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
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
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 say.
'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 life.'
'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 to him.
'I am sad and yet glad to go,' he continued. 'Why I am sad I
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
'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
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 activity.
'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
'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 man.
'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 know?'
'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 trembled.
'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 horses.
'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
'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 feeling.
'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
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
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 extended pleasure-trip.
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
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
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 mountains!'
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 Cossacks.
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 perfect freedom.
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
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,
'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
'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 too.'
'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,
'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 her.
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
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
'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
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 his cap.
'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
'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
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
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 teeth.
'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!'
'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 order.
'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
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
'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 nets.
'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 his hands.
'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
'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 Nazarka
'Well, let her go to the devil,' said Lukashka, showing his regular
white teeth, though he did not laugh. 'As if I couldn't find another!'
'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 any one?'
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 air.
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
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 his eyes.
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 go.'
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
'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 hoof-prints.
'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 his comrades.
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 and whirling.
'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
'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 view.
'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
'Have done with what? Look there,' said Lukashka, seizing him by the
shoulders and pulling him with such force that Ergushov groaned.
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
'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 Luke.
'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 unnatural
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
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
'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 third.
'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 rag.'
'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
'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 another
'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
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!'
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
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 morning air.
'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
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 Ulitka's.
'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 unpacking.
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
'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
'Please sir, may I have your horse?' said Vanyusha, evidently perplexed
by this new order of things but resigning himself to his fate.
'So a Tartar is more noble, eh, Vanyusha?' repeated Olenin, dismounting
and slapping the saddle.
'Yes, you're laughing! You think it funny,' muttered
'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, interrupting Olenin.
'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 approached Vanyusha.
'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
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 their work.
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 contented after three months of bivouac
life. His newly washed face was fresh and his powerful body clean (an
unaccustomed sensation after the campaign) and in all his rested limbs he
was conscious of a feeling of tranquillity and strength. His mind, too,
felt fresh and clear. He thought of the campaign and of past dangers. He
remembered that he had faced them no worse than other men, and that he was
accepted as a comrade among valiant Caucasians. His Moscow recollections were
left behind Heaven knows how far! The old life was wiped out and a quite new
life had begun in which there were as yet no mistakes. Here as a new man
among new men he could gain a new and good reputation. He was conscious of
a youthful and unreasoning joy of life. Looking now out of the window at the
boys spinning their tops in the shadow of the house, now round his neat new
lodging, he thought how pleasantly he would settle down to this new Cossack
village life. Now and then he glanced at the mountains and the blue sky, and
an appreciation of the solemn grandeur of nature mingled with his
reminiscences and dreams. His new life had begun, not as he imagined it would
when he left Moscow, but unexpectedly well. 'The mountains, the mountains,
the mountains!' they permeated all his thoughts and feelings.
'He's kissed his dog and licked the jug! ... Daddy Eroshka has kissed
his dog!' suddenly the little Cossacks who had been spinning their tops under
the window shouted, looking towards the side street. 'He's drunk his bitch,
and his dagger!' shouted the boys, crowding together and stepping
These shouts were addressed to Daddy Eroshka, who with his gun on his
shoulder and some pheasants hanging at his girdle was returning from his
'I have done wrong, lads, I have!' he said, vigorously swinging his arms
and looking up at the windows on both sides of the street. 'I have drunk the
bitch; it was wrong,' he repeated, evidently vexed but pretending not to
Olenin was surprised by the boys' behavior towards the old hunter, but
was still more struck by the expressive, intelligent face and the powerful
build of the man whom they called Daddy Eroshka.
'Here Daddy, here Cossack!' he called. 'Come here!'
The old man looked into the window and stopped.
'Good evening, good man,' he said, lifting his little cap off
his cropped head.
'Good evening, good man,' replied Olenin. 'What is it the youngsters are
shouting at you?'
Daddy Eroshka came up to the window. 'Why, they're teasing the old man.
No matter, I like it. Let them joke about their old daddy,' he said with
those firm musical intonations with which old and venerable people speak.
'Are you an army commander?' he added.
'No, I am a cadet. But where did you kill those pheasants?'
'I dispatched these three hens in the forest,' answered the old man,
turning his broad back towards the window to show the hen pheasants which
were hanging with their heads tucked into his belt and staining his coat with
blood. 'Haven't you seen any?' he asked. 'Take a brace if you like! Here you
are,' and he handed two of the pheasants in at the window. 'Are you a
sportsman yourself?' he asked.
'I am. During the campaign I killed four myself.'
'Four? What a lot!' said the old man sarcastically. 'And are you
a drinker? Do you drink CHIKHIR?'
'Why not? I like a drink.'
'Ah, I see you are a trump! We shall be KUNAKS, you and I,' said Daddy
'Step in,' said Olenin. 'We'll have a drop of CHIKHIR.'
'I might as well,' said the old man, 'but take the pheasants.' The old
man's face showed that he liked the cadet. He had seen at once that he could
get free drinks from him, and that therefore it would be all right to give
him a brace of pheasants.
Soon Daddy Eroshka's figure appeared in the doorway of the hut, and it
was only then that Olenin became fully conscious of the enormous size and
sturdy build of this man, whose red-brown face with its perfectly white broad
beard was all furrowed by deep lines produced by age and toil. For an old
man, the muscles of his legs, arms, and shoulders were quite exceptionally
large and prominent. There were deep scars on his head under the
short- cropped hair. His thick sinewy neck was covered with
deep intersecting folds like a bull's. His horny hands were bruised
and scratched. He stepped lightly and easily over the threshold, unslung
his gun and placed it in a corner, and casting a rapid glance round the room
noted the value of the goods and chattels deposited in the hut, and with
out-turned toes stepped softly, in his sandals of raw hide, into the middle
of the room. He brought with him a penetrating but not unpleasant smell of
CHIKHIR wine, vodka, gunpowder, and congealed blood.
Daddy Eroshka bowed down before the icons, smoothed his beard,
and approaching Olenin held out his thick brown hand. 'Koshkildy,' said
he; That is Tartar for "Good-day"—"Peace be unto you," it means in their
'Koshkildy, I know,' answered Olenin, shaking hands.
'Eh, but you don't, you won't know the right order! Fool!' said Daddy
Eroshka, shaking his head reproachfully. 'If anyone says "Koshkildy" to you,
you must say "Allah rasi bo sun," that is, "God save you." That's the way, my
dear fellow, and not "Koshkildy." But I'll teach you all about it. We had a
fellow here, Elias Mosevich, one of your Russians, he and I were
kunaks. He was a trump, a drunkard, a thief, a sportsman—and what
a sportsman! I taught him everything.'
'And what will you teach me?' asked Olenin, who was becoming more and
more interested in the old man.
'I'll take you hunting and teach you to fish. I'll show you Chechens and
find a girl for you, if you like—even that! That's the sort I am! I'm a
wag!'—and the old man laughed. 'I'll sit down. I'm tired. Karga?' he added
'And what does "Karga" mean?' asked Olenin.
'Why, that means "All right" in Georgian. But I say it just so. It is a
way I have, it's my favourite word. Karga, Karga. I say it just so; in fun I
mean. Well, lad, won't you order the chikhir? You've got an orderly, haven't
you? Hey, Ivan!' shouted the old man. 'All your soldiers are Ivans. Is yours
'True enough, his name is Ivan—Vanyusha. Here Vanyusha! Please get some
chikhir from our landlady and bring it here.'
'Ivan or Vanyusha, that's all one. Why are all your soldiers Ivans?
Ivan, old fellow,' said the old man, 'you tell them to give you some from the
barrel they have begun. They have the best chikhir in the village. But don't
give more than thirty kopeks for the quart, mind, because that witch would be
only too glad.... Our people are anathema people; stupid people,' Daddy
Eroshka continued in a confidential tone after Vanyusha had gone
out. 'They do not look upon you as on men, you are worse than a Tartar in
their eyes. "Worldly Russians" they say. But as for me, though you are a
soldier you are still a man, and have a soul in you. Isn't that right? Elias
Mosevich was a soldier, yet what a treasure of a man he was! Isn't that so,
my dear fellow? That's why our people don't like me; but I don't care! I'm a
merry fellow, and I like everybody. I'm Eroshka; yes, my dear fellow.'
And the old Cossack patted the young man affectionately on
Vanyusha, who meanwhile had finished his housekeeping
arrangements and had even been shaved by the company's barber and had
pulled his trousers out of his high boots as a sign that the company
was stationed in comfortable quarters, was in excellent spirits. He looked
attentively but not benevolently at Eroshka, as at a wild beast he had never
seen before, shook his head at the floor which the old man had dirtied and,
having taken two bottles from under a bench, went to the landlady.
'Good evening, kind people,' he said, having made up his mind to be very
gentle. 'My master has sent me to get some chikhir. Will you draw some for
me, good folk?'
The old woman gave no answer. The girl, who was arranging the kerchief
on her head before a little Tartar mirror, looked round at Vanyusha in
'I'll pay money for it, honoured people,' said Vanyusha, jingling the
coppers in his pocket. 'Be kind to us and we, too will be kind to you,' he
'How much?' asked the old woman abruptly. 'A quart.'
'Go, my own, draw some for them,' said Granny Ulitka to her daughter.
'Take it from the cask that's begun, my precious.'
The girl took the keys and a decanter and went out of the hut
'Tell me, who is that young woman?' asked Olenin, pointing to Maryanka,
who was passing the window. The old man winked and nudged the young man with
'Wait a bit,' said he and reached out of the window. 'Khm,' he coughed,
and bellowed, 'Maryanka dear. Hallo, Maryanka, my girlie, won't you love me,
darling? I'm a wag,' he added in a whisper to Olenin. The girl, not turning
her head and swinging her arms regularly and vigorously, passed the window
with the peculiarly smart and bold gait of a Cossack woman and only turned
her dark shaded eyes slowly towards the old man.
'Love me and you'll be happy,' shouted Eroshka, winking, and he looked
questioningly at the cadet.
'I'm a fine fellow, I'm a wag!' he added. 'She's a regular queen, that
'She is lovely,' said Olenin. 'Call her here!'
'No, no,' said the old man. 'For that one a match is being arranged with
Lukashka, Luke, a fine Cossack, a brave, who killed an abrek the other day.
I'll find you a better one. I'll find you one that will be all dressed up in
silk and silver. Once I've said it I'll do it. I'll get you a regular
'You, an old man—and say such things,' replied Olenin. 'Why, it's a
'A sin? Where's the sin?' said the old man emphatically. 'A sin to look
at a nice girl? A sin to have some fun with her? Or is it a sin to love her?
Is that so in your parts? ... No, my dear fellow, it's not a sin, it's
salvation! God made you and God made the girl too. He made it all; so it is
no sin to look at a nice girl. That's what she was made for; to be loved and
to give joy. That's how I judge it, my good fellow.'
Having crossed the yard and entered a cool dark storeroom filled with
barrels, Maryanka went up to one of them and repeating the usual prayer
plunged a dipper into it. Vanyusha standing in the doorway smiled as he
looked at her. He thought it very funny that she had only a smock on,
close-fitting behind and tucked up in front, and still funnier that she wore
a necklace of silver coins. He thought this quite un-Russian and that they
would all laugh in the serfs' quarters at home if they saw a girl like that.
'La fille comme c'est tres bien, for a change,' he thought. 'I'll
tell that to my master.'
'What are you standing in the light for, you devil!' the girl suddenly
shouted. 'Why don't you pass me the decanter!'
Having filled the decanter with cool red wine, Maryanka handed it to
'Give the money to Mother,' she said, pushing away the hand in which he
held the money.
'Why are you so cross, little dear?' he said
good-naturedly, irresolutely shuffling with his feet while the girl was
covering the barrel.
She began to laugh.
'And you! Are you kind?'
'We, my master and I, are very kind,' Vanyusha answered decidedly. 'We
are so kind that wherever we have stayed our hosts were always very grateful.
It's because he's generous.'
The girl stood listening.
'And is your master married?' she asked.
'No. The master is young and unmarried, because noble gentlemen can
never marry young,' said Vanyusha didactically.
'A likely thing! See what a fed-up buffalo he is—and too young
to marry! Is he the chief of you all?' she asked.
'My master is a cadet; that means he's not yet an officer, but he's more
important than a general—he's an important man! Because not only our
colonel, but the Tsar himself, knows him,' proudly explained Vanyusha. 'We
are not like those other beggars in the line regiment, and our papa himself
was a Senator. He had more than a thousand serfs, all his own, and they send
us a thousand rubles at a time. That's why everyone likes us. Another may be
a captain but have no money. What's the use of that?'
'Go away. I'll lock up,' said the girl, interrupting him.
Vanyusha brought Olenin the wine and announced that 'La fille c'est tres
joulie,' and, laughing stupidly, at once went out.
Meanwhile the tattoo had sounded in the village square. The
people had returned from their work. The herd lowed as in clouds of golden
dust it crowded at the village gate. The girls and the women hurried through
the streets and yards, turning in their cattle. The sun had quite hidden
itself behind the distant snowy peaks. One pale bluish shadow spread over
land and sky. Above the darkened gardens stars just discernible were
kindling, and the sounds were gradually hushed in the village. The cattle
having been attended to and left for the night, the women came out
and gathered at the corners of the streets and, cracking sunflower seeds
with their teeth, settled down on the earthen embankments of the houses.
Later on Maryanka, having finished milking the buffalo and the other two
cows, also joined one of these groups.
The group consisted of several women and girls and one old
They were talking about the abrek who had been killed.
The Cossack was narrating and the women questioning him.
'I expect he'll get a handsome reward,' said one of the women.
'Of course. It's said that they'll send him a cross.'
'Mosev did try to wrong him. Took the gun away from him, but
the authorities at Kizlyar heard of it.'
'A mean creature that Mosev is!'
'They say Lukashka has come home,' remarked one of the girls.
'He and Nazarka are merry-making at Yamka's.' (Yamka was an unmarried,
disreputable Cossack woman who kept an illicit pot- house.) 'I heard say they
had drunk half a pailful.'
'What luck that Snatcher has,' somebody remarked. 'A real snatcher. But
there's no denying he's a fine lad, smart enough for anything, a right-minded
lad! His father was just such another. Daddy Kiryak was: he takes after his
father. When he was killed the whole village howled. Look, there they are,'
added the speaker, pointing to the Cossacks who were coming down the
street towards them.
'And Ergushov has managed to come along with them too!
Lukashka, Nazarka, and Ergushov, having emptied half a pail of vodka,
were coming towards the girls. The faces of all three, but especially that of
the old Cossack, were redder than usual. Ergushov was reeling and kept
laughing and nudging Nazarka in the ribs.
'Why are you not singing?' he shouted to the girls. 'Sing to
our merry-making, I tell you!'
They were welcomed with the words, 'Had a good day? Had a
'Why sing? It's not a holiday,' said one of the women. 'You're tight, so
you go and sing.'
Ergushov roared with laughter and nudged Nazarka. 'You'd better sing.
And I'll begin too. I'm clever, I tell you.'
'Are you asleep, fair ones?' said Nazarka. 'We've come from the cordon
to drink your health. We've already drunk Lukashka's health.'
Lukashka, when he reached the group, slowly raised his cap and stopped
in front of the girls. His broad cheekbones and neck were red. He stood and
spoke softly and sedately, but in his tranquillity and sedateness there was
more of animation and strength than in all Nazarka's loquacity and bustle. He
reminded one of a playful colt that with a snort and a flourish of its
tail suddenly stops short and stands as though nailed to the ground with
all four feet. Lukashka stood quietly in front of the girls, his eyes
laughed, and he spoke but little as he glanced now at his drunken companions
and now at the girls. When Maryanka joined the group he raised his cap with a
firm deliberate movement, moved out of her way and then stepped in front of
her with one foot a little forward and with his thumbs in his belt, fingering
his dagger. Maryanka answered his greeting with a leisurely bow of her
head, settled down on the earth-bank, and took some seeds out of the bosom
of her smock. Lukashka, keeping his eyes fixed on Maryanka, slowly cracked
seeds and spat out the shells. All were quiet when Maryanka joined the
'Have you come for long?' asked a woman, breaking the silence.
'Till to-morrow morning,' quietly replied Lukashka.
'Well, God grant you get something good,' said the Cossack; 'I'm glad of
it, as I've just been saying.'
'And I say so too,' put in the tipsy Ergushov, laughing. 'What a lot of
visitors have come,' he added, pointing to a soldier who was passing by. 'The
soldiers' vodka is good—I like it.'
'They've sent three of the devils to us,' said one of the
women. 'Grandad went to the village Elders, but they say nothing can
'Ah, ha! Have you met with trouble?' said Ergushov.
'I expect they have smoked you out with their tobacco?' asked another
woman. 'Smoke as much as you like in the yard, I say, but we won't allow it
inside the hut. Not if the Elder himself comes, I won't allow it. Besides,
they may rob you. He's not quartered any of them on himself, no fear, that
devil's son of an Elder.'
'You don't like it?' Ergushov began again.
'And I've also heard say that the girls will have to make the soldiers'
beds and offer them chikhir and honey,' said Nazarka, putting one foot
forward and tilting his cap like Lukashka.
Ergushov burst into a roar of laughter, and seizing the girl nearest to
him, he embraced her. 'I tell you true.'
'Now then, you black pitch!' squealed the girl, 'I'll tell your old
'Tell her,' shouted he. 'That's quite right what Nazarka says;
a circular has been sent round. He can read, you know. Quite true!' And he
began embracing the next girl.
'What are you up to, you beast?' squealed the rosy, round-faced Ustenka,
laughing and lifting her arm to hit him.
The Cossack stepped aside and nearly fell.
'There, they say girls have no strength, and you nearly
'Get away, you black pitch, what devil has brought you from the cordon?'
said Ustenka, and turning away from him she again burst out laughing. 'You
were asleep and missed the abrek, didn't you? Suppose he had done for you it
would have been all the better.'
'You'd have howled, I expect,' said Nazarka, laughing.
'Howled! A likely thing.'
'Just look, she doesn't care. She'd howl, Nazarka, eh? Would she?' said
Lukishka all this time had stood silently looking at Maryanka. His gaze
evidently confused the girl.
'Well, Maryanka! I hear they've quartered one of the chiefs on you?' he
said, drawing nearer.
Maryanka, as was her wont, waited before she replied, and slowly raising
her eyes looked at the Cossack. Lukashka's eyes were laughing as if something
special, apart from what was said, was taking place between himself and the
'Yes, it's all right for them as they have two huts,' replied an old
woman on Maryanka's behalf, 'but at Fomushkin's now they also have one of the
chiefs quartered on them and they say one whole corner is packed full with
his things, and the family have no room left. Was such a thing ever heard of
as that they should turn a whole horde loose in the village?' she said. 'And
what the plague are they going to do here?'
'I've heard say they'll build a bridge across the Terek,' said one of
'And I've been told that they will dig a pit to put the girls in because
they don't love the lads,' said Nazarka, approaching Ustenka; and he again
made a whimsical gesture which set everybody laughing, and Ergushov, passing
by Maryanka, who was next in turn, began to embrace an old woman.
'Why don't you hug Maryanka? You should do it to each in turn,' said
'No, my old one is sweeter,' shouted the Cossack, kissing the struggling
'You'll throttle me,' she screamed, laughing.
The tramp of regular footsteps at the other end of the
street interrupted their laughter. Three soldiers in their cloaks,
with their muskets on their shoulders, were marching in step to
relieve guard by the ammunition wagon.
The corporal, an old cavalry man, looked angrily at the Cossacks and led
his men straight along the road where Lukashka and Nazarka were standing, so
that they should have to get out of the way. Nazarka moved, but Lukashka only
screwed up his eyes and turned his broad back without moving from his
'People are standing here, so you go round,' he muttered, half turning
his head and tossing it contemptuously in the direction of the
The soldiers passed by in silence, keeping step regularly along the
Maryanka began laughing and all the other girls chimed in.
'What swells!' said Nazarka, 'Just like long-skirted choristers,' and he
walked a few steps down the road imitating the soldiers.
Again everyone broke into peals of laughter.
Lukashka came slowly up to Maryanka.
'And where have you put up the chief?' he asked.
Maryanka thought for a moment.
'We've let him have the new hut,' she said.
'And is he old or young,' asked Lukashka, sitting down beside her.
'Do you think I've asked?' answered the girl. 'I went to get him some
chikhir and saw him sitting at the window with Daddy Eroshka. Red-headed he
seemed. They've brought a whole cartload of things.'
And she dropped her eyes.
'Oh, how glad I am that I got leave from the cordon!' said Lukashka,
moving closer to the girl and looking straight in her eyes all the
'And have you come for long?' asked Maryanka, smiling slightly.
'Till the morning. Give me some sunflower seeds,' he said, holding out
Maryanka now smiled outright and unfastened the neckband of
'Don't take them all,' she said.
'Really I felt so dull all the time without you, I swear I did,' he said
in a calm, restrained whisper, helping himself to some seeds out of the bosom
of the girl's smock, and stooping still closer over her he continued with
laughing eyes to talk to her in low tones.
'I won't come, I tell you,' Maryanka suddenly said aloud, leaning away
'No really ... what I wanted to say to you, ...' whispered Lukashka. 'By
the Heavens! Do come!'
Maryanka shook her head, but did so with a smile.
'Nursey Maryanka! Hallo Nursey! Mammy is calling! Supper time!' shouted
Maryanka's little brother, running towards the group.
'I'm coming,' replied the girl. 'Go, my dear, go alone—I'll come in a
Lukashka rose and raised his cap.
'I expect I had better go home too, that will be best,' he said, trying
to appear unconcerned but hardly able to repress a smile, and he disappeared
behind the corner of the house.
Meanwhile night had entirely enveloped the village. Bright stars were
scattered over the dark sky. The streets became dark and empty. Nazarka
remained with the women on the earth-bank and their laughter was still heard,
but Lukashka, having slowly moved away from the girls, crouched down like a
cat and then suddenly started running lightly, holding his dagger to steady
it: not homeward, however, but towards the cornet's house. Having passed two
streets he turned into a lane and lifting the skirt of his coat sat
down on the ground in the shadow of a fence. 'A regular
cornet's daughter!' he thought about Maryanka. 'Won't even have a
lark—the devil! But just wait a bit.'
The approaching footsteps of a woman attracted his attention. He began
listening, and laughed all by himself. Maryanka with bowed head, striking the
pales of the fences with a switch, was walking with rapid regular strides
straight towards him. Lukashka rose. Maryanka started and stopped.
'What an accursed devil! You frightened me! So you have not gone home?'
she said, and laughed aloud.
Lukashka put one arm round her and with the other hand raised her face.
'What I wanted to tell you, by Heaven!' his voice trembled and broke.
'What are you talking of, at night time!' answered Maryanka. 'Mother is
waiting for me, and you'd better go to your sweetheart.'
And freeing herself from his arms she ran away a few steps. When she had
reached the wattle fence of her home she stopped and turned to the Cossack
who was running beside her and still trying to persuade her to stay a while
'Well, what do you want to say, midnight-gadabout?' and she again began
'Don't laugh at me, Maryanka! By the Heaven! Well, what if I have a
sweetheart? May the devil take her! Only say the word and now I'll love
you—I'll do anything you wish. Here they are!' and he jingled the money in
his pocket. 'Now we can live splendidly. Others have pleasures, and I? I get
no pleasure from you, Maryanka dear!'
The girl did not answer. She stood before him breaking her switch into
little bits with a rapid movement other fingers.
Lukashka suddenly clenched his teeth and fists.
'And why keep waiting and waiting? Don't I love you, darling? You can do
what you like with me,' said he suddenly, frowning angrily and seizing both
The calm expression of Maryanka's face and voice did not change.
'Don't bluster, Lukashka, but listen to me,' she answered, not pulling
away her hands but holding the Cossack at arm's length. 'It's true I am a
girl, but you listen to me! It does not depend on me, but if you love me I'll
tell you this. Let go my hands, I'll tell you without.—I'll marry you, but
you'll never get any nonsense from me,' said Maryanka without turning her
'What, you'll marry me? Marriage does not depend on us. Love
me yourself, Maryanka dear,' said Lukashka, from sullen and
furious becoming again gentle, submissive, and tender, and smiling as
he looked closely into her eyes.
Maryanka clung to him and kissed him firmly on the lips.
'Brother dear!' she whispered, pressing him convulsively to her. Then,
suddenly tearing herself away, she ran into the gate of her house without
In spite of the Cossack's entreaties to wait another minute to hear what
he had to say, Maryanka did not stop.
'Go,' she cried, 'you'll be seen! I do believe that devil, our lodger,
is walking about the yard.'
'Cornet's daughter,' thought Lukashka. 'She will marry me. Marriage is
all very well, but you just love me!'
He found Nazarka at Yamka's house, and after having a spree with him
went to Dunayka's house, where, in spite of her not being faithful to him, he
spent the night.
It was quite true that Olenin had been walking about the yard
when Maryanka entered the gate, and had heard her say, 'That devil,
our lodger, is walking about.' He had spent that evening with
Daddy Eroshka in the porch of his new lodging. He had had a table,
a samovar, wine, and a candle brought out, and over a cup of tea and a
cigar he listened to the tales the old man told seated on the threshold at
his feet. Though the air was still, the candle dripped and flickered: now
lighting up the post of the porch, now the table and crockery, now the
cropped white head of the old man. Moths circled round the flame and,
shedding the dust of their wings, fluttered on the table and in the glasses,
flew into the candle flame, and disappeared in the black space beyond.
