The kibitka stopped before the Commandant’s house. The inhabitants had recognized the usurper’s bells and equipage, and had come out in crowds to meet him. Alexis, dressed like a Cossack, and bearded like one, helped the brigand to descend from his kibitka. The sight of me troubled him, but soon recovering himself, he said: “You are one of us?” I turned my head away without replying. My heart was wrung when we entered the room that I know so well, where still upon the wall hung, like an epitaph, the diploma of the deceased Commandant. Pougatcheff seated himself upon the same sofa where many a time Ivan Mironoff had dozed to the hum of his wife’s voice. Alexis’ own hand presented the brandy to his chief. Pougatcheff drank a glass and said, pointing to me: “Offer a glass to his lordship.” Alexis approached me, and again I turned my back upon him. Pougatcheff asked him a few questions about the condition of the fortress, and then, in an unpremeditated manner, said: “Tell me, who is this young girl that you have under guard?”
Alexis became pale as death. “Czar,” said he, a tremor in his voice, “she is in her own room; she is not locked up.”
“Take me to her room,” said the usurper, rising.
Hesitation was impossible. Alexis led the way to Marie’s room. I followed. On the stairs Alexis stopped: “Czar, demand of me what you will, but do not permit a stranger to enter my wife’s room.”
“You are married?” I shouted, ready to tear him to pieces.
“Silence!” interrupted the brigand, “this is my business. And you,” said he, turning to Alexis, “do not be too officious. Whether she be your wife or not, I shall take whom I please into her room. Your lordship, follow me.”
At the door of the room Alexis stopped again: “Czar, she has had a fever these three days; she is delirious.”
“Open,” said Pougatcheff.
Alexis fumbled in his pockets, and at last said that he had forgotten the key. Pougatcheff kicked the door; the lock yielded, the door opened and we entered.
I glanced into the room, and nearly fainted. On the floor, in the coarse dress of a peasant, Marie was seated, pale, thin, her hair in disorder; before her on the floor stood a pitcher of water covered by a piece of bread. Upon seeing me, she started, and uttered a piercing shriek. Pougatcheff glanced at Alexis, smiled bitterly, and said: “Your hospital is in nice order?”
“Tell me, my little dove, why does your husband punish you in this way?”
“My husband! he is not my husband. I am resolved to die rather than marry him; and I shall die, if not soon released.”
Pougatcheff gave a furious look at Alexis, and said: “Do you dare to deceive me, knave?”
Alexis fell on his knees. Contempt stifled all my feelings of hatred and vengeance. I saw with disgust, a gentleman kneeling at the feet of a Cossack deserter.
“I pardon you, this time,” said the brigand, “but remember, your next fault will recall this one.” He turned to Marie, and said, gently: “Come out, my pretty girl, you are free. I am the Czar!”
Marie looked at him, hid her face in her hands and fell on the floor unconscious. She had no doubt divined that he had caused her parents’ death. I rushed to aid her, when my old acquaintance, Polacca, boldly entered, and hastened to revive her mistress. Pougatcheff, Alexis and I went down to the reception room.
“Now, your lordship, we have released the pretty girl, what say you? Shall we not send for Father Garasim, and have him perform the marriage ceremony for his niece? If you like, I will be your father by proxy, Alexis your groomsman; then we’ll shut the gates and make merry!”
As I anticipated, Alexis, hearing this speech, lost his self-control.
“Czar,” said he, in a fury, “I am guilty; I have lied to you, but Grineff also deceives you. This young girl is not Father Garasim’s niece. She is Ivan Mironoff’s daughter.”
Pougatcheff glared at me. “What does that mean?” said he to me.
“Alexis says truly,” I replied, firmly.
“You did not tell me that,” said the usurper, whose face darkened.
“Judge of it yourself. Could I declare before your people that Marie was Captain Mironoff’s daughter? They would have torn her to pieces. No one could have saved her.”
“You are right,” said Pougatcheff, “my drunkards would not have spared the child. Accoulina did well to deceive them.”
“Listen,” I said, seeing his good humor, “I do not know your real name, and I do not want to know it. But before God, I am ready to pay you with my life, for what you have done for me. Only, ask me nothing contrary to honor, and my conscience as a Christian. You are my benefactor. Let me go with this orphan, and we, whatever happens to you, wherever you may be, we shall pray God to save your soul.”
“Be it as you desire,” said he, “punish to the end, or pardon completely, that’s my way. Take your promised bride wherever you choose, and may God give you love and happiness.” He turned to Alexis, and ordered him to write me a passport for all the forts subject to his power. Alexis was petrified with astonishment. Pougatcheff went off to inspect the fortress; Alexis followed him; I remained.
I ran up to Marie’s room. The door was closed. I knocked.
“Who is there?” asked Polacca.
I gave my name. I heard Marie say: “In an instant, Peter, I shall join you at Accoulina’s.”
Father Garasim and Accoulina came out to welcome me. I was honored with everything at the command of the hostess, whose voluble tongue never ceased. It was not long before Marie entered, quite pale; she had laid aside the peasant’s dress, and was, as usual, clad in simplicity, but with neatness and taste. I seized her hand, unable to utter a word. We were both silent from full hearts. Our hosts left us, and I could now speak of plans for her safety. It was impossible that she should stay in a fortress subject to Pougatcheff, and commanded by the infamous Alexis. Neither could she find refuge at Orenbourg, suffering all the horrors of siege. I proposed that she should go to my father’s country-seat. This surprised her. But I assured her that my father would hold it a duty and an honor to receive the daughter of a veteran who had died for his country. In conclusion, I said: “My dear Marie; I consider thee as my wife; these strange events have bound us for ever to each other.”
Marie listened with dignity; she felt as I did, but repeated that without my parents’ consent she would never be my wife. I could not reply to this objection. I folded her to my heart, and my project became our mutual resolve.
An hour after, the Corporal brought me my passport, having the scratch which served as Pougatcheff’s sign-manual, and told me that the Czar awaited me. I found him ready for his journey. To this man — why not tell the truth? — cruel and terrible to all but me, I was drawn by strong sympathy. I wanted to snatch him from the horde of robbers, whose chief he was; but the presence of Alexis and the crowd around him prevented any expression of these feelings. Our parting was that of friends. As the horses were moving, he leaned out of the kibitka and said to me: “Adieu, again, your lordship; perhaps we may meet once more.”
We did meet again, but under what circumstances!
I returned to Father Garasim’s, where our preparations were soon completed. Our baggage was put into the Commandant’s old equipage. The horses were harnessed. Marie went, before setting off, to visit once more the tomb in the church-yard, and soon returned, having wept in silence over all that remained to her of her parents. Father Garasim and Accoulina stood on the steps. Marie, Polacca, and I sat in the interior of the kibitka. Saveliitch perched himself up in front.
“Adieu, Marie, sweet little dove! Adieu, Peter, our handsome falcon!” exclaimed the kind Accoulina.
Passing the Commandant’s house, I saw Alexis, whose face expressed determined hate.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59