Translated by Thomas Keane
My father, Andrei Petrovitch Grineff, after having served in his youth under Count Münich, quitted the service, in the year 17--, with the rank of senior major. He settled down upon his estate in the district of Simbirsk, where he married Avdotia Vassilevna U----, the daughter of a poor nobleman of the neighbourhood. Nine children were the result of this marriage. All my brothers and sisters died in their infancy. I was enrolled as a sergeant in the Semenovsky Regiment, through the influence of Prince B----, a major in the Guards, and a near relation of our family. I was considered as being on leave of absence until the completion of my course of studies. In those days our system of education was very different from that in vogue at the present time. At five years of age I was given into the hands of our gamekeeper, Savelitch, whose sober conduct had rendered him worthy of being selected to take charge of me. Under his instruction, at the age of twelve I could read and write Russian, and I was by no means a bad judge of the qualities of a greyhound. About that time my father engaged a Frenchman, a Monsieur Beaupré, who had been imported from Moscow, together with the yearly stock of wine and Provence oil. Savelitch was not by any means pleased at his arrival.
"Heaven be thanked!" he muttered to himself; "the child is washed, combed, and well-fed. What need is there for spending money and engaging a Mossoo, as if there were not enough of our own people!"
Beaupré had been a hairdresser in his own country, then a soldier in Prussia, then he had come to Russia pour être outchitel , without very well understanding the meaning of the word. He was a good sort of fellow, but extremely flighty and thoughtless. His chief weakness was a passion for the fair sex; but his tenderness not unfrequently met with rebuffs, which would cause him to sigh and lament for the whole twenty-four hours. Moreover, to use his own expression, he was no enemy of the bottle, or, in other words, he loved to drink more than was good for him. But as, with us, wine was only served out at dinner, and then in small glasses only, and as, moreover, the teacher was generally passed over on these occasions, my Beaupré very soon became accustomed to Russian drinks, and even began to prefer them to the wines of his own country, as being more beneficial for the stomach. We soon became very good friends, and although, by the terms of the contract, he was engaged to teach me French, German, and all the sciences, yet he much preferred learning from me to chatter in Russian, and then each of us occupied himself with what seemed best to him. Our friendship was of the most intimate character, and I wished for no other mentor. But fate soon separated us, owing to an event which I will now proceed to relate.
The laundress, Palashka, a thick-set woman with a face scarred by the small-pox, and the one-eyed cowkeeper, Akoulka, made up their minds together one day and went and threw themselves at my mother's feet, accusing themselves of certain guilty weaknesses, complaining, with a flood of tears, that the Mossoo had taken advantage of their inexperience, and had effected their ruin. My mother did not look upon such matters in the light of a joke, so she consulted my father upon the subject. An inquiry into the matter was promptly resolved upon. He immediately sent for the rascally Frenchman. He was informed that Monsieur was engaged in giving me my lesson. My father came to my room. At that particular moment Beaupré was lying on the bed, sleeping the sleep of innocence. I was occupied in a very different manner. I ought to mention that a map had been obtained from Moscow, in order that I might be instructed in geography. It hung upon the wall without ever being made use of, and as it was a very large map, and the paper thick and of good quality, I had long been tempted to appropriate it to my own use. I resolved to make it into a kite, and, taking advantage of Beaupré's slumber, I set to work. My father entered the room just at the moment when I was adjusting a tail to the Cape of Good Hope. Seeing me so occupied with geography, my father saluted me with a box on the ear, then stepped towards Beaupré, and waking him very unceremoniously, overwhelmed him with reproaches. In his confusion, Beaupré wanted to rise up from the bed, but he was unable to do so: the unfortunate Frenchman was hopelessly intoxicated. There was only one course to take after so many acts of misdemeanour. My father seized hold of him by the collar, lifted him off the bed, hustled him out of the room, and dismissed him that very same day from his service--to the unspeakable delight of Savelitch. Thus ended my education.
I now lived the life of a spoiled child, frightening the pigeons, and playing at leap-frog with the boys on the estate. I continued to lead this kind of life until I was sixteen years of age. Then came the turning-point in my existence.
One day in autumn, my mother was boiling some honey preserves in the parlour, and I was looking on and licking my lips as the liquid simmered and frothed. My father was sitting near the window, reading the "Court Calendar," which he received every year. This book always had a great effect upon him; he used to read it with especial interest, and the reading of it always stirred his bile in the most astonishing manner. My mother, who was perfectly well acquainted with his whims and peculiarities, always endeavoured to keep this unfortunate book out of the way as much as she possibly could, and, on this account, his eyes would not catch a glimpse of the volume for months together. But when he did happen to find it, he would sit with it in his hands for hours at a stretch.... As I have said, my father was reading the "Court Calendar," every now and then shrugging his shoulders, and muttering to himself: "Lieutenant-General!... He used to be a sergeant in my company!... Knight of both Russian Orders!... How long is it since we----"
At last my father flung the "Calendar" down upon the sofa, and sank into a reverie--a proceeding that was always of evil augury.
Suddenly he turned to my mother:
"Avdotia Vassilevna, how old is Petrousha?"
