A PRISONER IN THE CAUCASUS
And he rode off up the slope on the left. Zhilin’s steed was a hunting horse, which he had bought as a wild foal for a hundred rubles and broken in himself. Like lightning it carried him up the steep incline, and no sooner had he reached the top than he beheld a troop of Tatar horsemen – about thirty of them – right under his nose. He turned back at once, but the Tatars had seen him, and gave chase, drawing their guns as they rode. Zhilin raced down the hill in full gallop, crying to Kostylin to get out his gun and praying that his own horse would not fail him: ‘ If you stumble, I’m done for. But if I can only get to the gun, I’m damned if I’ll be caught by them’.
But Kostylin, instead of waiting, was off like a shot to fortress the very moment he caught sight of the Tatars, lashing his horse on either side. Only the horse’s tail could be seen waving in the dust.
Zhilin could see he was in a mess. The gun was gone, and with only a sabre he could do nothing. He spurred his horse back where they had come from, but saw that six Tatars were riding across to cut him off. He had a fine mount, but theirs were even better, and now they were cutting across his path. He tried to turn his horse, but she was at a full gallop and he could not stop her from making straight towards them. He could see a red bearded Tatar on a grey horse coming closer, screaming, with his teeth bared and his gun at the ready.
‘Well,’ thought Zhilin, ‘I know that you devils are like: if you take me alive you’ll put me in a hole in the ground and thrash me with whips. Well, I shan’t give myself alive.’
Zhilin may have been a small man, but he had spunk. Unsheathing his sabre, he steered his horse straight towards the Tatar with the red beard. ‘Either I’ll knock you down with my horse,’ he thought, ‘or I’ll hack you down with my sabre.’
But before Zhilin reached his foe, his horse was hit by gunfire from behind and crashed to the ground, landing on Zhilin’s leg.
He tried to get up, but two stinking Tatars were already upon him, twisting his arms back. He broke free, and threw off the Tatars, but three more of them jumped from their horses and began beating him on the head with the butts of their weapons. His head swam and he reeled. The Tatars seized him, took the spare girths from their saddles, twisted his arms behind his back, tied them with a Tatar knot, and dragged him away. They knocked his cap off, pulled off his boots, stripped him of his money and watch, and ripped his clothes. When Zhilin looked back at his horse he saw the poor animal lying on its side just where it had fallen, kicking its legs but unable to make contact with the ground. There was a hole in its head, through which dark blood was gushing, soaking the dust for a yard all around.
One of the Tatars went up to it and set about removing the saddle. Still it kicked about, until he took his dagger and slit its throat. There was a hiss from its neck, and the horse shuddered and died.
The Tatars removed its saddle and harness. The red-bearded one mounted his horse, and the others seated Zhilin on the saddle behind him, tying him round the waist to the Tatar so that he could not fall off. Then they bore him away into the mountains.
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