Chapter II

The Magic of a “Mascotte”

The opalescent sky was unflecked by a single cloud. The moon shone so brightly that everything was revealed as distinctly as though it were day. The shadows where ever they were cast were as black as ink, and their very blackness seemed to accentuate the light elsewhere.

Violetta hurried through the Casino gardens indifferent to everything save her resolve to “plunge,” whatever might be the outcome. The flamboyant nondescript architecture of the Casino with its elaborate ornamented front and dual towers did not appeal to her, picturesque though it looked now that its vulgarities were subdued by the pale light of the moon. The trim garden where European and Eastern shrubs grew with equal luxuriance might have been a wilderness for any thought she bestowed upon it.

Signs of the waning season were evident in the small numbers of visitors strolling towards the Casino and promenading the terrace overlooking the mirror-like sea. There was hardly a breath of wind to disturb the heated air. The refreshing coolness of the night was gone. Before many days had passed Monte Carlo so delightful in the winter, would be unendurable.

As Violetta drew near the portals of the Casino she heard the faint sound of music. It came from the opera house; part of the attractions of the famous gambling resort. “Carmen” was being played. The opera was a favourite with Violetta but it did not detain her now. Within a minute or two she had entered the gambling salon.

There were not many punters, the usual tourists had had their fling, had spent their available cash and had departed, some back to the decorum and monotony of the warehouse, the counting house, and the stock exchange; others to make up their losses at rouge-et-noir, with the opening of flat racing​—​or to increase them.

Violetta cast a rapid glance round the table. Had she chosen to assume her old role of “Mascotte” she would have had small opportunities. The princes and grand dukes, Russian, Rumanian and Bulgarian had departed. A few fat Belgian manufacturers and merchants remained, but they had no imagination, they did not believe in “mascottes.” As for the women, Violetta had never found them patronise her. To begin with, she was too good looking, and apart from this, the women gamblers generally looked upon each other with hatred and jealousy. Had it been otherwise these ladies who were seated at the table had far too profound a belief in their own judgment to trust to that of others.

There they were now, old painted harridans with the faces of hawks and the necks of vultures; middle-aged matrons, most of them running to fat, and young women, outrageously décolleté, worn, haggard, and old before their time.

But whatever might be their faces and figures, they all had the same look in their eyes​—​the strained, eager, glassy concentrated stare of the inveterate gambler. The excitement of play had become part of their lives​—​it might also be said of their deaths.

It was, Violetta considered, a most uninteresting crowd. She knew the types by heart. Nor were the visitors wandering about or standing gazing at the revolving, fateful little ball, and the rakes of the croupiers like the extended claws of some gigantic carrion bird, less so. She took a vacant seat and watched the fluctuations of the game before she chanced her luck.

The room big as it was, was intensely hot. The silence, broken only by the monotonous voice of the croupier with his eternal “Rien ne va plus,” followed by the proclamation of the winning colour, was oppressive. Both were getting on her nerves, she would not be able to retain her impatience much longer.

She had no belief in systems, she had seen too many come to grief in horse racing circles, but she could not help counting the number of times red had won. A sequence of six had brought luck to a few. Would it be maintained to the next round, the mystic number of seven? She was strongly tempted, but she who hesitates is lost, she delayed and was half a second too late. The decisive “Rien ne va plus” had beaten her, again red was declared.

It could go on no longer she told herself, and when the time came for placing the stakes she threw down a 100 franc note on the black. She saw it swept away. It was no consolation to her that a man standing behind her chair had lost ten times more than she had.

She was angered but not discouraged. She ventured another 100 francs again on the black. The man behind her did not stake.

“Much wiser to cut your losses at once” she heard him whisper.

And so it would have been. Once more she lost. She was the poorer by 200 francs, and she wanted to make at least a thousand.

Violetta had brought with her 400 francs. It was inconceivable that red should be eternally the winning colour. Already eight times! She had never seen the like of it, surely this monotony could not go on. If she plunged with all she had got and won, she would get all she wished for and more. Some mysterious tempter was urging her on. She would not allow herself to think, but swiftly dragged out her small parcel of notes and adhered to the black which had hitherto played her false.

“I warned you,” said the voice behind.

She made a gesture of impatience; this stranger who persisted in interfering with his superfluous warnings was a nuisance. Had she not been so absorbed in the game she would have administered a sharp rebuke. But she remained silent, under a strain upon her nerves which was almost too much for her powers of endurance. She sat with tightly compressed lips and slowly paling cheeks watching the revolution of the fiendish little ball. It moved slower and slower, then seemed to tremble and be uncertain what to do. It hovered between red and black. It stopped. Red! Violetta pushed her chair a few inches from the table, and remained motionless. She felt as if her heart had ceased to beat.

Then she rose. The nerve tension and the consequent re-action had become unbearable. While within the scene of her disaster and with the mechanical chant of the croupier in her ears she could not think. And she had so much to think about!

