“Gentlemen, important news. Listen to what the General writes.”
He put on his spectacles and read as follows:—
“To the Commandant of Fort Belogorsk,
“Captain Mironoff, these. (Secret.)_
“I hereby inform you that the fugitive and schismatic Don Cossack, Emelian Pugatchef, after being guilty of the unpardonable insolence of usurping the name of our late Emperor, Peter III., has assembled a gang of robbers, excited risings in villages on the Yaik, and taken and oven destroyed several forts, while committing everywhere robberies and murders. In consequence, when you shall receive this, it will be your duty to take such measures as may be necessary against the aforesaid rascally usurper, and, if possible, crush him completely should he venture to attack the fort confided to your care.”
“Take such measures as may be necessary,” said the Commandant, taking off his spectacles and folding up the paper. “You know it is very easy to say that. The scoundrel seems in force, and we have but a hundred and thirty men, even counting the Cossacks, on whom we must not count too much, be it said, without any reproach to you, Maximitch.” The “ouriadnik” smiled. “Nevertheless, let us do our duty, gentlemen. Be ready, place sentries, let there be night patrols in case of attack, shut the gates, and turn out the troops. You, Maximitch, keep a sharp eye on the Cossacks; look to the cannon, and let it be well cleansed; and, above all, let everything be kept secret. Let no one in the fort know anything until the time comes.”
After thus giving his orders, Ivan Kouzmitch dismissed us. I went out with Chvabrine, speculating upon what we had just heard.
“What do you think of it? How will it all end?” I asked him.
“God knows,” said he; “we shall see. As yet there is evidently nothing serious. If, however—”
Then he fell into a brown study while whistling absently a French air.
In spite of all our precautions the news of Pugatchef’s appearance spread all over the fort. Whatever was the respect in which Ivan Kouzmitch held his wife, he would not have revealed to her for the world a secret confided to him on military business.
After receiving the Greneral’s letter he had rather cleverly got rid of Vassilissa Igorofna by telling her that Father Garasim had heard most extraordinary news from Orenburg, which he was keeping most profoundly dark.
Vassilissa Igorofna instantly had a great wish to go and see the Pope’s wife, and, by the advice of Ivan Kouzmitch, she took Masha, lest she should be dull all alone.
Left master of the field, Ivan Kouzmitch sent to fetch us at once, and took care to shut up Polashka in the kitchen so that she might not spy upon us.
Vassilissa Igorofna came home without having been able to worm anything out of the Pope’s wife; she learnt upon coming in that during her absence Ivan Kouzmitch had held a council of war, and that Palashka had been locked up. She suspected that her husband had deceived her, and she immediately began overwhelming him with questions. But Ivan Kouzmitch was ready for this onset; he did not care in the least, and he boldly answered his curious better-half—