The Captain's Daughter

by Alexsander Pushkin

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Chapter IV - The Duel

Several weeks passed by, and my life in the fortress of Bailogorsk became not only endurable, but even agreeable. In the house of the Commandant I was received as one of the family. Both husband and wife were very worthy persons. Ivan Kouzmitch, who had risen from the ranks, was a simple and unaffected man, but exceedingly honest and good-natured. His wife managed things generally for him, and this was quite in harmony with his easy-going disposition. Vassilissa Egorovna looked after the business of the service as well as her own domestic affairs, and ruled the fortress precisely as she did her own house. Maria Ivanovna soon ceased to be shy in my presence. We became acquainted. I found her a sensible and feeling girl. In an imperceptible manner I became attached to this good family, even to Ivan Ignatitch, the one-eyed garrison lieutenant, whom Shvabrin accused of being on terms of undue intimacy with Vassilissa Egorovna, an accusation which had not a shadow of probability to give countenance to it; but Shvabrin did not trouble himself about that.

I was promoted to the rank of officer. My duties were not very heavy. In this God-protected fortress there was neither parade, nor drill, nor guard-mounting. The Commandant sometimes instructed the soldiers for his own amusement, but he had not yet got so far as teaching them which was the right-hand side and which the left. Shvabrin had several French books in his possession. I began to read them, and this awakened within me a taste for literature. In the morning I read, exercised myself in translating, and sometimes even attempted to compose verses. I dined nearly always at the Commandants, where I generally spent the rest of the day, and where sometimes of an evening came Father Gerasim, with his wife, Akoulina Pamphilovna, the greatest gossip in the whole neighbourhood. It is unnecessary for me to mention that Shvabrin and I saw each other every day, but his conversation began to be more disagreeable the more I saw of him. His continual ridiculing of the Commandant's family, and especially his sarcastic observations concerning Maria Ivanovna, annoyed me exceedingly. There was no other society in the fortress, and I wished for no other.

In spite of the predictions, the Bashkirs did not revolt. Tranquillity reigned around, our fortress. But the peace was suddenly disturbed by civil dissensions.

I have already mentioned that I occupied myself with literature. My essays were tolerable for those days, and Alexander Petrovitch Soumarokoff,[1] some years afterwards, praised them very much. One day I contrived to write a little song with which I was much pleased. It is well-known that, under the appearance of asking advice, authors frequently endeavour to secure a well-disposed listener. And so, writing out my little song, I took it to Shvabrin, who was the only person in the whole fortress who could appreciate a poetical production. After a short preamble, I drew my manuscript out of my pocket, and read to him the following verses:

"I banish thoughts of love, and try
My fair one to forget;
And, to be free again, I fly
From Masha with regret.

"My troubled soul no rest can know,
No peace of mind for me;
For wheresoever I may go,
Those eyes I still shall see.

"Take pity, Masha, on this heart
Oppressed by grief and care;
And let compassion rend apart
The clouds of dark despair."

"What do you think of it?" I asked Shvabrin, expecting that praise which I considered I was justly entitled to. But, to my great disappointment, Shvabrin, who was generally complaisant; declared very peremptorily that the verses were not worth much.

"And why?" I asked, hiding my vexation.

"Because," he replied, "such verses are worthy of my instructor Tredyakovsky,[2] and remind me very much of his love couplets."

Then he took the manuscript from me and began unmercifully to pull to pieces every verse and word, jeering at me in the most sarcastic manner. This was more than I could endure, and snatching my manuscript out of his hand, I told him that I would never show him any more of my compositions. Shvabrin laughed at my threat.

"We shall see," said he, "if you will keep your word. A poet needs a listener, just as Ivan Kouzmitch needs his decanter of brandy before dinner. And who is this Masha to whom you declare your tender passion and your amorous distress? Can it be Maria Ivanovna?"

"That is not your business," replied I, frowning; "it is nothing to do with you who she is. I want neither your opinion nor your conjectures."

