N. A. (Nadezhda Aleksandrovna) Lappo-Danilevskaia.

Michail Gourakin, the heart of a Russian online

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The Heart of a Russian






Robert M. McBridb & Co.





" Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

"Has His Excellency returned from his walk?"

An austere-looking and grey-haired valet stood at the
door of the study.

"Tell the Prince, Tikhon, that I urgently ask him to
receive me directly."

"Yes, sir."

The valet softly closed the heavy doors behind him and
proceeded to the apartments of the Prince through the long
suite of rooms. On remaining alone, the very young
officer, who had been sitting before his morning cup of
coffee, rose hastily, and, lighting a cigarette and nervously
shrugging his shoulders, began to walk up and down the
room. Without his uniform, in his shirt of finest linen and
black tie over his collar, with dark brown hair, splendid
blue eyes, and aquiline nose, Michail Gourakin was un-
doubtedly the handsomest and most dashing officer in the
Guards. A small moustache could not hide the soft con-
tour of his mouth. The height, figure, movements — all
were impressed with nobility and harmony. After only a
couple of pulls at his cigarette he threw it on the floor with
an impatient movement, and with a frown took up his
uniform coat, which was laid out ready for him, and began
putting it on before a looking-glass.

" Que diable!" he grumbled through his teeth, and pulled
at the sleeve, the lining of which had been caught by his



stud. Having freed his hand, he arranged his tie, passed
his hand over his smoothly combed hair, gave a touch to
his moustache, and was just going to finish his coflfee when
someone knocked at the door.

"Come in." Michail turned and put his cup of cofifee
back without touching it with his hps.

"You are expected."

The same valet stood in the doorway with an impene-
trable expression on his face.

" Is the Prince alone ?" asked Gourakin.

" He is."

The valet stepped aside to allow Michail to pass. On
remaining alone he picked up the still smoking cigarette,
shook his head in grave rebuke, felt the carpet on the spot
where it had lain, and, moving his lips and whispering to
himself, went out.

With his light youthful step, his spurs clanking, Michail
entered the spacious study of his uncle. A General in the
suite of the Emperor, he was seated in a deep armchair in
undress uniform, his long legs, showing his enormous
height, stretched out before him, and was turning over the
leaves of a new number of the Journal de St. Petersbourg.

"A-a, good-morning. What has happened to you?" he
asked, not looking up from his paper; and moving his
meerschaum mouthpiece with the cigarette towards the
corner of his mouth, he slowly inhaled the smoke. Michail
was silent. Prince Alexei Vassilievitch raised his eyes with
an interrogative look, and smiled. The smile made his face
look very much like Michail's : the same blue eyes, the same
aquiline nose, the same gentle and light-hearted expression,
but the Prince's features were larger, and had more char-
acter. A peculiarity of his face was the large, projecting

"Well, what is the matter? Money?" asked the Prince
again, letting out a long curl of smoke.

Michail, who had sat down in an armchair, rose hastily,
and, as if at a loss for words, knitting his eyebrows and
closing his eyes, he rubbed his forehead with his fingers.

"Worse, mon oncle — much worse. ... I have come to


ask your advice and support. . . . Help me ... or rathei

" Histoire d e femme f"

Instead of answering Michail gave an affirmative nod.

"Who is it?" asked the Prince, following the curls o(
smoke with half closed eyes.

" Nathalie Volynskaia."

" A dangerous woman ! But I don't see the trouble. It
appears that Volynsky is most accommodating, and allows
her full liberty."

" She is enceinte. . . .*'

"A-a-a! . . . That is imprudent. However, I still do
not see any cause for drama. Although up to now
Volynsky has not taken care to make her a mother, that
does not exclude the possibility. . . ."

" It is absolutely excluded : Nathalie has never been the
wife of her husband."

" What nonsense ! " interrupted the Prince calmly. " I
have known Volynsky for a long time, and I know some-
thing of his intimate life outside his family. Absolute
nonsense !"

" Allow me, mon oncle, but I am telling you what I have
heard — from Nathalie herself."

" Hm-m ! . . . We certainly easily believe interesting
women, especially if they love us. Please do not be
offended with me; you know yourself that I am the first
to be a woman's slave; I do not blame her. But what does
she want ?"

" It is not a case of what she wants, but I want to make
her my wife."

