The very next day, Tarass Boolba was already in consultation with the new Koschevoï how to raise the Zaporoghians on some war business. The Koschevoï was a clever, cunning Cossack; he knew the Zaporoghians from top to toe, and at once said, “We cannot infringe our oath—we cannot, on any account.” But after having kept silence for some time he added, “Never mind, we can; we will keep our oath, but we will find out something or other. Manage somehow to get the people together, not, however, in my name, but as if of their own free will. You understand how to do it; and we, with the other dignitaries, will rush into the square as if we knew nothing of the matter.”
Scarcely an hour had passed since this conversation, when on a sudden the kettle-drums were beaten. All the Cossacks, the slightly tipsy as well as those who had not yet recovered their senses, appeared at once. Thousands of Cossack caps all at once covered the square. A rumour arose, “What’s the matter? why did they beat the call? on what account?” At last, here and there were to be heard sentences, “Why is the Cossack’s strength to be lost? Why is there no war? The officials only think of fattening themselves! Righteousness seems to have left the world!” Other Cossacks began by listening and then joined in also, “Truly, there is no righteousness in the world.”
The officials seemed astonished at hearing such things. At last the Koschevoï stepped forward and said, “Gentlemen Zaporoghians! will you let me make a speech?
“My speech will be, gentlemen, about this,—but may be you know it better yourselves;—that many Zaporoghians have gone into debt in the brandy-shops, to Jews as well as to their comrades, and into such debt that no devil will now give credit to any one. Then, again, my speech is about this, that there are many lads who have never so much as seen what war is; whereas you know, gentlemen, that no young man can ever remain without war. What kind of Zaporoghian is he who has never, not even once, vanquished an unbeliever?”
“He speaks well,” thought Boolba.
“But do not think, gentlemen, that I am now speaking for the purpose of breaking peace! God forbid! I am only just mentioning facts. Now, with respect to God’s temple, it is sinful to tell in what a state it is. Thanks be to God, the Ssiecha has now stood for so many years, and yet till now—I do not speak of the exterior of the church—-but even the images inside have no decorations. No one has ever thought to have even a silver cloth put upon any one of them;1 the church has only received that which was bequeathed to it by certain Cossacks; but even these donations were very poor, for the donors during their lifetime had spent everything they had in brandy. But all this I do not tell you to induce you to begin war against the misbelievers; we have promised peace to the Sultan, and it would be a great sin not to keep it, because we have sworn by our faith.”
“What does he mean by all this nonsense?” said Boolba to himself.
“So, gentlemen, you see that we cannot begin war; knightly honour forbids it. But, according to my poor understanding, what I should say is this—let us send the young people in our boats; let them take a run on the coasts of Anatolia. What do you think of that, gentlemen?”
“Let us all go!” cried the crowd on every side. “Every one of us is ready to die for our faith!”
The Koschevoï was alarmed; he had not at all meant to have raised the whole Ssiecha; he thought it unfair to break the peace. “Let me, gentlemen, say a few words more.”
“Enough!” shouted the Zaporoghians; “thou wilt say nothing better!”
“If such be your will, well you must have it. I am but the servant of your will. It is well known that the voice of the people is the voice of God. Nothing better can be settled than what the whole of the Ssiecha has settled. I consider only this. You know, gentlemen, that the Sultan will not fail to take his revenge for the pleasure that the lads will have. And in the meanwhile we should have kept ourselves in readiness; our forces should have been fresh, and we should have feared nobody—while now, during our absence, the Tartars may fall on the Ssiecha. Tartars are nothing but Turkish dogs; they do not fall on you face to face, and will not come into the house so long as the master is at home; but they may bite our heels from behind and painfully may they bite us. And, as we are now about this matter—to speak the truth, we have not enough boats, and the store of powder is not sufficient if all of us are to go. However, I am ready. I am happy to be the servant of your will.”
The cunning Ataman stopped. Groups began to confer together; the atamans of the koorens held council; and, as luckily few remained tipsy, all agreed to follow the prudent course.
