Days and months passed, and love-sick Ibrahim could not resolve to
leave the woman he had wronged. The Countess from hour to hour grew
more attached to him. Their son was being brought up in a distant
province; social scandal was subsiding, and the lovers began to enjoy
greater tranquillity, in silence remembering the past storm and trying
not to think of the future.
One day Ibrahim was standing at the Duke of Orleans’ door. The Duke
passing him, stopped, handed him a letter, and bade him read it at his
leisure. It was a letter from Peter I. The Tsar, guessing the real
cause of his absence, wrote to the Hake that he in no way desired to
compel Ibrahim, and left it to his free will to return to Russia or
not; but that in any case he should never forsake his foster-child.
This letter touched Ibrahim to the heart. From that moment his decision
was made. Next day he announced to the Regent his intention to start
immediately for Russia.
“Consider the step you are about to take,” replied the Duke. “Russia is
not your home. I don’t think you will ever have a chance of seeing your
torrid Africa, and your long residence in France has made you equally
a stranger to the climate and the semi-barbarous life of Russia. You
were not born one of Peter’s subjects. Take my advice, profit by his
generous permission, stay in France, for which you have already shed
your blood, and be convinced that here your services and talents will
not be left without their due reward.”
Ibrahim thanked the Duke sincerely, but remained firm in his resolve.
“I regret it,” replied the Regent; “but on the whole you may be right.”
He promised to let him retire and wrote to inform the Tsar.
Ibrahim was soon ready for the journey. On the eve of his departure
he passed the evening as usual at the Countess L’s. She knew nothing.
Ibrahim had not the courage to tell her. The Countess was calm and
cheerful. She several times called him to her and joked about
his pensiveness. After supper everybody had gone, leaving in the
drawing-room only the Countess, her husband, and Ibrahim. The unhappy
man would have given the world to be left alone with her; but Count L.
seemed to be settled so comfortably near the grate that it appeared
hopeless to wait to see him out of the room. All three remained silent.
_”Bonne nuit!_” at last said the Countess.
Ibrahim’s heart sank and he suddenly experienced all the horrors of
parting. He stood motionless.
“_Bonne nuit, messieurs,_” repeated the Countess.
Still he did not move. At last his eyes became dim, his head went
round, and he could scarcely get out of the room.
Arriving at home, almost mad, he wrote as follows:
“I am going, dearest Leonora, to leave you for ever. I write because I
have not the strength to tell you otherwise. Our happiness could not
continue; I have enjoyed it against the will of destiny and nature.
You must in time have ceased to love me. The enchantment must have
vanished. This idea has always haunted me, even when I seemed to
forget all, when at your feet I was intoxicated by your passionate
self-abnegation, by your boundless tenderness. The thoughtless world
mercilessly persecute that which in theory it permits. Sooner or later
its cold irony would have vanquished you, and cowed your passionate
soul, till finally you would have been ashamed of your love.
“What, then, would have become of me?
“Better to die; better to leave you before that terrible moment. Your
happiness to me is more precious than all; you could not enjoy it,
while the gaze of society was fixed upon us. Remember all you have
endured, your wounded pride, the torture of fear; the terrible birth
of our son. Think; ought I any longer to subject you to such fears and
dangers? Why should I endeavour to unite the fate of so tender, so
beautiful a creature with the miserable life of a negro, a pitiable
object scarce worthy of the name of man?
“Forgive me, Leonora; dear and only friend. In leaving you, I leave
the first and last joy of my heart. I have no fatherland nor kin. I go
to Russia, where my utter solitude will be my joy. Serious pursuits
to which from henceforth I devote myself, if they do not silence must
at any rate distract painful recollections of the days of rapture.
Farewell, Leonora! I tear myself away from this letter, as if from your
embrace. Farewell, be happy, and think sometimes of the poor negro, of
your faithful Ibrahim.”
The same night he started for Russia. The journey did not seem as
terrible as he had expected. His imagination triumphed over fact. The
further he got from Paris the nearer and more vivid seemed to him all
the objects he was leaving for ever.
Imperceptibly he reached the Russian frontier. Autumn had already set
in, but the hired relays, notwithstanding the badness of the roads,
brought him with the swiftness of the wind, and on the seventeenth
morning he arrived at Krasnoe Selo, through which at that time passed
the high road.
There remained twenty-eight versts’ journey to St. Petersburg. While
the horses were being changed Ibrahim entered the posting-house. In a
corner a tall man, in a green caftan and a clay pipe in his mouth, sat
leaning against the table reading the _Hamburg Gazette_. Hearing some
one enter he raised his head.
