Твори О.С. Пушкіна.Переклад англійською мовою > THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER > II. The Guide

THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER

 

II. The Guide

 

Land, dear land,
Strange land,
I did not come here of my own will;
It was not my brave horse that brought me here:
What brought me here, brave young lad,
Was reckless folly, dauntless bravery,
And drunken revelry.

AN OLD SONG

 

My reflections, as we rode along, were not very pleasant. I had lost, according to the value of money at that time, a considerable sum. Deep down I could not help recognizing that my behavior at the Simbirsk inn had been foolish, and I also felt guilty about Savelich. All this was tormenting me. The old man sat on the box by the driver in a state of gloom, with his back to me, and kept silent except for clearing his throat occasionally. I was determined to make up with him, but did not know how to begin. At last I said:
"Listen, Savelich, that's enough. Let's make up. I'm sorry: I admit I was at fault. I misbehaved yesterday and unjustly offended you; I promise I'll be more sensible from now on and will listen to you. Don't be angry any more; let's make up."
"Oh, young master Petr Andreich," he answered, heaving a deep sigh, "it's with myself I'm angry; I'm to blame for everything. How could I leave you all by yourself at the inn! What can I say! It was the devil's work: he put the thought in my head to drop in on the sexton's wife, mother of my godchild. Talk much and err much, just as they say. Devil's own luck! How can I ever face the master and mistress? What'll they say when they hear that their child drinks and gambles?"
In order to reassure poor old Savelich, I gave him my word that from then on I would not dispose of one kopeck without his consent. He gradually calmed down, though he still muttered from time to time, shaking his head: "A hundred rubles! No trifle, is it!"
I was approaching my destination. A dreary wilderness, crosscut with ridges and ravines, extended all around me. It was all covered with snow. The sun was setting. Our wagon travelled along a narrow road or, to be exact, along tracks left by peasants' sleighs. Suddenly the driver began casting frequent glances over to the side, until at last he turned to me, taking his hat off, and said, "Please, master, wouldn't it be better to turn back?"
"What for?"
"The weather's fickle: the wind's freshening up — see how it's blowing the snow."
"What does that matter?"
"But can't you see what's over there?" He pointed to the east with his whip.
"I don't see anything except the white steppe and the clear sky."
"But over there, there: that little cloud."
I did indeed see on the horizon a small white cloud, which I had at first mistaken for a distant hill. The driver explained that a small cloud like that betokened a blizzard.
I had heard of snowstorms in that region and knew that they could bury whole wagon trains. Savelich, in agreement with the driver, advised me to turn back. But the wind did not seem to me very strong; I hoped we could reach the next station in good time, and therefore I gave orders to press forward as fast as possible.
The driver made the horses go at a gallop, but kept looking to the east. The animals moved along rapidly. The wind, however, was becoming stronger by the minute. The little cloud turned into a white cumulus, billowing upward, growing, and gradually covering the whole sky. Snow began to fall, at first lightly, then suddenly in large flakes. The wind howled: we were in the middle of a snowstorm. In one minute the dark sky merged with the sea of snow. You couldn't see a thing.
"Well, master," shouted the driver, "we're in trouble: it's a blizzard."
I looked out of the wagon: all I could see was darkness and whirling snow. The wind howled with such ferocity that it seemed alive; both Savelich and I were covered with snow; the horses could move only at a walk; they soon came to a standstill.
"Why aren't you going on?" I asked the driver impatiently.
"What's the good of going?" he answered, climbing off the box. "There's no telling as where we've got to, even now: there's no road, just darkness all around."
I started berating him, but Savelich took his part.
"Why didn't you listen to him?" he said crossly. "We could've returned to the wayside inn, filled up with tea, and slept till the morning; the blizzard would've calmed down, and we could've gone on. Why the great haste? It'd be something else if you were hurrying to your wedding!"
Savelich was right. There was nothing we could do. The snow was falling thick and fast. It was piling up alongside the wagon. The horses stood with their heads down and shuddered from time to time. The driver walked about, adjusting the harnesses for lack of anything better to do. Savelich grumbled; I looked in all directions, hoping to see some sign of human habitation or a roadway, but could not discern anything except the turbid whirl of the snowstorm... Suddenly I caught sight of something dark.
"Hey, driver," I called out, "what's that dark shape over there?"
The driver strained his eyes. "Heaven only knows, my lord," he said, climbing back in his seat; "perhaps a cart, perhaps a tree; but it moves, I fancy: it must be either wolf or man."
I ordered him to drive toward the undiscernibly object, which in its turn started moving toward us. In two minutes we met up with a man.
"Hullo, my good man," the driver called to him; "can you tell us where the road is?"
"The road's here all right: I'm standing on a firm strip of ground," the traveller answered, "but what's the use?"
"Listen, muzhik," I said to him, "do you know this land? Will you guide me to a shelter for the night?"
"As for knowing this land," the traveller answered, "by the mercy of God I've travelled the length and breadth of it, on horseback and on foot, but you see what the weather's like: it doesn't take much to lose your way. It'll be best to stay here and wait; perhaps the blizzard will calm down, the sky will clear, and then we'll find the way by the stars."
His equanimity reassured me. I was already prepared, resigning myself to God's will, to spend the night in the middle of the steppe when suddenly the traveller climbed nimbly on the box and said to the driver, "Thank God, we're not far from habitation: turn to the right and go."
"Why should I turn to the right?" asked the driver with annoyance. "Where do you see the road? It's easy to whip another man's horses."
It seemed to me the driver was right.
"Why indeed do you think that there is habitation not far off?" I asked the traveller.
"Because there was a gust of wind from over there," he answered, "and I smell smoke, and so, there's a village nearby."
His cleverness and his keen sense of smell amazed me. I told the driver to go forward. It was hard for the horses to trudge through the deep snow. The wagon moved slowly, now gliding over a snowdrift, now falling into a gully and keeling over on this or that side. It was like the tossing of a ship on a stormy sea. Savelich groaned, constandy knocking into my side. I lowered the blind, wrapped myself in my fur coat, and dozed off, lulled by the singing of the storm and the rocking of the slow-moving wagon.
I had a dream that I was never to forget, and that I still see as prophetic when I relate it to the events of my life. I hope the reader will forgive me, for he probably knows from experience how easy it is for people to fall into superstition, however great their contempt for unfounded beliefs may be.
I was in that state of mind and feeling in which reality yields to reveries and merges with them in the nebulous vision of approaching sleep. The blizzard, I fancied, was still raging, and we were still floundering in the snow-covered wilderness, but I suddenly beheld a gate and was driven into the courtyard of our manor house. My first thought was an apprehension that my father might be angry with me for this unintentional re-entrance under the paternal roof, construing it as deliberate disobedience. I jumped out of the wagon with anxiety and saw my mother coming off the porch to meet me with an air of deep sorrow.
"Quiet," she says to me, "your father is on his deathbed and wants to bid farewell to you."
Struck by fear, I follow her into the bedroom. I see a dimly lit chamber and people standing around the bed with a sad expression on their faces. I tiptoe up to the bed; mother raises the bedcurtain and says, "Andrei Petrovich, Petrusha has arrived: he's heard of your illness and come back home; give him your blessing."
I go down on my knees and raise my eyes to the invalid. But what do I see? Instead of my father I behold a muzhik with a black beard, looking at me gaily. I turn to mother in bewilderment, saying, "What's the meaning of this? This is not father. And why should I ask a muzhik for his blessing?"
"It's all the same, Petrusha," answers mother; "this is your father by proxy: kiss his dear hand and let him bless you."
I could not agree to that. The muzhik jumps off the bed, draws an ax from behind his back, and starts flourishing it in all directions. I want to run, but I can't; the room is filling with dead bodies; I stumble over the corpses and slip in the pools of blood. The terrifying muzhik calls out to me kindly, "Don't be afraid, come to receive my blessing."
Horror and bewilderment overwhelm me... At this moment I woke up: the horses had stopped, and Savelich was nudging my arm, saying, "Get out, sir, we've arrived."
"Arrived where?" I asked, rubbing my eyes.
