THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER
Oh, very well, take up then your position
And you shall see me pierce your bodv through.
SEVERAL weeks had passed and my life in the Belogorsky fortress had grown not merely endurable but positively pleasant. I was received in the Commandant's house as one of the family. The husband and wife were most worthy people. Ivan Kuzmitch, who had risen from the ranks to be an officer, was a plain and uneducated man, but most kind and honourable. His wife ruled him, which suited his easy-going disposition. Vasilissa Yegorovna looked upon her husband's military duties as her own concern and managed the fortress as she did her own home. Marya Ivanovna soon lost her shyness with me and we made friends. I found her to be a girl of feeling and good sense. Imperceptibly I grew attached to tlie kind family, and even to Ivan Ignatyitch, the one-eyed lieutenant of the garrison;
Shvabrin had said of him that he was on improper terms with Vasilissa Yegorovna, though there was not a semblance of truth in it; but Shvabrin did not care about that.
I received my commission. My military duties were not strenuous. In our blessed fortress there were no parades, no drills, no sentry duty. Occasionally the Commandant, of his own accord, taught the soldiers, but had not yet succeeded in teaching all of them to know their left hand from their right. Shavbrin had several French books. I began reading and developed a taste for literature. In the mornings I read, practised translating, and sometimes composed verses; I almost always dined at the Commandant's and spent there the rest of the day; in the evenings. Father Gerasim and his wife, Akulina Pamfilovna, the biggest gossip in the neighbourhood, sometimes came there also. Of course I saw Alexey Ivanitch Shvabrin every day, but his conversation grew more and more distasteful to me as time went on. I disliked his constant jok'es about the Commandant's family and, in particular, his derisive remarks about Marya Ivanovna. There was no other society in the fortress; and, indeed, I wished for no other.
In spite of the prophecies, the Bashkirs did not rise. Peace reigned around our fortress. But the peace was suddenly disturbed by an internal war.
I have already said that I tried my hand at literature. Judged by the standards of that period my attempts were quite creditable, and several years later Alexander Petrovitch Sumarokov' thoroughly approved of them. One day I succeeded in writing a song that pleased me. Everybody knows that sometimes under the pretext of seeking advice writers try to find an appreciative listener. And so, having copied out my song, I took it to Shvabrin, who was the only person in the fortress capable of doing justice to the poet's work. After a few preliminary remarks I took my note-book out of my pocket and read the following verses to him:
'Thoughts of love I try to banish And her beauty to forget, And, ah me! avoiding Masha Hope I shall my freedom get.
But the eyes that have seduced ma Are before me night and day, To confusion they 've reduced me, Driven rest and peace away.
When you hear of my misfortunes Pity, Masha, pity me! You can see my cruel torments: I am captive held by thee.'
' What do you think of it ?' I asked Shvabrin, expecting praise as my rightful due. But to my extreme'annoyance Shvabrin, who was usually a kind critic, declared that my song was bad.
'Why so?' I asked, concealing my vexation. 'Because such lines are worthy of my teacher, Vassily Kirillitch Tretyakovsky, and greatly remind me of his love-verses.'(One of the early Russian writers of poetry, remarkable for his ui wearying zeal and utter lack of talent.—TRANSLATOR'S NOTE)
(Sumarokov (1718-77), an early Russian poet of the pseudo-classical school.—TRANSLATOR'S NOTE.)
He then took my note-book from me and began mercilessly criticizing every line and every word of the poem, mocking me in a most derisive manner. I could not endure it, snatched the note-book from him, and said I would never show him my verses again. Shvabrin laughed at this threat too.
'We shall see,' he said, 'whether you will keep your word. Poets need a listener as much as Ivan Kuzmitch needs his decanter of vodka before dinner. And who is this Masha to whom you declare your tender passion and love-sickness? Is it Marya Ivanovna by any chance?'
' It's none of your business whoever she may be,' I answered frowning. ' I want neither your opinion nor your conjectures.'
'Oho! A touchy poet and a modest lover!' Shvabrin went on, irritating me more and more. 'But take a friend's advice: if you want to succeed, you must have recourse to something better than songs.'
'What do you mean, sir? Please explain yourself.' 'Willingly. I mean that if you want Masha Mironov to visit you at dusk, present her with a pair of ear-rings instead of tender verses.'
My blood boiled.
'And why have you such an opinion of her?' I asked, hardly able to restrain my indignation.
'Because I know her manners and morals from experience,' he answered, with a fiendish smile.
'It's a lie, you scoundrel,' I cried furiously. 'It's a shameless lie!'
Shvabrin changed colour.
'You'll have to pay for this,' he said, gripping my hand; 'you will give me satisfaction.'
'Certainly — whenever you like,' I answered, with relief. I was ready to tear him to pieces at that moment.
I went at once to Ivan Ignatyitch, whom I found with a needle in his hands threading mushrooms to dry for the winter, at Vasilissa Yegorovna's request.
