THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER
Thou distant land, land unknown to met
Not of my will have I come to thee,
Nor was it my steed that brought me here.
I 've been led to thee by my recklessness,
by my courage and youth and my love for drink.
An Old Song.
MY reflections on the journey were not particularly pleasant. The sum I had lost was considerable according to the standards of that time. I could not help confessing to myself that I had behaved stupidly at the Simbirsk inn, and I felt that I had been in the wrong with Savelyitch. It all made me wretched. The old man sat gloomily on the coach-box, his head turned away from me; occasionally he cleared his throat but said nothing. I was determined to make peace with him, but did not know how to begin. At last I said to him:
'There, there, Savelyitch, let us make it up! I am sorry; I see myself I was to blame. I got into mischief yesterday and offended you for nothing. I promise you I will be more sensible now and do as you tell me. There, don't be cross; let us make peace.'
'Ah, my dear Pyotr Andreyitch,' he answered, with a deep sigh, 'I am cross with myself—it was all my fault. How could I have left you alone at the inn! There it is — I yielded to temptation: I thought I would call on the deacon's wife, an old friend of mine. It's just as the proverb says—you go and see your friends and in jail your visit ends. It is simply dreadful! How shall I show myself before my master and mistress? What will they say when they hear that the child gambles and drinks?'
To comfort poor Savelyitch I gave him my word not to dispose of a single farthing without his consent in the future. He calmed down after a time, though now and again he still muttered to himself, shaking his head: 'A hundred roubles! It's no joke!'
I was approaching the place of my destination. A desolate plain intersected by hills and ravines stretched around. All was covered with snow . . . the sun was setting. The chaise was going along a narrow road, or, rather, a track made by peasant sledges. Suddenly the driver began looking anxiously at the horizon, and at last, taking off his cap, he turned to me and said:
'Hadn't we better turn back, sir?'
'The weather is uncertain: the wind is rising; see how it raises the snow.'
'But what of it?'
'Do you see that?'
The driver pointed with the whip to the east.
'I see nothing but the white steppe and a clear sky.'
'Why, that little cloud there.'
I certainly did see at the edge of the sky a white cloud which I had taken at first for a small hill in the distance. The driver explained to me that the cloud betokened a snowstorm.
I had heard about snowstorms in those parts, and knew that whole transports were sometimes buried by them. Savelyitch, like the driver, thought that we ought to turn back. But the wind did not seem to me strong; I hoped to arrive in time at the next station, and told the man to drive faster.
The driver set the horses at a gallop but still kept glancing eastwards. The horses went well. Meanwhile the wind grew stronger and stronger every hour. The little cloud grew bigger and rose heavily, gradually enveloping the sky. Fine snow began to fall, and then suddenly came down in big flakes. The wind howled, the snowstorm burst upon us. In a single moment the dark sky melted into the sea of snow. Everything was lost to sight.
'It's a bad look out, sir,' the driver shouted. 'Snowstorm !' I peeped out of the chaise: darkness and whirlwind were around us. The wind howled with such ferocious expressiveness tliat it seemed alive; Savelyitch and I were covered with snow; the horses walked on slowly and soon stopped altogether. 'Why don't you go on ?' I asked the driver impatiently.
'What's the good?' he answered, jumping off the box. 'don't know where we are as it is; there is no road and it is dark.'
I began scolding him, but Savelyitch took his side.
'Why ever didn't you take his advice?' he said angrily; 'you would have returned to the inn, had some tea and slept in comfort till the morning, and have gone on when the storm stopped. And what's the hurry? We aren't going to a wedding.'
Savelyitch was right. There was nothing to be done. Snow was falling fast. A great drift of it was being heaped by the chaise. The horses stood with their heads towards the ground and shuddered from time to time. The driver walked round them setting the harness to rights for the sake of something to do. Savelyitch was grumbling; I was looking around in the hope of seeing some sign of a homestead or of the road, but I could distinguish nothing in the opaque whirlwind of snow. Suddenly I caught sight of something black.
