Reunited in so marvellous a manner to the young girl who, that very morning even, had caused me so much unhappy disquiet, I could not believe in my happiness, and I deemed all that had befallen me a dream.
Marya looked sometimes thoughtfully upon me and sometimes upon the road, and did not seem either to have recovered her senses. We kept silence — our hearts were too weary with emotion.
At the end of two hours we had already reached the neighbouring fort, which also belonged to Pugatchéf. We changed horses there.
By the alertness with which we were served and the eager zeal of the bearded Cossack whom Pugatchéf had appointed Commandant, I saw that, thanks to the talk of the postillion who had driven us, I was taken for a favourite of the master.
When we again set forth it was getting dark. We were approaching a little town where, according to the bearded Commandant, there ought to be a strong detachment on the march to join the usurper.
The sentries stopped us, and to the shout, “Who goes there?” our postillion replied aloud —
“The Tzar’s gossip, travelling with his good woman.”
Immediately a party of Russian hussars surrounded us with awful oaths.
“Get out, devil’s gossip!” a Quartermaster with thick moustachios said to me.
“We’ll give you a bath, you and your good woman!”
I got out of the “kibitka,” and asked to be taken before the authorities.
Seeing I was an officer, the men ceased swearing, and the Quartermaster took me to the Major’s.
Savéliitch followed me, grumbling —
“That’s fun — gossip of the Tzar! — out of the frying-pan into the fire! Oh, Lord! how will it all end?”
The “kibitka” followed at a walk. In five minutes we reached a little house, brilliantly lit up. The Quartermaster left me under the guard, and went in to announce his capture.
He returned almost directly, and told me “his high mightiness,”67 had not time to see me, and that he had bid me be taken to prison, and that my good woman be brought before him.
“What does it all mean?” I cried, furiously; “is he gone mad?”
“I cannot say, your lordship,” replied the Quartermaster, “only his high mightiness has given orders that your lordship be taken to prison, and that her ladyship be taken before his high mightiness, your lordship.”
I ran up the steps. The sentries had not time to stop me, and I entered straightway the room, where six hussar officers were playing “faro.”68
The Major held the bank.
What was my surprise when, in a momentary glance at him, I recognized in him that very Iván Ivánovitch Zourine who had so well fleeced me in the Simbirsk inn!
“Is it possible?” cried I. “Iván Ivánovitch, is it you?”
“Ah, bah! Petr’ Andréjïtch! By what chance, and where do you drop from? Good day, brother, won’t you punt a card?”
“Thanks — rather give me a lodging.”
“What, lodging do you want? Stay with me.”
“I cannot. I am not alone.”
“Well, bring your comrade too.”
“I am not with a comrade. I am — with a lady.”
“With a lady — where did you pick her up, brother?”
After saying which words Zourine began to whistle so slyly that all the others began to laugh, and I remained confused.
“Well,” continued Zourine, “then there is nothing to be done. I’ll give you a lodging. But it is a pity; we would have had a spree like last time. Hullo! there, boy, why is not Pugatchéf’s gossip brought up? Is she refractory? Tell her she has nothing to fear, that the gentleman who wants her is very good, that he will not offend her in any way, and at the same time shove her along by the shoulder.”
“What are you talking about?” I said to Zourine; “of what gossip of Pugatchéf’s are you speaking? It is the daughter of Captain Mironoff. I have delivered her from captivity, and I am taking her now to my father’s house, where I shall leave her.”
“What? So it’s you whom they came to announce a while ago? In heaven’s name, what does all this mean?”
“I’ll tell you all about it presently. But now I beg of you, do reassure the poor girl, whom your hussars have frightened dreadfully.”
Zourine directly settled matters. He went out himself into the street to make excuses to Marya for the involuntary misunderstanding, and ordered the Quartermaster to take her to the best lodging in the town. I stayed to sleep at Zourine’s house. We supped together, and as soon as I found myself alone with Zourine, I told him all my adventures.
He heard me with great attention, and when I had done, shaking his head —
“All that’s very well, brother,” said he, “but one thing is not well. Why the devil do you want to marry? As an honest officer, as a good fellow, I would not deceive you. Believe me, I implore you, marriage is but a folly. Is it wise of you to bother yourself with a wife and rock babies? Give up the idea. Listen to me; part with the Commandant’s daughter. I have cleared and made safe the road to Simbirsk; send her tomorrow to your parents alone, and you stay in my detachment. If you fall again into the hands of the rebels it will not be easy for you to get off another time. In this way, your love fit will cure itself, and all will be for the best.”
Though I did not completely agree with him, I yet felt that duty and honour alike required my presence in the Tzarina’s army; so I resolved to follow in part Zourine’s advice, and send Marya to my parents, and stay in his troop.
Savéliitch came to help me to undress. I told him he would have to be ready to start on the morrow with Marya Ivánofna. He began by showing obstinacy.
“What are you saying, sir? How can you expect me to leave you? Who will serve you, and what will your parents say?”
Knowing the obstinacy of my retainer, I resolved to meet him with sincerity and coaxing.
“My friend, Arkhip Savéliitch,” I said to him, “do not refuse me. Be my benefactor. Here I have no need of a servant, and I should not be easy if Marya Ivánofna were to go without you. In serving her you serve me, for I have made up my mind to marry her without fail directly circumstances will permit.”
