BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
TALES OF HOME
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
THE STRANGE FRIEND
JACOB FLINT'S JOURNEY
CAN A LIFE HIDE ITSELF?
THE EXPERIENCES OF THE A. C.
FRIEND ELI'S DAUGHTER
MISS BARTRAM'S TROUBLE
MRS. STRONGITHARM'S REPORT
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
A STORY OF OLD RUSSIA.
We are about to relate a story of mingled fact and fancy. The
facts are borrowed from the Russian author, Petjerski; the fancy is
our own. Our task will chiefly be to soften the outlines of
incidents almost too sharp and rugged for literary use, to supply
them with the necessary coloring and sentiment, and to give a
coherent and proportioned shape to the irregular fragments of an
old chronicle. We know something, from other sources, of the
customs described, something of the character of the people from
personal observation, and may therefore the more freely take such
liberties as we choose with the rude, vigorous sketches of the
Russian original. One who happens to have read the work of
Villebois can easily comprehend the existence of a state of
society, on the banks of the Volga, a hundred years ago, which
is now impossible, and will soon become incredible. What is
strangest in our narrative has been declared to be true.
We are in Kinesma, a small town on the Volga, between Kostroma and
Nijni-Novgorod. The time is about the middle of the last century,
and the month October.
There was trouble one day, in the palace of Prince Alexis, of
Kinesma. This edifice, with its massive white walls, and its
pyramidal roofs of green copper, stood upon a gentle mound to the
eastward of the town, overlooking it, a broad stretch of the Volga,
and the opposite shore. On a similar hill, to the westward, stood
the church, glittering with its dozen bulging, golden domes. These
two establishments divided the sovereignty of Kinesma between them.
Prince Alexis owned the bodies of the inhabitants, (with the
exception of a few merchants and tradesmen,) and the Archimandrite
Sergius owned their souls. But the shadow of the former stretched
also over other villages, far beyond the ring of the wooded
horizon. The number of his serfs was ten thousand, and his rule
over them was even less disputed than theirs over their domestic
The inhabitants of the place had noticed with dismay that the
slumber-flag had not been hoisted on the castle, although it was
half an hour after the usual time. So rare a circumstance
betokened sudden wrath or disaster, on the part of Prince
Alexis. Long experience had prepared the people for anything that
might happen, and they were consequently not astonished at the
singular event which presently transpired.
The fact is, that in the first place, the dinner had been prolonged
full ten minutes beyond its accustomed limit, owing to a discussion
between the Prince, his wife, the Princess Martha, and their son
Prince Boris. The last was to leave for St. Petersburg in a
fortnight, and wished to have his departure preceded by a festival
at the castle. The Princess Martha was always ready to second the
desires of her only child. Between the two they had pressed some
twenty or thirty thousand rubles out of the old Prince, for the
winter diversions of the young one. The festival, to be sure,
would have been a slight expenditure for a noble of such immense
wealth as Prince Alexis; but he never liked his wife, and he took
a stubborn pleasure in thwarting her wishes. It was no
satisfaction that Boris resembled her in character. That weak
successor to the sovereignty of Kinesma preferred a game of cards
to a bear hunt, and could never drink more than a quart of vodki
without becoming dizzy and sick.
"Ugh!" Prince Alexis would cry, with a shudder of disgust, "the
whelp barks after the dam!"
A state dinner he might give; but a festival, with dances, dramatic
representations, burning tar-barrels, and cannon,--no! He knitted
his heavy brows and drank deeply, and his fiery gray eyes shot such
incessant glances from side to side that Boris and the Princess
Martha could not exchange a single wink of silent advice. The
pet bear, Mishka, plied with strong wines, which Prince Alexis
poured out for him into a golden basin, became at last comically
drunk, and in endeavoring to execute a dance, lost his balance, and
fell at full length on his back.
The Prince burst into a yelling, shrieking fit of laughter.
Instantly the yellow-haired serfs in waiting, the Calmucks at the
hall-door, and the half-witted dwarf who crawled around the table
in his tow shirt, began laughing in chorus, as violently as they
could. The Princess Martha and Prince Boris laughed also; and
while the old man's eyes were dimmed with streaming tears of mirth,
quickly exchanged nods. The sound extended all over the castle,
and was heard outside of the walls.
"Father!" said Boris, "let us have the festival, and Mishka shall
perform again. Prince Paul of Kostroma would strangle, if he could
"Good, by St. Vladimir!" exclaimed Prince Alexis. "Thou shalt have
it, my Borka! Where's Simon Petrovitch? May the Devil scorch
that vagabond, if he doesn't do better than the last time! Sasha!"
 Little Boris.
A broad-shouldered serf stepped forward and stood with bowed head.
"Lock up Simon Petrovitch in the southwestern tower. Send the
tailor and the girls to him, to learn their parts. Search every
one of them before they go in, and if any one dares to carry vodki
to the beast, twenty-five lashes on the back!"
Sasha bowed again and departed. Simon Petrovitch was the court-
poet of Kinesma. He had a mechanical knack of preparing
allegorical diversions which suited the conventional taste of
society at that time; but he had also a failing,--he was rarely
sober enough to write. Prince Alexis, therefore, was in the habit
of locking him up and placing a guard over him, until the
inspiration had done its work. The most comely young serfs of both
sexes were selected to perform the parts, and the court-tailor
arranged for them the appropriate dresses. It depended very much
upon accident--that is to say, the mood of Prince Alexis--whether
Simon Petrovitch was rewarded with stripes or rubles.
The matter thus settled, the Prince rose from the table and walked
out upon an overhanging balcony, where an immense reclining arm-
chair of stuffed leather was ready for his siesta. He preferred
this indulgence in the open air; and although the weather was
rapidly growing cold, a pelisse of sables enabled him to slumber
sweetly in the face of the north wind. An attendant stood with the
pelisse outspread; another held the halyards to which was attached
the great red slumber-flag, ready to run it up and announce to all
Kinesma that the noises of the town must cease; a few seconds more,
and all things would have been fixed in their regular daily
courses. The Prince, in fact, was just straightening his shoulders
to receive the sables; his eyelids were dropping, and his eyes,
sinking mechanically with them, fell upon the river-road, at the
foot of the hill. Along this road walked a man, wearing the
long cloth caftan of a merchant.
Prince Alexis started, and all slumber vanished out of his eyes.
He leaned forward for a moment, with a quick, eager expression;
then a loud roar, like that of an enraged wild beast, burst from
his mouth. He gave a stamp that shook the balcony.
"Dog!" he cried to the trembling attendent, "my cap! my whip!"
The sables fell upon the floor, the cap and whip appeared in a
twinkling, and the red slumber-flag was folded up again for the
first time in several years, as the Prince stormed out of the
castle. The traveller below had heard the cry,--for it might have
been heard half a mile. He seemed to have a presentiment of evil,
for he had already set off towards the town at full speed.
To explain the occurence, we must mention one of the Prince's many
peculiar habits. This was, to invite strangers or merchants of the
neighborhood to dine with him, and, after regaling them
bountifully, to take his pay in subjecting them to all sorts of
outrageous tricks, with the help of his band of willing domestics.
Now this particular merchant had been invited, and had attended;
but, being a very wide-awake, shrewd person, he saw what was
coming, and dexterously slipped away from the banquet without being
perceived. The Prince vowed vengeance, on discovering the escape,
and he was not a man to forget his word.
Impelled by such opposite passions, both parties ran with
astonishing speed. The merchant was the taller, but his long
caftan, hastily ungirdled, swung behind him and dragged in the air.
The short, booted legs of the Prince beat quicker time, and he
grasped his short, heavy, leathern whip more tightly as he saw the
space diminishing. They dashed into the town of Kinesma a hundred
yards apart. The merchant entered the main street, or bazaar,
looking rapidly to right and left, as he ran, in the hope of
espying some place of refuge. The terrible voice behind him
"Stop, scoundrel! I have a crow to pick with you!"
And the tradesmen in their shops looked on and laughed, as well
they might, being unconcerned spectators of the fun. The fugitive,
therefore, kept straight on, notwithstanding a pond of water
glittered across the farther end of the street.
Although Prince Alexis had gained considerably in the race, such
violent exercise, after a heavy dinner, deprived him of breath. He
"But the merchant answered,--
"No, Highness! You may come to me, but I will not go to you."
"Oh, the villian!" growled the Prince, in a hoarse whisper, for he
had no more voice.
The pond cut of all further pursuit. Hastily kicking off his loose
boots, the merchant plunged into the water, rather than encounter
the princely whip, which already began to crack and snap in fierce
anticipation. Prince Alexis kicked off his boots and followed;
the pond gradually deepened, and in a minute the tall merchant
stood up to his chin in the icy water, and his short pursuer
likewise but out of striking distance. The latter coaxed and
entreated, but the victim kept his ground.
"You lie, Highness!" he said, boldly. "If you want me, come to
"Ah-h-h!" roared the Prince, with chattering teeth, "what a
stubborn rascal you are! Come here, and I give you my word that I
will not hurt you. Nay,"--seeing that the man did not move,--"you
shall dine with me as often as you please. You shall be my friend;
by St. Vladimir, I like you!"
"Make the sign of the cross, and swear it by all the Saints," said
the merchant, composedly.
With a grim smile on his face, the Prince stepped back and
shiveringly obeyed. Both then waded out, sat down upon the ground
and pulled on their boots; and presently the people of Kinesma
beheld the dripping pair walking side by side up the street,
conversing in the most cordial manner. The merchant dried his
clothes FROM WITHIN, at the castle table; a fresh keg of old
Cognac was opened; and although the slumber-flag was not unfurled
that afternoon, it flew from the staff and hushed the town nearly
all the next day.
The festival granted on behalf of Prince Boris was one of the
grandest ever given at the castle. In character it was a
singular cross between the old Muscovite revel and the French
entertainments which were then introduced by the Empress Elizabeth.
All the nobility, for fifty versts around, including Prince Paul
and the chief families of Kostroma, were invited. Simon Petrovitch
had been so carefully guarded that his work was actually completed
and the parts distributed; his superintendence of the performance,
however, was still a matter of doubt, as it was necessary to
release him from the tower, and after several days of forced
abstinence he always manifested a raging appetite. Prince Alexis,
in spite of this doubt, had been assured by Boris that the dramatic
part of the entertainment would not be a failure. When he
questioned Sasha, the poet's strong-shouldered guard, the latter
winked familiarly and answered with a proverb,--
"I sit on the shore and wait for the wind,"--which was as much as
to say that Sasha had little fear of the result
The tables were spread in the great hall, where places for one
hundred chosen guests were arranged on the floor, while the three
or four hundred of minor importance were provided for in the
galleries above. By noon the whole party were assembled. The
halls and passages of the castle were already permeated with rich
and unctuous smells, and a delicate nose might have picked out and
arranged, by their finer or coarser vapors, the dishes preparing
for the upper and lower tables. One of the parasites of Prince
Alexis, a dilapidated nobleman, officiated as Grand Marshal,--an
office which more than compensated for the savage charity he
received, for it was performed in continual fear and trembling.
