THE GUESTS WERE ARRIVING AT THE DACHA
Твори О.С. Пушкіна.Переклад англійською мовою.>THE GUESTS WERE ARRIVING AT THE DACHA

 

THE GUESTS WERE ARRIVING AT THE DACHA

(1828,1830)

 

1


The guests were arriving at the dacha of X. The drawing room was filling up with ladies and men, all driving over at the same time from the theater, where they had just seen a new Italian opera. Order was gradually established: the ladies settled on the sofas, with the men forming circles around them; parties of whist were set up; only a few young people remained standing. A perusal of Parisian lithographs replaced the general conversation.
Two men sat on the balcony. One of them, a Spanish traveler, seemed to be greatly charmed by the northern night. He looked with admiration at the clear pale sky, at the majestic Neva, illuminated by mysterious light, and at the neighboring dachas, whose silhouettes showed in the transparent twilight.
"How splendid is your northern night," he said at last. "I shall miss its charms even under the skies of my own country."
"One of our poets," answered the other man, "has compared it with a towheaded Russian beauty. I must confess that a swarthy, black-eyed Italian or Spanish woman, full of liveliness and southern sensuality, captures my imagination far more. But of course the old controversy between la brune et la blonde has not been settled. Incidentally, do you know what explanation a foreign lady offered me for the strictness and purity of Petersburg morals? She declared that our winter nights were too cold and our summer nights too bright for amorous adventures."
The Spaniard smiled.
"So it is owing to the climate," he said, "that Petersburg is the promised land of beauty, amicability, and purity."
"Beauty is a matter of taste," answered the Russian, "but as far as amicability is concerned, we have little to boast about. It's not in vogue: nobody has the least inclination to be amicable. The women would be afraid that they would acquire the reputation of flirts, the men that they would lose their dignity. All aim to be nonentities with decorum and propriety. As for the purity of morals, one should not take advantage of a foreigner's trustfulness, so let me tell you an anecdote..."
With this the conversation took a most decidedly satirical turn.
Just then the door of the drawing room opened, and Volskaia came in. She was in the first bloom of youth. Her regular features, her large black eyes, her lively movements, even her eccentric dress — everything compelled attention. The men greeted her with a certain jocular affability, and the women with marked hostility. Volskaia herself noticed none of this; while giving haphazard answers to the customary questions, she absently looked about her on every side. Her face, changeable as a cloud, expressed vexation. She sat down next to the lofty Princess G. and, as the expression goes, se mit a bouder.
Suddenly she shuddered and turned toward the balcony. She got up, passed by the armchairs and tables, stopped for a moment behind the chair of old General R., and without acknowledging his subtle compliment, slipped out on the balcony.
The Spaniard and the Russian rose to their feet. She walked up to them and said a few words in Russian with embarrassment. The Spaniard, assuming he was superfluous, left them and returned to the drawing room.
The lofty Princess G. followed Volskaia with her eyes and said to her neighbor in a low tone, "This sort of thing is just not done."
"She's terribly frivolous," answered he.
"Frivolous? More than that. Her behavior is inexcusable. She's free to have as little self-respect as she wishes, but society ought not to be treated with such disdain. Minskii should give her a hint."
"Il n'en fera rien, trop heureux de pouvoir le compromettre. With all that, I bet you their conversation is perfectly innocent."
"I'm convinced of that... But since when have you become so charitable?"
"I must confess I take an interest in the fate of that young woman. There's much more good and much less bad in her than people think. But passion will ruin her."
"Passion! What a big word! What is passion? You don't really imagine, do you, that she has an ardent heart and a romantic disposition? She's simply had a bad upbringing... What lithograph is that? Is it a portrait of Hussein Pasha? Would you pass it to me?"
The guests were leaving; there was not one lady left in the drawing room. The hostess alone, with unconcealed displeasure, stood by the table at which two diplomats were finishing their last game of ecarte. Volskaia, suddenly noticing that it was getting light, hastened to leave the balcony, where she had spent some three uninterrupted hours alone with Minskii. The hostess said good-bye to her coldly and did not so much as deign to look at Minskii. Several guests were waiting for their carriages at the entrance; Minskii helped Volskaia into hers.
"It looks like it's your turn," said a young officer to him.
"Not at all," he answered. "She is otherwise engaged; I'm simply her confidant or call it what you like. But I love her sincerely: she's excruciatingly funny."

