Sea Stories

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 labored. 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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