Твори О.С. Пушкіна.Переклад англійською мовою > THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER > VI. The Pugachev Rebellion

THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER

 

VI. The Pugachev Rebellion

 

You, young lads, listen to the tales
That we, old men, will be telling you.

A SONG

Before I relate the strange events that I was to witness, I must say a few words about the conditions prevailing in Orenburg Guberniia at the end of 1773.
This extensive and rich guberniia was inhabited by a number of semi-barbarian peoples who had only recently accepted the Russian Emperors' suzerainty. Because of their frequent revolts, their ways unaccustomed to law and civilized life, and their instability and cruelty, the government could keep them under control only by maintaining constant surveillance over them. Forts were built in convenient locations and settled mostly by Cossacks, who had for a long time held possession of the banks of the Iaik. But these Iaik Cossacks, whose duty it was to guard the peace and safety of the region, had themselves for some time been restless subjects, posing a threat to the government. In 1772 a revolt broke out in their main town. Its cause lay in the strict measures taken by Major General Traubenberg to bring the Host to a proper state of obedience. As a result, Traubenberg was brutally murdered; the Cossacks took full control of their own governance again; and finally their revolt was crushed by grapeshot and ruthless punishments.
All this had happened a short time before my arrival at Fort Belogorsk. By now everything was quiet or at least seemed so; the authorities, however, had too easily given credence to the wily rebels, who feigned repentance but who in fact harboured a secret resentment and were waiting for a suitable opportunity to renew their disturbances.
I return to my narrative.
One evening (this was at the beginning of October 1773) I was sitting at home by myself, listening to the howl of the autumn wind and gazing through my window at the clouds speeding past the moon, when a messenger came to call me to the commandant. I set out at once. Shvabrin, Ivan Ignatich, and the Cossack sergeant were with him. Neither Vasilisa Egorovna nor Maria Ivanovna was in the room. The commandant greeted me with an anxious look. He locked the door, seated everyone except the sergeant, who remained standing by the door, and taking a sheet of paper from his pocket, said to us, "Gentlemen, fellow officers, I have received important news. Listen to what the general writes."
He put on his glasses and read the following:
To Captain Mironov, Commandant of Fort Belogorsk -Confidential:
Herewith I wish to inform you that the fugitive Don Cossack Emelian Pugachev, a schismatic, has with unpardonable insolence assumed the name of the late Emperor Peter III, has gathered a villainous horde and incited riots in settlements along the Iaik, and has already occupied and destroyed several forts, looting and murdering everywhere. For this reason you are commanded, Captain, to take immediately on receipt of this letter all necessary measures to repulse, and if possible entirely destroy, the above-mentioned villain and impostor in case he should march on the fort entrusted to your care.
"To take all necessary measures indeed!" said the commandant, removing his glasses and folding the letter. "Easier said than done. The villain is evidently strong, and we have only a hundred and thirty men, not counting the Cossacks, who cannot be relied on, if you'll excuse my saying so, Maksimych." The sergeant grinned. "But we have no other choice, gentlemen: be meticulous in carrying out your duties, send out patrols and post guards at night; and in case of an attack lock the gates and assemble the men. You, Maksimych, keep a sharp eye on your Cossacks. The cannon must be inspected and thoroughly cleaned. And first and foremost, keep all this a secret, so that nobody in the fort learns of it sooner than necessary."
Having given these orders, Ivan Kuzmich dismissed us. I went out with Shvabrin, turning over in my mind what I had just heard.
"What do you think?" I asked him. "How's this going to end?"
"God only knows," he replied. "We'll see. For the time being I see nothing that should give us concern. And in case..." On that word he fell to thinking and started distractedly whistling an aria from a French opera.
Despite all our precautions, the news of Pugachev's appearance on the scene spread through the fort. Although Ivan Kuzmich had great respect for his wife, he would not for anything have revealed to her an official secret entrusted to him. Having received the general's letter, he rather craftily got her out of the house by telling her that Father Gerasim had received some exciting news from Orenburg, which he was keeping in great secret. Vasilisa Egorovna immediately felt like visiting the priest's wife, and, on Ivan Kuzmich's advice, took Masha along, lest she should be bored left alone at home.
