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That Dear Name

2006-07-13 23:26

  It was in the days when the Old People still lived here. They lived on that sand where folks get gold, only it's grown over with turf now.

  There was a lot of it then, and chrysolite and copper too. Pick it up, all you want. But the Old People had no use for it, what did they need it for? The children could play with the chrysolite, but none could find any use for gold. Yellow grains and sand - what could you do with that? Nuggets of several pounds or even half-a-pood would lie right in the path and nobody bothered to pick them up. If one was in the way, someone would kick it to the side, and that was all. Though there was one thing they used them for. When they set off to hunt, they'd take some of those nuggets with them. They weren't so big, you see, but they were heavy. Easy to hold and throw straight. A lucky throw and you could kill a good-sized beast with one of them. Easy. That's why you sometimes find nuggets in places where there oughtn't to be any gold at all. It's the Old People threw them, that's how they came there.

  Copper nuggets, those they did seek a bit. They made axes from them, and other things they used. Spoons for cooking and all sorts of pots and such like.

  Gumeshky was left us by the Old People. Only of course they didn't dig any mines, they just took what was on top, not like it is now.

  They hunted, they caught fish and birds and that's how they lived. There were a lot of wild bees then, and all the honey you wanted. But as for bread - they didn't even know the name of it. And livestock - horses, or cows, or sheep - they'd none. They'd no understanding of such things.

  They weren't Russians and they weren't Tartars, but how they were named and what was their faith and belief no one knows. They lived there in the forest. They were the Old People.

  They hadn't any houses or outbuildings like bath-house or shed, none of that at all, and they didn't live in a village. They lived in the hills. There's a big cave in Dumnaya Hill. A path went up there from the river. You can't find it now, it's covered with slag. Maybe twenty-five yards thick. But the biggest cave was in Azov Hill. It was a really vast one, went under all the hill. You can still see the opening, though inside it's fallen in a bit. But secret things are there. And that's what I'll tell you about now.

  Well, so they lived, the Old People, they went their own ways, troubling none. But other folks started coming to these parts. First the Tartars rode past, and tramped a whole road from the foot of Dumnaya Hill to Azov Hill. From south to north it went, straight as an arrow from a bow. You can't find it now, but our grandparents heard of it from theirs, it used to be quite plain. A real broad track like a road, only without ditches at the sides.

  They'd ride back and forth, the Tartars, they'd carry one sort of load from the north, another from the south, but they gave no heed to the gold. Maybe they didn't know what it was, or else they'd no use for it. At first the Old People were wary of them, but then they saw no one touched them, so they went on with their old way of living. Caught birds and fish, stunned beasts with nuggets of gold and finished them off with copper axes.

  But then all of a sudden a lot more Tartars started coming from the south. Whole swarms of them, and all with spears and sabers - as if they were going to war. Then a bit later they came back, running. They just fled without stopping to look behind them. And that was because Yermak and his Cossacks had gone to Siberia and beaten all the Tartars there. And those who came to help them, into them he put the fear of death. He'd got firearms, you see, and that was all new then, they turned the Tartars' bones to water.

  Those Cossacks had once been free, but they came to Siberia bought men. They'd sold themselves to the merchants, and the Tsar had made them rich gifts too. The biggest of them, that Yermak, he'd a silver shirt, armour, that is, that the Tsar had sent him. He never took it off. Proud of it, you see. And he was drowned in it, too - in that gift of the Tsar.

  When Yermak died, all sorts of trouble started. There were plenty of rascals had gone along with the Cossacks. So now they just did as they liked. Anyone they met, they'd take by the throat, give up what you've got. They'd lay hold of the women and maids, even those that weren't full grown. It was just as bad as it could be.

  A band of them came to these parts - not a big one, and on foot. But their leader must have been a real robber. And they marked the gold at once. They started grabbing at it all together so they near killed each other for it. But then they came to their senses and saw there was a lot of it, more than they could carry off. So what was to be done now? They started nosing about here and there, maybe there were folks living near, they could get horses. And so they came to the Old People. Well, of course, they started asking them: “What folk are you? What faith and tribe? What Tsar d'ye pay tribute to?”

