet in such an event there was nothing so very surprising, seeing that, only three days ago, I myself had been a witness to zero turning up THREE TIMES IN SUCCESSION, so that one of the players who was recording the coups on paper was moved to remark that for several days past zero had never turned up at all! With the Grandmother, as with any one who has won a very large sum, the management settled up with great attention and respect, since she was fortunate to have to receive no less than 4200 gulden. Of these gulden the odd 200 were paid her in gold, and the remainder in bank notes. This time the old lady did not call for Potapitch; for that she was too preoccupied. Though not outwardly shaken by the event (indeed, she seemed perfectly calm), she was trembling inwardly from head to foot. At length, completely absorbed in the game, she burst out: "Alexis Ivanovitch, did not the croupier just say that 4000 florins were the most that could be staked at any one time? Well, take these 4000, and stake them upon the red." To oppose her was useless. Once more the wheel revolved. "Rouge!" proclaimed the croupier. Again 4000 florins--in all 8000! "Give me them," commanded the Grandmother, "and stake the other 4000 upon the red again." I did so. "Rouge!" proclaimed the croupier. "Twelve thousand!" cried the old lady. "Hand me the whole lot. Put the gold into this purse here, and count the bank notes. Enough! Let us go home. Wheel my chair away." XI THE chair, with the old lady beaming in it, was wheeled away towards the doors at the further end of the salon, while our party hastened to crowd around her, and to offer her their congratulations. In fact, eccentric as was her conduct, it was also overshadowed by her triumph; with the result that the General no longer feared to be publicly compromised by being seen with such a strange woman, but, smiling in a condescending, cheerfully familiar way, as though he were soothing a child, he offered his greetings to the old lady. At the same time, both he and the rest of the spectators were visibly impressed. Everywhere people kept pointing to the Grandmother, and talking about

The Gambler page 40        The Gambler page 42


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