A gentleman of the name of Zhilin was serving in the Caucasus as an officer. One day he received a letter from home. His aged mother wrote to him: "I am growing old and should like to see my dear little son before I die. Come to me, I pray you, if it be only to bury me, and then in God's name enter the service again. And I have found for you a nice bride besides; she is sensible, good, and has property. You may fall in love with her perhaps, and you may marry her and be able to retire."
Zhilin fell a musing: "Yes, indeed, the old lady has been ailing lately, she might never live to see me. Yes, I'll go, and if the girl is nice I may marry her into the bargain."
So he went to his colonel, obtained leave of absence, took leave of his comrades, gave his soldiers four pitchers of vodka to drink his health, and prepared to be off.
There was war in the Caucasus then. The roads were impassable night and day. Scarce any of the Russians Could go in or out of the fortress but the Tatars would kill them or carry them off into the mountains. So it was commanded that twice a week a military escort should proceed from fortress to fortress with the people in the midst of it.
The affair happened in the summer. At dawn of day the baggage-wagons assembled in the fortress, the military escort marched out, and the whole company took the road. Zhilin went on horseback, and his wagon with his things was among the baggage.
The distance to be traversed was twenty miles, but the caravan moved but slowly. Sometimes it was the soldiers who stopped, sometimes a wheel flew off one of the baggage-wagons, or a horse wouldn't go — and then they all had to stop and wait.
The sun had already passed the meridian, and the caravan had only gone half the distance. There was nothing but heat and dust, the sun regularly burned, and there was no shelter to be had. All around nothing but the naked steppe — not a village, not a wayside bush.
Zhilin had galloped on in front, he had now stopped, and was waiting for the cavalcade to come up. Then he heard a horn blown in the rear, and knew that they had stopped again. Then thought Zhilin : "Why not go on by oneself without the soldiers? I've a good horse beneath me, and if I stumble upon the Tatars — I can make a bolt for it. Or shall I not go?"
He stood there considering, and up there came trotting another mounted officer, called Kostuilin, with a musket, and he said:
"Let us go on alone, Zhilin. I can't stand it any longer, I want some grub; the heat is stifling, and my shirt is regularly sticking to me."
This Kostuilin, by the way, was a thick, heavy, red-faced man, and the sweat was pouring from him. Zhilin thought for a moment, and then said:
"Is your musket loaded?"
"Yes, it is loaded."
"Well, we'll go, but on one condition — we must keep together."
And they cantered on in front along the road. They went through the steppe, and as they chatted together they kept glancing on every side of them. They could see for a great distance around them.
The steppe at last had come to an end, and the way lay towards a ravine between two mountains.
"What are you looking at? Let us go straight on!" said Kostuilin. But Zhilin did not listen to him.
"No," said he, "you just wait below and I'll go up and have a look round."
And he urged his horse to the left up the mountain. The horse beneath Zhilin was a good hunter (he had bought it from the horse-fold while still a foal for a hundred roubles, and had broken it in himself), it carried him up the steep ascent as if on wings. He needed but a single glance around — there right in front of them, not a furlong ahead, was a whole heap of Tatars, thirty men at least. He no sooner saw them than he set about turning, but the Tatars had seen him too, and posted after him, drawing their muskets while in full career. Zhilin galloped down the slope as fast as his horse's legs could carry him, at the same time shouting to Kostuilin :
"Out with the muskets! And you, my bea uty" — he was thinking of his horse — "you, my beauty, spread yourself out and don't knock your foot against anything for if you stumble now we're lost. Let me but get to my musket, and I'm hanged if I surrender."
But Kostuilin, instead of waiting, bolted off at full speed in the direction of the fortress as soon as he beheld the Tatars. He lashed his horse first on one side and then on the other. Only the strong sweep of her tail was visible in the dust
Zhilin perceived that he was in a bit of a hole. His musket was gone, and with a simple shashkanothing could be done. He drove his horse on in the direction of the Russian soldiers — there was just a chance of getting away. He saw that six of them were galloping away to cut him off. He had a good horse under him, but they had still better, and they were racing their hardest to bar his way. He began to hesitate, wanted to turn in another direction, but his horse had lost her head, he couldn't control her, and she was rushing right upon them. He saw approaching him on a grey horse a Tatar with a red beard. The Tatar uttered a shrill cry, gnashed his teeth, and his musket was all ready.
"Well," thought Zhilin, "I know what you are, you devils, if you take me alive you'll put me in a dungeon and whip me. I'll not be taken alive."
Zhilin was small of stature, but he was brave. Drawing his shashka, he urged his horse straight upon the red-bearded Tatar, thinking to him self : " I'll either ride down his horse or fell him with my shashka."
But Zhilin never got up to the Tatar horse. They fired upon him from behind with their muskets and attacked his horse. His horse fell to the ground with a crash, and Zhilin was thrown off her back. He tried to rise, but two strong-smelling Tatars were already sitting upon him and twisting his arms behind his back. He writhed and twisted and threw off the Tatars, but then three more leaped off their horses and sprang upon him, and began beating him about the head with the butt-ends of their muskets. It grew dark before his eyes, and he began to feel faint. Then the Tatars seized him, rifled his saddle-bags, fastened his arms behind his back, tying them with a Tatar knot, and dragged him to the saddle. They snatched off his hat, they pulled off his boots, examined everything, extorted his money and his watch, and ripped up all his clothes. Zhilin glanced at his horse. She, his dearly-beloved comrade, lay just as she had fallen, on her back, with kicking feet which vainly tried to reach the ground. There was a hole in her head, and out of this hole the black blood gushed with a hiss — for several yards around the dust was wet
One of the Tatars went to the horse and proceeded to take the saddle from her back. She went on kicking all the time, and he drew forth a knife and cut her windpipe. There was a hissing sound from her throat, she shivered all .over, and the breath of her life was gone.
The Tatars took away the saddle and bridle. The Tatar with the red beard mounted hi s horse and the others put Zhilin up behind him. To prevent him falling off they fastened him by a thong to the Tatar's belt and led him away into the mountains.
