The Grandmother was in an impatient, irritable frame of mind. Without doubt the roulette had turned her head, for she appeared to be indifferent to everything else, and, in general, seemed much distraught. For instance, she asked me no questions about objects en route, except that, when a sumptuous barouche passed us and raised a cloud of dust, she lifted her hand for a moment, and inquired, " What was that? " Yet even then she did not appear to hear my reply, although at times her abstraction was interrupted by sallies and fits of sharp, impatient fidgeting. Again, when I pointed out to her the Baron and Baroness Burmergelm walking to the Casino, she merely looked at them in an absent-minded sort of way, and said with complete indifference, "Ah!" Then, turning sharply to Potapitch and Martha, who were walking behind us, she rapped out:
"Why have YOU attached yourselves to the party? We are not going to take you with us every time. Go home at once." Then, when the servants had pulled hasty bows and departed, she added to me: "You are all the escort I need."
At the Casino the Grandmother seemed to be expected, for no time was lost in procuring her former place beside the croupier. It is my opinion that though croupiers seem such ordinary, humdrum officials--men who care nothing whether the bank wins or loses--they are, in reality, anything but indifferent to the bank's losing, and are given instructions to attract players, and to keep a watch over the bank's interests; as also, that for such services, these officials are awarded prizes and premiums. At all events, the croupiers of Roulettenberg seemed to look upon the Grandmother as their lawful prey--whereafter there befell what our party had foretold.
It happened thus:
As soon as ever we arrived the Grandmother ordered me to stake twelve ten-gulden pieces in succession upon zero. Once, twice, and thrice I did so, yet zero never turned up.
"Stake again," said the old lady with an impatient nudge of my elbow, and I obeyed.
"How many times have we lost? " she inquired--actually grinding her teeth in her excitement.
"We have lost 144 ten-gulden pieces," I replied. "I tell you, Madame, that zero may not turn up until nightfall."
"Never mind," she interrupted. "Keep on staking upon zero, and also stake a thousand gulden upon rouge. Here is a banknote with which to do so."
The red turned up, but zero missed again, and we only got our thousand gulden back.
"But you see, you see " whispered the old lady. "We have now recovered almost all that we staked. Try zero again. Let us do so another ten times, and then leave off."
By the fifth round, however, the Grandmother was weary of the scheme.
"To the devil with that zero!" she exclaimed. Stake four thousand gulden upon the red."
"But, Madame, that will be so much to venture!" I remonstrated. "Suppose the red should not turn up?" The Grandmother almost struck me in her excitement. Her agitation was rapidly making her quarrelsome. Consequently, there was nothing for it but to stake the whole four thousand gulden as she had directed.
The wheel revolved while the Grandmother sat as bolt upright, and with as proud and quiet a mien, as though she had not the least doubt of winning.
"Zero!" cried the croupier.
At first the old lady failed to understand the situation; but, as soon as she saw the croupier raking in her four thousand gulden, together with everything else that happened to be lying on the table, and recognised that the zero which had been so long turning up, and on which we had lost nearly two hundred ten-gulden pieces, had at length, as though of set purpose, made a sudden reappearance--why, the poor old lady fell to cursing it, and to throwing herself about, and wailing and gesticulating at the company at large. Indeed, some people in our vicinity actually burst out laughing.
"To think that that accursed zero should have turned up NOW!" she sobbed. "The accursed, accursed thing! And, it is all YOUR fault," she added, rounding upon me in a frenzy. "It was you who persuaded me to cease staking upon it."
"But, Madame, I only explained the game to you. How am I to answer for every mischance which may occur in it?"
"You and your mischances!" she whispered threateningly. "Go! Away at once!"
"Farewell, then, Madame." And I turned to depart.
"No--stay," she put in hastily. "Where are you going to? Why should you leave me? You fool! No, no... stay here. It is I who was the fool. Tell me what I ought to do."
"I cannot take it upon myself to advise you, for you will only blame me if I do so. Play at your own discretion. Say exactly what you wish staked, and I will stake it."
"Very well. Stake another four thousand gulden upon the red. Take this banknote to do it with. I have still got twenty thousand roubles in actual cash."
"But," I whispered, "such a quantity of money--"
"Never mind. I cannot rest until I have won back my losses. Stake!"
I staked, and we lost.
"Stake again, stake again--eight thousand at a stroke!"
"I cannot, Madame. The largest stake allowed is four thousand gulden."
"Well, then; stake four thousand."
This time we won, and the Grandmother recovered herself a little.
