Peter The Great’s Negro by Alexander Pushkin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Pushkin – Peter The Great’s Negro – Contents

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Chapter III > > >


Days, months passed, and the enamoured Ibrahim could not resolve to leave the woman that he had seduced. The Countess grew more and more attached to him. Their son was being brought up in a distant province. The slanders of the world were beginning to subside, and the lovers began to enjoy greater tranquillity, silently remembering the past storm and endeavouring not to think of the future.

One day Ibrahim was in the lobby of the Duke of Orleans’ residence. The Duke, passing by him, stopped, and handing him a letter, told him to read it at his leisure. It was a letter from Peter the First. The Emperor, guessing the true cause of his absence, wrote to the Duke that he had no intention of compelling Ibrahim, that he left it to his own free will to return to Russia or not, but that in any case he would never abandon his former foster-child. This letter touched Ibrahim to the bottom of his heart. From that moment his resolution was taken. The next day he informed the Regent of his intention to set out immediately for Russia.

“Reflect upon what you are going to do,” said the Duke to him: “Russia is not your native country. I do not think that you will ever again see your torrid home, but your long residence in France has made you equally a stranger to the climate and the ways of life of semi-civilized Russia. You were not born a subject of Peter. Listen to my advice: take advantage of his magnanimous permission, remain in France, for which you have already shed your blood, and rest assured that here your services and talents will not remain unrewarded.”

Ibrahim thanked the Duke sincerely, but remained firm in his resolution.

“I feel very sorry,” said the Regent: “but perhaps you are right.”

He promised to let him retire from the French service, and wrote a full account of the matter to the Czar.

Ibrahim was soon ready for the journey. On the eve of his departure he spent the evening as usual at the house of the Countess L——. She knew nothing. Ibrahim had not the courage to inform her of his intention. The Countess was calm and cheerful. She several times called him to her and joked about his thoughtfulness. After supper the guests departed. The Countess, her husband, and Ibrahim were left alone in the parlour. The unhappy man would have given everything in the world to have been left alone with her; but Count L—— seemed to have seated himself so comfortably beside the fire, that it appeared useless to hope that he would leave the room. All three remained silent.

“Bonne nuit!” said the Countess at last.

A pang passed through Ibrahim’s heart, and he suddenly felt all the horrors of parting. He stood motionless.

“Bonne nuit, messieurs!” repeated the Countess.

Still he remained motionless…. At last his eyes became dim, his head swam round, and he could scarcely walk out of the room. On reaching home, he wrote, almost unconsciously, the following letter:

“I am going away, dear Leonora; I am leaving you for ever. I am writing to you, because I have not the strength to inform you otherwise.

“My happiness could not continue: I have enjoyed it against fate and nature. You must have ceased to love me; the enchantment must have vanished. This thought has always pursued me, even in those moments when I have seemed to forget everything, when at your feet I have been intoxicated by your passionate self-denial, by your unbounded tenderness…. The thoughtless world unmercifully runs down that which it permits in theory; its cold irony sooner or later would have vanquished you, would have humbled your ardent soul, and at last you would have become ashamed of your passion…. What would then have become of me? No, it were better that I should die, better that I should leave you before that terrible moment.

“Your tranquillity is dearer to me than everything: you could not enjoy it while the eyes of the world were fixed upon you. Think of all that you have suffered, all your wounded self-love, all the tortures of fear; remember the terrible birth of our son. Think: ought I to expose you any longer to such agitations and dangers? Why should I endeavour to unite the fate of such a tender, beautiful creature to the miserable fate of a negro, of a pitiable being, scarce worthy of the name of man?

“Farewell, Leonora; farewell, my dear and only friend. I am leaving you, I am leaving the first and last joy of my life. I have neither fatherland nor kindred; I am going to Russia, where my utter loneliness will be a consolation to me. Serious business, to which from this time forth I devote myself, if it will not stifle, will at least divert painful recollections of the days of rapture and bliss…. Farewell, Leonora! I tear myself away from this letter, as if from your embrace. Farewell, be happy, and think sometimes of the poor negro, of your faithful Ibrahim.”

That same night he set out for Russia.

The journey did not seem to him as terrible as he had expected. His imagination triumphed over the reality. The further he got from Paris, the more vivid and nearer rose up before him the objects he was leaving for ever.

Before he was aware of it he had crossed the Russian frontier. Autumn had already set in, but the postilions, in spite of the bad state of the roads, drove him with the speed of the wind, and on the seventeenth day of his journey he arrived at Krasnoe Selo, through which at that time the high road passed.

It was still a distance of twenty-eight versts to Petersburg. While the horses were being changed, Ibrahim entered the post-house. In a corner, a tall man, in a green caftan and with a clay pipe in his mouth, was leaning with his elbows upon the table reading the “Hamburg Gazette,” Hearing somebody enter, he raised his head.

