Ivan Kouzmitch stared at her.
"Well, my little mother," said he; "since thou dost know all about it, thou mayst remain; we shall talk it over in thy presence."
"That's it, my little father," she answered; "it is not for thee to be so sly; now, send for the officers."
We again met. Ivan Kouzmitch read to us in his wife's presence Pougatcheff's proclamation, written probably by some illiterate Cossack. The scoundrel declared it to be his intention to march on our fortress without delay; he invited the Cossacks and the soldiers to join his band, and advised the commandant not to resist, under pain of death. The proclamation was coarsely worded, but in strong terms, and would undoubtedly have produced a mischievous influence on simple-minded people.
"There's a blackguard!" exclaimed the commandant's wife. "What will he be demanding next? Does he require us to go out to meet him and lay the colours at his feet? Oh, the son of a dog! He does not know that we have served for forty years, and that, thank God, we have seen something during that time! Is it possible that there are commandants who have yielded to the rascals?"
"It should not be possible," answered Ivan Kouzmitch; "and yet I understand that the wretch has taken possession of many fortresses."
"He must indeed be strong," remarked Shvabrine.
"We shall soon know his real strength," said the commandant. "Vassilissa Yegorovna, give me the key of the store-room. Ivan Ignatitch, send the Bashkir here, and order Youlaï to bring the lash."