Chapter 14. The Trial
I did not doubt that the cause of my arrest was my departure from Orenburg without leave. Thus I could easily exculpate myself, for not only had we not been forbidden to make sorties against the enemy, but were encouraged in so doing.
Still my friendly understanding with Pugatchéf seemed to be proved by a crowd of witnesses, and must appear at least suspicious. All the way I pondered the questions I should be asked, and mentally resolved upon my answers. I determined to tell the judges the whole truth, convinced that it was at once the simplest and surest way of justifying myself.
I reached Khasan, a miserable town, which I found laid waste, and well-nigh reduced to ashes. All along the street, instead of houses, were to be seen heaps of charred plaster and rubbish, and walls without windows or roofs. These were the marks Pugatchéf had left. I was taken to the fort, which had remained whole, and the hussars, my escort, handed me over to the officer of the guard.
He called a farrier, who coolly rivetted irons on my ankles.
Then I was led to the prison building, where I was left alone in a narrow, dark cell, which had but its four walls and a little skylight, with iron bars.
Such a beginning augured nothing good. Still I did not lose either hope or courage. I had recourse to the consolation of all who suffer, and, after tasting for the first time the sweetness of a prayer from an innocent heart full of anguish, I peacefully fell asleep without giving a thought to what might befall me.
On the morrow the gaoler came to wake me, telling me that I was summoned before the Commission.
Two soldiers conducted me across a court to the Commandant's house, then, remaining in the ante-room, left me to enter alone the inner chamber. I entered a rather large reception room. Behind the table, covered with papers, were seated two persons, an elderly General, looking severe and cold, and a young officer of the Guard, looking, at most, about thirty, of easy and attractive demeanour; near the window at another table sat a secretary with a pen behind his ear, bending over his paper ready to take down my evidence.
The cross-examination began. They asked me my name and rank. The General inquired if I were not the son of Andréj Petróvitch Grineff, and on my affirmative answer, he exclaimed, severely--
"It is a great pity such an honourable man should have a son so very unworthy of him!"
I quietly made answer that, whatever might be the accusations lying heavily against me, I hoped to be able to explain them away by a candid avowal of the truth.
My coolness displeased him.
"You are a bold, barefaced rascal," he said to me, frowning. "However, we have seen many of them."
Then the young officer asked me by what chance and at what time I had entered Pugatchéf's service, and on what affairs he had employed me.
I indignantly rejoined that, being an officer and a gentleman, I had not been able to enter Pugatchéf's service, and that he had not employed me on any business whatsoever.
"How, then, does it happen," resumed my judge, "that the officer and gentleman be the only one pardoned by the usurper, while all his comrades are massacred in cold blood? How does it happen, also, that the same officer and gentleman could live snugly and pleasantly with the rebels, and receive from the ringleader presents of a '_pelisse_,' a horse, and a half rouble? What is the occasion of so strange a friendship? And upon what can it be founded if not on treason, or at the least be occasioned by criminal and unpardonable baseness?"
The words of the officer wounded me deeply, and I entered hotly on my vindication.
I related how my acquaintance with Pugatchéf had begun, on the steppe, in the midst of a snowstorm; how he had recognized me and granted me my life at the taking of Fort Bélogorsk. I admitted that, indeed, I had accepted from the usurper a "_touloup_" and a horse; but I had defended Fort Bélogorsk against the rascal to the last gasp. Finally I appealed to the name of my General, who could testify to my zeal during the disastrous siege of Orenburg.
The severe old man took from the table an open letter, which he began to read aloud.
"In answer to your excellency on the score of Ensign Grineff, who is said to have been mixed up in the troubles, and to have entered into communication with the robber, communication contrary to the rules and regulations of the service, and opposed to all the duties imposed by his oath, I have the honour to inform you that the aforesaid Ensign Grineff served at Orenburg from the month of Oct., 1773, until Feb. 24th of the present year, upon which day he left the town, and has not been seen since. Still the enemy's deserters have been heard to declare that he went to Pugatchéf's camp, and that he accompanied him to Fort Bélogorsk, where he was formerly in garrison. On the other hand, in respect to his conduct I can--"
Here the General broke off, and said to me with harshness--
"Well, what have you to say now for yourself?"
