Fatal Zero/XVI

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Fatal Zero. A Diary Kept at Homburg. by Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald
Chapter XVI

Chapter XVI.

The morning again! The delightful air, cool, refreshing; the trees and walks and groves. But, with their sham air of innocence, the taint of sin and temptation. To their leaves and branches cling the mutterings and despairing ejaculations of those wandering under them, who have lost peace and happiness for ever, and found ruin. There are the innocent, as it were, the titularly good—the young girls and their mammas, who, in a cowardly way, lend their sanction to these villanies, throwing the cloak of respectability over this den, and who pay no penalty. They affect to shut their eyes, and selfishly enjoy. Yet they are as guilty as any. I tell them so, solemnly. Shame—shame on them, who have not even the poor pretext of damaged health! They will spend their money and enjoy themselves—ay, and more scandal for them!—will all the time sanctimoniously reprobate what is going on round them, and then return quite happy and as they came. Then they will tell their friends, "Oh, it was shocking to see those scenes! We never went near the place, except just passing through." Lay that unction to your souls, my pious ladies—that hypocrisy won't do. You have not fallen, because your jaded hearts are indifferent, and so caked over with the cold crust of fashion and deceit, that you have lost even the warm feeling of temptation. So take no pride in that, and never fear, you will all be reckoned with, and in good time, and according to the weight of your responsibility. There is one who weighs all these things, in scales, to which the most accurate balance that jeweller could devise for his gold and gems, is as rude as a common weighing-machine. There they were, all passing me, with their empty chatter. They seemed to look at me, but I know this was my own morbid soul. Oh, if I could get away home—anywhere—even into a jail! But how is this to end? What must I do?

I was wearied with all this agony, worn down sorely, as if I had been carrying a heavy load and was now come to an inn to rest; and then, dropping to sleep, I had reasoned myself into a belief that it might not be so awful a calamity after all. As usual, the blessed night and more blessed sleep seemed to interpose and put all off for a long indistinct time, like the troubles which the wise prophesy to children when they are to grow up. But with the morning—a cold and grey one—I was put back again, to long before the time I had left off at. It was all to begin again with that terrible soreness and dull aching oppressing of my heart, as though some calamity from which there was no hope of extrication had taken place last night. I lingered on, actually shrinking from rising, not from laziness, dreading to go out and face these goblins; but I did go out along the beautiful walk, by the charming trees, breathing the fresh morning air, but shrinking guiltily from every face I met, as if they knew my crime. How every familiar object, only a short time ago so welcome and agreeable, now jarred upon me, they all touched that one horrible chord which goes harshly into my very heart. How I hate the very cheerfulness and vapid hilarity of these morning fools who greet other so complacently, and clatter their nonsense about their "tumblers." I could not endure it. The band was now a damned, hellish, orchestra, hired by the demons who had ruined me! It seemed to thrill every nerve in my wretched system, and to send my heart in wild leaps and spasms dancing upwards. I could wish to fling myself away headlong, to get free—to escape—but I was bound fast, as if in a cell in a jail, and did not see how it was all to be resolved! It was as though I had a fortune yesterday and was ruined to-day! It was as good as ruin! Oh, folly! stupidly blind dulness! or rather the devilish infernal perverseness which was lying in wait for me, and choosing the most luckless moment, found a diabolical zest in stopping me at every turn! I believe that—from my soul, I do! There it is, where these demons find their true relish and enjoyment; just as a devilish man would find his in mortifying you, or frustrating your plans. No; it was too exceptional. I don't want to be told according to the cant, "it was all chance," or that the run was against me. I believe, solemnly, it was regularly organised below in the cellars of hell, that they planned the whole expressly because they knew me to be their sure and certain enemy! They might well wish to be revenged; for I did them mischief enough. A fine return I have got, truly! Handed over to them, made their victim, pillaged, miserably destroyed for ever body and soul! Where shall I look for that money? Chance indeed! Could I not show my piles of cards, marked for days, and weeks, and I defy any man to point out such a combination and tell me that I should have stumbled accidentally on such a juncture! No! it has the mark of its satanic authorship. A poor wretch could struggle against a taunting ruffian like D'Eyncourt, but could not play against hell and its master! With coolness, desperation, I should beat them still; they would not be allowed to have it all their own way.

