Famous Stories from Foreign Countries/Chai
In the village of Igdir—not far from the boundaries where Russia, Persia and Turkey are close together—this writer was born in 1866. He went to school in the village, and later attended the famous Armenian cloister school, Etschmiadsin. After finishing the prescribed course of study there, he taught for ten years, until, in fact, the Armenian schools were closed. Then in order to earn a livelihood, he became a newspaper man, and his activities took him to Switzerland and to the Caucasus. Later he obtained an editorial position in Tiflis.
He has published a good many short stories and he is particularly popular among his people. He belongs to the new school of Armenian writers. The scene of a good many of his stories, is the little village where he was born.
It was night; winter and snow. The night was so dark, so full of terror that people in the little mountain village of O— could not remember when they last saw day and the sun; bright light and blue sky. The wind blew, too! And what a wind it was. It was as if it came from some world of the dead, because in its voice there was something that made the nerves tremble and painted horror before the brain. It played with the snow, and the play was the play of a demon. Not only people shivered, but the entire mountain village, its poor little houses, its hay stacks, and the dry mounds of manure piled up for burning. And one could not tell whether the shivering was because of the cold, or because of the accursed storm that was raging. For these mountain village dwellers, thunder and lightning, storm and cold, were not merely harmless caprices of nature. The peasants knew how sad the result might be. Why should they not be afraid and tremble! But it was lucky that the sign of the cross was sure protection against lightning; and for the snow storm there was the stable and the sakhi.
Woi—woi—howled the storm. Every time its terrifying voice rang out, the men in the sakhi of Melikh-Shalim, who were lined up along the wall facing each other, ceased speaking, took the pipes out of their mouths and drew nearer together.
Lord God!—snow and cold must come in their time, but this storm—this fearful storm—for what can it be good? No one dared interpret the voice of the great storm. For each one of them it was the mighty song of destiny, which the storm-wind—the eternal wanderer—had constructed out of the sorrows of the world, out of the sighs of the helpless, and the tears of suffering. Thus thought the frightened peasants in the sakhi.
Woi—Woi—the wind grew stronger. The sakhi creaked and trembled. Sometimes it sounded as if someone were walking heavily across the roof.
“Hell has broken loose!” declared one, in order to have something to say. “I would not wish my worst enemy to be upon the mountain tonight!”
“Upon the mountain!” answered another scornfully.
“As if you had courage enough to walk to the wine garden. And you talk of the mountain! Heaven and earth are fighting each other tonight.”
Again silence reigned in the sakhi. They were busy thinking.
The door creaked ominously. All looked in that direction. In the dim light, the form of a man, wrapped in a herdsman’s cape was visible. He looked like a heap of snow.
“Good evening,” said the newcomer, shaking the snow from his shoulders.
“God is good to you, Chai. Come up—you must be frozen.”
“Make room! Give him a place to sit.”
“By heaven, I’m frozen”, he replied. I couldn’t stay out another minute. I thought the sky was cracking over my head. They are frightened in the village, too. I said to myself, I’ll go to the sakhi, I’ll warm myself, and then I’ll go out again.”
He seated himself beside the wall.
Above the buchar in a blackened space, hung the oil lamp. The sad flame trembled and wavered, as if it, too, were terrified by the voice of the wind. But it gave sufficient light to show some of the faces under the lamb’s fur caps. An occasional pale line of light fell upon the new comer. It was a peasant’s face which hard work and suffering had made harsh. He was a young man but he had the appearance of having lived much. Under his short mustache were two thick lips so tightly pressed together that they gave the impression of stubbornness. The eyes were small, but full of fire. He was the village watchman. And he was an Armenian. Many of his race had attempted to live in the mountain village, but they had been driven away. Only this one had remained like a deserted crane. He did not want to beg, so he became watchman. The villagers did not know his name. Instead of Nacho they called him Mcho, some even Mko, but at last they agreed upon the name of Chai. It was an easy word to say. And he was really Chai from the village Osm.
The sakhi was warm. The snow storm continued. The wind roared like a wounded bull.
“’Twas a night like this when that poor fellow was surprised—yes,” declared Gewo, the magistrate.
“How could he help it?”
He spoke of a peasant who had perished in a snow storm on the mountain a few days before.
“How often have we said it—it is not wise to run about in the snow,” observed another.
“What nonsense you talk! He had to go!” thundered Melikh. “Who can escape fate?”
“True, true, Melikh,” some agreed. “What is written by fate is written.”
They agree that man is the toy of fate. Against this nothing prevailed.
“I don’t believe in fate!” called a voice from the comer by the sakhi. All eyes turned toward him. The surprise was universal.
“Who is this brave man?” inquired Melikh scornfully.
“I am your servant, Mellkh. But I do not believe in fate,” repeated the same voice doggedly.
The men did not know whether to laugh or to be angry. The one who did not believe in all powerful fate was the miserable Chai.
“The meanest goat can lose his temper,” murmured Melikh, half in scorn and half in wrath. The declaration of Chai had aroused them. Melikh, the rich, powerful Melikh, believed in fate—and feared it. The magistrate, Gewo, before whose decisions they trembled, like aspen leaves, was afraid of it. And the head of the church—no matter what he sermonized about—in the end reverted to the subject of fate. They were all subject to this powerful influence.
