On the morrow the gaoler came to wake me, telling me that I was summoned before the Commission.
Two soldiers conducted me across a court to the Commandant’s house, then, remaining in the ante-room, left me to enter alone the inner chamber. I entered a rather large reception room. Behind the table, covered with papers, were seated two persons, an elderly General, looking severe and cold, and a young officer of the Guard, looking, at most, about thirty, of easy and attractive demeanour; near the window at another table sat a secretary with a pen behind his ear, bending over his paper ready to take down my evidence.
The cross-examination began. They asked me my name and rank. The General inquired if I were not the son of Andrej Petrovitch Grineff, and on my affirmative answer, he exclaimed, severely—
“It is a great pity such an honourable man should have a son so very unworthy of him!”
I quietly made answer that, whatever might be the accusations lying heavily against me, I hoped to be able to explain them away by a candid avowal of the truth.
My coolness displeased him.
“You are a bold, barefaced rascal,” he said to me, frowning. “However, we have seen many of them.”
Then the young officer asked me by what chance and at what time I had entered Pugatchef’s service, and on what affairs he had employed me.
I indignantly rejoined that, being an officer and a gentleman, I had not been able to enter Pugatchef’s service, and that he had not employed me on any business whatsoever.
“How, then, does it happen,” resumed my judge, “that the officer and gentleman be the only one pardoned by the usurper, while all his comrades are massacred in cold blood? How does it happen, also, that the same officer and gentleman could live snugly and pleasantly with the rebels, and receive from the ringleader presents of a ‘pelisse,’ a horse, and a half rouble? What is the occasion of so strange a friendship? And upon what can it be founded if not on treason, or at the least be occasioned by criminal and unpardonable baseness?”
The words of the officer wounded me deeply, and I entered hotly on my vindication.
I related how my acquaintance with Pugatchef had begun, on the steppe, in the midst of a snowstorm; how he had recognized me and granted me my life at the taking of Fort Belogorsk. I admitted that, indeed, I had accepted from the usurper a “touloup” and a horse; but I had defended Fort Belogorsk against the rascal to the last gasp. Finally I appealed to the name of my General, who could testify to my zeal during the disastrous siege of Orenburg.
The severe old man took from the table an open letter, which he began to read aloud.