" Do not be hasty, my friend. Evidently this is your
first love affair with a respectable woman. . , ."

" Yes, mon oncle, you are right."

The Prince, as if considering something, began slowly to
light another cigarette.

" The more reason for you not to do anything hastily.
Volynskaia, besides being five years older than you, is a
capable and not stupid woman. She will know how to
deceive her husband, or he will allow himself to be deceived.


All will pass without any scandal, and, believe me, you will
keep her as a very good friend."

" I cannot consent to that."

"And she?"

" Neither can she, I think."

"That is to say, you think, or you are sure ?"

"She loves me. . . ."

"She is not sixteen years old, to be afraid of a liaison.
You see, my boy, you are so huffy that I see quite clearly it
is she who desires a divorce. And I will tell you quite
seriously that she is wrong to prefer to have you as a hus-
band, instead of keeping you as a lover. Why this scandal ?
Why should you shock all our world, bring the affair to the
notice of the Court, and shame on Volynsky, hurry on the
divorce at express speed — you say she is expecting a child
— grieve vour father and grandmother? ... I do not
understand you, and Nathalie Volynskaia still less. She
has an excellent position, a clever and high-placed hus-
band. . . ."

" But I, I myself, mon oncle, do not want to play the part
of a scoundrel."

The Prince winced

" Where does the scoundrel come in ? You are twenty-
one, she is twenty-five. . . . What is it you want from me
at last ?"

"I ask you, I implore you, go to Baroness Kern — you
know what friends she is with Volynsky — and ask her to
persuade him to consent to a divorce. Besides, the Duchess
loves the Baroness; if we have her on our side, then the
Duchess will also say a word or two where necessary for

" So ... I see, you are all on fire. Well, but tell me, has
Nathalie Volynskaia told her husband of her state ?"


" And what does he say ?" i

" He agrees : he does not want any scandal."

"And you still desire it! Imprudent. . . . This is what
I will tell you, my poor boy : you are aware of what I have
been through in my time, so that I can well understand and,


if need be, help you, and I ask you to consider your position
calmly; talk it over with someone else, and if in a week's
time you have not changed your decision, there is nothing
to be done : I will go to Baroness Kern. You will have a
difficult time with your father. How do you think ?"

"Yes, father does not understand these things — nor
many others," sighed Michail.

"You probably want money?" asked the Prince, under-
standing evidently what Michail meant by "many

"N-no, thank you. ... I did not mean that.**

" I know that it is not that. Take some, if you want it.
There, on the table, near the inkstand. A Guardsman
always needs money; your father seems to forget this."

Michail left the Prince's study soon after, and, passing a
long row of reception-rooms, descended a small staircase.
Without knocking he entered the private apartments of the
young Prince, with whom he had grown up since he was a
child of nine years old, and who was now serving in the
same regiment. Notwithstanding the lateness of the hour,
the young Prince was just getting up and was hurrying to
dress, grumbling and scolding. His valet was rushing
about from side to side, picking up the different things that
the impatient hand of the young Prince was throwing down
on the floor, handing him one object and another, trying to
guess his wishes, and patiently and meekly submitting to
his scoldings and blame,

"Give me the gold studs. . . . Not those. ... I tell
you, not those. What a donkey you are ! You can never
understand at once. Cigarettes ! Where are you putting
them, d you ! "

The young Prince's flow of angry words was interrupted
by Michail's entrance.

" The train starts in forty minutes. You are coming to
Peterhof, Serguei ?"

"Certainly. Wait for me. That unlicked bear-cub has
no idea of his duties — makes one angry from early

"What's the use of worrying 1" Michail shrugged his


shoulders as he stood before a glass and smoothed his
small, well cared for moustache.

Prince Serguei was like his father in figure and somewhat
in features. In his temper he resembled his mother : he
was often and easily irritated, very despotic, and from his
infancy showed a love of authority.

Soon he was ready, and the two young Guardsmen, ex-
changing a few hurried sentences, clanking their spurs and
broad swords, ran down the marble staircase, covered with
a red velvet carpet, into the hall, where an austere-looking
and stately old porter in red livery emblazoned with the
arms of the family, respectfully handed them their cloaks
and threw open before them the heavy bronze-covered
doors. The frosty air filled the young lungs with its
quickening breath, and gave an additional colour to the
fresh young faces.

