by Alexander Poushkin
TOWARDS the end of the year 1811, a
memorable period for us, the good Gavril Gavrilovitch R----
was living on his domain of Nenaradova. He was celebrated
throughout the district for his hospitality and
kindheartedness. The neighbours were constantly visiting
him: some to eat and drink; some to play at five copeck
"Boston" with his wife, Praskovia Petrovna; and some to look
at their daughter, Maria Gavrilovna, a pale, slender girl of
seventeen. She was considered a wealthy match, and many
desired her for themselves or for their sons.
Maria Gavrilovna had been brought up on French
novels, and consequently was in love. The object of her
choice was a poor sub-lieutenant in the army, who was then on
leave of absence in his village. It need scarcely be
mentioned that the young man returned her passion with equal
ardour, and that the parents of his beloved one, observing
their mutual inclination, forbade their daughter to think of
him, and received him worse than a discharged assessor.
Our lovers corresponded with one another and
daily saw each other alone in the little pine wood or near
the old chapel. There they exchanged vows of eternal love,
lamented their cruel fate, and formed various plans.
Corresponding and conversing in this way, they arrived quite
naturally at the following conclusion:
If we cannot exist without each other, and the
will of hard-hearted parents stands in the way of our
happiness, why cannot we do without them?
Needless to mention that this happy idea
originated in the mind of the young man, and that it was very
congenial to the romantic imagination of Maria Gavrilovna.
The winter came and put a stop to their
meetings, but their correspondence became all the more
active. Vladimir Nikolaievitch in every letter implored her
to give herself up to him, to get married secretly, to hide
for some time, and then throw themselves at the feet of their
parents, who would, without any doubt, be touched at last by
the heroic constancy and unhappiness of the lovers, and would
infallibly say to them: "Children, come to our arms!"
Maria Gavrilovna hesitated for a long time,
and several plans for a flight were rejected. At last she
consented: on the appointed day she was not to take supper,
but was to retire to her room under the pretext of a
headache. Her maid was in the plot; they were both to go
into the garden by the back stairs, and behind the garden
they would find ready a sledge, into which they were to get,
and then drive straight to the church of Jadrino, a village
about five versts from Nenaradova, where Vladimir would be
waiting for them.
On the eve of the decisive day, Maria
Gavrilovna did not sleep the whole night; she packed and tied
up her linen and other articles of apparel, wrote a long
letter to a sentimental young lady, a friend of hers, and
another to her parents. She took leave of them in the most
touching terms, urged the invincible strength of passion as
an excuse for the step she was taking, and wound up with the
assurance that she should consider it the happiest moment of
her life, when she should be allowed to throw herself at the
feet of her dear parents.
After having sealed both letters with a Toula
seal, upon which were engraved two flaming hearts with a
suitable inscription, she threw herself upon her bed just
before daybreak, and dozed off: but even then she was
constantly being awakened by terrible dreams. First it
seemed to her that at the very moment when she seated herself
in the sledge, in order to go and get married, her father
stopped her, dragged her over the snow with fearful rapidity,
and threw her into a dark bottomless abyss, down which she
fell headlong with an indescribable sinking of the heart.
Then she saw Vladimir lying on the grass, pale and
bloodstained. With his dying breath he implored her in a
piercing voice to make haste and marry him.... Other
fantastic and senseless visions floated before her one after
another. At last she arose, paler than usual, and with an
unfeigned headache. Her father and mother observed her
uneasiness; their tender solicitude and incessant inquiries:
"What is the matter with you, Masha? Are you ill, Masha?"
cut her to the heart. She tried to reassure them and to
appear cheerful, but in vain.
The evening came. The thought, that this was
the last day she would pass in the bosom of her family,
weighed upon her heart. She was more dead than alive. In
secret she took leave of everybody, of all the objects that
Supper was served; her heart began to beat
violently. In a trembling voice she declared that she did
not want any supper, and then took leave of her father and
mother. They kissed her and blessed her as usual, and she
could hardly restrain herself from weeping.
