A Prisoner Of The Caucasus
: STORIES FOR CHILDREN
: Fables For Children, Stories For Children, Natural Science Stori
A certain gentleman was serving as an officer in the Caucasus. His name
One day he received a letter from home. His old mother wrote to him:
"I have grown old, and I should like to see my darling son before my
death. Come to bid me farewell and bury me, and then, with God's aid,
return to the service. I have also found a bride for you: she is bright
nd pretty and has property. If you take a liking to her, you can marry
her, and stay here for good."
Zhilin reflected: "Indeed, my old mother has grown feeble; perhaps I
shall never see her again. I must go; and if the bride is a good girl, I
may marry her."
He went to the colonel, got a furlough, bade his companions good-bye,
treated his soldiers to four buckets of vodka, and got himself ready to
At that time there was a war in the Caucasus. Neither in the daytime,
nor at night, was it safe to travel on the roads. The moment a Russian
walked or drove away from a fortress, the Tartars either killed him or
took him as a prisoner to the mountains. It was a rule that a guard of
soldiers should go twice a week from fortress to fortress. In front and
in the rear walked soldiers, and between them were other people.
It was in the summer. The carts gathered at daybreak outside the
fortress, and the soldiers of the convoy came out, and all started.
Zhilin rode on horseback, and his cart with his things went with the
They had to travel twenty-five versts. The caravan proceeded slowly; now
the soldiers stopped, and now a wheel came off a cart, or a horse
stopped, and all had to stand still and wait.
The sun had already passed midday, but the caravan had made only half
the distance. It was dusty and hot; the sun just roasted them, and there
was no shelter: it was a barren plain, with neither tree nor bush along
Zhilin rode out ahead. He stopped and waited for the caravan to catch up
with him. He heard them blow the signal-horn behind: they had stopped
Zhilin thought: "Why can't I ride on, without the soldiers? I have a
good horse under me, and if I run against Tartars, I will gallop away.
Or had I better not go?"
He stopped to think it over. There rode up to him another officer,
Kostylin, with a gun, and said:
"Let us ride by ourselves, Zhilin! I cannot stand it any longer: I am
hungry, and it is so hot. My shirt is dripping wet."
Kostylin was a heavy, stout man, with a red face, and the perspiration
was just rolling down his face. Zhilin thought awhile and said:
"Is your gun loaded?"
"Well, then, we will go, but on one condition, that we do not separate."
And so they rode ahead on the highway. They rode through the steppe, and
talked, and looked about them. They could see a long way off.
When the steppe came to an end, the road entered a cleft between two
mountains. So Zhilin said:
"We ought to ride up the mountain to take a look; for here they may
leap out on us from the mountain without our seeing them."
But Kostylin said:
"What is the use of looking? Let us ride on!"
Zhilin paid no attention to him.
"No," he said, "you wait here below, and I will take a look up there."
And he turned his horse to the left, up-hill. The horse under Zhilin was
a thoroughbred (he had paid a hundred roubles for it when it was a colt,
and had himself trained it), and it carried him up the slope as though
on wings. The moment he reached the summit, he saw before him a number
of Tartars on horseback, about eighty fathoms away. There were about
thirty of them. When he saw them, he began to turn back; and the Tartars
saw him, and galloped toward him, and on the ride took their guns out of
the covers. Zhilin urged his horse down-hill as fast as its legs would
carry him, and he shouted to Kostylin:
"Take out the gun!" and he himself thought about his horse: "Darling,
take me away from here! Don't stumble! If you do, I am lost. If I get to
the gun, they shall not catch me."
But Kostylin, instead of waiting, galloped at full speed toward the
fortress, the moment he saw the Tartars. He urged the horse on with the
whip, now on one side, and now on the other. One could see through the
dust only the horse switching her tail.
Zhilin saw that things were bad. The gun had disappeared, and he could
do nothing with a sword. He turned his horse back to the soldiers,
thinking that he might get away. He saw six men crossing his path. He
had a good horse under him, but theirs were better still, and they
crossed his path. He began to check his horse: he wanted to turn around;
but the horse was running at full speed and could not be stopped, and he
flew straight toward them. He saw a red-bearded Tartar on a gray horse,
who was coming near to him. He howled and showed his teeth, and his gun
was against his shoulder.
"Well," thought Zhilin, "I know you devils. When you take one alive, you
put him in a hole and beat him with a whip. I will not fall into your
Though Zhilin was not tall, he was brave. He drew his sword, turned his
horse straight against the Tartar, and thought:
"Either I will knock his horse off its feet, or I will strike the Tartar
with my sword."
Zhilin got within a horse's length from him, when they shot at him from
behind and hit the horse. The horse dropped on the ground while going at
full speed, and fell on Zhilin's leg.
He wanted to get up, but two stinking Tartars were already astride of
him. He tugged and knocked down the two Tartars, but three more jumped
down from their horses and began to strike him with the butts of their
guns. Things grew dim before his eyes, and he tottered. The Tartars took
hold of him, took from their saddles some reserve straps, twisted his
arms behind his back, tied them with a Tartar knot, and fastened him to
the saddle. They knocked down his hat, pulled off his boots, rummaged
all over him, and took away his money and his watch, and tore all his
Zhilin looked back at his horse. The dear animal was lying just as it
had fallen down, and only twitched its legs and did not reach the ground
with them; in its head there was a hole, and from it the black blood
gushed and wet the dust for an ell around.
A Tartar went up to the horse, to pull off the saddle. The horse was
struggling still, and so he took out his dagger and cut its throat. A
whistling sound came from the throat, and the horse twitched, and was
The Tartars took off the saddle and the trappings. The red-bearded
Tartar mounted his horse, and the others seated Zhilin behind him. To
prevent his falling off, they attached him by a strap to the Tartar's
belt, and they rode off to the mountains.