'Hey, driver!' I cried. 'Look, what is that black thing over there ?'
The driver stared into the distance.
'Heaven only knows, sir,' he said, climbing back on to the box; ' it's not a wagon and not a tree, and it seems to be moving. It must be a wolf or a man.'
I told him to go towards the unknown object, which immediately began moving towards us. In two. minutes we came upon a man.
'Hey, there, good man,' the driver shouted to him, 'do you know where the road is?'
'The road is here,' the wayfarer answered. 'I am standing on hard ground, but what's the good?'
'I say, my good fellow, do you know these parts?' I asked him. 'Could you guide us to a night's lodging?'
'I know the country well enough,' the wayfarer answered. 'I should think I have trodden every inch of it. But you see what the weather is: we should be sure to lose our way. Better stop here and wait; maybe the snowstorm will stop and when the sky is clear we can find our bearings by the stars.'
His coolness gave me courage. I decided to trust to Providence and spend the night in the steppe, when the wayfarer suddenly jumped on to the box and said to the driver:
'Thank God, there 's a village close by; turn to the right and make straight for it.'
'And why should I go to the right?' the driver asked with annoyance; ' where do you see the road? It's easy enough to drive other people's horses.'
The driver seemed to me to be right.
'Indeed, how do you know that we are close to a village?' I asked the man.
'Because the wind has brought a smell of smoke from over there,' he answered,' so a village must be near.'
His quickness and keenness of smell astonished me. I told the driver to go on. The horses stepped with difficulty in the deep snow. The chaise moved slowly, now going into a snowdrift, now dipping into a ravine and swaying from side to side. It was like being on a ship in a stormy sea. Savelyitch groaned as he kept jolting against me. I put down the front curtain, wrapped my fur coat round me and dozed, lulled to sleep by the singing of the storm and the slow swaying motion of the chaise.
I had a dream which I could never since forget and in which I still see a kind of prophecy when I reflect upon the strange vicissitudes of my life. The reader will forgive me, probably knowing from experience how natural it is for man to indulge in superstition, however great his contempt for all vain imaginings may be.
I was in that state of mind and feeling when reality gives way to dreams and merges into them in tlie shadowy visions of oncoming sleep. It seemed to me the storm was still raging and we were still wandering in the snowy desert. . . . Suddenly I saw a gateway and drove into the courtyard of our estate. My first thought was fear lest my father should be angry with me for my involuntary return and regard it as an intentional disobedience. Anxious, I jumped down from the chaise and saw my mother who came out to meet me on the steps, with an air of profound grief.
'Don't make any noise,' she said. 'Your father is ill; he is dying and wants to say good-bye to you.'
Terror-stricken, I followed her to the bedroom. It was dimly lighted; people with sad-looking faces were standing by the bed. I approached the bed quietly; my mother lifted the bed-curtains and said: 'Andrey Petrovitch! Petrusha has come; he returned when he heard of your illness; bless him'. I knelt down and looked at the sick man. But what did I see? Instead of my father a black - bearded peasant lay on the bed looking at me merrily. I turned to my mother in perplexity, and said to her: 'What does it mean? This is not my father. And why should I ask this peasant's blessing ?'—' Never mind, Petrusha,' my mother answered, ' he takes your father's place for the wedding; kiss his hand and he will bless you. . . .' I would not do it. Then the peasant jumped off the bed, seized an axe from behind his back, and began waving it about. I wanted to run away and could not; the room was full of dead bodies; I stumbled against them and slipped in the pools of blood. . . . The terrible peasant called to me kindly, saying: 'Don't be afraid, come and let me bless you'. Terror and confusion possessed me. ... At that moment I woke up. The horses were standing; Savelyitch held me by the hand, saying:
'Come out, sir; we have arrived.'
' Where ?' I asked, rubbing my eyes.
'At the inn. With the Lord's help we stumbled right against the fence. Make haste, come and warm yourself, sir.'