Olenin and Eroshka had emptied five bottles of chikhir. Eroshka filled the
glasses every time, offering one to Olenin, drinking his health, and talking
untiringly. He told of Cossack life in the old days: of his rather, 'The
Broad', who alone had carried on his back a boar's carcass weighing three
hundredweight, and drank two pails of chikhir at one sitting. He told of his
own days and his chum Girchik, with whom during the plague he used to smuggle
felt cloaks across the Terek. He told how one morning he had killed
two deer, and about his 'little soul' who used to run to him at the cordon
at night. He told all this so eloquently and picturesquely that Olenin did
not notice how time passed. 'Ah yes, my dear fellow, you did not know me in
my golden days; then I'd have shown you things. Today it's "Eroshka licks the
jug", but then Eroshka was famous in the whole regiment. Whose was the finest
horse? Who had a Gurda sword? To whom should one go to get a drink? With
whom go on the spree? Who should be sent to the mountains to kill
Ahmet Khan? Why, always Eroshka! Whom did the girls love? Always
Eroshka had to answer for it. Because I was a real brave: a drinker,
a thief (I used to seize herds of horses in the mountains), a singer; I
was a master of every art! There are no Cossacks like that nowadays. It's
disgusting to look at them. When they're that high [Eroshka held his hand
three feet from the ground] they put on idiotic boots and keep looking at
them—that's all the pleasure they know. Or they'll drink themselves foolish,
not like men but all wrong. And who was I? I was Eroshka, the thief; they
knew me not only in this village but up in the mountains. Tartar
princes, my kunaks, used to come to see me! I used to be everybody's
kunak. If he was a Tartar—with a Tartar; an Armenian—with an Armenian; a
soldier—with a soldier; an officer—with an officer! I didn't care as long
as he was a drinker. He says you should cleanse yourself from intercourse
with the world, not drink with soldiers, not eat with a Tartar.'
'Who says all that?' asked Olenin.
'Why, our teacher! But listen to a Mullah or a Tartar Cadi. He says,
"You unbelieving Giaours, why do you eat pig?" That shows that everyone has
his own law. But I think it's all one. God has made everything for the joy of
man. There is no sin in any of it. Take example from an animal. It lives in
the Tartar's reeds or in ours. Wherever it happens to go, there is its home!
Whatever God gives it, that it eats! But our people say we have to lick
red-hot plates in hell for that. And I think it's all a fraud,' he
added after a pause.
'What is a fraud?' asked Olenin.
'Why, what the preachers say. We had an army captain in Chervlena who
was my kunak: a fine fellow just like me. He was killed in Chechnya. Well, he
used to say that the preachers invent all that out of their own heads. "When
you die the grass will grow on your grave and that's all!"' The old man
laughed. 'He was a desperate fellow.'
'And how old are you?' asked Olenin.
'The Lord only knows! I must be about seventy. When a Tsaritsa reigned
in Russia I was no longer very small. So you can reckon it out. I must be
'Yes you must, but you are still a fine fellow.'
'Well, thank Heaven I am healthy, quite healthy, except that a woman, a
witch, has harmed me....'
'Oh, just harmed me.'
'And so when you die the grass will grow?' repeated Olenin.
Eroshka evidently did not wish to express his thought clearly. He was
silent for a while.
'And what did you think? Drink!' he shouted suddenly, smiling
and handing Olenin some wine.
'Well, what was I saying?' he continued, trying to remember.
'Yes, that's the sort of man I am. I am a hunter. There is no hunter
to equal me in the whole army. I will find and show you any animal and any
bird, and what and where. I know it all! I have dogs, and two guns, and nets,
and a screen and a hawk. I have everything, thank the Lord! If you are not
bragging but are a real sportsman, I'll show you everything. Do you know what
a man I am? When I have found a track—I know the animal. I know where he
will lie down and where he'll drink or wallow. I make myself a perch and
sit there all night watching. What's the good of staying at home? One only
gets into mischief, gets drunk. And here women come and chatter, and boys
shout at me—enough to drive one mad. It's a different matter when you go out
at nightfall, choose yourself a place, press down the reeds and sit there and
stay waiting, like a jolly fellow. One knows everything that goes on in the
woods. One looks up at the sky: the stars move, you look at them and find
out from them how the time goes. One looks round—the wood is rustling;
one goes on waiting, now there comes a crackling—a boar comes to rub
himself; one listens to hear the young eaglets screech and then the cocks
give voice in the village, or the geese. When you hear the geese you know it
is not yet midnight. And I know all about it! Or when a gun is fired
somewhere far away, thoughts come to me. One thinks, who is that firing? Is
it another Cossack like myself who has been watching for some animal? And
has he killed it? Or only wounded it so that now the poor thing goes through
the reeds smearing them with its blood all for nothing? I don't like that!
Oh, how I dislike it! Why injure a beast? You fool, you fool! Or one thinks,
"Maybe an abrek has killed some silly little Cossack." All this passes
through one's mind. And once as I sat watching by the river I saw a
cradle floating down. It was sound except for one corner which was
broken off. Thoughts did come that time! I thought some of your
soldiers, the devils, must have got into a Tartar village and seized
the Chechen women, and one of the devils has killed the little one: taken
it by its legs, and hit its head against a wall. Don't they do such things?
Ah! Men have no souls! And thoughts came to me that filled me with pity. I
thought: they've thrown away the cradle and driven the wife out, and her
brave has taken his gun and come across to our side to rob us. One watches
and thinks. And when one hears a litter breaking through the thicket,
something begins to knock inside one. Dear one, come this way!
"They'll scent me," one thinks; and one sits and does not stir while
one's heart goes dun! dun! dun! and simply lifts you. Once this spring
a fine litter came near me, I saw something black. "In the name of the
Father and of the Son," and I was just about to fire when she grunts to her
pigs: "Danger, children," she says, "there's a man here," and off they all
ran, breaking through the bushes. And she had been so close I could almost
have bitten her.'
'How could a sow tell her brood that a man was there?'
'What do you think? You think the beast's a fool? No, he is wiser than a
man though you do call him a pig! He knows everything. Take this for
instance. A man will pass along your track and not notice it; but a pig as
soon as it gets onto your track turns and runs at once: that shows there is
wisdom in him, since he scents your smell and you don't. And there is this to
be said too: you wish to kill it and it wishes to go about the woods alive.
You have one law and it has another. It is a pig, but it is no worse than
you— it too is God's creature. Ah, dear! Man is foolish,
foolish, foolish!' The old man repeated this several times and
then, letting his head drop, he sat thinking.
Olenin also became thoughtful, and descending from the porch with his
hands behind his back began pacing up and down the yard.
Eroshka, rousing himself, raised his head and began gazing intently at
the moths circling round the flickering flame of the candle and burning
themselves in it.
'Fool, fool!' he said. 'Where are you flying to? Fool, fool!' He rose
and with his thick fingers began to drive away the moths.
'You'll burn, little fool! Fly this way, there's plenty of room.' He
spoke tenderly, trying to catch them delicately by their wings with his thick
ringers and then letting them fly again. 'You are killing yourself and I am
sorry for you!'
He sat a long time chattering and sipping out of the bottle. Olenin
paced up and down the yard. Suddenly he was struck by the sound of whispering
outside the gate. Involuntarily holding his breath, he heard a woman's
laughter, a man's voice, and the sound of a kiss. Intentionally rustling the
grass under his feet he crossed to the opposite side of the yard, but after a
while the wattle fence creaked. A Cossack in a dark Circassian coat and
a white sheepskin cap passed along the other side of the fence (it was
Luke), and a tall woman with a white kerchief on her head went past Olenin.
'You and I have nothing to do with one another' was what Maryanka's firm step
gave him to understand. He followed her with his eyes to the porch of the
hut, and he even saw her through the window take off her kerchief and sit
down. And suddenly a feeling of lonely depression and some vague longings and
hopes, and envy of someone or other, overcame the young man's soul.
The last lights had been put out in the huts. The last sounds had died
away in the village. The wattle fences and the cattle gleaming white in the
yards, the roofs of the houses and the stately poplars, all seemed to be
sleeping the labourers' healthy peaceful sleep. Only the incessant ringing
voices of frogs from the damp distance reached the young man. In the east the
stars were growing fewer and fewer and seemed to be melting in
the increasing light, but overhead they were denser and deeper
than before. The old man was dozing with his head on his hand. A
cock crowed in the yard opposite, but Olenin still paced up and
down thinking of something. The sound of a song sung by several
voices reached him and he stepped up to the fence and listened. The voices
of several young Cossacks carolled a merry song, and one voice was
distinguishable among them all by its firm strength.
'Do you know who is singing there?' said the old man, rousing himself.
'It is the Brave, Lukashka. He has killed a Chechen and now he rejoices. And
what is there to rejoice at? ... The fool, the fool!'
'And have you ever killed people?' asked Olenin.
'You devil!' shouted the old man. 'What are you asking? One must not
talk so. It is a serious thing to destroy a human being ... Ah, a very
serious thing! Good-bye, my dear fellow. I've eaten my fill and am drunk,' he
said rising. 'Shall I come to-morrow to go shooting?'
'Mind, get up early; if you oversleep you will be fined!'
'Never fear, I'll be up before you,' answered Olenin.
The old man left. The song ceased, but one could hear footsteps and
merry talk. A little later the singing broke out again but farther away, and
Eroshka's loud voice chimed in with the other. 'What people, what a life!'
thought Olenin with a sigh as he returned alone to his hut.
Daddy Eroshka was a superannuated and solitary Cossack: twenty years
ago his wife had gone over to the Orthodox Church and run away from him and
married a Russian sergeant-major, and he had no children. He was not bragging
when he spoke of himself as having been the boldest dare-devil in the village
when he was young. Everybody in the regiment knew of his old-time prowess.
The death of more than one Russian, as well as Chechen, lay on
his conscience. He used to go plundering in the mountains, and robbed the
Russians too; and he had twice been in prison. The greater part of his life
was spent in the forests, hunting. There he lived for days on a crust of
bread and drank nothing but water. But on the other hand, when he was in the
village he made merry from morning to night. After leaving Olenin he slept
for a couple of hours and awoke before it was light. He lay on his bed
thinking of the man he had become acquainted with the evening before.
Olenin's 'simplicity' (simplicity in the sense of not grudging him a
drink) pleased him very much, and so did Olenin himself. He wondered
why the Russians were all 'simple' and so rich, and why they
were educated, and yet knew nothing. He pondered on these questions
and also considered what he might get out of Olenin.
Daddy Eroshka's hut was of a good size and not old, but the absence of a
woman was very noticeable in it. Contrary to the usual cleanliness of the
Cossacks, the whole of this hut was filthy and exceedingly untidy. A
blood-stained coat had been thrown on the table, half a dough-cake lay beside
a plucked and mangled crow with which to feed the hawk. Sandals of raw hide,
a gun, a dagger, a little bag, wet clothes, and sundry rags lay scattered
on the benches. In a comer stood a tub with stinking water, in which another
pair of sandals were being steeped, and near by was a gun and a
hunting-screen. On the floor a net had been thrown down and several dead
pheasants lay there, while a hen tied by its leg was walking about near the
table pecking among the dirt. In the unheated oven stood a broken pot with
some kind of milky liquid. On the top of the oven a falcon was screeching
and trying to break the cord by which it was tied, and a moulting hawk sat
quietly on the edge of the oven, looking askance at the hen and occasionally
bowing its head to right and left. Daddy Eroshka himself, in his shirt, lay
on his back on a short bed rigged up between the wall and the oven, with his
strong legs raised and his feet on the oven. He was picking with his thick
fingers at the scratches left on his hands by the hawk, which he was
accustomed to carry without wearing gloves. The whole room, especially
near the old man, was filled with that strong but not unpleasant mixture
of smells that he always carried about with him.
'Uyde-ma, Daddy?' (Is Daddy in?) came through the window in a sharp
voice, which he at once recognized as Lukashka's.
'Uyde, Uyde, Uyde. I am in!' shouted the old man. 'Come in, neighbour
Mark, Luke Mark. Come to see Daddy? On your way to the cordon?'
At the sound of his master's shout the hawk flapped his wings and pulled
at his cord.
The old man was fond of Lukashka, who was the only man he excepted from
his general contempt for the younger generation of Cossacks. Besides that,
Lukashka and his mother, as near neighbours, often gave the old man wine,
clotted cream, and other home produce which Eroshka did not possess. Daddy
Eroshka, who all his life had allowed himself to get carried away, always
explained his infatuations from a practical point of view. 'Well, why not?'
he used to say to himself. 'I'll give them some fresh meat, or a bird, and
they won't forget Daddy: they'll sometimes bring a cake or a piece of
'Good morning. Mark! I am glad to see you,' shouted the old
man cheerfully, and quickly putting down his bare feet he jumped off his
bed and walked a step or two along the creaking floor, looked down at his
out-turned toes, and suddenly, amused by the appearance of his feet, smiled,
stamped with his bare heel on the ground, stamped again, and then performed a
funny dance-step. 'That's clever, eh?' he asked, his small eyes glistening.
Lukashka smiled faintly. 'Going back to the cordon?' asked the old man.
'I have brought the chikhir I promised you when we were at
'May Christ save you!' said the old man, and he took up the extremely
wide trousers that were lying on the floor, and his beshmet, put them on,
fastened a strap round his waist, poured some water from an earthenware pot
over his hands, wiped them on the old trousers, smoothed his beard with a bit
of comb, and stopped in front of Lukashka. 'Ready,' he said.
Lukashka fetched a cup, wiped it and filled it with wine, and
then handed it to the old man.
'Your health! To the Father and the Son!' said the old man, accepting
the wine with solemnity. 'May you have what you desire, may you always be a
hero, and obtain a cross.'
Lukashka also drank a little after repeating a prayer, and then put the
wine on the table. The old man rose and brought out some dried fish which he
laid on the threshold, where he beat it with a stick to make it tender; then,
having put it with his horny hands on a blue plate (his only one), he placed
it on the table.
'I have all I want. I have victuals, thank God!' he said proudly. 'Well,
and what of Mosev?' he added.
Lukashka, evidently wishing to know the old man's opinion, told him how
the officer had taken the gun from him.
'Never mind the gun,' said the old man. 'If you don't give the gun you
will get no reward.'
'But they say. Daddy, it's little reward a fellow gets when he is not
yet a mounted Cossack; and the gun is a fine one, a Crimean, worth eighty
'Eh, let it go! I had a dispute like that with an officer, he wanted my
horse. "Give it me and you'll be made a cornet," says he. I wouldn't, and I
'Yes, Daddy, but you see I have to buy a horse; and they say you can't
get one the other side of the river under fifty rubles, and mother has not
yet sold our wine.'
'Eh, we didn't bother,' said the old man; 'when Daddy Eroshka was your
age he already stole herds of horses from the Nogay folk and drove them
across the Terek. Sometimes we'd give a fine horse for a quart of vodka or a
'Why so cheap?' asked Lukashka.
'You're a fool, a fool, Mark,' said the old man contemptuously. 'Why,
that's what one steals for, so as not to be stingy! As for you, I suppose you
haven't so much as seen how one drives off a herd of horses? Why don't you
'What's one to say. Daddy?' replied Lukashka. 'It seems we are not the
same sort of men as you were.'
'You're a fool. Mark, a fool! "Not the same sort of men!"' retorted the
old man, mimicking the Cossack lad. 'I was not that sort of Cossack at your
'How's that?' asked Lukashka.
The old man shook his head contemptuously.
'Daddy Eroshka was simple; he did not grudge anything! That's why I was
kunak with all Chechnya. A kunak would come to visit me and I'd make him
drunk with vodka and make him happy and put him to sleep with me, and when I
went to see him I'd take him a present— a dagger! That's the way it is done,
and not as you do nowadays: the only amusement lads have now is to crack
seeds and spit out the shells!' the old man finished contemptuously,
imitating the present-day Cossacks cracking seeds and spitting out the
'Yes, I know,' said Lukashka; 'that's so!'
'If you wish to be a fellow of the right sort, be a brave and not a
peasant! Because even a peasant can buy a horse—pay the money and take the
They were silent for a while.
'Well, of course it's dull both in the village and the cordon, Daddy:
but there's nowhere one can go for a bit of sport. All our fellows are so
timid. Take Nazarka. The other day when we went to the Tartar village, Girey
Khan asked us to come to Nogay to take some horses, but no one went, and how
was I to go alone?'
'And what of Daddy? Do you think I am quite dried up? ... No, I'm not
dried up. Let me have a horse and I'll be off to Nogay at once.'
'What's the good of talking nonsense!' said Luke. 'You'd better tell me
what to do about Girey Khan. He says, "Only bring horses to the Terek, and
then even if you bring a whole stud I'll find a place for them." You see he's
also a shaven-headed Tartar—how's one to believe him?'
'You may trust Girey Khan, all his kin were good people. His father too
was a faithful kunak. But listen to Daddy and I won't teach you wrong: make
him take an oath, then it will be all right. And if you go with him, have
your pistol ready all the same, especially when it comes to dividing up the
horses. I was nearly killed that way once by a Chechen. I wanted ten rubles
from him for a horse. Trusting is all right, but don't go to sleep
without a gun.' Lukashka listened attentively to the old man.
'I say. Daddy, have you any stone-break grass?' he asked after
'No, I haven't any, but I'll teach you how to get it. You're a good lad
and won't forget the old man.... Shall I tell you?'
'Tell me, Daddy.'
'You know a tortoise? She's a devil, the tortoise is!'
'Of course I know!'
'Find her nest and fence it round so that she can't get in. Well, she'll
come, go round it, and then will go off to find the stone- break grass and
will bring some along and destroy the fence. Anyhow next morning come in good
time, and where the fence is broken there you'll find the stone-break grass
lying. Take it wherever you like. No lock and no bar will be able to stop
'Have you tried it yourself. Daddy?'
'As for trying, I have not tried it, but I was told of it by
good people. I used only one charm: that was to repeat the Pilgrim rhyme
when mounting my horse; and no one ever killed me!'
'What is the Pilgrim rhyme. Daddy?'
'What, don't you know it? Oh, what people! You're right to ask Daddy.
Well, listen, and repeat after me:
'Hail! Ye, living in Sion, This is your King, Our steeds we shall sit
on, Sophonius is weeping. Zacharias is speaking, Father Pilgrim, Mankind ever
'Kind ever loving,' the old man repeated. 'Do you know it now?
'Come, Daddy, was it that that hindered their killing you? Maybe it just
'You've grown too clever! You learn it all, and say it. It will do you
no harm. Well, suppose you have sung "Pilgrim", it's all right,' and the old
man himself began laughing. 'But just one thing, Luke, don't you go to
'Times have changed. You are not the same men. You've become rubbishy
Cossacks! And see how many Russians have come down on us! You'd get to
prison. Really, give it up! Just as if you could! Now Girchik and I, we
And the old man was about to begin one of his endless tales,
but Lukashka glanced at the window and interrupted him.
'It is quite light. Daddy. It's time to be off. Look us up
'May Christ save you! I'll go to the officer; I promised to take him out
shooting. He seems a good fellow.'
From Eroshka's hut Lukashka went home. As he returned, the
dewy mists were rising from the ground and enveloped the village.
In various places the cattle, though out of sight, could be
heard beginning to stir. The cocks called to one another with
increasing frequency and insistence. The air was becoming more
transparent, and the villagers were getting up. Not till he was close to
it could Lukishka discern the fence of his yard, all wet with dew, the
porch of the hut, and the open shed. From the misty yard he heard the sound
of an axe chopping wood. Lukashka entered the hut. His mother was up, and
stood at the oven throwing wood into it. His little sister was still lying in
'Well, Lukashka, had enough holiday-making?' asked his mother softly.
'Where did you spend the night?'
'I was in the village,' replied her son reluctantly, reaching for his
musket, which he drew from its cover and examined carefully.
His mother swayed her head.
Lukashka poured a little gunpowder onto the pan, took out a little bag
from which he drew some empty cartridge cases which he began filling,
carefully plugging each one with a ball wrapped in a rag. Then, having tested
the loaded cartridges with his teeth and examined them, he put down the
'I say, Mother, I told you the bags wanted mending; have they
been done?' he asked.
'Oh yes, our dumb girl was mending something last night. Why, is it time
for you to be going back to the cordon? I haven't seen anything of
'Yes, as soon as I have got ready I shall have to go,'
answered Lukashka, tying up the gunpowder. 'And where is our dumb
'Chopping wood, I expect. She kept fretting for you. "I shall not see
him at all!" she said. She puts her hand to her face like this, and clicks
her tongue and presses her hands to her heart as much as to say—"sorry."
Shall I call her in? She understood all about the abrek.'
'Call her,' said Lukashka. 'And I had some tallow there; bring it: I
must grease my sword.'
The old woman went out, and a few minutes later Lukashka's dumb sister
came up the creaking steps and entered the hut. She was six years older than
her brother and would have been extremely like him had it not been for the
dull and coarsely changeable expression (common to all deaf and dumb people)
of her face. She wore a coarse smock all patched; her feet were bare and
muddy, and on her head she had an old blue kerchief. Her neck, arms, and
face were sinewy like a peasant's. Her clothing and her whole appearance
indicated that she always did the hard work of a man. She brought in a heap
of logs which she threw down by the oven. Then she went up to her brother,
and with a joyful smile which made her whole face pucker up, touched him on
the shoulder and began making rapid signs to him with her hands, her face,
and whole body.
'That's right, that's right, Stepka is a trump!' answered the brother,
nodding. 'She's fetched everything and mended everything, she's a trump!
Here, take this for it!' He brought out two pieces of gingerbread from his
pocket and gave them to her.
The dumb woman's face flushed with pleasure, and she began making a
weird noise for joy. Having seized the gingerbread she began to gesticulate
still more rapidly, frequently pointing in one direction and passing her
thick finger over her eyebrows and her face. Lukashka understood her and kept
nodding, while he smiled slightly. She was telling him to give the girls
dainties, and that the girls liked him, and that one girl, Maryanka—the best
of them all—loved him. She indicated Maryanka by rapidly pointing in
the direction of Maryanka's home and to her own eyebrows and face, and by
smacking her lips and swaying her head. 'Loves' she expressed by pressing her
hands to her breast, kissing her hand, and pretending to embrace someone.
Their mother returned to the hut, and seeing what her dumb daughter was
saying, smiled and shook her head. Her daughter showed her the gingerbread
and again made the noise which expressed joy.
'I told Ulitka the other day that I'd send a matchmaker to them,' said
the mother. 'She took my words well.'
Lukashka looked silently at his mother.
'But how about selling the wine, mother? I need a horse.'
'I'll cart it when I have time. I must get the barrels ready,' said the
mother, evidently not wishing her son to meddle in domestic matters. 'When
you go out you'll find a bag in the passage. I borrowed from the neighbours
and got something for you to take back to the cordon; or shall I put it in
'All right,' answered Lukashka. 'And if Girey Khan should come across
the river send him to me at the cordon, for I shan't get leave again for a
long time now; I have some business with him.'
He began to get ready to start.
'I will send him on,' said the old women. 'It seems you have
been spreeing at Yamka's all the time. I went out in the night to see the
cattle, and I think it was your voice I heard singing songs.'
Lukashka did not reply, but went out into the passage, threw the bags
over his shoulder, tucked up the skirts of his coat, took his musket, and
then stopped for a moment on the threshold.
'Good-bye, mother!' he said as he closed the gate behind him. 'Send me a
small barrel with Nazarka. I promised it to the lads, and he'll call for
'May Christ keep you, Lukashka. God be with you! I'll send you some,
some from the new barrel,' said the old woman, going to the fence: 'But
listen,' she added, leaning over the fence.
The Cossack stopped.
'You've been making merry here; well, that's all right. Why should not a
young man amuse himself? God has sent you luck and that's good. But now look
out and mind, my son. Don't you go and get into mischief. Above all, satisfy
your superiors: one has to! And I will sell the wine and find money for a
horse and will arrange a match with the girl for you.'
'All right, all right!' answered her son, frowning.
His deaf sister shouted to attract his attention. She pointed to her
head and the palm of her hand, to indicate the shaved head of a Chechen. Then
she frowned, and pretending to aim with a gun, she shrieked and began rapidly
humming and shaking her head. This meant that Lukashka should kill another
Lukashka understood. He smiled, and shifting the gun at his back under
his cloak stepped lightly and rapidly, and soon disappeared in the thick
The old woman, having stood a little while at the gate,
returned silently to the hut and immediately began working.
Lukasha returned to the cordon and at the same time Daddy
Eroshka whistled to his dogs and, climbing over his wattle fence, went
to Olenin's lodging, passing by the back of the houses (he
disliked meeting women before going out hunting or shooting). He
found Olenin still asleep, and even Vanyusha, though awake, was still
in bed and looking round the room considering whether it was not time to
get up, when Daddy Eroshka, gun on shoulder and in full hunter's trappings,
opened the door.
'A cudgel!' he shouted in his deep voice. 'An alarm! The Chechens are
upon us! Ivan! get the samovar ready for your master, and get up
yourself—quick,' cried the old man. 'That's our way, my good man! Why even
the girls are already up! Look out of the window. See, she's going for water
and you're still sleeping!'
Olenin awoke and jumped up, feeling fresh and lighthearted at the sight
of the old man and at the sound of his voice.
'Quick, Vanyusha, quick!' he cried.
'Is that the way you go hunting?' said the old man. 'Others are having
their breakfast and you are asleep! Lyam! Here!' he called to his dog. 'Is
your gun ready?' he shouted, as loud as if a whole crowd were in the
'Well, it's true I'm guilty, but it can't be helped! The
powder, Vanyusha, and the wads!' said Olenin.
'A fine!' shouted the old man.
'Du tay voulay vou?' asked Vanyusha, grinning.
'You're not one of us—your gabble is not like our speech, you devil!'
the old man shouted at Vanyusha, showing the stumps of his teeth.
'A first offence must be forgiven,' said Olenin playfully, drawing on
his high boots.
'The first offence shall be forgiven,' answered Eroshka, 'but if you
oversleep another time you'll be fined a pail of chikhir. When it gets warmer
you won't find the deer.'
'And even if we do find him he is wiser than we are,' said
Olenin, repeating the words spoken by the old man the evening before,
'and you can't deceive him!'
'Yes, laugh away! You kill one first, and then you may talk. Now then,
hurry up! Look, there's the master himself coming to see you,' added Eroshka,
looking out of the window. 'Just see how he's got himself up. He's put on a
new coat so that you should see that he's an officer. Ah, these people, these
Sure enough Vanyusha came in and announced that the master of the house
wished to see Olenin.
