Hadji Murad/24


Butler's only consolation all this time was the poetry of warfare, to which he gave himself up not only during his hours of service but also in private life. Dressed in his Circassian costume, he rode and swaggered about, and twice went into ambush with Bogdanovich, though neither time did they discover or kill anyone. This closeness to and friendship with Bogdanovich, famed for his courage, seemed pleasant and warlike to Butler. He had paid his debt, having borrowed the money of a Jew at an enormous rate of interest -- that is to say, he had postponed his difficulties but had not solved them. He tried not to think of his position, and to find oblivion not only in the poetry of warfare but also in wine. He drank more and more every day, and day by day grew morally weaker. He was now no longer the chaste Joseph he had been towards marya Dmitrievna, but on the contrary began courting her grossly, meeting to his surprise with a strong and decided repulse which put him to shame.

At the end of April there arrived at the fort a detachment with which Baryatinsky intended to effect an advance right through Chechnya, which had till then been considered impassable. In that detachment were two companies of the Kabarda regiment, and according to Caucasian custom these were treated as guests by the Kurin companies. The soldiers were lodged in the barracks, and were treated not only to supper, consisting of buckwheat porridge and beef, but also to vodka. The officers shared the quarters of the Kurin officers, and as usual those in residence gave the new-comers a dinner at which the regimental singers performed and which ended up with a drinking bout. Major Petrov, very drunk and no longer red but ash pale, sat astride a chair and, drawing his sword, hacked at imaginary foes, alternately swearing and laughing, now embracing someone and now dancing to the tune of his favorite song.


Shamil, he began to riot

In the days gone by;

Try, ry, rataty,

In the years gone by!


Butler was there too. He tried to see the poetry of warfare in this also, but in the depth of his soul he was sorry for the major. To stop him, however, was quite impossible; and Butler, feeling that the fumes were mounting to his own head, quietly left the room and went home.

The moon lit up the white houses and the stones on the road. It was so light that every pebble, every straw, every little heap of dust was visible. As he approached the house he met Marya Dmitrievna with a shawl over her head and neck. After the rebuff she had given him Butler had avoided her, feeling rather ashamed, but now in the moonlight and after the wine he had drunk he was pleased to meet her and wished to make up to her again.

"Where are you off to?" he asked.

"Why, to see after my old man," she answered pleasantly. Her rejection of Butler's advances was quite sincere and decided, but she did not like his avoiding her as he had done lately.

"Why bother about him? He'll soon come back."

"But will he?"

"If he doesn't they'll bring him."

"Just so. ... That's not right, you know! ... But you think I'd better not go?"

"Yes, I do. We'd better go home."

Marya Dmitrievna turned back and walked beside him. The moon shone so brightly that a halo seemed to move along the road round the shadows of their heads. Butler was looking at this halo and making up his mind to tell her that he liked her as much as ever, but he did not know how to begin. She waited for him to speak, and they walked on in silence almost to the house, when some horsemen appeared from round the corner. These were an officer with an escort.

"Who's that coming now?" said marya Dmitrievna, stepping aside. The moon was behind the rider so that she did not recognize him until he had almost come up to them. It was Peter Nikolaevich Kamenev, an officer who had formerly served with the major and whom Marya Dmitrievna therefore knew.

"Is it you, Peter Nikolaevich?" said she, addressing him.

"It's me," said Kamenev. "ah, Butler, how d'you do? ... Not asleep yet? Having a walk with Marya Dmitrievna! You'd better look out or the major will give it you. ... Where is he?"

"why, there. ... Listen!" replied Marya Dmitrievna pointing in the direction whence came the sounds of a tulumbas and songs. "They're on the spree."

"Why? Are your people having a spree on their own?"

"No; some officers have come from Hasav-Yurt, and they are being entertained."

"Ah, that's good! I shall be in time. ... I just want the major for a moment."

"On business?" asked Butler.

"Yes, just a little business matter."

"Good or bad?"

"It all depends. ... Good for us but bad for some people," and Kamenev laughed.

By this time they had reached the major's house.

"Chikhirev," shouted Kamenev to one of his Cossacks, "come here!"

A Don Cossack rode up from among the others. He was dressed in the ordinary Don Cossack uniform with high boots and a mantle, and carried saddle-bags behind.

"Well, take the thing out," said Kamenev, dismounting.

The Cossack also dismounted, and took a sack out of his saddle bag. Kamenev took the sack from him and inserted his hand.

"Well, shall I show you a novelty? You won't be frightened, Marya Dmitrievna?"

"Why should I be frightened?" she replied.

"Here it is!" said Kamenev taking out a man's head and holding it up in the light of the moon. "Do you recognize it?"

It was a shaven head with salient brows, black short-cut beard and mustaches, one eye open and the other half-closed. The shaven skull was cleft, but not right through, and there was congealed blood in the nose. The neck was wrapped in a blood- stained towel. Notwithstanding the many wounds on the head, the blue lips still bore a kindly childlike expression.

Marya Dmitrievna looked at it, and without a word turned away and went quickly into the house.

butler could not tear his eyes from the terrible head. It was the head of that very Hadji Murad with whom he had so recently spent his evenings in such friendly intercourse.

"What does this mean? Who has killed him?" he asked.

"He wanted to give us the slip, but was caught," said Kamenev, and he gave the head back to the Cossack and went into the house with butler.

"He died like a hero," he added.

"But however did it all happen?"

"Just wait a bit. When the major comes I'll tell you all about it. That's what I am sent for. I take it round to all the forts and aouls and show it."

The major was sent for, and came back accompanied by two other officers as drunk as himself, and began embracing Kamenev.

"And I have brought you Hadji Murad's head," said Kamenev.

"No? ... Killed?"

"Yes; wanted to escape."

"I always said he would bamboozle them! ... and where is it? The head, I mean. ... Let's see it."

The Cossack was called, and brought in the bag with the head. It was taken out and the major looked long at it with drunken eyes.

"All the same, he was a fine fellow," said he. "Let me kiss him!"

"Yes, it's true. It was a valiant head," said one of the officers.

When they had all looked at it, it was returned to the Cossack who put it in his bag, trying to let it bump against the floor as gently as possible.

"I say, Kamenev, what speech do you make when you show the head?" asked an officer.

"No! ... Let me kiss him. He gave me a sword!" shouted the major.

Butler went out into the porch.

Marya Dmitrievna was sitting on the second step. She looked round at Butler and at once turned angrily away again.

"What's the matter, marya Dmitrievna?" asked he.

"You're all cut-throats! ... I hate it! You're cut-throats, really," and she got up.

"It might happen to anyone," remarked Butler, not knowing what to say. "That's war."

"War? War, indeed! ... Cut-throats and nothing else. A dead body should be given back to the earth, and they're grinning at it there! ... Cut-throats, really," she repeated, as she descended the steps and entered the house by the back door.

Butler returned to the room and asked Kamenev to tell them in detail how the thing had happened.

And Kamenev told them

This is what had happened.