Zourine gave me leave.
A few days later I should have been in the bosom of my family, when an unforeseen thunderbolt struck me. The day of my departure, just as I was about to start, Zourine entered my room with a paper in his hand, looking anxious. I felt a pang at my heart; I was afraid, without knowing wherefore. The Major bade my servant leave us, and told me he wished to speak to me.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, with disquietude.
“A little unpleasantness,” replied he, offering me the paper. “Read what I have just received.”
It was a secret dispatch, addressed to all Commanders of detachments, ordering them to arrest me wherever I should be found, and to send me under a strong escort to Khasan, to the Commission of Inquiry appointed to try Pugatchef and his accomplices.
The paper dropped from my hands.
“Come,” said Zourine, “it is my duty to execute the order. Probably the report of your journeys in Pugatchef’s intimate company has reached headquarters. I hope sincerely the affair will not end badly, and that you will be able to justify yourself to the Commission. Don’t be cast down, and start at once.”
I had a clear conscience, but the thought that our reunion was delayed for some months yet made my heart fail me.
After receiving Zourine’s affectionate farewell I got into my “telega," two hussars, with drawn swords, seated themselves, one on each side of me, and we took the road to Khasan.
I did not doubt that the cause of my arrest was my departure from Orenburg without leave. Thus I could easily exculpate myself, for not only had we not been forbidden to make sorties against the enemy, but were encouraged in so doing.
Still my friendly understanding with Pugatchef seemed to be proved by a crowd of witnesses, and must appear at least suspicious. All the way I pondered the questions I should be asked, and mentally resolved upon my answers. I determined to tell the judges the whole truth, convinced that it was at once the simplest and surest way of justifying myself.
I reached Khasan, a miserable town, which I found laid waste, and well-nigh reduced to ashes. All along the street, instead of houses, were to be seen heaps of charred plaster and rubbish, and walls without windows or roofs. These were the marks Pugatchef had left. I was taken to the fort, which had remained whole, and the hussars, my escort, handed me over to the officer of the guard.
He called a farrier, who coolly rivetted irons on my ankles.
Then I was led to the prison building, where I was left alone in a narrow, dark cell, which had but its four walls and a little skylight, with iron bars.
Such a beginning augured nothing good. Still I did not lose either hope or courage. I had recourse to the consolation of all who suffer, and, after tasting for the first time the sweetness of a prayer from an innocent heart full of anguish, I peacefully fell asleep without giving a thought to what might befall me.