Part 1 out of 4
by FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY
Translated by CJ Hogarth
At length I returned from two weeks leave of absence to find
that my patrons had arrived three days ago in Roulettenberg. I
received from them a welcome quite different to that which I had
expected. The General eyed me coldly, greeted me in rather
haughty fashion, and dismissed me to pay my respects to his
sister. It was clear that from SOMEWHERE money had been
acquired. I thought I could even detect a certain shamefacedness
in the General's glance. Maria Philipovna, too, seemed
distraught, and conversed with me with an air of detachment.
Nevertheless, she took the money which I handed to her, counted
it, and listened to what I had to tell. To luncheon there were
expected that day a Monsieur Mezentsov, a French lady, and an
Englishman; for, whenever money was in hand, a banquet in
Muscovite style was always given. Polina Alexandrovna, on seeing
me, inquired why I had been so long away. Then, without waiting
for an answer, she departed. Evidently this was not mere
accident, and I felt that I must throw some light upon matters.
It was 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
far as I could see, the party had already gained some notoriety
in the place, which had come to look upon the General as a
Russian nobleman of great wealth. Indeed, even before luncheon
he charged me, among other things, to get two thousand-franc
notes changed for him at the hotel counter, which put us in a
position to be thought millionaires at all events for a week!
Later, I was about to take Mischa and Nadia for a walk when a
summons reached me from the staircase that I must attend the
General. He began by deigning to inquire of me where I was going
to take the children; and as he did so, I could see that he
failed to look me in the eyes. He WANTED to do so, but each time
was met by me with such a fixed, disrespectful stare that he
desisted in confusion. In pompous language, however, which
jumbled one sentence into another, and at length grew
disconnected, he gave me to understand that I was to lead the
children 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 play
roulette? Well, excuse my speaking so plainly, but I know how
addicted you are to gambling. Though I am not your mentor, nor
wish to be, at least I have a right to require that you shall
not actually 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 applied himself to a memorandum book. From it he saw that he
had 120 roubles of mine in his keeping.
"Let us calculate," he went on. "We must translate these
roubles into thalers. Here--take 100 thalers, as a round sum. The
rest will be safe in my hands."
In silence I took the money.
"You must not be offended at what I say," he continued. "You
are too touchy about these things. What I have said I have said
merely as a warning. To do so is no more than my right."
When returning home with the children before luncheon, I met a
cavalcade of our party riding to view some ruins. Two splendid
carriages, magnificently horsed, with Mlle. Blanche, Maria
Philipovna, and Polina Alexandrovna in one of them, and the
Frenchman, the Englishman, and the General in attendance on
horseback! The passers-by stopped to stare at them, for the
effect was splendid--the General could not have improved upon it.
I calculated that, with the 4000 francs which I had brought with
me, added to what my patrons seemed already to have acquired,
the party must be in possession of at least 7000 or 8000
francs--though that would be none too much for Mlle. Blanche,
who, with her mother and the Frenchman, was also lodging in our
hotel. The latter gentleman was called by the lacqueys
"Monsieur le Comte," and Mlle. Blanche's mother was dubbed
"Madame la Comtesse." Perhaps in very truth they WERE "Comte et
I knew that "Monsieur le Comte" would take no notice of me
when we met at dinner, as also that the General would not dream
of introducing us, nor of recommending me to the "Comte."
However, the latter had lived awhile in Russia, and knew that
the person referred to as an "uchitel" is never looked upon as
a bird of fine feather. Of course, strictly speaking, he knew
me; but I was an uninvited guest at the luncheon--the General
had forgotten to arrange otherwise, or I should have been
dispatched to dine at the table d'hote. Nevertheless, I presented
myself in such guise that the General looked at me with a touch
of approval; and, though the good Maria Philipovna was for
showing me my place, the fact of my having previously met the
Englishman, Mr. Astley, saved me, and thenceforward I figured as
one of the company.
This strange Englishman I had met first in Prussia, where we had
happened to sit vis-a-vis in a railway train in which I was
travelling to overtake our party; while, later, I had run across
him in France, and again in Switzerland--twice within the space
of two weeks! To think, therefore, that I should suddenly
encounter him again here, in Roulettenberg! Never in my life had
I known a more retiring man, for he was shy to the pitch of
imbecility, yet well aware of the fact (for he was no fool). At
the same time, he was a gentle, amiable sort of an individual,
and, even on our first encounter in Prussia I had contrived to
draw him out, and he had told me that he had just been to the
North Cape, and was now anxious to visit the fair at Nizhni
Novgorod. How he had come to make the General's acquaintance I
do not know, but, apparently, he was much struck with Polina.
Also, he was delighted that I should sit next him at table, for
he appeared to look upon me as his bosom friend.
During the meal the Frenchman was in great feather: he was
discursive and pompous to every one. In Moscow too, I
remembered, he had blown a great many bubbles. Interminably he
discoursed on finance and Russian politics, and though, at
times, the General made feints to contradict him, he did so
humbly, and as though wishing not wholly to lose sight of his
For myself, I was in a curious frame of mind. Even before
luncheon was half finished I had asked myself the old, eternal
question: "WHY do I continue to dance attendance upon the
General, instead of having left him and his family long ago?"
Every now and then I would glance at Polina Alexandrovna, but
she paid me no attention; until eventually I became so irritated
that I decided to play the boor.
First of all I suddenly, and for no reason whatever, plunged
loudly and gratuitously into the general conversation. Above
everything I wanted to pick a quarrel with the Frenchman; and,
with that end in view I turned to the General, and exclaimed in
an overbearing sort of way--indeed, I think that I actually
interrupted him--that that summer it had been almost impossible
for a Russian to dine anywhere at tables d'hote. The General
bent upon me a glance of astonishment.
"If one is a man of self-respect," I went on, "one risks abuse
by so doing, and is forced to put up with insults of every kind.
Both at Paris and on the Rhine, and even in Switzerland--there
are so many Poles, with their sympathisers, the French, at these
tables d'hote that one cannot get a word in edgeways if one
happens only to be a Russian."
This I said in French. The General eyed me doubtfully, for he
did not know whether to be angry or merely to feel surprised
that I should so far forget myself.
"Of course, one always learns SOMETHING EVERYWHERE," said the
Frenchman in a careless, contemptuous sort of tone.
"In Paris, too, I had a dispute with a Pole," I continued,
"and then with a French officer who supported him. After that a
section of the Frenchmen present took my part. They did so as
soon as I told them the story of how once I threatened to spit
into Monsignor's coffee."
"To spit into it?" the General inquired with grave disapproval
in his tone, and a stare, of astonishment, while the Frenchman
looked 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
might have to depart for Rome on business, I repaired to the
Embassy of the Holy See in Paris, to have my passport visaed.
There I encountered a sacristan of about fifty, and a man dry
and cold of mien. After listening politely, but with great
reserve, to my account of myself, this sacristan asked me to
wait a little. I was in a great hurry to depart, but of course I
sat down, pulled out a copy of L'Opinion Nationale, and fell to
reading an extraordinary piece of invective against Russia which
it happened to contain. As I was thus engaged I heard some one
enter an adjoining room and ask for Monsignor; after which I saw
the sacristan make a low bow to the visitor, and then another
bow as the visitor took his leave. I ventured to remind the good
man of my own business also; whereupon, with an expression of,
if anything, increased dryness, he again asked me to wait. Soon
a third visitor arrived who, like myself, had come on business
(he was an Austrian of some sort); and as soon as ever he had
stated his errand he was conducted upstairs! This made me very
angry. I rose, approached the sacristan, and told him that,
since Monsignor was receiving callers, his lordship might just
as well finish off my affair as well. Upon this the sacristan
shrunk back in astonishment. It simply passed his understanding
that any insignificant Russian should dare to compare himself
with other visitors of Monsignor's! In a tone of the utmost
effrontery, as though he were delighted to have a chance of
insulting me, he looked me up and down, and then said: "Do you
suppose that Monsignor is going to put aside his coffee for YOU?"
But I only cried the louder: "Let me tell you that I am
going to SPIT into that coffee! Yes, and if you do not get me my
passport visaed this very minute, I shall take it to Monsignor
"What? While he is engaged with a Cardinal? screeched the
sacristan, again shrinking back in horror. Then, rushing to the
door, he spread out his arms as though he would rather die than
let me enter.
Thereupon I declared that I was a heretic and a barbarian--"Je
suis heretique et barbare," I said, "and that these archbishops
and cardinals and monsignors, and the rest of them, meant
nothing at all to me. In a word, I showed him that I was not
going to give way. He looked at me with an air of infinite
resentment. Then he snatched up my passport, and departed with
it upstairs. A minute later the passport had been visaed! Here
it is now, 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
yourself a 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,
when they settle here they dare not utter even a word--they are
ready even to deny the fact that they are Russians! At all
events, at my hotel in Paris I received far more attention from
the company after I had told them about the fracas with the
sacristan. A fat Polish nobleman, who had been the most
offensive of all who were present at the table d'hote, at once
went upstairs, while some of the Frenchmen were simply disgusted
when I told them that two years ago I had encountered a man at
whom, in 1812, a French 'hero' fired for the mere fun of
discharging his musket. That man was then a boy of ten and his
family are still residing in Moscow."
"Impossible!" the Frenchman spluttered. "No French soldier
would fire at a child!"
"Nevertheless the incident was as I say," I replied. "A very respected
ex-captain told me the story, and I myself could see the scar left on
The Frenchman then began chattering volubly, and the General
supported him; but I recommended the former to read, for
example, extracts from the memoirs of General Perovski, who, in
1812, was a prisoner in the hands of the French. Finally Maria
Philipovna said something to interrupt the conversation. The
General was furious with me for having started the altercation
with the Frenchman. On the other hand, Mr. Astley seemed to take
great pleasure in my brush with Monsieur, and, rising from the
table, proposed that we should go and have a drink together. The
same afternoon, at four o'clock, I went to have my customary
talk with Polina Alexandrovna; and, the talk soon extended to a
stroll. We entered the Park, and approached the Casino, where
Polina seated herself upon a bench near the fountain, and sent
Nadia away to a little distance to play with some other
children. Mischa also I dispatched to play by the fountain, and
in this fashion we--that is to say, Polina and myself--contrived
to find ourselves alone.
