Hadji Murad/23

By midnight his decision had been formed. He had decided that he must fly to the mountains, and break into Vedeno with the Avars still devoted to him, and either die or rescue his family. Whether after rescuing them he would return to the Russians or escape to Khunzakh and fight Shamil, he had not made up his mind. All he knew was that first of all he must escape from the Russians into the mountains, and he at once began to carry out his plan.

He drew his black wadded beshmet from under his pillow and went into his henchmen's room. They lived on the other side of the hall. As soon as he entered the hall, the outer door of which stood open, he was at once enveloped by the dewy freshness of the moonlit night and his ears were filled by the whistling and trilling of several nightingales in the garden by the house.

Having crossed the hall he opened the door of his henchmen's room. There was no light there, but the moon in its first quarter shone in at the window. A table and two chairs were standing on one side of the room, and four of his henchmen were lying on carpets or on burkas on the floor. Khanefi slept outside with the horses. Gamzalo heard the door creak, rose, turned round, and saw him. On recognizing him he lay down again, but Eldar, who lay beside him, jumped up and began putting on his beshmet, expecting his master's orders. Khan Mahoma and Bata slept on. Hadji Murad put down the beshmet he had brought on the table, which it hit with a dull sound, caused by the bold sewn up in it.

"Sew these in too," said Hadji Murad, handing Eldar the gold pieces he had received that day. Eldar took them and at once went into the moonlight, drew a small knife from under his dagger and started unstitching the lining of the beshmet. Gamzalo raised himself and sat up with his legs crossed.

"And you, Gamzalo, tell the men to examine the rifles and pistols and get the ammunition ready. Tomorrow we shall go far," said Hadji Murad.

"We have bullets and powder, everything shall be ready," replied Gamzalo, and roared out something incomprehensible. He understood why Hadji Murad had ordered the rifles to be loaded. From the first he had desired only one thing -- to slay and stab as many Russians as possible and to escape to the hills -- and this desire had increased day by day. Now at last he saw that Hadji Murad also wanted this and he was satisfied.

When Hadji Murad went away Gamzalo roused his comrades, and all four spent the rest of the night examining their rifles, pistols, flints, and accoutrements; replacing what was damaged, sprinkling fresh powder onto the pans, and stoppering with bullets wrapped in oiled rags, packets filled with the right amount of powder for each charge, sharpening their swords and daggers and greasing the blades with tallow.

Before daybreak Hadji Murad again came out into the hall to get water for his ablutions. The songs of the nightingales that had burst into ecstasy at dawn were now even louder and more incessant, while from his henchmen's room, where the daggers were being sharpened, came the regular screech and rasp of iron against stone.

Hadji Murad got himself some water from a tub, and was already at his own door when above the sound of the grinding he heard from his murids' room the high tones of Khanefi's voice singing a familiar song. He stopped to listen. The song told of how a dzhigit, Hamzad, with his brave followers captured a herd of white horses from the Russians, and how a Russian prince followed him beyond the Terek and surrounded him with an army as large as a forest; and then the song went on to tell how Hamzad killed the horses, entrenched his men behind this gory bulwark, and fought the Russians as long as they had bullets in their rifles, daggers in their belts, and blood in their veins. But before he died Hamzad saw some birds flying in the sky and cried to them:

Fly on, ye winged ones, fly to our homes!

Tell ye our mothers, tell ye our sisters,

Tell the white maidens, that fighting we died

For Ghazavat! Tell them our bodies

Never will lie and rest in a tomb!

Wolves will devour and tear them to pieces,

Ravens and vultures will pluck out our eyes.

With that the song ended, and at the last words, sung to a mournful air, the merry Bata's vigorous voice joined in with a loud shout of "Lya-il-lyakha-il Allakh!" finishing with shrill shriek. Then all was quiet again, except for the tchuk, tchuk, tchuk, tchuk and whistling of the nightingales from the garden and from behind the door the even grinding, and now and then the whiz, of iron sliding quickly along the whetstone.

Hadji Murad was so full of thought that he did not notice how he tilted his jug till the water began to pour out. He shook his head at himself and re-entered his room. After performing his morning ablutions he examined his weapons and sat down on his bed. There was nothing more for him to do. To be allowed to ride out he would have to get permission from the officer in charge, but it was not yet daylight and the officer was still asleep.

Khanefi's song reminded him of the song his mother had composed just after he was born -- the song addressed to his father that Hadji Murad had repeated to Loris-Melikov.

And he seemed to see his mother before him -- not wrinkled and grey-haired, with gaps between her teeth, as he had lately left her, but young and handsome, and strong enough to carry him in a basket on her back across the mountains to her father's when he was a heavy five-year-old boy.

And the recollection of himself as a little child reminded him of his beloved son, Yusuf, whose head he himself had shaved for the first time; and now this Yusuf was a handsome young dzhigit. He pictured him as he was when last he saw him on the day he left Tselmess. Yusuf had brought him his horse and asked to be allowed to accompany him. He was ready dressed and armed, and led his own horse by the bridle, and his rosy handsome young face and the whole of his tall slender figure (he was taller than his father) breathed of daring, youth, and the joy of life. The breadth of his shoulders, though he was so young, the very side youthful hips, the long slender waist, the strength of his long arms, and the power, flexibility, and agility of all his movements had always rejoiced Hadji Murad, who admired his son.

"Thou hadst better stay. Thou wilt e alone at home now. Take care of thy mother and thy grandmother," said Hadji Murad. And he remembered the spirited and proud look and the flush of pleasure with which Yusuf had replied that as long as he lived no one should injure his mother or grandmother. All the same, Yusuf had mounted and accompanied his father as far as the stream. There he turned back, and since then Hadji Murad had not seen his wife, his mother, or his son. And it was this son whose eyes Shamil threatened to put out! Of what would be done to his wife Hadji Murad did not wish to think.

These thoughts so excited him that he could not sit still any longer. He jumped up and went limping quickly to the door, opened it, and called Eldar. The sun had not yet risen, but it was already quite light. The nightingales were still singing.

"Go and tell the officer that I want to go out riding, and saddle the horses," said he.