|Твори О.С. Пушкіна.Переклад англійською мовою.>THE QUEEN OF SPADES|
The queen of spades signifies
FROM A RECENT
And in rainy weather,
They gathered together
God pardon their sin,
From fifty a win
To a hundred;
Won many a pot
And tallied the lot
On a board.
Thus in rainy weather
Many workdays together
There was a card party at the house of Narumov, an officer of the Horse Guards. The long winter night passed imperceptibly; it was close to five in the morning when the company sat down to supper. Those who had won were eating with good appetite; the others sat lost in thought before their empty plates. But champagne was brought in, and the conversation grew lively, with everyone joining in.
"How did you do, Surin?" asked the host.
"Lost, as usual. You must admit I have no luck: I play a mirandole game, always keep cool, never let anything confuse me, and yet I lose all the time!"
"Have you never been tempted? Have you never risked route? Your firmness amazes me."
"And what about Hermann?" said one of the guests, pointing at a young engineer. "He's never in his life had a card in his hand, never bent down a paroli, yet he will sit with us until five in the morning watching our game!"
"The game interests me very much," said Hermann, "but I am not in a position to sacrifice the necessary in the hope of gaining the superfluous."
"Hermann is a German: he's thrifty, that's all," remarked Tomskii. "If there's anybody I don't understand, it's my grandmother, Countess Anna Fedotovna."
"Why? How is that?" cried the guests.
"I cannot fathom," continued Tomskii, "why my grandmother never punts."
"Well, what's so surprising about it," said Narumov, "that an old lady of eighty doesn't punt?"
"So you don't know anything about her?"
"No, not a thing."
"Well, in that case, listen. I should mention, to begin with, that about sixty years ago my grandmother went to Paris, where she created quite a sensation. People ran after her, just to catch a glimpse of la Venus moscovite; Richelieu paid court to her, and grandmother asserts that he almost shot himself because of her cruelty.
"Ladies used to play pharaon in those days. On one occasion at the Court my grandmother lost a very large sum, on word of honour, to the Duke of Orleans. After she arrived home, as she was peeling off her beauty spots and untying her hopped petticoat, she informed my grandfather of her loss and ordered him to pay.
"My late grandfather, as far as I remember, played the part of a butler to my grandmother. He feared her like fire; but when he heard about such a terrible loss, he flew into a rage, brought in the ledgers, demonstrated to her that in half a year they had spent half a million, pointed out that around Paris they did not possess the kind of estates they had around Moscow and Saratov, and absolutely refused to pay. Grandmother slapped him on the face and went to bed by herself as an indication of her displeasure.
"The next day she sent for her husband, hoping that the domestic punishment had had its effect on him, but she found him unshaken. For the first time in her life she went as far as to argue with him and offer him explanations; she thought she could awaken his conscience if she condescended to demonstrate to him that not all debts were alike, and that there was a difference between a duke and a cartwright. But all in vain! Grandfather had risen in rebellion. No, and no! Grandmother did not know what to do.
"She was on friendly terms with a very remarkable man. You have heard of Count Saint-Germain, the hero of so many miraculous tales. You know he pretended to be the Wandering Jew, the inventor of the elixir of life and of the philosopher's stone, et cetera. He was ridiculed as a charlatan, and Casanova called him a spy in his Memoirs; be that as it may, despite his mysteriousness Saint-Germain was a man of highly respectable appearance and had excellent manners. To this day grandmother loves him with a passion and gets cross if she hears disrespectful talk about him. She knew that Saint-Germain had a large fortune at his disposal. She decided to turn to him for help and sent him a note asking him to call on her without delay.
"The old eccentric came at once and found her terribly upset. Depicting her husband's barbarity in the darkest colours to him, she concluded that she was placing all her hope in his friendship and kindness.
"Saint-Germain became thoughtful.
"'I could accommodate you with the required sum,' he said, 'but I know you would not rest until you repaid me, and I wouldn't want to inflict new worries upon you. There is another way out: you can win the money back.'
"'But my dear Count,' answered grandmother, I'm telling you we've run out of money altogether.'
"'It requires no money,' rejoined Saint-Germain. 'Pray, hear me out.' And he revealed to her a secret for which any of us would be willing to pay a high price..."
The young gamblers listened with doubled attention. Tomskii lit his pipe, took a puff, and continued.
"That same evening grandmother presented herself at Versailles, au jeu de la Reine. The Duke of Orleans was holding the bank; grandmother casually excused herself, spinning some little yarn, for not bringing what she owed, and set down to punt against the Duke. She chose three cards and bet on them in sequence: all three won sonica, and grandmother regained everything she had lost."
"Mere chance!" said one of the guests.
"A fairy tale!" remarked Hermann.
"Perhaps they were powdered cards," joined in a third.
"I don't think so," Tomskii replied in a serious tone.
"How now!" said Narumov. "You have a grandmother who can predict three winning cards in a row, and you have still not tried to snatch her cabalistic power from her?"
"The devil I haven't!" answered Tomskii. "She has four sons, including my father: all four are desperate gamblers, but she has not revealed her secret to any one of them, even though it would be handy for each - or for me, for that matter. But I'll tell you what my uncle, Count Ivan Ilich, has told me, and what he swears on his honour is true. The late Chaplitskii — the one who died in poverty, having squandered millions — once in his youth lost 300,000 to Zorich if I am not mistaken. He was in despair. Grandmother, though she usually viewed young people's pranks with severity, somehow took pity on Chaplitskii. She named him three cards with the instruction to play them one after the other, and she made him give his word of honour that he would never again play afterwards. Chaplitskii went back to his vanquisher; they sat down to play. Chaplitskii staked 30,000 on the first card and won sonica; he bent down a paroli, then a paroli-раiх; he won back what he had lost, and even went away a winner...
