Hadji Murad, by Leo Tolstoy

Chapter XIX

SHORTLY after Hadji Murad’s surrender to the Russians his family was taken to the village of Vedeno and kept there under guard waiting for Shamil to decide their fate. The women — Hadji Murad_s old mother Patimat and his two wives — together with their five small children lived under guard in the house of Ibrahim Rashid, one of Shamil’s captains; Yusuf, his eighteen-year-old son, was kept in a dungeon, a deep pit dug eight or nine feet into the ground, with four criminals who, like him, were awaiting Shamil’s decision on their fate.

But no decision came, because Shamil was away campaigning against the Russians.

On 6 January 1852, Shamil returned home to Vedeno after a battle with the Russians in which, according to the Russians, he had been beaten and fled to Vedeno, but in which, according to the view of Shamil and all his murids, he had been victorious and put the Russians to flight. In this engagement and it happened very rarely — he himself had fired his rifle and with drawn sword would have charged straight at the Russians if his escort of murids had not held him back. Two of them were killed at his side.

It was midday when Shamil arrived at his destination, surrounded by his party of murids showing of their horsemanship, firing rifles and pistols and chanting endlessly ‘La ilaha illa allah.’

All the people of Vedeno, which was a large village, were standing in the street and on the roofs of the houses to greet their master, and they too celebrated the event with musket and pistol fire. Shamil rode on a white Arab, which merrily sought to have its head as they neared home. The horse’s harness was extremely plain with no gold or silver ornament a red leather bridle, finely made and grooved down the middle, metal bucket stirrups and a red shabrack showing from under the saddle. The Imam wore a fur coat overlaid with brown cloth, the black fur projecting at the collar and cuffs; it was drawn tight about his tall, slim frame by a black leather strap with a dagger attached to it. On his head he wore a tall, flattopped papakha with a black tassel and white turban round it, the end of which hung below his neck. On his feet were green soft leather boots and his legs were covered with tight black leggings edged with plain lace.

The Iman wore nothing at all that glittered, no gold or silver, and his tall, erect, powerful figure in its plain clothes in the midst of the murids with their gold — and silver-ornamented dress and weapons, created on the people exactly the impression of grandeur which he desired and knew how to create His pale face, framed by his trimmed red beard, with its small, constantly screwed up eyes, wore a fixed expression as if made of stone. Passing through the village he felt thousands of eyes turned on him, but his own eyes looked at no one. The wives and children of Hadji Murad went on to the verandah with the other occupants of the house to watch the Imam’s entry. Only Patimat, Hadji Murad_s old mother, did not go, but remained sitting as she was on the floor of the house with her grey hair disheveled and her long arms clasped round her thin knees, while she blinked her fiery black eyes and watched the logs burning down in the fire-place. She, like her son, had always hated Shamil, now more than ever, and had no wish to see him.

Hadji Murad_s son also saw nothing of Shamil’s triumphal entry. From his dark fetid pit he could only hear the shots and chanting and he experienced such anguish as is only felt by young men, full of life, when deprived of their freedom. Sitting in the stinking pit and seeing only the same wretched, filthy, emaciated creatures he was confined with, who mostly hated one another, he was overcome by a passionate envy for people who had air and light and freedom and were at this moment prancing round their leader on dashing horses and shooting and chanting in chorus ‘La ilaha illa allah.’

After processing through the village Shamil rode into a large courtyard next to an inner one where he had his harem. Two armed Lezghians met Shamil at the opened gates of the first courtyard. The yard was full of people. There were people from distant parts here on their own account, there were petitioners, and there were those whom Shamil himself had summoned for judgement. When Shamil rode in everyone in the courtyard rose and respectfully greeted the Imam with their hands placed to their chests. Some knelt and remained kneeling while Shamil crossed the courtyard from the outer to the inner gateway. Although Shamil recognized in the waiting crowd many disagreeable people and many tiresome petitioners who would be wanting his attention, he rode past them with the same stony expression on his face and went into the inner court where he dismounted alongside the veranda of his residence to the left of the gate.

The campaign had been a strain, mental rather than physical, for although he had proclaimed it a victory, Shamil knew that the campaign had been a failure, that many Chechen villages had been burnt and destroyed, and that the Chechens — a fickle and light-headed people — were wavering and some of them, nearest to the Russians, were already prepared to go over to them. It was all very difficult and measures would have to be taken, but for the moment Shamil did not want to do anything or think about anything. All he wanted was to relax and enjoy the soothing delights of family life provided by his favorite wife Aminet, a black-eyed, fleet-footed Kist girl of eighteen.

But not only was it out of the question to see Aminet at this moment — though she was only on the other side of the fence which separated the women’s apartments from the men’s quarters in the inner courtyard (and Shamil had no doubt that even as he dismounted Aminet and his other wives would be watching through the fence) — not only could he not go to her, he could not even lie down on a feather mattress and recover from his fatigue. Before anything else he had to perform his midday devotions. He felt not the least inclination to do so, but it was necessary that he should, not only in his capacity as religious leader of the people, but also because to him personally it was as essential as his daily food. So he carried out the ritual washing and praying. At the end of the prayers he summoned those who were waiting.

The first to come in to him was his father-in-law and teacher, Jemel-Edin, a tall fine-looking old man with grey hair, snowy white beard and a rubicund face. After a prayer to God, he began to question Shamil about the campaign and to recount what had happened in the mountains while he was away.

