THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER
AN UNINVITED GUEST
An uninvited guest is worse than a Tatar.
THE market-place was empty. I was still standing there, unable to collect my thoughts, confused by the terrible impressions of the day.
Uncertainty as to Marya Ivanovna's fate tortured me most. Where was she? What had happened to her? Had she had time to hide? Was her shelter secure? Full of anxious thoughts I entered the Commandant's house. All was empty; chairs, tables, boxes had been smashed, crockery broken; everything had been taken. I ran up the short stairway that led to the top floor and for the first time in my life entered Marya Ivanovna's room. I saw her bed pulled to pieces by the brigands; the wardrobe had been broken and pillaged; the sanctuary lamp was still burning before the empty iconstand. The little mirror that hung between the windows had been left, too. . . . Where was the mistress of this humble virginal cell? A terrible thought flashed through my mind: I imagined her in the brigands' hands . . . my heart sank. ... I wept bitterly and called aloud my beloved's name. ... At that moment I heard a slight noise and Palasha, pale and trembling, appeared from behind the wardrobe.
'Ah, Pyotr Andreyitch!' she cried, clasping her hands.
'What a day! What horrors!'
'And Marya Ivanovna?' I asked, impatiently. 'What has happened to her?'
'She is alive,' Palasha answered; 'she is hiding in Akulina Pamfilovna's house.'
'At the priest's!' I cried, in horror. ' Good God! Pugatchov is there!'
I dashed out of the room, instantly found myself in the street and ran headlong to the priest's house, not seeing or feeling anything. Shouts, laughter, and songs came from there. . . . Pugatchov was feasting with his comrades. Palasha followed me. I sent her to call out Akulina Pamfilovna without attracting attention. A minute later the priest's wife came into the entry to speak to me with an empty bottle in her hands.
'For God's sake, where is Marya Ivanovna?' I asked, with inexpressible anxiety.
'She is lying on my bed there, behind the partition, poor darling,' the priest's wife answered. 'Well, Pyotr Andreyitch, we very nearly had trouble, but thank God, all passed off well: the villain had just sat down to dinner when she, poor thing, came to herself and groaned. I simply gasped! He heard. '' Who is it groaning there, old woman? " he said. I made a deep bow to the thief: " My niece is ill, sire, she has been in bed for a fortnight." " And is your niece young?"
" She is, sire." " Show me your niece, old woman." My heart sank, but there was nothing for it. " Certainly, sire; only the girl cannot get up and come into your presence." —" Never mind, old woman, I will go and have a look at her myself." And, you know, the wretch did go behind the partition; what do you think? He drew back the curtain, glanced at her with hawk's eyes—and nothing happened. . . . God saved us! But, would you believe it, both my husband and I had prepared to die a martyr's death. Fortunately the dear girl did not know who he was. Good Lord, what things we have lived to see! Poor Ivan Kuzmitch! Who would have thought it! And Vasilissa Yegorovna! And Ivan Ignatyitch! What did they hang him for? How is it you were spared? And what do you think of Shvabrin? You know, he cropped his hair like a Cossack and is sitting here with them feasting! He is a sharp one, there 's no gainsaying! And when I spoke about my sick niece, his eyes, would you believe it, went through me like a knife; but he hasn't betrayed us, and that's something to be thankful for.'
At that moment the drunken shouts of the guests were heard, and Father Gerasim's voice. The guests were clamouring for more drink and the priest was calling his wife. Akulina Pamfilovna was in a flutter.
'You go home now, Pyotr Andreyitch,' she said. 'I haven't any time for you; the villains are drinking. It might be the end of you if they met you now. Good-bye, Pyotr Andreyitch. What is to be, will be; I hope God will not forsake us!'
The priest's wife left me. I set off to my lodgings feeling somewhat calmer. As I passed through the market-place I saw several Bashkirs, who crowded round the gallows, pulling the boots off the hanged men's feet; I had difficulty in suppressing my indignation, but I knew that it would have been useless to intervene. The brigands were running about the fortress, plundering the officers' quarters. The shouts of the drunken rebels resounded everywhere. I reached my lodgings. Savelyitch met me at the threshold.
' Thank God!' he cried, when he saw me. ' I was afraid the villains had seized you again. Well, Pyotr Andreyitch, my dear! Would you believe it, the rascals have robbed us of everything: clothes, linen, crockery—they have left nothing. But there! Thank God they let you off with your life! Did you recognize their leader, sir?'
