Part 1 out of 6
Etext prepared by John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taras Bulba and Other Tales
By Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol
St. John's Eve
How the Two Ivans Quarrelled
The Mysterious Portrait
Russian literature, so full of enigmas, contains no greater creative
mystery than Nikolai Vasil'evich Gogol (1809-1852), who has done for
the Russian novel and Russian prose what Pushkin has done for Russian
poetry. Before these two men came Russian literature can hardly have
been said to exist. It was pompous and effete with pseudo-classicism;
foreign influences were strong; in the speech of the upper circles
there was an over-fondness for German, French, and English words.
Between them the two friends, by force of their great genius, cleared
away the debris which made for sterility and erected in their stead a
new structure out of living Russian words. The spoken word, born of
the people, gave soul and wing to literature; only by coming to earth,
the native earth, was it enabled to soar. Coming up from Little
Russia, the Ukraine, with Cossack blood in his veins, Gogol injected
his own healthy virus into an effete body, blew his own virile spirit,
the spirit of his race, into its nostrils, and gave the Russian novel
its direction to this very day.
More than that. The nomad and romantic in him, troubled and restless
with Ukrainian myth, legend, and song, impressed upon Russian
literature, faced with the realities of modern life, a spirit titanic
and in clash with its material, and produced in the mastery of this
every-day material, commonly called sordid, a phantasmagoria intense
with beauty. A clue to all Russian realism may be found in a Russian
critic's observation about Gogol: "Seldom has nature created a man so
romantic in bent, yet so masterly in portraying all that is unromantic
in life." But this statement does not cover the whole ground, for it
is easy to see in almost all of Gogol's work his "free Cossack soul"
trying to break through the shell of sordid to-day like some ancient
demon, essentially Dionysian. So that his works, true though they are
to our life, are at once a reproach, a protest, and a challenge, ever
calling for joy, ancient joy, that is no more with us. And they have
all the joy and sadness of the Ukrainian songs he loved so much.
Ukrainian was to Gogol "the language of the soul," and it was in
Ukrainian songs rather than in old chronicles, of which he was not a
little contemptuous, that he read the history of his people. Time and
again, in his essays and in his letters to friends, he expresses his
boundless joy in these songs: "O songs, you are my joy and my life!
How I love you. What are the bloodless chronicles I pore over beside
those clear, live chronicles! I cannot live without songs; they . . .
reveal everything more and more clearly, oh, how clearly, gone-by life
and gone-by men. . . . The songs of Little Russia are her everything,
her poetry, her history, and her ancestral grave. He who has not
penetrated them deeply knows nothing of the past of this blooming
region of Russia."
Indeed, so great was his enthusiasm for his own land that after
collecting material for many years, the year 1833 finds him at work on
a history of "poor Ukraine," a work planned to take up six volumes;
and writing to a friend at this time he promises to say much in it
that has not been said before him. Furthermore, he intended to follow
this work with a universal history in eight volumes with a view to
establishing, as far as may be gathered, Little Russia and the world
in proper relation, connecting the two; a quixotic task, surely. A
poet, passionate, religious, loving the heroic, we find him constantly
impatient and fuming at the lifeless chronicles, which leave him cold
as he seeks in vain for what he cannot find. "Nowhere," he writes in
1834, "can I find anything of the time which ought to be richer than
any other in events. Here was a people whose whole existence was
passed in activity, and which, even if nature had made it inactive,
was compelled to go forward to great affairs and deeds because of its
neighbours, its geographic situation, the constant danger to its
existence. . . . If the Crimeans and the Turks had had a literature I
am convinced that no history of an independent nation in Europe would
prove so interesting as that of the Cossacks." Again he complains of
the "withered chronicles"; it is only the wealth of his country's song
that encourages him to go on with its history.
Too much a visionary and a poet to be an impartial historian, it is
hardly astonishing to note the judgment he passes on his own work,
during that same year, 1834: "My history of Little Russia's past is an
extraordinarily made thing, and it could not be otherwise." The deeper
he goes into Little Russia's past the more fanatically he dreams of
Little Russia's future. St. Petersburg wearies him, Moscow awakens no
emotion in him, he yearns for Kieff, the mother of Russian cities,
which in his vision he sees becoming "the Russian Athens." Russian
history gives him no pleasure, and he separates it definitely from
Ukrainian history. He is "ready to cast everything aside rather than
read Russian history," he writes to Pushkin. During his seven-year
stay in St. Petersburg (1829-36) Gogol zealously gathered historical
material and, in the words of Professor Kotlyarevsky, "lived in the
dream of becoming the Thucydides of Little Russia." How completely he
disassociated Ukrainia from Northern Russia may be judged by the
conspectus of his lectures written in 1832. He says in it, speaking of
the conquest of Southern Russia in the fourteenth century by Prince
Guedimin at the head of his Lithuanian host, still dressed in the
skins of wild beasts, still worshipping the ancient fire and
practising pagan rites: "Then Southern Russia, under the mighty
protection of Lithuanian princes, completely separated itself from the
North. Every bond between them was broken; two kingdoms were
established under a single name--Russia--one under the Tatar yoke, the
other under the same rule with Lithuanians. But actually they had no
relation with one another; different laws, different customs,
different aims, different bonds, and different activities gave them
wholly different characters."
This same Prince Guedimin freed Kieff from the Tatar yoke. This city
had been laid waste by the golden hordes of Ghengis Khan and hidden
for a very long time from the Slavonic chronicler as behind an
impenetrable curtain. A shrewd man, Guedimin appointed a Slavonic
prince to rule over the city and permitted the inhabitants to practise
their own faith, Greek Christianity. Prior to the Mongol invasion,
which brought conflagration and ruin, and subjected Russia to a
two-century bondage, cutting her off from Europe, a state of chaos
existed and the separate tribes fought with one another constantly and
for the most petty reasons. Mutual depredations were possible owing to
the absence of mountain ranges; there were no natural barriers against
sudden attack. The openness of the steppe made the people war-like.
But this very openness made it possible later for Guedimin's pagan
hosts, fresh from the fir forests of what is now White Russia, to make
a clean sweep of the whole country between Lithuania and Poland, and
thus give the scattered princedoms a much-needed cohesion. In this way
Ukrainia was formed. Except for some forests, infested with bears, the
country was one vast plain, marked by an occasional hillock. Whole
herds of wild horses and deer stampeded the country, overgrown with
tall grass, while flocks of wild goats wandered among the rocks of the
Dnieper. Apart from the Dnieper, and in some measure the Desna,
emptying into it, there were no navigable rivers and so there was
little opportunity for a commercial people. Several tributaries cut
across, but made no real boundary line. Whether you looked to the
north towards Russia, to the east towards the Tatars, to the south
towards the Crimean Tatars, to the west towards Poland, everywhere the
country bordered on a field, everywhere on a plain, which left it open
to the invader from every side. Had there been here, suggests Gogol in
his introduction to his never-written history of Little Russia, if
upon one side only, a real frontier of mountain or sea, the people who
settled here might have formed a definite political body. Without this
natural protection it became a land subject to constant attack and
despoliation. "There where three hostile nations came in contact it
was manured with bones, wetted with blood. A single Tatar invasion
destroyed the whole labour of the soil-tiller; the meadows and the
cornfields were trodden down by horses or destroyed by flame, the
lightly-built habitations reduced to the ground, the inhabitants
scattered or driven off into captivity together with cattle. It was a
land of terror, and for this reason there could develop in it only a
warlike people, strong in its unity and desperate, a people whose
whole existence was bound to be trained and confined to war."
This constant menace, this perpetual pressure of foes on all sides,
acted at last like a fierce hammer shaping and hardening resistance
against itself. The fugitive from Poland, the fugitive from the Tatar
and the Turk, homeless, with nothing to lose, their lives ever exposed
to danger, forsook their peaceful occupations and became transformed
into a warlike people, known as the Cossacks, whose appearance towards
the end of the thirteenth century or at the beginning of the
fourteenth was a remarkable event which possibly alone (suggests
Gogol) prevented any further inroads by the two Mohammedan nations
into Europe. The appearance of the Cossacks was coincident with the
appearance in Europe of brotherhoods and knighthood-orders, and this
new race, in spite of its living the life of marauders, in spite of
turnings its foes' tactics upon its foes, was not free of the
religious spirit of its time; if it warred for its existence it warred
not less for its faith, which was Greek. Indeed, as the nation grew
stronger and became conscious of its strength, the struggle began to
partake something of the nature of a religious war, not alone
defensive but aggressive also, against the unbeliever. While any man
was free to join the brotherhood it was obligatory to believe in the
Greek faith. It was this religious unity, blazed into activity by the
presence across the borders of unbelieving nations, that alone
indicated the germ of a political body in this gathering of men, who
otherwise lived the audacious lives of a band of highway robbers.
"There was, however," says Gogol, "none of the austerity of the
Catholic knight in them; they bound themselves to no vows or fasts;
they put no self-restraint upon themselves or mortified their flesh,
but were indomitable like the rocks of the Dnieper among which they
lived, and in their furious feasts and revels they forgot the whole
world. That same intimate brotherhood, maintained in robber
communities, bound them together. They had everything in common--wine,
food, dwelling. A perpetual fear, a perpetual danger, inspired them
with a contempt towards life. The Cossack worried more about a good
measure of wine than about his fate. One has to see this denizen of
the frontier in his half-Tatar, half-Polish costume--which so sharply
outlined the spirit of the borderland--galloping in Asiatic fashion on
his horse, now lost in thick grass, now leaping with the speed of a
tiger from ambush, or emerging suddenly from the river or swamp, all
clinging with mud, and appearing an image of terror to the
Tatar. . . ."
Little by little the community grew and with its growing it began to
assume a general character. The beginning of the sixteenth century
found whole villages settled with families, enjoying the protection of
the Cossacks, who exacted certain obligations, chiefly military, so
that these settlements bore a military character. The sword and the
plough were friends which fraternised at every settler's. On the other
hand, Gogol tells us, the gay bachelors began to make depredations
across the border to sweep down on Tatars' wives and their daughters
and to marry them. "Owing to this co-mingling, their facial features,
so different from one another's, received a common impress, tending
towards the Asiatic. And so there came into being a nation in faith
and place belonging to Europe; on the other hand, in ways of life,
customs, and dress quite Asiatic. It was a nation in which the world's
two extremes came in contact; European caution and Asiatic
indifference, niavete and cunning, an intense activity and the
greatest laziness and indulgence, an aspiration to development and
perfection, and again a desire to appear indifferent to perfection."
All of Ukraine took on its colour from the Cossack, and if I have
drawn largely on Gogol's own account of the origins of this race, it
was because it seemed to me that Gogol's emphasis on the heroic rather
than on the historical--Gogol is generally discounted as an
historian--would give the reader a proper approach to the mood in
which he created "Taras Bulba," the finest epic in Russian literature.
Gogol never wrote either his history of Little Russia or his universal
history. Apart from several brief studies, not always reliable, the
net result of his many years' application to his scholarly projects
was this brief epic in prose, Homeric in mood. The sense of intense
living, "living dangerously"--to use a phrase of Nietzsche's, the
recognition of courage as the greatest of all virtues--the God in man,
inspired Gogol, living in an age which tended toward grey tedium, with
admiration for his more fortunate forefathers, who lived in "a poetic
time, when everything was won with the sword, when every one in his
turn strove to be an active being and not a spectator." Into this
short work he poured all his love of the heroic, all his romanticism,
all his poetry, all his joy. Its abundance of life bears one along
like a fast-flowing river. And it is not without humour, a calm,
detached humour, which, as the critic Bolinsky puts it, is not there
merely "because Gogol has a tendency to see the comic in everything,
but because it is true to life."