So there sat Zhilin behind the Tatar, and at every moment he was jolted against, and his very nose came in contact with the Tatar's malodorous back. All that he could see in front of him, indeed, was the sturdy Tatar's back, his sinewy, shaven neck sticking out all bluish from beneath his hat. Zhilin's head was all battered, and the blood kept trickling into his eyes. And it was impossible for him to right himself on his horse or wipe away the blood. His arms were twisted so tightly that his very collar-bone was in danger of breaking.
They travelled for a long time from mountain to mountain, crossed a ford, diverged from the road, and entered a ravine.
Zhilin would have liked to have marked the road by which they were taking him, but his eyes were clotted with blood and he couldn't turn round properly.
It began to grow dark. They crossed yet another river and began to ascend a rocky mountain, and then came a smell of smoke and the barking of dogs!
At last they came to the aul or Tatar village. The Tatars dismounted from their horses and a crowd of Tatar children assembled, who surrounded Zhilin, fell a yelling and making merry, and took up stones to cast at him.
The Tatar drove away the children, took Zhilin from his horse, and called a workman. Up came a h atchet-faced Nogaetsclad only in a shirt, and as the shirt was torn the whole of his breast was bare. The Tatar gave some orders to him. The workman brought a kolodka, that is to say, two oaken blocks fastened together by iron rings, and in one of the rings a cramping iron and a lock. Then they undid Zhilin's hands, attached the kolodka to his feet, led him into an outhouse, thrust him into it, and fastened the door. Zhilin fell upon a dung-heap. For a time he lay where he fell, then he fumbled his way in the dark to the softest place he could find, and lay down there.
Zhilin scarcely slept at all during the night. It was the season of short nights. He could see it growing light through a rift in the wall. Zhilin arose, made the rift a little bigger, and looked out.
Through the rift the high road was visible going down the mountain-side, to the right was a Tatar saklyaft,with two villages beside it. A black dog lay upon the threshold, a goat with her kids passed along whisking their tails. He saw a Tatar milkmaid coming down from the mountains in a flowered-belted blouse, trousers and boots, with her head covered by a kaftan, and on her head a large tin kuvshinchik.of water. She walked with curved back and head bent forward, and led by the hand a little closely cropped Tatar boy in a little shirt.The Tatar girl took the water to the saklya, and out came the Tatar of yesterday evening, with the red beard, in a silken beshmetwith slippers on his naked feet and a silver knife in his leather girdle. On his head he wore a lofty, black sheepskin hat, flattened down behind. He came out, stretched himself, and stroked his bountiful red beard. He stayed there for a while, gave some orders to his labourer, and went off somewhither.
Next there passed by two children on horses which they had just watered. The horses' nozzles were wet. Then some more closely cropped youngsters ran by in nothing but shirts, without hose, and they collected into a group, went to the outhouse, took up a long twig and thrust it through the rift in the walL Zhilin gave such a shout at them that the children screamed in chorus and took to their heels, a gleam of naked little knees was the last that was seen of them.
But Zhilin wanted drink, his throat was parched and dry. " If only they would come to examine me," thought he. He listened — they were opening the outhouse. The red-bearded Tatar appeared, and with him came another, smaller in stature, a blackish sort of little man. His eyes were bright and black, he was ruddy and had a small cropped beard, his face was merry, he was all smiles. The swarthy man was dressed even better than the other; his silken beshmet was blue and trimmed with galoon, the large dagger in his belt was of silver, his red morocco slippers were also trimmed with silver. Mo reover, thick outer slippers covered the finer inner ones. He wore a lofty hat of white lamb's-wool.
The red-bearded Tatar came in and there was some conversation, and apparently a dispute began. He lent his elbows on the gate, fingered his hanger, and glanced furtively at Zhilin like a hungry wolf. But the swarthy man — he was a quick, lively fellow, who seemed to move upon springs — came straight up to Zhilin, sat down on his heels, grinned, showing all his teeth, patted him on the shoulder, and began to jabber something in a peculiar way of his own, blinking his eyes, clicking with his tongue, and saying repeatedly:
"Korosho urus! Korosho urus!"
Zhilin did not understand a word of it, and all he said was:
"I am thirsty, give me a drink of water!"
The swarthy man laughed. "Korosho urus!" he said again — 'babbling away in his own peculiar manner.
Zhilin tried to make them understand by a pantomime with his hands and lips that he wanted something to drink.
The swarthy man understood at last, went out and called :
A very thin, slender girl, about thirteen years of age, with a face very like the swarthy man's, then appeared. Plainly she was the swarthy man's daughter. She also had black sparklin g eyes and a ruddy complexion. She was dressed in a long blue blouse with white sleeves and without a girdle. The folds, sleeves, and breast of her garment were beautifully trimmed. She also wore trousers and slippers, and the inner slippers were protected by outer slippers with high heels. Round her neck she wore a necklace of Russian poltiniksHer head was uncovered, her hair was black, and in her hair was a ribbon, from which dangled a metallic plaque and a silver rouble.
Her father gave her some orders. She ran out, and returned again immediately with a tin kuvshinchik.She handed the water to Zhilin herself, plumping down on her heels, bending right forward so that her shoulders were lower than her knees. There she sat, staring at Zhilin with wide-open eyes as he drank, just as if he were some wild animal.
Zhilin gave the kuvshinchik back to her, and back she bounded like a wild goat. Even her father couldn't help laughing. Then he sent her somewhere or other. She took the kuvshinchik, ran off, and came back with some unleavened bread on a little round platter, and again she crouched down, all humped forward, gazing at Zhilin with all her eyes.
Then all the Tatars went out and closed the door behind them.
After a little while the Nogaets came to Zhilin and said:
"Come along, master! come along!"
He also did not know Russian. It was p lain to Zhilin, however, that he was ordering him to come somewhither.
