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A "Tartar Fight" at Kazan, and How it Was Stopped by David Ker

1878

Rooshia? Why, yes, I ought to know something about Rooshia, seein' I've lived there, off and on, this fifteen year and more; and if a young man was to come to me and ax me where's the best place for a workin' man to git on, I'd say to him, jist as I says it to you now, "Go to Rooshia!" Why so? says you. Well, jist this way. You see, cotton-mills and mowin'-machines and steam-ploughs and sich are quite new ideas out there; and they haven't got the trick of workin' 'em properly, not yet; so that any man as has got it is pretty safe to git anything he likes to ax in the way o' wages. Why, I knowed a man once—common factory-hand he was when he started: couldn't read nor write, nor nothin'; but he had his wits about him, all the same,—well, he cum out here 'bout ten year ago, and went to some place on the Volga, with some crack-jaw name or other that I can't reck'lect. First year he was there he got as good pay as any overseer at home; next year he was overseer himself; two year arter that he owned his own mill, he did; and now, jist t'other day I gits a letter from him to say he's goin' home ag'in, with money in both pockets, and a-goin' to buy a big house and a bit o' ground, and I don't know what all. And if that ain't gittin' on, I should jist like to know what is!

But you mustn't think, neither, as it's all jist as easy as supping porridge: it ain't that, nohow. I can tell yer, if you was to go into one o' them hot work-rooms on a roastin' day in July, with the thermometer anywhere you like above a hundred, you'd feel more like lyin' down in the shade and havin' a drink o' beer than workin' hard for nine or ten hours on end. They say we overseers have an easy life of it. I wish them as says so had jist got to try it themselves for a day or two. Then, ag'in, most likely there's only one road from your place to the nearest town, and jist when you want to send off your stuff it'll come on pourin' rain for ever so long, and the whole road'll be nothin' but plash and mash, like a dish of cabbage-soup; and there the stuff'll have to lie idle for weeks and weeks, and you've jist got to grin and bear it. And in them parts, instead of one good pelt and have done with it, it keeps on drip, drip, drip, for days and days in a sneaking half-and-half kind o' way, as if it hadn't the pluck to come out with a good hearty pour. The very thunder don't make a good round-mouthed peal like it does at home, but a nasty jabberin' row, jist as if it was a-tryin' to talk French. And, altogether, it is a place to try a chap's temper: it is, indeed.

Are the native workmen good for much? says you. Well, that depends pretty much on how you look at it. When you've once shown 'em how to do a thing, they'll do it every bit as well as yourself; but they take a powerful deal o' showin', they do. You see, a Rooshan has his own way of doin' everything, and tryin' to teach him any other way is as bad as eating soup with a one-pronged fork. And then to see how thick some on 'em are! Why, they may well be brave in battle, for it 'ud take a precious clever bullet to git through one of their 'eads, it would. Here's one sample for yer: A friend o' mine in Mosker had got a Rooshan servant—one o' them reg'lar Derevenskis ("villagers"), and so one day he sends him to the shop with two o' them twenty-kopeck pieces, tellin' him to buy bread with one and butter with t'other. Off goes the chap, and never comes back ag'in; so at last his master goes to see what's up; and there he finds Mr. Ivan at the door of the shop, holdin' out the money in one hand and scratchin' his head with t'other, as if he'd forgot his own name, and couldn't find hisself nowhow. "Oh, barin" ("master"), says he in a voice like a fit o' chollerer, "whatever am I to do now? I've been and mixed the two pieces, and now I don't know which was the one for the bread and which for the butter."

As for the Tartars, they're troublesome in another way. They make prime workmen—there's no denyin' it; and I had ought to know, seein' I was over a gang of 'em myself for more'n a year—but they're the hot-bloodedest lot as ever I saw yet, and reg'lar born imps for fightin'; and when they git up a shindy, look out! I can speak, for I saw the big fight betwixt them and the Rooshans at Kazan 'bout three year ago; and if you cares to hear the story, I'll tell yer jist how it all happened.

You tell me as you've been to Kazan, and so, o' course, you'll remember that the "Tartar Town," as they calls it, lies a mile or two east o' the reg'lar Rooshan quarter; and midway between 'em's a dry gully (leastways, it's dry in the summer-time, but you should jist see it arter the spring thaw!), with a little bridge over it. Now, the Rooshan gangs and the Tartar gangs, a-comin' from their work, used to cross each other jist at this bridge; and o' course there was a good deal o' chaffin' among 'em, and some fightin', too, now and then; for I needn't tell you that a Rooshan and a Tartar are jist about as fond of each other as a Rooshan and a Turk. Now-a-days, the masters have had the gumption to change the hours of work, and keep 'em out of each other's way; but in my time there was a scrimmage nearly every week, though nothin' like this 'un I'm tellin' of.

