Part 1 out of 4
Steve Harris, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
A Tale of 1852
By Leo Tolstoy (1863)
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude
All is quiet in Moscow. The squeak of wheels is seldom heard in
the snow-covered street. There are no lights left in the windows
and the street lamps have been extinguished. Only the sound of
bells, borne over the city from the church towers, suggests the
approach of morning. The streets are deserted. At rare intervals a
night-cabman's sledge kneads up the snow and sand in the street as
the driver makes his way to another corner where he falls asleep
while waiting for a fare. An old woman passes by on her way to
church, where a few wax candles burn with a red light reflected on
the gilt mountings of the icons. Workmen are already getting up
after the long winter night and going to their work--but for the
gentlefolk it is still evening.
From a window in Chevalier's Restaurant a light--illegal at that
hour--is still to be seen through a chink in the shutter. At the
entrance a carriage, a sledge, and a cabman's sledge, stand close
together with their backs to the curbstone. A three-horse sledge
from the post-station is there also. A yard-porter muffled up and
pinched with cold is sheltering behind the corner of the house.
'And what's the good of all this jawing?' thinks the footman who
sits in the hall weary and haggard. 'This always happens when I'm
on duty.' From the adjoining room are heard the voices of three
young men, sitting there at a table on which are wine and the
remains of supper. One, a rather plain, thin, neat little man,
sits looking with tired kindly eyes at his friend, who is about to
start on a journey. Another, a tall man, lies on a sofa beside a
table on which are empty bottles, and plays with his watch-key. A
third, wearing a short, fur-lined coat, is pacing up and down the
room stopping now and then to crack an almond between his strong,
rather thick, but well-tended fingers. He keeps smiling at
something and his face and eyes are all aglow. He speaks warmly
and gesticulates, but evidently does not find the words he wants
and those that occur to him seem to him inadequate to express what
has risen to his heart.
'Now I can speak out fully,' said the traveller. 'I don't want to
defend myself, but I should like you at least to understand me as
I understand myself, and not look at the matter superficially. You
say I have treated her badly,' he continued, addressing the man
with the kindly eyes who was watching him.
'Yes, you are to blame,' said the latter, and his look seemed to
express still more kindliness and weariness.
'I know why you say that,' rejoined the one who was leaving. 'To
be loved is in your opinion as great a happiness as to love, and
if a man obtains it, it is enough for his whole life.'
'Yes, quite enough, my dear fellow, more than enough!' confirmed
the plain little man, opening and shutting his eyes.
'But why shouldn't the man love too?' said the traveller
thoughtfully, looking at his friend with something like pity. 'Why
shouldn't one love? Because love doesn't come ... No, to be
beloved is a misfortune. It is a misfortune to feel guilty because
you do not give something you cannot give. O my God!' he added,
with a gesture of his arm. 'If it all happened reasonably, and not
all topsy-turvy--not in our way but in a way of its own! Why, it's
as if I had stolen that love! You think so too, don't deny it. You
must think so. But will you believe it, of all the horrid and
stupid things I have found time to do in my life--and there are
many--this is one I do not and cannot repent of. Neither at the
beginning nor afterwards did I lie to myself or to her. It seemed
to me that I had at last fallen in love, but then I saw that it
was an involuntary falsehood, and that that was not the way to
love, and I could not go on, but she did. Am I to blame that I
couldn't? What was I to do?'
'Well, it's ended now!' said his friend, lighting a cigar to
master his sleepiness. 'The fact is that you have not yet loved
and do not know what love is.'
The man in the fur-lined coat was going to speak again, and put
his hands to his head, but could not express what he wanted to
'Never loved! ... Yes, quite true, I never have! But after all, I
have within me a desire to love, and nothing could be stronger
than that desire! But then, again, does such love exist? There
always remains something incomplete. Ah well! What's the use of
talking? I've made an awful mess of life! But anyhow it's all over
now; you are quite right. And I feel that I am beginning a new
'Which you will again make a mess of,' said the man who lay on the
sofa playing with his watch-key. But the traveller did not listen
'I am sad and yet glad to go,' he continued. 'Why I am sad I don't
And the traveller went on talking about himself, without noticing
that this did not interest the others as much as it did him. A man
is never such an egotist as at moments of spiritual ecstasy. At
such times it seems to him that there is nothing on earth more
splendid and interesting than himself.
'Dmitri Andreich! The coachman won't wait any longer!' said a
young serf, entering the room in a sheepskin coat, with a scarf
tied round his head. 'The horses have been standing since twelve,
and it's now four o'clock!'
Dmitri Andreich looked at his serf, Vanyusha. The scarf round
Vanyusha's head, his felt boots and sleepy face, seemed to be
calling his master to a new life of labour, hardship, and
'True enough! Good-bye!' said he, feeling for the unfastened hook
and eye on his coat.
In spite of advice to mollify the coachman by another tip, he put
on his cap and stood in the middle of the room. The friends kissed
once, then again, and after a pause, a third time. The man in the
fur-lined coat approached the table and emptied a champagne glass,
then took the plain little man's hand and blushed.
'Ah well, I will speak out all the same ... I must and will be
frank with you because I am fond of you ... Of course you love
her--I always thought so--don't you?'
'Yes,' answered his friend, smiling still more gently.
'Please sir, I have orders to put out the candles,' said the
sleepy attendant, who had been listening to the last part of the
conversation and wondering why gentlefolk always talk about one
and the same thing. 'To whom shall I make out the bill? To you,
sir?' he added, knowing whom to address and turning to the tall
'To me,' replied the tall man. 'How much?'
The tall man considered for a moment, but said nothing and put the
bill in his pocket.
The other two continued their talk.
'Good-bye, you are a capital fellow!' said the short plain man
with the mild eyes. Tears filled the eyes of both. They stepped
into the porch.
'Oh, by the by,' said the traveller, turning with a blush to the
tall man, 'will you settle Chevalier's bill and write and let me
'All right, all right!' said the tall man, pulling on his gloves.
'How I envy you!' he added quite unexpectedly when they were out
in the porch.
The traveller got into his sledge, wrapped his coat about him, and
said: 'Well then, come along!' He even moved a little to make room
in the sledge for the man who said he envied him--his voice
'Good-bye, Mitya! I hope that with God's help you...' said the
tall one. But his wish was that the other would go away quickly,
and so he could not finish the sentence.
They were silent a moment. Then someone again said, 'Good-bye,'
and a voice cried, 'Ready,' and the coachman touched up the
'Hy, Elisar!' One of the friends called out, and the other
coachman and the sledge-drivers began moving, clicking their
tongues and pulling at the reins. Then the stiffened carriage-
wheels rolled squeaking over the frozen snow.
'A fine fellow, that Olenin!' said one of the friends. 'But what
an idea to go to the Caucasus--as a cadet, too! I wouldn't do it
for anything. ... Are you dining at the club to-morrow?'
The traveller felt warm, his fur coat seemed too hot. He sat on
the bottom of the sledge and unfastened his coat, and the three
shaggy post-horses dragged themselves out of one dark street into
another, past houses he had never before seen. It seemed to Olenin
that only travellers starting on a long journey went through those
streets. All was dark and silent and dull around him, but his soul
was full of memories, love, regrets, and a pleasant tearful
'I'm fond of them, very fond! ... First-rate fellows! ... Fine!'
he kept repeating, and felt ready to cry. But why he wanted to
cry, who were the first-rate fellows he was so fond of--was more
than he quite knew. Now and then he looked round at some house and
wondered why it was so curiously built; sometimes he began
wondering why the post-boy and Vanyusha, who were so different
from himself, sat so near, and together with him were being jerked
about and swayed by the tugs the side-horses gave at the frozen
traces, and again he repeated: 'First rate ... very fond!' and
once he even said: 'And how it seizes one ... excellent!' and
wondered what made him say it. 'Dear me, am I drunk?' he asked
himself. He had had a couple of bottles of wine, but it was not
the wine alone that was having this effect on Olenin. He
remembered all the words of friendship heartily, bashfully,
spontaneously (as he believed) addressed to him on his departure.
He remembered the clasp of hands, glances, the moments of silence,
and the sound of a voice saying, 'Good-bye, Mitya!' when he was
already in the sledge. He remembered his own deliberate frankness.
And all this had a touching significance for him. Not only friends
and relatives, not only people who had been indifferent to him,
but even those who did not like him, seemed to have agreed to
become fonder of him, or to forgive him, before his departure, as
people do before confession or death. 'Perhaps I shall not return
from the Caucasus,' he thought. And he felt that he loved his
friends and some one besides. He was sorry for himself. But it was
not love for his friends that so stirred and uplifted his heart
that he could not repress the meaningless words that seemed to
rise of themselves to his lips; nor was it love for a woman (he
had never yet been in love) that had brought on this mood. Love
for himself, love full of hope--warm young love for all that was
good in his own soul (and at that moment it seemed to him that
there was nothing but good in it)--compelled him to weep and to
mutter incoherent words.
Olenin was a youth who had never completed his university course,
never served anywhere (having only a nominal post in some
government office or other), who had squandered half his fortune
and had reached the age of twenty-four without having done
anything or even chosen a career. He was what in Moscow society is
termed un jeune homme.
At the age of eighteen he was free--as only rich young Russians in
the 'forties who had lost their parents at an early age could be.
Neither physical nor moral fetters of any kind existed for him; he
could do as he liked, lacking nothing and bound by nothing.
Neither relatives, nor fatherland, nor religion, nor wants,
existed for him. He believed in nothing and admitted nothing. But
although he believed in nothing he was not a morose or blase young
man, nor self-opinionated, but on the contrary continually let
himself be carried away. He had come to the conclusion that there
is no such thing as love, yet his heart always overflowed in the
presence of any young and attractive woman. He had long been aware
that honours and position were nonsense, yet involuntarily he felt
pleased when at a ball Prince Sergius came up and spoke to him
affably. But he yielded to his impulses only in so far as they did
not limit his freedom. As soon as he had yielded to any influence
and became conscious of its leading on to labour and struggle, he
instinctively hastened to free himself from the feeling or
activity into which he was being drawn and to regain his freedom.
In this way he experimented with society-life, the civil service,
farming, music--to which at one time he intended to devote his
life--and even with the love of women in which he did not believe.
