The drum awoke me very early, and I went to the Square. There the troops of Pugatchef were beginning to gather round the gallows where the victims of the preceding evening still hung. The Cossacks were on horseback, the foot-soldiers with their arms shouldered, their colours flying in the air.
Several cannons, among which I recognized ours, were placed on field-gun carriages. All the inhabitants had assembled in the same place, awaiting the usurper. Before the door of the Commandant’s house a Cossack held by the bridle a magnificent white horse of Kirghiz breed. I sought with my eyes the body of the Commandant’s wife; it had been pushed aside and covered over with an old bark mat.
At last Pugatchef came out of the house. All the crowd uncovered. Pugatchef stopped on the doorstep and said good-morning to everybody. One of the chiefs handed him a bag filled with small pieces of copper, which he began to throw broadcast among the people, who rushed to pick them up, fighting for them with blows.
The principal confederates of Pugatchef surrounded him. Among them was Chvabrine. Our eyes met; he could read contempt in mine, and he looked away with an expression of deep hatred and pretended mockery. Seeing me in the crowd Pugatchef beckoned to me and called me up to him.
“Listen,” said he, “start this very minute for Orenburg. You will tell the governor and all the generals from me that they may expect me in a week. Advise them to receive me with submission and filial love; if not, they will not escape a terrible punishment. A good journey, to your lordship.”
Then turning to the people, he pointed out Chvabrine.
“There, children,” said he, “is your new Commandant; obey him in all things; he answers to me for you and the fort.”
I heard these words with affright. Chvabrine become master of the place! Marya remained in his power! Good God! what would become of her? Pugatchef came down the steps, his horse was brought round, he sprang quickly into the saddle, without waiting for the help of the Cossacks prepared to aid him.
At this moment I saw my Saveliitch come out of the crowd, approach Pugatchef, and present him with a sheet of paper. I could not think what it all meant.
“What is it?” asked Pugatchef, with dignity.
“Deign to read it, and you will see,” replied Saveliitch.
Pugatchef took the paper and looked at it a long time with an air of importance. At last he said—
“You write very illegibly; our lucid eyes cannot make out anything. Where is our Chief Secretary?”
A youth in a corporal’s uniform ran up to Pugatchef.
“Read it aloud,” the usurper said to him, handing him the paper.
I was extremely curious to know on what account my retainer had thought of writing to Pugatchef. The Chief Secretary began in a loud voice, spelling out what follows—