"But it's time to go to bed: it is already quarter of six."
Indeed it was already getting light: the young men emptied their glasses and left.
"Il paraît que monsieur est
décidément pour les suivantes."
"Que voulez-vouz, madame? Elles
sont plus fraîches."
A SOCIAL GATHERING
The old Countess N. sat in front of the mirror in her boudoir. Three chambermaids surrounded her. One was holding a jar of rouge, the second one a box of pins, and the third one a tall bonnet with flame-colored ribbons. The Countess did not have the slightest pretensions to beauty, which had long since faded from her face, but she adhered to all the habits of her youth, strictly following the fashions of the 1770's, spending just as much time on, and paying just as much attention to, her toilette as she had sixty years before. A young lady, her ward, was seated over an embroidery frame by me window.
"Good morning, grand'maman," said a young officer, entering. "Bonjour, mademoiselle Lise. Grand'maman, I have a favour to ask of you."
"What is it, Paul?"
"Let me introduce one of my friends to you and bring him to your ball on Friday."
"Bring him directly to the ball, and introduce him right there and then. Were you at X.'s last night?"
"How could I have missed it! We had a very jolly time: danced until five o'clock in the morning. Wasn't Eletskaia fabulous!"
"La, my dear! What do you see in her? She couldn't hold a candle to her grandmother, Princess Daria Petrovna... By me way, methinks she must be getting on, Princess Daria Petrovna?"
"What do you mean getting on?" Tomskii answered absentmindedly. "She's been dead these seven years."
The young lady raised her head and signaled to him. He remembered that the old Countess was never informed of the death of any of her contemporaries, and he bit his Up. But the Countess took the tidings, new to her, with perfect equanimity.
"Dead!" she said. "And I didn't even know! We were appointed maids of honour together, and as we were being presented, the Empress..."
For the hundredth time, the Countess related the anecdote to her grandson.
"And now, Paul," she said afterwards, "help me get up. Lizanka, where is my snuffbox?"
She proceeded behind the screen with her chambermaids in order to complete her toilette. Tomskii remained alone with the young lady.
"Who is it you want to introduce?" asked Lizaveta Ivanovna softly.
"Narumov. Do you know him?"
"No, I don't. Is he an officer or a civilian?"
"No, a cavalryman. What made you think he was an engineer?"
The young lady laughed and did not answer a word.
"Paul!" called the Countess from behind the screen. "Send me a new novel, will you, but please not the kind they write nowadays."
"What do you mean, grand'maman?''
"I mean a novel in which the hero does not strangle either his mother or his father, and which describes no drowned bodies. I am terribly scared of drowned bodies."
"There are no such novels these days. Would you perhaps like some Russian ones?"
"You don't mean to say there are Russian novels? ... Send some to me, my dear, send some by all means!"
"I'm sorry, I must go now, grand'maman: I'm in a hurry... Goodbye, Lizaveta Ivanovna! I still want to know why you thought Narumov was an engineer."
And Tomskii left the boudoir.
Lizaveta Ivanovna remained by herself; she laid aside her work and looked out of the window. Soon a young officer appeared from behind a corner on the other side of the street. A blush spread over her cheeks; she took up her work again and bent her head right over the canvas. At that moment the Countess entered, fully dressed.
"Lizanka," she said, "would you give orders to have the horses harnessed; we'll go out for a ride."
Lizanka rose from behind the embroidery frame and began putting her work away.
"What's the matter with you, child? Are you deaf?" the Countess shouted. "Tell them to harness the horses at once."
"Yes, ma'am," the young lady answered softly and ran into the anteroom.
A servant came in and handed the Countess some books from Prince Pavel Aleksandrovich.
"Very well. Give him my thanks," said the Countess. "Lizanka! Lizanka! Where are you running now?"
"To get dressed."
"You'll have plenty of time for that. Sit down here. Open the first volume and read to me..."
The young lady took the book and read a few lines.
"Louder!" said the Countess. "What's with you, child? Have you lost your voice or something?... Wait a minute: pull up that footstool for me, closer... Well now!"
Lizaveta Ivanovna read two pages. The Countess yawned.
"Put that book down," she said. "What nonsense! Send it back to Prince Pavel with my thanks ... But what's happened to the carriage?"
"The carriage is ready," said Lizaveta Ivanovna, looking out on the street.
"And why aren't you dressed?" said the Countess. "One always has to wait for you! This, my dear, is unbearable."
Liza ran to her room. Two minutes had not gone by when the Countess started ringing with all her might. Three maids ran in through one door, and a footman through the other.
"It's totally impossible to get anyone's attention around here," the Countess said to them. "Go and tell Lizaveta Ivanovna that I am waiting for her."
Lizaveta Ivanovna came in, wearing a cape and a bonnet.
"At long last, child!" said the Countess. "But what finery! What's all this for? Whose head do you want to turn? ... And what's the weather like? — There is a wind, it seems to me."
"No, there isn't, so please your ladyship. It's entirely calm," said the footman.
"You always say what comes into your head first! Open the transom window. Just as I thought: there is a wind! Chilling to the bones! Have the horses unharnessed! Lizanka, we're not going; you needn't have decked yourself out so."
"This is my life," thought Lizaveta Ivanovna.
