The Soul of the Croupier is a short story written by Agatha Christie.
Summary[edit | edit source]
Mr Satterthwaite, as per his usual annual routine, is spending the first few months of the year in Monte Carlo. Regretting the changing times in which there are less and less of the aristocratic elite to be seen in the resort, he is cheered up by the sight in the hotel terrace rooms of the Countess Czarnova who has been coming there for many years, sometimes in the company of royalty and titled people. Many stories surround the woman and her mysterious background and history. Her companion now is a young mid-western American man, Franklin Rudge, who is clearly enraptured of the attractive and worldly woman.
Soon afterwards, Satterthwaite sees another of Rudge's party on the terrace. This is a young woman called Elizabeth Martin who has none of the other woman's sophistication but nevertheless does not necessarily convey an air of innocence or naivety. She is straightforward, sensible and possessing high ideals. She confides in Satterthwaite her misgivings concerning the Countess and her relationship with Rudge. She leaves and soon afterwards Franklin joins Satterthwaite. He is enjoying his tour of Europe although he confesses that he is disappointed with the casino itself and the routine in the gambling that takes place there. His conversation moves onto the Countess and he praises the woman herself and speaks with great interest of the life she has led.
Satterthwaite is more dubious of the tales she has passed on of her adventures in diplomatic intrigues and the like. Franklin is at a loss to understand why women everywhere seem antagonistic towards the Countess and puts it down to an inherent fault in their sex. Soon afterwards the lady herself joins them and, after Franklin has gone, their conversation continues, during which Satterthwaite receives the direct impression that he is being warned off by the Countess. She means to have Franklin and she perceives Satterthwaite as the probable main impediment to her plans. He is puzzled as to why she should be after the young American when she would appear to have everything that she could desire.
When she has gone, Satterthwaite is delighted to receive his next visitor to his seats on the terrace – his old friend, Harley Quin. They move into the hotel gardens and Satterthwaite finds himself easily telling Quin of the relationships he is observing and the fact that the Countess, for reasons best known to her, is coming between Franklin Rudge and Elizabeth Martin.
The following night at the casino there is an incident when the Countess is at the roulette table. The only woman wearing no jewellery, the Countess is losing heavily on number after number. Finally, as Satterthwaite bets on 5, she bets the maximum on 6. The ball on the wheel lands on 5 but it is to the Countess that the croupier passes the winnings. Satterthwaite is about to object but the look that the Countess gives him halts his speech and he lets her take the money, being a gentleman and keen not to make a scene.
Quin commiserates with him and tells him of a supper party he has arranged that night at a bohemian café called La Caveau. Satterthwaite goes there and takes Elizabeth. Franklin arrives with the Countess but Quin brings with him the casino's croupier who he names as Pierre Vaucher. During the party's conversation, Vaucher tells a strange story of a jeweller who worked in Paris many years ago who despite being engaged fell for a half-starved girl and married her. His family disowned him and over the next two years he realised what a mistake he had made as the woman made his life an emotional hell. Finally she left him but reappeared two years later, dressed in rich clothes and fabulous jewels and mocked him with evil and malicious comments. She left again and the man sank further into drunkenness, eventually saved by the discipline of the army during the First World War. The man eventually became a croupier at a casino and saw his ex-wife, reduced in as much as her jewels were patently false to his trained eye and he realised that she was once more on the edge of destitution. He therefore passed another man's winnings to her. At this point in the story, the Countess jumps up and cries, "Why?" Vaucher smiles and replies that it was pity made him do it. He has an unlighted cigarette and she offers to light it for him, using a spill [handy piece of paper] to do so. She leaves and Vaucher realises that the spill is the fifty thousand franc note, her winnings and all she had in the world. Too proud to accept charity, she burnt it in front of his eyes. Vaucher's feelings for her are rekindled, although the reader is not apprised of Vaucher and the Countess's fate. The scales have fallen from Franklin's eyes as to the true nature of the Countess, and he and Elizabeth are brought together again.