Твори О.С. Пушкіна.Переклад англійською мовою > THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER > IV. The Duel

THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER

 

IV. The Duel

 

If you will, get in position for my trigger.
You will observe me puncturing your figure.

KNIAZHNIN

 

A few weeks went by, and my life in Fort Belogorsk became not only tolerable, but even pleasant. At the commandant's I was treated like a member of the family. The master of the house and his wife were highly respectable people. Ivan Kuzmich, a private's son who had risen from the ranks, was a simple, uneducated, but honest and kind-hearted man. He was under his wife's thumb, which suited his easygoing disposition. Vasilisa Egorovna regarded matters connected with the service just as if they were affairs of her household. It did not take long for Maria Ivanovna to overcome her shyness with me. We got to know each other. I found her to be a sensible and sensitive young woman. I myself hardly noticed how attached I was growing to the good-hearted family, even to Ivan Ignatich, the one-eyed garrison lieutenant, about whom Shvabrin invented the tale that he had an illicit liaison with Vasilisa Egorovna. There was not a shade of truth in this fabrication, but that did not worry Shvabrin.
I was commissioned as an officer. My duties were no great burden. In our fort, entrusted to God s mercy, there were neither reviews, nor training, nor patrols. The commandant did drill his soldiers from time to time for his own amusement, but he had not yet succeeded in teaching all of them which was the right-hand side and which the left, even though, in order to avoid mistakes, they usually crossed themselves before about-faces. Shvabrin had a few books in French. I began reading, and developed a taste for literary pursuits. In the morning I usually read, polished my style through translations, and sometimes even wrote verses. For dinner I almost always went to the commandant's house and stayed on, as a rule, for the rest of the day; some evenings Father Gerasim would also drop in with his wife Akulina Pamfilovna - the foremost bearer of tidings in the whole district. I did, of course, see A. I. Shvabrin every day, too, but his conversation was becoming less and less agreeable to me. His perpetual jokes about the commandant's family did not appeal to me, and I particularly disliked his caustic remarks at the expense of Maria Ivanovna. There was no other society in the fort, and I wished for no other.
Despite the predictions, the Bashkirs were not stirring. Tranquillity reigned around our fort. But the peace was disturbed by unexpected internal strife.
As I have mentioned, I developed an interest in literary pursuits. My efforts, judging by the standards of the time, were tolerable: Aleksandr Petrovich Sumarokov was some years later to accord much praise to them. One day I succeeded in writing a little song that I thought was satisfactory. As is well known, authors will sometimes, pretending to be asking for advice, seek a well-disposed listener. I too, having made a clean copy of my song, took it to Shvabrin, the only person in the fort who could appreciate the efforts of a poet. After a brief introduction I drew my notebook out of my pocket and read the following verses aloud:
Oh, the thought of Masha banning,
How I struggle to forget;
And, the lovely maiden shunning,
Free again my thoughts to set!

But the wondrous eyes that drew me
Ever stay before me yet,
Haunt my peace and still pursue me,
Never letting me forget.

Thou, perceiving this my anguish,
Pity, Masha, take on me,
Seeing how I vainly languish
In my sad captivity.