At the same time Princess Anna Valerianovna, the wife
of Prince Alexei Vassilievitch, was in her working-room,
which was handsomely, though coldly, furnished in Kare-
lian birch. Standing before a large round table, she was
rapidly overhauling neatly folded parcels of children's
underclothing. Her fat white hands with the short fingers
were taking up each piece, turning it inside and out, feeling
the seams and buttons, and afterwards passing it over to a
short, middle-aged lady with tightly folded thin lips and a
sharp sly look in her faded eyes, who was standing near
her at the same table.

"How much calico is there remaining from last year?"
asked the Princess.

" Over two hundred arshiiis."

"Ah, how slowly those girls work! Tell them, Olga
Onisimovna, that they must work more diligently."

" I will tell them, Your Excellency."

" Are the stoves in good order ?"

"All have been repaired."

"About the storehouses — I have already given my in-
structions to Peter Semenovitch. The supplies can be
transferred to some place for a time. And besides, Olga
Oiaisimovna, the reception of relatives must be limited.


Last time when I was there, there were some women in the
hall. What do they want on work days ?"

"They had arrived from afar, Your Excellency, by
special request. . , ."

" Unnecessary. . . . Quite unnecessary. Let the chil-
dren study and work. No relatives on work days. Only
spoiling them."

"Your Excellency, Kishkina is in the hospital again;
again eczema and abscesses."

"Ah, what a bother with her!" The Princess made a
grimace of disgust. " She is an unclean, nasty child. What
does Karl Edwardovitch say?"

" He advised that she be sent to the country for a couple
of months."

" Very well. I will write to him. And now take this away
and tell the children that if they have not finished the work
by the holidays I will be very displeased."

The Princess was just moving away, but remarking that
Olga Onisimovna had something to say, she stopped before

" What is it ? Speak."

" It is about Dashenka, Your Excellency.'*

"Again about her?"

The Princess shrugged her shoulders impatiently, and
a contemptuous smile showed itself on her broad vulgar
face, with its thick lips and narrow eyes almost without

" Dashenka has been oflFered a place of lady's maid, Your
Excellency — forty-five roubles a month all found, the salary
to be increased every year if she will undertake fine sewing."

" What nonsense ! What lady's maid ! To whom is it ?"

"To the Golovins"

" No, no, this is nonsense ! She wants to play the young
lady. An orphan without house or home — she has nothing
to do in the 'world.' She will only have her head turned
there. She must marry. Afanassiy is a good ynoujik, he
will not beat her; I will give her a dowry and a separate
cottage. Let her superintend the poultry-yard in Slavianka.
Tell me, please, what better can one want ?"


The Princess's small sharp eyes moved rapidly and
maliciously, and she tugged nervously at the tie under the
starched collar of her blouse.

"She is so young, Your Excellency, only nineteen; a
good girl — the favourite of the vi^hole school," Olga
Onisimovna interceded softly.

" But not too young to go into service to strangers ?
Nonsense, nonsense!"

" She has finished a four-class school, Your Excellency,
and to marry a common peasant . . ."

"Tell me, please, and is she not a common peasant
herself ?" the Princess cried angrily, and as if struck with
astonishment she dropped into an armchair, and fixing
Olga Onisimovna with a severe gaze, which the other bore
unflinchingly, she was silent several seconds.

" I founded the school, not to make young ladies of com-
mon peasant girls," she continued, leaning her hands on the
arms of the chair and still severely gazing at the head-mistress
of the school. " I feed, dress and teach them so that they
could return to their homes and be useful there ; and we have
too many young ladies without them. Ring the bell, Olga

A minute later a slim young girl, with dark eyes and hair
and a pretty colour coming and going on her cheeks.entered
and stopped near the door in an attitude of respect.

"Take these things away," the Princess addressed her in
a dry and authoritative voice. " Olga Onisimovna has told
me of your wish to enter the service of the Golovins. . . ."

" Your Excellency " the young girl faltered timidly.

" Silence ! I will not allow that. You are to prepare
your trousseau and marry Afanassiy. You may just put
all nonsense out of your head."

"Your Excellency, I implore you . . ." the young girl
faltered again, ready to cry, and taking a step into the room.

