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First digital edition 2017 by Anna Ruggieri
At length I returned from two weeks leave of absence to findthat my patrons had arrived three days ago in Roulettenberg. Ireceived from them a welcome quite different to that which I hadexpected. The General eyed me coldly, greeted me in rather haughtyfashion, and dismissed me to pay my respects to his sister. It wasclear that from SOMEWHERE money had been acquired. I thought Icould even detect a certain shamefacedness in the General's glance.Maria Philipovna, too, seemeddistraught, and conversed with me withan air of detachment. Nevertheless, she took the money which Ihanded to her, counted it, and listened to what I had to tell. Toluncheon there were expected that day a Monsieur Mezentsov, aFrench lady, and an Englishman; for, whenever money was in hand, abanquet in Muscovite style was always given. Polina Alexandrovna,on seeing me, inquired why I had been so long away. Then, withoutwaiting for an answer, she departed. Evidently this was not mereaccident, and I felt that I must throw some light upon matters. Itwas high time that I did so.
I was assigned a small room on the fourth floor of the hotel(for you must know that I belonged to the General's suite). So faras I could see, the party had already gained somenotoriety in theplace, which had come to look upon the General as a Russiannobleman of great wealth. Indeed, even before luncheon he chargedme, among other things, to get two thousand-franc notes changed forhim at the hotel counter, which put us in a position to be thoughtmillionaires at all events for a week! Later, I was about to takeMischa and Nadia for a walk when a summons reached me from thestaircase that I must attend the General. He began by deigning toinquire of me where I was going to takethe children; and as he didso, I could see that he failed to look me in the eyes. He WANTED todo so, but each time was met by me with such a fixed, disrespectfulstare that he desisted in confusion. In pompous language, however,which jumbled one sentence into another, and at length grewdisconnected, he gave me to understand that I was to lead thechildren altogether away from the Casino, and out into the park.Finally his anger exploded, and he added sharply:
"I suppose you would like to take them to the Casino to playroulette? Well, excuse my speaking so plainly, but I know howaddicted you are to gambling. Though I am not your mentor, nor wishto be, at least I have a right to require that you shall notactually compromise me."
"I have no money for gambling," I quietly replied.
"But you will soon be in receipt of some," retorted the General,reddening a little as he dived into his writing desk and appliedhimself to a memorandum book. From it he saw that he had 120roubles of mine in his keeping.
"Letus calculate," he went on. "We must translate these roublesinto thalers. Here—take 100 thalers, as a round sum. The restwill be safe in my hands."
In silence I took the money.
"You must not be offended at what I say," he continued. "You aretoo touchy about these things. What I have said I have said merelyas a warning. To do so is no more than my right."
When returning home with the children before luncheon, I met acavalcade of our party riding to view some ruins. Two splendidcarriages, magnificentlyhorsed, with Mlle. Blanche, MariaPhilipovna, and Polina Alexandrovna in one of them, and theFrenchman, the Englishman, and the General in attendance onhorseback! The passers-by stopped to stare at them, for the effectwas splendid—the General could nothave improved upon it. Icalculated that, with the 4000 francs which I had brought with me,added to what my patrons seemed already to have acquired, the partymust be in possession of at least 7000 or 8000 francs—thoughthat would be none too much for Mlle. Blanche, who, with her motherand the Frenchman, was also lodging in our hotel. The lattergentleman was called by the lacqueys "Monsieur le Comte," and Mlle.Blanche's mother was dubbed "Madame la Comtesse." Perhaps in verytruth they WERE "Comte et Comtesse."
I knew that "Monsieur le Comte" would take no notice of me whenwe met at dinner, as also that the General would not dream ofintroducing us, nor of recommending me to the "Comte." However, thelatter had lived awhile in Russia, and knew that theperson referredto as an "uchitel" is never looked upon as a bird of fine feather.Of course, strictly speaking, he knew me; but I was an uninvitedguest at the luncheon—the General had forgotten to arrangeotherwise, or I should have been dispatched to dine at the tabled'hote. Nevertheless, I presented myself in such guise that theGeneral looked at me with a touch of approval; and, though the goodMaria Philipovna was for showing me my place, the fact of my havingpreviously met the Englishman, Mr. Astley, saved me, andthenceforward I figured as one of the company.
