THE TALES OF THE LATE IVAN PETROVICH BELKIN
Твори О.С. Пушкіна.Переклад англійською мовою.>THE TALES OF THE LATE IVAN PETROVICH BELKIN >The Squire's Daughter

 

THE TALES OF THE LATE IVAN PETROVICH BELKIN

(1829-30)

 


The Squire's Daughter

Fair art thou, Dushenka, in any garb.
BOGDANOVICH



In one of our remote guberniias there was an estate owned by Ivan Petrovich Berestov. In his youth he had served in the Guards; he retired at the beginning of 1797, settled in his village; and from then on never stirred abroad. He married a noblewoman of humble means, but she died in childbirth at a time when he was out on a hunt. He soon found consolation in various undertakings around the estate. He built a house, which he himself had designed, founded a textile mill, trebled his income, and began to consider himself the cleverest man in the neighborhood - an opinion that was not refuted by his neighbors, who came for frequent visits with their families and hunting dogs. On weekdays he went about in a short velveteen jacket, and on holidays put on a coat made of a cloth of domestic manufacture; he kept the record of his expenses himself and read nothing except for the Senate Register. He was generally liked, though considered a little haughty. The only person who could not get on with him was his closest neighbor, Grigorii Ivanovich Muromskii. This latter was a true Russian nobleman. Having squandered the larger part of his fortune in Moscow and lost his wife just then, he came to live in his last remaining village, where he continued to indulge in follies, only this time of a different nature. He laid out an English garden, spending on it almost all of his remaining revenue. His grooms were dressed like English jockeys. His daughter had an English madam for a governess. He tilled his land according to the English method,

But Russian grain won't grow after a foreign fashion,


and even though Grigorii Ivanovich curtailed his expenses considerably, his revenues refused to increase. He managed to get into new debts even in the country. Despite all this, however, he enjoyed the reputation of a man not altogether stupid because he was the first landowner in the guberniia to think of taking out a mortgage on his estate from the State Board of Trustees - an operation that seemed extremely complex and daring at that time. Among those people who disapproved of him, Berestov was the most vociferous. A hated for innovations was one of the distinguishing traits of his character. He could not speak of his neighbor's Anglomania with equanimity, and found occasion to criticize him at every step. If Berestov was showing a guest around his estate, for instance, and the guest praised his managerial skills, his response, pronounced with a cunning smile, would be:
"Yes, sir! We don't do business like our neighbor Grigorii Ivanovich. We are too stodgy to go to ruin according to the English method. It's enough for us to be well-fed in the Russian way."
Thanks to the neighbors' zeal, such witticisms, with supplements and exemplifications, always reached the ears of Grigorii Ivanovich. The Anglophile bore the criticism about as patiently as our journalists do. He raged and called his vilifier a boor and a country bumpkin.
Such were the relations of the two landowners when Berestov's son came home to stay with him. He had been educated at the University of N. and intended to enter the military service, but his father would not consent to it. Of entering the civil service, the young man considered himself absolutely incapable. Neither of them would yield, and so young Aleksei came home to live as a country gentleman for the time being, though he did grow a mustache just in case.
Aleksei was truly a splendid young fellow. It would indeed have been a great pity if no military uniform were ever to hug his slim waist, and if, instead of parading on horseback, he were to spend his youth hunched over papers in a chancery. Seeing how he would always ride first during a hunt, with no concern for where he was going, the neighbors said in unison that he would never make a department head worth his salt. The young ladies eyed him; there were even some who could not take their eyes off of him; but Aleksei paid little attention to them. They attributed his coldness to a romantic attachment. Indeed the following address, copied from a letter he had mailed, was circulating among the neighbors: "To Akulina Petrovna Kurochkina, Moscow, straight across from the St. Aleksei Monastery, care of the brazier Savelev, and I humbly beg you to forward this letter to A.N.R."
Those of my readers who have not lived in the country cannot imagine how charming those provincial misses are. Brought up in fresh air, in the shade of the apple trees in their orchards, they acquire all their knowledge of the world and life from books. Solitude, freedom, and reading early develop in them feelings and passions that are unknown to our scatterbrained debutantes. For the provincial miss the jingling of a coach bell is an adventure; she considers a trip to the nearest town a milestone in history; and the visit of a guest leaves behind a lingering, sometimes ever-lasting memory. Of course, anybody is free to laugh at some of their oddities, but the jeers of a superficial observer cannot efface their essential virtues, the chief one of which is a "distinctiveness of character, originality (individualite)" — a quality considered by Jean-Paul a prerequisite of human greatness. I will allow that women receive a better education in the capitals, but the habits of social intercourse soon flatten out their character and make their minds just as uniform as their headdresses. I am not trying to judge anybody, less even to censure, but still, as an ancient commentator says, nota nostra manet.
