“Stop! stop!” cried a voice I knew too well. “O Peter! do not abandon me in my old age, in the midst of the rob—”
“Ah, you old owl!” said Pougatcheff, “sit up there in front.”
“Thanks, Czar, may God give you a long life.”
The horses set off again. The people in the streets stopped and bowed low, as the usurper passed. Pougatcheff saluted right and left. In an instant we were out of the town, taking our way over a well-defined road. I was silent. Pougatcheff broke in upon my reverie. “Why so silent, my lord?” said he.
“I can not help thinking,” said I, “of the chain of events. I am an officer, noble, yesterday at war with you; today I ride in the same carriage with you, and all the happiness of my life depends on you.”
“Are you afraid?”
“You have already given me my life!”
“You say truly. You know how my fellows looked upon you; only today they wanted to try you as a spy. The old one wanted to torture and then hang you; but I would not, because I remembered your glass of wine and your touloup. I am not bloodthirsty, as your friends say.” I remembered the taking of our fortress, but I did not contradict him.
“What do they say of me at Orenbourg?”
“It is said there, that you will not be easily vanquished. It must be confessed that you have given us some work.”
“Yes; I am a great warrior. Do you think the King Prussia is as strong as I?”
“What do you think yourself? Can you beat Frederick?”
“Frederick the Great? Why not? Wait till I march to Moscow!”
“You really intend to march on Moscow?”
“God knows,” said he, reflecting; “my road is narrow—my boys do not obey—they are thieves—I must listen—keep my ears open; at the first reverse they would save their own necks by my head.”
“Would it not be better,” I said, “to abandon them now, before it is too late, and have recourse to the clemency of the Empress?”
He smiled bitterly. “No; the time is passed. I shall end as I began. Who knows?”
Our Tartar was humming a plaintive air; Saveliitch, sound asleep, swayed from side to side; our kibitka was gliding rapidly over the winter road. I saw in the distance a village well known to my eyes, with its palisade and church spire on the steep bank of the river Iaik. A quarter of an hour after we entered the fortress of Belogorsk.
The kibitka stopped before the Commandant’s house. The inhabitants had recognized the usurper’s bells and equipage, and had come out in crowds to meet him. Alexis, dressed like a Cossack, and bearded like one, helped the brigand to descend from his kibitka. The sight of me troubled him, but soon recovering himself, he said: “You are one of us?” I turned my head away without replying. My heart was wrung when we entered the room that