The drum awoke me early the next morning. I went out on the square. Pougatcheff’s troops were there, falling into rank, around the gibbet, to which still hung the victims of yesterday. The Cossacks were mounted; the infantry and artillery, with our single gun, were accoutred ready for the march. The inhabitants were also assembled there awaiting the usurper. Before the steps of the Commandant’s house a Cossack held by the bridle a magnificent white horse. My eyes sought the body of our good Basilia. It had been dragged aside and covered with an old bark mat. At last Pougatcheff came out on the steps, and saluted the crowd. All heads were bared. One of the chiefs handed him a bag of copper coin, which he threw by the handful among the people. Perceiving me in the crowd, he signed to me to approach.
“Listen,” said he, “go at once to Orenbourg, and say from me, to the Governor and all the Generals, that I shall be there in a week. Counsel them to receive me with submission and filial love, otherwise they shall not escape the direst torture. A pleasant journey to you.” The principal followers of Pougatcheff surrounded him, Alexis amongst others. The usurper turned to the people, and pointing to Alexis, said: “Behold your new Commandant; obey him in every thing; he is responsible for you and for the fortress.”
The words made me shudder. What would become of Marie? Pougatcheff descended the steps and vaulted quickly into his saddle without the aid of his attendant Cossacks. At that moment Saveliitch came out of the crowd, approached the usurper, and presented him a sheet of paper.
“What is this?” asked Pougatcheff, with dignity.
“Read, you will deign to see,” replied the serf.
Pougatcheff examined the paper. “You write very illegibly; where is my Secretary?”
A boy in corporal’s uniform came running to the brigand. “Read aloud,” said he. I was curious to know for what purpose the old man had written to Pougatcheff. The Secretary began to spell out in a loud voice what follows:
“Two dressing-gowns, one in percale, the other in striped silk, six roubles.”
“What does this mean?” said Pougatcheff, frowning.
“Command him to read on,” replied Saveliitch, with perfect calmness.
The Secretary continued: “One uniform in fine green cloth, seven roubles; one pair of white cloth pantaloons, five roubles; twelve shirts of Holland linen, with cuffs, ten roubles; one case containing a tea-service, two roubles.”
“What nonsense is this?” said Pougatcheff.
“What have I to do with tea-sets and Holland cuffs?”
Saveliitch coughed to clear his voice, and began to explain: “That, my lord, deign to understand, is the bill of my master’s goods carried off by the thieves.”
“What thieves?” asked Pougatcheff, with a terrible air.
“Pardon me,” said Saveliitch. “Thieves? No, they were not thieves; my tongue slipped; yet your boys went through everything and carried off plenty. That can not be denied. Do not be angry. The horse has four legs and yet he stumbles. Command that he read to the end.”
“Well, read,” said Pougatcheff.
“One Persian blanket, one quilt of wadded silk, four roubles; one pelisse of fox-skin, covered with red ratine, forty roubles; one small touloup of hare-skin left with your grace, on the steppe, fifteen roubles.”
“What?” cried Pougatcheff, with flashing eyes.
I must say I feared for the old man, who was beginning new explanations, when the brigand interrupted him:
“How dare you annoy me with these trifles?” said he, snatching the paper from the Secretary and throwing it in the old man’s face. “You have been despoiled! old fool! great harm! You ought to thank God that you are not hanging up there, with the other rebels, both you and your master. I’ll give you a hare-skin touloup! Do you know that I will have you flayed alive, that touloups may be made of you?”
“As you please,” replied Saveliitch; “but I am not a free man, and I am responsible for my master’s goods.”
Pougatcheff, who was evidently playing the magnanimous, turned his head and set off without a word. Alexis and the other chiefs followed him. The whole army left the fortress in good order, the people forming an escort. I stayed alone on the square with Saveliitch, who held in his hand the bill and considered it with deep regret. I could not help laughing.
“Laugh, my lord, laugh, but when the household is to be furnished again, we shall see if it be a laughing matter.”
I went to learn of Marie Mironoff. Accoulina met me and told me a sad piece of news. During the night a burning fever had seized the poor girl. Accoulina took me into her chamber. The invalid was delirious and did not recognize me. I was shocked by the change in her countenance. The position of this sorrowing orphan, without defenders, alarmed me as much as my inability to protect grieved me. Alexis, above all, was to be feared. Chief, invested with the usurper’s authority, in the fortress with this unhappy girl, he was capable of any crime. What ought I to do to deliver her? To set out at once for Orenbourg, to hasten the deliverance of Belogorsk, and to co-operate in it, if possible. I took leave of Father Garasim and Accoulina, recommending to them Marie, who I already looked upon as my wife. I kissed the young girl’s hand, and left the room.
“Adieu, Peter Grineff,” said Accoulina. “Do not forget us. Except you, Marie has no support or consolation.” Choked by emotion, I did not reply. Out on the square, I stopped an instant before the gibbet. With bare head I reverently saluted the loyal dead, and took the road to Orenbourg, accompanied by Saveliitch, who would not abandon me. Thus plunged in thought, I walked on. Hearing horses galloping behind me, I turned my head and saw a Cossack from the fortress leading a horse, and making signs to me that I should wait. I recognized our Corporal. Having caught up with us, he dismounted from his own horse, and giving me the bridle of the other, said: “Our Czar makes you a gift of a horse, and a pelisse from his own shoulder.” To the saddle was tied a sheep-skin touloup. I put it on, mounted the horse, taking Saveliitch up behind me. “You see, my lord,” said my serf, “that my petition to the bandit was not useless! And although this old hack and this peasant’s touloup are not worth half what the rascals stole, yet they are better than nothing. ‘A worthless dog yields even a handful of hair.’”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53