Zhilin followed him, still wearing the kolodka. He limped all the way, to walk was impossible, as he had constantly to twist his foot to one side. So Zhilin followed the Nogaets outside. He saw the Tatar village — ten houses, with their mosque which had a tower. Before one house stood three saddled horses. A tiny boy was holding their bridles. All at once the swarthy man came leaping out of his house, and waved his hand to Zhilin to signify to him to approach. The Tatar was smiling, jabbering after his fashion, and quickly disappeared into the house again. Zhilin entered the house. The living-room was a good one, the walls were of smoothly-polished clay. Variegated pillows were piled up against the front Wall, rich carpets hung up at the entrance on each side; arms of various sorts — pistols, shashki, all of silver — were hanging on the carpets. In one corner was a little stove level with the ground. The earthen floor was as clean as a threshing-floor, the front corner was all covered with felt, on the felt were carpets, and on the carpets soft cushions. And on the carpets, in nothing but their bashmakssat the Tatars — there were five of them, the red-bearded man, the swarthy man, and three guests. Soft bulging cushions had been placed behind the backs of them all, and in front of them, on a small platter, were boltered pancakes, beef distributed in little cups, and the Tatar beverage — buza— in a kuvshinchik. They ate with their hands, and all their hands were in the meat
The swarthy man leaped to his feet, and bade Zhilin sit down apart, not on the carpet, but on the bare floor; then he went back to his carpet, and regaled his guests with pancakes and buza. The labourer made Zhilin sit down in the place assigned to him, he himself took off his outer bashmaks, placed them side by side at the door, where the other bashmaks stood, then sat down on the felt nearer to his masters; he watched how they ate, and his mouth watered as he wiped it When the Tatars had eaten the pancakes, a Tatar woman appeared in just the same sort of blouse that the girl had worn, and in trousers also; her head was covered with a cloth.
She took away the meat and the pancakes, and brought round a good washing vessel, and a kuvshin with a very narrow spout The Tatars then began washing their hands, then they folded their arms, squatted down on their knees, belched in every direction, and recited prayers. Then they talked among themselves. Finally, one of the guests turned towards Zhilin, and began to speak in Russian.
"Kazi Mu'hammed took thee," said he, pointing to the red-bearded Tatar, "and has sold thee to Abdul Murad," and he indicated the swarthy Tatar. "Abdul Murad is now thy master."
Zhilin was silent
Then Abdul Murad began to speak, and kept on pointing at Zhilin, and laughed and said, several times, "Soldat urus! Korosho urus!"
The interpreter said :
"He bids thee write a letter home in order that they may send a ransom for thee. As soon as they send the money, thou shalt be set free."
Zhilin thought for a moment, and then said :
"How much ransom does he require?"
The Tatars talked among themselves, and then the interpreter said:
"Three thousand moneys."
"No," said Zhilin, "I cannot pay that"
Abdul started up and began waving his hands, and said something to Zhilin — they all thought he understood. The interpreter interpreted, saying:
"How much wilt thou give? "
Zhilin reflected, and then said, "Five hundred roubles."
At this the Tatars chattered a great deal and all together. Abdul began to screech at the red-bearded Tatar, and got so excited that the spittle trickled from his mouth. The red-bearded Tatar only blinked his eyes and clicked with his tongue.
Then they were silent again, and the interpreter said:
"Thy master thinks a ransom of five hundred roubles too little. He himself paid two hundred roubles for thee. Kazi Muhammed owed him that, and he took thee in discharge of the debt. Three thousand roubles is the least they will let thee go for. And if thou dost not write they will put thee in the dungeon and punish thee with scourging."
"What am I to do with them? this is even worse than I thought," said Zhilin to himself. Then he leaped to his feet and said,
"Tell him, thou dog, that if he wants to frighten me, I won't give him a kopeck, neither will I write at all I have never feared, and I will not fear you now, you dog."
The interpreter interpreted, and again they all began talking at once.
For a long time they debated, and then the swarthy man leaped to his feet and came to Zhilin.
"Urus ! " said he, "dzhiget, dzhiget urus!" — and then he laughed.
"Dzhiget" in their language signifies "youth."
Then he said something to the interpreter, and the interpreter said: "Give a thousand roubles!"
Zhilin stood to his guns. "More than five hundred I will not give," said he. "You may kill me if you like, but you'll get no more out of me."
The Tatars fell a talking together again, then they sent out the labourer for someone, and kept looking at the door and at Zhilia Presently the workman came back and brought with him a man — stout, barelegged, and cheery-looking, he also had a kolodka fastened to his leg.
Then Zhilin sighed indeed, for he recognised Kostuilin. So they had taken him too then! The Tatars placed them side by side, they began talking to each other, and the Tatars were silent and looked on. Zhilin related how it had fared with him, Kostuilin told him that his horse had sunk under him, that his musket had missed fire, and that that selfsame Abdul had chased and captured him.
Abdul leaped to his feet, pointed at Kostuilin, and said something. The interpreter interpreted that they both of them had now one master, and whichever of them paid up first should be released first.
"Look now," said he to Zhilin, "thou makest such a to do, but thy comrade takes it quietly; he has written a letter home telling them to send five thousand roubles. Look now! he shall be fed well and shall be respected."
"My comrade can do as he likes," said Zhilin, "no doubt he is rich, but I am not rich. What I have said that will I do. You may kill me if you like, but you will get little profit out of that — I will not write for more than five hundred roubles."
They were silent for a while. Suddenly Abdul leaped up and produced a small coffer, took out a pen, a piece of paper and ink, forced them upon Zhilin, tapped him on the shoulder, and, pointing to them, said: "Write !" He had agreed to take five hundred roubles.
"Wait a bit," said Zhilin to the interpreter; "tell him that he must feed us well, clothe and shoe us decently, and let us be together — we shall be happier then — and take off the kolodka" He himself then looked at his master and laughed. And his master laughed likewise. He heard the interpreter out, and then said: "I will give you the best of clothing, a Circassian costume and good boots — you might be married in them. And I'll feed you like princes. And if you want to dwell together — well, you can dwell in the outhouse. I can't take off the kolodka — you would run away. Only at night can I take it off." Then he rushed forward and tapped him on the shoulder — "Thy good is my good!" said he.Then Zhilin wrote the letter, and he wrote no address on the letter, so that it should not go. But he thought to himself:
Then they led away Zhilin and Kostuilin to the outhouse, brought them maize-straw to spread on the ground, water in a kuvshin, bread, two old Circassian costumes, and two pairs of tattered military boots. They had plainly been taken from off the feet of slain soldiers. At night they took off their kolodki and fastened the door.
Kostuilin wrote home once more, and waited for the money to be sent, in utter weariness. The whole day they sat in the outhouse and counted the days it would take the letter to arrive, or else they slept Zhilin, however, knew very well that his letter would not arrive, and he did not write another.
