Твори О.С. Пушкіна.Переклад англійською мовою > THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER > III. The Fort

THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER

 

III. The Fort

In the fort we make our quarter,
Eating bread and drinking water,
And if foemen, cruel ones,
Come to call and share our buns,
We will make their welcome hot:
Powder, canister, and shot.

A SOLDIER SONG.

Old-fashioned people, my dear sir.

The Young Hopeful

 

Fort Belogorsk was situated at a distance of forty versts from Orenburg. The highway led along the steep bank of the Iaik. The river was not yet frozen over, and the leaden waters formed a sad, dark contrast to its unvaried banks, covered with white snow. On the other side stretched the Kirgiz steppes. I sank into reflections, mostly melancholy. Life in a garrison held little attraction for me. I tried to picture to myself Captain Mironov, my future commanding officer, and the image that came to mind was that of a stern, short-tempered old man, ignorant of everything except the service, and ready to put me under arrest on bread and water for the merest trifle. In the meantime it was beginning to get dark. We were riding along quite fast.
"Is it far to the fort?" I asked my driver.
"It isn't," he answered; "you can already see it yonder."
I looked in every direction, expecting to see fearsome bastions, towers, and a rampart, but I could not see anything except a small village bounded by a palisade. On one side of it there were three or four haystacks, half-buried in snow, on the other a sagging windmill with idly drooping bast sails.
"Where is the fort?" I asked in amazement.
"Right here," answered the driver, pointing at the little village, and as he spoke we had already driven in.
By the gate I saw an old cast-iron cannon; the streets were narrow and winding, the cottages low and mostly with thatched roofs. I gave orders to drive to the commandant's, and in a minute the wagon stopped in front of a small frame house, built on a hill near a wooden church.
Nobody came out to meet me. I went up to the porch and opened the door leading into the anteroom. A veteran of advanced years sat on a table, sewing a blue patch on the elbow of a green uniform coat. I told him to announce me.
"Just go in, Your Honor," replied the veteran; "the family's at home."
I entered a small room, very clean and furnished in the old style. In the corner there stood a cupboard with crockery; on the wall hung an officer's diploma, framed and glazed; next to it the place of pride was occupied by popular prints, some depicting the taking of Kustrin and Ochakov, others showing the selection of a bride and the burial of a cat. An old lady in a padded jacket and with a scarf over her head was seated by the window. She was winding a hank of yarn, which a one-eyed old man, wearing an officer's uniform, held stretched out on his hands.
"What can we do for you, young man?" she asked without interrupting her work.
I answered that I had arrived to serve in the fort and had come to report for duty to my captain; and with these words I was about to turn to the one-eyed little old man, taking him for the commandant, but the lady of the house interrupted my prepared speech.
"Ivan Kuzmich isn't at home," she said. "He's visiting with Father Gerasim, but it's all the same, young man, I'm his wife. You're very welcome: make yourself at home. Do sit down."
She called her maid and told her to fetch the Cossack sergeant. The little old man looked me up and down inquisitively with his one eye.
"May I be so bold as to ask," he said, "in which regiment you've served?"
I satisfied his curiosity.
"May I also inquire," he continued, "why it was your pleasure to transfer from the Guards to a garrison?"
I answered that that was the wish of my superiors.
"For conduct unbecoming an officer of the Guards, I suppose," continued my untiring interrogator.
"That's enough of your nonsense," the captain's wife said to him. "You can see the young man's tired after his journey: he's in no mood to prattle with you... Hold your hands straight... As for you, my dear young man," she turned to me, "don't be disheartened that they've shipped you off to us, behind the beyond: you aren't the first, nor will be the last. You'll like it when you get used to it. It's been near five years since Shvabrin, Aleksei Ivanych, was transferred to us for manslaughter by murder. Heaven knows what got into him -it must've been the devil's work - but he went, you see, outside the city with a certain lieutenant, and they took their swords with them, and what do you know, they started jabbing at each other until Aleksei Ivanych cut down the lieutenant, and in front of two witnesses to boot! What can you say? The wiles of the devil are many."
At this moment the sergeant, a well-built young Cossack, came into the room.
"Maksimych," said the captain's wife to him, "assign this officer to a lodging, but mind you, a clean one."
"Yes, madam, Vasilisa Egorovna," replied the sergeant. "Should we perhaps billet His Honor at Ivan Polezhaev's?"
"Nonsense, Maksimych," said the captain's wife. "Polezhaev's house is crowded as it is; besides, I'm the godmother of his child, and he's never forgotten that we're his betters. Take the officer... What's your name and patronymic, dear? Petr Andreich? Take Petr Andreich to Semen Kuzov's. The scoundrel has let his horse into my vegetable garden. How are things otherwise, Maksimych? Everything all right?"
"Everything's been peaceful, thank God," said the Cossack, "except that in the bathhouse Corporal Prokhorov got into a scuffle with Ustinia Negulina over a tubful of hot water."
"Ivan Ignatich," the captain's wife turned to the one-eyed little old man, "please sort out the matter between Prokhorov and Ustinia: who's right, who's to blame. Then punish them both. Well, Maksimych, you may go now, God be with you. Petr Andreich, Maksimych will take you to your lodging."
I bowed and took my leave. The sergeant led me to a cottage on the high riverbank, at the very edge of the fort. One half of the cottage was occupied by Semen Kuzov's family; the other half was given to me. It consisted of the cottage's one front room, tolerably neat, divided into two by a partition. Savelich started unpacking, and I looked out of the narrow window. A melancholy steppe stretched out before me. On one side I could see a few huts; some chickens were roaming about the street. An old woman was standing on her porch with a trough in her hands calling her pigs, which responded with friendly grunts. This was the place where I was condemned to spend my youth! I was overcome by dejection; I left the window and went to bed without supper, despite the exhortations of Savelich, who kept saying in deep distress, "God Almighty! Won't eat anything! What'll the mistress say if the child fall sick?"
