Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chapter 1, Part 4

"Pour gorzalka into his mouth," said the lieutenant; "undo his belt."

"Are we to spend the night here?"

"Yes. Unsaddle the horses and make a good fire."

The soldiers jumped to work. Some began to rouse and rub the prostrate man; several went to get reeds to burn; others spread camel and bear skins on the ground for the night.

The lieutenant, troubling himself no more about the suffocated stranger, unbound his belt and stretched himself out on a burka by the fire. He was still a very young man, lean, dark complexioned, exceedingly handsome, with a thin face and a prominent aquiline nose. In his eyes were visible fierce fancy and tenacity, but his face had an honest look. His rather thick moustache and a beard, evidently unshaven for a long time, gave him a seriousness beyond his years.

Meanwhile two attendants were preparing the evening meal. Dressed quarters of mutton were places on the fire, a number of bustards and partridges were taken from the packs, and one wild goat, which an attendant began to skin without delay. The fire blazed up, casting out upon the steppe an enormous ruddy circle of light. The suffocated man slowly began to come to his senses. For some time he cast his bloodshot eyes around on the strangers, examining their faces; then he tried to stand up. The soldier who had previously talked with the lieutenant raised him under the arms; another put in his hand a halberd, upon which the stranger leaned with all his force. His face was still red, his veins swollen. At last, with a suppressed voice, he coughed out his first word:


He was given gorzalka, which he drank and drank, and it apparently did him well, for when he finally removed the flask from his lips, he asked in a clear voice:

"In whose hands am I?"

The lieutenant got up and approached him.

"In the hands of those who saved your lordship."

"So it was not you gentlemen who caught me with the lariat?"

"Honorable sir, our weapon is the sabre, not the lariat. Your lordship wrongs good soldiers with such a suspicion. You were seized by ruffians pretending to be Tartars, which, if you are interested, you can take a look at, for they lie over there like slaughtered sheep." Saying this, he pointed to several dark bodies lying below the height.

The stranger responded to this:

"If you will allow me to rest then."

They brought him a felt-covered saddle, on which he sat and sunk into in silence.

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