The Prince had felt the stick of the Great Peter upon his own back,
and was ready enough to imitate any custom of the famous monarch.
An orchestra, composed principally of horns and brass instruments,
occupied a separate gallery at one end of the dining-hall. The
guests were assembled in the adjoining apartments, according to
their rank; and when the first loud blast of the instruments
announced the beginning of the banquet, two very differently
attired and freighted processions of servants made their appearance
at the same time. Those intended for the princely table numbered
two hundred,--two for each guest. They were the handsomest young
men among the ten thousand serfs, clothed in loose white trousers
and shirts of pink or lilac silk; their soft golden hair, parted in
the middle, fell upon their shoulders, and a band of gold-thread
about the brow prevented it from sweeping the dishes they carried.
They entered the reception-room, bearing huge trays of sculptured
silver, upon which were anchovies, the finest Finnish caviar,
sliced oranges, cheese, and crystal flagons of Cognac, rum, and
kummel. There were fewer servants for the remaining guests, who
were gathered in a separate chamber, and regaled with the common
black caviar, onions, bread, and vodki. At the second blast of
trumpets, the two companies set themselves in motion and entered
the dining-hall at opposite ends. Our business, however, is only
with the principal personages, so we will allow the common
crowd quietly to mount to the galleries and satisfy their senses
with the coarser viands, while their imagination is stimulated by
the sight of the splendor and luxury below.
Prince Alexis entered first, with a pompous, mincing gait, leading
the Princess Martha by the tips of her fingers. He wore a caftan
of green velvet laced with gold, a huge vest of crimson brocade,
and breeches of yellow satin. A wig, resembling clouds boiling in
the confluence of opposing winds, surged from his low, broad
forehead, and flowed upon his shoulders. As his small, fiery eyes
swept the hall, every servant trembled: he was as severe at the
commencement as he was reckless at the close of a banquet. The
Princess Martha wore a robe of pink satin embroidered with flowers
made of small pearls, and a train and head-dress of crimson velvet.
Her emeralds were the finest outside of Moscow, and she wore them
all. Her pale, weak, frightened face was quenched in the dazzle of
the green fires which shot from her forehead, ears, and bosom, as
Prince Paul of Kostroma and the Princess Nadejda followed; but on
reaching the table, the gentlemen took their seats at the head,
while the ladies marched down to the foot. Their seats were
determined by their relative rank, and woe to him who was so
ignorant or so absent-minded as to make a mistake! The servants
had been carefully trained in advance by the Grand Marshal; and
whoever took a place above his rank or importance found, when he
came to sit down, that his chair had miraculously disappeared,
or, not noticing the fact, seated himself absurdly and violently
upon the floor. The Prince at the head of the table, and the
Princess at the foot, with their nearest guests of equal rank, ate
from dishes of massive gold; the others from silver. As soon as
the last of the company had entered the hall, a crowd of jugglers,
tumblers, dwarfs, and Calmucks followed, crowding themselves into
the corners under the galleries, where they awaited the conclusion
of the banquet to display their tricks, and scolded and pummelled
each other in the mean time.
On one side of Prince Alexis the bear Mishka took his station. By
order of Prince Boris he had been kept from wine for several days,
and his small eyes were keener and hungrier than usual. As he rose
now and then, impatiently, and sat upon his hind legs, he formed a
curious contrast to the Prince's other supporter, the idiot, who
sat also in his tow-shirt, with a large pewter basin in his hand.
It was difficult to say whether the beast was most man or the man
most beast. They eyed each other and watched the motions of their
lord with equal jealousy; and the dismal whine of the bear found an
echo in the drawling, slavering laugh of the idiot. The Prince
glanced form one to the other; they put him in a capital humor,
which was not lessened as he perceived an expression of envy pass
over the face of Prince Paul.
The dinner commenced with a botvinia--something between a soup
and a salad--of wonderful composition. It contained cucumbers,
cherries, salt fish, melons, bread, salt, pepper, and wine.
While it was being served, four huge fishermen, dressed to
represent mermen of the Volga, naked to the waist, with hair
crowned with reeds, legs finned with silver tissue from the knees
downward, and preposterous scaly tails, which dragged helplessly
upon the floor, entered the hall, bearing a broad, shallow tank of
silver. In the tank flapped and swam four superb sterlets, their
ridgy backs rising out of the water like those of alligators.
Great applause welcomed this new and classical adaptation of the
old custom of showing the LIVING fish, before cooking them, to
the guests at the table. The invention was due to Simon
Petrovitch, and was (if the truth must be confessed) the result of
certain carefully measured supplies of brandy which Prince Boris
himself had carried to the imprisoned poet.
After the sterlets had melted away to their backbones, and the
roasted geese had shrunk into drumsticks and breastplates, and here
and there a guest's ears began to redden with more rapid blood,
Prince Alexis judged that the time for diversion had arrived. He
first filled up the idiot's basin with fragments of all the dishes
within his reach,--fish, stewed fruits, goose fat, bread, boiled
cabbage, and beer,--the idiot grinning with delight all the while,
and singing, "Ne uyesjai golubchik moi," (Don't go away, my
little pigeon), between the handfuls which he crammed into his
mouth. The guests roared with laughter, especially when a juggler
or Calmuck stole out from under the gallery, and pretended to have
designs upon the basin. Mishka, the bear, had also been well fed,
and greedily drank ripe old Malaga from the golden dish. But,
alas! he would not dance. Sitting up on his hind legs, with his
fore paws hanging before him, he cast a drunken, languishing eye
upon the company, lolled out his tongue, and whined with an almost
human voice. The domestics, secretly incited by the Grand Marshal,
exhausted their ingenuity in coaxing him, but in vain. Finally,
one of them took a goblet of wine in one hand, and, embracing
Mishka with the other, began to waltz. The bear stretched out his
paw and clumsily followed the movements, whirling round and round
after the enticing goblet. The orchestra struck up, and the
spectacle, though not exactly what Prince Alexis wished, was
comical enough to divert the company immensely.
But the close of the performance was not upon the programme. The
impatient bear, getting no nearer his goblet, hugged the man
violently with the other paw, striking his claws through the thin
shirt. The dance-measure was lost; the legs of the two tangled,
and they fell to the floor, the bear undermost. With a growl of
rage and disappointment, he brought his teeth together through the
man's arm, and it might have fared badly with the latter, had not
the goblet been refilled by some one and held to the animal's nose.
Then, releasing his hold, he sat up again, drank another bottle,
and staggered out of the hall.
Now the health of Prince Alexis was drunk,--by the guests on the
floor of the hall in Champagne, by those in the galleries in
kislischi and hydromel. The orchestra played; a choir of
serfs sang an ode by Simon Petrovitch, in which the departure of
Prince Boris was mentioned; the tumblers began to posture; the
jugglers came forth and played their tricks; and the cannon on the
ramparts announced to all Kinesma, and far up and down the Volga,
that the company were rising from the table.
Half an hour later, the great red slumber-flag floated over the
castle. All slept,--except the serf with the wounded arm, the
nervous Grand Marshal, and Simon Petrovich with his band of
dramatists, guarded by the indefatigable Sasha. All others
slept,--and the curious crowd outside, listening to the music,
stole silently away; down in Kinesma, the mothers ceased to scold
their children, and the merchants whispered to each other in the
bazaar; the captains of vessels floating on the Volga directed
their men by gestures; the mechanics laid aside hammer and axe, and
lighted their pipes. Great silence fell upon the land, and
continued unbroken so long as Prince Alexis and his guests slept
the sleep of the just and the tipsy.
By night, however, they were all awake and busily preparing for the
diversions of the evening. The ball-room was illuminated by
thousands of wax-lights, so connected with inflammable threads,
that the wicks could all be kindled in a moment. A pyramid of tar-
barrels had been erected on each side of the castle-gate, and every
hill or mound on the opposite bank of the Volga was similarly
crowned. When, to a stately march,--the musicians blowing their
loudest,--Prince Alexis and Princess Martha led the way to the
ball-room, the signal was given: candles and tar-barre]s burst
into flame, and not only within the castle, but over the landscape
for five or six versts, around everything was bright and clear in
the fiery day. Then the noises of Kinesma were not only permitted,
but encouraged. Mead and qvass flowed in the very streets, and
the castle trumpets could not be heard for the sound of troikas
After the Polonaise, and a few stately minuets, (copied from the
court of Elizabeth), the company were ushered into the theatre.
The hour of Simon Petrovitch had struck: with the inspiration
smuggled to him by Prince Boris, he had arranged a performance
which he felt to be his masterpiece. Anxiety as to its reception
kept him sober. The overture had ceased, the spectators were all
in their seats, and now the curtain rose. The background was a
growth of enormous, sickly toad-stools, supposed to be clouds. On
the stage stood a girl of eighteen, (the handsomest in Kinesma), in
hoops and satin petticoat, powdered hair, patches, and high-heeled
shoes. She held a fan in one hand, and a bunch of marigolds in the
other. After a deep and graceful curtsy to the company, she came
forward and said,--
"I am the goddess Venus. I have come to Olympus to ask some
questions of Jupiter."
Thunder was heard, and a car rolled upon the stage. Jupiter sat
therein, in a blue coat, yellow vest, ruffled shirt and three-
cornered hat. One hand held a bunch of thunderbolts, which he
occasionally lifted and shook; the other, a gold-headed cane.
"Here am, I Jupiter," said he; "what does Venus desire?"
A poetical dialogue then followed, to the effect that the favorite
of the goddess, Prince Alexis of Kinesma, was about sending his
son, Prince Boris, into the gay world, wherein himself had already
displayed all the gifts of all the divinities of Olympus. He
claimed from her, Venus, like favors for his son: was it possible
to grant them? Jupiter dropped his head and meditated. He could
not answer the question at once: Apollo, the Graces, and the Muses
must be consulted: there were few precedents where the son had
succeeded in rivalling the father,--yet the father's pious wishes
could not be overlooked.
"What I asked for Prince Alexis was for HIS sake: what I ask for
the son is for the father's sake."
Jupiter shook his thunderbolt and called "Apollo!"
