The Captain's Daughter

by Alexsander Pushkin

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Chapter XIV - The Sentence

I felt convinced that the cause of my arrest was my absenting myself from Orenburg without leave. I could easily justify myself on that score: for sallying out against the enemy had not only not been prohibited, but had even been encouraged. I might be accused of undue rashness instead of disobedience of orders. But my friendly intercourse with Pougatcheff could be proved by several witnesses, and could not but at least appear very suspicious. During the whole of the journey I thought of the examination that awaited me, and mentally prepared the answers that I should make. I resolved to tell the plain unvarnished truth before the court, feeling convinced that this was the simplest and, at the same time, the surest way of justifying myself.

I arrived at Kazan—the town had been plundered and set on fire. In the streets, instead of houses, there were to be seen heaps of burnt stones, and blackened walls without roofs or windows. Such were the traces left by Pougatcheff! I was conducted to the fortress which had escaped the ravages of the fire. The hussars delivered me over to the officer of the guard. The latter ordered a blacksmith to be sent for. Chains were placed round my feet and fastened together. Then I was taken to the prison and left alone in a dark and narrow dungeon, with four blank walls and a small window protected by iron gratings.

Such a beginning boded no good to me. For all that, I did not lose hope nor courage. I had recourse to the consolation of all those in affliction, and after having tasted for the first time the sweet comforting of prayer poured out from a pure but sorrow-stricken heart, I went off into a calm sleep, without thinking of what might happen to me.

The next morning the gaoler awoke me with the announcement that I was to appear before the Commission. Two soldiers conducted me through a courtyard to the Commandant's house: they stopped in the ante-room and allowed me to enter the inner room by myself.

I found myself in a good-sized apartment At the table, which was covered with papers, sat two men: an elderly general, of a cold and stem aspect, and a young captain of the Guards, of about twenty-eight years of age, and of very agreeable and affable appearance. Near the window, at a separate table, sat the secretary, with a pen behind his ear, and bending over his paper, ready to write down my depositions.

The examination began. I was asked my name and profession. The General inquired if I was the son of Andrei Petrovitch Grineff, and on my replying in the affirmative, he exclaimed in a stem tone:

"It is a pity that such an honourable man should have such an unworthy son!"

I calmly replied that whatever were the accusations against me, I hoped to be able to refute them by the candid avowal of the truth.

My assurance did not please him.

"You are very audacious, my friend," said he, frowning: "but we have dealt with others like you."

Then the young officer asked me under what circumstances and at what time I had entered Pougatcheff's service, and in what affairs I had been employed by him.

I replied indignantly, that, as an officer and a nobleman, I could never have entered Pougatcheff's service, and could never have received any commission from him whatever.

"How comes it then," continued the interrogator, "that the nobleman and officer was the only one spared by the impostor, while all his comrades were cruelly murdered? How comes it that this same officer and nobleman could revel with the rebellious scoundrels, and receive from the leader of the villains presents, consisting of a pelisse, a horse, and half a rouble? Whence came such strange friendship, and upon what does it rest, if not upon treason, or at least upon abominable and unpardonable cowardice?"

I was deeply offended by the words of the officer of the Guards, and I began to defend myself with great warmth. I related how my acquaintance with Pougatcheff began upon the steppe during a snow-storm, how he had recognized me at the capture of the fortress of Bailogorsk and spared my life. I admitted that I had received a pelisse and a horse from the impostor, but that I had defended the fortress of Bailogorsk against the rebels to the last extremity. In conclusion I appealed to my General, who could bear witness to my zeal during the disastrous siege of Orenburg.

The stern old man took up from the table an open letter and began to read it aloud:

"In reply to your Excellency's inquiry respecting Ensign Grineff, who is charged with being implicated in the present insurrection and with entering into communication with the leader of the robbers, contrary to the rules of the service and the oath of allegiance, I have the honour to report that the said Ensign Grineff formed part of the garrison in Orenburg from the beginning of October 1773 to the twenty-fourth of February of the present year, on which date he quitted the town, and since that time he has not made his appearance again. We have heard from some deserters that he was in Pougatcheff's camp, and that he accompanied him to the fortress of Bailogorsk, where he had formerly been garrisoned. With respect to his conduct, I can only...."

Here the General interrupted his reading and said to me harshly:

"What do you say now by way of justification?"

I was about to continue as I began and explain the state of affairs between myself and Maria Ivanovna as frankly as all the rest, but suddenly I felt an invincible disgust at the thought of doing so. It occurred to my mind, that if I mentioned her name, the Commission would summon her to appear, and the thought of connecting her name with the vile doings of hardened villains, and of herself being confronted with them—this terrible idea produced such an impression upon me, that I became confused and maintained silence.

