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A Great Man By Arnold Bennett Characters: 16787

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

'Faites vos jeux, messieurs,' said the chief croupier of the table.

Henry's fingers touched a solitary five-franc piece in his pocket, large, massive, seductive.

Yes, he was at Monte Carlo. He could scarcely believe it, but it was so. Tom had brought him. The curious thing about Tom was that, though he lied frequently and casually, just as some men hitch their collars, his wildest statements had a way of being truthful. Thus, a work of his had in fact been purchased by the French Government and placed on exhibition in the Luxembourg. And thus he had in fact come to Monte Carlo to paint a portrait-the portrait of a Sicilian Countess, he said, and Henry believed, without actually having seen the alleged Countess-at a high price. There were more complexities in Tom's character than Henry could unravel. Henry had paid the entire bill at the Grand Hotel, had lent Tom a sovereign, another sovereign, and a five-pound note, and would certainly have been mulcted in Tom's fare on the expensive train de luxe had he not sagaciously demanded money from Tom before entering the ticket-office. Without being told, Henry knew that money lent to Tom was money dropped down a grating in the street. During the long journey southwards Tom had confessed, with a fine appreciation of the fun, that he lived in Paris until his creditors made Paris disagreeable, and then went elsewhere, Rome or London, until other creditors made Rome or London disagreeable, and then he returned to Paris.

Henry had received this remark in silence.

As the train neared Monte Carlo-the hour was roseate and matutinal-Henry had observed Tom staring at the scenery through the window, his coffee untasted, and tears in his rapt eyes. 'What's up?' Henry had innocently inquired. Tom turned on him fiercely. 'Silly ass!' Tom growled with scathing contempt. 'Can't you feel how beautiful it all is?'

And this remark, too, Henry had received in silence.

'Do you reckon yourself a great artist?' Tom had asked, and Henry had laughed. 'No, I'm not joking,' Tom had insisted. 'Do you honestly reckon yourself a great artist? I reckon myself one. There's candour for you. Now tell me, frankly.' There was a wonderful and rare charm in Tom's manner as he uttered these words. 'I don't know,' Henry had replied. 'Yes, you do,' Tom had insisted. 'Speak the truth. I won't let it go any further. Do you think yourself as big as George Eliot, for example?' Henry had hesitated, forced into sincerity by Tom's persuasive and serious tone. 'It's not a fair question,' Henry had said at length. Whereupon Tom, without the least warning, had burst into loud laughter: 'My bold buccaneer, you take the cake. You always did. You always will. There is something about you that is colossal, immense, and magnificent.'

And this third remark also Henry had received in silence.

It was their second day at Monte Carlo, and Tom, after getting Henry's card of admission for him, had left him in the gaming-rooms, and gone off to the alleged Countess. The hour was only half-past eleven, and none of the roulette tables was crowded; two of the trente-et-quarante tables had not even begun to operate. For some minutes Henry watched a roulette table, fascinated by the munificent style of the croupiers in throwing five-franc pieces, louis, and bank-notes about the green cloth, and the neat twist of the thumb and finger with which the chief croupier spun the ball. There were thirty or forty persons round the table, all solemn and intent, and most of them noting the sequence of winning numbers on little cards. 'What fools!' thought Henry. 'They know the Casino people make a profit of two thousand a day. They know the chances are mathematically against them. And yet they expect to win!'

It was just at this point in his meditations upon the spectacle of human foolishness that he felt the five-franc piece in his pocket. An idea crossed his mind that he would stake it, merely in order to be able to say that he had gambled at Monte Carlo. Absurd! How much more effective to assert that he had visited the tables and not gambled!... And then he knew that something within him more powerful than his common-sense would force him to stake that five-franc piece. He glanced furtively at the crowd to see whether anyone was observing him. No. Well, it having been decided to bet, the next question was, how to bet? Now, Henry had read a magazine article concerning the tables at Monte Carlo, and, being of a mathematical turn, had clearly grasped the principles of the game. He said to himself, with his characteristic caution: 'I'll wait till red wins four times running, and then I'll stake on the black.'

('But surely,' remarked the logical superior person in him, 'you don't mean to argue that a spin of the ball is affected by the spins that have preceded it? You don't mean to argue that, because red wins four times, or forty times, running, black is any the more likely to win at the next spin?' 'You shut up!' retorted the human side of him crossly. 'I know all about that.')

At last, after a considerable period of waiting, red won four times in succession. Henry felt hot and excited. He pulled the great coin out of his pocket, and dropped it in again, and then the croupier spun the ball and exhorted the company several times to make their games, and precisely as the croupier was saying sternly, 'Rien ne va plus,' Henry took the coin again, and with a tremendous effort of will, leaning over an old man seated in front of him, pitched it into the meadow devoted to black stakes. He blushed; his hair tingled at the root; he was convinced that everybody round the table was looking at him with sardonic amusement.

