Tolstoy for the Young : Part 3 : A Prisoner
(1828 - 1910) ~ Father of Christian Anarchism : In 1861, during the second of his European tours, Tolstoy met with Proudhon, with whom he exchanged ideas. Inspired by the encounter, Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana to found thirteen schools that were the first attempt to implement a practical model of libertarian education. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "...for no social system can be durable or stable, under which the majority does not enjoy equal rights but is kept in a servile position, and is bound by exceptional laws. Only when the laboring majority have the same rights as other citizens, and are freed from shameful disabilities, is a firm order of society possible." (From : "To the Czar and His Assistants," by Leo Tolstoy, ....)
• "...the dissemination of the truth in a society based on coercion was always hindered in one and the same manner, namely, those in power, feeling that the recognition of this truth would undermine their position, consciously or sometimes unconsciously perverted it by explanations and additions quite foreign to it, and also opposed it by open violence." (From : "A Letter to a Hindu: The Subjection of India- Its....)
• "There are people (we ourselves are such) who realize that our Government is very bad, and who struggle against it." (From : "A Letter to Russian Liberals," by Leo Tolstoy, Au....)
An officer by the name of Jilin served in the army in the Caucasus.
One day he received a letter from home. It was from his mother, who wrote, “I am getting old now, and I want to see my beloved son before I die. Come and say good-bye to me, and when you have buried me, with God’s grace, you can return to the Army. I have found a nice girl for you to marry; she is clever and pretty, and has some property of her own. If you like her perhaps you will marry and settle down for good.”
Jilin pondered over the letter. It was true; his mother was really failing fast, and it might be his only chance of seeing her alive. He would go home, and if the girl was nice, he might even marry.
fellow-officers, gave his men four bucketfuls of vodka as a farewell treat, and got ready to go.
There was a war in the Caucasus at the time. The roads were not safe by day or by night. If a Russian ventured away from his fort, the Tartars either killed him or took him off to the hills. So it had been arranged that a body of soldiers should march from fortress to fortress to convoy any person who wanted to travel. The soldiers marched in front and behind; the travelers in between them.
It was summer. At daybreak the baggage-train was loaded behind the fort; the convoy came out and started along the road. Jilin was on horseback; his things were on a cart with the baggage-train.
They had about twenty miles to go. The baggage-train moved along slowly; now the soldiers would stop, now a wheel came off a cart, now a horse would refuse to go on, and then everybody had to wait.
Jilin rode on ahead and stopped to wait until the baggage-train should catch him up. He heard the signal-horn sounded; the company had stopped again. Jilin thought, “Why shouldn’t I go on alone without the soldiers? I have a good horse, and if I come across any Tartars I can easily gallop away. I wonder if it would be safe?”
As he stood there thinking it over, another officer, by the name of Kostilin, rode up with a rifle and said, “Let us go on alone, Jilin. I’m dreadfully hungry, and the heat’s unbearable. My shirt is wringing wet.”
Kostilin was a big man and stout; his face was burning red, and the perspiration poured from his brow.
Jilin deliberated for a moment and said, “Is your rifle loaded?”
And they set off down the road alone. They were riding along the steppe talking together and keeping a sharp look-out from side to side. They could see a long way round them. When they left the steppe they came to a road running down a valley between two hills. And Jilin said, “Let’s go up on that hill and look about; some Tartars might easily spring out from the hills and we shouldn’t see them.”
“What’s the use?” Kostilin said. “We’d better go on.”
Jilin paid no heed to him.
“You wait down here,” he said, “and I’ll just go up and have a look.” And he turned his horse to the left up the hill. Jilin’s horse was a hunter and carried him up the hill as though it had wings. He had bought it for a hundred rubles as a colt, and broken it in himself. When he reached the top of the hill he saw some thirty Tartars a few paces ahead of him. He turned hastily, but the Tartars had seen him and gave chase down the hill, getting their rifles out as they went. Jilin bounded down as fast as the horse’s legs would carry him, crying out to Kostilin, “Get your rifle ready!” And in thought he said to his horse, “Get me out of this, my beauty; don’t stumble, or I’m lost. Once I reach the rifle, they shan’t take me alive!”
But Kostilin, instead of waiting when he saw the Tartars, set off full gallop in the direction of the fortress, lashing his horse now on one side, now on the other, and the horse’s switching tail was all that could be seen of him in the clouds of dust.
Jilin saw that it was all up with him. The rifle was gone; with a sword alone he could do nothing. He turned his horse in the direction of the convoy, hoping to escape, but six Tartars rushed ahead to cut him off. His horse was a good one, but theirs were better, and they were trying to cross his path. He wanted to turn in another direction, but his horse could not pull up and dashed on straight towards the Tartars. A red-bearded Tartar on a gray horse caught Jilin’s eyes. He was yelling and showing his teeth and pointing his rifle at him.
“I know what devils you are!” Jilin thought. “If you take me alive, you’ll put me in a pit and have me flogged. I’ll not be taken alive!”
Though Jilin was a little man, he was brave. He drew his sword and dashed at the red-bearded Tartar, thinking, “I’ll either ride him down or kill him with my sword.”
But he had no time to reach the Tartar; he was fired at from behind and his horse was hit. It fell to the ground full weight, pinning Jilin’s leg. He attempted to rise, but two evil-smelling Tartars were already sitting on him, twisting his arms behind him. He struggled, flung the Tartars off, but three others leaped from their horses and fell on him, beating him on the head with the butt ends of their rifles. A mist rose before his eyes and he staggered. The Tartars seized him, and taking spare girths from their saddles twisted his hands behind him and tied them with a Tartar knot and dragged him to the saddle. They knocked off his cap, pulled off his boots, searched him all over, took his money and watch and tore his clothes. Jilin looked round at his horse. The poor creature lay on its side just as it had fallen, struggling with its legs in the air and unable to get them to the ground. There was a hole in its head from which the dark blood was oozing, laying the dust for a yard around.
One of the Tartars approached it and took off the saddle. As it was still struggling, he drew a dagger and cut its windpipe. A whistling sound came from its throat; the horse gave a shudder and died.
The Tartars took off the saddle and strappings. The red-bearded Tartar mounted his horse, the others lifted Jilin into the saddle behind him, and, to prevent his falling off, they strapped him to the Tartar’s girdle, and took him off to the hills.
Jilin sat behind the Tartar, rocking from side to side, his face touching the evil-smelling Tartar’s back. All he could see was the man’s broad back and sinewy neck, the closely-shaven bluish nape peeping out from beneath his cap. Jilin had a wound in his head, from which the blood poured and congealed over his eyes, but he could not shift his position on the saddle, nor wipe off the blood. His arms were twisted so far behind his back that his collar-bones ached. They rode over the hills for some time, then they came to a river which they forded and got out on to a road running down a valley. Jilin wanted to see where they were going, but his eyes were matted with blood and he could not move.