Having taken sole possession of the house, Ivan Kuzmich immediately sent for us and in the meanwhile locked Palashka in the storeroom to prevent her from eavesdropping on us.
Vasilisa Egorovna had no success trying to pry the secret out of the priest's wife, and when she returned home, she learned that Ivan Kuzmich had called a meeting and locked Palashka up in her absence. She guessed that she had been duped by her husband, and she besieged him with questions. But Ivan Kuzmich was prepared for the assault. He betrayed no confusion and briskly answered his inquisitive helpmate, "You know, mother dear, the women in the fort have taken up the habit of burning straw in the stoves, which might cause some accidents, and so I gave strict orders that in the future they should burn not straw, but twigs and fallen branches."
"But why did you have to lock up Palashka?" asked the captain's wife. "Why did the poor wench have to sit in the storeroom until we came home?"
For this question Ivan Kuzmich was not prepared: he became confused and muttered something incomprehensible. Vasilisa Egorovna could see through her husband's perfidy, but knowing well that she could not get anything out of him, she cut the interrogation short and switched to the topic of pickled cucumbers, for which Akulina Pamfilovna had a most unusual recipe. Vasilisa Egorovna could not sleep all night for trying to guess what could be on her husband's mind that she was not allowed to know.
The next day, as she was returning from mass, she saw Ivan Ignatich plucking out of the cannon rags, pebbles, bits of wood and bone, and other rubbish that the children had thrown in there.
"What could these military preparations mean?" pondered the captain's wife. "Could it be that a Kirgiz raid is expected? But would Ivan Kuzmich conceal such trifles from me?" She called out to Ivan Ignatich, firmly resolved to worm out of him the secret that tormented her feminine curiosity.
At first she made some observations concerning household matters, like a magistrate who begins an interrogation with irrelevant questions in order to put the defendant off his guard. Then, after a pause, she heaved a deep sigh and said, shaking her head, "Oh, Lord God! What news! What'll come of all this?"
"Never fear, good madam," answered Ivan Ignatich. "The Lord is merciful: we have enough soldiers and plenty of powder, and I've cleaned out the cannon. With a little luck we'll drive back Pugachev. God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb."
"And what sort of a man is this Pugachev?" asked the captain's wife.
Ivan Ignatich now realized that he had let the cat out of the bag, and he bit his tongue. But it was too late. Vasilisa Egorovna, giving her word not to pass the secret to anyone, made him reveal the whole thing.
She kept her promise, not breathing a word to anyone except the priest's wife, and to her only because her cow was still grazing on the steppe and might be captured by the villains.
Soon the whole fort was buzzing with talk about Pugachev. There were several rumours. The commandant dispatched the sergeant to find out what he could from neighbouring settlements and forts. The sergeant came back two days later, reporting that about sixty versts from the fort he had seen a large number of campfires, and that according to the Bashkirs an army of unprecedented proportions was approaching. But he could not say anything more positive, because he had not dared venture farther afield.
Unusual agitation could be observed among the Cossacks of the fort: they gathered in groups in every street and talked in a low tone, but dispersed as soon as they saw a dragoon or a garrison soldier. Spies were sent to mingle with them. The baptized Kalmyk Iulai brought important intelligence to the commandant. The sergeant's report, according to Iulai, was false: on his return, the shifty Cossack had told his comrades that he had in fact been to the rebels' camp and presented himself to their leader, who let him kiss his hand and had a long talk with him. The commandant immediately took the sergeant into custody and appointed Iulai in his place. The Cossacks took this new development with manifest displeasure. They grumbled loudly, so much so that Ivan Ignatich, who executed the commandant's order, heard with his own ears, "You'll live to regret that, garrison rat!" The command ant was planning to interrogate his prisoner the same day, but he escaped, no doubt with the aid of accomplices.
Another development increased the commandant's anxiety. A Bashkir carrying copies of a seditious manifesto was captured. In view of this, the commandant wanted to convene his officers again and to get Vasilisa Egorovna out of the house again under some plausible pretext. But since he was a simple-hearted and straightforward man, he could think of no ruse except the one he had already employed.