It is easy to imagine what impression Aleksei made among our young ladies. He was the first ever to appear in their company morose and disillusioned, the first ever to speak to them about a loss of zest for life and about his youth wasting away; moreover, he wore a black ring engraved with a death's head. All this was extremely new in that guberniia. The young ladies were raving about him.
But the person whose imagination was most exercised by him was the daughter of our Anglophile, Liza (or Betsy, as Grigorii Ivanovich usually called her). Since her father and his did not visit each other, she had not had a chance to meet him, while all her young neighbors could speak of nothing but him. She was seventeen years old. Dark eyes animated her dusky, very attractive face. She was her father's only child and therefore a spoiled one. Her playfulness and perpetual pranks delighted her father but drove to distraction her governess, a prim and proper forty-year-old maiden lady called Miss Jackson, who powdered her face, penciled her eyebrows, read through Pamela twice a year, received two thousand rubles for it, and was dying of boredom in this barbarous Russia.
Liza had a maid called Nastia; she was a little older but just as giddy as her young mistress. Liza loved her very much, let her in on all her secrets, and planned her pranks with her aid; in other words, Nastia was a personage of considerably greater importance in the village of Priluchino than the confidante in a French tragedy.
"Please let me go visiting today," said Nastia one time, as she was dressing her young mistress.
"You may go if you want to: but where?"
"To Tugilovo, to the Berestovs'. It's their cook's wife's name-day, and she came over yesterday to invite us to dinner."
"So that's how it is," said Liza. "The masters have quarreled, but the servants treat each other to dinners."
"It's not our business what the masters do," rejoined Nastia. "And besides, I'm yours, not your papa's. You haven't yet quarreled with the young Berestov, have you? Let the old ones have their scuffles if that's what makes them happy."
"Do try to meet with Aleksei Berestov, Nastia, and tell me all about what he looks like and what kind of a person he is."
Nastia promised to do so, and Liza impatiently waited for her return all day. Nastia came back in the evening.
"Well, Lizaveta Grigorevna," she said coming into the room, "I've seen the young Berestov. Indeed I had my fill of seeing him: we spent the whole day together."
"How come? Tell me, tell me all as it happened."
"Just as you please, miss. We set out, that is, Anisia Egorovna, Nenila, Dunka, and I..."
"All right, I know. And what happened then?"
"Please, miss, I'll tell everything as it happened. So we arrived just before dinner. The room was full of people. There were some from Kolbino, some from Zakharevo, the steward's wife was there with her daughter, there were people from Khlupino..."
"Yes, yes. And Berestov?"
"Wait a minute, miss. So we sat down to table, the bailiff's wife in the place of honor and I next to her... Her daughters turned up their noses but I didn't care a rap ... "
"Oh, Nastia, you're so boring with your interminable details!"
"And how impatient are you! Well, so we got up from the table... we had sat there a good three hours, you know, and the dinner was splendid; we had blue-and-red marbled blancmange for dessert... So we got up from the table and went out in the garden to play tag, and it was there that the young master came to join us."
"And what's he like? Is it true he's handsome?"
"Amazingly handsome, a real dazzler. Slim, tall, with rosy cheeks..."
"Really? And I thought he had a pale face. In any case, what did he seem like? Melancholy, pensive?"
"What? I've never seen such a rambunctious one in my life. He took it into his head to play tag with us."
"To play tag with you! Impossible!"
"I swear it's possible! And do you know what other trick he was up to? He'd catch you and start kissing you!"
"Nastia, you're telling fibs."
"I'm not telling fibs, say what you like. I could barely get away from him. All day he fooled around with us."
"Then why do they say he's in love and won't look at anybody?"
"I don't know about that, miss, but I do know he looked at me, too much even; and at Tania, the steward's daughter, too, and at Pasha from Kolbino. To tell the truth he didn't spurn any one, such a rascal!"
"How astonishing! And what are the servants saying about him?"
"He's a wonderful master, they say; such a good-natured and cheerful one. There's only one trouble: he's too fond of chasing the girls. But I'd say that's no great crime: he'll settle down once he's finished sowing his wild oats."
"How I'd love to meet him!" said Liza with a sigh.
