The Picture by Alexander Kuprin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – The Picture – Contents

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In the beginning of the present century there was a family of princes, Belokon Belonogof, famous on account of their illustrious birth, their riches and their pride. But fate destined this family to die out, so that now there is hardly any remembrance of them. The last of these princes, and he was not of the direct line, finished his worldly career quite lately in the Arzhansky, a well-known night house and gambling den in Moscow, among a set of drunkards, wastrels and thieves. But my story is not about him, but about Prince Andrey Lvovitch, with whom the direct line ended.

During his father’s lifetime—this was before the emancipation of the serfs—Prince Andrey had a commission in the Guards, and was looked upon as one of the most brilliant officers. He had plenty of money, was handsome, and a favourite with the ladies, a good dancer, a duellist—and what not besides? But when his father died, Prince Andrey threw up his commission in spite of all entreaties from his comrades to remain. “No,” said he, “I shall be lost among you, and I’m curious to know all that fate has in store for me.”

He was a strange man, of peculiar and, one might say, fantastic habits. He flattered himself that his every dream could at once be realised. As soon as he had buried his father he took himself off abroad. Astonishing to think of the places he went to! Money was sent to him through every agency and banking house, now in Paris, now in Calcutta, then in New York, then Algiers. I know all this on unimpeachable authority, I must tell you, because my father was the chief steward of his estate of two hundred thousand desiatines.[1]

[1]A desiatin is 2′7 acres.

After four years the prince returned, thin, his face overgrown with a beard and brown from sunburn—it was difficult to recognise him. As soon as he arrived he established himself on his estate at Pneestcheva. He went about in his dressing-gown. He found it very dull on the whole.

I was always welcome in his house at that time, for the prince liked my cheerful disposition, and as I had received some sort of education I could be somewhat of a companion to him. And then again, I was a free person, for my father had been ransomed in the old prince’s time.

The prince always greeted me affectionately, and made me sit down with him. He even treated me to cigars. I soon got used to sitting down in his presence, but I could never accustom myself to smoking the cigars—they always gave me a kind of sea-sickness.

I was very curious to see all the things which the prince had brought back with him from his travels. Skins of lions and tigers, curved swords, idols, stuffed animals of all kinds, precious stones and rich stuffs. The prince used to lie on his enormous divan and smoke, and though he laughed at my curiosity he would explain everything I asked about. Then, if he could get himself into the mood, he would begin to talk of his adventures until, as you may well believe, cold shivers ran down my back. He would talk and talk, and then all at once would frown and become silent. I would be silent also. And then he would say, all of a sudden:

“It’s dull for me, Afanasy. See, I’ve been all round the world and seen everything; I’ve caught wild horses in Mexico and hunted tigers in India; I’ve journeyed on the sea and been in danger of drowning; I’ve crossed deserts and been buried in sand—what more is there for me? Nothing, I say; there’s nothing new under the sun.”

I said to him once, quite simply, “You might get married, prince.”

But he only laughed.

“I might marry if I could find the woman whom I could love and honour. I’ve seen all nations and all classes of women, and since I’m not ugly, not stupid, and I’m a rich man, they have all shown me special attention, but I’ve never seen the sort of woman that I need. All of them were either mercenary or depraved, or stupid or just a little too much given to good works. But the fact remains, that I feel bored with life. It would be another matter if I had any sort of talent or gift.”

And to this I generally used to answer: “But what more talent do you want, prince? Thank God for your good looks, for your land—which, as you say yourself, is more than belongs to any German prince—and for the powers with which God has blessed you. I shouldn’t ask for any other talent.”

The prince laughed at this, and said: “You’re a stupid, Afanasy, and much too young as yet. Live a little longer, and if you don’t become an utter scoundrel, you’ll remember these words of mine.”

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. III . > > >

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – The Picture – Contents

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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