Marie by Alexander Pushkin
I could not sleep during the night, and did not even undress. I intended to
be at the fortress gates at day-dawn to see Marie set out, and bid her a last
adieu. I was completely changed. Excitement was less painful than my former
melancholy, for with the grief of separation there mingled vague but secret
hope, impatient expectation of danger, and a high ambition. Night passed
quickly. I was on the point of going out, when my door opened, and the Corporal
entered, saying that our Cossacks had deserted the fortress during the night,
forcing with them Zoulac, the Christian Kalmouk, and that all around our
ramparts, unknown people were riding. The idea that Marie had not been able to
get off, froze me with terror. I gave, in haste, a few instructions to the
Corporal, and ran to the Commandant's.
Day was breaking. I was going down the street swiftly when I heard my name
called. I stopped.
"Where are you going, dare I ask?" said Ignatius, catching up with me; "the
Captain is on the rampart and sends me for you. Pougatcheff is here."
"Is Marie gone?" I said, shuddering.
"She was not ready in time; communication with Orenbourg is cut off; the
fortress is surrounded. Peter, this is bad work."
We went to the rampart—a small height formed by nature and fortified by a
palisade. The garrison was there under arms. The cannon had been dragged there
the evening before. The Commandant was walking up and down before his little
troop—the approach of danger had restored to the old warrior extraordinary
vigor. On the steppe, not far from the fortress, there were some twenty
horsemen, who looked like Cossacks; but amongst them were a few Bashkirs, easily
recognized by their caps and quivers. The Commandant passed before the ranks of
his small army and said to the soldiers: "Come, boys, let us fight today for our
mother the Empress, and show the world that we are brave men and faithful to our
The soldiers, with loud shouts, testified their good will. Alexis was
standing by me examining the enemy. The people on the steppe, seeing, no doubt,
some movement in our fort, collected in groups and spoke amongst themselves. The
Commandant ordered Ignatius to point the cannon upon them, he himself applying
the light. The ball whistled over their heads without doing them any harm. The
horsemen dispersed at once, setting off on a gallop, and the steppe became
deserted. At this moment Basilia appeared on the rampart, followed by Marie, who
would not leave her.
"Well," said the Captain's wife, "how is the battle going? Where is the
"The enemy is not far off," replied Ivan, "but if God wills it, all will be
well; and thou, Marie, art thou afraid?"
"No, papa," said Marie, "I am more afraid by myself in the house." She
glanced at me, and tried to smile. I pressed my sword, remembering that I had
received it from her on the preceding eve, as if for her defense. My heart was
on fire. I fancied myself her knight, and longed to prove myself worthy of her
trust. I awaited the decisive moment impatiently.
Suddenly coming from behind a hill, eight versts from the fortress, appeared
new groups of horsemen, and soon the whole steppe was covered by men armed with
lances and arrows. Amongst them, wearing a scarlet cafetan, sword in hand, could
be distinguished a man mounted on a white horse. This was Pougatcheff himself.
He halted, was surrounded by his followers, and very soon, probably by his
orders, four men left the crowd and galloped to our ramparts. We recognized
among them our traitors. One of them raised a sheet of paper above his cap and
another carried on the point of his lance Zoulac's head, which he threw to us
over the palisade. The poor Kalmouk's head rolled at the feet of the Commandant.
The traitors shouted to us: "Do not fire, come out and receive the Czar. The
Czar is here."
"Fire!" shouted the Captain as sole reply.
The soldiers discharged their pieces. The Cossack who held the letter,
tottered and fell from his horse; the others fled. I glanced at Marie. Petrified
by horror at the sight of the Kalmouk's head, dizzy from the noise of the
discharge, she seemed lifeless. The Commandant ordered the Corporal to take the
letter from the hand of the dead Cossack. Ignatius sallied out and returned,
leading by the bridle the man's horse. He gave the letter to Ivan, who read it
in a low voice and tore it up. Meantime the rebels were preparing for an attack.
Very soon balls whistled about our ears, and arrows fell around us, buried deep
in the ground.
"Basilia," said the Captain, "women have nothing to do here; take away Marie;
you see the child is more dead than alive." Basilia, whom the sound of the balls
had rendered more yielding, glanced at the steppe where much movement was
visible, and said: "Ivan, life and death are from God; bless Marie; come, child,
to thy father."
Pale and trembling, Marie came and knelt, bending low before him. The old
Commandant made three times the sign of the cross over her, then raising, kissed
her, and said in a broken voice: "Oh! my dear Marie! pray to God, he will never
abandon thee. If an honest man seek thee, may God give you both love and
goodness. Live together as we have lived; my wife and I. Adieu! my dear Marie!
Basilia, take her away quickly."
Marie put her arms around his neck and sobbed. The Captain's wife, in tears,
said: "Embrace us also; adieu, Ivan; if ever I have crossed you, forgive me."
"Adieu! adieu! my dear," said the Commandant, kissing his old companion.
"Come! enough! go to the house, and if you have time dress Marie in her best;
let her wear a sarafan, embroidered in gold, as is our custom for burial."
Ivan Mironoff returned to us, and fixed all his attention upon the enemy. The
rebels collected around their chief and suddenly began to advance. "Be firm,
boys," said the Commandant, "the assault begins." At that instant savage
war-cries were heard. The rebels were approaching the fortress with their
accustomed fleetness. Our cannon was charged with grape and canister. The
Commandant let them come within short range, and again put a light to his piece.
The shot struck in the midst of the force, which scattered in every direction.