'L'arjan!' he remarked profoundly, to forewarn his master of the meaning
of this visitation. Following him, the master of the house in a new
Circassian coat with an officer's stripes on the shoulders and with polished
boots (quite exceptional among Cossacks) entered the room, swaying from side
to side, and congratulated his lodger on his safe arrival.
The cornet, Elias Vasilich, was an educated Cossack. He had been to
Russia proper, was a regimental schoolteacher, and above all he was noble. He
wished to appear noble, but one could not help feeling beneath his grotesque
pretence of polish, his affectation, his self-confidence, and his absurd way
of speaking, he was just the same as Daddy Eroshka. This could also be
clearly seen by his sunburnt face and his hands and his red nose. Olenin
asked him to sit down.
'Good morning. Father Elias Vasilich,' said Eroshka, rising with (or so
it seemed to Olenin) an ironically low bow.
'Good morning. Daddy. So you're here already,' said the cornet, with a
The cornet was a man of about forty, with a grey pointed beard, skinny
and lean, but handsome and very fresh-looking for his age. Having come to see
Olenin he was evidently afraid of being taken for an ordinary Cossack, and
wanted to let Olenin feel his importance from the first.
'That's our Egyptian Nimrod,' he remarked, addressing Olenin
and pointing to the old man with a self-satisfied smile. 'A mighty hunter
before the Lord! He's our foremost man on every hand. You've already been
pleased to get acquainted with him.'
Daddy Eroshka gazed at his feet in their shoes of wet raw hide and shook
his head thoughtfully at the cornet's ability and learning, and muttered to
himself: 'Gyptian Nimvrod! What things he invents!'
'Yes, you see we mean to go hunting,' answered Olenin.
'Yes, sir, exactly,' said the cornet, 'but I have a small business with
'What do you want?'
'Seeing that you are a gentleman,' began the cornet, 'and as I
may understand myself to be in the rank of an officer too, and therefore
we may always progressively negotiate, as gentlemen do.' (He stopped and
looked with a smile at Olenin and at the old man.) 'But if you have the
desire with my consent, then, as my wife is a foolish woman of our class, she
could not quite comprehend your words of yesterday's date. Therefore my
quarters might be let for six rubles to the Regimental Adjutant, without the
stables; but I can always avert that from myself free of charge. But, as
you desire, therefore I, being myself of an officer's rank, can come to an
agreement with you in everything personally, as an inhabitant of this
district, not according to our customs, but can maintain the conditions in
'Speaks clearly!' muttered the old man.
The cornet continued in the same strain for a long time. At last, not
without difficulty, Olenin gathered that the cornet wished to let his rooms
to him, Olenin, for six rubles a month. The latter gladly agreed to this, and
offered his visitor a glass of tea. The cornet declined it.
'According to our silly custom we consider it a sort of sin to drink out
of a "worldly" tumbler,' he said. 'Though, of course, with my education I may
understand, but my wife from her human weakness...'
'Well then, will you have some tea?'
'If you will permit me, I will bring my own particular glass,' answered
the cornet, and stepped out into the porch.
'Bring me my glass!' he cried.
In a few minutes the door opened and a young sunburnt arm in a print
sleeve thrust itself in, holding a tumbler in the hand. The cornet went up,
took it, and whispered something to his daughter. Olenin poured tea for the
cornet into the latter's own 'particular' glass, and for Eroshka into a
'However, I do not desire to detain you,' said the cornet, scalding his
lips and emptying his tumbler. 'I too have a great liking for fishing, and I
am here, so to say, only on leave of absence for recreation from my duties. I
too have the desire to tempt fortune and see whether some Gifts of the Terek
may not fall to my share. I hope you too will come and see us and have a
drink of our wine, according to the custom of our village,' he added.
The cornet bowed, shook hands with Olenin, and went out. While Olenin
was getting ready, he heard the cornet giving orders to his family in an
authoritative and sensible tone, and a few minutes later he saw him pass by
the window in a tattered coat with his trousers rolled up to his knees and a
fishing net over his shoulder.
'A rascal!' said Daddy Eroshka, emptying his 'worldly' tumbler. 'And
will you really pay him six rubles? Was such a thing ever heard of? They
would let you the best hut in the village for two rubles. What a beast! Why,
I'd let you have mine for three!'
'No, I'll remain here,' said Olenin.
'Six rubles! ... Clearly it's a fool's money. Eh, eh, eh! answered the
old man. 'Let's have some chikhir, Ivan!'
Having had a snack and a drink of vodka to prepare themselves for the
road, Olenin and the old man went out together before eight o'clock.
At the gate they came up against a wagon to which a pair of oxen were
harnessed. With a white kerchief tied round her head down to her eyes, a coat
over her smock, and wearing high boots, Maryanka with a long switch in her
hand was dragging the oxen by a cord tied to their horns.
'Mammy,' said the old man, pretending that he was going to
Maryanka nourished her switch at him and glanced merrily at them both
with her beautiful eyes.
Olenin felt still more light-hearted.
'Now then, come on, come on,' he said, throwing his gun on his shoulder
and conscious of the girl's eyes upon him.
'Gee up!' sounded Maryanka's voice behind them, followed by the creak of
the moving wagon.
As long as their road lay through the pastures at the back of
the village Eroshka went on talking. He could not forget the cornet and
kept on abusing him.
'Why are you so angry with him?' asked Olenin.
'He's stingy. I don't like it,' answered the old man. 'He'll leave it
all behind when he dies! Then who's he saving up for? He's built two houses,
and he's got a second garden from his brother by a law-suit. And in the
matter of papers what a dog he is! They come to him from other villages to
fill up documents. As he writes it out, exactly so it happens. He gets it
quite exact. But who is he saving for? He's only got one boy and the girl;
when she's married who'll be left?'
'Well then, he's saving up for her dowry,' said Olenin.
'What dowry? The girl is sought after, she's a fine girl. But he's such
a devil that he must yet marry her to a rich fellow. He wants to get a big
price for her. There's Luke, a Cossack, a neighbour and a nephew of mine, a
fine lad. It's he who killed the Chechen— he has been wooing her for a long
time, but he hasn't let him have her. He's given one excuse, and another, and
a third. "The girl's too young," he says. But I know what he is thinking. He
wants to keep them bowing to him. He's been acting shamefully about
that girl. Still, they will get her for Lukashka, because he is the best
Cossack in the village, a brave, who has killed an abrek and will be rewarded
with a cross.'
'But how about this? When I was walking up and down the yard last night,
I saw my landlord's daughter and some Cossack kissing,' said Olenin.
'You're pretending!' cried the old man, stopping.
'On my word,' said Olenin.
'Women are the devil,' said Eroshka pondering. 'But what Cossack was
'I couldn't see.'
'Well, what sort of a cap had he, a white one?'
'And a red coat? About your height?'
'No, a bit taller.'
'It's he!' and Eroshka burst out laughing. 'It's himself, it's Mark. He
is Luke, but I call him Mark for a joke. His very self! I love him. I was
just such a one myself. What's the good of minding them? My sweetheart used
to sleep with her mother and her sister- in-law, but I managed to get in. She
used to sleep upstairs; that witch her mother was a regular demon; it's awful
how she hated me. Well, I used to come with a chum, Girchik his name was.
We'd come under her window and I'd climb on his shoulders, push up
the window and begin groping about. She used to sleep just there on
a bench. Once I woke her up and she nearly called out. She
hadn't recognized me. "Who is there?" she said, and I could not
answer. Her mother was even beginning to stir, but I took off my cap
and shoved it over her mouth; and she at once knew it by a seam in it, and
ran out to me. I used not to want anything then. She'd bring along clotted
cream and grapes and everything,' added Eroshka (who always explained things
practically), 'and she wasn't the only one. It was a life!'
'And what now?'
'Now we'll follow the dog, get a pheasant to settle on a tree, and then
you may fire.'
'Would you have made up to Maryanka?'
'Attend to the dogs. I'll tell you tonight,' said the old man, pointing
to his favourite dog, Lyam.
After a pause they continued talking, while they went about a hundred
paces. Then the old man stopped again and pointed to a twig that lay across
'What do you think of that?' he said. 'You think it's nothing? It's bad
that this stick is lying so.'
'Why is it bad?'
'Ah, you don't know anything. Just listen to me. When a stick lies like
that don't you step across it, but go round it or throw it off the path this
way, and say "Father and Son and Holy Ghost," and then go on with God's
blessing. Nothing will happen to you. That's what the old men used to teach
'Come, what rubbish!' said Olenin. 'You'd better tell me more about
Maryanka. Does she carry on with Lukashka?'
'Hush ... be quiet now!' the old man again interrupted in a whisper:
'just listen, we'll go round through the forest.'
And the old man, stepping quietly in his soft shoes, led the way by a
narrow path leading into the dense, wild, overgrown forest. Now and again
with a frown he turned to look at Olenin, who rustled and clattered with his
heavy boots and, carrying his gun carelessly, several times caught the twigs
of trees that grew across the path.
'Don't make a noise. Step softly, soldier!' the old man
There was a feeling in the air that the sun had risen. The mist was
dissolving but it still enveloped the tops of the trees. The forest looked
terribly high. At every step the aspect changed: what had appeared like a
tree proved to be a bush, and a reed looked like a tree.
The mist had partly lifted, showing the wet reed thatches, and
was now turning into dew that moistened the road and the grass beside the
fence. Smoke rose everywhere in clouds from the chimneys. The people were
going out of the village, some to their work, some to the river, and some to
the cordon. The hunters walked together along the damp, grass-grown path. The
dogs, wagging their tails and looking at their masters, ran on both sides of
them. Myriads of gnats hovered in the air and pursued the hunters,
covering their backs, eyes, and hands. The air was fragrant with the
grass and with the dampness of the forest. Olenin continually looked round
at the ox-cart in which Maryanka sat urging on the oxen with a long
It was calm. The sounds from the village, audible at first, now
no longer reached the sportsmen. Only the brambles cracked as the dogs ran
under them, and now and then birds called to one another. Olenin knew that
danger lurked in the forest, that abreks always hid in such places. But he
knew too that in the forest, for a man on foot, a gun is a great protection.
Not that he was afraid, but he felt that another in his place might be; and
looking into the damp misty forest and listening to the rare and faint sounds
with strained attention, he changed his hold on his gun and experienced a
pleasant feeling that was new to him. Daddy Eroshka went in front, stopping
and carefully scanning every puddle where an animal had left a double track,
and pointing it out to Olenin. He hardly spoke at all and only occasionally
made remarks in a whisper. The track they were following had once been made
by wagons, but the grass had long overgrown it. The elm and plane- tree
forest on both sides of them was so dense and overgrown with creepers that it
was impossible to see anything through it. Nearly every tree was enveloped
from top to bottom with wild grape vines, and dark bramble bushes covered the
ground thickly. Every little glade was overgrown with blackberry bushes and
grey feathery reeds. In places, large hoof-prints and small
funnel-shaped pheasant-trails led from the path into the thicket. The vigour
of the growth of this forest, untrampled by cattle, struck Olenin at every
turn, for he had never seen anything like it. This forest, the danger, the
old man and his mysterious whispering, Maryanka with her virile upright
bearing, and the mountains—all this seemed to him like a dream.
'A pheasant has settled,' whispered the old man, looking round
and pulling his cap over his face—'Cover your mug! A pheasant!' he waved
his arm angrily at Olenin and pushed forward almost on all fours. 'He don't
like a man's mug.'
Olenin was still behind him when the old man stopped and began examining
a tree. A cock-pheasant on the tree clucked at the dog that was barking at
it, and Olenin saw the pheasant; but at that moment a report, as of a cannon,
came from Eroshka's enormous gun, the bird fluttered up and, losing some
feathers, fell to the ground. Coming up to the old man Olenin disturbed
another, and raising his gun he aimed and fired. The pheasant flew swiftly
up and then, catching at the branches as he fell, dropped like a stone to
'Good man!' the old man (who could not hit a flying bird)
Having picked up the pheasants they went on. Olenin, excited by the
exercise and the praise, kept addressing remarks to the old man.
'Stop! Come this way,' the old man interrupted. 'I noticed the track of
deer here yesterday.'
After they had turned into the thicket and gone some three hundred paces
they scrambled through into a glade overgrown with reeds and partly under
water. Olenin failed to keep up with the old huntsman and presently Daddy
Eroshka, some twenty paces in front, stooped down, nodding and beckoning with
his arm. On coming up with him Olenin saw a man's footprint to which the old
man was pointing.
'Yes, well?' said Olenin, trying to speak as calmly as he could. 'A
Involuntarily a thought of Cooper's Pathfinder and of abreks flashed
through Olenin's mind, but noticing the mysterious manner with which the old
man moved on, he hesitated to question him and remained in doubt whether this
mysteriousness was caused by fear of danger or by the sport.
'No, it's my own footprint,' the old man said quietly, and pointed to
some grass under which the track of an animal was just perceptible.
The old man went on; and Olenin kept up with him.
Descending to lower ground some twenty paces farther on they came upon a
spreading pear-tree, under which, on the black earth, lay the fresh dung of
The spot, all covered over with wild vines, was like a cosy arbour, dark
'He's been here this morning,' said the old man with a sigh; 'the lair
is still damp, quite fresh.'
Suddenly they heard a terrible crash in the forest some ten paces from
where they stood. They both started and seized their guns, but they could see
nothing and only heard the branches breaking. The rhythmical rapid thud of
galloping was heard for a moment and then changed into a hollow rumble which
resounded farther and farther off, re-echoing in wider and wider circles
through the forest. Olenin felt as though something had snapped in his
heart. He peered carefully but vainly into the green thicket and
then turned to the old man. Daddy Eroshka with his gun pressed to
his breast stood motionless; his cap was thrust backwards, his
eyes gleamed with an unwonted glow, and his open mouth, with its
worn yellow teeth, seemed to have stiffened in that position.
'A homed stag!' he muttered, and throwing down his gun in despair he
began pulling at his grey beard, 'Here it stood. We should have come round by
the path.... Fool! fool!' and he gave his beard an angry tug. Fool! Pig!' he
repeated, pulling painfully at his own beard. Through the forest something
seemed to fly away in the mist, and ever farther and farther off was heard
the sound of the flight of the stag.
It was already dusk when, hungry, tired, but full of vigour, Olenin
returned with the old man. Dinner was ready. He ate and drank with the old
man till he felt warm and merry. Olenin then went out into the porch. Again,
to the west, the mountains rose before his eyes. Again the old man told his
endless stories of hunting, of abreks, of sweethearts, and of all that free
and reckless life. Again the fair Maryanka went in and out and across the
yard, her beautiful powerful form outlined by her smock.
The next day Olenin went alone to the spot where he and the old man
startled the stag. Instead of passing round through the gate he climbed over
the prickly hedge, as everybody else did, and before he had had time to pull
out the thorns that had caught in his coat, his dog, which had run on in
front, started two pheasants. He had hardly stepped among the briers when
the pheasants began to rise at every step (the old man had not shown him
that place the day before as he meant to keep it for shooting from behind the
screen). Olenin fired twelve times and killed five pheasants, but clambering
after them through the briers he got so fatigued that he was drenched with
perspiration. He called off his dog, uncocked his gun, put in a bullet above
the small shot, and brushing away the mosquitoes with the wide sleeve of
his Circassian coat he went slowly to the spot where they had been the day
before. It was however impossible to keep back the dog, who found trails on
the very path, and Olenin killed two more pheasants, so that after being
detained by this it was getting towards noon before he began to find the
place he was looking for.
The day was perfectly clear, calm, and hot. The morning moisture had
dried up even in the forest, and myriads of mosquitoes literally covered his
face, his back, and his arms. His dog had turned from black to grey, its back
being covered with mosquitoes, and so had Olenin's coat through which the
insects thrust their stings. Olenin was ready to run away from them and it
seemed to him that it was impossible to live in this country in the
summer. He was about to go home, but remembering that other people
managed to endure such pain he resolved to bear it and gave himself up
to be devoured. And strange to say, by noontime the feeling
became actually pleasant. He even felt that without this
mosquito-filled atmosphere around him, and that mosquito-paste mingled
with perspiration which his hand smeared over his face, and that unceasing
irritation all over his body, the forest would lose for him some of its
character and charm. These myriads of insects were so well suited to that
monstrously lavish wild vegetation, these multitudes of birds and beasts
which filled the forest, this dark foliage, this hot scented air, these
runlets filled with turbid water which everywhere soaked through from the
Terek and gurgled here and there under the overhanging leaves, that the very
thing which had at first seemed to him dreadful and intolerable now seemed
pleasant. After going round the place where yesterday they had found the
animal and not finding anything, he felt inclined to rest. The sun stood
right above the forest and poured its perpendicular rays down on his back and
head whenever he came out into a glade or onto the road. The seven heavy
pheasants dragged painfully at his waist. Having found the traces of
yesterday's stag he crept under a bush into the thicket just where the
stag had lain, and lay down in its lair. He examined the dark
foliage around him, the place marked by the stag's perspiration
and yesterday's dung, the imprint of the stag's knees, the bit of black
earth it had kicked up, and his own footprints of the day before. He felt
cool and comfortable and did not think of or wish for anything. And suddenly
he was overcome by such a strange feeling of causeless joy and of love for
everything, that from an old habit of his childhood he began crossing himself
and thanking someone. Suddenly, with extraordinary clearness, he thought:
'Here am I, Dmitri Olenin, a being quite distinct from every other being,
now lying all alone Heaven only knows where—where a stag used to live—an
old stag, a beautiful stag who perhaps had never seen a man, and in a place
where no human being has ever sat or thought these thoughts. Here I sit, and
around me stand old and young trees, one of them festooned with wild grape
vines, and pheasants are fluttering, driving one another about and
perhaps scenting their murdered brothers.' He felt his pheasants,
examined them, and wiped the warm blood off his hand onto his
coat. 'Perhaps the jackals scent them and with dissatisfied faces go
off in another direction: above me, flying in among the leaves which to
them seem enormous islands, mosquitoes hang in the air and buzz: one, two,
three, four, a hundred, a thousand, a million mosquitoes, and all of them
buzz something or other and each one of them is separate from all else and is
just such a separate Dmitri Olenin as I am myself.' He vividly imagined what
the mosquitoes buzzed: 'This way, this way, lads! Here's some one we can
eat!' They buzzed and stuck to him. And it was clear to him that he was not a
Russian nobleman, a member of Moscow society, the friend and relation of
so-and-so and so-and-so, but just such a mosquito, or pheasant, or deer, as
those that were now living all around him. 'Just as they, just as Daddy
Eroshka, I shall live awhile and die, and as he says truly:
"grass will grow and nothing more".
'But what though the grass does grow?' he continued thinking. 'Still I
must live and be happy, because happiness is all I desire. Never mind what I
am—an animal like all the rest, above whom the grass will grow and nothing
more; or a frame in which a bit of the one God has been set,—still I must
live in the very best way. How then must I live to be happy, and why was I
not happy before?' And he began to recall his former life and he
felt disgusted with himself. He appeared to himself to have been terribly
exacting and selfish, though he now saw that all the while he really needed
nothing for himself. And he looked round at the foliage with the light
shining through it, at the setting sun and the clear sky, and he felt just as
happy as before. 'Why am I happy, and what used I to live for?' thought he.
'How much I exacted for myself; how I schemed and did not manage to
gain anything but shame and sorrow! and, there now, I require nothing to
be happy;' and suddenly a new light seemed to reveal itself to him.
'Happiness is this!' he said to himself. 'Happiness lies in living for
others. That is evident. The desire for happiness is innate in every man;
therefore it is legitimate. When trying to satisfy it selfishly—that is, by
seeking for oneself riches, fame, comforts, or love—it may happen that
circumstances arise which make it impossible to satisfy these desires. It
follows that it is these desires that are illegitimate, but not the need
for happiness. But what desires can always be satisfied despite external
circumstances? What are they? Love, self-sacrifice.' He was so glad and
excited when he had discovered this, as it seemed to him, new truth, that he
jumped up and began impatiently seeking some one to sacrifice himself for, to
do good to and to love. 'Since one wants nothing for oneself,' he kept
thinking, 'why not live for others?' He took up his gun with the intention
of returning home quickly to think this out and to find an opportunity of
doing good. He made his way out of the thicket. When he had come out into the
glade he looked around him; the sun was no longer visible above the
tree-tops. It had grown cooler and the place seemed to him quite strange and
not like the country round the village. Everything seemed changed—the
weather and the character of the forest; the sky was wrapped in clouds, the
wind was rustling in the tree-tops, and all around nothing was visible but
reeds and dying broken-down trees. He called to his dog who had run away to
follow some animal, and his voice came back as in a desert. And suddenly he
was seized with a terrible sense of weirdness. He grew frightened. He
remembered the abreks and the murders he had been told about, and he expected
every moment that an abrek would spring from behind every bush and he would
have to defend his life and die, or be a coward. He thought of God and
of the future life as for long he had not thought about them. And
all around was that same gloomy stern wild nature. 'And is it worth while
living for oneself,' thought he, 'when at any moment you may die, and die
without having done any good, and so that no one will know of it?' He went in
the direction where he fancied the village lay. Of his shooting he had no
further thought; but he felt tired to death and peered round at every bush
and tree with particular attention and almost with terror, expecting every
moment to be called to account for his life. After having wandered about for
a considerable time he came upon a ditch down which was flowing cold sandy
water from the Terek, and, not to go astray any longer, he decided to follow
it. He went on without knowing where the ditch would lead him. Suddenly the
reeds behind him crackled. He shuddered and seized his gun, and then felt
ashamed of himself: the over-excited dog, panting hard, had thrown itself
into the cold water of the ditch and was lapping it!
He too had a drink, and then followed the dog in the direction it wished
to go, thinking it would lead him to the village. But despite the dog's
company everything around him seemed still more dreary. The forest grew
darker and the wind grew stronger and stronger in the tops of the broken old
trees. Some large birds circled screeching round their nests in those trees.
The vegetation grew poorer and he came oftener and oftener upon rustling
reeds and bare sandy spaces covered with animal footprints. To the howling of
the wind was added another kind of cheerless monotonous roar. Altogether his
spirits became gloomy. Putting his hand behind him he felt his pheasants, and
found one missing. It had broken off and was lost, and only the
bleeding head and beak remained sticking in his belt. He felt
more frightened than he had ever done before. He began to pray to God, and
feared above all that he might die without having done anything good or kind;
and he so wanted to live, and to live so as to perform a feat of
Suddenly it was as though the sun had shone into his soul. He heard
Russian being spoken, and also heard the rapid smooth flow of the Terek, and
a few steps farther in front of him saw the brown moving surface of the
river, with the dim-coloured wet sand of its banks and shallows, the distant
steppe, the cordon watch- tower outlined above the water, a saddled and
hobbled horse among the brambles, and then the mountains opening out before
him. The red sun appeared for an instant from under a cloud and its
last rays glittered brightly along the river over the reeds, on
the watch-tower, and on a group of Cossacks, among whom
Lukashka's vigorous figure attracted Olenin's involuntary attention.
Olenin felt that he was again, without any apparent cause, perfectly
happy. He had come upon the Nizhni-Prototsk post on the Terek, opposite a
pro-Russian Tartar village on the other side of the river. He accosted the
Cossacks, but not finding as yet any excuse for doing anyone a kindness, he
entered the hut; nor in the hut did he find any such opportunity. The
Cossacks received him coldly. On entering the mud hut he lit a cigarette. The
Cossacks paid little attention to him, first because he was smoking
a cigarette, and secondly because they had something else to divert them
that evening. Some hostile Chechens, relatives of the abrek who had been
killed, had come from the hills with a scout to ransom the body; and the
Cossacks were waiting for their Commanding Officer's arrival from the
village. The dead man's brother, tall and well shaped with a short cropped
beard which was dyed red, despite his very tattered coat and cap was calm
and majestic as a king. His face was very like that of the dead abrek. He
did not deign to look at anyone, and never once glanced at the dead body, but
sitting on his heels in the shade he spat as he smoked his short pipe, and
occasionally uttered some few guttural sounds of command, which were
respectfully listened to by his companion. He was evidently a brave who had
met Russians more than once before in quite other circumstances, and nothing
about them could astonish or even interest him. Olenin was about to
approach the dead body and had begun to look at it when the
brother, looking up at him from under his brows with calm contempt,
said something sharply and angrily. The scout hastened to cover the dead
man's face with his coat. Olenin was struck by the dignified and stem
expression of the brave's face. He began to speak to him, asking from what
village he came, but the Chechen, scarcely giving him a glance, spat
contemptuously and turned away. Olenin was so surprised at the Chechen not
being interested in him that he could only put it down to the man's stupidity
or ignorance of Russian; so he turned to the scout, who also acted as
interpreter. The scout was as ragged as the other, but instead of being
red-haired he was black-haired, restless, with extremely white gleaming
teeth and sparkling black eyes. The scout willingly entered
into conversation and asked for a cigarette.
'There were five brothers,' began the scout in his broken Russian. 'This
is the third brother the Russians have killed, only two are left. He is a
brave, a great brave!' he said, pointing to the Chechen. 'When they killed
Ahmet Khan (the dead brave) this one was sitting on the opposite bank among
the reeds. He saw it all. Saw him laid in the skiff and brought to the bank.
He sat there till the night and wished to kill the old man, but the
others would not let him.'
Lukashka went up to the speaker, and sat down. 'Of what village?' asked
'From there in the hills,' replied the scout, pointing to the misty
bluish gorge beyond the Terek. 'Do you know Suuk-su? It is about eight miles
'Do you know Girey Khan in Suuk-su?' asked Lukashka, evidently proud of
the acquaintance. 'He is my kunak.'
'He is my neighbour,' answered the scout.
'He's a trump!' and Lukashka, evidently much interested, began talking
to the scout in Tartar.
Presently a Cossack captain, with the head of the village, arrived on
horseback with a suite of two Cossacks. The captain—one of the new type of
Cossack officers—wished the Cossacks 'Good health,' but no one shouted in
reply, 'Hail! Good health to your honour,' as is customary in the Russian
Army, and only a few replied with a bow. Some, and among them Lukashka, rose
and stood erect. The corporal replied that all was well at the outposts. All
this seemed ridiculous: it was as if these Cossacks were playing at being
soldiers. But these formalities soon gave place to ordinary ways of
behaviour, and the captain, who was a smart Cossack just like the others,
began speaking fluently in Tartar to the interpreter. They filled in some
document, gave it to the scout, and received from him some money. Then they
approached the body.
'Which of you is Luke Gavrilov?' asked the captain.
Lukishka took off his cap and came forward.
'I have reported your exploit to the Commander. I don't know what will
come of it. I have recommended you for a cross; you're too young to be made a
sergeant. Can you read?'
'But what a fine fellow to look at!' said the captain, again playing the
commander. 'Put on your cap. Which of the Gavrilovs does he come of? ... the
'His nephew,' replied the corporal.
'I know, I know. Well, lend a hand, help them,' he said, turning to the
Lukashka's face shone with joy and seemed handsomer than usual. He moved
away from the corporal, and having put on his cap sat down beside
When the body had been carried to the skiff the brother
Chechen descended to the bank. The Cossacks involuntarily stepped aside
to let him pass. He jumped into the boat and pushed off from the bank with
his powerful leg, and now, as Olenin noticed, for the first time threw a
rapid glance at all the Cossacks and then abruptly asked his companion a
question. The latter answered something and pointed to Lukashka. The Chechen
looked at him and, turning slowly away, gazed at the opposite bank. That look
expressed not hatred but cold contempt. He again made some remark.
'What is he saying?' Olenin asked of the fidgety scout.
'Yours kill ours, ours slay yours. It's always the same,' replied the
scout, evidently inventing, and he smiled, showing his white teeth, as he
jumped into the skiff.
The dead man's brother sat motionless, gazing at the opposite bank. He
was so full of hatred and contempt that there was nothing on this side of the
river that moved his curiosity. The scout, standing up at one end of the
skiff and dipping his paddle now on one side now on the other, steered
skilfully while talking incessantly. The skiff became smaller and smaller as
it moved obliquely across the stream, the voices became scarcely
audible, and at last, still within sight, they landed on the opposite
bank where their horses stood waiting. There they lifted out the
corpse and (though the horse shied) laid it across one of the
saddles, mounted, and rode at a foot-pace along the road past a
Tartar village from which a crowd came out to look at them. The
Cossacks on the Russian side of the river were highly satisfied and
jovial. Laughter and jokes were heard on all sides. The captain and
the head of the village entered the mud hut to regale
themselves. Lukashka, vainly striving to impart a sedate expression to
his merry face, sat down with his elbows on his knees beside Olenin and
whittled away at a stick.
'Why do you smoke?' he said with assumed curiosity. 'Is it good?'
He evidently spoke because he noticed Olenin felt ill at ease
and isolated among the Cossacks.
'It's just a habit,' answered Olenin. 'Why?'
'H'm, if one of us were to smoke there would be a row! Look there now,
the mountains are not far off,' continued Lukashka, 'yet you can't get there!
How will you get back alone? It's getting dark. I'll take you, if you like.
You ask the corporal to give me leave.'
'What a fine fellow!' thought Olenin, looking at the Cossack's bright
face. He remembered Maryanka and the kiss he had heard by the gate, and he
was sorry for Lukashka and his want of culture. 'What confusion it is,' he
thought. 'A man kills another and is happy and satisfied with himself as if
he had done something excellent. Can it be that nothing tells him that it is
not a reason for any rejoicing, and that happiness lies not in
killing, but in sacrificing oneself?'
'Well, you had better not meet him again now, mate!' said one of the
Cossacks who had seen the skiff off, addressing Lukashka. 'Did you hear him
asking about you?'
Lukashka raised his head.
'My godson?' said Lukashka, meaning by that word the dead Chechen.
'Your godson won't rise, but the red one is the godson's brother!'
'Let him thank God that he got off whole himself,'
'What are you glad about?' asked Olenin. 'Supposing your brother had
been killed; would you be glad?'
The Cossack looked at Olenin with laughing eyes. He seemed to
have understood all that Olenin wished to say to him, but to be above such
'Well, that happens too! Don't our fellows get killed sometimes?'
The Captain and the head of the village rode away, and Olenin,
to please Lukashka as well as to avoid going back alone through the dark
forest, asked the corporal to give Lukashka leave, and the corporal did so.
Olenin thought that Lukashka wanted to see Maryanka and he was also glad of
the companionship of such a pleasant-looking and sociable Cossack. Lukashka
and Maryanka he involuntarily united in his mind, and he found pleasure
in thinking about them. 'He loves Maryanka,' thought Olenin, 'and I could
love her,' and a new and powerful emotion of tenderness overcame him as they
walked homewards together through the dark forest. Lukashka too felt happy;
something akin to love made itself felt between these two very different
young men. Every time they glanced at one another they wanted to laugh.
'By which gate do you enter?' asked Olenin.
'By the middle one. But I'll see you as far as the marsh. After that you
have nothing to fear.'
'Do you think I am afraid? Go back, and thank you. I can get
'It's all right! What have I to do? And how can you help being afraid?
Even we are afraid,' said Lukashka to set Olenin's self- esteem at rest, and
he laughed too.
'Then come in with me. We'll have a talk and a drink and in the morning
you can go back.'
'Couldn't I find a place to spend the night?' laughed Lukashka. 'But the
corporal asked me to go back.'
'I heard you singing last night, and also saw you.'
'Every one...' and Luke swayed his head.
'Is it true you are getting married?' asked Olenin.
'Mother wants me to marry. But I have not got a horse yet.'
'Aren't you in the regular service?'
'Oh dear no! I've only just joined, and have not got a horse yet, and
don't know how to get one. That's why the marriage does not come off.'
'And what would a horse cost?'
'We were bargaining for one beyond the river the other day and they
would not take sixty rubles for it, though it is a Nogay horse.'
'Will you come and be my drabant?' (A drabant was a kind of orderly
attached to an officer when campaigning.) 'I'll get it arranged and will give
you a horse,' said Olenin suddenly. 'Really now, I have two and I don't want
'How—don't want it?' Lukashka said, laughing. 'Why should you make me a
present? We'll get on by ourselves by God's help.'
'No, really! Or don't you want to be a drabant?' said Olenin, glad that
it had entered his head to give a horse to Lukashka, though, without knowing
why, he felt uncomfortable and confused and did not know what to say when he
tried to speak.
Lukashka was the first to break the silence.
'Have you a house of your own in Russia?' he asked.
Olenin could not refrain from replying that he had not only one, but
'A good house? Bigger than ours?' asked Lukashka good-naturedly.
'Much bigger; ten times as big and three storeys high,'
'And have you horses such as ours?'
'I have a hundred horses, worth three or four hundred rubles each, but
they are not like yours. They are trotters, you know.... But still, I like
the horses here best.'
'Well, and did you come here of your own free will, or were you sent?'
said Lukashka, laughing at him. 'Look! that's where you lost your way,' he
added, 'you should have turned to the right.'
'I came by my own wish,' replied Olenin. 'I wanted to see your parts and
to join some expeditions.'
'I would go on an expedition any day,' said Lukashka. 'D'you hear the
jackals howling?' he added, listening.
'I say, don't you feel any horror at having killed a man?'
'What's there to be frightened about? But I should like to join
an expedition,' Lukashka repeated. 'How I want to! How I want to!'
'Perhaps we may be going together. Our company is going before
the holidays, and your "hundred" too.'
'And what did you want to come here for? You've a house and horses and
serfs. In your place I'd do nothing but make merry! And what is your
'I am a cadet, but have been recommended for a commission.'
'Well, if you're not bragging about your home, if I were you I'd never
have left it! Yes, I'd never have gone away anywhere. Do you find it pleasant
living among us?'
'Yes, very pleasant,' answered Olenin.
It had grown quite dark before, talking in this way, they approached the
village. They were still surrounded by the deep gloom of the forest. The wind
howled through the tree-tops. The jackals suddenly seemed to be crying close
beside them, howling, chuckling, and sobbing; but ahead of them in the
village the sounds of women's voices and the barking of dogs could already
be heard; the outlines of the huts were clearly to be seen; lights gleamed
and the air was filled with the peculiar smell of kisyak smoke. Olenin felt
keenly, that night especially, that here in this village was his home, his
family, all his happiness, and that he never had and never would live so
happily anywhere as he did in this Cossack village. He was so fond of
everybody and especially of Lukashka that night. On reaching home, to
Lukashka's great surprise, Olenin with his own hands led out of the shed a
horse he had bought in Groznoe—it was not the one he usually rode
but another—not a bad horse though no longer young, and gave it
'Why should you give me a present?' said Lukashka, 'I have not yet done
anything for you.'
'Really it is nothing,' answered Olenin. 'Take it, and you will give me
a present, and we'll go on an expedition against the enemy together.'
Lukashka became confused.
'But what d'you mean by it? As if a horse were of little value,' he said
without looking at the horse.
'Take it, take it! If you don't you will offend me. Vanyusha! Take the
grey horse to his house.'
Lukashka took hold of the halter.
'Well then, thank you! This is something unexpected, undreamt of.'
Olenin was as happy as a boy of twelve.
'Tie it up here. It's a good horse. I bought it in Groznoe; it gallops
splendidly! Vanyusha, bring us some chikhir. Come into the hut.'
The wine was brought. Lukashka sat down and took the wine-bowl.
'God willing I'll find a way to repay you,' he said, finishing his wine.
'How are you called?'
'Well, 'Mitry Andreich, God bless you. We will be kunaks. Now you must
come to see us. Though we are not rich people still we can treat a kunak, and
I will tell mother in case you need anything— clotted cream or grapes—and
if you come to the cordon I'm your servant to go hunting or to go across the
river, anywhere you like! There now, only the other day, what a boar I
killed, and I divided it among the Cossacks, but if I had only known, I'd
have given it to you.' 'That's all right, thank you! But don't harness the
horse, it has never been in harness.'
'Why harness the horse? And there is something else I'll tell you if you
like,' said Lukashka, bending his head. 'I have a kunak, Girey Khan. He asked
me to lie in ambush by the road where they come down from the mountains.
Shall we go together? I'll not betray you. I'll be your murid.'
'Yes, we'll go; we'll go some day.'
Lukashka seemed quite to have quieted down and to have
understood Olenin's attitude towards him. His calmness and the ease of
his behaviour surprised Olenin, and he did not even quite like it. They
talked long, and it was late when Lukashka, not tipsy (he never was tipsy)
but having drunk a good deal, left Olenin after shaking hands.
Olenin looked out of the window to see what he would do. Lukashka went
out, hanging his head. Then, having led the horse out of the gate, he
suddenly shook his head, threw the reins of the halter over its head, sprang
onto its back like a cat, gave a wild shout, and galloped down the street.
Olenin expected that Lukishka would go to share his joy with Maryanka, but
though he did not do so Olenin still felt his soul more at ease than ever
before in his life. He was as delighted as a boy, and could not refrain
from telling Vanyusha not only that he had given Lukashka the horse, but
also why he had done it, as well as his new theory of happiness. Vanyusha did
not approve of his theory, and announced that 'l'argent il n'y a pas!' and
that therefore it was all nonsense.
Lukashka rode home, jumped off the horse, and handed it over to his
mother, telling her to let it out with the communal Cossack herd. He himself
had to return to the cordon that same night. His deaf sister undertook to
take the horse, and explained by signs that when she saw the man who had
given the horse, she would bow down at his feet. The old woman only shook her
head at her son's story, and decided in her own mind that he had stolen it.
She therefore told the deaf girl to take it to the herd
Lukashka went back alone to the cordon pondering over Olenin's action.
Though he did not consider the horse a good one, yet it was worth at least
forty rubles and Lukashka was very glad to have the present. But why it had
been given him he could not at all understand, and therefore he did not
experience the least feeling of gratitude. On the contrary, vague suspicions
that the cadet had some evil intentions filled his mind. What those
intentions were he could not decide, but neither could he admit the idea that
a stranger would give him a horse worth forty rubles for nothing, just out
of kindness; it seemed impossible. Had he been drunk one might understand it!
He might have wished to show off. But the cadet had been sober, and therefore
must have wished to bribe him to do something wrong. 'Eh, humbug!' thought
Lukashka. 'Haven't I got the horse and we'll see later on. I'm not a fool
myself and we shall see who'll get the better of the other,' he thought,
feeling the necessity of being on his guard, and therefore arousing
in himself unfriendly feelings towards Olenin. He told no one how he had
got the horse. To some he said he had bought it, to others he replied
evasively. However, the truth soon got about in the village, and Lukashka's
mother and Maryanka, as well as Elias Vasilich and other Cossacks, when they
heard of Olenin's unnecessary gift, were perplexed, and began to be on their
guard against the cadet. But despite their fears his action aroused
in them a great respect for his simplicity and wealth.
'Have you heard,' said one, 'that the cadet quartered on Elias Vasilich
has thrown a fifty-ruble horse at Lukashka? He's rich! ...'
'Yes, I heard of it,' replied another profoundly, 'he must have done him
some great service. We shall see what will come of this cadet. Eh! what luck
that Snatcher has!'
'Those cadets are crafty, awfully crafty,' said a third. 'See if he
don't go setting fire to a building, or doing something!'
Olenin's life went on with monotonous regularity. He had
little intercourse with the commanding officers or with his equals.
The position of a rich cadet in the Caucasus was peculiarly advantageous
in this respect. He was not sent out to work, or for training. As a reward
for going on an expedition he was recommended for a commission, and meanwhile
he was left in peace. The officers regarded him as an aristocrat and behaved
towards him with dignity. Cardplaying and the officers' carousals
accompanied by the soldier-singers, of which he had had experience when he
was with the detachment, did not seem to him attractive, and he
also avoided the society and life of the officers in the village. The life
of officers stationed in a Cossack village has long had its own definite
form. Just as every cadet or officer when in a fort regularly drinks porter,
plays cards, and discusses the rewards given for taking part in the
expeditions, so in the Cossack villages he regularly drinks chikhir with his
hosts, treats the girls to sweet-meats and honey, dangles after the Cossack
women, and falls in love, and occasionally marries there. Olenin
always took his own path and had an unconscious objection to the
beaten tracks. And here, too, he did not follow the ruts of a
Caucasian officer's life.
It came quite naturally to him to wake up at daybreak. After drinking
tea and admiring from his porch the mountains, the morning, and Maryanka, he
would put on a tattered ox-hide coat, sandals of soaked raw hide, buckle on a
dagger, take a gun, put cigarettes and some lunch in a little bag, call his
dog, and soon after five o'clock would start for the forest beyond the
village. Towards seven in the evening he would return tired and hungry
with five or six pheasants hanging from his belt (sometimes with
some other animal) and with his bag of food and cigarettes untouched. If
the thoughts in his head had lain like the lunch and cigarettes in the bag,
one might have seen that during all those fourteen hours not a single thought
had moved in it. He returned morally fresh, strong, and perfectly happy, and
he could not tell what he had been thinking about all the time. Were they
ideas, memories, or dreams that had been flitting through his mind? They
were frequently all three. He would rouse himself and ask what he had been
thinking about; and would see himself as a Cossack working in a vineyard with
his Cossack wife, or an abrek in the mountains, or a boar running away from
himself. And all the time he kept peering and watching for a pheasant, a
boar, or a deer.
In the evening Daddy Eroshka would be sure to be sitting with
him. Vanyusha would bring a jug of chikhir, and they would
converse quietly, drink, and separate to go quite contentedly to bed.
The next day he would again go shooting, again be healthily weary, again
they would sit conversing and drink their fill, and again be happy. Sometimes
on a holiday or day of rest Olenin spent the whole day at home. Then his
chief occupation was watching Maryanka, whose every movement, without
realizing it himself, he followed greedily from his window or his porch. He
regarded Maryanka and loved her (so he thought) just as he loved the
beauty of the mountains and the sky, and he had no thought of
entering into any relations with her. It seemed to him that between him
and her such relations as there were between her and the Cossack Lukashka
could not exist, and still less such as often existed between rich officers
and other Cossack girls. It seemed to him that if he tried to do as his
fellow officers did, he would exchange his complete enjoyment of
contemplation for an abyss of suffering, disillusionment, and remorse.
Besides, he had already achieved a triumph of self-sacrifice in connexion
with her which had given him great pleasure, and above all he was in a way
afraid of Maryanka and would not for anything have ventured to utter
a word of love to her lightly.
Once during the summer, when Olenin had not gone out shooting but was
sitting at home, quite unexpectedly a Moscow acquaintance, a very young man
whom he had met in society, came in.
'Ah, mon cher, my dear fellow, how glad I was when I heard that you were
here!' he began in his Moscow French, and he went on intermingling French
words in his remarks. 'They said, "Olenin". What Olenin? and I was so
pleased.... Fancy fate bringing us together here! Well, and how are you? How?
Why?' and Prince Beletski told his whole story: how he had temporarily
entered the regiment, how the. Commander-in-Chief had offered to take him
as an adjutant, and how he would take up the post after this
campaign although personally he felt quite indifferent about it.
'Living here in this hole one must at least make a career—get
a cross—or a rank—be transferred to the Guards. That is
quite indispensable, not for myself but for the sake of my relations
and friends. The prince received me very well; he is a very
decent fellow,' said Beletski, and went on unceasingly. 'I have
been recommended for the St. Anna Cross for the expedition. Now I
shall stay here a bit until we start on the campaign. It's capital
here. What women! Well, and how are you getting on? I was told by
our captain, Startsev you know, a kind-hearted stupid creature.... Well,
he said you were living like an awful savage, seeing no one! I quite
understand you don't want to be mixed up with the set of officers we have
here. I am so glad now you and I will be able to see something of one
another. I have put up at the Cossack corporal's house. There is such a girl
there. Ustenka! I tell you she's just charming.'
And more and more French and Russian words came pouring forth from that
world which Olenin thought he had left for ever. The general opinion about
Beletski was that he was a nice, good-natured fellow. Perhaps he really was;
but in spite of his pretty, good- natured face, Olenin thought him extremely
unpleasant. He seemed just to exhale that filthiness which Olenin had
forsworn. What vexed him most was that he could not—had not the
strength— abruptly to repulse this man who came from that world: as if
that old world he used to belong to had an irresistible claim on
him. Olenin felt angry with Beletski and with himself, yet against
his wish he introduced French phrases into his own conversation,
was interested in the Commander-in-Chief and in their
Moscow acquaintances, and because in this Cossack village he and
Beletski both spoke French, he spoke contemptuously of their
fellow officers and of the Cossacks, and was friendly with
Beletski, promising to visit him and inviting him to drop in to see
him. Olenin however did not himself go to see Beletski. Vanyusha for his
part approved of Beletski, remarking that he was a real gentleman.
Beletski at once adopted the customary life of a rich officer in
a Cossack village. Before Olenin's eyes, in one month he came to be like
an old resident of the village; he made the old men drunk, arranged evening
parties, and himself went to parties arranged by the girls—bragged of his
conquests, and even got so far that, for some unknown reason, the women and
girls began calling him grandad, and the Cossacks, to whom a man who loved
wine and women was clearly understandable, got used to him and even liked
him better than they did Olenin, who was a puzzle to them.
It was five in the morning. Vanyusha was in the porch heating
the samovar, and using the leg of a long boot instead of bellows. Olenin
had already ridden off to bathe in the Terek. (He had recently invented a new
amusement: to swim his horse in the river.) His landlady was in her outhouse,
and the dense smoke of the kindling fire rose from the chimney. The girl was
milking the buffalo cow in the shed. 'Can't keep quiet, the damned
thing!' came her impatient voice, followed by the rhythmical sound
From the street in front of the house horses' hoofs were
heard clattering briskly, and Olenin, riding bareback on a
handsome dark-grey horse which was still wet and shining, rode up to
the gate. Maryanka's handsome head, tied round with a red
kerchief, appeared from the shed and again disappeared. Olenin was wearing
a red silk shirt, a white Circassian coat girdled with a strap
which carried a dagger, and a tall cap. He sat his well-fed wet horse with
a slightly conscious elegance and, holding his gun at his back, stooped to
open the gate. His hair was still wet, and his face shone with youth and
health. He thought himself handsome, agile, and like a brave; but he was
mistaken. To any experienced Caucasian he was still only a soldier. When he
noticed that the girl had put out her head he stooped with particular rested
on the ground without altering their shape; how her strong arms with
the sleeves rolled up, exerting the muscles, used the spade almost as if
in anger, and how her deep dark eyes sometimes glanced at him. Though the
delicate brows frowned, yet her eyes expressed pleasure and a knowledge of
her own beauty.
'I say, Olenin, have you been up long?' said Beletski as he entered the
yard dressed in the coat of a Caucasian officer.
'Ah, Beletski,' replied Olenin, holding out his hand. 'How is it you are
out so early?'
'I had to. I was driven out; we are having a ball tonight. Maryanka, of
course you'll come to Ustenka's?' he added, turning to the girl.
Olenin felt surprised that Beletski could address this woman so easily.
But Maryanka, as though she had not heard him, bent her head, and throwing
the spade across her shoulder went with her firm masculine tread towards the
'She's shy, the wench is shy,' Beletski called after her. 'Shy of you,'
he added as, smiling gaily, he ran up the steps of the porch.
'How is it you are having a ball and have been driven out?'
'It's at Ustenka's, at my landlady's, that the ball is, and you two are
invited. A ball consists of a pie and a gathering of girls.'
'What should we do there?'
Beletski smiled knowingly and winked, jerking his head in the direction
of the outhouse into which Maryanka had disappeared.
Olenin shrugged his shoulders and blushed.
'Well, really you are a strange fellow!' said he.
'Come now, don't pretend'
Olenin frowned, and Beletski noticing this smiled insinuatingly. 'Oh,
come, what do you mean?' he said, 'living in the same house— and such a fine
girl, a splendid girl, a perfect beauty'
'Wonderfully beautiful! I never saw such a woman before,'
'Well then?' said Beletski, quite unable to understand
'It may be strange,' replied Olenin, 'but why should I not say what is
true? Since I have lived here women don't seem to exist for me. And it is so
good, really! Now what can there be in common between us and women like
these? Eroshka—that's a different matter! He and I have a passion in
'There now! In common! And what have I in common with Amalia Ivanovna?
It's the same thing! You may say they're not very clean- -that's another
matter... A la guerre, comme a la guerre! ...'
'But I have never known any Amalia Ivanovas, and have never known how to
behave with women of that sort,' replied Olenin. 'One cannot respect them,
but these I do respect.'
'Well go on respecting them! Who wants to prevent you?'
Olenin did not reply. He evidently wanted to complete. what he had begun
to say. It was very near his heart.
'I know I am an exception...' He was visibly confused. 'But my life has
so shaped itself that I not only see no necessity to renounce my rules, but I
could not live here, let alone live as happily as I am doing, were I to live
as you do. Therefore I look for something quite different from what you look
Beletski raised his eyebrows incredulously. 'Anyhow, come to me this
evening; Maryanka will be there and I will make you acquainted. Do come,
please! If you feel dull you can go away. Will you come?'
'I would come, but to speak frankly I am afraid of being' seriously
'Oh, oh, oh!' shouted Beletski. 'Only come, and I'll see that
you aren't. Will you? On your word?'
'I would come, but really I don't understand what we shall do; what part
we shall play!'
'Please, I beg of you. You will come?'
'Yes, perhaps I'll come,' said Olenin.
'Really now! Charming women such as one sees nowhere else, and to live
like a monk! What an idea! Why spoil your life and not make use of what is at
hand? Have you heard that our company is ordered to Vozdvizhensk?'
'Hardly. I was told the 8th Company would be sent there,'
'No. I have had a letter from the adjutant there. He writes that the
Prince himself will take part in the campaign. I am very glad I shall see
something of him. I'm beginning to get tired of this place.'
'I hear we shall start on a raid soon.'
'I have not heard of it; but I have heard that Krinovitsin has received
the Order of St. Anna for a raid. He expected a lieutenancy,' said Beletski
laughing. 'He was let in! He has set off for headquarters.'
It was growing dusk and Olenin began thinking about the party.
The invitation he had received worried him. He felt inclined to go, but
what might take place there seemed strange, absurd, and even rather alarming.
He knew that neither Cossack men nor older women, nor anyone besides the
girls, were to be there. What was going to happen? How was he to behave? What
would they talk about? What connexion was there between him and those wild
Cossack girls? Beletski had told him of such curious, cynical, and yet
rigid relations. It seemed strange to think that he would be there in the
same hut with Maryanka and perhaps might have to talk to her. It seemed to
him impossible when he remembered her majestic bearing. But Beletski spoke of
it as if it were all perfectly simple. 'Is it possible that Beletski will
treat Maryanka in the same way? That is interesting,' thought he. 'No, better
not go. It's all so horrid, so vulgar, and above all—it leads
to nothing!' But again he was worried by the question of what would take
place; and besides he felt as if bound by a promise. He went out without
having made up his mind one way or the other, but he walked as far as
Beletski's, and went in there.
The hut in which Beletski lived was like Olenin's. It was raised nearly
five feet from the ground on wooden piles, and had two rooms. In the first
(which Olenin entered by the steep flight of steps) feather beds, rugs,
blankets, and cushions were tastefully and handsomely arranged, Cossack
fashion, along the main wall. On the side wall hung brass basins and weapons,
while on the floor, under a bench, lay watermelons and pumpkins. In the
second room there was a big brick oven, a table, and sectarian icons. It
was here that Beletski was quartered, with his camp-bed and his pack and
trunks. His weapons hung on the wall with a little rug behind them, and on
the table were his toilet appliances and some portraits. A silk dressing-gown
had been thrown on the bench. Beletski himself, clean and good-looking, lay
on the bed in his underclothing, reading Les Trois Mousquetaires.
He jumped up.