Of course, we began by talking on business matters. Polina
seemed furious when I handed her only 700 gulden, for she had
thought to receive from Paris, as the proceeds of the pledging
of her diamonds, at least 2000 gulden, or even more.
"Come what may, I MUST have money," she said. "And get it somehow
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 from
St. Petersburg. In the first place, my grandmother is very ill,
and unlikely to last another couple of days. We had this from
Timothy Petrovitch himself, and he is a reliable person. Every
moment we are 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 a
year-and-a-half now we have been looking for this."
"Looking for it?"
"Yes, looking for it. I am not her blood relation,
you know--I am merely the General's step-daughter. Yet I am
certain that the old lady has remembered me in her will."
"Yes, I believe that you WILL come in for a good deal," I said
with 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 of
yours," I said, "--is HE also familiar with your family secrets?"
"And why are you yourself so interested in them?" was her retort
as she eyed me with dry grimness.
"Never mind. If I am not mistaken, the General has succeeded in
borrowing money of the Marquis."
"It may be so."
"Is it likely that the Marquis would have lent the money if he
had not known something or other about your grandmother? Did you
notice, too, that three times during luncheon, when speaking of
her, he called her 'La Baboulenka'? [Dear little Grandmother].
What loving, friendly behaviour, to be sure!"
"Yes, that is true. As soon as ever he learnt that I was likely
to inherit something from her he began to pay me his addresses.
I thought you ought to know that."
"Then he has only just begun his courting? Why, I thought he
had been doing so a long while!"
"You KNOW he has not," retorted Polina angrily. "But where on
earth did you pick up this Englishman?" She said this after a pause.
"I KNEW you would ask about him!" Whereupon I told her of my
previous encounters with Astley while travelling.
"He is very shy," I said, "and susceptible. Also, he is in
love with you.--"
"Yes, he is in love with me," she replied.
"And he is ten times richer than the Frenchman. In fact, what
does the Frenchman possess? To me it seems at least doubtful
that he possesses anything at all."
"Oh, no, there is no doubt about it. He does possess
some chateau 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, he
is also the baser; whereas the Englishman is not only a man of
honour, but ten times the wealthier of the pair."
"Yes? But then the Frenchman is a marquis, and the cleverer of
the two," remarked Polina imperturbably.
"Is that so?" I repeated.
Polina was not at all pleased at my questions; I could see that
she was doing her best to irritate me with the brusquerie of her
answers. But I took no notice of this.
"It amuses me to see you grow angry," she continued. "However,
inasmuch as I allow you to indulge in these questions and
conjectures, you ought to pay me something for the privilege."
"I consider that I have a perfect right to put these questions
to you," was my calm retort; "for the reason that I am ready to
pay for them, and also care little what becomes of me."
"Last time you told me--when on the Shlangenberg--that at a
word from me you would be ready to jump down a thousand feet
into the abyss. Some day I may remind you of that saying, in
order to see if you will be as good as your word. Yes, you may
depend upon it that I shall do so. I hate you because I have
allowed you to go to such lengths, and I also hate you and still
more--because you are so necessary to me. For the time being I
want you, so I must keep you."
Then she made a movement to rise. Her tone had sounded very
angry. Indeed, of late her talks with me had invariably ended on
a note of temper and irritation--yes, of real temper.
"May I ask you who is this Mlle. Blanche?" I inquired (since I
did not wish Polina to depart without an explanation).
"You KNOW who she is--just Mlle. Blanche. Nothing further has
transpired. Probably she will soon be Madame General--that is to
say, if the rumours that Grandmamma is nearing her end should
prove true. Mlle. Blanche, with her mother and her cousin, the
Marquis, know very well that, as things now stand, we are
"And is the General at last in love?"
"That has nothing to do with it. Listen to me. Take these 700
florins, and go and play roulette with them. Win as much for me
as you can, for I am badly in need of money.
So saying, she called Nadia back to her side, and entered the
Casino, where she joined the rest of our party. For myself, I
took, in musing astonishment, the first path to the left.
Something had seemed to strike my brain when she told me to go
and play roulette. Strangely enough, that something had also
seemed to make me hesitate, 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 at my ease than I did now, on the day of my
return; although, while travelling, I had moped like an
imbecile, rushed about like a man in a fever, and actually
beheld her in my dreams. Indeed, on one occasion (this happened
in Switzerland, when I was asleep in the train) I had spoken
aloud to her, and set all my fellow-travellers laughing. Again,
therefore, I put to myself the question: "Do I, or do I not
love her?" and again I could return myself no answer or,
rather, for the hundredth time I told myself that I detested
her. Yes, I detested her; there were moments (more especially at
the close of our talks together) when I would gladly have given
half my life to have strangled her! I swear that, had there, at
such moments, been a sharp knife ready to my hand, I would have
seized that knife with pleasure, and plunged it into her breast.
Yet I also swear that if, on the Shlangenberg, she had REALLY
said to me, "Leap into that abyss," I should have leapt into
it, and with equal pleasure. Yes, this I knew well. One way or
the other, the thing must soon be ended. She, too, knew it in
some curious way; the thought that I was fully conscious of her
inaccessibility, and of the impossibility of my ever realising
my dreams, afforded her, I am certain, the keenest possible
pleasure. Otherwise, is it likely that she, the cautious and
clever woman that she was, would have indulged in this
familiarity and openness with me? Hitherto (I concluded) she had
looked upon me in the same light that the old Empress did upon
her servant--the Empress who hesitated not to unrobe herself
before her slave, since she did not account a slave a man. Yes,
often Polina must have taken me for something less than a man!"
Still, she had charged me with a commission--to win what I could
at roulette. Yet all the time I could not help wondering WHY it
was so necessary for her to win something, and what new schemes
could have sprung to birth in her ever-fertile brain. A host of
new and unknown factors seemed to have arisen during the last
two weeks. Well, it behoved me to divine them, and to probe
them, and that as soon as possible. Yet not now: at the present
moment I must repair to the roulette-table.
I confess I did not like it. Although I had made up my mind to
play, I felt averse to doing so on behalf of some one else. In
fact, it almost upset my balance, and I entered the gaming rooms
with an angry feeling at my heart. At first glance the scene
irritated me. Never at any time have I been able to bear the
flunkeyishness 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 the splendour and luxury of the casinos to be found
in the Rhenish towns, and on the heaps of gold which are daily
to be seen lying on their tables. Those journalists are not
paid for doing so: they write 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 their tables, but also there is very
little money to be seen at all. Of course, during the season,
some madman or another may make his appearance--generally an
Englishman, or an Asiatic, or a Turk--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, it plays only for petty gulden,
and seldom does much wealth figure on the board.
When, on the present occasion, I entered the gaming-rooms
(for the first time in my life), it was several moments
before I could even make up my mind to play. For one thing, the
crowd oppressed me. Had I been playing for myself, I think I
should have left at once, and never have embarked upon gambling at
all, for I could feel my heart beginning to beat, and my heart was
anything but cold-blooded. Also, I knew, I had long ago made up my
mind, that never should I depart from Roulettenberg until some radical,
some final, change had taken place in my fortunes. Thus, it must
and would be. However ridiculous it may seem to you that I was
expecting to win at roulette, I look upon the generally accepted
opinion concerning the folly and the grossness of hoping to win
at gambling as a thing even more absurd. For why is gambling a
whit worse than any other method of acquiring money? How, for
instance, is it worse than trade? True, out of a hundred
persons, only one can win; yet what business is that of yours or
At all events, I confined myself at first simply to looking on,
and decided to attempt nothing serious. Indeed, I felt that, if
I began to do anything at all, I should do it in an
absent-minded, haphazard sort of way--of that I felt certain.
Also. it behoved me to learn the game itself; since, despite a
thousand descriptions of roulette which I had read with
ceaseless avidity, I knew nothing of its rules, and had never
even seen it played.
In the first place, everything about it seemed to me so foul--so
morally mean and foul. Yet I am not speaking of the hungry,
restless folk who, by scores nay, even by hundreds--could be seen
crowded around the gaming-tables. For in a desire to win quickly
and to win much I can see nothing sordid; I have always
applauded the opinion of a certain dead and gone, but cocksure,
moralist who replied to the excuse that " one may always gamble
moderately ", by saying that to do so makes things worse, since,
in that case, the profits too will always be moderate.
Insignificant profits and sumptuous profits do not stand on the
same footing. No, it is all a matter of proportion. What may
seem a small sum to a Rothschild may seem a large sum to me, and
it is not the fault of stakes or of winnings that everywhere men
can be found winning, can be found depriving their fellows of
something, just as they do at roulette. As to the question
whether stakes and winnings are, in themselves, immoral is
another question altogether, and I wish to express no opinion
upon it. Yet the very fact that I was full of a strong desire to
win caused this gambling for gain, in spite of its attendant
squalor, to contain, if you will, something intimate, something
sympathetic, to my eyes: for it is always pleasant 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 whole thing was a vain and unreasoning
pursuit; and what, at the first glance, seemed to me the ugliest
feature in this mob of roulette players was their respect for
their occupation--the seriousness, and even the humility, with
which they stood around the gaming tables. Moreover, I had
always drawn sharp distinctions between a game which is de
mauvais genre and a game which is permissible to a decent man.
In fact, there are two sorts of gaming--namely, the game of the
gentleman and the game of the plebs--the game for gain, and the
game of the herd. Herein, as said, I draw sharp distinctions.
