Chapter 5. Love
When I came to myself I remained some time without understanding what had befallen me, nor where I chanced to be. I was in bed in an unfamiliar room, and I felt very weak indeed. Savéliitch was standing by me, a light in his hand. Someone was unrolling with care the bandages round my shoulder and chest. Little by little my ideas grew clearer. I recollected my duel and guessed without any difficulty that I had been wounded. At this moment the door creaked slightly on its hinges.
"Well, how is he getting on?" whispered a voice which thrilled through me.
"Always the same still," replied Savéliitch, sighing; "always unconscious, as he has now been these four days."
I wished to turn, but I had not strength to do so.
"Where am I? Who is there?" I said, with difficulty. Marya Ivánofna came near to my bed and leaned gently over me.
"How do you feel?" she said to me.
"All right, thank God!" I replied in a weak voice. "It is you, Marya Ivánofna; tell me--"
I could not finish. Savéliitch exclaimed, joy painted on his face--
"He is coming to himself!--he is coming to himself! Oh! thanks be to heaven! My father Petr' Andréjïtch, have you frightened me enough? Four days! That seems little enough to say, but--"
Marya Ivánofna interrupted him.
"Do not talk to him too much, Savéliitch; he is still very weak."
She went away, shutting the door carefully.
I felt myself disturbed with confused thoughts. I was evidently in the house of the Commandant, as Marya Ivánofna could thus come and see me! I wished to question Savéliitch; but the old man shook his head and turned a deaf ear. I shut my eyes in displeasure, and soon fell asleep. Upon waking I called Savéliitch, but in his stead I saw before me Marya Ivánofna, who greeted me in her soft voice. I cannot describe the delicious feeling which thrilled through me at this moment, I seized her hand and pressed it in a transport of delight, while bedewing it with my tears. Marya did not withdraw it, and all of a sudden I felt upon my cheek the moist and burning imprint of her lips. A wild flame of love thrilled through my whole being.
"Dear, good Marya Ivánofna," I said to her, "be my wife. Consent to give me happiness."
She became reasonable again.
"For heaven's sake, calm yourself," she said, withdrawing her hand. "You are still in danger; your wound may reopen; be careful of yourself--were it only for my sake."
After these words she went away, leaving me at the height of happiness. I felt that life was given back to me.
"She will be mine! She loves me!"
This thought filled all my being.
From this moment I hourly got better. It was the barber of the regiment who dressed my wound, for there was no other doctor in all the fort, and, thank God, he did not attempt any doctoring. Youth and nature hastened my recovery. All the Commandant's family took the greatest care of me. Marya Ivánofna scarcely ever left me. It is unnecessary to say that I seized the first favourable opportunity to resume my interrupted proposal, and this time Marya heard me more patiently. She naïvely avowed to me her love, and added that her parents would, in all probability, rejoice in her happiness.
"But think well about it," she used to say to me. "Will there be no objections on the part of your family?"
These words made me reflect. I had no doubt of my mother's tenderness; but knowing the character and way of thinking of my father, I foresaw that my love would not touch him very much, and that he would call it youthful folly. I frankly confessed this to Marya Ivánofna, but in spite of this I resolved to write to my father as eloquently as possible to ask his blessing. I showed my letter to Marya Ivánofna, who found it so convincing and touching that she had no doubt of success, and gave herself up to the feelings of her heart with all the confidence of youth and love.
I made peace with Chvabrine during the early days of my convalescence. Iván Kouzmitch said to me, reproaching me for the duel--
"You know, Petr' Andréjïtch, properly speaking, I ought to put you under arrest; but you are already sufficiently punished without that. As to Alexey Iványtch, he is confined by my order, and under strict guard, in the corn magazine, and Vassilissa Igorofna has his sword under lock and key. He will have time to reflect and repent at his ease."
I was too happy to cherish the least rancour. I began to intercede for Chvabrine, and the good Commandant, with his wife's leave, agreed to set him at liberty. Chvabrine came to see me. He expressed deep regret for all that had occurred, declared it was all his fault, and begged me to forget the past. Not being of a rancorous disposition, I heartily forgave him both our quarrel and my wound. I saw in his slander the irritation of wounded vanity and rejected love, so I generously forgave my unhappy rival.
