Two fixed ideas can no more exist together in the moral world than two
bodies can occupy one and the same place in the 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 of the public gambling-houses that abounded there.
Chance spared him all this trouble.
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. Narumov
conducted Hermann to Chekalinsky's residence.
They passed through a suite of magnificent 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. Narumov 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, put straight 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
"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.
Narumov 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
"How much?" asked the banker, contracting the muscles of his eyes;
"excuse me, I cannot see quite clearly."
"Forty-seven thousand rubles," 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 Narumov.
"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 rubles 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 your card."
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
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. Narumov could not
recover from his astonishment. Hermann drank a glass of lemonade and
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
Hermann showed his seven.
There was a general exclamation. Chekalinsky was evidently ill at
ease, but he counted out the ninety-four thousand rubles 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. Every one 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
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
"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 17 of
the Obukhov Hospital. He never answers any questions, but he
constantly mutters with unusual rapidity: "Three, seven, ace!" "Three,
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.
Translated by Thomas Seltzer