Zhilin was sitting back of the Tartar, and shaking and striking with his
face against the stinking Tartar's back. All he saw before him was the
mighty back, and the muscular neck, and the livid, shaved nape of his
head underneath his cap. Zhilin's head was bruised, and the blood was
clotted under his eyes. And he could not straighten himself on the
saddle, nor wipe off his blood. His arms were twisted so badly that his
shoulder bones pained him.
They rode for a long time from one mountain to another, and forded a
river, and came out on a path, where they rode through a ravine.
Zhilin wanted to take note of the road on which they were travelling,
but his eyes were smeared with blood, and he could not turn around.
It was getting dark. They crossed another stream and rode up a rocky
mountain. There was an odour of smoke, and the dogs began to bark. They
had come to a native village. The Tartars got down from their horses;
the Tartar children gathered around Zhilin, and screamed, and rejoiced,
and aimed stones at him.
The Tartar drove the boys away, took Zhilin down from his horse, and
called a labourer. There came a Nogay, with large cheek-bones; he wore
nothing but a shirt. The shirt was torn and left his breast bare. The
Tartar gave him a command. The labourer brought the stocks,--two oak
planks drawn through iron rings, and one of these rings with a clasp and
They untied Zhilin's hands, put the stocks on him, and led him into a
shed: they pushed him in and locked the door. Zhilin fell on the manure
pile. He felt around in the darkness for a soft spot, and lay down
Photogravure from Painting by A. Kivshenko]
Zhilin lay awake nearly the whole night. The nights were short. He saw
through a chink that it was getting light. He got up, made the chink
larger, and looked out.
Through the chink Zhilin saw the road: it went down-hill; on the right
was a Tartar cabin, and near it two trees. A black dog lay on the
threshold, and a goat strutted about with her kids, which were jerking
their little tails. He saw a young Tartar woman coming up the hill; she
wore a loose coloured shirt and pantaloons and boots, and her head was
covered with a caftan, and on her head there was a large tin pitcher
with water. She walked along, jerking her back, and bending over, and by
the hand she led a young shaven Tartar boy in nothing but his shirt. The
Tartar woman went into the cabin with the water, and out came the Tartar
of the day before, with the red beard, wearing a silk half-coat, a
silver dagger on a strap, and shoes on his bare feet. On his head there
was a tall, black sheepskin hat, tilted backwards. He came out, and he
stretched himself and smoothed his red beard. He stood awhile, gave the
labourer an order, and went away.
Then two boys rode by, taking the horses to water. The muzzles of the
horses were wet. Then there ran out some other shaven boys, in nothing
but their shirts, with no trousers; they gathered in a crowd, walked
over to the shed, picked up a stick, and began to poke it through the
chink. When Zhilin shouted at the children, they screamed and started to
run back, so that their bare knees glistened in the sun.
Zhilin wanted to drink,--his throat was all dried up. He thought: "If
they would only come to see me!" He heard them open the shed. The red
Tartar came in, and with him another, black-looking fellow, of smaller
stature. His eyes were black and bright, his cheeks ruddy, his small
beard clipped; his face looked jolly, and he kept laughing all the time.
This swarthy fellow was dressed even better: he had on a silk half-coat,
of a blue colour, embroidered with galloons. In his belt there was a
large silver dagger; his slippers were of red morocco and also
embroidered with silver. Over his thin slippers he wore heavier shoes.
His cap was tall, of white astrakhan.
The red Tartar came in. He said something, as though scolding, and
stopped. He leaned against the door-post, dangled his dagger, and like a
wolf looked furtively at Zhilin. But the swarthy fellow--swift, lively,
walking around as though on springs--went up straight to Zhilin,
squatted down, showed his teeth, slapped him on the shoulder, began to
rattle off something in his language, winked with his eyes, clicked his
tongue, and kept repeating: "Goot Uruss! Goot Uruss!"
Zhilin did not understand a thing and said:
"Give me to drink, give me water to drink!"
The swarthy fellow laughed. "Goot Uruss!" he kept rattling off.
Zhilin showed with his lips and hands that he wanted something to drink.
The swarthy fellow understood what he wanted, laughed out, looked
through the door, and called some one: "Dina!"
In came a thin, slender little girl, of about thirteen years of age, who
resembled the swarthy man very much. Evidently she was his daughter. Her
eyes, too, were black and bright, and her face was pretty. She wore a
long blue shirt, with broad sleeves and without a belt. The skirt, the
breast, and the sleeves were trimmed with red. On her legs were
pantaloons, and on her feet slippers, with high-heeled shoes over them;
on her neck she wore a necklace of Russian half-roubles. Her head was
uncovered; her braid was black, with a ribbon through it, and from the
ribbon hung small plates and a Russian rouble.
Her father gave her a command. She ran away, and came back and brought a
small tin pitcher. She gave him the water, and herself squatted down,
bending up in such a way that her shoulders were below her knees. She
sat there, and opened her eyes, and looked at Zhilin drinking, as though
he were some animal.
Zhilin handed her back the pitcher. She jumped away like a wild goat.
Even her father laughed. He sent her somewhere else. She took the
pitcher and ran away; she brought some fresh bread on a round board, and
again sat down, bent over, riveted her eyes on him, and kept looking.
The Tartars went away and locked the door.
After awhile the Nogay came to Zhilin, and said:
"Ai-da, master, ai-da!"
He did not know any Russian, either. All Zhilin could make out was that
he should follow him.
Zhilin started with the stocks, and he limped and could not walk, so
much did the stocks pull his legs aside. Zhilin went out with the Nogay.
He saw a Tartar village of about ten houses, and a church of theirs,
with a small tower. Near one house stood three horses, all saddled. Boys
were holding the reins. From the house sprang the swarthy Tartar, and he
waved his hand for Zhilin to come up. He laughed all the while, and
talked in his language, and disappeared through the door.
