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Chapter 13 Natalia Savishna

In days gone by there used to run about the seignorial courtyard of the country-house at Chabarovska a girl called Natashka. She always wore a cotton dress, went barefooted, and was rosy, plump, and gay. It was at the request and entreaties of her father, the clarionet player Savi, that my grandfather had "taken her upstairs"--that is to say, made her one of his wife's female servants. As chamber-maid, Natashka so distinguished herself by her zeal and amiable temper that when Mamma arrived as a baby and required a nurse Natashka was honoured with the charge of her. In this new office the girl earned still further praises and rewards for her activity, trustworthiness, and devotion to her young mistress. Soon, however, the powdered head and buckled shoes of the young and active footman Foka (who had frequent opportunities of courting her, since they were in the same service) captivated her unsophisticated, but loving, heart. At last she ventured to go and ask my grandfather if she might marry Foka, but her master took the request in bad part, flew into a passion, and punished poor Natashka by exiling her to a farm which he owned in a remote quarter of the Steppes. At length, when she had been gone six months and nobody could be found to replace her, she was recalled to her former duties. Returned, and with her dress in rags, she fell at Grandpapa's feet, and besought him to restore her his favour and kindness, and to forget the folly of which she had been guilty--folly which, she assured him, should never recur again. And she kept her word.

From that time forth she called herself, not Natashka, but Natalia Savishna, and took to wearing a cap, All the love in her heart was now bestowed upon her young charge. When Mamma had a governess appointed for her education, Natalia was awarded the keys as housekeeper, and henceforth had the linen and provisions under her care. These new duties she fulfilled with equal fidelity and zeal. She lived only for her master's advantage. Everything in which she could detect fraud, extravagance, or waste she endeavoured to remedy to the best of her power. When Mamma married and wished in some way to reward Natalia Savishna for her twenty years of care and labour, she sent for her and, voicing in the tenderest terms her attachment and love, presented her with a stamped charter of her (Natalia's) freedom, [It will be remembered that this was in the days of serfdom] telling her at the same time that, whether she continued to serve in the household or not, she should always receive an annual pension Of 300 roubles. Natalia listened in silence to this. Then, taking the document in her hands and regarding it with a frown, she muttered something between her teeth, and darted from the room, slamming the door behind her. Not understanding the reason for such strange conduct, Mamma followed her presently to her room, and found her sitting with streaming eyes on her trunk, crushing her pocket-handkerchief between her fingers, and looking mournfully at the remains of the document, which was lying torn to pieces on the floor.

"What is the matter, dear Natalia Savishna?" said Mamma, taking her hand.

"Nothing, ma'am," she replied; "only--only I must have displeased you somehow, since you wish to dismiss me from the house. Well, I will go."

She withdrew her hand and, with difficulty restraining her tears, rose to leave the room, but Mamma stopped her, and they wept a while in one another's arms.

Ever since I can remember anything I can remember Natalia Savishna and her love and tenderness; yet only now have I learnt to appreciate them at their full value. In early days it never occurred to me to think what a rare and wonderful being this old domestic was. Not only did she never talk, but she seemed never even to think, of herself. Her whole life was compounded of love and self-sacrifice. Yet so used was I to her affection and singleness of heart that I could not picture things otherwise. I never thought of thanking her, or of asking myself, "Is she also happy? Is she also contented?" Often on some pretext or another I would leave my lessons and run to her room, where, sitting down, I would begin to muse aloud as though she were not there. She was forever mending something, or tidying the shelves which lined her room, or marking linen, so that she took no heed of the nonsense which I talked--how that I meant to become a general, to marry a beautiful woman, to buy a chestnut horse, to, build myself a house of glass, to invite Karl Ivanitch's relatives to come and visit me from Saxony, and so forth; to all of which she would only reply, "Yes, my love, yes." Then, on my rising, and preparing to go, she would open a blue trunk which had pasted on the inside of its lid a coloured picture of a hussar which had once adorned a pomade bottle and a sketch made by Woloda, and take from it a fumigation pastille, which she would light and shake for my benefit, saying:

"These, dear, are the pastilles which your grandfather (now in Heaven) brought back from Otchakov after fighting against the Turks." Then she would add with a sigh: "But this is nearly the last one."

The trunks which filled her room seemed to contain almost everything in the world. Whenever anything was wanted, people said, "Oh, go and ask Natalia Savishna for it," and, sure enough, it was seldom that she did not produce the object required and say, "See what comes of taking care of everything!" Her trunks contained thousands of things which nobody in the house but herself would have thought of preserving.

