The Picture by Alexander Kuprin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – The Picture – Contents

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He was having supper one evening with his officer friends in one of the most fashionable restaurants. They had had very much to drink, champagne above all. Suddenly the talk turned on horses—it’s well known to be an eternal subject of conversation with officers—as to who owned the most spirited team in Petersburg. One Cossack—I don’t remember his name, I only know that he was one of the reigning princes in the Caucasus—said that at that time the most spirited horses were a pair of black stallions belonging to ——, and he named a lady in an extremely high position.

“They are not horses,” said he, “but wild things. It’s only Ilya who can manage them, and they won’t allow themselves to be out-distanced.”

But Prince Andrey laughed at this.

“I’d pass them with my bays.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” said the Cossack.

“Yes, I would.”

“You wouldn’t race them.”

“Yes, I would.”

“Well, in that case,” said the Cossack, “we’ll lay a wager about it at once.”

And the wager was laid. It was agreed that if Prince Andrey were put to shame he should give the Cossack his pair of bay horses, and with them a sledge and a carriage with silver harness, and if the prince got in front of Ilya’s team, then the Cossack would buy up all the tickets in the theatre for an opera when Madame Barba was to sing, so that they could walk about in the gallery and not allow anyone else in the theatre. At that time Madame Barba had captivated all the beau-monde.

Very well, then. On the next day, when the prince woke up, he ordered the bay horses to be put into the carriage. The horses were not very much to look at, hairy country horses, but they were sufficiently fast goers; the most important thing about them was that they liked to get in front of other horses, and they were exceptionally long-winded.

As soon as his companions saw that the prince was really in earnest about the matter, they tried to dissuade him. “Give up this wager,” urged they, “you can’t escape getting into some trouble over it.” But the prince would not listen, and ordered his coachman, Bartholomew, to be called.

The coachman, Bartholomew, was a gloomy and, so to speak, absent-minded man. God had endowed him with such extraordinary strength that he could even stop a troika when the horses were going at full gallop. The horses would fall back on their hind legs. He drank terribly, had no liking for conversation with anyone, and, though he adored the prince with all his soul, he was rude and supercilious towards him, so that he sometimes had to receive a flogging. The prince called Bartholomew to him and said: “Do you think, Bartholomew, you could race another pair of horses with our bays?”

“Which pair?” asked Bartholomew.

The prince told him which horses they were. Bartholomew scratched the back of his head.

“I know that pair,” he said, “and I know Ilya, their driver, pretty well. He’s a dangerous man. However, if your Excellency wishes it, we can race them. Only, if the bay horses are ruined, don’t be angry.”

“Very well,” said the prince. “And now, how much vodka shall we pour down your throat?”

But Bartholomew wouldn’t have any vodka.

“I can’t manage the horses if I’m drunk,” said he.

The prince got in the carriage, and they started. They took up their position at the end of the Nevsky Prospect, and waited. It was known beforehand that the important personage would drive out at midday. And so it happened. At twelve o’clock the pair of black horses were seen. Ilya was driving, and the lady was in the sledge.

The prince let them just get in front, and then he said to the coachman:

“Drive away!”

Bartholomew let the horses go. As soon as Ilya heard the tramping of the horses behind, he turned round; the lady looked round also. Ilya gave his horses the reins, and Bartholomew also whipped up his. But the owner of the blacks was a woman of an ardent and fearless temperament, and she had a passion for horses. She said to Ilya, “Don’t dare to let that scoundrel pass us!”

What began to happen then I can’t describe. Both the coachmen and the horses were as if mad; the snow rose up above them in clouds as they raced along. At first the blacks seemed to be gaining, but they couldn’t last out for a long time, they got tired. The prince’s horses went ahead. Near the railway station, Prince Andrey jumped out of his carriage, and the personage threatened him angrily with her finger.

Next day the governor of Petersburg—His Serene Highness Prince Suvorof—sent for the prince, and said to him:

“You must leave Petersburg at once, prince. If you’re not punished and made an example of, it’s only because the lady whom you treated in such a daring fashion yesterday has a great partiality for bold and desperate characters. And she knows also about your wager. But don’t put your foot in Petersburg again, and thank the Lord that you’ve got off so cheaply.”

But, gentlemen, I’ve been gossiping about Prince Andrey and I haven’t yet touched on what I promised to tell you. However, I’m soon coming to the end of my story. And, though it has been in rather a disjointed fashion, I have described the personality of the prince as best I can.

< < < . IV .
. VI . > > >

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – The Picture – Contents

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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