Small Story

Ilia Chavchavadze – Notes of a Journeyfrom Vladikavkazto Tiflis


In the morning at six o’clock an unwashed, uncombed yamshtchik (Russian driver) drove up  with  a  post  cart  to  the  door  of  the  hotel  at  Vladikavkaz  where  I  had  alighted  the  evening  before.  It  is  wonderful  how  fair  Russian  artists  make  the  coarse  features  of  these  thicknecked  drivers,  their  slovenly  gait  and  inhuman  and  bestial  manners.  They  are  twice  as  disgusting  in  reality as they are portrayed attractive. But the Russians say “Even the smoke of our own home is sweet and pleasant to us”. Of the sweetness of smoke I know nothing  but  certainly  I  can  say  that it is pleasant — very pleasant — especially when it draws tears from the eyes.

When I had packed, that is when I had put my little knapsack in the chaise, I turned to bid farewell to my newly made French acquaintance.

Who  invented  this  vehicle?  He  asked  pointing  to  the  postcart  on  which  the  sleepy  “yamshtchik” was stupidly nodding.

The Russians, I answered.

I  imagine  nobody  is  likely  to  dispute  the  honour  with  them.  I  pity  you  to  be  forced  to  addle your brain and shake up your stomach on a thing like that. What’s to be done? If the whole of Russia travels in this: manner why should I complain?

That’s why Russia doesn’t advance more rapidly. God give you a safe journey. As for me, I tell you frankly I would not risk my life by getting into it. Good-bye! If we should meet again some day I beg you to remember me.

With these words he gave me his hand and grasped it firmly as only a European can.

I entered the postcart.

The “yamshtchik” first looked sulkily round then gathered the reins together, called “gee-up”  to  the  lean  horses  and  raised  his  whip.  The  lean  horses  did  not  budge,  not  even  an  ear  twitched.  “Now,  the  devil,  move  on  won’t  you,”  he  shouted  to  the  horses  shaking  the  reins  and  beginning  to  stamp  with  his  feet.  Not  a  bit  of  it,  the  horses  did  not  move  a  step.  My  French  acquaintance was looking out of the window, dying with laughter. What made the silly fellow so merry?

“The whole of Russia travels like that? Ha, ha, ha,” he laughed, “they travel like that?”

I  saw  nothing  amusing  in  it  but  I  laughed  too.  The  “yamshtchik”  wrath-fully  turned  his  cow-like  eyes  towards  me  and  began  to  scowl  like  a  beast.  Then  he  bent  his  thick  neck  to  the  horses again and gave them a couple of lashes. The horses, when they found there was nothing else to be done, managed to start from the spot and set off trotting. The tinkling bells began their unpleasing jangle, the carriage began to bump over the stones and I was shaken from side to side.


Thus I left Vladikavkaz behind me and set my face towards my native land. I passed over the Terek bridge so that I might not only not drink its waters but not even see it. I was afraid that my  eyes  might  light  upon  some  native.  To  us,  Georgians  there  is  something  unpleasant  and  disagreeable in a dweller on the Terek. For this there is very good cause: first we do not like him because a dweller by Terek is really a Terek dweller, then because… because, secondly he is a Terek  dweller,  thirdly  because…  because…  because…  thirdly  too  he  is  a  dweller  by  the  Terek.  Come now and dispute the validity of such a wise reason to our distressful Georgian people.

That baleful Terek! How two-faced it has been! See how dead it is. Whenever it turns its back to us and its face to Russia, when it gets into the plains and the flat country somehow that daemonic, heroic voice ceases. Is that our mad Terek at Vladikavkaz of which our poet sings:

“Terek rushes, Terek thunders
“The rocks give back its bass”

There it is as spiritless, as dead, as if it dwelt under the rod or had received a high official post. But perchance Terek is so silent there because the echoing rocks are not by its sides, those rocks:

“The clouds lie black upon the rocky heights
“And wrathfully threaten the earth with a deluge”.

But  nevertheless,  woe  to  thee,  my  Terek!  Thou  my  foster  brother,  like  some  men,  wherever thou goest thou donnest the hat of the country. No sin is thy thunder, thine awful noise, thy fury and fretting, thine eternal strife with boulders, rock and glen, as if thy large desire could not  be  contained  in  thy  narrow  bed.  Much  is  there  that  is  worthy  of  thought  in  thee,  our  unsubdued Terek, in thy victorious and obstinate course. But here thou art drowned like a slain lion dragged alonge. Thou art pitiable and thou doest sin!

“Oh, fortune in what dost thou consist.
“Why dost thou turn us about, what instinct afflicts thee?” (*1)

It  was  midday  when  we  arrived  at  the  Lars  posthouse.  Up  to  Lars  my  heart  had  felt  no  particular  pleasure  except  that  the  nearer  I  came  to  my  native  land  the  more  familiar  became  nature about me and the more Terek raged and dashed.

