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: