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The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky - səhifə 16

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I went and hired a room, I shut myself up in it, and sat

counting my money until three o'clock in the morning. To think

that when I awoke on the morrow, I was no lacquey! I decided to

leave at once for Homburg. There I should neither have to serve

as a footman nor to lie in prison. Half an hour before starting,

I went and ventured a couple of stakes--no more; with the result

that, in all, I lost fifteen hundred florins. Nevertheless, I

proceeded to Homburg, and have now been there for a month.


Of course, I am living in constant trepidation,playing for the

smallest of stakes, and always looking out for

something--calculating, standing whole days by the gaming-tables

to watch the play--even seeing that play in my dreams--yet

seeming, the while, to be in some way stiffening, to be growing

caked, as it were, in mire. But I must conclude my notes, which

I finish under the impression of a recent encounter with Mr.

Astley. I had not seen him since we parted at Roulettenberg, and

now we met quite by accident. At the time I was walking in the

public gardens, and meditating upon the fact that not only had I

still some fifty olden in my possession, but also I had fully

paid up my hotel bill three days ago. Consequently, I was in a

position to try my luck again at roulette; and if I won anything

I should be able to continue my play, whereas, if I lost what I

now possessed, I should once more have to accept a lacquey's

place, provided that, in the alternative, I failed to discover a

Russian family which stood in need of a tutor. Plunged in these

reflections, I started on my daily walk through the Park and

forest towards a neighbouring principality. Sometimes, on such

occasions, I spent four hours on the way, and would return to

Homburg tired and hungry; but, on this particular occasion, I had

scarcely left the gardens for the Park when I caught sight of

Astley seated on a bench. As soon as he perceived me, he called

me by name, and I went and sat down beside him; but, on noticing

that he seemed a little stiff in his manner, I hastened to

moderate the expression of joy which the sight of him had called

forth.
"YOU here?" he said. "Well, I had an idea that I should meet

you. Do not trouble to tell me anything, for I know all--yes,

all. In fact, your whole life during the past twenty months lies

within my knowledge."


"How closely you watch the doings of your old friends!" I

replied. "That does you infinite credit. But stop a moment. You

have reminded me of something. Was it you who bailed me out of

Roulettenberg prison when I was lying there for a debt of two

hundred gulden? SOMEONE did so."
"Oh dear no!--though I knew all the time that you were lying

there."
"Perhaps you could tell me who DID bail me out?"


"No; I am afraid I could not."
"What a strange thing! For I know no Russians at all here, so

it cannot have been a Russian who befriended me. In Russia we

Orthodox folk DO go bail for one another, but in this case I

thought it must have been done by some English stranger who was

not conversant with the ways of the country."
Mr. Astley seemed to listen to me with a sort of surprise.

Evidently he had expected to see me looking more crushed and

broken than I was.
"Well," he said--not very pleasantly, "I am none the less glad

to find that you retain your old independence of spirit, as well

as your buoyancy."
"Which means that you are vexed at not having found me more

abased and humiliated than I am?" I retorted with a smile.


Astley was not quick to understand this, but presently did so

and laughed.


"Your remarks please me as they always did," he continued. "In

those words I see the clever, triumphant, and, above all things,

cynical friend of former days. Only Russians have the faculty of

combining within themselves so many opposite qualities. Yes,

most men love to see their best friend in abasement; for

generally it is on such abasement that friendship is founded.

All thinking persons know that ancient truth. Yet, on the

present occasion, I assure you, I am sincerely glad to see that

you are NOT cast down. Tell me, are you never going to give up

gambling?"


"Damn the gambling! Yes, I should certainly have given it up,

were it not that--"


"That you are losing? I thought so. You need not tell me any

more. I know how things stand, for you have said that last in

despair, and therefore, truthfully. Have you no other employment

than gambling?"


"No; none whatever."
Astley gave me a searching glance. At that time it was ages

since I had last looked at a paper or turned the pages of a book.


"You are growing blase," he said. "You have not only renounced

life, with its interests and social ties, but the duties of a citizen

and a man; you have not only renounced the friends whom I know

you to have had, and every aim in life but that of winning

money; but you have also renounced your memory. Though I can

remember you in the strong, ardent period of your life, I feel

persuaded that you have now forgotten every better feeling of

that period--that your present dreams and aspirations of

subsistence do not rise above pair, impair rouge, noir, the

twelve middle numbers, and so forth."


"Enough, Mr. Astley!" I cried with some irritation--almost in

anger. "Kindly do not recall to me any more recollections, for

I can remember things for myself. Only for a time have I put

them out of my head. Only until I shall have rehabilitated

myself, am I keeping my memory dulled. When that hour shall come,

you will see me arise from the dead."


"Then you will have to be here another ten years," he replied.

"Should I then be alive, I will remind you--here, on this very

bench--of what I have just said. In fact, I will bet you a wager

that I shall do so."


