“How long I have slept!” said Tarass, awakening, as if after a heavy drunken sleep, and endeavouring to make out the surrounding objects. He felt a fearful weakness in all his limbs. Scarcely could his eyes follow the outlines of the walls and corners of an unknown room. At last he recognised Tovkach, who was sitting beside him, and seemed to watch his every breath.
“Yes,” thought Tovkach to himself, “thou hast all but had thy last sleep!” He, however, said nothing, and held up his finger, to make Tarass understand that he was to be silent.
“Tell me, where am I now?” asked Tarass, collecting his thoughts, and endeavouring to bring back his recollection of the past.
“Hold thy tongue,” said his comrade, sternly rebuking him. “What wouldst thou know more? Dost thou not feel that thou art all mangled? For the last fortnight we have been riding hard with thee, without ever stopping, and thou all the time with fever and delirium. ‘Tis now the first time that thou hast had a quiet sleep. Hold thy tongue, if thou wilt not bring woe upon thy head.”
But Tarass still endeavoured to gather his thoughts, and to recollect the past. “But how is it? I was quite taken and surrounded by the Poles. I had no possibility of cutting my way through the crowd?”
“Hold thy tongue, I tell thee, devil’s son!” angrily cried Tovkach, as a nurse out of temper cries to a naughty child. “Of what use is it for thee to know how thou didst escape? Thou hast escaped, that’s enough. There were men at hand who did not forsake thee; well, that is all thou needest know. We have still many nights to ride hard together. Dost thou think thou art worth no more than a common Cossack? Not so; they have set a price of two thousand ducats on thy head.”
“And what of Ostap?” suddenly cried Tarass, endeavouring to rise, for he remembered all at once how Ostap had been caught and bound before his eyes, and how he must now be in the hands of the Poles. And grief rushed into his old head. He tore the bandages from his wounds, threw them far away, and wished to say something aloud; but his mind began to wander. Fever and delirium once more fell on him, and he ejaculated raving sentences without any sense or connection. Meanwhile his faithful comrade stood before him, grumbling and uttering without interruption, scolding words, and gruff reproaches. At last he took hold of his feet and hands, swaddled him round like a baby, set all the bandages in order, packed him up in an ox-hide? bound him round with sheets of bark, and then, tying him with a rope to his saddle, once more galloped away.
“I’ll bring thee home, shouldst thou even die by the way. I will not let the Poles deride thy Cossack birth, tear thy body to pieces, and cast them into the river. And if an eagle is to peck thine eyes out of thy skull, it shall, at all events, be the eagle of our steppes, and not the Polish eagle—no, not the one that comes from Poland! Shouldst thou not be alive, it’s the same thing. I’ll bring thee over to Ukraine.”
Thus spoke the faithful comrade, and riding day and night, without ever taking repose, he brought the still unconscious Tarass to the Zaporoghian Ssiecha. There he untiringly treated him with simples and poultices; he found a knowing Jewess, who, during a whole month, administered different medicines to Tarass; and at last Tarass improved. Perhaps the medicines took effect, and perhaps simply his own iron strength saved him; but in six weeks he was on his feet again, his wounds healed, and the sabre scars alone showed how deep they had been. However, he had grown evidently sullen and sorrowful. Three deep furrows crossed his brow, and never again left it. He looked about him, all were new in the Ssiecha; the old comrades had all died away. Not one remained of those who had stood up for the good cause, for faith and brotherhood. Those who went with the Koschevoï to pursue the Tartars, they, too, were long since no more—every one had perished, every one had met his end; some were killed in glorious fight, some had died in the Crimean salt-marshes of hunger and thirst, some had pined to death, not being able to endure the shame of captivity; the Koschevoï was also long ago no more of this world, like all the old comrades, and the grass was already growing over the bodies of those in whose veins once boiled the Cossack’s valour.
In vain were attempts made to divert and enliven Tarass; in vain bearded gray-haired bards came in bands of two or three at a time to sing the praises of his Cossack feats; his features retained a harsh indifferent expression, and an unquenchable sorrow was seen on them, as, with his head bent down he murmured in a subdued voice, “My son! My Ostap!”
