The Queen of Spades

AT the house of Naroumov, a cav­alry of­fi­cer, the long win­ter night had been passed in gam­bling. At five in the morn­ing break­fast was served to the weary play­ers. The win­ners ate with rel­ish; the losers, on the con­trary, pushed back their plates and sat brood­ing gloomily. Under the in­flu­ence of the good wine, how­ever, the con­ver­sa­tion then be­came gen­eral.”Well, Sourine?” said the host in­quir­ingly.”Oh, I lost as usual. My luck is abom­inable. No mat­ter how cool I keep, I never win.””How is it, Her­man, that you never touch a card?” re­marked one of the men, ad­dress­ing a young of­fi­cer of the En­gi­neer­ing Corps. “Here you are with the rest of us at five o’clock in the morn­ing, and you have nei­ther played nor bet all night.””Play in­ter­ests me greatly,” replied the per­son ad­dressed, “but I hardly care to sac­ri­fice the nec­es­saries of life for un­cer­tain su­per­fluities.””Her­man is a Ger­man, there­fore eco­nom­i­cal; that ex­plains it,” said Tom­sky. “But the per­son I can’t quite un­der­stand is my grand­mother, the Count­ess Anna Fe­dorovna.””Why?” in­quired a cho­rus of voices.”I can’t un­der­stand why my grand­mother never gam­bles.””I don’t see any­thing very strik­ing in the fact that a woman of eighty re­fuses to gam­ble,” ob­jected Naroumov.”Have you never heard her story?””No—””Well, then, lis­ten to it. To begin with, sixty years ago my grand­mother went to Paris, where she was all the fash­ion. Peo­ple crowded each other in the streets to get a chance to see the ‘Mus­covite Venus,’ as she was called. All the great ladies played faro, then. On one oc­ca­sion, while play­ing with the Duke of Or­leans, she lost an enor­mous sum. She told her hus­band of the debt, but he re­fused out­right to pay it. Noth­ing could in­duce him to change his mind on the sub­ject, and grand­mother was at her wits’ ends. Fi­nally, she re­mem­bered a friend of hers, Count Saint-Ger­main. You must have heard of him, as many won­der­ful sto­ries have been told about him. He is said to have dis­cov­ered the elixir of life, the philoso­pher’s stone, and many other equally mar­velous things. He had money at his dis­posal, and my grand­mother knew it. She sent him a note ask­ing him to come to see her. He obeyed her sum­mons and found her in great dis­tress. She painted the cru­elty of her hus­band in the dark­est col­ors, and ended by telling the Count that she de­pended upon his friend­ship and gen­eros­ity.”‘I could lend you the money,’ replied the Count, after a mo­ment of thought­ful­ness, ‘but I know that you would not enjoy a mo­ment’s rest until you had re­turned it; it would only add to your em­bar­rass­ment. There is an­other way of free­ing your­self.'”‘But I have no money at all,’ in­sisted my grand­mother.”‘There is no need of money. Lis­ten to me.'”The Count then told her a se­cret which any of us would give a good deal to know.”The young gamesters were all at­ten­tion. Tom­sky lit his pipe, took a few whiffs, then con­tin­ued:”The next evening, grand­mother ap­peared at Ver­sailles at the Queen’s gam­ing-table. The Duke of Or­leans was the dealer. Grand­mother made some ex­cuse for not hav­ing brought any money, and began to punt. She chose three cards in suc­ces­sion, again and again, win­ning every time, and was soon out of debt.””A fable,” re­marked Her­man; “per­haps the cards were marked.””I hardly think so,” replied Tom­sky, with an air of im­por­tance.”So you have a grand­mother who knows three win­ning cards, and you haven’t found out the magic se­cret.””I must say I have not. She had four sons, one of them being my fa­ther, all of whom are de­voted to play; she never told the se­cret to one of them. But my uncle told me this much, on his word of honor. Tchap­litzky, who died in poverty after hav­ing squan­dered mil­lions, lost at one time, at play, nearly three hun­dred thou­sand rubles. He was des­per­ate and grand­mother took pity on him. She told him the three cards, mak­ing him swear never to use them again. He re­turned to the game, staked fifty thou­sand rubles on each card, and came out