"At the wayside inn. God saved us, we drove right into the fence. Quick, Your Honor, get out and warm yourself."
I stepped out of the wagon. The blizzard was still blowing, though with lesser force by now. It was pitch-dark: you couldn't see your hand before your face. The innkeeper came out to meet us at the gate, holding a lantern under the skirt of his coat. He led me into the front room, small but quite clean and lit by a torch. A rifle and a tall Cossack hat hung on the wall.
The innkeeper, a Iaik Cossack by origin, seemed to be about sixty years old, still hale and hearty. Savelich brought in the hamper with my tea service and asked that a fire be made for tea, for which I thirsted more than I had ever done before. The innkeeper went to attend to the matter.
"And where is our guide?" I asked Savelich.
"Right here, Your Honor," answered a voice from above. Looking up at the bunk, I saw a black beard and two shining eyes.
"How are you doing, my good fellow? Are you all frozen?"
"I should think I am, in nothing but a thin jerkin. I had a sheepskin jacket, but, why deny it, I pawned it at a tavern last night: the frost didn't seem that fierce then."
At this moment the innkeeper brought in the boiling samovar, and I offered our guide a cup of tea; he climbed down from the bunk. His appearance struck me as rather remarkable: he was about forty, of medium height, lean and broad-shouldered. Some gray streaks were showing in his black beard, and his large lively eyes were wide awake. His face bore a rather pleasant though roguish expression. His hair was cropped close around the crown, after the Cossack fashion; he wore a ragged jerkin and Tatar trousers. When I handed him a cup of tea, he took a sip and made a wry face.
"Your Honor, be so kind, let them give me a glass of vodka: we Cossacks don't drink tea."
I readily fulfilled his wish. The innkeeper took a bottle and a glass from the cupboard, and went up to him, looking in his face.
"Ah," he said, "so you're in these parts again, are you? Where have you sprung from?"
My guide winked at the innkeeper suggestively and answered with the proverb, " 'I flew about the garden, pecking at the hemp; grandmother saw me, threw a stone at me, but missed.' And how are your fellows doing around here?"
"Our fellows!" the innkeeper answered, also in an allegorical manner. "They were about to ring the bell for evening service, but the priest's wife wouldn't let them: the priest's away visiting, the devil's in the churchyard."
"Hold your tongue, uncle," retorted my vagabond. "When the rain falls, there'll be mushrooms; when the mushrooms grow, there'll be a basket. But now," he winked once more, "hide the ax behind your back: the ranger's making his rounds. Your Honor, here's to your good health!" With these words he took the glass, crossed himself, and drank the vodka down in one gulp. Then he bowed to me and returned to his bunk.
I could not understand any of this thieves' cant at the time but later gathered that they had been alluding to the affairs of the Iaik Host, which had only just been pacified after the revolt of 1772. Savelich listened with an air of great disapproval. He kept glancing suspiciously now at the innkeeper, now at our guide. This wayside inn, or umet as they call them in that region, was in a remote place, in the middle of the steppe, far from any habitation, and seemed very like a robbers' den. But there was nothing we could do. It was unthinkable to continue the journey. Savelich's anxiety amused me a great deal. In the meantime, I prepared for the night and lay down on a bench. Savelich decided to climb up on the stove; the innkeeper stretched out on the floor. Soon the whole houseful of us were snoring; I slept like a log.
Waking rather late the next morning, I saw that the storm had passed. The sun was shining. The snow covered the boundless steppe like a dazzling blanket. The horses were harnessed. I settled accounts with the innkeeper, who charged such a modest sum that Savelich did not even argue or start his usual haggling with him, and quite forgot his suspicions of the night before. I called for our guide, thanked him for his help, and told Savelich to give him half a ruble for vodka. Savelich knitted his brows.
"Half a ruble for vodka!" he exclaimed. "And why? Because you kindly drove him to the inn? Craving your pardon, sir, we don't have any half-ruble pieces to spare. If you tip every man you meet, you'll soon go hungry yourself."
I could not argue with Savelich. I had promised that he would have full control of my money. It vexed me, however, that I was unable to reward the man who had saved me, if not from disaster, at least from a very unpleasant situation.
