« PreviousContinue »
play. His brains were quickened, and he had by nature those intuitive qualities of comprehension, conception, infallible memory, and swift combination that ought to make every fine card-player capable of leading armies to victory. By the time that Standish had become some four hundred pounds the richer, he had mastered the forms and even much of the spirit and principle of the game. He had even observed some false strokes in his friend's play, and thought he could, had he been in the Prince's place, have taken advantage of them. But what was the use of wishing and regretting? He would have felt no scruple in winning what would have been a comparative trifle to Standish, but immediate and prospective wealth for him and Helen. But he had not a penny to lose ; and, alas ! one must be able to lose in order to win-or at least he thought so.
“No; it is no use," said the Prince, rising and throwing down the cards, while Standish, flushed and triumphant with pride in his own unconquerable skill, poured himself out a good draught of champagne. “Fortune has her favourites, and you are the first of them. We have done."
“Nonsense, Arsenieff,” said Standish, “the night's young. You shall and you must have your revenge ; we must give luck a chance to turn. Double or quits once more. Come, Arsenieff, there's no fun in doing nothing but win.”
“No-nor in nothing but lose. Well, since you will have itBut this must be slow for Mr. Fanshaw,” said the Prince, gazing at the Opal which none but a millionaire had a right to wear. “ Do you not bet, Mr. Fanshaw? Shall you see a man play so well and not show how you admire ?"
“I have not my purse with me," said Roland, flushing-not so much with shame for his poverty as because his fingers were really itching after the gold which to his mind appeared to be flying about the room.
“Oh, never mind that,” said Standish. “ You can borrow of me whatever you please.”
“And there's no need even for that,” said the Prince. “We are all gentlemen here. And if we were not, he who wears a ring like that may be trusted for what he will."
Another hand was beginning at the moment. Standish laid down his card, and at the same time Roland happened to raise his eyes to a mirror hung behind the Prince, and therefore facing Standish and the watcher of his play.
WHEN GREEK MEETS GREEK.
It was nearly time for the sun to rise, and still Frank Standish, Prince Arsenieff, and Roland Fanshaw were seated at the same table. Whether the law of the land at that period made it impossible or not, there at any rate they were. And yet in some ways things were changed.
There was no longer the same glow of invincible triumph on the face of the lucky man. He was desperately excited; his eyes looked bright with fever, his forehead was wet, and his hands trembled as he laid down his cards. The Prince, on the other hand, was as calm and cool as a man can be. He had neither smiled nor frowned nor turned a hair. Nobody could tell from his air whether he were winner or loser ; he might be playing for love even.
Roland, facing the Prince and the looking-glass, leaned against the wall, so that he could still see and follow his friend's hand. It certainly seemed strange that one who had never himself held a card should not have grown wearied all this while. But he had not for a moment felt weary. He was accustomed to long strains of attention and calculation, and the study of this game, after those long nights devoted to the machine, was mere child's play. Occasionally the Prince glanced at him ; and, could Roland have read the glance, he would have seen it to be such as a hawk may be supposed to have when he sees a fat pigeon anxious to get itself caught in his claws. The owner of such an opal must needs be a very plump pigeon indeed. It was a look of satisfied surprise at first, afterwards of anticipation without any surprise at all.
Not a word unconnected with the play had been spoken by one of the three for more than an hour. Nor of late had there been much drinking. If Standish was intoxicated, it was certainly not with wine, and Roland had never in his life felt his head so clear. No money was to be seen, which is either a good sign for everybody or a bad sign for one.
At last Frank Standish rose. He overturned his chair in rising, but for the rest he appeared to have in one moment grown perfectly calm. He went without a word to a side table, took a sheet of note-paper, and wrote a few lines with a perfectly steady hand. Every sign of the excitement of play had vanished, but the old easy joviality had not returned. He was simply very quiet and very
The Prince poured himself out a glass of brandy and drank it off abstractedly. Roland did not stir from the spot where he leaned; he was lost in meditation.
“There," said Standish at last, "there, Prince, our last night's over, and you've had your revenge now. You'll find this cheque all right, if you'll look at it. Six thousand pounds! So”—there came the faintest tremor into his voice-"I'll say good night now, or rather good morning. Good night, Fanshaw. I'm glad to have seen you, old fellow. If you're writing to Gladsthorpe, you know, there's no occasion to mention me. When-if-whenever I go, don't you know, I want it to be in the way of a-you know what I meansurprise. I won't—we needn't see one another home. I'm dead sleepy, and I'm putting up not a dozen yards from here. Mind and say nothing about me at Gladsthorpe w any one. Good night, Prince. Good night, Fanshaw, old fellow ; good luck to you, and
Roland started from his reverie, but his friend was gone. The Prince was carefully, though with an absent air, folding up the cheque and placing it in a pocket-book. Then he looked hard at Roland. A strange sensation came over the young man under the influence of the Prince's stare, though he returned it steadily. It was as if the young fellow, his old friend, whom he had just seen robbed of everything-joy, happiness, and all--had suddenly become nothing to him, and as if Prince Arsenieff were a spirit suddenly revealed as being closely akin to his own.
“I never saw,” said the Prince, “such a devil for play as that young man.
