Hadji Murad, by Leo Tolstoy

Chapter X

When Hadji Murad appeared at the prince’s palace next day, the waiting room was already full of people. Yesterday’s general with the bristly mustaches was there in full uniform with all his decorations, having come to take leave. There was the commander of a regiment who was in danger of being court martialled for misappropriating commisarriat money, and there was a rich Armenian (patronized by Doctor Andreevsky) who wanted to obtain from the Government a renewal of his monopoly for the sale of vodka. There, dressed in black, was the widow of an officer who had been killed in action. She had come to ask for a pension, or for free education for her children. There was a ruined Georgian prince in a magnificent Georgian costume who was trying to obtain for himself some confiscated Church property. There was an official with a large roll of paper containing a new plan for subjugating the Caucasus. There was also a Khan who had come solely to be able to tell his people at home that he had called on the prince.

They all waited their turn and were one by one shown into the prince’s cabinet and out again by the aide-de-camp, a handsome, fair-haired youth.

When Hadji Murad entered the waiting room with his brisk though limping step all eyes were turned towards him and he heard his name whispered from various parts of the room.

He was dressed in a long white Circassian coat over a brown beshmet trimmed round the collar with fine silver lace. He wore black leggings and soft shoes of the same color which were stretched over his instep as tight as gloves. On his head he wore a high cap draped turban-fashion — that same turban for which, on the denunciation of Akhmet Khan, he had been arrested by General Klugenau and which had been the cause of his going over to Shamil.

He stepped briskly across the parquet floor of the waiting room, his whole slender figure swaying slightly in consequence of his lameness in one leg which was shorter than the other. His eyes, set far apart, looked calmly before him and seemed to see no one.

The handsome aide-de-camp, having greeted him, asked him to take a seat while he went to announce him to the prince, but Hadji Murad declined to sit down and, putting his hand on his dagger, stood with one foot advanced, looking round contemptuously at all those present.

The prince’s interpreter, Prince Tarkhanov, approached Hadji Murad and spoke to him. Hadji Murad answered abruptly and unwillingly. A Kumyk prince, who was there to lodge a complaint against a police official, came out of the prince’s room, and then the aide-de-camp called Hadji Murad, led him to the door of the cabinet, and showed him in.

The Commander-in-Chief received Hadji Murad standing beside his table, and his old white face did not wear yesterday’s smile but was rather stern and solemn.

On entering the large room with its enormous table and great windows with green venetian blinds, Hadji Murad placed his small sunburnt hands on his chest just where the front of his white coat overlapped, and lowering his eyes began, without hurrying, to speak distinctly and respectfully, using the Kumyk dialect which he spoke well.

“I place myself under the powerful protection of the great Tsar and of yourself,” said he, “and promise to serve the White Tsar in faith and truth to the last drop of my blood, and I hope to be useful to you in the war with Shamil who is my enemy and yours.”

Having the interpreter out, Vorontsov glanced at Hadji Murad and Hadji Murad glanced at Vorontsov.

The eyes of the two men met, and expressed to each other much that could not have been put into words and that was not at all what the interpreter said. Without words they told each other the whole truth. Vorontsov’s eyes said that he did not believe a single word Hadji Murad was saying, and that he knew he was and always would be an enemy to everything Russian and had surrendered only because he was obliged to. Hadji Murad understood this and yet continued to give assurances of his fidelity. His eyes said, “That old man ought to be thinking of his death and not of war, but though he is old he is cunning, and I must be careful.” Vorontsov understood this also, but nevertheless spoke to Hadji Murad in the way he considered necessary for the success of the war.

“Tell him,” said Vorontsov, “that our sovereign is as merciful as he is mighty and will probably at my request pardon him and take him into his service. . . . Have you told him?” he asked looking at Hadji Murad. . . . “Until I receive my master’s gracious decision, tell him I take it on myself to receive him and make his sojourn among us pleasant.”

Hadji Murad again pressed his hands to the center of his chest and began to say something with animation.

“He says,” the interpreter translated, “that formerly, when he governed Avaria in 1839, he served the Russians faithfully and would never have deserted them had not his enemy, Akhmet Khan, wishing to ruin him, calumniated him to General Klugenau.”

