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Queen of Spades

The story begins in St. Petersburg during the early 19th century. A group of young officers were sitting up all night, all of them gambling, except one, called Hermann. Hermann was fascinated by the games, but never played. Another officer, Tomsky, then told the story of his grandmother, a Countess, who in her youth loved to gamble, but nearly lost everything in a high-stakes game in Paris. Desperately, she went to the mysterious Count St. Germain, from whom she somehow learned to predict three cards to play in succession. She had only used this secret knowledge twice in the past: to save herself, and then several years later to help a young gambler. Hermann was fascinated by this story, and began to wonder if he could learn the Countess's secret himself.

The Countess, meanwhile, was now an old woman in her eighties. She was capricious, spoiled, greedy, and lost in dreams of the past. She had adopted a poor orphan, a young woman named Lizaveta Ivanovna. Unbeknownst to the Countess, Lizaveta had started to fall in love with a young officer. She had first noticed the young man standing outside the Countess's house for several days, and had gradually they developed a silent connection. Soon they were exchanging love letters. After a few weeks, Lizaveta wrote to her suitor, telling him how he could get into the Countess's house and meet her secretly. This officer was none other than Hermann. Unfortunately, Hermann was not really in love with Lizaveta. When he had discovered the Countess's house and saw the young woman in the window, he decided use Lizaveta to get closer to the old woman's secret.

Following Lizaveta's instructions, Hermann sneaked into the house while the Countess and Lizaveta were at a ball. He hid himself in the Countess's room, and when the old woman was alone he showed himself. He begged her to tell him the secret of the cards, but she would say nothing. Finally he pointed a pistol at the Countess, who died from fright. Hermann went to Lizaveta's room and told her what had happened. Lizaveta understood now that he had just been using her, but in spite of her heartbreak she helped him escape from the house. Three days later, the Countess's funeral was held. Hermann felt compelled to present himself at the occasion, and when he approached the coffin he thought the old woman winked at him. Deeply agitated, he went home.

That night, the Countess appeared to him as an apparition. She told him that, against her will, she had come to tell him what he wanted to know. The three cards he must play are: three, seven, and ace. Her knowledge came with two conditions: he could never gamble again, and he had to marry Lizaveta Ivanovna. Hermann spent the next few days wondering what to do, and then a wealthy gambler from Moscow, named Chekalinsky, came to St. Petersburg. Hermann went to his party, and played the first card, a three. He won a large amount of money. The next night, he wagered his entire fortune and all his winnings on the second card: the seven. He won again, and created a sensation. The third night, once again he staked everything. But instead of an ace, he got the Queen of Spades. Suddenly, Hermann recognized the face on the card as the Countess, who seemed to wink at him. Having lost everything, he now knew that the Countess had triumphed from the grave. Hermann went mad and ended his days in an insane asylum. Lizaveta, meanwhile, married an amiable young civil servant, and raised a poor relation.

Narrative by Ellie Stewart based on short story of Alexander Pushkin. Copyright 2002.

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