"Oho! my vain poet 'and discreet lover!" continued Shvabrin, irritating me more and more. "But listen to a friend's advice; if you wish to succeed, I advise you not to have recourse to writing verses."

"What do you mean, sir? Please explain yourself."

"With pleasure. I mean that if you wish Masha Mironoff to meet you at dusk, instead of tender verses, you must make her a present of a pair of earrings."

My blood began to boil.

"Why have you such an opinion of her?" I asked, with difficulty restraining my anger.

"Because," replied he, with a fiendish smile, "I know from experience her ways and habits."

"You lie, scoundrel!" I exclaimed with fury. "You lie in the most shameless manner!"

Shvabrin changed colour.

"This shall not be overlooked," said he, pressing my hand. "You shall give me satisfaction." "With pleasure, whenever you like," I replied, delighted beyond measure.

At that moment I was ready to tear him in pieces.

I immediately hastened to Ivan Ignatitch, and found him with a needle in his hand; in obedience to the commands of the Commandant's wife he was stringing mushrooms for drying during the winter.

"Ah, Peter Andreitch," said he, on seeing me, "you are welcome. May I ask on what business Heaven has brought you here?"

In a few words I explained to him that, having had a quarrel with Shvabrin, I came to ask him—Ivan Ignatitch—to be my second.

Ivan Ignatitch listened to me with great attention, keeping his one eye fixed upon me all the while.

"You wish to say," he said to me, "that you want to kill Shvabrin, and that you would like me to be a witness to it? Is that so, may I ask?

"Exactly so."

"In the name of Heaven, Peter Andreitch, whatever are you thinking of! You have had a quarrel with Shvabrin. What a great misfortune! A quarrel should not be hung round one's neck. He has insulted you, and you have insulted him; he gives you one in the face, and you give him one behind the ear; a second blow from him, another from you—and then each goes his own way; in a little while we bring about a reconciliation.... Is it right to kill one's neighbour, may I ask? And suppose that you do kill him—God be with him! I have no particular love for him. But what if he were to let daylight through you? How about the matter in that case? Who would be the worst off then, may I ask?"

The reasonings of the discreet lieutenant produced no effect upon me; I remained firm in my resolution.

"As you please," said Ivan Ignatitch; "do as you like. But why should I be a witness to it? People fight,—what is there wonderful in that, may I ask? Thank Heaven! I have fought against the Swedes and the Turks, and have seen enough of every kind of fighting."

I endeavoured to explain to him, as well as I could, the duty of a second; but Ivan Ignatitch could not understand me at all.

"Have your own way," said he; "but if I ought to mix myself up in the matter at all, it should be to go to Ivan Kouzmitch and report to him, in accordance with the rules of the service, that there was a design on foot to commit a crime within the fortress, contrary to the interest of the crown, and to request him to take the necessary measures——"

I felt alarmed, and implored Ivan Ignatitch not to say anything about the matter to the Commandant; after much difficulty I succeeded in talking him over, he gave me his word, and then I took leave of him.

I spent the evening as usual at the Commandant's house. I endeavoured to appear gay and indifferent, so as not to excite suspicion, and in order to avoid importunate questions; but I confess that I had not that cool assurance which those who find themselves in my position nearly always boast about. That evening I was disposed to be tender and sentimental. Maria Ivanovna pleased me more than usual. The thought that perhaps I was looking at her for the last time, imparted to her in my eyes something touching. Shvabrin likewise put in an appearance. I took him aside and informed him of my interview with Ivan Ignatitch.

"What do we want seconds for?" said he, drily; "we can do without them."

We agreed to fight behind the hayricks which stood near the fortress, and to appear on the ground at seven o'clock the next morning.

We conversed together in such an apparently amicable manner that Ivan Ignatitch was nearly betraying us in the excess of his joy.

