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

CHAPTER XI.

THE REBEL CAMP.

I left the general and hurried to my lodgings. Savelitch met me with his usual admonition: "What pleasure canst thou find, sir, in conferring with the tipsy robbers? Is it a gentlemanly occupation? All times are not alike; thou shalt perish heedlessly. Well, it would be different if thou foughtest against the Turk or the Swede; but just now, it is a sin even to name who the enemy is."

I interrupted him by asking how much money I had altogether.

"Enough for thee," he answered, with a satisfied air. "However well the robbers searched for it, still I managed to conceal it." With these words he pulled out of his pocket a long knitted purse full of silver.

"Well, Savelitch," I said, "give me one-half and take the rest thyself. I go to the fortress of Byĕlogorsk."

"My little father, Piotr Andrevitch," said the good servant, in a trembling voice; "do not tempt God! How art thou to travel now, when all the roads are blocked up by these robbers? Have pity upon thy parents, if thou hast none for thyself. Where dost thou want to go to? What for? Wait a short time; the troops will soon be here and capture the rascals, then thou mayest go wherever thou pleasest."

But my resolution was not to be shaken.

"It is too late now for reflection," said I to the old man. "I must go. I cannot help going. Do not grieve, Savelitch: God is merciful, we may meet again. Do not scruple to make use of the money, and do not stint thyself. Buy whatever thou mayest need, even if the price be risen threefold. I make thee a present of the money. If I do not return within three days . . . ."

"What dost thou say, sir?" interrupted Savelitch; "dost thou think it possible that I should let thee go alone? No; do not expect such a thing, even in thy dream. If thou hast really decided upon going, I shall follow thee even on foot. I shall not desert thee! 'That I should sit behind a stone wall without thee.' Dost thou think me mad? No, sir, I shall not remain behind."

I knew that it was useless to argue the point with Savelitch, and allowed him to prepare for the journey. In half an hour I had mounted my good horse, and Savelitch a lean lame nag which one of the inhabitants had given him gratis, not having the means left wherewith to keep it. We reached the town gates; the sentries allowed us to pass, and we rode out of Orenburg. It was getting dark. My road lay past the village of Berd, Pougatcheff's retreat. The high road was snowed over, but the tracks of horses' hoofs, daily renewed, were visible over the whole steppe. I rode at a quick trot, Savelitch could hardly follow me, and was continually shouting—

"Slower! for God's sake slower! My cursed little nag cannot keep up with thy long-legged imp. Where is the hurry? Well enough if we were going to a feast! As it is, we are making for the edge of the axe. . . . Piotr Andrevitch. . . . My little father, Piotr Andrevitch! . . . . Good God! the master's child is going to perdition."

The fires of Berd were sparkling before us. We neared the deep ditches, the natural fortifications of the village. Savelitch kept up with me, continuing, however, his pitiful supplications without intermission. I was hoping to go round the village without an accident, when suddenly I perceived in front of me in the dark, five mujiks armed with clubs—they were Pougatcheff's advanced sentinels. We were hailed. Not knowing the pass-word, I meant to ride by in silence; but they instantly surrounded me, and one of them seized the bridle of my horse. I drew my sabre, and struck the mujik over the head; his cap saved him, but he staggered and let go the bridle. The others, becoming confused, made off. I took advantage of this, and, putting spurs to my horse, gallopped onwards.

The ever-increasing darkness might have ensured me from all danger, but, upon looking behind, I perceived that Savelitch was not with me. The poor old man on his lame horse, was unable to effect his escape out of the hands of the robbers. What was to be done? Having waited some few moments, and become persuaded that he had been detained, I turned to deliver him. As I approached the ditch, I heard a noise in the distance—shouts and Savelitch's voice. Hurrying on, I soon found myself again in the midst of the mujiks on guard, who had stopped me a few minutes previously. Savelitch was amongst them. They threw themselves upon me with loud cries, and dragged me off my horse in an instant. One of them, evidently the man in charge, declared that he would take us before the emperor immediately.

"And our father is free to order," he added, "whether you are to be hanged at once, or whether you are to await God's daylight."

I offered no resistance. Savelitch followed my example, and the sentinels led us away in triumph.

We crossed the ditches and entered the village. Fires were burning in all the huts. Shouts and noises resounded everywhere. I met a crowd in the streets; but no one noticed us in the dark, nor was I recognized as being an officer from Orenburg. We were taken straight to a hut, which stood at a crossing. In front of it were several wine casks and two cannon.

