Peter The Great’s Negro by Alexander Pushkin

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

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Chapter VI > > >


About half an hour afterwards the door opened and Peter issued forth. With a dignified inclination of the head he replied to the threefold bow of Prince Likoff, Tatiana Afanassievna and Natasha, and walked straight out into the ante-room. The host handed him his red cloak, conducted him to the sledge, and on the steps thanked him once more for the honour he had shown him.

Peter drove off.

Returning to the dining-room, Gavril Afanassievitch seemed very much troubled; he angrily ordered the servants to clear the table as quickly as possible, sent Natasha to her own room, and, informing his sister and father-in-law that he must talk with them, he led them into the bedroom, where he usually rested after dinner. The old Prince lay down upon the oak bed; Tatiana Afanassievna sat down in the old silk-lined armchair, and placed her feet upon the footstool; Gavril Afanassievitch locked the doors, sat down upon the bed at the feet of Prince Likoff, and in a low voice began:

“It was not for nothing that the Emperor paid me a visit to-day: guess what he wanted to talk to me about.”

“How can we know, brother?” said Tatiana Afanassievna.

“Has the Czar appointed you to some government?” said his father-in-law:—”it is quite time enough that he did so. Or has he offered an embassy to you? Why not? That need not mean being a mere secretary—distinguished people are sent to foreign monarchs.”

“No,” replied his son-in-law, frowning. “I am a man of the old school, and our services nowadays are of no use, although, perhaps, an orthodox Russian nobleman is worth more than these modern upstarts, bakers and heathens. But this is a different matter altogether.”

“Then what is it, brother?” said Tatiana Afanassievna. “Why was he talking with you for such a long time? Can it be that you are threatened with some misfortune? The Lord save and defend us!”

“No misfortune, certainly, but I confess that it is a matter for reflection.”

“Then what is it, brother? What is the matter about?”

“It is about Natasha: the Czar came to ask for her hand.”

“God be thanked!” said Tatiana Afanassievna, crossing herself. “The maiden is of a marriageable age, and as the matchmaker is, so must the bridegroom be. God give them love and counsel, the honour is great. For whom does the Czar ask her hand?”

“H’m!” exclaimed Gavril Afanassievitch: “for whom? That’s just it for whom!”

“Who is it, then?” repeated Prince Likoff, already beginning to doze off to sleep.

“Guess,” said Gavril Afanassievitch.

“My dear brother,” replied the old lady: “how can we guess? There are a great number of marriageable men at Court, each of whom would be glad to take your Natasha for his wife. Is it Dolgorouky?”

“No, it is not Dolgorouky.”

“God be with him: he is too overbearing. Schein? Troekouroff?”

“No, neither the one nor the other.”

“I do not care for them either; they are flighty, and too much imbued with the German spirit. Well, is it Miloslavsky?”

“No, not he.”

“God be with him, he is rich and stupid. Who then? Eletsky? Lvoff? It cannot be Ragouzinsky? I cannot think of anybody else. For whom, then, does the Czar want Natasha?”

“For the negro Ibrahim.”

The old lady uttered a cry and clasped her hands. Prince Likoff raised his head from the pillow, and with astonishment repeated:

“For the negro Ibrahim?”

“My dear brother!” said the old lady in a tearful voice: “do not destroy your dear child, do not deliver poor little Natasha into the clutches of that black devil.”

“How?” replied Gavril Afanassievitch: “refuse the Emperor, who promises in return to bestow his favour upon us and all our house.”

“What!” exclaimed the old Prince, who was now wide awake: “Natasha, my granddaughter, to be married to a bought negro.”

“He is not of common birth,” said Gavril Afanassievitch: “he is the son of a negro Sultan. The Mussulmen took him prisoner and sold him in Constantinople, and our ambassador bought him and presented him to the Czar. The negro’s eldest brother came to Russia with a considerable ransom and——”

“We have heard the story of Bova Korolevitch and Erouslana Lazarevitch.”[1]

“My dear Gavril Afanassievitch!” interrupted the old lady, “tell us rather how you replied to the Emperor’s proposal.”

“I said that we were under his authority, and that it was our duty to obey him in all things.”

At that moment a noise was heard behind the door. Gavril Afanassievitch went to open it, but felt some obstruction. He pushed against it with increased force, the door opened, and they saw Natasha lying in a swoon upon the blood-stained floor.

Her heart sank within her, when the Emperor shut himself up with her father; some presentiment whispered to her that the matter concerned her, and when Gavril Afanassievitch ordered her to withdraw, saying that he wished to speak to her aunt and grandfather, she could not resist the instinct of feminine curiosity, stole quietly along through the inner rooms to the bedroom door, and did not miss a single word of the whole terrible conversation; when she heard her father’s last words, the poor girl lost consciousness, and falling, struck her head against an iron-bound chest, in which was kept her dowry.