Well, sir, I'd knocked off early that evenin', and strolled back to my place with a young Rooshan merchant as I knowed—a right good feller, name o' Michael Feodoroff. Just at the bridge we stopped to have a look at the sunset; and a rare sight it was! There was the dark-red tower of the old Tartar gateway standin' out ag'in the bright evenin' sky, and the citadel-wall with all its turrets and battlements, and the gilt cupolers o' the churches in the town, and the great green plain of the Volga away below us, and the broad river itself a-shinin' wherever the light fell on it, and the purple hills beyond tipped with gold every here and there, jist like them Delectable Mountains as mother used to read about on Sundays when I was a boy.

While we were standin' lookin' at it up comes half a dozen Rooshan workmen, a-goin' home from their work, and four or five Tartars from t'other side, a-goin' home from theirn; and they meets jist on the bridge. As they crossed each other one o' the Rooshans pulls a bit o' sassage out of his pocket and holds it up to the foremost Tartar (a great ugly-lookin' bruiser with one eye), and says to him, chaffin' like, "Hollo, Mourad! d'ye want a bit o' grease to make yer beard grow?"

Now, I needn't tell you that offerin' pork to a Mussulman is like drinkin' Dutch William's health at an Irish fair; and the words warn't well out o' the Rooshan's mouth afore the Tartar had him by the throat and was bangin' his head ag'in' the bridge-rails as if he was drivin' a nail with it.

Then, all in one minute, a whole crowd of 'em seemed to start up out o' the werry earth, and we found ourselves right in the middle of a reg'lar tearin' fight—tossin' arms and fierce faces whirlin' all round us; men strikin' and grapplin' and clawin' like fury; the broad, bearded faces of the Rooshans and the flat sallow mugs of the Tartars all blurred up together; and sich a yellin' and cursin' and screechin' a-goin' on that I a'most thought myself one o' them old Roman hemperors a-lookin' on at a wild-beast fight in the Call-and-see-'em.

I was so took aback that I jist stood and stared like a fool; but Feodoroff had his wits about him, and dragged me into a corner where we could see it all without bein' swep' in. I saw d'reckly that it was more than a plain bout o' fisticuffs, for several of the Rooshans had got out their knives, and were slashin' about like one o'clock; and the Tartars, on their side, had begun to tear out the rails o' the palisade and to crack the skulls of the Rooshans with them. Just then Ivan Martchenkoff, one o' my best men, came tumblin' down at my feet with half a dozen Tartars atop of him; and as he fell he caught sight of me, and cried to me for help.

Well, that was more'n I could stand. I busted loose from Feodoroff (who tried to hold me), and leapt right among 'em. I cotched the uppermost Tartar by the scruff o' the neck, and chucked him away like a kitten; and the second I hit sich a dollop behind the ear as made him look five ways at once; but just then two o' the rips jumped upon me from behind, and down I went. Then Feodoroff flew in to save me, but the crowd closed upon him, and down he went too; and I thought 'twas all up with us both.

Jist then I heerd a rumble of wheels up the slope leadin' to the bridge, and then a great shout of "Soldati! soldati!" ("The soldiers! the soldiers!").

Then I lay close to the ground and made myself as small as I could, for I knowed that if they fired into sich a crowd with cannon it 'ud just mow 'em down like grass. The next minute I heerd an orficer's voice singin' out, "Halt! front! fire!" But instead of the bang of a cannon there cum a hiss like fifty tea-kettles a-bilin' over, and then a great splash, and the crowd scattered fifty ways at once; and I found myself wringin' wet all in a minute. Then somebody gripped hold o' me and pulled me up, and there was Feodoroff, and beside him Lieutenant Berezinski of the garrison laughin' fit to burst. And when I looked round the whole place was a puddle o' water, with dozens of men rollin' in it like flies in treacle; and at the end of the bridge was ten or twelve sogers, and right in front of 'em a great steam fire-engine! Then I understood it all, and began laughin' as loud as anybody.

"You've cooled their courage this time, Mr. Lieutenant," says I.

"I think I have," says the lieutenant; "and that, too, without wasting a cartridge or killing a man. When you go home to England, Yakov Ivanovitch (James son of John), you can say that if you haven't stood fire, you've stood water, and been at the battle of Voyevoda."

David Ker.