I went into the empty room at the post house and as I wished to drink tea I told a broken-legged soldier, who stood as sentinel at the end of the post house, to bring a samovar. While he was getting the samovar ready I lay down on a wooden couch and gave myself up to thought.

For four years I had lived in Russia and had not seen my home. Four years!… What a four years these four years are dost thou know, reader? First of all it is a whole century for him who is far from his native land. Then these four years are life’s foundation, life’s head waters, the hair-like bridge thrown across between light and darkness. But not for all! Only for him who has gone to Russia to exercise his intelligence, to give his brain and his heart work, to move forward. It is in  these  four  years  that  the  tendril  of  life  knots  itself  into  the  brain  and  heart  of  youth.  This  tendril it is from which may come forth beautiful, bright clusters of grapes and bilberries too. Oh, precious  four  years!  Happy  is  he under whose feet the extended hair  bridge  does  not  give  way.  Happy is he who makes good use of you!


When I had left Vladikavkaz and the breeze of my native land began to blow on me my heart began to beat in another way. In the postcart my best thoughts were lost in rattling over the stones. Now, reclining like a grandfather on the couch in a room of a post house you may be well assured that I gave my thoughts all my attention and mind. All that I had left in my beautiful land adorned  like  a  bride,  all  that  I  had  seen,  suffered  and  learnt  crowded  upon  me.  Many  confused  thoughts were represented before my mind’s eye, but quicker than lightning one thought changed to another, so that my mind’s eye could not rest on one and the same object for one moment — in a  word,  there  was  a  perfect  revolution  going  on  in  my  brain;  thoughts  which  had  taken  a  low  place  came  up  high,  those  which  had  been  high  went  down  and  then  they  quarelled  among  themselves.

This was the state I was in. At last, all my thoughts took their proper in my brain. Among them one stood out more brightly, to this one followed a second to the second a third, so that at last  they  became  an  unbroken  string  of  beads.  How  shall  I  look  on  my  country  and  how  will  it  look  on  me,  thought  I.  What  shall  I  say  to  my  country  that  is  new,  and  what  will  it  say  to  me.

Who  knows:  perhaps  my  country  will  turn  its  back  on  me  as  on  one  transplanted  and  reared  in  another  soil.  Perhaps,  though  it  will  acknowledge  me,  since  in  any  case  my  native  rennet  is  in  me. But what shall I do if my country listens to me and tells me her story, and I, inexpert in her “language, can not understand her tongue, her speech? It may be, though, she will receive me as her son, clasp me to her heart, and eagerly listen to me. But am I indeed able to speak her very speech,  and  in  that  tongue  can  I  bring  consolation  to  the  hopeless,  can  I  wipe  the  tears  of  the  mourner,  and  lighten  the  work  of  the  labourer,  can  I  gather  in  one  those  separate  sparks  which  without doubt animate every man? Am I able for this? Can I express what I feel? I decided that my  country  would  receive  me  and  acknowledge  me  because  I  am  her  blood  and  her  flesh;  I  should understand her words and speech because a son hearkens to his father not only with his ears, but with his heart which understands even the unspoken words; I will make them hearken to my words too, for a parent always listens to the words of his child. But I say all this of words, and what of deeds? If thy country demand deeds of thee what wilt thou do? I asked myself, and again I stopped. I felt that this question made a break in the variegated string of my thoughts.

And what should I really do? I asked myself aloud. You should take some tea, replied the soldier, who at this moment brought in the samovar and placed it on my couch.


Wasn’t that why you ordered a samovar, replied the stupid orderly, and went out. A few moments  after  this  the  door  opened  again  and  an  officer  presented  himself.  His  face  clearly  showed that he was very intimately acquainted with wine and spirits. It was easy to see that he was not a traveller.

Allow me, he said, to make myself known to you: I am, at your service, a Sub-lieutenant, I am quartered here at Lars in charge of a squad.

I am very glad to make your acquaintance, I replied, rising and offering him my ungloved hand.

Where do you come from?

From St. Petersburg.

Very pleasant! In this desolate desert I have only one pit sure and that is to meet travellers from a civilized land. It is the duty of man, who lives by reason, both to God and to the world, to meet enlightened men to talk to awaken his intelligence. I am very glad to see you. Discourse is the mind’s food.

Speaking thus, he again offered to shake hands; a second time I offered him my hand.

Who are you? he asked me.

I am, at your service, an Armenian clerk.

A clerk! he said, and pursed his lips.

Yes, sir.

My new acquaintance when he learnt this immediately put on the airs of a personage of importance: he drew up his shoulders and changed the tenour of his conversation to another key.

