Taras Bulba/Chapter V

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All Southwest Poland speedily became a prey to fear. Everywhere the rumour flew: "The Zaporozhtzi! The Zaporozhtzi have appeared!" All who could flee, did so. All rose up and scattered, after the manner of that lawless, reckless age, when men built neither fortresses nor castles, but each erected his temporary dwelling of straw at haphazard. Each man thought: "'Tis useless to waste money and labour on a cottage; 'twill be swept away, in any case, in a Tatár raid." Every one took fright; one exchanged his plough and oxen for a horse and gun; another hid, driving off his cattle, and carrying away all he could. Occasionally, on the road, some were encountered who greeted their visitors with arms in hand; but more numerous were those who fled before their arrival. Every one knew that it was difficult to deal with the wild and warlike horde known by the name of the Zaporozhian army, which, beneath its reckless and disorderly exterior, concealed an organisation well calculated for times of battle. The horsemen rode on without overburdening or heating their horses; the foot-soldiers marched soberly behind the wagons; and the whole camp moved only by night, resting during the day, and selecting for this purpose the wilderness, uninhabited places, and the forests, of which there was then an abundance. Spies and scouts were sent ahead to ferret out the where, the what, and the how. And often they made their appearance suddenly in the places where they were least expected—and then every one bade farewell to life; the villages were burned; the horses and cattle which were not driven off behind the army, were killed on the spot. They seemed to be revelling, rather than carrying out a raid. Our hair would rise on end nowadays, at the horrible exhibitions of savagery of that fierce, half-civilised age, which the Zaporozhtzi everywhere displayed. Children slain, women's breasts cut off, the skin flayed from the feet up to the knees of victims who were then set at liberty: in a word, the kazáks paid old debts in coin of full weight. The Prelate of one monastery, on hearing of their approach, despatched two monks to say that they were not behaving as they should; that an agreement existed between the Zaporozhtzi and the Government; that they were breaking faith with the King, and all international right. "Tell your Bishop, from me and from all the Zaporozhtzi," said the Koshevói, "that he has nothing to fear; the kazáks, so far, are only lighting and smoking their pipes." And the magnificent abbey was soon wrapped in the devouring flames, and its colossal Gothic windows gazed grimly through the waves of fire as they parted. Fleeing throngs of monks, women and Jews suddenly flooded those towns where there was any hope in the garrison and the town-defences. The belated succour, despatched from time to time by the Government, consisting of a few small regiments, either could not find them, or, seized with fright, turned tail at the very first encounter, and fled on their swift horses. So it came to pass that many of the royal commanders, who had conquered in former battles, resolved to unite their forces, and present a front to the Zaporozhtzi.

And here, more than all, did our young kazáks, who avoided robbery, cupidity and a weak enemy, and were burning with the desire to distinguish themselves in the presence of the chiefs, endeavour to measure themselves in single combat with a warlike and boastful Lyakh, prancing on his spirited horse, with the sleeves of his jacket thrown back and streaming in the wind. This science was inspiriting; they had already won for themselves many horse-trappings, valuable swords, and guns. In a single month, the newly-fledged birds had attained their full growth, were completely transformed, and had become men; their features, in which, hitherto a trace of youthful softness had been discernible, had now grown grim. And it was pleasant to old Taras, to see both his sons among the leaders. It seemed as though Ostap were designed by nature for the pursuit of war and the difficult art of conducting military operations. Never once losing his head, or becoming confused under any circumstances, with a cool audacity which was almost supernatural in a youth of two and twenty, he could, in an instant, gauge the danger, and grasp the whole scope of the matter, could instantly devise a means of escaping it, but of escaping it only that he might the more surely conquer it. His movements now began to be distinguished by the assurance which springs from experience, and in them could be detected the temperament of the future great leader. His person exhaled strength, and his knightly qualities had already assumed the broad power of the lion. "Oh, what a fine colonel that fellow will make one of these days!" said old Taras. "By God, he'll make a magnificent colonel, far surpassing even his father!"