"Put these things away I" the Princess repeated without
looking at her. The Princess rose from her chair, showing
as a stout woman with broad shoulders and smooth fair
hair tightly bound up in a knot on the top of her head, and,
stepping heavily without turning round, she left the room.


In her bedroom, on a blue satin sofa, there lay a nun's
black dress and head-dress. Having put these on and taken
up her beads, the Princess, with an austere and devoted
expression on her face, passed her salon and study and
entered a small, half dark oratory; there she trimmed the
light of a lamp hanging before the ikons, and, sinking down
heavily on her knees, remained so, whispering prayers and
counting her beads, for over an hour, until a clock striking
in the neighbouring room reminded her that it was time to
go to lunch.


Mme. Gourakina, Michail's grandmother, a well-pre-
served, stately, majestic-looking old lady, with smooth grey
hair divided by a broad parting and covered with a cap of
Chantilly lace, very straight backed, clad in black, which she
always wore since the death of her husband, was sitting in
the dark red drawing-room, her feet, encased in slippers
with cork soles and high French heels, to add to her low
stature, reposing on a footstool. Armed with a long
crochet-hook she was busy at her invariable work — knitting
woollen scarves for the poor. Opposite to her, at the same
table covered with a dark red plush table-cover, sat her
daughter Marie, an unmarried lady of thirty-five years,
short-sighted and inclined to stoutness, very modestly
dressed, her book, " War and Peace," out of which she was
reading aloud, lying on the table before her. Without
taking her eyes off her book she now and then stretched out
her hand and caught the large ball of blue wool which rolled
to the edge of the table and threatened to fall. The lamp,
under a dark blue shade, threw a bright circle of light on th;
table, upon the book lying there, and the rolling ball of
wool, leaving the faces of the old lady and her daughter,
Marie Gourakina, in a pleasant soft shadow.

"'Suddenly there was a movement,'" read Marie Goura-
kina in her low contralto voice; "'the crowd began to talk,
swayed, moved asunder, and between two rows of people,
at the sound of music, the Emperor appeared. . . .* "

"What a fine man he was!" said old Gourakina as if
speaking to herself.

Her daughter stopped her reading respectfully.

" He was handsomer than Emperor Alexander H. ?"
asked Marie in French, as it was the custom to speak in
their house.



"Emperor Alexander I. was charming — c'etait un
charmeur; the ladies went mad about him. Emperor
Alexander H. fascinates by his kindness, sa bonte divine.
He is not understood — many do not understand him," said
Gourakina with a kind of reproach and solemn respect in
her voice, as she unrolled a skein of wool from her ball
and let it fall to the ground. Marie waited another second,
and, seeing that her mother was prepared to listen, resumed
her reading. In the neighbouring room the clank of spurs
was heard, and Michail appeared at the door, his young face
reddened by the frost, and bringing with him a stream of
cold winter air. Holding his sword with one hand and
bending low in respect, he kissed the warm soft hand of his
grandmother, and was just going to do the same to his aunt
when she as usual kissed him on the lips. A kindly smile
shone on her face at the sight of her beloved nephew.

" Why did not you come to dinner ?" asked Mme. Goura-
kina, without taking her eyes off her work.

" Excuse me, grand' maman. I hope my note was not
late? There was a folle journee to-day at the Duchess's,
and I foresaw that I would not be able to come."

" Was it gay ?"

" Very animated."

" Who of the interesting ladies were there ?" asked Marie,
who had never liked, and now never visited, social gather-
ings, although, owing to her mother's position at the Court,
she could well have done so.

"There were many. . . . Mme. Naryshkina was very
pretty, Bezobrazova, the daughter of the English Ambas-
sador, la petite Niniche Ogareff . . .

" Was Volynskaia there ?" asked Gourakina, with a
momentary sharp glance at her grandson.

"Yes, she was . . ." Michail blushed suddenly, and,
angry with himself, frowned and began twirling his mous-

" With her husband ?" the old lady continued her interro-

" I think so . . . although, no. . . .'*

Wishing to change the subject, Michail launched into a


brilliant description of some festivities that had been held
in his regiment, carrying away with him Marie, who was
always greatly interested and willing to take to heart any-
thing that had any relation to the life of her nephew, whom
she worshipped for his handsome looks, his kind heart, and
unrestrained, generous, expansive nature. Old Gourakina
always severely blamed this last quality aloud, but in her
heart of hearts she loved her grandson just as he was.

