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THE PRINCESS BIASLANTT (Part 1)
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First Published in 1926 

Printed in Great Britain at 

The Westminster Press 

 

PREFACE 

TO PROFESSORS OF THE FIRST OF  

THE SEVEN LIBERAL ARTS, AND 

OTHERS 

Those Professors who have never read the History of the Emperor Carlo Magno, which treats of the prowess and the adventures of the Twelve Peers of France, should lose as little time as possible in putting themselves right. In it we read* that Carlo Magno (whom we call Charlemagne) had his children instructed in the Seven Liberal Arts, and firstly he had them taught the art of horsemanship, ** This clearly proves to which of the Seven Liberal Arts (the other six his chronicler has left unspecified) he gave the most esteem. 

 

* My own copy is a Spanish translation bound in vellum and fastened by bands of vellum, that have little shells to act as clasps. That is, it originally had such shells, but most of them are lost. It was printed in Barcelona, " Por Rafael Figero," Ano. 1708. 

** Les hacia ensenai muy bien a cavalgaren caballos, 

 

Professors of this Art of Arts will need no words of mine to help them in the comprehension of this Caucasian tale. Those who through frittering away their time in the acquisition of the six arts, unspecified, that possibly were dancing, fencing, playing on the lute, singing, emblazoning a coat of arms and perhaps chiromancy, will need to keep in mind that the tale deals with men who take a view of life not very different from that of Charlemagne. 

I do not know the Caucasus except by intuition. Still I can form, I think, a pretty good idea of it, based on experience of Morocco, the southern frontier of the Argentine Republic, when El Cacique Namuncura ruled the Pehuelches, and when the Rio Grande, from Arizona down to Matamoros, was swept at intervals, both by the Mezcaleros and Lipans. 

In all these countries, of which at different periods of my life I was a citizen, that is, I was generally well mounted and owned a rifle and a lasso, horses were the chief topic of our conversation. Our only means of locomotion, our surest refuge in all kinds of trouble, our chief possession and our pride. 

So of the Caucasus. At least I gather such is the case, by talking with my friend Agube Gudsow, and by perusal of his tale. 

Fashions in literature and dress change rapidly. That which to-day is modern is to-morrow antiquated. It may be therefore that to those, to whom adulteries, Lesbian romances, and the love stories of emasculate young men, worthy to move in the best circles of the Cities of the Plains, have become nauseous, this little tale will make some sort of an appeal by its simplicity. 

Written by one who a few years ago knew not a word of English and with whom, though he spoke* Ossitin and Georgian, Mingrelian, Russian, Turkish and other dialects of the frosty Caucasus, I had to speak Italian, as our only common tongue, the courteous reader (and if he be not courteous a murrain on him) must not look for gifts of style. 

 

* The author is an Ossetin, one of the many races of the Caucasus. 

 

Still it appears to me the very imperfection in the handling of our tongue that he acquired in circuses, for I forgot to say he is a circus rider, imparts a flavour of its own. He rides into your heart as he has ridden all his life, first in his native mountains and then throughout the circuses of Europe, with a firm, high, light hand. 

Horsemen of every nationality, who ride to earn their livelihood, and not for pastime, ride with this same high hand, their eyes fixed on the horizon, appearing to see nothing, yet seeing everything. 

In this way Agube writes, holding as it were the reins in his left hand. 

At a first reading of his tale, before the strangeness of the style becomes familiar, it may seem hard to understand. 

Then by degrees the gifts of observation and the strange, half-simple yet profound knowledge, both of the world and of mankind, that many Orientals have, breaks in upon one. You see that in addition to the life-story of the Princess, and the sub-story, quite in the vein of the Arabian Nights, of the rich man and his three sons, that the tales are a compendium of life and manners in the Caucasus. 

The old man seated in his tower who sees the tragedy of the mare and foal; the servants always waiting in a corner of the room, the constant clash between the two religions of Christ and Mahomet; the long and dangerous journeys; the patriarchal manners and strange superstitions of the folk, that all come in quite incidently, show it is written by a native of the place. 

No foreigner, no matter how intelligent he was, could possibly have written so much from the inside. 

Pleasant it is to learn that in the writer's native land, the wayfaring man, even although a fool, can at first sight discern a nobleman. 

Here in this England of ours the case is different. 

A right descendant of the first hundred thousand, who crossed the Channel with the Conqueror, is not too easy to pick out at the first glance, as in tweed suit and bowler hat, he shuffles down the street, dodging the omnibuses. 

But in the Caucasus, all is as easy as falling off a log, or from the back of a wild horse. A horseman passes on the road, and without opening your Debrett, you see at once he is a nobleman because the horse he rides is certain to be black, and its off-hind leg stockinged. 

How well, and with what observation of mankind the writer (rider) draws the character of the Caucasian Princess, showing us that, despite all man-made laws, and the conventions of the Mohammedan religion, woman will have her way the whole world over, as she has always done and ever will do, since in the garden by the Tigris' side, she first saw man was but her oyster, that she could open with a smile. 