Where do you come from? he asked me with surprise and scorn.

From Petersburg.

Hm! sneered the officer, from Petersburg. Very good!… So you have been lucky enough to  see  Petersburg.  Petersburg!…  It’s  a  very  fine  city,  he  said,  and  sat  down  comfortably  on  a  bench.  Petersburg!…  Oh,  oh!  It’s  a  great  city,  Petersburg.  It  is  a  spacious  city.  It  isn’t  like  your  dirty little town. What sort of a town is yours? You can spit from one end of the town to another. But Petersburg… have you seen Petersburg j! It is the heart of Russia. It is true that up to now the  whole  of  Russia  thought  that  Moscow  was  its  heart,  but  I  have  dispelled  that  false,  foolish  idea: I am an author. I beg you to know me. Don’t look at me like that. I affirm that Petersburg is the heart of the whole of Russia. Have you seen Izler’s garden?

I  listened  to  this  officer  and  thought  to  myself  that  he  must  be  mad,  but  I  could  see  no  sign of it except in his confused conversation.

No, have you seen Izler’s garden or not? he asked me again.

How do you prove that Petersburg is the heart of Russia? asked I, giving no answer to his last question.

No,  first  tell  me  have  you  seen  Izler’s  garden  or  not?  You  people  are  not  used  to  intelligent  conversation  and  that  is  why  you  jump  from  one  subject  to  another.  You  do  not  understand logical, orderly reasoning. This, of course, comes from your lack of enlightenment. I suppose    that    you    do    not    even    know    the    meaning    of    “civilization”,    “association”,    “argumentation”,  “intelligent”,  “cassation”  and  “philology”.  But  that  is  nothing  —  that  is  temporary. Even you will be taught. Thank God, many officers and officials come from Russia to enlighten you. No, first tell me, have you seen Izler’s garden or not? If you haven’t seen that, you haven’t seen Petersburg.

I have seen it.

You have seen it. Then you have made a step forward on the road to enlightenment. I am very glad, delighted. Izler’s garden! What a garden it is, eh! It is a paradise full of fairies, ah! Do you  know  what      fairies  are?  That  is  a  scientific  word,  perhaps  you  don’t  understand.  If  we  translate it into the vulgar tongue that means that the garden is full of merry-eyed damsels. If you like you can take one by the arm, and, if you like, a second. See what civilization can do. Your women  —  if  they  even  see  a  man  —  they  hide.  No,  Petersburg…  is  a  great  city,  a  very  enlightened city and Izler’s garden is the crown of civilization, it is such a garden that “phew!”

At these words the scientific officer kissed his finger tips.

I hope that this samovar is standing on the table for you.

Your hope does not deceive you.

I  hope  too,  that  you,  as  a  man  who  has  come  from  a  civilized  country,  will  be  polite  enough to offer me tea.

That hope I will not disappoint.

Of course, you have rum too.

I am sorry I have not.

That doesn’t matter. Are you an Armenian or a Georgian?

A Georgian.

I  am  very  glad  that  you  are  a  Georgian.  Although  our  Lermontov  writes  that  “the  timid  Georgians  fled”  yet  even  Georgians  are  better  than  those  blackguards.  You  have  cigarettes  of  course.

I have.

I hope you will give me one.

With great pleasure, take one.

Well then, you pour out the tea and then we can have some scientific conversation. It will be difficult for you, but I will translate scientific words here and there into simple language and so thus make it easy for you.

I  poured  out  the  tea  and  handed  him  a  glass.  When  he  had  drunk  it  he  smoked  his  cigarette and started the conversation.

Your country is not civilized, to use learned language, that is to say in the vulgar tongue it is uncivilized, do you understand.

Very clearly.

There,  I  told  you  I  would  simplify  the  learned  language  so  that  you  would  understand.  Now I will begin from this: your country is not enlightened, that is, it is unenlightened. This tea is from Moscow?

No, I bought it in Stavropol.

It’s all the same. Now let us begin as I said before with the fact that your country is not enlightened, which mean? that your country is dark.

Do you understand?

Yes, quite well.

Now  when  we  begin  by  saying  that  your  country  is  not  enlightened  it  is  as  if  we  said  there  is  no  light  in  it.  I  will  explain  this  by  an  exam,  pie:  imagine  a  dark  room  —  have  you  imagined it or not?

I have imagined it.

No, perhaps you have left a window open somewhere, fasten it too.

I have shut it, said I, and smiled.

Very good. When you fasten the window you must let down the blind.

I have drawn it down.

When you have let down the blind the room is darkened, you can see nothing. Suddenly a candle  is  brought  and  the  room  is  illuminated.  That  is  enlightenment.  But  really,  I  tell  you  this  cigarette is not bad. Is it from Petersburg?