I was about to continue as I had begun, and relate my connection with Marya as openly as the rest. But suddenly I felt an unconquerable disgust to tell such a story. It occurred to me that if I mentioned her, the Commission would oblige her to appear; and the idea of exposing her name to all the scandalous things said by the rascals under cross-examination, and the thought of even seeing her in their presence, was so repugnant to me that I became confused, stammered, and took refuge in silence.
My judges, who appeared to be listening to my answers with a certain good will, were again prejudiced against me by the sight of my confusion. The officer of the Guard requested that I should be confronted with the principal accuser. The General bade them bring in _yesterday's rascal._ I turned eagerly towards the door to look out for my accuser.
A few moments afterwards the clank of chains was heard, and there entered--Chvabrine. I was struck by the change that had come over him. He was pale and thin. His hair, formerly black as jet, had begun to turn grey. His long beard was unkempt. He repeated all his accusations in a feeble, but resolute tone. According to him, I had been sent by Pugatchéf as a spy to Orenburg; I went out each day as far as the line of sharpshooters to transmit written news of all that was passing within the town; finally, I had definitely come over to the usurper's side, going with him from fort to fort, and trying, by all the means in my power, to do evil to my companions in treason, to supplant them in their posts, and profit more by the favours of the arch-rebel. I heard him to the end in silence, and felt glad of one thing; he had never pronounced Marya's name. Was it because his self-love was wounded by the thought of her who had disdainfully rejected him, or was it that still within his heart yet lingered a spark of the same feeling which kept me silent? Whatever it was, the Commission did not hear spoken the name of the daughter of the Commandant of Fort Bélogorsk. I was still further confirmed in the resolution I had taken, and when the judges asked me if I had aught to answer to Chvabrine's allegations, I contented myself with saying that I did abide by my first declaration, and that I had nothing more to show for my vindication.
The General bid them take us away. We went out together. I looked calmly at Chvabrine, and did not say one word to him. He smiled a smile of satisfied hatred, gathered up his fetters, and quickened his pace to pass before me. I was taken back to prison, and after that I underwent no further examination.
I was not witness to all that I have still to tell my readers, but I have heard the whole thing related so often that the least little details have remained graven in my memory, and it seems to me I was present myself.
Marya was received by my parents with the cordial kindness characteristic of people in old days. In the opportunity presented to them of giving a home to a poor orphan they saw a favour of God. Very soon they became truly attached to her, for one could not know her without loving her. My love no longer appeared a folly even to my father, and my mother thought only of the union of her Petrúsha with the Commandant's daughter.
The news of my arrest electrified with horror my whole family. Still, Marya had so simply told my parents the origin of my strange friendship with Pugatchéf that, not only were they not uneasy, but it even made them laugh heartily. My father could not believe it possible that I should be mixed up in a disgraceful revolt, of which the object was the downfall of the throne and the extermination of the race of "_boyárs_." He cross-examined Savéliitch sharply, and my retainer confessed that I had been the guest of Pugatchéf, and that the robber had certainly behaved generously towards me. But at the same time he solemnly averred upon oath that he had never heard me speak of any treason. My old parents' minds were relieved, and they impatiently awaited better news. But as to Marya, she was very uneasy, and only caution and modesty kept her silent.
Several weeks passed thus. All at once my father received from Petersburg a letter from our kinsman, Prince Banojik. After the usual compliments he announced to him that the suspicions which had arisen of my participation in the plots of the rebels had been proved to be but too well founded, adding that condign punishment as a deterrent should have overtaken me, but that the Tzarina, through consideration for the loyal service and white hairs of my father, had condescended to pardon the criminal son, and, remitting the disgrace-fraught execution, had condemned him to exile for life in the heart of Siberia.
This unexpected blow nearly killed my father. He lost his habitual firmness, and his sorrow, usually dumb, found vent in bitter lament.
"What!" he never ceased repeating, well-nigh beside himself, "What! my son mixed up in the plots of Pugatchéf! Just God! what have I lived to see! The Tzarina grants him life, but does that make it easier for me to bear? It is not the execution which is horrible. My ancestor perished on the scaffold for conscience sake, my father fell with the martyrs Volynski and Khuchtchoff, but that a '_boyár_' should forswear his oath--that he should join with robbers, rascals, convicted felons, revolted slaves! Shame for ever--shame on our race!"
