There was a card party at the rooms of Narumov 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, Surin?" 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 Fedotovna."
"How so?" inquired the guests.
"I cannot understand," continued Tomsky, "how it is that my
grandmother does not punt."
"What is there remarkable about an old lady of eighty not punting?"
"Then you do not know the reason why?"
"No, really; haven't the faintest idea."
"Oh! then listen. 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 francs, that neither their Moscow nor Saratov 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 marvellous 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 Casanova, 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 any one 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 colours 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 difficulty: you can win back your money.'
"'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
"Then he revealed to her a secret, for which each of us would give a
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 off-hand 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_, [Said of a card when it wins or loses in the quickest
possible time.] and my grandmother recovered every farthing that she
"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 Narumov, "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 Ilyich, and he assured me, on his honour,
that it was true. The late Chaplitzky--the same who died in poverty
after having squandered millions--once lost, in his youth, about three
hundred thousand roubles--to Zorich, 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 Chaplitzky. 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. Chaplitzky then went to his
victorious opponent, and they began a fresh game. On the first card he
staked fifty thousand rubles 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.