Hadji Murad/21


Life in our advanced forts in the Chechen lines went on as usual. Since the events last narrated there had been two alarms when the companies were called out and militiamen galloped about; but both times the mountaineers who had caused the excitement got away, and once at Vozdvizhensk they killed a Cossack and succeeded in carrying off eight Cossack horses that were being watered. there had been no further raids since the one in which the aoul was destroyed, but an expedition on a large scale was expected in consequence of the appointment of a new commander of the left flank, Prince Baryatinsky. He was an old friend of the Viceroy's and had been in command of the Kabarda Regiment. On his arrival at Grozny as commander of the whole left flank he at once mustered a detachment to continue to carry out the Tsar's commands as communicated by Chernyshov to Vorontsov. The detachment mustered at Vozdvizhensk left the fort and took up a position towards Kurin, where the troops were encamped and were felling the forest. Young Vorontsov lived in a splendid cloth tent, and his wife, Marya Vasilevna, often came to the camp and stayed the night. Baryatinsky's relations with Marya Vasilevna were no secret to anyone, and the officers who were not in the aristocratic set and the soldiers abused her in coarse terms -- for her presence in camp caused them to be told off to lie in ambush at night. The mountaineers were in the habit of bringing guns with range and firing shells at the camp. The shells generally missed their aim and therefore at ordinary times no special measures were taken to prevent such firing, but now men were placed in ambush to hinder the mountaineers from injuring or frightening Marya Vasilevna with their cannon. To have to be always lying in ambush at night to save a lady from being frightened, offended and annoyed them, and therefore the soldiers, as well as the officers not admitted to the higher society, called Marya Vasilevna bad names.

Having obtained leave of absence from his fort, Butler came to the camp to visit some old mess-mates from the cadet corps and fellow officers of the Kurin regiment who were serving as adjutants and orderly officers. When he first arrived he had a very good time. He put up in Poltoratsky's tent and there met many acquaintances who gave him a hearty welcome. He also called on Vorontsov, whom he knew slightly, having once served in the same regiment with him. Vorontsov received him very kindly, introduced him to Prince Baryatinsky, and invited him to the farewell dinner he was giving in honor of General Kozlovsky, who until Baryatinsky's arrival had been in command of the left flank.

The dinner was magnificent. Special tents were erected in a line, and along the whole length of them a table was spread as for a dinner-party, with dinner services and bottles. Everything recalled life in the Guards in Petersburg. Dinner was served at two o-clock. Kozlovsky sat in the middle on one side. Baryatinsky on the other. At Kozlovsky's right and left hand sat the Vorontsovs, husband and wife. All along the table on both sides sat the officers of the Kabarda and Kurin regiments. Butler sat next to Poltoratsky and they both chatted merrily and drank with the officers around them. When the roast was served and the orderlies had gone round and filled the champagne glasses, Poltoratsky said to Butler, with real anxiety:

"Our Kozlovsky will disgrace himself!"

"Why?"

"Why, he'll have to make a speech, and what good is he at that? ... .It's not as easy as capturing entrenchments under fire! And with a lady beside him too, and these aristocrats!"

"Really it's painful to look at him," said the officers to one another. And now the solemn moment had arrived. Baryatinsky rose and lifting his glass, addressed a short speech to Kozlovsky. When he had finished, Kozlovsky -- who always had a trick of using the word "how" superfluously -- rose and stammeringly began:

"In compliance with the august will of his Majesty I am leaving you -- parting from you, gentlemen," said he. "But consider me as always remaining among you. The truth of the proverb, how 'One man in the field is no warrior', is well known to you, gentlemen. ... Therefore, how every reward I have received...how all the benefits showered on me by the great generosity of our sovereign the Emperor...how all my position -- how my good name...how everything decidedly ... how ... " (here his voice trembled) "... how I am indebted to you for it, to you alone, my friends!" The wrinkled face puckered up still more, he gave a sob and tears came into his eyes. "How from my heart I offer you my sincerest, heartfelt gratitude!"

Kozlovsky could not go on but turned round and began to embrace the officers. The princess hid her face in her handkerchief. The prince blinked, with his mouth drawn awry. Many of the officers' eyes grew moist and Butler, who had hardly known Kozlovsky, could also not restrain his tears. He liked all this very much.

Then followed other toasts. Healths were drunk to Baryatinsky, Vorontsov, the officers, and the soldiers, and the visitors left the table intoxicated with wine and with the military elation to which they were always so prone. The weather was wonderful, sunny and calm, and the air fresh and bracing. Bonfires crackled and songs resounded on all sides. It might have been thought that everybody was celebrating some joyful event. Butler went to Poltoratsky's in the happiest, most emotional mood. Several officers had gathered there and a card table was set. An adjutant started a bank with a hundred rubles. Two or three times Butler left the tent with his hand gripping the purse in his trousers-pocket, but at last he could resist the temptation no longer, and despite the promise he had given to his brother and to himself not to play, he began to do so. Before an hour was past, very red, perspiring, and soiled with chalk, he was sitting with both elbows on the table and writing on it -- under cards bent for "corners" and "transports -- the figures of his stakes. He had already lost so much that he was afraid to count up what was scored against him. But he knew without counting that all the pay he could draw in advance, added to the value of his horse, would not suffice to pay what the adjutant, a stranger to him, had written down against him. He would still have gone on playing, but the adjutant sternly laid down the cards he held in his large clean hands and added up the chalked figures of the score of Butler's losses. Butler, in confusion began to make excuses for being unable to pay the whole of his debt at once, and said he would send it from home. When he said this he noticed that everybody pitied him and that they all -- even Poltoratsky -- avoided meeting his eye. That was his last evening there. He reflected that he need only have refrained from playing and gone to the Vorontsovs who had invited him, and all would have been well, but now it was not only not well -- it was terrible.

Having taken leave of his comrades and acquaintances he rode home and went to bed, and slept for eighteen hours as people usually sleep after losing heavily. From the fact that he asked her to lend him fifty kopeks to tip the Cossack who had escorted him, and from his sorrowful looks and short answers, Marya Dmitrievna guessed that he had lost at cards and she reproached the major for having given him leave of absence.

When he woke up at noon next day and remembered the situation he was in he longed again to plunge into the oblivion from which he had just emerged, but it was impossible. Steps had to be taken to repay the four hundred and seventy rubles he owed to the stranger. The first step he took was to write to his brother, confessing his sin and imploring him for the last time, to lend him five hundred rubles on the security of the mill they still owned in common. Then he wrote to a stingy relative asking her to lend him five hundred rubles at whatever rate of interest she liked. Finally he went to the major, knowing that he -- or rather Marya Dmitrievna -- had some money, and asked him to lend him five hundred rubles.

"I'd let you have them at once," said the major, "but Masha won't! These women are so close-fisted -- who the devil can understand them? ... And yet you must get out of it somehow, devil take him! ... Hasn't that brute the canteen-keeper got something?"

But it was no use trying to borrow from the canteen-keeper, so Butler's salvation could only come from his brother or his stingy relative.