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

 

CHAPTER XII.

THE ORPHAN.

Our kibitka stopped at the commandant's house. The people had recognized the sound of Pougatcheff's bells, and came out in a throng to meet him. Shvabrine received the pretender at the very threshold. He wore a Cossack uniform, and had allowed his beard to grow. The traitor helped Pougatcheff to alight with fawning demonstrations of joy and zeal. He looked confused upon seeing me, but soon recovered himself and stretched out his hand, saying:—

"And thou also art one of us? That's right. It should have been so long ago!"

I turned away without making any reply.

My heart ached when I found myself in the old familiar room where the late commandant's commission still hung from the wall, a sad epitaph on times gone by. Pougatcheff seated himself on the sofa where Ivan Kouzmitch used to doze, lulled to sleep by his consort's grumbling. Shvabrine himself carried a glass of vodka to him. Pougatcheff drank it off, and said, pointing to me:—

"Offer some to his lordship as well."

Shvabrine approached me with the tray; but I turned away from him a second time. He did not look like himself. With his usual perspicacity, he could not have failed to observe Pougatcheff's displeasure. He quailed before him, and looked at me mistrustfully. Pougatcheff made inquiries as to the condition of the fortress, as to the prevalent rumours in regard to the enemy, and such like, when suddenly and unexpectedly he asked:—

"Tell me, my little brother, who is the girl thou holdest here imprisoned? Let me see her."

Shvabrine turned deadly pale.

"Sire," said he in a trembling voice, . . . . "Sire, she is not imprisoned . . . . she is ill . . . . she is in bed."

"Lead me to her chamber then," said the pretender, rising. Refusal was impossible. Shvabrine conducted Pougatcheff to Maria Ivanovna's room. I followed them.

Shvabrine stopped on the staircase.

"Sire!" said he, "you have it in your power to demand whatever you please of me, but do not permit a stranger to enter my wife's bedroom."

I shook all over.

"Then thou art married!" said I to Shvabrine, prepared to tear him to pieces.

"Silence!" interrupted Pougatcheff, "that is my business. As to thee," he continued, addressing Shvabrine, "I will have no subtilty and no shamming: she may be thy wife or not, but I take who I please into her room. Your lordship, follow me."

Shvabrine again stopped when we had reached the bedroom door, and said falteringly:

"Sire, I warn you, she is in a high state of fever and has been delirious these three days."

"Open the door," said Pougatcheff.

Shvabrine searched his pockets and said he had forgotten the key. Pougatcheff kicked the door, the lock gave way, the door flew open, and we entered.

On looking about me, I felt ready to faint. On the floor sat Maria Ivanovna, clad in a peasant's dress, pale, haggard, and dishevelled. A jug of water, covered with a lump of bread, was by her side. On seeing me she started and screamed. I cannot express what my feelings were.

Pougatcheff looked at Shvabrine, and said with a bitter sneer:

"Thy hospital is not bad!" He then approached Maria Ivanovna. "Tell me, my little dove, why does thy husband punish thee? How hast thou wronged him?"

"Husband!" she repeated. "He is not my husband. I shall never be his wife! I prefer to die, and I shall die, if I am not rescued."

Pougatcheff looked at Shvabrine menacingly.

"And thou hast dared to deceive me!" said he. "Dost thou know, thou good for nothing, what thou deservest?"

Shvabrine dropped on his knees. . . . At such a sight, contempt overcame every feeling of hatred and wrath within me. I looked with loathing upon the nobleman who was writhing at the feet of a Cossack deserter. Pougatcheff relented.

"I pardon thee this time," said he to Shvabrine; "but know that the first time thou offendest, this also will be reckoned against thee." He then turned to Maria Ivanovna, and said to her kindly: "Come away, my pretty girl; I grant thee thy freedom. I am the Tzar."

Maria Ivanovna threw a quick glance at him, and guessed that it was the murderer of her parents who stood before her. She covered her face with her hands, and fell senseless to the floor. I rushed to her side; at that moment my old acquaintance Paláshka slipped boldly into the room, and began to busy herself about her mistress. Pougatcheff left the chamber, and we three descended into the sitting-room.

"Well, your lordship," said Pougatcheff, laughing, "now that we have freed the pretty girl, what dost thou think of our sending for the priest to marry his niece? I shall give her away if thou wishest; Shvabrine will be the best man; we shall feast, and drink, and shut the gates!"

What I had so much dreaded now came to pass. On hearing Pougatcheff's proposal, Shvabrine quite lost his head.

"Sire!" he exclaimed, enraged; "I am guilty, I have lied to you; but Grineff also is deceiving you. This girl is not the priest's niece; she is the daughter of Ivan Mironoff, who was executed at the taking of the fortress."

Pougatcheff fixed his fiery eyes on me.

"What does this mean?" he asked, perplexed.

"Shvabrine has told thee the truth," I answered with firmness.

"Thou didst not tell me of this," observed Pougatcheff, whose face clouded over.

"Judge thyself," I replied; "how could one, in the presence of thy people, declare that Mironoff's daughter was in existence? They would have torn her to pieces! Nothing could have saved her!"

"Thou art right again," said Pougatcheff, laughing. "My drunkards would not have spared the poor girl. The priest's wife has done well to deceive them."

"Listen," said I, upon seeing how well-disposed he appeared to be. "I do not know, and do not wish to know, by what name I am to address thee. . . . But God is my witness, that I should be happy to pay thee with my life for what thou hast done for me. Only do not demand what is against my honour and my conscience as a Christian. Thou art my benefactor. Complete what thou hast commenced: let me go with the poor orphan whithersover God may lead us. And we shall, wherever thou mayest be, whatever thy lot, pray to God daily for the salvation of thy sinful soul. . . ."

