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The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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The Gambler
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
May, 2000 [Etext #2197]

The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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THE GAMBLER
By
FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY

Translated by CJ Hogarth


E-text prepared by Martin Adamson

martin@grassmarket.freeserve.co.uk


I
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

Comtesse."


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

own dignity.
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?"



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