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

CHAPTER II.

THE GUIDE.

My reflections on the way were none of the pleasantest. My loss was not insignificant, considering the value of money at that period. I could not but acknowledge in my inmost soul that my conduct at the inn at, Simbirsk had been very foolish, and I felt myself guilty towards Savelitch. These thoughts tormented me. The old man sat behind, gloomy and silent, accasionally turning away his face and murmuring to himself. I wished at any price to make my peace with him, but I scarcely knew how to begin. At last I said—

"Well, well, Savelitch; let us make it up; I beg thy pardon; I see that I was in the wrong. I was foolish yesterday; I offended thee without cause. I promise to behave better in future, and to listen to thee. There now, do not be angry, and let us make it up."

"Ah, my little father, Piotr Andrevitch!" answered he, with a deep sigh. "I am angry with myself; it is all my own fault throughout. How could I ever leave thee all alone at the inn? What is to be done? I was tempted. I bethought myself of going to the deacon's wife, to see my Koumā.[1] Well, so it was; I went to my Koumā, and thus have got into trouble. A bad business! How shall I ever be able to look my master and my mistress in the face again? What will they say when they find out that their child drinks and gambles?"

I promised, in order to console poor Savelitch, that I should never henceforth dispose of a single kopeck without his consent. He gradually calmed down, but still kept grumbling to himself occasionally, as he nodded his head: "A hundred roubles!—no joke!"

I was nearing the place of my destination. Dreary plains, intercepted by mounds and hollows, stretched around me. All was covered with snow. The sun was setting. The kibitka was driving along a narrow road; or, more correctly speaking, a track made by the peasants' sledges. Suddenly, the yemstchick[2] began to look around him, and taking off his cap, he said to me—

"Wilt thou not order me to turn back, sir?"

"What for?"

"The weather is threatening—the wind is rising gradually. See how it sweeps the early snow?"

"Well, where is the harm?"

"And look what is going on there. "

(The yemstchick pointed with his whip to the east.)

"I don't see anything except a white steppe, and a clear sky."

"And there—there!—that little cloud!"

I did indeed perceive on the horizon a small white cloud, which I at first took for a distant mound. The yemstchick explained to me that that small cloud presaged a snow storm.

I had heard of the snow storms in those regions, and was aware that entire trains of waggons were sometimes overwhelmed by them. Savelitch was of the yemstchick's opinion, and advised our returning. But I did not imagine that the wind was very high; I hoped to reach the next station in time, and gave orders to drive faster.

The yemstchick went off at full spead, but still kept looking at the east. The horses were doing their work well. The wind was, however, rising fast. The small white speck had become a dense white cloud, which, as it heavily rolled onwards, stretched out, enveloping the whole sky. A little snow began to fall, which soon increased to heavy flakes. The wind commenced to howl, and we were in for a snowstorm. In an instant the dark sky and the white sea of snow had blended into one. Everything had disappeared from sight.

"Well, sir," shouted the yemstchick, "we are done for; this is a snow-storm!"

I looked out of the kibitka; all was darkness and tempest. One might have mistaken for human sounds, what were but the fierce and expressive howlings of the wind. Savelitch and I were covered with snow; the horses slackened their pace and soon stood quite still.

"Why dost thou not go on?" I asked the yemstchick, impatiently.

"Where is the use of going on?" answered he, leaving his seat; "as it is, goodness knows where we have got to: there is no road, and darkness everywhere."

I was about to rebuke him. Savelitch took his part: "Why did'st thou not listen?" said he angrily: "thou mightest have gone back to the inn, had tea, thou could'st have slept until the morning, the storm would have abated, and we should have been able to have gone on farther. Where do we hurry to now? Had we been going to a wedding!"

Savelitch was right. What was to be done. The snow still fell. A drift was forming round our kibitka. The horses stood with bent heads, starting occasionally. The yemstchick walked round and round, and not being able to do anything else, kept adjusting the harness. Savelitch grumbled. I kept looking in all directions, in the hope of discovering some trace of a dwelling or of a road, but could discern nothing but the confused chasing of the snow-flakes. . . . Suddenly I perceived something black.

"There, yemstchick!" I cried; "look; what is that black object there?"

The yemstchick strained his eyes.

"Goodness knows, sir," said he, taking his seat; "it is neither a waggon nor a tree, for it appears to move. It must be either a wolf or a man."

