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THE CHIMNEY CORNER.

THE TYRANT GENERAL. A Tale of Russian Cruelty. On the 22nd May, 1841, one of the battalions composing part of the military colony recently established by the (Russian Government at Novgorod, and which, in the singularity of its organisation, resembles the Prussian landwehr, was drawn up in line on the parade ground attached to the immense barracks constructed a few years since on the most solitary and ancient part of the town, not far from the church of Saint Sophia. In front of the line, formed with* the mechanical regularity and precision which have made the Russian foot soldiers such admirable automatons, strode General L —eff. He was a man fifty years of age, remarkable for his rigid deportment, his leanness, his tawny complexion, and his large grey restless eyes. He was distinguished in the army for his bravery—daring proofs of which he had given during the. campaigns in Persia and Turkey. But whether, as was generally thought, domestic unhappiness had been the means of souring a

' temper naturally energetic, dr that his , heart had been hardened by the frequent application of the inexorable necessity of a discipline degrading in its principle, and too often monstrous in its effects, General L—eff was looked on as an. object of terror by the soldiers; for not a day passed unsignalised by one or more of those acts of severity which might justly undergo the imputation of ferocity. It was known, however, that this man had an attachment for the daughter of one of his ancient comrades, killed in the late war with Poland. JHaving adopted her, no parent ever showed more solicitude for his offspring than he evinced for the young orphan, and they were seldom separate. Although grateful for the kindness oi the general, the young girl—to whom • the soldiers had given the name of Solqxyoiva (nightingale), from the sweetness which she sang the old and melancholy slave romances —could never overcome in his presence the unconquerable constraint ■which his brief address, imperious countenance, and cold and distant manners, imposed dhithole who approached him.6n the day when the following events took place, Solowoiva, who, to please the general, regularly attended all the exercises and parades, was seated before one of the barrack windows on a level with the parade-ground, looking quietly at the movements of the soldiers. A blush suffused her countenence T as. her. eyes encountered those of 5 - -a- 1 young military surgeon named Ivan Polovoi, dressed on this occasion with marked elegance in the simple uniform of his rank. Already General L eff had passed several times before the front of the battalion without speaking; but his bushy eyebrows contracted, and passion began to be visible in his countenance, when; he found that a number of men were absent. His attention at this moment was arrested by a party of soldiers advancing towards him from the other end of the parade-ground, each carrying a long rod, used in the application of an abominable punish- . ment, which has not yet ceased in the Russian army. Turning towards one of his aides-de-camp,;he demanded, in a voice of thunder, from whom the order had emanated, and who was to be punished. A sergeant, remarkable for his livid and scarred appearance, rushed towards the general, snatched his sword from his hand, and struck him in the face with it, exclaiming, “ Yourself!” The action had an effect like an

electric shock oh the ranks of the battalion, and the usually immovable countenances of the soldiers seemed to brighten with an impulse of hatred, A spontaneous movement was made by the officers along the line to the assistance of their chief; but they were instantly seized, thrown to the ground, and a bayonet pointed against the breast of each. Ivan the surgeon had alone been left untouched ; for, by his humanity and kindness, he had conciliated the goodwill of the troops. A grenadier, however, was stationed before him to act as a guard, who whispered in his ear, in a mysterious voice, “ Whether tJxe Nighingale sings or not, remain quiet r not a gesture nor a cry, or you are a dead man !” Recovering from his surprise, the general seized with both hands the bayonets presented to his breast; and having by a violent effort struck them aside, shouted, as his eye flashed along the battalion—“ Down on your knees, vile brutes ! Down on your knees and ask pardon—your heads in the dust, or you have not flesh enough on your backs to expiate your rebellion !”

His words were received with a shout of savage laughter, and the sergeant, with that peculiar tranquility which distinguishes unshaken resolution, retorted—-“ We each and all of us know that our lives will be the penalty of what we now do. When tlxe sentence passed pn you shall be executed, we shall seek General Suroff, governor of Novgorod ; we shall give up to him your sword, your decorations, and whatever may remain of your body, and say to him, “ General L—eff was a tiger, and we have killed him ; here are our arms; we look for our punishment !” The sergeant, while speaking, tore the epaulettes from the general’s shoulders, and trampled them under his feet. “ These insignia don’t become you; the knout is fitter for an executioner. Remember the soldier Betsakoff, flog'gfed. with Tods for having been too glow in carrying arms; remember the old sans-officier, whom you reduced to the ranks for having a stain on his uniform, and whom you struck with your cane until the blood streamed from his forehead, his cheeks, and his lips; and because the unhappy old man, pale with shame, repulsed the hand which inflicted the indignity, he was condemned, flogged, and sent mutilated and dying to Siberia.” The sergeant continued with a terrible coolness this degrading scene, dragging off the general’s belt and coat, and lastly his shirt.