This strange Englishman I had met first in Prussia, where we hadhappened to sit vis-a-vis in a railway train in which I wastravelling to overtake our party; while, later, I had run acrosshim in France, and again in Switzerland—twice within thespace of two weeks! To think, therefore, that I should suddenlyencounter him again here, in Roulettenberg! Never in my life had Iknown a more retiring man, for he was shy to the pitch ofimbecility,yet well aware of the fact (for he was no fool). At thesame time, he was a gentle, amiable sort of an individual, and,even on our first encounter in Prussia I had contrived to draw himout, and he had told me that he had just been to the North Cape,andwas now anxious to visit the fair at Nizhni Novgorod. How he hadcome to make the General's acquaintance I do not know, but,apparently, he was much struck with Polina. Also, he was delightedthat I should sit next him at table, for he appeared to look uponme as his bosom friend.
During the meal the Frenchman was in great feather: he wasdiscursive and pompous to every one. In Moscow too, I remembered,he had blown a great many bubbles. Interminably he discoursed onfinance and Russian politics, and though, at times, the Generalmade feints to contradict him, he did so humbly, and as thoughwishing not wholly to lose sight of his own dignity.
For myself, I was in a curious frame of mind. Even beforeluncheon was half finished I had asked myself the old, eternalquestion: "WHY do I continue to dance attendance upon the General,instead of having left him and his family long ago?" Every now andthen I would glance at Polina Alexandrovna, but she paid me noattention; until eventually I became so irritated thatI decided toplay the boor.
First of all I suddenly, and for no reason whatever, plungedloudly and gratuitously into the general conversation. Aboveeverything I wanted to pick a quarrel with the Frenchman; and, withthat end in view I turned to the General, and exclaimed in anoverbearing sort of way—indeed, I think that I actuallyinterrupted him—that that summer it had been almostimpossible for a Russian to dine anywhere at tables d'hote. TheGeneral bent upon me a glance of astonishment.
"If one is aman of self-respect," I went on, "one risks abuse byso doing, and is forced to put up with insults of every kind. Bothat Paris and on the Rhine, and even in Switzerland—there areso many Poles, with their sympathisers, the French, at these tablesd'hotethat one cannot get a word in edgeways if one happens only tobe a Russian."
This I said in French. The General eyed me doubtfully, for hedid not know whether to be angry or merely to feel surprised that Ishould so far forget myself.
"Of course, one always learns SOMETHING EVERYWHERE," said theFrenchman in a careless, contemptuous sort of tone.
"In Paris, too, I had a dispute with a Pole," I continued, "andthen with a French officer who supported him. After that a sectionof the Frenchmen present tookmy part. They did so as soon as I toldthem the story of how once I threatened to spit into Monsignor'scoffee."
"To spit into it?" the General inquired with grave disapprovalin his tone, and a stare, of astonishment, while the Frenchmanlooked at me unbelievingly.
"Just so," I replied. "You must know that, on one occasion,when, for two days, I had felt certain that at any moment I mighthave to depart for Rome on business, I repaired to the Embassy ofthe Holy See in Paris, to have my passport visaed. There Iencountered a sacristan of about fifty, and a man dry and cold ofmien. After listening politely, but with great reserve, to myaccount of myself, this sacristan asked me to wait a little. I wasin a great hurry to depart, but of course I sat down, pulled out acopy of L'Opinion Nationale, and fell to reading an extraordinarypiece of invective against Russia which it happened to contain. AsI was thus engaged I heard some one enter an adjoining room and askfor Monsignor; after which I saw the sacristan make a low bow tothe visitor, and then another bow as the visitor took his leave. Iventured to remindthe good man of my own business also; whereupon,with an expression of, if anything, increased dryness, he againasked me to wait. Soon a third visitor arrived who, like myself,had come on business (he was an Austrian of some sort); and as soonas ever he had stated his errand he was conducted upstairs! Thismade me very angry. I rose, approached the sacristan, and told himthat, since Monsignor wasreceiving callers, his lordship might justas well finish off my affair as well. Upon this the sacristanshrunk back in astonishment. It simply passed his understandingthat any insignificant Russian should dare to compare himself withother visitors of Monsignor's! In a tone of the utmost effrontery,as though he were delighted to have a chance of insulting me, helooked me up and down, and then said: "Do you suppose thatMonsignor is going to put aside his coffee for YOU?" But I onlycried the louder: "Let me tell you that I am going to SPIT intothat coffee! Yes, and if you do not get me my passport visaed thisvery minute, I shall take it to Monsignor myself."
