“Well, he’s a smart fellow,” said the esaul.

“The beast,” said Denisov, with the same expression of vexation. “And what has he been about all this time?”

“Who is he?” asked Petya.

“It’s our scout. I sent him to catch a ‘tongue’ for us.”

“Ah, to be sure,” said Petya, nodding at Denisov’s first word, as though he knew all about it, though he did not understand a word.

Tihon Shtcherbatov was one of the most useful men among Denisov’s followers. He was a peasant of the village of Pokrovskoe, near Gzhat. Denisov had come to Pokrovskoe early in his operations as a guerilla leader, and sending, as he always did, for the village elder, asked him what he knew about the French.

The village elder had answered, as all village elders always did answer, that he knew nothing about them, and had seen nothing of them. But when Denisov explained to him that his object was to kill the French, and inquired whether no French had strayed into his village, the village elder replied that there had been some miroders certainly, but that the only person who took any heed of such things was Tishka Shtcherbatov. Denisov ordered Tihon to be brought before him, and praising his activity, said in the presence of the elder a few words about the devotion to the Tsar and the Fatherland and the hatred of the French that all sons of the Fatherland must cherish in their hearts.

“We don’t do any harm to the French,” said Tihon, evidently scared at Denisov’s words. “It’s only, you know, just a bit of fun for the lads and me. The miroders now—we have killed a dozen or so of them, but we have done no harm else …”

At first Tihon undertook the rough work of making fires, fetching water, skinning horses, and so on, but he soon showed great zeal and capacity for guerilla warfare. He would go after booty at night, and never failed to bring back French clothes and weapons, and when he was bidden, he would bring back prisoners too. Denisov took Tihon from his menial work, and began to employ him on expeditions, and to reckon him among the Cossacks.

Tihon did not like riding, and always went on foot, yet never lagged behind the cavalry. His weapons were a musket, which he carried rather as a joke, a pike, and an axe, which he used as skilfully as a wolf does its teeth—catching fleas in its coat and crunching thick bones with them equally easily. With equal precision Tihon swinging his axe split logs, or, taking it by the head, cut thin skewers or carved spoons. Among Denisov’s followers, Tihon was on a special footing of his own. When anything particularly disagreeable or revolting had to be done—to put one’s shoulder to a waggon stuck in the mud, to drag a horse out of a bog by the tail, to flay a horse, to creep into the midst of the French, to walk fifty versts in a day—every one laughed, and looked to Tihon to do it.

“No harm will come to him; the devil; he’s a stalwart beast,” they used to say of him.

One day a Frenchman he had captured wounded Tihon with a pistol-shot in the fleshy part of the back. This wound, which Tihon treated only by applications of vodka—internal and external—was the subject of the liveliest jokes through the whole party, and Tihon lent himself readily to their jests.

“Well, old chap, you won’t do that again! Are you crook-backed!” laughed the Cossacks; and Tihon, assuming a doleful face, and grimacing to pretend he was angry, would abuse the French with the most comical oaths. The effect of the incident on Tihon was that he rarely afterwards brought prisoners in.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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