“No—I don’t believe in your fate,” repeated Chai, as he took notice of the scornful looks directed toward him. “I could prove to you all in a moment that I am right, if I did not have to go out and make the round of the village again.”
“Stay! Stay!” they called.
“Magistrate tell him to stay.”
At command of the magistrate Chai sat down again.
In that year there were ten of us—ten mad men. The Turks and Kurds called us conspirators. The Armenians called us defenders and saviors. We and the eagles became the lonely lords of the mountains. We were alike, too, in the way we swept down upon our prey. How many dogs of Turks and Kurds did we not kill! Sometimes they hunted us. Then we disappeared and they could not find us. It was not easy to find us, and when they did find us, it was not easy to meet us.
One day we were on the summit of Mount Sim, when supplies gave out. It fell to my lot to forage food. I knew where there were villages, but whether the inhabitants were destroyed or alive I did not know. In broad daylight I climbed down from our mountain nest, without a weapon, without even a stick. For a time all went well and I met no one. Before me rose another mountain. I must go over it and down into the valley on the other side. I climbed and cllmbed. Just before I reached the top, a Kurd jumped up, a hornidie, well armed.
“Good day,” I said carelessly.
“Good day, Armenian,” the Kurd replied. He did not pass me, but stepped in front of me. I continued my way, but I felt that the Kurd was still standing there, and following me with his eyes. I did not hasten. I was afraid of arousing suspicion.
“Armenian—wait! Wait!” suddenly called the voice of the Kurd. I looked back, then stopped. It is fate, I thought. Fate might well take the form of a Kurd. A gun rested upon his shoulder; there was a moon shaped blade by his side, a dagger with an ivory handle stuck in his girdle. I saw that his eyes were those of an angry wolf. He came nearer.
“At this time, in this place, there should be no Armenians. Who are you? Where are you going?”
“Kurd,” I replied, “the time is bad, I know, but do not forget that we are neighbors. I say to you as a neighbor that I am from Chnt. We are starving there—that you know. I am on the way to Derdschan to get bread for my children. Let me go in peace.”
“You can’t deceive me, Armenian! You are a bad lot.”
“You have a God, too, Kurd. You see I have no weapon. There is not even a knife in my pocket. If I were a bad lot what could I accomplish with just two hands? I beg you, let me go in peace!”
“Walk in front of me. I’ll give you over to the law.”
“To the law! You could not do anything worse when you know the police are seeking us. Do not do that, Kurd! Even if I were set free, it would delay me. My children are suffering. They are dying of hunger. For God’s sake, Kurd,—brother, neighbor, let me go!” The Kurd was unshakable. It is my fate, I thought and walked on. What could I do? He was armed. I was not.
Around us the world was beautiful. The sky was clear and blue, the mountains green. Birds flew about; everywhere was life and happiness. Above, high in the air, a crane flew, free and bold. Forgetting the danger of my position, I looked up at the bird and envied it.
The Kurd walked on in silence. He looked at me. Our eyes met, and for some seconds we were both unable to look away. Each tried to find out what was hidden in the thought of the other. Is not the eye the involuntary betrayor of the mind? I understood that the Kurd had made up his mind to kill me. That I read plainly. I began to meditate. I sought for help. But what help was there for me? At this moment my eyes rested upon the handsome dagger which the Kurd carried in his girdle. If I only had that in my hand!
“Go on,” commanded the Kurd. “Why are you stopping?”
I walked on. We were going through a lonely, uninhabited valley. The Kurd became restless, and began to look about. He kept taking the gun from his shoulder and then putting it back again. I felt that my end was near. I began to walk slower. I did not dare step in front of the Kurd. That would make him angry.
“Quick—quick! Go on!” he urged. He was constantly trying to make me walk in front of him. I made an effort to walk evenly with him. We both seemed to understand that we were fighting a silent battle for life. Suddenly I stopped. My sandal strings were untied. The Kurd came up beside me and paused. Without lifting my head I observed his position. He stood on my right, and the ivory handle of the dagger gleamed from his girdle close beside me.
“Make haste, Armenian!” he called angrily.
I lifted my head quickly, snatched the dagger from his girdle, and before he knew what had happened, I buried the entire blade in his breast. He roared like an animal, then fell to the ground. I was saved. And this is the dagger that saved me.”
Chai drew from his girdle a dagger with a handle of ivory, and held it up for his listeners to see. They fell upon their knees and examined the weapon carefully. The poor, shabby Chai had become a hero. He was a brave man who ruled his own fate. He snapped his fingers at it.
“I don’t believe in fate,” he declared again doggedly. This time his words brought forth neither laughter nor scorn. Chai took his dagger, stuck it in his girdle and went out. The others were silent. Outside the wind howled, but it no longer terrified them with the implacability of fate. Under the manifold wild voices of the night, they seemed to hear human voices crying—“Revenge! Revenge!”
This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1948, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 74 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1961, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 61 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.