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  The Gambler




visage full of supplication, and as gentle in its expression as that of a smiling, roguish infant. Stealthily, she drew me apart from the rest as though the more completely to separate me from them; and, though no harm came of her doing so--for it was merely a stupid manoeuvre, and no more--I found the situation very unpleasant. The General hastened to lend her his support. "Alexis Ivanovitch," he began, "pray pardon me for having said what I did just now--for having said more than I meant to do. I beg and beseech you, I kiss the hem of your garment, as our Russian saying has it, for you, and only you, can save us. I and Mlle. de Cominges, we all of us beg of you--But you understand, do you not? Surely you understand?" and with his eyes he indicated Mlle. Blanche. Truly he was cutting a pitiful figure! At this moment three low, respectful knocks sounded at the door; which, on being opened, revealed a chambermaid, with Potapitch behind her--come from the Grandmother to request that I should attend her in her rooms. "She is in a bad humour," added Potapitch. The time was half-past three. "My mistress was unable to sleep," explained Potapitch; "so, after tossing about for a while, she suddenly rose, called for her chair, and sent me to look for you. She is now in the verandah." "Quelle megere!" exclaimed De Griers. True enough, I found Madame in the hotel verandah -much put about at my delay, for she had been unable to contain herself until four oclock. "Lift me up," she cried to the bearers, and once more we set out for the roulette-salons. XII The Grandmother was in an impatient, irritable frame of mind. Without doubt the roulette had turned her head, for she appeared to be indifferent to everything else, and, in general, seemed much distraught. For instance, she asked me no questions about objects en route, except that, when a sumptuous barouche passed us and raised a cloud of dust, she lifted her hand for a moment, and inquired, " What was that? " Yet even then she did not appear to hear my reply, although at times her abstraction was interrupted by sallies and fits of sharp, impatient fidgeting. Again, when I pointed out to her the Baron and Baroness Burmergelm walking to the Casino, she merely looked at them in an absent-minded sort of way, and said with complete indifference, "Ah!" Then, turning sharply to Potapitch and Martha, who were walking behind us, she rapped out: "Why have YOU attached yourselves to the party? We are not going to take you with us every time. Go home at once." Then, when the servants had pulled hasty bows and departed, she added to me: "You are all the escort I need." At the Casino the Grandmother seemed to be expected, for no time was lost in procuring her former place beside the croupier. It is my opinion that though croupiers seem such ordinary, humdrum officials--men who care nothing whether the bank wins or loses--they are, in reality, anything but indifferent to the banks losing, and are given instructions to attract players, and to keep a watch over the banks interests; as also, that for such services, these officials are awarded prizes and premiums. At all events, the croupiers of Roulettenberg seemed to look upon the Grandmother as their lawful prey--whereafter there befell what our party had foretold. It happened thus: As soon as ever we arrived the Grandmother ordered me to stake twelve ten-gulden pieces in succession upon zero. Once, twice, and thrice I did so, yet zero never turned up. "Stake again," said the old lady with an impatient nudge of my elbow, and I obeyed. "How many times have we lost? " she inquired--actually grinding her teeth in her excitement. "We have lost 144 ten-gulden pieces," I replied. "I tell you, Madame, that zero may not turn up until nightfall." "Never mind," she interrupted. "Keep on staking upon zero, and also stake a thousand gulden upon rouge. Here is a banknote with which to do so." The red turned up, but zero missed again, and we only got our thousand gulden back. "But you see, you see " whispered the old lady. "We have now recovered almost

The Gambler page 45        The Gambler page 47


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