The Queen of Spades
by Alexander Sergeievitch Pushkin
There was a card party at the rooms of Naroumoff, of the Horse
Guards. The long winter night passed away imperceptibly, and it
was five o'clock in the morning before the company sat down to
supper. Those who had won ate with a good appetite; the others sat
staring absently at their empty plates. When the champagne
appeared, however, the conversation became more animated, and all
took a part in it.
"And how did you fare, Souirin?" asked the host.
"Oh, I lost, as usual. I must confess that I am unlucky. I play
mirandole, I always keep cool, I never allow anything to put me
out, and yet I always lose!"
"And you did not once allow yourself to be tempted to back the red?
Your firmness astonishes me."
"But what do you think of Hermann?" said one of the guests,
pointing to a young engineer. "He has never had a card in his hand
in his life, he has never in his life laid a wager; and yet he sits
here till five o'clock in the morning watching our play."
"Play interests me very much," said Hermann, "but I am not in the
position to sacrifice the necessary in the hope of winning the
"Hermann is a German; he is economical—that is all!" observed
Tomsky. "But if there is one person that I cannot understand, it
is my grandmother, the Countess Anna Fedorovna!"
"How so?" inquired the guests.
"I cannot understand," continued Tomsky, "how it is that my
grandmother does not punt."
"Then you do not know the reason why?"
"No, really; I haven't the faintest idea. But let me tell you the
story. You must know that about sixty years ago my grandmother
went to Paris, where she created quite a sensation. People used to
run after her to catch a glimpse of the 'Muscovite Venus.'
Richelieu made love to her, and my grandmother maintains that he
almost blew out his brains in consequence of her cruelty. At that
time ladies used to play at faro. On one occasion at the Court,
she lost a very considerable sum to the Duke of Orleans. On
returning home, my grandmother removed the patches from her face,
took off her hoops, informed my grandfather of her loss at the
gaming-table, and ordered him to pay the money. My deceased
grandfather, as far as I remember, was a sort of house-steward to
my grandmother. He dreaded her like fire; but, on hearing of such
a heavy loss, he almost went out of his mind. He calculated the
various sums she had lost, and pointed out to her that in six
months she had spent half a million of francs; that neither their
Moscow nor Saratoff estates were in Paris; and, finally, refused
point-blank to pay the debt. My grandmother gave him a box on the
ear and slept by herself as a sign of her displeasure. The next
day she sent for her husband, hoping that this domestic punishment
had produced an effect upon him, but she found him inflexible. For
the first time in her life she entered into reasonings and
explanations with him, thinking to be able to convince him by
pointing out to him that there are debts and debts, and that there
is a great difference between a prince and a coachmaker.
"But it was all in vain, my grandfather still remained obdurate.
But the matter did not rest there. My grandmother did not know
what to do. She had shortly before become acquainted with a very
remarkable man. You have heard of Count St. Germain, about whom so
many marvelous stories are told. You know that he represented
himself as the Wandering Jew, as the discoverer of the elixir of
life, of the philosopher's stone, and so forth. Some laughed at
him as a charlatan; but Casnova, in his memoirs, says that he was a
spy. But be that as it may, St. Germain, in spite of the mystery
surrounding him, was a very fascinating person, and was much sought
after in the best circles of society. Even to this day my
grandmother retains an affectionate recollection of him, and
becomes quite angry if anyone speaks disrespectfully of him. My
grandmother knew that St. Germain had large sums of money at his
disposal. She resolved to have recourse to him, and she wrote a
letter to him asking him to come to her without delay. The queer
old man immediately waited upon her, and found her overwhelmed with
grief. She described to him in the blackest colors the barbarity
of her husband, and ended by declaring that her whole hope depended
upon his friendship and amiability.
"St. Germain reflected.
"'I could advance you the sum you want,' said he, 'but I know that
you would not rest easy until you had paid me back, and I should
not like to bring fresh troubles upon you. But there is another
way of getting out of your difficuity: you can win back your
"'But, my dear Count,' replied my grandmother, 'I tell you that I
haven't any money left!'
"'Money is not necessary,' replied St. Germain, 'be pleased to
listen to me.'
"Then he revealed to her a secret, for which each of us would give
a good deal."
The young officers listened with increased attention. Tomsky lit
his pipe, puffed away for a moment, and then continued:
"That same evening my grandmother went to Versailles to the jeu de
la reine. The Duke of Orleans kept the bank; my grandmother
excused herself in an offhanded manner for not having yet paid her
debt by inventing some little story, and then began to play against
him. She chose three cards and played them one after the other;
all three won sonika,* and my grandmother recovered every farthing
that she lost."
* Said of a card when it wins or loses in the quickest possible
"Mere chance!" said one of the guests.
"A tale!" observed Hermann.
"Perhaps they were marked cards!" said a third.
"I do not think so," replied Tomsky, gravely.
"What!" said Naroumoff, "you have a grandmother who knows how to
hit upon three lucky cards in succession, and you have never yet
succeeded in getting the secret of it out of her?"
"That's the deuce of it!" replied Tomsky, "she had four sons, one
of whom was my father; all four were determined gamblers, and yet
not to one of them did she ever reveal her secret, although it
would not have been a bad thing either for them or for me. But
this is what I heard from my uncle, Count Ivan Ilitch, and he
assured me, on his honor, that it was true. The late Chaplitsky—
the same who died in poverty after having squandered millions—once
lost, in his youth, about three hundred thousand roubles—to
Zoritch, if I remember rightly. He was in despair. My
grandmother, who was always very severe upon the extravagance of
young men, took pity, however, upon Chaplitsky. She gave him three
cards telling him to play them one after the other, at the same
time exacting from him a solemn promise that he would never play at
cards again as long as he lived. Chaplitsky then went to his
victorious opponent, and they began a fresh game. On the first
card he staked fifty thousand roubles, and won sonika; he doubled
the stake, and won again; till at last, by pursuing the same
tactics, he won back more than he had lost."
