The sun was not yet high in the heavens when all the Zaporoghians assembled in a crowd. News had come from the Ssiecha, that the Tartars, during the absence of the Cossacks, had pillaged it, and dug up the treasures which the Cossacks kept concealed underground, had killed or made prisoners all those who were left behind, and had directed their course straight to Perekop, with all the herds of cattle and horses which they had taken. One Cossack only, Maxim Gotodookha, had escaped on the way, from the hands of the Tartars, had killed one of their Mirzas,1 had taken away his purse of sequins, and had, on a Tartar horse, in a Tartar dress, for one day and a half and two nights, fled from their hue and cry; had ridden his horse to death, had taken a second, which sank also under hard riding, and had only on the third found his way to the Zaporoghian encampment, which, he ascertained on the road, was under the walls of Doobno. He scarcely found time to declare the misfortune that had happened; but as to how it had happened, whether the remaining Cossacks had caroused too deeply, according to Cossack fashion, and had been made prisoners whilst tipsy; and how had the Tartars been apprised of the spot where the treasures lay hidden—nothing could he tell about all this. He was too exhausted, the whole of his body was swollen, his face was scorched by the sun and beaten by the wind; he fell on the spot fast asleep.
In such emergencies, the Zaporoghians were accustomed to proceed without the least delay, in pursuit of the invaders, and endeavour to catch them on the way, because the prisoners might be sent in no time to the slave markets of Asia Minor, to Smyrna, to the island of Crete, and wherever else the crown-locked heads of the Zaporoghians might not be expected to make their appearance. It was for this reason that the Zaporoghians had now assembled. They stood now with their heads covered, because they had come together, not by command to hear an order from their chief, but to deliberate as equals among themselves. “Let the elders give their advice first,” was the cry heard from the crowd. “Let the Koschevoï give his advice,” exclaimed some. And the Koschevoï, cap in hand, no longer as a chief but as a comrade, thanked all the Cossacks for the honour, and spoke thus: “There are many among us who are older than I, and who have more wisdom in their counsels, but as you have honoured me, my advice is this. Do not waste your time, comrades, go in pursuit of the Tartars at once; they are not likely to wait for our arrival with the stolen goods; they will quickly spend them and leave no trace. So this is my advice, go at once. We have done our duty here. The Poles know at present what the Cossacks are; we have avenged our faith as much as lay in our power; no great booty can be found in a famished city; so, this is our advice, go!”
“Let us go!” was the shout throughout the Zaporoghian koorens. But the speech was not welcome to Tarass Boolba, and still deeper over his eyes did he bend his contracted eyebrows, whose grayish white made them resemble bushes which grow on the high crest of mountains, and whose tops are ever covered with the sharp points of the Boreal sleet.
“Not so; thy advice is not good, Ivoschevoï!” said he, “thy speech is all wrong. Thou seemest to forget that our comrades taken by the Poles, are still prisoners? Thou seemest to wish that we should not fulfil the first holy rule of comradeship, that we should leave our brothers that they may be flayed alive, or that their Cossack bodies may be quartered and dragged about through towns and villages, as they have already done with the Hetman and the best Russian knights. Has our faith not yet sustained sufficient insults? Who are we then? I ask all of you, what sort of Cossack is he who leaves his comrade in misfortune—who leaves him to die the death of a dog in a foreign country? If it has come to such a pitch that nobody any longer values the Cossack’s honour, that every one allows his gray mustachios to be spit upon, and bears the insult of shameful words, I, for one, will not bear it! Alone will I remain!”
The Zaporoghians wavered.
“And dost thou forget, brave colonel,” replied the Koschevoï, “that those who are now in the hands of the Tartars are our comrades too, and that if we do not release them now, they will be sold into life-long slavery to infidels; and that slavery is more bitter than the most cruel death? Dost thou forget that all our treasures, acquired with Christian blood, are now in their hands?”
