Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
“The Queen of Spades” by Alexander Pushkin
Card picked: Ace of Hearts
From: Great Russian Stories, selected by Isai Kamen, Vintage Books, 1959
Thoughts: This tale begins, as many Russian short stories do, with a group of soldiers wrapping up a long night of card-playing. To cap off the evening, one of the men, Tomski, relates that his grandmother, the Countess X, knows of an unbeatable trio of cards to play. Why she doesn’t gamble more often, he doesn’t know. She’s only shared the secret with one other man, who won a fortune, but was sworn to only play the cards once. He died in poverty, but surely that happened because he was famously bad with money…
The Countess’s secret lodges in the mind of Herman, a Russified German who never gambles. While Herman has a nice fortune, he doesn’t feel he’s rich enough to “waste” money. He thinks that if he had the Countess’s secret, he could live more comfortably and loosen his purse strings. He hatches a plan to get into the Countess’s household by wooing her young ward, Lizaveta, and then forcing the secret from the old lady. He sends Liza a letter.
The letter contained a declaration of love; it was tender, respectful, and copied word for word from a German novel.
Luckily (for Herman), Liza knows nothing of German novels. After some indecision, she sets up a tryst with Herman. Instead of meeting Liza in her room after a ball, Herman visits the Countess. She will not reveal her secret. He threatens her with a pistol, but the old woman’s heart gives out. Herman comes clean to Liza and she helps him sneak out of the house, even though he’s only sorry for the lost secret and his lost potential fortune.
The day after the Countess’s funeral, her ghost appears to Herman. She gives him her secret card combination in exchange for two things: he only plays one card a day and he marries Lizaveta. Herman has no problems with the first part of the promise. As to the second stipulation…
I really enjoyed “The Queen of Spades.” I’ve had a rough patch with the Russians lately. Obviously, you give me a ghost and I’m halfway to happy right there. Herman is a heel. As soon as we’re told he has a fortune (that he will not spend), but he wants the Countess’s secret, we pretty much know he’s going to get his just reward in the end. What that reward is going to be is the good part.
Is This Your Card?
I am amazed that no magician, on YouTube at least, has adapted this story into a narrative card trick.