Zhilin entered the house. It was a good living-room,--the walls were
plastered smooth with clay. Along the front wall lay coloured cushions,
and at the sides hung costly rugs; on the rugs were guns, pistols,
swords,--all in silver. By one wall there was a small stove, on a level
with the floor. The floor was of dirt and as clean as a threshing-floor,
and the whole front corner was carpeted with felt; and over the felt lay
rugs, and on the rugs cushions. On these rugs sat the Tartars, in their
slippers without their outer shoes: there were the swarthy fellow, the
red Tartar, and three guests. At their backs were feather cushions, and
before them, on a round board, were millet cakes and melted butter in a
bowl, and Tartar beer, "buza," in a small pitcher. They were eating with
their hands, and their hands were all greasy from the butter.
The swarthy man jumped up and ordered Zhilin to be placed to one side,
not on a rug, but on the bare floor; he went back to his rug, and
treated his guests to millet cakes and buza. The labourer placed Zhilin
where he had been ordered, himself took off his outer shoes, put them at
the door, where stood the other shoes, and sat down on the felt next to
the masters. He looked at them as they ate, and wiped off his spittle.
The Tartars ate the cakes. Then there came a Tartar woman, in a shirt
like the one the girl had on, and in pantaloons, and with a kerchief
over her head. She carried away the butter and the cakes, and brought a
small wash-basin of a pretty shape, and a pitcher with a narrow neck.
The Tartars washed their hands, then folded them, knelt down, blew in
every direction, and said their prayers. Then one of the Tartar guests
turned to Zhilin, and began to speak in Russian:
"You," he said, "were taken by Kazi-Muhammed," and he pointed to the red
Tartar, "and he gave you to Abdul-Murat." He pointed to the swarthy man.
"Abdul-Murat is now your master."
Zhilin kept silence. Then Abdul-Murat began to speak. He pointed to
Zhilin, and laughed, and kept repeating:
"Soldier Uruss! Goot Uruss!"
The interpreter said:
"He wants you to write a letter home that they may send a ransom for
you. When they send it, you will be set free."
Zhilin thought awhile and said:
"How much ransom does he want?"
The Tartars talked together; then the interpreter said:
"Three thousand in silver."
"No," said Zhilin, "I cannot pay that."
Abdul jumped up, began to wave his hands and to talk to Zhilin, thinking
that he would understand him. The interpreter translated. He said:
"How much will you give?"
Zhilin thought awhile, and said:
"Five hundred roubles."
Then the Tartars began to talk a great deal, all at the same time. Abdul
shouted at the red Tartar. He was so excited that the spittle just
spirted from his mouth.
But the red Tartar only scowled and clicked his tongue.
They grew silent, and the interpreter said:
"The master is not satisfied with five hundred roubles. He has himself
paid two hundred for you. Kazi-Muhammed owed him a debt. He took you for
that debt. Three thousand roubles, nothing less will do. And if you do
not write, you will be put in a hole and beaten with a whip."
"Oh," thought Zhilin, "it will not do to show that I am frightened; that
will only be worse." He leaped to his feet, and said:
"Tell that dog that if he is going to frighten me, I will not give him a
penny, and I will refuse to write. I have never been afraid of you dogs,
and I never will be."
The interpreter translated, and all began to speak at the same time.
They babbled for a long time; then the swarthy Tartar jumped up and
walked over to Zhilin:
"Uruss," he said, "dzhigit, dzhigit Uruss!"
Dzhigit in their language means a "brave." And he laughed; he said
something to the interpreter, and the interpreter said:
"Give one thousand roubles!"
Zhilin stuck to what he had said:
"I will not give more than five hundred. And if you kill me, you will
The Tartars talked awhile and sent the labourer somewhere, and
themselves kept looking now at Zhilin and now at the door. The labourer
came, and behind him walked a fat man; he was barefoot and tattered; he,
too, had on the stocks.
Zhilin just shouted, for he recognized Kostylin. He, too, had been
caught. They were placed beside each other. They began to talk to each
other, and the Tartars kept silence and looked at them. Zhilin told what
had happened to him; and Kostylin told him that his horse had stopped
and his gun had missed fire, and that the same Abdul had overtaken and
Abdul jumped up, and pointed to Kostylin, and said something. The
interpreter translated it, and said that both of them belonged to the
same master, and that the one who would first furnish the money would be
the first to be released.
"Now you," he said, "are a cross fellow, but your friend is meek; he has
written a letter home, and they will send five thousand roubles. He will
be fed well, and will not be insulted."
So Zhilin said:
"My friend may do as he pleases; maybe he is rich, but I am not. As I
have said, so will it be. If you want to, kill me,--you will not gain by
it,--but more than five hundred will I not give."
They were silent for awhile. Suddenly Abdul jumped up, fetched a small
box, took out a pen, a piece of paper, and some ink, put it all before
Zhilin, slapped him on the shoulder, and motioned for him to write. He
agreed to the five hundred.
"Wait awhile," Zhilin said to the interpreter. "Tell him that he has to
feed us well, and give us the proper clothes and shoes, and keep us
together,--it will be jollier for us,--and take off the stocks." He
looked at the master and laughed. The master himself laughed. He
listened to the interpreter, and said:
"I will give you the best of clothes,--a Circassian mantle and
boots,--you will be fit to marry. We will feed you like princes. And if
you want to stay together, you may live in the shed. But the stocks
cannot be taken off, for you will run away. For the night we will take
He ran up to Zhilin, and tapped him on the shoulder:
"You goot, me goot!"
Zhilin wrote the letter, but he did not address it right. He thought he
would run away.
Zhilin and Kostylin were taken back to the shed. They brought for them
maize straw, water in a pitcher, bread, two old mantles, and worn
soldier boots. They had evidently been pulled off dead soldiers. For the
night the stocks were taken off, and they were locked in the barn.
Zhilin and his companion lived thus for a whole month. Their master kept
"You, Ivan, goot, me, Abdul, goot!"
But he did not feed them well. All he gave them to eat was unsalted
millet bread, baked like pones, or entirely unbaked dough.
