Two Hussars By Count Leo N. Tolstoy

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Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – Two Hussars – contents
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Jomini, ay, Jomini,But not a single word of vodka.[56]

D. Davuidof.

At the very beginning of this century, when there were no railways, no macadamized roads, no gas or stearine candles, no low and springy sofas, no unvarnished furniture, no disillusionized young men with eye-glasses, no women philosophers of liberal tendencies, no dear Camilles, such as our time has produced in abundance; in those naïve days when travellers made the journey from Moscow to Petersburg by stage or carriage, and took with them a whole kitchen of domestic preparations, and travelled for a week, night and day, over soft roads, muddy or dusty as the case might be, pinned their faith to Pozharsky cutlets, Valdaï bluebells, and pretzels; when during the long autumn evenings tallow candles burned till they had to be snuffed, and cast their rays on family circles of twenty or thirty people (at balls, wax or spermaceti candles were set up in candelabra); when furniture was placed with stiff precision; when our fathers were still young, not merely by the absence of wrinkles and gray hair, but fought duels for women, and were fain to rush from one end of a room to the other to pick up a handkerchief dropped accidentally or otherwise, and our mothers wore short waists and huge sleeves, and decided family affairs by the drawing of lots; when charming Camilles avoided the light of day; in the naïve period of Masonic lodges, of Martinists, and of the Tugendbund; at the time of the Miloradovitches, Davuidofs, and Pushkins,—a meeting of landed proprietors took place in the governmental city of K., and the election of the college of nobles was drawing to a close.

Chapter I

“Well, all right, it’s all the same, be it in the hall,” said a young officer dressed in a shuba, and wearing a hussar’s helmet, as he dismounted from a travelling sledge in front of the best hotel of the city of K.

“A great meeting, little father, your excellency,—a tremendous crowd,” said the hall-boy, who had already learned from the officer’s man that it was Count Turbin, and therefore honored him with the address of “your excellency.” “Madame Afrimova and her daughters have expressed the intention of going away this evening; you can be accommodated with their room as soon as it is vacated,—No. 11,” the hall-boy went on to say, noiselessly showing the count the way, and constantly turning round to look at him.

In the sitting-room, at a small table under a blackened full-length portrait of the Emperor Alexander, sat a number of men, evidently belonging to the local aristocracy, drinking champagne; and on one side were some travelling merchants in blue shubas.

The count entered the room, and calling Blücher, a huge gray boarhound that accompanied him, he threw off his cloak, the collar of which was covered with frost, and, after ordering vodka, sat down at the table in a short blue-satin jacket, and entered into conversation with the gentlemen sitting there. The latter, attracted toward the new-comer by his handsome and frank exterior, offered him a glass of champagne.

The count had begun to drink his glass of vodka; but now he also ordered a bottle of champagne, in order to return the courtesy of his new companions.

The driver came in to ask for vodka-money.

“Sashka,”[57] cried the count, “give it to him.”

The driver went out with Sashka, but quickly returned, holding the money in his hands.

“What! little father, ‘slency, is that right? I did my best for you. You promised me a half-ruble, and you have only given me a quarter!”

“Sashka, give him a ruble.”

Sashka, hanging down his head, gazed at the driver’s feet.

“He will have enough,” said he in his deep voice. “Besides, I haven’t any more money.”

The count drew from his pocket-book the two solitary blue notes[58] which were in it, and gave one to the driver, who kissed his hand, and went off. “I have come to the end,” said the count, “my last five rubles.”

“True hussar style, count,” said one of the nobles, whose mustaches, voice, and a certain energetic freedom in the use of his legs, proclaimed him, beyond a peradventure, to be a retired cavalryman. “Are you going to spend some time here, count?”

“I must have some money if I stay, otherwise I should not be very likely to. Besides, there are no spare rooms, the Devil take it, in this cursed tavern.”

“I beg of you, count,” pursued the cavalryman, “wouldn’t you like to come in with me? My room is No. 7. If you wouldn’t object to sleep there for the present. We shall be here three days at least. To-day I was at the marshal’s: how glad he would be to see you!”

“That’s right, count, stay with us,” urged another of the table companions, a handsome young man. “What is your hurry? And besides, this happens only once in three years,—these elections. We might get a glimpse of some of our girls, count!”

“Sashka, get me some clean linen. I am going to have a bath,” said the count, rising. “And then we will see; perhaps I may decide to pay my respects to the marshal.”

Then he called the waiter, and said something to him in an undertone. The waiter replied, with a laugh, “That is within human possibility,” and went out.

“Well, then, little father, I have given orders to have my trunk taken to your room,” cried the count, as he went out of the door.

“I shall consider it a favor: it delights me,” replied the cavalryman as he hastened to the door, and cried, “No.7; don’t forget!”

When the count was out of hearing, the cavalryman returned to his place, and drawing his chair nearer to the chinovnik, and looking him straight in his smiling eyes, said,—

“Well, he’s the very one.”

“What one?”

“I tell you that he’s that very same hussar duellist,—let me see, the famous Turbin. He knew me. I’ll wager he knew me. I assure you, at Lebedyan he and I were on a spree for three weeks, and were never sober once. That was when I lost my remount. There was one little affair at that time,—we were engaged in it together. Ah, he is a gay lad! isn’t he, though?”

“Indeed he is. What pleasant manners he has! There’s no fault to be found with him,” replied the handsome young man. “How quickly we became acquainted!… He isn’t more than twenty-two, is he?”