My judges, who seemed at first to have listened to my answers with a certain amount of good-will, were once more prejudiced against me on perceiving my confusion. The officer of the Guards demanded that I should be confronted with my principal accuser. The General ordered that the "rascal of yesterday" should be summoned. I turned round quickly towards the door, to await the appearance of my accuser. After a few moments I heard the clanking of chains, the door opened, and—Shvabrin entered the room. I was astonished at the change in his appearance. He was terribly thin and pale. His hair, but a short time ago as black as pitch, was now quite grey; his long beard was unkempt. He repeated all his accusations in a weak but determined voice. According to his account, I had been sent by Pougatcheff to Orenburg as a spy; every day I used to ride out to the advanced posts, in order to transmit written information of all that took place within the town; that at last I had gone quite over to the side of the usurper and had accompanied him from fortress to fortress, endeavouring in every way to injure my companions in crime, in order to occupy their places and profit the better by the rewards of the impostor.

I listened to him in silence, and I rejoiced on account of one thing: the name of Maria was not mentioned by the scoundrel, whether it was that his self-love could not bear the thought of one who had rejected him with contempt, or that within his heart there was a spark of that self-same feeling which had induced me to remain silent. Whatever it was, the name of the daughter of the Commandant of Bailogorsk was not pronounced in the presence of the Commission. I became still more confirmed in my resolution, and when the judges asked me what I had to say in answer to Shvabrin's evidence, I replied that I still stood by my first statement and that I had nothing else to add in justification of myself.

The General ordered us to be led away. We quitted the room together. I looked calmly at Shvabrin, but did not say a word to him. He looked at me with a malicious smile, lifted up his fetters and passed out quickly in front of me. I was conducted back to prison, and was not compelled to undergo a-second examination.

I was not a witness of all that now remains for me to impart to the reader; but I have heard it related so often, that the most minute details are indelibly engraven upon my memory, and it seems to me as if I had taken a part in them unseen.

Maria Ivanovna was received by my parents with that sincere kindness which distinguished people in the olden time. They regarded it as a favour from God that the opportunity was afforded them of sheltering and consoling the poor orphan. They soon became sincerely attached to her, because it was impossible to know her and not to love her. My love for her no longer appeared mere folly to my father, and my mother had one wish only, that her Peter should marry the pretty Captain's daughter.

The news of my arrest filled all my family with consternation. Maria Ivanovna had related so simply to my parents my strange acquaintance with Pougatcheff, that not only had they felt quite easy about the matter, but had often been obliged to laugh heartily at the whole story. My father would not believe that I could be implicated in an infamous rebellion, the aim of which was the destruction of the throne and the extermination of the nobles. He questioned Savelitch severely. My retainer did not deny that I had been the guest of Pougatcheff, and that the villain had acted very generously towards me, but he affirmed with a solemn oath that he had never heard a word about treason. My old parents became easier in mind, and waited impatiently for more favourable news. Maria Ivanovna, however, was in a state of great agitation, but she kept silent, as she was modest and prudent in the highest degree.

Several weeks passed.... Then my father unexpectedly received from St. Petersburg a letter from our relative, Prince B——. The letter was about me. After the usual compliments, he informed him that the suspicions which had been raised concerning my participation in the plots of the rebels, had unfortunately been shown to be only too well founded; that capital punishment would have been meted out to me, but that the Empress, in consideration of the faithful services and the grey hairs of my father, had resolved to be gracious towards his criminal son, and, instead of condemning him to suffer an ignominious death, had ordered that he should be sent to the most remote part of Siberia for the rest of his life.

This unexpected blow nearly killed my father. He lost his usual firmness, and his grief, usually silent, found vent in bitter complaints.

"What!" he cried, as if beside himself: "my son has taken part in Pougatcheff's plots! God of Justice, that I should live to see this! The Empress spares his life! Does that make it any better for me? It is not death at the hands of the executioner that is so terrible: my great-grandfather died upon the scaffold for the defence of that which his conscience regarded as sacred;[1] my father suffered with Volinsky and Khrouschtcheff.[2] But that a nobleman should be false to his oath, should associate with robbers, with murderers and with runaway slaves!... Shame and disgrace upon our race!"

Frightened by his despair, my mother dared not weep in his presence; she endeavoured to console him by speaking of the uncertainty of reports, and the little dependency to be placed upon the opinions of other people. But my father was inconsolable.

Maria Ivanovna suffered more than anybody. Being firmly convinced that I could have justified myself if I had only wished to do so, she guessed the reason of my silence, and considered herself the cause of my misfortune. She hid from everyone her tears and sufferings, and was incessantly thinking of the means by which I might be saved.

