Peter The Great’s Negro by Alexander Pushkin

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

< < < Chapter V
Chapter VII > > >


Dimly burnt the lamp before the glass case in which glittered the gold and silver frames of the sacred images. The flickering light faintly illuminated the curtained bed and the little table set out with labelled medicine-bottles. Near the stove sat a servant-maid at her spinning-wheel, and the subdued noise of the spindle was the only sound that broke the silence of the room.

“Who is there?” asked a feeble voice.

The servant-maid rose immediately, approached the bed, and gently raised the curtain.

“Will it soon be daylight?” asked Natalia.

“It is already midday,” replied the maid.

“Oh, Lord of Heaven! and why is it so dark?”

“The shutters are closed, miss.”

“Help me to dress quickly.”

“You must not do so, miss; the doctor has forbidden it.” “Am I ill then? How long have I been so?”

“About a fortnight.”

“Is it possible? And it seems to me as if it were only yesterday that I went to bed….”

Natasha became silent; she tried to collect her scattered thoughts. Something had happened to her, but what it was she could not exactly remember. The maid stood before her, awaiting her orders. At that moment a dull noise was heard below.

“What is that?” asked the invalid.

“The gentlemen have finished dinner,” replied the maid: “they are rising from the table. Tatiana Afanassievna will be here presently.”

Natasha seemed pleased at this; she waved her feeble hand. The maid dropped the curtain and seated herself again at the spinning-wheel.

A few minutes afterwards, a head in a broad white cap with dark ribbons appeared in the doorway and asked in a low voice:

“How is Natasha?”

“How do you do, auntie?” said the invalid in a faint voice, and Tatiana Afanassievna hastened towards her.

“The young lady has regained consciousness,” said the maid, carefully drawing a chair to the side of the bed. The old lady, with tears in her eyes, kissed the pale, languid face of her niece, and sat down beside her. Just behind her came a German doctor in a black caftan and learned wig. He felt Natalia’s pulse, and announced in Latin, and then in Russian, that the danger was over. He asked for paper and ink, wrote out a new prescription, and departed. The old lady rose, kissed Natalia once more, and immediately hurried down with the good news to Gavril Afanassievitch.

In the parlour, in uniform, with sword by his side and hat in his hand, sat the Czar’s negro, respectfully talking with Gavril Afanassievitch. Korsakoff, stretched out upon a soft couch, was listening to their conversation, and teasing a venerable greyhound. Becoming tired of this occupation, he approached the mirror, the usual refuge of the idle, and in it he saw Tatiana Afanassievna, who through the doorway was making unnoticed signs to her brother.

“Someone is calling you, Gavril Afanassievitch,” said Korsakoff, turning round to him and interrupting Ibrahim’s speech.

Gavril Afanassievitch immediately went to his sister and closed the door behind him.

“I am astonished at your patience,” said Korsakoff to Ibrahim. “For a full hour you have been listening to a lot of nonsense about the antiquity of the Likoff and Rjevsky families, and have even added your own moral observations! In your place j’aurais planté là the old babbler and all his race, including Natalia Gavrilovna, who is an affected girl, and is only pretending to be ill—une petite santé. Tell me candidly: do you really love this little mijaurée?”

“No,” replied Ibrahim: “I am certainly not going to marry, out of love, but out of prudence, and then only if she has no decided aversion to me.”

“Listen, Ibrahim,” said Korsakoff, “follow my advice this time; in truth, I am more discreet than I seem. Get this foolish idea out of your head—don’t marry. It seems to me that your bride has no particular liking for you. Do not a few things happen in this world? For instance: I am certainly not a very bad sort of fellow myself, but yet it has happened to me to deceive husbands, who, by the Lord, were in no way worse than me. And you yourself … do you remember our Parisian friend, Count L—-? There is no dependence to be placed upon a woman’s fidelity; happy is he who can regard it with indifference. But you!… With your passionate, pensive and suspicious nature, with your flat nose, thick lips, and shaggy head, to rush into all the dangers of matrimony!….”

“I thank you for your friendly advice,” interrupted Ibrahim coldly; “but you know the proverb: ‘It is not your duty to rock other people’s children.’”

“Take care, Ibrahim,” replied Korsakoff, laughing, “that you are not called upon some day to prove the truth of that proverb in the literal sense of the word.”

Meanwhile the conversation in the next room became? very heated.

“You will kill her,” the old lady was saying: “she cannot bear the sight of him.”

