I left the General and hastened to my own quarters. Savelitch received me with his usual admonitions.
"What pleasure do you find, my lord, in fighting against drunken robbers? Is that the kind of occupation for a nobleman? All hours are not alike, and you will sacrifice your life for nothing. It would be all well and good if you were fighting against the Turks or the Swedes, but it is a shame to mention the name of the enemy that you are dealing with now."
I interrupted him in his speech by the question:
"How much money have I left?"
"You have a tolerably good sum still left," he replied, with a look of satisfaction. "In spite of their searching and rummaging, I succeeded in hiding it from the robbers." So saying, he drew from his pocket a long knitted purse, filled with silver pieces.
"Well, Savelitch," said I to him, "give me half of what you have, and keep the rest yourself. I am going to Fortress Bailogorsk."
"My little father, Peter Andreitch!" said my good old servant in a trembling voice; "do not tempt God! How can you travel at the present time, when none of the roads are free from the robbers? Have compassion upon your parents, if you have no pity for yourself. Where do you Want to go? And why? Wait a little while. The troops will soon be here and will quickly make short work of the robbers. Then you may go in whatever direction you like." But my resolution was not to be shaken.
"It is too late to reflect," I said to the old man. "I must go, I cannot do otherwise than go. Do not grieve, Savelitch: God is merciful, perhaps we may see each other again. Have no scruples about spending the money, and don't be sparing of it. Buy whatever you require, even though you have to pay three times the value of it. I give this money to you. If in three days I do not return——"
"What are you talking about, my lord?" said Savelitch, interrupting me. "Do you think that I could let you go alone? Do not imagine anything of the kind. If you have resolved to go, I will accompany you, even though it be on foot; I will not leave you. The idea of my sitting down behind a stone wall without you! Do you think then that I have gone out of my mind? Do as you please, my lord, but I will not leave you."
I knew that it was useless to dispute with Savelitch, and I allowed him to prepare for the journey. In half an hour I was seated upon the back of my good horse, while Savelitch was mounted upon a lean and limping jade, which one of the inhabitants of the town had given to him for nothing, not having the means to keep it any longer. We reached the gates of the town; the sentinels allowed us to pass, and we left Orenburg behind us.
It was beginning to grow dark. My road led past the village of Berd, one of Pougatcheff's haunts. The way was covered with snow, but over the whole of the steppe could be seen the footprints of horses, renewed every day. I rode forward at a quick trot. Savelitch could hardly keep pace with me, and kept calling out:
"Not so fast, my lord, for Heaven's sake, not so fast! My accursed hack cannot keep up with your long-legged devil. Where are you off to in such a hurry? It would be all very well if we were going to a feast, but we are more likely going to run our heads into a noose.... Peter Andreitch ... little father ... Peter Andreitch! Lord God! the child is rushing to destruction!"
We soon caught sight of the fires of Berd glimmering in the distance. We approached some ravines, which served as natural defences to the hamlet. Savelitch still followed me, and did not cease to utter his plaintive entreaties. I hoped to be able to ride round the village without being observed, when suddenly I perceived through the darkness, straight in front of me, five peasants armed with clubs; it was the advanced guard of Pougatcheff's camp. They challenged us. Not knowing the password, I wanted to ride on without saying anything; but they immediately surrounded me, and one of them seized hold of my horse's bridle. I drew my sword and struck the peasant on the head. His cap saved him, but he staggered and let the reins fall from his hand. The others grew frightened and took to their heels; I seized the opportunity, and, setting spurs to my horse, I galloped off.
The increasing darkness of the night might have saved me from further dangers, but, turning round all at once, I perceived that Savelitch was no longer with me. The poor old man, with his lame horse, had not been able to get clear of the robbers. What was to be done? After waiting a few minutes for him, and feeling convinced that he had been stopped, I turned my horse round to hasten to his assistance.
