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List Of Contents | Contents of Vaninka, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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only five months more to spend under her father's roof.  Nothing more
could be said: in Russia the emperor's wish is an order, and from the
moment that it is expressed, no subject would oppose it, even in
thought.  However, the refusal had imprinted such despair on the
young man's face, that the general, touched by his silent and
resigned sorrow, held out his arms to him.  Foedor flung himself into
them with loud sobs.

Then the general questioned him about his daughter, and Foedor
answered, as he had promised, that Vaninka was ignorant of
everything, and that the proposal came from him alone, without her
knowledge.  This assurance calmed the general: he had feared that he
was making two people wretched.

At dinner-time Vaninka came downstairs and found her father alone.
Foedor had not enough courage to be present at the meal and to meet
her again, just when he had lost all hope: he had taken a sleigh, and
driven out to the outskirts of the city.

During the whole time dinner lasted Vaninka and the general hardly
exchanged a word, but although this silence was so expressive,
Vaninka controlled her face with her usual power, and the general
alone appeared sad and dejected.

That evening, just when Vaninka was going downstairs, tea was brought
to her room, with the message that the general was fatigued and had
retired.  Vaninka asked some questions about the nature of his
indisposition, and finding that it was not serious, she told the
servant who had brought her the message to ask her father to send for
her if he wanted anything.  The general sent to say that he thanked
her, but he only required quiet and rest.  Vaninka announced that she
would retire also, and the servant withdrew.

Hardly had he left the room when Vaninka ordered Annouschka, her
foster-sister, who acted as her maid, to be on the watch for Foedor's
return, and to let her know as soon as he came in.

At eleven o'clock the gate of the mansion opened: Foedor got out of
his sleigh, and immediately went up to his room.  He threw himself
upon a sofa, overwhelmed by his thoughts.  About midnight he heard
someone tapping at the door: much astonished, he got up and opened
it.  It was Annouschka, who came with a message from her mistress,
that Vaninka wished to see him immediately.  Although he was
astonished at this message, which he was far from expecting, Foedor
obeyed.

He found Vaninka seated, dressed in a white robe, and as she was
paler than usual he stopped at the door, for it seemed to him that he
was gazing at a marble statue.

"Come in," said Vaninka calmly.

Foedor approached, drawn by her voice like steel to a magnet.
Annouschka shut the door behind him.

"Well, and what did my father say?" said Vaninka.

Foedor told her all that had happened.  The young girl listened to
his story with an unmoved countenance, but her lips, the only part of
her face which seemed to have any colour, became as white as the
dressing-gown she was wearing.  Foedor, on the contrary, was consumed
by a fever, and appeared nearly out of his senses.

"Now, what do you intend to do?" said Vaninka in the same cold tone
in which she had asked the other questions.

"You ask me what I intend to do, Vaninka?  What do you wish me to do?
What can I do, but flee from St. Petersburg, and seek death in the
first corner of Russia where war may break out, in order not to repay
my patron's kindness by some infamous baseness?"

"You are a fool," said Vaninka, with a mixed smile of triumph and
contempt; for from that moment she felt her superiority over Foedor,
and saw that she would rule him like a queen for the rest of her
life.

"Then order me--am I not your slave?" cried the young soldier.

"You must stay here," said Vaninka.

"Stay here?"

"Yes; only women and children will thus confess themselves beaten at
the first blow: a man, if he be worthy of the name, fights."

"Fight!--against whom?--against your father?  Never!"

"Who suggested that you should contend against my father?  It is
against events that you must strive; for the generality of men do not
govern events, but are carried away by them.  Appear to my father as
though you were fighting against your love, and he will think that
you have mastered yourself.  As I am supposed to be ignorant of your
proposal, I shall not be suspected.  I will demand two years' more
freedom, and I shall obtain them.  Who knows what may happen in the
course of two years?  The emperor may die, my betrothed may die, my
father--may God protect him!--my father himself may die--!"

"But if they force you to marry?"

"Force me!" interrupted Vaninka, and a deep flush rose to her cheek
and immediately disappeared again.  "And who will force me to do
anything?  Father?  He loves me too well.  The emperor?  He has
enough worries in his own family, without introducing them into
another's.  Besides, there is always a last resource when every other
expedient fails: the Neva only flows a few paces from here, and its
waters are deep."

