Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Alexander Pushkin – Doubrovsky – Contents
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On the eve of the festival, of which we have already spoken, the guests began to arrive at Pokrovskoe. Some were accommodated at the manor-house and in the wings attached to it; others in the house of the bailiff; a third party was quartered upon the priest; and the remainder upon the better class of peasants. The stables were filled with the horses of the visitors, and the yards and coach-houses were crowded with vehicles of every sort. At nine o’clock in the morning the bells rang for mass, and everybody repaired to the new stone church, built by Kirila Petrovitch and annually enriched by his offerings. The church was soon crowded with such a number of distinguished worshippers, that the simple peasants could find no room within the edifice, and had to stand beneath the porch and inside the railings. The mass had not yet begun: they were waiting for Kirila Petrovitch. He arrived at last in a caliche drawn by six horses, and walked proudly to his place, accompanied by Maria Kirilovna. The eyes of both men and women were turned upon her—the former were astonished at her beauty, the latter examined her dress with great attention.
The mass began. The household singers sang in the choir, and Kirila Petrovitch joined in with them. He prayed without looking either to the right or to the left, and with proud humility he bowed himself to the ground when the deacon in a loud voice mentioned the name of the founder of the church.
The mass came to an end. Kirila Petrovitch was the first to kiss the crucifix. All the others followed him; the neighbours approached him with respect, the ladies surrounded Masha. Kirila Petrovitch, on issuing from the church, invited everybody to dine with him, then he seated himself in the caliche and drove home. All the guests followed after him.
The rooms began to fill with the visitors; every moment new faces appeared, and it was with difficulty that the host could be approached. The ladies sat decorously in a semicircle, dressed in antiquated fashion, in dresses of faded but expensive material, all covered with pearls and brilliants. The men crowded round the caviar and the vodka, conversing among themselves with great animation. In the dining-room the table was laid for eighty persons; the servants were bustling about, arranging the bottles and decanters and adjusting the table-cloths.
At last the house-steward announced that dinner was ready. Kirila Petrovitch went first and took his seat at the table; the ladies followed after him, and took their places with an air of great gravity, observing a sort of precedence as they did so. The young ladies crowded together like a timid herd of kids, and took their places next to one another. Opposite to them sat the gentlemen. At the end of the table sat the tutor by the side of the little Sasha.
The servants began to pass the plates round according to the rank of the guests; when they were in doubt about the latter point, they allowed themselves to be guided by instinct, and their guesses were nearly always correct. The noise of the plates and spoons mingled with the loud talk of the guests. Kirila Petrovitch looked gaily round his table and thoroughly enjoyed the happiness of being able to provide such a hospitable entertainment. At that moment a calèche, drawn by six horses, drove into the yard.
“Who is that?” asked the host.
“Anton Pafnoutitch,” replied several voices.
The doors opened, and Anton Pafnoutitch Spitsin, a stout man of about fifty years of age, with a round pockmarked face, adorned with a treble chin, rolled into the-dining-room, bowing, smiling, and preparing to make his excuses.
“A cover here!” cried Kirila Petrovitch. “Pray sit down, Anton Pafnoutitch, and tell us what this means: you were not at my mass, and you are late for dinner. This is not like you. You are devout, and you love good cheer.”
“Pardon me,” replied Anton Pafnoutitch, fastening his serviette in the button-hole of his coat: “pardon me, little father Kirila Petrovitch, I started early on my journey, but I had not gone ten versts, when suddenly the tire of the front wheel snapped in two. What was to be done? Fortunately it was not far from the village. But by the time we had arrived there, and had found a blacksmith, and had got everything put to rights, three hours had elapsed. It could not be helped. To take the shortest route through the wood of Kistenevka, I did not dare, so we came the longest way round.”
“Ah, ah!” interrupted Kirila Petrovitch, “it is evident that you do not belong to the brave ten. What are you afraid of?”
“How, what am I afraid of, little father Kirila Petrovitch? And Doubrovsky? I might have fallen into his clutches. He is a young man who never misses his aim—he lets nobody off; and I am afraid he would have flayed me twice over, had he got hold of me.”
“Why, brother, such a distinction?”
“Why, father Kirila Petrovitch? Have you forgotten the lawsuit of the late Andrei Gavrilovitch? Was it not I who, to please you, that is to say, according to conscience and justice, showed that Doubrovsky held possession of Kistenevka without having any right to it, and solely through your condescension; and did not the deceased—God rest his soul!—vow that he would settle with me in his own way, and might not the son keep his father’s word? Hitherto the Lord has been merciful to me. Up to the present they have only plundered one of my barns, but one of these days they may find their way to the manor-house.”
“Where they would find a rich booty,” observed Kirila Petrovitch: “I have no doubt that the little red cash-box is as full as it can be.”
“Not so, father Kirila Petrovitch; there was a time when it was full, but now it is perfectly empty.”
“Don’t tell lies, Anton Pafnoutitch. We know you. Where do you spend money? At home you live like a pig, you never receive anybody, and you fleece your peasants. You do nothing with your money but hoard it up.”