Yet how essentially base are the distinctions! For instance, a
gentleman may stake, say, five or ten louis d'or--seldom more,
unless he is a very rich man, when he may stake, say, a thousand
francs; but, he must do this simply for the love of the game
itself--simply for sport, simply in order to observe the process
of winning or of losing, and, above all things, as a man who
remains quite uninterested in the possibility of 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 the circumstance to a
bystander, or to stake again, or to double his stake; but, even
this he must do solely out of curiosity, and for the pleasure of
watching the play of chances and of calculations, and not
because of any vulgar desire to win. In a word, he must look
upon the gaming-table, upon roulette, and upon trente et
quarante, as mere relaxations which have been arranged solely
for his amusement. Of the existence of the lures and gains upon
which the bank is founded and maintained he must profess to have
not an inkling. Best of all, he ought to imagine his
fellow-gamblers and the rest of the mob which stands trembling
over a coin to be equally rich and gentlemanly with himself, and
playing solely for recreation and pleasure. This complete
ignorance of the realities, this innocent view of mankind, is
what, in my opinion, constitutes the truly aristocratic. For
instance, I have seen even fond mothers so far indulge their
guileless, elegant daughters--misses of fifteen or sixteen--as to
give them a few gold coins and teach them how to play; and
though the young ladies may have won or have lost, they have
invariably laughed, and departed as though they were well
pleased. In the same way, I saw our General once approach the
table in a stolid, important manner. A lacquey darted to offer
him a chair, but the General did not even notice him. Slowly he
took 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 his winnings--he left them there on the table. Again the
black turned up, and again he did not gather in what he had won;
and when, in the third round, the RED turned up he lost, at a
stroke, 1200 francs. Yet even then he rose with a smile, and
thus preserved his reputation; yet I knew that his money bags
must be chafing his heart, as well as that, had the stake been
twice or thrice as much again, he would still have restrained
himself from venting his disappointment.
On the other hand, I saw a Frenchman first win, and then lose,
30,000 francs cheerfully, and without a murmur. Yes; even if a gentleman
should lose his whole substance, he must never give way to
annoyance. Money must be so subservient to gentility as never to
be worth a thought. Of course, the SUPREMELY aristocratic thing
is to be entirely oblivious of the mire of rabble, with its
setting; but sometimes 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 sort of raree show which had been
organised specially for a gentleman's diversion. Though one may
be squeezed by the crowd, one must look as though one were fully
assured of being the observer--of having neither part nor lot
with the observed. At the same time, to stare fixedly about one
is unbecoming; for that, again, is ungentlemanly, seeing that no
spectacle is worth an open stare--are no spectacles in the world
which merit from a gentleman too pronounced an inspection.
However, to me personally the scene DID seem to be worth
undisguised contemplation--more especially in view of the fact
that I had come there not only to look at, but also to number
myself sincerely and wholeheartedly with, the mob. As for my
secret moral views,. I had no room for them amongst my actual,
practical opinions. Let that stand as written: I am writing only
to relieve my conscience. Yet let me say also this: that from
the first I have been consistent in having an intense aversion
to any trial of my acts and thoughts by a moral standard.
Another standard altogether has directed my life. . . .
As a matter of fact, the mob was playing in exceedingly foul
fashion. Indeed, I have an idea that sheer robbery was going on
around that gaming-table. The croupiers who sat at the two ends
of it had not only to watch the stakes, but also to calculate
the game--an immense amount of work for two men! As for the crowd
itself--well, it consisted mostly of Frenchmen. Yet I was not
then taking notes merely in order to be able to give you a
description of roulette, but in order to get my bearings as to
my behaviour when I myself should begin to play. For example, I
noticed that nothing was more common than for another's hand to
stretch out and grab one's winnings whenever one had won. Then
there would arise a dispute, and frequently an uproar; and it
would be a case of "I beg of you to prove, and to produce
witnesses to the fact, that the stake is yours."
At first the proceedings were pure Greek to me. I could only
divine 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 I was not going to play for myself quite unnerved
me. It was an unpleasant sensation, and I tried hard to banish
it. I had a feeling that, once I had begun to play for Polina, I
should wreck my own fortunes. Also, I wonder if any one has EVER
approached a gaming-table without falling an immediate prey to
superstition? I began by pulling out fifty gulden, and staking
them on "even." The wheel spun and stopped at 13. I had lost!
With a feeling like a sick qualm, as though I would like to make
my way out of the crowd and go home, I staked another fifty
gulden--this time on the red. The red turned up. Next time I
staked the 100 gulden just where they lay--and again the red
turned up. Again I staked the whole sum, and again the red
turned up. Clutching my 400 gulden, I placed 200 of them on
twelve figures, to see what would come of it. The result was
that the croupier paid me out three times my total stake! Thus
from 100 gulden my store had grown to 800! Upon that such a
curious, such an inexplicable, unwonted feeling overcame me that
I decided to depart. Always the thought kept recurring to me
that if I had been playing for myself alone I should never have
had such luck. Once more I staked the whole 800 gulden on the
"even." The wheel stopped at 4. I was paid out another 800
gulden, and, snatching up my pile of 1600, departed in search of
I found the whole party walking in the park, and was able to get
an interview with her only after supper. This time the Frenchman
was absent from the meal, and the General seemed to be in a more
expansive vein. Among other things, he thought it necessary to
remind me that he would be sorry to see me playing at the
gaming-tables. In his opinion, such conduct would greatly
compromise him--especially if I were to lose much. " And even if
you were to WIN much I should be compromised," he added in a
meaning sort of way. "Of course I have no RIGHT to order your
actions, but you yourself will agree that..." As usual, he did not
finish his sentence. I answered drily that I had very little
money in my possession, and that, consequently, I was hardly in
a position to indulge in any conspicuous play, even if I did
gamble. At last, when ascending to my own room, I succeeded in
handing Polina her winnings, and told her that, next time, I
should not play for her.
"Why not?" she asked excitedly.
"Because I wish to play FOR MYSELF," I replied with a feigned
glance of astonishment. "That is my sole reason."
"Then are you so certain that your roulette-playing will get us
out of our difficulties?" she inquired with a quizzical smile.
I said very seriously, "Yes," and then added: "Possibly my
certainty about winning may seem to you ridiculous;
yet, pray leave me in peace."
Nonetheless she insisted that I ought to go halves with her in
the day's winnings, and offered me 800 gulden on condition that
henceforth, I gambled only on those terms; but I refused to do
so, once and for all--stating, as my reason, that I found myself
unable to play on behalf of any one else, "I am not unwilling
so to do," I added, "but in all probability I should lose."
"Well, absurd though it be, I place great hopes on your playing
of roulette," she remarked musingly; "wherefore, you ought to
play as my partner and on equal shares; wherefore, of course,
you will do as I wish."
Then she left me without listening to any further protests on my
On the morrow she said not a word to me about gambling. In fact,
she purposely avoided me, although her old manner to me had not
changed: the same serene coolness was hers on meeting me -- a
coolness that was mingled even with a spice of contempt and
dislike. In short, she was at no pains to conceal her aversion
to me. That I could see plainly. Also, she did not trouble to
conceal from me the fact that I was necessary to her, and that
she was keeping me for some end which she had in view.
Consequently there became established between us relations
which, to a large extent, were incomprehensible to me,
considering her general pride and aloofness. For example,
although she knew that I was madly in love with her, she allowed
me to speak to her of my passion (though she could not well have
showed her contempt for me more than by permitting me,
unhindered and unrebuked, to mention to her my love).
"You see," her attitude expressed, "how little I regard your
feelings, as well as how little I care for what you say to me,
or for what you feel for me." Likewise, though she spoke as
before concerning her affairs, it was never with complete
frankness. In her contempt for me there were refinements.
Although she knew well that I was aware of a certain
circumstance in her life of something which might one day cause
her trouble, she would speak to me about her affairs (whenever
she had need of me for a given end) as though I were a slave or
a passing acquaintance--yet tell them me only in so far as one
would need to know them if one were going to be made temporary
use of. Had I not known the whole chain of events, or had she
not seen how much I was pained and disturbed by her teasing
insistency, she would never have thought it worthwhile to
soothe me with this frankness--even though, since she not
infrequently used me to execute commissions that were not only
troublesome, but risky, she ought, in my opinion, to have been
frank in ANY case. But, forsooth, it was not worth her while to
trouble about MY feelings--about the fact that I was uneasy, and,
perhaps, thrice as put about by her cares and misfortunes as she
For three weeks I had known of her intention to take to
roulette. She had even warned me that she would like me to play
on her behalf, since it was unbecoming for her to play in
person; and, from the tone of her words I had gathered that there
was something on her mind besides a mere desire to win money. As
if money could matter to HER! No, she had some end in view, and
there were circumstances at which I could guess, but which I did
not know for certain. True, the slavery and abasement in which
she held me might have given me (such things often do so) the
power to question her with abrupt directness (seeing that,,
inasmuch as I figured in her eyes as a mere slave and nonentity,
she could not very well have taken offence at any rude
curiosity); but the fact was that, though she let me question
her, she never returned me a single answer, and at times did not
so much as notice me. That is how matters stood.
Next day there was a good deal of talk about a telegram which,
four days ago, had been sent to St. Petersburg, but to which
there had come no answer. The General was visibly disturbed and
moody, for the matter concerned his mother. The Frenchman, too,
was excited, and after dinner the whole party talked long and
seriously together--the Frenchman's tone being extraordinarily
presumptuous and offhand to everybody. It almost reminded one of
the proverb, "Invite a man to your table, and soon he will
place his feet upon it." Even to Polina he was brusque almost to
the point of rudeness. Yet still he seemed glad to join us in
our walks in the Casino, or in our rides and drives about the
town. I had long been aware of certain circumstances which bound
the General to him; I had long been aware that in Russia they
had hatched some scheme together although I did not know whether
the plot had come to anything, or whether it was still only in
the stage of being talked of. Likewise I was aware, in part, of
a family secret--namely, that, last year, the Frenchman had
bailed the General out of debt, and given him 30,000 roubles
wherewith to pay his Treasury dues on retiring from the service.
And now, of course, the General was in a vice -- although the
chief part in the affair was being played by Mlle. Blanche. Yes,
of this last I had no doubt.
But WHO was this Mlle. Blanche? It was said of her that she was
a Frenchwoman of good birth who, living with her mother,
possessed a colossal fortune. It was also said that she was some
relation to the Marquis, but only a distant one a cousin, or
cousin-german, or something of the sort. Likewise I knew that,
up to the time of my journey to Paris, she and the Frenchman had
been more ceremonious towards our party--they had stood on a much
more precise and delicate footing with them; but that now their
acquaintanceship--their friendship, their intimacy--had taken on a
much more off-hand and rough-and-ready air. Perhaps they thought
that our means were too modest for them, and, therefore, unworthy
of politeness or reticence. Also, for the last three days I had
noticed certain looks which Astley had kept throwing at Mlle.
