Marie by Alexander Pushkin
THE SERGEANT OF THE GUARDS
My father, Andrew Peter Grineff, having served in his youth under Count
Munich, left the army in 17—, with the grade of First Major. From that time he
lived on his estate in the Principality of Simbirsk, where he married Avoditia,
daughter of a poor noble in the neighborhood. Of nine children, the issue of
this marriage, I was the only survivor. My brothers and sisters died in
Through the favor of a near relative of ours, Prince B——, himself a Major in
the Guards, I was enrolled Sergeant of the Guards in the regiment of Semenofski.
It was understood that I was on furlough till my education should be finished.
From my fifth year I was confided to the care of an old servant Saveliitch,
whose steadiness promoted him to the rank of my personal attendant. Thanks to
his care, when I was twelve years of age I knew how to read and write, and could
make a correct estimate of the points of a hunting dog.
At this time, to complete my education, my father engaged upon a salary a
Frenchman, M. Beaupre, who was brought from Moscow with one year's provision of
wine and oil from Provence. His arrival of course displeased Saveliitch.
Beaupre had been in his own country a valet, in Prussia a soldier, then he
came to Russia to be a tutor, not knowing very well what the word meant in our
language. He was a good fellow, astonishingly gay and absent-minded. His chief
foible was a passion for the fair sex. Nor was he, to use his own expression, an
enemy to the bottle—that is to say, a la Russe, he loved drink. But as at
home wine was offered only at table, and then in small glasses, and as,
moreover, on these occasions, the servants passed by the pedagogue, Beaupre soon
accustomed himself to Russian brandy, and, in time, preferred it, as a better
tonic, to the wines of his native country. We became great friends, and although
according to contract he was engaged to teach me French, German, and all the
sciences, yet he was content that I should teach him to chatter Russian. But
as each of us minded his own business, our friendship was constant, and I
desired no mentor. However, destiny very soon separated us, in consequence of an
event which I will relate.
Our laundress, a fat girl all scarred by small-pox, and our dairymaid, who
was blind of an eye, agreed, one fine day, to throw themselves at my mother's
feet and accuse the Frenchman of trifling with their innocence and inexperience!
My mother would have no jesting upon this point, and she in turn complained
to my father, who, like a man of business, promptly ordered "that dog of a
Frenchman" into his presence. The servant informed him meekly that Beaupre was
at the moment engaged in giving me a lesson.
My father rushed to my room. Beaupre was sleeping upon his bed the sleep of
innocence. I was deep in a most interesting occupation. They had brought from
Moscow, for me, a geographical map, which hung unused against the wall; the
width and strength of its paper had been to me a standing temptation. I had
determined to make a kite of it, and profiting that morning by Beaupre's sleep,
I had set to work. My father came in just as I was tying a tail to the Cape of
Good Hope! Seeing my work, he seized me by the ear and shook me soundly; then
rushing to Beaupre's bed, awakened him without hesitating, pouring forth a
volley of abuse upon the head of the unfortunate Frenchman. In his confusion
Beaupre tried in vain to rise; the poor pedagogue was dead drunk! My father
caught him by the coat-collar and flung him out of the room. That day he was
dismissed, to the inexpressible delight of Saveliitch.
Thus ended my education. I now lived in the family as the eldest son, not of
age whose career is yet to open; amusing myself teaching pigeons to tumble on
the roof, and playing leap-frog in the stable-yard with the grooms. In this way
I reached my sixteenth year.
One Autumn day, my mother was preserving fruit with honey in the family room,
and I, smacking my lips, was looking at the liquid boiling; my father, seated
near the window, had just opened the Court Almanac which he received
every year. This book had great influence over him; he read it with extreme
attention, and reading prodigiously stirred up his bile. My mother, knowing by
heart all his ways and oddities, used to try to hide the miserable book, and
often whole months would pass without a sight of it. But, in revenge whenever he
did happen to find it, he would sit for hours with the book before his eyes.
Well, my father was reading the Court Almanac, frequently shrugging
his shoulders, and murmuring: "'General!' Umph, he was a sergeant in my company.
'Knight of the Orders of Russia.' Can it be so long since we—?"
Finally he flung the Almanac away on the sofa and plunged into deep
thought; a proceeding that never presaged anything good.
"Avoditia," said he, brusquely, to my mother, "how old is Peter?"
