Not even when I stood beside him did he look up, but went on sorting out his coins and jotting down figures upon the paper. Sheets of it, covered with penciled figures, stood everywhere stacked upon the table, and other sheets were strewn among the books upon the floor; and while I watched, the old man laid aside the sheet he had been writing on and drew another sheet from the top of a thick pile beside him.
There was a door behind his chair leading, I imagined, into a lumber-room. I walked around the room and looked through it, but the place beyond was dark.
Then I came back to the old man, who still paid me not the least attention.
Now I perceived that the top of the table was very curiously designed. It was marked off with squares and columns, and in each square were figures in black and red. Upon one end of the table at which the old man sat was a cup-shaped, circular affair of very dark wood—teak, it resembled—once delicately inlaid with pearl. But now most of the inlay had disappeared, leaving unsightly holes.
At the bottom of the cup were a number of metallic compartments, and the whole interior portion was revolving slowly at a turn of the old man’s fingers.
He picked a tiny ivory ball from the table and placed it in the cup. He set the interior spinning and the ball circulating in the reverse direction. The sphere clicked and clattered as it forced its way among the metallic strips.
It may seem strange that I did not at first recognize a roulette-wheel. But the game is more a diversion of the rich than of those with whom fortune had thrown me. Gambling had never appealed to me, and I knew roulette only by reputation.
The ball stopped and settled in one of the compartments, and the old man took a gold-piece from one of the squares on the table, transferred a little pile of gold from his right side to his left, and jotted down some figures upon his paper.
And suddenly I was aware of an abysmal rage that filled me. It seemed like an abominable dream—the futile old man, the ruffians and their wenches below. And I had endured so much for Jacqueline, to find myself immeshed in such things in the end. I stepped forward and swept the entire heap of gold into the centre of the table.
“M. Duchaine!” I shouted. “Why are you playing the fool here when your daughter is suffering persecution?”
The old man seemed to be aware of my presence for the first time. He looked up at me out of his mild old eyes, and shook his head in apparent perplexity.
“You are welcome, monsieur,” he said, half rising with a courtly air. “Do you wish to stake a few pieces in a game with me?”
He gathered up a handful of the coins and pushed them toward me.
“Of course, we shall give back our stakes at the end,” he continued, eyeing me with a cunning expression, in which I seemed to detect avarice and madness, too.