Instantly the stage was covered with explosive and coruscating
fires,--red, blue, and golden,--and amid smoke, and glare, and
fizzing noises, and strong chemical smells, Apollo dropped down
from above. He was accustomed to heat and smoke, being the cook's
assistant, and was sweated down to a weight capable of being
supported by the invisible wires. He wore a yellow caftan, and
wide blue silk trousers. His yellow hair was twisted around and
glued fast to gilded sticks, which stood out from his head in a
circle, and represented rays of light. He first bowed to Prince
Alexis, then to the guests, then to Jupiter, then to Venus. The
matter was explained to him.
He promised to do what he could towards favoring the world with a
second generation of the beauty, grace, intellect, and nobility of
character which had already won his regard. He thought, however,
that their gifts were unnecessary, since the model was already in
existence, and nothing more could be done than to IMITATE it.
(Here there was another meaning bow towards Prince Alexis,--a bow
in which Jupiter and Venus joined. This was the great point of the
evening, in the opinion of Simon Petrovitch. He peeped through a
hole in one of the clouds, and, seeing the delight of Prince Alexis
and the congratulations of his friends, immediately took a large
glass of Cognac).
The Graces were then summoned, and after them the Muses--all in
hoops, powder, and paint. Their songs had the same burden,--
intense admiration of the father, and good-will for the son,
underlaid with a delicate doubt. The close was a chorus of all the
deities and semi-deities in praise of the old Prince, with the
accompaniment of fireworks. Apollo rose through the air like a
frog, with his blue legs and yellow arms wide apart; Jupiter's
chariot rolled off; Venus bowed herself back against a mouldy
cloud; and the Muses came forward in a bunch, with a wreath of
laurel, which they placed upon the venerated head.
Sasha was dispatched to bring the poet, that he might receive his
well-earned praise and reward. But alas for Simon Petrovitch? His
legs had already doubled under him. He was awarded fifty rubles
and a new caftan, which he was not in a condition to accept
until several days afterward.
The supper which followed resembled the dinner, except that there
were fewer dishes and more bottles. When the closing course of
sweatmeats had either been consumed or transferred to the pockets
of the guests, the Princess Martha retired with the ladies. The
guests of lower rank followed; and there remained only some fifteen
or twenty, who were thereupon conducted by Prince Alexis to a
smaller chamber, where he pulled off his coat, lit his pipe, and
called for brandy. The others followed his example, and their
revelry wore out the night.
Such was the festival which preceded the departure of Prince Boris
for St. Petersburg.
Before following the young Prince and his fortunes, in the capital,
we must relate two incidents which somewhat disturbed the ordered
course of life in the castle of Kinesma, during the first month or
two after his departure.
It must be stated, as one favorable trait in the character of
Prince Alexis, that, however brutally he treated his serfs, he
allowed no other man to oppress them. All they had and were--their
services, bodies, lives--belonged to him; hence injustice towards
them was disrespect towards their lord. Under the fear which his
barbarity inspired lurked a brute-like attachment, kept alive by
the recognition of this quality.
One day it was reported to him that Gregor, a merchant in the
bazaar at Kinesma, had cheated the wife of one of his serfs in the
purchase of a piece of cloth. Mounting his horse, he rode at once
to Gregor's booth, called for the cloth, and sent the entire piece
to the woman, in the merchant's name, as a confessed act of
"Now, Gregor, my child," said he, as he turned his horse's head,
"have a care in future, and play me no more dishonest tricks. Do
you hear? I shall come and take your business in hand myself, if
the like happens again."
Not ten days passed before the like--or something fully as bad--
did happen. Gregor must have been a new comer in Kinesma, or he
would not have tried the experiment. In an hour from the time it
was announced, Prince Alexis appeared in the bazaar with a short
whip under his arm.
He dismounted at the booth with an ironical smile on his face,
which chilled the very marrow in the merchant's bones.
"Ah, Gregor, my child," he shouted, "you have already forgotten my
commands. Holy St. Nicholas, what a bad memory the boy has! Why,
he can't be trusted to do business: I must attend to the shop
myself. Out of the way! march!"
He swung his terrible whip; and Gregor, with his two assistants,
darted under the counter, and made their escape. The Prince then
entered the booth, took up a yard-stick, and cried out in a voice
which could be heard from one end of the town to the other,--
"Ladies and gentlemen, have the kindness to come and examine
our stock of goods! We have silks and satins, and all kinds of
ladies' wear; also velvet, cloth, cotton, and linen for the
gentlemen. Will your Lordships deign to choose? Here are
stockings and handkerchiefs of the finest. We understand how to
measure, your Lordships, and we sell cheap. We give no change, and
take no small money. Whoever has no cash may have credit. Every
thing sold below cost, on account of closing up the establishment.
Ladies and gentlemen, give us a call?"
Everybody in Kinesma flocked to the booth, and for three hours
Prince Alexis measured and sold, either for scant cash or long
credit, until the last article had been disposed of and the shelves
were empty. There was great rejoicing in the community over the
bargains made that day. When all was over, Gregor was summoned,
and the cash received paid into his hands.
"It won't take you long to count it," said the Prince; but here is
a list of debts to be collected, which will furnish you with
pleasant occupation, and enable you to exercise your memory. Would
your Worship condescend to take dinner to-day with your humble
assistant? He would esteem it a favor to be permitted to wait upon
you with whatever his poor house can supply."
Gregor gave a glance at the whip under the Prince's arm, and begged
to be excused. But the latter would take no denial, and carried
out the comedy to the end by giving the merchant the place of honor
at his table, and dismissing him with the present of a fine pup of
his favorite breed. Perhaps the animal acted as a mnemonic
symbol, for Gregor was never afterwards accused of forgetfulness.
If this trick put the Prince in a good humor, some thing presently
occurred which carried him to the opposite extreme. While taking
his customary siesta one afternoon, a wild young fellow--one of his
noble poor relations, who "sponged" at the castle--happened to pass
along a corridor outside of the very hall where his Highness was
snoring. Two ladies in waiting looked down from an upper window.
The young fellow perceived them, and made signs to attract their
attention. Having succeeded in this, he attempted, by all sorts of
antics and grimaces, to make them laugh or speak; but he failed,
for the slumber-flag waved over them, and its fear was upon them.
Then, in a freak of incredible rashness, he sang, in a loud voice,
the first line of a popular ditty, and took to his heels.
No one had ever before dared to insult the sacred quiet. The
Prince was on his feet in a moment, and rushed into the corridor,
(dropping his mantle of sables by the way,) shouting.--
"Bring me the wretch who sang!"
The domestics scattered before him, for his face was terrible to
look upon. Some of them had heard the voice, indeed, but not one
of them had seen the culprit, who al ready lay upon a heap of hay
in one of the stables, and appeared to be sunk in innocent sleep.
"Who was it? who was it?" yelled the Prince, foaming at the
mouth with rage, as he rushed from chamber to chamber.
At last he halted at the top of the great flight of steps leading
into the court-yard, and repeated his demand in a voice of thunder.
The servants, trembling, kept at a safe distance, and some of them
ventured to state that the offender could not be discovered. The
Prince turned and entered one of the state apartments, whence came
the sound of porcelain smashed on the floor, and mirrors shivered
on the walls. Whenever they heard that sound, the immates of
the castle knew that a hurricane was let loose.
They deliberated hurriedly and anxiously. What was to be done? In
his fits of blind animal rage, there was nothing of which the
Prince was not capable, and the fit could be allayed only by
finding a victim. No one, however, was willing to be a Curtius for
the others, and meanwhile the storm was increasing from minute to
minute. Some of the more active and shrewd of the household
pitched upon the leader of the band, a simple-minded, good-natured
serf, named Waska. They entreated him to take upon himself the
crime of having sung, offering to have his punishment mitigated in
every possible way. He was proof against their tears, but not
against the money which they finally offered, in order to avert the
storm. The agreement was made, although Waska both scratched his
head and shook it, as he reflected upon the probable result.
The Prince, after his work of destruction, again appeared upon
the steps, and with hoarse voice and flashing eyes, began to
announce that every soul in the castle should receive a hundred
lashes, when a noise was heard in the court, and amid cries of
"Here he is!" "We've got him, Highness!" the poor Waska, bound hand
and foot, was brought forward. They placed him at the bottom of
the steps. The Prince descended until the two stood face to face.
The others looked on from courtyard, door, and window. A pause
ensued, during which no one dared to breathe.
At last Prince Alexis spoke, in a loud and terrible voice--
"It was you who sang it?"
"Yes, your Highness, it was I," Waska replied, in a scarcely
audible tone, dropping his head and mechanically drawing his
shoulders together, as if shrinking from the coming blow.
It was full three minutes before the Prince again spoke. He still
held the whip in his hand, his eyes fixed and the muscles of his
face rigid. All at once the spell seemed to dissolve: his hand
fell, and he said in his ordinary voice--
"You sing remarkably well. Go, now: you shall have ten rubles and
an embroidered caftan for your singing."
But any one would have made a great mistake who dared to awaken
Prince Alexis a second time in the same manner.
Prince Boris, in St. Petersburg, adopted the usual habits of his
class. He dressed elegantly; he drove a dashing troika; he
played, and lost more frequently than he won; he took no special
pains to shun any form of fashionable dissipation. His money went
fast, it is true; but twenty-five thousand rubles was a large sum
in those days, and Boris did not inherit his father's expensive
constitution. He was presented to the Empress; but his thin face,
and mild, melancholy eyes did not make much impression upon that
ponderous woman. He frequented the salons of the nobility, but saw
no face so beautiful as that of Parashka, the serf-maiden who
personated Venus for Simon Petrovitch. The fact is, he had a dim,
undeveloped instinct of culture, and a crude, half-conscious
worship of beauty,--both of which qualities found just enough
nourishment in the life of the capital to tantalize and never
satisfy his nature. He was excited by his new experience, but
Athough but three-and-twenty, he would never know the rich,
vital glow with which youth rushes to clasp all forms of sensation.
He had seen, almost daily, in his father's castle, excess in its
most excessive development. It had grown to be repulsive, and he
knew not how to fill the void in his life. With a single spark of
genius, and a little more culture, he might have become a passable
author or artist; but he was doomed to be one of those deaf and
dumb natures that see the movements of the lips of others, yet have
no conception of sound. No wonder his savage old father looked
upon him with contempt, for even his vices were without strength or
The dark winter days passed by, one by one, and the first week of
Lent had already arrived to subdue the glittering festivities of
the court, when the only genuine adventure of the season happened
to the young Prince. For adventures, in the conventional sense of
the word, he was not distinguished; whatever came to him must come
by its own force, or the force of destiny.