The Cossacks remained thoughtful, and did not know what to say. None of them were desirous of acquiring a disgraceful character. Then Kassian Bovdug, the oldest in all the Zaporoghian army, stepped forward. He was held in reverence by all the Cossacks; twice had he been elected Koschevoï Ataman, and a good Cossack had he proved in war; but he had long ago grown old, and ceased to take part in campaigns; he did not like to give advice, but the old fellow liked to remain lying in the Cossack circles listening to stories about events which had come to pass, and Cossack exploits in war. He never joined in their talk, but remained constantly listening, pressing with his fingers the ashes in his short pipe, which he never took out of his mouth; and long would he remain with his eyes closed, so that the Cossacks knew not whether he was asleep or listening. During all the late campaigns he had remained at home; but on this occasion he had come too, after waving his hand in the Cossack fashion, and saying, “Happen what will, I’ll go, and perhaps be of some Use to my fellow-Cossacks!”
All the Cossacks kept silence as he now appeared before the assembly, because for a long time none had heard him say a single word. Every one was anxious to know what Bovdug would say. “My turn is now come to speak, gentlemen brothers,” he began, “listen to the old Cossack’s saying, children. Wise were the Koschevoï’s words, and, as the chief of the Cossacks, who is bound to preserve the treasures of the army, and to care for them, nothing more wise could he have said. Let this be my first saying; listen now to my second. This is what I will tell you now; great was the truth of what the Colonel Tarass said; may Heaven lengthen his life, and may it send more such colonels to Ukraine! The Cossack’s first duty and first glory is to fulfil the duty of comradeship. Long as I have lived in this world, gentlemen brothers, I never happened to hear that a Cossack ever left his comrade, or betrayed him in any emergency. These and those are both our comrades; be their numbers great or small, it is the same thing—both are our comrades, both are dear to us; so this is my saying: let the men to whom those who have been made prisoners by the Tartars are dearer, pursue the Tartars; let the others to whom those who have been made prisoners by the Poles are dearer, and who do not choose to desist from a righteous undertaking, remain here. The Koschevoï, according to his duty, may, with the one party, give chase to the Tartars, and the other party may choose a Nakaznoï Ataman.2 And should you like to listen to my old mind’s advice, none is better entitled to be the Nakaznoï Ataman than Tarass Boolba; none of us is equal in valour to him!”
Thus spake Bovdug, and then remained silent; and the Cossacks were rejoiced at his having settled their minds. They threw their caps up in the air, and cried “Thanks to thee, father! thou kept silent—for a long time hast thou kept silent—and now at last thou hast spoken thy mind; truly saidst thou when joining the campaign, that thou mightest be of use to the Cossacks, so has it proved to be!”
“Well, do you approve this?” asked the Koschevoï.
“Yes, all of us approve it!” cried the Cossacks.
“So, then, the Rada is ended?”
“Yes, it is!” cried the Cossacks.
“Well then, children, listen to my orders now!” said the Koschevoï; and stepping forward, he put on his cap, while all the Zaporoghians, from first to last, took off theirs, and remained uncovered with their eyes bent on the ground, according to the Cossack custom when their chief was about to address them. “Now, gentlemen brothers, separate yourselves! whoever wishes to go, step to the right; whoever remains, go to the left; wherever the greater part of a kooren goes, thither the ataman follows; if the lesser part goes on one side, it may join the other koorens.”
And now they began to pass, some to the right, some to the left. Whither the greater went thither followed the ataman, the lesser part always joining with the other koorens. In the end, the two sides proved nearly equal. Among those who chose to remain were not a few of the very very excellent Cossacks. All off them had seen war and campaigns; had sailed to the Anatolian coasts, traversed the Crimean salt-marshes and steppes, knew all the rivers and streams that flow into the Dnieper, all the banks and islands of that river; had been in Moldavia, “Wallachia, and Turkey; had crossed the Black Sea in all directions in their two-helmed Cossack boats—fifty such boats in ranks had attacked the richest and the tallest ships; had sent to the bottom of the sea not a few Turkish galleys, and had fired away much, very much powder in their lives; more than once had they torn to rags costly stuffs and silks to wrap up their feet; more than once had their pockets been full of bright sequins. And it would have been impossible to reckon how much property, which would have lasted others for a whole life, each of them had spent in feasting and drinking. They had spent it all like righteous Cossacks, treating every one and hiring musicians, in order that every one around them might enjoy himself. Even now, there were but few of them who had not treasure hidden underground; cups, silver goblets, and ornaments hidden in the reeds on the islands of the Dnieper, in order that the Tartars should not discover them, if by mischance they should fall upon the Ssiecha unawares; but it was scarcely possible that the Tartars could have found them, for even the owners had begun to forget where they had hidden them.