'There, you see how I have arranged things. Fine! Well, it's good that
you have come. They are working furiously. Do you know what the pie is made
of? Dough with a stuffing of pork and grapes. But that's not the point. You
just look at the commotion out there!'
And really, on looking out of the window they saw an unusual bustle
going on in the hut. Girls ran in and out, now for one thing and now for
'Will it soon be ready?' cried Beletski.
'Very soon! Why? Is Grandad hungry?' and from the hut came the sound of
Ustenka, plump, small, rosy, and pretty, with her sleeves turned up, ran
into Beletski's hut to fetch some plates.
'Get away or I shall smash the plates!' she squeaked, escaping from
Beletski. 'You'd better come and help,' she shouted to Olenin, laughing. 'And
don't forget to get some refreshments for the girls.' ('Refreshments' meaning
spicebread and sweets.)
'And has Maryanka come?'
'Of course! She brought some dough.'
'Do you know,' said Beletski, 'if one were to dress Ustenka up and clean
and polish her up a bit, she'd be better than all our beauties. Have you ever
seen that Cossack woman who married a colonel; she was charming! Borsheva?
What dignity! Where do they get it...'
'I have not seen Borsheva, but I think nothing could be better than the
costume they wear here.'
'Ah, I'm first-rate at fitting into any kind of life,' said Beletski
with a sigh of pleasure. 'I'll go and see what they are up to.'
He threw his dressing-gown over his shoulders and ran out, shouting,
'And you look after the "refreshments".'
Olenin sent Beletski's orderly to buy spice-bread and honey; but it
suddenly seemed to him so disgusting to give money (as if he were bribing
someone) that he gave no definite reply to the orderly's question: 'How much
spice-bread with peppermint, and how much with honey?'
'Just as you please.'
'Shall I spend all the money,' asked the old soldier impressively. 'The
peppermint is dearer. It's sixteen kopeks.'
'Yes, yes, spend it all,' answered Olenin and sat down by the window,
surprised that his heart was thumping as if he were preparing himself for
something serious and wicked.
He heard screaming and shrieking in the girls' hut when Beletski went
there, and a few moments later saw how he jumped out and ran down the steps,
accompanied by shrieks, bustle, and laughter.
'Turned out,' he said.
A little later Ustenka entered and solemnly invited her visitors to come
in: announcing that all was ready.
When they came into the room they saw that everything was really ready.
Ustenka was rearranging the cushions along the wall. On the table, which was
covered by a disproportionately small cloth, was a decanter of chikhir and
some dried fish. The room smelt of dough and grapes. Some half dozen girls in
smart tunics, with their heads not covered as usual with kerchiefs, were
huddled together in a corner behind the oven, whispering, giggling, and
spluttering with laughter.
'I humbly beg you to do honour to my patron saint,' said
Ustenka, inviting her guests to the table.
Olenin noticed Maryanka among the group of girls, who without exception
were all handsome, and he felt vexed and hurt that he met her in such vulgar
and awkward circumstances. He felt stupid and awkward, and made up his mind
to do what Beletski did. Beletski stepped to the table somewhat solemnly yet
with confidence and ease, drank a glass of wine to Ustenka's health, and
invited the others to do the same. Ustenka announced that girls don't drink.
'We might with a little honey,' exclaimed a voice from among the group of
girls. The orderly, who had just returned with the honey and spice-cakes, was
called in. He looked askance (whether with envy or with contempt) at the
gentlemen, who in his opinion were on the spree; and carefully
and conscientiously handed over to them a piece of honeycomb and the cakes
wrapped up in a piece of greyish paper, and began explaining circumstantially
all about the price and the change, but Beletski sent him away. Having mixed
honey with wine in the glasses, and having lavishly scattered the three
pounds of spice-cakes on the table, Beletski dragged the girls from their
comers by force, made them sit down at the table, and began distributing the
cakes among them. Olenin involuntarily noticed how Maryanka's sunburnt
but small hand closed on two round peppermint nuts and one brown one, and
that she did not know what to do with them. The conversation was halting and
constrained, in spite of Ustenka's and Beletski's free and easy manner and
their wish to enliven the company. Olenin faltered, and tried to think of
something to say, feeling that he was exciting curiosity and perhaps
provoking ridicule and infecting the others with his shyness. He blushed, and
it seemed to him that Maryanka in particular was feeling
uncomfortable. 'Most likely they are expecting us to give them some
money,' thought he. 'How are we to do it? And how can we manage
quickest to give it and get away?'
'How is it you don't know your own lodger?' said
Beletski, addressing Maryanka.
'How is one to know him if he never comes to see us?' answered Maryanka,
with a look at Olenin.
Olenin felt frightened, he did not know of what. He flushed and, hardly
knowing what he was saying, remarked: 'I'm afraid of your mother. She gave me
such a scolding the first time I went in.'
Maryanka burst out laughing. 'And so you were frightened?' she said, and
glanced at him and turned away.
It was the first time Olenin had seen the whole of her beautiful face.
Till then he had seen her with her kerchief covering her to the eyes. It was
not for nothing that she was reckoned the beauty of the village. Ustenka was
a pretty girl, small, plump, rosy, with merry brown eyes, and red lips which
were perpetually smiling and chattering. Maryanka on the contrary was
certainly not pretty but beautiful. Her features might have been considered
too masculine and almost harsh had it not been for her tall
stately figure, her powerful chest and shoulders, and especially
the severe yet tender expression of her long dark eyes which were darkly
shadowed beneath their black brows, and for the gentle expression of her
mouth and smile. She rarely smiled, but her smile was always striking. She
seemed to radiate virginal strength and health. All the girls were
good-looking, but they themselves and Beletski, and the orderly when he
brought in the spice-cakes, all involuntarily gazed at Maryanka, and anyone
addressing the girls was sure to address her. She seemed a proud and happy
queen among them.
Beletski, trying to keep up the spirit of the party,
chattered incessantly, made the girls hand round chikhir, fooled about
with them, and kept making improper remarks in French about
Maryanka's beauty to Olenin, calling her 'yours' (la votre), and advising
him to behave as he did himself. Olenin felt more and more uncomfortable.
He was devising an excuse to get out and run away when Beletski announced
that Ustenka, whose saint's day it was, must offer chikhir to everybody with
a kiss. She consented on condition that they should put money on her plate,
as is the custom at weddings.
'What fiend brought me to this disgusting feast?' thought Olenin, rising
to go away.
'Where are you off to?'
'I'll fetch some tobacco,' he said, meaning to escape, but Beletski
seized his hand.
'I have some money,' he said to him in French.
'One can't go away, one has to pay here,' thought Olenin bitterly, vexed
at his own awkwardness. 'Can't I really behave like Beletski? I ought not to
have come, but once I am here I must not spoil their fun. I must drink like a
Cossack,' and taking the wooden bowl (holding about eight tumblers) he almost
filled it with chikhir and drank it almost all. The girls looked at
him, surprised and almost frightened, as he drank. It seemed to
them strange and not right. Ustenka brought them another glass each, and
kissed them both. 'There girls, now we'll have some fun,' she said, clinking
on the plate the four rubles the men had put there.
Olenin no longer felt awkward, but became talkative.
'Now, Maryanka, it's your turn to offer us wine and a kiss,'
said Beletski, seizing her hand.
'Yes, I'll give you such a kiss!' she said playfully, preparing
to strike at him.
'One can kiss Grandad without payment,' said another girl.
'There's a sensible girl,' said Beletski, kissing the struggling girl.
'No, you must offer it,' he insisted, addressing Maryanka. 'Offer a glass to
And taking her by the hand he led her to the bench and sat her down
'What a beauty,' he said, turning her head to see it in profile.
Maryanka did not resist but proudly smiling turned her long eyes towards
'A beautiful girl,' repeated Beletski.
'Yes, see what a beauty I am,' Maryanka's look seemed to
endorse. Without considering what he was doing Olenin embraced Maryanka
and was going to kiss her, but she suddenly extricated herself, upsetting
Beletski and pushing the top off the table, and sprang away towards the oven.
There was much shouting and laughter. Then Beletski whispered something to
the girls and suddenly they all ran out into the passage and locked the door
'Why did you kiss Beletski and won't kiss me?' asked Olenin.
'Oh, just so. I don't want to, that's all!' she answered, pouting and
frowning. 'He's Grandad,' she added with a smile. She went to the door and
began to bang at it. 'Why have you locked the door, you devils?'
'Well, let them be there and us here,' said Olenin, drawing closer to
She frowned, and sternly pushed him away with her hand. And again she
appeared so majestically handsome to Olenin that he came to his senses and
felt ashamed of what he was doing. He went to the door and began pulling at
'Beletski! Open the door! What a stupid joke!'
Maryanka again gave a bright happy laugh. 'Ah, you're afraid of me?' she
'Yes, you know you're as cross as your mother.'
'Spend more of your time with Eroshka; that will make the girls love
you!' And she smiled, looking straight and close into his eyes.
He did not know what to reply. 'And if I were to come to see you— ' he
'That would be a different matter,' she replied, tossing her head.
At that moment Beletski pushed the door open, and Maryanka sprang away
from Olenin and in doing so her thigh struck his leg.
'It's all nonsense what I have been thinking about—love and
self- sacrifice and Lukashka. Happiness is the one thing. He who is happy
is right,' flashed through Olenin's mind, and with a strength unexpected to
himself he seized and kissed the beautiful Maryanka on her temple and her
cheek. Maryanka was not angry, but only burst into a loud laugh and ran out
to the other girls.
That was the end of the party. Ustenka's mother, returned from her work,
gave all the girls a scolding, and turned them all out.
'Yes,' thought Olenin, as he walked home. 'I need only slacken
the reins a bit and I might fall desperately in love with this
Cossack girl.' He went to bed with these thoughts, but expected it all
to blow over and that he would continue to live as before.
But the old life did not return. His relations to Maryanka were changed.
The wall that had separated them was broken down. Olenin now greeted her
every time they met.
The master of the house having returned to collect the rent, on hearing
of Olenin's wealth and generosity invited him to his hut. The old woman
received him kindly, and from the day of the party onwards Olenin often went
in of an evening and sat with them till late at night. He seemed to be living
in the village just as he used to, but within him everything had changed. He
spent his days in the forest, and towards eight o'clock, when it began to
grow dusk, he would go to see his hosts, alone or with Daddy Eroshka. They
grew so used to him that they were surprised when he stayed away. He paid
well for his wine and was a quiet fellow. Vanyusha would bring him his tea
and he would sit down in a comer near the oven. The old woman did not mind
him but went on with her work, and over their tea or their chikhir they
talked about Cossack affairs, about the neighbours, or about Russia: Olenin
relating and the others inquiring. Sometimes he brought a book and read
to himself. Maryanka crouched like a wild goat with her feet drawn
up under her, sometimes on the top of the oven, sometimes in a dark comer.
She did not take part in the conversations, but Olenin saw her eyes and face
and heard her moving or cracking sunflower seeds, and he felt that she
listened with her whole being when he spoke, and was aware of his presence
while he silently read to himself. Sometimes he thought her eyes were fixed
on him, and meeting their radiance he involuntarily became silent and gazed
at her. Then she would instantly hide her face and he would pretend to be
deep in conversation with the old woman, while he listened all the time to
her breathing and to her every movement and waited for her to look at him
again. In the presence of others she was generally bright and friendly with
him, but when they were alone together she was shy and rough. Sometimes he
came in before Maryanka had returned home. Suddenly he would hear her
firm footsteps and catch a glimmer of her blue cotton smock at the
open door. Then she would step into the middle of the hut, catch sight of
him, and her eyes would give a scarcely perceptible kindly smile, and he
would feel happy and frightened.
He neither sought for nor wished for anything from her, but every day
her presence became more and more necessary to him.
Olenin had entered into the life of the Cossack village so fully that
his past seemed quite foreign to him. As to the future, especially a future
outside the world in which he was now living, it did not interest him at all.
When he received letters from home, from relatives and friends, he was
offended by the evident distress with which they regarded him as a lost man,
while he in his village considered those as lost who did not live as he
was living. He felt sure he would never repent of having broken away from
his former surroundings and of having settled down in this village to such a
solitary and original life. When out on expeditions, and when quartered at
one of the forts, he felt happy too; but it was here, from under Daddy
Eroshka's wing, from the forest and from his hut at the end of the village,
and especially when he thought of Maryanka and Lukashka, that he seemed to
see the falseness of his former life. That falseness used to rouse
his indignation even before, but now it seemed inexpressibly vile
and ridiculous. Here he felt freer and freer every day and more and more
of a man. The Caucasus now appeared entirely different to what his
imagination had painted it. He had found nothing at all like his dreams, nor
like the descriptions of the Caucasus he had heard and read. 'There are none
of all those chestnut steeds, precipices, Amalet Beks, heroes or villains,'
thought he. 'The people live as nature lives: they die, are born, unite, and
more are born—they fight, eat and drink, rejoice and die, without
any restrictions but those that nature imposes on sun and grass, on animal
and tree. They have no other laws.' Therefore these people, compared to
himself, appeared to him beautiful, strong, and free, and the sight of them
made him feel ashamed and sorry for himself. Often it seriously occurred to
him to throw up everything, to get registered as a Cossack, to buy a hut and
cattle and marry a Cossack woman (only not Maryanka, whom he conceded to
Lukashka), and to live with Daddy Eroshka and go shooting and fishing
with him, and go with the Cossacks on their expeditions. 'Why ever don't I
do it? What am I waiting for?' he asked himself, and he egged himself on and
shamed himself. 'Am I afraid of doing what I hold to be reasonable and right?
Is the wish to be a simple Cossack, to live close to nature, not to injure
anyone but even to do good to others, more stupid than my former dreams, such
as those of becoming a minister of state or a colonel?' but a voice seemed
to say that he should wait, and not take any decision. He was held back by a
dim consciousness that he could not live altogether like Eroshka and Lukashka
because he had a different idea of happiness—he was held back by the thought
that happiness lies in self-sacrifice. What he had done for Lukashka
continued to give him joy. He kept looking for occasions to sacrifice
himself for others, but did not meet with them. Sometimes he forgot
this newly discovered recipe for happiness and considered himself capable
of identifying his life with Daddy Eroshka's, but then he quickly bethought
himself and promptly clutched at the idea of conscious self-sacrifice, and
from that basis looked calmly and proudly at all men and at their
Just before the vintage Lukashka came on horseback to see Olenin. He
looked more dashing than ever. 'Well? Are you getting married?' asked Olenin,
greeting him merrily.
Lukashka gave no direct reply.
'There, I've exchanged your horse across the river. This is a horse! A
Kabarda horse from the Lov stud. I know horses.'
They examined the new horse and made him caracole about the yard. The
horse really was an exceptionally fine one, a broad and long gelding, with
glossy coat, thick silky tail, and the soft fine mane and crest of a
thoroughbred. He was so well fed that 'you might go to sleep on his back' as
Lukashka expressed it. His hoofs, eyes, teeth, were exquisitely shaped and
sharply outlined, as one only finds them in very pure-bred horses. Olenin
could not help admiring the horse, he had not yet met with such a beauty
in the Caucasus.
'And how it goes!' said Lukashka, patting its neck. 'What a step! And so
clever—he simply runs after his master.'
'Did you have to add much to make the exchange?' asked Olenin.
'I did not count it,' answered Lukashka with a smile. 'I got him from a
'A wonderfully beautiful horse! What would you take for it?'
'I have been offered a hundred and fifty rubles for it, but I'll give it
you for nothing,' said Lukashka, merrily. 'Only say the word and it's yours.
I'll unsaddle it and you may take it. Only give me some sort of a horse for
'No, on no account.'
'Well then, here is a dagger I've brought you,' said
Lukashka, unfastening his girdle and taking out one of the two daggers
which hung from it. 'I got it from across the river.'
'Oh, thank you!'
'And mother has promised to bring you some grapes herself.'
'That's quite unnecessary. We'll balance up some day. You see I don't
offer you any money for the dagger!'
'How could you? We are kunaks. It's just the same as when Girey Khan
across the river took me into his home and said,
"Choose what you like!" So I took this sword. It's our custom.'
They went into the hut and had a drink.
'Are you staying here awhile?' asked Olenin.
'No, I have come to say good-bye. They are sending me from the cordon to
a company beyond the Terek. I am going to-night with my comrade
'And when is the wedding to be?'
'I shall be coming back for the betrothal, and then I shall return to
the company again,' Lukashka replied reluctantly.
'What, and see nothing of your betrothed?'
'Just so—what is the good of looking at her? When you go on campaign
ask in our company for Lukashka the Broad. But what a lot of boars there are
in our parts! I've killed two. I'll take you.' 'Well, good-bye! Christ save
Lukashka mounted his horse, and without calling on Maryanka,
rode caracoling down the street, where Nazarka was already
'I say, shan't we call round?' asked Nazarka, winking in the direction
of Yamka's house.
'That's a good one!' said Lukashka. 'Here, take my horse to her and if I
don't come soon give him some hay. I shall reach the company by the morning
'Hasn't the cadet given you anything more?'
'I am thankful to have paid him back with a dagger—he was going to ask
for the horse,' said Lukashka, dismounting and handing over the horse to
He darted into the yard past Olenin's very window, and came up to the
window of the cornet's hut. It was already quite dark. Maryanka, wearing only
her smock, was combing her hair preparing for bed.
'It's I—' whispered the Cossack.
Maryanka's look was severely indifferent, but her face
suddenly brightened up when she heard her name. She opened the window
and leant out, frightened and joyous.
'What—what do you want?' she said.
'Open!' uttered Lukashka. 'Let me in for a minute. I am so sick
of waiting! It's awful!'
He took hold of her head through the window and kissed her.
'Really, do open!'
'Why do you talk nonsense? I've told you I won't! Have you come for
He did not answer but went on kissing her, and she did not
'There, through the window one can't even hug you properly,'
'Maryanka dear!' came the voice of her mother, 'who is that
Lukashka took off his cap, which might have been seen, and crouched down
by the window.
'Go, be quick!' whispered Maryanka.
'Lukashka called round,' she answered; 'he was asking for Daddy.'
'Well then send him here!'
'He's gone; said he was in a hurry.'
In fact, Lukashka, stooping, as with big strides he passed under the
windows, ran out through the yard and towards Yamka's house unseen by anyone
but Olenin. After drinking two bowls of chikhir he and Nazarka rode away to
the outpost. The night was warm, dark, and calm. They rode in silence, only
the footfall of their horses was heard. Lukashka started a song about the
Cossack, Mingal, but stopped before he had finished the first verse, and
after a pause, turning to Nazarka, said:
'I say, she wouldn't let me in!'
'Oh?' rejoined Nazarka. 'I knew she wouldn't. D'you know what Yamka told
me? The cadet has begun going to their house. Daddy Eroshka brags that he got
a gun from the cadet for getting him Maryanka.'
'He lies, the old devil!' said Lukashka, angrily. 'She's not such a
girl. If he does not look out I'll wallop that old devil's sides,' and he
began his favourite song:
'From the village of Izmaylov, From the master's favourite
garden, Once escaped a keen-eyed falcon. Soon after him a
huntsman came a-riding, And he beckoned to the falcon that had
strayed, But the bright-eyed bird thus answered: "In gold
cage you could not keep me, On your hand you could not hold
me, So now I fly to blue seas far away. There a white swan I
will kill, Of sweet swan-flesh have my fill."'
The bethrothal was taking place in the cornet's hut. Lukashka
had returned to the village, but had not been to see Olenin, and Olenin
had not gone to the betrothal though he had been invited. He was sad as he
had never been since he settled in this Cossack village. He had seen Lukashka
earlier in the evening and was worried by the question why Lukashka was so
cold towards him. Olenin shut himself up in his hut and began writing in his
diary as follows:
'Many things have I pondered over lately and much have I changed,' wrote
he, 'and I have come back to the copybook maxim: The one way to be happy is
to love, to love self-denyingly, to love everybody and everything; to spread
a web of love on all sides and to take all who come into it. In this way I
caught Vanyusha, Daddy Eroshka, Lukashka, and Maryanka.'
As Olenin was finishing this sentence Daddy Eroshka entered
Eroshka was in the happiest frame of mind. A few evenings before this,
Olenin had gone to see him and had found him with a proud and happy face
deftly skinning the carcass of a boar with a small knife in the yard. The
dogs (Lyam his pet among them) were lying close by watching what he was doing
and gently wagging their tails. The little boys were respectfully looking at
him through the fence and not even teasing him as was their wont. His
women neighbours, who were as a rule not too gracious towards him, greeted
him and brought him, one a jug of chikhir, another some clotted cream, and a
third a little flour. The next day Eroshka sat in his store-room all covered
with blood, and distributed pounds of boar-flesh, taking in payment money
from some and wine from others. His face clearly expressed, 'God has sent me
luck. I have killed a boar, so now I am wanted.' Consequently,
he naturally began to drink, and had gone on for four days never leaving
the village. Besides which he had had something to drink at the
He came to Olenin quite drunk: his face red, his beard tangled, but
wearing a new beshmet trimmed with gold braid; and he brought with him a
balalayka which he had obtained beyond the river. He had long promised Olenin
this treat, and felt in the mood for it, so that he was sorry to find Olenin
'Write on, write on, my lad,' he whispered, as if he thought that a
spirit sat between him and the paper and must not be frightened away, and he
softly and silently sat down on the floor. When Daddy Eroshka was drunk his
favourite position was on the floor. Olenin looked round, ordered some wine
to be brought, and continued to write. Eroshka found it dull to drink by
himself and he wished to talk.
'I've been to the betrothal at the cornet's. But there!
They're shwine!—Don't want them!—Have come to you.'
'And where did you get your balalayka asked Olenin, still writing.
'I've been beyond the river and got it there, brother mine,'
he answered, also very quietly. 'I'm a master at it. Tartar or Cossack,
squire or soldiers' songs, any kind you please.'
Olenin looked at him again, smiled, and went on writing.
That smile emboldened the old man.
'Come, leave off, my lad, leave off!' he said with
'Well, perhaps I will.'
'Come, people have injured you but leave them alone, spit at them! Come,
what's the use of writing and writing, what's the good?'
And he tried to mimic Olenin by tapping the floor with his
thick fingers, and then twisted his big face to express contempt.
'What's the good of writing quibbles. Better have a spree and
show you're a man!'
No other conception of writing found place in his head except that of
Olenin burst out laughing and so did Eroshka. Then, jumping up from the
floor, the latter began to show off his skill on the balalayka and to sing
'Why write, my good fellow! You'd better listen to what I'll sing to
you. When you're dead you won't hear any more songs. Make merry now!'
First he sang a song of his own composing accompanied by a dance:
'Ah, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dim, Say where did they last see him? In a
booth, at the fair, He was selling pins, there.'
Then he sang a song he had learnt from his former sergeant-major:
'Deep I fell in love on Monday, Tuesday nothing did but sigh, Wednesday
I popped the question, Thursday waited her reply. Friday, late, it came at
last, Then all hope for me was past! Saturday my life to take I determined
like a man, But for my salvation's sake Sunday morning changed my
Then he sang again:
'Oh dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dim, Say where did they last
And after that, winking, twitching his shoulders, and footing it to the
tune, he sang:
'I will kiss you and embrace, Ribbons red twine round you; And I'll call
you little Grace. Oh, you little Grace now do Tell me, do you love me
And he became so excited that with a sudden dashing movement he started
dancing around the room accompanying himself the while.
Songs like 'Dee, dee, dee'—'gentlemen's songs'—he sang for Olenin's
benefit, but after drinking three more tumblers of chikhir he remembered old
times and began singing real Cossack and Tartar songs. In the midst of one of
his favourite songs his voice suddenly trembled and he ceased singing, and
only continued strumming on the balalayka.
'Oh, my dear friend!' he said.
The peculiar sound of his voice made Olenin look round.
The old man was weeping. Tears stood in his eyes and one tear
was running down his cheek.
'You are gone, my young days, and will never come back!' he
said, blubbering and halting. 'Drink, why don't you drink!' he
suddenly shouted with a deafening roar, without wiping away his tears.
There was one Tartar song that specially moved him. It had few words,
but its charm lay in the sad refrain. 'Ay day, dalalay!' Eroshka translated
the words of the song: 'A youth drove his sheep from the aoul to the
mountains: the Russians came and burnt the aoul, they killed all the men and
took all the women into bondage. The youth returned from the mountains. Where
the aoul had stood was an empty space; his mother not there, nor his
brothers, nor his house; one tree alone was left standing. The youth sat
beneath the tree and wept. "Alone like thee, alone am I left,'"
and Eroshka began singing: 'Ay day, dalalay!' and the old man
repeated several times this wailing, heart-rending refrain.
When he had finished the refrain Eroshka suddenly seized a gun that hung
on the wall, rushed hurriedly out into the yard and fired off both barrels
into the air. Then again he began, more dolefully, his 'Ay day, dalalay—ah,
ah,' and ceased.
Olenin followed him into the porch and looked up into the starry sky in
the direction where the shots had flashed. In the cornet's house there were
lights and the sound of voices. In the yard girls were crowding round the
porch and the windows, and running backwards and forwards between the hut and
the outhouse. Some Cossacks rushed out of the hut and could not refrain
from shouting, re-echoing the refrain of Daddy Eroshka's song and
'Why are you not at the betrothal?' asked Olenin.
'Never mind them! Never mind them!' muttered the old man, who
had evidently been offended by something there. 'Don't like them, I don't.
Oh, those people! Come back into the hut! Let them make merry by themselves
and we'll make merry by ourselves.'
Olenin went in.
'And Lukashka, is he happy? Won't he come to see me?' he asked.
'What, Lukashka? They've lied to him and said I am getting his girl for
you,' whispered the old man. 'But what's the girl? She will be ours if we
want her. Give enough money—and she's ours. I'll fix it up for you.
'No, Daddy, money can do nothing if she does not love me. You'd better
not talk like that!'
'We are not loved, you and I. We are forlorn,' said Daddy
Eroshka suddenly, and again he began to cry.
