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Chapter 3

  • On the morrow she said not a word to me about gambling. In fact, she purposel_voided me, although her old manner to me had not changed: the same seren_oolness was hers on meeting me—a coolness that was mingled even with a spic_f contempt and dislike. In short, she was at no pains to conceal her aversio_o me. That I could see plainly. Also, she did not trouble to conceal from m_he fact that I was necessary to her, and that she was keeping me for some en_hich she had in view. Consequently there became established between u_elations which, to a large extent, were incomprehensible to me, considerin_er general pride and aloofness. For example, although she knew that I wa_adly in love with her, she allowed me to speak to her of my passion (thoug_he could not well have showed her contempt for me more than by permitting me,
  • unhindered and unrebuked, to mention to her my love).
  • "You see," her attitude expressed, "how little I regard your feelings, as wel_s how little I care for what you say to me, or for what you feel for me."
  • Likewise, though she spoke as before concerning her affairs, it was never wit_omplete frankness. In her contempt for me there were refinements. Althoug_he knew well that I was aware of a certain circumstance in her life o_omething which might one day cause her trouble, she would speak to me abou_er affairs (whenever she had need of me for a given end) as though I were _lave or a passing acquaintance—yet tell them me only in so far as one woul_eed to know them if one were going to be made temporary use of. Had I no_nown the whole chain of events, or had she not seen how much I was pained an_isturbed by her teasing insistency, she would never have thought i_orthwhile to soothe me with this frankness—even though, since she no_nfrequently used me to execute commissions that were not only troublesome,
  • but risky, she ought, in my opinion, to have been frank in ANY case. But,
  • forsooth, it was not worth her while to trouble about MY feelings—about th_act that I was uneasy, and, perhaps, thrice as put about by her cares an_isfortunes as she was herself!
  • For three weeks I had known of her intention to take to roulette. She had eve_arned me that she would like me to play on her behalf, since it wa_nbecoming for her to play in person; and, from the tone of her words I ha_athered that there was something on her mind besides a mere desire to wi_oney. As if money could matter to HER! No, she had some end in view, an_here were circumstances at which I could guess, but which I did not know fo_ertain. True, the slavery and abasement in which she held me might have give_e (such things often do so) the power to question her with abrupt directness
  • (seeing that, inasmuch as I figured in her eyes as a mere slave and nonentity,
  • she could not very well have taken offence at any rude curiosity); but th_act was that, though she let me question her, she never returned me a singl_nswer, and at times did not so much as notice me. That is how matters stood.
  • Next day there was a good deal of talk about a telegram which, four days ago,
  • had been sent to St. Petersburg, but to which there had come no answer. Th_eneral was visibly disturbed and moody, for the matter concerned his mother.
  • The Frenchman, too, was excited, and after dinner the whole party talked lon_nd seriously together—the Frenchman's tone being extraordinarily presumptuou_nd offhand to everybody. It almost reminded one of the proverb, "Invite a ma_o your table, and soon he will place his feet upon it." Even to Polina he wa_rusque almost to the point of rudeness. Yet still he seemed glad to join u_n our walks in the Casino, or in our rides and drives about the town. I ha_ong been aware of certain circumstances which bound the General to him; I ha_ong been aware that in Russia they had hatched some scheme together althoug_ did not know whether the plot had come to anything, or whether it was stil_nly in the stage of being talked of. Likewise I was aware, in part, of _amily secret—namely, that, last year, the Frenchman had bailed the Genera_ut of debt, and given him 30,000 roubles wherewith to pay his Treasury due_n retiring from the service. And now, of course, the General was in _ice—although the chief part in the affair was being played by Mlle. Blanche.
  • Yes, of this last I had no doubt.
  • But WHO was this Mlle. Blanche? It was said of her that she was a Frenchwoma_f good birth who, living with her mother, possessed a colossal fortune. I_as also said that she was some relation to the Marquis, but only a distan_ne a cousin, or cousin-german, or something of the sort. Likewise I kne_hat, up to the time of my journey to Paris, she and the Frenchman had bee_ore ceremonious towards our party—they had stood on a much more precise an_elicate footing with them; but that now their acquaintanceship—thei_riendship, their intimacy—had taken on a much more off-hand and rough-and-
  • ready air. Perhaps they thought that our means were too modest for them, and,
  • therefore, unworthy of politeness or reticence. Also, for the last three day_ had noticed certain looks which Astley had kept throwing at Mlle. Blanch_nd her mother; and it had occurred to me that he must have had some previou_cquaintance with the pair. I had even surmised that the Frenchman too mus_ave met Mr. Astley before. Astley was a man so shy, reserved, and taciturn i_is manner that one might have looked for anything from him. At all events th_renchman accorded him only the slightest of greetings, and scarcely eve_ooked at him. Certainly he did not seem to be afraid of him; which wa_ntelligible enough. But why did Mlle. Blanche also never look at th_nglishman?—particularly since, a propos of something or another, the Marqui_ad declared the Englishman to be immensely and indubitably rich? Was not tha_ sufficient reason to make Mlle. Blanche look at the Englishman? Anyway th_eneral seemed extremely uneasy; and, one could well understand what _elegram to announce the death of his mother would mean for him!
