“Come, come, Ivan Mironoff, that’s boasting. The service does not suit them, and as for you, you know nothing about it. You should have stayed at home and prayed God, that suits you much better. My dear guests, to table.”
We took our places for dinner. Basilia was not silent a moment; she overwhelmed me with questions: Who were my parents? Were they living? Where did they reside? What was their fortune? When she learned that my father owned three hundred serfs, she exclaimed:
“You see there are some rich people in the world—and we, my dear sir, in point of souls, we possess only the maid Polacca. Yet, thank God, we live, somehow or other. We have but one care, that is Marie, a girl that must be married off. And what fortune has she? The price of two baths per annum. If only she could find a worthy husband. If not, there she is, eternally a maid.”
I glanced at Marie; she blushed, tears were dropping into her soup. I pitied her, and hastened to change the conversation. “I have heard that the Bashkirs intend to attack your fortress?”
“Who said so,” replied Ivan Mironoff.
“I heard it at Orenbourg.”
“All nonsense,” said Ivan, “we have not heard the least word about it; the Bashkirs are an intimidated people; and the Kirghis have also had some good lessons. They dare not attack us, and if they should even dream of it, I would give them so great a fright that they would not move again for ten years.”
“Do you not fear,” I continued, addressing Basilia, “to stay in a fortress exposed to these dangers?”
“A matter of habit, my dear,” she replied, “twenty years ago, when we were transferred here from the regiment, you could not believe how I feared the pagans. If I chanced to see their fur caps, if I heard their shouts, believe me, my heart was ready to faint; but now I am so used to this life, that if told that the brigands were prowling around us, I would not stir from the fortress.”
“Basilia is a very brave lady,” observed Alexis, gravely. “Ivan Mironoff knows some thing about it.”
“Oh, you see,” said Ivan, “she does not belong to the regiment of poltroons.”
“And Marie,” I asked of her mother “is she as bold as you?”
“Marie?” said the lady. “No! Marie is a coward. Up to the present she has not heard the report of a gun without trembling in every limb. Two years ago Ivan had a pleasant fancy to fire off his cannon on my birthday; the poor pigeon was so frightened that she almost went into the next world. Since that day the miserable cannon has not spoken.”
We rose from the table. The captain and his wife went to take their siesta. I went with Alexis to his room, where we passed the evening together.