"What's so difficult about that? Tugilovo is not far from us, only three versts: go on a walk that way or ride out on horseback; you will probably meet him. He takes his gun and goes out hunting every day, early in the morning."
"No, that's no good. He may think I am chasing after him. Besides, our fathers are on bad terms, so I can't just go and make his acquaintance... You know what, Nastia? I will dress up as a peasant girl!"
"Yes, do, miss: put on a coarse shirt and a sarafan, and go boldly to Tugilovo; I'll vouch Berestov will not let you go by unnoticed."
"And I can speak the way the local folks do, too. Ah, Nastia, my dear Nastia! What a wonderful idea!" And Liza went to bed determined to carry out her playful plan without fail.
The next morning she set about putting her scheme into practice. She sent to the market for some coarse linen, blue nankeen, and brass buttons, cut out a shirt and a sarafan with Nastia's help, and put all the maids in the house to work, and by evening the sewing was all done. As she tried on her new costume in front of the mirror, she had to confess to herself that she had never before seemed quite so sweet. She rehearsed her role: curtsied deeply while walking, let her head rock from side to side like the head of a porcelain cat, spoke in a peasant dialect, and covered her mouth with her sleeve when she laughed, all of which earned Nastia's full approval. There was only one difficulty: she tried to cross the yard barefooted, but the lawn felt prickly to her tender feet, not to mention the sand and pebbles, which seemed intolerable. Nastia, however, helped her out of this difficulty, too: she measured Liza's foot, ran to the meadow to find Trofim the shepherd, and ordered from him a pair of bast slippers of the right size. The next morning Liza was up at the crack of dawn. The whole house was asleep. Nastia waited for the shepherd by the gate. The horn sounded, and the village herd filed by the manor house. Passing by Nastia, Trofim handed her a pair of small motley bast slippers and received a fifty-kopeck piece as a reward. Liza quietly dressed up as a peasant girl, whispered instructions to Nastia concerning Miss Jackson, stepped out on the back porch, and ran through the vegetable garden into the field.
The dawn was radiant in the east, and the golden ranks of clouds seemed to be awaiting the sun like courtiers their sovereign; the clear sky, the morning freshness, the dew, the light breeze, and the singing of the birds filled Liza's heart with childlike joy; afraid of meeting somebody she knew, she seemed not to walk, but to fly. As she approached a grove that stood on the boundary of her father's property, she slackened her pace. This was where she was supposed to wait for Aleksei. Her heart beat fast, she did not know why; the fear that accompanies our youthful pranks is also their greatest charm. Liza entered the darkness of the grove. She was greeted by the deep rolling rumble of the wind among the trees. Her high good humor became subdued. She sank more and more into a pleasant reverie. She thought about - but can one determine with precision what is on the mind of a seventeen-year-old miss when she is by herself in a grove before six o'clock on a spring morning? And so she was walking, deep in thought, along the road under the canopy of tall trees overhanging from either side, when suddenly a sleek pointer barked at her. Frightened, Liza cried out. At the same moment a voice called:
'Tout beau, Sbogar, ici..." and a young sportsman appeared from behind the shrubbery. "Don't be scared, sweetheart," he said to Liza; "my dog doesn't bite."
Liza had already recovered from her fright, and immediately took advantage of the situation.
"But I am frightened, Your Honor," she said, pretending to be half-frightened, half-bashful. "Look how mean she is, leaping at me again."
Aleksei (whom the reader has already recognized) was meanwhile taking full measure of the young peasant girl.
"I'll accompany you if you're afraid," he said to her. "Will you allow me to walk by your side?"
"There's nobody will hinder you," answered Liza. "Each goes where he likes; the road belongs to everybody."
"Where are you from?"
"From Priluchino; I'm the blacksmith Vasilii's daughter; I'm going to pick mushrooms." She was carrying a basket on a rope. "And you, Your Honor? From Tugilovo, I trow."
"Exactly," answered Aleksei. "I am the young squire's valet."
Aleksei wanted to appear on an equal footing with her. But Liza glanced at him and burst into laughter.
"That's a lie if I ever heard one," she said, "but you can't fool me. I can see you're the squire himself."
"What makes you think so?"
"Well, everything."
"But what exactly?"
"Nay, how could I not tell the master from the servant? You're got up differently, you don't talk like folks do, you call your dog different like."
Aleksei felt drawn to Liza more and more by the minute. Accustomed to standing on no ceremony with pretty lasses, he wanted to put his arm around her waist, but Liza jumped away from him and instantly assumed such a stern and cold expression that Aleksei, though he was amused by it, refrained from further advances.
