Russian Romance (Pushkin)/The Captain's Daughter/Chapter I

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THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER

 

 

CHAPTER I.

THE SERGEANT OF THE GUARDS.

My father, Andrey Petrovitch[1] Grineff, who served in his youth under Count Münich,[2] had retired with the rank of senior major, in the year 17—. He then settled on his property in the government of Simbirsk, where he married Avdotia Vassilievna[3] U——, the daughter of a poor nobleman in the neighbourhood. Nine children were born to my parents. All my brothers and sisters died in their infancy. My name had been entered on the strength of the Semionoffsky regiment, thanks to Prince B——, a major in the Guards, and our near relative. I was checked as being on leave of absence until the completion of my studies. At that time the system of education was not what it is now. At the age of five I was turned over to the care of the groom Savelitch, whose sober character had earned for him the distinction of being constituted my governor. I managed, under his supervision, to learn to read and write in Russian by the time I was twelve years of age, and was also able to discuss in a creditable manner the merits of a sporting dog. At about that period my father, in writing to Moscow for his yearly supply of wines and salad oil, engaged a Frenchman, M. Beaupré, to be my tutor. Savelitch was much put out upon his arrival.

"Thank goodness," muttered he to himself, "the child is washed, combed, and fed. Where is the use of wasting one's money and engaging Moussié, just as if one's own people were not sufficient!"

Beaupré had been a hairdresser in his own country, and a soldier in Prussia; he then came to Russia, pour être Outchitel,[4] without quite understanding the meaning of the word. He was a good fellow, but flighty and debauched to a degree. His greatest weakness was admiration of the fair sex, and he frequently met with such rough usage in return for his advances, that he would groan for days together. He was not inimical (as he expressed himself) to the bottle, that is to say (in plain Russian) he liked an extra drop. But as wine was served at dinner at an allowance of only one glassful to each person, the tutor himself being generally passed over, my Beaupré very soon got accustomed to Russian spirits, and began to like them better than the wines of his own country, as being incomparably preferable for the stomach. He and I got on very well, and although he bound himself by his agreement to teach me French, German, and all the sciences, he found it more advantageous to himself to pick up from me, after a fashion, a smattering of Russian, after which lesson, each of us went his way. We lived hand in glove with each other. I did not wish for another mentor. But fate soon parted us, owing to the following circumstances:

The laundress Paláshka, a fat pock-marked girl, and the one-eyed dairy-maid Akoulka, had, it appears, agreed to throw themselves at my mother's feet, and whilst accusing themselves of culpability, to complain weepingly of Monssié, who would take advantage of their inexperience. My mother did not treat such matters as a joke, and carried the complaint to my father. His way of settling it was summary. He immediately sent for that rascal of a Frenchman. He was informed that Monssié was giving me my lesson. My father came into my room. Beaupré was sleeping on my bed the sleep of innocence. I was busy. It should be stated that a map had been ordered for me from Moscow. It had hung on the wall without the slightest use having been made of it, and its size, and the good quality of the paper, had long tempted me. I decided upon making a kite of it, so, taking advantage of Beaupré being asleep, I set to work. My father walked in as I was about to attach a wisp tail to the Cape of Good Hope. Perceiving that these were my studies in geography, my father pulled my ears, then rushing at Beaupré, he awoke him roughly, and assailed him with reproach. In his confusion, Beaupré would have risen, but he could not—the unfortunate Frenchman was dead drunk. My father dragged him off the bed by the collar, pushed him outside the door, and sent him off that same day, to the inexpressible joy of Savelitch. Thus ended my education.

I stayed at home scaring doves and playing at leap frog with the street boys. After this fashion I reached my sixteenth year. Then came the turning point of my life.

One autumn afternoon my mother was making jam in the sitting-room, and I stood by, licking my lips and watching the boiling preserve. My father was sitting at the window reading the "Court Calendar," which he received yearly. This book ever exercised a strong influence over him; he always read it with particular attention, and its perusal invariably stirred up his bile. My mother, who knew all his whims and ways, constantly tried to hide away this unfortunate book, and then it would happen that months went by without his ever seeing the "Court Calendar." But when he did chance to find it, he would not let it out of his hands for hours. Thus it was that my father was reading the "Court Calendar," now and then shrugging his shoulders, and repeating to himself, "Lieutenant-general! . . . . he was a sergeant in my company! . . . . Knight of the two Russian orders! . . . . is it so long ago since we? . . . ." At last my father threw the "Calendar" on the sofa and remained sunk in thought, which forbode no good.

Suddenly, he turned to my mother. "Avdotia Vassilievna, how old is Petrousha?"[5]

"He has entered his seventeenth year," answered my mother. "Petrousha was born the same year in which aunt Nastasia Gherassimovna lost an eye, and when——"

"Very well," interrupted my father; "it is time he should enter the service. He has had enough of nurseries and of pigeon worrying."

