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Chapter 10 The Siege

  • As we approached Orenburg we saw a crowd of convicts with cropped heads, an_aces disfigured by the pincers of th_xecutioner.[[60]](footnotes.xml#footnote_60) They were working on th_ortifications of the place under the pensioners of the garrison. Some wer_aking away in wheelbarrows the rubbish which filled the ditch; others wer_ollowing out the earth with spades. Masons were bringing bricks and repairin_he walls. The sentries stopped us at the gates to demand our passports. Whe_he Sergeant learnt that we came from Fort Bélogorsk he took us direct to th_eneral. I found him in his garden. He was examining the apple-trees which th_reath of autumn had already deprived of their leaves, and, with the help o_n old gardener, he was enveloping them in straw. His face expressed calm,
  • good-humour and health. He seemed very pleased to see me, and began t_uestion me on the terrible events which I had witnessed. I related them. Th_ld man heard me with attention, and, while listening, cut the dead branches.
  • "Poor Mironoff!" said he, when I had done my sad story; "'tis a pity! he was _oot officer! And Matame Mironoff, she was a goot lady and first-rate a_ickled mushrooms. And what became of Masha, the Captain's daughter?" _eplied that she had stayed in the fort, at the pope's house. "Aïe! aïe! aïe!"
  • said the General. "That's bad! very bad; it is quite impossible to count o_he discipline of robbers." I drew his attention to the fact that For_élogorsk was not very far away, and that probably his excellency would no_elay dispatching a detachment of troops to deliver the poor inhabitants. Th_eneral shook his head with an air of indecision— "We shall see! we shal_ee!" said he, "we have plenty of time to talk about it. I beg you will com_nd take tea with me. This evening there will be a council of war; you ca_ive us exact information about that rascal Pugatchéf and his army. Now in th_eantime go and rest." I went away to the lodging that had been assigned me,
  • and where Savéliitch was already installed. There I impatiently awaited th_our fixed. The reader may well believe I was anxious not to miss this counci_f war, which was to have so great an influence on my life. I went at th_ppointed hour to the General's, where I found one of the civil officials o_renburg, the head of the Customs, if I recollect right, a little old man, fa_nd red-faced, dressed in a coat of watered silk. He began questioning me o_he fate of Iván Kouzmitch, whom he called his gossip, and he ofte_nterrupted me by many questions and sententious remarks, which if they di_ot show a man versed in the conduct of war, yet showed that he was possesse_f natural wit, and of intelligence. During this time the other guests ha_ssembled. When all were seated, and each one had been offered a cup of tea,
  • the General explained lengthily and minutely what was the affair in hand.
  • "Now, gentlemen, we must decide how we mean to act against the rebels. Shal_t be offensively or defensively? Each way has its disadvantages and it_dvantages. Offensive warfare offers more hope of the enemy being speedil_rushed; but a defensive war is surer and less dangerous. Consequently we wil_ollect the votes according to the proper order, that is to say, begin firs_onsulting the juniors in respect of rank. Now, Mr. Ensign," continued he,
  • addressing me, "be so good as to give us your opinion." I rose, and afte_aving depicted in a few words Pugatchéf and his band, I declared that th_surper was not in a state to resist disciplined troops. My opinion wa_eceived by the civil officials with visible discontent. They saw in it th_eadstrong impertinence of youth. A murmur arose, and I distinctly heard said,
  • half-aloud, the words, "Beardless boy." The General turned towards me, an_milingly said— "Mr. Ensign, the early votes in a council of war are generall_or offensive measures. Now we will proceed. Mr. College Counsellor, tell u_our opinion?" The little old man in the watered silk coat made haste t_wallow his third cup of tea, which he had mixed with a good help of rum. "_hink, your excellency," said he, "we must neither act on the defensive no_et on the offensive." "How so, Mr. Counsellor?" replied the General,
  • astounded. "There is nothing else open to us in tactics—one must act either o_he defensive or the offensive." "Your excellency, endeavour to suborn." "Eh!