"Here is the palace," said one of the mujiks. "I shall announce you at once."

He entered the hut. I looked at Savelitch; the old man was crossing himself, and muttering a prayer. I had to wait a long time; at last the mujik returned, and said to me—

"Go in, our father has ordered the officer to be admitted."

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 thin and bent old man, with a small gray beard, had nothing remarkable about him, excepting a blue ribbon which he wore over his gray coat across his shoulder. But I shall never forget his fellow. He was tall, powerful, and broad-shouldered, and appeared to be about five-and-forty. His thick red beard, his gray sparkling eyes, his nose without nostrils, and the red spots on his forehead and cheeks, gave his pock-marked broad face an indefinable expression. He wore a red shirt, a Khirghis dressing gown, and Cossack trowsers. The first (as I afterwards learned), was the deserter, Corporal Byĕlobaródoff; the second, Aphanasy Sakaloff (surnamed Hlopousha), a banished convict, who had escaped from the mines of Siberia on three different occasions. The society I so unexpectedly found myself in, for a time diverted my thoughts from the feelings that exclusively agitated me. But Pougatcheff's question recalled me to myself.

"Speak; upon what business hast thou left Orenburg?"

A strange thought struck me. I fancied that Providence, which for the second time had confronted me with Pougatcheff, was affording me the opportunity of carrying out my intentions. I decided upon taking advantage of this, and without giving myself time for reflection, I answered Pougatcheff's question.

"I go to the fortress of Byĕlogorsk, to free a poor insulted orphan."

Pougatcheff's eyes flashed.

"Who of my people has dared to offend the orphan?" he cried. "Were his forehead seven spans high, he shall not escape my judgment. Speak! who is the guilty one?"

"Shvabrine," answered I. "He keeps in confinement the girl which thou sawest sick at the priest's home, and wishes to force her to marry him."

"I shall teach Shvabrine!" said Pougatcheff, sternly. "He will learn what comes of indulging his own fancies, and oppressing my people. I shall hang him."

"Let me have a word to say," said Hlopousha, in a hoarse voice. "Thou wert in too much haste, when thou didst appoint Shvabrine commandant of the fortress, and now thou art equally in a hurry to hang him. Thou hast already offended the Cossacks by nominating a nobleman to be their chief; do not offend the noblemen in like manner, by executing them on the first accusation!"

"There is no necessity for having pity on them, and for showing them mercy," said the old man with the blue ribbon. "There is no harm in hanging Shvabrine; but it would be just as well to question this officer further: Why has he come? If he does not acknowledge thee to be his emperor, he has no right to seek justice at thy hands; and if he does acknowledge thee, why has he then up to this day remained at Orenburg with thy enemies? Wilt thou not order me to take him into the office and light a fire there? I begin to suspect that his grace is sent over to us by the Orenburg commanders."

The old wretch's logic struck me as being very convincing. A cold shiver ran through me as I thought of the hands into which I had fallen. Pougatcheff noticed my perturbation; "Well, your lordship," said he with a sneer, "the field-marshal is, I fancy, stating the truth. What dost thou think?"

At Pougatcheff's sneer, my courage returned. I answered quietly, that I was in his power, and that he might do with me as he thought proper.

"Very well," said Pougatcheff. "Now, tell me; in what condition is your town?"

"Thank God," I answered, "all is well."

"Well!" repeated Pougatcheff; "and the people dying of starvation?"

The pretender was speaking the truth; but, bound by my allegiance, I kept assuring him that all such were empty rumours, and that Orenburg was well supplied with all sorts of provisions.

"Thou seest," quickly observed the little old man, "that he deceives thee to thy face. All the deserters affirm unanimously that hunger and the plague are at Orenburg, that the people eat carrion, and even that is an honoured dish; and his grace assures thee that they have enough of everything. If thou wilt hang Shvabrine, thou mayest as well hang this fellow on the same gallows, to prevent either of them from feeling envious."

The cursed old man's words seemed to shake Pougatcheff. Fortunately Hlopousha began to cavil with his companion.

"Be quiet, Naoumitch," said he; "thou only thinkest of strangling and stabbing. What sort of a hero art thou? One has but to look at thee to wonder what holds thy soul and body together! Thou art with a foot in the grave thyself, and wouldst cause others to perish. Hast thou not enough blood on thy conscience yet?"

"And thou, what kind of saint art thou? reiterated Byĕlobaródoff. "Where hast thou taken thy pity from?"

