When I came to myself, I neither knew what had happened nor where I was. I felt very weak; the room was strange, there was Saveliitch standing before me, a light in his hand, and some one arranging the bandages that bound my chest and shoulder. Gradually I recalled my duel, and easily divined that I had been wounded. The door at this instant moaned gently on its hinges.
“Well, how is he?” whispered a voice that made me start.
“Still in the same state,” sighed Saveliitch, “now unconscious four days.” I wanted to turn on my bed, but I had not the strength. “Where am I?” said I, with effort, “who is here?” Marie approached, and bending over me said, gently, “How do you feel?”
“Thank God, I am well. Is that Marie? tell me —?” I could not finish. Saveliitch uttered a cry of joy, his delight showing plainly in his face. “He recovers! he recovers! Thanks to thee, O God! Peter, how you frightened me! — four days! It is easy to talk —!”
Marie interrupted him: “Do not, Saveliitch, speak too much to him; he is still very weak.” She went out, shutting the door noiselessly. I must be in the Commandant’s house, or Marie could not come to see me. I wished to question Saveliitch, but the old man shook his head and put his fingers in his ears. I closed my eyes from ill-humor — and fell asleep.
Upon awaking, I called Saveliitch; instead of him, I saw before me Marie, whose gentle voice greeted me. I seized her hand and bathed it with my tears. Marie did not withdraw it, and suddenly I felt upon my cheek the impression, humid and delicious, of her lips! A thrill shot through my whole being.
“Dear, good Marie, be my wife, and make me the happiest of men!”
“In the name of heaven be calm,” she said, withdrawing her hand, “your wound may reopen; for my sake be careful.”
She left the room. I was in a daze. I felt life returning. “She will be mine!” I kept repeating, “she loves me!” I grew better, hour by hour. The barber of the regiment dressed my wounds, for there was no other physician in the fortress, and thank God, he did not merely play the doctor. Youth and nature completed the cure.
The Commandant’s whole family surrounded me with care. Marie scarcely ever left me. I need not say that I took the first favorable moment to continue my interrupted declaration. This time Marie listened with more patience. She frankly acknowledged her affection for me. And added that her parents would be happy in her happiness; “but,” she continued, “think well of it? Will there be no objection on the part of your family?”
I did not doubt my mother’s tenderness, but knowing my father’s character, I foresaw that my love would not be received by him favorably, and that in all probability he would treat it as one of my youthful follies. This I avowed plainly to Marie, but nevertheless I resolved to write to my father as eloquently as possible, and ask his blessing on our marriage. I showed the letter to Marie, who thought it so touching and convincing that she did not doubt of success, and abandoned herself, with all the confidence of youth and love, to the feelings of her heart.
I made peace with Alexis in the first days of my convalescence. Ivan Mironoff said, reproaching me for the duel: “You see, Peter, I ought to put you under arrest, but indeed you have been well punished without that. Alexis is, by my orders, under guard in the barn, and his sword is under lock and key in Basilia’s keeping.”
I was too happy to harbor spite, so I entreated for Alexis, and the kind Commandant, with his wife’s permission, consented to set him at liberty. Alexis came at once to see me. He expressed regret for all that had happened, confessing that the fault was all his, and begged me to forget the past. Being naturally incapable of revenge, I pardoned him, forgiving both our quarrel and my wound. In his calumny I now saw the irritation of wounded vanity and despised love. I generously forgave my unfortunate rival. As soon as completely cured I returned to my lodging. I awaited impatiently the reply to my letter, not daring to hope, yet trying to stifle all sad presentiments. I had not yet had an explanation with Basilia and her husband, but my suit could not surprise them. Neither Marie nor I had concealed our feelings, and we were sure in advance of their consent.
At last, one pleasant day Saveliitch came to my room, letter in hand. The address was written in my father’s hand. This sight prepared me for something grave, for usually my mother wrote me, and he only added a few lines at the end. Long I hesitated to break the seal. I read again and again the solemn superscription:
“To my Son,
Principality of Orenbourg,
Fortress of Belogorsk.”
I tried to discover by my father’s writing his mood of mind when he wrote that letter. At last I broke that seal. I saw from the first lines that our hopes were crushed! Here is the letter:
“MY SON PETER: We received the 15th of this month the letter in which you ask our paternal benediction and consent to your marriage with Mironoff’s daughter. Not only have I no intention of giving either my consent or benediction, but I have a great mind to go to you and punish you for your childish follies, notwithstanding your officer’s rank, because you have proved that you are not worthy to bear the sword which was given you for the defense of your country, and not for the purpose of fighting a duel with a fool of your own stamp. I shall write instantly to Andrew Karlovitch to transfer you from the fortress of Belogorsk to some still more distant place. Upon hearing of your wound your mother was taken ill, and is still confined to her bed. What will become of you? I pray God to reform you, but can scarcely hope for so much from his goodness. Your father, A.G.”
