The square was deserted. I remained standing in the same place, unable to collect my thoughts, bewildered as I was by so many terrible emotions.
Uncertainty with respect to the fate of Maria Ivanovna tortured me more than anything else. Where was she? What had become of her? Had she contrived to hide herself? Was her place of refuge safe?
Filled, with these distracting thoughts, I made my way to the Commandant's house. It was empty. The chairs, tables, and chests were broken, the crockery dashed to pieces, and everything in confusion. I ran up the little staircase which led to Maria's room, and which I now entered for the first time in my life. Her bed had been ransacked by the robbers; the wardrobe was broken open and plundered; the small lamp was still burning before the empty image case. There was also left a small mirror hanging on the partition wall.... Where was the mistress of his humble, virginal cell? A terrible thought passed through my mind; I imagined her in the hands of the robbers.... My heart sank within me.... I wept bitterly, most bitterly, and called aloud the name of my beloved.... At that moment I heard a slight noise, and from behind the ward-robe appeared Palasha, pale and trembling.
"Ah, Peter Andreitch!" said she, clasping her hands, "What a day! what horrors!"
"And Maria Ivanovna?" I asked impatiently. "What has become of Maria Ivanovna?"
"The young lady is alive," replied Palasha; "she is hiding in the house of Akoulina Pamphilovna."
"With the priest's wife!" I exclaimed in alarm. "My God! Pougatcheff is there!"
I dashed out of the room, and in the twinkling of an eye I was in the street and hurrying off to the clergyman's house, without devoting the slightest attention to anything else. Shouts, songs, and bursts of laughter resounded from within.... Pougatcheff was feasting with his companions. Palasha had followed me thither. I sent her to call out Akoulina Pamphilovna secretly. In about a minute the priest's wife came out to me in the vestibule, with an empty bottle in her hand.
"In Heaven's name! where is Maria Ivanovna?" I asked with indescribable agitation.
"The dear little dove is lying down on my bed behind the partition," replied the priest's wife. "But a terrible misfortune had very nearly happened, Peter Andreitch! Thanks be to God, however, everything has passed off happily. The villain had just sat down to dine, when the poor child uttered a moan!... I felt as if I should have died. He heard it. 'Who is that moaning in your room, old woman?'—I bowed myself to the ground, and replied: 'My niece, Czar; she has been lying ill for about a fortnight.'—'And is your niece young?'—'She is young, Czar.' —'Show me your niece then, old woman.' My heart sank within me, but there was no help for it. 'Very well, Czar; but the girl will not have the strength to get up and come before your Grace.'—'Never mind, old woman, I will go and see her myself.' And the villain went behind the partition and, will you believe it?—actually drew aside the curtain and looked at her with his hawk-like eyes—but nothing came of it,—God helped us! Will you believe it? I and the father were prepared for a martyr's death. Fortunately, my little dove did not recognize him. Lord God! what have we lived to see! Poor Ivan Kouzmitch! who would have thought it!... And Vassilissa Egorovna? And Ivan Ignatitch? What was he killed for? And how came they to spare you? And what do you think of Shvabrin? He has had his hair cut, and is now feasting inside along with them! He is a very sharp fellow, there is no gainsaying that! When I spoke of my sick niece—will you believe it?—he looked at me as if he would have stabbed me; but he did not betray me. I am thankful to him for that, anyway."
At that moment I heard the drunken shouts of the guests and the voice of Father Gerasim. The guests were demanding wine, and the host was calling for his wife.
"Go back home, Peter Andreitch," said the priest's wife, somewhat alarmed; "I cannot stop to speak to you now; I must go and wait upon the drunken scoundrels. It might be unfortunate for you if you fell into their hands. Farewell, Peter Andreitch. What is to be, will be; perhaps God will not abandon us!"
The priest's wife went back inside the house. Somewhat more easy in mind, I returned to my quarters. As I crossed the square I saw several Bashkirs assembled round the gibbets, engaged in dragging off the boots of those who had been hanged. With difficulty I repressed my indignation, feeling convinced that if I gave expression to it, it would have been perfectly useless. The brigands invaded every part of the fortress, and plundered the officers' houses. On every side resounded the shouts of the drunken mutineers. I reached home. Savelitch met me on the threshold.
"Thank God!" he exclaimed when he saw me; "I was beginning to think that the villains had seized you again. Ah! my little father, Peter Andreitch, will you believe it, the robbers have plundered us of everything—clothes, linen, furniture, plate—they have not left us a single thing. But what does it matter? Thank God! they have spared your life. But, my lord, did you recognize their leader?"
"No, I did not recognize him. Who is he then?"
"How, my little father! Have you forgotten that drunken scoundrel who swindled you out of the pelisse at the inn? A brand new hareskin pelisse; and the beast burst the seams in putting it on."
