Russian Romance (Pushkin)/The Captain's Daughter/Chapter XIV
I felt convinced that my wilful departure from Orenburg was the cause of my arrest. I was able to exculpate myself easily enough; reconnoitring had not been prohibited; but on the contrary, was greatly encouraged. I might be charged with over zeal, but not with disobedience. My friendly intercourse with Pougatcheff, however, could be proved by a multitude of witnesses, and would appear, to say the least, very suspicious. I thought much over the inquiry that awaited me, framed my replies, and made up my mind to speak the whole truth, believing such a course to be the simplest, and at the same time the most hopeful.
I reached Kazan, deserted and consumed by fire. Where once had stood the houses, lay heaps of ashes on either side the streets, while blackened walls, windowless and roofless, stood out here and there. Such were the traces Pougatcheff had left behind him. I was taken to the fortress, which alone had escaped the conflagration. The hussars handed me over to the officer on guard. He sent for the blacksmith. Chains were put on my feet and soldered together. I was then conveyed to prison, and left alone in a small and dark cell, with bare walls and a window secured with iron bars.
Such a beginning forebode no good. However, I lost neither courage nor hope. I sought refuge in the consolation of all who are heavy laden; and having for the first time tasted the sweetness of prayer, issuing from a pure though broken heart, I sank into a quiet sleep, unconcerned as to what awaited me.
I was awoke by the jailer the next morning, who announced to me that my presence was required before the commission. A couple of soldiers escorted me across the court-yard into the commandant's house; they remained in the hall, and I was suffered to enter alone.
I found myself in a tolerably spacious room. At a table, strewn with papers, sat two men; an old general with a stern and cold countenance, and a young captain of the Guards of about eight and twenty years of age, of prepossessing exterior, and pleasing and easy manners. Near the window, at a separate table, sat the secretary, a pen behind his ear, bending over his papers, ready to note my deposition. The inquiry commenced. I was asked my name and surname. The general inquired whether I was the son of Andrey Petrovitch Grineff, and upon my replying in the affirmative, roughly remarked: "Pity that such an honourable man should have such an unworthy son!" I answered quietly, that whatever the nature of the charges about to be preferred against me, I hoped to be able to meet them by a sincere declaration of the truth. My self-assurance displeased him. "Thou art sharp, my good fellow," said he frowning, "but we have seen the like of thee before this!"
The young man then asked, upon what occasion and at what period I had entered Pougatcheff's service, and upon what duties I had been employed by him?
I replied with indignation, that as an officer and a nobleman, I could neither have entered Pougatcheff's service nor have accepted any employment under him.
"How is it then," reiterated my interrogator, "that the nobleman and officer alone was spared by the pretender, when all his comrades were cruelly put to death? How is it that that same officer and nobleman feasted amicably with the rebels, and accepted from the chief of the vagabonds, a pelisse, a horse, and half a rouble in money? How did such a strange friendship originate, and upon what was it based, if not on treachery, or, at least, on base and criminal cowardice?"
I was deeply hurt at the officer's words, and proceeded to exculpate myself with warmth. I related in what manner my acquaintance with Pougatcheff had begun in the steppe, during a snowstorm, and how he recognized and spared me at the taking of the fortress of Byĕlogorsk. I admitted that I did not scruple to accept the touloup and the horse from the pretender, but that I had defended the fortress of Byĕlogorsk against the rebel, to the last extremity. I concluded by referring him to my general, who could testify to my zeal during the calamitous siege of Orenburg.
The stern old man took up an open letter and read it aloud:
"With reference to the inquiry made by your excellency in regard to Ensign Grineff, supposed to be implicated in the present uprising, and to have entered into communication with the insurgent, a proceeding contrary to the rules of the service, and in violation of the oath of allegiance; I have the honour to report, that the said Ensign Grineff was on duty at Orenburg from the beginning of October of the past year, 1773, to the 24th of February of the present year, at which date he absented himself from the town, and has not served under my command since. Deserters from the enemy are reported to have stated that he has been in Pougatcheff's camp, and that he drove with him to the fortress of Byĕlogorsk, in which he had formerly served; with regard to his conduct, I can only . . ." Here he stopped and said in a severe tone of voice: "What canst thou say to this, in thy defence?"
It was my intention to have continued as I had begun, and to have declared my connection with Maria Ivanovna as frankly as I had narrated the rest, but I suddenly felt an irrepressible aversion to doing so. It struck me that the commission would call for her as a witness were I to mention her, and the idea of mixing up her name with the vile evidence of the wretches, and also confronting her with them face to face—this dreadful consideration so shocked me that I became confused, and lost my presence of mind.