Approaching the ravine, I heard in the distance confused cries, and the voice of my Savelitch. I quickened my pace, and soon found myself in the midst of the peasants who had stopped me a few minutes before. Savelitch was among them. With loud shouts they threw themselves upon me and dragged me from my horse in a twinkling. One of them, apparently the leader of the band, informed us that he was going to conduct us immediately before the Czar. I "And our father," added he, "will decide whether you shall be hanged immediately or wait till daylight."
I offered no resistance; Savelitch followed my example, and the sentinels led us away in triumph.
We crossed the ravine and entered the village. In all the huts fires were burning. Noise and shouts resounded on every side. In the streets I met a large number of people; but nobody observed us in the darkness, and no one recognized in me an officer from Orenburg. We were conducted straight to a cottage which stood at the corner where two streets met. Before the door stood several wine-casks and two pieces of artillery.
"This is the palace," said one of the peasants; "we will announce you at once."
He entered the cottage. I glanced at Savelitch: the old man was making the sign of the cross and muttering his prayers to himself.
I waited a long time; at last the peasant returned and said to me:
"Come inside; our father has given orders for the officer to be brought before him."
I entered the cottage, or the palace, as the peasants called it. It was lighted by two tallow candles, and the walls were covered with gilt paper; otherwise, the benches, the table, the little wash-hand basin suspended by a cord, the towel hanging on a nail, the oven-fork in the corner, the broad shelf loaded with pots—everything was the same as in an ordinary cottage. Pougatcheff was seated under the holy picture, dressed in a red caftan and wearing a tall cap, and with his arms set akimbo in a very self-important manner. Around him stood several of his principal followers, with looks of feigned respect and submission upon their faces. It was evident that the news of the arrival of an officer from Orenburg had awakened a great curiosity among the rebels, and that they had prepared to receive me with as much pomp as possible. Pougatcheff recognized me at the first glance. His assumed importance vanished all at once.
"Ah! your lordship!" said he gaily. "How do you do?"
"What, in Heaven's name, has brought you here?"
I replied that I was travelling on my own business, and that his people had stopped me.
"What business?" asked he.
I knew not what to reply. Pougatcheff, supposing that I did not like to explain in the presence of witnesses, turned to his companions and ordered them to go out of the room. All obeyed, except two, who did not stir from their places.
"Speak boldly before them," said Pougatcheff, "I do not hide anything from them."
I glanced stealthily at the impostor's confidants. One of them, a weazen-faced, crooked old man, with a short grey beard, had nothing remarkable about him except a blue riband, which he wore across his grey tunic. But never shall I forget his companion. He was a tall, powerful, broad-shouldered man, and seemed to me to be about forty-five years of age. A thick red beard, grey piercing eyes, a nose without nostrils, and reddish scars upon his forehead and cheeks, gave to his broad, pock-marked face an indescribable expression. He had on a red shirt, a Kirghis robe, and Cossack trousers. The first, as I learned afterwards, was the runaway corporal Bailoborodoff; the other, Afanassy Sokoloff, surnamed Khlopousha, a condemned criminal, who had three times escaped from the mines of Siberia. In spite of the feelings of agitation which so exclusively occupied my mind at that time, the society in the midst of which I so unexpectedly found myself awakened my curiosity in a powerful degree. But Pougatcheff soon recalled me to myself by his question:
"Speak! on what business did you leave Orenburg?"
A strange thought came into my head: it seemed to me that Providence, by conducting me a second time into the presence of Pougatcheff, gave me the opportunity of carrying my project into execution. I determined to take advantage of it, and, without any further reflection, I replied to Pougatcheff's question:
"I was going to the fortress of Bailogorsk to rescue an orphan who is oppressed there."
Pougatcheff's eyes sparkled.
"Which of my people dares to oppress the orphan?" cried he. "Were he seven feet high he should not escape my judgment. Speak! who is the culprit?"
"Shvabrin is the culprit," replied I. "He holds captive the young girl whom you saw ill at the priest's house, and wants to force her to marry him."
"I will soon put Shvabrin in his right place," said Pougatcheff fiercely. "He shall learn what it is to oppress my people according to his own will and pleasure. I will have him hanged."