“You are only joking, father Kirila Petrovitch,” murmured Anton Pafnoutitch, smiling; “but I swear to you that we are ruined,” and Anton Pafnoutitch swallowed his host’s joke with a greasy piece of fish pasty.
Kirila Petrovitch left him and turned to the new sheriff, who was his guest for the first time and who was sitting at the other end of the table, near the tutor.
“Well, Mr. Sheriff, give us a proof of your cleverness: catch Doubrovsky for us.”
The sheriff looked disconcerted, bowed, smiled, stammered, and said at last:
“We will try, Your Excellency.”
“H’m! ‘we will try!’ You have been trying for a long time to rid our country of brigands. Nobody knows how to set about the business. And, after all, why try to catch him? Doubrovsky’s robberies are a blessing to the sheriffs: what with investigations, travelling expenses, and the money they put into their pockets. He will never be caught Why should such a benefactor be put down? Isn’t that true, Mr. Sheriff?”
“Perfectly true, Your Excellency,” replied the completely confused sheriff.
The guests roared with laughter.
“I like the fellow for his frankness,” said Kirila Petrovitch: “but it is a pity that our late sheriff is no longer with us. If he had not been burnt, the neighbourhood would have been quieter. And what news of Doubrovsky? Where was he last seen?”
“At my house, Kirila Petrovitch,” said a female voice: “last Tuesday he dined with me.”
All eyes were turned towards Anna Savishna Globova, a very simple widow, beloved by everybody for her kind and cheerful disposition. Everyone prepared to listen to her story with the deepest interest.
“You must know that three weeks ago I sent my steward to the post with a letter for my Vaniusha. I do not spoil my son, and moreover I haven’t the means of spoiling him, even if I wished to do so. However, you know very well that an officer of the Guards must live in a suitable style, and I share my income with Vaniusha as well as I can. Well, I sent two thousand roubles to him; and although the thought of Doubrovsky came more than once into my mind, I thought to myself: the town is not far off—only seven, versts altogether, perhaps God will order all things for the best. But what happens? In the evening my steward returns, pale, tattered, and on foot. ‘What is the matter? What has happened to you?’ I exclaimed. ‘Little mother Anna Savishna,’ he replied, ‘the brigands have robbed and almost killed me. Doubrovsky himself was there, and he wanted to hang me, but he afterwards had pity upon me and let me go. But he plundered me of everything—money, horse, and cart,’ A faintness came over me. Heavenly Lord! What will become of my Vaniusha? There was nothing to be done. I wrote a fresh letter, telling him all that had happened, and sent him my blessing without a farthing of money. One week passed, and then another. Suddenly, one day, a calèche drove into my courtyard. Some general asked to see me: I gave orders for him to be shown in. He entered the room, and I saw before me a man of about thirty-five years of age, dark, with black hair, moustache and beard—the exact portrait of Koulneff. He introduced himself to me as a friend and comrade of my late husband, Ivan Andreivitch. He happened to be passing by, and he could not resist paying a visit to his old friend’s widow, knowing that I lived there. I invited him to dine, and I set before him what God had sent me. We spoke of this and that, and at last we began to talk about Doubrovsky. I told him of my trouble. My general frowned. ‘That is strange,’ said he: ‘I have heard that Doubrovsky does not attack everybody, but only people who are well known to be rich, and that even then he leaves them a part of their possessions and does not plunder them of everything. As for murdering people, nobody has yet accused him of that. Is there not some roguery here? Oblige me by sending for your steward.’
“The steward was sent for, and quickly made his appearance. But as soon as he caught sight of the general he stood as if petrified.
“‘Tell me, brother, in what manner did Doubrovsky plunder you, and how was it that he wanted to hang you?’ My steward began to tremble and fell at the general’s feet.
“‘Little father, I am guilty. The evil one led me astray. I have lied.’
“‘If that is so,’ replied the general, ‘have the goodness to relate to your mistress how it all happened, and I will listen.’
“My steward could not recover himself.
“‘Well, then,’ continued the general, ‘tell us where you met Doubrovsky.’
“‘At the two pine trees, little father, at the two pine trees.’
“‘What did he say to you?
“‘He asked me who I was, where I was going, and why.’
“‘Well, and after that?’
“‘After that he demanded the letter and the money from me, and I gave them to him.’
“‘Well, and he … little father, pardon me!’
“‘Well, what did he do?’
“‘He returned me the money and the letter, and said ‘Go, in the name of God, and put this in the post.’
“‘Little father, pardon me!’
“‘I will settle with you, my pigeon,’ said the general sternly. ‘And you, madam, order this scoundrel’s trunk to be searched, and then give him into my hands; I will teach him a lesson.’
“I guessed who his Excellency was, but I did not make any observation. The coachmen tied the steward to the box of the calèche; the money was found; the general remained to dine with me, and departed immediately afterwards, taking with him my steward. The steward was found the next day in the wood, tied to an oak, and as ragged as a lime tree.”
