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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Cossacks - Chapter 9
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The Cossacks - Chapter 9 Post by :vanyon Category :Long Stories Author :Leo Tolstoy Date :December 2010 Read :3181

Click below to download : The Cossacks - Chapter 9 (Format : PDF)

The Cossacks - Chapter 9

It was growing light. The Chechen's body which was gently rocking
in the shallow water was now clearly visible. Suddenly the reeds
rustled not far from Luke and he heard steps and saw the feathery
tops of the reeds moving. He set his gun at full cock and
muttered: 'In the name of the Father and of the Son,' but when the
cock clicked the sound of steps ceased.

'Hallo, Cossacks! Don't kill your Daddy!' said a deep bass voice
calmly; and moving the reeds apart Daddy Eroshka came up close to
Luke.

'I very nearly killed you, by God I did!' said Lukashka.

'What have you shot?' asked the old man.

His sonorous voice resounded through the wood and downward along
the river, suddenly dispelling the mysterious quiet of night
around the Cossack. It was as if everything had suddenly become
lighter and more distinct.

'There now. Uncle, you have not seen anything, but I've killed a
beast,' said Lukashka, uncocking his gun and getting up with
unnatural calmness.

The old man was staring intently at the white back, now clearly
visible, against which the Terek rippled.

'He was swimming with a log on his back. I spied him out! ... Look
there. There! He's got blue trousers, and a gun I think.... Do you
see?' inquired Luke.

'How can one help seeing?' said the old man angrily, and a
serious and stern expression appeared on his face. 'You've killed
a brave,' he said, apparently with regret.

'Well, I sat here and suddenly saw something dark on the other
side. I spied him when he was still over there. It was as if a man
had come there and fallen in. Strange! And a piece of driftwood, a
good-sized piece, comes floating, not with the stream but across
it; and what do I see but a head appearing from under it! Strange!
I stretched out of the reeds but could see nothing; then I rose
and he must have heard, the beast, and crept out into the shallow
and looked about. "No, you don't!" I said, as soon as he landed
and looked round, "you won't get away!" Oh, there was something
choking me! I got my gun ready but did not stir, and looked out.
He waited a little and then swam out again; and when he came into
the moonlight I could see his whole back. "In the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost"... and through the
smoke I see him struggling. He moaned, or so it seemed to me.
"Ah," I thought, "the Lord be thanked, I've killed him!" And when
he drifted onto the sand-bank I could see him distinctly: he tried
to get up but couldn't. He struggled a bit and then lay down.
Everything could be seen. Look, he does not move--he must be dead!
The Cossacks have gone back to the cordon in case there should be
any more of them.'

'And so you got him!' said the old man. 'He is far away now, my
lad! ...' And again he shook his head sadly.

Just then the sound reached them of breaking bushes and the loud
voices of Cossacks approaching along the bank on horseback and on
foot. 'Are you bringing the skiff?' shouted Lukashka.

'You're a trump, Luke! Lug it to the bank!' shouted one of the
Cossacks.

Without waiting for the skiff Lukashka began to undress, keeping
an eye all the while on his prey.

'Wait a bit, Nazarka is bringing the skiff,' shouted the corporal.

'You fool! Maybe he is alive and only pretending! Take your dagger
with you!' shouted another Cossack.

'Get along,' cried Luke, pulling off his trousers. He quickly
undressed and, crossing himself, jumped, plunging with a splash
into the river. Then with long strokes of his white arms, lifting
his back high out of the water and breathing deeply, he swam
across the current of the Terek towards the shallows. A crowd of
Cossacks stood on the bank talking loudly. Three horsemen rode off
to patrol. The skiff appeared round a bend. Lukashka stood up on
the sandbank, leaned over the body, and gave it a couple of
shakes.

'Quite dead!' he shouted in a shrill voice.

The Chechen had been shot in the head. He had on a pair of blue
trousers, a shirt, and a Circassian coat, and a gun and dagger
were tied to his back. Above all these a large branch was tied,
and it was this which at first had misled Lukashka.

'What a carp you've landed!' cried one of the Cossacks who had
assembled in a circle, as the body, lifted out of the skiff, was
laid on the bank, pressing down the grass.

'How yellow he is!' said another.

'Where have our fellows gone to search? I expect the rest of them
are on the other bank. If this one had not been a scout he would
not have swum that way. Why else should he swim alone?' said a
third.

'Must have been a smart one to offer himself before the others; a
regular brave!' said Lukashka mockingly, shivering as he wrung out
his clothes that had got wet on the bank.

'His beard is dyed and cropped.'

