Hadji Murad, by Leo Tolstoy

Chapter XXI

The life of those living in the advanced fortresses on the Chechnia Line went on as before. In the interval there had been two alarms; foot-soldiers came running out, Cossacks and militia galloped in pursuit, but on neither occasion were they able to apprehend the mountaineers. They got away, and on one occasion at Vozdvizhenskoe drove off eight Cossack horses which were being watered and killed a Cossack. There had been no Russian raids since the one which had destroyed the village. But a major expedition into Greater Chechnia was expected following the appointment of Prince Baryatinsky as commander of the Left Flank.

On arriving in Grozny, being now in command of the whole Left Flank, Prince Baryatinsky (a friend of the Crown Prince and former commander of the Kabarda Regiment) at once assembled a force to continue the fulfillment of the Emperor’s instructions which Chernyshev had communicated to Vorontsov. The column set out from Vozdvizhenskoe, where it had assembled, and took up position on the road to Kurinskoe. The troops camped there and engaged in forest clearing.

Young Vorontsov lived in a magnificent fabric tent; his wife, Marya Vasilevna, would drive out to the camp and often stayed overnight. Baryatinsky’s relations with Marya Vasilevna were a matter of common knowledge, and she was coarsely abused by the officers unconnected with the court and by the ordinary soldiers, who because of her presence in the camp were sent out on night picket duty. It was usual for the mountaineers to bring up their cannon and fire into the camp. The shots they fired mostly missed their target so as a rule no action was taken against them. But to prevent the mountaineers bringing up their guns and frightening Marya Vasilevna pickets were sent out. To go on picket every night to save a lady from being frightened was an insult and an offense, and the soldiers and the officers not received in the best society had some choice names for Marya Vasilevna.

Butler took leave from the fort and paid a visit to the column in order to see old comrades from the Corps of Pages and his regiment, now serving in the Kura Regiment or as aides-de-camp or adjutants on the stay He found it all very enjoyable from the start. He stayed in Poltoratsky’s tent and there found a number of people he knew who were delighted to see him. He also went to see Vorontsov, whom he knew slightly, having once served in the same regiment with him. Vorontsov made him very welcome. He introduced him to Prince Baryatinsky and invited him to the farewell dinner he was giving to General Kozlovsky, Baryatinsky’s predecessor as commander of the Left Flank.

The dinner was splendid. Six tents had been brought up and pitched together in a row. Their whole length was taken up by a table laid with cutlery, glasses and bottles. It was all reminiscent of the guards officers’ life in St Petersburg. They sat down to table at two o’clock. In the center of the table sat Kozlovsky on one side, and Baryatinsky on the other. Vorontsov sat on Kozlovsky’s right, his wife on his left. The whole length of the table on either side was filled by officers of the Kabarda and Kura Regiments. Butler sat by Poltoratsky and they chatted gaily and drank with the officers sitting by them. When they got to the main course and the orderlies began filling the glasses with champagne, Poltoratsky — with genuine apprehension and regret — said to Butler.

‘Old “um-er” is going to make a fool of himself’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Why, he’s got to make a speech. And how can he?’

‘Yes, old boy, it’s a bit different from capturing barricades under fire. And on top of that he’s got the lady next to him and all these court fellows. It really is pitiful to watch,’ said the officers one to another.

But the solemn moment arrived. Baryatinsky rose and, lifting his glass, addressed a short speech to Kozlovsky. When he had finished, Kozlovsky got up and in a reasonably firm voice began to speak:

‘By his Imperial Majesty’s command I am leaving you, gentlemen,’ he said. ‘We are parting, but always consider me um-er — present with you . . . You, gentlemen, know the truth of the — um-er — saying that you cannot soldier on your own. And so all the rewards that have come to me in my — um-er service, everything that has been- um-er — bestowed upon me, the generous tokens of his Majesty’s favor, my — um-er position, and my — um-er — good name, all this, absolutely everything’ — his voice quivered — ‘I— um-er — owe to you and to you alone, my dear friends.’ And his wrinkled face wrinkled still more, he gave a sob, and tears came to his eyes. ‘I give you my — um-er — sincere and heartfelt thanks . . .’

Kozlovsky could not go on and stood to embrace the officers who came up to him. Everyone was very touched. The princess covered her face with her handkerchief Prince Vorontsov pulled a face and blinked hard. Many of the officers, too, were moved to tears. And Butler, who did not know Kozlovsky well, was also unable to restrain himself. He found it all exceptionally agreeable. After this there were toasts to Baryatinsky, to Vorontsov, to the officers, to the other ranks, and finally the guests left, intoxicated by wine and the rapturous martial sentiment to which they were anyway specially inclined.

The weather was superb — sunny and calm, and the air fresh and invigorating. On every side was the sound of campfires crackling and men singing. Everyone seemed to be celebrating. Butler went to call on Poltoratsky in the most happy and serene frame of mind. Some of the officers were gathered there, a card-table had been set up and an aide-decamp had gone banker with a hundred rubles. Twice Butler left the tent holding on to the purse in the pocket of his trousers, but in the end he succumbed and, despite the vow he had made to his brothers and to himself, began playing against the bank.

Before an hour was past Butler, flushed and sweating, covered with chalk, was sitting with his elbows on the table, writing down his bets beneath the crumpled cards. He had lost so much that he was now afraid of counting what was scored against him. He knew without reckoning that if he used all the pay he could get in advance and whatever his horse would fetch he could still not make up the whole of what he owed to this unknown aide-de-camp. He would have gone on playing, but the aide-de-camp put down the cards with his clean white hands and began totting up the column of chalk entries under Butler’s name. Butler with embarrassment apologized that he was unable to pay all his losses immediately and said he would send the money on; as he said it he saw they were all sorry for him and everyone, even Poltoratsky, avoided his gaze. It was his last evening. All he had to do was to avoid gambling and go to Vorontsov’s where he had been invited. Everything would have been fine, he thought. But far from being fine, everything now was disastrous.

After saying good-bye to his comrades and friends, he left for home and on arriving went straight to bed and slept for eighteen hours at a stretch, as people usually do after losing heavily. Marya Dmitrievna could tell he had lost everything by his request for fifty kopecks to tip his Cossack escort, by his melancholy look and terse replies, and she set on Ivan Matveevich for giving him leave.

It was after eleven when Butler woke on the following day and when he recalled the situation he was in he would have liked to sink back into the oblivion from which he had just emerged, but this could not be done. He had to take steps to repay the 470 rubles which he owed to this total stranger. One step was to write a letter to his brother, repenting for his misdeed and begging him to send for the last time 500 rubles on account of his share in the mill which they still owned jointly. Then he wrote to a skinflint relative begging her to let him have 500 rubles, too, at whatever interest she wanted. Then he went to see Ivan Matveevich and knowing that he, or rather Marya Dmitrievna, had money, asked for a loan of 500 rubles.

‘I’d be glad to: I’d let you have it like a shot, but Masha wouldn’t part with it. These damned womenfolk are that tight-fisted. But you’ve got to get off the hook somehow. What about that sutler, hasn’t he got any money?’

But there was no point even trying to borrow from the sutler, so Butler’s only source of salvation was his brother or the skinflint relative.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01