His sentence had been read over

It was at length the same to me,
Fettered or fetterless to be,
I learned to love despair.
And thus when they appeared at last,
And all my bonds aside were cast,
Those heavy walls to me had grown
A heritage—and all my own!
BYRON.

Situated on a rocky slope, under the shadow of the hills of Karaba
Yaila, stand the town and castle of Kourouk.

Built by the Genoese upon the ruins of a fortress erected by a khan of
the house of Zingis (under whom the Crimea became an independent
monarchy in 1441), the castle had been in its glory in the days when
Genoa the superb was mistress of the coasts of Asia, and the islands of
Cyprus, Lesbos, and Scio; but when Mohammed II. conquered
Constantinople, he destroyed all the colonies of the Genoese republic
upon the shores of the Euxine.

The defenders of the Castle of Kourouk, under a Scottish soldier of
fortune, made a gallant resistance; but were all put to the sword, and
their skulls are now built into a portion of the rampart which faces
Mecca. The rocks of red and white marble on which it stands have been
excavated, like those of its contemporary, the old Genoese Castle of
Balaclava, into magazines and stately chambers, the sides of which are
covered with coloured designs in stucco.

The two old round towers of the Genoese days were crowned by Russian
cupolas—one striped like a melon, the other cut into facets, like a
pineapple, all red and yellow alternately, and each surmounted by a
glittering cross. These, with the great white banner of St. Andrew,
with its blue saltire over all, made Kourouk look gay at a distance.

Within all was grim and sombre enough.

The garrison consisted of a four-company battalion of Russian infantry,
under a _chef-de-bataillon_, named Vladimir Dahl, a tall,
grisly-moustached old soldier, who wore on his breast the embroidered
representation of a Turkish standard, which he had taken from the
Infidels, in the days of Navarino. Each of his companies consisted of
two hundred men, and belonged to a regiment three thousand strong. Such
corps are the usual Russian formation, and are commanded by a
_pulkovnick_, or colonel.

These troops wore long, loose, dirty-grey capotes, reaching to their
ankles. On their shoulders, and in front of their flat cloth caps, was
sewn a piece of green stuff, with the regimental number, 45; and this
was all their finery.

They were on parade in line as Corporal Pugacheff conducted me into the
fortress; and I thought them a strange array of sorry-looking wretches,
so stolid in aspect, that I was reminded of the traveller, who, on
seeing a Russian and a British regiment under arms in the same square at
Naples, exclaimed—

“There is but one face in that whole regiment, while in this” (pointing
to the British) “every soldier has a face of his own.”

I was treated with the greatest respect and kindness by old Vladimir
Dahl and the officers of the 45th, or Tambrov Infantry, for the outrages
of the French at Kertch, and the infamous massacre of our seamen at
Hango, had not yet occurred to impart a bitterness to the war.

Neither he nor I knew the other’s language; his _capitans_,
_fiarooschicks_, and _praperchicks_ (_i.e._, lieutenants and ensigns)
were in the same condition. Thus we had no means of communication, save
by clinking our glasses, and exchanging cigarettes, nods, winks, and
grins.

An old _Times_ newspaper was given to me. It was dated months back, and
detailed the battle of Oltenitza; but its columns had been carefully
purged by the censor of everything political—an ingenious process
achieved by gutta-percha and ground glass.

The reader has, perhaps, heard of how a farrier-sergeant of the Emperor
Alexander’s Dragoon Guards predicted the destruction of the grand army
of Napoleon I., on being shown a horseshoe dropped by the retreating
cavalry of France.

“What! not frosted yet,” he exclaimed, professionally, “and the snow to
fall to-morrow! Holy St. Sergius! these fellows don’t know Russia!”

Vladimir Dahl was the son of the farrier-sergeant who thus predicted the
downfall of the enemies of Russia; and he was more proud of his father
than if he had been, like the best of the Muscovite nobles, descended
from Ruric the Norman.

The days passed slowly away. I might as well have been dumb, having no
one to converse with. I could not pass the castle gates, as every
avenue, angle, and outlet was guarded by snub-nosed Muscovites, in grey
capotes, with loaded rifles and fixed bayonets.