  They harassed the Old People, but these had only one answer - we want naught o' yours, we don't hinder ye, go your ways. So the Cossacks sought to scare them and fired their flint-locks. Then panic seized the Old People and they fled to the hill. The Cossacks went after them, thought they'd put fear into them, but they were wrong. The Old People were brave. It was only at first the firing had frightened them. They thought it was fire from the sky. But then they threw off their fear. And they were big, strong men. They ran to their cave, and then they started hurling gold nuggets so the Cossacks didn't know where to hide. Killed nearly all of them. But two or maybe three managed to get away. And the Old People let them go. Got rid of them, and that's enough. Let them go their ways, so long as they leave us alone. The Old People looked at those who were dead and marveled to see every man had such a lot of yellow stones, why did he want to carry all that heavy stuff? They never guessed, the Old People, what the stones were for. Thought it out their own way and decided the Cossacks had gathered them to fight with. They looked at the flint-locks, and one of them was loaded. Well, somebody got hold of it, he twisted it and turned it and pulled this and pushed that till suddenly it went off. It gave them a fright and bruised the man a bit, but no one was killed. Then the Old People saw the fire didn't come from the sky at all. And they wanted to make a gun fire again. They took everything off the dead men, they looked at everything, felt everything, smelt everything. They found powder and they found lead, but what it was all for they couldn't make out.

  But those three who'd run away, they managed to get back to their company again. And they told their leader all about it - a strange tribe attacked us and killed near all, only us three got away.

  That leader, maybe he was a bit drunk, he just said “All right.” It was war, they were winning Siberia. All sorts of things could come about. They'd been killed, well, so they'd been killed. And that was the end of it. But about the gold those three said naught. We've got it, they thought, we'll take our ease and our pleasure a bit. But gold is gold. It maybe heavy but it always comes to the top. The first thing, it must be changed into money. And that set them scratching their heads. They'd got hold of real big nuggets, but if they let folks see them, what would happen? They'd be asked where they'd got them. . . . . But soon they found a way. They broke the nuggets into small pieces and sold them to a merchant. But they kept it secret from each other. Gold's gold. So one went to a merchant, then the second and then the third. They went round all of them the same way. And the merchants were glad enough. They paid money, but they kept their thoughts to themselves. And that money the Cossacks got, what could they do with it? First they got rich clothes, each to fit his fancy, and then started feasting and drinking. Spent their whole time in the tavern and treated all who came. Well, of course, the other Cossacks marked them - where did they got all that money? So they set to work to discover it, and when a man's drunk that doesn't take long. They soon had it all out of them, and then they got a band together to go after that gold.

  But those Cossacks, they weren't all the same. There was one, I don't know what they called him, but he'd come from Solikamsk. He'd been looking for a good life, but he found there was only robbery and drink, and he began to shun the others.

  When he heard them planning another robber raid, he tried to bring them to better ways of thinking. “Have ye no shame? Before, ye stripped the merchants and the boyars, but what are ye doing now? Robbing the folks here of their last and giving it to the merchants. Isn't that how it is?”

  This talk wasn't their liking, and they were all armed, so a fight started with sabers and other weapons. Well, that fellow from Solikamsk was bold and agile. He beat them all off, but he was sore wounded. He got away and then he hid in the woods so they wouldn't find him. And those woods were thick and fearsome - where'd you seek a man there? So the Cossacks hunted a bit and made a lot of noise, and then went back. And the Solikamsk man, wounded he was, started thinking what he'd do now. If he went back, they'd kill him, or maybe give him to the headman for his talk. So he thought: I'll go to the folks they wanted to rob. I'll warn them.

  He knew the way they'd meant to take. But that way was long and he'd got naught to eat with him. He got weary after a while and his wounds pulled him down too. He could hardly drag himself along. He'd lie down a bit and than go on again. And right by Azov Hill, just over there, he couldn't get up any more.

