“Many thanks, your lordship,” said he, turning his horse round; “I will pray God for ever for you.”
With these words, he started off at a gallop, keeping one hand on his pocket, and was soon out of sight. I put on the “touloup” and mounted the horse, taking up Saveliitch behind me.
“Don’t you see, your lordship,” said the old man, “that it was not in vain that I presented my petition to the robber? The robber was ashamed of himself, although this long and lean Bashkir hoss and this peasant’s ‘touloup’ be not worth half what those rascals stole from us, nor what you deigned to give him as a present, still they may be useful to us. ‘From an evil dog be glad of a handful of hairs.’”
As we approached Orenburg we saw a crowd of convicts with cropped heads, and faces disfigured by the pincers of the executioner.
They were working on the fortifications of the place under the pensioners of the garrison. Some were taking away in wheelbarrows the rubbish which filled the ditch; others were hollowing out the earth with spades. Masons were bringing bricks and repairing the walls.
The sentries stopped us at the gates to demand our passports.
When the Sergeant learnt that we came from Fort Belogorsk he took us direct to the General.
I found him in his garden. He was examining the apple-trees which the breath of autumn had already deprived of their leaves, and, with the help of an old gardener, he was enveloping them in straw. His face expressed calm, good-humour and health.
He seemed very pleased to see me, and began to question me on the terrible events which I had witnessed. I related them.
The old man heard me with attention, and, while listening, cut the dead branches.
“Poor Mironoff!” said he, when I had done my sad story; “’tis a pity! he was a goot officer! And Matame Mironoff, she was a goot lady and first-rate at pickled mushrooms. And what became of Masha, the Captain’s daughter?”
I replied that she had stayed in the fort, at the pope’s house.
“Aie! aie! aie!” said the General. “That’s bad! very bad; it is quite impossible to count on the discipline of robbers.”
I drew his attention to the fact that Fort Belogorsk was not very far away, and that probably his excellency would not delay dispatching a detachment of troops to deliver the poor inhabitants.
The General shook his head with an air of indecision—
“We shall see! we shall see!” said he, “we have plenty of time to talk about it. I beg you will come and take tea with me. This evening there will be a council of war; you can give us exact information about that rascal Pugatchef and his army. Now in the meantime go and rest.”
I went away to the lodging that had been assigned me, and where Saveliitch was already installed. There I impatiently awaited the hour fixed.