Frightened by his despair, my mother dared not weep before him, and endeavoured to give him courage by talking of the uncertainty and injustice of the verdict. But my father was inconsolable.
Marya was more miserable than anyone. Fully persuaded that I could have justified myself had I chosen, she suspected the motive which had kept me silent, and deemed herself the sole cause of my misfortune. She hid from all eyes her tears and her suffering, but never ceased thinking how she could save me.
One evening, seated on the sofa, my father was turning over the Court Calendar; but his thoughts were far away, and the book did not produce its usual effect on him. He was whistling an old march. My mother was silently knitting, and her tears were dropping from time to time on her work. Marya, who was working in the same room, all at once informed my parents that she was obliged to start for Petersburg, and begged them to give her the means to do so.
My mother was much affected by this declaration.
"Why," said she, "do you want to go to Petersburg? You, too--do you also wish to forsake us?"
Marya made answer that her fate depended on the journey, and that she was going to seek help and countenance from people high in favour, as the daughter of a man who had fallen victim to his fidelity.
My father bowed his head. Each word which reminded him of the alleged crime of his son was to him a keen reproach.
"Go," he said at last, with a sigh; "we do not wish to cast any obstacles between you and happiness. May God grant you an honest man as a husband, and not a disgraced and convicted traitor."
He rose and left the room.
Left alone with my mother, Marya confided to her part of her plans. My mother kissed her with tears, and prayed God would grant her success.
A few days afterwards Marya set forth with Palashka and her faithful Savéliitch, who, necessarily, parted from me, consoled himself by remembering he was serving my betrothed.
Marya arrived safely at Sofia, and, learning that the court at this time was at the summer palace of Tzarskoe-Selo, she resolved to stop there. In the post-house she obtained a little dressing-room behind a partition.
The wife of the postmaster came at once to gossip with her, and announced to her pompously that she was the niece of a stove-warmer attached to the Palace, and, in a word, put her up to all the mysteries of the Palace. She told her at what hour the Tzarina rose, had her coffee, went to walk; what high lords there were about her, what she had deigned to say the evening before at table, who she received in the evening, and, in a word, the conversation of Anna Vlassiéfna might have been a leaf from any memoir of the day, and would be invaluable now. Marya Ivanofna heard her with great attention.
They went together to the Imperial Gardens, where Anna Vlassiéfna told Marya the history of every walk and each little bridge. Both then returned home, charmed with one another.
On the morrow, very early, Marya dressed herself and went to the Imperial Gardens. The morning was lovely. The sun gilded with its beams the tops of the lindens, already yellowed by the keen breath of autumn. The large lake sparkled unruffled; the swans, just awake, were gravely quitting the bushes on the bank. Marya went to the edge of a beautiful lawn, where had lately been erected a monument in honour of the recent victories of Count Roumianzeff.
All at once a little dog of English breed ran towards her, barking. Marya stopped short, alarmed. At this moment a pleasant woman's voice said--
"Do not be afraid; he will not hurt you."
Marya saw a lady seated on a little rustic bench opposite the monument, and she went and seated herself at the other end of the bench. The lady looked attentively at her, and Marya, who had stolen one glance at her, could now see her well. She wore a cap and a white morning gown and a little light cloak. She appeared about 50 years old; her face, full and high-coloured, expressed repose and gravity, softened by the sweetness of her blue eyes and charming smile. She was the first to break the silence.
"Doubtless you are not of this place?" she asked.
"You are right, lady; I only arrived yesterday from the country."
"You came with your parents?"
"No, lady, alone."
"Alone! but you are very young to travel by yourself."
"I have neither father nor mother."
"You are here on business?"
"Yes, lady, I came to present a petition to the Tzarina."
"You are an orphan; doubtless you have to complain of injustice or wrong."
"No, lady, I came to ask grace, and not justice."
"Allow me to ask a question: Who are you?"
"I am the daughter of Captain Mironoff."
"Of Captain Mironoff? He who commanded one of the forts in the Orenburg district?"
The lady appeared moved.
"Forgive me," she resumed, in a yet softer voice, "if I meddle in your affairs; but I am going to Court. Explain to me the object of your request; perhaps I may be able to help you."
Marya rose, and respectfully saluted her. Everything in the unknown lady involuntarily attracted her, and inspired trust. Marya took from her pocket a folded paper; she offered it to her protectress, who ran over it in a low voice.