'No, I didn't; why, who is he?'
'What, sir? You have forgotten that drunkard who took the hareskin jacket from you at the inn? The coat was as good as new, and the brute tore it along the seams as he struggled into it!'
I was surprised. Indeed, Pugatchov had a striking resemblance to my guide. I felt certain Pugatchov and he were the same person and understood the reason for his sparing me. I could not help marvelling at the strange concatenation of circumstances: a child's coat given to a tramp had saved me from the gallows, and a drunkard who had wandered from inn to inn was besieging fortresses and shaking the foundations of the State!
'Won't you have something to eat?' asked Savelyitch, true to his habit. 'There is nothing at home; I will look about and prepare something for you.'
Left alone, I sank into thought. What was I to do? It was not fitting for an officer to remain in a fortress that belonged to the villain or to follow his gang. It was my duty to go where my services could be of use to my country in the present trying circumstances. . . . But love prompted me to stay by Marya Ivanovna to protect and defend her. Although I had no doubt that things would soon change, I could not help shuddering at the thought of the danger she was in.
My reflections were interrupted by the arrival of a Cossack who had run to tell me that 'the great Tsar was asking for me'.
'Where is he?' I said, making ready to obey.
'In the Commandant's house,' the Cossack answered. 'After dinner our father went to the bath-house and now he is resting. Well, your honour, one can see by everything that he is a person of importance: at dinner he was pleased to eat two roast sucking-pigs, and he likes the bath-house so hot that even Taras Kurochkin could not stand it—he passed on the birch to Fomka Bikbaev, and had to have cold water poured over him. There 's no denying it, all his ways are so grand. . . . And they say, in the bath-house, he showed them the royal marks on his breast: on one side the two-headed eagle, the size of a penny, and on the other his own likeness.'
I did not think it necessary to dispute the Cossack's opinion and, together with him, went to the Commandant's house, trying to picture my meeting with Pugatchov and wondering how it would end. The reader may well guess that I was not altogether calm.
It was growing dusk when I reached the Commandant's house. The gallows, with its victims, loomed menacingly in the dark. Poor Vasilissa Yegorovna's body was still lying at the bottom of the steps, where two Cossacks were mounting guard. The Cossack who had brought me went to announce me and, returning at once, led me into the room where the night before I had taken such tender leave of Marya Ivanovna.
A curious scene was before me. Pugatchov and a dozen Cossack elders, wearing coloured shirts and caps, were sitting round a table covered with a cloth and littered with bottles and glasses; their faces were flushed with drink and their eyes glittered. Neither Shvabrin nor our sergeant—the freshly recruited traitors—were among them.
'Ah, your honour!' said Pugatchov, when he saw me, 'come and be my guest; here is a place for you, you are very welcome.'
The company made room for me. I sat down at the end of the table without speaking. My neighbour, a slim and good-looking young Cossack, poured out a glass of vodka for me, which I did not touch. I looked at my companions with curiosity. Pugatchov sat in the place of honour leaning on the table, his black beard propped up with his broad fist. His features, regular and rather pleasant, had nothing ferocious about them. He often turned to a man of fifty, addressing him sometimes as Count, sometimes as Timofeitch, and occasionally calling him uncle. They all treated one another as comrades and showed no particular deference to their leader. They talked of the morning's attack, of the success of the rising, and of plans for the future. Every one boasted, offered his opinion, and freely argued with Pugatchov. At this strange council of war it was decided to go to Orenburg: a bold move which was very nearly crowned with disastrous success! The march was to begin the following day.
'Well, brothers,' Pugatchov said, 'let us have my favourite song before we go to bed. Tchumakov, strike up!'
My neighbour began in a high-pitched voice a mournful Volga-boatmen's song and all joined in:
' Murmur not, mother-forest of rustling green leaves, Hinder not a brave lad thinking his thoughts, For to-morrow I go before the judgment-seat, Before the dreaded judge, our sovereign Tsar, And the Tsar, our lord, will ask of me:
Tell me now, good lad, tell me, peasant's son, With whom didst thou go robbing and plundering, And how many were thy comrades bold? I shall tell thee the whole truth and naught but truth. Four in number were my comrades bold:
My first trusty comrade was the dark night, And my second true comrade—my knife of steel, And my third one was my faithful steed, And the fourth one was my stout bow, And my messengers were my arrows sharp. Then our Christian Tsar will thus speak to me; Well done, good lad, thou peasant's son! Thou knowest how to rob and to answer for it, And a fine reward is in store for thee— A mansion high in the open plain, Two pillars and a cross-beam I grant thee.'