Hope of escape as yet I had none!

On the morning of the fourth day, a mounted Paulowna hussar delivered at
Kourouk a letter, with a shred of the feather of the quill with which it
had been written inserted among the wax of the seal—a Russian mode of
signifying speed.

It announced the arrival of General Baur, with all his staff. Baur had
been wounded in the encounter with our troops at Khutor-Mackenzie; and I
was very well pleased when the evening of the same day saw him ride into
Kourouk, of which I was heartily weary; and I was not without hopes that
the general, on remembering how we had released him after the Alma,
might do something for me in the way of exchanging or paroling me; and
in his aide-de-camp, the gay young Captain Anitchoff, of the Maria
Paulowna Hussars, I was glad to see a face that I knew, and to meet one
with whom I could converse.

The general had been wounded by a musket shot in the bridle arm. It was
severely inflamed. Ease had been recommended, so he had come to spend a
week or so at Kourouk, which was in his own military district; and on
the very evening of his arrival, Anitchoff brought me an invitation to
dine with him.

Anitchoff was eminently a handsome Russian. His eyes were dark, and had
a latent fire in them that showed some Tartar blood; the lids were full
and white, the lashes long and dark. His nose was straight and thin,
and his ponderous moustache was as black as his close-shaven hair, or
the wolf’s fur that trimmed his light blue uniform.

My costume was of the most sorry description; but a few discrepancies
were made up by Vladimir Dahl, who, among other things, presented me
with a full uniform, silver epaulettes and all, of the Tambrov infantry.

French is not so much spoken in Russia as people in Britain suppose;
yet, luckily for me, General Baur and Anitchoff could speak it fluently.

Before proceeding to the General’s I asked—

“Can you inform me, Captain Anitchoff, if parole is to be accepted?”

“I cannot say, but rather think not,” he replied, with hesitation.

“The deuce!” I exclaimed, haughtily; “then I shall escape, if I can.”

“Pray don’t think of it,” said he, earnestly.

“Why?” I demanded, with intense chagrin.

“We have rather a summary mode of dealing with prisoners who attempt to
escape. So be wary, my friend.”

“Indeed, summary. How?”

“We don’t always keep them on our hands,” said he, with a smile that was
grimly significant, while he played with the gold tassels of his hussar
busby.

“Well, ’twere better to be shot than kept lingering here.”

“Oh, you won’t be kept here, my friend.”

“Where then?”

“In a few days you will probably be sent with a convoy of sick and
wounded by the way of Perecop and the desert plains towards
Yekaterinoslav.”

“I shall escape by the way,” said I, doggedly.

“I repeat, my friend, don’t think of it, for Trebitski, who will
command, does not stand on trifles; and yet,” he added, with a smile,
“there are two persons who seldom fail in what they attempt—a prisoner
and a lover.”

“Why?”

“Stendahl, a Russian author, says, ’The lover thinks oftener of
obtaining his mistress than the husband does of guarding his wife; the
prisoner thinks oftener of escaping from his prison than the gaoler does
of keeping him safe within its walls. Therefore, the lover and the
prisoner should succeed.’ You see,” he continued, laughing, “we have
some authors in snowy Russia, whatever you Britons may think to the
contrary. But here is the general.”

Passing through the officers of the 45th, who all made way for us, I was
ushered into the presence of General Baur, the grim soldier, who was
related to the hero of Beverley’s interesting anecdote—Karlovitch Baur,
son of Karl, the brother of Michel, the old miller of Husum.

He received me with studious politeness, though he could not help
smiling at my Tambrov uniform. His left arm was in a sling, and, as he
shook hands with me, I felt that he had but two right fingers remaining.
A Turkish sabre had shorn him of the rest at Kalafat, on the Danube, in
the year before.

Baur was every way a man of a severely impressive presence and aspect.
He had an enormous white moustache, the long, snaky curls of which
floated almost over each of his large silver epaulettes. His forehead
was high, massive and stern; his hair, shorn short, was rough and
grizly. His dark eyes were keen, bold, and inquiring at times; but at
others they wore a deep, sombre and melancholy expression, as if he was
always thinking of a world beyond the present—to be looking into it, in
fact—and this was not to be wondered at when we consider that Karlovitch
Baur was the hero of one of the most remarkable episodes ever committed
to paper.