Andríi surrendered himself wholly to the enchanting music of bullets and swords. He knew not what it was to consider or to calculate, or to measure in advance his own strength and the enemy's. He found in battle a mad delight and intoxication; he perceived something festal in the moments when a man's brain burns, when everything waves and flutters before his eyes, heads fly off, horses fall to the earth with a sound of thunder, while he rides on like a drunken man, amid the whistling of bullets and the flashing of swords, dealing blows to all, and heeding not those dealt to him. More than once the father marvelled, also, at Andríi, when he beheld him, incited only by a passionate impulse, hurl himself at something which a sensible man in cold blood would never have attempted, and, by the sheer force of his mad onslaught accomplish such wonders as could not but amaze men old in battle. Old Taras admired, and said: "And he, too, will be a good warrior (if the enemy does not capture him). He's not Ostap, but he's a fine, a grand warrior, nevertheless."

The army decided to march straight to the city of Dubno, where, so rumour asserted, there were many treasures and wealthy inhabitants. The journey was accomplished in a day and a half, and the Zaporozhtzi made their appearance before the city. The inhabitants resolved to defend themselves to the utmost extent of their power, to the last extremity, and preferred to die in their squares and streets, before their own thresholds, rather than admit the enemy to their houses. A high earthen rampart surrounded the city; in places where the rampart was somewhat lower there rose up a stone wall, or a house, or even an oaken stockade, which served as a battery. The garrison was strong, and felt the importance of their business. The Zaporozhtzi attacked the rampart fiercely, but were met by a shower of grapeshot. The citizens and residents of the town evidently did not wish to remain idle, either, and stood in groups upon the rampart; in their eyes could be read desperate resistance. The women, also, were determined to take part, and rained down upon the heads of the Zaporozhtzi stones, casks, pots, and, finally, boiling water and sacks of sand, which blinded them. The Zaporozhtzi were not fond of dealing with fortified places: sieges were not in their line. The Koshev󏏏i ordered a retreat, and said: "'Tis useless, brother nobles; we will retire: but may I be a heathen Tatár and not a Christian, if we don't clean them out of that town! Let them all perish of hunger, the dogs!" The army retreated, invested the town on all sides, and, for lack of something to do, busied themselves with devastating the surrounding country, burning the neighbouring villages, the ricks of unthreshed grain, and turning their droves of horses loose in the fields as yet untouched by the reaping-hook, where, as though intentionally prepared for them, waved the plump ears, the fruit of an unusual harvest, liberally rewarding all tillers of the soil that season.

With horror, the inhabitants, looking on from the city, beheld their means of subsistence destroyed. And, meanwhile, the Zaporozhtzi, having formed a double cordon of their wagons around the city, disposed themselves as in the Syech in their barracks, smoked their pipes, bartered their booty for weapons, played at leap-frog, at odd-and-even, and gazed at the city with deadly cold-bloodedness. At night they lighted their camp-fires: the cooks boiled the porridge for each kurén in huge copper kettles; an unsleeping sentinel stood all night long beside the blazing fires. But the Zaporozhtzi soon began to tire of inactivity and prolonged sobriety, unaccompanied by any fighting. The Koshevói even ordered the allowance of liquor to be doubled, which was sometimes done in the army when difficult enterprises or operations were under way. The young men in general, and Taras Bulba's sons in particular, did not like this life. Andríi was visibly bored. "You silly head!" said Taras to him: "Be patient, kazák, you will be Atamán some day. And he is not a good warrior who loses his spirit in an important affair; but he is good who does not weary even of inaction, who endures everything, and, no matter what you do to him, turns it to account." But hot youth cannot agree with age: the two have different natures, and they look at the same thing with different eyes.

But, in the meantime, Taras's regiment, led by Tovkach, arrived; with him were, also, two Yesaúls, the Scribe, and other regimental officers: the kazáks numbered over four thousand in all. There were among them many volunteers, who had risen of their own free will, without any summons, as soon as they heard what the matter was. The Yesaúls brought to Taras's sons the blessing of their aged mother, and to each a holy image of cypress-wood, from the Mezhigorsk monastery in Kiev. The two brothers hung the holy ikóni round their necks, and involuntarily grew pensive, as they recalled their old mother. What did this blessing prophesy, what did it say to them? Was it a blessing for their victory over the enemy, and then a joyful return to their home with booty and glory, to be everlastingly commemorated in the songs of the bandura-players, or was it…?

