Hadji Murad, by Leo Tolstoy

Chapter XX

Hadji Murad had been a week at the fort living in the house of Ivan Matveevich. Although Marya Dmitrievna had quarreled with the shaggy-haired Khanefi (Hadji Murad had with him only two men: Khanefi and Eldar) and had several times ejected him from her kitchen — for which he nearly cut her throat — she evidently felt a particular respect and sympathetic concern for Hadji Murad. She no longer served him his dinner, a task she had passed on to Eldar, but she took every opportunity to see him and do anything she could to please him. she also took a very keen interest in the negotiations about his family; she knew how many wives he had, how many children and what ages they were, and each time a scout came she asked whom she could to discover how the negotiations were going.

In the course of this week Butler had become firm friends with Hadji Murad. Sometimes Hadji Murad would call on him in his room, at other times Butler would visit him. They sometimes conversed through an interpreter, otherwise they used their own resources — signs and, particularly, smiles. Hadji Murad had evidently taken a liking to Butler. This was clear from the way that Butler was treated by Eldar. Whenever Butler came into Hadji Murad_s room Eldar greeted him, flashing his teeth in a cheerful grin, hastened to put cushions on his seat and helped him off with his sword if he was wearing

Butler also got on good terms with the shaggy-haired Khanefi, who was Hadji Murad_s sworn brother. Khanefi knew many songs of the mountains and sang them well. To please Butler Hadji Murad would summon Khanefi and tell him to sing, mentioning the songs he thought good. Khanefi had a high tenor voice and sang with great clarity and expression. There was one song Hadji Murad was particularly fond of and Butler was much struck by its solemn, sad refrain. Butler asked the interpreter to tell him the words in Russian and wrote it down.

The song was about vengeance — the vengeance that Khanefi and Hadji Murad had pledged to each other.

It went as follows:

‘The earth will dry on my grave, and you, my own mother, will forget me. Grave grass will grow over the graveyard and will deaden your grief, my old father. The tears will dry in my sister_s eyes and sorrow will fly from her heart.

‘But you, my elder brother, will not forget me till you have avenged my death. You, my second brother, will not forget me till you lie by my side.

‘Bullet, you are hot and the bearer of death, but were you not my faithful slave? Black earth, you will cover me, but did I not trample you beneath my horse’s hoofs? Death, you are cold, but I was your master. The earth shall take my body, and heaven my soul.’

Hadji Murad always listened to this song with his eyes closed, and, as its last lingering note faded away, he would say in Russian:

‘Good song, wise song.’

With the arrival of Hadji Murad and his close acquaintance with him and his murids, Butler was even more captivated by the poetry of the peculiar, vigorous life led by the mountaineers. He got himself a jacket, cherkeska and leggings, and he felt he was a mountaineer too, living the same life as these people.

On the day Hadji Murad was to leave Ivan Matveevich gathered a few of the officers to see him off. The officers were sitting at two tables, one for tea, dispensed by Marya Dmitrievna, and the other laid with vodka, chikhir and hors d’oeuvre, when Hadji Murad, armed and dressed for the road, came limping with quick, soft steps into the room.

Everyone rose and one after the other shook hands with him. Ivan Matveevich invited hem to sit on the ottoman, but Hadji Murad thanked him and sat on a chair by the window He was clearly not in the least put out by the silence which fell when he came in. He closely studied the faces of those present then fixed his eyes indifferently on the table with the samovar and food on it. Petrokovsky, one of the officers more spirited than the rest, who had not seen Hadji Murad before, asked him through the interpreter if he had liked Tiflis.

Maya,’ said Hadji Murad.

‘He says he does,’ the interpreter answered.

‘What did he like in particular?’

Hadji Murad made some reply.

‘He liked the theater best.’

‘Did he enjoy the commander-in-chief’s ball?’

Hadji Murad frowned.

‘Every people has its own customs. Our women do not wear such clothes,’ he said, glancing at Marya Dmitrievna.

‘What didn’t he like?’

‘We have a saying,’ Hadji Murad said to the interpreter. ‘A dog asked a donkey to eat with him and gave him meat, the donkey asked the dog and gave him hay: they both went hungry.’ He smiled. ‘Every people finds its own ways good.’

The conversation stopped there. The officers began drinking tea or eating. Hadji Murad took the glass of tea he was offered and put it in front of him.

‘Now, would you like some cream? Perhaps a bun?’ asked Marya Dmitrievna, serving him.

Hadji Murad inclined his head.

‘Well, good-bye then,’ said Butler, touching him on the knee. ‘When shall we meet again?’

‘Good-bye, good-bye,’ Hadji Murad said in Russian, smiling. ‘Kunak Bulur. I your good kunak. Now time — off we go,’ he said, tossing his head as if to show the direction he had to go. Eldar appeared in the doorway with something large and white over his shoulder and a sword in his hand. Hadji Murad beckoned him and Eldar with his long strides came over and gave him the white cloak and the sword. Hadji Murad took the cloak and, dropping it over his arm, gave it to Marya Dmitrievnas saying something for the interpreter to translates

‘He says: you admired the cloak — take it,’ said the interpreter.