"But it is time to go to bed, it is a quarter to six already."
And, indeed, it was already beginning to dawn; the young men
emptied their glasses and then took leave of each other.
The old Countess A—— was seated in her dressing-room in front of
her looking-glass. Three waiting maids stood around her. One held
a small pot of rouge, another a box of hairpins, and the third a
tall cap with bright red ribbons. The Countess had no longer the
slightest pretensions to beauty, but she still preserved the habits
of her youth, dressed in strict accordance with the fashion of
seventy years before, and made as long and as careful a toilette as
she would have done sixty years previously. Near the window, at an
embroidery frame, sat a young lady, her ward.
"Good-morning, grandmamma," said a young officer, entering the
room. "Bonjour, Mademoiselle Lise. Grandmamma, I want to ask you
"What is it, Paul?"
"I want you to let me introduce one of my friends to you, and to
allow me to bring him to the ball on Friday."
"Bring him direct to the ball and introduce him to me there. Were
you at B——'s yesterday?"
"Yes; everything went off very pleasantly, and dancing was kept up
until five o'clock. How charming Eletskaia was!"
"But, my dear, what is there charming about her? Isn't she like
her grandmother, the Princess Daria Petrovna? By the way, she must
be very old, the Princess Daria Petrovna?"
"How do you mean, old?" cried Tomsky, thoughtlessly, "she died
seven years ago."
The young lady raised her head, and made a sign to the young
officer. He then remembered that the old Countess was never to be
informed of the death of her contemporaries, and he bit his lips.
But the old Countess heard the news with the greatest indifference.
"Dead!" said she, "and I did not know it. We were appointed maids
of honor at the same time, and when we were presented to the
And the Countess for the hundredth time related to her grandson one
of her anecdotes.
"Come, Paul," said she, when she had finished her story, "help me
to get up. Lizanka,* where is my snuffbox?"
* Diminutive of Lizaveta (Elizabeth).
And the Countess with her three maids went behind a screen to
finish her toilette. Tomsky was left alone with the young lady.
"Who is the gentleman you wish to introduce to the Countess?" asked
Lizaveta Ivanovna in a whisper.
"Naroumoff. Do you know him?"
"No. Is he a soldier or a civilian?"
"Is he in the Engineers?"
"No, in the Cavalry. What made you think that he was in the
The young lady smiled, but made no reply.
"Paul," cried the Countess from behind the screen, "send me some
new novel, only pray don't let it be one of the present day style."
"What do you mean, grandmother?"
"That is, a novel, in which the hero strangles neither his father
nor his mother, and in which there are no drowned bodies. I have a
great horror of drowned persons."
"There are no such novels nowadays. Would you like a Russian one?"
"Are there any Russian novels? Send me one, my dear, pray send me
"Good-by, grandmother. I am in a hurry. . . . Goodby, Lizavetta
Ivanovna. What made you think that Naroumoff was in the
And Tomsky left the boudoir.
Lizaveta Ivanovna was left alone. She laid aside her work, and
began to look out of the window. A few moments afterwards, at a
corner house on the other side of the street, a young officer
appeared. A deep flush covered her cheeks; she took up her work
again, and bent her head down over the frame. At the same moment
the Countess returned, completely dressed.
"Order the carriage, Lizaveta," said she, "we will go out for a
Lizaveta rose from the frame, and began to arrange her work.
"What is the matter with you, my child, are you deaf?" cried the
Countess. "Order the carriage to be got ready at once."
"I will do so this moment," replied the young lady, hastening into
A servant entered and gave the Countess some books from Prince Paul
"Tell him that I am much obliged to him," said the Countess.
"Lizaveta! Lizaveta! where are you running to?"
"I am going to dress."
"There is plenty of time, my dear. Sit down here. Open the first
volume and read to me aloud."
Her companion took the book and read a few lines.
"Louder," said the Countess. "What is the matter with you, my
child? Have you lost your voice? Wait—Give me that footstool—
a little nearer—that will do!"
Lizaveta read two more pages. The Countess yawned.
"Put the book down," said she, "what a lot of nonsense! Send it
back to Prince Paul with my thanks. . . . But where is the
"The carriage is ready," said Lizaveta, looking out into the
"How is it that you are not dressed?" said the Countess. "I must
always wait for you. It is intolerable, my dear!"
Liza hastened to her room. She had not been there two minutes
before the Countess began to ring with all her might. The three
waiting-maids came running in at one door, and the valet at
"How is it that you cannot hear me when I ring for you?" said the
Countess. "Tell Lizaveta Ivanovna that I am waiting for her."
Lizaveta returned with her hat and cloak on.
"At last you are here!" said the Countess. "But why such an
elaborate toilette? Whom do you intend to captivate? What sort of
weather is it? It seems rather windy."
"No, your Ladyship, it is very calm," replied the valet.
"You never think of what you are talking about. Open the window.
So it is; windy and bitterly cold. Unharness the horses, Lizaveta,
we won't go out—there was no need to deck yourself like that."
"What a life is mine!" thought Lizaveta Ivanovna.
And, in truth, Lizaveta Ivanovna was a very unfortunate creature.
"The bread of the stranger is bitter," says Dante, "and his
staircase hard to climb." But who can know what the bitterness of
dependence is so well as the poor companion of an old lady of
quality? The Countess A—— had by no means a bad heart, but she
was capricious, like a woman who had been spoiled by the world, as
well as being avaricious and egotistical, like all old people, who
have seen their best days, and whose thoughts are with the past,
and not the present. She participated in all the vanities of the
great world, went to balls, where she sat in a corner, painted and
dressed in old-fashioned style, like a deformed but indispensable
ornament of the ballroom; all the guests on entering approached her
and made a profound bow, as if in accordance with a set ceremony,
but after that nobody took any further notice of her. She received
the whole town at her house, and observed the strictest etiquette,
although she could no longer recognize the faces of people. Her
numerous domestics, growing fat and old in her antechamber and
servants' hall, did just as they liked, and vied with each other in
robbing the aged Countess in the most bare-faced manner. Lizaveta
Ivanovna was the martyr of the household. She made tea, and was
reproached with using too much sugar; she read novels aloud to the
Countess, and the faults of the author were visited upon her head;
she accompanied the Countess in her walks, and was held answerable
for the weather or the state of the pavement. A salary was
attached to the post, but she very rarely received it, although she
was expected to dress like everybody else, that is to say, like
very few indeed. In society she played the most pitiable role.