“But judge for yourself,” replied her obstinate brother. “For a fortnight he has been coming here as her bridegroom, and during that time he has not once seen his bride. He may think at last that her illness is a mere invention and that we are only seeking to gain time in order to rid ourselves of him in some way. And what will the Czar say? He has already sent three times to ask after the health of Natalia. Do as you like, but I have no intention of quarrelling with him.”

“My Lord God!” said Tatiana Afanassievna: “what, will become of the poor child! At least let me go and prepare her for such a visit.”

Gavril Afanassievitch consented, and then returned, to the parlour.

“Thank God!” said he to Ibrahim: “the danger is over. Natalia is much better. Were it not that I do not like to leave my dear guest Ivan Evgrafovitch here alone, I would take you upstairs to have a glimpse of your bride.”

Korsakoff congratulated Gavril Afanassievitch, asked him not to be uneasy on his account, assured him that he was compelled to go at once, and rushed out into the hall, without allowing his host to accompany him.

Meanwhile Tatiana Afanassievna hastened to prepare the invalid for the appearance of the terrible guest. Entering the room, she sat down breathless by the side of the bed, and took Natasha by the hand; but before she, was able to utter a word, the door opened.

Natasha asked: “Who has come in?”

The old lady turned faint. Gavril Afanassievitch drew back the curtain, looked coldly at the sick girl, and asked how she was. The invalid wanted to smile at him, but could not. Her father’s stern look struck her, and unease took possession of her. At that moment it seemed to her that someone was standing at the head of her bed. She raised her head with an effort and suddenly recognized the czar’s negro. Then she remembered everything, and the horror of the future presented itself before her. But exhausted nature received no perceptible shock. Natasha dropped her head down again upon the pillow and closed her eyes,… her heart beat painfully within her. Tatiana Afanassievna made a sign to her brother that the invalid wanted to go to sleep, and all quitted the room very quietly, except the maid, who resumed her seat at the spinning-wheel.

The unhappy beauty opened her eyes, and no longer seeing anybody by her bedside, called the maid and sent her for the nurse. But at that moment a round, old creature like a ball, rolled up to her bed. Lastotchka (for so nurse was called) with all the speed of her short legs, had followed Gavril Afanassievitch and Ibrahim up the stairs, and concealed herself behind the door, in accordance to the promptings of that curiosity which is inborn in the fair sex. Natasha, seeing her, sent the maid away, and the nurse sat down upon a stool by the bedside.

Never had so small a body contained within itself so much energy of soul. She intermeddled in everything, knew everything, and busied herself about everything. By cunning and insinuating ways she had succeeded in gaining the love of her masters, and the hatred of all the household, which she controlled in the most arbitrary manner. Gavril Afanassievitch listened to her reports, complaints, and petty requests. Tatiana Afanassievna constantly asked her opinion, followed her advice, and Natasha had the most unbounded affection for her, and confided to her all the thoughts, all the emotions of her sixteen-year old heart.

“Do you know, Lastotchka,” said she, “my father is going to marry me to the negro.”

The nurse sighed deeply, and her wrinkled face became still more wrinkled.

“Is there no hope?” continued Natasha: “Will my father not take pity upon me?”

The nurse shook her cap.

“Will not my grandfather or my aunt intercede for me?”

“No, miss; during your illness the negro succeeded in bewitching everybody. The master is out of his mind about him, the Prince raves about him alone, and Tatiana Afanassievna says it a pity that he is a negro, as a better bridegroom we could not wish for.”

“My God, my God!” moaned poor Natasha.

“Do not grieve, my pretty one,” said the nurse, kissing her feeble hand. “If you are to marry the negro, you will have your own way in everything. Nowadays it is not as it was in the olden times: husbands no longer keep their wives under lock and key; they say the negro is rich; your house will be like a full cup—you will lead a merry life.”

“Poor Valerian!” said Natasha, but so softly that the nurse could only guess what she said, as she did not hear the words.

“That is just it, miss,” said she, mysteriously lowering her voice; “if you thought less of the archer’s orphan you would not rave about him in your illness, and your father would not be angry.”

“What!” said the alarmed Natasha: “I have raved about Valerian? And my father heard it? And my father is angry?”

“That is just the misfortune,” replied the nurse. “Now if you were to ask him not to marry you to the negro he would think that Valerian was the cause. There is nothing to be done; submit to the will of your parents, for what is to be will be.”

Natasha did not reply. The thought that the secret of her heart was known to her father, produced a powerful effect upon her imagination. One hope alone remained, the hope to die before the completion of the odious marriage. This thought consoled her. Weak and sad at heart she resigned herself to her fate.

< < < Chapter V
Chapter VII > > >

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

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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