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CHAPTER VII.

THE GAMBLING-HOUSE IN THE RUE

THUS one evening, the programme arranged by some of my friends for the curiosity which they imputed to my sense of duty happened to lead me to a place which I had never before visited, and which (I admit) merits one visit, but not two-to wit, a gambling-house.

It was one of those fashionable hells, which, at the time I am speaking of, were tolerated at Paris, and which, I am sorry to say, are to be found to-day in almost every German watering-place. The house in the Rue differed in no particular from the generality of those splendid temples of Fortune which assuredly need no description. But to me the scene I witnessed there was new, and, truth to say, it was not exactly what I had expected. To my thinking one essential element is wanting to the passion for play, namely, grandeur. Indeed, this feverish cupidity has nothing in common with passion except insatiability, and for this reason it does not seem to me to merit the noble name of passion.

Ambition, Love, nay, even Inebriety, when it has not yet quite brutalized its victim, do in a certain sense, and to a certain extent, enlarge and exalt the faculties of those who yield to them, or else, at least, they force

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those faculties to produce themselves in some new and unusual form. With this it is otherwise. The player himself, indeed, may be violently agitated by the stupendous hazard of Fortune, which at one moment uplifts him on its topmost wave, and at another moment sinks him suddenly to the abyss. In the rapid alternation of triumph and despair, thus tossed to and fro between power and impuissance even to the point of insensibility, the mind of the gambler may perhaps present to him the image of himself as something Titanic and supermortal. But to the spectator he presents only the vile grimace of an assumed composure, which is neither natural nor admirable, or else yet the more painful image of a demoniac whose convulsion, under possession, can inspire no other feeling than repugnance.

I was already about to turn away disgusted, when the remarks exchanged among a crowd of spectators like myself, who had collected round the table for Trente et Quarante, attracted my attention, and induced me to join the group.

"'Pristie! He has put on Red for the fifteenth time, and won!"

I pushed my own with difficulty into the crowd of heads that were turned in the direction where, on the opposite side of the table, was seated the player, whose successful fidelity to a single color had so greatly excited the admiration of the onlookers.

A heap of gold, piles of rouleaux and notes, left me no doubt where to look for the favorite of Fortune.

Hardly could I repress a cry of astonishment on recognizing Count R.

This time his appearance reminded me more vividly than ever of the scene on board the steam-boat, when the coldness and fixity of his features, compared with the violent play of the boiling waters, had so strangely impressed me; for at this moment I could not but similarly contrast with the tumult of passions visible in the human waves that were fluctuating all round him, the same impassive, imperturbable quies. cence on the face of that man.

The cards had just been shuffled for a new cut. Strongly impressed by a sense of the certainty with which the strange player seemed to carry fortune with him, the majority of the Ponte followed his example; and, as he did not yet seem willing to pocket his gains, new stakes covered that part of the table which, for the sixteenth time, had been so decisively favored by luck.

Just at the moment, however, when the croupier cried, "Le jeu est fait: rien ne va plus," the immense heap of gold and notes whose proprietor by his persistent adherence to Red had seduced all the other players to set their stakes on the same color, was swiftly, almost imperceptibly, pushed across, on to the side of the contrary chance. Taken completely with surprise by this rapid movement, the other players let slip the decisive moment when, by following that movement, they also might have saved their money.

For, this time, Red lost, Black won.

The stranger, already so admired for his constant good luck, had, by one of those instantaneous inspirations which are quite inexplicable, made Fortune his slave for the seventeenth time, and realized the high

est sum which the bank remained in a condition to pay!

Every Body was astonished. I myself, who had witnessed the whole operation, was at a loss to explain this instantaneous change of plan on the part of the player.

I had not for one moment taken my eyes off the count. I was paralyzed and confounded by the conflicting testimony of my own senses, which on the one hand affirmed that the stakes had been moved, and, on the other hand, that the player, whom I had been watching with intense attention, had never once stirred from the position in which he was sitting with folded arms, apparently quite unconcerned with the game.

It seemed impossible that he himself could have moved the stakes without my having noticed the action. But, if not he, who then could have moved them?

Every Body present must have been convinced that they were moved by the player himself; for nobody raised a single objection; and even the croupiers, who have the eyes of Argus, did not challenge the fairness and legality of the operation.

It is true that I was so occupied in watching the count's face that I did not pay much attention to the table; and, though I am ready to swear that I did not see him move, I do not feel authorized to swear that I saw him not move. For certainly I saw the gold change places; and what must make me think that I was at that moment under the effect of a strongly excited imagination is the fact that, in the instant of

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transition from Red to Black, there seemed to me to flash out of the yellow heap a quick, quivering ray of violet light, like the sparkle of a jewel rapidly moved.

But my impressions of that moment may well have been confused, for immediately all was in uproar and horror on every side. The croupiers started up; the players, who had lost their last stake, and were hurrying angrily away, stopped short, and stared with alarmed faces at the Silesian.

His countenance had become overspread with the pallor of death, and transfigured with terror. His eyes were starting from their sockets. His lips were blue and hideous. I saw his body, rigid as a corpse, sway heavily forward from the chair in which he was seated: The next moment he was stretched upon the floor insensible.

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