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   Chapter 4 THE RESULT

Zibeline, Complete By Phillipe de Massa Characters: 5818

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Meanwhile, Paul Landry had begun badly, and had had some ill turns of luck; nevertheless, feeling that his fortune was about to change, he raised the stakes.

"Does any one take him up?" asked Constantin Lenaeiff.

"I do," said De Prerolles, who had returned to the table.

And, seizing a pencil that lay on the card-table, he signed four cheques of twenty-five thousand francs each. Unfortunately for him, the next hand was disastrous. The stakes were increased, and the bank was broken several times, when Paul Landry, profiting by a heavy gain, doubled and redoubled the preceding stakes, and beheld mounting before him a pile of cheques and counters.

But, as often happens in such circumstances, his opponent, Henri de Prerolles, persisted in his vain battle against ill-luck, until at three o'clock in the morning, controlling his shaken nerves and throwing down his cards, without any apparent anger, he said:

"Will you tell me, gentlemen, how much I owe you?"

After all accounts had been reckoned, he saw that he had lost two hundred and ninety thousand francs, of which two hundred and sixty thousand in cheques belonged to Paul Landry, and the thirty thousand francs' balance to the bank.

"Monsieur de Prerolles," said Paul Landry, hypocritically, "I am ashamed to win such a sum from you. If you wish to seek your revenge at some other game, I am entirely at your service."

The Marquis looked at the clock, calculated that he had still half an hour to spare, and, not more for the purpose of "playing to the gallery" than in the hope of reducing the enormous sum of his indebtedness, he replied:

"Will it be agreeable to you to play six hands of bezique?"

"Certainly, Monsieur. How much a point?"

"Ten francs, if that is not too much."

"Not at all! I was about to propose that amount myself."

A quick movement of curiosity ran through the assembly, and a circle was formed around the two opponents in this exciting match.

Every one knows that bezique is played with four packs of cards, and that the number of points may be continued indefinitely. The essential thing is to win at least one thousand points at the end of each hand; unless a player does this he is said to "pass the Rubicon," becoming twice a loser-that is, the victor adds to his own score the points lost by his adversary. Good play, therefore, consists largely in avoiding the "Rubicon" and in remaining master of the game to the last trick, in order to force one's adversary over the "Rubicon," if he stands in danger of it. The first two hands were lost by Landry, who, having each time approached the "Rubicon," succeeded in avoiding it only by the greatest skill and prudence. Immediately his opponent, still believing that good luck must return to him, began to neglect the smaller points in order to make telling strokes, but he became stranded at the very port of success, as it were;

so that, deducting the amount of his first winning, he found at the end of the fifth hand that he had lost six thousand points. Notwithstanding his wonderful self-control, it was not without difficulty that the young officer preserved a calm demeanor under the severe blows dealt him by Fortune. Paul Landry, always master of himself, lowered his eyes that their expression of greedy and merciless joy should not be seen. The nearer the game drew to its conclusion, the closer pressed the circle of spectators, and in the midst of a profound silence the last hand began. Favored from the beginning with the luckiest cards, followed by the most fortunate returns, Paul Landry scored successively "forty, bezique," five hundred and fifteen hundred. He lacked two cards to make the highest point possible, but Henri, by their absence from his own hand, could measure the peril that menaced him. So, surveying the number of cards that remained in stock, he guarded carefully three aces of trumps which might help him to avert disaster. But, playing the only ace that would allow him to score again, Paul Landry announced coldly, laying on the table four queens of spades and four knaves of diamonds:

"Four thousand five hundred!" This was the final stroke. The last hand had wiped out, by eight thousand points, the possessions of Landry's adversary. The former losses of the unfortunate Marquis were now augmented by one hundred and forty thousand francs. Henri became very pale, but, summoning all his pride to meet the glances of the curious, he arose, rang a bell, and called for a pen and a sheet of stamped paper. Then, turning to Paul Landry, he said, calmly "Monsieur, I owe you four hundred thousand francs. Debts of honor are payable within twenty-four hours, but in order to realize this sum, I shall require more time. How long a delay will you grant me?"

"As long as you wish, Monsieur."

"I thank you. I ask a month."

A waiter appeared, bringing the pen and paper.

"Oh, your word will be sufficient for me," said Landry.

"Pardon me!" said the Marquis. "One never knows what may happen. I insist that you shall accept a formal acknowledgment of the debt."

And he wrote:

"I, the undersigned, acknowledge that I owe to Monsieur Paul Landry the sum of four hundred thousand francs, which I promise to pay in thirty days, counting from this date."

He dated, signed, and folded the paper, and handed it to Paul Landry. Then, glancing at the clock, whose hands pointed to a quarter before four, he said:

"Permit me to take leave of you, gentlemen. I have barely time to reach Vincennes before roll-call."

He lighted a cigar, saluted the astonished assembly with perfect coolness, slowly descended the stairs, and jumped into his carriage, the chasseur of the restaurant holding open the door for him.

"To Vincennes!" he cried to the coachman; "and drive like the devil!"

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