Marie by Alexander Pushkin
THE UNEXPECTED VISIT
I stood in the vacant square, unable to collect my thoughts, disturbed by so
many terrible emotions. Uncertainty about Marie's fate tortured me. Where is
she? Is she concealed? Is her retreat safe? I went to the Commandant's house. It
was in frightful disorder; the chairs, tables, presses had been burned up and
the dishes were in fragments. I rushed up the little stairs leading to Marie's
room, which I entered for the first time in my life. A lamp still burned before
the shrine which had enclosed the sacred objects revered by all true believers.
The clothes-press was empty, the bed broke up. The robbers had not taken the
little mirror hanging between the door and the window. What had become of the
mistress of this simple, virginal abode? A terrible thought flashed through my
mind. Marie in hands of the brigands! My heart was torn, and I cried aloud:
"Marie! Marie!" I heard a rustle. Polacca, quite pale, came from her
hiding-place behind the clothes-press.
"Ah! Peter," said she, clasping her hands, "what a day! what horrors!"
"Marie?" I asked impatiently, "Marie—where is she?"
"The young lady is alive," said the maid, "concealed at Accoulina's, at the
house of the Greek priest."
"Great God!" I cried, with terror, "Pougatcheff is there!"
I rushed out of the room, made a bound into the street and ran wildly to the
priest's house. It was ringing with songs, shouts and laughter. Pougatcheff was
at table there with his men. Polacca had followed me; I sent her in to call out
Accoulina secretly. Accoulina came into the waiting-room, an empty bottle in her
"In the name of heaven, where is Marie?" I asked with agitation.
"The little dove is lying on my bed behind the partition. Oh! Peter, what
danger we have just escaped! The rascal had scarcely seated himself at table
than the poor thing moaned. I thought I should die of fright. He heard her. 'Who
is moaning in your room, old woman?' 'My niece, Czar.' 'Let me see your niece,
old woman.' I saluted him humbly; 'My niece, Czar, has not strength to come
before your grace.' 'Then I will go and see her.' And will you believe it, he
drew the curtains and looked at our dove, with his hawk's eyes! The child did
not recognize him. Poor Ivan Mironoff! Basilia! Why was Ignatius taken, and you
spared? What do you think of Alexis? He has cut his hair and now hobnobs with
them in there. When I spoke of my sick niece he looked at me as if he would run
me through with his knife. But he said nothing, and we must be thankful for
The drunken shouts of the guests, and the voice of Father Garasim now
resounded together; the brigands wanted more wine, and Accoulina was needed. "Go
back to your house, Peter," said she, "woe to you, if you fall into his hands!"
She went to serve her guests; I, somewhat quieted, returned to my room.
Crossing the square, I saw some Bashkirs stealing the boots from the bodies of
the dead. I restrained my useless anger. The brigands had been through the
fortress and had pillaged the officers' houses.
I reached my lodging. Saveliitch met me at the threshold. "Thank God!" he
cried. "Ah! master, the rascals have taken everything; but what matter, since
they did not take your life. Did you not recognize their chief, master?"
"No, I did not; who is he?"
"What, my dear boy, have you forgotten the drunkard who cheated you out of
the touloup the day of the snow-drift—a hare-skin touloup?—the rascal burst all
the seams putting it on."
My eyes were opened. The resemblance between the guide and Pougatcheff was
striking. I now understood the pardon accorded me. I recalled with gratitude the
lucky incident. A youth's touloup given to a vagabond had saved my neck; and
this drunkard, capturing fortress, had shaken the very empire.
"Will you not deign to eat something?" said Saveliitch, true to his
instincts; "there is nothing in the house, it is true, but I will find something
and prepare it for you."
Left alone, I began to reflect that not to leave the fortress, now subject to
the brigand, or to join his troops, would be unworthy of an officer. Duty
required me to go and present myself where I could still be useful to my
country. But love counseled me, with no less force, to stay near Marie, to be
her protector and champion. Although I foresaw a near and inevitable change in
the march of events, still I could not, without trembling, contemplate the
danger of her position.
My reflections were interrupted by the entrance of a Cossack, who came to
announce that the "great Czar" called me to his presence. "Where is he?" I
asked, preparing to obey. "In the commandant's house," replied the Cossack.
"After dinner the Czar went to the vapor baths. It must be confessed that all
his ways are imperial! He can do more than others; at dinner he deigned to eat
two roast milk-pigs; afterward at the bath he endured the highest degree of
heat; even the attendant could not stand it; he handed the brush to another and
was restored to consciousness only by the application of cold water. It is said
that in the bath, the marks of the true Czar were plainly seen on his breast—a
picture of his own face and a double-headed eagle."
I did not think it necessary to contradict the Cossack, and I followed him to
the Commandant's, trying to fancy in advance my interview with Pougatcheff, and
its result. The reader may imagine that I was not quite at ease. Night was
falling as I reached the house. The gibbet with its victims still stood, black
and terrible. The poor body of our good Basilia was lying under the steps, near
which two Cossacks mounted guard. He who had brought me, entered to announce my
arrival; he returned at once, and led me to the room where the evening before I
had taken leave of Marie. At a table covered with a cloth, and laden with
bottles and glasses, sat Pougatcheff, surrounded by some ten Cossack chiefs in
colored caps and shirts, with flushed faces and sparkling eyes, the effect, no
doubt, of the wine-cup.
I saw neither of our traitors, Alexis or the Corporal, amongst them.
"Ah! your lordship, it is you?" said their chief, on seeing me. "Be welcome!
Honor and place at the table!"
The guests drew closer together. I took a place at the end of the table. My
neighbor, a young Cossack of slender form and handsome face, poured out a bumper
of brandy for me. I did not taste it. I was busy considering the assembly.
Pougatcheff was seated in the place of honor, elbow on table, his heavy, black
beard resting upon his muscular hand. His features, regular and handsome, had no
ferocious expression. He often spoke to a man of some fifty years, calling him
now Count, again Uncle. All treated each other as comrades, showing no very
marked deference for their chief. They talked of the assault that morning; of
the revolt, its success, and of their next operations. Each one boasted of his
prowess, gave his opinions, and freely contradicted Pougatcheff. In this strange
council of war, they resolved to march upon Orenbourg, a bold move, but
justified by previous successes. The departure was fixed for the next day. Each
one drank another bumper, and rising, took leave of Pougatcheff. I wished to
follow them, but the brigand said: "Wait, I want to speak to you."
Pougatcheff looked at me fixedly in silence for a few seconds, winking his
left eye with the most cunning, mocking expression. At last he burst into a long
peal of laughter, so hearty, that I, just from seeing him, began to laugh,
without knowing why.
"Well, my lord," said he, "confess that you were frightened, when my boys put
the rope around your neck? The sky must have seemed to you then as big as a
sheep-skin. And if not for your servant, you would have been swinging up there
from the cross-beam; but at that very instant I recognized the old owl. Would
you have thought that the man who led you to a shelter on the steppe was the
great Czar himself?" Saying these words, he assumed a grave and mysterious air.
"You have been very guilty," continued he, "but I have pardoned you, for having
done me a kindness, when I was obliged to hide from my enemies. I shall load you
with favors, when I shall have regained my empire. Do you promise to serve me
The bandit's question and impudence made me smile.
"Why do you laugh?" said he, frowning, "do you not believe that I am the
great Czar? Answer frankly."
I was troubled. I could not recognize a vagabond as the emperor; to call him
an impostor to his face was to doom myself to death; and the sacrifice which I
was ready to make under the gibbet that morning, before all the people, in the
first flush of indignation, seemed now a useless bravado. Pougatcheff awaited my
answer in fierce silence. At last (I still remember with satisfaction that duty
triumphed over human weakness) I replied to Pougatcheff.
"I will tell you the truth and let you decide. Should I recognize you as the
Czar, as you are a man of intelligence, you would see that I am lying."
"Then who am I? in your opinion."
"God knows, but whoever you are, you are playing a dangerous game."
Pougatcheff gave me a sharp, quick glance. "You do not believe that I am the
emperor, Peter III? Be it so. Have not bold men succeeded before me and obtained
the crown? Think what you please about me, but stay with me. What matters it
whom you serve? Success is right. Serve under me, and I will make you a
field-marshal, a prince. What say you?"
"No," said I. "I am a nobleman. I have taken an oath to her majesty, the
Empress; I can not serve with you. If truly you wish me well, send me to
Pougatcheff reflected. "If I send you there, you will, at least, promise not
to bear arms against me?"
"How can I promise that? If I am ordered to march against you, I must go. You
are now a chief; you desire your subordinates to obey you. No, my life is in
your hand; if you give me liberty, thanks; if you put me to death, may God judge
My frankness pleased him. "Be it so," said he, slapping me on the shoulders,
"pardon or punish to the end. You can go the four quarters of the world, and do
as you like. Come tomorrow, and bid me good-bye. Now go to bed—I require rest
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
I followed his advice, and after having supped, fell asleep on the bare
floor, as fatigued in mind as in body.