There was a card party at the rooms of Narumov of the Horse Guards. The lon_inter night passed away imperceptibly, and it was five o'clock in the mornin_efore the company sat down to supper. Those who had won, ate with a goo_ppetite; the others sat staring absently at their empty plates. When th_hampagne appeared, however, the conversation became more animated, and al_ook 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, _lways keep cool, I never allow anything to put me out, and yet I alway_ose!"
"And you did not once allow yourself to be tempted to back the red?… You_irmness astonishes me."
"But what do you think of Hermann?" said one of the guests, pointing to _oung Engineer: "he has never had a card in his hand in his life, he has neve_n, his life laid a wager, and yet he sits here till five o'clock in th_orning watching our play."
"Play interests me very much," said Hermann: "but I am not in the position t_acrifice the necessary in the hope of winning the superfluous."
"Hermann is a German: he is economical—that is all!" observed Tomsky. "But i_here is one person that I cannot understand, it is my grandmother, th_ountess Anna Fedotovna."
"How so?" inquired the guests.
"I cannot understand," continued Tomsky, "how it is that my grandmother doe_ot punt."
"What is there remarkable about an old lady of eighty not punting?" sai_arumov.
"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, wher_he created quite a sensation. People used to run after her to catch a glimps_f the 'Muscovite Venus.' Richelieu made love to her, and my grandmothe_aintains that he almost blew out his brains in consequence of her cruelty. A_hat time ladies used to play at faro. On one occasion at the Court, she los_ very considerable sum to the Duke of Orleans. On returning home, m_randmother removed the patches from her face, took off her hoops, informed m_randfather 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 t_y grandmother. He dreaded her like fire; but, on hearing of such a heav_oss, he almost went out of his mind; he calculated the various sums she ha_ost, and pointed out to her that in six months she had spent half a millio_rancs, that neither their Moscow nor Saratov estates were in Paris, an_inally refused point blank to pay the debt. My grandmother gave him a box o_he ear and slept by herself as a sign of her displeasure. The next day sh_ent for her husband, hoping that this domestic punishment had produced a_ffect 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 t_onvince him by pointing out to him that there are debts and debts, and tha_here is a great difference between a Prince and a coachmaker. But it was al_n vain, my grandfather still remained obdurate. But the matter did not res_here. My grandmother did not know what to do. She had shortly before becom_cquainted with a very remarkable man. You have heard of Count St. Germain,
about whom so many marvellous stories are told. You know that he represente_imself as the Wandering Jew, as the discoverer of the elixir of life, of th_hilosopher's stone, and so forth. Some laughed at him as a charlatan; bu_asanova, 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 fascinatin_erson, and was much sought after in the best circles of society. Even to thi_ay my grandmother retains an affectionate recollection of him, and become_uite angry if any one speaks disrespectfully of him. My grandmother knew tha_t. Germain had large sums of money at his disposal. She resolved to hav_ecourse to him, and she wrote a letter to him asking him to come to he_ithout delay. The queer old man immediately waited upon her and found he_verwhelmed with grief. She described to him in the blackest colours th_arbarity of her husband, and ended by declaring that her whole hope depende_pon his friendship and amiability.
"St. Germain reflected.
"'I could advance you the sum you want,' said he; 'but I know that you woul_ot rest easy until you had paid me back, and I should not like to bring fres_roubles 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 an_oney 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 goo_eal… "
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 on_fter the other: all three won _sonika_, [Said of a card when it wins or lose_n the quickest possible time.] and my grandmother recovered every farthin_hat she had lost."
"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 thre_ucky cards in succession, and you have never yet succeeded in getting th_ecret of it out of her?"
"That's the deuce of it!" replied Tomsky: "she had four sons, one of whom wa_y father; all four were determined gamblers, and yet not to one of them di_he ever reveal her secret, although it would not have been a bad thing eithe_or 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—th_ame who died in poverty after having squandered millions—once lost, in hi_outh, about three hundred thousand roubles—to Zorich, if I remember rightly.
He was in despair. My grandmother, who was always very severe upon th_xtravagance of young men, took pity, however, upon Chaplitzky. She gave hi_hree cards, telling him to play them one after the other, at the same tim_xacting from him a solemn promise that he would never play at cards again a_ong as he lived. Chaplitzky then went to his victorious opponent, and the_egan a fresh game. On the first card he staked fifty thousand rubles and wo_sonika_; he doubled the stake and won again, till at last, by pursuing th_ame 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 thei_lasses and then took leave of each other.