But the future is not to be known, and stands before a man like autumnal fogs rising from the swamps: birds fly to and fro in it, with flapping wings, never recognising one another, the dove not seeing the vulture, nor the vulture the dove, and no one knows how near he may be flying to his destruction.

Ostap had, long before, attended to his duties, and gone to the barrack. Andríi, without knowing why, felt a sort of oppression in his heart. The kazáks had finished their evening meal; the evening had fully quieted down, the wonderful July night ruled the air: but he did not go to the barracks, he did not lie down to sleep, and involuntarily he surveyed the whole scene before him. In the sky, with a thin, sharp gleam, twinkled innumerable stars. The plain was covered, far and wide, by wagons scattered over its expanse, their swinging tar-buckets smeared with tar, loaded with every description of goods and provisions captured from the foe. By the side of the carts, under the carts, and far beyond the carts, Zaporozhtzi were everywhere visible, stretched out upon the grass,—all asleep in picturesque attitudes: one had thrust a sack under his head, another his cap, still another was simply making use of his comrade's side. Swords, guns, arquebuses, short-stemmed pipes with copper mountings, iron awls, and a flint and steel were inseparable from every kazák. The heavy oxen, with legs doubled under them, lay in huge, whitish masses, and at a distance looked like grey stones scattered on the slopes of the plain. On all sides the heavy snores of sleeping warriors had already begun to rise from the grass, and were answered from the plain by the ringing neighs of their steeds, chafing at their hobbled feet. Meanwhile, a certain grim magnificence was mingled with the beauty of the July night. It was the distant glare of conflagrations from the country round about. In one place the flames spread tranquilly and grandly over the sky; in another, having encountered something else on fire, they suddenly burst into a whirlwind, and flew, hissing, upwards, to the very stars, and torn fragments faded away in the most distant quarter of the heavens. There a black monastery like a grim Carthusian monk stood threatening, and displaying its dark magnificence at every flash; yonder burned the monastery garden. It seemed as though the trees could be heard hissing, as they wrapped themselves in smoke; and when the fire leaped aside, it suddenly lighted up with a phosphorescent lilac-rose-hued gleam the ripe plums, or turned the yellowing pears here and there to ruddy gold; and there, among them all, on the wall of a building or against the trunk of a tree, a black blot, hung the body of a poor Jew or monk who had perished in the flames with the building. Far away, high above the conflagration, hovered birds, which looked like a cluster of tiny black crosses upon a fiery background. The town, thus laid bare, seemed asleep; its spires and roofs, and the stockade and walls flashed quietly in the glare of the distant conflagrations. Andríi made the rounds of the kazák ranks. The fires beside which the sentinels sat were on the point of dying out; and even the sentinels were asleep, having devoured oatmeal and dumplings with genuine kazák appetites. He was amazed at such carelessness, and said to himself: "'Tis well that there is no strong enemy near at hand, and no one to fear." At last he went to one of the transport-wagons, climbed into it, and lay down upon his back, thrusting his clasped hands under his head; but he could not sleep, and gazed long at the sky. It was all open before him; the air was pure and transparent; the dense mass of stars which constitutes the Milky Way, and traverses the sky in a belt, was flooded with light. From time to time Andríi forgot himself, to a degree, and a light mist of dreaming seemed to veil the heavens from him for a moment; and then it cleared away, and they became visible again.

During one of these intervals it seemed to him that some strange human figure was flitting before him. Thinking it was merely a dream-apparition which would immediately fade away, he opened his eyes fully and beheld a withered, emaciated face bending over him, and gazing straight into his eyes. The long, coal-black hair fell, uncoiffed, dishevelled, from beneath a dark veil which was thrown over the head; and the strange glitter of the eyes and the death-like brown tone of the face, which threw the sharply-cut features into relief, inclined him to believe that it was an apparition. His hand involuntarily grasped his arquebuse, and he exclaimed almost convulsively: "Who are you? If you are an evil spirit, begone from my sight! If you are a living being, you have chosen an unseemly time for your jest; I will kill you with a single shot!"