"Where I should like to know," thought he, " would my mother be able to scrape together so much money to pay me out? It was as much as she could do to live on what I sent her. If she had to collect five
the floor, and then sat down and looked at Zhilin, and smiling all over, kept pointing at the pitcher.
"Why is she so delighted?" thought Zhilin. Then he took up the pitcher and began to drink He thought it was water, but it was milk. He drank all the milk. "Khorosho!"said he. How rejoiced Dina was then!
"Khorosho, Ivan, Khorosho," she repeated, and leaping to her feet, she clapped her hands, snatched up the pitcher, and ran off.
And from thenceforth she, every day, brought him some milk privately. Now the Tatars used to make cheese-cakes out of goats' milk and dried them on their roofs, and these cheese-cakes she also supplied him with secretly. And once, when the master of the house slaughtered a sheep, she brought him a bit of mutton in her sleeve, flung it down before him and ran off.
Occasionally there were heavy storms, and the rain poured down for a whole hour as if out of a bucket, and all the streams grew turbid and overflowed. Where there had been a ford there was then three arshinsof water, and the stones were whirled from their places. Streams then flowed everywhere, and there was a distant roar in the mountains. And so when the storm had passed over, the whole village was full of watercourses. After one of these storms Zhilin asked his master to lend him a knife, carved out a little cylinder and a little board, attached a wheel to them, and fastened a puppet at each end of the wheel.The girls thereupon brought him rags, and he dressed up one of his puppets as a man and the other as a woman, fastened them well in, and placed the wheel in the stream, whereupon the wheel turned and the puppets leaped up and down.
The whole village assembled to look at them. The little boys came, and the little girls and the women, and at last the Tatars themselves, and they clicked their tongues and said: "Aye! Urus! aye, Ivan!"
Now Abdul had some broken Russian watches. He called Zhilin, pointed at these watches, and clicked with his tongue. Zhilin said:
"Give them to me, and I'll repair them!"
He took them to pieces with the help of his knife, examined them, put them together again, and returned them to their owner. The watches were now going.
Zhilin's master was greatly delighted at this, and brought him his old beshmet, which was all in rags, and gave it to him to mend. What could Zhilin do but take and mend it — and the same night its owner was able to cover himself with it.
From henceforth Zhilin had the reputation of a master-craftsman. The people used now to come to him from distant villages; one sent his matchlock or his pistol to Zhilin to be mended, another sent his watch or clock. His master even gave him various utensils to mend, such as snuffers, gimlets, and other things.
Once one of the Tatars fell ill, and they sent for Zhilin to see him.
"Come and cure him! " said they.
Now Zhilin knew nothing at all about curing. Nevertheless, he went, looked at the man, and thought: "Who knows, perhaps he may get well by himself!" So he went back to the outhouse, got water and sand, and mixed them both together. Then he whispered something over the water in the Tatar's presence and gave him the mixture to drink. Fortunately for him the Tatar recovered. Then Zhilin began to stand very high indeed in their opinion. And these Tatars, who had got used to him, used to cry, "Ivan! Ivan!" whenever they wanted him, and all of them treated him as if he were some pet domestic animal.
But the red-bearded Tatar did not like Zhilin. Whenever he saw him he would frown and turn away, even if he didn't scold him outright. Now these Tatars hail an old chief who did not live in the aul but up in the mountains. The only time when he saw Zhilin was when he came to pray to God in the mosque. He was small in stature, and a white handkerchief was always wound around his turban, his beard and moustaches were clipped short and as white as down, his face was red like a brick and wrinkled. He had the curved nose of a vulture, grey evil eyes, and no teeth, except a couple of fangs. He used to come in his turban, leaning on his crutch, and glaring about him like an old wolf. Whenever he saw Zhilin he began to snarl and turned away.
Once Zhilin went up the mountain to see how the old chief lived. As he went along a little path he
saw a little garden surrounded by a stone fence with wild cherry and peach trees looking over it, and inside a little hut with a flat roof. Zhilin approached nearer, and then he saw beehives made of plaited straw — ului they called them — and the bees flying about and humming. And the little old man was on his tiny knees doing something to the hives. Zhilin raised himself a little higher to have a better look, and his kolodka grated. The little old man looked round and whined aloud, then he drew a pistol out of his girdle and fired point-blank at Zhilin. After firing he hid behind a stone.
Next morning the old man came down to Zhilin's master to complain of him. Zhilin's master called him and said to him with a laugh:
"Why didst thou go to the old man?"
"I did him no harm," said Zhilin. "I only wanted to see how he lived."
Zhilin's master interpreted.
The old man was very angry however. He hissed and gabbled, and his two fangs protruded, and he shook his fist at Zhilin.
Zhilin did not understand it at all. All he understood was that the old man bade his master kill all the Russians and not keep any of them in the aul. Finally, the old man went away.
Zhilin now began to ask his master who the little old man was, and this is what his master told him.
"That is a great man. He was our foremost zhigitand has killed many Russians; he is also rich. Once he had eight sons, and they all dwelt together in one village. The Russians came, destroyed the village, and slew seven of his sons. One son only remained, and he surrendered to the Russians. Then the old man went away, and surrendered himself also to the Russians. He lived with them for three months, found out where his son was, slew him, and ran away. From thenceforth he renounced warfare and went to Mecca — to pray to God. Hence he has his turban. Whoever has been to Mecca is called Hadji, and may put on a turban. He does not love thy brother.He bade me slay thee, but I will not slay thee, because I want to make money out of thee; and, besides, I have begun to love thee, Ivan, and so far from killing thee, I would not let thee go away at all if I hadn't given my word upon it." He laughed, and then he added in Russian: "The welfare of thee, Ivan, is the welfare of me, Abdul!"
So Zhilin lived like this for a month. In the daytime he went about the aul, or made all sorts of things with his hands, and when night came, and all was silent in the aul, he began digging inside his outhouse. Digging was difficult because of the rock, but he fretted away the rock with a file, and dug a hole under the wall, through which, at the proper time, he meant to crawl.
