Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/119

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THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME

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He filled Rainsford’s glass with venerable Chablis from a dusty bottle.

“To-night,” said the general, “we will hunt—you and I.”

Rainsford shook his head. “No, general,” he said. “I will not hunt.”

The general shrugged his shoulders and delicately ate a hothouse grape. “As you wish, my friend,” he said. “The choice rests entirely with you. But may I not venture to suggest that you will find my idea of sport more diverting than Ivan’s?”

He nodded toward the corner to where the giant stood, scowling, his thick arms crossed on his hogshead of chest.

“You don’t mean——” cried Rainsford.

“My dear fellow,” said the general, “have I not told you I always mean what I say about hunting? This is really an inspiration. I drink to a foeman worthy of my steel—at last.”

The general raised his glass, but Rainsford sat staring at him.

“You’ll find this game worth playing,” the general said enthusiastically. “Your brain against mine. Your wood-craft against mine. Your strength and stamina against mine. Outdoor chess! And the stake is not without value, eh?”

“And if I win——” began Rainsford huskily.

“I’ll cheerfully acknowledge myself defeated if I do not find you by midnight of the third day,” said General Zaroff. “My sloop will place you on the mainland near a town.”

The general read what Rainsford was thinking.

“Oh, you can trust me,” said the Cossack. “I will give you my word as a gentleman and a sportsman. Of course you, in turn, must agree to say nothing of your visit here.”

“I’ll agree to nothing of the kind,” said Rainsford.

“Oh,” said the general, “in that case—— But why discuss that now? Three days hence we can discuss it over a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, unless——

The general sipped his wine.

Then a businesslike air animated him. “Ivan,” he said to Rainsford, “will supply you with hunting clothes, food, a knife. I suggest you wear moccasins; they leave a poorer trail. I suggest, too, that you avoid the big swamp in the southeast corner of the island. We call it Death Swamp.