Basia, unable to question her to the end, took her, with Zosia Boski, to an alcove, and began again to insist, "Eva, tell me quickly, awfully quickly, do you love him?"
A flame beat into the face of Eva. She was a dark-haired and dark-eyed maiden, with hot blood; and that blood flew to her cheeks at any mention of love.
"Eva," repeated Basia, for the tenth time, "do you love him?"
"I do not know," answered Eva, after a moment's hesitation.
"But you don't deny? Oho! I know. Do not hesitate. I told Michael first that I loved him,--no harm! and it was well. You must have loved each other terribly this long time. Ha! I understand now. It is from yearning for you that he has always been so gloomy; he went around like a wolf. The poor soldier withered away almost. What pa.s.sed between you?
"He told me in the storehouse that he loved me," whispered Eva.
"In the storehouse! What then?"
"Then he caught me and began to kiss me," continued she, in a still lower voice.
"Maybe I don't know him, that Mellehovich! And what did you do?"
"I was afraid to scream."
"Afraid to scream! Zosia, do you hear that? When was your loving found out?"
"Father came in, and struck him on the spot with a hatchet; then he whipped me, and gave orders to flog him so severely that he was a fortnight in bed."
Here Eva began to cry, partly from sorrow, and partly from confusion.
At sight of this, the dark-blue eyes of the sensitive Zosia filled with tears, then Basia began to comfort Eva, "All will be well, my head on that! And I will harness Michael into the work, and Pan Zagloba. I will persuade them, never fear. Against the wit of Pan Zagloba nothing can stand; you do not know him. Don't cry, Eva dear, it is time for supper."
Mellehovich was not at supper. He was sitting in his own room, warming at the fire gorailka and mead, which he poured into a smaller cup afterward and drank, eating at the same time dry biscuits. Pan Bogush came to him late in the evening to talk over news.
The Tartar seated him at once on a chair lined with sheepskin, and placing before him a pitcher of hot drink, inquired, "But does Pan Novoveski still wish to make me his slave?"
"There is no longer any talk of that," answered the under-stolnik of Novgrod, "Pan Nyenas.h.i.+nyets might claim you first; but he cares nothing for you, since his sister is already either dead, or does not wish any change in her fate. Pan Novoveski did not know who you were when he punished you for intimacy with his daughter. Now he is going around like one stunned, for though your father brought a world of evil on this country, he was a renowned warrior, and blood is always blood. As G.o.d lives, no one will raise a finger here while you serve the country faithfully, especially as you have friends on all sides."
"Why should I not serve faithfully?" answered Azya. "My father fought against you; but he was a Pagan, while I profess Christ."
"That's it,--that's it! You cannot return to the Crimea, unless with loss of faith, and that would be followed by loss of salvation; therefore
In truth, you owe grat.i.tude both to Pan Nyenas.h.i.+nyets and Pan Novoveski, for the first brought you from among Pagans, and the second reared you in the true faith."
"I know," said Azya, "that I owe them grat.i.tude, and I will try to repay them. Your grace has remarked truly that I have found here a mult.i.tude of benefactors."
"You speak as if it were bitter in your mouth when you say that; but count yourself your well-wishers."
"His grace the hetman and you in the first rank,--that I will repeat until death. What others there are, I know not."
"But the commandant here? Do you think that he would yield you into any one's hands, even though you were not Tugai Bey's son? And Pani Volodyovski, I heard what she said about you during supper. Even before, when Novoveski recognized you, she took your part. Pan Volodyovski would do everything for her, for he does not see the world beyond her; a sister could not have more affection for a brother than she has for you. During the whole time of supper your name was on her lips."
The young Tartar bent his head suddenly, and began to blow into the cup of hot drink; when he put out his somewhat blue lips to blow, his face became so Tartar-like that Pan Bogush said,--
"As G.o.d is true, how entirely like Tugai Bey you were this moment pa.s.ses imagination. I knew him perfectly. I saw him in the palace of the Khan and on the field; I went to his encampment it is small to say twenty times."
"May G.o.d bless the just, and the plague choke evildoers!" said Azya.
"To the health of the hetman!"
Pan Bogush drank, and said, "Health and long years! It is true those of us who stand with him are a handful, but true soldiers. G.o.d grant that we shall not give up to those bread-skinners, who know only how to intrigue at petty diets, and accuse the hetman of treason to the king.
The rascals! We stand night and day with our faces to the enemy, and they draw around kneading-troughs full of hashed meat and cabbage with millet, and are drumming on them with spoons,--that is their labor. The hetman sends envoy after envoy, implores reinforcements for Kamenyets.
Ca.s.sandra-like, he predicts the destruction of Ilion and the people of Priam; but they have no thought in their heads, and are simply looking for an offender against the king."
"Of what is your grace speaking?"
"Nothing! I made a comparison of Kamenyets with Troy; but you, of course, have not heard of Troy. Wait a little; the hetman will obtain naturalization for you. The times are such that the occasion will not be wanting, if you wish really to cover yourself with glory."
"Either I shall cover myself with glory, or earth will cover me. You will hear of me, as G.o.d is in heaven!"
"But those men? What is Krychinski doing? Will they return, or not?
What are they doing now?"
"They are in encampment,--some in Urzyisk, others farther on. It is hard to come to an agreement at present, for they are far from one another. They have an order to move in spring to Adrianople, and to take with them all the provisions they can carry."
"In G.o.d's name, that is important, for if there is to be a great gathering of forces in Adrianople, war with us is certain. It is necessary to inform the hetman of this at once. He thinks also that war will come, but this would be an infallible sign."
"Halim told me that it is said there among them that the Sultan himself is to be at Adrianople."
"Praised be the name of the Lord! And here with us hardly a handful of troops. Our whole hope in the rock of Kamenyets! Does Krychinski bring forward new conditions?"
"He presents complaints rather than conditions. A general amnesty, a return to the rights and privileges of n.o.bles which they had formerly, commands for the captains,--is what they wish; but as the Sultan has offered them more, they are hesitating."
"What do you tell me? How could the Sultan give them more than the Commonwealth? In Turkey there is absolute rule, and all rights depend on the fancy of the Sultan alone. Even if he who is living and reigning at present were to keep all his promises, his successor might break them or trample on them at will; while with us privileges are sacred, and whoso becomes a n.o.ble, from him even the king can take nothing."
"They say that they were n.o.bles, and still they were treated on a level with dragoons; that the starostas commanded them more than once to perform various duties, from which not only a n.o.ble is free, but even an attendant."
"But if the hetman promises them."
"No one doubts the high mind of the hetman, and all love him in their hearts secretly; but they think thus to themselves: 'The crowd of n.o.bles will shout down the hetman as a traitor; at the king's court they hate him; a confederacy threatens him with impeachment. How can he do anything?'"
Pan Bogush began to stroke his forelock. "Well, what?"
"They know not themselves what to do."
"And will they remain with the Sultan?"
"But who will command them to return to the Commonwealth?"
"How is that?"