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  The Gambler




the night with you." "Then you know all about it?" "Yes; for last night she was to have accompanied me to the house of a relative of mine. Unfortunately, being ill, she made a mistake, and went to your rooms instead." "Indeed? Then I wish you joy, Mr. Astley. Apropos, you have reminded me of something. Were you beneath my window last night? Every moment Mlle. Polina kept telling me to open the window and see if you were there; after which she always smiled." "Indeed? No, I was not there; but I was waiting in the corridor, and walking about the hotel." "She ought to see a doctor, you know, Mr. Astley." "Yes, she ought. I have sent for one, and, if she dies, I shall hold you responsible." This surprised me. "Pardon me," I replied, "but what do you mean?" "Never mind. Tell me if it is true that, last night, you won two hundred thousand thalers?" "No; I won a hundred thousand florins." "Good heavens! Then I suppose you will be off to Paris this morning? "Why?" "Because all Russians who have grown rich go to Paris," explained Astley, as though he had read the fact in a book. "But what could I do in Paris in summer time?--I LOVE her, Mr. Astley! Surely you know that?" "Indeed? I am sure that you do NOT. Moreover, if you were to stay here, you would lose everything that you possess, and have nothing left with which to pay your expenses in Paris. Well, good-bye now. I feel sure that today will see you gone from here." "Good-bye. But I am NOT going to Paris. Likewise--pardon me--what is to become of this family? I mean that the affair of the General and Mlle. Polina will soon be all over the town." "I daresay; yet, I hardly suppose that that will break the Generals heart. Moreover, Mlle. Polina has a perfect right to live where she chooses. In short, we may say that, as a family, this family has ceased to exist." I departed, and found myself smiling at the Englishmans strange assurance that I should soon be leaving for Paris. "I suppose he means to shoot me in a duel, should Polina die. Yes, that is what he intends to do." Now, although I was honestly sorry for Polina, it is a fact that, from the moment when, the previous night, I had approached the gaming-table, and begun to rake in the packets of bank-notes, my love for her had entered upon a new plane. Yes, I can say that now; although, at the time, I was barely conscious of it. Was I, then, at heart a gambler? Did I, after all, love Polina not so very much? No, no! As God is my witness, I loved her! Even when I was returning home from Mr. Astleys my suffering was genuine, and my self-reproach sincere. But presently I was to go through an exceedingly strange and ugly experience. I was proceeding to the Generals rooms when I heard a door near me open, and a voice call me by name. It was Mlle.s mother, the Widow de Cominges who was inviting me, in her daughters name, to enter. I did so; whereupon, I heard a laugh and a little cry proceed from the bedroom (the pair occupied a suite of two apartments), where Mlle. Blanche was just arising. "Ah, cest lui! Viens, donc, bete! Is it true that you have won a mountain of gold and silver? Jaimerais mieux lor." "Yes," I replied with a smile. "How much?" "A hundred thousand florins." "Bibi, comme tu es bete! Come in here, for I cant hear you where you are now. Nous ferons bombance, nest-ce pas?" Entering her room, I found her lolling under a pink satin coverlet, and revealing a pair of swarthy, wonderfully healthy shoulders--shoulders such as one sees in dreams--shoulders covered over with a white cambric nightgown which, trimmed with lace, stood out, in striking relief, against the darkness of her skin. "Mon fils, as-tu du coeur?" she cried when she saw me, and then giggled. Her laugh had always been a very cheerful one, and at times it even sounded sincere. "Tout autre--" I began, paraphrasing Comeille. "See here," she prattled on. "Please search for my stockings, and help me to dress. Aussi, si tu nes pas trop bete je te prends a Paris. I am just off, let me tell you." "This moment?" "In half an hour." True enough, everything stood ready-packed--trunks, portmanteaux, and all. Coffee had long been served. "Eh bien, tu verras Paris. Dis donc, quest-ce que cest quun utchitel? Tu etais bien bete quand

The Gambler page 66        The Gambler page 68


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