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Russian Romance (Pushkin)/The Captain's Daughter/Chapter IX

CHAPTER IX.

THE SEPARATION.

I was awakened at an early hour by the beat of the drum. I proceeded to the place of assembly. Pougatcheff's mob was already mustering in the vicinity of the gallows, from which yesterday's victims were still suspended. The Cossacks were on horseback, the foot soldiers under arms. The standards were unfurled. Several guns, among which I noticed our own, had been mounted on field carriages. The inhabitants had also assembled in expectation of the Pretender. At the porch of the commandant's house stood a Cossack, holding a beautiful white horse of the Khirghis breed by the bridle. I looked for the body of the commandant's wife. It had been moved a little on one side, and covered with a piece of matting. Pougatcheff appeared. The crowd uncovered. Pougatcheff stopped in the doorway and saluted it. One of the chiefs handed to him a bagful of coppers, which he scattered in handfuls. The people rushed in a noisy scuffle to pick them up. Pougatcheff was surrounded by his principal accomplices. Shvabrine was one of the number. Our eyes met; he probably read contempt in mine, for he turned away with a look of genuine malice, and feigned derision. Perceiving me in the crowd, Pougatcheff nodded his head, and beckoned me to come to him.

"Listen," said he; "go at once to Orenburg, and tell the governor and all the generals that they are to expect me in a week. Recommend them to welcome me with childlike love and obedience; otherwise, they shall not escape a cruel death. A happy journey to you, your lordship!" Turning to the people, and pointing to Shvabrine, he said: "Here, my children, is your new commander. Obey him always; he is responsible for you and for the fortress."

I heard these words with horror. Once in command of the fortress, Maria Ivanovna was in his power! My God! what would become of her? Pougatcheff descended the steps. The horse was led to him. He flung himself quickly into the saddle, before the Cossacks who were in attendance had time to assist him.

Of a sudden, my Savelitch stepped out of the crowd, approached Pougatcheff, and handed to him a sheet of paper. I could not conceive what it was all about.

"What is this?" asked Pougatcheff, with dignity.

"If thou wilt but read, thou shalt know," replied Savelitch.

Pougatcheff took the paper and examined it for a long time, with a significant air.

"Why dost thou write so elaborately?" he inquired at last. "Our bright eyes are able to decipher nothing of this.[1] Where is my chief secretary?"

A young man, in a corporal's uniform, was quickly at Pougatcheff's side. "Read aloud," said the Pretender, giving him the paper. I felt very curious to know what my servant had found to write to Pougatcheff about. The chief secretary spelled out in a stentorian voice, the following:—

"'Two dressing gowns, one of cotton, the other of striped silk; value six roubles.'"

"What does this mean?" said Pougatcheff, frowning.

"Order him to read on," replied Savelitch, quietly.

The chief secretary proceeded:—

"'A uniform coat of fine green cloth, value 7 roubles.

"'White cloth trousers.."5 roubles.

"'Twelve shirts of Dutch linen, with ruffles, 10 roubles.

"'A case containing a tea service"2½ roubles.'"

"What rubbish!" interrupted Pougatcheff. "What do I care about tea cases and trousers with ruffles!"

Savelitch cleared his throat, and proceeded to explain.

"Deign to understand, my little father, that it is an inventory of the gentleman's property, stolen by the wretches . . ."

"What wretches?" said Pougatcheff, angrily.

"I beg your pardon, a slip of the tongue," replied Savelitch. "The wretches are not wretches; but thy boys have, for all that, rummaged and plundered. Do not get angry: a horse has four legs, and yet he stumbles. Now order him to read on."

"Read to the end," said Pougatcheff.

The secretary continued:

"'One cotton counterpane, another of wadded silk, value 4 roubles.

"'A fox fur pelisse, covered with red ratteen, value 40 roubles.

"'Also, a hare-skin touloup, given to thy grace at the wayside inn, value 15 roubles.'"

"What is that?" exclaimed Pougatcheff, with fire in his eyes.

I felt alarmed for the safety of my poor servant. He was about to resume his explanations, but Pougatcheff interrupted him.