“I know, I know,” said Vorontsov (though if he had ever known he had long forgotten it). “I know,” he repeated, sitting down and motioning Hadji Murad to the divan that stood beside the wall. But Hadji Murad did not sit down. Shrugging his powerful shoulders as a sign that he could not bring himself to sit in the presence of so important a man, he went on, addressing the interpreter:

“Akhmet Khan and Shamil are both my enemies. Tell the prince that Akhmet Khan is dead and I cannot revenge myself on him, but Shamil lives and I will not die without taking vengeance on him,” said he, knitting his brows and tightly closing his mouth.

“Yes, yes; but how does he want to revenge himself on Shamil?” said Vorontsov quietly to the interpreter. “And tell him he may sit down.”

Hadji Murad again declined to sit down, and in answer to the question replied that his object in coming over to the Russians was to help them to destroy Shamil.

“Very well, very well,” said Vorontsov; “but what exactly does he wish to do? . . . Sit down, sit down!”

Hadji Murad sat down, and said that if only they would send him to the Lesghian line and would give him an army, he would guarantee to raise the whole of Daghestan and Shamil would then be unable to hold out.

“That would be excellent. . . . I’ll think it over,” said Vorontsov.

The interpreter translated Vorontsov’s words to Hadji Murad.

Hadji Murad pondered.

“Tell the Sirdar one thing more,” Hadji Murad began again, “that my family are in the hands of my enemy, and that as long as they are in the mountains I am bound and cannot serve him. Shamil would kill my wife and my mother and my children if I went openly against him. Let the prince first exchange my family for the prisoners he has, and then I will destroy Shamil or die!”

“All right, all right,” said Vorontsov. “I will think it over. . . . Now let him go to the chief of the staff and explain to him in detail his position, intentions, and wishes.”

Thus ended the first interview between Hadji Murad and Vorontsov.

That even an Italian opera was performed at the new theater, which was decorated in Oriental style. Vorontsov was in his box when the striking figure of the limping Hadji Murad wearing a turban appeared in the stalls. He came in with Loris-Melikov, Vorontsov’s aide-de-cam;, in whose charge he was placed, and took a seat in the front row. Having sat through the first act with Oriental Mohammedan dignity, expressing no pleasure but only obvious indifference, he rose and looking calmly round at the audience went out, drawing to himself everybody’s attention.

The next day was Monday and there was the usual evening party at the Vorontsovs’. In the large brightly lighted hall a band was playing, hidden among trees. Young women and women not very young wearing dresses that displayed their bare necks, arms, and breasts, turned round and round in the embrace of men in bright uniforms. At the buffet, footmen in red swallow-tail coats and wearing shoes and knee-breeches, poured out champagne and served sweetmeats to the ladies. The “Sirdar’s” wife also, in spite of her age, went about half-dressed among the visitors smiling affably, and through the interpreter said a few amiable words to Hadji Murad who glanced at the visitors with the same indifference he had shown yesterday in the theater. After the hostess, other half-naked women came up to him and all of them stood shamelessly before him and smilingly asked him the same question: How he liked what he saw? Vorontsov himself, wearing gold epaulets and gold shoulder-knots with his white cross and ribbon at his neck, came up and asked him the same question, evidently feeling sure, like all the others, that Hadji Murad could not help being pleased at what he saw. Hadji Murad replied to Vorontsov as he had replied to them all, that among his people nothing of the kind was done, without expressing an opinion as to whether it was good or bad that it was so.

Here at the ball Hadji Murad tried to speak to Vorontsov about buying out his family, but Vorontsov, pretending that he had not heard him, walked away, and Loris-Melikov afterwards told Hadji Murad that this was the place to talk about business.

When it struck eleven Hadji Murad, having made sure of the time by the watch the Vorontsovs had given him, asked Loris- Melikov whether he might now leave. Loris-Melikov said he might, though it would be better to stay. In spite of this Hadji Murad did not stay, but drove in the phaeton placed at his disposal to the quarters that had been assigned to him.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04