"What do you think of it?" I asked, expecting the praise that I thought was unquestionably due to me. But to my great disappointment Shvabrin, who had generally been indulgent, this time unhesitatingly declared that my song was no good.
"And why?" I asked, concealing my annoyance.
"Because," he replied, "such verses are worthy of my former teacher, Vasilii Kirilych Trediakovskii, and strongly remind me of his amatory couplets."
He took my notebook and began mercilessly picking apart every line and every word, making fun of me in the most sarcastic manner. I could bear it no longer: I tore my notebook out of his hands and declared that I would never again show him my literary works. Shvabrin laughed at this threat.
"We'll see," he said, "whether you'll keep your word. A poet needs a listener as much as Ivan Kuzmich needs his glass of vodka before dinner. And who is that Masha to whom you confess your tender passion and amorous woes? Could it be Maria Ivanovna by any chance?"
"None of your business," I answered, frowning, "whoever that Masha may be. I don't need either your opinion or your guesses."
"Oho! A vain poet and a discreet lover!" continued Shvabrin, irritating me more and more. "But take some friendly advice from me: if you want to succeed, don't limit your maneuvers to mere songs."
"Just what do you mean, sir? Please be so kind as to explain yourself."
"With pleasure. What I mean is that if you want Masha Mironova to come visiting you at dusk, give her a pair of earrings instead of tender verses."
My blood began to boil.
"And why are you of such an opinion about her?" I asked, suppressing my indignation with difficulty.
"Because," he answered with an infernal grin, "I know her ways and habits from experience."
"You're lying, scoundrel!" I exclaimed in a rage. "You're lying in the most shameless manner."
Shvabrin changed colour.
"You are not going to get away with that," he said, seizing my arm. "You'll give me satisfaction."
"Just as you wish, any time," I answered with joy. At that moment I could have torn him to pieces.
I immediately went to Ivan Ignatich, whom I found with a needle in hand: he had been entrusted by the captain's wife with stringing some mushrooms to be dried for the winter.
"Ah, Petr Andreich," said he, as he saw me, "come right in. What good fortune brings you here? What's on your mind, if I may ask?"
I explained to him in a few terse words that I had quarrelled with Aleksei Ivanych, and that I would like to ask him, Ivan Ignatich, to be my second. He listened to me attentively, with his one eye wide open.
"It is your pleasure to be saying," he responded, "that you want to slay Aleksei Ivanych and you wish me to be present as a witness? Is that it, if I may ask?"
"Exactly so."
"Have mercy on us, Petr Andreich! What an idea! You've quarrelled with Aleksei Ivanych? Not the end of the world. A quarrel isn't cast in stone. If he swore at you, you curse him back; if he hit you in the mug, you bash him on the ear; and once more, and again; and then go your separate ways; we'll see to it that you make up. But slaying your neighbour - is that a decent thing to do, if I may ask? That's supposing that you slay him; so much the worse for him - I'm not so fond of Aleksei Ivanych myself. But what if he punctures your hide? How'll that feel? Who'll look a fool then, if I may ask?"
The arguments of the prudent lieutenant had no effect on me: I remained firm in my resolve.
"Just as you wish," said Ivan Ignatich. "Do what you think is best. But why should I be a witness to it? What business is it of mine? Two people get into a scuffle: is that something to gape at, if I may ask? By God's will I fought against the Swedes and the Turks; I've seen enough."
I tried to explain the role of a second to him as best I could, but Ivan Ignatich was incapable of comprehending it.
"Say what you will," he declared, "if I'm to get mixed up in this business at all, it will be to go and report to Ivan Kuzmich, as my duty requires, that an evil scheme, injurious to the interests of the state, is being hatched in the fort: would the commandant deem it advisable to take the necessary measures?"
I was alarmed, and besought Ivan Ignatich not to say anything to the commandant. I could just barely dissuade him from doing so, but at last he gave me his word, whereupon I beat a quick retreat.
As usual, I spent the evening at the commandant's house. I tried to appear cheerful and nonchalant so as not to arouse any suspicions and not to invite importune questions, but I must admit I did not possess the kind of composure that people in such a position almost always boast of. I was easily moved and inclined to tenderness that evening. I found Maria Ivanovna even more appealing than usual. The thought that this might be the last time I would ever see her lent a touching aspect to her presence. Shvabrin also came by. I took him aside and told him about my conversation with Ivan Ignatich.
"What do we need seconds for?" he asked dryly. "We'll do without them."
We agreed to fight behind the haystacks outside the fort toward seven o'clock the next morning. To all appearances we were chatting so amiably that Ivan Ignatich, delighted, let the cat out of the bag.
"This is how it should have been all along," he said with a look of satisfaction. "Better a lean peace than a fat victory; better a tarnished honor than a bruised skin."
"What was that you said, Ivan Ignatich?" asked the captain's wife, who was telling fortunes by cards in the corner. "I didn't quite catch it."
Ivan Ignatich, noticing displeasure on my face and remembering his promise, grew confused and did not know what to answer. Shvabrin was quick enough to come to his aid.
"Ivan Ignatich approves of our reconciliation," he said.
"And who was it, dear, you quarrelled with?"
"Petr Andreich and I had a rather nasty argument."
"What about?"
"A mere trifle, a song, Vasilisa Egorovna."
"Could you find nothing else to quarrel about? A song! And how did it happen?"
"This is how: Petr Andreich started singing in my presence a song he had recently composed, while I struck up my own favourite one:
Captain's daughter, from home
At the midnight don't roam.
A disagreement arose between us. Petr Andreich was angry at first, but later came to the conclusion that everybody is free to sing what he wants to. With that the whole thing was over."
I almost exploded with rage over Shvabrin's shameless indelicacy, but no one except me understood his rude allusion: at least no one seemed to pay any attention to it. From songs the conversation turned to poets, with the commandant remarking that they were all inveterate drunkards and debauchers. He advised me as a friend to leave versifying well alone as a pursuit incompatible with the service and one that had never led anyone to any good.