Zinaida Volskaia had lost her mother before she was six. Her father, a busy and dissipated person, entrusted her to the care of a French governess, hired tutors of all kinds for her, and paid no further attention to her. By age fourteen she had grown beautiful and was writing love letters to her dance teacher. Her father learned of this, dismissed the dance teacher, and considering her education completed, brought her out in society. Her appearance on the social scene created a great sensation. Volskii, a wealthy young man who usually let his feelings be governed by the opinions of others, fell head over heels in love with her because the Sovereign had once met her on the English Embankment and talked with her a full hour. Volskii sought her hand. Her father was glad to get the fashionable debutante off his hands. Zinaida burned with impatience to marry in order to be able to see the whole of Petersburg in her drawing room. Besides, Volskii was not repugnant to her, and thus her fate was soon sealed.
At first her sincerity, unexpected pranks, and childish frivolity made a favorable impression: even high society was grateful to her for breaking the decorous monotony of its aristocratic circles. They laughed at her antics and kept talking about her strange sallies. But years went by, and Zinaida still remained a fourteen-year-old at heart. People began to grumble. It was decided that Volskaia did not possess the sense of decency appropriate to her sex. The women began to avoid her, while the men drew closer to her. Zinaida comforted herself with the thought that she was none the worse off for it.
Rumor began to ascribe lovers to her. Calumny, even without proof, leaves almost indelible marks. According to the code of high society, plausibility equals verity, and to be the target of slander lowers us in our own estimation. Volskaia, shedding tears of indignation, resolved to rebel against the authority of unjust society. An opportunity soon presented itself.
Among the young men of her circle Zinaida singled out Minskii. Evidently a certain similarity in character and circumstances must have drawn them to each other. In his early youth Minskii, too, had incurred society's disapprobation and was punished by slander. He left society, pretending to be indifferent. For a while passions muted the anguish of his wounded pride, but eventually, humbled by experience, he reappeared on the social scene, this time bringing with him, not the ardency of his incautious youth, but the concessions and outward decorum of egoism. He did not like society, yet did not scorn it, knowing how important it was to secure its approbation. With all this said, it must be remarked that though he respected society in general, he did not spare it in particular instances, and was ready to make any of its members victims of his rancorous vanity. He liked Volskaia for daring to despise certain conventions that he hated. He goaded her on with encouragement and advice, assumed the role of her confidant, and soon became indispensable to her.
B. had appealed to her imagination for some time.
"He's too shallow for you," Minskii said to her. "All his ideas derive from Les Liaisons dangereuses, and all his genius amounts to a plagiarism of Jomini. When you get to know him better, you'll grow to despise his oppressive immorality, just as military men despise his trivial pronouncements."
"I'd like to fall in love with R," said Zinaida.
"Nonsense!" he answered. "What makes you want to get involved with a man who dyes his hair and repeats with rapture every five minutes, 'Quand j'etais a Florence'. They say his insufferable wife is in love with him. Leave them alone; they're made for each other."
"And how about the Baron W.?"
"That's a little girl in an officer's uniform. What do you see in him? But you know what? Fall in love with L. He'll appeal to your imagination: he's just as exceptionally clever as he's exceptionally ugly. Et puis c'est un bomme a grands sentiments. He'll be jealous and passionate; he'll torment you and amuse you: what more would you wish?"
But Volskaia did not take his advice. Minskii guessed in which direction her heart was inclining, and his vanity was flattered. Not suspecting that frivolity could be joined with strong passions, he foresaw a liaison without any significant consequences, an augmentation by one more name of the list of his flighty mistresses; and he coolly contemplated his impending conquest. It is likely that if he had anticipated the storms awaiting him, he would have declined his victory, because a man of high society readily sacrifices his pleasures - and even his vanity - for convenience and seemliness.

