Hadji Murad, by Leo Tolstoy

Chapter XXII

Having failed to achieve his purpose in Chechnia, Hadji Murad returned to Tiflis. He went daily to see Vorontsov, and when Vorontsov received him he begged him to collect the mountaineers held captive and exchange them for his family. He repeated again that unless this were done he was tied and could not, as he wished, serve the Russians and destroy Shamil. Vorontsov promised in general terms to do what he could, but deferred giving a decision until General Argutinsky arrived in Tiflis and he could discuss it with him. Hadji Murad then asked Vorontsov’s permission to go for a time to Nukha, a small town in Transcaucasia where he thought it would be easier to conduct negotiations about his family with Shamil and his supporters. Besides that, Nukha was a Muslim town with a mosque and it would be easier for him there to perform the prayers required by Muslim law. Vorontsov wrote to St Petersburg about this, and meanwhile allowed Hadji Murad to go to Nukha.

The story of Hadji Murad was regarded by Vorontsov, by the authorities in St Petersburg and by the majority of Russians who knew of it either as a lucky turn in the course of the war in the Caucasus or simply as an interesting episode. But for Hadji Murad, especially more recently, it was a drastic turning-point in his life. He had fled from the mountains partly to save his life and partly because of his hatred for Shamil. Despite all difficulties, he had succeeded in escaping, and initially he had been delighted with his success and actually considered his plans for attacking Shamil. But getting his family out, which he had supposed would be easy, had proved harder than he thought. Shamil had seized his family and now held them captive, promising to dispatch the women into the villages and to kill or blind his son. Now Hadji Murad was going to Nukha to try with the help of his supporters in Daghestan by guile or force to rescue his family from Shamil. The last scout to call on him at Nukha told him that the Avars who were loyal to him were going to carry off his family and bring them over to the Russians, but as they were short of men ready to undertake this they were reluctant to attempt it in Vedeno where the family was held and would only do it if they were moved from Vedeno to some other place. They would then take action while they were being moved. Hadji Murad ordered him to tell his friends that he would give 3,000 rubles for the release of his family.

At Nukha Hadji Murad was allotted a small house with five rooms not far from the mosque and the khan’s palace. Living in the same house were the officers and interpreter attached to him and his nukers. Hadji Murad spent his time waiting for and receiving the scouts who came in from the mountains and in going for the rides he was allowed to take in the neighbor hood of Nukha.

On 8 April when he returned from riding Hadji Murad learnt that in his absence an official had arrived from Tiflis. Despite his anxiety to find out what news the official brought him, Hadji Murad did not go at once to the room where the official and the local commissioner were waiting, but went first to his own room to say his midday prayers. After he had prayed, he went into the other room which served him as a sitting-room and reception room. The official from Tiflis, a chubby state councilor called Kirillov, conveyed to him that Vorontsov wished him to be in Tiflis by the twelfth for a meeting with Argutinsky.

‘Yakshi,’ said Hadji Murad sharply.

He did not take to this official Kirillov.

‘Have you brought the money?’

‘Yes, I have it,’ said Kirillov.

‘It is for two weeks now,’ said Hadji Murad, holding up ten fingers then four more. ‘Give it to me.’

‘You will have it directly,’ said the official, getting a purse from his traveling bag. ‘What does he want money for?’ he said to the commissioner in Russian, presuming that Hadji Murad would not understand. But Hadji Murad did understand and looked angrily at Kirillov. As he was taking out the money Kirillov, who wanted to strike up some conversation with Hadji Murad in order to have something to report to Vorontsov on his return, asked him through the interpreter if he found life tedious in Nukha. Hadji Murad gave a scornful sideways glance at this fat little man in civilian clothes who carried no weapons, and made no answer. The interpreter repeated the question. ‘Tell him I have nothing to say to him. Let him just give me the money.’

With this, Hadji Murad again sat down at the table and prepared to count the money.

When Kirillov had produced the gold ten-ruble pieces and laid out seven piles each of ten coins (Hadji Murad received 50 rubles in gold per day), he pushed them across to Hadji Murad. Hadji Murad dropped the coins into the sleeve of his eherkeska, rose and, as he left the room, quite unexpectedly rapped the state councilor on the top of his bald head. The state councilor leapt to his feet and commanded the interpreter to say that he had better not treat him like that because he was equivalent in rank to a colonel. The commissioner agreed. Hadji Murad merely nodded to indicate that he knew that and left the room.

‘What can you do with him?’ said the commissioner. ‘He will stick his dagger in you, and that’s that. There’s no coming to terms with these devils. And he’s getting his blood up, I can see.’

As soon as dusk fell two scouts, hooded to the eyes, came in from the mountains. The commissioner took them into Hadji Murad_s quarters. One of the scouts was a dark, portly Tavlistani, the other a skinny old man. For Hadji Murad the news they brought was cheerless. Those of his friends who had undertaken to rescue his family were now backing out completely for fear of Shamil, who threatened the most horrifying deaths to any who helped Hadji Murad. Having heard their account, Hadji Murad put his elbows on his crossed legs, bowed his head (he was wearing his papakha) and for a long time was silent. He was thinking, thinking positively. He knew that he was thinking now for the last time, that he must reach a decision. Hadji Murad raised his head and, taking two gold pieces, gave one to each of the scouts.

‘Go now.’

‘What will be the answer?’

‘The answer will be as God wills. Go.’

The scouts got up and left. Hadji Murad remained sitting on the rug, his elbows on his knees. He sat there for a long time.

‘What should I do? Trust Shamil and go back to him? He is a fox and would play me false. And even if he did not, I could still not submit to this ginger-haired double-dealer. I could not because, now that I have been with the Russians, he will never trust me again,’ thought Hadji Murad.

And he recalled the Tavlistan folk-tale about the falcon which was caught, lived among people and then returned to his home in the mountains. The falcon returned wearing jesses on his legs and there were bells still on them. And the falcons spurned him. ‘Fly back to the place where they put silver bells on you,’ they said, ‘we have no bells, nor do we have jesses.’ The falcon did not want to leave his homeland and stayed. But the other falcons would not have him and tore him to death.

Just as they will tear me to death, thought Hadji Murad.

‘Should I stay here? Win the Caucasus for the Russian tsar, gain fame and wealth and titles?’

‘Yes, I could do that,’ he thought, recalling his meetings with Vorontsov and the old prince’s flattering words.

‘But I have to decide now, or he will destroy my family.’

All night Hadji Murad was awake, thinking.

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