His manner was that of one who is prompt and ready alike in thought and
action, and yet who never unsaid or undid anything.

Over his grass-green and silver-laced uniform, he wore a loose, wide
_souba_, or fur coat with sleeves, for service, and this he cast aside
when the trumpets announced that dinner was served; and then, among many
other orders that glittered on his warlike breast, I saw that of St.
Andrew, which was founded in 1699 by Peter the Great, and is only
bestowed on crowned heads and officers of the highest rank.

It reminded me much of our own Order of the Thistle, being a blue
enamelled saltire; but on the reverse was a Muscovite eagle, with the
initials “S.A.P.R.” (_Sanctus Andreas, Patronus Russiæ_).

At the table I was seated between the general and his chief
aide-de-camp, Anitchoff, both of whom conversed with me in French.

“How did it come to pass that you were taken prisoner?” asked the
former.

“My horse was shot under me.”

“Near the Belbeck?”

“Yes,” said I, blushing like a school-girl, as I could not, for the soul
of me, say that a British officer had degraded his epaulettes by the
perfidy of which Berkeley had been guilty.

“Ah! unlucky; but such things will happen. Your troops and the French,
with the Turkish dogs, are now almost in front of Sebastopol.”

“Indeed!” said I, with a joy which I could not conceal.

“You think, no doubt, to take it under our moustaches, or, as you
Britons say, under our noses; but you won’t,” he added with a grave
smile. “St. Sergius has ordained it otherwise, and Todleben, the wary
old Courlander, is busy fortifying it. His sappers are at work day and
night.”




“Pho! don’t talk of Sebastopol, general,” said his aide-de-camp,
laughing. “Our feeding there was so bad that I felt inclined to try
whether the Allies fared better than we did; but after the Alma, I
thought that the less I considered the matter the better.”

“Ah, that day at Alma played the deuce with many a family circle in
Sebastopol,” said Baur, twisting his moustache angrily.

“Yes,” added Anitchoff; “many a widow is there now, weeping for the dear
defunct with one eye, and ogling his successor with the other.”

At this jest a dark frown gathered on the long, stern visage of Baur.

Dinner proceeded briskly. It was served up in a kind of hall, which had
arched and painted windows, flanked by the round Genoese towers, whose
gilt cupolas formed the chief features of the fortress.

The walls were simply whitewashed, and the furniture was somewhat of the
“barrack ordnance” description of our own equipments in quarters at
home.

The repast was rather military in fashion, and by no means a dinner _à
la Russe_, all flower vases, bouquets, and kickshaws; but was composed
of substantial edibles for hungry and soldierly stomachs.

We began with small glasses of kimmel, and then came caviare, made from
the roe of the sturgeon of the Don, spread on thin slices of bread; then
followed the fish—turbot and mackerel from the Black Sea; yellow-fleshed
sterlets from the Volga, salted in oil; wild boar hams from the forest
of Khutor-Mackenzie; mutton fed on the Tauridian steppes; pies of holy
pigeons from the gilt domes I had admired at a distance; piles of
Crimean fruit; the wines of Ac-metchet and Kastropulo, with Cliquot; and
there, too, were London stout and Bass’s pale ale, taken from some of
our wrecks in the Black Sea.

During dinner I was amused by hearing the ideas entertained by the
Russians of our British soldiers, with whom they were now for the first
time in actual conflict; for Prince Menschikoff had industriously spread
among his troops a rumour that we were only beardless seamen, dressed up
as soldiers; and that, however formidable on the ocean, we were
worthless ashore.

To this contemptuous notion was added a sublime faith in their own
valour, and the miracles to be wrought by St. Sergius, whose image they
bore at Alma, and whose fourth reappearance was confidently predicted by
Innocent, Archbishop of Odessa, in his sermon to the garrison of
Sebastopol, for Sergius was a patriotic saint and warrior who defeated
the Tartars—whose “uncorrupted body” lies in a silver shrine, like a
four-post bed, and whose shoes (sorely worn at the heels) are still
preserved in the Troitza, or monastery, of the Holy Trinity at Moscow.