He meditated on the use to which he should devote that power of
youth which is granted to man only once in a lifetime: that force
which gives a man the power of making himself, or even--as it
seemed to him--of making the universe, into anything he wishes:
should it be to art, to science, to love of woman, or to practical
activities? It is true that some people are devoid of this
impulse, and on entering life at once place their necks under the
first yoke that offers itself and honestly labour under it for the
rest of their lives. But Olenin was too strongly conscious of the
presence of that all-powerful God of Youth--of that capacity to be
entirely transformed into an aspiration or idea--the capacity to
wish and to do--to throw oneself headlong into a bottomless abyss
without knowing why or wherefore. He bore this consciousness
within himself, was proud of it and, without knowing it, was happy
in that consciousness. Up to that time he had loved only himself,
and could not help loving himself, for he expected nothing but
good of himself and had not yet had time to be disillusioned. On
leaving Moscow he was in that happy state of mind in which a young
man, conscious of past mistakes, suddenly says to himself, 'That
was not the real thing.' All that had gone before was accidental
and unimportant. Till then he had not really tried to live, but
now with his departure from Moscow a new life was beginning--a
life in which there would be no mistakes, no remorse, and
certainly nothing but happiness.
It is always the case on a long journey that till the first two or
three stages have been passed imagination continues to dwell on
the place left behind, but with the first morning on the road it
leaps to the end of the journey and there begins building castles
in the air. So it happened to Olenin.
After leaving the town behind, he gazed at the snowy fields and
felt glad to be alone in their midst. Wrapping himself in his fur
coat, he lay at the bottom of the sledge, became tranquil, and
fell into a doze. The parting with his friends had touched him
deeply, and memories of that last winter spent in Moscow and
images of the past, mingled with vague thoughts and regrets, rose
unbidden in his imagination.
He remembered the friend who had seen him off and his relations
with the girl they had talked about. The girl was rich. "How could
he love her knowing that she loved me?" thought he, and evil
suspicions crossed his mind. "There is much dishonesty in men when
one comes to reflect." Then he was confronted by the question:
"But really, how is it I have never been in love? Every one tells
me that I never have. Can it be that I am a moral monstrosity?"
And he began to recall all his infatuations. He recalled his entry
into society, and a friend's sister with whom he spent several
evenings at a table with a lamp on it which lit up her slender
fingers busy with needlework, and the lower part of her pretty
delicate face. He recalled their conversations that dragged on
like the game in which one passes on a stick which one keeps
alight as long as possible, and the general awkwardness and
restraint and his continual feeling of rebellion at all that
conventionality. Some voice had always whispered: "That's not it,
that's not it," and so it had proved. Then he remembered a ball
and the mazurka he danced with the beautiful D----. "How much in
love I was that night and how happy! And how hurt and vexed I was
next morning when I woke and felt myself still free! Why does not
love come and bind me hand and foot?" thought he. "No, there is no
such thing as love! That neighbour who used to tell me, as she
told Dubrovin and the Marshal, that she loved the stars, was not
IT either." And now his farming and work in the country recurred
to his mind, and in those recollections also there was nothing to
dwell on with pleasure. "Will they talk long of my departure?"
came into his head; but who "they" were he did not quite know.
Next came a thought that made him wince and mutter incoherently.
It was the recollection of M. Cappele the tailor, and the six
hundred and seventy-eight rubles he still owed him, and he
recalled the words in which he had begged him to wait another
year, and the look of perplexity and resignation which had
appeared on the tailor's face. 'Oh, my God, my God!' he repeated,
wincing and trying to drive away the intolerable thought. 'All the
same and in spite of everything she loved me,' thought he of the
girl they had talked about at the farewell supper. 'Yes, had I
married her I should not now be owing anything, and as it is I am
in debt to Vasilyev.' Then he remembered the last night he had
played with Vasilyev at the club (just after leaving her), and he
recalled his humiliating requests for another game and the other's
cold refusal. 'A year's economizing and they will all be paid, and
the devil take them!'... But despite this assurance he again began
calculating his outstanding debts, their dates, and when he could
hope to pay them off. 'And I owe something to Morell as well as to
Chevalier,' thought he, recalling the night when he had run up so
large a debt. It was at a carousel at the gipsies arranged by some
fellows from Petersburg: Sashka B---, an aide-de-camp to the Tsar,
Prince D---, and that pompous old----. 'How is it those gentlemen
are so self-satisfied?' thought he, 'and by what right do they
form a clique to which they think others must be highly flattered
to be admitted? Can it be because they are on the Emperor's staff?
Why, it's awful what fools and scoundrels they consider other
people to be! But I showed them that I at any rate, on the
contrary, do not at all want their intimacy. All the same, I fancy
Andrew, the steward, would be amazed to know that I am on familiar
terms with a man like Sashka B---, a colonel and an aide-de-camp
to the Tsar! Yes, and no one drank more than I did that evening,
and I taught the gipsies a new song and everyone listened to it.
Though I have done many foolish things, all the same I am a very
good fellow,' thought he.
Morning found him at the third post-stage. He drank tea, and
himself helped Vanyusha to move his bundles and trunks and sat
down among them, sensible, erect, and precise, knowing where all
his belongings were, how much money he had and where it was, where
he had put his passport and the post-horse requisition and toll-
gate papers, and it all seemed to him so well arranged that he
grew quite cheerful and the long journey before him seemed an
All that morning and noon he was deep in calculations of how many
versts he had travelled, how many remained to the next stage, how
many to the next town, to the place where he would dine, to the
place where he would drink tea, and to Stavropol, and what
fraction of the whole journey was already accomplished. He also
calculated how much money he had with him, how much would be left
over, how much would pay off all his debts, and what proportion of
his income he would spend each month. Towards evening, after tea,
he calculated that to Stavropol there still remained seven-
elevenths of the whole journey, that his debts would require seven
months' economy and one-eighth of his whole fortune; and then,
tranquillized, he wrapped himself up, lay down in the sledge, and
again dozed off. His imagination was now turned to the future: to
the Caucasus. All his dreams of the future were mingled with
pictures of Amalat-Beks, Circassian women, mountains, precipices,
terrible torrents, and perils. All these things were vague and
dim, but the love of fame and the danger of death furnished the
interest of that future. Now, with unprecedented courage and a
strength that amazed everyone, he slew and subdued an innumerable
host of hillsmen; now he was himself a hillsman and with them was
maintaining their independence against the Russians. As soon as he
pictured anything definite, familiar Moscow figures always
appeared on the scene. Sashka B---fights with the Russians or the
hillsmen against him. Even the tailor Cappele in some strange way
takes part in the conqueror's triumph. Amid all this he remembered
his former humiliations, weaknesses, and mistakes, and the
recollection was not disagreeable. It was clear that there among
the mountains, waterfalls, fair Circassians, and dangers, such
mistakes could not recur. Having once made full confession to
himself there was an end of it all. One other vision, the sweetest
of them all, mingled with the young man's every thought of the
future--the vision of a woman.
And there, among the mountains, she appeared to his imagination as
a Circassian slave, a fine figure with a long plait of hair and
deep submissive eyes. He pictured a lonely hut in the mountains,
and on the threshold she stands awaiting him when, tired and
covered with dust, blood, and fame, he returns to her. He is
conscious of her kisses, her shoulders, her sweet voice, and her
submissiveness. She is enchanting, but uneducated, wild, and
rough. In the long winter evenings he begins her education. She is
clever and gifted and quickly acquires all the knowledge
essential. Why not? She can quite easily learn foreign languages,
read the French masterpieces and understand them: Notre Dame de
Paris, for instance, is sure to please her. She can also speak
French. In a drawing-room she can show more innate dignity than a
lady of the highest society. She can sing, simply, powerfully, and
passionately.... 'Oh, what nonsense!' said he to himself. But here
they reached a post-station and he had to change into another
sledge and give some tips. But his fancy again began searching for
the 'nonsense' he had relinquished, and again fair Circassians,
glory, and his return to Russia with an appointment as aide-de-
camp and a lovely wife rose before his imagination. 'But there's
no such thing as love,' said he to himself. 'Fame is all rubbish.
But the six hundred and seventy-eight rubles? ... And the
conquered land that will bring me more wealth than I need for a
lifetime? It will not be right though to keep all that wealth for
myself. I shall have to distribute it. But to whom? Well, six
hundred and seventy-eight rubles to Cappele and then we'll see.'
... Quite vague visions now cloud his mind, and only Vanyusha's
voice and the interrupted motion of the sledge break his healthy
youthful slumber. Scarcely conscious, he changes into another
sledge at the next stage and continues his journey.
Next morning everything goes on just the same: the same kind of
post-stations and tea-drinking, the same moving horses' cruppers,
the same short talks with Vanyusha, the same vague dreams and
drowsiness, and the same tired, healthy, youthful sleep at night.
The farther Olenin travelled from Central Russia the farther he
left his memories behind, and the nearer he drew to the Caucasus
the lighter his heart became. "I'll stay away for good and never
return to show myself in society," was a thought that sometimes
occurred to him. "These people whom I see here are NOT people.
None of them know me and none of them can ever enter the Moscow
society I was in or find out about my past. And no one in that
society will ever know what I am doing, living among these
people." And quite a new feeling of freedom from his whole past
came over him among the rough beings he met on the road whom he
did not consider to be PEOPLE in the sense that his Moscow
acquaintances were. The rougher the people and the fewer the signs
of civilization the freer he felt. Stavropol, through which he had
to pass, irked him. The signboards, some of them even in French,
ladies in carriages, cabs in the marketplace, and a gentleman
wearing a fur cloak and tall hat who was walking along the
boulevard and staring at the passersby, quite upset him. "Perhaps
these people know some of my acquaintances," he thought; and the
club, his tailor, cards, society ... came back to his mind. But
after Stavropol everything was satisfactory--wild and also
beautiful and warlike, and Olenin felt happier and happier. All
the Cossacks, post-boys, and post-station masters seemed to him
simple folk with whom he could jest and converse simply, without
having to consider to what class they belonged. They all belonged
to the human race which, without his thinking about it, all
appeared dear to Olenin, and they all treated him in a friendly
Already in the province of the Don Cossacks his sledge had been
exchanged for a cart, and beyond Stavropol it became so warm that
Olenin travelled without wearing his fur coat. It was already
spring--an unexpected joyous spring for Olenin. At night he was no
longer allowed to leave the Cossack villages, and they said it was
dangerous to travel in the evening. Vanyusha began to be uneasy,
and they carried a loaded gun in the cart. Olenin became still
happier. At one of the post-stations the post-master told of a
terrible murder that had been committed recently on the high road.