"What? While he is engaged with a Cardinal?" screeched thesacristan, again shrinking back in horror. Then, rushing to thedoor, he spread out his arms as though he would rather die than letme enter.
Thereupon I declared that I was a heretic and abarbarian—"Je suis heretique et barbare," I said, "and thatthese archbishops and cardinals and monsignors, and the rest ofthem, meant nothing at all to me. In a word, I showed him that Iwas not going to give way. He looked at me with an air of infiniteresentment. Then he snatched up my passport, and departed with itupstairs. A minute later the passport had been visaed! Here it isnow, if you care to see it,"—and I pulled out the document,and exhibited the Roman visa.
"But—" the General began.
"What really saved you was the fact that you proclaimed yourselfa heretic and a barbarian," remarked the Frenchman with a smile."Cela n'etait pas si bete."
"But is that how Russian subjects ought to be treated? Why, whenthey settle here they dare not utter even a word—they areready even to deny the fact that they are Russians! At all events,at my hotel in Paris I received far more attention from the companyafter I had told them about the fracas with the sacristan. A fatPolish nobleman, who had been the most offensive of all who werepresent at the table d'hote, at once went upstairs, while some ofthe Frenchmen were simply disgusted when I told them that two yearsago I had encountered a man at whom, in 1812, a French 'hero' firedfor the mere fun of discharging his musket. That man was then a boyof ten and his family are still residing in Moscow."
"Impossible!" the Frenchman spluttered. "No French soldier wouldfire at a child!"
"Nevertheless the incident was as I say," I replied. "A veryrespected ex-captain told me the story, and I myself could see thescar left on his cheek."
The Frenchman then began chattering volubly, and the Generalsupported him; but I recommended the former to read, for example,extracts from the memoirs of General Perovski, who, in 1812, was aprisoner in the hands of the French. Finally Maria Philipovnasaidsomething to interrupt the conversation. The General wasfurious with me for having started the altercation with theFrenchman. On the other hand, Mr. Astley seemed to take greatpleasure in my brush with Monsieur, and, rising from the table,proposed that we should go and have adrink together. The sameafternoon, at four o'clock, I went to have my customary talk withPolina Alexandrovna; and, the talk soon extended to a stroll. Weentered the Park, and approached the Casino, where Polina seatedherself upon a bench near the fountain, and sent Nadia away to alittle distance to play with some other children. Mischa also Idispatched to play by the fountain, and in this fashionwe—that is to say, Polina and myself—contrived to findourselves alone.
Of course, we began by talking onbusiness matters. Polina seemedfurious when I handed her only 700 gulden, for she had thought toreceive from Paris, as the proceeds of the pledging of herdiamonds, at least 2000 gulden, or even more.
"Come what may, I MUST have money," she said. "And get itsomehow I will—otherwise I shall be ruined."
I asked her what had happened during my absence.
"Nothing; except that two pieces of news have reached us fromSt. Petersburg. In the first place, my grandmother is very ill, andunlikely to last another couple of days. We had this from TimothyPetrovitch himself, and he is a reliable person. Every moment weare expecting to receive news of the end."
"All of you are on the tiptoe of expectation?" I queried.
"Of course—all of us, and every minute of the day.For ayear-and-a-half now we have been looking for this."
"Looking for it?"
"Yes, looking for it. I am not her blood relation, youknow—I am merely the General's step-daughter. Yet I amcertain that the old lady has remembered me in her will."