No, I bought them in Vladikavkaz.

It’s all the same. Now do you understand the meaning of enlightenment?

Very clearly.

Now,  since  I  have  explained  to  you  the  meaning  of  enlightenment,  let  me  ask  you  how  civilization is progressing among you.

I cannot tell you. I have not been home for a long time.

That’s nothing: I will learn directly how it is progressing. Have you had any generals, you Georgians?

We might be able to muster about a score.

What do you say? a score. Oh, that is a great thing, said our learned officer solemnly; a score  do  you  say?  This  handful  of  people  and  twenty  generals.  You  must  have  a  great  civilization, sir. You cannot understand — twenty generals! I don’t believe it. Perhaps you count as  real  generals  what  we  call  in  learned  parlance  “actual  councillors  of  state”,  or  in  simpler  language  “civil  generals  or  still  more  simply  “un-striped  generals”  or  if  we  put  it  still  more  simply “unmoustached generals”. This is of course what you have done.

No, by your sun! I swore; by your san! I was speaking of real generals only.

A score of real generals! Glory be to Orthodox Russia! Glory and honour. Wherever she sets  her  foot  she  establishes  civilization!  How  many  years  will  it  be  since  Russia  came  down  here?

About seventy.

Two generals for every two years. It’s a great thing, that is a great civilization. And what sort of generals? Real generals. If by the power of God civilization marches like this among you in another seventy years you will have twenty more generals and that will be forty. That’s a great thing. I didn’t know this. But where was I to find it out? It is not yet three years since I came to this country. To tell you plainly, I have had no time to fix a learned eye on your country, I have been  studying  a  very  deep  subject,  I  have  made  deep research, I have read histories and all my time  has  been  spent  on  this  scientific  work.  But  my  labour  has  not  been  in  vain,  future  generations will remember my name.

What have you done?

What have I done? It is easy to tell you. You see in Russia the serfs have been taken away from their masters. The masters have no servants left. They were left at the mercy of hirelings. Sorrow  came  upon  the  land,  for  these  hirelings  began  to  steal  everything  in  the  house.  I,  like  a  heart-sore  son,  was  grieved  at  the  sorrow  of  my  land.  I  said  to  myself:  the  country  must  be  helped, said I. Thank God, I have helped it too. I have invented a means by which hirelings can no longer steal in the house. Quite a simple occurrence made me discover the cure. My orderly was a very great thief, he didn’t even let the sugar in the sugar box alone. I thought and thought; what can I do, thought I, I began to lock the box, but sometimes I used to forget and when I went out of the house the orderly stole my sugar. At last I caught two flies and put them in the sugar-box, shut the lid and left it unlocked. Now you will ask me, why? This was why, — if the orderly wanted  to  steal  sugar  again  he  would  have  to  open  the  box.  When  he  raised  the  lid  the  flies  would fly away. Then when I came in I would open the box and if I saw no flies inside then it was  evident  that  somebody  had  raised  the  lid.  Who  would  do  it  except  my  orderly?  Since  I  invented this my orderly couldn’t steal from me. Now every morning when I finish my tea I catch flies in the room, I put them in the box and all night I am calm. I know that no one can steal my sugar.  How  do  you  like  my  idea?  It  is  cheap,  and  a  cure  for  stealing.  It  might  be  used  for  everything  that  we  keep  in  a  box.  I  have  never  told  this  idea  of  mine  to  anybody  before,  but  I  love  your  land  so  much  that  I  tell  you  and  I  beg  you  to  make  it  known  to  your  unenlightened  masters. There is one thing I have not found a way to stop, the stealing of vodka. I did try to put flies  in  the  vodka  bottle,  but  the  cursed  things  drowned  themselves  in  it  —  they  know  what  is  good for them. But I shall soon think of a cure for that. Well, how does my cunning please you? The French invent devilish sorts of things like that, but to buy their machines is dear, while my invention doesn’t cost a farthing. What expense is there in catching two flies and putting them in a box? It is nothing, but now see what maybe the result of my invention: when it spreads perhaps there will begin to be a trade in flies. There will thus be a new industry in the land; some fine day you  will  go  into  your  town  and  you  will  find  a  fly  shop.  That’s  not  bad.  How  many  hungry  mouths  may  be  filled  by  the  help  of  flies!  What  are  flies  at  present?  Nothing.  Of  what  use  are  they? None at all. Now you see of what great significance the labour and work of a learned wise man is to the land. I did come here although many entreated me not to do so. I said to myself: If God has bestowed some talent on me I should use it for my people, said I, but said I, these newly annexed  countries  need  more  enlightenment;  enlightened  men  are  needed.  But  wait  a  little  and  see  what  will  happen.  I,  as  I  told  you  already,  have  invented  one  thing,  now  others  may  invent  other  things,  and  it  may  happen  that  there  will  come  a  man  who  will  make  an  Izler’s  garden  in  your  town;  all  things  are  possible  to  the  educated  man.  In  that  case  all  the  civilization  of  Petersburg  would  be  brought  here.  Then  some  fine  day  you  will  see  how  there  will  be  a  promenade in your Izler’s garden, your women will begin to walk boldly, you could say “Sheni Chirime” (*2) to one or another and they will not say a word. Then the people will see their paradise, as the learned say, that is to put it simply but what shall I say, paradise is just paradise. Do you understand?


