The Story of
Daria, A Russian
Story by Robert
Whilst staying in Siberia, on one occasion, when returning from an
evening walk in the woods I was surprised at seeing a young Russian
girl crying beside a clump of trees; she seemed pretty, and I
approached; she saw me not, but continued to give vent to her tears.
I stopped to examine her appearance; her black hair, arranged in the
fashion of the country, flowed from under the diadem usually worn by
the Siberian girls, and formed a striking contrast, by its jet black
colour, with the fairness of her skin. Whilst I was looking at her, she
turned her head, and, perceiving me, rose in great haste, wiped off her
tears, and said to me:
Pardon me, fatherbut I am very unfortunate.
I wish, said I, that it were in my power to give you any
I expect no consolation, she replied; it is out of your power to
give me any.
But why are you crying?
She was silent, and her sobs alone intimated that she was deeply
Can you have committed any fault, said I, that has roused your
father's anger against you?
He is angry with me, it is true; but is it my fault if I cannot
love his Aphanassi?
The subject now began to be interesting; for as Chateaubriand says,
there were love and tears at the bottom of this story. I felt
peculiarly interested in the narrative.
I asked the young Siberian girl who this Aphanassi was whom she
could not love. She became more composed, and with enchanting grace,
and almost French volubility, she informed me that the summer before a
Baskir family had travelled further to the north than these tribes are
accustomed to do, and had brought their flocks into the neighbourhood
of the zavode of Tchornaïa; they came from time to time to the village
to buy things, and to sell the gowns called doubas, which their
wives dye of a yellow colour with the bark of the birch tree. Now her
father, the respectable Michael, was a shopkeeper, and constant
communications began to be established between the Baskir and the
Russian family. This connection became more close, when it was
discovered that both families were of that sect which pretends to have
preserved its religion free from all pollution or mixture, and gives
its members the name of Stareobratzi. The head of the Baskir
family, Aphanassi, soon fell in love with young Daria, and asked her in
marriage from her father; but though wealthy, Aphanassi had a rough and
repulsive look, and Daria could not bear him; she had, therefore, given
him an absolute refusal. Her father doated on her, and had not pressed
the matter farther, though he was desirous of forming an alliance so
advantageous to his trade; and the Baskir had returned to his own
country in the month of August to gather the crops of hemp and rye. But
winter passed away, and the heats of June had scarcely been felt before
Aphanassi had again appeared, with an immense quantity of bales of rich
doubas, Chinese belts, and kaftans, and a herd of more than five
hundred horses; he came, in fact, surrounded with all his splendour,
and renewed again his offers and his entreaties. Old Michael was nearly
gained by his offers, and Daria was in despair, for she was about to be
sacrificed to gain, and she detested Aphanassi more than she had done
the year before.
I listened to her with strong emotion, pitied her sorrows, which had
so easily procured me her confidence, and when she left me, she was
less afflicted than before.
The next day I returned to the spot where I had seen her, and found
her again; she received me with a smile. Aphanassi had not come that
morning, and Daria, probably thinking that I would come back to the
spot, had come to ask me what she ought to reply to him, as well as to
her father. I gave her my advice with a strong feeling of interest, and
convinced that pity would henceforward open to me the road to her
heart, I tried to become acquainted with her family. The same evening I
bought some things from old Michael, and flattering him on his judgment
and experience, endeavoured to lay the foundation of intimacy.
During several days I went regularly to the same spot, and almost
always found Daria, as if we had appointed a meeting. Her melancholy
increased; every time she saw me she asked for further advice, and
although she showed me nothing but confidence, yet the habit of seeing
her, of deploring her situation, of having near me a young and
beautiful woman, after hearing for many, many months no other voices
than the rough ones of officers, soldiers, and smithsall these
circumstances affected my heart with unusual emotion.
The sight of Daria reminded me of the circumstances of my first
love; and these recollections, in their turn, embellished Daria with
all their charms.
One day she said to me:
You have seen Aphanassi this morning at my father's; don't you
think he is very rough, and has an ugly, ill-natured countenance?
Yes, I replied.