ahead, after pay­ing his debts.”As day was dawn­ing the party now broke up, each one drain­ing his glass and tak­ing his leave.The Count­ess Anna Fe­dorovna was seated be­fore her mir­ror in her dress­ing-room. Three women were as­sist­ing at her toi­let. The old Count­ess no longer made the slight­est pre­ten­sions to beauty, but she still clung to all the habits of her youth, and spent as much time at her toi­let as she had done sixty years be­fore. At the win­dow a young girl, her ward, sat at her needle­work.”Good af­ter­noon, grand­mother,” cried a young of­fi­cer, who had just en­tered the room. “I have come to ask a favor of you.””What, Pavel?””I want to be al­lowed to pre­sent one of my friends to you, and to take you to the ball on Tues­day night.””Take me to the ball and pre­sent him to me there.”After a few more re­marks the of­fi­cer walked up to the win­dow where Lisaveta Ivanovna sat.”Whom do you wish to pre­sent?” asked the girl.”Naroumov; do you know him?””No; is he a sol­dier?””Yes.””An en­gi­neer?””No; why do you ask?”The girl smiled and made no reply.Pavel Tom­sky took his leave, and, left to her­self, Lisaveta glanced out of the win­dow. Soon, a young of­fi­cer ap­peared at the cor­ner of the street; the girl blushed and bent her head low over her can­vas.This ap­pear­ance of the of­fi­cer had be­come a daily oc­cur­rence. The man was to­tally un­known to her, and as she was not ac­cus­tomed to co­quet­ting with the sol­diers she saw on the street, she hardly knew how to ex­plain his pres­ence. His per­sis­tence fi­nally roused an in­ter­est en­tirely strange to her. One day, she even ven­tured to smile upon her ad­mirer, for such he seemed to be.The reader need hardly be told that the of­fi­cer was no other than Her­man, the would-be gam­bler, whose imag­i­na­tion had been strongly ex­cited by the story told by Tom­sky of the three magic cards.”Ah,” he thought, “if the old Count­ess would only re­veal the se­cret to me. Why not try to win her good-will and ap­peal to her sym­pa­thy?”With this idea in mind, he took up his daily sta­tion be­fore the house, watch­ing the pretty face at the win­dow, and trust­ing to fate to bring about the de­sired ac­quain­tance.One day, as Lisaveta was stand­ing on the pave­ment about to enter the car­riage after the Count­ess, she felt her­self jos­tled and a note was thrust into her hand. Turn­ing, she saw the young of­fi­cer at her elbow. As quick as thought, she put the note in her glove and en­tered the car­riage. On her re­turn from the drive, she has­tened to her cham­ber to read the mis­sive, in a state of ex­cite­ment min­gled with fear. It was a ten­der and re­spect­ful de­c­la­ra­tion of af­fec­tion, copied word for word from a Ger­man novel. Of this fact, Lisa was, of course, ig­no­rant.The young girl was much im­pressed by the mis­sive, but she felt that the writer must not be en­cour­aged. She there­fore wrote a few lines of ex­pla­na­tion and, at the first op­por­tu­nity, dropped it, with the let­ter, out of the win­dow. The of­fi­cer hastily crossed the street, picked up the pa­pers and en­tered a shop to read them.In no wise daunted by this re­buff, he found the op­por­tu­nity to send her an­other note in a few days. He re­ceived no reply, but, ev­i­dently un­der­stand­ing the fe­male heart, he pre­sev­ered, beg­ging for an in­ter­view. He was re­warded at last by the fol­low­ing:”To-night we go to the am­bas­sador’s ball. We shall re­main until two o’clock. I can arrange for a meet­ing in this way. After our de­par­ture, the ser­vants will prob­a­bly all go out, or go to sleep. At half-past eleven enter the vestibule boldly, and if you see any one, in­quire for the Count­ess; if not, as­cend the stairs, turn to the left and go on until you come to a door, which opens into her bed­cham­ber. Enter this room and be­hind a screen you will find an­other door lead­ing to a cor­ri­dor; from this a spi­ral stair­case leads to my sit­ting-room. I shall ex­pect to find you there on my re­turn.”Her­man trem­bled like a leaf as the ap­pointed hour drew near. He obeyed in­struc­tions fully, and, as he met