"Of course," answered Hlopousha, "I am also a sinner, and this hand "(here he clenched his bony hand, and turning up his sleeve showed his hairy arm) "also is guilty of having shed Christian blood. But I slew my enemy and not my guest; on the free highway and in the dark wood, and not at home, behind the stove; with the mace and the axe, and not with old women's tales."

The old man turned away and muttered the words: "Cut nostrils! . . . ."

"What is it thou art whispering there, old owl?" exclaimed Hlopousha. "Cut nostrils; mayest thou get them; thy turn is to come; please God thou also shalt have a smell at the tongs. . . . But till then, take care lest I pluck out thy ugly beard!"

"Generals!" said Pougatcheff with dignity: "leave off quarrelling. It would be no great misfortune if all the Orenburg curs were to dangle from the same cross-beam; but it would be a misfortune if our dogs were to eat each other up. There now, make it up."

Hlopousha and Byĕlobaródoff said not a word, and scowled at each other. I felt the absolute necessity for changing the conversation, which might have ended very disadvantageously, so far as I was concerned, and turning to Pougatcheff, I said cheerfully:—

"Ah! I was very nearly forgetting to thank thee for the horse and the touloup. But for thee I would never have reached the town, and should have been frozen to death by the way."

My bait took. Pougatcheff brightened up.

"A debt is rendered honourable by payment," said he, with a wink. "Tell me now, what is the girl, whom Shvabrine has offended, to thee? Is thy heart perchance caught, young man? Eh?"

"She is my affianced bride," I replied, seeing that the sky had cleared, and that there was no necessity for concealing the truth.

"Thy affianced bride!" exclaimed Pougatcheff. "Then why didst thou not say so before? We shall assist thee to get married, and shall feast at thy wedding!" Then, turning to Byĕlobaródoff: "Listen, field-marshal! His lordship and I are old friends. Let us sit down to supper; the morning will bring wiser counsels. We shall consider what is to be done."

I would gladly have declined the proffered honour; but there was no help for it. Two young Cossack women, the daughters of the proprietor of the isba,[1] spread a white cloth, placed a loaf of bread, a dish of ouha,[2] and several bottles of wine and beer on the table, and I found myself for the second time at the same board with Pougatcheff and his terrible comrades.

The orgies, of which I was an involuntary witness, continued until late at night. At last a state of intoxication began to overpower the revellers. Pougatcheff dozed in his chair; his companions rose and made me a sign to leave him. We went out together. By Hlopousha's arrangements, the sentry led me into the office, where I found Savelitch, and where I was locked up with him. Savelitch was so wonder-struck at all that was happening, that he never asked a single question. He lay down in the dark, and sighed and groaned for a long time; he then began to snore, and I gave myself over to reflections, which kept me awake throughout the night.

The next morning Pougatcheff sent for me. I went to him. His kibitka, to which a troika of Tartar horses was harnessed, stood ready at the gate. The streets were crowded with people. I met Pougatcheff in the passage; he was dressed for a journey, in a pelisse and Khirghis cap. His companions of the previous day surrounded him, assuming an appearance of servility—a strong contrast to all I had witnessed overnight. Pougatcheff welcomed me cheerfully, and directed me to sit by his side in the kibitka.

We took our places. "To the fortress of Byĕlogorsk," said Pougatcheff to the broad-shouldered Tartar who, in a standing position, drove the troika. My heart beat fast. The horses started, the bells tinkled, our kibitka flew. . . .

"Stop! stop!" cried a voice I knew too well, and I saw Savelitch running towards us. Pougatcheff ordered the yemstchick to pull up. "My little father, Piotr Andrevitch," cried my servant; "do not leave me in my old age amongst these ras. . . ."

"Ah! it is thou, old owl!" said Pougatcheff. "God has brought us together again. All right; jump up behind."

"Thank you, sire, thank you, my father!" Savelitch repeated, taking his seat. "May God grant thee health for a hundred years, because thou hast looked down upon me, old man that I am, and hast comforted me. I shall ever pray for thee, and shall never even mention the hare-skin touloup again."

This hare-skin touloup might have seriously angered Pougatcheff in the end. Fortunately the pretender either did not hear, or pretended not to hear the misplaced allusion. The horses were again off. The people in the streets stopped as we passed, and bowed low. Pougatcheff nodded to them on both sides. In a few minutes we were out of the village, and hurrying along the level road.