One raw, gloomy evening, as dusk was setting in, he saw a female
figure in a droschky, which was about turning from the great
Morskoi into the Gorokhovaya (Pea) Street. He noticed, listlessly,
that the lady was dressed in black, closely veiled, and appeared to
be urging the istvostchik (driver) to make better speed. The
latter cut his horse sharply: it sprang forward, just at the
turning, and the droschky, striking a lamp-post was instantly
overturned. The lady, hurled with great force upon the solidly
frozen snow, lay motionless, which the driver observing, he righted
the sled and drove off at full speed, without looking behind him.
It was not inhumanity, but fear of the knout that hurried him away.
Prince Boris looked up and down the Morskoi, but perceived no one
near at hand. He then knelt upon the snow, lifted the lady's head
to his knee, and threw back her veil. A face so lovely, in spite
of its deadly pallor, he had never before seen. Never had he even
imagined so perfect an oval, such a sweet, fair forehead, such
delicately pencilled brows, so fine and straight a nose, such
wonderful beauty of mouth and chin. It was fortunate that she was
not very severely stunned, for Prince Boris was not only ignorant
of the usual modes of restoration in such cases, but he totally
forgot their necessity, in his rapt contemplation of the lady's
face. Presently she opened her eyes, and they dwelt,
expressionless, but bewildering in their darkness and depth, upon
his own, while her consciousness of things slowly returned.
She strove to rise, and Boris gently lifted and supported her. She
would have withdrawn from his helping arm, but was still too weak
from the shock. He, also, was confused and (strange to say)
embarrassed; but he had self-possession enough to shout, "Davei!"
(Here!) at random. The call was answered from the Admiralty
Square; a sled dashed up the Gorokhovaya and halted beside him.
Taking the single seat, he lifted her gently upon his lap and held
her very tenderly in his arms.
"Where?" asked the istvostchik.
Boris was about to answer "Anywhere!" but the lady whispered in a
voice of silver sweetness, the name of a remote street, near the
As the Prince wrapped the ends of his sable pelisse about her, he
noticed that her furs were of the common foxskin worn by the middle
classes. They, with her heavy boots and the threadbare cloth of
her garments, by no means justified his first suspicion,--that she
was a grande dame, engaged in some romantic "adventure." She was
not more than nineteen or twenty years of age, and he felt--
without knowing what it was--the atmosphere of sweet, womanly
purity and innocence which surrounded her. The shyness of a lost
boyhood surprised him.
By the time they had reached the Litenie, she had fully recovered
her consciousness and a portion of her strength. She drew away
from him as much as the narrow sled would allow.
"You have been very kind, sir, and I thank you," she said; "but I
am now able to go home without your further assistance."
"By no means, lady!" said the Prince. "The streets are rough, and
here are no lamps. If a second accident were to happen, you would
be helpless. Will you not allow me to protect you?"
She looked him in the face. In the dusky light, she saw not the
peevish, weary features of the worldling, but only the imploring
softness of his eyes, the full and perfect honesty of his present
emotion. She made no further objection; perhaps she was glad that
she could trust the elegant stranger.
Boris, never before at a loss for words, even in the presence of
the Empress, was astonished to find how awkward were his attempts
at conversation. She was presently the more self-possessed of the
two, and nothing was ever so sweet to his ears as the few
commonplace remarks she uttered. In spite of the darkness and the
chilly air, the sled seemed to fly like lightning. Before he
supposed they had made half the way, she gave a sign to the
istvostchik, and they drew up before a plain house of squared logs.
The two lower windows were lighted, and the dark figure of an old
man, with a skull-cap upon his head, was framed in one of them. It
vanished as the sled stopped; the door was thrown open and the man
came forth hurriedly, followed by a Russian nurse with a lantern.
"Helena, my child, art thou come at last? What has befallen thee?"
He would evidently have said more, but the sight of Prince Boris
caused him to pause, while a quick shade of suspicion and alarm
passed over his face. The Prince stepped forward, instantly
relieved of his unaccustomed timidity, and rapidly described the
accident. The old nurse Katinka, had meanwhile assisted the lovely
Helena into the house.
The old man turned to follow, shivering in the night-air. Suddenly
recollecting himself, he begged the Prince to enter and take some
refreshments, but with the air and tone of a man who hopes that his
invitation will not be accepted. If such was really his hope, he
was disappointed; for Boris instantly commanded the istvostchik to
wait for him, and entered the humble dwelling.
The apartment into which he was ushered was spacious, and plainly,
yet not shabbily furnished. A violoncello and clavichord, with
several portfolios of music, and scattered sheets of ruled paper,
proclaimed the profession or the taste of the occupant. Having
excused himself a moment to look after his daughter's condition,
the old man, on his return, found Boris turning over the
leaves of a musical work.
"You see my profession," he said. "I teach music?"
"Do you not compose?" asked the Prince.
"That was once my ambition. I was a pupil of Sebastian Bach.
But--circumstances--necessity--brought me here. Other lives
changed the direction of mine. It was right!"
"You mean your daughter's?" the Prince gently suggested.
"Hers and her mother's. Our story was well known in St. Petersburg
twenty years ago, but I suppose no one recollects it now. My wife
was the daughter of a Baron von Plauen, and loved music and myself
better than her home and a titled bridegroom. She escaped, we
united our lives, suffered and were happy together,--and she died.
That is all."
Further conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Helena,
with steaming glasses of tea. She was even lovelier than before.
Her close-fitting dress revealed the symmetry of her form, and the
quiet, unstudied grace of her movements. Although her garments
were of well-worn material, the lace which covered her bosom was
genuine point d'Alencon, of an old and rare pattern. Boris felt
that her air and manner were thoroughly noble; he rose and saluted
her with the profoundest respect.
In spite of the singular delight which her presence occasioned him,
he was careful not to prolong his visit beyond the limits of strict
etiquette. His name, Boris Alexeivitch, only revealed to his
guests the name of his father, without his rank; and when he stated
that he was employed in one of the Departments, (which was true in
a measure, for he was a staff officer,) they could only look upon
him as being, at best, a member of some family whose recent
elevation to the nobility did not release them from the necessity
of Government service. Of course he employed the usual pretext of
wishing to study music, and either by that or some other stratagem
managed to leave matters in such a shape that a second visit could
not occasion surprise.
As the sled glided homewards over the crackling snow, he was
obliged to confess the existence of a new and powerful excitement.
Was it the chance of an adventure, such as certain of his comrades
were continually seeking? He thought not; no, decidedly not. Was
it--could it be--love? He really could not tell; he had not the
slightset idea what love was like.
It was something at least, that the plastic and not un-virtuous
nature of the young man was directed towards a definite object.
The elements out of which he was made, although somewhat diluted,
were active enough to make him uncomfortable, so long as they
remained in a confused state. He had very little power of
introversion, but he was sensible that his temperament was
changing,--that he grew more cheerful and contented with life,--
that a chasm somewhere was filling up,--just in proportion as
his acquaintance with the old music-master and his daughter became
more familiar. His visits were made so brief, were so adroitly
timed and accounted for by circumstances, that by the close of Lent
he could feel justified in making the Easter call of a friend, and
claim its attendant privileges, without fear of being repulsed.
That Easter call was an era in his life. At the risk of his wealth
and rank being suspected, he dressed himself in new and rich
garments, and hurried away towards the Smolnoi. The old nurse,
Katinka, in her scarlet gown, opened the door for him, and was the
first to say, "Christ is arisen!" What could he do but give her
the usual kiss? Formerly he had kissed hundreds of serfs, men and
women, on the sacred anniversary, with a passive good-will. But
Katinka's kiss seemed bitter, and he secretly rubbed his mouth
after it. The music-master came next: grisly though he might be,
he was the St. Peter who stood at the gate of heaven. Then entered
Helena, in white, like an angel. He took her hand, pronounced the
Easter greeting, and scarcely waited for the answer, "Truly he has
arisen!" before his lips found the way to hers. For a second they
warmly trembled and glowed together; and in another second some new
and sweet and subtle relation seemed to be established between
That night Prince Boris wrote a long letter to his "chere maman,"
in piquantly misspelt French, giving her the gossip of the court,
and such family news as she usually craved. The purport of the
letter, however, was only disclosed in the final paragraph, and
then in so negative a way that it is doubtful whether the Princess
Martha fully understood it.
"Poing de mariajes pour moix!" he wrote,--but we will drop the
original,--"I don't think of such a thing yet. Pashkoff dropped a
hint, the other day, but I kept my eyes shut. Perhaps you remember
her?--fat, thick lips, and crooked teeth. Natalie D---- said to
me, "Have you ever been in love, Prince?" HAVE I, MAMAN? I did
not know what answer to make. What is love? How does one feel,
when one has it? They laugh at it here, and of course I should not
wish to do what is laughable. Give me a hint: forewarned is
forearmed, you know,"--etc., etc.
Perhaps the Princess Martha DID suspect something; perhaps some
word in her son's letter touched a secret spot far back in her
memory, and renewed a dim, if not very intelligible, pain. She
answered his question at length, in the style of the popular French
romances of that day. She had much to say of dew and roses,
turtledoves and the arrows of Cupid.
"Ask thyself," she wrote, "whether felicity comes with her
presence, and distraction with her absence,--whether her eyes make
the morning brighter for thee, and her tears fall upon thy heart
like molten lava,--whether heaven would be black and dismal without
her company, and the flames of hell turn into roses under her
It was very evident that the good Princess Martha had never felt--
nay, did not comprehend--a passion such as she described.
Prince Boris, however, whose veneration for his mother was
unbounded, took her words literally, and applied the questions to
himself. Although he found it difficult, in good faith and
sincerity, to answer all of them affirmatively (he was puzzled, for
instance, to know the sensation of molten lava falling upon the
heart), yet the general conclusion was inevitable: Helena was
necessary to his happiness.
Instead of returning to Kinesma for the summer, as had been
arranged, he determined to remain in St. Petersburg, under the
pretence of devoting himself to military studies. This change of
plan occasioned more disappointment to the Princess Martha than
vexation to Prince Alexis. The latter only growled at the prospect
of being called upon to advance a further supply of rubles,
slightly comforting himself with the muttered reflection,--
"Perhaps the brat will make a man of himself, after all."
