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feeling anything but kindly disposed. I found there the General himself, De Griers, and Mlle. Blanche, but not Mlle.s mother, who was a person whom her reputed daughter used only for show purposes, since in all matters of business the daughter fended for herself, and it is unlikely that the mother knew anything about them. Some very heated discussion was in progress, and meanwhile the door of the study was open--an unprecedented circumstance. As I approached the portals I could hear loud voices raised, for mingled with the pert, venomous accents of De Griers were Mlle. Blanches excited, impudently abusive tongue and the Generals plaintive wail as, apparently, he sought to justify himself in something. But on my appearance every one stopped speaking, and tried to put a better face upon matters. De Griers smoothed his hair, and twisted his angry face into a smile--into the mean, studiedly polite French smile which I so detested; while the downcast, perplexed General assumed an air of dignity--though only in a mechanical way. On the other hand, Mlle. Blanche did not trouble to conceal the wrath that was sparkling in her countenance, but bent her gaze upon me with an air of impatient expectancy. I may remark that hitherto she had treated me with absolute superciliousness, and, so far from answering my salutations, had always ignored them. "Alexis Ivanovitch," began the General in a tone of affectionate upbraiding, "may I say to you that I find it strange, exceedingly strange, that--In short, your conduct towards myself and my family--In a word, your-er-extremely" " Eh! Ce nest pas ca," interrupted De Griers in a tone of impatience and contempt (evidently he was the ruling spirit of the conclave). "Mon cher monsieur, notre general se trompe. What he means to say is that he warns you--he begs of you most eamestly--not to ruin him. I use the expression because--" "Why? Why?" I interjected. "Because you have taken upon yourself to act as guide to this, to this--how shall I express it?--to this old lady, a cette pauvre terrible vieille. But she will only gamble away all that she has--gamble it away like thistledown. You yourself have seen her play. Once she has acquired the taste for gambling, she will never leave the roulette-table, but, of sheer perversity and temper, will stake her all, and lose it. In cases such as hers a gambler can never be torn away from the game; and then--and then--" "And then," asseverated the General, "you will have ruined my whole family. I and my family are her heirs, for she has no nearer relatives than ourselves. I tell you frankly that my affairs are in great--very great disorder; how much they are so you yourself are partially aware. If she should lose a large sum, or, maybe, her whole fortune, what will become of us--of my children" (here the General exchanged a glance with De Griers)" or of me? "(here he looked at Mlle. Blanche, who turned her head contemptuously away). "Alexis Ivanovitch, I beg of you to save us." "Tell me, General, how am I to do so? On what footing do I stand here?" "Refuse to take her about. Simply leave her alone." "But she would soon find some one else to take my place?" "Ce nest pas ca, ce nest pas ca," again interrupted De Griers. "Que diable! Do not leave her alone so much as advise her, persuade her, draw her away. In any case do not let her gamble; find her some counter-attraction." "And how am I to do that? If only you would undertake the task, Monsieur de Griers! " I said this last as innocently as possible, but at once saw a rapid glance of excited interrogation pass from Mlle. Blanche to De Griers, while in the face of the latter also there gleamed something which he could not repress. "Well, at the present moment she would refuse to accept my services," said he with a gesture. "But if, later--" Here he gave Mlle. Blanche another glance which was full of meaning; whereupon she advanced towards me with a bewitching smile, and seized and pressed my hands. Devil take it, but how that devilish visage of hers could change! At the present moment it was a

The Gambler page 44        The Gambler page 46


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