I saw the clergyman of the place hurrying past—he whom I had "set down" so cleverly the first day almost, and who had never forgiven the mortification. He looked at me inquisitively, as if trying to make out particulars in my face, by reporting which he could gain consequence. A fine specimen of the charity that delighteth in the evil of no man! Of course he thought himself superior, though he dared not, for his credit's sake, expose himself to the temptation. He saw all this contempt, and that I read, and had read him before, like a book; and uncommon poor reading he was! So he passed on, but I caught him in the act of looking back. Then he stopped and returned to me.

"You look unwell," he said, "and quite changed. You seem to excite yourself too much."

"If I excite no one else," I replied, coldly, "it becomes my own affair."

"I am sorry to see this," he said, "and, yon will forgive me for reminding you, I did my best to warn you."

"Warners," I said, perfectly beside myself at his impertinence, "would be sadly grieved if their warnings did not come true. In your pulpits you revel in consigning people to tortures and punishments; but, thank God, you have no power to send us there!"

He looked at me a moment, and then said, with assumed quietness, "I am very, very sorry for this. I know your story, and you do me wrong if you think I judge harshly of you. I believe you mean well. You have a charming household at home, and God knows it is hard for even the best of us to stand to our resolutions."

"The best of us," I said, "meaning, of course, you and your cloth—— But come, I do not ask for your official services, and there is no resolution of mine that concerns the chaplain of the licensed gambling hells of Homburg."

I think he must have shrunk under this thrust. I had not lost my old powers of cut and hit; but again he answered quietly:

"I mean no offence, and it is sincere pity that makes me speak. Bear with me. Do not suppose I am thinking of any trifling money loss—twenty, or thirty, or forty, or even a hundred pounds. Numbers of the best and wisest do that, and no shame to them. I myself, whom you would say should be ex-officio perfect, often commit things quite analogous in their way. Indeed you mistake me; I heard you were unfortunate, and as I begged of you before not to go near the danger, so do I now beg of you not to make too much of the danger. It is after all a trifle."

I was a little astonished at this new tone, and even stopped a hard hit that was actually on its way. I suppose he had some object. Very likely the hell-keepers, with whom he was on an agreeable footing, had sent him to prevent anything "unpleasant" taking place, or that might shock the company. He went on:

"I know enough to say that in this place all losses appear magnified, unnaturally distorted even. When you get away, you will smile to see how you have been affected. I have known this happen again and again. Even if the loss be great, what is it compared with the sorrow, despair, waste of life, and utter hopelessness into which this morbid feeling of yours will hurry you!"

"You speak to me," I said, "with uncommon freedom, sir."

"Good Heavens!" he went on, "what are a few pounds, compared with life, and a happy home; with the misery which you selfishly—forgive me the word—entail on those who should be so dear to you should you persist in investing this matter with all the horrors of a tragedy. Come, Mr. Austen, be a man, and a manly one; face this difficulty as a hundred thousand merchants and commercial men have faced far greater ones. The first thing is, fly from this place, without a second's delay. Think of your lost money as if it had gone back into the bowels of the earth from whence it came. Let it go! It will never come back to you! "

"Fine comforter!" I said.

"Get to your own home, your dear home, as fast as you can travel, night and day, until you have put the sea between you and this fatal tempter. Then search out your friends, tell them the trouble boldly, get the weight off your soul, and you will be amazed to find with what a quiet, 'Is that all?' they will come to rescue you from your terrible misfortune."

"Fine advice!" I said, bitterly. "Your trade, sir, in this place, accustoms you to think lightly of all the wretchedness that flows from the infamous system maintained here! At the news of some wretch found suspended in that wood, 'Is that all?' would be the remark of you, and your employers."

He coloured.

"'My employers!' But I see I am wasting your time and my own. I must tell you that you have been most ungracious, now as you were in the beginning. If you had attended to me then, with even ordinary civility, you might have been spared this humiliation and even degradation. For I tell you, and I see it as plainly as that bright sun, you are only beginning, and you will be dragged down fatally, lower and still lower. The very first day I noted your self-sufficiency and confidence, and air of superiority to these most pardonable human failings."

"Pardonable," I said, amazed at the man's obsequious toleration of vice.

"Yes, pardonable; and I knew that you would be one of the earliest to fall. I would have helped you, that is, have got you help, to leave this place; but go on your own road now: I shall not trouble you more."