no one, he reached the old lady’s bed­cham­ber with­out dif­fi­culty. In­stead of going out of the small door be­hind the screen, how­ever, he con­cealed him­self in a closet to await the re­turn of the old Count­ess.The hours dragged slowly by; at last he heard the sound of wheels. Im­me­di­ately lamps were lighted and ser­vants began mov­ing about. Fi­nally the old woman tot­tered into the room, com­pletely ex­hausted. Her women re­moved her wraps and pro­ceeded to get her in readi­ness for the night. Her­man watched the pro­ceed­ings with a cu­rios­ity not un­min­gled with su­per­sti­tious fear. When at last she was at­tired in cap and gown, the old woman looked less un­canny than when she wore her ball-dress of blue bro­cade.She sat down in an easy chair be­side a table, as she was in the habit of doing be­fore re­tir­ing, and her women with­drew. As the old lady sat sway­ing to and fro, seem­ingly obliv­i­ous to her sur­round­ings, Her­man crept out of his hid­ing-place.At the slight noise the old woman opened her eyes, and gazed at the in­truder with a half-dazed ex­pres­sion.”Have no fear, I beg of you,” said Her­man, in a calm voice. “I have not come to harm you, but to ask a favor of you in­stead.”The Count­ess looked at him in si­lence, seem­ingly with­out com­pre­hend­ing him. Her­man thought she might be deaf, so he put his lips close to her ear and re­peated his re­mark. The lis­tener re­mained per­fectly mute.”You could make my for­tune with­out its cost­ing you any­thing,” pleaded the young man; “only tell me the three cards which are sure to win, and—”Her­man paused as the old woman opened her lips as if about to speak.”It was only a jest; I swear to you, it was only a jest,” came from the with­ered lips.”There was no jest­ing about it. Re­mem­ber Tchap­litzky, who, thanks to you, was able to pay his debts.”An ex­pres­sion of in­te­rior ag­i­ta­tion passed over the face of the old woman; then she re­lapsed into her for­mer ap­a­thy.”Will you tell me the names of the magic cards, or not?” asked Her­man after a pause.There was no reply.The young man then drew a pis­tol from his pocket, ex­claim­ing: “You old witch, I’ll force you to tell me!”At the sight of the weapon the Count­ess gave a sec­ond sign of life. She threw back her head and put out her hands as if to pro­tect her­self; then they dropped and she sat mo­tion­less.Her­man grasped her arm roughly, and was about to renew his threats, when he saw that she was dead!Seated in her room, still in her ball-dress, Lisaveta gave her­self up to her re­flec­tions. She had ex­pected to find the young of­fi­cer there, but she felt re­lieved to see that he was not.Strangely enough, that very night at the ball, Tom­sky had ral­lied her about her pref­er­ence for the young of­fi­cer, as­sur­ing her that he knew more than she sup­posed he did.”Of whom are you speak­ing?” she had asked in alarm, fear­ing her ad­ven­ture had been dis­cov­ered.”Of the re­mark­able man,” was the reply. “His name is Her­man.”Lisa made no reply.”This Her­man,” con­tin­ued Tom­sky, “is a ro­man­tic char­ac­ter; he has the pro­file of a Napoleon and the heart of a Mephistophe­les. It is said he has at least three crimes on his con­science. But how pale you are.””It is only a slight headache. But why do you talk to me of this Her­man?””Be­cause I be­lieve he has se­ri­ous in­ten­tions con­cern­ing you.””Where has he seen me?””At church, per­haps, or on the street.”The con­ver­sa­tion was in­ter­rupted at this point, to the great re­gret of the young girl. The words of Tom­sky made a deep im­pres­sion upon her, and she re­al­ized how im­pru­dently she had acted. She was think­ing of all this and a great deal more when the door of her apart­ment sud­denly opened, and Her­man stood be­fore her. She drew back at sight of him, trem­bling vi­o­lently.”Where have you been?” she asked in a fright­ened whis­per.”In the bed­cham­ber of the Count­ess. She is dead,” was the calm reply.”My God! What are you say­ing?” cried the girl.”Fur­ther­more, I be­lieve that I was the cause of her death.”The words of Tom­sky flashed through Lisa’s