My examiners, who had apparently begun to listen to me with a certain amount of consideration, became again prejudiced upon noticing my indecision. The officer of the Guards required that I should be opposed to my principal accuser. The general ordered that wretch of yesterday to be summoned. I turned abruptly towards the door, in expectation of my accuser. In a few minutes the clanking of chains was heard, the door was opened, and Shvabrine appeared. I was astonished at the change that had taken place in him. He was painfully thin and pale. His hair, so recently of a jet black, had turned quite gray; his long beard was matted. He repeated his accusations in a faint but firm voice. He stated that I had been sent off to Orenburg by Pougatcheff as a spy; that I daily rode out reconnoitring with the object of having written reports conveyed, of all that was passing in the town; that I at last joined the pretender, accompanying him from fortress to fortress, and seeking by every means to injure my fellow-traitors, with the view of usurping their places, and of benefiting by the rewards showered by the pretender. I listened in silence and felt at ease in one respect. Maria Ivanovna's name had not been uttered by the base wretch, either because his vanity suffered at the remembrance of her who had rejected him with scorn, or perhaps because a spark of the same feeling which forced me to silence still lingered in his breast. However that may be, the name of the daughter of the commandant of the fortress of Byĕlogorsk was not mentioned in the presence of the commission. I felt strengthened in my resolution, and when the officers asked me how I could refute Shvabrine's evidence, I replied that I held to my first deposition, and had nothing further to offer in my defence. The general ordered us to withdraw. We went out together. I looked at Shvabrine without saying a word to him. He smiled viciously, and lifting his chains, stepped quickly past me. I was reconducted to jail, but was not again taken before the commission.
I was not a witness of all that now remains to be related to the reader; but I have so often heard it described, that the smallest details have, as it were, been graven in my memory, and I feel as though I had been myself present.
Maria Ivanovna was received by my parents with that sincerity and good-will so characteristic of people in days gone by. They considered it a divine favour, that the opportunity was afforded them of welcoming and comforting the poor orphan. They soon became truly attached to her, for it was impossible to know and not to love her. My father no longer looked upon my attachment as a piece of folly; and as to my mother, her only wish was that her Petrousha should marry the captain's dear little daughter.
The rumours of my arrest painfully astonished my parents. Maria Ivanovna had narrated to them so innocently my acquaintance with Pougatcheff, that, far from being disquieted, they were frequently induced to laugh heartily. My father would not believe that I was implicated in the despicable rebellion, which had for its object the overthrow of the throne and the abolition of nobility. He examined Savelitch narrowly on this point. The old man did not conceal the fact that his master had visited Emilian Pougatcheff, and that the wretch made a great deal of him; but he at the same time swore that he had never heard of any treason. The old people were reassured, and anxiously awaited favourable news. Maria Ivanovna was much agitated, but said little, for her disposition was in the highest degree a retired one.
Several weeks elapsed . . . . . . . . and my father received a letter concerning myself, from our relative Prince *** at Petersburgh. After the usual preliminaries, he wrote that the suspicion of my share in the schemes of the insurgents had unfortunately proved only too well founded; that my execution had been deemed necessary for the sake of example, but that the empress, in consideration of my father's meritorious services and advanced years, had decided upon extending her pardon to the criminal son, and, sparing him from an ignominious death, had commanded that he should be sent to a distant part of Siberia, an exile for life.
This unexpected blow almost killed my father. He lost his habitual firmness, and vented his (usually mute) grief in bitter lamentations.
"What!" repeated he, beside himself. "That my son should have plotted with Pougatcheff! Oh, heavens! that I should have lived to see this! The empress delivers him from death! Am I the better for that? It is not execution that is dreadful; my great-grandfather died on the scaffold because he would not violate the dictates of his conscience; my father suffered with Volinsky and Aroushtcheff. But that a nobleman should break his oath of allegiance, that he should unite himself with robbers, murderers, and runaway serfs!. . . It is a shame and a disgrace to our race!. . . ."
Alarmed at his despair, my mother dared not weep in his presence, and endeavoured to restore to him his courage by suggesting the probability of the rumours being false, and popular opinion divided. My father was inconsolable.
Maria Ivanovna suffered the most. Feeling persuaded that I might have exculpated myself had I wished to do so, she guessed the truth, and accused herself as being the cause of my misfortunes. She tried to conceal her tears and her anguish, and was incessantly devising means for obtaining my deliverance.
