Authors: Norman Collins
He led her forward, and the double doors of the Salon de Club were opened for them. It was a kind of holy of holies, this room; an inner sanctuary in the temple of the Golden Calf. The very odour of riches was in their nostrils now; everything in the salon, the piles of gold pieces beside the croupier, the gowns and jewels of the women, the brocaded hangings and deep plush of the carpet, the cut-crystal of the chandeliers, even the men and women themselves, had somehow the same monotonous flavour of wealth. They were all simply so many Midases mechanically playing their appointed golden game. And it was silly wealth they played with, wealth that represented nothing but itself. The little heaps of gold
were not real gold; the gold was tired stuff that had been used over and over again at the tables until all the meaning and purpose had been worn out of it.
“I will give you your first lesson,” M. Moritz said indulgently. “I will show you how it is done.”
He crossed over to the bank and returned with a handful of counters. They were all colours, and he handled them lovingly.
“These are for you,” he said. “They are of all values. The pink is a thousand francs, the black five hundred; the blue one only two-fifty and the reds are hundreds. It is not usual to play with less than a hundred in the Club.
He had taken his seat beside her by now, and was pointing with his slender, delicate finger.
“There are the numbers,” he said. “It is for you to decide: I will tell you only when you have done wrong.”
The croupier lifted his rake.
“Faites vos jeux
” he announced.
One by one the little counters were spread out on the green cloth.
M. Moritz placed his hand on Anna's arm.
“Now is your chance,” he said. “Now is the moment for you to make your fortune.”
She hesitated for a moment; and M. Moritz sat there looking at her.
“How enchanting she is when she holds her head on one side while she is reflecting,” he was thinking. “How adorably innocent she looks in such surroundings.”
But he shook his head when he saw her place a small dowry of five hundred upon the seven.
“I will show you,” he whispered. “And he placed a thousand upon the eight. Then he sat back smiling; there was an expression of dreamy confidence upon his face.
“Rien ne va plus,
” the croupier declared, and a sudden silence came down over the table. Then the clatter of the ball filled the air: the game had begun.
It was to Anna's surprise that she recognised her own excitement: the tiny revolving sphere fascinated her. Everything except the board dissolved for a moment inside her mind as she sat there.
“The seven, oh, let it be the seven,” she wished.
M. Moritz bent forward.
“You mustn't be disappointed,” he whispered. “One cannot always be right even at roulette.”
The tension round the table was growing greater. The ball
was lame by now, but it was still travelling: it limped over the top of the pockets â¦ the thirty-two, the fifteen, the nineteen, the fourâ¦. Then, as if pushed by an invisible finger, it stopped.
the croupier called out.
M. Moritz's smile widened.
“You see,” he said. “I have saved your money and have also made you a little present besides. One learns only by experience.”
It was on their way back to the carriage that M. Moritz explained himself.
“Money,” he said slowly, “is like music. There are some who have an instinct for it, and others who can never quite catch the beat. It is far more an art, the massing of money, than a science. On some days I can do nothing wrong, I am inspired. On others, I am aware myself that the genius is not with me. There is nothing that one can do to alter it.”
But Anna was not listening to him. She was seated with her hands folded in her lap, her eyes fixed in front of her.
“How weak I am,” she told herself. “How contemptible. It is less than a month, still less than a month since it all happened. And for an hour this evening, perhaps two hours, I forgot. I did not know that I could be so wicked.”
She unfolded her hands and gripped the sides of the seat. But, as she did so, her fingers encountered something hard. It was her handbag stuffed with the gold pieces that the banker in the casino had thrust upon her.
“Less than a month,” she repeated. “And I am so frivolous that I could forget it.”
But M. Moritz was speaking to her.
“Tell me that you're happy,” he said. “Tell me that you have everything you want.”
There were other signs of M. Moritz's restlessness by now. For the past two days, he had taken long walks in the garden by himself, or had stood solitary for hours on a little promontory on the cliffs gazing out across the sea. And, even in his moments with Anna, there was obviously something that was preying on his mind.
Over dinner one night he spoke of it. He had been silent for some time, and his voice when he broke the silence was quiet and serious.
“I see now,” he said, “that I was wrong. I had thought that because France was defeated, because it is costing her five milliards in francs to be allowed to live, that she would no longer be of any use to me. I had made all my plans to go to Leipzig. But I repeat: I was wrong. It is in France, where the money is now so short, that I am needed. It is there that they will want to borrow, and they will not mind how much they pay. They are so poor that they will not be able to bargain with me. It is in Paris that the big fortunes are to be made.”
The idea seemed to excite him deeply the more he spoke of it. He got up from the table and began to walk about the room.
“All yesterday I was perplexed,” he went on. “I was frustrated. I was like an artist who fears that he has painted his last picture. And now my instinct has come back to me. I am contented inside myself again. I shall go to Parisâand in a month I shall have made a million francs.”
He came over to Anna and put his arms around her.
“A million francs,” he said. “Can you visualise it? A whole million francs.”
Then a new thought came to him, and he seized Anna's hand.
“I shall have to leave you here,” he said. “That is what makes me so miserable. I have been over it in my mind, again and again. But if I took you with me you would only disturb me. I should do no work. I should come back penniless.”
He lifted her hand and began kissing it.
“You will miss me while I am away?” he asked. “You will be counting the days until my return?”
He rose very early next morning. A sudden tempestuous energy seemed to have taken hold of him, and he began dispatching telegrams. He had pots of black coffee one after the other brought into his study, and he sat there, with Carlos, cup in hand, composing message upon message. Then in the middle of the morning he announced quite suddenly that he would swim; and as he lay afterwards in the sun he revived those glorious hours of telegraphing.