In truth, Lizaveta Ivanovna was the unluckiest of creatures. "How the bread of others savours of salt," says Dante, "and how hard is the descending and the mounting of another's stairs." Who indeed would be more familiar with the bitter taste of dependence than the poor ward of an aristocratic old lady? The Countess N. was, of course, not an evil soul, but as the spoiled pet of society, she was capricious; she had grown mean and sunk into a cold egoism, like all old people whose fondest memories lay in the past and to whom the present was alien. She participated in all the trivial events of high society life, dragging herself to balls, where she would sit in a corner, all painted up and dressed according to an ancient fashion, like a misshapen but obligatory ornament of the ballroom; the guests, as they arrived, would go up to her bowing low, as if performing an established rite, but afterwards would pay no attention to her. She was scrupulous in receiving the whole city as etiquette decreed, but hardly recognized any of her guests. Her numerous domestics, grown fat and grey in her entrance hall and maids' quarters, did what they pleased, robbing the moribund old woman left, tight, and center. Lizaveta Ivanovna was the martyr of the household. She poured the tea and was scolded for using too much sugar; read novels aloud and was blamed for all the faults of the authors; accompanied the Countess on her rides and was held responsible for both the weather and the condition of the pavement. She had a fixed salary, but it was never paid in full; at the same time she was expected to be dressed like everyone else, that is, like the very few. In society she played the most pitiable role. Everybody knew her, but nobody took any notice of her; at the balls she danced only when an extra partner was needed for a vis-à-vis; and ladies took her by the arm every time they needed to go to the dressing room in order to adjust something in their costume. She was proud; she felt her position keenly, and looked around impatiently waiting for a deliverer; but the young men, calculating in their whimsical vanity, did not honour Lizaveta Ivanovna with their attention, though she was a hundred times more appealing than the brazen and cold-hearted debutantes on whom they danced attendance. How many times did she steal out of the tedious though sumptuous salon in order to weep in her own poor room, furnished with a paper screen, a chest of drawers, a small mirror, a painted bedstead, and a tallow candle faintly burning in its brass holder!
One time — this happened two days after the party described at the beginning of our story and a week before the scene that we have just detailed - one time Lizaveta Ivanovna, sitting over her embroidery frame by the window, happened to glance at the street and caught sight of a young engineering officer who was standing there motionless with his eyes fixed on her window. She lowered her head and resumed her work; five minutes later she looked again; the young officer was standing in the same place. Since it had never been her way to flirt with unknown officers, she stopped looking at the street and embroidered for about two hours without raising her head. Dinner was announced. She stood up, started putting away her embroidery frame, and inadvertently glancing at the street, caught sight of the officer once more. This seemed rather strange to her. After dinner she went to the window with a certain feeling of apprehension, but the officer was no longer there, and she soon forgot about him...
About two days later, as she and the Countess came out of the house to get into their carriage, she saw him again. He was standing right by the entrance, his face hidden in his beaver collar, his dark eyes sparkling from under his cap. Lizaveta Ivanovna was frightened, though she did not know why, and got into the carriage, shaking inexplicably.
After she returned home she ran up to the window: the officer was standing in his former place, gazing at her; she turned away, tormented by curiosity and agitated by a feeling that was entirely new to her.
From that time on, not one day passed without the young man arriving, at a certain hour, under the windows of the house. An undefined relationship was established between him and her. Sitting in her place over her work, she could sense his approach; she raised her head and looked at him longer with each day. The young man seemed to be grateful for it: she could see with her keen young eyes that a sudden blush spread over his pale cheeks each time their glances met. By the end of the week she gave him a smile...
When Tomskii asked for the Countess's permission to introduce a friend, the poor girl's heart gave a thump. Having learned, however, that Narumov was not an engineer, but a cavalryman, she regretted the indiscreet question that had betrayed her secret to the flighty Tomskii.
Hermann was the son of a Russified German, who had left him a little capital. Firmly resolved to ensure his independence, Hermann did not touch even the interest earned by these funds; he lived on his salary alone, denying himself even the slightest extravagance. Since he was also reserved and proud, his comrades rarely had occasion to laugh at his excessive thriftiness. He had strong passions and a fiery imagination, but his resoluteness saved him from the usual lapses of youth. He was, for example, a gambler at heart but never touched a card, reckoning that his circumstances did not allow him (as he was fond of saying) to sacrifice the necessary in the hope of gaining the superfluous. Yet at the same time he would sit by the card table whole nights and follow with feverish trembling the different turns of the game.
The anecdote about the three cards fired his imagination; he could not get it out of his head all night. "What if," he thought as he wandered about Petersburg the following evening, "what if the old Countess revealed her secret to me? If she named the three reliable cards for me? Why not try my luck?... I could be introduced to her, get into her good graces, become her lover if need be; but all this requires time, and she is eighty-seven: she may die in a week - in a couple of days!... And what about the anecdote itself? Can one put any faith in it? No! Calculation, moderation, and industry; these are my three reliable cards. They will treble my capital, increase it sevenfold, and bring me ease and independence!"
Lost thus in thought, he found himself on one of the main streets of Petersburg, in front of an old-style house. The street was crowded with carriages; one equipage after another rolled up to the lighted entrance. Now a young beauty's shapely leg, now a clinking riding boot, now a striped stocking and a diplomat's shoe emerged from the carriages. Fur coats and cloaks flitted by the stately doorman. Hermann stopped.
"Whose house is this?" he asked the sentry on the street.
"The Countess N.'s," answered the sentry.
A shiver ran down Hermann's spine. The marvellous anecdote arose in his imagination once more. He began to pace up and down by the house, thinking about its owner and her miraculous talent. It was late when he returned to his humble lodging; he could not go to sleep for a long time, and when he finally dropped off, he dreamed of cards, a green table, heaps of bank notes, and piles of gold coins. He played one card after another, bent the corners resolutely, and kept winning, raking in the gold and stuffing the bank notes in his pockets. Waking up late, he sighed over the loss of his illusory riches; once more he went wandering about the city and once more found himself in front of Countess N.'s house. A mysterious force, it seemed, had drawn him there. He stopped and started looking at the windows. Behind one of them he noticed a dark-haired young head, bent, evidently, over a book or some work. The head was raised. Hermann beheld a fresh young face and dark eyes. That moment sealed his fate.