Reading this little tale, so halting and yet so sincere, I see the Caucasus, only less clearly, than in the epic story, Haji Mourad, that Tolstoy penned for the world's learning. 

High praise my masters, some may say. Well let them say. . . . 

 

R. B. Cunninghame Graham 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAUCASIAN STORY 

a Caucasian story by Agube Gudsow  

 

THERE was an elderly man who was of an ancient family. His name was Prince Elmerza Tagiatt. He was about fifty-five years of age. 

He was a delicately built man, who suffered from an old wound in the back. By birth he was a Mohammedan. The town where he had lived all his life was called Saniba. This town is surrounded with nothing else but high mountains, summer or winter covered with snow. The Prince Elmerza Tagiatt had three sons, and their names were— Bel-Merza, Temer-Bolat and Kaz-Jerrey. The Prince had an historical castle, which was built on a high hill; all around it was a lake, with trees upon its banks. The castle was facing the sunrise, and from its windows one could see the waterfalls from the high mountains. The Prince's wealth was chiefly in cattle, sheep and brood mares; but on account of his health he never used to go out of the castle. He always sat at the top of the tower and watched all that was going on his estate. One day he was sitting up there and looking towards the mountains and saw one of his mares and her foal lying in the grass about twenty yards away. Suddenly the Prince saw something terrible about to happen. A big stone was rolling towards the mare; naturally the Prince was shocked, as he knew the mare would be killed, but to save the animal was quite impossible because no man was near enough, so the stone hit the poor mare and smashed her in pieces. There were several shepherds, but unfortunately they were too far away to save her, though they shouted and shouted, their endeavours were in vain. Therefore, as soon as the poor animal was smashed, the foal got up from her sleep and dashed up and down, neighing for help to find her mother. Then she galloped towards the other mares, and there she completely lost her control: no mare would let her go near her but kicked her away. Directly it happened one of the shepherds rushed to the castle to let the master know about it. Soon the boy got there, and the master said to him: " Don't tell me about it, I have seen it myself; what a horrible sight. Go quickly back and fetch the foal up here and put her in the stable and I will look after her."  

So the boy hurried back, and about twenty of them, with great difficulty, caught the foal. So the master took her out from the stable to the yard and fed her with bread, sugar and carrots, and sometimes he used to put a halter on her and lead her to the grass field which was near to the castle. Over the lake, there was a narrow, dangerous bridge, and he used to lead the foal over the bridge and a big fat sheep followed them. It was a custom that nearly every house had a sheep indoors, and wherever the master went, the sheep followed him just like a dog. 

So one day the Prince was crossing the bridge, and accidentally slipped and all three of them fell into the lake. The foal jumped out quickly and ran away, but the sheep stopped at the shore to wait for his master. The Prince managed to get out of the water all right, but as it was not deep he hurt his spine on a stone, and directly he reached home he went to bed. He sent at once for a doctor, who examined him, and found that the Prince's state was serious; therefore, as soon as the doctor left him, he called one of his body-guards and told him that he wanted to see his sons privately. The man went and told them to be at their father's room early next day. Next morning they went sadly, and stood in line near the door. The Prince was in bed and the fat sheep was lying on the floor near his master. 

" I feel very tired, and it seems to me that I shall leave you before long for the resting-place, so here are three words from me to you, which mean my will. Love each other as brothers, be faithful to the estate, and thirdly be always upright, but if some day you cannot agree any more to carry on the estate together, then the whole estate is to be divided in three parts. In case you shall have any dispute, you see the picture hanging on the wall?"  

"He is my very true friend, and you can ride to him and he will divide the estate between you." Then he asked to be lifted up from the bed. His sons did so, he put on his slippers and a coat and hat and said to his sons:  

“Come with me to the cellar." They all went into the cellar, and in the corner stood three large iron boxes. He gave to the elder one, Bel-Merza, three keys to open the boxes. He did so, and all the three boxes were full of gold coins.  

" You see," said the father, " every one of you shall have the same value and every one of you shall have one box." He gave the keys to Bel-Merza for safety and went back to his room. 

The master died and the estate work was carried on as usual: the elder son, Bel-Merza, was indoor master and the other two, Temer-Bolat and Kaz-Jerrey, did their duty on the farm. The younger one, Kaz-Jerrey, was very fond of Bohemian life, and since he saw the money in the cellar, he could not understand how his father had had so much and yet never talked about it. He used to think about the money and say to himself:  

" If only I could have so much money in my own possession, then no doubt I could make everybody happy." At last, he decided to find a key and open the cellar. One night he did so, and went in, and found out that he must get another key for the iron box, so he left hurriedly. The following night he went into the cellar again, took with him the proper key for the iron box and opened it, and took a considerable sum; then he locked the door hurriedly and went out. Within six days later he was ready to make a journey on horseback for at least four weeks. He made everything in order, and left without saying a word to anybody. After two days' ride, he arrived at a small village. He soon became friends with the village young men, as he was well dressed and money was no object to him. Everybody sought his company. Sometimes he was surrounded by hundreds of youths, and he used to ask them,  

" Why not get married instead of remaining single ?" Then they said to him,  

" We have not the money."  

