Three days later Hermann attends the Countess’s crowded funeral. He feels no remorse, but can’t silence the voice of conscience reminding him he murdered her. He is superstitious, and, fearing that she will become a menacing presence in his life, he is there to ask her forgiveness. At the end of the open-casket service, after everyone has paid their respects, Hermann lies on the cold floor before the coffin. He climbs the steps of the catafalque and bends forward to discover that the Countess is looking at him mockingly and winking one eye. He steps back, startled, and falls on his back. At the same moment, Liza faints and is carried out to the porch. A murmur moves through the crowd. A chamberlain related to the Countess tells a young Englishman that Hermann is the Countess’s illegitimate son. The Englishman simply responds, “Oh.”
Hermann spends the day troubled. He wakes in the middle of the night to see someone glance in the window and go away. He then hears the front door opening and unfamiliar footsteps shuffling to his room. The bedroom door opens to reveal a woman in a white dress. He recognizes her as the Countess. In a firm voice, she says she has come against her will, and was directed to grant his request. A three, a seven, and an ace will win for him as long as he doesn’t bet on more than one of them in twenty-four hours, and as long as he never plays them again. She will forgive him for killing her if he marries Liza.
After she shuffles out, he sees someone glance in the window again. His orderly is lying asleep, drunk, in the other room. Hermann lights a candle and writes down his vision.
Hermann grows obsessed with the sequence of three, seven, ace, which has driven the image of the dead Countess from Hermann’s mind. They are the only numbers he ever speaks or thinks about. He thinks of retiring from the army and traveling the world with money he will win at Parisian gambling halls.
But as chance would have it, Narumov brings Hermann a wealthy and trustworthy gambler named Chekalinsky, who hosts card games at his house. After watching the silver-haired, friendly-looking man deal a long game, Hermann asks to place a bet of forty-seven thousand on one card. Chekalinsky says no one there has ever staked more than two hundred and seventy-five. Chekalinsky deals a nine on the right and a three on the left. Hermann wins by turning over his card, a three, then returns home with his winnings.
He returns the next night and doubles his winnings by betting on seven. On the third evening, everyone is waiting for Hermann. He selects his card and places a stack of banknotes on it. Chekalinsky deals with shaking hands: a queen on the right; on the left, an ace. Hermann declares that his ace wins as he turns his card over, but Chekalinsky corrects him kindly that his queen loses. He shudders at the queen of spades in his hand, who seemed to be winking and smiling at him. He is struck by the queen’s resemblance to the dead Countess. When Hermann leaves, the gamblers declare what a splendid game it was, and then continue to play.
The narrator concludes the story by saying that Hermann went mad and is now in room 17 of Obukhov Hospital, where he repeats “three seven ace, three seven queen.” Liza has married a wealthy young man who works in the civil service and is raising a poor young relative as her ward. Tomsky has been promoted to captain and is engaged to marry Princess Pauline.
The theme of the supernatural returns with the striking and unexpected image of the Countess winking from her coffin. As the story, to this point, has abided by the conventions of realistic fiction, the winking Countess brings into question whether the event is occurring in objective reality, or only in Hermann’s mind.
When the point of view shifts briefly, during the funeral, to the chamberlain speaking to the young Englishman, it foregrounds the story’s realism while simultaneously introducing a piece of possible information (that Hermann is the Countess’s illegitimate son) whose veracity is never explored or brought up again. Most likely, the comment is made in ignorance and confusion; its mild reception provides some comic contrast to the drama of Hermann falling and Liza fainting.
When the Countess’s ghost visits Hermann, it is still unclear whether Hermann has made contact with a spiritual realm or has gone mad, succumbing to his conscience and superstition. In an instance of situational irony, a spiritual authority has ordered the Countess to divulge her secret of the correct cards to bet on.
Hermann is immediately overcome by his obsessive greed, and does not stop to consider why the Countess would have been ordered to deliver such a gift to the man who killed her. The tension rises as he wins big on the three and the seven, soberly abiding by the rule that he must only bet on one in a twenty-four hour period.
The story reaches its climax when Hermann realizes that he had mistakenly chosen to bet on his queen, as opposed to his ace. He cannot comprehend how he would make such a stupid decision, and finds the queen winking at him mockingly, just as the dead Countess did when lying in her coffin.
The surreal event causes Hermann to lose his mind. The statement that he would not risk something essential in order to win something superfluous has a moralistic resonance: by succumbing to the allure of greed—i.e. the intense and selfish desire for attaining more than one needs—Hermann risked his essential morality. For all his calculations, he winds up losing not just money but his sanity.