THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER
Listen now, young men, listen,
To what we old men shall tell you.
A Folk Song.
BEFORE I begin describing the strange events which I witnessed, I must say a few words about the position in the Province of Orenburg at the end of 1773.
This vast and wealthy province was inhabited by a number of half-savage peoples who had but recently acknowledged the sovereignty of the Russian Tsars. Unused to the laws and habits of civilized life, cruel and reckless, they were constantly rising, and the Government had to keep unremitting watch over them. Fortresses had been built in suitable places and settled for the most part with Yaik Cossacks, who had owned the shores of Ya'ik for generations. But the Cossacks who were to guard the peace and safety of the place had themselves for some time past been a source of trouble and danger to the Government. In 1772 a rising took place in their chief town. It was caused by the stern measures adopted by Major-General Traubenberg in order to bring the Cossacks to due submission. The result was the barbarous assassination of Traubenberg, a mutinous change in the administration of the Cossack army, and, finally, the quelling of the mutiny by means of cannon and cruel punishments.
This had happened some time before I came to the Belogorsky fortress. All was quiet or seemed so; the authorities too easily believed the feigned repentance of the perfidious rebels, who concealed their malice and waited for an opportunity to make fresh trouble.
To return to my story.
One evening (it was at the beginning of October 1773) I sat at home alone, listening to the howling of the autumn wind, and watching through the window the clouds that raced past the moon. Someone came to call me to the Commandant's. I went at once. I found there Shvabrin, Ivan Ignatyitch, and the Cossack sergeant, Maximitch. Neither Vasilissa Yegorovna nor Marya Ivanovna was in the room. The Commandant looked troubled as he greeted me. He closed the doors, made us all sit down except tlie sergeant, who was standing by the door, pulled a letter out of his pocket and said: 'Important news, gentlemen! Listen to what the General writes.' He put on his spectacles and read the following:
TO THE COMMANDANT OF THE BELOGORSKY FORTRESS, CAPTAIN MIRONOV
I inform you herewith that a runaway Don Cossack, an Old Believer, Emelyan Pugatchov, has perpetrated the unpardonable outrage of assuming the name of the deceased Emperor Peter III and, assembling a criminal band, has caused a rising in the Yaik settlements, and has already taken and sacked several fortresses, committing murders and robberies everywhere. In view of the above, you have, sir, on receipt of this, immediately to take the necessary measures for repulsing the afore-mentioned villain and pretender, and, if possible, for completely destroying him, should he attack the fortress entrusted to your care.
'Take the necessary measures,' said the Commandant, removing his spectacles and folding the paper. 'That's easy enough to say, let me tell you. The villain is evidently strong; and we have only a hundred and thirty men, not counting the Cossacks on whom there is no relying—no offence meant, Maximitch.' (The sergeant smiled.) 'However, there is nothing for it! Carry out your duties scrupulously, arrange for sentry duty and night patrols; in case of attack shut the gates and lead the soldiers afield. And you, Maximitch, keep a strict watch over your Cossacks. The cannon must be seen to and cleaned properly. And, above all, keep the whole thing secret so that no one in the fortress should know as yet.'
Having given us these orders, Ivan Kuzmitch dismissed us. Shvabrin and I walked out together, talking of what we had just heard.
'What will be the end of it, do you think?' I asked him.
'Heaven only knows,' he answered. 'We shall see. So far, I don't think there is much in it. But if . . .'
He sank into thought, and began absent-mindedly whistling a French tune.
In spite of all our precautions the news of Pugatchov soon spread throughout the fortress. Although Ivan Kuzmitch greatly respected his wife, he would not for anything in the world have disclosed to her a military secret entrusted to him. Having received the General s letter, he rather skilfully got rid of Vasilissa Yegorovna by telling her that Father Gerasim had had some startling news from Orenburg, which he was guarding jealously. Vasilissa Yegorovna at once decided to go and call on the priest's wife and. on Ivan Kuzmitch's advice, took Masha with her lest the girl should feel lonely at home.
Finding himself master of the house, Ivan Kuzmitch at once sent for us and locked Palasha in the pantry, so that she should not overhear us.
