Translated by CJ Hogarth
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
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
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?"
But I only cried the louder: "Let me tell you that I am
going to SPIT into that coffee! Yes and if you do not get me my
passport visaed this very minute I shall take it to Monsignor
"What? While he is engaged with a Cardinal? screeched the
sacristan again shrinking back in horror. Then rushing to the
door he spread out his arms as though he would rather die than
let me enter.