Твори О.С. Пушкіна.Переклад англійською мовою > THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER > X. The Siege of a City

THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER

 

X. The Siege of a City

 

Fields and hills in hand,
On high with eagle eyes the city's site he scanned.
Beyond the camp he had a cloud of thunder wrought
And, charged with bolts, at night against the bastion brought.

KHERASKOV.

As we approached Orenburg we saw a group of convicts, their heads shaved and their faces disfigured by the executioner's tongs. They were working around the fortifications under the supervision of veterans from the garrison. Some were carting away the trash that had accumulated in the trench; others were digging with spades; on the ramparts masons were carrying bricks and repairing the city walls. At the gate the sentries stopped us and demanded our passports. As soon as the sergeant heard that I was coming from Belogorsk, he took me straight to the general's house.
I found him in his garden. He was inspecting some apple trees, already bared by the breath of autumn, and with the aid of an old gardener, was carefully wrapping them in warm straw. His face wore an expression of calm, good health, and benevolence. He was glad to see me and questioned me about the horrible events I had witnessed. I told him about everything. He listened to me attentively, though he continued to cut back dead branches all the while.
"Poor Mironov!" he said when I had finished my sad story. "I am sorry about him: he was a good officer. And Madame Mironova was a good-hearted lady, and what an expert at pickling mushrooms! But what happened to Masha, the captain's daughter?"
I replied that she had remained at the fort, in the care of the priest's wife.
"Oh, that's bad," remarked the general, "that's very bad. You cannot count on any discipline among the brigands. What'll become of the poor girl?"
I answered that Fort Belogorsk was not far off, and that His Excellency would presumably not wait long before dispatching troops to liberate its poor inhabitants. The general shook his head doubtfully.
"We'll see, we'll see," he said. "We'll have a chance to talk more about that. Come over for a cup of tea: a council of war is to be held at my house today. You can give us reliable information about this rascal Pugachev and his army. In the meanwhile go and take a rest."
I retired to the lodging assigned to me, where Savelich had already set up house. I waited impatiently for the appointed time. As the reader can imagine, I did not fail to appear at the council that was to have such great influence on my fate. I was at the general's before the appointed hour.
I found one of the city officials with him - the director of the customhouse if I rightly remember - a rotund, high-colored little old man wearing a brocade caftan. He asked me many questions about the fate of Ivan Kuzmich, who, he said, had been the godfather of one of his children. He often interrupted me with additional questions and moral observations, which revealed him as a man, if not well versed in the military arts, at least endowed with shrewdness and native wit. Meanwhile the other people who had been invited to the council arrived. Except for the general himself, there was not one military man among the members of the council. When everybody was seated and tea had been served, the general gave a very clear and detailed account of the situation.
"And now, gentlemen," he continued, "we must decide in what way to operate against the rebels: offensively or defensively? Each of the two methods has its advantages and disadvantages. Offensive action offers more hope for a speedy annihilation of the enemy, whereas defensive action is safer and more reliable. Well, let us put the question to the vote according to the established rules of order, that is, beginning with those holding the lowest ranks. Ensign," he continued, turning to me, "be so good as to give us your opinion."
Rising, I first described Pugachev and his band in a few words, then resolutely declared that the pretender could in no way stand up to a regular army.
The officials listened to my opinion with obvious disapproval. They regarded it as evidence of a young man's impetuosity and daring. There arose a murmur, and I could distinctly hear somebody pronouncing under his breath the word "greenhorn." The general turned to me and said with a smile:
"Ensign, at councils of war the first votes are usually cast in favour of offensive operations: this is in the order of things. Let us now continue with the polling of opinions. Mr. Collegiate Councillor, would you tell us what you think?"
The little old man in the brocade caftan quickly downed his third cup of tea, much diluted with rum, and gave the general the following answer:
"I think, Your Excellency, that our action should be neither offensive nor defensive."
"How now, Mr. Collegiate Councillor," rejoined the surprised general, "the science of tactics knows no other way: you take either offensive or defensive measures."
"Your Excellency, take bribing measures."