Kostylin wrote home a second letter. He was waiting for the money to
come, and felt lonesome. He sat for days at a time in the shed counting
the days before the letter would come, or he slept. But Zhilin knew
that his letter would not reach any one, and so he did not write
"Where," he thought, "is my mother to get so much money? As it is, she
lived mainly by what I sent her. If she should collect five hundred
roubles, she would be ruined in the end. If God grants it, I will manage
to get away from here."
And he watched and thought of how to get away.
He walked through the village and whistled, or he sat down somewhere to
work with his hands, either making a doll from clay, or weaving a fence
from twigs. Zhilin was a great hand at all kinds of such work.
One day he made a doll, with a nose, and hands, and legs, in a Tartar
shirt, and put the doll on the roof. The Tartar maidens were going for
water. His master's daughter, Dina, saw the doll, and she called up the
Tartar girls. They put down their pitchers, and looked, and laughed.
Zhilin took down the doll and gave it to them. They laughed, and did not
dare take it. He left the doll, and went back to the shed to see what
they would do.
Dina ran up, looked around, grasped the doll, and ran away with it.
In the morning, at daybreak, he saw Dina coming out with the doll in
front of the house. The doll was all dressed up in red rags, and she was
rocking the doll and singing to it in her fashion. The old woman came
out. She scolded her, took the doll away from her and broke it, and sent
Dina to work.
Zhilin made another doll, a better one than before, and he gave it to
Dina. One day Dina brought him a small pitcher. She put it down, herself
sat down and looked at him, and laughed, as she pointed to the pitcher.
"What is she so happy about?" thought Zhilin.
He took the pitcher and began to drink. He thought it was water, but,
behold, it was milk. He drank the milk, and said:
"It is good!"
Dina was very happy.
"Good, Ivan, good!" and she jumped up, clapped her hands, took away the
pitcher, and ran off.
From that time she brought him milk every day on the sly. The Tartars
make cheese-cakes from goat milk, and dry them on the roofs,--and so she
brought him those cakes also. One day the master killed a sheep, so she
brought him a piece of mutton in her sleeve. She would throw it down and
One day there was a severe storm, and for an hour the rain fell as
though from a pail. All the streams became turbid. Where there was a
ford, the water was now eight feet deep, and stones were borne down.
Torrents were running everywhere, and there was a roar in the mountains.
When the storm was over, streams were coming down the village in every
direction. Zhilin asked his master to let him have a penknife, and with
it he cut out a small axle and little boards, and made a wheel, and to
each end of the wheel he attached a doll.
The girls brought him pieces of material, and he dressed the dolls: one
a man, the other a woman. He fixed them firmly, and placed the wheel
over a brook. The wheel began to turn, and the dolls to jump.
The whole village gathered around it; boys, girls, women, and men came,
and they clicked with their tongues:
"Ai, Uruss! Ai, Ivan!"
Abdul had a Russian watch, but it was broken. He called Zhilin, showed
it to him, and clicked his tongue. Zhilin said:
"Let me have it! I will fix it!"
He took it to pieces with a penknife; then he put it together, and gave
it back to him. The watch was running now.
The master was delighted. He brought his old half-coat,--it was all in
rags,--and made him a present of it. What could he do but take it? He
thought it would be good enough to cover himself with in the night.
After that the rumour went abroad that Zhilin was a great master. They
began to come to him from distant villages: one, to have him fix a
gun-lock or a pistol, another, to set a clock a-going. His master
brought him tools,--pinchers, gimlets, and files.
One day a Tartar became sick: they sent to Zhilin, and said, "Go and
cure him!" Zhilin did not know anything about medicine. He went, took a
look at him, and thought, "Maybe he will get well by himself." He went
to the barn, took some water and sand, and mixed it. In the presence of
the Tartars he said a charm over the water, and gave it to him to drink.
Luckily for him, the Tartar got well.
Zhilin began to understand their language. Some of the Tartars got used
to him. When they needed him, they called, "Ivan, Ivan!" but others
looked at him awry, as at an animal.
The red Tartar did not like Zhilin. Whenever he saw him, he frowned and
turned away, or called him names. There was also an old man; he did not
live in the village, but came from farther down the mountain. Zhilin saw
him only when he came to the mosque, to pray to God. He was a small man;
his cap was wrapped with a white towel. His beard and moustache were
clipped, and they were as white as down; his face was wrinkled and as
red as a brick. His nose was hooked, like a hawk's beak, and his eyes
were gray and mean-looking; of teeth he had only two tusks. He used to
walk in his turban, leaning on a crutch, and looking around him like a
wolf. Whenever he saw Zhilin, he grunted and turned away.
One day Zhilin went down-hill, to see where the old man was living. He
walked down the road, and saw a little garden, with a stone fence, and
inside the fence were cherry and apricot trees, and stood a hut with a
flat roof. He came closer to it, and he saw beehives woven from straw,
and bees were swarming around and buzzing. The old man was kneeling, and
doing something to a hive. Zhilin got up higher, to get a good look, and
made a noise with his stocks. The old man looked around and shrieked; he
pulled the pistol out from his belt and fired at Zhilin. He had just
time to hide behind a rock.
The old man went to the master to complain about Zhilin. The master
called up Zhilin, and laughed, and asked:
"Why did you go to the old man?"
"I have not done him any harm," he said. "I just wanted to see how he
The master told the old man that. But the old man was angry, and hissed,
and rattled something off; he showed his teeth and waved his hand
threateningly at Zhilin.
Zhilin did not understand it all; but he understood that the old man was
telling his master to kill all the Russians, and not to keep them in the
village. The old man went away.