I was soon completely recovered, and was able to go back to my quarters. I impatiently awaited the answer to my letter, not daring to hope, but trying to stifle sad forebodings that would arise. I had not yet attempted any explanation as regarded Vassilissa Igorofna and her husband. But my courtship could be no surprise to them, as neither Marya nor myself made any secret of our feelings before them, and we were sure beforehand of their consent.
At last, one fine day, Savéliitch came into my room with a letter in his hand.
I took it trembling. The address was written in my father's hand.
This prepared me for something serious, since it was usually my mother who wrote, and he only added a few lines at the end. For a long time I could not make up my mind to break the seal. I read over the solemn address:--
"To my son, Petr' Andréjïtch Grineff, District of Orenburg, Fort Bélogorsk."
I tried to guess from my father's handwriting in what mood he had written the letter. At last I resolved to open it, and I did not need to read more than the first few lines to see that the whole affair was at the devil. Here are the contents of this letter:--
"My Son Petr',--
"We received the 15th of this month the letter in which you ask our parental blessing and our consent to your marriage with Marya Ivánofna, the Mironoff daughter. And not only have I no intention of giving you either my blessing or my consent, but I intend to come and punish you well for your follies, like a little boy, in spite of your officer's rank, because you have shown me that you are not fit to wear the sword entrusted to you for the defence of your country, and not for fighting duels with fools like yourself. I shall write immediately to Andréj Karlovitch to beg him to send you away from Fort Bélogorsk to some place still further removed, so that you may get over this folly.
"Upon hearing of your duel and wound your mother fell ill with sorrow, and she is still confined to her bed.
"What will become of you? I pray God may correct you, though I scarcely dare trust in His goodness.
The perusal of this letter aroused in me a medley of feelings. The harsh expressions which my father had not scrupled to make use of hurt me deeply; the contempt which he cast on Marya Ivánofna appeared to me as unjust as it was unseemly; while, finally, the idea of being sent away from Fort Bélogorsk dismayed me. But I was, above all, grieved at my mother's illness.
I was disgusted with Savéliitch, never doubting that it was he who had made known my duel to my parents. After walking up and down awhile in my little room, I suddenly stopped short before him, and said to him, angrily--
"It seems that it did not satisfy you that, thanks to you, I've been wounded and at death's door, but that you must also want to kill my mother as well."
Savéliitch remained motionless, as it struck by a thunderbolt.
"Have pity on me, sir," he exclaimed, almost sobbing. "What is it you deign to tell me--that I am the cause of your wound? But God knows I was only running to stand between you and Alexey Iványtch's sword. Accursed old age alone prevented me. What have I now done to your mother?"
"What did you do?" I retorted. "Who told you to write and denounce me? Were you put in my service to be a spy upon me?"
"I denounce you!" replied Savéliitch, in tears. "Oh, good heavens! Here, be so good as to read what master has written to me, and see if it was I who denounced you."
With this he drew from his pocket a letter, which he offered to me, and I read as follows:--
"Shame on you, you old dog, for never writing and telling me anything about my son, Petr' Andréjïtch, in spite of my strict orders, and that it should be from strangers that I learn his follies! Is it thus you do your duty and act up to your master's wishes? I shall send you to keep the pigs, old rascal, for having hid from me the truth, and for your weak compliance with the lad's whims. On receipt of this letter, I order you to let me know directly the state of his health, which, judging by what I hear, is improving, and to tell me exactly the place where he was hit, and if the wound be well healed."
Evidently Savéliitch had not been the least to blame, and it was I who had insulted him by my suspicions and reproaches. I begged his pardon, but the old man was inconsolable.
"That I should have lived to see it!" repeated he. "These be the thanks that I have deserved of my masters for all my long service. I am an old dog. I'm only fit, to keep pigs, and in addition to all this I am the cause of your wound. No, my father, Petr' Andréjïtch, 'tis not I who am to blame, it is rather the confounded '_mossoo_;' it was he who taught you to fight with those iron spits, stamping your foot, as though by ramming and stamping you could defend yourself from a bad man. It was, indeed, worth while spending money upon a '_mossoo_' to teach you that."