"If only I knew the place fairly well," he said to himself, "if only I knew in which direction to go. But the Tatars never give themselves away."One day he chose a time when his master had gone away, and after dinner he went up the mountain behind the aul — he wanted to survey the whole place from thence. But when his master went away he had commanded a lad to follow Zhilin wherever he went and not lose sight of him. So the youngster ran after Zhilin, and cried: "Don't go! Father didn't tell you to. I'll call the people this instant."
Zhilin set about persuading him.
"I'm not going far," said he, "I only want to climb that mountain there. I want to find herbs to cure your people. Come with me! I can't run away with this kolodka on my leg. And to-morrow I'll make you a bow and arrows."
So he persuaded the lad and they went together. The mountain did not seem far, but it was difficult going with the kolodka; he went on and on and it taxed his utmost strength. Wheh he got to the summit Zhilin sat down to take a good look at the place. To the south, behind the outhouse was a gully, a tabunwas roaming along there, and another aul was visible as a tiny point. Beyond this aul was another and still steeper mountain, and behind this mountain yet another. Between the mountains was the blue outline of a wood, and there could be seen other mountains, rising higher and higher. And higher than all, as white as sugar, stood yet other mountains covered with snow. And one snowy mountain with a cap on stood out higher than all the rest. On the east and on the west were similar mountains; here and there smoking auls could be seen in the ravines. "Well," thought Zhilin, "all that is their part of the country." Then he began looking towards the Russian side — at his feet were the stream, his own aul, and little gardens all around. By the stream, like so many little puppets, the women were sitting and rinsing clothes. Behind the aul, somewhat lower down, was a mountain with two other mountains in between, and after that came woods; and between the two mountains, looking blue in the distance, was a level space, and far, far away in this level space some smoke was rising. Zhilin tried to remember where the sun used to rise and where it used to set when he lived at home in the fortress. And then he saw that "our"fortress must needs be on that very plain. Thither, then, between the two mountains, his flight must lie.
The sun was beginning to set. The snow-covered mountains turned from white to rosy red; the black mountains grew darker; the mist began to ascend from the gullies, and that very valley in which the Russian fortress needs must be glowed like a fire in the distant West. Zhilin looked steadily in that direction — something was dimly visible in the valley like smoke from a tube. And he thought to himself that must be the Russian fortress itself.
It was getting late. The cry of the mullah could be heard from where they were. The flocks were being driven homewards, the cows were lowing. The little lad kept on saying : "Let's be going!" but Zhilin did not want to go.
At last, however, they turned homewards. "Well," thought Zhilin, "at any rate I know the place now, and must make a bolt for it." He would have liked to have escaped that very night. The nights just then were dark — the moon was on the wane. Unfortunately, the Tatars returned that very evening. They used to come in driving captured cattle before them in a merry mood; but on this occasion they drove in nothing at all, and brought along with them on his saddle a slain Tatar, the brother of the red-bearded Tatar. They arrived very wrathful, and gathered together to bury their comrade. Zhilin also came out to see what was going on. They wrapped the corpse in a piece of cloth without a coffin, then they placed it on the grass in the middle of the village under a plane-tree. The mullah arrived, and they all squatted down together on their heels in front of the corpse.
The mullah was in front, behind him sat the three village elders in their turbans, and in a row with and behind them some more Tatars. There they sat with dejected eyes and in silence. The silence lasted for a long time, and then the mullah raised his head and spoke:
"Allah!" he said. It was the only word he spoke — and once more they all cast down their eyes and were silent for a long time. They sat there without stirring. Again the mullah raised his voice:
"Allah!"they all repeated, and were again silent The dead man was lying on the grass, he moved not, and they all sat round him like dead men. Not one of them stirred. The only thing to be h eard was the quivering of the tiny leaves of the plane-tree in the light breeze. Then the mullah recited the prayer, and they all stood up, raised the dead man, and carried him away. They carried him to the grave. The grave was not simply dug out but burrowed underneath the ground like a cellar. They lifted the dead man beneath the shoulders and under the legs, bent him a little inwards, and slowly let him go, thrusting him in under the earth in a sitting position, and pulling his arms straight down close to his body.
The Nogaets then brought green rushes and filled up the hole therewith, strewed it with fresh earth, made it level, and placed at the head of the dead man an upright stone. Then they stamped down the earth, again sat them round about the grave, and were for a long time silent.
"Allah! Allah! Allah!" And they sighed deeply and stood up.
The red-bearded man distributed money among the elders, then he arose, took up his short whip, struck his forehead three times, and went home.
In the morning Zhilin saw them leading a fine mare out of the village with three Tatars following behind. When they got right out of the village, the red-bearded Tatar took off his beshmet, tucked up his sleeves — what big brawny arms he had! — drew forth his knife, and sharpened it on a bruskaThe Tatars then drew forward the mare's head, and the red-bearded man came forward and cut her throat, flung the mare to the ground, and began to flay her, separating the hide from the flesh with his huge hands. Then the women and the girls came up and began to wash the entrails and the inside. After that they cut up the mare and dragged the meat into the hut And the whole village came together at the house of the red-bearded man to commemorate the deceased.
Three days they ate of the mare, drank buza, and commemorated the deceased.
All the Tatars were at home now, but on the fourth day Zhilin, after dinner, beheld them assembling to go somewhither. They brought their horses, made ready, and went off, ten men in all, and the red-bearded man went too — only Abdul remained at home. There was a new moon just then, and the nights were still pretty dark.
"Now's the time," thought Zhilin; " now we must make a bolt for it" He spoke to Kostuilin about it, but Kostuilin was afraid.
"How can we run away ? — we don't know the road!" said he.
"I know the road."
"But we shall never be able to get there in the night."
"Suppose we don't, surely we can pass the night in the forest? And look! Fve collected some hearth-cakes. Why do you want to stick here ? 'Tis easy enough to send for money, but you see they haven't collected it. And besides, the Tatars are angry now because the Russians have killed one of their people. They have been talking together about killing us likewise."
Kostuilin thought and thought for a long time.
"Very well, let us go!" said he at last.
Zhilin crept into his hole and dug still deeper in order that Kostuilin also might be able to creep through it, then they sat down and waited till all was quiet in the aul.
