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

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The square became deserted. I remained on the same spot, unable to collect my thoughts, disturbed as they had been by such terrible events. The uncertainty of Maria Ivanovna's fate tortured me most. Where was she? What had happened to her? Had she had time to conceal herself? Was her refuge a safe one? Filled with anxiety, I entered the commandant's house. It was empty; chairs, tables, boxes, were all destroyed; the crockery lay broken; everything was strewn about. I ran up the little stair which led to Maria Ivanovna's room, and entered it for the first time. I saw her bed, which the villains had searched; the cupboard had been broken open and robbed of its contents. The lamp was still burning before the empty kyvott.[1] A little mirror hanging on the wall had also remained uninjured. Where was the mistress of this simple, virginal chamber? A fearful thought flashed across me: I fancied her in the hands of the robbers. My heart ached. I burst into bitter, bitter tears, and called aloud the name of my beloved one. I heard a slight noise, and Paláshka, pale and trembling, issued from behind the cupboard.

"Ah! Piotr Andrevitch!" said she, raising her arms. "What a day! what horrors——"

"And Maria Ivanovna," I asked, impatiently; "what about Maria Ivanovna?"

"The young lady is alive," answered Paláshka. "She is hiding at Akoulina Pamphylovna's."

"At the priest's house!" exclaimed I with terror. "My God! Pougatcheff is there."

I rushed out of the room, reached the street in an instant, and hastened, regardless of everything, to the priest's house. Noises, laughter, and songs issued from it. Pougatcheff was feasting with his companions. Paláshka had followed me. I bid her send Akoulina Pamphylovna to me secretly. In a few minutes the priest's wife came out to the lobby, with an empty bottle in her hand.

"For God's sake where is Maria Ivanovna?" I asked, with indescribable agitation.

"My poor little dove is lying on my bed, behind the partition," answered the priest's wife. "Ah! Piotr Andrevitch, we have had a narrow escape; but, thank God, all has gone off well: the wretch was just about to sit down to dinner, when she, poor thing, coming to herself, groaned. I felt a chill all over. He heard it. 'Who is it moaning there, old woman?' I bowed down low before the thief: 'My niece, sire, has been taken ill, and has been laid up a fortnight.'—'And is thy niece young?'—'Yes, sire.'—'Then let me see thy niece, old woman.' My heart leapt within me; but what could I do?' 'Welcome, sire; only the girl is not able to rise and come before your grace.'—'Never mind old woman; I shall go to her myself!' And he did go behind the partition, the dd rascal! what dost thou think of that? He drew aside the curtain, looked in with his vulture's eyes—and that was all! God was with us. Wilt thou believe me, the Father and I were quite prepared to suffer a martyr's death? Fortunately, my little dove did not recognize him. Oh! Lord God, what a day we have lived to see! Poor Ivan Kouzmitch!—who would have believed it! And Vassilissa Yegorovna! and Ivan Ignatitch!—what had he done? How is it that you escaped? And what do you say of Shvabrine? He has had his hair cut, and here he is now, feasting with them! He has been sharp about it, I must say. And when I happened to mention my sick niece, wilt thou believe it, he looked daggers at me? However, he did not betray me; let us thank him even for so much."

Drunken shouts and the voice of Father Gherassim reached our ears. The guests were clamouring for wine, the host was calling after his helpmate. The priest's wife fidgeted.

"Go home, Piotr Andrevitch," said she. "I have no time to think about you just now; we must entertain the wretches. Harm may befall you, if you get into their drunken hands. Good-bye, Piotr Andrevitch; what is to be, will be. Let us hope that God will not forsake us."

She left me. I returned home, my anxiety being slightly relieved. Passing by the square, I saw several Bashkirs gathered at the foot of the gallows, and drawing the boots off the corpses that were hanging; I restrained, with difficulty, an outburst of indignation, feeling that any interference on my part would have been useless. The fortress was in the possession of the robbers, who were plundering the officers' houses. In all directions were heard the shouts of the tipsy rebels. I reached home. Savelitch met me at the threshold.

"God be praised!" exclaimed he, on seeing me. "I began to think that the wretches had again got hold of thee. Well, my little father, Piotr Andrevitch! Canst thou believe it! the rascals have plundered us of everything—clothes, linen, crockery—nothing is left to us. But that does not matter! Thank God that they let thee off with thy life! Well, sir, and hast thou recognized the ataman?"[2]

"No, I have not. Who is he?"

"How, sir? hast thou forgotten the drunkard who coaxed the touloup out of thee at the inn? The little bran new hare-skin touloup; and he, the beast, split it by forcing himself into it!"

I was amazed. Indeed the resemblance between Pougatcheff and my guide was startling. I became convinced that Pougatcheff and he were the same person, and was now able to understand why I had been dealt with so mercifully. I could not but marvel at the circumstances so strongly linked together—a boy's touloup, made a present of to a vagabond, had saved me from the noose, and a drunkard who had hung about wayside inns, was now besieging fortresses, and shaking the empire!