General Baur, a man deeply imbued with the most gloomy superstition,
believed in all these delusions devoutly. His aide-de-camp and Vladimir
Dahl, however, laughed at him covertly; but admitted that the appearance
of the Highland regiments filled the columns on the Kourgané Hill with a
strange terror; for being, as the author of “Eöthen” records, “men of
great stature, and in a strange garb, their plumes being tall, and the
view of them being broken and distorted by the wreaths of smoke, and
there being, too, an ominous silence in their ranks, there were men
among the Russians who began to conceive a vague terror—the terror of
things unearthly; and some, they say, imagined that they were being
charged by horsemen, strange, silent, and monstrous, bestriding giant
chargers.”

Dinner was drawing to a close, or giving place to the dessert, when my
former acquaintance under less pleasant circumstances, Lieutenant Adrian
Trebitski, of the Tchernimoski Cossacks, appeared, travel-stained, and
splashed with the mud of a journey on his boots and sabretache, having
arrived on duty with sick soldiers, and a deserter, who was to be shot
on the morrow.

“Why not to-night?” asked the stern Baur.

“The sentence says to-morrow, general,” replied Anitchoff consulting a
despatch.

“Then to-morrow be it—I am not a messman, and so don’t begrudge the poor
wretch his last supper. Is he one of your corps, Trebitski?”

“Yes, general, I regret to say, a Cossack of our sotnia, from the Lena,
in Siberia,” replied Trebitski, who was eyeing me with an aspect of
discomposure, evidently fearing that I might report the pillage I had
undergone at his hands. But this fear subsided when I drank wine with
him, clinking my glass over and under his, for I felt that my position
was too perilous to make an enemy of this man, especially as Anitchoff
informed me that he was to have command of the convoy which would take
me towards Perecop.

“I hope he will treat me with courtesy,” said I, “and remember that I am
a commissioned officer.”

“Why do you doubt him?” asked Anitchoff, with a quiet smile.

“I—I don’t like the expression of his eyes.”

“They are as keen as those of a Tartar; but, then, he has Tartar blood
in him, for his mother was a woman of the middle Kirghis hordes, lately
added to our empire.”

“Are they remarkable for a curious expression of eye?”

“Yes; any Tartar can discern a single Russian horseman at a quarter of
the distance that a Russian will discover a whole troop of Tartars, even
with lances uplifted; hence they make our best vedettes.”

I now heard complete details of the defeat of twenty thousand Russians
at Khutor-Mackenzie; and that, on the morning of the 26th September,
Balaclava had been taken, that its safe and secluded harbour was now
full of our war ships and transports, and that already our army was on
the heights above Sebastopol.

And so, while the great game, on which the eyes of all the world were
turned, was being played by my noble comrades, I—the victim of
treachery, ignorant alike of my fate and of the future—was to be marched
towards the desert plains of Yekaterinoslav, in the custody of an
unscrupulous ruffian like Trebitski, _parooschick_ of the Tchernimoski
Cossacks; one who knew as little about the position or feelings of a
British officer as he did about those of the Great Llama.

On my bed that night I tossed restlessly to and fro, revolving a hundred
plans for escape, but could decide on none. Bribery will achieve
anything in Russia; but I had no money. I was also without weapons, a
horse, or knowledge of the language. I determined, however, to look
well about me; to study a map of the Crimea if I could find one; to act
surely, warily, and resolutely; and to take the first opportunity of
escaping, even if I should be shot down in the attempt. I was all the
more free to make this essay, that, as yet, not a word had been spoken
either of parole or exchange by the gloomy General Baur, or ’his more
genial aide-de-camp.

By dawn next morning, the hoarse roll of the wooden drums summoned the
garrison of Kourouk to witness the execution of the deserter; and by the
time I came forth, as a spectator, the battalion of the 45th was under
arms, formed in three sides of a hollow square, facing inwards; all
silent, motionless as statues, closely ranked in their grey capotes and
flat blue caps, with rifles shouldered and bayonets fixed.

