Hadji Murad/19

Hadji Murad's family had been removed to Vedeno soon after his desertion to the Russians, and were there kept under guard awaiting Shamil's decision. The women -- his old mother Patimat and his two wives with their five little children -- were kept under guard in the saklya of the officer Ibrahim Raschid, while Hadji Murad's son Yusuf, a youth of eighteen, was put in prison - - that is, into a pit more than seven feet deep, together with seven criminals, who like himself were awaiting a decision as to their fate.

The decision was delayed because Shamil was away on a campaign against the Russians.

On January 6, 1852, he returned to Vedeno after a battle, in which according to the Russians he had been vanquished and had fled to Vedeno; but in which according to him and all the murids he had been victorious and had repulsed the Russians. In this battle he himself fired his rifle -- a thing he seldom did -- and drawing his sword would have charged straight at the Russians had not the murids who accompanied him held him back. Two of them were killed on the spot at his side.

It was noon when Shamil, surrounded by a party of murids who caracoled around him firing their rifles and pistols and continually singing Lya illya il Allah! rode up to his place of residence.

All the inhabitants of the large aoul were in the street or on their roofs to meet their ruler, and as a sign of triumph they also fired off rifles and pistols. Shamil rode a white Arab steed which pulled at its bit as it approached the house. The horse had no gold or silver ornaments, its equipment was of the simplest -- a delicately worked red leather bridle with a stripe down the middle, metal cup-shaped stirrups, and a red saddlecloth showing a little from under the saddle. The Imam wore a brown cloth cloak liked with black fur showing at the neck and sleeves, and was tightly girded round his long thin waist with a black strap which held a dagger. On his head he wore a tall cap with flat crown and black tassel, and round it was wound a white turban, one end of which hung down on his neck. He wore green slippers, and black leggings trimmed with plain braid.

He wore nothing bright -- no gold or silver -- and his tall, erect, powerful figure, clothed in garments without any ornaments, surrounded by murids with gold and silver on their clothes and weapons produced on the people just the impression and influence he desired and knew how to produce. His pale face framed by a closely trimmed reddish beard, with his small eyes always screwed up, was as immovable as though hewn out of stone. As he rode through the aoul he felt the gaze of a thousand eyes turned eagerly on him, but he himself looked at no one.

Hadji Murad's wives had come out into the penthouse with the rest of the inmates of the saklya to see the Imam's entry. Only Patimat, Hadji Murad's old mother, did not go out but remained sitting on the floor of the saklya with her grey hair down, her long arms encircling her thin knees, blinking with her fiery black eyes as she watched the dying embers in the fireplace. Like her son she had always hated Shamil, and now she hated him more than ever and had no wish to see him. Neither did Hadji Murad's son see Shamil's triumphal entry. Sitting in the dark and fetid pit he heard the firing and singing and endured tortures such as can only be felt by the young who are full of vitality and deprived of freedom. He only saw his unfortunate, dirty, and exhausted fellow-prisoners -- embittered and for the most part filled with hatred of one another. He now passionately envied those who, enjoying fresh air and light and freedom, caracoled on fiery steeds around their chief, shooting and heartily singing: Lya illyah il Allah!

When he had crossed the aoul Shamil rode into the large courtyard adjoining the inner court where his seraglio was. Two armed Lesghians met him at the open gates of this outer court, which was crowded with people. Some had come from distant parts about their own affairs, some had come with petitions, and some had been summoned by Shamil to be tried and sentenced. As the Imam rode in, they all respectfully saluted him with their hands on their breasts, some of them kneeling down and remaining on their knees while he rode across the court from the outer to the inner gates. Though he recognized among the people who waited in the court many whom he disliked, and many tedious petitioners who wanted his attention, Shamil passed them all with the same immovable, stony expression on his face, and having entered the inner court dismounted at the penthouse in front of his apartment, to the left of the gate. He was worn out, mentally rather than physically, by the strain of the campaign, for in spite of the public declaration that he had been victorious he knew very well that his campaign had been unsuccessful, that many Chechen aouls had been burnt down and ruined, and that the unstable and fickle Chechens were wavering and those nearest the border line were ready to go over to the Russians.

All this had to be dealt with, and it oppressed him, for at that moment he did not wish to think at all. He only desired one thing: rest and the delights of family life, and the caresses of his favorite wife, the black-eyed quick-footed eighteen-year-old Aminal, who at that very moment was close at hand behind the fence that divided the inner court and separated the men's from the women's quarters (Shamil felt sure she was there with his other wives, looking through a chink in the fence while he dismounted). but not only was it impossible for him to go to her, he could not even lie down on his feather cushions and rest from his fatigue; he had first of all to perform the midday rites for which he had just then not the least inclination, but which as the religious leader of the people he could not omit, and which moreover were as necessary to him himself as his daily food. So he performed his ablutions and said his prayers and summoned those who were waiting for him.

The first to enter was Jemal Eddin, his father-in-law and teacher, a tall grey-haired good-looking old man with a beard white as snow and a rosy red face. He said a prayer and began questioning Shamil about the incidents of the campaign and telling him what had happened in the mountains during his absence.

Among events of many kinds -- murders connected with blood- feuds, cattle stealing, people accused of disobeying the Tarikat (smoking and drinking wine) -- Jemal Eddin related how Hadji Murad had sent men to bring his family over to the Russians, but that this had been detected and the family had been brought to Vedeno where they were kept under guard and awaited the Imam's decision. In the next room, the guest-chamber, the Elders were assembled to discuss all these affairs, and Jemal Eddin advised Shamil to finish with them and let them go that same day, as they had already been waiting three days for him.