Well, I will show you whom I prefer to him. She smiled in saying
this, and I was powerfully affected, as if she had been about to say,
You are the man! She then threw back the gauze veil that flowed from
her head-dress, and instantly, at a certain signal, a young man sprung
from behind the trees and cried out to me:
Thank you, Frenchman, for your good advice! I am Wassili, the
friend of Daria!
This sight perfectly confounded me. So close to love, and to be
nothing but a confidant after all! I blushed for shame, but Daria soon
dispelled this impulse of ill-humour. She said to me:
Wassili, whom I have never mentioned to you, is my friend; I was
desirous of making you acquainted with him. But he was jealous because
you gave me consolation and I wished him to remain concealed from you,
that he might be convinced by your language of the worthiness of your
sentiments. Wassili will love you as I do; stranger, still give us your
The words of Daria calmed my trouble; and I felt happy that, at a
thousand leagues from my native land, in the bosom of an enemy's
country, I was bound by no tie to a foreign soil, but could still
afford consolation to two beings in misfortune.
Wassili was handsome and amiable; he was also wealthy; but Aphanassi
was much more so, and old Michael, though formerly flattered with the
attentions of Wassili to his daughter, now rejected them with disdain.
We agreed upon a plan of attack against the Baskir. I talked to Michael
several times on the subject, and tried to arrange their differences;
but it was of no avail.
Meanwhile took place the feast of St. John, the patron saint of
Tchornaïa, which assembled all the inhabitants of the neighbouring
Early in the morning of the holiday, the whole of the inhabitants,
dressed in their finest clothes, get into a number of little narrow
boats, made of a single tree, like the canoes of the South Sea savages.
A man is placed in the middle with one oar in his hands, and strikes
the water first on one side and then on the other, and makes the boat
move forward with great velocity. These frail skiffs are all in a line,
race against each other, and perform a variety of evolutions on the
lake. The women are placed at the bow and stern, and sing national
songs, while the men are engaged in a variety of exercises and
amusements on the shore. A large barge, carrying the heads of the
village and the most distinguished inhabitants, contains a band of
music, whose harmony contrasts with the songs that are heard from the
Beautiful weather usually prevails at this season, and the day
closes with dances and suppers in the open air; and the lake of
Tchornaïa, naturally of a solitary aspect, becomes all at once full of
life and animation, and presents an enchanting prospect.
Wassili had got several boats ready, which were filled with
musicians, who attracted general attention, and were soon followed by
almost all the skiffs in the same way as the gondolas in the Venetian
lagoons follow the musical amateurs who sing during the night. Wassili
knew that Michael would be flattered to hear an account of the success
he had obtained: but Aphanassi had also come to the festival. As soon
as he learned that the musicians of Wassili were followed by the crowd,
and that his rival's name was in every one's mouth, he collected twenty
of his finest horses, covered them with rich stuffs, and, as soon as
the sports on the lake were over, began, by the sound of Tartar music,
a series of races on the shore, which was a novel sight in the summer
season, and was generally admired. His triumph was complete, and at
Tchornaïa nothing was talked of for several days but the races on the
shore of the lake, and the Baskir's influence with Michael increased
The grief of Daria made her father suspect that she met Wassili out
of the house, and he confined her at home. I saw none but the young
man, whose communications were far from being so pleasing to me as
those of Daria. Towards the end of July he informed me that Aphanassi
had made another attempt to get her from her father; but that the old
man was so overcome with her despair that he had only agreed that the
marriage should take place the ensuing summer, delaying the matter
under the pretext of getting her portion ready, but, in truth, to give
her time to make up her mind to follow the Baskir.
About this period Wassili was sent by M. Demidoff's agent, at the
head of a body of workmen, to the centre of the Ural Mountains to cut
down trees and burn them into charcoal. He was not to return till the
middle of September. During his absence I saw Daria almost daily; she
had lost the brilliancy of her look, but it seemed to me that her
beauty was increased, her countenance had assumed such an expression of
melancholy. I had gradually obtained the goodwill of Michael, and
dispelled, as far as lay in my power, the sorrows of his daughter. I
was a foreigner, a prisoner, little to be feared, and pretty well off
in regard to money, so that Michael felt no alarm at seeing me, and
neglected no opportunity of showing me his goodwill.
