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Chapter 4

Here he was confronted by a heated phantasmagoria of splendour
and a high pressure of suspense that seemed to make the air
quiver. A low whisper of conversation prevailed, which might
probably have been not wrongly defined as the lowest note of
social harmony.

The people gathered at this negative pole of industry had come
from all civilized countries; their tongues were familiar with
many forms of utterance, that of each racial group or type
being unintelligible in its subtler variations, if not
entirely, to the rest. But the language of meum and tuum they
collectively comprehended without translation. In a half-
charmed spell-bound state they had congregated in knots,
standing, or sitting in hollow circles round the notorious
oval tables marked with figures and lines. The eyes of all
these sets of people were watching the Roulette. Somerset
went from table to table, looking among the loungers rather
than among the regular players, for faces, or at least for one
face, which did not meet his gaze.

The suggestive charm which the centuries-old impersonality
Gaming, rather than games and gamesters, had for Somerset, led
him to loiter on even when his hope of meeting any of the
Power and De Stancy party had vanished. As a non-participant
in its profits and losses, fevers and frenzies, it had that
stage effect upon his imagination which is usually exercised
over those who behold Chance presented to them with
spectacular piquancy without advancing far enough in its
acquaintance to suffer from its ghastly reprisals and impish
tricks. He beheld a hundred diametrically opposed wishes
issuing from the murky intelligences around a table, and
spreading down across each other upon the figured diagram in
their midst, each to its own number. It was a network of
hopes; which at the announcement, 'Sept, Rouge, Impair, et
Manque,' disappeared like magic gossamer, to be replaced in a
moment by new. That all the people there, including himself,
could be interested in what to the eye of perfect reason was a
somewhat monotonous thing--the property of numbers to recur at
certain longer or shorter intervals in a machine containing
them--in other words, the blind groping after fractions of a
result the whole of which was well known--was one testimony
among many of the powerlessness of logic when confronted with
imagination.

At this juncture our lounger discerned at one of the tables
about the last person in the world he could have wished to
encounter there. It was Dare, whom he had supposed to be a
thousand miles off, hanging about the purlieus of Markton.

Dare was seated beside a table in an attitude of application
which seemed to imply that he had come early and engaged in
this pursuit in a systematic manner. Somerset had never
witnessed Dare and De Stancy together, neither had he heard of
any engagement of Dare by the travelling party as artist,
courier, or otherwise; and yet it crossed his mind that Dare
might have had something to do with them, or at least have
seen them. This possibility was enough to overmaster
Somerset's reluctance to speak to the young man, and he did so
as soon as an opportunity occurred.

Dare's face was as rigid and dry as if it had been encrusted
with plaster, and he was like one turned into a computing
machine which no longer had the power of feeling. He
recognized Somerset as indifferently as if he had met him in
the ward of Stancy Castle, and replying to his remarks by a
word or two, concentrated on the game anew.

'Are you here alone?' said Somerset presently.

'Quite alone.' There was a silence, till Dare added, 'But I
have seen some friends of yours.' He again became absorbed in
the events of the table. Somerset retreated a few steps, and
pondered the question whether Dare could know where they had
gone. He disliked to be beholden to Dare for information, but
he would give a great deal to know. While pausing he watched
Dare's play. He staked only five-franc pieces, but it was
done with an assiduity worthy of larger coin. At every half-
minute or so he placed his money on a certain spot, and as
regularly had the mortification of seeing it swept away by the
croupier's rake. After a while he varied his procedure. He
risked his money, which from the look of his face seemed
rather to have dwindled than increased, less recklessly
against long odds than before. Leaving off backing numbers en
plein, he laid his venture a cheval; then tried it upon the
dozens; then upon two numbers; then upon a square; and,
apparently getting nearer and nearer defeat, at last upon the
simple chances of even or odd, over or under, red or black.
Yet with a few fluctuations in his favour fortune bore
steadily against him, till he could breast her blows no
longer. He rose from the table and came towards Somerset, and
they both moved on together into the entrance-hall.

Dare was at that moment the victim of an overpowering mania
for more money. His presence in the South of Europe had its
origin, as may be guessed, in Captain De Stancy's journey in
the same direction, whom he had followed, and troubled with
persistent request for more funds, carefully keeping out of
sight of Paula and the rest. His dream of involving Paula in
the De Stancy pedigree knew no abatement. But Somerset had
lighted upon him at an instant when that idea, though not
displaced, was overwhelmed by a rage for play. In hope of
being able to continue it by Somerset's aid he was prepared to
do almost anything to please the architect.

'You asked me,' said Dare, stroking his impassive brow, 'if I
had seen anything of the Powers. I have seen them; and if I
can be of any use to you in giving information about them I
shall only be too glad.'

'What information can you give?'

'I can tell you where they are gone to.'

'Where?'

'To the Grand Hotel, Genoa. They went on there this
afternoon.'

'Whom do you refer to by they?'

'Mrs. Goodman, Mr. Power, Miss Power, Miss De Stancy, and the
worthy captain. He leaves them tomorrow: he comes back here
for a day on his way to England.'