One evening my father was seated upon the sofa turning over the leaves' of the "Court Calendar," but his thoughts were far away, and the reading of the book failed to produce upon him its usual effect. He was whistling an old march. My mother was silently knitting a woollen waistcoat, and from time to time her tears ran down upon her work. All at once, Maria Ivanovna, who was also at work in the same room, declared that it was absolutely necessary that she should go to St. Petersburg, and she begged of my parents to furnish her with the means of doing so. My mother was very much hurt at this resolution.

"Why do you wish to go to St. Petersburg?" said she. "Is it possible, Maria Ivanovna, that you want to forsake us also?"

Maria replied that her fate depended upon this journey, that she was going to seek help and protection from powerful persons, as the daughter of a man who had fallen a victim to his fidelity.

My father lowered his head; every word that recalled to mind the supposed crime of his son, was painful to him, and seemed like a bitter reproach.

"Go, my child," he said to her at last with a sigh; "we do not wish to stand in the way of your happiness. May God give you an honest man for a husband, and not an infamous traitor."

He rose and left the room.

Maria Ivanovna, left alone with my mother, confided to her a part of her plan. My mother, with tears in her eyes, embraced her and prayed to God that her undertaking might be crowned with success. Maria Ivanovna made all her preparations, and a few days afterwards she set out on her road with the faithful Palasha and the equally faithful Savelitch, who, forcibly separated from me, consoled himself at least with the thought that he was serving my betrothed.

Maria Ivanovna arrived safely at Sofia, and learning that the Court was at that time at Tsarskoe Selo, she resolved to stop there. At the post-house, a small recess behind a. partition was assigned to her. The postmaster's wife came immediately to chat with her, and she informed Maria that she was niece to one of the stove-lighters of the Court, and she initiated her into all the mysteries of Court life. She told her at what hour the Empress usually got up, when she took coffee, and when she went out for a walk; what great lords were then with her; what she had deigned to say the day before at table, and whom she had received in the evening. In a word, the conversation of Anna Vlassievna was as good as a volume of historical memoirs, and would be very precious to the present generation.

Maria Ivanovna listened to her with great attention. They went together into the palace garden. Anna Vlassievna related the history of every alley and of every little bridge, and after seeing all that they wished to see, they returned to the post-house, highly satisfied with each other.

The next day, early in the morning, Maria Ivanovna awoke, dressed herself, and quietly betook herself to the palace garden. It was a lovely morning; the sun was gilding the tops of the linden trees, already turning yellow beneath the cold breath of autumn. The broad lake glittered in the light. The swans, just awake, came sailing majestically out from under the bushes overhanging the banks. Maria Ivanovna walked towards a delightful lawn, where a monument had just been erected in honour of the recent victories gained by Count Peter Alexandrovitch Roumyanzoff.[3] Suddenly a little white dog of English breed ran barking towards her. Maria grew frightened and stood still. At the same moment she heard an agreeable female voice call out:

"Do not be afraid, it will not bite."

Maria saw a lady seated on the bench opposite the monument. Maria sat down on the other end of the bench. The lady looked at her attentively; Maria on her side, by a succession of stolen glances, contrived to examine the stranger from head to foot. She was attired in a white morning gown, a light cap, and a short mantle. She seemed to be about forty years of age. Her face, which was full; and red, wore an expression of calmness and dignity, and her blue eyes and smiling lips had an indescribable charm about them. The lady was the first to break silence.

"You are doubtless a stranger here?" said she.

"Yes, I only arrived yesterday from the country."

"Did you come with your parents?"

"No, I came alone."

"Alone! But you are very young to travel alone."

"I have neither father nor mother."

"Perhaps you have come here on some business?"

"Yes, I have come to present a petition to the Empress."

"You are an orphan: probably you have come to complain of some injustice."

"No, I have come to ask for mercy, not justice."

"May I ask you who you are?"

"I am the daughter of Captain Mironoff."

"Of Captain Mironoff! the same who was Commandant of one of the Orenburg fortresses?"

"The same, Madam."

The lady appeared moved.

"Forgive me," said she, in a still kinder voice, "for interesting myself in your business; but I am frequently at Court; explain to me the nature of your request, and perhaps I may be able to help you."

Maria Ivanovna arose and thanked her respectfully. Everything about this unknown lady drew her towards her and inspired her with confidence. Maria drew from her pocket a folded paper and gave it to her unknown protectress, who read it to herself.

At first she began reading with an attentive and benevolent expression; but suddenly her countenance changed, and Maria, whose eyes followed all her movements, became frightened by the severe expression of that face, which a moment before had been so calm and gracious.

"You are supplicating for Grineff?" said the lady in a cold tone. "The Empress cannot pardon him. He went over to the usurper, not out of ignorance and credulity, but as a depraved and dangerous scoundrel."

