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

to Siberia.

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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