After eating his dinner -- served to him in his room by Zeidat, a dark, sharp-nosed, disagreeable-looking woman whom he did not love but who was his eldest wife -- Shamil passed into the guest chamber.

The six old men who made up his council -- white, grey, or red-bearded, with tall caps on their heads, some with turbans and some without, wearing new beshmets and Circassian coats girdled with straps on which their daggers were suspended -- rose to greet him on his entrance. Shamil towered a head above them all. On entering the room he, as well as all the others, lifted his hands, palms upwards, closed his eyes and recited a prayer, and then stroked his face downwards with both hands, uniting them at the end of his beard. Having done this they all sat down, Shamil on a larger cushion than the others, and discussed the various cases before them.

In the case of the criminals the decisions were given according to the Shariat: two were sentenced to have a hand cut off for stealing, one man to be beheaded for murder, and three were pardoned. Then they came to the principal business: how to stop the Chechens from going over to the Russians. To counteract that tendency Jemal Eddin drew up the following proclamation:

"I wish you eternal peace with God the Almighty!

"I hear that the Russians flatter you and invite you to surrender to them. Do not believe what they say, and do not surrender but endure. If ye be not rewarded for it in this life ye shall receive your reward in the life to come. Remember what happened before when they took your arms from you! If God had not brought you to reason then, in 1840, ye would now be soldiers, and your wives would be dishonored and would no longer wear trousers.

"Judge of the future by the past. It is better to die in enmity with the Russians than to live with the Unbelievers. Endure for a little while and I will come with the Koran and the sword and will lead you against the enemy. But now I strictly command you not only to entertain no intention, but not even a thought, of submitting to the Russians!"

Shamil approved this proclamation, signed it, and had it sent out.

After this business they considered Hadji Murad's case. This was of the utmost importance to Shamil. Although he did not wish to admit it, he knew that if Hadji Murad with his agility, boldness, and courage, had been with him, what had now happened in Chechnya would not have occurred. It would therefore be well to make it up with Hadji Murad and have the benefit of his services again. But as this was possible it would never do to allow him to help the Russians, and therefore he must enticed back and killed. They might accomplish this either by sending a man to Tiflis who would kill him there, or by inducing him to come back and then killing him. The only means of doing the latter was by making use of his family and especially his son, whom Shamil knew he loved passionately. Therefore they must act through the son.

When the councilors had talked all this over, Shamil closed his eyes and sat silent.

The councilors knew that this meant that he was listening to the voice of the Prophet, who spoke to him and told him what to do.

After five minutes of solemn silence Shamil opened his eyes, and narrowing them more than usual, said:

"Bring Hadji Murad's son to me."

"He is here," replied Jemal Eddin, and in fact Yusuf, Hadji Murad's son, thin, pale, tattered, and evil-smelling, but still handsome in face and figure, with black eyes that burnt like his grandmother Patimat's, was already standing by the gate of the outside court waiting to be called in.

Yusuf did not share his father's feelings towards Shamil. He did not know all that had happened in the past, or if he knew it, not having lived through it he still did not understand why his father was so obstinately hostile to Shamil. To him who wanted only one thing -- to continue living the easy life that, as the naib's son, he had led in Kuhzakh -- it seemed quite unnecessary to be at enmity with Shamil. Out of defiance and a spirit of contradiction to his father he particularly admired Shamil, and shared the ecstatic adoration with which he was regarded in the mountains. With a peculiar feeling of tremulous veneration for the Imam he now entered the guest chamber. As he stopped by the door he met the steady gaze of Shamil's half- closed eyes. He paused for a moment, and then approached Shamil and kissed his large, long-fingered hand.

"Thou are Hadji Murad's son?"

"I am, Imam."

"Thou knowest what he has done?"

"I know, Imam, and deplore it."

"Canst thou write?"

"I was preparing myself to be a Mullah -- "

"then write to thy father that if he will return to me now, before the Feast of Bairam, I will forgive him and everything shall be as it was before; but if not, and if he remains with the Russians" -- and Shamil frowned sternly -- "I will give thy grandmother, thy mother, and the rest to the different aouls, and thee I will behead!"

Not a muscle of Yusuf's face stirred, and he bowed his head to show that he understood Shamil's words.

"Write that and give it to my messenger."

Shamil ceased speaking, and looked at Yusuf for a long time in silence.

"Write that I have had pity on thee and will not kill thee, but will put out thine eyes as I do to all traitors! ... Go!"

While in Shamil's presence Yusuf appeared calm, but when he had been led out of the guest chamber he rushed at his attendant, snatched the man's dagger from its sheath and tried to stab himself, but he was seized by the arms, bound, and led back to the pit.

That evening at dusk after he had finished his evening prayers, Shamil put on a white fur-lined cloak and passed out to the other side of the fence where his wives lived, and went straight to Aminal's room, but he did not find her there. She was with the older wives. Then Shamil, trying to remain unseen, hid behind the door and stood waiting for her. But Aminal was angry with him because he had given some silk stuff to Zeidat and not to her. She saw him come out and go into her room looking for her, and she purposely kept away. She stood a long time at the door of Zeidat's room, laughing softly at Shamil's white figure that kept going in and out of her room.

Having waited for her in vain, Shamil returned to his own apartments when it was already time for the midnight prayers.