She wheeled swiftly round to fly from the hateful place and came face to face with the man behind her chair. She had forgotten him, but his presence there reminded her of his warning. She took a dislike to him because his warnings had been justified.

“My chair is at your service,” said she coldly. “Perhaps you would like to play according to your judgment. It seems to have been quite accurate as far as I’m concerned.”

She spoke to him in English for he had all the Anglo-Saxon characteristics.

“I’m sorry,” said he. “Have you lost heavily?”

“No; I dare say you saw what I staked.”

“That isn’t the point. The stake doesn’t count. It’s what you can afford to lose that matters.”

“Then if you care to know, I can afford to lose nothing.”

Violetta had not intended to talk so much to a perfect stranger, especially as when she was gone he would probably chuckle at her obstinacy in disregarding his advice. She was about to walk away, but he detained her.

“I understand. Pardon me for making the suggestion, but can I help you? My purse is at your disposal.”

“No,” she flashed.

“Don’t be angry. I mean nothing but a desire to be of use.”

“You can be of no use,” she retorted.

A cold, incredulous smile went over his narrow face. He was a tall, thin wiry man, slightly bent in the shoulders. His complexion was of an even brownish tinge​—​the complexion of one who lived much in the open air. The narrowness of his features was accentuated by his long straight nose, his thin lips, and slightly pointed chin. His eyes were grey and quite expressionless. There was something about him and his figure which seemed familiar to her. His whole appearance took her mind back to the days at her father’s club, and to the race courses at Auteuil and Chantilly. She knew the cut of a racing man. No one better.

Again she made a movement to escape his attentions, but he waved his hand with a gesture of dissent.

“It might be as well if I told you why you were wrong in staking a second time. May I?”

“For my future benefit, I suppose?”

“Yes, though I doubt if it will make much difference. I guess you’re a woman who will always go her own way. You noticed I dare say that I also lost and then ceased to play.”

“Yes, you hadn’t the courage to go on, I presume,” she rejoined a little contemptuously.

“Not at all. I was simply acting on a system that’s fairly safe. It was laid down by the founder of the casino, M. Blanc.”

“An excellent authority since he made a fortune out of the losses of his patrons,” she replied still more scornfully.

“And therefore he was likely to know. Anyhow, his advice is worth remembering, and so far as my experience has gone it is well founded. Of course the real safe system is never to play, but short of that, said M. Blanc, the game is to stake once and once only each night. I’ve always adhered to that rule, and I’ve generally found myself on the winning side in the long run.”

“Thank you. I’ll not forget,” she returned ironically. “But I fear I shan’t be able to test your admirable method. This is probably my last visit to the tables. The casino closes next week. I wish you good evening.”

“Wait one moment. I’ve noticed you here many times but I’ve never before to-night seen you play. I’m told you are a wonderful ‘mascotte.’ Is it true?”

“That I’m wonderful? I can’t say. I’ve never thought about it.”

“You said just now I’d no courage. I should like to show you that you’re wrong.”

“Oh, you can easily do that, but you must excuse me if I do not remain to see you prove your assertion. I’m not interested one way or the other.”

“I don’t mean that. I wanted to test my courage with your assistance. I should like you to act as my ‘mascotte.’”

“Thank you, but I must refuse. I’m retiring from the profession.”

In spite of her words she was interested, not perhaps in the man himself as in his quiet pertinacity.

“I congratulate you. At the same time I observe that you did not say you had retired. Please oblige me once.”

She hesitated. The talk had done her good. Her nervous system was recovering its tone. A reckless indifference had seized her​—​a not uncommon frame of mind, as most gamblers who see themselves “stony broke” will probably admit.

“Oh, as you please,” she returned carelessly.

“Thanks. Will you resume your seat? Luck is with us. There are now two vacant chairs side by side.”

Violetta shrugged her shoulders and without another word sat herself down in one seat and her companion took the other.

“Which colour is it to be?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Wait. I never look at the table while the mood’s on me. It hasn’t come yet.”

She closed her eyes. Five minutes went over. The man appeared to take as little interest in the table’s fluctuations as she did. His eyes were fixed on her face. The resting of her eyelids on the smooth cheek gave a sort of madonna aspect to her face. His eyes seemed to lose their coldness as he gazed upon her.

Suddenly she spoke.

“Red,” he heard her whisper. Her eyes remained closed.

Swiftly he threw a couple of notes on the table. Red won.

“Marvellous,” said he, as he gathered up his winnings. “Try again. I’m done with my system for to-night at any rate.”

Once more a long pause. “Black” was her next pronouncement. Black it was. The third time she was wrong. The fourth and fifth attempts were correct.

“That’s enough. I’m satisfied. We won’t tempt fortune any further. Your winnings amount to £500.”

My winnings?”

“Certainly. I’ve lost nothing. It all belongs to you.”