Zhilin asked his master what kind of a man that old Tartar was. The
"He is a big man! He used to be the first dzhigit: he killed a lot of
Russians, and he was rich. He had three wives and eight sons. All of
them lived in the same village. The Russians came, destroyed the
village, and killed seven of his sons. One son was left alive, and he
surrendered himself to the Russians. The old man went and surrendered
himself, too, to the Russians. He stayed with them three months, found
his son there, and killed him, and then he ran away. Since then he has
stopped fighting. He has been to Mecca, to pray to God, and that is why
he wears the turban. He who has been to Mecca is called a Hadji and puts
on a turban. He has no use for you fellows. He tells me to kill you;
but I cannot kill you,--I have paid for you; and then, Ivan, I like you.
I not only have no intention of killing you, but I would not let you go
back, if I had not given my word to you." He laughed as he said that,
and added in Russian: "You, Ivan, good, me, Abdul, good!"
Zhilin lived thus for a month. In the daytime he walked around the
village and made things with his hands, and when night came, and all was
quiet in the village, he began to dig in the shed. It was difficult to
dig on account of the rocks, but he sawed the stones with the file, and
made a hole through which he meant to crawl later. "First I must find
out what direction to go in," he thought; "but the Tartars will not tell
So he chose a time when his master was away; he went after dinner back
of the village, up-hill, where he could see the place. But when his
master went away, he told his little boy to keep an eye on Zhilin and to
follow him everywhere. So the boy ran after Zhilin, and said:
"Don't go! Father said that you should not go there. I will call the
Zhilin began to persuade him.
"I do not want to go far," he said; "I just want to walk up the
mountain: I want to find an herb with which to cure you people. Come
with me; I cannot run away with the stocks. To-morrow I will make you a
bow and arrows."
He persuaded the boy, and they went together. As he looked up the
mountain, it looked near, but with the stocks it was hard to walk; he
walked and walked, and climbed the mountain with difficulty. Zhilin sat
down and began to look at the place. To the south of the shed there was
a ravine, and there a herd of horses was grazing, and in a hollow could
be seen another village. At that village began a steeper mountain, and
beyond that mountain there was another mountain. Between the mountains
could be seen a forest, and beyond it again the mountains, rising higher
and higher. Highest of all, there were white mountains, capped with
snow, just like sugar loaves. And one snow mountain stood with its cap
above all the rest. To the east and the west there were just such
mountains; here and there smoke rose from villages in the clefts.
"Well," he thought, "that is all their side."
He began to look to the Russian side. At his feet was a brook and his
village, and all around were little gardens. At the brook women were
sitting,--they looked as small as dolls,--and washing the linen. Beyond
the village and below it there was a mountain, and beyond that, two
other mountains, covered with forests; between the two mountains could
be seen an even spot, and on that plain, far, far away, it looked as
though smoke were settling. Zhilin recalled where the sun used to rise
and set when he was at home in the fortress. He looked down there,--sure
enough, that was the valley where the Russian fortress ought to be.
There, then, between those two mountains, he had to run.
The sun was beginning to go down. The snow-capped mountains changed from
white to violet; it grew dark in the black mountains; vapour arose from
the clefts, and the valley, where our fortress no doubt was, gleamed in
the sunset as though on fire. Zhilin began to look sharply,--something
was quivering in the valley, like smoke rising from chimneys. He was
sure now that it must be the Russian fortress.
It grew late; he could hear the mullah call; the flock was being driven,
and the cows lowed. The boy said to him, "Come!" but Zhilin did not feel
They returned home. "Well," thought Zhilin, "now I know the place, and I
must run." He wanted to run that same night. The nights were dark,--the
moon was on the wane. Unfortunately the Tartars returned toward evening.
At other times they returned driving cattle before them, and then they
were jolly. But this time they did not drive home anything, but brought
back a dead Tartar, a red-haired companion of theirs. They came back
angry, and all gathered to bury him. Zhilin, too, went out to see. They
wrapped the dead man in linen, without putting him in a coffin, and
carried him under the plane-trees beyond the village, and placed him on
the grass. The mullah came, and the old men gathered around him, their
caps wrapped with towels, and took off their shoes and seated themselves
in a row on their heels, in front of the dead man.
At their head was the mullah, and then three old men in turbans, sitting
in a row, and behind them other Tartars. They sat, and bent their heads,
and kept silence. They were silent for quite awhile. Then the mullah
raised his head, and said:
"Allah!" (That means "God.") He said that one word, and again they
lowered their heads and kept silence for a long time; they sat without
stirring. Again the mullah raised his head:
"Allah!" and all repeated, "Allah!" and again they were silent. The dead
man lay on the grass, and did not stir, and they sat about him like the
dead. Not one of them stirred. One could hear only the leaves on the
plane-tree rustling in the breeze. Then the mullah said a prayer, and
all got up, lifted the dead body, and carried it away. They took it to a
grave,--not a simple grave, but dug under like a cave. They took the
dead man under his arms and by his legs, bent him over, let him down
softly, pushed him under in a sitting posture, and fixed his arms on his
A Nogay dragged up a lot of green reeds; they bedded the grave with it,
then quickly filled it with dirt, levelled it up, and put a stone up
straight at the head of it. They tramped down the earth, and again sat
down in a row near the grave. They were silent for a long time.
"Allah, Allah, Allah!" They sighed and got up.
A red-haired Tartar distributed money to the old men; then he got up,
took a whip, struck himself three times on his forehead, and went home.
Next morning Zhilin saw the red Tartar take a mare out of the village,
and three Tartars followed him. They went outside the village; then the
red-haired Tartar took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves,--he had
immense arms,--and took out his dagger and whetted it on a steel. The
Tartars jerked up the mare's head, and the red-haired man walked over to
her, cut her throat, threw her down, and began to flay her,--to rip the
skin open with his fists. Then came women and girls, and they began to
wash the inside and the entrails. Then they chopped up the mare and
dragged the flesh to the house. And the whole village gathered at the
house of the red-haired Tartar to celebrate the dead man's wake.
For three days did they eat the horse-flesh, drink buza, and remember
the dead man. On the fourth day Zhilin saw them get ready to go
somewhere for a dinner. They brought horses, dressed themselves up, and
went away,--about ten men, and the red Tartar with them; Abdul was the
only one who was left at home. The moon was just beginning to increase,
and the nights were still dark.