It was not many weeks, in fact, before the expected petition came
to hand. The Princess Martha had also foreseen it, and instructed
her son how to attack his father's weak side. The latter was
furiously jealous of certain other noblemen of nearly equal wealth,
who were with him at the court of Peter the Great, as their sons
now were at that of Elizabeth. Boris compared the splendor of
these young noblemen with his own moderate estate, fabled a few
"adventures" and drinking-bouts, and announced his determination of
doing honor to the name which Prince Alexis of Kinesma had left
behind him in the capital.
There was cursing at the castle when the letter arrived. Many
serfs felt the sting of the short whip, the slumber-flag was
hoisted five minutes later than usual, and the consumption of
Cognac was alarming; but no mirror was smashed, and when Prince
Alexis read the letter to his poor relations, he even chuckled over
some portions of it. Boris had boldly demanded twenty thousand
rubles, in the desperate hope of receiving half that amount,--and
he had calculated correctly.
Before midsummer he was Helena's accepted lover. Not, however,
until then, when her father had given his consent to their marriage
in the autumn, did he disclose his true rank. The old man's face
lighted up with a glow of selfish satisfaction; but Helena quietly
took her lover's hand, and said,--
"Whatever you are, Boris, I will be faithful to you."
Leaving Boris to discover the exact form and substance of the
passion of love, we will return for a time to the castle of
Whether the Princess Martha conjectured what had transpired in St.
Petersburg, or was partially informed of it by her son, cannot now
be ascertained. She was sufficiently weak, timid, and nervous, to
be troubled with the knowledge of the stratagem in which she had
assisted in order to procure money, and that the ever-present
consciousness thereof would betray itself to the sharp eyes of
her husband. Certain it is, that the demeanor of the latter
towards her and his household began to change about the end of the
summer. He seemed to have a haunting suspicion, that, in some way
he had been, or was about to be, overreached. He grew peevish,
suspicious, and more violent than ever in his excesses.
When Mishka, the dissipated bear already described, bit off one of
the ears of Basil, a hunter belonging to the castle, and Basil drew
his knife and plunged it into Mishka's heart, Prince Alexis
punished the hunter by cutting off his other ear, and sending him
away to a distant estate. A serf, detected in eating a few of the
pickled cherries intended for the Prince's botvinia, was placed
in a cask, and pickled cherries packed around him up to the chin.
There he was kept until almost flayed by the acid. It was ordered
that these two delinquents should never afterwards be called by any
other names than "Crop-Ear" and "Cherry."
But the Prince's severest joke, which, strange to say, in no wise
lessened his popularity among the serfs, occurred a month or two
later. One of his leading passions was the chase,--especially the
chase in his own forests, with from one to two hundred men, and no
one to dispute his Lordship. On such occasions, a huge barrel of
wine, mounted upon a sled, always accompanied the crowd, and the
quantity which the hunters received depended upon the satisfaction
of Prince Alexis with the game they collected.
Winter had set in early and suddenly, and one day, as the
Prince and his retainers emerged from the forest with their
forenoon's spoil, and found themselves on the bank of the Volga,
the water was already covered with a thin sheet of ice. Fires were
kindled, a score or two of hares and a brace of deer were skinned,
and the flesh placed on sticks to broil; skins of mead foamed and
hissed into the wooden bowls, and the cask of unbroached wine
towered in the midst. Prince Alexis had a good appetite; the meal
was after his heart; and by the time he had eaten a hare and half
a flank of venison, followed by several bowls of fiery wine, he was
in the humor for sport. He ordered a hole cut in the upper side of
the barrel, as it lay; then, getting astride of it, like a grisly
Bacchus, he dipped out the liquor with a ladle, and plied his
thirsty serfs until they became as recklessly savage as he.
They were scattered over a slope gently falling from the dark,
dense fir-forest towards the Volga, where it terminated in a rocky
palisade, ten to fifteen feet in height. The fires blazed and
crackled merrily in the frosty air; the yells and songs of the
carousers were echoed back from the opposite shore of the river.
The chill atmosphere, the lowering sky, and the approaching night
could not touch the blood of that wild crowd. Their faces glowed
and their eyes sparkled; they were ready for any deviltry which
their lord might suggest.
Some began to amuse themselves by flinging the clean-picked bones
of deer and hare along the glassy ice of the Volga. Prince Alexis,
perceiving this diverson, cried out in ecstasy,--
"Oh, by St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker, I'll give you better sport
than that, ye knaves! Here's the very place for a reisak,--do
you hear me children?--a reisak! Could there be better ice? and
then the rocks to jump from! Come, children, come! Waska, Ivan,
Daniel, you dogs, over with you!"
Now the reisak was a gymnastic performance peculiar to old
Russia, and therefore needs to be described. It could become
popular only among a people of strong physical qualities, and in a
country where swift rivers freeze rapidly from sudden cold. Hence
we are of the opinion that it will not be introduced into our own
winter diversions. A spot is selected where the water is deep and
the current tolerably strong; the ice must be about half an inch in
thickness. The performer leaps head foremost from a rock or
platform, bursts through the ice, is carried under by the current,
comes up some distance below, and bursts through again. Both skill
and strength are required to do the feat successfully.
Waska, Ivan, Daniel, and a number of others, sprang to the brink of
the rocks and looked over. The wall was not quite perpendicular,
some large fragments having fallen from above and lodged along the
base. It would therefore require a bold leap to clear the rocks
and strike the smooth ice. They hesitated,--and no wonder.
Prince Alexis howled with rage and disappointment.
"The Devil take you, for a pack of whimpering hounds!" he cried.
"Holy Saints! they are afraid to make a reisak!"
Ivan crossed himself and sprang. He cleared the rocks, but,
instead of bursting through the ice with his head, fell at full
length upon his back.
"O knave!" yelled the Prince,--"not to know where his head is!
Thinks it's his back! Give him fifteen stripes."
Which was instantly done.
The second attempt was partially successful. One of the hunters
broke through the ice, head foremost, going down, but he failed to
come up again; so the feat was only half performed.
The Prince became more furiously excited.
"This is the way I'm treated!" he cried. "He forgets all about
finishing the reisak, and goes to chasing sterlet! May the carps
eat him up for an ungrateful vagabond! Here, you beggars!"
(addressing the poor relations,) "take your turn, and let me see
whether you are men."
Only one of the frightened parasites had the courage to obey. On
reaching the brink, he shut his eyes in mortal fear, and made a
leap at random. The next moment he lay on the edge of the ice with
one leg broken against a fragment of rock.
This capped the climax of the Prince's wrath. He fell into a state
bordering on despair, tore his hair, gnashed his teeth, and wept
"They will be the death of me!" was his lament. "Not a man among
them! It wasn't so in the old times. Such beautiful reisaks as
I have seen! But the people are becoming women,--hares,--
chickens,--skunks! Villains, will you force me to kill you?
You have dishonored and disgraced me; I am ashamed to look my
neighbors in the face. Was ever a man so treated?"
The serfs hung down their heads, feeling somehow responsible for
their master's misery. Some of them wept, out of a stupid sympathy
with his tears.
All at once he sprang down from the cask, crying in a gay,
"I have it! Bring me Crop-Ear. He's the fellow for a reisak,--
he can make three, one after another."
One of the boldest ventured to suggest that Crop-Ear had been sent
away in disgrace to another of the Prince's estates.
"Bring him here, I say? Take horses, and don't draw rein going or
coming. I will not stir from this spot until Crop-Ear comes."
With these words, he mounted the barrel, and recommenced ladling
out the wine. Huge fires were made, for the night was falling, and
the cold had become intense. Fresh game was skewered and set to
broil, and the tragic interlude of the revel was soon forgotten.
Towards midnight the sound of hoofs was heard, and the messengers
arrived with Crop-Ear. But, although the latter had lost his ears,
he was not inclined to split his head. The ice, meanwhile, had
become so strong that a cannon-ball would have made no impression
upon it. Crop-Ear simply threw down a stone heavier than himself,
and, as it bounced and slid along the solid floor, said to Prince
"Am I to go back, Highness, or stay here?"
"Here, my son. Thou'rt a man. Come hither to me."
Taking the serf's head in his hands, he kissed him on both cheeks.
Then he rode homeward through the dark, iron woods, seated astride
on the barrel, and steadying himself with his arms around Crop-
Ear's and Waska's necks.
The health of the Princess Martha, always delicate, now began to
fail rapidly. She was less and less able to endure her husband's
savage humors, and lived almost exclusively in her own apartments.
She never mentioned the name of Boris in his presence, for it was
sure to throw him into a paroxysm of fury. Floating rumors in
regard to the young Prince had reached him from the capital, and
nothing would convince him that his wife was not cognizant of her
son's doings. The poor Princess clung to her boy as to all that
was left her of life, and tried to prop her failing strength with
the hope of his speedy return. She was now too helpless to thwart
his wishes in any way; but she dreaded, more than death, the
terrible SOMETHING which would surely take place between father
and son if her conjectures should prove to be true.
One day, in the early part of November, she received a letter from
Boris, announcing his marriage. She had barely strength and
presence of mind enough to conceal the paper in her bosom
before sinking in a swoon. By some means or other the young Prince
had succeeded in overcoming all the obstacles to such a step:
probably the favor of the Empress was courted, in order to obtain
her consent. The money he had received, he wrote, would be
sufficient to maintain them for a few months, though not in a style
befitting their rank. He was proud and happy; the Princess Helena
would be the reigning beauty of the court, when he should present
her, but he desired the sanction of his parents to the marriage,
before taking his place in society. He would write immediately to
his father, and hoped, that, if the news brought a storm, Mishka
might be on hand to divert its force, as on a former occasion.
Under the weight of this imminent secret, the Princess Martha could
neither eat nor sleep. Her body wasted to a shadow; at every noise
in the castle, she started and listened in terror, fearing that the
news had arrived.
Prince Boris, no doubt, found his courage fail him when he set
about writing the promised letter; for a fortnight elapsed before
it made its appearance. Prince Alexis received it on his return
from the chase. He read it hastily through, uttered a prolonged
roar like that of a wounded bull, and rushed into the castle. The
sound of breaking furniture, of crashing porcelain and shivered
glass, came from the state apartments: the domestics fell on their
knees and prayed; the Princess, who heard the noise and knew what
it portended, became almost insensible from fright.
One of the upper servants entered a chamber as the Prince was in
the act of demolishing a splendid malachite table, which had
escaped all his previous attacks. He was immediately greeted with
a cry of,--
"Send the Princess to me!"
"Her Highness is not able to leave her chamber," the man replied.
How it happened he could never afterwards describe but he found
himself lying in a corner of the room. When he arose, there seemed
to be a singular cavity in his mouth: his upper front teeth were
We will not narrate what took place in the chamber of the Princess.