'Ah, Pyotr Andreyitch! Pleased to see you!' he said, when he saw me. 'What good fortune brings you? What business, may I ask ?'
I explained to him briefly that I had quarrelled with Alexey Ivanitch and was asking him, Ivan Ignatyitch, to be my second. Ivan Ignatyitch listened to me attentively, staring at me with his solitary eye.
'You are pleased to say,' he answered, 'that you intend to kill Alexey Ivanitch and wish me to witness it? Is that so, may I ask?'
' Good heavens, Pyotr Andreyitch! What are you thinking about? You have quarrelled with Alexey Ivanitch? What ever does it matter? Bad words are of no consequence. He abuses you—you swear back at him; he hits you in the face—you hit him on the ear, twice, three times—and then go your own way; and we shall see to it that you make it up later on. But killing a fellow-creature—is that a right thing to do, let me ask you? And, anyway, if you killed him it wouldn't matter so much; I am not very fond of Alexey Ivanitch myself, for the matter of that. But what ii he makes a hole in you? What will that be like? Who will be made a fool of then, may I ask ?'
The sensible old man's arguments did not shake me. I stuck to my intention.
'As you like,' said Ivan Ignatyitch. 'Do what you think best. But why should I be your witness? What for? Two men fighting each other! What is there worth seeing in it, may I ask? I 've been in the Swedish War and the Turkish, and, believe me, I 've seen fighting enough.'
I tried to explain to him the duties of a second, but Ivan Ignatyitch simply could not understand me.
'You may say what you like,' he said, 'but if I am to take part in this affair it is only to go to Ivan Kuzmitch and tell him, as duty bids me, that a crime contrary to the interests of the State is being planned in the fortress—and to ask if the Commandant would be pleased to take proper measures.'
I was alarmed and begged Ivan Ignatyitch to say nothing to the Commandant. I had difficulty in persuading him, but at last he gave me his word and I left him.
I spent the evening, as usual, at the Commandant's. I tried to appear cheerful and indifferent so as to escape inquisitive questions, and not give grounds for suspicion, but I confess I could not boast of the indifference which people in my position generally profess to feel. That evening I was inclined to be tender and emotional. Marya Ivanovna attracted me more than ever. The thought that I might be seeing her for the last time made her seem particularly touching to me. Shvabrin was there also. I took him aside and told him of my conversation with Ivan Ignatyitch.
'What do we want with seconds?' he said to me, dryly;
'we will do without them.'
We arranged to fight behind the corn-stacks near the fortress and to meet there the following morning between six and seven. We appeared to be talking so amicably that Ivan Ignatyitch, delighted, let out the secret.
'That's right!' he said to me, looking pleased; 'a bad peace is better than a good quarrel; a damaged name is better than a damaged skin.'
'What's this, what's this, Ivan Ignatyitch?' asked Vasilissa Yegorovna, who was telling fortunes by cards in the corner and had not listened.
Ivan Ignatyitch, seeing my look of annoyance and recalling his promise, was confused and did not know what to say. Shvabrin hastened to his assistance.
'Ivan Ignatyitch approves of our making peace,' he said.
'But with whom had you quarrelled, my dear ?'
'I had rather a serious quarrel with Pyotr Andreyitch.'
'About the merest trifle, Vasilissa Yegorovna: a song.'
'That's a queer thing to quarrel about! A song! But how did it happen?'
'Wliy, this is how it was. Not long ago Pyotr Andreyitch composed a song and to-day he began singing it in my presence, and I struck up my favourite:
" Captain's daughter, I warn you, Don't you go for midnight walks."
'There was discord. Pyotr Andreyitch was angry at first, but then he thought better of it, and decided that every one may sing what he likes. And that was the end of it.'
Shvabrin's impudence very nearly incensed me, but no one except me understood his coarse hints, or, at any rate, no one took any notice of them. From songs the conversation turned to poets; the Commandant remarked that they were a bad lot and bitter drunkards, and advised me, as a friend, to give up writing verses, for such an occupation did not accord with military duties and brought one to no good.
Shvabrin's presence was unendurable to me. I soon said good-bye to the Captain and his family; when I came home I examined my sword, felt the point of it, and went to bed, telling Savelyitch to wake me at six o'clock.
The following morning I stood behind the corn-stacks at the appointed hour waiting for my opponent. He arrived soon after me.
'We may be disturbed,' he said. ' We had better be quick.'
We took off our uniforms and, dressed in our jackets only, bared our swords. At that moment Ivan Ignatyitch with five soldiers of the garrison suddenly appeared from behind the stacks. He requested us to go to the Commandant's. We obeyed, vexed as we were; the soldiers surrounded us and we followed Ivan Ignatyitch, who led us in triumph, stepping along with an extraordinary air of importance.
We entered the Commandant's house. Ivan Ignatyitch opened the doors and solemnly proclaimed: 'I have brought them!'