"If you wish us to remain friends," she said gravely, "be good enough not to forget yourself."
"Who taught you such prudence?" asked Aleksei, amid peals of laughter. "Was it Nastenka, my acquaintance, the maid of your young mistress? So this is the way enlightenment spreads!"
Liza felt she had risked stepping out of her role, and she checked herself immediately.
"Lack-a-day, and who do you think I am?" she said. "Do you think I've never been to the manor house? Faith, sir: I've heard and seen plenty. But," she added, "if I keep a-prattling with you, I'll never pick any mushrooms. Go your own way, Your Honor, and I'll go mine. God bless you..."
Liza wanted to leave him, but Aleksei held her back by the hand.
"What is your name, precious heart?"
"Akulina," replied Liza, trying to extricate her fingers from Aleksei's grasp. "Let me go, Your Honor, it's time I went home even."
"Well, my friend Akulina, I will make sure to visit your dad, the blacksmith Vasilii."
"What are you saying?" Liza returned with alarm. "In the name of Christ, don't you come. If they hear at home as how I idly prated with a gentleman, all alone with him in the woods, I'll get into deep trouble; my father, the blacksmith Vasilii, will thrash me to death."
"But I must see you again without fail."
"There'll be occasions when I come here to pick mushrooms again."
"When will that be exactly?"
"Tomorrow, perhaps."
"Sweet Akulina, I'd kiss you all over but I daren't. So you say tomorrow, at the same time?"
"Yes, yes."
"You will not deceive me?"
"I won't."
"Swear to it."
"Cross my heart I'll come."
The young couple parted ways. Liza came out of the wood, scampered across the field, crept into the garden, and dashed headlong to the outbuilding where Nastia was waiting for her. There she changed, giving offhanded answers to her impatient confidante's questions, and soon made her appearance in the living room. The table was laid, the breakfast ready, and Miss Jackson, who had already powdered her face and laced herself into the shape of a liqueur glass, was cutting bread into tiny thin slices. Her father praised Liza for her early morning walk.
"There is nothing healthier," he said, "than getting up at daybreak."
He cited several examples of human longevity that he had read about in English journals, and remarked that all centenarians abstained from vodka and rose at dawn come winter or summer. Liza did not listen to him. She turned over in her mind all the details of her early morning encounter, all the words that had passed between Akulina and the young hunter, and she began to feel a twinge of conscience. In vain did she repeat to herself that their conversation had not transgressed the limits of propriety, and her prank could not have any serious consequences: the voice of her conscience was louder than that of her reason. The promise she had made about the following day worried her most of all, and she almost decided not to keep her solemn vow. But Aleksei, having waited for her in vain, might come to the village to look for the blacksmith Vasilii's daughter - the real Akulina, who was a fat wench with a pockmarked face — and might in that way uncover her irresponsible prank. This thought terrified Liza, and she decided to make her way to the grove next morning, once more in the disguise of Akulina.
As for Aleksei, he was enchanted; he thought about his new acquaintance all day, and the image of the dark-complexioned beauty haunted him even in his dreams at night. The first blush of dawn had hardly spread across the horizon when he was already dressed. Not giving himself enough time even to load his gun, he went out into the fields with his faithful Sbogar and rushed to the place where they had agreed to meet. About half an hour passed in unbearable suspense, but at last he caught a glimpse of a blue sarafan through the shrubs and ran to meet his sweet Akulina. She smiled on seeing him in raptures of gratitude, but Aleksei instantly detected traces of dejection and worry on her face. He wanted to know the reason. Liza confessed that she thought she had taken an irresponsible step, that she was regretting it, that just this once she had come, not wanting to break her promise, but this meeting would have to be the last one. She asked him to discontinue their acquaintance, which could lead to nothing good. All this, of course, was pronounced in a peasant dialect, but Aleksei was struck all the more by such ideas and sentiments, so unusual for a simple girl. He employed all his eloquence in an attempt to sway Akulina from her resolution; he assured her of the innocence of his desires, promised never to give her cause for regret and to obey her in everything, and entreated her not to deprive him of his only joy: of meeting her possibly every day or at least twice a week. He spoke the language of genuine passion and at that moment was truly in love. Liza listened to him in silence.
"Give me your word," she said at last, "that you will never look for me in the village or ask questions about me. Give me your word that you will never seek meetings with me apart from those that I myself assign." Aleksei was about to swear and cross his heart, but Liza stopped him with a smile. "I don't need a vow," she said; "your promise alone will be enough."
