תמונות בעמוד

the fifth time the luck turned, and the opportunity will surely arrive. Now it young marquis had the satisfaction of came to pass that Léon, in pursuance of receiving back the scraps of paper on his absurd system of doubling, had taken which he had scribbled the amount of up the whole of the stake during a rather his debts, together with twenty francs of longer deal than usual. He was some winnings.

distance away from the dealer, but none “That is not the way to play lansque- of the intervening players had cared to net, my friend,” whispered Saint-Luc; interfere with the young man after the but Léon, in answer to the good-natured first round, till some eight hundred warning, only shrugged his shoulders im- francs were on the table. It was then patiently, and muttered, Je sais ce que that M. de Monceaux, having carefully je fais,” which, if true, was a statement calculated that the chances were now little creditable to his understanding about ten to one in his favor, stepped He put up forty francs and lost them in, and, in the exercise of his undoubted immediately. Then, for a time, he got right as next player to the dealer, coverno chance of losing or winning, and sated the whole sum, won it, and quietly drumming on the table and fidgeting swept it down. restlessly in his chair after the manner "C'est trop fort!" exclaimed Léon, of inexperienced gamblers, who are sel- throwing himself back in his chair. And dom contented unless they can be in the indeed it must be admitted that the inthick of the fray.

cident was one which might have tried The game did not at first prove an the patience of many an older man. exciting one. There were no long deals, " I beg your pardon," said de Monvery little money changed hands, and at ceaux suavely, bending forward as he the end of an hour the only player upon spoke," you said something?" whom Fortune seemed to have smiled at Léon frowned, but made no reply. all was Saint-Luc, who had a little pile "Perhaps,"continued de Monceaux, of gold before him ; whereas Léon, with increasing politeness, “ M. le Marwhose few coins had long since vanished, quis has not often played this game. had sent some three hundred francs Am I wrong in conjecturing from his worth of his signatures to different parts manner that he believes me to have inof the table, and was a little inclined to fringed some rule? In such a case he be querulous over his losses.

would do well to refer the matter to the Poor Léon had not yet learnt that the committee of the club. Or if anything first duty of a gambler' is to preserve an in my personal conduct should have disaspect of equanimity, and that though pleased M. le Marquis, nothing would men will bear with fools, and will even give me greater pleasure than to-" show marvellous patience with rogues, “Nonsense!" interposed Saint-Luc they will not tolerate one who bursts into hastily. “Nobody is complaining of lamentations over his bad luck. He you, de Monceaux; and we are all waitoffended in this way more than once in ing for you to deal." the course of the evening, but, perhaps, De Monceaux shrugged his shoulders, in consideration of his inexperience, he picked up the cards, won three times might have been allowed to escape unre- running, and then took down his gains. buked, had he not had the misfortune to “ I trust M. le Marquis does not obfall foul of M. de Monceaux. That gen- ject to the deal passing," he remarked, tleman, who was no longer in his first as he handed the pack to his neighbor. youth, and had ; long since discovered “I object to nothing," returned that the pastimes of this world are but Léon, wrathfully ; “but this I must weariness and vexation of spirit, unless say—" they can be made to conduce to its com- He was cut short by a smart blow forts, was accustomed in card-playing, as across his shins. Saint-Luc had opened in all other pursuits, to regulate his con- his long legs like a pair of scissors and duct in accordance with certain well-de- bestowed this gentle correction imparfined principles. Throughout the evening tially on his right hand and on his left. he had been playing with more skill than “Be quiet, Léon,” he muttered ; good fortune, but he serenely bided his and then, turning to de Monceaux, time, knowing that to him who waits "Hold your tongue, you old fire-eater, and don't quarrel with boys. If you francs in front of Saint-Luc's ten napomust fight, come out with me to-morrow leons, and lost it. Four hundred, then morning, and you shall see whether I eight' hundred, then sixteen hundred am still as good a match for you 'as I francs went the same way. Saint-Luc used to be with the foils at Saint-Cyr." went on dealing, and Léon set his teeth

At this de Monceaux, who was a and continued to stake. good-natured fellow enough, laughed The rest of the players, being thus deand said, “No, thank you,” and so barred from taking any part in the game, peace was restored.