  The Old People, they saw a stranger lying there, all blood, and a gun with him. The women went to him the first. Whatever tribe or people, it's always the women are pitiful and delight in tending those as are hurt. And there was one maid among them, the daughter of their elder. Daring she was, and resolute, she could well have worn men's clothing. And fair to look at - none to compare. Eyes like coals, cheeks like roses in bloom, a braid that reached to her heels and all else right and proper. You could wish no better. At dancing there was none to equal her, and when she sang with trills like a bird, well. . . . In a word, a joy to behold. Only one thing there was - she was tall, a giant, you could say. She was of an age to wed. Eighteen, just ripe for it. And the stranger seemed to take her eye. He was a tall man too, as we count it. Good to look on, with curly hair and big eyes. She was curious about him. So while the other women were oh'ing and ah'ing, that maid just picked up the wounded man, carried him to the cave and started to tend him, gave him water and bound up his wounds. Her father and mother had naught against it, took it as quite natural. And the neighbours, they held their tongues and helped a bit, gave her what she wanted. The women were sorry for him, and the men had their own thoughts - maybe he'd teach them how to fire those guns.

  After a bit the wounded man began to come to. And he was strange folk busy about him. They were taller than ours, and they didn't know the Tartar tongue. He knew just a little bit of Tartar, he'd hoped a lot from that when he went to seek them. Well, naught to be done, he started making signs, pointing to this thing and that to find out what it was called. Learning their talk, that is. And the maid never left him, like as though she was bound to him. And he, well, he was young too, and he liked her well. But he was slow in getting his strength. That was because they'd no bread. She gave him all the best they had, that maid did. Fish, meat, bowls of honey filled to the brim, but his stomach turned against it. He'd have been glad to see even a crust of barley bread. He asked her for it, and she didn't know what bread was. Even cried, she did. And of course a Russian man can't get along without bread. So how could he really pick up strength? Still, he did get on his feet and learned his Russian speech, and so quick it was a marvel. Wise she was, and no simple maid, seemingly, but possessed of secret powers.

  So that man from Solikamsk began walking about a bit. He got to know the place, and he showed them how to use the flint-lock guns, and explained about it all.

  “Those yellow stones, and the yellow grains and sand and shining green stones - they'll bring ye misfortune. Now the merchants have smelt them, they'll never let them be. And when it gets to the Tsar, you'll have no life worth living. Now,” he said, “this you must do. Take these stones, those nuggets, and put them out o' sight. Take them into Azov Hill if you will. And the chrysolites too. And cover the grains and sand with earth. Dig up the black soil from beneath so grass'll grow. Till that it done, let no stranger come near. And so that none should come by chance,” he said, “put those ye can trust to keep guard on Dumnaya and Azov Hills. Let them watch the road and if they mark a stranger, let them light a fire as a sign.”

  The maid told her people all he had said. They saw his care was for them and they harkened. They set guards as he counseled, and all began gathering the nuggets and chrysolites and carrying them into Azov Hill. They stacked it all up - great piles, awful to look on, and chrysolites like heaps of coal. Then they covered the rest of the grains and sand, and all the time they let no stranger come near. If the guard on Dumnaya Hill or Azov Hill saw one coming on horseback or on foot, he lighted a beacon fire. Then they would all go running, and overpower the man and kill him. Kill him and bury him in the ground. For now they'd no fear of firearms.

  But men are drawn to gold like flies to honey. No matter how many perish, more follow after. And it was like that here too. Many perished but still more kept coming. That was because the talk of gold went further and further. And someone must have brought it to the Tsar. Then it was really bad, for men came with cannon. Came from all sides. The forest was thick and fearsome but they found a road.

  The Old People saw they could do no more, here their strength counted for naught. So they went to that wounded man to ask counsel. Now, he was on Dumnaya Hill. The maid used to carry him there when he felt weak. Azov Hill was covered with woods, but on Dumnaya Hill there were great rocks with the free wind blowing on them. So she used to take him there. All her thought was to make him well and sound again.

  There they took counsel for three days. And that is why it is called Dumnaya. Before that it had another name. They thought this way and that, but could find no way but to seek some new place to live where there would be no gold, but beasts and birds and fish a-plenty. And he, that man from Solikamsk, he explained and showed them which way they should go. And so they started to make ready for the road. The Old People wanted their good counselor to go with them, but he would not.

  “Death,” he said, “is close to me, and moreover I may not go.”

  Why he must not go he didn't say. And the maid said: “I shall not go either.”

  Her mother and sisters wept and wailed, her father stormed and threatened, her brothers tried to change her: “What are you saying, Sister! Your whole life's before you!”

  But she would not be moved.

  “Such is my fate. I will never leave my dear one.”