“Ah, Ibrahim!” he exclaimed, rising from the bench. “How do you do, godson?”

Ibrahim recognized Peter, and in his delight was about to rush towards him, but he respectfully paused. The Emperor approached, embraced him and kissed him upon the forehead.

“I was informed of your coming,” said Peter, “and set off to meet you. I have been waiting for you here since yesterday.”

Ibrahim could not find words to express his gratitude.

“Let your carriage follow on behind us,” continued the Emperor, “and you take your place by my side and ride along with me.”

The Czar’s carriage was driven up; he took his seat with Ibrahim, and they set off at a gallop. In about an hour and a half they reached Petersburg. Ibrahim gazed with curiosity at the new-born city which had sprung up at the beck of his master. Bare banks, canals without quays, wooden bridges everywhere testified to the recent triumph of the human will over the hostile elements. The houses seemed to have been built in a hurry. In the whole town there was nothing magnificent but the Neva, not yet ornamented with its granite frame, but already covered with warships and merchant vessels. The imperial carriage stopped at the palace, i.e., at the Tsaritsin Garden. On the steps Peter was met by a woman of about thirty-five years of age, handsome, and dressed in the latest Parisian fashion. Peter kissed her and, taking Ibrahim by the hand, said:

“Do you recognize my godson, Katinka?[1] I beg you to love and favour him as formerly.”

Catherine fixed on him her dark piercing eyes, and stretched out her hand to him in a friendly manner. Two young beauties, tall, slender, and fresh as roses, stood behind her and respectfully approached Peter.

“Liza,” said he to one of them, “do you remember the little negro who stole my apples for you at Oranienbaum? Here he is; I introduce him to you.”

The Grand Duchess laughed and blushed. They went into the dining-room. In expectation of the Emperor the table had been laid. Peter sat down to dinner with all his family, and invited Ibrahim to sit down with them. During the course of the dinner the Emperor conversed with him on various subjects, questioned him about the Spanish war, the internal affairs of France and the Regent, whom he liked, although he blamed him for many things. Ibrahim possessed an exact and observant mind. Peter was very pleased with his replies. He recalled to mind some features of Ibrahim’s childhood, and related them with such good-humour and gaiety, that nobody could have suspected this kind and hospitable host to be the hero of Poltava,[2] the powerful and terrible reformer of Russia.

After dinner the Emperor, according to the Russian custom, retired to rest. Ibrahim remained with the Empress and the Grand Duchesses. He tried to satisfy their curiosity, described the Parisian way of life, the holidays that were kept there, and the changeable fashions. In the meantime, some of the persons belonging to the Emperor’s suite had assembled in the palace. Ibrahim recognized the magnificent Prince Menshikoff, who, seeing the negro conversing with Catherine, cast an arrogant glance at him; Prince Jacob Dolgorouky, Peter’s stern counsellor; the learned Bruce,[3] who had acquired among the people the name of the “Russian Faust”; the young Ragouzinsky, his former companion, and others who had come to bring reports to the Emperor and to await his orders.

In about two hours’ time the Emperor appeared.

“Let us see,” said he to Ibrahim, “if you have forgotten your old duties. Take a slate and follow me.”

Peter shut himself up in his work-room and busied himself with state affairs. He worked in turns with Bruce, with Prince Dolgorouky, and with General Police-master Devier, and dictated to Ibrahim several ukases and decisions. Ibrahim could not help feeling astonished at the quickness and firmness of his understanding, the strength and pliability of his powers of observation, and the variety of his occupations. When the work was finished, Peter drew out a pocket-book in order to see if all that he had proposed to do that day had been accomplished. Then, issuing from the work-room, he said to Ibrahim:

“It is late; no doubt you are tired,—sleep here to-night, as you used to do in the old times; to-morrow I will wake you.”

Ibrahim, on being left alone, could hardly collect his thoughts. He found himself in Petersburg; he saw again the great man, near whom, not yet knowing his worth, he had passed his childhood. Almost with regret he confessed to himself that the Countess L——, for the first time since their separation, had not been his sole thought during the whole of the day. He saw that the new mode of life which awaited him,—the activity and constant occupation,—would revive his soul, wearied by passion, idleness and secret grief. The thought of being a fellow-worker with the great man, and, in conjunction with him, of influencing the fate of a great nation, aroused within him for the first time the noble feeling of ambition. In this disposition of mind he lay down upon the camp bed prepared for him, and then the usual dreams carried him back to far-off Paris, to the arms of his dear Countess.

[1]Diminutive of Catherine.

[2]A town in the Ukraine, where, in 1709, the Swedes, under Charles XII., were completely routed by the Russians under Peter the Great.

[3]Peter the Great encouraged foreigners of ability to settle in Russia.

< < < Chapter I
Chapter III > > >

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Pushkin – Peter The Great’s Negro – Contents

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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