Chapter 12. The Orphan
The "_kibitka"_ stopped before the door of the Commandant's house. The inhabitants had recognized the little bell of Pugatchéf's team, and had assembled in a crowd. Chvabrine came to meet the usurper; he was dressed as a Cossack, and had allowed his beard to grow.
The traitor helped Pugatchéf to get out of the carriage, expressing by obsequious words his zeal and joy.
Seeing me he became uneasy, but soon recovered himself.
"You are one of us," said he; "it should have been long ago."
I turned away my head without answering him. My heart failed me when we entered the little room I knew so well, where could still be seen on the wall the commission of the late deceased Commandant, as a sad memorial.
Pugatchéf sat down on the same sofa where ofttimes Iván Kouzmitch had dozed to the sound of his wife's scolding.
Chvabrine himself brought brandy to his chief. Pugatchéf drank a glass of it, and said to him, pointing to me--
"Offer one to his lordship."
Chvabrine approached me with his tray. I turned away my head for the second time. He seemed beside himself. With his usual sharpness he had doubtless guessed that Pugatchéf was not pleased with me. He regarded him with alarm and me with mistrust. Pugatchéf asked him some questions on the condition of the fort, on what was said concerning the Tzarina's troops, and other similar subjects. Then suddenly and in an unexpected manner--
"Tell me, brother," asked he, "who is this young girl you are keeping under watch and ward? Show me her."
Chvabrine became pale as death.
"Tzar," he said, in a trembling voice, "Tzar, she is not under restraint; she is in bed in her room."
"Take me to her," said the usurper, rising.
It was impossible to hesitate. Chvabrine led Pugatchéf to Marya Ivánofna's room. I followed them. Chvabrine stopped on the stairs.
"Tzar," said he, "you can constrain me to do as you list, but do not permit a stranger to enter my wife's room."
"You are married!" cried I, ready to tear him in pieces.
"Hush!" interrupted Pugatchéf, "it is my concern. And you," continued he, turning towards Chvabrine, "do not swagger; whether she be your wife or no, I take whomsoever I please to see her. Your lordship, follow me."
At the door of the room Chvabrine again stopped, and said, in a broken voice--
"Tzar, I warn you she is feverish, and for three days she has been delirious."
"Open!" said Pugatchéf.
Chvabrine began to fumble in his pockets, and ended by declaring he had forgotten the key.
Pugatchéf gave a push to the door with his foot, the lock gave way, the door opened, and we went in. I cast a rapid glance round the room and nearly fainted. Upon the floor, in a coarse peasant's dress, sat Marya, pale and thin, with her hair unbound. Before her stood a jug of water and a bit of bread. At the sight of me she trembled and gave a piercing cry. I cannot say what I felt. Pugatchéf looked sidelong at Chvabrine, and said to him with a bitter smile--
"Your hospital is well-ordered!" Then, approaching Marya, "Tell me, my little dove, why your husband punishes you thus?"
"My husband!" rejoined she; "he is not my husband. Never will I be his wife. I am resolved rather to die, and I shall die if I be not delivered."
Pugatchéf cast a furious glance upon Chvabrine.
"You dared deceive me," cried he. "Do you know, villain, what you deserve?"
Chvabrine dropped on his knees. Then contempt overpowered in me all feelings of hatred and revenge. I looked with disgust upon a gentleman at the feet of a Cossack deserter. Pugatchéf allowed himself to be moved.
"I pardon you this time," he said, to Chvabrine; "but next offence I will remember this one." Then, addressing Marya, he said to her, gently, "Come out, pretty one; I give you your liberty. I am the Tzar."
Marya Ivánofna threw a quick look at him, and divined that the murderer of her parents was before her eyes. She covered her face with her hands, and fell unconscious.
I was rushing to help her, when my old acquaintance, Polashka, came very boldly into the room, and took charge of her mistress.
Pugatchéf withdrew, and we all three returned to the parlour.
"Well, your lordship," Pugatchéf said to me, laughing, "we have delivered the pretty girl; what do you say to it? Ought we not to send for the pope and get him to marry his niece? If you like I will be your _marriage godfather_, Chvabrine best man; then we will set to and drink with closed doors."
What I feared came to pass.
No sooner had he heard Pugatchéf's proposal than Chvabrine lost his head.
"Tzar," said he, furiously, "I am guilty, I have lied to you; but Grineff also deceives you. This young girl is not the pope's niece; she is the daughter of Iván Mironoff, who was executed when the fort was taken."
Pugatchéf turned his flashing eyes on me.
"What does all this mean?" cried he, with indignant surprise.
But I made answer boldly--
"Chvabrine has told you the truth."
"You had not told me that," rejoined Pugatchéf, whose brow had suddenly darkened.
"But judge yourself," replied I; "could I declare before all your people that she was Mironoff's daughter? They would have torn her in pieces, nothing could have saved her."
"Well, you are right," said Pugatchéf. "My drunkards would not have spared the poor girl; my gossip, the pope's wife, did right to deceive them."
"Listen," I resumed, seeing how well disposed he was towards me, "I do not know what to call you, nor do I seek to know. But God knows I stand ready to give my life for what you have done for me. Only do not ask of me anything opposed to my honour and my conscience as a Christian. You are my benefactor; end as you have begun. Let me go with the poor orphan whither God shall direct, and whatever befall and wherever you be we will pray God every day that He watch over the safety of your soul."
I seemed to have touched Pugatchéf's fierce heart.
