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The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky - səhifə 2

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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

myself."
"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

his cheek."
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.
"Yes; absolutely."
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."
Polina giggled.
"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

ruined."
"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.


II
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

of mine?
At all events, I confined myself at first simply to looking on,

and decided to attempt nothing serious. Indeed, I felt that, if

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



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