Blanche and her mother; and it had occurred to me that he must
have had some previous acquaintance with the pair. I had even
surmised that the Frenchman too must have met Mr. Astley before.
Astley was a man so shy, reserved, and taciturn in his manner
that one might have looked for anything from him. At all events
the Frenchman accorded him only the slightest of greetings, and
scarcely even looked at him. Certainly he did not seem to be
afraid of him; which was intelligible enough. But why did Mlle.
Blanche also never look at the Englishman?--particularly since,
a propos of something or another, the Marquis had declared the
Englishman to be immensely and indubitably rich? Was not that a
sufficient reason to make Mlle. Blanche look at the Englishman?
Anyway the General seemed extremely uneasy; and, one could well
understand what a telegram to announce the death of his mother
would mean for him!
Although I thought it probable that Polina was avoiding me for a
definite reason, I adopted a cold and indifferent air; for I
felt pretty certain that it would not be long before she
herself approached me. For two days, therefore, I devoted my
attention to Mlle. Blanche. The poor General was in despair! To
fall in love at fifty-five, and with such vehemence, is indeed a
misfortune! And add to that his widowerhood, his children, his
ruined property, his debts, and the woman with whom he had
fallen in love! Though Mlle. Blanche was extremely good-looking,
I may or may not be understood when I say that she had one of
those faces which one is afraid of. At all events, I myself have
always feared such women. Apparently about twenty-five years of
age, she was tall and broad-shouldered, with shoulders that
sloped; yet though her neck and bosom were ample in their
proportions, her skin was dull yellow in colour, while her hair
(which was extremely abundant--sufficient to make two
coiffures) was as black as Indian ink. Add to that a pair of
black eyes with yellowish whites, a proud glance, gleaming
teeth, and lips which were perennially pomaded and redolent of
musk. As for her dress, it was invariably rich, effective, and
chic, yet in good taste. Lastly, her feet and hands were
astonishing, and her voice a deep contralto. Sometimes, when she
laughed, she displayed her teeth, but at ordinary times her air
was taciturn and haughty--especially in the presence of Polina
and Maria Philipovna. Yet she seemed to me almost destitute of
education, and even of wits, though cunning and suspicious.
This, apparently, was not because her life had been lacking in
incident. Perhaps, if all were known, the Marquis was not her
kinsman at all, nor her mother, her mother; but there was
evidence that, in Berlin, where we had first come across the
pair, they had possessed acquaintances of good standing. As for
the Marquis himself, I doubt to this day if he was a
Marquis--although about the fact that he had formerly belonged to
high society (for instance, in Moscow and Germany) there could
be no doubt whatever. What he had formerly been in France I had
not a notion. All I knew was that he was said to possess a
chateau. During the last two weeks I had looked for much to
transpire, but am still ignorant whether at that time anything
decisive ever passed between Mademoiselle and the General.
Everything seemed to depend upon our means--upon whether the
General would be able to flourish sufficient money in her face.
If ever the news should arrive that the grandmother was not
dead, Mlle. Blanche, I felt sure, would disappear in a
twinkling. Indeed, it surprised and amused me to observe what a
passion for intrigue I was developing. But how I loathed it all!
With what pleasure would I have given everybody and everything
the go-by! Only--I could not leave Polina. How, then, could I
show contempt for those who surrounded her? Espionage is a base
thing, but--what have I to do with that?
Mr. Astley, too, I found a curious person. I was only sure that
he had fallen in love With Polina. A remarkable and diverting
circumstance is the amount which may lie in the mien of a shy
and painfully modest man who has been touched with the divine
passion--especially when he would rather sink into the earth than
betray himself by a single word or look. Though Mr. Astley
frequently met us when we were out walking, he would merely take
off his hat and pass us by, though I knew he was dying to join
us. Even when invited to do so, he would refuse. Again, in
places of amusement--in the Casino, at concerts, or near the
fountain--he was never far from the spot where we were sitting.
In fact, WHEREVER we were in the Park, in the forest, or on the
Shlangenberg--one needed but to raise one's eyes and glance
around to catch sight of at least a PORTION of Mr. Astley's
frame sticking out--whether on an adjacent path or behind a bush.
Yet never did he lose any chance of speaking to myself; and, one
morning when we had met, and exchanged a couple of words, he
burst out in his usual abrupt way, without saying "Good-morning."
"That Mlle. Blanche," he said. "Well, I have seen a good many
women like her."
After that he was silent as he looked me meaningly in the face.
What he meant I did not know, but to my glance of inquiry he
returned only a dry nod, and a reiterated "It is so."
Presently, however, he resumed:
"Does Mlle. Polina like flowers?"
" I really cannot say," was my reply.
"What? You cannot say?" he cried in great astonishment.
"No; I have never noticed whether she does so or not," I
repeated with a smile.
"Hm! Then I have an idea in my mind," he concluded. Lastly,
with a nod, he walked away with a pleased expression on his
face. The conversation had been carried on in execrable French.
Today has been a day of folly, stupidity, and ineptness. The
time is now eleven o'clock in the evening, and I am sitting in
my room and thinking. It all began, this morning, with my being
forced to go and play roulette for Polina Alexandrovna. When she
handed me over her store of six hundred gulden I exacted two
conditions --namely, that I should not go halves with her in her
winnings, if any (that is to say, I should not take anything for
myself), and that she should explain to me, that same evening,
why it was so necessary for her to win, and how much was the sum
which she needed. For, I could not suppose that she was doing all
this merely for the sake of money. Yet clearly she did need some
money, and that as soon as possible, and for a special purpose.
Well, she promised to explain matters, and I departed. There was
a tremendous crowd in the gaming-rooms. What an arrogant, greedy
crowd it was! I pressed forward towards the middle of the room
until I had secured a seat at a croupier's elbow. Then I began
to play in timid fashion, venturing only twenty or thirty gulden
at a time. Meanwhile, I observed and took notes. It seemed to me
that calculation was superfluous, and by no means possessed of
the importance which certain other players attached to it, even
though they sat with ruled papers in their hands, whereon they
set down the coups, calculated the chances, reckoned, staked,
and--lost exactly as we more simple mortals did who played
without any reckoning at all.
However, I deduced from the scene one conclusion which seemed to me
reliable --namely, that in the flow of fortuitous chances there is,
if not a system, at all events a sort of order. This, of course,
is a very strange thing. For instance, after a dozen middle figures
there would always occur a dozen or so outer ones. Suppose the ball
stopped twice at a dozen outer figures; it would then pass to a dozen of
the first ones, and then, again, to a dozen of the middle
ciphers, and fall upon them three or four times, and then revert
to a dozen outers; whence, after another couple of rounds, the
ball would again pass to the first figures, strike upon them
once, and then return thrice to the middle series--continuing
thus for an hour and a half, or two hours. One, three, two: one,
three, two. It was all very curious. Again, for the whole of a
day or a morning the red would alternate with the black, but
almost without any order, and from moment to moment, so that
scarcely two consecutive rounds would end upon either the one or
the other. Yet, next day, or, perhaps, the next evening, the red
alone would turn up, and attain a run of over two score, and
continue so for quite a length of time--say, for a whole day. Of
these circumstances the majority were pointed out to me by Mr.
Astley, who stood by the gaming-table the whole morning, yet
never once staked in person.
For myself, I lost all that I had on me, and with great speed.
To begin with, I staked two hundred gulden on " even," and won.
Then I staked the same amount again, and won: and so on some two or
three times. At one moment I must have had in my hands--gathered there
within a space of five minutes--about 4000 gulden. That, of course,
was the proper moment for me to have departed, but there arose in me a
strange sensation as of a challenge to Fate--as of a wish to deal her a
blow on the cheek, and to put out my tongue at her. Accordingly
I set down the largest stake allowed by the rules--namely, 4000
gulden--and lost. Fired by this mishap, I pulled out all the
money left to me, staked it all on the same venture, and--again
lost! Then I rose from the table, feeling as though I were
stupefied. What had happened to me I did not know; but, before
luncheon I told Polina of my losses-- until which time I walked
about the Park.
At luncheon I was as excited as I had been at the meal three
days ago. Mlle. Blanche and the Frenchman were lunching with us,
and it appeared that the former had been to the Casino that
morning, and had seen my exploits there. So now she showed me
more attention when talking to me; while, for his part, the
Frenchman approached me, and asked outright if it had been my
own money that I had lost. He appeared to be suspicious as to
something being on foot between Polina and myself, but I merely
fired up, and replied that the money had been all my own.
At this the General seemed extremely surprised, and asked me
whence I had procured it; whereupon I replied that, though I
had begun only with 100 gulden, six or seven rounds had
increased my capital to 5000 or 6000 gulden, and that
subsequently I had lost the whole in two rounds.
All this, of course, was plausible enough. During my recital I
glanced at Polina, but nothing was to be discerned on her face.
However, she had allowed me to fire up without correcting me,
and from that I concluded that it was my cue to fire up, and to
conceal the fact that I had been playing on her behalf. "At all
events," I thought to myself, "she, in her turn, has promised
to give me an explanation to-night, and to reveal to me
something or another."
Although the General appeared to be taking stock of me, he said
nothing. Yet I could see uneasiness and annoyance in his face.
Perhaps his straitened circumstances made it hard for him to
have to hear of piles of gold passing through the hands of an
irresponsible fool like myself within the space of a quarter of
an hour. Now, I have an idea that, last night, he and the
Frenchman had a sharp encounter with one another. At all events
they closeted themselves together, and then had a long and vehement
discussion; after which the Frenchman departed in what appeared to be
a passion, but returned, early this morning, to renew the combat.
On hearing of my losses, however, he only remarked with a sharp,
and even a malicious, air that "a man ought to go more carefully."
Next, for some reason or another, he added that, "though a great many
Russians go in for gambling, they are no good at the game."
"I think that roulette was devised specially for Russians," I
retorted; and when the Frenchman smiled contemptuously at my
reply I further remarked that I was sure I was right; also that,
speaking of Russians in the capacity of gamblers, I had far more
blame for them than praise--of that he could be quite sure.