"How dost thou dare to come to me with such rubbish as this!" he exclaimed, tearing the paper out of the secretary's hands, and throwing it in Savelitch's face. "Stupid old man! you have been plundered—what a great misfortune! Know, old owl, that you must pray to God unceasingly for me and my boys, for that thou and thy master are not hanging up there by the side of the rebels . . . Hare touloup! dost thou not know that I might have thee skinned alive, to make touloups of?"

"As thou pleasest," answered Savelitch; "but I am not a free man, and must give an account of my master's property."

Pougatcheff was evidently in a generous mood. He turned and rode away, without adding another word. Shvabrine and the chiefs followed him. The forces left the fortress in military order. The crowd rushed out to escort Pougatcheff. I and Savelitch only remained in the square. He was holding his inventory, which he looked at regretfully.

Sensible of the good understanding existing between Pougatcheff and myself, he thought of turning it to advantage; but his ingenuity was ill rewarded. I was about to scold him for his misplaced zeal, but had some difficulty in suppressing my laughter.

"Laugh, sir," said Savelitch, "laugh; we shall see whether it is a laughing matter when we have to provide a new outfit."

I hurried away to the priest's house, to see Maria Ivanovna. The priest's wife met me with a sad announcement. Maria Ivanovna had been attacked during the night with a violent fever. She lay unconscious and delirious. Conducted to her room, I gently approached her bed. I was alarmed at her altered appearance. She did not recognize me! I stood and looked at her for a long time, regardless of Father Gherassim and of his good-natured wife, both of whom endeavoured to comfort me. I was agitated by gloomy thoughts. The condition of the poor, unprotected orphan, in the midst of lawless rebels, and my own helplessness in her behalf, terrified me. But Shvabrine, Shvabrine it was that most tormented me. Invested with authority by the Pretender, in command of the fortress where the unhappy girl, the innocent object of his hatred, would be left—he was capable of doing anything. Of what avail was I? What assistance could I render? How was I to free her from the villain's power? There was but one way; I decided upon going to Orenburg immediately, with the object of hastening and co-operating in the recovery of the fortress of Byĕlogorsk. I bid the priest and Akoulina Pamphylovna farewell, eagerly entrusting to their charge, her whom I already looked upon as my wife. I seized the poor girl's hand, my tears flowing fast as I kissed it.

"Good-bye," said the priest's wife, accompanying me to the door, "good-bye, Piotr Andrevitch. We must hope to meet in better times. Do not forget us, and mind you write often. Poor Maria Ivanovna has no one left now but yourself to protect her."

Returning to the square, I stopped an instant to look up at the gibbet, and inclined my head before it, then leaving the fortress, took the Orenburg road, accompanied by Savelitch.

I was walking on in deep meditation, when suddenly I heard behind me the tramping of a horse. I looked back. A Cossack, galloping out of the fortress, and leading a Bashkir horse, was making signs to me. I awaited him, and soon recognized our orderly. Riding up to me, he dismounted, and handing over the bridle of the other horse, he said:

"Your lordship! our father makes you a present of a horse, and of a pelisse off his own back" (a sheepskin touloup was secured to the saddle), "also . . . . ." muttered hesitatingly the orderly, "he also sends you . . . . half a rouble, . . . . but I have lost it on the way: I entreat that you will generously forgive me."

Savelitch looked askance at him, and murmured:—

"Lost on the way! And what is it that jingles in thy breast? thou shameless fellow!"

"What jingles in my breast?" said the orderly, not in the least abashed: "God be with thee, little old man! It is the bridle that jingles, and not the half rouble."

"Very well," I said, interrupting the altercation; "thank him who sent thee, in my name; try to find the lost money on thy way back, and keep it for a vodka."

"Much obliged to you, your lordship," he answered, turning his horse's head: "I shall ever pray to God for you."

So saying, he galloped back, keeping one hand inside his breast, and in a few minutes was out of sight.

I put on the touloup, and mounted the horse, Savelitch getting up behind.

"There, sir," said the old man, "dost thou not see that I have not uselessly bowed down before the rascal? Thief though he be, he has felt somewhat ashamed, although this huge Bashkir nag and the sheepskin touloup are not worth one half of what the vagabonds have stolen, and what thou thyself hadst given him; and yet they may prove of service, even a few hairs off a vicious dog!"

 
 
  1. Il ne sait ni lire, ni ecrire, mais c'est un homme extrêmement hardi et determiné.—Catherine II. to Voltaire, 22 October, 1774.