"I had a letter from your father one of these days," the
old lady interrupted her grandson's story. "He complains
of his health. He writes that he is tired of life. He has
become quite a forest bear. He asks about you; you have
been writing much more seldom lately; that is not right."

The servant came to announce that the tea-urn was
served, and Marie rose from her place.

" You will v/ait for us in the dining-room, Marie ; I have
a few words to say to Misha."

Marie looked at her mother with a slight feeling of
anxiety. She knew how spare she was of her words, how
seldom she rebuked anyone, and if she had to say "a few
words," it generally meant something serious. Grown up
under the despotic rule of her mother, whom she deeply
respected and loved, but even now slightly feared and most
implicitly obeyed, sacrificing all her own inclinations to her
mother's will, Marie had become deeply attached to her
baby nephew Misha, whom her mother had brought home
from his father's after the death of the latter's wife at the
child's birth. During nine years the boy grew up under
the wing of his kind aunt, who was a merry young girl at
the time, going out in society with her eldest sister, but
always ready to give up balls and parties for a chance of
enjoying a romp with the lively little fellow and putting
him to bed herself.

It was Marie who undertook to conduct the first lessons
in reading, writing and music, and they served to attach her
still more to the child.

But quite unexpectedly the father's decision put an end
to Marie's joys. Acceding to the prayers of his late wife's
kinsman, Prince Alexei Vassilievitch, Michail's father gave


him his son, recognizing that to let him grow up under
exclusively womanly rule might be prejudicial to him.

Out of the strictly patriarchal atmosphere surrounding
the stately old Mme. Gourakina, and the motherly tender-
ness of his Aunt Marie, Michail passed into the sumptuous
house of Prince Alexei Vassilievitch, where he found tutors,
masters, and a comrade to play with — naughty, nervous,
and not always kind little Prince Serguei. The Princess
used to be present daily at some of the lessons. She entered
into the life of the boys, but she exercised no influence on
either of them, whereas the Prince, who saw them much less
frequently, at once gained the heart of lively little Machail,
full of fun and frolic. As the years rolled by he became the
favourite of the whole house, and now Prince Alexei
Vassilievitch would not hear of his living anywhere but at
his house. Notwithstanding their separation, the relations
between the aunt and nephew had remained the same, and
no one could sympathize with Michail so thoroughly as his
Aunt Marie, whom he loved with a selfish, but nevertheless
deep and sincere love. She would never think of criticizing
her mother's words or actions; however, in all that con-
cerned her nephew she always took his part in her heart;
often shed tears on his account, and avoided her mother
when the latter was displeased with her grandson. Now,
passing into the dining-room, she put some tea into the
Chinese teapot and mechanically, her thoughts elsewhere,
poured some water on it out of the silver urn. Not a word
reached her from the corner drawing-room, which was
separated from the dining-room by a salon and a reception-
room; and, with an anxious shake of the head, she took a
strip of embroidery work out of her pocket, and, bending
low over it, commenced to embroider in white the little
leaves and circles traced in blue on the linen.

Meanwhile Gourakina continued to work several minutes
in silence.

This silence, which seemed intentional to Michail, made
him feel very uncomfortable ; he knew what his severe old
grandmother wanted to talk about. Bracing himself up to
be calm and self-assured, he got out his cigarette case, but,


remembering suddenly that smoking- was not allowed in her
presence, he began playing with it, holding it between two
fingers and twirling it round.

" Baroness Kern was here yesterday. . . .**

At these words something seemed to clutch at Michail's
heart. He had not been mistaken : a difficult explanation
lay before him.

" And she repeated to me the conversation which she had
had a few days ago with Prince Alexei Vassilievitch. . . .
You certainly understand of what I am speaking?" added
the old lady, after a short pause, going on with her work
and not looking at her grandson.

Michail, inwardly agitated, but not showing it, except by
the aimless removing of his cigarette case from one pocket
to another, was trying to gather his thoughts and seeking
for the best expressions which would be most efficient in

Online LibraryN. A. (Nadezhda Aleksandrovna) Lappo-DanilevskaiaMichail Gourakin, the heart of a Russian → online text (page 1 of 32)