Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

turning the corner of the house, I put on my cloak and boots.

I first wandered through a swampy meadow, which lay behind the inn, but I soon got into the high road. My plan was to hasten to Kokenhusen, and throw myself upon the post-master's mercy. The hope I placed in this man and his family was partly founded on their physiognomy, and partly on the unpleasant affair of the preceding day, which I thought they would be inclined to resent: and I was also of opinion that they might not be insensible to the charms of a large sum of money, which would have been much at their service for their assistance.

Should the man be disinclined to harbour me in his house, or should he not have room for me, I then intended to have concealed myself among the ruins of Kokenhusen, and to make an agreement with him to supply me with food. I also intended, through his means, to inform baron de Löwenstern of my flight, who would send such information to my wife, and she would make known my situation to iny friends. In short, I had formed a plan which appeared very practicable ; but I have reasons for not entering into farther detail at present.*

A single circumstance completely frustrated my plan: it was necessary that I should arrive during the night at Kokenhusen, to avoid being overtaken by the counsellor, and the Jew's sabbath had too much retarded my operations. It was full three o'clock, and five hours were hardly sufficient for so long a walk. It might happen that the counsellor would get up early and overtake me ; and besides, I dreaded appearing by daylight at Kokenhusen, where it was very natural to suppose enquiry would speedily be made, not only by my companions, but by others, in corisequence of the general 'alarm they would

*. These reasons no longer influence me, and I shall renew the subject in anoiher part of this narrative.

spread. I therefore determined to proceed as long as I was favoured by the night, and to conceal myself in the woods the moment day began to appear.

Everything being thus considered and arranged, I followed the highway, still walking through the adjacent meadows whenever I found a path near the road. At length I perceived hy the light of the moon a house which the day before I had taken for a mili. tary pavilion. In Livonia we often met with such buildings; they serve to lodge the officers whose regiments are stationed in the environs, and when the guests are gone the houses are shut up. I had observed the preceding day that the doors and window-shutters were closed, that the sentry-box was empty, and I concluded it was not inhabited.

Under this conviction, as it lay at some distance from the high road, I resolved to pass by it.

“Who goes there?” cried a sentinel. A question so unexpected startled me, but I had the presence of mind to make the usual reply.

“What road are you taking ?-whither are you going ?"-" To Stockmannshoff.”—“But the road lies there.”—“I did not perceive it.”

I was going on, but “ Halt!”—“ Hush, friend,” said I; “I am coming from Stockmannshoff: I have been paying a visit to a Jew girl yonder ; let me get back snugly, and take no notice of having seen me at

To_this request I added the offer of some money. The man murmured a little, but let me pass on.

This accident rendered me timid: I feared others of the same kind, and kept entirely along the high road. Had I been observed here, at least there would have been nothing extraordinary in it, and besides I found it was better walking than through the meadows.

Another adventure now befell me. After having travelled a few verstes, I heard the alarm beat at a considerable distance behind me. This custom requires some explanation.

all.”

In the Russian villages, and other places very remote from towns, a plank is suspended between two pieces of wood. Whenever the servants are to be called to their meals or their work, or when the hour of the day is to be made known, this board is struck with a heavy mallet, and the sound is heard at a very great distance.

I was much alarmed. It is very early, said I to myself, the servants are nowhere accustomed to breakfast so soon, it cannot be the hour that is struck, for this is not the manner of doing it, the strokes fall too fast. Alas! I perceive what it is. The counsellor has discovered my escape ; he has alarmed the inn, or spoken with the sentinel, who has certainly betrayed me; he is therefore pursuing me, and raising the country in his progress.

The noise at last becoming very suspicious, I was induced to quit the public road, and immediately rushed into a close copse. From time to time I fell into a glade, which I hastily ran across, and again took shelter among the trees. The wood now began to grow thicker. I saw a hill before me, which seemed to promise a favourable retreat, and I made towards it by the nearest way, which led me over some marshy ground, and the farther I proceeded, the more I became entangled in the swamps. Being up to my knees in very stiff clay, I began to reflect on what was to be done, and feeling myself quite worn out with fatigue, I remained motionless in the midst of the bog. Daylight was near at hand; but of what use would it be to me? The underwood was thick ; I was surrounded by young pine trees, and I could not see ten steps before me. What should I do? Return? No: death itself appeared less dreadful than the necessity of being driven to that resolution. At length I recovered a little from my fatigue, and exerting all my strength, after an hour's painful walk,

* Whether my conjectures were right, I have not since learnt, having never spoken of this affair.

[ocr errors]

arrived at the hill. This hill however did not afford what it promised at a distance: I quitted it, and continued to make the best use of my legs. Rambling from hill to hill, I found several paths which led to some ill-cultivated grounds in the woods. These I endeavoured to avoid with extreme caution, but I often fell into them, and was consequently led so much astray, that at night I should not have been able to have regained the high road, had I not been guided by the sound of the waters of the Duna, which seemed always to be within hearing. In fine, after all these windings, after having rejected twenty different spots as improper to remain in, I observed a clump of firs extremely thick and gloomy. In the midst of this grove two lofty birch trees rose from the same stem, and joined in a friendly manner their spreading branches : they reminded me of my tender union at home, and afforded me a happy presage. I gave the preference to this spot, half persuaded that under the shelter of these trees no harm could happen to me.

It was then only seven o'clock, and I could not think of quitting my retreat before ten: I therefore had time enough to arrange the plan of my future proceedings, I began to scrape the dirt from my boots, and should have dried myself completely had the weather been warmer and the spot less damp. I wrapped myself up in my cloak and sat down at the foot of the birch trees. The surrounding firs formed a thick inclosure, beyond which, at the distance of thirty steps, was a swampy fence-wood, terminated by a bare and barren hill. I could perceive through the branches everything that passed over the hill or through the copse; and on my right hand and on my left, as well as behind me, the woods bounded the horizon.

Stockmannshoff, said I to myself, is not far distant : it is the residence of his majesty's chamberlain, M. de Beyer, the father of madame de Löwenstern ; I wave heard him well spoken of; he is a man of a noble turn of mind, and most assuredly his daughter must likewise possess many excellent qualities, having been educated by such parents, and having had the advantage of their excellent example always before her. I was persuaded at that time that I might safely depend on him; but I soon after entertained a very different opinion. His seat, continued I, is near the high road; the counsellor, perhaps, may have been there, and given orders to every one in the village to detain me.

How should I be able to speak to M. de Beyer without making my way through his whole train of lacqueys, who might have heard of my flight, and would prevent the kind assistance of their master, who, being a man above the temptation of any reward, would be solely actuated by his own feelings in affording me assistance: my first plan, thought I, is therefore preferable ; I will go to Kokenhusen; should the counsellor have got the start of me, and spread the alarm there, the people I am going to will only laugh at his perplexities, and assist me for the sake of satisfying their own revenge. Should he even have given them money, I will double the sum: it is well, however, to take this day to consider all possible contingencies.

After thus counselling with myself, I drew the sheet of paper from my pocket and cut it into several slips; then taking out my pencil, I began to write with wet fingers a billet to M. de Beyer, one to baron de Löwenstern, a third to my wife, with some other notes of no consequence. While I was thus employed a storm arose: I was well aware that, during its continuance, it was dangerous to remain under the trees : I felt no inclination, however, to leave this shelter, and even wished the thunderbolt to fall on my head. I have always considered this kind of death as the most desirable, and I should now have received as a blessing the stroke that would so easily have terminated all my misfortunes : but I wished for dissolution in vain; the storm exhausted itself in a violent shower

« PoprzedniaDalej »