Everybody knew her, and nobody paid her any attention. At balls
she danced only when a partner was wanted, and ladies would only
take hold of her arm when it was necessary to lead her out of the
room to attend to their dresses. She was very self-conscious, and
felt her position keenly, and she looked about her with impatience
for a deliverer to come to her rescue; but the young men,
calculating in their giddiness, honored her with but very little
attention, although Lizaveta Ivanovna was a hundred times prettier
than the bare-faced, cold-hearted marriageable girls around whom
they hovered. Many a time did she quietly slink away from the
glittering, but wearisome, drawing-room, to go and cry in her own
poor little room, in which stood a screen, a chest of drawers, a
looking-glass, and a painted bedstead, and where a tallow candle
burnt feebly in a copper candle-stick.
One morning—this was about two days after the evening party
described at the beginning of this story, and a week previous to
the scene at which we have just assisted—Lizaveta Ivanovna was
seated near the window at her embroidery frame, when, happening to
look out into the street, she caught sight of a young Engineer
officer, standing motionless with his eyes fixed upon her window.
She lowered her head, and went on again with her work. About five
minutes afterwards she looked out again—the young officer was
still standing in the same place. Not being in the habit of
coquetting with passing officers, she did not continue to gaze out
into the street, but went on sewing for a couple of hours, without
raising her head. Dinner was announced. She rose up and began to
put her embroidery away, but glancing casually out of the window,
she perceived the officer again. This seemed to her very strange.
After dinner she went to the window with a certain feeling of
uneasiness, but the officer was no longer there—and she thought no
more about him.
A couple of days afterwards, just as she was stepping into the
carriage with the Countess, she saw him again. He was standing
close behind the door, with his face half-concealed by his fur
collar, but his dark eyes sparkled beneath his cap. Lizaveta felt
alarmed, though she knew not why, and she trembled as she seated
herself in the carriage.
On returning home, she hastened to the window—the officer was
standing in his accustomed place, with his eyes fixed upon her.
She drew back, a prey to curiosity, and agitated by a feeling which
was quite new to her.
From that time forward not a day passed without the young officer
making his appearance under the window at the customary hour, and
between him and her there was established a sort of mute
acquaintance. Sitting in her place at work, she used to feel his
approach, and, raising her head, she would look at him longer and
longer each day. The young man seemed to be very grateful to her;
she saw with the sharp eye of youth, how a sudden flush covered his
pale cheeks each time that their glances met. After about a week
she commenced to smile at him. . . .
When Tomsky asked permission of his grandmother, the Countess, to
present one of his friends to her, the young girl's heart beat
violently. But hearing that Naroumoff was not an Engineer, she
regretted that by her thoughtless question, she had betrayed her
secret to the volatile Tomsky.
Hermann was the son of a German who had become a naturalized
Russian, and from whom he had inherited a small capital. Being
firmly convinced of the necessity of preserving his independence,
Hermann did not touch his private income, but lived on his pay,
without allowing himself the slightest luxury. Moreover, he was
reserved and ambitious, and his companions rarely had an
opportunity of making merry at the expense of his extreme
parsimony. He had strong passions and an ardent imagination, but
his firmness of disposition preserved him from the ordinary errors
of young men. Thus, though a gamester at heart, he never touched a
card, for he considered his position did not allow him—as he said—
"to risk the necessary in the hope of winning the superfluous,"
yet he would sit for nights together at the card table and follow
with feverish anxiety the different turns of the game.
The story of the three cards had produced a powerful impression
upon his imagination, and all night long he could think of nothing
else. "If," he thought to himself the following evening, as he
walked along the streets of St. Petersburg, "if the old Countess
would not reveal her secret to me! If she would only tell me the
names of the three winning cards. Why should I not try my fortune?
I must get introduced to her and win her favor—become her
lover. . . . But all that will take time, and she is eighty-seven
years old. She might be dead in a week, in a couple of days even.
But the story itself? Can it really be true? No! Economy,
temperance, and industry; those are my three winning cards; by
means of them I shall be able to double my capital—increase it
sevenfold, and procure for myself ease and independence."
Musing in this manner, he walked on until he found himself in one
of the principal streets of St. Petersburg, in front of a house of
antiquated architecture. The street was blocked with equipages;
carriages one after the other drew up in front of the brilliantly
illuminated doorway. At one moment there stepped out onto the
pavement the well-shaped little foot of some young beauty, at
another the heavy boot of a cavalry officer, and then the silk
stockings and shoes of a member of the diplomatic world. Fur and
cloaks passed in rapid succession before the gigantic porter at the
entrance. Hermann stopped. "Whose house is this?" he asked of the
watchman at the corner.
"The Countess A——'s," replied the watchman.
Hermann started. The strange story of the three cards again
presented itself to his imagination. He began walking up and down
before the house, thinking of its owner and her strange secret.
Returning late to his modest lodging, he could not go to sleep for
a long time, and when at last he did doze off, he could dream of
nothing but cards, green tables, piles of banknotes, and heaps of
ducats. He played one card after the other, winning
uninterruptedly, and then he gathered up the gold and filled his
pockets with the notes. When he woke up late the next morning, he
sighed over the loss of his imaginary wealth, and then sallying out
into the town, he found himself once more in front of the
Countess's residence. Some unknown power seemed to have attracted
him thither. He stopped and looked up at the windows. At one of
these he saw a head with luxuriant black hair, which was bent down,
probably over some book or an embroidery frame. The head was
raised. Hermann saw a fresh complexion, and a pair of dark eyes.