The thought of a speedy separation so startled my mother, that she dropped the spoon into the saucepan, and tears coursed down her face. As for me, it would be difficult to describe my joy. My idea of the service was connected with visions of freedom, and the amusements a residence at Petersburg would afford. I already imagined myself an officer in the Guards, which, in my opinion, was the height of human felicity.

My father neither liked altering his plans, nor putting off their execution. The day for my departure was fixed. On the eve of that day he informed me that it was his intention to write to my future chief, and he called for paper and pen.

"Do not forget, Andrey Petrovitch," said my mother, "to remember me to Prince B——, and say that I beg of him to take my Petrousha under his care."

"What nonsense!" cried my father, frowning. "What should I write to Prince B—— for?"

"Did you not yourself say you were going to write to Petrousha's chief?"

"Well! what of that?"

"Well, Petrousha's chief is Prince B——. Petrousha is, as you know, on the strength of the Simionof regiment."

"On the strength! What is it to me that he is on the strength! Petrousha shall not go to Petersburg! What is he to learn by serving at Petersburg? To spend money and to get into trouble? No! Let him serve in the army; let him carry his knapsack; let him smell powder; let him become a soldier, and not a puppet in the Guards! Where is his passport? Let me have it."

My mother fetched my passport, which had been put away in a casket, with my little christening shirt, and handed it to my father with a trembling hand. My father read it attentively, laid it before him on the table, and commenced his letter.

I was eaten up with curiosity. Where was I to be sent to, if not to Petersburg? I never took my eyes off my father's pen, which moved slowly enough. At last he concluded, enclosed my passport in his letter, removed his spectacles, and calling me, said: "Here is a letter to Andrey Karlovitch[6] R——, my old comrade and friend. You are going to Orenburg to serve under him."

Thus all my bright hopes vanished! Instead of the pleasurable life at Petersburg, I was to look forward to a dull monotonous existence in a distant and unknown region. I had thought with so much ecstasy, a few moments before, of entering the service, and now my joy seemed turned into the heaviest sorrow. But there was no help for it! The next day a travelling kibitka[7] was brought to the door; my portmanteau was put into it, also a cellarette containing a tea service, and sundry packages of buns and pies, the last tokens of the indulgences of home. My parents blessed me. My father said: "Good-bye, Piotr. Serve him faithfully, him to whom thou shalt swear allegiance; obey thy superiors; do not court their favour too much; do not be over anxious to serve; but do not either shrink thy duty, and remember the proverb: Take care of thy coat from the hour that it is new, and of thy honour from the days of its youth" My mother, in tears, bid me take care of my health, and ordered Savelitch to "look after the child." A small touloup[8] of hare skin was put on me, and over it a pelisse of fox fur. I sat in the kibitka next to Savelitch, and set out on my journey, crying bitterly.

That same night we reached Simbirsk, where I was to remain twenty-four hours, for Savelitch had been instructed to purchase all sorts of necessaries. I alighted at the inn—Savelitch started early to do his shopping. I got tired of looking out of the window into the dirty alley, so I began to explore the house. On entering the billiard-room I found a tall gentleman of about five-and-thirty years of age, in a dressing gown, wearing a long black moustache, with a cue in his hand, and a pipe in his mouth. He was playing with the marker, who was to empty a glass of vodka[9] at the end of each game he won, but who was obliged to crawl on all fours under the billiard-table whenever he happened to lose. I stayed and watched their play. As it progressed, the crawling on all fours became more frequent, until at last the marker remained under the table altogether. The gentleman pronounced over him a few vigorous expressions, a sort of funeral oration, and invited me to have a game. I declined, not knowing how to play. This evidently appeared strange to him. He looked on me as it were with compassion; nevertheless, we continued to converse. I learned that his name was Ivan Ivanovitch[10] Zourine, that he was a captain in the —— hussars, that he was sent to Simbirsk to recruit, and that he was staying in the same inn. Zourine invited me to dine with him, soldier fashion, taking what I could get. I willingly consented. We sat down. Zourine drank a great deal, and pressed me to do the same, saying that I must accustom myself to the ways of the service; he entertained me with military anecdotes, which caused me almost to split my sides with laughter, and we rose from the table fast friends. He then offered to teach me to play at billiards. "It is quite indispensable," he said, "to us brother-soldiers. For instance. When on the march, halts are made at little villages; how is one to kill time? One cannot possibly be always kicking the Jews about. One is obliged, in self-defence, to enter the inn and have a game at billiards; and to do so, one must know how to play!" I was quite convinced, and commenced my course of instruction with great ardour. Zourine loudly encouraged me, wondered at the rapid progress I made, and, after several lessons, proposed that we should play for money, at half copeck stakes; not for the sake of gain, but simply so as not to be playing without an object, which, he said, was the worst possible plan. I again consented, and Zourine called for punch, and pressed me to taste some, repeating that I must get used to the customs of the service; and what was the service without punch! I obeyed. Our game went on. The oftener I supped my glass, the merrier I became. The balls were continually flying off the table; I was getting excited; abused the marker, who was scoring heaven knows how; I was doubling the stakes over and over again—in a word, I behaved like a boy loosened from all control. Thus, time passed imperceptibly. Zourine looked at the clock, laid down his cue, and informed me that I owed him one hundred roubles. I was a little taken aback. Savelitch kept my money. I began to offer some excuse. Zourine interrupted me: "Pray do not mention it. I can wait your convenience, and in the meanwhile let us go to Arinoushka's."