Shvabrin's presence was unbearable to me. I soon took my leave of the commandant and his family. When I got home, I inspected my sword, tested its point, and went to bed, ordering Savelich to wake me after six.
Next morning at the appointed time I was behind the haystacks waiting for my adversary. He, too, appeared soon.
"They might catch us at it," he said; "we must hurry."
We took off our uniform coats and, wearing our vests only, drew our swords. At this moment Ivan Ignatich and five or so veterans appeared from behind the haystack. He summoned us to the commandant. We obeyed grudgingly. Surrounded by the soldiers, we marched behind Ivan Ignatich, who led the way to the fort in triumph, striding along with an air of remarkable self-importance.
We arrived at the commandant's house. Ivan Ignatich opened the door and announced triumphantly, "The prisoners!"
We were met by Vasilisa Egorovna.
"How now, my good sirs! What's this I hear? Plotting manslaughter in our fort? Ivan Kuzmich, lock them up at once! Petr Andreich, Aleksei Ivanych, hand over your swords, hand them over this instant! Palashka, take these swords to the storeroom. Petr Andreich, I didn't expect this of you! Aren't you ashamed of yourself ? Aleksei Ivanych is of another sort: it was bloody murder he was discharged from the Guards for, and he doesn't fear the Lord God; but you should have known better! Are you going to follow in his footsteps?"
Ivan Kuzmich, in complete agreement with his spouse, kept repeating: "Yes, d'ye hear, Vasilisa Egorovna's right. Military regulations explicitly prohibit duels."
In the meanwhile Palashka had taken our swords and carried them off to the storeroom. I could not help bursting into laughter. Shvabrin maintained a solemn air.
"With all due respect to you, madam," he said to the captain's wife coolly, "I cannot refrain from remarking that you put yourself in unnecessary trouble setting yourself up as a judge over us. I suggest that you leave the matter to Ivan Kuzmich, within whose authority it lies."
"Ah, my dear sir!" retorted the captain's wife. "Are not husband and wife one flesh and one soul? Ivan Kuzmich! Why d'ye stand there gaping? Coop 'em up, each in a different corner, and keep 'em on bread and water until they're cured of this folly. And let Father Gerasim impose a penance on them, so they'll pray to God for forgiveness and show themselves repentant before men."
Ivan Kuzmich did not know what to do. Maria Ivanovna was extremely pale. By and by the storm blew over: the captain's wife calmed down and made us kiss each other. Palashka brought our swords back. We left the commandant's house to all appearances perfectly reconciled. Ivan Ignatich accompanied us.
"Didn't you feel any shame in denouncing us to the commandant," I asked him angrily, "when you'd given your word that you wouldn't?"
"God is my witness, I said nothing to Ivan Kuzmich," he replied. "Vasilisa Egorovna wormed the secret out of me. It was she who saw to it all without the commandant's knowledge. But it's all over now: thank God it's ended as it has." With these words he turned off toward his house, leaving Shvabrin and me by ourselves.
"We can't just leave it at that," I said to him.
"Of course not," replied Shvabrin; "you shall answer with your blood for your impertinence. But they're likely to keep an eye on us: for a few days we'd better put on a show. Goodbye!" And we parted as if nothing was the matter.
Returning to the commandant's house, I sat down next to Maria Ivanovna as usual. Ivan Kuzmich was out, and Vasilisa Egorovna was busy with her chores. Maria and I talked in a low tone. She tenderly reproached me for the anxiety I had caused them all by my quarrel with Shvabrin.
"I almost fainted," she said, "when I was told that the two of you were going to fight with swords. How strange men are! For one word, which they would probably have forgotten in another week, they're ready to shed blood and to sacrifice not only their lives, but also their clear conscience and the happiness of those who... But I'm convinced it wasn't you who started the quarrel. Aleksei Ivanovich was probably to blame."
"Why do you think so, Maria Ivanovna?"
"I just do... He always sneers at everything. I don't like Aleksei Ivanych. I find him offensive; yet, strangely, I'd be really upset if I thought he disliked me as much as I dislike him. Such a thought would worry me dreadfully."
"And what do you think, Maria Ivanovna? Does he like you or not?"
Maria Ivanovna was taken aback; she blushed.
"It seems to me ..." she said, "indeed I do think he likes me."
"Why do you think so?"
"Because he once asked for my hand."
"Asked for your hand? He asked for your hand? When?"
"Last year. About two months before your arrival."
"And you refused?"
"As you can see. Aleksei Ivanych is, of course, an intelligent man, of good family and comfortable circumstances, but the mere thought of having to kiss him publicly before the altar... No, not for anything! Not for all the riches in the world!"
Maria Ivanovna's words opened my eyes and shed light on a great many things. Now I could understand Shvabrin's relentless campaign of vilification. He had no doubt noticed our mutual attraction and tried to set us against each other. The words that had led to my quarrel with him appeared to me even more despicable now, when I saw them as a deliberate slander rather than just a coarse and indecent joke. My desire to punish the insolent slanderer grew even stronger, and I waited for an opportunity with impatience.
I did not have to wait long. The next day, as I sat composing an elegy and biting my pen in the hope that a rhyme would come my way, Shvabrin knocked at my window. I put down my pen, picked up my sword, and went out to him.
"Why delay the matter?" said Shvabrin. "They're not watching us. Let's go down to the river. No one will disturb us there."
We set out in silence. Having descended by a steep path, we stopped at the very edge of the river and drew our swords. Shvabrin was more skilled, but I was stronger and bolder; and I could also make good use of the few fencing lessons Monsieur Beaupre, a former soldier, had given me. Shvabrin had not expected to encounter such a dangerous adversary in me. For a long time we were unable to inflict any harm on each other. At length, noticing that Shvabrin was beginning to get tired, I advanced on him vigorously and drove him into the very river. Suddenly I heard someone shout my name. I glanced back and saw Savelich running down the steep path toward me. At that moment I felt a sharp stab in my chest just under the right shoulder; I fell down and lost consciousness.

 


      

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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