"Wilt thou take something to eat?" asked Savelitch, unchanged in his habits. "There is nothing at home. I shall go out, and if I can find something, it shall be got ready for thee."

Left alone, I gave myself up to reflection. What was there for me to do? To remain in a fortress that had fallen into the power of the wretch, or to join his band, was equally impossible for an officer. Duty bade me go where I might still be of service to my country in the present embarrassing circumstances. . . . But my attachment urged me strenuously to stay near Maria Ivanovna to be her protector and guardian. And although I foresaw a speedy and inevitable change in these circumstances, still, I could not rid myself of a feeling of alarm, when I considered the danger of her situation.

My reflections were interrupted by the entrance of a Cossack, who had come with the announcement that the great emperor required me to appear before him.

"Where is he?" I asked, preparing to obey.

"In the commandant's house," answered the Cossack. "After dinner our father went to take a bath, and now, he is having his rest. Well, your lordship, everything proves that he is an important personage. At dinner he deigned to eat up two roasted sucking pigs, and he bore the hot steam so well, that even Tarass Koúrotchkine could not stand it, being obliged to give the birch broom to Tomka Bichbayeff, and only recovered from its effects after having a quantity of cold water thrown over him. It is impossible not to admit that all his ways are very grand. And I was told that in the bath-room he showed the marks of a Tzar on his breasts—on one side he has the two-headed eagle of the size of a pyatàck,[3] and on the other he has the likeness of his own person."

I did not think it necessary to dispute the point with the Cossack, so I followed him to the commandant's house, endeavouring to imagine beforehand, my interview with Pougatcheff, and wondering how it would end. My reader will easily understand that I did not feel perfectly indifferent to its result.

It was getting dusk when I approached the commandant's house. The gibbet with its victims loomed hideously in the dark. The body of the poor captain's wife was still lying in the porch, in front of which two Cossacks stood on sentry. The Cossack by whom I had been escorted went to announce me, and returning immediately, conducted me into the room, where, on the previous day, I had taken such an affectionate leave of Maria Ivanovna.

A strange spectacle presented itself. Pougatcheff and the Cossack chiefs in coloured shirts and caps, their red faces heated by wine, their eyes glittering, sat at a table, which was covered with a cloth, and laden with bottles and tumblers. Shvabrine and our orderly, those newly-sworn traitors, were not of the number.

"Ah! your lordship!" said Pougatcheff, on seeing me. "You are welcome; honour and place to you."

The guests made room for me. I took my seat in silence at the end of the table. My neighbour, a young Cossack, slight and handsome, poured me out a glass of wine; which, however, I did not touch. I scanned the assembly with curiosity. Pougatcheff sat at the post of honour, leaning on the table, and supporting his black bearded chin with his broad fist. His regular and almost agreeable features had nothing of cruelty about them. He frequently turned towards a man of about fifty, now addressing him as count, then Tymofeitch, and sometimes uncle. Everybody seemed to treat his neighbour as a comrade, and none showed any special respect to their leader. They conversed on the assault of that morning, of the success of the rebellion, and of their future plans of action. Each boasted of his own doings, offered his opinion, and freely contradicted Pougatcheff. And it was at this extraordinary council of war, that it was decided to attack Orenburg—a bold move, which was very nearly being crowned by a fatal success! The march was fixed for the morrow.

"Well, boys!" said Pougatcheff, "let us sing before we retire for the night, my favourite song. Tchoumakoff, begin!"

My neighbour began the sorrowful song in a small shrill voice, the rest joining in the chorus—


"Do not murmur green wood, my mother!
Do not hinder me from thinking my thoughts.
To-morrow, I must hie me to judgment
Before a fierce judge, before the Tzar himself.

"The Lord Tzar will ask of me;
'Tell me, tell me, thou child, thou peasant's son,
With whom hast thou thieved, with whom hast thou robbed.
Hast thou many associates?'
'I shall tell thee, my hope, my Orthodox Tzar,
The whole truth shall I tell thee the whole verity,
That I have but four associates.
That my first associate, is the dark night,
That my second associate, the steel blade,
And my third associate, my good steed,
And my fourth associate, my mighty bow;
That my messengers are red hot arrows.'
What will my hope, the Orthodox Tzar say!
'Well done! thou child, thou peasant's son;
Thou hast known how to steal, thou hast known how to reply.
I shall make thee a gift, child,
Of a lofty palace in the midst of the field
A palace of two posts, and a cross beam.'"

It is scarcely possible to convey an idea of the impression produced upon me by this popular song, with the gallows for its subject, sung as it was by people destined for them. Their ferocious looks, their ringing voices, the dismal tone in which these sufficiently expressive words were sounded, all filled me with a sort of undefined terror.