Such were the Cossacks who resolved to remain, and take their revenge on the Poles for the sake of their beloved comrades and the Christian faith. The old Cossack Bovdug resolved also to abide with them, saying “My years are no longer those in which I could give chase to the Tartars; here is the place where I may find a Cossack’s death. For a long time I have prayed God, that I might, when I close my life, end it in war for some holy and Christian reason. Thus it now happens; the old Cossack could not find a more glorious end, or in a more fitting place.”
When all were separated and stood in two rows, in koorens on both sides, the Koschevoï went through the ranks and said, “Well now, gentlemen brothers, is one side pleased with the other?”
“All are pleased, father,” answered the Cossacks.
“Well then, embrace one another, and give one another a farewell shake of the hand, for Heaven knows if we are to meet again in this life. Obey your Ataman, do what you know must be done; you know yourselves what a Cossack’s honour bids you to do!”
And all the Cossacks, as many as were there, embraced one another. First of all began the atamans, and wiping their gray mustachios with their hands, kissed one another’s cheeks, and then as they took one another’s hands and held them tight, they wished to ask, “Gentleman brother, shall we ever meet again, or shall we not?” However, they put not the question, but kept silence, and both gray heads remained thoughtful. The Cossacks, too, bade farewell to one another, well knowing that both sides would have hard work; still they decided not to separate at once, but to await the darkness of night, in order that the foe should not perceive the diminution of their forces. They all repaired to their koorens for dinner. After dinner, those who had to go on march laid themselves down for repose, and had a long sound sleep, as if conscious that this would perhaps be their last sleep in such freedom. They slept till the sun set; as it went down and darkness came on, they began to put their carts in order. This done, they made them advance, and themselves bidding once more farewell to their comrades, slowly followed; behind the infantry tramped the cavalry in silence, without crying to their horses or urging them on, and soon, nothing could be seen of them in the darkness of the night. The hollow trampling of the horses alone resounded, and at times was heard the creaking of some wheel, which had not been properly greased on account of the darkness.
The comrades who were left behind, stood a long time waving their hands to them, although nothing could be seen. But when they ceased at last, and came back to their places, when they saw by the light of the stars, which now shone brightly, that half the waggons were gone, and that many, many friends were there no longer, sorrow crept into their hearts, and all became thoughtful and bent down their heads.
Tarass saw how mournful the ranks of the Cossacks had become, and that sadness, unbecoming to brave men, had found its way into the heads of the Cossacks; but he kept silence, wishing to leave time for everything, time to grieve over their parting with their comrades; but while silent, he prepared himself to awaken them all at once by suddenly speaking to them like a Cossack, so that courage might again and with still greater power return to their hearts. The Slavonic race, that wide spreading, that mighty race, is the only one capable of this—a race which, is to others what the sea is to shallow rivulets; when the weather is tempestuous it roars and thunders, rises in mountain-like waves, such as feeble streams can never exhibit; but when there is no storm and all is quiet, it spreads out its immeasurable glassy expanse, clearer than any stream, and soothing to the sight of the beholder.
Tar ass ordered one of his servants to unload one of the carts which stood apart. This cart was the biggest and the strongest in the whole Cossack camp; a double iron hoop encircled its strong wheels; it was heavily loaded, covered with horse-cloths, strong ox-hides, and corded with tarred ropes. It was filled with casks and barrels of old wine which had long lain in Tarass’s cellars. He had brought it in preparation for any solemn occasion, when some great event might occur, when some mighty feat, worthy to be recorded for posterity, should be at hand; that then every Cossack, to the very least, might drink some of the precious wine, in order that in a solemn moment, a deep impression might be made on every man. On hearing the colonel’s command, his servants rushed to the cart, severed the ropes with their sabres, tore away the thick ox-hides and horse-cloths, and took down the casks and barrels.
