Doubrovsky by Alexander Pushkin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Pushkin – Doubrovsky – Contents

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The reader has probably already divined that the daughter of Kirila Petrovitch, of whom we have as yet said but very little, is the heroine of our story. At the period about which we are writing, she was seventeen years old, and in the full bloom of her beauty. Her father loved her to the verge of folly, but treated her with his characteristic wilfulness, at one time endeavouring to gratify her slightest whims, at another terrifying her by his coarse and sometimes brutal behaviour. Convinced of her attachment, he could yet never gain her confidence. She was accustomed to conceal from him her thoughts and feelings, because she never knew in what manner they would be received. She had no companions, and had grown up in solitude. The wives and daughters of the neighbours rarely visited at the house of Kirila Petrovitch, whose usual conversation and amusements demanded the companionship of men, and not the presence of ladies. Our beauty rarely appeared among the guests who were invited to her father’s house. The extensive library, consisting for the most part of works of French writers of the eighteenth century, was given over to her charge. Her father never read anything except the “Perfect Cook,” and could not guide her in the choice of books, and Masha, after having dipped into works of various kinds, had naturally given her preference to romances. In this manner she went on completing her education, first begun under the direction of Mademoiselle Micheau, in whom Kirila Petrovitch reposed great confidence, and whom he was at last obliged to send away secretly to another estate, when the results of this friendship became too apparent.

Mademoiselle Micheau left behind her a rather agreeable recollection. She was a good-natured girl, and had never misused the influence which she evidently exercised over Kirila Petrovitch, in which she differed from the other confidants, whom he constantly kept changing. Kirila Petrovitch himself seemed to like her more than the others, and a dark-eyed, roguish-looking little fellow of nine, recalling the southern features of Mademoiselle Micheau, was being brought up by him and was recognized as his son, notwithstanding the fact that quite a number of bare-footed lads ran about in front of his windows, who were as like Kirila Petrovitch as one drop of water is to another, and who were inscribed as forming part of his household. Kirila Petrovitch had sent to Moscow for a French tutor for his little son, Sasha,[1] and this tutor came to Pokrovskoe at the time of the events that we are now describing.

This tutor, by his prepossessing appearance and simple manners, produced a very agreeable impression upon the mind of Kirila Petrovitch. He presented to the latter his credentials, and a letter from one of Troekouroff’s relations, with whom he had lived as tutor for four years. Kirila Petrovitch examined all these, and was dissatisfied only with the youthfulness of the Frenchman, not because he considered this agreeable defect incompatible with the patience and experience necessary for the unhappy calling of a tutor, but because he had doubts of his own, which he immediately resolved to have cleared up. For this purpose he ordered Masha to be sent to him. Kirila Petrovitch did not speak French, and she acted as interpreter for him.

“Come here, Masha: tell this Monsieur that I accept him only on condition that he does not venture to pay court to my girls, for if he should do so, the son of a dog, I’ll… Translate that to him, Masha.”

Masha blushed, and turning to the tutor, told him in French that her father counted upon his modesty and orderly conduct.

The Frenchman bowed to her, and replied that he hoped to merit esteem, even if favour were not shown to him. Masha translated his reply word for word.

“Very well, very well,” said Kirila Petrovitch, “he needs neither favour nor esteem. His business is to look after Sasha and teach him grammar and geography—translate that to him.”

Maria Kirilovna softened the rude expressions of her father in translating them, and Kirila Petrovitch dismissed his Frenchman to the wing of the house in which his room was situated.

Masha had not given a thought to the young Frenchman. Brought up with aristocratic prejudices, a tutor, in her eyes, was only a sort of servant or artizan; and servants or artizans did not seem to her to be men at all. Nor did she observe the impression that she had produced upon Monsieur Desforges, nor his confusion, nor his agitation, nor the tremor in his voice. For several days afterwards, she met him very frequently, but without honouring him with much attention. In an unexpected manner, however, she received quite a new impression with respect to him.

In the courtyard of Kirila Petrovitch there were usually kept several young bears, and they formed one of the chief amusements of the master of Pokrovskoe. While they were young, they were brought every day into the parlour, where Kirila Petrovitch used to spend whole hours in amusing himself with them, setting them at cats and young dogs. When they were grown up, they were attached to a chain, to await being baited in earnest. Sometimes they were brought out in front of the windows of the manor-house, and an empty wine-cask, studded with nails, was put before them. The bear would sniff it, then touch it gently, and getting its paws pricked, it would become angry and push the cask with greater force, and so wound itself still more. The beast would then work itself into a perfect frenzy, and fling itself upon the cask, growling furiously, until they removed from the poor animal the object of its vain rage. Sometimes a pair of bears were harnessed to a telega, then, willingly or unwillingly, guests were placed in it, and the bears were allowed to gallop wherever chance might direct them. But the best joke of Kirila Petrovitch’s was as follows:

A starving bear used to be shut up in an empty room and fastened by a rope to a ring screwed into the wall. The rope was nearly the length of the room, so that only the opposite corner was out of the reach of the ferocious beast. A novice was generally brought to the door of this room, and, as if by accident, pushed in along with the bear; the door was then locked, and the unhappy victim was left alone with the shaggy hermit. The poor guest, with torn skirts and scratched hands, soon sought the safe corner, but he was sometimes compelled to stand for three whole hours, pressed against the wall, watching the savage beast, two steps from him, leaping and standing on its hind legs, growling, tugging at the rope and endeavouring to reach him. Such were the noble amusements of a Russian gentleman!

Some days after the arrival of the French tutor, Troekouroff thought of him, and resolved to give him a taste of the bear’s room. For this purpose, he summoned him one morning, and conducted him along several dark corridors; suddenly a side door opened—two servants pushed the Frenchman into the room and locked the door after him. Recovering from his surprise, the tutor perceived the chained bear. The animal began to snort and to sniff at his visitor from a distance, and suddenly raising himself upon his hind legs, he advanced towards him…. The Frenchman was not alarmed; he did not retreat but awaited the attack. The bear drew near; Desforges drew from his pocket a small pistol, inserted it in the ear of the hungry animal, and fired. The bear rolled over. Everybody was attracted to the spot by the report, the door was opened, and Kirila Petrovitch entered, astonished at the result of his joke.

Kirila Petrovitch wanted an explanation of the whole affair. Who had warned Desforges of the joke, or how came he to have a loaded pistol in his pocket? He sent for Masha. Masha came and interpreted her father’s questions to the Frenchman.

“I never heard even of the existence of the bear,” replied Desforges, “but I always carry a pistol about with me, because I do not intend to put up with an offence for which, on account of my calling, I cannot demand satisfaction.”

Masha looked at him in astonishment and translated his words to Kirila Petrovitch. Kirila Petrovitch made no reply; he ordered the bear to be removed and its skin to be taken off; then turning to his people, he said:

“What a brave fellow! There is nothing of the coward about him. By the Lord, he is certainly no coward!”

From that moment he took a liking to Desforges, and never thought again of putting him to the proof.

But this incident produced a. still greater impression upon Maria Kirilovna. Her imagination had been struck: she had seen the dead bear, and Desforges standing calmly over it and talking tranquilly to her. She saw that bravery and proud self-respect did not belong exclusively to one class, and from that moment she began to show regard for the young tutor, and this regard increased from day to day. A certain intimacy sprang up between them. Masha had a beautiful voice and great musical ability; Desforges proposed to give her lessons. After that it will not be difficult for the reader to understand that Masha fell in love with him without acknowledging it to herself.

[1]Diminutive of Alexander.

< < < Chapter VII
Chapter IX > > >

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Pushkin – Doubrovsky – Contents

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