THE QUEEN OF SPADES
By Alexander Sergeievitch Poushkin
Translated by H. Twitchell
Copyright, 1901, by The Current Literature Publishing Company
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?"
"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