  • eh! your opinion is very judicious; the act of corruption is one admitted b_he rules of war, and we will profit by your counsel. We might offer for th_ascal's head seventy or even a hundred roubles, and take them from the secre_unds." "And then," interrupted the head of the Customs, "I'm a Kirghi_nstead of a College Counsellor if these robbers do not deliver up thei_táman, chained hand and foot." "We will think of it, and talk of it again,"
  • rejoined the General. "Still, in any case, we must also take militar_easures. Gentlemen, give your votes in proper order." Everyone's opinion wa_ontrary to mine. Those present vied with each other about th_ntrustworthiness of the troops, the uncertainty of success, the necessity o_rudence, and so forth. All were of opinion that it was better to stay behin_ strong wall, their safety assured by cannon, than to tempt the fortune o_ar in the open field. At last, when all the opinions had been given, th_eneral shook the ashes out of his pipe and made the following speech:—
  • "Gentlemen, I must tell you, for my part, I am entirely of the opinion of ou_riend the ensign, for this opinion is based on the precepts of good tactics,
  • in which nearly always offensive movements are preferable to defensive ones."
  • Here he paused a moment and filled his pipe. My self-love was triumphant, an_ cast a proud glance at the civil officials who were whispering amon_hemselves, with an air of disquiet and discontent. "But, gentlemen," resume_he General, with a sigh, and puffing out a cloud of smoke, "I dare not tak_pon myself such a great responsibility, when the safety is in question of th_rovinces entrusted to my care by Her Imperial Majesty, my gracious Sovereign.
  • Therefore I see I am obliged to abide by the advice of the majority, which ha_uled that prudence as well as reason declares that we should await in th_own the siege which threatens us, and that we should defeat the attacks o_he enemy by the force of artillery, and, if the possibility present itself,
  • by well-directed sorties." It was now the turn of the officials to loo_ockingly at me. The council broke up. I could not help deploring the weaknes_f the honest soldier who, against his own judgment, had decided to abide b_he counsel of ignorant and inexperienced people. Several days after thi_emorable council of war, Pugatchéf, true to his word, approached Orenburg.
  • From the top of the city wall I took note of the army of the rebels, and i_eemed to me that their number had increased tenfold since the last assault _ad witnessed. They had also artillery, which had been taken from the littl_orts which had fallen before Pugatchéf. As I recollected the decision of th_ouncil of war, I foresaw a long imprisonment within the walls of Orenburg,
  • and I was ready to cry with vexation. Far be from me any intention o_escribing the siege of Orenburg, which belongs to history, and not to _amily memoir. In a few words, therefore, I shall say that in consequence o_he bad arrangements of the authorities, the siege was disastrous for th_nhabitants, who were forced to suffer hunger and privation of all kinds. Lif_t Orenburg was becoming unendurable; each one awaited in anxiety the fat_hat should befall him. All complained of the famine, which was, indeed,
  • awful. The inhabitants ended by becoming accustomed to the shells falling o_heir houses. Even the assaults of Pugatchéf no longer excited grea_isturbance. I was dying of ennui. The time passed but slowly. I could not ge_ny letter from Bélogorsk, for all the roads were blocked, and the separatio_rom Marya became unbearable. My only occupation consisted in my militar_ounds. Thanks to Pugatchéf, I had a pretty good horse, with which I shared m_canty rations. Every day I passed beyond the ramparts, and I went and fire_way against the scouts of Pugatchéf. In these sort of skirmishes the rebel_enerally got the better of us, as they had plenty of food and were capitall_ounted. Our thin, starved cavalry was unable to stand against them. Sometime_ur famished infantry took the field, but the depth of the snow prevente_ction with any success against the flying cavalry of the enemy. The artiller_hundered vainly from the height of the ramparts, and in the field guns coul_ot work because of the weakness of the worn-out horses. This is how we mad_ar, and this is what the officials of Orenburg called prudence and foresight.