After this they had a friendly conversation, strolling about the woods, until Liza said, "It's time to go." They parted, and Aleksei, left by himself, pondered how a simple village girl had managed to acquire such unmistakable power over him in the course of two meetings. These relations with Akulina had the charm of novelty for him, and though the rules the unusual peasant girl had prescribed were onerous to him, it never entered his mind that he might not keep his word. The fact is that Aleksei, despite his ominous ring, his secret correspondence, and his somber disenchantment, was a good-natured and full-blooded young fellow with a pure heart, capable of enjoying innocent pleasures.
Were I to follow my own inclinations, I would describe in fall detail the meetings of the two young people, their growing fondness of, and trust in, each other, their occupations, and their conversations, but I am aware that the majority of my readers would not share my enjoyment of such details. Such details must seem cloying to people in general, and I will therefore leave them out, saying simply that before two months had elapsed Aleksei was head over heels in love, and Liza was no less involved, though less vocal, than he. They both enjoyed the present and gave little thought to the future.
The thought of an indissoluble bond passed through the mind of each quite frequently, but neither said anything on the subject. There were good reasons for this: Aleksei, however strongly he might have been attached to his sweet Akulina, could nevertheless not forget the distance separating him from a poor peasant girl; and Liza, knowing what deep hatred their fathers harbored against each other, did not dare hope for their reconciliation. Moreover, her vanity was secretly tempted by the dim romantic hope that the landlord of Tugilovo might in the end throw himself at the feet of the Priluchino blacksmith's daughter. Suddenly, an important event occurred that threatened to change their relationship.
One clear cold morning (one of the many our Russian autumn can boast of) Ivan Petrovich Berestov went out on a pleasure ride, taking with him, just in case, three pairs of greyhounds, a groom, and some footboys with clappers. At the same time Grigorii Ivanovich Muromskii, tempted by the good weather, gave orders to have his dock-tailed filly saddled and set out at a gallop around his Anglicized domains. As he approached the wood he noticed his neighbor proudly sitting on his horse in a Circassian coat, lined with fox fur, and waiting for a hare, which the boys were chasing out of a thicket with shouts and claps. If Grigorii Ivanovich had foreseen such a meeting, he would of course have turned aside, but he came across Berestov entirely unexpectedly, suddenly finding himself no farther than a pistol shot away from him. There was no way to escape a meeting. Muromskii, as a civilized European, rode up to his adversary and greeted him courteously. Berestov returned the greeting with as much enthusiasm as a chained bear bows to the ladies and gentlemen under orders from its trainer. Just at that moment the hare darted out of the wood and ran across the field. Berestov and the groom yelled out with all their might, let the dogs loose, and galloped after them at full speed. Muromskii's horse, which had never participated in a chase, bolted with fright. Her owner, who had proclaimed himself an excellent rider, gave her free rein and was secretly glad of the opportunity to rid himself of a disagreeable companion. But the horse, reaching the edge of a ravine that she had not noticed earlier, suddenly flung herself around, throwing Muromskii off. Having fallen rather hard on the frozen ground, he lay cursing his dock-tailed filly, which, as if coming to her senses, stopped in her tracks as soon as she felt herself free of a rider. Ivan Petrovich rode up to him, asking if he had hurt himself. Meanwhile, the groom brought the culprit around, holding her by the bridle. He helped Muromskii climb into the saddle, and Berestov invited him to his house. Muromskii felt that he was obligated and could not refuse, and so Berestov returned home in full glory, bringing back not only the hare he had caught, but also his adversary, wounded and almost a prisoner of war.
The two neighbors, eating lunch together, got into quite a friendly conversation. Muromskii, confessing that his fall made him incapable of returning home on horseback, asked Berestov to lend him a carriage. Berestov saw him off all the way to the porch, and Muromskii left only after he had extracted a promise from his neighbor that he (together with Aleksei Ivanovich) would come to Priluchino the very next day to dine together as old friends. Thus it appeared that an ancient and deeply rooted enmity was about to end, thanks to the skittishness of a dock-tailed filly.
Liza ran outside to meet Grigorii Ivanovich.
"What does all this mean, papa?" she asked in astonishment. "Why are you limping? Where is your horse? Whose carriage is this?"
"You will never guess, my dear," answered Grigorii Ivanovich, and told her everything that had happened.
Liza could hardly believe her ears. Her father, giving her no time to recover herself, declared that both Berestovs were coming to dinner the next day.