Yet "Taras Bulba" was in a sense an accident, just as many other works
of great men are accidents. It often requires a happy combination of
circumstances to produce a masterpiece. I have already told in my
introduction to "Dead Souls" how Gogol created his great realistic
masterpiece, which was to influence Russian literature for generations
to come, under the influence of models so remote in time or place as
"Don Quixote" or "Pickwick Papers"; and how this combination of
influences joined to his own genius produced a work quite new and
original in effect and only remotely reminiscent of the models which
have inspired it. And just as "Dead Souls" might never have been
written if "Don Quixote" had not existed, so there is every reason to
believe that "Taras Bulba" could not have been written without the
"Odyssey." Once more ancient fire gave life to new beauty. And yet at
the time Gogol could not have had more than a smattering of the
"Odyssey." The magnificent translation made by his friend Zhukovsky
had not yet appeared and Gogol, in spite of his ambition to become a
historian, was not equipped as a scholar. But it is evident from his
dithyrambic letter on the appearance of Zhukovsky's version, forming
one of the famous series of letters known as "Correspondence with
Friends," that he was better acquainted with the spirit of Homer than
any mere scholar could be. That letter, unfortunately unknown to the
English reader, would make every lover of the classics in this day of
their disparagement dance with joy. He describes the "Odyssey" as the
forgotten source of all that is beautiful and harmonious in life, and
he greets its appearance in Russian dress at a time when life is
sordid and discordant as a thing inevitable, "cooling" in effect upon
a too hectic world. He sees in its perfect grace, its calm and almost
childlike simplicity, a power for individual and general good. "It
combines all the fascination of a fairy tale and all the simple truth
of human adventure, holding out the same allurement to every being,
whether he is a noble, a commoner, a merchant, a literate or
illiterate person, a private soldier, a lackey, children of both
sexes, beginning at an age when a child begins to love a fairy
tale--all might read it or listen to it, without tedium." Every one
will draw from it what he most needs. Not less than upon these he sees
its wholesome effect on the creative writer, its refreshing influence
on the critic. But most of all he dwells on its heroic qualities,
inseparable to him from what is religious in the "Odyssey"; and, says
Gogol, this book contains the idea that a human being, "wherever he
might be, whatever pursuit he might follow, is threatened by many
woes, that he must need wrestle with them--for that very purpose was
life given to him--that never for a single instant must he despair,
just as Odysseus did not despair, who in every hard and oppressive
moment turned to his own heart, unaware that with this inner scrutiny
of himself he had already said that hidden prayer uttered in a moment
of distress by every man having no understanding whatever of God."
Then he goes on to compare the ancient harmony, perfect down to every
detail of dress, to the slightest action, with our slovenliness and
confusion and pettiness, a sad result--considering our knowledge of
past experience, our possession of superior weapons, our religion
given to make us holy and superior beings. And in conclusion he asks:
Is not the "Odyssey" in every sense a deep reproach to our nineteenth
 Everyman's Library, No. 726.
An understanding of Gogol's point of view gives the key to "Taras
Bulba." For in this panoramic canvas of the Setch, the military
brotherhood of the Cossacks, living under open skies, picturesquely
and heroically, he has drawn a picture of his romantic ideal, which if
far from perfect at any rate seemed to him preferable to the grey
tedium of a city peopled with government officials. Gogol has written
in "Taras Bulba" his own reproach to the nineteenth century. It is
sad and joyous like one of those Ukrainian songs which have helped to
inspire him to write it. And then, as he cut himself off more and more
from the world of the past, life became a sadder and still sadder
thing to him; modern life, with all its gigantic pettiness, closed in
around him, he began to write of petty officials and of petty
scoundrels, "commonplace heroes" he called them. But nothing is ever
lost in this world. Gogol's romanticism, shut in within himself,
finding no outlet, became a flame. It was a flame of pity. He was like
a man walking in hell, pitying. And that was the miracle, the
transfiguration. Out of that flame of pity the Russian novel was born.
Evenings on the Farm near the Dikanka, 1829-31; Mirgorod, 1831-33;
Taras Bulba, 1834; Arabesques (includes tales, The Portrait and A
Madman's Diary), 1831-35; The Cloak, 1835; The Revizor (The Inspector-
General), 1836; Dead Souls, 1842; Correspondence with Friends, 1847;
Letters, 1847, 1895, 4 vols. 1902.
ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS: Cossack Tales (The Night of Christmas Eve,
Tarass Boolba), trans. by G. Tolstoy, 1860; St. John's Eve and Other
Stories, trans. by Isabel F. Hapgood, New York, Crowell, 1886; Taras
Bulba: Also St. John's Eve and Other Stories, London, Vizetelly, 1887;
Taras Bulba, trans. by B. C. Baskerville, London, Scott, 1907; The
Inspector: a Comedy, Calcutta, 1890; The Inspector-General, trans. by
A. A. Sykes, London, Scott, 1892; Revizor, trans. for the Yale
Dramatic Association by Max S. Mandell, New Haven, Conn., 1908; Home
Life in Russia (adaptation of Dead Souls), London, Hurst, 1854;
Tchitchikoff's Journey's; or Dead Souls, trans. by Isabel F. Hapgood,
New York, Crowell, 1886; Dead Souls, London, Vizetelly, 1887; Dead
Souls, London, Maxwell 1887; Dead Souls, London, Fisher Unwin, 1915;
Dead Souls, London, Everyman's Library (Intro. by John Cournos), 1915;
Meditations on the Divine Liturgy, trans. by L. Alexeieff, London, A.
R. Mowbray and Co., 1913.
LIVES, etc.: (Russian) Kotlyarevsky (N. A.), 1903; Shenrok (V. I.),
Materials for a Biography, 1892; (French) Leger (L.), Nicholas Gogol,
"Turn round, my boy! How ridiculous you look! What sort of a priest's
cassock have you got on? Does everybody at the academy dress like
With such words did old Bulba greet his two sons, who had been absent
for their education at the Royal Seminary of Kief, and had now
returned home to their father.
His sons had but just dismounted from their horses. They were a couple
of stout lads who still looked bashful, as became youths recently
released from the seminary. Their firm healthy faces were covered with
the first down of manhood, down which had, as yet, never known a
razor. They were greatly discomfited by such a reception from their
father, and stood motionless with eyes fixed upon the ground.
"Stand still, stand still! let me have a good look at you," he
continued, turning them around. "How long your gaberdines are! What
gaberdines! There never were such gaberdines in the world before. Just
run, one of you! I want to see whether you will not get entangled in
the skirts, and fall down."
"Don't laugh, don't laugh, father!" said the eldest lad at length.
"How touchy we are! Why shouldn't I laugh?"
"Because, although you are my father, if you laugh, by heavens, I will
"What kind of son are you? what, strike your father!" exclaimed Taras
Bulba, retreating several paces in amazement.
"Yes, even my father. I don't stop to consider persons when an insult
is in question."
"So you want to fight me? with your fist, eh?"
"Well, let it be fisticuffs," said Taras Bulba, turning up his
sleeves. "I'll see what sort of a man you are with your fists."
And father and son, in lieu of a pleasant greeting after long
separation, began to deal each other heavy blows on ribs, back, and
chest, now retreating and looking at each other, now attacking afresh.
"Look, good people! the old man has gone man! he has lost his senses
completely!" screamed their pale, ugly, kindly mother, who was
standing on the threshold, and had not yet succeeded in embracing her
darling children. "The children have come home, we have not seen them
for over a year; and now he has taken some strange freak--he's
"Yes, he fights well," said Bulba, pausing; "well, by heavens!" he
continued, rather as if excusing himself, "although he has never tried
his hand at it before, he will make a good Cossack! Now, welcome, son!
embrace me," and father and son began to kiss each other. "Good lad!
see that you hit every one as you pommelled me; don't let any one
escape. Nevertheless your clothes are ridiculous all the same. What
rope is this hanging there?--And you, you lout, why are you standing
there with your hands hanging beside you?" he added, turning to the
youngest. "Why don't you fight me? you son of a dog!"
"What an idea!" said the mother, who had managed in the meantime to
embrace her youngest. "Who ever heard of children fighting their own
father? That's enough for the present; the child is young, he has had
a long journey, he is tired." The child was over twenty, and about six
feet high. "He ought to rest, and eat something; and you set him to
"You are a gabbler!" said Bulba. "Don't listen to your mother, my lad;
she is a woman, and knows nothing. What sort of petting do you need? A
clear field and a good horse, that's the kind of petting for you! And
do you see this sword? that's your mother! All the rest people stuff
your heads with is rubbish; the academy, books, primers, philosophy,
and all that, I spit upon it all!" Here Bulba added a word which is
not used in print. "But I'll tell you what is best: I'll take you to
Zaporozhe this very week. That's where there's science for you!
There's your school; there alone will you gain sense."
 The Cossack country beyond (za) the falls (porozhe) of the
"And are they only to remain home a week?" said the worn old mother
sadly and with tears in her eyes. "The poor boys will have no chance
of looking around, no chance of getting acquainted with the home where
they were born; there will be no chance for me to get a look at them."
"Enough, you've howled quite enough, old woman! A Cossack is not born
to run around after women. You would like to hide them both under your
petticoat, and sit upon them as a hen sits on eggs. Go, go, and let us
have everything there is on the table in a trice. We don't want any
dumplings, honey-cakes, poppy-cakes, or any other such messes: give us
a whole sheep, a goat, mead forty years old, and as much corn-brandy
as possible, not with raisins and all sorts of stuff, but plain
scorching corn-brandy, which foams and hisses like mad."
Bulba led his sons into the principal room of the hut; and two pretty
servant girls wearing coin necklaces, who were arranging the
apartment, ran out quickly. They were either frightened at the arrival
of the young men, who did not care to be familiar with anyone; or else
they merely wanted to keep up their feminine custom of screaming and
rushing away headlong at the sight of a man, and then screening their
blushes for some time with their sleeves. The hut was furnished
according to the fashion of that period--a fashion concerning which
hints linger only in the songs and lyrics, no longer sung, alas! in
the Ukraine as of yore by blind old men, to the soft tinkling of the
native guitar, to the people thronging round them--according to the
taste of that warlike and troublous time, of leagues and battles
prevailing in the Ukraine after the union. Everything was cleanly
smeared with coloured clay. On the walls hung sabres, hunting-whips,
nets for birds, fishing-nets, guns, elaborately carved powder-horns,
gilded bits for horses, and tether-ropes with silver plates. The small
window had round dull panes, through which it was impossible to see
except by opening the one moveable one. Around the windows and doors
red bands were painted. On shelves in one corner stood jugs, bottles,
and flasks of green and blue glass, carved silver cups, and gilded
drinking vessels of various makes--Venetian, Turkish, Tscherkessian,
which had reached Bulba's cabin by various roads, at third and fourth
hand, a thing common enough in those bold days. There were birch-wood
benches all around the room, a huge table under the holy pictures in
one corner, and a huge stove covered with particoloured patterns in
relief, with spaces between it and the wall. All this was quite
familiar to the two young men, who were wont to come home every year
during the dog-days, since they had no horses, and it was not
customary to allow students to ride afield on horseback. The only
distinctive things permitted them were long locks of hair on the
temples, which every Cossack who bore weapons was entitled to pull. It
was only at the end of their course of study that Bulba had sent them
a couple of young stallions from his stud.
Bulba, on the occasion of his sons' arrival, ordered all the sotniks
or captains of hundreds, and all the officers of the band who were of
any consequence, to be summoned; and when two of them arrived with his
old comrade, the Osaul or sub-chief, Dmitro Tovkatch, he immediately
presented the lads, saying, "See what fine young fellows they are! I
shall send them to the Setch shortly." The guests congratulated
Bulba and the young men, telling them they would do well and that
there was no better knowledge for a young man than a knowledge of that
same Zaporozhian Setch.