It began to get dark; they forded another river and rode up a rocky hill; there was a smell of smoke and a barking of dogs. They had reached a Tartar village. The Tartars got off their horses; the Tartar children gathered round Jilin, yelling and throwing stones at him. A Tartar drove them away, took Jilin off the horse and called his servant. A man with high cheek-bones came up, clad in nothing but a shirt, and that so torn that his breast was bare. The Tartar gave him some order. The man brought some shackles, two blocks of oak with iron rings attached, and a clasp and lock was fixed to one of the rings.
They untied Jilin’s arms, put on the shackles, took him to a shed, pushed him in and locked the door. Jilin fell on to a dung heap. He groped about in the darkness to find a softer place and lay down.
Jilin did not sleep the whole of that night. The nights were short. Through a chink he saw that it was getting light. He got up, made the chink a little bigger and peeped out.
He saw a road at the foot of a hill, to the right of which was a Tartar hut with two trees near it. A black dog lay on the threshold and a goat and kids were moving about and swishing their tails. Then he saw a young Tartar woman coming from the direction of the hill. She wore a colored blouse and trousers with a girdle round her waist, high boots on her feet and a kerchief on her head, on which she was carrying a tin pitcher of water. Her back moved gracefully as she walked; she was leading a closely-shaven Tartar boy, who wore nothing but a shirt. The Tartar woman went into the hut with the water; the red-bearded Tartar of yesterday came out in a silken tunic, a silver-hilted knife stuck in his girdle and slippers on bare feet. A high, black sheepskin cap was pushed far back on his head. He stretched himself as he came out and stroked his red beard. He gave some order to his servant and went away.
Then two boys rode past. They had been to water their horses and the horses’ noses were still wet. Some more closely-shaven boys came out, dressed only in shirts with no trousers. A whole group of them came up to the shed, and taking up a piece of stick, they thrust it through the chink. Jilin grunted at them and the boys ran off, yelling, their little white knees gleaming as they went.
Jilin was thirsty; his throat was parched. “If only some one would come,” he thought. Soon the door of the shed opened and the red-bearded Tartar entered with another, shorter than he, and dark. He had bright black eyes, a ruddy complexion and a short beard. He had a jolly face, and was always laughing. This man was dressed better than the first, in a blue silken tunic, trimmed with braid. The knife in his broad girdle was of silver, the shoes on his feet were of red morocco, embroidered in silver thread, and over these he wore a thicker pair of shoes. His cap was high and of white sheepskin.
The red-bearded Tartar entered, muttering some angry words. He leant against the doorpost, playing with his dagger and looking askance at Jilin, like a wolf. The dark man, quick and lively and moving as if on springs, came up to Jilin and squatted down in front of him, showing his teeth. He clapped Jilin on the shoulder and began to jabber something in his own language, blinking his eyes and clacking his tongue. “Good Russ! Good Russ!” he said.
Jilin understood nothing. “I am thirsty; give me some water,” he said.
The dark man laughed. “Good Russ!” he kept on saying.
Jilin made signs with his lips and hands that he wanted some water. The dark man laughed, and putting his head out at the door, he called to some one “Dina!”
A little girl came up. She was about thirteen, slight and thin, her face resembling the dark man’s. She was obviously his daughter. She, too, had bright, black eyes and a rosy complexion. She was clad in a long blue blouse with broad sleeves, and loose at the waist—the hem and front and sleeves were embroidered in red. She wore trousers and slippers and shoes with high heels over them; she had a necklace round her throat made out of Russian coins. Her head was bare. Her black plait was tied with a ribbon, the ends of which were trimmed with silver rubles.
Her father said something to her. She ran away and came back again with a tin jug of water. She gave it to Jilin and also squatted down in front of him, huddled up, so that her shoulders came lower than her knees. She sat staring at Jilin as he drank, as at some strange animal.
Jilin handed her back the jug. She took it and bounded out like a wild goat. Even her father could not help laughing. He sent her off somewhere else. She ran away with the jug and brought back some unleavened bread on a round wooden platter, and huddling down in front of him once more, she again stared at him open-eyed.
The Tartars went out and locked the door.
After a while the red-bearded man’s servant came up and called to Jilin. He too, did not know Russian, only Jilin understood that he wanted him to go somewhere.
Jilin followed him limping, for the shackles impeded his walking. He followed the servant. They came to a Tartar village, consisting of about ten houses, a Tartar church with a dome on top in the midst of them. In front of one house stood three saddled horses; some boys were holding them by their bridles. The dark little Tartar rushed out of this house and beckoned to Jilin to come to him. He laughed, jabbered something in his own tongue and went in again. Jilin came to the house. The room was large, the mud walls smoothly plastered. Near the front wall lay a pile of brightly colored feather beds, on the side walls hung rich rugs with rifles and pistols and swords fastened to them, all inlaid in silver. At one wall was a small stove on a level with the earthen floor, which was beautifully clean. In the near corner a felt carpet was spread on which were rich rugs and down cushions. On these rugs, in slippers only, sat some Tartars—the dark one, the red-bearded one and three guests. All had down cushions at their backs. In front of them, on a wooden platter, were some millet pancakes, some melted butter in a cup and a jug of Tartar beer. They took the pancakes up with their fingers, and their hands were all greasy with the butter.
The dark Tartar jumped up and bade Jilin sit down, not on the rugs, but on the bare floor. Then he sat down on his rug again, and treated his guests to more pancakes and beer. The servant made Jilin sit down in the place assigned to him, took off his overshoes, which he placed by the door where the other shoes were standing, and sat down on the felt carpet, nearer to his master. He watched the others eating, his mouth watering. When the Tartars had finished, a woman came in dressed like the girl in trousers and a kerchief on her head. She cleared away the remains, and brought a basin and a narrow-necked jug of water. The Tartars washed their hands, laid them together, fell on their knees and said their prayers in their own tongue. When they had finished one of the guests turned to Jilin and addressed him in Russian.
Jilin was silent.
Abdul-Murat now began to speak, pointing at Jilin and laughing. “A soldier Russ, a good Russ,” he said.
And the interpreter said, “He wants you to write home asking your people to send a ransom for you. When the money comes, he will let you go.”
Jilin reflected and said, “How much does he want?”
The Tartars deliberated among themselves; the interpreter said, “Three thousand rubles.”
“I can’t pay as much as that,” Jilin said.
Abdul leaped up and began to gesticulate violently. He was saying something to Jilin, thinking that he would understand.
“How much will you give?” the interpreter asked.
After reflection Jilin said, “Five hundred rubles.”
They grew silent and the interpreter said, “The master thinks a ransom of five hundred rubles is not enough. He himself paid two hundred rubles for you. Kasi-Mohammed was in his debt, and he took you in payment. He wants three thousand rubles and refuses to let you go for less. If you won’t pay the money you’ll be flung into a pit and flogged.”