"What are you saying?" she exclaimed, blanching. "The Berestovs, both father and son! For dinner tomorrow! No, papa; say what you please, I will not show myself for anything!"
"What? Have you lost your mind?" rejoined her father. "Since when have you become so shy? Or are you bound by a hereditary feud like a romantic heroine? We've had enough of that; don't be silly."
"No, papa, nothing in the world, not all the treasures of the world, can persuade me to show myself before the Berestovs."
Grigorii Ivanovich shrugged his shoulders and did not argue with her any further, knowing that one could gain nothing by contradicting her. He retired to take a rest after his memorable ride.
Lizaveta Grigorevna went to her room and summoned Nastia. The two of them spent a long time discussing the impending visit. What would Aleksei think if in the well-bred young lady he recognized his Akulina? What opinion would he form of her conduct and principles, of her prudence? On the other hand, Liza very much wanted to see just what effect such an unexpected meeting would have on him... Suddenly an idea occurred to her. She immediately communicated it to Nastia; they both rejoiced over it as a godsend, and resolved to put it into practice without fail.
The next morning Grigorii Ivanovich asked his daughter over breakfast if she was still planning to hide from the Berestovs.
"Papa," answered Liza, "I will receive them if that is your wish, but only under one condition: in whatever shape I appear before them or whatever I do, you must not scold me, or give any sign of astonishment or displeasure."
"Yet another prank," said Grigorii Ivanovich, laughing. "Well, all right, all right, I consent: do as you like, my black-eyed prankster." With these words he kissed her on the forehead, and Liza ran off to get ready.
At nearly two o'clock a carriage of domestic manufacture drawn by six horses rolled into the courtyard and rounded the dense green circle of the lawn. Berestov the elder came up the steps aided by two liveried lackeys of Muromskii's. Berestov the younger, who had ridden after his father on horseback, entered the dining room with him. The table was already laid. Muromskii received his neighbors with the greatest possible kindness. He suggested they make a tour of the garden and the menagerie before dinner, and led them along the carefully raked and sanded paths. The elder Berestov inwardly disapproved of so much time and effort being wasted on such useless trifles, but he kept quiet out of politeness. His son could share neither the thrifty landowner's disapproval nor the vainglorious Anglophile's enthusiasm: he was impatiently waiting for the appearance of his host's daughter, about whom he had heard a great deal. Although his heart, as we know, was already engaged, a beautiful young woman could always make a claim on his imagination.
At last the three of them returned to the living room and sat down. While the two old men recalled earlier times and told anecdotes of their days in the service, Aleksei pondered what role he should assume in the presence of Liza. He decided that cold inattention would be most appropriate, whatever the circumstances, and he prepared himself accordingly. When the door opened he turned his head in that direction with such indifference, with such arrogant lack of concern, that it would have sent a shudder through even the most indurate coquette's heart. Unfortunately, the person who entered was not Liza, but the old Miss Jackson, powdered and laced, curtsying slightly, with her eyes cast down; and thus Aleksei's splendid stratagem had been employed in vain. He had hardly had time to collect himself when the door opened once more, this time admitting Liza herself. Everybody rose; the father was about to introduce the guests to his daughter, but he stopped and, checking himself, bit his lip ... Liza, his dark-complexioned Liza, was covered with white powder up to her ears, and her eyebrows were painted even worse than those of Miss Jackson; she had on a wig whose artificial locks, much lighter than her own hair, were swept up like those of Louis XIV's peruke; her sleeves a l'imbecile stuck out as far as Madame de Pompadour's hooped skirt; her waist was laced into the shape of the letter X; and all the diamonds of her late mother that had not yet been carried off to the pawnshop sparkled on her fingers, around her neck, and in her ears. Aleksei could not recognize his Akulina in this ridiculous and glittering young lady. His father bent down to kiss her hand, and he followed his example grudgingly; when he touched her white little fingers, it seemed to him that they were trembling. He did find occasion, however, to notice her small foot, clad in the most coquettish shoe imaginable, which she had deliberately stuck out. This feature reconciled him somewhat to the rest of her attire. As for the powder and paint, it must be admitted that in the simplicity of his heart he neither noticed them at first glance nor suspected their presence later. Grigorii Ivanovich remembered his promise and tried not to show any sign of surprise, but his daughter's trick seemed so funny to him that he could hardly control himself. By contrast, the prim and proper Englishwoman was in no mood for laughter. She could guess that the paint and powder had been stolen from her chest of drawers, and a crimson hue of annoyance shone through the artificial whiteness of her face. She looked daggers at the young prankster, who, deferring any and all explanations till another time, pretended to notice nothing.
