“Open!” said Pugatchef.
Chvabrine began to fumble in his pockets, and ended by declaring he had forgotten the key.
Pugatchef gave a push to the door with his foot, the lock gave way, the door opened, and we went in. I cast a rapid glance round the room and nearly fainted. Upon the floor, in a coarse peasant’s dress, sat Marya, pale and thin, with her hair unbound. Before her stood a jug of water and a bit of bread. At the sight of me she trembled and gave a piercing cry. I cannot say what I felt. Pugatchef looked sidelong at Chvabrine, and said to him with a bitter smile—
“Your hospital is well-ordered!” Then, approaching Marya, “Tell me, my little dove, why your husband punishes you thus?”
“My husband!” rejoined she; “he is not my husband. Never will I be his wife. I am resolved rather to die, and I shall die if I be not delivered.”
Pugatchef cast a furious glance upon Chvabrine.
“You dared deceive me,” cried he. “Do you know, villain, what you deserve?”
Chvabrine dropped on his knees. Then contempt overpowered in me all feelings of hatred and revenge. I looked with disgust upon a gentleman at the feet of a Cossack deserter. Pugatchef allowed himself to be moved.
“I pardon you this time,” he said, to Chvabrine; “but next offence I will remember this one.” Then, addressing Marya, he said to her, gently, “Come out, pretty one; I give you your liberty. I am the Tzar.”
Marya Ivanofna threw a quick look at him, and divined that the murderer of her parents was before her eyes. She covered her face with her hands, and fell unconscious.
I was rushing to help her, when my old acquaintance, Polashka, came very boldly into the room, and took charge of her mistress.
Pugatchef withdrew, and we all three returned to the parlour.
“Well, your lordship,” Pugatchef said to me, laughing, “we have delivered the pretty girl; what do you say to it? Ought we not to send for the pope and get him to marry his niece? If you like I will be your marriage godfather, Chvabrine best man; then we will set to and drink with closed doors.”
What I feared came to pass.
No sooner had he heard Pugatchef’s proposal than Chvabrine lost his head.
“Tzar,” said he, furiously, “I am guilty, I have lied to you; but Grineff also deceives you. This young girl is not the pope’s niece; she is the daughter of Ivan Mironoff, who was executed when the fort was taken.”
Pugatchef turned his flashing eyes on me.
“What does all this mean?” cried he, with indignant surprise.
But I made answer boldly—
“Chvabrine has told you the truth.”
“You had not told me that,” rejoined Pugatchef, whose brow had suddenly darkened.
“But judge yourself,” replied I; “could I declare before all your people that she was Mironoff’s daughter? They would have torn her in pieces, nothing could have saved her.”