"Be it even as you wish," said he. "Either entirely punish or entirely pardon; that is my motto. Take your pretty one, take her away wherever you like, and may God grant you love and wisdom."
He turned towards Chvabrine, and bid him write me a safe conduct pass for all the gates and forts under his command. Chvabrine remained still, and as if petrified.
Pugatchéf went to inspect the fort; Chvabrine followed him, and I stayed behind under the pretext of packing up. I ran to Marya's room. The door was shut; I knocked.
"Who is there?" asked Polashka.
I gave my name. Marya's gentle voice was then heard through the door.
"Wait, Petr' Andréjïtch," said she, "I am changing my dress. Go to Akoulina Pamphilovna's; I shall be there in a minute."
I obeyed and went to Father Garasim's house.
The pope and his wife hastened to meet me. Savéliitch had already told them all that had happened.
"Good-day, Petr' Andréjïtch," the pope's wife said to me; "here has God so ruled that we meet again. How are you? We have talked about you every day. And Marya Ivánofna, what has she not suffered anent you, my pigeon? But tell me, my father, how did you get out of the difficulty with Pugatchéf? How was it that he did not kill you? Well, for _that_, thanks be to the villain."
"There, hush, old woman," interrupted Father Garasim; "don't gossip about all you know; too much talk, no salvation. Come in, Petr' Andréjïtch, and welcome. It is long since we have seen each other."
The pope's wife did me honour with everything she had at hand, without ceasing a moment to talk.
She told me how Chvabrine had obliged them to deliver up Marya Ivánofna to him; how the poor girl cried, and would not be parted from them; how she had had continual intercourse with them through the medium of Polashka, a resolute, sharp girl who made the _"ouriadnik"_ himself dance (as they say) to the sound of her flageolet; how she had counselled Marya Ivánofna to write me a letter, etc. As for me, in a few words I told my story.
The pope and his wife crossed themselves when they heard that Pugatchéf was aware they had deceived him.
"May the power of the cross be with us!" Akoulina Pamphilovna said. "May God turn aside this cloud. Very well, Alexey Iványtch, we shall see! Oh! the sly fox!"
At this moment the door opened, and Marya Ivánofna appeared, with a smile on her pale face. She had changed her peasant dress, and was dressed as usual, simply and suitably. I seized her hand, and could not for a while say a single word. We were both silent, our hearts were too full.
Our hosts felt we had other things to do than to talk to them; they left us. We remained alone. Marya told me all that had befallen her since the taking of the fort; painted me the horrors of her position, all the torment the infamous Chvabrine had made her suffer. We recalled to each other the happy past, both of us shedding tears the while.
At last I could tell her my plans. It was impossible for her to stay in a fort which had submitted to Pugatchéf, and where Chvabrine was in command. Neither could I dream of taking refuge with her in Orenburg, where at this juncture all the miseries of a siege were being undergone. Marya had no longer a single relation in the world. Therefore I proposed to her that she should go to my parents' country house.
She was very much surprised at such a proposal. The displeasure my father had shown on her account frightened her. But I soothed her. I knew my father would deem it a duty and an honour to shelter in his house the daughter of a veteran who had died for his country.
"Dear Marya," I said, at last, "I look upon you as my wife. These strange events have irrevocably united us. Nothing in the whole world can part us any more."
Marya heard me in dignified silence, without misplaced affectation. She felt as I did, that her destiny was irrevocably linked with mine; still, she repeated that she would only be my wife with my parents' consent. I had nothing to answer. We fell in each other's arms, and my project became our mutual decision.
An hour afterwards the "_ouriadnik_" brought me my safe-conduct pass, with the scrawl which did duty as Pugatchéf's signature, and told me the Tzar awaited me in his house.
I found him ready to start.
How express what I felt in the presence of this man, awful and cruel for all, myself only excepted? And why not tell the whole truth? At this moment I felt a strong sympathy with him. I wished earnestly to draw him from the band of robbers of which he was the chief, and save his head ere it should be too late.
The presence of Chvabrine and of the crowd around us prevented me from expressing to him all the feelings which filled my heart.
We parted friends.
Pugatchéf saw in the crowd Akoulina Pamphilovna, and amicably threatened her with his finger, with a meaning wink. Then he seated himself in his _"kibitka"_ and gave the word to return to Berd. When the horses started, he leaned out of his carriage and shouted to me--
"Farewell, your lordship; it may be we shall yet meet again!"
We did, indeed, see one another once again; but under what circumstances!
Pugatchéf was gone.
I long watched the steppe over which his _"kibitka"_ was rapidly gliding.
The crowd dwindled away; Chvabrine disappeared. I went back to the pope's house, where all was being made ready for our departure. Our little luggage had been put in the old vehicle of the Commandant. In a moment the horses were harnessed.
Marya went to bid a last farewell to the tomb of her parents, buried behind the church.
I wished to escort her there, but she begged me to let her go alone, and soon came back, weeping quiet tears.
Father Garasim and his wife came to the door to see us off. We took our seats, three abreast, inside the "_kibitka_," and Savéliitch again perched in front.
"Good-bye, Marya Ivánofna, our dear dove; good-bye, Petr' Andréjïtch, our gay goshawk!" the pope's wife cried to us. "A lucky journey to you, and may God give you abundant happiness!"
We started. At the Commandant's window I saw Chvabrine standing, with a face of dark hatred.
I did not wish to triumph meanly over a humbled enemy, and looked away from him.
At last we passed the principal gate, and for ever left Fort Bélogorsk.