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HOME > Classical Novels > The Queen of Spades and other stories > CHAPTER III.
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Next morning, according to his promise, Peter woke Ibrahim and greeted him as lieutenant-captain of the Preobrajensky regiment, in which he himself was captain. The courtiers flocked round Ibrahim, each one in his own way trying to welcome the new favourite.

The haughty Prince Menshikoff gave him a friendly grasp of the hand. Sheremetieff inquired[Pg 231] after his own Parisian friend, and Golovin asked him to dinner. Others followed his example, so that Ibrahim received invitations for at least a whole month.

His life was now passed in regular but active occupation; consequently he was not dull. Prom day to day he became more attached to the Tsar, and grew better able to appreciate his lofty character. The thoughts of a great man are a most interesting study. Ibrahim saw Peter in the Senate debating with Buturlin and Dolgoruki, discussing important questions in the Admiralty, fostering the Russian navy,—in his leisure, with Theophan, Gavril, Bujinski, and Kopievitch, examining translations from foreign publications, or visiting a factory, an artizan's workshop, or the study of some learned man. Russia became to Ibrahim one vast workshop, where machinery alone moved, where each workman under ordered rules is occupied with his own task.

He felt that he too must work at his own bench, and tried to regret as little as possible the amusements of his Parisian life. But if was hander to forget a dearer memory. Often he thought of Countess L., her just indignation, her tears, and grief. At times a terrible thought oppressed him: the distractions of society: new ties: another favourite. He shuddered; jealousy began to rage in his African blood, and burning[Pg 232] tears were ready to flow down his swarthy face.

One morning he was sitting in his study amid official documents, when he heard himself loudly greeted in French. Turning quickly round he was embraced with joyous exclamations by young Korsakoff, whom he had left in Paris in the whirl of the great world.

"I have only just arrived," said Korsakoff "and came straight to you. All our Parisian friends desire to be remembered to you, and regret your absence. The Countess L. requested me to invite you without fail, and here is her letter for you."

Ibrahim seized it eagerly, and was looking at the familiar writing on the envelope, scarcely believing his own eyes.

"How glad I am," added Korsakoff, "that you have not been bored to death in this barbarous Petersburg. How do they manage here? What do they do? Who is your tailor? Have they started an opera?"

Ibrahim absently replied that the Tsar was probably at that moment at work in the shipping dock.

Korsakoff laughed.

"I see," he said, "you are preoccupied, and don't want me just now. Another time we will have a good talk; I am off to present my respects[Pg 233] to his Majesty." With these words he turned on his heel, and hurried out of the room.

Left alone Ibrahim quickly opened the letter. The countess complained tenderly, reproached him with falseness and inconstancy.

"You used to say," she wrote, "that my happiness was more to you than all the world. Ibrahim, if this were true, could you have left me in the state to which the sudden news of your departure brought me. You were afraid I might detain you. Be assured that, in spite of my love, I should have known how to sacrifice it for your good and to what you deem your duty."

The countess ended with passionate assurances of love, begging him to write, if only occasionally, and even if there were no hope that they would ever meet again.

Ibrahim read and re-read this letter twenty times, rapturously kissing those precious lines. Burning with impatience for news about the countess, he set out for the Admiralty, hoping to find his friend still there, when the door opened, and Korsakoff re-entered. He had seen the Tsar, and he seemed as usual perfectly self-satisfied.

"Between ourselves," he said to Ibrahim, "the Tsar is a most extraordinary man. Fancy! I found him in a sort of linen vest on the mast of a new ship, whither I had to scramble with my dispatches.[Pg 234] I stood on a rope ladder, and had not room enough to make a proper bow. I lost my presence of mind for the first time in all my life. However, the Tsar, when he had read my papers, looked at me from head to foot. Ho doubt he was agreeably impressed by my good taste and splendid attire. At any rate he smiled, and invited me to the assembly today. But I am a perfect stranger in Petersburg. For my six years' absence I have quite forgotten the local customs. Please be my mentor; call for me on your way, and introduce me."

Ibrahim promised, and hastened to turn the conversation on the subject that most interested him.

"How was the Countess L.?"

"The countess? At first she was naturally most unhappy at your departure; then, of course by degrees, she grew reconciled, and took to herself another lover—who do you think? The lanky Marquis R. Why do you open those African eyes of yours? Does this appear to you so strange? Don't you know that enduring grief is not in human nature, particularly in a woman. Meditate duly upon that while I go and rest after my journey, and don't forget to call for me on your way."

What terrible thoughts crowded Ibrahim's soul? Jealousy? Rage? Despair?—Ho!—but a deep, crushing sorrow.

[Pg 235]

He murmured to himself. I foresaw it, it was bound to happen. Then he opened the countess's letter, read it over again, hung his head, and wept bitterly. Long did he weep. Those tears relieved him. He looked at his watch and found that it was time to start. Gladly would he have stayed away, but the party was an affair of duty, and the Tsar was strict in exacting the attendance of those attached to him.

He dressed and started to fetch Korsakoff. Korsakoff was sitting in his dressing gown, reading a French book.

"So early?" he exclaimed, seeing Ibrahim.

"Excuse me," the other replied, "it's already half-past five, we shall be late; make haste and dress, and let us go."

Korsakoff hurriedly rang the bell with all his might; the servants hurried in, and he began hastily to dress. His French valet handed him slippers with red heels, light blue velvet breeches, a pink kaftan embroidered with spangles. In the antechamber his wig was hurriedly powdered and brought in; Korsakoff pushed into it his closely cropped head, asked for his sword and gloves, turned ten times before the glass, and announced to Ibrahim that he was ready. The footmen handed them their bearskin overcoats, and they drove off to the Winter Palace.

Korsakoff smothered Ibrahim with questions.

[Pg 236]

Who was the belle of St. Petersburg. Which man was considered t............
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