I returned to Zourine’s silent and thoughtful; he wished to cheer me. I hoped to raise my spirits; we passed the day noisily, and on the morrow we marched.
It was near the end of the month of February. The winter, which had rendered manoeuvres difficult, was drawing to a close, and our Generals were making ready for a combined campaign.
Pugatchef had reassembled his troops, and was still to be found before Orenburg. At the approach of our forces the disaffected villages returned to their allegiance.
Soon Prince Galitsyn won a complete victory over Pugatchef, who had ventured near Fort Talitcheff; the victor relieved Orenburg, and appeared to have given the finishing stroke to the rebellion.
In the midst of all this Zourine had been detached against some mounted Bashkirs, who dispersed before we even set eyes on them.
Spring, which caused the rivers to overflow, and thus block the roads, surprised us in a little Tartar village, when we consoled ourselves for our forced inaction by the thought that this insignificant war of skirmishers with robbers would soon come to an end.
But Pugatchef had not been taken; he reappeared very soon in the mining country of the Ural, on the Siberian frontier. He reassembled new bands, and again began his robberies. We soon learnt the destruction of Siberian forts, then the fall of Khasan, and the audacious march of the usurper on Moscow.
Zourine received orders to cross the River Volga. I shall not stay to relate the events of the war.
I shall only say that misery reached its height. The gentry hid in the woods; the authorities had no longer any power anywhere; the leaders of solitary detachments punished or pardoned without giving account of their conduct. All this extensive and beautiful country-side was laid waste with fire and sword.
May God grant we never see again so senseless and pitiless a revolt. At last Pugatchef was beaten by Michelson, and was obliged to fly again.
Zourine received soon afterwards the news that the robber had been taken and the order to halt.
The war was at an end.
It was at last possible for me to go home. The thought of embracing my parents and seeing Marya again, of whom I had no news, filled me with joy. I jumped like a child.
Zourine laughed, and said, shrugging his shoulders—
“Wait a bit, wait till you be married; you’ll see all go to the devil then.”
And I must confess a strange feeling embittered my joy.
The recollection of the man covered with the blood of so many innocent victims, and the thought of the punishment awaiting him, never left me any peace.
“Emela," I said to myself, in vexation, “why did you not cast yourself on the bayonets, or present your heart to the grapeshot. That had been best for you.”
(After advancing as far as the gates of Moscow, which he might perhaps have taken had not his bold heart failed him at the last moment, Pugatchef, beaten, had been delivered up by his comrades for the sum of a hundred thousand roubles, shut up in an iron cage, and conveyed to Moscow. He was executed by order of Catherine II., in 1775.)