He was gone, to make his morning calls to the fashionable strangers wandering about, just as the humbug German doctor made his. How insulting he was with his impertinent taunt about "my superiority " and self-sufficiency, because I dared to encroach upon his preserves and to talk piously and conscientiously without a licence! There was the sting! So he would get me helped away would he? Now I see it all. His employers would be the ones to help me away. They do not like to see excited faces, or wild eyes, about their place. It scares the genteel. Fine almonership for the church! And, sooner than contaminate my fingers with their unholy gold, I would beg! So that was the secret of his embassy. I shall neither fly nor stay; but I am not sunk so low, as that the loss of some money should lay me under obligation to a doubtful and "shady," as they call it, parson.

Noon next day.—I see two letters which I did not notice last night. Yes I did. I shall not tell lies to myself, though I am sunk low enough. I did see hers, but I did not care to open it. I could guess the tune. Here it is now. O I blush as I look at the writing, and as I would, were Dora's own sweet eyes turned on me now. I saw that fellow here that is outlawed, and dare not show his face in England; but what is he to me, that have wasted the substance of those who are dear to me, and have brought ruin on them. Here is her letter. Those trembling fingers of mine may as well now go on with the farce of pasting it in:

"O my dearest, what will you think of me and my selfishness when I must again write to you and trouble your little holiday with more dismal news? O that I could suffer it all myself, but I know not whither to turn, save to that one friend, who knows what is good for us, and will assist us at the fitting time. Our little child has relapsed again, and again there is more expense, and, O my dearest, there is something else for you to bear! They tell us that the Bank is going to close its country offices and keep entirely in London—at least this is rumoured. So God knows what is to become of us all. Don't distress yourself about the rent, as I feel confident we shall find some way. I shall—I must. You know my little stock of trinkets, the gold chain dear mamma gave me, and which she made me promise I would never part with? Well, she would not mean me to be ruined and wretched for the sake of keeping that promise. Let us only keep up, and trust—something must come. Mr. Bernard was here, and to my joy tells me, he gave you more than double that would be sufficient for the journey. So stay, dearest, as long as it will last—though if you could squeeze us out a few pounds for the children,—but here is my selfishness. If you had seen our dear friend's face when I told him of your brave resolution—so splendidly kept—of the prayer that you so faithfully say. I did not show him any of the diary, you may be sure, simply, dearest, because you have given up sending it to me, a punishment I own I deserve richly. But I will coax you to show it to me all when you return, and there is a little scheme I can tell you, on foot, by which a little money might be turned, on what they call "the half profit system"—so our librarian was telling me—a little of the expense of publishing to be met at first by the author, but he shares all the clear profits after."

Wretch—villain! Again I say, what is to become of me? The other letter from Mr. Bernard. His orders, indeed! I wish I had never seen his face; it was he who sent me on this cursed journey. What words I begin to use! Yet I mean it in a proper sense. Why didn't he let me die at home?

"I wish you to go at once back to Frankfort. You seem to have quite misapprehended me, and I think it was indiscreet of you to have left such a sum at a strange bank, instead of getting a letter of credit on a London one. I wish, too, that you had adhered to the letter of my instructions, as the merchant reasonably complains of my raising the price I proposed. You will please to return him the difference at once, and I will give you a useful little business hint, which may be valuable. That insignificant rise in price which you squeezed out of him, may cost me the loss of thousands. Do you not see? And above all, I conjure you be most cautious about the gambling: I say this most seriously—for the moment I read the fine speeches and sentiments, in some diary or letter of yours, I will own to you I began to have misgivings. Get the letter of credit at once, and send it to me by this night's post,"

Now this is falling low indeed! So he suspects me; he does not trust me. How dare he be so insolent, because he assisted me with his few pounds? Restore my health indeed! He has destroyed it—ruined me for ever—I feel my heart and nerves worn away—weary and inflamed to a degree I shall never get over. A sword seems to have entered into me. O that I had never come here, and had sunk down, out of this vile world—as I was then. I must go into Frankfort, and take my load with me.

I just meet Grainger, who looks at me curiously, and with an air of insolent inquiry as it seems to me.

"Down in the mouth," he says: "I told you there was no beating the bank. Heavily hit, I see."

My humiliation and despair could not let me stand this, and I said, passing on,

"Nothing of the kind."

"Are you serious? What! Been winning on the system, eh?"

"Neither one nor the other," I said, angrily. "I am not well, and do not want to be catechised."