On reaching her own room, she threw herself
into a chair and burst into tears. Her maid urged her to
be calm and to take courage. Everything was ready. In half
an hour Masha would leave for ever her parents' house, her
room, and her peaceful girlish life....
Out in the courtyard the snow was falling
heavily; the wind howled, the shutters shook and rattled, and
everything seemed to her to portend misfortune.
Soon all was quite in the house; everyone was
asleep. Masha wrapped herself in a shawl, put on a warm
cloak, took her small box in her hand, and went down the back
staircase. Her maid followed her with two bundles. They
descended into the garden. The snowstorm had not subsided;
the wind blew in their faces, as if trying to stop the young
criminal. With difficulty they reached the end of the
garden. In the road a sledge awaited them. The horses,
half-frozen with the cold, would not keep still; Vladimir's
coachman was walking up and down in front of them, trying to
restrain their impatience. He helped the young lady and her
maid into the sledge, placed the box and the bundles in the
vehicle, seized the reins, and the horses dashed off.
Having intrusted the young lady to the care of
fate and to the skill of Tereshka the coachman, we will
return to our young lover.
Vladimir had spent the whole of the day in
driving about. In the morning he paid a visit to the priest
of Jadrino, and having come to an agreement with him after a
great deal of difficulty, he then set out to seek for
witnesses among the neighbouring landowners. The first to
whom he presented himself, a retired cornet of about forty
years of age, and whose name was Dravin, consented with
pleasure. The adventure, he declared, reminded him of his
young days and his pranks in the Hussars. He persuaded
Vladimir to stay to dinner with him, and assured him that he
would have no difficulty in finding the other two witnesses.
And, indeed, immediately after dinner, a ppeared the surveyor
Schmidt, with moustache and spurs, and the son of the
captain of police, a lad of sixteen years of age, who had
recently entered the Uhlans. They not only accepted by
Vladimir's proposal, but even vowed that they were ready to
sacrifice their lives for him. Vladimir embraced them with
rapture, and returned home to get everything ready.
It had been dark for some time. He dispatched
his faithful Tereshka to Nenaradova with his sledge and with
detailed instructions, and ordered for himself a small sledge
with one horse, and set out alone, without any coachman, for
Jadrino, where Maria Gavrilovna ought to arrive in about a
couple of hours. He knew the road well, and the journey
would only occupy about twenty minutes altogether.
But scarcely had Vladimir issued from the
paddock into the open field, when the wind rose and such a
snowstorm came on that he could see nothing. In one minute
the road was completely hidden; all surrounding objects
disappeared in a thick yellow fog, through which fell the
white flakes of snow; earth and sky became confounded.
Vladimir found himself in the middle of the field, and tried
in vain to find the road again. His horse went on at random,
and at every moment kept either stepping into a snowdrift or
stumbling into a hole, so that the sledge was constantly
being overturned. Vladimir endeavoured not to lose the right
direction. But it seemed to him that more than half an hour
had already passed, and he had not yet reached the Jadrino
wood. Another ten minutes elapsed -- still no wood was to be
seen. Vladimir drove across a field intersected by deep
ditches. The snowstorm did not abate, the sky did not become
any clearer. The horse began to grow tired, and the
perspiration rolled from him in great drops, in spite of the
fact that he was constantly being half-buried in the snow.
At last Vladimir perceived that he was going
in the wrong direction. He stopped, began to think, to
recollect, and compare, and he felt convinced that he ought
to have turned to the right. He turned to the right now.
His horse could move forward. He had now been on the road
for more than an hour. Jadrino could not be far off. But on
and on he went, and still no end to the field -- nothing but
snowdrifts and ditches. The sledge was constantly being
overturned, and as constantly being set right again. The
time was passing: Vladimir began to grow seriously uneasy.