Once I lost my temper with her. This was how it happened.

One day after luncheon I poured myself out a glass of kvass, and then dropped the decanter, and so stained the tablecloth.

"Go and call Natalia, that she may come and see what her darling has done," said Mamma.

Natalia arrived, and shook her head at me when she saw the damage I had done; but Mamma whispered something in her car, threw a look at myself, and then left the room.

I was just skipping away, in the sprightliest mood possible, when Natalia darted out upon me from behind the door with the tablecloth in her hand, and, catching hold of me, rubbed my face hard with the stained part of it, repeating, "Don't thou go and spoil tablecloths any more!"

I struggled hard, and roared with temper.

"What?" I said to myself as I fled to the drawing-room in a mist of tears, "To think that Natalia Savishna-just plain Natalia-should say 'THOU' to me and rub my face with a wet tablecloth as though I were a mere servant-boy! It is abominable!"

Seeing my fury, Natalia departed, while I continued to strut about and plan how to punish the bold woman for her offence. Yet not more than a few moments had passed when Natalia returned and, stealing to my side, began to comfort me,

"Hush, then, my love. Do not cry. Forgive me my rudeness. It was wrong of me. You WILL pardon me, my darling, will you not? There, there, that's a dear," and she took from her handkerchief a cornet of pink paper containing two little cakes and a grape, and offered it me with a trembling hand. I could not look the kind old woman in the face, but, turning aside, took the paper, while my tears flowed the faster--though from love and shame now, not from anger.

 

上一世纪中叶,在哈巴洛夫卡村的院落里,经常有一个穿粗布衣服,光着脚,但是快快活活的,红脸蛋的胖姑娘娜达什卡跑来跑去 ① 。由于她父亲,吹单簧管的萨瓦的功劳和请求,我的外祖父把她提拔上来,叫她给我外祖母当侍女。作为一个侍女,娜达什卡性情柔顺和勤快是出名的。当我母亲出生而需要一个保姆的时候,就由挪达什卡来担负这个职务。在这个新的岗位上,她以自己的工作、忠诚和对小女主人的爱护而博得了称赞和奖赏。不过,工作上同娜达丽雅经常来往的聪明伶俐的年青仆人福加,却以涂着发粉的头,用吊带的袜子迷惑住了她那颗粗野但是多情的心。她甚至鼓起勇气亲自去请求我外祖父准许她嫁给福加。外祖父把她的愿望看成忘恩负义。他勃然大怒,把可怜的娜达丽雅遣送到草原村庄的畜牧场上作为惩罚。但是过了六个月,因为谁也代替不了娜达丽雅,就又把她叫回来恢复原职。她穿着粗布衣服从流放中回来,走到外祖父跟前,跪在他脚下,请求他依旧宽待她,照顾她,忘掉曾经使她着魔的那种糊涂念头,她发誓决不故态复萌。而她也真的没有食言。

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①娜达什卡:娜达丽雅的爱称。

从那时起,娜达什卡就成了娜达丽雅·萨维什娜,并且戴上了包发帽 ① ;她把心中蕴藏的全部爱情都转移到她照料的小姐身上。

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①戴上了包发帽:表示身份高了。当时婢女都包头巾。

当一个女家庭教师在我母亲身边代替了她的位置时,就把贮藏室的钥匙交给了她,内衣“桌布之类和所有的食品全归她掌管。她用同样的勤勉和热情完成了这些新任务。她全心全意地照管主人的财产;处处都发现有浪费、损坏和盗窃行为,于是千方百计地来防止。

妈妈结婚时,为了答谢娜达丽雅(萨维什娜二十年的劳苦和忠诚,妈妈把她叫进自己的房间,大大地夸奖了她,向她表示了自己对她的满心感激和热爱,然后交给她一张印花纸,上面写着给娜达丽雅·萨维什娜的解放证,并且说,不论她是否继续在我们家当差,她每年总有三百卢布的养老金。娜达丽雅·萨维什娜一声不响的听完这一切,然后就拿起那张文件,恶狠狠地望了它一眼,从牙缝里都囔了几句什么,就跑出屋去,砰的一声把房门关上。妈妈不明白这种奇怪举动的来由,过了一会儿,走进娜达丽雅·萨维什娜的房间。只见她噙着眼泪坐在箱子上,用手指紧捏着手帕,目不转睛地瞅着那张散落在她面前地板上的、撕成碎片的解放证。