I stepped out of the chaise. The snowstorm was still raging though with less violence. It was pitch-dark. The landlord met us at the gate, holding a lantern under the skirt of his coat, and led us into a room that was small but clean enough; it was lighted by a burning splinter. A rifle and a tall Cossack cap hung on the wall.
The landlord, a Yaik Cossack, was a man of about sixty, active and well preserved. Savelyitch brought in the box with the tea-things and asked for a fire so that he could make tea, which had never seemed to me so welcome. The landlord went to look after things.
'Where is our guide?' I asked Savelyitch.
'Here, your honour,' answered a voice above me.
I looked up and on the shelf by the stove saw a black beard and two glittering eyes.
'You must have got chilled, brother?'
'I should think I did with nothing but a thin jerkin on!
I did have a sheepskin coat, but I confess I pawned it yesterday in a tavern; the frost did not seem to be bad.'
At that moment the landlord came in with a boiling samovar; I offered our guide a cup of tea; he climbed down from the shelf. His appearance, I thought, was striking. He was about forty, of medium height, lean and broad-shouldered. Grey was beginning to show in his black beard; his big, lively eyes were never still. His face had a pleasant but crafty expression. His hair was cropped like a peasant's; he wore a ragged jerkin and Turkish trousers. I handed him a cup of tea; he tasted it and made a grimace.
' Be so kind, your honour . . . tell them to give me a glass of vodka; tea is not a Cossack drink.'
I readily complied with his wish. The landlord took a glass and bottle out of the cupboard, came up to the man, and said, glancing into his face:
'Aha! you are in our parts again! Where do you come from?'
My guide winked significantly and answered in riddles:
'I flew about the kitchen-garden, picking hemp seed; granny threw a flint but missed me. And how are your fellows getting on?'
' Nothing much to be said of them,' the landlord said, also speaking in metaphors. 'They tried to ring the bells for vespers, but the priest's wife said they must not: the priest is on a visit and the devils are busy.'
'Be quiet, uncle,' the tramp answered; 'if it rains, there will be mushrooms, and if there are mushrooms there will be a basket for them; and now' (he winked again) 'put the axe behind your back: the forester is about. Your honour, here 's a health to you!'
With these words he took the glass, crossed himself, and drank it at one gulp; then he bowed to me and returned to the shelf by the stove.
I could not at the time understand anything of this thievish conversation, but later on I guessed they were talking of the affairs of the Yaik Cossacks, who had just settled down after their rebellion in 1772. Savelyitch listened with an air of thorough disapproval. He looked suspiciously both at the landlord and at our guide. The inn stood in the steppe by itself, far from any village, and looked uncommonly like a robbers' den. But there was nothing else for it. There could be no question of continuing the journey. Savelyitch's anxiety amused me greatly. Meanwhile I made ready for the night and lay down on the bench. Savelyitch decided to sleep on the stove; the landlord lay down on the floor. Soon the room was full of snoring and I dropped fast asleep.
Waking up rather late in the morning I saw that the storm had subsided. The sun was shining. The boundless steppe was wrapped in a covering of dazzling snow. The horses were harnessed. I paid the landlord, who charged us so little that even Savelyitch did not dispute about it or try to beat him down as was his wont; he completely forgot his suspicions of the evening before. I called our guide, thanked him for the help he had given us, and told Savelyitch to give him half a rouble for vodka. Savelyitch frowned.
'Half a rouble!' he said. 'What for? Because you were pleased to give him a lift and bring him to the inn? You may say what you like, sir, we have no half-roubles to spare. If we give tips to every one we shall soon have to starve.'
I could not argue with Savelyitch. I had promised that the money was to be wholly in his charge. I was annoyed however, at not being able to thank the man who had saved me from a very unpleasant situation, if not from actual danger.
'Very well,' I said calmly. 'If you don't want to give him half a rouble, give him something out of my clothes. He is dressed much too lightly. Give him my hareskin jacket.'