"He is getting on for seventeen," replied my mother: "Petrousha was born in the same year that aunt Nastasia Gerasimovna lost her eye, and----"
"Very well," said my father, interrupting her; "it is time that he entered the service. He has had quite enough of running about the servants' rooms and climbing up to the dovecots."
The thought of soon having to part with me produced such an effect upon my mother, that she let the spoon fall into the saucepan, and the tears streamed down her cheeks. As for myself, it would be difficult to describe the delight that I felt. The thought of the service was associated in my mind with thoughts of freedom and the pleasures of a life in St. Petersburg. I imagined myself an officer in the Guards, that being, in my opinion, the summit of human felicity.
My father loved neither to change his intentions, nor to delay putting them into execution. The day for my departure was fixed. On the evening before, my father informed me that he intended to write to my future chief, and asked for pens and paper.
"Do not forget, Andrei Petrovitch," said my mother, "to send my salutations to Prince B----, and say that I hope he will take our Petrousha under his protection."
"What nonsense!" exclaimed my father, frowning. "Why should I write to Prince B----"
"Why, you said just now that you wanted to write to Petrousha's chief."
"Well, and what then?"
"Why, Prince B---- is Petrousha's chief. You know Petrousha is enrolled in the Semenovsky Regiment."
"Enrolled! What care I whether he is enrolled or not? Petrousha is not going to St. Petersburg. What would he learn by serving in St. Petersburg? To squander money and indulge in habits of dissipation. No, let him enter a regiment of the Line; let him learn to carry knapsack and belt, to smell powder, to become a soldier, and not an idler in the Guards. Where is his passport? Bring it here."
My mother went to get my passport, which she preserved in a small box along with the shirt in which I was christened, and delivered it to my father with a trembling hand. My father read it through very attentively, placed it in front of him upon the table, and commenced to write his letter.
I was tortured with curiosity. Where was I to be sent to, if I was not going to St. Petersburg? I kept my eyes steadfastly fixed upon the pen, which moved slowly over the paper. At last he finished the letter, enclosed it in a cover along with my passport, took off his spectacles, and, calling me to him, said:
"Here is a letter for Andrei Karlovitch R----, my old comrade and friend. You are going to Orenburg to serve under his command."
All my brilliant hopes were thus brought to the ground! Instead of a life of gaiety in St. Petersburg, there awaited me a tedious existence in a dreary and distant country. The service, which I had thought of with such rapture but a moment before, now presented itself to my eyes in the light of a great misfortune. But there was no help for it, and arguing the matter would have been of no avail.
Early the next morning a travelling carriage drew up before the door; my portmanteau was placed in it, as well as a small chest containing a tea-service and a tied-up cloth full of rolls and pies--the last tokens of home indulgence. My parents gave me their blessing. My father said to me:
"Good-bye, Peter! Serve faithfully whom you have sworn to serve; obey your superior officers; do not run after their favours; be not too eager in volunteering for service, but never shirk a duty when you are selected for it; and remember the proverb: 'Take care of your coat while it is new, and of your honour while it is young.'"
My mother, with tears in her eyes, enjoined me to take care of my health, at the same time impressing upon Savelitch to look well after the child. A cloak made of hare-skin was then put over my shoulders, and over that another made of fox-skin. I seated myself in the carriage with Savelitch, and started off on my journey, weeping bitterly.
That same night I arrived at Simbirsk, where I was compelled to remain for the space of twenty-four hours, to enable Savelitch to purchase several necessary articles which he had been commissioned to procure. I stopped at an inn. In the morning Savelitch sallied out to the shops. Tired of looking out of the window into a dirty alley, I began to wander about the rooms of the inn. As I entered the billiard-room, my eyes caught sight of a tall gentleman of about thirty-five years of age, with long, black moustaches; he was dressed in a morning-gown, and had a cue in his hand and a pipe between his teeth. He was playing with the marker, who drank a glass of brandy when he scored, but crept on all-fours beneath the table when he failed. I stopped to look at the game. The longer it continued, the more frequent became the crawling on all-fours, until at last the marker crept beneath the table and remained there.
The gentleman uttered a few strong expressions over him, as a sort of funeral oration, and then invited me to play a game with him. I declined, on the score that I did not know how to play. This evidently seemed very strange to him, and he looked at me with an air of commiseration. However, we soon fell into conversation. I learned that his name was Ivan Ivanovitch Zourin; that he was a captain in a Hussar regiment; that he was then stopping in Simbirsk, waiting to receive some recruits, and that he was staying at the same inn as myself.
Zourin invited me to dine with him, in military fashion, upon whatever Heaven should be pleased to set before us. I accepted his invitation with pleasure. We sat down to table. Zourin drank a great deal, and pressed me to do the same, saying that it was necessary for me to get accustomed to the ways of the service. He related to me several military anecdotes, which convulsed me with laughter, and when we rose from the table we had become intimate friends Then he offered to teach me how to play at billiards.
"It is an indispensable game for soldiers like us," said he. "When on the march, for instance, you arrive at some insignificant village, what can you do to occupy the time? You cannot always be thrashing the Jews. You involuntarily make your way to the inn to play at billiards, and to do that, you must know how to play."
