Marie by Alexander Pushkin
The fortress of Belogorsk is situated forty versts from Orenbourg. The route
from this city is along the high banks of the river Iaik. The stream was not yet
frozen, and its lead-colored waters took a black tint between banks whitened by
the snow. Before me lay the Kirghis steppes. I fell into a moody train of
thought, for to me garrison life offered few attractions. I tried to picture my
future chief, Captain Mironoff. I imagined a severe, morose old man, knowing
nothing outside of the service, ready to arrest me for the least slip. Dusk was
falling; we were advancing rapidly.
"How far is it from here to the fortress?" said I to the coachman.
"You can see it now," he answered.
I looked on all sides, expecting to see high bastions, a wall, and a ditch. I
saw nothing but a little village surrounded by a wooden palisade. On one side
stood some hay-stacks half covered with snow; on the other a wind-mill, leaning
to one side; the wings of the mill, made of the heavy bark of the linden tree,
"Where is the fortress?" I asked, astonished.
"There it is," said the coachman, pointing to the village which we had just
entered. I saw near the gate an old iron cannon. The streets were narrow and
winding, and nearly all the huts were thatched with straw. I ordered the
coachman to drive to the Commandant's, and almost immediately my kibitka stopped
before a wooden house built on an eminence near the church, which was also of
wood. From the front door I entered the waiting-room. An old pensioner, seated
on a table, was sewing a blue piece on the elbow of a green uniform. I told him
to announce me.
"Enter, my good sir," said he, "our people are at home."
I entered a very neat room, furnished in the fashion of other days. On one
side stood a cabinet containing the silver. Against the wall hung the diploma of
an officer, with colored engravings arranged around its frame; notably, the
"Choice of the Betrothed," the "Taking of Kurstrin," and the "Burial of the Cat
by the Mice." Near the window sat an old woman in a mantilla, her head wrapped
in a handkerchief. She was winding a skein of thread held on the separated hands
of a little old man, blind of one eye, who was dressed like an officer.
"What do you desire, my dear sir?" said the woman to me, without interrupting
her occupation. I told her that I had come to enter the service, and that,
according to rule, I hastened to present myself to the captain. In saying this,
I turned to the one-eyed old man, whom I took for the commandant. The good lady
interrupted the speech which I had prepared in advance:
"Ivan Mironoff is not at home; he is gone to visit Father Garasim; but it is
all the same; I am his wife. Deign to love us and have us in favor! Take a seat,
my dear sir." She ordered a servant to send her the Corporal. The little old man
gazed at me curiously, with his only eye.
"May I dare to ask," said he, "in what regiment you have deigned to serve?"
I satisfied him on that point.
"And may I dare to ask why you changed from the Guards to our garrison?"
I replied that it was by the orders of authority.
"Probably for actions little becoming an officer of the Guards?" resumed the
"Will you stop your stupidities?" said the Captain's wife to him. "You see
the young man is fatigued by the journey; he has something else to do besides
answering you. Hold your hands better! And you my dear sir," continued she,
turning to me, "do not be too much afflicted that you are thrust into our little
town; you are not the first, and will not be the last. Now, there is Alexis
Chabrine, who has been transferred to us for a term of four years for murder.
God knows what provocation he had. He and a lieutenant went outside the city
with their swords, and before two witnesses Alexis killed the lieutenant. Ah!
misfortune has no master."
Just then the Corporal entered, a young and handsome Cossack. "Maxim," said
the Captain's wife, "give this officer a clean lodging."
"I obey, Basilia," replied the Cossack; "shall I lodge him with Ivan
"You are doting, Maxim, he has too little space now; besides, he is my
child's godfather; and, moreover, he never forgets that we are his chiefs. What
is your name, my dear sir?"
"Then conduct Peter Grineff to the quarters of Simeon Kieff. That rascal let
his horse into my vegetable garden. Is all right, Maxim?"
"Thank God, all is quiet, except that Corporal Kourzoff quarreled with the
woman Augustina about a pail of warm water."
"Ignatius," said the Captain's wife to the one-eyed man, "judge between the
two—decide which one is guilty, and punish both. Go, Maxim, God be with you.
Peter Grineff, Maxim will conduct you to your lodgings."
I took my leave; the Corporal led me to a cabin placed on the high bank near
the river's edge, at the end of the fortress. Half of the cabin was occupied by
the family of Simeon Kieff, the other was given up to me. My half of the cabin
was a large apartment divided by a partition. Saveliitch began at once to
install us, whilst I looked out of the narrow window. Before me stretched the
bleak and barren steppe; nearer rose some cabins; at the threshold of one stood
a woman with a bowl in her hand calling the pigs to feed; no other objects met
my sight, save a few chickens scratching for stray kernels of corn in the
street. And this was the country to which I was condemned to pass my youth! I
turned from the window, seized by bitter sadness, and went to bed without
supper, notwithstanding the supplications of Saveliitch, who with anguish cried
aloud: "Oh! he will not deign to eat! O Lord! what will my mistress say, if the
child should fall ill!"
