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  The Gambler




could not withdraw my eyes from it. Consequently, for a moment or two Polina escaped my mind. Then I set myself to arrange the pile in order, and to sort the notes, and to mass the gold in a separate heap. That done, I left everything where it lay, and proceeded to pace the room with rapid strides as I lost myself in thought. Then I darted to the table once more, and began to recount the money; until all of a sudden, as though I had remembered something, I rushed to the door, and closed and double-locked it. Finally I came to a meditative halt before my little trunk. "Shall I put the money there until tomorrow?" I asked, turning sharply round to Polina as the recollection of her returned to me. She was still in her old place--still making not a sound. Yet her eyes had followed every one of my movements. Somehow in her face there was a strange expression--an expression which I did not like. I think that I shall not be wrong if I say that it indicated sheer hatred. Impulsively I approached her. "Polina," I said, "here are twenty-five thousand florins--fifty thousand francs, or more. Take them, and tomorrow throw them in De Griers face." She returned no answer. "Or, if you should prefer," I continued, "let me take them to him myself tomorrow--yes, early tomorrow morning. Shall I?" Then all at once she burst out laughing, and laughed for a long while. With astonishment and a feeling of offence I gazed at her. Her laughter was too like the derisive merriment which she had so often indulged in of late--merriment which had broken forth always at the time of my most passionate explanations. At length she ceased, and frowned at me from under her eyebrows. "I am NOT going to take your money," she said contemptuously. "Why not?" I cried. "Why not, Polina?" "Because I am not in the habit of receiving money for nothing." "But I am offering it to you as a FRIEND in the same way I would offer you my very life." Upon this she threw me a long, questioning glance, as though she were seeking to probe me to the depths. "You are giving too much for me," she remarked with a smile. "The beloved of De Griers is not worth fifty thousand francs." "Oh Polina, how can you speak so?" I exclaimed reproachfully. "Am I De Griers?" "You?" she cried with her eyes suddenly flashing. "Why, I HATE you! Yes, yes, I HATE you! I love you no more than I do De Griers." Then she buried her face in her hands, and relapsed into hysterics. I darted to her side. Somehow I had an intuition of something having happened to her which had nothing to do with myself. She was like a person temporarily insane. "Buy me, would you, would you? Would you buy me for fifty thousand francs as De Griers did?" she gasped between her convulsive sobs. I clasped her in my arms, kissed her hands and feet, and fell upon my knees before her. Presently the hysterical fit passed away, and, laying her hands upon my shoulders, she gazed for a while into my face, as though trying to read it--something I said to her, but it was clear that she did not hear it. Her face looked so dark and despondent that I began to fear for her reason. At length she drew me towards herself--a trustful smile playing over her features; and then, as suddenly, she pushed me away again as she eyed me dimly. Finally she threw herself upon me in an embrace. "You love me?" she said. "DO you?--you who were willing even to quarrel with the Baron at my bidding?" Then she laughed--laughed as though something dear, but laughable, had recurred to her memory. Yes, she laughed and wept at the same time. What was I to do? I was like a man in a fever. I remember that she began to say something to me--though WHAT I do not know, since she spoke with a feverish lisp, as though she were trying to tell me something very quickly. At intervals, too, she would break off into the smile which I was beginning to dread. "No, no!" she kept repeating. "YOU are my dear one; YOU are the man I trust." Again she laid her hands upon my shoulders, and again she gazed at me as she reiterated: "You love me, you love me? Will you ALWAYS love me?" I could not take my eyes off her. Never before had I

The Gambler page 63        The Gambler page 65


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