  • Although I thought it probable that Polina was avoiding me for a definit_eason, I adopted a cold and indifferent air; for I felt pretty certain tha_t would not be long before she herself approached me. For two days,
  • therefore, I devoted my attention to Mlle. Blanche. The poor General was i_espair! To fall in love at fifty-five, and with such vehemence, is indeed _isfortune! And add to that his widowerhood, his children, his ruine_roperty, his debts, and the woman with whom he had fallen in love! Thoug_lle. Blanche was extremely good-looking, I may or may not be understood whe_ say that she had one of those faces which one is afraid of. At all events, _yself have always feared such women. Apparently about twenty-five years o_ge, she was tall and broad-shouldered, with shoulders that sloped; yet thoug_er neck and bosom were ample in their proportions, her skin was dull yello_n colour, while her hair (which was extremely abundant—sufficient to make tw_oiffures) was as black as Indian ink. Add to that a pair of black eyes wit_ellowish whites, a proud glance, gleaming teeth, and lips which wer_erennially pomaded and redolent of musk. As for her dress, it was invariabl_ich, effective, and chic, yet in good taste. Lastly, her feet and hands wer_stonishing, and her voice a deep contralto. Sometimes, when she laughed, sh_isplayed her teeth, but at ordinary times her air was taciturn an_aughty—especially in the presence of Polina and Maria Philipovna. Yet sh_eemed to me almost destitute of education, and even of wits, though cunnin_nd suspicious. This, apparently, was not because her life had been lacking i_ncident. Perhaps, if all were known, the Marquis was not her kinsman at all,
  • nor her mother, her mother; but there was evidence that, in Berlin, where w_ad first come across the pair, they had possessed acquaintances of goo_tanding. As for the Marquis himself, I doubt to this day if he was _arquis—although about the fact that he had formerly belonged to high society
  • (for instance, in Moscow and Germany) there could be no doubt whatever. Wha_e had formerly been in France I had not a notion. All I knew was that he wa_aid to possess a chateau. During the last two weeks I had looked for much t_ranspire, but am still ignorant whether at that time anything decisive eve_assed between Mademoiselle and the General. Everything seemed to depend upo_ur means—upon whether the General would be able to flourish sufficient mone_n her face. If ever the news should arrive that the grandmother was not dead,
  • Mlle. Blanche, I felt sure, would disappear in a twinkling. Indeed, i_urprised and amused me to observe what a passion for intrigue I wa_eveloping. But how I loathed it all! With what pleasure would I have give_verybody and everything the go-by! Only—I could not leave Polina. How, then,
  • could I show contempt for those who surrounded her? Espionage is a base thing,
  • but—what have I to do with that?
  • Mr. Astley, too, I found a curious person. I was only sure that he had falle_n love With Polina. A remarkable and diverting circumstance is the amoun_hich may lie in the mien of a shy and painfully modest man who has bee_ouched with the divine passion—especially when he would rather sink into th_arth than betray himself by a single word or look. Though Mr. Astle_requently met us when we were out walking, he would merely take off his ha_nd pass us by, though I knew he was dying to join us. Even when invited to d_o, he would refuse. Again, in places of amusement—in the Casino, at concerts,
  • or near the fountain—he was never far from the spot where we were sitting. I_act, WHEREVER we were in the Park, in the forest, or on the Shlangenberg—on_eeded but to raise one's eyes and glance around to catch sight of at least _ORTION of Mr. Astley's frame sticking out—whether on an adjacent path o_ehind a bush. Yet never did he lose any chance of speaking to myself; and,
  • one morning when we had met, and exchanged a couple of words, he burst out i_is usual abrupt way, without saying "Good-morning."
  • "That Mlle. Blanche," he said. "Well, I have seen a good many women like her."
  • After that he was silent as he looked me meaningly in the face. What he mean_ did not know, but to my glance of inquiry he returned only a dry nod, and _eiterated "It is so." Presently, however, he resumed:
  • "Does Mlle. Polina like flowers?"
  • "I really cannot say," was my reply.
  • "What? You cannot say?" he cried in great astonishment.
  • "No; I have never noticed whether she does so or not," I repeated with _mile.
  • "Hm! Then I have an idea in my mind," he concluded. Lastly, with a nod, h_alked away with a pleased expression on his face. The conversation had bee_arried on in execrable French.