"His seventeenth precious year has just begun," said my mother. "Peter was
born the year Aunt Anastasia lost her eye, and that was—"
"Well, well," said my father, "it is time he should join the army. It is high
time he should give up his nurse, leap-frog and pigeon training."
The thought of a separation so affected my poor mother that she let the spoon
fall into the preserving pan, and tears rained from her eyes.
As for me, it is difficult to express my joy. The idea of army service was
mingled in my head with that of liberty, and the pleasures offered by a great
city like Saint Petersburg. I saw myself an officer in the Guards, which, in my
opinion was the height of felicity.
As my father neither liked to change his plans, nor delay their execution,
the day of my departure was instantly fixed. That evening, saying that he would
give me a letter to my future chief, he called for writing materials.
"Do not forget, Andrew," said my mother, "to salute for me Prince B. Tell him
that I depend upon his favor for my darling Peter."
"What nonsense," said my father, frowning, "why should I write to Prince B.?"
"You have just said that you would write to Peter's future chief."
"Well, what then?"
"Prince B. is his chief. You know very well that Peter is enrolled in the
"Enrolled! what's that to me? Enrolled or not enrolled, he shall not go to
Saint Petersburg. What would he learn there? Extravagance and folly. No! let him
serve in the army, let him smell powder, let him be a soldier and not a
do-nothing in the Guards; let him wear the straps of his knapsack out. Where is
the certificate of his birth and baptism?"
My mother brought the certificate, which she kept in a little box with my
baptismal robe, and handed it to my father. He read it, placed it before him on
the table, and commenced his letter.
I was devoured by curiosity. Where am I going, thought I, if not to Saint
Petersburg? I did not take my eyes from the pen which my father moved slowly
across the paper.
At last, the letter finished, he put it and my certificate under the same
envelope, took off his spectacles, called me and said:
"This letter is addressed to Andrew Karlovitch, my old friend and comrade.
You are going to Orenbourg to serve under orders."
All my brilliant dreams vanished. In place of the gay life of Saint
Petersburg, ennui awaited me in a wild and distant province of the empire.
Military life seemed now a calamity.
The next morning a kibitka was at the door; my trunk was placed on it, and
also a case holding tea and a tea-service, with some napkins full of rolls and
pastry, the last sweet bits of the paternal home. Both my parents gave me their
solemn benediction. My father said, "Adieu, Peter. Serve faithfully him to whom
your oath is given; obey your chiefs; neither seek favor, nor solicit service,
but do not reject them; and remember the proverb: 'Take care of thy coat whilst
it is new, and thy honor whilst it is fresh.'"
My darling mother, all in tears, told me to take care of my health; and
counseled Saveliitch to guard her child from danger.
I was wrapped up in a short touloup lined with hare-skin, and over that a
pelisse lined fox-skin. I took my seat in the kibitka with Saveliitch, and
shedding bitter tears, set out for my destination.
That night I arrived at Simbirsk, where I was to stay twenty-four hours, in
order that Saveliitch might make various purchases entrusted to him. Early in
the morning Saveliitch went to the shops, whilst I stayed in the inn. Tired of
gazing out of the window upon a dirty little street, I rambled about the inn,
and at last entered the billiard-room. I found there a tall gentleman, some
forty years of age, with heavy black moustaches, in his dressing-gown, holding a
cue and smoking his pipe. He was playing with the marker, who was to drink a
glass of brandy and water if he gained, and if he lost was to pass, on
all-fours, under the billiard table. I watched them playing. The more they
played the more frequent became the promenades on all-fours, so that finally the
marker stayed under the table. The gentleman pronounced over him some energetic
expression, as a funeral oration, and then proposed that I should play a game
with him. I declared that I did not know how to play billiards. That seemed
strange to him. He looked at me with commiseration.
However, we opened a conversation. I learned that his name was Ivan Zourine;
that he was a chief of a squadron of Hussars stationed then at Simbirsk
recruiting soldiers, and that his quarters were at my inn. He invited me to mess
with him, soldier-fashion, pot-luck. I accepted with pleasure, and we sat down
to dinner. Zourine drank deeply, and invited me to drink also, saying that I
must become accustomed to the service. He told stories of garrison life which
made me laugh till I held my sides, and we rose from the table intimate friends.
He then proposed to teach me how to play billiards. "It is," said he,
"indispensable for soldiers like ourselves. For example, suppose we arrive in a
town, what's to be done? We can not always make sport of the Jews. As a last
resort there is the inn and the billiard-room; but to play billiards, one must
know how." These reasons convinced me, and I set about learning with enthusiasm.