"You see, you see!" she exclaimed as she nudged me. "Stake another four thousand."
I did so, and lost. Again, and yet again, we lost. "Madame, your twelve thousand gulden are now gone," at length I reported.
"I see they are," she replied with, as it were, the calmness of despair. "I see they are," she muttered again as she gazed straight in front of her, like a person lost in thought. "Ah well, I do not mean to rest until I have staked another four thousand."
"But you have no money with which to do it, Madame. In this satchel I can see only a few five percent bonds and some transfers--no actual cash."
"And in the purse?"
"A mere trifle."
"But there is a money-changer's office here, is there not? They told me I should be able to get any sort of paper security changed! "
"Quite so; to any amount you please. But you will lose on the transaction what would frighten even a Jew."
"Rubbish! I am DETERMINED to retrieve my losses. Take me away, and call those fools of bearers."
I wheeled the chair out of the throng, and, the bearers making their appearance, we left the Casino.
"Hurry, hurry!" commanded the Grandmother. "Show me the nearest way to the money-changer's. Is it far?"
"A couple of steps, Madame."
At the turning from the square into the Avenue we came face to face with the whole of our party--the General, De Griers, Mlle. Blanche, and her mother. Only Polina and Mr. Astley were absent.
"Well, well, well! " exclaimed the Grandmother. "But we have no time to stop. What do you want? I can't talk to you here."
I dropped behind a little, and immediately was pounced upon by De Griers.
"She has lost this morning's winnings," I whispered, "and also twelve thousand gulden of her original money. At the present moment we are going to get some bonds changed."
De Griers stamped his foot with vexation, and hastened to communicate the tidings to the General. Meanwhile we continued to wheel the old lady along.
"Stop her, stop her," whispered the General in consternation.
"You had better try and stop her yourself," I returned--also in a whisper.
"My good mother," he said as he approached her, "--my good mother, pray let, let--" (his voice was beginning to tremble and sink) "--let us hire a carriage, and go for a drive. Near here there is an enchanting view to be obtained. We-we-we were just coming to invite you to go and see it."
"Begone with you and your views!" said the Grandmother angrily as she waved him away.
"And there are trees there, and we could have tea under them," continued the General--now in utter despair.
"Nous boirons du lait, sur l'herbe fraiche," added De Griers with the snarl almost of a wild beast.
"Du lait, de l'herbe fraiche"--the idyll, the ideal of the Parisian bourgeois--his whole outlook upon "la nature et la verite"!
"Have done with you and your milk!" cried the old lady. "Go and stuff YOURSELF as much as you like, but my stomach simply recoils from the idea. What are you stopping for? I have nothing to say to you."
"Here we are, Madame," I announced. "Here is the moneychanger's office."
I entered to get the securities changed, while the Grandmother remained outside in the porch, and the rest waited at a little distance, in doubt as to their best course of action. At length the old lady turned such an angry stare upon them that they departed along the road towards the Casino.
The process of changing involved complicated calculations which soon necessitated my return to the Grandmother for instructions.
"The thieves!" she exclaimed as she clapped her hands together. "Never mind, though. Get the documents cashed--No; send the banker out to me," she added as an afterthought.
"Would one of the clerks do, Madame?"
"Yes, one of the clerks. The thieves!"
The clerk consented to come out when he perceived that he was being asked for by an old lady who was too infirm to walk; after which the Grandmother began to upbraid him at length, and with great vehemence, for his alleged usuriousness, and to bargain with him in a mixture of Russian, French, and German--I acting as interpreter. Meanwhile, the grave-faced official eyed us both, and silently nodded his head. At the Grandmother, in particular, he gazed with a curiosity which almost bordered upon rudeness. At length, too, he smiled.
"Pray recollect yourself!" cried the old lady. "And may my money choke you! Alexis Ivanovitch, tell him that we can easily repair to someone else."
"The clerk says that others will give you even less than he."
Of what the ultimate calculations consisted I do not exactly remember, but at all events they were alarming. Receiving twelve thousand florins in gold, I took also the statement of accounts, and carried it out to the Grandmother.
"Well, well," she said, "I am no accountant. Let us hurry away, hurry away." And she waved the paper aside.
"Neither upon that accursed zero, however, nor upon that equally accursed red do I mean to stake a cent," I muttered to myself as I entered the Casino.