" Do not worry about it," he said, " I have recently inherited a large sum of money, so I can afford to help you. I suppose every one of you has a girl in view? " he asked them.  

" Oh, yes "; every one of them admitted it. One said,  

" I have three or four in view," the others said " There are half a dozen waiting for me," and the third said,  

" I am not afraid at all to marry a titled girl."  

Then he used to give money to every one to get married. Naturally they used to be full of life and happy, and every one of them rushed home and told their parents that a wealthy young man was giving his money away to every one who wanted to get married. He even gave his horse to one of them, and his gun, poniard and sabre, and his cloak, and used to return home like a beggar. It is a custom in the Caucasus if you want to be married to a girl with her parents' consent, that girl's father demands a price, even from the poorest people. If they can afford it, they send the sum to her father and the parents make her ready at once for the wedding. 

 

As soon as Kaz-Jerrey arrived at home, he asked one of the men if his brothers were asking about him, and if there was any important news for him. Then, after a fortnight's rest, he began again; but every time he used to go to different villages. Sometimes the village population would come out to bid him farewell. Everyone cheered him, and he used to smile to the crowd from horseback. Then, dashing from one side then to the other, he drew up short, and, raising up his hand to the cheering crowd, he would say farewell, and all the crowd would bow. Kaz-Jerrey carried on this Bohemian life amongst the village people for three years, and during that time, he made many thousands of poor boys and girls happy.  

There was much talk about him, but his brothers never took any notice, thinking it was only jealousy. But when the rumour reached them that he had been seen by someone, in a back street riding on a crippled horse, and dressed almost like a beggar, the elder brother, Bel-Merza, as the master of the house, was anxious about him.  

One day, when he was passing by the cellar, he took a fancy to go in and see if everything was in order. He went in and opened the iron boxes and what he saw shocked him - one of the boxes was half empty. He locked up the cellar door and went to his room and sat down brokenhearted. Then he got up and walked about his room like a madman. After a little rest, he made up his mind and decided to divide up the estate, so that everyone should have his own share. 

He called one of his servants and said,  

" Jump up immediately on horseback and ride and tell my brothers that I want them." The man did so; they were about twelve miles away from the castle. They arrived shortly, and went to Bel-Merza's room. He was looking much distressed; they asked him what was the matter.  

" Nothing whatever," said he ," but I have called you simply because I have the desire to divide the whole estate, and every one of us shall have his own share, and it would be far better for our future." Temer-Bolat was astonished to hear from his brother such a sudden decision, as he had no idea that his younger brother, Kaz-Jerrey, was deceiving him. However, they agreed and decided to divide the estate; there was on the wall their land map, and Bel-Merza, the elder one, took a pencil and divided the map into three parts. The richer part of the land he gave to Kaz-Jerrey and Temer-Bolat, and for himself the poorer part.* He had also at the table the exact account of the sheep, cattle and horses. All the best animals he gave to Kaz-Jerrey. While dividing the estate, two were writing at the table and one, the younger, Kaz-Jerrey, stood near to the wall. Then Bel-Merza took three keys from his pocket and he gave to every one a key. He added that the keys were from the iron boxes, and said,  

" We can go now to the cellar and every one of us can have his own." They went to the cellar and entered, and they all three stood abreast opposite their boxes.  

 

* In the Caucasus the younger men do not sit down before their elders. 

 

First Bel-Merza opened his box full of coins and said,  

"As our late father said, it shall belong to me." Then Temer-Bolat opened his. Lastly, Kaz-Jerrey opened his, and as soon as he opened it Bel-Merza said to him " It belongs to you."  

" Oh, no," he said, " why should only half of the money be mine ? " As Temer-Bolat did not know anything about it until the box was opened, he saw half of the money was gone. He opened his eyes and said,  

" Good heavens ! Who took it, who robbed us ?" Kaz-Jerrey said " I should like to know."  

" It is a mystery who robbed us," said Bel-Merza, " and if we talk more about it then it means between us a serious collision, but I hope a day will come when the thief will be found out."  

" So you won't accept the box as your share ?" said Bel-Merza to him.  

" No, I won't," said Kaz-Jerrey emphatically. 

" Very well then, now all we have got to do is this: we must ride to our father's great friend and he shall advise us what to do." They all agreed to it.  

 

All three were plainly dressed in native costume. Their steeds were all black mares, whose off hind legs were white. It is a custom that if a rider has such a black mare, her off hind leg being white, then it is a sign to the people that he is a titled man. Their ride was about two hundred miles from Saniba to a Christian town called Oni. One never could imagine the difficulty they went through in the wild mountains and forests. The hills were very steep. There were many rivers to cross, lakes and dangerous bridges, which were made for foot-passengers only.  