“你怎么啦,亲爱的娜达丽雅·萨维什娜?”妈妈拉住她的手问道。

“没有什么,亲爱的小姐,”她回答说,“想必是我有什么地方触怒了您,所以您要把我赶走……好吧,我就走。”

她抽回手去,几乎忍不住落下泪来,就要走出屋去。妈妈把她拦住,拥抱她,她们两个都放声大哭起来。

从我记事的时候起,我就记得娜达丽雅·萨维什娜,记得她的热情和爱抚;但是,直到现在我才懂得珍视这些,而在当时,我从来没有考虑过这位老妇人是个多么难得的可贵的人物。她不但从来不提自己,而且好象从来没有想到过自己;她一生都怀着慈爱和自我牺牲精神。我已经习惯了她对我们那种无私的、温存的爱,甚至想像不出会是另外一种样子。”我一点也不感激她,自己从来也没有思考过这样的问题:“她幸福吗?她满意吗?”

我时常借口有要紧的事逃学,到她的房间里去,坐下来,诉说自己的梦想,在她面前丝毫也不拘束。她总是忙碌着,不是织袜子,或是在她的房间里摆满的箱子里乱翻,就是登记衬衣、桌布之类,一面听我胡言乱语,象:“那末,等我当了将军我就娶一个绝色的美人儿,给自己买一匹赤骝马,盖一幢玻璃房子,写信到萨克森去,把卡尔·伊凡内奇的亲属召来”等等,她连连地说:“是的,我的宝贝,是的。”通常,当我站起来要走的时候,她就打开一只浅蓝色的箱子,我现在还记得箱盖里面贴着一张瞟骑兵的彩色像:一张从生发油瓶上揭下来的画,还有一张沃洛佳画的画,她从这口箱子里拿出一块香点上,挥一挥,说,

“这个,我的宝贝,还是奥恰科夫的香哩。还是你故去的外祖父,但愿他在天国安宁,去打土耳其人的时候,从那里带回来的。这是最后的一块了。”她叹了口气补充说。

她的房里摆满了箱子,简直是万宝囊。平时不管需要什么,人们总是说:“得找娜达丽雅·萨维什娜去要。”真的,她翻腾了一会儿,就会找到人家需要的东西,并且说:“幸亏我收藏起来了。”这些箱子里有成千上万件物品,这些东西,除了她,家里谁也不知道,谁也不关心。

有一次我生了她的气。事情是这样的。吃午饭的时候,我替自己倒了一杯克瓦斯 ① ,不小心碰倒玻璃杯,把克瓦斯泼到桌布上了。

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①克瓦斯:一种清凉饮料。由裸麦或面包屑酿成。

“把娜达丽雅·萨维什娜叫来,让她欣赏欣赏她的宝口干的好事吧!”妈妈说。

娜达丽雅·萨维什娜走进来,看见我洒的一摊水,就摇摇头;随后妈妈在她耳边嘀咕了一句什么,用手指对我威吓了一下,就走出屋去了。

午饭后,我兴高采烈、蹦蹦跳砾地到大厅里去,娜达丽雅·萨维什娜冷不防从门背后跳出来,一只手拿着桌布,一只手捉住我,尽管我拚命反抗,她还是用那块湿桌布揉擦我的脸,一边说:“别把桌布弄脏了!别把桌布弄脏了!”我感到非常委屈,气得号陶大哭起来。

“怎么!”我自言自语,在大厅里走来走去,哽咽得上气不接下气。“娜达丽雅·萨维什娜,不过是娜达丽雅罢了,居然对我称你,还用湿桌布打我的脸,好象我是个小奴才似的。不,这太可怕了!”

娜达丽雅·萨维什娜看见我伤心哭起来,就立刻跑开了,于是我继续走来走去,盘算着怎样报复那个没有礼貌的娜达丽雅对我的侮辱。

过了一会儿,娜达丽雅·萨维什娜回来了,畏畏缩缩地走到我跟前,开始安慰我说:

“得了,我的宝贝,别哭了……原谅我这个傻瓜……我做错了……不过,您原谅我吧,我的亲爱的……这是给您的……”

她从手帕下面掏出一个红纸卷,里面有两块糖和一个干无花果,用颤抖的手递给我。我没有勇气看那仁慈的老妇人的脸;我扭过身子,接了她的礼物。我的眼泪流得更多了,不过,这已经不是由于愤怒,而是由于爱和羞愧。



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