"Yes, I believe that you WILL come in for a good deal," I saidwith some assurance.
"Yes, for she is fond of me. But how come you to think so?"
I answered this question with another one. "That Marquis ofyours," I said, "—is HE also familiar with yourfamilysecrets?"
"And why are you yourself so interested in them?" was her retortas she eyed me with dry grimness.
"Never mind. If I am not mistaken, the General has succeeded inborrowing money of the Marquis."
"It may be so."
"Is it likely that the Marquiswould have lent the money if hehad not known something or other about your grandmother? Did younotice, too, that three times during luncheon, when speaking ofher, he called her 'La Baboulenka'? [Dear little Grandmother]. Whatloving, friendly behaviour,to be sure!"
"Yes, that is true. As soon as ever he learnt that I was likelyto inherit something from her he began to pay me his addresses. Ithought you ought to know that."
"Then he has only just begun his courting? Why, I thought he hadbeen doing soa long while!"
"You KNOW he has not," retorted Polina angrily. "But where onearth did you pick up this Englishman?" She said this after apause.
"I KNEW you would ask about him!" Whereupon I told her of myprevious encounters with Astley while travelling.
"He is very shy," I said, "and susceptible. Also, he is in lovewith you.—"
"Yes, he is in love with me," she replied.
"And he is ten times richer than the Frenchman. In fact, whatdoes the Frenchman possess? To me it seems at least doubtful thathe possesses anything at all."
"Oh, no, there is no doubt about it. He does possess somechateau or other. Last night the General told me that for certain.NOW are you satisfied?"
"Nevertheless, in your place I should marry the Englishman."
"And why?" asked Polina.
"Because, though the Frenchman is the handsomer of the two, heis also the baser; whereas the Englishman is not only a man ofhonour, but ten times the wealthier of the pair."
"Yes? But then the Frenchman is a marquis, and the cleverer ofthe two," remarked Polina imperturbably.
"Is that so?" I repeated.
Polina was not at all pleased at my questions; I could see thatshe was doing her best to irritate me with the brusquerie of heranswers. But I took no notice of this.
"It amuses me tosee you grow angry," she continued. "However,inasmuch as I allow you to indulge in these questions andconjectures, you ought to pay me something for the privilege."
"I consider that I have a perfect right to put these questionsto you," was my calm retort; "for the reason that I am ready to payfor them, and also care little what becomes of me."
"Last time you told me—when on the Shlangenberg—thatat a word from me you would be ready to jump down a thousand feetinto the abyss. Some day Imay remind you of that saying, in orderto see if you will be as good as your word. Yes, you may dependupon it that I shall do so. I hate you because I have allowed youto go to such lengths, and I also hate you and stillmore—because you are so necessaryto me. For the time being Iwant you, so I must keep you."
Then she made a movement to rise. Her tone had sounded veryangry. Indeed, of late her talks with me had invariably ended on anote of temper and irritation—yes, of real temper.
"May I ask you whois this Mlle. Blanche?" I inquired (since Idid not wish Polina to depart without an explanation).
"You KNOW who she is—just Mlle. Blanche. Nothing furtherhas transpired. Probably she will soon be Madame General—thatis to say, if the rumours that Grandmamma is nearing her end shouldprove true. Mlle. Blanche, with her mother and her cousin, theMarquis, know very well that, as things now stand, we areruined."
"And is the General at last in love?"
"That has nothing to do with it. Listen to me. Take these700florins, and go and play roulette with them. Win as much for me asyou can, for I am badly in need of money."