It is easy to imagine what my feelings were at that moment. In a few hours I was to see her whom I had already considered as lost to me. I pictured to myself our re-union; I also thought of the man upon whom my fate depended, and who, by a curious chain of circumstances, was so mysteriously connected with me. I recalled to mind the hasty cruelty, the bloodthirsty habits of him who had constituted himself the deliverer of the one I loved. Pougatcheff was not aware that she was Captain Mironoff's daughter; the enraged Shvabrine was capable of revealing all to him; Pougatcheff might also discover the truth from other sources. . . . . What would then befall Maria Ivanovna? I felt a cold tremor, and my hair stood on end. . . . .

Suddenly Pougatcheff interrupted my meditations, turning to me with the question:—

"What is it that makes your lordship thoughtful?"

"How am I not to be thoughtful?" I answered. "I am an officer and a nobleman; but yesterday I fought against thee, and to-day I drive with thee in the same kibitka, and the happiness of my life depends upon thee."

"Well, what then?" asked Pougatcheff. "Art thou afraid?"

I replied, that having once been spared by him, I counted, not only upon his forbearance, but upon his assistance.

"And thou art right; by God thou art right!" said the pretender. "Thou sawest that my boys looked askance at thee; and the old man has insisted, even this day, upon thy being a spy, and that thou should'st be tortured and hanged; but I would not consent," he added, lowering his voice, so as not to be overheard by Savelitch and the Tartar; "for I recollected thy glass of wine and thy touloup. Thou seest I am not yet such a bloodsucker as thy people make me out to be."

I remembered the taking of the fortress of Byĕlogorsk, but did not think it necessary to contradict him, and did not answer a word. "What do they say of me at Orenburg?" asked Pougatcheff, after a short pause.

"Why, they say that thou art difficult to manage; and in truth, thou hast given us work to do."

The pretender's face expressed that his vanity was satisfied.

"Yes!" said he with a pleased look; "I am a good one to fight. Have they heard at Orenburg of the battle of Youzeiff? Forty generals killed, four armies made captive. What thinkest thou? Will the Prussian king be able to withstand me?"

The robber's bragging aroused me.

"What dost thou thyself think," said I; "wouldst thou be able to stand up against Frederick?"

"With Feodor Feodorovitch?[3] and why not? Don't I manage your generals, and they have beaten him? Up to the present time, my arms have been successful. Give me but time, and thou wilt see still other things, when I advance upon Moscow."

"And so thou thinkest of advancing upon Moscow?" The pretender reflected for a moment, and then said in a low tone of voice:—

"God knows. My road is narrow, my will is limited, My boys have too much to say; they are scoundrels. I must keep my ears open; at the first mishap they will buy off their necks with my head."

"Just so!" said I to Pougatcheff. "Would it not be better if thou wert thyself to leave them, whilst it is yet time, and throw thyself on the clemency of the empress?"

Pougatcheff smiled a bitter smile.

"No," he replied, "it is too late for repentance. There can be no mercy for me. I shall continue as I have begun. Who knows? I may yet succeed! Did not Grishka Otrepieff reign over Moscow?"

"But dost thou know what his end was? He was pitched out of a window, killed, burned, and his ashes were blown away from a gun!"

"Listen," said Pougatcheff, with a sort of wild inspiration. "I shall narrate to thee a tale which was told me by an old Kalmuck woman in my childhood. Once upon a time, an eagle inquired of a raven: 'Tell me, raven, why dost thou live three hundred years in this bright world, and I only thirty-three years in all?' 'Because, my little father,' answered the raven, 'thou drinkest living blood, and I feed off carrion.' The eagle thought: 'Well, let us try to feed upon the same.' So the eagle and the raven flew away. Suddenly they spied the carcass of a horse. They let themselves down upon it. The raven began to peck and to extol it. The eagle pecked once, pecked twice, flapped his wings, and said to the raven: 'No, brother raven, 'tis better to drink the living blood once, than to feed for three hundred years upon carrion; and trust to God for the rest!' What sayest thou to the Kalmuck tale?"

"It is ingenious," I answered. "But to live by murder and plunder is, according to my views, to peck at carrion."

Pougatcheff looked at me with astonishment, and made no reply. We became silent, each absorbed in his own meditations. The Tartar struck up a doleful song. Savelitch was nodding sleepily in the rumble. The kibitka, flew over the smooth wintry road. . . . Of a sudden I perceived a small village on the steep banks of the Yaïk, encircled by a palisade, and showing a church steeple; a quarter of an hour later, we drove into the fortress of Byĕlogorsk.

 
 
  1. Cottage.—Tr.
  2. A fish-soup.—Tr.
  3. Name given to Frederick the Great, by the Russian soldiers.—Tr.