“I beg you, let us go now,” murmured Mademoiselle Dorville in the ear of her lover.
Her voice was caressing and full of tender promise. The young man hesitated an instant. But to desert the game at his first loss seemed to him an act unworthy of his reputation, and, as between love and pride, the latter finally prevailed.
“I have only an hour or two more to wait. Can not you go home by yourself?” he replied to Fanny’s appeal, while Heloise exchanged her counters for tinkling coin, forgetting, no doubt, to reimburse her creditor, who, in fact, gave no thought to the matter.
Henri accompanied the two women to a coach at the door, which had been engaged by the thoughtful and obliging Desvanneaux; and, pressing tenderly the hand of his mistress, he murmured:
“To-morrow!” she echoed, her heart oppressed with sad forebodings.
Desvanneaux, whose wife was very jealous of him, made all haste to regain his conjugal abode.
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.”