So saying, she called Nadia back to her side, and entered theCasino, where she joined the rest of our party. For myself, I took,in musingastonishment, the first path to the left. Something hadseemed to strike my brain when she told me to go and play roulette.Strangely enough, that something had also seemed to make mehesitate, and to set me analysing my feelings with regard to her.In fact, during the two weeks of my absence I had felt far more atmy ease than I did now, on the day of my return; although, whiletravelling, I had moped like an imbecile, rushed about like a manin a fever, and actually beheld her in my dreams. Indeed, ononeoccasion (this happened in Switzerland, when I was asleep in thetrain) I had spoken aloud to her, and set all my fellow-travellerslaughing. Again, therefore, I put to myself the question: "Do I, ordo I not love her?" and again I could return myself noanswer or,rather, for the hundredth time I told myself that I detested her.Yes, I detested her; there were moments (more especially at theclose of our talks together) when I would gladly have given half mylife to have strangled her! I swear that, had there, at suchmoments, been a sharp knife ready to my hand, I would have seizedthat knife with pleasure, and plunged it into her breast. Yet Ialso swear that if, on the Shlangenberg, she had REALLY said to me,"Leap into that abyss," I should have leaptinto it, and with equalpleasure. Yes, this I knew well. One way or the other, the thingmust soon be ended. She, too, knew it in some curious way; thethought that I was fully conscious of her inaccessibility, and ofthe impossibility of my ever realisingmy dreams, afforded her, Iamcertain, the keenest possible pleasure. Otherwise, is it likelythat she, the cautious and clever woman that she was, would haveindulged in this familiarity and openness with me? Hitherto (Iconcluded) she had looked upon mein the same light that the oldEmpress did upon her servant—the Empress who hesitated not tounrobe herself before her slave, since she did not account a slavea man. Yes, often Polina must have taken me for something less thana man!"
Still, she had charged me with a commission—to win what Icould at roulette. Yet all the time I could not help wondering WHYit was so necessary for her to win something, and what new schemescould have sprung to birth in her ever-fertile brain. A host of newand unknown factors seemed to have arisen during the last twoweeks. Well, it behoved me to divine them, and to probe them, andthat as soon as possible. Yet not now: at the present moment I mustrepair to the roulette-table.
I confess I did not like it. Although I had made up my mind toplay, I felt averse to doing so on behalf of some one else. Infact, it almost upset my balance, and I entered the gaming roomswith an angry feeling at my heart. At first glance the sceneirritated me. Never at any time have Ibeen able to bear theflunkeyishness which one meets in the Press of the world at large,but more especially in that of Russia, where, almost every evening,journalists write on two subjects in particular namely, on thesplendour and luxury of the casinosto be found in the Rhenishtowns, and on the heaps of gold which are daily to be seen lying ontheir tables. Those journalists are not paid for doing so: theywrite thus merely out of a spirit of disinterested complaisance.For there is nothing splendid about the establishments in question;and, not only are there no heaps of gold to be seen lying on theirtables, but also there is very little money to be seen at all. Ofcourse, during the season, some madman or another may make hisappearance—generally anEnglishman, or an Asiatic, or aTurk—and (as had happened during the summer of which I write)win or lose a great deal; but, as regards the rest of the crowd, itplays only for petty gulden, and seldom does much wealth figure onthe board.
When, on the present occasion, I entered the gaming-rooms (forthe first time in my life), it was several moments before I couldeven make up my mind to play. For one thing, the crowd oppressedme. Had I been playing for myself, I think I should have left atonce, and never have embarked upon gambling at all, for I couldfeel my heart beginning to beat, and my heart was anything butcold-blooded. Also, I knew, I had long ago made up my mind, thatnever should I depart from Roulettenberg until some radical, somefinal, change had taken place in my fortunes. Thus, it must andwould be. However ridiculous it may seem to you that I wasexpecting to win at roulette, I look upon the generally acceptedopinion concerning the folly and the grossness of hoping to win atgambling asa thing even more absurd. For why is gambling awhitworse than any other method of acquiring money? How, for instance,is it worse than trade? True, out of a hundred persons, only onecan win; yet what business is that of yours or of mine?
At all events,I confined myself at first simply to looking on,and decided to attempt nothing serious. Indeed, I felt that, if Ibegan to do anything at all, I should do it in an absent-minded,haphazard sort of way—of that I felt certain. Also, itbehoved me to learn the game itself; since, despite a thousanddescriptions of roulette which I had read with ceaseless avidity, Iknew nothing of its rules, and had never even seen it played.
In the first place, everything about it seemed to me sofoul—so morally mean and foul. Yet I am not speaking of thehungry, restless folk who, by scores nay, even byhundreds—could be seen crowded around the gaming-tables. Forin a desire to win quickly and to win much I can see nothingsordid; I have always applauded the opinion of a certain dead andgone, but cocksure, moralist who replied to the excuse that "onemay always gamble moderately", by saying that to do so makes thingsworse, since, in that case, the profits too will always bemoderate.
Insignificant profits and sumptuous profits do not stand on thesame footing. No, it is all a matter of proportion. What may seem asmall sum to a Rothschild may seem a large sum to me, and it is notthe fault of stakes or of winnings that everywhere men can be foundwinning, can be found depriving their fellows of something, just asthey do at roulette. As to the question whether stakes and winningsare, in themselves, immoral is another question altogether, and Iwish to express no opinion upon it. Yet the very fact that I wasfull of a strongdesire to win caused this gambling for gain, inspite of its attendant squalor, to contain, if you will, somethingintimate, something sympathetic, to my eyes: for it is alwayspleasant to see men dispensing with ceremony, and acting naturally,and in an unbuttoned mood....
Yet, why should I so deceive myself? I could see that the wholething was a vain and unreasoning pursuit; and what, at the firstglance, seemed to me the ugliest feature in this mob of rouletteplayers was their respect for their occupation—theseriousness, and even the humility, with which they stood aroundthe gaming tables. Moreover, I had always drawn sharp distinctionsbetween a game which is de mauvais genre and a game which ispermissible to a decent man. In fact, there are two sorts ofgaming—namely, the game of the gentleman and the game of theplebs—the game for gain, and the game of the herd. Herein, assaid, I draw sharp distinctions. Yet how essentially base are thedistinctions! For instance, a gentleman may stake, say, fiveor tenlouis d'or—seldom more, unless he is a very rich man, when hemay stake, say, a thousand francs; but, he must do this simply forthe love of the game itself—simply for sport, simply in orderto observe the process of winning or of losing, and, aboveallthings, as a man who remains quite uninterested in the possibilityof his issuing a winner. If he wins, he will be at liberty,perhaps, to give vent to a laugh, or to pass a remark on thecircumstance to a bystander, or to stake again, or to double hisstake; but, even this he must do solely out of curiosity, and forthe pleasure of watching the play of chances and of calculations,and not because of any vulgar desire to win. In a word, he mustlook upon the gaming-table, upon roulette, and upon trenteetquarante, as mere relaxations which have been arranged solely forhis amusement. Of the existence of the lures and gains upon whichthe bank is founded and maintained he must professto have not aninkling. Best of all, he ought to imagine his fellow-gamblers andthe rest of the mob which stands trembling over a coin to beequally rich and gentlemanly with himself, and playing solely forrecreation and pleasure. This complete ignorance of the realities,this innocent view of mankind, is what, in my opinion, constitutesthe truly aristocratic. For instance, I have seen even fond mothersso far indulge their guileless, elegant daughters—misses offifteen or sixteen—as to give them a few gold coins and teachthem how to play; and though the young ladies mayhave won or havelost, they have invariably laughed, and departed as though theywere well pleased. In the same way, I saw our General once approachthe table in a stolid, important manner. A lacquey darted to offerhim a chair, but the General did not even notice him. Slowly hetook out his money bags, and slowly extracted 300 francs in gold,which he staked on the black, and won. Yet he did not take up hiswinnings—he left them there on the table. Again the blackturned up, and again he did not gather inwhat he had won; and when,in the third round, the RED turned up he lost, at a stroke, 1200francs. Yet even then he rose with a smile, and thus preserved hisreputation; yet I knew that his money bags must be chafing hisheart, as well as that, had the stake been twice or thrice as muchagain, he would still have restrained himself from venting hisdisappointment.
