I became an officer. My work did not weigh heavily upon me. In this heaven-blest fort there was no drill to do, no guard to mount, nor review to pass. Sometimes the Commandant instructed his soldiers for his own pleasure. But he had not yet succeeded in teaching them to know their right hand from their left. Chvabrine had some French books; I took to reading, and I acquired a taste for literature. In the morning I used to read, and I tried my hand at translations, sometimes even at compositions in verse. Nearly every day I dined at the Commandant’s, where I usually passed the rest of the day. In the evening, Father Garasim used to drop in, accompanied by his wife, Akoulina, who was the sturdiest gossip of the neighbourhood. It is scarcely necessary to say that every day we met, Chvabrine and I. Still hour by hour his conversation pleased me less. His everlasting jokes about the Commandant’s family, and, above all, his witty remarks upon Marya Ivanofna, displeased me very much. I had no other society but that of this family within the little fort, but I did not want any other.
In spite of all the prophecies, the Bashkirs did not revolt. Peace reigned around our little fort. But this peace was suddenly troubled by war within.
I have already said I dabbled a little in literature. My attempts were tolerable for the time, and Soumarokoff himself did justice to them many years later. One day I happened to write a little song which pleased me. It is well-known that under colour of asking advice, authors willingly seek a benevolent listener; I copied out my little song, and took it to Chvabrine, the only person in the fort who could appreciate a poetical work.
After a short preface, I drew my manuscript from my pocket, and read to him the following verses:
“By waging war with thoughts of
I try to forget my beauty;
Alas! by flight from Masha,
I hope my freedom to regain!
“But the eyes which enslaved me
are ever before me.
My soul have they troubled and ruined my rest.
“Oh! Masha, who
knowest my sorrows,
Seeing me in this miserable plight,
Take pity on thy captive.”
“What do you think of that?” I said to Chvabrine, expecting praise as a tribute due to me. But to my great displeasure Chvabrine, who usually showed kindness, told me flatly my song was worth nothing.
“Why?” I asked, trying to hide my vexation.
“Because such verses,” replied he, “are only worthy of my master Trediakofski, and, indeed, remind me very much of his little erotic couplets.”
He took the MSS. from my hand and began unmercifully criticizing each verse, each word, cutting me up in the most spiteful way. That was too much for me; I snatched the MSS. out of his hands, and declared that never, no never, would I ever again show him one of my compositions. Chvabrine did not laugh the less at this threat.