That evening I came up to Stepantsminda. It was a beautiful evening so I decided to stay the night that my eyes might open on the lovely view.

Oh Georgia !

“Where is there another Georgia!
In what corner of the world?”

I  went  out  from  my  room  and  looked  over  at  Mqinvari,  which  they  call  Mount  Kazbek.  There  is  something  noble  about  Mqinvari.  Truly  can  it  say:  the  heavens  are  my  head-dress  and  the earth my slippers. It rose in the azure sky, white and serene. Not a cloud, even of the size of a man’s  hand,  dimmed  its  lofty  brow,  its  head  silvered  with  frost.  One  solitary  star  of  great  brilliance shone steadily,  as  if  marvelling  at  Mqinvari’s  noble mien. Mqinvari! Great is it, calm and peaceful, but it is cold and white. Its appearance makes me wonder but doesn’t move me, it chills me and does not warm me — in a word it is Mqinvari /frozen/.

Mqinvari with all its grandeur is to be admired but not to be loved. And what do I want with  its  greatness.  The  world’s  hum,  the  world’s  whirlwind  and  breezes,  the  world’s  ill  or  weal  makes  not  even  a  nerve  in  his  lofty  brow  twitch.  Although  his  base  stands  on  mother  earth  his  head rests: in heaven; it is isolated; inaccessible. I do not like such height nor such isolation nor such  inaccessibility  .Thank  God  for  the  desperate,  mad,  furious,  obstinate,  disobedient  muddy  Terek!  Leaping  from  the  black  rock’s  heart  he  goes  roaring  and  shouting  on  his  way.  I  love  Terek’s  noisy  murmur,  its  hurried  struggle,  grumbling  and  lamentation.  Terek  is  the  image  of  human awakened life, it is a face mobile and worth knowing; in its muddy waters can be found the lye to wash a whole world’s woe. Mqinvari is the noble image of eternity and death: cold as eternity,  silent  as  death.  No,  I  do  not  love  Mqinvari  —  all  the  more  because  it  is  inaccessibly  high. The foundation of the earth’s happiness is placed at the base, all buildings are reared from the bottom, no building is begun from the top. Therefore I, a child of this earth, am better pleased by Terek and loveit more. No, I do not love Mqinvari; its coldness stings me, its whiteness ages me!  It  is  high,  you  say.  What  have  Ito  do  withits  height  since  I  cannot  reach  up  to  it  and  it  cannot reach down to me. No I do not love Mqinvari. Mqinvari reminds me of the great Goethe. Terek  of  the  stormy  and  indomitable  Byron.  Happy  Terek!  Thy  charm  lies  in  thy  restlessness.  Stand  still  but  a  little  while  and  dost  thou  not  turn  into  a  stinking:  pool  and  does  not  this  fearsome roar of thine change to the croaking of frogs! It is movement and only movement, my Terek, which gives to the world its might and life.


Night  had  fallen.  Gazing  on  Mqinvari  and  the  Terek,  occupied  with  various  thoughts,  time  had  stolen  on  so  imperceptibly  that  I  scarcely  noticed  how  the  sun  had  bidden  farewell  to  the earth which he had warmed and was hidden by the mountains. It was night, nothing could be seen, the world’s din ceased, the earth was silent.

It was night, but I know not what I should have done had I not had hope that dawn was coming  again.  Would  life  have  been  worth  living?…  O,  nature  I  love  thy  order  by  whose  aidevery night dawns into day.

It  was  night  but  still  I  stay  outside  the  posthouse  and  obstinately  I  make  my  keen  mind  follow  the  sough  of  Terek’s  desperate  rush.  All  was  still,  but  not  thou,  O  Terek!  I  assure  you  I  hear  in  this  voiceless  world  Terek’s  complaint  not  to  be  hushed.  In  human  life  there  are  such  moments of solitude when Nature reveals thee. to thyself and at the same time reveals herself to thee.  Therefore,  canst  thou  say  that  even  in  solitude  thou  art  nowhere  alone.  Oh,  biped  who  callest  thyself  human.  This  night  I  feel  that  there  is  as  it  were  a  secret  bond  —  a  concord  —  between  my  thoughts  and  Terek’s  moan.  My  heart  is  moved  and  my  arm  trembles.  Why?  Wemust tarry for an answer.

