The Prisoner of the Caucasus (Tolstoy)

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The Prisoner of the Caucasus
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Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: Russian officers - a coward and a brave man - are captured by the Highlanders. The coward lost his spirit, but the brave man did not surrender. After an unsuccessful escape, he befriended a mountain girl and escaped again. The coward was ransomed barely alive.

In the original, Tolstoy referred to the mountain people as Tatars. The titles of the chapters are conventional.

Chapter 1. Zhilin in Captivity

An officer, Ivan Zhilin, was serving in the Caucasus.

Ivan Zhilin — officer from a poor family, small in stature, but daring, brave, good comrade, a jack of all trades.

Zhilin received a letter from his mother asking him to come. She wrote that she was already old, that she wanted to see her son before he died, that she had found him a good bride. Zhilin decided to go.

At that time there was war in the Caucasus, and it was impossible to pass by day or night: either the mountaineers would kill him or take him prisoner. Therefore, twice a week from fortress to fortress with the people accompanied the soldiers.

It was summer, Zhilin went with escorts. He himself rode on horseback, and the cart with his belongings went in a convoy. In total they had to travel 25 miles, but because of minor problems and the heat were moving very slowly. Zhilin decided to go forward alone.

Should I not go alone, without soldiers? The horse under me is kind, if I attack the Tatars - I'll ride away.

While Zhilin was thinking, Kostylin rode up to him and also offered to go on alone: it is hot and he wants to eat.

Kostylin — Officer, fat, fat, cowardly, cowardly.

Kostylin had a loaded rifle with him. We agreed not to separate, to go together. When we passed the steppe, the road went between two mountains. Zhilin decided to climb the mountain to see if there were any mountaineers nearby. When he climbed, he saw them, and they saw him and chased after him. Zhilin shouted to Kostylin, "Take out your gun!" But Kostylin, seeing the Highlanders, became frightened and galloped toward the fortress. Zhilin decided not to give up alive.

The mountaineers shot Zhilin's horse, which fell and crushed his leg, grabbed him, tied him up and took him to the aul, a mountain village. Zhilin tried to remember the way, but blood covered his eyes.

In the aul, they put a block on Zhilin's legs, so he would not run away, and locked him in a barn.

Chapter 2. Captured by the Highlanders. Letters Home

Zhilin hardly slept. Soon two highlanders, Abdul-Murat among them, came to him, began to say something in their own way, and in Russian they mouthed, "koroshourus!"

Abdul Murat — Highlander, the master of Zhilin in the aul, eyes black, light, small trimmed beard, ruddy, with a cheerful face, dressed in a blue silk caftan, red slippers, a silver dagger on his belt.

Zhilin made it clear with his hands and lips that he was thirsty; they understood, called for Dina.

Dina — Daughter of Abdul Murat, 13 years old, thin, skinny, black eyes, pale, beautiful, with black braid, dressed richly in a long blue shirt with wide sleeves, pants and shoes, a monisto of coins around her neck.

Dina fetched water, squatted down, and began to examine Gillin. Then her father told her to bring some bread. The mountaineers left, and Zhilin was locked up.

Soon a servant came to Zhilin and called for him. They brought him to Abdul-Murat's house. The house turned out expensive: brightly colored down jackets on the floor, carpets and down pillows on them, carpets on the walls, "guns, pistols, a checkers - all in silver on the carpets. The Russian-speaking mountaineer explained to Zhilin that he had been taken prisoner and then sold to Abdul-Murat.

Then Zhilin was ordered to write a letter home demanding a ransom: 3,000 coins. Zhilin said there was no such money, and offered only 500 rubles. The mountaineers started to fight with each other, but they understood that 500 rubles is better than nothing and agreed.

They brought Kostylin and grabbed him too. They asked Kostylin for 5,000 coins and he wrote a letter with the demanded amount.

Zhilin wrote the letter, but he changed the address, so that the letter would not reach him: he knew that his mother would not get this money either. He decided to run away.

Zhilin arranged with the highlanders to keep him and Kostylin together, to feed, drink, and clothe them. The prisoners were taken to a barn, and the stocks were removed for the night.

Chapter 3: Zhilin's Life in the Aul

The captives lived in the barn for a month, while the highlanders waited for a ransom for them. Kostylin sent a second letter, but Zhilin wrote no more letters.

They were fed poorly, with unleavened bread, or even with uncooked dough. Kostylin was bored and counted the days until the letter arrived. Zhilin kept snooping and prying, deciding how best to escape, as well as making handicrafts. He made a clay doll in a mountain shirt and wanted to give it to the children, but Dina and the mountain girls did not take it. Then he put the doll on the roof, and he hid in the barn. Dina took the doll.

In the morning Dina came out of the house with the doll decorated with red rags. An old woman appeared and took the doll and smashed it. Zhilin made another doll, better than the old one, and gave it to Dina. Then the girl managed to bring Zhilin a jug of milk. From then on she began to bring Zhilin milk every day, sometimes cheese cakes. Once she even brought a piece of lamb.