 The village or, rather, permanent camp of the Zaporozhian
"Come, brothers, seat yourselves, each where he likes best, at the
table; come, my sons. First of all, let's take some corn-brandy," said
Bulba. "God bless you! Welcome, lads; you, Ostap, and you, Andrii. God
grant that you may always be successful in war, that you may beat the
Musselmans and the Turks and the Tatars; and that when the Poles
undertake any expedition against our faith, you may beat the Poles.
Come, clink your glasses. How now? Is the brandy good? What's
corn-brandy in Latin? The Latins were stupid: they did not know there
was such a thing in the world as corn-brandy. What was the name of the
man who wrote Latin verses? I don't know much about reading and
writing, so I don't quite know. Wasn't it Horace?"
"What a dad!" thought the elder son Ostap. "The old dog knows
everything, but he always pretends the contrary."
"I don't believe the archimandrite allowed you so much as a smell of
corn-brandy," continued Taras. "Confess, my boys, they thrashed you
well with fresh birch-twigs on your backs and all over your Cossack
bodies; and perhaps, when you grew too sharp, they beat you with
whips. And not on Saturday only, I fancy, but on Wednesday and
"What is past, father, need not be recalled; it is done with."
"Let them try it know," said Andrii. "Let anybody just touch me, let
any Tatar risk it now, and he'll soon learn what a Cossack's sword is
"Good, my son, by heavens, good! And when it comes to that, I'll go
with you; by heavens, I'll go too! What should I wait here for? To
become a buckwheat-reaper and housekeeper, to look after the sheep and
swine, and loaf around with my wife? Away with such nonsense! I am a
Cossack; I'll have none of it! What's left but war? I'll go with you
to Zaporozhe to carouse; I'll go, by heavens!" And old Bulba, growing
warm by degrees and finally quite angry, rose from the table, and,
assuming a dignified attitude, stamped his foot. "We will go
to-morrow! Wherefore delay? What enemy can we besiege here? What is
this hut to us? What do we want with all these things? What are pots
and pans to us?" So saying, he began to knock over the pots and
flasks, and to throw them about.
The poor old woman, well used to such freaks on the part of her
husband, looked sadly on from her seat on the wall-bench. She did not
dare say a word; but when she heard the decision which was so terrible
for her, she could not refrain from tears. As she looked at her
children, from whom so speedy a separation was threatened, it is
impossible to describe the full force of her speechless grief, which
seemed to quiver in her eyes and on her lips convulsively pressed
Bulba was terribly headstrong. He was one of those characters which
could only exist in that fierce fifteenth century, and in that
half-nomadic corner of Europe, when the whole of Southern Russia,
deserted by its princes, was laid waste and burned to the quick by
pitiless troops of Mongolian robbers; when men deprived of house and
home grew brave there; when, amid conflagrations, threatening
neighbours, and eternal terrors, they settled down, and growing
accustomed to looking these things straight in the face, trained
themselves not to know that there was such a thing as fear in the
world; when the old, peacable Slav spirit was fired with warlike
flame, and the Cossack state was instituted--a free, wild outbreak of
Russian nature--and when all the river-banks, fords, and like suitable
places were peopled by Cossacks, whose number no man knew. Their bold
comrades had a right to reply to the Sultan when he asked how many
they were, "Who knows? We are scattered all over the steppes; wherever
there is a hillock, there is a Cossack."
It was, in fact, a most remarkable exhibition of Russian strength,
forced by dire necessity from the bosom of the people. In place of the
original provinces with their petty towns, in place of the warring and
bartering petty princes ruling in their cities, there arose great
colonies, kurens, and districts, bound together by one common
danger and hatred against the heathen robbers. The story is well known
how their incessant warfare and restless existence saved Europe from
the merciless hordes which threatened to overwhelm her. The Polish
kings, who now found themselves sovereigns, in place of the provincial
princes, over these extensive tracts of territory, fully understood,
despite the weakness and remoteness of their own rule, the value of
the Cossacks, and the advantages of the warlike, untrammelled life led
by them. They encouraged them and flattered this disposition of mind.
Under their distant rule, the hetmans or chiefs, chosen from among the
Cossacks themselves, redistributed the territory into military
districts. It was not a standing army, no one saw it; but in case of
war and general uprising, it required a week, and no more, for every
man to appear on horseback, fully armed, receiving only one ducat from
the king; and in two weeks such a force had assembled as no recruiting
officers would ever have been able to collect. When the expedition was
ended, the army dispersed among the fields and meadows and the fords
of the Dnieper; each man fished, wrought at his trade, brewed his
beer, and was once more a free Cossack. Their foreign contemporaries
rightly marvelled at their wonderful qualities. There was no
handicraft which the Cossack was not expert at: he could distil
brandy, build a waggon, make powder, and do blacksmith's and
gunsmith's work, in addition to committing wild excesses, drinking and
carousing as only a Russian can--all this he was equal to. Besides the
registered Cossacks, who considered themselves bound to appear in arms
in time of war, it was possible to collect at any time, in case of
dire need, a whole army of volunteers. All that was required was for
the Osaul or sub-chief to traverse the market-places and squares of
the villages and hamlets, and shout at the top of his voice, as he
stood in his waggon, "Hey, you distillers and beer-brewers! you have
brewed enough beer, and lolled on your stoves, and stuffed your fat
carcasses with flour, long enough! Rise, win glory and warlike
honours! You ploughmen, you reapers of buckwheat, you tenders of
sheep, you danglers after women, enough of following the plough, and
soiling your yellow shoes in the earth, and courting women, and
wasting your warlike strength! The hour has come to win glory for the
Cossacks!" These words were like sparks falling on dry wood. The
husbandman broke his plough; the brewers and distillers threw away
their casks and destroyed their barrels; the mechanics and merchants
sent their trade and their shop to the devil, broke pots and
everything else in their homes, and mounted their horses. In short,
the Russian character here received a profound development, and
manifested a powerful outwards expression.
 Cossack villages. In the Setch, a large wooden barrack.
Taras was one of the band of old-fashioned leaders; he was born for
warlike emotions, and was distinguished for his uprightness of
character. At that epoch the influence of Poland had already begun to
make itself felt upon the Russian nobility. Many had adopted Polish
customs, and began to display luxury in splendid staffs of servants,
hawks, huntsmen, dinners, and palaces. This was not to Taras's taste.
He liked the simple life of the Cossacks, and quarrelled with those of
his comrades who were inclined to the Warsaw party, calling them serfs
of the Polish nobles. Ever on the alert, he regarded himself as the
legal protector of the orthodox faith. He entered despotically into
any village where there was a general complaint of oppression by the
revenue farmers and of the addition of fresh taxes on necessaries. He
and his Cossacks executed justice, and made it a rule that in three
cases it was absolutely necessary to resort to the sword. Namely, when
the commissioners did not respect the superior officers and stood
before them covered; when any one made light of the faith and did not
observe the customs of his ancestors; and, finally, when the enemy
were Mussulmans or Turks, against whom he considered it permissible,
in every case, to draw the sword for the glory of Christianity.
Now he rejoiced beforehand at the thought of how he would present
himself with his two sons at the Setch, and say, "See what fine young
fellows I have brought you!" how he would introduce them to all his
old comrades, steeled in warfare; how he would observe their first
exploits in the sciences of war and of drinking, which was also
regarded as one of the principal warlike qualities. At first he had
intended to send them forth alone; but at the sight of their
freshness, stature, and manly personal beauty his martial spirit
flamed up and he resolved to go with them himself the very next day,
although there was no necessity for this except his obstinate
self-will. He began at once to hurry about and give orders; selected
horses and trappings for his sons, looked through the stables and
storehouses, and chose servants to accompany them on the morrow. He
delegated his power to Osaul Tovkatch, and gave with it a strict
command to appear with his whole force at the Setch the very instant
he should receive a message from him. Although he was jolly, and the
effects of his drinking bout still lingered in his brain, he forgot
nothing. He even gave orders that the horses should be watered, their
cribs filled, and that they should be fed with the finest corn; and
then he retired, fatigued with all his labours.
"Now, children, we must sleep, but to-morrow we shall do what God
wills. Don't prepare us a bed: we need no bed; we will sleep in the
Night had but just stole over the heavens, but Bulba always went to
bed early. He lay down on a rug and covered himself with a sheepskin
pelisse, for the night air was quite sharp and he liked to lie warm
when he was at home. He was soon snoring, and the whole household
speedily followed his example. All snored and groaned as they lay in
different corners. The watchman went to sleep the first of all, he had
drunk so much in honour of the young masters' home-coming.
The mother alone did not sleep. She bent over the pillow of her
beloved sons, as they lay side by side; she smoothed with a comb their
carelessly tangled locks, and moistened them with her tears. She gazed
at them with her whole soul, with every sense; she was wholly merged
in the gaze, and yet she could not gaze enough. She had fed them at
her own breast, she had tended them and brought them up; and now to
see them only for an instant! "My sons, my darling sons! what will
become of you! what fate awaits you?" she said, and tears stood in the
wrinkles which disfigured her once beautiful face. In truth, she was
to be pitied, as was every woman of that period. She had lived only
for a moment of love, only during the first ardour of passion, only
during the first flush of youth; and then her grim betrayer had
deserted her for the sword, for his comrades and his carouses. She saw
her husband two or three days in a year, and then, for several years,
heard nothing of him. And when she did see him, when they did live
together, what a life was hers! She endured insult, even blows; she
felt caresses bestowed only in pity; she was a misplaced object in
that community of unmarried warriors, upon which wandering Zaporozhe
cast a colouring of its own. Her pleasureless youth flitted by; her
ripe cheeks and bosom withered away unkissed and became covered with
premature wrinkles. Love, feeling, everything that is tender and
passionate in a woman, was converted in her into maternal love. She
hovered around her children with anxiety, passion, tears, like the
gull of the steppes. They were taking her sons, her darling sons, from
her--taking them from her, so that she should never see them again!
Who knew? Perhaps a Tatar would cut off their heads in the very first
skirmish, and she would never know where their deserted bodies might
lie, torn by birds of prey; and yet for each single drop of their
blood she would have given all hers. Sobbing, she gazed into their
eyes, and thought, "Perhaps Bulba, when he wakes, will put off their
departure for a day or two; perhaps it occurred to him to go so soon
because he had been drinking."
The moon from the summit of the heavens had long since lit up the
whole courtyard filled with sleepers, the thick clump of willows, and
the tall steppe-grass, which hid the palisade surrounding the court.
She still sat at her sons' pillow, never removing her eyes from them
for a moment, nor thinking of sleep. Already the horses, divining the
approach of dawn, had ceased eating and lain down upon the grass; the
topmost leaves of the willows began to rustle softly, and little by
little the rippling rustle descended to their bases. She sat there
until daylight, unwearied, and wishing in her heart that the night
might prolong itself indefinitely. From the steppes came the ringing
neigh of the horses, and red streaks shone brightly in the sky. Bulba
suddenly awoke, and sprang to his feet. He remembered quite well what
he had ordered the night before. "Now, my men, you've slept enough!
'tis time, 'tis time! Water the horses! And where is the old woman?"
He generally called his wife so. "Be quick, old woman, get us
something to eat; the way is long."
The poor old woman, deprived of her last hope, slipped sadly into the
Whilst she, with tears, prepared what was needed for breakfast, Bulba
gave his orders, went to the stable, and selected his best trappings
for his children with his own hand.