The next morning I had scarcely begun to dress, when a young officer entered
my room. He was of small size, with irregular features, but his sun-burned face
had remarkable vivacity. "Pardon me," said he in French, "that I come so
unceremoniously to make your acquaintance. I learned yesterday of your arrival,
and the desire of seeing at last a human face so took possession of me that I
could wait no longer. You will understand this when you shall have lived here
I easily guessed that he was the officer dismissed from the Guards for the
affair of the duel—Alexis Chabrine. He was very intelligent; his conversation
was sprightly and interesting. He described with impulse and gayety the
Commandant's family, society, and in general the whole country round. I was
laughing heartily, when Ignatius, the same old pensioner whom I had seen mending
his uniform in the Captain's waiting-room, entered, and gave me an invitation to
dinner from Basilia Mironoff, the Captain's wife. Alexis declared that he would
Approaching the Commandant's house we saw on the square some twenty little
old pensioners, with long queues and three-cornered hats. These old men were
drawn up in line of battle. Before them stood the Commandant, a fresh and
vigorous old man of high stature, in dressing-gown and cotton cap. As soon as he
saw us, he approached, addressed me a few affable words, and then resumed his
drill. We were going to stay to see the manoeuvering, but he begged us to go on
immediately to the house, promising to join us at once; "for," said he, "there
is really nothing to be seen here."
Basilia received us kindly, and with simplicity, treating me like an old
acquaintance. The pensioner and the maid Polacca were laying the table-cloth.
"What is the matter with my dear Ivan Mironoff, today, that he is so long
instructing his troops?" said the mistress. "Polacca, go and bring him to
dinner. And where is my child, Marie?" Scarcely had she pronounced this name,
than a young girl about sixteen entered the room;—a rosy, round-faced girl,
wearing her hair in smooth bandeaux caught behind her ears, which were red with
modesty and shyness. She did not please me very much at the first glance; I was
prejudiced against her by Alexis, who had described the Captain's daughter to me
as a fool. Marie seated herself in a corner and began to sew. The soup was
brought on the table. Basilia, not seeing her husband coming, sent the maid a
second time to call him.
"Tell the master that his inspection can wait; the soup is cooling. Thank
God! the drills need not be lost; there will be time enough yet to use his voice
at his leisure."
The captain soon appeared with his one-eyed officer.
"What's this, my dear," said Basilia; "the table has been served some time,
and no one could make you come."
"You see, Basilia, I was busy with the service, instructing my good
"Come, come, Ivan Mironoff, that's boasting. The service does not suit them,
and as for you, you know nothing about it. You should have stayed at home and
prayed God, that suits you much better. My dear guests, to table."
We took our places for dinner. Basilia was not silent a moment; she
overwhelmed me with questions: Who were my parents? Were they living? Where did
they reside? What was their fortune? When she learned that my father owned three
hundred serfs, she exclaimed:
"You see there are some rich people in the world—and we, my dear sir, in
point of souls, we possess only the maid Polacca. Yet, thank God, we live,
somehow or other. We have but one care, that is Marie, a girl that must be
married off. And what fortune has she? The price of two baths per annum. If only
she could find a worthy husband. If not, there she is, eternally a maid."
I glanced at Marie; she blushed, tears were dropping into her soup. I pitied
her, and hastened to change the conversation. "I have heard that the Bashkirs
intend to attack your fortress?"
"Who said so," replied Ivan Mironoff.
"I heard it at Orenbourg."
"All nonsense," said Ivan, "we have not heard the least word about it; the
Bashkirs are an intimidated people; and the Kirghis have also had some good
lessons. They dare not attack us, and if they should even dream of it, I would
give them so great a fright that they would not move again for ten years."
"Do you not fear," I continued, addressing Basilia, "to stay in a fortress
exposed to these dangers?"
"A matter of habit, my dear," she replied, "twenty years ago, when we were
transferred here from the regiment, you could not believe how I feared the
pagans. If I chanced to see their fur caps, if I heard their shouts, believe me,
my heart was ready to faint; but now I am so used to this life, that if told
that the brigands were prowling around us, I would not stir from the fortress."
"Basilia is a very brave lady," observed Alexis, gravely. "Ivan Mironoff
knows some thing about it."
"Oh, you see," said Ivan, "she does not belong to the regiment of poltroons."
"And Marie," I asked of her mother "is she as bold as you?"
"Marie?" said the lady. "No! Marie is a coward. Up to the present she has not
heard the report of a gun without trembling in every limb. Two years ago Ivan
had a pleasant fancy to fire off his cannon on my birthday; the poor pigeon was
so frightened that she almost went into the next world. Since that day the
miserable cannon has not spoken."
We rose from the table. The captain and his wife went to take their siesta. I
went with Alexis to his room, where we passed the evening together.