The nerves of the unfortunate woman had been so wrought upon by her
fears, that her husband's brutal rage, familiar to her from long
experience, now possessed a new and alarming significance. His
threats were terrible to hear; she fell into convulsions, and
before morning her tormented life was at an end.
There was now something else to think of, and the smashing of
porcelain and cracking of whips came to an end. The Archimandrite
was summoned, and preparations, both religious and secular, were
made for a funeral worthy the rank of the deceased. Thousands
flocked to Kinesma; and when the immense procession moved away from
the castle, although very few of the persons had ever known or
cared in the least, for the Princess Martha, all, without
exception, shed profuse tears. Yes, there was one exception,--one
bare, dry rock, rising alone out of the universal deluge,--Prince
Alexis himself, who walked behind the coffin, his eyes fixed
and his features rigid as stone. They remarked that his face was
haggard, and that the fiery tinge on his cheeks and nose had faded
into livid purple. The only sign of emotion which he gave was a
convulsive shudder, which from time to time passed over his whole
Three archimandrites (abbots)and one hundred priests headed the
solemn funeral procession from the castle to the church on the
opposite hill. There the mass for the dead was chanted, the
responses being sung by a choir of silvery boyish voices. All the
appointments were of the costliest character. Not only all those
within the church, but the thousands outside, spared not their
tears, but wept until the fountains were exhausted. Notice was
given, at the close of the services, that "baked meats" would be
furnished to the multitude, and that all beggars who came to
Kinesma would be charitably fed for the space of six weeks. Thus,
by her death, the amiable Princess Martha was enabled to dispense
more charity than had been permitted to her life.
At the funeral banquet which followed, Prince Alexis placed the
Abbot Sergius at his right hand, and conversed with him in the most
edifying manner upon the necessity of leading a pure and godly
life. His remarks upon the duty of a Christian, upon brotherly
love, humility, and self-sacrifice, brought tears into the eyes of
the listening priests. He expressed his conviction that the
departed Princess, by the piety of her life, had attained unto
salvation,--and added, that his own life had now no further
value unless he should devote it to religious exercises.
"Can you not give me a place in your monastery?" he asked, turning
to the Abbot. "I will endow it with a gift of forty thousand
rubles, for the privilege of occupying a monk's cell."
"Pray, do not decide too hastily, Highness," the Abbot replied.
"You have yet a son."
"What!" yelled Prince Alexis, with flashing eyes, every trace of
humility and renunciation vanishing like smoke,--"what! Borka?
The infamous wretch who has ruined me, killed his mother, and
brought disgrace upon our name? Do you know that he has married a
wench of no family and without a farthing,--who would be honored,
if I should allow her to feed my hogs? Live for HIM? live for
This outbreak terminated in a sound between a snarl and a bellow.
The priests turned pale, but the Abbot devoutly remarked--
"Encompassed by sorrows, Prince, you should humbly submit to the
will of the Lord."
"Submit to Borka?" the Prince scornfully laughed. "I know what
I'll do. There's time enough yet for a wife and another child,--
ay,--a dozen children! I can have my pick in the province; and if
I couldn't I'd sooner take Masha, the goose-girl, than leave Borka
the hope of stepping into my shoes. Beggars they shall be,--
What further he might have said was interrupted by the priests
rising to chant the Blajennon uspennie (blessed be the dead),--
after which, the trisna, a drink composed of mead, wine, and rum,
was emptied to the health of the departed soul. Every one stood
during this ceremony, except Prince Alexis, who fell suddenly
prostrate before the consecrated pictures, and sobbed so
passionately that the tears of the guests flowed for the third
time. There he lay until night; for whenever any one dared to
touch him, he struck out furiously with fists and feet. Finally he
fell asleep on the floor, and the servants then bore him to his
For several days afterward his grief continued to be so violent
that the occupants of the castle were obliged to keep out of his
way. The whip was never out of his hand, and he used it very
recklessly, not always selecting the right person. The parasitic
poor relations found their situation so uncomfortable, that they
decided, one and all, to detach themselves from the tree upon which
they fed and fattened, even at the risk of withering on a barren
soil. Night and morning the serfs prayed upon their knees, with
many tears and groans, that the Saints might send consolation, in
any form, to their desperate lord.
The Saints graciously heard and answered the prayer. Word came
that a huge bear had been seen in the forest stretching towards
Juriewetz. The sorrowing Prince pricked up his ears, threw down
his whip, and ordered a chase. Sasha, the broad-shouldered, the
cunning, the ready, the untiring companion of his master, secretly
ordered a cask of vodki to follow the crowd of hunters and
serfs. There was a steel-bright sky, a low, yellow sun, and a
brisk easterly wind from the heights of the Ural. As the crisp
snow began to crunch under the Prince's sled, his followers saw the
old expression come back to his face. With song and halloo and
blast of horns, they swept away into the forest.
Saint John the Hunter must have been on guard over Russia that day.
The great bear was tracked, and after a long and exciting chase,
fell by the hand of Prince Alexis himself. Halt was made in an
open space in the forest, logs were piled together and kindled on
the snow, and just at the right moment (which no one knew better
than Sasha) the cask of vodki rolled into its place. When the
serfs saw the Prince mount astride of it, with his ladle in his
hand, they burst into shouts of extravagant joy. "Slava Bogu!"
(Glory be to God!) came fervently from the bearded lips of those
hard, rough, obedient children. They tumbled headlong over each
other, in their efforts to drink first from the ladle, to clasp the
knees or kiss the hands of the restored Prince. And the dawn was
glimmering against the eastern stars, as they took the way to the
castle, making the ghostly fir-woods ring with shout and choric
Nevertheless, Prince Alexis was no longer the same man; his giant
strength and furious appetite were broken. He was ever ready, as
formerly, for the chase and the drinking-bout; but his jovial mood
no longer grew into a crisis which only utter physical exhaustion
or the stupidity of drunkenness could overcome. Frequently,
while astride the cask, his shouts of laughter would suddenly
cease, the ladle would drop from his hand, and he would sit
motionless, staring into vacancy for five minutes at a time. Then
the serfs, too, became silent, and stood still, awaiting a change.
The gloomy mood passed away as suddenly. He would start, look
about him, and say, in a melancholy voice,--
"Have I frightened you, my children? It seems to me that I am
getting old. Ah, yes, we must all die, one day. But we need not
think about it, until the time comes. The Devil take me for
putting it into my head! Why, how now? can't you sing, children?"
Then he would strike up some ditty which they all knew: a hundred
voices joined in the strain, and the hills once more rang with
Since the day when the Princess Martha was buried, the Prince had
not again spoken of marriage. No one, of course, dared to mention
the name of Boris in his presence.
The young Prince had, in reality, become the happy husband of
Helena. His love for her had grown to be a shaping and organizing
influence, without which his nature would have fallen into its
former confusion. If a thought of a less honorable relation had
ever entered his mind, it was presently banished by the respect
which a nearer intimacy inspired; and thus Helena, magnetically
drawing to the surface only his best qualities, loved,
unconsciously to herself, her own work in him. Ere long, she saw
that she might balance the advantages he had conferred upon her in
their marriage by the support and encouragement which she was able
to impart to him; and this knowledge, removing all painful sense of
obligation, made her both happy and secure in her new position.
The Princess Martha, under some presentiment of her approaching
death, had intrusted one of the ladies in attendance upon her with
the secret of her son's marriage, in addition to a tender maternal
message, and such presents of money and jewelry as she was able to
procure without her husband's knowledge. These presents reached
Boris very opportunely; for, although Helena developed a wonderful
skill in regulating his expenses, the spring was approaching, and
even the limited circle of society in which they had moved during
the gay season had made heavy demands upon his purse. He became
restless and abstracted, until his wife, who by this time clearly
comprehended the nature of his trouble, had secretly decided how it
must be met.
The slender hoard of the old music-master, with a few thousand
rubles from Prince Boris, sufficed for his modest maintenance.
Being now free from the charge of his daughter, he determined to
visit Germany, and, if circumstances were propitious, to secure a
refuge for his old age in his favorite Leipsic. Summer was at
hand, and the court had already removed to Oranienbaum. In a few
weeks the capital would be deserted.
"Shall we go to Germany with your father?" asked Boris, as he sat
at a window with Helena, enjoying the long twilight.
"No, my Boris," she answered; "we will go to Kinesma."
"But--Helena,--golubchik, mon ange,--are you in earnest?"
"Yes, my Boris. The last letter from your--our cousin Nadejda
convinces me that the step must be taken. Prince Alexis has grown
much older since your mother's death; he is lonely and unhappy. He
may not welcome us, but he will surely suffer us to come to him;
and we must then begin the work of reconciliation. Reflect, my
Boris, that you have keenly wounded him in the tenderest part,--his
pride,--and you must therefore cast away your own pride, and humbly
and respectfully, as becomes a son, solicit his pardon."
"Yes," said he, hesitatingly, "you are right. But I know his
violence and recklessness, as you do not. For myself, alone, I am
willing to meet him; yet I fear for your sake. Would you not
tremble to encounter a maddened and brutal mujik?--then how much
more to meet Alexis Pavlovitch of Kinesma!"
"I do not and shall not tremble," she replied. "It is not your
marriage that has estranged your father, but your marriage with
ME. Having been, unconsciously, the cause of the trouble, I
shall deliberately, and as a sacred duty, attempt to remove it.
Let us go to Kinesma, as humble, penitent children, and cast
ourselves upon your father's mercy. At the worst, he can but
reject us; and you will have given me the consolation of knowing
that I have tried, as your wife, to annul the sacrifice you have
made for my sake."
"Be it so, then!" cried Boris, with a mingled feeling of relief and
He was not unwilling that the attempt should be made, especially
since it was his wife's desire; but he knew his father too well to
anticipate immediate success. All threatening POSSIBILITIES
suggested themselves to his mind; all forms of insult and outrage
which he had seen perpetrated at Kinesma filled his memory. The
suspense became at last worse than any probable reality. He wrote
to his father, announcing a speedy visit from himself and his wife;
and two days afterwards the pair left St. Petersburg in a large
When Prince Alexis received his son's letter, an expression of
fierce, cruel delight crept over his face, and there remained,
horribly illuminating its haggard features. The orders given for
swimming horses in the Volga--one of his summer diversions--were
immediately countermanded; he paced around the parapet of the
castle-wall until near midnight, followed by Sasha with a stone jug
of vodki. The latter had the useful habit, notwithstanding his
stupid face, of picking up the fragments of soliloquy which the
Prince dropped, and answering them as if talking to himself.