Listening to the old man's talk Olenin had drunk more than usual. 'So
now my Lukashka is happy,' thought he; yet he felt sad. The old man had drunk
so much that evening that he fell down on the floor and Vanyusha had to call
soldiers in to help, and spat as they dragged the old man out. He was so
angry with the old man for his bad behaviour that he did not even say a
single French word.
It was August. For days the sky had been cloudless, the sun scorched
unbearably and from early morning the warm wind raised a whirl of hot sand
from the sand-drifts and from the road, and bore it in the air through the
reeds, the trees, and the village. The grass and the leaves on the trees were
covered with dust, the roads and dried-up salt marshes were baked so hard
that they rang when trodden on. The water had long since subsided in the
Terek and rapidly vanished and dried up in the ditches. The slimy banks of
the pond near the village were trodden bare by the cattle and all day long
you could hear the splashing of water and the shouting of girls and boys
bathing. The sand-drifts and the reeds were already drying up in the steppes,
and the cattle, lowing, ran into the fields in the day-time. The boars
migrated into the distant reed-beds and to the hills beyond the Terek.
Mosquitoes and gnats swarmed in thick clouds over the low lands and
villages. The snow-peaks were hidden in grey mist. The air was rarefied
and smoky. It was said that abreks had crossed the now shallow river and
were prowling on this side of it. Every night the sun set in a glowing red
blaze. It was the busiest time of the year. The villagers all swarmed in the
melon-fields and the vineyards. The vineyards thickly overgrown with twining
verdure lay in cool, deep shade. Everywhere between the broad translucent
leaves, ripe, heavy, black clusters peeped out. Along the dusty road from
the vineyards the creaking carts moved slowly, heaped up with
black grapes. Clusters of them, crushed by the wheels, lay in the
dirt. Boys and girls in smocks stained with grape-juice, with grapes
in their hands and mouths, ran after their mothers. On the road
you continually came across tattered labourers with baskets of grapes on
their powerful shoulders; Cossack maidens, veiled with kerchiefs to their
eyes, drove bullocks harnessed to carts laden high with grapes. Soldiers who
happened to meet these carts asked for grapes, and the maidens, clambering up
without stopping their carts, would take an armful of grapes and drop them
into the skirts of the soldiers' coats. In some homesteads they had
already begun pressing the grapes; and the smell of the emptied
skins filled the air. One saw the blood-red troughs in the pent-houses in
the yards and Nogay labourers with their trousers rolled up and their legs
stained with the juice. Grunting pigs gorged themselves with the empty skins
and rolled about in them. The flat roofs of the outhouses were all spread
over with the dark amber clusters drying in the sun. Daws and magpies crowded
round the roofs, picking the seeds and fluttering from one place to
The fruits of the year's labour were being merrily gathered in, and this
year the fruit was unusually fine and plentiful.
In the shady green vineyards amid a sea of vines, laughter,
songs, merriment, and the voices of women were to be heard on all
sides, and glimpses of their bright-coloured garments could be seen.
Just at noon Maryanka was sitting in their vineyard in the shade of a
peach-tree, getting out the family dinner from under an unharnessed cart.
Opposite her, on a spread-out horse-cloth, sat the cornet (who had returned
from the school) washing his hands by pouring water on them from a little
jug. Her little brother, who had just come straight out of the pond, stood
wiping his face with his wide sleeves, and gazed anxiously at his sister and
his mother and breathed deeply, awaiting his dinner. The old mother, with
her sleeves rolled up over her strong sunburnt arms, was arranging grapes,
dried fish, and clotted cream on a little low, circular Tartar table. The
cornet wiped his hands, took off his cap, crossed himself, and moved nearer
to the table. The boy seized the jug and eagerly began to drink. The mother
and daughter crossed their legs under them and sat down by the table. Even in
the shade it was intolerably hot. The air above the vineyard
smelt unpleasant: the strong warm wind passing amid the branches
brought no coolness, but only monotonously bent the tops of the
pear, peach, and mulberry trees with which the vineyard was sprinkled. The
comet, she felt unbearably hot. Her face was burning, and she did not know
where to put her feet, her eyes were moist with sleepiness and weariness, her
lips parted involuntarily, and her chest heaved heavily and deeply.
The busy time of year had begun a fortnight ago and the continuous heavy
labour had filled the girl's life. At dawn she jumped up, washed her face
with cold water, wrapped herself in a shawl, and ran out barefoot to see to
the cattle. Then she hurriedly put on her shoes and her beshmet and, taking a
small bundle of bread, she harnessed the bullocks and drove away to the
vineyards for the whole day. There she cut the grapes and carried the baskets
with only an hour's interval for rest, and in the evening she returned to
the village, bright and not tired, dragging the bullocks by a rope or driving
them with a long stick. After attending to the cattle, she took some
sunflower seeds in the wide sleeve of her smock and went to the corner of the
street to crack them and have some fun with the other girls. But as soon as
it was dusk she returned home, and after having supper with her parents and
her brother in the dark outhouse, she went into the hut, healthy and free
from care, and climbed onto the oven, where half drowsing she listened to
their lodger's conversation. As soon as he went away she would throw herself
down on her bed and sleep soundly and quietly till morning. And so it went on
day after day. She had not seen Lukashka since the day of their betrothal,
but calmly awaited the wedding. She had got used to their lodger and felt his
intent looks with pleasure.
Although there was no escape from the heat and the
mosquitoes swarmed in the cool shadow of the wagons, and her little
brother tossing about beside her kept pushing her, Maryanka having
drawn her kerchief over her head was just falling asleep, when
suddenly their neighbour Ustenka came running towards her and, diving
under the wagon, lay down beside her.
'Sleep, girls, sleep!' said Ustenka, making herself comfortable under
the wagon. 'Wait a bit,' she exclaimed, 'this won't do!'
She jumped up, plucked some green branches, and stuck them through the
wheels on both sides of the wagon and hung her beshmet over them.
'Let me in,' she shouted to the little boy as she again crept under the
wagon. 'Is this the place for a Cossack—with the girls? Go away!'
When alone under the wagon with her friend, Ustenka suddenly put both
her arms round her, and clinging close to her began kissing her cheeks and
'Darling, sweetheart,' she kept repeating, between bursts of shrill,
'Why, you've learnt it from Grandad,' said Maryanka, struggling. 'Stop
And they both broke into such peals of laughter that Maryanka's mother
shouted to them to be quiet.
'Are you jealous?' asked Ustenka in a whisper.
'What humbug! Let me sleep. What have you come for?'
But Ustenka kept on, 'I say! But I wanted to tell you such
Maryanka raised herself on her elbow and arranged the kerchief which had
'Well, what is it?'
'I know something about your lodger!'
'There's nothing to know,' said Maryanka.
'Oh, you rogue of a girl!' said Ustenka, nudging her with her elbow and
laughing. 'Won't tell anything. Does he come to you?'
'He does. What of that?' said Maryanka with a sudden blush.
'Now I'm a simple lass. I tell everybody. Why should I pretend?' said
Ustenka, and her bright rosy face suddenly became pensive. 'Whom do I hurt? I
love him, that's all about it.'
'Grandad, do you mean?'
'And the sin?'
'Ah, Maryanka! When is one to have a good time if not while one's still
free? When I marry a Cossack I shall bear children and shall have cares.
There now, when you get married to Lukashka not even a thought of joy will
enter your head: children will come, and work!'
'Well? Some who are married live happily. It makes no
difference!' Maryanka replied quietly.
'Do tell me just this once what has passed between you
'What has passed? A match was proposed. Father put it off for a year,
but now it's been settled and they'll marry us in autumn.'
'But what did he say to you?' Maryanka smiled.
'What should he say? He said he loved me. He kept asking me to come to
the vineyards with him.'
'Just see what pitch! But you didn't go, did you? And what a dare- devil
he has become: the first among the braves. He makes merry out there in the
army too! The other day our Kirka came home; he says: "What a horse
Lukashka's got in exchange!" But all the same I expect he frets after you.
And what else did he say?'
'Must you know everything?' said Maryanka laughing. 'One night he came
to my window tipsy, and asked me to let him in.' 'And you didn't let
'Let him, indeed! Once I have said a thing I keep to it firm as a rock,'
answered Maryanka seriously.
'A fine fellow! If he wanted her, no girl would refuse him.'
'Well, let him go to the others,' replied Maryanka proudly.
'You don't pity him?'
'I do pity him, but I'll have no nonsense. It is wrong.'
Ustenka suddenly dropped her head on her friend's breast, seized hold
of her, and shook with smothered laughter. 'You silly fool!'
she exclaimed, quite out of breath. 'You don't want to be happy,' and she
began tickling Maryanka. 'Oh, leave off!' said Maryanka, screaming and
laughing. 'You've crushed Lazutka.'
'Hark at those young devils! Quite frisky! Not tired yet!' came the old
woman's sleepy voice from the wagon.
'Don't want happiness,' repeated Ustenka in a whisper, insistently. 'But
you are lucky, that you are! How they love you! You are so crusty, and yet
they love you. Ah, if I were in your place I'd soon turn the lodger's head! I
noticed him when you were at our house. He was ready to eat you with his
eyes. What things Grandad has given me! And yours they say is the richest of
the Russians. His orderly says they have serfs of their own.'
Maryanka raised herself, and after thinking a moment, smiled.
'Do you know what he once told me: the lodger I mean?' she said, biting
a bit of grass. 'He said, "I'd like to be Lukashka the Cossack, or your
brother Lazutka—." What do you think he meant?'
'Oh, just chattering what came into his head,' answered Ustenka. 'What
does mine not say! Just as if he was possessed!'
Maryanka dropped her hand on her folded beshmet, threw her arm over
Ustenka's shoulder, and shut her eyes.
'He wanted to come and work in the vineyard to-day: father invited him,'
she said, and after a short silence she fell asleep.
The sun had come out from behind the pear-tree that had shaded
the wagon, and even through the branches that Ustenka had fixed up
it scorched the faces of the sleeping girls. Maryanka woke up and began
arranging the kerchief on her head. Looking about her, beyond the pear-tree
she noticed their lodger, who with his gun on his shoulder stood talking to
her father. She nudged Ustenka and smilingly pointed him out to her.
'I went yesterday and didn't find a single one,' Olenin was saying as he
looked about uneasily, not seeing Maryanka through the branches.
'Ah, you should go out there in that direction, go right as
by compasses, there in a disused vineyard denominated as the Waste, hares
are always to be found,' said the cornet, having at once changed his manner
'A fine thing to go looking for hares in these busy times! You
had better come and help us, and do some work with the girls,' the
old woman said merrily. 'Now then, girls, up with you!' she cried.
Maryanka and Ustenka under the cart were whispering and could hardly
restrain their laughter.
Since it had become known that Olenin had given a horse worth fifty
rubles to Lukashka, his hosts had become more amiable and the cornet in
particular saw with pleasure his daughter's growing intimacy with Olenin.
'But I don't know how to do the work,' replied Olenin, trying not to look
through the green branches under the wagon where he had now noticed
Maryanka's blue smock and red kerchief.
'Come, I'll give you some peaches,' said the old woman.
'It's only according to the ancient Cossack hospitality. It's her old
woman's silliness,' said the cornet, explaining and apparently correcting his
wife's words. 'In Russia, I expect, it's not so much peaches as pineapple jam
and preserves you have been accustomed to eat at your pleasure.'
'So you say hares are to be found in the disused vineyard?'
asked Olenin. 'I will go there,' and throwing a hasty glance through
the green branches he raised his cap and disappeared between the regular
rows of green vines.
The sun had already sunk behind the fence of the vineyards, and its
broken rays glittered through the translucent leaves when Olenin returned to
his host's vineyard. The wind was falling and a cool freshness was beginning
to spread around. By some instinct Olenin recognized from afar Maryanka's
blue smock among the rows of vine, and, picking grapes on his way, he
approached her. His highly excited dog also now and then seized a low-hanging
cluster of grapes in his slobbering mouth. Maryanka, her face flushed,
her sleeves rolled up, and her kerchief down below her chin, was rapidly
cutting the heavy clusters and laying them in a basket. Without letting go of
the vine she had hold of, she stopped to smile pleasantly at him and resumed
her work. Olenin drew near and threw his gun behind his back to have his
hands free. 'Where are your people? May God aid you! Are you alone?' he meant
to say but did not say, and only raised his cap in silence.
He was ill at ease alone with Maryanka, but as if purposely to torment
himself he went up to her.
'You'll be shooting the women with your gun like that,'
'No, I shan't shoot them.'
They were both silent.
Then after a pause she said: 'You should help me.'
He took out his knife and began silently to cut off the clusters. He
reached from under the leaves low down a thick bunch weighing about three
pounds, the grapes of which grew so close that they flattened each other for
want of space. He showed it to Maryanka.
'Must they all be cut? Isn't this one too green?'
'Give it here.'
Their hands touched. Olenin took her hand, and she looked at
'Are you going to be married soon?' he asked.
She did not answer, but turned away with a stern look.
'Do you love Lukashka?'
'What's that to you?'
'I envy him!'
'Very likely!' 'No really. You are so beautiful!'
And he suddenly felt terribly ashamed of having said it, so commonplace
did the words seem to him. He flushed, lost control of himself, and seized
both her hands.
'Whatever I am, I'm not for you. Why do you make fun of me?' replied
Maryanka, but her look showed how certainly she knew he was not making
'Making fun? If you only knew how I—'
The words sounded still more commonplace, they accorded still less with
what he felt, but yet he continued, 'I don't know what I would not do for
'Leave me alone, you pitch!'
But her face, her shining eyes, her swelling bosom, her shapely legs,
said something quite different. It seemed to him that she understood how
petty were all things he had said, but that she was superior to such
considerations. It seemed to him she had long known all he wished and was not
able to tell her, but wanted to hear how he would say it. 'And how can she
help knowing,' he thought, 'since I only want to tell her all that she
herself is? But she does not wish to under-stand, does not wish to
'Hallo!' suddenly came Ustenka's high voice from behind the vine at no
great distance, followed by her shrill laugh. 'Come and help me, Dmitri
Andreich. I am all alone,' she cried, thrusting her round, naive little face
through the vines.
Olenin did not answer nor move from his place.
Maryanka went on cutting and continually looked up at Olenin. He was
about to say something, but stopped, shrugged his shoulders and, having
jerked up his gun, walked out of the vineyard with rapid strides.
He stopped once or twice, listening to the ringing laughter
of Maryanka and Ustenka who, having come together, were
shouting something. Olenin spent the whole evening hunting in the
forest and returned home at dusk without having killed anything.
When crossing the road he noticed her open the door of the outhouse, and
her blue smock showed through it. He called to Vanyusha very loud so as to
let her know that he was back, and then sat down in the porch in his usual
place. His hosts now returned from the vineyard; they came out of the
outhouse and into their hut, but did not ask of the latch and knocked. The
floor hardly creaked under the bare cautious footsteps which approached the
door. The latch clicked, the door creaked, and he noticed a faint smell
of marjoram and pumpkin, and Maryanka's whole figure appeared in
the doorway. He saw her only for an instant in the moonlight. She slammed
the door and, muttering something, ran lightly back again. Olenin began
rapping softly but nothing responded. He ran to the window and listened.
Suddenly he was startled by a shrill, squeaky man's voice.
'Fine!' exclaimed a rather small young Cossack in a white cap, coming
across the yard close to Olenin. 'I saw ... fine!'
Olenin recognized Nazarka, and was silent, not knowing what to do or
'Fine! I'll go and tell them at the office, and I'll tell her father!
That's a fine cornet's daughter! One's not enough for her.'
'What do you want of me, what are you after?' uttered Olenin.
'Nothing; only I'll tell them at the office.'
Nazarka spoke very loud, and evidently did so intentionally, adding:
'Just see what a clever cadet!'
Olenin trembled and grew pale.
'Come here, here!' He seized the Cossack firmly by the arm and drew him
towards his hut.
'Nothing happened, she did not let me in, and I too mean no harm. She is
an honest girl—'
'Yes, but all the same I'll give you something now. Wait a bit!'
Nazarka said nothing. Olenin ran into his hut and brought out
ten rubles, which he gave to the Cossack.
'Nothing happened, but still I was to blame, so I give this!—Only for
God's sake don't let anyone know, for nothing happened ... '
'I wish you joy,' said Nazarka laughing, and went away.
Nazarka had come to the village that night at Lukashka's bidding to find
a place to hide a stolen horse, and now, passing by on his way home, had
heard the sound of footsteps. When he returned next morning to his company he
bragged to his chum, and told him how cleverly he had got ten rubles. Next
morning Olenin met his hosts and they knew nothing about the events of the
night. He did not speak to Maryanka, and she only laughed a little when she
looked at him. Next night he also passed without sleep, vainly
wandering about the yard. The day after he purposely spent shooting, and
in the evening he went to see Beletski to escape from his own thoughts. He
was afraid of himself, and promised himself not to go to his hosts' hut any
That night he was roused by the sergeant-major. His company was ordered
to start at once on a raid. Olenin was glad this had happened, and thought he
would not again return to the village.
The raid lasted four days. The commander, who was a relative
of Olenin's, wished to see him and offered to let him remain with
the staff, but this Olenin declined. He found that he could not live away
from the village, and asked to be allowed to return to it. For having taken
part in the raid he received a soldier's cross, which he had formerly greatly
desired. Now he was quite indifferent about it, and even more indifferent
about his promotion, the order for which had still not arrived.
Accompanied by Vanyusha he rode back to the cordon without any
accident several hours in advance of the rest of the company. He spent
the whole evening in his porch watching Maryanka, and he again
walked about the yard, without aim or thought, all night.
It was late when he awoke the next day. His hosts were no longer in.
He did not go shooting, but now took up a book, and now went out into the
porch, and now again re-entered the hut and lay down on the bed. Vanyusha
thought he was ill.
Towards evening Olenin got up, resolutely began writing, and wrote on
till late at night. He wrote a letter, but did not post it because he felt
that no one would have understood what he wanted to say, and besides it was
not necessary that anyone but himself should understand it. This is what he
'I receive letters of condolence from Russia. They are afraid that I
shall perish, buried in these wilds. They say about me: "He will become
coarse; he will be behind the times in everything; he will take to drink, and
who knows but that he may marry a Cossack girl." It was not for nothing, they
say, that Ermolov declared: "Anyone serving in the Caucasus for ten years
either becomes a confirmed drunkard or marries a loose woman." How terrible!
Indeed it won't do for me to ruin myself when I might have the
great happiness of even becoming the Countess B—-'s husband, or a
Court chamberlain, or a Marechal de noblesse of my district. Oh,
how repulsive and pitiable you all seem to me! You do not know
what happiness is and what life is! One must taste life once in all
its natural beauty, must see and understand what I see every day before
me—those eternally unapproachable snowy peaks, and a majestic woman in that
primitive beauty in which the first woman must have come from her creator's
hands—and then it becomes clear who is ruining himself and who is living
truly or falsely—you or I. If you only knew how despicable and pitiable you,
in your delusions, seem to me! When I picture to myself—in place of
my hut, my forests, and my love—those drawing-rooms, those women with
their pomatum-greased hair eked out with false curls, those unnaturally
grimacing lips, those hidden, feeble, distorted limbs, and that chatter of
obligatory drawing-room conversation which has no right to the name—I feel
unendurably revolted. I then see before me those obtuse faces, those rich
eligible girls whose looks seem to say:
"It's all right, you may come near though I am rich and eligible"- -and
that arranging and rearranging of seats, that shameless match-making and that
eternal tittle-tattle and pretence; those rules—with whom to shake hands, to
whom only to nod, with whom to converse (and all this done deliberately with
a conviction of its inevitability), that continual ennui in the blood passing
on from generation to generation. Try to understand or believe just
this one thing: you need only see and comprehend what truth and
beauty are, and all that you now say and think and all your wishes for
me and for yourselves will fly to atoms! Happiness is being with nature,
seeing her, and conversing with her. "He may even (God forbid) marry a common
Cossack girl, and be quite lost socially" I can imagine them saying of me
with sincere pity! Yet the one thing I desire is to be quite "lost" in your
sense of the word. I wish to marry a Cossack girl, and dare not because it
would be a height of happiness of which I am unworthy.
'Three months have passed since I first saw the Cossack girl, Maryanka.
The views and prejudices of the world I had left were still fresh in me. I
did not then believe that I could love that woman. I delighted in her beauty
just as I delighted in the beauty of the mountains and the sky, nor could I
help delighting in her, for she is as beautiful as they. I found that the
sight of her beauty had become a necessity of my life and I began asking
myself whether I did not love her. But I could find nothing within
myself at all like love as I had imagined it to be. Mine was not
the restlessness of loneliness and desire for marriage, nor was
it platonic, still less a carnal love such as I have experienced. I needed
only to see her, to hear her, to know that she was near— and if I was not
happy, I was at peace.
'After an evening gathering at which I met her and touched her, I felt
that between that woman and myself there existed an indissoluble though
unacknowledged bond against which I could not struggle, yet I did struggle. I
asked myself: "Is it possible to love a woman who will never understand the
profoundest interests of my life? Is it possible to love a woman simply for
her beauty, to love the statue of a woman?" But I was already in love
with her, though I did not yet trust to my feelings.
'After that evening when I first spoke to her our relations changed.
Before that she had been to me an extraneous but majestic object of external
nature: but since then she has become a human being. I began to meet her, to
talk to her, and sometimes to go to work for her father and to spend whole
evenings with them, and in this intimate intercourse she remained still in my
eyes just as pure, inaccessible, and majestic. She always responded with
equal calm, pride, and cheerful equanimity. Sometimes she was
friendly, but generally her every look, every word, and every
movement expressed equanimity—not contemptuous, but crushing
and bewitching. Every day with a feigned smile on my lips I tried to play
a part, and with torments of passion and desire in my heart I spoke
banteringly to her. She saw that I was dissembling, but looked straight at me
cheerfully and simply. This position became unbearable. I wished not to
deceive her but to tell her all I thought and felt. I was extremely agitated.
We were in the vineyard when I began to tell her of my love, in words I am
now ashamed to remember. I am ashamed because I ought not to have dared to
speak so to her because she stood far above such words and above the feeling
they were meant to express. I said no more, but from that day my position has
been intolerable. I did not wish to demean myself by continuing our former
flippant relations, and at the same time I felt that I had not yet reached
the level of straight and simple relations with her. I asked
myself despairingly, "What am I to do?" In foolish dreams I imagined
her now as my mistress and now as my wife, but rejected both ideas with
disgust. To make her a wanton woman would be dreadful. It would be murder. To
turn her into a fine lady, the wife of Dmitri Andreich Olenin, like a Cossack
woman here who is married to one of our officers, would be still worse. Now
could I turn Cossack like Lukashka, and steal horses, get drunk on chikhir,
sing rollicking songs, kill people, and when drunk climb in at her window
for the night without a thought of who and what I am, it would be different:
then we might understand one another and I might be happy.
'I tried to throw myself into that kind of life but was still
more conscious of my own weakness and artificiality. I cannot
forget myself and my complex, distorted past, and my future appears to
me still more hopeless. Every day I have before me the distant
snowy mountains and this majestic, happy woman. But not for me is the only
happiness possible in the world; I cannot have this woman! What is most
terrible and yet sweetest in my condition is that I feel that I understand
her but that she will never understand me; not because she is inferior: on
the contrary she ought not to understand me. She is happy, she is like
nature: consistent, calm, and self-contained; and I, a weak distorted being,
want her to understand my deformity and my torments! I have not slept
at night, but have aimlessly passed under her windows not
rendering account to myself of what was happening to me. On the 18th
our company started on a raid, and I spent three days away from
the village. I was sad and apathetic, the usual songs,
cards, drinking-bouts, and talk of rewards in the regiment, were
more repulsive to me than usual. Yesterday I returned home and saw her, my
hut. Daddy Eroshka, and the snowy mountains, from my porch, and was seized by
such a strong, new feeling of joy that I understood it all. I love this
woman; I feel real love for the first and only time in my life. I know what
has befallen me. I do not fear to be degraded by this feeling, I am not
ashamed of my love, I am proud of it. It is not my fault that I love. It has
come about against my will. I tried to escape from my love by
self-renunciation, and tried to devise a joy in the Cossack Lukashka's and
Maryanka's love, but thereby only stirred up my own love and jealousy.
This is not the ideal, the so-called exalted love which I have
known before; not that sort of attachment in which you admire your
own love and feel that the source of your emotion is within yourself and
do everything yourself. I have felt that too. It is still less a desire for
enjoyment: it is something different. Perhaps in her I love nature: the
personification of all that is beautiful in nature; but yet I am not acting
by my own will, but some elemental force loves through me; the whole of God's
world, all nature, presses this love into my soul and says, "Love her." I
love her not with my mind or my imagination, but with my whole
being. Loving her I feel myself to be an integral part of all God's
joyous world. I wrote before about the new convictions to which my
solitary life had brought me, but no one knows with what labour they
shaped themselves within me and with what joy I realized them and saw
a new way of life opening out before me; nothing was dearer to me
than those convictions... Well! ... love has come and neither they nor
any regrets for them remain! It is even difficult for me to believe that I
could prize such a one-sided, cold, and abstract state of mind. Beauty came
and scattered to the winds all that laborious inward toil, and no regret
remains for what has vanished! Self-renunciation is all nonsense and
absurdity! That is pride, a refuge from well-merited unhappiness, and
salvation from the envy of others' happiness: "Live for others, and do
good!"—Why? when in my soul there is only love for myself and the desire to
love her and to live her life with her? Not for others, not for Lukashka, I
now desire happiness. I do not now love those others. Formerly I should have
told myself that this is wrong. I should have tormented myself with the
questions: What will become of her, of me, and of Lukashka? Now I don't
care. I do not live my own life, there is something stronger than me which
directs me. I suffer; but formerly I was dead and only now do I live. Today I
will go to their house and tell her everything.'
