Hadji Murad/25

Hadji Murad was allowed to go out riding in the neighborhood of the town, but never without a convoy of Cossacks. There was only half a troop of them altogether in Nukha, ten of whom were employed by the officers, so that if ten were sent out with Hadji Murad (according to the orders received) the same men would have had to go every other day. Therefore after ten had been sent out the first day, it was decided to send only five in future and Hadji Murad was asked not take all his henchmen with him. But on April the 25th he rode out with all five. When he mounted, the commander, noticing that all five henchmen were going with him, told him that he was forbidden to take them all, but Hadji Murad pretended not to hear, touched his horse, and the commander did not insist.

With the Cossacks rode a non-commissioned officer, Nazarov, who had received the Cross of St. George for bravery. He was a young, healthy, brown-haired lad, as fresh as a rose. He was the eldest of a poor family belonging to the sect of Old Believers, had grown up without a father, and had maintained his old mother, three sisters, and two brothers.

"Mind, Nazarov, keep close to him!" shouted the commander.

"All right, your honor!" answered Nazarov, and rising in his stirrups and adjusting the rifle that hung at his back he started his fine large roan gelding at a trot. Four Cossacks followed him: Ferapontov, tall and thin, a regular thief and plunderer (it was he who had sold gunpowder to Gamzalo); Ignatov, a sturdy peasant who boasted of his strength, though he was no longer young and had nearly completed his service; Mishkin, a weakly lad at whom everybody laughed; and the young fair-haired Petrakov, his mother's only son, always amiable and jolly.

The morning had been misty, but it cleared up later on and the opening foliage, the young virgin grass, the sprouting corn, and the ripples of the rapid river just visible to the left of the road, all glittered in the sunshine.

Hadji Murad rode slowly along followed by the Cossacks and by his henchmen. They rode out along the road beyond the fort at a walk. They met women carrying baskets on their heads, soldiers driving carts, and creaking wagons drawn by buffaloes. When he had gone about a mile and a half Hadji Murad touched up his white Kabarda horse, which started at an amble that obliged the henchmen and Cossacks to ride at a quick trot to keep up with him.

"Ah, he's got a fine horse under him," said Ferapontov. "If only he were still an enemy I'd soon bring him down."

"Yes, mate. Three hundred rubles were offered for that horse in Tiflis."

"But I can get ahead of him on mine," said Nazarov.

"You get ahead? A likely thing!"

Hadji kept increasing his pace.

"Hey, kunak, you mustn't do that. Steady!" cried Nazarov, starting to overtake Hadji Murad.

Hadji Murad looked round, said nothing, and continued to ride at the same pace.

"Mind, they're up to something, the devils!" said Ignatov. "See how they are tearing along."

So they rode for the best part of a mile in the direction of the mountains.

"I tell you it won't do!" shouted Nazarov.

Hadji Murad did not answer or look round, but only increased his pace to a gallop.

"Humbug! You won't get away!" shouted Nazarov, stung to the quick. He gave his big roan gelding a cut with his whip and, rising in his stirrups and bending forward, flew full speed in pursuit of Hadji Murad.

The sky was so bright, the air so clear, and life played so joyously in Nazarov's soul as, becoming one with his fine strong horse, he flew along the smooth road behind Hadji Murad, that the possibility of any thing sad or dreadful happening never occurred to him. He rejoiced that with every step he was gaining on Hadji Murad.

Hadji Murad judged by the approaching tramp of the big horse behind him that he would soon be overtaken, and seizing his pistol with his right hand, with his left he began slightly to rein in his Kabarda horse which was excited by hearing the tramp of hoofs behind it.

"You mustn't, I tell you!" shouted Nazarov, almost level with Hadji Murad and stretching out his hand to seize the latter's bridle. But before he reached it a shot was fired. "What are you doing?" he screamed, clutching at his breast. "At them, lads!" and he reeled and fell forward on his saddle bow.

but the mountaineers were beforehand in taking to their weapons, and fired their pistols at the Cossacks and hewed at them with their swords.

Nazarov hung on the neck of his horse, which careered round his comrades. the horse under Ignatov ell, crushing his leg, and two of the mountaineers, without dismounting, drew their swords and hacked at his head and arms. Petrakov was about to rush to his comrade's rescue when two shots -- one in his back and the other in his side -- stung him, and he fell from his horse like a sack.

Mishkin turned round and galloped off towards the fortress. Khanefi and Bata rushed after him, but he was already too far away and they could not catch him. When they saw that they could not overtake him they returned to the others.

Petrakov lay on his back, his stomach ripped open, his young face turned to the sky, and while dying he gasped for breath like a fish.

Gamzalo having finished off Ignatov with his sword, gave a cut to Nazarov too and threw him from his horse. Bata took their cartridge-pouches from the slain. Khanefi wished to take Nazarov's horse, but Hadji Murad called out to him to leave it, and dashed forward along the road. His murids galloped after him, driving away Nazarov's horse that tried to follow them. they were already among rice-fields more than six miles from Nukha when a shot was fired from the tower of that place to give the alarm.