They began to meet armed men. "So this is where it begins!"
thought Olenin, and kept expecting to see the snowy mountains of
which mention was so often made. Once, towards evening, the Nogay
driver pointed with his whip to the mountains shrouded in clouds.
Olenin looked eagerly, but it was dull and the mountains were
almost hidden by the clouds. Olenin made out something grey and
white and fleecy, but try as he would he could find nothing
beautiful in the mountains of which he had so often read and
heard. The mountains and the clouds appeared to him quite alike,
and he thought the special beauty of the snow peaks, of which he
had so often been told, was as much an invention as Bach's music
and the love of women, in which he did not believe. So he gave up
looking forward to seeing the mountains. But early next morning,
being awakened in his cart by the freshness of the air, he glanced
carelessly to the right. The morning was perfectly clear. Suddenly
he saw, about twenty paces away as it seemed to him at first
glance, pure white gigantic masses with delicate contours, the
distinct fantastic outlines of their summits showing sharply
against the far-off sky. When he had realized the distance between
himself and them and the sky and the whole immensity of the
mountains, and felt the infinitude of all that beauty, he became
afraid that it was but a phantasm or a dream. He gave himself a
shake to rouse himself, but the mountains were still the same.
"What's that! What is it?" he said to the driver.
"Why, the mountains," answered the Nogay driver with indifference.
"And I too have been looking at them for a long while," said
Vanyusha. "Aren't they fine? They won't believe it at home."
The quick progress of the three-horsed cart along the smooth road
caused the mountains to appear to be running along the horizon,
while their rosy crests glittered in the light of the rising sun.
At first Olenin was only astonished at the sight, then gladdened
by it; but later on, gazing more and more intently at that snow-
peaked chain that seemed to rise not from among other black
mountains, but straight out of the plain, and to glide away into
the distance, he began by slow degrees to be penetrated by their
beauty and at length to FEEL the mountains. From that moment all
he saw, all he thought, and all he felt, acquired for him a new
character, sternly majestic like the mountains! All his Moscow
reminiscences, shame, and repentance, and his trivial dreams about
the Caucasus, vanished and did not return. 'Now it has begun,' a
solemn voice seemed to say to him. The road and the Terek, just
becoming visible in the distance, and the Cossack villages and the
people, all no longer appeared to him as a joke. He looked at
himself or Vanyusha, and again thought of the mountains. ... Two
Cossacks ride by, their guns in their cases swinging rhythmically
behind their backs, the white and bay legs of their horses
mingling confusedly ... and the mountains! Beyond the Terek rises
the smoke from a Tartar village... and the mountains! The sun has
risen and glitters on the Terek, now visible beyond the reeds ...
and the mountains! From the village comes a Tartar wagon, and
women, beautiful young women, pass by... and the mountains!
'Abreks canter about the plain, and here am I driving along and do
not fear them! I have a gun, and strength, and youth... and the
That whole part of the Terek line (about fifty miles) along which
lie the villages of the Grebensk Cossacks is uniform in character
both as to country and inhabitants. The Terek, which separates the
Cossacks from the mountaineers, still flows turbid and rapid
though already broad and smooth, always depositing greyish sand on
its low reedy right bank and washing away the steep, though not
high, left bank, with its roots of century-old oaks, its rotting
plane trees, and young brushwood. On the right bank lie the
villages of pro-Russian, though still somewhat restless, Tartars.
Along the left bank, back half a mile from the river and standing
five or six miles apart from one another, are Cossack villages. In
olden times most of these villages were situated on the banks of
the river; but the Terek, shifting northward from the mountains
year by year, washed away those banks, and now there remain only
the ruins of the old villages and of the gardens of pear and plum
trees and poplars, all overgrown with blackberry bushes and wild
vines. No one lives there now, and one only sees the tracks of the
deer, the wolves, the hares, and the pheasants, who have learned
to love these places. From village to village runs a road cut
through the forest as a cannon-shot might fly. Along the roads are
cordons of Cossacks and watch-towers with sentinels in them. Only
a narrow strip about seven hundred yards wide of fertile wooded
soil belongs to the Cossacks. To the north of it begin the sand-
drifts of the Nogay or Mozdok steppes, which fetch far to the
north and run, Heaven knows where, into the Trukhmen, Astrakhan,
and Kirghiz-Kaisatsk steppes. To the south, beyond the Terek, are
the Great Chechnya river, the Kochkalov range, the Black
Mountains, yet another range, and at last the snowy mountains,
which can just be seen but have never yet been scaled. In this
fertile wooded strip, rich in vegetation, has dwelt as far back as
memory runs the fine warlike and prosperous Russian tribe
belonging to the sect of Old Believers, and called the Grebensk
Long long ago their Old Believer ancestors fled from Russia and
settled beyond the Terek among the Chechens on the Greben, the
first range of wooded mountains of Chechnya. Living among the
Chechens the Cossacks intermarried with them and adopted the
manners and customs of the hill tribes, though they still retained
the Russian language in all its purity, as well as their Old
Faith. A tradition, still fresh among them, declares that Tsar
Ivan the Terrible came to the Terek, sent for their Elders, and
gave them the land on this side of the river, exhorting them to
remain friendly to Russia and promising not to enforce his rule
upon them nor oblige them to change their faith. Even now the
Cossack families claim relationship with the Chechens, and the
love of freedom, of leisure, of plunder and of war, still form
their chief characteristics. Only the harmful side of Russian
influence shows itself--by interference at elections, by
confiscation of church bells, and by the troops who are quartered
in the country or march through it. A Cossack is inclined to hate
less the dzhigit hillsman who maybe has killed his brother, than
the soldier quartered on him to defend his village, but who has
defiled his hut with tobacco-smoke. He respects his enemy the
hillsman and despises the soldier, who is in his eyes an alien and
an oppressor. In reality, from a Cossack's point of view a Russian
peasant is a foreign, savage, despicable creature, of whom he sees
a sample in the hawkers who come to the country and in the
Ukrainian immigrants whom the Cossack contemptuously calls
'woolbeaters'. For him, to be smartly dressed means to be dressed
like a Circassian. The best weapons are obtained from the hillsmen
and the best horses are bought, or stolen, from them. A dashing
young Cossack likes to show off his knowledge of Tartar, and when
carousing talks Tartar even to his fellow Cossack. In spite of all
these things this small Christian clan stranded in a tiny comer of
the earth, surrounded by half-savage Mohammedan tribes and by
soldiers, considers itself highly advanced, acknowledges none but
Cossacks as human beings, and despises everybody else. The Cossack
spends most of his time in the cordon, in action, or in hunting
and fishing. He hardly ever works at home. When he stays in the
village it is an exception to the general rule and then he is
holiday-making. All Cossacks make their own wine, and drunkenness
is not so much a general tendency as a rite, the non-fulfilment of
which would be considered apostasy. The Cossack looks upon a woman
as an instrument for his welfare; only the unmarried girls are
allowed to amuse themselves. A married woman has to work for her
husband from youth to very old age: his demands on her are the
Oriental ones of submission and labour. In consequence of this
outlook women are strongly developed both physically and mentally,
and though they are--as everywhere in the East--nominally in
subjection, they possess far greater influence and importance in
family-life than Western women. Their exclusion from public life
and inurement to heavy male labour give the women all the more
power and importance in the household. A Cossack, who before
strangers considers it improper to speak affectionately or
needlessly to his wife, when alone with her is involuntarily
conscious of her superiority. His house and all his property, in
fact the entire homestead, has been acquired and is kept together
solely by her labour and care. Though firmly convinced that labour
is degrading to a Cossack and is only proper for a Nogay labourer
or a woman, he is vaguely aware of the fact that all he makes use
of and calls his own is the result of that toil, and that it is in
the power of the woman (his mother or his wife) whom he considers
his slave, to deprive him of all he possesses. Besides, the
continuous performance of man's heavy work and the
responsibilities entrusted to her have endowed the Grebensk women
with a peculiarly independent masculine character and have
remarkably developed their physical powers, common sense,
resolution, and stability. The women are in most cases stronger,
more intelligent, more developed, and handsomer than the men. A
striking feature of a Grebensk woman's beauty is the combination
of the purest Circassian type of face with the broad and powerful
build of Northern women. Cossack women wear the Circassian dress--
a Tartar smock, beshmet, and soft slippers--but they tie their
kerchiefs round their heads in the Russian fashion. Smartness,
cleanliness and elegance in dress and in the arrangement of their
huts, are with them a custom and a necessity. In their relations
with men the women, and especially the unmarried girls, enjoy
Novomlinsk village was considered the very heart of Grebensk
Cossackdom. In it more than elsewhere the customs of the old
Grebensk population have been preserved, and its women have from
time immemorial been renowned all over the Caucasus for their
beauty. A Cossack's livelihood is derived from vineyards, fruit-
gardens, water melon and pumpkin plantations, from fishing,
hunting, maize and millet growing, and from war plunder.
Novomlinsk village lies about two and a half miles away from the
Terek, from which it is separated by a dense forest. On one side
of the road which runs through the village is the river; on the
other, green vineyards and orchards, beyond which are seen the
driftsands of the Nogay Steppe. The village is surrounded by
earth-banks and prickly bramble hedges, and is entered by tall
gates hung between posts and covered with little reed-thatched
roofs. Beside them on a wooden gun-carriage stands an unwieldy
cannon captured by the Cossacks at some time or other, and which
has not been fired for a hundred years. A uniformed Cossack
sentinel with dagger and gun sometimes stands, and sometimes does
not stand, on guard beside the gates, and sometimes presents arms
to a passing officer and sometimes does not. Below the roof of the
gateway is written in black letters on a white board: 'Houses 266:
male inhabitants 897: female 1012.' The Cossacks' houses are all
raised on pillars two and a half feet from the ground. They are
carefully thatched with reeds and have large carved gables. If not
new they are at least all straight and clean, with high porches of
different shapes; and they are not built close together but have
ample space around them, and are all picturesquely placed along
broad streets and lanes. In front of the large bright windows of
many of the houses, beyond the kitchen gardens, dark green poplars
and acacias with their delicate pale verdure and scented white
blossoms overtop the houses, and beside them grow flaunting yellow
sunflowers, creepers, and grape vines. In the broad open square
are three shops where drapery, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, locust
beans and gingerbreads are sold; and surrounded by a tall fence,
loftier and larger than the other houses, stands the Regimental
Commander's dwelling with its casement windows, behind a row of
tall poplars. Few people are to be seen in the streets of the
village on weekdays, especially in summer. The young men are on
duty in the cordons or on military expeditions; the old ones are
fishing or helping the women in the orchards and gardens. Only the
very old, the sick, and the children, remain at home.