Only their chief remained in advance, and he, waving his sabre, seemed to be
rallying them. Their piercing shouts, which had ceased an instant, redoubled
again. "Now, children," ordered the Captain, "open the gate, beat the drum, and
advance! Follow me, for a sortie!"
The Captain, Ignatius and I were in an instant beyond the parapet. But the
frightened garrison had not moved from the square. "What are you doing, my
children?" shouted the Captain; "if we must die, let us die; the imperial
service demands it!"
At this moment the rebels fell upon us, and forced the entrance to the
citadel. The drum was silent; the garrison threw down their arms. I had been
knocked down, but I rose and entered, pell-mell, with the crowds into the
fortress. I saw the Commandant wounded on the head, and closed upon by a small
troop of bandits, who demanded the keys. I was running to his aid when several
powerful Cossacks seized me and bound me with their long sashes, crying out:
"Wait there, traitor to the Czar, till we know what to do with you."
We were dragged along the streets. The inhabitants came out of their houses
offering bread and salt. The bells were rung. Suddenly, shouts announced that
the Czar was on the square, awaiting to receive the oaths of the prisoners.
Pougatcheff was seated in an arm-chair on the steps of the Commandant's
house. He was robed in an elegant Cossack cafetan embroidered on the seams. A
high cap of martin-skin, ornamented with gold tassels, covered his brow almost
to his flashing eyes. His face seemed to me not unknown. Cossack chiefs
surrounded him. Father Garasim, pale and trembling, stood, the cross in his
hand, at the foot of the steps, and seemed to supplicate in silence for the
victims brought before him.
On the square itself, a gallows was hastily erected. When we approached, the
Bashkirs opened a passage through the crowd and presented us to Pougatcheff. The
bells ceased; the deepest silence prevailed. "Which is the Commandant?" asked
the usurper. Our Corporal came out of the crowd and pointed to Mironoff.
Pougatcheff looked at the old man with a terrible expression, and said to him:
"How did you dare to oppose me, your emperor?"
The Commandant, weakened by his wound, collected all his energy, and said, in
a firm but faint voice: "You are not my emperor; you are a usurper and a
Pougatcheff frowned and raised his white handkerchief. Immediately the old
Captain was seized by Cossacks and dragged to the gibbet. Astride the cross-beam
of the gallows, sat the mutilated Bashkirs who we had questioned; he held a rope
in his hand, and I saw, an instant after, poor Ivan Mironoff suspended in the
air. Then Ignatius was brought up before Pougatcheff.
"Take the oath to the emperor, Peter Fedorovitch."
"You are not our emperor," replied the Lieutenant, repeating his Captain's
words, "you are a brigand and a usurper."
Pougatcheff again made a signal with his handkerchief, and the kind Ignatius
hung beside his ancient chief. It was my turn. I looked boldly at Pougatcheff,
preparing to repeat the words of my brave comrades, when to my inexpressible
astonishment I saw Alexis amongst the rebels. He had had time to cut his hair
round, and exchange his uniform for a Cossack cafetan. He approached Pougatcheff
and whispered to him. "Let him be hung," said Pougatcheff, not deigning to look
at me. A rope was put around my neck. I uttered a prayer to God in a low voice,
expressing sincere repentance for my sins, and imploring him to save all those
dear to my heart. I was led beneath the gibbet. A shout was heard, "Stop! Stop!"
The executioners paused. I looked. Saveliitch was kneeling at Pougatcheff's
feet. "O my lord and master," said my dear old serf, "what do you want with that
nobleman's child? Set him free, you will get a good ransom for his life; but for
an example, and to frighten the rest, command that I, an old man, shall be
Pougatcheff made a sign. They unbound me at once. "Our emperor pardons you,"
they said. At the moment I did not know that my deliverance was a cause for joy
or for sorrow. My mind was too confused. I was taken again before the usurper
and made to kneel at his feet. Pougatcheff offered me his muscular hand. "Kiss
his hand! Kiss his hand!" cried out all around me. But I would have preferred
the most atrocious torture to a degradation so infamous. "My dear Peter,"
whispered Saveliitch, who was standing behind me, "do not play the obstinate;
what does it cost? Kiss the brigand's hand."
I did not move. Pougatcheff drew back his hand: "His lordship is stupefied
with joy; raise him up," said he. I was at liberty. Then I witnessed the
continuation of the infamous comedy.
The inhabitants began to take the oath. They went one by one to kiss the
cross and salute the usurper. After them came the garrison soldiers. The
company's tailor, armed with his great blunt-pointed shears, cut off their
queues; they shook their heads and kissed the hand of Pougatcheff, who declared
them pardoned and received into his troops. This lasted for nearly three hours.
At last Pougatcheff rose from his arm-chair and went down the steps, followed by
his chiefs. A white horse richly caparisoned was led to him; tow Cossacks helped
him into the saddle. He signified to Father Garasim that he would dine with him.
At this moment wild heart-rending shrieks from a woman filled the air. Basilia,
without her mantle, her hair in disorder, was dragged out on the steps; one the
brigands had on her mantle; the others were carrying away her chests, her linen,
and other household goods. "O good men," she cried, "let me go, take me to Ivan
Mironoff." Suddenly she saw the gibbet and recognized her husband. "Wretches,"
she cried, "What have you done? O my light, Ivan! Brave soldier! no Prussian
ball, nor Turkish sabre killed thee, but a vile condemned deserter."
"Silence that old sorceress," said Pougatcheff.
A young Cossack struck her with his sabre on the head. She fell dead at the
foot of the steps. Pougatcheff rode off, all the people following.