mind.Her­man sat down and told her all. She lis­tened with a feel­ing of ter­ror and dis­gust. So those pas­sion­ate let­ters, that au­da­cious pur­suit were not the re­sult of ten­der­ness and love. It was money that he de­sired. The poor girl felt that she had in a sense been an ac­com­plice in the death of her bene­fac­tress. She began to weep bit­terly. Her­man re­garded her in si­lence.”You are a mon­ster!” ex­claimed Lisa, dry­ing her eyes.”I didn’t in­tend to kill her; the pis­tol was not even loaded.”How are you going to get out of the house?” in­quired Lisa. “It is nearly day­light. I in­tended to show you the way to a se­cret stair­case, while the Count­ess was asleep, as we would have to cross her cham­ber. Now I am afraid to do so.””Di­rect me, and I will find the way alone,” replied Her­man.She gave him minute in­struc­tions and a key with which to open the street door. The young man pressed the cold, inert hand, then went out.The death of the Count­ess had sur­prised no one, as it had long been ex­pected. Her fu­neral was at­tended by every one of note in the vicin­ity. Her­man min­gled with the throng with­out at­tract­ing any es­pe­cial at­ten­tion. After all the friends had taken their last look at the dead face, the young man ap­proached the bier. He pros­trated him­self on the cold floor, and re­mained mo­tion­less for a long time. He rose at last with a face al­most as pale as that of the corpse it­self, and went up the steps to look into the cas­ket. As he looked down it seemed to him that the rigid face re­turned his glance mock­ingly, clos­ing one eye. He turned abruptly away, made a false step, and fell to the floor. He was picked up, and, at the same mo­ment, Lisaveta was car­ried out in a faint.Her­man did not re­cover his usual com­po­sure dur­ing the en­tire day. He dined alone at an out-of-the-way restau­rant, and drank a great deal, in the hope of sti­fling his emo­tion. The wine only served to stim­u­late his imag­i­na­tion. He re­turned home and threw him­self down on his bed with­out un­dress­ing.Dur­ing the night he awoke with a start; the moon shone into his cham­ber, mak­ing every­thing plainly vis­i­ble. Some one looked in at the win­dow, then quickly dis­ap­peared. He paid no at­ten­tion to this, but soon he heard the vestibule door open. He thought it was his or­derly, re­turn­ing late, drunk as usual. The step was an un­fa­mil­iar one, and he heard the shuf­fling sound of loose slip­pers.The door of his room opened, and a woman in white en­tered. She came close to the bed, and the ter­ri­fied man rec­og­nized the Count­ess.”I have come to you against my will,” she said abruptly; “but I was com­manded to grant your re­quest. The tray, seven, and ace in suc­ces­sion are the magic cards. Twenty-four hours must elapse be­tween the use of each card, and after the three have been used you must never play again.”The fan­tom then turned and walked away. Her­man heard the out­side door close, and again saw the form pass the win­dow.He rose and went out into the hall, where his or­derly lay asleep on the floor. The door was closed. Find­ing no trace of a vis­i­tor, he re­turned to his room, lit his can­dle, and wrote down what he had just heard.Two fixed ideas can­not exist in the brain at the same time any more than two bod­ies can oc­cupy the same point in space. The tray, seven, and ace soon chased away the thoughts of the dead woman, and all other thoughts from the brain of the young of­fi­cer. All his ideas merged into a sin­gle one: how to turn to ad­van­tage the se­cret paid for so dearly. He even thought of re­sign­ing his com­mis­sion and going to Paris to force a for­tune from con­quered fate. Chance res­cued him from his em­bar­rass­ment.Tchekalin­sky, a man who had passed his whole life at cards, opened a club at St. Pe­ters­burg. His long ex­pe­ri­ence se­cured for him the con­fi­dence of his com­pan­ions, and his hos­pi­tal­ity and ge­nial humor con­cil­i­ated so­ci­ety.The gilded youth flocked around him, ne­glect­ing so­ci­ety, pre­fer­ring the charms of faro to those of their sweet­hearts. Naroumov in­vited Her­man