What more am I to say? I ended the day as giddily as I had begun it. We supped at Arinoushka's. Zourine kept filling my glass, repeating that I must get used to the service. On leaving the table, I could scarcely stand; at midnight Zourine took me back to the inn.

Savelitch met us at the threshold. He started at the undeniable evidence of my zeal for the service.

"What has happened to thee, sir?" said he, in a sorrowful voice. "Where hast thou managed to get such a skinful? Dear me! never has such a misfortune happened."

"Hold thy tongue, old owl!" answered I, stammering, "thou art surely drunk; go to sleep—and put me to bed."

The next day I awoke with a headache, vaguely recalling the events of the previous evening. My reflections were interrupted by Savelitch, who came to me with a cup of tea. "Thou art making an early beginning Piotr Andrevitch,"[11] said he, shaking his head." And who dost thou take after? So far as I know, neither thy father, nor thy grandfather, were drunkards; to mention thy mother is unnecessary—she has never from her birth tasted anything stronger than kvass.[12] And whose fault is it all? That d——d Monssié. I fancy I see him now, running to Antipíevna; 'Madame, je vous prie, vodka.' There is je vous prie for you! There is no denying it; he has taught thee some nice things—that son of a dog. And what was the use of engaging a heathen for thy tutor, as if our master had not enough of his own people about him to choose from?"

I felt ashamed of myself; I turned to the wall, and said to him—"Go away, Savelitch, I do not want any tea."

But it was difficult to stop Savelitch when he had once begun to lecture.

"There, Piotr Andrevitch, thou seest what comes of tippling; one has a headache—one cannot eat anything. A man who drinks is perfectly useless. Take a little cucumber juice, with honey, or what is better still, half a glass of spirits as a refresher. What sayest thou to it?"

At that moment a boy entered and handed me a note from Zourine. I opened it and read the following lines:—

 

"My dear Piotr Andrevitch,

"Please send me, by my boy, the hundred roubles which thou lostest yesterday. I stand in great need of money.

"Ready, and at thy service,

"Ivan Zourine."

 

There was no help for it; I tried to look unconcerned and turning to Savelitch, who kept my money and clothes and disposed of my affairs, ordered him to give a hundred roubles to the boy.

"How? why?" asked the astonished Savelitch.

"I owe them to him," I answered, in the coolest manner possible.

"Thou owest them?" reiterated Savelitch, more and more astonished; "whenever didst thou find the time to get into debt? This business is not clear. Do what thou wilt, sir, but I shall not give the money."

I felt that unless I made the obstinate old man give in to me at this decisive moment, I would thereafter find it difficult to free myself of his tutelage, and looking proudly at him, said—

"I am thy master, and thou my servant. The money is mine. I lost it because I chose to do so; but I advise thee not to argue the point, and to do what thou art told."

Savelitch was so taken aback, that he raised his arms, and remained motionless.

"What dost thou stand there like that for?" I shrieked angrily.

Savelitch burst into tears.

"Oh, my little father,[13] Piotr Andrevitch," he murmured, "do not kill me with grief. My light! do listen to an old man! Write to that scoundrel to say it was a joke, that we never possessed so much money! One hundred roubles! Good gracious! Tell him that thy parents have strictly forbidden thee playing for anything but nuts. . . ."

"Leave off lying," I interrupted severely; "let me have the money, or I shall kick thee out."

Savelitch looked at me sorrowfully, and went for the money. I pitied the poor old man, but I wanted to get the upper hand, and to show him that I was a child no longer. The money was sent to Zourine. Savelitch hastened to "get me out of the dd inn." He came to announce that the horses were ready. I left Simbirsk with an uneasy conscience, repenting silently, without bidding my master good-bye, and never expecting to see him again.

 
 
  1. Andrew, the son of Peter.—Tr.
  2. A distinguished Russian general; born, 1683; died, 1767.—Tr.
  3. Eudoxia, the daughter of Basil.—Tr.
  4. Teacher.—Tr.
  5. Pet name for Piotr—Peter.—Tr.
  6. Andrew, the son of Charles.—Tr.
  7. Carriage with a hood.—Tr.
  8. A short coat lined with fur.—Tr.
  9. A glass of spirits.—Tr.
  10. John, the son of John.—Tr.
  11. Peter, the son of Andrew.—Tr.
  12. A fermented liquor made from barley malt, wheat, rye, wheat flour, and buck wheat.—Tr.
  13. Bátyoushka, a term of endearment.—Tr.