The scholars were suddenly transformed. Red morocco boots with silver
heels took the place of their dirty old ones; trousers wide as the
Black Sea, with countless folds and plaits, were kept up by golden
girdles from which hung long slender thongs, with tassles and other
tinkling things, for pipes. Their jackets of scarlet cloth were girt
by flowered sashes into which were thrust engraved Turkish pistols;
their swords clanked at their heels. Their faces, already a little
sunburnt, seemed to have grown handsomer and whiter; their slight
black moustaches now cast a more distinct shadow on this pallor and
set off their healthy youthful complexions. They looked very handsome
in their black sheepskin caps, with cloth-of-gold crowns.
When their poor mother saw them, she could not utter a word, and tears
stood in her eyes.
"Now, my lads, all is ready; no delay!" said Bulba at last. "But we
must first all sit down together, in accordance with Christian custom
before a journey."
All sat down, not excepting the servants, who had been standing
respectfully at the door.
"Now, mother, bless your children," said Bulba. "Pray God that they
may fight bravely, always defend their warlike honour, always defend
the faith of Christ; and, if not, that they may die, so that their
breath may not be longer in the world."
"Come to your mother, children; a mother's prayer protects on land and
The mother, weak as mothers are, embraced them, drew out two small
holy pictures, and hung them, sobbing, around their necks. "May God's
mother--keep you! Children, do not forget your mother--send some
little word of yourselves--" She could say no more.
"Now, children, let us go," said Bulba.
At the door stood the horses, ready saddled. Bulba sprang upon his
"Devil," which bounded wildly, on feeling on his back a load of over
thirty stone, for Taras was extremely stout and heavy.
When the mother saw that her sons were also mounted, she rushed
towards the younger, whose features expressed somewhat more gentleness
than those of his brother. She grasped his stirrup, clung to his
saddle, and with despair in her eyes, refused to loose her hold. Two
stout Cossacks seized her carefully, and bore her back into the hut.
But before the cavalcade had passed out of the courtyard, she rushed
with the speed of a wild goat, disproportionate to her years, to the
gate, stopped a horse with irresistible strength, and embraced one of
her sons with mad, unconscious violence. Then they led her away again.
The young Cossacks rode on sadly, repressing their tears out of fear
of their father, who, on his side, was somewhat moved, although he
strove not to show it. The morning was grey, the green sward bright,
the birds twittered rather discordantly. They glanced back as they
rode. Their paternal farm seemed to have sunk into the earth. All that
was visible above the surface were the two chimneys of their modest
hut and the tops of the trees up whose trunks they had been used to
climb like squirrels. Before them still stretched the field by which
they could recall the whole story of their lives, from the years when
they rolled in its dewy grass down to the years when they awaited in
it the dark-browed Cossack maiden, running timidly across it on quick
young feet. There is the pole above the well, with the waggon wheel
fastened to its top, rising solitary against the sky; already the
level which they have traversed appears a hill in the distance, and
now all has disappeared. Farewell, childhood, games, all, all,
All three horsemen rode in silence. Old Taras's thoughts were far
away: before him passed his youth, his years--the swift-flying years,
over which the Cossack always weeps, wishing that his life might be
all youth. He wondered whom of his former comrades he should meet at
the Setch. He reckoned up how many had already died, how many were
still alive. Tears formed slowly in his eyes, and his grey head bent
His sons were occupied with other thoughts. But we must speak further
of his sons. They had been sent, when twelve years old, to the academy
at Kief, because all leaders of that day considered it indispensable
to give their children an education, although it was afterwards
utterly forgotten. Like all who entered the academy, they were wild,
having been brought up in unrestrained freedom; and whilst there they
had acquired some polish, and pursued some common branches of
knowledge which gave them a certain resemblance to each other.
The elder, Ostap, began his scholastic career by running away in the
course of the first year. They brought him back, whipped him well, and
set him down to his books. Four times did he bury his primer in the
earth; and four times, after giving him a sound thrashing, did they
buy him a new one. But he would no doubt have repeated this feat for
the fifth time, had not his father given him a solemn assurance that
he would keep him at monastic work for twenty years, and sworn in
advance that he should never behold Zaporozhe all his life long,
unless he learned all the sciences taught in the academy. It was odd
that the man who said this was that very Taras Bulba who condemned all
learning, and counselled his children, as we have seen, not to trouble
themselves at all about it. From that moment, Ostap began to pore over
his tiresome books with exemplary diligence, and quickly stood on a
level with the best. The style of education in that age differed
widely from the manner of life. The scholastic, grammatical,
rhetorical, and logical subtle ties in vogue were decidedly out of
consonance with the times, never having any connection with, and never
being encountered in, actual life. Those who studied them, even the
least scholastic, could not apply their knowledge to anything
whatever. The learned men of those days were even more incapable than
the rest, because farther removed from all experience. Moreover, the
republican constitution of the academy, the fearful multitude of
young, healthy, strong fellows, inspired the students with an activity
quite outside the limits of their learning. Poor fare, or frequent
punishments of fasting, with the numerous requirements arising in
fresh, strong, healthy youth, combined to arouse in them that spirit
of enterprise which was afterwards further developed among the
Zaporozhians. The hungry student running about the streets of Kief
forced every one to be on his guard. Dealers sitting in the bazaar
covered their pies, their cakes, and their pumpkin-rolls with their
hands, like eagles protecting their young, if they but caught sight of
a passing student. The consul or monitor, who was bound by his duty to
look after the comrades entrusted to his care, had such frightfully
wide pockets to his trousers that he could stow away the whole
contents of the gaping dealer's stall in them. These students
constituted an entirely separate world, for they were not admitted to
the higher circles, composed of Polish and Russian nobles. Even the
Waiwode, Adam Kisel, in spite of the patronage he bestowed upon the
academy, did not seek to introduce them into society, and ordered them
to be kept more strictly in supervision. This command was quite
superfluous, for neither the rector nor the monkish professors spared
rod or whip; and the lictors sometimes, by their orders, lashed their
consuls so severely that the latter rubbed their trousers for weeks
afterwards. This was to many of them a trifle, only a little more
stinging than good vodka with pepper: others at length grew tired of
such constant blisters, and ran away to Zaporozhe if they could find
the road and were not caught on the way. Ostap Bulba, although he
began to study logic, and even theology, with much zeal, did not
escape the merciless rod. Naturally, all this tended to harden his
character, and give him that firmness which distinguishes the
Cossacks. He always held himself aloof from his comrades.
He rarely led others into such hazardous enterprises as robbing a
strange garden or orchard; but, on the other hand, he was always among
the first to join the standard of an adventurous student. And never,
under any circumstances, did he betray his comrades; neither
imprisonment nor beatings could make him do so. He was unassailable by
any temptations save those of war and revelry; at least, he scarcely
ever dreamt of others. He was upright with his equals. He was
kind-hearted, after the only fashion that kind-heartedness could exist
in such a character and at such a time. He was touched to his very
heart by his poor mother's tears; but this only vexed him, and caused
him to hang his head in thought.
His younger brother, Andrii, had livelier and more fully developed
feelings. He learned more willingly and without the effort with which
strong and weighty characters generally have to make in order to apply
themselves to study. He was more inventive-minded than his brother,
and frequently appeared as the leader of dangerous expeditions;
sometimes, thanks to the quickness of his mind, contriving to escape
punishment when his brother Ostap, abandoning all efforts, stripped
off his gaberdine and lay down upon the floor without a thought of
begging for mercy. He too thirsted for action; but, at the same time,
his soul was accessible to other sentiments. The need of love burned
ardently within him. When he had passed his eighteenth year, woman
began to present herself more frequently in his dreams; listening to
philosophical discussions, he still beheld her, fresh, black-eyed,
tender; before him constantly flitted her elastic bosom, her soft,
bare arms; the very gown which clung about her youthful yet
well-rounded limbs breathed into his visions a certain inexpressible
sensuousness. He carefully concealed this impulse of his passionate
young soul from his comrades, because in that age it was held shameful
and dishonourable for a Cossack to think of love and a wife before he
had tasted battle. On the whole, during the last year, he had acted
more rarely as leader to the bands of students, but had roamed more
frequently alone, in remote corners of Kief, among low-roofed houses,
buried in cherry orchards, peeping alluringly at the street. Sometimes
he betook himself to the more aristocratic streets, in the old Kief of
to-day, where dwelt Little Russian and Polish nobles, and where houses
were built in more fanciful style. Once, as he was gaping along, an
old-fashioned carriage belonging to some Polish noble almost drove
over him; and the heavily moustached coachman, who sat on the box,
gave him a smart cut with his whip. The young student fired up; with
thoughtless daring he seized the hind-wheel with his powerful hands
and stopped the carriage. But the coachman, fearing a drubbing, lashed
his horses; they sprang forward, and Andrii, succeeding happily in
freeing his hands, was flung full length on the ground with his face
flat in the mud. The most ringing and harmonious of laughs resounded
above him. He raised his eyes and saw, standing at a window, a beauty
such as he had never beheld in all his life, black-eyed, and with skin
white as snow illumined by the dawning flush of the sun. She was
laughing heartily, and her laugh enhanced her dazzling loveliness.
Taken aback he gazed at her in confusion, abstractedly wiping the mud
from his face, by which means it became still further smeared. Who
could this beauty be? He sought to find out from the servants, who, in
rich liveries, stood at the gate in a crowd surrounding a young
guitar-player; but they only laughed when they saw his besmeared face
and deigned him no reply. At length he learned that she was the
daughter of the Waiwode of Koven, who had come thither for a time. The
following night, with the daring characteristic of the student, he
crept through the palings into the garden and climbed a tree which
spread its branches upon the very roof of the house. From the tree he
gained the roof, and made his way down the chimney straight into the
bedroom of the beauty, who at that moment was seated before a lamp,
engaged in removing the costly earrings from her ears. The beautiful
Pole was so alarmed on suddenly beholding an unknown man that she
could not utter a single word; but when she perceived that the student
stood before her with downcast eyes, not daring to move a hand through
timidity, when she recognised in him the one who had fallen in the
street, laughter again overpowered her.
Moreover, there was nothing terrible about Andrii's features; he was
very handsome. She laughed heartily, and amused herself over him for
a long time. The lady was giddy, like all Poles; but her eyes--her
wondrous clear, piercing eyes--shot one glance, a long glance. The
student could not move hand or foot, but stood bound as in a sack,
when the Waiwode's daughter approached him boldly, placed upon his
head her glittering diadem, hung her earrings on his lips, and flung
over him a transparent muslin chemisette with gold-embroidered
garlands. She adorned him, and played a thousand foolish pranks, with
the childish carelessness which distinguishes the giddy Poles, and
which threw the poor student into still greater confusion.
He cut a ridiculous feature, gazing immovably, and with open mouth,
into her dazzling eyes. A knock at the door startled her. She ordered
him to hide himself under the bed, and, as soon as the disturber was
gone, called her maid, a Tatar prisoner, and gave her orders to
conduct him to the garden with caution, and thence show him through
the fence. But our student this time did not pass the fence so
successfully. The watchman awoke, and caught him firmly by the foot;
and the servants, assembling, beat him in the street, until his swift
legs rescued him. After that it became very dangerous to pass the
house, for the Waiwode's domestics were numerous. He met her once
again at church. She saw him, and smiled pleasantly, as at an old
acquaintance. He saw her once more, by chance; but shortly afterwards
the Waiwode departed, and, instead of the beautiful black-eyed Pole,
some fat face or other gazed from the window. This was what Andrii was
thinking about, as he hung his head and kept his eyes on his horse's
In the meantime the steppe had long since received them all into its
green embrace; and the high grass, closing round, concealed them, till
only their black Cossack caps appeared above it.