'And he has tied a bag with a coat in it to his back.'

'That would make it easier for him to swim,' said some one.

'I say, Lukashka,' said the corporal, who was holding the dagger
and gun taken from the dead man. 'Keep the dagger for yourself and
the coat too; but I'll give you three rubles for the gun. You see
it has a hole in it,' said he, blowing into the muzzle. 'I want it
just for a souvenir.'

Lukashka did not answer. Evidently this sort of begging vexed him
but he knew it could not be avoided.

'See, what a devil!' said he, frowning and throwing down the
Chechen's coat. 'If at least it were a good coat, but it's a mere
rag.'

'It'll do to fetch firewood in,' said one of the Cossacks.

'Mosev, I'll go home,' said Lukashka, evidently forgetting his
vexation and wishing to get some advantage out of having to give a
present to his superior.

'All right, you may go!'

'Take the body beyond the cordon, lads,' said the corporal, still
examining the gun, 'and put a shelter over him from the sun.
Perhaps they'll send from the mountains to ransom it.'

'It isn't hot yet,' said someone.

'And supposing a jackal tears him? Would that be well?' remarked
another Cossack.

'We'll set a watch; if they should come to ransom him it won't do
for him to have been torn.'

'Well, Lukashka, whatever you do you must stand a pail of vodka
for the lads,' said the corporal gaily.

'Of course! That's the custom,' chimed in the Cossacks. 'See what
luck God has sent you! Without ever having seen anything of the
kind before, you've killed a brave!'

'Buy the dagger and coat and don't be stingy, and I'll let you
have the trousers too,' said Lukashka. 'They're too tight for me;
he was a thin devil.'

One Cossack bought the coat for a ruble and another gave the price
of two pails of vodka for the dagger.

'Drink, lads! I'll stand you a pail!' said Luke. 'I'll bring it
myself from the village.'

'And cut up the trousers into kerchiefs for the girls!' said
Nazarka.

The Cossacks burst out laughing.

'Have done laughing!' said the corporal. 'And take the body away.
Why have you put the nasty thing by the hut?'

'What are you standing there for? Haul him along, lads!' shouted
Lukashka in a commanding voice to the Cossacks, who reluctantly
took hold of the body, obeying him as though he were their chief.
After dragging the body along for a few steps the Cossacks let
fall the legs, which dropped with a lifeless jerk, and stepping
apart they then stood silent for a few moments. Nazarka came up
and straightened the head, which was turned to one side so that
the round wound above the temple and the whole of the dead man's
face were visible. 'See what a mark he has made right in the
brain,' he said. 'He won't get lost. His owners will always know
him!' No one answered, and again the Angel of Silence flew over
the Cossacks.

The sun had risen high and its diverging beams were lighting up
the dewy grass. Near by, the Terek murmured in the awakened wood
and, greeting the morning, the pheasants called to one another.
The Cossacks stood still and silent around the dead man, gazing at
him. The brown body, with nothing on but the wet blue trousers
held by a girdle over the sunken stomach, was well shaped and
handsome. The muscular arms lay stretched straight out by his
sides; the blue, freshly shaven, round head with the clotted wound
on one side of it was thrown back. The smooth tanned forehead
contrasted sharply with the shaven part of the head. The open
glassy eyes with lowered pupils stared upwards, seeming to gaze
past everything. Under the red trimmed moustache the fine lips,
drawn at the corners, seemed stiffened into a smile of good-
natured subtle raillery. The fingers of the small hands covered
with red hairs were bent inward, and the nails were dyed red.

Lukashka had not yet dressed. He was wet. His neck was redder and
his eyes brighter than usual, his broad jaws twitched, and from
his healthy body a hardly perceptible steam rose in the fresh
morning air.

'He too was a man!' he muttered, evidently admiring the corpse.

'Yes, if you had fallen into his hands you would have had short
shrift,' said one of the Cossacks.

The Angel of Silence had taken wing. The Cossacks began bustling
about and talking. Two of them went to cut brushwood for a
shelter, others strolled towards the cordon. Luke and Nazarka ran
to get ready to go to the village.

Half an hour later they were both on their way homewards, talking
incessantly and almost running through the dense woods which
separated the Terek from the village.

'Mind, don't tell her I sent you, but just go and find out if her
husband is at home,' Luke was saying in his shrill voice.

'And I'll go round to Yamka too,' said the devoted Nazarka. 'We'll
have a spree, shall we?'

'When should we have one if not to-day?' replied Luke.

When they reached the village the two Cossacks drank, and lay down
to sleep till evening.

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