Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/117

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THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME

83

“Suppose he refuses to be hunted?”

“Oh,” said the general, “I give him his option, of course. He need not play that game if he doesn’t wish to. If he does not wish to hunt, I turn him over to Ivan. Ivan once had the honour of serving as official knouter to the Great White Czar, and he has his own ideas of sport. Invariably, Mr. Rainsford, invariably they choose the hunt.”

“And if they win?”

The smile on the general’s face widened. “To date I have not lost,” he said.

Then he added, hastily: “I don’t wish you to think me a braggart, Mr. Rainsford. Many of them afford only the most elementary sort of problem. Occasionally I strike a tartar. One almost did win. I eventually had to use the dogs.”

“The dogs?”

“This way, please. I’ll show you.”

The general steered Rainsford to a window. The lights from the windows sent a flickering illumination that made grotesque patterns on the courtyard below, and Rainsford could see moving about there a dozen or so huge black shapes; as they turned toward him, their eyes glittered greenly.

“A rather good lot, I think,” observed the general. “They are let out at seven every night. If anyone should try to get into my house—or out of it—something extremely regrettable would occur to him.” He hummed a snatch of song from the Folies Bergère.

“And now,” said the general, “I want to show you my new collection of heads. Will you come with me to the library?”

“I hope,” said Rainsford, “that you will excuse me tonight, General Zaroff. I’m really not feeling well.”

“Ah, indeed?” the general inquired solicitously. “Well, I suppose that’s only natural, after your long swim. You need a good, restful night’s sleep. Tomorrow you’ll feel like a new man, I’ll wager. Then we’ll hunt, eh? I’ve one rather promising prospect——

Rainsford was hurrying from the room.

“Sorry you can’t go with me tonight,” called the general. “I expect rather fair sport—a big, strong, black. He looks resourceful—— Well, good night, Mr. Rainsford; I hope you have a good night’s rest.”