“The more you show you’re afraid of them, the worse it is,” Jilin thought. He leaped to his feet and said, “Tell the dog that if he begins to threaten me, he shan’t have a farthing! I won’t write home at all! I was never afraid of you, and I’m not going to be now, you dogs!”
The interpreter conveyed his words, and again the Tartars began to speak all at once.
They jabbered for a long time, then the dark one sprang up and came to Jilin.
“Will you give a thousand rubles?”
Jilin stuck to his own.
“I won’t give more than five hundred, not if you kill me.”
The Tartars conferred together, and sent the servant off somewhere, and when he was gone they stared now at Jilin, now at the door.
The servant returned, followed by a stout, bare-footed man, in torn clothes. On his feet were also shackles. Jilin gave an exclamation of surprise. It was Kostilin. He, too, had been captured then. The Tartars sat them down side by side, and they began to tell each other of their experiences, the Tartars looking on in silence. Jilin told Kostilin what had happened to him, and Kostilin told Jilin that his horse had got tired, his rifle missed fire, and that this same Abdul had caught him up and captured him.
Abdul jumped up and began to speak, pointing at Kostilin. The interpreter explained that they both belonged to the same master, and that the one who would produce the money first would be the first to be set free.
“See how quiet your comrade is,” he said to Jilin. “You get angry and he has written home asking to have five thousand rubles sent him. He will be well fed, and no one will do him any harm.”
And Jilin said, “My comrade can do what he likes. He may be rich, and I am not. I won’t go back on my word. You can kill me if you like, but you get no advantage by that; I won’t write for more than five hundred rubles.”
The Tartars were silent. Suddenly Abdul sprang up, took out a pen, ink and a scrap of paper from a little box, put them in Jilin’s hands and slapping him on the shoulder, said, “Write.” He had agreed to the five hundred rubles.
He looked at Abdul as he spoke and smiled. Abdul too smiled and said, “You shall have the best of clothes—coats and boots fit to be married in, and you shall be fed like princes, and you can be together in the shed if you like, but I can’t take off the shackles because you might escape. You shall have them removed at night.” He rushed up to Jilin and slapped him on the shoulder. “Fine fellow! fine fellow!” he said.
Jilin wrote the letter, but did not address it correctly, so that it should not reach home. “I will escape, somehow,” he thought.
Jilin and Kostilin were taken back to the shed. They were given some straw, a jug of water and bread, two old coats and some worn boots, evidently taken from the bodies of dead soldiers. At night their shackles were removed and they were locked in the shed.
Thus Jilin and his comrade lived for a month. Their master was always cheerful. “You, good fellow, Ivan! I, Abdul, good fellow, too!” But he fed them badly. All the food they got was some unleavened bread of millet flour, or millet cakes, and sometimes nothing but raw dough.
Kostilin sent another letter home and did nothing but mope and wait for the money to arrive. He would sit in the barn day after day, either counting the days for the letter to come or sleeping. Jilin knew that his letter would not reach home, but he never wrote another.
“Where on earth could mother get so much money from?” he thought. “She lived mostly on what I used to send her, and if she has to procure five hundred rubles she’ll be quite ruined. With God’s help I’ll get away myself.”
So he kept his eyes open, planning how to run away.
One day he modeled a doll with a nose, arms and legs and in a Tartar shirt, and he put this doll on the roof of the shed. The Tartar girls went to fetch water. The master’s daughter Dina caught sight of the doll, and called to the others. They put down their pitchers and looked up laughing. Jilin took down the doll and held it out to them. They laughed, but dared not take it. He left the doll and went into the shed to see what would happen.
Dina ran up, looked about her, snatched up the doll and ran off with it.
The following morning, at daybreak, Dina came out on the threshold with the doll. She had bedecked it in bits of red stuff, and was rocking it to and fro like a baby and singing a lullaby. An old woman came out and began to scold her. She snatched the doll away from the child and broke it, and sent Dina off to her work.
Jilin made another doll—a better one this time—and gave it to Dina.
“What is she so pleased about?” Jilin thought. He took up the jug to have a drink, thinking it was full of water, but it turned out to be milk. “How nice!” he said, and finished it. Dina was overjoyed.
“Nice, nice, Ivan!” She jumped up and clapped her hands in glee, then she seized the jug and ran away.
After that she brought Jilin milk in secret every day. When the Tartar women used to make cheese cakes out of goat’s milk, which they baked on the roof, she would steal some and bring them to him. Once the master killed a sheep, and Dina brought Jilin a piece of the flesh hidden in her sleeve. She would throw the things down and run away.
One day there was a terrible storm; the rain poured down in torrents for a whole hour. The rivers became turbid. At the ford, the water rose till it was seven feet high and the current was so strong that it moved the stones along. Rivulets flowed everywhere and there was a roar in the hills. After the storm streams flowed down the village everywhere. Jilin asked his master for a knife, and with it he shaped a small cylinder and made a wheel out of a piece of board, to which he fixed two dolls, one on each side. The little girls brought him some bits of stuff with which he dressed the dolls—one as a peasant, the other as a peasant woman. He made them fast and set the wheel so that the stream should work it. When the wheel began to whirl the dolls danced.
The whole village gathered round—boys and girls and women and men came to look on, the latter clacking their tongues.
“Ah, Russ! Ah, Ivan!” they said.
Abdul had a Russian watch which was broken. He called Jilin and showed it to him. Jilin said, “Give it to me and I’ll mend it.”
He took it to pieces with the knife, sorted the pieces out, put them together again and the watch went quite well.
From that day Jilin’s fame as a man skilled in handiworks spread fast. People began to flock to him from distant villages, one bringing the lock of a rifle or a pistol that wanted mending; another a watch or a clock. The master gave him some tools—pincers, gimlets and a file.
One day a Tartar fell ill, and they came to Jilin, saying, “Come and heal him.” Jilin did not know how to heal the sick, but he went just the same thinking, “The man will recover of his own accord.” He disappeared into the shed and mixed up some sand and water. In the presence of the Tartars he mumbled some words over the mixture, and gave it to the sick man to drink. Fortunately the Tartar got well.
Jilin began to understand a little of their tongue. Some of the Tartars got quite used to him, and when they wanted him would call “Ivan, Ivan!” Others again looked at him askance as at some wild beast.
The red-bearded Tartar did not like Jilin. He frowned when he saw him, and either turned away or cursed. There was another old man, who did not live in the village, but somewhere at the foot of a hill. He came to the village only sometimes. Jilin saw him when the man went to the Mosque to say his prayers. He was short and had a white towel wound round his cap. His beard and mustaches were clipped and white as down; his face was wrinkled and brick-red. He had a hooked nose like a hawk’s, and cruel gray eyes. He had no teeth, but two tusks in front. He would pass with his turban on his head, leaning on his staff, and peering round like a wolf. When he saw Jilin he snorted and turned away.