I was completely convinced, and I commenced to learn the game with great assiduity. Zourin encouraged me with loud-voiced praise, being astonished at my rapid progress; and after a few lessons he proposed that we should play for money, for the smallest sums possible, not for the sake of gain, but merely for the sake of not playing for nothing, which, according to his opinion, was an exceedingly bad habit.
I agreed to his proposal, and Zourin ordered a supply of punch, which he persuaded me to partake of, saying that it was necessary to become accustomed to it in the service; for what would the service be without punch! I followed his advice. In the meantime we continued our game. The more frequently I had recourse to the punch, the more emboldened I became. The balls kept continually flying in the wrong direction; I grew angry, abused the marker--who counted the points, Heaven only knows how,--increased the stakes from time to time--in a word, I behaved like a boy just out of leading-strings. In the meanwhile the time had passed away without my having observed it. Zourin glanced at the clock, laid down his cue, and informed me that I had lost a hundred roubles. I was considerably confounded by this piece of information. My money was in the hands of Savelitch. I began to make some excuses. Zourin interrupted me:
"Pray, do not be uneasy. I can wait; and now let us go to Arinoushka."
What more shall I add? I finished the day as foolishly as I had commenced it. We took supper with Arinoushka. Zourin kept continually filling my glass, observing as he did so, that it was necessary to become accustomed to it in the service. When I rose from the table, I was scarcely able to stand on my legs; at midnight, Zourin conducted me back to the inn.
Savelitch came to the doorstep to meet us. He uttered a groan on perceiving the indubitable signs of my zeal for the service.
"What has happened to you?" he said, in a voice of lamentation. "Where have you been drinking so? Oh, Lord! never did such a misfortune happen before!"
"Hold your tongue, you old greybeard!" I replied, in an unsteady voice; "you are certainly drunk. Go to sleep ... and put me to bed."
The next morning I awoke with a violent headache, and with a confused recollection of the events of the day before. My reflections were interrupted by Savelitch, who brought me a cup of tea.
"You are beginning your games early, Peter Andreitch," he said, shaking his head. "And whom do you take after? As far as I know, neither your father nor grandfather were ever drunkards; as for your mother, I will say nothing; she has never drunk anything except kvas since the day she was born. And who is to blame for all this? Why, that cursed Mossoo, who was ever running to Antipevna with: ' Madame , je vous prie, vodka.' You see what a pretty pass your je vous prie has brought you to! There's no denying that the son of a dog taught you some nice things! It was worth while to hire such a heathen for your tutor, as if our master had not enough of his own people!"
I felt ashamed of myself. I turned my back to him, and said:
"Go away, Savelitch; I do not want any tea."
But it was a difficult matter to quiet Savelitch when he had set his mind upon preaching a sermon.
"You see now, Peter Andreitch, what it is to get drunk. You have a headache, and you do not want to eat or drink anything. A man who gets drunk is good for nothing. Have some cucumber pickle with honey; or perhaps half a glass of fruit wine would be better still. What do you say?"
At that moment a boy entered the room and handed me a note from Zourin. I opened it and read the following lines:
"DEAR PETER ANDREIVITCH,
"Be so good as to send me, by my boy, the hundred roubles which you lost to me yesterday. I am in great need of money.
There was no help for it. I assumed an air of indifference, and turning to Savelitch, who was my treasurer and caretaker in one, I ordered him to give the boy a hundred roubles.
"What? why?" asked the astonished Savelitch.
"I owe them to him," I replied, with the greatest possible coolness.
"Owe!" ejaculated Savelitch, becoming more and more astonished. "When did you get into his debt? It looks a very suspicious piece of business. You may do as you like, my lord, but I shall not give the money."
I thought that, if in this decisive moment I did not gain the upper hand of the obstinate old man, it would be difficult for me to liberate myself from his tutelage later on; so, looking haughtily at him, I said:
"I am your master, and you are my servant. The money is mine. I played and lost it because I chose to do so; and I advise you not to oppose my wishes, but to do what you are ordered."
Savelitch was so astounded at my words, that he clasped his hands and stood as if petrified.
"What are you standing there like that for?" I exclaimed angrily.
Savelitch began to weep.
"Father, Peter Andreitch," he stammered in a quivering voice, "do not break my heart with grief. You are the light of my life, so listen to me--to an old man: write to this robber, and tell him that you were only joking, that we have not got so much money. A hundred roubles! Merciful Heaven! Tell him that your parents have strictly forbidden you to play for anything except nuts----"
"That will do; let me have no more of your chatter! Give me the money, or I will put you out by the neck!"
Savelitch looked at me with deep sadness, and went for the money. I pitied the poor old man; but I wanted to assert my independence and to show that I was no longer a child.
The money was paid to Zourin. Savelitch hastened to get me away from the accursed inn. He made his appearance with the information that the horses were ready. With an uneasy conscience, and a silent feeling of remorse, I left Simbirsk without taking leave of my teacher of billiards, and without thinking that I should ever see him again.