Vasilissa Yegorovna had not succeeded in gaining any information from the priest's wife and, coming home, she learned that, in her absence, Ivan Kuzmitch had held a council, and that Palasha had been locked up. She guessed that her husband had deceived her and began questioning him. Ivan Kuzmitch, however, had been prepared for attack. He was not in the least abashed and boldly answered his inquisitive consort:
'Our women, my dear, have taken to heating the stoves with straw, let me tell you; and since this may cause a fire I have given strict orders that in the future they should not use straw but wood.'
'Then why did you lock up Palasha?' the Commandant's wife asked. ' What had the poor girl done to have to sit in the pantry till our return ?'
Ivan Kuzmitch was not prepared for this question; he was confused and muttered something very incoherent. Vasilissa Yegorovna saw her husband's perfidy, but knowing that she would not succeed in learning anything from him, ceased her questions, and began talking of salted cucumbers, which the priest's wife prepared in some very special way. Vasilissa Yegorovna could not sleep all night, trying to guess what could be in her husband's mind that she was not supposed to know.
The next day returning from Mass she saw Ivan Ignatyitch pulling out of the cannon bits of rag, stones, splinters, dice, anil all kinds of rubbish that the children had thrust into it.
'What can these military preparations mean?' the Commandant's wife wondered. 'Are they expecting another Kirghis raid? But surely Ivan Kuzmitch would not conceal such trifles from me!' She hailed Ivan Ignatyitch with the firm intention of discovering from him the secret that tormented her feminine curiosity.
Vasilissa Yegorovna made several remarks to him about housekeeping, just as a magistrate who is cross-examining a prisoner begins with irrelevant questions so as to take him off his guard. Then, after a few moments' silence, she sighed deeply and said, shaking her head:
'Oh dear, oh dear! Just think, what news! What ever will come of it ?'
'Don't you worry, madam,' Ivan Ignatyitch answered;
'God willing, all will be well. We have soldiers enough, plenty of gunpowder, and I have cleaned the cannon. We may yet keep Pugatchov at bay. Whom God helps, nobody can harm.'
'And what sort of man is this Pugatchov?' she asked.
Ivan Ignatyitch saw that he had made a slip and tried not to answer. But it was too late. Vasilissa Yegorovna forced him to confess everything, promising not to repeat it to any one.
She kept her promise and did not say a word to any one except to the priest's wife, and that was only because her cow was still grazing in the steppe and might be seized by the rebels.
Soon every one began talking about Pugatchov. The rumours differed. The Commandant sent Maximitch to find out all he could in the neighbouring villages and fortresses. The sergeant returned after two days' absence and said that in the steppe, some forty miles from the fortress, he had seen a lot of lights and had heard from the Bashkirs that an innumerable host was approaching. He could not, however, say anything definite, for he had not ventured to go any farther.
The Cossacks in the fortress were obviously in a state of great agitation; in every street they stood about in groups, whispering together, dispersing as soon as they saw a dragoon or a garrison soldier. Spies were sent among them. Yulai, a Calmuck converted to the Christian faith, brought important information to the Commandant. Yulai said that the sergeant's report was false; on his return, the sly Cossack told his comrades that he had seen the rebels, presented himself to their leader, who gave him his hand to kiss, and held a long conversation with him. The Commandant immediately arrested Maximitch and put Yulai in his place. This step was received with obvious displeasure by the Cossacks. They murmured aloud and Ivan Ignatyitch, who had to carry out the Commandant's order, heard with his own ears how they said: 'You will catch it presently, you garrison rat!' The Commandant had intended to question his prisoner the same day, but Maximitch had escaped, probably with the help of his comrades.
Another thing helped to increase the Commandant's anxiety. A Bashkir was caught carrying seditious papers. On this occasion the Commandant thought of calling his officers together once more and again wanted to send Vasilissa Yegorovna away on some pretext. But since Ivan Kuzmitch was a most truthful and straightforward man, he could think of no other device than the one he had used before.