One day Jilin went to the hills to find out where the old man lived. He strolled down a path and saw a little garden and a stone wall; within the stone wall were wild cherry trees and peaches and a hut with a flat roof. He came a little closer and saw some hives made of plaited straw and humming bees flying hither and thither. The old man was on his knees, doing something to the hives. Jilin stood on tiptoe in order to get a better view; his shackles rattled. The old man turned and gave a yell and pulling a pistol out of his belt he aimed at Jilin, who just managed to shield himself behind the stone wall.
The old man came to the master to complain. The master summoned Jilin and laughing, asked him, “Why did you go to the old man’s place?”
“I didn’t mean to do him any harm,” he said. “I only wanted to see how he lived.”
The master conveyed his words to the old man.
But the old man was angry. He jabbered away, showing his tusks, and shook his fists menacingly at Jilin.
Jilin could not understand all he said, but he gathered that the old man was warning the master not to keep any Russians about the place, but to have them all killed.
The old man went away.
Jilin asked the master who the old man was, and the master said, “He is a great man! He was the bravest of us all, and killed many Russians, and he was rich, too. He had three wives and eight sons, who all lived in the same village. The Russians came, destroyed the village, and killed seven of his sons. One son only remained, and he surrendered to the Russians. The old man followed them, and also gave himself up. He lived with the Russians for three months, when he found his son. With his own hand he killed him and escaped. After that he gave up fighting. He went to Mecca to pray to God; that is why he wears a turban. Any man who has been to Mecca is called a Hajji and has to wear a turban. He does not like you Russians. He wanted me to kill you, but I can’t kill you because I paid money for you. Besides, I have taken a fancy to you, Ivan; I would not let you go at all, if I had not given my word.” He laughed and added in Russian, “You are a good fellow, Ivan, and I, Abdul, am a good fellow too.”
Jilin lived in this way for a month. During the day he wandered about the village or busied himself with some handicraft, and at night he dug in his shed. The digging was difficult because of the stones, but he worked away at them with his file and at last made a hole beneath the wall big enough to crawl through. “If only I knew the neighborhood well and which way to turn,” he thought; “the Tartars would not tell me.”
He chose a day when the master was away, left the village after dinner and went up a hill, hoping to find out the lie of the land from there. But before the master departed he told one of his boys to look after Jilin and not let him out of his sight. The boy ran after Jilin, crying, “Don’t go away! My father told you not to! I’ll call for help!”
Jilin tried to soothe him.
“I’m not going far,” he said. “I only want to go to the top of that hill to find a certain herb with which to cure your people when they are sick. Come with me; I can’t run away with the shackles on my feet. I’ll make you a bow and some arrows to-morrow.”
After some persuasion the boy went with him. The hill did not seem very far off, but it was difficult to get there shackled as he was. He struggled and struggled until he got to the top. Jilin sat down and began to look about him. To the south, beyond the shed, a herd of horses could be seen in a valley, and at the bottom of the valley was another village. Beyond the village was a steep hill and another hill beyond that. Between the two hills was a dark patch that looked like a wood; hill upon hill rose beyond it, and higher than all rose the snow-capped mountains as white as sugar, the peak of one standing out above the rest. To the east and west were other such hills; here and there were villages in the valleys from which the smoke curled up. “This is all Tartar country,” he thought. He looked in the direction of Russia—below was a river, and the village he lived in, surrounded by gardens. On the river bank, looking as tiny as dolls, sat Tartar women, washing clothes. Beyond the village was a hill, lower than the one to the south and beyond that two wooded hills. Between these two hills was a plain and away in the distance on this plain smoke seemed to rise. Jilin tried to recollect where the sun rose and set when he lived in the fort. He came to the conclusion that the fortress must lie in that very valley. Between these two hills would he have to make his way when he escaped.
The sun began to set. The snow-clad mountains turned from white to red; the dark mountains grew darker still; a vapor rose from the valley, and the plain where he supposed the fortress to be seemed on fire with the sunset’s glow. Jilin gazed intently; something seemed to quiver in that plain, like smoke rising from a chimney, and Jilin felt sure that the Russian fortress was there.
It was getting late. The Mullah’s cry was heard. The flocks and herds were driven home; the cows were lowing. The boy kept on begging “Come home,” but Jilin had no desire to move.
They returned home. “Now that I know the place I must lose no time in running away,” Jilin thought. He wanted to escape that very night, for the nights were dark then; the moon had waned, but as luck would have it, the Tartars returned that evening. Sometimes when they brought cattle home they would come back in a jolly mood, but this time there were no cattle, and on the saddle of his horse they brought back the red-bearded Tartar’s brother who had been killed. They returned in a gloomy mood and gathered the village together for the burial. Jilin, too, came out to look on. They wrapped the body in a sheet and without a coffin carried it out and laid it on the grass beneath some plane-trees. The Mullah arrived and the old men; they wrapped towels around their caps, took off their shoes, and squatted down on their heels before the body. In front was the Mullah, behind him three old men in turbans, and behind them three other Tartars. They sat silent, eyes downcast, for a long time, then the Mullah raised his head and said, “Allah!” (meaning God). After this word he again bowed his head, and there was another long silence. They all sat motionless. Again the Mullah raised his head and said “Allah!” All repeated “Allah!” and again there was silence. The dead man lay on the grass motionless and the others, too, seemed dead. Not a single man moved. The only sound to be heard was the rustling of the leaves on the plane-trees. After a while the Mullah said a prayer; all rose, and raising the dead man with their hands they carried him away. They brought him to a pit. It was not an ordinary pit, but hollowed out under the ground like a vault. They lifted the dead man under the arms, bent him into a sitting posture and let him down into the pit, gently, his hands folded in front of him.
The master’s servant brought some green rushes which they stuffed into the pit, then they hastily covered it with earth, leveled the ground properly and placed a stone, upright, at the head of the grave. They stamped down the soil and once more sat down round the grave side by side. For a long time they were silent.
“Allah! Allah!” they sighed and rose.
In the morning Jilin saw the red-bearded Tartar leading a mare out of the village, followed by three other Tartars. When they left the village behind them the red-bearded Tartar took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves—his arms were strong and muscular—and taking out a dagger, he sharpened it on a whetstone. The other Tartars raised the mare’s head and he cut her throat. The mare dropped down and he began to skin her with his big hands. Women and girls came up and washed the entrails. The mare was cut up and the pieces carried to the red Tartar’s hut, where the whole village gathered for a funeral feast.
For three days they ate the mare’s flesh and drank beer in honor of the dead man. All the Tartars were at home. On the fourth day, about dinner time, Jilin saw that they were preparing to go away somewhere. The horses were brought out, they got ready, and about ten of the Tartars, the red one among them, went away, Abdul remaining at home. There was a new moon and the nights were still dark.
“To-night we must escape,” Jilin thought, and he unfolded his plan to Kostilin. But Kostilin was afraid.
“How can we run away? We don’t know the way even.”
“I know the way.”
“We couldn’t get there in one night.”