I received a strong proof of this about the middle of August. He
brought me to a family festival that takes place at the gathering of
the cabbage, and to which women only are usually admitted; it is, in
fact, their vintage season.
On the day that a family is to gather in their cabbage, which they
salt and lay up for the winter season, the women invite their female
friends and neighbours to come and assist them. On the evening before,
they cut the cabbages from the stem, and pull off the outside leaves
and earth that may be adhering to them. On the grand day, at the house
where the cabbages are collected, the women assemble, dressed in their
most brilliant manner, and armed with a sort of cleaver, with a handle
in the centre, more or less ornamented, according to the person's rank.
They place themselves round a kind of trough containing the cabbages.
The old women give the signal for action; two of the youngest girls
take their places in the middle of the room, and begin to dance a kind
of allemande, while the rest of the women sing national songs, and keep
time in driving their knives into the trough. When the girls are tired
with dancing, two more take their place, always eager to surpass the
former by the grace with which they make their movements. The songs
continue without intermission, and the cabbages are thus cut up in the
midst of a ball, which lasts from morning till night. Meanwhile, the
married women carry on the work, salt the cabbages, and carefully pack
them in barrels. In the evening the whole party sit down to supper,
after which only the men are admitted, but even then they remain apart
from the women. Glasses of wine and punch go round, dancing begins in a
more general manner, and they withdraw at a late hour, to begin the
same amusement at another neighbour's till all the harvest is finished.
Amidst all these young girls Daria always seemed to me the most
amiable! she danced when called upon by her mother; her motions
expressed satisfaction, and her eyes, scarcely refraining from tears,
turned towards the stranger, who alone knew her real situation, though
amidst so many indifferent people who called themselves her friends.
Towards the end of September, Wassili returned from the woods. Daria
had a prospect of several months before her before the return of
Aphanassi, if ever he should return at all; and she gave herself up to
her love with pleasing improvidence.
At this period there came to Tchornaïa two Russian officers, with
several sergeants, who were much more like Cossacks than regular
soldiers. Their appearance was the signal of universal mourningthey
came to recruit. They proclaimed, in the Emperor's name, that on a
certain day all the men in the district, whatever their age might be,
were to assemble in the public square, there to be inspected.
At the appointed day every one was on the spot; but it was easy to
see by their looks that it was with the utmost repugnance that they had
obeyed. All the women were placed on the other side, and anxiously
waited for the result of the inspection, and some of them were crying
bitterly. I was present at this scene. The officers placed the men in
two rows, and passed along the ranks very slowly. Now and then they
touched a man, and he was immediately taken to a little group that was
formed in the centre of the square. When they had run over the two
rows, they again inspected the men that had been set apart, made them
walk and strip, verified them, in a word, such as our recruiting
councils did in our departments for many years. When a man was
examined he was allowed to go, when the crowd raised a shout of joy; or
he was immediately put in irons, in presence of his family, who raised
cries of despairthis man was fit for service.
These unfortunate beings, thus chained up, were kept out of view
till the very moment of their departure. No claims were valid against
the recruiting officer; age, marriage, the duties required to be paid
to an infirm parent, were all of no avail; sometimes, indeed, it
happened, and that but rarely, that a secret arrangement with the
officer, for a sum of money, saved a young man, a husband, or a father
from his caprice, for he was bound by no rule; it often happened, also,
that he marked out for the army a young man whose wife or mistress was
coveted by the neighbouring lord, or whom injustice had irritated and
To finish this description, which has made me leave my friends out
of view, at a very melancholy period, I shall add a few more
Wassili, as I said before, was at the review; the recruiting officer
thought he would make a handsome dragoon, or a soldier of the guard,
and, having looked at him from top to toe, he declared him fit for the
Whilst his family were deploring his fate, and preparing to make
every sacrifice to obtain his discharge, some one cried out that the
officer would allow him to get off because he was wealthy, but that the
poor must march.