"Allow me to speak a word," said Khlopousha in a hoarse; voice. "You were in too great a hurry in appointing Shvabrin to the command of the fortress, and now you are in too great a hurry to hang him. You have already offended the Cossacks by placing a nobleman over them as their chief; do not now alarm the nobles by hanging them at the first accusation."
"They ought neither to be pitied nor favoured," said the little old man with the blue riband. "To hang Shvabrin would be no great misfortune, neither would it be amiss to put this officer through a regular course of questions. Why has he deigned to pay us a visit? If he does not recognize you as Czar, he cannot come to seek justice from you; and if he does recognize you, why has he remained up to the present time in Orenburg along with your enemies? Will you not order him to be conducted to the court-house, and have a fire lit there? It seems to me that his Grace is sent to us from the generals in Orenburg."
The logic of the old rascal seemed to me to be plausible enough. A shudder passed through the whole of my body, when I thought into whose hands I had fallen. Pougatcheff observed my agitation.
"Well, your lordship," said he to me, winking his eyes; "my Field-Marshal, it seems to me, speaks to the point. What do you think?"
Pougatcheff's raillery restored my courage. I calmly replied that I was in his power, and that he could deal with me in whatever way he pleased.
"Good," said Pougatcheff. "Now tell me, in what condition is your town?"
"Thank God!" I replied, "everything is all right."
"All right!" repeated Pougatcheff, "and the people are dying of hunger!"
The impostor spoke the truth; but in accordance with the duty imposed upon me by my oath, I assured him that what he had heard were only idle reports, and that in Orenburg there was a sufficiency of all kinds of provisions.
"You see," observed the little old man, "that he deceives you to your face. All the deserters unanimously declare that famine and sickness are rife in Orenburg, that they are eating carrion there and think themselves fortunate to get it to eat; and yet his Grace assures us that there is plenty of everything there. If you wish to hang Shvabrin, then hang this young fellow on the same gallows, that they may have nothing to reproach each other with."
The words of the accursed old man seemed to produce an effect upon Pougatcheff. Fortunately, Khlopousha began to contradict his companion.
"That will do, Naoumitch," said he to him: "you only think of strangling and hanging. What sort of a hero are you? To look at you, one is puzzled to imagine how your body and soul contrive to hang together. You have one foot in the grave yourself, and you want to kill others. Haven't you enough blood on your conscience?"
"And what sort of a saint are you?" replied Bailoborodoff. "Whence this compassion on your side?"
"Without doubt," replied Khlopousha, "I also am a sinner, and this hand"—here he clenched his bony fist and, pushing back his sleeve, disclosed his hairy arm—"and this hand is guilty of having shed Christian blood. But I killed my enemy, and not my guest; on the open highway or in a dark wood, and not in the house, sitting behind the stove; with the axe and club, and not with old woman's chatter."
The old man turned round and muttered the words: "Slit nostrils!"
"What are you muttering, you old greybeard?" cried Khlopousha. "I will give you slit nostrils. Just wait a little, and your turn will come too. Heaven grant that your nose may smell the pincers.... In the meantime, take care that I don't pull out your ugly beard by the roots." "Gentlemen, generals!" said Pougatcheff loftily, "there has been enough of this quarrelling between you. It would be no great misfortune if all the Orenburg dogs were hanging by the heels from the same crossbeam; but it would be a very great misfortune if our own dogs were to begin devouring each other. So now make it up and be friends again."
Khlopousha and Bailoborodoff said not a word, but glared furiously at each other. I felt the necessity of changing the subject of a conversation which might end in a very disagreeable manner for me, and turning to Pougatcheff, I said to him with a cheerful look:
"Ah! I had almost forgotten to thank you for the horse and pelisse. Without you I should never have reached the town, and I should have been frozen to death on the road."
My stratagem succeeded. Pougatcheff became good-humoured again.
"The payment of a debt is its beauty," said he, winking his eyes. "And now tell me, what have you to do with this young girl whom Shvabrin persecutes? Has she kindled a flame in your young heart, eh?"