In answer to this, the apparition laid its finger upon its lips, and seemed to entreat silence. He dropped his hand, and began to scrutinise it more attentively. He recognised it as a woman from the long hair, the brown neck, the half-concealed bosom. But she was not a native of those regions; her whole face was swarthy, wasted by disease; her broad cheek-bones stood out prominently above her hollow cheeks; her narrow eyes rose upwards in an arch. The more he gazed at her features, the more he discerned in them that which was familiar. At last, unable to restrain himself longer, he said: "Tell me, who are you? It seems to me that I know you, or have seen you somewhere."

"Two years ago, in Kiev."

"Two years ago, in Kiev!" repeated Andríi, endeavouring to collect in his mind all that still lingered in his memory of his former student life. He looked intently at her once more, and suddenly exclaimed, at the top of his voice: "You are the Tatár! the servant of the young noblewoman, the Voevod's daughter!"

"S-sh!" cried the Tatár, clasping her hands with a gesture of supplication, trembling all over, and turning her head round in order to see whether any one had been waked up by Andríi's loud exclamation.

"Tell me, tell me, why are you here?" said Andríi, almost panting, in a whisper, interrupted every moment by inward emotion. "Where is the young lady? is she alive?"

"She is now in the city."

"In the city!" he exclaimed, again almost in a shriek, and felt that all the blood suddenly flew to his heart. "Why is she in the city?"

"Because the old nobleman himself is in the city: he has been Voevod of Dubno for the last year and a half."

"Is she married? How strange you look! Tell me about her!"

"She has had nothing to eat for two days."


"Not one of the inhabitants has had a morsel of bread for a long while past; all have been eating earth only."

Andríi was astonished.

"The young lady saw you from the city ramparts, among the Zaporozhtzi. She said to me, 'Go, say to the knight: If he remembers me, let him come to me; and do not forget to make him give you a bit of bread for my aged mother, for I do not wish to see my mother die before my very eyes. Better that I should die first, and she afterwards! Beseech him: clasp his knees, his feet: he, also, has an aged mother; let him give you bread for her sake.'"

Many feelings awoke and flamed up in the young kazák's breast.

"But how came you hither? By what road did you arrive?"

"By an underground passage."

"Is there an underground passage?"



"You will not betray it, knight?"

"I swear by the holy Cross that I will not."

"You must descend into the gully, and cross the water-course yonder, among the reeds."

"And it leads into the city?"

"Straight into the town monastery."

"Let us go, let us go, at once!"

"A bit of bread, in the name of Christ and of His holy Mother!"

"Good, so be it. Stand here beside the wagon—or, better still, lie down in it; no one will see you, all are asleep. I will return immediately."

And he set off for the transports, which contained the provisions belonging to their barrack. His heart beat violently. All the past, all that had been extinguished by the kazák bivouacs, by the stern battle of life, flamed up at once to the surface, and, in its turn, drowned the present. Again, as from the dark depths of the sea, the proud woman rose up before him: again in his memory shone forth her beautiful arms, her eyes, her laughing mouth, her thick, dark chestnut hair, falling in curls upon her shoulders, the elastic, well-knit members of her maiden figure. No, they had not been extinguished in his breast; they had not vanished: they had simply withdrawn to one side, in order, for a time, to make way for other strong emotions; but often, very often, the young kazák's deep slumbers had been troubled by them, and often, waking, he had lain sleepless on his bed, without being able to explain the cause.

He walked on; but his heart beat more violently still at the mere thought of seeing her again, and his young knees shook. When he reached the transport, he had utterly forgotten the reason for his coming; he raised his hand to his brow, and rubbed it long, trying to recollect what he meant to do. At last he trembled, and was filled with terror: the thought suddenly occurred to him that she was dying of hunger. He flung himself upon the wagon and seized several large loaves of black bread; but then he thought: "Is not this food, which is suited to a robust and easily-satisfied Zaporozhetz, too coarse and unfit for her delicate frame?" Then he remembered that the Koshevói, on the previous evening, had reproved the cooks for having cooked up all the buckwheat flour into porridge at once, when there was plenty for at least three times. In the full assurance that he would find plenty of porridge in the kettles, he drew out his father's travelling kettle, and went with it to the cook of their barrack, who was sleeping alongside two huge kettles, holding about ten bucketfuls apiece, under which the ashes still glowed. Glancing into them, he was amazed to find both empty. Supernatural powers must have been required to eat it all, the more so as their barrack numbered fewer men than the others. He looked into the kettles of the other kuréns,—nothing anywhere. Involuntarily there recurred to his mind, "The Zaporozhtzi are like children: if there is little they eat it, if there is much they leave nothing." What was he to do? Still, somewhere in the wagon belonging to his father's regiment there was, he thought, a sack of white bread, which they had found when they pillaged the bakery of a monastery. He went straight to his father's load, but it was not there. Ostap had taken it and put it under his head; and there he lay, stretched out on the ground, snoring so that the whole plain reverberated. Andríi seized the sack abruptly with one hand, and gave it a jerk, so that Ostap's head fell on the ground, and the latter sprang up, half awake, and sitting there, with closed eyes, shouted at the top of his lungs: "Stop him! Stop the damned Lyakh! Catch the horse!"—"Silence! I'll kill you!" shouted Andríi, in terror, brandishing the sack over him. But Ostap did not continue his speech, quieted down, and emitted such a snore that the grass on which he lay undulated with his breath.