“If we can’t, we can hide in the wood. I’ve got some cakes here for us to eat. What’s the good of sitting here? If they send your ransom, well and good, but supposing they can’t raise the money? The Tartars are getting vicious because our people have killed one of their men. They will probably kill us.”
“Very well; let us go,” he said.
When the Tartars had all retired to rest Jilin crawled under the wall and got outside. “Follow me,” he whispered to Kostilin.
Kostilin crept into the hole, but his foot hit against a stone and made a clatter. The master had a speckled watch-dog—a vicious creature it was, called Ulashin. The dog growled and rushed forward, followed by other dogs. Jilin gave a low whistle and threw it a cake. Ulashin recognized him, wagged his tail and ceased his growling.
The master heard the dog and called from the hut, “Hait, hait, Ulashin!”
But Jilin stroked the dog by the ears and it did not move. It rubbed itself against Jilin’s legs and wagged its tail.
They sat crouching round the corner. All grew quiet; only a sheep was heard to cough in a barn, and below, the water rippled over the stones. It was dark; the stars were high in the sky and the new moon looked red as it set behind the hill, horns upwards. A mist as white as milk lay over the valley.
Jilin got up and turning to Kostilin said, “Let us come, brother.”
They set off, but they had no sooner done so than the Mullah intoned from the roof “Allah Besmilla! Ilrachman!” That meant that the people would be going to the Mosque. They sat down again, crouching behind the wall. For a long time they sat there waiting till the people went past. All grew quiet again.
“Now then; with God’s help we must get away,” Jilin said.
They crossed themselves and started. They went through the yard and downhill to the river which they forded and came out into the valley. The mist hung low and dense; above, the stars were visible. By the stars Jilin could tell the direction they had to take. It was cool in the mist and walking was easy, only their boots were uncomfortable, being old and worn out. Jilin cast his off and went bare-foot. He leaped over the stones, gazing up at the stars. Kostilin began to lag behind.
“Take them off and you’ll find it easier.”
Kostilin too went barefoot, but that was still worse. The stones cut his feet and he lagged behind more than ever.
Jilin said to him, “The cuts on your feet will heal up soon enough, but if the Tartars catch us it will be much more serious; they will kill us.”
Kostilin did not say anything, but walked along, groaning.
They walked along the valley for a long time, when suddenly they heard the barking of dogs. Jilin stopped and looked about him. He climbed up the hill on all fours.
“We mistook our way, and turned to the right. Another Tartar village lies here; I saw it from the hill the other day. We must turn back and go to the left up the hill. There must be a wood here.”
And Kostilin said, “Let us rest a while; my feet are all bleeding.”
“They’ll get better in good time, brother. Walk more lightly—like this.”
They reached the top of the hill, where they found a wood, as Jilin had surmised. They went into it. The brambles tore the last of their clothes. At last they found a path and followed it.
“Stop!” Jilin said. There was a trampling of hoofs on the path. They listened. It sounded like the trampling of horses’ hoofs, but the sound ceased. They moved on and again they heard the trampling. They stopped again, and the sound ceased. Jilin crept nearer and in a patch of light on the path he saw something standing. It seemed like a horse, yet not like a horse, and it had something queer on its back that was not a man. The creature snorted. “What a strange thing!” Jilin thought, and gave a low whistle. The animal bounded off the path into the thicket and there was a sound of cracking branches as though a storm had swept through the wood.
They went on further. The Great Bear was already setting and the dawn was not far off. They did not know whether they were going in the right direction. It seemed to Jilin that the Tartars had brought him along this path when they captured him and that it was still another seven miles to the fortress, but he had nothing certain to go by, and at night one could easily mistake the way.
Kostilin dropped to the ground and said, “Do what you like, but I can’t go any further. My legs won’t carry me.”
Jilin attempted persuasion.
“It’s no good,” Kostilin said; “I can’t go on.”
Jilin grew angry and vented his disgust.
“Then I’m going alone—good-bye.”
Kostilin jumped up and followed.
They suddenly heard a trampling of horses coming from the direction in which they were going. They could hear the horse’s hoofs hit against the stones. Jilin lay flat down and put his ear to the ground to listen.
“There is certainly a horseman coming towards us,” he said. They ran off the path into the thicket and sat down to wait. After a while Jilin crept out into the path to look. A mounted Tartar was coming along, driving a cow and humming softly to himself. When he had passed Jilin turned to Kostilin, “Thank God the danger is over. Come, let us go.”
Kostilin attempted to rise, but dropped down again.
“I can’t, I can’t! I’ve no more strength left.”
The man was heavy and stout and had perspired freely. The heavy mist had chilled him, tired and bleeding as he was, and made him quite stiff. Jilin tried to lift him, but Kostilin cried out, “Oh, it hurts!”
Jilin turned to stone.
“Why did you shout? The Tartar is still near; he will have heard you,” he remonstrated, while to himself he thought, “The man is evidently exhausted; what shall I do with him? I can’t desert him.” “Come,” he said, “climb on to my back, then, and I’ll carry you if you really can’t walk.”
He helped Kostilin up, put his arms under his thighs and carried him on to the path.
“For heaven’s sake don’t put your arms round my neck or you’ll throttle me. Hold on to my shoulders.”
It was hard work for Jilin; his feet, too, were bleeding and tired. He bent down now and then to get him in a more comfortable position, or jerked him up so that he sat higher up, and went on his weary way.
The Tartar had evidently heard Kostilin’s cry. Jilin heard some one following behind, calling out in the Tartar tongue. Jilin rushed into the thicket. The Tartar seized his gun and aimed; the shot missed; the Tartar yelled and galloped down the path.
“I’m afraid we’re lost,” Jilin said. “He’ll collect the Tartars to hunt us down. If we don’t cover a couple of miles before they’ve time to set out, nothing will save us.” To himself he thought, “Why the devil did I saddle myself with this block? I should have got there long ago had I been alone.”
Kostilin said, “Why should you be caught because of me?”
“I can’t go alone; it would be mean to desert a comrade.”
Again he raised Kostilin on to his shoulders and went on. They walked along for another half-mile. They were still in the wood and could not see the end of it. The mist had dispersed; the clouds seemed to gather; the stars were no longer visible. Jilin was worn out. They came to a spring walled in by stones. He stopped and put Kostilin down.
He had no sooner lain down to take a drink from the spring than he heard the stamping of horses behind him. Again they rushed into the thicket to the right and lay down on a slope.
They heard a sound of Tartar voices. The Tartars stopped at the very spot where they had turned off the path. They seemed to confer for a bit and then set a dog on the scent. There was a crackling among the bushes and a strange dog appeared. It stopped and began to bark. The Tartars followed it. They were also strangers. They bound Jilin and Kostilin and took them off on their horses.
When they had ridden for about two miles they were met by the master, Abdul, and two other Tartars. He exchanged some words with the strange Tartars, after which Jilin and Kostilin were removed to his horses and he took them back to the village.