"She is my betrothed," I replied, observing a favourable change in the storm, and hot deeming it necessary to conceal the truth.
"Your betrothed!" exclaimed Pougatcheff. "Why did you not say so before? We will marry you, then, and have some merriment at your wedding!"
Then turning to Bailoborodoff:
"Listen, Field-Marshal!" said he to him: "his lordship and I are old friends; let us sit down to supper; morning's judgment is wiser than that of evening—so we will see to-morrow what is to be done with him."
I would gladly have declined the proposed honour, but there was no help for it. Two young Cossack girls, daughters of the owner of the cottage, covered the table with a white cloth, and brought in some bread, fish-soup, and several bottles of wine and beer, and for the second time I found myself seated at the same table with Pougatcheff and his terrible companions.
The drunken revel, of which, I was an involuntary witness, continued till late into the night. At last, intoxication began; to overcome the three associates. Pougatcheff fell off to sleep where he was sitting: his companions rose and made signs to me to leave him where he was. I went out with them. By order of Khlopousha, the sentinel conducted me; to the justice-room, where I found Savelitch, and where they left me shut up with him. My servant was so astonished at all he saw and heard, that he could not ask me a single question. He lay down in the dark, and continued to sigh and moan for a long time; but at length he began to snore, and I gave myself up to meditations, which hindered me from obtaining sleep for a single minute during the whole of the night.
The next morning, Pougatcheff gave orders for me to be brought before him. I went to him. In front of his door stood a kibitka, with three Tartar horses harnessed to it. The crowd filled the street. I encountered Pougatcheff in the hall. He was dressed for a journey, being attired in a fur cloak and a Kirghis cap. His companions of the night before stood around him, exhibiting an appearance of submission, which contrasted strongly with everything that I had witnessed the previous evening. Pougatcheff saluted me in a cheerful tone, and ordered me to sit down beside him in the kibitka.
We took our seats.
"To the fortress of Bailogorsk!" said Pougatcheff to the broad-shouldered Tartar who drove the vehicle. My heart beat violently. The horses broke into a gallop, the little bell tinkled, and the kibitka flew over the snow.
"Stop! stop!" cried a voice which I knew only too well, and I saw Savelitch running towards us.
Pougatcheff ordered the driver to stop.
"Little father, Peter Andreitch!" cried my servant; "do not leave me in my old age among these scoun——"
"Ah, old greybeard!" said Pougatcheff to him. "It is God's will that we should meet again. Well, spring up behind."
"Thanks, Czar, thanks, my own father!" replied Savelitch, taking his seat. "May God give you a hundred years of life and good health for deigning to cast your eyes upon and console an old man. I will pray to God for you all the days of my life, and I will never again speak about the hareskin pelisse."
This allusion to the hareskin pelisse might have made Pougatcheff seriously angry. Fortunately, the usurper did not hear, or pretended not to hear, the misplaced remark. The horses again broke into a gallop; the people in the streets stood still and made obeisance. Pougatcheff bowed his head from side to side. In about a minute we had left the village behind us and were flying along over the smooth surface of the road.
One can easily imagine what my feelings were at that moment. In a few hours I should again set eyes upon her whom I had already considered as lost to me for ever. I pictured to myself the moment of our meeting.... I thought also of the man in whose hands lay my fate, and who, by a strange concourse of circumstances, had become mysteriously connected with me. I remembered the thoughtless cruelty and the bloodthirsty habits of him, who now constituted himself the deliverer of my beloved. Pougatcheff did not know that she was the daughter of Captain Mironoff; the exasperated Shvabrin might reveal everything to him; it was also possible that Pougatcheff might find out the truth in some other way.... Then what would become of Maria Ivanovna? A shudder passed through my frame, and my hair stood on end.
Suddenly Pougatcheff interrupted my meditations, by turning to me with the question:
"What is your lordship thinking of?"
"What should I not be thinking of," I replied. "I am an officer and a gentleman; only yesterday I was fighting against you, and now to-day I am riding side by side with you in the same carriage, and the happiness of my whole life depends upon you."