"Eh, eh, why are you so quiet, lads?" said Bulba at length, waking
from his own reverie. "You're like monks. Now, all thinking to the
Evil One, once for all! Take your pipes in your teeth, and let us
smoke, and spur on our horses so swiftly that no bird can overtake
And the Cossacks, bending low on their horses' necks, disappeared in
the grass. Their black caps were no longer to be seen; a streak of
trodden grass alone showed the trace of their swift flight.
The sun had long since looked forth from the clear heavens and
inundated the steppe with his quickening, warming light. All that was
dim and drowsy in the Cossacks' minds flew away in a twinkling: their
hearts fluttered like birds.
The farther they penetrated the steppe, the more beautiful it became.
Then all the South, all that region which now constitutes New Russia,
even as far as the Black Sea, was a green, virgin wilderness. No
plough had ever passed over the immeasurable waves of wild growth;
horses alone, hidden in it as in a forest, trod it down. Nothing in
nature could be finer. The whole surface resembled a golden-green
ocean, upon which were sprinkled millions of different flowers.
Through the tall, slender stems of the grass peeped light-blue,
dark-blue, and lilac star-thistles; the yellow broom thrust up its
pyramidal head; the parasol-shaped white flower of the false flax
shimmered on high. A wheat-ear, brought God knows whence, was filling
out to ripening. Amongst the roots of this luxuriant vegetation ran
partridges with outstretched necks. The air was filled with the notes
of a thousand different birds. On high hovered the hawks, their wings
outspread, and their eyes fixed intently on the grass. The cries of a
flock of wild ducks, ascending from one side, were echoed from God
knows what distant lake. From the grass arose, with measured sweep, a
gull, and skimmed wantonly through blue waves of air. And now she has
vanished on high, and appears only as a black dot: now she has turned
her wings, and shines in the sunlight. Oh, steppes, how beautiful you
Our travellers halted only a few minutes for dinner. Their escort of
ten Cossacks sprang from their horses and undid the wooden casks of
brandy, and the gourds which were used instead of drinking vessels.
They ate only cakes of bread and dripping; they drank but one cup
apiece to strengthen them, for Taras Bulba never permitted
intoxication upon the road, and then continued their journey until
In the evening the whole steppe changed its aspect. All its varied
expanse was bathed in the last bright glow of the sun; and as it grew
dark gradually, it could be seen how the shadow flitted across it and
it became dark green. The mist rose more densely; each flower, each
blade of grass, emitted a fragrance as of ambergris, and the whole
steppe distilled perfume. Broad bands of rosy gold were streaked
across the dark blue heaven, as with a gigantic brush; here and there
gleamed, in white tufts, light and transparent clouds: and the
freshest, most enchanting of gentle breezes barely stirred the tops of
the grass-blades, like sea-waves, and caressed the cheek. The music
which had resounded through the day had died away, and given place to
another. The striped marmots crept out of their holes, stood erect on
their hind legs, and filled the steppe with their whistle. The whirr
of the grasshoppers had become more distinctly audible. Sometimes the
cry of the swan was heard from some distant lake, ringing through the
air like a silver trumpet. The travellers, halting in the midst of the
plain, selected a spot for their night encampment, made a fire, and
hung over it the kettle in which they cooked their oatmeal; the steam
rising and floating aslant in the air. Having supped, the Cossacks lay
down to sleep, after hobbling their horses and turning them out to
graze. They lay down in their gaberdines. The stars of night gazed
directly down upon them. They could hear the countless myriads of
insects which filled the grass; their rasping, whistling, and
chirping, softened by the fresh air, resounded clearly through the
night, and lulled the drowsy ear. If one of them rose and stood for a
time, the steppe presented itself to him strewn with the sparks of
glow-worms. At times the night sky was illumined in spots by the glare
of burning reeds along pools or river-bank; and dark flights of swans
flying to the north were suddenly lit up by the silvery, rose-coloured
gleam, till it seemed as though red kerchiefs were floating in the
The travellers proceeded onward without any adventure. They came
across no villages. It was ever the same boundless, waving, beautiful
steppe. Only at intervals the summits of distant forests shone blue,
on one hand, stretching along the banks of the Dnieper. Once only did
Taras point out to his sons a small black speck far away amongst the
grass, saying, "Look, children! yonder gallops a Tatar." The little
head with its long moustaches fixed its narrow eyes upon them from
afar, its nostrils snuffing the air like a greyhound's, and then
disappeared like an antelope on its owner perceiving that the Cossacks
were thirteen strong. "And now, children, don't try to overtake the
Tatar! You would never catch him to all eternity; he has a horse
swifter than my Devil." But Bulba took precautions, fearing hidden
ambushes. They galloped along the course of a small stream, called the
Tatarka, which falls into the Dnieper; rode into the water and swam
with their horses some distance in order to conceal their trail. Then,
scrambling out on the bank, they continued their road.
Three days later they were not far from the goal of their journey. The
air suddenly grew colder: they could feel the vicinity of the Dnieper.
And there it gleamed afar, distinguishable on the horizon as a dark
band. It sent forth cold waves, spreading nearer, nearer, and finally
seeming to embrace half the entire surface of the earth. This was that
section of its course where the river, hitherto confined by the
rapids, finally makes its own away and, roaring like the sea, rushes
on at will; where the islands, flung into its midst, have pressed it
farther from their shores, and its waves have spread widely over the
earth, encountering neither cliffs nor hills. The Cossacks, alighting
from their horses, entered the ferry-boat, and after a three hours'
sail reached the shores of the island of Khortitz, where at that time
stood the Setch, which so often changed its situation.
A throng of people hastened to the shore with boats. The Cossacks
arranged the horses' trappings. Taras assumed a stately air, pulled
his belt tighter, and proudly stroked his moustache. His sons also
inspected themselves from head to foot, with some apprehension and an
undefined feeling of satisfaction; and all set out together for the
suburb, which was half a verst from the Setch. On their arrival, they
were deafened by the clang of fifty blacksmiths' hammers beating upon
twenty-five anvils sunk in the earth. Stout tanners seated beneath
awnings were scraping ox-hides with their strong hands; shop-keepers
sat in their booths, with piles of flints, steels, and powder before
them; Armenians spread out their rich handkerchiefs; Tatars turned
their kabobs upon spits; a Jew, with his head thrust forward, was
filtering some corn-brandy from a cask. But the first man they
encountered was a Zaporozhetz who was sleeping in the very middle
of the road with legs and arms outstretched. Taras Bulba could not
refrain from halting to admire him. "How splendidly developed he is;
phew, what a magnificent figure!" he said, stopping his horse. It was,
in fact, a striking picture. This Zaporozhetz had stretched himself
out in the road like a lion; his scalp-lock, thrown proudly behind
him, extended over upwards of a foot of ground; his trousers of rich
red cloth were spotted with tar, to show his utter disdain for them.
Having admired to his heart's content, Bulba passed on through the
narrow street, crowded with mechanics exercising their trades, and
with people of all nationalities who thronged this suburb of the
Setch, resembling a fair, and fed and clothed the Setch itself, which
knew only how to revel and burn powder.
 Sometimes written Zaporovian.
At length they left the suburb behind them, and perceived some
scattered kurens, covered with turf, or in Tatar fashion with felt.
Some were furnished with cannon. Nowhere were any fences visible, or
any of those low-roofed houses with verandahs supported upon low
wooden pillars, such as were seen in the suburb. A low wall and a
ditch, totally unguarded, betokened a terrible degree of recklessness.
Some sturdy Zaporozhtzi lying, pipe in mouth, in the very road,
glanced indifferently at them, but never moved from their places.
Taras threaded his way carefully among them, with his sons, saying,
"Good-day, gentles."--"Good-day to you," answered the Zaporozhtzi.
Scattered over the plain were picturesque groups. From their
weatherbeaten faces, it was plain that all were steeled in battle, and
had faced every sort of bad weather. And there it was, the Setch!
There was the lair from whence all those men, proud and strong as
lions, issued forth! There was the spot whence poured forth liberty
and Cossacks all over the Ukraine.
 Enormous wooden sheds, each inhabited by a troop or kuren.
The travellers entered the great square where the council generally
met. On a huge overturned cask sat a Zaporozhetz without his shirt; he
was holding it in his hands, and slowly sewing up the holes in it.
Again their way was stopped by a whole crowd of musicians, in the
midst of whom a young Zaporozhetz was dancing, with head thrown back
and arms outstretched. He kept shouting, "Play faster, musicians!
Begrudge not, Thoma, brandy to these orthodox Christians!" And Thoma,
with his blackened eye, went on measuring out without stint, to every
one who presented himself, a huge jugful.
About the youthful Zaporozhetz four old men, moving their feet quite
briskly, leaped like a whirlwind to one side, almost upon the
musicians' heads, and, suddenly, retreating, squatted down and drummed
the hard earth vigorously with their silver heels. The earth hummed
dully all about, and afar the air resounded with national dance tunes
beaten by the clanging heels of their boots.
But one shouted more loudly than all the rest, and flew after the
others in the dance. His scalp-lock streamed in the wind, his muscular
chest was bare, his warm, winter fur jacket was hanging by the
sleeves, and the perspiration poured from him as from a pig. "Take off
your jacket!" said Taras at length: "see how he steams!"--"I can't,"
shouted the Cossack. "Why?"--"I can't: I have such a disposition that
whatever I take off, I drink up." And indeed, the young fellow had not
had a cap for a long time, nor a belt to his caftan, nor an
embroidered neckerchief: all had gone the proper road. The throng
increased; more folk joined the dancer: and it was impossible to
observe without emotion how all yielded to the impulse of the dance,
the freest, the wildest, the world has ever seen, still called from
its mighty originators, the Kosachka.
"Oh, if I had no horse to hold," exclaimed Taras, "I would join the
Meanwhile there began to appear among the throng men who were
respected for their prowess throughout all the Setch--old greyheads
who had been leaders more than once. Taras soon found a number of
familiar faces. Ostap and Andrii heard nothing but greetings. "Ah, it
is you, Petcheritza! Good day, Kozolup!"--"Whence has God brought you,
Taras?"--"How did you come here, Doloto? Health to you, Kirdyaga! Hail
to you, Gustui! Did I ever think of seeing you, Remen?" And these
heroes, gathered from all the roving population of Eastern Russia,
kissed each other and began to ask questions. "But what has become of
Kasyan? Where is Borodavka? and Koloper? and Pidsuitok?" And in reply,
Taras Bulba learned that Borodavka had been hung at Tolopan, that
Koloper had been flayed alive at Kizikirmen, that Pidsuitok's head had
been salted and sent in a cask to Constantinople. Old Bulba hung his
head and said thoughtfully, "They were good Cossacks."
Taras Bulba and his sons had been in the Setch about a week. Ostap and
Andrii occupied themselves but little with the science of war. The
Setch was not fond of wasting time in warlike exercises. The young
generation learned these by experience alone, in the very heat of
battles, which were therefore incessant. The Cossacks thought it a
nuisance to fill up the intervals of this instruction with any kind of
drill, except perhaps shooting at a mark, and on rare occasions with
horse-racing and wild-beast hunts on the steppes and in the forests.