Abdul was no longer laughing, and did not say a word to them.
All the Tartars collected in a circle, the old man from the hills among them. They began to talk; Jilin gathered that they were considering what was to be done with him and Kostilin. Some said that they should be sent into the hills, and the old man persisted that they should be killed. Abdul would not agree to either plan, saying, “I paid money for them and must get their ransom.”
The old man said, “They will not pay the ransom; they’ll only do a great deal of harm. It is a sin to keep Russians. Kill them and have done with it.”
The Tartars dispersed. The master came to Jilin and said to him, “If your ransom does not come in two weeks, I’ll have you flogged, and if you attempt to run away again, I’ll kill you like a dog. Write home, and write to the point!”
Life was very hard for them now. Their shackles were never removed, and they were never allowed out into the fresh air. Raw dough was thrown down to them, as one throws a scrap to a dog, and water was let down in a jug. The stench in the pit was awful and it was damp as well. Kostilin grew quite ill; he swelled very much and every bone in his body ached. He either groaned or slept all the time. Jilin, too, was depressed; he saw that their position was hopeless and did not know how to get out of it.
He tried to make a tunnel but there was nowhere to throw the earth, and when the master saw it, he threatened to kill him.
One day when he was most downcast, squatting in the pit and thinking of his freedom, a cake fell from above, then another, and some cherries rained down. Jilin looked up and saw Dina. She looked at him, laughed and ran away.
“I wonder if Dina would help us?” Jilin thought.
He cleared a space in the pit, dug a little clay and began to make some dolls. He molded some men and horses and dogs, thinking, “When Dina comes, I will throw these up to her.”
But Dina did not come the next day. Jilin heard a stamping of horses; some Tartars seemed to have come and all gathered at the Mosque, shouting and arguing. It was something about the Russians. The voice of the old man was heard, too. Jilin could not understand all they said, but he made out that the Russians were near, that the Tartars were afraid of them and did not know what to do with their prisoners.
After a while they dispersed. Suddenly Jilin heard a rustling overhead and saw Dina crouching at the edge of the pit, her knees higher than her head. She bent over so that the coins at the end of her plaits dangled over the pit. Her eyes were twinkling like two stars. From her sleeve she took two cakes made of cheese and threw them down to him. Jilin picked them up and said, “What a long time it is since you’ve been to see me! I’ve made you some toys. Look, here they are!” He threw them up to her one by one. She shook her head and averted her gaze. “I don’t want them, Ivan,” she said. “They want to kill you, Ivan,” she added, pointing to her throat.
“Who wants to kill me?”
“My father. The old man told him to, but I’m sorry for you.”
Jilin said, “If you are sorry for me, bring me a long pole.”
She shook her head, as much as to say that it was impossible.
He put up his hands and implored her, “Please, Dina! Be a dear and bring it!”
“I can’t,” she said; “they’ll catch me at home.” Then she went away.
In the evening Jilin sat in the pit wondering what would happen. He kept looking up; the stars were visible, but the moon had not yet risen. The Mullah’s call was heard, and all grew quiet. Jilin began to doze, thinking “The child is afraid.” Suddenly some clay dropped on to his head. He looked up, and saw a long pole poking into the opposite wall of the pit; it began to slide down. Jilin took hold of it and lowered it with a feeling of gladness at his heart. It was a stout, strong pole; he had noticed it many times on the roof of the master’s hut.
He looked up. The stars were shining high in the sky and above the pit Dina’s eyes gleamed in the darkness like a cat’s. She leant her head over the pit and whispered, “Ivan, Ivan!” making signs to him to speak low.
“What is it?” Jilin asked.
“They’ve all gone but two.”
“Come, Kostilin,” Jilin said; “let us try our luck for the last time; I’ll help you up.”
But Kostilin would not listen to him.
“Well, good-bye, then. Don’t think ill of me.”
He kissed Kostilin, and seizing the pole, he asked Dina to hold it at the top and swarmed up. Twice he fell back again; the shackles hindered him. But Jilin persevered and got to the top somehow. Dina clutched hold of his shirt and pulled at him with all her might, unable to control her laughter.
When he clambered out Jilin handed her the pole, saying, “Put it back in its place, Dina, for if they notice its absence they’ll beat you.”
Dina dragged the pole away, and Jilin went down the hill. When he got to the bottom he sat down under its shelter, took a sharp stone and tried to wrench the lock off the shackles. But the lock was a strong one and would not give way, and it was difficult to get at it. Suddenly he heard some one coming downhill, skipping lightly. “It must be Dina again,” he thought.
She knelt down and tried to wrench the lock off, but her little hands were as slender as little twigs and there was no strength in them. She threw the stone down and burst into tears. Jilin made another attempt, while Dina squatted down beside him and put her hand on his shoulder.
Jilin looked round; to the left the sky was all red; the moon was beginning to rise. “I must cross the valley and be under shelter of the wood before the moon rises,” he thought. He got up and threw away the stone. “I must go as I am in the shackles. Good-bye, Dina, dear; I shall always remember you.”
Dina seized hold of him and groped about his coat with her hand to find a place to thrust some cakes into. Jilin took the cakes.
“Thank you, little one,” he said. “There won’t be any one to make you dolls when I am gone.” He stroked her head.
Jilin crossed himself, took the lock of his shackles in his hand to prevent a clatter and started on his way, dragging his shackled leg and gazing at the red in the sky where the moon was rising. This time he knew the way. He had to go straight on for six miles. If only he could reach the wood before the moon had quite risen! He forded the river. The red light over the hill had paled. He walked along the valley, looking back now and then; the moon was not yet visible. The light grew brighter and brighter; one side of the valley was quite light. The shadows crept along the foot of the hill, drawing nearer to him.
Jilin kept in the shadow. He hurried, but the moon moved faster than he; the hilltops on the right were already lit up. As he neared the wood, the moon rose over the hills, all white, and it grew as light as day. All the leaves on the trees could be seen distinctly. It was still and light on the hills; there was a dead silence, except for the murmur of the river below.
He reached the wood without meeting any one. He chose a dark spot and sat down to rest.
When he had rested a while and eaten a cake, he found a stone and once more tried to wrench the lock of the shackles. He cut his hands, but could not manage it. He rose and went on his way. After a mile he was quite worn out and his feet ached terribly. At every dozen steps or so he stopped. “It can’t be helped,” he thought. “I must drag myself on so long as my strength holds out, for if I once sit down I shan’t be able to get up again. I can’t reach the fortress to-night, that is obvious; as soon as it gets light I’ll hide in the wood and go on again when it gets dark.”
He walked the whole night, meeting only two Tartars, but Jilin heard them from a distance and took refuge behind a tree.