Vous m'écrivez, mon ange, des lettres de
quatres pages plus vite que je ne puis
FROM A CORRESPONDENCE
No sooner had Lizaveta Ivanovna taken off her cape and bonnet than the Countess sent for her and once more ordered the carriage. They went downstairs to get in. Two servants had just lifted up the old lady and pushed her through the door of the carriage, when Lizaveta Ivanovna beheld her engineer right by the wheel; he seized her hand; before she had time to recover from her fright, the young man had put a letter in her palm and was gone. She slipped it inside her glove, and was unable to hear or see anything during the whole ride. The Countess had a habit of constantly asking questions as she rode along: "Who was it we just passed?" "What's the name of this bridge?" "What's written on that sign?" This time Lizaveta Ivanovna answered at random and wide of the mark, making the Countess angry.
"What's the matter with you, child? Are you in a trance or something? Don't you hear me or understand what I'm saying?... Thank God, I don't slur my words and I'm not yet a dotard!"
Lizaveta Ivanovna paid no attention to her. As soon as they returned home she ran to her room and drew the letter out of her glove: it was not sealed. She read it. It contained a confession of love; it was tender, respectful, and translated word for word from a German novel. But Lizaveta Ivanovna did not know German and found it very satisfactory.
For all that, her acceptance of the letter worried her in the extreme. For the first time in her life she was entering into a secret, close relationship with a young man. His boldness terrified her. She reproached herself for her imprudent conduct and did not know what to do: should she leave off sitting by the window and try, by her lack of attention, to discourage the young officer from further advances? Should she return his letter to him? Or should she answer him, coldly and resolutely? She had no one to turn to for advice; she had neither a friend nor a counsellor. In the end she decided to reply.
She sat down at her small desk, took out pen and paper -and fell to thinking. She began her letter several times but each time tore it up: her phrases seemed to her either too encouraging or too forbidding. At last she succeeded in writing a few lines that left her satisfied. "I am convinced," said the letter, "that you have honourable intentions and did not wish to offend me with a thoughtless act; but this is not the way to begin an acquaintance. I return your letter and hope to have no cause in the future to complain of an unwarranted disrespect."
The next day, as soon as she saw Hermann walking below, she rose from her embroidery frame, went out to the reception hall, opened the transom, and threw her letter into the street, trusting in the young officer's agility. Hermann dashed for it, picked it up, and went to a confectionary shop. Tearing off the seal, he found his own letter as well as Lizaveta Ivanovna's answer. That was just what he had expected, and he returned home very much absorbed in his intrigue.
Three days later, a pert young mam'selle from a ladies' dress shop brought a note to Lizaveta Ivanovna. She opened it with anxiety, anticipating a demand for payment, but suddenly recognized Hermann's hand.
"You've made a mistake, precious," she said, "this note is not for me."
"Yes, it really is," answered the bold little girl, not concealing a sly smile. "Please read it!"
Lizaveta Ivanovna read through the note quickly. Hermann was demanding a rendezvous.
"Impossible!" said Lizaveta Ivanovna, frightened by both the rashness of Hermann's demand and the means he had chosen to convey it. "This is surely not written to me!" And she tore the letter into small pieces.
"If the letter was not for you, why did you tear it up?" said the little mam'selle. "I could've returned it to the sender."
"Please, precious," said Lizaveta Ivanovna to the girl, whose remark made her blush, "in the future do not bring notes to me. And tell him who sent you that he should be ashamed of himself..."
But there was no stopping Hermann. Lizaveta Ivanovna received letters from him every day, sent now in this way, now in that. They were no longer translations from German. Inspired by passion, Hermann wrote them in a style that was characteristic of him, expressing both the uncompromising nature of his desires and the confusion of his unbridled imagination. It no longer occurred to Lizaveta Ivanovna to send them back: she revelled in them and began to answer them, her notes growing longer and tenderer by the day. In the end she threw the following letter to him from the window:
Tonight the Ambassador of Y. is giving a ball. The Countess is planning to attend. We shall stay there until about two in the morning. Here is an opportunity for you to see me alone. As soon as the Countess leaves, her servants will probably scatter in all directions; the doorman will remain by the entrance, but even he is likely to retreat, as is his habit, into his cubicle. Come at half past eleven. Walk straight up the staircase. If you find anybody in the anteroom, inquire whether the Countess is at home. You will be told she is not - and that will be the end of that. You will have to turn back. But it is likely that you will meet no one. The maids sit in their room, all of them together. From the anteroom turn left and walk straight through, all the way to the Countess's bedroom. In her bedroom, behind a screen, you will see two small doors: the one on the left opens into a corridor, where you will find a narrow winding staircase: this leads to my room.