"Listen, Vasilisa Egorovna," he said clearing his throat, "Father Gerasim, I hear, has received from the city..."
"That's enough of your lies, Ivan Kuzmich," his wife interrupted him; "I can see you want to call a meeting and to talk about Emelian Pugachev without me, but this time you're not going to trick me."
Ivan Kuzmich opened his eyes wide. "Well, mother dear," he said, "stay if you already know all about it: we can just as well talk in your presence."
"That's more like it, there's a good man," she answered. "Cunning doesn't befit you. Just send for those officers."
We assembled once more. Ivan Kuzmich, in the presence of his wife, read aloud Pugachev's manifesto, written by some semiliterate Cossack. The impostor declared his intention to march on our fort immediately; he invited the Cossacks and soldiers to join his band and admonished the commanders not to offer any resistance on pain of death. The manifesto was written in a crude but forceful language that was bound to make a dangerous impression on the minds of simple people.
"What a scoundrel!" exclaimed the captain's wife. "How does he dare propose such things to us! To meet him outside the fort and lay our flags at his feet! Oh, the son of a bitch! Doesn't he realize that we've been in the service for forty years and have, by the mercy of God, seen a thing or two? Can there be commanders who've obeyed the impostor?"
"There shouldn't be, certainly," Ivan Kuzmich answered. "But I hear that the villain has already taken many forts."
"He does seem to be really strong," remarked Shvabrin.
"We will learn about his actual strength right now," said the commandant. "Vasilisa Egorovna, give me the key to the barn. Ivan Ignatich, bring the Bashkir here and tell Iulai to fetch a whip."
"Wait a minute, Ivan Kuzmich," said the commander's wife, getting up. "Let me take Masha somewhere out of the house: I don't want her to be terrified by the screams. And to tell you the truth, I haven't much of a taste for torture either. I wish you the best."
Torture was so deeply ingrained in judicial procedure in the old days that the noble decree by which it was eventually abolished remained without effect for a long time. It was thought that the offender's own confession was indispensable if his guilt was to be fully established - an idea that not only lacks foundation, but is diametrically opposed to sound legal thinking; for if a denial by the accused is not accepted as proof of his innocence, then an admission by him should be even less of a proof of his guilt. Even today I sometimes hear old judges express regret over the abolition of this barbaric practice. In the days of my youth no one - neither the judges nor the accused — doubted that torture was necessary. Therefore the commandant's order neither surprised nor troubled any of us. Ivan Ignatich went to fetch the Bashkir, who was locked in Vasilisa Egorovna's barn, and in a few minutes the captive was led into the anteroom. The commandant ordered him to be brought before him.
The Bashkir stepped across the threshold with difficulty (he was in irons) and, taking off his tall hat, remained standing by the door. I glanced at him and shuddered. I shall never forget this man. He appeared to be over seventy. His nose and ears were missing. His head was shaved; in place of a beard he had a few gray hairs sticking out; he was small, thin, and bent; but fire still sparkled in his narrow slit eyes.
"Aha!" said the commander, recognizing by the terrible marks one of the rebels punished in 1741. "So you're an old wolf who's been caught in our traps before. I can tell by your well-shorn nob, it's not the first time you've rioted. Come a little closer and tell me who sent you."
The old Bashkir remained silent and stared at the commandant with an air of total incomprehension.
"Why are you silent?" continued Ivan Kuzmich. "Or don't you understand Russian? Iulai, ask him in your tongue who's sent him into our fort?"
Iulai repeated Ivan Kuzmich's question in Tatar. But the Bashkir gazed back at him with the same expression and did not answer a word.
"Iakshi" said the commandant. "I'll make you speak up if that's what you want. Fellows, take this clownish striped gown off him and hemstitch his back. But mind, Iulai, don't spare him!"
Two veterans started undressing the Bashkir. He kept glancing about him like a little wild animal caught by children. But when one of the veterans grabbed the Bashkir's arms and, twining them around his own neck, lifted the old man on his shoulders, while Iulai picked up the whip and flourished it, the Bashkir gave out a moan in a weak, imploring voice and, shaking his head, opened his mouth, in which there was a truncated stump instead of a tongue.
When I reflect that this happened in my own lifetime, and that since then I have lived to see Emperor Alexander's mild reign, I cannot help marvelling at the rapid progress of enlightenment and the spread of humane principles. Young man! If my memoirs fall into your hands, remember that the best and most enduring changes are those arising from a betterment of mores without violent shocks.
