Two fixed ideas can no more exist together in the moral world than two bodie_an 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 bein_epeated by his lips. If he saw a young girl, he would say: "How slender sh_s! quite like the three of hearts." If anybody asked: "What is the time?" h_ould reply: "Five minutes to seven." Every stout man that he saw reminded hi_f the ace. "Three, seven, ace" haunted him in his sleep, and assumed al_ossible shapes. The threes bloomed before him in the forms of magnificen_lowers, the sevens were represented by Gothic portals, and the aces becam_ransformed into gigantic spiders. One thought alone occupied his whol_ind—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 g_o Paris and tempt fortune in some of the public gambling-houses that abounde_here. Chance spared him all this trouble.
There was in Moscow a society of rich gamesters, presided over by th_elebrated Chekalinsky, who had passed all his life at the card-table and ha_massed millions, accepting bills of exchange for his winnings and paying hi_osses in ready money. His long experience secured for him the confidence o_is companions, and his open house, his famous cook, and his agreeable an_ascinating manners gained for him the respect of the public. He came to St.
Petersburg. The young men of the capital flocked to his rooms, forgettin_alls for cards, and preferring the emotions of faro to the seductions o_lirting. Narumov conducted Hermann to Chekalinsky's residence.
They passed through a suite of magnificent rooms, filled with attentiv_omestics. The place was crowded. Generals and Privy Counsellors were playin_t 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 lon_able, around which were assembled about a score of players, sat the master o_he house keeping the bank. He was a man of about sixty years of age, of _ery dignified appearance; his head was covered with silvery-white hair; hi_ull, florid countenance expressed good-nature, and his eyes twinkled with _erpetual smile. Narumov introduced Hermann to him. Chekalinsky shook him b_he hand in a friendly manner, requested him not to stand on ceremony, an_hen 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 t_rrange their cards and note down their losses, listened politely to thei_equests, and more politely still, put straight the corners of cards that som_layer's hand had chanced to bend. At last the game was finished. Chekalinsk_huffled the cards and prepared to deal again.
"Will you allow me to take a card?" said Hermann, stretching out his hand fro_ehind a stout gentleman who was punting.
Chekalinsky smiled and bowed silently, as a sign of acquiescence. Narumo_aughingly congratulated Hermann on his abjuration of that abstention fro_ards which he had practised for so long a period, and wished him a luck_eginning.
"Stake!" said Hermann, writing some figures with chalk on the back of hi_ard.
"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 wer_ixed upon Hermann.
"He has taken leave of his senses!" thought Narumov.
"Allow me to inform you," said Chekalinsky, with his eternal smile, "that yo_re playing very high; nobody here has ever staked more than two hundred an_eventy-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 greates_onfidence in my friends, I can only play against ready money. For my ow_art, I am quite convinced that your word is sufficient, but for the sake o_he order of the game, and to facilitate the reckoning up, I must ask you t_ut 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 card.
He began to deal. On the right a nine turned up, and on the left a three.
"I have won!" said Hermann, showing his card.
A murmur of astonishment arose among the players. Chekalinsky frowned, but th_mile 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 fro_is astonishment. Hermann drank a glass of lemonade and returned home.
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 previous evening.
Chekalinsky began to deal. A knave turned up on the right, a seven on th_eft.
Hermann showed his seven.
There was a general exclamation. Chekalinsky was evidently ill at ease, but h_ounted out the ninety-four thousand rubles and handed them over to Hermann,
who pocketed them in the coolest manner possible and immediately left th_ouse.
The next evening Hermann appeared again at the table. Every one was expectin_im. The generals and Privy Counsellors left their whist in order to watc_uch extraordinary play. The young officers quitted their sofas, and even th_ervants crowded into the room. All pressed round Hermann. The other player_eft off punting, impatient to see how it would end. Hermann stood at th_able and prepared to play alone against the pale, but still smilin_hekalinsky. Each opened a pack of cards. Chekalinsky shuffled. Hermann took _ard and covered it with a pile of bank-notes. It was like a duel. Dee_ilence reigned around.
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 _istake.
At that moment it seemed to him that the queen of spades smiled ironically an_inked her eye at him. He was struck by her remarkable resemblance…
"The old Countess!" he exclaimed, seized with terror.
Chekalinsky gathered up his winnings. For some time, Hermann remaine_erfectly motionless. When at last he left the table, there was a genera_ommotion in the room.
"Splendidly punted!" said the players. Chekalinsky shuffled the cards afresh,