The "kibitka" stopped before the door of the Commandant's house. Th_nhabitants had recognized the little bell of Pugatchéf's team, and ha_ssembled in a crowd. Chvabrine came to meet the usurper; he was dressed as _ossack, and had allowed his beard to grow.
The traitor helped Pugatchéf to get out of the carriage, expressing b_bsequious 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 w_ntered the little room I knew so well, where could still be seen on the wal_he commission of the late deceased Commandant, as a sad memorial.
Pugatchéf sat down on the same sofa where ofttimes Iván Kouzmitch had dozed t_he 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 secon_ime. He seemed beside himself. With his usual sharpness he had doubtles_uessed that Pugatchéf was not pleased with me. He regarded him with alarm an_e with mistrust. Pugatchéf asked him some questions on the condition of th_ort, on what was said concerning the Tzarina's troops, and other simila_ubjects. Then suddenly and in an unexpected manner—
"Tell me, brother," asked he, "who is this young girl you are keeping unde_atch and ward? Show me her."
Chvabrine became pale as death.
"Tzar," he said, in a trembling voice, "Tzar, she is not under restraint; sh_s in bed in her room."
"Take me to her," said the usurper, rising.
It was impossible to hesitate. Chvabrine led Pugatchéf to Marya Ivánofna'_oom. I followed them. Chvabrine stopped on the stairs.
"Tzar," said he, "you can constrain me to do as you list, but do not permit _tranger 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, _ake 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 ha_orgotten the key.
Pugatchéf gave a push to the door with his foot, the lock gave way, the doo_pened, and we went in. I cast a rapid glance round the room and nearl_ainted. Upon the floor, in a coarse peasant's dress, sat Marya, pale an_hin, with her hair unbound. Before her stood a jug of water and a bit o_read. At the sight of me she trembled and gave a piercing cry. I cannot sa_hat I felt. Pugatchéf looked sidelong at Chvabrine, and said to him with _itter smile—
"Your hospital is well-ordered!" Then, approaching Marya, "Tell me, my littl_ove, why your husband punishes you thus?"
"My husband!" rejoined she; "he is not my husband. Never will I be his wife. _m 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 feeling_f hatred and revenge. I looked with disgust upon a gentleman at the feet of _ossack deserter. Pugatchéf allowed himself to be moved.
"I pardon you this time," he said, to Chvabrine; "but next offence I wil_emember 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 he_arents was before her eyes. She covered her face with her hands, and fel_nconscious.
I was rushing to help her, when my old acquaintance, Polashka, came ver_oldly 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 th_retty girl; what do you say to it? Ought we not to send for the pope and ge_im 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 als_eceives you. This young girl is not the pope's niece; she is the daughter o_ván 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 suddenl_arkened.
"But judge yourself," replied I; "could I declare before all your people tha_he was Mironoff's daughter? They would have torn her in pieces, nothing coul_ave saved her."
"Well, you are right," said Pugatchéf. "My drunkards would not have spared th_oor 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 no_now what to call you, nor do I seek to know. But God knows I stand ready t_ive my life for what you have done for me. Only do not ask of me anythin_pposed 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 shal_irect, and whatever befall and wherever you be we will pray God every da_hat 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, an_ay God grant you love and wisdom."
He turned towards Chvabrine, and bid him write me a safe conduct pass for al_he gates and forts under his command. Chvabrine remained still, and as i_etrified.
Pugatchéf went to inspect the fort; Chvabrine followed him, and I staye_ehind under the pretext of packing up. I ran to Marya's room. The door wa_hut; 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 Akoulin_amphilovna'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 the_ll that had happened.
"Good-day, Petr' Andréjïtch," the pope's wife said to me; "here has God s_uled that we meet again. How are you? We have talked about you every day. An_arya 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 i_hat he did not kill you? Well, for that, thanks be to the villain."
"There, hush, old woman," interrupted Father Garasim; "don't gossip about al_ou 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 ceasin_ moment to talk.
She told me how Chvabrine had obliged them to deliver up Marya Ivánofna t_im; how the poor girl cried, and would not be parted from them; how she ha_ad continual intercourse with them through the medium of Polashka, _esolute, sharp girl who made the "ouriadnik" himself dance (as they say) t_he sound of her flageolet; how she had counselled Marya Ivánofna to write m_ 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 wa_ware they had deceived him.
"May the power of the cross be with us!" Akoulina Pamphilovna said. "May Go_urn aside this cloud. Very well, Alexey Iványtch, we shall see! Oh! the sl_ox!"
At this moment the door opened, and Marya Ivánofna appeared, with a smile o_er 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 singl_ord. 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 o_he fort; painted me the horrors of her position, all the torment the infamou_hvabrine had made her suffer. We recalled to each other the happy past, bot_f us shedding tears the while.
At last I could tell her my plans. It was impossible for her to stay in a for_hich had submitted to Pugatchéf, and where Chvabrine was in command. Neithe_ould I dream of taking refuge with her in Orenburg, where at this junctur_ll the miseries of a siege were being undergone. Marya had no longer a singl_elation in the world. Therefore I proposed to her that she should go to m_arents' country house.
She was very much surprised at such a proposal. The displeasure my father ha_hown on her account frightened her. But I soothed her. I knew my father woul_eem it a duty and an honour to shelter in his house the daughter of a vetera_ho had died for his country.
"Dear Marya," I said, at last, "I look upon you as my wife. These strang_vents have irrevocably united us. Nothing in the whole world can part us an_ore."
Marya heard me in dignified silence, without misplaced affectation. She fel_s I did, that her destiny was irrevocably linked with mine; still, sh_epeated that she would only be my wife with my parents' consent. I ha_othing to answer. We fell in each other's arms, and my project became ou_utual decision.
An hour afterwards the "ouriadnik" brought me my safe-conduct pass, with th_crawl which did duty as Pugatchéf's signature, and told me the Tzar awaite_e 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 fel_ strong sympathy with him. I wished earnestly to draw him from the band o_obbers of which he was the chief, and save his head ere it should be to_ate.
The presence of Chvabrine and of the crowd around us prevented me fro_xpressing to him all the feelings which filled my heart.
We parted friends.
Pugatchéf saw in the crowd Akoulina Pamphilovna, and amicably threatened he_ith 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 o_is 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'_ouse, where all was being made ready for our departure. Our little luggag_ad been put in the old vehicle of the Commandant. In a moment the horses wer_arnessed.
Marya went to bid a last farewell to the tomb of her parents, buried behin_he church.
I wished to escort her there, but she begged me to let her go alone, and soo_ame 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 ga_oshawk!" the pope's wife cried to us. "A lucky journey to you, and may Go_ive you abundant happiness!"
We started. At the Commandant's window I saw Chvabrine standing, with a fac_f dark hatred.
I did not wish to triumph meanly over a humbled enemy, and looked away fro_im.
At last we passed the principal gate, and for ever left Fort Bélogorsk.