“Indeed it doesn’t. I shall be quite contented with ten per cent.”

“You’re very business-like. It is not often that women reckon by percentages. But this isn’t a business transaction. I look upon it as a challenge, and you’ve won. You’re entitled to the stakes.”

He tried to force a bundle of notes upon her, but she rejected it.

“If you won a race through a tip you wouldn’t hand over all your gains to the tipster.”

“What do you know about racing tips and tipsters?” he enquired, with a note of surprise in his voice.

“As much as I care to.”

He would have liked to study her face to read in it her character but her eyes were wide open and directed upon him, and he could not be so rude as to stare as her.

“You’re a woman worth knowing. For that reason you must take this £500. I insist upon it.”

“Insist as much as you like. Business is business.”

He was impressed by her decisive, emphatic manner. He took her at her word.

“Very well. Let us come to terms. Ten per cent. is absurd. Nothing less than half will be fair. Even so, I’m £250 richer than I was half an hour ago. How does that strike you?”

Violetta reflected for a few moments. The sum was not a penny more than she could do with. After all, she had earned it. And as he reminded her, he also had done very well. She consented to the arrangement.

“Do we part in this formal fashion?” he asked, as she rose after accepting the notes.

“Yes. There’s nothing more to be said.”

“Probably, so far as you’re concerned. But what about me?”

“I cannot help you. We’ve finished our business I take it.”

He made no reply and they walked silently to the vestibule. He continued by her side to the terrace. A slight mist was rising and the evergreens and the feathery palms looked fairylike, unreal.

“How do you work​—​your mascotte magic, I mean? How does it come to you?”

“I don’t know. After sitting quietly I have an impulse​—​an inspiration, I suppose some people would call it. That’s all I can tell you.”

“Strange. Would your inspiration be of any use in other things​—​the running at a horse race, for instance?”


“Why not? The result’s the same in both​—​luck.”

“Is it? A dozen things may affect a horse and decide whether he wins or loses. It’s only one thing with the ball in rouge et noir or roulette. I can’t think of a horse as an inanimate block of wood or ivory. Besides, I must look at a horse race​—​I can’t help it​—​and looking is fatal to my power​—​if I have a power.”

Violetta had suddenly changed her tone and manner. Both had lost their coldness. Her natural vivacity had asserted itself as it always did when she talked about horses.

“I see. So you’re fond of racing.”

“I love it.”

“And horses too. I’ve seen you riding at Mentone. You’re a splendid horsewoman.”

“Am I? You’re a good judge, I suppose?”

“I’m called one, anyhow.”

Insensibly they fell into horsey talk. It was the one subject that Violetta loved to discuss, but only with those who understood. Soon reminiscences of famous races at Epsom, Newmarket, Doncaster, in the years prior to Captain Vaughan’s sudden flight to Paris crept in, and they discovered their recollections coincided.

“Do you remember Plymouth Rock’s running in the St. Leger four years ago?” suddenly asked Violetta.

The man’s face darkened and his straight brows contracted.

“Yes, too well.”

“A jockey named Loram was up. He pulled that race.”

“Did he? How do you know?”

“It doesn’t matter how. I only say he did.”

“I won’t contradict you because I can’t. Had Loram not run on the cross Plymouth Rock would have won hands down. No one can speak with better authority than I for I took odds on the horse.”

“You did? What’s your name?”

“I’ll tell you if you tell me yours.”

“No. I don’t wish to.”

“Right; then I’ll keep mine to myself.”

Violetta laughed lightly. She really did not care who he was She had only asked the question out of idle curiosity.

“I’d better say good-night,” she went on after a pause. “Thank you for employing me and for your liberal commission.”

“Is that all you have to say?”

“Every word.”

She held out her hand, and he could not choose but take it.

“I’ve a favour to ask. Will you dine with me to-morrow?”

“I shall be miles away by then.”

“Are you leaving?”

“Yes. What’s the use of staying here any longer?”

“Not much. I thought perhaps to-morrow you’d like to repeat your success of to-night.”

“No. I’ve had enough.”

“Where are you going? London?”

“I haven’t made up my mind. May be and may be not.”

“If you do I hope to see something of you. We might meet at Epsom or Ascot.”

“We might. Ever so many things might happen. I don’t pretend to see into the future.”

“I believe you can do much more that way than you imagine.”

“That’s possible, too.”

He was silent for a moment and fingered his chin reflectively.

“You wouldn’t care to go into partnership?” said he at last.

“With you?”

“That was in my mind.”

“In what way?”

“Purely business.”

“You are still on the turf then?”


Violetta’s eyes went over his hard face.

“No,” said she with decision. “Good-night.”

He did not attempt to persuade her to remain with him, and for this she was grateful. She was anxious to return to her rooms and give Fifine her final instructions.

So they parted, and he watched her glide away until her graceful figure was lost in the black shadows.