At last something dark appeared in the
distance. Vladimir directed his course towards it. On
drawing near, he perceived that it was a wood.
"Thank Heaven!" he thought, "I am not far off
He drove along by the edge of the wood, hoping
by-and-by to fall upon the well-known road or to pass round
the wood: Jadrino was situated just behind it. He soon found
the road, and plunged into the darkness of the wood, now
denuded of leaves by the winter. The wind could not rage
here; the road was smooth; the horse recovered courage, and
Vladimir felt reassured.
But he drove on and on, and Jadrino was not to
be seen; there was no end to the wood. Vladimir discovered
with horror that he had entered an unknown forest. Despair
took possession of him. He whipped the horse; the poor
animal broke into a trot, but it soon slackened its pace, and
in about a quarter of an hour it was scarcely able to drag
one leg after the other, in spite of all the exertions of the
Gradually the trees began to get sparser, and
Vladimir emerged from the forest; but Jadrino was not to be
seen. It must now have been about midnight. Tears gushed
from his eyes; he drove on at random. Meanwhile the storm
had subsided, the clouds dispersed, and before him lay a
level plain covered with a white undulating carpet. The
night was tolerably clear. He saw, not far off, a little
village, consisting of four or five houses. Vladimir drove
towards it. At the first cottage he jumped out of the
sledge, ran to the window and began to knock. After a few
minutes, the wooden shutter was raised, and an old man thrust
out his grey beard.
"What do you want?"
"Is Jadrino far from here?"
"Is Jadrino far from here?"
"Yes, yes! Is it far?"
"Not far; about ten versts."
At this reply, Vladimir grasped his hair and
stood motionless, like a man condemned to death.
"Where do you come from?" continued the old
Vladimir had not the courage to answer the
"Listen, old man," said he: "can you procure
me horses to take me to Jadrino?"
"How should we have such things as horses?"
replied the peasant.
"Can I obtain a guide? I will pay him
whatever he pleases."
"Wait," said the old man, closing the shutter;
"I will send my son out to you; he will guide you."
Vladimir waited. But a minute had scarcely
elapsed when he began knocking again. The shutter was
raised, and the beard again appeared.
"What do you want?"
"What about your son?"
"He'll be out presently; he is putting on his
boots. Are you cold? Come in and warm yourself."
"Thank you; send your son out quickly."
The door creaked: a lad came out with a cudgel
and went on in front, at one time pointing out the road,
at another searching for it among the drifted snow.
"What is the time?" Vladimir asked him.
"It will soon be daylight," replied the young
peasant. Vladimir spoke not another word.
The cocks were crowing, and it was already
light when they reached Jadrino. The church was closed.
Vladimir paid the guide and drove into the priest's
courtyard. His sledge was not there. What news
But let us return to the worthy proprietors of
Nenaradova, and see what is happening there.
The old people awoke and went into the
parlour, Gavril Gavrilovitch in a night-cap and flannel
doublet, Praskovia Petrovna in a wadded dressing-gown. The
tea-urn was brought in, and Gavril Gavrilovitch sent a
servant to ask Maria Gavrilovna how she was and how she had
passed the night. The servant returned, saying that the
young lady had not slept very well, but that she felt better
now, and that she would come down presently into the parlour.
And indeed, the door opened and Maria Gavrilovna entered the
room and wished her father and mother good morning.
"How is your head, Masha?" asked Gavril
"Better, papa," replied Masha.
"Very likely you inhaled the fumes from the
charcoal yesterday," said Praskovia Petrovna.
"Very likely, mamma," replied Masha.
The day passed happily enough, but the night
Masha was taken ill. A doctor was sent for from the town.
He arrived in the evening and found the sick girl delirious.
A violent fever ensued, and for two weeks the poor patient
hovered on the brink of the grave.