I was astounded. In truth, the resemblance of Pougatcheff to my guide was very striking. I felt convinced that Pougatcheff and he were one and the same person, and then I understood why he had spared my life. I could not but feel surprised at the strange connection of events—a child's pelisse, given to a roving vagrant, had saved me from the hangman's noose, and a drunkard, who had passed his life in wandering from one inn to another, was now besieging fortresses and shaking the empire!
"Will you not eat something?" asked Savelitch, still faithful to his old habits. "There is nothing in the house; but I will go and search, and get something ready for you."
When I was left alone, I began to reflect. What was I to do? To remain in the fortress now that it was in the hands of the villain, or to join his band, was unworthy of an officer. Duty demanded that I should go wherever my services might still be of use to my fatherland in the present critical position of its affairs.... But love strongly urged me to remain near Maria Ivanovna and be her protector and defender. Although I foresaw a speedy and inevitable change in the course of affairs, yet I could not help trembling when I thought of the danger of her situation.
My reflections were interrupted by the arrival of one of the Cossacks, who came to inform me that "the great Czar required me to appear before him."
"Where is he?" I asked, preparing to obey.
"In the Commandant's house," replied the Cossack. "After dinner our father took a bath, but at present he is resting. Ah! your Excellency, it is very evident that he is a distinguished person; at dinner he deigned to eat two roasted sucking pigs, then he entered the bath, where the I water was so hot that even Tarass Kourotchkin could not bear it; he had to give the besom to Tomka Bikbaieff, and only came to himself through having cold water poured over him. There is no denying it; all his ways are majestic.... And I was told that in the bath he showed his Czar's signs upon his breast: on one side a two-headed eagle as large as a five-copeck piece, and on the other his own likeness."
I did not consider it necessary to contradict the Cossack's statement, and I accompanied him to the Commandant's house, trying to imagine beforehand what kind of a reception I should meet with from Pougatcheff, and endeavouring to guess how it would end. The reader will easily understand that I did not by any means feel easy within myself.
It was beginning to get dark when I reached the Commandant's house. The gibbet, with its victims, loomed black and terrible before me. The body of the poor Commandant's wife still lay at the bottom of the steps, near which two Cossacks stood on guard. The Cossack who accompanied me went in to announce me, and, returning almost immediately, conducted me into the room where, the evening before, I had taken a tender farewell of Maria Ivanovna.
An unusual spectacle presented itself to my gaze. At a table, covered with a cloth and loaded with bottles and glasses, sat Pougatcheff and some half-a-score of Cossack chiefs, in coloured caps and shirts, heated with wine, with flushed faces and flashing eyes. I did not see among then: Shvabrin and his fellow traitor, the orderly.
"Ah! your Excellency!" said Pougatcheff, seeing me, "Welcome; honour to you and a place at our banquet."
The guests moved closer together. I sat down silently at the end of the table. My neighbour, a young Cossack, tall and handsome, poured out for me a glass of wine, which, however, I did not touch. I began to observe the company with curiosity. Pougatcheff occupied the seat of honour, his elbows resting on the table, and his broad fist propped under his black beard. His features, regular and sufficiently agreeable, had nothing fierce about them. He frequently turned to speak to a man of about fifty years of age, addressing him sometimes as Count, sometimes as Timofeitch, sometimes as uncle. All those present treated each other as comrades, and did not show any particular respect for their leader. The conversation was upon the subject of the assault of the morning, of the success of the revolt, and of their future operations. Each one boasted of what he had done, expressed his opinion, and fearlessly contradicted Pougatcheff. And in this strange council of war it was resolved to march upon Orenburg; a bold movement, and which was to be very nearly crowned with success! The march was fixed for the following day.
"Now, lads," said Pougatcheff, "before we retire to rest, let us have my favourite song. Choumakoff, begin!"
My neighbour sang, in a shrill voice, the following melancholy peasants' song, and all joined in the chorus:
"Stir not, mother, green forest of oak, Disturb me not in my meditation; For to-morrow before the court I must go, Before the stern judge, before the Czar himself. The great Lord Czar will begin to question me: 'Tell me, young man, tell me, thou peasant's son, With whom have you stolen, with whom have you robbed? Did you have many companions with you?' 'I will tell you, true-believing Czar, The whole truth I will confess to you. My companions were four in number: My first companion was the dark night, My second companion was a steel knife, My third companion was my good horse, My fourth companion was my taut bow, My messengers were my tempered arrows.' Then speaks my hope, the true-believing Czar: 'Well done! my lad, brave peasant's son; You knew how to steal, you knew how to reply: Therefore, my lad, I will make you a present Of a very high structure in the midst of a field— Of two upright posts with a cross-beam above.'"
It is impossible to describe the effect produced upon me by this popular gallows song, trolled out by men destined for the gallows. Their ferocious countenances, their sonorous voices, and the melancholy expression which they imparted to the words, which in themselves were not very expressive, filled me with a sort of poetical terror.