Late that evening, after writing this letter, Olenin went to
his hosts' hut. The old woman was sitting on a bench behind the
oven unwinding cocoons. Maryanka with her head uncovered sat sewing by the
light of a candle. On seeing Olenin she jumped up, took her kerchief and
stepped to the oven. 'Maryanka dear,' said her mother, 'won't you sit here
with me a bit?' 'No, I'm bareheaded,' she replied, and sprang up on the oven.
Olenin could only see a knee, and one of her shapely legs hanging down from
the oven. He treated the old woman to tea. She treated her guest to clotted
cream which she sent Maryanka to fetch. But having put a plateful on
the table Maryanka again sprang on the oven from whence Olenin felt
her eyes upon him. They talked about household matters. Granny
Ulitka became animated and went into raptures of hospitality. She
brought Olenin preserved grapes and a grape tart and some of her best
wine, and pressed him to eat and drink with the rough yet proud
hospitality of country folk, only found among those who produce their bread
by the labour of their own hands. The old woman, who had at first
struck Olenin so much by her rudeness, now often touched him by her
simple tenderness towards her daughter.
'Yes, we need not offend the Lord by grumbling! We have enough
of everything, thank God. We have pressed sufficient CHIKHIR and
have preserved and shall sell three or four barrels of grapes and
have enough left to drink. Don't be in a hurry to leave us. We will make
merry together at the wedding.'
'And when is the wedding to be?' asked Olenin, feeling his
blood suddenly rush to his face while his heart beat irregularly
He heard a movement on the oven and the sound of seeds
'Well, you know, it ought to be next week. We are quite ready,' replied
the old woman, as simply and quietly as though Olenin did not exist. 'I have
prepared and have procured everything for Maryanka. We will give her away
properly. Only there's one thing not quite right. Our Lukashka has been
running rather wild. He has been too much on the spree! He's up to tricks!
The other day a Cossack came here from his company and said he had been to
'He must mind he does not get caught,' said Olenin.
'Yes, that's what I tell him. "Mind, Lukashka, don't you get
into mischief. Well, of course, a young fellow naturally wants to cut
a dash. But there's a time for everything. Well, you've captured or stolen
something and killed an abrek! Well, you're a fine fellow! But now you should
live quietly for a bit, or else there'll be trouble."'
'Yes, I saw him a time or two in the division, he was
always merry-making. He has sold another horse,' said Olenin, and
glanced towards the oven. A pair of large, dark, and hostile
eyes glittered as they gazed severely at him.
He became ashamed of what he had said. 'What of it? He does no one any
harm,' suddenly remarked Maryanka. 'He makes merry with his own money,' and
lowering her legs she jumped down from the oven and went out banging the
Olenin followed her with his eyes as long as she was in the hut, and
then looked at the door and waited, understanding nothing of what Granny
Ulitka was telling him.
A few minutes later some visitors arrived: an old man, Granny Ulitka's
brother, with Daddy Eroshka, and following them came Maryanka and
'Good evening,' squeaked Ustenka. 'Still on holiday?' she added, turning
'Yes, still on holiday,' he replied, and felt, he did not know why,
ashamed and ill at ease.
He wished to go away but could not. It also seemed to him impossible to
remain silent. The old man helped him by asking for a drink, and they had a
drink. Olenin drank with Eroshka, with the other Cossack, and again with
Eroshka, and the more he drank the heavier was his heart. But the two old men
grew merry. The girls climbed onto the oven, where they sat whispering and
looking at the men, who drank till it was late. Olenin did not talk,
but drank more than the others. The Cossacks were shouting. The old woman
would not let them have any more chikhir, and at last turned them out. The
girls laughed at Daddy Eroshka, and it was past ten when they all went out
into the porch. The old men invited themselves to finish their merry-making
at Olenin's. Ustenka ran off home and Eroshka led the old Cossack to
Vanyusha. The old woman went out to tidy up the shed. Maryanka remained alone
in the hut. Olenin felt fresh and joyous, as if he had only just woke
up. He noticed everything, and having let the old men pass ahead he turned
back to the hut where Maryanka was preparing for bed. He went up to her and
wished to say something, but his voice broke. She moved away from him, sat
down cross-legged on her bed in the corner, and looked at him silently with
wild and frightened eyes. She was evidently afraid of him. Olenin felt this.
He felt sorry and ashamed of himself, and at the same time proud and
pleased that he aroused even that feeling in her.
'Maryanka!' he said. 'Will you never take pity on me? I can't tell you
how I love you.'
She moved still farther away.
'Just hear how the wine is speaking! ... You'll get nothing
'No, it is not the wine. Don't marry Lukashka. I will marry you.' ('What
am I saying,' he thought as he uttered these words. 'Shall I be able to say
the same to-morrow?' 'Yes, I shall, I am sure I shall, and I will repeat them
now,' replied an inner voice.)
'Will you marry me?'
She looked at him seriously and her fear seemed to have passed.
'Maryanka, I shall go out of my mind! I am not myself. I will
do whatever you command,' and madly tender words came from his lips of
their own accord.
'Now then, what are you drivelling about?' she interrupted, suddenly
seizing the arm he was stretching towards her. She did not push his arm away
but pressed it firmly with her strong hard fingers. 'Do gentlemen marry
Cossack girls? Go away!'
'But will you? Everything...'
'And what shall we do with Lukashka?' said she, laughing.
He snatched away the arm she was holding and firmly embraced her young
body, but she sprang away like a fawn and ran barefoot into the porch: Olenin
came to his senses and was terrified at himself. He again felt himself
inexpressibly vile compared to her, yet not repenting for an instant of what
he had said he went home, and without even glancing at the old men who were
drinking in his room he lay down and fell asleep more soundly than he had
done for a long time.
The next day was a holiday. In the evening all the villagers, their
holiday clothes shining in the sunset, were out in the street. That season
more wine than usual had been produced, and the people were now free from
their labours. In a month the Cossacks were to start on a campaign and in
many families preparations were being made for weddings.
Most of the people were standing in the square in front of the Cossack
Government Office and near the two shops, in one of which cakes and pumpkin
seeds were sold, in the other kerchiefs and cotton prints. On the
earth-embankment of the office-building sat or stood the old men in sober
grey, or black coats without gold trimmings or any kind of ornament. They
conversed among themselves quietly in measured tones, about the harvest,
about the young folk, about village affairs, and about old times, looking
with dignified equanimity at the younger generation. Passing by them, the
women and girls stopped and bent their heads. The young Cossacks respectfully
slackened their pace and raised their caps, holding them for a while over
their heads. The old men then stopped speaking. Some of them watched the
passers-by severely, others kindly, and in their turn slowly took off their
caps and put them on again.
The Cossack girls had not yet started dancing their khorovods,
but having gathered in groups, in their bright coloured beshmets
with white kerchiefs on their heads pulled down to their eyes, they
sat either on the ground or on the earth-banks about the huts sheltered
from the oblique rays of the sun, and laughed and chattered in their ringing
voices. Little boys and girls playing in the square sent their balls high up
into the clear sky, and ran about squealing and shouting. The half-grown
girls had started dancing their khorovods, and were timidly singing in their
thin shrill voices. Clerks, lads not in the service, or home for
the holiday, bright-faced and wearing smart white or new red Circassian
gold-trimmed coats, went about arm in arm in twos or threes from one group of
women or girls to another, and stopped to joke and chat with the Cossack
girls. The Armenian shopkeeper, in a gold-trimmed coat of fine blue cloth,
stood at the open door through which piles of folded bright-coloured
kerchiefs were visible and, conscious of his own importance and with the
pride of an Oriental tradesman, waited for customers. Two
red-bearded, barefooted Chechens, who had come from beyond the Terek to see
the fete, sat on their heels outside the house of a friend, negligently
smoking their little pipes and occasionally spitting, watching the villagers
and exchanging remarks with one another in their rapid guttural speech.
Occasionally a workaday-looking soldier in an old overcoat passed across the
square among the bright-clad girls. Here and there the songs of tipsy
Cossacks who were merry-making could already be heard. All the huts
were closed; the porches had been scrubbed clean the day before. Even the
old women were out in the street, which was everywhere sprinkled with pumpkin
and melon seed-shells. The air was warm and still, the sky deep and clear.
Beyond the roofs the dead-white mountain range, which seemed very near, was
turning rosy in the glow of the evening sun. Now and then from the other side
of the river came the distant roar of a cannon, but above the
village, mingling with one another, floated all sorts of merry
Olenin had been pacing the yard all that morning hoping to see Maryanka.
But she, having put on holiday clothes, went to Mass at the chapel and
afterwards sat with the other girls on an earth- embankment cracking seeds;
sometimes again, together with her companions, she ran home, and each time
gave the lodger a bright and kindly look. Olenin felt afraid to address her
playfully or in the presence of others. He wished to finish telling her what
he had begun to say the night before, and to get her to give him
a definite answer. He waited for another moment like that of yesterday
evening, but the moment did not come, and he felt that he could not remain
any longer in this uncertainty. She went out into the street again, and after
waiting awhile he too went out and without knowing where he was going he
followed her. He passed by the corner where she was sitting in her shining
blue satin beshmet, and with an aching heart he heard behind him the
Beletski's hut looked out onto the square. As Olenin was passing it he
heard Beletski's voice calling to him, 'Come in,' and in he went.
After a short talk they both sat down by the window and were soon joined
by Eroshka, who entered dressed in a new beshmet and sat down on the floor
'There, that's the aristocratic party,' said Beletski, pointing with his
cigarette to a brightly coloured group at the corner. 'Mine is there too. Do
you see her? in red. That's a new beshmet. Why don't you start the khorovod?'
he shouted, leaning out of the window. 'Wait a bit, and then when it grows
dark let us go too. Then we will invite them to Ustenka's. We must arrange a
ball for them!'
'And I will come to Ustenka's,' said Olenin in a decided tone. 'Will
Maryanka be there?'
'Yes, she'll be there. Do come!' said Beletski, without the
least surprise. 'But isn't it a pretty picture?' he added, pointing to the
'Yes, very!' Olenin assented, trying to appear indifferent.
'Holidays of this kind,' he added, 'always make me wonder why all these
people should suddenly be contented and jolly. To-day for instance, just
because it happens to be the fifteenth of the month, everything is festive.
Eyes and faces and voices and movements and garments, and the air and the
sun, are all in a holiday mood. And we no longer have any holidays!'
'Yes,' said Beletski, who did not like such reflections.
'And why are you not drinking, old fellow?' he said, turning
Eroshka winked at Olenin, pointing to Beletski. 'Eh, he's a proud one
that kunak of yours,' he said.
Beletski raised his glass. ALLAH BIRDY' he said, emptying it. (ALLAH
BIRDY, 'God has given!'—the usual greeting of Caucasians when drinking
'Sau bul' ('Your health'), answered Eroshka smiling, and emptied his
'Speaking of holidays!' he said, turning to Olenin as he rose and looked
out of the window, 'What sort of holiday is that! You should have seen them
make merry in the old days! The women used to come out in their gold—trimmed
sarafans. Two rows of gold coins hanging round their necks and gold-cloth
diadems on their heads, and when they passed they made a noise, "flu, flu,"
with their dresses. Every woman looked like a princess. Sometimes they'd
come out, a whole herd of them, and begin singing songs so that the air
seemed to rumble, and they went on making merry all night. And the Cossacks
would roll out a barrel into the yards and sit down and drink till break of
day, or they would go hand—in— hand sweeping the village. Whoever they met
they seized and took along with them, and went from house to house. Sometimes
they used to make merry for three days on end. Father used to come
home—I still remember it—quite red and swollen, without a cap,
having lost everything: he'd come and lie down. Mother knew what to
do: she would bring him some fresh caviar and a little chikhir to sober
him up, and would herself run about in the village looking for his cap. Then
he'd sleep for two days! That's the sort of fellows they were then! But now
what are they?'
'Well, and the girls in the sarafans, did they make merry all
by themselves?' asked Beletski.
'Yes, they did! Sometimes Cossacks would come on foot or on horse and
say, "Let's break up the khorovods," and they'd go, but the girls would take
up cudgels. Carnival week, some young fellow would come galloping up, and
they'd cudgel his horse and cudgel him too. But he'd break through, seize the
one he loved, and carry her off. And his sweetheart would love him to his
heart's content! Yes, the girls in those days, they were regular
Just then two men rode out of the side street into the square.
One of them was Nazarka. The other, Lukashka, sat slightly sideways on his
well-fed bay Kabarda horse which stepped lightly over the hard road jerking
its beautiful head with its fine glossy mane. The well-adjusted gun in its
cover, the pistol at his back, and the cloak rolled up behind his saddle
showed that Lukashka had not come from a peaceful place or from one near by.
The smart way in which he sat a little sideways on his horse, the careless
motion with which he touched the horse under its belly with his whip,
and especially his half-closed black eyes, glistening as he looked proudly
around him, all expressed the conscious strength and self- confidence of
youth. 'Ever seen as fine a lad?' his eyes, looking from side to side, seemed
to say. The elegant horse with its silver ornaments and trappings, the
weapons, and the handsome Cossack himself attracted the attention of everyone
in the square. Nazarka, lean and short, was much less well dressed. As he
rode past the old men, Lukashka paused and raised his curly
white sheepskin cap above his closely cropped black head.
'Well, have you carried off many Nogay horses?' asked a lean old man
with a frowning, lowering look.
'Have you counted them, Grandad, that you ask?' replied
Lukashka, turning away.
'That's all very well, but you need not take my lad along with you,' the
old man muttered with a still darker frown.
'Just see the old devil, he knows everything,' muttered Lukashka to
himself, and a worried expression came over his face; but then, noticing a
corner where a number of Cossack girls were standing, he turned his horse
'Good evening, girls!' he shouted in his powerful, resonant
voice, suddenly checking his horse. 'You've grown old without me,
you witches!' and he laughed.
'Good evening, Lukashka! Good evening, laddie!' the merry
voices answered. 'Have you brought much money? Buy some sweets for
the girls! ... Have you come for long? True enough, it's long since we saw
'Nazarka and I have just flown across to make a night of it,' replied
Lukashka, raising his whip and riding straight at the girls.
'Why, Maryanka has quite forgotten you,' said Ustenka, nudging Maryanka
with her elbow and breaking into a shrill laugh.
Maryanka moved away from the horse and throwing back her head calmly
looked at the Cossack with her large sparkling eyes.
'True enough, you have not been home for a long time! Why are
you trampling us under your horse?' she remarked dryly, and
Lukashka had appeared particularly merry. His face shone with audacity
and joy. Obviously staggered by Maryanka's cold reply he suddenly knitted his
'Step up on my stirrup and I'll carry you away to the mountains. Mammy!'
he suddenly exclaimed, and as if to disperse his dark thoughts he caracoled
among the girls. Stooping down towards Maryanka, he said, 'I'll kiss, oh, how
I'll kiss you! ...'
Maryanka's eyes met his and she suddenly blushed and stepped back.
'Oh, bother you! you'll crush my feet,' she said, and bending her head
looked at her well-shaped feet in their tightly fitting light blue stockings
with clocks and her new red slippers trimmed with narrow silver braid.
Lukashka turned towards Ustenka, and Maryanka sat down next to a woman
with a baby in her arms. The baby stretched his plump little hands towards
the girl and seized a necklace string that hung down onto her blue beshmet.
Maryanka bent towards the child and glanced at Lukashka from the comer of her
eyes. Lukashka just then was getting out from under his coat, from the pocket
of his black beshmet, a bundle of sweetmeats and seeds.
'There, I give them to all of you,' he said, handing the bundle
to Ustenka and smiling at Maryanka.
A confused expression again appeared on the girl's face. It was
as though a mist gathered over her beautiful eyes. She drew her kerchief
down below her lips, and leaning her head over the fair- skinned face of the
baby that still held her by her coin necklace she suddenly began to kiss it
greedily. The baby pressed his little hands against the girl's high breasts,
and opening his toothless mouth screamed loudly.
"You're smothering the boy!" said the little one's mother, taking him
away; and she unfastened her beshmet to give him the breast. "You'd better
have a chat with the young fellow."
"I'll only go and put up my horse and then Nazarka and I will come back;
we'll make merry all night," said Lukashka, touching his horse with his whip
and riding away from the girls.
Turning into a side street, he and Nazarka rode up to two huts that
stood side by side.
"Here we are all right, old fellow! Be quick and come soon!" called
Lukashka to his comrade, dismounting in front of one of the huts; then he
carefully led his horse in at the gate of the wattle fence of his own
"How d'you do, Stepka?" he said to his dumb sister, who, smartly dressed
like the others, came in from the street to take his horse; and he made signs
to her to take the horse to the hay, but not to unsaddle it.
The dumb girl made her usual humming noise, smacked her lips as she
pointed to the horse and kissed it on the nose, as much as to say that she
loved it and that it was a fine horse.
"How d'you do. Mother? How is it that you have not gone out
yet?" shouted Lukashka, holding his gun in place as he mounted the
steps of the porch.
His old mother opened the door.
"Dear me! I never expected, never thought, you'd come," said the old
woman. "Why, Kirka said you wouldn't be here."
"Go and bring some chikhir, Mother. Nazarka is coming here and we will
celebrate the feast day."
"Directly, Lukashka, directly!" answered the old woman. "Our women are
making merry. I expect our dumb one has gone too."
She took her keys and hurriedly went to the outhouse. Nazarka, after
putting up his horse and taking the gun off his shoulder, returned to
Lukashka's house and went in.
'Your health!' said Lukashka, taking from his mother's hands a
cup filled to the brim with chikhir and carefully raising it to his bowed
'A bad business!' said Nazarka. 'You heard how Daddy Burlak said, "Have
you stolen many horses?" He seems to know!'
'A regular wizard!' Lukashka replied shortly. 'But what of it!'
he added, tossing his head. 'They are across the river by now. Go and find
'Still it's a bad lookout.'
'What's a bad lookout? Go and take some chikhir to him to-morrow and
nothing will come of it. Now let's make merry. Drink!' shouted Lukashka, just
in the tone in which old Eroshka uttered the word. 'We'll go out into the
street and make merry with the girls. You go and get some honey; or no, I'll
send our dumb wench. We'll make merry till morning.'
'Are we stopping here long?' he asked.
Till we've had a bit of fun. Run and get some vodka. Here's
Nazarka ran off obediently to get the vodka from Yamka's.
Daddy Eroshka and Ergushov, like birds of prey, scenting where
the merry-making was going on, tumbled into the hut one after the other,
'Bring us another half-pail,' shouted Lukashka to his mother, by way of
reply to their greeting.
'Now then, tell us where did you steal them, you devil?'
shouted Eroshka. 'Fine fellow, I'm fond of you!'
'Fond indeed...' answered Lukashka laughing, 'carrying sweets
from cadets to lasses! Eh, you old...'
'That's not true, not true! ... Oh, Mark,' and the old man burst out
laughing. 'And how that devil begged me. "Go," he said, "and arrange it." He
offered me a gun! But no. I'd have managed it, but I feel for you. Now tell
us where have you been?' And the old man began speaking in Tartar.
Lukashka answered him promptly.
Ergushov, who did not know much Tartar, only occasionally put in a word
in Russian: 'What I say is he's driven away the horses. I know it for a
fact,' he chimed in.
'Girey and I went together.' (His speaking of Girey Khan as 'Girey' was,
to the Cossack mind, evidence of his boldness.) 'Just beyond the river he
kept bragging that he knew the whole of the steppe and would lead the way
straight, but we rode on and the night was dark, and my Girey lost his way
and began wandering in a circle without getting anywhere: couldn't find the
village, and there we were. We must have gone too much to the right. I
believe we wandered about well—nigh till midnight. Then, thank
goodness, we heard dogs howling.'
'Fools!' said Daddy Eroshka. 'There now, we too used to lose our way in
the steppe. (Who the devil can follow it?) But I used to ride up a hillock
and start howling like the wolves, like this!' He placed his hands before his
mouth, and howled like a pack of wolves, all on one note. 'The dogs would
answer at once ... Well, go on—so you found them?'
'We soon led them away! Nazarka was nearly caught by some Nogay women,
'Caught indeed,' Nazarka, who had just come back, said in an injured
'We rode off again, and again Girey lost his way and almost landed us
among the sand-drifts. We thought we were just getting to the Terek but we
were riding away from it all the time!'
'You should have steered by the stars,' said Daddy Eroshka.
'That's what I say,' interjected Ergushov,
'Yes, steer when all is black; I tried and tried all about... and at
last I put the bridle on one of the mares and let my own horse go
free—thinking he'll lead us out, and what do you think! he just gave a snort
or two with his nose to the ground, galloped ahead, and led us straight to
our village. Thank goodness! It was getting quite light. We barely had time
to hide them in the forest. Nagim came across the river and took them
Ergushov shook his head. 'It's just what I said. Smart. Did you get much
'It's all here,' said Lukashka, slapping his pocket.
Just then his mother came into the room, and Lukashka did not finish
what he was saying.
'Drink!' he shouted.
'We too, Girich and I, rode out late one night...' began Eroshka.
'Oh bother, we'll never hear the end of you!' said Lukashka. 'I
am going.' And having emptied his cup and tightened the strap of his belt
he went out.
It was already dark when Lukashka went out into the street.
The autumn night was fresh and calm. The full golden moon floated
up behind the tall dark poplars that grew on one side of the square. From
the chimneys of the outhouses smoke rose and spread above the village,
mingling with the mist. Here and there lights shone through the windows, and
the air was laden with the smell of kisyak, grape-pulp, and mist. The sounds
of voices, laughter, songs, and the cracking of seeds mingled just as they
had done in the daytime, but were now more distinct. Clusters of
white kerchiefs and caps gleamed through the darkness near the houses and
by the fences.
In the square, before the shop door which was lit up and open, the black
and white figures of Cossack men and maids showed through the darkness, and
one heard from afar their loud songs and laughter and talk. The girls, hand
in hand, went round and round in a circle stepping lightly in the dusty
square. A skinny girl, the plainest of them all, set the tune:
'From beyond the wood, from the forest
dark, From the garden green and the shady
park, There came out one day two young lads so
gay. Young bachelors, hey! brave and smart were
they! And they walked and walked, then stood still, each
man, And they talked and soon to dispute
began! Then a maid came out; as she came
along, Said, "To one of you I shall soon
belong!" 'Twas the fair-faced lad got the maiden
fair, Yes, the fair-faced lad with the golden
hair! Her right hand so white in his own took
he, And he led her round for his mates to
see! And said, "Have you ever in all your
life, Met a lass as fair as my sweet little wife?"'
The old women stood round listening to the songs. The little boys and
girls ran about chasing one another in the dark. The men stood by, catching
at the girls as the latter moved round, and sometimes breaking the ring and
entering it. On the dark side of the doorway stood Beletski and Olenin, in
their Circassian coats and sheepskin caps, and talked together in a style of
speech unlike that of the Cossacks, in low but distinct tones, conscious that
they were attracting attention. Next to one another in the khorovod
circle moved plump little Ustenka in her red beshmet and the
stately Maryanka in her new smock and beshmet. Olenin and Beletski
were discussing how to snatch Ustenka and Maryanka out of the
ring. Beletski thought that Olenin wished only to amuse himself,
but Olenin was expecting his fate to be decided. He wanted at any cost to
see Maryanka alone that very day and to tell her everything, and ask her
whether she could and would be his wife. Although that question had long been
answered in the negative in his own mind, he hoped he would be able to tell
her all he felt, and that she would understand him.
'Why did you not tell me sooner?' said Beletski. 'I would have
got Ustenka to arrange it for you. You are such a queer fellow! ...'
'What's to be done! ... Some day, very soon, I'll tell you all about it.
Only now, for Heaven's sake, arrange so that she should come to
'All right, that's easily done! Well, Maryanka, will you belong to the
"fair-faced lad", and not to Lukashka?' said Beletski, speaking to Maryanka
first for propriety's sake, but having received no reply he went up to
Ustenka and begged her to bring Maryanka home with her. He had hardly time to
finish what he was saying before the leader began another song and the girls
started pulling each other round in the ring by the hand.
"Past the garden, by the garden, A young
man came strolling down, Up the street and through the
town. And the first time as he
passed He did wave his strong right
hand. As the second time he passed
Waved his hat with silken band. But the third time as he
went He stood still: before her bent.
"How is it that thou, my dear, My
reproaches dost not fear? In the park don't come to
walk That we there might have a
talk? Come now, answer me, my dear,
Dost thou hold me in contempt? Later on, thou knowest,
dear, Thou'lt get sober and repent.
Soon to woo thee I will come, And when we shall married
be Thou wilt weep because of me!"
"Though I knew what to reply, Yet I
dared not him deny, No, I dared not him
deny! So into the park went I, In
the park my lad to meet, There my dear one I did
"Maiden dear, I bow to thee! Take this
handkerchief from me. In thy white hand take it,
see! Say I am beloved by thee. I
don't know at all, I fear, What I am to give thee,
dear! To my dear I think I will Of a
shawl a present make— And five kisses for it
Lukashka and Nazarka broke into the ring and started walking about among
the girls. Lukashka joined in the singing, taking seconds in his clear voice
as he walked in the middle of the ring swinging his arms. 'Well, come in, one
of you!' he said. The other girls pushed Maryanka, but she would not enter
the ring. The sound of shrill laughter, slaps, kisses, and whispers mingled
with the singing.
As he went past Olenin, Lukashka gave a friendly nod.
'Dmitri Andreich! Have you too come to have a look?' he said.
'Yes,' answered Olenin dryly.
Beletski stooped and whispered something into Ustenka's ear. She had not
time to reply till she came round again, when she said:
'All right, we'll come.'
'And Maryanka too?'
Olenin stooped towards Maryanka. 'You'll come? Please do, if only for a
minute. I must speak to you.'
'If the other girls come, I will.'
'Will you answer my question?' said he, bending towards her. 'You are in
good spirits to-day.'
She had already moved past him. He went after her.
'Will you answer?'
'The question I asked you the other day,' said Olenin, stooping to her
ear. 'Will you marry me?'
Maryanka thought for a moment.
'I'll tell you,' said she, 'I'll tell you to-night.'