Thus he improved upon and perfected many a hint of cruelty, and was
too discreet ever to dispute his master's claim to the invention.
Sasha, we may be sure, was busy with his devil's work that night.
The next morning the stewards and agents of Prince Alexis, in
castle, village, and field, were summoned to his presence.
"Hark ye!" said he; "Borka and his trumpery wife send me word that
they will be here to-morrow. See to it that every man, woman, and
child, for ten versts out on the Moskovskoi road, knows of their
coming. Let it be known that whoever uncovers his head before them
shall uncover his back for a hundred lashes. Whomsoever they greet
may bark like a dog, meeouw like a cat, or bray like an ass, as
much as he chooses; but if he speaks a decent word, his tongue
shall be silenced with stripes. Whoever shall insult them has my
pardon in advance. Oh, let them come!--ay, let them come! Come
they may: but how they go away again"----
The Prince Alexis suddenly stopped, shook his head, and walked up
and down the hall, muttering to himself. His eyes were bloodshot,
and sparkled with a strange light. What the stewards had heard was
plain enough; but that something more terrible than insult was yet
held in reserve they did not doubt. It was safe, therefore, not
only to fulfil, but to exceed, the letter of their instructions.
Before night the whole population were acquainted with their
duties; and an unusual mood of expectancy, not unmixed with brutish
glee, fell upon Kinesma.
By the middle of the next forenoon, Boris and his wife, seated in
the open kibitka, drawn by post-horses, reached the boundaries of
the estate, a few versts from the village. They were both silent
and slightly pale at first, but now began to exchange mechanical
remarks, to divert each other's thoughts from the coming reception.
"Here are the fields of Kinesma at last!" exclaimed Prince Boris.
"We shall see the church and castle from the top of that hill in
the distance. And there is Peter, my playmate, herding the cattle!
Peter! Good-day, brotherkin!"
Peter looked, saw the carriage close upon him, and, after a moment
of hesitation, let his arms drop stiffly by his sides, and began
howling like a mastiff by moonlight. Helena laughed heartily at
this singular response to the greeting; but Boris, after the first
astonishment was over, looked terrified.
"That was done by order," said he, with a bitter smile. "The old
bear stretches his claws out. Dare you try his hug?"
"I do not fear," she answered, her face was calm.
Every serf they passed obeyed the order of Prince Alexis according
to his own idea of disrespect. One turned his back; another made
contemptuous grimaces and noises; another sang a vulgar song;
another spat upon the ground or held his nostrils. Nowhere was a
cap raised, or the stealthy welcome of a friendly glance given.
The Princess Helena met these insults with a calm, proud
indifference. Boris felt them more keenly; for the fields and
hills were prospectively his property, and so also were the brutish
peasants. It was a form of chastisement which he had never before
experienced, and knew not how to resist. The affront of an entire
community was an offence against which he felt himself to be
As they approached the town, the demonstrations of insolence were
redoubled. About two hundred boys, between the ages of ten and
fourteen, awaited them on the hill below the church, forming
themselves into files on either side of the road. These imps had
been instructed to stick out their tongues in derision, and howl,
as the carriage passed between them. At the entrance of the long
main street of Kinesma, they were obliged to pass under a mock
triumphal arch, hung with dead dogs and drowned cats; and from this
point the reception assumed an outrageous character. Howls,
hootings, and hisses were heard on all sides; bouquets of nettles
and vile weeds were flung to them; even wreaths of spoiled fish
dropped from the windows. The women were the most eager and
uproarious in this carnival of insult: they beat their saucepans,
threw pails of dirty water upon the horses, pelted the coachman
with rotten cabbages, and filled the air with screeching and foul
It was impossible to pass through this ordeal with indifference.
Boris, finding that his kindly greetings were thrown away,--that
even his old acquaintances in the bazaar howled like the rest,--sat
with head bowed and despair in his heart. The beautiful eyes
of Helena were heavy with tears; but she no longer trembled, for
she knew the crisis was yet to come.
As the kibitka slowly climbed the hill on its way to the castle-
gate, Prince Alexis, who had heard and enjoyed the noises in the
village from a balcony on the western tower, made his appearance on
the head of the steps which led from the court-yard to the state
apartments. The dreaded whip was in his hand; his eyes seemed
about to start from their sockets, in their wild, eager, hungry
gaze; the veins stood out like cords on his forehead; and his lips,
twitching involuntarily, revealed the glare of his set teeth. A
frightened hush filled the castle. Some of the domestics were on
their knees; others watching, pale and breathless, from the
windows: for all felt that a greater storm than they had ever
experienced was about to burst. Sasha and the castle-steward had
taken the wise precaution to summon a physician and a priest,
provided with the utensils for extreme unction. Both of these
persons had been smuggled in through a rear entrance, and were kept
concealed until their services should be required.
The noise of wheels was heard outside the gate, which stood
invitingly open. Prince Alexis clutched his whip with iron
fingers, and unconsciously took the attitude of a wild beast about
to spring from its ambush. Now the hard clatter of hoofs and the
rumbling, of wheels echoed from the archway, and the kibitka rolled
into the courtyard. It stopped near the foot of the grand
staircase. Boris, who sat upon the farther side, rose to
alight, in order to hand down his wife; but no sooner had he made
a movement than Prince Alexis, with lifted whip and face flashing
fire, rushed down the steps. Helena rose, threw back her veil, let
her mantle (which Boris had grasped, in his anxiety to restrain her
action,) fall behind her, and stepped upon the pavement.
Prince Alexis had already reached the last step, and but a few feet
separated them. He stopped as if struck by lightning,--his body
still retaining, in every limb, the impress of motion. The whip
was in his uplifted fist; one foot was on the pavement of the
court, and the other upon the edge of the last step; his head was
bent forward, his mouth open, and his eyes fastened upon the
Princess Helena's face.
She, too, stood motionless, a form of simple and perfect grace, and
met his gaze with soft, imploring, yet courageous and trustful
eyes. The women who watched the scene from the galleries above
always declared that an invisible saint stood beside her in that
moment, and surrounded her with a dazzling glory. The few moments
during which the suspense of a hundred hearts hung upon those
encountering eyes seemed an eternity.
Prince Alexis did not move, but he began to tremble from head to
foot. His fingers relaxed, and the whip fell ringing upon the
pavement. The wild fire of his eyes changed from wrath into an
ecstasy as intense, and a piercing cry of mingled wonder,
admiration and delight burst from his throat. At that cry Boris
rushed forward and knelt at his feet. Helena, clasping her
fairest hands, sank beside her husband, with upturned face, as if
seeking the old man's eyes, and perfect the miracle she had
The sight of that sweet face, so near his own, tamed the last
lurking ferocity of the beast. His tears burst forth in a shower;
he lifted and embraced the Princess, kissing her brow, her cheeks,
her chin, and her hands, calling her his darling daughter, his
little white dove, his lambkin.
"And, father, my Boris, too!" said she.
The pure liquid voice sent thrills of exquisite delight through his
whole frame. He embraced and blessed Boris, and then, throwing an
arm around each, held them to his breast, and wept passionately
upon their heads. By this time the whole castle overflowed with
weeping. Tears fell from every window and gallery; they hissed
upon the hot saucepans of the cooks; they moistened the oats in the
manger; they took the starch out of the ladies' ruffles, and
weakened the wine in the goblets of the guests. Insult was changed
into tenderness in a moment. Those who had barked or stuck out
their tongues at Boris rushed up to kiss his boots; a thousand
terms of endearment were showered upon him.
Still clasping his children to his breast, Prince Alexis mounted
the steps with them. At the top he turned, cleared his throat,
husky from sobbing, and shouted--
"A feast! a feast for all Kinesma! Let there be rivers of vodki,
wine and hydromel! Proclaim it everywhere that my dear son
Boris and my dear daughter Helena have arrived, and whoever fails
to welcome them to Kinesma shall be punished with a hundred
stripes! Off, ye scoundrels, ye vagabonds, and spread the news!"
It was not an hour before the whole sweep of the circling hills
resounded with the clang of bells, the blare of horns, and the
songs and shouts of the rejoicing multitude. The triumphal arch of
unsavory animals was whirled into the Volga; all signs of the
recent reception vanished like magic; festive fir-boughs adorned
the houses, and the gardens and window-pots were stripped of their
choicest flowers to make wreaths of welcome. The two hundred boys,
not old enough to comprehend this sudden bouleversement of
sentiment, did not immediately desist from sticking out their
tongues: whereupon they were dismissed with a box on the ear. By
the middle of the afternoon all Kinesma was eating, drinking, and
singing; and every song was sung, and every glass emptied in honor
of the dear, good Prince Boris, and the dear, beautiful Princess
Helena. By night all Kinesma was drunk.
In the castle a superb banquet was improvised. Music, guests, and
rare dishes were brought together with wonderful speed, and the
choicest wines of the cellar were drawn upon. Prince Boris,
bewildered by this sudden and incredible change in his fortunes,
sat at his father's right hand, while the Princess filled, but with
much more beauty and dignity, the ancient place of the Princess
Martha. The golden dishes were set before her, and the famous
family emeralds--in accordance with the command of Prince Alexis--
gleamed among her dark hair and flashed around her milk-white
throat. Her beauty was of a kind so rare in Russia that it
silenced all question and bore down all rivalry. Every one
acknowledged that so lovely a creature had never before been seen.
"Faith, the boy has eyes!" the old Prince constantly repeated, as
he turned away from a new stare of admiration, down the table.
The guests noticed a change in the character of the entertainment.
The idiot, in his tow shirt, had been crammed to repletion in the
kitchen, and was now asleep in the stable. Razboi, the new bear,--
the successor of the slaughtered Mishka,--was chained up out of
hearing. The jugglers, tumblers, and Calmucks still occupied their
old place under the gallery, but their performances were of a
highly decorous character. At the least-sign of a relapse into
certain old tricks, more grotesque than refined, the brows of
Prince Alexis would grow dark, and a sharp glance at Sasha was
sufficient to correct the indiscretion. Every one found this
natural enough; for they were equally impressed with the elegance
and purity of the young wife. After the healths had been drunk and
the slumber-flag was raised over the castle, Boris led her into the
splendid apartments of his mother,--now her own,--and knelt at her
"Have I done my part, my Boris?" she asked.
"You are an angel!" he cried. "It was a miracle! My life was not
worth a copek, and I feared for yours. If it will only last!--if
it will only last!"
"It WILL," said she. " You have taken me from poverty, and
given me rank, wealth, and a proud place in the world: let it be my
work to keep the peace which God has permitted me to establish
between you and your father!"