It  is  dark,  man’s  footfall  is  hushed,  man’s  noisy  pomp  has  ceased,  no  more  is  heard  the  moan of those disquieted by weariness and longing, earth’s pain slumbers, no being save myself is to be seen. Alas! how empty were this full earth without man!… No, take away this dark and peaceful  night  with  its  slumber  and  its  dreams  and  give  me  light  and  restless  day  with  its  sufferings, its tortures, its struggles and its lamentations. Dark night, I hate thee. Hadst thou not been  created  upon  earth  me  thinks  half  man’s  ills  had  not  existed.  At  first  by  thy  coming  thou  struckest horror into the mind of man and frightened him.

Since  then,  terrified,  he  could  not  find  his  way  —  and  lo!  man  struggles  and  even  till  today one in a thousand cannot accustom his once frightened mind to its terror. Oh, dark night! I hate thee. In the shelter who knows how many evil foes of mankind are lurking even now? Who knows how many smiths and tyrants are forging the chains to fix man’s fate under this dark veil which  covers  my  sight?  Thou  art  the  abettor  of  that  craft  called  sorcery,  which  to  man’s  terror-stricken  mind  makes  woe  seem  joy;  thou  art  the  hour  and  time  of  the  witches’  feast  when  the  toasts of darkness are heard. Evil one, avaunt, O day of light, approach!…


At  the  posthouse  I  learnt  that  there  was  frequently  much  delay  in  travelling  by  post  through the mountains, owing to the lack of horses at the stations. I was advised to hire a horse as far as Phasanaur and to cross on horseback. This advice suited me well, I gave myself up to sleep, intending to hire a saddle horse on the morrow and to cross the mountains thus.

The  day  broke.  How  beautiful  art  thou,  morning  dawn!  How  beautiful  art  thou,  dew  washed  earth!  It  seems  to  me  that  on  this  morning  all  earth’s  pains  should  be  alleviated,  but  Terek still roars and struggles. The earth’s pain it seems is not to be calmed.

The  day  broke  and  the  world  began  to  speak  with  human  voices.  The  day  began  its  restless bustle. An awakened man is good!… But still better is that man who in sleeping sleepeth not, his heart afire for the misery of the land. My lovely land, be there such in thee? I will search, and if I find any I will do him reverence.

I went outside the station and met a glensman. I hired a horse from him on condition that he should accompany me on horseback. Not only did I not repent but I was very glad that I had arranged  matters  thus.  My  glensman  turned  out  to  be  very  useful.  He  was  a  grizzled?  elderly  man. In the end it appeared that he was an interested observer of that little land which fate had stretched round him and which was appointed to vary his colourless life.

We mounted our horses and set forth from Step’antsminda. I gave a last look at Mqinvari. He stared down in a lordly way from his height. Hedisturbed my morning peace, of mind. Again my  heart  began  to  beat  and  my  arm  to  shake.  With  perfect  hatred  I  turned  my  eyes  from  Mqinvari’s greatness and with more respect I took my leave of Terek madly rushing at his feet. He, as if he … sat on a little mountain horse which trotted almost the whole way with a comical “wolf’s “trot. My glensman’s longhaired fur hat slipped over his eyes, and so easily he sat astride his wide saddle, so comfortably and untroubled he suited his valiant form to the horse’s trot, so peacefully and with such enjoyment he smoked his “chibukh”, that you would have thought — it would be hard indeed to find another man in such fettle on the face of the earth.

What is your name, brother, asked I.

They call me G’unia of the reeds, he answered.

Where do you come from?

Where? From Gaibotani, here in the mountains on Terek’s banks.

— Are you Osset or Georgian?

— Why will I be Osset? I am Georgian, a glensman.

— Your home is in a good place.

— It’s not so bad: it suits our poverty.

— Water like this and air are happiness.

— Hm! laughed the glensman.

— What are you laughing at?

— I laugh at the ridiculous. An empty stomach cannot be filled wi’these.

— You should have a good harvest here.

— What for no? The place is not bad; we get a pickle, each man will have less than a two weeks harvest. We have not much room.

— This big road will give you help.

—  What  difference  does  the  road  make!  It’s  only  of  use  to  him  who  is  saved  work  by  carrying things to sell.

— Then you do not hire yourself out?

— Why not? Of course I do.

— Then you get money from hire.

—  I  get  it.  It  doesn’t  stay  in  my  pocket,  though;  a  glensman  is  the  portion  of  the  Armenian. Food and drink are not in the house; the money goes to the dukan. (*3)

— Then it must be better in the plains; there the people have more to eat.