And through the darkness her eyes gleamed brightly and kindly at the
He still followed her. He enjoyed stooping closer to her. But Lukashka,
without ceasing to sing, suddenly seized her firmly by the hand and pulled
her from her place in the ring of girls into the middle. Olenin had only time
to say, "Come to Ustenka's," and stepped back to his companion.
The song came to an end. Lukashka wiped his lips, Maryanka did the same,
and they kissed. "No, no, kisses five!" said Lukashka. Chatter, laughter, and
running about, succeeded to the rhythmic movements and sound. Lukashka, who
seemed to have drunk a great deal, began to distribute sweetmeats to the
"I offer them to everyone!" he said with proud, comically
pathetic self-admiration. "But anyone who goes after soldiers goes out
of the ring!" he suddenly added, with an angry glance at Olenin.
The girls grabbed his sweetmeats from him, and, laughing, struggled for
them among themselves. Beletski and Olenin stepped aside.
Lukashka, as if ashamed of his generosity, took off his cap and wiping
his forehead with his sleeve came up to Maryanka and Ustenka.
"Answer me, my dear, dost thou hold me in contempt?" he said in the
words of the song they had just been singing, and turning to Maryanka he
angrily repeated the words: "Dost thou hold me in contempt? When we shall
married be thou wilt weep because of me!" he added, embracing Ustenka and
Maryanka both together.
Ustenka tore herself away, and swinging her arm gave him such a blow on
the back that she hurt her hand.
"Well, are you going to have another turn?" he asked.
"The other girls may if they like," answered Ustenka, "but I am going
home and Maryanka was coming to our house too."
With his arm still round her, Lukashka led Maryanka away from the crowd
to the darker comer of a house.
"Don't go, Maryanka," he said, "let's have some fun for the last time.
Go home and I will come to you!"
"What am I to do at home? Holidays are meant for merrymaking. I am going
to Ustenka's," replied Maryanka.
'I'll marry you all the same, you know!'
'All right,' said Maryanka, 'we shall see when the time comes.'
'So you are going,' said Lukashka sternly, and, pressing her close, he
kissed her on the cheek.
'There, leave off! Don't bother,' and Maryanka, wrenching herself from
his arms, moved away.
'Ah my girl, it will turn out badly,' said Lukashka reproachfully and
stood still, shaking his head. 'Thou wilt weep because of me...' and turning
away from her he shouted to the other girls:
'Now then! Play away!'
What he had said seemed to have frightened and vexed Maryanka.
She stopped, 'What will turn out badly?'
'Why, that you keep company with a soldier-lodger and no longer care for
'I'll care just as long as I choose. You're not my father, nor
my mother. What do you want? I'll care for whom I like!'
'Well, all right...' said Lukashka, 'but remember!' He moved towards the
shop. 'Girls!' he shouted, 'why have you stopped? Go on dancing. Nazarka,
fetch some more chikhir.'
'Well, will they come?' asked Olenin, addressing Beletski.
'They'll come directly,' replied Beletski. 'Come along, we must prepare
It was already late in the night when Olenin came out of Beletski's
hut following Maryanka and Ustenka. He saw in the dark street before him the
gleam of the girl's white kerchief. The golden moon was descending towards
the steppe. A silvery mist hung over the village. All was still; there were
no lights anywhere and one heard only the receding footsteps of the young
women. Olenin's heart beat fast. The fresh moist atmosphere cooled his
burning face. He glanced at the sky and turned to look at the hut he
had just come out of: the candle was already out. Then he again
peered through the darkness at the girls' retreating shadows. The
white kerchief disappeared in the mist. He was afraid to remain alone, he
was so happy. He jumped down from the porch and ran after the girls.
'Bother you, someone may see...' said Ustenka.
Olenin ran up to Maryanka and embraced her.
Maryanka did not resist.
'Haven't you kissed enough yet?' said Ustenka. 'Marry and then kiss, but
now you'd better wait.'
'Good-night, Maryanka. To-morrow I will come to see your father and tell
him. Don't you say anything.'
'Why should I!' answered Maryanka.
Both the girls started running. Olenin went on by himself thinking over
all that had happened. He had spent the whole evening alone with her in a
corner by the oven. Ustenka had not left the hut for a single moment, but had
romped about with the other girls and with Beletski all the time. Olenin had
talked in whispers to Maryanka.
'Will you marry me?' he had asked.
'You'd deceive me and not have me,' she replied cheerfully
'But do you love me? Tell me for God's sake!'
'Why shouldn't I love you? You don't squint,' answered
Maryanka, laughing and with her hard hands squeezing his....
'What whi-ite, whi-i-ite, soft hands you've got—so like clotted cream,'
'I am in earnest. Tell me, will you marry me?'
'Why not, if father gives me to you?'
'Well then remember, I shall go mad if you deceive me. To-morrow I will
tell your mother and father. I shall come and propose.'
Maryanka suddenly burst out laughing.
'What's the matter?'
'It seems so funny!'
'It's true! I will buy a vineyard and a house and will enroll myself as
'Mind you don't go after other women then. I am severe
Olenin joyfully repeated all these words to himself. The memory of them
now gave him pain and now such joy that it took away his breath. The pain was
because she had remained as calm as usual while talking to him. She did not
seem at all agitated by these new conditions. It was as if she did not trust
him and did not think of the future. It seemed to him that she only loved him
for the present moment, and that in her mind there was no future with him.
He was happy because her words sounded to him true, and she had consented to
be his. 'Yes,' thought he to himself, 'we shall only understand one another
when she is quite mine. For such love there are no words. It needs life—the
whole of life. To-morrow everything will be cleared up. I cannot live like
this any longer; to-morrow I will tell everything to her father, to Beletski,
and to the whole village.'
Lukashka, after two sleepless nights, had drunk so much at the fete that
for the first time in his life his feet would not carry him, and he slept in
The next day Olenin awoke earlier than usual, and
immediately remembered what lay before him, and he joyfully recalled
her kisses, the pressure of her hard hands, and her words, 'What
white hands you have!' He jumped up and wished to go at once to his hosts'
hut to ask for their consent to his marriage with Maryanka. The sun had not
yet risen, but it seemed that there was an unusual bustle in the street and
side-street: people were moving about on foot and on horseback, and talking.
He threw on his Circassian coat and hastened out into the porch. His hosts
were not yet up. Five Cossacks were riding past and talking loudly together.
In front rode Lukashka on his broad-backed Kabarda horse.
The Cossacks were all speaking and shouting so that it was impossible to
make out exactly what they were saying.
'Ride to the Upper Post,' shouted one.
'Saddle and catch us up, be quick,' said another.
'It's nearer through the other gate!'
'What are you talking about?' cried Lukashka. 'We must go through the
middle gates, of course.'
'So we must, it's nearer that way,' said one of the Cossacks who was
covered with dust and rode a perspiring horse. Lukashka's face was red and
swollen after the drinking of the previous night and his cap was pushed to
the back of his head. He was calling out with authority as though he were an
'What is the matter? Where are you going?' asked Olenin, with difficulty
attracting the Cossacks' attention.
'We are off to catch abreks. They're hiding among the sand-drifts. We
are just off, but there are not enough of us yet.'
And the Cossacks continued to shout, more and more of them joining as
they rode down the street. It occurred to Olenin that it would not look well
for him to stay behind; besides he thought he could soon come back. He
dressed, loaded his gun with bullets, jumped onto his horse which Vanyusha
had saddled more or less well, and overtook the Cossacks at the village
gates. The Cossacks had dismounted, and filling a wooden bowl with chikhir
from a little cask which they had brought with them, they passed the bowl
round to one another and drank to the success of their expedition.
Among them was a smartly dressed young cornet, who happened to be in
the village and who took command of the group of nine Cossacks who
had joined for the expedition. All these Cossacks were privates,
and although the cornet assumed the airs of a commanding officer,
they only obeyed Lukashka. Of Olenin they took no notice at all, and when
they had all mounted and started, and Olenin rode up to the cornet and began
asking him what was taking place, the cornet, who was usually quite friendly,
treated him with marked condescension. It was with great difficulty that
Olenin managed to find out from him what was happening. Scouts who had been
sent out to search for abreks had come upon several hillsmen some six miles
from the village. These abreks had taken shelter in pits and had fired
at the scouts, declaring they would not surrender. A corporal who had been
scouting with two Cossacks had remained to watch the abreks, and had sent one
Cossack back to get help.
The sun was just rising. Three miles beyond the village the
steppe spread out and nothing was visible except the dry,
monotonous, sandy, dismal plain covered with the footmarks of cattle, and
here and there with tufts of withered grass, with low reeds in the flats,
and rare, little-trodden footpaths, and the camps of the nomad Nogay tribe
just visible far away. The absence of shade and the austere aspect of the
place were striking. The sun always rises and sets red in the steppe. When it
is windy whole hills of sand are carried by the wind from place to
When it is calm, as it was that morning, the silence, uninterrupted by
any movement or sound, is peculiarly striking. That morning in the steppe it
was quiet and dull, though the sun had already risen. It all seemed specially
soft and desolate. The air was hushed, the footfalls and the snorting of the
horses were the only sounds to be heard, and even they quickly died
The men rode almost silently. A Cossack always carries his weapons so
that they neither jingle nor rattle. Jingling weapons are a terrible disgrace
to a Cossack. Two other Cossacks from the village caught the party up and
exchanged a few words. Lukashka's horse either stumbled or caught its foot in
some grass, and became restive—which is a sign of bad luck among the
Cossacks, and at such a time was of special importance. The others
exchanged glances and turned away, trying not to notice what had
happened. Lukaskha pulled at the reins, frowned sternly, set his teeth,
and flourished his whip above his head. His good Kabarda horse, prancing
from one foot to another not knowing with which to start, seemed to wish to
fly upwards on wings. But Lukashka hit its well- -fed sides with his whip
once, then again, and a third time, and the horse, showing its teeth and
spreading out its tail, snorted and reared and stepped on its hind legs a few
paces away from the others.
'Ah, a good steed that!' said the cornet.
That he said steed instead of HORSE indicated special praise.
'A lion of a horse,' assented one of the others, an old Cossack.
The Cossacks rode forward silently, now at a footpace, then at a trot,
and these changes were the only incidents that interrupted for a moment the
stillness and solemnity of their movements.
Riding through the steppe for about six miles, they passed nothing but
one Nogay tent, placed on a cart and moving slowly along at a distance of
about a mile from them. A Nogay family was moving from one part of the steppe
to another. Afterwards they met two tattered Nogay women with high
cheekbones, who with baskets on their backs were gathering dung left by the
cattle that wandered over the steppe. The cornet, who did not know their
language well, tried to question them, but they did not understand him
and, obviously frightened, looked at one another.
Lukashka rode up to them both, stopped his horse, and promptly uttered
the usual greeting. The Nogay women were evidently relieved, and began
speaking to him quite freely as to a brother.
'Ay—ay, kop abrek!' they said plaintively, pointing in the direction in
which the Cossacks were going. Olenin understood that they were saying, 'Many
Never having seen an engagement of that kind, and having formed an idea
of them only from Daddy Eroshka's tales, Olenin wished not to be left behind
by the Cossacks, but wanted to see it all. He admired the Cossacks, and was
on the watch, looking and listening and making his own observations. Though
he had brought his sword and a loaded gun with him, when he noticed that the
Cossacks avoided him he decided to take no part in the action, as in
his opinion his courage had already been sufficiently proved when he was
with his detachment, and also because he was very happy.
Suddenly a shot was heard in the distance.
The cornet became excited, and began giving orders to the Cossacks as to
how they should divide and from which side they should approach. But the
Cossacks did not appear to pay any attention to these orders, listening only
to what Lukashka said and looking to him alone. Lukashka's face and figure
were expressive of calm solemnity. He put his horse to a trot with which the
others were unable to keep pace, and screwing up his eyes kept looking
'There's a man on horseback,' he said, reining in his horse and keeping
in line with the others.
Olenin looked intently, but could not see anything. The Cossacks soon
distinguished two riders and quietly rode straight towards them.
'Are those the ABREKS?' asked Olenin.
The Cossacks did not answer his question, which appeared
quite meaningless to them. The ABREKS would have been fools to
venture across the river on horseback.
'That's friend Rodka waving to us, I do believe,' said
Lukashka, pointing to the two mounted men who were now clearly
visible. 'Look, he's coming to us.'
A few minutes later it became plain that the two horsemen were
the Cossack scouts. The corporal rode up to Lukashka.
'Are they far?' was all Lukashka said.
Just then they heard a sharp shot some thirty paces off. The corporal
'Our Gurka is having shots at them,' he said, nodding in the direction
of the shot.
Having gone a few paces farther they saw Gurka sitting behind
a sand-hillock and loading his gun. To while away the time he
was exchanging shots with the ABREKS, who were behind another sand- heap.
A bullet came whistling from their side.
The cornet was pale and grew confused. Lukashka dismounted from his
horse, threw the reins to one of the other Cossacks, and went up to Gurka.
Olenin also dismounted and, bending down, followed Lukashka. They had hardly
reached Gurka when two bullets whistled above them.
Lukashka looked around laughing at Olenin and stooped a little.
'Look out or they will kill you, Dmitri Andreich,' he said.
'You'd better go away—you have no business here.' But Olenin
wanted absolutely to see the ABREKS.
From behind the mound he saw caps and muskets some two hundred paces
off. Suddenly a little cloud of smoke appeared from thence, and again a
bullet whistled past. The ABREKS were hiding in a marsh at the foot of the
hill. Olenin was much impressed by the place in which they sat. In reality it
was very much like the rest of the steppe, but because the ABREKS sat there
it seemed to detach itself from all the rest and to have become
distinguished. Indeed it appeared to Olenin that it was the very spot for
ABREKS to occupy. Lukashka went back to his horse and Olenin
'We must get a hay-cart,' said Lukashka, 'or they will be killing some
of us. There behind that mound is a Nogay cart with a load of hay.'
The cornet listened to him and the corporal agreed. The cart of hay was
fetched, and the Cossacks, hiding behind it, pushed it forward. Olenin rode
up a hillock from whence he could see everything. The hay-cart moved on and
the Cossacks crowded together behind it. The Cossacks advanced, but the
Chechens, of whom there were nine, sat with their knees in a row and did
All was quiet. Suddenly from the Chechens arose the sound of a mournful
song, something like Daddy Eroshka's 'Ay day, dalalay.' The Chechens knew
that they could not escape, and to prevent themselves from being tempted to
take to flight they had strapped themselves together, knee to knee, had got
their guns ready, and were singing their death-song.
The Cossacks with their hay-cart drew closer and closer, and Olenin
expected the firing to begin at any moment, but the silence was only broken
by the abreks' mournful song. Suddenly the song ceased; there was a sharp
report, a bullet struck the front of the cart, and Chechen curses and yells
broke the silence and shot followed on shot and one bullet after another
struck the cart. The Cossacks did not fire and were now only five paces
Another moment passed and the Cossacks with a whoop rushed out on both
sides from behind the cart—Lukashka in front of them. Olenin heard only a
few shots, then shouting and moans. He thought he saw smoke and blood, and
abandoning his horse and quite beside himself he ran towards the Cossacks.
Horror seemed to blind him. He could not make out anything, but understood
that all was over. Lukashka, pale as death, was holding a wounded Chechen by
the arms and shouting, 'Don't kill him. I'll take him alive!' The Chechen
was the red-haired man who had fetched his brother's body away
after Lukashka had killed him. Lukashka was twisting his arms.
Suddenly the Chechen wrenched himself free and fired his pistol.
Lukashka fell, and blood began to flow from his stomach. He jumped up,
but fell again, swearing in Russian and in Tartar. More and more
blood appeared on his clothes and under him. Some Cossacks approached him
and began loosening his girdle. One of them, Nazarka, before beginning to
help, fumbled for some time, unable to put his sword in its sheath: it would
not go the right way. The blade of the sword was blood-stained.
The Chechens with their red hair and clipped moustaches lay dead and
hacked about. Only the one we know of, who had fired at Lukashka, though
wounded in many places was still alive. Like a wounded hawk all covered with
blood (blood was flowing from a wound under his right eye), pale and gloomy,
he looked about him with wide—open excited eyes and clenched teeth as he
crouched, dagger in hand, still prepared to defend himself. The cornet
went up to him as if intending to pass by, and with a quick movement shot
him in the ear. The Chechen started up, but it was too late, and he
The Cossacks, quite out of breath, dragged the bodies aside and took the
weapons from them. Each of the red-haired Chechens had been a man, and each
one had his own individual expression. Lukashka was carried to the cart. He
continued to swear in Russian and in Tartar.
'No fear, I'll strangle him with my hands. ANNA SENI!' he
cried, struggling. But he soon became quiet from weakness.
Olenin rode home. In the evening he was told that Lukashka was
at death's door, but that a Tartar from beyond the river had undertaken to
cure him with herbs.
The bodies were brought to the village office. The women and the little
boys hastened to look at them.
It was growing dark when Olenin returned, and he could not
collect himself after what he had seen. But towards night memories of
the evening before came rushing to his mind. He looked out of the window,
Maryanka was passing to and fro from the house to the cowshed, putting things
straight. Her mother had gone to the vineyard and her father to the office.
Olenin could not wait till she had quite finished her work, but went out to
meet her. She was in the hut standing with her back towards him. Olenin
thought she felt shy.
'Maryanka,' said he, 'I say, Maryanka! May I come in?'
She suddenly turned. There was a scarcely perceptible trace of tears in
her eyes and her face was beautiful in its sadness. She looked at him in
Olenin again said:
'Maryanka, I have come—'
'Leave me alone!' she said. Her face did not change but the tears ran
down her cheeks.
'What are you crying for? What is it?'
'What?' she repeated in a rough voice. 'Cossacks have been
killed, that's what for.'
'Lukashka?' said Olenin.
'Go away! What do you want?'
'Maryanka!' said Olenin, approaching her.
'You will never get anything from me!'
'Maryanka, don't speak like that,' Olenin entreated.
'Get away. I'm sick of you!' shouted the girl, stamping her foot, and
moved threateningly towards him. And her face expressed such abhorrence, such
contempt, and such anger that Olenin suddenly understood that there was no
hope for him, and that his first impression of this woman's inaccessibility
had been perfectly correct.
Olenin said nothing more, but ran out of the hut.
For two hours after returning home he lay on his bed
motionless. Then he went to his company commander and obtained leave to
visit the staff. Without taking leave of anyone, and sending Vanyusha
to settle his accounts with his landlord, he prepared to leave for the
fort where his regiment was stationed. Daddy Eroshka was the only one to see
him off. They had a drink, and then a second, and then yet another. Again as
on the night of his departure from Moscow, a three-horsed conveyance stood
waiting at the door. But Olenin did not confer with himself as he had done
then, and did not say to himself that all he had thought and done here was
'not it'. He did not promise himself a new life. He loved Maryanka
more than ever, and knew that he could never be loved by her.
'Well, good-bye, my lad!' said Daddy Eroshka. 'When you go on
an expedition, be wise and listen to my words—the words of an old man.
When you are out on a raid or the like (you know I'm an old wolf and have
seen things), and when they begin firing, don't get into a crowd where there
are many men. When you fellows get frightened you always try to get close
together with a lot of others. You think it is merrier to be with others, but
that's where it is worst of all! They always aim at a crowd. Now I used to
keep farther away from the others and went alone, and I've never been
wounded. Yet what things haven't I seen in my day?'
'But you've got a bullet in your back,' remarked Vanyusha, who
was clearing up the room.
'That was the Cossacks fooling about,' answered Eroshka.
'Cossacks? How was that?' asked Olenin.
'Oh, just so. We were drinking. Vanka Sitkin, one of the Cossacks, got
merry, and puff! he gave me one from his pistol just here.'
'Yes, and did it hurt?' asked Olenin. 'Vanyusha, will you soon
be ready?' he added.
'Ah, where's the hurry! Let me tell you. When he banged into me, the
bullet did not break the bone but remained here. And I say: "You've killed
me, brother. Eh! What have you done to me? I won't let you off! You'll have
to stand me a pailful!"'
'Well, but did it hurt?' Olenin asked again, scarcely listening to the
'Let me finish. He stood a pailful, and we drank it, but the blood went
on flowing. The whole room was drenched and covered with blood. Grandad
Burlak, he says, "The lad will give up the ghost. Stand a bottle of the sweet
sort, or we shall have you taken up!" They bought more drink, and boozed and
'Yes, but did it hurt you much?' Olenin asked once more.
'Hurt, indeed! Don't interrupt: I don't like it. Let me finish.
We boozed and boozed till morning, and I fell asleep on the top of the
oven, drunk. When I woke in the morning I could not unbend myself
'Was it very painful?' repeated Olenin, thinking that now he would at
last get an answer to his question.
'Did I tell you it was painful? I did not say it was painful, but I
could not bend and could not walk.'
'And then it healed up?' said Olenin, not even laughing, so heavy was
'It healed up, but the bullet is still there. Just feel it!' And lifting
his shirt he showed his powerful back, where just near the bone a bullet
could be felt and rolled about.
'Feel how it rolls,' he said, evidently amusing himself with the bullet
as with a toy. 'There now, it has rolled to the back.'
'And Lukashka, will he recover?' asked Olenin.
'Heaven only knows! There's no doctor. They've gone for one.'
'Where will they get one? From Groznoe?' asked Olenin. 'No, my lad. Were
I the Tsar I'd have hung all your Russian doctors long ago. Cutting is all
they know! There's our Cossack Baklashka, no longer a real man now that
they've cut off his leg! That shows they're fools. What's Baklashka good for
now? No, my lad, in the mountains there are real doctors. There was my chum,
Vorchik, he was on an expedition and was wounded just here in the chest.
Well, your doctors gave him up, but one of theirs came from the mountains
and cured him! They understand herbs, my lad!'
'Come, stop talking rubbish,' said Olenin. 'I'd better send a doctor
'Rubbish!' the old man said mockingly. 'Fool, fool! Rubbish. You'll send
a doctor!—If yours cured people, Cossacks and Chechens would go to you for
treatment, but as it is your officers and colonels send to the mountains for
doctors. Yours are all humbugs, all humbugs.'
Olenin did not answer. He agreed only too fully that all was humbug in
the world in which he had lived and to which he was now returning.
'How is Lukashka? You've been to see him?' he asked.
'He just lies as if he were dead. He does not eat nor drink. Vodka is
the only thing his soul accepts. But as long as he drinks vodka it's well.
I'd be sorry to lose the lad. A fine lad—a brave, like me. I too lay dying
like that once. The old women were already wailing. My head was burning. They
had already laid me out under the holy icons. So I lay there, and above me on
the oven little drummers, no bigger than this, beat the tattoo. I shout at
them and they drum all the harder.' (The old man laughed.) 'The
women brought our church elder. They were getting ready to bury me.
They said, "He defiled himself with worldly unbelievers; he made
merry with women; he ruined people; he did not fast, and he played
the balalayka. Confess," they said. So I began to confess. "I've sinned!"
I said. Whatever the priest said, I always answered "I've sinned." He began
to ask me about the balalayka. "Where is the accursed thing," he says. "Show
it me and smash it." But I say, "I've not got it." I'd hidden it myself in a
net in the outhouse. I knew they could not find it. So they left me. Yet
after all I recovered. When I went for my BALALAYKA—What was I saying?'
he continued. 'Listen to me, and keep farther away from the other men or
you'll get killed foolishly. I feel for you, truly: you are a drinker—I love
you! And fellows like you like riding up the mounds. There was one who lived
here who had come from Russia, he always would ride up the mounds (he called
the mounds so funnily, "hillocks"). Whenever he saw a mound, off he'd gallop.
Once he galloped off that way and rode to the top quite pleased, but
a Chechen fired at him and killed him! Ah, how well they shoot from their
gun-rests, those Chechens! Some of them shoot even better than I do. I don't
like it when a fellow gets killed so foolishly! Sometimes I used to look at
your soldiers and wonder at them. There's foolishness for you! They go, the
poor fellows, all in a clump, and even sew red collars to their coats! How
can they help being hit! One gets killed, they drag him away and another
takes his place! What foolishness!' the old man repeated, shaking
his head. 'Why not scatter, and go one by one? So you just go like that
and they won't notice you. That's what you must do.'
'Well, thank you! Good-bye, Daddy. God willing we may meet again,' said
Olenin, getting up and moving towards the passage.
The old man, who was sitting on the floor, did not rise.
'Is that the way one says "Good-bye"? Fool, fool!' he began. 'Oh dear,
what has come to people? We've kept company, kept company for well-nigh a
year, and now "Good-bye!" and off he goes! Why, I love you, and how I pity
you! You are so forlorn, always alone, always alone. You're somehow so
unsociable. At times I can't sleep for thinking about you. I am so sorry for
you. As the song has it:
"It is very hard, dear brother, In a foreign land to live."
So it is with you.'
'Well, good-bye,' said Olenin again.
The old man rose and held out his hand. Olenin pressed it and turned to
'Give us your mug, your mug!'
And the old man took Olenin by the head with both hands and kissed him
three times with wet moustaches and lips, and began to cry.
'I love you, good-bye!'
Olenin got into the cart.
'Well, is that how you're going? You might give me something for
a remembrance. Give me a gun! What do you want two for?' said the old man,
sobbing quite sincerely.
Olenin got out a musket and gave it to him.
'What a lot you've given the old fellow,' murmured Vanyusha, 'he'll
never have enough! A regular old beggar. They are all such irregular people,'
he remarked, as he wrapped himself in his overcoat and took his seat on the
'Hold your tongue, swine!' exclaimed the old man, laughing. 'What a
Maryanka came out of the cowshed, glanced indifferently at the cart,
bowed and went towards the hut.
'LA FILLE!' said Vanyusha, with a wink, and burst out into a
'Drive on!' shouted Olenin, angrily.
'Good-bye, my lad! Good-bye. I won't forget you!' shouted Eroshka.
Olenin turned round. Daddy Eroshka was talking to Maryanka, evidently
about his own affairs, and neither the old man nor the girl looked at
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