"Well," thought Zhilin, "to-night I must run," and he told Kostylin so.
But Kostylin was timid.
"How can we run? We do not know the road."
"I know it."
"But we cannot reach it in the night."
"If we do not, we shall stay for the night in the woods. I have a lot of
cakes with me. You certainly do not mean to stay. It would be all right
if they sent the money; but suppose they cannot get together so much.
The Tartars are mean now, because the Russians have killed one of
theirs. I understand they want to kill us now."
Kostylin thought awhile:
"Well, let us go!"
Zhilin crept into the hole and dug it wider, so that Kostylin could get
through; and then they sat still and waited for everything to quiet down
in the village.
When all grew quiet, Zhilin crawled through the hole and got out. He
whispered to Kostylin to crawl out. Kostylin started to come out, but he
caught a stone with his foot, and it made a noise. Now their master had
a dappled watch-dog, and he was dreadfully mean; his name was Ulyashin.
Zhilin had been feeding him before. When Ulyashin heard the voice, he
began to bark and rushed forward, and with him other dogs. Zhilin gave a
low whistle and threw a piece of cake to the dog, and the dog recognized
him and wagged his tail and stopped barking.
The master heard it, and he called out from the hut, "Hait, hait,
But Zhilin was scratching Ulyashin behind his ears; so the dog was
silent and rubbed against his legs and wagged his tail.
They sat awhile around the corner. All was silent; nothing could be
heard but the sheep coughing in the hut corner, and the water rippling
down the pebbles. It was dark; the stars stood high in the heaven; the
young moon shone red above the mountain, and its horns were turned
upward. In the clefts the mist looked as white as milk.
Zhilin got up and said to his companion:
"Now, my friend, let us start!"
They started. They had made but a few steps, when they heard the mullah
sing out on the roof: "Allah besmillah! Ilrakhman!" That meant that the
people were going to the mosque. They sat down again, hiding behind a
wall. They sat for a long time, waiting for the people to pass by. Again
everything was quiet.
"Well, with God's aid!" They made the sign of the cross, and started.
They crossed the yard and went down-hill to the brook; they crossed the
brook and walked down the ravine. The mist was dense and low on the
ground, and overhead the stars were, oh, so visible. Zhilin saw by the
stars in what direction they had to go. In the mist it felt fresh, and
it was easy to walk, only the boots were awkward, they had worn down so
much. Zhilin took off his boots and threw them away, and marched on
barefoot. He leaped from stone to stone, and kept watching the stars.
Kostylin began to fall behind.
"Walk slower," he said. "The accursed boots,--they have chafed my feet."
"Take them off! You will find it easier without them."
Kostylin walked barefoot after that; but it was only worse: he cut his
feet on the rocks, and kept falling behind. Zhilin said to him:
"If you bruise your feet, they will heal up; but if they catch you; they
will kill you,--so it will be worse."
Kostylin said nothing, but he groaned as he walked. They walked for a
long time through a ravine. Suddenly they heard dogs barking. Zhilin
stopped and looked around; he groped with his hands and climbed a hill.
"Oh," he said, "we have made a mistake,--we have borne too much to the
right. Here is a village,--I saw it from the mountain; we must go back
and to the left, and up the mountain. There must be a forest here."
But Kostylin said:
"Wait at least awhile! Let me rest: my feet are all blood-stained."
"Never mind, friend, they will heal up! Jump more lightly,--like this!"
And Zhilin ran back, and to the left, up the mountain into the forest.
Kostylin kept falling behind and groaning. Zhilin hushed him, and walked
They got up the mountain, and there, indeed, was a forest. They went
into the forest, and tore all the clothes they had against the thorns.
They struck a path in the forest, and followed it.
"Stop!" Hoofs were heard tramping on the path. They stopped to listen.
It was the sound of a horse's hoofs. They started, and again it began to
thud. They stopped, and it, too, stopped. Zhilin crawled up to it, and
saw something standing in the light on the road. It was not exactly a
horse, and again it was like a horse with something strange above it,
and certainly not a man. He heard it snort. "What in the world is it?"
Zhilin gave a light whistle, and it bolted away from the path, so that
he could hear it crash through the woods: the branches broke off, as
though a storm went through them.
Kostylin fell down in fright. But Zhilin laughed and said:
"That is a stag. Do you hear him break the branches with his horns? We
are afraid of him, and he is afraid of us."
They walked on. The Pleiades were beginning to settle,--it was not far
from morning. They did not know whether they were going right, or not.
Zhilin thought that that was the path over which they had taken him, and
that he was about ten versts from his own people; still there were no
certain signs, and, besides, in the night nothing could be made out.
They came out on a clearing. Kostylin sat down, and said:
"Do as you please, but I will not go any farther! My feet refuse to
Zhilin begged him to go on.
"No," he said, "I cannot walk on."
Zhilin got angry, spit out in disgust, and scolded him.
"Then I will go by myself,--good-bye!"
Kostylin got up and walked on. They walked about four versts. The mist
grew denser in the forest, and nothing could be seen in front of them,
and the stars were quite dim.
Suddenly they heard a horse tramping in front of them. They could hear
the horse catch with its hoofs in the stones. Zhilin lay down on his
belly, and put his ear to the ground to listen.
"So it is, a rider is coming this way!"
They ran off the road, sat down in the bushes, and waited. Zhilin crept
up to the road, and saw a Tartar on horseback, driving a cow before him,
and mumbling something to himself. The Tartar passed by them. Zhilin
went back to Kostylin.
"Well, with God's help, he is gone. Get up, and let us go!"
Kostylin tried to get up, but fell down.
"I cannot, upon my word, I cannot. I have no strength."