"Upon what do you base your opinion?" he inquired.
"Upon the fact that to the virtues and merits of the civilised
Westerner there has become historically added--though this is
not his chief point--a capacity for acquiring capital; whereas,
not only is the Russian incapable of acquiring capital, but also
he exhausts it wantonly and of sheer folly. None the less we
Russians often need money; wherefore, we are glad of, and greatly
devoted to, a method of acquisition like roulette--whereby, in a
couple of hours, one may grow rich without doing any work. This
method, I repeat, has a great attraction for us, but since we
play in wanton fashion, and without taking any trouble, we
almost invariably lose."
"To a certain extent that is true," assented the Frenchman with
a self-satisfied air.
"Oh no, it is not true," put in the General sternly. "And you,"
he added to me, "you ought to be ashamed of yourself for
traducing your own country!"
"I beg pardon," I said. "Yet it would be difficult to say
which is the worst of the two--Russian ineptitude or the German
method of growing rich through honest toil."
"What an extraordinary idea," cried the General.
"And what a RUSSIAN idea!" added the Frenchman.
I smiled, for I was rather glad to have a quarrel with them.
"I would rather live a wandering life in tents," I cried,
"than bow the knee to a German idol!"
"To WHAT idol?" exclaimed the General, now seriously angry.
"To the German method of heaping up riches. I have not been
here very long, but I can tell you that what I have seen and
verified makes my Tartar blood boil. Good Lord! I wish for no
virtues of that kind. Yesterday I went for a walk of about ten
versts; and, everywhere I found that things were even as we read
of them in good German picture-books -- that every house has its
'Fater,' who is horribly beneficent and extraordinarily
honourable. So honourable is he that it is dreadful to have
anything to do with him; and I cannot bear people of that sort.
Each such 'Fater' has his family, and in the evenings they
read improving books aloud. Over their roof-trees there murmur
elms and chestnuts; the sun has sunk to his rest; a stork is
roosting on the gable; and all is beautifully poetic and
touching. Do not be angry, General. Let me tell you something
that is even more touching than that. I can remember how, of an
evening, my own father, now dead, used to sit under the lime
trees in his little garden, and to read books aloud to myself
and my mother. Yes, I know how things ought to be done. Yet
every German family is bound to slavery and to submission to its
'Fater.' They work like oxen, and amass wealth like Jews.
Suppose the 'Fater' has put by a certain number of gulden
which he hands over to his eldest son, in order that the said
son may acquire a trade or a small plot of land. Well, one
result is to deprive the daughter of a dowry, and so leave her
among the unwedded. For the same reason, the parents will have
to sell the younger son into bondage or the ranks of the army,
in order that he may earn more towards the family capital. Yes,
such things ARE done, for I have been making inquiries on the
subject. It is all done out of sheer rectitude--out of a
rectitude which is magnified to the point of the younger son
believing that he has been RIGHTLY sold, and that it is simply
idyllic for the victim to rejoice when he is made over into
pledge. What more have I to tell? Well, this--that matters bear
just as hardly upon the eldest son. Perhaps he has his Gretchen
to whom his heart is bound; but he cannot marry her, for the
reason that he has not yet amassed sufficient gulden. So, the
pair wait on in a mood of sincere and virtuous expectation, and
smilingly deposit themselves in pawn the while. Gretchen's
cheeks grow sunken, and she begins to wither; until at last,
after some twenty years, their substance has multiplied, and
sufficient gulden have been honourably and virtuously
accumulated. Then the 'Fater' blesses his forty-year-old heir and
the thirty-five-year-old Gretchen with the sunken bosom and the
scarlet nose; after which he bursts, into tears, reads the pair
a lesson on morality, and dies. In turn the eldest son becomes a
virtuous 'Fater,' and the old story begins again. In fifty or
sixty years' time the grandson of the original 'Fater' will
have amassed a considerable sum; and that sum he will hand over
to, his son, and the latter to HIS son, and so on for several
generations; until at length there will issue a Baron
Rothschild, or a 'Hoppe and Company,' or the devil knows what!
Is it not a beautiful spectacle--the spectacle of a century or
two of inherited labour, patience, intellect, rectitude,
character, perseverance, and calculation, with a stork sitting
on the roof above it all? What is more; they think there can
never be anything better than this; wherefore, from their point
of view they begin to judge the rest of the world, and to
censure all who are at fault--that is to say, who are not exactly
like themselves. Yes, there you have it in a nutshell. For my
own part, I would rather grow fat after the Russian manner, or
squander my whole substance at roulette. I have no wish to be
'Hoppe and Company' at the end of five generations. I want the
money for MYSELF, for in no way do I look upon my personality
as necessary to, or meet to be given over to, capital. I may be
wrong, but there you have it. Those are MY views."
"How far you may be right in what you have said I do not know,"
remarked the General moodily; "but I DO know that you are
becoming an insufferable farceur whenever you are given the
As usual, he left his sentence unfinished. Indeed, whenever he
embarked upon anything that in the least exceeded the limits of
daily small-talk, he left unfinished what he was saying. The
Frenchman had listened to me contemptuously, with a slight
protruding of his eyes; but, he could not have understood very
much of my harangue. As for Polina, she had looked on with
serene indifference. She seemed to have heard neither my voice
nor any other during the progress of the meal.
Yes, she had been extraordinarily meditative. Yet, on leaving
the table, she immediately ordered me to accompany her for a
walk. We took the children with us, and set out for the fountain
in the Park.
I was in such an irritated frame of mind that in rude and abrupt
fashion I blurted out a question as to "why our Marquis de
Griers had ceased to accompany her for strolls, or to speak to
her for days together."
"Because he is a brute," she replied in rather a curious way.
It was the first time that I had heard her speak so of De
Griers: consequently, I was momentarily awed into silence by this
expression of resentment.
"Have you noticed, too, that today he is by no means on good
terms with the General?" I went on.
"Yes-- and I suppose you want to know why," she replied with dry
captiousness. "You are aware, are you not, that the General is
mortgaged to the Marquis, with all his property? Consequently,
if the General's mother does not die, the Frenchman will become
the absolute possessor of everything which he now holds only in
"Then it is really the case that everything is mortgaged? I
have heard rumours to that effect, but was unaware how far they
might be true."
"Yes, they ARE true. What then?"
"Why, it will be a case of 'Farewell, Mlle. Blanche,'" I
remarked; "for in such an event she would never become Madame
General. Do you know, I believe the old man is so much in love
with her that he will shoot himself if she should throw him
over. At his age it is a dangerous thing to fall in love."
"Yes, something, I believe, WILL happen to him," assented
"And what a fine thing it all is!" I continued. "Could anything
be more abominable than the way in which she has agreed to marry
for money alone? Not one of the decencies has
been observed; the whole affair has taken place without the
least ceremony. And as for the grandmother, what could be more
comical, yet more dastardly, than the sending of telegram after
telegram to know if she is dead? What do you think of it, Polina
"Yes, it is very horrible," she interrupted with a shudder.
"Consequently, I am the more surprised that YOU should be so
cheerful. What are YOU so pleased about? About the fact that you
have gone and lost my money?"
"What? The money that you gave me to lose? I told you I should
never win for other people--least of all for you. I obeyed you
simply because you ordered me to; but you must not blame me for
the result. I warned you that no good would ever come of it. You
seem much depressed at having lost your money. Why do you need
it so greatly?"
"Why do YOU ask me these questions?"
"Because you promised to explain matters to me. Listen. I am
certain that, as soon as ever I 'begin to play for myself' (and I
still have 120 gulden left), I shall win. You can then take of
me what you require."
She made a contemptuous grimace.
"You must not be angry with me," I continued, "for making such
a proposal. I am so conscious of being only a nonentity in your
eyes that you need not mind accepting money from me. A gift from
me could not possibly offend you. Moreover, it was I who lost
She glanced at me, but, seeing that I was in an irritable,
sarcastic mood, changed the subject.
"My affairs cannot possibly interest you," she said. Still,
if you DO wish to know, I am in debt. I borrowed some
money, and must pay it back again. I have a curious, senseless
idea that I am bound to win at the gaming-tables. Why I think so
I cannot tell, but I do think so, and with some assurance.
Perhaps it is because of that assurance that I now find myself
without any other resource."
"Or perhaps it is because it is so NECESSARY for you to win. It
is like a drowning man catching at a straw. You yourself will
agree that, unless he were drowning he would not mistake a straw
for the trunk of a tree."
Polina looked surprised.
"What?" she said. "Do not you also hope something from it?
Did you not tell me again and again, two weeks ago, that you
were certain of winning at roulette if you played here? And did
you not ask me not to consider you a fool for doing so? Were you
joking? You cannot have been, for I remember that you spoke with
a gravity which forbade the idea of your jesting."
"True," I replied gloomily. "I always felt certain that I
should win. Indeed, what you say makes me ask myself--Why have my
absurd, senseless losses of today raised a doubt in my mind?
Yet I am still positive that, so soon as ever I begin to play
for myself, I shall infallibly win."
"And why are you so certain?"
"To tell the truth, I do not know. I only know that I must
win--that it is the one resource I have left. Yes, why do I feel
so assured on the point?"
"Perhaps because one cannot help winning if one is fanatically
certain of doing so."
"Yet I dare wager that you do not think me capable of serious
feeling in the matter?"
"I do not care whether you are so or not," answered Polina with
calm indifference. "Well, since you ask me, I DO doubt your
ability to take anything seriously. You are capable of worrying,
but not deeply. You are too ill-regulated and unsettled a person
for that. But why do you want money? Not a single one of the reasons
which you have given can be looked upon as serious."
"By the way," I interrupted, "you say you want to pay off a
debt. It must be a large one. Is it to the Frenchman?"
"What do you mean by asking all these questions? You are very
clever today. Surely you are not drunk?"
"You know that you and I stand on no ceremony, and that
sometimes I put to you very plain questions. I repeat that I am
your, slave--and slaves cannot be shamed or offended."
"You talk like a child. It is always possible to comport
oneself with dignity. If one has a quarrel it ought to elevate
rather than to degrade one."