"My good friend," he said, "it is only the regular epidemic of the place. The losing sickness. Bless you, why keep up subterfuges with me? Surely I know it all. A croupier told me. You lost every halfpenny last night. You haven't anything to bring you back, you know you haven't."

Here was humiliation.

"Now don't," he said; "don't vent it on me; but let us see what is to be done. As for a pauper like me lending you the money——"

"Indeed, I should scorn to ask it——"

"It would be no use, I am telling you. So I tell you fairly. But I tell you what, I give you this valuable bit of advice. Leave by to-night's train, or by the four train, which is the earliest."

"I want no advice," I said; "and pray, if I have lost everything, how am I to go? O God help me, Grainger, what am I saying or doing? I am wretched—ruined—and death is the only thing to think of."

He looked at me steadily a moment.

"I once was precisely in that way, but no one pitied me, and I got over it, and saw what a ridiculous thing it would be to be talking of death. But, my good friend, you must do something. The banker will advance you the money on the strength of your connexion with Mr. Bernard."

"That would be robbery and gambling too; I have no right to borrow what I could not pay."

"Well, then I tell you seriously, there is only one other course; you will scout it, but it is the only rational one. You must get back some of your money."

"Get it back from them! Why they have no hearts—no pity."

"You talk like a child—I mean by play."

I recoiled.

"Go near that cursed board again? no, never! never! I shall die first."

"Die for sixty or seventy pounds! I tell you I am serious. Take five naps; you have lost so much, it will add five more to the lost. Those five may bring you thirty—I don't think more—but I tell you solemnly, it is the only chance, and it has happened again and again. I know it is a desperate chance; but you had better think of it."

He has left me, and I am thinking of it, and shall think of it as I am in the train. O, but there is but one devouring feeling at my heart, to fly at once—this moment—from this place. The very name "kursaal" makes my pulse go. The very look of their red palace is as the sight of a drop to a murderer.

Seven o'clock.—Returned from Frankfort. Alone in the carriage all the way—alone with a lump of lead laid on my heart, which yet went heaving and heaving wearily—alone with my hot damp wrists and galloping pulse. That imprisonment in a railway carriage, with a misery at your heart, is the greatest of agonies. I would have given worlds to get free, walk about, leave myself behind, but I seemed to be bound down by steel bands. It was hours long—no hope before me! How shall I tell her— how shall I meet her, my lost ruined Dora. Returning home quite restored in health, to work for my family! Why I return with a knife in my heart! I look at that ridiculous "avis" to the travellers, stuck up there in three languages, and it is as dim and confused as the figures in a ledger the day before I set out. God Almighty look down on me in this agony—have mercy and pity on me!

I saw the merchant; he was very stiff, and asked what did I want—was not the transaction concluded? I explained that I had exceeded my instructions, and would return him the money he had paid in excess.

"That comes a little late," he said; "your principal has heard, I see, of my transferring my commissions to another house."

I became very earnest and almost passionate about the matter, assuring him it was my fault, that I was in ill-health, and was suffering, and had a great deal on my mind, and hoped he would not injure me in this way.

He looked at me hard, and taking me by the arm, turned me suddenly to the light, "Ah! I see—the colour has lost!"

My eyes fell on the ground.

"You are hardly the agent," he went on, "I would have chosen. You want resolution. No matter. I won't add to your troubles. So I will take back the money. I'll write a receipt now."

"I shall go and fetch it," I said.

"What, not brought it?" he said, laying down his pen.

"I shall be back in half an hour," I said.

"Then I can't wait longer," he replied.

I went out hurriedly, but the demons that had pursued me from the tables were waiting in the street and joined me. It was they, I know, who made me lose my way almost at once, which I could have sworn I had by heart. I asked it, and seemed to get more and more astray. Suddenly at a corner I came upon Grainger, smoking. For a second I felt glad.

"Why," he said, "you here? Ah! I see, you have taken my advice—come for more money, like myself."

"Nothing of the kind," I said, shortly. "I have come in on business."

"Money is the only business. Are you going to the train?"

"No," I said, rudely. "I am on some private affairs of my own."

"O, I see," he said, smiling; "a hint to mind my own business. Losers are always privileged. Still I will do you a good turn. If you are looking for the bank, it is merely round the corner—that yellow building."

He was so good-humoured that I took his hand, and said: "O, Grainger, have indulgence; I am in a wretched, miserable way."