"How so?" asked Pougatcheff. "Are you afraid?"
I replied that, having already had my life spared by him,
I hoped, not only for his mercy, but even for his assistance.
"And you are right; by God, you are right!" said the impostor. "You saw that my fellows looked askant at you; and this morning the old man persisted in his statement that you were a spy, and that it was necessary that you should be interrogated by means of torture and then hanged. But I would not consent to it," he added, lowering his voice, so that Savelitch and the Tartar should not be able to hear him, "because I remembered your glass of wine and hareskin pelisse. You see now that I am not such a bloodthirsty creature as your brethren maintain."
I recalled to mind the capture of the fortress of Bailogorsk but I did not think it advisable to contradict him, and so I made no reply.
"What do they say of me in Orenburg?" asked Pougatcheff, after a short interval of silence.
"They say that it will be no easy matter to get the upper hand of you; and there is no denying that you have made yourself felt."
The face of the impostor betokened how much his vanity was gratified by this remark.
"Yes," said he, with a look of self-satisfaction, "I wage war to some purpose. Do you people in Orenburg know about the battle of Youzeiff? Forty general officers killed, four armies taken captive. Do you think the King of Prussia could do as well as that?"
The boasting of the brigand appeared to me to be somewhat amusing.
"What do you think about it yourself?" I said to him: "do you think that you could beat Frederick?"
"Fedor Fedorovitch? And why not? I beat your generals, and they have beaten him. My arms have always been successful up till now. But only wait awhile, you will see something very different when I march to Moscow."
"And do you intend marching to Moscow?"
The impostor reflected for a moment and then said in a low voice:
"God knows. My road is narrow; my will is weak. My followers do not obey me. They are scoundrels. I must keep a sharp look-out; at the first reverse they will save their own necks at the expense of my head."
"That is quite true," I said to Pougatcheff. "Would it not be better for you to separate yourself from them in good time, and throw yourself upon the mercy of the Empress?"
Pougatcheff smiled bitterly.
"No," replied he: "it is too late for me to repent now. There would be no pardon for me. I will go on as I have begun. Who knows? Perhaps I shall be successful. Grishka Otrepieff was made Czar at Moscow."
"And do you know what his end was? He was flung out of a window, his body was cut to pieces and burnt, and then his ashes were placed in a cannon and scattered to the winds!"
"Listen," said Pougatcheff with a certain wild inspiration. "I will tell you a tale which was told to me in my childhood by an old Calmuck. 'The eagle once said to the crow: "Tell me, crow, why is it that you live in this bright world for three hundred years, and I only for thirty-three years?" "Because, little father," replied the crow, "you drink live blood, and I live on carrion."—The eagle reflected for a little while and then said: "Let us both try and live on the same food."—"Good! agreed!" The eagle and the crow flew away. Suddenly they caught sight of a fallen horse, and they alighted upon it. The crow began to pick its flesh and found it very good. The eagle tasted it once, then a second time, then shook its pinions and said to the crow: "No, brother crow; rather than live on carrion for three hundred years, I would prefer to drink live blood but once, and trust in God for what might happen afterwards!"' What do you think of the Calmuck's story?"
"It is very ingenious," I replied. "But to live by murder and robbery is, in my opinion, nothing else than living on carrion."
Pougatcheff looked at me in astonishment and made no reply. We both became silent, each being wrapped in his own thoughts. The Tartar began to hum a plaintive song. Savelitch, dozing, swayed from side to side. The kibitka glided along rapidly over the smooth frozen road.... Suddenly I caught sight of a little village on the steep bank of the Yaik, with its palisade and belfry, and about a quarter of an hour afterwards we entered the fortress of Bailogorsk.
 The picture of some saint, usually painted on wood. There is generally one of them hung in the corner of every room in the houses of the Russians.
 The name of a celebrated bandit of the last century, who for a long time offered resistance to the Imperial troops.
 For the purpose of torture.
 An engagement in which Pougatcheff had the advantage.
 The name given to Frederick the Great by the Russian soldiers.