  • One day, when we had succeeded in dispersing and driving before us a rathe_umerous band, I came up with one of the hindmost Cossacks, and I was about t_trike him with my Turkish sabre when he took off his cap and cried— "Goo_ay, Petr' Andréjïtch; how is your health?" I recognized our "ouriadnik." _annot say how glad I was to see him. "Good day, Maximitch," said I, "is i_ong since you left Bélogorsk?" "No, not long, my little father, Petr'
  • Andréjïtch; I only came back yesterday. I have a letter for you." "Where i_t?" I cried, overjoyed. "I have got it," rejoined Maximitch, putting his han_nto his breast. "I promised Palashka to give it to you." He handed me _olded paper, and immediately darted off at full gallop. I opened it and rea_ith emotion the following lines— "It has pleased God to deprive me at once o_y father and my mother. I have no longer on earth either parents o_rotectors. I have recourse to you, because I know you have always wished m_ell, and also that you are ever ready to help those in need. I pray God thi_etter may reach you. Maximitch has promised me he will ensure it reachin_ou. Palashka has also heard Maximitch say that he often sees you from afar i_he sorties, and that you do not take care of yourself, nor think of those wh_ray God for you with tears. "I was long ill, and when at last I recovered,
  • Alexey Iványtch, who commands here in the room of my late father, force_ather Garasim to hand me over to him by threatening him with Pugatchéf. _ive under his guardianship in our house. Alexey Iványtch tries to oblige m_o marry him. He avers that he saved my life by not exposing Akoulin_amphilovna's stratagem when she spoke of me to the robbers as her niece, bu_t would be easier to me to die than to become the wife of a man lik_hvabrine. He treats me with great cruelty, and threatens, if I do not chang_y mind, to bring me to the robber camp, where I should suffer the fate o_lizabeth Kharloff.[[61]](footnotes.xml#footnote_61) "I have begged Alexe_ványtch to give me some time to think it over. He has given me three days; i_t the end of that time I do not become his wife I need expect no mor_onsideration at his hands. Oh! my father, Petr' Andréjïtch, you are my onl_tay. Defend me, a poor girl. Beg the General and all your superiors to sen_s help as soon as possible, and come yourself if you can. "I remain, you_ubmissive orphan, "MARYA MIRONOFF." I almost went mad when I read thi_etter. I rushed to the town, spurring without pity my poor horse. During th_ide I turned over in my mind a thousand projects for rescuing the poor gir_ithout being able to decide on any. Arrived in the town I went straight t_he General's, and I actually ran into his room. He was walking up and down,
  • smoking his meerschaum pipe. Upon seeing me he stood still; my appearanc_oubtless struck him, for he questioned me with a kind of anxiety on the caus_f my abrupt entry. "Your excellency," said I, "I come to you as I would to m_oor father. Do not reject my request; the happiness of my whole life is i_uestion." "What is all this, my father?" asked the astounded General. "Wha_an I do for you? Speak." "Your excellency, allow me to take a battalion o_oldiers and fifty Cossacks, and go and clear out Fort Bélogorsk." The Genera_tared, thinking, probably, that I was out of my senses; and he was not fa_rong. "How? What! what! Clear out Fort Bélogorsk!" he said at last. "I'l_nswer for success!" I rejoined, hotly. "Only let me go." "No, young man," h_aid, shaking his head; "it is so far away. The enemy would easily block al_ommunication with the principal strategic point, which would quickly enabl_im to defeat you utterly and decisively. A blocked communication, do yo_ee?"
  • I took fright when I saw he was getting involved in a military dissertation,
  • and I made haste to interrupt him. "The daughter of Captain Mironoff," I said,
  • "has just written me a letter asking for help. Chvabrine is obliging her t_ecome his wife." "Indeed! Oh! this Chvabrine is a great rascal. If he fall_nto my hands I'll have him tried in twenty-four hours, and we will shoot hi_n the glacis of the fort. But in the meantime we must have patience." "Hav_atience!" I cried, beside myself. "Between this and then he will ill-trea_arya." "Oh!" replied the General. "Still that would not be such a terribl_isfortune for her. It would be better for her to be the wife of Chvabrine,
  • who can now protect her. And when we shall have shot him, then, with heaven'_elp, the betrothed will come together again. Pretty little widows do not lon_emain single; I mean to say a widow more easily finds a husband." "I'd rathe_ie," I cried, furiously, "than leave her to Chvabrine." "Ah! Bah!" said th_ld man, "I understand now. Probably you are in love with Marya Ivánofna. The_t is another thing. Poor boy! But still it is not possible for me to give yo_ battalion and fifty Cossacks. This expedition is unreasonable, and I canno_ake it upon my own responsibility." I bowed my head; despair overwhelmed me.
  • All at once an idea flashed across me, and what it was the reader will see i_he next chapter, as the old novelists used to say.