The heavy, puffed-up man was in a perspiration, and as the cold mist in
the forest went through him and his feet were all torn, he went all to
pieces. Zhilin tried to get him up, but Kostylin cried:
"Oh, it hurts!"
Zhilin was frightened.
"Don't shout so! You know that the Tartar is not far off,--he will hear
you." But he thought: "He is, indeed, weak, so what shall I do with him?
It will not do to abandon my companion."
"Well," he said, "get up, get on my back, and I will carry you, if you
He took Kostylin on his back, put his hands on Kostylin's legs, walked
out on the road, and walked on.
"Only be sure," he said, "and do not choke me with your hands, for
Christ's sake. Hold on to my shoulders!"
It was hard for Zhilin: his feet, too, were blood-stained, and he was
worn out. He kept bending down, straightening up Kostylin, and throwing
him up, so that he might sit higher, and dragged him along the road.
Evidently the Tartar had heard Kostylin's shout. Zhilin heard some one
riding from behind and calling in his language. Zhilin made for the
brush. The Tartar pulled out his gun and fired; he screeched in his
fashion, and rode back along the road.
"Well," said Zhilin, "we are lost, my friend! That dog will collect the
Tartars and they will start after us. If we cannot make another three
versts, we are lost." But he thought about Kostylin: "The devil has
tempted me to take this log along. If I had been alone, I should have
escaped long ago."
"Go yourself! Why should you perish for my sake?"
"No, I will not go,--it will not do to leave a comrade."
He took him once more on his shoulders, and held on to him. Thus they
walked another verst. The woods extended everywhere, and no end was to
be seen. The mist was beginning to lift, and rose in the air like little
clouds, and the stars could not be seen. Zhilin was worn out.
They came to a little spring by the road; it was lined with stones.
Zhilin stopped and put down Kostylin.
"Let me rest," he said, "and get a drink! We will eat our cakes. It
cannot be far now."
He had just got down to drink, when he heard the tramping of horses
behind them. Again they rushed to the right, into the bushes, down an
incline, and lay down.
They could hear Tartar voices. The Tartars stopped at the very spot
where they had left the road. They talked awhile, then they made a
sound, as though sicking dogs. Something crashed through the bushes, and
a strange dog made straight for them. It stopped and began to bark.
Then the Tartars came down,--they, too, were strangers. They took them,
bound them, put them on their horses, and carried them off.
They travelled about three versts, when they were met by Abdul, the
prisoners' master, and two more Tartars. They talked with each other,
and the prisoners were put on the other horses and taken back to the
Abdul no longer laughed, and did not speak one word with them.
They were brought to the village at daybreak, and were placed in the
street. The children ran up and beat them with stones and sticks, and
The Tartars gathered in a circle, and the old man from down-hill came,
too. They talked together. Zhilin saw that they were sitting in judgment
on them, discussing what to do with them. Some said that they ought to
be sent farther into the mountains, but the old man said that they
should be killed. Abdul disputed with them and said:
"I have paid money for them, and I will get a ransom for them."
But the old man said:
"They will not pay us anything; they will only give us trouble. It is a
sin to feed Russians. Kill them, and that will be the end of it."
They all went their way. The master walked over to Zhilin and said:
"If the ransom does not come in two weeks, I will beat you to death. And
if you try to run again I will kill you like a dog. Write a letter, and
write it well!"
Paper was brought to them, and they wrote the letters. The stocks were
put on them, and they were taken back of the mosque. There was a ditch
there, about twelve feet in depth,--and into this ditch they were let
They now led a very hard life. The stocks were not taken off, and they
were not let out into the wide world. Unbaked dough was thrown down to
them, as to dogs, and water was let down to them in a pitcher. There was
a stench in the ditch, and it was close and damp. Kostylin grew very
ill, and swelled, and had a breaking out on his whole body; and he kept
groaning all the time, or he slept. Zhilin was discouraged: he saw that
the situation was desperate. He did not know how to get out of it.
He began to dig, but there was no place to throw the dirt in; the master
saw it, and threatened to kill him.
One day he was squatting in the ditch, and thinking of the free world,
and he felt pretty bad. Suddenly a cake fell down on his knees, and a
second, and some cherries. He looked up,--it was Dina. She looked at
him, laughed, and ran away. Zhilin thought: "Maybe Dina will help me."
He cleaned up a place in the ditch, scraped up some clay, and began to
make dolls. He made men, horses, and dogs. He thought: "When Dina comes
I will throw them to her."
But on the next day Dina did not come. Zhilin heard the tramping of
horses; somebody rode by, and the Tartars gathered at the mosque; they
quarrelled and shouted, and talked about the Russians. And he heard the
old man's voice. He could not make out exactly what it was, but he
guessed that the Russians had come close to the village, and that the
Tartars were afraid that they might come to the village, and they did
not know what to do with the prisoners.
They talked awhile and went away. Suddenly he heard something rustle
above him. He looked up; Dina was squatting down, and her knees towered
above her head; she leaned over, and her necklace hung down and dangled
over the ditch. Her little eyes glistened like stars. She took two
cheese-cakes out of her sleeve and threw them down to him. Zhilin said
"Why have you not been here for so long? I have made you some toys. Here
He began to throw one after the other to her, but she shook her head,
and did not look at them.
"I do not want them," she said. She sat awhile in silence, and said;
"Ivan, they want to kill you!" She pointed with her hand to her neck.
"Who wants to kill me?"
"My father,--the old men tell him to. I am sorry for you."
So Zhilin said:
"If you pity me, bring me a long stick!"
She shook her head, to say that she could not. He folded his hands, and
began to beg her:
"Dina, if you please! Dear Dina, bring it to me!"
"I cannot," she said. "The people are at home, and they would see me."
And she went away.
Zhilin was sitting there in the evening, and thinking what would happen.
He kept looking up. The stars could be seen, and the moon was not yet
up. The mullah called, and all grew quiet. Zhilin was beginning to fall
asleep; he thought the girl would be afraid.