We were met by Vasilissa Yegorovna.
'Goodness me! What ever next? What? How could you? Planning murder in our fortress! Ivan Kuzmitch, put them under arrest at once! Pyotr Andreyitch, Alexey Ivanitch! Give me your swords, give them up, give them up! Palasha, take these swords to the pantry! I did not expect this of you, Pyotr Andreyitch; aren't you ashamed of yourself? It is all very well for Alexey Ivanitch—he has been dismissed from the Guards for killing a man, and he does not believe in God, but fancy you doing a thing like this! Do you want to be like him ?'
Ivan Kuzmitch fully agreed with his wife, and kept repeating:
'Vasilissa Yegorovna is quite right; let me tell you duels are explicitly forbidden in the army.'
Meanwhile Palasha took our swords and carried them to the pantry. I could not help laughing, Shvabrin retained his composure
'With all my respect for you,' he said coolly, 'I must observe that you give yourself unnecessary trouble in passing judgment upon us. Leave it to Ivan Kuzmitch—it is his business
'But, my dear sir, aren't husband and wife one flesh and one spirit?' the Commandant's lady retorted. 'Ivan Kuzmitch, what are you thinking of? Put them under arrest at once in different corners and give them nothing but bread and water till they come to their senses! And let father Gerasim set them a penance that they may beg God to forgive them and confess their sin to the people.'
Ivan Kuzmitch did not know what to do. Marya Ivanovna was extremely pale. Little by little the storm subsided;
Vasilissa Yegorovna calmed down and made us kiss each other. Palasha brought us back our swords. We left the Commandant's house apparently reconciled. Ivan Ignatyitch accompanied us.
'Aren't you ashamed,' I said to him angrily, 'to have betrayed us to the Commandant when you promised me not to?'
'God is my witness, I never said anything to Ivan Kuzmitch,' he answered; ' Vasilissa Yegorovna wormed it all out of me. And she made all the arrangements without saying a word to Ivan Kuzmitch. . . . But thank Heaven that it has all ended in this way.'
With these words he turned home and Shvabrin and I were left alone.
'We cannot let it end at that,' I said to him.
'Of course not,' Shvabrin answered; 'you will answer me with your blood for your insolence, but I expect we shall be watched. We shall have to pretend to be friends for a few days. Good-bye.'
And we parted as though nothing had happened. Returning to the Commandant's I sat down, as usual, by Marya Ivanovna. Ivan Kuzmitch was not at home; Vasilissa Yegorovna was busy with household matters. Marya Ivanovna tenderly reproached me for the anxiety I had caused every one by my quarrel with Shvabrin.
' I was quite overcome,' she said, ' when I heard you were going to fight. How strange men are! Because of a single word which they would be sure to forget in a week's time they are ready to kill each other and to sacrifice their lives and their conscience and the welfare of those who . . . But I am sure you did not begin the quarrel. Alexey Ivanitch is probably to blame.'
'And why do you think so, Marya Ivanovna?'
'Oh, I don't know . . . he always jeers at people. I don't like Alexey Ivanitch. He repels me and yet, strange to say, I would not, on any account, have him dislike me also. That would worry me dreadfully.'
'And what do you think, Marya Ivanovna? Does he like you?'
Marya Ivanovna stammered and blushed.
'I think . . .' she said,' I believe he does like me.'
'And why do you believe it?'
'Because he made me an offer of marriage.'
'He made you an offer of marriage? When?'
' Last year. Some two months before you came.'
'And you refused?'
'As you see. Of course, Alexey Ivanitch is clever and rich, and of good family; but when I think that in church I should have to kiss him before all the people . . . not for anything! Nothing would induce me!'
Marya Ivanovna's words opened my eyes and explained a great deal to me. I understood the persistent slander with which he pursued her. The words that gave rise to our quarrel seemed to me all the more vile when, instead of coarse and unseemly mockery, I saw in them deliberate calumny. My desire to punish the impudent slanderer grew more intense, and I waited impatiently for an opportunity.
I did not have to wait long. The following day as I sat composing an elegy, biting my pen as I searched for a rhyme, Shvabrin knocked at my window. I left my pen, picked up my sword, and went out to him.
'Why wait?' Shvabrin said, 'we are not watched. Let us go down to the river. No one will disturb us there.'
We walked in silence. Descending by a steep path we stopped at the river-bank and bared our swords. Shvabrin was more skilled than I, but I was stronger and more daring; Monsieur Beaupre, who had once been a soldier, had given me a few lessons in fencing and I made use of them. Shvabrin had not expected to find in me so formidable an opponent. For a time we could neither of us do the other any harm; at last, observing that Shvabrin was weakening, I began to press him and almost drove him into the river. Suddenly I heard someone loudly calling my name. I turned round and saw Savelyitch running towards me down the steep path ... at that moment I felt a stab in my breast under the right shoulder, and fell down senseless.