"A maxim straight from the copybook! Suppose I CANNOT comport
myself with dignity. By that I mean that, though I am a man of
self-respect, I am unable to carry off a situation properly. Do
you know the reason? It is because we Russians are too richly and
multifariously gifted to be able at once to find the proper mode
of expression. It is all a question of mode. Most of us are so
bounteously endowed with intellect as to require also a spice of
genius to choose the right form of behaviour. And genius is
lacking in us for the reason that so little genius at all
exists. It belongs only to the French--though a few other
Europeans have elaborated their forms so well as to be able to
figure with extreme dignity, and yet be wholly undignified
persons. That is why, with us, the mode is so all-important. The
Frenchman may receive an insult-- a real, a venomous insult: yet,
he will not so much as frown. But a tweaking of the nose he
cannot bear, for the reason that such an act is an infringement
of the accepted, of the time-hallowed order of decorum. That is
why our good ladies are so fond of Frenchmen--the Frenchman's
manners, they say, are perfect! But in my opinion there is no
such thing as a Frenchman's manners. The Frenchman is only a
bird--the coq gaulois. At the same time, as I am not a woman, I
do not properly understand the question. Cocks may be excellent
birds. If I am wrong you must stop me. You ought to stop and
correct me more often when I am speaking to you, for I am too
apt to say everything that is in my head.
"You see, I have lost my manners. I agree that I have none, nor yet
any dignity. I will tell you why. I set no store upon such things.
Everything in me has undergone a cheek. You know the reason. I have not a
single human thought in my head. For a long while I have been
ignorant of what is going on in the world--here or in Russia. I
have been to Dresden, yet am completely in the dark as to what
Dresden is like. You know the cause of my obsession. I have no
hope now, and am a mere cipher in your eyes; wherefore, I tell
you outright that wherever I go I see only you--all the rest is a
matter of indifference.
"Why or how I have come to love you I do not know. It may be that
you are not altogether fair to look upon. Do you know, I am ignorant
even as to what your face is like. In all probability, too, your heart
is not comely, and it is possible that your mind is wholly ignoble."
"And because you do not believe in my nobility of soul you
think to purchase me with money?" she said.
"WHEN have I thought to do so?" was my reply.
"You are losing the thread of the argument. If you do not wish
to purchase me, at all events you wish to purchase my respect."
"Not at all. I have told you that I find it difficult to
explain myself. You are hard upon me. Do not be angry at my
chattering. You know why you ought not to be angry with me--that
I am simply an imbecile. However, I do not mind if you ARE
angry. Sitting in my room, I need but to think of you, to
imagine to myself the rustle of your dress, and at once I fall
almost to biting my hands. Why should you be angry with me?
Because I call myself your slave? Revel, I pray you, in my
slavery--revel in it. Do you know that sometimes I could kill
you?--not because I do not love you, or am jealous of you, but,
because I feel as though I could simply devour you... You are
"No, I am not," she retorted. "But I order you, nevertheless,
to be silent."
She stopped, well nigh breathless with anger. God knows, she may
not have been a beautiful woman, yet I loved to see her come to
a halt like this, and was therefore, the more fond of arousing
her temper. Perhaps she divined this, and for that very reason
gave way to rage. I said as much to her.
"What rubbish!" she cried with a shudder.
"I do not care," I continued. "Also, do you know that it is
not safe for us to take walks together? Often I have a feeling
that I should like to strike you, to disfigure you, to strangle
you. Are you certain that it will never come to that? You are
driving me to frenzy. Am I afraid of a scandal, or of your
anger? Why should I fear your anger? I love without hope, and
know that hereafter I shall love you a thousand times more. If
ever I should kill you I should have to kill myself too. But I
shall put off doing so as long as possible, for I wish to
continue enjoying the unbearable pain which your coldness gives
me. Do you know a very strange thing? It is that, with every
day, my love for you increases--though that would seem to be
almost an impossibility. Why should I not become a fatalist?
Remember how, on the third day that we ascended the
Shlangenberg, I was moved to whisper in your ear: 'Say but the
word, and I will leap into the abyss.' Had you said it, I should
have leapt. Do you not believe me?"
"What stupid rubbish!" she cried.
"I care not whether it be wise or stupid," I cried in return.
"I only know that in your presence I must speak, speak, speak.
Therefore, I am speaking. I lose all conceit when I am with you,
and everything ceases to matter."
"Why should I have wanted you to leap from the Shlangenberg?"
she said drily, and (I think) with wilful offensiveness. "THAT
would have been of no use to me."
"Splendid!" I shouted. "I know well that you must have used
the words 'of no use' in order to crush me. I can see through
you. 'Of no use,' did you say? Why, to give pleasure is ALWAYS
of use; and, as for barbarous, unlimited power--even if it be only
over a fly--why, it is a kind of luxury. Man is a despot by
nature, and loves to torture. You, in particular, love to do so."
I remember that at this moment she looked at me in a peculiar
way. The fact is that my face must have been expressing all the
maze of senseless, gross sensations which were seething within
me. To this day I can remember, word for word, the conversation
as I have written it down. My eyes were suffused with blood, and
the foam had caked itself on my lips. Also, on my honour I swear
that, had she bidden me cast myself from the summit of the
Shlangenberg, I should have done it. Yes, had she bidden me in
jest, or only in contempt and with a spit in my face, I should
have cast myself down.
"Oh no! Why so? I believe you," she said, but in such a
manner--in the manner of which, at times, she was a mistress--and
with such a note of disdain and viperish arrogance in her tone,
that God knows I could have killed her.
Yes, at that moment she stood in peril. I had not lied to her
"Surely you are not a coward?" suddenly she asked me.
"I do not know," I replied. "Perhaps I am, but I do not know.
I have long given up thinking about such things."
"If I said to you, 'Kill that man,' would you kill him?"
"Whomsoever I wish?"
"Do not ask me questions; return me answers. I repeat,
whomsoever I wish? I desire to see if you were speaking
seriously just now."
She awaited my reply with such gravity and impatience that I
found the situation unpleasant.
"Do YOU, rather, tell me," I said, "what is going on here? Why
do you seem half-afraid of me? I can see for myself what is
wrong. You are the step-daughter of a ruined and insensate man
who is smitten with love for this devil of a Blanche. And there
is this Frenchman, too, with his mysterious influence over you.
Yet, you actually ask me such a question! If you do not tell me
how things stand, I shall have to put in my oar and do something.
Are you ashamed to be frank with me? Are you shy of me? "
"I am not going to talk to you on that subject. I have asked
you a question, and am waiting for an answer."
"Well, then--I will kill whomsoever you wish," I said. "But are
you REALLY going to bid me do such deeds?"
"Why should you think that I am going to let you off? I shall
bid you do it, or else renounce me. Could you ever do the
latter? No, you know that you couldn't. You would first kill
whom I had bidden you, and then kill ME for having dared to send
Something seemed to strike upon my brain as I heard these words.
Of course, at the time I took them half in jest and half as a
challenge; yet, she had spoken them with great seriousness. I
felt thunderstruck that she should so express herself, that she
should assert such a right over me, that she should assume such
authority and say outright: "Either you kill whom I bid you, or
I will have nothing more to do with you." Indeed, in what she
had said there was something so cynical and unveiled as to pass
all bounds. For how could she ever regard me as the same after
the killing was done? This was more than slavery and abasement;
it was sufficient to bring a man back to his right senses. Yet,
despite the outrageous improbability of our conversation, my
heart shook within me.
Suddenly, she burst out laughing. We were seated on a bench near
the spot where the children were playing--just opposite the point
in the alley-way before the Casino where the carriages drew up
in order to set down their occupants.
"Do you see that fat Baroness?" she cried. "It is the Baroness
Burmergelm. She arrived three days ago. Just look at her
husband--that tall, wizened Prussian there, with the stick in his
hand. Do you remember how he stared at us the other day? Well,
go to the Baroness, take off your hat to her, and say something
"Because you have sworn that you would leap from the
Shlangenberg for my sake, and that you would kill any one whom I
might bid you kill. Well, instead of such murders and tragedies,
I wish only for a good laugh. Go without answering me, and let
me see the Baron give you a sound thrashing with his stick."
"Then you throw me out a challenge?--you think that I will not
"Yes, I do challenge you. Go, for such is my will."
"Then I WILL go, however mad be your fancy. Only, look here:
shall you not be doing the General a great disservice, as well
as, through him, a great disservice to yourself? It is not about
myself I am worrying-- it is about you and the General. Why, for
a mere fancy, should I go and insult a woman?"
"Ah! Then I can see that you are only a trifler," she said
contemptuously. "Your eyes are swimming with blood--but only
because you have drunk a little too much at luncheon. Do I not
know that what I have asked you to do is foolish and wrong, and
that the General will be angry about it? But I want to have a
good laugh, all the same. I want that, and nothing else. Why
should you insult a woman, indeed? Well, you will be given a
sound thrashing for so doing."
I turned away, and went silently to do her bidding. Of course
the thing was folly, but I could not get out of it. I remember
that, as I approached the Baroness, I felt as excited as a
schoolboy. I was in a frenzy, as though I were drunk.
Two days have passed since that day of lunacy. What a noise and
a fuss and a chattering and an uproar there was! And what a
welter of unseemliness and disorder and stupidity and bad
manners! And I the cause of it all! Yet part of the scene was
also ridiculous--at all events to myself it was so. I am not
quite sure what was the matter with me--whether I was merely
stupefied or whether I purposely broke loose and ran amok.
At times my mind seems all confused; while at other times
I seem almost to be back in my childhood, at the school desk,
and to have done the deed simply out of mischief.
It all came of Polina--yes, of Polina. But for her, there might
never have been a fracas. Or perhaps I did the deed in a fit of
despair (though it may be foolish of me to think so)? What there
is so attractive about her I cannot think. Yet there IS
something attractive about her--something passing fair, it would
seem. Others besides myself she has driven to distraction. She
is tall and straight, and very slim. Her body looks as though it
could be tied into a knot, or bent double, like a cord. The
imprint of her foot is long and narrow. It is, a maddening
imprint--yes, simply a maddening one! And her hair has a reddish
tint about it, and her eyes are like cat's eyes--though able also
to glance with proud, disdainful mien. On the evening of my
first arrival, four months ago, I remember that she was sitting
and holding an animated conversation with De Griers in the
salon. And the way in which she looked at him was such that
later, when I retired to my own room upstairs, I kept fancying
that she had smitten him in the face--that she had smitten him
right on the cheek, so peculiar had been her look as she stood
confronting him. Ever since that evening I have loved her.
