List Of Contents | Contents of Vaninka, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

handkerchief.  Ivan profited by his distraction, and counted seven
instead of six: the captain took no notice.  At the ninth stroke Ivan
stopped to change the lash, and in the hope that a second fraud might
pass off as luckily as the first, he counted eleven instead of ten.

At that moment a window opposite to Vaninka's opened, and a man about
forty-five or fifty in general's uniform appeared.  He called out in
a careless tone, "Enough, that will do," and closed the window again.

Immediately on this apparition the young aide-de-camp had turned
towards his general, saluting, and during the few seconds that the
general was present he remained motionless.  When the window had been
shut again, he repeated the general's words, so that the raised whip
fell without touching the culprit.

"Thank his excellency, Gregory," said Ivan, rolling the knout's lash
round his hand, "for having spared you two strokes;" and he added,
bending down to liberate Gregory's hand, "these two with the two I
was able to miss out make a total of eight strokes instead of twelve.
Come, now, you others, untie his other hand."

But poor Gregory was in no state to thank anybody; nearly swooning
with pain, he could scarcely stand.

Two moujiks took him by the arms and led him towards the serfs'
quarters, followed by Ivan.  Having reached the door, however,
Gregory stopped, turned his head, and seeing the aide-de-camp gazing
pitifully at him, "Oh sir," he cried, "please thank his excellency
the general for me.  As for the lady Vaninka," he added in a low
tone, "I will certainly thank her myself."

"What are you muttering between your teeth?" cried the young officer,
with an angry movement; for he thought he had detected a threatening
tone in Gregory's voice.

"Nothing, sir, nothing," said Ivan.  "The poor fellow is merely
thanking you, Mr. Foedor, for the trouble you have taken in being
present at his punishment, and he says that he has been much
honoured, that is all."

"That is right," said the young man, suspecting that Ivan had
somewhat altered the original remarks, but evidently not wishing to
be better informed.  "If Gregory wishes to spare me this trouble
another time, let him drink less vodka; or else, if he must get
drunk, let him at least remember to be more respectful."

Ivan bowed low and followed his comrades, Foedor entered the house
again, and the crowd dispersed, much dissatisfied that Ivan's
trickery and the general's generosity had deprived them of four
strokes of the knout--exactly a third of the punishment.

Now that we have introduced our readers to some of the characters in
this history, we must make them better acquainted with those who have
made their appearance, and must introduce those who are still behind
the curtain.

General Count Tchermayloff, as we have said, after having been
governor of one of the most important towns in the environs of
Pultava, had been recalled to St. Petersburg by the Emperor Paul, who
honoured him with his particular friendship.  The general was a
widower, with one daughter, who had inherited her mother's fortune,
beauty, and pride.  Vaninka's mother claimed descent from one of the
chieftains of the Tartar race, who had invaded Russia, under the
leadership of D'Gengis, in the thirteenth century.  Vaninka's
naturally haughty disposition had been fostered by the education she
had received.  His wife being dead, and not having time to look after
his daughter's education himself, General Tchermayloff had procured
an English governess for her.  This lady, instead of suppressing her
pupil's scornful propensities, had encouraged them, by filling her
head with those aristocratic ideas which have made the English
aristocracy the proudest in the world.  Amongst the different studies
to which Vaninka devoted herself, there was one in which she was
specially interested, and that one was, if one may so call it, the
science of her own rank.  She knew exactly the relative degree of
nobility and power of all the Russian noble families--those that were
a grade above her own, and those of whom she took precedence.  She
could give each person the title which belonged to their respective
rank, no easy thing to do in Russia, and she had the greatest
contempt for all those who were below the rank of excellency.  As for
serfs and slaves, for her they did not exist: they were mere bearded
animals, far below her horse or her dog in the sentiments which they
inspired in her; and she would not for one instant have weighed the
life of a serf against either of those interesting animals.