It was one of those wonderful evenings that occur only in the
Caucasus. The sun had sunk behind the mountains but it was still
light. The evening glow had spread over a third of the sky, and
against its brilliancy the dull white immensity of the mountains
was sharply defined. The air was rarefied, motionless, and full of
sound. The shadow of the mountains reached for several miles over
the steppe. The steppe, the opposite side of the river, and the
roads, were all deserted. If very occasionally mounted men
appeared, the Cossacks in the cordon and the Chechens in their
aouls (villages) watched them with surprised curiosity and tried
to guess who those questionable men could be. At nightfall people
from fear of one another flock to their dwellings, and only birds
and beasts fearless of man prowl in those deserted spaces. Talking
merrily, the women who have been tying up the vines hurry away
from the gardens before sunset. The vineyards, like all the
surrounding district, are deserted, but the villages become very
animated at that time of the evening. From all sides, walking,
riding, or driving in their creaking carts, people move towards
the village. Girls with their smocks tucked up and twigs in their
hands run chatting merrily to the village gates to meet the cattle
that are crowding together in a cloud of dust and mosquitoes which
they bring with them from the steppe. The well-fed cows and
buffaloes disperse at a run all over the streets and Cossack women
in coloured beshmets go to and fro among them. You can hear their
merry laughter and shrieks mingling with the lowing of the cattle.
There an armed and mounted Cossack, on leave from the cordon,
rides up to a hut and, leaning towards the window, knocks. In
answer to the knock the handsome head of a young woman appears at
the window and you can hear caressing, laughing voices. There a
tattered Nogay labourer, with prominent cheekbones, brings a load
of reeds from the steppes, turns his creaking cart into the
Cossack captain's broad and clean courtyard, and lifts the yoke
off the oxen that stand tossing their heads while he and his
master shout to one another in Tartar. Past a puddle that reaches
nearly across the street, a barefooted Cossack woman with a bundle
of firewood on her back makes her laborious way by clinging to the
fences, holding her smock high and exposing her white legs. A
Cossack returning from shooting calls out in jest: 'Lift it
higher, shameless thing!' and points his gun at her. The woman
lets down her smock and drops the wood. An old Cossack, returning
home from fishing with his trousers tucked up and his hairy grey
chest uncovered, has a net across his shoulder containing silvery
fish that are still struggling; and to take a short cut climbs
over his neighbour's broken fence and gives a tug to his coat
which has caught on the fence. There a woman is dragging a dry
branch along and from round the corner comes the sound of an axe.
Cossack children, spinning their tops wherever there is a smooth
place in the street, are shrieking; women are climbing over fences
to avoid going round. From every chimney rises the odorous kisyak
smoke. From every homestead comes the sound of increased bustle,
precursor to the stillness of night.
Granny Ulitka, the wife of the Cossack cornet who is also teacher
in the regimental school, goes out to the gates of her yard like
the other women, and waits for the cattle which her daughter
Maryanka is driving along the street. Before she has had time
fully to open the wattle gate in the fence, an enormous buffalo
cow surrounded by mosquitoes rushes up bellowing and squeezes in.
Several well-fed cows slowly follow her, their large eyes gazing
with recognition at their mistress as they swish their sides with
their tails. The beautiful and shapely Maryanka enters at the gate
and throwing away her switch quickly slams the gate to and rushes
with all the speed of her nimble feet to separate and drive the
cattle into their sheds. 'Take off your slippers, you devil's
wench!' shouts her mother, 'you've worn them into holes!' Maryanka
is not at all offended at being called a 'devil's wench', but
accepting it as a term of endearment cheerfully goes on with her
task. Her face is covered with a kerchief tied round her head. She
is wearing a pink smock and a green beshmet. She disappears inside
the lean-to shed in the yard, following the big fat cattle; and
from the shed comes her voice as she speaks gently and
persuasively to the buffalo: 'Won't she stand still? What a
creature! Come now, come old dear!' Soon the girl and the old
woman pass from the shed to the dairy carrying two large pots of
milk, the day's yield. From the dairy chimney rises a thin cloud
of kisyak smoke: the milk is being used to make into clotted
cream. The girl makes up the fire while her mother goes to the
gate. Twilight has fallen on the village. The air is full of the
smell of vegetables, cattle, and scented kisyak smoke. From the
gates and along the streets Cossack women come running, carrying
lighted rags. From the yards one hears the snorting and quiet
chewing of the cattle eased of their milk, while in the street
only the voices of women and children sound as they call to one
another. It is rare on a week-day to hear the drunken voice of a
One of the Cossack wives, a tall, masculine old woman, approaches
Granny Ulitka from the homestead opposite and asks her for a
light. In her hand she holds a rag.
'Have you cleared up. Granny?'
'The girl is lighting the fire. Is it fire you want?' says Granny
Ulitka, proud of being able to oblige her neighbour.
Both women enter the hut, and coarse hands unused to dealing with
small articles tremblingly lift the lid of a matchbox, which is a
rarity in the Caucasus. The masculine-looking new-comer sits down
on the doorstep with the evident intention of having a chat.
'And is your man at the school. Mother?' she asked.
'He's always teaching the youngsters. Mother. But he writes that
he'll come home for the holidays,' said the cornet's wife.
'Yes, he's a clever man, one sees; it all comes useful.'
'Of course it does.'
'And my Lukashka is at the cordon; they won't let him come home,'
said the visitor, though the cornet's wife had known all this long
ago. She wanted to talk about her Lukashka whom she had lately
fitted out for service in the Cossack regiment, and whom she
wished to marry to the cornet's daughter, Maryanka.
'So he's at the cordon?'
'He is. Mother. He's not been home since last holidays. The other
day I sent him some shirts by Fomushkin. He says he's all right,
and that his superiors are satisfied. He says they are looking out
for abreks again. Lukashka is quite happy, he says.'
'Ah well, thank God,' said the cornet's wife.' "Snatcher" is
certainly the only word for him.' Lukashka was surnamed 'the
Snatcher' because of his bravery in snatching a boy from a watery
grave, and the cornet's wife alluded to this, wishing in her turn
to say something agreeable to Lukashka's mother.
'I thank God, Mother, that he's a good son! He's a fine fellow,
everyone praises him,' says Lukashka's mother. 'All I wish is to
get him married; then I could die in peace.'
'Well, aren't there plenty of young women in the village?'
answered the cornet's wife slyly as she carefully replaced the lid
of the matchbox with her horny hands.
'Plenty, Mother, plenty,' remarked Lukashka's mother, shaking her
head. 'There's your girl now, your Maryanka--that's the sort of
girl! You'd have to search through the whole place to find such
another!' The cornet's wife knows what Lukashka's mother is after,
but though she believes him to be a good Cossack she hangs back:
first because she is a cornet's wife and rich, while Lukashka is
the son of a simple Cossack and fatherless, secondly because she
does not want to part with her daughter yet, but chiefly because
propriety demands it.
'Well, when Maryanka grows up she'll be marriageable too,' she
answers soberly and modestly.
'I'll send the matchmakers to you--I'll send them! Only let me get
the vineyard done and then we'll come and make our bows to you,'
says Lukashka's mother. 'And we'll make our bows to Elias Vasilich
'Elias, indeed!' says the cornet's wife proudly. 'It's to me you
must speak! All in its own good time.'
Lukashka's mother sees by the stern face of the cornet's wife that
it is not the time to say anything more just now, so she lights
her rag with the match and says, rising: 'Don't refuse us, think
of my words. I'll go, it is time to light the fire.'
As she crosses the road swinging the burning rag, she meets
Maryanka, who bows.
'Ah, she's a regular queen, a splendid worker, that girl!' she
thinks, looking at the beautiful maiden. 'What need for her to
grow any more? It's time she was married and to a good home;
married to Lukashka!'
But Granny Ulitka had her own cares and she remained sitting on
the threshold thinking hard about something, till the girl called
The male population of the village spend their time on military
expeditions and in the cordon--or 'at their posts', as the
Cossacks say. Towards evening, that same Lukashka the Snatcher,
about whom the old women had been talking, was standing on a
watch-tower of the Nizhni-Prototsk post situated on the very banks
of the Terek. Leaning on the railing of the tower and screwing up
his eyes, he looked now far into the distance beyond the Terek,
now down at his fellow Cossacks, and occasionally he addressed the
latter. The sun was already approaching the snowy range that
gleamed white above the fleecy clouds. The clouds undulating at
the base of the mountains grew darker and darker. The clearness of
evening was noticeable in the air. A sense of freshness came from
the woods, though round the post it was still hot. The voices of
the talking Cossacks vibrated more sonorously than before. The
moving mass of the Terek's rapid brown waters contrasted more
vividly with its motionless banks. The waters were beginning to
subside and here and there the wet sands gleamed drab on the banks
and in the shallows. The other side of the river, just opposite
the cordon, was deserted; only an immense waste of low-growing
reeds stretched far away to the very foot of the mountains. On the
low bank, a little to one side, could be seen the flat-roofed clay
houses and the funnel-shaped chimneys of a Chechen village. The
sharp eyes of the Cossack who stood on the watch-tower followed,
through the evening smoke of the pro-Russian village, the tiny
moving figures of the Chechen women visible in the distance in
their red and blue garments.
Although the Cossacks expected abreks to cross over and attack
them from the Tartar side at any moment, especially as it was May
when the woods by the Terek are so dense that it is difficult to
pass through them on foot and the river is shallow enough in
places for a horseman to ford it, and despite the fact that a
couple of days before a Cossack had arrived with a circular from
the commander of the regiment announcing that spies had reported
the intention of a party of some eight men to cross the Terek, and
ordering special vigilance--no special vigilance was being
observed in the cordon. The Cossacks, unarmed and with their
horses unsaddled just as if they were at home, spent their time
some in fishing, some in drinking, and some in hunting. Only the
horse of the man on duty was saddled, and with its feet hobbled
was moving about by the brambles near the wood, and only the
sentinel had his Circassian coat on and carried a gun and sword.