On the other hand, I saw a Frenchman first win, and then lose,30,000 francs cheerfully, and without a murmur. Yes; even if agentleman shouldlose his whole substance, he must never give way toannoyance. Money must be so subservient to gentility as never to beworth a thought. Of course, the SUPREMELY aristocratic thing is tobe entirely oblivious of the mire of rabble, with its setting; butsometimes a reverse course may be aristocratic to remark, to scan,and even to gape at, the mob (for preference, through a lorgnette),even as though one were taking the crowd and its squalor for a sortof raree show which had been organised specially for agentleman'sdiversion. Though one may be squeezed by the crowd, one must lookas though one were fully assured of being the observer—ofhaving neither part nor lot with the observed. At the same time, tostare fixedly about one is unbecoming; for that, again, isungentlemanly, seeing that no spectacle is worth an openstare—are no spectacles in the world which merit from agentleman too pronounced an inspection.
However, to me personally the scene DID seem to be worthundisguised contemplation—more especially in view of the factthat I had come there not only to look at, but also to numbermyself sincerely and wholeheartedly with, the mob. As for my secretmoral views, I had no room for them amongst my actual, practicalopinions. Let that stand as written: Iam writing only to relieve myconscience. Yet let me say also this: that from the first I havebeen consistent in having an intense aversion to any trial of myacts and thoughts by a moral standard. Another standard altogetherhas directed my life....
Asa matter of fact, the mob was playing in exceedingly foulfashion. Indeed, I have an idea that sheer robbery was going onaround that gaming-table. The croupiers who sat at the two ends ofit had not only to watch the stakes, but also to calculate thegame—an immense amount of work for two men! As for the crowditself—well, it consisted mostly of Frenchmen. Yet I was notthen taking notes merely in order to be able to give you adescription of roulette, but in order to get my bearings as to mybehaviour when I myself should begin to play. For example, Inoticed that nothing was more common than for another's hand tostretch out and grab one'swinnings whenever one had won. Then therewould arise a dispute, and frequently an uproar; and it would be acase of"I beg of you to prove, and to produce witnesses to thefact, that the stake is yours."
At first the proceedings were pure Greek to me. I could onlydivine and distinguish that stakes were hazarded on numbers, on"odd" or "even," and on colours. Polina's money I decided to risk,that evening, only to the amount of 100 gulden. The thought that Iwas not going to play for myself quite unnerved me. It was anunpleasant sensation, and I tried hard to banish it. I had afeeling that, once I had begun to play forPolina, I should wreck myown fortunes. Also, I wonder if any one has EVER approached agaming-table without falling an immediate prey to superstition? Ibegan by pulling out fifty gulden, and staking them on "even." Thewheel spun and stopped at 13. I had lost! With a feeling like asick qualm, as though I would like to make my way out of the crowdand go home, I staked another fifty gulden—this time on thered. The red turned up. Next time I staked the 100 gulden justwhere they lay—and again the red turned up. Again I stakedthe whole sum, and again the red turned up. Clutching my 400gulden, I placed 200 of them on twelve figures, to see what wouldcome of it. The result was that the croupier paid me out threetimes my total stake! Thus from 100 guldenmy store had grown to800! Upon that such a curious, such an inexplicable, unwontedfeeling overcame me that I decided to depart. Always the thoughtkept recurring to me that if I had been playing for myself alone Ishould never have had such luck. Once more I staked the whole 800gulden on the "even." The wheel stopped at 4. I was paid outanother 800 gulden, and, snatching up my pile of 1600, departed insearch of Polina Alexandrovna.
I found the whole party walking in the park, and was able to getan interview with her only after supper. This time the Frenchmanwas absent from the meal, and the General seemed to be in a moreexpansive vein. Among other things, he thought it necessary toremind me that he would be sorry to see me playing at thegaming-tables. In his opinion, such conduct would greatlycompromise him—especially if I were to lose much. "And evenif you were to WIN much I should be compromised," he added in ameaning sort of way. "Of course I have no RIGHT to order youractions, but you yourself will agree that..." As usual, he did notfinish his sentence. I answered drily that I had very little moneyin my possession, and that, consequently, I was hardly in aposition to indulge in any conspicuous play, even if I did gamble.At last, when ascending to my own room, I succeeded in handingPolina her winnings, and told her that, next time, I should notplay for her.
"Why not?" she asked excitedly.
"Because I wish to play FOR MYSELF," I replied with a feignedglance of astonishment. "That is my sole reason."