All the rest of the time was devoted to revelry--a sign of the wide
diffusion of moral liberty. The whole of the Setch presented an
unusual scene: it was one unbroken revel; a ball noisily begun, which
had no end. Some busied themselves with handicrafts; others kept
little shops and traded; but the majority caroused from morning till
night, if the wherewithal jingled in their pockets, and if the booty
they had captured had not already passed into the hands of the
shopkeepers and spirit-sellers. This universal revelry had something
fascinating about it. It was not an assemblage of topers, who drank to
drown sorrow, but simply a wild revelry of joy. Every one who came
thither forgot everything, abandoned everything which had hitherto
interested him. He, so to speak, spat upon his past and gave himself
recklessly up to freedom and the good-fellowship of men of the same
stamp as himself--idlers having neither relatives nor home nor family,
nothing, in short, save the free sky and the eternal revel of their
souls. This gave rise to that wild gaiety which could not have sprung
from any other source. The tales and talk current among the assembled
crowd, reposing lazily on the ground, were often so droll, and
breathed such power of vivid narration, that it required all the
nonchalance of a Zaporozhetz to retain his immovable expression,
without even a twitch of the moustache--a feature which to this day
distinguishes the Southern Russian from his northern brethren. It was
drunken, noisy mirth; but there was no dark ale-house where a man
drowns thought in stupefying intoxication: it was a dense throng of
The only difference as regarded the students was that, instead of
sitting under the pointer and listening to the worn-out doctrines of a
teacher, they practised racing with five thousand horses; instead of
the field where they had played ball, they had the boundless
borderlands, where at the sight of them the Tatar showed his keen face
and the Turk frowned grimly from under his green turban. The
difference was that, instead of being forced to the companionship of
school, they themselves had deserted their fathers and mothers and
fled from their homes; that here were those about whose neck a rope
had already been wound, and who, instead of pale death, had seen life,
and life in all its intensity; those who, from generous habits, could
never keep a coin in their pockets; those who had thitherto regarded a
ducat as wealth, and whose pockets, thanks to the Jew revenue-farmers,
could have been turned wrong side out without any danger of anything
falling from them. Here were students who could not endure the
academic rod, and had not carried away a single letter from the
schools; but with them were also some who knew about Horace, Cicero,
and the Roman Republic. There were many leaders who afterwards
distinguished themselves in the king's armies; and there were numerous
clever partisans who cherished a magnanimous conviction that it was of
no consequence where they fought, so long as they did fight, since it
was a disgrace to an honourable man to live without fighting. There
were many who had come to the Setch for the sake of being able to say
afterwards that they had been there and were therefore hardened
warriors. But who was not there? This strange republic was a necessary
outgrowth of the epoch. Lovers of a warlike life, of golden beakers
and rich brocades, of ducats and gold pieces, could always find
employment there. The lovers of women alone could find naught, for no
woman dared show herself even in the suburbs of the Setch.
It seemed exceedingly strange to Ostap and Andrii that, although a
crowd of people had come to the Setch with them, not a soul inquired,
"Whence come these men? who are they? and what are their names?" They
had come thither as though returning to a home whence they had
departed only an hour before. The new-comer merely presented himself
to the Koschevoi, or head chief of the Setch, who generally said,
"Welcome! Do you believe in Christ?"--"I do," replied the new-comer.
"And do you believe in the Holy Trinity?"--"I do."--"And do you go to
church?"--"I do." "Now cross yourself." The new-comer crossed himself.
"Very good," replied the Koschevoi; "enter the kuren where you have
most acquaintances." This concluded the ceremony. And all the Setch
prayed in one church, and were willing to defend it to their last drop
of blood, although they would not hearken to aught about fasting or
abstinence. Jews, Armenians, and Tatars, inspired by strong avarice,
took the liberty of living and trading in the suburbs; for the
Zaporozhtzi never cared for bargaining, and paid whatever money their
hand chanced to grasp in their pocket. Moreover, the lot of these
gain-loving traders was pitiable in the extreme. They resembled people
settled at the foot of Vesuvius; for when the Zaporozhtzi lacked
money, these bold adventurers broke down their booths and took
everything gratis. The Setch consisted of over sixty kurens, each of
which greatly resembled a separate independent republic, but still
more a school or seminary of children, always ready for anything. No
one had any occupation; no one retained anything for himself;
everything was in the hands of the hetman of the kuren, who, on that
account, generally bore the title of "father." In his hands were
deposited the money, clothes, all the provisions, oatmeal, grain, even
the firewood. They gave him money to take care of. Quarrels amongst
the inhabitants of the kuren were not unfrequent; and in such cases
they proceeded at once to blows. The inhabitants of the kuren swarmed
into the square, and smote each other with their fists, until one side
had finally gained the upper hand, when the revelry began. Such was
the Setch, which had such an attraction for young men.
Ostap and Andrii flung themselves into this sea of dissipation with
all the ardour of youth, forgot in a trice their father's house, the
seminary, and all which had hitherto exercised their minds, and gave
themselves wholly up to their new life. Everything interested
them--the jovial habits of the Setch, and its chaotic morals and laws,
which even seemed to them too strict for such a free republic. If a
Cossack stole the smallest trifle, it was considered a disgrace to the
whole Cossack community. He was bound to the pillar of shame, and a
club was laid beside him, with which each passer-by was bound to deal
him a blow until in this manner he was beaten to death. He who did not
pay his debts was chained to a cannon, until some one of his comrades
should decide to ransom him by paying his debts for him. But what made
the deepest impression on Andrii was the terrible punishment decreed
for murder. A hole was dug in his presence, the murderer was lowered
alive into it, and over him was placed a coffin containing the body of
the man he had killed, after which the earth was thrown upon both.
Long afterwards the fearful ceremony of this horrible execution
haunted his mind, and the man who had been buried alive appeared to
him with his terrible coffin.
Both the young Cossacks soon took a good standing among their fellows.
They often sallied out upon the steppe with comrades from their kuren,
and sometimes too with the whole kuren or with neighbouring kurens, to
shoot the innumerable steppe-birds of every sort, deer, and goats. Or
they went out upon the lakes, the river, and its tributaries allotted
to each kuren, to throw their nets and draw out rich prey for the
enjoyment of the whole kuren. Although unversed in any trade exercised
by a Cossack, they were soon remarked among the other youths for their
obstinate bravery and daring in everything. Skilfully and accurately
they fired at the mark, and swam the Dnieper against the current--a
deed for which the novice was triumphantly received into the circle of
But old Taras was planning a different sphere of activity for them.
Such an idle life was not to his mind; he wanted active employment. He
reflected incessantly how to stir up the Setch to some bold
enterprise, wherein a man could revel as became a warrior. At length
he went one day to the Koschevoi, and said plainly:--
"Well, Koschevoi, it is time for the Zaporozhtzi to set out."
"There is nowhere for them to go," replied the Koschevoi, removing his
short pipe from his mouth and spitting to one side.
"What do you mean by nowhere? We can go to Turkey or Tatary."
"Impossible to go either to Turkey or Tatary," replied the Koschevoi,
putting his pipe coolly into his mouth again.
"It is so; we have promised the Sultan peace."
"But he is a Mussulman; and God and the Holy Scriptures command us to
"We have no right. If we had not sworn by our faith, it might be done;
but now it is impossible."
"How is it impossible? How can you say that we have no right? Here are
my two sons, both young men. Neither has been to war; and you say that
we have no right, and that there is no need for the Zaporozhtzi to set
out on an expedition."
"Well, it is not fitting."
"Then it must be fitting that Cossack strength should be wasted in
vain, that a man should disappear like a dog without having done a
single good deed, that he should be of no use to his country or to
Christianity! Why, then, do we live? What the deuce do we live for?
just tell me that. You are a sensible man, you were not chosen as
Koschevoi without reason: so just tell me what we live for?"
The Koschevoi made no reply to this question. He was an obstinate
Cossack. He was silent for a while, and then said, "Anyway, there will
not be war."
"There will not be war?" Taras asked again.
"Then it is no use thinking about it?"
"It is not to be thought of."
"Wait, you devil's limb!" said Taras to himself; "you shall learn to
know me!" and he at once resolved to have his revenge on the
Having made an agreement with several others, he gave them liquor; and
the drunken Cossacks staggered into the square, where on a post hung
the kettledrums which were generally beaten to assemble the people.
Not finding the sticks, which were kept by the drummer, they seized a
piece of wood and began to beat. The first to respond to the drum-beat
was the drummer, a tall man with but one eye, but a frightfully sleepy
one for all that.
"Who dares to beat the drum?" he shouted.
"Hold your tongue! take your sticks, and beat when you are ordered!"
replied the drunken men.
The drummer at once took from his pocket the sticks which he had
brought with him, well knowing the result of such proceedings. The
drum rattled, and soon black swarms of Cossacks began to collect like
bees in the square. All formed in a ring; and at length, after the
third summons, the chiefs began to arrive--the Koschevoi with staff in
hand, the symbol of his office; the judge with the army-seal; the
secretary with his ink-bottle; and the osaul with his staff. The
Koschevoi and the chiefs took off their caps and bowed on all sides to
the Cossacks, who stood proudly with their arms akimbo.
"What means this assemblage? what do you wish, gentles?" said the
Koschevoi. Shouts and exclamations interrupted his speech.
"Resign your staff! resign your staff this moment, you son of Satan!
we will have you no longer!" shouted some of the Cossacks in the
crowd. Some of the sober ones appeared to wish to oppose this, but
both sober and drunken fell to blows. The shouting and uproar became
The Koschevoi attempted to speak; but knowing that the self-willed
multitude, if enraged, might beat him to death, as almost always
happened in such cases, he bowed very low, laid down his staff, and
hid himself in the crowd.
"Do you command us, gentles, to resign our insignia of office?" said
the judge, the secretary, and the osaul, as they prepared to give up
the ink-horn, army-seal, and staff, upon the spot.
"No, you are to remain!" was shouted from the crowd. "We only wanted
to drive out the Koschevoi because he is a woman, and we want a man
"Whom do you now elect as Koschevoi?" asked the chiefs.
"We choose Kukubenko," shouted some.
"We won't have Kukubenko!" screamed another party: "he is too young;
the milk has not dried off his lips yet."
"Let Schilo be hetman!" shouted some: "make Schilo our Koschevoi!"
"Away with your Schilo!" yelled the crowd; "what kind of a Cossack is
he who is as thievish as a Tatar? To the devil in a sack with your
"Borodaty! let us make Borodaty our Koschevoi!"
"We won't have Borodaty! To the evil one's mother with Borodaty!"
"Shout Kirdyanga!" whispered Taras Bulba to several.
"Kirdyanga, Kirdyanga!" shouted the crowd. "Borodaty, Borodaty!
Kirdyanga, Kirdyanga! Schilo! Away with Schilo! Kirdyanga!"
All the candidates, on hearing their names mentioned, quitted the
crowd, in order not to give any one a chance of supposing that they
were personally assisting in their election.
"Kirdyanga, Kirdyanga!" echoed more strongly than the rest.
They proceeded to decide the matter by a show of hands, and Kirdyanga
"Fetch Kirdyanga!" they shouted. Half a score of Cossacks immediately
left the crowd--some of them hardly able to keep their feet, to such
an extent had they drunk--and went directly to Kirdyanga to inform him
of his election.
Kirdyanga, a very old but wise Cossack, had been sitting for some time
in his kuren, as if he knew nothing of what was going on.
"What is it, gentles? What do you wish?" he inquired.
"Come, they have chosen you for Koschevoi."
"Have mercy, gentles!" said Kirdyanga. "How can I be worthy of such
honour? Why should I be made Koschevoi? I have not sufficient capacity
to fill such a post. Could no better person be found in all the army?"
"Come, I say!" shouted the Zaporozhtzi. Two of them seized him by the
arms; and in spite of his planting his feet firmly they finally
dragged him to the square, accompanying his progress with shouts,
blows from behind with their fists, kicks, and exhortations. "Don't
hold back, you son of Satan! Accept the honour, you dog, when it is
given!" In this manner Kirdyanga was conducted into the ring of
"How now, gentles?" announced those who had brought him, "are you
agreed that this Cossack shall be your Koschevoi?"