That moment decided his fate.
Lizaveta Ivanovna had scarcely taken off her hat and cloak, when
the Countess sent for her, and again ordered her to get the
carriage ready. The vehicle drew up before the door, and they
prepared to take their seats. Just at the moment when two footmen
were assisting the old lady to enter the carriage, Lizaveta saw her
Engineer standing close beside the wheel; he grasped her hand;
alarm caused her to lose her presence of mind, and the young man
disappeared—but not before he had left a letter between her
fingers. She concealed it in her glove, and during the whole of
the drive she neither saw nor heard anything. It was the custom of
the Countess, when out for an airing in her carriage, to be
constantly asking such questions as "Who was that person that met
us just now? What is the name of this bridge? What is written on
that sign-board?" On this occasion, however, Lizaveta returned
such vague and absurd answers, that the Countess became angry with
"What is the matter with you, my dear?" she exclaimed. "Have you
taken leave of your senses, or what is it? Do you not hear me or
understand what I say? Heaven be thanked, I am still in my right
mind and speak plainly enough!"
Lizaveta Ivanovna did not hear her. On returning home she ran to
her room, and drew the letter out of her glove: it was not sealed.
Lizaveta read it. The letter contained a declaration of love; it
was tender, respectful, and copied word for word from a German
novel. But Lizaveta did not know anything of the German language,
and she was quite delighted.
For all that, the letter caused her to feel exceedingly uneasy.
For the first time in her life she was entering into secret and
confidential relations with a young man. His boldness alarmed her.
She reproached herself for her imprudent behavior, and knew not
what to do. Should she cease to sit at the window, and, by
assuming an appearance of indifference towards him, put a check
upon the young officer's desire for further acquaintance with her?
Should she send his letter back to him, or should she answer him in
a cold and decided manner? There was nobody to whom she could turn
in her perplexity, for she had neither female friend nor adviser.
At length she resolved to reply to him.
She sat down at her little writing table, took pen and paper, and
began to think. Several times she began her letter and then tore
it up; the way she had expressed herself seemed to her either too
inviting or too cold and decisive. At last she succeeded in
writing a few lines with which she felt satisfied.
"I am convinced," she wrote, "that your intentions are honorable,
and that you do not wish to offend me by any imprudent behavior,
but our acquaintance must not begin in such a manner. I return you
your letter, and I hope that I shall never have any cause to
complain of this undeserved slight."
The next day, as soon as Hermann made his appearance, Lizaveta rose
from her embroidery, went into the drawing-room, opened the
ventilator, and threw the letter into the street, trusting that the
young officer would have the perception to pick it up.
Hermann hastened forward, picked it up, and then repaired to a
confectioner's shop. Breaking the seal of the envelope, he found
inside it his own letter and Lizaveta's reply. He had expected
this, and he returned home, his mind deeply occupied with his
Three days afterwards a bright-eyed young girl from a milliner's
establishment brought Lizaveta a letter. Lizaveta opened it with
great uneasiness, fearing that it was a demand for money, when,
suddenly, she recognized Hermann's handwriting.
"You have made a mistake, my dear," said she. "This letter is not
"Oh, yes, it is for you," replied the girl, smiling very knowingly.
"Have the goodness to read it."
Lizaveta glanced at the letter. Hermann requested an interview.
"It cannot be," she cried, alarmed at the audacious request and the
manner in which it was made. "This letter is certainly not for
me," and she tore it into fragments.
"If the letter was not for you, why have you torn it up?" said the
girl. "I should have given it back to the person who sent it."
"Be good enough, my dear," said Lizaveta, disconcerted by this
remark, "not to bring me any more letters for the future, and tell
the person who sent you that he ought to be ashamed."
But Hermann was not the man to be thus put off. Every day Lizaveta
received from him a letter, sent now in this way, now in that.
They were no longer translated from the German. Hermann wrote them
under the inspiration of passion, and spoke in his own language,
and they bore full testimony to the inflexibility of his desire,
and the disordered condition of his uncontrollable imagination.
Lizaveta no longer thought of sending them back to him; she became
intoxicated with them, and began to reply to them, and little by
little her answers became longer and more affectionate. At last
she threw out of the window to him the following letter:
"This evening there is going to be a ball at the Embassy. The
Countess will be there. We shall remain until two o'clock. You
have now an opportunity of seeing me alone. As soon as the
Countess is gone, the servants will very probably go out, and there
will be nobody left but the Swiss, but he usually goes to sleep in
his lodge. Come about half-past eleven. Walk straight upstairs.
If you meet anybody in the anteroom, ask if the Countess is at
home. You will be told 'No,' in which case there will be nothing
left for you to do but to go away again. But it is most probable
that you will meet nobody. The maidservants will all be together
in one room. On leaving the anteroom, turn to the left, and walk
straight on until you reach the Countess's bedroom. In the
bedroom, behind a screen, you will find two doors: the one on the
right leads to a cabinet, which the Countess never enters; the one
on the left leads to a corridor, at the end of which is a little
winding staircase; this leads to my room."
Hermann trembled like a tiger as he waited for the appointed time
to arrive. At ten o'clock in the evening he was already in front
of the Countess's house. The weather was terrible; the wind blew
with great violence, the sleety snow fell in large flakes, the
lamps emitted a feeble light, the streets were deserted; from time
to time a sledge drawn by a sorry-looking hack, passed by on the
lookout for a belated passenger. Hermann was enveloped in a thick
overcoat, and felt neither wind nor snow.
At last the Countess's carriage drew up. Hermann saw two footmen
carry out in their arms the bent form of the old lady, wrapped in
sable fur, and immediately behind her, clad in a warm mantle, and
with her head ornamented with a wreath of fresh flowers, followed
Lizaveta. The door was closed. The carriage rolled heavily away
through the yielding snow. The porter shut the street door, the
windows became dark.
