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

CHAPTER V.

LOVE.

Upon coming to myself again, I was not able for a long time to collect my thoughts, nor was I able to understand what had happened to me. I lay on a bed in a strange room, feeling great weakness. Savelitch stood by me, holding a candle. Somebody was carefully removing the bandages which enveloped my chest and shoulder. Little by little my thoughts became clearer. I remembered the duel, and guessed that I had been wounded. Just then the door creaked.

"Well, how is he?" whispered a voice that made me start.

"Still in the same condition," answered Savelitch, with a sigh; "still unconscious, and this is the fifth day!"

I essayed to turn, but could not.

"Where am I? Who is here?" said I, with an effort.

Maria Ivanovna approached my bed and bent over me.

"How do you feel?" said she.

"Thank God," I answered, in a feeble voice; "is it you, Maria Ivanovna? Tell me——"

I had not the strength to proceed. Savelitch uttered an exclamation. His face beamed with joy.

"He has come to!—he has come to!" he repeated. "Glory to Thee, O Lord! Well, my little father, Piotr Andrevitch! thou hast frightened me! It is no joke; this is the fifth day!. . . ."

Maria Ivanovna interrupted him.

"Do not talk to him much, Savelitch," said she; "he is still weak!"

She left, and closed the door gently after her. My thoughts were disturbed. I was at the commandant's house. Maria Ivanovna had really come to me. I wished to ask Savelitch some questions; but the old man shook his head and stopped his ears. I closed my eyes in vexation and soon fell asleep.

Upon awaking, I called Savelitch; but instead of him, I saw Maria Ivanovna before me. Her angelic voice spoke to me. I cannot express the delightful sensation which overcame me at that moment. I seized her hand, and pressed my lips to it, bathing it in my tears. Masha did not withdraw it. . . . And suddenly her lips touched my cheek, and I felt their pure and warm impress. I was all on fire.

"My dear sweet Maria Ivanovna," said I; "be my wife; consent to my happiness."

She recollected herself.

"For God's sake, be calm," she said, drawing her hand away. "You are still in danger; the wound might open afresh. Do take care of yourself, were it but for my sake."

With these words she went away, leaving me enraptured. So much happiness resuscitated me. She will be mine! She loves me! This conviction filled my whole being.

From that time I mended hourly. I was attended by the regimental barber, for there was no medical man in the fortress, and thank God, he had no pretentious to too much wisdom. Youth and nature hastened my recovery. All the commandant's family nursed me. Maria Ivanovna never quitted me. As a matter of course, I resumed my unfinished declaration at the first opportunity, and Maria Ivanovna listened to me with greater patience. Without any affectation, she confessed her sincere attachment, and said that her parents would no doubt be rejoiced at her happiness.

"But reflect well," she added, "will there be no hindrance on the part of thy parents?"

I became pensive. I could not entertain any doubt of my mother's tenderness for me; but knowing the disposition and mode of thinking of my father, I felt that my attachment would not affect him much, and that he would merely consider it a young man's fancy. I candidly admitted this to Maria Ivanovna, making up my mind, however, to write an eloquent letter to my father, to ask for his parental blessing. I showed my letter to Maria Ivanovna, who thought it so convincing and so touching, that she did not doubt its success, and gave herself up to the feelings of her tender heart in all the confidence of youth and love.

I made my peace with Shvabrine during the first days of my convalescence. When reprimanding me for fighting the duel, Ivan Kouzmitch said—

"Ah! Piotr Andrevitch! I ought to put thee under arrest; but thou art already sufficiently punished. As to Aleksey Ivanovitch, he is a prisoner in the bread-room with a sentry over him, and Vassilissa Yegorovna has his sword under lock and key. Let him have time to reflect and repent."

I was too happy to suffer any ill-will to dwell in my heart. I interceded in behalf of Shvabrine, and the good commandant, with his wife's consent, released him. Shvabrine came to me; he expressed his deep regret at what had taken place between us; confessed that the fault was entirely his own, and entreated me to forget the past. Not being naturally of a malicious disposition, I sincerely forgave him our quarrel, and the wound he had inflicted on me. I perceived in his slander, the vexation caused by wounded vanity and rejected love, and generously made allowances for my unhappy rival.