The corporal, a tall thin Cossack with an exceptionally long back
and small hands and feet, was sitting on the earth-bank of a hut
with his beshmet unbuttoned. On his face was the lazy, bored
expression of a superior, and having shut his eyes he dropped his
head upon the palm first of one hand and then of the other. An
elderly Cossack with a broad greyish-black beard was lying in his
shirt, girdled with a black strap, close to the river and gazing
lazily at the waves of the Terek as they monotonously foamed and
swirled. Others, also overcome by the heat and half naked, were
rinsing clothes in the Terek, plaiting a fishing line, or humming
tunes as they lay on the hot sand of the river bank. One Cossack,
with a thin face much burnt by the sun, lay near the hut evidently
dead drunk, by a wall which though it had been in shadow some two
hours previously was now exposed to the sun's fierce slanting
Lukashka, who stood on the watch-tower, was a tall handsome lad
about twenty years old and very like his mother. His face and
whole build, in spite of the angularity of youth, indicated great
strength, both physical and moral. Though he had only lately
joined the Cossacks at the front, it was evident from the
expression of his face and the calm assurance of his attitude that
he had already acquired the somewhat proud and warlike bearing
peculiar to Cossacks and to men generally who continually carry
arms, and that he felt he was a Cossack and fully knew his own
value. His ample Circassian coat was torn in some places, his cap
was on the back of his head Chechen fashion, and his leggings had
slipped below his knees. His clothing was not rich, but he wore it
with that peculiar Cossack foppishness which consists in imitating
the Chechen brave. Everything on a real brave is ample, ragged,
and neglected, only his weapons are costly. But these ragged
clothes and these weapons are belted and worn with a certain air
and matched in a certain manner, neither of which can be acquired
by everybody and which at once strike the eye of a Cossack or a
hillsman. Lukashka had this resemblance to a brave. With his hands
folded under his sword, and his eyes nearly closed, he kept
looking at the distant Tartar village. Taken separately his
features were not beautiful, but anyone who saw his stately
carriage and his dark-browed intelligent face would involuntarily
say, 'What a fine fellow!'
'Look at the women, what a lot of them are walking about in the
village,' said he in a sharp voice, languidly showing his
brilliant white teeth and not addressing anyone in particular.
Nazarka who was lying below immediately lifted his head and
'They must be going for water.'
'Supposing one scared them with a gun?' said Lukashka, laughing,
'Wouldn't they be frightened?'
'It wouldn't reach.'
'What! Mine would carry beyond. Just wait a bit, and when their
feast comes round I'll go and visit Girey Khan and drink buza
there,' said Lukashka, angrily swishing away the mosquitoes which
attached themselves to him.
A rustling in the thicket drew the Cossack's attention. A pied
mongrel half-setter, searching for a scent and violently wagging
its scantily furred tail, came running to the cordon. Lukashka
recognized the dog as one belonging to his neighbour, Uncle
Eroshka, a hunter, and saw, following it through the thicket, the
approaching figure of the hunter himself.
Uncle Eroshka was a gigantic Cossack with a broad, snow-white
beard and such broad shoulders and chest that in the wood, where
there was no one to compare him with, he did not look particularly
tall, so well proportioned were his powerful limbs. He wore a
tattered coat and, over the bands with which his legs were
swathed, sandals made of undressed deer's hide tied on with
strings; while on his head he had a rough little white cap. He
carried over one shoulder a screen to hide behind when shooting
pheasants, and a bag containing a hen for luring hawks, and a
small falcon; over the other shoulder, attached by a strap, was a
wild cat he had killed; and stuck in his belt behind were some
little bags containing bullets, gunpowder, and bread, a horse's
tail to swish away the mosquitoes, a large dagger in a torn
scabbard smeared with old bloodstains, and two dead pheasants.
Having glanced at the cordon he stopped.
'Hy, Lyam!' he called to the dog in such a ringing bass that it
awoke an echo far away in the wood; and throwing over his shoulder
his big gun, of the kind the Cossacks call a 'flint', he raised
'Had a good day, good people, eh?' he said, addressing the
Cossacks in the same strong and cheerful voice, quite without
effort, but as loudly as if he were shouting to someone on the
other bank of the river.
'Yes, yes. Uncle!' answered from all sides the voices of the young
'What have you seen? Tell us!' shouted Uncle Eroshka, wiping the
sweat from his broad red face with the sleeve of his coat.
'Ah, there's a vulture living in the plane tree here, Uncle. As
soon as night comes he begins hovering round,' said Nazarka,
winking and jerking his shoulder and leg.
'Come, come!' said the old man incredulously.
'Really, Uncle! You must keep watch,' replied Nazarka with a
The other Cossacks began laughing.
The wag had not seen any vulture at all, but it had long been the
custom of the young Cossacks in the cordon to tease and mislead
Uncle Eroshka every time he came to them.
'Eh, you fool, always lying!' exclaimed Lukashka from the tower to
Nazarka was immediately silenced.
'It must be watched. I'll watch,' answered the old man to the
great delight of all the Cossacks. 'But have you seen any boars?'
'Watching for boars, are you?' said the corporal, bending forward
and scratching his back with both hands, very pleased at the
chance of some distraction. 'It's abreks one has to hunt here and
not boars! You've not heard anything, Uncle, have you?' he added,
needlessly screwing up his eyes and showing his close-set white
'Abreks,' said the old man. 'No, I haven't. I say, have you any
chikhir? Let me have a drink, there's a good man. I'm really quite
done up. When the time comes I'll bring you some fresh meat, I
really will. Give me a drink!' he added.
'Well, and are you going to watch?' inquired the corporal, as
though he had not heard what the other said.
'I did mean to watch tonight,' replied Uncle Eroshka. 'Maybe, with
God's help, I shall kill something for the holiday. Then you shall
have a share, you shall indeed!'
'Uncle! Hallo, Uncle!' called out Lukashka sharply from above,
attracting everybody's attention. All the Cossacks looked up at
him. 'Just go to the upper water-course, there's a fine herd of
boars there. I'm not inventing, really! The other day one of our
Cossacks shot one there. I'm telling you the truth,' added he,
readjusting the musket at his back and in a tone that showed he
was not joking.
'Ah! Lukashka the Snatcher is here!' said the old man, looking up.
'Where has he been shooting?'
'Haven't you seen? I suppose you're too young!' said Lukashka.
'Close by the ditch,' he went on seriously with a shake of the
head. 'We were just going along the ditch when all at once we
heard something crackling, but my gun was in its case. Elias fired
suddenly ... But I'll show you the place, it's not far. You just
wait a bit. I know every one of their footpaths ... Daddy Mosev,'
said he, turning resolutely and almost commandingly to the
corporal, 'it's time to relieve guard!' and holding aloft his gun
he began to descend from the watch-tower without waiting for the
'Come down!' said the corporal, after Lukashka had started, and
glanced round. 'Is it your turn, Gurka? Then go ... True enough
your Lukashka has become very skilful,' he went on, addressing the
old man. 'He keeps going about just like you, he doesn't stay at
home. The other day he killed a boar.'
The sun had already set and the shades of night were rapidly
spreading from the edge of the wood. The Cossacks finished their
task round the cordon and gathered in the hut for supper. Only the
old man still stayed under the plane tree watching for the vulture
and pulling the string tied to the falcon's leg, but though a
vulture was really perching on the plane tree it declined to swoop
down on the lure. Lukashka, singing one song after another, was
leisurely placing nets among the very thickest brambles to trap
pheasants. In spite of his tall stature and big hands every kind
of work, both rough and delicate, prospered under Lukashka's
'Hallo, Luke!' came Nazarka's shrill, sharp voice calling him from
the thicket close by. 'The Cossacks have gone in to supper.'
Nazarka, with a live pheasant under his arm, forced his way
through the brambles and emerged on the footpath.
'Oh!' said Lukashka, breaking off in his song, 'where did you get
that cock pheasant? I suppose it was in my trap?'
Nazarka was of the same age as Lukashka and had also only been at
the front since the previous spring.
He was plain, thin and puny, with a shrill voice that rang in
one's ears. They were neighbours and comrades. Lukashka was
sitting on the grass crosslegged like a Tartar, adjusting his
'I don't know whose it was--yours, I expect.'
'Was it beyond the pit by the plane tree? Then it is mine! I set
the nets last night.'
Lukashka rose and examined the captured pheasant. After stroking
the dark burnished head of the bird, which rolled its eyes and
stretched out its neck in terror, Lukashka took the pheasant in
'We'll have it in a pilau tonight. You go and kill and pluck it.'
'And shall we eat it ourselves or give it to the corporal?'
'He has plenty!'
'I don't like killing them,' said Nazarka.
'Give it here!'
Lukashka drew a little knife from under his dagger and gave it a
swift jerk. The bird fluttered, but before it could spread its
wings the bleeding head bent and quivered.
'That's how one should do it!' said Lukashka, throwing down the
pheasant. 'It will make a fat pilau.'
Nazarka shuddered as he looked at the bird.
'I say, Lukashka, that fiend will be sending us to the ambush
again tonight,' he said, taking up the bird. (He was alluding to
the corporal.) 'He has sent Fomushkin to get wine, and it ought to
be his turn. He always puts it on us.'
Lukashka went whistling along the cordon.
'Take the string with you,' he shouted.
'I'll give him a bit of my mind today, I really will,' continued
Nazarka. 'Let's say we won't go; we're tired out and there's an
end of it! No, really, you tell him, he'll listen to you. It's too
'Get along with you! What a thing to make a fuss about!' said
Lukashka, evidently thinking of something else. 'What bosh! If he
made us turn out of the village at night now, that would be
annoying: there one can have some fun, but here what is there?
It's all one whether we're in the cordon or in ambush. What a
fellow you are!'
'And are you going to the village?'
'I'll go for the holidays.'
'Gurka says your Dunayka is carrying on with Fomushkin,' said
'Well, let her go to the devil,' said Lukashka, showing his
regular white teeth, though he did not laugh. 'As if I couldn't
'Gurka says he went to her house. Her husband was out and there
was Fomushkin sitting and eating pie. Gurka stopped awhile and
then went away, and passing by the window he heard her say, "He's
gone, the fiend.... Why don't you eat your pie, my own? You
needn't go home for the night," she says. And Gurka under the
window says to himself, "That's fine!"'
'You're making it up.'
'No, quite true, by Heaven!'