"So I see," he said; "and in an absurd way too. Now, see. You go off and arrange your affairs, whatever they may be. I shall wait for you at the Place here. You are a cup too low to begin with."

I went into the bank—it was just closing—and drew out the money. I remembered Mr. B.'s express wish, and asked for an order on London, less, of course, the sum I was to return to the merchant. The clerks were not very civil, and there was a crowd, owing to some fair that was going on. Then, when they did attend to me, they told me it was too late, that their letters were sealed up, and I could have no order that day. I was irritable, and, indeed, the thought before my mind was the weary journey on the railway, in company with the weight on my heart; and I said, I would take the money and try at another bank, where I would find more civility. The thousand franc notes were tossed over to me, and I came away. I buttoned them up carefully in my pocket, and as I looked at them, trembled.

I found Grainger, not at the Place, but outside.

"Now," he said, "you are my prisoner. I have ready cash; and before you take a step you must turn into this restaurant, and have a half bottle of real German wine. I want it myself desperately. Why, man, you are in a fever. It is all weakness and nervousness, and this will put heart, I hope, into you."

I was indeed weak, and I own I thought with pleasure of something that would raise my sinking, sinking heart, which used periodically to leap downwards, as it were, and make me think I was going to die. I felt that there is a stage when you are in a deep and desperate trouble, when all you ask for is a little respite, a little repose; though the trial itself—too awful to think of—is as fixed as fate, and must be accepted. I was glad to have him, and we went in. It was a burning hot day. To "have something on your mind," on a bright, sunny, oppressive day, in a great, strange, white town, makes everything yet more dismal. The wine was very good, and did put some heart into me. In truth, I have been too low, and have eaten scarcely at all these few days. We came out, and then I went straight back to the merchant. He was a punctual man, and had gone away precisely as the clock had struck, at the end of the half hour he had given me. Where had he gone? To his villa in the country; his carriage had been waiting ready at the door. No. There was no one left to take a message, or receive anything.

Everything was going wrong—taking a crooked turn. But what did a trifle like this signify? In the carriage Grainger began at me.

"You are in a strange way, and if you don't take care, my friend, you will go off and die. I know you will say what matter; but think of leaving her to fight the battle, to face the debts and duns, the results of your folly, as I must call it. It would be highly selfish, would it not? You safe and out of the confusion, gone to reap the reward of your piety and good works in a glorious kingdom, while that poor angel of a Dora was left to suffer."

He might say what he liked, in what cold sneering way he pleased. It was all one to me. What he said was reasonable though.

"I come back," he went on, "to what I said this morning. You must do something—you must make an exertion, however disagreeable, and, as I said, try and get back some. Think of all the long hours of agony before you—nights, days, weeks, months. What is to become of you? Perhaps this very night you might reverse everything, and leave that room happy. I don't say do this, but think of it."

Nine o'clock.—God Almighty in his infinite goodness be praised. I come in with a heart something lighter. Grainger, you are my saviour. There they are—fifteen golden napoleons torn from the clutches of these villains. He was right—it was a duty to make some exertion, and though I felt a shudder as we drew near the fatal rooms, still I was not now to spare myself, or indulge my delicacies. I went so far as to accept his loan. After all, what was I going to do? This was a different state of things from the original one. Was I not going to get my own money from robbers? That nerved me; and shall I own it? I said a heartfelt prayer to Heaven, as I took the first piece of money in my fingers. Grainger was good and generous, after all.

"I have done you wrong," I said, "but I have tried hard to repair it. You have a noble nature and a forgiving one."

"Don't be too sure of that," he said; "spare compliments until the play is over. But how curious you should be borrowing money of me, and that money what you called, I think, the wages of sin!"

We were in the room, and I did not mind much what he was saying. I shrank back as I heard the accursed burr of the robbing wheel.

"I can't go in. My heart droops and sinks."

I saw black demons coming up and offering to take my hand. I covered my face and rushed out on the terrace, where the innocent and virtuous were taking coffee.

"Are you mad, or a fool?" Grainger said to me. "What exhibition are you going to make?"

"I can't face it," I said; "it will kill me."

"Then give me my money back," he said, roughly; "I suppose you don't mean to rob me, too?"

I did not heed the malignant look he gave me: for the word, rob, unconsciously persuaded.

"Come in, come in," I said, hurriedly.

"No fear of being late," he said; "they'll wait for us."