I soon became restored to health, when I removed to my own lodgings. I awaited with impatience a reply to my letter, not daring to hope, but trying to stifle my gloomy presentiments. I had not as yet entered upon any explanations with Vassilissa Yegorovna and her husband; but my proposal ought not to have astonished them. Neither of us sought to conceal our feelings in their presence, and we already felt assured of their consent.

At last Savelitch came to me one morning, bringing a letter. I snatched it tremblingly. It was addressed in my father's hand. This bid me prepare for something of importance, for letters were generally written by my mother, my father adding a few lines at the end. I could not decide upon breaking the seal for a long time, and kept reading the formal superscription: "To my son, Piotr Andrevitch Grineff, Government of Orenburg, Fortress of Byĕlogorsk." I tried to guess by the handwriting what humour my father could have been in when he wrote the letter. At length I opened it, and saw by the first lines that the whole affair had gone to the dl.

The contents of the letter were as follows:—

 

"My son Piotr,

"The letter in which thou askest our paternal benediction and consent to thy marriage with Maria Ivanovna, daughter of Mironoff, we received on the 15th of this month, and not only do I not intend to give thee my blessing or my consent, but, moreover, I mean to be up to thee, and punish thee for thy follies like a naughty boy, notwithstanding thy officer's rank; for thou hast proved that thou art as yet unworthy of wearing a sword, which was given thee for the defence of thy country, and not for fighting duels with such scamps as thou thyself art. I shall write without delay to Andrey Karlovitch to ask him to remove thee from the fortress of Byĕlogorsk, and send thee further away, so that thou shalt shake off such follies. Thy mother, upon hearing of thy duel, and that thou wast wounded, fell ill of grief, and is still confined to her bed. What is to become of thee? I pray to God to effect a change in thee though I dare not hope in His great mercy.

"Thy father,

"Andrey Grineff."

 

The perusal of this letter, awakened in me a variety of sensations. The unkind expressions my father employed so liberally, wounded me deeply. The contempt with which he mentioned Maria Ivanovna, appeared to me as unbecoming as it was unjust. The prospect of being removed from the fortress of Byĕlogorsk, alarmed me; but the news of my mother's illness pained me most. I felt indignant towards Savelitch, never doubting that my parents had heard of my duel through him. Pacing to and fro in my little room, I stopped in front of him, and looking at him fiercely, said, "Thou dost not appear to be satisfied, that thanks to thee I was wounded, and that I lay for a whole month at death's door; thou wilt now kill my mother also."

Savelitch looked thunderstruck.

"For pity's sake, sir," said he, almost sobbing, "what dost thou say? I the cause of thy being wounded? God is my witness, that I was hastening to put my breast between thee and the sword of Aleksey Ivanovitch? My d——d old age retarded me; and how have I harmed thy mother?"

"How hast thou harmed her?" I answered. "Who asked thee to write and denounce me? Wast thou appointed as a spy over me?"

"I! denounce thee!" asked Savelitch, in tears. "Oh, Lord! heavenly King! There, take, read, what my master writes to me; thou wilt see how I have denounced thee."

"Shame upon thee, old cur that thou art, that notwithstanding my strict injunctions, thou hast not written to me about my son, Piotr Andrevitch, and that strangers should be obliged to acquaint me of his follies. Is that the way thou fulfillest thy duty and thy master's wishes? I shall send thee, thou old cur, to feed swine, for hiding the truth and conniving with the young man. I order thee to give me immediate information, so soon as thou shalt receive this, upon the state of his health, which I am told is improved; also what part of the body he was wounded in, and whether he has been well attended to."

Savelitch was evidently guiltless, and I had incautiously hurt him by my reproaches and suspicions. I begged his pardon, but the old man was inconsolable.

"This is what I have lived to see," he kept repeating; "these are the thanks I get for serving my masters! An old cur, a swineherd, and it is again I who have caused thy wound! No, my little father, Piotr Andreitch, it is not I, but the d——d monssié who is to blame for it all. It is he who taught thee to flourish iron spits about, and stamp with thy foot, as if by flourishing and stamping one could defend oneself against a bad man! Yes, truly, it was necessary to engage monssié, and waste one's money!"

