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Page:Complete Works of Count Tolstoy - 02.djvu/123

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a narrow strip of fertile woodland, about two thousand feet in width, forms the possession of the Cossacks.

To the north of them begin the sand-dunes of the Nogáy or Mozdók steppe, which extends far to the north and connects, God knows where, with the Trukhmén, the Astrakhán, and the Kirgíz-Kaysák steppes. To the south, beyond the Térek, are the Great Chechnyá, the Kochkalósov chain, the Black Mountains, another range, and finally the snow-capped mountains, which are just visible, but which have never been traversed by any one. In this fertile, wooded strip, rich in vegetation, has lived since time immemorial a warlike, handsome, and rich Russian population of dissenters, called the Grebén Cossacks.

Long, long ago, their ancestors, the dissenters, had run away from Russia and settled beyond the Térek, between the Chechéns on the Grebén,—the first range of wooded mountains of the Great Chechnyá. Living among the Chechéns, the Cossacks have intermarried with them, and have adopted the customs, manner of life, and habits of the mountaineers; but they have retained, in all their former purity, the Russian language and ancient faith.

There is still living a tradition among these Cossacks which tells that the Tsar Iván the Terrible came to the Térek, called the old men from the Grebén into his presence, gave them land on this side of the river, advised them to live in peace, and promised them not to disturb their independence, nor to compel them to change their faith.

Even now the Cossack families count their relationship with the Chechéns, and their love of freedom, indolence, pillage, and war form the chief features of their character. The influence of Russia finds its expression from its disadvantageous side in the elections, the removal of bells, and in the army which is stationed there or passes through.