Nobody in the house knew anything about her
flight. The letters, written by her the evening before,
had been burnt; and her maid, dreading the wrath of her
master, had not whispered a word about it to anybody. The
priest, the retired cornet, the moustached surveyor, and the
little Uhlan were discreet, and not without reason.
Tereshka, the coachman, never uttered one word too much about
it, even when he was drunk. Thus the secret was kept by more
than half-a-dozen conspirators.
But Maria Gavrilovna herself divulged her
secret during her delirious ravings. But her words were so
disconnected, that her mother, who never left her bedside,
could only understand from them that her daughter was deeply
in love with Vladimir Nikolaievitch, and that probably love
was the cause of her illness. She consulted her husband and
some of her neighbours, and at last it was unanimously
decided that such was evidently Maria Gavrilovna's fate, that
a woman cannot ride away from the man who is destined to be
her husband, that poverty is not a crime, that one does not
marry wealth, but a man, etc., etc. Moral proverbs are
wonderfully useful in those cases where we can invent little
in our own justification.
In the meantime the young lady began to
recover. Vladimir had not been seen for a long time in the
house of Gavril Gavrilovitch. He was afraid of the usual
reception. It was resolved to send and announce to him an
unexpected piece of good news: the consent of Maria's parents
to his marriage with their daughter. But what was the
astonishment of the proprietor of Nenaradova, when, in reply
to their invitation, they received from him a half-insane
letter. He informed them that he would never set foot in
their house again, and begged them to forget an unhappy
creature whose only hope was in death. A few days afterwards
they heard that Vladimir had joined the army again. This was
in the year 1812.
For a long time they did not dare to announce
this to Masha, who was now convalescent. She never mentioned
the name of Vladimir. Some months afterwards, finding his
name in the list of those who had distinguished themselves
and been severely wounded at Borodino, she fainted away, and
it was feared that she would have another attack of fever.
But, Heaven be thanked! the fainting fit had no serious
Another misfortune fell upon her: Gavril
Gavrilovitch died, leaving her the heiress to all his
property. But the inheritance did not console her; she
shared sincerely the grief of poor Praskovia Petrovna,
vowing that she would never leave her. They both quitted
Nenaradova, the scene of so many sad recollections, and went
to live on another estate.
Suitors crowded round the young and wealthy
heiress, but she gave not the slightest hope to any of them.
Her mother sometimes exhorted her to make a choice; but Maria
Gavrilovna shook her head and became pensive. Vladimir no
longer existed: he had died in Moscow on the eve of the entry
of the French. His memory seemed to be held sacred by Masha;
at least she treasured up everything that could remind her of
him: books that he had once read, his drawings, his notes,
and verses of poetry that he had copied out for her. The
nieghbours, hearing of all this, were astonished at her
constancy, and awaited with curiosity the hero who should at
last triumph over the melancholy fidelity of this virgin
Meanwhile the war had ended gloriously. Our
regiments returned from abroad, and the people went out to
meet them. The bands played the conquering songs: "Vive
Henri-Quatre," Tryolese waltzes and airs from "Joconde."
Officers, who had set out for the war almost mere lads,
returned grown men, with martial air, and their breasts
decorated with crosses. The soldiers chatted gaily among
themselves, constantly mingling French and German words in
their speech. Time never to be forgotten! Time of glory and
enthusiasm! How throbbed the Russian heart at the word
"Fatherland!" How sweet were the tears of meeting! With
what unanimity did we unite feelings of national pride with
love for the Czar! And for him -- what a moment!
The women, the Russian women, were then
incomparable. Their usual coldness disappeared. Their
enthusiasm was truly intoxicating, when welcoming the
conquerors they cried "Hurrah!"
"And threw their caps high in the air!"
What officers of that time does not confess
that to the Russian women he was indebted for his best and
most precious reward?
At this brilliant period Maria Gavrilovna was
living with her mother in the province of ----, and did not
see how both capitals celebrated the return of the troops.