The Zaporoghians prepared for a sea campaign. Two hundred boats sailed down the Dnieper, and Asia Minor saw their shaven and crown-tufted heads, while they put everything on its blooming coast to fire and sword; it saw the turbans of its Mahometan inhabitants, like numberless flowers, strewn about on its fields soaked in blood, or floating near its shores. It saw not a few tar-besmeared Zaporoghian trowsers, and sinewy arms with black nagaïkas.1 The Zaporoghians devoured and destroyed all the vineyards; left heaps of dirt in the Mosques; used costly Persian shawls instead of belts, and girded their dirty coats with them. Long afterwards, were the short Zaporoghian pipes to be found in these places. The Zaporoghians started gaily on their return; a ten-gun Turkish brig gave chase to them, and with a volley from its broadside dispersed their boats like birds; one-third of the Cossacks were drowned in the deep sea; but the remainder joined once more together and came into the mouth of the Dnieper, bringing with them twelve barrels full of sequins.
But all this no longer diverted Tarass. He went into the fields and into the steppes as if to hunt, but his gun remained unfired, and with a sorrowful heart he laid it down, and sat by the sea-shore. He remained there long with drooping head, saying all the time, “My Ostap! My Ostap!” Bright and wide was the Black Sea before him, the gull shrieked in the distant reeds, his white mustachios glistened like silver, and one tear rolled after another.
At last Tarass could bear it no longer: “Happen what will! I’ll go and ascertain what has befallen him. Is he still alive? is he in his tomb? or is nothing left of him even in his tomb? I’ll ascertain it at all events!”
And a week had hardly passed when he made his appearance in the town of Ooman, armed from head to foot, on horseback, with spear, with sabre, with a traveller’s cask tied to his saddle, a pot of flour, cartridge box, horse shackles, and all other travelling implements. He rode straight towards a dirty cottage whose small smutty windows could hardly be distinguished, a rug was stuck into the chimney, and the dilapidated roof was covered with sparrows; a heap of all sorts of filth lay close to the entrance door. The head of a Jewess, in a head-dress with tarnished false pearls, was seen looking out of one of the windows.
“Is thy husband at home?” said Boolba, dismounting, and tying his horse’s bridle to an iron hook beside the door.
“Yes,” answered the Jewess, hastily coming out, with a scoop of wheat for the horse and a cup of beer for the rider.
“Where is thy Jew, then?”
“He is in the further room, praying,” said the Jewess, bowing and wishing health to Boolba, as he carried the cup to his lips.
“Remain here, feed my horse, and give him some drink. I’ll go and have a talk with your husband alone, I have business with him.”
The Jew was our acquaintance Yankel. He had become a farmer and a brandy-shop keeper, had by degrees got into his power all the neighbouring lords and gentlemen, had by degrees sucked out almost all the money in the district, and had left strong marks of his Jewish presence in the country. For three hours’ journey all around, no cottage remained which was not falling into ruins, everything went wrong, every one looked older, all had become drunkards, and all had become beggars clad in rags. The whole district seemed to have suffered from a fire or a plague. And had Yankel remained there but some ten years longer, the whole voevodship would certainly have undergone the same fate.
Tarass stepped into the room; the Jew was praying, his head covered with a tolerably dirty piece of linen, and he had just turned, in order to spit for the last time, according to the Jewish ritual, when his eyes suddenly met the figure of Boolba, who stood behind him. The two thousand ducats offered for Boolba’s head rushed at once into the Jew’s remembrance, but he felt ashamed of the thought, and endeavoured to get the better of this love of gold, which, like a worm, is always twining itself round every Jew’s heart.
“Harkee, Yankel!” said Tarass to the Jew, who began bowing to him, and warily shut the door behind him, in order that nobody should see them. “I saved thy life; the Zaporoghians would have torn thee to pieces like a dog—now thy turn is come, now thou must render me a service!”
The Jew’s face expressed some uneasiness: “What service? If it be such a service as one may render, why not render it?”
“No talking! Take me to Warsaw!”