As soon as all the people in the aul were quiet, Zhilin crept under the wall and forced his way through. Then he whispered to Kostuilin:
"You creep through too!" and as he did so he loosed a stone, which made a great noise. Zhilin's master, however, had placed a guard at the door — a piebald dog, a vicious, a very vicious beast. His name was Ulyashin. But Zhilin had made it his business regularly to feed the animal for some time. As soon as Ulyashin heard them he began to bark and rushed up, and after him all the other dogs. But Zhilin just whistled to him, and threw him a bit of hearth-cake. Then Ulyashin recognised him, wagged his tail, and ceased to bark.
But Zhilin's master had heard, and he now began to shout from out of the saklya:
"Hold him! hold him, Ulyashin!"
Zhilin, however, was busy scratching Ulyashin behind the ears, and the dog was silent, rubbed him- self against Zhilin's legs, and wagged his tail.
They sat down behind a corner. All grew quiet again. All that could be heard were the sheep shuffling in their fold, and the water below bubbling over the stones. It was dark. The stars stood high in the heavens, the young red moon stood over the
mountain with her horns pointed upwards. In the valley gleamed a milk-white mist.
Zhilin arose, and said to his comrade:
"Now, my brother, let's be off!"
Something stirred just as they were starting. They stopped to listen. The mullah was chanting on the roof:
"Allah! Bismillah! Il'rakhman!" which signifies: "Come, people, to the Mosque!"
They sat down again, squeezing themselves against the wall. Long they sat there, waiting till the people should have gone by. Again all was silent.
"Now, then, in God's name!"
They crossed themselves and set out. They went through the courtyard, down the steep slope to the stream, crossed the stream, and went along the gully. The mist was thick and stood low, and over their heads the stars were dimly, tinily visible. Zhilin calculated by the stars which way he ought to take. It was fresh in the mist and easy going, but their boots were in their way and made them stumble. Zhilin took his off, threw them away, and went along barefooted. He kept leaping from rock to rock and looking at the stars. Kostuilin began to lag behind.
"Go more quietly!" said he; "these cursed boots of mine! — but all boots fetter one so !"
"Take them off, then! You'll find it easier going."
Kostuilin also then went barefooted — and found it still worse. He was bruising his feet continually on the stones, and kept lagging behind more than ever.
"Lift up your feet more, look alive!" said Zhilin, "if they overtake us they'll kill us, and that will be worst of all."
Kostuilin said nothing. He came on puffing and blowing. For a long time they went down hill. They listened — the dogs were barking on their right Zhilin stopped and looked about him. He went to the mountain-side and felt it with his hands.
"Oh!" said he, "we have made a mistake; we turned to the right. Here is another aul, I could see it from the mountain-top, we must go back — to the left — up the mountain. There is sure to be a road there."
"Just wait a little," said Kostuilin ; "do give me time to breathe a bit — my feet axe all bloody."
"Look alive, my brother! Spring a little more lightly— that's the whole trick!"
And Zhilin ran back to the left towards the mountain and into the wood. Kostuilin remained all behind, groaning and gasping.
Zhilin kept urging him to be quicker, but went on himself without stopping.
They ascended the mountain. Yes — there, right enough, was the wood. They entered the wood — and all that was left of their clothing was quickly torn to bits. Then they hit upon a path in the wood, and went steadily on.
Stop! The sound of hoofs resounded on the road. They stopped and listened. There was a stamping as of a horse, and then it stopped. They moved on again — the stamping recommenced. They stopped — and the stamping stopped. Zhilin crept forward and looked along the road in th e light — something was standing there. It was a horse, and yet not a horse, and on the horse was something odd, not resembling a man. It snorted — they listened. "What monster could it be?" Zhilin whistled very softly — it scurried off the path into the forest, and in the forest there was a crashing sound — it flew like a tempest, breaking down the branches in its path.
Kostuilin almost fell to the ground in his terror. But Zhilin laughed and said:
"That was a stag. Hark how he smashes the wood with his horns. We fear him and he fears us."
They went along further. Morning was now close at hand. Where they were going, however, they knew not. It seemed to Zhilin as if the Tatars had brought him along by that selfsame path, and as far as he could make it out they had still some ten versts to traverse; but there were no certain landmarks, and it was night, so that there was no distinguishing anything. Presently they came out upon a little plain, and Kostuilin sat down and said:
"You may do as you like, but I shall never get there. My legs won't do it"
Zhilin tried to persuade him.
"No," said he, "I shan't go any further — I can't, I tell you."
Zhilin then grew angry. He spat on one side and bullied his comrade.
"Then I'll go on alone," said he— "good-bye! "
Then Kostuilin leaped to his feet and went on. They now went on for four miles. The mist in the forest grew still thicker; they could see nothing in front of them, and the stars were barely visible.At last they heard something like the trampling of a horse in front of them. They could hear the hoofs clattering against the stones, Zhilin lay down on his stomach and began to listen with his ear to the ground.
"Yes," said he, "it is as I thought. A horseman is coming towards us."
They quitted the road in haste, sat among the bushes, and waited. Zhilin presently crept forward towards the road and saw a mounted Tatar coming along, driving a cow before him, and muttering to himself. After he had gone Zhilin turned to Kostuilin and said:
"He's gone by, thank God! Get up, and we'll go on!"
Kostuilin tried to get up and fell down again. He was a heavy, puffy fellow, and began to sweat profusely. The cold mist of the forest, too, had given him a chill, his feet were lacerated, and he went all to pieces. When Zhilin raised him to his feet with an effort he cried out:
"Oh! it hurts!"
Zhilin almost had a fit.
"What are you screeching for! The Tatars are quite close to us — don't you hear? "But he thought to himself: "He really is almost done for; what am I to do with him? One can't chuck a comrade, it wouldn't be right"
"Well," said he, "get up on my back. I'll carry you if you really can't walk yourself."
So he put Kostuilin on his shoulders, gripped him under the knees, took the road again, and staggered along.
"Only, my good fellow," said he, "don't grip me round the throat, but lay hold of my shoulders."
It was a heavy load for Zhilia. His feet also were all bloody, and he was tired to death. He felt crushed, tried to get into an easier position, hitched his shoulder so as to get Kostuilin to sit higher — and flung him into the road.