“To think,” he said, “that at this moment there are a dozen telegrams on their way to Paris. A dozen messages of hope and salvation. I tell you the contents of these telegrams are enough to remake the Republic. They will start the whole Bourse talking. They will ask me to go there. But, of course, I shall not go at first: I shall keep them waiting. Then, when I do go, they will be too anxious to refuse me anything. They will fall down in front of me.”
But the next morning, when no replies had come, he was despair again.
“Perhaps I was wrong after all,” he admitted. “Perhaps every one I knew in Paris has been killed, and I shall have to start again, like a young man just beginning. Then I shall have to be away even longer. It will take time, making new contacts, finding out about people.”
That afternoon he went out and stood by himself on his promontory again. Anna could see him from where she was sitting. He made a surprisingly small figure against the skyline: a tiny lump of aggressive human stubbornness springing out from the living rock.
Then, later in the afternoon, the first of the answers arrived. M. Moritz's eyes glistened as he read it.
“It is just as I thought,” he said. “He asks me to go at once. But I have no intention of leaving. I shall go in my own good time.”
A second telegram and a third were delivered. M. Moritz's confidence was now fully restored.
“So M. Charman thanks me for my interest,” he said. “That is very good of him. But it is not my interest that he wants: it is my money. And M. Gomard is ready to discuss the proposition as soon as I can arrive. Unfortunately I shall disappoint him: I shall see him last. He is too eager, this M. Gomard. It will do him good to cool his heels somewhat.”
By the following morning telegrams had poured in upon him. There were only two of his correspondents who had not answered, and in his present mood of exaltation he was ready to ignore them.
“What do they matter?” he demanded. “What do I care whether a third-rate broker and a collapsed industrialist chooses to do business with me?”
He held up the sheaf of telegrams in his hand and began laughing.
In curtains were drawn back, the sun which had been beating against those honey-coloured walls burst violently in, and the room at once was made of light. Outside, the day was already heavy with the scent of flowers; and there was the odour of baked earth and the fragrance of the vine.
The maid was moving quietly about, her feet in felt slippers, and Anna lay with half-open eyes sleepily watching as she passed noiselessly from window to window, and from the window to the table by the bed.
The tray that she was carrying had golden rolls upon it, and peach jam; and as she drew near the bed the rich smell of coffee filled the air. The woman smiled the quick, friendly smile of all Southern women and said that she hoped Anna had enjoyed a good night. She waited long enough to prop up the pillows, and then withdrew.
With her departure, the room seemed suddenly to grow very silent; there was not a sound to disturb it. With M. Moritz away the villa had grown peaceful once more; it simply basked there in its idleness.
“I shall be alone,” she told herself. “There will be no one else.”
Her very soul seemed to stretch itself and expand at such a prospect.
“I shall go into the farthest corner of the garden away from the house,” she began promising, “I shall sit looking at the sea and make myself forget.”
She turned over drowsily.
“I shall live. I shall find some peace again.” she told herself. And as she lay there, with the sunlight beating in through the latticed blinds, she was aware only of the comfort of her body and the stillness of the day.
Reaching out her hand she broke the fresh croissant and drank the fragrant, bitter-tasting coffee. Then she leant back against the pillows waiting for the maid to tell her that the bath had been prepared.
The seat that she had chosen was in a little grotto cut into the growing cliffâit was one of M. Moritz's favourite
this grotto. He had brought an architect all the way from Florence to carve it out for him. Inside it was always cool, even though summer raged on its very doorstep; and, from within, the sunlight outside seemed twice as savage, twice as dazzling.
She lay on the rattan couch and gazed over the bushes of azalea towards the sea.
“I shall make myself forget,” she repeated.
But it was a forlorn, foolish thought. For immediately the Captain was close to her again. She could see him lighting one of those innumerable cigarettes that he was always smoking, pushing back the lock of hair that fell across his forehead.
“You killed him,” the voice came to her. “He would have been back by now with his family, with the little son whom he had never seen, only
destroyed it. It was
who took his life away from them.”
She passed her hand across her forehead and the voice inside her ceased. The garden suddenly came to life again, and she saw, rigid upon a stone, a small emerald lizard. She held her breath waiting for it to move.
Inside her, however, the voice had begun again.
“It was to this kind of sunlight that he would have been returning,” the voice went on. “His wife was from the South. She would have known how to take care of him, how to build him up into manhood again. There is no sunlight where he is now.”
The lizard darted suddenly, as if a spring inside its body had been released. It was gone. The voice, too, stopped at the same moment, and Anna wondered whether she had really heard it. But the grotto frightened her now; it seemed too full of echoes.
“I shall go indoors and try to read,” she told herself. “I must find something that will occupy my mind.”
The path back to the house led her past the peach trees against the wall; they were in bloom, and their sweetness spread lazily into the air around them. It was like walking into a world full of blossom and pollen and the taste of nectar. And suddenly it was no longer these peach trees which she was smelling: it was the orchard back at Rhinehausen on the day when she and Charles had sat there. She
it, too, so clearly for a moment that M. Moritz's villa flickered and disappeared. Only Charles and the orchard trees remained. And it was his voice, not the threatening, accusing voice within her, that she now heard.
She could bear it no longer, she had somehow to escape from it. And she ran forward out of the reach of those clinging scented fingers, and entered the coolness of the house.
“I must read! I must read, or I shall go mad,” she told herself.
The first book that came to her hand was
La Tulipe Noire.
She picked it up and began reading. But even M. Dumas at his most inventive could not absorb her. There were other words written
across the page, other facts that imposed themselves there. She heard the voice again.
Getting up, she rang the bell. When the servant answered it, she ordered the carriage to be brought for her at once.