In spite of his remarkable firmness, L —eff shuddered while he listened to the accusing voice, so eloquent in its simplicity, so calm and so measured even in its passion. As for Solowoiva, she sat for some time without being: able to comprehend the strange scene

passing before her eyes ; but when the truth at length flashed on her, that her adopted father was about to undergo the odious chastisement which he had so often inflicted on others, she was seized with horror, and gave utterance to the most heart-rending cries. Ivan the surgeon, who till then had stood neuter, could not remain insensible to the despair of the young girl, and forgetting the warning he had received, and the ferocious exasperation of the soldiers, he advanced towards her. He had not gone many paces when a shot was fired, and the unfortunate young surgeon fell to the ground a corpse. There is in most Russian regiments a kind of buffoon, who fills a situation somewhat resembling that held in the ancient German armies, to whom the soidiers applied the significant appellation of Lustig. One of these men, attached to the battalion, seeing the surgeon fall, approached the corpse, dancing and gesticulating, and, raising it in his robust arms, carried it towards where Solowoiva still sat, and depositing it immediately before her, exclaimed—- “ Here, my little singing bird, this is yours.” Pale with terror, the girl recognised the body as it rolled at hexfeet, and uttering a faint cry, sunk by its side.

While this scene was being enacted, General L —eff had been laid on a car, drawn along the ranks, and had received the baguettes —a terrible torture 5 which, however, was only the commencement of his sufferings. He had scarcely reached the extremity of the line when a voice exclaimed, “ Take him to the ovens !”

The general, whose spirit was already crushed, heard the words, and, too well comprehending their meaning, threw around him a look of supplication and terror.

“ To the ovens !” shouted a hundred voices.

The countenance of the general became livid, and his body shook with terror: his pride had fled, and groaning in agony, he asked for pardon. But the shouts of the battalion drowned his voice; and the sergeant, approaching his victim, said in a stern tone —“ I also besought pity when my brother fell expiring under the baguettes.” We shall not go into the details of the horrible scene which followed, unfortunately but too true. Suffice it to say, that the general and the superior officers of the battalion, shut up in the ovens, under which- a slow fire was carefully renewed by the soldiers, were litex-ally roasted alive. Certainly the execution of the sentence had a terrible originality ; yet the punishment was fully proportionate to the vengeance. A mounted jager carried to the emperor the account of the fearful drama which had been enacted in Novgorod, and eight days afterwards several batteries of artillery entered the decayed capital of ancient Russia, preceded by a major-general, who, during the late war in Poland, had been known to the array under the title of the “ Butcher of Warsaw.” One of the aides-de-camp was sent to the quarters of the mutineers, with an order to assemble the next day, without arms, at a small parade-ground at the eastern extremity of the town, and called the Tartar Camp. The soldiers replied to this mysterious injunction by the customary shout {karacho). The following day they dressed themselves, and arranged their moustaches, as if prepared for a simple parade; then pale, silent, their lips white with emotion, but still keeping their ranks, they traversed the town through a triple row- of Cossacks, followed by the mournful looks of the populace. Arrived upon the ground, they silently formed into square. At the same moment the drums beat, the belfries of the numerous Greek churches in Novgorod pealed, and the several batteries established at the entrance of the five long avenues leading into the field were suddenly unmasked, and the grape-shot began the work of extermination. Horrid shouts followed each discharge, and a heavy groaning, mingled with the interrupted songs of some of the dying soldiers. For three hours the discharge continued; and when the executioners of this bloody duty entered the place of punishment, they found it literally a lake of blood and covered with mangled limbs. Five soldiers alone, who had been miraculously preserved, were found alive, and they expired under the knout. Among this latter number was the sergeant, who to the last moment manifested an extraordinary, degree of fortitude in the midst of his sufferings. Solowoiva, the adopted daughter of General L eff, was taken under the protection of the Empress, and placed in the society of noble Russian ladies at Sraolnoi.

It may be necessary to add that the proceeding details are not exaggerated in any respect. We present them as described by a respectable correspondent of a French newspaper, who mentions that he was an eye-witness of the scene to which he alludes. From what is being daily disclosed of the savage character of Russian institutions, there seems no reason to doubt their accuracy,

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Permanent link to this item

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AG18801122.2.19

Bibliographic details

THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 197, 22 November 1880

Word Count
1,843

THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 197, 22 November 1880

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