—  Who  knows?  There  too  there  are  ills.  The  climate  is  unhealthy.  The  folk  thereabouts  have  no  colour,  they  are  not  strong.  Here  we  are  healthy.  The  Maker  of  the  round  sky  has  decreed it; there Satiety, here health.

— Which is better, the fat land or the healthy?

— Both are alike. No place is bad.

— If you were made to choose one of them?

— One? To choose! I prefer these broken rocks. It is healthy. Adam’s son is but grass, he has  wants,  he  satisfies  them,  why  should  he  suffer  pain?  (At  this  moment  my  glensman’s  rope  stirrup  suddenly  gave  way,  he  could  not  balance  himself  and  slipped  to  the  side  of  the  horse.  Then he recovered himself, leapt from his horse and began to mend the stirrup).

— A caparisoned horse is a necessary evil, the glensman called out with a smile; blessed is the barebacked horse; you have only to… and jump on.

I did not wait for the glensman but went on.


— Tell me, by your troth, said I to the glensman when he caught me up: What monastery is that opposite Step’anstminda?

— Beyond the Terek?

— Yes.

—  May  God  be  merciful  to  you  while  living  and  pardon  you  when  dead!  that  is  the  church of the Holy Trinity, the hiding place of treasure in former days, the seat of justice.

— How the hiding place of treasure, the seat of justice?

— The Georgian King’s treasure was hidden here from foes, many a time has the treasury been brought here from Mtzkhet to be concealed.

— How is it the seat of, justice?

—  The  seat  of  justice?  Here  there  is  a  cell,  where  justice  was  dispensed  by  judges.  Whenever any serious affair arose in the glens it was judged there.

— Canst thou not tell me what this justice was like and what it was about generally?

— Why not tell thee? What I know I will relate to thee. When there took place among the people a great pursuit, any important affair, a big election, the people betook themselves thither, chose judges from among the wise old men, men famed for their wisdom. They set them up in that  cell  to  judge.  Whatever  these  mediators  then,  in  the  name  of  the  Trinity,  having  asked  for  grace from God, speak and decide, none breaks, none infringes.

— Hast thou been present at such a tribunal?

— How should I have been present? I am telling thee tales of other days.

— Why is it no longer as it was?

— Nowadays? My glensman was sunk in thought and gave no answer. After a short, pause he asked me:

— What countryman art thou?

— I am a Georgian, couldst thou not recognize me?

— How should I recognize thee? Thy garb is not of the Georgians; thou art dressed like a Russian.

— Can a man’s Georgianness only be recognized from his clothes?

— To the eyes he is known by his clothes.

— And his tongue and speech?

— Many speak the Georgian tongue: Armenians, Ossetians, Tatars, and other people.

— And do few wear the Georgian clothes?

— The look of a Georgian’s garments is quite different. In Russia a Georgian becomes a foreigner.

— A Georgian should be a Georgian at heart; or what is the use of clothes.

— Thou  art  right.  But  who  can  see  into  the  heart?  The  heart  is  inside,  invisible,  the  clothes are outside, visible.

— Although I am dressed like a Russian, believe me, I am a Georgian in heart.

— May be.

I do not know whether my glensman believed me or not. But after this a conversation of the  following  sort  took  place:  Thou  hast  not  replied  to  my  former  question,  I  began  again:  I  asked thee why they no longer judge in the cell of Trinity.

Now?…  Where  is  our  nationality?  We  are  under  Russia.  Now  everything  is  destroyed,  everything is changed. At the foot of Sameba (Trinity) is the village of Gergeti. The men of the village  were  sworn  sentinels  of  the  Church  by  the  Kings.  In  return  the  Kings  gave  the  whole  village  franchise  and  gave  them  a  charter  to  be  handed  down  from  son  to  son.  In  days  of  old  every night three men were sent from Gergeti to watch. The men of Gergeti still hold themselves responsible  for  theguarding  of  the  church,  but  the  Russians  have  taken  away  their  franchise.  Russia pays no heed to the King’s charter. Gergeti now pays taxes like the rest. The old order has passed away, the justice, asked from God’s grace, in Trinity is no more.

— Then the former state and time were better?

— Why not?

— How were they better?

— In those days for evil or for good we belonged to ourselves, therefore, it was better. In those days the people were patriotic, their hearts were full of courage, men were men and women women.