But to my tale.
I stepped from the path into the carriage-way, and took my stand
in the middle of it. There I awaited the Baron and the Baroness.
When they were but a few paces distant from me I took off my
hat, and bowed.
I remember that the Baroness was clad in a voluminous silk
dress, pale grey in colour, and adorned with flounces and a
crinoline and train. Also, she was short and inordinately stout,
while her gross, flabby chin completely concealed her neck. Her
face was purple, and the little eyes in it had an impudent,
malicious expression. Yet she walked as though she were
conferring a favour upon everybody by so doing. As for the
Baron, he was tall, wizened, bony-faced after the German
fashion, spectacled, and, apparently, about forty-five years of
age. Also, he had legs which seemed to begin almost at his
chest--or, rather, at his chin! Yet, for all his air of
peacock-like conceit, his clothes sagged a little, and his face
wore a sheepish air which might have passed for profundity.
These details I noted within a space of a few seconds.
At first my bow and the fact that I had my hat in my hand barely
caught their attention. The Baron only scowled a little, and the
Baroness swept straight on.
"Madame la Baronne," said I, loudly and distinctly--embroidering
each word, as it were--"j'ai l'honneur d'etre votre esclave."
Then I bowed again, put on my hat, and walked past the Baron
with a rude smile on my face.
Polina had ordered me merely to take off my hat: the bow and the
general effrontery were of my own invention. God knows what
instigated me to perpetrate the outrage! In my frenzy I felt as
though I were walking on air,
"Hein!" ejaculated--or, rather, growled--the Baron as he turned
towards me in angry surprise.
I too turned round, and stood waiting in pseudo-courteous
expectation. Yet still I wore on my face an impudent smile as I
gazed at him. He seemed to hesitate, and his brows contracted to
their utmost limits. Every moment his visage was growing darker.
The Baroness also turned in my direction, and gazed at me in
wrathful perplexity, while some of the passers-by also began to
stare at us, and others of them halted outright.
"Hein!" the Baron vociferated again, with a redoubled growl
and a note of growing wrath in his voice.
"Ja wohl!" I replied, still looking him in the eyes.
"Sind sie rasend?" he exclaimed, brandishing his stick, and,
apparently, beginning to feel nervous. Perhaps it was my costume
which intimidated him, for I was well and fashionably dressed,
after the manner of a man who belongs to indisputably good
"Ja wo-o-ohl!" cried I again with all my might with a
longdrawn rolling of the " ohl " sound after the fashion of the
Berliners (who constantly use the phrase "Ja wohl!" in
conversation, and more or less prolong the syllable "ohl"
according as they desire to express different shades of meaning
or of mood).
At this the Baron and the Baroness faced sharply about, and
almost fled in their alarm. Some of the bystanders gave vent to
excited exclamations, and others remained staring at me in
astonishment. But I do not remember the details very well.
Wheeling quietly about, I returned in the direction of Polina
Alexandrovna. But, when I had got within a hundred paces of her
seat, I saw her rise and set out with the children towards the
At the portico I caught up to her.
"I have perpetrated the--the piece of idiocy," I said as I came
level with her.
"Have you? Then you can take the consequences," she replied
without so much as looking at me. Then she moved towards the
I spent the rest of the evening walking in the park. Thence I
passed into the forest, and walked on until I found myself in a
neighbouring principality. At a wayside restaurant I partook of
an omelette and some wine, and was charged for the idyllic
repast a thaler and a half.
Not until eleven o'clock did I return home--to find a summons
awaiting me from the General.
Our party occupied two suites in the hotel; each of which
contained two rooms. The first (the larger suite) comprised a
salon and a smoking-room, with, adjoining the latter, the
General's study. It was here that he was awaiting me as he stood
posed in a majestic attitude beside his writing-table. Lolling
on a divan close by was De Griers.
"My good sir," the General began, "may I ask you what this is
that you have gone and done?"
"I should be glad," I replied, "if we could come straight to
the point. Probably you are referring to my encounter of today
with a German?"
"With a German? Why, the German was the Baron Burmergelm--a most
important personage! I hear that you have been rude both to him
and to the Baroness?"
"No, I have not."
"But I understand that you simply terrified them, my good sir?"
shouted the General.
"Not in the least," I replied. "You must know that when I was
in Berlin I frequently used to hear the Berliners repeat, and
repellently prolong, a certain phrase--namely, 'Ja wohl!'; and,
happening to meet this couple in the carriage-drive, I found,
for some reason or another, that this phrase suddenly recurred
to my memory, and exercised a rousing effect upon my spirits.
Moreover, on the three previous occasions that I have met the
Baroness she has walked towards me as though I were a worm which
could easily be crushed with the foot. Not unnaturally, I too
possess a measure of self-respect; wherefore, on THIS occasion I
took off my hat, and said politely (yes, I assure you it was
said politely): 'Madame, j'ai l'honneur d'etre votre esclave.'
Then the Baron turned round, and said 'Hein!'; whereupon I
felt moved to ejaculate in answer 'Ja wohl!' Twice I shouted
it at him--the first time in an ordinary tone, and the second
time with the greatest prolonging of the words of which I was
capable. That is all."
I must confess that this puerile explanation gave me great
pleasure. I felt a strong desire to overlay the incident with an
even added measure of grossness; so, the further I proceeded,
the more did the gusto of my proceeding increase.
"You are only making fun of me! " vociferated the General as,
turning to the Frenchman, he declared that my bringing about of
the incident had been gratuitous. De Griers smiled
contemptuously, and shrugged his shoulders.
"Do not think THAT," I put in. "It was not so at all. I grant
you that my behaviour was bad--I fully confess that it was so,
and make no secret of the fact. I would even go so far as to
grant you that my behaviour might well be called stupid and
indecent tomfoolery; but, MORE than that it was not. Also, let me
tell you that I am very sorry for my conduct. Yet there is one
circumstance which, in my eyes, almost absolves me from regret
in the matter. Of late--that is to say, for the last two or three
weeks--I have been feeling not at all well. That is to say, I
have been in a sick, nervous, irritable, fanciful condition, so
that I have periodically lost control over myself. For instance,
on more than one occasion I have tried to pick a quarrel even
with Monsieur le Marquise here; and, under the circumstances, he
had no choice but to answer me. In short, I have recently been
showing signs of ill-health. Whether the Baroness Burmergelm
will take this circumstance into consideration when I come to
beg her pardon (for I do intend to make her amends) I do not
know; but I doubt if she will, and the less so since, so far as
I know, the circumstance is one which, of late, has begun to be
abused in the legal world, in that advocates in criminal cases
have taken to justifying their clients on the ground that, at
the moment of the crime, they (the clients) were unconscious of
what they were doing--that, in short, they were out of health.
'My client committed the murder--that is true; but he has no
recollection of having committed it.' And doctors actually
support these advocates by affirming that there really is such a
malady--that there really can arise temporary delusions which
make a man remember nothing of a given deed, or only a half or a
quarter of it! But the Baron and Baroness are members of an
older generation, as well as Prussian Junkers and landowners. To
them such a process in the medico-judicial world will be
unknown, and therefore, they are the more unlikely to accept any
such explanation. What is YOUR opinion about it, General?"
"Enough, sir! " he thundered with barely restrained fury.
"Enough, I say! Once and for all I must endeavour to rid myself
of you and your impertinence. To justify yourself in the eyes of
the Baron and Baroness will be impossible. Any intercourse with
you, even though it be confined to a begging of their pardons,
they would look upon as a degradation. I may tell you that, on
learning that you formed part of, my household, the Baron
approached me in the Casino, and demanded of me additional
satisfaction. Do you understand, then, what it is that you have
entailed upon me--upon ME, my good sir? You have entailed upon me
the fact of my being forced to sue humbly to the Baron, and to
give him my word of honour that this very day you shall cease to
belong to my establishment!"
"Excuse me, General," I interrupted, "but did he make an
express point of it that I should 'cease to belong to your
establishment,' as you call it?"
"No; I, of my own initiative, thought that I ought to afford him
that satisfaction; and, with it he was satisfied. So we must
part, good sir. It is my duty to hand over to you forty gulden,
three florins, as per the accompanying statement. Here is the
money, and here the account, which you are at liberty to verify.
Farewell. From henceforth we are strangers. From you I have
never had anything but trouble and unpleasantness. I am about to
call the landlord, and explain to him that from tomorrow onwards
I shall no longer be responsible for your hotel expenses. Also I
have the honour to remain your obedient servant."
I took the money and the account (which was indicted in pencil),
and, bowing low to the General, said to him very gravely:
"The matter cannot end here. I regret very much that you should
have been put to unpleasantness at the Baron's hands; but, the
fault (pardon me) is your own. How came you to answer for me to
the Baron? And what did you mean by saying that I formed part of
your household? I am merely your family tutor--not a son of
yours, nor yet your ward, nor a person of any kind for whose
acts you need be responsible. I am a judicially competent
person, a man of twenty-five years of age, a university
graduate, a gentleman, and, until I met yourself, a complete
stranger to you. Only my boundless respect for your merits
restrains me from demanding satisfaction at your hands, as well
as a further explanation as to the reasons which have led you to
take it upon yourself to answer for my conduct."
So struck was he with my words that, spreading out his hands, he
turned to the Frenchman, and interpreted to him that I had
challenged himself (the General) to a duel. The Frenchman
"Nor do I intend to let the Baron off," I continued calmly, but
with not a little discomfiture at De Griers' merriment. "And
since you, General, have today been so good as to listen to the
Baron's complaints, and to enter into his concerns--since you
have made yourself a participator in the affair--I have the
honour to inform you that, tomorrow morning at the latest, I
shall, in my own name, demand of the said Baron a formal
explanation as to the reasons which have led him to disregard
the fact that the matter lies between him and myself alone, and
to put a slight upon me by referring it to another person, as
though I were unworthy to answer for my own conduct."
