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"Two hundred lost!" groaned the captain. "Damn!..That's the end of my luck in roulette, - time for something else."
"Too bad,-- What a shame!," said Kapturek, consolingly. "But, you know. I've won and lost lots of times. I'll lose everything, then win it all back! The main thing to remember is, just don't get hung up on a single game. That's the secret!"
Captain Wagner turned to the card-table.
He loved playing-cards. Sometimes the cards would come to him when he called them, and sometimes they would run away. He loved it when his strong desires chased after the cards and eventually caused them to turn around. Sometimes of course the cards would get away too fast, and his desires had to turn back empty-handed. Over the years, the captain had worked out a complicated, muddled system, in which no method was left out, whether it be exorcism, will-power, surprise-maneuvers, or devout prayers and passionate longing. At one game, the poor desperate captain coveted a heart so strongly that he secretly vowed to commit suicide if it didn't come soon.
Sometimes, he would decide that it was good luck to sit on the right side of the dealer. When he needed to do this, he might ask to switch places with another player. If the others looked amused, he would laugh and say something like, "I'm not superstitious. The light's in my eyes, that's all." If the others knew what he was thinking, they could warn the cards, and the cards would have time to escape.
As soon as Wagner sat down to the card-table, he would start working with the energy of the entire General Staff. And while his mind strove mightily to carry out its mission, his heart would be overcome by waves of passion and terror, hope and despair, exultation and bitterness. He battled, he struggled, he suffered miserably. Ever since roulette had become popular here, he had been refining subtle maneuvers against the deceitful ball. (But he could see that the roulette-ball was not as easy to bring under his command as playing-cards were.)
He always played baccarat, even though it was in the category of games that were not only illegal but also considered low-class. But what difference did games that involved thought and reflection - rational thought and reflection - make to him? After all, his private speculations were already putting him in touch with phenomena that were beyond reason, unexplainable. He could see these things, and often even control them!..No, he wasn't going to stop now. He wanted to engage the mysteries of fate, and lay them bare!
And so he sat down to play baccarat. And he actually did win. He had three nines and three eights in succession, while Lieutenant Trotta had only jokers and kings, and Kapturek only had fours and fives a couple of times. And at this point, Captain Wagner forgot himself..And although it was his usual practice not to be swayed by good luck, not to lose control-- he suddenly tripled his bet. Because he was hoping to "bring in a harvest" of good luck. And this is where the illness began..In the end Kapturak won five hundred crowns. And the Captain had to fill out another I.O.U..
...Two weeks had passed before Lieutenant Trotta's father learned of a rebellion on the border, and of the misfortune his son had suffered there. The whole incident had taken no more than three minutes. After the crowd of demonstrators had been driven away, wounded soldiers and workers lay in the street. It took awhile for the medical wagons to arrive. Lieutenant Trotta was taken to the small garrison hospital. He had a skull-fracture and a broken collarbone. Three days later, brain-fever set in.
By the time his father telegraphed, Lieutenant Trotta was recovering -still bed-ridden, but out of danger. And as upset as he had been by the events leading to his hospitalization, he welcomed his current status as it allowed him to put off making any decisions [about leaving the military].
He gave in to the hospital routines: the dismal antiseptic odor, the snow-white blankness of the walls and his room, the pain, the changing of the bandage, the severe and matronly gentleness of the nurses, and the boring visits of the perpetually cheerful comrades.
One day he was visited by Captain Wagner, who sat for a long time by the bedside, let a few words drop now and then, then stood up, and sat down again. Finally, heaving a sigh, Wagner pulled a promissory note out of his pocket and asked Trotta if he would please co-sign. Trotta signed the note. It was fifteen-hundred crowns. Kapturek had expressly demanded Trotta's guarantee.
Captain Wagner became very animated, and told a detailed story about a racehorse he had discovered that might be a good investment, for the Baden racetrack. After following the story up with a couple of anecdotes, he left very suddenly.
Two days later, the Head Physician showed up by Trotta's bed, looking very pale and shaken. He reported that Captain Wagner was dead. He had shot himself in Grenzwald. There was a farewell note to all his comrades, with special greetings to Carl Trotta.
The lieutenant put out of his mind all thoughts about the promissory note and the consequences of his signature. He fell into a fever. He dreamt that the dead were calling him, and that it was time for him to depart from this world. The unknown wounded workers were standing in a row along with the captain and his old servant, and they were all calling to him. Between Trotta and the line of dead stood an empty roulette table, on which the wheel kept spinning by itself, even though no one was touching it.
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