If it had been six millions, it would have been the
And he so far the finer player. It is strange! It is a pity you play not, Mr. Fanshaw. Écarté is a very pretty game.”
“Poor devil !” said Roland. “ Charcoal, water, gunpowderwhich will it be ?"
"Bah!” said the Prince, scornfully. * You are a reader of romances, my friend. I have known fifty men lose their fortunes, but not one to smoke himself, nor cut himself, nor blow himself—not one. Leave him alone. After all, it is a bagatelle. What is six thousand pounds? Why, it can be won again in a minute; and we have been hours. And he lost well. I like to see a young man lose well. It is so disagreeable to have a scene. Are you sleepy, Mr. Fanshaw ? I fear you are bored. It was not as if we played high."
“Sleepy ?” asked Roland. “Not at all. So little that I have a good mind to try my own luck before going home. Are you game?"
“ What-with you—who do not play the game?”
“Oh, I've not been watching Standish all these hours without picking up enough to hold a hand, somehow. Anyhow, I'm inclined to try.”
Even the composure of Prince Arsenieff was unable to keep him from slipping into a smile at the touching simplicity of this greenhorn. Though bent upon plunder, this would be almost too easy a victory.
“Well—to let you try your hand. And the stake? After to-night, it will be tame to play for straws. What do you propose ?"
“Oh, a bet on the first rubber," said Roland. "Say-Six thousand pounds; that will do to begin.”
“Ah ! you would win back that cheque for your friend? And —from me?"
“Who knows what his luck is till he tries?”
“But if you lose, Mr. Fanshaw? I, of course, can pay, for I have here the cheque of your friend. . . . . Are you, perhaps, millionaire ? .... Ah, but I know! You name my wager ; I name yours. Six thousand pounds against your ring ?”
“My ring to six thousand pounds,” said Roland. Done !"
And then, for the first time, Prince Arsenieff smiled. And it was not a pleasant smile. His claws were clutching over the finest pigeon he had ever known. What an evening's work! Six thousand pounds and that opal ring! “Ah !” he exclaimed, with seeming admiration, "you are indeed a brave young man! You will go far! You remind me of Count de Berianski, who became so tired of winning, that he staked all he had in the world against one copeck upon one throw of the dice ; and he even won the copeck, so lucky was he.
He was so ennuyé not to be ruined, that he wagered he would not die in one hour, and then fired into his brain to lose. But he did not lose ; for his skull was so thick that he did not die till six minutes after the hour. Perhaps you will be another Count de Berianski, Mr. Fanshaw ?"
Roland had not the least intention of winning back the money for his friend. To all but Helen his heart was grown dead; he simply saw a path to fortune straight before him, and he knew that he could not fail. He was not risking Joseph Hagopian's gem. The game began, and, with a mirror behind the Prince's hands facing him, and with good eyes, he could see every card that his adversary held as plainly as he could see his own.
I have a dim recollection of having, somewhere about the far-off beginning of this history, spoken of Roland Fanshaw as a man without
a shadow of a vice about him. So everybody in Gladsthorpe would have said of him ; so Helen Renouf believed of him; so he had been until envy came into his heart when Joseph Hagopian's jewel came upon his finger. Nor is there any way of accounting for the change. Not any great number of hours ago he had received the truest kiss ever given by woman ; now, up to the eyes and brain in greed, he was battling against a rogue, with a rogue's weapons, for the money of an honest man, and that man his friend ; and not only for his friend's money, but for his friend's happiness, self-respect-everything that he had gained until this night of folly had thrown it away. It was not Prince Arsenieff, but Roland Fanshaw, who was the arch-hawk of the company. It was not even as if the pent-up passions of many years of youth were at last, in a moment of recklessness, asserting themselves, and having their swing. It was that the lover of Helen, the enthusiast for science, had, in one night, leaped all the way from gentleman to scoundrel. Never before had such a leap been made. A woman may in a moment leap from extreme to extreme—but not a man. And yet this is the story of a man.
Nevertheless, the utmost skill, though supported by the most unscrupulous precautions, cannot dispense with luck in the short
Brains and looking-glass combined were not necessarily proof against many combinations of the cards. Roland knew this, and played with concealed anxiety, though, if he lost, he had nothing of his own to lose. The gem upon his finger appeared to burn, as well as to blaze, as if it were, by taking all the fever of the moment to itself, leaving him cool.
At last, with a triumph that he could not wholly conceal-very different from the stolidity with which he had ruined Frank Standish -the Prince played his grand coup, and
"I win!” cried Roland, throwing down his card with a triumph that he made no attempt to hide.
Prince Arsenieff's coolness left him en masse, and he started from the table with an oath of amazement. "Impossible !" cried he. “ This is not luck; this is more than skill ! You a novice? Speak plainly, Mr. Fanshaw ; after this, there is no need of play-acting between you and me. How do you win ?"
To misunderstand him was impossible. But Roland, so far from resenting the insult, only smiled.
“I assure you, Prince, that this is the first time I ever played. Perhaps this is a lucky ring—who knows? Well, I have not done you much harm. You are no poorer than when you sat down with Standish. Will you take your revenge, or shall we settle now ?”