There were all manner of events to report — blood-feud killings, cattle-stealing, alleged breaches of the Tarikat — smoking tobacco, drinking wine, and Jemel-Edin also told Shamil that Hadji Murad had sent men to take his family over to the Russians, but that this was discovered and the family had been moved to Vedeno, where they were now under guard awaiting the Imam’s decision. The old men were gathered in the adjoining guest-room for the purpose of considering all these matters, and Jemel-Edin advised Shamil to dismiss them today since they had already waited three days for him.

Shamil took dinner in his own room, where it was brought by Zaidet, the senior of his wives, a sharp-nosed, dark, ill-favored woman for whom he did not care. He then went into the guest-room.

There were six men in Shamil’s council — old men with white, grey and ginger beards. They wore tall papakhas with or without turbans, new jackets and cherkeskass with leather belts and daggers. They rose to greet him. Shamil was a head taller than any of them. They all, including Shamil, lifted their upturned hands and with closed eyes recited a prayer, then wiped their hands across their faces, drew them down over their beards and joined them. This done, they sat down, with Shamil sitting on a higher cushion in the middle, and began their deliberations of the business in hand.

The cases of those accused of crimes were decided according to the Shariat: two thieves were condemned to have a hand cut off, another to have his head cut off for murder, and three were pardoned. They moved on then to the main business to consider what measures should be taken to prevent the Chechens going over to the Russians. In order to halt these defections Jemel-Edin had drawn up the following proclamation:

‘May you have peace everlasting with Almighty God. I hear that the Russians show favors to you and call for your submission. Believe them not, do not submit, but be patient. For this you will be rewarded, if not in this life, then in the life to come. Remember what happened before when your weapons were taken from you. If then, in 1840, God had not shown you the light, you would now be soldiers and carry bayonets instead of daggers, and your wives would not wear trousers and would be defiled. Judge the future by the past. It is better to die at war with the Russians than to live with the infidels. Be patient, and I shall come with the Koran and the sword to lead you against the Russians. For the present I strictly command you to have neither intention nor even any thought of submitting to the Russians.’

Shamil approved the proclamation, signed it and decreed that it should be dispatched to all parts.

When this business was finished the question of Hadji Murad was discussed. This was a very important matter for Shamil. Although he did not care to admit it, he knew that if Hadji Murad had been on his side, with his skill, daring, and courage what had now happened in Chechnia would never have occurred. It would be good to settle his quarrel with Hadji Murad and make use of him once again; but if that could not be done, he must still ensure that he did not aid the Russians. In either case, therefore, he must send for him and, when he came, kill him. This could be done either by sending a man to Tiflis to kill him there, or by summoning him and putting an end to him here. The only way to do that was to use Hadji Murad_s family, above all his son, whom, as Shamil knew, he adored. It was therefore necessary to work through his son.

When the councilors had talked it over, Shamil closed his eyes and fell silent.

The councilors knew what this meant: Shamil was now listening to the voice of the Prophet telling him what should be done. After five minutes’ solemn silence Shamil opened his eyes, screwing them more tightly than before and said:

‘Fetch me the son of Hadji Murad.’

‘He is here,’ said Jemel-Edin.

Indeed, Yusuf, thin, pale, ragged, and stinking, still handsome though in face and figure, and with the same fiery black eyes as Patimat, his grandmother, was standing at the gate of the outer courtyard waiting to be summoned.

Yusuf did not feel about Shamil as his father did. He did not know all that had happened in the past, or if he knew, it was only at second-hand, and he could not understand why his father was so doggedly opposed to Shamil. Yusuf only wanted to go on living the easy, rakish life that he, as son of the naib, had led in Khunzakh, and he could see no point in being at odds with Shamil. In defiant opposition to his father he greatly admired Shamil and regarded him with the fervent veneration that was generally felt for him in the mountains. He experienced a particular feeling of awe and reverence for the Imam now as he entered the guest-room. He stopped at the door and was fixed by Shamil’s screwed up eyes. He stood for a few moments, then went up to Shamil and kissed his large white hand with long fingers.

‘You are the son of Hadji Murad?’ ‘Yes, Imam.’

‘You know what he has done?’

‘I know, Imam, and am sorry for it.’

‘Do you know how to write?’

‘I was studying to be a mullah.’

‘Then write to your father and say that if he returns to me now, before Bairam, I will pardon him and all will be as of old. But if he will not and remains with the Russians, then . .,’ — Shamil frowned menacingly — ‘I shall give your grandmother and mother to be used in the villages, and I shall cut off your head.’

Not a muscle twitched on Yusuf’s face. He bowed his head to signify he had understood what Shamil said.

‘Write that and give it to my messenger.’

Shamil was then silent and took a long look at Yusuf

‘Write that I have decided to spare you. I will not kill you but will have your eyes put out, the same as I do to all traitors. Go.’

Yusuf appeared to be calm while in the presence of Shamil, but when he was led out of the guest-room he threw himself on his escort, snatched his dagger from its sheath and tried to kill himself But he was seized by the arms, bound and taken back to the pit.

That evening when the evening prayers were over and dusk fell, Shamil put on a white fur top-coat and passed through the fence into the part of the courtyard where his wives lived. He went straight to Aminet’s room. But Aminet was not there; she was with the older wives. Trying to keep out of sight, Shamil stood behind the door of her room to wait for her. But Aminet was angry with Shamil because he had given some silk to Zaidet and not to her. she saw him come out and go to look for her in her room and she deliberately did not return to her room. she stood a long time in Zaidet’s doorway, laughing quietly as she watched the white figure go in and out of her room. It was nearly time for the midnight prayers when Shamil, after waiting in vain, went back to his own quarters.

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