'I say, Vasilissa Yegorovna,' he began, clearing his throat, 'Father Gerasim, I hear, has received from town . . .'
'Don't you tell stories, Ivan Kuzmitch,' his wife interrupted him. 'I expect you want to call a council to talk about Emelyan Pugatchov without me; but you won't deceive me.'
Ivan Kuzmitch stared at her.
'Well, my dear,' he said,' if you know all about it already, you may as well stay; we will talk before you.'
'That's better, man,' she answered. ' You are no hand at deception; send for the officers.'
We assembled again. Ivan Kuzmitch read to us, in his wife's presence, Pugatchov's manifesto written by some half-illiterate Cossack. The villain declared his intention to march against our fortress at once, invited the Cossacks and the soldiers to join his band, and exhorted the commanders not to resist him, threatening to put them to death if they did. The manifesto was written in crude but impressive language, and must have produced a strong impression upon the people's mind.
'The rascal!' cried Vasilissa Yegorovna. 'To think of his daring to make us such offers! We are to go and meet him and lay the banners at his feet! Ah, the dog! Doesn't he know that we 've been forty years in the army and have seen a thing or two? Surely no commanders have listened to the brigand ?'
'I should not have thought so,' Ivan Kuzmitch answered, 'but it appears the villain has already taken many fortresses.'
'He must really be strong, then,' Shvabrin remarked.
'We are just going to find out his real strength,' said the Commandant. 'Vasilissa Yegorovna, give me the key of the storehouse. Ivan Ignatyitch, bring the Bashkir and tell Yulai to bring the whip.'
'Wait, Ivan Kuzmitch,' said the Commandant's wife, getting up. 'Let me take Masha out of the house; she will be terrified if she hears the screams. And, to tell the truth, I don't care for the business myself. Good luck to you.'
In the old days torture formed so integral a part of the judicial procedure that the beneficent law which abolished it long remained a dead letter. It used to be thought that the criminal's own confession was necessary for convicting him, which is both groundless and wholly opposed to judicial good sense: for if the accused person's denial of the charge is not considered a proof of his innocence, there is still less reason to regard his confession a proof of his guilt. Even now I sometimes hear old judges regretting the abolition of the barbarous custom. But in those days no one doubted the necessity of torture—neither the judges nor the accused. And so the Commandant's order did not surprise or alarm us. Ivan Ignatyitch went to fetch the Bashkir, who was locked up in Vasilissa Yegorovna's storehouse, and a few minutes later the prisoner was led into the entry. The Commandant gave word for him to be brought into the room.
The Bashkir crossed the threshold with difficulty (he was wearing fetters) and, taking oft his tall cap, stood by the door. I glanced at him and shuddered. I shall never forget that man. He seemed to be over seventy. He had neither nose nor ears. His head was shaven; instead of a beard he had a few stray hairs; he was small, thin and bent, but his narrow eyes still had a gleam in them.
'Aha!' said the Commandant, recognizing by the terrible marks one of the rebels punished in 1741. 'I see you are an old wolf and have been in our snares. Rebelling must be an old game to you, to judge by the look of your head. Come nearer; tell me, who sent you?'
The old Bashkir was silent and gazed at the Commandant with an utterly senseless expression.
'Why don't you speak?' Ivan Kuzmitch continued. 'Don't you understand Russian? Yulai, ask him in your language who sent him to our fortress ?'
Yulai repeated Ivan Kuzmitch's question in Tatar. But the Bashkir looked at him with the same expression and did not answer a word.
'Very well!' the Commandant said. 'I will make you speak! Lads, take off his stupid striped gown and streak his back. Mind you do it thoroughly, Yulai!'
Two pensioners began undressing the Bashkir. The unfortunate man's face expressed anxiety. He looked about him like some wild creature caught by children. But when the old man was made to put his hands round the pensioner's neck and was lifted off the ground and Yulai brandished the whip, the Bashkir groaned in a weak, imploring voice and, nodding his head, opened his mouth in which a short stump could be seen instead of a tongue.