Hermann began walking up and down near the deserted house; at
length he stopped under a lamp, and glanced at his watch: it was
twenty minutes past eleven. He remained standing under the lamp,
his eyes fixed upon the watch impatiently waiting for the remaining
minutes to pass. At half-past eleven precisely Hermann ascended
the steps of the house and made his way into the brightly-
illuminated vestibule. The porter was not there. Hermann hastily
ascended the staircase, opened the door of the anteroom, and saw a
footman sitting asleep in an antique chair by the side of a lamp.
With a light, firm step Hermann passed by him. The drawing-room
and dining-room were in darkness, but a feeble reflection
penetrated thither from the lamp in the anteroom.
Hermann reached the Countess's bedroom. Before a shrine, which was
full of old images, a golden lamp was burning. Faded stuffed
chairs and divans with soft cushions stood in melancholy symmetry
around the room, the walls of which were hung with china silk. On
one side of the room hung two portraits painted in Paris by Madame
Lebrun. One of these represented a stout, red-faced man of about
forty years of age, in a bright green uniform, and with a star upon
his breast; the other—a beautiful young woman, with an aquiline
nose, forehead curls, and a rose in her powdered hair. In the
corner stood porcelain shepherds and shepherdesses, dining-room
clocks from the workshop of the celebrated Lefroy, bandboxes,
roulettes, fans, and the various playthings for the amusement of
ladies that were in vogue at the end of the last century, when
Montgolfier's balloons and Niesber's magnetism were the rage.
Hermann stepped behind the screen. At the back of it stood a
little iron bedstead; on the right was the door which led to the
cabinet; on the left, the other which led to the corridor. He
opened the latter, and saw the little winding staircase which led
to the room of the poor companion. But he retraced his steps and
entered the dark cabinet.
The time passed slowly. All was still. The clock in the drawing-
room struck twelve, the strokes echoed through the room one after
the other, and everything was quiet again. Hermann stood leaning
against the cold stove. He was calm, his heart beat regularly,
like that of a man resolved upon a dangerous but inevitable
undertaking. One o'clock in the morning struck; then two, and he
heard the distant noise of carriage-wheels. An involuntary
agitation took possession of him. The carriage drew near and
stopped. He heard the sound of the carriage steps being let down.
All was bustle within the house. The servants were running hither
and thither, there was a confusion of voices, and the rooms were
lit up. Three antiquated chambermaids entered the bedroom, and
they were shortly afterwards followed by the Countess, who, more
dead than alive, sank into a Voltaire armchair. Hermann peeped
through a chink. Lizaveta Ivanovna passed close by him, and he
heard her hurried steps as she hastened up the little spiral
staircase. For a moment his heart was assailed by something like a
pricking of conscience, but the emotion was only transitory, and
his heart became petrified as before.
The Countess began to undress before her looking-glass. Her rose-
bedecked cap was taken off, and then her powdered wig was removed
from off her white and closely cut hair. Hairpins fell in showers
around her. Her yellow satin dress, brocaded with silver, fell
down at her swollen feet.
Hermann was a witness of the repugnant mysteries of her toilette;
at last the Countess was in her night-cap and dressing-gown, and in
this costume, more suitable to her age, she appeared less hideous
Like all old people, in general, the Countess suffered from
sleeplessness. Having undressed, she seated herself at the window
in a Voltaire armchair, and dismissed her maids. The candles were
taken away, and once more the room was left with only one lamp
burning in it. The Countess sat there looking quite yellow,
mumbling with her flaccid lips and swaying to and fro. Her dull
eyes expressed complete vacancy of mind, and, looking at her, one
would have thought that the rocking of her body was not a voluntary
action of her own, but was produced by the action of some concealed
Suddenly the death-like face assumed an inexplicable expression.
The lips ceased to tremble, the eyes became animated: before the
Countess stood an unknown man.
"Do not be alarmed, for Heaven's sake, do not be alarmed!" said he
in a low but distinct voice. "I have no intention of doing you any
harm; I have only come to ask a favor of you."
The old woman looked at him in silence, as if she had not heard
what he had said. Hermann thought that she was deaf, and, bending
down towards her ear, he repeated what he had said. The aged
Countess remained silent as before.
"You can insure the happiness of my life," continued Hermann, "and
it will cost you nothing. I know that you can name three cards in
Hermann stopped. The Countess appeared now to understand what he
wanted; she seemed as if seeking for words to reply.
"It was a joke," she replied at last. "I assure you it was only a
"There is no joking about the matter," replied Hermann, angrily.
"Remember Chaplitsky, whom you helped to win."
The Countess became visibly uneasy. Her features expressed strong
emotion, but they quickly resumed their former immobility.
"Can you not name me these three winning cards?" continued Hermann.
The Countess remained silent; Hermann continued:
"For whom are you preserving your secret? For your grandsons?
They are rich enough without it, they do not know the worth of
money. Your cards would be of no use to a spendthrift. He who
cannot preserve his paternal inheritance will die in want, even
though he had a demon at his service. I am not a man of that sort.
I know the value of money. Your three cards will not be thrown
away upon me. Come!"
He paused and tremblingly awaited her reply. The Countess remained
silent. Hermann fell upon his knees.
"If your heart has ever known the feeling of love," said be, "if
you remember its rapture, if you have ever smiled at the cry of
your new-born child, if any human feeling has ever entered into
your breast, I entreat you by the feelings of a wife, a lover, a
mother, by all that is most sacred in life, not to reject my
prayer. Reveal to me your secret. Of what use is it to you? May
be it is connected with some terrible sin, with the loss of eternal
salvation, with some bargain with the devil. Reflect, you are old,
you have not long to live—I am ready to take your sins upon my
soul. Only reveal to me your secret. Remember that the happiness
of a man is in your hands, that not only I, but my children and my
grandchildren, will bless your memory and reverence you as a
The old Countess answered not a word.