Then there happened what I had foreseen. The General on hearing
of this further intended outrage, showed the white feather.
"What? " he cried. "Do you intend to go on with this damned
nonsense? Do you not realise the harm that it is doing me? I beg
of you not to laugh at me, sir--not to laugh at me, for we have
police authorities here who, out of respect for my rank, and for
that of the Baron... In short, sir, I swear to you that I will
have you arrested, and marched out of the place, to prevent any
further brawling on your part. Do you understand what I say?"
He was almost breathless with anger, as well as in a terrible
"General," I replied with that calmness which he never could
abide, "one cannot arrest a man for brawling until he has
brawled. I have not so much as begun my explanations to the
Baron, and you are altogether ignorant as to the form and time
which my intended procedure is likely to assume. I wish but to
disabuse the Baron of what is, to me, a shameful
supposition--namely, that I am under the guardianship of a person
who is qualified to exercise control over my free will. It is
vain for you to disturb and alarm yourself."
"For God's sake, Alexis Ivanovitch, do put an end to this
senseless scheme of yours!" he muttered, but with a sudden
change from a truculent tone to one of entreaty as he caught me
by the hand. "Do you know what is likely to come of it? Merely
further unpleasantness. You will agree with me, I am sure, that
at present I ought to move with especial care--yes, with very
especial care. You cannot be fully aware of how I am situated.
When we leave this place I shall be ready to receive you back
into my household; but, for the time being I-- Well, I cannot tell
you all my reasons." With that he wound up in a despairing
voice: " O Alexis Ivanovitch, Alexis Ivanovitch!"
I moved towards the door--begging him to be calm, and promising
that everything should be done decently and in order; whereafter
Russians, when abroad, are over-apt to play the poltroon, to
watch all their words, and to wonder what people are thinking of
their conduct, or whether such and such a thing is 'comme il
faut.' In short, they are over-apt to cosset themselves, and to
lay claim to great importance. Always they prefer the form of
behaviour which has once and for all become accepted and
established. This they will follow slavishly whether in hotels,
on promenades, at meetings, or when on a journey. But the
General had avowed to me that, over and above such
considerations as these, there were circumstances which
compelled him to "move with especial care at present", and that the
fact had actually made him poor-spirited and a coward--it had made
him altogether change his tone towards me. This fact I took into
my calculations, and duly noted it, for, of course, he MIGHT
apply to the authorities tomorrow, and it behoved me to go
Yet it was not the General but Polina that I wanted to anger.
She had treated me with such cruelty, and had got me into such a
hole, that I felt a longing to force her to beseech me to stop.
Of course, my tomfoolery might compromise her; yet certain other
feelings and desires had begun to form themselves in my brain.
If I was never to rank in her eyes as anything but a nonentity,
it would not greatly matter if I figured as a draggle-tailed
cockerel, and the Baron were to give me a good thrashing; but,
the fact was that I desired to have the laugh of them all, and
to come out myself unscathed. Let people see what they WOULD
see. Let Polina, for once, have a good fright, and be forced to
whistle me to heel again. But, however much she might whistle,
she should see that I was at least no draggle-tailed cockerel!
I have just received a surprising piece of news. I have just met
our chambermaid on the stairs, and been informed by her that
Maria Philipovna departed today, by the night train, to stay
with a cousin at Carlsbad. What can that mean? The maid declares
that Madame packed her trunks early in the day. Yet how is it
that no one else seems to have been aware of the circumstance?
Or is it that I have been the only person to be unaware of it?
Also, the maid has just told me that, three days ago, Maria
Philipovna had some high words with the General. I understand,
then! Probably the words were concerning Mlle. Blanche.
Certainly something decisive is approaching.
In the morning I sent for the maitre d'hotel, and explained to
him that, in future, my bill was to be rendered to me
personally. As a matter of fact, my expenses had never been so
large as to alarm me, nor to lead me to quit the hotel; while,
moreover, I still had 16o gulden left to me, and--in them--yes, in
them, perhaps, riches awaited me. It was a curious fact, that,
though I had not yet won anything at play, I nevertheless acted,
thought, and felt as though I were sure, before long, to become
wealthy-- since I could not imagine myself otherwise.
Next, I bethought me, despite the earliness of the hour, of going
to see Mr. Astley, who was staying at the Hotel de l'Angleterre
(a hostelry at no great distance from our own). But suddenly De
Griers entered my room. This had never before happened, for of
late that gentleman and I had stood on the most strained and
distant of terms--he attempting no concealment of his contempt
for me (he even made an express, point of showing it), and I
having no reason to desire his company. In short, I detested
him. Consequently, his entry at the present moment the more
astounded me. At once I divined that something out of the way
was on the carpet.
He entered with marked affability, and began by complimenting me
on my room. Then, perceiving that I had my hat in my hands, he
inquired whither I was going so early; and, no sooner did he hear
that I was bound for Mr. Astley's than he stopped, looked grave,
and seemed plunged in thought.
He was a true Frenchman insofar as that, though he could be
lively and engaging when it suited him, he became insufferably
dull and wearisome as soon as ever the need for being lively and
engaging had passed. Seldom is a Frenchman NATURALLY civil: he
is civil only as though to order and of set purpose. Also, if he
thinks it incumbent upon him to be fanciful, original, and out
of the way, his fancy always assumes a foolish, unnatural vein,
for the reason that it is compounded of trite, hackneyed forms.
In short, the natural Frenchman is a conglomeration of
commonplace, petty, everyday positiveness, so that he is the
most tedious person in the world.--Indeed, I believe that none
but greenhorns and excessively Russian people feel an attraction
towards the French; for, to any man of sensibility, such a
compendium of outworn forms--a compendium which is built up of
drawing-room manners, expansiveness, and gaiety--becomes at once
over-noticeable and unbearable.
"I have come to see you on business," De Griers began in a very
off-hand, yet polite, tone; "nor will I seek to conceal from you
the fact that I have come in the capacity of an emissary, of
an intermediary, from the General. Having small knowledge of the
Russian tongue, I lost most of what was said last night; but, the
General has now explained matters, and I must confess that--"
"See here, Monsieur de Griers," I interrupted. "I understand
that you have undertaken to act in this affair as an
intermediary. Of course I am only 'un utchitel,' a tutor, and
have never claimed to be an intimate of this household, nor to
stand on at all familiar terms with it. Consequently, I do not
know the whole of its circumstances. Yet pray explain to me this:
have you yourself become one of its members, seeing that you are
beginning to take such a part in everything, and are now present
as an intermediary?"
The Frenchman seemed not over-pleased at my question. It was one
which was too outspoken for his taste--and he had no mind to be
frank with me.
"I am connected with the General," he said drily, "partly
through business affairs, and partly through special
circumstances. My principal has sent me merely to ask you to
forego your intentions of last evening. What you contemplate is,
I have no doubt, very clever; yet he has charged me to represent
to you that you have not the slightest chance of succeeding in
your end, since not only will the Baron refuse to receive you,
but also he (the Baron) has at his disposal every possible means
for obviating further unpleasantness from you. Surely you can
see that yourself? What, then, would be the good of going on
with it all? On the other hand, the General promises that at the
first favourable opportunity he will receive you back into his
household, and, in the meantime, will credit you with your
salary--with 'vos appointements.' Surely that will suit you, will
Very quietly I replied that he (the Frenchman) was labouring
under a delusion; that perhaps, after all, I should not be
expelled from the Baron's presence, but, on the contrary, be
listened to; finally, that I should be glad if Monsieur de
Griers would confess that he was now visiting me merely in order
to see how far I intended to go in the affair.
"Good heavens!" cried de Griers. "Seeing that the General
takes such an interest in the matter, is there anything very
unnatural in his desiring also to know your plans? "
Again I began my explanations, but the Frenchman only fidgeted
and rolled his head about as he listened with an expression of
manifest and unconcealed irony on his face. In short, he adopted
a supercilious attitude. For my own part, I endeavoured to
pretend that I took the affair very seriously. I declared that,
since the Baron had gone and complained of me to the General, as
though I were a mere servant of the General's, he had, in the
first place, lost me my post, and, in the second place, treated
me like a person to whom, as to one not qualified to answer for
himself, it was not even worth while to speak. Naturally, I
said, I felt insulted at this. Yet, comprehending as I did,
differences of years, of social status, and so forth (here I
could scarcely help smiling), I was not anxious to bring about
further scenes by going personally to demand or to request
satisfaction of the Baron. All that I felt was that I had a
right to go in person and beg the Baron's and the Baroness's
pardon--the more so since, of late, I had been feeling unwell and
unstrung, and had been in a fanciful condition. And so forth,
and so forth. Yet (I continued) the Baron's offensive behaviour
to me of yesterday (that is to say, the fact of his referring
the matter to the General) as well as his insistence that the
General should deprive me of my post, had placed me in such a
position that I could not well express my regret to him (the
Baron) and to his good lady, for the reason that in all
probability both he and the Baroness, with the world at large,
would imagine that I was doing so merely because I hoped, by my
action, to recover my post. Hence, I found myself forced to
request the Baron to express to me HIS OWN regrets, as well as
to express them in the most unqualified manner--to say, in fact,
that he had never had any wish to insult me. After the Baron had
done THAT, I should, for my part, at once feel free to express
to him, whole-heartedly and without reserve, my own regrets."
In short," I declared in conclusion, " my one desire is that the
Baron may make it possible for me to adopt the latter course."
"Oh fie! What refinements and subtleties!" exclaimed De
Griers. "Besides, what have you to express regret for? Confess,
Monsieur, Monsieur--pardon me, but I have forgotten your
name--confess, I say, that all this is merely a plan to annoy the
General? Or perhaps, you have some other and special end in
"In return you must pardon ME, mon cher Marquis, and tell me
what you have to do with it."
"But what of the General? Last night he said that, for some
reason or another, it behoved him to 'move with especial care at
present;' wherefore, he was feeling nervous. But I did not
understand the reference."
"Yes, there DO exist special reasons for his doing so,"
assented De Griers in a conciliatory tone, yet with rising