The Picture by Alexander Kuprin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – The Picture – Contents

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Prince Andrey had, however, a gift of his own, in my opinion, a very great gift, for painting, which had been evident even in his childhood. During his stay abroad he had lived for nearly a year in Rome, and had there learnt to paint pictures. He had even thought at one time, he told me, that he might become a real artist, but for some reason he had given up the idea, or he had become idle. Now he was living on his estate at Pneestcheva, he called to mind his former occupation and took to painting pictures again. He painted the river, the mill, an ikon of St. Nicholas for the church—and painted them very well.

Besides this occupation the prince had one other diversion—bear hunting. In our neighbourhood there were a fearful number of these animals. He always went as a mouzhik, with hunting pole and knife, and only took with him the village hunter Nikita Dranny. They called him Dranny because on one occasion a bear had torn a portion of his scalp from his skull, and his head had remained ragged ever since.[1]

[1]“Dranny,” means torn or ragged.

With the peasants the prince was quite simple and friendly. He was so easy to approach that if a man wanted wood for his cottage, or if his horse had had an accident, all he had to do was to go straight to the prince and ask for what he wanted. He knew that he would not be refused. The only things the prince could not stand were servility and lying. He never forgave a lie.

And, moreover, the serfs loved him because he made no scandals with their women folk. The maids of our countryside had a name for their good looks, and there were landowners in those days who lived worse than Turks, with a harem for themselves and for their friends. But with us, no—no, nothing of that sort. That is, of course, nothing scandalous. There were occasions, as there always must be, man being so weak, but these were quiet and gentle affairs of the heart, and no one was offended.

But though Prince Andrey was simple and friendly towards his inferiors, he was proud and insolent in his bearing towards his equals and to those in authority, even needlessly so. He especially disliked officials. Sometimes an official would come to our estate to see about the farming arrangements, or in connection with the police or with the excise department—at that time the nobility reckoned any kind of service, except military service, as a degradation—and he would act as a person new to office sometimes does: he would strut about with an air of importance, and ask “ Why aren’t things so and so?” The steward would inform him politely that everything was in accordance with the prince’s orders and mustn’t be altered. That meant, of course—You take your regulation bribe and be off with you. But the official would not be daunted. “And what’s your prince to me?” he would say. “I’m the representative of the law here.” And he would order the steward to take him at once to the prince. My father would warn him out of pity. “Our prince,” he would say, “has rather a heavy hand.” But the official would not listen. “Where is the prince?” he would cry. And he would rush into the prince’s presence exclaiming, “Mercy on us, what’s all this disorder on your estate! Where else can one see such a state of things? I … we …” The prince would let him go on, and say nothing, then suddenly his face would become purple and his eyes would flash—he was terrible to look at when he was angry. “Take the scoundrel to the stables!” he would cry. And then the official would naturally receive a flogging. At that time many landowners approved of this, and for some reason or other the floggings always took place in the stables, according to the custom of their ancestors. But after two or three days the prince would secretly send my father into the town with a packet of bank-notes for the official who had been chastised. I used to dare to say to him sometimes, “You know, prince, the official will complain about you, and you’ll have to answer for your doings.” And he would say: “Well, how can that be? Let me be brought to account before God and my Emperor, but I’m bound to punish impudence.”

But better than this, if you please, was his behaviour towards the Governor at one time. One day a workman from the ferry came running up to him to tell him that the Governor was on the other side of the river.

“Well, what of it?” said the prince.

“He wants the ferry-boat, your Excellency,” said the peasant. He was a sensible man, and knew the prince’s character.

“How did he ask for it?” said the prince.

“The captain of the police sent to say that the ferry-boat was wanted immediately.”

The prince at once gave the order:

“Don’t let him have it.”

And he didn’t. Then the Governor guessed what had happened, and he wrote a little note and sent it, asking dear Andrey Lvovitch—they were really distant cousins—to be so kind as to let him use the ferry, and signing the note simply with his Christian and surname. On this the prince himself kindly went down to the river to meet the Governor, and gave him such a feast in welcome that he couldn’t get away from Pneestcheva for a whole week.

To people of his own class, even to the most impoverished of them, the prince never refused to “give satisfaction” in cases where a misunderstanding had arisen. But people were generally on their guard, knowing his indomitable character and that he had fought in his time eighteen duels. Duels among the aristocracy were very common at that time.

< < < . II .
. IV . > > >

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – The Picture – Contents

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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