Zourine encouraged me in a loud tone; he was astonished at my rapid progress,
and after a few lesson he proposed to play for money, were it only two kopecks,
not for the gain, merely to avoid playing for nothing, which was, according to
him, a very bad habit. I agreed. Zourine ordered punch, which he advised me to
taste in order to become used to the service, "for," said he, "what kind of
service would that be without punch?"
I took his advice, and we continued to play; the more I tasted of my glass
the bolder I grew. I made the balls fly over the cushions; I was angry with the
marker who was counting. Heaven knows why. I increased the stake, and behaved,
altogether, like a boy just cut free, for the first time, from his mother's
apron-strings. The time passed quickly. At last, Zourine glanced at the clock,
laid down his cue, and said that I had lost a hundred roubles to him.
I was in great confusion, because my money was all in the hands of
Saveliitch. I began to mumble excuses, when Zourine exclaimed, "Oh! well! Good
God! I can wait till morning; don't be distressed about it. Now let us go to
supper." What could I do? I finished the day as foolishly as I began it.
Zourine never ceased pouring out drinks for me; advising me to become
accustomed to the service. Rising from table, I could scarcely stand. At
midnight Zourine brought me back to the inn.
Saveliitch met us at the door, and uttered a cry of horror when he saw the
unmistakable signs of my "zeal for the service."
"What has happened to thee?" said he, in heart-broken accents; "where have
you been filling yourself like a sack? Oh! heavenly father! a misfortune like
this never came before."
"Silence! old owl," said I, stammering, "I am sure you are drunk yourself; go
to bed, but first put me there."
I awoke next morning with a severe headache; the events of the evening I
recalled vaguely, but my recollections became vivid at the sight of Saveliitch
who came to me with a cup of tea.
"You begin young, Peter Grineff," said the old men, shaking his head. "Eh!
from whom do you inherit it? Neither your father nor grandfather were drunkards.
Your mother's name can not be mentioned; she never deigned to taste any thing
but cider. Whose fault is it then? That cursed Frenchman's; he taught three fine
things, that miserable dog—that pagan—for thy teacher, as if his lordship, thy
father, had not people of his own."
I was ashamed before the old man; I turned my face away saying, "I do not
want any tea, go away, Saveliitch." It was not easy to stop Saveliitch, once he
began to preach.
"Now, Peter, you see what it is to play the fool. You have a headache, you
have no appetite, a drunkard is good for nothing. Here, take some of this
decoction of cucumber and honey, or half a glass of brandy to sober you. What do
you say to that?"
At that instant a boy entered the room with a note for me from Zourine. I
unfolded it and read as follows:
"Do me the favor, my dear Peter, to send me by my servant the hundred roubles
that you lost to me yesterday. I am horribly in want of money. Your devoted.
As I was perfectly in his power, I assumed an air of indifference, and
ordered Saveliitch to give a hundred roubles to the boy.
"What? why?" said the old man, surprised.
"I owe that sum," said I, coolly.
"You owe it? When had you time enough to contract such a debt?" said he, with
redoubled astonishment. "No, no, that's impossible. Do what you like, my lord,
but I can not give the money."
I reflected that if in this decisive moment I did not oblige the obstinate
old fellow to obey me, it would be impossible in the future to escape from his
tutelage. Looking at him therefore, haughtily, I said, "I am thy master; thou
art my servant. The money is mine, and I lost because I chose to lose it; I
advise thee to obey when ordered, and not assume the airs of a master."
My words affected Saveliitch so much that he clasped his hands and stood
bowed down mute and motionless.
"What are you doing there like a post?" I cried out, angrily.
Saveliitch was in tears.
"Oh! my dear master Peter," stammered he, with trembling voice, "do not kill
me with grief. Oh my light, listen to me, an old man; write to that brigand that
you were jesting, that we never had so much money. A hundred roubles! God of
goodness! Tell him thy parents strictly forbade thee to play for any thing but
"Silence," said I, with severity, "give the money or I'll chase you out of
Saveliitch looked at me with agony, and went for the money. I pitied the good
old man, but I wanted to emancipate myself, and prove that I was no longer a
child. Saveliitch sent the money to Zourine, and then hastened our departure
from that cursed inn.
I left Simbirsk with a troubled conscience; a secret remorse oppressed me. I
took no leave of my teacher, not dreaming that I should ever meet him again.