THE REBEL CAMP.
I left the General and made haste to return home.
Saveliitch greeted me with his usual remonstrances—
“What pleasure can you find, sir, in fighting with these drunken robbers? Is it the business of a ’boyar?’ The stars are not always propitious, and you will only get killed for naught. Now if you were making war with Turks or Swedes! But I’m ashamed even to talk of these fellows with whom you are fighting.”
I interrupted his speech.
“How much money have I in all?”
“Quite enough,” replied he, with a complacent and satisfied air. “It was all very well for the rascals to hunt everywhere, but I over-reached them.”
Thus saying he drew from his pocket a long knitted purse, all full of silver pieces.
“Very well, Saveliitch,” said I. “Give me half what you have there, and keep the rest for yourself. I am about to start for Fort Belogorsk.”
“Oh! my father, Petr’ Andrejitch,” cried my good follower, in a tremulous voice; “do you not fear God? How do you mean to travel now that all the roads be blocked by the robbers? At least, take pity on your parents if you have none on yourself. Where do you wish to go? Wherefore? Wait a bit, the troops will come and take all the robbers. Then you can go to the four winds.”
My resolution was fixed.
“It is too late to reflect,” I said to the old man. “I must go; it is impossible for me not to go. Do not make yourself wretched, Saveliitch. God is good; we shall perhaps meet again. Mind you be not ashamed to spend my money; do not be a miser. Buy all you have need of, even if you pay three times the value of things. I make you a present of the money if in three days’ time I be not back.”
“What’s that you’re saying, sir?” broke in Saveliitch; “that I shall consent to let you go alone? Why, don’t dream of asking me to do so. If you have resolved to go I will e’en go along with you, were it on foot; but I will not forsake you. That I should stay snugly behind a stone wall! Why, I should be mad! Do as you please, sir, but I do not leave you.”
I well knew it was not possible to contradict Saveliitch, and I allowed him to make ready for our departure.
In half-an-hour I was in the saddle on my horse, and Saveliitch on a thin and lame “garron,” which a townsman had given him for nothing, having no longer anything wherewith to feed it. We gained the town gates; the sentries let us pass, and at last we were out of Orenburg.
Night was beginning to fall. The road I had to follow passed before the little village of Berd, held by Pugatchef. This road was deep in snow, and nearly hidden; but across the steppe were to be seen tracks of horses each day renewed.
I was trotting. Saveliitch could hardly keep up with me, and cried to me every minute—