  • * *

"O good Lord! O God! my God! What have they done?" cried the commander of the fort seizing his head with his hands when he heard of Hadji Murad's escape. "They've done for me! They've let him escape, the villains!" cried he, listening to Mishkin's account.

An alarm was raised everywhere and not only the Cossacks of the place were sent after the fugitives but also all the militia that could be mustered from the pro-Russian aouls. A thousand rubles reward was offered for the capture of Hadji Murad alive or dead, and two hours after he and his followers had escaped from the Cossacks more than two hundred mounted men were following the officer in charge at a gallop to find and capture the runaways.

After riding some miles along the high road Hadji Murad checked his panting horse, which, wet with sweat, had turned from white to grey.

To the right of the road could be seen the saklyas and minarets of the aoul Benerdzhik, on the left lay some fields, and beyond them the river. Although the way to the mountains lay to the right, Hadji Murad turned to the left, in the opposite direction, assuming that his pursuers would be sure to go to the right, while he, abandoning the road, would cross the Alazan and come out onto the high road on the other side, where no one would expect him -- ride along it to the forest, and then after recrossing the river make his way to the mountains.

Having come to this conclusion he turned to the left; but it proved impossible to reach the river. The rice-field which had to be crossed had just been flooded, as is always done in spring, and had become a bog in which the horses's legs sank above their pasterns. Hadji Murad and his henchmen rode now to the left, now to the right, hoping to find drier ground; but the field they were in had been equally flooded all over and was now saturated with water. The horses drew their feet out of the sticky mud into which they sank, with a pop like that of a cork drawn from a bottle, and stopped, panting, after every few steps. They struggled in this way so long that it began to grow dusk and they had still not reached the river. To their left lay a patch of higher ground overgrown with shrubs and Hadji Murad decided to ride in among these clumps and remain there till night to rest their exhausted horses and let them graze. The men themselves at some bread and cheese they had brought with them. At last night came on and the moon that had been shining at first, hid behind the hill and it became dark. There were a great many nightingales in that neighborhood and there were two of them in these shrubs. As long as Hadji Murad and his men were making a noise among the bushes the nightingales had been silent, but when they became still the birds again began to call to one another and to sing.

Hadji Murad, awake to all the sounds of night, listened to them involuntarily, and their trills reminded him of the song about Hamzad which he had heard the night before when he went to get water. He might now at any moment find himself in the position in which Hamzad had been. He fancied that it would be so, and suddenly his soul became serious. He spread out his burka and performed his ablutions, and scarcely had he finished before a sound was heard approaching their shelter. It was the sound of many horses' feet splashing through the bog.

The keen-sighted Bata ran out to one edge of the clump, and peering through the darkness saw black shadows, which were men on foot and on horseback. Khanefi discerned a similar crowd on the other side. It was Karganov, the military commander of the district, with his militia.

"Well, then, we shall fight like Hamzad," thought Hadji Murad.

When the alarm was given, Karganov with a troop of militiamen and Cossacks had rushed off in pursuit of Hadji Murad, but had been unable to find any trace of him. He had already lost hope and was returning home when, towards evening, he met an old man and asked him if he had seen any horsemen about. The old man replied that he had. He had seen six horsemen floundering in the rice-field, and then had seen them enter the clump where he himself was getting wood. Karganov turned back, taking the old man with him, and seeing the hobbled horses he made sure that Hadji Murad was there. In the night he surrounded the clump and waited till morning to take Hadji Murad alive or dead.

Having understood that he was surrounded, and having discovered an old ditch among the shrubs, Hadji Murad decided to entrench himself in it and to resist as long as strength and ammunition lasted. He told his comrades this, and ordered them to throw up a bank in front of the ditch, and his henchmen at once se to work to cut down branches, dig up the earth with their daggers, and make an entrenchment. Hadji Murad himself worked with them.

As soon as it began to grow light the commander of the militia troop rode up to a clump and shouted:

"Hey! Hadji Murad, surrender! We are many and you are few!"

In reply came the report of a rifle, a cloudlet of smoke rose from the ditch and a bullet hit the militiaman's horse, which staggered under him and began to fall. The rifles of the militiamen who stood at the outskirts of the clump of shrubs began cracking in their turn, and their bullets whistled and hummed, cutting off leaves and twigs and striking the embankment, but not the men entrenched behind it. Only Gamzalo's horse, that had strayed from the others, was hit in the head by a bullet. It did not fall, but breaking its hobbles and rushing among the bushes it ran to the other horses, pressing close to them and watering the young grass with its blood. Hadji Murad and his men fired only when any of the militiamen came forward, and rarely missed their aim. Three militiamen were wounded, and the others, far from making up their minds to rush the entrenchment, retreated farther and farther back, only firing from a distance and at random.

So it continued for more than an hour. The sun had risen to about half the height of the trees, and Hadji Murad was already thinking of leaping on his horse and trying to make his way to the river, when the shouts were heard of many men who had just arrived. These were Hadji Aga of Mekhtuli with his followers. There were about two hundred of them. Hadji Aga had once been Hadji Murad's kunak and had lived with him in the mountains, but he had afterwards gone over to the Russians. With him was Akhmet Khan, the son of Hadji Murad's old enemy.