Hermann rose to his feet.
"You old hag!" he exclaimed, grinding his teeth, "then I will make
you answer!" With these words he drew a pistol from his pocket.
At the sight of the pistol, the Countess for the second time
exhibited strong emotions. She shook her head, and raised her
hands as if to protect herself from the shot. Then she fell
backwards, and remained motionless.
"Come, an end to this childish nonsense!" said Hermann, taking hold
of her hand. "I ask you for the last time: will you tell me the
names of your three cards, or will you not?"
The Countess made no reply. Hermann perceived that she was dead!
Lizaveta Ivanovna was sitting in her room, still in her ball dress,
lost in deep thought. On returning home, she had hastily dismissed
the chambermaid, who very reluctantly came forward to assist her,
saying that she would undress herself, and with a trembling heart
had gone up to her own room, expecting to find Hermann there, but
yet hoping not to find him. At the first glance he was not there,
and she thanked her fate for having prevented him keeping the
appointment. She sat down without undressing, and began to call to
mind all the circumstances which in a short time had carried her so
far. It was not three weeks since the time when she had first seen
the young officer from the window—and yet she was already in
correspondence with him, and he had succeeded in inducing her to
grant him a nocturnal interview. She knew his name only through
his having written it at the bottom of some of his letters; she had
never spoken to him, had never heard his voice, and had never heard
him spoken of until that evening. But, strange to say, that very
evening at the ball, Tomsky, being piqued with the young Princess
Pauline N——, who, contrary to her usual custom, did not flirt
with him, wished to revenge himself by assuming an air of
indifference: he therefore engaged Lizaveta Ivanovna, and danced an
endless mazurka with her. During the whole of the time he kept
teasing her about her partiality for Engineer officers, he assured
her that he knew far more than she imagined, and some of his jests
were so happily aimed, that Lizaveta thought several times that her
secret was known to him.
"From whom have you learned all this?" she asked, smiling.
"From a friend of a person very well known to you," replied Tomsky,
"from a very distinguished man."
"And whom is this distinguished man?"
"His name is Hermann." Lizaveta made no reply, but her hands and
feet lost all sense of feeling.
"This Hermann," continued Tomsky, "is a man of romantic
personality. He has the profile of a Napoleon, and the soul of a
Mephistopheles. I believe that he has at least three crimes upon
his conscience. How pale you have become!"
"I have a headache. But what did this Hermann, or whatever his
name is, tell you?"
"Hermann is very dissatisfied with his friend. He says that in his
place he would act very differently. I even think that Hermann
himself has designs upon you; at least, he listens very attentively
to all that his friend has to say about you."
"And where has he seen me?"
"In church, perhaps; or on the parade. God alone knows where. It
may have been in your room, while you were asleep, for there is
nothing that he—"
Three ladies approaching him with the question: "oubli ou regret?"
interrupted the conversation, which had become so tantalizingly
interesting to Lizaveta.
The lady chosen by Tomsky was the Princess Pauline herself. She
succeeded in effecting a reconciliation with him during the
numerous turns of the dance, after which he conducted her to her
chair. On returning to his place, Tomsky thought no more either of
Hermann or Lizaveta. She longed to renew the interrupted
conversation, but the mazurka came to an end, and shortly
afterwards the old Countess took her departure.
Tomsky's words were nothing more than the customary small talk of
the dance, but they sank deep into the soul of the young dreamer.
The portrait, sketched by Tomsky, coincided with the picture she
had formed within her own mind, and, thanks to the latest romances,
the ordinary countenance of her admirer became invested with
attributes capable of alarming her and fascinating her imagination
at the same time. She was now sitting with her bare arms crossed,
and with her head, still adorned with flowers, sunk upon her
uncovered bosom. Suddenly the door opened and Hermann entered.
"Where were you?" she asked in a terrified whisper.
"In the old Countess's bedroom," replied Hermann. "I have just
left her. The Countess is dead."
"My God! What do you say?"
"And I am afraid," added Hermann, "that I am the cause of her
Lizaveta looked at him, and Tomsky's words found an echo in her
soul: "This man has at least three crimes upon his conscience!"
Hermann sat down by the window near her, and related all that had
Lizaveta listened to him in terror. So all those passionate
letters, those ardent desires, this bold, obstinate pursuit—all
this was not love! Money—that was what his soul yearned for! She
could not satisfy his desire and make him happy. The poor girl had
been nothing but the blind tool of a robber, of the murderer of her
aged benefactress! She wept bitter tears of agonized repentance.
Hermann gazed at her in silence; his heart, too, was a prey to
violent emotion, but neither the tears of the poor girl, nor the
wonderful charm of her beauty, enhanced by her grief, could produce
any impression upon his hardened soul. He felt no pricking of
conscience at the thought of the dead old woman. One thing only
grieved him: the irreparable loss of the secret from which he had
expected to obtain great wealth.
"You are a monster!" said Lizaveta at last.
"I did not wish for her death," replied Hermann, "my pistol was not
loaded." Both remained silent. The day began to dawn. Lizaveta
extinguished her candle, a pale light illumined her room. She
wiped her tear-stained eyes, and raised them towards Hermann. He
was sitting near the window, with his arms crossed, and with a
fierce frown upon his forehead. In this attitude he bore a
striking resemblance to the portrait of Napoleon. This resemblance
struck Lizaveta even.
"How shall I get you out of the house?" said she at last. "I
thought of conducting you down the secret staircase."
"I will go alone," he answered.
Lizaveta arose, took from her drawer a key, handed it to Hermann,
and gave him the necessary instructions. Hermann pressed her cold,
inert hand, kissed her bowed head, and left the room.