“Take, all of you,” said Boolba, “all, as many as are here, whatever every one has got; a cup, or the scoop with which you water your horses, or a gauntlet, or a cap—or if you have none of these, why then, hold out the hollow of your hands.”
And all the Cossacks, as many as were there, took some of them cups, others scoops with which they gave drink to their horses, others gauntlets, or caps, and some held out the hollow of their hands. To every one of them did the servants of Tarass, as they passed through their ranks, pour out wine from the casks and barrels. But Tarass ordered that none should drink till he gave the signal, in order that all might drink at the same time. One could see that he was about to speak. Tarass knew, excellent as the good old wine might be of itself, and well adapted to raise a man’s spirits, that when a well-suited harangue should be joined to its effect, double would be the strength both of wine and of courage.
“I treat you now, gentlemen brothers,” so spoke Tarass, “not to celebrate my being elected by you as your ataman, however great that honour be, not to solemnize our parting with our comrades; another time would better suit for both matters. But now we have another more solemn occasion before us. A deed of much labour, of great Cossack valour, now awaits us! So let us drink together, comrades, let us drink first to the holy faith, that the time may at last come when everywhere over the whole world one holy faith may be diffused, and all misbelievers, as many as they are, may become Christians! Let us drink together also to the Ssiecha, that it may long stand for the destruction of all unbelievers, that every year it may send forth warriors, each stronger and better than their predecessors! Let us drink also to our own renown, that our grandchildren, and the sons of those grandchildren, may say that there once were those who did not betray comradeship and did not leave their brothers in need! So to the faith, gentlemen brothers, to the faith!”
“To the faith!” shouted the deep voices of those whose ranks stood nearest. “To the faith!” joined in the more remote, and every one of them, old and young, drank to the faith.
“To the Ssiecha!” said Tarass, and lifted his arm high above his head.
“To the Ssiecha!” deeply resounded amidst the foremost ranks. “To the Ssiecha!” slowly said the old ones, twitching their gray mustachios; and excited, like young hawks fluttering their wings, the young Cossacks shouted, “To the Ssiecha!” And far away the field resounded with the shouts of the Cossacks, “To the Ssiecha!”
“And now, a last dram, comrades: To renown and to all Christians in the world!” And all the Cossacks there present drained the last drop to renown, and to all the Christians who are spread all over the world. And long amidst all the ranks, among the koorens, resounded the words, “To all Christians, all over the world!”
The cups were already empty, and still the Cossacks remained standing with uplifted arms; gay were the glances of all eyes, glistening with wine, but profound were their thoughts. They thought not of booty or profit, they thought not of the ducats they might succeed in taking, or of the costly arms, rich dresses, and Circassian steeds. They were thoughtful as eagles sitting on the crests of rocky cliffs, steep and high, from which may be seen the far-expanding sea, all covered with galleys and ships like so many small birds, and bordered by narrow scarcely visible coasts, with towns no bigger than flies, and woods as diminutive as grass. Like eagles did the Cossacks cast their glances over the field, foreboding their fate which darkened far away before them. Thus indeed shall it be! The field shall be strewn with their whitening bones, it shall be richly bathed in their Cossack blood; and broken chariots, broken swords, and spears, shall be scattered all over it; from a long distance off shall be seen mouldering crown-tufted heads with curling and gore-clotted locks, and downward twisted mustachios; and eagles swooping down from the skies shall tear out and feast on their cossack eyes! But great also is the boon of such a widely and freely-scattered repose in death! No feat of valour shall perish, and the Cossack’s fame shall no more be cast away than the grain of powder on the gun-lock. The time shall come when some bard with gray beard flowing down on his breast, or peradventure some white-haired man, old in years but full of manly vigour, shall with soothsaying words tell of them with mighty utterance. And all over the world shall their renown extend, and even those who are yet unborn shall speak of them. For widely does the mightily-uttered word spread, like the resonance of bell-metal into which the founder has thrown much pure and precious silver, that its solemn tone may echo far away in city and hamlet, palace and hovel, summoning all equally to holy prayer.
- Gentlemen Officers.
- The Nakaznoï or temporary Ataman was elected for ope single campaign, during which he had the full power of the Koschevoï, and at the conclusion he resigned it to the latter.