"Oh! it is not true!" exclaimed Maria.

"How, not true?" replied the lady, her face flushing.

"It is not true; as God is above us, it is not true! I know all, I will tell you everything. It was for my sake alone that he exposed himself to all the misfortunes that have overtaken him. And if he did not justify himself before the Commission, it was only because he did not wish to implicate me."

She then related with great warmth all that is already known to the reader.

The lady listened to her attentively.

"Where are you staying?" she asked, when Maria had finished her story; and hearing that it was with Anna Vlassievna, she added with a smile:

"Ah, I know. Farewell; do not speak to anybody about our meeting. I hope that you will not have to wait long for an answer to your letter."

With these words she rose from her seat and proceeded down a covered alley, while Maria Ivanovna returned to Anna Vlassievna, filled with joyful hopes.

Her hostess scolded her for going out so early; the autumn air, she said, was not good for a young girl's health. She brought an urn, and over a cup of tea she was about to begin her endless discourse about the Court, when suddenly a carriage with armorial bearings stopped before the door, and a lackey entered with the announcement that the Empress summoned to her presence the daughter of Captain Mironoff.

Anna Vlassievna was perfectly amazed.

"Good Lord!" she exclaimed: "the Empress summons you to Court. How did she get to know anything about you? And how will you present yourself before Her Majesty, my little mother? I do not think that you even know how to walk according to Court manners.... Shall I conduct you? I could at any rate give you a little caution. And how can you go in your travelling dress? Shall I send to the nurse for her yellow gown?"

The lackey announced that it was the Empress's pleasure that Maria Ivanovna should go alone and in the dress that she had on. There was nothing else to be done: Maria took her seat in the carriage and was driven off, accompanied by the counsels and blessings of Anna Vlassievna.

Maria felt that our fate was about to be decided; her heart beat violently. In a few moments the carriage stopped at the gate of the palace. Maria descended the steps with trembling feet. The doors flew open before her. She traversed a large number of empty but magnificent rooms, guided by the lackey. At last, coming to a closed door, he informed her that she would be announced directly, and then left her by herself.

The thought of meeting the Empress face to face so terrified her, that she could scarcely stand upon her feet. In about a minute the door was opened, and she was ushered into the Empress's boudoir.

The Empress was seated at her toilette-table, surrounded by a number of Court ladies, who respectfully made way for Maria Ivanovna. The Empress turned round to her with an amiable smile, and Maria recognized in her the lady with whom she had spoken so freely a few minutes before. The Empress bade her approach, and said with a smile:

"I am glad that I am able to keep my word and grant your petition. Your business is arranged. I am convinced of the innocence of your lover. Here is a letter which you will give to your future father-in-law."

Maria took the letter with trembling hands and, bursting into tears, fell at the feet of the Empress, who raised her up and kissed her upon the forehead.

"I know that you are not rich," said she; "but I owe a debt to the daughter of Captain Mironoff. Do not be uneasy about the future. I will see to your welfare."

After having consoled the poor orphan in this way, the Empress allowed her to depart. Maria left the palace in the same carriage that had brought her thither. Anna Vlassievna, who was impatiently awaiting her return, overwhelmed her with questions, to which Maria returned very vague answers. Although dissatisfied with the weakness of her memory, Anna Vlassievna ascribed it to her provincial bashfulness, and magnanimously excused her. The same day Maria, without even desiring to glance at St. Petersburg, set out on her return journey.

The memoirs of Peter Andreitch Grineff end here. But from a family Tradition we learn that he was released from his imprisonment towards the end of the year 1774 by order of the Empress, and that he was present at the execution of Pougatcheff, who recognized him in the crowd and nodded to him with his head, which, a few moments afterwards, was shown lifeless and bleeding to the people.[4] Shortly afterwards, Peter Andreitch and Maria Ivanovna were married. Their descendants still flourish in the government of Simbirsk. About thirty versts from ----, there is a village belonging to ten landholders. In the house of one of them, there may still be seen, framed and glazed, the autograph letter of Catherine II. It is addressed to the father of Peter Andreitch, and contains the justification of his son, and a tribute of praise to the heart and intellect of Captain Mironoff's daughter.


[1] One of Poushkin's ancestors was condemned to death by Peter the Great.

[2] Chiefs of the Russian party against Biren, the unscrupulous German Favourite of the Empress Anne. They were put to death under circumstances of great cruelty.

[3] A famous Russian general who distinguished himself in the war against the Turks.

[4] It is said that even at the present day the peasants in the south-east of Russia are firmly convinced that Pougatcheff was really the Emperor Peter III., and not an impostor.


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