At first Vassilissa Igorofna remonstrated, but, seeing I persisted in my line of conduct, she left me in peace. I only saw Ivan Kouzmitch when military duties brought us in contact. I had only rare interviews with Chvabrine, whom I disliked the more that I thought I perceived in him a secret enmity, which confirmed all the more my suspicions. Life became a burden to me. I gave myself up, a prey to dark melancholy, which was further fed by loneliness and inaction. My love burnt the more hotly for my enforced quiet, and tormented me more and more. I lost all liking for reading and literature. I was allowing myself to be completely cast down, and I dreaded either becoming mad or dissolute, when events suddenly occurred which strongly influenced my life, and gave my mind a profound and salutary rousing.
Before beginning to relate those strange events to which I was witness, I must say a few words about the state of affairs in the district of Orenburg about the end of the year 1773. This rich and large province was peopled by a crowd of half-savage tribes, who had lately acknowledged the sovereignty of the Russian Tzars. Their perpetual revolts, their impatience of all rule and civilized life, their treachery and cruelty, obliged the authorities to keep a sharp watch upon them in order to reduce them to submission.
Forts had been placed at suitable points, and in most of them troops had been permanently established, composed of Cossacks, formerly possessors of the banks of the River Yaik. But even these Cossacks, who should have been a guarantee for the peace and quiet of the country, had for some time shown a dangerous and unruly spirit towards the Imperial Government. In 1772 a riot took place in the principal settlement. This riot was occasioned by the severe measures taken by General Traubenberg, in order to quell the insubordination of the army. The only result was the barbarous murder of Traubenberg, the substitution of new chiefs, and at last the suppression of the revolt by volleys of grape and harsh penalties.
All this befell shortly before my coming to Fort Belogorsk. Then all was, or seemed, quiet. But the authorities had too lightly lent faith to the pretended repentance of the rebels, who were silently brooding over their hatred, and only awaiting a favourable opportunity to reopen the struggle.
One evening (it was early in October, 1773) I was alone in my quarters, listening to the whistling of the autumn wind and watching the clouds passing rapidly over the moon. A message came from the Commandant that he wished to see me at once at his house. I found there Chvabrine, Iwan Ignatiitch, and the “ouriadnik” of the Cossacks. Neither the wife nor daughter of the Commandant was in the room. He greeted me in an absent manner. Then, closing the door, he made everybody sit down, except the “ouriadnik,” who remained standing, drew a letter from his pocket, and said to us—