Finally they reached the open land, and there was a man coming from the opposite direction. They saluted each other in the fashion of the country. He was an old man, and had a heavy load on his cart, and two buffaloes pulling it. Soon he noticed that the riders were quite strangers. He stopped them and said,  

" May I ask you where you come from and how far you are riding ? "  

" From Saniba to Oni to see our friend Prince Badilatt."  

" It is a long ride," said the old man, " and I am sure you must be hungry and thirsty. I have in my cart plenty of food and drink as well."  

He jumped into his cart, and the riders surrounded him. He opened a large box and took out from it food, and they enjoyed it; then he had two leather bottles, one full of wine, the other one a light drink. He took out a rubber tube about three yards long and inserted it into one of the bottles. Then he put the end of the tube into his mouth to test it. When he did so he cut off the end of the tube, otherwise they may dislike to drink from it. When he offered to hold the pipe to let them drink, one of them said to him,  

" We are extremely sorry, but we never touch any wine as Mohammedans."  

" I beg your pardon," replied the old man. " I knew it, but by my mistake I put the tube into the wrong bottle." So he quickly took it out and put it into the light drink. Then they drank. 

" Now we should like you to tell us how far it is from here to Oni?"  

" Do you see up there, the hill ? " said the old man. " When you get there you will be able to see the whole town. There is no need for you to ask anybody where the Prince's castle is; there is only one castle, and you cannot miss it." 

Then they shook hands and separated, and immediately they turned their horse's heads towards the high hill. The old man looked at them keenly, shook his head and said:  

" By god! are they not handsome ones, and full of born personality." 

They entered the castle from the main gate. Close to the gate was a low tree; they dismounted and tied the horses to the tree, then took off their felt cloaks* and covered the horses with them. 

Afterwards they went to the lodge opposite the tree. On the wall were hanging several wild animals' skins: one of them was a deer-skin, so they took off their arms and hung them on that.** 

During the few minutes, when they were dismounting, the master's two daughters were watching them from the castle balcony, as they sat opposite each other making braid. 

 

* These cloaks are called Nematt in the Caucasus. 

** The custom was, if you went into a lodge as a guest and hung your arms on such a deer skin, then it meant to the master you are at his house for a serious matter. 

 

One of them got up and rushed on to the balcony to find someone to meet the guests; then she ran downstairs and went into the garden, and there she found her father. He was attending to the grape-vines, and a youth with him holding a rubber tube and watering the grapes, 

" Father," she said, " please make haste, some riders have just dismounted at the main gate,"  

" All right," he said, " I shall not be long."  

The girl went back to her sister, and the master sent the boy to see who they were. He went to the lodge, and as soon as he got there, one of the brothers said to him,  

" Is the Prince at home ? "  

"Yes," the boy said. "He will be here presently." Then he looked at the wall. He then left the lodge and looked at the horses, and went quickly back to his master. 

" Did you see them ?"  

"Yes, I did; they are three gentlemen, but I've never seen them before. I saw also their arms are hanging on the deer-skin, and I saw also that their horses' off hind legs are white." Then the master left his work and said,  

" I wonder who they are ?" His expression changed, and he wondered if he were well dressed enough to visit them. 

The Prince was seventy-five years old. He was tall and slim, with a grey beard. He wore a tight-fitting coat to the knees, and a narrow leather belt with a long poniard and native soft kid boots above the knees, and a round hat of felt. The master then went, and the boy followed him to the lodge. He shook hands with the strangers and said,  

" May I know your names ?" They said,  

" We are Prince Tagiatt's sons." As soon as he heard the name he smiled and said,  

" How strange, it is just over twenty years since I saw you." 

During the conversation they were all standing. Then he said to the boy,  

" Go and call up someone to unsaddle the horses and turn them out." The master's daughters were still on the balcony, looking at the horses. One said to the other,  

" Really, Mohammedan young men are wonderful; even if you hate them they make you look at them. For example, just now look at their horses, all three black mares, with the off hind legs white. It is very strange." 

Then the master said, " We go now to the castle to see my family." On reaching the castle he called his wife and two daughters, and introduced them, saying,  

" They are my late great friend's three sons." They shook hands for the first time, and, after a little conversation, the girls went to the next room.* 

The master's mother was still alive, though ninety years of age. She was a Mohammedan by birth. He said to them:  

" Although my dear mother is very old and a little deaf, she will be delighted to see once more her own people." Then they went to her on the balcony, where she was sitting. She got up from her seat rather stiffly. They bowed to her and, after a short conversation, she said:  

" I hope you will like our Christian customs without disputing as people do so often." 

The three brothers and the Prince bowed to her once more, and went to the grape garden. 

 

* Girls in the Caucasus are very shy with strangers. Men never salute by raising their caps. 