Savéliitch clasped his hands with a look of surprise and stupefaction impossible to describe.
“Marry!” repeated he, “the child wants to marry. But what will your father say? And your mother, what will she think?”
“They will doubtless consent,” replied I, “when they know Marya Ivánofna. I count on you. My father and mother have full confidence in you. You will intercede for us, won’t you?”
The old fellow was touched.
“Oh! my father, Petr’ Andréjïtch,” said he, “although you do want to marry too early, still Marya Ivánofna is such a good young lady it would be a sin to let slip so good a chance. I will do as you wish. I will take her, this angel of God, and I will tell your parents, with all due deference, that such a betrothal needs no dowry.”
I thanked Savéliitch, and went away to share Zourine’s room.
In my emotion I again began to talk. At first Zourine willingly listened, then his words became fewer and more vague, and at last he replied to one of my questions by a vigorous snore, and I then followed his example.
On the morrow, when I told Marya my plans, she saw how reasonable they were, and agreed to them.
As Zourine’s detachment was to leave the town that same day, and it was no longer possible to hesitate, I parted with Marya after entrusting her to Savéliitch, and giving him a letter for my parents. Marya bid me good-bye all forlorn; I could answer her nothing, not wishing to give way to the feelings of my heart before the bystanders.
I returned to Zourine’s silent and thoughtful; he wished to cheer me. I hoped to raise my spirits; we passed the day noisily, and on the morrow we marched.
It was near the end of the month of February. The winter, which had rendered manoeuvres difficult, was drawing to a close, and our Generals were making ready for a combined campaign.
Pugatchéf had reassembled his troops, and was still to be found before Orenburg. At the approach of our forces the disaffected villages returned to their allegiance.
Soon Prince Galítsyn won a complete victory over Pugatchéf, who had ventured near Fort Talitcheff; the victor relieved Orenburg, and appeared to have given the finishing stroke to the rebellion.
In the midst of all this Zourine had been detached against some mounted Bashkirs, who dispersed before we even set eyes on them.
Spring, which caused the rivers to overflow, and thus block the roads, surprised us in a little Tartar village, when we consoled ourselves for our forced inaction by the thought that this insignificant war of skirmishers with robbers would soon come to an end.
But Pugatchéf had not been taken; he reappeared very soon in the mining country of the Ural, on the Siberian frontier. He reassembled new bands, and again began his robberies. We soon learnt the destruction of Siberian forts, then the fall of Khasan, and the audacious march of the usurper on Moscow.
Zourine received orders to cross the River Volga. I shall not stay to relate the events of the war.
I shall only say that misery reached its height. The gentry hid in the woods; the authorities had no longer any power anywhere; the leaders of solitary detachments punished or pardoned without giving account of their conduct. All this extensive and beautiful country-side was laid waste with fire and sword.
May God grant we never see again so senseless and pitiless a revolt. At last Pugatchéf was beaten by Michelson, and was obliged to fly again.
Zourine received soon afterwards the news that the robber had been taken and the order to halt.
The war was at an end.
It was at last possible for me to go home. The thought of embracing my parents and seeing Marya again, of whom I had no news, filled me with joy. I jumped like a child.
Zourine laughed, and said, shrugging his shoulders —
“Wait a bit, wait till you be married; you’ll see all go to the devil then.”
And I must confess a strange feeling embittered my joy.
The recollection of the man covered with the blood of so many innocent victims, and the thought of the punishment awaiting him, never left me any peace.
“Eméla,”69 I said to myself, in vexation, “why did you not cast yourself on the bayonets, or present your heart to the grapeshot. That had been best for you.”
(After advancing as far as the gates of Moscow, which he might perhaps have taken had not his bold heart failed him at the last moment, Pugatchéf, beaten, had been delivered up by his comrades for the sum of a hundred thousand roubles, shut up in an iron cage, and conveyed to Moscow. He was executed by order of Catherine II., in 1775.)
Zourine gave me leave.
A few days later I should have been in the bosom of my family, when an unforeseen thunderbolt struck me. The day of my departure, just as I was about to start, Zourine entered my room with a paper in his hand, looking anxious. I felt a pang at my heart; I was afraid, without knowing wherefore. The Major bade my servant leave us, and told me he wished to speak to me.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, with disquietude.
“A little unpleasantness,” replied he, offering me the paper. “Read what I have just received.”
It was a secret dispatch, addressed to all Commanders of detachments, ordering them to arrest me wherever I should be found, and to send me under a strong escort to Khasan, to the Commission of Inquiry appointed to try Pugatchéf and his accomplices.
The paper dropped from my hands.
“Come,” said Zourine, “it is my duty to execute the order. Probably the report of your journeys in Pugatchéf’s intimate company has reached headquarters. I hope sincerely the affair will not end badly, and that you will be able to justify yourself to the Commission. Don’t be cast down, and start at once.”
I had a clear conscience, but the thought that our reunion was delayed for some months yet made my heart fail me.
After receiving Zourine’s affectionate farewell I got into my “telega,”70 two hussars, with drawn swords, seated themselves, one on each side of me, and we took the road to Khasan.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59