Hadji Murad, by Leo Tolstoy

Chapter XXIII

Half-way through the night he had made up his mind. He decided that he must flee to the mountains and with the Avars who were loyal to him force his way into Vedeno and either free his family or die in the attempt. Whether or not to bring his family back to the Russians or flee to Khunzakh with them and fight Shamil he did not decide. He knew only that he must now get away from the Russians and into the mountains. And he began at once to put this decision into effect. He took his black quilted jacket from beneath the cushion and went to his nukers’ quarters. They lived across the hall. As soon as he stepped out into the hall, the door of which was open, he was enveloped by the dewy freshness of the moonlit night and his ears were filled by the whistling and warbling of nightingales in the garden by the house.

Hadji Murad crossed the hall and opened the door of his nukers’ room. There was no light in the room, only the new moon in its first quarter shining through the windows. A table and two chairs stood to the side and all four nukers lay on rugs and cloaks spread on the floor. Khanefi was sleeping outside with the horses. Gamzalo, hearing the door creak, raised himself, looked around and, seeing it was Hadji Murad, lay down again. Eldar, however, who lay next to him sprang up and began to put on his jacket, expecting some command. Kurban and Khan-Mahoma slept on. Hadji Murad put hisj jacket on the table and there was the knock of something hard as he did so: the gold pieces sewn in the lining.

‘Sew these in as well,’ said Hadji Murad, handing Eldar the gold pieces he had received that day.

Eldar took the money and, going into the light, at once got a knife from beneath his dagger and began cutting open the lining of the jacket. Gamzalo half rose and sat with crossed legs.

‘Gamzalo, tell the men to check their guns and pistols and prepare some cartridges. Tomorrow we shall travel far,’ said Hadji Murad.

‘There is powder and bullets. All will be ready,’ said Gamzalo and he growled some incomprehensible remark.

Gamzalo knew why Hadji Murad was ordering them to get their guns loaded. Right from the start he had had only one desire, which as time went on had grown ever stronger: to kill and cut down as many of the Russian dogs as he could and escape to the mountains. He now saw that Hadji Murad wanted this, too, and he was content.

When Hadji Murad had gone, Gamzalo roused his companions and all four spent the night looking over their rifles and pistols, checking the touch-holes and flints, replacing poor ones, priming the pans with fresh powder, filling their cartridge pockets with measured charges of powder and bullets wrapped in oiled rags, sharpening their swords and daggers and greasing the blades with lard.

Near daybreak Hadji Murad again went into the hall to fetch water to wash before praying. The singing of the nightingales as they greeted the dawn was louder and more sustained than in the night. From the nukers’ room came the even sound of steel grating and shrilling on stone as a dagger was sharpened. Hadji Murad ladled some water from the tub and had reached his own door when he heard another sound coming from the murids’ room besides that of sharpening: it was the thin voice of Khanefi singing a song Hadji Murad knew. Hadji Murad stopped and listened.

The song told how the djigit Hamzad and his men drove off a herd of white horses from the Russian side, and how later across the Terck the Russian prince came on him and surrounded him with a great army as thick as a forest. The song wont on to tell how Hamzad slaughtered the horses and with his men held fast behind this bloody rampart of dead horses and fought the Russians as long as there were bullets in their guns and daggers at their belts and blood still flowed in their veins. But before dying Hamzad saw some birds in the sky and cried out to them: ‘You birds of the air, fly to our homes and tell our sisters, our mothers and fair maidens that we died for the Ghazalwat. Tell them our bodies shall lie in no grave, our bones will be carried off and gnawed by ravening wolves and black crows will pick out our eyes.’

With these words, sung to a doleful refrain, the song ended, to be followed at once by the cheerful voice of the merry Khan-Mahoma who, as the song finished, bawled ‘La itaha illa allay and let out a piercing yell. Then all was quiet and again the only sound was the billing and singing of the nightingales in the garden and, through the door, the even grating and occasional shrilling note of steel slipping rapidly over stone.

Hadji Murad was so lost in thought that he did not notice he was tipping the jug and spilling water over himself. He shook his head reprovingly and went into his room.

When he had finished his morning prayers, Hadji Murad checked his weapons and sat on his bed. There was nothing else to do. To ride out he had to ask permission from the commissioner. It was still dark outside and the commissioner was still asleep.

Khanefi’s song reminded Hadji Murad of another song, which his mother had made up. It was about an actual event something that had happened just after he was born, but which he had heard from his mother.

The song was this:

‘Your damask blade slashed open my white breast, but I pressed to it my darling boy, and washed him in my hot blood, and the wound healed without help of herbs and roots. I did not fear death, no more will my boy-djigit.’

The words of the song were addressed to Hadji Murad_s father. The point of it was that when Hadji Murad was born the khanoum also gave birth to a son (Umma-Khan, her second son) and sent for Hadji Murad_s mother to be his wet-nurse as she had been for the khanoum’s elder son Abununtsal. But Patimat had not wanted to leave her son and refused to go. Hadji Murad_s father got angry and ordered her to. when she still refused he stabbed her with his dagger and would have killed her if she had not been taken away. So, after all, she did not give up her son but raised him, and made up this song about what had happened.

Hadji Murad remembered his mother singing it to him as she put him to bed alongside her, under the fur top-coat on the roof of their house, and he asked her to show him her side where the scar was. He could see his mother just as she was not all wrinkled and grey with missing teeth as when he left her now, but young and beautiful and strong, so strong that even when he was five or six and heavy she carried him in a basket on her back to see his grandfather over the mountains.

And he remembered his grandfather with his wrinkled face and small grey beard. He was a silversmith and Hadji Murad remembered him engraving the silver with his sinewy hands and making him say his prayers. He remembered the fountain at the bottom of the hill where he went with his mother to fetch water, holding on to her trousers. He remembered the skinny dog that used to lick his face, and especially the smell and taste of smoke and sour milk when he followed his mother into the barn where she milked the cow and warmed the milk. He remembered the first time his mother shaved his head and how surprised he had been to see his little round head all blue in the shining copper basin that hung on the wall.

And remembering his childhood, he remembered too his own beloved son Yusuf, whose head he himself had shaved for the first time. Now Yusuf was a handsome young djigit. He remembered him as he last saw him. It was on the day he left Tselmes. His son brought his horse for him and asked if he could ride out and see him off. He was ready dressed and armed and holding his own horse by the bridle. Yusuf’s young, ruddy, handsome face and everything about his tall slender figure (he was taller than his father) had seemed the very expression of youthful courage and the joy of living. His shoulders, broad for one so young, his very wide youthful hips and long slender body, his long powerful arms, and the strength, suppleness and dexterity of all his movements were a constant joy to his father and Hadji Murad always regarded his son with admiration.

‘You had better stay,’ Hadji Murad had said. ‘You are the only one at home now. Take care of your mother and grandmother.’

And Hadji Murad remembered the look of youthful spirit and pride with which Yusuf, pleased and blushing, had replied that. as long as he lived, no one would harm his mother or grandmother. Yusuf had then, after all, mounted and gone with his father as far as the stream. There he turned back, and since that time Hadji Murad had not seen his wife, mother or son.

And this was the son whose eyes Shamil was going to put out. Of what would happen to his wife he preferred not to think.

Hadji Murad was so agitated by these thoughts that he could not sit still any longer. He jumped up and limped quickly to the door. He opened it and called Eldar. The sun was not yet up, but it was fully light. The nightingales still sang.

‘Go and tell the commissioner I want to go riding, and get the horses saddled,’ he said.


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