looked on with calmness not unmixed Often afterwards Saint-Luc wondered with disgust. whether it was destiny or mere absence When a man begins his deal by putting of mind that led him to begin his deal up two hundred francs, it is natural to by putting up so large a stake as two expect that the greater part of the comhundred francs. He had hitherto taken pany may be able to secure some interest little interest in the game, having alto- in the result, or, failing that, that they gether failed to find sufficient excitement may at least have the consolation of wittherein to divert his thoughts from the nessing an exciting contest between him channel in which they had so steadily and the adventurous gambler who has run of late ; and though the corporeal chosen to oppose him alone. But in presence of the Vicomte de Saint-Luc the present instance there was no proshad been visible at the card-table, pale, pect of any such solace. It was evident handsome, imperturbable, staking ac- enough that Saint-Luc did not choose to cording to the dictates of prudence and win his friend's money ; that he would winning moderately—the man himself go on till he lost; that the original stake had been wandering sadly enough in dis- would be the only sum that would tant places—under the stars at Fort Na- change hands, and that the turning up poléon, in the garden of the Campagne of card after card was, therefore, a pure de Mersac, through the empty rooms of waste of time. his own deserted Norman chateau—who “I will never sit down to a card-table knows where? The little dispute be with that young imbecile again," muttertween Léon and de Monceaux had ed de Monceaux to his neighbor. To brought him back to realities for a mo- which the other replied, ment, but now he had drifted away “Nor I-unless he likes to play with again, and pushed up the ten gold me alone." pieces mechanically, forgetting, perhaps, Meanwhile Saint-Luc was having a that he was no longer in Paris, but in run of good fortune such as had not been an Algerian club, where such sums were witnessed in that club for many a long more or less of a phenomenon.

day. Time after time the dealer's card Léon immediately covered the stake. came up victorious, and some languid The occurrences of the last five minutes interest began to be manifested in the had not tended to soothe the irritability large amount of money on the table, of that foolish young man, or to bring which had now reached no less a sum him to a calmer and wiser frame of than fifty thousand francs odd. The figmind. He was angry with himself, ures might be nearly nominal, still more which was reasonable enough ; he was than one person present felt a thrill on very angry with de Monceaux, which was seeing before him the palpable result of perhaps excusable ; but it was certain- a two hundred francs' stake and nine ly most unjust of him to be furious successive wins. A few bets were exagainst Saint-Luc, who had just got him changed as to how long the luck would out of an awkward scrape. It must, hold; and when Léon, with hands that however, be admitted that gratitude for trembled a little, added another piece of such good offices is seldom forthcoming paper to those already before the dealer, upon the spur of the moment. But thus making up a total of over one hunlastly, and most foolishly of all, Léon dred thousand francs, there was a genwas indignant with Luck; and it was eral hush and expectancy, and all eyes with an insane determination to conquer were turned upon the dealer. that pitiless abstraction that he pushed Saint-Lue, impassive and indifferent, a slip of paper representing two hundred took the pack in his hand and turned up the first two cards—two tens. There covered the dealer's stake, and, resting was a general stir and hum, and some- his head on his hand, awaited the end. body called out

What that end would be no one could The dealer takes down half the doubt. The appearance of another tie stakes."

would have been little short of a miracle ; “Not unless he likes, I think,” said the dealer had already won eleven times Saint-Luc, looking up. “I prefer to in succession, and the chances against leave it as it is."

his doing so again were almost incalcu“ You have no choice," said de Mon-lable. Moreover, it was quite clear that ceaux. “ We made it a rule here long he intended to go on till he should lose. ago that where two cards of equal value Léon himself could not but perceive this ; were turned up, the dealer must either yet his hands grew cold and his heart take down the whole stake and let the thumped as Saint-Luc proceeded to turn deal pass, or half of it, and continue to up the cards--a nine for himself and a deal.

two for his antagonist. With calm, al“I never heard of such a rule in most cruel, deliberation, and in a proParis," answered Saint-Luc, manifestly found silence, the Vicomte went on annoyed.

through the pack. Ten-king-three It is the rule here though," persist- -five-would it never come ? Someed de Monceaux. “We had several body in the distance slammed a door, discussions about the matter, and we all and Saint-Luc paused for a moment, and agreed that it would be more satisfactory looked over his shoulder. Then he conto oblige the dealer to take advantage of tinued as slowly as before. Eightexceptionally favorable circumstances. six-ace-seven-four-nine! For the There were some people who felt a deli- twelfth time the stake had fallen to the cacy-you understand."