  She said it, and she'd hear naught against it. Like a stone, she was. In every way right and perfect. They saw there was naught to be done with her, so they took leave with all love and tenderness, for they thought to themselves - there'd be naught more in life for her anyway. Maids whose sweethearts die, they're worse than widowed. For the sorrow is with them to the end of their lives.

  So all were gone and those two were alone on Azov Hill. Strange folk were round them on all sides. Digging with spades, aye, and fighting each other with them too.

  The wounded man's strength was nigh gone, and he said to his betrothed: “Farewell, my bride! It's not our fate to live and love and real our children.”

  She broke out in tears as women do and would have none of it, but tried to make him believe different.

  “Let be and don't fret yourself, my love. I'll tend you and make you well, and then we shall live our lives together.”

  But he only said again: “Nay, my dear one, I'm not long for this life. Now even bread would not help me. I feel my hour is come. And I'm no mate for you, either. See how tall you are, I'm like a child beside you. With us it's not seemly that a wife should carry her husband like a child. You'll have to wait and wait long before a man lives on earth fit to be your mate.”

  But of that she would hear naught.

  “What talk is that! Don't even think such thoughts. For me there's none other.”

  But he would not heed her.

  “I'm not saying it to wound you, beloved,” he said, “but because it must be so. It came upon me clear when I saw how you lived amid gold with no merchants. A time will come in our land when there will be no more merchants or Tsar, and even their names will be forgotten. Folks hereabouts will grow tall and strong, and one of these will come to Azov Hill and loudly call your dear name. When that day comes, bury me in the ground and go to him with a brave gay heart. For he will be your mate. And when that day comes, let them take all the gold, if indeed those folks have use for it. But for this time farewell, beloved.” He sighed once more and died as if he fell asleep. And in that moment Azov Hill closed.

  Fore seemingly those were not idle words he spoke. He had wisdom, the wisdom of hidden powers. In Solikamsk they know much of these things.

  From that time none could ever come within Azov Hill. Now folks know the entrance to the cave, but it's fallen a bit. A man starts in, then it falls some more and he fears to go further. So the hill stands empty. Trees have grown over it, and those who don't know would never guess what's there, inside.

  But in the hill there is a great cave. And all of it a wonder to look on. The floor is smooth, of the best marble, with a spring in the middle, and the water like tears. And all round gold is stacked like we stack wood, and chrysolites in heaps like coal.

  It is arranged some way, so it's always light in the cave. And there lies a dead man, and a maid so fair there are no words to tell of it sits by him and weeps always, and becomes no older. As she was at eighteen, so she is now.

  Many have wished to get into that cave. They've tried every way. They drove shafts but naught came of it. Even dynamite was no good. Then others thought to get that wealth by trickery. They'd come to the hill and shout out words of all kinds, one queerer than the other. They hoped, you see, to chance on that dear name which will open the cave of itself. Fools they were, of course. They'd lose their wits with it. Mumble all sorts of gibberish that none could understand. Always seeking new names.

  Nay, the spell is a strong one. Until that hour comes, Azov Hill won't open.

  Once there was a sign. That was when Omelyan Ivanych came and the workers used together on Dumnaya Hill. Our grandfathers told us at that time a song came from inside the hill, like a mother playing with her little one and singing him a merry tune.

  But there's been naught of that since. Only groaning and weeping. When folks stopped being serfs, many went to Azov Hill to listen. But still there was naught but groaning. Seemingly more pitiful than before.

  A true sign, it was. Money drives folks worse than the Master's whips. And as the years go on, it seems to get more power. Our feathers and grandfathers, when they came to my years, could sit in quietness on the stove, but I must keep watch on Dumnaya Hill. For all must eat and drink to the day when death takes them.

  Aye, I'll not live to see the day, seemingly, when Azov Hill opens. I'll not see it. . . . . But if I could but hear a gay song coming from within. . . .

  For you it's different. You're young. Maybe you'll have the fortune to live to that time.

  Then folks will make gold of no power. Mark my words, it will be so. That Solikamsk man spoke with wisdom.

  Those of you who live to that day will then she the treasures of Azov Hill. And they will know the dear name that opens up that wealth.

  Aye, that's how it is. This is not a simple tale. It's one to think on, and draw the wisdom from it.

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