 

Afterwards they went in the direction of the lake, which was at the back of the castle. Not far from it was a little wooden arbour and round it a track. The track at that moment was very busy. About eight little boys from five to twelve years of age were riding on ponies. An old man watched them as riding-master. They went into the arbour and took seats, admiring the boys. At the track corner stood an old grey mare, with three boys in a line standing by her near side. The riding-master was teaching them how to mount, and how to dismount, and how to hold the single reins and whip. Then the elder one, Bel-Merza, said to the master:  

"Who are all the boys?"  

"They are our neighbours' children," said the master. " And as their parents cannot afford I made the track for them about fifteen years ago, and to-day we have in our town some wonderful riders." " It is really a very good idea. We ought to do the same to find out if there is any talent amongst the children of our town," said one of the brothers. 

Nothing was prepared for the brothers as they had arrived unexpectedly. They observed several things which made them surprised that a nobleman should be so careless. On the third day a sheep was killed for them, and one of them said:  

" I know a sheep has been killed just now for us." Evidently, they killed the poor sheep, cutting her throat just like a pig. "We cannot eat it, ugh!" 

A sumptuous dinner was laid, full of all delicacies. All four sat round it, with the boys of the house standing near to the door in case they were wanted. The master took off his hat and put it away as a Christian. The others sat with hats on as Mohammedans. When the master said to them,  

" Gentlemen, we can now begin to eat," they all three stood up. The master was surprised, saying,  

" What has happened?" and got up also from his seat. 

" You must forgive me for my discourtesy," said the elder brother; " but I cannot even touch the meat as the sheep was killed by a Christian. We always have a special butcher to kill our sheep, which is kept indoors." The master was shocked and said,  

" I am sorry, but we make no difference of that kind." The elder brother said,  

" That may be so, but for us there is a difference." 

Then the second brother said:  

" I regret that this has happened, but Christians often make mistakes in dealing with us. Bread is made for you and for your guests from the same flour always, but we do not do it so; we preserve always a part of it separately, in case of titled guests."  

" Yes, you are right," said the master; " we always keep our flour in a large chest." Then said the third brother:  

"A man who is always upright always has enemies because he tells the whole truth. I fear you are not of the true Badilatt blood." 

 

Soon as the Prince heard, he left them just like a madman, and went to the next room, rushing to and fro, not knowing what to do. He did not know what the brothers meant. He was so furious that he almost went off his head. He sat down, and holding his forehead with his left hand, he repeated to himself once more all the three things which t hey had said to him. 

After the master left them alone, the brothers got up from the table and stood in a corner talking with each other uneasily, and much upset. However, the master soon grew calm, and decided first to call all the shepherds and to find out about the sheep. 

Although the master recognized the mistake he had made in letting the sheep be killed by a Christian, he could not see the difference between an indoor and an outdoor sheep. 

He rushed hurriedly to the balcony and shouted for his servants. Immediately the yard was full of them; every one excited as never before had happened anything like this. He was on the balcony, and looking downwards on the crowd, said:  

" Who brought the sheep up here ?" All looked at one another, and two young men lifted their hands up, saying,  

" We did it."  

" Tell me at once if you know anything about the sheep ? "  

" Nothing whatever," said the lads, " but perhaps the old lame man knows about it as he is every morning cleaning the sheep sheds." He was soon called from the field by the master's order. As soon as he reached the crowd, every one looked at him and wondered if he knew anything about it. Directly the master asked him about the sheep he got excited. The master noticed it and said to him: " Don't be afraid. Tell me the real truth—I won't hang you for the sheep." Then the old man stood a few steps forward from the crowd, with a heavy walking-stick under his arm, and looking up at his master said:  

" About two years ago, in the middle of the summer time, I usually get up at five o'clock in the morning to call the boys and to open the gate to let the sheep go out. The boys did so and I went back to my bed. Just an hour later I heard a bleating from the sheep shed. I got up from my bed and went to the shed. There I saw a tiny little lamb, which was born just at the moment when the gate was opened for the sheep. I picked it up and put it under my arm and went out to the gate side to see if the sheep were not far away, but unfortunately they were too far off and I could not go to them on account of my lameness. But, I saw, the poor little lamb had not been fed since being born. It was hungry and I did not know what to do to save it, and it had to wait until the evening for its mother; it was impossible for the little lamb to wait so long without milk. Suddenly there came to my mind a way in which I could save it." The moment the old man wanted to explain he lost his courage and could not face his master any longer. The crowd were all looking at the old man with much excitement. They wanted to hear the end of it, as they were positively sure of the impossibility of saving the poor lamb being without milk for sixteen hours. 

" Now tell me what came into your mind to save it ?" asked the master. " I tell you once more I will not punish you for it." Then he lifted up his head to the master and said,  

" You know our big white sheep dog ? She had just at that time puppies two days old. I threw them all into the water; I thought to save the lamb, for it would be more profitable than ten puppies. I brought the lamb to the dog; at first the dog didn't want to have anything to do with the lamb, but through my kindness the dog agreed, and all day long the lamb was being fed by the dog until her mother came in the evening." I know," he added, " the lamb grew up a very good sheep, but I did not know that the boys brought the same sheep for killing, and that is all I know about the sheep." 