"Say no more," I interrupted impatiently. "And to show you

that I have not wholly forgotten the past, may I enquire where

Mlle. Polina is? If it was not you who bailed me out of prison,

it must have been she. Yet never have I heard a word concerning

her."
"No, I do not think it was she. At the present moment she is in

Switzerland, and you will do me a favour by ceasing to ask me

these questions about her." Astley said this with a firm, and

even an angry, air.


"Which means that she has dealt you a serious wound?" I burst

out with an involuntary sneer.


"Mlle. Polina," he continued, "Is the best of all possible

living beings; but, I repeat, that I shall thank you to cease

questioning me about her. You never really knew her, and her

name on your lips is an offence to my moral feeling."


"Indeed? On what subject, then, have I a better right to speak

to you than on this? With it are bound up all your recollections

and mine. However, do not be alarmed: I have no wish to probe

too far into your private, your secret affairs. My interest in

Mlle. Polina does not extend beyond her outward circumstances

and surroundings. About them you could tell me in two words."


"Well, on condition that the matter shall end there, I will

tell you that for a long time Mlle. Polina was ill, and still is

so. My mother and sister entertained her for a while at their

home in the north of England, and thereafter Mlle. Polina's

grandmother (you remember the mad old woman?) died, and left

Mlle. Polina a personal legacy of seven thousand pounds

sterling. That was about six months ago, and now Mlle. is

travelling with my sister's family--my sister having since

married. Mlle.'s little brother and sister also benefited by the

Grandmother's will, and are now being educated in London. As for

the General, he died in Paris last month, of a stroke. Mlle.

Blanche did well by him, for she succeeded in having transferred

to herself all that he received from the Grandmother. That, I

think, concludes all that I have to tell."


"And De Griers? Is he too travelling in Switzerland?"
"No; nor do I know where he is. Also I warn you once more that

you had better avoid such hints and ignoble suppositions;

otherwise you will assuredly have to reckon with me."
"What? In spite of our old friendship?"
"Yes, in spite of our old friendship."
"Then I beg your pardon a thousand times, Mr. Astley. I meant

nothing offensive to Mlle. Polina, for I have nothing of which

to accuse her. Moreover, the question of there being anything

between this Frenchman and this Russian lady is not one which

you and I need discuss, nor even attempt to understand."
"If," replied Astley, "you do not care to hear their names

coupled together, may I ask you what you mean by the expressions

'this Frenchman,' 'this Russian lady,' and 'there being

anything between them'? Why do you call them so particularly a

'Frenchman' and a 'Russian lady'?"
"Ah, I see you are interested, Mr. Astley. But it is a long,

long story, and calls for a lengthy preface. At the same time,

the question is an important one, however ridiculous it may seem

at the first glance. A Frenchman, Mr. Astley, is merely a fine

figure of a man. With this you, as a Britisher, may not agree.

With it I also, as a Russian, may not agree--out of envy. Yet

possibly our good ladies are of another opinion. For instance,

one may look upon Racine as a broken-down, hobbledehoy, perfumed

individual--one may even be unable to read him; and I too may

think him the same, as well as, in some respects, a subject for

ridicule. Yet about him, Mr. Astley, there is a certain charm,

and, above all things, he is a great poet--though one might like

to deny it. Yes, the Frenchman, the Parisian, as a national

figure, was in process of developing into a figure of elegance

before we Russians had even ceased to be bears. The Revolution

bequeathed to the French nobility its heritage, and now every

whippersnapper of a Parisian may possess manners, methods of

expression, and even thoughts that are above reproach in form,

while all the time he himself may share in that form neither in

initiative nor in intellect nor in soul--his manners, and the

rest, having come to him through inheritance. Yes, taken by

himself, the Frenchman is frequently a fool of fools and a

villain of villains. Per contra, there is no one in the

world more worthy of confidence and respect than this young

Russian lady. De Griers might so mask his face and play a part

as easily to overcome her heart, for he has an imposing figure,

Mr. Astley, and this young lady might easily take that figure for

his real self--for the natural form of his heart and soul--instead

of the mere cloak with which heredity has dowered him. And even

though it may offend you, I feel bound to say that the majority

also of English people are uncouth and unrefined, whereas we

Russian folk can recognise beauty wherever we see it, and are

always eager to cultivate the same. But to distinguish beauty of

soul and personal originality there is needed far more

independence and freedom than is possessed by our women,

especially by our younger ladies. At all events, they need more

EXPERIENCE. For instance, this Mlle. Polina--pardon me, but the

name has passed my lips, and I cannot well recall it--is taking a

very long time to make up her mind to prefer you to Monsieur de

Griers. She may respect you, she may become your friend, she may

open out her heart to you; yet over that heart there will be

reigning that loathsome villain, that mean and petty usurer, De

Griers. This will be due to obstinacy and self-love--to the fact

that De Griers once appeared to her in the transfigured guise of

a marquis, of a disenchanted and ruined liberal who was doing

his best to help her family and the frivolous old General; and,

although these transactions of his have since been exposed, you

will find that the exposure has made no impression upon her

mind. Only give her the De Griers of former days, and she will

ask of you no more. The more she may detest the present De

Griers, the more will she lament the De Griers of the past--even

though the latter never existed but in her own imagination. You

are a sugar refiner, Mr. Astley, are you not?"
"Yes, I belong to the well-known firm of Lovell and Co."
"Then see here. On the one hand, you are a sugar refiner,