They sat down to table. Aleksei continued to play the role of a distracted man, sunk in his thoughts. Liza put on airs, speaking in a sing-song through her teeth, and that only in French. Her father kept staring at her, not fathoming her purpose but finding it all very amusing. The Englishwoman was in a rage and remained silent. Ivan Petrovich alone felt perfectly at home: he ate for two, drank his fair share, laughed over his own jokes, and chatted and chortled more and more jovially by the minute.
At last they got up from the table; the guests went home; and Grigorii Ivanovich was free to laugh and ask questions.
"What gave you the idea of playing this trick on them?" he asked Liza. "And you know what? Face powder suits you; I am no judge of the secrets of ladies' toilette, but if I were you I would powder my face regularly; not too much, of course, but I would do it lightly."
Liza was thrilled with the success of her scheme. She embraced her father, promised to think about his advice, and dashed off to pacify the incensed Miss Jackson, who could hardly be persuaded to open her door to her and listen to her excuses. She had felt so embarrassed to show her dusky face to these strangers, Liza was saying; she had not dared to ask... she had been sure that dear, kind Miss Jackson would forgive her... and so on and so forth. Miss Jackson, concluding that ridiculing her had not been Liza's intention, calmed down, kissed Liza, and gave her as a token of reconciliation a jar of English ceruse, which Liza accepted with expressions of sincere gratitude.
The reader will easily guess that the next morning Liza did not delay coming to the grove where they usually met.
"Your Honor went to our masters' last night, didn't you?" she asked Aleksei immediately. "How did you like our young mistress?"
Aleksei answered that he had hardly taken notice of her.
"That's a pity," rejoined Liza.
"And why is it a pity?" asked Aleksei.
"Because I wanted to ask you, is it true, what they say? ..."
"What do they say?"
"Is it true, as they say, that I'm like the young missus?"
"What nonsense! Compared to you she is a freak."
"Oh, Your Honor, you mustn't speak like that: our mistress has such delicate white skin and she's such a lady of fashion! How can I be compared with her?"
Aleksei swore to her that she was prettier than all the faircomplexioned young ladies in creation, and, in order to reassure her completely, began painting her mistress in such funny colors that Liza laughed with all her heart.
"All the same," she said with a sigh, "though the young missus may be funny, I'm an illiterate fool compared with her."
"Oh!" said Aleksei, "is that any cause for grief ? If you want me to, I can teach you how to read and write in next to no time."
"Maybe you're right," said Liza. "Maybe we should really try."
"As you please, sweetheart; shall we begin at once?"
They sat down. Aleksei took a pencil and notebook from his pocket, and Akulina learned the alphabet amazingly fast. Aleksei marveled at her quick mind. The next morning she wanted to try her hand at writing as well; at first the pencil would not obey her fingers, but in a matter of a few minutes she could already draw her letters quite tolerably.
"What a miracle!" Aleksei was saying. "This is going faster than it could under the Lancasterian system."
And indeed at the third lesson Akulina was already reading "Natalia the Boyar's Daughter" syllable for syllable, interrupting her reading by remarks that truly astonished Aleksei, and scribbling aphorisms from the same story on a sheet of paper.
Another week went by, and a correspondence got under way between the two young people. A post office was established in the hollow of an old oak. Nastia performed the duties of the surreptitious mailman. Aleksei brought here his letters written in a bold hand, and found the plain blue sheets that carried the scribble-scrabble of his beloved. Akulina was evidently getting used to more refined language, and her mind was perceptibly developing, becoming cultivated.
Meanwhile Ivan Petrovich Berestov's recent acquaintance with Grigorii Ivanovich Muromskii became more and more firmly grounded and, thanks to certain considerations, soon turned into friendship. Muromskii often contemplated the circumstance that after Ivan Petrovich's death his whole fortune would pass on to Aleksei Ivanovich, making the young man one of the richest landowners of the province, in which case there would be no reason why he should not marry Liza. On his part the elder Berestov, though he recognized a certain extravagance in his neighbor (what he called his neighbor's English folly), could not deny that he had many excellent qualities. Grigorii Ivanovich was, for example, exceptionally resourceful; he was closely related to Count Pronskii, a distinguished and powerful man who could prove to be very useful to Aleksei; and finally (so argued Ivan Petrovich) Muromskii would probably be pleased with such an advantageous match for his daughter. The two elderly gentlemen kept turning the matter over in their heads until at last they exchanged views on it, embraced, agreed to take whatever steps were necessary, and set about accomplishing the task. Muromskii faced the difficulty of persuading his Betsy to become better acquainted with Aleksei, whom she had not seen since the memorable dinner party. They did not seem to like each other very much: at least Aleksei never returned to Priluchino, and Liza retired to her room every time Ivan Petrovich honored them with a visit. But, thought Grigorii Ivanovich, if Aleksei started coming over every day, Liza would be bound to fall in love with him. That was in the nature of things: time is the best matchmaker.