Somerset was silent. Dare continued: 'Now I have done you a
favour, will you do me one in return?'

Somerset looked towards the gaming-rooms, and said dubiously,
'Well?'

'Lend me two hundred francs.'

'Yes,' said Somerset; 'but on one condition: that I don't
give them to you till you are inside the hotel you are staying
at.'

'That can't be; it's at Nice.'

'Well I am going back to Nice, and I'll lend you the money the
instant we get there.'

'But I want it here, now, instantly!' cried Dare; and for the
first time there was a wiry unreasonableness in his voice that
fortified his companion more firmly than ever in his
determination to lend the young man no money whilst he
remained inside that building.

'You want it to throw it away. I don't approve of it; so come
with me.'

'But,' said Dare, 'I arrived here with a hundred napoleons and
more, expressly to work out my theory of chances and
recurrences, which is sound; I have studied it hundreds of
times by the help of this.' He partially drew from his pocket
the little volume that we have before seen in his hands. 'If
I only persevere in my system, the certainty that I must win
is almost mathematical. I have staked and lost two hundred
and thirty-three times. Allowing out of that one chance in
every thirty-six, which is the average of zero being marked,
and two hundred and four times for the backers of the other
numbers, I have the mathematical expectation of six times at
least, which would nearly recoup me. And shall I, then,
sacrifice that vast foundation of waste chances that I have
laid down, and paid for, merely for want of a little ready
money?'

'You might persevere for a twelvemonth, and still not get the
better of your reverses. Time tells in favour of the bank.
Just imagine for the sake of argument that all the people who
have ever placed a stake upon a certain number to be one
person playing continuously. Has that imaginary person won?
The existence of the bank is a sufficient answer.'

'But a particular player has the option of leaving off at any
point favourable to himself, which the bank has not; and
there's my opportunity.'

'Which from your mood you will be sure not to take advantage
of.'

'I shall go on playing,' said Dare doggedly.

'Not with my money.'

'Very well; we won't part as enemies,' replied Dare, with the
flawless politeness of a man whose speech has no longer any
kinship with his feelings. 'Shall we share a bottle of wine?
You will not? Well, I hope your luck with your lady will be
more magnificent than mine has been here; but--mind Captain De
Stancy! he's a fearful wildfowl for you.'

'He's a harmless inoffensive soldier, as far as I know. If he
is not--let him be what he may for me.'

'And do his worst to cut you out, I suppose?'

'Ay--if you will.' Somerset, much against his judgment, was
being stimulated by these pricks into words of irritation.
'Captain De Stancy might, I think, be better employed than in
dangling at the heels of a lady who can well dispense with his
company. And you might be better employed than in wasting
your wages here.'

'Wages--a fit word for my money. May I ask you at what stage
in the appearance of a man whose way of existence is unknown,
his money ceases to be called wages and begins to be called
means?'

Somerset turned and left him without replying, Dare following
his receding figure with a look of ripe resentment, not less
likely to vent itself in mischief from the want of moral
ballast in him who emitted it. He then fixed a nettled and
unsatisfied gaze upon the gaming-rooms, and in another minute
or two left the Casino also.

Dare and Somerset met no more that day. The latter returned
to Nice by the evening train and went straight to the hotel.
He now thanked his fortune that he had not precipitately given
up his room there, for a telegram from Paula awaited him. His
hand almost trembled as he opened it, to read the following
few short words, dated from the Grand Hotel, Genoa:--

'Letter received. Am glad to hear of your journey. We are
not returning to Nice, but stay here a week. I direct this at
a venture.'

This tantalizing message--the first breaking of her recent
silence--was saucy, almost cruel, in its dry frigidity. It
led him to give up his idea of following at once to Genoa.
That was what she obviously expected him to do, and it was
possible that his non-arrival might draw a letter or message
from her of a sweeter composition than this. That would at
least be the effect of his tardiness if she cared in the least
for him; if she did not he could bear the worst. The argument
was good enough as far as it went, but, like many more, failed
from the narrowness of its premises, the contingent
intervention of Dare being entirely undreamt of. It was
altogether a fatal miscalculation, which cost him dear.

Passing by the telegraph-office in the Rue Pont-Neuf at an
early hour the next morning he saw Dare coming out from the
door. It was Somerset's momentary impulse to thank Dare for
the information given as to Paula's whereabouts, information
which had now proved true. But Dare did not seem to
appreciate his friendliness, and after a few words of studied
civility the young man moved on.

And well he might. Five minutes before that time he had
thrown open a gulf of treachery between himself and the
architect which nothing in life could ever close. Before
leaving the telegraph-office Dare had despatched the following
message to Paula direct, as a set-off against what he called
Somerset's ingratitude for valuable information, though it was
really the fruit of many passions, motives, and desires:--

'G. Somerset, Nice, to Miss Power, Grand Hotel, Genoa.

'Have lost all at Monte Carlo. Have learnt that Captain D. S.
returns here to-morrow. Please send me one hundred pounds by
him, and save me from disgrace. Will await him at eleven
o'clock and four, on the Pont-Neuf.'

Thomas Hardy