while, on the other hand, you are an Apollo Belvedere. But the

two characters do not mix with one another. I, again, am not

even a sugar refiner; I am a mere roulette gambler who has also

served as a lacquey. Of this fact Mlle. Polina is probably well

aware, since she appears to have an excellent force of police at

her disposal."
"You are saying this because you are feeling bitter," said

Astley with cold indifference. "Yet there is not the least

originality in your words."
"I agree. But therein lies the horror of it all--that, however

mean and farcical my accusations may be, they are none the less

TRUE. But I am only wasting words."
"Yes, you are, for you are only talking nonsense! exclaimed my

companion--his voice now trembling and his eyes flashing fire.

"Are you aware," he continued, "that wretched, ignoble, petty,

unfortunate man though you are, it was at HER request I came to

Homburg, in order to see you, and to have a long, serious talk

with you, and to report to her your feelings and thoughts and

hopes--yes, and your recollections of her, too?"
"Indeed? Is that really so?" I cried--the tears beginning to

well from my eyes. Never before had this happened.


"Yes, poor unfortunate," continued Astley. "She DID love you;

and I may tell you this now for the reason that now you are

utterly lost. Even if I were also to tell you that she still

loves you, you would none the less have to remain where you are.

Yes, you have ruined yourself beyond redemption. Once upon a

time you had a certain amount of talent, and you were of a

lively disposition, and your good looks were not to be despised.

You might even have been useful to your country, which needs men

like you. Yet you remained here, and your life is now over. I am

not blaming you for this--in my view all Russians resemble you,

or are inclined to do so. If it is not roulette, then it is

something else. The exceptions are very rare. Nor are you the

first to learn what a taskmaster is yours. For roulette is not

exclusively a Russian game. Hitherto, you have honourably preferred

to serve as a lacquey rather than to act as a thief; but what the

future may have in store for you I tremble to think. Now good-bye.

You are in want of money, I suppose? Then take these ten louis d'or.

More I shall not give you, for you would only gamble it away. Take

care of these coins, and farewell. Once more, TAKE CARE of them."
"No, Mr. Astley. After all that has been said I--"
"TAKE CARE of them!" repeated my friend. "I am certain you

are still a gentleman, and therefore I give you the money as one

gentleman may give money to another. Also, if I could be certain

that you would leave both Homburg and the gaming-tables, and

return to your own country, I would give you a thousand pounds

down to start life afresh; but, I give you ten louis d'or instead

of a thousand pounds for the reason that at the present time a

thousand pounds and ten louis d'or will be all the same to

you--you will lose the one as readily as you will the other. Take

the money, therefore, and good-bye."


"Yes, I WILL take it if at the same time you will embrace me."
"With pleasure."
So we parted--on terms of sincere affection.
...............
But he was wrong. If I was hard and undiscerning as regards

Polina and De Griers, HE was hard and undiscerning as regards

Russian people generally. Of myself I say nothing. Yet--yet words

are only words. I need to ACT. Above all things I need to think

of Switzerland. Tomorrow, tomorrow--Ah, but if only I could

set things right tomorrow, and be born again, and rise again

from the dead! But no--I cannot. Yet I must show her what I can

do. Even if she should do no more than learn that I can still

play the man, it would be worth it. Today it is too late, but

TOMORROW...


Yet I have a presentiment that things can never be otherwise. I

have got fifteen louis d'or in my possession, although I began

with fifteen gulden. If I were to play carefully at the

start--But no, no! Surely I am not such a fool as that? Yet WHY

should I not rise from the dead? I should require at first but

to go cautiously and patiently and the rest would follow. I

should require but to put a check upon my nature for one hour,

and my fortunes would be changed entirely. Yes, my nature is my

weak point. I have only to remember what happened to me some

months ago at Roulettenberg, before my final ruin. What a

notable instance that was of my capacity for resolution! On the

occasion in question I had lost everything--everything; yet, just

as I was leaving the Casino, I heard another gulden give a

rattle in my pocket! "Perhaps I shall need it for a meal," I

thought to myself; but a hundred paces further on, I changed my

mind, and returned. That gulden I staked upon manque--and there

is something in the feeling that, though one is alone, and in a

foreign land, and far from one's own home and friends, and

ignorant of whence one's next meal is to come, one is

nevertheless staking one's very last coin! Well, I won the

stake, and in twenty minutes had left the Casino with a hundred

and seventy gulden in my pocket! That is a fact, and it shows

what a last remaining gulden can do. . . . But what if my heart

had failed me, or I had shrunk from making up my mind? . . .


No: tomorrow all shall be ended!
End of The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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