Like all the women of distinction in her nation, Vaninka was a good
musician, and spoke French, Italian, German, and English equally

Her features had developed in harmony with her character.  Vaninka
was beautiful, but her beauty was perhaps a little too decided.  Her
large black eyes, straight nose, and lips curling scornfully at the
corners, impressed those who saw her for the first time somewhat
unpleasantly.  This impression soon wore off with her superiors and
equals, to whom she became merely an ordinary charming woman, whilst
to subalterns and such like she remained haughty and inaccessible as
a goddess.  At seventeen Vaninka's education was finished, and her
governess who had suffered in health through the severe climate of
St. Petersburg, requested permission to leave.  This desire was
granted with the ostentatious recognition of which the Russian
nobility are the last representatives in Europe.  Thus Vaninka was
left alone, with nothing but her father's blind adoration to direct
her.  She was his only daughter, as we have mentioned, and he thought
her absolutely perfect.

Things were in this state in the-general's house when he received a
letter, written on the deathbed of one of the friends of his youth.
Count Romayloff had been exiled to his estates, as a result of some
quarrel with Potemkin, and his career had been spoilt.  Not being
able to recover his forfeited position, he had settled down about
four hundred leagues from St. Petersburg; broken-hearted, distressed
probably less on account of his own exile and misfortune than of the
prospects of his only son, Foedor.  The count feeling that he was
leaving this son alone and friendless in the world, commended the
young man, in the name of their early friendship, to the general,
hoping that, owing to his being a favourite with Paul I, he would be
able to procure a lieutenancy in a regiment for him.  The general
immediately replied to the count that his son should find a second
father in himself; but when this comforting message arrived,
Romayloff was no more, and Foedor himself received the letter and
carried it back with him to the general, when he went to tell him of
his loss and to claim the promised protection.  So great was the
general's despatch, that Paul I, at his request, granted the young
man a sub-lieutenancy in the Semonowskoi regiment, so that Foedor
entered on his duties the very next day after his arrival in St.

Although the young man had only passed through the general's house on
his way to the barracks, which were situated in the Litenoi quarter,
he had remained there long enough for him to have seen Vaninka, and
she had produced a great impression upon him.  Foedor had arrived
with his heart full of primitive and noble feelings; his gratitude to
his protector, who had opened a career for him, was profound, and
extended to all his family.  These feelings caused him perhaps to
have an exaggerated idea of the beauty of the young girl who was
presented to him as a sister, and who, in spite of this title,
received him with the frigidity and hauteur of a queen.
Nevertheless, her appearance, in spite of her cool and freezing
manner, had left a lasting impression upon the young man's heart, and
his arrival in St. Petersburg had been marked by feelings till then
never experienced before in his life.

As for Vaninka, she had hardly noticed Foedor; for what was a young
sub-lieutenant, without fortune or prospects, to her?  What she
dreamed of was some princely alliance, that would make her one of the
most powerful ladies in Russia, and unless he could realise some
dream of the Arabian Nights, Foedor could not offer her such a

Some time after this first interview, Foedor came to take leave of
the general.  His regiment was to form part of a contingent that
Field-Marshal Souvarow was taking to Italy, and Foedor was about to
die, or show himself worthy of the noble patron who had helped him to
a career.

This time, whether on account of the elegant uniform that heightened
Foedor's natural good looks, or because his imminent departure,
glowing with hope and enthusiasm, lent a romantic interest to the
young man, Vaninka was astonished at the marvellous change in him,
and deigned, at her father's request, to give him her hand when he
left.  This was more than Foedor had dared to hope.  He dropped upon
his knee, as though in the presence of a queen, and took Vaninka's
between his own trembling hands, scarcely daring to touch it with his
lips.  Light though the kiss had been, Vaninka started as though she
had been burnt; she felt a thrill run through her, and she blushed
violently.  She withdrew her hand so quickly, that Foedor, fearing
this adieu, respectful though it was, had offended her, remained on
his knees, and clasping his hands, raised his eyes with such an
expression of fear in them, that Vaninka, forgetting her hauteur,
reassured him with a smile.  Foedor rose, his heart filled with
inexplicable joy, and without being able to say what had caused this
feeling, he only knew that it had made him absolutely happy, so that,
although he was just about to leave Vaninka, he had never felt
greater happiness in his life.

The young man left dreaming golden dreams; for his future, be it
gloomy or bright, was to be envied.  If it ended in a soldier's
grave, he believed he had seen in Vaninka's eyes that she would mourn
him; if his future was glorious, glory would bring him back to St.
Petersburg in triumph, and glory is a queen, who works miracles for

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: