Part 3 out of 6
that of a river swan, and a snowy neck and shoulders, and all that is
created for rapturous kisses.
"Hey there, lads! only draw him to the forest, entice him to the
forest for me!" shouted Taras. Instantly thirty of the smartest
Cossacks volunteered to entice him thither; and setting their tall
caps firmly spurred their horses straight at a gap in the hussars.
They attacked the front ranks in flank, beat them down, cut them off
from the rear ranks, and slew many of them. Golopuitenko struck Andrii
on the back with his sword, and immediately set out to ride away at
the top of his speed. How Andrii flew after him! How his young blood
coursed through all his veins! Driving his sharp spurs into his
horse's flanks, he tore along after the Cossacks, never glancing back,
and not perceiving that only twenty men at the most were following
him. The Cossacks fled at full gallop, and directed their course
straight for the forest. Andrii overtook them, and was on the point of
catching Golopuitenko, when a powerful hand seized his horse's bridle.
Andrii looked; before him stood Taras! He trembled all over, and
turned suddenly pale, like a student who, receiving a blow on the
forehead with a ruler, flushes up like fire, springs in wrath from his
seat to chase his comrade, and suddenly encounters his teacher
entering the classroom; in the instant his wrathful impulse calms down
and his futile anger vanishes. In this wise, in an instant, Andrii's
wrath was as if it had never existed. And he beheld before him only
his terrible father.
"Well, what are we going to do now?" said Taras, looking him straight
in the eyes. But Andrii could make no reply to this, and stood with
his eyes fixed on the ground.
"Well, son; did your Lyakhs help you?"
Andrii made no answer.
"To think that you should be such a traitor! that you should betray
your faith! betray your comrades! Dismount from your horse!"
Obedient as a child, he dismounted, and stood before Taras more dead
"Stand still, do not move! I gave you life, I will also kill you!"
said Taras, and, retreating a step backwards, he brought his gun up to
his shoulder. Andrii was white as a sheet; his lips moved gently, and
he uttered a name; but it was not the name of his native land, nor of
his mother, nor his brother; it was the name of the beautiful Pole.
Like the ear of corn cut down by the reaping-hook, like the young lamb
when it feels the deadly steel in its heart, he hung his head and
rolled upon the grass without uttering a word.
The murderer of his son stood still, and gazed long upon the lifeless
body. Even in death he was very handsome; his manly face, so short a
time ago filled with power, and with an irresistible charm for every
woman, still had a marvellous beauty; his black brows, like sombre
velvet, set off his pale features.
"Is he not a true Cossack?" said Taras; "he is tall of stature, and
black-browed, his face is that of a noble, and his hand was strong in
battle! He is fallen! fallen without glory, like a vile dog!"
"Father, what have you done? Was it you who killed him?" said Ostap,
coming up at this moment.
Ostap gazed intently at the dead man. He was sorry for his brother,
and said at once: "Let us give him honourable burial, father, that the
foe may not dishonour his body, nor the birds of prey rend it."
"They will bury him without our help," said Taras; "there will be
plenty of mourners and rejoicers for him."
And he reflected for a couple of minutes, whether he should fling him
to the wolves for prey, or respect in him the bravery which every
brave man is bound to honour in another, no matter whom? Then he saw
Golopuitenko galloping towards them and crying: "Woe, hetman, the
Lyakhs have been reinforced, a fresh force has come to their rescue!"
Golopuitenko had not finished speaking when Vovtuzenko galloped up:
"Woe, hetman! a fresh force is bearing down upon us."
Vovtuzenko had not finished speaking when Pisarenko rushed up without
his horse: "Where are you, father? The Cossacks are seeking for you.
Hetman Nevelitchkiy is killed, Zadorozhniy is killed, and
Tcherevitchenko: but the Cossacks stand their ground; they will not
die without looking in your eyes; they want you to gaze upon them once
more before the hour of death arrives."
"To horse, Ostap!" said Taras, and hastened to find his Cossacks, to
look once more upon them, and let them behold their hetman once more
before the hour of death. But before they could emerge from the wood,
the enemy's force had already surrounded it on all sides, and horsemen
armed with swords and spears appeared everywhere between the trees.
"Ostap, Ostap! don't yield!" shouted Taras, and grasping his sword he
began to cut down all he encountered on every side. But six suddenly
sprang upon Ostap. They did it in an unpropitious hour: the head of
one flew off, another turned to flee, a spear pierced the ribs of a
third; a fourth, more bold, bent his head to escape the bullet, and
the bullet striking his horse's breast, the maddened animal reared,
fell back upon the earth, and crushed his rider under him. "Well done,
son! Well done, Ostap!" cried Taras: "I am following you." And he
drove off those who attacked him. Taras hewed and fought, dealing
blows at one after another, but still keeping his eye upon Ostap
ahead. He saw that eight more were falling upon his son. "Ostap,
Ostap! don't yield!" But they had already overpowered Ostap; one had
flung his lasso about his neck, and they had bound him, and were
carrying him away. "Hey, Ostap, Ostap!" shouted Taras, forcing his way
towards him, and cutting men down like cabbages to right and left.
"Hey, Ostap, Ostap!" But something at that moment struck him like a
heavy stone. All grew dim and confused before his eyes. In one moment
there flashed confusedly before him heads, spears, smoke, the gleam of
fire, tree-trunks, and leaves; and then he sank heavily to the earth
like a felled oak, and darkness covered his eyes.
"I have slept a long while!" said Taras, coming to his senses, as if
after a heavy drunken sleep, and trying to distinguish the objects
about him. A terrible weakness overpowered his limbs. The walls and
corners of a strange room were dimly visible before him. At length he
perceived that Tovkatch was seated beside him, apparently listening to
his every breath.
"Yes," thought Tovkatch, "you might have slept forever." But he said
nothing, only shook his finger, and motioned him to be silent.
"But tell me where I am now?" asked Taras, straining his mind, and
trying to recollect what had taken place.
"Be silent!" cried his companion sternly. "Why should you want to
know? Don't you see that you are all hacked to pieces? Here I have
been galloping with you for two weeks without taking a breath; and you
have been burnt up with fever and talking nonsense. This is the first
time you have slept quietly. Be silent if you don't wish to do
yourself an injury."
But Taras still tried to collect his thoughts and to recall what had
passed. "Well, the Lyakhs must have surrounded and captured me. I had
no chance of fighting my way clear from the throng."
"Be silent, I tell you, you devil's brat!" cried Tovkatch angrily, as
a nurse, driven beyond her patience, cries out at her unruly charge.
"What good will it do you to know how you got away? It is enough that
you did get away. Some people were found who would not abandon you;
let that be enough for you. It is something for me to have ridden all
night with you. You think that you passed for a common Cossack? No,
they have offered a reward of two thousand ducats for your head."
"And Ostap!" cried Taras suddenly, and tried to rise; for all at once
he recollected that Ostap had been seized and bound before his very
eyes, and that he was now in the hands of the Lyakhs. Grief
overpowered him. He pulled off and tore in pieces the bandages from
his wounds, and threw them far from him; he tried to say something,
but only articulated some incoherent words. Fever and delirium seized
upon him afresh, and he uttered wild and incoherent speeches.
Meanwhile his faithful comrade stood beside him, scolding and
showering harsh, reproachful words upon him without stint. Finally, he
seized him by the arms and legs, wrapped him up like a child, arranged
all his bandages, rolled him in an ox-hide, bound him with bast, and,
fastening him with ropes to his saddle, rode with him again at full
speed along the road.
"I'll get you there, even if it be not alive! I will not abandon your
body for the Lyakhs to make merry over you, and cut your body in twain
and fling it into the water. Let the eagle tear out your eyes if it
must be so; but let it be our eagle of the steppe and not a Polish
eagle, not one which has flown hither from Polish soil. I will bring
you, though it be a corpse, to the Ukraine!"
Thus spoke his faithful companion. He rode without drawing rein, day
and night, and brought Taras still insensible into the Zaporozhian
Setch itself. There he undertook to cure him, with unswerving care, by
the aid of herbs and liniments. He sought out a skilled Jewess, who
made Taras drink various potions for a whole month, and at length he
improved. Whether it was owing to the medicine or to his iron
constitution gaining the upper hand, at all events, in six weeks he
was on his feet. His wounds had closed, and only the scars of the
sabre-cuts showed how deeply injured the old Cossack had been. But he
was markedly sad and morose. Three deep wrinkles engraved themselves
upon his brow and never more departed thence. Then he looked around
him. All was new in the Setch; all his old companions were dead. Not
one was left of those who had stood up for the right, for faith and
brotherhood. And those who had gone forth with the Koschevoi in
pursuit of the Tatars, they also had long since disappeared. All had
perished. One had lost his head in battle; another had died for lack
of food, amid the salt marshes of the Crimea; another had fallen in
captivity and been unable to survive the disgrace. Their former
Koschevoi was no longer living, nor any of his old companions, and the
grass was growing over those once alert with power. He felt as one who
had given a feast, a great noisy feast. All the dishes had been
smashed in pieces; not a drop of wine was left anywhere; the guests
and servants had all stolen valuable cups and platters; and he, like
the master of the house, stood sadly thinking that it would have been
no feast. In vain did they try to cheer Taras and to divert his mind;
in vain did the long-bearded, grey-haired guitar-players come by twos
and threes to glorify his Cossack deeds. He gazed grimly and
indifferently at everything, with inappeasable grief printed on his
stolid face; and said softly, as he drooped his head, "My son, my
The Zaporozhtzi assembled for a raid by sea. Two hundred boats were
launched on the Dnieper, and Asia Minor saw those who manned them,
with their shaven heads and long scalp-locks, devote her thriving
shores to fire and sword; she saw the turbans of her Mahometan
inhabitants strewn, like her innumerable flowers, over the
blood-sprinkled fields, and floating along her river banks; she saw
many tarry Zaporozhian trousers, and strong hands with black
hunting-whips. The Zaporozhtzi ate up and laid waste all the
vineyards. In the mosques they left heaps of dung. They used rich
Persian shawls for sashes, and girded their dirty gaberdines with
them. Long afterwards, short Zaporozhian pipes were found in those
regions. They sailed merrily back. A ten-gun Turkish ship pursued them
and scattered their skiffs, like birds, with a volley from its guns. A
third part of them sank in the depths of the sea; but the rest again
assembled, and gained the mouth of the Dnieper with twelve kegs full
of sequins. But all this did not interest Taras. He went off upon the
steppe as though to hunt; but the charge remained in his gun, and,
laying down the weapon, he would seat himself sadly on the shores of
the sea. He sat there long with drooping head, repeating continually,
"My Ostap, my Ostap!" Before him spread the gleaming Black Sea; in the
distant reeds the sea-gull screamed. His grey moustache turned to
silver, and the tears fell one by one upon it.
At last Taras could endure it no longer. "Whatever happens, I must go
and find out what he is doing. Is he alive, or in the grave? I will
know, cost what it may!" Within a week he found himself in the city of
Ouman, fully armed, and mounted, with lance, sword, canteen, pot of
oatmeal, powder horn, cord to hobble his horse, and other equipments.
He went straight to a dirty, ill-kept little house, the small windows
of which were almost invisible, blackened as they were with some
unknown dirt. The chimney was wrapped in rags; and the roof, which was
full of holes, was covered with sparrows. A heap of all sorts of
refuse lay before the very door. From the window peered the head of a
Jewess, in a head-dress with discoloured pearls.
"Is your husband at home?" said Bulba, dismounting, and fastening his
horse's bridle to an iron hook beside the door.
"He is at home," said the Jewess, and hastened out at once with a
measure of corn for the horse, and a stoup of beer for the rider.
"Where is your Jew?"
"He is in the other room at prayer," replied the Jewess, bowing and
wishing Bulba good health as he raised the cup to his lips.
"Remain here, feed and water my horse, whilst I go speak with him
alone. I have business with him."
This Jew was the well-known Yankel. He was there as revenue-farmer and
tavern-keeper. He had gradually got nearly all the neighbouring
noblemen and gentlemen into his hands, had slowly sucked away most of
their money, and had strongly impressed his presence on that locality.
For a distance of three miles in all directions, not a single farm
remained in a proper state. All were falling in ruins; all had been
drunk away, and poverty and rags alone remained. The whole
neighbourhood was depopulated, as if after a fire or an epidemic; and
if Yankel had lived there ten years, he would probably have
depopulated the Waiwode's whole domains.
Taras entered the room. The Jew was praying, enveloped in his dirty
shroud, and was turning to spit for the last time, according to the
forms of his creed, when his eye suddenly lighted on Taras standing
behind him. The first thing that crossed Yankel's mind was the two
thousand ducats offered for his visitor's head; but he was ashamed of
his avarice, and tried to stifle within him the eternal thought of
gold, which twines, like a snake, about the soul of a Jew.
"Listen, Yankel," said Taras to the Jew, who began to bow low before
him, and as he spoke he shut the door so that they might not be seen,
"I saved your life: the Zaporozhtzi would have torn you to pieces like
a dog. Now it is your turn to do me a service."
The Jew's face clouded over a little.
"What service? If it is a service I can render, why should I not
"Ask no questions. Take me to Warsaw."
"To Warsaw? Why to Warsaw?" said the Jew, and his brows and shoulders
rose in amazement.
"Ask me nothing. Take me to Warsaw. I must see him once more at any
cost, and say one word to him."
"Say a word to whom?"
"To him--to Ostap--to my son."
"Has not my lord heard that already--"
"I know, I know all. They offer two thousand ducats for my head. They
know its value, fools! I will give you five thousand. Here are two
thousand on the spot," and Bulba poured out two thousand ducats from a
leather purse, "and the rest when I return."
The Jew instantly seized a towel and concealed the ducats under it.
"Ai, glorious money! ai, good money!" he said, twirling one gold piece
in his hand and testing it with his teeth. "I don't believe the man
from whom my lord took these fine gold pieces remained in the world an
hour longer; he went straight to the river and drowned himself, after
the loss of such magnificent gold pieces."
"I should not have asked you, I might possibly have found my own way
to Warsaw; but some one might recognise me, and then the cursed Lyakhs
would capture me, for I am not clever at inventions; whilst that is
just what you Jews are created for. You would deceive the very devil.
You know every trick: that is why I have come to you; and, besides, I
could do nothing of myself in Warsaw. Harness the horse to your waggon
at once and take me."
"And my lord thinks that I can take the nag at once, and harness him,
and say 'Get up, Dapple!' My lord thinks that I can take him just as
he is, without concealing him?"
"Well, hide me, hide me as you like: in an empty cask?"
"Ai, ai! and my lord thinks he can be concealed in an empty cask? Does
not my lord know that every man thinks that every cast he sees
"Well, let them think it is brandy."
"Let them think it is brandy?" said the Jew, and grasped his ear-locks
with both hands, and then raised them both on high.
"Well, why are you so frightened?"
"And does not my lord know that God has made brandy expressly for
every one to sip? They are all gluttons and fond of dainties there: a
nobleman will run five versts after a cask; he will make a hole in it,
and as soon as he sees that nothing runs out, he will say, 'A Jew does
not carry empty casks; there is certainly something wrong. Seize the
Jew, bind the Jew, take away all the Jew's money, put the Jew in
prison!' Then all the vile people will fall upon the Jew, for every
one takes a Jew for a dog; and they think he is not a man, but only a
"Then put me in the waggon with some fish over me."
"I cannot, my lord, by heaven, I cannot: all over Poland the people
are as hungry as dogs now. They will steal the fish, and feel my
"Then take me in the fiend's way, only take me."
"Listen, listen, my lord!" said the Jew, turning up the ends of his
sleeves, and approaching him with extended arms. "This is what we will
do. They are building fortresses and castles everywhere: French
engineers have come from Germany, and so a great deal of brick and
stone is being carried over the roads. Let my lord lie down in the
bottom of the waggon, and over him I will pile bricks. My lord is
strong and well, apparently, so he will not mind if it is a little
heavy; and I will make a hole in the bottom of the waggon in order to
feed my lord."
"Do what you will, only take me!"
In an hour, a waggon-load of bricks left Ouman, drawn by two sorry
nags. On one of them sat tall Yankel, his long, curling ear-locks
flowing from beneath his Jewish cap, as he bounced about on the horse,
like a verst-mark planted by the roadside.
At the time when these things took place, there were as yet on the
frontiers neither custom-house officials nor guards--those bugbears of
enterprising people--so that any one could bring across anything he
fancied. If any one made a search or inspection, he did it chiefly for
his own pleasure, especially if there happened to be in the waggon
objects attractive to his eye, and if his own hand possessed a certain
weight and power. But the bricks found no admirers, and they entered
the principal gate unmolested. Bulba, in his narrow cage, could only
hear the noise, the shouts of the driver, and nothing more. Yankel,
bouncing up and down on his dust-covered nag, turned, after making
several detours, into a dark, narrow street bearing the names of the
Muddy and also of the Jews' street, because Jews from nearly every
part of Warsaw were to be found here. This street greatly resembled a
back-yard turned wrong side out. The sun never seemed to shine into
it. The black wooden houses, with numerous poles projecting from the
windows, still further increased the darkness. Rarely did a brick wall
gleam red among them; for these too, in many places, had turned quite
black. Here and there, high up, a bit of stuccoed wall illumined by
the sun glistened with intolerable whiteness. Pipes, rags, shells,
broken and discarded tubs: every one flung whatever was useless to him
into the street, thus affording the passer-by an opportunity of
exercising all his five senses with the rubbish. A man on horseback
could almost touch with his hand the poles thrown across the street
from one house to another, upon which hung Jewish stockings, short
trousers, and smoked geese. Sometimes a pretty little Hebrew face,
adorned with discoloured pearls, peeped out of an old window. A group
of little Jews, with torn and dirty garments and curly hair, screamed
and rolled about in the dirt. A red-haired Jew, with freckles all over
his face which made him look like a sparrow's egg, gazed from a
window. He addressed Yankel at once in his gibberish, and Yankel at
once drove into a court-yard. Another Jew came along, halted, and
entered into conversation. When Bulba finally emerged from beneath the
bricks, he beheld three Jews talking with great warmth.
Yankel turned to him and said that everything possible would be done;
that his Ostap was in the city jail, and that although it would be
difficult to persuade the jailer, yet he hoped to arrange a meeting.
Bulba entered the room with the three Jews.
The Jews again began to talk among themselves in their
incomprehensible tongue. Taras looked hard at each of them. Something
seemed to have moved him deeply; over his rough and stolid countenance
a flame of hope spread, of hope such as sometimes visits a man in the
last depths of his despair; his aged heart began to beat violently as
though he had been a youth.
"Listen, Jews!" said he, and there was a triumphant ring in his words.
"You can do anything in the world, even extract things from the bottom
of the sea; and it has long been a proverb, that a Jew will steal from
himself if he takes a fancy to steal. Set my Ostap at liberty! give
him a chance to escape from their diabolical hands. I promised this
man five thousand ducats; I will add another five thousand: all that I
have, rich cups, buried gold, houses, all, even to my last garment, I
will part with; and I will enter into a contract with you for my whole
life, to give you half of all the booty I may gain in war."
"Oh, impossible, dear lord, it is impossible!" said Yankel with a
"Impossible," said another Jew.
All three Jews looked at each other.
"We might try," said the third, glancing timidly at the other two.
"God may favour us."
All three Jews discussed the matter in German. Bulba, in spite of his
straining ears, could make nothing of it; he only caught the word
"Mardokhai" often repeated.
"Listen, my lord!" said Yankel. "We must consult with a man such as
there never was before in the world . . . ugh, ugh! as wise as
Solomon; and if he will do nothing, then no one in the world can. Sit
here: this is the key; admit no one." The Jews went out into the
Taras locked the door, and looked out from the little window upon the
dirty Jewish street. The three Jews halted in the middle of the street
and began to talk with a good deal of warmth: a fourth soon joined
them, and finally a fifth. Again he heard repeated, "Mardokhai,
Mardokhai!" The Jews glanced incessantly towards one side of the
street; at length from a dirty house near the end of it emerged a foot
in a Jewish shoe and the skirts of a caftan. "Ah! Mardokhai,
Mardokhai!" shouted the Jews in one voice. A thin Jew somewhat shorter
than Yankel, but even more wrinkled, and with a huge upper lip,
approached the impatient group; and all the Jews made haste to talk to
him, interrupting each other. During the recital, Mardokhai glanced
several times towards the little window, and Taras divined that the
conversation concerned him.
Mardokhai waved his hands, listened, interrupted, spat frequently to
one side, and, pulling up the skirts of his caftan, thrust his hand
into his pocket and drew out some jingling thing, showing very dirty
trousers in the operation. Finally all the Jews set up such a shouting
that the Jew who was standing guard was forced to make a signal for
silence, and Taras began to fear for his safety; but when he
remembered that Jews can only consult in the street, and that the
demon himself cannot understand their language, he regained his
Two minutes later the Jews all entered the room together. Mardokhai
approached Taras, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, "When we set
to work it will be all right." Taras looked at this Solomon whom the
world had never known and conceived some hope: indeed, his face might
well inspire confidence. His upper lip was simply an object of horror;
its thickness being doubtless increased by adventitious circumstances.
This Solomon's beard consisted only of about fifteen hairs, and they
were on the left side. Solomon's face bore so many scars of battle,
received for his daring, that he had doubtless lost count of them long
before, and had grown accustomed to consider them as birthmarks.
Mardokhai departed, accompanied by his comrades, who were filled with
admiration at his wisdom. Bulba remained alone. He was in a strange,
unaccustomed situation for the first time in his life; he felt uneasy.
His mind was in a state of fever. He was no longer unbending,
immovable, strong as an oak, as he had formerly been: but felt timid
and weak. He trembled at every sound, at every fresh Jewish face which
showed itself at the end of the street. In this condition he passed
the whole day. He neither ate nor drank, and his eye never for a
moment left the small window looking on the street. Finally, late at
night, Mardokhai and Yankel made their appearance. Taras's heart died
"What news? have you been successful?" he asked with the impatience of
a wild horse.
But before the Jews had recovered breath to answer, Taras perceived
that Mardokhai no longer had the locks, which had formerly fallen in
greasy curls from under his felt cap. It was evident that he wished to
say something, but he uttered only nonsense which Taras could make
nothing of. Yankel himself put his hand very often to his mouth as
though suffering from a cold.
"Oh, dearest lord!" said Yankel: "it is quite impossible now! by
heaven, impossible! Such vile people that they deserve to be spit
upon! Mardokhai here says the same. Mardokhai has done what no man in
the world ever did, but God did not will that it should be so. Three
thousand soldiers are in garrison here, and to-morrow the prisoners
are all to be executed."
Taras looked the Jew straight in the face, but no longer with
impatience or anger.
"But if my lord wishes to see his son, then it must be early to-morrow
morning, before the sun has risen. The sentinels have consented, and
one gaoler has promised. But may he have no happiness in the world,
woe is me! What greedy people! There are none such among us: I gave
fifty ducats to each sentinel and to the gaoler."
"Good. Take me to him!" exclaimed Taras, with decision, and with all
his firmness of mind restored. He agreed to Yankel's proposition that
he should disguise himself as a foreign count, just arrived from
Germany, for which purpose the prudent Jew had already provided a
costume. It was already night. The master of the house, the red-haired
Jew with freckles, pulled out a mattress covered with some kind of
rug, and spread it on a bench for Bulba. Yankel lay upon the floor on
a similar mattress. The red-haired Jew drank a small cup of brandy,
took off his caftan, and betook himself--looking, in his shoes and
stockings, very like a lean chicken--with his wife, to something
resembling a cupboard. Two little Jews lay down on the floor beside
the cupboard, like a couple of dogs. But Taras did not sleep; he sat
motionless, drumming on the table with his fingers. He kept his pipe
in his mouth, and puffed out smoke, which made the Jew sneeze in his
sleep and pull his coverlet over his nose. Scarcely was the sky
touched with the first faint gleams of dawn than he pushed Yankel with
his foot, saying: "Rise, Jew, and give me your count's dress!"
In a moment he was dressed. He blackened his moustache and eyebrows,
put on his head a small dark cap; even the Cossacks who knew him best
would not have recognised him. Apparently he was not more than
thirty-five. A healthy colour glowed on his cheeks, and his scars lent
him an air of command. The gold-embroidered dress became him extremely
The streets were still asleep. Not a single one of the market folk as
yet showed himself in the city, with his basket on his arm. Yankel and
Bulba made their way to a building which presented the appearance of a
crouching stork. It was large, low, wide, and black; and on one side a
long slender tower like a stork's neck projected above the roof. This
building served for a variety of purposes; it was a barrack, a jail,
and the criminal court. The visitors entered the gate and found
themselves in a vast room, or covered courtyard. About a thousand men
were sleeping here. Straight before them was a small door, in front of
which sat two sentries playing at some game which consisted in one
striking the palm of the other's hand with two fingers. They paid
little heed to the new arrivals, and only turned their heads when
Yankel said, "It is we, sirs; do you hear? it is we."
"Go in!" said one of them, opening the door with one hand, and holding
out the other to his comrade to receive his blows.
They entered a low and dark corridor, which led them to a similar room
with small windows overhead. "Who goes there?" shouted several voices,
and Taras beheld a number of warriors in full armour. "We have been
ordered to admit no one."
"It is we!" cried Yankel; "we, by heavens, noble sirs!" But no one
would listen to him. Fortunately, at that moment a fat man came up,
who appeared to be a commanding officer, for he swore louder than all
"My lord, it is we! you know us, and the lord count will thank you."
"Admit them, a hundred fiends, and mother of fiends! Admit no one
else. And no one is to draw his sword, nor quarrel."
The conclusion of this order the visitors did not hear. "It is we, it
is I, it is your friends!" Yankel said to every one they met.
"Well, can it be managed now?" he inquired of one of the guards, when
they at length reached the end of the corridor.
"It is possible, but I don't know whether you will be able to gain
admission to the prison itself. Yana is not here now; another man is
keeping watch in his place," replied the guard.
"Ai, ai!" cried the Jew softly: "this is bad, my dear lord!"
"Go on!" said Taras, firmly, and the Jew obeyed.
At the arched entrance of the vaults stood a heyduke, with a moustache
trimmed in three layers: the upper layer was trained backwards, the
second straight forward, and the third downwards, which made him
greatly resemble a cat.
The Jew shrank into nothing and approached him almost sideways: "Your
high excellency! High and illustrious lord!"
"Are you speaking to me, Jew?"
"To you, illustrious lord."
"Hm, but I am merely a heyduke," said the merry-eyed man with the
"And I thought it was the Waiwode himself, by heavens! Ai, ai, ai!"
Thereupon the Jew twisted his head about and spread out his fingers.
"Ai, what a fine figure! Another finger's-breadth and he would be a
colonel. The lord no doubt rides a horse as fleet as the wind and
commands the troops!"
The heyduke twirled the lower tier of his moustache, and his eyes
"What a warlike people!" continued the Jew. "Ah, woe is me, what a
fine race! Golden cords and trappings that shine like the sun; and the
maidens, wherever they see warriors--Ai, ai!" Again the Jew wagged his
The heyduke twirled his upper moustache and uttered a sound somewhat
resembling the neighing of a horse.
"I pray my lord to do us a service!" exclaimed the Jew: "this prince
has come hither from a foreign land, and wants to get a look at the
Cossacks. He never, in all his life, has seen what sort of people the
The advent of foreign counts and barons was common enough in Poland:
they were often drawn thither by curiosity to view this half-Asiatic
corner of Europe. They regarded Moscow and the Ukraine as situated in
Asia. So the heyduke bowed low, and thought fit to add a few words of
"I do not know, your excellency," said he, "why you should desire to
see them. They are dogs, not men; and their faith is such as no one
"You lie, you son of Satan!" exclaimed Bulba. "You are a dog yourself!
How dare you say that our faith is not respected? It is your heretical
faith which is not respected."
"Oho!" said the heyduke. "I can guess who you are, my friend; you are
one of the breed of those under my charge. So just wait while I summon
Taras realised his indiscretion, but vexation and obstinacy hindered
him from devising a means of remedying it. Fortunately Yankel managed
to interpose at this moment:--
"Most noble lord, how is it possible that the count can be a Cossack?
If he were a Cossack, where could have he obtained such a dress, and
such a count-like mien?"
"Explain that yourself." And the heyduke opened his wide mouth to
"Your royal highness, silence, silence, for heaven's sake!" cried
Yankel. "Silence! we will pay you for it in a way you never dreamed
of: we will give you two golden ducats."
"Oho! two ducats! I can't do anything with two ducats. I give my
barber two ducats for only shaving the half of my beard. Give me a
hundred ducats, Jew." Here the heyduke twirled his upper moustache.
"If you don't, I will shout at once."
"Why so much?" said the Jew, sadly, turning pale, and undoing his
leather purse; but it was lucky that he had no more in it, and that
the heyduke could not count over a hundred.
"My lord, my lord, let us depart quickly! Look at the evil-minded
fellow!" said Yankel to Taras, perceiving that the heyduke was turning
the money over in his hand as though regretting that he had not
"What do you mean, you devil of a heyduke?" said Bulba. "What do you
mean by taking our money and not letting us see the Cossacks? No, you
must let us see them. Since you have taken the money, you have no
right to refuse."
"Go, go to the devil! If you won't, I'll give the alarm this moment.
Take yourselves off quickly, I say!"
"My lord, my lord, let us go! in God's name let us go! Curse him! May
he dream such things that he will have to spit," cried poor Yankel.
Bulba turned slowly, with drooping head, and retraced his steps,
followed by the complaints of Yankel who was sorrowing at the thought
of the wasted ducats.
"Why be angry? Let the dog curse. That race cannot help cursing. Oh,
woe is me, what luck God sends to some people! A hundred ducats merely
for driving us off! And our brother: they have torn off his ear-locks,
and they made wounds on his face that you cannot bear to look at, and
yet no one will give him a hundred gold pieces. O heavens! Merciful
But this failure made a much deeper impression on Bulba, expressed by
a devouring flame in his eyes.
"Let us go," he said, suddenly, as if arousing himself; "let us go to
the square. I want to see how they will torture him."
"Oh, my lord! why go? That will do us no good now."
"Let us go," said Bulba, obstinately; and the Jew followed him,
sighing like a nurse.
The square on which the execution was to take place was not hard to
find: for the people were thronging thither from all quarters. In that
savage age such a thing constituted one of the most noteworthy
spectacles, not only for the common people, but among the higher
classes. A number of the most pious old men, a throng of young girls,
and the most cowardly women, who dreamed the whole night afterwards of
their bloody corpses, and shrieked as loudly in their sleep as a
drunken hussar, missed, nevertheless, no opportunity of gratifying
their curiosity. "Ah, what tortures!" many of them would cry,
hysterically, covering their eyes and turning away; but they stood
their ground for a good while, all the same. Many a one, with gaping
mouth and outstretched hands, would have liked to jump upon other
folk's heads, to get a better view. Above the crowd towered a bulky
butcher, admiring the whole process with the air of a connoisseur, and
exchanging brief remarks with a gunsmith, whom he addressed as
"Gossip," because he got drunk in the same alehouse with him on
holidays. Some entered into warm discussions, others even laid wagers.
But the majority were of the species who, all the world over, look on
at the world and at everything that goes on in it and merely scratch
their noses. In the front ranks, close to the bearded civic-guards,
stood a young noble, in warlike array, who had certainly put his whole
wardrobe on his back, leaving only his torn shirt and old shoes at his
quarters. Two chains, one above the other, hung around his neck. He
stood beside his mistress, Usisya, and glanced about incessantly to
see that no one soiled her silk gown. He explained everything to her
so perfectly that no one could have added a word. "All these people
whom you see, my dear Usisya," he said, "have come to see the
criminals executed; and that man, my love, yonder, holding the axe and
other instruments in his hands, is the executioner, who will despatch
them. When he begins to break them on the wheel, and torture them in
other ways, the criminals will still be alive; but when he cuts off
their heads, then, my love, they will die at once. Before that, they
will cry and move; but as soon as their heads are cut off, it will be
impossible for them to cry, or to eat or drink, because, my dear, they
will no longer have any head." Usisya listened to all this with terror
The upper stories of the houses were filled with people. From the
windows in the roof peered strange faces with beards and something
resembling caps. Upon the balconies, beneath shady awnings, sat the
aristocracy. The hands of smiling young ladies, brilliant as white
sugar, rested on the railings. Portly nobles looked on with dignity.
Servants in rich garb, with flowing sleeves, handed round various
refreshments. Sometimes a black-eyed young rogue would take her cake
or fruit and fling it among the crowd with her own noble little hand.
The crowd of hungry gentles held up their caps to receive it; and some
tall noble, whose head rose amid the throng, with his faded red jacket
and discoloured gold braid, and who was the first to catch it with the
aid of his long arms, would kiss his booty, press it to his heart, and
finally put it in his mouth. The hawk, suspended beneath the balcony
in a golden cage, was also a spectator; with beak inclined to one
side, and with one foot raised, he, too, watched the people
attentively. But suddenly a murmur ran through the crowd, and a rumour
spread, "They are coming! they are coming! the Cossacks!"
They were bare-headed, with their long locks floating in the air.
Their beards had grown, and their once handsome garments were worn
out, and hung about them in tatters. They walked neither timidly nor
surlily, but with a certain pride, neither looking at nor bowing to
the people. At the head of all came Ostap.
What were old Taras's feelings when thus he beheld his Ostap? What
filled his heart then? He gazed at him from amid the crowd, and lost
not a single movement of his. They reached the place of execution.
Ostap stopped. He was to be the first to drink the bitter cup. He
glanced at his comrades, raised his hand, and said in a loud voice:
"God grant that none of the heretics who stand here may hear, the
unclean dogs, how Christians suffer! Let none of us utter a single
word." After this he ascended the scaffold.
"Well done, son! well done!" said Bulba, softly, and bent his grey
The executioner tore off his old rags; they fastened his hands and
feet in stocks prepared expressly, and-- We will not pain the reader
with a picture of the hellish tortures which would make his hair rise
upright on his head. They were the outcome of that coarse, wild age,
when men still led a life of warfare which hardened their souls until
no sense of humanity was left in them. In vain did some, not many, in
that age make a stand against such terrible measures. In vain did the
king and many nobles, enlightened in mind and spirit, demonstrate that
such severity of punishment could but fan the flame of vengeance in
the Cossack nation. But the power of the king, and the opinion of the
wise, was as nothing before the savage will of the magnates of the
kingdom, who, by their thoughtlessness and unconquerable lack of all
far-sighted policy, their childish self-love and miserable pride,
converted the Diet into the mockery of a government. Ostap endured the
torture like a giant. Not a cry, not a groan, was heard. Even when
they began to break the bones in his hands and feet, when, amid the
death-like stillness of the crowd, the horrible cracking was audible
to the most distant spectators; when even his tormentors turned aside
their eyes, nothing like a groan escaped his lips, nor did his face
quiver. Taras stood in the crowd with bowed head; and, raising his
eyes proudly at that moment, he said, approvingly, "Well done, boy!
But when they took him to the last deadly tortures, it seemed as
though his strength were failing. He cast his eyes around.
O God! all strangers, all unknown faces! If only some of his relatives
had been present at his death! He would not have cared to hear the
sobs and anguish of his poor, weak mother, nor the unreasoning cries
of a wife, tearing her hair and beating her white breast; but he would
have liked to see a strong man who might refresh him with a word of
wisdom, and cheer his end. And his strength failed him, and he cried
in the weakness of his soul, "Father! where are you? do you hear?"
"I hear!" rang through the universal silence, and those thousands of
people shuddered in concert. A detachment of cavalry hastened to
search through the throng of people. Yankel turned pale as death, and
when the horsemen had got within a short distance of him, turned round
in terror to look for Taras; but Taras was no longer beside him; every
trace of him was lost.
They soon found traces of Taras. An army of a hundred and twenty
thousand Cossacks appeared on the frontier of the Ukraine. This was no
small detachment sallying forth for plunder or in pursuit of the
Tatars. No: the whole nation had risen, for the measure of the
people's patience was over-full; they had risen to avenge the
disregard of their rights, the dishonourable humiliation of
themselves, the insults to the faith of their fathers and their sacred
customs, the outrages upon their church, the excesses of the foreign
nobles, the disgraceful domination of the Jews on Christian soil, and
all that had aroused and deepened the stern hatred of the Cossacks for
a long time past. Hetman Ostranitza, young, but firm in mind, led the
vast Cossack force. Beside him was seen his old and experienced friend
and counsellor, Gunya. Eight leaders led bands of twelve thousand men
each. Two osauls and a bunchuzhniy assisted the hetman. A
cornet-general carried the chief standard, whilst many other banners
and standards floated in the air; and the comrades of the staff bore
the golden staff of the hetman, the symbol of his office. There were
also many other officials belonging to the different bands, the
baggage train and the main force with detachments of infantry and
cavalry. There were almost as many free Cossacks and volunteers as
there were registered Cossacks. The Cossacks had risen everywhere.
They came from Tchigirin, from Pereyaslaf, from Baturin, from Glukhof,
from the regions of the lower Dnieper, and from all its upper shores
and islands. An uninterrupted stream of horses and herds of cattle
stretched across the plain. And among all these Cossacks, among all
these bands, one was the choicest; and that was the band led by Taras
Bulba. All contributed to give him an influence over the others: his
advanced years, his experience and skill in directing an army, and his
bitter hatred of the foe. His unsparing fierceness and cruelty seemed
exaggerated even to the Cossacks. His grey head dreamed of naught save
fire and sword, and his utterances at the councils of war breathed
It is useless to describe all the battles in which the Cossacks
distinguished themselves, or the gradual courses of the campaign. All
this is set down in the chronicles. It is well known what an army
raised on Russian soil, for the orthodox faith, is like. There is no
power stronger than faith. It is threatening and invincible like a
rock, and rising amidst the stormy, ever-changing sea. From the very
bottom of the sea it rears to heaven its jagged sides of firm,
impenetrable stone. It is visible from everywhere, and looks the waves
straight in the face as they roll past. And woe to the ship which is
dashed against it! Its frame flies into splinters, everything in it is
split and crushed, and the startled air re-echoes the piteous cries of
In the pages of the chronicles there is a minute description of how
the Polish garrisons fled from the freed cities; how the unscrupulous
Jewish tavern-keepers were hung; how powerless was the royal hetman,
Nikolai Pototzky, with his numerous army, against this invincible
force; how, routed and pursued, he lost the best of his troops by
drowning in a small stream; how the fierce Cossack regiments besieged
him in the little town of Polon; and how, reduced to extremities, he
promised, under oath, on the part of the king and the government, its
full satisfaction to all, and the restoration of all their rights and
privileges. But the Cossacks were not men to give way for this. They
already knew well what a Polish oath was worth. And Pototzky would
never more have pranced on his six-thousand ducat horse from the
Kabardei, attracting the glances of distinguished ladies and the envy
of the nobility; he would never more have made a figure in the Diet,
by giving costly feasts to the senators--if the Russian priests who
were in the little town had not saved him. When all the popes, in
their brilliant gold vestments, went out to meet the Cossacks, bearing
the holy pictures and the cross, with the bishop himself at their
head, crosier in hand and mitre on his head, the Cossacks all bowed
their heads and took off their caps. To no one lower than the king
himself would they have shown respect at such an hour; but their
daring fell before the Church of Christ, and they honoured their
priesthood. The hetman and leaders agreed to release Pototzky, after
having extracted from him a solemn oath to leave all the Christian
churches unmolested, to forswear the ancient enmity, and to do no harm
to the Cossack forces. One leader alone would not consent to such a
peace. It was Taras. He tore a handful of hair from his head, and
"Hetman and leaders! Commit no such womanish deed. Trust not the
Lyakhs; slay the dogs!"
When the secretary presented the agreement, and the hetman put his
hand to it, Taras drew a genuine Damascene blade, a costly Turkish
sabre of the finest steel, broke it in twain like a reed, and threw
the two pieces far away on each side, saying, "Farewell! As the two
pieces of this sword will never reunite and form one sword again, so
we, comrades, shall nevermore behold each other in this world.
Remember my parting words." As he spoke his voice grew stronger, rose
higher, and acquired a hitherto unknown power; and his prophetic
utterances troubled them all. "Before the death hour you will remember
me! Do you think that you have purchased peace and quiet? do you think
that you will make a great show? You will make a great show, but after
another fashion. They will flay the skin from your head, hetman, they
will stuff it with bran, and long will it be exhibited at fairs.
Neither will you retain your heads, gentles. You will be thrown into
damp dungeons, walled about with stone, if they do not boil you alive
in cauldrons like sheep. And you, men," he continued, turning to his
followers, "which of you wants to die his true death? not through
sorrows and the ale-house; but an honourable Cossack death, all in one
bed, like bride and groom? But, perhaps, you would like to return
home, and turn infidels, and carry Polish priests on your backs?"
"We will follow you, noble leader, we will follow you!" shouted all
his band, and many others joined them.
"If it is to be so, then follow me," said Taras, pulling his cap
farther over his brows. Looking menacingly at the others, he went to
his horse, and cried to his men, "Let no one reproach us with any
insulting speeches. Now, hey there, men! we'll call on the Catholics."
And then he struck his horse, and there followed him a camp of a
hundred waggons, and with them many Cossack cavalry and infantry; and,
turning, he threatened with a glance all who remained behind, and
wrath was in his eye. The band departed in full view of all the army,
and Taras continued long to turn and glower.
The hetman and leaders were uneasy; all became thoughtful, and
remained silent, as though oppressed by some heavy foreboding. Not in
vain had Taras prophesied: all came to pass as he had foretold. A
little later, after the treacherous attack at Kaneva, the hetman's
head was mounted on a stake, together with those of many of his
And what of Taras? Taras made raids all over Poland with his band,
burned eighteen towns and nearly forty churches, and reached Cracow.
He killed many nobles, and plundered some of the richest and finest
castles. The Cossacks emptied on the ground the century-old mead and
wine, carefully hoarded up in lordly cellars; they cut and burned the
rich garments and equipments which they found in the wardrobes. "Spare
nothing," was the order of Taras. The Cossacks spared not the
black-browed gentlewomen, the brilliant, white-bosomed maidens: these
could not save themselves even at the altar, for Taras burned them
with the altar itself. Snowy hands were raised to heaven from amid
fiery flames, with piteous shrieks which would have moved the damp
earth itself to pity and caused the steppe-grass to bend with
compassion at their fate. But the cruel Cossacks paid no heed; and,
raising the children in the streets upon the points of their lances,
they cast them also into the flames.
"This is a mass for the soul of Ostap, you heathen Lyakhs," was all
that Taras said. And such masses for Ostap he had sung in every
village, until the Polish Government perceived that Taras's raids were
more than ordinary expeditions for plunder; and Pototzky was given
five regiments, and ordered to capture him without fail.
Six days did the Cossacks retreat along the by-roads before their
pursuers; their horses were almost equal to this unchecked flight, and
nearly saved them. But this time Pototzky was also equal to the task
intrusted to him; unweariedly he followed them, and overtook them on
the bank of the Dniester, where Taras had taken possession of an
abandoned and ruined castle for the purpose of resting.
On the very brink of the Dniester it stood, with its shattered
ramparts and the ruined remnants of its walls. The summit of the cliff
was strewn with ragged stones and broken bricks, ready at any moment
to detach themselves. The royal hetman, Pototzky, surrounded it on the
two sides which faced the plain. Four days did the Cossacks fight,
tearing down bricks and stones for missiles. But their stones and
their strength were at length exhausted, and Taras resolved to cut his
way through the beleaguering forces. And the Cossacks would have cut
their way through, and their swift steeds might again have served them
faithfully, had not Taras halted suddenly in the very midst of their
flight, and shouted, "Halt! my pipe has dropped with its tobacco: I
won't let those heathen Lyakhs have my pipe!" And the old hetman
stooped down, and felt in the grass for his pipe full of tobacco, his
inseparable companion on all his expeditions by sea and land and at
But in the meantime a band of Lyakhs suddenly rushed up, and seized
him by the shoulders. He struggled with all might; but he could not
scatter on the earth, as he had been wont to do, the heydukes who had
seized him. "Oh, old age, old age!" he exclaimed: and the stout old
Cossack wept. But his age was not to blame: nearly thirty men were
clinging to his arms and legs.
"The raven is caught!" yelled the Lyakhs. "We must think how we can
show him the most honour, the dog!" They decided, with the permission
of the hetman, to burn him alive in the sight of all. There stood hard
by a leafless tree, the summit of which had been struck by lightning.
They fastened him with iron chains and nails driven through his hands
high up on the trunk of the tree, so that he might be seen from all
sides; and began at once to place fagots at its foot. But Taras did
not look at the wood, nor did he think of the fire with which they
were preparing to roast him: he gazed anxiously in the direction
whence his Cossacks were firing. From his high point of observation he
could see everything as in the palm of his hand.
"Take possession, men," he shouted, "of the hillock behind the wood:
they cannot climb it!" But the wind did not carry his words to them.
"They are lost, lost!" he said in despair, and glanced down to where
the water of the Dniester glittered. Joy gleamed in his eyes. He saw
the sterns of four boats peeping out from behind some bushes; exerted
all the power of his lungs, and shouted in a ringing tone, "To the
bank, to the bank, men! descend the path to the left, under the cliff.
There are boats on the bank; take all, that they may not catch you."
This time the breeze blew from the other side, and his words were
audible to the Cossacks. But for this counsel he received a blow on
the head with the back of an axe, which made everything dance before
The Cossacks descended the cliff path at full speed, but their
pursuers were at their heels. They looked: the path wound and twisted,
and made many detours to one side. "Comrades, we are trapped!" said
they. All halted for an instant, raised their whips, whistled, and
their Tatar horses rose from the ground, clove the air like serpents,
flew over the precipice, and plunged straight into the Dniester. Two
only did not alight in the river, but thundered down from the height
upon the stones, and perished there with their horses without uttering
a cry. But the Cossacks had already swum shoreward from their horses,
and unfastened the boats, when the Lyakhs halted on the brink of the
precipice, astounded by this wonderful feat, and thinking, "Shall we
jump down to them, or not?"
One young colonel, a lively, hot-blooded soldier, own brother to the
beautiful Pole who had seduced poor Andrii, did not reflect long, but
leaped with his horse after the Cossacks. He made three turns in the
air with his steed, and fell heavily on the rocks. The sharp stones
tore him in pieces; and his brains, mingled with blood, bespattered
the shrubs growing on the uneven walls of the precipice.
When Taras Bulba recovered from the blow, and glanced towards the
Dniester, the Cossacks were already in the skiffs and rowing away.
Balls were showered upon them from above but did not reach them. And
the old hetman's eyes sparkled with joy.
"Farewell, comrades!" he shouted to them from above; "remember me, and
come hither again next spring and make merry in the same fashion!
What! cursed Lyakhs, have ye caught me? Think ye there is anything in
the world that a Cossack fears? Wait; the time will come when ye shall
learn what the orthodox Russian faith is! Already the people scent it
far and near. A czar shall arise from Russian soil, and there shall
not be a power in the world which shall not submit to him!" But fire
had already risen from the fagots; it lapped his feet, and the flame
spread to the tree. . . . But can any fire, flames, or power be found
on earth which are capable of overpowering Russian strength?
Broad is the river Dniester, and in it are many deep pools, dense
reed-beds, clear shallows and little bays; its watery mirror gleams,
filled with the melodious plaint of the swan, the proud wild goose
glides swiftly over it; and snipe, red-throated ruffs, and other birds
are to be found among the reeds and along the banks. The Cossacks
rowed swiftly on in the narrow double-ruddered boats--rowed stoutly,
carefully shunning the sand bars, and cleaving the ranks of the birds,
which took wing--rowed, and talked of their hetman.
ST. JOHN'S EVE
A STORY TOLD BY THE SACRISTAN OF THE DIKANKA CHURCH
Thoma Grigroovitch had one very strange eccentricity: to the day of
his death he never liked to tell the same thing twice. There were
times when, if you asked him to relate a thing afresh, he would
interpolate new matter, or alter it so that it was impossible to
recognise it. Once upon a time, one of those gentlemen who, like the
usurers at our yearly fairs, clutch and beg and steal every sort of
frippery, and issue mean little volumes, no thicker than an A B C
book, every month, or even every week, wormed this same story out of
Thoma Grigorovitch, and the latter completely forgot about it. But
that same young gentleman, in the pea-green caftan, came from Poltava,
bringing with him a little book, and, opening it in the middle, showed
it to us. Thoma Grigorovitch was on the point of setting his
spectacles astride of his nose, but recollected that he had forgotten
to wind thread about them and stick them together with wax, so he
passed it over to me. As I understand nothing about reading and
writing, and do not wear spectacles, I undertook to read it. I had not
turned two leaves when all at once he caught me by the hand and
"Stop! tell me first what you are reading."
I confess that I was a trifle stunned by such a question.
"What! what am I reading, Thoma Grigorovitch? Why, your own words."
"Who told you that they were my words?"
"Why, what more would you have? Here it is printed: 'Related by such
and such a sacristan.'"
"Spit on the head of the man who printed that! he lies, the dog of a
Moscow pedlar! Did I say that? ''Twas just the same as though one
hadn't his wits about him!' Listen. I'll tell the tale to you on the
We moved up to the table, and he began.
My grandfather (the kingdom of heaven be his! may he eat only wheaten
rolls and poppy-seed cakes with honey in the other world!) could tell
a story wonderfully well. When he used to begin a tale you could not
stir from the spot all day, but kept on listening. He was not like the
story-teller of the present day, when he begins to lie, with a tongue
as though he had had nothing to eat for three days, so that you snatch
your cap and flee from the house. I remember my old mother was alive
then, and in the long winter evenings when the frost was crackling out
of doors, and had sealed up hermetically the narrow panes of our
cottage, she used to sit at her wheel, drawing out a long thread in
her hand, rocking the cradle with her foot, and humming a song, which
I seem to hear even now.
The lamp, quivering and flaring up as though in fear of something,
lighted up our cottage; the spindle hummed; and all of us children,
collected in a cluster, listened to grandfather, who had not crawled
off the stove for more than five years, owing to his great age. But
the wondrous tales of the incursions of the Zaporozhian Cossacks and
the Poles, the bold deeds of Podkova, of Poltar-Kozhukh, and
Sagaidatchnii, did not interest us so much as the stories about some
deed of old which always sent a shiver through our frames and made our
hair rise upright on our heads. Sometimes such terror took possession
of us in consequence of them, that, from that evening forward, Heaven
knows how wonderful everything seemed to us. If one chanced to go out
of the cottage after nightfall for anything, one fancied that a
visitor from the other world had lain down to sleep in one's bed; and
I have often taken my own smock, at a distance, as it lay at the head
of the bed, for the Evil One rolled up into a ball! But the chief
thing about grandfather's stories was, that he never lied in all his
life; and whatever he said was so, was so.
I will now tell you one of his wonderful tales. I know that there are
a great many wise people who copy in the courts, and can even read
civil documents, but who, if you were to put into their hand a simple
prayer-book, could not make out the first letter in it, and would show
all their teeth in derision. These people laugh at everything you tell
them. Along comes one of them--and doesn't believe in witches! Yes,
glory to God that I have lived so long in the world! I have seen
heretics to whom it would be easier to lie in confession than it would
be to our brothers and equals to take snuff, and these folk would deny
the existence of witches! But let them just dream about something, and
they won't even tell what it was! There, it is no use talking about
No one could have recognised the village of ours a little over a
hundred years ago; it was a hamlet, the poorest kind of a hamlet. Half
a score of miserable farmhouses, unplastered and badly thatched, were
scattered here and there about the fields. There was not a yard or a
decent shed to shelter animals or waggons. That was the way the
wealthy lived: and if you had looked for our brothers, the poor--why,
a hole in the ground--that was a cabin for you! Only by the smoke
could you tell that a God-created man lived there. You ask why they
lived so? It was not entirely through poverty: almost every one led a
raiding Cossack life, and gathered not a little plunder in foreign
lands; it was rather because it was little use building up a good
wooden house. Many folk were engaged in raids all over the
country--Crimeans, Poles, Lithuanians! It was quite possible that
their own countrymen might make a descent and plunder everything.
Anything was possible.
In this hamlet a man, or rather a devil in human form, often made his
appearance. Why he came, and whence, no one knew. He prowled about,
got drunk, and suddenly disappeared as if into the air, leaving no
trace of his existence. Then, behold, he seemed to have dropped from
the sky again, and went flying about the street of the village, of
which no trace now remains, and which was not more than a hundred
paces from Dikanka. He would collect together all the Cossacks he met;
then there were songs, laughter, and cash in plenty, and vodka flowed
like water. . . . He would address the pretty girls, and give them
ribbons, earrings, strings of beads--more than they knew what to do
with. It is true that the pretty girls rather hesitated about
accepting his presents: God knows, perhaps, what unclean hands they
had passed through. My grandfather's aunt, who kept at that time a
tavern, in which Basavriuk (as they called this devil-man) often
caroused, said that no consideration on the earth would have induced
her to accept a gift from him. But then, again, how avoid accepting?
Fear seized on every one when he knit his shaggy brows, and gave a
sidelong glance which might send your feet God knows whither: whilst
if you did accept, then the next night some fiend from the swamp, with
horns on his head, came and began to squeeze your neck, if there was a
string of beads upon it; or bite your finger, if there was a ring upon
it; or drag you by the hair, if ribbons were braided in it. God have
mercy, then, on those who held such gifts! But here was the
difficulty: it was impossible to get rid of them; if you threw them
into the water, the diabolical ring or necklace would skim along the
surface and into your hand.
There was a church in the village--St. Pantelei, if I remember
rightly. There lived there a priest, Father Athanasii of blessed
memory. Observing that Basavriuk did not come to church, even at
Easter, he determined to reprove him and impose penance upon him.
Well, he hardly escaped with his life. "Hark ye, sir!" he thundered in
reply, "learn to mind your own business instead of meddling in other
people's, if you don't want that throat of yours stuck with boiling
kutya." What was to be done with this unrepentant man? Father
Athanasii contented himself with announcing that any one who should
make the acquaintance of Basavriuk would be counted a Catholic, an
enemy of Christ's orthodox church, not a member of the human race.
 A dish of rice or wheat flour, with honey and raisins, which is
brought to the church on the celebration of memorial masses.
In this village there was a Cossack named Korzh, who had a labourer
whom people called Peter the Orphan--perhaps because no one remembered
either his father or mother. The church elder, it is true, said that
they had died of the pest in his second year; but my grandfather's
aunt would not hear of that, and tried with all her might to furnish
him with parents, although poor Peter needed them about as much as we
need last year's snow. She said that his father had been in Zaporozhe,
and had been taken prisoner by the Turks, amongst whom he underwent
God only knows what tortures, until having, by some miracle, disguised
himself as a eunuch, he made his escape. Little cared the black-browed
youths and maidens about Peter's parents. They merely remarked, that
if he only had a new coat, a red sash, a black lambskin cap with a
smart blue crown on his head, a Turkish sabre by his side, a whip in
one hand and a pipe with handsome mountings in the other, he would
surpass all the young men. But the pity was, that the only thing poor
Peter had was a grey gaberdine with more holes in it than there are
gold pieces in a Jew's pocket. But that was not the worst of it. Korzh
had a daughter, such a beauty as I think you can hardly have chanced
to see. My grandfather's aunt used to say--and you know that it is
easier for a woman to kiss the Evil One than to call any one else a
beauty--that this Cossack maiden's cheeks were as plump and fresh as
the pinkest poppy when, bathed in God's dew, it unfolds its petals,
and coquets with the rising sun; that her brows were evenly arched
over her bright eyes like black cords, such as our maidens buy
nowadays, for their crosses and ducats, off the Moscow pedlars who
visit the villages with their baskets; that her little mouth, at sight
of which the youths smacked their lips, seemed made to warble the
songs of nightingales; that her hair, black as the raven's wing, and
soft as young flax, fell in curls over her shoulders, for our maidens
did not then plait their hair in pigtails interwoven with pretty,
bright-hued ribbons. Eh! may I never intone another alleluia in the
choir, if I would not have kissed her, in spite of the grey which is
making its way through the old wool which covers my pate, and of the
old woman beside me, like a thorn in my side! Well, you know what
happens when young men and maidens live side by side. In the twilight
the heels of red boots were always visible in the place where Pidorka
chatted with her Peter. But Korzh would never have suspected anything
out of the way, only one day--it is evident that none but the Evil One
could have inspired him--Peter took into his head to kiss the maiden's
rosy lips with all his heart, without first looking well about him;
and that same Evil One--may the son of a dog dream of the holy
cross!--caused the old grey-beard, like a fool, to open the cottage
door at that same moment. Korzh was petrified, dropped his jaw, and
clutched at the door for support. Those unlucky kisses completely
Recovering himself, he took his grandfather's hunting whip from the
wall, and was about to belabour Peter's back with it, when Pidorka's
little six-year-old brother Ivas rushed up from somewhere or other,
and, grasping his father's legs with his little hands, screamed out,
"Daddy, daddy! don't beat Peter!" What was to be done? A father's
heart is not made of stone. Hanging the whip again on the wall, he led
Peter quietly from the house. "If you ever show yourself in my cottage
again, or even under the windows, look out, Peter, for, by heaven,
your black moustache will disappear; and your black locks, though
wound twice about your ears, will take leave of your pate, or my name
is not Terentiy Korzh." So saying, he gave him such a taste of his
fist in the nape of his neck, that all grew dark before Peter, and he
flew headlong out of the place.
So there was an end of their kissing. Sorrow fell upon our turtle
doves; and a rumour grew rife in the village that a certain Pole, all
embroidered with gold, with moustaches, sabre, spurs, and pockets
jingling like the bells of the bag with which our sacristan Taras goes
through the church every day, had begun to frequent Korzh's house.
Now, it is well known why a father has visitors when there is a
black-browed daughter about. So, one day, Pidorka burst into tears,
and caught the hand of her brother Ivas. "Ivas, my dear! Ivas, my
love! fly to Peter, my child of gold, like an arrow from a bow. Tell
him all: I would have loved his brown eyes, I would have kissed his
fair face, but my fate decrees otherwise. More than one handkerchief
have I wet with burning tears. I am sad and heavy at heart. And my own
father is my enemy. I will not marry the Pole, whom I do not love.
Tell him they are making ready for a wedding, but there will be no
music at our wedding: priests will sing instead of pipes and viols. I
shall not dance with my bridegroom: they will carry me out. Dark, dark
will be my dwelling of maple wood; and, instead of chimneys, a cross
will stand upon the roof."
Peter stood petrified, without moving from the spot, when the innocent
child lisped out Pidorka's words to him. "And I, wretched man, had
thought to go to the Crimea and Turkey, to win gold and return to
thee, my beauty! But it may not be. We have been overlooked by the
evil eye. I too shall have a wedding, dear one; but no ecclesiastics
will be present at that wedding. The black crow instead of the pope
will caw over me; the bare plain will be my dwelling; the dark blue
cloud my roof-tree. The eagle will claw out my brown eyes: the rain
will wash my Cossack bones, and the whirlwinds dry them. But what am
I? Of what should I complain? 'Tis clear God willed it so. If I am to
be lost, then so be it!" and he went straight to the tavern.
My late grandfather's aunt was somewhat surprised at seeing Peter at
the tavern, at an hour when good men go to morning mass; and stared at
him as though in a dream when he called for a jug of brandy, about
half a pailful. But the poor fellow tried in vain to drown his woe.
The vodka stung his tongue like nettles, and tasted more bitter than
wormwood. He flung the jug from him upon the ground.
"You have sorrowed enough, Cossack," growled a bass voice behind him.
He looked round--it was Basavriuk! Ugh, what a face! His hair was like
a brush, his eyes like those of a bull. "I know what you lack: here it
is." As he spoke he jingled a leather purse which hung from his girdle
and smiled diabolically. Peter shuddered. "Ha, ha, ha! how it shines!"
he roared, shaking out ducats into his hands: "ha, ha, ha! how it
jingles! And I only ask one thing for a whole pile of such shiners."
"It is the Evil One!" exclaimed Peter. "Give me them! I'm ready for
They struck hands upon it, and Basavriuk said, "You are just in time,
Peter: to-morrow is St. John the Baptist's day. Only on this one night
in the year does the fern blossom. I will await you at midnight in the
I do not believe that chickens await the hour when the housewife
brings their corn with as much anxiety as Peter awaited the evening.
He kept looking to see whether the shadows of the trees were not
lengthening, whether the sun was not turning red towards setting; and,
the longer he watched, the more impatient he grew. How long it was!
Evidently, God's day had lost its end somewhere. But now the sun has
set. The sky is red only on one side, and it is already growing dark.
It grows colder in the fields. It gets gloomier and gloomier, and at
last quite dark. At last! With heart almost bursting from his bosom,
he set out and cautiously made his way down through the thick woods
into the deep hollow called the Bear's ravine. Basavriuk was already
waiting there. It was so dark that you could not see a yard before
you. Hand in hand they entered the ravine, pushing through the
luxuriant thorn-bushes and stumbling at almost every step. At last
they reached an open spot. Peter looked about him: he had never
chanced to come there before. Here Basavriuk halted.
"Do you see before you three hillocks? There are a great many kinds of
flowers upon them. May some power keep you from plucking even one of
them. But as soon as the fern blossoms, seize it, and look not round,
no matter what may seem to be going on behind thee."
Peter wanted to ask some questions, but behold Basavriuk was no longer
there. He approached the three hillocks--where were the flowers? He
saw none. The wild steppe-grass grew all around, and hid everything in
its luxuriance. But the lightning flashed; and before him was a whole
bed of flowers, all wonderful, all strange: whilst amongst them there
were also the simple fronds of fern. Peter doubted his senses, and
stood thoughtfully before them, arms akimbo.
"What manner of prodigy is this? why, one can see these weeds ten
times a day. What is there marvellous about them? Devil's face must be
But behold! the tiny flower-bud of the fern reddened and moved as
though alive. It was a marvel in truth. It grew larger and larger, and
glowed like a burning coal. The tiny stars of light flashed up,
something burst softly, and the flower opened before his eyes like a
flame, lighting the others about it.
"Now is the time," thought Peter, and extended his hand. He saw
hundreds of hairy hands reach also for the flower from behind him, and
there was a sound of scampering in his rear. He half closed his eyes,
and plucked sharply at the stalk, and the flower remained in his hand.
All became still.
Upon a stump sat Basavriuk, quite blue like a corpse. He did not move
so much as a finger. Hi eyes were immovably fixed on something visible
to him alone; his mouth was half open and speechless. Nothing stirred
around. Ugh! it was horrible! But then a whistle was heard which made
Peter's heart grow cold within him; and it seemed to him that the
grass whispered, and the flowers began to talk among themselves in
delicate voices, like little silver bells, while the trees rustled in
murmuring contention;--Basavriuk's face suddenly became full of life,
and his eyes sparkled. "The witch has just returned," he muttered
between his teeth. "Hearken, Peter: a charmer will stand before you in
a moment; do whatever she commands; if not--you are lost forever."
Then he parted the thorn-bushes with a knotty stick and before him
stood a tiny farmhouse. Basavriuk smote it with his fist, and the wall
trembled. A large black dog ran out to meet them, and with a whine
transformed itself into a cat and flew straight at his eyes.
"Don't be angry, don't be angry, you old Satan!" said Basavriuk,
employing such words as would have made a good man stop his ears.
Behold, instead of a cat, an old woman all bent into a bow, with a
face wrinkled like a baked apple, and a nose and chin like a pair of
"A fine charmer!" thought Peter; and cold chills ran down his back.
The witch tore the flower from his hand, stooped and muttered over it
for a long time, sprinkling it with some kind of water. Sparks flew
from her mouth, and foam appeared on her lips.
"Throw it away," she said, giving it back to Peter.
Peter threw it, but what wonder was this? The flower did not fall
straight to the earth, but for a long while twinkled like a fiery ball
through the darkness, and swam through the air like a boat. At last it
began to sink lower and lower, and fell so far away that the little
star, hardly larger than a poppy-seed, was barely visible. "There!"
croaked the old woman, in a dull voice: and Basavriuk, giving him a
spade, said, "Dig here, Peter: you will find more gold than you or
Korzh ever dreamed of."
Peter spat on his hands, seized the spade, pressed his foot on it, and
turned up the earth, a second, a third, a fourth time. The spade
clinked against something hard, and would go no further. Then his eyes
began to distinguish a small, iron-bound coffer. He tried to seize it;
but the chest began to sink into the earth, deeper, farther, and
deeper still: whilst behind him he heard a laugh like a serpent's
"No, you shall not have the gold until you shed human blood," said the
witch, and she led up to him a child of six, covered with a white
sheet, and indicated by a sign that he was to cut off his head.
Peter was stunned. A trifle, indeed, to cut off a man's, or even an
innocent child's, head for no reason whatever! In wrath he tore off
the sheet enveloping the victim's head, and behold! before him stood
Ivas. The poor child crossed his little hands, and hung his head.
Peter flew at the witch with the knife like a madman, and was on the
point of laying hands on her.
"What did you promise for the girl?" thundered Basavriuk; and like a
shot he was on his back. The witch stamped her foot: a blue flame
flashed from the earth and illumined all within it. The earth became
transparent as if moulded of crystal; and all that was within it
became visible, as if in the palm of the hand. Ducats, precious stones
in chests and pots, were piled in heaps beneath the very spot they
stood on. Peter's eyes flashed, his mind grew troubled. . . . He
grasped the knife like a madman, and the innocent blood spurted into
his eyes. Diabolical laughter resounded on all sides. Misshapen
monsters flew past him in flocks. The witch, fastening her hands in
the headless trunk, like a wolf, drank its blood. His head whirled.
Collecting all his strength, he set out to run. Everything grew red
before him. The trees seemed steeped in blood, and burned and groaned.
The sky glowed and threatened. Burning points, like lightning,
flickered before his eyes. Utterly exhausted, he rushed into his
miserable hovel and fell to the ground like a log. A death-like sleep
Two days and two nights did Peter sleep, without once awakening. When
he came to himself, on the third day, he looked long at all the
corners of his hut, but in vain did he endeavour to recollect what had
taken place; his memory was like a miser's pocket, from which you
cannot entice a quarter of a kopek. Stretching himself, he heard
something clash at his feet. He looked, there were two bags of gold.
Then only, as if in a dream, he recollected that he had been seeking
for treasure, and that something had frightened him in the woods.
Korzh saw the sacks--and was mollified. "A fine fellow, Peter, quite
unequalled! yes, and did I not love him? Was he not to me as my own
son?" And the old fellow repeated this fiction until he wept over it
himself. Pidorka began to tell Peter how some passing gipsies had
stolen Ivas; but he could not even recall him--to such a degree had
the Devil's influence darkened his mind! There was no reason for
delay. The Pole was dismissed, and the wedding-feast prepared; rolls
were baked, towels and handkerchiefs embroidered; the young people
were seated at table; the wedding-loaf was cut; guitars, cymbals,
pipes, viols sounded, and pleasure was rife.
A wedding in the olden times was not like one of the present day. My
grandfather's aunt used to tell how the maidens--in festive
head-dresses of yellow, blue, and pink ribbons, above which they bound
gold braid; in thin chemisettes embroidered on all the seams with red
silk, and strewn with tiny silver flowers; in morocco shoes, with high
iron heels--danced the gorlitza as swimmingly as peacocks, and as
wildly as the whirlwind; how the youths--with their ship-shaped caps
upon their heads, the crowns of gold brocade, and two horns
projecting, one in front and another behind, of the very finest black
lambskin; in tunics of the finest blue silk with red borders--stepped
forward one by one, their arms akimbo in stately form, and executed
the gopak; how the lads--in tall Cossack caps, and light cloth
gaberdines, girt with silver embroidered belts, their short pipes in
their teeth--skipped before them and talked nonsense. Even Korzh as he
gazed at the young people could not help getting gay in his old age.
Guitar in hand, alternately puffing at his pipe and singing, a
brandy-glass upon his head, the greybeard began the national dance
amid loud shouts from the merry-makers.
What will not people devise in merry mood? They even began to disguise
their faces till they did not look like human beings. On such
occasions one would dress himself as a Jew, another as the Devil: they
would begin by kissing each other, and end by seizing each other by
the hair. God be with them! you laughed till you held your sides. They
dressed themselves in Turkish and Tatar garments. All upon them glowed
like a conflagration, and then they began to joke and play
pranks. . . .
An amusing thing happened to my grandfather's aunt, who was at this
wedding. She was wearing an ample Tatar robe, and, wine-glass in hand,
was entertaining the company. The Evil One instigated one man to pour
vodka over her from behind. Another, at the same moment, evidently not
by accident, struck a light, and held it to her. The flame flashed up,
and poor aunt, in terror, flung her dress off, before them all.
Screams, laughter, jests, arose as if at a fair. In a word, the old
folks could not recall so merry a wedding.
Pidorka and Peter began to live like a gentleman and lady. There was
plenty of everything and everything was fine. . . . But honest folk
shook their heads when they marked their way of living. "From the
Devil no good can come," they unanimously agreed. "Whence, except from
the tempter of orthodox people, came this wealth? Where else could he
have got such a lot of gold from? Why, on the very day that he got
rich, did Basavriuk vanish as if into thin air?"
Say, if you can, that people only imagine things! A month had not
passed, and no one would have recognised Peter. He sat in one spot,
saying no word to any one; but continually thinking and seemingly
trying to recall something. When Pidorka succeeded in getting him to
speak, he appeared to forget himself, and would carry on a
conversation, and even grow cheerful; but if he inadvertently glanced
at the sacks, "Stop, stop! I have forgotten," he would cry, and again
plunge into reverie and strive to recall something. Sometimes when he
sat still a long time in one place, it seemed to him as though it were
coming, just coming back to mind, but again all would fade away. It
seemed as if he was sitting in the tavern: they brought him vodka;
vodka stung him; vodka was repulsive to him. Some one came along and
struck him on the shoulder; but beyond that everything was veiled in
darkness before him. The perspiration would stream down his face, and
he would sit exhausted in the same place.
What did not Pirdorka do? She consulted the sorceresses; and they
poured out fear, and brewed stomach ache--but all to no avail. And
so the summer passed. Many a Cossack had mowed and reaped; many a
Cossack, more enterprising than the rest, had set off upon an
expedition. Flocks of ducks were already crowding the marshes, but
there was not even a hint of improvement.
 "To pour out fear" refers to a practice resorted to in case of
fear. When it is desired to know what caused this, melted lead or
wax is poured into water, and the object whose form it assumes is
the one which frightened the sick person; after this, the fear
departs. Sonyashnitza is brewed for giddiness and pain in the
bowels. To this end, a bit of stump is burned, thrown into a jug,
and turned upside down into a bowl filled with water, which is
placed on the patient's stomach: after an incantation, he is given
a spoonful of this water to drink.
It was red upon the steppes. Ricks of grain, like Cossack's caps,
dotted the fields here and there. On the highway were to be
encountered waggons loaded with brushwood and logs. The ground had
become more solid, and in places was touched with frost. Already had
the snow begun to fall and the branches of the trees were covered with
rime like rabbit-skin. Already on frosty days the robin redbreast
hopped about on the snow-heaps like a foppish Polish nobleman, and
picked out grains of corn; and children, with huge sticks, played
hockey upon the ice; while their fathers lay quietly on the stove,
issuing forth at intervals with lighted pipes in their lips, to growl,
in regular fashion, at the orthodox frost, or to take the air, and
thresh the grain spread out in the barn. At last the snow began to
melt, and the ice slipped away: but Peter remained the same; and, the
more time went on, the more morose he grew. He sat in the cottage as
though nailed to the spot, with the sacks of gold at his feet. He grew
averse to companionship, his hair grew long, he became terrible to
look at; and still he thought of but one thing, still he tried to
recall something, and got angry and ill-tempered because he could not.
Often, rising wildly from his seat, he gesticulated violently and
fixed his eyes on something as though desirous of catching it: his
lips moving as though desirous of uttering some long-forgotten word,
but remaining speechless. Fury would take possession of him: he would
gnaw and bite his hands like a man half crazy, and in his vexation
would tear out his hair by the handful, until, calming down, he would
relapse into forgetfulness, as it were, and then would again strive to
recall the past and be again seized with fury and fresh tortures. What
visitation of God was this?
Pidorka was neither dead not alive. At first it was horrible for her
to remain alone with him in the cottage; but, in course of time, the
poor woman grew accustomed to her sorrow. But it was impossible to
recognise the Pidorka of former days. No blushes, no smiles: she was
thin and worn with grief, and had wept her bright eyes away. Once some
one who took pity on her advised her to go to the witch who dwelt in
the Bear's ravine, and enjoyed the reputation of being able to cure
every disease in the world. She determined to try that last remedy:
and finally persuaded the old woman to come to her. This was on St.
John's Eve, as it chanced. Peter lay insensible on the bench, and did
not observe the newcomer. Slowly he rose, and looked about him.
Suddenly he trembled in every limb, as though he were on the scaffold:
his hair rose upon his head, and he laughed a laugh that filled
Pidorka's heart with fear.
"I have remembered, remembered!" he cried, in terrible joy; and,
swinging a hatchet round his head, he struck at the old woman with all
his might. The hatchet penetrated the oaken door nearly four inches.
The old woman disappeared; and a child of seven, covered in a white
sheet, stood in the middle of the cottage. . . . The sheet flew off.
"Ivas!" cried Pidorka, and ran to him; but the apparition became
covered from head to foot with blood, and illumined the whole room
with red light. . . .
She ran into the passage in her terror, but, on recovering herself a
little, wished to help Peter. In vain! the door had slammed to behind
her, so that she could not open it. People ran up, and began to knock:
they broke in the door, as though there were but one mind among them.
The whole cottage was full of smoke; and just in the middle, where
Peter had stood, was a heap of ashes whence smoke was still rising.
They flung themselves upon the sacks: only broken potsherds lay there
instead of ducats. The Cossacks stood with staring eyes and open
mouths, as if rooted to the earth, not daring to move a hair, such
terror did this wonder inspire in them.
I do not remember what happened next. Pidorka made a vow to go upon a
pilgrimage, collected the property left her by her father, and in a
few days it was as if she had never been in the village. Whither she
had gone, no one could tell. Officious old women would have despatched
her to the same place whither Peter had gone; but a Cossack from Kief
reported that he had seen, in a cloister, a nun withered to a mere
skeleton who prayed unceasingly. Her fellow-villagers recognised her
as Pidorka by the tokens--that no one heard her utter a word; and that
she had come on foot, and had brought a frame for the picture of God's
mother, set with such brilliant stones that all were dazzled at the
But this was not the end, if you please. On the same day that the Evil
One made away with Peter, Basavriuk appeared again; but all fled from
him. They knew what sort of a being he was--none else than Satan, who
had assumed human form in order to unearth treasures; and, since
treasures do not yield to unclean hands, he seduced the young. That
same year, all deserted their earthen huts and collected in a village;
but even there there was no peace on account of that accursed
My late grandfather's aunt said that he was particularly angry with
her because she had abandoned her former tavern, and tried with all
his might to revenge himself upon her. Once the village elders were
assembled in the tavern, and, as the saying goes, were arranging the
precedence at the table, in the middle of which was placed a small
roasted lamb, shame to say. They chattered about this, that, and the
other--among the rest about various marvels and strange things. Well,
they saw something; it would have been nothing if only one had seen
it, but all saw it, and it was this: the sheep raised his head, his
goggling eyes became alive and sparkled; and the black, bristling
moustache, which appeared for one instant, made a significant gesture
at those present. All at once recognised Basavriuk's countenance in
the sheep's head; my grandfather's aunt thought it was on the point of
asking for vodka. The worthy elders seized their hats and hastened
Another time, the church elder himself, who was fond of an occasional
private interview with my grandfather's brandy-glass, had not
succeeded in getting to the bottom twice, when he beheld the glass
bowing very low to him. "Satan take you, let us make the sign of the
cross over you!"--And the same marvel happened to his better half. She
had just begun to mix the dough in a huge kneading-trough when
suddenly the trough sprang up. "Stop, stop! where are you going?"
Putting its arms akimbo, with dignity, it went skipping all about the
cottage--you may laugh, but it was no laughing matter to our
grandfathers. And in vain did Father Athanasii go through all the
village with holy water, and chase the Devil through all the streets
with his brush. My late grandfather's aunt long complained that, as
soon as it was dark, some one came knocking at her door and scratching
at the wall.
Well! All appears to be quiet now in the place where our village
stands; but it was not so very long ago--my father was still
alive--that I remember how a good man could not pass the ruined tavern
which a dishonest race had long managed for their own interest. From
the smoke-blackened chimneys smoke poured out in a pillar, and rising
high in the air, rolled off like a cap, scattering burning coals over
the steppe; and Satan (the son of a dog should not be mentioned)
sobbed so pitifully in his lair that the startled ravens rose in
flocks from the neighbouring oak-wood and flew through the air with
In the department of--but it is better not to mention the department.
There is nothing more irritable than departments, regiments, courts of
justice, and, in a word, every branch of public service. Each
individual attached to them nowadays thinks all society insulted in
his person. Quite recently a complaint was received from a justice of
the peace, in which he plainly demonstrated that all the imperial
institutions were going to the dogs, and that the Czar's sacred name
was being taken in vain; and in proof he appended to the complaint a
romance in which the justice of the peace is made to appear about once
every ten lines, and sometimes in a drunken condition. Therefore, in
order to avoid all unpleasantness, it will be better to describe the
department in question only as a certain department.
So, in a certain department there was a certain official--not a very
high one, it must be allowed--short of stature, somewhat pock-marked,
red-haired, and short-sighted, with a bald forehead, wrinkled cheeks,
and a complexion of the kind known as sanguine. The St. Petersburg
climate was responsible for this. As for his official status, he was
what is called a perpetual titular councillor, over which, as is well
known, some writers make merry, and crack their jokes, obeying the
praiseworthy custom of attacking those who cannot bite back.
His family name was Bashmatchkin. This name is evidently derived from
"bashmak" (shoe); but when, at what time, and in what manner, is not
known. His father and grandfather, and all the Bashmatchkins, always
wore boots, which only had new heels two or three times a year. His
name was Akakiy Akakievitch. It may strike the reader as rather
singular and far-fetched, but he may rest assured that it was by no
means far-fetched, and that the circumstances were such that it would
have been impossible to give him any other.
This is how it came about.
Akakiy Akakievitch was born, if my memory fails me not, in the evening
of the 23rd of March. His mother, the wife of a Government official
and a very fine woman, made all due arrangements for having the child
baptised. She was lying on the bed opposite the door; on her right
stood the godfather, Ivan Ivanovitch Eroshkin, a most estimable man,
who served as presiding officer of the senate, while the godmother,
Anna Semenovna Byelobrushkova, the wife of an officer of the quarter,
and a woman of rare virtues. They offered the mother her choice of
three names, Mokiya, Sossiya, or that the child should be called after
the martyr Khozdazat. "No," said the good woman, "all those names are
poor." In order to please her they opened the calendar to another
place; three more names appeared, Triphiliy, Dula, and Varakhasiy.
"This is a judgment," said the old woman. "What names! I truly never
heard the like. Varada or Varukh might have been borne, but not
Triphiliy and Varakhasiy!" They turned to another page and found
Pavsikakhiy and Vakhtisiy. "Now I see," said the old woman, "that it
is plainly fate. And since such is the case, it will be better to name
him after his father. His father's name was Akakiy, so let his son's
be Akakiy too." In this manner he became Akakiy Akakievitch. They
christened the child, whereat he wept and made a grimace, as though he
foresaw that he was to be a titular councillor.
In this manner did it all come about. We have mentioned it in order
that the reader might see for himself that it was a case of necessity,
and that it was utterly impossible to give him any other name. When
and how he entered the department, and who appointed him, no one could
remember. However much the directors and chiefs of all kinds were
changed, he was always to be seen in the same place, the same
attitude, the same occupation; so that it was afterwards affirmed that
he had been born in undress uniform with a bald head. No respect was
shown him in the department. The porter not only did not rise from his
seat when he passed, but never even glanced at him, any more than if a
fly had flown through the reception-room. His superiors treated him in
coolly despotic fashion. Some sub-chief would thrust a paper under his
nose without so much as saying, "Copy," or "Here's a nice interesting
affair," or anything else agreeable, as is customary amongst well-bred
officials. And he took it, looking only at the paper and not observing
who handed it to him, or whether he had the right to do so; simply
took it, and set about copying it.
The young officials laughed at and made fun of him, so far as their
official wit permitted; told in his presence various stories concocted
about him, and about his landlady, an old woman of seventy; declared
that she beat him; asked when the wedding was to be; and strewed bits
of paper over his head, calling them snow. But Akakiy Akakievitch
answered not a word, any more than if there had been no one there
besides himself. It even had no effect upon his work: amid all these
annoyances he never made a single mistake in a letter. But if the
joking became wholly unbearable, as when they jogged his hand and
prevented his attending to his work, he would exclaim, "Leave me
alone! Why do you insult me?" And there was something strange in the
words and the voice in which they were uttered. There was in it
something which moved to pity; so much that one young man, a
new-comer, who, taking pattern by the others, had permitted himself to
make sport of Akakiy, suddenly stopped short, as though all about him
had undergone a transformation, and presented itself in a different
aspect. Some unseen force repelled him from the comrades whose
acquaintance he had made, on the supposition that they were well-bred
and polite men. Long afterwards, in his gayest moments, there recurred
to his mind the little official with the bald forehead, with his
heart-rending words, "Leave me alone! Why do you insult me?" In these
moving words, other words resounded--"I am thy brother." And the young
man covered his face with his hand; and many a time afterwards, in the
course of his life, shuddered at seeing how much inhumanity there is
in man, how much savage coarseness is concealed beneath delicate,
refined worldliness, and even, O God! in that man whom the world
acknowledges as honourable and noble.
It would be difficult to find another man who lived so entirely for
his duties. It is not enough to say that Akakiy laboured with zeal:
no, he laboured with love. In his copying, he found a varied and
agreeable employment. Enjoyment was written on his face: some letters
were even favourites with him; and when he encountered these, he
smiled, winked, and worked with his lips, till it seemed as though
each letter might be read in his face, as his pen traced it. If his
pay had been in proportion to his zeal, he would, perhaps, to his
great surprise, have been made even a councillor of state. But he
worked, as his companions, the wits, put it, like a horse in a mill.
Moreover, it is impossible to say that no attention was paid to him.
One director being a kindly man, and desirous of rewarding him for his
long service, ordered him to be given something more important than
mere copying. So he was ordered to make a report of an already
concluded affair to another department: the duty consisting simply in
changing the heading and altering a few words from the first to the
third person. This caused him so much toil that he broke into a
perspiration, rubbed his forehead, and finally said, "No, give me
rather something to copy." After that they let him copy on forever.
Outside this copying, it appeared that nothing existed for him. He
gave no thought to his clothes: his undress uniform was not green, but
a sort of rusty-meal colour. The collar was low, so that his neck, in
spite of the fact that it was not long, seemed inordinately so as it
emerged from it, like the necks of those plaster cats which wag their
heads, and are carried about upon the heads of scores of image
sellers. And something was always sticking to his uniform, either a
bit of hay or some trifle. Moreover, he had a peculiar knack, as he
walked along the street, of arriving beneath a window just as all
sorts of rubbish were being flung out of it: hence he always bore
about on his hat scraps of melon rinds and other such articles. Never
once in his life did he give heed to what was going on every day in
the street; while it is well known that his young brother officials
train the range of their glances till they can see when any one's
trouser straps come undone upon the opposite sidewalk, which always
brings a malicious smile to their faces. But Akakiy Akakievitch saw in
all things the clean, even strokes of his written lines; and only when
a horse thrust his nose, from some unknown quarter, over his shoulder,
and sent a whole gust of wind down his neck from his nostrils, did he
observe that he was not in the middle of a page, but in the middle of
On reaching home, he sat down at once at the table, supped his cabbage
soup up quickly, and swallowed a bit of beef with onions, never
noticing their taste, and gulping down everything with flies and
anything else which the Lord happened to send at the moment. His
stomach filled, he rose from the table, and copied papers which he had
brought home. If there happened to be none, he took copies for
himself, for his own gratification, especially if the document was
noteworthy, not on account of its style, but of its being addressed to
some distinguished person.
Even at the hour when the grey St. Petersburg sky had quite dispersed,
and all the official world had eaten or dined, each as he could, in
accordance with the salary he received and his own fancy; when all
were resting from the departmental jar of pens, running to and fro
from their own and other people's indispensable occupations, and from
all the work that an uneasy man makes willingly for himself, rather
than what is necessary; when officials hasten to dedicate to pleasure
the time which is left to them, one bolder than the rest going to the
theatre; another, into the street looking under all the bonnets;
another wasting his evening in compliments to some pretty girl, the
star of a small official circle; another--and this is the common case
of all--visiting his comrades on the fourth or third floor, in two
small rooms with an ante-room or kitchen, and some pretensions to
fashion, such as a lamp or some other trifle which has cost many a
sacrifice of dinner or pleasure trip; in a word, at the hour when all
officials disperse among the contracted quarters of their friends, to
play whist, as they sip their tea from glasses with a kopek's worth of
sugar, smoke long pipes, relate at times some bits of gossip which a
Russian man can never, under any circumstances, refrain from, and,
when there is nothing else to talk of, repeat eternal anecdotes about
the commandant to whom they had sent word that the tails of the horses
on the Falconet Monument had been cut off, when all strive to divert
themselves, Akakiy Akakievitch indulged in no kind of diversion. No
one could ever say that he had seen him at any kind of evening party.
Having written to his heart's content, he lay down to sleep, smiling
at the thought of the coming day--of what God might send him to copy
on the morrow.
Thus flowed on the peaceful life of the man, who, with a salary of
four hundred rubles, understood how to be content with his lot; and
thus it would have continued to flow on, perhaps, to extreme old age,
were it not that there are various ills strewn along the path of life
for titular councillors as well as for private, actual, court, and
every other species of councillor, even for those who never give any
advice or take any themselves.
There exists in St. Petersburg a powerful foe of all who receive a
salary of four hundred rubles a year, or thereabouts. This foe is no
other than the Northern cold, although it is said to be very healthy.
At nine o'clock in the morning, at the very hour when the streets are
filled with men bound for the various official departments, it begins
to bestow such powerful and piercing nips on all noses impartially
that the poor officials really do not know what to do with them. At an
hour when the foreheads of even those who occupy exalted positions
ache with the cold, and tears start to their eyes, the poor titular
councillors are sometimes quite unprotected. Their only salvation lies
in traversing as quickly as possible, in their thin little cloaks,
five or six streets, and then warming their feet in the porter's room,
and so thawing all their talents and qualifications for official
service, which had become frozen on the way.
Akakiy Akakievitch had felt for some time that his back and shoulders
suffered with peculiar poignancy, in spite of the fact that he tried
to traverse the distance with all possible speed. He began finally to
wonder whether the fault did not lie in his cloak. He examined it
thoroughly at home, and discovered that in two places, namely, on the
back and shoulders, it had become thin as gauze: the cloth was worn to
such a degree that he could see through it, and the lining had fallen
into pieces. You must know that Akakiy Akakievitch's cloak served as
an object of ridicule to the officials: they even refused it the noble
name of cloak, and called it a cape. In fact, it was of singular make:
its collar diminishing year by year, but serving to patch its other
parts. The patching did not exhibit great skill on the part of the
tailor, and was, in fact, baggy and ugly. Seeing how the matter stood,
Akakiy Akakievitch decided that it would be necessary to take the
cloak to Petrovitch, the tailor, who lived somewhere on the fourth
floor up a dark stair-case, and who, in spite of his having but one
eye, and pock-marks all over his face, busied himself with
considerable success in repairing the trousers and coats of officials
and others; that is to say, when he was sober and not nursing some
other scheme in his head.
It is not necessary to say much about this tailor; but, as it is the
custom to have the character of each personage in a novel clearly
defined, there is no help for it, so here is Petrovitch the tailor. At
first he was called only Grigoriy, and was some gentleman's serf; he
commenced calling himself Petrovitch from the time when he received
his free papers, and further began to drink heavily on all holidays,
at first on the great ones, and then on all church festivities without
discrimination, wherever a cross stood in the calendar. On this point
he was faithful to ancestral custom; and when quarrelling with his
wife, he called her a low female and a German. As we have mentioned
his wife, it will be necessary to say a word or two about her.
Unfortunately, little is known of her beyond the fact that Petrovitch
has a wife, who wears a cap and a dress; but cannot lay claim to
beauty, at least, no one but the soldiers of the guard even looked
under her cap when they met her.
Ascending the staircase which led to Petrovitch's room--which
staircase was all soaked with dish-water, and reeked with the smell of
spirits which affects the eyes, and is an inevitable adjunct to all
dark stairways in St. Petersburg houses--ascending the stairs, Akakiy
Akakievitch pondered how much Petrovitch would ask, and mentally
resolved not to give more than two rubles. The door was open; for the
mistress, in cooking some fish, had raised such a smoke in the kitchen
that not even the beetles were visible. Akakiy Akakievitch passed
through the kitchen unperceived, even by the housewife, and at length
reached a room where he beheld Petrovitch seated on a large unpainted
table, with his legs tucked under him like a Turkish pasha. His feet
were bare, after the fashion of tailors who sit at work; and the first
thing which caught the eye was his thumb, with a deformed nail thick
and strong as a turtle's shell. About Petrovitch's neck hung a skein
of silk and thread, and upon his knees lay some old garment. He had
been trying unsuccessfully for three minutes to thread his needle, and
was enraged at the darkness and even at the thread, growling in a low
voice, "It won't go through, the barbarian! you pricked me, you
Akakiy Akakievitch was vexed at arriving at the precise moment when
Petrovitch was angry; he liked to order something of Petrovitch when
the latter was a little downhearted, or, as his wife expressed it,
"when he had settled himself with brandy, the one-eyed devil!" Under
such circumstances, Petrovitch generally came down in his price very
readily, and even bowed and returned thanks. Afterwards, to be sure,
his wife would come, complaining that her husband was drunk, and so
had fixed the price too low; but, if only a ten-kopek piece were
added, then the matter was settled. But now it appeared that
Petrovitch was in a sober condition, and therefore rough, taciturn,
and inclined to demand, Satan only knows what price. Akakiy
Akakievitch felt this, and would gladly have beat a retreat; but he
was in for it. Petrovitch screwed up his one eye very intently at him,
and Akakiy Akakievitch involuntarily said: "How do you do,
"I wish you a good morning, sir," said Petrovitch, squinting at Akakiy
Akakievitch's hands, to see what sort of booty he had brought.
"Ah! I--to you, Petrovitch, this--" It must be known that Akakiy
Akakievitch expressed himself chiefly by prepositions, adverbs, and
scraps of phrases which had no meaning whatever. If the matter was a
very difficult one, he had a habit of never completing his sentences;
so that frequently, having begun a phrase with the words, "This, in
fact, is quite--" he forgot to go on, thinking that he had already
"What is it?" asked Petrovitch, and with his one eye scanned
Akakievitch's whole uniform from the collar down to the cuffs, the
back, the tails and the button-holes, all of which were well known to
him, since they were his own handiwork. Such is the habit of tailors;
it is the first thing they do on meeting one.
"But I, here, this--Petrovitch--a cloak, cloth--here you see,
everywhere, in different places, it is quite strong--it is a little
dusty, and looks old, but it is new, only here in one place it is a
little--on the back, and here on one of the shoulders, it is a little
worn, yes, here on this shoulder it is a little--do you see? that is
all. And a little work--"
Petrovitch took the cloak, spread it out, to begin with, on the table,
looked hard at it, shook his head, reached out his hand to the
window-sill for his snuff-box, adorned with the portrait of some
general, though what general is unknown, for the place where the face
should have been had been rubbed through by the finger, and a square
bit of paper had been pasted over it. Having taken a pinch of snuff,
Petrovitch held up the cloak, and inspected it against the light, and
again shook his head once more. After which he again lifted the
general-adorned lid with its bit of pasted paper, and having stuffed
his nose with snuff, closed and put away the snuff-box, and said
finally, "No, it is impossible to mend it; it's a wretched garment!"
Akakiy Akakievitch's heart sank at these words.