When I recall that this happened in my lifetime and that now I have lived to see the gentle reign of the Emperor Alexander, I cannot but marvel at the rapid progress of enlightenment and the diffusion of humane principles. Young man! If my notes ever fall into your hands, remember that the best and most permanent changes are those due to the softening of manners and morals and not to any violent upheavals.
It was a shock to all of us.
'Well,' said the Commandant, 'we evidently cannot leam much from him. Yulai, take the Bashkir back to the store-house. We have a few more things to talk over, gentlemen.'
We began discussing our position when suddenly Vasilissa Yegorovna came into the room breathless and looking extremely alarmed.
'What is the matter with you?' the Commandant asked in surprise.
'My dear, dreadful news!' Vasilissa Yegorovna answered. " The Nizhneozemy fortress was taken this morning. Father Gerasim's servant has just returned from there. He saw it being taken. The Commandant and all the officers were hanged. All the soldiers were taken prisoners. The villains may be here any minute.'
The unexpected news was a great shock to me. I knew the Commandant of the Nizhneozerny fortress, a modest and quiet young man; some two months before he had put up at Ivan Kuzmitch's on his way from Orenburg with his young wife. The Nizhneozerny fortress was some fifteen miles from our fortress. Pugatchov might attack us any moment now. I vividly imagined Marya Ivanovna's fate and my heart sank.
'Listen, Ivan Kuzmitch,' I said to the Commandant, 'it is our duty to defend the fortress to our last breath; this goes without saying. But we must think of the women's safety. Send them to Orenburg if the road is still free, or to some reliable fortress farther away out of the villain's reach.'
Ivan Kuzmitch turned to his wife and said:
'I say, my dear, hadn't I indeed better send you and Masha away while we settle the rebels ?'
'Oh, nonsense!' she replied. 'No fortress is safe from bullets. What's wrong with the Belogorsky? We have lived in it for twenty-two years, thank Heaven! We have seen the Bashkirs and the Kirghis; God willing, Pugatchov won't harm us either.'
'Well, my dear,' Ivan Kuzmitch replied, 'stay if you like, since you rely on our fortress. But what are we to do about Masha? It is all very well if we ward them off or last out till reinforcements come; but what if the villains take the fortress ?'
'Well, then . . .'
Vasilissa Yegorovna stopped with an air of extreme agitation.
'No, Vasilissa Yegorovna,' the Commandant continued, noting that his words had produced an effect perhaps for the first time in his life, 'it is not fit for Masha to stay here. Let us send her to Orenburg, to her godmother's: there are plenty of soldiers there, and enough artillery and a stone wall. And I would advise you to go with her: you may be an old woman, but you'll see what they 'll do to you, if they take the fortress.'
'Very well,' said the Commandant's wife, 'so be it, let us send Masha away. But don't you dream of asking me—I won't go; I wouldn't think of parting from you in my old age and seeking a lonely grave far away. Live together, die together.'
'There is something in that,' said the Commandant. •Well, we must not waste time. You had better get Masha ready for the journey. We will send her at daybreak tomorrow and give her an escort, though we have no men to spare. But where is Masha?'
'At Akulina Pamfilovna's,' the Commandant's wife answered. 'She fainted when she heard about the Nizhneozerny being taken; I am afraid of her falling ill.'
Vasilissa Yegorovna went to see about her daughter's departure. The conversation continued, but I took no part in it, and did not listen. Marya Ivanovna came in to supper, pale and with tear-stained eyes. We ate supper in silence and rose from the table sooner than usual; saying good-bye to the family, we went to our lodgings. But I purposely left my sword behind-and went back for it; I had a feeling that I should find Marya Ivanovna alone. Indeed, she met me at the door and handed me my sword.
'Good-bye, Pyotr Andreyitch,' she said to me with tears. 'I am being sent to Orenburg. May you live and be happy, perhaps God will grant that we meet again, and if not . . .'
She broke into sobs, I embraced her.
'Good-bye, my angel,' I said, 'good-bye, my sweet, my darling! Whatever happens to me, believe that my last thought and my last prayer will be for you!'
Masha sobbed with her head on my shoulder. I kissed her ardently and hastened out of the room.