“He certainly would not seem so, would he?… But he’s really more than that. Well, now you want to know who he is, don’t you? Who carried off Megunova? He did. He killed Sablin. He kicked Matnyef out of the window. He ‘did’ Prince Nesterof out of three hundred thousand rubles. He’s a regular madcap. You ought to know him,—a gambler, duellist, seducer, but a whole-souled fellow, a genuine hussar. We got talked about a good deal, but if any one really understood what it meant to be a genuine hussar! Those were great times.”

And the cavalryman began to tell his comrade of a drinking-bout with the count, which had never taken place, nor could have taken place. It could not have taken place, first, because he had never seen the count before, and had retired from the service two years before the count had entered it; and secondly, because this cavalryman had never served in the cavalry, but had served four years as a very insignificant yunker in the Bielevsky regiment; and just as soon as he was promoted to be ensign, he retired.

But ten years before he had received an inheritance, and actually went to Lebedyan; and there he spent seven hundred rubles with the cavalry officers, and had had made for him an uhlan’s uniform with orange lapels, with the intention of entering the uhlans. His thought of entering the cavalry, and his three weeks spent with the officers at Lebedyan, made the very happiest and most brilliant period of his life; so that he began to transfer his thought into a reality. Then, as he added remembrance to it, he began actually to believe in his military past,—which did not prevent him from being a worthy man through his kindness of heart and uprightness.

“Yes, any one who has never served in the cavalry,” he went on to say, “will never understand us fellows.”

He sat astride of his chair, and, thrusting out his lower lip, went on in a deep voice, “It happens you are riding along in front of the battalion. A devil is under you, not a horse, prancing along; thus you sit on this perfect devil. The battalion commander comes along. ‘Lieutenant,’ says he, ‘I beg of you—your service is absolutely indispensable. You must lead the battalion for the parade.’ Very well, and so it goes. You look around, you give a shout, you lead the brave fellows who are under your command. Ah! the deuce take it! ’twas a glorious time!”

The count came back from the bath, all ruddy, and with his hair wet, and went directly to No. 7, where the cavalryman was already sitting in his dressing-gown, with his pipe, and thinking with delight and some little anxiety of the good fortune that had befallen him in sharing his room with the famous Turbin. “Well, now,” the thought came into his head, “suppose he should take me, and strip me naked, and carry me outside the town limits, and set me down in the snow, … or smear me with tar … or simply … But, no: he would not do such a thing to a comrade,” he said, trying to comfort himself.

“Sashka, give Blücher something to eat,” cried the count.

Sashka made his appearance. He had been drinking glasses of vodka ever since his arrival, and was beginning to be genuinely tipsy.

“You have not been able to control yourself. You have been getting drunk, canaillya!… Feed Blücher.”

“It won’t kill him to fast…. You see, … he’s so plump,” replied Sashka, caressing the dog.

“Now, none of your impudence. Go, and feed him.”

“All you care for is to have your dog fat; but if a man drinks a little glass, then you pitch into him.”

“Hey! I’ll strike you,” cried the count with a voice that made the window-panes rattle, and even scared the cavalryman somewhat.

“You would better ask if Sashka has had any thing to eat to-day. All right, strike away, if a dog is more to you than a man,” continued Sashka.

But at that instant he received such a violent blow of the fist across the face that he staggered, struck his head against the partition, and, clutching his nose, leaped through the door, and threw himself down on a bench in the corridor.

“He has broken my teeth,” he growled, wiping his bloody nose with one hand, and with the other scratching Blücher’s back, as the dog licked him. “He has broken my teeth, Blüchka; and yet he is my count, and I would jump into the fire for him, that’s a fact. Because he’s my count, do you understand, Blüchka? And do you want something to eat?”

After lying there a while, he got up, gave the dog his dinner, and, almost sobered, went to serve his master, and get him his tea.

“You would simply offend me,” said the cavalryman timidly, standing in front of the count, who was lying on the bed with his feet propped against the partition. “Now, you see, I am an old soldier and comrade, I may say; instead of letting you borrow of any one else, it would give me great pleasure to let you have two hundred rubles. I haven’t them with me now,—only a hundred,—but I can get the rest to-day; don’t refuse, you would simply offend me, count!”

“Thanks, little father,” said Turbin, instantly perceiving what sort of relationship would exist between them, and slapping the cavalryman on the shoulder. “Thanks. Well, then, we’ll go to the ball if you say so. But now what shall we do? Tell me whom you have in your city: any pretty girls? anybody ready for a spree? Who plays cards?”

The cavalryman explained that there would be a crowd of pretty girls at the ball; that the police commissioner,[59] Kolkof, who had just been re-elected, was the greatest hand for sprees, only he lacked the spirit of a genuine hussar, but still was a first-rate fellow; that Ilyushka’s chorus of gypsies had been singing at K. ever since the elections began; that Stioshka[60] was the soloist, and that after the marshal’s reception everybody went there nowadays. And the stakes were pretty high. “Lukhnof, a visitor here,” he said, “is sweeping in the money; and Ilyin, a cornet of uhlans, who rooms in No. 8, has already lost a pile. The game has already begun there. They play there every evening; and he’s a wonderfully fine young fellow, I tell you, count, this Ilyin is. There’s nothing mean about him—he’d give you his last shirt.”

“Then let us go to his room. We will see what sort of men you have,” said the count.

“Come on! come on! they will be mighty glad.”

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Chapter II > > >

Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – Two Hussars – contents

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