I ordered him to drive in the direction of the indistinct object, which was also advancing towards ourselves. In a couple of minutes we met a man:

"Halloa! my good man!" shouted the yemstchick; "canst thou tell me which way the road lies?"

"The road is here; I am standing on hard ground," answered the traveller; "but of what use can it be?"

"Listen, my little moujik,"[3] said I; "art thou acquainted with this part of the country? wilt thou undertake to conduct me to some place where we can pass the night?"

"I know the country," said the wayfarer; "thank goodness it has been walked and driven over in all directions. But thou seest what the weather is like; how easy it is to lose one's way. It would be safer to wait here. The snow-storm may blow ever, and the sky clear up; then we shall find our way by the stars."

His assurance supported me; I had already made up my mind to trust myself to God's mercy, and to spend the night in the midst of the steppe, when of a sudden the wayfarer took his seat by the side of the yemstchick saying:

"God be praised, a dwelling is not far off; turn to the right, and go on."

"And why should I turn to the right?" asked the yemstchick, with a dissatisfied air. "Where dost thou see a road there? I dare say thou thinkest: 'The horses are somebody else's, the harness is somebody else's, so drive on and don't stop.'"

It struck me that the yemstchick was right.

"And really," said I, "what makes thee think that a dwelling is not far off?"

"Because the wind blew from thence," answered the stranger; "I perceived the smell of smoke; it means that a village is near."

His quick perception and acute sense of smelling astonished me; I directed the yemstchick to drive on. The horses were stepping heavily over the deep snow. The kibitka advanced slowly, now rising over a hillock, then plunging into a ditch; again turning over from side to side. It was like the motion of a ship on a stormy sea. Savelitch groaned, and was continually striking against me. I let down the tzynovka[4] wrapped myself up in my pelisse, and dozed, lulled by the music of the storm and the rocking of the slow motion.

I dreamt a dream, which I never could forget, and in which, even now, I see something prophetic when I associate it with the peculiar events of my life. The reader will make every allowance for me, for he probably knows by experience how prone one is to give way to superstition, notwithstanding every feeling of contempt for such prejudices.

I was in that state when reality, giving place to fancies, is mingled with them in the dim visions of first sleep. I fancied the storm was still raging, and that we were still straying over the snowy steppe. . . . Suddenly I saw a gate, and I drove into the court of our house. My first thought was a dread lest my father should be angry with me for my involuntary return to the parental roof, and lest he should consider such to be an act of premeditated disobedience. In my uneasiness, I jumped out of the kibitka, and saw my mother, who ran to meet me at the threshold with a look of deep grief. "Gently," she said, "thy father is ill and at death's door, and desires to take leave of thee." Struck with terror, I followed her into the bedroom. It is dimly lit; people with sorrowful faces stand at the bedside. I approach the bed noiselessly; my mother raises the curtains and says: "Andrey Petrovitch, Petrousha has come; he has returned on hearing of thy illness; bless him." I knelt and fixed my eyes on the patient. And what? . . . instead of my father, I see a moujik with a black beard stretched on the bed, who looks pleasantly at me. In my perplexity I turn to my mother and say: "What does this mean? This is not my father. And what should I ask a moujik's blessing for?" "It is the same thing, Petrousha," replies my mother; "this is thy nuptial sponsor: kiss his hand and let him kiss thee . . ." I didn't consent. Here the moujik jumps out of bed, draws an axe from behind his back,[5] and commences to swing it about; I seek to fly from him . . . and cannot; the room is strewn about with corpses; I stumble over them, and slip in pools of blood . . . the dreadful moujik calls me affectionately, saying, "Do not fear, come and receive my blessing;" . . . terror and anxiety seize hold of me . . . and at that moment I awoke; the horses stood still; Savelitch held me by the hand and said:

"Get out, sir; we have arrived."

"Arrived where?" I inquired, rubbing my eyes.

"At the inn. God came to our aid; we ran right up against a paling. Get out quickly, sir, and warm thy self."

I stepped out of the kibitka. The storm continued, though with less severity. It was pitchy dark. The landlord met us at the gate, holding a lantern under the skirt of his coat, and led me into a room, which, though small, was tolerably clean; it was lit by a rush-light. A gun and a high Cossack hat were suspended to the wall.

