Produced by Hanh Vu, Douglas Levy, and David Widger
A Story of Russian Love
By Alexander Pushkin
Translated by Marie H. de Zielinska
|I.||THE SERGEANT OF THE GUARDS|
|VIII.||THE UNEXPECTED VISIT|
|XI.||THE REBEL CAMP|
Alexander Pushkin, the most distinguished poet of Russia, was born at Saint Petersburg, 1799. When only twenty-one years of age he entered the civil service in the department of foreign affairs. Lord Byron’s writings and efforts for Greek independence exercised great influence over Pushkin, whose “Ode to Liberty” cost him his freedom. He was exiled to Bessarabia [A region of Moldova and western Ukraine] from 1820 to 1825, whence he returned at the accession of the new emperor, Nicholas, who made him historiographer of Peter the Great. Pushkin’s friends now looked upon him as a traitor to the cause of liberty. It is not improbable that an enforced residence at the mouth of the Danube somewhat cooled his patriotic enthusiasm. Every Autumn, his favorite season for literary production, he usually passed at his country seat in the province Pekoff. Here from 1825 to 1829 he published “Pultowa,” “Boris Godunoff,” “Eugene Onegin,” and “Ruslaw and Ludmila,” a tale in verse, after the Manner of Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso.” This is considered as the first great poetical work in the Russian language, though the critics of the day attacked it, because it was beyond their grasp; but the public devoured it.
In 1831 Pushkin married, and soon after appeared his charming novel, “Marie,” a picture of garrison life on the Russian plains. Peter and Marie of this Northern story are as pure as their native snows, and whilst listening to the recital, we inhale the odor of the steppe, and catch glimpses of the semi-barbarous Kalmouk and the Cossack of the Don.
A duel with his brother-in-law terminated the life of Pushkin in the splendor of his talent. The emperor munificently endowed the poet’s family, and ordered a superb edition of all his works to be published at the expense of the crown. His death was mourned by his countrymen as a national calamity. M. H. de Z.
Chicago, Nov. 1, 1876.
I. THE SERGEANT OF THE GUARDS.
My father, Andrew Peter Grineff, having served in his youth under Count Munich, left the army in 17—, with the grade of First Major. From that time he lived on his estate in the Principality of Simbirsk, where he married Avoditia, daughter of a poor noble in the neighborhood. Of nine children, the issue of this marriage, I was the only survivor. My brothers and sisters died in childhood.
Through the favor of a near relative of ours, Prince B—-, himself a Major in the Guards, I was enrolled Sergeant of the Guards in the regiment of Semenofski. It was understood that I was on furlough till my education should be finished. From my fifth year I was confided to the care of an old servant Saveliitch, whose steadiness promoted him to the rank of my personal attendant. Thanks to his care, when I was twelve years of age I knew how to read and write, and could make a correct estimate of the points of a hunting dog.
At this time, to complete my education, my father engaged upon a salary a Frenchman, M. Beaupre, who was brought from Moscow with one year’s provision of wine and oil from Provence. His arrival of course displeased Saveliitch.
Beaupre had been in his own country a valet, in Prussia a soldier, then he came to Russia to be a tutor, not knowing very well what the word meant in our language. He was a good fellow, astonishingly gay and absent-minded. His chief foible was a passion for the fair sex. Nor was he, to use his own expression, an enemy to the bottle—that is to say, a la Russe, he loved drink. But as at home wine was offered only at table, and then in small glasses, and as, moreover, on these occasions, the servants passed by the pedagogue, Beaupre soon accustomed himself to Russian brandy, and, in time, preferred it, as a better tonic, to the wines of his native country. We became great friends, and although according to contract he was engaged to teach me French, German, and all the sciences, yet he was content that I should teach him to chatter Russian. But as each of us minded his own business, our friendship was constant, and I desired no mentor. However, destiny very soon separated us, in consequence of an event which I will relate.
Our laundress, a fat girl all scarred by small-pox, and our dairymaid, who was blind of an eye, agreed, one fine day, to throw themselves at my mother’s feet and accuse the Frenchman of trifling with their innocence and inexperience!
My mother would have no jesting upon this point, and she in turn complained to my father, who, like a man of business, promptly ordered “that dog of a Frenchman” into his presence. The servant informed him meekly that Beaupre was at the moment engaged in giving me a lesson.
My father rushed to my room. Beaupre was sleeping upon his bed the sleep of innocence. I was deep in a most interesting occupation. They had brought from Moscow, for me, a geographical map, which hung unused against the wall; the width and strength of its paper had been to me a standing temptation. I had determined to make a kite of it, and profiting that morning by Beaupre’s sleep, I had set to work. My father came in just as I was tying a tail to the Cape of Good Hope! Seeing my work, he seized me by the ear and shook me soundly; then rushing to Beaupre’s bed, awakened him without hesitating, pouring forth a volley of abuse upon the head of the unfortunate Frenchman. In his confusion Beaupre tried in vain to rise; the poor pedagogue was dead drunk! My father caught him by the coat-collar and flung him out of the room. That day he was dismissed, to the inexpressible delight of Saveliitch.
Thus ended my education. I now lived in the family as the eldest son, not of age whose career is yet to open; amusing myself teaching pigeons to tumble on the roof, and playing leap-frog in the stable-yard with the grooms. In this way I reached my sixteenth year.
One Autumn day, my mother was preserving fruit with honey in the family room, and I, smacking my lips, was looking at the liquid boiling; my father, seated near the window, had just opened the Court Almanac which he received every year. This book had great influence over him; he read it with extreme attention, and reading prodigiously stirred up his bile. My mother, knowing by heart all his ways and oddities, used to try to hide the miserable book, and often whole months would pass without a sight of it. But, in revenge whenever he did happen to find it, he would sit for hours with the book before his eyes.
Well, my father was reading the Court Almanac, frequently shrugging his shoulders, and murmuring: “‘General!’ Umph, he was a sergeant in my company. ‘Knight of the Orders of Russia.’ Can it be so long since we—?”
Finally he flung the Almanac away on the sofa and plunged into deep thought; a proceeding that never presaged anything good.
“Avoditia,” said he, brusquely, to my mother, “how old is Peter?”
“His seventeenth precious year has just begun,” said my mother. “Peter was born the year Aunt Anastasia lost her eye, and that was—”
“Well, well,” said my father, “it is time he should join the army. It is high time he should give up his nurse, leap-frog and pigeon training.”
The thought of a separation so affected my poor mother that she let the spoon fall into the preserving pan, and tears rained from her eyes.
As for me, it is difficult to express my joy. The idea of army service was mingled in my head with that of liberty, and the pleasures offered by a great city like Saint Petersburg. I saw myself an officer in the Guards, which, in my opinion was the height of felicity.
As my father neither liked to change his plans, nor delay their execution, the day of my departure was instantly fixed. That evening, saying that he would give me a letter to my future chief, he called for writing materials.
“Do not forget, Andrew,” said my mother, “to salute for me Prince B. Tell him that I depend upon his favor for my darling Peter.”