But in the districts and villages the general enthusiasm was,
if possible, even still greater. The appearance of an
officer in those places was for him a veritable triumph, and
the lover in a plain coat felt very ill at ease in his
We have already said that, in spite of her
coldness, Maria Gavrilovna was, as before, surrounded by
suitors. But all had to retire into the background when the
wounded Colonel Bourmin of the Hussars, with the Order of St.
George in his button-hole, and with an "interesting pallor,"
as the young ladies of the neighbourhood observed, appeared
at the castle. He was about twenty-six years of age. He had
obtained leave of absence to visit his estate, which was
contiguous to that of Maria Gavrilovna. Maria bestowed
special attention upon him. In his presence her habitual
pensiveness disappeared. It cannot be said that she
coquetted with him, but a poet, observing her behaviour,
would have said:
"Se amor non è, che dunque?"
Bourmin was indeed a very charming young man.
He possessed that spirit which is eminently pleasing
to women: a spirit of decorum and observation, without any
pretensions, and yet not without a slight tendency towards
careless satire. His behaviour towards Maria Gavrilovna was
simple and frank, but whatever she said or did, his soul and
eyes followed her. He seemed to be of a quiet and modest
disposition, though report said that he had once been a
terrible rake; but this did not injure him in the opinion of
Maria Gavrilovna, who -- like all young ladies in general --
excused with pleasure follies that gave indication of
boldness and ardour of temperament.
But more than everything else -- more than his
tenderness, more than his agreeable conversation, more than
his interesting pallor, more than his arm in a sling, -- the
silence of the young Hussar excited her curiosity and
imagination. She could not but confess that he pleased her
very much; probably he, too, with his perception and
experience, had already observed that she made a distinction
between him and others; how was it then that she had not yet
seen him at her feet or heard his declaration? What
restrained him? Was it timidity, inseparable from true love,
or pride, or the coquetry of a crafty wooer? It was an
enigma to her. After long reflection, she came to the
conclusion that timidity alone was the cause of it, and she
resolved to encourage him by greater attention and, if
circumstances should render it necessary, even by an
exhibition of tenderness. She prepared a most unexpected
d�nouement, and waited with impatience for the moment of the
romantic explanation. A secret, of whatever nature it may
be, always presses heavily upon the female heart. Her
stratagem had the desired success; at least Bourmin fell into
such a reverie, and his black eyes rested with such fire upon
her, that the decisive moment seemed close at hand. The
neighbours spoke about the marriage as if it were a matter
already decided upon, and good Praskovia Petrovna rejoiced
that her daughter had at last found a lover worthy of her.
On one occasion the old lady was sitting alone
in the parlour, amusing herself with a pack of cards, when
Bourmin entered the room and immediately inquired for Maria
"She is in the garden," replied the old lady;
"go out to her, and I will wait here for you."
Bourmin went, and the old lady made the sign
of the cross and thought: "Perhaps the business will be
Bourmin found Maria Gavrilovna near the pond,
under a willow-tree, with a book in her hands, and in a white
dress: a veritable heroine of romance. After the first few
questions and observations, Maria Gavrilovna purposely
allowed the conversation to drop, thereby increasing their
mutual embarrassment, from which there was no possible way of
escape except only by a sudden and decisive declaration.
And this is what happened: Bourmin, feeling
the difficulty of his position, declared that he had long
sought for an opportunity to open his heart to her, and
requested a moment's attention. Maria Gavrilovna closed her
book and cast down her eyes, as a sign of compliance with his
"I love you," said Bourmin: "I love you
Maria Gavrilovna blushed and lowered her head
still more. "I have acted imprudently in accustoming myself
to the sweet pleasure of seeing and hearing you daily...."
Maria Gavrilovna recalled to mind the first letter of St.