One evening my father sat on the sofa turning over the leaves of the "Court Calendar," but his thoughts were far away, and the perusal did not produce its wonted effects. He whistled an old march. My mother was silently knitting a woollen jacket, an occasional tear dropping on it. Maria Ivanovna, who was at her work by their side, informed them, without any preface, that she was under the necessity of going to Petersburg, and begged they would furnish her with the requisite means for the journey. My mother felt much grieved.
"Why dost thou want to go to Petersburgh?" said she. "Is it possible, Maria Ivanovna, that thou wishest to abandon us?"
Maria Ivanovna answered that her future depended upon the journey; that she was going to seek the protection and assistance of people of influence, as the daughter of a man who had suffered for his loyalty.
My father drooped his head; he was pained at every word that reminded him of his son's imputed crime, and felt it as a poignant reproach to himself.
"Go," said he, with a sigh. "We do not wish to stand in the way of thy happiness. May God grant thee a good man for thy husband, in the place of a sullied traitor!"
He rose, and left the room.
Alone with my mother, Maria Ivanovna partly disclosed her intentions. My mother embraced her with tears, praying to God for a happy issue to the preconceived project. Maria Ivanovna started upon her journey a few days after this, accompanied by the faithful Paláshka and the trusty Savelitch, who consoled himself, during his forced separation from me, with the reflection that he was at least serving my bride-elect.
Maria Ivanovna arrived safely at Sofia, and, on learning that the court happened to be at Tzarskoe-Selo, she decided upon remaining. A little room behind a partition was got ready for her at the station. The station-master's wife immediately entered into conversation with her, informed her that she was the niece of a fire-lighter at the palace, and initiated her into all the mysteries of court life. She told her at what hour the empress usually rose, drank her coffee, took her walk; what great gentlemen were with her at such times; what she had deigned to say yesterday at dinner, and whom she had received in the evening. In a word, Anna Vlassievna's accounts would have filled a volume of historical notes, and would have been highly prized by the coming generation!
Maria Ivanovna listened attentively. She strolled into the garden. Anna Vlassievna had a story to tell of each alley, each little bridge; and, after a long walk, they returned to the station quite pleased with each other.
The following morning Maria Ivanovna woke early, dressed, and quietly went out into the garden. It was a lovely morning. The sun was shining brightly through the lime-trees, already seared by the fresh autumnal breezes, the smooth surface of the broad lake glittered in the sunshine, the swans emerged proudly from under the overhanging bushes. Maria Ivanovna passed by the beautiful lawn, upon which a monument had been lately erected in commemoration of the recent victories of Count Piotr Alexandrovitch Roumiantzoff. Suddenly a little white dog, of an English breed, barked and rushed at her. Maria Ivanovna started, and at the same moment she heard a pleasant female voice say:
"Do not fear, she does not bite."
And Maria Ivanovna saw a lady on the bench in front of the monument. Maria Ivanovna sat herself down at one end. The lady eyed her sharply, and Maria Ivanovna on her part had time, in a few side glances, to scan her from head to foot. She was in a white morning dress, a cap, and a doushegreyka. She appeared to be about forty years of age. Her full, blooming face was expressive of dignity and calm, and her blue eyes and smiling lips added an inexpressible charm. The lady was the first to break the silence.
"You are probably a stranger?" she said.
"Yes; I arrived yesterday only, from the country."
"You have come with your parents?"
"No, I have not. I have come alone."
"Alone! But you are so young."
"I have no father or mother."
"You are here on business, probably?"
"Yes, I have come to present a petition to the empress."
"You are an orphan, and probably have to complain of injustice or insult?"
"No. I have come to seek mercy, and not justice."
"Permit me to inquire who you are?"
"I am the daughter of Captain Mironoff."
"Captain Mironoff! the one who commanded one of the Orenburg fortresses?"
The lady seemed moved.
"Excuse me," said she, in a still more friendly tone, "if I meddle in your affairs; but I am occasionally at court: explain to me what your petition consists in, and I may perhaps be able to help you."
Maria Ivanovna rose, and thanked her respectfully. Everything about the unknown lady attracted her heart involuntarily, and inspired her with confidence. She took a folded paper from her pocket, and handed it to her unknown protectress, who read it over to herself.
She perused it first with attention and interest; but of a sudden her face changed, and Maria Ivanovna, whose eyes watched all her movements, was startled by the severe expression on that face, which, a moment before, had been so pleasant and calm.