"We are all agreed!" shouted the throng, and the whole plain trembled
for a long time afterwards from the shout.
One of the chiefs took the staff and brought it to the newly elected
Koschevoi. Kirdyanga, in accordance with custom, immediately refused
it. The chief offered it a second time; Kirdyanga again refused it,
and then, at the third offer, accepted the staff. A cry of approbation
rang out from the crowd, and again the whole plain resounded afar with
the Cossacks' shout. Then there stepped out from among the people the
four oldest of them all, white-bearded, white-haired Cossacks; though
there were no very old men in the Setch, for none of the Zaporozhtzi
ever died in their beds. Taking each a handful of earth, which recent
rain had converted into mud, they laid it on Kirdyanga's head. The wet
earth trickled down from his head on to his moustache and cheeks and
smeared his whole face. But Kirdyanga stood immovable in his place,
and thanked the Cossacks for the honour shown him.
Thus ended the noisy election, concerning which we cannot say whether
it was as pleasing to the others as it was to Bulba; by means of it he
had revenged himself on the former Koschevoi. Moreover, Kirdyanga was
an old comrade, and had been with him on the same expeditions by sea
and land, sharing the toils and hardships of war. The crowd
immediately dispersed to celebrate the election, and such revelry
ensued as Ostap and Andrii had not yet beheld. The taverns were
attacked and mead, corn-brandy, and beer seized without payment, the
owners being only too glad to escape with whole skins themselves. The
whole night passed amid shouts, songs, and rejoicings; and the rising
moon gazed long at troops of musicians traversing the streets with
guitars, flutes, tambourines, and the church choir, who were kept in
the Setch to sing in church and glorify the deeds of the Zaporozhtzi.
At length drunkenness and fatigue began to overpower even these strong
heads, and here and there a Cossack could be seen to fall to the
ground, embracing a comrade in fraternal fashion; whilst maudlin, and
even weeping, the latter rolled upon the earth with him. Here a whole
group would lie down in a heap; there a man would choose the most
comfortable position and stretch himself out on a log of wood. The
last, and strongest, still uttered some incoherent speeches; finally
even they, yielding to the power of intoxication, flung themselves
down and all the Setch slept.
But next day Taras Bulba had a conference with the new Koschevoi as to
the method of exciting the Cossacks to some enterprise. The Koschevoi,
a shrewd and sensible Cossack, who knew the Zaporozhtzi thoroughly,
said at first, "Oaths cannot be violated by any means"; but after a
pause added, "No matter, it can be done. We will not violate them, but
let us devise something. Let the people assemble, not at my summons,
but of their own accord. You know how to manage that; and I will
hasten to the square with the chiefs, as though we know nothing about
Not an hour had elapsed after their conversation, when the drums again
thundered. The drunken and senseless Cossacks assembled. A myriad
Cossack caps were sprinkled over the square. A murmur arose, "Why?
What? Why was the assembly beaten?" No one answered. At length, in one
quarter and another, it began to be rumoured about, "Behold, the
Cossack strength is being vainly wasted: there is no war! Behold, our
leaders have become as marmots, every one; their eyes swim in fat!
Plainly, there is no justice in the world!" The other Cossacks
listened at first, and then began themselves to say, "In truth, there
is no justice in the world!" Their leaders seemed surprised at these
utterances. Finally the Koschevoi stepped forward: "Permit me,
Cossacks, to address you."
"Touching the matter in question, gentles, none know better than
yourselves that many Zaporozhtzi have run in debt to the Jew ale-house
keepers and to their brethren, so that now they have not an atom of
credit. Again, touching the matter in question, there are many young
fellows who have no idea of what war is like, although you know,
gentles, that without war a young man cannot exist. How make a
Zaporozhetz out of him if he has never killed a Mussulman?"
"He speaks well," thought Bulba.
"Think not, however, gentles, that I speak thus in order to break the
truce; God forbid! I merely mention it. Besides, it is a shame to see
what sort of church we have for our God. Not only has the church
remained without exterior decoration during all the years which by
God's mercy the Setch has stood, but up to this day even the holy
pictures have no adornments. No one has even thought of making them a
silver frame; they have only received what some Cossacks have left
them in their wills; and these gifts were poor, since they had drunk
up nearly all they had during their lifetime. I am making you this
speech, therefore, not in order to stir up a war against the
Mussulmans; we have promised the Sultan peace, and it would be a great
sin in us to break this promise, for we swore it on our law."
"What is he mixing things up like that for?" said Bulba to himself.
"So you see, gentles, that war cannot be begun; honour does not permit
it. But according to my poor opinion, we might, I think, send out a
few young men in boats and let them plunder the coasts of Anatolia a
little. What do you think, gentles?"
"Lead us, lead us all!" shouted the crowd on all sides. "We are ready
to lay down our lives for our faith."
The Koschevoi was alarmed. He by no means wished to stir up all
Zaporozhe; a breach of the truce appeared to him on this occasion
unsuitable. "Permit me, gentles, to address you further."
"Enough!" yelled the Cossacks; "you can say nothing better."
"If it must be so, then let it be so. I am the slave of your will. We
know, and from Scripture too, that the voice of the people is the
voice of God. It is impossible to devise anything better than the
whole nation has devised. But here lies the difficulty; you know,
gentles, that the Sultan will not permit that which delights our young
men to go unpunished. We should be prepared at such a time, and our
forces should be fresh, and then we should fear no one. But during
their absence the Tatars may assemble fresh forces; the dogs do not
show themselves in sight and dare not come while the master is at
home, but they can bite his heels from behind, and bite painfully too.
And if I must tell you the truth, we have not boats enough, nor powder
ready in sufficient quantity, for all to go. But I am ready, if you
please; I am the slave of your will."
The cunning hetman was silent. The various groups began to discuss the
matter, and the hetmans of the kurens to take counsel together; few
were drunk fortunately, so they decided to listen to reason.
A number of men set out at once for the opposite shore of the Dnieper,
to the treasury of the army, where in strictest secrecy, under water
and among the reeds, lay concealed the army chest and a portion of the
arms captured from the enemy. Others hastened to inspect the boats and
prepare them for service. In a twinkling the whole shore was thronged
with men. Carpenters appeared with axes in their hands. Old,
weatherbeaten, broad-shouldered, strong-legged Zaporozhtzi, with black
or silvered moustaches, rolled up their trousers, waded up to their
knees in water, and dragged the boats on to the shore with stout
ropes; others brought seasoned timber and all sorts of wood. The boats
were freshly planked, turned bottom upwards, caulked and tarred, and
then bound together side by side after Cossack fashion, with long
strands of reeds, so that the swell of the waves might not sink them.
Far along the shore they built fires and heated tar in copper
cauldrons to smear the boats. The old and the experienced instructed
the young. The blows and shouts of the workers rose all over the
neighbourhood; the bank shook and moved about.
About this time a large ferry-boat began to near the shore. The mass
of people standing in it began to wave their hands from a distance.
They were Cossacks in torn, ragged gaberdines. Their disordered
garments, for many had on nothing but their shirts, with a short pipe
in their mouths, showed that they had either escaped from some
disaster or had caroused to such an extent that they had drunk up all
they had on their bodies. A short, broad-shouldered Cossack of about
fifty stepped out from the midst of them and stood in front. He
shouted and waved his hand more vigorously than any of the others; but
his words could not be heard for the cries and hammering of the
"Whence come you!" asked the Koschevoi, as the boat touched the shore.
All the workers paused in their labours, and, raising their axes and
chisels, looked on expectantly.
"From a misfortune!" shouted the short Cossack.
"Permit me, noble Zaporozhtzi, to address you."
"Or would you prefer to assemble a council?"
"Speak, we are all here."
The people all pressed together in one mass.
"Have you then heard nothing of what has been going on in the hetman's
"What is it?" inquired one of the kuren hetmans.
"Eh! what! Evidently the Tatars have plastered up your ears so that
you might hear nothing."
"Tell us then; what has been going on there?"
"That is going on the like of which no man born or christened ever yet
"Tell us what it is, you son of a dog!" shouted one of the crowd,
apparently losing patience.
"Things have come to such a pass that our holy churches are no longer
"How not ours?"
"They are pledged to the Jews. If the Jew is not first paid, there can
be no mass."
"What are you saying?"
"And if the dog of a Jew does not make a sign with his unclean hand
over the holy Easter-bread, it cannot be consecrated."
"He lies, brother gentles. It cannot be that an unclean Jew puts his
mark upon the holy Easter-bread."
"Listen! I have not yet told all. Catholic priests are going about all
over the Ukraine in carts. The harm lies not in the carts, but in the
fact that not horses, but orthodox Christians, are harnessed to
them. Listen! I have not yet told all. They say that the Jewesses are
making themselves petticoats out of our popes' vestments. Such are the
deeds that are taking place in the Ukraine, gentles! And you sit here
revelling in Zaporozhe; and evidently the Tatars have so scared you
that you have no eyes, no ears, no anything, and know nothing that is
going on in the world."
 That is of the Greek Church. The Poles were Catholics.
"Stop, stop!" broke in the Koschevoi, who up to that moment had stood
with his eyes fixed upon the earth like all Zaporozhtzi, who, on
important occasions, never yielded to their first impulse, but kept
silence, and meanwhile concentrated inwardly all the power of their
indignation. "Stop! I also have a word to say. But what were you
about? When your father the devil was raging thus, what were you doing
yourselves? Had you no swords? How came you to permit such
"Eh! how did we come to permit such lawlessness? You would have tried
when there were fifty thousand of the Lyakhs alone; yes, and it is
a shame not to be concealed, when there are also dogs among us who
have already accepted their faith."
 Lyakhs, an opprobrious name for the Poles.
"But your hetman and your leaders, what have they done?"
"God preserve any one from such deeds as our leaders performed!"
"Our hetman, roasted in a brazen ox, now lies in Warsaw; and the heads
and hands of our leaders are being carried to all the fairs as a
spectacle for the people. That is what our leaders did."
The whole throng became wildly excited. At first silence reigned all
along the shore, like that which precedes a tempest; and then suddenly
voices were raised and all the shore spoke:--
"What! The Jews hold the Christian churches in pledge! Roman Catholic
priests have harnessed and beaten orthodox Christians! What! such
torture has been permitted on Russian soil by the cursed unbelievers!
And they have done such things to the leaders and the hetman? Nay,
this shall not be, it shall not be." Such words came from all
quarters. The Zaporozhtzi were moved, and knew their power. It was not
the excitement of a giddy-minded folk. All who were thus agitated were
strong, firm characters, not easily aroused, but, once aroused,
preserving their inward heat long and obstinately. "Hang all the
Jews!" rang through the crowd. "They shall not make petticoats for
their Jewesses out of popes' vestments! They shall not place their
signs upon the holy wafers! Drown all the heathens in the Dnieper!"
These words uttered by some one in the throng flashed like lightning
through all minds, and the crowd flung themselves upon the suburb with
the intention of cutting the throats of all the Jews.
The poor sons of Israel, losing all presence of mind, and not being in
any case courageous, hid themselves in empty brandy-casks, in ovens,
and even crawled under the skirts of their Jewesses; but the Cossacks
found them wherever they were.
"Gracious nobles!" shrieked one Jew, tall and thin as a stick,
thrusting his sorry visage, distorted with terror, from among a group
of his comrades, "gracious nobles! suffer us to say a word, only one
word. We will reveal to you what you never yet have heard, a thing
more important than I can say--very important!"
"Well, say it," said Bulba, who always liked to hear what an accused
man had to say.