dealer. Of course there was nothing more to And I who never, in the course of be said. If you play in a club you must a long and eventful career, have won so conform to its rules, however absurd. much as six times running !” exclaimed Saint-Luc, with a slightly clouded brow, de Monceaux, naturally indignant at withdrew paper to the amount of fifty- such a waste of Fortune's best gifts. one thousand two hundred francs. The Mon cher," he added, turning to like amount remaining on the table was Saint-Luc, I propose to you that we at once covered by Léon, whose agitation start to-morrow for Monaco. I will get had now passed his powers of conceal- a week's leave from my general ; I will ment. Come what might, he must now watch your play and humbly follow it, lose over two thousand pounds, and how and I will return here rich enough to to raise the money he scarcely knew. offer the best dinner that Algiers can

Saint-Luc turned up the next two produce to all the company." cards—two sevens ! Léon might have But Saint-Luc paid no attention to used any language he pleased about his him. He glanced round the table, lookluck now without fear of shocking any ed rather oddly for an instant at Léon's one's sense of propriety. The sympa- pale face and flashing eyes, and then, thies of the whole company were with gathering together the accumulation of him, and found vent in a subdued mur- paper before him, delivered up the cards mur which circled round the table. It to his neighbor, remarking calmly, as he was indeed a more cruel blow than any leant back in his chair, “The deal man could have anticipated that he passes. should not only lose his money twice The reader may, perhaps, at some running through an altogether exception- time have happened to watch two dogs al coincidence, but that he should lose playing at fighting-snapping, snarling, it to a man who had plainly shown that showing glistening fangs, and rolling one he did not desire to win it. Léon, how- another over in the dust, but all the time ever, held his peace. He had defied with an evident tacit understanding that luck, and had got thoroughly beaten ; there was no real quarrel between them. the shock had stunned and sobered him And then he may have seen one of at the same time. One thing only re- them, with a swift, sudden change from mained for him to do. He once more play into grim earnest, fasten upon the other and kill him then and there, be- bers, too, the odd feeling of unreality fore ever the poor brute has had time to which took hold of him, the half doubt understand what is happening to him. as to his own identity, his wonder at Greyhounds, collies, and other sharp- finding his voice so clear and steady and nosed dogs will do so sometimes. under control. Anyone who has witnessed such a little “I think I will go away now,” he tragedy, and recollects what his feelings said. “I have lost a good deal of were at the time towards the murderer, money-rather more than I can afford. may form an idea of the light in which I shall be able to pay everybody to-morSaint-Luc's unexpected action caused row, except M. de Saint-Luc, whom I him to be regarded by those who sat at shall have to ask for a little time." In the table with him. No one spoke-in- truth the poor lad hardly knew what he deed, there was nothing to be said ; was saying, but felt only that something what had been done was strictly in ac- must be said, and that he must not discordance with the rules of the game, grace himself. He paused-then bowing, but there was not a man present who added, Good-night, messieurs," and did not feel that the poor young mar- walked across the room and out of the quis had been not only cruelly treated house. by his friend, but morally defrauded. Those who were left sat in silence till Who could suppose that he would have his echoing footsteps died away in the gone on staking in the mad way he had distance, and then de Monceaux redone if he had not shared the general marked, That young man will go and conviction that his enormous losses were drown himself.” not meant to be serious ? And the fact “No, he will not,” answered Saintthat Saint-Luc had actually won over Luc, with a quiet smile.

“He is a four thousand pounds already made his brave fellow, and will turn out well yet. conduct the more inexcusable. In the Parbleu !-if you have left him the first glow of their generous sympathy means, he may,"returned de Monceaux, and indignation, these young fellows rather roughly, for he was disgusted at would willingly have placed their purses his friend's cynicism. at the disposition of the victim, though, Saint-Luc turned in his chair, so as to to be sure, that would have helped but face the aide-de-camp, and looked him little, for not one of them could have full in the eyes. A little time ago, paid a twentieth part of what he owed. he said, “you were ready to kill young