In those days! We leaned one on the other, we asked aid one of the other. We cared for the widow and orphan, we kept in their places the devil inside and the wicked outside, we did not trouble the calm of God and the lords judges, we hid each other from bold foes, we cared for the fallen, we comforted those who wept; and thus there was human pity and unity. Now the people are spoilt, they have fallen into adultery, avarice and greed overcome us, unity is no more, and enmity  and  rending  to  pieces  have  increased.  Now  who  listens  to  the  plaint  of  the  widow  and  orphan, who makes the weeper smile, who raises the fallen? Nowadays there are no men and if there  are  in  face  and  in  heart  they  are  spiritless.  The  people  are  down  trodden,  torn  to  shreds,  courageless. The glory of the Georgians is passed and their supremacy. Then was our day. Our land  is  no  more,  it  has  perished,  what  now  remains  to  us?  Food  and  drink  must  be  bought  at  a  price, wood must be paid for, the road must be paid for, prayers and blessings must be paid for justice must be paid for, what is left for the poor glensman? …

— Is there not peace now?

—  What  good  can  an  empty  peace  do  an  empty  stomach.  Rust  eats  an  unused  dagger,  frogs,  worms,  and  reptiles  multiply  in  stragnant  water.  Are  there  trouts  in  the  rushing,  restless  Terek? What is peace for a living man? What are enemies if a people is free? Peace brings us to earth.

—  But  enemies  trod  you  down,  laid  you  waste,  and  distressed  your  wives  and  children  frequently.

—  Now  these  Armenians  who  have  come  distress  us  more,  waste  our  houses  more.  In  former  days  we  could  at  least  play  with  our  foes  with  shield  and  buckler,  we  could  defend  ourselves, but what can be done with the Armenian, there is no defending oneself against him, he is not to be played with. In former days too, in the fight with foes, we gained glory, in showing our superiority, but what glory can a man get from the Armenians. In other days, thou art right, there were foes, but there were also great rewards for faithful men: they received land, their taxes were  waived.  There  on  Terek’s  banks  stands  a  fortress  not  built  with  hands.  That  fort  is  well  known as Arshi’s fort.

— How is it not built with hands?

— It is built by God, impregnable, not to be broken.

— Then what wouldst thou say?

— In other days Kakhetian army attacked it, fought, and took it. The glen thought to get help from the terrified lord. He could give them none. A great number of people were slain, The Kakhetians  massacred  man  glensmen,  they  came  into  the  fort,  pulled  down  the  standard.  There  was  an  old  glensman  there,  a  man  famed  for  his  wisdom.  He  had  a  daughter,  not  betrothed,  unseen  of  the  sun.  This  glensman  decided  to  make  the  Kakhetian  soldiers  drunk.  He  brought wine  and  sent  it  into  the  fortress.  H  also  sent  his  daughter,  unseen  of  the  sun,  to  the  drunken  feast.  The  Kakhetians,  thirsty  of  wine,  admirers  of  fair  women,  became  as  swine,  and  were  completely drunk. The maid discovered the keys of the fortress and let the glensmen know of the swinish  state  of  the  Kakhetian  soldiers  glensmen  came  and  entered  the  Castle  unperceived,  raised cries and m sacred all the drunken Kakhetians. Again the fortress fell into the hands of the glensmen.  The  Eristav  of  Aragva  heard  of  this.  He  gave  the  castle  as  a  reward  to  the  maid’s  father, he also gave him a charter…

— What sort of bravery was there in that?

— Why not? That is cunning; where force cannot prevail, there cunning persuades.

— What canst thou say to this massacre of Kakhetians?

Now all Georgians are brothers. I am not speaking of Kakhetians in enmity. This I want thee to understand, that formerly if we gave our lives in service there were rewards, there were great gifts; we found our livelihood in glory and in deeds of heroism, a man did not live in vain Now we have to find our livelihood in lying, immorality, perjury, and i betraying one another.


Whether my glensman spoke truth or no I will not now enquire. And what business is it of mine? I merely mention in passing what I as a traveller: heard from him.

My  one  endeavour  in  this  has  been  to  give  to  his  thoughts  their  own  form  and  to  his  words his accent. If I have succeeded in this I have fu filled my intention.

My glensman told me much more, but for various reasons it would not do to write down all  his  conversation…  I  will  only  say  that  in  his  own  words  he  made  me  a  sharer  in  his  heart’s  woe.

I  understood,  my  glensman,  how  thou  art  pierced  with  lancets.  “We  belonged  to  ourselves”, saidst thou, and I heard. But as I heard a sudden pain shot from my brain to my heart, there  in  my  heart,  it  dug  itself  a  grave  and  was  buried.  How  long  will  this  pain  remain  in  my  heart, how long Mow long, oh, how long?… My beloved land answer me this!…

(*1) Rustavel: “The Man in the Panther’s Skin”

(*2) An expletive which no Georgian gentleman uses to a lady though men use it among themselves

(*3) Village shop

Ilia Chavchavadze
Translated by Marjory and Oliver Wardrops
Ganatleba Publishers
Tbilisi 1987


Social media scholar. Troublemaker. Twitter specialist. Unapologetic web evangelist. Explorer. Writer. Organizer.

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