“Oh, Ibrahim!” he exclaimed, rising from the bench. “How do you do,
Ibrahim recognised Peter, and in his delight rushed at him, but stopped
respectfully. The monarch approached, put his arms round him, and
kissed him on the forehead.
“I was told of your coming,” said Peter, “and drove off to meet you. I
Pave been waiting for you here since yesterday.”
Ibrahim could not find words to express his gratitude.
“Tell them,” added the Tsar, “to let your carriage follow us, while you
get in by my side and drive to my place.”
The Tsar’s calèche was announced; he and Ibrahim got in and started at
a gallop. In an hour and a half they reached St. Petersburg. Ibrahim
looked with interest at the new-born city, which had sprung up by the
will of the Tsar. The bare banks, the canals without quays, the wooden
bridges, everywhere bore witness to the recent triumph of human will
over the elements. The houses seemed to have been hurriedly built.
The whole town contained nothing magnificent but the Neva, not yet
decorated with its granite framework, but already covered with ships
of war and merchantmen. The Tsar’s calèche drew up at the palace,
_i.e._ at the Tsaritsa’s garden. On the door-steps Peter was met by a
woman about thirty-five, handsome, and dressed in the latest Parisian
fashion. Peter kissed her, and, taking Ibrahim by the hand, said:
“Katinka, do you recognise my godson? I beg you to love and welcome him
Catherine turned on him her black searching eyes, and graciously held
out her hand. Two young beauties, tall and shapely, and fresh as roses,
stood behind her and respectfully approached Peter.
“Lisa,” he said to one, “do you remember the little negro who stole
apples from me at Oranienburgh to give to you? Here he is, I introduce
him to you.”
The grand duchess laughed and blushed. They went into the dining-room.
In expectation of the Tsar the table had been laid. Peter, having
invited Ibrahim, sat down with all his family to dinner. During dinner
the Tsar talked to him on different topics, inquiring about the Spanish
war, the internal affairs of Prance and the Regent, whom he liked,
though he found in his conduct much to blame. Ibrahim displayed an
accurate and observant mind. Peter was much pleased with his answers;
remembering some incidents of Ibrahim’s childhood, he related them with
such good-humoured merriment that no one could have suspected this kind
and hospitable host to be the hero of Poltava, the mighty and terrible
reformer of Russia.
After dinner the Tsar, according to the Russian custom, retired to
rest. Ibrahim remained with the empress and the grand duchesses. He
tried to satisfy their curiosity, described Parisian life, their fêtes
and capricious fashions. In the mean-while, some of the emperor’s
suite assembled in the palace. Ibrahim recognised the magnificent
Prince Menshikoff, who, seeing the negro conversing with Catherine,
cast him a scornful glance; Prince Jacob Dolgoruki, Peter’s stern
counsellor; the learned Bruce, known among the people as the Russian
Paustus; young Bagusinski, his former companion, and others who had
come to the Tsar to bring reports and receive instructions. In a couple
of hours the Tsar came out.
“Let us see,” he said to Ibrahim, “if you remember your old duties.
Get a slate and follow me.” Peter locked himself in the carpenter’s
room and was engaged with state affairs. He worked alternately with
Bruce, Prince Dolgoruki, General Police-master Devière, and dictated
to Ibrahim several ukases and decisions. Ibrahim was struck by the
rapidity and firmness of his decision, the strength and the pliability
of his intellect, and the variety of his occupations. When his work
was ended Peter took out a pocket book to compare the notes and see if
he had got through all he had meant to do that day. Then quitting the
carpenter’s workroom he said to Ibrahim:
“It is late; I dare say you are tired, sleep the night here, as in the
old time; to-morrow I will wake you.”
Ibrahim, left alone, could hardly realise that he was again at St.
Petersburg, in the presence of the great man; near whom, not yet
aware of his great worth, he had spent his childhood. It was almost
with regret that he confessed to himself that the Countess L. for the
first time since they parted had not been his sole thought throughout
the day. He saw that in the new mode of life awaiting him, work and
continual activity might revive his soul, exhausted by passion,
indolence, and secret sorrow. The idea of being the great man’s
assistant, and with him influencing the fate of a mighty people, awoke
in him for the first time the noble feeling of ambition. In this humour
he lay down upon the camp bed prepared for him,–and then the usual
dreams carried him back to distant Paris, to the arms of his dear