The guests drank another glass, then rose from the table and took leave of Pougatcheff.
I wanted to follow them, but Pougatcheff said to me:
"Sit down; I want to speak to you."
We remained face to face.
For some moments we both continued silent. Pougatcheff looked at me fixedly, every now and then winking his left eye with a curious expression of craftiness and drollery. At last he burst out laughing, and with such unfeigned merriment, that I, too, looking at him, began to laugh, without knowing why.
"Well, your lordship," he said to me, "confess now, you were in a terrible fright when my fellows put the rope round your neck. I do not believe that the sky appeared bigger than a sheepskin to you just then.... You would have been strung up to the crossbeam if it had not been for your servant. I knew the old fellow at once. Well, would your lordship have thought that the man who conducted you to the inn, was the great Czar himself?"
Here he assumed an air of mystery and importance.
"You have been guilty of a serious offence against me," continued he, "but I pardoned you on account of your virtue, and because you rendered me a service when I was compelled to hide myself from my enemies. But you will see something very different presently! You will see how I will reward you when I enter into possession of my kingdom! Will you promise to serve me with zeal?"
The rascal's question, and his insolence, appeared to me so amusing, that I could not help smiling.
"Why do you smile?" he asked, frowning. "Perhaps you do not believe that I am the great Czar? Is that so?—answer plainly."
I became confused. To acknowledge a vagabond as emperor was quite out of the question; to do so seemed to me unpardonable cowardice. To tell him to his face that he was an impostor was to expose myself to certain death, and that which I was prepared to say beneath the gibbet before the eyes of the crowd, in the first outburst of my indignation, appeared to me now a useless boast. I hesitated. In gloomy silence Pougatcheff awaited my reply. At last (and even now I remember that moment with self-satisfaction) the sentiment of duty triumphed over my human weakness. I replied to Pougatcheff:
"Listen, I will tell you the whole truth. Judge yourself: can I acknowledge you as emperor? You, as a sensible man, would know that it would not be saying what I really thought."
"Who am I, then, in your opinion?"
"God only knows; but whoever you may be, you are playing a dangerous game."
Pougatcheff threw a rapid glance at me.
"Then you do not believe," said he, "that I am the Emperor Peter? Well, be it so. But is not success the reward of the bold? Did not Grishka Otrepieff reign in former days? Think of me what you please, but do not leave me. What does it matter to you one way or the other? Whoever is pope is father. Serve me faithfully and truly, and I will make you a field-marshal and a prince. What do you say?"
"No," I replied with firmness. "I am by birth a nobleman; I have taken the oath of fealty to the empress: I cannot serve you. If you really wish me well, send me back to Orenburg."
"But if I let you go," said he, "will you at least promise not to serve against me?"
"How can I promise you that?" I replied. "You yourself know that it does not depend upon my own will. If I am ordered to march against you, I must go—there is no help for it. You yourself are now a chief; you demand obedience from your followers. How would it seem, if I refused to serve when my services were needed? My life is in your hands: if you set me free, I will thank you; if you put me to death, God will be your judge; but I have told you the truth."
My frankness struck Pougatcheff.
"Be it so," said he, slapping me upon the shoulder. "One should either punish completely or pardon completely. Go then where you like, and do what you like. Come to-morrow to say good-bye to me, and now go to bed. I feel very drowsy myself."
I left Pougatcheff and went out into the street. The night was calm and cold. The moon and stars were shining brightly, lighting up the square and the gibbet. In the fortress all was dark and still. Only in the tavern was a light visible, where could be heard the noise of late revellers.
I glanced at the pope's house. The shutters and doors were closed. Everything seemed quiet within.
I made my way to my own quarters and found Savelitch grieving about my absence. The news of my being set at liberty filled him with unutterable joy.
"Thanks be to Thee, Almighty God!" said he, making the sign of the cross. "At daybreak to-morrow we will leave the fortress and go wherever God will direct us. I have prepared something for you; eat it, my little father, and then rest yourself till the morning, as if you were in the bosom of Christ."
I followed his advice and, having eaten with a good appetite, I fell asleep upon the bare floor, worn out both in body and mind.
 The small wardrobe, with glass doors, in which the sacred images are kept, and which forms a domestic altar.
 The first false Demetrius, the Perkin Warbeck of Russia. The real Demetrius was the son of Ivan the Terrible (Ivan IV.), and is generally believed to have been assassinated by order of Boris Godunoff, a nobleman of Tartar origin, who was afterwards elected Czar. Otrepieff's story was that his physician had pretended to comply with the orders of Boris, but had substituted the son of a serf for him. Being supported in his claims by the Poles, the pretender succeeded in gaining the throne, but his partiality for everything Polish aroused the national jealousy of the Russians, and he was slain by the infuriated populace of Moscow, after a brief reign of one year.