The moon began to pale; the dew fell; it was near dawn, but Jilin had not yet reached the end of the wood. “I’ll walk another thirty steps or so then I’ll creep into the thicket and sit down,” he thought. He covered the thirty steps and saw that he had come to the edge of the wood. When he came out it was quite light. Before him stretched the steppe and to the left, near the foot of a hill, he saw a dying fire from which the smoke rose and men were sitting about it.
He looked intently; there was a flash of guns—they were soldiers, Cossacks!
Jilin was overjoyed. He summoned his remaining strength and began to descend the hill, thinking, “God forbid that any mounted Tartar should see me now in the open field; though near my own people, I could not escape.”
The thought had no sooner crossed his mind than he saw three Tartars standing on a hill, not more than a few yards away. They had seen him and dashed down towards him. His heart gave a great bound. He waved his arms and shouted with all his might, “Help, help, brothers!”
The soldiers heard him; a few Cossacks sprang upon their horses and dashed forward to cut across the Tartars’ path.
The Cossacks were far off and the Tartars were near, but Jilin made one last effort; lifting the shackles with his hand, he ran towards the Cossacks. He hardly knew what he was doing and crossed himself wildly, crying, “Help, brothers, help!”
The Cossacks numbered about fifteen.
The Tartars grew afraid and stopped in hesitation before they reached him. Jilin managed to get to the Cossacks. They surrounded him, asking who he was and where he came from, but Jilin was quite beside himself and could only repeat, through his tears, “Brothers, brothers!”
The soldiers came up and crowded round him, one giving him bread, another porridge, another some vodka to drink, another gave him his cloak to cover him, and another wrenched off the shackles.
The officers recognized him and took him to the fortress. His men were delighted to see him; his fellow-officers gathered about him.
Emelian was a laborer and worked for a master. He was walking through a field one day on his way to work, when a frog hopped in front of him and he just missed crushing it by stepping across. Suddenly some one called to him from behind. He turned, and there stood a beautiful maiden, who said to him, “Why don’t you marry, Emelian?”
“How can I, dear maiden? I possess nothing but the clothes I stand up in, and who would have a husband like that?”
“Marry me,” the maiden said.
Emelian looked at her in admiration.
“I would with pleasure,” he said, “but how should we live?”
indeed!” the maiden said. “One has only to work the more and sleep the less and one can always be clothed and fed.”
“Very well; let us marry, then,” Emelian said. “Where shall we live?”
“In the town.”
Emelian and the maiden went to the town. She took him to a little house on the very edge and they married and set up housekeeping.
One day the King went for a drive beyond the town, and when passing Emelian’s gate, Emelian’s wife came out to look at him. When the King saw her he marveled.
“What a beauty!” he thought. He stopped the carriage and called her to him.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Emelian the peasant’s wife.”
“How came a beauty like you to marry a peasant?” he asked. “You should have been a queen.”
“Thank you for your kind words,” she said; “a peasant husband is good enough for me.”
The King talked to her a while and went on his way. When he returned to the palace Emelian’s wife did not go out of his head for a moment. The whole night he could not sleep and kept on thinking how he could take her away from Emelian, but no possible way occurred to him. He summoned his servants and asked them to think of a way.
And the servants said to him, “Get Emelian to come and be a laborer in the palace. We will wear him out with work, then his wife will become a widow and you can have her.”
The King followed their advice. He sent a messenger to tell Emelian that he was to come and be a yard-porter in the palace and bring his wife to live with him there.
The messenger came to Emelian and repeated the King’s words. And Emelian’s wife said to her husband, “It can’t be helped; you must go. You can work there in the day and return to me at night.”
Emelian went away. When he came to the palace the King’s steward said to him, “Why have you come without your wife?”
In the King’s yard Emelian was given enough work for two men. Emelian set about it, not expecting to get it all finished, but behold! before evening came it was all done. The steward, seeing that he had got through the work, gave him four times as much for the morrow.
Emelian went home. The house was scrubbed and cleaned, the fire lighted, the bread baked, the supper cooked. His wife was sitting at the table sewing, waiting for him. She flew to the door to meet him, then laid the supper and fed him well; afterwards she began to ask him about his work.
“It’s rather bad,” he said; “they set me tasks beyond my strength; they wear me out with too much work.”
“Don’t you think about the work,” she said, “don’t look back to see how much you have done, nor look ahead to see how much there is left. Just keep straight on and all will be done in time.”
Again they increased Emelian’s work, but Emelian finished it all in time and went home for the night as usual. A week passed. The King’s servants saw that they could not get the better of Emelian by giving him rough work so they gave him difficult work instead, but even that did not help. No matter what they set him to do—carpentering, stone-cutting, thatching—he got everything done in time and went home for the night to his wife. Another week passed.
The King summoned his servants and said, “Is it for nothing that I keep you? Two weeks have passed and still I do not see the fruits of your work. You promised to wear Emelian out with work and each night from my window I see him going home singing to himself. Are you making sport of me, eh?”
The King’s servants began to excuse themselves. “We are doing the best we can. We thought at first to wear him out with rough work, but you can’t get him anyhow. We set him all kinds of tasks, such as sweeping, but he doesn’t know what it means to be tired. Then we gave him difficult work, thinking that he wouldn’t have brains enough to do it, yet still, we couldn’t get the better of him. No matter what the work, he tackles it and gets it all done in time. He must either be extraordinarily strong or his wife must be a witch. We are sick of him ourselves. We want to set him such a task that he cannot possibly do. We thought of asking him to build a temple in a single day. You must send for him and command him to build a temple opposite the palace in a single day, and if he fails to do it, we can cut off his head for disobedience.”
The King sent for Emelian.
“Build me a new temple in the square opposite the palace; by to-morrow evening it must all be finished. If you do it, I will reward you; if not, I will cut off your head.”
“Why,” she said, “have you grown so fainthearted that you want to run away?”
“How can I help it when the King commanded me to build a temple to-morrow before nightfall? If I fail to do it, he will have my head cut off. There is only one way out. We must run away while there is yet time.”
The wife did not approve of his words.
“The King has many soldiers; we shall not be able to escape them. And while you have strength enough you must obey the King’s command.”
“But how can I obey if it’s beyond my strength?”
“My dear, don’t get excited. Have your supper and go to bed; get up early in the morning and you’ll manage in good time.”
Emelian went to bed. His wife woke him in the morning.
Emelian set out. When he came to the square, there in the middle stood a new temple not quite finished. Emelian set to work to finish it and by the evening it was all done.
The King awoke and looking out of the palace window he saw a new temple in the square. Emelian was busy around, knocking a nail in here and there. The King was not pleased with the temple; he was annoyed that he had no pretext for cutting off Emelian’s head and taking his wife for himself.
Again the King summoned his servants.
“Emelian has done this task too,” he said, “and I have no reason for cutting off his head. This was not difficult enough; we must give him something more difficult still. You decide what it shall be, or else I’ll have your heads cut off first.”
And the servants bethought them to set Emelian to make a river that was to wind round the palace and have ships sailing on it.