" That is enough," said the master. However, the old man was recognized by his master as a faithful servant, but he was hated for the trick. 

When the master had settled the first question he then said,  

" Now I want to know which of you is in charge of the kitchen, and also who looks after the flour?" Four people of the crowd lifted up their hands saying "We do." "Do not be afraid," said the master to them, " but tell me the real truth. Is your kitchen always in good order ?" All four men stood in a line and, looking at the master, one of them said, " About two weeks ago we all four, in the morning went to the kitchen to get some flour for making bread, and just when we opened the flour box, there we saw three big rats. The box was very deep, so it was impossible for them to jump out of it, so we, with sticks, killed them in the box. Although the box was splashed with blood we washed it thoroughly. We killed them because you say so often that the rats are our worst enemies." 

The master was very angry when he heard such a thing. As soon as he had obtained the second question he went to his room, and the crowd left the yard. 

The three brothers had a look at the crowd from the corner window. " It is a shame," said one of them, " that it happened so."  

" Never mind," said the other one. " Let us say it is a bet that we have made between ourselves, and if it is right the master will only smile." 

The master sat in an armchair terribly distressed about the whole affair, as he never thought that in his house would happen anything like it, which would be quite impossible to forgive if his friends got to know about it. He almost lost heart to face his guests. However, he took courage and said to himself, in the first two questions, their guess was correct, and I am obliged to apologize to them. But they say that I am not of pure blood. That is a great mistake and unpardonable, and I shall demand an apology. However, to be on the safe side, he decided to ask his mother about the family record. So he called his servant to see if his mother was in her room. The servant went and came back saying she was in her room and quite alone. The young man went to the yard, and there in the corner were standing two old men. One of the crowd stopped the lad and asked him what was all the trouble about?  

" Oh, it was dreadful," said the boy. " They simply refused to eat, as the sheep was killed by a Christian." One of them said, " I do not blame them at all if they did, but I do blame the master for being so careless. But on the other hand, Mohammedans and Christians never, never will agree. Put a Mohammedan and a Christian together into a boiler and cook them; they will boil together quietly enough, but their fat will disagree and separate." 

The master got up from his chair and went sadly to his mother's room. He sat close to her and said, " I want to ask you a serious question, and tell me the real truth."  

" What is it ?" said she. " Our guests said they refused to eat anything as the sheep was killed by a Christian, and then one of them said that he does not believe that I am a pure descendant of my family. I know he is wrong, and it was very unfair of him to insult me. But as I do not recollect my father, I want to know more distinctly about our family record so that I can tell them." Then his mother said,  

" What made you ask me that? About our family you know as much as I do."  

" It is quite so," said he, " but it is not enough for me." Then she noticed his determination and looked at him and said, " My dearest son, if you want to know the real truth about your birth, which I have kept seventy-five years a secret, then you are illegitimate." As soon as she said this he said:  

" Good heavens: do you really mean that; "  

" Yes," she said, " I do mean it honestly, and I ask you now to go back to your guests and make the best of it."  

" No," said he, " I cannot face my guests like this unless you will tell me how I come to be illegitimate."  

" Very well then," she said. " I shall explain to you how it happened: Ninety years ago, when I was only six months old, I was engaged to a youth who was supposed to be your father. He was then two years old, only between us was a distance of one hundred and fifty miles, so till I reached fourteen years of age I never saw him. On my fourteenth birthday the wedding was fixed by both families' desire. Every one of our friends were against it and said why should a Mohammedan girl marry a Christian youth? The other side thought the same. However, my father gave me away, and my brother left with me, and we arrived here. I was as innocent as a young child could be. I had no idea of love at all, no idea also of what married life means. After we arrived here my husband came to my room, with him also was my brother and the best man; I was standing in the corner, and I did not know what to do. Soon both men left us alone. I was still standing in the corner covering my face and weeping all the time, because it seemed to me so dreadful to be in a room with a stranger alone, although he was talking to me, but I did not care much what he was telling me about, as I was terribly afraid of him. Suddenly came an alarm and shouting. Directly he heard it he jumped out and soon followed a gun shot. He was killed instantly, just in front of my doorstep. Naturally the whole house was at once full of people. The motive of the shot nobody could tell us, the enemy did not leave any clue; but that he was shot through jealousy we knew; whether it was by a Mohammedan or a Christian nobody could tell us. Three days later, in the evening, when everything was quiet, my brother came to my room and asked me had we been already husband and wife ? I was astonished and didn't know what he meant, but I told him the poor boy didn't even see my face. When he obtained the real proof from me that there was nothing of the kind between us, he then took me out to the gateway, and there was waiting a cart. Nobody was in it. He put me into it and drove me right outside of the town. I had not the faintest idea why he took me out. He stopped the cart in front of a little house; then he let me go into a dark room. As soon as I went into it I heard a strange man's voice, and there I was seduced."  

