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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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?
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?
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?
— 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
Translated by Marjory and Oliver Wardrops