When she began she looked kind and interested, but all at once her face changed, and Marya, who followed with her eyes her every movement, was alarmed by the hard expression of the face lately so calm and gracious.
"You plead for Grineff," said the lady, in an icy tone. "The Tzarina cannot grant him grace. He passed over to the usurper, not as an ignorant and credulous man, but as a depraved and dangerous good-for-nothing."
"It's not true!" cried Marya.
"What! it's not true?" retorted the lady, flushing up to her eyes.
"It is not true, before God it is not true," exclaimed Marya. "I know all; I will tell you all. It is for me only that he exposed himself to all the misfortunes which have overtaken him. And if he did not vindicate himself before the judges, it is because he did not wish me to be mixed up in the affair."
And Marya eagerly related all the reader already knows.
The lady listened with deep attention.
"Where do you lodge?" she asked, when the young girl concluded her story. And when she heard that it was with Anna Vlassiéfna, she added, with a smile: "Ah! I know! Good-bye! Do not tell anyone of our meeting. I hope you will not have to wait long for an answer to your letter."
Having said these words, she rose and went away by a covered walk.
Marya returned home full of joyful hope.
Her hostess scolded her for her early morning walk--bad, she said, in the autumn for the health of a young girl. She brought the "_samovar_," and over a cup of tea she was about to resume her endless discussion of the Court, when a carriage with a coat-of-arms stopped before the door.
A lackey in the Imperial livery entered the room, announcing that the Tzarina deigned to call to her presence the daughter of Captain Mironoff.
Anna Vlassiéfna was quite upset by this news.
"Oh, good heavens!" cried she; "the Tzarina summons you to Court! How did she know of your arrival? And how will you acquit yourself before the Tzarina, my little mother? I think you do not even know how to walk Court fashion. I ought to take you; or, stay, should I not send for the midwife, that she might lend you her yellow gown with flounces?"
But the lackey declared that the Tzarina wanted Marya Ivánofna to come alone, and in the dress she should happen to be wearing. There was nothing for it but to obey, and Marya Ivánofna started.
She foresaw that our fate was in the balance, and her heart beat violently. After a few moments the coach stopped before the Palace, and Marya, after crossing a long suite of empty and sumptuous rooms, was ushered at last into the boudoir of the Tzarina. Some lords, who stood around there, respectfully opened a way for the young girl.
The Tzarina, in whom Marya recognized the lady of the garden, said to her, graciously--
"I am delighted to be able to accord you your prayer. I have had it all looked into. I am convinced of the innocence of your betrothed. Here is a letter which you will give your future father-in-law." Marya, all in tears, fell at the feet of the Tzarina, who raised her, and kissed her forehead. "I know," said she, "you are not rich, but I owe a debt to the daughter of Captain Mironoff. Be easy about your future."
After overwhelming the poor orphan with caresses, the Tzarina dismissed her, and Marya started the same day for my father's country house, without having even had the curiosity to take a look at Petersburg.
Here end the memoirs of Petr' Andréjïtch Grineff; but family tradition asserts that he was released from captivity at the end of the year 1774, that he was present at the execution of Pugatchéf, and that the latter, recognizing him in the crowd, made him a farewell sign with the head which, a few moments later, was held up to the people, lifeless and bleeding.
Soon afterwards Petr' Andréjïtch became the husband of Marya Ivánofna. Their descendants still live in the district of Simbirsk.
In the ancestral home in the village of ---- is still shown the autograph letter of Catherine II., framed and glazed. It is addressed to the father of Petr' Andréjïtch, and contains, with the acquittal of his son, praises of the intellect and good heart of the Commandant's daughter.
[Footnote 71: Fedor Poushkin, a noble of high rank, ancestor of the author, was executed on a charge of treason by Petr' Alexiovitch the Great.]
[Footnote 72: Leaders of the Russian faction against John Ernest, Duc de Biren, Grand Chamberlain, and favourite of the Tzarina, Anne Ivanofna. Both were executed in a barbarous manner.]
[Footnote 73: Anna, daughter of Blaize.]
[Footnote 74: General Romanoff, distinguished in the wars against the Turks, vanquished them at Larga and Kazoul, 1772. He died 1796.]