Her son said, " I call your brother a wild beast and a brute to do anything like that, and to drive his own sister to a strange man."  

" Exactly," said she, " I hated him for many years for it, but when I got older then I only realized what my brother did was for my future's sake, and moreover not to be vanished from the world the famous family name. So now you know how you succeed to the title of illegitimate. Still I agree with you and accuse my brother of his betrayal. But, on the other hand, all men are alike. My sex is against yours powerless, utterly powerless, but a man's faithful promise to a woman means a pure glory to her. He promises her a paradise, but instead she has a grave, so you see how they are, the men." After that his mother fainted from emotion. He called two of her maids to assist her, and he walked out of her room almost brokenhearted. 

In those days in the Caucasus noblemen used to engage their children when they were babies of two months of age. The boy must always be older than the girl. Noble titled Mohammedans never marry girls of the people, but their sisters can marry anyone they like. 

When the master went to his room he sat down for a little while, terribly depressed, and said to himself,  

" It is really a miracle that the old saying is now coming true: a lamb is never born from a goat, and so here I am." However, nothing was to be done but to face the guests. He got up from his chair and pulled himself together, full of life and went straight to them.  

" I apologize," said he, " for leaving you alone so long, but I appreciate your national prejudices, and I admire the correct guess you made about me." He immediately called a servant and told him to bring another sheep. When he came back and said to the master that the sheep was ready, the master said,  

" Please will one of you kill the sheep ?" The elder brother looked at his younger brother and said,  

" You can do that." He went out of doors where the sheep was. He asked first for water, turned up his sleeves and washed his hands. Then he took his own knife, and looked to see if it were sharp enough; he washed it also. Then he asked the servant to make a little hole in the earth for the blood. He did so. Then he said to him,  

" Now stand close up to the sheep, so that you can bend over it, and the sheep shall be between your knees and arms; then you reach first from your left hand the front two legs at the bottom part, and the same way exactly the hind legs. Then you lift it up, and for a moment it will turn upside down; then put it down just where the hole is." The servant did so, with great wonder, as he never saw before anything like that. Then he got his knife, holding it in his right hand, and with the left hand the sheep's mouth facing to the sunrise. " Don't say anything until everything is finished," said he to the lad. Then he said some Mohammedan words. With the last words he cut the sheep's throat; it is a very quick cut right to the neck bone; then after the first cut he let it stand still until the blood had all gone, then he broke the neck, and with another short cut took the head off. Afterwards he washed his hands and the knife, and went back, and two lads brought the sheep to the kitchen to get it ready for supper. The lad was soon surrounded by the kitchen staff: they wished to know how the sheep was killed by the Mohammedan gentleman.  

"Well," he said, " it is a matter of fact there is a great difference in the way he killed the animal and the way we kill. I am positively sure that the sheep was killed quite painlessly."  

" How do you make that out ?" said one of them.  

" I have the proof of it. I was holding its four legs, and first of all I was afraid that I would be unable to hold it, but when he killed it I did not use all my strength, because the sheep hardly moved. So there you see the difference. Besides, let me tell you," the boy added, " if there is really any sin before God to kill an animal for the human use, then God shall first forgive the Mohammedans for their gentle way, and all the Christians ought to be punished for the cruelty to animals, killing them with force and letting them die in great torment." An hour later a fresh meal was ready for the guests. Every one took his seat as before. The servant stood at the corner again, in case he was wanted. All were as cheerful as if nothing had happened. After the dinner, they went to the balcony, and there the elder brother, Bel-Merza, decided to tell their host why they had come.  

" Yes," said the other brother, " now is the right time," so Bel-Merza said to him: " Hitherto we had not much opportunity to let you know why we are here, but now I hope we shall have an amiable conversation with your permission."  

" Certainly," said the Prince, " I shall be delighted."  

" Our father said to us in case some day we should have a dispute over the estate, and as it is important that we save the family name from scandal, and he left word in his will for us to see you for that particular reason. So we shall be very pleased if you will instruct us what to do."  

" With great pleasure," said the Prince. " But you must tell me why you have quarreled ?"  

" The argument was over the money," said Bel-Merza. "Our father left us three iron boxes. All three were full of gold coins, and in one of the boxes, without breaking the lock, the money has gone. I divided the estate once, but my brothers did not agree with it."  

"Who had the cellar key, and who remained mostly indoors? " asked the Prince.  

" I had the keys in my possession and I was always indoors," said Bel-Merza.  

" Well, if so, your brothers may suspect you," said the Prince. " I do not think so," said Bel-Merza. " But so far as I am concerned there were many rumours about my younger brother, Kaz-Jerrey, but my other brother, Temer-Bolat, would not listen to them. He thinks such rumours are only jealousy." The Prince looked at them for a moment and said:  

"I will tell you a most remarkable tale. The tale begins with three questions, and every one of you can choose one of the three, and then we all can see who is faithless. Will you agree with my suggestion ? " asked the Prince.  