"Gracious nobles," exclaimed the Jew, "such nobles were never seen, by
heavens, never! Such good, kind, and brave men there never were in the
world before!" His voice died away and quivered with fear. "How was it
possible that we should think any evil of the Zaporozhtzi? Those men
are not of us at all, those who have taken pledges in the Ukraine. By
heavens, they are not of us! They are not Jews at all. The evil one
alone knows what they are; they are only fit to be spit upon and cast
aside. Behold, my brethren, say the same! Is it not true, Schloma? is
it not true, Schmul?"
"By heavens, it is true!" replied Schloma and Schmul, from among the
crowd, both pale as clay, in their ragged caps.
"We never yet," continued the tall Jew, "have had any secret
intercourse with your enemies, and we will have nothing to do with
Catholics; may the evil one fly away with them! We are like own
brothers to the Zaporozhtzi."
"What! the Zaporozhtzi are brothers to you!" exclaimed some one in the
crowd. "Don't wait! the cursed Jews! Into the Dnieper with them,
gentles! Drown all the unbelievers!"
These words were the signal. They seized the Jews by the arms and
began to hurl them into the waves. Pitiful cries resounded on all
sides; but the stern Zaporozhtzi only laughed when they saw the Jewish
legs, cased in shoes and stockings, struggling in the air. The poor
orator who had called down destruction upon himself jumped out of the
caftan, by which they had seized him, and in his scant parti-coloured
under waistcoat clasped Bulba's legs, and cried, in piteous tones,
"Great lord! gracious noble! I knew your brother, the late Doroscha.
He was a warrior who was an ornament to all knighthood. I gave him
eight hundred sequins when he was obliged to ransom himself from the
"You knew my brother?" asked Taras.
"By heavens, I knew him. He was a magnificent nobleman."
"And what is your name?"
"Good," said Taras; and after reflecting, he turned to the Cossacks
and spoke as follows: "There will always be plenty of time to hang the
Jew, if it proves necessary; but for to-day give him to me."
So saying, Taras led him to his waggon, beside which stood his
Cossacks. "Crawl under the waggon; lie down, and do not move. And you,
brothers, do not surrender this Jew."
So saying, he returned to the square, for the whole crowd had long
since collected there. All had at once abandoned the shore and the
preparation of the boats; for a land-journey now awaited them, and not
a sea-voyage, and they needed horses and waggons, not ships. All, both
young and old, wanted to go on the expedition; and it was decided, on
the advice of the chiefs, the hetmans of the kurens, and the
Koschevoi, and with the approbation of the whole Zaporozhtzian army,
to march straight to Poland, to avenge the injury and disgrace to
their faith and to Cossack renown, to seize booty from the cities, to
burn villages and grain, and spread their glory far over the steppe.
All at once girded and armed themselves. The Koschevoi grew a whole
foot taller. He was no longer the timid executor of the restless
wishes of a free people, but their untrammelled master. He was a
despot, who know only to command. All the independent and
pleasure-loving warriors stood in an orderly line, with respectfully
bowed heads, not venturing to raise their eyes, when the Koschevoi
gave his orders. He gave these quietly, without shouting and without
haste, but with pauses between, like an experienced man deeply learned
in Cossack affairs, and carrying into execution, not for the first
time, a wisely matured enterprise.
"Examine yourselves, look well to yourselves; examine all your
equipments thoroughly," he said; "put your teams and your tar-boxes
in order; test your weapons. Take not many clothes with you: a shirt
and a couple of pairs of trousers to each Cossack, and a pot of
oatmeal and millet apiece--let no one take any more. There will be
plenty of provisions, all that is needed, in the waggons. Let every
Cossack have two horses. And two hundred yoke of oxen must be taken,
for we shall require them at the fords and marshy places. Keep order,
gentles, above all things. I know that there are some among you whom
God has made so greedy that they would like to tear up silk and velvet
for foot-cloths. Leave off such devilish habits; reject all garments
as plunder, and take only weapons: though if valuables offer
themselves, ducats or silver, they are useful in any case. I tell you
this beforehand, gentles, if any one gets drunk on the expedition, he
will have a short shrift: I will have him dragged by the neck like a
dog behind the baggage waggons, no matter who he may be, even were he
the most heroic Cossack in the whole army; he shall be shot on the
spot like a dog, and flung out, without sepulture, to be torn by the
birds of prey, for a drunkard on the march deserves no Christian
burial. Young men, obey the old men in all things! If a ball grazes
you, or a sword cuts your head or any other part, attach no importance
to such trifles. Mix a charge of powder in a cup of brandy, quaff it
heartily, and all will pass off--you will not even have any fever; and
if the wound is large, put simple earth upon it, mixing it first with
spittle in your palm, and that will dry it up. And now to work, to
work, lads, and look well to all, and without haste."
 The Cossack waggons have their axles smeared with tar instead of
So spoke the Koschevoi; and no sooner had he finished his speech than
all the Cossacks at once set to work. All the Setch grew sober.
Nowhere was a single drunken man to be found, it was as though there
never had been such a thing among the Cossacks. Some attended to the
tyres of the wheels, others changed the axles of the waggons; some
carried sacks of provisions to them or leaded them with arms; others
again drove up the horses and oxen. On all sides resounded the tramp
of horses' hoofs, test-shots from the guns, the clank of swords, the
lowing of oxen, the screech of rolling waggons, talking, sharp cries
and urging-on of cattle. Soon the Cossack force spread far over all
the plain; and he who might have undertaken to run from its van to its
rear would have had a long course. In the little wooden church the
priest was offering up prayers and sprinkling all worshippers with
holy water. All kissed the cross. When the camp broke up and the army
moved out of the Setch, all the Zaporozhtzi turned their heads back.
"Farewell, our mother!" they said almost in one breath. "May God
preserve thee from all misfortune!"
As he passed through the suburb, Taras Bulba saw that his Jew, Yankel,
had already erected a sort of booth with an awning, and was selling
flint, screwdrivers, powder, and all sorts of military stores needed
on the road, even to rolls and bread. "What devils these Jews are!"
thought Taras; and riding up to him, he said, "Fool, why are you
sitting here? do you want to be shot like a crow?"
Yankel in reply approached nearer, and making a sign with both hands,
as though wishing to impart some secret, said, "Let the noble lord but
keep silence and say nothing to any one. Among the Cossack waggons is
a waggon of mine. I am carrying all sorts of needful stores for the
Cossacks, and on the journey I will furnish every sort of provisions
at a lower price than any Jew ever sold at before. 'Tis so, by
heavens! by heavens, 'tis so!"
Taras Bulba shrugged his shoulders in amazement at the Jewish nature,
and went on to the camp.
All South-west 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 and scattered after the manner of that
lawless, reckless age, when they built neither fortresses nor castles,
but each man erected a temporary dwelling of straw wherever he
happened to find himself. He thought, "It is useless to waste money
and labour on an izba, when the roving Tatars will carry it off in any
case." All was in an uproar: one exchanged his plough and oxen for a
horse and gun, and joined an armed band; another, seeking concealment,
drove off his cattle and carried off all the household stuff he could.
Occasionally, on the road, some were encountered who met their
visitors with arms in their hands; but the majority fled before their
arrival. All knew that it was hard to deal with the raging and warlike
throng known by the name of the Zaporozhian army; a body which, under
its independent and disorderly exterior, concealed an organisation
well calculated for times of battle. The horsemen rode steadily on
without overburdening or heating their horses; the foot-soldiers
marched only by night, resting during the day, and selecting for this
purpose desert tracts, uninhabited spots, and forests, of which there
were then plenty. Spies and scouts were sent ahead to study the time,
place, and method of attack. And lo! the Zaporozhtzi suddenly appeared
in those places where they were least expected: then all were put to
the sword; the villages were burned; and the horses and cattle which
were not driven off behind the army killed upon the spot. They seemed
to be fiercely revelling, rather than carrying out a military
expedition. Our hair would stand on end nowadays at the horrible
traits of that fierce, half-civilised age, which the Zaporozhtzi
everywhere exhibited: children killed, women's breasts cut open, the
skin flayed from the legs up to the knees, and the victim then set at
liberty. In short, the Cossacks paid their former debts in coin of
full weight. The abbot of one monastery, on hearing of their approach,
sent two monks to say that they were not behaving as they should; that
there was an agreement between the Zaporozhtzi and the government;
that they were breaking faith with the king, and violating all
international rights. "Tell your bishop from me and from all the
Zaporozhtzi," said the Koschevoi, "that he has nothing to fear: the
Cossacks, so far, have only lighted and smoked their pipes." And the
magnificent abbey was soon wrapped in the devouring flames, its tall
Gothic windows showing grimly through the waves of fire as they
parted. The fleeing mass of monks, women, and Jews thronged into those
towns where any hope lay in the garrison and the civic forces. The aid
sent in season by the government, but delayed on the way, consisted of
a few troops which either were unable to enter the towns or, seized
with fright, turned their backs at the very first encounter and fled
on their swift horses. However, several of the royal commanders, who
had conquered in former battles, resolved to unite their forces and
confront the Zaporozhtzi.
And here, above all, did our young Cossacks, disgusted with pillage,
greed, and a feeble foe, and burning with the desire to distinguish
themselves in presence of their chiefs, seek to measure themselves in
single combat with the warlike and boastful Lyakhs, prancing on their
spirited horses, with the sleeves of their jackets thrown back and
streaming in the wind. This game was inspiriting; they won at it many
costly sets of horse-trappings and valuable weapons. In a month the
scarcely fledged birds attained their full growth, were completely
transformed, and became men; their features, in which hitherto a trace
of youthful softness had been visible, grew strong and grim. But it
was pleasant to old Taras to see his sons among the foremost. It
seemed as though Ostap were designed by nature for the game of war and
the difficult science of command. Never once losing his head or
becoming confused under any circumstances, he could, with a cool
audacity almost supernatural in a youth of two-and-twenty, in an
instant gauge the danger and the whole scope of the matter, could at
once devise a means of escaping, but of escaping only that he might
the more surely conquer. His movements now began to be marked by the
assurance which comes from experience, and in them could be detected
the germ of the future leader. His person strengthened, and his
bearing grew majestically leonine. "What a fine leader he will make
one of these days!" said old Taras. "He will make a splendid leader,
far surpassing even his father!"
Andrii gave himself up wholly to the enchanting music of blades and
bullets. He knew not what it was to consider, or calculate, or to
measure his own as against the enemy's strength. He gazed on battle
with mad delight and intoxication: he found something festal in the
moments when a man's brain burns, when all things wave and flutter
before his eyes, when heads are stricken off, horses fall to the earth
with a sound of thunder, and 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 aimed at himself. More than once their father
marvelled too at Andrii, seeing him, stirred only by a flash of
impulse, dash at something which a sensible man in cold blood never
would have attempted, and, by the sheer force of his mad attack,
accomplish such wonders as could not but amaze even men grown old in
battle. Old Taras admired and said, "And he too will make a good
warrior if the enemy does not capture him meanwhile. He is not Ostap,
but he is a dashing warrior, nevertheless."
The army decided to march straight on the city of Dubno, which, rumour
said, contained much wealth and many rich inhabitants. The journey was
accomplished in a day and a half, and the Zaporozhtzi appeared before
the city. The inhabitants resolved to defend themselves to the utmost
extent of their power, and to fight to the last extremity, preferring
to die in their squares and streets, and on their thresholds, rather
than admit the enemy to their houses. A high rampart of earth
surrounded the city; and in places where it was low or weak, it was
strengthened by a wall of stone, or a house which served as a redoubt,
or even an oaken stockade. The garrison was strong and aware of the
importance of their position. The Zaporozhtzi attacked the wall
fiercely, but were met with a shower of grapeshot. The citizens and