Our host, a Cossack of the Yaïk,[6] was a man of about sixty, but hale and strong. Savelitch brought in the cellarette after me, and asked for a fire, in order to prepare some tea, of which I had never stood so much in need. The host left to make the necessary preparations.

"Where is our guide?" I said to Savelitch.

"Here, your honour," answered a voice from above.

I looked up at the loft, and saw a black beard and two sparkling eyes.

"Well, art thou frozen?"

"How is one not to be frozen with nothing to wear but a worn armyak?[7] I had a touloup—but why should I conceal the truth?—I pledged it last night at the public-house; the frost did not seem to be very severe."

At that moment the host returned with the boiling samovar;[8] I offered our guide a cup of tea; the moujik descended from the loft. His exterior struck me as being remarkable. He was about forty, of middle height, lean and broad-shouldered. A few gray hairs mingled with his black beard; his large, lustrous eyes were ever restless. The expression of his face was pleasant enough, but it was roguish. His hair was evenly cut all round; he wore a ragged armyak and capacious Tartar trousers. I handed him a cup of tea; he tasted it and made a grimace. "Your honour, do oblige me . . . order a glass of wine to be given me; tea is not a drink for us Cossacks."

I readily acceded to his wish. The host produced a bottle and tumbler from the cupboard, approached him, and looking him in the face:

"Oho!" said he, "thou art again in our neighbourhood! Where dost thou come from?"

My guide winked significantly and answered with a parable:

"I flew about the kitchen-garden, picked hempseed, the old woman threw a pebble at me, but missed. Well, how are all your people?"

"What, how are our people!" replied the landlord, continuing the parabolical dialogue; "they were about to ring for vespers, but the priest's wife forbid them: the priest is absent on a visit, the devils are in the parish."

"Be quiet, uncle," said the vagabond; "when the rain falls mushrooms will be there; when there are mushrooms there will also be baskets but at present" [here he winked again] "hide thy axe behind thy back; the forester is walking about. Your honour, your health!"

With these words he took the tumbler, made the sign of the cross, and drained it at a draught; he then bowed to me and returned to the loft.

I could make nothing of this cut-throat conversation at that time, and it was only subsequently I guessed that it referred to the army of the Yaïk, which had but recently been subdued after the mutiny of 1772. Savelitch was listening with an air of great displeasure. He looked with suspicion from the host to the guide. The inn, or as it is there called, the oumet, was situated in the steppe, at a distance from any village, and much resembled a robber's retreat. But there was no help for it. To think of continuing the journey was useless. Savelitch's agitation amused me much. I made myself comfortable for the night, stretching myself on a bench. Savelitch made up his mind to sleep on the stove, and our host lay on the floor. Everybody was soon snoring, and I fell into a deep sleep.

Awaking at a late hour on the following morning, I found the storm had ceased. The sun was shining. The dazzling white snow stretched like a sheet over the boundless steppe. The horses were ready; I settled with our host, who took from us so moderate a sum that even Savelitch did not grumble, nor did he attempt to bargain as was his wont, and his suspicions of the previous day were quite forgotten. I called our guide, thanked him for his aid, and desired Savelitch to give him half a rouble as a tip.

Savelitch frowned. "Half a rouble as a tip!" said he; "what for? Is it because thou hast given him a lift to the inn? No, sir, we have no spare money to waste. If we are to give a tip to everybody, we shall soon ourselves have to starve."

I could not argue the point with Savelitch. The money had remained as I had promised, in his sole charge. I felt vexed, however, at not being able to show my gratitude to a man, who, if he had not saved me from actual danger, had at least extricated me from a very unpleasant predicament.

"All right," said I, coolly; "if thou wilt not give him half a rouble, find something for him amongst my things. He is too thinly clad. Give him my touloup, of hareskin."

"For pity's sake, my little father, Piotr Andrevitch!" said Savelitch, "what does he want thy hareskin touloup for? The cur will barter it away at the first public-house."

"It need not trouble thee, my little man," said the vagabond, "whether I shall barter it or not. His honour does me the favour to give me the pelisse off his back; it is his honour's will, and thy business as a serf is not to discuss, but to obey."

"Thou dost not fear God, robber that thou art!" answered Savelitch in an angry tone. "Thou seest that the child has not come to years of discretion, and thou art glad to take advantage of his simplicity and rob him. What good is a gentleman's touloup to thee? thou canst not even get it over thy d——d shoulders."