Like Karganov, Hadji Aga began by calling to Hadji Murad to surrender, and Hadji Murad answered as before with a shot.

"Swords out, my men!" cried Hadji Aga, drawing his own; and a hundred voices were raised by men who rushed shrieking in among the shrubs.

The militiamen ran in among the shrubs, but from behind the entrenchment came the crack of one shot after another. Some three men fell, and the attackers stopped at the outskirts to the clump and also began firing. As they fired they gradually approached the entrenchment, running across from behind one shrub to another. Some succeeded in getting across, others fell under the bullets of Hadji Murad or of his men. Hadji Murad fired without missing; Gamzalo too rarely wasted a shot, and shrieked with joy every time he saw that his bullet had hit its aim. Khan Mahoma sat at the edge of the ditch singing "Il lyakha il Allakh!" and fired leisurely, but often missed. Eldar's whole body trembled with impatience to rush dagger in hand at the enemy, and he fired often and at random, constantly looking round at Hadji Murad and stretching out beyond the entrenchment. The shaggy Khanefi, with his sleeves rolled up, did the duty of a servant even here. He loaded the guns which Hadji Murad and Khan Mahoma passed to him, carefully driving home with a ramrod the bullets wrapped in greasy rags, and pouring dry powder out of the powder flask onto the pans. Bata did not remain in the ditch as the others did, but kept running to the horses, driving them away to a safer place and shrieking incessantly, fired without using a prop for his gun. He was the first to be wounded. A bullet entered his neck and he sat down spitting blood and swearing. Then Hadji Murad was wounded, the bullet piercing his shoulder. He tore some cotton wool from the lining of his beshmet, plugged the wound with it, and went on firing.

"Let us fly at them with our swords!" said Eldar for the third time, and he looked out from behind the bank of earth ready to rush at the enemy; but at that instant a bullet struck him and he reeled and fell backwards onto Hadji Murad's leg. Hadji Murad glanced at him. His eyes, beautiful like those of a ram, gazed intently and seriously at Hadji Murad. His mouth, the upper lip pouting like a child's, twitched without opening. Hadji Murad drew his leg away from under him and continued firing.

Khanefi bent over the dead Eldar and began taking the unused ammunition out of the cartridge cases of his coat.

Khan Mahoma meanwhile continued to sing, loading leisurely and firing. The enemy ran from shrub to shrub, hallooing and shrieking and drawing ever nearer and nearer.

Another bullet hit Hadji Murad in the left side. He lay down in the ditch and again pulled some cotton wool out of his beshmet and plugged the wound. This wound in the side was fatal and he felt that he was dying. Memories and pictures succeeded one another with extraordinary rapidity in his imagination. now he saw the powerful Abu Nutsal Khan, dagger in hand and holding up his severed cheek as he rushed at his foe; then he saw the weak, bloodless old Vorontsov with his cunning white face, and heard his soft voice; then he saw his son Yusuf, his wife Sofiat, and then the pale, red-bearded face of his enemy Shamil with its half-closed eyes. All these images passed through his mind without evoking any feeling within him -- neither pity nor anger nor any kind of desire: everything seemed so insignificant in comparison with what was beginning, or had already begun, within him.

Yet his strong body continued the thing that he had commenced. Gathering together his last strength he rose from behind the bank, fired his pistol at a man who was just running towards him, and hit him. The man fell. Then Hadji Murad got quite out of the ditch, and limping heavily went dagger in hand straight at the foe.

Some shots cracked and he reeled and fell. Several militiamen with triumphant shrieks rushed towards the fallen body. But the body that seemed to be dead suddenly moved. First the uncovered, bleeding, shaven head rose; then the body with hands holding to the trunk of a tree. He seemed so terrible, that those who were running towards him stopped short. But suddenly a shudder passed through him, he staggered away from the tree and fell on his face, stretched out at full length like a thistle that had been mown down, and he moved no more.

He did not move, but still he felt.

When Hadji Aga, who was the first to reach him, struck him on the head with a large dagger, it seemed to Hadji Murad that someone was striking him with a hammer and he could not understand who was doing it or why. That was his last consciousness of any connection with his body. He felt nothing more and his enemies kicked and hacked at what had no longer anything in common with him.

Hadji Aga placed his foot on the back of the corpse and with two blows cut off the head, and carefully -- not to soil his shoes with blood -- rolled it away with his foot. Crimson blood spurted from the arteries of the neck, and black blood flowed from the head, soaking the grass.

Karganov and Hadji Aga and Akhmet Khan and all the militiamen gathered together -- like sportsmen round a slaughtered animal -- near the bodies of Hadji Murad and his men (Khanefi, Khan Mahoma, and Gamzalo they bound), and amid the powder-smoke which hung over the bushes they triumphed in their victory.

the nightingales, that had hushed their songs while the firing lasted, now started their trills once more: first one quite close, then others in the distance.

* * *

It was of this death that I was reminded by the crushed thistle in the midst of the ploughed field.