The Daughter of the Commandant, by Aleksandr Pushkin

Chapter 9

The Parting.

The drum awoke me very early, and I went to the Square. There the troops of Pugatchéf were beginning to gather round the gallows where the victims of the preceding evening still hung. The Cossacks were on horseback, the foot-soldiers with their arms shouldered, their colours flying in the air.

Several cannons, among which I recognized ours, were placed on field-gun carriages. All the inhabitants had assembled in the same place, awaiting the usurper. Before the door of the Commandant’s house a Cossack held by the bridle a magnificent white horse of Kirghiz breed. I sought with my eyes the body of the Commandant’s wife; it had been pushed aside and covered over with an old bark mat.

At last Pugatchéf came out of the house. All the crowd uncovered. Pugatchéf stopped on the doorstep and said good-morning to everybody. One of the chiefs handed him a bag filled with small pieces of copper, which he began to throw broadcast among the people, who rushed to pick them up, fighting for them with blows.

The principal confederates of Pugatchéf surrounded him. Among them was Chvabrine. Our eyes met; he could read contempt in mine, and he looked away with an expression of deep hatred and pretended mockery. Seeing me in the crowd Pugatchéf beckoned to me and called me up to him.

“Listen,” said he, “start this very minute for Orenburg. You will tell the governor and all the generals from me that they may expect me in a week. Advise them to receive me with submission and filial love; if not, they will not escape a terrible punishment. A good journey, to your lordship.”

Then turning to the people, he pointed out Chvabrine.

“There, children,” said he, “is your new Commandant; obey him in all things; he answers to me for you and the fort.”

I heard these words with affright. Chvabrine become master of the place! Marya remained in his power! Good God! what would become of her? Pugatchéf came down the steps, his horse was brought round, he sprang quickly into the saddle, without waiting for the help of the Cossacks prepared to aid him.

At this moment I saw my Savéliitch come out of the crowd, approach Pugatchéf, and present him with a sheet of paper. I could not think what it all meant.

“What is it?” asked Pugatchéf, with dignity.

“Deign to read it, and you will see,” replied Savéliitch.

Pugatchéf took the paper and looked at it a long time with an air of importance. At last he said —

“You write very illegibly; our lucid60 eyes cannot make out anything. Where is our Chief Secretary?”

A youth in a corporal’s uniform ran up to Pugatchéf.

“Read it aloud,” the usurper said to him, handing him the paper.

I was extremely curious to know on what account my retainer had thought of writing to Pugatchéf. The Chief Secretary began in a loud voice, spelling out what follows —

“Two dressing gowns, one cotton, the other striped silk, six roubles.”

“What does that mean?” interrupted Pugatchéf, frowning.

“Tell him to read further,” rejoined Savéliitch, quite unmoved.

The Chief Secretary continued to read —

“One uniform of fine green cloth, seven roubles; one pair trousers, white cloth, five roubles; twelve shirts of Holland shirting, with cuffs, ten roubles; one box with tea service, two-and-a-half roubles.”

“What is all this nonsense?” cried Pugatchéf. “What do these tea-boxes and breeches with cuffs matter to me?”

Savéliitch cleared his throat with a cough, and set to work to explain matters.

“Let my father condescend to understand that that is the bill of my master’s goods which have been taken away by the rascals.”

“What rascals?” quoth Pugatchéf, in a fierce and terrible manner.

“Beg pardon, my tongue played me false,” replied Savéliitch. “Rascals, no they are not rascals; but still your fellows have well harried and well robbed, you must agree. Do not get angry; the horse has four legs, and yet he stumbles. Bid him read to the end.”

“Well, let us see, read on,” said Pugatchéf.

The Secretary continued —

“One chintz rug, another of wadded silk, four roubles; one pelisse fox skin lined with red ratteen, forty roubles; and lastly, a small hareskin ‘touloup,’ which was left in the hands of your lordship in the wayside house on the steppe, fifteen roubles.”

“What’s that?” cried Pugatchéf, whose eyes suddenly sparkled.

I confess I was in fear for my poor follower. He was about to embark on new explanations when Pugatchéf interrupted him.