The revellers drained another glass, and then rose and took leave of Pougatcheff. I was about to follow out after them, but Pougatcheff said—

"Stay, I have to speak to thee."

We remained alone. We were silent for some minutes. Pougatcheff watched me, now and then closing his left eye with an extraordinary expression of roguery and derision. At last he burst into such a genuine merry laugh, that, as I looked at him, I also laughed, without knowing why.

"Well, your lordship!" said he, "thou wast frightened—admit it, when my boys threw the rope round thy neck? I suppose the sky must have appeared to thee of the size of a sheepskin. . . . And thou would'st have swung from the cross-beam, had it not been for thy servant. I recognized the old owl immediately. Well, sir, could'st thou have supposed that the man who guided thee to the inn, was the great emperor himself?" (here he assumed an important and mysterious air). "Thou art very guilty towards me," he continued; "but I showed thee mercy for thy good deed, for thou didst me a service at a time when I was forced to hide myself from my enemies. But this is not all! I shall show thee greater favour when I recover my empire. Dost thou promise to serve me zealously?"

The rogue's question and his impudence appeared to me so amusing, that I could not repress a smile.

"What art thou laughing at?" asked he, frowning. "Or is it thou dost not believe that I am the great emperor? Answer me frankly."

I was perplexed. I could not acknowledge the vagabond as being the emperor; it would have been unpardonable cowardice. To call him an imposter to his face, would have been to expose myself to destruction, and to utter what I had been prepared to say at the first outburst of indignation in sight of the gallows, and in the presence of the multitude, would have amounted to vain bragging. I hesitated. Pougatcheff awaited my reply in stern silence. At last (and I think of that moment with self-satisfaction to this day), a sense of duty triumphed over human weakness. I said to Pougatcheff—

"Listen! Shall I tell thee the whole truth? Just reflect whether it is possible for me to acknowledge thee as the emperor. Thou art a reasonable being; thou thyself would'st know that I was shamming."

"Who am I then, according to thy opinion?"

"God knows; but whoever thou mayest be, thou playest a dangerous game."

Pougatcheff threw a quick glance at me.

"Then thou dost not believe," said he, "that I am the Emperor Piotr Feodorovitch? Very well! But is there no success for the daring? Did not Grishka Otrepieff[4] reign in days gone by? Think what thou pleasest of me, but do not leave me. What does it matter to thee? Who is not a priest is a father. Serve me 'in faith and in truth' and I shall make thee a field-marshal and prince. What dost thou think of this?"

"No," I answered, firmly. "I am a nobleman by birth. I swore to serve the empress; I cannot serve thee. If thou really wishest me well, permit me to go to Orenburg."

Pougatcheff reflected.

"And if I do let thee go," said he, "dost thou at least promise not to take up arms against me."

"How can I promise thee so much?" I replied. "Thou thyself knowest that it cannot be as I wish. If I receive orders to march against thee, I must do so; I cannot help myself. Thou art now a chief thyself; thou exactest obedience of thy people. What would it look like, should I refuse to serve when called upon to do so? My life is in thy hands; if thou lettest me free, thou shalt have my thanks; if thou executest me, God is thy judge; as to myself, I have told thee the truth."

Pougatcheff was struck by my sincerity.

"Be it so," he said, slapping me on the shoulder; "one must either execute or fully pardon. Go—the four quarters are open to thee, and do as seemeth thee best. Come and bid me good-bye to-morrow, and now get thee to bed, for sleep also oppresses me."

I left Pougatcheff and emerged into the street. The night was still and frosty. The moon and stars shone brightly, illuminating the square and the gallows. All was quiet and dark within the fortress. In the public-house only were there lights, whence issued the shouts of lingering idlers. I looked up at the priest's house. The shutters were closed, everything appeared quiet there.

Entering my lodging, I found Savelitch bewailing my absence. The news of my having been set at liberty, rejoiced him greatly.

"God be praised!" said he, crossing himself. "We must leave the fortress as soon as it is day, and follow whither luck leads us. I have prepared some food for thee, my little father; thou must then go to bed and sleep till morning, safe as in Christ's bosom."

I followed his advice, and, having supped heartily, fell asleep on the naked floor, worn out morally and physically.

  1. A glass case made to contain images, and thus becoming a shrine.—Tr.
  2. Cossack chieftain.—Tr.
  3. Five copeck piece.—Tr.
  4. Gregory Otrepieff, a runaway monk of Jschoudoff, was the first of the impostors who personated Dmitri V., son of John the Terrible, put to death in his infancy by Boris Godounoff, 1591. Supported by Sigismund II., King of Poland, he overthrew Boris, and reigned at Moscow in 1605. His marriage to a Pole and a Catholic, led to his massacre by the multitude in 1606.—Tr.