Hermann waited for the appointed time, trembling like a tiger. At ten o'clock in the evening he was already in front of the Countess's house. The weather was terrible: the wind howled, wet snow fell in large flakes; the lights shone dimly; the streets were deserted. Only occasionally did a cabdriver shamble by with his scrawny nag, on the lookout for a late passenger. Hermann stood wearing only a jacket, yet feeling neither wind nor snow. At last the Countess's carriage drew up. Hermann watched as the servants, grasping her by the arms, carried out the hunched-up old lady, wrapped in a sable coat. Right behind her, her ward flitted by, dressed in a light cloak, her head adorned with fresh flowers. The doors of the carriage were slammed to. The carriage rolled off heavily in the soft snow. The doorman shut the front door. The lights in the windows went out. Hermann started pacing up and down before the lifeless house. He went up to a streetlamp and looked at his watch: it was twenty past eleven. He stayed under the lamp with his eyes fixed on the hands of his watch, waiting for the remaining minutes to pass. At exactly half past eleven he stepped on the porch and went up to the brightly lit entrance hall. The doorman was not there. Hermann ran up the stairs, opened the door of the anteroom, and saw a servant asleep in an ancient soiled armchair under a lamp. Hermann walked past him with a light but firm step. The reception hall and the drawing room were dark, with only a feeble light falling on them from the lamp in the anteroom. Hermann entered the bedroom. A gold sanctuary lamp burned in front of an icon-case filled with ancient icons. Armchairs with faded damask upholstery and down-cushioned sofas, their gilt coating worn, stood in melancholy symmetry along the walls, which were covered with Chinese silk. Two portraits, painted in Paris by Mme. Lebrun, hung on the wall. One of them showed a man about forty years old, red-faced and portly, wearing a light green coat with a star; the other a beautiful young woman with an aquiline nose, with her hair combed back over her temples, and with a rose in her powdered locks. Every nook and corner was crowded with china shepherdesses, table clocks made by the famous Leroy, little boxes, bandalores, fans, and diverse other ladies' toys invented at the end of the last century, along with Montgolfier's balloon and Mesmer's magnetism. Hermann went behind the screen. A small iron bedstead stood behind it; on the right there was the door leading to the study; on the left, another one leading to the corridor. Hermann opened the latter and saw the narrow winding staircase that led to the poor ward's room... But he drew back and went into the dark study.
Time went slowly. Everything was quiet. A clock struck twelve in the drawing room, and following it, all the clocks in all the rooms announced the hour; then everything grew quiet again. Hermann stood leaning against the cold stove. He was calm: his heart beat evenly, like that of a man embarked on a dangerous but unavoidable mission. The clocks struck one, then two in the morning; at last he heard the distant rumble of a carriage. An involuntary agitation seized him. The carriage drove up to the house and stopped. He heard the thump of the carriage's steps being lowered. The house began stirring. Servants were running, voices resounded, and lights came on. Three old chambermaids ran into the bedroom, and the Countess, barely alive, came in and sank into a Voltairean armchair. Hermann watched through a crack in the door: Lizaveta Ivanovna passed by him. He could hear her hasty steps up her staircase. Something akin to a pang of conscience stirred in his heart, but was soon stilled. He stood petrified.
The Countess began to undress in front of the mirror. The maids unpinned her bonnet bedecked with roses and removed the powdered wig from her closely cropped grey head. Pins came showering off her. Her yellow dress, embroidered with silver, fell to her swollen feet; Hermann became privy to the loathsome mysteries of her dress. At last she put on her bed jacket and nightcap: in these clothes, more appropriate for her age, she seemed to be less frightening and hideous.
Like most old people, the Countess suffered from insomnia. Having undressed, she sat in the Voltairean armchair by the window and dismissed her chambermaids. The candles were taken away and once more the room was lit only by the sanctuary lamp. The Countess sat, all yellow, mumbling with her flabby lips and swaying right and left. Her dim eyes were completely empty of thought; looking at her, one might assume that the swaying of this horrifying old woman was caused, not by her own will, but by the action of a hidden galvanism.
Suddenly an inexpressible change came over her lifeless face. Her lips stopped mumbling, and her eyes lit up: a strange man stood before her.
"Don't be frightened, for heaven's sake, don't!" he said in a clear but low voice. "I have no intention of harming you: I've come to beg a favour of you."
The old lady looked at him in silence and did not seem to hear him. Hermann assumed she was deaf and repeated his phrases, bending down toward her ear. The old lady kept silent as before.
"It is in your power to make my life happy," continued Hermann, "and it will cost you nothing: I know you are able to predict three winning cards in a row..."
Hermann stopped. The Countess seemed to have understood what was demanded of her; she seemed to be searching for words to reply.
"That was a joke," she said at last. "I swear to you it was only a joke!"
"It is no joking matter," rejoined Hermann angrily. "Remember Chaplitskii, whom you helped to win back his loss."
The Countess grew visibly confused. Her features betrayed a profound stirring of her heart, but she soon relapsed into her former numbness.
"Can you," continued Hermann, "can you name those three reliable cards for me?"
The Countess kept silent; Hermann went on:
"For whom are you saving your secret? For your grandsons? They are rich as it is, and they don't even know the value of money. A spendthrift will not benefit by your three cards. He who cannot guard his patrimony will die in poverty, whatever demonic machinations he may resort to. I am not a spendthrift; I know the value of money. Your three cards will not be wasted on me. Well, then..."
He stopped, trembling in anticipation of her answer. The Countess was silent; Hermann knelt down before her.
"If your heart ever knew the feeling of love," he said, "if you remember its ecstasies, if you once in your life smiled hearing the cry of a newborn son, if anything human has ever pulsated within your bosom, then I beseech you, appealing to the feelings of a wife, mistress, mother — to everything that is sacred in life - do not refuse my request! Reveal your secret to me! Of what use is it to you?... Maybe it is linked with a terrible sin, a forfeiture of eternal bliss, a covenant with the devil... Consider: you are old, you will not live long - I am willing to take your sin on my soul. Only reveal your secret to me. Consider that the happiness of a man is in your hands; not only I, but my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will bless your memory and hold it sacred..."
The old woman did not answer a word.
Hermann stood up.
"You old witch!" he said, clenching his teeth. "Then I will make you answer."
With these words he drew a pistol from his pocket.