Immediately some of the men crossed the Dnieper to fetch the treasure of the Ssiecha, and part of the arms taken from their enemies; they were kept in inaccessible hiding-places, in the reeds along the banks of the river. All the other Cossacks rushed to the boats to inspect them, and to put them in readiness for use. In a minute the banks of the river were covered with people; carpenters came with axes in their hands; young Zaporoghians as well as elderly ones; the latter, sunburnt, broad-shouldered, thick-footed, with gray hair in their mustachios, stood knee deep in the water, and dragged the boats into the river by means of strong cords. Others were bringing timber and balks ready dried. Here some were nailing planks on a boat; there a boat, keel upwards, was being caulked and pitched; in another place, according to the Cossack custom, long bundles of reeds were bound to the sides of the boats, to prevent them from being capsized by the sea waves; and still farther all along the river fires were kindled and tar boiled in copper kettles for tarring the boats. The experienced and elderly Cossacks gave their advice to the young ones. Noise and clamours arose from every side. The banks of the river were all alive with the stir and bustle.
At this moment a great ferry-boat came near the island. The men who were standing in it had already, at a distance, begun to wave their arms. They were Cossacks and dressed in coats falling to rags. The miserable dress which they wore (some of them had nothing about them but their shirt and a short pipe in their mouth) showed at once that they had recently escaped from misfortune, or that they had been feasting until they had spent all that they had about their persons. From among them came forward, a short, thickset, broad-shouldered Cossack, some fifty years old. He shrieked louder than any, and waved his arms in the most discordant manner. But the cries and the talking of the workmen prevented him from being heard.
“What brings you here?” asked the Koschevoï, while the ferry-boat was landing. All the workmen, stopping in their work with raised axes and other instruments, looked on in expectation.
“Misfortune!” shouted the thickset Cossack from the ferry-boat.
“Gentlemen Zaporoghians, let me address you?”
“Or, may be, you wish to convoke a rada?”
“Speak, we are all here!” cried the people with one accord.
“Have you, then, heard nothing about what has happened in the hetman’s dominions?”2
“And what is the matter there?” asked the ataman of one of the koorens.
“What is the matter! It seems the Tartars must have well boxed your ears that you heard nothing!”
“Tell, then, what did happen there!”
“Such things have happened that, since you were born and christened, you never saw the like of them!”
“Speak, then, at once; and say what has happened, thou son of a dog!” cried one among the crowd, losing patience.
“Such times are come that even the holy churches are no longer ours!”
“Jews are made landlords thereof.3 If one does not pay the toll to the Jew no mass can be performed.”
“What nonsense art thou saying?”
“And if the cursed Jew does not put, with his damned finger, a mark upon the holy passover, the passover cannot be consecrated!”
“He lies, gentlemen brothers! This cannot be, that an unclean Jew should put a sign upon the holy passover!”
“Listen, only! I have more to tell you. The Latin priests now drive over all Ukraine in chariots. But the evil is not in their driving in chariots: the evil is in the chariots being no longer drawn by horses but by orthodox Christians. Hear me! I have more to tell you:—They say that Jewesses are now making themselves petticoats out of our priests’ vestments. These are the things that happen in Ukraine, gentlemen! And you are here resting and carousing in your Ssiecha! Truly, it seems the Tartars have put you into such a fright, that you have no eyes left to see, no ears to hear what passes in the world!”
“Stop! Stop!” interfered the Koschevoï, who had remained standing with his eyes fixed upon the ground, as well as all the Zaporoghians, who in important business never obeyed the first impulse, but kept silent, and in their silence gathered the stern force of indignation. “Stop! let me say my word, too! And what did you do? you—may your father be beaten by the devil! Had you no sabres, then? Had you none? How did you let such profanations happen?”
“How did we let such profanations happen? I should like to have seen you try to stop them when there were fifty thousand Poles, and—there is no use to conceal it—when there were some among us, the cursed dogs, who went over to the Polish faith, too!”
“And your hetman and your colonels? what did they do?”
“Our colonels did such doings, that God forbid any one else should do the same!”
“Why, so that the hetman now lies roasted in a copper ox at Warsaw, and the arms and heads of our colonels are carried to the fairs to be shown to the people.4 Such were the doings of our colonels!”
A shudder of horror ran through the whole crowd. A moment’s silence reigned among it, like that which immediately precedes a terrible storm, then all at once a murmur arose and every one gave vent to his indignation.
“Jews renting Christian churches! Popish priests to be driving about on orthodox Christians! Such torments to be suffered on Russian soil from accursed Papists! So to treat the hetman and the colonels! This must not be—this shall not be!” Speeches of this kind were heard on all sides.