"You should have done that long ago," he said to me, with a look of satisfaction; "a bad reconciliation is better than a good quarrel."

"What's that, what's that, Ivan Ignatitch?" said the Commandant's wife, who was playing at cards in a corner. "I did not hear what you said."

Ivan Ignatitch, perceiving signs of dissatisfaction upon my face, and remembering his promise, became confused, and knew not what reply to make. Shvabrin hastened to his assistance.

"Ivan Ignatitch," said he, "approves of our reconciliation."

"And with whom have you been quarrelling, my little father?"

"Peter Andreitch and I have had rather a serious fall out."

"What about?"

"About a mere trifle—about a song, Vassilissa Egorovna."

"A nice thing to quarrel about, a song! But how did it happen?"

"In this way. Peter Andreitch composed a song a short time ago, and this morning he began to sing it to me, and I began to hum my favourite ditty:

'Daughter of the Captain, Walk not out at midnight.' Then there arose a disagreement. Peter Andreitch grew angry, but then he reflected that everyone likes to sing what pleases him best, and there the matter ended."

Shvabrin's insolence nearly made me boil over with fury; but nobody except myself understood his coarse insinuations; at least, nobody paid any attention to them. From songs the conversation turned upon poets, and the Commandant observed that they were all rakes and terrible drunkards, and advised me in a friendly manner to have nothing to do with poetry, as it was contrary to the rules of the service, and would lead to no good.

Shvabrin's presence was insupportable to me. I soon took, leave of the Commandant and his family, and returned home. I examined my sword, tried the point of it, and then lay down to sleep, after giving Savelitch orders to wake me at seven o'clock.

The next morning, at the appointed hour, I stood ready behind the hayricks, awaiting my adversary. He soon made his appearance.

"We may be surprised," he said to me, "so we must make haste."

We took off our uniforms, remaining in our waistcoats, and drew our swords. At that moment Ivan Ignatitch and five of the old soldiers suddenly made their appearance from behind a hayrick, and summoned us to go before the Commandant. We obeyed with very great reluctance; the soldiers surrounded us, and we followed behind Ivan Ignatitch, who led the way in triumph, striding along with majestic importance.

We reached the Commandant's house. Ivan Ignatitch threw open the door, exclaiming triumphantly:

"Here they are!"

Vassilissa Egorovna came towards us.

"What is the meaning of all this, my dears? A plot to commit murder in our fortress! Ivan Kouzmitch, put them under arrest immediately! Peter Andreitch! Alexei Ivanitch! Give up your swords—give them up at once! Palashka, take the swords into the pantry. Peter Andreitch, I did not expect this of you! Are you not ashamed? As regards Alexei Ivanitch, he was turned out of the Guards for killing a man; he does not believe in God. Do you wish to be like him?"

Ivan Kouzmitch agreed with everything that his wife said, and added:

"Yes, Vassilissa Egorovna speaks the truth; duels are strictly forbidden by the articles of war."

In the meanwhile Palashka had taken our swords and carried them to the pantry. I could not help smiling. Shvabrin preserved his gravity.

"With all due respect to you," he said coldly to her, "I cannot but observe that you give yourself unnecessary trouble in constituting yourself our judge. Leave that to Ivan Kouzmitch; it is his business."

"What do you say, my dear!" exclaimed the Commandant's wife. "Are not husband and wife, then, one soul and one body? Ivan Kouzmitch! what are you staring at? Place them at once in separate corners on bread and water, so that they may be brought to their proper senses, and then let Father Gerasim impose a penance upon them, that they may pray to God for forgiveness, and show themselves repentant before men."

Ivan Kouzmitch knew not what to do. Maria Ivanovna was exceedingly pale. Gradually the storm blew over; the Commandant's wife recovered her composure, and ordered us to embrace each other. Palashka brought back our swords to us. We left the Commandant's house to all appearance perfectly reconciled. Ivan Ignatitch accompanied us.