to ac­com­pany him to the club, and the young man ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion only too will­ingly.The two of­fi­cers found the apart­ments full. Gen­er­als and states­men played whist; young men lounged on sofas, eat­ing ices or smok­ing. In the prin­ci­pal salon stood a long table, at which about twenty men sat play­ing faro, the host of the es­tab­lish­ment being the banker.He was a man of about sixty, gray-haired and re­spectable. His ruddy face shone with ge­nial humor; his eyes sparkled and a con­stant smile hov­ered around his lips.Naroumov pre­sented Her­man. The host gave him a cor­dial hand­shake, begged him not to stand upon cer­e­mony, and re­turned, to his deal­ing. More than thirty cards were al­ready on the table. Tchekalin­sky paused after each coup, to allow the pun­ters time to rec­og­nize their gains or losses, po­litely an­swer­ing all ques­tions and con­stantly smil­ing.After the deal was over, the cards were shuf­fled and the game began again.”Per­mit me to choose a card,” said Her­man, stretch­ing out his hand over the head of a portly gen­tle­man, to reach a livret. The banker bowed with­out re­ply­ing.Her­man chose a card, and wrote the amount of his stake upon it with a piece of chalk.”How much is that?” asked the banker; “ex­cuse me, sir, but I do not see well.””Forty thou­sand rubles,” said Her­man coolly.All eyes were in­stantly turned upon the speaker.”He has lost his wits,” thought Naroumov.”Allow me to ob­serve,” said Tchekalin­sky, with his eter­nal smile, “that your stake is ex­ces­sive.””What of it?” replied Her­man, net­tled. “Do you ac­cept it or not?”The banker nod­ded in as­sent. “I have only to re­mind you that the cash will be nec­es­sary; of course your word is good, but in order to keep the con­fi­dence of my pa­trons, I pre­fer the ready money.”Her­man took a bank-check from his pocket and handed it to his host. The lat­ter ex­am­ined it at­ten­tively, then laid it on the card cho­sen.He began deal­ing: to the right, a nine; to the left, a tray.”The tray wins,” said Her­man, show­ing the card he held—a tray.A mur­mur ran through the crowd. Tchekalin­sky frowned for a sec­ond only, then his smile re­turned. He took a roll of bank-bills from his pocket and counted out the re­quired sum. Her­man re­ceived it and at once left the table.The next evening saw him at the place again. Every one eyed him cu­ri­ously, and Tchekalin­sky greeted him cor­dially.He se­lected his card and placed upon it his fresh stake. The banker began deal­ing: to the right, a nine; to the left, a seven.Her­man then showed his card—a seven spot. The on­look­ers ex­claimed, and the host was vis­i­bly dis­turbed. He counted out ninety-four-thou­sand rubles and passed them to Her­man, who ac­cepted them with­out show­ing the least sur­prise, and at once with­drew.The fol­low­ing evening he went again. His ap­pear­ance was the sig­nal for the ces­sa­tion of all oc­cu­pa­tion, every one being eager to watch the de­vel­op­ments of events. He se­lected his card—an ace.The deal­ing began: to the right, a queen; to the left, an ace.”The ace wins,” re­marked Her­man, turn­ing up his card with­out glanc­ing at it.”Your queen is killed,” re­marked Tchekalin­sky qui­etly.Her­man trem­bled; look­ing down, he saw, not the ace he had se­lected, but the queen of spades. He could scarcely be­lieve his eyes. It seemed im­pos­si­ble that he could have made such a mis­take. As he stared at the card it seemed to him that the queen winked one eye at him mock­ingly.”The old woman!” he ex­claimed in­vol­un­tar­ily.The croupier raked in the money while he looked on in stu­pid ter­ror. When he left the table, all made way for him to pass; the cards were shuf­fled, and the gam­bling went on.Her­man be­came a lu­natic. He was con­fined at the hos­pi­tal at Oboukov, where he spoke to no one, but kept con­stantly mur­mur­ing in a mo­not­o­nous tone: “The tray, seven, ace! The tray, seven, queen!”

Post navigation


Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /users/eblox/www/storybreeze/wp-includes/class-wp-comment-query.php on line 399