But who could have taken the trouble to tell my father what I had done. The General? He did not seem to trouble himself much about me; and, indeed, Iván Kouzmitch had not thought it necessary to report my duel to him. I could not think. My suspicions fell upon Chvabrine; he alone could profit by this betrayal, which might end in my banishment from the fort and my separation from the Commandant's family. I was going to tell all to Marya Ivánofna when she met me on the doorstep.
"What has happened?" she said to me. "How pale you are!"
"All is at an end," replied I, handing her my father's letter.
In her turn she grew pale. After reading the letter she gave it me back, and said, in a voice broken by emotion--
"It was not my fate. Your parents do not want me in your family; God's will be done! God knows better than we do what is fit for us. There is nothing to be done, Petr' Andréjïtch; may you at least be happy."
"It shall not be thus!" I exclaimed, seizing her hand. "You love me; I am ready for anything. Let us go and throw ourselves at your parents' feet. They are honest people, neither proud nor hard; they--they will give us their blessing--we will marry, and then with time, I am sure, we shall succeed in mollifying my father. My mother will intercede for us, and he will forgive me."
"No, Petr' Andréjïtch," replied Marya, "I will not marry you without the blessing of your parents. Without their blessing you would not be happy. Let us submit to the will of God. Should you meet with another betrothed, should you love her, _God be with you_, Petr' Andréjïtch, I--I will pray for you both."
She began to cry, and went away. I meant to follow her to her room; but I felt unable to control myself, and I went home. I was seated, deep in melancholy reflections, when Savéliitch suddenly came and interrupted me.
"Here, sir," said he, handing me a sheet of paper all covered with writing, "see if I be a spy on my master, and if I try to sow discord betwixt father and son."
I took the paper from his hand; it was Savéliitch's reply to the letter he had received. Here it is word for word--
"My lord, Andréj Petróvitch, our gracious father, I have received your gracious letter, in which you deign to be angered with me, your serf, bidding me be ashamed of not obeying my master's orders. And I, who am not an old dog, but your faithful servant, I do obey my master's orders, and I have ever served you zealously, even unto white hairs. I did not write to you about Petr' Andréjïtch's wound in order not to frighten you without cause, and now we hear that our mistress, our mother, Avdotia Vassiliéva is ill of fright, and I shall go and pray heaven for her health. Petr' Andréjïtch has been wounded in the chest, beneath the right shoulder, under one rib, to the depth of a _verchok_ and a half, and he has been taken care of in the Commandant's house, whither we brought him from the river bank, and it was the barber here, Stépan Paramonoff, who treated him; and now Petr' Andréjïtch, thank God, is going on well, and there is nothing but good to tell of him. His superiors, according to hearsay, are well pleased with him, and Vassilissa Igorofna treats him as her own son; and because such an affair should have happened to him you must not reproach him; the horse may have four legs and yet stumble. And you deign to write that you will send me to keep the pigs. My lord's will be done. And now I salute you down to the ground.
"Your faithful serf,
I could not help smiling once or twice as I read the good old man's letter. I did not feel equal to writing to my father. And to make my mother easy the letter of Savéliitch seemed to me amply sufficient.
From this day my position underwent a change. Marya Ivánofna scarcely ever spoke to me, and even tried to avoid me. The Commandant's house became unbearable to me; little by little I accustomed myself to stay alone in my quarters.
At first Vassilissa Igorofna remonstrated, but, seeing I persisted in my line of conduct, she left me in peace. I only saw Iván Kouzmitch when military duties brought us in contact. I had only rare interviews with Chvabrine, whom I disliked the more that I thought I perceived in him a secret enmity, which confirmed all the more my suspicions. Life became a burden to me. I gave myself up, a prey to dark melancholy, which was further fed by loneliness and inaction. My love burnt the more hotly for my enforced quiet, and tormented me more and more. I lost all liking for reading and literature. I was allowing myself to be completely cast down, and I dreaded either becoming mad or dissolute, when events suddenly occurred which strongly influenced my life, and gave my mind a profound and salutary rousing.
[Footnote 46: Scornful way of writing the patronymic.]
[Footnote 47: Formula of consent.]
[Footnote 48: One _verchok_ = 3 inches.]