Gradually the mountaineers began to ask Zhilin to mend the clock, then the lock, then the gun. Abdul-Murat gave him his old coat for mending it.

One day Zhilin was asked to cure a highlander who was sick. Zhilin did not know anything about it, but decided: "Maybe he will make himself well."

...took water and sand and stirred them. In front of the Tartars he whispered into the water and gave to drink. The Tatar recovered to his good fortune.

Zhilin little by little began to understand their language. Some of the highlanders got used to him, others squinted at him like a beast. Under the mountain lived a respected highlander old man. Zhilin decided to see how he lived, and followed him. He saw a small garden, a stone fence and a hut with a flat roof. Accidentally rattling his pad, Zhilin gave himself away, and the old man fired his gun. Zhilin almost managed to hide behind a rock.

The old man complained to Abdul-Murat and demanded that the Russians be killed. But Abdul-Murat had grown attached to Zhilin and would not have let him go from the aul if he had not given his word that he would free him for a ransom.

Abdul-Murat has told to Zhilin a destiny of the old man: he was rich, has beaten many Russians, had three wives and 8 sons. When the Russians came to their village, they killed 7 sons of the old man, and took the last one prisoner. The old man found his son in captivity, killed him, and then became very religious, went on foot to Mecca to pray to God.

Chapter 4. Escape Plan

During the day Zhilin walked around the aul, making handicrafts, and at night he made a dig. He also scouted out which way to run to his own.

When Abdul-Murat left, he ordered his young son to watch the prisoner. Telling the boy that he needed herbs to cure the highlanders, Zhilin climbed the mountain and memorized the area.

He ventured to flee, for the nights were dark, but the highlanders returned. They came with nothing, and they also lost one of their own. The dead man was buried according to local custom. For three days the mountaineers commemorated the dead man, and on the fourth day they gathered somewhere. Zhilin persuaded Kostylin to run away with him. He was at first frightened, saying that they did not know the way, that it was scary to walk at night. Zhilin answered that he knew the way, had saved some cakes, and that in general they wanted to kill them. Kostylin agreed to run.

Chapter 5. Failed Escape

The captives climbed out of the hole under the barn, but Kostylin caught a stone with his foot and it rattled. The owner's angry dog came running, followed by others. Zhilin had foreseen this, baiting the master's dog in advance. Having tamed it, the captives set off. But at that moment the people gathered at the mosque and Zhilin and Kostylin had to wait a long time for the right moment.

When they got out, Zhilin took off his uncomfortable boots and went barefoot. Kostylin also took off his boots, but quickly wiped his feet with blood.

The prisoners lost their way a little, but Zhilin noticed it in time. Soon Kostylin, crying out loudly in pain, refused to go further. Zhilin could not abandon his comrade and put him on his back. Kostylin's scream was heard by the mountaineers and they began to pursue the fugitives. They hid, but the dogs found them. The captives were returned to the aul. Children who had run away began to beat them with stones and whips.

The adult mountaineers were deciding what to do. Abdul-Murat threatened that if they do not send money within two weeks, he will lock them up. And if they tried to escape he would kill them.

The captives were forced to write another letter, and then they were put into a deep hole and put into the stocks.

Chapter 6. Zhilin's Escape. Kostylin's Ransom

They lived there very badly: the stocks were not removed and they were fed with unbaked dough. It was stuffy, wet, and smelled in the pit. Kostylin felt very sick, and Zhilin was thinking how to get out of here. Suddenly a tortilla fell on Zhilin and cherries sprinkled - it was Dina. Zhilin molded figures of people, horses, and dogs from the clay in the hole - he decided that Dina would help him.

From the conversations of the mountaineers Zhilin learned that the Russians were close and that the mountaineers did not know what to do with the prisoners.

Dina was gone for a long time. Dina appeared with two cheese tortillas and warned Zhilin that they were going to kill them. She did not accept the toys. Zhilin asked to bring a long stick. Dina refused at first, but at night she still brought a long pole. Zhilin got out; Kostylin was left waiting for the ransom. Zhilin prompted the girl to put the pole back in place, so that she would not be suspected, and went under the mountain. He could not remove the stake, nor did Dina have the strength to help him. Dina gave him some tortillas and cried when she said goodbye.

Zhilin went, holding the lock on the shoe so it would not rattle. Reached the forest, sat down to rest. Then he went on again, could hardly drag his feet. Has passed wood - it became absolutely light, saw in the distance: the Cossacks and soldiers.

He pulled himself together with the last of his strength and went to his own. But here he was spotted by three mountaineers and rushed towards him.

So his heart gave out. He waved his hands and shouted as much as he could to his brothers:
- Brethren! Help! Brethren!

Our people heard and rushed across the mountaineers. They were frightened, rode away. They rescued Zhilin, surrounded him, gave him bread, porridge, vodka, removed the block, covered him with an overcoat. The officers recognized Zhilin, took him to the fort, where he told them what had happened to him.

Zhilin remained to serve in the Caucasus and did not go home. And Kostylin was ransomed only a month later, barely alive.

The retelling is based on edition of the story from Tolstoy's collected works in 22 volumes (M.: Art Literature, 1982).