“To Warsaw? How so, to Warsaw?” said Yankel, with eyebrows and shoulders elevated in amazement.
“No talking! Take me to Warsaw. Come what will, I must see him once more! I must say, be it but one word to him.”
“One word to whom?”
“To him, to Ostap, to my son!”
“Does not my lord know, then, that”—
“I know it, I know all. They have set a price of two thousand ducats upon my head. The fools, they did not even know its worth! I’ll give five thousand ducats to thee. Here thou hast two thousand on the spot,” and Boolba produced from his leathern bag two thousand ducats. “The rest when I come back.”
The Jew took at once a piece of linen and covered the ducats with it. “Fine coins, these! beautiful coins!” said he, turning a ducat in his fingers and trying it with his teeth. “Methinks the man from whom my lord took such fine ducats, did not live an hour more, but just leaped into the water and drowned himself, after having lost these magnificent ducats.”
“I would not have asked thee—I might perhaps have found my way to Warsaw by myself; but the cursed Poles may chance to recognise and seize me; I have no turn for contrivances, and you, Jews, you seem to have been made for them. You could cheat the devil himself; you know all kinds of such tricks, and this is the reason why I came to thee. The more so, as I could do nothing in Warsaw by myself. Go at once, put the horse to thy cart, and take me.”
“And does my lord think there is nothing more to be done than to put the horse to the cart and cry, ‘Gee up,’ and away? Does my lord think that he can be taken just as he is, without concealing his lordship?”
“Well, then, conceal me, conceal me as thou knowest how; put me into an empty cask, if thou think it best.”
“And does my lord think that he can be concealed in an empty cask? Does my lord not consider that every one will think that there is brandy in the cask?”
“Well, let them think so!”
“How so—let them think that there is brandy?” said the Jew, pulling his curls, and then lifting his hands above his head.
“Well, what frightens thee now?”
“And does my lord not know that brandy is made on purpose that every one may taste it? There are all along the road men fond of dainties and of drink; there is not one Polish gentleman who would not run for hours behind the cask, in order to make a hole in it, and if he sees that no brandy flows out of it, he will directly say, c A Jew would not bring an empty cask; there must be something in it! Let the Jew be arrested, let the Jew be bound, let the Jew give up all his money, let the Jew be thrown into prison!’ Because everything disagreeable is done to a Jew, because every one takes a Jew for nothing better than a dog, because nobody holds a Jew to be even a man!”
“Well, then, put me into a cart with fish.”
“It is impossible, my lord, by Heaven it is; all over Poland men are now as hungry as dogs; they will steal the fish and discover my lord.”
“Well, then, put me anywhere, be it even on the devil’s back—only bring me to Warsaw.”
“Hear me, hear me, my lord!” said the Jew, pulling up the cuffs of his sleeves, and stepping nearer to Boolba, with his arms thrown wide open: “We will do thus: they are now everywhere building fortresses and castles; French engineers are come from foreign lands, and for this reason many bricks and stones are carried along the highways. My lord may lie down at the bottom of the cart, and I will cover him with bricks. My lord seems strong and healthy, so he will be able to bear it, even if it does prove somewhat heavy. And I will make a hole in the cart from underneath, and will feed my lord through it.”
“Do as thou wilt, only get me there.”
In an hour’s time a cart loaded with bricks and drawn by a pair of miserable-looking horses, was seen on its way out of Ooman. On the back of one of the horses rode the tall Yankel, the jolting of his horse causing his long side-ringlets to wave from beneath his Jewish skull-cap, and his lanky figure making him look like the signposts which stood by the way-side.
- The Zaporoghians had their trowsers made (when they had the means to do so) of the most costly cloth, especially red, and to express their contempt of luxury, besmeared them with tar. The nagaïkas is the Cossack whip, a weapon the impression of which many a Frenchman bore on his back, after the invasion of Russia by Napoleon the Great. Its handle is not more than half a yard long, the lash, of the same length, consists of an iron wire, plaited all round with leathern thongs, terminating in a square piece of leather, about an inch in width. A blow of the nagaïka may break a bone, and a well-aimed stroke of its square end may cut out a piece of flesh.