Suddenly some clay fell on his head. He looked up and saw a long pole
coming down at the end of the ditch. It tumbled, and descended, and came
down into the ditch. Zhilin was happy; he took hold of it and let it
down,--it was a stout pole. He had seen it before on his master's roof.
He looked up: the stars were shining high in the heavens, and over the
very ditch Dina's eyes glistened in the darkness. She bent her face over
the edge of the ditch, and whispered: "Ivan, Ivan!" and waved her hands
in front of her face, as much as to say: "Speak softly!"
"What is it?" asked Zhilin.
"They are all gone. There are two only at the house."
So Zhilin said:
"Kostylin, come, let us try for the last time; I will give you a lift."
Kostylin would not even listen.
"No," he said, "I shall never get away from here. Where should I go,
since I have no strength to turn around?"
"If so, good-bye! Do not think ill of me!"
He kissed Kostylin.
He took hold of the pole, told Dina to hold on to it, and climbed up.
Two or three times he slipped down: the stocks were in his way. Kostylin
held him up, and he managed to get on. Dina pulled him by the shirt with
all her might, and laughed.
Zhilin took the pole, and said:
"Take it to where you found it, for if they see it, they will beat you."
She dragged the pole away, and Zhilin went down-hill. He crawled down an
incline, took a sharp stone, and tried to break the lock of the stocks.
But the lock was a strong one, and he could not break it. He heard some
one running down the hill, leaping lightly. He thought it was Dina. Dina
ran up, took a stone, and said:
"Let me do it!"
She knelt down and tried to break it; but her arms were as thin as
rods,--there was no strength in them. She threw away the stone, and
began to weep. Zhilin again worked on the lock, and Dina squatted near
him, and held on to his shoulder. Zhilin looked around; on the left,
beyond the mountain, he saw a red glow,--the moon was rising.
"Well," he thought, "before the moon is up I must cross the ravine and
get to the forest."
He got up, threw away the stone, and, though in the stocks, started to
"Good-bye, Dina dear! I will remember you all my life."
Dina took hold of him; she groped all over him, trying to find a place
to put the cakes. He took them from her.
"Thank you," he said, "you are a clever girl. Who will make dolls for
you without me?" And he patted her on the head.
Dina began to cry. She covered her eyes with her hands, and ran up-hill
like a kid. In the darkness he could hear the ornaments in the braid
striking against her shoulders.
Zhilin made the sign of the cross, took the lock of his fetters in his
hand, that it might not clank, and started down the road, dragging his
feet along, and looking at the glow, where the moon was rising. He
recognized the road. By the straight road it would be about eight
versts. If he only could get to the woods before the moon was entirely
out! He crossed a brook,--and it was getting light beyond the mountain.
He walked through the ravine; he walked and looked, but the moon was not
yet to be seen. It was getting brighter, and on one side of the ravine
everything could be seen more and more clearly. The shadow was creeping
down the mountain, up toward him.
Zhilin walked and kept in the shade. He hurried on, but the moon was
coming out faster still; the tops of the trees on the right side were
now in the light. As he came up to the woods, the moon came out entirely
from behind the mountains, and it grew bright and white as in the
daytime. All the leaves could be seen on the trees. The mountains were
calm and bright; it was as though everything were dead. All that could
be heard was the rippling of a brook below.
He reached the forest,--he came across no men. Zhilin found a dark spot
in the woods and sat down to rest himself.
He rested, and ate a cake. He found a stone, and began once more to
break down the lock. He bruised his hands, but did not break the lock.
He got up, and walked on. He marched about a verst, but his strength
gave out,--his feet hurt him so. He would make ten steps and then stop.
"What is to be done?" he thought. "I will drag myself along until my
strength gives out entirely. If I sit down, I shall not be able to get
up. I cannot reach the fortress, so, when day breaks, I will lie down in
the forest for the day, and at night I will move on."
He walked the whole night. He came across two Tartars only, but he heard
them from afar, and so hid behind a tree.
The moon was beginning to pale, and Zhilin had not yet reached the edge
of the forest.
"Well," he thought, "I will take another thirty steps, after which I
will turn into the forest, where I will sit down."
He took the thirty steps, and there he saw that the forest came to an
end. He went to the edge of it, and there it was quite light. Before him
lay the steppe and the fortress, as in the palm of the hand, and to the
left, close by at the foot of the mountain, fires were burning and going
out, and the smoke was spreading, and men were near the camp-fires.
He took a sharp look at them: the guns were glistening,--those were
Cossacks and soldiers.
Zhilin was happy. He collected his last strength and walked down-hill.
And he thought: "God forfend that a Tartar rider should see me in the
open! Though it is not far off, I should not get away."
No sooner had he thought so, when, behold, on a mound stood three
Tartars, not more than 150 fathoms away. They saw him, and darted toward
him. His heart just sank in him. He waved his arms and shouted as loud
as he could:
"Brothers! Help, brothers!"
Our men heard him, and away flew the mounted Cossacks. They started
toward him, to cut off the Tartars.
The Cossacks had far to go, but the Tartars were near. And Zhilin
collected his last strength, took the stocks in his hand, and ran toward
the Cossacks. He was beside himself, and he made the sign of the cross,
"Brothers! Brothers! Brothers!"
There were about fifteen Cossacks.
The Tartars were frightened, and they stopped before they reached him.
And Zhilin ran up to the Cossacks.
The Cossacks surrounded him, and asked:
"Who are you? Where do you come from?"
But Zhilin was beside himself, and he wept, and muttered:
The soldiers ran out, and surrounded Zhilin: one gave him bread, another
gruel, a third vodka; one covered him with a cloak, another broke off
The officers heard of it, and took him to the fortress. The soldiers
were happy, and his companions came to see him.
Zhilin told them what had happened, and said:
"So I have been home, and got married! No, evidently that is not my
And he remained in the service in the Caucasus. Not till a month later
was Kostylin ransomed for five thousand. He was brought back more dead