This time I did all I could to persuade the old lady to stake as little as possible--saying that a turn would come in the chances when she would be at liberty to stake more. But she was so impatient that, though at first she agreed to do as I suggested, nothing could stop her when once she had begun. By way of prelude she won stakes of a hundred and two hundred gulden.
"There you are!" she said as she nudged me. "See what we have won! Surely it would be worth our while to stake four thousand instead of a hundred, for we might win another four thousand, and then--! Oh, it was YOUR fault before--all your fault!"
I felt greatly put out as I watched her play, but I decided to hold my tongue, and to give her no more advice.
Suddenly De Griers appeared on the scene. It seemed that all this while he and his companions had been standing beside us-- though I noticed that Mlle. Blanche had withdrawn a little from the rest, and was engaged in flirting with the Prince. Clearly the General was greatly put out at this. Indeed, he was in a perfect agony of vexation. But Mlle. was careful never to look his way, though he did his best to attract her notice. Poor General! By turns his face blanched and reddened, and he was trembling to such an extent that he could scarcely follow the old lady's play. At length Mlle. and the Prince took their departure, and the General followed them.
"Madame, Madame," sounded the honeyed accents of De Griers as he leant over to whisper in the Grandmother's ear. "That stake will never win. No, no, it is impossible," he added in Russian with a writhe. "No, no!"
"But why not?" asked the Grandmother, turning round. "Show me what I ought to do."
Instantly De Griers burst into a babble of French as he advised, jumped about, declared that such and such chances ought to be waited for, and started to make calculations of figures. All this he addressed to me in my capacity as translator--tapping the table the while with his finger, and pointing hither and thither. At length he seized a pencil, and began to reckon sums on paper until he had exhausted the Grandmother's patience.
"Away with you!" she interrupted. "You talk sheer nonsense, for, though you keep on saying 'Madame, Madame,' you haven't the least notion what ought to be done. Away with you, I say!"
"Mais, Madame," cooed De Griers--and straightway started afresh with his fussy instructions.
"Stake just ONCE, as he advises," the Grandmother said to me, "and then we shall see what we shall see. Of course, his stake MIGHT win."
As a matter of fact, De Grier's one object was to distract the old lady from staking large sums; wherefore, he now suggested to her that she should stake upon certain numbers, singly and in groups. Consequently, in accordance with his instructions, I staked a ten-gulden piece upon several odd numbers in the first twenty, and five ten-gulden pieces upon certain groups of numbers-groups of from twelve to eighteen, and from eighteen to twenty-four. The total staked amounted to 160 gulden.
The wheel revolved. "Zero!" cried the croupier.
We had lost it all!
"The fool!" cried the old lady as she turned upon De Griers. "You infernal Frenchman, to think that you should advise! Away with you! Though you fuss and fuss, you don't even know what you're talking about."
Deeply offended, De Griers shrugged his shoulders, favoured the Grandmother with a look of contempt, and departed. For some time past he had been feeling ashamed of being seen in such company, and this had proved the last straw.
An hour later we had lost everything in hand.
"Home!" cried the Grandmother.
Not until we had turned into the Avenue did she utter a word; but from that point onwards, until we arrived at the hotel, she kept venting exclamations of "What a fool I am! What a silly old fool I am, to be sure!"
Arrived at the hotel, she called for tea, and then gave orders for her luggage to be packed.
"We are off again," she announced.
"But whither, Madame?" inquired Martha.
"What business is that of YOURS? Let the cricket stick to its hearth. [The Russian form of "Mind your own business."] Potapitch, have everything packed, for we are returning to Moscow at once. I have fooled away fifteen thousand roubles."
"Fifteen thousand roubles, good mistress? My God!" And Potapitch spat upon his hands--probably to show that he was ready to serve her in any way he could.
"Now then, you fool! At once you begin with your weeping and wailing! Be quiet, and pack. Also, run downstairs, and get my hotel bill."
"The next train leaves at 9:30, Madame," I interposed, with a view to checking her agitation.
"And what is the time now?"
"How vexing! But, never mind. Alexis Ivanovitch, I have not a kopeck left; I have but these two bank notes. Please run to the office and get them changed. Otherwise I shall have nothing to travel with."
Departing on her errand, I returned half an hour later to find the whole party gathered in her rooms. It appeared that the news of her impending departure for Moscow had thrown the conspirators into consternation even greater than her losses had done. For, said they, even if her departure should save her fortune, what will become of the General later? And who is to repay De Griers? Clearly Mlle. Blanche would never consent to wait until the Grandmother was dead, but would at once elope with the Prince or someone else. So they had all gathered together--endeavouring to calm and dissuade the Grandmother. Only Polina was absent. For her part the Grandmother had nothing for the party but abuse.