" Yes, we do," said they. " Very well," said the Prince. " Shake hands with each other that there shall be no more dispute between you." They shook hands by the Prince's order. 

" Looking towards the mountains," the Prince said to them, " do you see up there, under the hill, a tower? It is a tower of the finest originality, it is sixty feet high, and about two hundred feet round. Inside it is a path about five feet wide, so that one could ride on a pony's back right up to the top. Built with heavy, rough, square stones, there are thousands of holes round it, and in the summer time the swallows and all other kinds of birds have their nests there, and fly all the time about it. 

" The tower originally belonged to a Prince called Prince Biaslantti. He had only one daughter; she was tall, slim, and dark, and had very long hair. She had many girl friends, and often she used to invite them to the tower for tea parties. Sometimes she would go alone to the top and wash her beautiful hair. After she had washed it she used to stand up on a chair to dress it because her hair was longer than she was herself. After that she always leant from the window, dropping her hair outside to dry it in the sun. The people who used to pass by were always looking with great interest as the wind used to blow her hair about. She washed it always with whey, and that was the reason why she had such long hair. There were many men who wanted to marry her; but no one was good enough, and the townspeople could not understand why it was. At that time there was a young man a famous horseman. The Princess still from childhood was in love with him, and nobody knew about it, even the man himself, as they never saw each other or spoke, although her love towards him was more of an imagination love than a pure one, because she never had a chance or the freedom to speak to a strange man, nor would she allow herself to do so, even without her parents' permission, so there was proof she could not have towards him such a sentimental feeling. She was more in love with his famous horsemanship and popularity than from sentiment. 

" His name was Sosslan, and he was the most famous horseman in the world. He was the only man who fully deserved to be called a horseman; and yet he was a poor man - as poor as a man could be - all that he had in the world was a little wooden house with two small windows and a little white horse and saddle. He used to dress all in white except his hat."  

 

Prince Badillat, continuing his story, said:  

" I still recollect how all the young men followed him and admired his skill. Everybody knew that he was poor, but if you could have seen him on his horse then you could imagine he was very wealthy, and that is why the women loved him. The Princess tried very hard to get to know him, but all was in vain. One day he was riding towards the tower and she was at that moment at the tower window; she was very much excited and did not know what to do. As there would not be another such an opportunity, she decided to write a note and drop it at his feet, though she was terribly afraid of her parents. Although she did not know what to write as she had never written to a man before, somehow she wrote a note quickly, and as soon as he passed near to the tower she dropped it just in front of the horse's feet. Sosslan saw it and reined in his horse. The Princess looked silently from the tower. He bent down from his horse and picked the note up and put it into his pocket without opening it, without even looking at the tower where the note came from, and continued his ride towards his home, about seven miles away. She burst into tears, and thought it was terribly cruel of him not to even look up to the tower and catch her eye. " He arrived at home and dismounted, unsaddled his horse and turned the animal into the field, which was near to his house, and took his saddle with him into the room and hung it on the wall. Then he sat down quite alone and took from his pocket the note. He opened it and read its contents, and re-read again. Then he smiled and put it back into his pocket. 

" He never rode any more near the tower. Therefore the Princess became engaged to a wealthy man, by her parents' desire. 

" The Princess's wedding was known to the town two weeks beforehand. The bridegroom had selected a group of twenty famous horsemen. There were also four carts, and in every cart two horses. On the morning of the wedding day all the twenty riders assembled at the bridegroom's house, and also about ten young girls. All were in their native dresses. The riders mounted and stood in a line in the yard. The four carts were full of girls. While they waited, the father of the bridegroom came out to the balcony with some friends. Every one of them had in his hand a glass of wine, and looking cheerfully at the riders, wished them all the best of good luck. They were now ready to ride to the Princess's castle and to invite her to her new home. Before they started to ride home the best man sent a messenger on horseback to the Princess's father to let him know that the riders were on their way, and to make ready the bride for the church. The ride was about ten miles. 

" The riders passed up the street riding all abreast, and the four carts followed them with the girls. The street was full of people, who cheered them. Soon, nearing the Princess's castle at the tower, someone observed them and, running down, told the master. He came to meet them with great delight, and ordered his servants to open the main gate. Directly the riders entered the yard they began shouting and firing off the guns. Everyone tried to show his skill in horsemanship. Then they dismounted and tied their horses up. The girls also got out of the cart and went to the bride's room. For the riders there was ready a long table and one also for the girls.* 

 

* In the Caucasus, at feasts, the men and women never sit together. At marriage banquets only unmarried people are invited. 

 

To be continued in Part 2 at  

http://ossetians.com/eng/news.php?newsid=455&f=31&PHPSESSID=826235d94d31b69ae2914dfb0a8bce84 

 

 

 

 

 



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