The harsh expressions which my father had not spared, wounded me sorely; the contempt with which he treated Marie seemed to me as unjust as it was undignified. Then the mere idea of being sent from this fortress alarmed me; but above all, I grieved for my mother’s illness. Saveliitch came in for a share of my indignation, not doubting but that he informed my parents of the duel. After having paced up and down my little chamber, I stopped suddenly before the old man and said: “It seems that it is not enough that you caused my wound, and brought me almost to the brink of the grave, but that you want to kill my mother too!”
Saveliitch was as motionless as if lightning had struck him. “Have mercy on me! my lord,” said he, “what do you deign to tell me? I caused your wound? God sees that I was running to put my breast before you, to receive the sword of Alexis. This cursed age of mine hindered me. But what have I done to your mother?”
“What have you done? Who charged you to write an accusation against me? Were you taken into my service to play the spy on me?”
“I write an accusation?” replied the old man, quite broken down, “O God! King of heaven! Here, read what the master writes me, and you shall see if I denounced thee.” At the same time he drew from his pocket a letter which he gave me, and I read what follows:
“Shame upon you, you old dog, that notwithstanding my strict orders you wrote me nothing regarding my son, leaving to strangers the duty of telling me of his follies. Is it thus you do your duty and fulfill your master’s will? I shall send you to keep the pigs, for having concealed the truth, and for your condescension to the young man. Upon receipt of this letter inform me immediately of the state of his health, which is, I hear, improving, and tell me precisely the place of his wound, and whether he has well attended.”
Evidently Saveliitch was not in the wrong, and I had offended him by my suspicions and reproaches. I asked him to forgive me, but the old man was inconsolable. “See to what I have lived!” he repeated; “see what thanks I have merited from my masters for all my long services! I am an old dog! I am a swine-herd, and more than all that, I caused your wound. No, no, Peter, I am not in fault, it is the cursed Frenchman who taught thee to play with these steel blades, and to stamp and dance, as if by thrusting and dancing you could defend yourself from a bad man.”
Now, then, who had taken the pains to accuse me to my father? The General, Andrew Karlovitch? He did not trouble himself much about me; moreover, Ivan Mironoff had not thought it worth while to report my duel to him. My suspicions fell on Alexis. He only would find some advantage in this information, the consequence of which might be my dismissal from the fortress and separation from the Commandant’s family. I went to tell every thing to Marie. She met me on the doorstep.
“What has happened to you? how pale you are!”
“All’s over,” I replied, handing her my father’s letter.
It was her turn to blanch. Having read the letter she returned it, and said in a trembling voice: “It was not my destiny. Your parents do not wish me in their family; may the will of God be done! He knows better than we what is best for us. There is nothing to be done in the matter, Peter; you, at least, may be happy.”
“It shall not be so,” I exclaimed, taking her hand. “You love me, I am ready for any fate. Let us go and throw ourselves at your parents’ feet. They are simple people; they are neither haughty nor cruel; they will give us their benediction; we will marry; and in time, I am sure, we will soften my father. My mother will intercede for us, and he will pardon me.”
“No, Peter, I will not marry you without the benediction of your parents. You would not be happy without their blessing. Let us submit to the will of God. If you meet another bride, if you love her, may God be with you! I, Peter, I will pray for both of you.” Tears interrupted her, and she went away; I wished to follow her into the house, but I was not master of myself, and I went to my own quarters. I was plunged in melancholy, when Saveliitch came to interrupt my reflections.
“There, my lord,” said he, presenting me a sheet of paper all covered with writing, “see if I am a spy on my master, and if I try to embroil father and son.”
I took the paper from his hand; it was his reply to my father’s letter.
I could not help smiling at the old man’s letter. I was in no condition to write to my father, and to calm my mother his letter seemed sufficient.
From that day, Marie scarcely spoke to me, and even tried to avoid me. The Commandant’s house became insupportable, and I accustomed myself, little by little, to remain alone in my room. At first Basilia reasoned with me, but seeing my persistency she let me alone. I saw Ivan Mironoff only when the service required it. I had but rare interviews with Alexis, for whom my antipathy increased, because I thought I discovered in him a secret enmity which confirmed my suspicions. Life became a burden; I gave myself up to a melancholy which was fed by solitude and inaction. Love burned on in silence and tortured me, more and more. I lost all taste for reading and literature; I let myself become completely depressed; and I feared that I should either become a lunatic or rush into dissipation, when events occurred that had great influence on my life and give a strong and healthy tone to my mind.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12