He descended the winding staircase, and once more entered the
Countess's bedroom. The dead old lady sat as if petrified, her
face expressed profound tranquillity. Hermann stopped before her,
and gazed long and earnestly at her, as if he wished to convince
himself of the terrible reality. At last he entered the cabinet,
felt behind the tapestry for the door, and then began to descend
the dark staircase, filled with strange emotions. "Down this very
staircase," thought he, "perhaps coming from the very same room,
and at this very same hour sixty years ago, there may have glided,
in an embroidered coat, with his hair dressed a l'oiseau royal, and
pressing to his heart his three-cornered hat, some young gallant
who has long been mouldering in the grave, but the heart of his
aged mistress has only today ceased to beat."
At the bottom of the staircase Hermann found a door, which he
opened with a key, and then traversed a corridor which conducted
him into the street.
Three days after the fatal night, at nine o'clock in the morning,
Hermann repaired to the Convent of ——-, where the last honors
were to be paid to the mortal remains of the old Countess.
Although feeling no remorse, he could not altogether stifle the
voice of conscience, which said to him: "You are the murderer of
the old woman!" In spite of his entertaining very little religious
belief, he was exceedingly superstitions; and believing that the
dead Countess might exercise an evil influence on his life, he
resolved to be present at her obsequies in order to implore her
The church was full. It was with difficulty that Hermann made his
way through the crowd of people. The coffin was placed upon a rich
catafalque beneath a velvet baldachin. The deceased Countess lay
within it, with her hands crossed upon her breast, with a lace cap
upon her head, and dressed in a white satin robe. Around the
catafalque stood the members of her household; the servants in
black caftans, with armorial ribbons upon their shoulders and
candles in their hands; the relatives—children, grandchildren, and
great-grandchildren—in deep mourning.
Nobody wept, tears would have been an affectation. The Countess
was so old that her death could have surprised nobody, and her
relatives had long looked upon her as being out of the world. A
famous preacher delivered the funeral sermon. In simple and
touching words he described the peaceful passing away of the
righteous, who had passed long years in calm preparation for a
Christian end. "The angel of death found her," said the orator,
"engaged in pious meditation and waiting for the midnight
The service concluded amidst profound silence. The relatives went
forward first to take a farewell of the corpse. Then followed the
numerous guests, who had come to render the last homage to her who
for so many years had been a participator in their frivolous
amusements. After these followed the members of the Countess's
household. The last of these an old woman of the same age as the
deceased. Two young women led her forward by the hand. She had
not strength enough to bow down to the ground—she merely shed a
few tears, and kissed the cold hand of the mistress.
Herman now resolved to approach the coffin. He knelt down upon the
cold stones, and remained in that position for some minutes; at
last he arose as pale as the deceased Countess herself; he ascended
the steps of the catafalque and bent over the corpse. . . . At
that moment it seemed to him that the dead woman darted a mocking
look at him and winked with one eye. Hermann started back, took a
false step, and fell to the ground. Several persons hurried
forward and raised him up. At the same moment Lizaveta Ivanovna
was borne fainting into the porch of the church. This episode
disturbed for some minutes the solemnity of the gloomy ceremony.
Among the congregation arose a deep murmur, and a tall, thin
chamberlain, a near relative of the deceased, whispered in the ear
of an Englishman, who was standing near him, that the young officer
was a natural son of the Countess, to which the Englishman coldly
During the whole of that day Hermann was strangely excited.
Repairing to an out of the way restaurant to dine, be drank a great
deal of wine, contrary to his usual custom, in the hope of
deadening his inward agitation. But the wine only served to excite
his imagination still more. On returning home he threw himself
upon his bed without undressing, and fell into a deep sleep.
When he woke up it was already night, and the moon was shining into
the room. He looked at his watch: it was a quarter to three.
Sleep had left him; he sat down upon his bed, and thought of the
funeral of the old Countess.
At that moment somebody in the street looked in at his window and
immediately passed on again. Hermann paid no attention to this
incident. A few moments afterwards he heard the door of his
anteroom open. Hermann thought that it was his orderly, drunk as
usual, returning from some nocturnal expedition, but presently he
heard footsteps that were unknown to him: somebody was walking
softly over the floor in slippers. The door opened, and a woman
dressed in white entered the room. Hermann mistook her for his old
nurse, and wondered what could bring her there at that hour of the
night. But the white woman glided rapidly across the room and
stood before him—and Hermann thought he recognized the Countess.
"I have come to you against my wish," she said in a firm voice,
"but I have been ordered to grant your request. Three, seven, ace,
will win for you if played in succession, but only on these
conditions: that you do not play more than one card in twenty-four-
hours, and that you never play again during the rest of your life.
I forgive you my death, on condition that you marry my companion,
With these words she turned round very quietly, walked with a
shuffling gait towards the door, and disappeared. Hermann heard
the street door open and shut, and again he saw someone look in at
him through the window.
For a long time Hermann could not recover himself. He then rose up
and entered the next room. His orderly was lying asleep upon the
floor, and he had much difficulty in waking him. The orderly was
drunk as usual, and no information could be obtained from him. The
street door was locked. Hermann returned to his room, lit his
candle, and wrote down all the details of his vision.
Two fixed ideas can no more exist together in the moral world than
two bodies can occupy one and the same physical world. "Three,
seven, ace" soon drove out of Hermann's mind the thought of the
dead Countess. "Three, seven, ace" were perpetually running
through his head, and continually being repeated by his lips. If
he saw a young girl, he would say: "How slender she is; quite like
the three of hearts." If anybody asked "What is the time?" he
would reply: "Five minutes to seven." Every stout man that he saw
reminded him of the ace. "Three, seven, ace" haunted him in his
sleep, and assumed all possible shapes. The threes bloomed before
him in the forms of magnificent flowers, the sevens were
represented by Gothic portals, and the aces became transformed into
gigantic spiders. One thought alone occupied his whole mind—to
make a profitable use of the secret which he had purchased so
dearly. He thought of applying for a furlough so as to travel
abroad. He wanted to go to Paris and tempt fortune in some
gambling houses that abounded there. Chance spared him all this
There was in Moscow a society of rich gamesters, presided over by
the celebrated Chekalinsky, who had passed all his life at the card
table, and had amassed millions, accepting bills of exchange for
his winnings, and paying his losses in ready money. His long
experience secured for him the confidence of his companions, and
his open house, his famous cook, and his agreeable and fascinating
manners, gained for him the respect of the public. He came to St.