At the sight of the pistol the Countess once more betrayed strong emotion. She jerked back her head and raised her hand as if to shield herself from the shot... Then she rolled over backwards... and remained motionless.
"Stop this childish game," said Hermann, grasping her hand. "I am asking you for the last time: will you or will you not name your three cards for me? Yes or no?"
The Countess did not answer. Hermann realized that she was dead.
7 mai 18—
Homme sans moeurs et sans religion!
FROM A CORRESPONDENCE
Lizaveta Ivanovna sat in her room deep in thought, still wearing her evening gown. On her arrival home she had hastened to dismiss the sleepy maid who begrudgingly offered her services; she said she would undress by herself and went to her room trembling, both hoping to find Hermann there and wishing not to. One glance was enough to convince her of his absence, and she thanked her fate for the obstacle that had prevented their meeting. She sat down without undressing and began to recollect all the circumstances that had led her so far in such a short time. Less than three weeks had passed since she had first caught sight of the young man through the window, and she was already corresponding with him, he had already made her consent to a nocturnal assignation! She knew his name only because some of his letters were signed; she had never spoken with him, never heard his voice, nor heard anything about him... until that evening. A strange thing! That very evening, at the ball, Tomskii was in a huff with the young Princess Polina, who had for the first time flirted with someone other than he; and wishing to take revenge on her by a show of indifference, he kept Lizaveta Ivanovna engaged in an endless mazurka. All through it he joked about her partiality for engineering officers, trying to convince her that he knew much more than she might suppose. Some of his jeers were so well aimed that several times Lizaveta Ivanovna thought her secret was known to him.
"Who told you all this?" she asked, laughing.
"A friend of a person you know," answered Tomskii, "a very remarkable man."
"And who is this remarkable man?"
"His name is Hermann."
Lizaveta Ivanovna did not say anything, but her hands and feet felt like ice...
"This Hermann," continued Tomskii, "is a truly romantic character: he has the profile of Napoleon and the soul of Mephistopheles. I think he has at least three crimes on his conscience. But how pale you've turned!..."
"I have a headache... What did this Hermann, or whatever his name is, tell you?..."
"Hermann is very dissatisfied with his friend: he says that in his friend's place he would have acted entirely differently... I even suspect that Hermann himself has an eye on you: at least he cannot remain calm listening to his friend's amorous exclamations."
"But where has he seen me?"
"At church, maybe, or when you went on a ride... Heaven only knows! Perhaps in your room while you were asleep: I wouldn't put it past him..."
The conversation, which was becoming painfully fascinating to Lizaveta Ivanovna, was interrupted by three ladies who approached to ask, "oubli ou regret?"
The lady Tomskii chose turned out to be Princess Polina. She gave herself an opportunity to explain things to Tomskii by running an extra circle and spinning in front of her chair longer than usual. By the time Tomskii returned to his seat he had neither Hermann nor Lizaveta Ivanovna on his mind. The latter was determined to resume the interrupted conversation, but the mazurka came to an end, and soon afterwards the old Countess was ready to leave.
Tomskii's words had been no more than a mazurka partner's chit-chat, but they sank deep into the young dreamer's soul. The portrait Tomskii sketched in was rather like the image she herself had formed, and thanks to the latest novels, her imagination was both daunted and enchanted by this type - actually quite hackneyed by now. She sat with her bare arms crossed and her head, still adorned with flowers, bent over the deep decolletage of her dress... Suddenly the door opened and Hermann came in. She shuddered...
"Where have you been?" she asked in an alarmed whisper.
"In the old Countess's bedroom," answered Hermann. "I have just left her. She is dead."
"My God!... What are you saying?..."
"And it seems to me," Hermann continued, "that I caused her death."
Lizaveta Ivanovna looked at him, and Tomskii's words echoed in her mind: This man has at least three crimes on his conscience! Hermann sat down on the windowsill by her and told her the full story.
Lizaveta Ivanovna listened to him in horror. And so, those passionate letters, those ardent demands, that bold and dogged pursuit — all that was not love! Money was what his soul was craving! It was not in her power to quench his passion and make him happy. The poor ward had turned out to be no more than the blind accomplice of a burglar, of the murderer of her aged benefactress!... She shed bitter tears of agonizing, belated remorse. Hermann regarded her in silence: his heart was also crushed, but neither the poor girl's tears nor the wondrous charm of her sorrow could move his icy soul. He felt no pang of conscience over the old woman's death. The one thought appalling him was the irretrievable loss of the secret that he had expected to make him rich.
"You are a monster!" said Lizaveta Ivanovna at last.
"I did not wish her death," Hermann answered. "My pistol is not loaded."
They both grew silent.
It was getting toward morning. Lizaveta Ivanovna extinguished the burned-down candles; a pale light spread across her room. She wiped her eyes, red from crying, and fixed them on Hermann: he was sitting on the windowsill with arms folded and brows fiercely knitted. In this pose he bore an amazing resemblance to Napoleon's portrait. Even Lizaveta Ivanovna was struck by the likeness.
"How are you going to get out of the house?" she broke the silence. "I thought of leading you out by a secret staircase, but we would have to go past the bedroom, which scares me."
"Just tell me how to find this secret staircase, and I'll go out by myself."
Lizaveta Ivanovna got up, took a key from her chest of drawers, handed it to Hermann, and gave him detailed instructions. Hermann pressed her cold, unresponsive hand, kissed her bowed head, and went out.