“If you could make a temple in a single night,” he said, “you can do this too. See that it is all finished by to-morrow, or else I shall cut off your head.”
Emelian’s spirits fell lower than ever and he went home to his wife in a sad mood.
“Why so sad?” asked his wife. “Has the King set you a new task?”
Emelian told her what it was.
“We must run away,” he concluded.
And the wife said, “We cannot escape the soldiers. You must obey.”
“But how can I?”
“My dear, don’t worry. Have your supper and go to bed. Get up early in the morning and all will be ready in time.”
Emelian went to bed. In the morning his wife woke him.
“Go to the palace,” she said; “everything is finished. Only by the harbor, opposite the palace, there is a little mound that wants leveling; take the spade and level it.”
Emelian set out. He came to the town and there around the palace a river flowed with ships sailing on it. Emelian went up to the harbor opposite the palace and he saw an uneven place and began to level it.
The King awoke and looking out of his palace window he saw a river where there was not one before and ships were sailing on it and Emelian was leveling a little mound with his spade. And the King was alarmed. He took no pleasure in the river or the ships, he was only annoyed that he could not cut off Emelian’s head. “There is no task he cannot do,” he thought. “What shall we do now?”
And the King summoned his servants and conferred with them.
“Think of a task,” he said, “that will be beyond Emelian’s strength, for so far he has done everything we have thought of and I cannot take away his wife.”
And the courtiers thought for a long time, then came to the King and said, “You must summon Emelian and say to him, ‘Go to—I don’t know where, and bring me—I don’t know what.’ He won’t be able to escape you then, for wherever he goes you can say it was not the right place and whatever he brings was not the right thing. Then you can cut off his head and take away his wife.”
The King was pleased with the idea. He sent for Emelian and said to him, “Go to—I don’t know where, and bring me—I don’t know what. And if you don’t, I’ll cut off your head.”
Emelian went back to his wife and told her what the King had said. The wife reflected.
“Well,” she said. “Be it on the King’s own head what his courtiers have taught him. We must act with cunning now.”
She sat and thought it over for a while; then said to her husband, “You must go a long way to our old grandmother, a peasant soldier’s mother, and ask her to help you. She will give you something which you must take straight to the palace and I will be there already. I cannot escape them now; they will take me by force, but only for a short while. If you do what grandmother tells you, you will soon set me free.”
“Give grandmother this spindle,” she said; “by this she will know that you are my husband.”
And the wife showed him the way. Emelian left the town and saw some soldiers drilling. He stopped and watched them. The soldiers finished their drill and sat down to rest. Emelian approached them and asked, “Can you tell me, mates, how to get to—I don’t know where and bring back—I don’t know what.”
The soldiers were perplexed at his words.
“Who sent you?” they asked.
“The King,” he said.
“We too,” they said, “since the day we became soldiers want to go to—we don’t know where and find—we don’t know what, but we’ve never been able to find it and so cannot help you.”
Emelian sat with the soldiers awhile then went on his way. He wandered and wandered till he came to a wood. In the wood was a cottage and in the cottage sat an old woman, a peasant soldier’s mother, spinning at her wheel, and she wept as she spun and moistened her fingers with the tears that flowed from her eyes.
“Who are you?” she cried in anger when she saw Emelian.
Emelian gave her the spindle and said that his wife had sent him. The old woman instantly softened and began to ask him questions. And Emelian told her his whole story of how he had married the maiden and gone to live in the town, and how he had been taken to the King’s as a yard-porter, and of the work he had done in the palace, and the temple he had built in a night, and the river and ships he had made, and that now the King had sent him to—I don’t know where to bring back—I don’t know what.
The old woman listened to what he had to say and ceased her weeping. She began to mutter to herself, “The time has come, I see. Very well,” she said aloud; “sit down, my son, and have something to eat.”
Emelian had something to eat and the old woman said to him, “Here is a ball of thread; roll it before you and follow wherever it leads. You will have to go a long way, to the very sea. When you come to the sea you will see a large town. Ask to be allowed to stay the night in the outermost house and look for what you want there.”
“But by what signs shall I know it, grandmother?”
“When you see that which men listen to more than to father or mother, that will be the thing you want. Seize it and take it to the King. He will tell you you haven’t brought the right thing, and you must say to him, ‘If it is not the right thing then I must break it.’ Then strike this thing; carry it out to the river; break it and throw it into the water. Then you will get back your wife and dry up my tears.”
Emelian took leave of the grandmother and went where the ball of thread took him to. The ball rolled and rolled till it brought him to the sea, where there was a large town. Emelian knocked at a house and asked to be allowed to stay the night. The people let him in. He went to bed. In the morning he woke early and heard the father of the house trying to wake his son to chop some wood. The son would not listen to him. “It is early yet,” he said, “there’s plenty of time.”
And he heard the mother near the stove say, “Do go, my son. Your father’s bones ache; surely you wouldn’t let him go? Get up.”
The son only smacked his lips and went to sleep again. He had no sooner fallen asleep than there was a banging and a rumbling in the street. The son jumped up, dressed and ran out. Emelian ran out after him to see what it was that a son obeyed more than father or mother.
When Emelian got outside he saw a man coming up the street carrying some round object on his belly that he was beating with sticks. It was this thing that had made the noise and that the son had obeyed. Emelian approached and examined it. The thing was round like a small tub with skin drawn tightly on either side of it.
“What is this thing called?” he asked.
“Is it empty?”
“Yes,” they said.
Emelian wondered and asked the people to give him the thing, but they would not. Emelian gave up asking and followed the drummer. He walked about the whole day and when the drummer went to bed at night, Emelian seized the drum and ran away with it. He ran and ran until he came to his own town. He wanted to give his wife a surprise, but she was not at home. She had been taken to the King the day after Emelian had left.
Emelian went to the palace and asked to be announced as the man who had gone to—I don’t know where and brought back—I don’t know what. The King was informed of his return and he ordered Emelian to come to him on the morrow. Emelian again demanded to see the King, saying, “I have brought back what I was ordered to; let the King come out to me, or I will go in to him myself.”
The King came out.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
“That was not the place,” he said. “And what have you brought?”
Emelian wanted to show him, but the King would not even look.
“That was not the thing,” he said.
“If it is not the thing,” Emelian said, “I must break it and let it go to the devil.”
Emelian came out of the palace and struck the drum. He had no sooner done so than all the King’s troops gathered around him. They saluted Emelian and waited for his commands. From the window of his palace the King called to the troops, forbidding them to follow Emelian, but the troops would not listen to the King and followed Emelian. When the King saw this he ordered Emelian’s wife to be given back to him and he begged Emelian to give him the drum.
“I can’t,” Emelian said. “I was told to break it and throw the bits into the river.”
Emelian took the drum to the river and the soldiers followed him. Emelian struck the drum and broke it into little bits which he threw into the water and the troops all scattered and dispersed. And Emelian took his wife back home.
From : Gutenberg.org
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