Petersburg. The young men of the capital flocked to his rooms,
forgetting balls for cards, and preferring the emotions of faro to
the seductions of flirting. Naroumoff conducted Hermann to
They passed through a suite of rooms, filled with attentive
domestics. The place was crowded. Generals and Privy Counsellors
were playing at whist, young men were lolling carelessly upon the
velvet-covered sofas, eating ices and smoking pipes. In the
drawing-room, at the head of a long table, around which were
assembled about a score of players, sat the master of the house
keeping the bank. He was a man of about sixty years of age, of a
very dignified appearance; his head was covered with silvery white
hair; his full, florid countenance expressed good-nature, and his
eyes twinkled with a perpetual smile. Naroumoff introduced Hermann
to him. Chekalinsky shook him by the hand in a friendly manner,
requested him not to stand on ceremony, and then went on dealing.
The game occupied some time. On the table lay more than thirty
cards. Chekalinsky paused after each throw, in order to give the
players time to arrange their cards and note down their losses,
listened politely to their requests, and more politely still,
straightened the corners of cards that some player's hand had
chanced to bend. At last the game was finished. Chekalinsky
shuffled the cards, and prepared to deal again.
"Will you allow me to take a card?" said Hermann, stretching out
his hand from behind a stout gentleman who was punting.
Chekalinsky smiled and bowed silently, as a sign of acquiescence.
Naroumoff laughingly congratulated Hermann on his abjuration of
that abstention from cards which he had practised for so long a
period, and wished him a lucky beginning.
"Stake!" said Hermann, writing some figures with chalk on the back
of his card.
"How much?" asked the banker, contracting the muscles of his eyes,
"excuse me, I cannot see quite clearly."
"Forty-seven thousand roubles," replied Hermann. At these words
every head in the room turned suddenly round, and all eyes were
fixed upon Hermann.
"He has taken leave of his senses!" thought Naroumoff.
"Allow me to inform you," said Chekalinsky, with his eternal smile,
"that you are playing very high; nobody here has ever staked more
than two hundred and seventy-five roubles at once."
"Very well," replied Hermann, "but do you accept my card or not?"
Chekalinsky bowed in token of consent.
"I only wish to observe," said he, "that although I have the
greatest confidence in my friends, I can only play against ready
money. For my own part I am quite convinced that your word is
sufficient, but for the sake of the order of the game, and to
facilitate the reckoning up, I must ask you to put the money on
Hermann drew from his pocket a bank-note, and handed it to
Chekalinsky, who, after examining it in a cursory manner, placed it
on Hermann's card.
He began to deal. On the right a nine turned up, and on the left a
"I have won!" said Hermann, showing his card.
A murmur of astonishment arose among the players. Chekalinsky
frowned, but the smile quickly returned to his face. "Do you wish
me to settle with you?" he said to Hermann.
"If you please," replied the latter.
Chekalinsky drew from his pocket a number of banknotes and paid at
once. Hermann took up his money and left the table. Naroumoff
could not recover from his astonishment. Hermann drank a glass of
lemonade and returned home.
The next evening he again repaired to Chekalinsky's. The host was
dealing. Hermann walked up to the table; the punters immediately
made room for him. Chekalinsky greeted him with a gracious bow.
Hermann waited for the next deal, took a card and placed upon it
his forty-seven thousand roubles, together with his winnings of the
Chekalinsky began to deal. A knave turned up on the right, a seven
on the left.
Hermann showed his seven.
There was a general exclamation. Chekalinsky was evidently ill at
ease, but he counted out the ninety-four thousand roubles and
handed them over to Hermann, who pocketed them in the coolest
manner possible, and immediately left the house.
The next evening Hermann appeared again at the table. Everyone was
expecting him. The generals and privy counsellors left their whist
in order to watch such extraordinary play. The young officers
quitted their sofas, and even the servants crowded into the room.
All pressed round Hermann. The other players left off punting,
impatient to see how it would end. Hermann stood at the table, and
prepared to play alone against the pale, but still smiling
Chekalinsky. Each opened a pack of cards. Chekalinsky shuffled.
Hermann took a card and covered it with a pile of bank-notes. It
was like a duel. Deep silence reigned around.
Chekalinsky began to deal, his hands trembled. On the right a
queen turned up, and on the left an ace.
"Ace has won!" cried Hermann, showing his card.
"Your queen has lost," said Chekalinsky, politely.
Hermann started; instead of an ace, there lay before him the queen
of spades! He could not believe his eyes, nor could he understand
how he had made such a mistake.
At that moment it seemed to him that the queen of spades smiled
ironically, and winked her eye at him. He was struck by her
remarkable resemblance. . . .
"The old Countess!" he exclaimed, seized with terror. Chekalinsky
gathered up his winnings. For some time Hermann remained perfectly
motionless. When at last he left the table, there was a general
commotion in the room.
"Splendidly punted!" said the players. Chekalinsky shuffled the
cards afresh, and the game went on as usual.
. . . . .
Hermann went out of his mind, and is now confined in room number
seventeen of the Oboukhoff Hospital. He never answers any
questions, but he constantly mutters with unusual rapidity: "Three,
seven, ace! Three, seven, queen!"
Lizaveta Ivanovna has married a very amiable young man, a son of
the former steward of the old Countess. He is in the service of
the State somewhere, and is in receipt of a good income. Lizaveta
is also supporting a poor relative.
Tomsky has been promoted to the rank of captain, and has become the
husband of the Princess Pauline.