BLTC Press Titles

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A. Conan Doyle

Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois

Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll

Hadji Murad

by Leo Tolstoy (graf)


i Spelt by the Russians Murat Murad seems the more correct.—Ed.

when I noticed in a ditch, in full bloom, a beautiful thistle plant of the crimson kind, which in our neighbourhood they call "Tartar," and carefully avoid when mowing—or, if they do happen to cut it down, throw out from among the grass for fear of pricking their hands. Thinking to pick this thistle and put it in the centre of my nosegay, I climbed down into the ditch, and, after driving away a velvety humblebee that had penetrated deep into one of the flowers and had there fallen sweetly asleep, I set to work to pluck the flower. But this proved a very difficult task. Not only did the stalk prick on every side—even through the handkerchief I wrapped round my hand—but it was so tough that I had to struggle with it for nearly five minutes, breaking the fibres one by one; and when I had at last plucked it, the stalk was all frayed, and the flower itself no longer seemed so fresh and beautiful. Moreover, owing to its coarseness and stiffness, it did not seem in place among the delicate blossoms of my nosegay. I felt sorry to have vainly destroyed a flower that looked beautiful in its proper place, and I threw it away.

"But what energy and tenacity! With what determination it defended itself, and how dearly it sold its life I" thought I to myself, recollecting the effort it had cost me to pluck the flower. The way home led across blackearth fields that had just been ploughed up. I ascended the dusty path. The ploughed field belonged to a landed proprietor, and was so large that on both sides and before me to the top of the hill nothing was visible but evenly furrowed and moist earth. The land was well tilled, and nowhere was there a blade of grass or any kind of plant to be seen; it was all black. "Ah, what a destructive creature is man. . . . How many different plant-lives he destroys to support his own existence !'* thought I, involuntarily looking round for some living thing in this lifeless black field. In front of me, to the right of the road, I saw some kind of little clump, and drawing nearer I found it was the same kind of thistle as that which I had vainly plucked and thrown away. This "Tartar" plant had three branches. One was broken, and stuck out like the stump of a mutilated arm. Each of the other two bore a

flower, once red but now blackened. One stalk was broken and half of it hung down with a soiled flower at its tip. The other, though also soiled with black mud, still stood erect. Evidently a cartwheel had passed over the plant, but it had risen again and that was why, though erect, it stood twisted to one side, as if a piece of its body had been torn from it, its bowels had been drawn out, an arm torn off, and one of its eyes plucked out; and yet it stood firm and did not surrender to man, who had destroyed all its brothers around it. . . .

"What energy!" I thought. "Man has conquered everything, and destroyed millions of plants, yet this one won't submit." And I remembered a Caucasian episode of years ago, which I had partly seen myself, partly heard of from eye-witnesses, and in part imagined.

The episode, as it has taken shape in my memory and imagination, was as follows.

This happened towards the end of 1851. On a cold November evening Hadji Murad rode into Makhmet, a hostile Chechen aoul,2

'Aoul, Tartar village.

that was filled with the scented smoke of burning kizydk,3 and that lay some fifteen miles from Bussian territory. The strained chant of the muezzin had just ceased, and through the clear mountain air, impregnated with kizydk smoke, above the lowing of the cattle and the bleating of the sheep that were dispersing among the sdklyas * (which were crowded together like the cells of a honeycomb), could be clearly heard the guttural voices of disputing men, and sounds of women's and children's voices rising from near the fountain below.

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