The Zaporoghians went on shouting and felt their strength. It was no longer the hum of a giddy people; strong and heavy characters were now aroused, who, if they were long before turning red-hot, yet, when once red-hot, kept their internal heat a long time.
“Let us hang all the Jews!” cried a voice from the crowd; “let them not make petticoats for their Jewesses out of our priests’ robes! Let them not put signs on holy passovers! We will drown all the accursed race in the Dnieper.”
These words, uttered by some one from the crowd, flew like lightning from one to another and the people rushed to the suburb with the intention of putting all the Jews to death. The poor sons of Israel, losing the last remains of their almost always diminutive spirit, hid themselves in empty brandy casks, in ovens, and even crept under the petticoats of their Jewesses. But the Cossacks found them out everywhere.
“Most illustrious gentlemen!” shouted a Jew, as tall and as long as a hop-pole, thrusting forth his miserable face, all contorted by fright, from amidst a group of his comrades, “most illustrious gentlemen! let us tell you only one word! We will tell you such a thing as you never heard of before! Such an important thing, that words cannot say how important it is!”
“Let them say it!” said Boolba, who always liked to give a hearing to the accused party.
“Most serene gentlemen!” said the Jew; “such gentlemen nobody ever saw before, by Heavens! never! Such good, such kind, such brave gentlemen never were before in the world!” His voice was choked and trembling with fear. “How could it be that we should ever have thought anything bad about the Zaporoghians! Those that are renting churches in Ukraine are not our people at all! by Heavens, they are not ours! They are no Jews! The devil knows what they are! They are people worthy to be spit at, and nothing more. Here are witnesses for me. Say I not true, Shlema? or thou, Shmool?”
“By Heavens, so it is!” answered Shlema and Shmool, both in ragged caps,5 and both pale as chalk from fright.
“We have never yet been on the side of your enemies,” continued the tall Jew; “and as for the Papists, we do not even wish to know them; may the devil haunt their sleep! We are for the Zaporoghians, like bosom-brothers!”
“You, the brother of the Zaporoghians!” said one from the crowd. “That will never be, cursed Jews! Gentlemen, into the Dnieper with them all! Let us drown every one of the accursed race.”
“These words were the signal for seizing the Jews and throwing them into the river. Pitiful shrieks resounded on every side; but the stern Zaporoghians only laughed as they saw the Jews’ slippered feet beating the air. The poor orator, who had called down this storm upon his own head, jumped out of his coat, which some one had already laid hold of, and left in a dirty tight waistcoat, grasped the feet of Boolba, and in a whining voice entreated him: ‘Mighty lord! Most illustrious lord! I knew your brother, the late lamented Dorosh! He was a warrior who was an ornament to all chivalry! It was I who gave him eight hundred sequins, when he stood in need of his ransom from the Turks.'”
“Didst thou know my brother?” asked Tarass.
“By Heavens, I knew him! a generous lord was he!”
“What is thy name?”
“Very well,” said Tarass; then, after thinking for a while, he turned towards the Cossacks and said, “If we want to do it, we shall always find time to hang the Jew; but, for the present let me have him.” After which Tarass took him to his chariots, which were guarded by his own Cossacks, “Crawl under that waggon, lie there and do not move, and you, my lads, keep watch over the Jew.”
Having said this, he repaired to the square where the crowd had been for some time assembling. They had all with one accord left off mending the boats, as the campaign now impending was to be led over land; and, instead of boats, chariots and steeds were now required. Now all, both young and old, were to take the field, and by a decision of the elders, of the atamans of all the koorens, and of the Koschevoï, as well as by the common assent of all the Zaporoghian Ssiecha, it was resolved to push straight into Poland, and to avenge the sufferings and humiliation of the Cossack’s religion and glory; to pillage every town, set fire to every hamlet and every corn-field, and make the Cossack name once more renowned over all the steppes. Every one donned his war dress and armour. The Koschevoï seemed suddenly to have grown to double his former size; he was no longer the flattering accomplisher of the giddy wishes of a free people; he was now the commander with unlimited authority; he was a despot who knew but to command. All the knights, lately so self-willed and idle, now stood arrayed in ranks, with their heads respectfully bent, not daring so much as to lift their eyes while he was giving his orders without any noise or haste, but slowly and composedly as an old and experienced master of his art, who had more than once accomplished feats cleverly devised.