I cannot describe how affected I was by this peasant song about the gallows, sung by men doomed to the gallows. Their menacing faces, their tuneful voices, the mournful expression they gave to the words expressive enough in themselves—it all thrilled me with a feeling akin to awe.
The guests drank one more glass, got up from the table, and took leave of Pugatchov. I was about to follow them when Pugatchov said to me:
'Sit still, I want to talk to you.'
We were left alone. We were both silent for a few minutes;
Pugatchov was watching me intently, occasionally screwing up his left eye with an extraordinary expression of slyness and mockery. At last he laughed with such unaffected gaiety that, as I looked at him, I laughed, too, without knowing why.
'Well, your honour?' he said to me. 'Confess you had a bit of a fright when my lads put your head in the noose? I expect the sky seemed no bigger than a sheepskin to you. . . . And you would have certainly swung if it had not been for your servant. I knew the old creature at once. Well, did you think, your honour, that the man who brought you to the inn was the great Tsar himself?' (He assumed an air of mystery and importance.) 'You are very much at fault,' he continued, 'but I have spared you for your kindness, for your having done me a service when I had to hide from my enemies. But this is nothing to what you shall see! It's not to be compared to the favour I'll show you when I obtain my kingdom! Do you promise to serve me zealously?'
The rascal's question and his impudence struck me as so amusing that I could not help smiling.
' What are you smiling at?' he asked with a frown. ' Don't you believe I am the Tsar? Answer me plainly.'
I was confused. I felt I could not acknowledge the tramp as Tsar: to do so seemed to me unpardonable cowardice. To call him a pretender to his face meant certain death; and what I was ready to do under the gallows, in sight of all the people and in the first flush of indignation, now seemed to me useless bravado. I hesitated. Pugatchov gloomily awaited my reply. At last (and to this day I recall that moment with self-satisfaction) the feeling of duty triumphed over human weakness. I said to Pugatchov:
'Listen, I will tell you the whole truth. Think, how can I acknowledge you as Tsar? You are an intelligent man; you would see I was pretending.'
'Who, then, do you think I am?'
" God only knows; but whoever you may be, you are playing a dangerous game.'
Pugatchov glanced at me rapidly.
'So you don't believe,' he said, 'that I am the Tsar Peter III? Very well. But there is such a thing as success for the bold. Didn't Grishka Otrepyev reign in the old days? Tliink of me what you like, but follow me. What does it matter to you? One master is as good as another. Serve me truly and faithfully and I'll make you Field-Marshal and Prince. What do you think?'
'No,' I answered, firmly. 'I am a gentleman by birth; I swore allegiance to the Empress: I cannot serve you. If you really wish me well, let me go to Orenburg.'
Pugatchov was thoughtful.
'And if I let you go' he said, '-Would you promise, at any rate, not to fight against me ?'
'How can I promise that?' I answered. 'You know yourself I am not free to do as I like; if they send me against you, I shall go, there is nothing for it. You yourself are a leader now; you require obedience from those who serve under you. What would you call it if I refused to fight when my service was required? My life is in your hands; if you let me go, I will thank you; if you hang me. God be your judge; but I have told you the truth.'
My sincerity impressed Pugatchov.
'So be it,' he said, clapping me on the shoulder. 'I don't do things by halves. Go wherever you like and do what you think best. Come to-morrow to say good-bye to me and now go to bed; I, too, am sleepy.'
I left Pugatchov and went out into the street. The night was still and frosty. The moon and the stars shone brightly, shedding their light on the market-place and the gallows. In the fortress all was dark and quiet. Only the tavern windows were lighted and the shouts of late revellers came from there. I looked at the priest's house. The gates and shutters were closed. All seemed quiet there.
I went home and found Savelyitch grieving for my absence. The news of my freedom delighted him more than I can say.
'Thanks be to God!' he said, crossing himself. 'We shall leave the fortress as soon as it is light and go straight away. I have prepared some supper for you, my dear; have something to eat and then sleep peacefully till morning.'
I followed his advice and having eaten my supper with great relish went to sleep on the bare floor, exhausted both in mind and body.