The next morning I had only just begun to dress when the door opened and a young officer, not very tall, with a swarthy face that was strikingly unattractive but exceptionally lively, came into the room.
"Please forgive me," he said in French, "for coming to introduce myself without ceremony. I heard of your arrival yesterday: the urge to see a human face at last so overwhelmed me that I couldn't restrain myself. You'll understand what I mean when you've been here for some time."
I could guess that this was the officer discharged from the Guards for a duel. We proceeded to introduce ourselves. Shvabrin was by no means a stupid man. His conversation was witty and entertaining. He described to me with great mirth the commandant's family and social circle, and the region where fate had brought me. I was roaring with laughter when the same veteran who had been mending his uniform in the commander's anteroom the day before came in to convey Vasilisa Egorovna's invitation to dinner. Shvabrin volunteered to come with me.
As we approached the commandant's house, we saw in a small square some twenty doddering veterans wearing three-cornered hats over their long hair. They were lined up, standing at attention. Facing them stood the commandant, a tall, well-preserved old man, wearing a nightcap and a cotton dressing gown. He came up to us as soon as he saw us, said a few kind words to me, then went back to drilling his men. We stopped to watch the drill, but he told us to go on in to Vasilisa Egorovna, and promised to come soon after us.
"There's not much for you to see here," he added.
Vasilisa Egorovna received us informally and cordially, treating me like an old friend of the family. The veteran and Palashka were laying the table.
"What's the matter with my Ivan Kuzmich today, that he can't stop that drilling?" said the captain's wife. "Palashka, go call the master to dinner. And where's Masha?"
At that moment a girl of about eighteen, with round rosy cheeks and light brown hair combed smoothly behind her blushing ears, came into the room. At first glance she did not make a great impression on me. I looked at her with prejudice because Shvabrin had described Masha, the captain's daughter, as a perfect ninny. She sat down in the corner and started sewing. In the meanwhile the cabbage soup had been put on the table. Vasilisa Egorovna, still not seeing her husband, sent Palashka for him a second time.
"Tell the master that the guests are waiting, the cabbage soup's getting cold: with God's help there'll be plenty more occasion for him to do his drilling; there'll be plenty more chance to yell himself hoarse."
The captain soon arrived, accompanied by the one-eyed little old man.
"What's this, my dear?" the captain's wife said to him. "The food's been served for ages, but there's no way to get you in here."
"Aye, you know, Vasilisa Egorovna," answered Ivan Kuzmich, "duty kept me: I was drilling my old soldiers."
"Don't tell me that," she retorted. "Great glory, drilling your soldiers, indeed; they aren't able to learn the routines, and you don't know the first thing about them, either. It'd be far better if you sat at home and prayed to God. Dear guests, please come and be seated."
We sat down to dinner. Vasilisa Egorovna did not keep quiet for a moment, showering me with her questions: who were my parents, were they still alive, where did they live, and what were their circumstances? Informed of my father's three hundred serfs, she said:
"Fancy that! There are some rich people in this world, aren't there? All we have, my dear, is the one Palashka, but thank God we manage to make ends meet. There's just one problem: Masha. She's of marriageable age, but what does she have for a dowry? A fine-tooth comb, a besom, and a three-kopeck piece (God forgive me) to go to the bath-house with. All will be fine if a good man turns up; otherwise she'll remain a marriageable maiden for the rest of her life."
I glanced at Maria Ivanovna: her face was aflame, and tears were even dropping on her plate. I felt sorry for her and quickly changed the subject.
"I've heard," I said apropos of nothing, "that some Bashkirs are planning to attack your fort."
"Who told you that, my dear fellow?" asked Ivan Kuzmich.
"I heard it in Orenburg," I replied.
"Nonsense!" said the commandant. "We haven't heard of any such thing for a long time. The Bashkirs are a frightened lot. Don't worry; they won't poke their noses in here, and if they do, I'll give them a rap that'll keep them quiet for ten years."
"Is it not frightening to you," I continued, turning to the captain's wife, "to stay in the fort when it is exposed to such dangers?"
"It's a matter of getting used to it, my dear young man," answered she. "Twenty years ago, when we were transferred here from the regiment, these unbaptized dogs scared me out of my wits. I'd only have to see their lynx-fur hats and hear their war cries, and my heart'd stop beating, can you believe it? But by now I've got so used to them that I don't stir an inch when it's reported that the scoundrels are roving around the fort."
"Vasilisa Egorovna is a stout-hearted lady," remarked Shvabrin, with an important air. "Ivan Kuzmich is a witness to that."
"You'd better believe it," said Ivan Kuzmich. "The woman's no sissy."
"And how about Maria Ivanovna?" I asked. "Is she just as brave as you?"
"Masha brave?" responded her mother. "No, she's a coward. To this day she can't hear a gunshot without palpitations. And a couple of years ago, when Ivan Kuzmich took it into his head to fire our cannon on my saint's day, Masha, my poor darling, almost quit this world with fright. We've stopped firing the accursed cannon since then."
We rose from the table. The captain and his wife retired to lie down. I went to Shvabrin's and spent the whole evening with him.

 


      

I. The Sergeant of the Guards || II. The Guide|| III. The Fort || IV. The Duel|| V. Love || VI. The Pugachev Rebellion|| VII. The Assault || VIII. An Uninvited Guest|| IX. Separation || X.The Siege of a City|| XI. The Rebel Village|| XII. The Orphan || XIII. The Arrest || XIV. The Trial


 

Бібліотека ім. О. С. Пушкіна (м. Київ).
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