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.