My wretched heart seemed to thump as I laid down my first piece, and yet I was indifferent. I doubt if I would have even gasped had it been swept off. The man broken on the wheel feels little after the first strokes. But with that came fortune back. I do believe it was the blessing I had invoked, or perhaps the prayers of my pet at home, to whom, if things brighten, and we live over all this, and the clouds may break one of these days, I shall show these pages—this strange analysis of a soul—at a time when distance has made all less painful to look back to.

When I showed Grainger what I had got, he was ill-natured and sneering. That is his way. People are welcome to sneer at me now.

"A wonderful winning," he said, "but put it beside what you have lost. It won't help you much, my friend, when you offer it as a composition to the bank. I should like to be present on the occasion."

"Take your money at any rate," I said, bitterly; "you are behaving very strangely to me."

"You will only be asking me again," he said, smiling, "and that would be humiliating. This gambling makes us eat all kinds of dirt; and I give you my honour, if I was to insult you in the most degrading way, we would have you returning when you had lost the last coin, with a 'Grainger, do let me have that money I returned to you to-day.' No, my poor man, I wouldn't like to see you so low as that. So just keep it, at least for a few hours."

That happy hour may come; for surely there are not special victims selected whom the world shall persecute from beginning to the end. Now, to go to bed, and get some soft sleep, which I sigh for, and yet—it is too early. After all, there is nothing so much to elevate me, a few wretched louis got back out of the vast total all melted away. The luck may turn to-morrow. But it is really like being elated at surmounting a small hill, with the Alps, and Mont Blanc itself, rising beyond. Ah! I should have stayed on, as Grainger said, and backed my luck. If we do not back our luck, it will not back us. I am getting restless, and shall go out for a stroll in the cool air.

What was I to do? Yes, what was I to do? I could not live on, under this horrible, restless, undecided condition of existence. If I could but tear myself from the fatal edge of the precipice—but what would be before me then? Return to disgrace and certain ruin—strange to say, there was one thing I shrank from, the terrible suspense, the journey between—the flutter and impatience of that would be worse than death, worse than what was to come in the end. At the bottom of the gardens and outside the terrace—those gardens which are kept up by these infernal decorators, and in which some of my lost gold will furnish wages for gardeners and flowers—I say, at the bottom of this devilish pasture runs the road, and on the other side of that, larger more retired walks and grounds, with the great view of the hills and the broad open country, opening out fresh and innocent, as if they did not, with the air, benefit by man's crimes and villanies. But this hypocrisy would not pass upon me, and I knew that the vile, devilishly got gambler's money had cleared away the trees, had planted others, and had cut artfully winding walks up the sides of the hills. Nature indeed! Was not that the last touch of satanic craft? . . . .

There was here a sort of retirement; oh! would to Heaven it had been utter loneliness and desolation, cut off from the gangs of smooth and idle chatterers, who come smirking by, and in their mean cowardly way get vile and sinful benefits out of what their pitiful hearts have not courage, or are ashamed of their fellow Grundys, to face or touch. What a miserably contemptible crew! So sneaking and cowardly! Mrs. This, Mr. That, so genteelly good, and yet when judgment comes to be nicely determined, more responsible for this mean compounding, than poor struggling wretches who make no pretence, but who would do right had they strength. Surely they and the band of swindlers, who hold this place, are the guilty ones. Never fear, never fear, they will be reckoned with in good time and to the last farthing—I pledge my poor tortured soul for that. Their gathering up of skirts and complacent interchange of suitable reprobation over the tumbler, and on the steps of the wells, with officially pious lords, aye, and even bishops and clergymen, shall not save them. Health, indeed! Ordered the waters! Must come! I thought the good and the officially pious were to sacrifice health, strength, wealth, life itself, in the holy cause of principle, but that is their concern, as they will find out one of these fine morning, or perhaps when the dark, never-ending night is closing in about them. Now they will go back to their country-houses, town-houses, and at some dinner party tell what they think dramatic things, about so many notes down, so many heaps of gold "raked in by the croupier," and then, to a chorus of "Really now;" "How dreadful!" or "How exciting!" return to sip their champagne or sherry, quite pleased with their own powers of touching off a picture.

What do they care, if some agonised wrench of the heart followed that "raking in" of the croupier? What do they care, if with that heap of notes rustled away hope and happiness? From those satanic fingers came in return the hellish present of ruin, disgrace, remorse, something that would drag down home and house, and maybe death itself. That would be only too much of a blessing.