He descended the winding staircase and once more entered the Countess's bedroom. The dead old woman sat petrified; profound tranquillity was reflected in her face. Hermann stopped before her, looked at her for a long time as if wishing to ascertain the terrible truth; at last he stepped into the study, felt for the door behind the wall hanging, and began to descend the dark staircase, his mind agitated by strange feelings. "Perhaps," he thought, "up this very staircase, about sixty years ago, into this same bedroom, at this same hour, dressed in an embroidered coat, with his hair combed à l'oiseau royal, pressing his three-cornered hat to his heart, there stole a lucky young man, now long since turned to dust in his grave; and the heart of his aged mistress has stopped beating today..."
At the bottom of the stairs Hermann opened another door with the same key, and found himself in a passageway leading to the street.
That night the late Baroness von W. appeared
to me. She was dressed all in white, and
said, "How do you do, Mr. Councillor?"
Three days after the fatal night, at nine o'clock in the morning, Hermann set out for the Z. Monastery, where the funeral service for the deceased Countess was to be performed. Although he did not feel repentant, he could not completely silence the voice of his conscience, which kept telling him, "You are the old lady's murderer!" Deficient in true faith, he was nevertheless subject to many superstitions. He believed that the dead Countess could exercise an evil influence on his life, and he decided to go to her funeral in order to ask her pardon.
The church was full. Hermann had difficulty pushing his way through the crowd. The coffin lay on a sumptuous catafalque under a velvet canopy. The deceased lay in her coffin with her arms folded over her chest, in a lace cap and white atlas dress. She was surrounded by her domestics and relations: her servants dressed in black caftans with the family's coat of arms on the shoulders and holding candles in their hands, and her family - children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren — dressed in deep mourning. Nobody wept: tears would have been une affectation. The Countess was so very old that her death could not have come as a surprise to anyone; her relatives had considered her on the edge of the grave for quite some time. A young bishop gave the funeral sermon. He depicted in simple, moving words the peaceful ascent into heaven of the righteous, whose long years had been a serene, inspiring preparation for a Christian end. "The angel of death found her," said the orator, "waiting for the midnight bridegroom, vigilant in godly meditation." The service was concluded in an atmosphere of somber propriety. The relatives went first to pay their last respects to the deceased. Then came the numerous guests, filing by in order to take their last bow before her who had so long participated in their frivolous amusements. Then all the domestics followed. Finally came the old housekeeper, a contemporary of the deceased. Two young girls led her by the arms. She was too weak to bow all the way to the ground; she alone shed a few tears as she kissed her mistress's cold hand. After her Hermann, too, decided to go up to the coffin. He bowed to the ground and lay for several minutes on the cold floor strewn with fir branches. At last he rose to his feet, pale as the deceased herself, mounted the steps of the catafalque, and bent over... At that moment it seemed to him that the deceased cast a mocking glance at him, screwing up one of her eyes. He moved back hastily, missed his step, and crashed to the ground flat on his back. As he was lifted to his feet, Lizaveta Ivanovna had to be carried out on the porch, unconscious. This incident disturbed for a few minutes the solemnity of the somber rite. A muffled murmur arose among those in attendance, and a gaunt chamberlain - a close relative of the deceased - whispered into the ear of an Englishman standing by him that the young officer was the dead woman's illegitimate son, to which the Englishman responded with a cold "Oh?"
Hermann was extremely distressed that whole day. Dining at a secluded tavern, he drank too much, which was not his wont, in the hope of calming his inner agitation. But the wine only further inflamed his imagination. Returning home, he threw himself on his bed fully clothed, and fell into a deep sleep.
It was night when he woke up; the moon was shining into his room. He glanced at his watch: it was a quarter to three. Not feeling sleepy any more, he sat on his bed and thought about the old Countess's funeral.
Just then somebody looked in from the street through the window, and immediately went away. Hermann paid no attention. A minute later he could hear the door of the anteroom open. His orderly, thought Hermann, was returning from a nocturnal outing, drunk as usual. But he heard unfamiliar steps: somebody was softly shuffling along in slippers. The door opened, and a woman in a white dress came in. Hermann took her for his old nurse and wondered what could have brought her here at this time of night. But the woman in white glided across the room and suddenly appeared right before him: Hermann recognized the Countess in her!
"I have come to you against my will," she said to him in a firm voice. "I have been ordered to grant your request. The trey, the seven, and the ace will win for you in succession, but only under the condition that you play no more than one card within one day, and that afterwards you never play again for the rest of your life. I will forgive you my death under the condition that you marry my ward, Lizaveta Ivanovna..."
After these words she quietly turned around, went to the door, and left, shuffling her slippers. Hermann heard the front door slam and once more saw someone looking in through his window.
Hermann was unable to regain his senses for a long time. He went into the other room. His orderly was asleep on the floor; Hermann had great difficulty waking him up. The orderly was drunk as usual: it was impossible to get any sense out of him. The front door was locked. Hermann returned to his own room, lit a candle, and jotted down his vision.
"How dare you say attendez to me?"
"Your Excellency, I said attendez sir!"
Two fixed ideas can no more coexist in the moral sphere than can two bodies occupy the same space in the physical world. The trey, the seven, and the ace soon overshadowed the image of the dead old woman in Hermann's mind. Trey, seven, ace - the threesome haunted him and was perpetually on his lips. Seeing a young girl, he would say, "How shapely! Just like a trey of hearts." If anybody asked him what time it was, he would answer, "Five to the seven." Every portly man reminded him of an ace. The trey, the seven, and the ace hounded him even in his dreams, taking on every imaginable form: the trey blossomed before him like a great luxuriant flower; the seven appeared as a Gothic gate; and the ace assumed the shape of an enormous spider. All his thoughts converged on the one idea of using the secret for which he had paid so dearly. He began to consider retirement and travel. It was his intention to wrest a fortune from the hands of an enchanted Fate in the public gambling casinos of Paris. But chance saved him from any such effort.