"Away with you, you rascals!" she was shouting. "What have my affairs to do with you? Why, in particular, do you"--here she indicated De Griers--"come sneaking here with your goat's beard? And what do YOU"--here she turned to Mlle. Blanche "want of me? What are YOU finicking for?"
"Diantre!" muttered Mlle. under her breath, but her eyes were flashing. Then all at once she burst into a laugh and left the room--crying to the General as she did so: "Elle vivra cent ans!"
"So you have been counting upon my death, have you?" fumed the old lady. "Away with you! Clear them out of the room, Alexis Ivanovitch. What business is it of THEIRS? It is not THEIR money that I have been squandering, but my own."
The General shrugged his shoulders, bowed, and withdrew, with De Griers behind him.
"Call Prascovia," commanded the Grandmother, and in five minutes Martha reappeared with Polina, who had been sitting with the children in her own room (having purposely determined not to leave it that day). Her face looked grave and careworn.
"Prascovia," began the Grandmother, "is what I have just heard through a side wind true--namely, that this fool of a stepfather of yours is going to marry that silly whirligig of a Frenchwoman--that actress, or something worse? Tell me, is it true?"
"I do not know FOR CERTAIN, Grandmamma," replied Polina; "but from Mlle. Blanche's account (for she does not appear to think it necessary to conceal anything) I conclude that--"
"You need not say any more," interrupted the Grandmother energetically. "I understand the situation. I always thought we should get something like this from him, for I always looked upon him as a futile, frivolous fellow who gave himself unconscionable airs on the fact of his being a general (though he only became one because he retired as a colonel). Yes, I know all about the sending of the telegrams to inquire whether 'the old woman is likely to turn up her toes soon.' Ah, they were looking for the legacies! Without money that wretched woman (what is her name?--Oh, De Cominges) would never dream of accepting the General and his false teeth--no, not even for him to be her lacquey--since she herself, they say, possesses a pile of money, and lends it on interest, and makes a good thing out of it. However, it is not you, Prascovia, that I am blaming; it was not you who sent those telegrams. Nor, for that matter, do I wish to recall old scores. True, I know that you are a vixen by nature--that you are a wasp which will sting one if one touches it--yet, my heart is sore for you, for I loved your mother, Katerina. Now, will you leave everything here, and come away with me? Otherwise, I do not know what is to become of you, and it is not right that you should continue living with these people. Nay," she interposed, the moment that Polina attempted to speak, "I have not yet finished. I ask of you nothing in return. My house in Moscow is, as you know, large enough for a palace, and you could occupy a whole floor of it if you liked, and keep away from me for weeks together. Will you come with me or will you not?"
"First of all, let me ask of YOU," replied Polina, "whether you are intending to depart at once?"
"What? You suppose me to be jesting? I have said that I am going, and I AM going. Today I have squandered fifteen thousand roubles at that accursed roulette of yours, and though, five years ago, I promised the people of a certain suburb of Moscow to build them a stone church in place of a wooden one, I have been fooling away my money here! However, I am going back now to build my church."
"But what about the waters, Grandmamma? Surely you came here to take the waters?"
"You and your waters! Do not anger me, Prascovia. Surely you are trying to? Say, then: will you, or will you not, come with me?"
"Grandmamma," Polina replied with deep feeling, "I am very, very grateful to you for the shelter which you have so kindly offered me. Also, to a certain extent you have guessed my position aright, and I am beholden to you to such an extent that it may be that I will come and live with you, and that very soon; yet there are important reasons why--why I cannot make up my min,d just yet. If you would let me have, say, a couple of weeks to decide in--?"
"You mean that you are NOT coming?"
"I mean only that I cannot come just yet. At all events, I could not well leave my little brother and sister here, since,since--if I were to leave them--they would be abandoned altogether. But if, Grandmamma, you would take the little ones AND myself, then, of course, I could come with you, and would do all I could to serve you" (this she said with great earnestness). "Only, without the little ones I CANNOT come."
"Do not make a fuss" (as a matter of fact Polina never at any time either fussed or wept). "The Great Foster--Father [Translated literally--The Great Poulterer] can find for all his chicks a place. You are not coming without the children? But see here, Prascovia. I wish you well, and nothing but well: yet I have divined the reason why you will not come. Yes, I know all, Prascovia. That Frenchman will never bring you good of any sort."