'Well, if she's found another let her go to the devil,' said
Lukashka, after a pause. 'There's no lack of girls and I was sick
of her anyway.'
'Well, see what a devil you are!' said Nazarka. 'You should make
up to the cornet's girl, Maryanka. Why doesn't she walk out with
Lukashka frowned. 'What of Maryanka? They're all alike,' said he.
'Well, you just try... '
'What do you think? Are girls so scarce in the village?'
And Lukashka recommenced whistling, and went along the cordon
pulling leaves and branches from the bushes as he went. Suddenly,
catching sight of a smooth sapling, he drew the knife from the
handle of his dagger and cut it down. 'What a ramrod it will
make,' he said, swinging the sapling till it whistled through the
The Cossacks were sitting round a low Tartar table on the earthen
floor of the clay-plastered outer room of the hut, when the
question of whose turn it was to lie in ambush was raised. 'Who is
to go tonight?' shouted one of the Cossacks through the open door
to the corporal in the next room.
'Who is to go?' the corporal shouted back. 'Uncle Burlak has been
and Fomushkin too,' said he, not quite confidently. 'You two had
better go, you and Nazarka,' he went on, addressing Lukashka. 'And
Ergushov must go too; surely he has slept it off?'
'You don't sleep it off yourself so why should he?' said Nazarka
in a subdued voice.
The Cossacks laughed.
Ergushov was the Cossack who had been lying drunk and asleep near
the hut. He had only that moment staggered into the room rubbing
Lukashka had already risen and was getting his gun ready.
'Be quick and go! Finish your supper and go!' said the corporal;
and without waiting for an expression of consent he shut the door,
evidently not expecting the Cossack to obey. 'Of course,' thought
he, 'if I hadn't been ordered to I wouldn't send anyone, but an
officer might turn up at any moment. As it is, they say eight
abreks have crossed over.'
'Well, I suppose I must go,' remarked Ergushov, 'it's the
regulation. Can't be helped! The times are such. I say, we must
Meanwhile Lukashka, holding a big piece of pheasant to his mouth
with both hands and glancing now at Nazarka, now at Ergushov,
seemed quite indifferent to what passed and only laughed at them
both. Before the Cossacks were ready to go into ambush. Uncle
Eroshka, who had been vainly waiting under the plane tree till
night fell, entered the dark outer room.
'Well, lads,' his loud bass resounded through the low-roofed room
drowning all the other voices, 'I'm going with you. You'll watch
for Chechens and I for boars!'
It was quite dark when Uncle Eroshka and the three Cossacks, in
their cloaks and shouldering their guns, left the cordon and went
towards the place on the Terek where they were to lie in ambush.
Nazarka did not want to go at all, but Lukashka shouted at him and
they soon started. After they had gone a few steps in silence the
Cossacks turned aside from the ditch and went along a path almost
hidden by reeds till they reached the river. On its bank lay a
thick black log cast up by the water. The reeds around it had been
recently beaten down.
'Shall we lie here?' asked Nazarka.
'Why not?' answered Lukashka. 'Sit down here and I'll be back in a
minute. I'll only show Daddy where to go.'
'This is the best place; here we can see and not be seen,' said
Ergushov, 'so it's here we'll lie. It's a first-rate place!'
Nazarka and Ergushov spread out their cloaks and settled down
behind the log, while Lukashka went on with Uncle Eroshka.
'It's not far from here. Daddy,' said Lukashka, stepping softly in
front of the old man; 'I'll show you where they've been--I'm the
only one that knows. Daddy.'
'Show me! You're a fine fellow, a regular Snatcher!' replied the
old man, also whispering.
Having gone a few steps Lukashka stopped, stooped down over a
puddle, and whistled. 'That's where they come to drink, d'you
see?' He spoke in a scarcely audible voice, pointing to fresh
'Christ bless you,' answered the old man. 'The boar will be in the
hollow beyond the ditch,' he added. Til watch, and you can go.'
Lukashka pulled his cloak up higher and walked back alone,
throwing swift glances now to the left at the wall of reeds, now
to the Terek rushing by below the bank. 'I daresay he's watching
or creeping along somewhere,' thought he of a possible Chechen
hillsman. Suddenly a loud rustling and a splash in the water made
him start and seize his musket. From under the bank a boar leapt
up--his dark outline showing for a moment against the glassy
surface of the water and then disappearing among the reeds.
Lukashka pulled out his gun and aimed, but before he could fire
the boar had disappeared in the thicket. Lukashka spat with
vexation and went on. On approaching the ambuscade he halted again
and whistled softly. His whistle was answered and he stepped up to
Nazarka, all curled up, was already asleep. Ergushov sat with his
legs crossed and moved slightly to make room for Lukashka.
'How jolly it is to sit here! It's really a good place,' said he.
'Did you take him there?'
'Showed him where,' answered Lukashka, spreading out his cloak.
'But what a big boar I roused just now close to the water! I
expect it was the very one! You must have heard the crash?'
'I did hear a beast crashing through. I knew at once it was a
beast. I thought to myself: "Lukashka has roused a beast,"'
Ergushov said, wrapping himself up in his cloak. 'Now I'll go to
sleep,' he added. 'Wake me when the cocks crow. We must have
discipline. I'll lie down and have a nap, and then you will have a
nap and I'll watch--that's the way.'
'Luckily I don't want to sleep,' answered Lukashka.
The night was dark, warm, and still. Only on one side of the sky
the stars were shining, the other and greater part was overcast by
one huge cloud stretching from the mountaintops. The black cloud,
blending in the absence of any wind with the mountains, moved
slowly onwards, its curved edges sharply denned against the deep
starry sky. Only in front of him could the Cossack discern the
Terek and the distance beyond. Behind and on both sides he was
surrounded by a wall of reeds. Occasionally the reeds would sway
and rustle against one another apparently without cause. Seen from
down below, against the clear part of the sky, their waving tufts
looked like the feathery branches of trees. Close in front at his
very feet was the bank, and at its base the rushing torrent. A
little farther on was the moving mass of glassy brown water which
eddied rhythmically along the bank and round the shallows. Farther
still, water, banks, and cloud all merged together in impenetrable
gloom. Along the surface of the water floated black shadows, in
which the experienced eyes of the Cossack detected trees carried
down by the current. Only very rarely sheet-lightning, mirrored in
the water as in a black glass, disclosed the sloping bank
opposite. The rhythmic sounds of night--the rustling of the reeds,
the snoring of the Cossacks, the hum of mosquitoes, and the
rushing water, were every now and then broken by a shot fired in
the distance, or by the gurgling of water when a piece of bank
slipped down, the splash of a big fish, or the crashing of an
animal breaking through the thick undergrowth in the wood. Once an
owl flew past along the Terek, flapping one wing against the other
rhythmically at every second beat. Just above the Cossack's head
it turned towards the wood and then, striking its wings no longer
after every other flap but at every flap, it flew to an old plane
tree where it rustled about for a long time before settling down
among the branches. At every one of these unexpected sounds the
watching Cossack listened intently, straining his hearing, and
screwing up his eyes while he deliberately felt for his musket.
The greater part of the night was past. The black cloud that had
moved westward revealed the clear starry sky from under its torn
edge, and the golden upturned crescent of the moon shone above the
mountains with a reddish light. The cold began to be penetrating.
Nazarka awoke, spoke a little, and fell asleep again. Lukashka
feeling bored got up, drew the knife from his dagger-handle and
began to fashion his stick into a ramrod. His head was full of the
Chechens who lived over there in the mountains, and of how their
brave lads came across and were not afraid of the Cossacks, and
might even now be crossing the river at some other spot. He thrust
himself out of his hiding-place and looked along the river but
could see nothing. And as he continued looking out at intervals
upon the river and at the opposite bank, now dimly distinguishable
from the water in the faint moonlight, he no longer thought about
the Chechens but only of when it would be time to wake his
comrades, and of going home to the village. In the village he
imagined Dunayka, his 'little soul', as the Cossacks call a man's
mistress, and thought of her with vexation. Silvery mists, a sign
of coming morning, glittered white above the water, and not far
from him young eagles were whistling and flapping their wings. At
last the crowing of a cock reached him from the distant village,
followed by the long-sustained note of another, which was again
answered by yet other voices.
'Time to wake them,' thought Lukashka, who had finished his ramrod
and felt his eyes growing heavy. Turning to his comrades he
managed to make out which pair of legs belonged to whom, when it
suddenly seemed to him that he heard something splash on the other
side of the Terek. He turned again towards the horizon beyond the
hills, where day was breaking under the upturned crescent, glanced
at the outline of the opposite bank, at the Terek, and at the now
distinctly visible driftwood upon it. For one instant it seemed to
him that he was moving and that the Terek with the drifting wood
remained stationary. Again he peered out. One large black log with
a branch particularly attracted his attention. The tree was
floating in a strange way right down the middle of the stream,
neither rocking nor whirling. It even appeared not to be floating
altogether with the current, but to be crossing it in the
direction of the shallows. Lukashka stretching out his neck
watched it intently. The tree floated to the shallows, stopped,
and shifted in a peculiar manner. Lukashka thought he saw an arm
stretched out from beneath the tree. 'Supposing I killed an abrek
all by myself!' he thought, and seized his gun with a swift,
unhurried movement, putting up his gun-rest, placing the gun upon
it, and holding it noiselessly in position. Cocking the trigger,
with bated breath he took aim, still peering out intently. 'I
won't wake them,' he thought. But his heart began beating so fast
that he remained motionless, listening. Suddenly the trunk gave a
plunge and again began to float across the stream towards our
bank. 'Only not to miss ...' thought he, and now by the faint
light of the moon he caught a glimpse of a Tartar's head in front
of the floating wood. He aimed straight at the head which appeared
to be quite near--just at the end of his rifle's barrel. He
glanced cross. 'Right enough it is an abrek! he thought joyfully,
and suddenly rising to his knees he again took aim. Having found
the sight, barely visible at the end of the long gun, he said: 'In
the name of the Father and of the Son,' in the Cossack way learnt
in his childhood, and pulled the trigger. A flash of lightning lit
up for an instant the reeds and the water, and the sharp, abrupt
report of the shot was carried across the river, changing into a
prolonged roll somewhere in the far distance. The piece of
driftwood now floated not across, but with the current, rocking
'Stop, I say!' exclaimed Ergushov, seizing his musket and raising
himself behind the log near which he was lying.
'Shut up, you devil!' whispered Lukashka, grinding his teeth.