The change in the old Prince, in fact, was more radical than any
one who knew his former ways of life would have considered
possible. He stormed and swore occasionally, flourished his whip
to some purpose, and rode home from the chase, not outside of a
brandy cask, as once, but with too much of its contents inside of
him: but these mild excesses were comparative virtues. His
accesses of blind rage seemed to be at an end. A powerful,
unaccustomed feeling of content subdued his strong nature, and left
its impress on his voice and features. He joked and sang with his
"children," but not with the wild recklessness of the days of
reisaks and indiscriminate floggings. Both his exactions and his
favors diminished in quantity. Week after week passed by, and
there was no sign of any return to his savage courses.
Nothing annoyed him so much as a reference to his former way of
life, in the presence of the Princess Helena. If her gentle,
questioning eyes happened to rest on him at such times, something
very like a blush rose into his face, and the babbler was silenced
with a terribly significant look. It was enough for her to say,
when he threatened an act of cruelty and injustice, "Father, is
that right?" He confusedly retracted his orders, rather than bear
the sorrow of her face.
The promise of another event added to his happiness: Helena would
soon become a mother. As the time drew near he stationed guards at
the distance of a verst around the castle, that no clattering
vehicles should pass, no dogs bark loudly, nor any other
disturbance occur which might agitate the Princess. The choicest
sweetmeats and wines, flowers from Moscow and fruits from
Astrakhan, were procured for her; and it was a wonder that the
midwife performed her duty, for she had the fear of death before
her eyes. When the important day at last arrived the slumber-flag
was instantly hoisted, and no mouse dared to squeak in Kinesma
until the cannon announced the advent of a new soul.
That night Prince Alexis lay down in the corridor, outside of
Helena's door: he glared fiercely at the nurse as she entered with
the birth-posset for the young mother. No one else was allowed to
pass, that night, nor the next. Four days afterwards, Sasha,
having a message to the Princess, and supposing the old man to be
asleep, attempted to step noiselessly over his body. In a twinkle
the Prince's teeth fastened themselves in the serf's leg, and held
him with the tenacity of a bull-dog. Sasha did not dare to cry
out: he stood, writhing with pain, until the strong jaws grew weary
of their hold, and then crawled away to dress the bleeding wound.
After that, no one tried to break the Prince's guard.
The christening was on a magnificent scale. Prince Paul of
Kostroma was godfather, and gave the babe the name of Alexis. As
the Prince had paid his respects to Helena just before the
ceremony, it may be presumed that the name was not of his own
inspiration. The father and mother were not allowed to be present,
but they learned that the grandfather had comported himself
throughout with great dignity and propriety. The Archimandrite
Sergius obtained from the Metropolitan at Moscow a very minute
fragment of the true cross, which was encased in a hollow bead of
crystal, and hung around the infant's neck by a fine gold chain, as
a precious amulet.
Prince Alexis was never tired of gazing at his grandson and
"He has more of his mother than of Boris," he would say. "So much
the better! Strong dark eyes, like the Great Peter,--and what a
goodly leg for a babe! Ha! he makes a tight little fist already,--
fit to handle a whip,--or" (seeing the expression of Helena's
face)--"or a sword. He'll be a proper Prince of Kinesma, my
daughter, and we owe it to you."
Helena smiled, and gave him a grateful glance in return. She had
had her secret fears as to the complete conversion of Prince
Alexis; but now she saw in this babe a new spell whereby he might
be bound. Slight as was her knowledge of men, she yet guessed the
tyranny of long-continued habits; and only her faith, powerful in
proportion as it was ignorant, gave her confidence in the result of
the difficult work she had undertaken.
Alas! the proud predictions of Prince Alexis, and the protection of
the sacred amulet, were alike unavailing. The babe sickened,
wasted away, and died in less than two months after its birth.
There was great and genuine sorrow among the serfs of Kinesma.
Each had received a shining ruble of silver at the christening;
and, moreover, they were now beginning to appreciate the milder
regime of their lord, which this blow might suddenly terminate.
Sorrow, in such natures as his, exasperates instead of chastening:
they knew him well enough to recognize the danger.
At first the old man's grief appeared to be of a stubborn, harmless
nature. As soon as the funeral ceremonies were over he betook
himself to his bed, and there lay for two days and nights, without
eating a morsel of food. The poor Princess Helena, almost
prostrated by the blow, mourned alone, or with Boris, in her own
apartments. Her influence, no longer kept alive by her constant
presence, as formerly, began to decline. When the old Prince
aroused somewhat from his stupor, it was not meat that he demanded,
but drink; and he drank to angry excess. Day after day the habit
resumed its ancient sway, and the whip and the wild-beast yell
returned with it. The serfs even began to tremble as they never
had done, so long as his vices were simply those of a strong man;
for now a fiendish element seemed to be slowly creeping in. He
became horribly profane: they shuddered when he cursed the
venerable Metropolitan of Moscow, declaring that the old sinner
had deliberately killed his grandson, by sending to him, instead of
the true cross of the Saviour, a piece of the tree to which the
impenitent thief was nailed.
Boris would have spared his wife the knowledge of this miserable
relapse, in her present sorrow, but the information soon reached
her in other ways. She saw the necessity of regaining, by a
powerful effort, what she had lost. She therefore took her
accustomed place at the table, and resumed her inspection of
household matters. Prince Alexis, as if determined to cast off the
yoke which her beauty and gentleness had laid upon him, avoided
looking at her face or speaking to her, as much as possible: when
he did so, his manner was cold and unfriendly. During her few days
of sad retirement he had brought back the bear Razboi and the idiot
to his table, and vodki was habitually poured out to him and his
favorite serfs in such a measure that the nights became hideous
with drunken tumult.
The Princess Helena felt that her beauty no longer possessed the
potency of its first surprise. It must now be a contest of nature
with nature, spiritual with animal power. The struggle would be
perilous, she foresaw, but she did not shrink; she rather sought
the earliest occasion to provoke it.
That occasion came. Some slight disappointment brought on one of
the old paroxysms of rage, and the ox-like bellow of Prince Alexis
rang through the castle. Boris was absent, but Helena delayed not
a moment to venture into his father's presence. She found him in
a hall over-looking the court-yard, with his terrible whip in
his hand, giving orders for the brutal punishment of some scores of
serfs. The sight of her, coming thus unexpectedly upon him, did
not seem to produce the least effect.
"Father!" she cried, in an earnest, piteous tone, "what is it you
"Away, witch!" he yelled. "I am the master in Kinesma, not thou!
The fierceness with which he swung and cracked the whip was more
threatening than any words. Perhaps she grew a shade paler,
perhaps her hands were tightly clasped in order that they might not
tremble; but she did not flinch from the encounter. She moved a
step nearer, fixed her gaze upon his flashing eyes, and said, in a
low, firm voice--
"It is true, father, you are master here. It is easy to rule over
those poor, submissive slaves. But you are not master over
yourself; you are lashed and trampled upon by evil passions, and as
much a slave as any of these. Be not weak, my father, but strong!"
An expression of bewilderment came into his face. No such words
had ever before been addressed to him, and he knew not how to reply
to them. The Princess Helena followed up the effect--she was not
sure that it was an advantage--by an appeal to the simple, childish
nature which she believed to exist under his ferocious exterior.
For a minute it seemed as if she were about to re-establish her
ascendancy: then the stubborn resistance of the beast returned.
Among the portraits in the hall was one of the deceased Princess
Martha. Pointing to this, Helena cried--
"See, my father! here are the features of your sainted wife! Think
that she looks down from her place among the blessed, sees you,
listens to your words, prays that your hard heart may be softened!
Remember her last farewell to you on earth, her hope of meeting
A cry of savage wrath checked her. Stretching one huge, bony hand,
as if to close her lips, trembling with rage and pain, livid and
convulsed in every feature of his face, Prince Alexis reversed the
whip in his right hand, and weighed its thick, heavy butt for one
crashing, fatal blow. Life and death were evenly balanced. For an
instant the Princess became deadly pale, and a sickening fear shot
through her heart. She could not understand the effect of her
words: her mind was paralyzed, and what followed came without her
Not retreating a step, not removing her eyes from the terrible
picture before her, she suddenly opened her lips and sang. Her
voice of exquisite purity, power, and sweetness, filled the old
hall and overflowed it, throbbing in scarcely weakened vibrations
through court-yard and castle. The melody was a prayer--the cry of
a tortured heart for pardon and repose; and she sang it with almost
supernatural expression. Every sound in the castle was hushed: the
serfs outside knelt and uncovered their heads.
The Princess could never afterwards describe, or more than dimly
recall, the exaltation of that moment. She sang in an inspired
trance: from the utterance of the first note the horror of the
imminent fate sank out of sight. Her eyes were fixed upon the
convulsed face, but she beheld it not: all the concentrated forces
of her life flowed into the music. She remembered, however, that
Prince Alexis looked alternately from her face to the portrait of
his wife; that he at last shuddered and grew pale; and that, when
with the closing note her own strength suddenly dissolved, he
groaned and fell upon the floor.
She sat down beside him, and took his head upon her lap. For a
long time he was silent, only shivering as if in fever.
"Father!" she finally whispered, "let me take you away!"
He sat up on the floor and looked around; but as his eyes
encountered the portrait, he gave a loud howl and covered his face
with his hands.
"She turns her head!" he cried. "Take her away,--she follows me
with her eyes! Paint her head black, and cover it up!"
With some difficulty he was borne to his bed, but he would not rest
until assured that his orders had been obeyed, and the painting
covered for the time with a coat of lamp-black. A low, prolonged
attack of fever followed, during which the presence of Helena was
indispensable to his comfort. She ventured to leave the room only
while he slept. He was like a child in her hands; and when she
commended his patience or his good resolutions, his face beamed
with joy and gratitude. He determined (in good faith, this
time) to enter a monastery and devote the rest of his life to pious
But, even after his recovery, he was still too weak and dependent
on his children's attentions to carry out this resolution. He
banished from the castle all those of his poor relations who were
unable to drink vodki in moderation; he kept careful watch over his
serfs, and those who became intoxicated (unless they concealed the
fact in the stables and outhouses) were severely punished: all
excess disappeared, and a reign of peace and gentleness descended
In another year another Alexis was born, and lived, and soon grew
strong enough to give his grandfather the greatest satisfaction he
had ever known in his life, by tugging at his gray locks, and
digging the small fingers into his tamed and merry eyes. Many
years after Prince Alexis was dead the serfs used to relate how
they had seen him, in the bright summer afternoons, asleep in his
armchair on the balcony, with the rosy babe asleep on his bosom,
and the slumber-flag waving over both.