Day was breaking. I was hurrying down the street when I heard myself called by someone. I stopped.
“Where are you going, if I may presume to ask you?” said Iwan Ignatiitch, catching me up. “Ivan Kouzmitch is on the ramparts, and has sent me to seek you. The ’pugatch’ has come.”
“Is Marya Ivanofna gone?” I asked, with an inward trembling.
“She hasn’t had time,” rejoined Iwan Ignatiitch. “The road to Orenburg is blocked, the fort surrounded, and it’s a bad look-out, Petr’ Andrejitch.”
We went to the ramparts, a little natural height, and fortified by a palisade. We found the garrison here under arms. The cannon had been dragged hither the preceding evening. The Commandant was walking up and down before his little party; the approach of danger had given the old warrior wonderful activity. Out on the steppe, and not very far from the fort, could be seen about twenty horsemen, who appeared to be Cossacks; but amongst them were some Bashkirs, easily distinguished by their high caps and their quivers. The Commandant passed down the ranks of the little army, saying to the soldiers—
“Now, children, let us do well to-day for our mother, the Empress, and let us show all the world that we are brave men, and true to our oaths.”
The soldiers by loud shouts expressed their goodwill and assent. Chvabrine remained near me, attentively watching the enemy. The people whom we could see on the steppe, noticing doubtless some stir in the fort, gathered into parties, and consulted together. The Commandant ordered Iwan Ignatiitch to point the cannon at them, and himself applied the match. The ball passed whistling over their heads without doing them any harm. The horsemen at once dispersed at a gallop, and the steppe was deserted.
At this moment Vassilissa Igorofna appeared on the ramparts, followed by Marya, who had not wished to leave her.
“Well,” said the Commandant’s wife, “how goes the battle? Where is the enemy?”
“The enemy is not far,” replied Ivan Kouzmitch; “but if God wills all will be well. And you, Masha, are you afraid?”
“No, papa,” replied Marya, “I am more frightened alone in the house.”
She glanced at me, trying to smile. I squeezed the hilt of my sword, remembering that I had received it the eve from her hand, as if for her defence. My heart burnt within my breast; I felt as if I were her knight; I thirsted to prove to her that I was worthy of her trust, and I impatiently expected the decisive moment.
All at once, coming from a height about eight versts from the fort, appeared fresh parties of horsemen, and soon the whole steppe became covered with people, armed with arrows and lances. Amongst them, dressed in a red caftan, sword in hand, might be seen a man mounted on a white horse, a conspicuous figure. This was Pugatchef himself.
He stopped, and they closed round him, and soon afterwards, probably by his orders, four men came out of the crowd, and approached our ramparts at full gallop. We recognized in them some of our traitors. One of them waved a sheet of paper above his head; another bore on the point of his pike the head of Joulai, which he cast to us over the palisade. The head of the poor Kalmuck rolled to the feet of the Commandant.