Léon, in this trying crisis of his life, de Mersac because he did not seem satbore himself with a dignity and fortitude isfied with your manner of playing. Do which at once blotted out the memory of you want to quarrel with me now for his previous petulance. He rose slow- following your example ?" ly, and stood for a moment, resting his I seek no quarrels and refuse none, hands upon the table and looking round. replied de Monceaux, curtly. “ For the him, To his dying day Léon will re- moment I am going home to bed ; I member that scene. The great airy have had enough of play for one night. room, with its polished floor and its lace And so saying, he rose, buckled on his curtains swaying in the night breeze ; sword, and strode away. the green card-table flooded with soft Perhaps he was not sorry to escape light from above, the gold-laced staff- without further words. Had it been a uniforms and the pale blue jackets of the question of challenging any other man Chasseurs d'Afrique, the circle of cu- than Saint-Luc, he might have been less rious, startled, upturned faces, de Mon- placable, but he knew that he might as ceaux frowning a little and twisting his well stand up against a mitrailleuse as waxed moustache, Saint-Luc staring against that notorious duellist. And, steadily before him, with a countenance after all, it was not his business to fight devoid of any expression whatever-all other men's battles. His departure was these, together with a dozen other petty the signal for a general move, and presdetails, make up a picture which Léon ently Saint-Luc found himself the sole can summon up at will, and which has tenant of the club. often revisited him when he would have Léon, meanwhile, had wandered out been very glad to forget it. He remem- into the street, with no very distinct idea

as to where he was or what he intended of his misery was the anticipation of the to do. After a time he found himself story he would have to relate at home sitting on one of the benches in the in the course of a few hours. How empty Place du Gouvernement, and, tak- should he ever bring himself to tell what ing out a pencil and a bit of paper, be- must be told ? Could he call his sister, gan to add up his losses. The calcula- who had devoted her whole life to him, tion did not take long. To de Mon- and the kindly, worldly, fussy old womceaux and one or two other players he an who had treated him with all a owed some small sums amounting in all mother's fondness, if not with quite a to something over fifty pounds, and to mother's discretion, and who had spoilt, Saint-Luc exactly two hundred and fifty- admired, and idolised him from his crafive thousand eight hundred francs. dle--could he face them, and say, "My For a long time he sat staring stupidly good people, I am very sorry, but you at the figures, and struggling in vain to will have to leave your old home, and realise the magnitude of the catastrophe the familiar rooms, and the garden, and that had occurred ; then, all of a sud- the orchard, and the woods that you den, the true nature of his position loved, and look out for some much seemed to flash across him with horri- less spacious habitation. I lost a small ble distinctness. He was very nearly fortune at lansquenet last night, and ruined. Every invested penny he had now I have got to sell house and land, in the world would not realise the re- and make a fresh start. As for you, you quired amount. He had sold out a will be a little pinched ; you will have large portion of his patrimony since he to economise here and there, and do had come of age, acting under good ad- without some of the small luxuries which vice in so doing, and expending the you have come to consider as necessaready money thus acquired in the pur- ries. I shall not be able to live with chase of fresh land and in farm improve you myself—" ments. Within the last few months he “My God! I can't do it !"' broke off had bought a great many costly agricul- poor Léon aloud. tural machines, which would, he was And then, for a moment, some such convinced, make him a richer man in the thought as that which had occurred to long run, though it was only too certain de Monceaux did cross his mind. Yonthat, if sold at the present time, they der lay the sea, calm, silent, and grey would not fetch half their value. Upon with the first glimmer of dawn. It would the whole, it would cost him a great deal be easy enough to take a boat and row more than ten thousand pounds to pay out beyond the breakwater, after sunrise, Saint-Luc. Nor was there anyone to and bathe. The best of swimmers may whom he could apply for temporary aid. be seized with cramp-there would be The Duchess had only a life-interest in no scandal. But here common sense her income, M. de Fontvieille had long stepped in, and pointed out that in this since sunk' his small fortune in an an- direction lay no hope of honorable esnuity, and Jeanne's share of her father's cape. It was certain that SaintLuc estate was, of course, held in trust for must be paid ; and Léon, even if he her. What was to be done ? Léon avoided the grief and shame of meeting could see nothing for it but that he those dearest to him again, must leave must sell his house and part of his lands them, as a legacy, some record of bis for what they would fetch, and retire to debt. He tried to summon up all his that lonely farm on the Metidja plain of courage, and said to himself that since which mention has already been made. he was obliged to do what he would Jeanne, he thought, might live, till her rather die than do, he would at least go marriage, with the Duchess, who would through it without flinching. He would now have to seek a new home. It was tell his story in as few words as possible, all very hard, poor Léon could not help he thought, and get it over. There thinking. A man makes a fool of him- would be no use in weeping, or execratself during one brief half-hour, and is ing his folly, or entreating for pardon. crippled for the rest of his life. Surely They would understand better than he the punishment is out of all proportion could express to them how miserable he to the offence! And not the least part was. Yes, he would tell Jeanne first and

« הקודםהמשך »