"Were you not ashamed," I said angrily to him, "to go and report us to the Commandant, after having given me your word that you would not do so?"

"As true as there is a heaven above us, I did not mention I a word about the matter to Ivan Kouzmitch," he replied. "Vassilissa Egorovna got everything out of me. She arranged the whole business without the Commandant's knowledge. However, Heaven be thanked that it has all ended in the way that it has!"

With these words he returned home, and Shvabrin and I remained alone.

"Our business cannot end in this manner," I said to him. "Certainly not," replied Shvabrin; "your blood shall answer for your insolence to me; but we shall doubtless be watched. For a few days, therefore, we must dissemble. Farewell, till we meet again."

And we parted as if nothing were the matter.

Returning to the Commandant's house I seated myself, as usual, near Maria Ivanovna. Ivan Kouzmitch was not at home. Vassilissa Egorovna was occupied with household matters. We were conversing together in an under tone. Maria Ivanovna reproached me tenderly for the uneasiness which I had caused them all by my quarrel with Shvabrin.

"I almost fainted away," said she, "when they told us that you intended to fight with swords. What strange beings men are! For a single word, which they would probably forget a week afterwards, they are ready to murder each other and to sacrifice not only their life, but their conscience and the happiness of those——But I am quite sure that you did not begin the quarrel. Without doubt, Alexei Ivanitch first began it."

"Why do you think so, Maria Ivanovna?"

"Because—he is so sarcastic. I do not like Alexei Ivanitch. He is very disagreeable to me; yet it is strange: I should not like to displease him. That would cause me great uneasiness."

"And what do you think, Maria Ivanovna—do you please him or not?"

Maria Ivanovna blushed and grew confused.

"I think," said she, "I believe that I please him."

"And why do you think so?"

"Because he once proposed to me."

"Proposed! He proposed to you? And when?"

"Last year; two months before your arrival."

"And you refused?"

"As you see. Alexei Ivanitch is, to be sure, a sensible man and of good family, and possesses property; but when I think that I should have to kiss him under the crown[3] in the presence of everybody—no! not for anything in the world!"

Maria Ivanovna's words opened my eyes and explained a great many things. I now understood why Shvabrin calumniated her so remorselessly. He had probably observed our mutual inclination towards each other, and endeavoured to produce a coolness between us. The words which had been the cause of our quarrel appeared to me still more abominable, when, instead of a coarse and indecent jest, I was compelled to look upon them in the light of a deliberate calumny. The wish to chastise the insolent slanderer became still stronger within me, and I waited impatiently for a favourable opportunity for putting it into execution.

I did not wait long. The next day, when I was occupied in composing an elegy, and sat biting my pen while trying to think of a rhyme, Shvabrin tapped at my window. I threw down my pen, took up my sword, and went out to him.

"Why should we delay any longer?" said Shvabrin; "nobody is observing us. Let us go down to the river; there no one will disturb us."

We set out in silence. Descending a winding path, we stopped at the edge of the river and drew our swords. Shvabrin was more skilful in the use of the weapon than I, but I was stronger and more daring, and Monsieur Beaupré, who had formerly been a soldier, had given me some lessons in fencing which I had turned to good account. Shvabrin had not expected to find in me such a dangerous adversary. For a long time neither of us was able to inflict any injury upon the other; at last, observing that Shvabrin was beginning to relax his endeavours, I commenced to attack him with increased ardour, and almost forced him back into the river. All at once I heard my name pronounced in a loud tone. I looked round and perceived Savelitch hastening down the path towards me.... At that same moment I felt a sharp thrust in the breast, beneath the right shoulder, and I fell senseless to the ground.


[1] A Russian dramatic poet, once celebrated, but now almost forgotten. His most popular works were two tragedies, "Khoreff," and "Pemetrius the Pretender."

[2] A minor poet of the last century.

[3] Crowns are held above the heads of the bride and bridegroom during the marriage ceremony in Russia.


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