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Sea StoriesAn Account Of Four Russian Sailors Abandoned On The Island Of East Spitzbergen
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Home-sickness Of A Siberian
Every Russian officer is permitted to choose their servants from
among the soldiers, the number varying according to the rank; the
under lieutenants having the right to one, the captains can demand
three, and the field marshal twenty-four. These men, although freed
from military duty, are still numbered as belonging to their several
regiments, which they are obliged to enter, whenever their master
pleases. They are better fed and clothed than their comrades, and
upon the whole, live an easier and pleasanter life. Among these
soldier-servants, I became acquainted with one, a Siberian, whose
regiment was quartered in a small town in the government of Pultowa.
He was a dragoon and servant to the Adjutant of the division, with
whom I spent many hours in playing chess, and this man waited on us,
bringing us tea, or whatever other refreshments we needed.
Fulfilling all his duties to his master not only with ability, but the
greatest fidelity, he was treated with more friendship, and allowed
indulgences denied to others of his class, the humane officer whom it
was his lot to serve, knowing how to appreciate his faithfulness, and
wishing to remove the deep melancholy under which he constantly
This he was not able to do--for it was caused by home-sickness. He
pined for his rude home in Siberia--for the ice-fields, the marshy
meadows, and the barren steppes of his fatherland--he saw no beauty in
the summer plains of the South, no charm in the cultivated fields, nor
found pleasure in the society into which he was thrown. His sadness
increased every day--he lost his flesh, and at length became incapable
of effort, reduced to the borders of the grave.
In vain did his kind master endeavor to soothe him with comforting
words--as vain the attempt of the garrison surgeon to cure him with
varied prescriptions. His malady grew in proportion with their efforts
to heal it, until it took the form of monomania. He saw no means by
which he could accomplish his return to his beloved country so as to
be able to remain there in safety,--did he leave his kind master and
fly, it would be of no avail, for the same power that had at first
compelled his forced service, would exact it anew and with greater
vigor. He, therefore, took the desperate resolution to get himself
banished. This he could not do except he committed the crime of
murder, and an opportunity soon offered itself.[A] The victim was a
young girl, a servant in the same house with himself. She was of a
taunting, irritating disposition, and disputes were constantly
occurring between them--he resolved she should be the sacrifice to his
home-sickness, and accordingly in the next provocation he received
from her, he gave her a blow which killed her. He was imprisoned,
tried by military law, and his judges not knowing him to be a
Siberian, and never guessing his motive for the deed which he
acknowledged he had committed, passed sentence of banishment for life
But this decree was only to be fulfilled after a preliminary
punishment had been inflicted--a punishment of which he had not
thought, and which embittered, if it did not destroy, the hope of
seeing his fatherland once more.
Before he commenced his journey into banishment, he was to receive
seventy strokes of the knout, and the chances were that he would
die under the operation, few constitutions being able to endure
its severity. But he did survive it, and the fortitude with which
he bore it awoke the admiration of all. I was obliged to be one of
the spectators of the execution of this bloody sentence, so I had a
full opportunity of witnessing the stoical heroism with which the
unhappy man bore the strokes that tore his flesh from his back and
shoulders. But if I was astonished at this courageous endurance of
bodily pain, I was yet more so when I saw the look of eager
inquiry, that notwithstanding the terrible suffering he was
undergoing, he cast from time to time on his soldier's cap that lay
on the ground quite near him, into which according to the Russian
custom, the spectators were dropping money, and so great was their
admiration of his endurance, that it was filled to the brim with
gold and silver coin, together with bank notes of larger value.
Virtue and crime were so mingled in this man, that it was hard to
form an opinion of him. The love of country, one of the highest of
human emotions, and avarice, almost the lowest, gave the poor
criminal, after receiving the seventieth stroke, strength sufficient
to walk with the support of the jailor's arm to the hospital, from
whence a few weeks after, his wounds being healed, he was sent with
some other criminals to his beloved Siberia.
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