It was quite plain that the Tatar had heard Kostuilin yell, for as Zhilin listened he could hear someone coming back and making a peculiar cry. Zhilin flung himself into the bushes. The Tatar seized his musket, fired it, hit nothing, whined in Tatar fashion, and galloped down the road again.
"Well, my brother, he has gone anyway," said Zhilin; "but the dog will at once collect all the Tatars he can find and pursue us. If we don't do our three miles, we're done for." But he thought to himself: "What devil put it into my head to take this blockhead with me! Had I been alone I should have got off long ago."
"You go on alone," said Kostuilin, "why should you come to grief all through me?"
"Nay, I will not go alone, it is wrong to desert a comrade."
So he took him on his shoulders again and went on. And in this way he covered a mile. The forest stretched right on, and there was no sign of an exit The mist was beginning to disperse, and little clouds — or so they seemed — fared along, the stars were no longer visible. Zhilin was puzzled.
A spring, set among rocks, crossed the road, and here Zhilin stopped and set down Kostuilin.
"Let's have a rest," said he, "and give me breathing-time. I want a drink, too, and we'll have some hearth-cakes. It can't be much further now."
No sooner had he drunk his fill, however, than he heard the trampling of hoofs behind. Once more they crept among the bushes on the right, beneath the steep cliff, and lay at full length.
Soon they heard the voices of the Tatars, and the Tatars stopped at the very spot whence they had turned off from the road. They talked a good deal amongst themselves, and then they began to put upon the scent the dogs they had brought with them. Zhilin and his comrade listened. There was a crashing of branches in the thicket, and straight towards them came a strange dog. When he saw them he stood still and began barking.
Then the Tatars also crept through the bushes — they were strange Tatars whom they hadn't seen before — and the Tatars seized them, bound them, put them on horseback, and led them off.
They went along for about three miles, and then they met Zhilin's master, Abdul, and two other Tatars. These said something to the strange Tatars, transferred the captives to their own horses, and brought them back to the aul.
Abdul laughed no longer, and said not a single word to them.
They brought them into the aul at break of day, and set them down in the public street The children came running up and beat them with stones and whips and jeered at them.
The Tatars gathered together in a circle, and the
elder from the mountain-side joined them. They began talking, and Zhilin understood that they were trying them and debating what was to be done with them. Some said they should be sent further away into the mountains, but the elder said that they ought to be killed. Abdul, however, objected to this. "I have paid money for them," said he, "and I am going to get a ransom for them."
"They'll never pay anything at all," replied the old man, "but will only do harm. It's a sin to feed Russians. Kill them and have done with it!"
Then they separated, and Zhilin's master came to him and began to talk to him.
"If they don't send me your ransom in a fortnight," said he, "I'll whip you to death, and if you try to run away a second time I'll kill you like dogs. Write a letter, and mind you write a good one !"
Paper was brought and they wrote the letter. Then the kolodki were fastened to them again, and they were taken to the mosque. Here there was a hole in the earth five arshins long, and into this hole they were cast
Their life was now hard indeed. Their kolodki were never taken off, and they were never allowed a breath of fresh air. The Tatars flung them bits of uncooked dough as if they were dogs, and filled for them a pitcher of water from time to time.
The heat of the hole was stifling, and it was damp and stinking. Kostuilin became downright ill. His limbs swelled and twitched all over, and he groaned continually except when he was asleep. Zhilin also was dejected; he saw they were in evil case, and how to get out of it he had no idea.
He would have begun undermining again, but there was nowhere to hide the earth, and then, too, his master had threatened to kill him.
One day he was squatting in the hole thinking of life and liberty, and he felt very miserable. Suddenly right upon his knees fell a hearth-cake, and then another, followed by quite a shower of wild cherries. He looked up and there was Dina. She gazed at him, laughed a little, and ran away. "Now I wonder if Dina would help us," thought Zhilin.
He cleaned a little corner of the hole, dug out a bit of clay, and made cut of it a lot of puppets. He made men and women, horses and dogs, and thought to himself, "When Dina comes I'll fling them out to her."
But on the next day there was no Dina, and Zhilin heard the trampling of horses and the noise of people passing to and fro, and he could hear that the Tatars had assembled at the mosque and were disputing and screeching and consulting about the Russians. And he also heard the voice of the old man of the mountain. He could not make out very well what was going on, but he guessed that the Russians were drawing near, and the Tatars were afraid they might come to the aid and find out what was being done with the captives.
The Tatars debated together and then departed. Suddenly Zhilin heard a slight noise above his head.
He looked up, and there was Dina squatting on her haunches with her knees hunched up higher than her head; she was leaning forward, her necklaces were visible, and were swinging to and fro right over the hole. Her little eyes gleamed like tiny stars, and she drew out of her sleeve two cheese-cakes and threw them to him.
Zhilin took them and said: "Why have you been so long gone ? I have been making playthings for you. Look ! "And he began to fling them to her one by one.
But she shook her head and would not look at them. "I don't want 'em," she said. She sat silent for a while, and then she said, "Ivan, they want to kill thee," and she drew her hand across her throat
"Who wants to kill me?"
"Father, the elders have bidden him do it. But I'm sorry for thee."
"If you are sorry for me," said Zhilin, "bring me a long pole."
She shook her head to signify that it was impossible. He put together his hands and besought her.
"Dina, I pray thee do it! Dear little Dina, bring it to me!"
"Impossible," said she, "they are all at home, you see!" and off she ran.
So Zhilin sat there all the evening and thought : "What will come of it, I wonder?" He kept looking up all the time. The stars were visible, but the moon had not yet risen. The mullah's shrill cry was heard — and then all was silent. Zhilin be gan to grow drowsy. "Plainly, the girl is afraid," he thought
Suddenly a piece of clay plumped down on his head. He looked up — a long pole was thrust into a corner of the hole. It waggled about, descended gradually, and began to work its way into the hole. Zhilin was delighted. He caught hold of it and drew it in — it was a good strong pole. He had noticed this pole some time before on the roof of his master's home.
He looked up again. The stars were shining high in the heavens, and right above the hole the eyes of Dina shone as brightly as the eyes of a cat in the darkness. She leaned forward over the mouth of the hole and whispered:
"Ivan! Ivan!" and she kept on making signs and drawing her hands repeatedly over her face by way of saying: "Hush! be quiet!"