2


Minskii was still in bed when a letter was brought to him. He broke the seal with a yawn and, shrugging his shoulders, unfolded two sheets covered to the last square inch with the minutest feminine handwriting. The letter began in the following way:
I wasn't able to express to you everything that was on my mind: in your presence I couldn't give form to the ideas that are now so vividly haunting me. Your sophisms don't allay my suspicions, but they silence me, which proves that you're invariably superior to me, but that is not enough for happiness, for the tranquility of my heart...
Volskaia reproached him for his coldness, his distrust, and the like; she complained and entreated, not knowing herself what about; showered on him a profusion of tender, affectionate assurances — and made an assignation to meet him in her box at the theater that evening. Minskii answered her in a couple of lines, excusing his tersity on the plea of tedious but unavoidable business, and promising to come to the theater without fail.

3


'You are so open and kind," said the Spaniard, "that I feel encouraged to ask you to solve a riddle for me. I have wandered all around the world, have been introduced at all the European Courts and frequented high society everywhere; but nowhere have I felt as constrained and awkward as I do in your accursed aristocratic circles. Every time I enter Princess V.'s drawing room and see these speechless and motionless mummies, which bring to mind Egyptian burial grounds, I feel frozen to the bones. I am not aware of anyone with spiritual authority among them, nor has fame impressed anyone's name on my memory - why then do I feel so timid?"
"Because of an air of malice," answered the Russian. "It is a trait of our mores. Among the simple people it finds expression in a jeering disposition; among the higher circles, in coldness and inattention. Besides, our ladies receive a very superficial education, and nothing European ever captivates their minds. The men need not even be mentioned: politics and literature do not exist for them, and wit has been banned as a sign of levity. What can they all talk about? About themselves? No, they are too well-bred for that. What remains for them is a kind of domestic, petty, private conversation, comprehensible only to a few — to the select. And the person who does not belong to this small herd is received as an alien — not only if he is a foreigner, but even if he is Russian."
"Forgive me for all these questions," said the foreigner, "but I shall hardly find another opportunity to obtain satisfactory answers, and therefore I hasten to take advantage of you. You have mentioned your aristocracy: what does Russian aristocracy mean? Studying your laws, I see that in your country there is no hereditary aristocracy founded on the indivisibility of landed property. There exists, it seems, a civil equality among your nobility, and access to its ranks is not limited. What, then, is your so-called aristocracy founded on? On ancient lineage alone?"
The Russian laughed.
"You are mistaken," he answered. "The ancient Russian nobility, precisely because of the reasons you have mentioned, has fallen into obscurity and has formed a kind of third estate. This noble plebs of ours, to which I myself belong, considers Riurik and Monomakh its forefathers. I can tell you, for instance," continued the Russian with an air of self-satisfied unconcern, "that the roots of my family reach back into the dark, distant past; you come across the names of my forefathers on every page of our history. Yet if it entered my head to call myself an aristocrat, many people would probably laugh. As for our actual aristocrats, they can scarcely name their grandfathers. The ancient families among them trace their lineage back to the reigns of Peter and Elizabeth. Orderlies, choristers, Ukrainians - those are the kind of forefathers they have. I am not saying this with disapproval: merit, after all, will always remain merit, and the interests of the state demand that it be rewarded. Only it is ridiculous to see in the insignificant grandsons of pastry vendors, orderlies, choristers, and sextons a haughtiness befitting the Duke of Montmorency, the first Christian baron, or Clermont-Tonnerre. We are so practical-minded that we stand on our knees before the accident of the moment, before success, and before ... well, in any case, no fascination with antiquity, no gratitude for past accomplishments, no respect for moral virtues, exists among us. Karamzin has recently narrated our history for us, but we hardly listened. We pride ourselves, not on the glory of our forefathers, but on the rank of some uncle or other, or on the balls our cousin gives. A lack of respect for one's forefathers, mark my word, is a fundamental indication of barbarity and immorality."



 

Оригінал твору

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