"But who could have taken the trouble to inform my father of my conduct? The general? He did not seem to care very much about me, and Ivan Kouzmitch had not considered it necessary to report my duel."

I was lost in surmises; my suspicion fell on Shvabrine. He alone could have benefited by such a denunciation, which might possibly have resulted in my removal from the fortress, and my separation from the commandant's family. I went to Maria Ivanovna to tell her all. She met me at the porch.

"What is the matter with you?" said she, on seeing me. "How pale you are!"

"Everything is at an end!" answered I, handing to her my father's letter.

It was now her turn to look pale. Having read it, she returned it with a trembling hand, and said in an agitated voice, "It is not my fate . . . . your parents do not wish to admit me into their family. God's will be done! He knows better what is good for us. There is no help for it; Piotr Andrevitch, may you at least be happy . . . ."

"It shall not be," exclaimed I, seizing her hand; "thou lovest me; I am prepared for everything. Let us go; let us kneel before thy parents; they are simple people, and not hardhearted and proud. . . . They will bless us, and we shall marry. . . . And then, in time, we shall, I feel certain, bend my father's will. My mother will be on our side—he will forgive me. . . ."

"No, Piotr Andrevitch," replied Masha, "I shall not marry thee without thy parents' blessing. Without thy parents' blessing, thou shalt have no happiness. Let us submit to God's will. Should'st thou find a bride, should'st thou love another—God be with thee, Piotr Andrevitch, and I shall pray for thee both. . . ."

Here she burst into tears and left me; I was about to follow her into the house, but felt that I was unable to master my emotion, so I returned home.

I sat in deep meditation, which was suddenly interrupted by Savelitch.

"Here, sir," said he, giving me a written sheet of paper; "see how I denounce my master, and how I try to set the father against the son."

I took the paper from his hand—it was Savelitch's answer to the letter he had received. Here it is, word for word:—

 

"Andrey Petrovitch, sir, our merciful father,

"I received your gracious writing, in which you deign to reproach me, your slave, for that I ought to be ashamed not to obey my master's orders. I am not an old cur, but your faithful servant, who obeys his master's orders and has served him zealously up to his gray hairs. I did not write anything about the wound of Piotr Andrevitch, so as not to frighten you without cause, and I hear that our mistress and mother, Avdotia Vassilievna, has, as it is, taken to her bed from fear, and I shall pray to God for her health. Piotr Andrevitch was wounded below the right shoulder, in the breast just below the rib, the wound being about half a vershok[1] deep, and he laid at the commandant's house, where we carried him from the shore, and was attended to by the local barber, Stepan Paramonoff, and now Piotr Andrevitch is, thank God, well, and I have nothing to write of him but what is good. The commandants are, I hear, satisfied with him, and Vassilissa Yegorovna treats him as if he were her own son. And that such an occasion did happen to him, must not be reckoned as a reproach to the young man—a horse has four legs and yet he stumbles. You deign to write that you will send me to feed swine—I submit if it is your lordship's will. Herewith I salute you as a slave.

"Your faithful slave,

"Arhipp Savelitch."

 

I could not help smiling occasionally whilst reading the good old man's writing. I myself was not in a state to answer my father's letter; I considered Savelitch's sufficient for the purpose of tranquillizing my mother.

From this period my position altered. Maria Ivanovna scarcely spoke to me, and tried to avoid me in every manner. The commandant's house became unendurable. Gradually, I accustomed myself to remain at home alone. Vassilissa Yegorovna reproached me for this, at first, but finding me obstinate, she left me in peace. I only saw Ivan Kouzmitch when on duty; Shvabrine I met seldom and reluctantly, the more so because I noticed his hidden dislike to me, which helped to confirm my suspicions. My existence became insupportable. I lapsed into a gloomy state of melancholy, fostered by my loneliness and inaction. This solitude intensified my love, which hourly became more burdensome to me. I lost all desire for reading and literature. My spirits sank. I feared lest I should either lose my reason, or abandon myself to dissolute habits. Unexpected events, which largely influenced my subsequent career, agitated my very soul violently and beneficially.

 
 
  1. A vershok = 1.75 English inch.—Tr.