'Quatre, noir, pair, et manque,' cried the croupier.

Black had won.

Henry's heart was beating like a hammer. Even now he was afraid lest one of the scoundrels who, according to the magazine article, infested the rooms, might lean over his shoulder and snatch his lawful gains. He kept an eye lifting. The croupier threw a five-franc piece to join his own, and Henry, with elaborate calmness, picked both pieces up. His temperature fell; he breathed more easily. 'It's nothing, after all,' he thought. 'Of course, on that system I'm bound to win.'

Soon afterwards the old man in front of him grunted and left, and Henry slipped into the vacant chair. In half an hour he had made twenty francs; his demeanour had hardened; he felt as though he had frequented Monte Carlo steadily for years; and what he did not know about the art and craft of roulette was apocryphal.

'Place this for me,' said a feminine voice.

He turned swiftly. It was Cosette's voice! There she stood, exquisitely and miraculously dressed, behind his chair, holding a note of the Bank of France in her gloved hand!

'When did you come?' he asked loudly, in his extreme astonishment.

'Pstt!' she smilingly admonished him for breaking the rule of the saloons. 'Place this for me.'

It was a note for a thousand francs.

'This?' he said.


'But where?'

'Choose,' she whispered. 'You are lucky. You will bring happiness.'

He did not know what he was doing, so madly whirled his brain, and, as the black enclosure happened to be nearest to him, he dropped the note there. The croupier at the end of the table man?uvred it with his rake, and called out to the centre: 'Billet de mille francs.' Then, when it was too late, Henry recollected that black had already turned up three times together. But in a moment black had won.

'I can quite understand the fascination this game has for people,' Henry thought.

'Leave them there,' said Cosette, pointing to the two notes for a thousand francs each. 'I like to follow the run.'

Black won again.

'Leave them there,' said Cosette, pointing to the four notes for a thousand francs each. 'I did say you would bring happiness.' They smiled at each other happily.

Black won again.

Cosette repeated her orders. Such a method of playing was entirely contrary to Henry's expert opinion. Nevertheless, black, in defiance of rules, continued to win. When sixteen thousand francs of paper lay before Henry, the croupier addressed him sharply, and he gathered, with Cosette's assistance, that the maximum stake was twelve thousand francs.

'Put four thousand on the odd numbers,' said Cosette. 'Eh? You think?'

'No,' sai

d Henry. 'Evens.'

And the number four turned up again.

At a stroke he had won sixteen thousand francs, six hundred and forty pounds, for Cosette, and the total gains were one thousand two hundred and forty pounds.

The spectators were at last interested in Henry's play. It was no longer an illusion on his part that people stared at him.

'Say a number,' whispered Cosette. 'Shut the eyes and say a number.'

'Twenty-four,' said Henry. She had told him it was her age.

'Bien! Voilà huit louis!' she exclaimed, opening her purse of netted gold; and he took the eight coins and put them on number twenty-four. Eight notes for a thousand francs each remained on the even numbers. The other notes were in Henry's hip-pocket, a crushed mass.

Twenty-four won. It was nothing but black that morning. 'Mais c'est épatant!' murmured several on lookers anxiously.

A croupier counted out innumerable notes, and sundry noble and glorious gold plaques of a hundred francs each. Henry could not check the totals, but he knew vaguely that another three hundred pounds or so had accrued to him, on behalf of Cosette.

'I fancy red now,' he said, sighing.

And feeling a terrible habitué, he said to the croupier in French: 'Maximum. Rouge.'

'Maximum. Rouge,' repeated the croupier.

Instantly the red enclosure was covered with the stakes of a quantity of persons who had determined to partake of Henry's luck.

And red won; it was the number fourteen.

Henry was so absorbed that he did not observe a colloquy between two of the croupiers at the middle of the table. The bank was broken, and every soul in every room knew it in the fraction of a second.

'Come,' said Cosette, as soon as Henry had received the winnings. 'Come,' she repeated, pulling his sleeve nervously.

'I've broken the bank at Monte Carlo!' he thought as they hurried out of the luxurious halls. 'I've broken the bank at Monte Carlo! I've broken the bank at Monte Carlo!'

If he had succeeded to the imperial throne of China, he would have felt much the same as he felt then.

Quite by chance he remembered the magazine article, and a statement therein that prudent people, when they had won a large sum, drove straight to Smith's Bank and banked it coram publico, so that scoundrels might be aware that assault with violence in the night hours would be futile.

'If we lunch?' Cosette suggested, while Henry was getting his hat.

'No, not yet,' he said importantly.

At Smith's Bank he found that he had sixty-three thousand francs of hers.

'You dear,' she murmured in ecstasy, and actually pressed a light kiss on his ear in the presence of the bank clerk! 'You let me keep the three thousand?' she pleaded, like a charming child.

