I went out into the street. The night was clear and cold; the moon and stars shone out in all their brightness, lighting up the square and the gibbet. All was quiet and dark in the rest of the fortress. At the inn some lights were visible, and belated drinkers broke the stillness by their shouts. I glanced at Accoulina’s house; the doors and windows were closed, and all seemed perfectly quiet there. I went to my room, and found Saveliitch deploring my absence. I told him of my freedom. “Thanks to thee, O God!” said he, making the sign of the cross; “tomorrow we shall set out at daybreak. I have prepared something for you; eat and then sleep till morning, tranquil as if in the bosom of the Good Shepherd.”
I followed his advice, and after having supped, fell asleep on the bare floor, as fatigued in mind as in body.
IX. THE SEPARATION.
The drum awoke me early the next morning. I went out on the square. Pougatcheff’s troops were there, falling into rank, around the gibbet, to which still hung the victims of yesterday. The Cossacks were mounted; the infantry and artillery, with our single gun, were accoutred ready for the march. The inhabitants were also assembled there awaiting the usurper. Before the steps of the Commandant’s house a Cossack held by the bridle a magnificent white horse. My eyes sought the body of our good Basilia. It had been dragged aside and covered with an old bark mat. At last Pougatcheff came out on the steps, and saluted the crowd. All heads were bared. One of the chiefs handed him a bag of copper coin, which he threw by the handful among the people. Perceiving me in the crowd, he signed to me to approach.
“Listen,” said he, “go at once to Orenbourg, and say from me, to the Governor and all the Generals, that I shall be there in a week. Counsel them to receive me with submission and filial love, otherwise they shall not escape the direst torture. A pleasant journey to you.” The principal followers of Pougatcheff surrounded him, Alexis amongst others. The usurper turned to the people, and pointing to Alexis, said: “Behold your new Commandant; obey him in every thing; he is responsible for you and for the fortress.”
The words made me shudder. What would become of Marie? Pougatcheff descended the steps and vaulted quickly into his saddle without the aid of his attendant Cossacks. At that moment Saveliitch came out of the crowd, approached the usurper, and presented him a sheet of paper.
“What is this?” asked Pougatcheff, with dignity.
“Read, you will deign to see,” replied the serf.
Pougatcheff examined the paper. “You write very illegibly; where is my Secretary?”
A boy in corporal’s uniform came running to the brigand. “Read aloud,” said he. I was curious to know for what purpose the old man had written to Pougatcheff. The Secretary began to spell out in a loud voice what follows: