Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Alexander Pushkin – Marie – Contents
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XIV. THE SENTENCE.
I had no doubt that I was arrested for having left the fortress of Orenbourg without leave, and felt sure that I could exculpate myself. Not only were we not forbidden, but on the contrary, we were encouraged to make forays against the enemy. My friendly relations with Pougatcheff, however, wore a suspicious look.
Arriving at Khasan, I found the city almost reduced to ashes. Along the streets there were heaps of calcined material of unroofed walls of houses—a proof that Pougatcheff had been there. The fortress was intact. I was taken there and delivered to the officer on duty. He ordered the blacksmith to rivet securely iron shackles on my feet. I was then consigned to a small, dark dungeon, lighted only by a loop-hole, barred with iron. This did not presage anything good, yet I did not lose courage; for, having tasted the delight of prayer, offered by a heart full of anguish, I fell asleep, without a thought for the morrow. The next morning I was taken before the Commission. Two soldiers crossed the yard with me, to the Commandant’s dwelling. Stopping in the ante-chamber, they let me proceed alone to the interior.
I entered quite a spacious room. At a table, covered with papers, sat tow personages,—a General advanced in years, of stern aspect, and a young officer of the Guards, of easy and agreeable manners. Near the window, at another table, a secretary, pen on ear, bending over a paper, was ready to take my deposition.
The interrogation began: “Your name and profession?” The General asked if I was the son of Andrew Grineff, and upon my replying in the affirmative, exclaimed: “It is a pity so honorable a man should have a son so unworthy of him!”
I replied that I hoped to refute all charges against me, by a sincere avowal of the truth. My assurance displeased him.
“You are a bold fellow,” said he, frowning; “but we have seen others like you.”
The young officer asked how, and for what purpose I had entered the rebel service.
I replied indignantly, that being an officer and a noble, I was incapable of enlisting in the usurper’s army, and had never served him in any way.
“How is it,” said my judge, “that the ‘officer and noble’ is the only one spared by Pougatcheff? How is it that the ‘officer and noble’ received presents from the chief rebel, of a horse and a pelisse? Upon what is this intimacy founded, if not on treason, or at least unpardonable cowardice?”
The words wounded me, and I undertook with warmth my own defense, finally invoking the name of my General who could testify to my zeal during the siege of Orenbourg. The severe old man took from the table an open letter, and read:
“With regard to Ensign Griness, I have the honor to declare,
that he was in the service at Orenbourg from the month of
October, 1773, till the following February. Since then, he
has not presented himself.”
Here the General said harshly: “What can you say now to justify your conduct?”
My judges had listened with interest and even kindness, to the recital of my acquaintance with the usurper, from the meeting in the snowdrift to the taking of Belogorsk, where he gave me my life through gratitude. I was going to continue my defense, by relating frankly my relations with Marie, and her rescue. But if I spoke of her the Commission would force her to appear, and her name would become the theme of no very delicate remarks by the interrogated witnesses. These thoughts so troubled me that I stammered, and at last was silent.
The judges were prejudiced against me by my evident confusion. The young Guardsman asked that I should be confronted by my chief accuser. Some minutes later the clank of iron fetters resounded, and Alexis entered.
He was pale and thin. His hair, formerly black as a raven’s wing, was turning gray. He repeated his accusation in a weak but decided tone.
According to him, I was Pougatcheff’s spy. I heard him to the end in silence, and rejoiced at one thing: he never pronounced the name of Marie Mironoff. Was it that his self-love smarted from her contemptuous rejection of him? or was there in his heart a spark of that same feeling which made me also silent on that point? This confirmed me in my resolution, and when asked what I had to answer to the charges of Alexis, I merely said that I held to my first declaration, and had nothing more to add.
The General remanded us to prison. I looked at Alexis. He smiled with satisfied hate, raised up his shackles to hasten his pace and pass before me. I had no further examination. I was not an eye-witness of what remains to be told the reader; but I have so often heard the story, that the minutest particulars are engraved on my memory.
Marie was received by my parents with the cordial courtesy which distinguished the preceding generation. They became very much attached to her, and my father no longer considered my love a folly. The news of my arrest was a fearful blow; but Marie and Saveliitch had so frankly told the origin of my connection with Pougatcheff, that the news did not seem grave. My father could not be persuaded that I would take part in an infamous revolt, whose object was the subversion of the throne and the extinction of the nobility. So better news was expected, and several weeks passed, when at last a letter came from our relative Prince B—-. After the usual compliments, he told my father that the suspicions of my complicity in the rebel plots were only too well founded, as had been proved,—that an exemplary execution might have been my fate, were it not that the Empress, out of consideration for the father’s white hair and loyal services, had commuted the sentence of the criminal son. She had exiled him for life to the depths of Siberia!
The blow nearly killed my father, his firmness gave way, and his usually silent sorrow burst into bitter plaints: “What! my son plotting with Pougatcheff! The Empress gives him his life! Execution not the worst thing in the world! My grandfather died on the scaffold in defense of his convictions! But, that a noble should betray his oath, unite with bandits, knaves and revolted slaves! shame! shame forever on our face!”
Frightened by his despair, my mother did not dare to show her grief, and Marie was more desolate than they. Persuaded that I could justify myself if I chose, she divined the motive of my silence, and believed that she was the cause of my suffering.
One evening, seated on his sofa, my father was turning over the leaves of the “Court Almanac,” but his thoughts were far away, and the book did not produce its usual effect upon him. My mother was knitting in silence, and from time to time a furtive tear dropped upon her work. Marie, who was sewing in the same room, without any prelude declared to my parents that she was obliged to go to St. Petersburg, and begged them to furnish her the means.
My mother said: “Why will you leave us?”
