“Not so fast, sir, in heaven’s name not so fast! My confounded ‘garron’ cannot catch up your long-legged devil. Why are you in such a hurry? Are we bound to a feast? Rather have we our necks under the axe. Petr’ Andrejitch! Oh! my father, Petr’ Andrejitch! Oh, Lord! this ‘boyar’s’ child will die, and all for nothing!”
We soon saw twinkling the fires of Berd. We were approaching the deep ravines which served as natural fortifications to the little settlement. Saveliitch, though keeping up to me tolerably well, did not give over his lamentable supplications. I was hoping to pass safely by this unfriendly place, when all at once I made out in the dark five peasants, armed with big sticks.
It was an advance guard of Pugatchef’s camp. They shouted to us—
“Who goes there?”
Not knowing the pass-word, I wanted to pass them without reply, but in the same moment they surrounded me, and one of them seized my horse by the bridle. I drew my sword, and struck the peasant on the head. His high cap saved his life; still, he staggered, and let go the bridle. The others were frightened, and jumped aside. Taking advantage of their scare, I put spurs to my horse, and dashed off at full gallop.
The fast increasing darkness of the night might have saved me from any more difficulties, when, looking back, I discovered that Saveliitch was no longer with me. The poor old man with his lame horse had not been able to shake off the robbers. What was I to do?
After waiting a few minutes and becoming certain he had been stopped, I turned my horse’s head to go to his help. As I approached the ravine I heard from afar confused shouts, and the voice of my Saveliitch. Quickening my pace, I soon came up with the peasants of the advance guard who had stopped me a few minutes previously. They had surrounded Saveliitch, and had obliged the poor old man to get off his horse, and were making ready to bind him.
The sight of me filled them with joy. They rushed upon me with shouts, and in a moment I was off my horse. One of them, who appeared to be the leader, told me they were going to take me before the Tzar.
“And our father,” added he, “will decide whether you are to be hung at once or if we are to wait for God’s sunshine!”
I offered no resistance. Saveliitch followed my example, and the sentries led us away in triumph.
We crossed the ravine to enter the settlement. All the peasants’ houses were lit up. All around arose shouts and noise. I met a crowd of people in the street, but no one paid any attention to us, or recognized in me an officer of Orenburg. We were taken to a “izba,” built in the angle of two streets. Near the door were several barrels of wine and two cannons.
“Here is the palace!” said one of the peasants; “we will go and announce you.”
He entered the “izba.” I glanced at Saveliitch; the old man was making the sign of the cross, and muttering prayers. We waited a long time. At last the peasant reappeared, and said to me—