"All right," I said with full composure, "if you don't want to give him half a ruble, pull something out from among my clothes. He is dressed too lightly. Give him my hareskin coat."
"Have mercy on me, young master Petr Andreich!" said Savelich. "What does he need your hareskin coat for? He'll sell it for drink, the dog, at the first tavern."
"It's not your headache, greybeard," my vagabond said, "whether I sell it for drink or not. His Honour’s giving me a coat off his own shoulders: that's his pleasure as master. You keep your peace and obey: that's your duty as servant."
"Don't you fear the Lord, you brigand?" responded Savelich, raising his voice. "You can see the child's not yet sensible enough, so you're glad to rob him, making the most of his innocence. What do you want the young master's little coat for? You can't even stretch it across your damned hulking shoulders."
"Don't try to be clever," I said to my attendant. "Bring the coat here right now."
"God Almighty!" groaned Savelich. "A hareskin coat, as good as new! And to whom? Not to anyone deserving, but to a threadbare drunkard!"
He did, however, produce the hareskin coat. The muzhik proceeded to try it on right then and there. Sure enough the coat, which even I had outgrown, was on the tight side for him. But by hook or crook he managed to put it on, ripping it at the seams. Savelich almost burst out sobbing when he heard the stitches tearing. The vagabond was exceedingly happy with my present. He saw me to the wagon and said with a low bow, "Thank you, Your Honor! May the Lord reward you for your charity! I'll never forget your kindness."
He went on his own way, and I continued my journey, ignoring Savelich's vexation and soon forgetting all about yesterday's blizzard, my guide, and the hareskin coat.
As soon as I arrived in Orenburg I presented myself to the general. The man I found myself facing was of great stature but already bent with old age. His long hair was entirely white. His old faded uniform reminded one of a warrior of the times of Anna Ivanovna, and he had a heavy German accent. I handed him my father's letter. As soon as he saw the name he cast a quick glance at me.
"Gottness gracious," he said. "It vass only ze ozer day Andrei Petrovich vass your age, and now hass he such a big lad! Ach, time flies!" He broke the seal and started reading the letter under his breath, making comments as he read on. "'My Gracious Sir, Andrei Karlovich, I trust that Your Excellency...' Stands he on tseremonies! Hass he no conscience? Discipline, of course, commes first, but is zis any vay to write to an old kamerad? 'Your Excellency has not forgotten ...' Hmm, hmm... 'and when... the late Fieldmarshal Mun... during his campaign... and we also with Karo-linka...' Acha, bruder! Doess he still remember our old pranks! 'And now, turning to business ... my rascal to your care'... hmm ... 'hold him in a mailed fist.' Vot's a mailed fist? It musst be Russisch saying. Vot does it mean 'hold him in a mailed fist?'"
"It means," I answered with as innocent an air as I could put on, "to treat kindly, not too severely, to allow as much freedom as possible, in other words, to hold in a mailed fist."
"Hmm, I understand... 'and not to allow him much freedom ...' No, mailed fist musst mean somesing else... 'enclose his passport'... Where is it? Oh, here ... 'to notify Semenovskii...' Very goot, very goot, efrysing will be done. 'You will allow me to put rank aside and embrace you as a comrade and friend'... At last hass he the sense... And so on, and so forth... Well, young friend," he said to me, having finished the letter and put the passport aside, "everything will be done: you will be transferred to X. Regiment as an officer, and in order not to waste time, you will set out tomorrow for Fort Belogorsk, where you will serve under the command of Captain Mironov, a good, honest man. There you will experience real service and learn discipline. In Orenburg there is nothing for you to do: dissipation is not good for a young man. As for today, you're cordially invited to dine with me."
"From bad to worse," thought I. "What use is it to me that I was a sergeant of the Guards already in my mother's womb? Where did it take me? To the X. Regiment and to a godforsaken fort on the edge of the Kirgiz-Kaisak steppes!" I had dinner at Andrei Karlovich's house, in company with his old adjutant. Strict German economy reigned over his table, and I suspect that his fear of occasionally having to share his bachelor repast with an extra guest was one of the reasons why he dispatched me to the garrison with so much haste. The next morning I said good-bye to the general and set out for the fort to which I had been assigned.

 


      

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).
Про О.С. Пушкіна