"Oho-ho! Your idea is quite sensible. Bribing is allowed in tactics, and we will take your advice. We can offer an award of, say, seventy, or perhaps even a hundred, rubles for the rascal's head, from the secret funds."
"For that award," interrupted the director of the customhouse, "the brigands will surrender their ataman, his hands and feet clapped in iron, or I'll be a Kirgiz ram, not a collegiate councillor."
"We will think about this and discuss it some more," answered the general. "But to be on the safe side, we must also take military measures. Gentlemen, cast your votes according to the rules of order."
All opinions turned out to be contrary to mine. All the officials spoke about the unreliability of our troops, the uncertainty of success, the need for caution, and the like. All thought it more prudent to stay under the protection of the cannon, behind sturdy stone walls, than to test our luck at arms in the open field. At last the general, having listened to all the opinions, shook the ashes out of his pipe and made the following speech:
"My dear sirs, I must declare on my part that I am in full agreement with the ensign, for his opinion is based on the rules of sound tactics, which almost always prescribe offensive rather than defensive action."
He stopped to fill his pipe. My vanity received a boost. I cast a proud glance at the officials, who were whispering among themselves with a look of disappointment and alarm.
"But, my dear sirs," he continued, emitting a thick puff of tobacco smoke as well as a deep sigh, "I cannot take such a great responsibility on myself when the stake is the safety of the provinces entrusted to me by Our Most Gracious Sovereign, Her Imperial Majesty. Therefore I cast my vote with the majority, which has resolved that it is most prudent and least dangerous to await the siege inside the city, and to repulse the attack of the enemy by the force of artillery and, if possible, by sorties."
It was the officials' turn to look at me derisively. The council dispersed. I could not help deploring the weakness of the venerable warrior, who was, against his own conviction, following the advice of untrained and inexperienced people.
A few days after this memorable meeting of the council, we learned that Pugachev was approaching Orenburg just as he had promised. I could see the rebel army from the top of the city walls. It seemed to me that it had increased tenfold since the time of the assault I had witnessed. The rebels also had artillery, taken from the small forts they had conquered. Remembering the council's decision, I could foresee a long confinement within the walls of Orenburg, and almost wept with resentment.
I will not describe the siege of Orenburg, which belongs to history rather than to a family chronicle. I will only say briefly that this siege, due to the carelessness of the local authorities, was calamitous for the citizens, who suffered from hunger and all kinds of other deprivations. It should be easy to imagine that life in Orenburg was well-nigh intolerable. All were waiting for their destiny in a state of despondency; all bemoaned the high prices, which were terrible indeed. The citizens grew accustomed to the cannonballs that landed in their yards; even Pugachev's attacks did not arouse interest any more. I was dying of ennui. Time wore on. No letters came from Belogorsk. All the roads were cut off. Separation from Maria Ivanovna was becoming unbearable to me. I was tormented by uncertainty about her fate. Sorties were my only diversion. By the kindness of Pugachev, I had a good horse, with which I shared my meager rations and on which I rode out daily to exchange shots with Pugachev's flying squadrons. In these skirmishes the advantage was usually on the side of the villains, who sat well-fed and drunk on their excellent horses. The garrison's emaciated cavalry could not cope with them. At times our starving infantry also sallied out into the field, but the deep snow prevented it from operating successfully against the flying squadrons, which were scattered far and wide. The artillery thundered in vain from the high walls, and if taken into the field, the guns sank into the snow and could not be moved by the exhausted horses. Such was the nature of our military operations! This was what the officials of Orenburg called caution and prudence!
One day, when we had somehow succeeded in scattering and putting to flight quite a dense throng, I rode up against a Cossack who had fallen behind his comrades; I was about to strike him with my Turkish saber when he took his hat off and cried, "Good day to you, Petr Andreich! How do you do?"
Looking at him, I recognized our sergeant. I was overjoyed to see him.
"Good day to you, Maksimych," I said to him. "How long ago did you leave Belogorsk?"
"Not long, Your Honor, Petr Andreich; I came back only yesterday. I've brought along a little letter for you."
"Where is it?" I cried, suddenly all flushed.
"It's right here on me," replied Maksimych, thrusting his hand under his shirt. "I promised Palashka I'd get it to you somehow."
With these words he handed me a folded piece of paper and galloped off immediately. I unfolded it and, trembling, read the following lines:

It was God's will that I should be deprived of both my father and mother at once; I have not one relation or protector in the whole world. I am turning to you, knowing that you have always wished me well, and that you are ever ready to help others. I pray to God that this letter may somehow reach you! Maksimych has promised to deliver it to you. Palashka has heard from him that he often sees you from a distance in sallies, and that you do not take the least care of yourself, forgetting those who pray to God with tears in their eyes for you. I was ill for a long time, and when I recovered, Aleksei Ivanovich, who is the fort's commandant in place of my dear late father, forced Father Gerasim, threatening him with Pugachev, to hand me over to him. I live in our house under guard. Aleksei Ivanovich is trying to compel me to marry him. He says he saved my life by not exposing Akulina Pamfilovna's hoax, when she told the villains that I was her niece. But I would sooner die than marry a man like Aleksei Ivanovich. He treats me very cruelly and threatens that if I don't change my mind and consent to his proposal, he will bring me to the villain's camp, and there "you'll meet the fate of Lizaveta Kharlova." I have asked Aleksei Ivanovich to let me think it over. He has agreed to wait another three days; but if I am still not willing to marry him then, there will be no mercy. Petr Andreich, dear friend, you are my only protector: please help a poor girl! Please implore the general and all the commanders to send a liberating force to us as soon as possible, and come yourself if you can. I remain your poor humble orphan,
Maria Mironova

I almost went out of my mind when I read this letter. I galloped toward the city, unmercifully spurring my poor horse. On the way I turned over in my mind several schemes for rescuing the poor girl, but could not think of anything practicable. Reaching the city, I went straight to the general's and burst into his room.
He was pacing up and down his room, smoking his meerschaum pipe. On seeing me, he stopped. He must have been struck by the expression on my face, for he anxiously inquired after the reason for my precipitate visit.
"Your Excellency," I said to him, "I am turning to you as I would to my own father; for the love of God, please do not refuse my request: the happiness of my whole life is at stake."
"What's the matter, my dear fellow?" asked the old man, astonished. "What can I do for you? Speak your mind."
"Your Excellency, would you give me permission to take a platoon of garrison soldiers and about fifty Cossacks to liberate Fort Belogorsk?"
The general stared at me, obviously assuming that I had lost my mind (in which he was not far wrong).
"How now? To liberate Fort Belogorsk?" he asked at last.
"I'll vouch for our success," I answered fervently. "Just let me go, please!"
"No, young man," he said, shaking his head. "Over such a long distance the enemy could easily cut you off from communication with your headquarters and achieve a decisive victory over you. When communication is interdicted..."
I was alarmed to see him getting involved in tactical considerations, and I hastened to interrupt him.
"Captain Mironov's daughter," I told him, "has sent me a letter asking for help: Shvabrin is trying to force her to marry him."
"Is he indeed? Oh, that Shvabrin is a great Schelm, and if he ever falls into my hands, I'll have him tried within twenty-four hours, and we'll shoot him on the parapet of the fortress! But for the time being we must be patient..."
"Be patient!" I cried, completely beside myself. "And in the meanwhile let him marry Maria Ivanovna!"
"Oh, that's no great tragedy," retorted the general. "It's better for her to be Shvabrin's wife for the time being, since he can protect her under the present circumstances; and after we've shot him, God will provide other suitors for her. Sweet little widows don't remain maidens for long; or what do I mean? A young widow finds herself a husband sooner than a maiden does."
"I'd sooner die," I cried in a fury, "than yield her to Shvabrin!"
"Oho-ho!" said the old man. "Now I understand: evidently you're in love with Maria Ivanovna. Oh, that's a different matter. My poor lad! But even so I cannot give you a platoon of soldiers and fifty Cossacks. Such an expedition would not be prudent, and I cannot take the responsibility for it."
I lowered my head; despair overcame me. Suddenly an idea flashed through my mind. What it entailed, the reader will see in the next chapter — as old-fashioned novelists used to say.

 

      

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).
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