The fourth side of the square was enclosed by the inner wall of a
rampart, and there stood the culprit, pale and dejected in aspect,
accompanied by a silver-bearded priest of the Greek church in white,
with a gorgeous stole of cloth-of-gold, edged with fine lace. A dog
bounded towards them—a fox-headed, snow-coloured, and red-eyed Russian
poodle, whose bark was familiar to me; and then I was greatly concerned
to recognise in the deserter, who was stripped of his uniform, and stood
in his loose wide trousers and red flannel shirt, poor Corporal
Pugacheff, who had escorted me from the Belbeck river.

“Had I known your disposition for levanting, my friend,” thought I,
“gladly would I have availed myself of it in time.”

“Was he deserting towards the Allies?” I inquired of Anitchoff.

“No; he was supposed to be making off to his own country by the
peninsula of Arabat, which encloses the Putrid Sea. Ah, _pardonnez
moi_,” added the hussar, and he yawned lazily in the chill air of the
early morning, as he buttoned his well-furred pelisse over his uniform.

“But is not the punishment excessive?”

“Not for a soldier in time of war, surely! There are two classes in
Russia exempt from all corporal punishment, severe as you may deem
us—nobles, and soldiers who have been honoured with medals. Pugacheff
served against the Turks at the frontier town of Isaktcha last year. He
has a medal, so there is no resource but to shoot him; and here comes
the firing company under a _praperchick_? (This grotesque word in Russ
signifies an ensign.)

“What is he saying?” I asked, as the poor Cossack now threw himself on
his knees, and raised his trembling hands and haggard eyes to heaven in
supplication.

“He is praying to St. Sergius, and saying that, if his life that is to
come in heaven were to be no better than it is on earth, as a corporal
of Cossacks, pain and death would, indeed, be terrible!”

“Poor fellow!”

His sentence had been read over by Vladimir Dahl; and he and General
Baur—both of whom wore cocked hats with immense green plumes, and
well-furred _soubas_—withdrew a little way, and leaned composedly on
their sabres, while the ramrods glittered in the rising sun, as the
stolid-visaged firing party of twelve men loaded their rifles, cast them
about, and capped. Now the chapel bell began to toll solemnly, and the
standard waved, half-hoisted, in the wind.

The small, keen eyes of Pugacheff seemed fixed on vacancy. The old
priest, in full canonicals, was praying with great earnestness and
devotion; but the prisoner scarcely seemed to hear him.

Perhaps his eyes at that moment saw in fancy his father’s cottage by the
broad waters of the Lena; the grove of dark green pines that cast their
shadows on the deep snow-wreaths, and the sharp, flinty summits of the
distant hills, where the stalwart Siberian Cossack galloped in freedom,
with his long, ready spear at his stirrup.

The fawning of the dog, Olga, now attracted the attention of the doomed
man. He lifted it up, stroked, caressed, and kissed it tenderly, for
the poor dog was, perhaps, his only friend. His rugged nature was
melted, and I think there was a tear in his eye, as he looked with a
haggard expression around him.

Suddenly his glance fell on me. He beckoned me to him, and gave me the
dog, saying something, I know not what, hurriedly, and in a husky
voice—a request, no doubt, that I would keep and be kind to the little
animal when he was gone; and I led it away by its leather collar, just
as the firing party brought their muskets to the “ready” and cocked
them.

The dog whined and struggled fiercely with me. It broke away at last,
and rushed to the side of its kneeling and blindfolded master, leaping,
frisking, and barking joyously about him, just as the twelve death-shots
flashed from the muzzles of the firing party.

When the smoke cleared away I saw the Cossack and his dog lying dead on
the gravel, side by side. They had been shot at the same moment.
Pugacheff had several balls in his head and breast, and from the white
coat of the still quivering poodle a crimson current was pouring.

The corporal was buried in the dry ditch of Kourouk, and ere the last
sods were put over his grave by the pioneers, his faithful little
four-footed friend was thrown in beside him, by order of Vladimir Dahl,
and they were covered up together.

The tolling of the chapel bell died away; hoisted to the truck, the
Russian cross streamed out upon the morning wind; and so ended this
little tragedy.

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