"You petition for Grineff?" said the lady, coldly. 'The empress cannot pardon him. He joined the pretender, not from ignorance or credulity, but as a debased and dangerous vagabond!"
"Oh! it is not true!" exclaimed Maria Ivanovna.
"How not true?" continued the lady, wrathfully.
"Not true—I swear to God it is not true! I know all, and will tell you everything. It is for my sake alone that he has subjected himself to all that has befallen him. And if he has not justified himself before the commission, it has only been because he has not wished to introduce my name."
Here she narrated with warmth what my reader already knows.
The lady listened attentively.
"Where are you staying?" she asked, when Maria Ivanovna had concluded; and, upon learning that it was at Anna Vlassievna's, added, with a smile—"Ah! I know. Good-bye; do not mention our meeting to any person. I hope that you will not have to wait long for an answer to your letter."
With these words she rose, and entered a covered walk. Maria Ivanovna returned to Anna Vlassievna full of hope.
Her hostess scolded her for taking so early a walk in autumn—so noxious, she said, to a young girl's health. She brought in the samovar, and, sipping a cup of tea, was just about to recommence her endless relations about the court, when a court carriage stopped at the door, and a chamber-groom entered with the announcement that the empress was pleased to invite Maria Ivanovna Mironoff to the palace. Anna Vlassievna became terribly fidgety in her astonishment.
"Dear me!" she exclaimed: "the empress requires you at court. How has she ever heard of you? And how are you, my dear, to appear before her majesty? Me thinks you do not even know how to walk in court fashion. Had I not better accompany you? I could at all events give you a hint occasionally. And how are you to go in your travelling dress? Had we not better send to the midwife for her yellow gown?"
The chamber-groom said that her majesty had been pleased to command that Maria Ivanovna should go alone, and just as she was. There was no alternative. Maria Ivanovna took her seat in the carriage, and drove off, taking Anna Vlassievna's counsels and blessings.
Maria Ivanovna had a presentiment that our fate was about to be decided; her heart beat fast, and sank within her. In a few minutes the carriage stopped at the palace. Maria Ivanovna, much agitated, ascended the staircase. The doors flew open before her. She passed through a succession of gorgeous apartments, the chamber-groom leading the way. They finally reached a closed door, where he left her, with the assurance that she should be immediately announced.
The prospect of being brought face to face with the empress frightened her so much, that she found some difficulty in supporting herself. The doors were opened, and she entered her majesty's dressing-room.
The empress sat at her toilet-table, attended by several ladies, who respectfully stood aside to make way for Maria Ivanovna. The empress turned to her kindly, and Maria Ivanovna recognized the lady with whom she had but recently so freely conversed. She motioned her to come nearer, and said, with a smile—
"I am glad that I was able to keep my word, and grant your request. Your business is settled. I am convinced of your lover's innocence. Here is a letter, which you will be good enough to deliver yourself into the hands of your future father-in-law."
Maria Ivanovna took the letter with a trembling hand, and fell weeping at the empress's feet, who raised and kissed her.
"I know that you are not rich," she said; "but I must acquit myself of a debt I owe to the daughter of Captain Mironoff. Have no anxiety for the future. I take it upon myself to provide for you."
Having reassured the poor orphan, the empress dismissed her. Maria Ivanovna returned in the same court-carriage; Anna Vlassievna, who was impatiently awaiting her return, poured out question upon question, to which Maria Ivanovna replied anyhow. Anna Vlassievna was not pleased at her want of memory, but ascribed it to her provincial shyness, and was generous enough to excuse her. That same day Maria Ivanovna left on her way homewards, without a thought even of seeing Petersburg.
Here end the memoirs of Piotr Andrevitch Grineff. It is asserted from family traditions that, by an edict signed by the sovereign, he was liberated about the end of the year 1774; that he was present at the execution of Pougatcheff, who recognized him in the crowd, and nodded to him with the head which, a few minutes later, was held up bleeding to the people. Soon after, Piotr Andrevitch and Maria Ivanovna were married. Their descendants are settled in the government of Simbirsk. Thirty versts from ——— is a village, the property of ten persons. In the house of one of the proprietors is shown, framed and glazed, an autograph letter of Catherine II. It is addressed to the father of Piotr Andrevitch, and records the justification of his son, and eulogises the intelligence and goodness of heart of the daughter of Captain Mironoff.
- Volinsky had presented to the Empress Anna a paper, having for its object the overthrow of Biron; he and his friends subsequently fell victims to the vengeance of that favourite.—Tr.
- Anne, daughter of Blase.—Tr.