The servants hastened to the spot; Natasha was lifted up, carried to her own room, and placed in bed. After a little time she regained consciousness, opened her eyes, but recognized neither father nor aunt. A violent fever set in; she spoke in her delirium about the Czar’s negro, about marriage, and suddenly cried in a plaintive and piercing voice:

“Valerian, dear Valerian, my life, save me! there they are, there they are….”

Tatiana Afanassievna glanced uneasily at her brother, who turned pale, bit his lips, and silently left the room. He returned to the old Prince, who, unable to mount the stairs, had remained below.

“How is Natasha?” asked he.

“Very bad,” replied the grieved father: “worse than I thought; she is delirious, and raves about Valerian.”

“Who is this Valerian?” asked the anxious old man. “Can it be that orphan, the archer’s son, whom you brought up in your house?”

“The same, to my misfortune!” replied Gavril Afanassievitch. “His father, at the time of the rebellion, saved my life, and the devil induced me to take the accursed young wolf into my house. When, two years ago, he was enrolled in the regiment at his own request, Natasha, on taking leave of him, shed bitter tears, and he stood as if petrified. This seemed suspicious to me, and I spoke about it to my sister. But since that time Natasha has never mentioned his name, and nothing whatever has been heard of him. I thought that she had forgotten him, but it is evident that such is not the case. But it is decided: she shall marry the negro.”

Prince Likoff did not contradict him: it would have been useless. He returned home; Tatiana Afanassievna remained by the side of Natasha’s bed; Gavril Afanassievitch, having sent for the doctor, locked himself in his room, and in his house all was still and sad.

The unexpected proposal astonished Ibrahim quite as much as Gavril Afanassievitch. This is how it happened. Peter, being engaged in business with Ibrahim, said to him:

“I perceive, my friend, that you are downhearted; speak frankly, what is it you want?”

Ibrahim assured the Emperor that he was very well satisfied with his lot, and wished for nothing better.

“Good,” said the Emperor: “if you are dull without any cause, I know how to cheer you up.”

At the conclusion of the work, Peter asked Ibrahim:

“Do you like the young lady with whom you danced the minuet at the last assembly?”

“She is very charming, Your Majesty, and seems to be a good and modest girl.”

“Then I shall take it upon myself to make you better acquainted with her. Would you like to marry her?”

“I, Your Majesty?”

“Listen, Ibrahim: you are a man alone in the world, without birth and kindred, a stranger to everybody, except myself. Were I to die to-day, what would become of you to-morrow, my poor negro? You must get settled while there is yet time, find support in new ties, become connected by marriage with the Russian nobility.”

“Your Majesty, I am happy under your protection, and in the possession of your favour. God grant that I may not survive my Czar and benefactor—I wish for nothing more; but even if I had any idea of getting married, would the young lady and her relations consent? My appearance——”

“Your appearance? What nonsense! A clever fellow like you, too! A young girl must obey the will of her parents, and we will see what old Gavril Rjevsky will say, when I myself will be your matchmaker.”

With these words the Emperor ordered his sledge, and left Ibrahim sunk in deep reflection.

“Get married?” thought the African: “why not? Am I to be condemned to pass my life in solitude, and not know the greatest pleasure and the most sacred duties of man, just because I was born beneath the torrid zone? I cannot hope to be loved: a childish objection! Is it possible to believe in love? Does it then exist in the frivolous heart of woman? As I have renounced for ever such alluring errors, I must devote my attention to ideas of a more practical nature. The Emperor is right: I must think of my future. Marriage with the young Rjevsky will connect me with the proud Russian nobility, and I shall cease to be a sojourner in my new fatherland. From my wife I shall not require love: I shall be satisfied with her fidelity; and her friendship I will acquire by constant tenderness, confidence and devotion.”

Ibrahim, according to his usual custom, wished to occupy himself with work, but his imagination was too excited. He left the papers and went for a stroll along the banks of the Neva. Suddenly he heard the voice of Peter; he looked round and saw the Emperor, who, dismissing his sledge, advanced towards him with a beaming countenance.

“It is all settled, my friend!” said Peter, taking him by the arm: “I have affianced you. To-morrow, go and visit your father-in-law, but see that you humour his boyar pride: leave the sledge at the gate, go through the courtyard on foot, talk to him about his services and distinctions, and he will be perfectly charmed with you…. And now,” continued he, shaking his cudgel, “lead me to that rogue Danilitch, with whom I must confer about his recent pranks.”

Ibrahim thanked Peter heartily for his fatherly solicitude on his account, accompanied him as far as the magnificent palace of Prince Menshikoff, and then returned home.

[1]The two principal characters in one of the legendary stories of Russia.

< < < Chapter IV
Chapter VI > > >

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

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