“Look, look well about you!” Thus he spoke. “Put to rights the waggons and the tar-pail for pitching the wheels. Try your arms. Don’t take much clothing: a shirt and two pairs of trowsers for each Cossack, a pot of dried oatmeal, another of pounded millet—more than this no one must have. There will be plenty of provisions in the baggage waggons. Every Cossack must have a couple of horses. Then we must take some two hundred bullocks; because bullocks will be required for passing fords and marshy places. And above all, gentlemen, keep order. I know there are some of you who, directly any booty falls into their hands, are quite ready to seize every rag of nankeen, just as well as costly stuffs, were it but to wrap up their feet.((Common people in Russia, even now, use no socks or stockings; but strips of linen, in which they wrap their feet.)) Leave off such devilish habits; throw away all the petticoats, and keep nothing but arms (if good ones come in your way) and gold and silver coins, because these are easy to carry and may be wanted when the time comes. And now, gentlemen, I tell you beforehand if any one is found to be tipsy during the march, no trial will be allowed him: I will have him dragged to the waggons, and—whoever he may be, were he the bravest of the brave—he shall be shot on the spot and thrown without interment to the birds of prey—for a drunkard on march is not worthy of Christian burial. Young men! obey in everything the older ones. If any one is touched by a bullet, or gets a sabre wound in the head or anywhere else, don’t pay too much attention to such trifles; mix up a charge of powder in a dram of brandy, swallow it all at once, and all will be over—no fever will ensue. On a wound, if it be not too large, only put some earth, which ought to be first kneaded with spittle in the palm of the hand: the wound will dry at once. Now, to business! my lads; to business, and no hurry!”
So spoke the Koschevoï; and as soon as he had done all the Cossacks went to their business. The whole of the Ssiecha had all at once grown sober, and nowhere could have been found even one tipsy man, as if no such thing had ever existed among the Cossacks. Some mended the hoops of the wheels and put new axle-trees to the carts; others brought sacks of provisions to the waggons; some stowed away the arms; others drove horses and bullocks. On all sides was heard the trampling of horses, the experimental firing of guns, the jingling of sabres, the bellowing of bullocks, the creaking of carts, the talk, the clamours, the shouts of the drivers. Presently the whole of the Cossack army drew up in line along the field, and he who attempted to run from its head to its tail would have had a long run before him.
A priest was saying mass in the small wooden chapel. He sprinkled all the people with holy water: they all kissed the cross; and, as the army set in motion, and was leaving the Ssiecha, all the Zaporoghians turned back their heads and said, almost in the same words, “Farewell, our mother! may God preserve thee from every impending evil!”
As Tarass Boolba rode through the suburb, he saw that his Jew, Yankel, had already set up a tent and was selling flints, turnscrews, powder, and various other requisites of war likely to be needed on the way—even rolls and loaves.
“What a devil of a Jew!” thought Tarass, and riding up to him said, “Fool! why art thou sitting here? dost thou wish to be shot like a sparrow?”
Yankel, instead of answering, drew nearer to him and making a gesture with both his hands, as if he were about to disclose some mystery, said, “Let my lord only hold his peace and not tell it to any one. Among the Cossack waggons there is one which is mine. I bring every requisite provision for the Cossacks, and during the march I will sell everything at such reduced prices that no Jew has ever sold at such before! By Heavens, I will! by Heavens!”
Tarass Boolba shrugged his shoulders, astonished at the Jewish nature, and rode away to the army.
- The Russians adorn their church images with metallic (i.e., copper, silver, and golden) covers, which reproduce, in basso-relievo, the painting which is placed under them, and of which nothing but the flesh parts of the painted saint (i.e. the face, the arms, hands, and sometimes the feet) are left visible. Some of the metallic cloths, as they are called, are very heavy and costly; upon some of them may be seen precious stones of great value
- That is, in the western part of Little Russia, subjected to Poland and governed by an elective prince (hetman), confirmed in his office by the King of Poland.
- These statements, as well as the subsequent, are strictly historical. The vexations inflicted by Polish lords upon persons professing the Russian-Greek faith—not only at the times spoken of in this tale, but even within the present century—account sufficiently for the inveterate and indelible hatred with which Russians look upon Poles.
- Truly historical.
- The costume of the Polish Jews consists of a coat which goes down to the heels. On their feet they usually wear slippers. Their head is covered with a closely fitting skull cap, from beneath which on either side hands a long lock of hair which, together with their beard and mustachios, form the sanctum sanctorum of their persona.