Sunday, May 05, 2013

"...not like a Christian at all."

Alexander Herzen cherished warm memories of "old Filvmonov," his jailer at the Krutinsky  Monastery, converted into a police barracks--"a simple creature," Herzen recalls, "kind-hearted himself and grateful for any kindness that was shown him, and it is likely that not much had been shown him in the course of his life."  Old Filmonov liked to tell stories of his past.
He served in Moldovia, in the Turkish campaign of 1805; and the commander of his company was the kindest of men, caring like a father for each soldier and always foremost in battle.  'Our captain was in love with a Moldavian woman, and we saw he was in bad spirits; the reason was that she was often visiting another officer.  One day he sent for me and a friend of mine--a fine soldier he was and lost both legs in battle afterwards--and said to us that the woman had jilted him; and he asked if we were willing to help him and teach her a lesson.  "Surely, Your Honor," said we; "we are at your service at any time."  He thanked us and pointed out the house where the officer lived.  Then he said, "Take your stand tonight on the bridge which she must cross to get to his house; catch hold of her quietly, and into the river with her!" "Very good, Your Honor," said we.   So I and my chum got hold of a sack and went to the bridge; there we sat, and near midnight, the girl came running past.  "What are you hurrying for?" we asked.  Then we gave her one over the head and; not a sound did she make, bless her; we put her in the sack and threw it into the river.  Next day our captain went to the other officer and said: "You must not be angry with the girl: we detained her; in fact, she is  now at the bottom of the river.  But I am quite prepared to take a little walk with you, with swords or pistols, as you prefer."  Well, they fought, and our captain was badly wounded in the chest; he wasted away, poor fellow, and after three months gave back his soul to God.
'But was the woman really drowned?'  I asked.
'Oh yes, Sir,'  said the soldier.
I was horrified by the childlike indifference with which the old man told me this story.  He appeared to guess my feelings or to give a thought for the first time to his victim; for he added, to reassure me and make it up with his own conscience:
'You know, Sir, she was only a benighted heathen, not like a Christian at all.'
--So Alexander Herzen, Childhood, Youth and Exile (OUP Paperback 1980).   Russians have long experienced a, shall we say challenging, relationship with the Muslim people on their southern border.

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