'Whom have you shot?' asked Nazarka. 'Who was it, Lukashka?'
Lukashka did not answer. He was reloading his gun and watching the
floating wood. A little way off it stopped on a sand-bank, and
from behind it something large that rocked in the water came into
'What did you shoot? Why don't you speak?' insisted the Cossacks.
'Abreks, I tell you!' said Lukashka.
'Don't humbug! Did the gun go off? ...'
'I've killed an abrek, that's what I fired at,' muttered Lukashka
in a voice choked by emotion, as he jumped to his feet. 'A man was
swimming...' he said, pointing to the sandbank. 'I killed him.
Just look there.'
'Have done with your humbugging!' said Ergushov again, rubbing his
'Have done with what? Look there,' said Lukashka, seizing him by
the shoulders and pulling him with such force that Ergushov
He looked in the direction in which Lukashka pointed, and
discerning a body immediately changed his tone.
'O Lord! But I say, more will come! I tell you the truth,' said he
softly, and began examining his musket. 'That was a scout swimming
across: either the others are here already or are not far off on
the other side--I tell you for sure!' Lukashka was unfastening his
belt and taking off his Circassian coat.
'What are you up to, you idiot?' exclaimed Ergushov. 'Only show
yourself and you've lost all for nothing, I tell you true! If
you've killed him he won't escape. Let me have a little powder for
my musket-pan--you have some? Nazarka, you go back to the cordon
and look alive; but don't go along the bank or you'll be killed--I
tell you true.'
'Catch me going alone! Go yourself!' said Nazarka angrily.
Having taken off his coat, Lukashka went down to the bank.
'Don't go in, I tell you!' said Ergushov, putting some powder on
the pan. 'Look, he's not moving. I can see. It's nearly morning;
wait till they come from the cordon. You go, Nazarka. You're
afraid! Don't be afraid, I tell you.'
'Luke, I say, Lukashka! Tell us how you did it!' said Nazarka.
Lukashka changed his mind about going into the water just then.
'Go quick to the cordon and I will watch. Tell the Cossacks to
send out the patrol. If the ABREKS are on this side they must be
caught,' said he.
'That's what I say. They'll get off,' said Ergushov, rising.
'True, they must be caught!'
Ergushov and Nazarka rose and, crossing themselves, started off
for the cordon--not along the riverbank but breaking their way
through the brambles to reach a path in the wood.
'Now mind, Lukashka--they may cut you down here, so you'd best
keep a sharp look-out, I tell you!'
'Go along; I know,' muttered Lukashka; and having examined his gun
again he sat down behind the log.
He remained alone and sat gazing at the shallows and listening for
the Cossacks; but it was some distance to the cordon and he was
tormented by impatience. He kept thinking that the other ABREKS
who were with the one he had killed would escape. He was vexed
with the ABREKS who were going to escape just as he had been with
the boar that had escaped the evening before. He glanced round and
at the opposite bank, expecting every moment to see a man, and
having arranged his gun-rest he was ready to fire. The idea that
he might himself be killed never entered his head.
It was growing light. The Chechen's body which was gently rocking
in the shallow water was now clearly visible. Suddenly the reeds
rustled not far from Luke and he heard steps and saw the feathery
tops of the reeds moving. He set his gun at full cock and
muttered: 'In the name of the Father and of the Son,' but when the
cock clicked the sound of steps ceased.
'Hallo, Cossacks! Don't kill your Daddy!' said a deep bass voice
calmly; and moving the reeds apart Daddy Eroshka came up close to
'I very nearly killed you, by God I did!' said Lukashka.
'What have you shot?' asked the old man.
His sonorous voice resounded through the wood and downward along
the river, suddenly dispelling the mysterious quiet of night
around the Cossack. It was as if everything had suddenly become
lighter and more distinct.
'There now. Uncle, you have not seen anything, but I've killed a
beast,' said Lukashka, uncocking his gun and getting up with
The old man was staring intently at the white back, now clearly
visible, against which the Terek rippled.
'He was swimming with a log on his back. I spied him out! ... Look
there. There! He's got blue trousers, and a gun I think.... Do you
see?' inquired Luke.
'How can one help seeing?' said the old man angrily, and a
serious and stern expression appeared on his face. 'You've killed
a brave,' he said, apparently with regret.
'Well, I sat here and suddenly saw something dark on the other
side. I spied him when he was still over there. It was as if a man
had come there and fallen in. Strange! And a piece of driftwood, a
good-sized piece, comes floating, not with the stream but across
it; and what do I see but a head appearing from under it! Strange!
I stretched out of the reeds but could see nothing; then I rose
and he must have heard, the beast, and crept out into the shallow
and looked about. "No, you don't!" I said, as soon as he landed
and looked round, "you won't get away!" Oh, there was something
choking me! I got my gun ready but did not stir, and looked out.
He waited a little and then swam out again; and when he came into
the moonlight I could see his whole back. "In the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost"... and through the
smoke I see him struggling. He moaned, or so it seemed to me.
"Ah," I thought, "the Lord be thanked, I've killed him!" And when
he drifted onto the sand-bank I could see him distinctly: he tried
to get up but couldn't. He struggled a bit and then lay down.
Everything could be seen. Look, he does not move--he must be dead!
The Cossacks have gone back to the cordon in case there should be
any more of them.'
'And so you got him!' said the old man. 'He is far away now, my
lad! ...' And again he shook his head sadly.
Just then the sound reached them of breaking bushes and the loud
voices of Cossacks approaching along the bank on horseback and on
foot. 'Are you bringing the skiff?' shouted Lukashka.
'You're a trump, Luke! Lug it to the bank!' shouted one of the
Without waiting for the skiff Lukashka began to undress, keeping
an eye all the while on his prey.
'Wait a bit, Nazarka is bringing the skiff,' shouted the corporal.
'You fool! Maybe he is alive and only pretending! Take your dagger
with you!' shouted another Cossack.
'Get along,' cried Luke, pulling off his trousers. He quickly
undressed and, crossing himself, jumped, plunging with a splash
into the river. Then with long strokes of his white arms, lifting
his back high out of the water and breathing deeply, he swam
across the current of the Terek towards the shallows. A crowd of
Cossacks stood on the bank talking loudly. Three horsemen rode off
to patrol. The skiff appeared round a bend. Lukashka stood up on
the sandbank, leaned over the body, and gave it a couple of
'Quite dead!' he shouted in a shrill voice.
The Chechen had been shot in the head. He had on a pair of blue
trousers, a shirt, and a Circassian coat, and a gun and dagger
were tied to his back. Above all these a large branch was tied,
and it was this which at first had misled Lukashka.
'What a carp you've landed!' cried one of the Cossacks who had
assembled in a circle, as the body, lifted out of the skiff, was
laid on the bank, pressing down the grass.
'How yellow he is!' said another.
'Where have our fellows gone to search? I expect the rest of them
are on the other bank. If this one had not been a scout he would
not have swum that way. Why else should he swim alone?' said a
'Must have been a smart one to offer himself before the others; a
regular brave!' said Lukashka mockingly, shivering as he wrung out
his clothes that had got wet on the bank.
'His beard is dyed and cropped.'
'And he has tied a bag with a coat in it to his back.'
'That would make it easier for him to swim,' said some one.
'I say, Lukashka,' said the corporal, who was holding the dagger
and gun taken from the dead man. 'Keep the dagger for yourself and
the coat too; but I'll give you three rubles for the gun. You see
it has a hole in it,' said he, blowing into the muzzle. 'I want it
just for a souvenir.'
Lukashka did not answer. Evidently this sort of begging vexed him
but he knew it could not be avoided.
'See, what a devil!' said he, frowning and throwing down the
Chechen's coat. 'If at least it were a good coat, but it's a mere
'It'll do to fetch firewood in,' said one of the Cossacks.
'Mosev, I'll go home,' said Lukashka, evidently forgetting his
vexation and wishing to get some advantage out of having to give a
present to his superior.
'All right, you may go!'
'Take the body beyond the cordon, lads,' said the corporal, still
examining the gun, 'and put a shelter over him from the sun.
Perhaps they'll send from the mountains to ransom it.'
'It isn't hot yet,' said someone.
'And supposing a jackal tears him? Would that be well?' remarked
'We'll set a watch; if they should come to ransom him it won't do
for him to have been torn.'
'Well, Lukashka, whatever you do you must stand a pail of vodka
for the lads,' said the corporal gaily.
'Of course! That's the custom,' chimed in the Cossacks. 'See what
luck God has sent you! Without ever having seen anything of the
kind before, you've killed a brave!'
'Buy the dagger and coat and don't be stingy, and I'll let you
have the trousers too,' said Lukashka. 'They're too tight for me;
he was a thin devil.'
One Cossack bought the coat for a ruble and another gave the price
of two pails of vodka for the dagger.
'Drink, lads! I'll stand you a pail!' said Luke. 'I'll bring it
myself from the village.'
'And cut up the trousers into kerchiefs for the girls!' said
The Cossacks burst out laughing.
'Have done laughing!' said the corporal. 'And take the body away.
Why have you put the nasty thing by the hut?'
'What are you standing there for? Haul him along, lads!' shouted
Lukashka in a commanding voice to the Cossacks, who reluctantly
took hold of the body, obeying him as though he were their chief.
After dragging the body along for a few steps the Cossacks let
fall the legs, which dropped with a lifeless jerk, and stepping
apart they then stood silent for a few moments. Nazarka came up
and straightened the head, which was turned to one side so that
the round wound above the temple and the whole of the dead man's
face were visible. 'See what a mark he has made right in the
brain,' he said. 'He won't get lost. His owners will always know
him!' No one answered, and again the Angel of Silence flew over
The sun had risen high and its diverging beams were lighting up
the dewy grass. Near by, the Terek murmured in the awakened wood
and, greeting the morning, the pheasants called to one another.
The Cossacks stood still and silent around the dead man, gazing at
him. The brown body, with nothing on but the wet blue trousers
held by a girdle over the sunken stomach, was well shaped and
handsome. The muscular arms lay stretched straight out by his
sides; the blue, freshly shaven, round head with the clotted wound
on one side of it was thrown back. The smooth tanned forehead
contrasted sharply with the shaven part of the head. The open
glassy eyes with lowered pupils stared upwards, seeming to gaze
past everything. Under the red trimmed moustache the fine lips,
drawn at the corners, seemed stiffened into a smile of good-
natured subtle raillery. The fingers of the small hands covered
with red hairs were bent inward, and the nails were dyed red.