The Russian heard this, and perhaps on the point of making a
bargain, felt irritated, and would listen to no sort of arrangement, as
a scoundrel always does when you have been on the point of buying.
Wassili was put in irons, and destined to unlimited servicethat is,
to an eternal exile, for the Russian soldier is never allowed to return
to his home. Daria nearly fell a victim to her grief, and only
recovered some portion of vigour when the recruits were to set out.
[Footnote 1: He is enrolled for twenty yearsthat is, for a whole
On that day the recruiting party gorge them with meat and brandy
till they are nearly dead drunk. They are then thrown into the sledges
and carried off, still loaded with irons. A most heart-rending scene
now takes place; every family follows them with their cries, and chants
the prayers for the dead and the dying, while the unfortunate
conscripts themselves, besotted with liquor, remain stupid and
indifferent, burst into roars of laughter, or answer their friends with
oaths and imprecations.
Notwithstanding the force that had been shown to him, Wassili had
drunk nothing, and preserved his judgment unclouded; he stretched out
his arms towards Daria, towards his friends, and towards me, and bade
us adieu with many tears. Amidst the mournful sounds that struck upon
her ears, the young girl followed him rapidly, and had time to throw
herself into his arms before the sledge set out; but the moment he was
beyond her reach, she fell backward with violence on the ice. No one
paid the least attention to her; they all rushed forward and followed
the sledges of the recruiting party, which soon galloped out of sight.
I lifted Daria up; I did not attempt to restrain her grief, but took
her back to her father's, where she was paid every attention her
situation required. In about a month's time she was able to resume her
usual occupations, but she recovered only a portion of her former self.
Winter again set in. I often saw Daria, either at her father's
house, or when she walked out on purpose to meet me, which her father
allowed, in the hope of dissipating her sorrows. How the poor girl was
altered since the departure of Wassili! How many sad things the young
Siberian told me when our sledges glided together along the surface of
the lake! What melancholy there was in her language, and superstition
in her belief!
I attempted to dissipate her sombre thoughts; but I soon perceived
that everything brought them back to her mind, and that the sight of
this savage nature, whose solitude affected my own thoughts with
sorrow, contributed to increase her melancholy. Within her own dwelling
she was less agitated, but more depressed; her fever was then languid,
and her beautiful face despoiled of that expression, full of agreeable
recollections, that animated her in our private conversation. These
walks could only make her worse, and I endeavoured to avoid them. She
understood my meaning. Go, said she, kind Frenchman, you are taking
fruitless care; Wassili has taken my life away with him; it cannot
return any more than he can.
I still continued to see her frequently. Old Michael was unhappy
because she wept on hearing even the name of Aphanassi; he foresaw that
it would be out of his power to have this wealthy man for his
son-in-law, for his promises had gained his heart long ago. However
this may be, he made his preparations in secret, bought fine silks, and
ordered a magnificent diadem to be made for his daughter. She guessed
his object, and once said to me, My father is preparing a handsome
ornament for me; it is intended for the last time I shall be at church;
let him make haste, for Daria won't keep him waiting.
About the middle of June Aphanassi returned, more in love and more
eager than ever, and, as soon as he appeared, the daughter of Michael
was attacked by a burning fever that never left her. In a few days she
was at the gates of death. All the care bestowed upon her was of no
avail, and she died pronouncing the name of Wassili.
Full of profound grief, I followed her body to the church of the
Stareobratzi, at Nishnei-Taguil. It had been dressed in her finest
clothing, and she was placed in the coffin with her face uncovered. The
relations, friends, and members of the same church were present. The
men were ranged on one side, and the women on the other. After a
funeral hymn, in the language of the country, the priest, who was
bare-headed, pronounced the eulogium of the defunct. His grey hair,
long beard, Asiatic gown, and loud sobs, gave his discourse a peculiar
solemnity. When it was finished, every one came forward silently to bid
farewell to Daria, and kiss her hand. I went like the rest; like them I
went alone towards the coffin, took hold of the hand I had so often
pressed, and gave it the last farewell kiss.