"What is it? " asked Zhilin.
"They have all gone, there are only two at home."
"Well, Kostuilin, let us go," said Zhilin, "we will try for the last time. I'll help you to get out of it."
But Kostuilin wouldn't even hear of it
"No," said he, "it's quite plain that I can't manage it I have not the strength to go quickly, whichever way we go."
"Farewell then! and think no ill of me for leaving you!" And he embraced Kostuilin.
Then he seized the pole, bade Dina hold it firm, and began to creep up it Once or twice he fell down — the kolodka hampered him. Kostuilin then supported him, and he worked his way some d istance up. Dina dragged away at his shirt with her little hands with all her might, laughing all the time, but it was no good.
Then Zhilin laid hold of the pole with both hands.
"Pull it, Dina!" he cried, "seize hold of it well, and you'll see it will almost come to you of its own accord."
She pulled away at the pole accordingly, and presently Zhilin found himself up at the mountain's-side. He crept down the steep declivity, seized a sharp stone, and tried hard to force the lock of the kolodka. But the lock was a strong one, by no means could he break it, and yet he was not unskilful Then he heard somone running down the mountain-side and leaping lightly along. "That must be Dina again," thought Zhilin. And Dina it was. Up she came running, took up a large stone, and said:
"Give it me!"
She squatted down on her little knees, and began to try her hand at it. But her little arms, as thin as twigs, had no strength in them, and she threw away the stone and burst into tears. Then Zhilin himself had another try at the lock while Dina sat down beside him, leaning against his shoulder. Zhilin glanced round and saw on the left side of the mountain a burning red reflection — the moon was rising. "Well," thought he, " before the moon rises I must make my way through the gully and get to the wood." He rose and threw away the stone. Kolodka or no — go he must
"Good-bye, little Dina," said he ; "I shall always remem ber thee."
Dina seized him, and began to fumble about his sleeves to see if she could find a place wherein to stuff some pancakes. He took the pancakes.
"Thanks, my wise little woman," said he; "who will make dolls for thee when I am gone, I wonder?" And he stroked her head.
How bitterly Dina wept! Finally she covered her face with her hands and ran away up the mountain like a wild kid. The clattering of the coins in the long tresses of hair hanging down her back was audible in the darkness.
Zhilin crossed himself, seized the lock of the kolodka so as not to stumble as he went, and hobbled along the road, gazing constantly at the reflection of light where the moon was rising. He knew the road. He had to go straight on for about eight miles. If only he could get to the forest before the moon had quite risen! He crossed the stream — the light behind the mountain was growing brighter. He passed through the gully. On he went, glancing upwards from time to time — still the moon was not visible. The burning reflection was increasing, and everything on one side of the gully was growing brighter and brighter. A shadow was creeping along the mountain and coming nearer and nearer to him.
Zhilin went on and on, and the shadows still continued to advance. He hastened on, and the moon was working her way out even more quickly than he had anticipated, to the right the tops of the trees were already lit up. He was now close to the forest when the moon burst forth from behind the mountain — everything was as light and bright as if it were day. Every little leaf on every little tree was visible. It was quite quiet on the lit-up mountain-sides as if everything had died out of existence. The only thing to be heard was the gurgling of the stream below.
He reached the forest without anything happening. Zhilin chose the darkest spot he could find in the forest, and there he sat down to rest
After recovering his breath, he ate a hearth-cake. Then he took a stone, and again set about battering the kolodka. He battered it with all the strength of his arm, and he could not break it. He arose and went along the road. He went for a mile, got thoroughly exhausted — his legs tottered beneath him. Ten steps more he took, and then he stopped short
"It's no use," said he; "all I can do is to drag myself on as long as I have the strength to do so. If once I sit down I shall not get up again. I can never get to the fortress to-day, but as soon as it is dawn I will lie up in the forest and at night I'll go on again."
All night he went along. The only people he encountered were two mounted Tatars, and as he saw them at a distance, he was able to hide away from them behind a tree.
The moon had already begun to wane, the dew was falling, it was close upon dawn, and still Zhilin had not got to the end of the forest. "Well," thought he, "just thirty steps more, and then I'll turn into the forest and sit down." He took the thirty steps, and saw that the forest was coming to an end. He went out to the very end of it. There, qui te bright before him, as if on the palm of his hands, lay the steppe and the fortress, and to the left, quite close under the mountain-side, camp-fires were burning and smoking, and people were standing round the smouldering logs.
He gazed fixedly, and saw cossacks — soldiers — and glistening arms.
Zhilin, full of joy, rallied his last remaining strength, and prepared to descend the mountain-side.
"God grant," thought he, " that a mounted Tatar may not see me in the open plain, although I'm pretty near now, I'm not there yet"
And the thought was no sooner in his head, when behold! on a little mound stood three Tatars, about two furlongs off. They saw him — and dashed after him. His heart absolutely died away within him. Then he waved his arms and shouted with all the breath he had in his body:
"My brothers! my brothers! save me!"
Our fellows heard him, and some mounted Cossacks galloped forward. They made for him in an oblique direction to cut off the Tatars.
The Cossacks were far off, the Tatars were near, but now Zhilin rallied all his strength, seized his kolodka, and ran towards the Cossacks, no longer remembering who he was, but crossing himself and crying continually:
"Brothers! brothers! brothers!"
The Cossacks were about fifteen in number.
The Tatars grew frightened — instead of drawing nearer they reined in their horses. And Zhilin ran right into the Cossacks.The Cossacks surrounded him, and asked him who he was and whence he came. But Zhilin no longer recollected who he was, and burst out crying, babbling all the time:
The regular soldiers next came running out, and crowded round Zhilin. One of them offered him bread, another broth, a third covered him with a mantle, a fourth broke up the kolodka.
The officers presently recognised him, and conducted him to the fortress. The soldiers were delighted, and his comrades gathered round Zhilin.
Zhilin told them all that had happened to him, and said:
"You see, I was going home to be married. But no! — that is not to be my fate evidently! "
And so he continued to serve in the Caucasus.
As for Kostuilin, they only ransomed him three months later for five thousand roubles. They brought him in barely alive.