Polina coloured hotly, and even I started. "For," thought I to myself, "every one seems to know about that affair. Or perhaps I am the only one who does not know about it? "
"Now, now! Do not frown," continued the Grandmother. "But I do not intend to slur things over. You will take care that no harm befalls you, will you not? For you are a girl of sense, and I am sorry for you--I regard you in a different light to the rest of them. And now, please, leave me. Good-bye."
"But let me stay with you a little longer," said Polina.
"No," replied the other; "you need not. Do not bother me, for you and all of them have tired me out."
Yet when Polina tried to kiss the Grandmother's hand, the old lady withdrew it, and herself kissed the girl on the cheek. As she passed me, Polina gave me a momentary glance, and then as swiftly averted her eyes.
"And good-bye to you, also, Alexis Ivanovitch. The train starts in an hour's time, and I think that you must be weary of me. Take these five hundred gulden for yourself."
"I thank you humbly, Madame, but I am ashamed to--"
"Come, come!" cried the Grandmother so energetically, and with such an air of menace, that I did not dare refuse the money further.
"If, when in Moscow, you have no place where you can lay your head," she added, "come and see me, and I will give you a recommendation. Now, Potapitch, get things ready."
I ascended to my room, and lay down upon the bed. A whole hour I must have lain thus, with my head resting upon my hand. So the crisis had come! I needed time for its consideration. To- morrow I would have a talk with Polina. Ah! The Frenchman! So, it was true? But how could it be so? Polina and De Griers! What a combination!
No, it was too improbable. Suddenly I leapt up with the idea of seeking Astley and forcing him to speak. There could be no doubt that he knew more than I did. Astley? Well, he was another problem for me to solve.
Suddenly there came a knock at the door, and I opened it to find Potapitch awaiting me.
"Sir," he said, "my mistress is asking for you."
"Indeed? But she is just departing, is she not? The train leaves in ten minutes' time."
"She is uneasy, sir; she cannot rest. Come quickly, sir; do not delay."
I ran downstairs at once. The Grandmother was just being carried out of her rooms into the corridor. In her hands she held a roll of bank-notes.
"Alexis Ivanovitch," she cried, "walk on ahead, and we will set out again."
"But whither, Madame?"
"I cannot rest until I have retrieved my losses. March on ahead, and ask me no questions. Play continues until midnight, does it not?"
For a moment I stood stupefied--stood deep in thought; but it was not long before I had made up my mind.
"With your leave, Madame," I said, "I will not go with you."
"And why not? What do you mean? Is every one here a stupid good-for-nothing?"
"Pardon me, but I have nothing to reproach myself with. I merely will not go. I merely intend neither to witness nor to join in your play. I also beg to return you your five hundred gulden. Farewell."
Laying the money upon a little table which the Grandmother's chair happened to be passing, I bowed and withdrew.
"What folly!" the Grandmother shouted after me. "Very well, then. Do not come, and I will find my way alone. Potapitch, you must come with me. Lift up the chair, and carry me along."
I failed to find Mr. Astley, and returned home. It was now growing late--it was past midnight, but I subsequently learnt from Potapitch how the Grandmother's day had ended. She had lost all the money which, earlier in the day, I had got for her paper securities--a sum amounting to about ten thousand roubles. This she did under the direction of the Pole whom, that afternoon, she had dowered with two ten-gulden pieces. But before his arrival on the scene, she had commanded Potapitch to stake for her; until at length she had told him also to go about his business. Upon that the Pole had leapt into the breach. Not only did it happen that he knew the Russian language, but also he could speak a mixture of three different dialects, so that the pair were able to understand one another. Yet the old lady never ceased to abuse him, despite his deferential manner, and to compare him unfavourably with myself (so, at all events, Potapitch declared). "You," the old chamberlain said to me, "treated her as a gentleman should, but he--he robbed her right and left, as I could see with my own eyes. Twice she caught him at it, and rated him soundly. On one occasion she even pulled his hair, so that the bystanders burst out laughing. Yet she lost everything, sir--that is to say, she lost all that you had changed for her. Then we brought her home, and, after asking for some water and saying her prayers, she went to bed. So worn out was she that she fell asleep at once. May God send her dreams of angels! And this is all that foreign travel has done for us! Oh, my own Moscow! For what have we not at home there, in Moscow? Such a garden and flowers as you could never see here, and fresh air and apple-trees coming into blossom,--and a beautiful view to look upon. Ah, but what must she do but go travelling abroad? Alack, alack!"