‘But what for?’ said Marya Dmitrievna, blushing.

‘Must do. Adat tad it is the custom’, said Hadji Murad.

‘Well, thank you,’ said Marya Dmitrievna, taking the cloak. ‘God grant you may rescue your son. He is a fine boy ulan yakshi,’ she added. ‘Tell him I hope he can rescue his family.’

Hadji Murad looked at Marya Dmitrievna and nodded in approval. Then he took the sword from Eldar and gave it to Ivan Matveevich. Ivan Matveevich took it and said to the interpreter:

‘Tell him he must take my brown gelding. That is all I can give in return.’

Hadji Murad waved his hand in front of his face to show that he did not want anything and would not accept it. Then he pointed first to the mountains, then to his heart, and went to the door. Everyone followed. Some of the officers, who remained inside, drew the sword and after inspecting the blade decided it was a genuine gourda.

Butler accompanied Hadji Murad on to the steps outside. But just then something totally unexpected happened which might have cost Hadji Murad his life but for his promptness, determination and skill.

The villagers of Tash-Kichu, a Kumyk village, held Hadji Murad in high esteem and on many occasions had come to the fort just to have a look at the celebrated naib. Three days before Hadji Murad_s departure they sent messengers inviting him to attend their mosque on Friday. However, the Kumyk princes who resided at Tash-Kichu hated Hadji Murad and had a blood feud with him, and when they heard of the villagers’ invitation they would not allow him into the mosque. The people were roused by this and there was a fight between the villagers and the princes’ supporters. The Russian authorities restored peace among the mountaineers and sent a message to Hadji Murad instructing him not to attend the mosque. Hadji Murad did not go and everybody thought the matter was ended.

But at the very moment of Hadji Murad_s departure, when he went out on to the steps and the horses stood waiting outside, one of the Kumyk princes, Arslan-Khan, who was known to Butler and Ivan Matveevich, rode up to the house.

Seeing Hadji Murad he drew his pistol from his belt and aimed it at him. But before Arslan-Khan could fire, Hadji Murad, despite his lameness, sprang like a cat from the steps towards him. Arslan-Khan fired and missed. Hadji Murad meanwhile had run up to him, and with one hand seized his horse’s bridle and with the other pulled out his dagger, shouting something in Tatar.

Butler and Eldar rushed up to the enemies at the same time and seized them by the arms. Hearing the shot, Ivan Matveevich also appeared.

‘What do you mean by this, Arslan — creating mischief in my house!’ he said, on discovering what had happened. ‘It’s no way to behave. Have it out with each other by all means, but keep it “out” and don’t go slaughtering people in my house.’

Arslan-Khan, a tiny man with a black mustache, got down from his horse, pale and shaking, and with a vicious look at Hadji Murad went off with Ivan Matveevich into the parlor. Hadji Murad went back to the horses, breathing heavily and smiling.

‘Why did he want to kill you?’ Butler asked him through the interpreter.

The interpreter translated Hadji Murad_s reply: ‘He says that
it is our law. Arslan has blood to avenge on him, that is why he
wanted to kill him.’

‘And what if he catches up with him on his journey?’ asked Butler.

Hadji Murad smiled.

‘What of it? If he kills me, it will be the will of Allah. Well, good-bye,’ he said once more in Russian, and grasping his horse by the withers, looked round at those seeing him off and affectionately encountered Marya Dnzitrievna’s eye.

‘Good-bye, good lady,’ he said to her. ‘Thank you.’

‘May God only grant you can get your family free,’ repeated Marya Dmitrievna.

Hadji Murad did not understand what she said, but he understood her concern for him and nodded to her.

‘Be sure you don’t forget your ktlnak,’ said Butler.

‘Tell him I am his true friend and will never forget him,’ Hadji Murad replied through the interpreter. Then, despite his crooked leg, as soon as his foot touched the stirrup he swung his body quickly and effortlessly on to the high saddle and, straightening his sword and with a customary hand fingering his pistol, he rode off from Ivan Matveevich’s house with that particular proud, warlike air the mountaineers have when on horseback. Khanefi and Eldar also mounted and, after bidding friendly farewells to their hosts and the officers, set off at a trot after their murshid.

As always happens, a discussion started about the person who had left.

‘He’s a great fellow!’

‘It was just like a wolf the way he went for Arslan-Khan. There was a completely different look on his face.’

‘He will do us down,’ said Petrokovsky. ‘He must be a right rogue.’

‘Then I wish there were more Russian rogues like him,’ interposed Marya Dmitrievna with sudden annoyance. ‘He was with us for a week and he couldn’t have been nicer,’ she said. ‘Polite and wise and fair-minded he was.’

‘How did you find all that out?’

‘I just did.’

‘Fallen for him, have you?’ said Ivan Matveevich, coming in. ‘It’s a fact.’

‘All right, so I’ve fallen for him. What’s that to you? I just don’t see why you speak ill of somebody when he is a good man. He may be a Tatar, but he is a good man.’

‘Quite right, Marya Dmitrievna,’ said Butler. ‘Good for you to stand up for him.

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