Preux. "But it is now too late to resist my fate; the
remembrance of you, your dear incomparable image, will
henceforth be the torment and the consolation of my life, but
there still remains a grave duty for me to perform -- to
reveal to you a terrible secret which will place between us
an insurmountable barrier...."
"That barrier has always existed," interrupted
Maria Gavrilovna hastily: "I could never be your wife."
"I know," replied he calmly: "I know that you
once loved, but death and three years of mourning.... Dear,
kind Maria Gavrilovna, do not try to deprive me of my last
consolation: the thought that you would have consented to
make me happy, if----"
"Don't speak, for Heaven's sake, don't speak.
You torture me."
"Yes, I know, I feel that you would have been
mine, but -- I am the most miserable creature under the sun
-- I am already married!"
Maria Gavrilovna looked at him in
"I am already married," continued Bourmin: "I
have been married four years, and I do not know who is my
wife, or where she is, or whether I shall ever see her
"What do you say?" exclaimed Maria Gavrilovna.
"How very strange! Continue: I will relate to you
afterwards.... But continue, I beg of you."
"At the beginning of the year 1812," said
Bourmin, "I was hastening to Vilna, where my regiment was
stationed. Arriving late one evening at one of the
post-stations, I ordered horses to be got ready as quickly as
possible, when suddenly a terrible snowstorm came on, and the
post-master and drivers advised me to wait till it had passed
over. I followed their advice, but an unaccountable
uneasiness took possession of me: it seemed as if someone
were pushing me forward. Meanwhile the snowstorm did not
subside; I could endure it no longer, and again ordering out
the horses, I started off in the midst of the storm. The
driver conceived the idea of following the course of the
river, which would shorten our journey by three versts. The
banks were covered with snow: the driver drove past the place
where we should have come out upon the road, and so we found
ourselves in an unknown part of the country.... The storm
did not cease; I saw a light in the distance, and I ordered
the driver to proceed towards it. We reached a village; in
the wooden church there was a light. The church was open.
Outside the railings stood several sledges, and people were
passing in and out through the porch.
"'This way! this way!' cried several voices.
"I ordered the driver to proceed.
"'In the name of Heaven, where have you been
loitering?' said somebody to me. 'The bride has fainted
away; the pope does not know what to do, and we were just
getting ready to go back. Get out as quickly as you can.'
"I got out of the sledge without saying a
word, and went into the church, which was feebly lit up by
two or three tapers. A young girl was sitting on a bench in
a dark corner of the church; another girl was rubbing her
"'Thank God!' said the latter, 'you have come
at last. You have almost killed the young lady.'
"The old priest advanced towards me, and said:
"'Do you wish me to begin?'
"'Begin, begin, father,' replied I, absently.
"The young girl was raised up. She seemed to
me not at all bad-looking....Impelled by an incomprehensible,
unpardonable levity, I placed myself by her side in front of
the pulpit; the priest hurried on; three men and a
chambermaid supported the bride and only occupied themselves
with her. We were married.
"'Kiss each other!' said the witnesses to us.
"My wife turned her pale face towards me. I
was about to kiss her, when she exclaimed: 'Oh! it is not
he! it is not he!' and fell senseless.
"The witnesses gazed at me in alarm. I turned
round and left the church without the least hindrance, flung
myself into the kibitka and cried: 'Drive off!'
"My God!" exclaimed Maria Gavrilovna. "And
you do not know what became of your poor wife?"
"I do not know," replied Bourmin; "neither do
I know the name of the village where I was married, nor the
post-station where I set out from. At that time I attached
so little importance to my wicked prank, that on leaving the
church, I fell asleep, and did not awake till the next
morning after reaching the third station. The servant, who
was then with me, died during the campaign, so that I have no
hope of ever discovering the woman upon whom I played such a
cruel joke, and who is now so cruelly avenged."
"My God! my God!" cried Maria Gavrilovna,
seizing him by the hand: "then it was you! And you do
not recognize me?"
Bourmin turned pale -- and threw himself at