"I beg of thee not to moralize," said I to my servant; "let him have the touloup, immediately."

"Good gracious!" moaned Savelitch. "The touloup is all but new! I would not mind it, but that a tattered drunkard gets it!"

The touloup was produced. The moujik proceeded to try it on. And, indeed, the touloup, which even I had grown out of, fitted him rather tightly. He managed, however, to get it on somehow, bursting it open at the seams. Savelitch almost howled when he heard the threads part. The vagabond alone was delighted with my present. He accompanied me to the kibitka, and said with a bow:

"Many thanks, your honour! God reward you for your good deed. I shall never forget your kindness."

He went his way, and I continued my journey, not heeding Savelitch, and soon forgot yesterday's storm, my guide, and my touloup.

Upon arriving at Orenburg, I directly went to the general. I beheld a tall man, already bent by age. His long hair was perfectly white; his old faded uniform reminded one of a warrior of the days of the Empress Anne, and his pronounciation was very German. I handed my father's letter to him. Upon his name being mentioned, he threw a sudden glance at me. "Mein Gott!" he said, "is it long since Andrey Petrovitch vos of dye age himself, and now he hass such a fellow as dee for a zohn? Yes, time flies!" He opened the letter, and began to read it in an undertone to himself, making his remarks: "'Dear sir, Ivan Karlovitch; I hope that your excellency!' . . . . Dear me, what formalities! Pfouy! is he not ashamed of himself? Certainly, discipline pefore all, but is dis dee vay to write to an old comrate? . . . . 'Your excellency has not forgotten!' . . . . him! . . . . 'and' . . . . when? . . . . 'under the late Field-Marshal Münich . . . . during the march . . . . also little Carolina?' Ha! ha! bruder! so he still remembers our old frolics? 'Now to business . . . . I send you my mad-cap' . . . . h'm! . . . . 'hold him with porcupine gloves!' . . . . Vat are porcupine glofes? Dis must be a Rooshan saying . . . . vat does it mean to holt vit porcupine glofes?" he repeated, turning to me.

"That means," replied I, assuming the most innocent air imaginable, "to treat him gently, without too great severity; to give him a good deal of liberty; to hold him with porcupine gloves."

"H'm; I understand . . . . and do not let him have too much liberty . . . . no; to hold vit porcupine glofes must have another signification! . . . . 'enclosed is his passport!' . . . . vy vere is it? Ah! here it is . . . . 'to attach him to the Semionoffsky Regiment.' All right, all right, it shall all pe tonn . . . . 'thou must allow me, laying rank aside, to embrace thee as an old friend and comrade.' . . . . Vell, at last; . . . . and so on, and so on . . . . Vell, sir," said he, having concluded the letter, and laying aside my passport, "it shall all pe tonn; dow shalt join dee *** Regiment, vit dee rank of officer, but so as not to loose any time, dow shalt go to-morrow to dee fortress of Byĕlogorsk, vere dow shalt pe unter dee orders of Captain Mironoff, a goot and honest man. Dere dow shalt know vat real service is; it will teash dee discipline. At Orenburg dere is no-ting for dee to too; amusements are prejuticial to a young mann. To-day, I beg dow wilt dine vit me."

"From bad to worse," thought I to myself. "Of what service has it been to me, to have been a sergeant in the Guards, almost from my mother's womb? What has it led to? To my being attached to the *** Regiment, and having to serve in a lonely fortress, on the frontier of the Khirghis-Kasak Steppe!" . . . . I dined with Andrey Karlovitch, in company with his old aide-de-camp. The strictest German economy was observed at his table, and I think that the dread of occasionally seeing an extra visitor at his bachelor's board, was partly the reason of my hasty removal to the garrison. The following day I took my leave of the general, and repaired to my destination.

 
 
  1. A godfather and a godmother stand in the relation of Koum (m.) and Koumā (f.) to each other.—Tr.
  2. The driver of a travelling carriage.—Tr.
  3. Peasant.—Tr.
  4. A bast matting let down in front of the hood.—Tr.
  5. The Russian peasant wears his axe behind his back, stuck into his belt.—Tr.
  6. Or River Oural, flowing into the Caspian.—Tr.
  7. A smock.—Tr.
  8. Russian tea-urn.—Tr.