Wealthy gamblers formed a group in Moscow under the deanship of the famous Chekalinskii, who had spent all his life over the card table and had at one time made millions, even though he had been winning promissory notes while losing ready cash. His many years of experience had earned him the trust of his fellow gamblers; his open door, excellent cook, cordiality, and cheerfulness had won him universal admiration. He came to St. Petersburg. Young men thronged to his house, forgetting the balls for the sake of cards and preferring the seductions of faro to the enticements of gallantry. Narumov brought Hermann to him.
The two young men passed through a series of magnificently furnished rooms, well attended by polite waiters. Some generals and privy councillors were playing whist; there were young people eating ice cream or smoking their pipes, sprawled on damask-upholstered sofas. In the drawing room twenty or so players crowded around a long table, behind which sat the host, holding the bank. He was about sixty, of a highly respectable appearance. Silver hair covered his head; his fresh-complexioned round face reflected good nature; his eyes sparkled, animated by a continual smile. Narumov introduced Hermann. Chekalinskii cordially shook the young man's hand, asked him not to stand on ceremony, and continued dealing.
The deal lasted a long time. There were more than thirty cards on the table. Chekalinskii stopped after each turn to give the players time to make their wishes known; he jotted down losses, courteously listened to requests, and even more courteously straightened out the odd corner that had been bent down incorrectly by a roaming hand. At last the deal was completed. Chekalinskii shuffled the deck and was about to begin a new deal.
"Allow me to place a bet," said Hermann, reaching over from behind a corpulent gentleman who was punting at the table. Chekalinskii gave a smile and a silent bow in token of his humble compliance. Narumov laughingly congratulated Hermann on breaking his long-sustained fast and wished him beginner's luck.
"Ready," said Hermann, writing the amount above his card in chalk.
"How much is that, sir?" the banker asked, screwing his eyes. "Forgive me, I cannot make it out."
"Forty-seven thousand," said Hermann.
At these words all heads turned, and all eyes fastened on Hermann. "He has lost his mind," thought Narumov.
"Allow me to remark," said Chekalinskii, with his immutable smile, "that your game is bold. So far no one here has placed more man two hundred and seventy-five on a simple"
"What of it?" rejoined Hermann. "Will you make the play or not?"
Chekalinskii bowed with the same air of humble compliance. "All I wished to bring to your attention was," he said, "that, deemed worthy of my friends' confidence as I am, I can hold me bank only against ready cash. I am of course personally convinced that your word suffices, but for the sake of order in the game and the accounts, I ask you to place the money on the card."
Hermann took a bank note out of his pocket and gave it to Chekalinskii, who after a quick glance at it placed it on Hermann's card.
Chekalinskii proceeded to deal. A nine fell to his right, and a trey to his left.
"It's a winner," said Hermann, showing his card.
A murmur arose among the players. Chekalinskii frowned for a moment, but the usual smile soon returned to his face.
"Do you wish to receive your winnings now?" he asked Hermann.
"If you please."
Chekalinskii took several bank notes out of his pocket and immediately settled his account. Hermann took the money and left the table. Narumov could hardly recover his senses. Hermann drank a glass of lemonade and went home.
The next evening he was at Chekalinskii's again. The host was dealing. The punters made room for Hermann as soon as he approached the table. Chekalinskii bowed to him affably.
Hermann waited until a new deal began; then he led a card, placing both his original forty-seven thousand and his win of the previous night on it.
Chekalinskii began dealing. A jack fell to his right and a seven to his left.
Hermann turned his seven face up.
Everybody gasped. Chekalinskii was visibly flustered. He counted out ninety-four thousand and handed it over to Hermann. The latter took it with equanimity and left at once.
The following evening Hermann once more presented himself at the table. Everybody had been expecting him. The generals and privy councillors abandoned their whist in order to watch such an extraordinary game. The young officers jumped up from their sofas, and all the waiters gathered in the drawing room. Everyone crowded around Hermann. The other players made no wagers, impatiently waiting to see the outcome of his play. Hermann stood by the table, ready to punt against the pale, though still smiling, Chekalinskii. Each unsealed a new pack of cards. Chekalinskii shuffled. Hermann picked a card and placed it on the table, covering it with a stack of bank notes. It was like a duel. A profound silence reigned over the gathering.
Chekalinskii started dealing with trembling hands. On his right showed a queen, on his left an ace.
"The ace has won!" said Hermann and turned his card face up.
"Your lady has been murdered," said Chekalinskii affably.
Hermann shuddered: indeed, instead of an ace, the queen of spades lay before him. He could not believe his eyes; he could not fathom how he could possibly have pulled the wrong card.
Suddenly, it seemed to him that the queen of spades had screwed up her eyes and grinned. An extraordinary likeness struck him...
"The old woman!" he cried out in terror.
Chekalinskii gathered in the bank notes lost by Hermann. The young man stood by the table, motionless. When at last he left the table, the whole room burst into loud talk. "Splendid punting!" the players kept saying. Chekalinskii shuffled the cards anew: the game resumed its usual course.
Hermann has lost his mind. He is at the Obukhov Hospital, ward number 17; he doesn't answer questions, just keeps muttering with uncommon rapidity, "Trey, seven, ace! Trey, seven, queen!"
Lizaveta Ivanovna has married a very pleasant young man; he holds a position somewhere in the civil service and has a handsome fortune of his own: he is the son of the old Countess's former steward. Lizaveta Ivanovna is bringing up the daughter of a poor relation.
Tomskii has been promoted to captain and is engaged to marry Princess Polina.
|Бібліотека ім. О. С. Пушкіна (м. Київ).
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