So he let her keep the three thousand. The sixty thousand was banked in her name.

'You offer me a lunch?' she chirruped deliciously, in the street. 'I gave you a lunch. You give me one. It is why I am come to Monte Carlo, for that lunch.'

They lunched at the H?tel de Paris.

He was intoxicated that afternoon, though not with the Heidsieck they had consumed. They sat out on the terrace. It was December, but like an English June. And the pride of life, and the beauty of the world and of women and of the costumes of women, informed and uplifted his soul. He thought neither of the past nor of the future, but simply and intensely of the present. He would not even ask himself why, really, Cosette had come to Monte Carlo. She said she had come with Loulou, because they both wanted to come; and Loulou was in bed with migraine; but as for Cosette, she never had the migraine, she was never ill. And then the sun touched the Italian hills, and the sea slept, and ... and ... what a planet, this earth! He could almost understand why Tom had wept between Cannes and Nice.

It was arranged that the four should dine together that evening, if Loulou had improved and Tom was discoverable. Henry promised to discover him. Cosette announced that she must visit Loulou, and they parted for a few brief hours.

'Mon petit!' she threw after him.

To see that girl tripping along the terrace in the sunset was a sight!

Henry went to the H?tel des Anglais, but Tom had not been seen there. He strolled back to the Casino gardens. The gardeners were drawing suspended sheets over priceless blossoms. When that operation was finished, he yawned, and decided that he might as well go into the Casino for half an hour, just to watch the play.

The atmosphere of the gay but unventilated rooms was heavy and noxious.

He chose a different table to watch, a table far from the scene of his early triumph. In a few minutes he said that he might as well play, to pass the time. So he began to play, feeling like a giant among pigmies. He lost two hundred francs in five spins.

'Steady, my friend!' he enjoined himself.

Now, two hundred francs should be the merest trifle to a man who has won sixty-three thousand francs. Henry, however, had not won sixty-three thousand francs. On the other hand, it was precisely Henry who had paid sixty-five francs for lunch for two that day, and Henry who had lent Tom a hundred and seventy-five francs, and Henry who had paid Tom's hotel bill in Paris, and Henry who had left England with just fifty-five pounds-a sum which he had imagined to be royally ample for his needs on the Continent.

He considered the situation.

He had his return-ticket from Monte Carlo to Paris, and his return-ticket from Paris to London. He probably owed fifty francs at the hotel, and he possessed a note for a hundred francs, two notes for fifty francs, some French gold and silver, and some English silver.

Continuing to play upon his faultless system, he lost another fifty francs.

'I can ask her to lend me something. I won all that lot for her,' he said.

'You know perfectly well you can't ask her to lend you something,' said an abstract reasoning power within him. 'It's just because you won all that lot for her that you can't. You'd be afraid lest she should think you were sponging on her. Can you imagine yourself asking her?'

'Well, I can ask Tom,' he said.

'Tom!' exclaimed the abstract reasoning power.

'I can wire to Snyder,' he said.

'That would look a bit thick,' replied the abstract reasoning power, 'telegraphing for money-from Monte Carlo.'

Henry took the note for a hundred francs, and put it on red, and went icy cold in the feet and hands, and swore a horrid oath.

Black won.

He had sworn, and he was a man of his word. He walked straight out of the Casino; but uncertainly, feebly, as a man who has received a staggering blow between the eyes, as a man who has been pitched into a mountain-pool in January, as a somnambulist who has wakened to find himself on the edge of a precipice.

He paid his bill at the hotel, and asked the time of the next train to Paris. There was no next train to Paris that night, but there was a train to Marseilles. He took it. Had it been a train only to Nice, or to the Plutonian realms, he would have taken it. He said no good-byes. He left no messages, no explanations. He went. On the next afternoon but one he arrived at Victoria with fivepence in his pocket. Twopence he paid to deposit his luggage in the cloakroom, and threepence for the Underground fare to Charing Cross. From Charing Cross he walked up to Kenilworth Mansions and got a sovereign from Mark Snyder. Coutts's, where Mark financed himself, was closed, and a sovereign was all that Mark had.

Henry was thankful that the news had not yet reached London-at any rate, it had not reached Mark Snyder. It was certain to do so, however. Henry had read in that morning's Paris edition of the New York Herald: 'Mr. Henry S. Knight, the famous young English novelist, broke the bank at Monte Carlo the other day. He was understood to be playing in conjunction with Mademoiselle Cosette, the well-known Parisian divette, who is also on a visit to Monte Carlo. I am told that the pair have netted over a hundred and sixty thousand francs.'

He reflected upon Cosette, and he reflected upon Geraldine. It was like returning to two lumps of sugar in one's tea after having got accustomed to three.

He was very proud of himself for having so ruthlessly abandoned Monte Carlo, Cosette, Loulou, Tom, and the whole apparatus. And he had the right to be.

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