Andríi glanced timidly about him on all sides, to see if Ostap's dream-ravings had waked any of the kazáks. Only one scalp-locked head rose up in the adjoining barrack, glanced about, then dropped back on the ground. After waiting a couple of minutes, he set out with his burden. The Tatár woman still lay there, scarcely breathing. "Rise, let us go! Fear not, all are sleeping. Can you take one of these loaves if I cannot carry all?" So saying, he flung the sacks on his back, pulled out another sack of millet as he passed a wagon, took in his hands the loaves he had wanted to give the Tatár woman to carry and, bending somewhat under his load, went boldly through the ranks of slumbering Zaporozhtzi.

"Andríi," said old Bulba as he passed. His heart died within him. He halted, all of a tremble, and said softly: "What is it?"

"There's a woman with you! When I get up I'll give you a sound thrashing! Women will lead you to no good." So saying, he leaned his head upon his hand, and gazed intently at the muffled form of the Tatár.

Andríi stood there more dead than alive, not daring to look his father in the face. And when he did raise his eyes and glance at him, old Bulba was fast asleep, with his head resting in the palm of his hand.

He made the sign of the cross on his breast. Fear fled from his heart even more rapidly than it had attacked it. When he turned to look at the Tatár woman, she stood before him like a dark, granite statue, all muffled in her veil; and the glow of the crimson glare in the distance lighted up only her eyes, dull as the eyes of a corpse. He plucked her by the sleeve, and both went on together, glancing incessantly behind them; and, at last, they descended the slope into a small ravine, almost a hole, at the bottom of which a stream flowed lazily, overgrown with sedge, and strewn with mossy hummocks. Descending into this ravine they were completely concealed from view of all the plain occupied by the Zaporozhian camp. At least, Andríi, as he glanced back, saw that the abrupt declivity rose behind him like a steep wall, taller than a man's stature. On its crest waved a few stalks of steppe-grass; and above them, in the sky, hung the moon, like a reaping-hook of pure, ruddy gold, set a-slant. The breeze, blowing off the steppe, warned them that the dawn was not far off. But nowhere was the distant crow of a cock audible. There had been not a single cock for a long time past, either in the city or in the devastated neighbourhood. They crossed the stream on a narrow plank, beyond which rose the opposite bank, that appeared higher than the one behind them, and formed a complete precipice. It seemed as though this were a strong and solid point of the citadel; at all events, the earthen rampart was lower there, and no garrison appeared behind it. But further on rose the thick monastery wall. The precipitous bank was all overgrown with steppe-grass, and in the narrow ravine between it and the stream grew tall reeds, almost to the height of a man. At the summit of the ravine were visible the remains of a wattled fence, revealing that a garden had once existed there; in front of it, the broad leaves of the burdock, from among which rose pig-weed and blackthorn, and sunflowers, rearing their heads high above all the rest. Here the Tatár flung off her high-heeled slippers, and went bare-foot, gathering up her gown carefully, for the spot was marshy, and soaked with water. Forcing their way through the reeds, they halted before a pile of faggots and brushwood. Pushing aside the brushwood, they found a sort of earthen arch—an opening not much larger than the mouth of an oven. The Tatár woman bent her head, and went first. Andríi followed, bending as low as he could, in order to pass with his sacks; and both soon found themselves in total darkness.