Everybody listened in silence to Anna Savishna’s story, especially the young ladies. Many of them secretly wished well to Doubrovsky, seeing in him a romantic hero, particularly Maria Kirilovna, an impulsive, sentimental girl, imbued with the mysterious horrors of Mrs. Anne Radcliffe.
“And do you think, Anna Savishna, that it was Doubrovsky himself who visited you?” asked Kirila Petrovitch. “You are very much mistaken. I do not know who your guest may have been, but I feel quite sure that it was not Doubrovsky.”
“How, little father, not Doubrovsky? But who is it then, if not he, who stops travellers on the high road in order to search them?”
“I don’t know; but I feel confident that it is not Doubrovsky. I remember him as a child; I do, not know whether his hair has turned black, but at that time he was a curly flaxen-haired boy. But I do know for a positive fact, that Doubrovsky is five years older than my Masha, and that consequently he is not thirty-five, but about twenty-three.”
“Exactly so, Your Excellency,” observed the sheriff: “I have in my pocket the description of Vladimir Doubrovsky. In that it is distinctly stated that he is twenty-three years of age.”
“Ah!” said Kirila Petrovitch. “By the way, read it, and we will listen: it will not be a bad thing for us to know his description. Perhaps he may fall into our clutches, and if so, he will not escape in a hurry.”
The sheriff drew from his pocket a rather dirty sheet of paper, unfolded it with an air of great importance, and began to read in a monotonous tone:
“Description of Doubrovsky, based upon the depositions of his former servants:
“Twenty-three years of age, medium height, clear complexion, shaves his beard, has brown eyes, flaxen hair, straight nose. Does not seem to have any particular marks.”
“And is that all?” said Kirila Petrovitch.
“That is all,” replied the sheriff, folding up the paper.
“I congratulate you, Mr. Sheriff. A very valuable document With that description it will not be difficult for you to find Doubrovsky! Who is not of medium height? Who has not flaxen hair, a straight nose and brown eyes? I would wager that you would talk for three hours at a stretch to Doubrovsky himself, and you would never guess in whose company you were. There is no denying that these officials have wise heads.”
The sheriff, meekly replacing the paper in his pocket, silently busied himself with his goose and cabbage. Meanwhile the servants had already gone the round of the guests several times, filling up each one’s glass. Several bottles of Caucasus wine had been opened with a great deal of noise, and had been thankfully accepted under the name of champagne. Faces began to glow, and the conversation grew louder, more incoherent and more lively.
“No,” continued Kirila Petrovitch, “we shall never see another sheriff like the late Taras Alexeievitch! He was not the man to be thrown off the scent very easily. I am very sorry that the fellow was burnt, for otherwise not one of the band would have got away from him. He would have laid his hands upon the whole lot of them, and not even Doubrovsky himself would have escaped. Taras Alexeievitch would perhaps have taken money from him, but he would not have let him go. Such was the way of the deceased. Evidently there is nothing else to be done but for me to take the matter in hand and go after the brigands with my people. I will begin by sending out twenty men to scour the wood. My people are not cowards. Each of them would attack a bear single-handed, and they certainly would not fall back before a brigand.”
“How is your bear, father Kirila Petrovitch?” asked Anton Pafnoutitch, being reminded by these words of his shaggy acquaintance and of certain pleasantries of which he had once been the victim.
“Misha wishes you a long life, replied Karila Petrovitch: “he died a glorious death at the hands of the enemy. There is his conqueror!” Kirila Petrovitch pointed to the french tutor. “He has avenged your—if you will allow me to say so—do you remember?”
“How should I not remember?” said Anton Pafnoutitch, scratching his head: “I remember it only too well. So Misha is dead. I am very sorry for Misha—upon my word, I am very sorry! How amusing he was! How intelligent! You will not find another bear like him. And why did monsieur kill him?”
Kirila Petrovitch began, with great satisfaction, to relate the exploit of his Frenchman, for he possessed the happy faculty of boasting of everything that was about him. The guests listened with great attention to the story of Misha’s death, and gazed in astonishment at Desforges, who, not suspecting that his bravery was the subject of conversation, sat tranquilly in his place, giving advice to his restive pupil.
The dinner, after lasting about three hours, came to an end; the host placed his serviette upon the table, and everybody rose and repaired to the parlour, where awaited them coffee, cards, and a continuation of the carouse so excellently begun in the dining-room.
At the end of the service in the Russian Church, all the members of the congregation kiss the crucifix.
The roes of sturgeons prepared and salted.
Diminutive of Ivan.
A now almost forgotten romance writer, whose “Romance of the Forest,” “Mysteries of Udolpho,” and “Italian,” were very popular a century ago.
Diminutive of Michael—the familiar name for a bear in Russia.
A Russian figure of speech which signifies that the person spoken of is dead.
< < < Chapter VIII
Chapter X > > >
Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Alexander Pushkin – Doubrovsky – Contents
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