'Mercy on us, Pyotr Andreyitch!' Savelyitch cried. 'What is the good of your hareskin jacket to him? He will sell it for drink at the next pot-house, the dog.'
'That's no concern of yours, old fellow, whether I sell it for drink or not,' said the tramp. 'His honour gives me a fur coat of his own; it is your master's pleasure to do so, and your business, as a servant, is to obey and not to argue.'
'You have no fear of God, you brigand!' Savelyitch answered in an angry voice. 'You see the child has no sense as yet and you are only too glad to take advantage of his good nature. What do you want with a gentleman's coat? You can't squeeze your hulking great shoulders into it, however you try!'
'Please don't argue,' I said to the old man; 'bring the jacket at once.'
'Good Lord!' my Savelyitch groaned. 'Why, the jacket is almost new! To give it away, and not to a decent man either, but to a shameless drunkard!'
Nevertheless the hareskin jacket appeared. The peasant immediately tried it on. The jacket that I had slightly outgrown was certainly a little tight for him. He succeeded, however, in getting into it, tearing the seams as he did so. Savelyitch almost howled when he heard the threads breaking. The tramp was extremely pleased with my present. He saw me to the chaise and said, with a low bow:
'Thank you, your honour! May God reward you for your goodness; I shall not forget your kindness so long as I live.'
He went his way and I drove on, taking no notice of Savelyitch, and soon forgot the snowstorm of the day before, my guide, and the hareskin jacket.
Arriving in Orenburg I went straight to the General. I saw a tall man, already bent by age. His long hair was perfectly white. An old and faded uniform reminded one of the soldiers of Empress Anna's time; he spoke with a strong German accent. I gave him my father's letter. When I mentioned my name, he threw a quick glance at me.
' Du lieber Gott I' he said. 'It does not seem long since Andrey Petrovitch was your age, and now, see, what a big son he has! Oh, how time flies!'
He opened the letter and began reading it in an undertone, interposing his own remarks: '" My dear Sir, Andrey Karlovitch, I hope that your Excellency" . . . Why so formal? Fie, he should be ashamed of himself! Discipline is, of course, a thing of the first importance, but is this the way to write to an old Kameradf . . . " Your Excellency has not forgotten" . . . H'm . . . " and . . . when . . . the late Field-Marshal Miinnich . . . the march . . . and also . . . Carolinchen" . . . . Ehe, Bruder, so he still remembers our old escapades! " Now to business ... I am sending my young rascal to you " ... H'm ... " hold him in hedgehog gloves" . . . What are hedgehog gloves? It must be a Russian saying. . . . What does it mean?' he asked me.
'That means,' I answered, looking as innocent as possible, 'to treat one kindly, not to be too stern, to give one plenty of freedom.'
'H'm, I see ... " and not to give him too much rope" . No, evidently " hedgehog gloves" means something different. . . . " Herewith his passport" . . . Where is it? Ah, here. . . . " Write to the Semyonovsky regiment" . . . . Very good, very good; it shall be done. . . . " Allow me, forgetting your rank, to embrace you like an old friend and comrade" . . . Ah, at last he thought of it ... and so on and so on. . . .'
'Well, my dear,' he said, having finished the letter and put my passport aside, 'it shall all be done as your father wishes; you will be transferred, with the rank of an officer, to the N. regiment, and, not to lose time, you shall go tomorrow to the Belogorsky fortress to serve under Captain Mironov, a good and honourable man. You will see real service there and leam discipline. There is nothing for you to do at Orenburg; dissipation is bad for a young man. And to-night I shall be pleased to have you dine with me.'
'I am going from bad to worse!' I thought. 'What is the good of my having been a sergeant in the Guards almost before I was born! Where has it brought me? To the N. regiment and a desolate fortress on the border of the Kirghis Steppes!'
I had dinner with Andrey Karlovitch and his old aide-de-camp. Strict German economy reigned at his table, and I think the fear of seeing occasionally an additional visitor at his bachelor meal had something to do with my hasty removal to the garrison. The following day I took leave of the General and set off to my destination.