I entered the hut, or the palace as the mujiks had called it. It was lit up by two tallow candles, and its walls were covered with gilt paper; with this exception, the benches, the table, the wash-hand basin suspended by a cord, the towel hanging on a nail, the oven-fork in the corner, and the broad shelf upon which stood flower-pots, all was the same as in an ordinary hut. Pougatcheff sat under the holy images, in a red caftan, a high cap, his arms akimbo, looking remarkably important. By his side stood several of his chief companions, with an assumed air of servility. It was evident that the news of the arrival of an officer from Orenburg had excited great curiosity among the rebels, and that they were preparing to receive me pompously. Pougatcheff recognized me at first sight. His assumed look of importance disappeared at once.
"Ah! your lordship!" said he, quickly. "How art thou? Why has God brought thee here?"
I replied that I was riding past on private affairs, and that his men stopped me.
"What affairs?" he asked.
I did not know what answer to make.
Concluding that I did not wish to enter into explanations in the presence of witnesses, Pougatcheff turned to his comrades, and ordered them out. All obeyed with the exception of two, who did not stir.
"Thou canst speak boldly before them," said Pougatcheff. "I do not conceal anything from them."
I looked askance at the pretender's confidants. One, a