Pougatcheff's untamed heart seemed touched.

"Let it be as thou desirest," said he. "If one must execute, let execution be complete, and if one has to pardon, let pardon be complete: such is my custom. Take thy little beauty; lead her wherever thou pleasest, and may God bless your love and guide you."

Here he turned to Shvabrine, and ordered him to provide me with passes for all the barriers and fortresses subject to him. Completely humilitated, Shvabrine stood petrified. Pougatcheff then proceeded to inspect the fortress, accompanied by Shvabrine, and I remained behind, under the pretext that I had to get ready for my journey.

I rushed to the bedroom. The door was closed. I knocked. "Who is there?" asked Paláshka. I announced myself. Maria Ivanovna's dear voice was heard behind the door. "Wait a little, Piotr Andrevitch; I am dressing. Go to Akoulina Pamphylovna. I shall be there directly."

I complied, and went to Father Gherassim's house. His wife and he ran out to meet me. Savelitch had forestalled me.

"Good-day, Piotr Andrevitch," said the priest's wife. "God has brought us together again. How are you? We have never let a day pass without thinking of you. And Maria, my poor dove, has suffered so much during your absence! . . . But tell me, my little father, how have you managed Pougatcheff? how is it that he has not done away with you? Well, we have to thank the wretch."

"Leave off, old woman," interrupted Father Gherassim. "Do not blab out all thou knowest. There is no salvation in tale-telling. My little father, Piotr Andrevitch! come in, pray come in. What a time it is since we last saw you!"

His wife set before me what they happened to have in the house, talking incessantly the while. She related how Shvabrine had compelled them to deliver Maria Ivanovna to him; how Maria Ivanovna cried, and would not leave them; how Maria Ivanovna communicated with them through Paláshka (a sharp lass, who knew how to make the orderly even dance to her pipe); how she had advised Maria Ivanovna to write to me, &c., &c. I, in my turn, told her my story in a few words. The priest and his wife crossed themselves, when they learned that Pougatcheff knew of their deception. "The power of the cross be with us!" said Akoulina Pamphylovna. "Do Thou, O God! let the cloud pass away from us! Well, Aleksey Ivanovitch, thou art a cunning fox indeed!" At that moment the door opened, and Maria Ivanovna entered, a smile playing on her pale face. She had laid aside her peasant's garb, and was dressed as usual, simply and becomingly.

I seized her hand, and for a long time was unable to say a word. We were both silent, our hearts being too full. Our hosts felt that they were in the way, and left us. We remained alone. All was forgotten. We talked, and it seemed that we were not able to say enough. Maria told me all that had happened to her from the time of the taking of the fortress, describing all the horrors of her position, and all the trials to which the base Shvabrine had subjected her. We also recalled the happy past. . . . We were both crying! . . . . At last I exposed my plans to her. To remain in the fortress, in Pougatcheff's power, and under the command of Shvabrine, would be impossible. One could not think of Orenburg then undergoing all the calamities of a siege. She had no relatives living. I advised her to go to my parents' property. At first she hesitated: the prejudice manifested against her by my father alarmed her. I tranquillized her. I knew that my father would consider it a happiness, and would make it his duty to receive the daughter of a worthy warrior who had perished in the service of his country. "Dear Maria Ivanovna!" I said, "I look upon thee as I would upon my wife. Extraordinary circumstances have united us indissolubly; nothing on earth can separate us." Maria Ivanovna listened to me with gentleness, without any affectation of reserve, and without inventing any excuses. She felt that her destiny was bound up with mine. But she repeated that she would only become my wife with the consent of my parents. I said nothing in opposition to this. We exchanged a passionate ardent kiss, and thus all was settled between us.

An hour afterwards, an orderly brought to me a pass, signed with Pougatcheff's hieroglyphics, and informed me that Pougatcheff desired to see me. I found him ready to start. I cannot express what I felt at parting from this dreadful man, this monster, this miscreant towards everybody excepting myself. Why should I not speak the truth? At that moment I felt drawn towards him by strong sympathies. I eagerly longed to tear him away from the gang of wretches, whose leader he was, and save his head whilst there was yet time. I was hindered from expressing to him what filled my heart to overflowing, by the presence of Shvabrine and the people who were gathered about us.

We parted as friends. Seeing Akoulina Pamphylovna in the crowd, Pougatcheff shook his finger at her, and winked significantly. He then entered the kibitka, gave the order to drive to Berd, and when the horses had already started, he leant out of the kibitka, and shouted out to me: "Good-bye, your lordship; we may perhaps meet again some day." We did indeed meet—but under what circumstances! . . . .

Pougatcheff was gone. I gazed long at the white steppe over which his troïka sped. The crowd dispersed, Shvabrine withdrew. I returned to the priest's house. All was ready for our departure; I was anxious not to delay. Our luggage had been placed in the commandant's old travelling carriage. The yemstchick quickly put the horses to. Maria Ivanovna went to take a last farewell of the graves of her parents, which stood behind the church. I offered to accompany her, but she begged that I should let her go alone. She returned in a few minutes, weeping silently. The carriage drove up, Father Gherassim and his wife came out. We three, Maria Ivanovna, Paláshka, and I, took our places inside the kibitka. Savelitch scrambled into the rumble. "Farewell, Maria Ivanovna, my little dove! farewell Piotr Andrevitch, our falcon bird!" the good priest's wife said. "A happy journey to you and God bless you both!" We left. I saw Shvabrine standing at a window of the commandant's house. His look was one of dark hatred. I had no desire to triumph over a humiliated foe, and turned my face away. We emerged from the fortress, and left Byĕlogorsk behind us for ever.