Foedor uttered a cry, for in the young girl's knit brows and tightly
compressed lips there was so much resolution that he understood that
they might break this child but that they would not bend her.  But
Foedor's heart was too much in harmony with the plan Vaninka had
proposed; his objections once removed, he did not seek fresh ones.
Besides, had he had the courage to do so; Vaninka's promise to make
up in secret to him for the dissimulation she was obliged to practise
in public would have conquered his last scruples.

Vaninka, whose determined character had been accentuated by her
education, had an unbounded influence over all who came in contact
with her; even the general, without knowing why, obeyed her.  Foedor
submitted like a child to everything she wished, and the young girl's
love was increased by the wishes she opposed and by a feeling of
gratified pride.

It was some days after this nocturnal decision that the knouting had
taken place at which our readers have assisted.  It was for some
slight fault, and Gregory had been the victim; Vaninka having
complained to her father about him.  Foedor, who as aide-de-camp had
been obliged to preside over Gregory's punishment, had paid no more
attention to the threats the serf had uttered on retiring.

Ivan, the coachman, who after having been executioner had become
surgeon, had applied compresses of salt and water to heal up the
scarred shoulders of his victim.  Gregory had remained three days in
the infirmary, and during this time he had turned over in his mind
every possible means of vengeance.  Then at the end of three days,
being healed, he had returned to his duty, and soon everyone except
he had forgotten the punishment.  If Gregory had been a real Russian,
he would soon have forgotten it all; for this punishment is too
familiar to the rough Muscovite for him to remember it long and with
rancour.  Gregory, as we have said, had Greek blood in his veins; he
dissembled and remembered.  Although Gregory was a serf, his duties
had little by little brought him into greater familiarity with the
general than any of the other servants.  Besides, in every country in
the world barbers have great licence with those they shave; this is
perhaps due to the fact that a man is instinctively more gracious to
another who for ten minutes every day holds his life in his hands.
Gregory rejoiced in the immunity of his profession, and it nearly
always happened that the barber's daily operation on the general's
chin passed in conversation, of which he bore the chief part.

One day the general had to attend a review: he sent for Gregory
before daybreak, and as the barber was passing the razor as gently as
possible over his master's cheek, the conversation fell, or more
likely was led, on Foedor.  The barber praised him highly, and this
naturally caused his master to ask him, remembering the correction
the young aide-decamp had superintended, if he could not find some
fault in this model of perfection that might counterbalance so many
good qualities.  Gregory replied  that with the exception of pride he
thought Foedor irreproachable.

"Pride?" asked the astonished general.  "That is a failing from which
I should have thought him most free."

"Perhaps I should have said ambition," replied Gregory.

"Ambition!" said the general.  "It does not seem to me that he has
given much proof of ambition in entering my service; for after his
achievements in the last campaign he might easily have aspired to the
honour of a place in the emperor's household."

"Oh yes, he is ambitious," said Gregory, smiling.  "One man's
ambition is for high position, another's an illustrious alliance: the
former will owe everything to himself, the latter will make a
stepping-stone of his wife, then they raise their eyes higher than
they should."

"What do you mean to suggest?" said the general, beginning to see
what Gregory was aiming at.

"I mean, your excellency," replied Gregory, "there are many men who,
owing to the kindness shown them by others, forget their position and
aspire to a more exalted one; having already been placed so high,
their heads are turned."

"Gregory,"  cried the general, "believe me, you are getting into a
scrape; for you are making an accusation, and if I take any notice of
it, you will have to prove your words."

"By St. Basilius, general, it is no scrape when you have truth on
your side; for I have said nothing I am not ready to prove."

"Then," said the general, "you persist in declaring that Foedor loves
my daughter?"

"Ah! I have not said that: it is your excellency.  I have not named
the lady Vaninka," said Gregory, with the duplicity of his nation.

"But you meant it, did you not?  Come, contrary to your custom, reply
frankly."

"It is true, your excellency; it is what I meant."

"And, according to you, my daughter reciprocates the passion, no
doubt?"

"I fear so, your excellency."

"And what makes you think this, say?"

"First, Mr. Foedor never misses a chance of speaking to the lady
Vaninka."

"He is in the same house with her, would you have him avoid her?"

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