Ivan Petrovich worried less about the success or failure of his scheme. The same evening he had made his agreement with Muromskii he summoned his son to his study, lit his pipe, paused for a moment, and said, "What's happened to you, Alesha, that you no longer talk about military service? Doesn't the hussar uniform tempt you any more?"
"No, father," answered Aleksei respectfully. "I can see you don't want me to join the hussars, and it's my duty to obey you."
"Very good," answered Ivan Petrovich. "I see you're an obedient son; that's a comfort to me; I don't want to force you into anything either. I will not compel you... for the time being... to enter the civil service; instead, I intend to get you a wife."
"Who would that be, father?" asked the astonished Aleksei.
"Lizaveta Grigorevna Muromskaia," answered Ivan Petrovich; "you couldn't find a better bride, could you now?"
"Father, I haven't thought of marrying yet."
"You haven't, but I have, and I've thought it over thoroughly, too."
"That's all very well, but I don't like Liza Muromskaia in the least."
"You'll grow to like her later. Love comes with time."
"I don't think that I can make her happy."
"Her happiness is not your headache. So this is how you respect your father's wishes? Very well!"
"You may say what you please, I do not want to get married, and I will not get married."
"You will marry or I shall curse you and, God be my witness, I shall sell and squander the family property and not leave you a penny. I'll give you three days to think the matter over; until then I want you to keep out of my sight."
Aleksei knew that once his father took an idea into his head, you could not - to use Taras Skotinin's expression -poke it out of there with a nail; but Aleksei took after his father, and it was just as difficult to sway him. He retired to his room and started thinking about the limits of paternal power, Lizaveta Grigorevna, his father's solemn promise to make him a beggar, and finally Akulina. For the first time he could see clearly that he was passionately in love with her. The romantic idea of marrying a peasant girl and supporting himself by work crossed his mind, and the more he thought about such a decisive step the more reasonable it seemed to him. Their meetings in the grove had been suspended for some time because of the rainy weather. He wrote a letter to Akulina in a clear hand but a frantic style, telling her about the disaster that was threatening them and directly asking for her hand. He immediately mailed the letter, that is, put it in the hollow of the tree, and went to bed entirely satisfied with himself.
Early next morning Aleksei, firm in his resolve, went to see Muromskii in order to explain matters frankly. He hoped to awaken his generosity and win him over.
"Is Grigorii Ivanovich at home?" he asked, as he stopped his horse by the front steps of the Priluchino mansion.
"No, he is not," answered the footman. "Grigorii Ivanovich pleased to ride out early."
"How annoying!" thought Aleksei, and turned to the footman once more. "Is at least Lizaveta Grigorevna at home?"
"She is, Your Honor."
Aleksei jumped off his horse, handed the reins to the footman, and went into the house unannounced.
"All will be settled," he thought, directing his steps toward the living room, "I will explain matters to Lizaveta herself."
He entered... and stopped dumbfounded! Liza... or no: Akulina, his sweet, dark-complexioned Akulina, not in a sarafan but in a white morning frock, sat by the window reading his letter; she was so engrossed in it that she had not even heard him enter. Aleksei could not hold back a joyous shout. Liza started, raised her head, cried out, and wanted to run away. He rushed to hold her back.
"Akulina! Akulina!"
Liza tried to tear herself away from him...
"Mais laissez-moi done, monsieur; mais etes-vous fou?" she repeated, turning away from him.
"Akulina! My dearest Akulina!" he kept exclaiming, kissing her hands.
Miss Jackson, who was a witness to this scene, did not know what to think. At this moment the door opened and in came Grigorii Ivanovich.
"Oho!" said he. "I see you've already settled matters between yourselves."
My readers will no doubt excuse me from the unnecessary chore of relating the denouement.


 

Оригінал твору

Бібліотека ім. О. С. Пушкіна (м. Київ).
А.С. Пушкин. Полное собрание сочинений в десяти томах