Marie replied that her fate depended on this journey; that she was going to claim the protection of those in favor at Court, as the daughter of a man who had perished a victim to his loyalty.
My father bowed his head. A word which recalled the supposed crime of his son, seemed a sharp reproach.
“Go,” said he, at last, with a sigh; “we will not place an obstacle to your happiness. May God give you an honorable husband and not a traitor!”
He rose and left the room. Alone with my mother, Marie confided to her, in part, the object of her journey. My mother, in tears, kissed her and prayed for the success of the project. A few days after, Marie, Polacca and Saveliitch left home.
When Marie reached Sofia, she learned that the Court was at that moment in residence at the summer palace of Tzarskoie-Selo. She decided to stop there, and obtained a small room at the post-house. The post mistress came to chat with the new-comer. She told Marie, pompously, that she was the niece of an official attached to the Court—her uncle having the honor of attending to the fires in her Majesty’s abode! Marie soon knew at what hour the Empress rose, took her coffee, and went on the promenade; in brief, the conversation of Anna was like a page from the memoirs of the times, and would be very precious in our days. The two women went together to the Imperial gardens, where Anna told Marie the romance of each pathway and the history of every bridge over the artificial streams. Next day very early Marie returned alone to the Imperial gardens. The weather was superb. The sun gilded the linden tops, already seared by the Autumn frosts. The broad lake sparkled, the swans, just aroused, came out gravely from the shore. Marie was going to a charming green sward, when a little dog, of English blood, came running to her barking. She was startled; but a voice of rare refinement said: “He will not bite you; do not be afraid.”
A lady about fifty years of age was seated on a rustic bench. She was dressed in a white morning-dress, a light cap and a mantilla. Her face, full and florid, was expressive of calmness and seriousness. She was the first to speak: “You are evidently a stranger here?”
“That is true, madam. I arrived from the country yesterday.”
“You are with your parents?”
“No, madam, alone.”
“You are too young to travel alone. Are you here on business?”
“My parents are dead. I came to present a petition to the Empress.”
“You are an orphan; you have to complain of injustice, or injury?”
“Madam, I came to ask for a pardon, not justice.”
“Permit me a question: Who are you?”
“I am the daughter of Captain Mironoff.”
“Of Captain Mironoff? of him who commanded one of the fortresses in the province of Orenbourg?”
“The same, madam.”
The lady seemed touched. “Pardon me, I am going to Court. Explain the object of your petition; perhaps I can aid you.” Marie took from her pocket a paper which she handed to the lady, who read it attentively. Marie, whose eyes followed every movement of her countenance, was alarmed by the severe expression of face so calm and gracious a moment before.
“You intercede for Grineff?” said the lady, in an icy tone. “The Empress can not pardon him. He went over to the usurper, not as an ignorant believer, but as a depraved and dangerous good-for-nothing.”
“It is not true!” exclaimed Marie.
“What! not true?” said the lady, flushing to the eyes.
“Before God, it is not true. I know all. I will tell you all. It was for me only that exposed himself to all these misfortunes. If he did not clear himself before his judges, it was because he would not drag me before the authorities.” Marie then related with warmth all that the reader knows.
“Where do you lodge?” asked the lady, when the young girl had finished her recital. Upon hearing that she was staying with the postmaster’s wife, she nodded, and said with a smile: “Ah! I know her. Adieu! tell no one of our meeting. I hope you will not have long to wait for the answer to your petition.”
She rose and went away by a covered path. Marie went back to Anna’s, full of fair hope. The postmaster’s wife was surprised that Marie took so early a promenade, which might in Autumn, prove injurious to a young girl’s health. She brought the Somovar, and with her cup of tea was going to relate one of her interminable stories, when a carriage with the imperial escutcheon stopped before the door. A lackey, wearing the imperial livery, entered and announced that her Majesty deigned to order to her presence the daughter of Captain Mironoff!
“Ah!” exclaimed Anna, “the Empress orders you to Court! How did she know you were with me? You can not present yourself—you do not know how to walk in courtly fashion! I ought to go with you. Shall I not send to the doctor’s wife and get her yellow dress with flounces, for you?”
The lackey declared that he had orders to take Marie alone, just as she was. Anna did not dare to disobey, and Marie set out. She had a presentiment that her destiny was now to be decided. Her heart beat violently. In a few minutes the carriage was at the palace, and Marie, having crossed a long suite of apartments, vacant and sumptuous, entered the boudoir of the Empress. The nobles who surrounded their sovereign respectfully made way for the young girl.
The Empress, in whom Marie recognized the lady of the garden, said, graciously: “I am pleased to be able to grant your prayer. Convinced of the innocence of your betrothed, I have arranged everything. Here is a letter for your future father-in-law.”
Marie, in tears, fell at the feet of the Empress, who raised her up and kissed her, saying:
“I know that you are not rich; but I have to acquit myself of a debt to the daughter of a brave man, Captain Mironoff.” Treating Marie with tenderness, the Empress dismissed her. That day Marie set out for my father’s country-seat, not having even glanced at Saint Petersburg.
Here terminate the memoirs of Peter Grineff. We know by family tradition that he was set free about the end of the year 1774. We know too, that he was present at the execution of Pougatcheff, who, recognizing him in the crowd, gave him one last sign with the head which, a moment after, was shown to the people, bleeding and inanimate.
Peter Grineff became the husband of Marie Mironoff. Their descendents still live, in the Province of Simbirsk, and in the hereditary manor is still shown the autograph letter of the Empress Catherine II. It is addressed to Andrew Grineff, and contains, with his son’s justification, a touching and beautiful eulogium of Marie, the Captain’s daughter.
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Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Alexander Pushkin – Marie – Contents
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