We were all horror-stricken.
"Well," said the commander, "we'll obviously not get any sense out of him. Iulai, take the Bashkir back to the barn. With you, gentlemen, I have a few more things to talk over."
We were just beginning to discuss our situation when Vasilisa Egorovna burst into the room, breathless and beside herself with alarm.
"What's happened to you!" asked the commandant in astonishment.
"My dear sirs, calamity's upon us!" Vasilisa Egorovna answered. "Fort Nizhne-Ozernaia was taken this morning. Father Gerasim's hired man has just returned from there. He saw them take it. The commandant and all the officers have been hanged. All the soldiers have been taken prisoner. It won't be long before the villains are here."
This unexpected news was a great shock to me. I knew the commandant of Fort Nizhne-Ozernaia, a quiet and modest young man: only two months before he and his young wife had passed through our fort on their way from Orenburg and spent the night at Ivan Kuzmich's house. Nizhne-Ozernaia was about twenty-five versts from our fort. We could expect Pugachev's attack at any moment. I vividly imagined the fate awaiting Maria Ivanovna, and my heart sank.
"Listen, Ivan Kuzmich," I said to the commandant, "it is our duty to defend the fort to our last breath; that goes without saying. But we must think of the safety of the women. Please send them off to Orenburg, if the road is still open, or to a more secure fort somewhere far away, out of the brigand's reach."
Ivan Kuzmich turned to his wife and said, "Indeed, mother dear, wouldn't it be better to send you to some place farther off while we take care of these rebels?"
"Nonsense!" replied the commander's wife. "Where's a fort that bullets can't reach? What's wrong with the safety of Belogorsk? Thank God, we've lived in it for close to twenty-two years. We've seen the Kirgiz and the Bashkir: we'll sit out Pugachev's siege too."
"Well, mother dear," rejoined Ivan Kuzmich, "stay, if you trust our fort; but what are we going to do with Masha? All well and good, if we sit out the siege or relief comes in time; but what if the villains take the fort?"
"Well, then..." Vasilisa Egorovna stopped short, falling silent with an extremely anxious look.
"No, Vasilisa Egorovna," continued the commandant, noticing that his words had made an impression, perhaps for the first time in his life, "it won't do to let Masha stay here. Let's send her to Orenburg, to her godmother: there they have enough troops and cannon, and the walls are of stone. And I'd advise you to go there too: old woman or not, just look at what might happen to you if they storm the fort."
"All right," she said, "let it be so: we'll send Masha off. As for me, don't even try asking me; I won't go. There's no earthly reason why I should part with you in my old age and seek a lonely grave in a strange place. Together we have lived, together we will die."
"You may be right about that," said the commandant. "But we've no time to lose: go and get Masha ready for the journey. We'll send her off at daybreak tomorrow, and we'll provide her with a convoy, as well, though we hardly have men to spare. But where is she?"
"She's at Akulina Pamfilovna's," the commandant's wife replied. "She felt faint on hearing about the fall of Nizhne-Ozernaia: I hope she won't fall sick. God Almighty, what times we've lived to see!"
Vasilisa Egorovna left to see to her daughter's departure. The discussions with the commandant were still going on, but I no longer participated in them or listened to what was being said. Maria Ivanovna came to supper, her face pale and her eyes red with weeping. We ate in silence and rose from the table earlier than usual. Wishing the whole family good night, all of us left. I had deliberately left my sword behind, however, and went back for it: I had a premonition that I would find Masha alone. Indeed she met me at the door and handed me my sword.
"Good-bye, Petr Andreich!" she said in tears. "They're sending me to Orenburg. Take care of yourself and be happy: perhaps the Lord will so ordain that we'll meet again; if not ..." She burst into sobs. I embraced her.
"Farewell, my angel," I said, "farewell, my darling, my beloved one! Whatever happens to me, you can be sure that my last thought and last prayer shall be for you!"
Masha sobbed, resting her head on my breast. I kissed her fervently and hurried out of the room.

 

      

I. The Sergeant of the Guards || II. The Guide|| III. The Fort || IV. The Duel|| V. Love || VI. The Pugachev Rebellion|| VII. The Assault || VIII. An Uninvited Guest|| IX. Separation || X.The Siege of a City|| XI. The Rebel Village|| XII. The Orphan || XIII. The Arrest || XIV. The Trial


 

Бібліотека ім. О. С. Пушкіна (м. Київ).
Про О.С. Пушкіна