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