Lukashka had not yet dressed. He was wet. His neck was redder and
his eyes brighter than usual, his broad jaws twitched, and from
his healthy body a hardly perceptible steam rose in the fresh
'He too was a man!' he muttered, evidently admiring the corpse.
'Yes, if you had fallen into his hands you would have had short
shrift,' said one of the Cossacks.
The Angel of Silence had taken wing. The Cossacks began bustling
about and talking. Two of them went to cut brushwood for a
shelter, others strolled towards the cordon. Luke and Nazarka ran
to get ready to go to the village.
Half an hour later they were both on their way homewards, talking
incessantly and almost running through the dense woods which
separated the Terek from the village.
'Mind, don't tell her I sent you, but just go and find out if her
husband is at home,' Luke was saying in his shrill voice.
'And I'll go round to Yamka too,' said the devoted Nazarka. 'We'll
have a spree, shall we?'
'When should we have one if not to-day?' replied Luke.
When they reached the village the two Cossacks drank, and lay down
to sleep till evening.
On the third day after the events above described, two companies
of a Caucasian infantry regiment arrived at the Cossack village of
Novomlinsk. The horses had been unharnessed and the companies'
wagons were standing in the square. The cooks had dug a pit, and
with logs gathered from various yards (where they had not been
sufficiently securely stored) were now cooking the food; the pay-
sergeants were settling accounts with the soldiers. The Service
Corps men were driving piles in the ground to which to tie the
horses, and the quartermasters were going about the streets just
as if they were at home, showing officers and men to their
quarters. Here were green ammunition boxes in a line, the
company's carts, horses, and cauldrons in which buckwheat porridge
was being cooked. Here were the captain and the lieutenant and the
sergeant-major, Onisim Mikhaylovich, and all this was in the
Cossack village where it was reported that the companies were
ordered to take up their quarters: therefore they were at home
here. But why they were stationed there, who the Cossacks were,
and whether they wanted the troops to be there, and whether they
were Old Believers or not--was all quite immaterial. Having
received their pay and been dismissed, tired out and covered with
dust, the soldiers noisily and in disorder, like a swarm of bees
about to settle, spread over the squares and streets; quite
regardless of the Cossacks' ill will, chattering merrily and with
their muskets clinking, by twos and threes they entered the huts
and hung up their accoutrements, unpacked their bags, and bantered
the women. At their favourite spot, round the porridge-cauldrons,
a large group of soldiers assembled and with little pipes between
their teeth they gazed, now at the smoke which rose into the hot
sky, becoming visible when it thickened into white clouds as it
rose, and now at the camp fires which were quivering in the pure
air like molten glass, and bantered and made fun of the Cossack
men and women because they do not live at all like Russians. In
all the yards one could see soldiers and hear their laughter and
the exasperated and shrill cries of Cossack women defending their
houses and refusing to give the soldiers water or cooking
utensils. Little boys and girls, clinging to their mothers and to
each other, followed all the movements of the troopers (never
before seen by them) with frightened curiosity, or ran after them
at a respectful distance. The old Cossacks came out silently and
dismally and sat on the earthen embankments of their huts, and
watched the soldiers' activity with an air of leaving it all to
the will of God without understanding what would come of it.
Olenin, who had joined the Caucasian Army as a cadet three months
before, was quartered in one of the best houses in the village,
the house of the cornet, Elias Vasilich--that is to say at Granny
'Goodness knows what it will be like, Dmitri Andreich,' said the
panting Vanyusha to Olenin, who, dressed in a Circassian coat and
mounted on a Kabarda horse which he had bought in Groznoe, was
after a five-hours' march gaily entering the yard of the quarters
assigned to him.
'Why, what's the matter?' he asked, caressing his horse and
looking merrily at the perspiring, dishevelled, and worried
Vanyusha, who had arrived with the baggage wagons and was
Olenin looked quite a different man. In place of his clean-shaven
lips and chin he had a youthful moustache and a small beard.
Instead of a sallow complexion, the result of nights turned into
day, his cheeks, his forehead, and the skin behind his ears were
now red with healthy sunburn. In place of a clean new black suit
he wore a dirty white Circassian coat with a deeply pleated skirt,
and he bore arms. Instead of a freshly starched collar, his neck
was tightly clasped by the red band of his silk BESHMET. He wore
Circassian dress but did not wear it well, and anyone would have
known him for a Russian and not a Tartar brave. It was the thing--
but not the real thing. But for all that, his whole person
breathed health, joy, and satisfaction.
'Yes, it seems funny to you,' said Vanyusha, 'but just try to talk
to these people yourself: they set themselves against one and
there's an end of it. You can't get as much as a word out of
them.' Vanyusha angrily threw down a pail on the threshold.
'Somehow they don't seem like Russians.'
'You should speak to the Chief of the Village!'
'But I don't know where he lives,' said Vanyusha in an offended
'Who has upset you so?' asked Olenin, looking round.
'The devil only knows. Faugh! There is no real master here. They
say he has gone to some kind of KRIGA, and the old woman is a real
devil. God preserve us!' answered Vanyusha, putting his hands to
his head. 'How we shall live here I don't know. They are worse
than Tartars, I do declare--though they consider themselves
Christians! A Tartar is bad enough, but all the same he is more
noble. Gone to the KRIGA indeed! What this KRIGA they have
invented is, I don't know!' concluded Vanyusha, and turned aside.
'It's not as it is in the serfs' quarters at home, eh?' chaffed
Olenin without dismounting.
'Please sir, may I have your horse?' said Vanyusha, evidently
perplexed by this new order of things but resigning himself to his
'So a Tartar is more noble, eh, Vanyusha?' repeated Olenin,
dismounting and slapping the saddle.
'Yes, you're laughing! You think it funny,' muttered Vanyusha
'Come, don't be angry, Vanyusha,' replied Olenin, still smiling.
'Wait a minute, I'll go and speak to the people of the house;
you'll see I shall arrange everything. You don't know what a jolly
life we shall have here. Only don't get upset.'
Vanyusha did not answer. Screwing up his eyes he looked
contemptuously after his master, and shook his head. Vanyusha
regarded Olenin as only his master, and Olenin regarded Vanyusha
as only his servant; and they would both have been much surprised
if anyone had told them that they were friends, as they really
were without knowing it themselves. Vanyusha had been taken into
his proprietor's house when he was only eleven and when Olenin was
the same age. When Olenin was fifteen he gave Vanyusha lessons for
a time and taught him to read French, of which the latter was
inordinately proud; and when in specially good spirits he still
let off French words, always laughing stupidly when he did so.
Olenin ran up the steps of the porch and pushed open the door of
the hut. Maryanka, wearing nothing but a pink smock, as all
Cossack women do in the house, jumped away from the door,
frightened, and pressing herself against the wall covered the
lower part other face with the broad sleeve of her Tartar smock.
Having opened the door wider, Olenin in the semi-darkness of the
passage saw the whole tall, shapely figure of the young Cossack
girl. With the quick and eager curiosity of youth he involuntarily
noticed the firm maidenly form revealed by the fine print smock,
and the beautiful black eyes fixed on him with childlike terror
and wild curiosity. 'This is SHE,' thought Olenin. 'But there will
be many others like her' came at once into his head, and he opened
the inner door. Old Granny Ulitka, also dressed only in a smock,
was stooping with her back turned to him, sweeping the floor.
'Good-day to you. Mother! I've come about my lodgings,' he began.
The Cossack woman, without unbending, turned her severe but still
handsome face towards him.
'What have you come here for? Want to mock at us, eh? I'll teach
you to mock; may the black plague seize you!' she shouted, looking
askance from under her frowning brow at the new-comer.
Olenin had at first imagined that the way-worn, gallant Caucasian
Army (of which he was a member) would be everywhere received
joyfully, and especially by the Cossacks, our comrades in the war;
and he therefore felt perplexed by this reception. Without losing
presence of mind however he tried to explain that he meant to pay
for his lodgings, but the old woman would not give him a hearing.
'What have you come for? Who wants a pest like you, with your
scraped face? You just wait a bit; when the master returns he'll
show you your place. I don't want your dirty money! A likely
thing--just as if we had never seen any! You'll stink the house
out with your beastly tobacco and want to put it right with money!
Think we've never seen a pest! May you be shot in your bowels and
your heart!' shrieked the old woman in a piercing voice,
'It seems Vanyusha was right!' thought Olenin. "A Tartar would be
nobler",' and followed by Granny Ulitka's abuse he went out of the
hut. As he was leaving, Maryanka, still wearing only her pink
smock, but with her forehead covered down to her eyes by a white
kerchief, suddenly slipped out from the passage past him.
Pattering rapidly down the steps with her bare feet she ran from
the porch, stopped, and looking round hastily with laughing eyes
at the young man, vanished round the corner of the hut.
Her firm youthful step, the untamed look of the eyes glistening
from under the white kerchief, and the firm stately build of the
young beauty, struck Olenin even more powerfully than before.
'Yes, it must be SHE,' he thought, and troubling his head still
less about the lodgings, he kept looking round at Maryanka as he
'There you see, the girl too is quite savage, just like a wild
filly!' said Vanyusha, who though still busy with the luggage
wagon had now cheered up a bit. 'LA FAME!' he added in a loud
triumphant voice and burst out laughing.
Towards evening the master of the house returned from his fishing,
and having learnt that the cadet would pay for the lodging,
pacified the old woman and satisfied Vanyusha's demands.
Everything was arranged in the new quarters. Their hosts moved
into the winter hut and let their summer hut to the cadet for
three rubles a month. Olenin had something to eat and went to
sleep. Towards evening he woke up, washed and made himself tidy,
dined, and having lit a cigarette sat down by the window that
looked onto the street. It was cooler. The slanting shadow of the
hut with its ornamental gables fell across the dusty road and even
bent upwards at the base of the wall of the house opposite. The
steep reed-thatched roof of that house shone in the rays of the
setting sun. The air grew fresher. Everything was peaceful in the
village. The soldiers had settled down and become quiet. The herds
had not yet been driven home and the people had not returned from
Olenin's lodging was situated almost at the end of the village. At
rare intervals, from somewhere far beyond the Terek in those parts
whence Olenin had just come (the Chechen or the Kumytsk plain),
came muffled sounds of firing. Olenin was feeling very well