“How dare you bother me with such nonsense?” cried he, snatching the paper out of the hands of the Secretary and throwing it in Savéliitch’s face. “Foolish old man, you have been despoiled; well, what does it signify. But, old owl, you should eternally pray God for me and my lads that you and your master do not swing up there with the other rebels. A hareskin ‘touloup!’ Hark ye, I’ll have you flayed alive that ‘touloups’ may be made of your skin.”

“As it may please you!” replied Savéliitch. “But I am not a free man, and I must answer for my lord’s goods.”

Pugatchéf was apparently in a fit of high-mindedness. He turned aside his head, and went off without another word. Chvabrine and the chiefs followed him. All the band left the fort in order. The people escorted it.

I remained alone in the square with Savéliitch. My follower held in his hand the memorandum, and was contemplating it with an air of deep regret. Seeing my friendly understanding with Pugatchéf, he had thought to turn it to some account. But his wise hope did not succeed. I was going to scold him sharply for his misplaced zeal, and I could not help laughing.

“Laugh, sir, laugh,” said Savéliitch; “but when you are obliged to fit up your household anew, we shall see if you still feel disposed to laugh.”

I ran to the pope’s house to see Marya Ivánofna. The pope’s wife came to meet me with a sad piece of news. During the night high fever had set in, and the poor girl was now delirious. Akoulina Pamphilovna brought me to her room. I gently approached the bed. I was struck by the frightful change in her face. The sick girl did not know me. Motionless before her, it was long ere I understood the words of Father Garasim and his wife, who apparently were trying to comfort me.

Gloomy thoughts overwhelmed me. The position of a poor orphan left solitary and friendless in the power of rascals filled me with fear, while my own powerlessness equally distressed me; but Chvabrine, Chvabrine above all, filled me with alarm. Invested with all power by the usurper, and left master in the fort, with the unhappy girl, the object of his hatred, he was capable of anything. What should I do? How could I help her? How deliver her? Only in one way, and I embraced it. It was to start with all speed for Orenburg, so as to hasten the recapture of Bélogorsk, and to aid in it if possible.

I took leave of the pope and of Akoulina Pamphilovna, recommending warmly to them her whom I already regarded as my wife. I seized the hand of the young girl and covered it with tears and kisses.

“Good-bye,” the pope’s wife said to me, as she led me away. “Good-bye, Petr’ Andréjïtch; perhaps we may meet again in happier times. Don’t forget us, and write often to us. Except you, poor Marya Ivánofna has no longer stay or comforter.”

Out in the Square I stopped a minute before the gallows, which I respectfully saluted, and I then took the road to Orenburg, accompanied by Savéliitch, who did not forsake me.

As I thus went along, deep in thought, I heard all at once a horse galloping behind me. I turned round, and saw a Cossack coming up from the fort, leading a Bashkir horse, and making signs to me from afar to wait for him. I stopped, and soon recognized our “ouriadnik.”

After joining us at a gallop, he jumped from the back of his own horse, and handing me the bridle of the other —

“Your lordship,” said he, “our father makes you a present of a horse, and a pelisse from his own shoulder.” On the saddle was slung a plain sheepskin “touloup.” “And, besides,” added he, hesitatingly, “he gives you a half-rouble, but I have lost it by the way; kindly excuse it.”

Savéliitch looked askance at him.

“You have lost it by the way,” said he, “and pray what is that which jingles in your pocket, barefaced liar that you are?”

“Jingling in my pocket?” replied the “ouriadnik,” not a whit disconcerted; “God forgive you, old man, ’tis a bridlebit, and never a half rouble.”

“Well! well!” said I, putting an end to the dispute. “Thank from me he who sent you: and you may as well try as you go back to find the lost half rouble and keep it for yourself.”

“Many thanks, your lordship,” said he, turning his horse round; “I will pray God for ever for you.”

With these words, he started off at a gallop, keeping one hand on his pocket, and was soon out of sight. I put on the “touloup” and mounted the horse, taking up Savéliitch behind me.

“Don’t you see, your lordship,” said the old man, “that it was not in vain that I presented my petition to the robber? The robber was ashamed of himself, although this long and lean Bashkir hoss and this peasant’s ‘touloup’ be not worth half what those rascals stole from us, nor what you deigned to give him as a present, still they may be useful to us. ‘From an evil dog be glad of a handful of hairs.’”

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24